Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Third Chair

I do a gaming podcast every week called The Third Chair. What is it? Well, basically, my co-host (The Gaming Goose) and I sit down with a rotating third panelist and discuss three gaming news stories. They range from the serious, to the absurd, to the downright hilarious. So far, we've had on Leon Thomas - the host of Heart of Gaming, Ekanaut - Executive Producer and Art Director at Uber Entertainment, DJ Arcas - the mind behind FortressCraft, and we just wrapped up an episode with Ed Glaser of Dark Maze Studios!
We're moving to our new home at Nerd Vice! Right now you can find our shows hosted at blip.tv; but mp3 downloads and an RSS feed will be coming soon! Hold tight!

Episode 1 - The Gaming Goose, Vira Gunn, and Stephen Chast.
Episode 2 - Leon Thomas, Vira Gunn, and Stephen Chast.
Episode 3 - Ekanaut, Vira Gunn, and the Gaming Goose.
Episode 4 - DJ Arcas, Vira Gunn, and the Gaming Goose.
Episode 5 - Ed Glaser, Vira Gunn, and the Gaming Goose.

Please feel free to leave a comment with any feedback! We're always looking for ways to improve or ideas for guests!

Also, there's a donate button in the left hand column. Any donations will be forever appreciated and go towards the purchasing of equipment to help me improve the show. With the launch of Nerd Vice and the work that goes into it, donations are appreciated now more than ever! Help us make the best product possible for you, fellow nerds!

Thank you so much for everyone who is listening and here's to many years to come!

-- Vira.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Madman's Guide to Happiness - The Worst XBLIG Game Ever.

It’s rare in life that we’re exposed to things so bad, that they make our heads spin in wonder as to how they were ever made. Manos: The Hands of Fate jumps to mind in the movie department and Vanilla Ice in the realm of music. Video games may have something up to par with those atrocities in the form of A Madman’s Guide to Happiness. The game is a single-player horror/mystery game that puts you in the role of a detective that’s the first to respond to the scene of a suicide. You then begin to examine the man’s computer files which promise you the key to happiness.

The concept itself could have been interesting, but it’s the execution where this game fails. To even call it a game would be pushing it. It amounts to a series of screens offering math puzzles and silly prose ramblings that any emo high school kid could have come up with. The font this schlock picked, which we’re forced to read, is presented in an is eye-raping style. There’s just no other way to describe it. This “game” will give you a headache.
The attempts to scare are practically nonexistent. The one or two times that something did happen, I ended up laughing; not the result one wants for their horror game. Not only that, but it should have been so easy to scare someone. If you don’t have much at your disposal, you can always go for the jump scare; it’s cheap, but effective.
I beat A Madman’s Guide to Happiness in ten minutes. I wasn’t expecting much for a title that costs 80 Microsoft Points, but I didn’t expect to fly through it quite that quickly. Not only that, but the “twist” is apparent from the  beginning, giving me nothing to look forward to upon completion. This is the first game I’ve played where I can honestly say there are no redeeming factors.
The game’s creator, Jaded Horizon, currently has another game on the Xbox Indie Games marketplace. While I haven’t had a chance to play it myself, I’ve heard it’s similarly brief and straightforward. While I’ll never discourage indie developers from doing what they do, I feel that maybe a bit more time and care should be taken before releasing games like these in the future. With clutter like this in the Indie marketplace, it’ll hide the few gems that are there and discourage prospective buyers from giving a small company a fair shake due to being burned in the past.

As for me? I’m going to go bleach my brain and hope this game doesn’t give me some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


You wake up on a beach. You have nothing on you. There’s nothing around you. Nothing, that is, but nature and a land ready to be shaped by your eager hands. Being a person driven by the need to survive, you dig into trees with your bare hands, clawing the wood into a crafting table so that you may create your first batch of rudimentary tools: a pickaxe, a shovel, an axe, a sword. These are your necessities to survive in this world you’ve suddenly been thrown into. The world of Minecraft.

The tools do little to make you feel any less vulnerable in this seemingly endless world around you. The silence is unnerving cut only from time to time by the moo of a cow or the snorting of a pig — or so you think. As you begin to work on your modest lodging for the quickly approaching night, a haunting melody fills your ears. There is no source. You cannot escape it. Yet, the heavenly tones continue to play. It’s as if something wants to assure you that you’re not alone and wants to imbue you with the strength to face what lies ahead.

Your first house is one built out of necessity. It’s carved into the side of one of the many towering mountains found in this world; you see several more off in the distance. You chose yours, however, due to the lake beside it. Squid swim joyously in its water, bringing one of the first smiles to your face since you’ve arrived in this place. Despite nightfall fast approaching, you feel the need to get a closer look at the aquatic animals. As you take a dip in the lake, night envelops the land. You have some trouble seeing, but all seems well with you and your squid friends.

That is, until you hear the slurping and the moaning. You look back to shore and see them: mobs, they’re called. To you, they look like giant spiders, zombie men, and a skeleton. It’s the latter that sends an arrow flying right past your head. You swim frantically back to your house, the monsters in hot pursuit. The whole time, arrows rain down around you, and spiders leap at you in an attempt to eat your face.
Finally, you narrowly squeeze through the door and slam it shut, locking out the mob menace. You now know one of the golden rules of this land: never go outside at night.

Looking around your room, you realize it’s a bit… plain. It’s not very large and it contains little more than a chest, your furnace, and a crafting table. It’s also unlit because you have yet to find some precious coals with which to make torches. Thus, you make a decision: it’s time to dig downward and hope for the best.
You start by hollowing out a stone staircase leading down into the underground. You’re extremely lucky. You immediately find a vein of coal and are able to craft yourself several dozen torches. With these, you’re not only able to light your house properly, but you can now continue your mining excursion.

You give up the stairs and, instead, opt for a series of ladders. You begin to find iron ore, a valuable commodity used to make stronger tools and armor. You also begin to make tunnels. Along the way, you come across stones you’d never found before. Redstone, Flint, Gold, Lapis Lazuli… all yours. All for the taking. You’re on a roll.

Then, suddenly, the tunnel gives way to a massive cavern. There’s a moment of awestruck silence the sheer enormity of the place settles in on you. Then the hissing begins. You throw a torch down illuminating the tall green and white creeper coming right at you. You try to get out your sword, but it’s too late. The kamikaze mob explodes, leaving you barely alive… but also exploding a wealth of blocks around you. Its path of destruction has not just harmed you, but unveiled a vein of diamonds. As you collect your five precious gems, you’re left to reflect on the double-edged nature of the world.

But there is little time to mull this over. There’s moaning. In the distance, you can see the dim flicker of a fire… yet you did not throw down any torches. Has someone been here before you?

As you walk forth, injured and nervously gripping your sword, you’re forced to fight off two zombies. You encounter a caged box with a flame at its center. A small image of a zombie spins in it and, within seconds, that zombie materializes. Again, you’re locked in a battle for your life and you emerge triumphant. Yet, there’s more images of beasts spinning in this demon box’s fire. You have one option: destroy it. You whip out your pickaxe and begin to frantically hammer at it. Your hands shake nervously as the seconds tick away. Your enemy spins, threatening to appear at any moment, but then — POP. It’s gone.

There’s a moment of darkness before your own torch is thrown down in place of the foul creation that had inhabited this mossy room. Then, you notice something that the battles had distracted you from: a chest. You move forward and, within, you find treasures the likes of which you’d never seen: a golden apple, a saddle, music discs, and… something else. The most holy of documents left by someone before you. The Ten Commandments of Minecraft.












As you read over the pages, that haunting music begins to play again. It’s as if everything is now clear to you. Everything in this world makes sense.

With your loot and your new doctrine, you navigate the tunnels and ladders to return to your home. You safely tuck away your new loot into a chest for safekeeping, except for the saddle. Then, you venture out into the world for a new day — a new age — has dawned on the world of Minecraft.

Finding a pig, you place the saddle upon its back. Then, as girlish glee fills your heart, you leap upon its back and began to ride it. The wise animal takes you to the top of one of the highest mountains and, looking down at the world around you, you’re filled with confidence and optimism. This world is yours. It’s yours to shape and build, and you’re going to enjoy every moment of it.

You see a Creeper off in the distance as it bounces amongst some ledges. Yet, instead of running, you nod at it out of respect. Any creature willing to destroy itself out of determination to accomplish its goals is fine by you – as long as it stays ten feet away at all times.

RATING: None available.
BETA PRICE: €14.95 (approx. $21.00)
DEVELOPER: Mojang – http://mojang.com/
Notes: This is one of the most addictive games I have ever owned. Playing through it is pure zen! There is so much to do and build, and there are truly some tense moments when facing down mobs. Checking out servers is also amazing – it’s great to see the things others have built first hand.
Thank you to Natasha Stuhl for the INCREDIBLE art. You can find her at http://totenkunstler.blogspot.com/!
Visit me at twitter.com/ViraGunn!

Press Start 2 Continue: For Gamers by Gamers

Press Start was one of the most surprising movies I’d ever watched. It was a movie that could have gone horrendously wrong. Listening to the description of it – a low-budget, video game parody – one immediately thinks of just how bad it could be. After all, video game movies have traditionally been terrible. Parody movies – especially in this day and age – are typically unfunny and reach levels of godawful that can lead one to want to throw their remote through the TV. But I can honestly say that Press Start was a movie made for gamers, by gamers, and I laughed hysterically throughout the entire thing.
Thus, when the sequel, Press Start 2 Continue, was released, I was anxious to get my hands on a copy and see the next chapter in the story.While the first film is decidedly more fantasy-based (evoking the RPGs of old), Press Start 2 pulls its influences from urban settings. The switch-up is a welcome one and feels organic given the varied nature of the Press Start universe that had been established both in the first movie and in the ongoing web-cartoon, Press Start Adventures. The new environments and game references are just as hilarious as the previous movie; these keep the entire movie feeling fresh.

With the switch from fantasy to modern, the trio’s quest arc from the first movie has been substituted with a plot involving Lin-Ku (everyone’s favorite rage-filled ninja) on a mission with pretty Princess Xanna tagging along. One likes ripping out hearts; one likes pink cellphones! It’s a match made in heaven.

Kevin Folliard’s (the writer’s) wit is always prevalent, whether it be in the jokes that are being presented to us or in the crafting of the characters themselves. It’s a joy to watch the story unfold and at no time does a plot point feel forced or insipid. Behind the camera is the very talented Ed Glaser who, despite the low budget, creates a movie that still looks polished. In fact, the visual upgrade is apparent from Press Start mostly due to this movie being in HD, but I’d also say that Glaser has improved his technique since 2007. The shots are dynamic and he does an excellent job of pulling out hilarious performances from his actors – particularly from Peter Davis, who returns as the rip-roaringly funny Count Vile.

On the musical end of things, Jake Kaufman (the video game composer responsible for tracks in Contra 4, TMNT, and many more) is back once more. His music contributes enormously to the tone of the movie. It genuinely feels like something you’d hear if you were playing as these characters in a game and encountering the situations they’re in. The triumphant music cue is one of my favorites – evoking 8-bit victories of days gone by.

Press Start 2 Continue is a funny, witty movie that feels altogether cohesive. I’d recommend that any gamer take a look at it. I viewed it with a friend and we had a blast picking out the references together; this is definitely a movie to be enjoyed with a fellow nerd. This is a movie to be enjoyed – period.
STARRING: Al Morrison, Jenny Nelson, Peter Davis, and more.
COMPANY: Dark Maze Studios
WEBSITES: darkmaze.com
( Thank you to Natasha Stuhl for the amazing art! )
( And remember to follow me on twitter @ViraGunn! )
( Listen to my interview with Ed Glaser at: http://justpressstart.net/?p=1600 )

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Picks

For those of you who weren't aware, I'm a bit of a movie buff. Games may be one of my passions; but as crazy as I am with them, the shelves of DVDs and tapes in my house attest to just how crazy I am over cinema. Thus, I decided to put together a quick list of my picks for tonight's Academy Awards - not that anybody was clamping at the bit to know; but oh well!

So who do I think will be walking away with the coveted Oscar tonight?

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The King's Speech - "The King's Speech" is just that classic award-winning film. Beautiful sets, beautiful costumes, amazing performances, and a gripping tale. This is one that will hold up with time and I can see myself revisiting in the years to come.

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman (Black Swan) - Portman's portrayal of the tortured Nina in "Black Swan" was one of the most gripping of her already amazing career. Throughout the movie, the subtle nuances to her performance kept me hooked just as much as the stunning visual effects.

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges (True Grit) - Bridges is one of the actors whom everyone loves. I have yet to find a single person who cannot be put under this man's spell. His performance as the rough, alcoholic Rooster Cogburn is mesmerizing in its ruggedness. As with most Bridges movies, it's impossible not to watch him anytime he is on the screen and the Coens' direction compliment him perfectly.

This category was the most difficult for me to choose. All the men up for Best Actor this year blew me away. I think it may be Bridges long and storied career that tips the scales for him, though.

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) - Rush as Lionel Logue is nothing short of brilliant. Every expression or movement is made with expressed purpose. Even the way he'd deliver lines in simple conversation left me captivated. I'd be incredibly surprised if Rush didn't walk away with this trophy.

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) - For a young actress to bring such capability and intelligence to a character is a huge task. Yet, from the moment she appears on screen, you believe that Steinfeld is an intelligent young woman who can do far more than her age and appearance would have one believe. Yet, she also knows how to switch on the vulnerability, making her endearing. An incredible performance.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Toy Story 3 - I bawled like a little bitch. Need I say more?

Achievement in Directing
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) - Few directors know how to bend and provoke the mind quite like Aronofsky. The twisted world of ballerinas and swans he created in his masterpiece, "Black Swan", is both beautiful and frightening. It's moving art.

Best Documentary Feature
Exit through the Gift Shop Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures) - I was a fan of Banksy's prior to this film and always had an interest in street art. I went into this documentary simply expecting it to be a look into how he accomplishes some of his amazing pieces. What I got out of it was so much more and one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
127 Hours (A.R. Rahman) - I love A.R. Rahman's scores. He knows how to compliment the landscape of a film perfectly with instruments and rhythms from his native India. Truly special and unique.

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
"If I Rise" from 127 Hours Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong - See above.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To Never Blow a Warp Whistle: The Case of N.

The case presented to me was an anomaly. As such, names will be withheld. The subject – whom we will refer to as “N.” – is a twenty-two year old female. She has been gaming since she was a young child. She owned a SEGA Genesis and various other generational systems since then but none of the Nintendo systems prior to her current Wii. What makes her unique? She has never played the “Super Mario Bros.” games.

While others may have lacked a Nintendo system when young, they were still able to play the games because they – inevitably – knew somebody who had one. However, our dear N. had the misfortune of knowing someone who forced her to sit and watch her play games on the NES while she, herself, was banned from using it. This was a torture to the young girl because she desperately wanted to try “Duck Hunt.”

Looking over her case, I decided the best treatment was to immediately expose the patient to four must-play Mario games: “Super Mario Bros.”, “Super Mario Bros. 2″, “Super Mario Bros. 3″, and “Super Mario World.” With N. onboard for the treatment plan, I handed over the controller and sat back to observe this utter rarity in the gaming world. When would I ever get another chance to document an adult gamer tackling Mario for the first time? I felt like Jean Marc Gaspard Itard as he studied Victor of Aveyron. I was doing groundbreaking work with a freak of nature.
We decided to tackle the games chronologically. N.’s experiences with  “Super Mario Bros.” were truly something to behold. I would go as far as to categorize it as a perfect example of gamer rage. There was never a time while she played the game that a profanity didn’t leave her mouth. When she wasn’t cursing, she was screaming angrily at whatever enemy or jump platform was troubling her at the time. Though I didn’t think it possible, her anger only increased whenever she came upon a bridge or water level – though, to be fair, this is typical even amongst seasoned players.

The subject’s inquisitive nature displayed itself during her playthrough. She openly questioned why an Italian plumber celebrated his survival by sliding down a flagpole. She also asked about the flying fish, the warp pipes, and why a plumber is qualified at all to tackle the issues of the Mushroom Kingdom. Obviously, her ability to suspend disbelief is crippled. However, her childish side did emerge anytime we entered an underground level – she sang along with the song. “Do do do do do do. Do do do do do do.”

To save N.’s sanity, we switched over to “Super Mario Bros. 2,” the black sheep of the family. To further compound on the oddity of Ms. N.’s case, it soon became clear that she strongly preferred “SMB2″ to  “SMB.” Having an interest in farming, she relished in being able to run around and pick turnips. She also had an adoration for Shy-Guys – finding them “cute.” As she played, not a single curse word was uttered and few moments of frustration appeared.

Then Birdo emerged. This pink abomination disturbed N. to the point where she recoiled away from the screen. I fear my patient may have been traumatized.

With memories of that egg-spewing monster fresh in her mind, we switched over to what I consider to be the best game of all time – “Super Mario Bros. 3.” Immediately, it became clear that N. was having difficulty. She accidentally went into my game, which had been saved on World 2 with two warp whistles in the inventory – along with several other power-ups. She proceeded to use everything in said inventory and ended up on World 8.

Instead of correcting her, I decided to lean back and watch how this played out. After all, it’s my job to observe, not guide. As World 8 destroyed N., the cursing began to fill my room again. Then, suddenly, a scream of “BOB-OMB” was let out as one of those little buggers managed to take her out, seemingly out of nowhere. I realized that, perhaps, I had been cruel.

After this torture, I reset the game and started her properly on the first world. While she still enjoyed this one more than “Super Mario Bros.”, she didn’t seem to relish in it the way that I did. In fact, her entire attitude towards the game could best be described as ambivalent. The only things she really seemed to enjoy were the slide puzzle games which she proved to be a prodigy at – for this, I envy her.

Finally, we popped in “Super Mario Bros. World.” Despite playing it for several levels, N. never seemed to be able to get the proper controls down for it. She used the spin jump for EVERYTHING – the sound for which began to weigh on MY sanity.

Despite this small problem, she was very intense throughout the game. She found it to be an enjoyable experience, especially when riding on the back of a Yoshi. When knocked off of him, N. experienced a deep feeling of loss and separation anxiety – the typical emotional reaction. Yoshi dependence is a real problem.

With all the games tested, there was a moment of silence. It was as if we had just successfully climbed Mt. Everest. When asked about her experiences, N. admitted that, had she been a child, she could see herself obsessively playing “Super Mario World” as well as “Super Mario Bros. 3.” However, fate had robbed her of her chance to have the the nostalgic connection that so many gamers had with the series, and she just couldn’t bring herself to have any sort of fondness for the original “Super Mario Bros.”

So, what is it about these games that puts them on such a pedestal in the hearts and minds of gamers? Are they truly excellent games, or are they simply just games that came out at the right time and developed a cult-like following based on childhood memories and nostalgia? Are there more people out there like N.?

Regardless of these answers, I feel as if I’ve bettered N.’s life by exposing her to these classics. She’s finally visited the Mushroom Kingdom. She’s blown on a warp whistle. She’s jumped on a koopa. She’s even ridden a Yoshi. As for me? I got to watch one of the few people in the 18-40 age bracket who’s never played the “Mario” games take them on – and it was one of the most amusing sights I have ever encountered.
Visit me at twitter.com/ViraGunn
Art by Natasha Stuhl - oo0shed0oo.deviantart.com
I'm also writing now for justpresstart.net! I strongly urge you to visit there for some great gaming news and reviews!