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7:22 PM on 09.09.2008

Roger Ebert Is Not Your Enemy

This is written in direct response to Chad's most recent article. Unfortunately, I seem completely unable to comment at all. So, I figured I'd spew my unpopular opinions on here instead.

I see the 'turgid videogame anonymity' reference as just a way of pinpointing the exact nature of the critic's issue with the film. I believe most nongamers find the amount of action in popular games to be repetitive, drawn out, and lacking in specificity. And I think it's disingenuous to deny them their honest opinion. Sure, you can quote some more artistic games that they haven't factored in as a rejoinder but even most gamers haven't played those. So, their ignorance isn't an aberration, it's the standard. For his audience, primarily nongamers, it's a great analogy. They all get it. You disagree because you aren't his audience and you wish he wouldn't honestly express his opinions of your medium because you do know more about it than him. So, to you, of course, they're all being short sighted but what are you going to do? Force them to play Shadow of the Colossus. No, we write another call to arms or "you're doing it wrong, movie critics" piece to put off any real action. Pondering why so many people view video games the way they do, that's more worthy of our time. Is it because the vast majority of games reinforce that attitude immensely and the ones who don't sell poorly and garner little attention? Is it because we view shorter and more accessible games with suspicion and/or contempt? And so on.

I also think it's kinda pathetic that everyone keeps commenting on these critics. I mean, don't you see the contradiction there? We keep saying "oh, those fools, when will they ever understand?" over and over again thus making their effect on the world as a whole so much larger than it really is. Epic Movie's and other films of its quality are brought up to denigrate the movie industry but its success also shows that your common every day movie goer doesn't listen to critics, let alone understand them. You keep bringing these people up, it's like being obsessed over an old flame. Or perhaps a relentless search for some ridiculous sense of acceptance like a goth teenager that really just shows how confident we all truly are in our artform. We're so confident we'll harp on forever about how the old guys that like movies just don't understand us.

Finally, comments in general are getting ridiculous. Any story that has majority approval gets evocations of love and worship. It creeps me out honestly. Thank god though that I'm here to be a consistent ball of negativity.   read

6:02 AM on 08.02.2008

Eternity's Child - Spero Melior

I don't believe anyone actually thought seriously about the question: are these reviews unprofessional? Important to recognize what we expect from professional criticism. An honest opinion for starters and that's certainly there. I have no reason whatsoever to believe either reviewer was paid off or compelled into lying or had any vindictive purpose in writing what they did. I wouldn't doubt a moment that every issue they brought up was indeed true. Assuming otherwise would be the height of foolishness.

Is it constructive? I would say, overall, yes but the particulars make it difficult to gain any positive benefit, benefit for the game, for the potential audience, for the developer, and for the movement that is indie game development. The concerns are all valid but the way they are voiced deadens their beneficial effect. What counter productive elements am I speaking of? We all get hung up on the score at the bottom but it's really the general tenor of the review that matters. Why then the puerile, unfunny, and unnecessary attempts at irreverence like "the controls are looser than a five dollar hooker?" Why the petty exaggerations likening the game to otherworldly hellish experiences? "Don't even say its name for that might give its already unholy form power?" That's not criticism. That's spiteful derision, only acceptable in a world where you never have to see the sadness of the person you're saying it to. You can't find anything good to say about the game? You're. Not. Looking. Hard enough. Because that is the refuge of people who enjoy pointing out failure as opposed to helping someone through that failure.

And that someone is hardly without blame himself. Luc, I can firmly and without reservation attest that PR is not your strong point and that, if possible, you should retain the service of someone far more capable than you of responding to something like this in a civilized manner. By communicating as you did, you merely reinforced the already overwhelming negativity towards your product. I understand that confidence is paramount when creating anything, without it you'd never get anything done and served up for public consumption, but you're teetering at the edge of arrogance. Please be careful.

And where does this leave us? An indie game developer who communicated with the Destructoid community now alienated and abused, childishly striking back at his tormentors as the ground crumbles underneath everything. Perhaps this particular developer was indeed a complete fucking moron who made a shitty fucking game. I don't know; I can't play it. But because we called him a complete fucking moron who made a shitty fucking game and we used words not that far removed from my profane exaggeration, why would anyone in their right minds ever want to share their dreams with us ever again?

I feel that, if this kind of interaction continues, the indie game movement will never take off. It'll never get the support that it needs from us, the people, because we won't be good enough to support it. When a small developer totally fucks up, we'll jump all over him and make him RUE the fucking day he decided to make a video game, the stupid bastard. And then the developer won't be thick skinned enough to exist on the internet, to take the good with the bad, to grow. We have to be better.

All of us, the reviewers, the audience, the developer, we all look at reviews as if they are the final judgement on a game. As if those 1's tell you everything that there will ever be of Eternity's Child. But development is iterative. Games are updated; transformed. Opinions change. The valid reviews posted yesterday are hopefully just the rough beginning of a pathway to something greater than what exists today.

Spero melior - I hope for better things   read

12:49 AM on 05.01.2008

Gaming's Guilty Pleasures: Sewer Shark!

Guilt doesn't even begin to describe how I feel knowing that I like this game. Guilt sounds like it's just a stain on my clothes, easily dispatched by the rinse cycle. This is shame, dark bile surrounding my soul. But I just can't help it. I love camp and this game is the closest the entire industry has gotten to the euphoric heights of Batman & Robin.

Actually not the name of the newest product from the brilliant minds that brought you the Toilet Snake, as seen on TV by insomniacs

First things first, I would never, under any circumstances, advise you to actually play Sewer Shark. Other than shooting incessantly, you also make turns which are called out to you by your robotic buddy Catfish, proud owner of a delightful Cajun accent. Missing any one of those turns almost always leads to careening directly into a wall, raising the question "Can't this thing go in reverse and/or stop?" Also, CO2 levels will build up and require you to command Catfish to shit out a flare that will ignite the gases before your guns do. I can't even begin to cut through the deep metaphor that lies in a robot Creole pooping out fire balls to save your life. What's really amazing, and I mean this in no relation to the actual meaning of the word amazing, is that the first few enemies don't even attack your god damn ship. They just kind of hang around to be shot at. 50% of the game is spent just shooting defenseless animals. Take the noble ratigator. I don't have to tell you what it is. It's the only fictional word in recorded history that took less time to think up than it did to say it for the first time. Incidentally, a rock slide killed several people in Chile that day. Coincidences did not exist when Sewer Shark was borne unto this Earth.

The game play of Sewer Shark or a visual representation of the Internet? The world might never know

What other game lets you fight the evil tyranny that is STENCHLER. Commissioner Stenchler. AKA the asshole who gave Bruce Willis a parking ticket in Die Hard 2. On Christmas Eve, that son of a bitch. Stenchler's evil plan is...fucked if I know. He's your boss; he runs the Sewer Sharking racket and lives in posh Solar City which is, I suppose, what Malibu is called in the future. At first, he's impressed by your pest exterminating skills. He calls into compliment you usually while eating a comically gigantic piece of meat straight from the bone. It's the popular in morbidly obese circles 'Fred Flintstone diet.' In his last positive cutscene, he rips off his business suit to transition right to his swimming trunks. Then, he steps outside of his office which is just a crude facade constructed on the beach itself so he can go dance and sing. Later, he jetskis in front of the cheap blue screen the weatherman of Solar City normally uses.

He's splitting his time between eating his pasta and that bib that he's rocking

But then, he slowly, in the course of at most half a cutscene, gets really pissed at you for straying into Sector 19. Sector 19 was described by dirt encrusted hottie/Shark pilot Falco as "a sewer jockey's graveyard." Can you feel the gravitas, the pathos, the unending torment that is their life? They are modern man. The bodies of those modern yet still very dead men found out there had complete cranial evacuations or, in layman's terms, "something down there sucked their brains out!" Luring you into Sector 19 is “some kind of crazy looking thing” which is a bird made out the pure essence of rainbows. This is never explained whatsoever. Once you cross Stenchler's 38th parallel, he starts sending in robotic moles who only attack by running straight into you, usually at the very center of the screen. So, just leave the cross hairs there, find a rock to wedge down the fire button, then come back later when the game play becomes even less interesting. Eventually he graduates to unleashing ZERKS. "Brain-eating fireflies, what a delightful concept!" Oh god, yes it is.

It's only an optical illusion that this looks almost identical to the one shot above, after all there is an orange blob in this one

Stenchler kidnaps Falco and ties her to an unnecessarily slow killing mechanism involving a pole with a metal circle on top that will, someday in the even further flung future, make her explode after it gets heated by the sun. Look, watch that part of the game and see if you can describe it any better. Eventually, his evilness causes an uprising by the cast of Baywatch. He sits on his throne of lies demanding to know where his "egg celery pudding" is. It's dumped on his face and then he spends a full ten seconds screaming at the top of his lungs before holding off the insurgent forces with a lunch box filled with gray matter consuming insects. After a failed retreat, no doubt caused by his obsessive need to not abandon his fez before fleeing for his life, he is placed into an inner tube and rolled out into the ocean. A man who has killed viciously and for no apparent reason countless numbers of his own employees is dispatched like a minor annoyance on an 80's sitcom. Finally, the robot gets a lei from Stenchler's former bimbo and also a sprinkle of some robot loving. Jesus Christ.

Salacious Crumb fell on hard times after Return of the Jedi

My love for Sewer Shark really begins and ends with one man: Ghost. Ghost is your copilot and a five year old's version of R Lee Ermey. He strokes his vehicle lovingly with a crazed grin in his eyes. "Not everything on this baby's strictly legal," Ghost kids, knowing full well that there are no laws in the sewer. Filling his nostril with the fresh fucking scent of the piss and shit of Solar City's denizens: "There's nothing like the smell of the sewer in the morning. Smells like victory." To Ghost, rubbing your nose in feces is an acceptable form of celebration. He demands from you "1 million pounds of tube steak" the price of a ticket to paradise for him, you, and even that stupid robot.

What are you talking about? Acting is screaming! It's about emotionality!

More than any other moment, Ghost's challenge to the player to try out a new gun, made me love this game. He straps it on and lets you at it. The first time I played I thought a target would pop up but no. I didn't fire at anything and I failed. As in complete game over. After playing back to that point, I just laid into the fire button and blew the launch door right to shit. Ghost seemed pissed "You just took out the door, ace!" but then he got that wild eyed glare that said: "I love you in the most bat shit insane way it's possible to love someone else. You just used a gatling gun to blow open the door to my heart, Rat Breath.”

As you move through the game and Ghost thinks you're less and less of a worthless shit, he gives you new call signs. They go, in order: Dog Meat, Rat Breath, Exterminator, and finally Beach Bum which is "the highest honor a sewer jockey can receive." I remember being really impressed by the word 'exterminator.' So much so, that I forced my friends to name our bowling team that year 'The Exterminators' which just barely fit on the cheap ass bowling computer screens. I don't recall why I was so blown away but I was pretty young, perhaps 6, so it might just have been the first time I had heard it used.

What's amazing about all of this is that John Dykstra, two time Academy Award winner for the special effects in Star Wars: A New Hope and Spider-Man 2, was the principal creative force behind this...thing. Not surprising, however, is the fact (certainly not a coincidence) that Dykstra also supervised the effects for Batman & Robin. Neither Nostradamus nor the Mayan calender saw any of this shit coming.

Thanks to the miracle of Youtube, you don't need to play the game nor even watch someone else play the game. Just skip around to the good parts. It's not that hard considering the game is 40 minutes start to finish.

[embed]84128:10962[/embed]   read

12:29 PM on 04.13.2008

Rock & Croal

Shame. Disgust. Loathing. I'm not talking to everybody here. Many have said really inspiring, introspective, true things in the wake of N'Gai's comments on the trailer at hand. Many who dissented, did so in rational, respectful ways. If you fall into this group, I applaud you. I'm talking to those who turned on Croal viciously, ignorantly at the drop of a hat because of one disagreement. Here is a man who has repeatedly and consistently elevated the very essence of our mutual interest with reasoned and informed criticism time and time again. Apparently, up until just now. This man, seemingly well respected in gaming circles, is almost instantly abandoned by a nation of scared, defensive, pathetic individuals. Why? Because he's lying? Because he's deceitful or underhanded? Or maybe because he's just gotta prove that there's racism (or the appearance of racism) in that trailer or else he loses his membership in the black race? Or does he just see something that we might possibly never see? Either because we're white or we're from an area where racism isn't as prevalent or because we all know fully well that the black menacing figures in the trailer are zombies and only look like racial stereotypes.

But truthfully nothing's changed. He's still defending gaming. But now he's doing something far more difficult than rebutting a loon like Jack Thompson or shooting down ill informed Fox News correspondents. He's defending gaming from itself. From Japanese developers who don't know any better. From the incorrect assumptions of people who haven't played Resident Evil 1-4. Have no doubts about it: we live and play in a gated community and if that is to ever change we need to realize that the nature of a game is not common knowledge. You want video gaming to become a true art form? You really want that? Then, deal with some scrutiny and deal with it like an adult. Face it, react, learn, but don't attack. Doing so merely reveals how threatened you are and how small you've become.

Flags went up. "Here's another black guy, playing the race card, when will they stop this nonsense?" Right there, you've ceased to consider anything he has to say. You're not thinking of him as a person anymore but as a mouthpiece. Someone who doesn't feel, doesn't care, only does what they're programmed to do. Someone who isn't worth listening to. You have dismissed him. Utterly. And I don't think there's any crime against humanity that doesn't start with this crucial first step. Dehumanization.

I'm not here to talk about the trailer itself. Suffice to say, I agree with every single thing he had to say about it. However, I honestly feel that no internet discussion will ever convince a racist to abandon his ways. My own failings in this area were only fully realized when a good friend of mine pointed out how disgusting I truly was. I'm forever indebted to him and thus I know that it takes far more than a back and forth on some trivial issue with a group of strangers to change the nature of a man. So, in closing, all I truly ask for is faith. Faith not in some absolute infallibility of N'Gai Croal but in the belief that he is a good man and that his words always arise from a deep, abiding, and pure passion for gaming.

Title by Alex Bahr   read

10:50 PM on 02.26.2008

In Defense of (Potential) Video Game Movies

This is written in direct response to Jim Sterling's article: Why do videogame movies fail so much?

In your mentioning of what film adds via adaptation to other forms of media, you neglect to say what it detracts. From a play it omits the proximity of having the action unfold in real time, mere feet from you. From a novel, it subtracts the timelessness of it, a sprawling story with an ever expansive world. This shows that any form of adaptation is a process of addition AND subtraction. Yes, movies adapted from video games would lose the interactivity but they would gain other things. The communal experience (absent from most single player games), the sense of time and of forward momentum, in some cases a tighter focus on narrative and character development, and so on.

You say adapting a video game suggest that they can't tell good stories. But does the adaptation of the Lord of the Rings novels into movies prove that the books don't tell a good story? Does The Godfather movie do it to its source? No. They prove that the story is so powerful that it can transmute into another form and retain its power. Its the highest honor a story can possibly receive.

I have to take the time to say that the reason Silent Hill didn't scare you was because it was terrible. As have all video game based movies. You said it yourself: you didn't care about the character Pyramid Head was chasing. The movie failed because it was poorly made. Empathy was not established. And, a large part of why Pyramid Head is terrifying is because of his psychological aspect, the meaning behind the scary image. Silent Hill, the movie, just trots him out there for a cheap fanwank.

When it comes to the issue of actors in a movie not being the same as their presentations in the game, this feels like an outright refusal to accept the possibility of a good video game based movie. Who's to say that the Bioshock movie won't find someone who brings even more nuance to the role of Andrew Ryan? On the subject of Bioshock, it seems to be the consensus that the narrative falls apart in the last third. Might not a film adaptation rectify this problem and display a fine work of world building to an even larger audience so that they too might be enhanced by its excellence?

I must announce that I am in the process of attempting an adapted screenplay (not affiliated with anyone actually thinking of making the movie, solely a personal project) of that game because I feel so strongly about it. I may fail miserably but I am passionate and, no matter what, it will be made with love. On that note, no games do not need to be made into movies. Nor should they unless there is some improvement or worthwhile change to be made. But can they? I hope so.   read

6:18 PM on 11.23.2007

A Gaming History Vol. 1-4: Carmen Sandiego

Where In The (Insert Milieu Here) Is Carmen Sandiego?

These earlier halcyon days were spent playing video games that all tried to teach me something. Gorillas aimed to provide me with rudimentary artillery skills so I could one day fight in the Simian Wars of 2032. The Oregon Trail was a lesson in the merriment of death and the enjoyment of the suffering of others. And Red Storm Rising, more so than even Red Dawn, communicated how utterly ridiculous the Cold War was. Carmen Sandiego, meanwhile, taught me that it was quite clearly awesome to steal things. Carmen and her merry band of thieves always managed to walk away with the craziest of objects. "Quick gumshoe, someone just stole the entire Gross National Product of Belize/the Mason-Dixon line/Alexander Graham Bell's catheter/happiness/your very fucking soul!"

So that's what passes for national treasure in Peru? Fucking llama paintings?

I doubted at the time that someone with a punny name like Hardley Worthit or Patty Larceny could piss their pants much less steal nebulous concepts like "all the banks of the Nile!" But hey, they did and, even if I easily tracked them down over and over again, they were out in less than a day and once again stealing some other ridiculous shit. So, crime might not have paid but it certainly seemed more interesting than traveling around the world and asking people "Did you see anything suspicious?" when you really should be more direct and inquire "Did the fucking Rio Grande just pass by here?" Listen, I don't need a warrant if the suspect has Yankee Stadium in his back pocket. It's called probable cause, god damn it. Look it up, Chief.

Look at that! That's how little they respect the justice system! The unmitigated gall of these magnificent bastards.

I think they really dropped the ball when it came to sequels. Sure, she traveled through time and the US and the world and even space. But what about invading my own body? Then, I could send in little nano-machines to ask my white blood cells for help reclaiming my duodenum. The brain could be the chief! Or how bout Where In Iraq Is Carmen Sandiego? Instead of a warrant, you need an exit strategy before you can apprehend the bitch. Common stolen objects are hope, peace, WMDs, and a functional democracy. For adults, CSI: Carmen Sandiego where you get to sit in a lab and conduct exciting tests while the in-game camera has a seizure and The Who's cultural relevancy is rubbed red raw.

Fun fact: 90% of the Ren Fair rejects pictured here have killed themselves.   read

11:23 PM on 11.13.2007

Super Mario Galaxy, 5 Hours In Space

Truly, this is a game that could only take place in space. There exists, in the public subconscious, a kind of mythology behind space travel. These are the elements that make us watch a space shuttle launch in awe. The weightlessness. The freedom to move in any direction unimpeded by such earthly forces as friction. The endless void interrupted only momentarily by the most amazing things in the universe. Supernovas, comets, black holes. The unending supply of fresh wonders. And so on. Super Mario Galaxy takes these elements and makes a game out of them. I'll never go into space but now I can at least get an inkling of the fun only a select few have had first hand.

I saw Tron Knotts elevating Galaxy over 64. I'm not quite ready to do that but the case can certainly be made. Galaxy improves immeasurably over 64 by deftly sidestepping the issue of boring repetition. In the earlier title, one had to revisit each area ten different times to fully complete the game. Here, there's a driving force, a sense of rushing headlong into new experiences, that keeps any area from becoming stale. The most you'll have to come back to an area is 4-5 times and, each time you play through, the terrain of the level changes a bit or you're asked to explore a completely different section of the area or now you're being timed or so on. Little side quests open up and help even further. You can even enable the creation of new planets inside the galaxies that you're visiting. It's very very difficult to become bored with Galaxy.

Issues? I think the difficulty bounces around too much. Some parts are horrendously easy and then others will be surprisingly challenging. I don't mind the challenge but the abrupt shifts disrupt the tone for me. I also don't necessarily agree with the decision they've made to shift the focus onto gaining lives rather than prolonging the one you currently have. There are millions of star bits littering the levels while you only need 50 for an extra life. Meanwhile, coins still recover Mario's health but the coins are few and far between especially in contrast to the ridiculous amounts of star bits. I think I exited one level after a good amount of exploration and a few deaths with over 600.

So far no levels have had any large unique overarching/unifying mechanics like 64's Wet-Dry World, Tall Tall Mountain, or Tick Tock Clock. By this I mean elements that change the entire landscape/gameplay. Not so much disappointed/concerned about this as excited about what's to come.

I was also concerned in the early going that the game would have little character to it. The levels were flying by and there weren't any memorable experiences character wise like reuniting the baby penguin with its mother in 64 (or throwing it off a cliff, you sick bastard). Those concerns evaporated once the Toad Brigade started showing up in the levels and getting into wacky hijinks. I love them, unabashedly. I smell a spin off. Toads in Space. Make it happen, Nintendo.

As for surrealism, Psychonauts still takes top honors because Galaxy has nothing to react to . If everything is odd, if every object (from cakes to beehives) is thrown out there in the middle of space, then there is no juxtaposition. Dali's surreal because he takes everyday objects like clocks and bends them all over the place and puts them in the desert. You can get a sense of what he was thinking there. Galaxy hasn't done anything that purposeful yet. It is as surreal as an average Looney Tunes cartoon but pales in comparison to that one where Bugs Bunny is animating Daffy Duck and he's fucking around with him. God, what a good episode.   read

12:39 AM on 11.13.2007

A Gaming History Vol. 1-3: Red Storm Rising

Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising

Tom Clancy's book have often been accused of having shallow plots and a fetishistic love of all things techno and war-y. Thankfully, those same tendencies have no bearing whatsoever on the quality of this computer game. Here, donning the role of a submarine captain, we have an uncomfortably accurate simulation of World War III, played out between the US (alright, NATO too, I guess) and the Russkies. You get a huge map to float around in, pretty much just looking for trouble, while the battle between East and West is represented by red and green splotches of paint that react to the outcomes of your missions. So, if Russia kicks your ass in one battle, be prepared to see a big red imaginary line start encroaching into West Germany. If only CNN would show global conflicts as the cartoons they really are.

Oh my god, get the turpentine, the forces of redness are overcoming our defenses! These stains will never come out! God damn you, Russia!

The best part of this game were the cut scenes which were all laughably odd. If you were captured, it showed you working to death in a gulag. But if you were merely injured, you recuperated in a VA hospital watching endless repeats of Wheel Of Fortune. This did little to put to rest the absurd notion that Russia is the evil Empire from Star Wars and the USA is a paradise where even Pat Sajak can find work. Failing the entire game and one could bear witness to the chilling sight of the Russian flag replacing ol' Stars & Stripes over the nation's capital, complete with a change over from America the Beautiful to some god awful militaristic Russian piece of crap song. Too bad they couldn't utilize the hallmark of all wacky turnarounds: the harsh record scratch. Never has something so plausible and frightening been reduced to a more comically absurd level. Wait wait wait, I forgot the one cut scene that was just a caricature of Gorbachev banging his fist on a desk over and over and over again. See they were all the equivalents to today's gif animations. Both endlessly repeat themselves so, if you wanted to, you could watch old Mikhail totally fuck up his office for hours. And I did.

Islamic religious fundamentalists. How ahead of its time. Clearly Tom Clancy can see not only through enemy bunkers reinforced with lead and into the hearts of all commie bastards, but also into the very future of humanity.

The battles were mainly moving about, getting a firing solution on another ship, and then blowing it up. To be sure, there was a shitload of technical minutiae like managing sonar, hiding your own sound signature, conducting damage repair, managing weapon stores and so on and on and on.

I have no idea what half of this shit means.

I, however, remember this game being amazingly easy and I was not far removed from my borderline retarded Gorillas sessions at this point. The battle animations made it worthwhile anyway though. Who knew that torpedoes launched at ships came up to the surface and ran in an identical straight line every single time?

Look everyone, it's the lone torpedo firing animation. 10% of the game is spent watching this over and over again.

For the level of ease in the game, it's really surprising how meaty the manual was. It had detailed schematics for every sub in use at the time that were, I suppose so, helpful if you...somehow made the game a lot harder on yourself? Reading it, halfway through I was pretty sure that I had mistakenly received a Department of Defense briefing by mistake. The offhand remarks about the crampness of certain Russian subs or how this one handled versus that one only reinforced my opinion that Tom Clancy is creepy as all fuck.

This actually did double duty as an old fashioned piracy preventer. If you didn't have the secret dossier that was smuggled out of the Kremlin (aka the manual), you couldn't even hazard a guess as to what ship the game was throwing up there. Unless, of course, you were Tom Clancy and your wet dreams are solely composed of Russian ship schematics.   read

11:00 PM on 11.04.2007

A Gaming History Vol. 1-2: The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail

So much has been said about this game by every asshat who does something like this except me, the ultimate asshat. I haven't said anything about it and I don't know what you've heard. I look upon it fondly but I seriously question its educational value. Is there a single kid out there that wasn't dying in anticipation to see a message informing him that "Your poor wife, DICKBREATH, has died from dysentery?" Is that the lesson I was supposed to take from this game: it's alright if my wife dies from a horrible disease, as long as she has a funny ass name? How am I, the child in need of fancy learning, supposed to realize how harsh the journey west was if it's hilarious when my beloved family members die?

She recovered from cholera, then later died of dysentery. The tragic tale of a woman destroyed by the Trail.

I was always the banker because he started off with a small fortune. The guy was freaking loaded. Sure, being a farmer got you point multipliers and thus a higher score at the end but was anyone whipping out their metaphorical dicks to compare Oregon Trail scores? Let's be honest, we all would have beaten a kid who tried to do that with our shoes and then suffocated him in Sesame Street band-aids.

Hunting was a worthless diversion for a banker but I still felt compelled to rape and pillage the land with the 1000 bullets I bought. It set me out in a field for what felt like an eternity while I shot the crap out of everything in sight. Then, after all that killing, the game informed me that I could only bring back 100 pounds of food with me. Something that could have been brought to my attention before I went on a blood curdling rampage. Meanwhile, I'm standing in a pile of thousands of dead possums weighing in at nearly a metric ton, looking for all purposes like a cult leader presiding over a bizarre offering to my pagan god. "If you continue to hunt in this area, game will become scarce." Oh, I think that'll happen if I just continue to stand here. Animals now flee from the very sight of me. I'm a legend, a ghost story woodland creatures tell their young to scare the shit out of them. I am the Oregon Trail Keyser Soze.

A nonbeliever in my midst! HE IS MOST UNCLEAN!

Right away, the game held my hand telling me exactly what I needed to buy to make it on the trail. And thank god they told me I needed wagon tongues because I still don't know what the fuck those things are. Bullets I know, wagon tongues...ehhh, are you sure that's not the name of my second child? Luckily, the real Trail also had handy tutorials every step of the way otherwise we would not even have a state named Oregon.

The real life Trail also had an incongrously exciting river rafting action sequence at the end that was leagues better than every other river crossing segment. Coming upon a river was the only speed bump in the rigorously accurate representation of the mind crushing tedium that is traveling through states like Kansas and fucking KANSAS. Have you traveled through Kansas lately? It's like slowly dragging your finger across a piece of cardboard paper for hours. The rest of the river showdowns had three options, all of which sucked. Caulk the wagon and float over, just run right through it (run right through A RIVER), or pay someone to get you across. The last one was the only one that made sense because it was the only one that ever worked for fuck's sake but, god damn it, who the hell is this guy bilking me so I can cross a stupid river? Yeah, fuck it, let's caulk the wagon, it never works but it'll make me feel better. Ford it? Is the river less than a foot deep? If not, I might as well just shoot myself in the face right now. Me and my last surviving child who is my only hope of carrying on the family name: ASSFART.

The only time you could really lose this game is if you were playing deliberately to lose. "No, I don't need any more food. Or bullets. I'm a crack shot, five will be plenty." "Listen, that's not a river, that's the Pacific Ocean!" "I'm still gonna ford it; get the fuck out of my way. We hit Oregon when I say so!" "Well, when the hell will that be?" "When we reach the land of paper dragons and opium dens, god bless America!"

I'd love to be able to go back in my time machine, kidnap some real settlers, and show them this game. There's nothing better than the look on a person's face when they see that their misery has been turned into entertainment for countless others. "My wife really did die of dysentery on the trail." "Awesome! What was her name? FUCKCUNT? SHITLICK? Did you put a dirty limerick on her tombstone?" Have you ever seen a pioneer cry? Me neither but I'm not giving up my dream yet. Thank you for that dream, Oregon Trail. Thank you.

Almost forgot, next up: Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising   read

11:57 PM on 10.29.2007

A Gaming History Vol. 1-1: Gorillas

This is the beginning of a monumental project. I have now played video games since I was five years old. That adds up to 18 years of gaming tomorrow (my 23rd birthday), over three quarters of my life. And now I've decided to do a retrospective on all that time spent staring at a screen, pushing buttons. Come with me and perhaps we can bond over a shared gaming experience. Nostalgia, it's almost as good as real emotions. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

The first number in the title will always indicate the series in the history and the second will indicate the specific game. The first series I will be delving into is comprised solely of computer games, most of them falling into the edutainment segment because that's the only things my parents would buy/let me play. They've gotten progressively cooler as the years went by, but man, a life without GI Joe's was murder on my self esteem. But enough of this prattle, onto the games!


The first game I ever remember playing, this ran on the old programming language QBASIC. It involved two King Kong sized apes who had just about enough of each other's stupid faces and decided to settle their feud once and for all. They did this by climbing up onto a cityscape and hurling explosive bananas at each other. I don't know why you're laughing, it all makes perfect sense: I mean, why wouldn't they have exploding bananas? The gameplay consisted entirely of you entering in a velocity and angle for your flying death fruits to take. This was back before games realized that numbers were not that sexy. Come to think of it though, a lot of them still haven't realized this. Then, you sat back and watched as they hit absolutely nowhere near the other fucking gorilla. Or at least, mine did. Thankfully, I can blame my horribleness at the game on my severe lack of knowing what an angle or a velocity was. I was five years old at the time and I often fell asleep in hampers. Take that for what you will. I rarely if ever hit my opponent and, since the AI was almost as stupid, games would take up to a half an hour at times. The long confrontations would lead me to wonder "Why are we, gorillas, fighting? Don't we have a common enemy in the cheetah or the jaguar? Couldn't we ruin their shit completely with our lethal Chiquitas?" The only time a quick game happened was when the random level generator managed to put me and my foe right across from each other. When a banana would hit true, the struck gorilla would be completely obliterated in a miniature atomic explosion, wiping out a sizable circular area around it. Then, your ape would do a celebratory dance. Epic, thy name is Gorillas.

The landscape was semi-destructible in that a banana hitting a building would put a small hole in it. It was not destructible enough though to notice that a building cleaved in two by plantain grenades should probably fall down. That is, to say, you could cut a building in half and the top portion would float in mid air like freaky ass Salvador Dali painting, "The Persistance Of Gorillas With Exploding Bananas." It's one of his lesser known works. I think this was just the buildings being affected by the sheer incomprehensibility of the game's premise. As a bonus feature you could adjust the gravity which usually either led to me throwing a banana and boomeranging it right back into my own face under G-forces somewhere in the trillions. Or I launched one straight up into the upper ionosphere, never to be seen again. To reiterate, this will most likely be the only game on this list where you can and likely will kill yourself with a banana.

Next time: The Oregon Trail   read

5:36 PM on 10.20.2007

Televised Competitive Video Gaming? Yuck-city

This was really written many moons ago. And in the time since, the World Series of Video Games has been completely and utterly canceled. Not just on TV but even as a standalone entity. I was not one of the few people taken by surprise by this development.

Here we have the only world series of any kind that takes up less than an hour of programming time on a Sunday morning on CBS. Right before golf. And after something I didn't get up in time to watch. Probably a hunting/fishing show. At least in my neck of the woods (not a metaphor). I was surprised to see that the contestants were limited to only playing one game (thus rendering the word "series" meaningless) and they competed in Guitar Hero 2, Fight Night 3, and World Of Warcraft. Wha? Where's the Counter-Strike? The Unreal Tournament? The Halo 2? Rainbow Six: Vegas? Smash Bros. Melee? Quake? Warcraft? Starcraft? All the games that Wikipedia tells me are, you know...popular in competitive gaming circles? Totally absent and replaced with games were the competition is uninteresting at best and nebulous/counter-intuitive at worst.

Guitar Hero 2 entailed a solo performance followed by three judges giving scores out of 10 for the level of self-imposed difficulty, overall accuracy, The style points were given out by someone named Coltrane Curtis who is, according to himself, an MTV fashion VJ. A medical condition which should completely disqualify him from commenting on the styles of others. How does one achieve style in Guitar Hero? By aping the tired tropes of guitar playing like "playing behind one's head" or "slamming one's guitar into the ground at the end." Thank god the rock legends are already dead because they wouldn't have lasted through this attack on their life-force. The "totally awesome to the max" guitar smash actually gave that particular poser the win. There's nothing like seeing two people so uncomfortable in their own skin move into preset positions, hoping beyond hope that that their whole bodies won't collapse under the strain. It's like watching animals get nails driven into their arms so they'll more accurately represent the 12 Apostles in the diorama of the Last Supper your crazy aunt is making. So what I'm saying is: this was at least as entertaining as a horrific car accident. That your beloved family members are currently in the middle of.

The game was played one person at a time until a tiebreaker was required because the judges felt only 9's and 10's were valid responses. It probably didn't help that the performances were pretty much identical. This was truly the nadir of the entire program. Thank goodness they saved the "exciting" tie breaker until the end of the show. I was worried I'd forget how badly this sucked.

In Fight Night 3, we saw a really fat kid face off against a tall skinny kid while both were famous heavyweight champions of the world. These guys couldn't take a heavyweight's glare for more than two seconds without exploding. CBS, realizing this most likely even before they started putting this farce together, decided to create as much pathetic comedy as possible. How, do you ask? By making each player wear real boxing gloves. Then, they forced them to get up in each other's faces for brief cutaways in between rounds with menacing glares bared. Of course, since neither of the two is the least bit threatening, it looked much more likely that they were about to consummate a secret love affair than get to brawling. I just hope the CBS crew didn't give out stage directions like "That's great guys, but, ya know, more gay please." I think they also need to just ban unattractive people from competing in these things if everything else is going to suck this much. At least get good looking people so we, as a social group, can start to move away from the "disgusting trolls and awkward giants" stereotypes.

The game itself must be the most boring fighting game ever made. Much like real boxing, the fighters are not exactly speed demons. They lumber towards one another and then punch. Then they block. Then they punch some more. Ding ding ding. Repeat ad nauseum. Whereas every single other fighting game seems to revel in fast action and crazy moves and combos, Fight Night is convinced its mission in life is to present a watered down version of a sport no one even watches anymore. The camera was so undynamic, I questioned if it could actually move around. Playing the game later, I saw that power/signature punches will make the game zoom in dramatically but these two paragons of gaming somehow failed to utilize these obviously arcane techniques. Skinny talls won the day after three short uneventful rounds. You know, it was a great fight when one boxer goes down after 15 minutes.

Finally, World of Warcraft. Undoubtedly the most popular game there but it probably had the worst presentation and set up. It was 3 on 3 and I think everyone got 3 lives. It was also best out of five. Not that it mattered because the winning team absolutely killed their opponents. It was like watching a puppy go through unpleasant machinery. I suppose this is what you get when you take a game heavily focused/outright demanding on/of teamplay and tell it to go deathmatch. The audience was shown exactly what the players could see. You already know why this is terrible. The interface and readouts take up at least 40% of the viewable area. Combine this with (relatively) fast paced action and multiple viewpoints for multiple players on two separate teams and awareness just crawls out to the shed and dies.

Don't forget that WoW is no simple game. Therefore, the hosts spent about 10 minutes explaining in painstaking detail exactly how the game was played before the action started. Then, not confident in their already laborious explanation, they continued to narrate at a breathless clip over the ensuing carnage, being sure to bring up every conceivable detail that might confuse someone who crossed over to this channel looking to see if Ted Nugent was still on. John Madden, I feel gets a bum rap for being overtly descriptive and simple. "Here's a guy that if he can run faster than the defense, he'll score." Hey, maybe somebody watching doesn't know that. At least he doesn't say things like "Tiki Barber runs around to the right, then stops a bit, now he's running again, his left foot is leading, he's hit by a guy, probably from the other team, uh oh he's tackled, now he's getting back up, shaking his head, he touched his helmet, now he's over at the sidelines, he's drinking some Gatorade, he's talking to some guy, sorta looks like Dauber from Coach with Craig T. Nelson, do you remember that show, now he's back at the line of scrimmage, and he just turned into a turtle." Yes, they really did talk that much. And yes, at one point, a player did transform into a turtle. This was the gaming equivalent of the Immaculate Reception. Perhaps in fifty years, I'll look back and think: "Where was I when L33+H@MM3R the F1r5t was transmogrified into a chicken?" I hope my mind has degenerated enough at that point to not remember.

As you can tell, this was all very awful. What can be done to save competitive gaming as a source of visual entertainment? For starters, put that camera some place worth looking at. Just because the optimum view for playing a strategy or role playing game is zoomed out all the way with a barrage of obscuring meters and readouts doesn't mean we should have to suffer through all that garbage. Get a couple of in-game observers with the ability to pick out good angles and shots from the bad and then edit their captured footage into a genuinely exciting piece. Ya know, kinda like how they do with real sports. Then, retool the games themselves so that they are strictly visually informative. Make sure we can know who's who and what team they're on. Emphasize the actions of the characters visually. If someone just cast a spell at another player, I'd better actually see him go through a motion while casting it and its ensuing destructive act. I need to see a visual representation of the character's health. Have his skin flake off or arms get torn off. Something. Fight Night Round 3 does make important strides in this area.

A vital rule is this: if the game you're thinking of presenting is so complicated you have to talk over it constantly just so people can understand what's happening, forget about it. And never, never should televised competitive gaming do something that anyone can do in real life. The Guitar Hero segment would not have been much worse off if it was a Cooking Mama competition instead. Not to bash those particular titles because they are quality games but I'd much rather watch a real cook-off or a battle of the bands than gamers aping some other activity. And I think that will be the most common view when it comes to televised video gaming. Video games can optimally allow us to do things we could never do in real life and that's what can be uniquely entertaining about them. We'll never get real gladiatorial games again but we can conceivably get their modern day virtual equivalent. And god I really hope we do because this shit is weak.   read

11:11 PM on 10.13.2007

Sympathy For Master Chief

Spoiler Alert

After the Halo is fired and the Flood wiped out hopefully forever, Master Chief finds himself adrift in space, lucky to be alive. His only companion, Cortana, informs him it could be years before they're found. Unwavering, he climbs into the cryogenic sleep pod and tells her to "wake me when you need me."

It's certainly a relief to gamers to discover that the Chief did indeed survive the cataclysmic events at the Ark. But in one grim and disturbing statement, the Chief reminds us of the true nature of game characters and the futility of ever lasting peace.

Master Chief does not say "if you need me" but rather "when." He, the purest warrior to ever exist (a SPARTAN), knows full well the inevitability of armed conflict. He quite literally knows nothing else. Not how to till the earth, not to grow, not even to nurture relationships.

Bungie includes several fantastic and subtle moments showing this throughout the game. None more so than soon after the death of Miranda Keyes. As Sergeant Johnson carries her lifeless body back into the Pelican, Master Chief just stands there. His body shifts a bit. He looks, for the first time in the entire game, unsure. Like he doesn't even know how to grieve. And why would he? Why would they teach him how to do that? What purpose would that serve the ultimate warrior? It is not a tactical situation that has given him pause but emotion.

Upon crash landing on Earth, the marine rescue squad is trying in vain to see if he's still alive. His armor is locked up. They can't penetrate it to see if he's still alive. Apt metaphor. His armor has replaced his skin and it serves to remove any trace of human frailty. True, it protects him from the ravages of combat. Without it, his body would be destroyed by Covenant artillery. But in its rigidity, it also allows him to show no outward emotion. Bear witness to Sergeant Johnson's death scene wherein we hear sorrowful music played over a lingering closeup of the back of his helmet. Is he crying in that suit? We'll never know.

His relationship with Cortana seems to reveal a faint spark of human emotion still left in him. However, looking back at the moment where they're finally reunited, Cortana initially seems overjoyed at Chief's brave and gallant effort to rescue her. Her display of emotion greatly diminishes when she realizes that the Chief needs the Activation Index to light the Halo. Did he come to save her or merely to "finish the fight?" Later she says that she'll miss him, that it was an honor serving with him. He blankly prepares for his long sleep until the next game.

All of this of course makes him the perfect game character. There is no doubt in his mind. He fears nothing. A simplistic story requires an avatar who is unflinching in his desire to reach the end of his goal. This is most likely why so many were disappointed playing as the Arbiter, a character with a true arc and doubt in a misguided religion, in the second installment of the series. The Arbiter hunts down the Heretic Leader who is, as players of the first game know, quite right about the true nature of the Halos. The Arbiter must continue on with his assassination mission despite the player's foreknowledge. Master Chief, on the other hand, never makes such mistakes.

Returning to the title of my post, throughout Halo 3, I greatly enjoyed the combat. It empowered me, more so than almost all other games. Ripping turrets out of the ground, meleeing Covenant vehicles to death, leading other soldiers into combat. It's almost impossible not to feel emboldened by the visceral action. But then the ending made me consider what the life of a career soldier or even a jihadist must be like; how it would feel to have a life fully consumed by violence. And then I felt nothing but sympathy for Bungie's hero. I can now only hope for further adventures with John-117 so I can someday see him become more than a gun.   read

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