By ALEX FRUECHTENICHT
Every June, the video game industry takes over Los Angeles with the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as it is more commonly known.
E3 showcases new video games that are coming out, from Activision to Zynga and everything in between.
While the press conferences are the crème of the crop at E3, the booths are where the media gets to go hands-on with new games before anyone else.
Unfortunately for common folk, E3 is not open for public admittance. However, the entire convention is streamed online.
Being restricted to a computer or TV for information on the conference does have its advantages.
Many websites stream the conferences live and have journalists at the convention to report and interview those in the video game industry.
One of the most common ways of getting your information if you can’t watch the conferences yourself is to follow the right people on Twitter.
News sources like Polygon, IGN and Kotaku are some of the ones I follow because they usually link to articles they’ve written about said announcement.
There are a few things from each of the three console manufacturers (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) that you can be sure to look forward to at E3 this year.
One of the biggest absences we know about is The Legend of Zelda Wii U. Nintendo will not showcase it as planned.
At the end of March, Eiji Aonuma, the producer of the upcoming Zelda title, released a video to the public saying that the game would not be out this year as they had initially planned.
He used the official Nintendo Twitter page to say the game would also not be shown. “Mr. Aonuma & team will be hard at work on #Zelda and have decided not to show it @ E3. Thanks for your patience,” he wrote.
The absence of Zelda at E3 this year won’t go unnoticed, but Nintendo will have a few more tricks up its sleeves.
I speculate that Star Fox Wii U will be the standout from Nintendo. Xenoblade Chronicles X, Yoshi’s Wooly World and Devil’s Third should have strong showings for Wii U.
3DS owners should look forward to Fire Emblem: If and Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but I suspect there will be more than one 3DS game announcement at E3.
Sony’s PlayStation 4 has many new games coming out. Some of the biggest include Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Persona 5 and No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky, “a science-fiction game set in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy,” is one I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced.
Showing No Man’s Sky at E3 with a release date this year will be a standout from the competition for PlayStation 4.
PlayStation Vita should also be sharing some of the limelight at Sony’s conference with games like Persona 4: Dancing All Night, Lost Dimension and Danganronpa: Another Episode.
Microsoft’s Xbox One will also have some standout titles at E3, including Halo 5, Quantum Break and Scalebound.
While everyone knows the Halo franchise, Scalebound, a game shown off last E3 from developer Platinum Games, is one I think Xbox gamers should be looking forward to.
A Platinum game where you get to take down colossal monsters with the help of a dragon while listening to awesome music? Sounds like a hell of a game.
The biggest thing that everyone can look forward to every year at E3 is the stuff we don’t know about yet.
What other games will Nintendo show since Zelda won’t be there? Could this be the year we see a new Metroid game?
We haven’t heard much from Retro Studios since Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. The studio should bring the dormant franchise to life. How about a new F-Zero game to resurrect Captain Falcon and his hyper-speed racing?
How about Sony? Will we at long last get The Last Guardian or will this be yet another year of absence?
Since we first saw The Last Guardian from Team Ico back in 2009, the game has been on a roller coaster behind the scenes with the director leaving and then coming back under contract, as well as the numerous “cancellations” the game has supposedly gone through.
And does Microsoft give us the details on the next Gears of War game this year, or maybe something else entirely? I’d love to see Microsoft do something with Conker that wasn’t just in Project Spark.
There are also third parties to keep your eyes out for at E3.
Konami has Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, hopefully shown off by the game director, Hideo Kojima before his leave in December.
Star Wars Battlefront will also be at the show, possibly showing off gameplay for the first time.
I know this: On June 16-18, the video game industry is going to explode.
Conference dates: June 14-16
Conferences: Square-Enix, Bethesda, Ubisoft, EA, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony
Key steps: Follow developers, publishers and news outlets on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for up-to-the-minute information
By JOHN CHESTNUT
It has been five years since a new Grand Theft Auto game has graced home consoles.
In that time there have been many ripoffs, and some games have come close to dethroning GTA as the king of open-world games. “Saints Row the 3rd” is one example.
Developer Rockstar has listened and learned from the mistakes made in GTA 4. For the new version, they made a massive open-world game with almost limitless possibilities.
It sucks you in and never lets you leave.
The story mode gives three characters to play as: Franklin, Michael and Trevor. Each character feels different and has unique abilities. You can even level up their stats to make them into the character you want.
Michael is your average middle-aged man going through a midlife crisis.
Franklin is a stereotypical African gangster protagonist whose only dream is to get paid and leave the hood.
Trevor is hard to describe, because he’s the most off-his-rocker character I’ve had the pleasure of playing as in any recent video game.
The story mode is a long one, packed with 69 missions and hundreds of side missions, random acts of heroism and other activities.
Heist missions really help the game really take off. You plan the whole thing, from the driver to the shooter and tech guy. You decide whether to go in loud or to do it like a thieving batman.
You instantly feel like a virtual Val Kilmer, the “Heat” version. You know, before he gained the old-man weight.
If all that single-player action wasn’t enough, we are given a fully fleshed online mode. It has a full map ready for you and your friends to rip apart from the inside out like a jelly-filled donut.
Make your own character by picking his parents and their parents, then figure out how much your character looks like each of them.
The joy of being with a buddy, or three, while you run through the 500 ready-to-go missions almost feels as though you are ripping off Rockstar.
The most enjoyable aspect is the ability to use your in-game cell phone to take selfies of you and your gang.
Yes, you can create your own gang while you partake in all the fun activities, such as knocking over liquor stores, going to a strip club, parachuting, playing golf or tennis and even playing chicken with a train.
The game is not perfect, though.
The gun controls are crap and Rockstar still seems to have an ongoing war with your controller’s A or X button.
The online mode also has problems. Some people have had their character erased, or have not been able to play it all. That is unfortunate, but the complaints stop there.
The game is massive and can be overwhelming at times. If you take it slow, and let everything that is happening sink in, you will find pure enjoyment. It’s everything we gamers wanted out of GTA 4 but never got.
This is one of the best games of this generation. In Grand Theft Auto terms, it gives an exceptional middle-fingered salute.
By JOHN CHESTNUT
The new age of gaming arrives this November, and the fight between Sony and Microsoft for next-gen supremacy is on.
Should we as a gaming community buy into the new consoles?
Short answer, no.
Long answer, nope!
The reason why is because Microsoft and Sony don’t really know what they are doing.
Microsoft is so busy changing every single policy on the One that it’s only a matter of time before they announce that you can play Xbox One games on the Xbox 360. And Sony only seems to know how to make jokes at the expense of Microsoft.
Plus, where are the original, unique games? Everything shown so far is either a port of a soon-to-be-current gen game or some crappy tech demo. Why pay the huge price tag ($400 for the ps4, $500 for the One) to play what we can already access?
The Nintendo WiiU, 3DS and Playstation Vita all recently dropped prices and redesigned their consoles. It’s a nice to know that the gaming industry takes a turd shower on your face for wanting to be the first to buy a new console.
No new intriguing games. Console re-designs, and price cuts probably coming in a year. Is there anything else to knock down about going next-gen?
Oh yeah, Grand Theft Auto V, which released Sept. 17.
It has a huge single-player cinematic experience. It features a robust online mode that allows you and your friends to gang up and hit up endless virtual liquor stores. And it’s exclusive to the PS3 and Xbox 360.
So there you have it. Instead of making the hard choice of PS4 or Xbox One, spend a smaller amount on the remaining great games that will be gracing our current-gen shortly.
Your wallet will thank you in the end, amigo.
By ERIC KLUMP
As March 6 approached, many gamers wondered if Mass Effect 3 would be a fitting end to this series and if it could innovate and improve on an already near-perfect game.
The Mass Effect series is arguably the defining series of this console generation. It gave gamers a deep and enthralling story that, through player-made decisions, creates unique game experiences for every player.
Game play in the series has always been fluid. The game balances RPG elements with third-person action beautifully. The graphics have always shown what a game can do in this console generation, nearing photorealism.
With all of this to consider, how can Mass Effect live up to its predecessors? More, how can it improve on the previous two games?
I’m glad to say that this game doesn’t disappoint, meeting and exceeding high expectations. While playing the game, one doesn’t feel like they are playing something revolutionary or new. Mass Effect 3 is like a stone that’s been polished into a gem.
The story opens with a grounded Captain Shepard being brought back into service to save the galaxy. The series’ antagonists, the Reapers, have mounted a full-scale invasion of Earth.
Shepard has to combat the whole band of Reapers with a much weaker crew. He gathers teammates and old allies as the game progresses, with the larger goal of uniting races from around the galaxy, using his greatest weapon: his voice.
Between cutscenes, players explore, investigate and battle to save the universe from the Reapers and the human-first group Cerberus.
As always in the series, battles rely not only on your shooting and/or biotic abilities but how you direct your team. Both are fluid and easy to use but hard to master, making each fight a rewarding challenge for players.
New to the series is the addition of multiplayer mode, allowing players across the world to play co-op. The mode and its unlockable classes are fun but a slight letdown. It seems like an afterthought that should have been either developed more or left out altogether.
Overall, Mass Effect 3 is an amazing game no player should ignore this year. I recommend playing the whole series.
By D.J. ARIZMENDI
Life has a certain motion. Before we can walk, we must crawl. Sony’s new portable gaming system, the PS Vita, on the other hand, has not even reached infancy but already has a running start against its competition.
With one of the best launch lineups in video game history, a gorgeous OLED screen and dual analog sticks, the Vita has everything gamers want in their hands, minus the uber cute anime girl.
The menu interface moves fluidly and the touch screen is surprisingly responsive. If you have any experience using an Apple device, you should feel right at home.
Does it feel a bit rip-offish? Admittedly it does. In Sony’s defense, it mocks the style well without seeming tacky.
As with any new sexy tech, it’s the inside that matters.
Vita’s opulent 5-inch OLED screen sports a 4-core processor and 512 megabytes of RAM. It has a resolution of 960×544. In other words, the Nintendo 3DS looks last-generation by comparison.
For those worried about the weight, it’s not as heavy as it looks. At 9.8 ounces, the Vita fits into its tight dressing with some lovely handles on the back to assist with grip.
Even though I had no issue with the weight, the width can be overwhelming. Stood on its side, the Vita is a tad over 7 inches. Many people might find it cumbersome to squeeze that much into their pockets, especially since skinny jeans are in style.
If you are feeling artsy, the Vita has two cameras, one rear and one front. The biggest downfall for this feature is the quality it produces. The pictures look as if I resurrected my first flip phone from T-Mobile.
The saving grace is that the video can capture images at a staggering 120 frames per second, but it will look like garbage.
Though the button layout is similar to the PSP, the addition of a right analog stick makes this truly a game changer in the world of handhelds.
“Uncharted: Golden Abyss” is probably the strongest argument for an additional analog stick. Having that sense of complete control really pushes it over the edge for having a console-like experience.
Information about the 3G service has been spotty at best, kind of like AT&T’s coverage — which incidentally is the Vita’s provider.
Setting up the system for the service was beyond a nightmare. I would not recommend getting the 3G model unless it is your only option.
But if you are a glutton for punishment and wish to take advantage of the 3G feature, you can send messages, synch trophy info, look in the Playstation store, use a subpar web browser and access certain apps such as Near.
Be warned, though: You cannot download anything larger than 20MB over 3G. That basically means you will not be able to download any games available through the Playstation store.
By now you may be thinking this review is not exactly glowing, but there is a twist in the third act — the games.
By the Feb. 22 launch date, there will be at least 26 games available. Anyone who has been a part of a system launch knows that is quite impressive. Even more impressive: I already have six of those games and could easily recommend six more on top of that.
If having great games was not enough, Sony has pledged to have every Vita game come out in a digital format on the same day as its physical counterpart.
The incentive for buying games digitally is not only the obvious convenience but the fact it will be sold at a 10 percent discount.
Imagine this: In the near future, you will be able to play a fully featured “Call of Duty” game on the go. Need I say more, bro?
Just like life, the Vita is not perfect. However, it is too wonderful to miss out on. With time, it has serious potential to become the greatest gaming handheld of this generation.
Notable games at launch:
- “Uncharted: Golden Abyss”
- “Lumines: Electronic Symphony”
- “Super Stardust Delta”(download only)
- “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3”
- “Touch My Katamari”
- “FFIA Soccer”
- “BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extreme”
- “Escape Plan”(Download Only)
- “Rayman Origins”
- “Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack”(download only)
- “Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus”
- “Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational”
By D.J. ARIZMENDI
I’ve got a list, and I am checking it twice. With it you will know which games this year were naughty or nice.
Santa’s pick: “Uncharted 3”
2011 was the year of the three-quel. You had “Modern Warfare 3,” “Gears of War 3” and “Killzone 3.” Of the three, the nicests came from developer Naughty Dog in the form of “Uncharted 3.” Proving the third time’s the charm, U3 leads the three-quel herd with finesse by setting a new standard for game presentation.
Elves’ picks: “inFAMOUS 2,” “No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise” and “God of War: Origins Collection”
Santa’s pick: “Gears of War 3”
While “Gears of War 3” is an amazing game, it wins almost by default. With Microsoft’s exclusive lineup being so thin, GOW 3 does what it must to bulk up the slim pickings. Even though it follows a strict “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, it still has enough variety in the narrative to motivate players to reach the closure-centric ending.
Elves’ picks: “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary,” “Dance Central 2” and “The Gunstringer”
Santa’s pick: “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
No surprise here. The Wii has had a tough year, with declining console and game sales. Link saves the system from complete destruction.
Elves’ pick: Buying another copy of “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
Santa’s pick: “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”
Selling about half of what the newest “Call of Duty” did, “Skyrim” shows the world that nerdism is not dead and stats matter. Fixing most of the problems “Oblivion” had, “Skyrim” shows how well an open-ended RPG can work and should keep you entertained until the apocalypse of 2012.
Elves’ picks: “CathErine,” “Portal 2,” “Saints Row: The Third,” “Dead Space 2” and “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”
Pick for the fireplace: “DC Universe Online”
This year was probably Sony’s strongest yet, but there’s always one brat who ruins it for everyone. That little imp is “DC Universe Online.” Launching with horrible gameplay glitches and weak mechanics, DCUO had no chance of surviving in the current market of MMOs. The game is still on life support and has become so desperate for players that you can now download the full game for free.
Other disappointments: “Killzone 3” and “Tekken Hybrid”
Pick for the fireplace: “Fruit Ninja Kinect”
For a game that is free on Android and a dollar on iPhone, I can’t justify the $10 price tag on this port. “Fruit Ninja Kinect” is the prime example of why digitally distributed games are not ready to become the new standard format for consoles, thanks to ridiculous prices. Also, the Kinect controls don’t hold a candle to its phone-friendly counterparts.
Other disappointments: “Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do” and “Rise of Nightmares”
Pick for the fireplace: “101-in-1 Sports Party Megamix”
Publisher Atlus must have really needed a paycheck. I can’t find one reason why anyone should be subjected to this shovelware unless they have committed crimes against humanity. A warning to all you mothers out there: Seeing this game in the bargain bin does not make it a good deal. Spend the extra five bucks and buy your loved ones a giant Hershey bar.
Other disappointments: “Just Dance 3,” “Conduit 2” and “Mario Sports Mix.”
Pick for the fireplace: “Call of Juarez: The Cartel”
If someone translated one of those low-budget Mexican-made action films, they would create something very similar to “Call of Juarez: the Cartel.” Not only is this probably the worse shooter of the year, this might be one of the worst products ever released to the public for $60.
Other disappointments: “Dragon Age II,” “Rage,” “Brink” and “Homefront”
By D.J. ARIZMENDI
If there ever was a console-exclusive game that could unify every gamer, of every genre, of any system, “Uncharted 3” would be that ambassador.
The story is a rather simple one. Players assume the role of thrill-seeking Nathan Drake as he and his streetwise gang seek treasure that spans across various corners of the globe. It’s a tale that’s as old as it is quintessential.
Though some may perceive the structure trite and contrived, the pace is unarguably hasted and never forgets what it is all about, the adventure.
All the usual suspects return to their respective roles, and all bring their A-game to the table.
None of the performances feel forced, which is rare for a game, and has a caliber that can only be matched overseas from works like the “Yakuza” series. The real stars of this shameless blockbuster are the set pieces and graphics.
Anyone who read my “Batman: Arkham City” article may be experiencing deja-vu from that last sentence, so let me make this clear: U3 has the finest, superlative and most ambitious set design seen in video game history.
The terrain you explore and interact with make ‘Pandora’ look like a bitch.
The worlds explored range from the desert to the sea and everything in-between.
Instead of playing it safe and having these elegant levels stay in one piece, the folks at NaughtyDog have no problem watching their world burn, literally. What you passed by once as a room of beautiful art, becomes a flaming graveyard on the way back.
What helps these astonishing scenes come to life is the blistering detail put into every bit of texture on the screen.
To simply say that the visuals are the premier example of how games should look would be understating it. The graphics in U3 actually represent how games in the next generation should look in terms of constancy.
No matter the scenario, day, night, indoor or outdoor, U3 handles them almost as they were different games. It makes sure that every chapter is as good looking as the last.
While some developers work tirelessly to make their games feel more pragmatic, U3 is unashamedly proud to show it’s gaminess by giving players control over events that any other game would have made into a cutscene. The transitions from gazing eyes to trigger happy hands is so seamless you might forget that you actually get to control the action.
Gameplay remains largely similar since the last outing, but it’s all the small changes that make a major impact.
For instance, you can now throw back grenades if your timing is right and melee combat is now contextual with the environment. Thanks to these enhancements, the combat is flawlessly adaptable and you never get the sense you did something wrong.
That being said, that does not mean you will not die. The difficulty has some sharp spikes, but fortunately the checkpoints are very forgiving and well placed.
If having probably the greatest single player experience is not exciting enough, you can always hook up with your bros in multi-player for either co-op or competitive modes.
The two modes are actually surprisingly deep and offer perks, badges and a leveling system that so many “Call Of Duty” fans have come to adore.
With so many games out this year, I had some doubt that U3 would stick out, but after completing its story and dipping into the multiplayer, I absolutely have no doubt in my heart, mind or soul when I say that “Uncharted 3” truly is the definitive game of this generation.
By D.J. ARIZMENDI
Over the years I have looked at video games more as art than games, critiquing flaws and praising subtleties.
“Dead Island” is the shallowest video game experience I have played in some time…and I am enjoying the hell out of it.
The setup is so simple, even a zombie can understand it.
After a drunken bender on a tropical island, your character awakes in a hut surrounded by zombies. You have no knowledge of what happened or how you got there. Imagine it as the “Hangover: Undead Edition.”
Of course the point of the game would be to find out how all these innocent people became zombies and bring justice, right?
Nope. The only thing that matters is survival and escape.
Players can select from four different walking stereotypes, each with distinctive skills.
Xian Mei is an Asian woman who’s good with kitchen knives.
Sam B. is a washed up rapper that can wield a baseball bat like Barry Bonds.
Logan is a fallen athlete, but still has a good throwing arm that comes in handy for lobbing zombie heads off.
Finally there is Purna, who is basically Angelina Jolie from “Salt” with a fetish for guns.
If you find yourself having a hard time wondering which character to choose, just think about what kind of game you want to play. For instance, knives can slice and dice through zombies, but blunt weapons are more durable.
The gameplay is unique, combining the vastness of “Fallout 3” with the mechanics of “Dead Rising.”
Like the aforementioned games, DI has action RPG elements most would expect like weapon health, stamina bars, critical hits and XP.
The environment itself is anything but typical. At first glance, the graphics don’t look too special, but sunny reflections and open beaches make slaughtering the undead a bit more pleasant.
Even though the story is almost nonexistent, DI gets one thing right that most modern games don’t: fun.
While gleefully slaying zombies, it dawned on me that for years, I have not actually had fun with games. Sure “Dead Space 2” is tense and “L.A. Noire” is dramatic, but they just weren’t fun to play.
With DI, I was able to sit back and have a good time doing nothing. It felt like I was on a video game vacation.
But the vacation comes at a price.
In order to enjoy DI, you have to look past a lot of flaws.
It glitches often, the music is dull, the voice acting is a joke, controls are stiff and the online co-op crashes more often than the vehicles in the game.
What it comes down to is love.
When you love something, you accept it for what it is. And I wholeheartedly adore DI so much that I’ll stand by it through thick and thin, brains or no brains.
By DARCY ARIZMENDI
Fifteen more blu-rays will be born in this HD world between March 22 and April 5. Which ones will stand victorious on your shelf? To help you pick, use this visual aid. Also note these films are available on DVD as well.
“Evangelion: 2.22 You Can [Not] Advance” (March 29)
“Dogtooth” (March 29)
“Mad Men: Season Four” (March 29)
“Tron: Legacy” (April 5)
“How Do You Know” (March 22)
“All Good Things” (March 29)
“Tangled” (March 29)
“Casino Jack” (April 5)
“I Love You Phillip Morris” (April 5)
“The Tourist” (March 22)
“Yogi Bear” (March 22)
“Skyline” (March 22)
“The Venture Bros.: The Complete Season 4” (March 22)
“Scar 3D” (March 29)
“Little Fockers” (April 5)
“Evangelion: 2.22 You Can [Not] Advance”
By D.J. OCHOA
Fans of the fighting series Marvel vs Capcom have waited more than 10 years for the newest installment.
“Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds” has finally hit store shelves, and gives gamers the right dose of intensity.
MVC3 is a fast paced, beautiful fighting game that offers a fine amount of re-playability.
Each character has unique quirks that are very entertaining to use. Veterans like Ryu and Wolverine return, joined by newcomers such as Dante and Viewtiful Joe. One of my favorites is X-23, an ultra badass female version of Wolverine.
However, the roster has been stripped to 36, while its predecessor offered 56 playable characters. This is the biggest change of the game, and it does take away from the game’s value.
When trying to pick my trio to do battle, I found myself missing favorites from the last MVC. It’s a letdown not being able to use Gambit or Strider Hiryu.
Players might feel cheated by this, but Capcom plans to add characters to the roster through downloadable content.
The look of MVC3 has also changed. Unlike the arcade style used for MVC2, Capcom decided to use a comic book design.
This was an intelligent move on Capcom’s part. It brings the fighting mechanics alive, especially when the completed hyper combos show vibrant colors all over the screen (similar to an acid trip without the use of any narcotics.)
The most entertaining part of any MVC is the epic fighting mechanics. Not much has changed in the MVC3 fighting style, which is not horrible. The same fast paced, ultra high combos are here again, with the small addition of aerial combos and X-Factor.
Players perform the aerial combos during a fight, using a simple button to battle mid-air and tag a partner. It adds to fighting mechanics in an entertaining way and never seems to get old.
The addition of the X-Factor mechanic gives players an energy boost during battle that can potentially change the momentum.
Online fights are offered, but make sure you practice before entering that gauntlet. Otherwise, you’ll get destroyed every time.
This MVC diamond-in-the-rough has minor flaws. One major disappointment: few fighting modes to choose from.
Arcade mode is still present, but there’s not much left to do after beating it countless times. Sure players can master their skills in training mode, but it doesn’t offer much depth to the game. And where is survival mode? Plus, only four characters are simple to unlock.
The most entertaining part of the series was building up points after hours of playing, and purchasing the characters.
It’s understandable that Capcom didn’t want to change too much of the game’s core value, but additions should be met on the release (not months later in DLC, just to make few bucks.)
Despite its flaws, MVC3 offers well-rounded gameplay.
Capcom has added another fine installment to the series, but it could have been a much more dynamic experience.
By C. TAYLOR BOCK
By Darcy Arizmendi
1.I Spit on your grave
2.Life as we know it
3.Paranormal Activity 2
5.For Colored Girls
6.It’s Kind of a Funny Story
7.My soul to Take
2.Waiting for “Superman”
2.Flcl: Complete Collection
3.The Stieg Larsson Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / The Girl Who Played with Fire / The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Editors Pick: Flcl: Complete Collection
By CONRAD PURSLEY
When Reid Young started a fan site in 1997 for the Super Nintendo classic “Earthbound,” he had no idea what he was unleashing.
Starmen.net and its sister merchandise website, Fangamer.net, created a vibrant online community for classic game fans and an online business that defies the ailing economy.
“Starting with nothing and getting to this point, I’ve just stopped being surprised with everything,” Young said.
The gamer company also gives back to the community, supporting charities that include the ACT Today autism foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease.
Starmen.net held an auction Nov 27 for Mr. Saturn plushies available only in crane machines in Japan. The auction raised more than $10,000 to help combat Parkinson’s disease.
The company began when Starmen.net was facing tough times. Young and his wife, Camille, decided they would try to cover site costs by selling clothing inspired by “Earthbound.”
“I thought we’d sell a finite number of shirts and that’d be it,” Reid Young said. “But orders just kept coming in.”
As orders continued, he brought in help. The cycle repeated until a business was born.
Fangamer.net opened in August 2008 as a site to handle merchandise created by the Starmen.net crew.
Camille Young, a Tucson native and fine arts graduate of Pima Community College, recalled the early days when she and Reid ran the business from their second bedroom.
“At first I helped with package and mail orders,” she said. “But eventually I got to take on some artistic projects, like the ‘Mother 3 Handbook.’”
She originally became involved with Starmen.net in 1999, when her brother convinced her to submit “Earthbound” fan art to some guy named “reidman” who ran the site.
“That’s also the story of how I met my husband, Reid,” Camille Young said.
Fangamer.net has now expanded well beyond “Earthbound” merchandise.
“We like to include games that we all agree are great and ones that can inspire great designs,” Reid Young said. “We don’t just do classics, but we like to put a classic spin on things.”
Each Fangamer product is elaborately designed with high-quality materials, using art inspired by the game it represents. Typical prices are $20 for shirts and $60 for figurines.
“They’re not Walmart prices,” said Ryan Alyea, a key employee who serves as Fangamer’s tech guy. “We’re not big enough to get bulk discounts.”
A $28 E-Tank coffee mug, inspired by the popular Megaman series, has so many preorders that Fangamer.net had to extend the release date and restrict how many mugs one person can buy.
Fangamer.net also designs custom-made cards, pins and other game-inspired items.
“I’m very happy that I took the route of being an artist and doing what I love,” Camille Young said. “I still use techniques, design principles and color theory that I learned at Pima.”
Despite the sacrifices and financial risk, Reid Young has no regrets about starting a business.
“If you’re willing to sacrifice the security of a job, working for yourself is great,” he said. “I would never work for someone else.”
By DARCY ARIZMENDI
“Assassin’s Creed 2” was considered one of last year’s best games. This was mostly due to the highly improved gameplay mechanics, including more variety than the original game. Does “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” continue to kill its audiences?
As much as I want to set up the story for anyone new to the series, I can’t due to its complex nature and my word limit. Let’s just say the story literally leaves off right where AC2 ended.
The two main characters are still Ezio and Desmond. Players as Ezio roam the streets of Rome in the year 1500, and explore its ruins as Desmond in the year 2012.
The new thing here is that players can now access Desmond on demand by being able to leave the Animus from the pause menu.
Gameplay has not changed much since AC2. Most improvements are small tweaks to aspects such as combat, money gathering and missions.
As great as this sounds, ACB was so similar to the last game that nothing really surprised me. It really felt at times like I was playing an expansion pack that could have been released for 20 bucks.
That said, it is still one of the best single-player games out there. Fans will thoroughly enjoy what it has to offer.
The main new feature that Ubisoft touts is multiplayer, which lets you select different classes of assassins. For example, you can be an assassin who looks like a priest or a jester. Whichever you decide on, someone will get shanked.
The backdrop to this mode is that players assume roles as Templars (the bad guys) in training. Once you select your character, you go into a level and are assigned a target you must kill.
Every other player is assigned a target as well, so it’s basically a deadly version of cat and mouse.
The mode was fun for awhile but then players ruined the experience by running around like loons and stabbing everything in sight. Play this mode with people you trust, if possible.
Overall, ACB is a highly polished product that lost some focus by trying to nudge in multiplayer. My greatest fear after playing this game is that the series will get “Call of Duty” syndrome and push out a game every year.
In a way I am glad the game was not called “Assassin’s Creed 3.” Still, I would prefer to wait for a sequel instead of getting more of the same.
By JONATHAN FRASER
With so many choices available, buying a new cell phone can leave some fearing buyer’s remorse. How do you know if you have the best device out there?
That’s what we set out to discover as we compared two Sprint flagship phones: The HTC EVO 4G and the Samsung Epic 4G. We scored each phone on a 10-point scale in five categories, and used the average to determine a winner.
The sleek EVO sports a candy bar design. Its all-touch screen boasts an impressive 4.3-inch LCD display.
The Epic keeps pace with rounded edges and a slider design equipped with one of the best QWERTY keyboards on the market. Samsung has found the sweet spot for screens with its gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED display.
Both phones did feel a bit large, though. Some people won’t like that.
Scores: EVO: 7.5 / Epic: 9.
Navigating was smooth and easy because both phones come with 1-GHz processors. Both phones have seven customizable home screens and the ability to add shortcut widgets for apps.
The difference comes down to user interfaces. The EVO runs HTC Sense while the Epic uses TouchWiz 3.0. Sense is more polished and visibly appealing. TouchWiz 3.0 has a smaller learning curve because it is set up very much like the iPhone layout.
Scores: EVO: 8 / Epic: 7.5.
These are two of the most feature-packed phones on the market.
The EVO features an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with dual LED flash and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera for video calls. It records high definition video (720p), supports 4G connectivity, has a HDMI out port so you can watch videos and pictures on your HD TV, and has a kickstand to prop up the phone. This phone was made to act like a TV.
The Epic screen helps conserve battery and provides screen resolution comparable to the iPhone 4’s Retina display. It supports 4G connectivity, a 5 MP rear-facing camera with LED flash, a 0.3 MP front-facing camera for video calls and Swype texting (where you drag your finger over letters instead of tapping them on the touch screen). It also captures HD video (720p).
Scores: EVO: 10 / Epic: 8.
The EVO is a multimedia beast. Watching videos is amazing and HTC’s music player is by far the best on Android. It benefits from running on the Android 2.2 operating system because it supports Flash Player online. With Flash, you can view embedded videos directly on the web page. Keep in mind, Flash isn’t all the way there yet so this does cause slower loading.
The EPIC is no multimedia slouch either. Videos are also amazing on the Super AMOLED screen. The music player is nothing special but gets the job done. Unfortunately, the Epic still runs on Android 2.1, so there’s no Flash support. But, the Internet runs smoothly and the phone is expected to upgrade to 2.2 by the end of the year.
Scores: EVO: 8 / Epic: 7.
Call quality was great on both devices and there were no reception issues.
When it comes to battery though, the EVO seems to be at a disadvantage. Moderate use (calls, texting, Internet, music player) can drain the battery in about 6-7 hours. You’ll definitely want to invest in a car charger or extended battery.
The Samsung EPIC benefited from a much better battery. Moderate use on this device did drain the battery, but it lasted an entire day.
Scores: EVO: 7 / Epic: 8.5.
The results were almost a photo finish. The EVO score averaged 8.1 and the Epic averaged 8.
WINNER: HTC EVO.