Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fallout 3

It's a commonly held opinion among gaming critics that the more airs of realism and freedom a game puts on about it's world, the easier it becomes for the illusion to fall apart. We saw this a lot in Grand Theft Auto IV, with it's extreme dissociation between it's story and gameplay, and I think we see it a lot in Fallout 3. And the first part of the above rule fits: Fallout 3 tries it's damnedest, and succeeds in a lot of ways. There were definite moments where I felt for the characters, was immersed in the world. But like a grease stain on your best Sunday shirt, the aberrations stick out like a sore thumb. In this article, I'm going to point out some I found interesting, funny, baffling or what have you. Enjoy.

The citizens of the American wasteland are a forgetful bunch. A common thread I've found with Bethesda's games is the bizarre disconnect between an NPC's role as an element of the plot and the NPC's role as an NPC. There are many times when one will be saying one thing while the other will be saying the exact opposite. So far, one of the best examples I can find so far occurs fairly early in the game. If you take the "good" path in Megaton and disarm the bomb, you'll be periodically visited by a lady in the town bearing a gift. I say periodically with some reservations: the situation is so bizarre that it almost seems like it has to be a glitch. She just keeps giving me more stuff. I even figured out the time: I was greeted by the lady, went to sleep for a 24 hour period, and found her outside again waiting with another box of Blanco's Mac and Cheese. The real punchline, however, is the dialog. Upon greeting me, she tells me how much the town appreciates what I'm doing for them. They've scraped together and saved to get me this gift, whatever it may be at the time (a box of apples? Shotgun shells? 'sall good.) Then I try speaking to her right after, hoping to maybe press her further and maybe find a new questline, only to be met with "Go away. I have no time for strangers." Shit.

The Flop
One of the weirdest issues in Fallout 3 is it's repositioning of bodies each time an area loads. I haven't had time to test it, but in general, loading into an area with a dead body seems to cause it to literally drop from the sky. I assume it's another one of those side effects of having such an expansive world onscreen at all times. Still, it's endlessly amusing to see a super mutant flop around like a fish on the pavement.

Missing Person(s)
The Capital Wastelands is a world full of mysterious disaperences. And by that, I don't mean the same mysterious disaperance that comes with double-crossing the mob or angering the Disney Gestapo. They just fuckin' disapear. Take the water treatment plant worker in Megaton. I didn't have the good sense to look around online and see if this was a recuring problem, and I'm not going to take the oppertunity now to do so. All I know is this jerk bought 200 caps worth of scrap metal from me and I haven't seen him since. And I know it has to be a glitch. I looked everywhere. If there's some kind of secret bonus round stage in Megaton that I just don't know about, I'd apperciate being told about it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Game Log #9 (with the promise of more frequent posts)

I pretty much stopped this Game Log thing. Hell, I haven't been posting much at all. It's no use lamenting this fact, however. I'll commit when I'm damn well ready. It's probably now, but who knows.
  • Going against my long-standing self-imposed ban on renting games from video stores (it's a price versus time thing), I rented a copy of Mirror's Edge. The game's somewhat short length (my playtime was around seven hours), it luckily fit in the 5 day rental time. I wasn't too busy that week. The stars aligned. I will be writing a review on Mirror's Edge, though I'd like to offer some quick comments here. Mirror's Edge is an interesting game with an fantastically implemented set of mechanics who's main, fatal flaw is that it's developers often times seem to be at loss on how to "break up" the game play. In short, the parkour gameplay has the potential to get monotonous (though I'm not entirely sold on that. More in my review). The games attempts to break up the possible monotony fall in line with the genre DICE seems to be trying to distance themselves from: the modern First Person Shooter. I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea, just... misguided? More to come.
  • I've recently found the time to get back in to Dragon Quest 8. I've spent some time recently with some other JRPGs as of late, and my view has changed somewhat on the game. I like it a lot more, first off. Many of the games biggest issues for me, mainly the archaic nature of some of it's mechanics, are actually fixed by abilities you receive in-game. "Some" is the operative word. I appreciate JRPGs, and many of the mechanics that haven't really changed all that much in the last few decades are precisely. Maybe I'll find time to elaborate on that. In short, I'm not the kind of person who necessarily feels that game mechanics should be abandoned as soon as they're well-worn. But when it comes to things like the ordeal the game puts you through to save your game, I can't show any love to that. If there's one thing I hope Japanese game designers learn from this recent downturn (and hopefully rebound) of their industry is to put less idiotic restrictions on saving your game. And the game never really fixes that. Luckily, one of your characters learns a spell that fixes one of my biggest issues. In Dragon Quest, if one of your party members die in a dungeon, you're fucked. You have to get out, trek back to a nearby town, then pay some arbitrary sum of money to a priest for a resurrection. It's extremely annoying, especially in dungeons. Leveling up Angelo gives you Zing, which gives you a 50% chance of resurrecting a fallen party member. It certainly makes the game easier, and I assume that was the point. I don't think granting shortcuts to players after they've reached a certain point is a bad idea. But do they have to make it so damn hard? Japanese RPGs are a strange genre for me. I love them, and tend to rush to their defense when people are hatin'. Too bad these games seem intent on fighting me all the way. Chrono Trigger had cross appeal among non-RPG fans because it stayed away from the awkward tropes I'm talking about. Too bad none took a page from that book.
  • I borrowed a copy of Diablo 2 from a friend. It's mostly a trial for me, as I'm planning on buying the Battlechest. After all, two people can't play on battlenet at once with one CD key, and playing with said friend is one of the reasons I wanted to get into Diablo. More on that to come, but so far, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Necromancers seem like the way to go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Electric Haunted Hayride

All this talk of zombie invasions in everyone's favorite games with the general resurfacing of zombies as a rule during Halloween is bringing back my bizarre 10 second musings on how awesome it would be if a zombie apocalypse ever happened. Never mind that I'd probably be one of the first to go. Luckily, if my activities this October are to be believed, I'd make one hell of a zombie. In between intense readings of The Walking Dead, a comic I took far to long to read, I've taken an odd job at a local haunted hayride.

Whitetail Farm's haunted hayride occupies a bizarre space somewhere between exceptionally hokey and genuinely scary. I'd feel extremely awkward criticizing the ride if it were some sort of family-friendly wacky Halloween fun ride, but the rather gory props used and attempts at genuine scares seem like they were going for a somewhat older audience. At the same time, it plays it ridiculously safe in other areas. Is a cliche chainsaw-wielding Jason or a flying white sheet ghost really pushing the horror envelope? And that's where I come in. The ghost part. Not a zombie per se. That's the job of a friend of mine several yards down the ride, while another guy I know jumps at passers by in a devil costume between conversations with a Priest who, none too ironically, is a total pedophile. Does lusting after underage girls negate the stereotype?

There is a truly bizarre thrill to be derived from scaring a trailerfull of Missourians pulling a rope behind a tree. With the hood of my raggedy jacket down low, crouched behind a couple thin trees who's seems fairly dubious, the frightened screams from up ahead serve as a wonderful confirmation that I succeeded. It's not that I'm particularly overjoyed with my having what it takes to become a haunted house worker, if that is something to be excited about. It's just nice to be vindicated for the effort. "Did you see those punks? That's right. I scared them. Beat that, McDonalds Burger Flipper man. Damn straight I'm earning that $6.25 an hour." And let's bring that back to where we started. I'd be one hell of a zombie because I'm already doing a damn good job scaring people for minimum wage. Imagine how good I'd be at it if minimum wage was brains?

And like a preacher myself struggling to bring a story about my niece and her skateboarding friends back to the Lord, it's time to bring this exciting anecdote back to games. I've been building this weird metaphor in my head between my weekend job and Valve's upcoming multiplayer horrorfest Left 4 Dead. The game is like the virtual extension of a haunted hayride. The survivors are the paying customers ($60 dollars, in fact) on a ride crafted to some degree to scare the living shit out of you. Meanwhile, the zombies are the paid employees. Except it's like if you wanted to pay to work at the hay ride. I guess that's not totally out of the realm of possibility. There are paid internships and unpaid internships. I'm sure it can go into the negatives. Left 4 Dead is one of those fun games I get to talk excitedly about with my friends who don't happen to be internet-reading game nerds. It's a big budget zombie game coming out at just the right time, Halloween. As a result, a lot of my friends just know about. Something odd I've been noticing though is that many of them don't seem to know about playing the zombies. Perhaps it's not something sold very heavily in the advertisements?

The zombie side has me flip-flopping on whether I'm interested or not. All reports from the field make it sound pretty fun, for sure. The survivor side sounds like where it's at, though. The AI Director system which dynamically restructures the game based on your preformance and experience, really speaks to Valve's unique approach to making games. As anyone who took the time to replay the Orange Box games with commentary knows, Valve loves to focus test. But they seem to take it from another angle. Rather than dumbing down their games based on rumblings from the peanut gallery, they come up with new and creative solutions that include the idiots while keeping the more seasoned players from walking away in disgust. It'd be interesting to know the kind and amount of focus testing was involved in the making of Left 4 Dead based on the nature of the game. Valve promises restructuring encounters, making them easier on you if your ragged and beaten, or upping the ante if you're doing too damn good. It would be interesting to see how they found out when to let off the onslaught. What is too much? Hopefully me and Valve will agree on when and when to ramp up the difficulty. If Portal is any indication, I'm sure we will.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Toonami is Dead. Long Live Toonami.

And so, after more than 10 years (you better be right, Wikipedia), Toonami is finally dead. Shows over, folks. And to be honest, I'm not really sure how to feel about it. I wasn't around for it's humble beginnings of running Thundercats and Voltron. I didn't even really get cable till around 2002 (and we'll get to that.) I sure as hell didn't really stick around for the end, either. My interest tapered off around the end of 2004 due to the general lack of anything new or interesting. I had already discovered the joys of fansubs and high speed internet, and, to be honest, had no interest in the shows on at the time. I did catch on to Gundam SEED later on though, and later became a Megas XLR super fan. But that's another story.

But it was that 2002-2003 Toonami stint that I remember the most. I can probably thank those programs ran during those 2 years for ultimately solidifying my love of anime. Some of them (namely Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z) don't really hold up now that I'm somewhat older and wiser in the medium, but it was definitely a step up from what I had been watching before. As previously stated, my Saturday morning cartoon watching was limited to whatever was on the basic channels in the area. Admittedly, some of these were Batman TAS and Sailor Moon. But most of them were KidsWB throwaway cartoons that maybe aired 2 to 3 episodes before realizing that no one really cared. Pokemon, of course, was still hot then, but even then I was growing tired of it. So the switch between that and weekday afternoon viewings of Toonami was pretty staggering to say the least. "What's that you say? You guy's have got cartoons with killing and PG swear words!? Sign me up!" Ah, the thought processes of a young anime fan. At the time, I was at least semi-aware of the fact that Toonami edited their programs and that the opening sequences were by and large cut out, but it was mostly irrelevant to me. I hadn't even seen Adult Swim when I started out, much less an episode of DBZ with it's original audio. Put simply, I had nothing to judge it by.
Toonami sort of drilled into me a lot of the prefrences and tastes I have when it comes to anime. G Gundam, which debuted in 2002, was probably what made me the giant robot freak I am today. For all the flack the series gets from, well, MOST anime fans, I think G Gundam is, in many ways, one of the best introductions to the super robot genre. It really carries on many of the traits that make the genre awesome. It was a series with a borderline idiotic premise that existed for it's writers to show off how zany their international robot designs could be, and where every character always has something crazy and melodramatic to say, most notably Domon Kashu's Indigo Montoya-esque repeated battle speech. As much as I through enjoy Gurren Lagann, shows like G Gundam were doing the over the top impassioned monologues years before Gainax tried their hand at it. The action was fast and furious, without any care to outdated concepts like "logic" and "science" and "realisim". And the special attacks? Totally memorable. Despite having some of the most bizarre names ever (Bakuretsu God Finger? Hot.), using a burning mech hand to crush another mech's head is about as visceral as it gets. I was totally pumped at every new episode for the whole production of stock footage and the aforementioned impassionate battle speech, followed by the attack name screams. To say that it's stuck with me would be an understatement.

And then there was Yu Yu Hakusho. I had seen a couple episodes from it's short run on Adult Swim, but I never got fully into it until it made the switch to Toonami. I've actually been slowly trying to rewatch the series as of late. I've watch only the first 3 or so episodes, so the jury's still out on whether it holds up. The first couple episodes are, as remembered, pretty damn slow (who's bright idea was it to begin a shonen fighting series with episodes of Touched By an Angel?), but we'll see where that goes. And of course, there's Kenshin and the Dragon Ball shows which, say what you will know, where totally fascinating to me back in the day. The Big O, another classic robot series, ran a bit before my time, but when I caught it rerunning on Adult Swim, I fell in love with it's outlandish designs and obivous Batman influence.

I'm not sure really what to say. It's a shame that Toonami got to the state it did. It's really an sign of the times. Anime (and action cartoons in general) are on the out. Cartoon Network is making no secret of wanting to switch to some kind of live action dominate format like Disney Channel. I'm definetly not going to have an outburst over them betraying their name or anything ridiculous. They can do what they want, and I probably wouldn't watch their channel either way. I do fear what this will do for the anime industry as a whole however. One must assume it won't be a change for the better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Silent Hill 3

I often find myself a latecomer to game franchises. It sort of just happens that way. For example, my first Metal Gear game was Metal Gear Solid 2, followed by 3. It's been only recently that I went back to play the first Metal Gear Solid. My experiences with the Silent Hill series have been similar. Walk in to a used game store (at least in the great state of Missouri) and there is a decent chance you'll find a $10 used copy of Silent Hill 2. You're going to have to look hard for anything else. 3 is noticeably vacant. The Room is abundant on the Xbox, but I've sworn off of Xbox games based on my prior experiences with the 360's shoddy emulation. Meanwhile, if you DO find a copy of the original Silent Hill, be prepared to pay upwards of $50. So when I found Silent Hill 3 at my local Game XChange (after me and my friends narrowly escaped death from tornadoes that turned out to not actually be there), I bought that shit in an instant. I'm sure completing an entire game in a single day is wildly unhealthy. I was surprised that I was able to finish the game in just under 7 hours. Surprised, but not really disappointed.

The two Silent Hill games I have played have kept me coming back as a result of expert presentation. The music, visuals, and story are what allows the game to vastly excel over it's often weaker gameplay aspects. One of the most defining aspects of this presentation is the music and it's relation to the events on screen. Team Silent composer Akira Yamaoka obviously understands something that I wish more composers, both in video games and in cinema, would catch on to: sometimes the best music for a scene is little or no music at all. Silent Hill 3 is a game with no shortage of tense battles and utterly disturbing moments. I think one of the things that sets Team Silent apart from the rest is that in most games, you'd expect some rousing John Williams-esque orchestral score, perhaps with some guitars and latin chanting to accompany these scenes. In Silent Hill, you're often treated to little more than a pulsating background noise. It's brutally effective for conveying the chillingly surreal, dream logic-contingent world of Silent Hill. I think Yamaoka's skills also lie in variety as well, which serves to add emotional depth to the games. He sets the intense mood for the game with the hard rock opener You're Not Here, while tracks like End of Small Sanctuary give us a break from the paralyzing horror of the game.

The variety in music definitely helps, because the game changes environments quite often. In addition to the area's around Silent Hill, the game often lapses into the "Other World", a rusted, shit covered nightmare version of the real world. You could be cynical and say that the Other World concept largely exists as a means to reuse the same maps with different textures, but sometimes great gameplay design is born from budgetary constraints. The change is often times jarring and unsettling, and I think in many ways more effective than in Silent Hill 2. For example, the hospital in Silent Hill 3 becomes a fiery red throbbing mass where you'll find yourself running against the walls in order to find out where the hell you are. As usual, Team Silent's fetish for rusted grates and fans are more than present. It all contributes to this grimy, cerebral universe that really makes the series is so great.

In some ways, however, the story is a step down from it's predecessor. Silent Hill 2's deeply personal story is, in my opinion, almost unrivaled in the gaming industry. And Silent Hill 3's is definitely an interesting endeavor. A tale of a girl with a connection to the mysterious town that draws her back in after years of absence. It's a story that definitely works, but it very rarely surprises. There aren't many twists and startling revelations to be had when compared to the original. It's a largely straight forward horror story. And that's good, really. I found myself liking Heather by the end of the game, but the same level of obscurity just isn't there. And I'm not sure that's really a mark against it. It's really just something to mention.

As I ready myself to play Homecoming, the newest entry in the series, I'm finding myself tallying the differences between 2 and 3 and 4, and wondering how much Homecoming will build upon it. But ultimately, it's really only the presentation that I'm thinking about. Much like a point and click adventure game, I'm not looking for game play advancements in this series. They'd be nice, but as long as Double Helix supplies the same interesting level of presentation that Team Silent has maintained over the last few years and hopefully takes it to new places, I have high hopes.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Game Log #8

A crash course in why I should keep these up to date:
  • Played and, over the span of one Saturday afternoon, beat Silent Hill 3. This marks the 2nd Silent Hill game I've played, the other being Silent Hill. If only the other games in this series weren't so obscenely hard to find. I'll save my thoughts on 3 for my review.
  • Played and, over the course of a week and a half, beat Resident Evil 4. Expect a review for that as well.
  • I'm afraid I'm about to do with Persona 3 what I do with far to many RPGs: namely, I'm not going to finish it. I can't get over my feelings on this. I've put 40+ hours into the game; that's far to much to turn back now. But at the same time, with so many other, shorter games to play, and so many new games on next month's terrifying horizon (Silent Hill Homecoming, Fable II, Fallout III, and so on), it's easy to put away a game that has, by all accounts, 50 more hours to go. And I hope I don't give up on it; I'm still enjoying the game. It's the pacing that's keeping me down, mostly, and RPGs are, in general, designed to be slower-paced. It's weird how attracted I am to this genre that seems so obivously not made for me. As for my progress, I've got 4 full moons to go, supposedly. The boss fight wasn't especially challenging, but satisfying as most P3 boss fights are. As I've said before, the exploitability of the combat system is what makes the game truly unique for me. Hopefully, I'll have the game completed before Persona 4 see's it's stateside release. Is that an unrealistic goal? And even if not, will I even PLAY, much less beat Persona 4? Good question.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Game Log #7

Most of my gaming attention has been dividing between two games over the past couple weeks:

- Still chugging through Persona 3 FES with constantly shifting feelings on the game. The high points are high, and the low points are very, very low. I think what's really kept me in the game has been the combat and dungeon exploration side of the game which, ironically, is the part of the game I hear a lot of people disliking. In particular, there's a pretty vocal contingent of the internet that can't stand how exploitable the battle system is. I, however, find that the main draw. It's not the most strategic JRPG I've ever played, but exploiting the enemies various weakness and managing your 2 Persona-per-turn limit is a welcome change of pace in a genre where grinding is a central component. There's something truly beautiful in being able to drop a boss in more ways then simply leveling up for hours on end. I want to find time to tweak with the Persona fusion and weapon creation systems at some point as well.

I do feel that the game does have a bizarre difficulty balance throughout, but I'm not sure it really bothers me all that much. You could do battle with a boss weak to Zio and finish him off in a couple minutes, and a couple floors later get brutally raped by a tower boss with no weakness to anything. I do have to begrudge the game for how it handles death. I've really reached the point where it's hard for me to handle games where I can lose hours of progress by dying once (something I'll get to in my second game.) The nature of Persona 3 makes it difficult to simply leave Tarturus to save, as you would have to restart again from the last warp floor. I've found myself longing for Dragon Quest's idea of halving your gold and sending you back to the next town. Couldn't just take some of my Yen, but leave me my new persona's and gained XP?

But what really gets under my skin with this game is the story. I've come to reconcile how awful the majority of the social link conversations are. I'll just skip through them and get my next rank. But then there's the dialog that's more difficult to skip, as it pertains to the main story. And I WANT to like the main story, I really do. There's a sort of feeling of wrongness under the surface; it's the same type of feeling I got from watching series like Evangelion or Revolutionary Girl Utena. The story seems like it's going to morph into something entirely different, and I anxiously await it's transformation. But I do this at the cost of a boring quasi mini-game where I have to go hit on girls at some stupid beach.

-My handheld experience as of late has been a used copy of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. After hearing some good things on the game from an episode of Retronauts, I found a used copy at my local Vintage Stock and gave it a go. I'd have to say that other than a few experiences with Nethack, Shiren is probably the first hardcore roguelike I've really played. I got used to the global turn concept pretty quickly, but I'm still trying to figure out all of the exploits therein.

It's a game where dieing once means it's game over. No matter how much you have leveled up your character, it's all gone. It's not as scary as it sounds, however. The leveling up is far faster than your average RPG; I've gotten Shiren to level 15 several times, and none of my single play throughs have been much longer than an hour. There is also an element of item persistence as well. Blacksmiths in the game can level up weapons for a price, so you could find a weapon to level up, even if you loose your can find warehouses in the game at which to store items. This means that you can play it safe and store your Katana +6 for a future playthrough.

Another interesting concept is that the game really encourages you to, well, die. Various characters and events, such as the aforementioned blacksmiths, can only do their job once per play through. The sidequests you accomplish stay accomplished even after your death. If helping someone allowed him to join you as a party member, he can join you again on subsequent playthroughs. So far, it's been an interesting experience. Now if only I could figure out how to keep my food reliably stocked.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Electric Bibleland: Wisdom Tree Funpack #2 (Part the Uno)

Sometimes, people make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes involve making Christian-themed video games. Whenever that happens, we're there. This... is Electric Bibleland.
King of Kings: The Early Years
The first thing you'll notice about King of Kings is that it is a fucking cheater. This isn't ONE game, Wisdom Tree. This is MANY games. Some might even say THREE. If we're counting the title screen, it's FOUR. I didn't sign up for this shit, and neither did you, reader/listener/viewer/watcher/erotic PI (God I hope so.)

The three+ game pack is pretty common within the NES Wisdom Tree pantheon. I'll give King of Kings a 1Up over the rest, however. Why, you might ask?
That's right. Someone at Wisdom Tree realized that even the most uncultured Christian children might not be entirely cool with Wisdom Tree's majestically repetitive music and gave you the option to turn it off. Somehow, We Three Kings doesn't translate so well to the NES sound chip, believe it or not. I like to think that the man who volunteered this brilliant leap forward in game design was the sound programmer himself.

In my version of the Wisdom Tree story, his wife and children left him after he unwisely brought home the Exodus soundtrack (limited edition vinyl pressing. I own it. Do you? Loser.) And who could blame them? Could she (I guess her name is Bianca Bianca) ever truly except the MONSTER she had married? With the combination of his children getting a new daddy, and his failure to be nominated for any awards for Exodus drove him over the deep end. It's enough to make anyone loose faith in their work, especially when that work is the subversion of Nintendo children. Subversion involving 3 separate, but equally awful, video games in one truly powerful cartridge. The bad kind of powerful.

The Wise Men
The Wise Men is a game about dicks. That's what it is. It's a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System about dicks. There's camels and exciting desert animals and scripture quizzes, but it's mostly about dicks.
In this game, you collect dildos. I'm not sure what they do, but you collect them. Sometimes they change colors. I guess that's cool.
Here's another penis. It must be some kind of Sand Penis Demon, brought into the desert by Satan himself as a means to anally violate Jesus's old people friends on their way to his birthday party. I guess that's pretty bad.
I'm pretty sure this is also a penis. If I had to choose my favorite penis in the game, this would be it. Sand penises are fantastic, but phallus cactus takes the cake. Except instead of a cake, it's actually a penis.
The Wise Men is a game about riding Camel Birdo through the desert in search of Jesus I guess. I'm inferring this from the game's soundtrack (the aforementioned We Three Kings), a song about riding Camel Birdo through the desert in search of Jesus.

The Wise Men is a shining example of what Wisdom Tree excels the most at: making games with shitty control. Every platformer Wisdom Tree laid their greasy fingers on played greasy. The controls are slippery as all hell. You remember when you'd play those old generic NES sidescrollers that all had the generic Ice Level with slippery terrain, which forces you to adjust your timing and input accordingly? The Wise Men is like playing an entire game of that ice level. You always end up jumping just a little farther than you should, something which can easily throw you off in a game filled with some pretty difficult jumps. Perhaps it was just industry standard at the time, but considering the audience that Wisdom Tree was aiming for, the level of difficulty some of the jumps reach is pretty surprising to say the least.

On top of that, you're wrestling with a Friday the 13th-esque Camel Birdo attack (pictured above) that conveniently arcs over just about any enemy in the game. You have a decent chance of hitting birds when they're right in front of you, but for just about anything else, you'll have to institute a bizarre "jump backwards and shoot" approach to any confrontation.
Lucky for us, successfully landing a hit can cause some goofy wacky hijinks, such as the above picture. This isn't even a glitch. You just fight a fox miniboss that can also do crazy fucking backflips. I guess the fox can also lay eggs. I'm not sure if that's cool or not. Anyway, it's been a wacky time, and I was planning on beating the game to see what crazy shit happens in the end. But then this happened:
Next time: Flight to Egypt, a game about being able to jump but not being able to jump on anything.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


A recent dispute with my bank involving bogus ATM fees left me with a closed account and a recent paycheck of 300 dollars burning a hole in my pocket. Luckily, I was in walking distance of a Best Buy and, like any non sensible person would, I decided it was time to blow 138 of those hard earned (not really) dollars on finally connecting my long dormant (not really) Xbox 360 to the internet. So, wireless adapter and one month live card in hand, as well as the newly released second volume of Gurren Lagann, I walked out having spent enough cash to get a free gift card. This is money that could have, and probably should have, been spent on necessities like food, gas, saving for college. But who needs that?

The following bullshit is presented in convenient bullet point format because it's convenient and it's not inconvenient and I'm right.
  • Questionable n-router purchases at Goodwill Stores can, and in my bizare case, do turn out well.
  • My connection occasionally goes dead for reasons I haven't had time to analyze. It's either a problem with the router (more likely), a problem with the adapter (God, I hope not), or Murphy's Law in exciting action.
  • My friends are cheap assholes without 360s. As a result, my online gaming experiences include such exciting events as listening to a twelve year old white kid talk about black people and arguments over whether Halo 3 is indeed better than Grand Theft Auto IV. Worth $100 dollars? You be the judge.
  • Braid is awesome and I want Braid.
  • I downloaded the Alone in the Dark demo. I could never have expected the game would involve blinking as a gameplay mechanic.
  • I haven't even watched the first disc of Gurren Lagann. I haven't watched the first box set of GaoGaiGar, either, but I own it; I'll own the second box set in a few days. Perhaps I should stop buying anime untill I actually watch it? Of course not. The Otaku way is to die surrounded by more volumes of pornographic comics and 70's robot shows than any human being could ever have time to consume.
  • Persona 3 is stealing all my fucking time, so I'm not watching anime anytime soon. I'm still finding time to watch Kaiba, aparently.
  • Kaiba's opening theme could be a Bjork song, but it isn't.
  • Back to Xbox Live: Being a sniper in 360 Team Fortress 2 is impossible and completely unfun. Is it really that big of a deal to add mouse and keyboard support to your games, Microsoft? Really? If Sony can do it, so can you.
  • Much to my dismay, GTAIV's saves cannot be transferred between profiles on my Hard Drive. It's not a HUGE deal that I have to use two different profiles for playing GTAIV single or multiplayer, but it's inconvenient. Convenience is the flag I fly. Why else would you even have bullet points in this sham of an article? If I can have bullet points, Rockstar can have fucking save transfers.
  • Instead of getting names with homosexual connotations banned from Xbox Live, I feel Microsoft's effort would be better spent banning white children with names like Gangstah Chef.
  • My only USB keyboard is shitty and ergonomic and I hate it. I got it for free, but I hate it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


3:10, too late to be up my dear
Riot gear cash cow, don't you just bring the fear
With a tight install base, you got it just right
In those bastard's sights, Lord just might smite it
And grant you a well deserved respite
Seems like, song keeps droning
No new news, old news, build your building, but first call zoning
They'll have your head for this, you know what happened last time-
Crisis, crime, scraping grime off your life as you see your own light at tunnel's end

Now I have never, called in to question, the possessions and repossessions
Playing tricks on your own secession
So let me have my time, 3:09
Get back to bed, you Deadhead, redead army
It isn't time


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Condemned: Criminal Origins

I think violence in video games is something we now take for granted in some respects. There's the ongoing Jack Thompson-led battles to convince us that our games are indeed driving us to insanity, but that's it. The only issue anyone really takes with the violence in our games are the disgruntled, misunderstanding outsiders who believe it's just too violent. Playing Condemned made me realize there's another facet of video game violence we often miss: the emotional impact of violence. It's been touched on in games like the Metal Gear Solid series, but never, I think, in the way this has. Violence is a means to an end for gamers. Devil May Cry, for all it's fun, is basically a flashy action film where any individual kill barely leaves a memory. I do not believe this is always a bad thing; not in the slightest. We need gaming's Total Recalls to it's Saving Private Ryans. Otherwise, it'd all be dire, depressing material. But I think that's where I appreciated Condemned the most: for making me feel repulsed, disgusted, sometimes even sorry for the violence I was committing on the screen.

Condemned was really messing with my emotions all throughout the 10+ hour experience. The manipulation of fear is obviously central to the experience of a horror-themed, and Monolith proves they have an excellent grasp on how to do it. In a game with a central theme of tracking a serial killer while stalking dark, decaying buildings and battling deranged druggies, I could really tell Monolith was taking generously from the Silence of the Lambs pot. The effective atmospheric effects create a sense that an enemy could come from any locked door, maybe even right behind you. So much of the game reminded me of the final confrontation between Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill in the basement, and I found that fascinating.

Much like Silence of the Lambs, Condemned uses it's brutal violence to back up that sense of fear. After all, without the threat of consequence, what is there to really fear? The violence within Condemned was so harsh that it sometimes made me want to avoid fights. I think there are many contributing factors to this. I think part of it is that the violence itself is so stripped down. We're used shooters where we take down the enemy with a bullet from a few feet away. In Condemned, you're beating down deranged hobos with nail-covered 2X4's and lead pipes. The combat is given a sense of weight and impact, helped along by the game's Breakdown-esque manipulation of the first person camera. Motion blurs occur at appropriate moments, while choice points in the game involve vomiting on the floor and being thrown down stairs with the appropriate twists and turns of the camera. On top of that, the game tells the bulk of it's story without reverting to cutscenes. The game's story in an of itself seems to take place within the span of a single night.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game's visuals is it's use of "psychological effects". Without warning (and loading times, surprisingly) the world around you will suddenly change from nightmarish to even more so in Silent Hill fashion. One of the spookiest moments in the game involved entering a room owned by a stalker of the main character and seeing brief flashes of walls covered in photos. But Monolith managed to add more to these moments than a scarier paint job, going so far as to slowing your movements, an extremely effective trick for fostering a sense of helplessness.

Ironically, the game doesn't even play much like an FPS at all. If anything, the combat is most analogous to a late 80's/early 90's arcade brawler like Streets of Rage. Fights often boil down to drunken strikes with makeshift weapons. Finding firearms is a rarity, and even then, are disposable due to the complete lack of ammunition. Unfortunately, the combat can often feel slippery and difficult to control, and often falls apart when multiple enemies are brought in. Your slow movements in-game make it difficult to handle more than one attacker. While the game was obviously developed to be slower paced, being a first person game developed with consoles in mind first, the enemies don't seem to accommodate this as much as I would like them to. Beyond the mechanics of the game, the combat leaves a strong impression due to how brutal it is. Your usual enemies are clearly insane; they'll scream and swear loudly while relentlessly following you. The heavy sounds, camera, and violence level all contributes to pretty unsettling fights with finishing moves that leave your opponent with a broken neck. It's the kind of violence that keeps itself from jumping straight over the top, but disturbing enough to give you the appropriate chills.

I didn't really know what to expect when I bought Condemned, but I came out pretty satisfied. I think I value the horror game that can truly grab and manipulate my emotions the most, and Condemned worked beautifully in that regard. The story's somewhat abrupt ending and the potential for improvement in the game has left me wanting more, and I certainly hope to get my hands on the sequel in the near future.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Don't Get It

Playing video games competitively has always been a concept I could never quite wrap my head around. Any time I could spend "training" with Street Fighter 2 to show off on the anime convention tournament circuit would be, at least in my opinion, better spent playing the million other games I haven't actually played yet. That's probably why I just don't like fighting games. Whatever depth in the combat there is, I don't want to spend the hours learning it all.

I've come to understand that games like Virtua Fighter 5 aren't for me. They're games designed for the perfectionists who get their kicks learning every combo in the book. The late-nighters holed up in your local anime con gaming room while hitting on underage catgirls and munching on strawbery filth-drenched Pocky crackers. The tournament kids who live for the hot-blooded Guilty Gear contests with ill-defined prizes. The cool kids of the gaming room. In their own way, they're the closest people who know what the hell a "Guilty Gear" is to embodying the famed alpha male of 4chan. Did you see that combo? It was so cash.

Me, I'm left out in the dust. I got about as far as memorization of the Izuna Drop before my brain shut down and let the Flying Swallow do the work. I just smile and nod. Despite the rampant insanity and pederasty apparent in the very eyes of these damned human beings, the face of terror is not here. Well, not here in this specific group of people. But in this room of flashing DDR machines and 50 screens running Naruto games, the true unspeakable Lovecraftian horror resides in the dark, scary Super Smash Brothers corner.

What is it that drives these people? Indeed, the people who have latched on to Smash Brothers the most are indeed the exact opposite of it's intended audience. Fighting games are ultimately a niche designed for the most obsessed. Smash Brothers was designed as a fighting game for people who don't like fighting games, much in the same way that Mario Kart is a racing game for people who don't like racing games, and Mario Party is a game for people who don't like fun video games. So what is it that gives people the idea that it's the kind of game that you should be pouring your heart and soul into?

The insanity of the situation is pretty self-evident. In Mario Kart, any success you find thanks to that golden mushroom can easily be undone by a randomly-shot blue shell. Likewise, Smash Bros is a game where victory is never guaranteed by skill. No matter how good you are, you're finished the second some bright-eyed newbie picks up hammer or successfully summons a Snorlax from the bowels of Pokemon hell. Nintendo practically screamed at the tournament players to stop this nonsense by adding tripping in Brawl. Needless to say, people were angry. But yet, they still play. A game where each character has little more than 3 moves and final smashes can cover the entire screen with no way to block. And yet, they studiously play. Madness.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Game Log #6

A week.

- Finally got myself a copy of Killer7. Possibly against my better judgment, I settled on the PS2 version (that being the only one available at the store). I don't quite have anything to judge it on, but the loading times are horrendous. So far, I'm definitely on the side of "this game is actually awesome", though I can certainly see how this would be a game that isn't for everyone. I'm just a total sucker for surrealism, unconventional gameplay, and assassin stories. Anything that can put those hands together is alright in my book.

- Went apeshit and bought Ninja Gaiden Black and Devil May Cry, two action games I've seriously been missing out on. Black was a huge gamble, being that the 360 has supposedly bad emulation of Black, and I had not heard much of anything about whether it was fixed with the XBox Originals version. I've been skeptical of buying original Xbox discs, as I'd never played an Xbox game on 360 that just ran perfectly. Hell, even the Halo games had problems. Awful slowdown during multiplayer, texture pop-in, etc. But so far, playing NG Black from the hard drive has been working surprisingly well. It runs as well (I imagine) as it did on the original Xbox. I think I might look into buying more of these via live, despite the tremendous ripoff of paying $15 dollars for games you can find in bargain bins for $10 or less. So far, I've broken 2 remote control playing these fucking games.

- Likewise, played a little Gungrave: Overdose. I can overlook the tremendous slowdown and nonsense story in favor of GUITAR THAT SHOOTS LIGHTING BOLTS and BLIND SAMURAI and METAL COFFIN THAT'S ALSO A ROCKET GUN.

- Sparkster for the Sega Genesis. I dunno. The music is awesome.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Game Log #5

The horror...

-After stopping by the local used game store and picking up a used copy of Silent Hill 2 (in a crappy plastic box with nothing but a photocopy of the disc on the front), I beat the whole game in what was more or less a mad day-long marathon. I have alot to say about. I may even write an article at some point on my thoughts about the game. All I know is that I'll probably be picking up Silent Hill 3 and 4 very soon.

Up next, possibly the first two Tenchu games (which I purchased for $3 each at said store). Also, trading in my old PSX for some extra cash. Not much, but at least it's something.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Electric Bibleland: Wisdom Tree Funpack #1

Sometimes, people make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes involve making Christian-themed video games. Whenever that happens, we're there. This... is Electric Bibleland.

Color Dreams: Licensed by Awesome
Everyone knows this, right? A familiar sight to anyone who ever owned a Nintendo system, the Nintendo Seal of Quality (now simply called The Nintendo Seal in order to reflect Nintendo's "WE'LL TAKE ANY PIECE OF SHIT GAME YOU WANT TO SELL" attitude) has appeared on every cartridge and game box for Nintendo's hardware. Well, not exactly. You see, the Seal is there to say that Nintendo has licensed and approved this game for release, which applied to just about everybody. Everybody, that is, except for Color Dreams.

Founded in 1989 by former child porn actors Eddie Lin, Phil Mikkelson and Dan Lawton, the Color Dreams crew didn't have the cash or technical know-how to license their games from Nintendo. So, like any brilliant cadre of illegal porn stars would do, they decided to go renegade, maybe even underground, and bring their games to the public unlicensed. No Nintendo Seal of Quality for us. We're EDGY. Color Dreams themselves went on to spawn a bunch of shitty shit including Baby Boomers (an early edutainment title about premature ejaculation), Robo Demons (the only shooter in the world where your main weapon actually fires AWAY from your enemies), and even an entirely different label (Bunch Games), used as a front to release even shittier games so no one would associate Color Dreams with anything but QUALITY.

As fun as it would be to write an article about Color Dreams alone, this is Jesus Time. We can't bother ourselves with this ungermane secular bullshit when we're here to talk about THE LORD (John 14:23). So, knowing that in the future one David D. and company would be in desperate need of an article to write, Color Dreams formed another, totally new and exciting label. Hoping to break into the a new, more different market (being that Nintendo was bringing the hammer down on retailers stocking unlicensed games), Wisdom Tree was formed to tap into the demographic of religious parents who probably don't own an NES in the first place.

It was a different time back then. Video games were manufactured by SATAN Inc. and sold to our children by scary pimps who stood in shady street corners. If you owned a Nintendo, gay Mexican atheist immigrants would come to your house and KILL YOU. Then steal your job. But back to Wisdom Tree. Thanks to the wonders of emulation (fuck if I'm gonna pay for any of this shit), children all over the world can again experience the joys of playing video games that are exactly like other video games except they have Jesus in them. Much like Christian Rock music, you'll notice a running theme in these religious games articles: most of these games are clones of other, more well known gaming franchises. But don't let that discourage you! Read on.

Spiritual Warfare

Have you ever thought about how awesome it would be if you took your old, worn out Legend of Zelda cartridge and pooped on it? Apparently Wisdom Tree did, too. But unlike you, a boring underachieving nerd, Wisdom Tree payed attention to the inspirational poster at the dentist's office and acted upon their dreams of mass produced cartridge defecation. Spirtual Warfare is a game with a plot so complex and spiritually fulfilling, you'll only find it on the wikipedia page. As far as I can tell, it's a game about finding the Armor Of God (starring Jackie Chan) while throwing produce at scary warez pimps in order to turn them into red-headed robed men who like to kneel a lot.Along the way, you'll also battle down syndrome suffers in green overalls, down syndrome sufferers who hide behind rocks and throw devils at you, and men in wheelchairs in your epic quest to do... something. You don't need to know what that something is, cause whatever it is, God's cool with it. Wisdom Tree PR and God are pretty tight, ya know? Gotta keep an eye on their target demographic.
Spiritual Warfare is 1:1 The Legend of Zelda. Swap the swords with the different fruits. The bombs show up as bizarre golden pots that just explode for some reason. For all those relics in Zelda that allowed you progress (i.e. Power Bracelet, The Raft, etc.), Spiritual Warfare's got it's religious counterpart. How about Anointing Oil? The Belt of Truth? Samson's Jawbone (seriously what?) And of course, what better analogy for rupees than dove icons that represent how spiritually awesome you are?
I find your lack of faith disturbing, Appleheadman!
Some of you (ye of little faith, as it were), are probably asking yourself "Wull Dave, what does all of this have to do with the bible?" First of all, you shouldn't address a question to me and instead send it to yourself, cause that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. And second of all, ever heard of a little thing called bible quizzes?Apparently this man has! This is a game about being touched by an angel. An angel who's only purpose is to make sure our hero (who is apparently this horrible, terrible looking man) is up on his bible factoids. Spiritual Warfare is a game about faith and love. It's a game about being Zelda without actually being Zelda. It's a game about feeling strong about right and wrong; maybe even about being a Real American. But most of all, it's about you, the player.

ExodusYou know you're in for a treat when you boot up Exodus and you're treated to a loading screen. That's right. An NES game with a loading screen. Obviously that means Wisdom Tree was pushing the hardware to it's limits all Hideo Kojima-like and bringing the NES to a whole new level, right?Great job, guys!

I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about Wisdom Tree's fucking amazing music. The music in Wisdom Tree games are so good, you start to think of them as being the same song. Because they're that good. The games all use this really bizarre minimalist music style that either vaguely copies some public domain worship song or trails off into psychotic nonsense. Whatever the case may be, you better get used to them, because whatever piece of music you hear at the beginning of the game is what you're going to be hearing for the rest of the game. I mean, cause really, what other songs could you need besides "Father Abraham" on loop in a puzzle game with ostensibly 80+ levels?

I say ostensibly because that's my fancy way of saying that I didn't play through this whole game. I didn't even really play up to level 80. I just know this because the developers included a wacky level skip feature at the start of the game. I have to assume it's sort of a silent apology to all the evangelist children around the country who got this box of poop for Christmas. Exodus is a game about Moses being in a mine somewhere doing something. It's basically a gigantic Boulderdash ripoff, except you get to shoot HEATHENS with W's that come out of your Moses Wand . The goal of each level is to snag all the bottles of M, which is either milk or Moses Juice (hopefully the later). Along the way, you'll avoid HEATHENS who take something like 5 shots to kill (I mean CONVERT) and pick up power ups that don't seem to really do anything.And I don't want you guys to think this is some sort of weakass linear casual game made for the uneducated casual gaming masses. Exodus is about making complex moral decisions, like deciding if your zombie midwife soldiers should kill ALL of the babies or just the boy babies, and then watch it all play out in a gripping, detailed cinematic cutscene. Exodus is a game about choices. It's a game about physics that are so excellent that they don't need to make sense. It's about reassuring parents about the religious content by throwing in random esoteric bible quizzes. But most of all, it's about you, the player.

Up next, we bring you 3 more exciting Wisdom Tree games, all of which are actually collections of 3 games. Also, Left Behind!?: ETERNAL FORCES!? Stay ever vigilant, and remember: it's not a real game unless your pal and mine, J.C., is right there with it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Game Log #4

Since last time, I:

-Beat the inverted castle in Symphony of the Night. Fun game, ridiculously easy final boss fight. Might have had something to do with how high I had leveled up by then. Started a file as Richter and made it to the Marble Gallery. I'll probably play through the game again with Richter at some point, but other matters are more pressing.

- On a whim, I decided to pick up where I left off on my last attempt to replay Half-Life 2 (thus making it my third of fourth playthrough). I picked it up about halfway through the ride to Nova Prospekt. I think for some reason this time, I'm really noticing what a handicap using a console controller is on this sort of game. It's still totally playable, but the feeling of "this would be a hell of a lot easier with a mouse" is there. And it wasn't, really, the last few times I've played the game.

- Played some Ikaruga, got the shit kicked out of me.

Up next, maybe I'll actually play Dragon Quest 8. But don't count on it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Game Log #3

I purchased a 1600 point XBLA card with the intent of buying Tetris Splash. After a few sessions alone with it as well as a couple multiplayer matches against my mom (an avid Tetris player herself), I can say that it is indeed a Tetris game. And Tetris is hard to fuck up. There's not much to say other than that. The music is pretty damn nice, that's a plus. Of course, the game only being 800 points, I had 800 left over. What did I buy?

- Streets of Rage 2 was probably the most successful of my XBLA purchases on Saturday. I was a pretty obsessed player of the original back in the Genesis days, but somehow I never got around to the sequal until just now. It's interesting to see a beat em up with distinct characters who are different gameplay-wise, which never happened enough back in the day, and true to the first one, I pretty much stuck to playing Blayze the whole time. She has a hadoken in this game. Beat that, Axel.

- And then shit took a complete turn for the shitty shit shit when I bought Doom. To say this version of Doom fails ay everything you could possibly want it for would be a severe understatement. To be fair, the emulation itself is just fine in the sense that the game looks about as good as Doom normally looks. But that's where it falls apart. The first nettle that alone pushed me over the edge was the complete nonsense local multiplayer. Multiplayer was pretty much the reason I bought Doom, especially local multiplayer, as it's not like you can really do that anywhere else. The screen for playing locally is just completely bizarre, and that's what kills it. The best way to describe it was if you had two very small TV's side by side so that you can see both, but they don't take up even half of your field of vision. Now imagine what you're seeing, except inside the TV screen itself.
Words do not exist to describe how frustrating playing any game like this is. And then the online multiplayer is complete butt due to Microsoft's amazing XBLA online. And then you have shit like the controls in this game. Imagine if you took the controls for any 360 shooter (Halo for example) and eliminated the right sticks ability to move vertically. I guess it make sense being that Doom never had mouselook until ZDL and Legacy and such hacked it into the game, but this control scheme just comes off as bizarre and disorienting. And so, I ragequit the game, only to find that any time I try to exit the game through the game itself, it freezes up. This is a complete fuckup, and the fact that Microsoft found it acceptable to put this shit out is amazing.

So aside from my XBLA experiences, I also had an experience with the demo for Operation Darkness. I really didn't spend enough time to be conclusive on it, but I got the vibe that I get from just about any SRPG I play: there's probably a hell of a lot of depth to be had, but I'll have to spend a hell of a lot of time with it to grasp it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I Can't Swim So I Dog Paddle

To facilitate video games and their rise to the art fourm of which we all hope they'll be respected as some day, finding (as Sean Elliot would say) a storytelling language native to the medium is nessecary and proper. And those games that have tried it thus far have provided for me new experiences that a cutscene-laden game like Metal Gear Solid 2 or Okami couldn't replicate. And yet, that type of gameplay is something I would never want to completley leave behind. I feel like I'm in this strange in-between space where I advocate the evolution of storytelling in games while at the same time dreading the day where the old troupes of game storytelling are gone for good.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to video game to movie transitions. You have the new Bioshock movie coming from Gore Verbinski. I don't know really what to think of the idea, as I'm not inherently against the concept of adapting a story or concept into a different artform. But at the same time, I feel like the way video game to movie transitions go at this point, it's just not going to work. Video game movies projects tend to have two possible outcomes. The first is simply the use of the name and perhaps a few elements from the source material to create a completely unrelated product. These ones always confuse me. From a financial standpoint, it makes sense. You take an already generic, mediocre script and just throw it out into a movie, it might not do so well. If you can slap a well known name onto it, you'll get that much more. You have the sort of fans who will like it no matter what. You have the sort of fans who will hate anything Hollywood produces based on their beloved product, but they'll see it anyway, because they have to. All those irate Transformers fans? They saw Micheal Bay's Transformers movie. But from an artistic standpoint, why would you need it? Why make a Max Payne movie when you could make some other generic neo-noir flick with a similar concept?

And then you have the second outcome, which is the very literal sort of retelling and representation of the events of the source material. It's the kind of thing you have folks like Uwe Boll doing, and it's not like he's making anyone happy there. This might have worked for a game like Mario (ironically), but in this day and age, with our new games that emphasis the players experience, something like this just can't work. We have games like the Grand Theft Auto series that are well know for both the intended narrative of the main story and the narrative that you create through your own experiences in the game. But back to Bioshock. I always get a little annoyed when people refer to games like Half Life 2 and Bioshock as cinematic. Both games do share characteristics of movies, but I personally think both games are excellent examples of how video game narrative can do things that movies can't.

And that's why I think that a Bioshock movie made under the current style that video game-based films are made in would completely miss the point. Bioshock is a game that's about your experience in Rapture, not Brad Pitt's. The way the story is told, the embedded narrative, it would seem awkward in a straight-up adaption. Giving the unnamed, faceless protagonist a name and a face would cheapen the experience. So what do I think Gore and crew should do? I don't know. I'm just babbling here. Perhaps we could see someone else's story set in the Bioshock universe? A film that stayed true to the universe and concepts of Bioshock could be great. But at the same time, I'm certainly not calling for a generic b-grade unrelated story with the Bioshock name slapped on the front; no one wants that. I feel that if video games keep evolving as a story telling medium, any attempts at adapting those games into movies are going to have to evolve as well.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

You're Not the Cool Kid

You fuckers are making this cat sad.

This is something I've gotta talk about. Something that I have to get off my chest. Today I got into a semi-argument about whether or not Lucky Star (a show I have admittedly not seen much of) is more of a pandering otaku series than Azumanga Daioh, and whether it even matters. Long story short, the conversation brought up something that's bothered me about nerds ever since I started on the dark, bizarre path of dork hobbies. That something is the "geek hierarchy" phenomenon. More to the point, how vicious and willing to form cliques many geeks are.

My theory has always been that if "nerd" meant "people who wear red or blue shirts", the blue shirted kids would be constantly looking down their noses at the red shirted kids. The kids with red shirts and white stripes would be the constant butt of the solid red shirted kids' internet meme jokes. And then it'd just keep breaking down to microscopic levels from there. I should know, being an anime fan. Now, I'm definitely not an old standby in anime fandom, being someone who came in with the Pokemon crowd. But I've heard the stories of the old old old days of fandom (mainly thanks to AWOs numerous interviews with OLD PEOPLE). I've heard all about the sci fi con staff looking down their noses at those kids and their "jap crap" cartoons in the viewing room way the fuck in the back of the con. Oldschool anime fans know all about this kind of shit.

And yet it's anime fans that set off this post, really. The person (who shall remain nameless, and probably does not read this blog) was very obviously part of this very specific generation of anime fans who came in after the Starblazers and Battle of the Planets guys but long before Gundam Wing and DBZ brought in the new crowd. I've noticed that a lot of this sort of geek clique tendency as it pertains to anime fandom mostly comes from these type of people. 20 year olds who already sound like 50 year old literary sci fi con jerks. Can't stand those dirty 15 year old yaoi fangirls; the Naruto headband crowd; the cat ears, the Yaoi paddles and, of course, the handwritten signs. I hear this a lot from this 3rd (4th?) generation set of fans, as well as the neophytes who've grafted onto Fast Karate and AWO within the last few years and decided to violently turn their backs on anime fandom and be cool people.

And I definetly don't mean that as a diss on said podcasts. But the whole fandom around those two seems to have created this bizaro new breed of anime fan, most of whom are in high school or maybe early college and have already adopted a curmudgeon old man approach to a fandom that's existed far longer than they have. It's an attitude that I've always taken as somewhat joking in those podcasts, but which is a very real attitude elsewhere. A certain member of the Fast Karate forums mentioned how he'd like to pile drive one of those "stupid headband-wearing freaks" into the ground. I like to think of myself as pretty good at noticing internet sarcasm. I don't think any of that was present in the post.

And it is prevalent in every other nerd culture you can think of. Video games are another example. The stereotypical hardcore AMURICAN gamer with an Xbox and a Halo book in his backpack is at all times disgusted with your average dweeb who swears by Squeenix and Level 5. Play Guild Wars, and you can expect some thrown stones from WoW players. And you can bet it's vice versa there. You can even go beyond video games. You have old sci fi fans who won't except anyone into their circle who isn't lugging around an oxygen tank. It's cross-hobby as well, when you consider that the aforementioned gamers usually aren't so kind to that "weaboo cartoon shit". Literary sci-fi fans used to (and still do) hate those newbie Star Trek fans and their high tech "moving pictures". You even see it with those retards who try to come up with concrete differences between what "geek"means and what "nerd" means so they can affirm themselves as being part of the cool club. And then everyone has a good laugh at the expense of furries, but we'll leave it at that.

So I guess all I'm asking is that we try not to be such douches to people who aren't exactly like us. I don't mean to sound like I'm down on nerds, cause I'm absolutely not. I'm a card-carrying member of the geek squad, and I fully admit that dickheaded behavior is present in all walks of life. It's just when it's like this, you know? So fucking lame and petty. Who are you trying to kid? We're all dorks here. It doesn't matter how cool you think you are outside of your nerdy hobbies, you're still no better than anyone else in this scenario. Can't we at least try to get along?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Game Log #2


My time is still being stolen by Symphony of the Night. 8 hours in, I've made it to the Inverted Castle. I have to admit that I was originally put off by the concept of the Inverted Castle before I played the game. I assumed it was a cheap way to extend a short game by another couple hours without the need to spend more time designing new levels. But by God, they got it right. Amazingly so. Adding the new music to the inverted areas alone was neat, but they went all out with adding new things to find, new enemies, changing up the look of some of the areas. It's damn impressive, and really puts to shame the GBA and DS sequels in many ways.

A few more scattered thoughts:
  • I'm not sure what Digital Eclipse rationale was for how they created the launch screen for the XBLA version of the game. Rather than integrate the necessary fields (exit, achievements etc.) into the original start screen, they created an ugly looking tombstone screen with said options, featuring what I assume was the music in the launch screen of the original version. When you hit "play", it takes you to the "actual" launch screen with the same music. It's not a big issue at all, but I just find it a bit cruddy.
  • Maybe I missed something here (entirely possible), but the Grand Fallooon fight was pretty anti-climatic. Oh, I had heard all about the giant ball of corpse boss fight in Symphony, and I was excited for it. And the fight itself was a hell of alot of fun (minus the nagging slowdown). Easily one of the most fucked up, nightmarish things I've encountered in a game. But you're reward for this fight is a mediocre sword that does extra damage to "holy" enemies. It seems to me that you'd reward the player with some amazing ability relic or some such for the fight, but no. I assume it makes some sort comeback in the Inverted Castle. That'd be fun.
  • I wish the developers had made your inventory more organized. It's nothing I didn't deal with in Dawn of Sorrow, but searching for the weapon or shield you want amidst the billion items in your inventory that can be equipped to one of your hands is downright annoying. Especially in battle, though the Doppleganger soul in Dawn did some to fix that.
Oh, this game. More fun than a barrel of HOMOSEXUAL monkeys. Soon to come, my first article about the hilarities of religious gaming. Whenever I feel up to writing it. Left Behind: Eternal Forces? Prehaps.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Game Log #1

After having my house nearly destroyed by a tornado (it actually missed my house by several miles), I'm here, on this blog, writing this first actual Game Log. And what, pray tell, have I been playing?

I finally bought something on Xbox Live. I felt like I had to get my money's worth, so I decided to get something I knew you couldn't just buy on some $10 collection for the PS2 with twenty other games. So, with a twenty point card in hand, my first choice was Symphony of The Night. SoTN is a game that's been on my "Need to Play" list for years now, mainly as a result of my undying love for Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Call it Metroidvania, call it Castleroids, call it whatever the hell you want. The gameplay style is my cup of tea, and I gravitate towards and game of that style that I find (Super Metroid, Cave Story, etc.) Combine that with the rather complex item systems and RPG stats, and you've got one damn fun game. I knew about SoTN. About how director (now series producer) Koji Igarashi essentially formed the basis that every hand-held Castlevania would follow with SoTN. I had to play it. And after years of not actually doing it, I did. I admit that some of my experience of this game is definitely colored by my past experience with Dawn of Sorrow, and I've noted several comparisons (good and bad) during my playtime. Thusly, I can't at all consider this a proper review of Symphony, but rather my experiences as someone who loves a game from the same series years later. That sounds like complete gibberish, but I'll go for it. Some notes on my experience thus far:
  • The game is far more freeform than Dawn. Dawn had a very set structure overall of New Area-> Boss Battle-> New Item Gained From Boss Fight-> Enter Next Area By Means of New Item. I have to imagine that part of this is because of the game obviously being geared toward a younger audience (it's on the D.S., the style is a little more kid friendly animesque, etc.), because Symphony is all over the place. Sometimes you'll find highly important items in rooms you'd very easily have missed. Sometimes you'll find very important items needed for completing the game in the games one shop.
  • The item system is excellent. It completely reestablishes part of the biggest draw for me to DoS: collecting new items, finding the best combinations therein. But so far, item combos seem to be an area where DoS fell flat in comparison to SoTN. There were cool effects you could get from using a specific set of equipment at once in DoS, but none really to the extent of Symphony. By wearing all of the Alucart (typo?) gear, my luck stat gets a +30 stat bonus. The Alucart gear is all the whole weaker than many of the items I had by the time I found the set in the clock room, but the added bonus of increased drops and increased chance of critical hits makes the sacrifice more than worth it. The shield rod is only a decent weapon until I equip a shield in my left hand, which gives it a fierce attack boost. The number of equipment I've found with added benefits (i.e. the Blood Cloak, which converts damage taken into hearts) is pretty amazing as well, and left me wondering where the hell all this was in Dawn. I'm really getting a feeling from this game that there's a lot to master and, even better, I actually want to.
  • I need to remember to save whenever I get my hands on a rare item. I found the Medusa Shield early on, and I died a few minutes later before getting to a save point. I haven't been able to get it again since.
  • As I'm pretty terrible at preforming moves in fighting games, I'm terrible with the magic system in Symphony. Albeit I don't have many spells yet, but I can barely use the ones I have.
  • I sort of had mixed feelings on the soundtrack. I think overall it's great; absolutely fits the mood. My one problem is how completely ugly some of the synthesized orchestra material sounds. Most of the stuff with real instruments (guitar, organ, etc.) sound just fine.The orchestra often sounds like something I could do on my $200 Yamaha keyboard. That's not to say the voices never work. They just often times sound really off putting. On some of it (such as the theme to the second area of the game after leaving the entrance to the castle) sound like they'd be absolutely amazing if it was a real orchestra preforming it. And it's not even that I'm inherently opposed to synthesized orchestra sounds. Some of the old RPGs like Chrono Trigger sounded crazy good with what limited hardware they had. Maybe it's just a preference I have for the sort of voice the SNES chip has, and not so much for the sort of voice most cheap keyboards have. Still, that Colosseum theme is rockin' good.
  • Game Over screen: SO SLOW.
Those were the few thoughts I could muster in relation to this game so far. I'm still relatively early into the game (just got the mist transformation relic), so I haven't completely decided how I feel about the game. So far it's been a blast, which is somewhat more than I can say for my return to the world of Crackdown today.

I really don't know what to think about Crackdown at this point. I like it, I really do. But that like used to be an intense "this is freakin amazing" feeling, and even now I feel it's burning out all candle-like. The highly visceral feeling I get from the game is still there, more or less. And who doesn't get an awesomeness overload anytime they blow a field of cars into the sky with their rocket launcher? Or how about finding that next agility orb, or knocking some innocent civilian fifty feet away with a kick?

It's all still there, but the nagging voice of "this is it?" is getting louder by the minute. Because really, there's nothing else to this game. The environments barely pass for interactive or even interesting save for the propane tanks and other destructibles strewn about the city. The game itself is a sequence of set pieces designed to make you look cool. And for what it's worth, they get the job done. But that job really only counts for so much. It's sort of unfair that you have to compare this, a budget title more or less, to Grand Theft Auto, but you sorta have to. The multitude of other things GTA (which is really the template Crackdown is working from, make no mistake) has is really the draw. The combat in both GTA and Crackdown are admittedly pretty shallow. This is much less so, I think, with Crackdown, but it's still pretty unfulfilling. I can personally make the excuse for GTA that because it's a combination of so many things, the combat, the open world, the driving, the missions, the great story, all the other little things, the mediocrity of the combat and the broken controls (which, thankfully, appear to be fixed with IV) don't matter in the context of the game itself. Crackdown really doesn't have much at all going for itself other than the immediate gratification of the carnage you can create.

I've lost all desire to actually play through the main story. The game's "bosses" are really the most disappointing aspect. I really have no interest in fighting them at all. Give literally a regular thug from the game a bigger life bar and maybe an explosive weapon, and you've got a boss. Killing bosses is an exercise in patience, while the only damage you'll be taking is from the billions of bullets from every direction in the mission areas. About the closest I got to a creative boss fight was demolishing panels in order to blow up floors in a building and draw the boss out. And even that ended in "gun this dude down as quick as possible". The strict combat focus really wouldn't bother me if it wasn't such a "point at this guy and fire till he's gone" sort of deal. And then there are the little things that just bother me about the game. Like how half of my pile of burnt-out cars just disappear anytime I walk a few steps away. And how in this city I'm in, everyone, even the minivan-driving soccer moms seem to be listening to Mexican rap music. My, what a strange world.

And whats weird is that beyond all that, I'm still into Crackdown. I LIKE making shit blow up. I like the obsessive orb hunting. I even like some of the racing. The problem is that blowing shit up, at this level, isn't keeping me in as much as I wanted it to. I'll try playing it again when I get the chance.

NOTE: I'd just like to mention that this particular Game Log is a lot longer than (hopefully) the subsequent Game Log posts will be. I wrote these after being well into both games I mention here, so I had a lot of writing to do about each. I hope to keep a more timely schedule so I won't have to write a billion paragraphs about what I played today. Cheers.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Game Log #0 (A chance some poetry... before a fortnight)

This is where I lose all crediability as a gamer. For every one game that's generally accepted as a game you need to play to be a "literate gamer" (air quotes), there's 50 I probably haven't ever played. I played Halo, the original Halo, less than 3 months ago for the first time. I'm just now playing through Starcraft. I think alot of this stems from how I played games as a child. I didn't generally read gaming magazines, so I was left out in the cold when it game to gaming news. I was a Genesis kid (and briefly a used NES, though it was years after the system's life ended). My first videogame period was Sonic the Hedgehog, which definetly steered my decision of begging my parents to pick one up for Christmas. I still acknowledge the Genesis as being a great system that only gets hate because it wasn't the SNES. However, the Genesis was, and still is, a system mainly of "underappreciated games you should play" rather than widely accepted "games you must play". On top of this, my taste was admittedly not as "refined" (air quotes) as it is now. I universally steered clear of RPG style games (barring Legend of Zelda), mostly because they had so little prescense on the Genesis anyway. The majority of my gaming experience was random games from the local Blockbuster. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I played a lot of movie games. And I mean a lot.

And then, I made the "best" (super super sarcastic air quotes) videogame-related decision I've ever made: I asked my parents for a Nintendo 64. Thanks to the fact that N64's games were so expensive, combined with the fact that Nintendo was producing worthwhile games at a rate of once per year at the time, I owned maybe 4 N64 games for the entire time I owned it. The rest was taken up with the most god awful Blockbuster rental filth imaginable. About one year after I got it, I felt like the biggest moron in the world for not getting a Playstation. It's terrifying when you go to a site like Wikipedia and check out the "List of Nintendo 64 Games" page. Wasteland isn't the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind.

And you can imagine how it all went after that. I remained mindlessly faithfull to Nintendo all the way up till the Gamecube, at which point I was goddamn finished. I was tired of owning the system with 2-3 worthwhile games and finally adopted the correct attitude ("I go where the games are" and all that.) This post itself is ment to put into context my later game logs, as I'm taking much of my current gaming time not only playing the new titles, but catching up on many games I completley missed or ignored. My original plan was to name this blog "Late To The Party" and I may have to follow up on that, though I haven't decided what I actually should call this. Oh well.