Community Discussion: Blog by ShadeOfLight | ShadeOfLight's ProfileDestructoid
ShadeOfLight's Profile - Destructoid


click to hide banner header

On the wings of death, by the hands of doom;
By the darkest light from the darkest moon;
On the wings of life, by the hands of hope;
By the brightest light from the brightest sun.

And vice versa.

I'm ShadeOfLight.
I'm a Dutch law student who loves to play the vidya. I'm a Nintendo-fanboy at heart, but I don't feel that I'm blinded by that, at least not very often. I am also currently on the Cblog Recaps team for Thursdays, so if for some voyeuristic reason you want to know more about me, check out my weekly Shadeisms.

I'm obsessed with the Monolith Soft RPGs Xenoblade Chronicles and the Baten Kaitos series. I will not pass up the opportunity to mention them, ever, and I consider myself Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean's biggest fan. Finally, as is to be expected I'm super excited for the new WiiU "Xeno-" game!

The Wii is one of my favorite systems of all time, and my favorite games on this system include, but are most certainly not limited to;
Xenoblade Chronicles (see also: Baten Kaitos - Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean for GC)
Zelda: Twilight Princess / Skyward Sword
Smash Bros.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Muramasa - The Demon Blade
Wario Land: Shake it!
Sonic Colors
and Metroid Prime Trilogy.

I love my WiiU as well, and even though the library still needs expanding, I had tons of fun with:
New Super Mario Bros. U
Darksiders II
Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Pikmin 3
Super Mario 3D World
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Mario Kart 8

Apart from Nintendo, I'm a huge indie game enthousiast. Give me a game like Trine, VVVVVV, Sequence or Recettear, and you've made me a happy camper for sure. You can keep your shooters to yourself.

Favorite indie game round-up:
Trine (+ Trine 2)
Super Meat Boy
The Binding of Isaac
Dungeons of Dredmor
Thomas Was Alone
Mark of the Ninja
Cthulhu Saves the World
Recettear - An Item Shop's Tale
To The Moon
Cave Story
Orcs Must Die! 2
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
and many, many more!

Besides gaming itself, I like reading up on gaming-related news on my favorite website in the whole wide world: Destructoid. I love all the people here, and I'm glad that I get to be a part of this. Wouldn't know what to do without you!
Player Profile
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198005145371/
Wii U code:ShadeOfLight
Follow me:
ShadeOfLight's sites
Following (25)  

There are lots of games out there that make you feel like the star of an action movie. In fact, let's not beat around the bush, most games nowadays attempt to make you feel like that. From Uncharted to Modern Warfare to Gears of War, the list is practically endless. All of these games have one thing in common: you are cast as the hero of this actionmovie-like plot.
But what about the action movie underdogs, the guys on the sidelines who make all the heroics possible? Don't they deserve some love too?
Who, you may ask? I am referring, off course, to the hackers. The lovable geeky guys sitting at their computers, disabling security systems, stealing money and just all-round being wizards of technology. What would an action star be without his trusty 'wizzkid' sidekick? Still awesome, yes, but probably much less effective.
I hope that you're asking yourself right now why there isn't a game that puts you in role of one of these amazing people. Because I can answer that right away: there is.

It is called Hacker Evolution, but it seems to be a very niche little game; I've never seen it mentioned on Destructoid, and that's saying something. It's quite good though, if you open up to it.

Like I said, Hacker Evolution (and it's sequels, subtitled Untold and Duality) is a game in which you play an action movie hacker, and I do emphasize the 'action movie' part. This game probably doesn't have anything to do with real life hacking, but more with the hollywood type. Think Swordfish, not Geohotz.
You could also think Ed, but then you'd be way off.

Pictured: hacking

This is also an independent game, made by just a couple of people, so it can come across as a bit of a basic experience. But what it does, it does really well.
At its core, Hacker is a puzzle game, with a hint of strategy. When you start a level you're given several missions that you have to complete in order to progress. These missions range from "retrieve the stolen file", to "find the person who hacked into our system", and you'll even see things like "hack into the core server and disable the security". Before you can do all of this, however, you have to find the right servers. It would be kind of hard to retrieve a file if you don't know which server hosts it. To find out where the servers are that you need, you have to hack into the ones you can already see. Once you've done that, you can look through all the files hosted their to find clues towards your next location.

Let me give a short example. Let's say that someone stole the file 'jimsterling.ai' (because we all know that there is no way that that guy is a real person) from the dtoid.com server. You don't know who has it yet.
So first, you'll have to hack into dtoid.com, either through a password, an exploit program, or by good old-fashioned crack. Once in, you find a activity.log file, which shows who was given access on the day of theft. Sure enough, you find that an incoming connection request was granted just before the file was stolen, and you can see that it came from the dastardly people at the server kotaku.com. Now that you know who stole the file, there is only one thing left to do: you scan for the server in question and you hack the crap out of it!

I find that the basic gameplay in Hacker was original and well done. It's supposedly a bit slower-paced than the more well-known Uplink, but I think the 'detective' elements in this game really have their charm. Progression isn't always as logical as the above example (you'll find some files on servers that have no reason to have them at all), but all in all it was well done. There is a bit of a story, but that really doesn't play a large role and the ending comes absolutely out of nowhere and makes no sense at all. But things like that are quickly forgiven.

It's much more fun than it looks, trust me.

Because what Hacker really does incredibly well, is presentation and immersion. Everything is this game was tailor-made to give you that authentic hollywood hacker feeling. This is something that is really difficult to explain in text, you should really feel this for yourself. The game can be completely controlled by typing everything you need in the command console. "crack", "exec", "scan": these are all commands that you will use a bunch throughout the game. I find that this really helps to get you immersed in what you are doing. Never in any game have you been this close to the game. You're not controlling anyone, you're not clicking on stuff to cause it to move; you're hacking. You, personally, are doing everything throughout the entire game. I've never experienced anything quite like it, and Hacker deserves huge credit for this. You could even be forgiven for forgetting, if just for a moment, that you're playing a game in the first place.
If you can type quickly, it gets even better, because you will instantly feel like the guys you see in the movies.
Take it from me, sitting at your pc and typing "exec shade.exploit dtoid.com 199" feels surprisingly good and completely "legit". Again, if you want to feel what it's like to be the hacker sidekick in any action movie, give this game a spin.

Besides the basic controls, there are many other things that contribute to the great presentation.
- First of all, every time you try to hack something, people will try to trace you. You're given both a timer that shows you how long until your hack is finished, as well as a visual representation of the tracing. It can be very nervewracking as you're watching both of these counters race for the 0.00. Often, your hacks will be complete literally just a fraction of a second before you can be traced, and I've let out more than a few audible sighs because of that fact. It really makes a game which is usually quite slow paced incredibly intense for a little while.
- Secondly, you also have to manage your pc setup in the game. Transferring money from the servers you hack into can buy you some nice equipment. Pimping your setup with extra CPU or a better firewall can make things a lot easier, although money is scarce, so you'll have to make educated choices.
- Finally, the music is exactly like something you'd imagine a hacker to have on while conducting his business. The upbeat electronic music, performed by a guy named DJ Velocity, really sucks you in from the get go, and the fact that there is an in-game mediaplayer which cycles the OST songs just gives it that extra bit authenticity. Again, this is your pc, and you're doing everything in this game personally.

Long story short, Hacker is not at all like this crap.

Unfortunately, it's easy to see why Hacker never really took off. It's just an incredibly hard sell. This is not an actionpacked game and if you just look at screens and videos, it will look like the most boring stuff ever. It's only when you start playing for yourself that you start to see its charm. And charm it has.

I personally got immediately sucked in when I played the demo (oh, yes, there is a demo by the way). The incredibly direct interface, the hollywood hacker feel, playing detective by searching for clues in uncovered files, everything together made it a really memorable experience for me. Obviously, I bought it not long after (in fact, I bought the Hacker Evolution + Hacker Evolution Untold pack for double the hacking goodness). Both games feature extra content in the form of free DLC, and they include mod editors, so you can download levels made by other fans or make your own if you're so inclined.

However, the puzzle elements and the slow pace, i.e. thinking every step through, might turn some people off, while others might be put off by the concept from the very start. If you never wanted a hacking simulator, then this game is obviously not for you. You won't be shooting stuff, let that be clear. But if we take all of the above people out of the equation, how many are left? Not a lot, I fear.
It's clear that this game fills a niche, one that is admittedly not very large. But if you, like me, do belong in that niche, then you would be doing yourself a disservice by not checking this unique but under-appreciated game out.

In this level you hack street lights to turn red while you're speeding away. Other games feature the car chase, this one offers the other perspective.
Photo Photo Photo

(This is a blog to combine two things: my love for indie games and my love for video game soundtracks. Expect to find more than a few examples of both below. Also, I would like to state in advance that I'm in no way an expert on music, as you can probably tell from my selections. I don't know all that much about music, I simply know what I like. Every entry will contain examples from each OST, and I will finish each by listing my personal favorite song, so that you can tell me that I have horrible taste :P)

It is no secret that I love me some video game soundtracks, and I think I'm not alone. Luckily, it's never difficult to find some nice earcandy, since the majority of big-budget AAA-games nowadays feature some really good music. No one will be surprised if I say that Super Mario Galaxy had good music. Or Final Fantasy XIII. Or Mass Effect 2. Or...well, you can go on forever.
That's why I have decided to give some credit to a couple of OSTs you wouldn't normally expect to see in a Top 5 list. With all of the games below, I found myself saying something along the lines of: "Wait....I didn't know the music in this game was this good". In a sense, these soundtracks are just too good for the games that feature them. Now, I don't mean that these games are bad in any way, far from it. What I mean is that most of the OSTs would fit very well in a major full-price release, yet are featured in a much smaller and less mainstream game. They are simply much better than you would expect when you first boot up the game. They make you wonder where the developers found the money to hire these composers. But off course, we're all glad that they did. I hope you will agree with me when you are done with the list.

5) Breath of Death VII / Cthulhu Saves the World - Gordon McNeil (and others for BoD)

We start with a recent (well, sortof) addition. Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World come in a pack, with BoD being a 'bonus' game to the main attraction that is CStW. This also shows in the music. While Breath of Death has some pretty decent music overall (the Battle theme is pretty cool), the music in Cthulhu is just much more polished, varied and, well...better. You will likely never hear the Menu Theme in full, but it's worth a listen. Besides that, there are some great dungeon themes as well. The music for the Factory Dungeon manages to be new and interesting while also paying tribute to that other factory-themed dungeon. One of the towns you visit later in the game sports a really cool jazzy track, and who can forget "Hey there, Cthulhu" from the trailer?
It's really a shame that you'll rarely hear any of the themes in full while playing the game. When you get into a battle, the normal music stops in favor of the battle theme, and when the fight is over the dungeon theme will start over from the beginning. Overall though, a good OST that captures that 16-bit RPG feel quite well. And since Cthulhu Saves the World is a parody RPG of "only" around 10 hours, that's saying something. Considering that both of these games were made by just about two people, you have to wonder why they didn't go for something simpler to save time and money. Instead, we got a soundtrack that an RPG can be proud of.
Oh, and did I mention you can get it for free from the creators' website? Because you totally can.

Shade's favorite track:
Conquer the Fire - Fire Dungeon theme

4) Shatter - Jeramiah Ross AKA Module

This is not the first time I've mentioned the soundtrack of Shatter, nor will it be the last. This OST is about as far removed from the above entry as possible, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Shatter features an electronic rock, almost Chiptune-esque, soundtrack of almost 1,5 hours. The tracks are pretty long, over 6 minutes of original music for every one, unlooped, and there is one for every level. But first and foremost, these songs are just incredibly catchy. Play the game for half an hour, have the songs stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Luckily, they are all enjoyable in their own right. The trailer featured Neon Mines, which in itself influenced me to buy this game. Other than that, basically every song is good in its own special way. Amethyst Caverns, for example is just...weird, but still oddly enjoyable. Kinetic Harvest will have your head bobbing like never before, and the credits are easy to sit through when Homelands is playing.
But the main reason I would describe this OST as too good for its game? Shatter is a Break-out game. Sure, it's one of the most pimped out versions you will ever see, but at the core it's still Break-out. And in this relatively simple game, you are treated to the electronic goodness that is the Shatter OST.

Shade's favorite track:
Krypton Garden

3) Magicka - Johan Lindgren

If you're a cynic, you could describe Magicka's OST as "generically epic". Many tracks are heavy on the chanting, and all the songs simply sound "big". If you're not a cynic, you will find this soundtrack very enjoyable, especially for such a decidedly silly game. In fact, when I was playing co-op with a friend, we had to interrupt our goblin-slaughtering throughout multiple levels to send each other a quick message; "kick-ass theme!". Magicka starts off calm enough, with the cleverly titled menu theme Idle Browsing. It clearly picks up towards the end, possibly as a prelude to the epicness that is yet to come. A couple of levels in, you will come to understand exactly where this game is headed: while riding an airship (and fireballing everything that moves) you are treated to Airship Ride. But after that, they really turn up the epic. Songs like Battle of the Wizards and The King in Yellow tell you in no uncertain terms that what you're doing is huge. And again, this for a parody game made by a small studio.
Finally, while most of the tracks are going the "epic" route, the developers are not above some humor in their songs. Even though it isn't in the game itself, the official song The Gamer and Magicka is a funny selfaware stab at some of the responses to the game. The developers released it at the same time as the spell "Crash to Desktop", which was free DLC to make up for the bugs and crashes in the early builds.
Overall, it may be too standard for some, but I enjoyed this OST a lot.
Oh, and did I mention you can get it for free from the creators' website? Because you totally can.

Shade's favorite track:
At World's End

2) Super Meat Boy - Danny Baranowsky

You know this one. Off course you do. It's been almost impossible to miss Super Meat Boy during the past year, and it's one of the best platformers in a while. Notoriously difficult but rarely unfair, this simple game of run, jump and don't die is something the two developers can be proud of. But you knew all that. Did you also know its soundtrack is actually really good as well?
The main attraction here is that every world as its own distinct theme. Actually though, it goes beyond that. Every world does not just have a unique song, each world has three. One version of the song will play during the "Light" stages, a darker song will play during "Dark" stages and an 8-bit version will play during special retro-themed Warp levels.
For example, compare Forest Funk (light) with Ballad of the Burning Squirrel (dark) with Forest Funk RETRO (warp).
Apart from the level themes, from which I would still like to mention Rocket Rider (world 3, dark), all of the boss themes are well worth a listen. Like Magicka, this OST knows where to find its epic. Carmeaty Burana, the final boss theme, has it in spades. (If you hadn't noticed by now, I'm a sucker for that)
Finally, in a really clever move, all of the level themes are combined in the Credits Theme. I found this to be a great way to create a credits theme, as it subtly reminds you of everything you've been through to get there.
For a game consisting of what I'd almost call "microlevels", about a blob of meat running and jumping to save his girlfriend, this soundtrack goes way beyond the call of duty to deliver us players something memorable. Conclusion? It succeeded.

Shade's favorite track:
The Battle of Lil' Slugger

1) Anything by Ari Pulkkinen - Ari Pulkkinen, obviously

Will you believe me if I say that Ari Pulkkinen is actually one of the single most listened to composers in video games? He is, really. Do you know what he made? He made the OST of Angry Birds.
But that is not what I wanted to talk about, because he has done much more and better work. (although honestly the Angry Birds Halloween Theme is not half bad)
No, Pulkkinen has worked on several other games as well, almost all of them smaller downloadable titles. His most notable work was with Frozenbyte Studios, where he made the soundtracks to Shadowgrounds and Trine.

Shadowgrounds as a game is just about as simple as it gets. Aliens are trying to kill you, but you have a gun. It's an overhead shooter with a few hooks here and there, and certainly fun, but otherwise straightforward. One thing that does stand out, off course, is it's music. The Main Theme, first of all, would not be out of place in a major science fiction movie. For a small part, the OST consists of some atmospheric tunes. But it is only when you enter a major battle that the music really starts to flare up. The volume cranks up, guitars kick in and the whole thing just makes you want to kick some alien butt. Mech the Destroyer is a great example. As is the appropriately titles I Need a Minigun. Even though the quieter stuff is pretty good, tracks like these were the highlight for me.
Fun fact: the guitar parts of these songs were actually performed by Amen, the guitarist of the Finnish heavy metal monster band Lordi. Lordi happens to be one of my favorite bands, so perhaps it's not surprising that I liked the Shadowgrounds soundtrack as much as I did. How such a small dev team, especially back when this game released, managed to score both such a good composer and a famous (well, at least in Finland) guitarist boggles the mind, but it clearly paid off.

However, Trine is the game that you are likely to be more familiar with and is the polar opposite of Shadowgrounds. In stark contrast to that game, the music in Trine is actually quite subtle. It's almost hard to believe that they were made by the same person, and Pulkkinen deserves more than a little credit for that.
While I titled this blog "soundtracks too good for their games", I am hesitant to apply this to Trine, because the music just fits the game so incredibly well. However, I never expected that this entire OST would end up in my list of favorites along the likes of Mario Galaxy and Brawl, so I believe it's justified.
This game was made to give the player that special feeling of wonder, that "wow"-factor of staring at something gorgeous, and you can tell that the music was made to enhance this. The tracks are all quite soothing and blend with the game's environments beautifully. That alone is a great achievement.
But personally, I think these tracks are also very nice to listen to on their own. Special mention goes to Academy Hallways, which is actually one of the first levels you visit. Interestingly, one of the most minimalistic songs from the soundtrack is also one of the most beautiful: Crystal Caverns. Finally, Tower of Sarek stands out from the rest, because it's the only one that is a little faster. In that level you are being chased, and the music reflects that while somehow still keeping that sense of awe.
Overall, the music in Trine can be subtle, even hard to notice while playing the game, but it is definitely worthwhile to take the time to just sit there and listen.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to play the other games Ari Pulkkinen has worked on, such as Super Stardust HD and Outland. However, if tracks such as this and this one are anything to go by, he has not lost his touch, nor his variety. Things are certainly looking good for the upcoming Trine 2 with this man in charge of the OST.

Shade's favorite track:
Final Round (Shadowgrounds)
Main Theme (Trine)
(but honestly? The entirety of the Trine OST)

And I hereby swear that none of the blogs I will ever write from here on out will contain this many links. I just love to share the things I like, is all. :D
I hope you clicked some of them and found something you could enjoy. If I have inspired anyone to look up these soundtracks, bonus points to me. I'm here to pay tribute to those guys who may be overshadowed by big-budget titles. I was pleasantly surprised by all of their work, and I wish to hear more from them in the future.

It's going to be worth it.
Photo Photo Photo

(It's been much too long since I posted something here: I've been busy with my studies for a while now. And it turns out that trying to study while E3 is going on is really darn difficult. Who would've thought? :P Fortunately, I'm done for a bit, hence a new Cblog. This is a topic I wanted to write about for a while, since in a way it is 'where it all started'.)

Strategy Guides are really interesting things, and gamers seem to have many different opinions of them. Some people feel that using a strategy guide is almost an insult to their intelligence, while others follow a guide step by step because they simply don't like to get stuck. Finally, there are those who consider guides nice pieces of swag and little more. Personally, I tend to avoid them. I want to do as much as I can on my own, and I'll only use them if I'm completely out of ideas. Even then, I'm not likely to buy a guide, since I can find all the information I need on the internet. There was one exception though; there is a particular guide I owe a lot to.
(This will not be a sappy blog about how games have made me a better person, or anything like that. I'm not even sure whether or not that is the case, although I guess it might be. I'm sorry if that was what you were expecting)

Back when I was still a little ShadeOfLight, I wasn't much of a gamer. Some kids are practically born with controllers in their hands, but I simply wasn't. We didn't have a SNES, (or later, N64) and I hardly even knew what those things were. A friend later got an N64, but that didn't get much use either.
When I was about 7 or 8, I did receive a Game Boy (the original), and I played some licensed games on it. We got internet around this time as well, but since we paid per minute, my time was very limited. I could play some flash games (again, based on licensed crap), but that was it.
Yet, I can call myself a gamer nowadays, so something must have happened. And it did.

What happened was Pokémon Red.

The left one, which is blatantly better than Blue anyway

Like all kids at the time, I loved the Pokémon 'cartoon'. I watched it when it first aired (luckily, it got translated into Dutch), and was quickly hooked. I never missed an episode during the first couple of seasons. You can image my excitement when I heard that there would also be Pokémon games. Despite (and maybe even because of) the fact that I didn't know that the show was based on the games instead of the other way around, I really wanted to give it a shot. I already had a Game Boy, so it fit perfectly.
I received Pokémon Red as a present not too long after that. Interestingly enough, my parents had actually come across a special deal: buy the game, get the strategy guide for free.
Looking back, that was one hell of a lucky deal.

The Pokémon games are often seen as 'kiddy' experiences, as great games for children. But think of it this way: an 8-year-old kid who has never played a 'real' game, let alone an RPG, and doesn't even speak English, somehow has to figure out how these games work. I probably could've handled it if it had been a platformer, but RPGs really can be quite complicated. That even includes the Pokémon games.
I knew some of the core concepts from the show, but trying to figure out how to play the game can be quite difficult, especially if there is no one around to help. You have to figure out what you're supposed to be doing in the first place, how fights work, which attacks actually do something, how to catch Pokémon, how to use HMs on the overworld, how to not get slaughtered by gym leaders, etc. etc. etc. Sure, the game tries to teach you these things, but how much of a help is that when you can't read English and the game isn't translated?

This is where the Strategy Guide saved the day. The guide actually was translated, and it included basically everything I needed to know. It had maps of all the areas in the game and the routes I had to take, ensuring that I could never get lost and frustrated. It also had a incredibly handy table, which showed which types were effective against which Pokémon. This allowed me to actually stand a chance against the many trainers I would have to face. It had a list of Pokémon and it showed you where to catch them. (A nice touch: it also had a sticker of every Pokémon. There was room for a sticker next to every Pokémon on the list, so you could mark the ones you already owned)
Finally, a list of gym leaders really aided me with one of life's most important choices: "Which starter should I choose?" Bulbasaur would work well against the first 3 or 4 gyms, so that seemed like the smartest pick. Bulba/Ivy/Venusaur are still among my favorites.

You may have started as simply the practical choice, Bulbasaur, but you grew on me more than you know
(Get it? 'Grew'? What plants do?)

After faithfully naming my main character 'Ash' and the rival 'Gary', I went on my way with Bulbasaur and the guide by my side. It worked like a charm. I always knew what to do and how to do it.
Gym leaders fell one by one, Legendary Pokémon were caught (Zapdos was awesome), and the Elite Four was conquered. Mewtwo was added to the team by using the Master Ball, after the guide helpfully suggested that I save it for him. Finally, after many, many hours, it was done. 'All' 150 Pokémon were in my possession. At this point the Strategy Guide was literally falling apart because it had been used so much. But it was more than worth it. Safe to say, I loved the game throughout.

I really think that this guide was very important. Without it, there is a very good chance that I would not have been able to finish this game back then. I probably would've become too frustrated from not knowing what to do, that I would have given up by the time I got to the second town. I know this because I've seen kids around me trying to play Pokémon Black/White, without success. But with the guide, I was able to play through the entire game, loving it all the way. After that, I bought Pokémon Gold when it came out, and I became interested in many other sorts of games. At least now I had a notion of what such games wanted from me and how to play them. The fact that my English improved throughout the years (in fact, it improved even while I was playing Red) meant that I wasn't dependent on a guide anymore.

And in 2011, I'm a gamer telling the story of the Pokémon Red Strategy Guide on Destructoid. So in many ways, the Strategy Guide was what got me into gaming in the first place. When people ask me what my first game was, I answer Pokémon Red, because the others simply "don't count". Therefore, I think I can safely say that the guide changed my life, in a sense. And since I still love being a gamer, this is not something would like to change anytime soon.

Off course, I still have the guide in my possession. Here it is, in its current state:

This is the effectiveness table. It became outdated with the second generation of the series, but it was invaluable for the first

More or less a random page, it show how to get to Mewtwo and how to catch him, as well as some other stuff

Carry on being awesome, you three. Carry on
Photo Photo Photo

Piracy has been a very hot topic these past few days, and I realize that I'm late to the party. However, that doesn't necessarily make my (counter)arguments any less valid. No, my illogical points and untrustworthy facts will do that just fine.

In all seriousness though, I am a bit bothered by the fact that piracy is often considered to be theft. And I mean not even 'similar to theft' but actual oldfashioned real 'theft'. Not only Jim Sterling has made this point on several occasions, pretty much every anti-piracy ad ever has included the line 'Pirating [X] is stealing!'
Below: the weirdest one I could find.

The irony in this? There's most likely a copyright on this ad as well. Uploading this on youtube is therefore also copyright infringement

However, the notion that piracy is theft is simply a false one. I fully understand why some people may feel this way, feel that it's the exact same thing, but that doesn't change the fact that it is untrue. This may be the law student in me speaking, but I also think that it's important to make that distinction. Piracy is not theft and therefore can't (and shouldn't) be treated in the same way.

Don't take this the wrong way though, I am not in any way saying that piracy is justified, for any reason, I'm only saying that it's not theft. And I'll tell you why I think this is important.

My reason is actually very simple. Accusing someone of something (s)he didn't do is simply not very effective. Imagine this situation, which may very well be the worst comparison you've ever seen (you're welcome): a 'stranger' walks up to a child and offers him an apple, the child takes it and the stranger simply walks away. You, the parent, see this happening. Now I ask you, what would happen if you went up to your kid and accuse him of stealing the apple? That's very easy, the child would simply say that he didn't steal anything and therefore did nothing wrong.
However, that was not the point. What the child did wrong was taking the apple from a stranger, since most will agree that you shouldn't take something from strangers just like that. This is where it goes wrong, because the next time a situation like this arises the child will have no problems with taking the apple again, since it still isn't stealing.
It would obviously be much more effective to tell the child that (while he didn't steal anything) he is not allowed to take something from strangers, and/or punish him for that. So, punishing him for something he did do wrong.

A similar thing is going on with piracy. Accuse pirates of stealing and they will respond with a simple justification: 'we're not stealing anything!' and continue on pirating. And they'd be right, more or less. In contrast, what we should do is condemn piracy...because it's piracy.

I hope you will agree with me that "You're pirating and pirating is wrong!" is a much stronger message than "By pirating you're actually stealing, even though you're not really!"

Still, I feel that I should give a short explanation on the difference between piracy and stealing, even though most of you have probably read about that by now.
The Criminal Code in my country defines theft as follows (translated): "the taking away of any goods which belong, as a whole or in part, to someone else, with the intention of obtaining these goods for oneself contrary to law."
While this is obviously not a universal definition, I think it sort of represents what we all understand to be stealing. So let's examine it for a while.
Two important parts of this definition are the word 'goods' and the phrase 'taking away'. Can data and information be considered a 'good'? Well, you could argue about that, but the court actually decided (in a case where an employee was taking company secrets by cutting/pasting them to an USB) that yes, yes it can.

More important is the phrase 'taking away'. You see, taking something is not inherently bad. If I obtain a new car, nobody will care. What makes it bad however, is if I obtain a new car by taking it from someone else. The core of theft is thus not my obtaining of an object, but the losing of it by the victim. Victimless crimes are rare, and theft is not one of them. Piracy is therefore evidently not the same as stealing, since there is no one who actually loses a particular 'good'.
A counterargument I've seen is that you're actually taking away revenue, money. I can fully understand where this idea comes from, as most people who pirate a game will consequently refrain from actually buying it. However, this is still a somewhat weak point, since the calculated lost revenue will be completely fictional. Not every person who pirates a game would've bought it if piracy hadn't been an option. Some people may download a file more than once, as it may not work the first time. There are all sorts of reasons to say that the number of pirates cannot be considered the same as the number of lost buyers of a game. As such, saying that by pirating you are actually stealing money is also highly questionable.

Which still doesn't mean that this doesn't apply

Does this mean that piracy is okay? No, it simply means that piracy should be treated differently than theft.

In this context, I would like to mention that piracy and using illegally downloaded games might actually be 'more illegal' than one would think. Copyright is the exclusive right of the creator of a work to copy and distribute said work (again, based on the definition found in my own legal system). Consequently, sharing the work, a game in our case, is an infringement of copyright since this is a form of distributing. Where it becomes more interesting is with the downloader. Obviously you create a copy when you download a game. Copyright infringement, that much is clear.
Additionally, since games usually require the user to agree with the EULA, the pirate will violate that 'contract' as well. The fact that nobody ever reads the blasted things doesn't mean that they're not binding on the user.

However, I'd like to go one step further. Think about what happens when you boot up the game. Your PC will automatically copy the files of the installation to your computer's memory. Since this could arguably also be considered a form of copying (as meant by the law concerning copyright), this would be a infringement of copyright as well.
Taken to it's logical extreme, this means that a pirate infringes on someones copyright every single time he even boots up the game.
The situation I describe here isn't even that far-fetched either. In fact, the courts in my country specifically decided that the above interpretation is correct. This doesn't mean very much to other countries, but it still shows that this interpretation could indeed be used and it even sets some kind of precedent. It might just be a matter of time before the courts of other countries come up with similar interpretations.

So in conclusion, piracy is bad. Big shocker, right?
However, piracy is not stealing, it's simply not. 'Stealing' implies that someone lost a particular item, which is not true for piracy. Still, piracy can be considered highly illegal. Not only is it illegal to download a game, thus creating a copy to your computer and infringing on the copyright of the creator, it might actually be illegal to even boot up a game obtained through downloading. Subsequently, a downloader may actually break the law an endless amount of times, simply by playing the game.
But while we have established that piracy is bad, calling it stealing might not simply be a question of terminology. By calling piracy something that it's not, we actually give pirates the perfect excuse on a silver platter. In my view, it would be much more effective to call piracy what it is and condemn it for exactly that.
So really, the core of my argument is this: We should not condemn piracy for being stealing, we should condemn piracy for being piracy.
Photo Photo

Well Destructoid, you finally did it. You just gave me the perfect excuse to talk about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean for a while. I dropped many hints, even warned you, that I would be forced to shower praise upon that game as much as possible, should I be given the opportunity. And now with this Monthly Musing, that opportunity has finally come.
You see, Baten Kaitos is a 50+ hour Gamecube RPG, and I've played through it at the very least five times. It also had a prequel, Baten Kaitos Origins (I won't be going into any detail on that one in this blog), which I've played at least twice. Moreover, I intend to replay both of them again in the near future.

(I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but some might still slip in, so be aware of that from here on out)
But first things first: have you ever heard of Baten Kaitos? Chances are you haven't, since it doesn't seem to be such a well-known title...at all. However, if you don't know it yet, at least it will give me some nice open minds to convince of its greatness. So let's get started with my long, yet nowhere near complete, explanation of my love of and constant returns to Monolith Soft's wonderful world. Let's fly into the Belly of the Whale.

I would like to start with the setting of this game, the world that it attempts to bring to life, since that is one of the most important parts.
In ancient times, so goes the tale, there was a huge battle between man and the ancient god of destruction, Malpercio. Mankind was victorious, managing to kill Malpercio and seal him away. However, the battle had left the earth scarred and poisoned, making it practically uninhabitable. Therefore, a group of wizards decided to raise several large islands up in the sky, where the people could rebuild their lives. Fast-forward some thousand years, and people have adapted to life in the sky, even evolving wings to make life a bit easier.

So this is where the entire game takes place. For me, that alone is enough to make me come back to this game over and over again. As far as worlds go, Monolith was able to create one of the most interesting ones I have ever seen. What makes it even better is that every island has its own distinct look and feel. Even the people of each island seem to have their own kind of culture as well. For example, the island Diadem is known as the 'land of the clouds', since the entire island is covered with clouds. The inhabitants actually found a way to 'sail' on these clouds, and you will find many 'fishermen' in Diadem as a result. To name two more: Anuenue is known as the 'Rainbow Nation' and its people are pretty festive most of the time, and Mira is the 'City of Illusion'. The latter contains anything from a picture book-like village to a dimensional rift, so even that title is completely accurate.

What's also interesting is that the culture, background and personality of a person seems to also have influence on the wings of that person. One party member, Gibari, is one of those fishermen I mentioned, and his wings resemble those of a flying fish more than a bird. In contrast, Kalas' (see header) natural wing looks a lot more like that of an eagle. (Kalas was born with only one natural wing. The other is mechanical, made by his grandfather)
A final cool detail is that, in keeping with the 'sky'-theme, almost all of the islands and towns are named after stars. Mira and Diadem are two examples. In fact even 'Baten Kaitos' is a star, in the whale constellation, and the name is Arabic for 'belly of the whale'. I bet you were wondering when I'd finally explain that.
(The whale is actually also important to the story of the game, so even that has significance)

All of this combined makes for a very interesting, detailed and varied world, one that is still fun to explore even the fifth time around. It gets even better when it turns out that the five islands aren't the only things floating in the sky and that there may be other places to explore as well. But to say any more would border on spoilers, so let's quickly move on.

This is one of the five major islands that form the world of Baten Kaitos. Care to guess which one?

The story, then. The emperor of the island Alfard is after the so-called 'End Magnus' (more on magnus later), which hold the pieces of Malpercio. By bringing them together one could resurrect the god...which would be bad. Reluctant hero Kalas and not-so-reluctant heroine Xelha go out to stop him. You, the player, also have a role in this story: you take the role of a spirit which houses in Kalas, and which gives him advice and makes him stronger.
The story is kind of basic, explained like this, but it all works nicely and it includes some really cool plottwists. For example, this game takes the 'traitor in our party'-trope and turns it completely on its head. That twist (which I will not spoil) in particular had my jaw on the floor.
A reason for this is that the game did a really good job in making every party-member seem trustworthy. Even despite the fact that two of them had previous ties with the emperor and Alfard, I couldn't imagine any one of them turning out to be a traitor. Try the game to see how this all played out.

The rest of the story, sometimes basic and sometimes not, was always very able to keep my interest, even after I had already experienced it four times.
If you think the world and the story would be enough to make me revisit this game time and time again...you'd be completely right. But there's even more, obviously.

Off course, if the gameplay doesn't hold up, neither does the game.
In Baten Kaitos it all revolves around 'magnus'. Magnus are cards which are able to store the 'essence' of almost any object and spawn these objects when needed. This system is used for solving simple puzzles, but is most important for the battle system. In battle, you draw cards containing weapons to attack with. This means that there is a little bit of luck involved in battles (drawing the right cards at the right moments), but every player worth their wings can easily overcome this by finetuning the decks and using the cards well in battle.

The battle system gains some more depth by including up to four numbers (1 trough 9) on each card. Making poker-like combinations can consequentially greatly increase your damage output. But you have to be fast, since you only have a few seconds to choose each card. Besides that, some cards also have an element attached to them. Using cards of opposite elements in the same combo will make them cancel each other out. Therefore, the trick is making sure that your deck is well-suited to deal with the enemies at hand, and then quickly making the best possible combinations when your turn comes up.

I find that this battle system is a lot of fun to use. It keeps the player constantly involved by really calling upon the players quick eye, reflexes and above all quick thinking. It ensures that battles can never really become stale and don't become a chore. Toss in some truly awesome finishing moves, and you've got a system that's worth revisiting.

1-2-3-4? 4-4-8-8? Or hope for a 6 on the next card and try 3-4-5-6-7-8 for a huge bonus?

We come to the final parts of this blog. The last thing about Baten Kaitos that I really want to mention is its music. This game includes one of the best soundtracks for a game I have ever heard (as does the prequel) that is certainly worth checking out. Motoi Sakuraba, who also worked on Golden Sun and Tales of, did a simply amazing job.
From kick-ass guitar, to some really motivational tracks, to...whatever you would describe this as (from the prequel). There really are too many good tracks to mention (although tvtropes tried) and I once replayed this game just to hear the music once more in its proper context. I'm a pretty big video game OST fanatic, and the soundtrack to this game was the first step.

So, I think I have now mentioned the most important parts of Baten Kaitos, but I could surely go on (I honestly tried to keep it as short as possible). The game hosts many original and interesting ideas, and I love pretty much all of them.

In short though, in my opinion Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is an underrated gem, known by way too few people. The world and story are great, the characters are interesting, the battle system is fun and engaging, and the music is awesome. All of this makes it one of my favorite games ever that I gladly revisit time and time again.

Now if anyone needs me, I'll be here gazing at the stars, looking for the Whale.
Photo Photo Photo

Some games are instantly amazing, from the very first moment you enter their respective worlds. Others...may need a little help. And actually, you can give it that bit of help yourself. There's only one thing you need to do: find your Sanctuary Fortress.
That may sound a bit cryptic, so join me now, as I explain the Sanctuary Fortress effect and tell you how it can improve your perception of a game.

To explain this more effectively, let us first look at my own experiences. To do that, we fire up the DeLorean and travel back to Fall 2009, when Metroid Prime Trilogy was released.

I bought this (bloody awesome) collection because I loved both Prime 1 and 3. The control scheme in the latter was amazing and the original would surely benefit from it. I had never played Metroid Prime 2: Echoes before, which made the deal even sweeter. I had passed up on Echoes a few years prior, because reviews had informed me that it was 'more of the same', but somehow not quite as good as the first.

When I started playing it myself...I was unimpressed. I had some problems with the game, but the most important was that the areas I could explore were just not that interesting. In the original Prime, the first area you explored was called the Chozo Ruins. After that, you also went to the Magmoor Caverns filled with lava and to the iceworld, Phendrana Drifts. All them sound pretty interesting, and they certainly were. In Corruption, you went to the planet Elysia, which housed Sky Town, an entire city floating in the air. Are you feeling it? I was.

And then I played Echoes, and I could go and explore...the Agon Wastes.
...really? The wastes? How is that in any way something I would like to see? There's nothing there to even explore, as implied by the freaking title. Okay then, better luck next time. So next up was, Torvus Bog. Again, not really that impressive, it was sort of swamp...ish. I didn't even know what a 'bog' was, but according to Dictionary.com: "wet, spongy ground with soil composed mainly of decayed vegetable matter". Not that spectacular, right? Nope, not really. So again, there really was nothing interesting or special to explore here.
By then, I was almost ready to give up on the game. I figured I would beat it once and just leave it be afterwards.

And that's when this happened:

That, my friends, is the Sanctuary Fortress. It was the most visually interesting area in the game, the music was good, and had some nice challenging enemies. Not only did it instantly become my favorite part of Echoes, it became one of my favorite parts in the entire Trilogy, rivaling Phendrana and Sky Town.
I'll go one step further, I liked it enough that it pretty much saved the game by itself. No longer is Echoes simply 'the crappy one', it can now stand safely between the other two. I instantly became much more positive of this game, and I even noticed that throughout the rest of it. I started appreciating the details of the other areas much more, now that I knew how cool the details in the Fortress were. I noticed the hidden beauties of the Bog and even the Wastes seemed less...waste-y.

And that is what I would like to dub 'the Sanctuary Fortress effect'. It's when one part (any part) of the game is so good, that it lifts all the rest of the game to new heights. Heights it wouldn't have been able to reach otherwise. It doesn't mean that you considered the game bad before that part, though. It could be that a really good game gets even better because of specific parts.
Have you ever replayed a specific game simply because "then I'll get to experience [part X] again"?
That's the Sanctuary Fortress effect.

I'll give you another example. Psychonauts.

Now, Psychonauts is an interesting case. Because all of the levels are so completely different, there really is something for everyone. I think that every level is the Fortress for at least some people out there. However, the Milkman chapter (above) is often mentioned, and that's a good choice of you ask me. The Escher-esque design of the level, the entire conspiracy theory, and off course, the hilarious sewage workers/grieving widows/gardeners who are in no way government agents.

Okay, final one. Mirror's Edge.

Need I say more?
Not only was that part absolutely awesome in itself (it's even better when you actually experience it for yourself, by the way), it made me appreciate the rest of the game and its core concept much more. Every single jump from that point onwards seemed even better than they had before. A (even more) positive stance is very powerful.

This is really what I'm trying to convey, that many games have one or two parts that are simply amazing and lift the entire game to new heights. It doesn't even have to be a level, actually. It could also be a graphical style, a specific character, an interesting gameplay element, or maybe the music is simply so good that it lifts the entire game.

So when you're playing a game that is simply not that good or is somewhat disappointing, here's a tip. Have an open mind, take everything in by itself in separate parts and try to find the truly outstanding one, the part that is able to improve the entire game. In fact, even when the game is great already, find that part and be prepared to enjoy it even more. When you have nothing to do during the weekend or vacation, scan your mind for something like that and replay the game that it belongs to. Even (especially) if it's just to experience that specific part again.

In short, find the Sanctuary Fortress whenever you can.

(and finally, tell me of your own experiences with the Sanctuary Fortress effect in the comments!)
Photo Photo