A shade of indifference colored his lap-danced lapel
Ecstasy unforgotten
The wine of his cask spilled forth
Sanguine spots like candy drops
Memories of a sightless age
Of wars on Mars
Winter’s end marched forth
From the aberrant crypt
The hot wash of shame filled him
As steel slept glinting in his eye
Destiny wants to marry him
And can you really stand in the way of destiny?


Two dots of brown
A smiling row of white
Patches of red, blue, peach, black
But I only notice the brown

Staring forward, unwavering, vacant
Staring at me
Through me
But not only me

At others, swirling around
Passing by, ignoring his brown
Agendas and luncheons and extra-marital affairs
Occupying more important thoughts
But not mine

Who is the man behind the colors?
He (or she) who creates life from the unliving
Capturing an instant in time forever?
I ask no one in particular
But I know I will never know the answer

Two dots of brown
A smiling row of white
In an ever-moving city
In an ever-moving moment
Frozen, alone
But I am here

For Martin

Controllers to Connections: Familial Bonding Through Gaming

The other day, someone asked me, “What’s your favorite memory of gaming?” The difficulty of finding such an answer within myself was only due to the fact that there are so many happy moments in my history of playing video games that it’s hard to pick only one. From the first time I picked up Mass Effect to beating the original Castlevania on the NES, there have been many times which have defined my identity as a gamer. As I sat and pondered on it, though, one memory floated to the surface, one which I look upon the most fondly. So to that person who queried me, here is your answer: my favorite memory in gaming has to be leveling up a priest in World of Warcraft with my older brother as we listened to a bunch of metal albums.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like it could be one’s best memory in gaming. I mean, what’s so significant about a regular day of playing games with your family? Well, it was that moment where I felt myself getting closer with my brother, after we spent much of our time fighting and bickering as kids. We bonded over the shared experience of grinding out levels, blasting Master of Puppets by Metallica and Blackwater Park by Opeth over speakers, and enjoying each other’s company. Nowadays, he and I are very close, playing games together quite often and helping each other through the experience of our lives, but that moment when we first started playing together was the turning point. It was the time where I felt my brother and I becoming more than family; we became friends.

Tirisfal Glades is the perfect setting to rock to some heavy metal.

Gaming, I have come to realize, has been a way for me to bond with my family members in ways I never before considered. My mother, though she had an Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 growing up, is not much of a gamer, although she has taken an interest in it because of my fascination. She influenced me greatly in my taste of music, film, and television, so I wanted to share the activity of gaming with her, too. Sitting down one evening, I took a controller in my hand, powered up Telltale’s Game of Thrones, and told her, “You’ll make all of the decisions, and I’ll do the actual game-playing.” It brought a smile to my face to see her getting into the game, investing in the characters like she does with the books and show, and seeing her choices pan out into (un)intended consequences. She doesn’t have to fake enthusiasm with games because now she understands where I’m coming from when I talk about modern games. She experienced one alongside me and always looks forward to when I can share another story with her.

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.

Gaming is even something I have begun to pass down to my nephew and niece. Often times when they come to visit, they ask me to put a game on the television and I am more than happy to oblige. Whether showing my nephew the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES or indulging my niece with Kingdom Hearts, their eyes remain glued to the screen until we get called to come to the dinner table. Whether or not they become gamers like me is unimportant; what matters is that they’ve begun to take an interest in it, and it is an experience we can share.

People see video games as a solitary activity, something one does alone and to enjoy one’s own spare time. Increasingly, gaming has become something I do to connect with others. I can play online or with friends in the same room. I can show my family what endless possibilities there are in the gaming universe. I can relax and create long-lasting memories with the people I care most about, laughing and having fun over the shared experience of a game.

Originally published at Top Shelf Gaming

Bloody Fists and Bloody Well Done: EA UFC 2 Review

Although I am not much of a sports fan, I love mixed martial arts. Games like football and basketball bore me, but MMA is fascinating. It’s athleticism mixed with ferocity, intelligence and brutality. To see a peak fighter like Jon Jones or Rafael Dos Anjos combat their opponents is like nothing else. The fluidity of their bodies, coupled with the intensity of their skill, makes for a spectacle showcase. The anticipation of a championship changing hands, watching two competitors standing across the cage from one another, with gold in their eyes and fury in their gloves, is indescribable. And though I enjoy watching and training in MMA, I know I will never stand in the Octagon as Dana White wraps a belt around my waist. But I can vicariously live this fantasy through my Playstation, as I play EA Sports UFC 2.

When you pop the disc into your console, after the game has loaded up, you’re thrown into the action. You play as Robbie Lawler, UFC welterweight champion, in his toughest match yet, against contender Rory MacDonald. After four grueling and gory rounds, the player takes control in the fifth, learning how to strike and grapple in the midst of a real fight. The immense power of this moment is well-reflected throughout the game.

The recreation of the intense match, considered by many to be one of the best fights of all time, which took place at UFC 189 on July 11, 2015.

Striking feels dynamic and straightforward. Each punch and kick carries weight, reflected by the impact on your opponent’s body and the draining stamina bar in your corner. With a simple button combination or adjustment of the directional sticks, you can combine strikes in rapid succession and overwhelm your opponent. It’s gratifying when you land that powerful hook and blood spatters from the brow of your target. Striking is fun, easy to pick up, and easy to understand, while at the same time difficult to master.

Grappling, on the other hand, is not as satisfying. When grabbing your opponent in a clinch or taking them down to the mat, the game becomes less of a fighting game and more of a gambling game. Each transition and defense is a guess. Defense is based off of predicting where your opponent will move and what position he will take. It’s possible to combat this without relying on the prognosticative system, but doing so will drain your stamina quickly and leave you defenseless against ground-and-pound attacks. While the ground mechanics do not work as well, it is nonetheless enjoyable when you land that takedown or sink in a submission.

As an RPG fan, I love in-depth character creators, and UFC 2 is no stranger to this. Along with the ability to choose from over 250 existing fighters, the game includes options that allow you to build your own fighter and customize him or her in an extremely deep manner. This level of depth is not just limited to the number of aesthetic options you are granted, but in how you can personalize your fighter’s style. You can determine what statistics your character is well-versed in, whether he or she is a striker, grappler, or well-rounded; you can change what each button or button combo does, allowing for custom strikes, takedowns, or submissions; you can even give your fighter personalities that match another, real fighter’s trademark characteristics, from the gruff and intense walkarounds of Ronda Rousey to the confidence of Alistair Overeem. It’s really astounding to see the sorts of combinations one can throw together in order to create a completely unique fighter, or, in my case, to create analogous versions of real fighters not signed with the UFC. I only wish the system was even more in-depth, something more akin to Fight Night Champion’s character creator, where you can specialize moves to create chances of one-hit knockouts and your creation could partake in media events which further determine his or her popularity within the game’s world.

One of the many possible creations you can dream up.

There are also multitudinous ways in which you can play the game, as many as the different approaches one can take against another mixed martial artist. Along with your standard Quick Fight and Online modes, players can enter a quick stand-up match in Knockout Mode, take their custom fighter through his or her own very own UFC tenure in Career Mode, and even create a camp of fighters and customize them even further with loot and special gear in Ultimate Teams. These various modes allow for hours of gameplay and replayability, throwing you against new challenges and fights.

UFC 2 is a fun game, regardless of whether you enjoy mixed martial arts or not. With exception to a few gripes about how grappling is handled, the combat is strong and fun. The number of fantasy fights one can create, even including special downloadable competitors like Mike Tyson and Bruce Lee, leads to a seemingly-infinite string of fights. And much like in the UFC, upsets can occur at any moment, creating a sense of tension. In a single moment, your belt can be taken away from you and granted to another fighter. This lingering anxiety keeps you on your toes, filling you with a level of exhilaration equivalent to actually fighting. And when you snatch that win, victory tastes as sweet as the blood staining your knuckles.

Featherweight champ Conor McGregor lands an overhand right on Chad Mendes.

Originally published at Top Shelf Gaming