Comic Review, Graphic-novel Review, Mouse & Controller

The Walking Dead: A Story about Zombies that’s Actually Interesting?

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I assume that most of you are familiar with ‘The Walking Dead’ television show, since it’s become so popular that it actually spun off a whole new show, ‘Fear The Walking Dead’, despite still being on air. I’m not here to talk to you about the shows though, I’m here to talk to you about the source material, which is a graphic novel series by the same name.

Just in case you’ve somehow missed all the hype, ‘The Walking Dead’ is written by Robert Kirkman, who is also an acting producer for ‘The Walking Dead’ show, and is currently on its 151st issue and still going strong. To put that in perspective, that’s about 2 or 3 seasons ahead of the show if not more.

Photo Credit: psacard.com

Photo Credit: psacard.com

Leaving all that behind though, let’s look at the graphic novels as the independent work that they are. The story follows Rick Grimes, a small town Georgia sheriff, as the zombie apocalypse takes place and he tries his best to keep himself and his family alive. It is at this point that you might start to zone out since it’s more yapping about the zombie apocalypse in a world saturated with them.

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Photo Credit: comixology.co.uk

Please, come back, ‘The Walking Dead’ is different- it isn’t actually about zombies. It’s actually a character-driven story about extremely morally grey decisions and the true nature of human beings. The zombies are just a plot device to move the story along. Don’t take that to mean that its boring though, there are tons of fantastical characters, settings and situations from samurai sword wielding black women to walled suburban utopias and so, so much more.

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Photo Credit: comixology.co.uk

What really hooked me with the series though, despite being a total novice to graphic novels, is that it’s set in modern times. It’s not set in some far off alien planet, the characters aren’t snarky billionaires or deities from other universes; they are just regular people like you and me. Well, maybe regular people like you. This essentially makes all the characters extremely relatable because it’s just another person and you can really let yourself go and be in the moment and empathize with the situation and then experience extreme satisfaction or horror, based on the characters decisions in those situations and your own internal moral compass.

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Photo Credit: comixology.co.uk

This is besides the solid art, that much like everything else in the series isn’t exaggerated for the sake of being exaggerated. Yes, I know, there are constant scenes of hyper violence, but this is the post apocalypse people, get with the times.

All of this slammed together is what makes ‘The Walking Dead’ graphic novel a must read in my opinion. I started off by actually watching the show, but once I delved into the series I just couldn’t stop and then I got so far ahead of the show that it kind of became pointless to watch. For all you show watchers out there, make sure to keep an eye out for Lucille, for everyone else, get to reading this series.

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Board-game Review, Game Review, Mouse & Controller, Reviews, The Good, the cool and the awesome., worth sharing

Here’s a game that will actually make you use your smartphone to socialize: The Jackbox Party Pack 2

Photo Credit: leaguegaming.com

While not exactly being a board game, Jackbox Party Pack 2 definitely fills a number of criteria that pretty much makes it the same thing since you need to have a group of people in one place to actually get the most fun out of the experience.

With that said, Jackbox Party Pack 2 doesn’t actually have any physical parts to hold on to since it’s a videogame. But that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best party games that I’ve ever seen people play. Now, while thus far I’ve been referring to this edition of Jackbox in a singular form when it’s actually multiple games contained under a single umbrella.
Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

The unique draw of all the games in Jackbox is their highly interactive nature. While you’ll have to do a bit of wire connecting to hook your computer up to your television to start off, once you have that you’ll notice that all the games will have you all using your phones, an object usually used to isolate yourself from others, to actually play all the games making it extremely easy to just learn any of the games and hop in and out of them.

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

My personal favorite of the five is Fibbage, a 2-8 player trivia game that has you guessing for correct answers while throwing off the other players with fake answers and I’m sure you can imagine the chaos with up to 7 other players and the game trying to trick you. While this game starts off with people actually trying to win, by the end of the night, and this is where the fun really starts the game, just descends into people trying to get the most laughs with their fake answers.

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

A close second to Fibbage is Bidiots, a drawing-based game of 3 to 6 players that has you bidding against one another over the ownership of pieces of magnificent art that you are asked to all draw before the game starts. The catch is none of you really knows what all the pieces are worth so it’s all very cloak and dagger. Much like Fibbage, the fun starts when people stop taking it seriously and start getting really creative with the drawing, but that’s entirely depending on how creative your group of friends really are.

Jackbox2

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

Those two games alone are enough to sell the game in my opinion, but on top of that you’ve got three more games. Bomb Corp, a four player game that has you cooperatively diffusing bombs with each player only being given part of the instructions. Earwax, a game based entirely around creating funny sound bites. Lastly, Quiplash a kind of digital version of ‘Cards Against Humanity’ that has you coming up with creative answers to fill in the blanks of prompts and then voting for the best one.

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

Photo Credit: store.xbox.com

At the end though, I can’t overstate the amount of fun that is to be had here. With a price tag of only 70 SR and that’s when it’s not on sale, you can grab this bunch of games off steam and have an epic time getting creative and learning how terrible your friends really are.

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Reviews

How about you get a real game on your phone?

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I really didn’t want to like Hearthstone when I started playing it while it was still in Beta, I wanted to hate on it; I wanted it to be lame. In the end, I couldn’t though. I not only liked it, but I’m a pretty big advocate of it when it comes to its specific genre. I just feel it succeeded where so many had come before it and failed, or totally missed the point of what they were trying to do. As a quick testament to that, I just want to tell you that some of my friends who actually like this game absolutely hate all collectible card games out of both experience and principle – being too nerdy.

I should actually attempt to explain what the game is though before I get any further into how much I like it. Hearthstone is a free-to-play collectible card game developed and published by the folks over at Blizzard Entertainment. While initially only being available on PC and only on Windows, the game can now be found on all Android and iOS devices as well and is perhaps one of the best-optimized games for the mobile platform I’ve ever seen. The game itself, as is stated in its own marketing materials and promo videos, is designed entirely in homage to Magic: The Gathering a real collectible card game that has influenced and been a part of geek culture for decades. It is now that I hear you say, “But, Magic: The Gathering already has a videogame? Why don’t I play that instead?” well that’s because it sucks and as a videogame it just doesn’t even compare to Hearthstone.

The music and art style that dominates Hearthstone is essentially lifted from Blizzard’s world famous franchise ‘Warcraft’, so if you liked that then you are definitely going to like this game. The characters, cards, music, maps and sound effects are all true to the ‘Warcraft’ franchise, they aren’t jammed into anything that doesn’t actually feel natural or true to the inspiration material the game is attempting to use. If you are not familiar with the ‘Warcraft’ franchise, then where have you been? Living under a rock or something? I joke of course; the main thing that will help us to visualize the art style in the game is that they have a very cartoony feel to them. While the music has a very grandiose feel to it in its focus to make sure that you don’t forget how epic this little card battle you are having with a friend or random person really is.

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Those parts aren’t what make this game great though. They are just the icing on top on an immaculately made cake. The core of Hearthstone is its card mechanics, variety and the freedom it allows you to have. The basic structure of the game has you controlling a hero of your choice (out of the 9 currently available) with their own special power, a 30 card deck that at first is made for you and later on can be made from scratch by you. The pace of the game is remarkably fast and it’s pretty clear this is something the designers wanted in the game. They didn’t want the game to get to out of control though, which is what the game’s mana crystals are there to do, they set the pace of the game by being the power source used to the pay the cost of the cards you want to play. You start off with one crystal and are given one by the game at the start of every turn until you reach a total of ten. I could keep going on and on about the game’s mechanics in detail, but I think I need to stop here as you should have a basic idea of what the game is and I don’t want to bog you down with too many details.

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Before I end, I want to mention a few last points. While it’s not fair to compare it to other mobile games because it has a massive company backing it, it does bare mentioning that Hearthstone routinely gets new free content in the form of both single player campaigns and new card sets every few months. This essentially means whole new strategies and game elements to learn and play with every now and again making sure things never get stale. It’s all this, that makes Hearthstone a tense and incredibly strategic battle between two players with strategies unique to them and their individual card collection. The sheer randomness that forces you to think is what makes Hearthstone a great videogame and something you need to have on your phone.

 

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Mobile Game Review, Mouse & Controller, Reviews

Mobile Game Review: Osmos

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I’m doing Osmos as a bit of a lighter review, (I’ve been on a writing binge) and I think this one is going to be the twenty first one. It’s a little on the nose though, writing a relaxing review of a game designed to be relaxing.

Osmos; a puzzle game developed by Hemisphere Games as a mobile game primarily and no surprise it’s available on all Andriod and iOS devices, but it is also available on the PC. I don’t know if it was because of my fat fingers or something though, but I preferred playing it on my PC using my mouse, as opposed to using my hand on a tablet.

This game is a good damn work of art. Visually, it’s designed to look quite similar to bacteria being examined through a microscope, but here there is a bit more attention to artistic detail and color consistency. Each of the spheres look like slowly pulsating orbs of different colors and shapes and it’s all very hypnotic. The music is composed to match this hypnotic experience with some of the most relaxing ambient music I have ever heard in any game. The music is so relaxing that it really wouldn’t be strange if you find it getting played in a new age yoga class.

Looking beyond the beauty, the game is quite solid. While it is a puzzler, its primary mechanics are physics and the use of the various forces of motion to actually guide your orbs to success. The game has three main sections; one where all the orbs are sentient, one where centripetal motion is the primary force in the levels and another where the orbs are mostly still with the exception of the players orb which you can push by ejecting a part of your orb in the opposite direction that they want to go. The only consist thing between all of these levels is that the way to win is for the player to absorb smaller orbs, growing larger and larger, until they are pretty much the largest object on the map.

Osmos is a pretty decent game; it looks good, it sounds good, it plays well and it’s a very unique experience. I personally had more stressful moments playing the game as opposed to relaxing ones, but that might just be because of my fat fingers. I still would recommend that you get it though.

 

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Mouse & Controller, Reviews

Zombies: Why We Love Them So

Photo Credit: huffingtonpost.com

I am a massive fan of zombies; zombie movies, zombie graphic novels and zombie videogames. If it has zombies, then I want to get my hands on it. We’re not here to talk about my personal fascination with these particular monsters though. We’re here to talk about our collective cultural obsession with zombies and how they have managed to stay not only relevant, but to actually being an active piece of popular culture.

Photo Credit: eviltender.com

Photo Credit: eviltender.com

Now, most people trace back zombies as a monster to George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ which came out in 1968. Despite being quite successful, this assertion is incorrect in both regards to movies, as there was an earlier zombie movie in the 1930s called ‘White Zombie’, as well as the actual presence of zombies in culture as a whole prior to that point.

Photo Credit: doctormacro.com

Photo Credit: doctormacro.com

The whole concept of the ‘Undead’ has been around since time immemorial. Vampires, demons and ghosts all fall under that larger label, however, I will be pointing out clear examples of zombies in culture and not just use of the vague label of ‘Undead’. The earliest reference that can be found is actually the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, a slightly closer and more popular example is Frankenstein’s Monster and finally there is the work of H.P. Lovecraft which created a massive world that not only included zombies and pretty much anything that is associated with the horror genre as a whole. These aren’t single isolated points though, they are just a few popular touch points that I simply chose to demonstrate that zombies have all been with us, there are tons of much tinier-like mummies which are pretty much just ethnic zombies and there is the whole aspect of zombies as a piece of west African and Caribbean culture.

Photo Credit: sjcpl.lib.in.us

Photo Credit: sjcpl.lib.in.us

With the constant presence of the concept of zombies established, I’d like to hurry us along to why they have become such a massive part of current popular culture. The reason that is obvious to me, at first glance, is that they are a really easy enemy to use as they can so easily be killed guilt-free and require no characterization and as a result they provide the audience will guilt-free violence. Another reason is that zombies involve the breakdown of society so it deals with the hatred of consumerism, technology and society as a whole at the same time so it satisfies a number of anxieties that people may have while returning them to a world where “real” skills become valuable again and they revert to a time more akin to the “old days”. To round it all off, zombies still are monsters, they are creatures that represent and are a key part of the horror genre and that in itself is a massive part of culture that people love because we all get a thrill from being scared.

Photo Credit: digg.com

Photo Credit: digg.com

At this point though, zombies have kind of come full circle, they have become so popular that they’re actually cliché at this point. They’re in everything, movies, videogames and music. The only thing that’s keeping them alive (pun super intended) is the fact that they are an enemy that people can project their hatred on and cause them to represent anything. Their creative use is also probably giving them a little more longevity as a part of popular culture with ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Pride, Prejudice and Zombies’ and ‘World War Z’ being some of my favorite examples with zombies being used as a plot device, cannon fodder and a catalyst for problems of society respectively.

It is this flexibility and perhaps the sheer historic weight of the concept of zombies that has kept them with us thus far and will mostly likely keeping them going in the spotlight for a lot longer than they probably should.

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Mouse & Controller, TECH

Can you make a living off E-Sports

Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Growing up with Middle Eastern parents, I was near constantly badgered regarding the amount of time I spent playing videogames. I kept playing and they kept telling me to get off the computer.

One of their go-to decisions to get me off the computer was joking about how maybe when i grew up i could play videogames for a living. It was a joke; and to some extent it was one I bought into as well. Even a simple career in the videogame industry seemed like a long shot, because even though I knew that videogame testers existed as a job, I also knew that there weren’t that many positions open and that those positions had incredibly long hours.

That entire outlook on the subject can’t be maintained anymore though. In the last few years, E-Sports has really taken off, not only in popularity, but as an entire industry. What used to be a fringe occurrence, mostly confined to South Korea, has spread across the entire planet.

I could take you through an extremely long and boring history of the development of E-Sports over the last twenty years; detailing the games and players that almost single-handedly brought us to this point in time. However, that isn’t what we are here for; we are here to illustrate how E-Sports has become the place where the money is at, and in massive, massive scrooge McDuck piles.

Photo Credit: eslgaming.com

Photo Credit: eslgaming.com

The biggest example of this would be the Dota 2 International, which is an annual tournament held by Valve, which brings in teams from all around to compete over an ever-increasing prize pool. In the 2015 edition of the tournament, the total prize pool was in fact 18.4 million dollars. The winning team this year, was given 6.6 million dollars to divide up amongst themselves; what that meant was that in a team of five people each member received around 1.3 million dollars each. That is simply insane; there are people who will go their entire life not having made that kind of money and here are five guys that made that money over a weekend playing a videogame.

You might still be lacking a bit of perspective though, 1.3 million dollars made over a weekend is a lot of money, but that doesn’t make e-sports legitimate as a potential career goal. Let me correct that, by comparing the income athletes receive from their respective tournaments, with the prize money that was collected in the last Dota 2 International. The World Cup; the world’s “biggest” sporting event, only gave the winning team (Germany) in 2014, a total of 35 million dollars. Now while that is a much larger total amount, none of that 35 million is given directly to the players; it goes to the federation. What the players actually received for winning the world cup was 408,000 USD each, which is a mere pittance compared to the individual haul from the Dota 2 tournament.

Photo Credit: thegameawards.com

Photo Credit: thegameawards.com

Now, just to make you a little sad as well, the payout for winning the Abdul Latif Jameel League here in Saudi Arabia only pays out 8.2 million riyals to the winning team, that’s essentially what two of the winning team members from the Dota 2 International made.

As I think I’ve demonstrated, there is a lot of money to be made here. Not just in terms of e-sports vs. a normal career, but also in terms of e-sports vs. actual athletic sports. What can you do though? There can’t possibly be a way for you to reach this heights of gaming stardom, you would be totally wrong though. A great local example would be Abdulaziz Al-Shehri; the current Fifa Interactive World Cup champion or maybe you would prefer Abdullatif Al-Hilmi, who is not only the runner-up Evo champion (the world’s largest fighting game championship), but he has actually won it. Don’t let these local examples get your hopes up though; nothing these guys or anything the people I mentioned before them do, is easy.

Yes, there is a ton of money to be made here. Tournaments just keep getting bigger and bigger, year after year. More and more people tune in to watch these tournaments and they are broadcasted on an increasing number of channels and networks. I just don’t want to send a whole bunch of people on a wild goose chase, as they attempt to start their gaming careers thinking that it’s easy. Aside from needing some actual talent, you are going to have to put in tons of hours just to be mediocre, trust me I know. I played League of Legends for money a few years ago and it’s a massive time commitment, but hey, if you don’t trust me, maybe you’ll trust the documentary that Valve made regarding some of the most prominent player of Dota 2.

If you really want to give it a go, maybe start small in a few local tournaments here and there, before doing something crazy.

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Mobile Game Review, Mouse & Controller, Reviews

Mobile Game Review: Sky Force

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As the giant image above this paragraph can clearly show you, this review is going to be about Sky Force.


The game is a freemium mobile game, designed by a Polish development studio: Infinite Dreams. You should be able to find it on all mobile app stores, regardless of the operating system you are using. I personally got it via the Google Play store on my Note 4.

Photo Credit: play.google.com

Photo Credit: play.google.com

The game is pretty much a “bullet hell” game; where you get to control a single plane as it flies across a hostile map facing enemies from the air, ground and sea. To me, it felt like a perfect recreation of the old arcade “bullet hell” games experience, and as a result it really activated my nostalgia gland. Just zipping around the screen, as your plane automatically fires bullets and missiles everywhere and things exploding left and right just felt correct. It felt like being covered in a nice warm blanket; like getting into bed after being sleep deprived for hours, you get what I’m trying to say here. The huge power weapons, while limited, do feel massively impactful although they aren’t as fantastical as the old power weapons on those “bullet hell” arcade games.

Photo Credit: play.google.com

Photo Credit: play.google.com

Of course since this game is a freemium game, there are some pretty terrible things going on when you take a look inside. You only have a set number of lives to use before you have to wait for them to refill, every time you buy an upgrade for your plane you have to wait for it to be installed. I’ve personally reached a point where it takes over an hour for power ups to actually take effect once I buy them and, of course, there are micro-transactions. The worst of them are the ones to buy in-game using actual currency. I was honestly surprised that the amount you are asked to pay in order to get rid of all the ads in the game was almost ten dollars. I can get two games for that price on my actual computer, and if I wait for a summer sale on Steam I can actually get a bunch of games for that kind of money.

Photo Credit: colourlovers.com

Photo Credit: colourlovers.com

I hate playing freemium games, but I have to say that this game scratches a lot of the right spots for me. It’s solid, it feels satisfying once you get through a level and the fact that there is a pretty extensive upgrade system and four difficulty levels for every level; means there is a ton of reply value here. I like it; I just can’t bring myself to recommend to people, to play a game that has a business model that is based on micro-transactions.

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Mobile Game Review, Mouse & Controller, Reviews

Mobile Game Review: Hatfall

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I’m reviewing this game as a joke, but I guess that is the point because this game was developed in order to be an actual joke.


Not like a funny ‘haha’ kind of joke, but like a funny ‘look at all those poor people voting for republicans over there even though it’s not in their best interests’ kind of joke.

The game was worked on by the folks at Defy Media, Addicting Games and obviously ‘Yahtzee’ Benjamin Richard Croshaw, the creator of Zero Punctuation, which is the show this game took its visual cues from and one the few sources of videogame media that I actually consume on a regular basis.

The game was designed to be a frantic reaction mobile game, and consequently is only available on Android, iOS phones and various flash game sites across the internet. The mobile app is paid and is a fuller feature version of the game than the flash version. However, you won’t be losing anything major by playing the flash version online for free instead of paying seven to nine riyals for it (That is the price for it on the Saudi Android and iOS markets).

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Due to the game being a frantic reaction game, there isn’t that much depth to it, in terms of gameplay which is normal for games of this type. You are supposed to control a character, run and stand under a falling hat, indicated by a shrinking shadow, in order to pass a level. The levels get progressively harder as you progress with fake characters that look like yours, also running around on the screen are fake deadly objects falling from the sky creating shadows that look exactly like those of the hat. This is amusing for a little while, I only managed to play it for like five minutes before I felt bored which again is very normal for games of this type.

This game is essentially a direct mocking joke made towards most mobile games, if not all games, being made right now. The upgrade system is a joke, the narrative is a joke, the currency is a joke and the events are a joke. It’s all one big inside joke and we’re all supposed to be in on it and that is great. This game is more of a protest against a current trend in games, it rings so true with the values and soul of Zero Punctuation that you can’t call this game anything, but a perfect adaptation of the show, into an interactive experience and I really hope that you give it a try.

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Mobile Game Review, Mouse & Controller, Reviews, TECH

Mobile Game Review: Monument Valley

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Monument Valley is what I would wish all mobiles games to be like, regardless of cost.


The development company Ustwo, the game publisher, created an astoundingly solid game that really should be held as an example to all other mobile games. This puzzle game is available on all mobile phone operating systems, so you have no excuse for not acquiring this game or playing it. You should find it retailing for around SR 15. The sound and graphic design settings are a true testament to minimalistic design. The background music is a very melodic ambient tone that is mostly relaxing, but can get a little annoying as you fanatically tackle figuring out the levels. Graphically, the characters are generally a mix of black or white, with the colors being used for shape definition.

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The truly interesting aspects of this game are the use of graphics and the platform in creating an extremely strong experience for players. The level design is just brilliant, it is like a M.C. Escher painting has come to life. However, unlike those paintings, you can achieve a 360 degree rotation and observe the whole setting from several angles. The levels generally focus on a single mechanic at a time; meaning the puzzles aren’t too intricate and of course the complexity of the mechanics gradually increases as you get further and further in the game. I also thoroughly relished the color allocation and how they were used to signal players, regarding new mechanics and moveable objects in the level. An extremely fluid experience; I don’t remember the game ever stopping for notifications. The design and color use was laid out in such a way, that my finger was just zipping around my phone in an exceptionally natural manner.

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This game was the perfect mesh of platform, game design, color design and game genre; all taken into account simultaneously to create a perfect experience. This faultless game is everything that it should be. It’s worth every penny and should definitely be considered a must-have, as opposed to the free low-standard games that are just drowning the mobile game market (i.e. Candy Crush, Angry Birds, etc.).

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