Review: Dark Souls II + Lost Crowns DLC

Dark Souls II

Genre: Action role-playing
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One
Release: March 11, 2014

Dark Souls II

Immortality is the oldest of human fascinations. It appears in many guises, from vampire folklore to religious promises. Sometimes it elevates men, and sometimes it defiles them.

The Undead of Dark Souls bear a cursed mark known as the Darksign. They begin with human intelligence, and they’re reborn at mystical bonfires when they die, granting them an indefinite lifespan. But they decay each time, eventually becoming mindless, predatory Hollows. Your character in Dark Souls II begins partially Hollow, entering the ruined kingdom of Drangelic in search of a cure. You face hordes of former peasants and soldiers, consumed by the same curse. But perhaps your condition is fortunate, because few people could beat Dark Souls II without dying many times.

You Died

Veterans of the Souls series will often say it respects you more than other games. “It’s not hard, it’s fair,” a fan once told me. Many RPGs begin with severe challenges, growing rapidly easier as you level up and find better loot. Dark Souls II remains difficult for the entire journey. You can and will gain enough firepower to one-shot many enemies, but even with heavy armor, you can take extreme damage from a handful of blows. Some shields don’t completely neutralize physical damage, and you lose stamina for each block, roll, or swing, leaving you staggered and helpless if you overextend yourself. Combat is as much about reading your opponent’s moves and posture as sheer brute force. If you aren’t careful, the weakest peasants will stunlock you to death.
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Getting Influenza the First Week of the Semester

H1N1 influenza
Influenza is a nasty disease, for something unlikely to kill or (permanently) cripple you. It comes in numerous flavors, from H1N1 and H3N2 to Influenza B, and it mutates with great enthusiasm, preventing broad immunity through either infection or current vaccines. You’re usually contagious a day or two before you feel sick, which makes it easy to spread. Even when symptoms appear, you usually don’t feel that sick for several hours, when you’re already trapped at work or school.

You might mistake it for a cold at the beginning, but it saps your energy in a very distinctive way. Your limbs become heavy and stiff, and your entire body feels cold and exposed, no matter how many blankets you pile on yourself. Water tastes like dirt, even though you should probably drink a lot of it, and it becomes possible to sleep for longer periods than you could ever manage normally. You should stay home in this phase, but some employers, parents, or superegos will pressure you to work anyway, despite the infection risk. If you have weaker defenses or very bad luck, it can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, or organ failure. More often, it disables you for several days and leaves a nasty cough afterward.

At least, it knocked me down every time I could remember. Thus, when my mother caught the flu during my first week back at college, I became very nervous very quickly. She woke up Monday with a sore throat, went to work thinking she had a cold, and returned that evening with a fever of 101°F. It rose three degrees higher before she finally got it down by taking a bath. I slept at my friend’s house that night, so I didn’t know she was sick yet. My throat hurt the next morning. It felt like a cold, growing slightly worse each hour. I realized it was influenza the moment I learned about her. In retrospect, I never had a chance. The vaccine didn’t protect her from that particular strain, so it didn’t protect me, and she’d probably been contagious all weekend.

It wasn’t her fault, but it threw a wrench into my entire schedule. I started courses in HTML, Python, computer hardware, and fiction writing that week, and I moved my site to WordPress. Before infection, I planned to work ahead in each class, utilizing the calm introductory phase. The flu shattered my plans. At a minimum, I couldn’t go to class for the rest of the week. I was too dangerous to others. My mother works roughly ten hours at the hospital each day, and she spends her free time cleaning the house. Her energy reserves defy comprehension. So when she called in sick and couldn’t leave her bed the next day, I knew my week was doomed.
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Review — Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved

Geometry Wars 3

Genre: Shooter, arcade
Developer: Lucid Games
Publisher: Activision
Platform: iOS (reviewed), most others
Release: July 7th, 2015

geometry wars 3

For such a successful series, the origins of Geometry Wars are rather humble. Stephen Cakebread wrote the earliest iteration to troubleshoot controller input for Project Gotham Racing, employing simple vector graphics because they were easy to draw. After the main project hit stores, he expanded the Geometry Wars demo into a complete minigame, embedding it within a virtual arcade machine in Project Gotham Racing 2. He and his co-designers at Bizarre Creations didn’t expect it to receive much attention, but it became surprisingly popular, prompting them to develop an expanded version titled Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved for Xbox Live Arcade.

I haven’t played a Geometry Wars game since Galaxies in 2007, so when I saw Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved in the iOS App Store, I was immediately intrigued. As a port of a console game, it costs $9.99, which is expensive by mobile standards but cheap anywhere else. Geometry Wars 3 contains no microtransactions or internal advertisements, and in an iOS climate absolutely saturated with them, I’m happy to pay a little extra up front. I had some concerns about how the dual-stick controls would translate to my iPad’s touchscreen, but input is largely responsive. The result is an exceptional arena shooter.
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Eleven ADHD Strategies

This article’s header image comes from Jesper Sehested, author of Click here to view his website.

ADHD doesn’t scare people as much as some classical mental disorders, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, no one assumes you’re going to kill their family, but on the other, it’s subtle enough to be overlooked, even in the face of great turmoil.

I’m autistic, but I also have ADHD, and in my particular case, I consider it a larger issue. It’s the difference between looking strange and confusing important deadlines, or wanting to fall asleep all the time, or coming in thirty minutes late to your school’s free ACT session.

It sounds laughable, until you (or other people) suffer the results. But I’ve survived, partly from stimulant therapy, and partly because I’ve learned to compensate. These are eleven strategies and ideas I’ve developed over the years. I won’t claim to follow them perfectly, but they’ve made a difference in my life. I’m not a medical expert, or even old enough to drink, but if you have ADHD, I hope at least a few items here will prove useful.

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Review: Hero Core (Freeware)

Hero Core

Genre: Shooter, action adventure
Developer: Daniel Remar
Platform: Windows, Macintosh
Release: May 3rd, 2010
Latest Windows version:
July 22nd, 2013

Hero Core is an open-ended shooter game from Daniel Remar, the creator of fellow freeware title Iji. While Iji is an unusually intricate Game Maker creation, with complex stat development, branching plot, hacking minigames, and two competing enemy factions, Hero Core takes a simpler approach, and ultimately a better-rounded one. You play as Flip Hero, a being locked in never-ending combat with a war machine called Cruiser Tetron. With his legion of robotic soldiers, Tetron aims to destroy the earth, and you simultaneously. Flip Hero has defeated Tetron many times in the past, , but the machine’s servants rebuild him each time. Relief is fleeting on both ends.It’s a familiar plot for a game, but Tetron receives more development than you would expect, a predator enslaved by his own programming.

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Works of Fiction (and Research) I Should Have Finished by Now

An incomplete list:

Woken Furies – Richard K. Morgan
Havoc – Chris Wooding (Lost under my bed for several months)
The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson (Checked out online numerous times; too lazy to finish)
Ravenor Rogue – Dan Abnett
Caves of Ice – Sandy Mitchell
NeuroTribes – Steve Silberman
Complete CompTIA A+ Guide to PCs, Sixth Edition
– First semester HTML and C++ textbooks (Busy compensating for lack of friends in high school)
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iOS, Kovacs, and Other Winter Distractions

Even Google’s in on it.

Ah, December. The month of an arctic-dwelling fat man who runs a factory of elves, handing them manufacturing quotas from lists written in childhood handwriting. Their orders are many, encompassing brands from Lego to Sony, but the elves possess the technical knowledge, company schematics, and rare metals necessary to assemble them, because otherwise they wouldn’t be elves. They receive most of their lists a week or three before Christmas, but they never collapse while operating forklifts, or misplace important parts, or call their labor union; they churn out products hour after sacred hour, as if fed meth through their office coffee maker. Continue reading

First Impressions: Dark Souls II

Genre: Action role-playing
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360,
PS4, Xbox One
Release: March 11, 2014

I’ve spent around seventy hours with this game, and so far, it’s handily one of the best I’ve ever played. The graphics are slightly outdated, as you’d expect for a 2014 title, but aside from a few bland stone textures, the artwork remains appealing. Drangleic is a broken realm, and decay runs through every lifeless wooden shack and moss-infested tower. You play as an Undead (yes, capitalized), a human branded with a cursed mark known as the Darksign. The mark grants your kind potential immortality, reviving you at magical bonfires whenever you die. But though you begin with human sentence and flesh, each death rots your body and corrodes your mind, bringing you closer to the walking corpses of old superstition. The final state is a being known as a Hollow, a predator that exists only to feed on the souls of humans, sentient Undead, and other lifeforms. Continue reading

Sleep Deprivation

I hate sleep deprivation. Of all the mundane physical sensations, it’s probably the shittiest. It’s also been a frequent companion. When I was very young, staying up late excited me, but my sleep reached an average of three hours by the first month of grade eight, which forever killed my enthusiasm. The following 2.5 years were a single never-ending day, a haze of social fears, sleep deprivation, and untreated ADHD. I started sleeping better afterward, but I was also self-medicating with caffeine pills, which caused occasional nights where I couldn’t sleep at all. I usually sleep for seven or eight hours now, but I stupidly, stupidly played Zelda II: The Adventure of Link until 1 AM this Tuesday, and I couldn’t shut my brain off afterward. I spent the next day at college with no sleep whatsoever. It’s a little better than in grade 11, since I take stimulants now, but it’s still one of the shittiest feelings in recent memory. And self-inflicted, no less.


Every time I have a night like that, I remember: there are people who brag about losing sleep, or think you’re lazy if you can’t get by on five hours every morning. There are times when you have to wake up early, just as there are times when you can’t get enough food or water, but it should be avoided as much as possible. It doesn’t just make you tired, it impairs you. According to the CDC,

  • An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 years or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. However, these numbers are underestimated and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

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Why Ocarina of Time Isn’t the Best Game Ever

Ah, Ocarina of Time. The first 3D Zelda, and probably the most respected. Ocarina pioneered target-locking, context-sensitive controls, and other modern features, lifting the core gameplay into wider spaces with no loss of playability. It hit shelves in 1998, earning perfect scores from IGN, GameSpot, Edge, Famitsu, and numerous other sources. In that day, it probably deserved them. Countless developers cite it as an influence. At the time of writing, it continues to hold the highest Metacritic rank of any video game.

I first played Ocarina of Time in second grade. My parents ordered a GameCube from eBay, which shipped with a copy of Zelda: Collector’s Edition. It also shipped with a PlayStation 2 AV cable, which proved mostly incompatible. The screen rendered in sickly gray tones with lines of wavering static, as if struck by some digital pathogen. After placing yet another order for the proper AV cable, I popped the disc in around a week later. I tried all four games, but Ocarina was the first I made any progress in. The NES titles killed me too fast, and Majora’s Mask was too complicated. I got stuck at Death Mountain for several months, but a guide helped me enter (and beat) Dodongo’s Cavern, and I woke up early the next morning, trying to make up for lost time. When we moved the system to my room, I often played late at night with the speakers muted, sneaking paranoid glances down the hallway. I often turned in homework late, as well, but you don’t get that focused without making sacrifices.

Despite that, when Edge, IGN, or other sources called Ocarina the best game ever made, I never agreed. I considered it very good, and I still do, but “best ever” didn’t make sense to me. The story was a little too thin, the combat was a little too easy, and the Water Temple was a little too irritating for that award.

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