Thursday, March 26, 2009

Game Brain 3-26-09

Well, my scathing diatribe against those in the Kalamazoo area that didn't attend Video Games Live last week is available over at the Western Herald's Weekend Scene page. Check it out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We'll be right back...

I know you're all dying to see/read news about Video Games Live. Unfortunately, that requires time I don't have right now. I'd like to get a photostream up and do a write up, but academic concerns are more pressing. I'm feeling a lot of anger and bitterness about the mismanagement of course scheduling at my university right now, and I don't want my feelings to spill over into my work/personal life.

So just hang tight for now. I'll work on things incrementally during lunch breaks, etc. I still have a column to write, after all. With the end of April fast approaching, the you-know-what's starting to dribble into the fan. I gotta get back to work.

BTW, VGL was a blast, I can't wait to share it. If ever comes within driving distance of where you live, go see it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The 411 on Fallout 3 DLC

You guys get a special treat today...sort of. For some reason, my column wasn't uploaded to the Western Herald website. You can, however, read my preview of Video Games Live here.

So, here's this week's column in its entirety. Enjoy!

The video game industry’s downloadable content market is a lot like the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3. For every valuable piece of loot and friendly trader you find, there’s a bloodthirsty band of Raiders or a Deathclaw lurking around the next rock.

The analogy is perfect for Fallout 3, a game that continues to offer new content months after its release. The original Fallout 3 is, by itself, a massive game that can be played a million different ways. That depth is compounded by the recent addition of episodic downloadable content.

The first of three planned episodes for Fallout 3 debuted in January. Operation: Anchorage puts players in a military computer simulation that chronicles a key event in the past of the Fallout mythos. Your player character takes part in the Battle of Anchorage, which was fought between the U.S. Army and Chinese Communists in Anchorage, Alaska.

The simulation itself gives players new weapons like the devastating Gauss Rifle, which comes in handy when taking out the ninja-like Chinese Spec Ops soldiers. Speaking of ninjas, the new stealth suit, looking like something out of Metal Gear Solid 4, is unlocked by beating the simulation. Among the rest of the quest’s loot is a special set of Power Armor that never degrades and keeps your insides nice and intact.

While the loot is well worth the computer-simulated Alaskan deathtrap, the journey isn’t as sweet. I’m not sure if this problem exists on the PC version, but little items like ammo and health are frustrating to pick up with control sticks on consoles. A player could spend a whole minute wrangling his thumbs just to grab some ammo.

The biggest problem with Operation: Anchorage is the emphasis on straight-up combat. Stalking through snow-covered trenches ain’t no Call of Duty. Fallout 3’s strength is its blend of exploration, combat, RPG elements and loot. The first person shooting aspect is a weak leg to stand on, and OA puts most of its weight on it. Whether you choose stealth or run-and-gun, your primary focus is killing Chinese soldiers. There’s no meaningful character interaction, moral choices, or equipment customization, all the hallmarks of Fallout 3 gameplay.

I’m not saying that I regret purchasing Operation: Anchorage. I was just a little disappointed with it’s execution. At $20, it’s still a pretty good deal, considering that it’s a little game in and of itself. I would lump OA in with Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and the Damned as the best DLC of the new year thus far. As important as it is for DLC to be good, it must also be appropriately priced. It’s good to see that Bethesda and Rockstar (Fallout 3 and GTA developers, respectively) aren’t going to nickel and dime us for extra content.

Fortunately, Bethesda has a chance to improve their DLC. Two more chances, as a matter of fact. The next expansion is The Pitt, available March 24. This episode takes players out of their familiar Washington DC stomping grounds and into Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, home of a massive slaving operation.

It seems players will be afforded more choices this time around. Will you side with the slaves in overthrowing their Raider overlords? Will you help a desperate character save his cure for mutations? Or just kill everyone with the new Auto Axe, the new multi-bladed instrument of gory death? If Bethesda plays its cards right, we’ll partake of all three several times over.

I’m saving my most fervent anticipation for the third expansion pack, Broken Steel, release date to-be-announced. This episode is important, because it completely rewrites the ending of the game and lifts the level cap that prevents players from gaining skills past Level 20.

Apparently, our buddy from the Vault sides with the Brotherhood of Steel in eradicating the Super Mutant Menace once and for all. This seems to be a bit rosy of an ending for my tastes, but it beats the original ending. I’ll try not to spoil things too much, but the original game ending involves your character’s death. So be sure you have a save game before completing the main quest in case you want to keep exploring the Wasteland. That is, until you buy Broken Steel.

It may seem unfair that all this good stuff is limited only to players who are willing to pay for the game twice over (three downloads at $20 each). Heck, if/when Fallout 3 depreciates in value in a year or so, the DLC will be worth more than the original game.

However, Fallout 3 is a complete and enjoyable game in its own right and can stand alone without additional content. These new episodes are a way to keep veteran players looking for new challenges engaged.

Things could have turned out much worse; Bethesda could have just whipped up some new outfits for your character, a new companion or two and charged gamers out the bunghole for it. But instead, we get three completely new experiences in the wonderful, post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3.

My secret hope is that they release a content pack for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that allows players to customize and name equipment. Imagine pimping out your combat shotgun to fire poison pellets! I could finally make a incendiary ammo-spitting Chinese Assault rifle called Chinese Democracy, or a .32 revolver named Mr. Blasty. It’s not much, but it would make my Fallout experience that much more personal.

Brian Diefenbach, a copy editor and columnist for the Western Herald, is a junior majoring in imaging. He can be reached via e-mail at For more Game Brain, check out

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can't stop the train, baby!

While my professional career and summer internship options are up in the air at the moment, at least one money-making avenue of mine will survive into the next school year. The Western Herald's intrepid Arts editor, Chris Kato, will continue on with the paper next year. He wants to keep my Game Brain column running, and I am more than happy to oblige.

My job as a columnist doesn't pay much, but I've received really cool benefits, like that thing with Miller Auditorium and Tommy Tallarico. And readers at Western and on the Web seem to enjoy it, and we wouldn't want to disappoint them, now would we?

Speaking of which, the Herald's Weekend Scene this week will feature a double dose of your's truly with a two-page spread on Video Games Live and a Game Brain column on Fallout 3 DLC. Stay tuned, I'll post a link later this week.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tommy Tallarico Interview

Check out the Western Herald for my interview with game composer Tommy Tallarico. It's my first article in the regular paper (not the Weekend Scene). I wouldn't call myself a journalist, so don't expect a lot of articles like this in the future. It was tons of fun to do, I hope you all enjoy it. Some good insights.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Game Brain: March 12, 2009

In case anyone's been confused about my references to a print column, I will provide a weekly link over to the Western Herald's website. My column appears in the paper and website weekly, although it's always more exciting to see it in print.

When I can't think of artwork to include with the column, my good friend and fellow copy editor Nosa Osai gets me the hookup. I used to be able to work on the column's page personally, but do to school I can't work Wednesday nights. Even as a control freak, I've been very pleased with the staff's work on my page layout. Heck, the whole paper is pretty darn spiffy.

I like to say: "Papers aren't released: they escape." It's been great fun writing and working for the Herald, especially this coming week with Video Games Live coming to Kalamazoo. My new A&E editor Chris Kato and I will be bringing you guys some special coverage of it. Remember that interview I mentioned earlier this week? Maybe that will show up somewhere...

There's also a ton of my older columns over at the Herald website under the Weekend Scene section. Be sure to read this week's column about the "Golden Age" of video games.

Introducing: Wrecklaimer

You'll notice a new addition to Game Brain's contributions. My younger brother Kevin, a.k.a. Wrecklaimer, has joined the crew as a web designer.

He's done quite a bit of improving on the site, despite his claim to having no experience. He's been able to get a new music player working (with the Game Brain theme) and increase the overall size of the page. I like the narrow, dark theme, but now we have a little more space for pictures and video. Now that I have more room, I need to make a bigger header.

If there's a widget or feature you'd like to see on the main page, please don't hesitate to contact us via email or comment. And if you'd like to contribute your writings, just contact me personally.

So welcome, Wrecklaimer! Thanks for your help, we look forward to your contributions.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

VGL Interview Followup

Interview was a success. You'll probably have to wait till next week to read it at I'm hoping to have one story run in the weekend edition, with the interview in the regular paper.

I'll post it next week as soon as it's up.

DC Wastes: A Photo Essay

Follow the photo to see my Fallout 3 photo essay.

Video Games Live Interview

Later this afternoon, I have a phone interview with Tommy Tallarico, game composer and co-creator of the Video Games Live concert tour.

It's really cool that Mr. Tallarico is taking the time to talk with this humble, small-time video game columnist. Everyone was very helpful in sending me suggestions for questions to ask; I'll be sure to do my best to include them (not sure how much time I have with him).

I was panicking over not having a tape recorder and having to use speakerphone, but I may have a solution. My old MP3 player has a microphone and can record audio tracks. Now, the only problem I have is getting out of my meeting in time for the interview and finding a nice, quiet spot.

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 9, 2009

We're Doomed

Like the Republic of the "Star Wars" universe, renowned video game developer Bioware has fallen into corruption and decadence. They've allied with the greedy LucasArts arm of George Lucas' media empire to crush all innovation and creativity in "Star Wars" games.

Why am I so bitter about "The Old Republic"? More on that later, but first you should check out the content on their website and tell me that they aren't throwing old bits of "Star Wars" into a blender and calling the smoothie a new flavor.

More on this later...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

VGL Preview Coming Soon

I'll be "circumventing" lecture tomorrow to attend a press screening of Video Games Live at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo. There will be a preview of the event in the next Game Brain column (viewable online at Western on Thursday), but I'll try to give you online readers a taste, too. Hopefully, I can get into the concert free on March 20 and do a full review for the paper.

So if any of you are Kalamazoo residents or Western Michigan students, better get those tickets ordered now. Shows in other states have always sold big/out, so get to it.

Click the link to the left to order tickets from Miller Auditorium. Who needs spambots when you got me shilling for them?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage Review

The new winter tile set is a stunning and refreshing change from the DC Ruins.
Operation Anchorage is the first in Bethesda's ambitious campaign to offer regular and worthwhile additions to their magnus opus Fallout 3.  The expansion allows players to participate in the 2066 Battle of Anchorage, in which American forces successful liberated Anchorage, and it's oil, from Chinese invaders.  The distance and time discrepancies are overcome by having players participate virtually in the scenario. 
Your player will encounter a new band of Outcasts who need your help, more specifically your Pip Boy's help in opening a newly discovered weapons cache.  This cache can only be accessed if someone successfully negotiates the virtual's a bit confusing but just set your disbelief aside and go with it.
Once you enter the scenario you'll be treated to a totally different world than the one you've become accustomed to in the DC Ruins.  Mountains, snow and artillery fire dominate this landscape.  It's all beautifully done as you'd expect, what was unexpected those was the lack of a free flowing open environment.  This expansion reminded me more of Fable with it's "quasi-open world."  I hate being funneled here and there (my primary complaint with Fable) and for the first time I found myself funneled in the Fallout Universe.  This is more a factor of the DLC's linear story than anything else, it was just surprising to experience.
Your first task is to silence the artillery pieces that are pummeling your allies.  In a string of bunker assaults reminiscent of Call of Duty you clear enemy hard points, take out snipers and places explosives on the towering artillery throughout the map.  Your kit for this task consists exclusively of small arms in the early stages, which caused me to struggle a bit (I have virtually no skill in small arms).  Later though players can outfit their character with any conventional weapons kit (basically anything but energy weapons). Once completed your are warped (literally) to the American base where you meet your resident commanding officer.  
He sends you off to select your squad and weapons.  This is where I got my first big loot thrill of the expansion.  I used my speech skill to convince the requisitions officer to give me access to the good stuff and I was rewarded with the Mighty Gause Rifle!  Any fan of the Fallout Series can imagine the nerd screech I let out when I got this.  The Gause Rifle fills the role of energy weapons sniper rifle, and since my primary character is an energy weapon specialist the rest of this campaign was a bloody mess of head shots, and limb severing snipes.  Good times, good times.
Oh my sweet Gause Rifle how do I love thee.  Let me count the ways... headshot, headshot, headshot.
Your squad doesn't really play much of a role in the mission, but I like that Bethesda is experimenting with this sort of dynamic.  The squad basically just follows you around, unlike say Mass Effect with it's superb squad control system.  The mission comes to an end once you deactivate the Chinese Energy Shield which is preventing the American Power-Armored troops from pressing forward, you and the Power-Armored troopers assault the Chinese stronghold and the mission ends, and you're pulled from the simulation.
Then your reward... you'll walk away with unique Winterized Power Armor, a unique Sword, unique Stealth Suit, and a GAUSE RIFLE!  
I had to make two trips to get all the loot back to my home in Megaton, but it was well worth it.
Operation Anchorage is well worth gamerpoints, and it's good to see Bethesda branching out and experimenting with the kinds of missions we can accomplish.  The next DLC promises to be even better, particularly because they'll be bumping up the level cap. 
Final Verdict:  Operation Anchorage is Worth it.

Questions Needed

I mentioned that I'll be covering an upcoming Video Games Live concert in Kalamazoo, MI for the Western Herald. I just received word that I may get an interview with the show's creators, Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall.

In the event of an interview, I need some questions about the show, so that's where YOU come in. What, you thought reading this blog was free?

Take a look at VGL's FAQ page to make sure you don't ask a question that already has an answer. I'm don't have any journalism experience, so I need all the help I can get.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watch the Watchmen (movie)

I thought it appropriate to comment on the "Watchmen" movie I just got back from seeing. Two thumbs up, all the way around. But, boy! Does it leave you drained! A lot alternating tones backed into 2 and 3/4 hours.

Speaking of draining, I played the "Watchmen: The End is Nigh" demo on Xbox Live. How they found the balls to charge $20 for this waste of data is beyond me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Daggoo's Most Anticipated DLC of 2009

Before I start I need to say that I'm ridiculously excited about Old Republic.   It is the game I've trained for my whole life. I hope it'll be my one, my own, my precious. Look at what it has going for it... I get to be a Jedi, my Bro gets to be a Jedi, my best mates get to be Jedi, and we get to kill Sith. Oh, and it's made by Bioware. A tear of Pure Joy just ran down my cheek.

  • 3rd Left4Dead I'm somewhat embarrassed at how little I've played this phenomenal game. L4D is not only a brilliantly executed and innovative game but it's ridiculously fun to play. Eight person party chat in versus mode is an absolute ball! Sure you could use party chat in Gears of War, or Team Fortress... but the visceral thrill of leaping from the top of a building and ripping one of your dear Xbox Pals to shreds is something that begs for a little real time gloating. What Valve always does is make a game with phenomenal replayability, but there's no doubt that new maps, weapons and ambush points will get me spending more time with this title.

L4D is a brilliantly created game, and another fine example of the power and versatility of Valve's Source Engine, with a few more maps there's no doubt I'll be back to hitting this one hard... oh and did I mention the DLC is Free! I love you Valve.
  • 2nd Fallout 3 I loved Oblivion but there are only so many Oblivion Gates I could close before the novelty wore off. In Fallout, Bethesda did something far beyond creating a Sci-Fi Oblivion, they created a one of the more engaging single-player experiences I have played... well within league, or superior to, Mass Effect, KoTOR, and Jade Empire. Bethesda has taken its Magnus Opus beyond these titles in their ambitious promise of regular DLC. The first pack, "Operation Anchorage" is already out, basically this allows players to participate in the liberation of Anchorage from the Chinese occupiers via a virtual simulation of the battle. Players can be rewarded with, among other things, a Gause Rifle. Which fills the niche of long-range Energy Weapon. The "Pitt" pack should be out shortly and even though I know nothing about it, there's no question I'm getting it. I'm really excited about a publisher finally taking advantage of the current generation of console's ability to support DLC.
Pitt, Anchorage... hopefully for Arctodus and Bad Religion fans everywhere one day we can see that Los Angeles is burning. 
  • 1st Team Fortress 2 The sad thing here is that TF2 content exists and has existed for quite some time, and has been promised for quite some time. Others are currently enjoying new maps, and class gear on the PC, all the while we console gamers are left out primarily because Microsoft insists on charging for DLC, so as a result Valve said that they'd wait until they had a "substantial" amount of content so that their customers would get good value for their cash. The sad thing is the content that most gamers would happily pay top dollar for is being withheld expressly because of Microsoft's desire to nickle and dime its customer base.

Pictured above blog contributor ForceFlow is about to lure Arctodus into a my sticky trap. Into a barrage of pipebombs... if only poor Arc had the PC content he could send our pipes and rockets screaming back at us. As it is though, my poor Brother Pyro is *ahem* toast.

Video Games Live Press Screening

As you may or may not know, I write a column (Game Brain) for my college newspaper. I just received an email from the local auditorium that is hosting the Video Games Live concert later this month. I've been invited to a special press screening of the event next Monday. I'm stoked to be going, and I've never been considered a member of the press before.

Liberal media, here I come!

I'll be writing a preview for it in my print column, and I'll let you guys know how it went. It's a pretty big deal, having this in Michigan. If you ever get a chance to see it, I here it's really awesome. I mean, orchestral arrangements (with guitar) or our most beloved video game music? How could you miss it?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pills Here!

I've been on a bit of a Left 4 Dead kick lately. It doesn't have as many hilarious YouTube videos as, say, Team Fortress 2, but there's some good stuff about everyone's favorite painkiller.

I'm still waiting on an explanation as to why they chug the whole bottle at once. Can't the Survivors share? Or, I dunno, only take one or two pills at a time? They'll OD before the zombies get to them.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Make Your Own Left 4 Dead Poster

A few of you readers know that I dabble in graphic design occasionally. I could easily spend an entire day just dinking around in Adobe Creative Suite 4. You've seen the logos, icons and wallpapers that I've designed for Team Fortress 2 clans.

Imagine my delight at finding a Left 4 Dead poster template. All you need to do is download this file, extract the contents, and open the psd file in any version of Photoshop.

If you are familiar with Photoshop, it shouldn't be any problem for you to make your own Left 4 Dead campaign poster with this template. It is very well-made and includes the Survivor silhouettes and some filters for that extra-grungy look.

Check out the host website for information about fonts used and things like that.

As Valve's Gabe Newell always says: "Have fun!"

Hell's Bells

Maybe this will appeal to some of you old timers (*ahem* Tash). I've played and enjoyed DOOM quite a few years removed its heyday. So I found it interesting that DOOM "borrowed" most of its musical tracks from heavy metal/rock bands.

I'm not condemning iD for this plagiarism. After all, they seem to have gotten away with it for over 15 years. Plus, the soundtrack is still really cool.

I do have a soft spot for a lot of old games, but I'm not a retro gamer by any means. If anything, I really dig the music of old games the most. My current favorite is Super Metroid. If you haven't heard the kickass heavy metal covers of Metroid music, shame on you. Go and correct that right now.

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