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Soul Calibur V at San Diego Comic Con

App of the Week: MTG: Helper Lite

Name: MTG: Helper Lite
Cost:  Free
Description: "MTG Helper Lite is a free application for the Magic enthusiast."


MTG: Helper Lite is a fantastic app that consolidates all the odds and ends of Magic: The Gathering.  Included in the app are a Die Roller, Round Timer, Life Tracker, Chaos Magic, Useful Tools, Me, and Turn Phases guide.

Die Roller allows you to set the amount of dice and roll to your heart's content.  Or until you get something that will let you win.

Round Timer will keep track of your current game's time and can be customized for any amount of time you need.  Just set the timer, watch the clock tick down or check to see what time the game is scheduled to end.

Life Tracker can track the life of up to six players.  You can set each player's names and the amount of starting life.  There is the option to show general damage and poison counters.  So the headache of keeping track in an Emperor game full of Elf and Cleric Decks just became more tolerable.

Chaos Magic spices up the game if you've grown tired of regular rule sets.  It employs a new set of rules at the beginning of the game and at the start of each player's turn.  These rules can drastically change any aspect of the game and will keep even the most hardened veteran's on their toes.

Useful Tools includes a number of features.  Quick Card Search allows you to search for any card in Magic's catalog.  Gatherer directs you to a site where the graphic and description for each card is displayed.  Price Check will tell you the current value of the card you'r searching for.  Round Calculator will display the recommended number of rounds for eight players and up.

Me will allows you to check on your ranking in the competitive world of Magic and that of any other player.  Handy for the professional or serious Magic player.

Finally, Turn Phases lays out how to play the game in a simple no nonsense guide.

For anyone interested in getting started in Magic: The Gathering to even the most experienced player, this app is extremely useful.  Best of all is that it's free, so there's no excuse not to pick it up.

Buy My Book!

After nine long years, I've finally published my collection of prose.  You should buy it.  It's only $0.99.

Soul Calibur V Reveals Ivy and Zwei

Recently, the team behind Soul Calibur V released screenshots and character art for Ivy and two new characters, Zwei and Natsu.  Enjoy.

















BJ Wentkers' Bacon Cheddar Burger

Place: BJ Wentkers
Location: Burlington, WI
Burger: Bacon Cheddar Burger
Ingridients: 1/2 lb Angus beef, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, onion, tomato



I was hesitant on my return trip to BJ Wentkers, since my last foray was mediocre.  This visit proved to be more fruitful and the burger more delicious.

This time around, the grease issue was almost non-existent.  Only a few drops hit the plate and this was a tolerable amount.  The burger itself was rich and juicy with each ingredient complimenting one another the way a classically built burger should.  The only minor complaint with the toppings was with the tomatoes.  They were a little past their prime and a bit soft.  Still tasty, but lacking the proper texture.  The burger itself held up well when compared to the Mushroom Swiss, but towards the end, the bun suffered the same type of meltdown.  It seems that the bun may have been toasted too long as it fell apart in my hands towards the last third.  Minor complaints to an otherwise serviceable burger.

On the side: Delicious seasoned fries

Three out of five stars

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow


Released in 2010 and and set up as a reboot to the series, Lords of Shadow had a big obstacle to overcome if it wanted to win fans of the series over: 3D.  Castlevania has a notorious history when it comes to breaking away from 2D.  The Nintendo 64 games were terrible and quite a few people despised the Playstation 2 attempts.  Myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the PS2 games, so I wasn't as hesitant when I saw Lords of Shadow in action.  What I did find was that the game likes to throw a lot of curveballs at you.  And there wasn't one I didn't like.

The story starts in 1047.  The world is creeping into darkness.  The Lords of Shadow are severing Heaven's ties to the world and horrible creatures lurk around every corner.  You play as Gabriel Belmont, a member in the Brotherhood of Light, an elite group of holy knights who protect people against the supernatural creatures..  He is on a quest to bring his dead wife, Maria,  back to life and eradicate the evil that is plaguing the land in the process.  It also helps his motivation that these forces of Darkness were responsible for his wife's death.  He aims to do this by taking down the three Lords of Shadow.  Each Lord possesses a piece of the "God Mask", a holy item that is said to allow one to bring people back from the dead.

The story follow Gabriel's adventures through the three different lands ruled by the Lords: Cornell, Dark Lord of the Lycans, Carmilla, Dark Lord of the Vampires, and Death himself.  The story is broken up into 12 chapters.  Each chapter contains multiple, massive levels that at times left my head spinning.  Each environment is gorgeously detailed and there wasn't a spot in the game where the screen didn't present a visual feast for the eyes.  What sometimes happens is that there is stuttering and poor frame rate.  This usually happens when there are a large number of enemies on screen.  But when it's just you and you're taking in the scenery, this game is one of the best looking of this generation.

The music matches the video in terms of raw beauty.  Each piece is moving an fits well with its arrangement.  The only pitfall in the audio comes with the voices.  While the voice acting is superb, the balancing with the rest of the audio is atrocious.  Sir Patrick Stewart narrates the beginning of each section and I can't tell you how many times his booming voice threatened to blow out my speakers.  This is because the normal volume I play at is much too quiet in comparison to the narration.  This problem also appears while Gabriel is speaking on occasion and overall it broke my immersion as I was scrambling for the remote.

Combat closely resembles action titles such as God of War, Devil May Cry, and Dante's Inferno.  You have the two button (vertical and horizontal attacks), special attacks triggered with "B" or "O" and mapped to the D-pad, and Holy and Dark powers.  While activated, Holy will replenish your health with each attack and Dark increases your damage.  While not active, killing enemies will fill up a meter which will trigger orbs to drop from their defeated corpses.  Get hit, and the meter is reset.  There are a multitude of combos to purchase and learning them is absolutely vital to surviving the varied encounters.  This is a game that will test your limits and make you stifle a rage filled cry.  The game is absolutely brutal in its difficulty, so much so that I had to ratchet it down to the easiest setting to beat it and still had a rough go in some parts.

Not all of the game is moving from fight to fight though.  A vast portion of it involves solving puzzles.  Some levels are just puzzles in and of themselves, forcing you to do any manner of crazy things to progress.  None of them are absurdly difficult, but more than a few times I was left scratching my head.  Towards the later half of the game, the puzzles border o too many.  The pacing is thrown off and I would have to put the game down for a few days just to get rid of the puzzle overload that was occurring.

The ending made it all worthwhile.  Just as the tedium of the puzzles was coming to a head, I was at the end of the game.  The twists and story telling in the last half hour is absolutely incredible.  It makes the whole experience worth even frustrated minute.  It makes me crave a sequel, much to the same effect of the last quarter of Mass Effect.  Seriously, if you consider yourself a fan of the series, this is a must play.

Add to the fantastic story and game play that lasts well over 15 hours is the ability to replay all of the old levels for hidden power ups and challenges.  On top of that, you can use experience points to purchase a vast collection of concept art.  There is so much to do in this game that the price of admission almost seems too low.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a fantastic step in the right direction for this series.  I can't wait for more and I think you just might agree.

The Last Airbender


I loved Avatar the first time I saw it.  I consumed all three seasons within the span of a few weeks.  The best part about it was that I was able to watch it with the family.  I wouldn't think of subjecting them to the torture that is this movie.

I despise M. Night Shyamalan with a passion.  He is a hack that has no place directing, let alone, writing movies.  The twists aren't clever, the pacing is awful, and he brings out nothing in his actors.  The fact that he got his hands on this property is beyond me.

Instead of my normal review format, I've decided to try something new.  I'll construct a list of pros and cons to try and give this movie a fair chance.  Let's see how it goes.

Hated


Casting - In a show featuring primarily Asian and Indian cultures, why were all the main cast Caucasian?  It has absolutely nothing to do with acting ability, but when Aang is whiter than Powder, it destroys my sense of disbelief.  Sure you can, and did, cast different races and nationalities, but it acts as a barrier to the fans of the series.  If you can't get the fans behind you, then you should realize that a potentially fatal error has been made. 

The Avatar had a rough time once he discovered Meth.
The Name Game - Beyond the wooden acting and terrible casting, they didn't even pronounce the main character's name correctly.  It's pronounced with a hard "a", like bank or tank.  Instead, they said it like "Open up and say "Aaaah" because this prostate exam of a movie isn't going to be pleasant."  Why?  M. Night thought it would be clever to change established names so they were more "authentic".  Granted this wasn't the only pronunciation changed.  Iroh went from "Eye-Roh" to "Eer-Roh", Sokka from "Sock-Ka" to "Sew-Ka".

Acting - Pinnochio was more convincing as a real boy while still in puppet mode.  Nuff' said.

Pacing - Everything in this movie is rush rush rush.  Granted, they're trying to squeeze an entire season into one movie, but it severely hurts the story telling.  When one of your characters has to read the cliff notes for each scene because you're doing mach 7 through the story, one of two things needs to happen: lengthen the movie or break it up into two parts.

Loved

I stopped watching the movie actively around the 30 minute mark.  The siren's call of Geo Defense pulled me away.

In the end, The Last Avatar butchered what could have been a fantastic movie franchise.  Based on the reviews, fan reaction, and money earned, it's doubtful that we'll see another anytime soon.


Dockers Bar and Cafe's Bacon Cheeseburger

Place: Dockers Bar and Cafe
Location: Dania Beach, FL
Burger: Bacon Cheeseburger
Ingredients: 1/2lb beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, American cheese on a lightly toasted bun


My rule of thumb with any new restaurant is to always order the burger.  It's one of the easiest items to make and can come in a wide variety of flavors.  I've learned that it is a good way to get a baseline reading of an establishment.  Plus, when in doubt, what is better than a tasty burger?


We found this place while traveling back to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL (first out of state review!).  It was a pleasant bar and grill seated next to a marina where many a yacht was docked.  The atmosphere was casual and the staff friendly despite their "Don't mess with the locals!" shirts.


The burger itself was delicious.  I wasn't expecting much based on all of my recent outings, but apparently Florida (unlike Wisconsin)  has its act together.  There wasn't an ounce of grease on this burger and it was so full of flavor that my head nearly exploded.  These basic ingredients are key to the classic burger and each supported one another in a way that I'm reminded of why I love burgers so much.  It was so good that by the end, even though I was stuffed, I wanted another just so I could partake in it's deliciousness.


So if you're ever in the greater Ft. Lauderdale area, do yourself a favor and try this burger.  I guarantee you won't regret it.


On the Side: Delicious crispy fries.

Four and a half out of five stars

App of the Week: Geo Defense

Name: Geo Defense
Cost: $2.99 (Zune Marketplace)
Description:  Something exciting and new in the Tower Defense genre!  The geometric vector creeps are fast and intense.  With 30 different maps, each its own puzzle, you'll have to work fast to keep up.


I'm not one for tower defense or strategy games in general.  However, the design of Geo Defense screamed for me to give it a whirl.  Thanks to all Xbox Lives titles on Windows Phone 7 including a demo, I was able to  indulge with zero cost to me.  What I didn't anticipate was being three levels in and wanting this game as much as I did.

Each level is full of fun, fast, frantic game play as you build the best defense possible to stop the "creeps" from hitting their final destination and ending the game.  You do this by building turrets along the path.  There are a multitude of turrets to choose from with each offering unique attacks.  In addition, each turret can be upgraded several times, increasing the damage and rate of fire.  As the waves progress, enemies grow in number and speed.  It's a quick game that forces you to strategically place the turrets and upgrade them to form the best possible defense.


The design is sleek, the visuals entrancing, and the game play addictive.  It's everything you could want and more from a phone game.  It's so good that I might have to re-evaluate my stance on the tower defense genre.

Soul Calibur V's New Ninja

Project Soul's Daishi Odashima revealed on Twitter, the soul entering the fray in this 16 year old series.

Soul Cailbur V is set 17 years after Soul Calibur 4 and is rumored to be infusing some new blood and retiring some of the older cast.  This new character is the first of two teased a few weeks ago.  She closely resembles fan favorite Taki and may be an apprentice or offspring.



Everything is speculation at this point.  I just hope she's not a reskin of Taki.  But the two Kunai and outfit paint a grim picture.  Much as Siegfried was to Nightmare, Astaroth to Rock, Cassandra to Sophitia, and on and on, Soul Calibur loves cloning characters.  Sure they eventually flesh them out, but nearly every character has a twin that plays nearly identical.  Still, I'm excited for the next entry in my favorite fighting series.

Gaming as a part-time job?

I'm torn.  Torn between two gaming lifestyles.  I can dive into an MMORPG or stick with my console roots.  But both are demanding on my time and I have friends unique to each.  Both provide an experience wholly and fundamentally different.  Must I chose one and briefly visit the other from time to time or is it time to put in place some kind of schedule for my gaming?

I grew up on consoles.  From the glory days of Excitebike to the gaming nirvana that is this current generation, Console gaming has captured my heart.  I love firing up the Xbox with the big screen and surround sound blaring.  The experience that this console has provided is breath taking.  It has become the hub of my family's entertainment stand.  We play games on it, we watch movies on it, we listen to music through it, and we use our social applications through it.  The best part of this is that everyone can play and we can play with our friends across the world.  It has made keeping in touch that much easier.

But now, my Dashboard is a wasteland.  I see the tiny avatars slumped and sleeping, waiting to be brought back to life.  My time spent with the Xbox is divided into two categories: Call of Duty with friends online or single player games like Castlevania or Dead Space.  Granted, I could play online with the masses of Xbox Live, but those masses are mostly unwashed.  The last experience I had involved multiplayer in Dead Space 2.  I had just upgraded to the new 360 model and had configured the Kinect as it had been with the previous system.  As such, the Kinect was set up as a microphone.  I was playing without a head set while the rest of my family was at the table.  Someone had heard my step-daughters talking and then proceeded to yell (over the surround sound) how he was going to rape and murder them.  I moved as quickly as I could to mute him, but the damage had been done.  Experiences like this are why I generally don't play on Xbox Live.

With my PC, online gaming is all I usually do.  Not that I'm adverse to playing on my computer, I just prefer the experience my console setup provides.  However, the little lady and I are addicted to MMORPGs.  In fact, we met while playing City of Heroes.  I've dabbled with many an online world, but the one I keep coming back to is, you guessed it, World of Warcraft.  Now, I won't get into the life drain that WoW can be. I'm a casual player at best, usually only playing on the weekends with my friends.  We've run a casual guild for the past five years.  Now we're looking to get serious and start raiding on a regular basis.  So now I'm stepping up and really trying to make myself available for the guild and bolster the ranks so at a later date I won't have to be there for each and every event.  Much as I would love to be, I don't want to marry myself to the game.

I'd marry the shit out of these guys (except the three on the left).

Now, I need to figure out a balance for my gaming habits.  Should I look into a schedule where I only play certain games on certain nights?  Should I enjoy my single player games and then socialize with the guildies on the weekend?  I'd like to know what others have done in this situation.  I know Gabe and Tycho keep a white board with their schedule on it.  Has it come to that?