Friday, March 29, 2013

We Are Spirits In The Materia World

at 5:03 PM
A couple of days ago, my uncle gave me a PS Vita. He bought one because it had good graphics and he does not know much about video games past that. To nobody's surprise he never used it because it did not have any games that were worth playing. Although I keep up with video game news on a daily basis, I could not name any games that had come out or were coming out in the near future that I was even marginally interested in. The next day while dicking around on my phone at work, I discovered there was only one game I wanted. This prompted me to exclaim out loud, "Hasn't this system been out for a year?" much to the confusion of my coworkers. 

That game was Persona 4: Golden. I had a vague recollection that Persona 4 was a real late life-cycle release on the PS2 that had gotten good reviews and had some connection to those Shin Megami games, maybe? I started it up and had a blast. It's basically a very Japanese Twin Peaks. Except with TV worlds, talking teddy bears, and monsters. The battle system is engaging and there is a ton of customization. My one issue with it is its continuing a trend which I despise: when the main character dies, it is game over for your entire party. 

Did I mention just how Japanese this game is?
In Persona 4, when the main character dies, it is game over for the entire party. Why? Why is this a thing? It is always frustrating for the player. It was not always a mechanic, why start now? In Final Fantasy VII, if Cloud dropped in battle, you just had Cid or Red XIII cast Life or use a Phoenix Down on him. Cloud might be the main character in the story, but in battle you controlled everyone; he was no different from any other character.

Final Fantasy XIII, on the other hand, only allowed you to control one character in battle while the other two were AI-directed. When the character you picked to control in the battle died, you were hit with a game over screen. Even though the game was pretty awful in most facets, I sunk 60 hours into it, including some restarts from the absurd One-Character-Dies-Game-Over (OCD-GO). The breaking point for me was the final boss battle. The boss had a pretty classic attack that would instantly kill one of your party members. You, unlike the developers of this game, do not suffer from severe idiocy, and are probably able to see how this is an issue. It was a crapshoot whether he would instantly end the battle or not. And you could not do anything to stop it except to hope that he targeted one of your other party members instead. Game design is hard, you guys. 

I can see an argument that if you only control one character in a battle, that OCD-GO [which I now envision as a neurotic giant robot] is meant to be immersive. It is an atrocious argument, predicated on game over screens being more immersive than a player continuing to play the freaking game. With Persona 4, however, you have control over the other characters in battle as well! Your main character has no higher standing in battle, so it does not make a whole lot of sense for why OCD-GO would be incorporated. All it means is that I have to not care about the rest of my party, since they are effectively expendable, and give all my good equipment and upgrades to my main character. That defeats the purpose of the party system. 

FFXIII did not adapt enemy battle tactics to work with the OCD-GO [which I now envision as the catch phrase of a not so useful superhero] system. Persona 4 is also hampered by the inclusion of  OCD-GO because it undermines the very battle system which the genre is founded upon. Although, this post is mostly an excuse to gripe about how those OCD-GO restarts make me so mad that colors lose meaning, it also leads us to a simple point of game design.

Individual elements of games have to work together in order to be effective. You are not just able to "borrow" an element you found in another game or genre and plug it into yours. It will not exist in a vacuum. So when you want to introduce a new idea, like OCD-GO, you have to dramatically change the foundation of the game to accommodate it. In this case, update the battle system so that you dont get insta-killed by a boss or something. Or, if you have a base concept you want to have intact, do not add needless elements just for the sake of adding them, because IT WILL change the skeleton of the game.
Yeah, the tile of this post has nothing to do with the article, outside of the forced FFVII reference. I just like the Police. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What I'm Playing, March '13 (Pt.1)

at 11:03 AM
Not to turn this into a blog or something, but I'm gonna take a minute to list games I've recently started (for the first time) and finished (for the 1st time). To keep the info flowing fun fast and free, I'll give you first impressions of the games I started, and final impressions of those I completed. There are quite a few, so this is gonna be divided into a few editions. Maybe it'll become a running weekly feature - it'll make a nice addition to the pool of abandoned ideas we've had for those. Before I get ahead of myself, let me catch up on the last month.

Special Recognition for Starting and Finishing:

Gunman Clive (3DS eShop)

Is Gunman Clive worth a look? Well, it only costs $2, though I imagine you'll spend more time feeling good about supporting an indie developer than you will playing through this forty-minute story. It feels like a Mega Man fangame, deriving all its ideas from that classic series, yet not delivering enough individuality or scope to stick with you or warrant a replay. For those that can't get enough Mega Man, it won't be a waste of time, just a fun little shooter/platformer with a neat (if rudimentary) visual presentation. It's hard to separate my first from final impressions of this game, as I beat it in one sitting.

Games Started:

Darksiders 2 (Xbox 360)

A severe change of pace from the first game, not for its tacked on RPG features (everyone loves floating DMG numbers!), but for providing a real organic world and a distinct avatar to control. The combat's got a smoother feel; Death feels swift and precise, in contrast to the brutally unwieldy War (the first game's protagonist). Likewise, Death climbs and scrambles like the Prince of Persia (Sands of Time), while War bounced and hovered like Ratchet (Ratchet & Clank). This isn't so much a strict improvement as it is a fitting change of pace; Death's skillset is appropriate for Death, as War's was for War. They're different characters and should handle differently. A lot of action games get this wrong, simply tweaking speed and strength parameters rather than the entire engine. Is it a coincidence that Darksiders II has a new engine to go with the new hero? Maybe, but it works perfectly.

Crashmo (3DS eShop)

This is a puzzle game. Not even puzzle action. Just static, stare you in the face puzzles. Don't let the reviews (and Intelligent Design's pedigree) fool you; the game is an exact clone of Tetris puzzles. You have to jump to the top of structures you make, but since there's no punishment for failing jumps, it's not a platformer, as some have erroneously claimed. After finishing eight of ten main worlds (ten puzzles each), I'm not sure I'm going to finish it. Puzzles just reach that word scramble point where it's like, yeah, I can probably solve this, but it's gonna take a long time and leave me so frustrated that I won't be satisfied in the end. It has a decent amount of content (150+ puzzles for $10), but as someone who doesn't really like puzzle games at all, I can't tell you why you should spend the money instead of just grabbing a newspaper and flipping to the word games. Do they make newspapers anymore? I don't know. Probably not.

Games Finished:

Darksiders (Xbox 360)

For some reason this game felt the need to go out on a terrible note with an interminable final dungeon and a laughably easy final boss. I also got real distracted because I wanted to start Darksiders II, which I had already bought (hey, it was on sale for $15!). Anyway, nice artwork, nice setting and a great combination of styles. There's not a ton to go back to, as such simple puzzles lose their fun with repetition and combat is done better elsewhere, but a game worth playing once.

Strania - The Stellar Machina (XBLA)

This is kind of a lie, because I only beat it on Normal difficulty, which truncates the final boss battle. A tribute to Contra III? (see later). Strania is a fantastic G.Rev shmup for XBLA that I don't think anyone played or heard of. Even shmup fans were oblivious, too concerned about what the next Treasure re-release would be. G.Rev is one of the more renowned latter-day shmup-developers (as renowned as you can get from making shmups), particularly noted for their late Dreamcast releases Under Defeat and Border Down. While I haven't played those, Strania satiates the craving for 2.5D shmuppage reminiscent of the PlayStation era (R-Type Delta, Einhaender, G-Darius). The gameplay provides a unique dichotomy of aggressive close-ranged combat and defensive sniping, boss battle gauntlets, and a relief from the bullet hell that now dominates the genre (IkarugaTouhou, Cave games).

SML3: Warioland (GB / 3DS VC)

Wario's very first starring role! I'm a passing Wario fan (_NOT_ Wariofan), favoring him in most Mario spinoffs (PartyKart, etc.) for his mean and obnoxious personality and inclination toward raw power. Raw power is a guaranteed OD, etc. I even had a stint maining him in Brawl. Wario himself really is what makes this game - he's a delight to control, making Mario seem like a halfy (handicapped individual) by comparison. The platforming may be woefully static and undercooked, but Wario makes it all work. I'll write a post later about the character and the game's inheritance from Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country.

Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES / Wii VC)

I think I covered this pretty well earlier in the week. Took me a long time to beat (though the game clock only records ~5 hours), but I'll be playing it again, possibly even seeking out that 102%. I'll probably spend more time on it than planned now that Nintendo took down DKC1 and DKC3, leaving no reasonable way to play them aside from ILLEGAL emulation.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dunkey Kung Cuntry 2: Yyyyyo boy

at 7:46 PM
Man, this game. THIS GAME. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. That's a terrible pun. I wish anyone would learn that a play on words doesn't work if the second meaning doesn't have any meaning. "Diddy's Kong Quest" makes sense; Diddy is on a quest to find (Donkey) Kong. On the flip-side, "Diddy's Conquest" is nonsense. That isn't what the game is. He doesn't conquest anything, he's a monkey on a rescue mission, not Francisco Pizarro Jr. So, C- for titling. Actually make that a straight-up D, because Rareware is a British company - they have zero excuse to screw up the English language. I don't know why I'm suggesting that developers (rather than publishers) title games.
These are the actual 3D models used for the sprite renders. Personally I prefer the sprites - I mean, Christ, look at Al E. Gator's face
So let's look at the most talked about aspect of the game, the monkeys. Or apes, as it were. Diddy Kong himself is a carryover from the original Donkey Kong Country, released a year prior (1994). Diddy is typically identified as a chimp (short for chim-pansy), a variety of pretty intelligent ape. They're no dolphins, but they're pretttyy, prettttttay smart (I'm almost positive they're smarter than dolphins, but no one ever tried to teach them English by giving them LSD). So people are all, "Diddy Kong's a smart bloke, so he must be a chimp, right?" He demonstrates his intelligence through such tasks as doing a cartwheel, jumping on alligators' heads, smashing barrels, etc. I won't debate that this is clearly the work of a sophisticated mind; nevertheless, evidence to the contrary exists in the form of Diddy's prehensile tail. Apes, you'll recall from science, don't have tails. Chimps, you'll recall from a few sentences ago, are apes. We have thence rigorously proven that Diddy Kong is not an ape, and thus not a chimp. This is pretty much what mathematics was like in college, by the way. Mainly this type of thing. Thank you, college!

Dixie, Diddy Kong's brother (spoiler) and the second playable character, is notable for her long ponytail and beret. While many a simian sports a fashionable lid, what baffles me here is the flowing blonde mane. Is it a wig? That would be hard to believe, considering that Dixie can suspend her entire body weight upon the tensile strength of her hair. Perhaps then a weave? I don't think sub-human lifeforms can comprehend the functionality of such a complex device. Pretty sure I ain't never seen a chicken flaunting a toupee. So, to quote a famous American, what's the deal here? How can Dixie be a longhair? It's simply unheard of in nature. 
Dixie Kong in her natural habitat
So both Diddy and Dixie Kong are some mystery creatures who look like apes but defy logic by means of a (pony)tail. Perhaps they belong to yet-to-be-discovered species? Was Rare trying to tell us something? Maybe that's why Nintendo delisted the games from their Wii Virtual Console service last November. Some type of conspiracy cover-up spearheaded by Carolus Linnaeus and Jane Goodall. Don't be surprised if this blog post 'mysteriously' disappears too. I've probably just been FBI watch-listed. 

DKC2 is littered with other anatomically incorrect wildlife, but you'd probably be pretty pissed if I spent another paragraph on the subject. Let me just summarize by saying that one of them is called Sneakers the Spider (because he wears sneakers, get it? I don't) and another is Snakey the Snake, because he is shaped like a spring and can jump high. I guess if I wanted a game to feature an animal that could jump, it probably wouldn't be a fucking snake. When was the last time you were strolling "in the flat fieEeEeelds" and a snake jumped up in your face? Plus the snake was bigger than a rhino. Come on guys. Can we make a little less sense?

The platforming is nice though. It's not particularly finessexcellent, but when it gets rolling it can be a blast. The game has a rollickinger sense of speed than any 16-bit platformer barring perhaps Super Mario World. The problem is that stages are so long and obstacles so unforgiving that you'll only get to experience that speed on occasion. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one that feels this way (so ronery), but DKC2 is one of the hardest platformers I've ever played. After ten tries on a level, I can usually do it flawlessly, but it takes those ten practices. I guess the nostalgia hounds already have years of experience to taint their sense of challenge. The repetition depletes a large portion of the thrill; by the time you've figured out the 'right' way to play, you've already seen the whole level a dozen times. By comparison, one of the more exhilarating platformers I've played recently is Bit.Trip Runner 2, which uses difficulty scaling and gradual feature introduction to ensure that I can complete stages on a first run while still feeling like I've accomplished something. That has its own flip-side that I might discuss another time, but the takeaway is that it makes DKC2's stages feel like an utter slog and defeats any sensation of achievement they should convey, despite the ostensible speed of traversal.

That said, I love that Country 2 is a thinking man's platformer without resorting to puzzles. I referred to the notion of "figuring out" the platforming; what I mean is that the difficulty lies in determining the right course of action, not in executing it. How should I time and sequence my moves? Where should I change paths, which risks have suitable payoffs? This isn't mere memorization - that would imply that the correct route is obvious on completion. DKC provides that feeling most familiar from physics platformers (Trine etc.), the "whoa - was I supposed to be able to win that way?" triumph. It certainly has it's linear segments, but most often it provides the player numerous means to progress and to challenge themselves. While I'm an avid hater of collection (next paragraph), much reward lies simply in manipulating the challenge. There are good and bad solutions to every level, and the payoff of devising a better strategy is an easier replay. This allows me to feel like I'm truly getting better at the game with each attempt.

Collectathonism. Rare basically invented this idea, and it's been both a curse and a curse through the history of platforming. In some sense, modern Achievements/Trophies are derived from the concept, the notion that players will strain themselves for any reward, however worthless, as long as it's acknowledged. The Donkey Kong Country games challenged the player to reach 100% completion (you could even go beyond 100%!) by finding and snatching every last hidden trinket in the game world. This is totally optional, so many people say "you can't complain". Well reading my complaint is totally optional too, so fuck you. The collection in DKC2 has its highs and lows - sometimes it provides secret minigames and shortcuts, while more often it triggers aimless wandering and pixel-sweeping. See, I might - just might - be able to forgive this if not for one thing: invisible items. What makes collection fun (or at least gives it the potential to be) is that the player spots some treasure off the beaten path and asks themselves "how the hell do I get over there?". This inspires experimentation. See Warioland: Shake It! for a game that does this perfectly. If items are invisible, the player is expected to ask "how do I get EVERYWHERE", including places they aren't intended to go. To discover everything, they must throw themselves down EVERY pit, scramble into EVERY corner, and jump in EVERY open space. The suspicion it inspires is boundless, which renders the visible collectibles pointless. Why show me some of the coins when I have to scour every inch of every level anyway?
The reward for getting everything... you can tell Diddy is overjoyed
That's my thoughts after finishing the game once (I first played it 15+ years ago, but this was my first serious run). A lot of Mankey-fanatics out there have surely played the game dozens of times and most of them just like to talk about the secrets. But everyone has said everything there is to say about that, so I just wanted to point out that, y'know, it also has good platforming. Because the secret shit really isn't enough to drive the entire game, plus it's way worse than people say, plus other games do the same thing better (again, Warioland).

Friday, March 22, 2013

The roots of combat Pt 2: What is combat action?

at 7:06 PM
Wow, this shoulda been part one, huh? Let's visit the definition of a combat game, as it'll make it much easier to understand the differences between the subsets. We're going to want to look at brawlers, ASWs, and modern 3D action through the lens of this definition, so we can understand how they in turn vary. "Action" is too generic a term for me, so I've decided to stick with "combat" instead - I mean, Tetris has action - it just means automated movement. Keep in mind that what I'm gonna call "combat games" are what the mainstream calls "action", "action/adventure", "hack 'n' slash", or "brawler".

So that I don't feel like I'm repeating myself too heavily, let me encourage you to start by reading my definition of platformers: . That second paragraph in particular applies to all genres: to be a combat game, it is not enough to include combat; it is necessarily to evolve and vary it as the central interactive element of play. Therefore, all we have to define is combat itself, not specifically a combat game.

I'm working on a theory that I just invented in my head, which is probably true, that any gameplay can be defined in terms of the goal and the opposition it provides to player progress. What makes a game a game is that it presents a goal, and presents opposition against reaching that goal - even if that "opposition" is just a room to walk across, or a riddle to solve. Anyway, if this is the case, and it probably is - maybe I'll get back to that - then all we need to look at to understand the experience is the nature of the goal, and the nature of the opposition. For platforming, we've already explored that definition: the goal is to traverse between two points, and the opposition is composed of universal forces. 
The goal of combat is a regular RoboCop 2 (tough nut to crack). It's kinda still just about getting to the end of the stage, isn't it? But that's too vague - that's like saying the goal is to reach the goal. Plus, while traversal is part of action/adventure, it's also key in a much larger set of games. It doesn't narrow anything down. What about survival? Again, too broad. Survival is a necessary condition of success across dozens of genres. Next thought: eliminating the enemy force? I.e. "kill everything"? Do you always have to kill everything though? What if time runs out, or you decide to retreat? I'm not sure annihilation is necessary to designate combat. Maybe if that were scaled back a bit, to simply damaging the enemy? Your goal is to hurt things? That's close. It's on the tip of my tongue. I'll have to come back to this.

The opposition is a tad easier to identify. It's got to be active and autonomous. No one can fight the entire world. Not even RoboCop. The opposition needs to be constructed from units occupying the same environment as the player, but independent from that environment. They also need to possess the ability to endanger the players survival - to drain his health, knock him off a ledge, whatever. However the failure condition is defined, these units need to be able to push the player closer to it. Simultaneously, the player needs to be able to defend himself, so they must be vulnerable in some sense. Call them enemies. Just don't call them late for dinner. So the opposition in combat is a collection of autonomous endangering units. This is broad enough to encapsulate everything from Dragon Warrior to Castlevania to Jak II, which is exactly intended. Those games all include combat, no?

No I did not make this image.
Refining the definition of combat with terms like "real-time" and "melee" thus becomes a trivial task, and we have the definition we need. Well, we have half of it at least. Still not thrilled with that goal. Wait wait - what about this: the goal is to eliminate the threat to survival? When platforming, you aren't trying to kill the holes in the ground, and in a straight up survival game (Resident Evil) you aren't expected to eliminate the threats, just evade them. And eliminating the threat itself (versus eliminating the enemies) doesn't necessarily mean killing everything - it just means engaging them while they are threatening your existence. So running away can still be an element of the gameplay (though not part of the combat itself), without defeating the nature of combat. Nailed it!

Combat is gameplay in which the player is tasked with eliminating the threat posed by an independently acting collection of vulnerable automatons. Bit of a mouthful, but maybe I'll clean it up later. IF YOU'RE LUCKY.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The roots of combat Pt 1: Arcade Sideways Walkers

at 5:09 PM
We're about to embark on a mystical journey through a feature about the history and taxonomy of combat action games, but first I want to introduce you to a type of game that's going to come into play in that discussion - one you might be a lot less familiar with than the brawler or the shmup. "Genre" is probably too sweeping a term for these games - they're more a subset of action games and platformers. Let's call them "arcade sideways walkers" (ASW). I got that from the title of this very article, but let's keep that between you and me. While we're "let's"ing, let's also note that these don't necessarily have to be arcade games, though they often were.

The most familiar example of arcade sideways walking is Altered Beast. If you recognize this Genesis and arcade "classic", you're probably already on board and ready to move to the next lesson. If not, check it out, and remember, kids: never "wise fwom youw gwave" without adult supervision.

The idea here is that we have a flat 2D side-scroller with extremely basic environments and swarming enemies. Observe the light platforming, the monotonous enemies, and the steady environmental progression (it's NOT a series of static fights). I used to think of these games as flattened beat-em-ups (Streets of Rage condensed to a single horizontal plane), though it never felt correct - now I'm going to attempt to explore the empirical backing that proves that feeling correct. The ASW is, in fact, almost completely unrelated to the beat-'em-up.

The one particularly interesting feature introduced in a handful of these ASWs will be familiar to most from Secret of Mana (and this blog post about it). The auto-charge meter, whereby pausing between attacks slowly powers them up. Here's an example from Astyanax:
Watch the "PW" meter at the bottom
As fast-paced actioners with a constant stream of enemies, the meter serves ASWs (among them Magic Sword and The Legendary Axe) completely differently than it does Mana. It actually becomes a primitive combo system, allowing for fast, weak strings of hits to be alternated with slower, more deliberate blows. If the animations were to reflect the attack power, this would be almost immediately recognizable as the same timing-based combo system used in modern 3D action, seen in the likes of Bayonetta and Darksiders.

ASWs are, for lack of a better word, not all that fun. They're primitive beyond their time - platformers, by comparison, were fully evolved (in the Pokemon sense) by the early '90s. Unsurprisingly, they vanished as quickly as they appeared - their life-cycle seems to have terminated in tandem with that of the arcade itself. Other arcade-birthed genres like the shoot-'em-up and the beat-'em-up endured consolification and live on in one form or another to this day. The ASW appears to have gone the way of the dodo.

BUT DID IT REALLY? Oooh, this twist is gonna blow your mind. See, here we've got a regular Charles Darwin on our hands. Did you think all the evolutionary imagery (the one word worth of it) was going to be a build-up to a Beagle joke? No, I want to talk about whether God based video games on humans which were based on monkeys, or if it was all here in the first place.

In 2001, the sixth console generation was unleashed (that's the one with PS2/GCN/Xbox). This new era brought with it a whole new style of gameplay, one destined to [rule them all]: the button-mashing 3D melee action combat thing. Yeah, it doesn't have a good name, because these games tend to be classed elsewhere, most frequently as action/adventure. What I mean is Devil May Cry, God of War, Ninja Gaiden, etc. Think for a second: where did they come from? What is a PlayStation, N64, or PC precursor to this style of play? What early 3D game pitted a single combo-equipped fighter against mobs of weak, varied enemies? Sure, 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter and Soul Edge existed, as did the more RPG slanted action/adventures (Ocarina of Time, Castlevania 64), but the former had yet to be injected into the latter. Complex play control was reserved for one-on-one matches, while group-fighting was the territory of brawlers, RTSs, and RPGs. So was DMC the first game to pair ongoing battle with linear adventuring?
The Arcade Sideways Walker is here to say: "no". And it's frighteningly correct. No, terrifyingly so. I had like 50% of a heart attack just thinking about how correct it is. Remember that pseudo-combo system I described above, the one revolving around the charge meter? Remember how I said that same system is present in Bayonetta, aka DMC5, not to mention the four DMCs preceding it? So is the ASW actually a precedent for combat-heavy action/adventure, with its situation-centric challenge and steady linear progress?

Ostensibly, yes. Wait, that's the second time I segued paragraphs by posing a question in one and answering it in the next. Whoops. Strictly looking at content, ASWs have an almost uncanny degree of commonality with sixth- and seventh-gen melee action games. Historically speaking, the answer is far murkier. What we have, in fact, is a case of "the missing link". The chain of influence is unlikely to have skipped ten years and two generations - I doubt RE4 morphed into DMC after the design team spent a long weekend playing through Legendary Axe. But Golem and I have struggled to brainstorm even a single game that bridges the gap. So be on the lookout! It could be out there.

Until then, I'm gonna spend the next week or so rigidly classifying the action combat genre in contrast to the brawler.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Right is Right: In defense of the Sacred institution of right-only scrolling

at 3:57 PM
In recent years, the long-standing tradition of right-scrolling has come under attack from all sides, challenging its relevance and historical justification, and suggesting that the definition of side-scrolling should be expanded to a more egalitarian, direction-neutral practice.

The forces behind leftward scrolling have gained power in contemporary culture and are now, pardon the strong language, trying to shove it down our throats. For those of you blissfully unaware, left-scrolling refers to a 2D setting in which the primary direction of horizontal navigation is left. You may be familiar with such delinquency from Bit.Trip Flux or Super Mario Bros. 3 (Stage 5-3). I don't know what kind of weirdo is into this sort of thing, but it isn't normal, bread-loving Americans such as myself. I would be caught dead (?) before I would be caught engaging in this kind of anti-natural behavior. 
The work of Satin
If we allow left-scrolling, what will be next? Diagonal scrolling? Scrolling into the screen? Before you know it, every side-scroller cult is going to demand their 'right' to acknowledgement. Proponents claim that left-scrolling is the business of left-scrollers alone - that they should be allowed to do what they want, because it has no effect on right-scrollers not involved. My reply to this is: what kind of impression are we leaving for our children? Do we want to raise them in a world where they're bombarded with images of scrolling in every direction? Where they're assured that it's perfectly "normal" to scroll left, or even worse: that they're the weird ones for wanting games that scroll right?

Some have suggested that we permit left-scrolling, but slightly alter the name, that perhaps it doesn't have to be called scrolling at all - left-inclined games can be afforded the same civil rights (!) as right-scrollers, while being shuffled into a different category. This, however, fails to address the underlying issue, that perfectly solid, well-designed levels are being corrupted by the (probably Jew-backed) media proliferation of the unnatural practice of going left. Think of what Yoshi's Island could have been, had it not been so thoroughly perverted by left-scrolling advocates. If we legitimize this practice by legally observing left-scrolling in any form, by any label, we're taking yet another leap toward the cultural downfall of this once-grape nation. Kirby's Adventure, Mega Man 2, Sonic the Hedgehog - these games are tainted and devalued every time we stand idly by while games like Zelda II and Ninja Gaiden 3 include left-scrolling levels.
God defined side-scrolling as movement starting at the left side of an environment, towards the right side. From the dawn of history, every culture has observed this same basic definition. The founding fathers specifically wrote in their diaries that only upstanding games like Mega Man were intended by the Constitution.

I get that a bunch of you out there are degenerates. I get that the world needs a broom closet somewhere to shove you guys, and I get that most of the time, that broom closet is the Internet. But just because you now have a forum where you can pretend someone cares about your thoughts and your weird proclivities (they don't), doesn't mean you have to spew that shit all over my games.

It all seriousness though, I can't stand left-scrolling levels. They give me goddamned brain cancer.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A DUOlogue

at 2:16 PM
Come on that was too perfect a title not to post this random email exchange.

Yourself: Is this a Turbo Duo???? 

GolemIf you mean the device, looks like it--says NEC, after all. If you
mean the guys, I guess so.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

DLC... with Achievements! A brief duologue

at 2:33 PM
Random email convo.

Yourself: I finished Sleeping Dogs last week and I'm taking a look at the DLC. Not that I desperately need more of the game, but it did have a stellar combat system that I never mind time into. It has an obscene number of tiny two-mission DLC packs, it's so stupid. There are so many that there isn't even a single collected-for-a-discount package. So I decided to check out reviews to see if any were particularly good or bad, since I'll probably get one or two (they're only $3 a pop). 

I found it inconceivably amusing that a major criticism one reviewer leveled at a certain pack was "it doesn't have achievements". So achievements now have monetary value? That's... literally everything that's wrong with the state of gaming today.

GolemThat got me thinking. I dunno why, but I'm looking forward to New Super Luigi U. If you haven't heard, Nintendo's developing a whole new campaign for NSMBU: same world map, all new levels. Part of it is probably that it's an exciting and forward-thinking idea ( terms of what Nintendo normally does), but there's also some excitement just for new Mario levels. It sucks when you buy a whole new game that feels the same as the one from four years ago, but DLC is, well, not a whole new game. I'm just crossing my fingers that New Super Luigi U isn't $60 or something crazy.

It won't have any achievements.

YourselfIt seems like what DLC was once envisioned to be. Versus selling Fire Emblem maps for $3 a piece. A replacement for iterative sequels, rather than a micro-transaction marketplace.

Wii U doesn't have any kind of Achievement/Trophy system, right? I know some developers just build that stuff into their game (e.g. Bit.Trip Runner and Shank 2) and some have their own proprietary achievements (the ridiculous Ubisoft Uplay system). What may blow the minds of America at large is that Shank 2 actually ties unlockables to its Achievements. Unlockables? WHAT DOES THAT WORD MEAN? You mean like that new costume you can "unlock" for Ryu for $2.99?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A one, two, three, and a go!

at 8:02 PM
Raw sex appeal.

Most undeserving of his superlative, which is most anonymous-est: Luigi

I traveled across the pond, if you will, to Ecuador this past summer.  I was there teaching the indigenous peoples about the benefits of American capitalism, but even I was surprised by some instances of culture dispersion.  One of the items I brought back stateside was a hand-made, alpaca fur Luigi hat.  Its presence in a place like Ecuador speaks to an inherent misunderstanding of what relatively wealthy white tourists want out of foreign marketplace, which is shit they can bring back and tell people is "authentic."  I just doubt somehow that their target audience was travelling nerds who needed to buy gifts for their nerd brothers, and who think it's hilarious that some old Ecuadorian woman was knitting together a Japanese created, Italian character who she almost definitely is not familiar with, from a media format that she has almost definitely never experienced.

Luigi usually gets the rap for being the less famous, less attractive, and more likely to skip class to smoke 'shrooms, but let me be the first, at least, to say it: there was only a Luigi hat at that Ecuadorian market, no weird Mario-head-hat to be seen.  And it is only pretty likely that it was because someone had already bought the Mario one.  I think part of his charm is his habit of playing hard-to-get: it's become ubiquitous at this point for him to be unlockable after beating the game with Mario.  And sure, in games like New Super Mario Bros. 2 beating all the worlds is a feat akin in difficulty to say, reading the first Harry Potter novel, but Luigi knows that the key to popularity is to not seem to eager about anything.

Most obvious and annoying love story-participant: Cloud

I am finally getting around to playing Final Fantasy VII, and man is this whole Cloud/Aeris romantic buildup is beyond obvious.  Cute-but-not-sexy, fun-loving but not totally innocent girl meets loner dude with a shady past.  Hell, there's even a Shakespearean cross-dressing scene, and a "date" sequence.  I get it, not every love story can be as original as the truly inspired Final Fantasy X:
OK you caught me, I was looking for an excuse to post that video.  Still worth it.

It's just that I know where the Cloud/Aeris thing is heading, because it's such a cliche.  At some point towards the end, Aeris will disappear and Cloud will have to save her from presumably this Sephiroth character everyone is so concerned about.  Showdown occurs; boy saves girl in a familiar display of hetero-normative masculinity despite the androgyny of both the hero and the villain.  They live happily ever after.
Sexual tension.
And let's be real, not for a single second did I fall for the half-hearted attempt at a love triangle.  Tifa is never going to have a chance because of the dramatic need for a happy ending.  

Most industrious: Kate Walker

Syberia is a 2002 adventure game starring erstwhile American lawyer Kate Walker, following her on her trek from rural France across the Eurasian continent.  Her original task is to get a woman's signature for the acquisition of a toy factory; but that bitch is dead and so she embarks on a mission to get the insane older brother's signature, using the train he made his sister build for him.  Needless to say, Kate cannot get paid enough for this shit.
I guess it's the nature of adventure/puzzle games to throw roadblocks at the player character non-stop, but man, Kate does not have it easy out there in what President Clinton once called the "hairy butt-hole of the world."  Despite her natural disinclination towards all things mechanical (she's a woman), she manages to fix a clockwork train, an automaton bandstand, and an airship.  All of this is happening, recall, while her city-slicker boyfriend is calling her about his unfaithfulness  every two seconds.  Kate truly stands as a shining example of modern womanhood.  Or something.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ow, dear God ouch - post-tonsil bleeding emergency

at 2:17 PM
Tuesday night around here was not a pretty siiiiight (/Genie). When you get your tonsils out, they tell you there's about a 3% risk of bleeding about a week post-surgery, if one of your scabs comes off in a weird way or something. For some people the bleeding stops after a gargle with ice water, for others it requires another trip under the knife. I had my tonsils out last week, and am proud to say I'm part of the 3%. The rest of this story isn't really for the soft of stomach.

I woke up around 3 AM for a quick piss. It was one of those late-night zombie walks to the bathroom, the kind you don't even remember happens. As I finished up, I noticed the telltale taste and feel of a trickle of blood down the back of my throat. I thought, fuck me, last thing I need to do is drive to the hospital in the middle of the night. I crossed my fingers in hopes it would die down and got back in bed. With too much blood in my mouth to simply swallow, I turned to the bedside trashcan. A single mouthful blackened that entire heap of tissues - that was about the moment I started to get nervous. I headed back to the bathroom, leaned over the toilet, and watched in distress as my mouth became a running blood faucet. That, of course, was the easy part.

Bleeding from the throat is a piece of cake. A bloody mess, sure, but that's what flushing the toilet is for. It's stopping the bleeding that causes the trouble. Your body, ever helpful, kinda wants to form a blood clot. Now, I say "kinda", because the body is also determined to fight against this. See, when a hunk of coagulated blood starts to form at the back of my tongue, in the exact location where my gag reflex is triggered, I'm gonna have a tendency to gag. As a matter of fact, I can't not gag; my course of action is hardwired, designed to keep my breathing passage clear. So in a horrific situation like Tuesday night, I have two automatic functions battling each other: my blood trying to clot in a lump at the back of my throat, and my throat trying to remain clear of breathing obstructions. The result is an approximately 30-second cycle in which blood spews from my mouth until a clot slowly forms, I choke and gag on the clot until I vomit it forth, I reach back into my throat to drag forth the remaining slimy tendrils of the clot causing me to further gag, and blood begins to spew again. The largest clot I choked out was nearly golf-ball-sized.
In a nutshell, this^
While I was struggling to manage THAT (and struggling not to swallow any more blood than I had to), I also had to get to the bedroom, grab my phone, and call the doctor. They tell you not to call 911 if you have bleeding, but to call the ENT on duty (the E[ar] N[ose] T[throat] is the doc who does tonsillectomies). Of course, they never describe that this is what throat-bleeding entails - I may have been a severe case. I managed to put in a call to the operating service so they could page my doctor, and after about a half hour, he finally got back to me - the operator made some screw up with phone numbers. Aside: massive credit to my ENT, that guy is fantastic. He woke up at 3:30 AM to personally talk me through this, then showed up two hours early at the hospital to fit me in for surgery before his normal full day of surgery began at 9. But I'm jumping ahead.

By the time I had the doc on the phone, the intensity of the bleeding had died down a bit. I was only gagging out clots every two or three minutes. He instructed me to proceed by gargling hydrogen peroxide. If you're lucky, you've never had to put peroxide in your mouth - this is mostly because it's toxic and tastes like pencil lead. I had to pour a full glass of it (mixed with ice water) and gargle through it one mouthful at a time. It turns out that gargling (an activity I already hate with a passion) is even harder when your throat is bearing open wounds and actively bleeding. It also turns out that hydrogen peroxide forms a kind of soapy foam when bubbled, making it completely impossible to avoid tasting, which of course caused further gagging. Between the blood and foam dripping from my lips, I'm sure I was bearing the countenance of one with rabies.

The gargling slowed the bleeding to a manageable level, but I ended up in the ER anyway, where a torturous session of clot suctioning (dragging one of those suction tubes - like the dentist has - across my wounds) thankfully led to sedation, stomach pumping, and emergency cauterization surgery. Again, I can't express enough appreciation to my surgeon for showing up for that, and to my dad too, for coming to pick me up at 5AM to spend his day with me at the hospital.

Today, Friday, I'm feeling back to normal (that is, pre-throat-bleeding normal, which is still post-tonsillectomy normal, which is crappy), so I thought it would be fun to share my nasty little story. Next week is probably gonna be quiet here, because I don't have any posts at the ready - I was expecting to be healthy again. But when I do get back to it, I'll regale you with tales of all the games I've finished while I've been out of work! Check out this list: Sleeping Dogs, SMB3: Warioland, Mutant Mudds, and Darksiders. Hm, I actually thought it was more than that. Oh well, still a lot!