Innocent No Longer

Innocent No Longer (150 word contest)

One substantial hole in the roof torn asunder by flaming projectiles revealed rising smoke. The burning stench of collapsed lumber and forestry fills the shack’s interior. Out from under the table crept little Grady Simms.

Grady had been studying her times tables before her parents warned her to hide under the table. A deafening blast had followed, shaking the ground at her feet.

Now standing outside her devastated home, Grady called for her parents. Only distant cries responded in the hollow silence of the village. Fires dotted the landscape as she made her way to the edge of the village, desperate to flee the smell of death.

Grady followed the only dirt road connecting the neighboring villages and stopped beside a large cloth in the road. Looking closer, she realized it was a flag. A lump in the center of the flag stirred, and under it a baby boy cowered.

Home to Some

Home to Some

A passerby drops another quarter in his overturned hat. The generous currency barely makes a sound against the few other coins splayed about. Most pass by without giving him a second look, clearly enveloped in their own thoughts. Some stare at him, like he’s a real life alien, with only abnormally big eyes and a pursed mouth to stare back at them.

It isn’t cold in the train station, but he prefers to keep the aged coat on as a sense of security. His toes practically protrude through the shoes, found along with a pair of pants only a week ago in a dumpster outside one of the many apartment buildings in the city. With a little dishwasher soap and water from the river, the clothes are as good as new. Well, good enough for his liking.

The familiar sound of the nine-o-clock train disturbs the slight commotion in the subway, but not enough to break the faces of many away from their cell phones. Some folks stood right at the edge, eagerly awaiting the automated transportation. Others liked to stand in the back, still enjoying their coffee and reading one of the few newspapers still running in the city.

Grabbing the hat and pocketing the miniscule amount of change, he stood up and walks to stand beside one of the pillars for balance. His name is Bert Wyles. It sometimes took him a while to remember his own name. There aren’t many in the city that know him, or care to know him. The judging looks of many is all he needs to know how they felt inside about his outward appearance, though few had ever expressed their dislike to his face.

The train rushed into the subway so fast you’d think it would pass by without stopping. Harsh screeching slowed the train and quickly brought the carriage of steel to a creeping stop. The hiss of opening doors signals for the men and women to enter, and they do so without question.

Bert steps into the nearest opening. He avoids the standing poles, opting to sit at the very front of the train whenever possible. There were times when those who preferred standing judged who should stand and who shouldn’t, and forced him to sit with unnecessary aggression.

Bert doesn’t hate these people. He feels saddened by their unruly nature, but realizes his appearance is mostly to blame. He considers himself a wonderful person on the inside without the means to hold down a job like normal folks, or people, or whatever proper term describes them these days.

Another succession of hisses and the doors close, leaving those too late to catch the train left behind to fume in frustration. The inside jolts forward as the train quickly gains speed, heading for its next destination.

Some offered their newspaper to Bert from time to time, providing him with the only source of news he could get his hands on. He doesn’t have the convenience of the internet or television to keep him informed, leaving him in the proverbial dark concerning current issues.

Sitting in the very corner, Bert notices a newspaper lying under the vacant seat opposite him. He reached under the seat and unfolded the crumpled newspaper. Some of the pages are missing, but it’s good enough for him.

As he read through the newspaper, it seemed nothing had changed. More acts of violence from beatings to shootings in varied spots around the city. There is a quote from the Mayor, shamelessly plugging his re-election.

Bert preferred not to vote. His life had been turbulent and unpredictable, leaving him penniless and relying on charitable foundations. He wanted to make a change, but change is hard, and he wanted to wait until he felt up to it, whenever that would be.

He flipped over to the back of the newspaper, glad to find the comic strips intact. They seldom made him laugh, but he found them mildly entertaining.

The train ride lasted thirty minutes, arriving to pick up the next waiting group of men and women. Bert exited the train with the rest of the straight faced troupe. Some pushed their way past him, one almost knocking him down, too absorbed in their phone to look straight.

Bert clears the crowd and ascends the stairs to the sidewalk. The sun welcomes him with covered rays from behind one of the towering skyscrapers. Yellow taxi’s speed by when the traffic allows, frantic as they traverse the streets.

A countless number of people pass him daily, some adorning business clothes, others casual wear. He never talks to any of them, except to say thank you when one drops change in his hat as they pass by.

Bert crosses one of many busy intersections, heading for his usual spot to wait and collect change. It’s conveniently located close to a charity dorm and the subway. A bus passes behind him, plastered in a local company’s logo.

There’s little in the city to keep him here, aside from great roadside food. Yet, he hasn’t left the city in years. He isn’t sure of what to expect if he ever left. Would there be ways to get around? Who will take care of me?

The thoughts, while simple to some, are scary to him. He had become used to relying on others, and even the few friends he had made in charities around the city encouraged him to at least get some kind of work somewhere outside of the city.

Bert sat beside the steps, his overturned hat an invitation for extra change. He would sit for four hours then move to a second spot, and finally retire for the night in the crowded dorm. He is guaranteed a spot in the dorm only if he shows up early enough to get in. There were times when he had to sleep on a park bench or one of the subway’s many chairs bolted into the cement.

It isn’t until today that his hat looks emptier than ever before. Maybe it is time for a change, time for something different. A young woman passed by and dropped four quarters in his hat. Maybe. 

Course Teaches Law Enforcement

Course Teaches Law Enforcement
February 18, 2011
Written By: Preston Orrick

sheriff-car

Three times per year, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office encourages all citizens to participate in a free 10 week course, called the ‘Citizen’s Academy.’ The course covers how law enforcement and the justice system work in Indian River County.

Participants of the course meet once a week for two hours. Topics covered include drug awareness, identity theft, methods to stop crime, traffic control, victim’s assistance and community service. Participants are also given a tour of the county jail, which includes an 80 person cell block.

Special Operations are also covered including K-9 attack dogs, police helicopters and marine boats. Participants are given the chance to look through two sheriff helicopters as well as three patrol and pursuit boats.

Every meeting is informative and focuses on a particular topic. Several different specialists, such as detectives, officers and deputies, speak to the class about their specialized jobs. One demonstration includes a K-9 unit sniffing out hidden drugs, as well as attacking K-9 officers wearing protective gear.

An I.D. Theft Apparatus and several mechanical devices are also shown, used to steal credit card numbers at parking lots, gas stations and public venues such as ‘Disney World.’ According to Deputy Roberta Barker, “Identity Theft is the world’s number one crime.”

Officers specializing in illegal drugs bring in over a hundred samples of these kinds of drugs. Videos of hidden cameras inside illegal pill mills are also shown. “The biggest drug problem are the pill mills.”, said Sergeant Rick Vidiri.

Participants get the chance to meet with several public officials, including a judge at the local courthouse, the District Attorney, the head public defender and the sheriff courthouse staff. Plenty of time is given at the end of the meetings for questions and answers.

Graduates of the course can serve as volunteers for the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office. Some volunteer tasks include driving around in a volunteer squad car and helping with administrative needs.

More information about the course can be found here. Pre-Registration is required and the course has limited seating, so citizens wanting to participate in the course are encouraged to apply early.

New Destiny Christian Center

New Location For New Destiny Christian Center 
January 31, 2011
Written By: Preston Orrick

New-Destiny-Church

On February 6th, 2011, New Destiny Christian Center will host its grand opening of a brand new location in Orlando, FL. Until recently, the church has had one destination located in Apopka, FL.

New Destiny Church began making its mark in 1996, when Pastor Zachary Tims and six members set out to create a ministry “that transcends beyond the normal religious traditions of man.” The church began to grow in 1999, after Mr. Tims and his members raised enough money to buy a sanctuary on 14 acres of land.

Since its founding, the church has grown to include over 8,000 members and includes recreational and educational buildings, as well as a basketball court. New Destiny Christian Center is constantly involved in outstanding outreach programs, with several volunteers gathering together every year to help the needy.

With the new location, New Destiny Christian Center will continue its message that expresses the belief “that brings divine reversal in the lives of a people hungry for God and ready for change.” Service times are on Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., as well as every first Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday night at 7:00 p.m.

Joe Sanchez – Basketball Coach

Joe Sanchez – New Basketball Coach
Date: March 15, 2011
Written By: Preston Orrick

Joe Sanchez

As the new head basketball coach for Indian River State College, Joe Sanchez brings 25 years of collegiate experience. His experience is already improving the team.

Sanchez played basketball in high school and college, and made a commitment to coaching the sport as well as teaching. He started coaching in 1976 in Texas. Since that job, Sanchez has coached numerous men’s and women’s teams.

His profession has taken him from the U.S. Naval Academy to Jensen Beach High School. With over 440 collegiate wins, 448 college head-coaching wins and six teams in the NCAA tournament, Sanchez is in the midst of proving himself at IRSC.

“I’ve just been very fortunate,” Sanchez says. “I’m doing something that I always wanted to do as the coach and teacher.”

Sanchez was hired as head coach on January 3rd and had little time to get the team ready for its first game. Since then, Sanchez has kept practices organized and structured.

“I am very pleased with Sanchez so far,” says athletic director Scott Kimmelman. “He has come in and really instilled some structure and discipline to the guys that we needed.”

Currently, the team, which is 2-4 in the Southern Conference, is playing with just eight men on the roster because of injuries. They compete with teams with as many as 14 players.

“The kids were struggling a little bit there as we were going through the transition,” Kimmelman said. “One player acts as a center and everybody else plays as a guard. Joe’s forcing them to be basketball smart rather than just running up and down the court shooting the ball. That’s a big difference for us.”

In just six weeks, Sanchez has put his brand of play on the team.

“I like to press and up-tempo,” Sanchez says, “The team’s goal is to play their best during the season, so they can be ready for the conference tournament. “We’re working hard to pull a couple of surprises down the stretch.”

Kid Shooting

The basketball team has gone through many coaches before Sanchez in the past year, but the players are already seeing a difference in Sanchez’s coaching style.

“Sanchez is doing a lot of extra stuff that a coach doesn’t have to,” says freshman Eric Eversley, “He’s showing that he really cares about the team.”

Different offensive and defensive schemes are being used, and the players have noticed, says Quamian Foreman, who has been with the team for two years. “He’s real touchy on the game during practice, and constantly analyzing how we play.”, Quamian says.

From what Sanchez has displayed so far during practice and games, starter Luke Walters is optimistic. “We have our setbacks, but I think overall we’re getting better every day,” says Walters, who has been on the team for two years.

IRSC Logo

Sanchez also believes the future of his team will be solid. The young team only lost by two points to second-place team in the conference, and played very aggressively in a recent game against the conference leader. “Anything that we can accomplish now will be positive down the road,” says Sanchez.

“Joe Sanchez is going to gain some great respect here in the state,” Kimmelman says. “The college knows it’s going to get a good product out of Indian River again.”

Twisted Metal – A Review

Twisted Metal
Review By: Preston Orrick

twisted

This is where it all began; Calypso’s demolition derby, the creepiness of Sweet Tooth, the pulse pounding soundtrack amidst vehicles of destruction racing across the screen. Before the madness of Twisted Metal 2 and Twisted Metal: Black, there was the original car combat mayhem game, Twisted Metal for the original Playstation.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the first car combat game, but it was the first that really got me engaged in the genre. Sure, the graphics are outdated, but the game play, in short, kicks ass. With twelve characters to choose from and six levels to cause chaos, Twisted Metal is short but packs a punch.

After choosing from a number of strange and deranged characters, you start off in the Arena, a circular dome of doom. There is no escape from this hellish environment. The only way out is to kill a randomly selected enemy. Power ups are scattered throughout the level, from ice missiles to homing missiles.

Ramps are available throughout the arena to jump over or onto your enemy. The round will end once your opponent is destroyed. A health bar at the top of the screen displays your enemy’s health. If you run out of lives along the way, there are level codes available for a second chance.

Following the arena are five more levels, each becoming increasingly harder as the number of contestants increase. These levels range from a small town with ice skaters and Christmas trees to a final battle to the death atop a rooftop. There is one unlockable level; an arena with five contestants instead of just one in story mode.

The twelve playable characters in the game consist of a varied sort, all looking to win the competition and have one wish granted by the twisted tournament owner, Calypso. Each character comes equipped with their own special weapon, ranging from three powerful homing missiles to the most powerful special in the game, a flaming, explosive head. Every car handles about the same, some moving a little bit slower than the others.

The game itself is very fun and never lets up on the action. The heavy metal soundtrack is perfectly suited for the game and fuels the action. Health power ups are evenly spaced about and every level boasts a fresh design.

Playing through once is probably enough for anyone, but the replay factor comes from the multi-player. Levels are sized down to fit when playing multi player, but that does not hinder the fun.

If you haven’t played through this Twisted Metal, I recommend giving it a shot, especially since it many of its sequels ended up on the ‘Greatest Hits’ list.

Hidden: Source (for Half-Life 2) – A Review

Hidden: Source
Review By: Preston Orrick

hidden

I’ve played many modifications for Half-Life 2, both single and multi-player. And yet, I struggle to find a single player modification worth mentioning. But when it comes to multi-player modifications, Hidden: Source does the job and does it well.

The game play is engaging as it forces you to play cooperatively and work as a team. The graphics utilize the Source engine, developed by Valve for Half-Life 2.  Just don’t expect anything new or spectacular graphic-wise.

The game consists of two teams, the “I.R.I.S.” and the “Hidden”. Your job as a member of the “I.R.I.S.” is to hunt down and kill the “Hidden”, otherwise known as “Subject 617”. But there’s a catch. “Subject 617” is almost invisible to the naked eye. It adorns a camouflage reminiscent of the stealth camouflage from “Metal Gear Solid” or from the movie, “Predator.” To make matters worse, there are vents putting out steam throughout some of the levels that resemble “Subject 617”.

As the “I.R.I.S.”, you can pick from a number of weapons, from a modified Remington to an SMG. Four automatic weapons are available along with two handguns. These are your only weapons against the “Hidden”.

“Subject 617”, on the other hand, has an advantage over the I.R.I.S. as long as he doesn’t make himself too easily visible.

“Subject 617” has up to three pipe bombs that momentarily blind the “I.R.I.S.” “Subject 617” also has a knife with a secondary fire, called a pig stick, that kills the “I.R.I.S.” in one hit and sends bloody chunks in all directions.

At the time of this review, I have found many servers to still be occupied, but many servers have taken away the “Hidden’s” ability to kill in one hit, and limited or removed the amount of available grenades. Instead, the one-hit kill has been replaced with a push move. Changing the developer’s original intention is quite lame, in my opinion.

Not only that, “Subject 617” is equipped with Aura Vision and the ability to jump around, or ‘pounce’, at an alarmingly fast rate. Aura Vision allows the “Hidden” to see through walls, easily pinpointing the location of an “I.R.I.S.” member.

“Subject 617” can also cling to any wall, and may also pin up dead bodies to instill fear in your enemies. “Subject 617” can also throw objects pretty hard at enemies, causing damage.

Hidden: Source is surprisingly balanced. The “Hidden” may have more abilities than the “I.R.I.S.”, but it can be quickly dispatched if spotted. If you play as the “Hidden”, moving around too much will reveal your position. Playing cooperatively as the “I.R.I.S.” is much smarter than going it alone. The person chosen to become the “Hidden” is random, alternating between players each round.

If you are killed in front of one your teammates, your teammate has a chance to spot the “Hidden” and take him out. A downside to sticking together, however, is the “Hidden” can toss a pipe bomb your way and take out the entire team.

Not only is playing Hidden: Source fun, it is also very tense. You will find yourself frequently looking over your shoulder, thinking that you heard or saw something, when nothing is actually there.

One of the coolest moments I had while playing was hiding on a small ledge far out of the “I.R.I..S.’s” reach. I waited and watched the entire team run below me, oblivious to my presence. As the last of the “I.R.I.S.” ran by, I silently jumped to the ground and immediately killed the last player to run by.

The rest of the team heard their teammates cry and immediately turned around, shooting in all directions. By then I was gone, having pounced out of there, already planning my next move.

It is also very entertaining to use “Subject 617’s” many voice commands, such as “I’m Here” or “Fresh Meat” to instill fear in the “I.R.I.S.” To strengthen the “I.R.I.S.’s” sense of a team, several voice commands are available, such as ‘Reporting In’ or ‘Hidden Spotted’.

Overall, Hidden: Source is an excellent modification with a real ability to scare the living crap out of you. With many maps to choose from and a decent fan base behind it, Hidden: Source can easily find a home amongst your games list.

Final Fantasy 7 – A Review

Final Fantasy 7
Review By: Preston Orrick

ff7

This is one of those games that you must play at least once in your lifetime. And be sure to play it all the way through, for it seems that every visual and cinematic must not be missed. If you haven’t already heard of this game, I suggest running and grabbing a copy as soon as you can. You will be glad to have this monster of a game in your collection.

To begin, the story starts out very simple, but transforms into an epic journey across three discs. An evil corporation named Shinra is using generators to suck energy out of the planet. A band of rogues named AVALANCHE has formed to try and put an end to Shinra.

As before, the beginning of the game sets the main character out on a simple path. But when a certain troubled antagonist named Sephiroth enters the scene, the story rapidly changes.

Along the way, you will meet a diverse range of characters. These vary from a man with a gun for an arm to a cat sitting atop a giant toy puppet. There are even two optional characters in the game, requiring side quests to add them to your party. This game will take you well over forty hours to complete. Filled with dozens of side quests and places to explore, Final Fantasy 7 has huge replay value.

This is the first Final Fantasy to utilize a real time battle system. Before, the opposing sides could take as long as they wanted with their turns. Here, your enemies don’t wait for you to attack. But like the games before it, the battles are fought the same. Your team is on one side while the other team faces opposite you.

When any of your characters takes a certain amount of damage, a limit is allowed to be used. These limits allow your characters to dish out a huge amount of damage in one turn. The cinematics are a treat as well. Utilizing pre-rendered graphics, each cinematic looks dated but impressive for the time.

Magic elements, or “Materia”, can be used in many combinations to provide devastating effects. Experiment using the slots in the battle system and you can truly deliver tremendous blows as you battle. The magic system is well balanced and fun to use.

Trademark summons are present in full force, and are one of the game’s best attacks. Not only are they powerful, but the sequences that play after they are summoned have some of the best visuals in the game. Numerous camera angles are shown while the summoned monsters attack the opposing force.

Notable side quests include raising a Gold “Chocobo” to retrieve one of the coolest summons I have ever seen, “Knights Of The Round”. Another option is to search underwater in a small submarine for one of the toughest enemies in the game, “Emerald Weapon”.

Expect no voice acting in this game; all of the speech is done in text bubbles. Yet, you still feel the expressions and emotions of the characters. The English version of this game is partially plagued by translation errors, but not enough to distract from the game itself.

Other side quests such as racing yellow “Chocobo’s” and exploring one of the unlockable character’s city is present. The scenery and environment’s are simply wonderful, filled with interesting NPC’s.

This game is hugely propelled onward by its magnificent score, composed by the series master composer, Nobuo Uematsu. The emotions and feelings his songs evoke really draw you into the game.

If you are ready to take on one of the longest and greatest adventure role playing games I’ve ever played through, I highly recommend playing Final Fantasy 7 as soon as you can.

As an extra note, Final Fantasy 7 is now available on the computer. Make sure you find a copy with the original score; I have seen some paid versions that have MIDI tracks instead of the awesome original soundtrack.

Crash Team Racing – A Review

Crash Team Racing
Review By: Preston Orrick

ctr

Racing games such as Gran Turismo strive for extreme attention to detail, with lush environments and gorgeous graphics. The developers try to make the cars as accurate as possible.

But other games, like Crash Team Racing, try to put a different spin on the racing game genre. Instead of the realistic appeal of Gran Turismo, here you will find stylized graphics and more attention on pure fun.

Crash Team Racing stays true to the series previous installments, delivering similar graphics and using clever power-ups for the game. This game pulls you back into the Crash universe, never disappointing with a very balanced game. All of the sounds provide a playful soundtrack and really add to the enjoyable experienced delivered here.

One of the most notable sounds in the game is “Aku Aku”, the voodoo mask that aided Crash in previous games. Alongside “Aku” is “Uka Uka”, “Aku’s” evil twin brother, who aids Crash’s enemies in the game. The rest of the power-ups range from bombs to missiles. Each power-up is randomly selected after crashing through a power-up box.

A nice feature of this game is after acquiring ten apples, your power-ups become more powerful. One power-up that changes is the force-field. Instead of being green and lasting a short time, having ten apples will turn the force-field blue and will last forever. That is, until you decide to blast it off and possibly cause damage to another car.

The environments are well thought out and perfectly balanced. After playing the maps for a while, you will find there is more than one way to complete the map. By taking risks, you can get a box full of apples or take a quicker path to the finish line. Many obstacles such as huge rolling pins and snowballs that slide from left to right can easily hinder your spot in first place.

Each environment feels unique and very enjoyable to run through for three laps. Speed strips are located throughout each level, giving you speed in whatever direction the arrow is pointed. One speed strip is so long that you literally fly through space for several seconds.

If you fall off the course, “Aku” or Uka”, depending on which character you chose, will drop you back into the track. There are up to fifteen characters to choose from, with only eight available to choose when you first start playing. Up to four players can race at a time.

As before, the soundtrack is well done, adding to the fun feel of the game. Each song that plays along on each level blends right in with the game-play, never becoming repetitive or annoying. The dozens and dozens of small sounds such as crashing into a box or catching some air fit nicely. The characters make sounds of their own, and these fit in perfectly as well.

Racing and battle modes are available. You can challenge up to four people to a series of four Cups, which involve four maps. Single mode is available as well if you only feel like playing one map. Battle mode involves four maps, with each character trying to gain a maximum number of points by damaging their teammates with power-ups.

The player is free to choose how he wants to play in battle mode. You can choose to include missiles or not, set a time limit, or limit the amount of points required before the round ends. The only gripe I have is not being allowed to switch maps inside the start menu; the player must go back to the map screen, pick their characters and set their preferences. But this quickly becomes a habit, and less of a hassle.

Adventure mode is available as well. The story is played out through several cinematics as you play through the entire mode. An evil creature in space, named Nitros Oxide, has decided to make a tournament to see who the fastest racer is. If the racer defeats him, he will leave Earth alone. If the racer loses to him, he will enslave everyone on Earth.

This mode is fairly addictive, offering many races to choose from and extra modes to play, such as racing to collect as many crystals as possible. Playing through the entire adventure mode will take you probably no more than six hours.

The replay value for this game is high, if you find you love the game-play and become addicted to it like I have. Several secret characters are available through extra modes and with special cheat codes.

Even after all these years, my brother and I still love to play this game. It is an incredibly balanced game, highly addicting and hugely fun in every way. The graphics are dated but the game-play more than makes up for it. If you love racing games and are tired of the norm, I suggest you give Crash Team Racing a shot. I promise you won’t regret it.