We here at The NYRD are big gamers, in that we mostly just play Candy Crush and Angry Birds when our slave driver of a boss unchains our ankles from the computer and let’s us step away for a few minutes to remember what sunlight feels like. However, when word leaked out two days ago about the upcoming Steam Summer Sale, we got so excited that we almost snapped a few of our vitamin D deficient bones while clapping through our manacled hands. So in preparation for the happiest time of the summer our staff got together to give you our recommendation for what you should be playing instead of going to the beach, or hanging out with friend. Play them well. Play them for us.

Shovel Knight
ShovelKnightLet’s start out this list right by bringing up one the best games ever made, and we’re not just digging our own grave either by making that boast -See what we did there? Shovel pun- It doesn’t get much better than Shovel Knight. It doesn’t matter whether you grew up mashing buttons on an old Nintendo or while mashing keys while playing some “classic” games on Mod for the PC. Shovel Knight is a true testament to the old 8-bit retro gaming aesthetic while still managing to bring in a new flair that’s all it’s own. This game is a platformer, but don’t let that scare you away. You will be amazed by the its beauty, awesome soundtrack, and seamlessly fun gameplay. The difficulty, though not overwhelming, still offers a good amount of challenge to keep you interested, and at $14.99 on Steam it is a real steal. We promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, we think you’ll really “Dig it.” -Get it? It’s another shovel pun-

Darkest Dungeon
We have talk Darkest Dungeon before, but it is so good, we thought we would bring it up again, like that annoying cousin who will never stop telling you about that time he met Ewan McGregor. “We get it, Greg. You know he’s not really Obi-Wan, right? That’s Sir Alec Guinness.” However, Darkest Dungeon is worth bringing up again. One of the New Yorker’s Best video games of 2015, this game has all the macabre turn-based action you could hope for. A true love letter to Lovecraft and video games geeks alike. It is equal parts frustrating and entertaining. Each time you enter into a dungeon you will never know what might happen, who you might lose, or who might just go plain mad. As much a work of art as a video game, the aesthetics will really draw you in, but it will be the challenging gameplay that will make you stay. It is $24.99 on Steam and now with new updates, characters, and dungeons, Darkest Dungeon is even darker than before… but watch out for the pig vomit.

Stick of Truth
Stick of TruthWe usually try to stay away from reviewing big console games that have been ported to the PC, but our next two entries are going to be the exceptions to that rule. The Stick of Truth is everything you could hope for in a South Park Fantasy game. In fact, this might be the game you don’t even know you want. Coming in at $29.99 on Steam, it is well worth the price. South Park has been a mainstay of humor and culture for almost two decades and Stick of Truth proves their staying power. One part parody and one part kick-ass fantasy game it encapsulates all the humor and greatness that is the Comedy Central series without overstaying its welcome. Whether you like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or just a really good RPG game, Stick of Truth is no laughing matter. We recommend you check it out.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of MordorNot only is this game the second major developer game on our list, but it is also the second game adapted from a larger franchise. Lord of the Rings is a phenomen and it seems almost impossible that a video game could enter into the world of Middle Earth and even come close to being worthy of the books of JRR Tolkein or the Peter Jackson movies. Yet, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is damn good at proving that point wrong. A unique story with interesting characters it works well to keep our attention storywise, but that is not where it really shines. No, the true genius of this game is in its gameplay mechanics, specifically the Nemesis System that allows you to conscript your orc enemies into working for you. Even better the enemy AI means that orcs have a hierarchy all their all their own, and your enemies will change and grow over time. It’s a little pricey at $49.99 on Steam, but well worth your wishlist. Hey, that’s why Eru Ilúvatar created the Steam Summer Sale.

Crusader Kings II
Crusader Kings IIMore Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings Crusader Kings II, is a grand strategy game taking place in the late Medieval period. This game focuses on raising a family from nothing to become powerful emperors, until you lose it all again when you decide to sleep with your brother’s wife. You can bribe your way to power, assassinate your way to power, or just become a good old fashioned conquer, the possibilities are endless. Crusader Kings II will let you turn history on its head all while sucking up your own time in the process. Admittedly the game is not without its flaws, but they are ultimately forgivable in the end. A slick looking map and the ability to play multiplayer -and assassinate your friends- goes a long way to endearing Crusader Kings II. Currently $39.99 on Steam, we definitely recommend you put this one on your list, because in the game of thrones you either buy now or you wait for the Summer Sale.

StellarisWe move now to another grand strategy game, Stellaris. The latest in a galaxy spanning tactical genre, this game distinguishes itself on several notable points, not the least of which is its customization. Stellaris allows your to design your starting species, homeworld, traits, and even emblem. This game is also incredibly vast in scale, and with an infinite variety. Solar systems and stars are randomly generated so each game is going to be slightly different than the last. However, it is the Pops mechanics where this game truly shines. Introduce new technologies to your empire and your people and you could face unexpected consequences. The game is by no means perfect, there are some AI and UI bugs that need addressing, but don’t count this one out. We talked about StarDrive 2 in the past, and Stellaris managed to take all the good of that game and increase it by ten fold. if you like games where you need to manage entire galactic empires, than we highly recommend you check out this Stellaris. It is currently $39.99 on Steam.

Garry’s Mod
Garrys Mod2Can we get weird for a minute with you? Because we want to talk about Garry’s Mod, an incredibly strange but strangely incredible game that you can download for only $9.99 on Steam. This game is a physics sandbox. It has no goals or predefined rules, other than physics. You cannot win but we promise you will not lose either. With thousands of ready made physics objects that you can spawn and use to create everything form a jet to a jet boat to a jet footstool, the limits of this game are endless. You can create and play and just get as weird as you want, either by yourself or with your friends. Maybe you’re not creative, well don’t worry. There are millions of already user created content in this game that you can simply grab and paint red or add antlers to or just have fun with. How will you ever be bored again?

Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition
DivinityDespite the overabundance of colons in the name Divinity: Original Sin: Enhance Edition, delivers on its promises. Gamespot named it PC game of 2014, and it has received over 150 awards and nominations. if you like playing classic RPG fantasy or like playing Dungeons and Dragons, than this game is right up your dragon-infested alley. An open world RPG experience, you can design your characters, collect your party and interact with everyone you meet. Best of all the “Enhanced” in “Enhanced Edition,” means that everyone you meet is fully voice-acted. You can fight, cheat, lie, steal, and make decisions that affect not only you but the world at large. Still, what sets this RPG apart from others in the genre is its insanely fun combat system. An innovative turn-based mechanic, it allows you to control the action and effortless micromanage your group and your combat strategies. Even better, if you get lonely, you can play with a friend. At $39.99 on Steam it is well worth the price.

Pixel Piracy
Pixel PiracyOf all the games on this list, Pixel Piracy is the lowest rated, but at 71% it is still well worth your time. A 2D simulator you will get the chance to design your own pirate ship, recruit your own crew, customize, and sail the seven pixelated seas. Falling somewhere between beautiful, simplistic, and brutal, Pixel Piracy is the kind of smooth running fun game that can eat away your hours.  It is a simple game to learn, but that does not mean it is simple to master. You will need to manage resource and your crew while you raid other ships, plunder islands, and explore a two-diminsional world. This pirate RPG is not perfect, but if you are looking for a little piracy in your life we highly recommend it. Also, there is a lot of opportunities for poop jokes, and at $9.99 on steam, who can resist that?

Homeworld Remastered Collection
HomeworldRounding out our list is a classic video game, Homeworld. You command the helm of a massive mothership in this real-time strategy game. With your world on the the brink of disaster, you are the only thing left to protect and guide the last remnants of your sleeping people as you desperately try to find a new home. Hauntingly masterful and with a story that will live on in your memory, the original Homeworld, came out in the 1999 and was a triumph of gameplay for its time. Now it has been remastered with new graphics and updates including enhanced audio and cinematics. For $39.99 on Steam this package contains remastered editions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, as well as the originals. If you were a fan in the past, or even if you have never heard of these games, we cannot express enough how much you need to play this RTS. It is not always an easy game, but always highly enjoyable. This needs to be on your list.

Now that you have our recommendations for the upcoming Summer Sale, we want to hear yours. After all, we are always looking for new games too, assuming our boss ever opens the food-hole in our cell doors wide enough so we can escape. So let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comment section below, and happy gaming.

All images courtesy:

“It takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”

Like Treebeard we here at The NYRD know that we can be long winded at times, but we try not to write unless we have something worth reading -or something about Superman, because apparently we cover him a lot… Yet, perhaps the most important issue we try talk about is climate change. Like a dark power growing in the south it’s going to affect us all, men, elves, hobbits -and even those terrifying giant spiders in Mirkwood- and just like the writings of Tolkein, we may find ourselves looking to the trees to save us and extinguish the fires of global warming… At least if we don’t succumb to the power of deforestation.

An Entmoot Point
Did you ever stop to wonder how many trees there are in the world? Well you can stop wondering. According to the best estimates of scientists there are about 3 trillion trees on the planet Earth. That is about 400 trees for every human, but that is actually the lowest number of trees in the history of humanity’s existence on this planet. The global tree count has fallen 46% since the beginning of human civilization. Estimates say that 12,000 years ago there were more than 6 trillion trees on Earth. Currently, more than 43% of the trees that exist today are in tropical and sub-tropical regions, such as the Amazon. However, the sheer number of trees on the planet is actually irrelevant, as the more important statistic is that they are disappearing, thanks in no small part to human-led deforestation.

Treebeard and his kind would not be happy with us. We have been using forests for everything from generating electrical power to building IKEA furniture, but the good thing about trees is that they grow back. We are not discouraging the use of our greatest natural resource, only the rate at which we are clear cutting forests, such as the Amazon. Deforestation that makes way for things like agriculture, mining, and city building has meant that 17% of the Amazon has been cut down in the past fifty years. Globally, we are losing about 48 football fields worth of trees every minute. Remember, to a centuries old Ent a minute is not a very long of a time at all, unless they’re screaming in horrible pain under the chainsaw of some condo developer.

Please know that we’re not knocking condos or agriculture or even IKEA, because those are important too. We are just are trying to give you all the facts, and the saddest fact is that even if every person on the Earth planted one tree -so, 7 billion trees- that would not even cut our annual tree loss in half. Every year we cut down 15 billion trees. That is remarkable considering that 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity -mammals, birds, insects, etc- call forests their home, and 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood. Yet, maybe you’re not an Ent or even an elf. Maybe you are just some hobbit or dwarf living in the big city, working your 9 to 5 desk job. Maybe you’re more worried about whether the king is going to raise taxes this year on horse parking or who is going to win the big joust tournament this weekend? Trees don’t affect you. In fact, if you live in the Shire of Brooklyn you probably haven’t seen a tree in weeks. Why should you care?

The Pollutants of Isengard
In Tolkein’s Middle-Earth, the Ents are the shepherds of the forest. They were created to protect the trees from orcs and corporate strip mining, because even the old god, Yavanna, recognized that trees did more than just provide shade and the occasional place to mark the young love of “A&A 4EVR.” Forest loss is a contributor to climate change. Scientists have found that deforestation and changes to the land account for 23% of current man-made CO2 emissions. Though, the exact impact usually varies based upon the type of forest and even latitude, ultimately this still makes sense. Much like how the Ents attacked Isengard, trees attack the C02 in the air. They absorb it to use as nutrients along with sunlight. So, less trees means that less things are absorbing the Co2 in our atmosphere, but it goes deeper than even that.

Fewer trees also lead to less rain. With a process called evapotranspiration, trees and forests take water out of the soil through their roots to use as nutrients. That water is then evaporated by the sun and brought up into the atmosphere. This helps create more rain and greater areas of cooling, which is something that places like California are going to need in the coming summer months. Water can be trapped far beneath the surface, and without the help of tree roots much of that moisture would not normally be able to reach the surface on its own. Thus, it would remain trapped in the ground instead of being evaporated into the atmosphere where it could be used for rain and clouds. In fact, rain forests are especially good at this. Places like the Amazon and the Congo are some of our best natural resources against warming because the water they help to recycle creates albedo, which is a measure of the reflectivity of a surface. The dense clouds of rain forests reflect and absorb sunlight. This actually helps to reduce the overall temperature of the area and generate more rainfall. Remember its not the heat but the humidity that gets yous… also malaria.

Trees also help mitigate already existing climate dangers. They act as a barrier against flooding and mudslides, two things that are becoming increasingly more frequent and dangerous as our planet suffers the affects of climate change. They are very good at holding the soil in place with their roots and they can help drink up excess water before flooding becomes a problem. Similarly, without the help of sun blocking trees, land can dry out quicker and begin to crack, causing once rich soil to turn to useless dust. All of these benefits help battle against the Dark Lord of global warming, and they provide an overall better standard of living for the humans and animals that inhabit the area.

Wisdom of Fangron
“It is easier to shout ‘Stop’, than to do it”

We obviously cannot stop all deforestation in the world, and even if we did it would not solve all our climate change problem. The USA releases 6.2 tons of carbon per person per year. That is roughly about 1.82 billion tons of carbon annually. Even if the US were to plant 44 million more trees in urban areas per year for the next 50 years -for a total of 2.2 billion trees- those new trees would only store an additional 150 million tons of carbon. That means that planting trees alone is not going to be the answer that will solve our current crisis, but it is also a good start. Attacking the problem of climate change is going to be a long and multifaceted process, and though cutting back on deforestation won’t solve all our problems it will have tangible effects on things like helping to stabilize weather patterns and increasing tire-swing-related childhood fun.

After all, if we were to actually dedicate ourselves to planting 44 million more trees annually for the next five decades than we would be able to replace all the trees already lost and increase urban tree cover by 5%. That would help fight soil erosion, flooding, and giant eagle attacks. We here at The NYRD are not advocating that you give your life up and go all Johnny Appleseed -though we’re not not advocating that either- but we do think its time you appreciated everything that trees do for us.

So the next time you have to decide between buying non-recycled paper or raising an orc army, maybe you should stop and remember that Treebeard is watching you… He is always watching you… And if we’re not nice to the trees, there may come a day when they stand up and return the favor.

One of our great modern adventurers once said, “It’s a dangerous business going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The name of that explorer was none other than Bilbo Baggins, and he is someone who knows a thing or two about dangerous and far-off expeditions. In fact, to a hobbit who is standing at the door of his comfortable and well furnished hole in the ground, a journey to the Lonely Mountain must seem as impossible as a trip to another planet.

2015 marks 50 years since humans have been exploring the red planet, Mars. Mariner 4 was the first human made craft to successfully approach the planet on July 15, 1965, giving humans our first real view of the Martian surface. Since that day we have been sending probes, satellites, and rovers, but we have yet to set our big hairy feet on the planet’s surface. This is the dream of space exploration, the golden ring that NASA and others are reaching for. Our precious. However, to achieve it we need to embark on a journey unlike we have ever undertaken. We will face goblins and spiders, there will be peril and discovery. Yet we cannot turn away, because the riches we will find will be greater than any dragon treasure or magic ring.

Riddles in the Dark
There are many questions we must answer if we hope to get humans to Mars, and not the least of them has to do with the distance. Any communication between Earth and Mars could face a delay of up to 40 minutes and that means if our astronauts run into trouble anywhere between home and that far off land there will be no eagles there to catch them. Self-sufficiency and training is going to be key. Right now the plans for sending humans to Mars calls for a six person mission. Each crew member will not only need to have a specialty, such as mechanical engineering, flight training, Elven archery, or medical training, but also a good amount of cross training as well, because if you only have one doctor and he/she falls to the Balrog what do you do then? Additionally, the distance means that the crew does not have the ability to resupply. Any journey between Earth and the red planet could take anywhere between 150 to 300 days, depending on how the orbits of Mars and Earth line up. Astronauts will need to take all the water, air, and food they need to survive with them. It is true that we can recycle water from human waste and oxygen from the air we exhale, but the return is not 100%.

Of course, bringing all this extra oxygen, water, and food adds extra weight, and we’re not even talking about hobbit-meals with the option for second breakfast. At the bare minimum, NASA estimates that a crewed mission to Mars would need to lift twice the mass of the International Space Station, about 1.76 million pounds (800 metric tons.) Even worse a need for back ups and secondary expendables like air filters and spare parts also adds more weight. These are the types of things that, if broken, the astronauts would not be able to repair on their own, and are mission – if not survival- critical.

Then of course there are the more intangible dangers, the subtle Sauron-esque black magics of the universe. Environmental hazards, isolation-based psychological issues, and possible long-term health problems. Mars is a lot like Mordor except instead of orcs and the Dead Marshes, you would probably be more worried about things like freezing to death or getting microwaved. In fact, the planet has an average temperature of about -75 degree Fahrenheit (-60 degree Centigrade) which is colder than the average temperatures in northern Russia. There is also very little protection offered from solar activity. Mars does not have a magnetic field like Earth and the atmosphere is too thin to breathe, let alone absorb UV radiation. Even the gravity can be a problem, being only 38% of Earth normal. When humans are exposed to weak gravity for too long our muscles and bones degenerate, growing weaker and atrophied. Astronauts on the space station exercise constantly to combat the effects, and even then they still come back and go through months of physical rehabilitation, so you can imagine what an extended trip to and stay on the red planet might do to the humans who undertake it. Combine all that with the isolation, possibly claustrophobic travel/living conditions, and constant danger and our astronauts are going to be have to made of mental mithril just to make it through one mission, which could last up to two years.

Barrels Out of Bonds
The good news is that, much like Biblo, we can handle the journey, even if we don’t realize it yet. Any adventure starts with putting one foot in front of the other and we have already been doing that for more than fifty years. Everything we have learned from the Apollo missions, the Mars probes, the International Space Station, and more are being applied to vanquishing these trolls. New technologies are being developed every day, nano-tech materials that are harder and lighter than anything we currently have, new power and engine solutions, and even renewable food sources. Some of our best and brightest are already close to making breakthroughs in several of these fields, and most top thinkers believe that we will have the solutions by the time we are ready to finally face down the dragon that is the red planet.

That is not to say we have been sitting around and waiting. We already have a lot of the answers we are looking for. First of all, no Mars mission will happen in one blast-off, which means that the weight can be distributed over several rocket launches and trips to Mars. Equipment will be sent ahead of the manned crew capsule and will be waiting for the astronauts upon their arrival. We even have techniques for possibly extracting air and rocket fuel from the Martian environment for the return journey. That means we can send a return rocket to the Martian surface and let it collect fuel and confirm remotely that it is working and safe before we ever even send any humans into space.

Secondly, NASA has also been testing the Orion capsule and the SLS rocket, both of which are on track to get humans to Mars by the 2030’s. The Orion capsule will hold a crew of six people but will need to work in conjunction with a larger trans-planetary vessel. The Orion is little more than a modern version of the Apollo capsule and it will be too cramped for six people to spend four or five months making the journey to Mars. After all, even Bilbo had more personal space with thirteen dwarves and Ian McKellen always hanging around on his journey. So a larger ship with room to move about and some personal space could go a long way to helping our brave adventures keep fit both physically and menatally. That vessel is still begin designed.

Over the Hill Under the Hill
Human beings have been obsessed with the red planet for as long as we have had the capability to look up into the sky. Mars has always held a special place in our legends and stories, and that is odd when you think about it. Mars is not the closest planet to our own, that is Venus. It is not particularly large either, at least as planetary bodies go. Yet, we have had an obsession with it for at least 120 years, when Percival Lowell first believed that he discovered the canals of an extraterrestrial civilization. Much like Thorin Oakenshield and his Lonely Mountain there is something compelling us to go, as if it was our destiny all along, but we still need to find the will to undertake this incredible endeavor.

Gandalf pushed Biblo Baggins into his journey because he knew he was ready. The hobbit was more than comfortable to stay at home and live out a peaceful, if uninteresting life, among the creature comforts of the Shire. Like Bilbo we too could stay on Earth, biding out time with iPhones and blackberry tarts with slabs of butter, or we can accept the calling that has been set before us. Gandalf recognized something special in the small hobbit, and though we may not have a wandering gray wizard to give us a kick in the right direction, this is an adventure we know we must undertake. We can feel its pull as keenly as Bilbo did.

Chalk it up to curiosity, stupidity, or the human need to explore, but Mars is the next logical step, and not just for NASA but all of us. We went to the moon with Apollo, to prove that one country was better than another. Now we need to go to Mars to prove that humanity is better than what we once were. The goal of any journey is the destination, but the experiences along the way are what change us. There will be challenges and hardships, triumphs and cheers, but if we choose not to take the road laid out before us we will regret it. The Bilbo Baggins that returned to the Shire was not the same one who left it. Like the hobbit, humanity will emerge from this great endeavor bolder, wiser, and with a new understanding about what we are capable of accomplishing. Watching members of our own species set foot on an alien world and shift the red sands of Mars will remind us of how small we really are and the amazing things we can achieve together.

On the Doorstep
We are going to Mars. NASA has the plans laid out, and have been underway with preparations for years. In our lifetimes we will see a human being touch the surface of another planet. There are still a lot of questions about budget and technology, but those can be resolved. Our science, our understanding of the universe, and even our drive have never been higher. The journey will not be an easy one, but the best ones never are. We do not yet have all the answers to escape the goblins and slay the dragons that lay ahead, but we will learn. Whether it be a magic glowing sword, or an answer for artificial gravity we will discover new solutions for whatever stands in our way, and we will be better for it.

We are not saying that humanity will change all at once, but it will happen. We have already come so far from the world that once sent three men to the moon, that one small step for man. It would be easy to rest there, to not push on. We have already reached Rivendale, a milestone in our greater journey, a place we could stop and say look what we have already done. Yet, we must once again set out into a cold world full of danger and possibility. Mars is the destination, and even that is just another step in some greater journey. Humanity will expand our reach to another planet and beyond, because that is where the road is leading and it is one we must follow:

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And [we all] must follow, if [we] can.