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Games of the Year Picks for 2014 and My Year of Gaming

Despite the naysayers of the world… The year 2014 has been a vibrant year in video games. Continue reading Games of the Year Picks for 2014 and My Year of Gaming

Shatter(ed) Dreams – A look at the inde game ‘Shatter’

In 1975 Atari released a game with the inherent influence of the timeless smash hit Pong. This game is known as Breakout! The gameplay, like many games of the time, was simplistic yet thoroughly entertaining. You bounce a ball off of a paddle and smash bricks one by one. Since it’s release, there have been a lot of games over the years that have been released in various formats. Cell phones, dollar store pocket games, even as extras in computer programs or some special package deal you get when you buy a new computer from one of many vendors all chipped in to help to not only keep this game’s memory alive but also gave the game the chance to evolve and keep pace with the constant evolution of gaming. While some kept the game simple, others attempted to emulate Breakout’s successor, Arkanoid.

Michael P. Welch forever set his name in the great stone of video game icons when he came out with his clone, DX Ball. Released in 1996 for the PC, DX Ball did what many others couldn’t. He took a classic and gave it a evolutionarily chronological make over without removing any of what made the game so great back in ’75.  The graphics were boosted to allow it to look as smooth and shiny as the original Unreal, gameplay challenging to both the casual as well as the hardcore gamers, and a soundtrack using a genre of music that was also beginning to get it’s start around this time. However, even with these aspects giving the game strength amongst gamers, the one aspect that completely overshadows all others… DX Ball was SHAREWARE!!!!!1!!!!11!1111!!11!!!1ONE!!1!1!1!1! For those of you who may not have been around during the 90’s, ‘shareware’ is a term for games that are not only free but also encouraged to be passed around any and all gaming circles as if it were crack or MP3s on a P2P network (yes, it was once legal to share PC games!). DX Ball has had three sequels released over the years, but none of them caught on as the original, seeing as DX Ball 2 was the only sequel that was also shareware.

Of course, as the years fly by DX Ball becomes more and more like the original Breakout. All but completely forgotten and left as a footnote in the pages of gaming history. That is, until Sidhe Interactive developed a game that has changed the face of Breakout forever with they’re independent game, Shatter! It takes its cues more from Arkanoid than it does from its more simplistic predecessor and then proceeds to blow the mind with its stylistic visuals, up-to-date graphics, impressive and creative music, and it’s intense gameplay. Rather than ramble on about just how much this game has changed the face of Arkanoid forever, lets dig a bit deeper and see just what makes this game so f@#%&$g epic, shall we?

Upon entering the game for the first time, you are met with how the 2.5D graphics enhance the game’s visual prowess. The opening scene of the tells the basic tale of this game, escape! What appears to be some sort of scientific testing causes an ‘accident’ to occur and thus we are thrust into the meat and potatoes of Shatter. From here, you are shown different methods of gameplay level by level. More specifically that of the game’s main strategy, the suck-and-blow method. With every brick destroyed fragments fly about. Collecting these fragments build your power meter. The use of the shards as well as an explanation of the power meter shall be explained later in this review. The ‘suck’ ability allows you to collect these fragments in abundance. It also allows you to control where the ball will bounce. This shall be referred to from here on in as the ‘bounce point’. You can set the bounce point using the suck and blow method as a means of enhancing how many bricks you can hit per re-collision with the paddle, or as the game calls it, the bat. Simply using the suck feature as a means of collecting shards is all but eliminated, as you could reposition the bounce point to an area where you are unable to bounce back the ball.

There are various bricks in the game, ranging from the standard stationary bricks, to brick that move in patterns, even brick where upon hitting them will collide with other bricks. The possibilities in this game for clearing levels seems endless. But this is only a more than direct impersonation of Arkanoid, as the game goes one step further in enhanced gameplay with its stage designs. The first level immediately reveals its innovations by taking the basic game board and flipping it 90 degrees to the right. Boards can vary from the simplistic up-and-down gravity-esque boards to boards that are circular rather than square in shape. A circular board presents a level of challenge similar to that of DX Ball, where the precise area of the bat collides with the ball can change the angle at which the ball is bounced back.

And much like Arkanoid and DX Ball, hitting bricks can also yield power-ups to drop. Collecting the power-ups with use of the bat changes gameplay, allowing the ball to become more controllable or giving the ball the ability to rip through every brick in its path. There are also power-ups to increase the number of shards dispensed per brick break, gives the power bar a significant boost, and the ever useful 1-ups. Unlike Arkanoid and DX Ball, multi-ball power-ups and ball size power-ups absent from Shatter as well as power-ups which yield negative affects. The multi-ball power-up is now an ability which can be used to increase the challenge of the game and allow you to break more bricks and clear levels faster. Using this feature also eats away at the number of lives you have. For each ball released, a life is dispensed; so unless you’re incredibly skilled at maintaining multiple balls in a single game board you’ll find yourself losing the game quick, fast, and in a hurry.

However, the simple action of breaking bricks in multi-versed levels would get boring to players that don’t have the basic nostalgic love for Shatter’s predecessors. Sidhe Interactive has thrown in yet another twist to this cocktail…boss battles. Yes, you read correctly! Boss battles are an element in the game that not only enhances the gameplay but also challenges your skill in the game as now, simply clearing bricks has become a less than secondary task. Bosses have their own life bar which depletes every time they are stuck with the ball is a specific area. This area is clearly marked by the game, but the real skill comes in being able to hit this area as bosses tend to move about as a means of defending themselves. Bosses also have bricks as part of their ‘bodies’ which allow you to further collect shards and power-ups. Some bosses even use their bodies to strike at your paddle, sending it back and preventing you from being able to collect fragments and power-ups as well as bouncing the ball back for a brief moment.

No need to panic, however, as Sidhe Interactive compensated by not letting you go at it with simple Breakout skill alone. As mentioned before, the shards from the broken bricks you collect fill up your power meter. The power meter is a very unique feature to the game that grants you the ability to use two key tools in the game. The first you learn is the shield. At times, bricks as well as bosses will be sent flying in your direction. The collision causes the bat to be sent off course and spins uncontrollably for a short time, which can prove to be rather costly in completing a level. The shield will destroy any stray bricks and protect you from incoming boss attacks. This allows you to continue your assault as you chip away at the bosses life meter, but depending on your basic Breakout skill and use of the suck-and-blow method, simple ball hits to the boss’ weak spot will take a considerable amount of time. Again, no fear, as you are given one more special ability…needle shot. You can use the power bar as ammo and send needles flying at bosses, thus increasing your chances at total victory. There is one more perk to the needle attack, once you are able to completely fill your power meter, you completely drain it and send a barrage of needles flying at your enemy in a Matrix style slow-motion effect. The needles are not exclusive to bosses, however, as you can also use the needle barrage method to quickly rip through bricks and clear levels in record time.

With all these perks in full effect, Shatter is enhanced one step further with its in game music. The music is created and composed by artist Module, and can be heard on such mediums as iTunes, Rhapsody, last.fm, Zune and AmazonMp3 and consists of over 90 minutes of original music to help tease and tantilize the senses during gameplay. Each level has its own ‘look and feel’, and the music reflects this with seamless and flawless effort. During the boss levels, the music intensifies and gives you the sense of dread and urgency similar to what you’d expect from any epic boss battle from games such as Prince of Persia or Unreal.

For any of you nostalgia freaks out there, you may make note of a failure to mention the Ricochet series from Reflexive Entertainment, developed back in 2007 just two years before Shatter. In all honesty, Ricochet could be seen as a reimagining of DX Ball, as the graphics and gameplay are similar if not identical. Where Shatter exceeds Ricochet is in the gameplay, as Sidhe Interactive created something with more of a progressive aspect to Shatter. One could also make mention of the fact that Ricochet is adding to it’s levels each week, thus increasing game replay value, Shatter is a relatively short game. However, this is not as much of a ‘short’ coming for Shatter one would think. Shatter was originally released for the PS3 via the Playstation Network back in ’09 and released this year for the PC via the gaming network Steam. Currently, Ricochet is only available for the PC also through Steam. The game’s small size is also a valuable merit, as it downloads in little to know time at all. One more thing to consider is while Ricochet was released in ’07, Reflexive Entertainment has had valuable time to establish a fan base as well as the ability for its players to download updates and new level sets. Shatter is still in many ways a relatively new game and is still developing its own fan base. And with Shatter being a part of the Steam network, addons and updates are much simpler, as Steam has a reputation of offering excellent deals for game updates. A prime example of this is with the Left 4 Dead updates being available on Steam for free while XBL gamers had to pay for the same updates.

In conclusion, Shatter picks up where many others left off in the evolution of Breakout by not only updating the graphics, gameplay and music but by surpassing all it’s predecessors with something innovative by all aspects of the term. Should you come across this game via Steam or PSN, definitely pick it up, for it is more than worth the price!!!

The Orphan

References:

Shatter’s official website
Sidhe Intereactive’s forums
Steam’s store
Wikipedia

Budget Men’s Care Double Feature: Dove Men+Care and Axe Hair product lines.

Face it, even as male geeks… We do desire to look good and be presentable to the female side of the human species. Sadly… Even some geeks fear using nice, but girly products to keep themselves in top form. Sadly for a long while… Top echelon men’s care has been a sector dominated by brands like Men’s Science, Anthony, and Billy Jealousy. As with top echelon goods, they cost a pretty penny. While I have used those brands and appreciate them, I also empathize with my geeky male brethren. Some of us are students working to degrees and bumming around with no cash. There are also those who are saving up for that one piece of equipment  be it a bolt-on turbo kit for their car, Radeon 5970, or Street Fighter Tournament Edition Arcade Stick  and skimming out on “frivolous” expenses… To those geeks, otaku, etc, I salute their enthusiasm for their obsessions of choice. However I will say that hygiene and grooming are not only important on the ideal of finding a woman but also for the sake of your fellow human being.
Continue reading Budget Men’s Care Double Feature: Dove Men+Care and Axe Hair product lines.

Need for Speed World Beta Thoughts

These aren’t final thoughts… but it’s more my current evaluation and hopes for later on.

So… today I got my invitation to play in the Need for Speed World beta. I will say, it’s a little interesting seeing MMO aspects in a racing game. The selection of cars is quite sparse but it is a beta… However, balance is an issue that I hope they address as I hated ending up dead last in the first few races. Controls really need work… The awkward scheme of driving with the arrow keys, hand brake to be operated with space-bar, and power ups to be managed by the 1 – 4 keys on the number row… It just doesn’t work. The inability to configure a controller properly really irks me… As the 360 controller works, but the only buttons that work are the left analog stick to steer, A for your throttle, B for your hand-brake, and X for your brake pedal. The directional pad sadly doesn’t work, as it would be nice for managing the power-ups…

Multiplayer is a little broken… That being said from me trying to join a few races and it can’t reconcile the users together. The single player races need some work on matching up the level of opponents… I mention this as the Lotus Elise later on and I am somehow matched up to 2 Nissan GT-R (Tier 3), 2 Lamborghini LP640 (Tier 3), and a few cars around my tier (Tier 2). The gameplay is a little frantic, but well thought out… The power ups are pretty balanced out. I would rather they work like the question boxes a la Mario Kart, but that could change. Graphically, the races feel pretty cinematic at some points.

Kudos to the Need for Speed folks for venturing into the multiplayer realm. The leveling system will definitely have to be cleaned up, as leveling up for more car access and a few skill points is rather weak. Hopefully a tuning system will be in place, cause I’d love to hop-up cars with better engine parts, turbochargers, superchargers, etc… On top of that, adding in things like adjustable suspension, being able to custom tailor out the attack-angles or racing wings would be nice too. I look forward to the development to the Need for Speed World off-shoot and leave you with a screenshot of me taking on my computer opponents.

Driving my starter Mazdaspeed 3 in a race

Shoot-Out – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 vs Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

A while ago, I picked up both Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2 (to be abbreviated as BC2 and MW2 respectively). Sadly, most of the big commercial blogs were riding the crotch of MW2 but the one fundamental fact they didn’t understand is that both games are quite different from each other. I want to take a more critically personal evaluation of the games as I want to be fair to both games. I’ll say this right now… I rather like both games, but for different reasons.
Continue reading Shoot-Out – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 vs Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Gyromancer – A Puzzle Game Remix

By the grace of Jamie, I was presented with Gyromancer a few weeks ago. To her, I thank her for it, because without her… I’d probably still have a bit of a hard time getting the game. =D

Gyromancer as many blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq have posted that the idea of the game started off basically as a joke, but somehow got taken seriously. The polish of the game is something very unique… The combination of both Square-Enix and Pop Cap Games is quite a fusion. The game has simple Pop Cap game mechanics of Bejeweled Twist but the story line of a strong Japanese fantasy RPG as you’d expect from Square-Enix. It’s truly a game that is easy to start, but hard to master.

The basic game play mechanic is to rotate sets of 4 gems clockwise and when you match 3 or more gems vertically or horizontally, you generate power for your monster to cast spells. Once your monsters fill a spell bar with energy, then the monster is able to cast its spells. The caveat is that to empower your beast’s spells, you have to match the gems that are aligned with your beast. If you match gems of the enemy monster, you risk empowering them much more.  In addition to this, there are also different monsters you can collect, but if you want to switch monsters… Your old one is considered “erased” in favor of the new monster. Thankfully,  monster levels are based off of your character levels. Early in the game, they do not penalize you for “Idle Rotations” where you don’t break gems… However, later on, it becomes much harder as an one poorly thought move can completely botch your game. You do have items that can help turn the tides of war to your favor, but these come by so few and far between.

I’ll spare the details and cut to the chase… If you like puzzle games, Gyromancer may be for you as long as you’re fully aware that there is a challenge element to it. Knowing that the challenge element could enrage you, know you may have to take breather breaks from knowing parts of the game are all purely based on luck. If you’re fine with that, then by all means do get this game! However, if you’re expecting a deep RPG just because you saw the hallowed Square-Enix logo, this is not what you’re looking for…

Gyromancer is currently available on Steam and Microsoft’s XBOX Live Arcade for $14.99 and 1200 Microsoft Points respectively. However… For the 360 version, the challenge maps are an extra 240 Microsoft Points (about $3 – $5) and healing items in-game are purchased for 20 Microsoft Points (about $0.50). I would recommend the PC to avoid being nickle-and-dimed as the challenge maps are included.

The Zombies Move South! – Left 4 Dead 2 Mini-Review

[SPOILER WARNING] If you do not want to know the ending battle to “Dead Center”… DO NOT READ MY REVIEW!

I like many other gamers awaited for Steam to bless us with the arrival of Left 4 Dead 2 at 11pm CST that would be as specified per the Left 4 Dead/Valve blog’s time of “12am Eastern time”. Well… 11pm hit and there was silence… The forums exploded! Stuff like “Where’s my #$%^#%$ game, people?!” and the like were spewed. I then scanned for a topic with news regarding a delay… then I got one. Some users in the Steam Community forums were in the Official L4D2 group saying that Mike Blas made mention in the L4D2 group chat that the game was delayed due to a last second bug that was causing the game to crash so they were trying to fix it before officially letting it out. So the time kept going until 12:10am CST when Mike Blas in the L4D2 chat made the announcement “L4D2 is officially out!” At this time (12:27am), I am currently decrypting the files at 48% and counting until I can get full access to play it… For me, it’s like being 7 again on Christmas day! The suspense is MURDER~!

By 12:40 (after file unlocking and decryption) I would be able to get my game on… I decided to take a leisurely pace on single player Easy mode and grab some pretty screenshots for you all in a nice 1600 x 900 size image to boot, because you all deserve the best! I know my buddy Mobius from Clan Avalanche had requested me to screen capture my first kill with the baseball bat, which I have done, but there’s so much more! Do feel free to give the gallery a gander! The “movie” in question is the “Dead Center” movie.

I will say one thing for sure… If you initially had problems with the demo, like I did, the final copy works PERFECT! I had an odd sound issue where there was a constant buzzing or hissing which is not present on the game. I actually applaud Valve for delaying the game to ensure a smooth release…

Now, gameplay…

With the melee weapons, they are actually pretty fun! If you pre-ordered, the baseball bat is available to you immediately on the “load-out” table. You get your basic selection of gear at load-out… So a melee weapon(s), hand-gun (should you change your mind on melee), secondary weapons (machine pistol/shotgun), and first aid kits. The melee provides a fun element that even books like The Zombie Survival Guide mention “Blades don’t need reloading“. I got to witness this first hand with the katana or as the game characters call it a “ninja sword”. You can hack up swaths of zombies but you have to be careful and time the slashes right or the hordes will claw at you. Of the fun melee weapons, the chain saw is more of a psychotic spree good for the swarms. I will provide the disclaimer that the chainsaw does run out of fuel and if you’re trying to do the achievement of an entire game without using guns… The game will auto drop the empty chainsaw and instead give you a hand gun! As far as the guns go, the selection was pretty good in “Dead Center”! I personally loved the AK-47 and the FN-SCAR for your secondary guns. For primary guns, the option for the semi-automatic Magnum with its excellent stopping power was impressive. It really put the stopping power of the pistol from the original Left 4 Dead game to shame. The weapons can be “modded” so to speak as you can pick up laser sights for sharper accuracy and incendiary ammunition. The balance for the weapons is quite appropriate… Power guns will have killer recoil, but immense power. Your classic grenade items are back, in addition to the Boomer bile! The Boomer Bile being hilarious as when you smash it against a Tank, you not only get the achievement “Septic Tank”, you get to see the ravenous horde devour the tank~!

The enemies are a remix of the old but with some of the newer special infected such as: The Jockey, Spitter, Haz-Mat Zombie, Charger. The newer infected to take a strategy of breaking up your lines. This makes it vital for you and your friends to stick together or you will get pwned! The revision of AI Director 2.0 is rather good! If you dawdle around, the hordes do come out to play! The zombies also are more attentive to the strategy of trying to overrun you by surrounding you when you’re separated or with your comrades to boot. Smarter zombies make for a bit more challenging game play, that is GREAT to have!

However, should you get turned into a zombie silver-screen dinner… Your friends can rescue your corpse provided one of you in the team has a defibrilator! This and the adrenaline pen are new additions to the game… The adrenaline pen is really great for things like rushes to hit a switch, as it gives you a small bump in health and for a short duration, any actions performed (melee, switch activation, etc) are sped up. The addition to the new health items brings about a tactical aspect of gameplay as you have to decide with friends who will be carrying a defibrillator, adrenaline, pills, or first aid kits. This is one challenge I rather like!

The last bit is incorporating aspects of the scavenger mode to the in-game story… At the end of “Dead Center”, you find out that a modded stock car is on a pedestal but it needs gas before you can escape! So you have to find 8 gas cans, fill it up, while battling out the hordes and special infected. I could see stuff like this being hectic fun with good friends online! I will share my tactic… For the gas cans on the second floor… throw them down to the first as it will make life a little easier for you.

I haven’t gotten to try multiplayer campaign, Realism mode, and versus modes yet… But if I get to within the next 48 hours, expect another mini-review! For now… I leave you to enjoy the picture gallery!

If you want my official verdict on this game: 9/10 as the only thing that bothers me is how the AI for the teammates can be rather sluggish. It’s worth the $50 or if you were lucky to pre-order it $45!

Oni-Con 2009 Report!

Before I begin, I apologize for not posting this the day of because of the Marriott hotel did not have wifi for free… $13 per day was rather a steep rip off in my opinion. To spare your eyes, I have enclosed the photo gallery at the end and I am debating on uploading the first song Echostream performed at the concert on Friday. If you would like for me to, please comment and request it!

Pre-Registration – 10/29/09
Pre-registration seemed to be a little disorganized… 2 laptops and 2 piles of lanyards. The badges weren’t really pre-prepared as the name slot has no name filled in (i.e. My nickname on the form was “ZeroXR” and it was not on my badge). Jamie had asked the pre-registration worker if there was a schedule, unfortunately we were told “There’s no schedule until tomorrow morning.” Which in my opinion, that’s a disorganized for a convention a been around for quite some time! I am glad to have gotten my badge early before the swarms of the crowds that will be at Ground Zero at 8am tomorrow… I also managed to run into Tomo from Echostream with Jamie and that was a fun little session, especially as he was very humble. For now, I drink and toast to the fact that Jamie and I survived the watery storms from our drive to Houston… Especially from some of the typical Texas panic-at-rain type folks having “OH SHIT!!!” moments putting us and other motorists at risks!

Day 1 – 10/30/09
I sadly had slept in a little more than I wanted to and didn’t get up and hit the convention until almost 1pm. The dealer’s rooms were divided into 2 zones and pretty cramped quarters for walking. Another sad travesty was the matter that the dealers in both rooms really sold the same stuff as the booths next to them. Some of the more unique items were the hat vendors who sold some really funny and/or cute hats with a focus on game/anime creatures such as the Cactuar hat. On our run through both dealers rooms, Jamie nabbed 2 wall scrolls for her best friend. Worse off was the matter that the game arcade and artist alley rooms were not set-up… The art gallery had some unique commissioned works, but some of the not so great ones were a little over eager for money (i.e. poorly proportioned sketch in pencil demanding a $45 minimum bid and a $100 buy out).

Trying to find anything close to an itinerary was a fruitless exercise in failure as no one has much of a clue of what events are going on. The vague idea that there would be musical performances around 7pm is the most I knew of, but that was from Tomo of Echostream talking to me and Jamie last night. (CJ and Tomo would also confirm the same detail this morning as well.) Around 5pm, most of the convention was set-up and itineraries were finally posted on what was happening and when. Also 5pm was when opening ceremonies were in action. The only thing that was still not quite 100% was the game arcade, yet they had a Japanese snack vendor in that same arcade room too. As far as the spoils go, we have gotten 2 wall-scrolls for Jamie’s best friend and that’s really about it. As far as cos-play goes, there’s a whole lot of Final Fantasy (Cloud and Sephiroth mostly) and Bleach characters here. So not too many cos-players really going for unique sadly… hence lacking pictures today. Tomorrow is the cos-play contest, so maybe we’ll see all the creative talent at work and I may be able to furnish pictures. However, around 6pm, a whole lot of lolita cos-play folks came in to check in…

The concert performance was pretty fun, though Satsuki and Echostream probably provided the best show of all that performed tonight. During Satsuki’s performance, he did a solo song with an acoustic guitar and in goofy fashion… He asked the crowd in broken English “Where’s my pick?” and Tomo from Echostream hands him one. After Satsuki’s guitar and piano solo was the Satsuki & Tomo set. The best quotable was before the set when Satsuki had to ask Tomo (of Echostream) for an English phrase to get the crowd wild. When you could quietly hear “Ah… I understand” in Japanese from Satsuki, he then relayed to the crowd in shy and broken English “Go… fucking… crazy!” Other than that, I think that concludes Day 1’s adventures. I do admit that I went wandering a little after midnight out of insomnia and boredom. As far as midnight lobby lounging, it’s been quite fun! I made some friends and also later wandered to the “completed” Arcade room which was not as big as they had planned. There were some games that weren’t even set-up still… A few of the “Panel Rooms” had been converted in the late evening to “Video Rooms” showing fan-subbed animes and one showing hentai. I sadly didn’t have much strength or interest for these video rooms. With fatigue quickly setting in, I had to call it a night and sleep. Saturday was gonna be a long day…

“Phat Lewtz” of the Day
2 Bleach Wall Scrolls

Day 2 – 10/31/09
The start of this day was one that was both interesting in a good way and bad. We’ll begin with the bad part… I woke up with a great deal of muscle spasms and I quickly lost muscle control at an alarming pace. This was scary, because from all the partying and lounging I did last night… I didn’t realize I dehydrated myself. Jamie and I ran down so I could get a bottle of Gatorade to re-up my electrolytes in hopes of keeping me from passing out. The good part of things was after that scare, Jamie and I would sort of cos-play for a bit to fit-in with the convention goers. I’d be dressed like a slacker Shinra Turk field operative (from the Final Fantasy VII realm) and she would be dressed up as Misa of Death Note.

After that, we set out to wander the vendor rooms as well as the Artist Alley. The cos-players came out to play, especially around 12pm was the cos-play contest. The line for people coming to watch the contest also was in the same vicinity of the line for “Dealer’s Room 1”. Result, you had one “CF” of a line just to get inside the first dealer’s room… Lucky for us, we got in before that stretched outside of the hotel. Vendors were now at the midway point of battling out the selling of their wares. I managed to pick up a Cactuar hat from Grapevine Fires and Jamie got a Macross trading figure. We’d wander around the Artist Alley and run into R. K. Millholland from Something*Positive who was a great going guy! Jamie would get a free sketch from him and also picked up a neutered cat-girl public service announcement comic poster from him too. After that, we would wander into “Dealer’s Room 2” to peruse and gawk around… Jamie would then find a cute set of cat ears and picked up those for a good price. After exiting the dealer’s room, Cure magazine, Satsuki, and Echostream had apparently gotten their booth in Artist Alley set-up. We’d pick up an Echostream poster and got it signed by the entire band in the same stroke for my sister. Funny enough, Echostream was also selling “Tomo guitar picks” with sketches by Tomo on the pick in light of last nights concert. Jamie would get quite the deal at Satsuki’s booth… She initially picked up the “Crystal” CD by Satsuki, but she came back a little later when Satsuki’s booth wasn’t swarmed. Satsuki’s agent and/or interpreter (I assume) had told Jamie that she just had 1 remaining signed idol photo of Satsuki left. So she picked that up as well as a Satsuki phone strap which netted her a free poster!

After that… We both finally had a shopping vibe and decided to give “Dealer’s Room 1” another run through. Jamie’s idea was to pick up what seemed like a good deal as well scour around things to consider sniping again on Sunday. We had to wait in the line to get in, because it seemed the dealer’s room had become swarmed with people. Once we were in, we scoured around for deals, items we just wanted, or potential things to snipe for on Sunday. I picked up a Japanese Disney Princess bento box set for my sister cause she loves hard to find Disney items. We’d wander around for a good while and finally vendors were pulling their big guns in inventory… Things like fresher inventory of new items, rare goods, and even some price discounts. The deals were typically stuff like “20% off of currently in-print domestic versions of anime DVD’s & American market printed manga (import and out of print items not valid for deal)”, “buy item 1 at $XX.xx and get item 2 at half-price (or free)”, and etc… We finally made our move on this round as we got quite a bit… An X/1999 plastic poster, a blind-packed Bleach lanyard, Cactus Pup blind-pack figure, a large-pack “Grab Bag” from Anime Pop, a Lucky Star festival series trading figure, a second Macross trading figure. The Grab Bag was actually quite good! The contents were 4 capsule toys, (2 Ultraman, 1 Trigun mini-bust, 1 End of Evangelion mini-figure), a Zeruel-XX figure from Neon Genesis Evangelion, a Linebarrels of Iron trading figure from the “One Coin Figure Series” collection, some random figures with no boxes, Final Fantasy XII trading pin, an Ishida Bleach trading figure.

After dividing up the spoils of the Grab Bag, we would head on down to the Autograph Room for the session with Satsuki. Thankfully, Satsuki’s staff was offering free posters and I nabbed one for Satsuki to sign on for my sister. Jamie got her “Crystal” CD signed as well. On meeting Satsuki, he was very humble and kind in addition to being very thankful for any fans grateful for his time. After that was the wait for the dance party which was a little crazy, but I did try to stay for a bit… I didn’t last too long and eventually had to step out for a bit… I would end up having an interesting conversation with a guy by the name of Miles about the hentai video room last night on Day 1… The best part of that discussion is quoted below:

Miles:Goko hentai is like… 2 girls, 1 cup just animated…

So you can imagine how funny that must have been for someone who was expecting “normal” straight hentai to run into some of the “goko” stuff… Hilarious irony at its finest! After that discussion, I remembered turning in for the night in preparation for Sunday’s final battle with the vendors… Sadly, I didn’t see anything I wanted to snipe for, but I was planning on doing a final scan anyhow.

“Spoils of War”
Disney Princess bento box set
Cactuar hat
Sketch and “Catgirl PSA” from R. K. Millholland
Cat ears
Autographed Echostream poster
Satsuki’s “Crystal” album (also signed)
Satsuki signed idol photo
Satsuki phone strap lanyard
X/1999 TV Series plastic poster featuring Dragons of Heaven characters
2 Macross trading figures
Bleach blind-pack lanyard/phone charm
Cactus Pup blind-pack figure
Lucky Star festival series trading figure: Hiiragi, Kagami (aka “Kagamin”)
Linebarrels of Iron trading figure: Hayase, Kouichi
Trigun capsule toy mini-bust: Nicholas D Wolfwood, transparent
End of Evangelion capsule toy figure: EVA-05/MASS
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Chromosome-XX figure by Wave: Zeruel-XX
2x Random unidentifiable figures from grab bag
Final Fantasy XII trading pin
2x Ultraman capsule toys
Bleach trading figure: Ishida, Uryu
Signed Satsuki poster

Day 3 – 11/01/09
I had slept rather well and didn’t party too hard at the “rave” hosted by the Oni-Con staff… Being well rested, I had to keep open eyes for any last shots in the dealer’s rooms. Probably by far the shortest day… Jamie had prior engagements and would send me on a solo mission as far as shopping went. I would avoid “Dealer’s Room 2” because after running there 5-6 times total this weekend, there wasn’t really anything too good there. I would be waiting in the vast line unfortunately to get into “Dealer’s Room 1”. At one point, the line was quickly speeding through! Reason: Some people thought they could be clever enough to get in without a convention pass… When they got to the door and the Oni-Con security staff didn’t see a badge or bracelet, they would tell the person to purchase a con pass and take them out of the line. Once I was in, there were some Oni-Con volunteers and security staff shouting to make sure people who were loafing on the floor of “Dealer’s Room 1” would not be tolerated due to potential fire code violations and asked those just not interested in buying to leave as well. I would scour to the best of my abilities… Most of the interesting vendors I had intentions on sniping stuff for cheap had sadly left last night. I just settled with a small grab bag and a second Lucky Star figure. After that, I’d rendezvous with Jamie and try to kill some time before the Echostream “How we make music” panel would start. Once the time burned off, I’d sit in for the 1 hour panel session and just watch Tony talk about their method of creating some aspects of their music with just Tomo on guitar and Ryoko on vocals. Jen and CJ couldn’t be fitted into this panel due to size constraints of the panel room and technical details (drum sets and recording gear wouldn’t fit). After the panel, the dealer’s rooms were slowly beginning to empty out as well as the Artist Alley and Arcade rooms. With that… The hotel was also beginning to quickly empty out with kids having to check out of their hotels by 12pm noon and even some to wait for their rides home. Overall… I had a great time and lots of fun. Definitely a very short event, but well worth the time spent.

“Treasure Items”
Bleach trading figure: Kuchiki, Rukia
Sentimental Graffiti trading figure (“Part – I” collection)
Random unidentified figure from grab bag
Mamotte Syugogetten post card
Lucky Star festival series trading figure: Hiiragi, Tsukasa
Dragon Ball Z – Real Works figure: Super Sayajin Son Goku

Final Loot Distribution for Myself
Disney Princess bento box set – Sister has dibs on it
Autographed Echostream poster – Sister requested
Signed Satsuki poster – Surprise item for my sister
Cactuar hat
X/1999 TV Series plastic poster featuring Dragons of Heaven characters
Lucky Star festival series trading figure: Hiiragi, Kagami (aka “Kagamin”)
Lucky Star festival series trading figure: Hiiragi, Tsukasa
Linebarrels of Iron trading figure: Hayase, Kouichi
Trigun capsule toy mini-bust: Nicholas D Wolfwood, transparent
End of Evangelion capsule toy figure: EVA-05/MASS
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Chromosome-XX figure by Wave: Zeruel-XX
Dragon Ball Z – Real Works figure: Super Sayajin Son Goku

Final Thoughts
I would like to extend a very humble thanks to Jamie for inviting me to journey with her to the convention as it was fun! Without her, I’d have never been able to go at all!

I personally regret I didn’t find any great cos-play folks to take pictures of… Due to the lack of interesting cos-play I didn’t have much desire to snap pictures on Saturday.

However, I was surprised to see some Team Fortress 2 cos-play going on! I saw a total of 3 RED scouts, 2 BLU scouts, 2 RED medics, 1 RED demo man, 2 RED spies, 1 RED female sniper (with a Jarate jar), 1 BLU soldier, and a guy/girlfriend couple dressed up as RED engineers. (For casual readers who are not gamers, the “RED” and “BLU” are acronyms for the factions in Team Fortress 2)

My only pet peeve of the convention is people mispronouncing Satsuki’s name as “sat-sue-key” when the technically correct pronunciation is “sats-key”. A minor detail but from studying a little conversational Japanese as well as having a fluently speaking sister, it’s one I have learned to be more critical to that small detail. Sometimes the “u” syllable is to be omitted in pronunciation of some names and words.

I would like to personally extend a “Thank You” to Echostream for being very sincere and modest! In particular, I would like to thank Tomo and CJ as I got to personally speak to them on a person-to-person basis. I want to really give them recognition for being kind enough to sign my sister’s poster early rather than have me wait in line to get the poster signed during the chaotic autograph session on Saturday night.

I also want to thank Satsuki for being very kind for signing my sister’s poster. He’s a paragon of what a good and popular music star should be about: talented, yet modest and polite.

I would also like to thank Iris, Elaine, Alyssa, and Amanda for trading names and conversation. Some of those discussions helped to pass the time very well!

Lastly, this weekend also has reminded me my roots in anime and games… Particularly, my fandom to anime. I personally love Neon Genesis Evangelion, X/1999, and Lucky Star with lucking out to have gotten items from those respective series! However, I also now own reminders of mainstream animes I did watch in my past, such as Dragon Ball Z and Trigun. The Cactuar hat is a tribute of how much I have loved the Final Fantasy series from its roots as well as the Cactuar creature himself.

[Featured Review] InvisibleShield for the iPhone 3GS – Sponsored by InvisibleSkinz.com

Thank You Note
Before I begin, I’d like to personally thank Jake from InvisibleSkinz.com for providing me one of these lovely iPhone covers. I would also like to thank him for being the first vendor to approach me for a product review and giving me a shot at promoting his business!

Click the jump to read more!

Continue reading [Featured Review] InvisibleShield for the iPhone 3GS – Sponsored by InvisibleSkinz.com

One Month with The Killer Phone – iPhone 3GS review

Last week, I was one of the lucky individuals who got their iPhone 3GS at launch day. My initial plan was to get the 16GB but I opted for the 32GB. I for one am glad I made the better choice… For the most part, I had slight difficulty with AT&T slightly messing up my activation. That is mostly AT&T’s issue… So no fault on Apple’s part on that.

I will say that 1 week with the iPhone has been a unique experience… I know for the last 2 years, I was one of those on the harsh camp of iPhone “haters” because Apple didn’t quite fix security issues that most smart phones had resolved. At the time of the iPhone’s inception, it was a mediocre phone, a widescreen iPod, and small duty internet tablet. However… When you have problems with things like SSL encryption, Safari being crippled… It makes for a very unsafe smartphone from being an effective Fort Knox of information.

Then there was the iPhone 3G that came out last year… It was mainly a few fun toys like actually bolting a GPS chipset into the phone and some bigger storage options. The bigger issue was that the iPhone’s pricing was significantly reduced… Mainly because AT&T and Apple forged an alliance for reduced prices: The 8GB model of the iPhone 3G was to be priced at $199.99 and the 16GB $299.99. Of course, this would cause an influx of users to jumping to AT&T. Of course, with more users means more in the pool to experience problems… And boy did they problems hit hard…

When it rains… boy does it pour… Users started venting frustration… especially one odd group that Apple had been gunning to sway over: business enterprise users. If there was one thing they couldn’t live with out…. it was Microsoft Exchange server connectivity. Slowly Apple began to add supports for various online mail servers like G-Mail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Exchange… Calendar support expanded to support CalDAV. Eventually things that your “common place” users wanted finally saw support with the iPhone… Yet security issues still remained.

I will say that I was still enough to sway me against the 3G… Even more so when things like the A2DP/AVRCP bluetooth profile, Nike+iPod compatibility, lack of encrypted SSL e-mail transactions, and a few other things just didn’t seem like a huge overall big deal… I could see how it was a big deal for first generation iPhone users.

Even still, I decided to wait…. Even on the envy of friends of getting brand new iPhones for Christmas… My gut feeling said Apple had a trick ace up their sleeve. A few blogs speculated that Apple was coming out with a brand new model iPhone… Some said it was a “nano” version to make it cheaper for the masses. That was all floating in the blogosphere until late May… Apple broke news saying something close to “The 3G will be reduced in price… AT&T is to sell remaining units at promotional pricing!” That was the big cue to look for a new iPhone on the horizon… Soon after Apple made the big press release, the iPhone 3GS was coming. Features being a slightly better battery, a faster processor, more RAM, a warmer toned LED screen, a oil resistant coating on the face of the iPhone, a compass chipset with the GPS, a brand new graphic chipset… To sweeten up the deal, they even decided to add a new 3.0 software update for both the iPhone 3G and GS models. This would be the crux of things as a slew of security issues were fixed and more functionality was added. I had been meaning to convert to AT&T for the sake of school… and this was my cue.

For background purposes… I was the “hardcore” business user. I used many of the “smartphone grade” operating systems: Palm OS Garnet, Symbian UIQ, Symbian S60, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS… I understood the high learning curves from these devices, but on getting my iPhone 3GS… I ran into a unique experience…

A bare and minimalistic information pamphlet basically labeling out how to use the gestures and essentially throwing the user into the water. It was something else compared to the 50-60 page manuals I was used to with all the other phones. To be honest, I was skeptical.I had thought to myself… “Can it really be THAT easy?!” I jumped in and got to check it out…

Apple really refined everything… They didn’t use super high end parts or anything wild… I dare say, the pooled a group of users from 18 – 35 and said “What makes you fear a smart phone? What would you, the consumer, want in a fun phone?” The phrase “fire and forget” basically sums up how easy it is to use.

If you need to make a call, tap the “Phone” app icon and you get your standard phone options of the keypad, recent/missed calls, phonebook, favorite contacts, and the visual voicemail. Want to listen to music? Tap the iPod icon and you have categories of music… Want a more visual approach to your music? Turn your phone sideways and you get album covers of your music almost like a remix of an old jukebox. As a friend put it best… “It’s stupidly simple and Apple hit the mark for a mass market.”

The response of the phone with the new hardware is impressive… There’s almost no lag when in side-by-side comparison to an iPhone 3G. As many blogs such as Gizmodo iPhone 3GS review matrix show, the consensus is that the [S] does equate to speed or “snappiness”. I can definitely see how this will affect future games and applications slated to hit the iTunes App Store. So far most games are generally suited for the iPhone 3G and have minimal issues with the faster chips for the 3GS, but give it time and some developers may make games to utilize the faster chips.

As a media player, it works well… I will gripe and say the stock headphones blow. They work ok if there’s a necessity… I will say if you want to go wireless… The Motorola S305’s (MRSP $50) work rather nice example for a Bluetooth stereo option. There’s also the wired options like V-Moda or Shure but be prepared to pay a premium for their options ($80+). I do wish that movies could be displayed via the “Cover Flow” style that the music gets… I think it’d be cool to have that option and have the DVD/Theatrical poster be laid out for you rather than the bland list option. The Bluetooth profiles are still under work and Apple realizes they need to get into the game quickly. The A2DP (Advance Audio Distribution Profile) works alright as far as streaming 2-channel stereo music to Bluetooth headphones or car stereo systems, however the AVRCP (Audio-Video Remote Control Protocol) abilities of play/pause and volume+/- work but not the track skip commands. The rumor is the “hot fix” 3.1 update should resolve this, but I will report when the 3.1 public release comes out.

As a phone… I have come to love the simplicity. Making calls is idiot proof, I have yet to test it with my family borrowing my phone… but if I do, expect an update, as they are as tech fearing as most people are. The Visual Voicemail is absolutely charming as I have always hated voicemail messages where the person is trying to leave a message as quick as possible and I can’t catch the details… With normal voicemail, I’d have to wait for the end and press the replay command to listen again. Now with Visual Voicemail, I can just drag the slider back and catch the part I need with little to any fuss.

Texting and e-mail are much more refined now as landscape keyboards have been added to the 3.0 release. The e-mail encryption issue has been fixed properly and they do support SSL encryption to boot. All in all, I will say that the IM style for the text conversations is nice. Setting up your own e-mail however is a little tricky if you are not using a MobileMe, Microsoft Exchange, G-Mail, Yahoo Mail, or AOL Mail account… I found that out when I was trying to get my mailbox set-up but once I found the tips from the DreamHost Wiki, the rest was easy.

As a mobile internet tablet… I find it to be sufficient at the task. The only thing that Apple needs to get with the times is Flash support, but at this moment… They are basically trying to force content providers to push content to the phone for things like embedded video and a few sites support this. More and more mainstream sites however are relying on Flash to deliver site content and add the fact that the Android platform is pushing Flash when the next and final build of Android is due to be released… Apple will be the ones lagging in this vector. About 2 years ago, they claimed they couldn’t support Adobe’s endeavor because Adobe’s code probed too far into the internals of the iPhone, but that leaves many wondering “How much longer, Apple?” The irony to this is a Google/HTC phone is coming to AT&T around August depending on how AT&T will be tolerant of the Android open principles. I would dare to call that an assault on “home” territory and would hope that this spurs some competition with Apple to cooperate with Adobe.

I will say that the apps really do make the phone plenty useful and fun. Things like WordPress, Pandora, LastFM, Facebook, Amazon, AT&T myWireless, Google Apps are great! I can agree with many of the bloggers out there that the apps really make the iPhone quite a treat. As far as load speed, the new 3GS hardware has barely any latency with application loading which is great as I have “gotten used” to slow loading apps on my previous phones.

I will say probably my big compliment to the iPhone 3GS is it is one phone I have not had to reboot like clockwork. This was a problem on my Windows Mobile phones, Sony Ericsson P990i, Nokia smartphones, and even my Blackberry as the RAM/pagefile just gets blocked up in garbage which lags the phones out to a snails pace. I haven’t turned my phone off since I got it back on June 19th and it runs just as snappy as it was then.

As far as my final consensus goes for the phone… I will highlight the big points to consider before you sign with the Death Star or sign for an early upgrade should you be on the fence with getting an iPhone.

  • Have you been considering an all-in-one solution and have a dying previous generation iPod? – Yes
  • Fan of a minimalistic design? – Yes
  • Are you a contact synergy fanatic that wants rapid access to your phone book but don’t mind some work? – Yes
  • Are you upgrading from an iPhone 2G? – Yes
  • Do you want more software freedom and open source? – No, consider an Android phone like that HTC Lancaster coming soon to AT&T and the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G due August 3rd.
  • Do you want expandable and hot-swappable memory cards? – No, consider other smartphones that give this privilege.
  • Do you want a high end camera on your phone? – No, Consider the Samsung Memoir or Sony Ericcson CS905 or Xperia X1 for 8.1 megapixel camera phones
  • Do you want an easier way to combine all of your contacts from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc with little to any work? – No, consider a Palm Pre.
  • Does your work require that your phone must play nice on their VPN? – No, go with what is best for your company’s requirements.
  • Are you upgrading early because you bought your iPhone last year or in the last few months? – No, unless you’re foolish enough to pay the ridiculous upgrade $499 (16GB)/$599 (32GB) price.

In closing, the experience for a brand new user is pretty good and probably much easier . A 3G user not due to upgrade would be an idiot just to upgrade for a few perks. For any iPhone fanatic, I would advise sticking to the 2 year revision cycle. By the second year of ownership, the “newer” model will have huge upgrades for you. For a business class user, the iPhone 3GS is tricky and you’d have to check with your IT department if they can provide secure VPN support for you so “caveat emptor” is my warning to you. Overall my opinion is rather good for AT&T’s killer phone, but I will say I await what the Google Android team has to offer when they hit nearly every provider in America with Android phones. My reason is I love seeing competition and I want to see how Apple responds to what will soon be coming to Android.