Nobody really remembers who sang those immortal words ď(ooh) heaven is a place on Earth.Ē If heaven is a place on Earth than surely hell is a place on Earth.
Every man has a tale of his own personal hell on Earth be it in a highway rest stop bathroom in Lebanon, Indiana or perhaps on a north bound elevated train on which someone has just secretly shit themselves. Some hells on Earth donít even involve bathrooms or moving bathrooms. No, readers, no. It is not for you to consecrate any ground as hell on Earth because it has long since been consecrated within the little country of Romania. Its name is Transylvania and it is the setting of childrenís and touristsí nightmares alike.
And how do you squelch a nightmare if youíre a minor or value your liver function? You play fucking video games. Letís get down to business.
The first video game worth mentioning that was set in Transylvania was called Transylvania. In this game you were tasked with the rescue of a woman named Sabrina who, in your mind, is attractive. This rescue takes place, for some fucking reason, in the middle of the night in a forest filled with werewolves and Draculas and wizards and aliens. Fuck. Aliens, really? All of this bullshit plus a disgruntled black cat stands between you and a sturdily built Soviet-era Romanian woman named Sabrina.
I never finished the game to find out if she was the hot kind of Spies like Us commie or the solid plow-dragging stock of the Carpathian mountain people. At any rate that game marched me through hell on a regular basis during my Commodore 64 days. I endured because, hey, that little disc loaded WAY faster than Bruce Lee. Chicken McNuggets were new back then, so too was the electronic hard-on sustained by the ability to explore Transylvania outside of a shitty nightmare. Still, I needed more control than text commands could provide.
Nobody, up to this point, had ever attempted to compartmentalize Transylvania by packing all of the Draculas and skeletons and random meat-shaped food items and boomerangs into one castle. Nobody, that is, until Konami invented the concept known as Castlevania.
This, I thought, was more like it. Iím back in Transylfuckingvania but now I have a crazy alchemy whip and some boomerangs and cool looking leather shit. I imagined I was taking revenge for all those rigidly narrow puzzles that stumped me in the forests of Transylvania in years past. No thinking manís hell was this. The undead would certainly pay for that bullshit.
At least thatís what my mind told me until I (my mom) bought the game and discovered that it is a fucking grind. In the end Dracula was defeated and the sense of triumph was not unlike that of a champion eater. So much Transylvania had been stuffed into my eye holes that I started to think maybe I needed more Ninjas in my life.
Alas, it turns out that the Dracula-slaying Olympics take place every 100 years in TransylvaniaÖ.in a Castle(vania) and that only the Belmont family is invited. Like the real Olympics in which comparatively few vampires are slain this ordeal gets flashier and flashier with each subsequent installment. Eventually a major street in Chicago would be named after the Belmonts and the world would remain Dracula-free as far as I was concerned. The compartmentalization of Transylvania lost its allure after the Playstation days because, deep down, at that point in my life, all I wanted was to deal with the undead problem with a goddamned shot gun. Enter Resident Evil.
These days Transylvania feels like just another part of Romania. Vampires have taken a back seat to zombies. Communism fell and Dracula's Castle was sold to god-knows-who. TV Chef Anthony Bourdain visited there and didn't even bother looking for random meat bones hidden in the walls. Someday I'll revisit the Transylvania of my youth and someday maybe the game will let me pee on the werewolf.
So here in Chicago we have this bar called "Kuma's Korner." Basically it's a heavy metal bar that serves gourmet hamburgers. They serve a Black Sabbath burger with blackening spice and chili on it. They serve a 1/4 pound hot dog called the Goblin Cock. They serve a burger called "Lair of the Minotaur with carmelized onions, panchetta, and bourbon-soaked pears. You get the idea.
The place is insanely popular. Most nights tend toward an hour wait for a table and an hour wait for your food. Forget about it on weekends.
So I figure there's plenty of room to do the exact same thing except with video games. Since it's lunch time here in the midwest I've pulled together a short menu of video game themed hamburgers (and I've done it without infringing any copyrights, I hope.)
The Blue Bomber: A 1/4 pound patty topped with blue cheese and fried onion rings
The Colossus: A half pound patty topped with swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato served in a "bun" made up of two grilled cheese sandwiches.
The Aperature: A 1/2 pound patty on a ciabatta roll served with a thick slice of cheddar on top and a thick slice of blue cheese on bottom. Includes a slice of cake after your meal (or does it?)
The Boco: A turkey burger topped with fire roasted peppers, monterrey jack cheese, and garlic mayo.
The Tomb Raider: A 1/4 pound burger served on an egg roll topped with aged British cheddar and two fried eggs.
The Halo: A 1/2 pound burger with goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and tomato. Served on top of a bed of onion rings.
The Super Mutant: A 1/2 pound burger on a potato roll topped with bacon, ham, a fried egg, smoked gouda and mayo.
The Space Marine: A 1/2 pounder topped with chorizo, chipotle peppers, pico de gallo, and lots of Chihuahua cheese
OK I'm gonna stop now because I'm starving. Feel free to add your own in the comments but try to do it without infringement (yeah, I know the Tomb Raider is probably infringement.)
Daytime. The Capital Wasteland. 2277. A man and a dog walk toward a derelict hotel near old D.C. The man looks nothing like other men. He is clad completely in steel; none of his human skin is visible but his steel skin crackles with energy as he walks. He is carrying a strange weapon in pristine condition, also pulsing with weird green energies. He walks unafraid as he ignores his surroundings to study the computer on his wrist.
Two men approach wearing simple leather armor. One carries a pistol and the other carries a sledge hammer. For some reason they decide the following:
"Let's attack that guy and kill him and steal all his shit. That plasma rifle he's carrying is probably fake and that armor is probably made out of old drywall. This is just some asshole who found a spraypaint factory."
And this happens over and over and over.
It's inevitable in any stat-building game that at some point you become godlike with no reason to fear even the end boss. Regardless, the instinct of self-preservation is not something that developers routinely program into enemy A.I. Sure, they'll sometimes have an A.I. trigger that makes them run away if you start really kicking their ass but the trigger has nothing to do with "you should have just run away when you saw me approach."
I know games would be pointless without enemies and they would be equally pointless if the enemies just ran away when they saw you coming. After all, half the point of putting work into your character is so you can achieve the title "Uber" and be fearless. For me though it's a mixed bag. Not fearing any of the game's enemies really bumps the immersion level down a few pegs. In Final Fantasy Tactics, for example, I've sat through the last boss' stock standard "you are all doomed" speech half a dozen times while thinking "as soon as he's done talking I'm going to make him my bitch without breaking a sweat." That notion makes the speech meaningless.
Adaptive difficulty makes up for this to an extent but it inevitably tails off into a slaughter as the player's stats and resources become inflated.
So what's the point? You become a bad-ass and a destroyer of fucking worlds. So what; that's just the way it works. Like I said, there's a certain amount of fun involved in reaching that point. I don't think there's a RE4 player out there that didn't enjoy the hell out of playing the game with the Chicago Typewriter. The challenge, I think, is to maintain the illusion that the player is threatened.
The Pitt expansion for Fallout 3 managed this relatively well but fails in a BIG way when it allows you to reclaim your items. What they should have done was left you without the items until the very end; forcing you to use workbenches to cobble together makeshift weapons to supplement the ones you find in the steelyard. Instead I reverted to uber-badass status and proceeded to wipe out every slaver on the map (I only left the baby and her mother alive.) Before that point I actually felt threatened even though I'm maxed out at level 20 with all bobbleheads and the covert ops perk. Close but no cigar but fun nonetheless.
My friends list on Xbox Live is seriously pathetic. I log on to usually find my friends either offline or engaged in the playing of some putrid piece of shit game that they rented or dug out of a bargain bin. It's seriously time to cull some of those never-logging-in motherfuckers and get some real gamers on my list.
I bought Left 4 Dead today. I'd also like some friends who have Gears 2 because I want to try the co-op endurance mode. I also play CoD4, Catan, and Ticket to Ride.
Anyway, you know those people who use their mouth as a douche nozzle to spout racial epithets and a never-ending stream of cuss words? I'm not one of those.
And those people who turn their music up so loud that you can hear it through their microphone? I'm not one of those either.
So if you'd like to add a decent human to your friends list...my gamertag is right over yonder ----->