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.