Sunday, December 25, 2011


If you're here (in The Video Game Tome) you best know about "Portal" and its concept. Here is a fan's celebration of that gem of a game and this dear of a season. Cheers and enjoy yours.

Game on. Live on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Do you seriously consider yourself a gamer and have not purchased any of the Humble Indie Bundles?

If you answered "Yes." to the above question, allow me to ask another question. What is wrong with you?

Perhaps you are heartless and want nothing to do with helping any charities whatsoever. Perhaps you believe in being charged more money for less games. Perhaps, dare I suggest it, you do not care for the video game industry. Or, perhaps, you do not even know about the Humble Indie Bundles, in which case you best keep on reading.

Dear reader, I am not hear to mock you to scorn, rather, I am hear to tell you about one of the greatest things under the sun, the Humble Indie Bundles!

I was fortunate enough to hear about these terrific treasure troves from the start with the first Humble Indie Bundle (May 2010), wherein I got the likes of "World of Goo" and "Lugaru HD" too. I am still grateful to my 
cousin for pointing me in its direction. It has been the best deal in gaming ever since then.

Check out this advertisement for the current Humble Indie Bundle #4. This one is absolutely ridiculous (in the best way possible) with 12 games (including the contemporary classic that is "Super Meat Boy")! An over $100 value for whatever value you deem fit. As the catchy theme song tells you, "Pay what you want, DRM free, cross platform, and it helps charity."

Indie games ought not be thought of as lesser games. While they don't cost near as much as the blockbuster titles do nor do they require the latest and greatest software, these are unique experiences that always keep things fun. From my experience indie games are among the more innovative video games out there. Limitations can increase creativity. Furthermore, art has no limits and some of these games beg to be labeled as such.

Also, don't argue that your computer can't handle these titles. I'm sure it can. I have no such "gaming computer" and can still play 90% of the titles included in the bundles.

You can be a cheap bastard or a generous fellow, pay the price you want and even choose how it is distributed among the developers, charities, and Humble Indie Bundle itself.

At the end of the day, it is all about the games and if Humble Indie Bundle did not shine in this department I would not be raving about it the way I am. From modern masterpieces like "Braid" to obscure experiences like "Osmos." These games are fun and rewarding. Last bundle featured "The Binding of Isaac," which I am still playing and loving every disturbing minute of.

Last question: What are you waiting for? This might be one of the best bundles yet (it is hard to say because they are all worth getting). There has never been a better time to join the party. Wait, back at the beginning was the best time to join, but now is good too! The folks at Humble Indie Bundle live and die by their mantra, "Pay what you want for awesome games and help charity," and so should every gamer!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Gamer Shoppe, where we look at gamer merchandise that are not games.

Zelda is the Girl T-Shirt

Yeah, poor Link has often been called Zelda (back in my oblivious days I too thought he was the title character). Here's a shirt to hopefully set the rest of the world on the right track. Or maybe this shirt is just proclaiming that "Zelda is the girl"? Either way, would you wear it? Guys? Especially with the "is the" so freakin' small so that most people would only read "Zelda Girl."


DLC Quest
Released: 11.2.11
Platform: XBLIG

Developer & Publisher: Going Loud Studios

This indie darling is a sassy commentary on our times while being a unique platformer of its very own. It is short and sweet and ultimately one big joke of a game, on purpose of course.

"DLC Quest" is a satirical platfomer based on the popular trend of downloadable content in games today. Sometimes games are released practically unfinished and rely on patched to be downloaded later to fix the experience. And nearly every game has some type of DLC where you can add costumes, weapons, maps, etc. While the latter type of downloads typically cost a pretty penny, you will only have to spend the in-game coins you collect (a la "Mario") on the DLC herein. It is a meta-game in this regard. Some NPCs even refer to themselves as such.

When you begin "DLC Quest" you feel like you are playing an unfinished game and that is highly on purpose. You talk to the in-game merchant from whom you must purchase animation upgrades, sound effects, the ability to access a menu and so on. Thus, the quest for DLC is the point of the game all in order to, you guessed it, save the princess from an evil adversary. Perhaps the best reference in the game is the horse armor that you can buy. Bethesda took a lot of crap for having that be the first DLC available for "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion." The best part, the asking price in "DLC Quest" is 250 coins, the same amount of Microsoft Points (if I'm not mistook) that people had to shell out to give their horse some clothes.

This is a short game. You probably wouldn't spend more than half an hour on it and that's really it needs to be. It reminded of one aspect I loathe in games (particularly platformers), treading and re-treading the same place, scouring it for collectibles. Seriously, such a meaningless aspect of many games that we could all do without. I suppose "DLC Quest" is kind of critic-proof in a way because all of its faults could be taken as intentional parody. At $1 it is a good enough deal and an experience you probably won't forget. It made me laugh at the absurdness, but truthfulness of our current state of games.

 7 / 10 

CONTENT: violence, rude humor, some sensuality (in low pixels mind you)

Thursday, December 8, 2011


274182 Papel de Parede Mapa Mundi do Mario 1920x1200 Super Mario Real World Map

Familiar with "Super Mario World"? Familiar with our world? Then you should be smiling by now.

(Confession: While I am of course familiar with "Super Mario World" I haven't played it much...)


Sunday, December 4, 2011


To the Moon
Released: 11.1.11
Platform: PC
Developer: Freebird Games
Publisher: Freebird Games

Watch this trailer and you will discover a reason why I love video games. They can be unapologetic in their style and presentation (here's a game done in the SNES style, especially reminiscent of "Final Fantasy VI" I'm told, I really wouldn't know), but yet so heartfelt in an attempt to create a unique and meaningful experience.

Not all games are created equal. Some strive to be nothing more than an amusing pastime. But like 2009's "Braid," this title looks to be a game that has forgone the latest and greatest graphics and engines and is more interested in telling a deep story through a more classical toolbox. That said, there is no deny in the beauty and detail in this overhead-view experience. I understand that this typical RPG-flair might not appeal to all gamers, but I think if given a chance it could prove to anyone how it can stand its own ground very well. While it may be done in that "classic"-style, I'd argue it has never looked so crisp and clean and colorful.

The story of "To the Moon" is quite appealing. A man, nearing the end of his life, is given a chance to live again (through technology that allows artificial yet permanent memories). Those on their death beds are given this choice. Johnny Wiles is in such a situation and, for a mysterious reason, wants to go to the moon. In an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"-esque manner, the technicians must go into the memories of their patient. In an "Inception"-esque manner that plant a desire in mind of Johnny as a child. What if you were given this chance? What if you've already taken it and didn't even know?

I tend to think this is "The Artist" (yet another filmic reference) of video games for 2011. That film released earlier this year and is a black-and-white silent film set in Hollywood during the late 1920s when the advent of sound was changing lives on and off the screen. Like that film (or at least the trailer I have seen for that film) here is a new game made to look classic and the result is beautiful. Both trailers are greatly aided by their use of music.

Earlier today "Complex" posted that it could be coming to Mac next year (it is currently only available on Windows) based on Tweets from the game's creator, Kan "Rieves" Gao. That would mean I'd be able to play it, so I'm hoping for such an undertaking.

I found this trailer to be stunning (aesthetically and in concept). Johnny wants to go the moon and so do I.

Monday, November 28, 2011


One thing players of "Skyrim" quickly learned is just how many sidequests you will initiate and perhaps never complete. There are dozens and dozens of quests to throw upon the player's back, many of which will be logged in a section simply called "MISC. QUESTS." Oh, did I mention that the game has endless quests?


Sunday, November 27, 2011


Familiar with "Skyrim" (particularly the Dragon Shouts)? Hopefully. And surely you are familiar with the "Do-Re-Mi" song from the musical, "The Sound of Music"? Good. (If not, shame on you.) Now, sing these lyrics to yourself and enjoy the epic genius of hilarity that this is.


Saturday, November 26, 2011



I will post a "Gamer Pix" as often as I can and/or as often as I desire. Once a day, once a week, once in a while... I'm sure. Basically it is any still image that is video game related. It might be hilarious, pretty, scary, educational, but always worth looking at it, that's my guarantee. Enjoy the pixels my fellow gamers

Shooting your bow in "Skyrim" is possibly the most satisfying archery I've ever experienced in a video game. If there is ever a bow at my disposal in game, you can bet your piggy bank that I will use it in my gaming. (I discovered in recent years that I dig archery in RL as well... go figure.) In this pic the player/screenshooter employed the in-game physics to great results and staged a grotesque scene based on a well-known activity (shooting the apple off someone's head). The title says it all: "Third time's a charm."


Saturday, October 29, 2011


It seems like we are always playing zombie video games, but this weekend? Tis the season! With the second season of "The Walking Dead" currently airing and a seeming supply of never-ending games featuring the undead likeness, now is as good a time as any to try and survive the zombie apocalypse (at least in a virtual reality).

I recently was shown the site Complex at a VGAME meeting, which has a solid gaming section complete with one of my favorite features, lists! I've been looking around today for Halloween-related rankings and Complex alone had a few. Here's the first one I'd like to promote: "The 10 Best Free-To-Play Zombie Games."

I wasn't familiar with any of these beforehand, so I consider this a very informative gallery. Thus far I've only checked out "Zombie Taxi 2," which I quickly learned I was horrible at. Using the arrow keys to steer a car in top-down view is not an easy feat. I wondered how the hell I operated "Grand Theft Auto 2" back in the day... I've expressed before how I prefer a controller over mouse and keyboard for gaming any day (except for obvious exceptions like point-and-click adventures and real-time strategies). Anyways, back to "Zombie Taxi 2," Complex's number 10. The object is to pick up survivors in your taxi (which you can eventually customize in some ways) and bring them to safe zones, all the while turning the undead denizens of the city into roadkill. Well, I spent most of my session crashing into building and accidentally running over zombies and survivors alike. The one person I did save I picked up in the safe zone!

Complex made a point of wanting more from games than just "shooting zombies" in their foreword for this list. They said these 10 were games that "breathe life into the living dead" (I like that). Well, just from looking and reading it seems many of these games also feature, yes, "shooting zombies." The reason I was quick to play "Zombie Taxi 2" was because it had no gun involved. The other game that really stood out among the undead crowd was "Dead Frontier: Outbreak 2." It seems to be a point-and-click outing that gives the player plenty of chances to choose wisely or poorly.

As students, a lot of us are the target demographic for free-to-play games. They may lack the polish and production value of other games, but- Wait! You've probably heard something like that before and isn't it true? That might be why I don't play a lot of free-to-play games, because I happen to be a fan of polish and production. That said, there are plenty of indie games with charm and innovation and might certainly be worth a gamer's time. It is important to keep our eyes open for those free-to-play titles (at least the best of them). I will hopefully get around to trying more of the games on this list, but I wanted to get it out there in time for Halloween.

What do you think of the list? Have you played any of these titles? What other zombie games deserve a shuffle in the limelight?

Live on. Game on.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Oftentimes I do not get the opportunity to even try out the game for myself. Such is the case for non-professional gamers, critics, and fanboys. Three important schools that I subscribe to. Last week Rockstar Games announced that for the 10 Year Anniversary of their mega-hit "Grand Theft Auto III," one of the most influential games of all-time, it would be hitting iOS and Android systems later this year. I wrote on that story here.

Well, now we have received actually gameplay footage from the New York ComicCon this week. What you'll see above is roughly 90-seconds of uncut action of the game as played on an iPad. It becomes immediately apparent that the controls are going to take some getting used. If you've done much gaming on an iPhone or iPad then you know one of the two mechanics they use for movement in a 3D realm. You get a small circle in a bottom corner and wherever you place your finger or thumb in that (micro) area your onscreen avatar will move in the (macro) direction respectively. It's weird and I don't think it will every feel as natural as an analog thumbstick, which I believe is the most natural and control-friendly way to move in gaming. Besides that adjustment you are given onscreen "buttons" that control different actions. When a car came within jacking distance a car icon appeared onscreen. Running, jumping, and punching buttons seem to always be available (as they should for a thug like you).

It appears that whoever is playing is not that good at it (the video begins just after they get wasted and then later the owner of the car they commandeered hijacks them right back). However, if you pay attention you'll probably notice they seem to be doing it one-handed while probably recording this footage with the other hand. Unfortunately, this video doesn't show us how driving and shooting (not at the same time mind you, but those actions respectively) are going to function on touchscreen version. That will be interesting to see when we receive more footage of this great game on a foreign system.

All in all, it looks just about as good as it did on PS2, maybe even as good as it did on Xbox. Of course, it is easier to make that happen on a smaller display. I'm sure my iPhone could not handle it, but I hope to try it on someone else's eventually.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Orcs Must Die!
Released 10.5.11
XBLA & Windows

Developer: Robot Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Here is a bloody riot that takes no time at all to master. The challenge keeps you on your toes in this tower defense outing that has never been more fun. You'll plan, strategize, and hack and slash as you utilize dozens of means to keep the nasty foes at bay! "Orcs Must Die!" is a must play!

The other morning I played through the "Orcs Must Die!" demo for a second time. Anytime I play through a demo again is a good sign of a good game. My sister called during my play session and asked how I was. I told her it was a good morning and I had already killed a couple hundred orcs. "No, really!" I said, I then explained. (By the end of my session the tally was totaling near 1,000!)

An opening cutscene of graphic novel-esque pictures sets the stage. An aged warrior has spent 300 years fighting for the Order. In this time he has killed thousands of Orcs and defended dozens of Rifts. Then, after slipping on a puddle of blood (which, if you really think about it, was bound to happen sooner or later) and cracking his head on the gatehouse steps, he was put out of mortality and therefore out of the job. You were his apprentice and now it is up to you to defend the castle (and more specifically the Rifts). "The world is doomed,"your masters voice laments. Now is your chance to prove that prediction otherwise. Orcs must die! You are given the objective to defend the rifts at all costs, if a certain number of orcs make it through, the world is doomed indeed. You cannot prevent the orcs from breaching your castle, but you can stop them from reaching the Rift(s). In fact, you never leave the castle. It is your playing field for the entire game.

Tower defense is a specific subgenre of the realtime strategy (RTS) which in itself is a subgenre of sorts for the strategy game. A couple years ago tower defense was changed forever with the release of "Plants vs. Zombies," one of the greatest games I have ever played. Instead of holding out against an undead horde, you will be fending off lots and lots of orcs. The best part of the game is that you actually become your most valuable defense. Most tower defense games give managerial type duties and you have an almost god-like presence over the battle field being able to control units or in the very least determine where they ought to be placed. You can do that herein, but you are also a character yourself: a young medieval warrior with a red scarf.

Before each level you get to choose your load out from the Spell Book. This might not be the best name because all your weapons and all your traps are selected from there. You have a limited number of slots and so you must choose wisely. As far as traps go you've got the Boom Barrel, Spike Trap, Tar Trap, and Arrow Wall just to name a few. A strategical placed Boom Barrel on the battlefield can be triggered by a well placed arrow from a safe distance. This will make it boom and cause any orcs in its immediate vicinity to explode to limbs and so forth. The Tar Trap slows enemies down as they trudge through. The Spike Trap impales them from below while the Arrow Wall gets them from the side (a la that temple at the beginning of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). You have a set amount a points at the beginning to spend on traps and earn more during play as you kill orc upon orc. You can actually build traps in the heat of battle, which is always an exciting move. They do say the best defense is a good offense (or is it the other way around?... either way, you will be defending against and offending the orcs.) Then there's your personal weapons. The Bladestaff is a must should you ever resort to close-quarters combat, which you most certainly will, and the weapon to end all weapons, your ever trusty crossbow (so you can fell the orcs before they even come within swinging range.)

Depending on how well you do in any given level you are rewarded skulls (out of a possible five skulls). You can use these to upgrade equipment from your Spell Book. I chose to improve the Spike Trap because I seemed to use it more than any other Orc-killing device. The upgrade added poison to the spikes and actually seemed to make the spikes longer. By the demo's end I had unlocked 7/30 of the possible weapons you can choose from the Spell Book. I've no doubt the other weapons will be just as detailed and useful as the ones I've been describing. I had finally unlocked the Wind Belt, which enables me to push and pickup enemies and objects. It works great to keep the foe at bay and even lets you push them back onto the traps you've set, thus putting them through the ringer again. Some levels have built in defenses, such as one corridor that had two large bubbling vats of acid. I waited until some orcs wore beneath it and the shot an arrow at the oversized bucket which dumped its contents on the ugly buggers below. Their skin, flesh, and blood vanished and their remaining skeletal structures fell to the floor! Sometimes other "good guys" will aid your cause, such as archers, which actually eventually end up in your Spell Book.

The orcs themselves are pretty foolish. They run in a predetermined path, solely fixated on reaching the Rift (which you will have to resort to yourself every now and again in order to heal). Many of them take corners nice and wide like humanoid tanks. This isn't adapting AI like some people have been experiencing with Id's latest, "Rage." Still, their numbers are relentless and they will certainly fight back when you are close enough. Besides the standard orc, their are ones with crossbows, and other creatures (though they do not appear in the demo). I've seen the Cobolts in a video, which are small and agile and are a particular threat when it comes to defending the Rift. Other creatures include Ogres, Helbats, and Gnoll Hunters (see the full Mob at the "Orcs Must Die!" wiki).

The game released a couple weeks ago for the Xbox Live Game Marketplace at $15. That is the upper tier price for XBLA games and is a more significant investment than say $5 for "Geometry War." Still, I feel this is an upper tier game and worth that and more (though in my current Benjamins-lacking state I will be likely waiting for a Deal of the Week purchase for this one). In today's world, where people are having to shell out $60 for new releases, this is a fair price for such a fine game.

Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the current age of digitally downloadable games. "Orcs Must Die!" is a worthy addition to any gamer's library and truly one of the best games I've played this year.


Content: blood and violence

Friday, October 14, 2011


Rockstar Games is a developer and publisher that lives up to their name. They have consistently delivered good games, but oftentimes good is too far an understatement. They've started franchises such as "Midnight Club," "Max Payne," "Red Dead Redemption," and the popular and controversy "Grand Theft Auto." Earlier this year they published the innovative "L.A. Noire," which far too people are remembering was developed by Team Bondi). Their games are usually for mature audiences, but there is no denying how well they actually make games. This week we have two items of note from the legendary company.

"Red Dead Redemption" (my pick for best game of 2010) is appropriately crowned with a "Game of the Year" edition. I called this back in July, not like it was that unexpected though. It includes the full game, the "Undead Nightmare" expansion, and all the multiplayer DLC. If you still haven't picked up this game, now is the time to do so and this is the version to get. "Red Dead Redemption" boats a massive wild west open-world set just after the turn of the century. It breathes and behaves like it should, complete with a wide array of wildlife and plentiful things to do. The single-player story is among the most entertaining, compelling, and thought-provoking I have ever encounter in a video game. "Undead Nightmare" is exactly what is says and changes the entire way you play the game (with zombies of course).Then there is all the multiplayer options. There's your standard Deathmatch options, Grab the Bag, and even a Horde mode where you team up with others against wave after wave of undead cowboys. The highlight is the Free Roam where you can form posses with friends and strangers alike and do whatever the heck you want. Seriously, play this game. Here is Rockstar Newswire regarding "Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year."

What's more? Rockstar Games is celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of the title that chagned video games forever, "Grand Theft Auto III." The game will be coming to iOS and Android devices later this fall! It seems an interesting choice. I currently don't have any such device to support it, but I can always play it on my original Xbox. How do you think such a game will play on the iPad2 and company? It seems very much meant for a controller, but I don't doubt Rockstar's abilities. "GTA III" is a remarkable game and still holds up a decade later. I spent significant time with it just last year. It was a pioneer in the sandbox and open-world movement of games that I, for one, fell head over heels for! The freedom-induced gameplay is exhilarating and the sprawling city awaits your royal thug-ness. When GameInformer did their "Top 200 Games of All-Time" about two years ago it ranked number 4 for a reason. Actually, for several reasons.

Along with that news Rockstar announced a limited edition Claude (the anti-hero you play as in "GTA III") action-figure! The specifics: "This fully articulated 1:6 scale action figure of Claude comes dressed in his original attire of cargo pants and a bomber jacket, but can also sport his iconic Liberty City Prison-issued jumpsuit (supplied) and comes equipped with an arsenal of classic weapons from Grand Theft Auto III including a bat, knife, grenades, pistol, sniper rifle, and assault rifle." It's not cheap (at $150), but is currently for sale from the Rockstar Warehouse should you consider yourself that much of a fan. Rockstar Newswire has more on these "GTA III" announcements.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


So, I finally made myself a Reddit account. Took me long enough, I know. I went to the "Gaming" page and riding at number 2 was a link to these video game related jack-o'-lanterns (including the above from the classic "Oregon Trail"). I thought it was pretty sweet, even if the games they chose were quite random. Also, this is the ideal time of year for this sort of activity and art.

I found myself Googling "jack o' lantern video games" and found a trove of them! Check out "50 Video Game Jack-O'-Lanterns" as posted by Geeks Podcast almost a year ago today. Their number 1 is iconic. It looks meant to be.

Vault Boy (from "Fallout") has to be my favorite. What is yours?

These are sweet eh? Pumpkin carving is no easy task and taking on some of these designs seems more than daunting. Maybe I could do a "Pong" one...

Live on. Game on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


EEDAR (Electronic Entertainment Design and Research) published the following infographic based on a recent study among HD console owners (i.e PS3 and/or  Xbox 360 owners). The purpose was to find out how influential game review outlets were on gamers' decision making to purchase a game or not. Infographics are among my favorite methods to report data. Check out the aesthetically pleasing results below:

GameSpot (who is probably my first and foremost resource when checking video game reviews) was the most influential. Next in line were GameInformer and IGN (probably the next two I typically consult). The findings seem pretty accurate to me personally. How do they match up to the outlets you look at?

I found the states breakdown to be particularly interesting. What do you think of the survey's results?

Source: GameInformer

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


My Fellow "Elder Scrolls" Gamers,

The fifth installment in one of the grandest series ever constructed will be here in just a month! 11.11.11 is the day our gaming schedules will change forever. While very much a niche game, those of us in it love it with an utmost passion. Over the past weeks and months we have been teased with plenty of "Skyrim"-related goodies. I thought I'd take the time this morning and put them all in one place for you! Enjoy.

* * *


Much like Bilbo Baggins, I love maps! I admire when developers include a map with their open world game. Bethesda and Rockstar seem to always do this. Check out the recently revealed map for "Skyrim" above! I imagine by the end of the year we will all become very familiar with it. Here is Kotaku's comments on the map, here is Game Informer's comments.

Reports are that it is roughly the same size as Cyrodiil, the beautiful land we roamed in "Oblivion." Looking at this map above will confirm that it is a little smaller, but more dense and compact. In any case, there is going to be a lot to explore!

In case you haven't heard. You need to pre-order the game to get the map this time. Yeah, it's a ploy, but those of us who are serious about the game are pre-ordering anyway so no big deal.

* * *


Just yesterday the manual (which people are saying looks like the final retail version) was leaked, almost entirely as seen in dozen of pictures here. Here is Game Informer's comments on the manual, here is Kotaku's comments.

Looking through these screenshots I learned some very noteworthy things. For one, you can cook in "Skyrim." Heretofore it seemed the "Gothic" series was the only medieval-fantasy RPG that would let me refine my culinary skills as well as my bow skills. No longer the case! I imagine this will much like it was implemented in "Fallout: New Vegas," a neat feature that made all the edible items you acquired even more valuable. Also (and my heart leapt for joy at this one) it looks like the awful tumbler lockpicking mini-game from "Oblivion" has been done away with! Instead they are implementing a system similar to "Fallout 3" where you feel the lock open. It is far less frustration and more aesthetically pleasing.

What things do you learn from the manual?

* * *


Say what you will about the Xbox 360 Achievements (and the PS3 "trophy" equivalent - is that right?), but I still cannot deny the tinge of pride I feel with each and every one earned. Here is a full list of the Achievements that await unlocking in "Skyrim," though many are names of quests and currently won't mean much to us. Still the "Hard Worker" Achievement confirms that you can "Chop wood, mine ore, and cook food" in "Skyrim"! Yay! Chores! But honestly, they feel a lot more meaningful and rewarding in detail open-world games than the crap they have you do in "Farmville" and its siblings. Game Informer comments on the list.

* * *


"Oblivion" surprised and wooed us with an impressively robust character creator. "Skyrim" looks to be the same, check out some of the myriad options at this IGN gallery.

* * *


Back in July IGN gave us "Five Reasons 'Skyrim' is Going to Make You its Bitch." (Hint: Two of the reasons are pretty cool tidbits about dragons!)

Also from July is a great interview with Todd Howard of Bethesda (the design director for the game) about his scope and vision for "Skyrim" found at Gamasutra.

The Bethesda Blog takes us inside "The Art of 'Skyrim'."

The Bethesda Blog informs us on some of the voice-talent behind the characters, including one of my favorite actors, Christopher Plummer.

Joel Johnson of Kotaku details his hour of gameplay with "Skyrim" here.

And, in case you missed it, here is my lengthy article of impression after watching the 20+ minutes of gameplay that were released last month.

Finally... Crab Armor DLC?! Kotaku has the whimsical wish.

* * *

Well, there you have plenty of information to keep you excited for when the game finally arrives. It probably is not enough to whet your appetite entirely, but thankfully you only have to wait one month!

Live on. Game on.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I've yet to play "Portal 2" (which is one of my biggest regrets in gaming this year), but from everything I've heard it is every bit as good as its predecessor (which is one of my favorite gems in gaming any year). Nonetheless, I can deeply appreciate the skill and precision on display in the the video above. YouTube user Divector8 completes the Propulsion Catch chamber in 32 seconds! He was going for a speed run and I think defined it. What's more? He only uses four portals! I cannot wait to play this game (hopefully sooner rather than later).

Full disclosure, I found this video on Game Informer earlier today.

Live on. Game on.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Kotaku published an article this morning asking (and entitled) "Is Xbox Where TV is Going?" It reports that "Microsoft is on the verge of landing a deal that will net their Xbox 360 access to some or all of Verizon and Comcast's cable television." Will cable boxes become a thing of the past as home consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 continue to become more than just gaming devices?

I heart my Xbox 360 and all its online-ness. I frequently use Netflix on there, which is in my mind the ideal place to use it. Xbox Live has had an ESPN channel for nearly a year now, but I haven't given it much time or though. Then there is Hulu and Zune Marketplace. PlayStation 3 has all this as well. I used to even watch MSNBC news on my Xbox 360 until that feature mysteriously went MIA. Maybe I was the only one using it... Still, these consoles are multi-media devices. They are fast becoming an entertainment hub with which you can replace all other machines in your living room with.

In his article Brian Crecente speculates future possibilities, "Imagine getting a pop-up on your television while in the middle of playing 'Madden NFL 2016,' telling you that the latest episode of Psych just started. A single button push pauses the game and drops you straight into the show. Or the opposite. Maybe you're watching a show and a friend shoots you an invite asking you to play a round of 'Call of Duty.' A button-push starts recording the show and drops you into the game."

2016. Not a stretch at all. For those of us who already watch TV anymore anyway, a home console with a Netflix subscription is all you currently want or need anyway. 

What do you think about these prospects? Might non-gamers pick up an Xbox 1080 or PlayStation 4 simply because it is the new way to watch TV? I know my folks sometimes use their Wii to watch movies on (and that is all they use it for).

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Here is a simple and short animation entitled "Beating Tetris." You've all played the game. It is among the world's oldest and most popular, which makes this short all the more familiar.

Its genius is that it plays with the core mechanics of the game "Tetris." Our gun-toting protagonist finds himself (after blasting holes through a wall) stuck in the bottom of a "Tetris" board. A new game is born. The falling blocks are his only escape, yet when they make a complete row (from one wall to the other) they disappear. That is usually the key to beating the game, but ends up being a hinderance for our hero.

The animation reaches brilliance when the nameless action star finds himself in the "coming next" display box. It turns out that space doesn't just predict, it determines. As various poses of him fall he is bewildered and we are admires of the sheer creativity. He is still in a predicament.

The game taunts him with untold "L"s. Is he a loser? No! He does win the game in the end, hence the name of the short. The finale gets downright crude, but we can be thankful of its briefness. Let us not dwell upon the source of the blocks, but rather the imaginative boundlessness that games give us, especially when we think about breaking through wall and beating them in a unique way. Still, we will wonder what that character at the end represents. It is clearly Bowser, the infamous boss from the "Mario" games. Why is he here?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Pokemon Snap
Released: 6.30.1999
System: N64 (Also available for the Wii's Virtual Console)

Developer: HAL Laboratory / PAX Softnica
Publisher: Nintendo

"Pokemon Snap" was a wildly unique game when it released over a decade ago and still manages to be refreshing today. The gameplay itself is completely absorbing, but we are left wanting more from certain limited areas of the game.

(Author's Note: While this is very much a review, you can expect related bouts of video game theory. I am passionate about "Pokemon Snap" and I feel it serves as a wonderful springboard into many pertinent video game-related topics such as "story vs. gameplay." Additionally, you will notice my writing venture into the realms of "what if?" at times. Consider this my attempt at constructive criticism. Among my favorite activities is conceptual design for video games. I have constructed original properties that I am more than willing to share with the right people. Part of that conceptual creativity is bound to show up in my reviews as I imagine how we might make an existing game better.)


It is a welcomed deviation to pick up a console game that does not involve shooting people. "Pokemon Snap" deals with a different type of shooting. Your ammo is a roll of film and your targets are dozens of wild and imaginative creatures. Although, you are free and sometimes even encouraged to throw apples and Pester Balls (both of which you have infinite supply) at anything in the game.

You play as Todd, a young photographer who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to document the wildlife of the not-so-cleverly-named Pokemon Island. You'll never guess what's there! Pokemon. The game is essentially a rail shooter with rich environments that encourage players to search every nook and cranny for untrained, undomesticated, and un-pocketed monsters.


While living in Taiwan, I was charmed to learn that the Pokemon IP was called "shenqi baobei (神奇寶貝)" which literally translates to "mysterious treasure." It could also be taken to mean "precious darlings" and take I will. This game is focused on the original gang: the 151 Pokemon we all came to know and love from "Pokemon Red," "Pokemon Blue," the original anime series and card game. However, only 63 of those are to be found in the game. In my recent play-through I caught (on film) 60 of them.  (Who am I missing? I forgot how to get Dugtrio and Muk. On top of that, I am not sure who the final snapper might be.) The choices of which Pokemon are in the game might seem a little strange at times. Vileplume is present, but neither of its pre-evolved forms (Oddish and Gloom) are to be found. This is particularly unfortunate because Gloom is among my favorite Pokemon. Charmander and his evolved forms get precedence over Squirtle's and Bulbasaur's. How cool would it have been to photograph a Blastoise?! At least all of the legendary birds make an appearance (gotta hatch 'em eggs!).

Like the brilliant Pokemon games on Nintendo's handheld systems, "Pokemon Snap" fills players with a desire to catch them all, but on film instead of within Poke Balls (as TV Tropes points out). On the topic of the "pocket monsters" themselves, it is worth pointing out that they had never looked better prior to this game's release. Graphically "Pokemon Snap" is impressive for its time, though visiting it from the future we now live in is very much a trip down polygon lane. (Speaking of Polygon, he makes an appearance. If you can find him that is.)

Wouldn't it have been grand if all 151 were to be discovered in this game (with added courses)? Today there are 649 different Pokemon. Just think of the possibilities... A new "Pokemon Snap" with even half that number would prove to be an epic undertaking. While being made, if taking the best pages from the original "Pokemon Snap"'s playbook, it could turn out to be a wonderful game.


Professor Oak just might be one of the worst photography critics of all-time. Besides a lack of differing reviews (basically "Wonderful!" or "You were close"), he is so mechanic in his choices. In his defense, I suppose he is just trying to collect an album that showcase the various specimen to be found on Pokemon Island as clearly as possible. Still, he couldn't give a Ratatat's arse about art. Would it hurt to improve your analytic vocabulary Mr. Oak? Either tell me something new or I'm afraid you will have to permanently go back to giving beginning trainers their first Pokemon, meaning no more visits to Pokemon Island. What if there were a panel of judges a la "American Idol"? One might be the more artsy-fartsy of the bunch and would accept any experimental pictures you might have taken that round. Oak could still be around to collect any "proper pictures" for his own purposes. A third judge could be some drunk old man from Pallet Town, liking the worst of each roll and providing some necessary comic relief.


One of my favorite aspects to consider in any game is the level design. There are seven courses for your Pokemon-documenting pleasure. The Zero-One is an incredibly diverse vehicle that can traverse land, water and air. What more could you ask for? As mystifying as the final course, Rainbow Cloud is, there is only one Pokemon to shoot there. Still, considering which Pokemon it is, I suppose I cannot complain.

In many ways "Pokemon Snap" reminds me of a amusement park ride. The Zero-One, awesome as it is, is uncontrollable (unless you count the Dash Engine you unlock later in the game, which only allows you to speed-up). You follow the same route each and every time, the only change in scenery is where you point your eyes. Each level is strictly scripted (e.g. "Here comes the player...  cue the Doduo chased by Meowth!). After playing the same course again and again it can start to feel robotic, much like any return to Disneyland's Jungle Cruise or the Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios. That said, I do not recommend or endorse chucking apples on those or any other amusement park ride.

Many video games suffer from scripted events so I mustn't be too harsh on "Pokemon Snap." In fact, many games and gamers depend on this mechanic. It might not be right to refer to it as "suffering" if it is what we want. I just long for more "living and breathing" realms for my virtual exploits to take place in. Imagine an open-world where the Zero-One is yours to command. You will personally have to discover certain Pokemon in their natural habitat. As swell as the rail shooting gameplay is utilized herein, I would gladly trade it in for freedom.

Replay value is often a criteria taken into consideration by video game reviewers. In terms of re-playability, "Pokemon Snap" does fall short. I had not played the game for years until earlier this year and for such circumstances is was a welcome reunion. However, in its current state, "Pokemon Snap" is not a game I would gladly return to weekly or monthly. Few titles are that great. It is one I can return to with rose-colored glasses of nostalgia whenever I feel the inner call.


Another facet of games I love to dissect are the little touches. Details. At the end of the Cave you might be treated to Jigglypuff's infamous song (if you saved it from being molested by the ever-obtrusive Koffing earlier on). Turns out you can get up to three Jigglypuffs if you are especially heroic. As my Zero-One came floating by (it floats/hovers in the Cave level) the Jigglypuff's makeshift stage, I began playing the Poke Flute. Clearly upset at the interruption and/or competition, Jigglypuff stopped singing and its face contorted in frustration and malice. Of course, I took a picture of the adorable melodrama. On an earlier level I changed the tune of the Poke Flute and our favorite leviathan Snorlax would offer up a different jig for each melody. Like life, it is small moments like these I particularly remember. "Pokemon Snap" invites and sometimes provides specific hints for players to experiment with the tools at their disposal in their encounters with Pokemon. It is satisfying to discover them and resorting to your camera makes for a novel combo.

The experience does get repetitive and you will start to dread the inevitable meetings with Professor Oak, but "Pokemon Snap" was unlike any game when it arrived (predating the Sierra Online "Safari" games) and still garners deep respect from its admirers, which I most certainly am. It is a highly functioning simulator with plenty of fun surprises and impressive video and audio for its day. Aware of its flaws, I still love this game.


CONTENT: mild cartoon violence

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Last year Brian Miggels and Samuel Clairborn of IGN posted "The Mario You Never Knew," a highly intriguing article about elements that almost made it into the original "Super Mario Bros." game.

If I were to say Mario is the most iconic video game character of all-time, I don't know who would disagree. According to Wikipedia he has appeared in over 200 video games, which have sold over 200 million copies. The ultimate princess-saving-hero made his first appearance in the arcade classic "Donkey Kong." Then he was known simply as Jumpman. He was the product of one Shigeru Miyamoto, a legend among video game designers responsible for many Nintendo properties including "The Legend of Zelda," "Star Fox," "Pikmin," and of course "Super Mario Bros." and "Donkey Kong."

Check out the IGN piece for quotes from Miyamoto himself about the development of "Super Mario Bros." for multiple insights of what gaming's star almost was. He almost had a gun, he was going to fly, and he wasn't always a plumber?! All this and more to be discovered!

Will you find yourself saying "Thank goodness!" or "Awww... man!"? It is hard to imagine "Super Mario Bros." (widely regarding as one of the best games ever made) any different than it is. Still, it is fun to learn about the development process for the one, the only, Mario.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Released: 3.21.2011
Xbox 360

Developed by Bethesda Game Studios
Published by Bethesda Softworks and 2K Games

(Author's Note: What follows is the original review I wrote for "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" back in the spring of 2006, not long after the game released. The only changes were some formatting, an added comma, and the subtraction of opening sentences that I felt we could do without. I originally wrote this review for my high school newspaper, The Snow Canyon Nahuatl, when I was the editor for the technology page. I look forward to writing a new review in the next month or so before "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" is upon us. Cheers!)

    There are two words to describe this game: freaking unbelievable. I could easily take up the whole page ranting and raving about this game, but I’m going to keep it as straightforward and to-the-point as possible. 
     Basically "Oblivion" is an epic, mythical, medieval-era RPG (role-playing game) taking place in a living and breathing world with hundreds of unique characters, monsters, and items. You start out by creating your character, and let me inform you this is without a doubt the most extensive character creation system in any video game out there. After choosing one of ten races and giving yourself a noble and fitting name you go to work on your face. You can position your nose in literally hundreds of ways, age your character by simply moving the slider, and even determine how much sparkle is in your bugged out or sunken eyes. After the creation has taken place you find yourself in a dungeon cell, but within minutes you take part in a daring escape through caverns and sewers by following the emperor and his men. It turns out a secret passage was located in your cell. Coincidence? I think not. The player is quickly thrown into the action, battling against goblins and giant rats all while getting familiar with the genius control scheme. You eventually choose what sign you were born under and your class. I created a Wood Elf born under The Thief and appropriately chose the Thief class. I’m the type who lurks in shadows and uses a bow to dispose of my enemies rather that rush in swinging my sword around.  After you get through the tutorial which I spent two hours in (yes people, two hours in just the tutorial) you step out of the sewers and into the light with the most piercing image in video game history. Words can’t even begin to describe how gorgeous this game is.  That first view you get of the outside world was enough to make me never stop playing this game. You can see the enormous mountains with snow capped peaks miles away in the distance, and the stretching plains to your left; behind you is the Imperial City with the Golden Tower stretching high into the sky. 
     There is so much to do and see it makes other games bow in shame. You can try to complete the main quest which takes over thirty hours to beat, but even after that there is so much more. You can buy a house, steal a horse, hunt down deer, catch a disease that leads to vampirism, place bets on gladiatorial battles or even become a gladiator yourself, fight trolls, pick flowers, search for gold, invest in stores, make magical potions, the list goes on and on and on. The artificial intelligence in this game is groundbreaking and remarkable all the same. People live their lives, they go out and buy stuff, go to the local taverns and have a drink or two, then go home and sleep. Everyone is different and you can talk to any of them. "Oblivion" has over fifty hours of voice acting; that is simply unheard of.
     It has been in development by Bethesda Softworks since 2002 and it finally came out on March 21, 2006. I’ve been waiting for this game for years, but I nearly went insane until it arrived. I have already played for more hours than I’d like to admit, and saying I’m pathetically obsessed would be an understatement. Gamers everywhere need to try this game; it’ll be the best gift you could ever give yourself. posted their review on "Oblivion" just days after the game hit the shelves. They gave very high regards and I quote, “Buy this game immediately, and if you don't have an Xbox 360; buy an Xbox 360 just to play this game.” That pretty much sums it up right there folks. They’re saying this game is worth a near $500 dollar investment; I agree. 
     I have been playing video games since the Super Nintendo days and now have the lovely Xbox 360. I have played countless games during this time, and "Oblivion" is the best I have ever played.

Friday, September 23, 2011



Welcome to "Demo Impressions," a new feature for The Video Game Tome! As I explained in "The Gamer I Am," Xbox 360 is my choice console for the time being and I absolutely dig XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade). Perhaps the best part about Microsoft's Game Marketplace is that every Arcade and Indie game has a downloadable demo for free. You typically get to try out the first level (if it is a level-based game) or you have a time-limit (usually 30 minutes or less), upon completion you are asked if you would like to purchase the game. It is a wonderful system and I am thankful for the opportunity to sample before I purchase. Ice cream parlors have been employing such a The Game Marketplace also sometimes features demos for the big-budget games. That is how I first played "Just Cause 2." After playing the demo again and again and again (it is an open-world game and so it had a 30-minute time-limit), I realized I really needed to pick the game up for myself. So I did.

Typically these demo impressions will be regarding the Arcade and Indie titles as found on Xbox Live's Game Marketplace, but any demo from any place could potentially be featured. As a college student, money is tight and so is time. Experiencing the demos is great way to stay up on games without have to spend much of either of those two limited resources. I believe a demo is not adequate for a review, so I call these "impressions." At the end of each "Demo Impression" I will give the game one of the following ratings:

- Buy It
- Try the Demo
- Don't Even Download

It is similar to the "See / Rent / Skip" format that some film reviewers use. I despise the  "Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down" mentality. Sorting something into one of two polarizing camps is unacceptable in my mind. There ought always be a middle camp available. The great thing about these demos is that you can always give them a try for yourself! While I may encourage you to go ahead and purchase the game or advise you to not even waste the space on your hard-drive, I think it is fair to assume that I will always recommend the middle camp (unless I especially love or especially loathe). Try it for yourself, for you and I are two very different gamers.

Thank you and enjoy my first impressions for "Burnout Crash!"

* * *

Burnout Crash!
Released 9.20.11
Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3

Developed by Criterion Games
Published by Electronic Arts

"Burnout Crash!" is a significant departure from the previous installments in the racing series, but still manages to be maddeningly entertaining, zany, and rather irresistible.

Like many demos this one only allows you to scratch the surface to the game, but I loved it all the same. This is the eighth game in the popular series, but the first time it has adopted a top-down perspective (a la the original "Grand Theft Auto" games). What's more? Racing is not even in the equation, let alone an option. Hence the name, this game is all about crashing. The Crash Mode was always the most popular feature of the franchise, so Criterion Games decided to make that the one and only feature this time around.

The full game gives you 18 intersections to cause havoc in. You are only allowed to destroy Windrush & 1st in the demo. There is the initial moment of driving your vehicle (the Takedown 4X4 in the demo) towards it and then the initial crash, usually into a conveniently passing 18-wheeler, and then things start getting interesting. When you have caused a significant amount of damage your Crashbreaker meter fills up, allowing you essentially explode your car and even steer where it flies and lands. Your Crashbreaker meter can fill up again and again, enabling some lengthy destruction scenes that would even have Michael Bay dropping his jaw. It is a ridiculous concept, but like so many games and films that share this adjective, that makes it ridiculously fun. 

There are three modes available, though the demo only lets you play one of them: Road Trip. Herein your play ends when five vehicles pass through your intersection without crashing.
This basic mechanic works so well and you will find yourself replaying intersections to improve your score (a monetary amount of how much damage you have caused).

Every time a car looks like it is going to make it through all the burning wreckage unscathed is a nerve-wracking moment. Some of the best games are able to capture such feelings from players. Luckily, there is an occasional ambulance, which if it makes it through without crashing can take away one of your strikes. It is always a refreshing moment and turns the gameplay around. Another meter onscreen keeps track of how much traffic is left. It can be filled up three times during a session, each time unleashing a special event. In the demo these include cops who will block one of the four routes in/out of the intersection, thus helping you from potential escapes from your wrath, one special turned my car into a giant magnet for a brief amount of time (getting a wreath of cars around you and then employing the Crashbreaker is pretty spectacular), and finally a tornado, which served as the climax and cleaned up all the wreckage around. Did I mention that all of this takes place in a destructible environment? Other special events include bulldozers, UFOs, and even monsters! It is all a very arcade-y experience, which will no doubt make a game with such objectives more appealing and less offensive. 

The top-down choice is certainly an interesting one. For some it is downright bewildering. I was of that school of thought until I actually tried the game. The graphics are far from innovative, but it is colorful and detailed enough so that you know exactly what is going on. This also allows the game to never show the slightest bit of lag, even amidst the most heinous acts of desolation. It works wonderfully, the same way those Micro Machines and Matchbox toy cars kept our childish imaginations busy. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but just last month I found myself playing with toy cars and staging elaborate crashes in an intersection made out of popsicle sticks. See what happens when my nieces leave their toys out... Yes, I'm 23. Now that "Burnout Crash!" is available on XBLA and PlayStation Network I won't have to resort to such desperate measures when I want to "play cars."

Official Xbox Magazine's Ryan McCaffrey bemoaned the Kinect-ability for this game in his review. Since I don't even have it, that's not even a factor for me. It has also been pointed out that the announcer and the Crash City Radio DJ quickly become annoying. I do not doubt that, but this game has so many bells and whistles that such grievences seem to get lost is the chaos of it all.  Like other EA games, this one has slick title and menu screens, catchy tunes, and the all-around polish we've come to expect. In the full game the Autologs enable you to challenge friends and leaderboards over Xbox Live and PSN. I highly recommend checking out "Burnout Crash!" and consider it a welcome addition to the already superb library of Arcade games for this generation's consoles.


CONTENT: vehicular and architectural destruction

Monday, September 12, 2011



I certainly wasn't planning on doing a post in here (The Video Game Tome) today, but after watching plentiful footage for my most anticipated game I knew I had to.

Today the fine folks at Bethesda (one of the great high-budget studios in the video game industry today) posted over 20 minutes of gameplay video for their upcoming epic, "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim." Here is Part 1 of the demo as seen at E3, QuakeCon, and PAX featuring commentary from the Game Director and Executive Producer, Todd Howard:

Go check out the Bethesda Blog for Parts 1 and 2.


The demo begins in first-person on a beautiful mountain trail. It looks like a brisk morning and we hurry along while appreciating the beauty all around us. After switching to third-person we realize we are playing as a Nord (a human built like a Viking and typically white as a Russian), one of the ten races you can choose from when you create your character at beginning of the game. It is only fitting that for this first tour of the game we play as a Nord. Skyrim is very much the land they hail from, much as Vvardenfell (where "Morrowind" is set) is native to the Dunmer (Dark Elves). A fox, or some similar woodland creature, realistically darts across the trail on its morning run. Had I been playing this demo I would have given chase, whatever lucky chap was in control of this demo chose to stick to the trail.

Soon enough we learn the awesomeness of the dual-wielding. Todd Howard explains that we can put any weapon, shield, and spell combo in either hand. If you put the same spell in each hand you can cast an ultra-powerful version of that spell. After dealing with some a thief it becomes very clear that the combat in this game is much more realistic (thus much more brutal) than past games. The first-person mode makes for an extremely visceral experience. The sound design goes a long ways to aid each and every fight.

The menu system is a work of art all on its own:

- From the item section you can look at each and every thing (and if you have played an Elder Scrolls game you know you can pick up nearly everything from flowers to battle axes) in 360 degrees with an option to zoom-in. It all looks intricately detailed and adds to a living, breathing world that is in fact lived-in. Howard tell us, "Each of the thousands of objects you can find can be zoomed-in, rotated, and looked at in high detail."

- To check out your stats your look to the heavens above where the constellations are symbolic of your skills and abilities. There are trees for progression where you can gain perks and increase your character's functionalities in a vast variety of avenues. It all looks so very pretty too.

- Opening the map actually serves as a zoom-out and we see where the player is in proportion to all of Skyrim, which looks like a winter wonderland. Keep in mind that Skyrim is just one province, and a Northern one at that, in the Elder Scrolls universe. I know some people were more fond of "Morrowind" than "Oblivion" in terms of diverse climes and climates. Yes, "Morrowind" really did have a lot of variety. However, keep in mind that not all places really are that way, even in video games. Skyrim looks to be harshly cold, a place where it will be a struggle to survive as a wanderer.

To be sure, this in unlike any menu system in any RPG ever. I rather liked how it was employed in "Oblivion," which was a sure improvement for organizing and navigating. What we are seeing for "Skyrim" is both simple (just look at the item section) and creative.

After disposing of some aggressive wolves, we reach Riverwood. It is a small mountain town where woodcutters and blacksmiths are already out working to make ends meet. As we stroll down the main road we pass an older woman exclaiming to a younger man about having seen a dragon. "What?! What is it now mother?" he asks her rather annoyingly. A couple months ago Bethesda officially announced that for the first time you can get married in their game. Families are going to play a larger role than ever before in this Elder Scrolls entry. Among other townsfolk we see a woodcutter busy at is job. He tells us that if we're here for work we ought to get an axe and start.

We leave the town on horseback, eager to explore more of this incredible realm. We fall among bandits who we have no trouble disposing with a bow. Up a fierce mountain we ride with snow falling toward us. As we near the summit we reach some place called Bleak Falls Barrow. Just as we arrive we experience a new kind of terror in an Elder Scrolls game, a dragon! We sparse briefly with the fire-breathing leviathan, but seeing we are no match we enter the Barrow itself (ending Part 1).

As the player flees this initial dragonic encounter they enter the first dungeon. Todd is quick to inform that it is just 1 of 150 hand-crafted dungeons to be found in the land of Skyrim. Right before we enter another door into a complex cave system a message wipes across the screen saying we've started a quest called The Golden Claw. Down in the dungeon's cave we find opponents aplenty! It was during some combat there that I really started noticing the stirring soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule, who has been along on the Elder Scrolls ride since "Morrowind." He created beautiful full-orchestra themes for the earlier games and other iconic tunes that play for exploring and combat respectively. Herein he seems to be at it again, while integrating the Dragon shouts (particular of Skyrim) into his tracks with a epic choir. (See the end of Part 3 for a sample of the game's now iconic theme.)

At one point in the dungeon the player faces a threatening hallway of swinging axes. They timed it just right and then - to my surprise - employed some quick dash ability and sped through the obstacle. I'm guessing this is some perk they were able to unlock, no doubt from the agility constellation. I haven't seen anything quite like it in a Bethesda game, but I'm sure there is more where that came from in this entry. Not long after a tribe of zombie warriors (called Draugrs? am I getting the term right?) are awoken and must be dealt with. To finish off one, the Nord casts a spell that slows down time for all around him and then shot another blast-of-a-spell toward the undead humanoid and sent him flying up to high wall in glorious slow-mo. People, magic rules!

We also face a giant spider while down there. We are cries for help and for a moment I thought the spider was talking! No, it is actually some poor sap who spelunked the Barrow before us and managed to get tied up in the spider's web. After killing the arachnid we set about cutting him loose. Once freed he runs off, insulting us and saying something about having the treasure all to himself. So we kill him and take the mysterious Golden Claw.

Water is running through the caverns and we follow it to a massive tunnel where we send a burst of light flying through the area showing off both the size of and the fierce attention to lighting and shadows that the Creation engine (made just for this game) boasts. The water leading to a massive pit where it fall below into the dark. Above we can see the Skyrim sky where another waterfalls enters in. It is a spectacular sight, but we find another cavern to head through where we solve a puzzle and open an ancient door using the Golden Claw. There is some very special encounters on the other side, I recommend you finish watching Part 2.

Part 3 is what we were all salivating over after E3. After exiting the dungeon we come across giants who are herding wooly mammoths across the plains. For whatever reason we decide it would be a good idea to pick a fight with these monstrous creature and begin a small-scale battle. The fight is interrupted by none other than the spotlight creature itself, another dragon! This time there is no dungeon door within reach. He swoops upon us, grips the giant we've been fighting in his claws and carries him upward in a rush before letting him go, no doubt falling to his gianty death! Some nearby men rush to our aid to fight the dragon. One serves as a nice snack for the creature before we finally fell the winged lizard. Only then do we discover that another dragon (same breed? maybe they were brothers...) has discovered our position and longs to keep the battle going. It is a fantastic sequence that is as good as any demo finale I've ever seen. I'll let you watch it for yourself to discover what happens, but let me just say the dragon shouts we've been hearing so much about are finally employed. It is a superb finish to one of the most satisfying and gratifying demos I have ever beheld. Watching the 20+ minutes (the most that has ever been released to the public thus far for the game) today has more more excited than ever before to play it myself.

If any one of us were playing the game, even if we started the demo at the exact same spot, we would have wildly different experiences. As I said before, I would have chased that bloody fox and observed how he lived. Then I would spent a significant amount of time in Riverwood. I would found the stores in town and cased the joint and planned my midnight burglaries. I would have asked that woman where she saw the dragon and see if I couldn't hunt it down, or maybe even convince her to join me and watch her face the flying infirmity. I'm sure I would have gone about chopping some wood for the lumberjack to earn a decent day's wage. Had I made it to the Bleak Falls Barrow I would have never rescued that jerk in the spiderweb and yes, I would have attempted jumping off the waterfall into the unknown below. What might you have tried? We only need talk about this for two months more...


Gaming has taken quite a backseat in my life lately, but there are always exceptions and I always knew the latest and greatest in the Elder Scrolls saga would always be one of them. Back in 2003 when I first played "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind," video games as I knew them completely changed. I sill fondly refer to it as my favorite game. There was a freedom (an agency) at work in this digitally crafted open-world that was unlike anything else I had heretofore experienced. It was more than an entertainment, it was not just an escape, it was a whole new world with horizons I could actually venture to and untold actions I could actually take. There is learning to be had in such simulations, which is one reason gamers keep gaming and why non-gamers will never know why (unless they devote a significant amount of active time into them).

I may never grow out of video games because there is more the meets the eye (and much more than meets the word). Perhaps some day the terms will evolve. When you play a game like "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind" and its sequel "Oblivion" and its upcoming sequel "Skyrim," you realize the necessity to call it something different. They are not just games. They are worlds, they are story mines, and they are tools - all of which you can experience in a unique way, personal to your free will. I love the thought that I have a plastic bin of worlds under my bed (and more in my closet at Home Base). Each offers something special, but I especially like the Elder Scrolls.

"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" hits store shelves on 11.11.11.