Welcome to my Friday Five, where every week I put together a list of five awesome items from various topics.

This week’s list? Great Vehicular Moments!

Playing Rocket League has me thinking about how much movement can influence a game. It reminds me of how cool it is to get a set of wheels and just tear through an open world, or creates that tension as you barely hold on trying to control through break-neck speeds. We all remember the stinkers like being forced to control the clunky Mako in Mass Effect, the awful floodlight/tank in Gears of War, or the recent rage against the Batmobile in Arkham Knight. Now and then though you get a game where it just brings you to a new appreciation of the world you’re in. Whether it be an intense race to get someone to the hospital, or given the ability to explore on a previously unprecedented scale. Here are some of my favorite moments when vehicles kick it up a notch during your play.

5) Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Riding The Battle Dragon

This amounts to probably the coolest moment in the game. FC3:BD’s creation concept was “wouldn’t it be cool if…”, proceeded by tons of 80’s nostalgic action inferences. You play as Rex Power Colt, a cybernetic commando dropped on an island of evil. Free-roaming through it there’s neon lining the streets and laser-wielding dinosaurs being groomed for war. These eponymous blood dragons are the big bad of the game, and the final act concludes with you driving one through a victory lap of sorts. Rex set out for power and absolute awesomeness. Plowing through everything in your path riding this beast of war delivers exactly that. Even if you don’t dig Far Cry’s core games I feel this is worth checking out for the duration of it’s 4-6 hour campaign.

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I miss Assassin’s Creed. That’s all I can think about as I recently finished it’s latest offering, AC: Unity. Ignoring the buggy mess that it was, I just want to talk about what the series has become and it’s journey along the way. A little recap of sorts. There may be some spoilers, but I’ll try and keep it to a minimum for the latest two games and as dry as possible. Really though anything I say will have little to no impact on your feelings of the playthrough if you haven’t done so already.

Altair remains out of sight – (AC)

Assassin’s Creed started the franchise off as a stealth experience that was ripe with conspiracy, intertwining layers of story that bridge between modern times and it’s historical setting of Jerusalem circa 1191. Why start there? The Knights Templar are formed and freshly organized by this period. Their existence and influence have remained in the shadows all the way to present day where they actively manipulate the civilized world towards their own mysterious goal. They believe themselves to be the shepherds of humanity, instilling peace through control for the sake of the greater good. You play as Desmond, a descendant of the Assassin, Altair, as modern day Templars explore your genetic memories. Every mission concludes with the assassination of a key Templar before exiting the machine that allows the two worlds to connect dubbed “The Animus”. Once you’re in control of Desmond you can sleuth your way to discovering the origins behind who kidnapped you and why they chose you. Once you complete the game you unlock a treasure trove of real world (where you and I live) conspiracy theories confirmed to be reality through the actions of the Templars. Their reach is global. Their influence is undeniably massive. They are the megacorps that we fear in reality. They are the NWO that give us nightmares, but now given form allowing us deliver tummy pokes with a retractable hidden blade.

Ah, the hidden retractable blade. It’s the weapon of choice for the Assassin’s order as it’s quick, discreet, and precise in it’s application. It fits so well into the beat of AC. The primary design of the game is learning your target’s patterns, weaknesses, and locations. After that you close in on your enemy to provide them an intimate release from this world, parting with a few words to help unravel the historical plot. That brings Altair a bit closer to his unknown prize. That prize is what the modern day Templars are trying to learn about. Sure you’re chasing a McGuffin, but the pieces of the puzzle that you assemble make it feel worth the chase. You’re playing to discover the mysteries of the world, the truth of it all… not to see what becomes of Altair. After all we’re seeing him through the Animus but still playing as Desmond in the modern world. For me this leaves Altair feeling expendable. The player knows he dies eventually, he existed over 800 years ago. I really didn’t care about his personal life or struggles, I just to figure out what the link between the past and present is. The first game was amazing and doesn’t receive the credit it deserves. It makes you feel like an Assassin quietly weeding out corruption during the crusades… and it does it very well.

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Welcome to my Friday Five, where every week I put together a list of five awesome items from various topics.

This week’s list? Licensed tracks in games.

A few weeks back I looked at some of my favorite original vocal tracks in games. I originally wanted to just compile the best list of vocal tracks, but then I realized there were so damn many good ones. Further narrowing down the list by license and unlicensed left me with two stellar lists of songs. So here we are on the second collection of killer usage of music in a game. The only caveat to this set of five is I thought it’d be cheating to pull from rhythm games. We’d be here discussing nothing but Harmonix games otherwise.

So what qualifies something for this list then? It’s a pretty broad consideration but I think it really came down to it being synonymous with the game for me. Sure you might hear it on the radio or in a movie – But does it bring you back to those emotions you felt from the game when you hear it?

5) Tales of Vesperia, “Ring a Bell”

Japanese RPGs are no stranger to anime opening scenes. At this point it’s a definite staple with the Tales of franchise. Vesperia’s opening by Bonnie Pink caught my attention though for the first time. Perhaps it was finally having English lyrics that finally tipped the scales? Eventually during the 80+ hour adventure I found watching the entire opening every time I booted up the game. Jpop stole my heart and did what it was designed to do; get stuck in your head with it’s catchy tone until you want to listen to it over and over. Ya know what? I’m completely cool with it this time.

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Genre is a tricky thing in general, but it can get even more complicated when it comes to video games. It’s purpose is the categorizing works within a medium so consumers can find more of what they’re interested in. You like the film Alien? It fits nicely into science-fiction horror. Knowing that you can lead yourself into Sunshine, Event Horizon, or Pitch Black for finding a similar buzz. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll love all films within a genre equally. It at least puts you into the right field to begin your search for more films though. As I mentioned it gets especially tricky when it comes to games. Particularly because it creates false expectations spawned from misunderstanding which part we’re applying the genre label to. Thinking about it I can identify at least three different aspects of a game that people try to correlate genre to. Let’s take a look at each of them and what impact they have when considering the game’s genre.

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Welcome to my Friday Five, where every week I put together a list of five awesome items from various topics. This week’s list? Nintendo Games from 2002-2015!

This wasn’t originally the plan I had for this week’s Friday Five. With the unfortunate passing Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata and some of my own personal issues, my mood shifted quite a bit though. Firing up Destiny to ease my mind, it just wasn’t doing anything for me. I found myself craving the comfort foods that only Nintendo could deliver on. Shortly afterwards I was playing Earthbound, a game that Iwata programmed earlier in his career. This was my first time playing the game since somewhere in the 90’s. Despite not having a huge personal connection to it I couldn’t ignore the charm and personality in the game as I explored it’s world. The positive and quirky tone just put a smile on my face. From what I’ve been reading, this is what Iwata was about. I’m not in any position to talk about how great of a person he was in the industry. I don’t know much about him or his work beyond“Please understand”,  a phrase often uttered during the difficulty times at Nintendo to his board of investors. It still hit me though as I heard about the news Sunday while a friend was catching me up on his social media feed.
Upon reflection in reading all the wonderful stories shared online about him it made me want to revisit some of what he left behind.

Life is short. We need more smiles during our time here. So without furthering the delay, here are five amazing Nintendo developed games that brought joy into my life.

5) Animal Crossing: New Leaf 

Animal Crossing New Leaf

The Animal Crossing series has landed on every one of Nintendo’s platforms since the Nintendo 64 (in Japan) through the 3DS in 2013 for North America. When making it’s debut in the states on GameCube, it offered a truly unique and bizarre experience during a time of mainstream adoption of video games. While Madden, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto 3 were bringing in a new casual audience looking for realism and action, Animal Crossing sat squarely in the corner content and unphased as the consumerist social simulation that it was. Several iterations later it’s continued to grow into quite possibly one of the best games to own on a portable device. It’s perfect for any amount of time you want to spend with it. Whether you just want to unwind for a few minutes at night tending to your garden, or maybe spend all day fishing to gather the native currency (bells) – Animal Crossing New Leaf has you covered. Befriending villagers, fishing, collecting furniture, shaping your town, designing clothing, digging up fossils, playing island games, visiting a friend’s town… There’s so much to do and all the time in the world to do it. <3

Highlights: The mobility of the game allows you to collect other player’s homes via streetpass to occupy a special section of your town. I love getting excited with my wife as we attending geek gatherings like a Zelda or Final Fantasy concert, knowing next time we play we’ll have a slew of new homes to compare against our own or buy new rare items from other players.

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Been working the daily grind like most folks. Not particularly in love with my career choice, but it’s stable and I enjoy some of the individuals I work with. I’ve been raised on the idea if you do an honest day’s work, bust your ass for your company, that something good comes from it. Corny and idealistic, I know. So far over the past decade it’s worked out well enough for me. Then sometime last week I got a talk from my manager’s manager inquiring what I planned on doing five years from now. I was curious what spawned this or why he was asking as I’ve always been transparent with where I wanted to grow with the company. A seed of doubt was planted at that point as he inquired deeper about what other positions I’ve held. Cutting to the chase, he told me they were looking at promoting me to the next level but I lacked title experience. My current responsibilities mirror the position they wanted to put me into, the same responsibilities I’ve been doing since late 2011. I never thought this was an issue since back in 2013 when the same opening was last posted I was shy by two months. My plan had always just been to go for the position the next time it opened after those two months passed, now I was being told none of that experience applied to the position I was trained for.

Then Tuesday of this week it was confirmed. Meeting with HR clarified the company’s logic behind the move. As it was explained to me it just felt wrong. I felt betrayed, led on, then sucker punched. The carrot dangling on a stick to motivate me to get the goals they wanted without compensating me for my work. Of course this is a skewed view on the events from my perspective. They chalked it up to a simple miscommunication as I feel like I’ve wasted the past two years where I’ve passed on other opportunities. I was frustrated and angry, but everyone that was talking to me about the matter was incredibly nice and genuinely apologetic. That didn’t help. Bottling up all my frustration while my mind raced with scenarios on what my next move might be now. No outlet, no solution, no one to scream at, no great injustice to rally against. I could tell I was about to break from all the emotions. I just wanted to cry.

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As mentioned last week, going to make a go of doing this every Friday. I’m not looking to make the most definitive list of anything. Just highlighting five awesome examples of whatever the topic is for the week. This time I wanted to dive into some video game music!

Unfortunately with the nature of technology of video games, decades of games relied on midi tracks ran through the internal soundboard to make game music. Sometimes this could result in some truly great tunes to jam out to while gaming. Other times you’re left with high pitched beeps and boops that left you nauseated within 15 minutes of suffering through it. Yet it wasn’t until the original PlayStation that home consoles could start including high fidelity tracks complete with vocals. Sure, sometimes this resulted in the absolute worst kind of ear assault. A lot of the time though this let the sound director for the game to put in exactly what they wanted without compromise to great effect. So here I want to give props to these five songs for creating that beautiful moment of game. Listening to these puts me right back into the worlds they came from.

5) Persona 4 Golden, “Heaven”

Persona was a game I ignored for a long time, and then after I owned it shied away from playing for a long time. The cult following, writing it off as another JRPG, and time to complete all filled me with trepidation. When I finally managed to boot it up for the first time I was blasted with colorful splashes and a poppy upbeat song with lyrics; completely atypical from the RPGs I’m used to playing. The soundtrack kept on with really strong vocal tracks for it’s entirety. Every dungeon or location there was a new theme song to associate with it that was intricately woven into the game. Playing it  you can just recognize it was made in tandem with the level, not just some tune that was pulled from a musical archive. Of all the wonderful tracks though, I found myself favoring Heaven the most. It comes at a pivotal point in the story. Events occurred that caused me to be fully invested on clearing the dungeon as fast as humanly possible. It’s sullen, lilting opening reinforces the heartbreak you were just hit with, but then picks it up with a hopeful beat to keep you fighting. The song completely reaches in for the sadness and anger you tried to bury beneath your cool exterior, forcing them to the forefront of your mind. As with all the songs on this list I’ve listened to this track for hours of my life without regret. I love it.

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I think I might start doing an “Friday Five” lists on a regular basis to supplement my other ramblings. They by no means are extensive or set in stone of a top five. Just five key games that exemplify whatever the topic is.. The human mind is a fickle thing and what may be amazing today could be drivel tomorrow. So without too much build up, let’s get into my inaugural Friday Five post. Where better to start than games best played with friends?

Gaming with friends is probably the bees knees. You can find bizarre retro games in your attic and make a day running through a slew with your buds, a late night drunk run through Superman 64, or trying to marathon through Final Fantasy 4. Any way you play with others makes for good time gaming. Here’s my take on an awesome set of five co-op games of last generation.

5) Gears of Wars series

Gears Split

This series is known for it’s Epic bromances. None of that could be possible without some killer co-op experiences. Gears stands tall out the gate with it’s first entry by letting you play the full campaign with a couch buddy. I’ve replayed each entry through multiple times with different friends over the years and it’s always fresh. Letting you play split-screen deathmatch online was a nice touch that has been unfortunately abandoned in modern games.

Highlights: Calling out “Nice!” or “COME ON!!” in unison with our in-game avatars completely by coincidence.

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