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To My Son

I loved Halloween.  It was always my favorite holiday.  For as long as I can remember, I've always looked forward to all things ghoulish.  Dressing up and trick or treating in the dark of night, decorating the house, the general feeling of excitement in the air.  I loved every single minute of it.  From October 1st to the 31st, it was a non-stop celebration.  I don't feel that way any longer.  It's not because I don't want to.  Something changed.

Last year, I found out I was going to be a father.  It wasn't planned, but when I received the call confirming it...I was overjoyed.  I never would have imagined that I could be so happy.  Later that month, we went to the hospital and got the first ultrasound.  I also heard my child's heartbeat.  Over a year later, I can still clearly hear it.  Long had I been looking for a legacy, a purpose.  This tiny being was it.

Then in October I received a call.  My child was dead.  In that instant, my entire world shattered.  Nothing has ever been the same.  We went back to the doctor and had another ultrasound performed.  There was no heartbeat.  We went home, distraught.  A few days later, I woke up to crying.  Kim was in the bathroom.  I went in and saw something that I will never forget.  She was holding the tiny body of our unborn son.  He was only 14 weeks old.  Yet, he had many of his features.

I held my son for only a few hours.  We went back to the hospital where they took him.  We still don't know what happened.  What I do know is that any good that remained with me died with him.  He was the best part of me.  He contained all of my hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow.  That day left a void that will never be filled.

This month is the anniversary of when my son was lost.  It hurts just as much now as it did then.  I will never forget his tiny body that rested in the palm of my hand.  This is to you, my son.  I love you and I miss you dearly.

Jack Ryan Dawson

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria - Blizzcon 2011 Announcement Trailer





I stopped playing WoW a little earlier this year.  It was a financial decision, I won't lie.  I wasn't playing enough to justify it.  I enjoyed the Cataclysm expansion, but I'm a casual player.  I was making my best effort to become a raider, but I couldn't get behind it.

Now some time after I've stopped playing, I'm hit with news of the new expansion, Mists of Pandaria.  MoP brings plenty to the game:

Level cap raised to 90
Pokemon style battles with vanity pets
New race: Pandaren
New class: Monk
New Continent: Pandaria
Challenge Mode: Dungeons
PvE Scenarios
New Talent System

This is the point of no return for me.  Blizzard has added Kung Fu Panda to WoW (note: I know Pandarens were around Warcraft 3, before Kung Fu Panda).  There's a limit to how much silly fantasy content I want added to my silly fantasy content.  This is the point where I can say without hesitation, "I'm done.  I don't ever need to play this game again."  Who knew the cure for the digital crack pony were Pandas?

Vanquish


Vanquish is an odd game.  Not Suda 51 odd.  More, the story makes no sense and it's a very different type of game odd.  It's a third person shooter that has you spending more time on your knees than a Thai hooker.  Only half way through, there's a twist that makes no sense and at the end the entire experience has left you very confused.

The story starts off with a Russian force using a giant microwave on San Francisco.  America gets pissed and soon the Russians are in space attacking an American space station.  The president enlists the help of an elite force of generic Marines and one guy named Sam in a power suit that looks like a grasshopper.  The goal is to rescue a scientist for reasons I never fully grasped.  Along the way, it turns out the president was in bed with the Russians and had her top Marine slaughtering his own men and trying to sabotage the hero.  Later, the traitor decides what he was doing is wrong and sacrifices himself so that our hero can continue the mission.  After an entire game of contempt for one another, our hero has nothing but respect for the douche bag that killed hundreds of his own men.  The story makes absolutely no sense and rang strongly of all the cold war propaganda from the 70s.

Grasshopper
Unlike the story, combat in Vanquish is an absolute treat.  It's a mix of jetting around at hyper fast speeds, shooting giant robots, and bullet time.  Our hero carries three weapons at a time and two grenade types, fragmentation and EMP.  99% of the enemies encountered are robots, so the EMPs are your best friend.  Sam's suit allows him to jet propel himself around levels until the suit overheats.  Managing the heat in the suit is critical to survival.  Overheat and you'll be on a timer until the suit reaches normal levels.  During this time, Sam can only move at half speed and is very vulnerable.  Once Sam takes too much damage, he'll enter into bullet time which will allow him to take out enemies quicker.  Bullet time can also be triggered manually, but will increase the heat.  Again, it's all about managing the heat.  Once the core mechanics are down and you're comfortable with the controls, Vanquish is a blast to play.

The weapons themselves are your standard variety.  There's a machine gun, a heavy machine gun, sniper rifle, shotgun, etc.  You get ammo from guns littering the levels.  However, you can only carry three, so expect to be swapping and hunting for new weapons if ammo runs low on your favorites.  Guns can be upgraded to have more firepower, larger ammo clips, etc.  You can find upgrades throughout the levels or by picking up the same weapon type for a gun that has max ammo.  The upgrades will degrade over time, so  you'll continuously need to find more.  There's plenty of variety in the weapon types to accommodate any play style and I seldom found myself switching from my favorite three: Machine Gun, Heavy Machine Gun, and Sniper Rifle.

I was blown away by Vanquish when I started playing.  The visuals are spectacular.  Sure, it's a generic sci-fi game, but I love generic sci-fi games.  There were a number of instances where I sat back and said "Wow, this is a really cool game."  However, this wore off around the halfway mark.  There is simply too little going on in the game.  It's a series of rushing from one fight to another with no real reason.  This is largely due to the lackluster story and how little it advances.  Events happen that make no sense and you're left to say "Oh, OK.  On to the next fight."  Towards the end, I was tired of the game.  It's quite literally 10 hours of the same thing.  Fight some robots, hop in a turret, fight some giant robots.  Rinse and repeat.

In the end, Vanquish is a mediocre game.  Once the initial wow factor wears off, it quickly becomes repetitive and a grind.  For $20, it's not a terrible game.  However, play it in moderation.  If beaten over the course of a couple days, it will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Release Calendar: October 2011

October 04:
Dark Souls (360, PS3)
NBA 2K12 (360, PS3, PC)
Spider-Man: Edge of Time (Wii, DS, PS3, 360)
Dungeons and Dragons: Neverwinter  (PC)
Rage  (PS3, PC, 360)
Crysis (360)

October 05:
Orcs Must Die (360, PC)

October 11:
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (360, PS3)
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure  (360, PC, PS3, Wii, 3DS)
Forza 4  (360)
Just Dance 3  (Wii, 360, PS3)
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record (360, PC, PS3)
Seasame Street: Once Upon a Monster (360)
Go Vacation  (Wii)
Hulk Hogan's Main Event  (360)
Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny  (Wii)
Combat Wings: The Great Battles of WWII (PS3, 360)
Sideway: New York  (PS3)
Monster High: Ghoul Spirit  (DS, Wii)
Dance Dance Revolution II  (Wii)
Aliens Infestation  (DS)
Kinectimals Now with Bears!  (360)

October 13:
Might and Magic Heroes VI  (PC)

October 14:
Renegade Ops  (PC)

October 18:
Tropico 4 (360)
BEN 10 Galactic Racing  (PS3, DS, Wii, 360)
Jimmie Johnson's Anything with an Engine  (360, Wii, PS3)
Rocksmith  (PS3, 360)
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact  (PSP)
Everybody Dance  (PS3)
Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest  (PS3)
Carnical Island  (PS3)
Batman: Arkham City  (360, PS3)
PowerUp Heroes  (360)
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One  (PS3)

October 19:
Dungeon Defenders  (PC, 360)

October 20:
Cities XL 2012  (PC)

October 21:
Football Manager 2012  (PC)


October 24:
Kirby's Return to Dream Land  (Wii)

October 25:
The Cursed Crusade  (360)
Kinect Sports Season 2  (360)
Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey and Gallop Racer  (Wii, PS3)
Just Dance Kids 2  (PS3, Wii, 360)
Trivial Pursuit: Bet You Know It  (Wii)
Back to the Future  (PC)
Centipede Infestation  (Wii)
Battlefield 3  (PC, PS3, 360)
Family Game Night 4: The Game Show  (360, Wii, PS3)
Generator Rex: Agent of Providence  (PS3, Wii, DS, 360)
Take Shape  (360)
Monopoly Collection  (Wii)
DragonBall Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi  (360)
The King of Fighters XIII  (360)
Invizimals: Shadow Zone  (PSP)
Dance Central 2  (360)

October 27:
Silent Hill HD Collection  (PS3)
Take On Helicopters  (PC)

October 28:
Sword of the Stars II:  Lords of Winter  (PC)

Gears of War 3


Finally, the Gears of War saga is brought to a close.  With the third entry, we see Marcus and crew battle a new foe, settle the score with an old foe, and wonder what the future will hold.

Gears 3 picks up a year and a half after the sinking of Jacinto, the last human bastion.  Marcus Fenix and friends live aboard a large ship on the open water as the lands have become flooded with the Lambent infection.  The Lambent are life forms infected by Imulsion, the fuel source of the planet Sera.  Shortly after reuniting with Marcus, Dom, and a geared up Anya, the leader of the ragtag army arrives and tells Marcus that his father is alive.  So sets the stage for Marcus seeking out his father and the miracle that will save this broken world.

The story itself is always moving with seldom a dull moment in between all the cover based shooting.  The story is told through traditional means.  You'll fight through increasingly difficult forces and then be greeted by a cut scene that advances the plot.  It's a very guided approach, but one that has always worked well for the series.  There is little room to explore the beautifully rendered world of Sera and little reason to beyond the random trinket.  It's essentially a series of corridors and paths that you must follow to your next goal.

Much like the story telling, there's very little innovation in the combat system.  Now, this isn't a bad thing because Gears has nearly perfected the cover based shooter.  If it's not broken, don't fix it.  There are a few new weapons added in,  like the Retro Lancer, Sawed-off Shotgun, and Digger.  It's enough to keep things fresh and interesting for this go around.  One fantastic new addition is the ability to kick an opponent as you vault over an obstacle.  It is a great way to clear out stubborn opposition.  Other than that, things are exactly the same.

I would like to go on about the graphics, sound, and controls, but I realize there's little point.  If you've played the past two games, you'll know what to expect with Gears 3.  However, Gears 3 is a tight and refined version of the previous games.  Everything just feels right when playing it.  From pulling off the perfect headshot to charging an enemy with the Retro Lancer, it's poetry in motion.

Multiplayer retains all of the the same modes from Gears 2 with a few additions.  Horde Mode has become a tower defense hybrid.  At the beginning of a game, a base must be established.  In between each subsequent wave, you have the ability to fortify said base with barriers, turrets, decoys, and armored suits of death.  Every 10th wave is now a boss wave, pitting you against the toughest foes ever assembled.  Killing enemies gives you money to build and repair said defenses.  While they aren't absolutely necessary in the first 20-30 rounds, the last few batches will push your team and you'll have to build wisely if you want to see it through to the end.

Beast mode is a new mode that puts you in the role of the Locust Horde.  It's like a reverse Horde as you must break through the defenses of the COG and eliminate all of the humans within a certain time limit.  Every kill and piece of destroyed equipment nets you cash which is used to purchase your creature of choice.  After hitting certain levels of money gained, you unlock new creatures to play as.  Make it through 12 rounds and you've won.

Gears 3 differs slightly from its ancestors in that everything is tied together now.  Everything you do in multiplayer and single player is tracked and recorded on your personal stat pages.  Accomplish certain goals and you'll unlock new characters and weapon skins to use in multiplayer.  Unlike the pointless level system for Gears 2, there is a clear reason to level up in Gears 3 as you are properly rewarded for your accomplishments.

Many people cry foul that there isn't much of anything new this time around.  I argue, why should there be?  By the time a game hits number three, you should know what to expect.  Any radical departure from the standard would be nonsense and deter the core player base.  Plus, when a game is as fun as Gears 3, why would you want to change it?

In the end, everything is tied up very well for this series.  There are tragic loses and monumental victories.  There is also a hell of a lot of fun to be had, no matter how you play.  For any Gears fan or anyone looking to get into the series, you can't do better than Gears 3.

IIII or IV?

Something has been driving me crazy as of late.  I've been noticing a large number of clocks with Roman numerals that use IIII as four instead of IV.  I had always been brought up to believe that IV was the only way to write four was IV.  I had a rant planned citing the fall of civilization and the general stupidity of mankind.   Turns out there's a reason I've been seeing it another way.

Wikipedia says:
"Clock faces that are labeled using Roman numerals conventionally show IIII for four o'clock and IX for nine o'clock, using the subtractive principle in one case and not the other. There are many suggested explanations for this:
  • Issac Asimov theorized that, during the early history of Rome, it was common to use IIII to represent four, because IV represented the Roman god Jupiter, whose Latin name, IVPPITER, begins with IV[19]
  • Louis XIV, king of France, who preferred IIII over IV, ordered his clockmakers to produce clocks with IIII and not IV, and thus it has remained.[20]
  • Using standard numerals, two sets of figures would be similar and therefore confusable by children and others unused to reading clockfaces: IV and VI are similar, as are IX and XI. As the first pair are upside down on the face, an additional level of confusion would be introduced—a confusion avoided by using IIII to provide a clear distinction from VI.
  • The four-character form IIII creates a visual symmetry with the VIII on the other side, which the two-character IV would not.
  • With IIII, the number of symbols on the clock totals twenty Is, four Vs, and four Xs,[21] so clock makers need only a single mold with a V, five Is, and an X in order to make the correct number of numerals for their clocks: VIIIIIX. This is cast four times for each clock and the twelve required numerals are separated:
    • V IIII IX
    • VI II IIX
    • VII III X
    • VIII I IX
The IIX and one of the IXs are rotated 180° to form XI and XII. The alternative with IV uses seventeen Is, five Vs, and four Xs, requiring the clock maker to have several different molds.
  • Only the I symbol would be seen in the first four hours of the clock, the V symbol would only appear in the next four hours, and the X symbol only in the last four hours. This would add to the clock's radial symmetry.
  • Many clocks use IIII because that was the tradition established by the earliest surviving clock, the Wells Cathedral clock built between 1386 and 1392. It used IIII because that was the typical method used to denote 4 in contemporary manuscripts (as iiij or iiii). That clock had an asymmetrical 24-hour dial and used Arabic numerals for a minute dial and a moon dial, so theories depending on a symmetrical 12-hour clock face do not apply.[22]"

So there's a legitimate reason.  It all comes down to personal preference.  I don't agree with that.  Anyone who uses IIII is wrong and needs to stop.  It is IV and will forever be IV.

More Character Concepts

I think it's understood by now that 99% of my art is character concepts.  Whatever, I enjoy it.  




Concept

Another piece from high school.  Another character concept.


Reaper

I'm not even sure how he's holding onto that scythe.


Null

A concept for a Mandalorian costume I plan on building shortly.


Super Heroine

This was another concept for a Sonic Blaster in City of Heroes.


No Name


Nightmare King

Another piece from high school.  Holy hell did I love character concept art.


Moonlight


M

A quick sketch from college.


Ocarina of Time

This was one of my first experiments with color back in high school.


Jedi

The Star Wars craze hit hard back in the day.




Archer

This was a concept I had for an Archery Blaster in City of Heroes once the new power set had been announced.  Sadly, it didn't pan out.


The First Spokesgirl


Angelic

Another college piece.


Fairy

An older piece done for my better half.  You can check out her site here.  


Ezekiel

Some of the only work from high school to have survived.


Angel

Some of my early college work.


Angels and Demons

These were a concept I had years ago.  The idea was that the unholy could not even gaze on the holy.  That seeing them would obliterate the eyes from their head.



Bard

A bard designed for my friend as his D&D avatar.


Ninja Madness

These were the first and only set in a series of concept art for a game that never panned out.






Pine Street Cafe's Pine Street Burger

Place: Pine Street Cafe
Location: Burlington, WI
Burger: Pine Street Burger
Ingredients: Bacon, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce


The golden rule when eating at a new restaurant is: Eat the burger.  If they screw up the burger, the rest of the menu isn't worth trying.  The follow up to that rule is: If they've named a burger after the restaurant, eat that.  Pine Street is the latest addition to the town of Burlington.  It follows suit that they be rated on their burger.

I was disappointed that the burger came with the basic and blandest of chips.  A general rule with burgers is that they're served with a hot side.  Fries or onion rings fit the bill well.  I was also shocked that the server called it the "barbecue burger" instead of the restaurant's namesake.  I guess some people just don't appreciate the value of a burger.

The burger itself was quite tasty.  There was no grease to be had, the burger didn't fall apart, and there was a fair amount of flavor to be had.  It was a classic barbecue burger.  All in all, a fairly decent burger.

On the side: Chips

Three out of five stars

Red Dead Redemption


I was never a fan of westerns.  I never cared for the movies, novels, comics, or games.  For all I knew, it was just a bunch of guys with horses shooting other guys or getting into wacky bar brawls.  John Wayne, Clint Eastwood...what's the difference?  In addition, I was never a fan of Rockstar Games.  Sure, I would play the occasional Grand Theft Auto.  However, they had never release a game that I considered "Must have".  Throw those two things together and you have a sure fire winner for something I would never spend time with.

Fast forward to Red Dead sitting in my Xbox tray.  The opening scenes played out and I took interest.  Two hours later after Kim had "accidentally" killed her fourth prostitute, I was secretly plotting how I would play the game in secret.  Secretly.  What can I say?  If a game make sweet sweet visual love to my eyes, I want to play it.  Even if it ends up ruining nearly every sweet memory I have of a series.  I'm looking at you Final Fantasy XIII.

Indeed, the jaw dropping graphics in Red Dead initially turned me on to the game.  From the detail in the individuals wandering the one horse towns to one horse towns themselves and the world surrounding them and even the horse asses themselves, Red Dead is astounding.  Every time I load the game, I'm floored by the visual feast that is laid bare for me.

Gorgeous.  The environment.  Not the horse asses.
As I spent time with Red Dead, I was drawn into its story.  The world of John Marston is a complicated one.  The government has torn him away from his family and is forcing him to hunt down his former gang.  Over the course of the game, John is introduced to the many interesting locals of this border state.  As is par for meeting new friends in games, you'll have the opportunity to perform many odd jobs for them.  From herding cattle to hunting bounties, there's no end to what you can do in the wild west.  Straight to the end, I was captivated by this engrossing world and its inhabitants.  And the use of a single song in the ending is so profound and moving that I was left speechless.

Be careful while you roam the untamed wilderness.  There's plenty of resistance trying to stop Marston.  Worst of all are the numerous cougars and bears that will treat your horse as an appetizer as they work their way to you.  Seriously, you will die.  Sometimes your worst enemy is your best friend.    Your horse has a strange habit of dying.  A lot.  It will be shot, run off cliffs, and even fall over dead in the middle of the road.

Right off a cliff and into a tree where it was shot.

Even after you've wrapped up the lengthy story and the near absurd amount of side missions, there's a robust multiplayer as well.  Everything you loved in the single player campaign makes a return in multiplayer. There's horse races, shoot outs, poker, co-op missions, and clearing gang hideouts with your friends.

It was something I had never expected.  A studio that I never cared for creating a game in a genre that I had no interest in.  In the end, Red Dead ended up being one of my favorite games.  Did that change my opinion on Westerns as a whole?  No.  Do I believe Rockstar is capable of making great games?  Absolutely.  Do I think everyone needs to play this game?  Definitely.  Saddle up, you have a long road ahead of you.

Ryan's Corner: Superman Assists the Elderly


Ryan's Corner: The Xbox Addict


Gears of War 3 Horde Command Pack


The first Gears of War 3 DLC drops November 1, 2011.  It will include three new maps, three new characters , two new weapons skins, Horde mode upgrades, and 250 acheivements.  The cost of admission is 800 Microsoft Points ($10) or free to those that have purchased the season pass.

Maps: Blood Drive, Rustlung, Azura

Characters: Bernie, Onyx Guard, Big Rig Dizzy

Weapon Skins: Team Plasma, Jungle Camo

Horde Upgrades:
Command Center - A brand new type of fortification that allows you to call in fire support from sniper teams, mortar strikes and even multiple Hammers of Dawn.
Decoy Upgrade - A new fortification level that turns your decoy into an Onyx Guard bot that will fight in your defense.
Sentry Upgrade - This upgrade adds a fire bolt sentry that deals much more damage and is very effective against Berserkers.
Silverback Upgrade - This advancement allows you to upgrade your Silverback exo-suit with devastating rockets and extra levels of repair cost reduction.

This is the first of four planned DLC releases.  You can purchase the season pass for 2400 Microsoft Points and save 33% on the four DLC packs.

Epic

Mango

For those stuck in the Windows Phone update Hell like I was, here is your salvation.

http://www.wpcentral.com/force-mango-update-early-through-zune-software

Essentially, you're tricking Zune into getting the updates.  I started out with version 7008 and within 40 minutes I had Mango installed and running.  Enjoy.