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Why Rocket League Needs to Signal the Return of the Non-Traditional Sports Game

As the recent abomination of film and humanity at large Pixels has proven, gamers are still subject to a number of negative stereotypes among the public at large. No matter how popular video game culture (or for that matter, “geek” or “nerd” culture) may get, it seems there is always going to be a sect of people who will picture your average gamer as a pasty basement dweller afraid of interactions with the opposite sex.

To be honest, considering that it’s impossible to achieve universal love regardless of the type of person you are, dwelling on these perceptions ultimately seems kind of petty. However, there are some perceptions about gamers at large that I feel remain prevalent enough to cause harm to truly advancing game design.

Among those stereotypes, one of the most baffling is the seeming perception that gamers don’t like sports.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Flawed Masterpieces – Batman: Arkham Asylum

Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.

Arkham Asylum is one of the greatest surprises in video game history. While Batman hadn’t exactly gotten the worst treatment of in super hero in terms of video game adaptations, the market itself had been saturated with so many cash-in attempts that the notion of a truly compelling super hero game was still something of a stretch.

Yet that is exactly what Asylum ended up being. And even though the game has gone on to launch a trilogy that deserves to be thought of as one of the greatest of all-time, many fans still hold Asylum in such high regard that the further each subsequent release gets from its own style the more they protest.

While that opinion is certainly valid, I feel that too a degree the love affair with Asylum goes too far, as the shock of its quality still resonates to such a degree it can blind fans to some of the shortcomings that later games in the series would improve upon.

Awful Boss Fights

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The Arkham series has always been somewhat hit and miss with its boss fights, but Arkham Asylum is the only game in the series without a true hit to its name.

Much has been made about the overuse on the “Big hulking charger who you have to sidestep in order to have them run into objects, while fighting off waves of goons” mechanic, and particularly how it impacts the final boss fight of the game, but the real issue with Arkham’s boss fights is a seeming lack of interest to have them exist in the first place.

The boss fights of Arkham felt like an obligation. Even the two fights in the game that felt somewhat different from the rest (Poison Ivy and Killer Croc) either used a tired formula of tiered attacks (Ivy) or initially seemed interesting, but were ultimately undone by how weak the boss was thus removing any element of real danger (Croc).

I understand why developer Rocksteady would have felt the need to include boss fights in a superhero game, but wish they would have focused on developing those fights in a way that felt true to the Batman universe, especially considering how well of a job they did showcasing their expertise in that world.

Limited Movement and Combat Systems

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As innovative as Arkham Asylum’s combat is, it suffers from a lack of depth. The game tries to add some variety to the affair by allowing you to expand your moves through an upgrade system and throwing in enemies that can’t be defeated by button mashing, but the upgrades are painfully limited and at best throw a few moves your way that allows you to skip the real meat of the combat all-together.

The movement system suffers a similar problem, in that it’s so restricted. All of Batman’s movements feel so stiff and direct, while too much time is spent slowly wandering down another hallway. The later games really did a truly great job of making you feel like Batman outside of the combat segments, while this one struggles to make this aspect feel unique to the character.

Admittedly this one is more of a nitpick in retrospect, but there is no denying that the movement and combat systems in Asylum are merely a taste to what would come.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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What’s Missing From Video Game Delays? Honesty

As rumors begin to circulate that the now infamous Batman: Arkham Knight PC release’s various shortcomings may have all been known by publisher WB well before the game’s release, the situation is quickly evolving from a debacle, to a joke.

That’s the way I’ve chosen to start looking at it anyway. As someone who made the questionable decision to pre-order the game for a discount, and can still only play it at a performance level just below functional, I’ve elected to forgo anger and disappointment and instead embrace the pure comedic absurdity of the situation.

This does make me worry about my mental trajectory taking the same path as the Joker’s, but I digress.

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But just because I’ve chosen to joke about Arkham Knight’s PC release more than I rant about it, doesn’t mean that I’m not still angry. I’m angry at the money I spent on the game, the growing culture of these types of releases and the fact that what should be celebrated as one of the great gaming franchise of all time now has this black mark on its legacy.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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E3 2015 Presentation Scores: Part Two

Microsoft

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At E3, Microsoft gave us a press conference that felt kind of uninspiring in the moment, but that I felt was actually quite promising.

To kick things off, they unveiled their plan to bring backwards compatibility to the Xbox One, which I’m not sure a single person would have possible predicted prior to the event. Considering the lucrative money to be made on the downloadable game market, Microsoft allowing players complete access to the considerable Xbox 360 catalog (which is among the best in gaming history) is a complete win for the Xbox fanbase. I don’t believe it sells the Xbox One on its own, but it’s a hell of an incentive to be sure.

Then you have Rare Replay, a collection of 30 games from developer Rare, which I’m absolutely shocked didn’t happen the moment Microsoft paid too much for the company. To be sure it’s disappointing the complete Rare catalog can’t be made available, no Goldeneye or Donkey Kong  is a pretty big hit, but the $30 asking price is justified by the presence of Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, and the Banjo series alone. Everything else is just gravy.

Also…my god how great was Rare during the N64 days?

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Microsoft’s selection of original properties and technology on the way was also pretty impressive. They’ve got some tremendous indie titles on the way (the 1930’s style Cuphead pretty much stole the show) while games like ReCore and Sea of Thieves, and announcements such as the debut of an early access style program showed that Microsoft is not going to be resting on its laurels to propel the Xbox One into the future.

Which is good, because those laurels all fell pretty flat. Microsoft’s “home-run” announcements of Halo 5, Forza 6, Fable Legends and Gears of War 4 didn’t seem to inspire quite the reaction the company may have hoped. Nothing necessarily looked bad among these games, but they didn’t seem to bring anything to the table that we hadn’t seen before. They might not need them right this second, but it’s becoming clear Microsoft needs to get their hands on the big new properties of tomorrow sooner rather than later.

Similarly, announcements like the Hololens looked cool enough but felt kind of cold. It’s clear that companies are starting to look for the next major thing in gaming technology and while there’s a lot of interesting ideas on the table, I can’t say that any of it, the Hololens in particular, seems to be quite there yet. It’s even more worrisome when you consider that Microsoft’s last big technological unveiling, the Kinect, didn’t receive one significant mention during the entire show.

Had Microsoft’s big name games had the impact that the company clearly intended them to have, this would have been a much more significant event. As it stands, I’m mostly left hoping, wishing and waiting the teases of these exciting original properties pan out.

Grade: B

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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E3 2015 Day One Presentation Scores

Another E3 is upon us, and along with a bevy of new games to somehow think of saving money for in the midst of a Steam sale, my favorite part of the super event are the presentations themselves.

Whether they are historically great or impressively bad (I still hate you Jamie Kennedy), the E3 presentations are always worth discussing in the pursuit to discover just who won E3 2015.

This year I’ll be reviewing every major presentation and event with a letter grade, and while things don’t get really interesting until tomorrow, tonight’s opening salvo provided enough goodness to start the festivities.

The Nintendo World Championships       

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Last year the Nintendo World Championships was a cute little concept that gave Nintendo a bit of presence at the physical E3 event, in lieu of the traditional press conference. It was an entertaining enough  distraction, but wasn’t exactly memorable.

This year Nintendo by and large stuck to that format, but top to bottom the event was actually much better managed. The game selection was far better (can competitive Splatoon please become a thing?), and I felt that they did a pretty good job of building a competition system with games not traditionally designed for such a thing.

There were two definitive highlights of the event. The first was Nintendo’s brilliant decision to introduce one entirely new game (the 3DS Blastball) and showcase for the first time the true nature of another game (Mario Maker now known as Super Mario Maker) during the competition. This could have been a horrible move to actually have these incomplete games available to the judging public outside the safety net of a carefully organized traditional E3 presentation, but the surprise of seeing these games in this format truly paid off.

As for the games themselves, Blastball is a cute little mech-infused spin on soccer that much like many multiplayer Nintendo games, looks like a blast among friends. I do still wonder about the depth potential of this title, though, as a couple of wrinkles thrown in aside, the basic gameplay looks incredibly simple. It’s not quite ready for release yet, so I’m interested to see what Nintendo infuses into the experience.

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Super Mario Maker on the other hand? I can only say wow. I understood the concept of the game and thought it might be a cute little Mario Paint style diversion, but after seeing the creations of Nintendo’s team using the engine applied to the championship round of the completion, I’m in awe of the creative potential this game is capable of. I constantly found myself screaming “What!” at what was happening on-screen, and I can only imagine what the community will come up with when this one becomes available.

The other big hit of the show was actually a nice little throwback to last year’s championship as Reggie Fils-Aime made good on a vague challenge to compete with the Smash Bros. champion despite his lack of Smash Bros. skills. It was a cute little moment worthy of a burst of applause that showcased the kind of playfulness that makes Nintendo so unique.

The biggest problem with this event, besides a couple of annoying technical snafus, was the commentary. For the most part it came across as awkward and unnecessary with some of the invited guests being particularly painful to sit through. Oh, and whoever decided to let that kid on the mic during the Splatoon round should be punished with listening to an audio loop of it during the entirety of the next work week. Cute can turn to grating real fast, and it sure did there.

Overall I thought Nintendo held a fun event, that was seriously dragged down by a rotating commentary team that made muting a peaceful alternative far too often. I will throw in a bonus point for the announcement of the original Mother game being available on the Wii U which accompanied this event, if for no other reason than it gets us this much closer to a true domestic version of Mother 3.

Grade: B

Bethesda’s 2015 E3 Showcase

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With the possible exceptions of Nintendo, Valve and Rockstar, no developer could have come out tonight and did what Bethesda did.

Let’s get right into it. The only thing on most people’s minds coming into E3 was a game with a level of mystique that was approaching Half-Life 3 territory; Fallout 4. Bethesda delivered on the impossible amount of hype this game is riding in on, by giving us a presentation of Fallout 4 that was more thorough than I ever would have imagined.

Maybe even a little too thorough. I was pretty shocked at how much of the beginning of the game we go to see, especially considering what an incredible surprise it would have been to experience it cold in-game. They cut it out apparently before the story really kicked in, but then dropped a couple of plotline tidbits that again felt like they may have been better off being left for the game.

That being said, what an incredible job Bethesda did getting everyone somehow more excited for Fallout 4. From the reveal of an elaborate base building mechanic that looks worthy of a game in and of itself, to the inclusion of the exact kind of dynamic crafting mechanic fans have been clamoring for, everything shown about Fallout 4 thus far looks like a Fallout game I always wanted, but was afraid to dare hope for.
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My only knock against the footage was that some aspects of the design (particularly the enemies’ health bars and the use of what appeared to be an on the rails shooter segment) didn’t look quite right. Hopefully the rough edges will be smoothed out in time for the game’s surprisingly close holiday release date.

Also during that presentation, we got a glimpse of a free mobile game set in the Fallout universe available on iOS right now (Note: It’s a base management game that’s fairly light on the in-app purchase mechanics, and is pretty entertaining) and a real life pip-boy device that will work with your mobile device and be available when Fallout 4 is. As Todd Howard put it, it’s a gimmick to be sure but is “The coolest fucking gimmick ever.”

Outside of that obvious highlight, we were given a pretty hefty sneak peek of Doom and it’s looking exactly like you’d want a next gen version of Doom to really look like. It’s fast paced, filled with classic weapons, relies on health and ammo pick-ups and is bloody as hell. Seemingly designed to show us that Bethesda knows exactly what Doom 3 did wrong, and isn’t prepared to make the same mistake again, this was everything it need to be and, thanks to the announcement of a custom game builder mode, just a little more.

I do have some reservations on whether the new Doom can be quite as compelling as the recent Wolfenstein reboot due to the simpler nature they are going with for the game, but I’ll be damned if the entire Doom segment wasn’t just what it needed to be.

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Rounding out the event was a sneak peek at Dishonored 2 (which unlike the other major games shown didn’t leave us with much to go off of) and a brief nod to The Elder Scrolls online which (in what was potentially something of an insider joke for the struggling game) got little screen time as the developers claimed they were too hard at work on the experience to make a full appearance. Also announced in that segment was an Elder Scrolls card game, which one could view as a cheap chance at getting in on that sweet Hearthstone money, but I choose to be optimistic for.

As I said at the start, there are very few companies that could have had the presentation Bethesda just had, because no one has quite that much ammunition in their development arsenal. It was an exciting glimpse into the near future of gaming that included much more footage than we could have hoped to see.

I do have some minor concerns about a few things we saw during that feast of footage, and can’t help but be a little concerned for Bethesda’s ventures into the dangerous free to play world, but as a whole this is everything you want a truly great E3 conference to be.

Grade: A 

A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Flawed Masterpieces: Dark Souls

Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.

Dark Souls is a great game. Actually, as the title of this article suggests, it is a masterpiece.

I’ve only thought of Dark Souls more recently with the release of Bloodborne, which has reignited my love of the Souls franchise like a freshly kindled bonfire in the hopeless night.

Yet as much as I love Dark Souls (I once wrote it ruined me for other games, and stand by that statement in many ways) it is not a perfect game. Some of its flaws didn’t become evident the first time through, nor the second or even the third. But as I go through what will be my fifth playthrough of From Software’s great contribution to gaming, I have found there are things about Dark Souls which do hinder the game. Some of these hindrances are small. Others…well to be honest some of them continue to impact the franchise to this day.

So with respects to my fellow Dark Souls travelers, I present the biggest flaws of Dark Souls.

The Magic System

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Magic in Dark Souls was intentionally dialed back from its Demon Souls counterpart, on the grounds that the old magic system made certain parts of the experience meant to be challenging in a specific way, far too easy to get around.

That’s fine, but the problem became that making a pure magic character in Dark Souls is a huge chore. Even assuming you have a slight indication of where to go and how to manage your path to pure sorcery (which, as I’ll be discussing later, is a big assumption) you’ll find your ability to manage the early game on your limited spell repertoire alone to be nigh impossible. Even the act of casting a spells will require some online fact checking for many new players.

Eventually, you can get a handle on how the process works, but this doesn’t mean the game makes this class pursuit any easier. Compared to regular weapons, truly useful spells are incredibly difficult to locate even for the more thorough players, and Dark Souls system of granting you a limited number of casts per bonfire visit means that at some point you will have to devote resources to an alternate form of combat.

I’m sure that this is where some Dark Souls players who went through the entire game with nothing but spells will tell me I’m crazy, and that devoted magic builds are incredibly powerful late game, but the fact remains that Dark Souls treatment of magic throws every possible hurdle at the player who wishes to use it as a primary resource.

And that’s what really bothers me about the process. Not that magic isn’t viable or entertaining, but that for a game already so focused on making things as difficult as possible, the heavy restrictions placed on such a primary mechanic  simply feel arbitrary.

Blighttown

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I don’t mean this entrant to be as controversial as it will inevitably be, but I am of the camp that says Blighttown is an uninspired misery.

Let’s start with something everyone can probably agree on. Blighttown’s framerate, especially pre-patch, is a joke. It’s so bad in crucial moments, that the conspiracy theory that it was intentionally implemented into the level to add to the general misery doesn’t actually sound that unreasonable.

Beyond that, the entire basis behind Blighttown seems to have been to throw the most miserable aspects of the game at the wall to see what sticks. That means curses, unavoidable enemies at the bottom of ladders, leaps of faith courtesy of awkward platforming, unreasonable distances between bonfires, annoying enemies and poison around every corner.

Some of these can be countered through shortcuts and the right combination of inventory, but in true Dark Souls fashion it’s going to be very likely you won’t have acquired much of it by the time you get to Blighttown. That means you’re in for multiple, miserable attempts through the long way around.

And that sucks. Dark Souls is at its best when it’s difficult, but fair and Blighttown eschews that notion in favor of introducing the kind of annoyingly overwhelming (and wholly unenjoyable) level of frustration non-Dark Souls fans have come to unfairly associate the series with. On my multiple playthroughs of the game, it is always the one area I roll my eyes at, even with the shortcuts.

Surviving Blighttown has created a brotherhood among Dark Souls players, due to that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that comes with besting it. However, that doesn’t make it a good level. Just an epic pain in the ass.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Naxxramas Revisited: Ranking The Impact of Every Curse of Naxxramas Card on Hearthstone

While it has become somewhat foolish to expect anything less than total success from Blizzard Entertainment, I must say that the growth of Hearthstone in just over a years time has simply astounded me.

It’s easy to point to the game’s sizeable player base and revenue numbers to really drive this point home, but as a somewhat religious player of Hearthsone, when I talk about growth in Hearthstone, what I’m talking about is content.

Looking back at the average Hearthstone game when I began playing in its beta stages compared to the game now reveals two entirely different animals. Hearthstone‘s meta game (a term used to describe the ever shifting value of certain cards, decks and strategies) has kept chugging along due in some part to the creative strategies of that aforementioned astounding player base, but largely because of the contributions of Blizzard, who have been routinely updating the game with card tweaks, updates and of course, expansions.

The latest expansion (the PvE style adventure mode Blackrock Mountain) released this past Thursday, and even though we’ve only been able to experience one of it’s five weekly released wings, already it has left a footprint on the game’s meta, that has Hearthstone players everywhere going headstrong into the breach once more battling against the winds of change.

It’s also left me thinking about the last Hearthstone expansion we got, Curse of Naxxramas. Released in July of 2014, Naxxramas was the first substantial injection of new content into Hearthstone, and its overwhelming success forever set the benchmark for expansions.

But as I said, Hearthstone is a game that changes quickly. So, in honor of the release of the newest adventure, I thought it might be fun to look back on  Naxxramas to determine just what cards have left the biggest impact on the game’s meta.

Largely, then, these rankings are based on the overall effect they had on the game, but in cases of cards that are about equal, the tiebreaker went to overall quality.

Let’s get started.

29. Stoneskin Gargoyle

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Not much to say on this one. Bad stats, heavily dependent on elaborate scenarios for even theoretical uses and possess an ability that’s more unique than it is genuinely useful.

Pretty much everybody thought it was going to be bad at the start of Naxxramas, and they were right.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Why It’s Time We Finally Pay Friday the 13th for the NES A Little Respect

*It’s been a long  break since my last post. Maybe I’ll break that down later, but for now let’s talk about Friday the 13th

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Wait.

Before you start, I just want to let you know that I’m not trying to say Friday the 13th is a good game. It’s quite far from it. In fact, I can’t imagine the scenario wherein I would say to a gamer, regardless of their age or gaming experience; “Hey, you know what you should play? Friday the motherfucking 13th for the NES.”  In fact, I’m not even trying to argue that the game is some kind of underrated experience, or hidden gem that’s value has only revealed itself after the years have weathered away the earth and dirt that once covered it, leaving us with only a glint of something beautiful that we can truly admire.

Friday the 13th for the NES is not that gem. But it is what I used to refer to in my youth as a “shiny stone.” A shiny stone is ultimately just a worthless rock. However, it may have glints of minerals or some other crystalized formation that give it just a little more merit than the average stone. Not enough to make it an irreplaceable piece of history mind you, but just compelling enough to keep with you longer than you otherwise would.

But let’s back up a bit for the unfamiliar. Why is Friday the 13th for the NES so hated?

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Valiant Hearts Video Review

A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review

Valiant Hearts is a game that makes me question the very nature of video game reviews.

It takes us to a time and place that video games rarely explore; Europe during the First World War. There we follow the stories of four people who have all found themselves mixed up in the war against their will. There’s Karl, a native German living in France with his wife Marie, who is called back to Germany to serve. Marie’s father Emile, who gets drafted into the war by France. Freddie, an American living in France who joins the war in order to seek vengeance for his fallen wife. And Ana, whose nursing and driving abilities aid her in a quest to find her kidnapped father.

Oh, and there’s of course a loveable medical assistant dog named Walt, who crosses paths with each of these characters throughout the game.

Part of what makes this game so very hard to review, is just how beautiful it is. Valiant Hearts’ art style takes cues from several prominent graphic novels and classic Disney films, but I can’t say that I’ve ever really seen anything quite its equal in any other medium. You can get an idea of just how gorgeous this game is by looking at pictures of it, but to truly appreciate the full extent of its artistic majesty, it must be seen in motion.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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