Gaming's Environmental Impact

If you play video games, you've probably been offended, at some point or another, by the ridiculously bad rap that gamers all too often receive. From invoking violence to brainwashing the youth, you'd think that gamers were the world's most fearsome terrorist organization. While most of the accusations about video games that make the headlines are unfair and based on questionable "evidence", there are always ways for gamers to step up their act in a proud and dignified manner. One of the more legitimate problems with playing video games is the impact that it has on the environment, and it's a fairly simple one for players to address.

Unfortunately, when I went to do a bit of research for this blog post, most of what I found when looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of gaming were some rather insulting and unhelpful articles with titles like "People Playing Video Games Not Concerned About Its Environmental Impact". While this is clearly a broad and dubious statement, I was not able to find as much information on how to improve gaming habits as I would've liked. However, since the environment has long been a concern of mine, I can hopefully offer some advice based on my general knowledge of the subject in addition to what I've found specifically pertaining to video games.

One of the easiest, most effective, and financially smart things to do is to simply unplug your appliances when they're not in use. Even when electronic devices like video consoles aren't being used, they can still use up a ton of energy just by being plugged into the wall. An easy way to achieve this effect for your computer is to simply plug everything into a power strip and at the end of the day, flip the switch. It may seem like a pain, going around and making sure everything's no longer using power, but if you're like me, it's worth it if for no other reason than to get rid of all those stupid glowing lights that keep you up at night. These sort of habits are also beneficial in that they can substantially prolong the lifespans of your appliances.

Something that you should always do for a great number of reasons is to do your research before buying. If you were to, say, go out right now and purchase a PlayStation 3, you'd have several options. As far as energy efficiency is concerned, the newer PlayStation 3 Slims use about half as much energy as the original release PS3s and are cheaper. This is usually the case when comparing new and old versions of a console. You should also consider things like controllers. Buying brand new batteries for your XBox 360 wireless controller every time they run out would be costly and stupid when there are many other sensible solutions out there.

While I wasn't able to find any sort of specific information on the subject, I can pretty much gaurantee you that buying used and refurbished will save you lots of money and energy. I know that every once in a while, you're dying to bust open a brand new game on the day it's released, but if you're just browsing for something new to try, I seriously suggest going used. Especially in this day and age, discs are being made more and more resilient, making "used" hardly any different than "new". As far as consoles go, refurbs aren't always entirely reliable so again, do your research. Make sure that you're getting it from a legitimate vendor and that you hold onto your receipt.

Aside from those easily doable suggestions on how to reduce your environmental impact, there are always more ways to make a difference, so long as it's something that you care about. So keep your mind open and prove the biased, judgemental media wrong.

Some articles that I stumbled upon while writing this post:
"People Playing Video Games Not Concerned With Its Environmental Impact"
"Energy Savers: When to Turn Off Personal Computers"
"PS3 Slim uses half the power of PS3 'fat'"


[ATG] Addiction to Gaming

Last week, I sent out fifteen Team Fortress 2-themed holiday cards. They did not go out to family or old friends as one might expect. Instead, I sent the cards to fifteen of my fellow ATG members--only a few of whom I've met in real life. I became a part of the community/clan known as "Addiction to Gaming" or "ATG"--founded in 2009 by [ATG] Newman, [ATG] Stephen, and [ATG] Joe--back in August. I discovered the community through its TF2 servers--the 24/7 Badwater one, to be more specific. After playing there a few times, I found the overall attitude of the server and its regulars to be lots of fun, so I decided to stick around. Enticed by the all-talk key config that ATG offered on their forums, I made up my mind to introduce myself and begin posting regularly to further get to know the many, uh, interesting personalities that I had become familiar with in-game.

It wasn't long before I began to feel very much at home with everyone at Addiction to Gaming. I was welcomed quite graciously and discovered that there were many people there who had similar interests to me, even outside of Team Fortress 2 and other games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Starcraft II. After some time, ATG's self-appointed "recruitment officer", [ATG] Steak House asked me to where the clan tag in my screen name. At first, I was reluctant, as I've always been put-off by the idea of clans. But after I did, a sense of pride came over me. Not only did my playing stats improve (as is the case with most members), but I genuinely felt that I had become part of a very cool community--one that wasn't fueled by the ego-mania and bullying that I had observed of so many other clans, but rather, a simple desire to play well and have fun doing it.

Since I became active several months ago, I have met several people from ATG in real life. In November, Steak House took me and my boyfriend, who is also part of ATG (he's known as "Geoth" online), out for dinner. A couple weeks later, Steak had a bunch of us stay at his company's lodge in Michigan for a weekend. There were seven of us, total...as pictured above, left to right: [ATG] Stephen (in our hearts, anyway), Fluffy Harmless Kitten, [ATG] wisoka, Mala, Magus, [ATG] Geoth, me ([ATG] Tobuoi or "T"), and [ATG] Steak House. And yes, we did almost exclusively address each other by our screen names. The weekend was filled with movies, Texas Hold 'Em, video games, and much more, which I will refrain from writing about for the sake of a few ATG members' dignity. Regardless, we had a lot of fun. Upon meeting everyone there, I felt as if I was simply getting together with a bunch of old friends--no feelings of awkwardness in the slightest. In fact, I even enjoyed the company of a few people better than I thought I would.

While Addiction to Gaming is largely a Team Fortress 2 clan, we play all sorts of games together and discuss all sorts of things, from movies to technology and everything in between. If you're into gaming and looking for a bunch of awesome people to share the experience with, I suggest you check us out: Addiction to Gaming. We're always looking for new members. You'll find me there as [ATG] Tobuoi.


Fallout 3--finally!

We finally got our PS3 repaired a few weeks ago, so after many console-less months, I've gotten serious about beating a few games. The first one on my list was Fallout 3, which I had been wanting to play for a long time. I tried out the PC version but I wasn't too taken with it, so I decided to wait. So far, I am loving it. I would recommend this game to anyone who considers themselves a serious gamer.

While I have not yet "beaten" the game (with a role-playing game as big and open as Fallout 3, this term is used lightly), I have sunk many hours into it and am enjoying it emmensely. For those of you who don't know, Fallout 3 is largely an RPG in the traditional sense, meaning that you get to customize your character, explore the vast wasteland with little-to-no restrictions, choose what your character says, pick up hundreds of different items and weapons, complete quests, and pretty much have him/her do whatever you damn-well please. However, in combat, the player has the option to play the game like a first-person shooter. This makes for a very unique gameplay experience that is surprisingly satisfying. In many ways, the game is reminiscent of a Final Fantasy title, set in an apocalyptic wasteland. Despite this, FPS gamers should find plenty to like about it. In fact, players who are in search of a good game of either genre but want something that's a little different, Fallout 3 certainly delivers.

One of the things that I think makes Fallout 3 a must-play is the game's atmosphere. As someone who loves all things post-apocalyptia, I find the game's careful blend of creepiness and anxiety exhilerating. It's a rarity that a video game has a noticable psychological effect on me but Fallout 3 definitely does. Between the many mutated creatures, masochistic Raiders, and merciless Talon Company mercenaries that wander the wasteland, and the overall sorry state of mankind, the game definitely has a way of putting you on edge. If you're like me and enjoy that sort of thing, Fallout 3 should be right up your alley. Aside from all that, the game's known for its commendable replay value. Even though I have lots of quests left to complete, I look forward to starting over again with a different character and see how everything would've turned out if I did things differently. Maybe I'll pick up Fallout: New Vegas after that.


Video Game Midnight Releases

I recently got a job at a local GameStop and my first shift was the midnight release of Call of Duty: Black Ops a couple weeks ago. While I had been to a number of midnight releases for movies and books, myself, I had never experienced one for a video game. I'm also not a huge CoD fan but I still had a good time, despite the fact that I was working. For those of you who have never attended a midnight release, they're all pretty much the same. If done right, they can be fun and surprisingnly organized.

Everyone at the Black Ops release was in a pretty good mood, as is to be expected with a midnight release. I mean, you're hanging out in line with a bunch of people who are excited for the same thing as you. Aside from that, GameStop gave out free food (Buffalo Wild Wings and Toppers, no less) and soda and had PS3 and 360 demos of the game going on just outside the store to keep everyone entertained. Though, given the general atmosphere and chattiness of everyone in line, I don't think anyone really would've gotten bored during the three-hour wait.

As far as people actually getting the game went, GameStop had a good system in place that made it easier for everyone than I thought possible. By 12:30, just about everyone had their game and was on their way home to play it. This meant that I got to go home around 1 AM. Really, if there's a midnight release for something you're into--whether it be a game, movie, book, etc.--I suggest you attend it if possible because it's a lot of fun. And of course, you get to get your hands on whatever it is you're waiting for ASAP.

I'm off to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at midnight, tonight.


Press Start

If you've been keeping up with this blog for a while, you probably read my post on YouTube makeup guru Michelle Phan. In the post, I mentioned that she was a gamer. Well, now her and pro competitive gamer sWooZie have teamed up to create "Press Start": a YouTube channel dedicated to gaming. New videos are available every Friday and while there have only been a few uploaded so far, a good deal of variety is to be expected. Both Michelle Phan (or "RiceBunny") and sWooZie have fun personalities and a good sense of humor which makes the videos all the more entertaining. You should definitely check it out.


J!NX: clothing for gamers and geeks!

If you're reading this blog, chances are you're probably a bit of a geek/nerd/whatever. Luckily for you, we are living in a time where "geek is chic" and just about everybody knows it. However, for most of us, being able to revel in our internal geekiness is not enough--we must express it outwardly, preferably in the form of clothing! Well, fortunately, there is a clothing company that allows you to do just that: J!NX. Whether you're a WoW freak, a lover of sci-fi, an oldschool gamer, or some other variant of nerd, I can pretty much garauntee that J!NX has something for you.

I've personally owned four J!NX t-shirts in the last year or so as well as a sticker that's currently stuck to the side of my computer tower. I have also shopped there for gifts for friends numerous times and I've never been disappointed. In addition to their absolutely stellar collection of t-shirts, J!NX offers hats, keychains, stickers, patches, and now even an original line of clothing (pants, jackets, shirts, etc.) for men, as well as other miscellaneous items. Never fear, ladies; a promised women's clothing line is said to be available soon. In the meantime, check out their unmatched selection of awesome-fitting women's t-shirts. In addition to their licensed World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, and Starcraft collections--among many others--J!NX offers an extensive line of original designs which, more often than not, feature nerdy wit and awesome art.

Aside from all of the amazing products that they offer, J!NX has a very enticing rewards program that you get to take part in just by shopping there, making it an even more fun and geek-tastic experience for all. Really, I cannot recommend J!NX enough. I buy my t-shirts almost exclusively from them now and I'm eager to get my hands on their other stuff in the future. Click the link below to check it out!

All images property of J!NX.


StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty: game review/thoughts

Nearly two months after its release, StarCraft II fever is still running high. Finally, after forcing fans of the first StarCraft to wait over ten years for a sequel, Blizzard released StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty on the PC back on July 27th, and it's not ready to settle down just yet. Two expansion packs—Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void—are still to be released in the future. These expansions are meant to further explore the backgrounds and storylines of the Zerg and Protoss races, whereas Wings of Liberty mostly focuses on the Terran.

I, personally, have never played the first Starcraft, so I wasn't as psyched for SCII's release as, say, my boyfriend or half of my other friends. Before I get ahead of myself, though, I want to say right of the bat that I advise you take this review with a grain of salt, as I haven't really been able to play the game enough to completely stand behind my thoughts of it. With that being said, I think it's safe to say that I have mixed feelings about the game, though most of them are positive. In general, real-time strategy games and their ilk usually don't appeal to me all that much. However, with StarCraft II, I found that once I got into the swing of things and figured out what I was doing, the game genuinely took hold of me.

For the first couple of weeks playing online against other players, I was totally mesmerized by it. Even when I wasn't playing, my head was still busy with thoughts of all the methods and strategies to implement. However, after those first weeks, I found myself somewhat burnt out on the game. This was largely because--from what I can tell--the game has certain imbalances that still need to be worked out.

After having gotten a little tired of the online play, I decided to try out the campaign. I know that a lot of fans of the first StarCraft game had good things to say about it, but personally, after a few missions, I was straight-up bored with it. Granted, as I've already stated, I haven't played the first one and am only somewhat familiar with its storyline. However, I will say that the history behind the character Kerrigan (yay, Tricia Helfer) is rather fascinating, if not momentous enough to carry the rest of the game's storyline to the point of making it legitimately captivating for players like me.

Despite all this, StarCraft II really does have a lot of good things going in its favor. The ranking system alone is largely innovative and impressive, which, given StarCraft's status in the competitive gaming world, is a key component to its acclaim. Overall, a lot of care and effort went into the game, and I think it shows. I'm also fairly confident that a lot of its less favorables aspects will be addressed in the expansions and future patches. As far as RTS games go, this one is probably (one of) the best that you could ask for. If you're new to real-time strategies, I would definitely recommend that you give SCII a shot because it is certainly worth trying.


"Dead Fantasy": Dead or Alive meets Final Fantasy

As a rule, I typically steer clear of fan-made stuff. No matter what the fandom or whether it's a fanfic, animation, etc., you can usually expect it to be a lame and a complete waste of time. However, every once in a while, you'll find some quality fan-made stuff out there. Monty Oum's Dead Fantasy animation series is a good example. To be honest, I don't really know what to say about it other than it features a bunch of Dead or Alive and Final Fantasy characters (mostly female) duking it out, and it's freaking sweet to watch. In my opinion, the animation and choreography of the fight scenes is really impressive, and each new video gets better and better as more characters are thrown into the fray and the action builds. A sure delight for Dead or Alive and Final Fantasy fans, alike. Be sure to watch in the highest quality possible.

Monty Oum's YouTube page can be found here: Monty Oum's YouTube Chanel


Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: movie review/thoughts

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has been in theaters for about three weeks, now, so this review is a bit delayed. It's still out, though, so not all is lost. The movie poster tagline reads, "An epic of epic epicness". While I, personally, didn't think the movie was that  epic, the phrase conveys the movie's demeanor and sense of humor accurately. Now, let me say right off the bat that I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World considerably and if you have any appreciation for the genre whatsoever, you should definitely go and see it if you haven't, already. However, I went into the theater with some pretty high expectations that I didn't feel were quite met, and this left me a little disappointed.

What I was hoping for was something a little more like Kickass or Zombieland, both of which--I felt--did an exceptional job of combining comedy and action with sincerity. Directed by Edgar Wright, it seemed to me that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was having a hard time deciding whether it wanted to be more like the films mentioned above or Wright's own (equally amazing) movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The result was, in my humble opinion, kind of sketchy. I have to cut it some slack, though, because it is a truly unique film, chock-full of comic book and video game elements that make it the first of it's kind, in many respects. I also haven't read any of the comic books, so maybe I just don't have the right idea in mind of what the movie was attempting.

What probably disappointed me the most was the fight scenes. As has been my complaint with several other films' fight scenes, rather than legitimizing them with actual stunts, it seemed to me that they relied much more heavily than I would've liked on crazy, distracting lighting and weird camera angles to keep things confusing and hard to follow. The scenes were far from bad, mind you, I just wasn't nearly as impressed with them as I had hoped to be. I mean, they were supposed to be like video game fight scenes, after all.

The acting was all good, as expected, though it would be nice to see Michael Cera play a character other than...well, Michael Cera. The dialogue was enough to keep me giggling more-or-less throughout the entire movie, and I particularly enjoyed Wallace: Scott's gay room/bedmate.

All in all, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a quality, original, and entertaining movie. Though there were a few aspects of it that I felt were a bit rough around the edges, there's still lots about it that I enjoyed and I look forward to similar video game-style storytelling being used in other films in the future. If I had to rate the movie, I think I would give it a flat B. Go see it. It's one of the few movies out worth seeing, right now.


25 Ramblings of a Gamer

If you've been reading any of my posts prior to this one, you've probably figured out that video games have largely influenced my personality, artistic tastes, and quite simply, who I am as a person. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, though. In fact, as more time goes by, video games are finally beginning to receive the respect and recognition that they deserve as a legitimate form of art and entertainment, and it's about time. I think it's even fair to say that gaming has become a rather integral part of our modern society, one that more and more people are partaking in every day. However, I figured I'd get a little personal with this post and share with you 25 of my thoughts, memories, aspirations, etc.--all to do with video games.

1. The first video game that I ever played was Sonic the Hedgehog when I was four years old--the first game that ever remember playing is Bushido Blade on the original PlayStation, a couple years later. I remember being very impressed with the way that the bamboo trees on this one level would fall over if you cut through them, and that's about all.

2. My mom is a billion times better at games like Tetris and Pacman than I will ever be.

3. I've been coming up with rather elaborate video game ideas (characters, story lines, gameplay--the works) for years now and I can't wait to put them into action.

4. We've only ever owned PlayStation consoles in my house (and the occasional GameBoy). Nothing against others, mind you, it's just safe to say that I was raised a PlayStation gamer. Maybe when I start making some real cash and I'm itching to spend it, I'll buy a 360 or something.

5. When I was younger, I used to hate action figures because, in actuality, they're more like statues than "action" figures. Now, however, I have a small collection started and I'm eager to get my hands on Lightning from FFXIII.

6. I still (vaguely) remember the day that my dad brought home our first PlayStation and our first game to go with it (Bushido Blade). The PS came with a demo disc that had at least a dozen different game demos on it, including Crash Bandicoot 2.

7. I'm not a huge fan of classic Nintendo games like The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Super Smash Bros., etc., but I've never gotten the chance to play too much of them, so maybe that's why.

8. I am way better at Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2 than my boyfriend, but he kicks my ass at Starcraft II. I don't understand what it is, but I just can't seem to get any better at that game. Congratulations.

9. I used to love horror games like Resident Evil and Silent HIill, but I've never actually played more than a couple minutes of any of them. I used to just stay up late and watch my dad play, too freaked out to play them myself. Sometimes I'd pick up the controller and start to play, but as soon as I heard anything in the game, I'd pause it and leave the room.

10. I would love to wear expensive high-heels and be in charge of my own game company, some day. In fact, that's what I intend to do.

11. Back when I was still in grade school, my uncle installed some chip in our PlayStation and burnt us a bunch of games for it like Crash Bandicoot 2 and Final Fantasy IX.

12. Kingdom Hearts (the first one, in particular), while not necessarily my favorite game (it's up there), has influenced my creative style more than anything else I can think of. I think I played it at such an age that all of its thematic elements really left an impression on me.

13. My screen name/gamer tag is a sort of variation of the name "Toboe", who was a character on the anime Wolf's Rain. Back when I was twelve years old, I went to register for Gaia Online and every other name that I could possibly think of was taken, so I just messed with "Toboe" and came up with "Tobuoi". It stuck, obviously. Oh, and it's pronounced "T'OH-boo-oy", by the way.

14. Nothing would make me feel more successful than going on The Daily Show/Colbert Report and talking about video games (preferably mine). I absolutely love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

15. Even though I love playing online with other people, my fondest gaming memories are made up of those nights that I spend playing video games in complete solitude while everyone else is asleep. Good times.

16. I honestly believe that the video game industry can be used to do some real good in this world, and I'd like to help make that happen.

17. Most of my favorite video games are those that give you the same feeling as reading a really good book...games like Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Shadow of the Colossus, Prince of Persia, and so on.

18. Katamari Damacy (and its sequels) never gets old.

19. I would be totally depressed if I were dating someone who wasn't as much of a gamer as I am. Luckily, that's far from the case.

20. I have ridiculously tiny hands, and as such, my pinky cramps up when I try to use the XBox controller for too long. I can't, like, wrap my hands around it right.

21. After I move into my own place, I plan on subscribing to Game Informer, buying my own PS2 and PS3, setting up a GameFly account, and decking my living room out with cool video game artwork and whatnot. I'd also like to get involved with some sort of local gaming community.

22. I wish more girls would get involved in gamer culture. I'm lonely!

23. I have plenty of friends who have played more games than me and even know more about games, and yet, I'm practically the only one who plans on going into the industry. I just don't get some people.

24. If for whatever reason I couldn't have a career in the video game industry, I'd go into movie-making. From what I can tell, in a lot of ways, they're very similar processes.

25. For the vast majority of video games, I will almost always prefer a controller to a keyboard and mouse. Sorry, PC gamers. That's just the way of it for me.


Chicago Comic-Con 2010!

I spent the weekend at Chicago Comic-Con. While not nearly as popular or renown as San Diego's Comic-Con, Chicago's was certainly an event. There were easily thousands of people who attended over the course of the weekend (Thursday night through Sunday afternoon) and quite an impressive array of vendors, artists, and celebrities like Linda Hamilton, William Shatner, Adam West, and a handful of actors from TV shows like Buffy, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica. I went Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and I'm sure that there was plenty of stuff that I still didn't get to see. To be honest, the weekend was a bit overwhelming and exhausting, but I definitely had a good time, regardless. It was also my first con, so maybe it takes some practice to be able to enjoy the full experience.

Tickets were pretty reasonable; $25 a day or $50 for all four days. I obviously went with the 4-day pass, though we decided not to go Thursday night since we were a bit unprepared. There was also lots of reasonably priced stuff to buy there, too--comics, t-shirts, action figures, posters--the list goes on. The one thing that I do regret buying, however, is FOOD. Seriously, avoid buying convention food (and that of similar events) at all costs. We're talking $3.75 for a really
lame hot dog, $5.00 for a hardly filling piece of pizza, $5.50 for a sloppy Joe, $2.50 for a small pop, and so on. What crap is that?! Needless to say, we came prepared with our own food the next day.

As the con's name would imply, it was really a comic reader's dream. My knowledge of comics is, unfortunately, rather limited, so a lot of what the convention had to offer went right over my head. There were lots of other things going on that I could appreciate, though. Unsurprisingly, I saw dozens of cosplayers, including Domo, Storm Troopers, Darth Vader, Umbrella Corporation soldiers, and more. There were also several talks and panels going on. Celebs like James Marsters and Linda Hamilton gave speeches and I got to attend a panel featuring SFX360--a gaming community who talked about "Bringing Gamers Face to Face". They had some interesting things to say about starting a community, hosting/participating in game tournaments, etc. There were also lots of people at the con promoting their artwork, webcomics, etc. Definitely a good place to network.

If there was one thing that I went to Chicago Comic-Con for, it was to meet the five cast members of Battlestar Galactica who were there and to get Michael Trucco's (Samuel T. Anders) autograph. I was mostly successful. My friend and I actually struck up a somewhat substantial conversation with Aaron Douglas ("Chief" Galen Tyrol), who seemed like a pretty cool guy. We also got to talk briefly with Michael Hogan (Saul Tigh), who was way different than I thought he'd be...totally not like his character. He was kind of funny and wacky, in fact. It was weird. And then I said hi to Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh) who was, as I expected, very nice. Unfortunately, Rekha Sharma (Tory Foster) left the convention before I got to meet her. I did, however, get to meet Michael Trucco, who was the one that I wanted to see most of all. He is, without a doubt, every bit as studly in real life as he is in the show and even nicer than I expected. Granted, I only ever saw women lined up at his booth to meet him, so he was probably in hardcore woman-wooing mode, but still. I'm really glad I got to talk with him. Oh, and I got his autograph, of course. Cost me $25, but the whole experience was totally worth it. I wish I could've gotten a photo with him, but it would have cost me even more and I wasn't really prepared to throw down that kind of money. Next time, though! I did get a picture of Michael Hogan, but he was the only one, since I felt kind of like a creeper. Now, to meet Katee Sackhoff...

All in all, the con was a pretty fun experience. I wish I would've known a little more what I was doing, but there's a first for everything, I suppose. If you're in the Chicago-land area and you're into comics, I would definitely recommend it. I would advise against going on Saturday if at all possible, though, because it was pretty much a madhouse when I went. Friday and Sunday were much better. Even though we spent less time there on those days, I feel like we got to see more because we weren't trying to navigate through so many people.

I'm looking forward to going to more conventions in the future...perhaps ones that are for things that I'm a little more interested in. If nothing else, it's nice to get out of the house and go into the city for a couple of days.

Blog post on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (the movie) coming soon.


Where to buy electronics, gadgets, and the like?

ONLINE, of course! I don't care if you're looking to build yourself an entire computer from scratch or buy something as measly as a $2 desktop mic; sites like newegg and TigerDirect or even Amazon or eBay are your best friends, way more often than not.

For all things computer-related, newegg is my first stop. I was able to buy everything for the computer that my boyfriend built for me--from my motherboard to my power strip--for $595, tax and shipping included. I was also able to score a sweet little refubished 4 GB Sansa MP3 player for $30 that's lasted me a couple of years so far. Newegg also has things like free shipping and combo deals on any number of items if you've got the time to shop around a little, making it even more economical.

Aside from my computer and my MP3 player, one of my most prized possessions as an artist is my drawing tablet. I got my Bamboo Fun drawing tablet by Wacom on Amazon for a very good price (something like $70 if I remember correctly), especially considering it came with Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, Corel Painter Essentials 4.0, and Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0, any one of which is worth more than the total cost of the tablet and the software that came with it. I'm sure that if I bought this at a local store like, say, Best Buy, it would've easily been over $100.

The only drawback to shopping online for these sorts of things, however, is the wait time between when you place your order and when the product shows up at your house. If you're able to plan these things out in advance (which you should always do, anyway), though, it's definitely worth your while. If you absolutely must buy software or some sort of electronic at a store, Best Buy should be your last resort. Try places like Target first. The vast majority of the purchases I've ever made at Best Buy were later regretted. Don't do it...I mean it.


My 10 Favorite Final Fantasy (VII-XIII) Characters

Like so many other gamers out there, the Final Fantasy series holds a special place in my heart. My first Final Fantasy game was IX, which I beat around the time I was ten years old. I was totally mesmerized by it. Until then, no other video game I had played had captured my imagination the way that a book or a movie was capable of. Apart from the story, I found the battle system challenging, but once I was able to master it, no other game could fill me with greater satisfaction. The game's effect on me was almost drug-like. Since then, I have played Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X, X-2, XII, XIII, and Tactics, though I am ashamed to admit that aside from IX, I have only beaten X and X-2--but not because I didn't want to. After I got to the 3rd disc of VII, my game file became "corrupted". Tens of hours into both Tactics and VIII, I got stuck at a boss...While playing XII (around 70 hours or so), our PS2 died, and a month or two ago, a storm completely fried our PlayStation 3 before I got the chance to beat XIII.

WTF, right? Mine is a cursed gamer's fate.

Regardless, there are many things about the Final Fantasy series that make it great, but not the least of which is the characters. Each game has a distinct cast of characters who move the game forward and whose personalities draw you in, so for this post, I have created a list of my top ten favorite characters from the series (of the games I've played, so far). I'd like to think that mine is a diverse list, consisting of badasses, comic reliefs, and old-fashioned heroes, among other character types. So here, I present to you my top 10 Final Fantasy characters...

#10: Red XIII from Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII was an excellent game and an undeniably groundbreaking one for the series. However, it is far from my favorite (I know, crazy, right?). Regardless, the character that stood out the most to me was Red XIII or "Nanaki". Along with his fiery, lion-like fighting abilities, Red XIII possesses a wisdom and intelligence that surpasses that of all the other main characters, contrary to what one might expect. Not to mention, his value of nature and devotion to the planet, which are reminiscent to the Native Americans', is a nice change of pace compared to the rest of the game's grungy/sci-fi cityscape atmosphere.

#9: Balthier from Final Fantasy XII
He's a suave, witty sky pirate--what more could a girl ask for? While the battle system and atmosphere of Final Fantasy XII were purely awe-inspiring, the story line and character development weren't quite as engaging or memorable as other Final Fantasies' and often left me wanting more. The game's humor and emotional intrigue rested almost exclusively on Balthier and his respective partner in crime, Fran, making him my favorite character in the game by far. If you level him up correctly, he's a very useful character in battle, and his amusing one-liners make you want him in your party as much as possible.

#8: Selphie from Final Fantasy VIII
Okay, so I definitely have a thing for the cute, clutzy, but immensely useful girls of the Final Fantasy series. I suppose they're the ones that I usually relate to more than the others, and for the most-part, they're just downright entertaining. Selphie, the nunchaku-wielding mercenary, is a perfect example of such a character. With her short, yellow dress and her goofy, flipped-out hair, she may appear cute and harmless, but she can be a very valuable asset on the battlefield. She also pilots the Ragnarok, the characters' main mode of transportation across the FFVIII world. All things considered, Selphie is a very charming and solid character of the Final Fantasy series.

#7: Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII

With what I believe to be the best voice acting in the series (which isn't saying a WHOLE lot, to be honest), I found Sazh immensely likable as soon as he came onto the screen. Acting as the comic relief of a game that carries the weight of a very serious storyline, Sazh still possesses a fascinating depth to him. Though he does his best to keep a clear, optimistic view of things, we find him caving in from time to time. And with a past like his, who wouldn't feel a little hopeless every once in a while? As a multi-purpose, pistol-toting Ravager, Sazh is a frequent member of my battle party. Also, have you seen that baby chocobo he stowes away in his afro?! It's adorable!

#6: Kuja from Final Fantasy IX
In general, I have a hard time fully appreciating Final Fantasy villains. Kuja, however, is nothing short of an evil bastard, and yet I couldn't help but feel sorry for him (yeah, that's a guy). I can't say that for any other FF baddie that I've gotten familiar with, so far. What I find so interesting about Kuja is that in the end, he doesn't have much of a motive driving him, just raw emotion. Fear, to be exact--the fear of death. Created to be an Angel of Death himself--and a prototype, at that--Kuja is robbed of any sort of real, meaningful life and falls to pieces at the discovery of his own immortality. It is this violent despair that is meant to incite a strong dislike for him, while at the same time, undeniable pity. Aside from all that, he's one BAMF to have to fight against, but damn, do you feel good once you beat him (for the last time)!

#5: Auron from Final Fantasy X
Unlike so many of the other acknowledged badasses of the Final Fantasy series, Auron stands out in that he doesn't carry all that moody baggage sort of crap. Yeah, he's had a tough past, but even in death, he's true to his cause in that awesome, no-nonsense sort of way. And yet, he's far from two-dimensional. Quite the contrary, I think. Rather than fighting and acting tough to cover up his emo tears, he is the way he is because he has a purpose, and I like that in my characters. As far as battles go, Auron is an incredibly awesome tank character, boasting the highest HP, defense, and attack stats. He's essential for nearly every boss battle throughout the game, and if you can find a way to buff his weaker attributes (through friend spheres, equipment, etc.), you'll find yourself with an extremely powerful character.

#4: Freya from Final Fantasy IX
Freya is a very unique Final Fantasy character in my eyes. She's tough in a practical, compassionate sort of way...but make no mistake, she's really tough. I can't tell you how many times most, if not all of my other characters on the field were KO'd and I very narrowly avoided defeat by using her "Jump" move. Aside from her powerful physical attacks with her Dragoon lance, Freya has a number of white magic abilities that come in plenty useful as well. As a female character, I found her strong personality--burdened by a tragic romance of the past--really refreshing alongside her serious attitude. Definitely an interesting touch to Final Fantasy IX's fantastical, old-school setting.

#3: Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII
As Final Fantasy's first official female lead character, Lightning does not disappoint. Nomura has been quoted a number of times saying that he wanted to essentially create a female version of Cloud when he came up with her, but quite frankly, I think she's less of a little bitch than Cloud. While she has plenty to be emotional about, Lightning is ultimately a soldier in the truest sense who takes matters into her own hands when the occasion calls for it. Though she tends to fight first and ask questions later, Lightning is far from heartless, but she doesn't let that get in the way of staying strong. A very fun character to play during battles, Lightning excels as a Commando and Ravager, dealing a mesmerizing combination of physical and magical damage with her gunblade (okay, it might sound stupid, but that thing is f*#&@ing sweet). She is also a decent Medic when things start to get ugly. Her remarkable physical prowess on the field is super fun to watch, if nothing else.

#2: Zidane from Final Fantasy IX
Okay, so you may have figured out by now that I really like Final Fantasy IX--especially the characters. Zidane is no exception. In fact, he's the prime example. A very close runner-up to my most favorite Final Fantasy character, I love everything about Zidane, from his personality to his fighting style. He's a charming and mischievous womanizer but that doesn't stop him from being a genuine hero with a heart of gold. As a thief, Zidane relies on his speed and daggers in battle, along with a number of valuable abilities such as Scan. Though his perseverance and courage are something to behold, even Zidane has his moments of self-doubt, but that makes him all the more captivating as a character in a game that achieves its greatness primarily through character development.

And, finally...

#1: Rikku from Final Fantasy X
What can I say? I absolutely love her and I knew that I did the very first moment that I realized she would be joining the battle team. An adorable and feisty blonde who has a way with machines, Rikku packs a powerful punch in the form of any number of explosives. A sort of jack-of-all-trades character in battle, it nearly breaks my heart to hear people say that they've played FFX but never used Rikku, so long as they didn't have to. In my experience, once you've acquired enough items for her to use, Rikku is just as valuable in battle as Auron--and that's pretty darn valuable. Her thief abilities allow her to steal items from enemies which she can then use later to deal damage, inflict status ailments upon enemies, restore HP/MP, or bestow buffs on her teammates. When her Overdrive gauge fills up, she can mix items together to create an even more powerful effect. Rikku treats her tragedies as learning experiences and tries to maintain a perky and sincere attitude throughout the game. She is incredibly determined and loyal to the rest of her party, and has nothing but good intentions. While she was herself enough in X-2, I felt that like a lot of other things in the game, she lost a considerable amount of her charm. The original Rikku will always be the one most dear to me.

Honorable mentions include: Irvine from Final Fantasy VIII, Fran and Basch from Final Fantasy XII, Yuna from Final Fantasy X, and Beatrix from Final Fantasy IX. I would love to hear who some of your favorite Final Fantasy characters are, so please feel free to comment below! Thanks for reading.

Images were found in several different places around the web and are (presumably) the property of Square Enix.


TF2 sappin' my life!

PC Gamer calls it "the most fun you can have online" and I'm inclined to agree. Perhaps not as challenging or mature as other online games, Team Fortress 2 is an essential addition to any gamer's library, regardless. And it's usually on sale--I've seen it for as little as $6 on Steam (I got mine for $10). So what's the hold up? Go download it already and start playing!

Okay, so maybe you actually want to know a little about the game. I guess I can do that. Well, not only is it filled to the brim with cheeky humor (it reminds me a lot, stylistically, of classics like Ratchet & Clank and Crash Bandicoot), but its nine distinct classes (offensive, defensive, and support) make for satisfyingly variable gameplay. With well over a dozen different maps and a handful of different games to play like "Arena", "Payload", "Capture the Flag", etc., all involving two opposing teams--RED and BLU--every time that you log on to play TF2, you can usually expect a unique round. Not to mention, depending on what classes are on the field and how many there are, the interaction between players and the tactics demanded can change completely.

What first got me interested in the TF2 was Valve's series of "Meet the Team" videos meant to promote the game. The videos are not only immensely humorous and entertaining, but they do a good job giving you a sense of each class's abilities and purpose within the team.

The three offensive classes of TF2 are the Scout, Soldier, and Pyro. According to Team Fortress 2's official Wiki page, the Scout is a young'n from Boston who "flies like a butterfly and stings like a Shotgun blast to the face." He is the fastest of all the classes, making him useful in pushing Payload carts, stealing enemy intel, and capturing control points, among other things. Along with his in-your-face attitude, the Scout is equipped with a shotgun and a baseball bat as his primary and secondary weapons. Since his max health is low, it is critical for the Scout to utilize his ability to hit and run and attack opponents at close range.

Then there's the Soldier, who was designed to do the most damage, long-range, of all the classes. The Soldier uses a rocket launcher, which, not only does a considerable amount of damage, but allows the Soldier to attack from safer distances.

The final offensive class--the Pyro--is my favorite class to play by far. Not much is known about the Pyro in terms of his personal life...in fact, no one can even say for sure that it's even a "he" in that suit. His mask makes it nearly impossible to understand what he's saying most of the time, but his fighting methods are perfectly clear. As his name might suggest, the Pyro is most savvy with his flamethrower, which has a short range but deals impressive damage. Those who manage to flee the Pyro's flamethrower will still remain on fire for several seconds unless they die first or seek health before the flames go out. If the Pyro manages to ambush his enemies, though, you can pretty much expect them to be toast. Perhaps the Pyro's most important task is Spy-checking, which he accomplishes by setting invisible or disguised Spies on fire, revealing them and usually killing them.

The defensive forces are made up of the Heavy, the Demoman, and the Engineer. Arguably the most essential defensive class is the Engineer, who, instead of engaging in direct combat with his opponents, has a number of buildings he can set up, such as the sentry, teleporter, and dispenser. The Engineer's sentry can be incredibly lethal and problematic for the opposing team, while his teleporter and dispenser can be of great use to his own.

The Heavy, a giant Russian with a thick accent, has the most HP of all the classes and uses a minigun (which he shows more affection and concern for than any of his teammates). Essentially, it takes a lot to kill him and he can easily take down anyone who gets caught in his way of fire, but he's slow and easy to sneak up on. Regardless, he's a pretty good guy to have on your team, all in all, and while he's easier to play than some of the other classes, the Heavy is often crucial to a good defense. As one might expect, he can put quite a hurtin' on his enemies, and he makes a good Medic buddy as well.

The Demoman is, quite simply, "a black, Scottish cyclops" who can often be found with some sort of booze held tightly in his grasp. And, you know, is also a tactical, explosive-damage-dealing, defensive class. Armed with grenade and sticky bomb launchers, the Demoman is best played when he uses his sticky bombs (mines that stick to the ground, walls, ceilings, etc.) to set up traps for incoming enemies or send grenades ricocheting around corners. This is especially effective in situations where the enemy has to stand on or get to a specific area like a control point. Even more so than the Heavy, players will find that they can use the Demoman in circumstances that demand offensive action as well as defensive, such as taking down an enemy Engineer's sentry gun. Overall, a fun and diversely useful class.

Lastly, there are the support classes, which are the Sniper, the Medic, and the Spy. The Sniper and the Medic are both pretty self-explanatory, but the Sniper is obviously in charge of picking off targets with his sniper rifle from a distance where he is barely even noticeable and is, more or less, safe from harm. Don't get too comfy, though--you're usually pretty easy to sneak up on. While a sniper typically doesn't make as many kills as an offensive class, he has the ability to wait for high-value targets like Medics or Spies to make their way into his scope. If a player is feeling a little more ballsy, though, they can equip the Huntsman bow and arrow instead of the rifle, which is a more offensive weapon that demands attacks that are at a shorter range. Because of their specialized abilities, there should only be so many Snipers (like, two or three, tops) on the team at a time. The Sniper is from the Australian outback.

The Medic, who's quite obviously from Germany, is primarily responsible for healing his teammates when they take damage, of course, but he can also be an essential asset in taking down an Engineer's sentry turret or keeping enemies away from a control point or base. When the medic uses either his standard Medigun or the Kritzkrieg to heal his teammates, he charges up for either a temporary period of shared invulnerability between himself and a teammate or a bout of critical hits (or "crits") that his target can unleash upon the opposing team, depending on what weapon he's using. For most situations, the Medic's Über (invulnerability) is more necessary than a Kritz, especially when playing on an offensive team. While the Medic's role is a relatively simple one, you'll find yourself in big trouble on a team without him.

The very last class in the game is the Spy. The Spy can be incredibly useful, sneaking into enemy territory while invisible or disguised, backstabbing his opponents, and sapping Engineers' buildings until they are completely destroyed. They are arguably the most difficult class to play, however, and you usually only want one or two on your team.

With all that said, I seriously suggest that if you enjoy playing games online, you consider purchasing the game or at least giving it a try, cos it really does have something in it for everyone. It's fun and it allows for all sorts of different gameplay. Valve also puts out frequent updates which keep the game from going stale, even after months and months or even years of playing.

Expect a post on my love affair with the Pyro in the near future.

Images were found in several different places around the web and are (presumably) the property of Valve.


Head Trip

I've never been very good at keeping up with webcomics. Even the popular ones like Ctrl+Alt+Del and xkcd somehow slip from my regular web-browsing rounds after a week or so. Sure, I come back to them, now and then (usually when sent a link from a friend) but there's only one webcomic out there that has fully captivated me. As of right now, I am fully up-to-date and in love with four years' worth of Amanda "Shinga" Bussel's Head Trip.

Maybe it's the hilarious moments (these "moments" make up a good 75% of the series, mind you) of Mal's irrational yet somehow relatable rage that makes me love it so much. Maybe it's the poignant nerd humor--or even better, the poignant, feminine nerd humor. Whatever it may be, Head Trip is most certainly the webcomic for me.

Started back in March of 2006, Head Trip has come a long way while still maintaining its brash, borderline-offensive-at-times charm (Shinga, herself, makes a number of allusions to how evil her writing is). The comic mostly follows the main character, Malory (presumably a sort of iconic representation of the author), through all of her rants, raves, acts of violence, and nerdgasms. Aside from Mal, there's her sisters, Kat and Lilian, their friends and family, the "devil guy", and so on, all used frequently by Shinga to make some sort of social or personal commentary. From time to time, the comic strays from Mal's storyline, usually with an addition of "Emokid and Chemokid" (see what I mean by "brash"? It's delightful, really).

Full of a most spectacular and bedazzling array of geeky references (TV shows, video games, books, anime, D&D...), Head Trip is the perfect webcomic for any nerd. Especially the girls--not that it's overwhelmingly feminine, just more so than any of the other geek-tastic webcomics out there that us girls have access to. Females represent, yo! Head Trip is probably most known for its recurring stabs at the Twilight Series and Stephanie Meyer (that's how I got into it--my dear friend and fellow Twilight-hater linked it to me, once upon a time). Don't worry, though. Shinga very amusingly rips apart lots of other stuff, too.

Make no mistake, though...Head Trip is definitely enhanced with the occasional "d'aaaaw" moments throughout the series, all of which are executed with the same care and precision as all of the funny stuff. All in all, readers will most likely find themselves enjoying the series in its entirety immensely. If you don't like it, it's probably because you're not one of the cool kids. In which case, GTFO!

No, but seriously. If you're in touch with the passionate nerd inside each and every one of us (including you--YES, you), Head Trip has something for just about everyone, whether it's references to Firefly or LOST, or making fun of horrific cosplayers and fanboys...and best of all, Shinga's got love for BSG coming out the wazoo. That's good enough for me. Well, what are you waiting for? Go check this stuff out! Do it now!

Head Trip
Shinga's deviantART


Some Sweet Cosplays

We've all seen it before--some fat, hairy guy cosplaying as Link. Or even better, Sailor Moon (e.g. Peter Griffin, as seen to the right). What? You haven't seen them? Well, consider yourself lucky, because most of us are not so fortunate. What is seldom acknowledged, however, is that there are actually some pretty sweet cosplays out there that their respective cosplayers have put a lot of care and effort into. So I decided to do a little browsing on deviantART.com and found some cool cosplays/cosplayers that I figured I'd share with you.

The first is a Kingdom Hearts II cosplay featuring Riku and Namine. Aside from the well-made costumes (Namine's hair looks so pretty) and the skillful photography, what I particularly like is the setting. Spiral stairs are always kind of cool, but those of you who have played the games should appreciate the appropriateness of the background. The cosplay was uploaded by Lillyxandra on deviantART.

Next is the Spitter from Left 4 Dead 2. Not nearly as pretty as the first, but equally awesome, in my opinion. She is genuinely scary and the makeup on her face is perfect. Also, I love the high heels. The pose is spot-on, too. I guess the girl's a GameStop employee and dressed up like this for the midnight release of the game Also, kudos (I hate that word) to any woman willing to set her femininity aside for the sake of creativity. This cosplay was uploaded by tycho on deviantART.

This fantastic cosplay of Rikku from Final Fantasy X-2, my favorite FF character of all time (though, I preferred her in X), was done by blackmage9 on deviantART, who has tons of other cool cosplays in her gallery. This chick is pro. Obviously, the photo has been manipulated, but the costume is the best I've ever seen of Rikku. Her hair is amazing as well. Great costume, great photo, great cosplay. Definitely check out her other stuff as well.

I absolutely adore the Pyro from Team Fortress 2 and this humorous cosplay struck a chord with me, big time. The costume is one of the best I've seen and the pose is brilliant. Also, it's a girl underneath that costume, and I'm totally all about the Pyro turning out to be female, so big points there. The cosplay was done by tehcate on deviantART and she has another shot of her Pyro costume in her gallery that I suggest you go and find if you like this one.

Another Kingdom Hearts cosplay. What can I say? It's a very aesthetically pleasing and inspiring game. This is obviously Kairi (first-KH style), looking as cute as ever. Seriously, this girl did a spectacular job. The costume is nothing short of perfect and it's just a good look for her, costume, hair (I really want that hair), pose, and all. I have no idea how she made/got ahold of that charm, either, but it's awesome. Cosplay by LiL-KRN-YUNA on deviantART, who's got lots of other sweet cosplays in her gallery for you to enjoy.

This one's another that's been photo-manipulated (I know, I thought that was a real colossus in the background too!), but it's still quite impressive, nonetheless. The character is Wander from Shadow of the Colossus, of course, on his faithful steed, Agro. One of the colossi from the game has been Photoshop'd into the background. Well-designed costume and a cool setting, all in all making for a creative shot. Uploaded by ikarus-exe on deviantART.

This cosplay is the last one and I think it's one of the coolest I've seen, like ever. It's Shiva from Final Fantasy X! The hair is especially cool, I think, and looks very labor intensive, which is always a plus (look at those crazy hoop/ring things!). Or at least, makes it seem more impressive, which is something that this one certainly is. Seriously though, it looks like a lot of work went into this cosplay and it definitely pays off. Photo uploaded by tanknstar on deviantART, who is also the cosplayer.

Well, those were just some cool ones that I came across. I'd love to see any that you, yourself, have done, or have found elsewhere on the internets. So long as they aren't, you know...scary.

Oh, and I lied...

(Knightfourteen on deviantART)

Be sure to check out all of these guys' awesome galleries!


Michelle Phan

Alright, this blog post is largely intended for the ladies...and maybe all you guys out there who want to look like ladies.

Michelle Phan has the 19th most subscribed to YouTube channel and is the #1 subscribed to "guru", and for good reason. Not only are her videos well-made and her makeup tutorials rockin', but she also has a really attractive personality, and that, above all else, is what makes her stuff enjoyable to watch. Now, you might find yourself asking why I'm posting about a makeup artist on a video game blog, and you're right to do so. To be honest, Michelle Phan doesn't have much to do with video games, except that she is, herself, a huge fan of them. On her YouTube page, she cites Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, WoW, and Call of Duty as some of her favorite video games. She also says, "I may be a huge nerd but it does not mean I have to look like one. Here to represent fashionable nerds!"

While most of her looks are pretty thematic and perhaps not something you'd wear out every day, Michelle does a good job adding some variety to her many different looks, and there's almost certainly something for everyone. She also offers some awesome tips on how to do things like make your own skin care scrub, turn sushi into a facial, and so on. Here's one of her videos that I'm particularly fond of:

Now, if you're like me, you don't have the touch to pull these sort of looks off very often, but throughout all of Michelle Phan's videos, there's lots of practical advice in basic, everyday makeup use.

Michelle now has her own skincare line called iQQU, which can be found here: http://iqqubeauty.com/index.php/

If you like the video posted above, I highly suggest you subscribe to Michelle Phan's YouTube channel

You can also find her on...

UPDATE: Michelle Phan now co-hosts a gaming channel on YouTube with pro gamer, sW00Zie: Press Start. Be sure to check out my post on the channel, as well.


Left 4 Dead: the game that got me playing on the PC, and its worthy sequel

I was raised a console gamer from the age of 6. More specifically, a PlayStation gamer (PlayStation, PS2, PS3...). In fact, to this day, I still remember when my dad first brought home the original PlayStation and all of the game demos that came with it. I was so fond of my PlayStation gaming experience that until two or three years ago, console games were really the only ones I ever considered playing. Afterall, the most popular games on the PC that I knew of were things like WoW and Call of Duty, which didn't really interest me in the slightest. So for a long time, I stuck to my Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Prince of Persia, Shadow of the Colossus, and so on. But one day, that all changed.

My dad got an issue of Game Informer in the mail and after bickering with my brothers over who got to read it first, I finally got the chance to flip through it. About halfway in was a brief preview (with lots of pretty pictures that made it seem not-so-brief) of Left 4 Dead. I was instantly enticed. Not only did it star hordes zombies, which I have had a sort of infatuation with for as long as I can remember, but it emphasized the idea of tactical cooperation and the delicate functionality between the four playable characters. Basically, if you couldn't work well as a team, you were screwed. How cool was that? I didn't even know about being able to play the Special Infected or Versus Mode until later. After all of this excitement, however, my heart was effectively crushed when I searched the page for its system availability, only to find that it was for the XBox 360 and the PC only. At the time, I didn't have my own computer so the possibility of playing it on the PC didn't even cross my mind, and I certainly wasn't going to be able to afford a 360 any time soon.

So some time passed and when I had forgotten about the game almost completely, it was released and my boyfriend showed it to me on his computer. At first, I was stubborn and prejudiced, as we gamers tend to be. I was so familiar with playing on the PlayStation that the PC made me feel like a nub. All of those years of experience with a controller in my hand seemed to mean nothing now, and that made me uncomfortable. But then I saw the intro to the game.

Holy crap. I was thrilled in a sort of terrified way. Not only was the intro exciting and fun to watch, but it revealed precisely what made the game special. As a player, you had to constantly be astute to what was happening around you. Where are your fellow Survivors? Do they need help? What kinds of infected are nearby? Left 4 Dead is a game that has so many captivating and unpredictable elements to it, making it a truly unique gaming experience...if not a little stressful and intense, especially in Versus Mode. There's lots that a player needs to be aware of at all times like which route is the best, what items you should grab, what you should do if you encounter a Tank or a Witch, etc. Not to mention all of the wicked fun you can have as a Special Infected. But even then, the strategy shared between yourself and the rest of your team is crucial to success, which makes it different (and in my opinion, more likable) than most first-person shooters that emphasize little more than your kill/death ratio. If that's not your cup of tea, though (it's totally mine), there's lots of fun to be had in Campaign, Survival, and even Single-Player mode.

About a year after Left 4 Dead was released, its sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, was released as well. A lot of people (including myself) found this kind of annoying for financial reasons if nothing else (who wants to fork over $80-100 for two games from the same franchise in one year?) , but the trailers proved genuinely alluring. So I ended up pre-ordering it, of course.

With the addition of a few new Special Infected and melee weapons, among other features that make the game more variable than the first, Left 4 Dead 2 is very similar to its predecessor in that it sticks to the same line of gameplay. Players must rely on both their intuitive and strategic skills to get from point A to point B, hopefully still in one piece. What is unfortunate to me is that with the new characters and environments, a lot of the original Left 4 Dead's charm and horror seems to have been dissolved. However, L4D 2 is full of funny character quotes and unique settings that make it genuinely enjoyable in its own right. Valve also seems to be taking care to make sure that the game doesn't "get old" any time soon with weekly "Mutation" modes and the occasional new map. If all else fails...Ellis is incredibly sexy. I think so, anyway.

Images were found in several different places around the web and are (presumably) the property of Valve.