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2011: The Year in Review

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2011: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Tue 10 July 2012, 05:55:37

Tags: Avadon: The Black Fortress; Deus Ex: Human Revolution; Dragon Age 2; Dungeon Siege III; Dungeons of Dredmor; Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; Fallout: New Vegas; Frayed Knights; Minecraft; The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings; The Year in Review; Two Worlds II

Well, it's coming in a bit late this year but after upgrading the Codex and taking care of a few other things, we take a some-what belated look back on the world of computer-based role-playing games in 2011.

The RPGs of 2011

As is now tradition, we'll start the year in review with a list of what was released in 2011 that we might vaguely define as being a PC-based RPG.

Original Titles:

Sequels:

Expansions, Add-ons and DLC:
... and the award for pumping out the most DLC in the quickest amount of time goes to Obsidian, who milked that FNV license for all it's worth. Kudos to them.

But yes, it was once again a year of sequels, add-ons and expansions. It seems RPG developers are still in the cycle of "don't change much, increment the number on the end and release the next edition". Which is exactly what BioWare did with Dragon Age 2... Well, except for the changing part.


MOAR dragons

Continuing their Dragon saga into its second edition, BioWare took the some-what flawed formula of Dragon Age: Origins:

"Really it seems to boil down to this: Dragon Age has undeniable flaws, some glaring, some less-so. To some, the truly brilliant moments easily outshine those flaws. To others, the brilliant moments aren't brilliant enough, or don't happen often enough, so the flaws stand-out more and bring the entire experience down. I think both perspectives are perfectly legitimate, and, like so many other things, really boil down to personal preference. And really, the "undeniable flaws with brilliant moments/features/etc." describes pretty much every great RPG I've ever played."​

... and fucked it up completely. You see, they "stripped some stuff out of DA because it was busted". But it seems what they actually stripped out was the stuff that worked and they replaced that with more busted stuff. Why did they do this?

Well, Dragon Age was originally announced at E3 in 2004 at which point BioWare began development. Three years later, BioWare were gobbled up by Electronic Arts - that Dark Destroyer of video game companies whose role is to buy highly successful niche studios, make them dump their successful niche and focus on action-arcady shit released as sequels under more prestigious names, subsequently lose their niche and then shut the stuido down because it's performing poorly. It's something they've been proudly doing since 1987 and it's a long and impressive list. Once great companies EA has sucessfully turned to shit include Origin Systems (Ultima, Wing Commander), Bullfrog Productions (Dungeon Keeper, Populous), Westwood Studios (Command & Conquer)... the list goes on.

It's no wonder then that Dragon Age 2 - which began development under BioWare's new EA masters - turned something with a lot of hope and potential into a game that "innovated, we took a lot of risk, we were pushing the envelope on how we told the story". Which must be code for "a pile of utter shite".

Dragon Age 2 is a mediocre and deeply flawed action RPG, rushed out to earn EA a quick buck and betting on Bioware's reputation to pull up the sales. Even though the setting and the events are interesting, and the various options show potential, the overwhelming focus on killing things keeps you from digging into the world and its characters in a satisfying manner, and cripple replayability. Unfortunately, the combat is too repetitive to carry the game on its own. It's bad enough that even the mainstream reporters have noticed, though they are generally quick to make excuses.​

Some even suggested it signalled the end of RPGs. But of course, it sold millions. Around about 1.3 million to be precise. But how many of those were due to pre-orders (some figures suggest 400,000) or were built on the success of the original game alone? Time will tell as to whether Dragon Age 3 - the supposed final game in the trilogy - will do as well or whether it will be the death of BioWare. Already though, DA2 DA3 has been delayed. One would hope BioWare learned something from the rushed out the door effort of DA2 and are working more closely on the third... But then that would imply that game developers actually have brains and are in the position to use them. As opposed to being whipped into a coding frenzy by their EA money pushers. It's hard to deny the man who's paying the bills, after all.


The Twitcher 2: Kings of QTE - Jump and Flip Edition

Also on the 2nd sequel front (and involving Dragons to boot) is The Witcher. The original game was released to Codex love:

The Witcher has heart. It has soul. If The Witcher sang the Blues, you'd want to listen. This is a game made by people who genuinely loved what they were doing, and it's clear that rather than asking themselves "How can we best serve the market?", the developers instead asked "Wouldn't it be awesome if . . .?" It has all the enthusiasm and the quirkiness (for better and worse) of an indie game, but the production values that only a multi-million dollar budget will buy. It has flaws - plenty of them - but ultimately it's a great game.​

The Witcher was a solid effort as a first RPG for CD Projekt Red. After encountering some financial hurdles, it remained to be seen whether they would be in a position to deliver a sequel at all. But, in true sequel tradition, they borrowed BioWare's idea and made a some-what more hard-core title a little more accessable. Borrowing from Game Banshee:

Considering where mainstream RPGs have been trending towards lately, the Witcher 2 is a great step in the right direction. I don't feel the combat segment of RPGs has to be action-based, quite the opposite, nor do I understand the need to add gimmicks like QTEs to the RPG genre. Yet, if someone wants to craft an "evolved" RPG with action-based combat, this is what it should be.​

Yeap. Twitcher 2: Kings' Asses is a next-gen "evolved" RPG. It's evolved you see, because you click your mouse when the computer tells you to. Gone are the days when had to figure out pesky things like "when to click". Today, those "difficult" events are replaced by the computer telling you how you should use it. Press [enter] twice to begin new paragraph.

Hold [shift] to capitalise first letter and begin. This is how the game is able to deliver you those awesome cinematic moments in end boss fights. Rather than say, you deciding when to jump on the dragon's back and stab it death, all you have to do is click when it tells you to - the game will handle the rest. This is because we all know how much totally more fun it is watching cut-scenes than it is actually playing the game yourself (As a side note: Conveniently placed logs sure do come in handy. God forbid that log wasn't there, it probably would've been a much longer cut scene and who knows if they had the animation budget for that). Combat beyond that is much the same as in the original. Which is to say, you totally flip the fuck out, making inappropriate commando rolls as you jump about, killing people.

For more fun, CD Projekt RED even got sued by their publisher for removing DRM, not because CD Projekt RED are high and noble and understand how much of a dreaded path that is. No, it was because it seems they had another strategy in mind to combat piracy. After an estimated 4.5 million people tried the free version, they decided to send out some letters to those people asking for $1,230. When that generated untold amounts of butthurt, they "immediately ceased identifying and contacting pirates", even though all along they "can assure you that we only take legal actions against users who we are 100% sure have downloaded our game illegally".

Still, The Witcher 2 is a game worth playing. The story is actually pretty good and it's a solid follow-up effort... For an action-style game along the lines of Assassin's Creed that is. I'm not entirely sure about the RPG parts, but they at least made an effort... Sort of.

The game even won our user's poll for RPG of the year:

The RPGCodex User Vote of Top 5 cRPG's of the year 2011 is:

1. The Witcher 2
2. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
3. Skyrim
4. Drakensang: River of Time [Which we actually covered in 2010]
5. Fallout New Vegas: Old World Blues​

So much for being prestigious. It looks like we'll swallow any AAA rated shit just like everyone else.


Two Worlds II

While officially released in 2010, Two Worlds II's (say that one fast) North American release was delayed until January 2011 because "although we feel that the game is truly at "AAA" level, [...] we want Two Worlds II to be absolutely flawless when it launches in the North American market". As a result, it missed our 2010: Year in Review article. So, did the Europeans (who got the game in November 2010 after a huge surge in popularity delayed its initial release) get a flawed product?

Well, it sold a million copies but in typical Codex fashion, the list of positives out-weighs the negatives and it's best described as "roughly the same shit as Oblivion" which got incredibly boring, incredibly quickly. That didn't stop Reality Pump Studios from releasing an expansion for it though, called "Two Worlds II: Pirates of the Flying Fortress"...

It seems we've completely ignored it.

Also in the "it seems we've completely ignored it" category is Avadon (Am I the only one who alway reads that as "Have a dong"?), "the first chapter in a new, epic fantasy saga". Yes, Jeff Vogel is still making Jeff Vogel-style games, much to his fans joy although this time - he tried to make it a bit more casual. We found it a bit more boring. And the casual audience didn't like it at all.


Scared, Broken and Chaliced

Continuing on the sour front, there were a couple of bad news announcements this year... Assuming you consider cancelled vapourware from indie developers a bad thing. First off was Scars of War, an indie game under-development by Gareth (a guy who posts here on the Codex) which was put indefinitely on hold - so the developer could work on a short 6-month battle-card game instead. It's been over 6 months now and the game's website no longer works... (It's ok, I've been there myself, I know how he feels).

Meanwhile, the Broken Hourglass - an upcoming story-driven CRPG - was to remain forever broken, as the developer Jason Compton "concluded that it is infeasible for PWG to deliver the game promised, and unacceptable to try to market a product that would not meet expectations." You should read that as: Bitch took all mah money. Their website is still online.

And in probably the shittiest news, Knights of the Chalice 2 - the sequel to a much loved turn-based dungeon crawler with the weird, nauseating perspective - was put on hold in favour of an... RTS:

Pierre Begue, designer and programmer for Knights of the Chalice, has informed me that he is currently working on an undisclosed RTS game. Both the RTS and FWE are still in the early stages of development. For the time being FWE has been put on hold while he completes the RTS game. Currently there is no deadline for either game.

The silver lining to this is that some of the code for the RTS game will be compatible with FWE. Also it doesn't sound like it will take that long to complete this game. He mentioned that it's easier for him to work on a game that will take a matter of months vs one that will take years.​

It's been a matter of months now... With the latest official announcement on the game's website in April 2012 confirming it's still under-development.


Diggle up Your Caddishness as you get a Little bit Frayed

If you've ever played Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect or in fact, any BioWare game, you'd realise their intent is to annoy you with silly romances and other annoying tribbles from the NPC's that join your party. Well, imagine taking that concept, dialling it up to 11 and reversing the polarity and you'd have Frayed Knights. After reaching Beta mid-year, it was eventually released 3 months later. Sporting turn-based combat "just like mother used to make", the premise of the game was built more around your interactions with your party than the actual game itself. It was an indie RPG designed in that old-school style (the monsters sat there and stared at you in fake [although this time it's real] 3D-o-vision while you whacked them, as opposed to flipping about and running around and such).

It also took a light-hearted approach to the genre - the title itself for instance, "The Skull of S'makh-Daon" is pronounced "The Skull of Smackdown". Now I personally didn't enjoy the demo (you can take your old-school and you can shove it and any game that makes NPC interaction a core component without having "drown", "murder" and "rape" "kill" NPC options is unforgivable) but the general Codex consensus is "not too bad". If you're into that sort of thing that is, or are looking for something different. It also had an interesting "Drama Stars" system, designed to prevent save-scumming (stars earned were lost if you didn't reload exactly where you left off before). Although I'm not sure if it worked.

... but it wasn't the only game to take that sort of light-hearted humourous approach in 2011. Also from an indie developer was Dungeons of Dredmor. It's a roguelike with skills such as Caddishness, Sagacity and Savvy - MisterStone gave it a whirl:

To wrap up, as someone who has invested far more time than I care to contemplate into playing traditional roguelikes, I really enjoy this game. [...] The game is certainly not easy, especially if you play it with permadeath on the highest difficulty level. It offers great replay value due to the massive number of skill trees, and presents a wide variety of tactics through the many character abilities and crafting options. At its heart it is really about dungeon crawling, grabbing loot and chopping up monsters, which of course means that it is true to its predecessors in all the ways that matter.

According to interviews and blog posts, the game will cost “less than ten dollars”, which seems like a fair price for a shiny, new, finished (imagine that) and presumably bug-free roguelike. Right now the game is in the beta testing stage, with bug squashing and balance tweaking moving apace, so keep an eye out for a release this summer!​

When it came out, it needed a bit more bug-squashing before it was really ready but it seems it was enjoyed by those who played it. Until they got bored of the massive dungeons that is. Still, if roomfuls of masturbating multi-coloured monsters* is your thing, it's probably worth checking out. Especially when it's just $5. It even had an expansion released in the same year if you're looking for more.

*It's no wonder Jaesun likes it.


I never asked for this

Now, Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn't technically an RPG but it's based on a classic game, and was covered by the Codex. In case you weren't aware, it's a moden prequel to the classic Deus Ex, a first-person shooter thing with RPG-type elements. It's much loved here at the Codex as one of those classic games where they tried something different and did quite well. Based on the history of modern games though, the new version was expected to suck. It didn't.

Well, not much anyway but it was markably better than most of the other contempary bullshit developers shovel out the door these days. With multiple options to sneak or fight your way through a mission, it's real downside was that the developers out-sourced the boss fights. Yeap, they paid someone else to make their game for them. And then wondered why those parts seemed so out of place. Actually fair chunks of the game seemed out of place given their lack of connection to the original but meh. That's what we expect these days, right?


Fallout: Honest Hearts with a Gun Runners' Arsenal find a Courier's Stash of Dead Money on a Lonesome Road, while singing the Old World Blues

Obsidian Entertainment continued their career path as everyone else's bitch by releasing DLC and a sequel in 2011. Their masterful work with Fallout: New Vegas was followed up with a bunch of DLCs, which actually weren't half-bad. Old World Blues was probably the best. The game still suffers from the horribly shitty implementation of the SPECIAL system that Bethesduh lumped it with but there's plenty of Dialogue, skill-checks and other stuff to keep you entertained. It also makes you wonder what Obsidian would truly be capable of if they ever got their chance to make a game of their own...

... a chance they didn't get when it came to Dungeon Siege III. Yes, the screensaver of the A-RPG world came back with a third instalment in the franchise. Made by our dear friends at Obsidian, the game sucks. Quite horribly in fact:

We are stuck with the stupid controls and the sub-par camera, and it is not even romance-able. [...] Overall, barely a mediocre game, saved by its shortness and by its looks. As tradition, I will not give a numerical score to the game, but can only find a few, sparse categories of people whom the game might be appealing to: hardcore fan of the series, hardcore fans of the genre, or extremely bored people. To anyone who expects a pleasant, entertaining, fun gaming experience, let alone something close to an RPG, I would strongly recommend to stay off this game.​

And really, if you can't get a simple point-and-click-and-stuff-dies game right (Protip: Focus on pretty graphics and loot drops) than one has to wonder what you're really capable of. It seems Obsidian are excellent story-tellers (although Dungeon Siege 3 is best ignored here) who just can't figure out how to best bring those stories into the real world from a technical point of view.

One wonders if they wouldn't be better teaming up with Jeff Vogel. At least then their shit would work.


I used to write for the Codex, but then I took an arrow to the knee

And where would we be without mentioning Skyrim? A happy place, that's where. It sold absolute buckets - or at least, they shipped ten million copies so one might assume a fair chunk of those copies sold. Speaking of buckets, it's interesting how a bug can become a feature (Side note: Although I stand guilty as charged on this one. After all, isn't doing silly shit like putting buckets on people's heads what a Bethesda RPG is all about?).

The game's popularity also saw it spawn countless memes which in the modern era, is the height of success. Still, Bethesda did manage to put together a fun game of the "wander around the pretty landscape while you aimlessly kill shit" variety. We might even review it one day. In lieu of that, here's why Skyrim is a good guide on how not to make a PC game.

Rip-roaring ginormous success that you know is going to lead to further decline aside, that didn't stop Bethesda from suing the Minecraft guy in 2011. Apparently his next game is one called "Scrolls" and, well, "Scrolls" is so much like "Elder Scrolls" that Bethesda's lawyers didn't really have a choice, did they?

Psst... Bethesda, guess what this is called:

[​IMG]

Better send your lawyers. Quick, before it gets eaten.


Minecraft and the Rise of the Indie

Speaking of Minecraft, that saw its official release after many years in development. And it too, has sold MILLIONS. About five millions to be precise (current count is 6.5). At $20 a pop, that makes Notch (the game's creator), a very wealthy man. A game he made, pretty much entirely by himself, sold almost as many copies as a AAA main-stream title. And in fact, sold a lot more than every other game in our list (apart from of course, the aformentioned Skyrim).

For those who don't know, Minecraft is a very simple game. You smash blocks and then build whatever you want in the sandbox world with them. It's spawned some pretty epic shit from your regular castle to full-scale replicas of the Enterprise, to a complete replica of Middle Earth. As in like, all of it.

We've not been quite as ambitious yet but - with many thanks to Muty - we have been running our own Codex Minecraft server for a couple of years now. Rail projects aside, we did manage to build a few houses, castles and other things.

[​IMG] [​IMG]

Adventures on the Codex' Minecraft server

With the huge piles of cash, Minecraft is still being worked on by a small handful of people, kind of like when games were made back in the good old days. Do you remember those days? When a handful of guys got together and made the game they wanted to, rather than the game they thought would sell. And have you noticed this year how:

Small handful of developers + not much money at all = unique and interesting game with novel features that takes the world by storm.

- vs -

Large team of developers + big bags of money = shitty, unoriginal and cliched game that bores everyone to death.​

Funny, that. But with their success and after events that are happening this year, I can't help but wonder whether this is the start of something else. You don't need big developers and multi-million dollar budgets to make fun and interesting games. In 2010 a small team of two people brought out Mount & Blade which put the combat in every game I've ever played to shame. In 2011, it was Minecraft. Will 2012 see the continued rise of small teams building ambitious projects and actually succeeding?

In 2012, Brian Fargo certainly hoped so with his Wasteland 2 KickStarter:

"This is the beginning of a new era in gaming where the developer gets to work directly with the fans to build the type of product that the fans want."​

In all honesty, I would prefer that the developers made the games that they, as developers, want to make. Don't get carried away trying to add in every feature you can think of that fans want. Make the game that you want to make, the one that you'll be happy with. The kind of game you can look back proudly on in years to come and say "I made that". Because while producing what "the fans want" might seem like a noble ideal, what happens when your fans are completely nuts?


A Moment of Codexian Self-Reflection

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Codex. Founded in 2002 (with our first official news post on July 28, 2002), 2012 marks ten whole years of the Codex. And it's fitting that some of the things that have happened in 2011 have made me realise that you're all fucking retarded. Completely. Fucking. Retarded.

Take prosper for instance (now known as crojipjip). The guy clearly has mental issues. And I don't mean that in a facetious internet trololololol way. He has a mental issue. Probably a number of them. And he keeps posting. We kept him in the moderation queue for a long time and would just delete his stuff but we'd literally get 10 or more posts a day that we had to deal with. In the end we enabled him with an entire forum that he can post in to his hearts content.

Do you know the really sad thing though? He isn't alone. There's another user called Andhaira (currently Mother Russia), who also seems to be off the deep end. He too kept posting for a long, long time before he eventually realised he wasn't getting through our moderation queue. To this day (yesterday as I write this in fact), he e-mails me asking if he's going to get unbanned any time soon. No.

Then there's FretRider. This guy hates jews and liberals and black people and pretty much everything. Oh and he'll tell you about it. In every thread he posts in. He'd be right at home on Stormfront but no, he choose to make his home here instead.

Now, I'm a big believer in freedom of speech - which sadly means that even the idiots and morons get the right to talk - and I treat the Codex in the same way. I disgaree with half of what gets posted here but hey, it's an internet forum. If you all want to talk bullshit about some bullshit then who cares, right? It's only talk, right? None of this shit harms anyone, right? Besides, if this is what half of you really think, then better it's talked about. And maybe one day your own mind might open up to the possibility that perhaps, just maybe, you can't really blame everything on liberals or jews or black people or whatever or you'll realise you have a mental issue and you'll get that addressed or something.

But then Black Cat happened. Now, truth be told, I don't bother keeping track of everyone who posts here and very few of you are actually memorable to me. Usually those I remember are the ones I've just banned or are about to ban or nuke. But Black Cat is one of those names I vaguely remember encountering once or twice - enough for me to put in the category of "Regular poster. Not a bad one either, seems all right". I never interacted with her personally but I knew she existed.

Well anyway, it turns out that (some time ago) she was gang-raped and left in a coma for a month. I know, that's a pretty serious thing to lay out right there - but how do I know this? It came up in the forum. Now I personally dismiss a lot of psycho-babble nonsense as philosophical wankery. People who try to group a number of things under one label and call that a human being and therefore define you. My experience of human beings tells me that never works and we'd be better off if people stopped trying to do it.

Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate labels and it - counter-intuitively to what I just said - is an important process to go through (as a general rule we have to categorise things in order to function. EG: "This is a chair". Thus defined, I now know how to interact with it, ie: Sit on it - and we try to do much the same with people). But trying to assume all of one person fits under one category and one category alone; and more to the point, having a philosophical wankery discussion about it - usually leads to bad results. And that's pretty much what happened here...

Here's how the thread goes:

1. Innocuous discussion is started about which of the 7 deadly sins is the worst.

2. Vaarna_Aarne and Black Cat (who goes by the name Kimagure Majo Yousei - Black Cat is her old account but in true Codexian tradition, we still refer to her as Black Cat) begin side discussion about lust and wrath and some such nonsense.

3. Side discussion turns into some crap about the "left-hand" vs the "right-hand" path which is something to do with magic. Yes, magic.

4. It's clear the two have a deep philosophical difference.

5. A really deep philosophical difference.

6. The discussion turns sour.

7. A well-meaning friend of Black Cat's appears out of nowhere to tell us all just why exactly Black Cat feels the way she does. "Surely your e-penis feels bigger now that you played the psychoanalist with a seventeen years old girl who was gang raped and beaten into a month and a half long coma". Well-meaning friend adds, "There's no way I'm going to let her come back after what you just did to her." and, "But if you as much as send her an email I will find you and kill you, myself."​

[​IMG]

Oh, and by the way, Vaarna_Aarne himself apparently has aspergers and is seeing a therapist.

So allow me now a moment to assess the situation: One individual with a mental issue has a discussion with another individual who is also going through mental issues. Chaos ensues. A final individual who - given they're making death threats over the internet - probably also has mental issues of their own, joins in and posts a SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCK bomb out of nowhere (No really, I've read the thread and as heated as it becomes, I really don't think that was called for). As a result, a member who was much loved by many never comes back.

But the WHAT THE FUCK of it all doesn't end there. Oh no, here at the Codex we have relationship advice threads that end in tears when real names get out. We have people who literally think the world is going to end and they're building concrete bunkers under their homes so that they can survive the coming holocaust. And then there are the incessant jokes about rape, jews and whatever. And I haven't even mentioned the tran-sexuals.

All of this has lead me to a simple conclusion: There's something about role-playing games that attracts a certain type of persona. Bluntly, the people who play these games ARE NOT SANE HEALTHY PEOPLE. Maybe they're all looking for something they don't have, escapism, whatever but something needs to be said to the RPG developers of this world: You are making games for the menatlly ill. You are writing games for people who have deep psychological problems. We're talking lala-land here. Loony bin territory. If you met these people in the street you would wonder who let them out of the asylum. If you were a mental health professional, you would LOCK THESE PEOPLE UP.

RPG fans are mentally ill individuals. All of you. Every. Single. Fucking. One of you. YOU'RE. ALL. FUCKING. INSANE.

Game Developers Beware: Your target audience is not mentally stable.

And now... I believe in magic. Not the bubble, bubble, toil and trouble - throw in some eye of cat and paw of dog and mix yourself up a love potion sense. I mean in the sense that you say a few words - you cast a spell so to speak - and something happens. Someone falls in love, someone gets hurt, someone leaves forever. Clearly those words have to be said to the person in question (I don't think a whimsical ditty said alone with some candles is going to do shit) but words are powerful things. In fact, words are power themselves. Vaarna_Aarne said a few words to Black Cat and now Black Cat is gone. Hurt irrevocably, never to appear again. Once upon a time, a few Codexers said a few words to a guy called Qwinn once and he left. We had a guy called Drog here who also said words, had words thrown back at him and he went off the deep end too.

Of course all of this has made me question whether our "freedom of speech" policy is really such a good thing after all. Under normal circumstances, I'd say "of course it is!" but that relies on a simple caveat: That we are sane, stable individuals who are able to logically assess each other's position and accept or dismiss words as necessary. But what happens if we're not? Is it really healthy to let a bunch of mentally unstable people talk to another group of mentally unstable people? How can that end in anything but disaster? In fact, should I be allowing any of you to actually have a discussion here at all? Maybe we need some sort of test before you get entry to the Codex? Maybe we need to see a certificate of sanity before you're allowed to post here.

Because all of you are completely fucking nuts.

So it's been a fun few years in charge of the asylum. Happy tenth anniversary.

I'm just not sure I should even allow knives so that we can cut the cake because one of you is probably going to stab someone with it.

There are 409 comments on 2011: The Year in Review

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