Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ghost's Arcade: My Top 10 WTF Moments in Gaming

This is Ghost, Thanks for joining!

So, you're going about your daily life minding your own business and bothering nobody.  Then out of absolutely nowhere something happens that makes you scratch your head and go...
This can be a semi-common occurrence in life especially if you have children, hang out with college students, or live in a large city.  Gaming is absolutely no different.  You don't even have to be playing a game that intentionally messes with your brain to uncover things that are weird, surreal, bizarre and disturbing.  These sort of things leave you doing a double take, asking what people were smoking, or just laughing at the intentional weirdness or emotional impact.  Those moments are the ones that we're going to look at today..

My Top 10 WTF Moments in Gaming

Now before I begin I just have to lay a couple ground rules.  First off this is my personal list of things that confused me highly not the most shocking moments in all of gaming. I also intentionally did not include anything from the Mother series as I generally do an entire segment on weirdness from those games in their reviews.   So...without any more yacking let's jump straight into it.

#10 - Luigi's Hanging Shadow
Luigi's Mansion - Gamecube
Who doesn't love Luigi's Mansion?  The Gamecube launch title was quite a bit of fun and the first really good game in which Luigi was the star.  Originally the game was supposed to be a lot darker and creepier but Nintendo decided to keep the more lighthearted nature of a Mario game for this title but something seems to have slipped by.

While you are in the attic of the mansion, a phone rings for you.  Nothing too weird but then as you pick it up, lightning flashes filling the room with light and for a brief moment you see Luigi's shadow hanging mid-air against the wall as if he had been hung to death.  How the heck did this make it through when everything else super creepy got cut??  The reason this is #10 is because there is some speculation that Luigi's shadow was coded to be set to the camera angle and since the camera panned in for the telephone call when the lightning flashed that was just the natural place for the coding to put the shadow.   I don't know... I like to think of it as his hanging shadow to keep just that tiny bit of creep factor still intact from a much darker game.

#9 The Great Mighty Poo
Conker's Bad Fur Day - Nintendo 64
This is another one that was intentionally placed low on the list mostly because the majority of gamers know about him.  Honestly though, it doesn't feel right excluding him from this list because he's just so bizarre and so memorable.

When Rare announced they were going to make another game after Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie everyone took one look at the art style and assumed it would be another kid friendly game.  What they got was a drunken foul mouthed squirrel and all manner of other atrocities.  As you play through you eventually come across a room filled entirely with feces and little corn kernels with eyes running around.  You toss them into the mess and then you behold something you weren't expecting.  Even after we had previously met a drunken scarecrow, a topless flower, and a robotic pile of hay... nobody would have guessed that one of the bosses in this game was a large pile of excrement with corn for teeth who sings opera throughout the battle.  You toss toilet paper into his mouth and eventually flush him down the drain.  Conker's Bad Fur Day is a weird game already and this is where it took a left turn towards becoming even weirder.  Because of his strangeness he will be a boss that I and several others will never forget.

#8 Encountering the Mastadoom
Super Mario RPG - SNES
Super Mario RPG is a treasure of a game.  Nintendo and Square put their all into this game and it's the reason why so many people are passionate fans of this game and its characters.  There is a reason people have been wanting Geno in the Super Smash Bros series.  It's all because this game is so good.  It not only had Mario and Bowser team up but it also sent the group into a wide variety of locations across the Mushroom Kingdom.

One such place is known as "Starry Hill."  It's a cloud-like land where all of the wishes of the world are born.  it's a wonderful calming blue with stars everywhere.  Littered about are the wishes of characters in the game.  You do encounter enemies but they are cute little gophers popping out of the clouds, cute chibi thief looking characters, or geckos just sort of hanging around.
All and all it's a fairly adorable setup....then suddenly THIS APPEARED

I only ever saw one of these creatures ONCE but it was certainly jarring to see cute little gophers then suddenly BAM! Mastadon skeleton floating in the clouds.  WTF?!  There's nothing incredibly special about him as far as his strength or defense.  He's not a special mini boss or anything and all evidence I've seen online show that he's just a normal weird enemy like all of the other really strange enemies in Super Mario RPG.  However, I've only ever seen the one and it just seems to not fit in with the rest of the atmosphere of the only area it appears in.  This is the stuff that creepypastas and fan theories are made of!

#7 Lumiose Ghost Girl
Pokemon X and Y - Nintendo 3DS
Speaking of fan theories and creepypastas, the Pokemon series is definitely no stranger to the strange and bizarre.  Nintendo doesn't shy away from the creepy with these games due to the many horrific pokedex entries talking about death and doom, to including haunted houses and a kid who is trapped in a nonstop nightmare.  Let's not even mention the fan theories such as Gary's Rattata.  An entire WTF list could be extracted from the Pokemon series all together but for this particular one I chose a very small scene in Pokemon X and Y which has yet to be explained and probably never shall be.

When you are in Lumiose City, you will want to go to one particular office building and take the elevator to the second floor.  Upon arriving there, the lights will begin to flash and a girl will suddenly appear behind you.  She will then float beside of you and keep floating forward (with no movement animations)  Once she gets close to the bottom of the screen, she says "No, you are not the one..."  and just disappears.  I sat there looking at my 3DS for a solid 5 minutes wondering what on earth just happened.  Who is this ghost girl?  Who is she actually waiting for?  That has yet to be answered but it certainly caught me off guard when she showed up.

#6 Mr. Game and Watch Approaching
Super Smash Bros Melee - Gamecube
There are fewer things more exciting than hearing that alarm sound as you play a Super Smash Bros game.  That glorious alarm means that you've fulfilled one of the criteria to unlock another fighter.  Sometimes these new characters are old familiar faces while other times you may be looking at someone you have never seen before.

Smash Bros, for me, has always included characters that I have little or no knowledge of in every iteration.  When Smash Bros came out for the N64 I was just starting out in my video game knowledge and had no earthly idea who Samus, Fox, Captain Falcon or Ness were.  When Melee came out, I got to learn who the Ice Climbers, Marth, and Roy were.  Brawl gave me Ike and Pit to become familiar with, and Smash Bros 3DS/WiiU made me have to look up who the heck Shulk was and why this anime dude was in my Smash.  Discovering a new character or franchise isn't exactly anything new for me with this series but one stands out above the rest when it came to a big surprise...and that was Mr. Game and Watch.

When Melee came out I was still in the semi-early stages of learning video game characters and finding what I was interested in.  Smash 64 did an excellent job pointing me towards some great characters and I figured Melee would do the same.  Then suddenly it happened.  The alarm went off and I saw what looked like some little cartoon man's silhouette appear on my screen.  Next thing I know, my character is being put on a stage that resembles some sort of handheld device and a solid black 2 dimensional man is attacking me.  WHAT?!?!?!?!  I knew that the developers liked to throw in lesser known characters but a 2D solid black guy from some old handheld that I had never heard of?
Smash Bros has attempted similar things such as the inclusion of the Robotic Operating Buddy for the NES and the Duck Hunt Dog but both of these characters were fairly well known or recognized.  G-Dub was just so out of left field that his strange inclusion still hasn't been topped.

 #5 Fairies in Mummy's Tummy
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch - PS3
If you have a PS3, like Japanese RPGs, and haven't played Ni No Kuni then you honestly have made a gaming error.  The game is an absolute masterpiece in many aspects... not to mention that the art style was done by Studio Ghibli.  You know, the studio that has given us such great anime movies like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro?  It's something that I intend to give a full review at some point in the future so I won't talk in too great detail about it.  Being a Japanese RPG with anime elements there are definitely a lot of quirky characters, weird moments, and strange decisions, but the instance I have chosen to highlight for this post is a special case... mostly because the longer you think about it the more disturbing and awkward it is.

Along your adventure through the world, your party arrives in the Fairy Lands. Fairies in this game are not your stereotypical cute things with wings.  Rather they look like monster potatoes with a Scottish accent.  Well once you arrive here there's a problem that you need to help sort out which is pretty standard for RPGs.  You go and speak to the Fairy Mother which looks like a giant whale mountain thing.  The problem is that no new fairies are being born so the mother asks you to investigate...then swallows you!  Now having a level inside a whale is nothing new as Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time and Kingdom Hearts (as well as I'm sure others) have already done this.  The insides of the Fairy Mother look like a preschool with various doors and playrooms which is kind of odd but the real strangeness doesn't happen till the end of the level where you come face to face with an electric jellyfish.
Now again, on face value alone it's not really that strange but when you really sit down and think about it... you are inside the womb of a living creature where you encounter an electric jellyfish in the uterus and proceed to shove babies out of the birth canal from the inside... all done by a grown man, and two children.  It's just.... I don't even.   Let's not put anymore thought into this one.

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Number four I ended up giving to two kind of similar actions in two very different games.  They both made me drop my jaw and just stare at the screen temporarily unable to believe what I just saw.  While one of them ended up being a red herring and the other very real, the shock value of what I had witnessed in the moment will never be forgotten.
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#4A - Goofy's Sacrifice
Kingdom Hearts 2 - PS2
Kingdom Hearts is one of my favorite video game series of all time.  The meshing together of Disney and Final Fantasy honestly didn't appeal to me when it first came out but I randomly gave the first game a chance and I've been hooked ever since.  In fact, this particular game I'm talking about it still probably my favorite entry in the entire series... though Birth By Sleep is giving it a run for it's money.  The adventures of Sora, Donald, and Goofy have taken them to many worlds and seen many strange things in the 3 games they had been in at this point in the series.  However the most shocking moment of all comes from the mid-way point of Kingdom Hearts 2 while on the world of Hollow Bastion.

After emerging from Tron's world in the computer, our trio of heroes find that hoards of heartless are overtaking Hollow Bastion.  King Mickey Mouse tells them to leave so that they can try to track down the main villains but they refuse and go to help their friends on that world.  Mickey joins them but a heartless blasts a boulder off the top of a cliff.  As it plummets towards an unsuspecting Mickey, Goofy jumps in and tosses Mickey out of the way getting the full hit of the bolder directly on the head.  His body ragdolls to the side as Sora and Donald try to revive him, but Goofy does not respond.  Mickey responds in the most epic way ever.  Looking the angriest I have ever seen this character, he says "They'll pay for this" and rips off his cloak to go fight.  As Mickey and Donald go off on a rage against the heartless, Sora takes one last look as his friend and follows the fight teaming up with various Final Fantasy characters along the way.

It was beyond shocking to see a character you had spent 2.5 full games with getting to know and rely on just...die like that.  Especially a beloved Disney classic character not just some original character created for the purpose of eventually dying.  It was freaking GOOFY.  Now this one was the red herring because after the segment where Sora teams up with the Final Fantasy characters, Goofy comes running afterwards saying he's been hit on the head with harder things than that before.  So all was well in the end.  Now when I re-play this game I look forward to teaming up with the Final Fantasy characters and Mickey's angry moment rather than the sadness of Goofy's "death", but the first playthrough of this game I was devastated.

#4B Sarah's Death
The Last of Us - PS3
As I mentioned in my review of The Last of Us, this game is an incredibly emotional one for different reasons.  It's not a game that you walk away feeling better or happy from.  The world as we know it has definitely died as the zombie creatures and multitudes of organized thugs have taken over wherever the military hasn't lorded over.  Between this bleak outlook on survival, the brothers you meet, and the ending revelation of what was supposed to happen to Ellie followed by the that ending scene just lay heavy on your heart.  It's the sort of thing people mean when they say "tragic beauty." 

However, for me this game's biggest middle finger to the emotions happens right in the intro to the game.  You start off the game with a young girl named Sarah and her father Joel.  I'm not sure how they characterized this relationship so perfectly but within the 2 minute cutscene introducing these characters you perfectly understand who they are and you are instantly connected to their relationship.  Sarah is the first character you get to control as she wakes up from the noises outside as the zombie apocalypse starts happening.  She's scared and begins looking for her father.  Eventually she witnesses her father shooting a zombified neighbor and they try to escape with her uncle, Tommy.  As they are driving through the city they are sideswiped by another driver which causes the truck to flip and Sarah to be hurt, her leg broken.  From that point on you are her father Joel who is carrying his injured daughter through the chaos and up towards safety where they meet a soldier.  The soldier is ordered to open fire on any civilians he sees.  Joel begs the soldier to let them walk away but he opens fire anyway.  Joel falls to the ground and the soldier comes in for the kill shot giving Tommy adequate time to shoot the soldier in the head.  Joel notices that Sarah has been shot in the chest.  Trying to console his scared and dying child, Joel holds the blood back and begs her to hold on but she passes.  Joel holds his lifeless child as the screen goes black.

This probably should have went on a Top 10 Emotional Moments list but it was still just so shocking it belongs here as well. Sadly this one was not a red herring.  The very first character we had gotten used to and wanted to see get out of there was murdered before our eyes as the game sits there on the scene and goes silent making you sit in the realization of what just happened.  It's incredibly rough and heartbreaking and was definitely not something I was expecting.  Even though I fully know what's going to happen this still affects me every time I see it and was certainly a shocking moment that I will never forget.

#3 Pregnant Baby
Super Scribblenauts - Nintendo DS
The Scribblenauts series is one that passed me by completely when it was first released.  Mostly because I never heard anyone talking about it and there was little to no publicity about the games showing how creative they actually were.

Scribblenauts is an action puzzle game where you have to come up with drawings and a variety of words from the in-game "dictionary" to solve puzzles.  Be honest with me, when you hear that a game is played by writing words and coming up with different combinations of words to put into the game you instantly see of it as an educational and boring game.  I had the same misconception.  While there are some simple things like needing to reach a higher level so you type in the word "ladder" to spawn a ladder to reach your objective.  However in Super Scribblenauts, the game allows you to add tributes to the items spawned so you could type things like "blue vacuum" or "anthropomorphic broom." and they would appear.  You can even go full out crazy and type "Big Flying Pink Alligator" and that would show up as well.  The combination of words you can create are almost endless.

It's that special combination of words that gives you something truly mind-blowing... Type in the words "Pregnant Baby" and you get THIS
Yes you are seeing the above screenshot properly.  Putting "Pregnant Baby" into the game summons a large baby that you can ride around the level like a horse.  Within seconds of this baby being summoned to the screen it gives birth to a smaller baby which can be picked up and tossed at items.  If you want some more humor try tying "Big Pregnant Baby" or "Big Purple Pregnant Baby" for the exact result you typed.  What the heck kind of game is this anyway?!?!  I was speechless the first time I saw this and still can barely wrap my brain around it. 

#2 Mother Punga Hallucinations
Fallout 3 - PS3
The Fallout Series, especially the modern ones, are well known for their quirkiness by placing humorous dialog, easter eggs, hidden references, depressing stories, and a lot of really weird stuff.  There are a multitude of things I could have mentioned on this list from the United States Wasteland such as the hulking behemoth that shows up when you get near a certain teddy bear, or any of the Wild Wasteland inclusions in New Vegas.  I could talk about all of the different Vault Tech Vaults and the weird experiments they decided to play on people...and almost did in the case of Vault 11.  However when it comes to off the wall raving crazy you don't have to look any further than the Point Lookout DLC.

During the Point Lookout DLC,  you take a boat up the river to Maryland where you find an abandoned boardwalk, a mansion owned by a ghoul (people who look like zombies but still have their humanity) and a lot of tribal looking people.  During one quest of this DLC you are sent out into the swamps to recover a seed from a Mother Punga Plant.  After traveling through radiated swamp water filled with monsters of various kinds, you arrive at the Mother Punga to college the seeds.  As you do so, the plant douses you in spores as you collapse to the ground.  When you get back up things aren't exactly normal.

The first thing you encounter are bobble-heads who either insult you or tell you something is wrong.  Then you start to hear classical music just floating in the air.  Next you see a red ghostly saw (pictured above) just sawing into the earth.  As you keep walking you start seeing soda bottles dropping from trees into the swamp water.  On impact,however the soda bottles shout "Mama!" in a high pitched baby voice and then explode!  In the middle of the kamikaze baby bottles you begin to hear enemies shouting and running at you though nothing is there.  As you progress forward you come across an area where you are walking on tree limbs with the earth above you.  Past that is a needle and thread sewing the ground together.  Then comes the most disturbing part of the whole thing.  You approach a medical table that has a skeleton on it wearing a birthday hat with balloons tied to it and a heart monitor beeping.  As you approach the monitor flat-lines and you are given the name of the skeleton.... "Mom."   WTF?!?!?!?!?!  And that's not even where the insanity ends.  After that you see the floating bodies of people you have helped out and began to trust along your journey just around in the swamp water and at the end of the hallucination you talk to a man as the atomic bomb he was leaning on explodes.

I realize this was intended to be bizarre and show off a really bad acid trip but it still really disturbed me especially your mother's skeleton on the table.  I can be taken off guard fairly easily but it takes a truly disturbed mind to get me anywhere near shocked by an image and this didn't fail to deliver the shock value.

Speaking of disturbed minds...

#1 EVERYTHING in the Abortion Clinic
South Park: The Stick of Truth - PS3
It feels kind of like a cheat to put something South Park related at the top of the list especially since this series has gone out of its way multiple times to hit people with something shocking. I had seen an episode or two of the show so I knew the caliber of shenanigans I was about to encounter with this game and expected the worst.  It didn't disappoint.  The game includes a metric ton of cursing, bloody tampon grenades, a dildo you use as a sword, anal probing aliens, a level taking place entirely in the colon of a gay man, zombie Nazis with actual audio from Adolf Hitler himself, and battling an underpants gnome on the bed your character's parents are currently having sex on.  If I were to mention everything disturbing or weird about this game we'd be here all day.  In fact, I could probably do a Top 20 WTF List from this game alone.  However, even though I walked in preparing for the worst possible things to plague my television screen... absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the abortion clinic level.

In order to get the girls of South Park to join your cause, you have to go undercover to the abortion clinic to see who is making false claims that one of the girls is going in to have regular abortions.  So you dress up as a girl and go in for an abortion.  The doctor says that he'll get that "f*** trash" out of you and starts the process only for you to short out the machine with your butt.  You then go undercover as a nurse and have to perform a fake abortion at gunpoint on another male who was investigating other claims about the clinic.  Eventually you find out that the clinic has been storing this green slime from an alien spacecraft (constantly referred to as a Taco Bell in the game) which has been turning people into Nazi Zombies.  The slime spreads through the clinic turning the workers and mice infesting the building into more Nazi Zombies.  Making your way through the walls as the government takes out the zombies they discover something very unsettling.  The slime has also turned all of the aborted babies into Nazi Zombies eventually resulting in you having to fight a gigantic Nazi zombie fetus as the final boss of the area.

Where to even begin?!  There is just so much disturbing about this entire level that goes beyond what I would have normally expected.  I mean... I guess kudos to the South Park team for coming up with something so horrible that it shocked me even knowing what I was getting myself into.  The aborted babies coming to life with Hitler's voice coming out of them...referring to an unplanned pregnancy as "f*** trash".. I just... I can't even begin.... *sigh*   This is by far the most disturbed I have ever been and though the game was actually pretty fun I'll probably be shying away from playing it again because of this one level alone.

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So there you have it.  That was my personal top 10 WTF moments in gaming.  Some of them weren't that bad but those top few on the list...GEEZ.  Have you discovered something in your gaming history that you found overly strange and bizarre that I haven't mentioned or even experienced?  Feel free to comment with some of the most bizarre things you've ever seen playing a video game.

Until next time this is Ghost....and I need a shower after re-thinking about that South Park level.... YUCK.  Why in the name of all things holy...

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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ghost's Kitchen: Chicken Noodle Casserole

What's Cooking Today?
Chicken Egg Noodle Casserole

Hello, and welcome to another segment of
I live in the South and am not ashamed of that whatsoever.  Tonight's dish comes straight out of the South, because what's more Southern than a chicken casserole out of a Baptist Church cookbook?  In 2008, the church I attend (Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church) presented its members with a cookbook to celebrate our then pastor's 45 years of serving in the church.  There are 202 pages of wonderful looking recipes but the one that stuck out to me the most was the "Chicken Noodle Casserole" by Trina Foster.  For some reason it just jumped out of the page at me and I've been making it for a couple years now.  I even have friends request I make this dish when they come over for dinner because it's that good!

So, of course I can't keep this beloved dish a secret!  If Trina or her husband Scott are reading this, I have made some very slight changes to what was printed in the book just so you are aware.

Gather your Ingredients and Tools
  • 2 Thawed Chicken Breasts (somewhere between medium and large sized)
  • 1 12-ounce package of egg noodles
  • 1 package of frozen chopped broccoli (if you can't find chopped just use regular)
  • 1 8-ounce bag of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 Cans Cream of Chicken Soup
  • Milk  (enough to fill one soup can)
  • 1 Container of French's French Fried Onions
  • Your favorite seasoning for the chicken (I used Weber's Roasted Garlic and Herb)
  • 11X15 Glass Pan (as always 9X13 is also fine)
  • Oven Mitt(s)
  • Large Pot
  • Strainer
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife
  • Skillet
  • Cooking Spray
  • Turner/Spatula
  • Mixing Bowl (may want 2... will explain below)
  • Whisk
  • Silicone Spatula

1. Boil Pot of Water
Fill your large pot with hot water and let it boil around medium-high heat

2. Boil Noodles
Pour the entire contents of your 12-ounce egg noddles into the pot and leave them at a gentle boil. Cook until noodles move easily and are fairly springy.  If you need to, pull one noodle out and test it.  If chewy continue to boil for a couple more minutes.

3. Drain Noodle
Once fully cooked, pour noodles and water into strainer in sink.  Shake strainer to get as much excess water out as humanly possible. 

4. Spread Noodles
Pour your noodles into the glass casserole dish and spread them out evenly along the bottom of the dish.  You can use your hands or a spoon depending on your tolerance for heat.  Set the casserole dish aside for now so that we can focus on the chicken.

5. Clean and Cut Chicken
Get your chicken breasts and ensure anything undesirable is removed from the breasts.  Once that is complete, place your chicken breasts on the cutting board and cut them into 1-2 inch pieces as in the picture above.  Think of what a child's bite sized piece would be, not your man-sized chomper!

6. Season Chicken
Use your favorite chicken seasoning and coat the chicken pieces.  You can simply do this on the cutting board then turn the pieces over to coat the other side, but I prefer using a small mixing bowl to dump the seasoning on top and mix it by hand.

7. Cook Chicken on Skillet then preheat oven
With Skillet on medium-high heat, spray the skillet with cooking spray and place the chicken pieces in the skillet.  Use your turner to spread them out evenly along the skillet turning when necessary until they are completely cooked.  You can easily check if they are completely cooked by using your turner to cut a larger piece in half and inspecting what was inside.  It should look something similar to the picture below.

At this point you'll want to preheat your oven to 350°F.  It should be ready to go by the time you finish the other parts.

8. Spread Chicken over Noodles
Bring your casserole dish back over and with your turner, get the chicken pieces from the skillet and spread it out fairly evenly over top of the egg noodles.  Don't be afraid to use your hands. 

9. Add Chopped Broccoli
At this point you should add your broccoli to the mixture.  Wal-mart sells the Pictsweet brand of frozen vegetables which thankfully has a bag of chopped broccoli...if you can find the blessed thing.  Here lately we haven't been able to find it.  I don't cook or even thaw this I just pour the frozen broccoli on top to where there is a good covering over the noodles as in the picture above.  If you cannot find chopped broccoli then regular broccoli would be fine as long as you don't put a very large floret in there.  Use your best judgment.  If your regular broccoli is nothing but large pieces then I would suggest cooking them (directions should be on the bag) and then cutting them before adding them to the casserole.

10. Add Half Cheese
Open your Cheese and sprinkle half (approx 4 ounces) over top of the casserole trying to cover every inch of it.  Set your cheese and casserole dish to the side.

11. Mix Soups and Milk
Into a mixing bowl empty both of your cans of Cream of Chicken soup.  You may need to use a silicone spatula to get all of the soup out of the can.  Pour your milk into one of the empty cans.  Once the can is full, pour the milk into the bowl as well.  Please Note - If you need to use something like Lactaid rather than regular milk that will do perfectly fine.  We ended up using Lactaid for this meal.

12. Mix Until Uniform
Using your whisk, mix the soup and milk together gently until it is a mostly uniform solution.   Don't get too hasty or the milk will fly out of the bowl as you can see near my hand in the picture above.  It should eventually make an easily poured solution.

13. Pour Soup Mixture over casserole.
As with the other steps try your hardest to get the soup to cover the majority of the casserole.  Use a wooden spoon if you need some help and put a lot in one location by mistake.

14. Top Casserole with Other Half of Cheese
Spread the rest of your cheese over top of the casserole trying to cover as much as possible.

15. Bake
Place in the oven and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes.

16. Top with French Fried Onions
Once your 25 minutes are up, pull the casserole out of the oven and top it with French Fried Onions.  As with all the other steps, make sure to spread them out over the casserole.

17. Bake Again
Place your Casserole back in the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

18. Serve and Enjoy
Once your 5 minutes are up let it cool for just a moment then serve up!

Hopefully you all will enjoy this as much as my family and friends have!

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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If you want to see my other food topics and recipes then simply click here!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ghost in the Case: Renaissance Man

"This story shall the good man teach his son.  And Crispin Crispian shall never go by.  From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered.  We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.  For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.  Be he never so vile.  This day shall gentle his condition and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves a-cursed they were not here and hold their man-hoods cheap while any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day"

Ghost here!  Thanks for joining me today for yet another
Can critics sometimes judge a film too harshly or unfairly based on existing works?  You don't need to answer that because it's a resounding yes.  I know that I have judged something unfairly and prematurely using the same criteria (something that was rectified with the Dishonored Review). But when do we need to make these comparisons and when do we need to stop comparing one thing to another and only look at what is presented before us?  That one is a little more difficult to pinpoint.  Even as a child I found it very difficult to talk pleasantly about my own drawings or the drawings of others when I compared it to my friend Matthew who has always been an excellent artist.  Everything paled in comparison to his work but did that mean our work wasn't without merit?  Absolutely not.

Many films stand in the same spot as my childhood artwork.  They may be quite good and suitable films but when someone compares them to something like Citizen Kane it's not quite as good anymore.  That comparison wasteland is where we find today's film.  Renaissance Man is a 1994 film starring one of my favorite actors, Danny DeVito.  At the time of its release it was slammed by critics for having questionable logic, being too similar to other films, being created by producers who in their opinion made much better films than this, and for the fact that it's not actually a straight-up comedy...it's a drama/comedy which some people can find difficult to pinpoint.  Are these criticisms on target or have they been too busy looking at other projects to see a good film underneath?  Let's take a look.

The Story
Bill Rago (DeVito) is a divorced advertising executive from Detroit who just can't catch a break.  After failing miserably at an over-the-phone ad pitch he is fired.  To make matters worse he can't afford his furniture payments and has a rocky relationship with his daughter.  Bill ends up going to the Detroit Unemployment Office.  After a short time the Unemployment Office finds him a job teaching at a nearby United States Army training base, Fort McClane.  Despite never teaching in his life, Bill has a Master's Degree and qualifies for the job.

Upon arriving at Fort McClane, Bill learns that his job is to help a small group of recruits gain some better comprehension skills in an experimental program to help keep them in the service rather than throwing them back out into the street.   Each of these recruits has their own back-story of ignorance, neglect, abuse and all sorts of home problems which landed them in this position.  Almost everyone involved is not thrilled.  Bill is frustrated that his life has lead him to be woken up at 4 am by early morning training sessions when he should be having a desk job.  The recruits are frustrated because everyone else in basic training singles them out and they have a civilian as a teacher.  The recruit's drill sergeant isn't happy because he believes Bill is wasting his time.

As Bill attempts to find a way to teach generalized comprehension he finds that the class is incredibly interested in the book that Bill has been reading, Hamlet.  Since he has to teach them something and he might as well teach them something that he loves, Bill decides to teach the recruits everything he can about Hamlet and the verbal and mental skills it takes to fully understand and appreciate Shakespeare.  He spends some time teaching his students and getting to know them but still not fully committing to his new career.  After a dangerous altercation with the drill sergeant and a meeting with the resident General, Bill tries one last stab at an advertising job interview.

Going to this interview however makes him late to his class which results in the recruits leaving him because they don't feel like he thinks they are worth it.  Tracking them down, Bill ends up climbing the Victory Tower, Fort McClane's obstacle course, trying to talk some sense into the recruits and gains their respect in the process.  As classes continue he begins to see an alarming amount of intellect from one of his students, Roosevelt Hobbs and attempts to get the army to look at Hobbs more closely as he is smart enough to be an officer.  Unfortunately they uncover that Hobbs was a drug dealer trying to hide out in the military and is arrested.

Due to these events, Bill realizes that he does truly care about these young people and gives up his ambitions to return to advertising, sinking his money into his daughter's future career as an astronomer.  Bill then decides to track down the records of one of his student's father who died in Vietnam out of the hopes that the army will finally recognize his father's heroism.  As Bil tries to take the records to the drill sergeant, the drill sergeant quizzes Bill's students on Shakespeare to which one of them recites a piece from Henry V about soldiers proving to the drill sergeant that Bill's work was indeed helpful.  The film ends as each of his students passes basic training (Davis Jr receiving his father's Silver Star) and Bill signs up to teach a new group of recruits. 

 What's Good About It?

First off the characters and actors in this are quite good.  While, yes, I will admit that most of the secondary characters aren't given much to do and could have just been anyone and the main characters aren't anything super fresh and original they still really work and the actors make the part their own.  Bill Rago is your standard sarcastic down on his luck guy you see in many films but DeVito gives a performance that is totally his own and I couldn't really see this part played by anyone else because there's just so much of DeVito's normal charm, awkwardness, and humor in it.  By the same token Gregory Hines' character of the hot headed drill sergeant is nothing new either but he hits that performance out of the park.  Yes he can be hard, yes he can be hateful but you really feel his passion for helping these men and women out to truly be all that they can be.

The students/recruits are also likeable and well thought out.  None of them are overly annoying or superfluous.  While each of them have a sort of simplified overarching characteristic it's never too simplistic like children's shows can sometimes make people.  They each have a back-story full of tragedy or lack of care and each of them succeed despite this in one way or another.  They work well off each other and it feels good to go with them on this journey till they enter full military service.  Plus you get to see performances from a young Stacy Dash and Mark Wahlberg.

This film is a comedy/drama and when the comedy aspect is pushed to the foreground it really succeeds.  The scene of DeVito in the Unemployment Office and the scene where DeVito is woken up abruptly at 4 AM to "the sound of hell" are two of the funniest parts of this movie and bring about DeVito's natural comedic timing and delivery.  However quite possibly the funniest scene in the whole film is when DeVito is climbing the victory tower fussing at his students.  Seeing such a short man climbing up these ropes and ladders while fussing and shouting then being scared to death at having to rappel down the tower wall is comedic gold and never ceases to amuse me. 

What's Bad About It?

As I previously stated, this is a comedy/drama and a lot of people just find that an odd combination.  It's very difficult to balance out the emotions and weight of the drama with the shenanigans and hilarity of the comedy.  You don't want to ruin the jokes with a slam to the gut but you also don't want to pull a Bambi's Mom and have something heavy followed by happy birds.  The balance is mostly there but I would have loved to see at least one or two more scenes where the comedy was pushed to the forefront.  Perhaps get rid of the Hamlet rap scene or something.  Just a little more comedy would have been appreciated especially as this was originally targeted as a straight comedy then was re-categorized after release due to the lack of comedic scenes.
There's a bit of a questionable logic issue going on in this film.  I'll be honest, when I watched this as I was younger I didn't really notice it that much because it was just something unconventional being taught that helped people out.  But as I got older I started really questioning how learning Hamlet was going to help kids with little education become better at comprehending what they're being told to do in military training.  How are the works of Shakespeare going to prepare these people for combat?  It's something that I question more now that I'm an adult.  The argument could be made that you have to exercise your mind some to fully understand the complex structure and poetic language that Shakespeare wrote thus allowing them to think more on their feet during training but that's a pretty thin argument.  If you can't just accept that Hamlet is teaching these guys to be smarter then you may have a tough time with this film.

Unwarranted Negativity

I feel as though there is a fair amount of unwarranted negativity being given by the critics at the time of this movie's release.  It was slammed for not making much money at the box office.  While that is a problem it was having to compete with the likes of Speed, The Flintstones, and THE LION KING.  So of course the movie about soldiers learning Shakespeare isn't going to do well when stacked against those odds.  They should have waited for a better release date window and the film might have done better.

It's also been slammed because of the director of the film, Penny Marshall.  People kept making comments about how Big and A League of Their Own were so great and this one just falls flat in comparison.  I honestly disagree.  For my money, this film is just as enjoyable as A League of Their Own and Big it's just a different kind of film.  Even if it's not as good as those two it's still a good film and sometimes critics need to not focus SO much on other works done by the people in charge which are considered absolute gems and just focus on the offering at hand because what we were given is something pretty good.

Final Thoughts

As I've said, for my money this is a good film.  It's honestly one of my favorites.  Yes it has an identity crisis and yes there may be some questionable logic but if you just sit back and take in what you're seeing you may agree that this is something special.  It's not one of the greatest films out there and I dare say it may not even make it in my top 20 but it's still a darn good film that I think everyone should check out at least once.

Renaissance Man is rated PG-13 and is available on DVD from Touchstone Pictures

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ghost's Arcade: Is Online Multiplayer Really A Good Thing?

Well HERE'S something that digs up painful memories.

This is Ghost, thanks for joining!

Ever since my post about The Mario Kart Problem I've been trying to come up with new gaming topics to talk about in between video game reviews.  Let's face it, I rarely if ever buy a game the day of its release and therefore any game I review is going to be months if not decades after everyone else in the world has spoken on the topic.  One such idea that came to mind was "When you start to hate the games you love."  This is something that I and at least one of my friends has been experiencing here lately...just a general distaste for a few of the games that we love.   Why is this happening?

Well I began thinking about that for several weeks in an attempt to come up with good solid reasons as to why.  There are issues such as mishandling of a franchise by its producer, but that generally doesn't change my viewpoint of an existing game I purchased and already love.  I racked my brain over and over and found only one common denominator amongst the games that I love to play and generally like but slowly became to hate... Online Multiplayer.

These days online multiplayer is prevalent everywhere.  Whole games and franchises have build their entire gameplay on online multiplayer such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, and many more.  Even Nintendo has finally dipped it's toes in the pool where online multiplayer is the main focus with it's recent title Splatoon pictured to the left.  Online Multiplayer has even found a way to sneak into games where it flat doesn't need to belong like The Last of Us and Tomb Raider.  It's such a common feature in video games that most people don't ever really stop to think about it.  They just look to see if it has it or not and move on with their lives.  But perhaps people should be thinking about it more because I'm going to ask one simple question.

Is online multiplayer really a good thing?

There are many things that can be said about online multiplayer both good and bad.  I want to make this as balanced as possible so I'm going to be examining both the benefits and the drawbacks to online multiplayer and let's see if there is an answer to the question presented.  So I ask that you..
Now these are in no particular order or hierarchy.  I'm just going to be going down the list of benefits as I think of them then following up with the list of drawbacks.

The Benefits of Online Multiplayer

First of all, Multiplayer provides the gamer with a completely different gaming experience depending on the game of choice.  Some games such as Mortal Kombat offer basically the same experience whether you are doing single player or multiplayer.  It's one character fighting another.  However other games such as Grand Theft Auto V have a completely different experience for their online multiplayer.  In the single player game you do missions and acquire vehicles and goods but on multiplayer you can perform heists as a group to take down certain objectives easier or you can just screw around running over each other and fighting with outlandish weapons till you get tired of doing so.  Versatility is an excellent thing and in some cases online multiplayer can provide just that.

Having said that, online multiplayer can greatly enhance your proficiency at the game in question.  Computer AI is a wonderful thing and I'm thankful that it has come as far as it has.  However there are limitations to Computer AI.  You can easily study how the computer will act or perform and win more easily by exploiting weaknesses that repeat themselves.  Using online multiplayer you are battling your wits against another person who could be better at the game than you or be a master of playing mind tricks with your expectations.  They can change their play style in the middle of what you are doing which forces you to adapt and become better at the game no matter what is thrown your way.  I wouldn't have become so good with King Dedede in Smash Bros WiiU if it wasn't for online multiplayer forcing me to get better with him.  Increasing your proficiency at a game means you are practicing your hand-eye coordination, getting a better grasp of spacial awareness and increasing your reaction times which can benefit you in your daily life.

Now this one is honestly very similar to the first two but different enough to warrant it's own paragraph.  That benefet is providing a greater sense of excitement or just more exciting gameplay overall.  Minecraft is one of the best examples of this that come to mind.  Sure Minecraft is a great game and has lots of content however I find myself incredibly bored after only twenty minutes.  If I hop on a realm with a friend or head to an online server to play mini games I can find myself engrossed in the game for hours.  Some games are just better suited to having multiplayer to make the game more exciting and more fun.  I don't really know of anyone who plays a Call of Duty game for the "exciting singleplayer experience."  No, they play it for the multiplayer aspect of putting their skills to the test against a group of enemies from all over the world in fast paced action.

Everyone enjoys showing off something they love to their friends.  This includes video games.  However in the age we live in today our friends may not only be people within our town anymore.  This brings us to what I see as the greatest benefit to online gaming; we have the ability to play games with friends from across the world who we would have never been able to play with otherwise.  No longer do we have to physically take the console or handheld to someone's house to play with them.  We don't have to plan and work out details around schedules and perhaps sleepovers; you can just hop online whenever convenient at the drop of a hat and play with whomever you wish.  I have friends from across the United States (New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Arizona) and the world (Israel, Sweden) whom I have had the pleasure of sharing a gaming experience with in one aspect or another because of online gaming.  This would not have been the case several years ago.

Last but certainly not least, you can benefit from online gaming by the building of communities.  No longer do we have to talk to a handful of friends who may or may not share your interest.  You can now go online to find hundreds of people who love the same thing as you.  You can exchange ideas and become a better problem solver and people person by interacting with others.  Depending on the game or community of choice you can also gain a greater understanding for team building and how to contribute to a major cause.  Yes there are always going to be jerks in these communities just as there are in your day to day life but my experience overall with online communities for gaming has been a fairly positive one.  The fact that people of all walks of life can come together and share their love of an online game or a gaming platform is simply wonderful.  Who knows you may even be able to snag some (hopefully) life-long friends like I have.
And I'll forever be grateful to Online Gaming for them!  (also lol Angel)

The Drawbacks of Online Multiplayer

Online multiplayer can be a breeding ground for idiots, hatred, extremely profane language and racial slurs. If you've ever played a game that has team speak enabled, or even worse an open mic for anyone in that particular game then you more or less know exactly what I'm talking about.  It's pretty much a guarantee that within seconds of joining any game with an open mic you will hear either an f-bomb, the tossing around of racial or homophobic slurs, or announcing your mother's sexual preferences before the masses.  It's utter stupidity at it's most gloriously heinous.  I'm all for free speech but this is absolute nonsense.  There's no real way to stop it other than to stop supporting chat of any kind over gaming.  While that would stop the tide of idiocy, that would potentially ruin great parts of great games.  I can't imagine what would happen to Battlefield if people who are playing the game properly couldn't coordinate with their teammates.  I don't even want to think of a world where Team Fortress 2 didn't have voice chat, text chat, and sprays; it's just part of the fun experience.  These kinds of people are a major annoyance that you're going to have to come to terms with or worse have your young child exposed to.  I personally often don't have the patience to deal with this stupidity.

Something less common than the bile spewing masses but infinitely more infuriating is when you encounter those wonderful individuals who choose to cheat, hat and spam the entire time.  If you haven't encountered any of this particular breed of troll then consider yourself lucky as I have run across my fair share.  The Mario Kart player who has hacked his Wii to give himself Super Stars that never fade from the very beginning of the race.  The Sniper in Team Fortress 2 who never leaves the team's safe zone and is pulling off perfect headshots through walls to the other side of the map with the assistance of aimbot.  The Smash Bros players who refuse to fight during the match and spam taunts till the Sudden Death portion appears.  These people are so frustrating and their shenanigans completely destroy any fun that you might be able to have from the online gaming experience.  Thankfully for some systems and games you can report people like this and they will eventually be temporarily (or permanently) banned, but for other systems you just have to either deal with it or exit and try to get placed into a better group of people.  Now don't get me wrong here.  I really enjoy cheat codes and such as I am not a very great gamer.  I was a huge supporter of Gameshark and Action Replay during their hay day but I would have never brought those to any sort of multiplayer because that's cheap and completely unfair.  I don't want to be "that guy" who is making the gaming experience miserable for everyone else.

Before I even talk about my 3rd point, I want to preface it by saying that I this is only speculation for the most part.  I may very well not have any idea of what I'm saying and if you know better or differently I would like to know.  One drawback that I can think of would be the cost of acquiring and maintaining dedicated servers for video games.  Computer equipment can be extremely costly as can be the upkeep of said equipment.  Let's also not forget the monthly cost of the electric and internet bill to keep these devices running.  There's a lot of cash going around just to keep these servers going which is part of what is driving video game prices up.  Imagine how much cheaper games could be or how much extra content and skill could be thrown in to a game if they didn't have to set aside so much of the yearly budget to the upkeep of these servers.  Games could easily be pure masterpieces if they could funnel that money into something else.  Again this is all speculation but I feel it's something worth thinking about. 

While we are on the subject of servers and online connectivity it's time we hit the big one, the mother of all problems with online gaming.  It is the thorn that has been shoved into the side of every online gamer.  That big nasty problem is... lag!  There are precious few things that can bring about a fit of rage and utter despair quite like experiencing lag during your gameplay.  The biggest problem with it is the simple fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do to predict or control lag.  Any one of a great number of things could just happen causing you to experience severe lag that changes your gameplay.  Someone with a poor internet connection could join the game.  An Internet Service Provider could have come across a problem or outage.  There could be maintenance with the network server.  There could be too many devices trying to connect at the same time.  The list goes on and on.  Lag is a big issue because, as the picture associated with this section can show, each player can see a different outcome and the game is trying to process each of these instances across multiple platforms.  For example you can see an enemy and hit him in the face on your end. You are expecting this to do damage but nothing happens because on the opponent's screen he saw you and ran in a different direction entirely.  What makes this worse is that some gamers can utilize lag intentionally by causing their connection to be slow and skew the results in their favor.  Lag instantly obliterates any enjoyment you can get from a game.

Lastly is something that I certainly deal with all the time.  The last drawback is being pitted against opponents that are grossly more skilled than you.  This can either be by choice or by the online servers poor matchmaking abilities.  Before I really discuss this I wish to make something very clear.  Gaming against people who are better than you is a good thing as it can help you increase your skill and proficiency at the tame overall.   However there is a complete difference between an opponent more skilled than you and an opponent who is so much better at this than you that there is literally nothing you can do but despair.  Fighting those types of people just plain ruin your game as you can't learn from anyone who is so good you can't even do a single thing about it to even learn how to be better such as in the gif image above.  Now before online multiplayer became a big thing this probably wouldn't be that big of a deal.  You would already know the person who is coming over to play and if they were that much better than you, you would either suggest a different activity or just flat not invite them over to play.  However with the rise of online gaming it becomes easier to agree to gaming with these kind of individuals because, in theory, you can accept a game request at the drop of a hat and leave said game just as quickly without the awkwardness of the individual physically being there at your location.  This opens you up to a more frustrating experience more often.   Now that IS your choice still.  You can choose to ignore the game request and move on with your life;  this is something you can still control.  If this was the only point being made then it would be admittedly weak, however that is not quite the case.  Many games pair you up with random people across the world automatically and in most cases there is no leader board or raking.  There is no way to filter out who is great and who is mediocre either because the computer doesn't take skill level into account by default or the game has technical limitations that can't separate things like that.  You have no choice or option when this happens other than disconnecting form the game and re-joining online in the hopes that your game will be better balanced towards your skill level.  I can attest to multiple instances in Team Fortress 2 and Super Smash Bros where I get pitted against people who play the game so well that this might as well be their profession.  It's makes for a very frustrating experience especially when you either can't get any better or can't learn because of the severe pummeling you are receiving.

So is Online Multiplayer a good thing or a bad thing?

I'm not entirely sure I have an answer for that.  There are many good things about online multiplayer that I have certainly benefited from.  On paper these positives do seem to be more important while the negatives seem to be more annoyances than anything else.  However my discussion above didn't quite go into frequency of the negatives.  In my personal experience, I have come across each of these positives but only a handful of times whereas I am almost guaranteed to run across one of the negatives each and every time I decide to play online multiplayer.  The ratio is easily 8 to 1 for the negatives.

People say to not bring up a problem or potential problem unless you have a solution and I don't know what that solution could be.  I hate dealing with the drawbacks of online multiplayer but I love the benefits I get from it as well.  The only possible solution is having games perform online multiplayer the same way that Minecraft servers work.  One person being a host of the game and hosting online multiplayer matches/games for people who have his userID or friend code.  This means that you could easily manage who comes on to your games and can quickly eliminate those who are causing problems.  However that comes with a different set of drawbacks such as people not being available to host if you wish to play a game online, people losing their temper and kicking people out of an emotional reaction to losing, slow connections of that host machine, not getting to fight complete strangers etc.

There possibly is no solution to this but I feel it's something worth thinking about.  Any improvement that doesn't come at the cost of efficiency or freedom should be at least considered.  What do you think?  Do YOU think Online multiplayer is a good thing?

This is Ghost, Fading into the darkness.
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