Nov 122013

Video games starring famous superheroes have been around since video games themselves have been around, but for some reason I never played many of them. Perhaps it was because I noticed many superhero games that were released for the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube when I was growing up were clumsily thrown together and that they were nothing more than shameless movie tie-ins. My not playing superhero games back in the day was also likely because I didn’t see how compelling superhero stories could really be until my mid-teenage years, when the first of many spectacular superhero films started rolling out of Hollywood. Films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight didn’t just have me on the edge of my seat. They also had me pondering about the many moral dilemmas our heroes had to face throughout their adventures.


I know I’m a couple of years late jumping onto the bandwagon, but last week I downloaded Batman: Arkham City, which is part of the recent WB Games Humble Bundle (The Bundle gave me Arkham Asylum as well, but I’ll admit it, I’m a Mac gamer so I can’t play it). Almost immediately I saw why Arkham City gained such high praise from critics and comic book fans alike. The story is deep, and the atmosphere is perfect for a Batman game. The combat mechanics put you in the middle of the action. This game sets the bar for any superhero games that follow it. And for somebody like myself who hasn’t played many superhero games, I’m amazed at how high that bar is.

What sets Arkham City apart from other superhero games is how they take the player’s ability to make choices, a mechanic in games that is increasing in importance as the medium further evolves as an art form, and apply that ability to characters that have developed over decades of appearances in DC Comics. One of the most powerful scenes to me in the main storyline is when you have to make a serious choice playing as Catwoman: you just broke into Hugo Strange’s vault, took out large groups of his soldiers, and made out with two briefcases filled with his most valuable possessions. But you see on a television near the vault that Batman is pinned under some fallen rubble. Here you are given a crucial choice. Should Catwoman leave Arkham City with the stolen goods as she planned, or leave the loot, turn around and save Batman? Naturally I chose the latter of the two options, and in doing so I overcame a classic philosophical dilemma: do you get more fulfillment out of helping yourself, or helping others?


This question is even explored through some of Arkham City’s massive cast of villains. In some of the game’s missions, you find Batman having to save (and later teaming up with) iconic villains from the Batman universe. In particular, early in the main story Batman finds himself saving Mr. Freeze who is being held captive by the Penguin. The two then work together to find a cure for the poison in the Joker’s blood, which was also transfused into Batman’s bloodstream. While Batman and Mr. Freeze never act entirely friendly to one another, the two unite briefly with a common cause which shows that even some of the nastiest villains can have some good in them too. As Batman, you can even choose to return the favor in a later side mission to rescue Mr. Freeze’s wife, Nora.


At this point in the game, I’m getting very close to completing the main story, where (naturally) the entire fate of Gotham City lies in Batman’s hands. But once I am done, I will still be performing heroic deeds across Arkham City in side missions, continuing to explore the moral dilemmas that come with being a superhero. Even as I play through the main campaign, I feel troubled. I can hear the distant shouts of people in need throughout Arkham City. But Gotham as a whole needs my help right now… Don’t the needs of many outweigh the needs of the few?

Finding these moral questions to ask while playing Batman: Arkham City has in many ways made me question my own moral philosophies, just like a good comic book or superhero movie. And that’s the way good superhero video games should be too.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Nov 112013

With the drivers’ and constructors’ championships long since decided, some of my fellow American Formula One fans may be looking for a way to add some excitement to the upcoming US Grand Prix in Austin.  If I may make a suggestion, why not have some fun at the expense of our favorite motor racing TV commentators?  The NBC Sports crew of Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett, and Will Buxton have been doing a great job all season, and their expertise has helped me convert many of my friends and family members into F1 fandom.  I respect and admire the work they do, which is why I’ve compiled a set of rules for using their on-air habits to get terrifically hammered.  So grab some friends, pour yourself a glass of beer or wine, and give it a shot this weekend.


Basic rules:

Only play the F1 On NBC Drinking Game if you’re legally allowed to consume alcohol.  Don’t attempt to drive a Formula One car, or any other vehicle, after playing the game.  Note that for the purposes of this game, a “drink” refers to a sip of your beverage of choice.


Take 1 drink every time:

-Leigh Diffey uses “fight,” “scrap,” or “battle” to describe two cars or teams in close competition for position.

-David Hobbs starts or ends a sentence by saying, “There’s no doubt about it.”

-Steve Matchett refers to a set of tires as being the “har-DER” or “sof-TER of the two compounds.”

-Will Buxton asks a rhetorical question while reporting from the pit lane.


Take 2 drinks every time:

-Leigh has to promote an NBC program that has nothing to do with motor racing.

-David refers to a driver as “poor old [insert name here].”

-Steve draws all over a slow motion or thermal camera shot with the telestrator.

-Will makes a reference to GP2, GP3, or another junior racing series.


Take 3 drinks every time:

-Leigh mentions a famous relative of one of the drivers.

-David points out that Nico Hulkenberg deserves to drive for a team with more resources.

-Steve comes up with a simple metaphor to describe an incredibly complex aerodynamic or mechanical concept.

-Will starts a video segment while standing next to an attractive woman.


Advanced rules:

-If Will’s microphone malfunctions during an interview, everyone must drink until either it’s fixed or the director gives up and has one of the studio hosts stall for time.

-If Steve appears in the studio wearing a tie that isn’t blue with a pattern on it, everyone must finish whatever they’re currently drinking to celebrate such a rare occasion.

-If the world feed shows a Caterham or Marussia that isn’t crashing, being lapped, or trying to set a fast time at the end of Q1, the drinking game is over and everyone wins.  (Except, of course, for the Caterham and Marussia drivers)

-Feel free to add and remove rules as you see fit.  Most importantly, sit back, relax, and enjoy some proper motor racing this Sunday afternoon.


Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter.
Nov 082013

As I write this week’s article, I find myself drinking my own beer. Yes, you heard me, my own homebrewed beer. I’d imagine a few decades ago this would have been a pretty rare thing to come by. Most craft breweries were just getting their start in this country around that time and these beers were hard to come by, let alone finding someone that made their own. Today, it seems like everyone at least knows somebody that crafts their own version of suds. There is no doubt that the industry is booming, both in the professional and amateur markets. In the manifesto, we talked about some of the many choices we were faced with. Us beer drinkers find ourselves overwhelmed with choices. The shelves upon shelves of colorful glass, artsy labels, dark and light, full body or clear and crisp, flashing signs, catchy phrases – it’s enough to make a man go crazy! But don’t get discouraged, there is hope. You, yes you, can make your own beer and it’s actually a quite simple process when broken down into its basic elements. So let’s dive in:

Beer is composed of 4 basic ingredients: Water, Hops, Barley and Yeast. Now you might be saying “Now hold on a sec, my super pumpkin vanilla spice oak barrel aged stout definitely has some more ingredients in it than that”, and you would be correct my friend. But in its very basic form, you only need those 4 elements. (See? I told you it’s a lot simpler than you thought.)

Water: The sustenance that everything in this world needs. And it is the building block of beer. The pirates drank beer because water was dangerous. Without a way to sanitize it, beer was the next best thing. Although there wasn’t much concept of cleanliness and microbiology, the pirates were still badass. So if they said that beer is better than water, then I say beer is better than water!

Hops: Ok, before you say “Oh, I’ve got this”, hear me out. I know the recent boom of I.P.A’s has created a hop-fanatic in all of us, but believe it or not, hops provide some other added benefits. (For those of you that don’t know, IPA is short for India Pale Ale, and it is known for its hoppy, bitter character). Hops not only add that distinctive floral sent, but they also act as a mild preservative and aid in head retention. This means that your picturesque white frothy head won’t fizzle out the second that the barkeep pours you a tall one. Of course, the glass has to be properly washed too, but I’ll leave that one to your local watering hole.


Barley: Barley is extremely important. This is what gives beer its body, flavor profiles, texture, sweetness, and it provides the vital food for the yeast. Barley is grown and harvested, and then requires kilning. This is a process that requires an expert. The barley must be allowed to germinate, but only to a certain point. It is then roasted at precise temperatures to stop the growth process. When this is soaked in hot water, the barley releases sugars, which can then be used to feed the yeast.


Yeast: The final ingredient. When all is mashed and mixed and boiled and cooled, the yeast is added (or pitched). Brewer’s yeast is a single-cell microorganism that feasts on sugar, pees alcohol, farts CO2, replicates millions of times and repeats. It adds some flavor profiles to the beer, and you drink it every time you crack open a cold one. Needless to say it is a fantastic little beast.

And that’s all, folks. Those are all the ingredients that go into beer. We have plenty of time to discuss some of those interesting additive and adjunct ingredients that get thrown in, but it in its most basic state, beer is quite simple. Next time, we’ll talk about the home-brewing process. But for now, crack open a cold one, and take a second to think about the awesome science project that is going on in your glass.



Shark Puppet Pub is written by Chris Zaccaria.  You can start a drunken argument over his taste in beer on Twitter
Nov 062013

Way back when I was in high school (and dinosaurs roamed the earth), there was a mythical idea floating around within groups of awkward teenage geeks.  “Imagine,” we would whisper, “if the school library had… manga.”  Fueled by wild rumors that some school in some town in some state had started lending out volumes of Death Note or Dragon Ball, our minds would spin with possibilities.  Just think: a way to read all the manga we wanted without shelling out ten bucks per volume, and we wouldn’t even have to camp out in the graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble or deal with the awful grammar of pirated online translations.  Of course, it never happened in my school, and the legendary “Shelf of Unlimited Manga” remained an unfulfilled dream.

Countless eons later, enter the new online manga service from Crunchyroll.  I’ve been a paying subscriber on this particular anime streaming site for around two years now, and they’ve been doing a remarkable job of offering a huge number of simulcasts every season.  Frankly, they’re the primary reason Shark vs Anime is able to stay current with its reviews.  So naturally, I was curious to see how they intend to handle publishing manga online.


Read ALL the things!

As far as content goes, the catalog of titles isn’t huge, but a there is a nice variety of genres.  Some of the series appear to be quite good as well, and I’ve already found myself binging on the manga version of Space Brothers.  My biggest gripe thus far is that some titles have a significant gap between the current chapter and the available back issues.  I’d like to see the site fill in the back catalogs for their titles, since it’s awfully hard to follow a series that skips two dozen chapters.  Still, it’s a promising start.

On technical terms, I’m impressed with the performance of the service considering it’s only just launched.  Text is legible and translations are good, and I’ve only found one typo in around 50 chapters so far.  I’d be happy with that level of quality in a print title.  The service is stable, and the resolution is good enough to look good, even on my desktop’s enormous 27-inch monitor.  There’s a mobile app as well, which is free and functional.  Fast readers will be frustrated by occasionally slow load times, especially during peak evening hours.  I also ran into a couple of bugs with the Android app, but a recent update seems to have stabilized things a bit.


Not sure if the chapter progress bar limits or encourages binge-reading.

Given that the manga service is included with the all-access subscription that I already pay for, the value proposition for me is excellent.  I’m essentially getting more stuff while paying the same amount.  If you’ve been on the fence about subscribing in the past, the addition of manga to the site adds to the appeal, but it’s not a huge gain at the moment.  There’s just not quite enough content as of yet to justify jumping in for the manga service alone.  On the other hand, Crunchyroll’s anime catalog started out just as small, and now it’s become downright enormous.

At present, the promise is outperforming the product to some extent.  I love the idea of paying a small amount of money a month to be able to sample a wide variety of titles that I’d never have the budget to buy individually.  Just in the process of writing this article, I’ve already come across a couple of series that I’m tempted to read in their entirety.  There’s potential for a solid new business model for manga here, and Crunchyroll’s success with anime simulcasts leads me to give them the benefit of the doubt.  It’s worth seeing where this project goes, and I hope it will eventually give me a virtual version of the mythical Shelf of Unlimited Manga.


Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime on Twitter.
Nov 052013

To say that Pokémon X & Y was a highly anticipated game is probably an understatement. Pair that with the fact that it pushed most of the people I know to spend a couple hundred bucks on a 3DS and expectations were pretty high. Oh yeah, and let’s not forgot they added a whole new type of Pokémon with the Eevee evolution Sylveon to exhibit it. So, let’s get into Pokémon X & Y.

Like all Pokémon games, X & Y begins when some professor says go study Pokémon. Of course your mom is cool with it so off you go to explore Kalos with 4 of your new friends. Kalos, the new region in the game, is based on France as is evidenced by Lumiose City: which has an Eiffel Tower, a snobby boutique and more cafes than I have ever seen. While on your travels you meet the nefarious Team Flare. However unlike some of the previous teams in other Pokémon games, Team Flare is legitimately terrifying. Without giving any spoilers their methods include kidnapping and Pokémon torture.


While fighting Team Flare you are also on a mission from Professor Sycamore to study a new concept known as Mega Evolution. Mega Evolution is just one of the new features Pokémon X & Y brought to the table. When some Pokémon hold a stone, they have the ability to become even more awesome in battle. Absol’s Mega Evolution grows wings and Charizard turns black and spouts blue flames. Not all Pokémon can mega evolve and some of these evolutions aren’t so impressive as much as agonizing, but watching your Pokémon mega evolve in battle definitely makes you feel like a badass.

Another big change in X & Y was the animation of the actual Pokémon battles. Now during battle each move has a full animation. My personal favorite is tail whip where the Pokémon essentially twerks at his/her opponent. However, watching Espurr use leer is especially haunting. Grinding is much less tedious when you can actually see the full badassery your Pokémon are capable of.


While Pokémon Black and White introduced triple battles and rotation battles, X & Y  introduces horde battles. Unlike rotation and triple battles, horde battles only happen in the wild and not while fighting another trainer. In horde battles one of your Pokémon is pitted against five wild Pokémon, usually of the same breed. These enemies are usually a much lower level than your Pokémon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these battles are any easier. Only getting to attack one Pokémon at a time while the other four attempt to decimate you can get old fast.

In addition to the in game changes, X & Y added a bunch of new features and mini games that you can play separately from the game itself. Two of these are Pokémon-Amie and Strength Training. Pokémon-Amie is essentially Nintendogs. You can feed your Pokémon treats, pet them and play mini games with them. Each of these things makes your bond with your Pokémon stronger. This is particularly useful for Pokémon who evolve based on attention and love, such as the aforementioned Sylveon. Strength Training allows you to EV train all your Pokémon. By playing mini games with your Pokémon you can boost their Speed, HP, Attack, Special Attack, Defense and Special Defense base stats. It is incredibly useful when trying to build out your team’s cohesion.

The biggest change to the Pokémon universe probably lies in the online component. You can now use street pass to battle passersby on the street or connect to your wireless at home and battle your friends, or virtually anyone all over the world. With the ability to see anyone and everyone online Pokémon X & Y also added a lot of character customization. Most of the towns and cities in Kalos have boutiques selling different clothes and accessories. In Lumiose City you have the ability to change your hair, eye color and make up. To exhibit this customization each trainer is encouraged to film a PR video, which any passersby or friends can view. The online connectivity also paves the way for potential downloadable content or updates for the game. This was extremely useful when there was a bug that did not allow you to save without corrupting the entire game.

After the major disappointment that was Pokémon Black and White 2 this game definitely delivered. There didn’t seem to be any disappointments with the new features and the online component helped to push Pokémon even further into the realm of social gaming. While there were some complaints that the game ran a little short, there was enough to do to stretch out the gameplay and add replay value.


Review by Ayla Kaluski. 
Nov 052013

I am a die-hard Disney theme park fan, having visited Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California countless times with my parents and sister for family vacations.

But this week I did something different. On Sunday I spent a day at Disneyland with Mega64, my favorite video game-themed comedy group on the Internet.

And it was awesome.

Disneyland is something of a tradition for Mega64, especially with the team’s leader Rocco Botte holding an annual pass and possibly splurging all of his disposable income on collectible “Vinylmation” figurines (which I’ll get into a bit more later). And while the primary focus of Mega64’s comedy is acting out video game scenarios to an unsuspecting public, they also shoot some hilarious skits at the theme park. After releasing one such skit in 2009 that poked fun at a particular annual group meeting at Disneyland, “GameDays” became the group’s annual fan gathering, and it’s been growing in numbers every year: we estimated 300 fans showed up to meet Mega64 at Disneyland this past Sunday.


And what amazed me was how easily the group managed to devote time toward interacting with all 300 of their fans. I met with every member of Mega64 for different periods of time; I had a brief chat on the Fantasyland docks with Derrick Accosta, and later had a conversation with Garrett Hunter and Shawn Chatfield before we took a massive group photo in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Later on, I had dinner with Shawn then rode all of the rides in Adventureland with Shawn and Rocco. We spent 15 hours total at Disneyland, and throughout the day all the guys from Mega64 were very energetic and friendly. I could tell Mega64 truly admires their fans, never appearing too exhausted from trying to meet with everybody.

Since GameDays as an event started three years ago, Mega64 has incorporated tons of traditions that, let’s just say, enhance the Disneyland experience. On Sunday, for the first time, I took part in the GameDays staple, “No-Hands Autopia.” Now I’ve been on plenty of those slow-moving gas-powered pedal car rides before, but I always carefully steered so my car didn’t violently bump into the steel railing it runs along. But that’s not how this GameDays tradition works. Rocco, playing the Tyler Durden to my Ed Norton, told me to ride Autopia without touching the steering wheel. In summary: I’m never riding Autopia the same way again.



Contrary to what I said in the video, Autopia was far from being our last GameDays activity. As I mentioned, Rocco is an avid figure collector and particularly enjoys posting videos to his personal channel in which he unboxes “Vinylmations,” a line of blind bag figurines sold at Disney parks that is growing in popularity. I never got in on the fad… until I saw Rocco’s videos from last GameDays. Then I knew I had to join him for Vinylmation unboxing later that night. Other fans apparently had the same idea as me. Rocco noted that past GameDays had very low-key Vinylmation unboxings later that night. This year, at least 40 people followed Rocco to a store in Tomorrowland, where the managers had to haul several palettes of Vinylmation boxes out from the back to satisfy the horde. Normally at this time of night at Disneyland, I’m watching the fireworks fly above Sleeping Beauty Castle from a Main Street sidewalk. On Sunday night, I could barely make out the booms of exploding fireworks over the energetic shouting of a group of Mega64 fans sharing a thrilling experience, opening their overpriced blind bag figurines, cheering whenever a rare figure was unboxed or booing when one of Rocco’s least favorite figures showed itself in the crowd.


My last ride of the night was the Disneyland classic, the Jungle Cruise. Past rides on the Jungle Cruise found me forcing myself to laugh out of courtesy after every lame pun my skipper made. Riding with Rocco was a whole different ball game: the boat, full of Mega64 fans, laughed obnoxiously loud at each of our skipper’s corny jokes. I’ll never forget when the boat roared the loudest. We were all preparing to laugh hard at the infamous joke of the Jungle Cruise, when your boat travels behind a man-made waterfall and your skipper marvels at “The Eighth Wonder of the World… the backside of water!” We were pleasantly surprised when our skipper swapped the line, instead praising a rock formation on the other side of the boat instead of the waterfall. I like to think that we made that Jungle Cruise skipper’s night by laughing so hard at his jokes. Toward the end of the cruise, it was clear he was getting a little more energetic about saying the same redundant lines for the umpteenth time.

I had an entirely different experience from what I am normally used to visiting Disneyland for GameDays. Hanging out with Mega64 and their fans felt more like an experience I get at any geek convention. We were a close-knit community of 300 people celebrating a fandom and making fun experiences that couldn’t have been enjoyed in any other context. I talked to so many people whom I had never met prior (Mega64 themselves included), and because we all watched tons of Mega64 videos and podcasts, it was incredibly easy to socialize with one another thanks to that common bond. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever come back to Southern California, but if GameDays is happening next time I’m here you know I’m buying a ticket.


To the Mega64 gang and the masses of fans: thank you all for making GameDays 2013 one of my most memorable visits to the Happiest Place on Earth.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Nov 042013

It goes without saying that Forza Motorsport was one of the biggest racing franchises on the Xbox 360, so it makes plenty of sense that the latest version is a launch title for the Xbox One.  A new console generation offers better graphics, more computing power, and more use of the word “more” by PR executives than ever before.  Forza Motorsport 5 is boasting some shiny new features, too, including an evil robot version of yourself that can race against your friends when you’re offline.  But for all the impressive things the folks at Turn 10 Studios have done over the years, there are a few features I’m still waiting to see in a Forza game.




PGR4 came out six years ago. Where’s my damn rain, Turn 10?

Unlike certain unnamed ball sports, motor racing doesn’t stop every time there’s a light drizzle.  Some of the most famous races in history have been decided in the pouring rain, so it makes sense that driving games would have the option of opening the heavens and dumping water down on the track.  The F1 games from Codemasters have had dynamic weather for years, and Project Gotham Racing 4 did it even earlier.  So why, I ask you, is one of the world’s top racing simulators incapable of throwing anything stronger than “partly cloudy” at gamers?  Think of the possibilities for weather-based race events, and the wealth of car setup challenges presented by a wet track.  If there’s any crowd ready to embrace racing in the rain, it’s the fanatical gearheads who buy the Forza games.


Track editor


All is want is to combine Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka. Is that so much to ask?

I spent countless hours of my life pounding around Suzuka and Sebring in FM4, but I inevitably ran out of steam and retired it to the game shelf.  It wasn’t the car selection that ran short, nor was it the variety of events that failed to keep me engaged.  No, the thing that always wears out my patience the fastest in Forza games is the tracks.  Turn 10 can only lovingly re-create so many iconic tracks in the digital world, so why not let the community have a go at doing the rest?  Gamers have already displayed amazing creativity in Forza car customization, and games from Trials Evolution to Halo 4 have shown what a level editor can do for a title’s longevity.  If a tiny motorcycle game can give us a way to make our own devious courses, surely the mighty Forza Motorsport can do the same.


Co-op career mode


Co-op endurance racing. You know you want it.

As a fan of team-based motorsports in real life, this one is perhaps nearest and dearest to my heart.  Get two gamers together, give them a series of races and a limited budget, and let them take on the best the newly improved AI has to offer.  Better yet, take advantage of the split between setup gurus and driving prodigies and let one gamer work on the cars and race strategies while another puts them to the test around the track.  In a game that’s all about shouting at the TV with your car-crazy friends, a co-op mode would be a blast.  You hear me, Turn 10?  Make it happen, you mad geniuses.


Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter.