Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Meet Socket Part 2

at 6:30 PM
In Part 1 of each Let's Meet, you'll find an introduction to a game's history and gameplay. In Part 2, you'll come away with something neat about the game.

It's been a week since I brought up Socket, the poor man's Sonic. Each world in Socket has three stages which progress from straightforward to labyrinthine. The maze stages are satisfying because they center around some navigational idea.

There are three main parts to a Socket maze: the direction you generally want to travel, a navigation mechanic, and the proper approach to that mechanic.

For instance, in the Stone Age's maze, the direction is downward, and the navigation mechanic is the one-way door. If you approach one of these doors from the side with the doorstop, you can go through. If you approach that door from the other side, it won't budge.

For most doors, the proper approach is pretty simple. It's a matter of asking yourself if you've been on the other side. If you have, don't go through the door, since you'll be looping back on yourself; otherwise, go ahead and take the door. It's a three step process:
  1. Can I go through this door?
  2. Have I been on the other side of this door yet?
  3. If not, go through the door. If so, go past the door.
However, because gameplay in Socket is typically pretty laid back, it's a step in thought that you might not normally take. When you're in the habit of just going forward until something stops you, you might not stop to think that you've already been on the other side of that door.

Let's take a look at a particular moment from this stage.

MS Paint is my image editor of choice.
Say you enter this part from just above point A. You won't be able to go through the door at point A, so you'll cross the lava pit to your left and hop downwards. If you keep going left, you'll hit a dead end, so your only option is to go right and cross the lower lava pit. From here you have two choices.

You're supposed to go through the door at point B. You've never seen it before, so you should take it. If you do go through, you'll end up finding the warp zone entrance at point C, which takes you forward through the stage.

If you decide to explore and go up, you'll find the door at point A again, only this time you can go through. If you aren't thinking, you might decide to wander through, only to end up where you started.

If you come into this part of the level from the opening on the left, you aren't given as much warning about looping back on yourself. If you wander upwards, you might end up looping back on yourself, since you haven't seen the door at point A yet. However, you shouldn't wander upwards, since the door at point B is available to you earlier. Remember the three step process; if you find a door that you haven't seen before, you should go through it--no buts about it.

It's worth noting that this segment enforces the stage's downward sense of direction. If you enter from above point A, you have to fall to reach point B. Also, at point B, the correct path is not upward.

These rules aren't immediately obvious. Instead, you come to learn them as you play the stage and as you find what takes you forward and what doesn't. However, the rules are simple, meaning they're easy to pick up when you give the stage a little time.

Personally, these "rules" aren't something I recognized until recently. Before, they had just been something I intuited. And while some mazes have similar rules, none of them share the exact same rule set. With each new maze, you explore and find a new way through.

The rules are also bent every now and then to allow for variation. For instance, near the opening of the stage, there are several one way doors open to you. If you take the very first one available to you, your trip through the stage is very short. The thing is, it's hidden beneath you, so you might not notice it. The rules are bent, since the stage doesn't force you to find that particular door, and there are other ways forward. But it does reward you if you find it. Since you followed the rules and took the first door possible, you clear the stage much faster.

That aspect also aids the stage's sense of downward direction; you come across the hidden door by going down as soon as possible. If you go right instead of down, you'll miss it.

Socket has one effective way of creating themed mazes, but it's hardly the only way of doing it. For instance, Zelda dungeons don't follow Socket rules. Part of what makes Socket interesting is that there are certain rules for interacting with objects—for instance, you want to go through some one-way doors but not others. In Zelda, on the other hand, there's generally only one way to interact with objects. You hookshot to the target, you blow up the crack, so on and so forth; you never want to refrain from hookshotting or bombing. Instead of following Socket rules, Zelda has its own ways of making mazes interesting.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Top Ten Platformers rerevisited, again. Some more

at 1:20 PM
Let's knock this one out early, huh? Continuing from yesterday's post.

4.) Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
A sequel to a requel? And an unpopular one at that? Unfathomable. Believe it or not, I don't particularly care for the original Bionic Commando or its 2008 enhanced remake. The swing-only movement is too mechanical and rigid; too often an attempt at a minor hop ends with Rad flung hopelessly off a ledge into the will of the winds. Rearmed 2 finally addressed this issue by adding a jump button and direction controls for the grappling arm. The masses were infuriated and the game was shockingly condemned by a gaming press which had been enamored with its predecessor.

Why? How many times do I have to tell you that relying on the mainstream gaming media is the equivalent of going to MTV for advice about music? Rearmed 2 is all about finesse and precision. It's about rewarding the player through controls, giving them the opportunity to do just a little bit more than even they thought possible. This is mobility you never have to think about - it's like that Spider-Man moment where you simply jump off a building and let your instinct do the rest. Rad Spencer is everything you want a platforming protagonist to be, and his versatility doesn't come at the cost of obscene complexity. It's all two-button control.

The game is in the most literal sense a shooter, but it gives plenty of options for when to sneak, run, or open fire. Most of your time will be spent trying to swing into new paths, although the occasional boss will provide the equivalent of an electrified jungle gym.

5.) Demon's Crest
This one might be off your radar. Here, check it out.
If the aesthetic of Demon's Crest doesn't seem familiar, the protagonist may. That's because the game is part of a spin-off series of Gs n' Gs. As Gargoyle's Quest II united the overworld of Dragon Warrior with the stages of Ghosts n' Goblins, Demon's Crest brings together the Mode 7 world map of Final Fantasy VI with Arthur's antics from Super Ghouls n' Ghosts. Thankfully, Crest takes the edge off the unforgiving GnG platforming and gives the player more leeway to experiment and explore. That's not to say this is an easy one to complete; fearsome fiends, labyrinthine caverns, and even a brain-scratcher or two await.

In some sense, Demon's Crest takes the very opposite approach to these obstacles from what is seen in GnG. While Sir Lonely may as well be in a wheelchair for all his adaptability, Firebrand, our protagonist this time around, rivals RPG heroes in his customizability. Not only does he have five (six?) different transformations, each form also has a unique set of powers that can be swapped in and out at will. If you thought Ufouria was a delight because of its starring foursome (it's not and you didn't), boy are you in for a treat here.

Of course, in the fashion of all great adventures, Firebrand has to fight to win these skills, and taking a page from Super Metroid, they aren't all obviously located on the beaten path. The order of powering up is in the hands of the player, leading to a lot of potential for repeated runs.

6.) Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil
Klonoa 2. Hey, have all the games I've listed been sequels? I feel kind of ashamed all of a sudden. That's kinda bullshit though. Video game sequels can't be blindly equated to cash-in film franchises. While certainly your God of War 5s and your Pokemon Magentas don't rise high above the yearly Bourne Anemone and Terminator rehashes, many "series" in the world of gaming better parallel the ongoing works of filmic auteurs or the catalog of a band's albums.

Klonoa 2 is perhaps the best example of a 2D game taking place in 3-space. Its environments wind, weave, and fold over themselves, never creating a plausible image of the real world. Instead they stand as gorgeous expressionist sculptures, masking unexpected twists and turns. Klonoa is a puzzle game at heart, demanding thought before action, but doesn't deny the satisfaction of execution. One needs not only be smart enough to solve a puzzle, but quick enough as well.

An excellently paced game, Klonoa 2 always has an action segment on hand when the mazes become dizzying and knows how to light a fire under your pants and get you thinking fast. The health bar and floaty jump give just enough leeway that mastery isn't necessary - only the right intentions.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Top Ten: [2D] Platforming revisited

at 4:32 PM
Rules for ALL top tens: 
DESERT ISLAND DISC! These are the ten games I would take if all other qualifiers were forever destroyed. That means there is a strong preference to take only one game per series/creative unit; however, this is not a strict rule. I may find myself unable to dispose of either Highway 61 (Revisited) or John Wesley Harding.
NO RANKING! The ten are presented arbitrarily ordered unless otherwise noted.
NO COLLECTIONS! Re-releases and remakes are okay, but no anthologies. Games must be originally intended as a standalone work. 
WHAT I SAY GOES! These are my choices. They aren't the games considered the best, or that were the most influential or successful. They are my subjective preferences. I will provide as much objective reasoning as I can, but at the end of the day, I like what I like and am always right, and you like whatever stupid things you like, because you're an idiot.

Yes, you've read the introduction, now read the list. Special criteria: only looking at games that are more 2D than not (gameplay, not graphics: New Super Mario Bros. is in but Super Mario Galaxy is out), only looking at games that are more platformer than not (Legend of the Mystical Ninja is probably the cutoff there, being exactly half-and-half), and not necessarily judging by which has the best raw platforming - just which is the best platformer.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to focus on one or two elements that make each game great, rather than giving you a broad overview that you could get from Wikipedia.

1.) Sparkster (SNES)
Ah, Sparkster, ye long forgotten god in the pantheon of '90s animal mascots. Not to be mistaken for Sonic, Socket, or Sbubsy, Sparkster is a uniquely action-heavy platformer featuring the original Rocket Knight. All four Rocket Knight games have their virtues, but RKA and the SNES Sparkster (note: from here, I'm going to be using "Sparkster" exclusively to refer to the SNES game) are in a league above the other two, and most other platformers for that matter. RKA is known for its unique bosses and uh kind of gimmicky levels, while Sparkster has more expansive environments and paced obstacles. What's particularly great about Sparkster is how well it nails these broad environments.

See, most linear 2D games suck at encouraging exploration. They degenerate into collectathons (Plok, Bubsy, DKC), dilute the level design (Sonic), or make you explore every last inch of the stage to find a needle in the haystack (Sonic again, Genesis Sparkster). Sparkster succeeds though, because of Sparkster's own abilities moreso than the landscape itself. Sparkster has a jetpack which can blast him screens ahead or can be carefully used to eradicate enemies. This allows the designers to decompress the stages and also introduces an element of surprise and randomness. Sparkster doesn't have to lurch at a snail's pace (Sonic AGAIN) or make awkward unintuitive leaps of faith, because he can be launched wherever you want.

The boss battles also shine as they did in Rocket Knight Adventures, the hybrid shooter/melee combat tends to be fun, and there's a SHMUP LEVEL!!!!!!!!!! Sparkster's one downfall is that a few bosses are TOO hard, halting the game's pace.

2.) Super Mario World
When they turn the pages of history - when these days have passed long ago - will they read of Super Mario Bros. 3, or of Super Mario World? Perhaps the world will have been divided through the debate over which of these games is better, and two meganations will arise: Dinosaur Land and Mushroom Kingdom.

Dinosaur Land will tout the virtues of free-form navigation, its individual areas each offering countless forms of transport, from direct speedy bullet-trains to meandering hot-air balloons suited for methodical exploration. Airliners and underground metros will allow visitors to visit exotic locales in any order they please, such that more welcoming regions can be used as a base of operations in approaching those less forgiving.

Visitors to Mushroom Kingdom will find themselves surprised by the lack of this freedom of travel; stuck on maze-like and jammed surface roads, only the occasional one-way highway bypass will allow point to point transport. Worse yet, on entering each province tourists will find themselves forced onto a predetermined guide-path covering virtually every inch of ground, and when they've left they'll be unwelcome to return.

Did you get it? It was a metaphor. That's what a pet is for. Point is, SMB3 sucks, SMW rules.

3.) Abe's Exoddus
Cinematic platformers are a beast I've discussed before. They rely on methodical progress, trial-and-error, and thinking. Abe's Exoddus is just about the thinkingest among them. The game is littered with all kinds of puzzles of both the adventure game and Zelda variety, constantly having you slam your head against the keyboard asking why. But as I covered in my previous article, a lot of what makes these games fun, especially in the case of the hilarious Abe, is that fucking around with the tools given to you. I can't tell you how many times I've grabbed control of a Slig just to hear them babble at each other and then shot Abe and all the other Mudokons anyway. This gameplay is familiar from Oddysee, but what sells it this time around is the quicksave feature, allowing and encouraging experimentation.
Oddworld's greatest strength is no secret: the game world is an intricate, sometimes beautiful, sometimes reviling satire of the modern industrial world. Never before has an adaptation of Roger Waters' adaptation of Animal Farm been so poignant. Abe and his sheep-like friends only exist to consume and try to escape consumption, bullied into submission by Slig dogs, with all ruled by the iron-fist of the pig Glukkons. Okay, I'll admit I never read Animal Farm, because Orwell is a bit too dry and pedantic for my taste. But Animals is one of my favorite albums of all time, so at the very least I can tell you Oddworld's allegory corresponds to it.

That's a start for you, I'll be back tomorrow with the next couple top ten!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prelude to a Top Ten: Mommy, what's a platformer? revisited

at 2:55 PM
Even if it is one of the oldest genres in gaming, platformer is still not acknowledged as a word by spell-check. That's what I'm here to talk about today. What is a platformer? Well, not really, because that's kind of boring. But since I'm going to be listing my ten favorites, I better establish a definition and some criteria so you can figure out what I'm talking about. A lot of the Cracked.coms and the GameFAQss of the world simply start counting off the numbers with little more introduction than "welcome to my Top Ten [if you're the fifth caller or any caller at all]".

A platformer is a game in which the primary novel interactive element is platforming. That is to say, the game engages the player by evolving and varying its platforming. Your first reaction to that ought to be "you used the word 'platforming' a whole lot of times in defining 'platformer'". That's because it's important to establish the game type beyond the play type. Many games contain platforming but are not platformers. Take for example Metroid or Contra. They're both full of jumping about, yet it's a constant; Metroid progresses via exploration and Contra through more threatening enemies.
Few would argue that Sting is a platformer
Yes, jumping about. Our heroes simply can't get enough of it, as their heroes before them, as Shakespeare before them. The A button has become nearly synonymous with "jump". Yet somehow, not all platformers depend on or even include this frog-like tendency. Platforming can't be defined as jumping, because that's a terrible description, plus it would exclude Bionic Commando, VVVVV, and H.E.R.O. It's more primal than that. Platforming is play which challenges the player to navigate an avatar in opposition of omnipresent forces. The omnipresentest of these forces are familiar to us from the physical world: gravity, inertia, and friction. The character is dragged toward the bottom of the screen, has a tendency to continue moving when initiated, and can't move through objects. Others are tossed in from time to time: wind, rain, and the like.

If you're not getting it, maybe you're a musical learner, or a kinesthetic. Try singing the last paragraph or shaking your monitor up and down, as it may suit your developmental disability. If you're a "by examples" learner, allow me to show you two games. One is a platformer and other is not. If you can, I recommend you go play these games to see exactly what I mean, because videos aren't the best control demos. On the left you have Gradius. Notice that in Gradius, when the player uses the control pad to move Vic Viper, it moves exactly in the direction you press, for the duration that you press it. Then it stops. No external forces are moving it, and navigation is not inherently a challenge. On the right is our old friend and loved one, Sonic the Hedgehog. Notice that Sonic falls from the sky, slides down hills, and generally does all kinds of stuff, even when the player drops the controller. Sonic is a platformer/hedgehog.
Note that, while I've been focusing on 2D examples here, just about everything I've said applies in 3D land as well. Also keep in mind that plenty of games do not cleanly fall into one category or another. While Sonic, Mario, and Pitfall are obviously platformers, what about Mega Man, Kid Icarus, or Pitfall 2? These games rotate between play-styles and develop their platforming alongside other major play elements. Nothing to fear though! A little genre-mixing never stopped Elton John!

That ought to be enough to chew on for now, I'll be back later today or tomorrow with today's Ten Top Boppers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What surprises me most about Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, revisited

at 4:57 PM
The writing is actually not awful. I've more than once caught myself chuckling at the zingers thrown back and forth between these clompingly lovable bots. The Sanford and Son dynamic of Jazz and Cliffjumper is likely to be a hit with fans of all ages.
I remember this episode.
These days every game wants to be Star Fox 64; if that doesn't necessitate a landslide of AI buddies clogging up the shooting field, it at least means a persistent chirp in your ear to tell you what you're doing. Everything from Vanquish to Lords of Shadow to Skyward Sword includes some form of companion navigator, team dynamic, or externalized internal monologue. If you're playing a game, you're gonna have voices in your head. Deal.

More often than not, you'll barely notice these voice bytes thrown into the theatrical clattering of clinking clanking battle sounds and jangling or soaring soundtracks. That said, when you DO notice them, you NOTICE them. Like, in a bad way. An immersion-breaking way. A technologically limited way. A "hey, get out of the way!"

There are some fairly obvious reasons to employ the chit-chat device, but the risk doesn't necessarily seem worth it. Often it characterizes the player-character, as in the enthralling 2003 Sands of Time. As a matter of fact, let's just talk about Sands of Time, because I think it's gonna work for all of my examples. The Prince likes to talk about what he's doing. He occasionally without instigation goes into an anecdote or tirade. It gives us a feel for the character and the backstory, even though the world is lifeless. A reason to keep moving.

Later in the game you'll hang out with Farah. She provides relational dialogue, to make you further identify with the player-character and develop your relationship with the game world. This approach is often taken with female characters: Ashley with Leon (RE4), Zelda with Link (Wind Waker), and whoever that woman in Vanquish is who keeps telling me to do things. Because you're assumed to be a guy, and the easiest way to write dialogue that male teenagers will fantasize about is by adorning them with a dedicated female. Whatever. Gender issues are another day. And these days people throw around terms like "Bromance" which I think is meant to cover male-male relations of this sort.

Even later in the game, I think, because I haven't played this game in like five to ten years, is a part where Farah is gone again, and there are puzzles. And during the puzzles, you're going to repeat the same mistakes a lot and probably straggle a bit. So the prince (or Farah) chimes in with a suggestion to help you along, but it's vague and ineffectual. And you screw around with the puzzle a bit more. Then the prince (or Farah) chimes in with the SAME suggestion to help you along, this time equally as useless and an annoyance too. By the time you've finally made your way past the obstacle, you'll either have heard the same quip repeated a fucking thousand times, or wisely have muted your TV.

All I'm trying to say is, WHY do they play that same clip over and over and over again. Dozens of games do it! Sometimes it's a randomized draw from a pool of ten, but you still end up hearing the same ones again and again. It's not guidance, it's not character development, it's not backstory, it's just fucking incessant nauseating yammering, as if the television HAS to be making noises at you. So fuck you, stupid fucking developers. Stop doing this.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Enjoy some facts about New York-style pizza!

at 7:57 PM
So I took a little weekender in Manhattan this weekender. While there I decided to play the culinary tourist chef, a la Anthony Bourdain or his more esteemed colleague, Guy Fieri. If you've ever met someone from New York, you know that they won't shut. the fuck. up. about how much better everything is there. Some favorites to harp on are pizza (or "pizza pie", as they call it, because they seem to have mistaken themselves for wops living in the year 1943) and bagels (see also: Jews).

As a native Marylander, I decided it was my responsibility to see how much truth there was to this pizza bullshit, so I ordered myself up a couple pies (over the course of three days, that is). Let me note that I made no effort to find the famoustest or most televised joints; I went with the layman's approach: walk down the street until you see a place called Pizza, and go in. Or order delivery, as it were.

Some fast facts I picked up:
  1. New Yorkers call them "pies", not "pizzas". I already knew this - so did you if you read this post.
    • This is extremely stupid
  2. Good luck getting the toppings you want
    • Unless this was bad luck on my part, each restaurant seems to offer its own completely random topping assortment. A couple places didn't even have pepperoni!
  3. It's all brick oven
    • It's all brick oven. Not necessarily a good or bad thing, except it means no variety
  4. Grease, grease, grease, grease, grease, grease, grease
    • You've never seen this much grease in your life. I couldn't finish a single slice without a veritable Atlantic Ocean of yellowy fluid adorning the plate
  5. No regular sizes
    • Here in MD, you won't find a parlor that doesn't offer at least 12", 14", and 16" pizzas. NYC has decided to turn the world on its upside down, with most locations offering only one or two sizes, usually 12" and 18". Fucking stupid. Either way too much or not enough for a meal.
  6. It's still pretty damn good.
I wasn't blown away by what I had, nothing really touching Matthew's in Baltimore, but I have to admit that their average quality is a lot higher than ours.

So, pizza ahoy! And back to video games as of tomorrow.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hagane Revisited - Give this game a shot

at 12:00 PM
Now that's a spicy ninja! Sometimes I kinda wanna die.
Let's play a quiz. Think of the first 2D ninja game that comes in your head. 123go. Use a pencil to fill the name into this blank _________. Now go buy a new monitor. Back? I bet the guy at the monitor exchange store said something along the lines of "hey guy, how come you scratched 'Ninja Gaiden' onto the screen? Sure it's a good game, but it's not THAT good." Or maybe he said "'Shinobi'? That sounds familiar. Some old video game, right?" If he said "What's a Strider?", what kind of twisted sicko are you? Go see a doctor, now. And if it was anything about Legend of the Mystical Ninja, well funnyman with a chip on your shoulder, how did you write a name that long without realizing what a mistake you were making?

Ah, comedy. Sometimes is brings us laughs, sometimes it ruins our internet blog articles. Same with Hagane, a mostly forgotten SNES sidescroller from Hudson Soft (if there's one thing Hudson knew by 1994, it's that they weren't gonna make a dime releasing games on their own console, the TG-16). Hagane's not half bad though. As a matter of fact, were it a bit more original I'd say it deserved to be listed with the rest of those games up there. Hagane combines the fast-paced action of Ninja Gaiden with the tactical enemies of Shinobi and the weapon variety of Irem's Ninja Spirit. It's gonna keep you holding right most of the time and demand a bit of memorization to keep moving, but it's nowhere near as unforgiving as Gaiden and more rewarding of strategic play.

One of my favorite things about Hagane is that once killed, enemies stay dead. That comes with a twist: unless you're a real speed demon, you can't just run past these guys and forget about them - they'll come after you with a vengeance. Not exactly an act of genius AI, but it makes each enemy a real threat. You'll regret not killing them.

Notice that sword swipe pattern on the left? Look familiar?
One of my least favorite things about Hagane, to keep with the 3rd-grade-book-report writing level I've established for this blog, is that it throws in a dash of platforming when you're least expecting it. I can't say how frequent this becomes because, truth time, I haven't finished it, but it only showed up once or twice in the first few levels. Hagane himself just isn't as agile as Ryu, even if he is more violent. He feels at home when on solid ground.

So, go try the game. This ain't no review site, make yer own damn decisions. I like it a lot and will be making an effort to finish it - a task kept feasible (even without save states) by infinite continues. I assure you that you can find it at your local online video game dispensary, at a price so low it MUST be illegal.

Here's a little bonus info for coming this far: Hagane was developed by Red Company (later Red Entertainment). You might not know these guys; the biggest splash they can claim is the Bonk series. They've been around for fucking ever though - since '85 and still going, putting out the occasional RPG you won't have heard of, such as the PSX's Thousand Arms and DS's Nostalgia. I know them from the greatest shmup of all time, Turbo CD's Lords of Thunder, and its predecessor, Gates of Thunderforce III. Check those out too - they're even on Virtual Console!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let's Meet Socket Part 1

at 8:08 PM
In Part 1 of each Let's Meet, you'll find an introduction to a game's history and gameplay. In Part 2, you'll come away with something neat about the game.

So Yourself says to me, he says, “I'm gonna need youse guys to cover the blog while I'm on the run. Try to think of something that will score some serious hits.” Of course, I knew just the thing. As we get closer to yet another US presidential election, what is the one game that people are clamoring for?
Socket (US/EU)/Time Dominator 1st (JP)
Developed and published by Vic Tokai
Genesis – 1994

That Japanese box art makes Socket look so cool. So cool.

For those of you not in the know, Socket is part of that era of gaming when everything needed a platforming animal mascot. As you can tell from its western box art, it relies pretty heavily on being confused for Sonic. Heck, the first world is called Emerald Forest, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Green Hill Zone. It's worth noting that my esteemed colleague Yourself has mentioned that Socket isn't developer Vic Tokai's only copycat IP.

Each world consists of three stages. The first is fast and linear, the third is a maze, and the second is a middle ground between the two. This sort of level progression is something you see every now and then in old platformers like Kid Icarus, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, and plenty others.

Unlike a good number of those games, not many people are aware of Socket. In general, Vic Tokai didn't put out memorable games. Among the best known ones are Psycho Fox, Decap Attack, Clash at Demonhead, and Trouble Shooter. When these games are remembered, it's fondly, but you'd be hard-pressed to find them on a top 10 list. Vic Tokai made neat games with fun mechanics, but never anything truly compelling. There's no mindblowing developments, but there is enough to leave a smile on your face.

That's where Socket comes in. It's what happens when a Vic Tokai game doesn't have any unique charm: the only appealing part has been left out.

Most of the time, you'll hear it called a poor Sonic clone and dismissed immediately. If the writer has given it some time, like this guy, you'll hear of the maze stages. I tried to find a blog post with someone who didn't like the maze stages, but instead I found that post where the guy actually liked the game. He seems to enjoy the mazes, too.

Regardless of whether or not it's a good idea to put maze stages in a game that masquerades as Sonic, I'm going to talk about those mazes next time.

A maze can be an arbitrarily-constructed sequence of hallways, where finding your way through is a matter of memorizing what to do at each juncture. Or they can follow a theme, where knowing what to do at each juncture is a matter of pattern recognition.

One thing I've always liked about Socket is that its mazes belong to the second camp. They're simplistic, but they still know how to follow a theme. And that's what I'll talk about next time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

King's Field IV: A Treaty Bird, revisited

at 3:25 PM
No I don't have any clue what King's Field is. Did he run out of Quests and start assigning farming duties instead? Apparently it's a series that runs far longer than the brain existed. Game has weird controls. We're talking pre-dual-analog FPS. I don't know why they opted for pre-dual-analog controls when dual-analog controls were right there in front of them and had been established for like, I don't know. Since Turok at least. You have to use the shoulder buttons to strafe and the right analog to look up and down, it's like Goldeneye or something.

Apparently this was what From Software was up to before the reign of Demon's/Dark Souls, since the PSX era at least. Slow-paced first-person exploratory adventure RPGs. Hrmph. Not exactly my cuppa tea. I tend to like action-heavy or adventure-heavy games, making a game about exploration really hard sometimes kills my spirit. I do it for Dark Souls because it's damn fun, even if an emotional roller-coaster. The games... well they have their audience. I'm giving it a try, reluctant though I may be, because niche games often click with me. It's also appealing to the eyes and ears, which keeps you moving.

I'll say that so far I've only played like a half hour and I've successfully: missed the first weapon they give you, and died three times without yet finding a save point. I uh don't think I'm doing it right. And you thought Dark Souls was unwelcoming. Yes you did. Fucking idiot. Not gonna have time to delve much deeper for a few days at least, so we'll have to return to this later. Suffice for now to say, yeah it has a LOT of elements in common with their now popular games.
This is kinda stimulating though because now I know what From Software is. Before, I was all, "where are these guys From? Software?" They're one of those companies that makes the same game over and over and over again, making a tiny little tweak here, a midget little tweak there, releasing it year after year. And the fans take adamant, unflinching stances on which is OBJECTIVELY the best. It's a formula most prominently associated with Capcom and their iterative series: Mega Man, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, so on. That's not the same incarnation we're dealing with here though - this is something specific to the niche market, catering to an exact person's tastes (and not costing too much on the development end). I'm talking Koei, Nippon Ichi, Natsume; Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Disgaea, Harvest Moon. Add From Software and games about exploring a cursed and barren land to that list.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back in the CCCR - I don't know, some game [looks like it ended up being Mega Man X]

at 4:27 PM
Lordy lordy what an ill-advised feature. Whose stupid idea was this? The worst part is that it was the original idea for the ENTIRE BLOG. And you think you have it bad now.

I have no idea how to choose games to Back in the CCCR. Any suggestions? That's half the reason I put it off all the time; the other half is that I can't write it when I'm anywhere but home, because I have to play the game to review its menus. It's not like I store them in my head. Hm, maybe I ought to take an hour or two one day at home, go through a dozen or two games taking notes, and write the reviews later based on the notes. That would actually be a... good idea.

How was that little vacation through my thought process? Pretty interesting stuff, right? That's what I call river-of-consciousness writing, and I've already copyrighted, patented, and litigated that word, so don't even try. Jimmy Joyce'd be proud. That sellout bastard. So uh, until I do the thing I just said I was gonna do, allow me to write one of the few Back in the CCCR's I can do from memory: Mega Man X.

Hey, that old boy just made an appearance in the last post! What is this, some kind of corporate Capcom shill blog? Next you're gonna want me to go buy a Pepsi.

Yes, I would like you to buy a Pepsi. All I wanted was a Pepsi. Just one Pepsi. And she wouldn't give it to me! So go buy a 2-liter today at your local Giant grocery store! At the low low price of $0.99! Pepsi has never tasted this good, and this cheap!
The original Pepsi marketing department
Wonder if I can get sued for that. For prices this low I mean. So low they can't be legal! Luckily the odds of a live person finding this blog are about the same as the Angels winning the pennant. Then we can be a family again! It never occurred to me at age 7 just how ridiculous is the concept of that movie. I guess that's the idea; kids don't understand sarcasm. That's why it was the greatest film ever made! (Ebert preferred Little Big League, but what does he know). Was the lesson in the end that his family actually did get back together because he believed, or that you shouldn't use figurative language around kids unless you want them to be really disappointed? I'm not reading the wikipedia, you do it.

I've played Mega Man X about a thousand times and each and every last time I have to take a detour into the options screen to set my controls. That's right, MMX let's you reassign all of your face and shoulder buttons freely. Spectators have asked me "how do you wall-jump/dash/charge so fluidly?" The answer, of course, is that the default controls are kinda stupid, because they make this nigh-impossible. Y for shoot, A for dash, and B for jump. The obvious evolution you can see this makes on classic Mega Man is that dash function, and the key to effective play of X is combining this speed with precision wall-jumping. How the fuck are you supposed to combine that with charging a shot when it requires three face buttons? The answer is simple: re-assign dash to one of the shoulders. High-level play is outright impossible without doing so. Of course, later Mega Man series (Zero, ZX) wised up and put it there by default.

The Verdict? Mega Man X gets a: Control customization saved this game from ruination out of 10
If some genius at Capcom was able to figure out in 1993 that giving the player full control customization can allow playability beyond what the developers had envisioned, why nearly 20 years later do I still need to be writing this feature?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The day the classic publication died - Nintendo Power, revisited

at 11:47 PM
I've always considered myself a voice screeching for progress and ridding our world of cultural and societal detritus that has long outlived its usefulness. It disgusts me that newspapers and paper mail still exist, I'm baffled every time someone tells me their "home phone number", and the fact that cars still run on gasoline is one of the biggest scams of the industrial world. Likewise, magazines are kind of a joke. They accomplish nothing that can't be done a hundred times better with more advanced technology. I'm not saying the concept of a serialized publication with in-depth articles, features, and columns needs to go, just the dentist office waiting room medium. And if you're thinking right now "they aren't hurting anyone", have you ever looked at a modern magazine? I've found some in the possession of decrepit and irrelevant aged folk and out of curiosity paged through - they are literally more advertisement than content - sometimes by a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio.

This looked so good next to
my Army of Darkness poster
That's why I acknowledge that, though it saddens me to see Nintendo Power go, it had a good life and is better left a memory of the time it served. Sure, I haven't picked up an issue in five or six years, and some will (probably rightfully) claim that at a certain point it became little more than a mouthpiece for Nintendo. But NP was a big part of growing up for me, and of learning to love games [history lesson for perspective: I'm 24, born in '88, first console was an NES that I got at age 3]. It really did teach me how to play, how to break games down and pull them apart at a meta-textual level. Without it, I may never have moved beyond looking at my "Nintendo" as a 30-minute toy. I doubt it affects many kids the same way in 2012. Aren't we glad for GameFAQs (only half-sarcastically I say that). 

The biggest cred I can give the magazine is that without it, I never would have known about or bought Ogre Battle 64, probably the most influential work of art in my life. I remember reading NP's coverage and being so intrigued by what this game could be, so confused and yet excited about how different it sounded from anything I'd ever played, and how the game actually had like a real story! I've played through OB64 a half dozen times since then and you'll surely be reading more about it on the blog (god forbid you stay around for that long), yet one of my fondest memories of the game is being 11 years old and reading the NP preview over and over again, memorizing all the strategies and charts explaining the class system and the branching narrative, eagerly anticipating October 7, 2000.

This boring reminiscence can't be entertaining, so I'll stop there, before I embarrass myself by revealing that I even once mailed a letter into Player's Pulse to correct an incorrectly depicted X-Wing. But if you're like me and have a history with the mag, do yourself a favor and go dig through your closet for an old issue. Can't get a more direct dose of nostalgia than that (legally, that is). And look at it this way: if you're on your best behavior and make sure to ask REALLY politely, maybe Weird Al will write a song about it!

Calling out sick, a revisitation

at 11:46 AM

Hey blog city, I'm gonna have to let ya down and call out sick today. When I woke up this morning my tonsils were so swollen they were almost touching. Yah. Gross. Doctor said no blogging til I'm feeling better, but I can't go a day without passing on a couple thoughts. Take these bad boys home, throw 'em in a pot, add some broth, a potato... baby you got a stew goin'!

Shadows of the Colossus fucking blows
Game Boy Advance was the best RPG platform ever, it blows SNES and PSX out of the water
Super Ghouls n' Ghosts is Super stupid as hell
PStation controllers are so uncomfortable, how do people tolerate them? Midget thumbs?
Cave shmups > Treasure shmups
What ever happened to F-Zero?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ever notice that the Transformers are homicidal maniacs? Revisited.

at 11:11 AM
DISCLAIMER: All I know about Transformers is taken from one video game I played, ever. I guess I saw that first Michael Bay movie but at the time I remember my reaction being "this is the worst movie I've ever seen", "why do movies still not know what computers is", and "was that a Mountain Dewbot?" So if something I said here conflicts with TF canon, let's just say I don't even begin to understand how someone could care.

The blue one is Optimus Prime and the yellow one is Bumblebee
Comic books, cartoons, video games, and Jack Nicholson frequently employ a device so familiar to us that we don't notice it: robot bad guys. Or undead, or skeletons, or giant bugs or aliens. Monsters. The reason is fairly simple: it's hard to sympathize with a protagonist who mows down dozens, hundreds, or thousands of sentient individuals, even if he was chosen by some gussied up broadsword for the purpose of saving Delaware from a screen-door market collapse. War games tend to play in more reasonable numbers, not to mention provide a(n*) historical anchor. You can believe an Ammy soldier in WWII killed a handful of Japs because someone, somewhere, as a matter of fact did. And it was probably pretty horrifying for him and for them, and he sure as hell doesn't want you to call him a hero. But I don't play Historical Simulation of Duty, and I never served in a war (fat), so I'm not going to get into those heavy implications. It's hardly a video game specific issue anyway.

On the other hand you have games like Max Payne and god-forbid-I-even-mention-it GTA where some unlicensed vigilante kills enough people to start up a small Soylent Green product line. Laughable though it may be, the leads in these games usually to some extent lament the lengths they've been driven to to fight for their [I don't know]. I actually recently played Max Payne 3, and the existential Max's dedication to revenge paints him as perhaps the greatest villain in the medium. The number of people he kills and gets killed and the number of lives he ruins because they needed to drag the campaign into just one more level is staggering. At least Max pretends he cares though, at least he asks why.
You can see how much those lives mean to him. Look ye upon the face of true anguish
I put a bit of time this past weekend into Transformers: War for Cybertron, because I'm moderately excited for the pending release of the sequel. I just wanted to swing by to say that the dialogue is hysterically violent. The traditional circumstance of man-on-machine destruction is supplanted by machine on machine; if you care to recall, the Transformers are basically aliens of steel. I'm not gonna get into why is Megatron evil and Optimus good, because I already had to deal with stupid religion good/evil chromatics while watching Wizards yesterday. The point of robots is normally that it doesn't matter which side they're on - they aren't people, so you're really not killing them at all. Transformers, however, aren't really robots. And in a story without humans, they aren't aliens either. They're very much people.

Let's just say: Sideswipe and Jetfire and all the 'sympathetic' Autobots take a lot too much pleasure in not only killing Decepticons, but literally tearing them to pieces. Bumblebee says something along the lines of "there's nothing I like more than murder". You don't notice it at first, but swap in humans for the 'bots for a sec. What you get is the stuff of the worst ethnic conflicts the world has seen - not our everyday American war, not even the Holocaust. It's bad enough that they are born (are they?) as war machines, call home a planet comprised entirely of factories building more war machines, and have tires on the sides of their heads. Then the only thing they enjoy is murdering the guys that wear a different crest?

God I mean it's really grim. It's not mindless KILL KILL KILL, it's yayyyyy ripping peoples heads off is awesome. They may actually be a step ahead of Warhammer, the universe that has WAR and HAMMER in the name.

*if you so choose

Andrew do you know what blogging is?

at 5:23 AM
You threw out some terms like "liveblog" and "vlog" as if they were synonymous with.... you know, "blog". I don't think you know what you're talking about and I think you know that you don't know what you're talking about. And I think that you think that I think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think that you think

What asshole decided The Witcher 2 shouldn't have a compass?

at 2:07 AM
Yes okay it's a minor abuse of blog but COME ON WHY ISN'T THERE A COMPASS. It's like, a really great game. With all kinds of cool hidden stuff and fun combat. So which dick was like "we just don't have the two cents in our budget for the letter n"? Message for ya, sucker, ya used the letter n multiple times in that sentence. You have the money. You have the technology. You have played a game before or lived in the world of human beings I mean good lord this is beyond video games. It's like, hey, welcome to society. We have directions. They have names. USE THEM. How else am I supposed to get fucking anywhere?

And don't go on about "The Witcher 2 is set in medieval times and navigational technologies would be primitive", because that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The minimap is already there. It's just rendered completely useless by the absence of NSEW.

Yeah I use it IRL
This actually brings up an interesting point about modifiability, where it's hard to take a side. I guess I could discuss mods and the way they make an interactive art form interactiver, but it's past 1 AM. I don't feel like it. If I had the PC version of the game, I could either find or myself code a mod which would add a compass pointer. But I'm on a console, so I have to play the game the way it comes in the box. PC gamers would mock this as a flaw of consoling (because somehow hardware loyalists still exist. Go team...?), but I'd rather not have to do the developers' work for them. 

Are they just being lazy assholes? Probably. PC games are expected to communally fix themselves in a million other ways. "I'm sure someone can throw in a compass too." So enjoy your mostly finished PC game, we've rounded off the corners and got most of our ideas down, you can fill in the details!

The compass is a piece of interface, something that doesn't much reflect on the quality of the game. What it does is make the game easier to comprehend and experience. Garbage interfaces have turned good games into nightmare experiences. It's like, kinda important to get that element right.

So give me my fucking compass unless you're going to provide a roadside map.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Congratulations on 1000 pageviews

at 2:17 PM

Congratulations, blog, you have finally received over 1000 pageviews! Too bad the daily traffic skyrocketed and subsequently plummeted after the day I joined Facebook. Guess I just have to join Facebook everyday!

Andrew’s live blog of Link’s Awakening Part 1: Let’s See How Long It Takes for Me to Get Bored with This Game

at 1:37 AM
So I got Link’s Awakening for 3ds eshop.  A number of factors, pository and negatory (which apparently auto corrects to “nugatory” in ms word…), went into this decision:

1. I haven’t touched my 3ds or really any videogame in like 2 months, maybe longer, since I replayed Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the millionth time instead of studying for finals. 

Holy crap that game is good.  Why can’t every game just be that game? 
Anyway I thought if I actually wanted to write another blog post that no one will read I should play something.

2. I considered the fact that I have never really enjoyed Zelda games, save Link to the Past.

3. It was 6 bucks, or something really cheap like that.  No, correction, it was like 5.99, and you can only put whole dollar amounts of money on your eshop account or whatever, and so now I have 14.01.  No thinking this through like the economics major I am, and knowing nothing about economics, I would conceivably have to buy 100 goddamn games all priced at XX.99 to somehow spend ALL my money.  Go fuck yourself Nintendo, just let me pay the amount the game costs you money-grubbing jap assholes.
I will take all of it.  All the monies.
 Anyway people have always said good things about this particular Zelda, so why not?  I was debating beating it and then posting a review on the blog, but then I thought a live-blog (vlog) would give y’all a better sense of my feelings towards the game because god knows I’m not going to remember anything in particular about it once I’m done. 

Andrew’s live blog of Link’s Awakening Part 1: Let’s See How Long It Takes for Me to Get Bored with This Game

Beginning stuff is happening.  Not having a sword for the first 5 minutes of a Zelda game is, I would bet,  a classic Japanese character-building measure.

So far the best part has been when you sprinkle shroom powder on this weird-ass raccoon in the forest, he spins around for like five minutes, and then turns into Mario.  There’s like a whole bunch of Mario things in this game, I don’t really get it. 

After that whole…ordeal…the omniscient owl comes back and again tells you EXACTLY what to do, because obviously I’m too stupid to figure out that it’s the path I couldn’t get through before.  No seriously I am that stupid so I’m appreciating what this owl is doing.  I also don’t get what the fuck a wind-fish is but I drew what I hope it’s going to be in paint:
Now I’m beating some sort of dungeon.  My only comment is that I spent like 30 goddamn minutes wandering back and forth because I thought the way I had to go was blocked.  I’m all like “oh ok its Zelda, I have to hit a switch somewhere else.”  So after fucktarding around the place for what felt like forever I gamefaq’d it and I had to push a block near the door to release it…how THE HELL was I supposed to know that was a game mechanic?  

OK now there are goombas and its side scrolling and I’m thinking this Nintendo is trying to mind-fuck me and this is just slowly but surely morphing into Mario Land.  OH GOD I WAS RIGHT I just got a leaf that allows me to jump there’s no way this is still going to be a Zelda game in like 5 minutes.

Welp both those bosses were easy and I got a Cello.  Uhhhh first impressions: like every other Zelda.  Fun enough but it’s very likely I’ll get bored after the first 3 dungeons.  The issue I think I have is that these games are like RPGs except minus the thing that makes RPGs fun: customizing and improving your character in your OWN way.  I know my Link (or Andrw since only 5 characters are allowed) is improving just as the game wants him to. 

So, I’m taking all bets for if I have the patience or not to vlog the next time I play.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Have a rocking roll tidbit for the day, Can fans!

at 3:37 PM
I'm sure all of my readers out there are Can fans. You are, aren'tcha, guy? You know well that Can is that super-awesomeville experimental avant-garde avant-fuck sauerkraut band from 1970s Germany, you don't need me to tell you. Of course you know! Your favorite song of all time is "I'm So Green"! Your second favorite song of all time is "Future Days"! Your least favorite song of all time is "Peking O"! Christ that song sucks! If I wanted to hear an illiterate Japanese man choking on an umbrella, I would've elected him for president!

Anyway, here's a craaaaaaaaaazy funzy fact for the Can-openers, as we call ourselves. Holger Czukay, bassist for (relatively unknown) German '70s rock group Can, originally worked as a classical composer/instructor.

Crazy, right?! That's it for today's ROCK N ROLL OF THE DAY N ROLL!

Wait, I just got a telephone call from Tom Telephone. He said "that's not a very interesting fact. As a matter of fact, it's barely a fact at all". I said, Okay Mr. Gradgrind, BE a dick. You want facts? TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE. Haven't you always asked yourself: how did the aforementioned H. Czukay, bassist for some band I've never even heard of called Jar or something, become a rock/jazz/avant bass guitarist while in his fucking 30s if he was some classical asshole before that? Fact time: he didn't! He doesn't even exist!

Okay I just got back from Wikipedia and it turns out that's not true at all. He totally does exist. Sorry for the misunderstanding; I mistook the word "fact" for "bad joke". Typo!

While I was in Wikipedia though, check out what I learned: Holger was converted to the ways of rock music when his pupil Michael Karoli (later to become the founding lead guitarist of Can't) brought in a record to play for him. The track he played? Well, rock fan, let's see if you can get it.

Was it:
A.) The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus"
B.) The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus"
C.) The Beatles' "I Was the Walrus"
D.) The Beatles' "Goo Goo G'joob"

If you guessed any of the answers, congratulations on making it this far into this fucking moronic post! But seriously folks, let's get serious for a second. Who the FUCK hears "I Am the Fucking Walrus" and reacts in any way except to tear the record off the turntable, snap it in half, and throw it out the window? All I can (!) guess is that Holger heard the song, said (in English) "holy shit, people listen to this shit?! And pay for it?", and either assumed that he could make money by doing literally anything on record, or set out to prove to the rock-loving youths of the world that actual music does exist.

We may never know the answer to these questions, but we're all better people for the existence of Can the Band. So next time you see "I Am the Walrus", a walrus, John Lennon's mummified dick, the Beatles in concert, or you just happen to be sitting on a cornflake, be sure to say "thank you! Can was worth it!"