Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Learning to love traditional JRPGs (A revisitation)

at 8:41 PM
Learning to love traditional JRPGs originally ran on April 24th, 2013.

One of my newest video game friends, Retro Game Challenge, has taught me a lesson I didn't expect to learn. This lesson is that maybe I can like traditional turn-based JRPG?
One of my favorite Japanese turn-based RPGs is Star Prince
Challenge is structured as a literary anthology of eight fictional '80s-styled games, each deriving heavily from a real-world classic. See this post for more discussion of the overarching narrative that explains why you're playing them. The games are presented one at a time, each with four challenges that must be completed  before the next game is revealed. Each unlocked game can be revisited at will, as the challenges usually do not include seeing the ending. The eight retro games, in order of play, are:

Cosmic Gate (based on Galaga, ex. challenge: get 200,000 pts)
Robot Ninja Haggleman (based on Ninja JaJaMaru-Kun, ex. challenge: beat level 4 without dying)
Rally King (based on R.C. Pro-Am (I think), ex. challenge: complete course 2 in 5th place or higher)
Star Prince (based on Star Force/Star Soldier, ex. challenge: beat the boss of level 2)
Rally King SP (modified "special edition" of Rally King)
Robot Ninja Haggleman 2 (very similar to RNH, with larger levels and harder enemies)
Guadia Quest (based on Dragon Warrior, ex. challenge: reach level 10 with all characters)
Robot Ninja Haggleman 3 (based on Castlevania II/Ninja Gaiden, ex. challenge: kill 100 enemies)

These capture the most popular genres of NES-era gaming, as well as some of their key evolutions. Star Prince introduces scrolling to shoot-'em-ups, Haggleman 3 adds linear progression (instead of looping) to platforming, and Rally King SP adds nothing at all to Rally King. As I discussed in the previous feature, being forced to play each game for a certain amount of time (long enough to complete the challenges) makes the new games feel like exactly that: new games. Even players coming into Challenge without existing knowledge of what's to come will be primed on the "upcoming" releases by the fake in-game Famitsu/Nintendo Power pastiche, creating a sense of anticipation.

To this end, the game I most avidly awaited was of course the last to be unlocked, Haggleman 3. The first two Hagglemans are too basic for my taste; as arcade-style platformers, they share more in common with Son-Son or Mario Bros. than what we now consider the defining work of the genre, Super Mario Bros. Plus I fucking love adventure platformers like Castlevania II and Wonder Boy III. Unfortunately, what I do not love is traditional turn-based RPGs like Final FantasyDragon Warrior, and Ultima III. I've tried to weather a number of these games and simply don't have the patience for it, nor do I derive much pleasure from incessant turn-based battling. But Retro Game Challenge gave me no choice: if I wanted to play Haggleman 3, I was going to have to stomach at least a few hours of Guadia Quest

What's shocking is that this dangling carrot was all I needed to become engaged in Guadia Quest, to the extent that I didn't even put it down after unlocking Haggleman 3. Up til that point, I had been playing Challenge as a curiosity, not because I particularly needed a refresher on retro gaming - I already play NES games on a near-daily basis. I wasn't expecting to come away with any greater understanding or appreciation of these game-types - after all, I hold games from the '80s in equally high esteem as those from the '10s. So it came as something of a surprise that an archetype I had already felt decided upon would take on new life in this form. But has Guadia Quest really changed my feelings on early JRPGs? Does enjoying this one mean  I'll suddenly be able to plumb new depths of Breath of Fire and Phantasy Star?
One of the coolest parts of Retro Game Challenge is that it includes full manuals for these fictional "classics"
I suppose first we need to ask how much Guadia Quest actually has in common with the classics - how well it would fit were it released in 1988, as Challenge posits it was. I'm not gonna run through the JRPG trope list in detail - let's just quickly summarize. These games feature quests to save the world, over-worlds full of random battles, towns as shelter/restocking/healing/save points, maze-like enemy-filled boss-topped dungeons as levels, turn-based battles, rigid immutable class systems and character growth, and Java+++ scripting language. Guadia Quest happily ticks all those boxes. Fixed-strength encounters communicate to the player what party level they should be at to conquer each location, experience and gold is scaled to battle difficulty such that tougher victories are better rewarded, and there's even a very light monster capturing system. Save-anywhere is a convenient feature NOT found in most of the classics, though save states are so common these days that it doesn't feel unusual to a retro-player in 2013. The difficulty curve is steep, with frequent death leading to multiple replays of each section. The player's party is made up of a warrior-type (high attack, no magic), a paladin (moderate attack and healing/defensive spells), and a black mage (low attack/defense, powerful offsensive spells), which is about the most basic assortment known to man. Implied die rolls decide whether each attack hits, criticals, or misses. 
"A", "B", and "Z". Boy this guy was creative with his character names. Mine were "You", "Womp", and "Yaky"
If Guadia Quest makes significant modifications to the JRPG formula, I don't know the formula well enough to notice. So it's not the gameplay itself that made the difference. It has to be something about the circumstances that led me to like this RPG yet reject Phantasy Star IV - and that's intentionally "like", not "tolerate". I think it's one particular sequence of challenges that changed the way I approached the game. The first is to reach Level 10 with each party member, a simple task of grinding as familiar to a gamer as the neckbeard on their chinny chin chin. This facilitates a sort of aimless, goalless wandering, where it doesn't really matter where you go or what you see, because you're always getting closer to your goal. There is some freedom of choice in that the player can try to survive a handful of high-level encounters or safely power through dozens of easier ones, but the goal remains abstract. It doesn't really matter which way you go.

The following challenge requires the player to obtain 1000 gold. As each battle comes with a monetary reward, this at first seems the exact same as the previous objective. But this treasure-hunt in fact highlights the adventurous nature of the genre, reminding me more of Dark Souls than Final Fantasy V. The need for greater rewards than victory-pennies (I think that was a kenning!) centers the experience around defying immediate danger in order to make it as far as possible on individual expeditions, always trying to make one more step on failing legs rather than giving up your progress by using a town portal. La-Mulana was another adventure that kindled this same spirit; the notion that powering up cannot in and of itself be an end. The difference between this type of play and run-of-the-mill grinding is that each quest for treasure has its own binary metric of success: you either find the gold, or you don't. There's no in-between, no reward for making it halfway. It brings life, purpose, and risk to each step forward. "Can I make it across the room without running into a random battle?" "Is it worth setting myself back 500 gold to get better equipment to survive deeper into the dungeons?" Like Dark Souls, there's a weight to failure - continue to screw up, and you're going to be sinking more and more gold into revival and healing items, which pulls you further and further from your goal. There's also an exhaustibility to rewards - you can't collect the same treasure chest twice, so you have to forge on to new territory.

I'm honestly not sure how well this immediacy will be preserved when I inevitably retry a classic I had previously dismissed (probably gonna be Phantasy Star III). True, it's simply a matter of mindset and didn't involve any real change to gameplay, but I was also being externally motivated to think that way. If I had a blog, you might be able to follow how well this experiment goes. Unfortunately, I don't :(

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Right is Right: In defense of the Sacred institution of right-only scrolling (A revisitation)

at 7:52 PM
As the holidays approach, we'll be seeing the typical down time around GNG. In the past I've handled down time with dead air and a pointer to the archives, but considering our extensive history of poorly-wrought material, I've decided to try a new technique: reruns. Hopefully the unearthing of these godforsaken aberrations doesn't give birth to a sort of Lovecraftian apocalypse as mankind is slowly unraveled by their primeval horror. Either way, enjoy!

Right is Right: In defense of the Sacred institution of right-only scrolling originally ran on March 19, 2013

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 AdventureMega Man 2Sonic 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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wild Guns - SNES' answer to Resident Evil 4?

at 5:11 PM
I like Wild Guns. Do you?


That response worked regardless of whether you said yes or no. Who writes this damn blog? SmarterChild?

Wild Guns, along with CabalBlood Bros., and NAM-1975, belongs to a small niche of late-'80s/early-'90s Japanese third-person shooters. They are, to some degree, simply vertical shoot-'em-ups with an inclined viewing angle. Take Galaga, slide the camera back behind the ship to look over its "shoulder", force the player to aim along the Y-axis as well as the X, and you've pretty much got Wild Guns. It's no surprise that the originator of the style appears to be the arcade Contra's variety missions.

There aren't a ton of these games, as their first-person shooting gallery cousins like Operation Wolf and later light gun games like Time Crisis and House of the Dead were far more popular, but they set an interesting precedent for third-person shooters - a precedent which went largely unobserved but for a few modern Japanese games. It's no revelation to learn that arcade-style gallery games have gone out of fashion alongside rail-based shooters of the Star Fox 64 and Panorama Cotton variety in favor of modern Western first- and third-person multiplayer and cover shooters. These days the classic shmup and the twin-axis shooter couldn't be farther apart, but back in the days of Wild Guns they were very nearly the same thing.

One of the perceived flaws of the arcade third-person shooter is that the style is inherently limited and died out simply because it had reached its maximum potential. In accordance with that understanding, such games are often referred to as "Cabal clones", evidencing the opinion that they never evolved past that seminal classic. I say this is bullshit. Beyond a personal distaste for proclaimed limits, there's a very simple response to this defeatist attitude: Sin & Punishment. Not only does Sin & Punishment take over-the-shoulder shooting and dodging to the next level, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor pushes it even further. It comes as no surprise that Treasure would be the ones to wring blood from this stone, but it's asinine to suggest that they're the only developers capable of expanding upon Cabal and Wild Guns' gameplay.

More interestingly, I think Wild Guns is a sort of secret predecessor to the arcadey Japanese third-person shooters that we don't see often enough today (if anyone knows another game like Vanquish or P.N.03, please call me on the phone immediately). There's an interesting little detail to Wild Guns that subtly expands the game's sense of realism and helps it leap-frog over other shooters into the true third-person shooting field ("true" in the sense of "not a rail-shooter"): the environment is wider that the screen and the camera is in the player's control. It may seem trivial, but this gives the player the ability to explore - they can choose what to look at, they can miss out on things, and they can strategically position themselves within the enviroment, not just on the screen. Even games like NAM-1975 and Sin & Punishment which introduce humongous contiguous journeys into the arcade over-the-shoulder shooter still rigidly auto-scroll, preserving the notion of the screen as the playing field. By handing camera control to the player and offering just that tiny bit of exploration, Wild Guns creates an experience uncannily reminiscent of a fetal Resident Evil 4 or Vanquish.

If you like scrolling shooters, fast paced over-the-shoulder action, or rail-shmups like Star Fox, I can't strongly enough encourage you to go check out Wild Guns (on Virtual Console or... other platforms). If you haven't played it in a while, give it another go, this time thinking less about Contra, Gradius, and Cabal, and more about Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War

Thursday, November 21, 2013

John Dies at the End of This Review (I hope that joke hasn't been done before)

at 7:30 PM

Unlike Andrew, I watched John Dies at the Movies but did not read the book, because I am not a loser. I would say definitely watch if you enjoyed the book, and I also recommend it to anyone looking for contemporary scifi, genre comedy, or the kind of action/fantasy/horror/adventure-fun that they just don't make anymore (probably - except for this movie I guess). While JDatE didn't blow by head out of the water, it did make me nostalgic for days (when I was like 3 or not even born) of movies like Army of Darkness, Adventures in Babysitting, and Gremlins 2

The more detailed review is that it is from Don "Phantasm" Coscarelli, filmed on a shoe"laces"string budget. If you know Phantasm, you probably already know whether you want to see this movie (or, more likely, have already seen it). Wongburger's source book provides a number of decent jokes and kooky characters (the eponymous John "Dies at the End" Cheese being a particular favorite), but it's the bizarre atmosphere and trippy twists that keep the film moving moreso than the haphazard punchlines. Perhaps the same is true of the novel and this is simply a case of a perfect matching of director and script - either way, it feels like a natural continuation of what I know of Coscarelli (I've seen the first two Phans Tasm). Interestingly enough, Costco manages to wrangle together both his acid-nightmare storytelling impatience of Phantasm and the everyone's-holding-a-gun-yet-there's-never-any-action apocalyptic tension of Phantasm II for a story that's disorienting in bursts but never gets out of hand. The movie is somehow both meanderingly philosophical and frantically time-shifting, probably due to the use of a frame story and drugs. Not probably, I'm saying it is because of those things. I just worded it wrong - probably due to the use of a frame story and drugs.

As a B-movie aficionado, it pains me to complain about effects, but it's impossible to ignore the overbearing truth that (what I assume was) the scope of Wongburger's novel was simply not in the studio's budget. Kudos for the attempt to bring Korrok the unspeakable Lovecraftian abomination to life, but the heroes' final showdown with the demonic god was so painfully green-screened and the practical explosions so penny-pinchingly meager that the film's climax felt light-years out of its league, more like an SNL (or Agents of Cracked!) parody than a feature film. I don't really know the solution to this problem - switch to animation? stock footage? shaky cam? but what we got took me severely out of the movie at what is ostensibly the most crucial moment. Luckily the rest of the movie works well enough at a small Phantasm-esque scale that it didn't really need this action climax to sell. 

That's what's nice about John Dies at the End though - you can take it seriously. It's not a cartoon horror comedy like Evil Dead 2, wherein scares are alternated with laughs to keep you guessing, nor is it a straight-up black comedy like V/H/S, where everything is pretty horrifying but the audience takes pleasure in utterly despising every human onscreen and watching them earn their justice hurts. JDatE is just an adventure through an extremely strange world, taken alongside protagonists ready for strangeness. The weirdness (like a dried-meats golem and a fighting detachable mustache) is plain expected and isn't played with a trombone effect for a joke. The characters' cynicism, exasperation, and wit parallel our own reactions to the mundane world. It's reminiscent of Jossy Whedon's Buffy/Angel, which bring's me to a shocking point...

The one guy looks so much like David Boreanaz that why not just cast David Boreanaz. Was he described in the book as Angel Jr.? And while we're on actors, everyone was pretty good, though I don't know who to blame for the weirdness of Wongburger's character - he changes so drastically throughout the course of the film from solemn know-it-all to disturbed denier to snarky comebacker that I can only imagine it was a problem with adapting a 100 (200?) page novel into a <2 hour movie. The guy did a great job looking like he was on drugs though. Talk about someone who looks like he's bugging out at all times. The "known" actors were fine - Paul Giamatti doesn't do anything for me, if anything he's kinda a distraction by being too famous for this movie. Clancy Brown, on the other hand, gives a delightful turn as the kind of character that only the villain from Highlander/Raiden/Mr. Krabs/Sgt. Zim could provide.

Were there any women in the movie? Sorry, I shouldn't be reviewing a movie I saw 6+ months ago, as I suppose this question reveals. Just doing it because of the reason of yesterday's TBA. Movies without female characters are racist and I cannot in good conscience recommend them. I'm probably just forgetting the female lead though. That's a testament to the strength of the role. No hang on it's probably just a testament to me being racist but hang on I'm gonna blame that on society so we're all good, movie still totally recommendable. Society, on the other hand: ONE OUT OF FIVE STARS.

In conclusion, David Wongburger and Don Coscarelli are a fun and entertaining team that I hope once again come together to bring the sequel (This Book is Full of Spiders, I think) to the big screen. Hell knows I ain't readin' no pansy-ass book. I would certainly watch a TV series about The Adventures of Wongburger and Cheese with Clancy Brown as a recurring Macaroni, and considering this movie was probably lower budget than most episodes of Game of Thrones, someone should make that happen. I officially bestow my creative blessing on that idea. Go hence and make it so. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tiny Book Assessments: Part Deux

at 6:03 PM

My reading queue these past months has been quite a bizarre mix of "classics" I, for some reason, decided needed revisiting. It's safe to say I've reached a point in my life distant enough from high school English class where a novel's position either within or outside the literature bubble does little to the odds I pick it up, save for my merely knowing it exists. I, as discussed somewhat meandering-ly in this post (link post [Editor's note: u dont tell me wat 2 do (author's note: i'm not spending the time it takes to find an old post. can you even sort by author on blogger??!?)), am a firm opponent of any high/low culture divide; that being said, the sheer tonnage of crap that exists out there disguised behind three-thumbs up San Antonio Report reviews means that going to the classics is a better bet than reading well-reviewed more recent novels. It makes a certain amount of sense: being considered a classic is not a guarantee that I will find the book well-written, filled with interesting ideas, or artistically fulfilling, but the fact that it has survived a noticeably longer span of time without becoming culturally irrelevant probably means there's a better chance it is some of those things. Man, it feels pretentious as hell to review these first two everything intelligent to say about them hasn't already been said. Oh well this blog has to be filled with something, right?

I picked John Dies at the End from the reviewable heap probably more as an oddly appealing juxtaposition to the other two earlier works: each of the earlier having well-known themes of war and disillusionment, while JDatE navigates questions of grotesque monstrosities and zombie dogs.

Here's a link to JDatE online:

And awayyyy weeee gooooooooo

Slaughterhouse 5

"Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

Mr. Kurt "Cobain" Vonnegut has apparently written a number of novels about the Dresden firebombing, but Slaughterhouse 5 is the most famous and probably the only one I'll ever read. I wanted very much to love this book, but ended up only liking it. So much of it is brilliant satire, but a good bit of it falls say all of the parts where Billy Pilgrim interacts with aliens. The central time travel conceit works well: the details of Pilgrim's life are fleshed-out non-linearly as the central and horrifying story of his march towards Dresden plays out. But Vonnegut really beats you over the head with his ideas about fatalism and freewill, or lack thereof, whenever Pilgrim is hanging with the aliens. It's pretty rough going for anyone that has ever spent more than 10 seconds contemplating these VERY basic philosophical concepts.

Where Vonnegut clearly shines is his portrayal of war and the comical personalities therein. A history professor who dismisses Billy's account of the firebombing for something more heroic. A 16 year old German boy put in charge of guarding the US POWs because all the grown men are dead, and who is a distant cousin of Billy's. An officer who considers himself the leader of the beaten prisoners, refers to himself as "wild Bob," and who doesn't seem to realize what war he is in, only that his soldiers know they can always call on him if they happen across his Wyoming home.

When Slaughterhouse shines, it shines as a biting anti-war satire. 

The Sun Also Rises

"You'll lose it, if you talk about it.”

Hemingway's best novel and his most endlessly readable, The Sun Also Rises struck me viscerally as it followed the author's literary manifestation of himself from life in Paris as an ex-pat, to the Spanish countryside to Madrid for the running of the bulls. The novel does a great job of capturing the American zeitgeist of the time despite being set abroad: the contrast between the few American characters and their various European settings highlights Hemingway's love for his home despite his fleeing it following the First World War.

Midway writing the previous paragraph, thinking about why the book was so appealing to me and others I've talked to around my age that have read it, a thought hit me: maybe the book's contemplation of the so-called Lost Generation is striking because that generation and my own, generation Y, share a number of similarities that would make themes like traditional masculinity, inherited versus earned wealth, addiction, and changing moral paradigms resonate with both groups. A quick google search reveals that this is not as novel a thought as I would hope. But I arrived at it independently! Hoorah!

And I think the fact that the story of a group of younger people traveling and drinking and at the same time trying to cope with or run away from severely emotionally crippling problems makes sense to me is not surprising. But Hemingway's combination of clarity and subtlety, and his appeal, in the end, to values I agree with make the novel one of my absolute favorites.

John Dies at the End

“Something coming back from the dead was almost always bad news. Movies taught me that. For every one Jesus you get a million zombies.”

This one is from a Cracked guy, right? I'm pretty sure that's the case. I am neither a particularly avid horror fan nor a Cracked fan (5 Crazy Ways that Rotten Hot Dogs have Influenced Science Throughout History!!!!?!?) but if I recall correctly this was recommended to me on Google Play and I needed something to read. I admire David Wong's fearless descent into nonsensical gore and violence while retaining enough emotional realism so that the reader is creeped out along with the characters. The novel is broken into 3 interwoven but distinct stories, with a fairly throwaway frame narrative in between, which do a nice job of pacing a story that, if told in one chunk, would blow its proverbial insanity wad much too early to last more than one hundred pages. The world is populated by flesh-eating spiders, shadow men, and villains like "shitload," a body swapping insect-swarm monster that delivers only nut-shots, and Korrok, a divine world-destroyer whose physical manifestation in an alternate reality the hero describes as "the mass of grease and hair washed by years of filthy dishwater." Wong does a nice job of keeping the showdowns varied and the plot moving at a blistering pace in order to avoid the reader thinking about how idiotic some of the jokes are.

I haven't seen this.
So there we have it! Keep reading, or don't!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Zelda II: Biting into a cake and getting steak

at 7:24 PM

Before I get to Zelda II, let me reiterate and slightly refine my now-world-renowned Zelda-Cake metaphor. If we think of the Legend of Zelda series as a sequence of delightful birthday cakes, each game can be viewed as a composition of two collaborating components: a coating of icing that provides an initial impression and a strong burst of flavor to each bite, and a stack of cakey layers that props up the structure, fills us up, and leaves a delicious lasting impression. Zelda stirs all of its familiar elements into the icing - its flavor holds promises as broad as ancient worlds and coming of age stories, and as specific as labyrinthine dungeons and characteristic modes of travel. What makes the series so spectacular is that we never know what's going to lie beneath that icing - will there be layers of high seas pirate adventure, post-apocalyptic nightmare, or somber love story? Perhaps all those things and more? And whatever the cake layers are, we know they'll be that much more delicious topped with our favorite flavor of frosting. Of course, the weaker games in the series are weaker exactly because they don't surprise us with the cake - they've still got that tried-and-true icing, but they're meager on the layers or reuse old ones, maybe throwing a few sprinkles or sparklers on top (better graphics, motion controls) to make us feel like we're playing something new. The cake is still good because we love the topping, but it's inevitably disappointing without any underlying originality. To be clear, there are very few Zelda games I feel fall into this latter category - mainly handheld games and the disappointment that was Twilight Princess.

The icing itself has evolved significantly over time, as one would expect any franchise traditions to build and develop. A recipe that once dictated little more than a green suit and cap has now been supplemented with duality of worlds, musical instruments, annoying-ass companions, elemental pantheons, and much more. It started as "chocolate", now it's something like "hazelnut elderberry mocha-choco bourbon lavender frappuccino-rita". There are definitely some elements of bloat clotting the concoction (though the upcoming Link Between Worlds looks like it might be exactly the game to cut through the chaff), but right now I want to point the camera at the very origins of the formula: Zelda II: The Links of Adventure.

What's the deal with "icing" vs. "frosting"? Amirite? Ha ha ha! The zings just don't stop! No one says "frosting", I guess that's the deal.

Even by its creators, Zelda II is typically thought of as a mostly frosting-free game (hey it's worth using the less common word for alliteration's sake... though sometimes I feel like I alliterate way too much. I'm not SeƱor Seuss here), or, that is to say, largely a tangent. With only one example to build from, it wasn't yet clear which were the definitive elements of The Legend of Zelda (game) and which would be desirably repeatable elements of The Legend of Zelda (series). Zelda was just a... thing, a flavor, and it was up to the sequels to turn that flavor into a permutable recipe. In just about every sense, Zelda II is a far better game than its predecessor (not only does it not blow, it's outright awesome), but as a Zelda game it goes down decidedly funny. It's kinda like those bullshit foods out there these days like chocolate-covered bacon or cheese sandwiches with strawberry sauce. Sure it tastes awesome, but what the fuck, man?

Zelda II is - in retrospect - pretty comically adventurous with its interpretation of Zelda I. Needless to say, the biggest misjudgment Nintendo and Co. made was in gauging Zelda's action as more fundamental than its adventure - but that's not to say combat wasn't a huge element of Zelda all along. The original Zelda gets plenty of credit for being hard as shit, but most of that attention is lavished on the obtuse and obnoxious puzzles oriented around decrypting hints and standing in specific places while committing specific actions. The silent other half of what makes the game hard is that you have to stay alive through enough Fuckrobes to even get a chance to guess-and-check your way through the puzzles. At the time the challenge was a pretty even split, despite the course of history which saw the series' focus shift to expanding and innovating the adventure and exploration over combat.

So what Zelda II does is give a little nod to the adventure elements of its mom while constructing a layered experience built upon hardcore platforming, risk/reward role-playing, and action combat featuring an expanding array of combat techniques, ammo/health management, and learning the nuances of individual mini-boss enemies and rooms. It treats the puzzle-item collection, dungeon discovery, and hint-decryption as the formative elements of the Zelda icing - these are elements that are recycled (or even simplified) from the first game, not particularly expanded or rebuilt from scratch, not expected to form a core gameplay experience. They're just a bit of color, the little touches that make the game Zelda. That is the recipe of Zelda II: action-combat role-playing as the core cake layers and a bit of adventuring and maze-solution spread on top. Not too crazy when you think about it like that.

What makes Zelda II strange in context is that this cake is not what anyone was expecting or wanted, and in retrospect it's particularly dissimilar to all the other series cakes - not to mention it has the thinnest icing. Later Zelda games would go way higher concept with the core layers (look at something like Majora's Mask with its time travel, transformation, and collection), so the Dark Souls-esque Zelda II seems bitterly hardcore and technical in hindsight. In foresight (?), what Nintendo apparently missed was that the original Zelda succeeded in spite of its combat - it was (apparently - not in this guy's admittedly controversial and hella edgy opinion) such a great adventure that people were willing to put up with the extremely awkward unresponsive four-directional bump-fest that is Link vs. the World. They didn't want a game that focused on better combat, or at least, not at the cost of adventuring scope. The Legend of Zelda with Fixed Action would eventually come to be in the form of A Link to the Past, widely acknowledged as one of the series' best, but Zelda II is a game no one was asking for - The Legend of Zelda with Great Action and Watered Down Link's Adventure. It's the equivalent of ordering a slice of devil's food cake and receiving a filet mignon with chocolate icing. Delicious, sure, but at the time disappointing. In the grand scheme of things though, you're not going to compare it to the other cake you've had, you'll compare it to the other steak. Thus, Zelda II deserves its rightful place at the head of NES action-RPGs, adventure platformers, and as a particularly interesting case study in early 2D melee action combat. And hey, I'm not going to complain about getting steak for dessert.

Monday, November 18, 2013

I just found out Ogre Battle is a song

at 5:54 PM

wait no i didn't i already knew

Friday, November 15, 2013

Musicommendation: Laika & the Cosmonauts

at 4:30 PM
If you're playing XCOM: Enemy Within this week (and who isn't (me for one - haven't had time)), I'm sure you're desperate for some great future-surf to replace the game's nearly non-existent ("scary") soundtrack. For the original game I found Man or Astro-Man? to be the perfect complement, with their array of pumping guitar riffs, eerie electronic effects, cheesy B-movie quips, and MST3K theme songs. Hanging around the same tree farm as MOAM one might find Finlanders Laika & the Cosmonauts, who I'm here to tell you about today.

Now I know what you're saying to yourself. "Wait on a second - Finland? Isn't that the world's musical toilet? The country where they listen to this kind of music?" (that band I linked is Norwegian, but apparently you're a racist who thinks all Scandinavians are the same - a fair enough conflation). But this ain't no cringe-inducing "folk-metal" dreck, nor is it "viking-metal" human waste, nor even "pagan-war-funeral-metal" I'm not even making these terms up. Laika & her Cosmonautic Buddies are a group of very small instrumental surf rockers who incorporate some sweet elements of awesomeness into their music. Honestly I'm not going to describe it. I'm no master of the musical vernacular and you can listen to a song in the same time as you can read a heavily-cribbed-from-AllMusic paragraph. 

My biggest problem with a lot of older surf rock like Dick Dale and the Ventures is that it's like a boring single guitar line that doesn't feel like a song. Thus '80s/'90s covers of surf classics which fill out the mix with multiple leads and neato-FX tend to be light-years more enjoyable than the originals. Luckily Laika is on par with their latter-day contemporaries - their songs are deep, layered, and full-bodied, like a voluminous head of hair using Head & Shoulders, now with conditioning action.

I realize the other #1 ranked shortcoming of surf rock is its tendency toward repetition, but with covers like Laika's of the Pygmies' "Don't Monkey with Tarzan", who could ask for more? 

Anyway, the "unoriginal genre" complaint is a "labels are stupid" problem, not a problem with the music itself. It's like when Greg L. told me Sin & Punishment couldn't be an arcade third-person shooter because it's "too clever". That's an inherent bias against the label, the same as when the Dead Kennedys or Secret Chiefs 3 are excluded from surf rock because they're "too unique". So are the Beatles not pop because they're "too crappy"? Bob Dylan not folk because he's "too revolutionary"? I think people forget that genres are adjectives that lend partial description to artists and works, not boxes that fully contain them. Some genres are more precise than others - obviously "surf rock" has a more specific meaning than "blues" and thus boxes in less bands. That doesn't mean it's limiting, it just means there's plenty of room to build music upon the basis of surf rock. 

Good tangent. Anyway - I highly demand you grab at least Surfs You Right from your local music repositorium. It surfs you write!!!!!!!! If you like guitars, rock, music, things to listen to, sound, or "Sloop John B", Laika & the Cosmonauts is indeed the band for you!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who the HELL is the audience for a console review?

at 8:18 PM

First let me clarify that I have no intention to shit on people who're excited for the PS4, who've been hyping it for weeks and are maybe even lining up for a midnight launch. I get that. People get pumped for the technology, but more importantly, for being on the forefront of the new wave. Getting a console at launch is like seeing a band live or catching a movie in the theater - it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a chance to be part of history. You get to say "I was the first" and "I was there". That's certainly been overdone in recent years (what doesn't have a midnight launch these days - it's pretty embarrassing that people are lining up for phones that they replace after just a few months), but console launches are still a deservedly big deal. Whether or not there's reason to be excited for this generation, it's still the first new dedicated home gaming hardware to arrive in seven years (sorry Wii U, but... well, Wii U is the one that should be apologizing to me). It's like, even if the movie is A Good Day to Die Hard, there's still an experience to be had going to see Die Hard in the theater. So the community buzz over PS4 (and to a much lesser extent, Xbox One) doesn't bug me one bit. In fact, it somewhat hearkens back to the days when I was actually excited for Gamecube and Wii.

But is it really necessary for the mainstream gaming media to rape that excitement by "reviewing" the PS4 and every last console, device, operating system, interface update, and portable on the market? Does the word "platform" mean anything to anyone anymore? I understand the point of reviewing something like an iPad SG-1, as the core functionality of the device is going to be essentially identical to every other tablet, as every tablet is essentially identical, as tablets are essentially pointless. For electronic devices like phones, tablets, phonelets (hey, I learned recently that's a real thing and totally not a joke word), MP3 players, USB sticks, watches, and coffee cups that come with a defined, boxed functionality, the devil is in the details. Reviews make sense. They are based around the fact that all of those devices support the same software and functionality, differing only in form factor, performance, and interfaces. Want to use Facebook and play MP3s? Any smartphone can, but a review can tell you which can do so best.

A console is a platform for video game software. It plays only video games specific to it. Therefore, its entire worth is derived by what video games are available for it - none of the details are comparable to the details of other consoles, because - unless you're totally game-agnostic - the platforms support different core functionality. SNES and PS4 do not play the same games, so alllllllllllllllll of the other elements of the two systems are incomparable. PS4 has better online? Sweet, doesn't mean I can buy a PS4 and play Super Mario Kart on PSN. SNES has better load times? Awesome! I still can't pop Assassin's Creed 4 into my SNES to take advantage of those lightning-fast cartridge loads.

When an electronic device is reviewed, it's generally done so that the reviewer can provide a purchasing recommendation. "You need this type of device because you don't have anything else that does what it does", or, more often, "buy this particular device over this other similar one". The former really only appears in rare circumstances like the dire tablet outbreak of 2010, when the iPad arrived and performed a role that many felt personal computers had simply been doing too well. So one would expect the same from a console review. It's just that both of these types of evaluations are absurd to perform on day one of a platform's release. The people that want to be on board with the next generation, who are willing to believe this video game console is new and original and more necessary than the last, are the ones I described in my first paragraph - they're in line already. Those waiting to see if the hardware is truly a full generational leap are going to have to wait for software that fully utilizes it. The type that are trying to make a smart PS4 vs. One decision don't even have One reviews for comparison yet, not to mention won't be able to make an informed decision for, oh, say another two or three years, when these platforms actually have any semblance of software libraries. Anyone remember back to 2004 when PSP was declared to be the indisputable champion of the new handheld war? Yeah. Think about how worthwhile console reviews are after that one.

I'm just trying to wrap my head around what kind of person is SO on the fence about getting a new console that they need someone to tell them "go buy it today". If you're that unsure, sounds like you aren't that desperately in need of new games to play. And in that case, why not wait for the inevitable hardware revision and a more expansive software selection? Being unsure about a platform has to be a definitive "no", right? If there's no game you want to play on it, what about the hardware could possibly change your mind? But here comes the gaming media with a product to sell and a paradigm to perpetuate.

Here's a delightful little snippet of sales propaganda that epitomizes everything I detest about the consumerist mentality of the modern gaming medium. GamesRadar, at the end of their review, surmise that despite the lack of recommendable software, Yes, you should go out and buy a PS4, concluding that: "Even if you don't plan on picking up many PS4 games at launch, the system feels like an affordable and worthwhile investment that will do right by early adopters." Let me translate that: "even if there are no games to play on your PS4 and thus it will simply be an expensive paperweight, you should go buy it because you have money, money which would be better off in Sony's wallet than in yours". I mean, seriously - "investment"? Could they have picked a word more diametric to the reality of a video game console? There is NO REASON to buy a console before it has games worth playing - it doesn't accumulate value, it precipitously degrades. This is a marketplace where yearly redesigns are an absolute expectation, price-cuts are bi- or at worst tri-annual, and resale value is virtually null. Recommending consumers buy a console because it'll probably turn out for the best is like telling them to grab the latest iPhone because you're sure Apple's got some great features rolling out in 2016. Like being an "early adopter" possibly could confer any advantage to a console owner. 

What a shining example of the ongoing obsession with boiling everything down to a score or a yes-or-no answer. I understand that we trust journalists to inform us about subjects that we ourselves have not yet touched or cannot reasonably afford to try. But don't we need to draw a line at some point? Aren't we willing to take some risk, have some faith? Trust our own experience a little bit? Have patience, let things pan out? We've been through a lot of rounds of consoles, and there are really only two choices here. If you reach deep down, all the way into your heart's brain's deepest desires, I think you'll find that you're either ready to make the jump or you're not, and that not only will no reviewer change that readiness, but no reviewer is ready to decide for you between PS4 and Xbox One. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What I'm Playing, October '13

at 7:19 PM
In this feature, we commemorate games I have for the first time started and finished in the last few highly variable time units.

Alright gonna blast right through this because I forgot to fill it in at the end of October. Things got hectic with moving week and all.

Special Recognition for Starting and Finishing:

NAM-1975 (NeoGeo)

NAM-1975 belongs to that very small subset of shooting galleries like Wild Guns and Cabal that utilize an onscreen character, aka arcade third-person shooters - a class of games that I love and wish hadn't died after Sin & Punishment. NAM is credited to SNK and strongly reminds me of Metal Slug, though, as Slug was developed six years later by ex-employees of Irem, I doubt the games shared much personnel. Still, they both nail that perfect level of difficulty between reflex and memorization that I've colloquially labeled "fun". It's hard to describe what exactly makes an action game satisfying without just listing what it's not; it's not pure reflex, it's not pure memorization. At the highest level, there's something about learning to recognize certain setups and how enemies will organically and spontaneously interact to create threat patterns, and through failed attempts and experimentation developing high-level strategies to combat those emergent challenges without needing to know exactly what's coming when. To become skilled at the game, you memorize setups and strategies then reflexively identify situations and match them to tactics, rather than memorizing a sequence of spots on the screen to occupy and targets to shoot, or individually processing every single bullet and relying on reflexes for every move.

For instance, in the first level of NAM-1975, there's this water part. I've learned that the highest priority enemies are boats (and if you shoot the boats the riders will die), the second highest are choppers, and the lowest are swimmers. I've learned to dodge roll, not to run, because the angled bullet fire comes in quick bursts. I've learned not to take the Balcan (machine gun) rather than the Flamethrower, because the flamer has too little ammo and leaves me unable to attack the choppers. None of this has anything to do with knowing where to stand on screen, where to aim, or any specific mechanical inputs. It's all strategic data that I've stored in my head that allows me to intelligently structure a reaction to "there's an enemy" and "here comes a bullet".

NAM's got a blazing pace and plenty of variety, but it does fall short when it comes to boss battles. That's really the only reason it'll never threaten Wild Guns and Sin & Punishment 2 for the position of arcade TPS top-dog - every level ends with the same tedious tuck-and-roll fest, as SNK couldn't come up with any cleverer way to crank up the difficulty than to give the bosses super-fast projectiles.

Games Started:

Pokemon Y (Nintendo 3DS)

And the pacing is officially 'off'. It has now been 16 hours, nearly 120 caught Pokemon, and TWO FUCKING GYMS (at approximately the 8th and 14th hour). Y is chugging along SO slowly. Maybe I shouldn't be stopping to smell and catch every last Roselia, but Christ almighty, every time I think we're ready to move to a town that'll have a gym and give me a real battling challenge, yet another filler dungeon is tossed in. Save it, guys! I'm going to be so burned out by the time I get to the Elite Four that you can call me, uh, Flareon.

I know, I know. "It doesn't mean anything that gyms are spaced out, that's a completely arbitrary structure that you're forcing on the game based on past experiences". That's true. What keeps the trainer journey interesting isn't strictly the idea of a Pokemon Gym every two hours, it's the iterative process of collecting new Pokemon, refining your battling squad, and taking on a concentrated challenge - a test - that allows you to pass through to the next stage of the journey. In the past, those challenges have been represented by gyms. Just because gyms are less frequent doesn't mean the challenge/tests have to be... unfortunately, in Pokemon Y, that's exactly what it means. Thus far the only even remotely structured challenges have been the gyms, and even they have been easy as shit. But outside of that the worst you'll ever see are Trainers with three Magikarps that might know Tackle.
If you're asking: "So, are the Pokemon themselves still getting stupider?", let me just point you to Hawlucha.
I dunno, it's too early to say (which is insane, considering it's been 16 hours), but right now this feels like a game that is strictly made for people who enjoy catching Pokemon, not people who enjoy raising and battling them. But I will give them that there are certainly a shitload to catch and some interesting new tricks to the process, like the ever-annoying Horde battles, more spawning subtleties, a way bigger world with (I think) more optional areas (I say "I think" because I've been going everywhere anyway), and other stuff that's frankly kinda boring to bring up. Not bad stuff, just really specific.

Ultima VII (PC)

I'm not gonna do another first impressions of Ultima VII because I've barely played it since I wrote my first first impressions. I actually hate playing PC games for totally arbitrary reasons: if I've never mentioned before, I don't like sitting at my desk and using a mouse and keyboard, since I do that all day at work. Games are my relaxation time, so I like to be able to sit in bed or on the couch - I've never found a great way for this to mesh with mouse/keyboard (and yes I've tried a lap-desk, and no I don't care for it). Moral of the story is that unless I'm REALLY into a PC game or I'm in some life-phase where I have a lot of spare desk-time (like college), I generally stall after a few hours. If you can't guess from my original article, Ultima VII is probably gonna be one of those cases. The game just fans out so fucking much after that concentrated intro, which isn't a bad thing, it's just an "I have other games to play that are better at keeping me involved" thing.

The Witcher (PC)

Kinda same thing applies here as I just said for Ultima. I actually tried lap-desking this one because I like it so much, but the words are too tiny to read on my TV. I will probably chip away tiny hour-long chunks once a month for the next year until I start forgetting to play it. It doesn't help that I'm having some weird performance issues that I can't even describe well enough to search for on Google - my machine runs the game just fine, but when in free camera mode (i.e. anytime outside of combat) the camera jerks upward every few seconds, really breaking my immersion and making it hard to enjoy looking at the world.

One neat thing I was really enjoying was that the first chapter of the game shakes up the traditional hub structure by spreading the adventure field over the exact same area as the town, relegating night to Danger/Combat time and day to Talking time. The entire act is set in this broad village area with some fields and houses interspersed (there's definitely a term for this and if we were closer to my high school European history days I would know it. Virgate? Kenning?), and during the day, everyone is out and about, frolicking around, giving out quests and selling baubles. When night rolls in, the villagers shut their doors and the ghosts come out, and what was formerly the town area becomes the dungeon. It has almost a Zelda-y feel to it, like the way the towns would shut their doors and the spooks would come out when the sun set on Hyrule/Termina/Hyrule field.

Godzilla: Save the Earth (PS2)

Well, Save the Earth gets a lot of free points for being a fighting game that doesn't immediately feel like the three archetypes (Capcom, Mortal Kombat, and Tekken) we have today. I can't think of any fighting game since Tekken 6, and before that since Brawl, that had me up til 6AM just trying out every last character. But Save the Earth's widely varying roster (and that's just the eight characters I've unlocked) did just that. Aside from some rare camera wonkiness, hard-to-pick-up controls, and a far-too-long arcade mode (~1 hour *if* you win all the fights on first try), there's very little to stop the game from being completely enjoyable. That said, this is a model explicitly designed for disposable fun, so it doesn't exactly promise bottomless depth.

There's a very rock-paper-scissors feel to the fights, with each character mostly oriented around ranged, melee, or grappling attacks. Still, such basic core mechanics leave a lot of room for flashy, distinctive quirks to each character. That's kind of the calling card of the party fighter, and it's also exactly what you want in a tribute game.

As fan service, it's stellar. Even as a neophyte I'm impressed by how loyal the game is to the characters' filmic abilities and styles and how well that's worked into the gameplay. Anguirus uses his spiked back instead of blocking, Mecha King Ghidorah absorbs lazers, Mothra starts as a larva and metamorphoses mid-battle into an imago, Rodan flies instead of walking, SpaceGodzilla is totally oriented around telekinesis, etc. It's more strictly tied to what's been established in the movies than the contriving and occasionally straight-up arbitrary Marvel and DC fighters. Of course, kaiju translate really seamlessly into well-balanced one-on-one fights (I hear they made this famous RPG based on them...) so it's only natural that they all have well-defined and corresponding move-sets. Even in the movies, they pretty much each have a special beam attack, each have a special mode of transport, each have a special throw, etc. The only big disappointment for me is that Kiryu (here called Mechagodzilla III) from 2002's Godzilla x Mechagodzilla is completely lacking its signature Gundam-style detachable shoulder/wrist cannons and backpack. What's up with that? That's the whole point of Kiryu. Though it should be noted I haven't seen the movies featuring about a third of the kaiju, so I can't comment on how loyally presented they are.

Volgarr the Viking (Steam)

Actually started this in September but forgot to cover it. Volgarr is like Ghosts n' Goblins for a new era... in that it's a lot like Ghosts n' Goblins. I actually enjoy the core mechanics more than the GnG series (some have said they hearken back to Super Return of the Jedi) and the individual challenges feel more precise and fairly parsed. That is to say, after you've cleared one screen, you won't continue to be flooded from behind by respawning enemies from that territory.

I don't know if there's a lot else to say about it. It's fun - if you're a fan of Sir Arthur, definitely pick it up.

One note - it's a bit obnoxiously old school in a way that most reincarnations of old quarter-eaters aren't - there's no way to save your progress, neither through passwords or save states. Though the full game could probably be toppled in a half hour by a master, you're going to have to master it to that point to reach the end - though there are infinite continues on hand, unless you've got infinite time to pair with them, you'll have to start from the beginning every time you boot up the game. 

Games Finished:

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (XBLA)

A gorgeous finale to a gorgeous game. I love that they managed to make Mizrabel overflowingly cinematic while still retaining the punishing difficulty of the original game's final battle. I'm normally not a fan of talky bosses, as they tend to repeat themselves (The Witcher 2) or distract from the action (Anarchy Reigns), but Sega Australia managed to pace this fight perfectly such that Mizrabel's seamless [flamboyant?] incantation actually makes the rather straightforward platforming boss battle an engrossingly magical moment. I felt like I was playing Fantasia. The voice performance by Nika Futterman as Mizrabel and the crescendoing score by Grant Kirkhope really knock the scene out of the park.

Castle of Illusion immediately joins the ranks of games worth playing just to indulge in audio/visual beauty. I can't think of any game since Baten Kaitos which I have so delighted in witnessing unfold. It's a fun game to be sure, a loving remake to be sure, and even a rare capitalization on the full potential of 2.5D, but what will really stick with me from Castle of Illusion are those menacing saffron storm clouds, the gleaming licorice dragon bursting forth from his swirling river of creams, the orchestral attacks giving way to foreboding tinkling as Mickey was thrown to and fro through watery ruins, and all the other dazzling illusions the castle held. I cannot give a strong enough recommendation for Castle of Illusion, and if you're at all interested in 2D platform design, make sure you check out the original as a companion piece - it sheds a lot of light on just how clever the remake is. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Who sucks more? Mega Man 7

at 4:58 PM

A long time ago I had an interesting idea that Greg and I would present cases for which game was worse, Mega Man 7 or Mega Man 8. After replaying (about half of) and collecting notes on Mega Man 7, it was hard to maintain enthusiasm to carry on with the endeavor, as I wasn't sure I was willing to waste more of my life playing two games I completely hate in the most uneducational way possible. They're just so boringly bad in that all of their failures are the collected failures of all of the previous Mega Men without any mitigating strengths. Mega Man 7 at the very least is the poster child for a game that fails at the conceptual level and is in no regard worth playing by anyone. It is a void of any idea ever. But that's enough sunshines and sunbows - I now present to you my original, real-time notes on Mega Man 7 (with some slight comparisons to 8). I was just going through old documents and noticed these and actually found them kinda funny, so enjoy. If you've played MM7, you'll know what I'm talkin' 'bout. If you haven't, sit back and enjoy the entire experience of the game condensed into about a hundred words. 

a funnyman's game (mettaur joke)
sprites so big it's painful (one enemy on screen at a time)
gimmicks are old as hell (air man, ice man)
lots of colorful characters (bass, auto, etc)
the shop which is the stupidest thing ever
really fucking dumb bosses (cloud man, junk man (dust man ripofff), an ice guy, burt's man, fucking racecar man, slash beast?)
For the first time ever in a Mega Man game, fight Snidely Whiplash!
weapon sequence isn't clear but that's nothing new
both games only do four bosses at a time
elevator sequence in junk man
intro and middle stages
environmental power puzzle - using electricity in junkman
junk man's stage didn't have much going on, no gimmick. it's junk
get stuck in the junk in the boss room

those invincible spinny back and forth enemies that are in every game come up too often
fucking polar bears
you have to find rush powers like in an X game
junk beats ice... of course!
very weak gimmicks, just kind of an amalgam of other similarly themed ones
Rush search is so dumb

the ice cracker fires ice bullets, right?
yes, and the bullets will split when they hit the ground.

bomb puzzles in burst man... again, after mm5 and 6. 8 has the bombs that walk around and those are neat
burst man chemistry - who would ever use beakers that big? someone with a shrink ray.
ground-sticking spinny things you stop by shooting are in every level so far (maybe) and seem to be invincible to most powers
when metools shoot, it makes the sound that wonderboy 3 makes when you swing your sword
got sent back to the beginning of burst man a lot
mega man is at the very top of the screen during the rising portion of burst man


And right there after about five stages is I think where we stopped, or stopped taking notes. That game! I feel confident I won't return to this because I feel confident that there is very little chance I will play Mega Man 7 ever again. Got I hate that game.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cooking is not a science part 2: But it's a lot like engineering

at 5:00 PM
So the other day I went off about how it bugs me when people say cooking is a science because "it has measurements and it's, like, an experiment". Thinking about it some more, I realized that while those arguments don't qualify cuisine as science proper, they actually do put it somewhere in the neighborhood of engineering. Well, not those particular arguments, but the ones to follow. And I think the same mindset.

Again I'm not going to get too formal here because seriously who cares about this shit but I guess engineering is science applied to fulfill a need. To fulfill a requirement, if you will :wink wink: (only engineers should feel the need to pity laugh at that joke). As I mentioned yesterday, really everything we do in life is an application of science because the world is just sweet that way. Typing on this computer is an application of science. Digesting that milk I just drank is an application of science. Tapping my foot is an application of science. But engineering - like medicine - is thorough and in-depth, the key difference from applications like art being the predefined result. 

There is such a thing as success and failure in engineering: meet the need and you've succeeded, fall short and you've failed. You have to keep going until you fulfill the requirement. You can't fail at painting. You can fail to achieve your vision (ah, to be 12 again (ah, to be the author of this blog)), but you've still created a painting. Many of history's great works of art were considered pretty crappy by their authors - if I'm remembering my high school English correctly, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wasn't too happy with the ending on "Faxanadu", but today it's considered one of the best poems and 2D adventure platformers of all-time. This is kind of a big hint that cooking and engineering have something in common - cooking can go terribly, terribly, terribly, terribly, terribly, terribly, beverly hillbilly wrong. "Oh whoops I didn't expect that adding an extra egg would make the oven turn into a goddamn mushroom cloud!" Etc. Key to observe here are two points: the aforediscussed replication aspect of cooking - that much of the work we put even into creating recipes is simply an attempt to recapture a past experience - and that there is a flat line where food simply becomes inedible. 

The latter, that cooking can outright fail to produce food, is something of a non-issue. While it's a valid failure scenario in the execution phase, if you're regularly churning out recipes that are producing inedible products... man, something's wrong, and you've got bigger fish to fry (try not to burn them) than classifying your hobbies.

The other, that effort in cooking can be driven by mimicry, e.g. "I want to create a recipe for a hamburger that tastes just like a Big Mac" (you fuckin' weirdo) we could think of as an example requirement for the cooking process. For those not from the engineering world, a requirement is exactly what it sounds like. It is what the customer tells you a product needs to be.
I guess Dilbert fans know requirements too. Part of engineering is accepting that there are unironic Dilbert fans.
Once you have a requirement, you then apply your scientific and culinary knowledge in an iterative process to hone a recipe as close as possible to meet the need. This is something art doesn't exactly have - we could make all the hilarious jokes we want about requirements being meaningless, imprecise, and airy fairy, but at the end of the day, there is some universally defined specific need that an engineering product is meant to fulfill, a "yes-or-no" process after work is complete to determine whether it succeeded (a test procedure, if you really want to be a dick about it). Likewise, if you are trying to bake dense brownies and the brownies come out not-dense, well, I think we can agree that's a failure. If you're an engineer-cook. If you're an artist-cook, you might take this opportunity to learn that you like not-dense brownies better after all.

And that's what it really comes down to. Completely a personal thing. Whether the cooking process falls into the engineering world really just depends on how requirements-driven you personally feel. Is there an exact end product you are expecting? Will you feel as though you have failed if you do not achieve it? Or are you just trying to make anything unique? For me I know it's the latter, and it's no surprise that, as I said before, I bake to express myself artistically. I'm always trying to make something different without regard for the result. And I can see where many people out there - and most I know - probably find themselves in the first group, holding themselves to higher expectations and pushing themselves by creating more and more challenging goals. It makes a lot of sense that they would compare cooking to engineering.

But, one last time, say it with me: what the hell does any of that have to do with science? You know engineering isn't a science either, right?

Okay. Philosophy 101 routine terminated. Next week it's finally back to video games in the main. 

Well, video games and Gojira. Come on guys! It's still meeEEE!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Gang plays DND

at 6:30 PM
Your favorite members of the blogging team - and also your least favorite member - got together this past weekend with friends, girlfriends, and their girlfriend's weirded-out roommate to play a rousing game of DnD, DM'd by yours truly. Let's start with some quick hits:

1. Yourself brought a real samurai sword to the apartment.
2. Yourself chopped off a lot of dicks.
3. Yourself chopped off in-game ducks.
4. That was a misspelling of dicks but I think it's funny to leave it.
5. We ordered a gigantic pizza. Seriously, thing was comically massive.

And that brings us to what is far too often the least fun part of DnD: actually playing it.

Here's a link to the one-shot we played. It left a lot to be desired, but there's enough to pick and choose from that something reasonably inspired could be cobbled together given the time and inclination. I had one of those.

I liked the idea: a Lovecraftian-horror with a solid mix of city exploration and dungeon crawling. Descriptions were often cringe-inducingly written and the enemies uninspired, though, and there weren't many realistic ways offered for the player characters (PCs) to become involved with the mystery afoot.

The combat was particularly boring, but for a group with 3 (count them, 3) heroes who had never rolled a d20 before (what choices in life have I made that lead me to saying what I just said?) it was probably good that nothing was particularly flashy. DnD combat can be obnoxiously boring if players aren't moving at a reasonable pace, and this is more of a challenge if the folks playing only have a basic conception of the rules, if that. I've been playing for a bit now (seriously, what choices?) and I still couldn't tell you what 5 percent of the spells in the game do with any accuracy. I would have to just make shit up going off the name. Example: Shocking Grasp. Stuns enemies as player quickly takes hold of something with surprising strength. 1d6/caster level. Nailed it?

Ezio provided some killer character sheets, the highlight being a particularly strong set of names. Julius Gumbersnatch, Bjorn Svenson, Edgar Hearthsbane (I'm just getting this joke), and Cecelia Sneakerton (I got this one before) rounded out our cast of heroes, gallivanting the realm heretofore. These names really set up our newbies for their first taste of playing a role. 

Now, role playing well is significantly harder than it seems at first glance; no one is good at it because, like being a quality DM, it takes effort and commitment that most normal human beings don't want to put into a game. Fair enough. But you don't need to be a Thespo-mat 9000, you just have to have the slightest bit of imagination.  The collective storytelling aspect of DnD, the aspect that makes it worthwhile in my mind, is only as good as the creativity each person brings to the greasy, sticky table. Typically players dream up a character fantastic and alien in some way to themselves. But ultimately, in my experience, it's too easy to slip back into playing yourself: that is, making decisions as they seem logical to you, the player, rather than the character you've invented. It makes sense. It's hard as hell to make difficult decisions thrown at you in the game without the added mental screen of pretending to be someone else entirely. It takes a couple serious doses of imagination and a spoonful of human empathy to do this realistically for any length of time. It would be like continuously doing improv in character. Which is why my preferred method, one I'll term "degrees of Andrew M," is to draw from aspects of your personality but not rely on its entirety as a crutch. I won't pretend I can put myself in the shoes of the female rogue with attitude!! but I sure as hell can play the fitness-nut cleric who sins despite his faith, or the hard-drinking but loyal knight-errant. 

Maybe I'll actually get around to writing a decent one-shot. If I do, I'll post it here! In the meantime I found the whole 2003 Star Wars: Clone Wars on youtube!

Yourself here! Just thought I would add the ending that our particular party experienced upon confronting "The Horror at Dagger Rock", as I later related it to a DnD-vet friend. It would help if Andrew had remembered to mention that my character was named Rupert. Anyway, it went something like this....
[wavy shimmering effect, fade to black]

-The Bride of Dagon bursts forth from the water, towering over the disorderly adventurers. She screeches: "Who dares enter the domain of Dagon?"
-At the prodding of Rupert the Cleric, Bjorn the Barbarian hurls a dick in her general direction, missing wide right.
-The Bride of Dagon stares on with menacing impatience, waiting for the answer to her question.
-Irritated with Bjorn's inability to roll a fucking die, Rupert empties his gold pouch onto the floor and fills the sack with ten dicks. He swings it around his head, but it slips from his hand and slams into the wall behind the party with a sickening squelch.
-The Bride of Dagon, furious at this insolence, casts Mind Control on the entire party.
-After a momentary struggle, the adventurers find themselves feeling warmly toward the Bride, even seeing in her a sort of maternal figure.
-The Bride of Dagon commands the adventurers to join in the ceremony of worship taking place beside her resting pool.
-The adventurers don the indicated ceremonial robes and join the cultists in their ritual.