Starting with the Gameboy, Matthew Lane has been playing games since before he could read; playing until his hands would literally sweat and he would have to wear socks on his hands.
Known for his ability to emulate 'turbo' button pressing without a turbo controller and that one time he won a Mortal Kombat tournament at that one sleepover when he was 11. His gameplay ability has also been recognized by independent game developer, Team Meat.
His other hobbies include acoustic guitar and tabletop gaming -- just not 4th Edition. Ugh.
The Speed Gamers are a group of gamers who are basically giving all of us a good name by doing what we all love most: Gaming. You see, The Speed Gamers deprive themselves of sleep and endures marathon runs in order to raise money for charity. Most of us do it just because its in our nature.
Somewhere in Arlington, Texas, The Speed Gamers came together for the first time on March 14th with a marathon of Zelda games. Since then, Britt Lariviere has been gathering his friends together in for three years, turning their hobby into something more. Just last December, the group raised over $10,000 for the Best Friends Animal Society in a Kingdom Hearts marathon that spanned the entire series and lasted only 72 hours. Even more impressive is that they've raised more than a quarter of a million in the time that they've been active. That's a lot of charity, especially for playing video games.
To celebrate the new Pokemon games, the group decided on playing the first two generations of Pokemon to benefit the ALSA. I was lucky enough to catch Britt, the founding member, for an interview regarding The Speed Gamers and the upcoming Marathon:
Matthew Lane: I'm interested in how you advertised for your first marathon. I can't imagine that you guys had much of a following then (no offense.) How did you manage it and how many viewers did you have, if you can remember?
Britt Lariviere: Yeah, it was hard. We targeted different boards and forums that involved the series we were playing, so for our first two events it was Zelda. After that we had a tiny following that would also help us promote through various things like Facebook or blogs and it has just snow balled. Two years ago we were posted on the front page of MMO Champion and that really helped us gain a lot of followers. We've been on Destructoid before and other similar blogs and it has helped us immensely.
ML: So you would say that the following grew primarily by word of mouth?
BL: Yes, definitely. During our summer events we do get some local news coverage, we were even on the CNN news ticker at one time which blew us away. We've been really fortunate.
ML: Yeah, I noticed that you guys got some attention with the news media, which I'm incredibly thankful for, considering the normal stuff they cover when it comes to video games.
BL: Yeah, so true. Gamers always get a bad rap.
ML: Regarding your charities, I was wondering how you pick them. Is it usually related to the marathon some way, or is it just picked based on what you feel needs it the most? Also, I'm wondering if a charity has ever approached you.
BL: Our very first marathon was for Susan G Komen and it came close to home when one of my best friend's grandfather had died of cancer. A lot of the marathons in the begining were chosen by me and the causes that I wanted us to game for. Now its mostly community driven. We have the community choose a cause and then we research different charities that align with what they want us to game for. Also, some charities reached out to us early on, like ACT Today and we do an event for them each year. So I'd say in the begining a lot of my choices for charities revolved around causes that affected me the most.
ML: If anything, I think that's a good thing. It's an example that shows a humanitarian side of gamers. Though the expansion in the three years you guys have been active is astonishing.
BL: Yeah, it really gets us excited each marathon.
ML: So! Let's talk Pokemon.
BL: Haha! Coincidently on the day Black and White comes out.
ML: It's almost like you planned it!
BL: Haha. Yeah, we figured this would be perfect timing for the event. We had to guess when we though Black and White would come out and I'd say we nailed it. Hopefully the same will happen for our Zelda marathon in late September. I'm hoping Skyward Sword will be out then!
ML: Oh, you know, that reminds me: Why not play through those for this Marathon, too? Why go with the first two generations for this marathon? I know you're planning to go through the Pokemon games again in December, but isn't that a 72-hour marathon, too?
BL: Yeah, we were afraid we wouldn't know the games well enough to pull it off. We are basically just wanting to use the hype around the series right now. It's still going to be very tough though to catch them all, because we are literally catching them all. For example, if we evolve a Charmander all the way to Charizard, we then have to breed it to get a Charmander again and evolve it Charmelion and then also have another Charmander set aside. Evolving a Charmander all the way to Charizard will not count as catching all three. We want to literally have all the Pokemon traded to one cart to auction off at the end of our marathon. As far as planning goes, we like to make notes for our routes and have our game time estimated within 10-15 minutes so that we can plan properly.
ML: That's pretty insane. I suppose it's part of the territory when it comes to Pokemon games, though. At least when you're trying to literally catch them all.
BL: Yeah, it's a real pain. Haha.
ML: Are you going to save the masterball for Mewtwo?
BL: Hmmm, that's actually on Jame's -- one of our staff member's -- list. I think so though! We each have our own checklists and so during the marathons we know who needs to catch what.
ML: So you'll be playing simultaneously?
BL: For Pokemon marathons, usually all the games are being played simultaneously, but we made a rule in for this marathon to make it more challenging for us: Only one game from each generation can be played at a time. We scheduled out blocks for each player. I think we kick the marathon off with Blue and silver being played. During our other marathons we just play one game at a time.
ML: The other question I had was whether or not Yellow and Crystal are going to come into play for this marathon?
BL: We threw Yellow in just so we could split the checklist load a bit, but Crystal isnt being played. We will probably throw crystal on though if we have some extra time.
ML: Fair enough! I think that covers Pokemon nicely. One more thing I want to mention that deserves mentioning, though, is your fund for the new HQ. Could you tell me a bit about that?
BL: Yeah! We really want to have a place where our viewers can come watch us play and also interact with us during the marathons. Having a HQ would enable us to that. During non-marathon times it would double as sort of a LAN center -- except I really don't like describing it as a LAN center, haha. People could come and play competitively and the HQ could be livestreamed at all times. We would be able to stream tournaments and speed run attempts and also host daily gaming shows. We are kind of doing a v.1 run through of all that right now; if you go to live.TheSpeedGamers.com you can see a live view of us right now! We have weekly schedules and playthroughs of games!
ML: It sounds like you guys have a lot of exciting things in the works. I really hope it works out, because if anyone deserves it, it's you guys.
BL: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Like Destructoid, The Speed Gamers are an integral and important part of the gaming community as a whole; they represent us. Because of this, we need to support them for the good that they do. Even if you can't donate money, you can check out their website, make the effort to spread the word, and tune in March 11th through the 14th (this Friday through Monday) to watch their Pokemon Classics marathon.
It was not my smartest decision. I had played Dwarf Fortress before, but all the promises of 'fun' had been dashed upon the rocks like a rose given as an insincere apology. Dwarf Fortress was not fun, but a confusing mess of micromanagement and menu navigation. So why had I come back? Perhaps it was pride, but I knew that I had given up before, and I wanted to be able to give it a second go.
This is the documentation of my dwarves' adventure into the wilderness.
The world seems so much more blocky from this far away.
This is the world of Angsturbuzong, a fragmented land of myth. Apparently. I decide that it would be best to settle my unseasoned dwarves in a warmer area, along a small, isolated mountain range. I'm no expert geologist, but I feel that they will be able to find the right raw materials here. I have made the mistake of placing my dwarves in a place without accessible wood before; dwarves can make almost anything out of rock, but rock doesn't make very good fuel.
The Eastern side seems to be the best, as there is a brook available for irrigation. However, cycling through the different map viewers, I realize that there are apparently some cliffs around this area, and a couple of especially dangerous drops. I sincerely hope that my dwarves don't have suicidal tendencies as I've observed far too many times. Perhaps there is a waterfall that will cause some mist, which dwarves apparently like. I eventually settle here, in this 4x4 area. The game warns that there is a potential for drowning all my dwarves in this area. I choose to ignore the warning.
Why does everything have to be so ominous?...
In preparing for my journey, I've gotten rid of most of the finished goods that are offered to me. Instead, I take only an anvil, a couple of picks for mining, an axe for woodcutting, and a generous supply of food and alcohol. Getting a sustainable food source is a pain, so I hope to survive off my starting provisions for a while. On top of that, I decide to get a little of each type of sand -- not because I need sand, but because sand comes in bags, and buying bags costs more than buying sand. Essentially, I've confused the merchant into giving me free bags. I also decide to bring two war dogs, as risking my first few dwarves against any form of enemy isn't something I want to do. To tether them to my fortress' entrance, I bring two ropes. Lastly, I reluctantly bring a single cat to keep vermin out of my food supply. It's not that I don't like cats, it's just I've had terrible things happen to me.
Beasts? No one said anything about hungry beasts...
My early game goals are going to be pretty simple. Because my woodcutter and furnace operator is also my fisherman, I want to establish a replenishable food source outside of fishing before I get my metal industry going -- that way my woodcutter won't be stressed out with too many jobs at once. In order to do that, I'm going to need a farm. This is perhaps the most annoying thing to try and do early game, and probably my second-least favorite thing about Dwarf Fortress -- the first-least favorite being the management of new arrivals, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
First thing's first: I have to dismantle the wagon that they came in for wood. Keeping the wagon is pointless, considering your dwarves never go anywhere that's not on the map. Immediately I remember why I don't enjoy playing Dwarf Fortress that much: dwarves are stupid. Everything either needs to be done for them or they need to be told directly what to do. For example, early in the game, you'll realize that your dwarves will simply leave all their supplies from the wagon on the ground where they fell unless you designate a stockpile for them to keep it in. If you don't stockpile your food, it gets eaten by wild animals or rained on.
My baldest dwarf laments the lack of an actual water source. Turns out the brook is dry.
I tell my miners to get to work digging out the new house, and they immediately strike sapphires. This would be fantastic news if I had a use for them right now. It just started raining and my food is still outside; the last thing I need is sapphires. At least the rain is filling the brook up again, looks like I just might save the farm after all.
I can hear the cries of "Blasphemy" from over the hill, so I'll try and make this as brief as possible to avoid being pitchfork'd to death by the angry mob. Basically, I've been a fan of the franchise from the beginning, and I enjoyed everything through the first two generations (Red/Blue/Yellow and Gold/Silver/Crystal). Some time in 2001, while playing through Gold, I realized that there would have to be another Pokemon game after this, that I would never truly be able to 'catch em' all', and that Nintendo has successfully trolled the masses by perpetually keeping anyone and everyone from doing so. That's when I put the game down.
That's when things started to go downhill anyway, it would seem. I followed the franchise despite my unwillingness to do what it's tag line demanded of it's players, and I saw things. Terrible things:
Generations III and IV (Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald and Diamond/Pearl/Platinum) had brought new Pokemon. Celestial-body-shaped Pokemon. Heart-shaped Pokemon. Balloon-shaped Pokemon. Fruit-shaped Pokemon. Moai-Shaped Pokemon.
Left: Max Scoville's Tattoo of a rocket-propelled shark. Right: Sharpedo, a Pokemon from Generation III. Depending on when the tattoo was done, Max Scoville may be the inspiration for a Pokemon, or a Pokemon Enthusiast.
Now, that isn't to say that the newer games had nothing to offer; I just didn't have it in me to keep going after an impossible goal when the Pokemon that were available were simply too uninspired. It was as if the creative team decided that, if they saw something they thought was cool, they should report back immediately so that they could turn it into a new Pokemon. Well, apparently the development team is a fan of Lucky Charms, because I'm pretty sure they've based a Pokemon off every single marshmallows.
Well, low-and-behold, Nintendo now offers the fans yet another installment, and like the kind people they are, they gave us plenty of new and 'creative' Pokemon. To simulate the creative process, I've fabricated this note that I am fairly certain represents the cumulative ability of the design think-tanks that make Pokemon:
"So a moai statue, an ice cream cone, and a candelabra walk into a Pokemon center..."
So if you still play Pokemon, more power to you, but I just can't bring myself to play a game where you essentially fight balloons vs. ice cream cones. That's a fight that no one wins. No one.
GameFAQs means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Whether it's getting some help for a game your having trouble with, dealing with poorly-written twelve-year-olds complaints on the latest FPS for the Xbox 360, or just looking for a user-written review. Personally, I was turned off to the website when they had a merger and Jeff "CJayC" Veasey left a few years later -- probably enabled due to the $2.2 million that was split into CNET's purchase of it and two other unrelated websites.
It's still a good site with user-generated content, and nothing pro-gaming can be truly evil, but it's always felt a little less comfy with corporate hands in on it. However, I digress:
The GameFAQs Poll of the Day (PotD) is one of the website's landing page's main features. Generally, it has some video game or internet-related question for the users to participate in. Today's question was related to both video games and the internet, but went into some rather uncomfortable territory: Gender Impersonation.
I took this snapshot around 8:45 Pacific, so the poll isn't quite over, but it's pretty clear what the makeup of the gaming community really is. If this was representative of the community as a whole, that would mean that 5% of the 'girls' you're playing with online are guys; a 1-in-20 chance. This, of course, is without taking into account the idea that not all these faux-females are going to admit to their facade. Realistically, I think that this could be up to 10%, myself.
Keep in mind that these are the people who are actively pretending to have the boobs that their avatars supposedly represent. Some people just use female avatars because they're more... uh, interesting to look at; it's quite common to see a female character being played by a male who won't hide or deny his true gender.
Just for fun, here's the numbers for my own state, California:
I'm not sure if California gamers are just more gender-bent or if they're just a bit more honest with themselves, but it's a little unnerving to think that we're a whole percent higher on the west coast.
I don't think I need to state what the moral of this story is.
Capcom has showed a lot of interest in the gaming community's opinion lately, especially with their Capcom Unity Website, where they take polls and input directly from the gaming community on actions they should take in development and stuff like that.
Well, let's hope they're paying attention regarding some problems with their recent release. If you're at all familiar with Marvel vs. Capcom 3, then you probably know of the horror that is Sentinel. If you don't -- or even if you do -- I recommend this satirical video I happened upon recently. It really puts things into perspective.
This is the era where games like Final Fantasy XIII and Mafia II just aren't 'open-ended' enough, and games like Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption sit at the top of the charts until the next big thing comes around. It's understandable that people enjoy the freedom and sense of choice that comes with games like that, and the industry is definitely moving in that direction. Even racing games added RPG elements in order to facilitate the modern gamer's need for customization and choice.
(Final Fantasy XIII got a terrible reputation largely because of the flood of reviews early in the game's release when no one had actually gotten to the larger areas of the game. The game is unapologetically linear for the majority, but the end features incredibly large areas with plenty of side-missions.)
The problem is, there really is no such thing as a linear game to begin with.
Roger Ebert once wrote on how video games can never be art. Whether or not I agree with him or not isn't the point (I don't); the point is that he made the observation of games having predefined objectives that players strive to achieve. Now, I'm not sure how this concept undermines the other elements of a video game to the point that it cannot be considered art, but I do see a glint of something more in what Mr. Ebert said.
You see, all games have a definable beginning and end. Anything other than that isn't really a game, because games inherently require a point to start from and a final goal. Sometimes it augments what the ending is, but the ending is there regardless. Anything that claims to be some abstract art game and lacks any definable ending is really more of an 'interactive media' than a game, but I digress:
The concept of 'open-ended' and 'linear' are constructs of the human mind. You can turn to any gamer in the room and ask what their favorite open-ended game is, and they'll be able to cite one that has been labeled as such by the gaming community. Games like Just Cause 2 allow you all sorts of choices and ways to go about causing mayhem and chaos, but the game has an ending. When you see it, you load up your save file and do whatever you hadn't done before you beat the game before, and then you beat it again. Or not. Either way, the actual game has ended, and now you're just obsessing over a collect-a-thon, not that there's any shame in that.
(All games are linear, some lines are just straighter than others.)
Imagine the game Super Mario Bros. as a line with two points: A and B. As Mario runs through the levels, the line advances. It might go up and down or double back a few times, but the goal is to get from A to B. In games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, your goal is to simultaneously avoid and shoot B (at least in deathmatch games), and in games like Elder Scrolls IV, your goal is to get from A to B, with optional quests C1-through-Z532.
In other words, these 'open-ended' games are just as linear as any other, it just depends how you play it. Similarly, Super Mario Bros. can be considered open-ended if you play it that way. Even ultimately-linear games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- which is more of a visual novel anyway -- have the secondary option of failure.
I suppose the best way to visualize it is to look at video games like you look at books. Some books are Choose Your Own Adventure, and some are Choose Your Own Adventure, and While You're at it, Collect the Missing Red Pages, 8 Red Coins, and Free the Slaves by Destroying the Ridiculously-Powerful Secret Boss.
(I wonder if Roger Ebert considers books to be art. Pictures taken from Something Awful.)