The Accurate (and Not-So-Accurate) Depiction of Naginata in Video Games

The entertainment industry, at large, is not always known for its accuracy in either history or weapon handling. So, when you find that gem that gets it right, it can make your inner nerd very happy.

Let’s rewind a bit. In 2013, I was looking for something active to do that was low impact. That’s when I first saw naginata demonstrated at our local YMCA. Naginata is a Japanese polearm weapon, measuring around 7 feet in length with a steel blade on one end and often a spike on the other. The weapon and art are not widely known in the US. There are around 250 practitioners within the US Naginata Federation.

The sweeping movements and the controlled structure of the art were appealing, so I signed up for class. Over the years, I moved up in rank, competed at Nationals, hosted seminars, and became a teacher. 

And then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, there were no classes, no seminars… nothing.

During lockdown, several of us who are part of the Couch Soup community started playing multiplayer games together. One game that had made its way into our rotation was Ubisoft's For Honor

Naginata facing the wrong way in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Aaron (AaronB) knew I was sorely disappointed in the usage of the naginata in Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition because they held their weapons backward. It's the equivalent of holding a sword with the blade pointed at the ceiling. Since he knew that I practiced naginata, he suggested that I try the game to see if it is accurate in any way. The character Nobushi in For Honor wields a naginata. I had my doubts, but I begrudgingly downloaded the game and started playing.

For Honor is a melee combat game with both a story and multiplayer options. In multiplayer, you and 3 of your friends can breach a city, fight champions, or duel each other.

For Honor game cover art from Ubisoft

When you open the multiplayer loading screen, your characters are in their main guard position. I immediately recognized her form. It is a guard position called Chudan. When the loading screen times out and the characters move into an attack form, Nobushi swings up for either a Men (head) or Sune (shin) strike.

I wish we had been streaming or recording because I don’t remember everything I said while nerding out. I just remember Aaron laughing like mad for a good 10 minutes.

Nobushi (left) in the Chudan Guard position in the loading screen

I have played Nobushi for a while now within multiplayer. Her stances, movements, and hand positioning are all very accurate, from the guard stances she uses, Chudan, Hidari Chudan, and Gedan (above the head), to the stabbing and slicing motions of her weapon. Much to the chagrin of anyone who has played with me, the space needed around you for the weapon’s size is also accurate. I have sliced, maimed, and killed many a party member who stood too close. 

Students Paige and Randy Gray square up at a Seminar

I wish I could say that my training gives me an advantage in the game. It does not. But it did prepare me for how she moves. I have talked to several people who do not like playing Nobushi because her movements can seem erratic. However, there is a logic behind the way she moves: we learn to stay on the balls of our feet, causing us to always slightly be in motion. I do not find her movement distracting because I know how it feels to move the way she does.

I was not only impressed with the accuracy of the animation in Nobushi’s movements, but also in the historical accuracy of her existence. The naginata is, traditionally, a samurai woman's weapon. There were several notable female samurai in Feudal Japan, and the weapon became part of her dowry for use to protect the home. The art is still taught as part of girls' physical education classes in Japan and in dojos throughout the world.

Some photos of me with my fellow naginata artists side-by-side with images of Nobushi in For Honor

I hope to see more game development with this level of research and care put into it. 

Here are some other games I've seen that feature the naginata and how they stack up to the real thing:

Soul Calibur 6, Seong Mi-na: The weapon is too short.

Elden Ring, the Cross-Naginata: This is 2 naginatas held simultaneously, but the naginata is a 2-handed weapon.

Ghost of Tsushima, Khotun Kahn: Most of the movement is correct, and the weapon features the spear on the end that was often used.  

Do you practice any martial arts? If so, have you played any games that properly portray your art or that are so very far from correct that they make you cringe?

Crashing in on Clash of Chefs VR - A Review

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to join a couple of Replayers, Cassandra and Emmanuel, on a late-night stream doing a “wonderful” game called Overcooked… I was drunk, and everything immediately went to shit as I almost literally retreated to the corner of my room and assumed the fetal position while everyone yelled orders at me. The very drunk thought occurred to me just then, “Ifff aye kood dew dis in reel lyfe it wood bee eeziirrr.” Well, now I got the closest to what could be considered this chance through the magical world of Virtual Reality. Here’s a review of the game Clash of Chefs from a SOBER Spuddie… Moniker pending. Anyway, let’s do this.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you how I came about procuring this as-of-this-writing unreleased video juego before anyone else was allowed to obtain it. Drew was like, “Hey, we have a key to early access if anyone wants to review it,” and I was like “MEEEEEEEEE,” and he was like, “Ok, here.” The end. (editors note: It went down a bit more professional than that. Luis was picked based on his previous Overcooked experience, tone, and technical experience in VR but there were lots of "E's" at the end of his initial response. - Drew)

Ok, on to the review.

I own an Oculus Quest 2 because they’re cheap and easy (like me after some wine). Unfortunately, I have no idea how technology works, so I couldn’t get the damn game on my headset right off the bat and instead got it through Steam. The only issue here is that I have to use Virtual Desktop on my Quest 2. I don’t have a computer worth thousands of dollars, even though it is a decent almost-high end, but closer to the bottom, computer (Lenovo Legion y545 for all you who want me to talk nerdy to you). So while I did run into a couple of snafus, like latent loading, these will not be recounted in my review since it has nothing to do with the game itself. I will also be providing videos of myself in the game for a sense of gameplay.

As I loaded up the game and checked out the main menu, I noticed something that only someone with my strange sense of observation would probably see. The controls move independently through the menu and don’t need to be prompted with a pre-emptive click to be useful. Here’s a quick run-on sentence to explain that run-on sentence. Most VR game menus cannot use both controllers independently and instead need you to indicate which controller you will be using to select options by clicking the controller first so you may use it as the indicating controller. Or just watch this video showing you what I’m trying to explain:

This doesn’t exactly sound all that impressive, initially. BUT, being a person that loves video games and has been loving VR more and more, I can tell you this is actually a pretty cool feature. Here is a game that sets itself up as a challenge through fast reactions and precise responses using both your physical and mental prowess. Even its top menu shows that its ambidexterity is already better than other games. I was already salivating at the notion of what lay ahead. I clicked into the single-player mode with great anticipation.

The setting is of a diner in the likeness of a hometown Denny’s, or something. Cartoony, bright, colorful, and pleasant. Very much a reminder that you’re playing a game, but it’s so cheerful it makes me happy just to be in there. Besides, who could be angry in a game this childishly cartoony (oh, just you wait).

What came next was somewhat of a surprise. There was an option for a campaign. I thought to myself, “what could this possibly be like? Will I have to build and manage my chef, my restaurant, my menu items? Will I be able to build a character and level his stats? Is there a story to follow? Will I have to prove myself to a panel of rival chefs that ends in a tournament-style chef-off akin to the likes of Iron Chef!?” NOPE. Campaign mode is just a fancy way of saying, “Here are 20 levels in four different restaurants where each level adds a new thingy that makes it slightly more difficult.” So, yeah. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great way to hone your skills and be introduced to what kind of creations you should expect from the game in general, especially if you decide to go up against other players, which I didn’t get the chance to do.

So, Louie, what’s the gameplay actually like? Well, let me tell you in one word: D-E-M-A-N-D-I-N-G. It’s not so strenuous that it takes out all the fun, but it is demanding enough that simple mistakes can ultimately cost you. However, each of the three available restaurants offered different forms of challenges. I’ll go in the order I played them, which was obviously out of order because it’s me.

I started without the tutorial because BOSS MODE! Which I don't think impeded my experience. Even though it would have obviously been a more seamless introduction, I wanted to see precisely how intuitive the gameplay would be without initiation. Also, I didn’t notice there was even a tutorial until after I started, so whatever. I started out making burgers since this is MURICA! Well, that and burgers seemed easier than sushi or pizza. And my assumptions were correct, for a short time…

Unlike its predecessor, there isn’t a bar that shows how close anything is to being finished cooking. Instead, there are audio cues to listen for. Small dings or a difference in the way something that is being cooked sounds. And they are done QUICKLY. Leave a burger patty for more than about 15 seconds, and it gets close to burning. Additionally, leave a cooked item out too long, and it turns spoiled just as quickly. This keeps you on a race against the clock, and there is a necessity to keep things moving smoothly and correctly as much as humanly possible. After getting the hang of a few burgers, I decided to leave after reaching level 5 and went on to pizza.

The Italian scenery was different, but the general schematic of the counter you work on is relatively the same: main dishes are cooked to the left of you, plates and setting in the front, and extra items and drinks on the right. After learning the general flow of making a pizza, I started to work in a zen-like state. I even nearly made a rhythmic dance to make the flow easier. I couldn’t just let things go easily and instead started to look forward to more demanding plates and pizzas. A small meter above the clients’ order shows how satisfied they are with how quickly you get the order out. In other words, working faster necessitates a continual flow, so each subsequent customer receives their order promptly and is satisfied with your work. It’s sort of a trade-off for doing your job correctly, which made the challenge all the better for it.

I went to the Japanese-style kitchen next… and the tribulations of a master chef began to present themselves like a den of trolls that were lying in wait. I found my flow pretty quickly, but a new feature made me lose my freaking mind: the hot tea. In order to correctly produce a “simple” cup of tea, there were a few things that needed to be in place. 1. The tea kettle MUST be steaming, or it won’t be accepted. 2. The cup must be perfectly positioned, or it would fall over and spill, rendering it useless. 3. If the tea sits out too long (about half a tenth of a millisecond), it turns cold and is also useless. These seem obvious, but the kettle had a problem of not really being placed right at any point, no matter how hard I tried. If it’s not positioned correctly, it won’t heat up, and heating up takes time. This interrupted my perfect dance and flow and made me have to stop and stare at a kettle to see if I placed it correctly or not. Most likely have to replace it again and again... In the immortal words of Emperor Kuzco, “You threw off my groove.” *Pouty face* But other than that, it was a fun experience.

I returned to the Burgers, knowing that I had mastered the ebb-and-flow and fully ready to make some bomb-ass boygahs for my adoring fans. But alas, this was not to be. Pizza and sushi could have the ingredients placed in any order to be prepared correctly and set for take-out. But the burgers… oh the god damned burgers. All I could hear was a customer somewhere on this planet that would lose their complete shit over the mere conundrum of accepting a fully prepared meat sandwich with the condiments proceeding from bottom to top; ketchup-meat-mustard. Nay sayeth he. He will not acquiesce to such disorderly conduct! He doth proclaim! It be mustard-meat-ketchup, or it be death! So I made the damn thing again, throwing the other on the ground to inevitably rot and make a group of flies hover over it.

Further insult to injury, the waiter sits by patiently shaking his head if the order isn’t prepared correctly. Even if the ingredients are correct, indicated above his head in a thought bubble with checkmarks, he blindly stares in the distance shaking a “no” with his big dumb head. I named him Carl. I yelled at Carl a lot. Like, terrible things, and a lot of them.

In retrospect, this anger was contrived as it tells you how to do it correctly, but I was being a baby and playing a single game for more than 3 hours could do that to anyo- HOLY SHIT, I PLAYED IT FOR NEARLY 3 STRAIGHT HOURS! Ok, that snuck up on me. A game that will induce a zen-like state and keep you entertained for 3 hours, even if Carl is being a total douche.

Finally, I wanna talk about the bad stuff… but there wasn’t much, to be honest. Aside from the aforementioned TEA KETTLE (which I’m not certain was an in-game issue, maybe I just suck), I only ran into a couple of glitches. The worst being a ladle that stopped working altogether at the end of one of my runs. This was disheartening since I was close to finishing on a perfect status. I had to watch the time run out on my last customer as I could do nothing but throw things at Carl to amuse myself (which you can totally do, and he makes an “ugh” sound). Everything seemed to be on the up-and-up and was responding great! I was frankly surprised at how well it responded to my ninja-like reflexes and totally awesome “bro” movements in the gameplay.

The one thing I couldn’t review because I ran out of time since work/eating/sleeping are things normal “adults” have to do to survive was multiplayer. The “campaign mode” was completed in its near entirety (the fourth restaurant, which is Mexican, is only unlocked at launch but made me sad since I am of “ARRIBA” heritage) within those 3 hours. It's fun enough that I can consider returning when trying to kill time and have some fun at Carl’s expense. My earlier endeavor taught me that this would be a great drinking game at a party to watch sloshed friends fumble all the orders while yelling at Carl to stop shaking his stupid face.

Food for thought (HA!).

Will you be adding Clash of Chefs to your VR game library? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Update: September 2021 Game Releases

September will be kicking off with a bang with the fall release schedule of games. There is a lot of variety getting released to boot, from little indie’s to big-budget action; we have a lot to look forward to this month. Get your pocketbooks ready! It’s about to get crazy this holiday season!

 

September’s Highlights

Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Tales of Arise is the latest installment of the long-running RPG “Tales of” series. The planet of Dahma has always been ruled by the planet in the sky, Rena. You play as residents of Dahma that are often used as slaves trying to find freedom. Experience the most stunning Tales game yet powered by Unreal Engine 4 with dynamic action RPG battles and classic Tales gameplay. Dive into this vibrant new world and rich story on September 10th.

 

DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)

The much-anticipated game from Arkane Studios is finally here. A true “next-gen” title coming to PC and PS5, you will be taking down your foes with glorious style and precision. Deathloop has you playing as two deadly assassins that have to relive a time loop to find the best possible way to reach their target and put an end to the time loop trapping everyone inside. An innovative take on first-person action, Deathloop will allow players to find a preferred playstyle, be it stealth or guns blazing. End the Loop of Death on September 14th.

 

Aragami 2 - Sept 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

You are an Aragami, a group of elite warriors afflicted with a supernatural condition that corrodes the body and mind. You also control Shadow Essence, a mystical power to control the shadows. Go it alone or work with two friends to free the village from invaders who are enslaving the Aragami. The shadows are your ally in this 3rd person fast-paced stealth action game, where you build your own shadow assassin to save and protect your people. Become a master ninja in Aragami 2 on September 16th.

 

Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a story-driven action-adventure set in a charming world rich with exploration and fast-paced combat. Players find and grow a team of tiny spirit companions called the Rot, enhancing their abilities and creating new ways to manipulate the environment. Kena has been developed by Ember Labs, an animation and digital content studio, and is their first-ever game. There has been a lot of anticipation for this gorgeous Pixaresque looking adventure since it was revealed. Help Kena and befriend The Rot on September 21st.

 

Diablo 2 Resurrected - Sept 23rd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Diablo 2 Resurrected is a fully remastered version of the original action RPG, which many believe to be the best. It will have the same classic gameplay as the remaster is built on top of the original game. It will feature cross-progression across all platforms with updated features and support for modern gaming needs. The entire game, including monsters, items, and spells, has been updated, including the original expansion, so you get the full Diablo 2 story in one package. Play with up to eight people and return to this classic adventure or play for the first time on September 23rd.

 

The complete list… (Updated*)

Big Rumble Boxing Creed Champions - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

KitAria Fables - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

The Medium - Sept 3rd (PS5)

Chernobylite - Sept 4th (PS4)

Sonic Colors Ultimate - Sept 7th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

WRC 10  - Sept 7th ( PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Hindsight 20/20 - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Life is Strange True Colors - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Olympia Soiree - Sept 9th (Switch)

NBA 2K22 - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Lost in Random - Sept 10th (PS4, Ps5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Colors Live - Sept 14th (Switch)

DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)

Ever Forward - Sept 14th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Where The Heart Leads - Sept 14th (PS4)

Aragami 2 - Sept 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Prince's Edition - Sept 17th (Switch)

Tails of Iron Crimson Knight Edition - Sept 17th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Lost in Judgment - Sept 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Apsulov: End of Gods - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5)

Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)

Diablo 2 Resurrected - Sept 23rd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Death Stranding Director’s Cut - Sept 24th ( PS5)

The Addams Family: Mansion Mayhem - Sept 24th (PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC)

FIFA 22 - Sept 26th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Hot Wheels Unleashed - Sept 26th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Alchemic Cutie - Sept 28th (Xbox, PC)

Lemnis Gate - Sept 28th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

New World - Sept 28th (PC)

Open Country - Sept 28th (PS4, Xbox)

Streets of Rage 4 Anniversary Edition - Sept 28th (PS4, Switch)

Insurgency: Sandstorm - Sept 29th (PS4, Xbox)

RICO London - Sept 30th (PS4, Switch)

The Riftbreaker - Sept 30th (PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

Xuan Yuan Sword 7 - Sept 30th (PS4, Xbox)

 

What game are you most looking forward to playing this September?

 

First Impressions: Raft

Have you ever wanted to feel like being stranded in the middle of the ocean? Better yet, do want to feel like you’re in the movie Waterworld? Well, my Kevin Costner enthusiasts, do I have a game for you!

Welcome to Raft: a game that sets you in the middle of the ocean with only a small raft and nothing but a hook to catch resources (or, as I like to call it, Earth’s pollution). The resources that you try to acquire are plastic, leaves, wood, and barrels that hold extra resources for you. You also monitor your health bar at the bottom left of your screen which has your food and water meter. If you get thirsty or hungry, you will lose all energy, and your health bar will start to deteriorate if you don’t find food and water quickly.

Pollution for the win?

In order to survive, you must expand your raft and find ways to get or make drinkable water and food. When I first played, I had no idea what I was doing. It soon dawned on me that in order to keep my health up I would need to become a broke-ass engineer with the resources I collected and actually build water purifiers, plastic cups, and an actual grill to cook fish. When I was able to figure out my food and water problems and get over the “I am the smartest person alive” feeling, I quickly realized that I had another problem on my hands.

The shark. 

The shark was the bane of my existence. The Yoko Ono to my Beatles, the Matt Patricia to my Detroit Lions, and the Nemesis to my Jill Valentine. It is an entity that is CONSTANT in this game and will make you ask, "God WHY?" Gathering my wits, I decided to make a spear from the wood I was able to collect from the ocean. When playing, I noticed that the shark can destroy one square from your raft, and the only way to prevent it from taking out that square is to attack it with the spear.

After my successful fight with “Jaws,” I continued building and adding more to my raft. Making storage bins and crafting a fishing rod for catching food, I was getting the hang of living out in the ocean.

Then I saw it. An ISLAND! 

So much room for activities on that island!

Quickly making a paddle, I was able to make my way onto land with “Jaws” in tow. I discovered that you can collect a selection of watermelons, mangoes, and coconuts as well as collecting their seeds. If there are trees on the island, you can craft yourself a makeshift hatchet and collect wood and, if you're lucky, more fruits.

After exploring the small island, I noticed that you can collect more resources from the reefs. For example, I found a muffler near the reef and was able to get metal out of it along with clay near rocks.

Of course, it was difficult to get those resources with “Jaws” attacking me constantly, so I had to dip in and dip out of the water.

After scouring through the reefs and dodging a hungry shark like the idiot savant that I am, I was able to collect enough resources and leave the island. Soon after leaving, I figured out that I can craft a blueprint table to make better equipment, like a metal hatchet, a bigger grill to cook larger fish on, or even a makeshift radar to find nearby islands and ships.

"Jaws," a.k.a. the annoyingly big fish.

Now, I knew from playing this game solo that it wasn’t really all that fun for me unless I wanna bring my stress down for the day. Thankfully, I was able to get Dan (StarkEvilVash) and Brandy (watery_tart19) to join me, and we were able to combine all three of our brains into one functioning adult! (Look out world!)

The co-op aspect of Raft was surprisingly fun! You can load up your world and invite your friends into that world, and they can help you on your adventure as well as progressing in the story.

With the three of us trying to survive, we were able to get the hang of getting food and water instead of fighting over scraps of sustenance. For all of this, had to build more purifiers and grills. One thing that I found out about the "down and out" status is that whenever you're down, you're considered "incapacitated," and your friends can grab your body and place you on a bed in order for you to wake up. Even better, you don’t die and lose EVERYTHING!

I still keep getting drawn back into playing this game.

Once I got a sail up and a flag to figure out which direction the wind was taking us, I would casually try to take us to other islands that we saw on the distant horizon. Like a navy ship with budget cuts, we would drop anchor, explore the islands, collect what resources we can and dip out before “Jaws” made its grand entrance again.

Another mechanic I noticed in this game is that you can build all sorts of shelters on your own raft. You can even build a second deck with stairs and all!

My ship after the budget cuts.

To conclude this conclusion, I’ll conclude that Raft is a lot of fun to play, especially with friends because the game can be a little unforgiving when you are playing alone. When you die, you lose everything you have in your inventory and have to start again collecting resources and crafting tools. 

Speaking of death and mayhem in this game, there's a glitch that can occur that happened to me while I was on an island and had to log off. When I logged back in the next day, my character was in the drink and drowned! I was forced to start over again because my saved file put me back to where I died. I had to carry on knowing I lost everything.

However, I still enjoyed playing this game and will continue to play it, so I'd say that the replay value of this game is pretty high up there. I still keep getting drawn back into playing this game. I don’t want to give this game a rating yet since it's still in early access, but I would recommend giving this game a look-see if you're into survival games!

Have you tried Raft yet? What survival games have you enjoyed? Share your experiences in the comments!

 

Gears For Years: A Life-Altering Story

My story begins in November of 2006. The Xbox 360 is just about to turn a year old, and with games like Halo 3 still another year away, my older brother and I had nothing to scratch that co-op/multiplayer itch. We stopped at our local GameStop to pick up Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, one of the most fun and brilliant co-op games I have played. But something else caught my eye. There it was. The game's box art immediately piqued my interest. A game that has Hugh Jackman (huge-jacked-men *haha*)? check. A third-person shooter that has horror vibes? Ah, check. Lastly, a game that may deliver that multiplayer experience my brother and I had been looking for? CHECK, CHECK, and CHECK! With the game purchased and our hopes high, we eagerly rushed home and inserted the disc into our 360.  We loaded up the main menu to witness the title of a game that would have an impact on my life to this day... Gears of War.

Gears of War is a series that takes place on Sera, a planet similar to Earth. A military faction named the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has claimed victory in a seventy-nine-year war, dubbed the Pendulum Wars, against the Union of Independent Republics (UIR). They have been fighting over an alternative fuel source called Imulsion. There was finally peace on planet Sera for only six weeks before an army of terrifying creatures referred to as the "Locust Horde" emerged from below the surface and declared war on humanity. They killed a quarter of the population in just the first twenty-six hours. This would go on to be known as Emergence Day. Now, fourteen years later, you play as disgraced war hero Marcus Fenix and his best friend Dominic Santiago, (voiced by the talented John DiMaggio and Carlos Ferro) who are tasked to carry out a last-attempt mission to save humanity.

You may take a glance at the series and think, "Oh, it's a game about these big meatheads chainsawing space aliens," but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. As I played the series over the years, it told a story of brotherhood and family, and that is exactly what I found in the outside world thanks to this game franchise. It led me to a group of a select few who I now call brothers of my own.

The all-star cast of John DiMaggio, Carlos Ferro, Lester Speight, and Fred Tatasciore bring these characters to life as the voices of Gears of Wars Delta squad.

I recall sitting in math class in high school waiting for class to begin. I was chatting with a student about how much fun I was having playing the Guardian game mode in Gears of War 2's versus mode when I was unexpectedly interrupted by another classmate a few desks over. He asked if I was talking about Gears 2, to which I replied with a solid yes. He explained that he loved the game so much that he played it every day. I stared at him and said, "Did we just become best friends?" And the rest is history. For years we have continued to play every new entry in the series, honing our skills in online versus. We particularly favored the 2 vs. 2 playlist "Brothers To The End," where two teams of two battle it out to deplete the other teams respawns and claim victory.

A few years down the road, I found myself moving down to Miami, Florida, for a short time. During my stay there, I was fortunate to come across a group of people I met through work that had an interest in gaming like I did. We became fast friends, always talking about comic books, video games, and the next big title coming out.

The new Gears of War lead protagonists Del, Kait, and JD, voiced by the talented Laura Bailey, Eugene Byrd, and Retro Replay's very own Liam McIntyre.

We would clock out from work most nights and head over to our co-worker's house On his back patio, we would hook up a few Xboxes and TVs and play the wave-based survival "Horde" mode that was introduced in the second installment of the Gears of War series. This is one of the most popular game modes the franchise has to date. We would play for hours, laughing, yelling, screaming, and having a great time playing as these band of brothers fighting against overwhelming odds and grasping for victory. It was nights like these that really formed strong friendships and created a bond that would never be broken. Even now that most of us have moved away and gone on to build new lives, we still find time to talk and game almost daily while visiting each other whenever it's possible.

As the series changed and evolved with each new installment in the series, I, as a person, changed with it. Perhaps the greatest bond I made playing this game over the years happened while playing online one night with the same friend I had met in math class long ago. He introduced me to a girl that had played Halo 2 with him back on the original Xbox in 2004.

"Humans are no strangers to war. After all, we've been fighting for as long as we can remember. War is all we know." - Chairman Prescott

That same girl and I talked for hours that night while we played games such as Halo Reach and Left 4 Dead 2. She told me that she had never played Gears of War and would not mind giving it a try. So, over the next few weeks, we ran through the campaigns and then would jump into playing Horde mode for hours on end. I would always find it hilarious how excited she would get when she would unexpectedly take her Lancer (an assault rifle with a chainsaw on it) and saw down an enemy from behind.

The more we played, the more we got to know each other. There were days when we were playing that we would joke around, laugh about life and just have fun. But then there were the times where the conversations became deep and we opened up to each other and shared stories about our life experiences all while mindlessly taking down wave after wave of the Locust Horde. By playing this game together and experiencing all the ups and downs and emotions that the campaign's story had to offer (I'm looking at you, Gears 3), it became an outlet that built a relationship between us that I never thought would have been possible.

As I reflect on the past here in the year 2021, I find myself extremely grateful that this franchise introduced me to so many wonderful people who have changed my life in ways that I never would have imagined. I want to say thank you to a game that has given me more than I ever could have asked for in this world. That girl and I now have been together for eight years and have been happily married for almost two. We are now also expecting our first child in May (it's a girl!).  As for the group of friends I met along the way (my Gear bros), they became brothers to me. No matter what, we always will have each other’s backs and be there to pick each other up when one falls. They all came together and celebrated with my wife and I on our wedding day where we even cut one of our cakes with a life-sized Retro Lancer as husband and wife.

It's hard to imagine that if my brother and I had never taken a chance on trying a new game back in 2006, the life I have today, all the friendships I have made, and the family that I will be starting may never have happened. With the way the world is today, people are spending more time indoors now than ever. So pick up a game, call a friend, and try something new. You never know what lies around the next corner. You may discover a new friendship, form a strong bond with someone, or even find a family as I did.

Let me know in the comments below if you have a game that has affected your life in some way or holds a special place in your heart and why. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and game on!