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Hoyle Casino on the Game Boy Color: Gambling on the Go.

For a long while, I was fascinated by casino video games. Maybe since I was too young to actually play at a casino, I figured casino video games would simulate the casino experience without losing loads of money in the process. It’s a shame that nowadays casinos are inundated with digital slots and video poker machines, with maybe a blackjack and craps table here and there. It’s just not the same.

During my teenage years, I was playing one of these casino games, back when I had just gotten the fancy new Game Boy Advance. Though, it was a Game Boy Color game…

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn't crushed to hell, I'd just scan mine in.

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn’t crushed to hell, I’d just scan mine in.

Hoyle Casino is a game sponsored by the Hoyle game company, which primarily is a playing card company, though these days they’ve also branched out to publishing digital games based on TV shows like Ice Road Truckers. This game is also unique because it was one of the few games Sierra published for the GBC, with the others being sister title Hoyle Card Games and a version of 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillrideHoyle Casino came to other systems, but today I’m looking at the portable release.

Pulsar Interactive worked on this, and they were mostly known for Game Boy games like Barbie Fashion Pack, as well as assisting in Quest for Glory V and Blood & Magic, as well as IBM’s Manage This!, which is not a video game but they were more than proud to feature it on their website.

I figured I played this a bunch because of the aforementioned fascination with casino games. Plus since it was on a portable and this was before everybody had smartphones, it was a great time waster when you had nothing to do, which was fairly common in my high school years.

Now, my gold standard for casino games is Nintendo’s Vegas Stakes – both the original SNES version and it’s Game Boy counterpart – so let’s see if Hoyle Casino is good enough to dethrone the king of casino video games.

Hoyle Casino is a proud sponsor of VICE. I’m more of a MisterCard person, personally.

We’re introduced to this screen where you create your character, complete with portrait. It’s merely cosmetic, but I decide to go for the classy gentleman portrait for this one.

This game boasts "hundreds of variations." I'm not seeing hundreds, here.

This game boasts “hundreds of game variations.” I’m not seeing hundreds, here.

Hoyle Casino has seven base games in it: Blackjack, Slot Machines, Craps, Roulette, Pai-Gow Poker, Video Poker and just “Poker.” Considering Hoyle is best known for playing cards, I’m not surprised how much poker games are in that.

As I select the Poker option, suddenly I am given a deluge of various choices.

More poker than you need. Not like these variants matter considering everybody just plays Texas Hold’em these days…

Holy crap, that’s a lot of poker games. They got most of the common ones, including Seven Card Stud that I remember playing in Vegas Stakes, as well as the now-iconic Texas Hold ‘Em, the one type of Poker everyone knows because it was on TV for a long while.

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A look at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s original music kits.

So for the past month and a half, I’ve been fixated on something a bit unusual:

When you need some jams while getting the ace on Dust II.

Valve introduced “music kits” to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive back in October 2014. These special items replace the game’s default music with unique tracks by nine different musicians. You can get one of these offered randomly in-game for $4.99, or buy one on the Steam marketplace if you’re looking for a specific one. Alternatively while in-game, you can borrow anyone’s music kit if they have one equipped, so you can give it a try in action.

I love video game music. I also tend to get nerdy about the parts of video game music most people don’t notice. Naturally when this was announced, I was excited for something that was probably done to distract us from how broken the CZ75-Auto is in CS:GO (at the time). But I was curious on what each one sounded like, and if they were any good.

The first nine music kits introduced. A nice mix of game composers, DJs and hard rockers.

For the sake of this, I’m gonna give a review of each kit. Granted, I’m not an expert at reviewing music, but I’ll try to review it to the best of my abilities, and links that feature each kit so you can listen to them for yourself. Without further ado, let’s get started.

I’m not gonna review the stock default that’s been in the game since 2012, but I will say this: It’s fine. It works. It’s credited to just “Valve,” but some of it seems to be split between Valve composer mainstay Mike Morasky and DOTA2/Myst V composer Tim Larkin. It’s what I kinda hate about Valve’s philosophy of only crediting the company rather than specific employees: It makes it harder to credit who made who.

(Videos courtesy of YouTube user TheLeafyfille.)

Austin Wintory, Desert Fire

DESCRIPTION: Grammy nominated game composer Austin Wintory asks, why bother hunting your enemies when you can lure them in with a deadly, admittedly insane, tango?

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Austin Wintory’s done music for most of thatgamecompany’s work, such as fl0w, and Journey, which I heard was a great game. (I still need to get around to playing that one.) Out of all the game composers featured here, barring Sean Murray, I’d say he’s probably the most famous game composer out of everyone here.

Wintory’s Desert Fire opts for an acoustic guitar with an orchestral accompaniment, fitting right at home on maps like Inferno, Mirage or Dust II. One of my favorites is the second action cue (startaction02) that plays immediately as a round starts, with a brassy horn section finely tuned to the action. The MVP Anthem is another favorite, with quick percussion and a flute solo, which fits perfectly for when you fragged the entire enemy team, or successfully defused a bomb.

It may be a bit cliche on the acoustic guitars and the woodwinds, but it works insanely well. We’re already off to a great start.

VERDICT: Highly recommended.

Daniel Sadowski, Crimson Assault

DESCRIPTION: Video Game Composer Daniel Sadowski delivers Edgy Action mixed with CRAZY FAT beats in this pulsating, exhilarating Music Pack.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

I’ve never heard of Daniel Sadowski, but he’s done music here and there for some movies and games, most notable the 2009 A Boy and His Blob reboot, and doing music for something like Counter-Strike is enough to get you noticed more, so good on him.

Crimson Assault goes heavy on the techno, a 3-note motif appearing throughout all the tracks in his score, becoming the only notable thing about it. The score itself is very much pulse-pounding action, and the bomb timer music being one of the highlights, fitting perfectly with the suspense of bomb defusal mode.

This music kit took a good while to grow on me. At first, I felt it was bad techno and was probably the worst of the pack, but after a few listens and hearing it in action in-game, it fits in CS:GO. If you’re looking for something that will get your blood pumping, Crimson Assault’s not a bad choice.

VERDICT: Lightly recommended, get it on the Steam Marketplace on discount.

Dren, Death’s Head Demolition

DESCRIPTION: From game music composer Dren, this cinematic, superhero-metal inspired music pack puts the ‘ill’ into KILL!

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

For this first group of music kits, Valve really went all over the place with who they chose. Dren isn’t a composer I’m familiar with, but he’s done music for other games, mostly mobile games like Transformers: Age of Extinction. As I said, getting featured in a game like this gets you noticed, especially with his music kit.

Filled with heavy percussion and a chugging bass line, Death’s Head Demolition ends up being a good mix of dramatic orchestral score with subtle hints of rock, which does crop up on some other games like Call of Duty. It makes it feel very innocuous, which isn’t bad, it compliments the game without being too obnoxious. This was another one that I thought wasn’t great as first, but after a few listens and hearing it in-game, it fits perfectly fine in the game.

If CS:GO didn’t have a soundtrack in it already, Death’s Head Demolition would probably be the closest to an “official” soundtrack. It strikes a good balance of orchestra and rock, fitting right at home in a game like this. Death’s Head Demolition’s a good music kit, even if it’s not incredibly outstanding.

VERDICT: Recommended.

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Mountain Dew Game Fuel: Press X to Chug Edition.

Hey, it’s that time again. That time where a certain beverage advertises a certain video game. Just in time for it’s release…

Shamelessly stolen from a Mountain Dew Wiki. Because of course that exists.

Yep, Mountain Dew Game Fuel makes its return. I’ve written about these in years past (here are my reviews of the 2012 and 2013 flavors), and I had totally forgotten that they were doing it again until very recently. Reviewing Game Fuel has become a tradition on this site, and I would be remiss if I forgot to cover this year’s model.

This year, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is our big sponsor, after Microsoft got dibs last year, forcing Activision to settle with Monster Energy cans with Call of Duty: Ghostbusters instead. You can read about that, and my virgin experience with Monster Energy here.

Something old, something new. It seems to be Mountain Dew's MO these days.

Something old, something new. It seems to be Mountain Dew’s MO these days.

So we have two flavors this time round: Citrus Cherry and Lemonade. I’ll make it quick on the Citrus Cherry, since it’s the same flavor as previous years: It tastes like Mountain Dew mixed in with a cherry tinge and gives an unexpected citrus aftertaste. I used to drink Squirt religiously, but I can barely tolerate drinking a glass of Citrus Cherry because of the excess citrus kick.

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A bunch of stuff I saw at the 2014 Portland Retro Gaming Expo.

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So this past weekend, I went to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. It’s my fourth time to the con, and I remember when it was wedged into a small conference area in the DoubleTree Hilton near Lloyd Center to it’s current home at the Oregon Convention Center.

Last year I had recorded video footage from the event, but didn’t use any of it and didn’t write anything about it. This year, I promised myself I’d actually blog about it this time. Especially since the people that run the Expo actually linked to my entry from 2012, where I had gotten a bunch of stuff, talked to “Gamesmaster” Howard Phillips, and had David Crane sign a copy of Pitfall I found at the same expo. I have to thank the expo for even giving my podunk blog a few extra views every now and then. 🙂

This is more of a “what I saw” post. I didn’t spend much at the con itself, but I did find a bunch of really, really interesting gaming stuff. Join me as we look at some of the things these vendors had to offer.

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Kiss Psycho Circus: Glam rock meets the paranormal.

I am not a fan of Kiss. I only know a few of their songs, mostly because they appeared in Rock Band. I’m aware of Gene Simmons’ mastery of marketing the band, complete with corny ’70s live-action specials, their shift to hair metal in the 80s, and of course, the infamous Kiss Kasket.

They have a couple good songs, at least. “Love Gun,” “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” even “Strutter” is pretty solid. Kiss is a band I can appreciate and respect, but I don’t really care for them.

The late ’90s was the time for a Kiss comeback: The original line-up got back together and released an album in 1998 called Psycho Circus. With that title, and probably with a pinch of Gene Simmons’ marketing mastery, it eventually lead to a comic book series written by Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane, and of course, a video game. Prepare for the Nightmare Child.

This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?

This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?

Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is a video game adaption of the Psycho Circus comic book series by Image Comics and Todd MacFarlane Productions. The comic involved the band members becoming supernatural beings and saving the universe as part of the silly team moniker Four-Who-Are-One. The video game borrows elements from the comic, but has a wholly different story.

This was released on PC and Dreamcast in 2000, not long after games like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament were getting big. Though this being released on the Dreamcast and not the then-forthcoming PlayStation 2 is rather baffling, but maybe it’s for the best.

Instead of playing as members of Kiss, you play as members of a Kiss tribute band who get teleported to a special world ran by this gypsy named Madame Raven. She tells you about this big bad called “The Nightmare Child,” one that will destroy the world, and your band are the chosen ones to stop them.

I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!

I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!

Separated by the Hall of Mirrors, each band member goes through each world as they grab each of the six pieces that form the respective Elder to stop the mythical Nightmare Child. Admittedly, the story is rather nonsensical even in-game, I had to resort to the manual to understand this bizarre-ass story.

I can say with authority that this story is so god damn ridiculous that it’s not worth looking further into. Then again, with this being co-opted by a band known for wearing silly outfits and the guy who created freakin’ Spawn, I’m not expecting System Shock 2 levels of storytelling here.

Here's a goofy little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.

Here’s a silly little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.

This game was developed by Third Law Interactive, founded by one of the original members of the Daikatana development team during its first year or so when it was under the Quake engine, so already we’re off to a shaky start. They didn’t do a whole lot of notable stuff outside of this game, my brief internet search found out they worked on an Aliens vs. Predator 2 expansion and added stuff to the Game of the Year edition of No One Lives Forever.

You may have noticed that’s all Monolith/Lithtech stuff. Unsurprisingly, this game runs on Lithtech 1.5, which is an absolute pain in the ass to get working on modern devices without needing an elder god and maybe dgVoodoo2. Worst off, that this is one of those games that has the pesky disc check, and no patch or update is out to turn it off. A shame, really.

But let’s get to the meat of Kiss Psycho Circus. In the game, you choose one of the four supernatural characters and go through a set of levels, getting weapons, jumping on platforms, activating switches and killing enemies in your wake. Through the levels, you’re looking for the items make your character part of the Elder, like boots, shoulder pads, and finally the iconic Kiss masks.

This guy's ready to pull the trigger on his gun. His Love Gun, that is.

This guy’s ready to pull the trigger on his gun. His Love Gun, that is.

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From a game mod to Splinter Cell: How I discovered a song by accident.

Over the years, I’ve amassed ridiculous amounts of video game knowledge. I created the Secret Area as a good place to share said video game knowledge with people. Often times it’s rather crufty trivia that I couldn’t resist sharing, but other times it’s about my personal experiences with games, much like this entry.

Video game music is something I’m also interested in. While I am a bit of an outlier in terms of my game music tastes – I usually prefer stuff by American and European composers, and don’t really care much for Japanese game music past the SNES/Genesis era – I still love finding information about game music, much like a lot of things I like.

So I’m gonna get nerdy about video game music. I’m gonna write about something that came to mind fairly recently that I thought would be worth sharing. Such as how a game mod introduced me to a hip-hop artist’s music by accidentally hearing it in a AAA game.

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Poke646 is one of the best Half-Life mods out there. At the time, most Half-Life mods reused most of the existing templates that the original game used, making Black Mesa look like a research facility that spanned a whole continent. Mods like They Hunger and many others changed how people looked at Half-Life, but not nearly as much as Poke646 did. People were even pointing out how creator Marc Schröder basically made an art style that predicted the later City 17 style of Half-Life 2 years before its announcement.

But I’m here to talk about the music. The game’s credits, featured below, featured this haunting, ambient hip-hop tune with prominent piano accompaniment.

 

The hip-hop styled track really fit in line with the rest of the game, which also had some great original ambient music. Thankfully all this music is in the Poke646 mod folder, which makes it easy to listen to outside of the game.

Cut to 2010. I had recently picked up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction Special Edition for $35 at Ubisoft’s online store because of an issue of the special USB keys not working on some copies. As I was going through the game itself, a certain tune started to play that sounded rather familiar…

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I Bought Stuff! 8/22/2014: A whole mess of gaming junk.

Holy crap, when’s the last time I publicly documented my game finds on the blog? Seems like it was just last year when I wrote about find a “NOT FOR RESALE” copy of Streets of Rage 2, and a 20 minute video that about 3 of you watched. Let’s resurrect this old series, because I got some good stuff this time around.

Throughout most of 2014, I’ve found a bunch of cheap games, mostly junk like Eye Toy: Antigrav, licensed games based on The Great Escape and Starsky & Hutch, old PC games such as Mickey’s Word Adventures, even recent Game Informer issues for 50 cents each. If you’re following me on Twitter, you might’ve seen these already.

Funny enough, I found Mickey’s Word Adventures after taking advice from YouTuber LGR. After mentioning him on Twitter, I found out one of my finds were in a viewer finds segment of his “LGR Thrifts” show. I was floored when I saw it too, I didn’t expect it to be featured in the slightest. (It’s at the end of this episode, if you’re wondering. Look for the magazines on green bedding.)

Back around job, while I was doing some job hunting, I went into my local Bi-Mart. I’ve mentioned Bi-Mart before when I wrote about Atari Hot Wheels, and the place hasn’t changed one iota: It still feels like I stepped into a supermarket that hasn’t changed its look since 1985. While perusing their games section, I found several copies of this gem that I didn’t know got a GBA version.

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Man, remember when the Rabbids were a thing? I can’t say I miss them.

– Rayman Raving Rabbids (GBA, $6)

I’m finding sealed Game Boy Advance games. In 2014. Even the guy at the counter was surprised, mentioning some war fighting game and a World of Warcraft expansion that had been at the store also collecting dust for years. He then went on to say “Somebody made the wrong call on this one.” At least this copy of Raving Rabbids has a home now. I bet there’s still plenty of copies, provided they haven’t been thrown into a dumpster yet.

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The Expendabros: The broest movie tie-in game… ever?

If there’s anything I like about video games, it’s when there’s video game tie-ins to movies or TV shows. Most of the time, they get a small developer to make a crappy $60 game on a shoestring budget that’s usually long forgotten. Other times, they’re just dinky games made in Flash as a brief tie-in to an upcoming movie, such as the “Hollywood Hellfire” tie-in for This is The End. Then there’s the times where they go all out and make full-fledged free games, such as a Quake mod for some forgotten show called Soldier of Fortune Inc, made by the guy who would later go on to make They Hunger for Half-Life.

Thus, when I heard about this, I got legitimately excited:

Broforce: The Expendables Missions, aka Expendabros is a genius idea: Take the goofy machoness of Devolver Digital and Free Lives’ Broforce and combine it with an upcoming film — The Expendables 3 in this case — and you got this amazing movie tie-in. Expendabros is freely available to play, and Broforce is not required to own this. In a sense, this is a good extended demo of for Broforce.

Since I had yet to play Broforce, I was skeptical with this game. I’m not one for games with pixel art styles since they’re very overdone, but if it compliments the gameplay like in Hotline Miami, I can let it slide. In this case, it definitely works in Broforce‘s favor.

Obstacles, enemies, sawblades? What is this, Super Meat Boy?!

Broforce is a mash of action platformers like Bionic Commando, with the violent action of Metal Slug and Contra. You have one life and three special items by default, with each “bro” having its own signature weapon and special. You get more lives by saving your bros in cages, and rescuing enough bros unlocks an additional bro character to play as. Run out of lives and you’re sent back to the last major checkpoint.

The plot to Expendabros is a loose recreation of The Expendables 3: Barney Ross — here called “Broney Ross” — and his crew of Expendables has to stop Conrad Stonebanks from destroying the Expendables, who will destroy them by any means necessary.

Much like Broforce, Ross must shoot and explode his way through enemies while saving his bros, eventually finding the commander or boss of the level before making a dramatic explosive escape. As you go through the game’s ten levels, you fight more powerful enemies, and even ridiculous areas like rooms with saw blades and rocket turrets everywhere. At one point, you fight this guy:

I'm pretty sure Stonebanks doesn't have an arsenal of mechs in The Expendables 3, but a man can dream.

I’m pretty sure Stonebanks doesn’t have an arsenal of mechs in The Expendables 3, but we can consider this artistic liberty with the license.

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Pac-Man Spinoff Games: The Card Game and Two Challenging Puzzles.

While I do like writing about video games themselves, I also like blogging about some of the more obscure, lesser-known video game products that aren’t as well known. Before I got fascinated by video games, I was really fascinated by board games. Still got a massive collection, even. So I’m gonna talk about two interesting video game board game spinoffs, featuring a notable pill-chomping hero.

pacmangameslogo

I keep saying it, and it bears repeating: I’m a writer, not a graphic designer.

Board games based on video games were once an interesting art form. People would take classic games like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda and try to adapt them to a board game format. Most of the time they really had to stretch what kind of game they could make out of the source material. Others were designed much like old games based on TV shows, movies, or even personalities like Dr. Ruth and Lucille Ball.

Alas, that’s all disappeared in the modern age in exchange for reskins of Monopoly, Risk and Yahtzee with Pokemon or Metal Gear Solid slapped onto it. I blame USAopoly for homogenizing the licensed board games market.

Actual picture of a Monopoly section at a board game store in a mall. 90% of these looked the same, from the materials inside to the back of the box!

Actual picture I took of a Monopoly section at a board game store. 90% of these looked the same, from the materials inside to the back of the box!

Let’s go back to the past, and talk about a little pellet chomper named Pac-Man. Back when Buckner and Garcia were exclaiming they had “Pac-Man Fever,” and before this beloved character was not being slapped into crappy cartoons written by ex-Tiny Toon Adventures writers, Pac-Man was super-popular in the United States. This was mostly in part because of Midway’s very aggressive marketing, who were the rightsholders for Pac-Man in the US before Namco took back the rights.

I could cover the Pac-Man board game by Milton Bradley in 1980, but it’s been done to death. It plays much like the arcade game, where multiple Pac-Men could gobble dots for points while being avoided by the ghosts. It’s like Hungry Hungry Hippos, but with a board and actual strategy attached to it. They also made a board game for Ms. Pac-Man, but replaced the power pellets with a die roll, and had only one player take control of Ms. Pac-Man, swapping control to another player when an enemy ghost captured her. Also, the easily losable marbles were replaced with much more sensible chips.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the Pac-Man board games, they’re simple conversions of the arcade game. But the Pac-Man game train didn’t stop there. Enter Pac-Man: The Card Game, and Pac-Man: TWO CHALLENGING PUZZLES!

That’s how the packaging calls it, capital letters and all.

Released around 1980-82, both of these were released to further capitalize on the Pac-Man gravy train. I snagged both of these a long time ago, back when I was using eBay like a madman and buying things left and right. I kinda miss those days, that’s where a fair share of my games collection came from, as well as other obscure stuff I own, like a Wheel of Fortune play-along TV handheld from the late ’80s.

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Far Cry 3: From partygoer to psychopath.

The Far Cry games have gone through this weird identity crisis over the years. The first game was a mostly linear, extremely difficult action game with aliens, Far Cry Instincts made your character become a mutated alien with superpowers, and Far Cry 2 was a promising game with too many stupid mechanics and probably the dumbest story to come out of a big-budget action game. To this day, I still don’t understand why people praise Far Cry 2 to the high heavens.

Surprising no one, Far Cry 3 has nothing to do with the others. Seems to be par for the course for Ubisoft: Instead of making a cohesive story/saga with the series, just make them like Call of Duty games where they’re mostly standalone and different, with the only similarity being a jungle theme. It seems to be working for them.

Far Cry 3 was one of my many purchases during the Steam Summer Sale this year along with Tomb RaiderDark Souls, the BioShock trilogy, all games I’ll eventually get around to playing someday. I bought it expecting that after the disappointment of Far Cry 2 that it could only get better from here. Turns out I was right, but with some caveats.

Warning: Minor plot spoilers within.

When I started Far Cry 3, I was welcomed to a video montage of a bunch of dudes partying out on some island, having fun and being idiots, all set the tune to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” It’s like something out of a horror movie. Then it cuts away to our hero Jason being captured with his brother Grant, who eventually escape, but not without the villain Vaas deciding to kill Grant and leave poor Jason fighting for his life.

Afterwards, you’re found by a guy named Dennis, who’s part of this jungle tribe called the Rakyat and then you go through the steps of trying to save everyone and get out of the island alive. Eventually it leads to a revenge plot, where Jason eventually wants to kill Vaas and his boss Hoyt while helping the Rakyat tribe along the way. Vaas is probably the best character in the game, as he’s a sign of the general psychotic nature of the hostile people on the island, and it works. Sadly, something happens to him mid-game and he’s pretty much gone, which is a damn shame because Hoyt isn’t nearly as interesting.

Just ignore the floating magazine and we should be good.

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