Author Archives: Kurt Duncan

In Lieu of Flowers…

In 2007, the internet was in the process of changing. A few years before Youtube had exploded on to the scene, Wikipedia had reached far enough into popular culture that my college professors were warning not to use it as a source on papers; The user-created internet was finally arriving in a big way.

There were a few great videos to come out early, but nothing had such a lasting impact on me as Haloid.

(The youtube video loads in low quality, so watch in fullscreen on 720p for full effect.)

This video was made by one man, a then unknown Monty Oum. I know that videos like these are not uncommon now, but to give you an idea of how standout this was: Here’s a video put out by Coke for the Superbowl that year, and the trailer for Assassin’s Creed, which also came out late 2007. Both are fully CGI and perhaps it’s unfair to compare a commercial to a 10 minute video, but I want to show some context of one man’s work versus an entire company.

Both ads are good, but in my book Haloid felt monumental. It would have been amazing if Nintendo or Bungie had released it – but this was a single person. I had trouble wrapping my head around how it was even created.

Monty Oum would go on to work for Midway and Namco Bandai Games, as well putting in time on the video game Afro Samurai. In 2010 he joined Rooster Teeth to help them bring combat into their long running Red vs Blue series.

I can remember a friend sending me this video telling me I needed to start watching Red Vs. Blue again. Through his work on RVB, he was promised the chance to work on his own original show.

Enter RWBY in 2013; a colorful, quirky, animated show. The following video is from the Red Trailer. The subsequent White, Black, and Yellow trailers are also worth checking out. Also here’s a quick trailer that explains the plot if you’re interested.

A few months after Rooster Teeth wrapped up Season 2  of RWBY. Monty Oum was hospitalized “following a severe allergic reaction during a routine medical procedure.” He passed away on February 1st, 2015.

Often when a celebrity dies, it’s someone who was older. As with January’s celebrity deaths they were all older people who had an impressive body of work. Does Monty’s death seem worse to me because he was my age, reminding me of my own mortality? Not really. I think it has more to do with the loss of creativity and a unique voice. A friend of mine said after the death of David Bowie “The world is now a shittier place.” That might be true to an extent and I hate the loss of our creative types, but I think the notion that they leave a hole that cannot be filled is insulting to the creativity and ingenuity of the human race.
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We will remember them by their work and the love we carry for it, but by learning, experimenting, and creating we continue the legacy of the artists who have left us. Keep moving forward.

 

Games with Mileage

You might think by the title I’m talking about driving games today. Nope, (well okay there is one driving game…kind of.) I’m the kind of gamer who plays a small number of games. But once a game grabs my attention I play the game until found every secret, gotten all the endings/achievements, and mastered every maneuver. For this I love games with mileage. By games with mileage I mean games that you can get a lot of use/hours of fun out of.

My list features the added bonus of most of these are somewhat cheap (because I am also somewhat cheap). So you can entertain yourself without spending much (or maybe anything at all if your a steam card expert). So who makes the list? Here they are in order of hours I’ve put into them.

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Whoops, sorry god.

Team Fortress 2
-Price: Free
-Playtime: 757 Hours
You probably know this one, if not the link will give you the highs and lows. It’s a first person shooter that decided realistic was a horrible idea and went instead with color and humor. The community and weapon swap outs kept this game fresh for years and while it’s numbers have flagged, it’s still a fun game to jump into and set your friends on fire. Pyro for Life!

monaco

K.spaz was asploded by K.spaz…whoops.

Monaco
-Price: $14.99
-Playtime: 214 Hours
A slick heist game with several twists in the storyline. I won’t spoil anything. Choose between 8 criminals and steal everything that isn’t nailed down in Monaco. A top down pixeled game. This is a great advertisement for how far 8 bit graphics can be used. May take a while to figure out what all the symbols are and how the mechanics work but a fun and challenging single player game which turns into a riot when multiplayer is involved. A great game for jumping into games online or playing on the couch with friends.

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Excuse me while I brag, all these are taken from my Steam account by the way.

They Bleed Pixels
-Price: $9.99
-Playtime: 106 Hours
My hat is off to anyone who can finish this game. In fact I’m impressed if you have the determination to finish the 3rd stage. The platformer and beat-em-up combo that boasts a difficulty just shy of Dark Souls. Yet They Bleed Pixels is not a sadist like other challenging games TBP is a tough martial arts master. Making you do insane tasks that will hone your abilities to perfection. The beautiful art and music add to the game and if you like the music in the trailer, you may want to pick up the soundtrack if you have a few bucks to spare.

torchlight 2

Find epic loot, use it to kill strange races you meet along the way.

Torchlight II
-Price: $19.99
-Playtime: 99 Hours
A Diablo clone with awesome graphics and great multiplayer modes. This games biggest flaw is that the story is not long enough. The additional maps you can buy (in game gold not real money) help, but really new game plus just doesn’t go far enough. Great art and a ton of unique weapons and armor (some of which have humorous descriptions).

Rogue Legacy

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This is only about halfway through the first run.

-Price: $14.99
-Playtime: 89 Hours
Take a family of knights through a castle crawling with enemies. Every time you die an offspring takes over. Upgrade your castle to get better abilities but the negative traits your offspring have really adds to the fun here. Plus the random-ness of the castle will keep you coming back. Can be frustrating to start, but your persistence will be rewarded here. Also completionist instincts can cause you trouble in this game sometimes there are rooms you should skip, and don’t pay to keep the castle locked unless you find something really awesome.

Rocket League

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I got it! I got it!

-Price: $19.99
-Playtime: 66 Hours
I’ve reviewed Rocket League on here before but I can say here was a game I didn’t know I wanted and has been one of many surprise hits of the 2015 gaming scene. It’s a demolition derby mixed with soccer. The game is made far quick set-up and quick games. I have yet to play this local with friends. But is too much fun to stay away for long.

Hammerwatch

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Hordes, hordes, and more hordes

-Price: $9.99
-Playtime: 56 Hours
I picked this game up cause I wanted a Gauntlet-esque game before the new Gauntlet came out. This game is simple to learn, nearly impossible to beat. You’ll have to find most of the secrets in the game to actually complete the quest. Hordes of monsters, lots of loot. And a simple but great upgrade system. The games Achilles’ heel is it’s horrible system for online multiplayer. Hard to set up a game with friends.

Keep in mind most of these games can be caught on a sale for way cheaper. I believe a spent under 5 dollars when buying Monaco and They Bleed Pixels. Well, hope this gives you a place to start. And just remember your mileage may vary.

Dinner for One

What happens when an English comedy skit doesn’t catch on in Britain but becomes a New Years tradition and cultural icon in the non-English speaking world? You get “Dinner for One”.

This 11 minute skit is one of the hidden gems of the internet. Between the James’ the Butler’s impressions of the missing guests, and a horribly placed tiger skin rug, and the large amount of alcohol, pure comedy is bred.

To be fair telling too much about this video would only ruin the charm. If you’d like to know more after watching the video, click here for a great run down from local.de on the details of how this video came to be and how it came to be a cultural icon.

So sit back, enjoy, and let this become your procedure for every year. Oh and Happy New Years.

What I’ve Been Listening To…(The Extended Week Edition)

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Meanwhile at the podcave

I recently got a new job! A job which allows me to listen to music or programs during my shift. Sometimes all 8 hours of my shift (if I so desire). So I thought I’d share with you the best things I heard during my last week (and a half) of listening to podcasts (sorry no music, bug Sam or Ally for music).

During my week and a half I was able to finally get caught up on my backlog of podcasts I had accumulated. Partly due to the Thanksgiving Day weekend, and partly due to my last job only having a two hour block of time where I could listen to stuff. As such, I had quite a few different things to select as the best of the best.

I only wanted one best episode per podcast since some had more episodes then others due to me backlogging more serious shows. Rocket Punch has no entries on here because if you’re here reading my articles you probably already listen to our podcast. Enough with the explanations, on to the champions.

Champions of the Week:
What’s the Point – Building Pixar’s Landscapes: 12/3/15
An interview on how Pixar used data sets from the US Geological Survey to create the backgrounds for their upcoming movie The Good Dinosaur. Leading to backgrounds that are sweeping and familiar, and the use of more data in one scene (of The Good Dinosaur) then was used in the entirety of Cars 2.

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Mmm…water?

Freakonomics Radio – Food + Science = Victory!
Is it really the water that makes New York pizza so good? This question is definitively answered finally. I have many questions like this. So finding out that there was someone out there who approaches food from the scientific method is really exciting.

Undisclosed – Episode 9: Charm City

Undisclosed is a podcast for people who didn’t think Serial (first 1:30 for a quick description of Serial) went deep enough. This podcast really gets into the details of the case, and unveils more upsetting things about the legal system of Baltimore (if not America in all.) This episode deals with some of the more scandalous methods used by the Baltimore Police Department. And how they relate to the case against Adnan Syed.

Radiolab – Birthstory
Find out how 2 men + 4 women combined to make 3 babies. Oh yeah the story also involves 4 countries and 4 different languages. The difficult path of those seeking out surrogate mothers. And the odd story of the birth of 3 children. It’s a hell of a ride.

The Adventure Zone – The WHOLE Petal to the Metal story line
The Adventure Zone is a Dungeons & Dragons podcast by the brothers of My Brother, My Brother and Me, plus their dad. The most recent story line culminated in a massive car chase competition a la Death Race 2000, or maybe it reminds you of Fury Road (either way). The families oddball humor and sometimes bumbling characters, really adds to the fun. A great listen even if you’ve never played a pen and paper Role-Playing game.

The Nerdist – Kelly Carlin
I’m a fan of The Nerdist Podcast, and it got me in to Podcasts in general. Chris Hardwick’s interview style is more conversation then interview and is extremely humanizing. And it was really interesting to hear from the daughter of George Carlin. A physiologist and stage performer herself, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a fan I knew her childhood had not been normal, or easy (from reading her dad’s memoirs.) But she was intelligent and funny, and fun. She’s also (not-so) surprisingly casual with her usage of the f-bomb. (Would this be nature or nurture?) Also in this episode “The pitch for the best movie ever conceived”.

The Total Soccer Show – Star Wars Soccer XI
In what has been this week’s biggest Reese’s moment for me, someone got Star Wars on my soccer and I discovered that Soccer names, are sometimes indistinguishable from expanded universe Star Wars names. This one was a lot of fun to listen to while listening to Taylor and Daryl pick their starting lineups using Star Wars characters, and debate who and why. By the way if you are interested in soccer, TSS is my choice for best podcast for soccer analysis and news.

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All ready for the sweet Sega Channel Cartridge.

Giant Bombcast – 12/08/2015
I haven’t finished this episode when I started writing this article, but at about a quarter of the way through was a story about how Eastern European pirates (tech, not seafaring) in the old days of tape technology would broadcast the audio code of video games on the radio. People would actually record these broadcasts and “download” video games this way. As my friend Jondar put it “It’s the Cro Magnon version of Sega Channel.” The only down side to Giant Bomb’s video game themed podcast is that it clocks in at two and a half to three hours long per episode. Might be a long commitment for some people.

Runner’s Up:
Lore – The Whole Damn Podcast
Since my wife introduced me to this podcast, I promised I wouldn’t write much about Lore before she could. That’s literally the only reason why it’s on the Runner’s Up for this week. (Ally will be writing more about it this weekend.) Do you like scary stories, mythology, monsters, superstition? Any or all of the above? Then you should probably be listening to Lore. My wife and I listened to this podcast while driving to and from Texas this Thanksgiving (hey Dad), and I finished up the last few episodes on my own at work. My only complaints are that it’s only biweekly and that it lost some ambiance when not driving through the middle of nowhere at the dead of night.

Freakonomics Radio – Am I Boring You?
The science behind boredom and how humanity really hasn’t done a ton of research into this topic despite it being a huge factor in so many peoples’ work, leisure, and social lives.

Sawbones:  The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits
This is a show about medicine and all the oddities that it entails. I won’t spoil the surprise here, but this story made me once again happy to live in society where science and medicine are rigorously tested and not just educated guessing. Plus this was an interesting story I’d never heard.

Radiolab – The Cold War
What happens when an ice cream truck rivalry goes south? The Cold War. A look at how conflicting takes on business and rules can make for a rough situation.

This is not your trophy. Sorry.

Freakonomics Radio – Ben Bernanke Gives Himself a Grade
You may not care about an interview from the guy who was the Fed Chairmen when the financial crisis hit, but I find long-form interviews often humanize the famous, and this interview is no exception. His obsessive interest in the Great Depression, and FDR’s policies (despite appointed chairman by a conservative president) were surprising. Add to that the story of his wife responding to his appointment with tears (that were not of joy), and you may soon find yourself enjoying an interview that is partially about monetary policy.

Have I missed any of your favorites? Please feel free to send in any podcasts (or just single episodes) I should be listening to. I’m always looking for an interesting story.

And of course congrats to the podcasts which won, if you guys are in St. Louis let us know on twitter will meet up for a drink and hand you over your trophy.

Randomizers, New Saviors of Classic Gaming?

Back in 1987 I got a NES and I really loved the NES but the first game that really captured my attention was the Legend of Zelda. Since we only had a few games my mom would rent games from our local independent strip mall video store. (I don’t remember the name.) The Legend of Zelda was the first game I wanted to rent two times in a row, and my mom said “If you like it that much we’ll just buy it.” Thus starting an multi system obsession.

But we’ve all played the Original and the 2nd quest, so what’s left? There is a version of the original (NES) Legend of Zelda where people have randomized the items locations.  (As well as entirely new quests made this way.) How did no one tell me about this?

I’ve watched a couple videos of people playing this game and I got to say I need more roms of classic games altered. Anything that has item collection and exploration elements. This seems to me like the ultimate mix of nostalgia and surprises. So far I’ve found that there is a Zelda and a Super Metroid Randomizer.

It seems as those these were originally created to breath new life into games for speed runners and completionits, who needed a new challenge, you can actually find races between speed runners trying to finish the game, but not knowing which items you’ll get.

Sorry this is a short post but this is a warning to stay tuned for streaming of these on twitch as I am going to need to play these.

My Week with the Steam Controller

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The box is not blurry in real life

First a little background. I bought the Steam Controller on September 20th. I then had to wait, patiently playing Rocket League (which came free) until my controller arrived last Tuesday (November 10th).

 

One thing I think I can say is this: the worst part about this whole experience has been the waiting. But not to be over shadowed, the second worst part has been learning how to play Rocket League, and then having to relearn it with a new controller after I’m used to playing it with my wired X-box 360 controller. Negative transfer is kicking my ass.

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If you prefer a wired experience it plugs in with a standard Micro-USB.

Ultimately, the question of ‘should I, personally, buy a Steam Controller?’ boils down to two questions:

  1. “Are you really excited about playing mouse and keyboard games on your TV?”
  2. “Are you willing to retrain your muscle memory to learn a new controller?”

If you answered no to either of these questions, you’re probably better off  sticking with what  you’re used to. In fact, I would suggest Rock Candy’s knockoff Xbox 360 controller if you want something cheap and good.  (It’s a bit small side which might not make it ideal for those people with large hands, but that also makes it a great fit for some more compact dudes and lady gamers like my wife who have slighter digits. Plus they come in a couple colors, which my wife tells me is very exciting. You can find them for $20, I’ve ssen them at Target and Gamestop)

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This is the battery case and the extra two triggers.

However, if you answered yes,  here’s the good news: After a week I can tell you yes this controller can play keyboard and mouse games adequately. In the last week I have used it to play Rocket LeagueThey Bleed Pixels, and Torchlight 2. Three very different games resulting in three very different experiences.

The feature to download someone else’s controller setup for Torchlight 2 worked well – the only negative thing I can say about playing Torchlight with the controller is using the haptic feedback for this was as frustrating as using a touch-pad for the first time; I felt clumsy and slow. Once I started getting more mana and powers though I needed to be less precise and I started getting used to the pads a little more.

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Banana for scale.

They Bleed Pixels is almost identical to playing it on a 360 controller. Platformers seem mostly unchanged between my two controllers. The Steam controller maybe feels a little looser, however again this could just be negative transfer I have been playing PC games on a 360 controller since Christmas 2012.

Rocket League reinforced the difference in the two controllers having to relearn hand placement as the Steam Controllers ABXY buttons and joystick are lower and more towards the middle. My muscle memory kept trying to tell me my hands were in the wrong place. But eventually I adjusted.

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For the love of Gaben, Steam.

Biggest and somewhat nitpicky complaint: Seriously Steam can you not hide pieces of the controller in the bottom of the box in a another unmarked dark black box under the main packaging? I might have thrown that away if I hadn’t read the packing list. The other odd issue I had was that the batteries in the handles wiggled free of the housing and caused me to think that my controller had broke within a few days of it’s delivery. Luckily that was not the case, and hopefully this was just a one off type of thing as I could see this being a problem with prolonged game play if it’s a constant issue.

Final thoughts? There is a definite and somewhat frustrating learning curve, but I think you have that with any new controller. This one being so different that others before it, it’s not very surprising that there would be a bit more of a “breaking in” period. In the long run I think it will be a great controller, I don’t think it’s going to set the world on fire.

I wish I could either love or hate this controller, but as it stands it’s a solution to a niche problem, so if your not looking to play all your PC games on a couch and with a controller, you probably don’t need this controller. However if this is a problem you have then this controller will be the solution and an excellent investment.

Valve knows me too well

At the moment Valve is having a pre-order deal on two of it’s “Steam Hardware” items. If you pre-order either a Steam Controller or a Steam Link before November 10th (the date they will be released), you get a free copy of Rocket League and Portal 2. For those of you who are excited about that…go pre-order, I’ll be here when you get back. But, for those of you who some of these titles mean nothing I’ll offer up some quick explanations.

First the hardware:

The Steam Link – Valve’s answer to getting your PC gaming on to your TV without stringing cables between your office/computer room, and your TV. This is basically a Roku-esque device that will stream your Steam library to your television. For those who already have a decent computer and have no need for a multiple hundred dollar Steam Machine (basically a Valve console for those who don’t own a gaming PC), this will cost $49.99 (plus a few dollars for shipping and handling) and can be bought from Valve here.

The Steam Controller – Say you buy a Steam Link; Are you going to hook up a controller and a keyboard-mouse in case you want to play a First Person Shooter and a Platformer in the same sitting? Probably not. But if that premise appeals to you, Valve is boasting a controller which (they say) does it all. Early reviews have been optimistic – but guardedly so. A lot of reviews say that players should expect a learning curve. Speaking as someone who hated the original X-box controller but uses the 360 controller almost exclusively for my PC, hopefully I’ll survive. Another complaint is that Valve’s claim of that it works for every game is quite a reach. It will set you back is $49.99 as well with a little over $7 in shipping and handling. I went ahead and ordered one, so when it comes in I’ll give a thorough review for you guys here.

Now the software:

Portal 2 – If you haven’t heard of this game: Congratulations on your escape from North Korea!  Portal 2 is a first person puzzle game where you get around obstacles by creating wormholes all while being taunted by sociopathic computers. Alternating between fun and frustrating, the story is interesting and will have you thoroughly engaged. This game also has a co-op mode for even more insanity. It was also one of Valve’s last before they decided to focus on hats, hardware and Steam rather then games. So, it comes as not a huge surprise that Valve can offer it for free to push their  hardware. Unfortunately the game’s popularity means almost everyone you know has it on one system or another. Outside of this offer, Portal 2 can be bought for $20 on Steam (when not on sale).

Rocket League – Do you like soccer? How about demolition derbies? In what may be the 21st century’s most surprising Reese’s moment. Rocket League is a game which puts the fun in dysfunctional.  You drive (RC?) cars and try to push a giant ball into your opponents goal, but the cars can soar through the air and do a variety of flips and maneuvers to score a goal. The matches are super fast paced at only 5 minutes, but can include a ‘sudden death’ if tied. With that in mind, it’s probably not ideal for those who want a real length match, but this makes for a fun frantic time with friends. The cars have a ridiculous amount of customization options that get unlocked as you play. According to the wikia.com for this game the cars all handle identically except for hit boxes, and skidding mechanics. This title was released in July and has already graced more then one Major League Gaming tournament. Hopefully this is a game that will be around for a while. Outside of this offer, Rocket League is going for $20 on Steam.

But why these two games? Well, first they’re both games that work well with a controller. I’ve never played Rocket League with a keyboard but I can’t imagine it improves the experience. Portal is possible with a keyboard/mouse, but ultimately is more comfortable with a controller. Second they’ll look good on a large television. Portal 2 despite being nearly 5 years old still holds up on the graphics end, and Rocket Leagues’ bright colors and speed should look great on a large HD screen. Plus if you were on the fence about either of these pieces of hardware and wanted one or both of these games getting $40 in free games for a $50 device is a pretty good deal.