Waiting for Mass Effect 3 has really been putting a strain on my sanity. I have been pretty much grinding full time to get all my ME2 characters in a row and ready for import. Anytime I am not playing Mass Effect I am thinking about it. These haiku are the result of me trying to be productive and failing.

Shepard at the club /     the galaxy's worst dancer / stick to shooting guns #haiku

Shepard at the club
the galaxy’s worst dancer
stick to shooting guns
Reapers stand no chance / wrath of this female earthling / her time of the month #haiku

Reapers stand no chance
wrath of this female Earthling
her time of the month
all sides surrounded / both squad mates casualties / nothing charge can't fix #haiku

all sides surrounded
both squad mates casualties
nothing charge can’t fix
tough-guy Turian / one come-on line from Femshep / a highschool junior #haiku

tough-guy Turian
one come-on line from Femshep
a highschool junior
face covered in blood / overcome by happiness / —only a baby #haiku

face covered in blood
overcome by happiness
—only a baby
rude and offensive / so vulnerable inside / —but nobody cares #haiku

rude and offensive
so vulnerable inside
—but nobody cares
soft-spoken fellow / fighting for the galaxy / ... crew needed color #haiku

soft-spoken fellow
fighting for the galaxy
… crew needed color
always cracking jokes— / self-defense mechanism / receding hairline #haiku

always cracking jokes—
self-defense mechanism
receding hairline
dresses like a thief / wonders why she can't come in / a sense of humor? #haiku

dresses like a thief
wonders why she can’t come in
a sense of humor?
Geth infiltrator / totally oblivious / his hilarity #haiku

Geth infiltrator
totally oblivious
his hilarity
young and innocent— / but now, hard-boiled and ruthless / schizophrenia #haiku

young and innocent—
but now, hard-boiled and ruthless
schizophrenia
super genius / engineered perfection / please remove your clothes #haiku

super genius
engineered perfection
please remove your clothes
courageous doctor / buried in his distant past / —an atrocity #haiku

courageous doctor
buried in his distant past
—an atrocity
deadly orgasm / Ardat-Yakshi maneuver / —quite literally

deadly orgasm
Ardat-Yakshi maneuver
—quite literally
the Justicar code / highest Asari concept / on-off like a switch #haiku

the Justicar code
highest Asari concept
on-off like a switch
fans demand her face / just to be dissapointed? / stick to fantasy #haiku

fans demand her face
just to be dissapointed?
stick to fantasy
headshot prodigy / I brought shredder ammo / keep it to yourself #haiku

headshot prodigy
“I brought shredder ammo”
keep it to yourself
skilled mercenary / cheated death dozens of times / inferno grenade #haiku

skilled mercenary
cheated death dozens of times
inferno grenade

Do you know what the best feeling a video game can give you is? Letting you feel like you outsmarted the game when, actually, you are simply playing as intended. It is a different matter entirely when you outsmart the game and the developers did not intend it. That is simply poor design, and although you can be proud of yourself, it isn’t the same situation. Usually when it’s unintended, whatever it is you discovered, will likely ruin the gameplay and likely break the game. It takes real genius to give a player a key gameplay element, or method for beating a level, in such a way that he or she thinks they found some kind of secret or shortcut. Let me give examples.

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Recently I have been playing some DOS games because, oddly, most of my most nostalgic video game feelings come from DOS. Mostly Master of Orion II (which I covered here), Prince of Persia and Dungeon Master 2. I haven’t played DM2 for a very long time although I do remember getting pretty far into it. I played it again. It’s still amazing. Most importantly the games cryptic magic system got me thinking about this very concept.

Dungeon Master 2 is a dungeon crawler RPG. The first thing you do is revive three companions from the “hall of heroes” where a bunch of random heroes are in cryogenic sleep or something. Then you begin your assault on Skull Keep. You find weapons and armor and kill monsters. The game is pretty awesome and atmospheric. I own the soundtrack. Anyway, back to the point.

The most interesting thing in this game is the magic system. When you click on the cast spell button you get a series of six symbol none of which make any sense to you. When you click on one, you lose mana, and it gets imprinted. Then the interface gives you six more symbols you can’t understand. Then again, and then again! So a spell consist of four or less symbols in a certain order. Once you click cast spell you just get a weird symbol and nothing happens (Unless you lucked out and actually cast a spell). How the heck are you supposed to know how to cast any spells? Guess!?

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You will pretty quickly discover that these magic runes are used throughout the game. Many heroes you revive even start with some items that have abilities which are displayed as a series of runes. The staff for example has a spell ability which is simply named (square, weird backwards n shape) and you have no idea what it does without trying it. Once you click it, the room you are in gets brighter. If you try to input these runes as a spell, it makes the room lighter! You just learned the “light” spell. Take a look at it, notice how the light spell uses the fire rune? Yeah! the spells actually make logical sense too. Once you know several spells, you can deduce additional spells just my understanding the symbols better.

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Throughout the game you will find potions, weapons, shields, music boxes, rings, wands etc. Many of them will have spells on them for you to experiment with. The spells that are most useful (fireball, lighting bolt, guard minion, haste) you memorize and use constantly. The rest of the spells you better write down in some kind of physical spell book in case you need to cast them later. Because the game won’t hold them for you.

The beauty of this system is the sense of accomplishment you feel as a player when you “outsmart” the game by “stealing” spells from items with limited uses. You find a staff that can only cast two fireballs, but you figure out how to cast unlimited fireballs off of it. For a good part of the game I still felt like I was going to find some kind of spell book and I am just cutting corners copy-catting these spells. Then it dawned on me that this is exactly how the designers intended that the player learn magic spells. But when I first started dropping attack minions all over the map I felt like I was the smartest kid in the world.

Portal was another game that gave me the same feeling except in portal instead of a gameplay mechanic, it was the level design. In Portal you use a special machine that can connect any two points together using portals. You shoot a portal “over there” and one “right here” step into the closer one and you come out “over there.” The game takes place in a testing facility where you need to beat a series of puzzle rooms by using your portaling ability.

The cool part of the game is how often you “thought” you were taking a shortcut, doing something sneaky, discovering a path that is not the intended path and feeling smug. Well, that is how everybody felt, because that is the way you are supposed to go! For those of you that played and beat portal, trying playing it a second time, and avoid your gut instinct to take the shortcut and try it “the hard way.” You will find out that there is no hard way! You found the only way but the game let you believe you outsmarted it.

That is the feeling games need to provide. Less tutorials! So many games beat you over the head with their “genius” mechanics because they are too afraid you might miss something. There is no discovery there, no sense of accomplishment. Let players discover things for themselves don’t be afraid of letting players be stuck for a while. The way games are going now, soon it will be unacceptable for a player to have to concentrate at all. Everything will need to be served to them on a text-heavy platter. I bet there are spells in Dungeon Master 2 I have never even seen and I think that is a really good thing. Can you think of any video games that made you feel like you outsmarted them?

If you are interested in trying Dungeon Master 2 for yourself, you should! It’s free (download via abandonia). You are on your own for getting Portal though. If you choose to play but don’t want to discover the magic on your own, I have created this handy spell guide for your convenience.

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alt People often see me enjoying the wonders of retro gaming on my PowerBook and they ask me “How do you play those old games?” or simply say “I wish I had that on my computer!” Well everyone can, it’s easy peasy! Every aspect is free and time-tested. There are only two steps. Download an emulator, download a rom (game), open the rom with the emulator. That’s it! Optionally, you may want to get a controller to make your experience more enjoyable. I use an Xbox360 controller for all my retro gaming needs and it has been perfect. I am going to make this whole process so easy for you there is no excuse. I have provided all the links, done all the research, read on, and relive your memories!

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Things are getting sinister. Mass Effect 3 is coming out and with it a slew of pre-order bonuses and collectors editions all offering exclusive downloadable content. I am actually confused as to what to do to get the best configuration of cost and contnet. Then today I run into this:

Link to BioWare Store

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Are you still scanning planets to discover the secret N7 missions in Mass Effect 2? Are you going to the ME2 Wiki and reading every N7 missions summary looking for the three with research rewards? Are you tired of it!? Forget it! This Mass Effect 2 galaxy map provides: locations and summery of all N7 missions, checkboxes to keep track of progress.

No need to waste valuable seconds searching for the Rosetta Nebula, this galaxy map shows you exactly where it is and what can be found there. A must have for any galactic mercenary, Cerberus agent, or alliance soldier. 8.5 x 11 inches and 300dpi this map is perfect for printing. Download now!

Mass Effect 2 galaxy map showing the locations of all N7 missions.

Are you just one Salarian ID tag away from a complete collection!? Fear not! This galactic treasure map provides the locations of: Salarian ID Tags, Prothean Data Discs, Turian Insignias, League of One Medallions, and Asari Writings.

Your treasure hunting troubles are a thing of the past. Do not waste any more time searching on planets while Saren and the reapers are tearing the galaxy apart! You have better things to worry about. This perfect-for-printing document is 8.5 x 11 and 300dpi. Keep it right in your game box, tape it to your wall, place it under your pillow while you sleep.

Mass Effect galaxy map with locations of all hidden items. All complete collections.

A mirror-match is a true test of player skill. When playing any other match-up, you can always hide behind the “imbalance” defense. But when you are both Sub-Zero you have the exact same tools at your disposal. The only deciding factor is how you use those tools. The better player will always win a mirror match. I like that thrill. Player’s should all be excited to mirror match one another to truly prove who is the strongest.

Sub-Zero vs Sub-Zero has a unique problem however. The double freeze. Sub’s signature move is the freeze: he throws a frost ball and if it hits the opponent they become frozen for like two seconds. As you can image, in a Sub vs Sub match there are dozens of ice balls flying all over the place and very frequently you will find both Sub-Zero’s frozen, like to statues in the courtyard of some maniacal ice magician.

Two frozen ninjas stare at one another, locked in an eternal, yet motionless, struggle to the death. For two seconds. Then they both unfreeze and continue to battle for real. Until the next involuntary pause. When both players decide the time is right to throw a freeze.

With any other pair of projectiles, if you throw them at the same time, they both connect and do their respective damage. Progress is made on both sides and the battle rages on. Other match-ups are fast, smooth, natural. But Sub vs Sub is anything but. The mirror match is like stop and go traffic. The double freeze does zero damage, doesn’t progress the battle, no characters gains any advantage material or otherwise, its simply a waste of time. This isn’t a major issue, but frankly, this should have been stopped and changed in testing.

Here is the solution I propose. When two ice balls collide, they annihilate each other instead of passing through. Just like fireballs in Street Fighter games. This same rule should also be applied to any “disabling” projectiles like Cyrax’s net. I am not familiar with the Cyrax mirror but I can image double netting is just as annoying.

Its a simple fix guys, let’s get it done.

It seems the collector’s edition of ME3 will feature a female Shepard. I can’t say I like that very much for a couple of reasons. Primarily both ME1 and ME2 have male Shepard on the box. Seems strange for the third game in the series to have a totally different protagonist… (Although I did think it would be pretty cool if in ME2 you can choose to have a sex change when the rebuild you from scratch.)

Second reason is more profound. I have beaten ME1 and ME2 countless times. I have played it as both male and female. All of my male Shepard look the same: the iconic basic Shepard. Why? Because that is what Shepard is supposed to look like. That is him on the game box, in the manual, on the trailers. If I have a different Shepard I feel like I am not playing the game right. On the other hand my famale Shepards came in a plethora different looks. I have Terra, a pretty, blond, adept with soft red lipstick and purple eyes (a side effect from her Eezo exposure), then I have Motoko an infiltrator with jet black hair, black lipstick and a tough-as-nails demeanor. See, no one ever told you what female Shepard is supposed to look like, so it’s easy to use your imagination and play the game with no regrets.

I do have one massive complaint in general. The face editor is HORRIBLE! I remember when I played Fight Night I was blown away by how insane and complex the face builder was. Every single element of a face could be tweaked 1% at a time. I made a whole roster of boxers based on my high school teachers and it was convincing! In Mass Effect 1 and 2 you get like 8 eyes, 8 mouths, 6 haircuts (all of which look like plastic)… it’s a joke. I don’t get why it’s so bad either since EA is responsible for the amazing face generator of all the EA sports games. Can’t they borrow it or something?

Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway. BioWare set up a facebook page where fans can “like” the female Shepard image that will appear on the collector’s edition, and I assume will be the default appearance of FemShep in the game. I voted for number 4, the exotic looking one, as well as number 6. I would never vote for any of the Sheps with their hair up. I fucking hate that.

Like your favorites. Then come back and tell me which you chose.

I had no idea how many people I never recognized! What an all-star cast. Trinity is in this game?