Vladerag's Blog











It is always sad when a child dies, even more so when it could be prevented.  All death is sad, true.  But death before you really have a chance to live is so much more so.  So when a beautiful thirteen year old girl commits suicide, we want to know why.

I wont draw more attention to the story that led me to post this, families deserve to grieve in peace.  However, one thing the girls father said struck me, “In today’s society, he said, it wasn’t possible for his daughter to escape bullying. She’d go home on weekends, and the bullying would continue on Facebook.”

The quotation is straight out of the paper that reported this.

It struck me because the bullying can be escaped, and people, escpecially parents, need to know how to do this.

This article is written for parents, but can be adapted to any situation.  This is a step by step guide to stop your child from being bullied, so we will start at step one.

1. The first step in stopping bullying is knowing that it happens.  Ask your child about their day and listen to what they say.  They will probably say “Good,” and refuse to elaborate.  Don’t bother to press them, you arent likely to get a truthful response.  If they want to tell you all about their day, Great!  If not, get creative.

If you suspect your child is having trouble, making a quick call to their teachers can tell you a lot.  A good way to be clued into cyber bullying is to get an account of whatever social site your kids has, and make certain they friend you.  If you are their facebook friend, you will be able to see their pictures and their wall, so you will have a better idea what is going on online.

Keep an eye out for the usual warning signs.  Depressed mood, sliping grades, etc.  The biggest key is to not be overbearing, but at the same time to be observant.

2. When you know your kid is being bullied, take action.  First thing you want to do is try to encourage your kid.  The easiest way to make bullies powerless is to imbue your kid with self-esteem.  Let them know they are doing well, compliment them on how they look, on what they are doing, etc.

If you found out that they are being bullied without them telling you, dont tell them.  They will likely not want interference from you on the issue and probably wont believe anything you say.  Make sure you dont shower them with nicities either, they will notice and disregard you as weird.

Since your kids might not take what you say at value anyway, convince a relative to help.  Cousins are a good choice, approach them and let them know that a kind word here and there can help a lot.

Remember, the best way to beat bullying is to ignore it.  If it can be beat with self-esteem, that is the way to go.  Your child will feel even better for it.

3.  Except that doesnt always work.  Some bullys are either too clever with how they hurt people, or simply to viscous, or perhaps your child is just to depressed to resist.  No matter the case, this problem has gone beyond self-esteem issues.

Some would suggest running to the schools at this point, but there is an easier way of handling this.  Talk to the parents of the bullyers.  A personal talk with the bullies parents can do more for you than a meeting with the teachers.  Parents have more power over their kids lives, and (almost) no parent wants a bully for a child.

Once they realize they can get in trouble at home for what they do at school, you will have less trouble.

As for cyberbullying, this is when you ask your child to unfriend and stop contacting the bullies.  I say ask because you want them to do it themselves.  If they dont, well, it is time for step 4.

4.  The thing is, however, that some people dont care if their kid bullies others.  Or, it could be that it is all online, and you cant have a chat with the parents.

If you are dealing with people you can meet in person, now is when you go to the school.  With the recent incidents of suicide and violence, schools generally have zero-tolerance polcies in regards to bullying.  Make it clear that you expect them to be enforced.  Generally, you wont have to make a point of it.  Teachers and staff are usually more than happy to comply, and suspension is a message that should get through to the offenders.

If you are faced with a school that is less than helpful, remember that the principle is not the final authority.  Go above their heads and remember that school districts want nothing to do with scandals or problems.  If that doesnt work, step 5 is for you.

In regards to cyberbullying, this is when you pull the plug.  There is no step 5 for cyberbullying, because it should never go that far.  This is when your kid unfriends the bullys or you cut them off.  If they are not willing to block the bullies themselves, use parental controls.

Parental controls dont always work against computer savvy people, which your child likely is.  So you may have to do something more drastic.  If you happen to be computer savvy yourself, go the extra mile and modify your computers HOSTS file.  That is something generally out of most kids computer expertise.  Be sure to remember to block both the www. address and the one with out the www. because they have different IP addresses.

If you dont know how, or are uncomfortable with something so drastic.  The easiest way is to pull out the cable from your internet router.  No internet means no internet bullying.  If your kids need to do homework, reconnect it for a time.  But keep watch to make sure they arent going to facebook and other sites.

And when I say keep watch, I mean randomly take the computer from them and check every window and their history to make sure they arent pulling a fast one on you.  Be wary of “projects” that seem to take forever, and remember you can always ask the teachers if it exists.

5.  OK.  This is it.  By this point you have tried to encourage your child, talk to the bullies parents, talk to the teachers, and even go above them and talk to the districts.  You have tried almost everything you can do.  But not everything.

This is the final, most drastic way to stop bullying, and it will do it.

You see, many forms of bullying are not just amoral, but illegal.  Threats against your child are assualt, and you can have them arrested for it.  If (physical people) are using facebook and other networks to slander your child, you can make a case that it will interfere with their abillity to get a job in the future and get into college.  Because it will.  Businesses and colleges will check these things, and if they see things they dont like, it can really hurt.

Talking to the police is the final straw, a last resort, and not something to be taken lightly.  Make sure you have exhausted all other options before you do this.

6. While number 5 is really the last option for stopping bullying, if nothing else works, there is one more option:  Leave.  Change classes, change schools, change cities, just get your kid out from that enviorment.  Obviously, you shouldnt have to give into bullying, but being an adult means making some touch choices, and that might meen uprooting everything.

I hope this helps people out there.  Remember, you never need to give into bullies.

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Much has been made in the past few years, and in particular, this election cycle, about the virility and amount of attacks launched on canidates characters.  Each year, the attacks only get worse and worse.  From both sides of the aisle and within the parties, even those of the same political affiliation shamelessly attack each other.  When pressed, the aggresors will always say they are pointing to flaws in character that are unaceptable for civil servants.

Instead of putting forth real ideas, they launch political attacks, and even when someone does have an idea, it is usually acompanied by a jab at someone else.  “Here is my solution, unlike my opponent.”

It needs to end, but cant it?

After all, character is one of the most important factors to voters in determening who to vote for.  Consider that President Obama’s biggest advantage last election was that he could make people love him, and that Mitt Romney’s largest flaw is that he can’t.  Of course, if you cant make people love you, you can make them hate your opponent.

Some have tried, to a certain extent, to avoid personal attacks.  John Mccain was noted for taking a long time to attack then canidate Obama on the topics of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, although both would normally be sinking assocations for any canidate.

Some political commentators, generally the conservative leaning ones, say that may have been a key issue in his loss.

In all of this, one has to wonder, what does it say about current politics that some analysts believe the election was decided, not on policy, but on how far someone was willing to go to destroy someones character?

Civility in politics is a dream, but it doesnt have to be.  However, it cant be in the current polarized enviorment.  So to realize this dream, we need to change the enviorment.  To do that, we need to find the cause of the polarization.  Through repeated elections, we have seen the rise of the extreme in the house and senate.  The pendulem of power swings from one party to the other every so many years, but with each swing it gains strength.  In part, this is caused by gerrymandering, a process through which those currently elected redraw the voting districts to give themselves the advantage.  But the other part is much closer to home, because it is us, the voters.

Increasingly, even dinner table conversations have become hostile in the area of politics.  We, as a nation, have dug into our current political beleifs and refuse to budge.  And because our government reflects the wants and needs of the people, it too has become more polarized.

But people are not just born conservative or liberal, nor are they normally born bellicose and stubborn.  We are born with, and taught in childhood, to be empathetic, polite, and listen.  So what happened?  How did our views on each and every issue begin to radically differ from each other?

This polarization is driven by something, and that something is easy to discern.  The media has polarized the public, which has polarized the politicians, who have creared the ammunition for the media to repeat the cycle once again.

Much as FOX and MSNBC would have you believe they are fair, they are not.  As much as they would like you to believe the other are demons, they are not.  For their efforts, they are made rich, and assured constant business.  The news is not real reporting anymore, mearly analysis of the latest political scandal.  How what each person said, how they said it, and who they said it too will affect their chances in Novemeber.

It is like high school all over again, except with your money, freedom, and safety at stake.

How can anyone meet eye-to-eye when they believe the other is misinformed, or worse, spining the truth?  We dont need fair and balanced, or the place for politics, we need what actually hapened, if it actually matters.  Fair and balanced is being unbiased and being the place for politics means actually telling what is their without analysis.

But this dream is not impossible, despite how it may seem.  These news stations are businesses, and they will respond to what there audiences want.  Vote with your remote, and watch only the most pure news reporting they have, instead of their analysis shows.

Once we have civility in politics, we can have true discourse and real solutions.  Just imagine what that would be like, and how prosperous we could become.



For every good game out there, there are two bad ones and for every fantastic game out there, you have three good ones.  You should never buy something merely good, and should never rent something bad, but the odds seem stacked against you, as by this logic there are six bad games for every fantastic one out there.  The trick is recognizing which one is which, and before you actually sit down to play them.

So how do you do that?

The first part is to know yourself.  Regardless that IGN rates it a ten, if you hate puzzle games, dont play Closure.  If you know what kind of game you are looking for, you are going to have a much easier time at finding it.  Each game is defined in a certain class, almost its own species, and each species has several sub-species, which have even smaller branches themselves.  The better you know what you want, the more likely you are to not feel the pain of sixty wasted dollars.

For example, if you know you like action, you should decide on whether you want something fantasy/swords based, sci-fi/shooters based, or perhaps fist-to-fist combat.  For the sake of the example, lets say you chose shooters, but before you pick a random one off the shelf, delve a little deeper into it.  Shooters can be devided pretty well along the line of stealth, namely whether or not stealth is a factor in gameplay.  Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Ghost Recon, and Rainbow Six Vegas II all have significant stealth elements.  A stealth/shooter game usually means that your enemies can kill you pretty quickly, that enviorments will be complex perhaps with multiple paths to your goal, and that you will often need to think of strategies and then modify them on the fly.  This is great for the more tactical player, who prefers to take everyone out quickly and quietly, like they were never even there.

Alternatively, you might decide to go with something more loud.  Left4Dead, Battlefront, Call of Duty, and Medal of Honor rarely have stealth elments in them, and are generally not optomised for it, so dont expect to sneak through the levels and dont expect silenced weapons.  These games are often fairly linear, you are often affored more health than stealth types, and while some tactical thinking is useful it is more about quick reflexes and acurate shooting.

These two game types are pretty easy to identify, so you shouldnt have a problem deciding which one to play.  Without going into too much detail, here is a quick list and description of some of the more common types.

Shooter/stealth – It is all about killing quickly, quitely, and without being seen.  Tactical thinking is more important than brawn, and dont expect all that much health and ammo either.

Shooter/action – For the people who drown their enemies in lead.  You can think tactically, but generally all the tactics you need are an automatic and reflexes.

Fighting/wrestling(w) – Toe-to-toe mash ups.  This genre is more than just wrestling, also containing UFC as well.  Its all about punchs and kicks, not much thinking involved and you are limited to fighting in a small arena.  The (w) distinguishes this as the western style, the kind that doesnt have superpowers involved.

Fighting/wrestling(j) – Like UFC combined with the X-men, punches, kickes, and super energy plasma cannons.  Dont expect reallity and have some fun.

WRPG – Western-style Role Playing Game.  Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur, etc.  Extremely open enviorments, you can often choose to do whatever you want, whenever you want.  The Elder Scrolls Series in particular is noted for that, since you have no real need to follow the main quest if you dont want to.  Great for people who dont want to be held down to a particular storyline, or just like to spread chaos.

JRPG – Japanese-style Role Playing Game.  Tales of the Abyss, Final Fantasy, etc.  Much more linear than their cousins, the wrpg, jrpg’s generally have closed fighting systems.  Meaning that unlike Skyrim, where what you see is what you fight and where you are is where you do it, jrpg’s often use the monsters only as models for groups that may contain many monsters and take place in an almost arena like area.  They focus much more on the combat aspect of the game, and a lot less on choice.

Those are just a few, but doing some research on what type your favorite games are may give you insight into some more types that would interest you.

Ok, so you know what you like.  But how to choose from the torrent of games in each genre?  It isnt like you can play each game ahead of time and see which one is best after all.  Fortunately, you dont have too, because the people at sites like IGN have already done it for you.  There are other places besides IGN, but IGN is a very reliable source of information, and the reviews they write are top notch.

When looking at reviews on sites like IGN before you do anything else, skip to the end and take a look at how they scored it.  IGN rates games across several aspects, presentation, graphics, sound, gameplay, and lasting appeal.  They then give a score which represents how well the game was overall, and keep in mind that it is not the average of the other scores, but rather a sum of its parts type deal, representing the entire experience. 

If the game is less than a seven overall, dont bother with the review, it isnt good enough to merit the attention and only read the ones from seven to eight if the game looks interesting to you.  You want the best, so look for games in the eight to ten range, with ten being the most perfect game that the reviewers at IGN could have hoped for. (at the time of its release.)  A quick note is that IGN gives out tens very sparingly, with only a few games every taking that title.

If the overall score is good, check the other scores too.  The important ones are presentation and gameplay, as these are the ones that tell you how the game feels and how the game plays, good scores indicate a very playable game, you want to look for eight to tens in this range as well.  Scores less than eight indicate that the game may have stellar graphics, sound, or some innovative feature that warrant its overall score.  Nevertheless, in general you are probably not interested in just looking at pretty pictures with pretty music if the gameplay sucks.  The reviews are helpful besides the scoring as well.  They can alert you to difficulties in controls, graphics, or gameplay that might not be enough to hurt their rating but are still annoying nonetheless.

Reviews are great, and a fantastic way to check a game before you buy it.  At the same time, they are no the end all and be all.  Some of my favorite games have only merited low sevens, even though I throughly enjoyed them.  Which brings us to the concept of a demo.

Demo’s are possibly the best of all for learning whether or not a game is for you.  Since you actually get to play a sliver of the game, you get the best chance to see how it plays, what it looks like, and whether or not you want to buy it.  If a demo is available, you should always play it before you buy a new game.  Of course, that isnt always an option.

When considering buying a game, it is also a good idea to check who makes it and if it is in a series.  If the game has eleven titles, then that means it sells.  If it sells, it is probably a good game.  They wouldnt make it if they couldnt sell it.  By the same token, the “they” is pretty important, as it also will show a track record.  Bioware, Bethesda Softworks, and Blizzard have been making best-selling hits for years and they know what they are doing.  Anything they make will likely be quaility work, if not fantastic.

The second to last test is looking at the package itself.  By this time, you should be practically sold on the game already, since you would have researched it pretty thourghly, but it never hurts to take a look at the package.  Read some of the stuff on the back, check to see if it requires special things for the full experience (like a PS move or Xbox kinect), check to see if it requires an online pass, and double check the descriptions on the back.

Finally, you are at the counter, prepared to lay down some hard earned money to get some well earned rest and relaxation.  There is only one final thing that you should do, ask the clerk.  The people who work at Gamestop know the games fairly well, and can tell you if this game just sold was rated highly by reviewers but low by the actual buyers. 

If it all checks out, congratulations on your new game.  If not, well, consider that at least you havent wasted money on something that makes you want to rip your hair out.

Renting isnt a wholly different animal.  The same things still apply, except that you can lower your standards a bit and take a chance.  Services like Gamefly can allow you to try new things, without major consequences.

Still, why waste your time if you dont have too?

Again, it is important to know what types of games you like, and what you might be interested in.  If you like Battlefield III, you might like Rainbow Six Vegas II, or try Deus Ex: Human revolution for a taste of the sci-fi and rpg type genres.  Dont try and jump from one to other in one go, you might regret it.

Reviews are a good way to decide as well.  You have much more leeway when you arent buying, but you still want something better than a six.  IGN recommends that you only play games from seven to ten, and in their description of ratings, declares that some of the lower rated games are painful to play.  Something rated less than five can be compared to moonshine, it burns and will make you blind.

Unlike when you buy games, demos are of no use in renting.  For the time it takes to download, you could just rent the game play for an hour, and then send it back if you dont like it.  Dont even bother.  Similarily, there is no clerk to talk to, and no package to check. 

Honestly, if you feel you need a second opinion after the description offered and the review, it probably isnt worth the time.

You should pretty much avoid everything that doesnt pass these tests, because some of the games on the trashy side of the scale really are painful to play.

Happy Gaming.



I am not going to argue liberal or conservative here.  I especially will not argue democrat or republican, which are fast becoming two differnt things from liberal and conservative. 

Instead I am going to ask a ridiculous question:  Would you trust your plumbing to them?

Most of you are probably saying, “Of course not!”  The others are probably laughing at the idea of Clinton or Gingrich holding a plunger. 

The point is that when you have a problem with your plumbing, you hire a plumber, or find some sort of expert.  Someone with years of experience and education in fixing the problem, who knows precisely what they are looking at and get right down to business.  Obviously, politcians lack the kind of experience to handle these things, but what then, is their expereince for?  This all leads to the main point, one that is often overlooked.  In any other situation, what we see in government would be dismissed as an incredibly bad idea.

To put it simply, what on earth do these people know?

For example, on the issue of health insurance, the two beasts fought each other with zeal.  Each side declared the other to be taking someones freedom and impugning their rights.  Both sides thought they were right, and they both were, to a certain extent.  But that discussion is for another time, because under all the political intrigue and idealogical debate, nobody actually considered letting the people in health care decide.

The most telling example is when various politcians quoted statements and used models from the Mayo Clinic, without notifying them, only to have the clinic come out publically and seperate themselves from the issue, because the models and statements were being misinterpreted and misused.

For those who dont know, the Mayo Clinic is one of the best hospitals in the world.  Catering to the needs of celebrites and politcal figures, including the Dali Lama, it provides services on par with John Hopkins, its only real rival.  Founded in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, the clinic employs the majority of the 100,000 people plus city.  Not to mention the two other major branches in Florida and Arizona.  Suffice to say, when the Mayo Clinic makes a statement, it carries weight, and with very good reason.  Undoubtly, they know more about healthcare and health insurance than perhaps any other organization, with the possible exception of John Hopkins.  Plus, they have never excepted government money, have been in an almost constant state of exspansion and growth, and are a non-profit, unmotivated by greed.

These are the people who should have been entrusted with healthcare reform.  The experts with decades of experience with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of paitents and a track record for doing the right thing, both morally and logically, that extends all the way back to the Mayo Brothers and their practice in the then small town of Rochester.

This trend of not trusting the experts with intensely complex and important issues is not limited to healthcare either.  Do we really think that any of the politicians, except perhaps the Bush family, know anything about drilling for oil?  Or, for that matter, the enviorment in general?  When people say that the oil pipelines from Alaska have altered caribou migtation routes, they are right.  However, they migrate to the pipelines now, because they like the warmth.  The pipeline actually benefits the herds.  Not that it isnt detremental as well, just that the full issue is not being discussed.  Why not leave whether an area is important or not to ecologists and geologists, who actually have the years of training to understand what it is they are looking at.

You had politicians decide to let sub-prime loans be legal in the afforadable housing act, so that people (obviously) could afford housing.  Yet, who could have forseen what happened instead?  Only an economist and banking expert, who, looking over the bill, might have seen the potential for disaster.

Important research is always at the mercy of the whims of politicians as well.  Consider the early restrictions on stem cell research, or the restrections of GMO’s.  But these people are not scientists, they are unlikely to even understand the research they are banning and restricting, and act purely out of ethical ideals.  Obviously, ethics has a place in law, as that is the foundation for a moral society.  But it should not be at the exspense of good sense.

So how do we solve this problem?  More accurately, can we? 

It certainly isnt working now, whoever is in power, whether they are democrat or republican, or tea partier or occupier, they follow their idealogies instead of reason.  Sure they have good intentions, but the worst harm can result of them.  What is needed is a change in the culture of politics.  Politics is consumed with hubris and stubborness, people rise to that level because of charisma, connections, and the belief that “they”” can fix what is broken.

In short, politicians need to listen and then prove that they can actually say, “I was wrong, but I have learned.” 

Fat chance though, right?



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There are three games that I credit with having evolved by concept of what an rpg should be, the first being The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind by Bethesda Softworks, the second and third however, both go to Bioware and the Dragon Age series, and for good reason.

Dragon Age I introduced us to a radical, and radically simple concept:  Your choices make a difference.  Sure, there were games before this were your choices influenced the game, but Dragon Age I was unique in that every choice would resound throughout the game.  For example, a relatively minor choice you made in the first thirty minutes, should you have decided to choose the mage background, will become important later in the game and can radically change your playthrough.  I wont give details and spoil it for anyone who as yet to play, but in essence this kind of pattern exists throughout the game, you can decide how you play all the way to the end.

While Dragon Age I was almost purely based on choice, Dragon Age II felt much more linear.  Mostly because it was, it really felt as if it was lacking what made me love Dragon Age in the first place.  However, Dragon Age II stands out for some of its own innovative additions, and it isnt as if choice is wholly absent, it is just that you will never make a decsion that will reverberate in the game quite like the choices in Dragon Age I.

On the topic of its innovations, DA2  had a much more streamlined combat system than its predeccesor, especially for those of us who love magic.  It really reduced the robotic look to using staff magic, and it was a major improvement in how the action played out.  In fact, magic was almost totally overhauled between I & II, and all for the better.  Mages now actually fought, and looked cool doing it, as opposed to sitting back and making vauge motions.

Other outstanding features included a vocal main character, as opposed to the silent one in DA1.  It might seem like a minor thing, but both the male and female voices are well done, and since you can choose Hawkes personality and responses in speech you can look forward to a game filled with dialogue to match the character you have created, and that is a real bonus.  But the real inovation is in the face, you get to model it yourself, of course, in true Dragon Age style, and you can make it into whatever you want.  But no matter what you do, it will still be exspressive.  Imagine, that peoples faces actually reflect their emotions and that the lips synch with what they are saying!  It really raised the bar when it came to character models and character speech.

Of course, the best thing about DA2 is that your choices from the first Dragon Age affect it and are present in it.  Allistair cant appear to talk to you if he dies after all, and you made that choice a while back, and now you get to live with the consequences, awesomely.

But for all of my love for DA and DA2, they both had some problems, and while great games, were just a little shy of amazing.

Dragon Age III, if the hints Bioware has handed to us mean anything, will be taking place in Orlais, but just what the plot and events will be are anyones guess.  Or rather, anyones choice.  In essence, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II have created the world and set the stage, and all your choices could be reflected in the third installment of this series.  Did you side with the elves in Dragon Age: Origins?  Did you duel the Arishok in Dragon Age II?  When you begin Dragon Age 2 you are prompted to choose a save file from Origins to use as history, only there is more data in the save file than is used for the gameplay of Dragon Age II, so it seems likely that information will be passed on to three.  Because of this, Dragon Age III is guranteed to be at least interesting.  But why stop there?

Dragon Age I and II both had problems, in opposite directions.  Origins had less-than-exemplar combat, paired with sometimes a little shody character models, and somewhat suffered for its lack of a linear feeling.  Not that I particularly like linear rpgs, but I remember that if it wasnt for my penchant of checking every door to see if I could enter I might not have discovered the way to continue one part of the main storyline, and nothing is worse than spending hours of your time trying to figure out what the game wants you to do next.

Dragon Age II suffered from other maladies.  The most noticable, and infuriating, was that they reused maps.  Every single dungeon looked precisely like every other one, the only difference being which path was blocked and the occasional mirroring of the place.  It really was painful to be disapointed repeatedly by the lack creativity in that department.  Also, as I metioned before, the game is much more linear.  Little you do has a huge affect on the storyline, just on how you do it.  Hand in hand with this is that persuasion is no longer as important, and that was almost depressing.  Looking back at Origins, my character was practically the definition of sociopath, I manipulated anyone and everyone, wheedled every last coin, bit of information, and service out of every person I came into contact with, and made them love me for it.  I took great pride in betraying people at the last momment, before taking them for everything they had.  It was fascinating, and was a truly important tool in my aresnal, not to mention a fascinating one.  Dragon Age II clipped my wings, so to speak, but there were still some fun oppurtunities so it wasnt a total loss.

So what too look for In Dragon Age III?  Synthesis.  The best of both worlds.  Bioware has a good track record of listening to what their fans are saying, so it is a good bet that words like these ones have made it to their ears. 

On the other hand, my expectaions are higher than my hopes.  I am expecting that this game lands a perfect 10 at IGN, because with two great games under their belt, and the fact that they both excelled in different areas that the other was poor at, the solotion seems obvious.  I am expecting that my choices all the way from the first Dragon Age will help form the world and the ones from the second as well, and I am expecting that this game will be finally introduce the idea that how I build my character will affect how people react.  (It really is funny to watch my character, a blood mage, berate another character for using blood magic or give lectures on how blood mages give mages a bad name after I killed my through tons of people using that same magic.)

Honestly though, I hope Bioware doesnt screw this up.  While it isnt like the gaming giant is prone to that kind of thing, in such a complex game, one that will be affected by choices you made years ago (or days if like me you will be starting both Origins and DA2 over to make the perfect background for DA3.) and just choosing what choices should be important enough to carry and how to build such a multifaceted storyline is a challenge by itself.  Games are often compared to Icarus, and for good reason.  Consider the hype that surrounds it already, can it really live up to the potential we saw in Origins and II?  Rarely have I seen a game series with as much raw potential as this one has, and I expect them to shine.  Realistically, I hope they dont mess it up, but I know it will be a great game no matter what.



We all know that video games are exspensive.  Setting aside the intial sixty dollar investment, many games require “online passes,” or have Downloadable Content (DLC) that while not neccesairly required, often “fills” intentional holes left in the story or features.

All in all, you might end up paying $100 for your gaming experience, or more.  On the other hand, the quality of games are improving, right?  Well, maybe.  Some games are better than others, and if you are going to be spending $100 of your hard earned money, it should be fantastic, not merely good.  Some of the games listed here are series or collections by the way, but remember that a good series is always a safe bet, and that collections are some of the best you can get for your money.  So here we go:

10.  The Civilization Series by Sid Meier

The Civilization series is one of the best PC game series out there.  You play as one of the various cultures of the world, Spanish, French, or even Iriquois, and your goal is domination.  You can conquer with an epic military, or culture, or trade, or really whatever you want.  Even if you go back to Civilization III and play it today, you wont be disapointed, but the newest out is loaded with features, including an awesome multiplayer that will keep you coming back for more.  Not to metion that a single, single player game can take over ten hours.  This game will suck up your time like nothing else.

9.  Rainbow Six Vegas II

Available for both PS3 and Xbox360, RSV2 is a fantastic game for those who enjoy stealth/action games.  No add-ons required and has both online and local multiplayer, which is a definate plus.  The game places you in the shoes of Bishop, an anti-terrorist agent, and sends you all over as you face bomb threats and terrorist acts.  With a amazing arsenal of customizable weapons, armor, and camoflauge, not to mention a a plethora of quick action maps with a couple of different game settings, combines with local and online multiplayer, and you are set for a good long time.

8.  Castle Crashers

Castle Crashers is a downloadable game over the PSN and Xbox Live that will keep you up at night playing it.  You are a knight, and your goal is to rescue four princesses.  Easy right?  Wrong, as the games takes you all over a map in ridiculous side scrolling action.  the grahpics are fantastic and the game never has a dull momment, with up to four players in local and online multiplayer, and no split screen to deal with.  Not mention tons of knights to play with, each with their own unique powers.  And when you beat the game, it is not nearly the end.  You get to tackle insane mode, and if you thought this game was easy, prepare to be rudely disabused of that notion.  The action takes place on an entirely new plane once you go insane.  And all that doesnt even cover the pets and weapons that you can get.

Did I mention that in multiplayer after rescue a princess the knights fight for the honor of who gets to kiss her? 

7.  The God of War Collection

Do you like mindless action and bloodlust?  If no, skip ahead to number six, if yes, well look no further.  Collections are great because you are getting multiple games and at price less than a newer one.  If you like action, and havent played the first God of War, it is a shame.  Because Kratos, the character you play as, on a quest to kill a god, grinds his way through more enemies than you can shake a stick at.  And in a uniquely brutal fashion.  Honestly, you cant go wrong with a collection of some of the best-selling games ever to hit the PS2.

6. Infamous

Alright, so the sequel is out already, and that is pretty good too in terms of bang for your buck.  But because the sequel is already out, the original is even less exspensive, and you are more likely to get a deal.  Infamous drops you in a city that has been ripped apart by an unknown cataclysm, than struck by plauges and disease.  Quaratined from the outside world, the city is controlled by gangs, and the people have nowhere to turn to.  Except you, for some unknown reason you have gained superpowers from the intial blast, you have control over electricty and magnatism, with all the fun that entails.  Not to mention a whole city to explore, think of it like Assassins Creed with superpowers, and you get the idea.  Plus, those powers are customizable and upgradeable.  And your actions, good or evil, determine how they are used.  Lots of action + lots of adventure + couple of choices + superpowers = fun.

5. The Rachet and Clank series

It is worth noting that both number five and number four go to Rachet and Clank, and for good reason.  Each and every Rachet and Clank has been better than the last, and the very first one on the PS2 is one of the best games ever made, so it is fair to say that this series has high expectations and exceeds them every time.  How can you go wrong with tons of fantasitc weapons and tons of enemies to use them on?  Plus it is fun for any age group, and the latest one out All4One, is designed for four people to play the main story line, which is unheard of in gaming.  Of course, it is still playable on single player, so dont worry if you are a loner.  I have played through every Rachet and Clank game at least three times, sometimes more along the lines of ten times, you simply cant go wrong.

4. The Rachet and Clank Collection

Ok, ok.  So at the time of this post, it has not been officially released.  But come one, before R&C Tools of Destruction came out as the first PS3 R&C game, there were FOUR games released for the PS2, Rachet and Clank, Rachet and Clank: Going Commando, Rachet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, and Rachet: Deadlocked.  Each and every one was an awesome game by itself, the last two, Up your Arsenal and Deadlocked are, as far as I am concerned, the two best games in a series of absolutely fantastic games.  We are talking hundreds of hours of playtime here, and if the price tag is $100, then that is only $25 a game, and each has been remasterd for the PS3 graphics.  What more could you want?

3. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The top three games on this list really deserve their titles.  We are talking about games that are so well produced, that the asking price of $60 seems cheap.  Games that are like Icarus, only that they fly higher and when the wings melt they turn it into an olympic dive with more twists and turns than any gold medaltist could hope for.

Entering into that arena is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  IGN describes the hype for this game like icarus as well, wondering if they would fly to close to the sun of expectation and crash and burn.  Only that they didnt fall, but flew on taking all the heat and delivering only the best.

Set in the year 2027, humans now have the abillity to augement themselves with mechanical parts.  You are Adam Jennsen, the Head of Secruity for the biotech corporation Sarrif Industries, and the game begins the day before your company is set to announce a major discovery to the world.

Then, an unkown force breaks in, kills the sceintists and nearly kills Adam.  Adam goes into surgery almost dead, and leaves with more circuts and features than anything you have ever seen to embark on a gripping tale of conspiracy and ethics, of advancement and humanity, and of duty and determenation.  Action and adventure lurks in every corner, and you are fully customizable to become the ultimate tank, who takes and dishes out damage like nobodies business, or a sneak who can turn invisible and specializes in close quarters kills and submissions, or even a tech head who uses an enemies turrets, cameras, and robots against them.

No matter which you choose you will gain experience, and there is always multiple ways to accomplsih your goal.

And on that note, Deus Ex boasts something unheard of in modern action games.  You dont have to kill anyone.  Yes, you read that right.  You dont have to kill a single person, alternatively you could kill them all of course, but you are never forced to kill.  (with the exception of three boss fights.) and there is a trophy for completing the game without killing a soul. 

This game has it all:  action, adventure, choice, and consequence.  You have to have it, and it is worth every penny you spend.

2.  The Dragon Age series

Playing these games raised the bar in my mind for all other games, afterwards, I expected that peoples faces should look real both in cutscenes and out.  That when a person has an emotion, it should show.  That when I make a choice, there will be consequences for it and that those consequences will not only shape the world in ways that I might not be able to forsee, but the games I play afterwards too.

These games are all about choice and consequence, and every choice you make is important.  They are beautiful and boast people with actual expressions.  The action and story are equally amazing, espcially since your choices dictate the course of both.

Honestly, I do not have the words to describe how awesome these games are.  They are simply some of the best, and if you dont have them, you are missing out.

1.  The Elder Scrolls series

Many years ago, I stumbled across a game called Morrowind, and I have never been the same since.  They are like no other game out there, as they have more choices and openeness than any other game before or since.  I still play Morrowind today, because on the PC they can be modded by anyone exstensively and for free.

Truly there is no limit to these games, and that is why they are on top.  Simply search for mods online and you will find libraries of them, a limitless supply of modifications to improve your game.  And the games are practically perfect without these improvements! 

Like Dragon Age, words are not enough to describe these games.  Try them, you wont regret it.

And that is everything, the top 10 games, or series for your dollar.  Each and every one is good, and packed with more content than you might even be able to get through, and worth every cent you put down for it.



    I must admit, I went into this game with high expectations, and why shouldn’t I have?  Aside from all the hype surrounding the game, it had a star studded cast, including my all time favorite author R. A. Salvatore and the lead designer for the amazing games Morrowind and Oblivion.  It was promised to have found a way to merge action and rpg, fixing the terminal problems of both.  The lack of story, holes in the story, in action style games.  And the weakness of combat in rpg styles (particularly western style rpg’s).

   To say I was disapointed is an understatement.  The story starts interestingly enough, your character, which you construct in a funny maner in the introductory cutscense wakes up on a pile of corpses, the only success in a series of otherwise failed experiments.  The action starts soon after, as your enemies, introudced as the Tuatha, attack for unkown reasons and you are forced to defend the facility with sword and magic.

   Initially, I was impressed by the fighting system.  It lacked the choppy feal of the Elder Scrolls series. and the graphics and actions were beautifuly choreograhphed.  The shift from magic, to sword, to dagger was almost seamless, allowing me to shift my fighting style as soon as the mood hit me, and usually not requiring using the menu.  Even in the  begining, I was never forced to adopt a particular style.  All the usual rpg classes were introduced, daggers and bows for the stealth/ranger, swords and hammers for the warrior, and staves and spells for the mage, and it seemed, for the momment, that this game truly was a synthesis of choice and action.

    That illusion was quickly dispelled as the game went on.  There were almost no improvements or additons to the combat past the intial point, only a few more weapons were introduced, and I soon realized that I had almost no real choice at all.  My standard test for my abillity to choose in a game goes like this:  Can I join my enemies and reak mayhem and destruction?  If yes, than that game is generally one with lots of choices that can affect the outcome in different ways, if no, then it probabbly isnt. 

   That said, I did not enter the game banking on that abillity.  I expected something along the lines of Dragon Age, where my choices would affect actual events, even important ones.  For example, if I have two objectives that can be pursued, but I have to do one before the other, I would want there to be consequences for it.  I would want the abillity to choose to right or wrong, or some stranger gray area that perhaps previous actions unlocked.

   However, I was sorely disapointed.  I realized that almost none of your choices have any affect at all.  If I go wild and kill an entire city of people, I will get a bounty and guards will chase me.  But nothing else will be much affected, if I leave a sick village alone and dont help it, it wont die off.

   My last hope for choice was in how I customised my character.  With the abillity to invest in three branches of skills and never being forced to choose one over the other, I thought I could customize my character into the perfect mage-assassain, but more than that, that there would be choices within each tree that would dictate what kind of magic I would have, and what kind of stealth user I would be.

   Alas, but it was not the case.  You can choose to be whatever you want, but within each tree you are practically required to obtain everything in order to meet the requirements for the next level of skills and improvements.  I could not focus on daggers and sneaking in stealth, or focus on summoing and offensive spells in magic.  I was forced to get a little of everything in order to proceed.

 

   In the end, this game is not as bad as I make it out to be.  It was good, but simply not as great as it could or should have been.  In the end I felt as though I had more choice in Assassain’s Creed and Deus Ex, and better action besides. 

Graphics: 9 

Absolutely stunning too look at, without a single detail overlooked.  With the exception of people, who looked a little stupid in the faces, and after Dragon Age, there is simply no exscuse to have stunning landscapes and ugly people.

Sound: 7

It was okay, but I never really noticed it.

Gameplay: 6

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.  This game promised choice, the abillity to change the games future and how you played it at will and in many different ways.  It promised a fighting system to rival action games.  It promised a good story and an in depth and detailed society.  Thank you R. A. Salvatore for being the one to come up with the story and legends that are found in the game, at least you did your job right.

Overall: 6

When I get the feeling that Assassain’s Creed gives me more choices and action, and mind you that I am talking about Assassains Creed I, than an wrpg touted as giving the best of both, something has gone horribly wrong.  The game is good, but many games are decidedly better.  Beauty and story are not replacements for gameplay, and trust me when I say that I did not even cover the half of my problems with this game.  (Don’t even get me started on the problems with stealth.)



Let me begin by saying that this is merely theory on my end and, moreover, I am not in a posistion to attempt to prove or disprove my hypothesis.  However, our current understanding of physics leads to certain conclusions about the nature of space and its structure.  It is easy to say that current understanding is flawed, as we still come out blank with answers for gravity and magnetism.  Two easily observable phemonena that we are at a loss to explain.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to explain is how these forces operate through vacuum, how gravity and magnetism can work without any noticable interaction between the two pieces of matter.  It is most difficult to explain because it defies our very conception of logic, since it should be impossible for two objects which cannot interact directly or indirectly to affect the other.

The key to overcoming this problem is to examine our basic perceptions.  Schools, from elementary to high school, teach that we, and indeed all objects, are mostly empty space.  That, if not for the inherrent repellent force of atoms, we could move through other objects without any of our molecules touching theirs.

But what if there was not empty space in between our molecules?  Like bacteria before the invention of the microscope, what we perceive as nothing might simply be incredibly small. 

I will get back to that point in a momment, but before I continue, let us examine the atom.  An atom, unlike what the ancient greeks believed, is not the smallest unit of matter.  It is the smallest unit of matter with the unique properties of the element it represents, but we can still break down the atom into protons, neutrons, and electrons.  With the advent of atom smashers, we can now peer even smaller, and oberve quarks.  We have even classifed them, up quarks, down quarks, etc.

But are they the only quarks in existence?  It would seem logical to assume that anti-matter consits of a different variety, although it might simply be a different configuration leading to a completely different formation.  How would we know if they werent in an atom?  Since our only method of observation is to smash atoms together, other varieties of quarks may exist as free standing entities.

Combining these two thoughts, 1) that it makes no logical sense for there to vacuum between to obviously interacting objects, and 2) that there may be more quarks than what have currently identified, we come to my current hypothesis:  That gravity and magnetism are products of quarks that do not make atoms.

It is my hypothesis that some quarks are “damaged,” almost like a half-melted lego brick, and so are unable to truly form molecules as we know them.  However, they still retain some of their properties and attempt to connect with other quarks around them.  This connection is the basis for interaction between molecules. 

The higher the mass of an atom or molecule, the more area it has for these conections, and thus, more gravity or magnetism.

It is observing these quarks, (if they are quarks, instead of even smaller particles that are yet undiscoverd) that is the problem.  Since they are theoretically everywhere, it would be hard to zero an instrument to detect them.  And it would be even more difficult to tell if you truly had discovered them or had just received some form of interference because to some extent these particles would have properties we have already asigned to larger molecules.

On the other hand, should these molecules exist, they would possess fantastic potential.  Specifically, the manipulation of gravity.  Asumming that the particls are not uniform, and are actually “junk quarks,” it would seem likely that some would be better at “sticking” to other quarks than their fellows, and that some might be almost completely unresponsive.  In theory, by manipulation the quark content around atoms, one could effectively increase or decrease gravity, or move its point of origin.

Whether or not we could ever be capable of manipulating quarks on that level is a different matter altogther though.



{February 25, 2010}   Social Autism

This is mostly just a thought that occured to me.  Given that autism spectrum disorders could be considered disorders of hyperfocus, where the person becomes highly involved in one particular subject, would it not be possible to have autistic people interested in being social?  Would these people be social butterflies incapable of getting good grades?  They certainly wouldn’t show the main sign of autism, lack of any real social interaction, and would probably go undiagnosed.

This could mean that many, many, more people have autism than previously believed.  However, these people are probably written off as stupid socialites. 

Of course, it might not really be considerd autism.  To have a diagnosis as Autisitic, a person must display: 

(A) qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

    1. marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction
    2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
    3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people, (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
    4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity ( note: in the description, it gives the following as examples: not actively participating in simple social play or games, preferring solitary activities, or involving others in activities only as tools or “mechanical” aids )

(B) qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:

    1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
    2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
    3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
    4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
    (according to autreat.com)
    So someone who has “social autism” would not be diagnosed as such.  Therefore, help couldn’t be available to them.  It is an interesting quandry for a problem that might not even exist.


{January 14, 2010}   Twitter: the new 911

Haiti has just experienced a massive earthquake, a 7.0 on the Richter scale, the equivilant of 32 megatons of TNT force.  Haiti’s already beleagured systems have been completly annihilated, health, police, and communications.  Phone services are not working, cell or landline, and so one of the few ways to ask for help is; Twitter.

What can be considered a fun social network, an annoying waste of time, or the best way to keep in touch since the invention of words is now being put to more serious purposes.  Namely, as a 911 serivice, a journalism tool, and as a way for the government to release updates.

You see, the amount of technology that reach the internet has reached the point where, short of nuclear holocaust, it cannot be shut down.  Aid groups, citizens, government, journalists, all are pouring information into Twitter and are getting, at least it looks like, results.  Although, it might be that journalists and citizens are the only ones who are getting anything done with it.  I recently read a series of tweets where a group of friends in Haiti were able to organize and figure out if they were all o.k. and then decide a place to meet in real life. 

So is Twitter going to replace 911?  Maybe, but not too soon.  There are huge amounts of tweets every minute, and sifting through the junk (from a police perspective) and the actual, useful information might be a bit tough.  Also, the infrastructure is just not there for that to be done yet.  However some of that infrastructure might be coming soon.  In 2007, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, announced that they would be adding centers able to accept 911 texts.  Also a NENA member seemed to think that this would be the new generation of emergency response. (source: Government Technology, http://www.govtech.com/gt/127961)

The reason for this advance is to help people who are in situations where they might not be able to speak on a phone to be able to contact 911.  For instance, hostage situations or if a person cannot speak for whatever reason. 

So is Tweeting next?  Maybe.  Until then I suppose we will all just keep plugging away.



et cetera