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3:59 PM on 09.08.2010

More Than Just Noise: Happy Garland Blues

Steambot Chronicles is, without a doubt, my favourite game of all time. In the many years I have spent gaming, I have never played a game quite as massive in scope or rich in detail. The game serves as a window into a massive, living world, one that seems almost as real as our own. It's really quite remarkable, and whenever the opportunity arises to talk about it, I take it.

So, naturally, when this month's musing topic came up, I was delighted. After all, as the 20 something people who've actually played Steambot Chronicles are well aware, the game has a heavy focus on music. In fact, during development, Irem made every gameplay element, with the exception of billiards, revolve around one of three themes: giant robots as an everyday part of the world, character development within that world, and the music played in that world.

I could go on at length about the fantastic score, the busking simulation mechanics, or the surprisingly deep rhythm minigame, but alone those are hardly enough to warrant a monthly musing. Instead, I'm going to delve into the way the music of the game reflects the development of the characters, specifically the main love interest, Connie, (short for Coriander.)

Please Note: MANY spoilers follow.

At the outset of Steambot Chronicles, our hero, Vanilla, awakes on a strange beach, with no memory of how he got there or who he is. Fortunately, he is found by Connie, a beautiful young girl who is picking herbs for her sick mother, and after a series of misadventures the two become fast friends. Alternatively, depending on your choices, she hates you for being dick to her the whole time, but for the sake of brevity I'm going to write this from the perspective of someone who took the nice guy route. Either way, she thanks you for taking her home, and then rushes off to a concert.

You see, it turns out that the charming young girl who you've become friends with is, in fact, the lead singer for the Garland Globetrotters, the most popular band in the nation. Much of the game's plot revolves around your interactions with the band members, and their shared history. That history, and, later on, your interactions with the band, both have a huge impact on the music Connie writes.

Take, for example, the first piece, "In Your Voice:"


In your eyes I see a pond of trouble
You've been hiding from us all the time
But you can't keep it all in forever
Can't you see we're all right here for you?

Seems like a pretty simple pop song about love and friendship and crap, right? Well, at the beginning of the game, you'd be forgiven for thinking that way. However, once, you're a bit farther into the game, you find out about Dandelion, the band's old leader. Dandelion left the band following the death of his brother, Chicory, so overcome with grief that he couldn't go on playing.

This song is Connie's way of trying to reach out to him, to convey to him that his friends are still with him, and that artistic expression, or "singing out loud," is the best way to overcome his grief. She revisits this theme a few times in later songs. She also seems to be rather fixated on the events surrounding the death of Chicory, as is evidenced by her next song, "Impossible."


Where do I
Fit in the picture of your world?
When you're soaring so high
And I am left alone
Here, on the the ground

I can't
Even see you anymore
So high up there
Like a bird
I wish I could fly to you

Again, on the surface, this seems like a fluffy, silly pop song about unrequited love, and when you first hear it, indeed, that's what it sounds like. Again, though, once you know more about the band's history it becomes clear that the song is about more than that. In fact, it's Connie's lament over the death of Chicory. He was carefree, innocent, and he died that way, his soul free to soar like a bird. However, his death took Connie's wings, her innocence, away from her, and she can no longer reach the same heights she once did.

Connie loved Chicory, and in losing him she's lost the courage to trust and love others. She sings of how her only hope is for him to fly back to her, or, in other words, to find a friend as carefree and kind as he was. By going the nice guy route, Vanilla becomes that guy, and allows her to write joyful songs again, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

The third song, "I Cry," is rather unique, because it's a collaborative effort between Connie and Dandelion. She wrote the lyrics, and he provided the sheet music. Not to mention the subject matter...


The rain suddenly stopped when you came
My loneliness abandoned me at once
Oh, but when you spat those words at me
The rain just poured down on me again

When you first meet Dandelion, he asks you to bring Connie a letter and some sheet music he wrote. It's stated that the music forms the basis for "I Cry," the song you play in Neuhafen. Now, here's where this blog goes into speculation. We never actually SEE the letter Dandelion sent to Connie, so we don't really know the contents. I think it's likely that the letter contains an offer for her to join the Bloody Mantis, (an evil organization, created by Dandelion, bent on the destruction of Happy Garland for reasons outlined here.)

The song opens with Connie singing about waiting for him in the pouring rain, in other words, wallowing in the loneliness of having both Dandelion and Chicory leave her. His letter took away those feelings, temporarily, however, its contents quickly brought them back. She is is confused and hurt to find that Dandelion isn't the man she thought he was, that he's so consumed by grief and desire for revenge.

In the song, love is used as a metaphor for revenge. Part of her wants to take revenge alongside Dandelion, however, she decides that she doesn't really need revenge, and instead chooses to rely on herself and her music to help her get through her pain. She uses the song to vocalize this internal conflict.

The next song, "Just Shout it Out," appears as part of a sidequest. However, it is important, as it's Connie's last plea to Dandelion to stop what he's doing and come back to the band.


Pulled down by gravity
The weight of a thousand bricks, on your shoulders
It gnaws right through you, your flesh and bones cannot carry the weight
You can no longer stand it
Hold onto something strong

This song's a bit more clear cut than the others, which is I think why it's hidden in a sidequest. It's pretty obvious that the subject of the song is Dandelion. The thousand bricks represent the grief at the loss of his brother, and the whole "edge of insanity" bit is pretty obviously aimed at his plans to blow up Happy Garland. The "something strong" he needs to hold onto is his friends, and the song returns to the idea that artistic expression is the solution. Of course, you wouldn't be able to figure that out until after you fight him, but it does lend credence to the theory that Connie knew what was up with Dandelion all along.

After spending the entire game fixating on Dandelion and Chicory, Connie finally gets around to writing a song for you, as a way of saying "See You Later" as you sail off into the sunset.

Feels like I've known you for so long, but there's always something wrong
I could never understand, what this feeling was
Searching for its meaning, I went through everything
Every piece of shattered glass, and then I realized

When I saw you, for the first time
Washed up on the shore and lost
I knew that I, had found someone I could call my own

Yeah, the meaning is really obvious, but it still shows depth in its own right. It shows that Connie has finally managed to move past the tragedy that's dominated her life, that she's found someone new to love. Sure, it's sweet and sappy, but above all, it's a good ending to a compelling character arc, and what's really amazing is that a lot of that arc is simply implied in the subtext of Connie's songs, rather than being shown to the player outright. The developers used the music masterfully to convey a beautiful story, and the end result is truly remarkable experience.

As a bonus, I have also figured out what the song "Music Revolution" tells us about its writer, Fennel:


It sucks because he's not a very good musician and it has no depth because he's a shallow moron who thinks he's better than everyone else.

Man, I am an analytical genius.   read

3:05 AM on 05.22.2010

Metal Gear Solid 1 Spark Notes

This started as a thing on the forums, but I figured it was funny enough to deserve a cblog of its own. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

So there's this guy who's a clone of this other guy (but he doesn't know he's a clone yet because he's like spiderman), and he killed the other guy who he's a clone of way back when, after the other guy told him to turn off his MSX2, which would have been totally freaky if the game weren't on the NES. Anyway, this guy who is you goes to alaska to rescue a military base from terrorists who are his old unit, and then you see a dude who looks like your dude only blonde get into a helicopter. Then a black guy tells you about metal gear and dies and your guy stares at an ass for a bit. Then a cowboy shows up and tries to kill you but he gets his arm cut off by a cyborg ninja, and you have to remember that one part because it's really important later. No, seriously.

So the dude who the cowboy was keeping prisoner tells you about metal gear, and you're all "no shit." Also, he dies, and your dude is all "wtf?" and then you have to look on the back of the cd case of the game to find out the phone number of the chick who belongs to the ass your dude was staring at in that one cutscene I mentioned. The dude from watergate contacts your dude, then your dude drops some grenades on a native american shaman in a tank.

After that you find the ninja from before (who is a dude you killed when you killed the guy you are a clone of) terrorizing a weeaboo so you drop a bunch of sparkly grenades that make him flip the fuck out and then shoot him a lot. Your dude and the weeaboo become friends and then you go to a new place and use your ass recognition skillz to find the chick. Then an evil psychic dude in a gasmask possesses her, tells you what konami games you've been playing and moves your controller with his mind, and you have to swap controller ports in order to kill him.

After that the chick gets taken out by a sniper chick so you have to backtrack for a sniper rifle and drugs and an asian chick on your phone tells you to save. Your dude gets knocked the fuck out and ends up being tortured by the cowboy. If you don't mash the button enough you either die or your girlfriend dies, so you better mash that fucking button unless you don't care about her, which is entirely possible considering that you barely know her at all.

Then you're in a cell with the same black dude who died, only he's more deader than before and has no blood. You might think that means vampires, but that's stupid because there are no vampires until the second game which I haven't gotten to in my summary yet. You trick an incontinent retard (who is also really important later on. No, really) into letting you out of your cell by splattering ketchup on your chest so he thinks you're dead.

Then you only blonde shows up in a helicopter and tries to kill the dude who looks like you and is you because he isn't blonde. You with the mullet kills his helicopter (but not him) and then kills the sniper bitch in a big snowfield, and also your weeaboo friend tells you he's in love with her. The shaman shows up with a minigun this time and you kill him too. Then you use a card to stop metal gear only it starts metal gear because the dude who looks like you only blonde tricked you, like, three times. He was pretending to be a different blonde guy who only kind of looks like you the whole time. WHAT A TWIST.

So blonde you tells you that he and brown mullet you are twin clone brothers from a thing with french babies. He then explains to you that the writer doesn't understand genetics and thinks recessive genes are automatically inferior. Also, you are a bioweapon with a deadly virus inside of you and it's what killed the guy captured by the cowboy and the black guy (who wasn't really the black guy but a different guy pretending to be the black guy who stole the black guy's blood for some reason, which made him vulnerable to the genetically targeted virus.)

The blonde guy, (who was the only blonde guy all along so I no longer have to qualify who he is,) then gets in metal gear which is a walking tank that launches nukes with a railgun and tries to kill you. You shoot it with missiles until the ninja shows up and cuts a weakspot in it that you can hit with missiles for massive damage. Then the ninja gets dead and you shoot the weakspot for massive damage. After that you punch the shit out of the blonde guy and then do a car chase with either your girlfriend or the weeaboo depending on if you gave up in the torture.

The blonde guy finally catches you and is about to shoot you but then the virus kills him and the old guy in charge of your mission stops a nuclear strike that was apparently going to happen. You ride of into the sunset with either your girlfriend or the weeaboo (no homo) and then the cowboy talks for a while and totally turns out to be the dude from watergate and also a bad enough dude to work for the president. He stole the plans for metal gear and totally sets things upfor a sequel where metal gears are sold on the black market and that's a bad thing.

Summary of said sequel is forthcoming.   read

5:09 PM on 04.02.2010

Secret code uncovered

Apparently, if you read the first letter of every sentence in the last two paragraphs of my last post, you'll uncover a secret message from an ancient civilization or something. Check it out.   read

2:16 AM on 04.01.2010

Why Bioshock 2 is the worst game this year.

I am totally and utterly bewildered as to why 2k would want to make a second Bioshock. The first game was near perfect, one of the best games ever made. The story was concluded masterfully, there were no loose ends, and there were some amazing underlying themes. Sure, the gameplay was a little shitty (more on that in a minute) but from a narrative perspective, Bioshock 1 is one of the highlights of the medium. Not only did it craft a compelling tale of a fallen underwater utopia, but it also was a sophisticated satirization of the very nature of video games.

Compare that to Bioshock 2, which basically says "hey, remember all that shit you did in the first game? None of it fucking mattered." and then goes on to basically ruin everything. Adam? It's fucking magic now. Big Daddies? Hulking monstrosities devoid of any humanity? Fuck no, they're fucking ninjas now. The retarded shit goes on and fucking on and fucking on.

I guess, if you were thick, you could argue that the gameplay improvements make it worthwhile. Problem is, Bioshock was never about the gameplay. If it was, the weapons would do much more damage and you'd get more ammo, instead of being in bullshit fights all the time where it's impossible to avoid getting hurt. I mean, talk about shitty game design. But like in survival horror games, shitty gameplay is sort of excusable. It's the atmosphere you're there for, and the shitty combat mechanics contribute to that, as do the monotonous hacking minigames. By trying to improve those things, 2k has ruined the atmosphere in bioshock 2, just like Capcom ruined Resident Evil when they made number 4.

All in all, I'd say Bioshock 2 is well on its way to being the worst game of the year. Pretty much everything they could have done wrong they did. Realy, there was no need to make the game at all. I'm insulted that they think I'm so stupid as to let them milk my hard earned money with this peace of shit sequel. Let's all agree to boycott the inevitable bioshock 3 and put an end to this fucking bullshit.

For serious, guys, this is a thing we need to do for the good of the industry. Originality is being drained from the medium with each passing year. Original, innovative games are almost impossible to find outside of the indy market. Letting 2k get away with this is just another step down a slippery slope to fucking shit like Uncharted becoming the standard. Stop this shit now, before it's too late.   read

2:00 AM on 12.21.2009

Another Reason Fanboys are Like Fundamentalists

Jim Sterling's latest article got me thinking, and I think he missed one key point in his comparison between fundamentalists and fanboys:

They are arguing about two things that are fundamentally identical

For a very long time, Muslims, Jews, and Christians have been blowing each other up over whose imaginary friend is better. What they often seem to forget is that, aside from some superficial differences, they're imaginary friends are exactly the same. They're both all powerful deities who prefer to speak through prophets as opposed to just talking to humanity directly, even though doing so would be easier and far more effective. They both have the same list of superpowers, and they both hate it when people have imaginary friends besides them. Additionally, they're all based on the word of the same prophet, Abraham, and they all preach essentially the same set of values. For all intents and purposes, Allah, Yaweh, and Jehova are all the same god under different names.

Similarly, despite what fanboys will tell you, the PS3 and Xbox 360 are pretty much the same console. They both have approximately the same horsepower, though one is slightly more powerful and the other is slightly easier to work with. They both play pretty much the exact same games, with most of the exclusives having equivalents on the other console. On top of that, they both have 14 button wireless controllers with a home button in the middle, two analog sticks that you can click, and USB charging function. Despite the fact that the consoles are almost exactly the same, fanboys still claim their respective consoles to be vastly superior based on ultimately superfluous things like disk format or the quality of the online service.

Both fundies and fanboys get in bloody conflicts over which of their chosen identical products is superior, and such conflicts are almost as scary as they are pathetic.   read

7:51 PM on 12.08.2009

Love/Hate: Horror

I'm a big fan of horror games, because they are genre that works fine in film, but simply works a hundred times better in interactive form. I can say with certainty that no movie will ever be able to scare me the way Fatal Frame 2 has, and none will be able to create a sense of atmosphere as perfect as that in Silent Hill 2. Oh sure, movies might be able to do better jump scenes, (more on that later,) but when it comes to sheer pants wetting psychological terror, film will never be able to hold a candle to the potential of the interactive medium. It's like a haunted house, but with all the pacing of a horror film and all of the infinite potential of animation. Until virtual reality comes around, nothing will be able to deliver scares as well as video games.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I love the horror genre so much, I happen to be a world class pansy. Horror games and films always freak me out, and frequently keep me up with nightmares. This is especially true of works in the zombie sub-genre, (even stuff like Zombieland sometimes,) which is even more unfortunate considering that I absolutely adore zombie fiction. Now, a lot of this probably stems from the traumatizing events of my first foray into hardcore gaming, (which you can read about in the bio on the right side of my blog,) but there is no denying that even before then I was a bit of a scaredy-cat. When I was 5 I had nightmares about the snow ghost from Scooby Doo, so suffice it to say that I have never been the bravest of souls.

But my crippling, sleep depriving psychological issues are not the only reason I have a love hate relationship with the horror genre. There are also a number of things that flat out annoy me. For one thing, almost all horror games have horrible control schemes. Running around is usually a pain, especially in games like Silent Hill, the old Resident Evil games, and Fatal Frame, and don't even get me started on the combat. I realize these are supposed to be ordinary people, not soldiers, but last I checked most ordinary people don't have parkinsons. Fighting in these games is usually an awkward clusterfuck that makes you wonder how your character can be the only survivor when he can't even figure out how to swing a baseball bat effectively. The only game that gets a pass on this is Fatal Frame, because using an old fashioned camera is about as awkward as is depicted in the game.

Another issue is that a lot of these games rely far too much on jump scenes to scare you. Scenes where a zombie jumps out of a closet beside the main character in a movie work well because they give the audience a good fright and occasionally serve to give the story some progression. They don't work as well in a video game setting, however, because when a player gets jumped by an unseen enemy and it kills him it feels cheap. It's even worse when save spots are few and far between, because then you have to replay up to an hour of gameplay just to get back to the spot where the jump scene killed you. When the game dumps a surprise instadeath on the player, it's not scary. It's not fun. It's just agitating.

The thing that bugs me most about horror games is that most of them are just shit. Not only are games like Siren and Alone in the Dark not scary, they exemplify bad design. With fucked up story progression, horribly confusing level design, and absolutely abysmal play mechanics, most of the horror games coming out these days are simply not worth playing. There is hope, however, as more developers are finally starting to get how to make horror games scary. A perfect example of this is Dead Space, which manages to maintain a fucking scary atmosphere the whole way through while having above average combat mechanics. It's a game where you're constantly paranoid, checking “dead” bodies and vents everywhere you go to make sure nothing gets the jump on you. When the enemies do show up, it feels like a bit of a relief. The developers understand that the scariest stuff is the stuff not on screen, and they frequently fuck with your head to keep you on edge. Of course, the story is a bit of a letdown, but it just goes to show that you don't need shitty play mechanics to make a game scary.

Despite all my gripes about the genre, I still love it, (the big goof,) and I'm gonna keep playing horror games as long as I can. I'll probably lose a lot of sleep, I'll probably smash a lot of controllers in frustration, and I'll DEFINITELY need some spare underwear, but at the end of the day I'll still have a great time. Here's to many years of psychological scarring. WOOOO!   read

12:48 PM on 12.07.2009

Metacritic is Wrong

In all my years of playing games, I've read a lot of reviews. Some of them I agree with, some of them I don't. One thing that really annoys me is that review score agregators like metacritic don't really represent a game's quality. I have realized this is because certain sites have opinions that are stupid and worthless. So that metacritic can better represent the correct level of quality, I have divised a formula for deciding which reviews should not be included in the average. A review should not be included if:

1. It is from IGN

IGN gave The Guy Game a 7.7. Obviously, this means they can never be trusted. If you ever trust IGN's opinion on anything you are stupid and wrong.

2. It agrees with an IGN review

I know that when mulltiple people corroborate and account it generally means the account is accurate, and I know that this principle is the cornerstone of a number of court convictions, but FUCK THAT, RIGHT? Since I, through my infallible logic, have proven that IGN is ALWAYS wrong, anyone that agrees with them must be wrong too. If this also means that Charlie Manson was innocent, so be it. I am infallible, after all.

3. It comes from Gamespot

I could go into a long rant about how they let Micro$oft and $ony buy review scores, but instead of that: Jeff Gerstmann. 'Nuff said.

4. Jim Sterling wrote it

Jim Sterling is always wrong. This is a proven fact. The internet told me so.

5. It disagrees with my personal opinion

I am always right. ALWAYS. I'm like the pope if he wasn't a pussy and was actually infallible. Actually, no, fuck that. I'm like God if He actually existed and only cared about pointless things like video games. As such, anything that disagrees with my personal opinion of a game is totally wrong, and should not be included in a metacritc score. Obviously, this also means that if any review that falls under the above criteria that I agree with is exempt from the rules.

So, in conclusion, Metacritic should just pay me to come up with arbitrary numbers for everything. I don't even have to play the game, because I usually judge games before I play them and I'm always right. They don't even have to use those other rules, they're just backups in case someone who doesn't understand how infallible my opinion is decides to argue with me on the internet. It's good to have corroborating evidence. Unless that evidence corroborates a position other than mine, in which case, it's wrong.   read

1:55 PM on 11.29.2009

The Memory Stick – Investigative Journalism

A likely shoddy ripoff of a popular Destructoid series.

I'm a new arrival at Destructoid, and as such I am still getting acclimated to the site. I've been reading a lot of articles on the site to get up to speed, and I've found that one series, “The Memory Card”, has really resonated with me. It's got me thinking about gaming moments that have had a big impact on me personally. I figured I'd take a crack at writing something like it about one of my own favourite moments (one that I'm sure will never be covered in the official feature) in my favourite game of all time,Steambot Chronicles.

I must warn you before we begin that this post will contain some massive spoilers. If you haven't played the game yet and plan to, I suggest you do that before reading this. It's the kind of game you really should experience fresh.

The Setup

Steambot Chronicles begins as many Japanese Games do: with a dominatrix pirate teaching the controls to some brunette kid. After this humorous tutorial is over, the game proper begins, and we are thrust into one of the most startlingly original openings in the history of gaming: a young, teenage amnesiac is awakened on a beach by a beautiful girl.

Normally, this clichéd intro would piss me off, but in the case of Steambot Chronicles, having an amnesiac protagonist just works. For one thing, it allows the player to control who the protagonist, Vanilla R. Beans, is as a person. This basically means that every conversation gives you the option to be a nice guy, a greedy indecisive prick, or a total asshole.

The other reason it works is because Steambot Chronicles is an exercise in world building. As this is the first entry in the series, you as the player are presumed to be going in with absolutely no prior knowledge of the fantastical world you are entering. It's fitting, then, that the protagonist knows as little of the world around him as you do. You meet all of the characters as he does, and you discover a spectacular world through his eyes.

The first character you meet is Corriander, (people call her Conny for short) the pretty girl who found you unconscious at the beach. After talking to her for a while and getting your bearings, you try to leave the beach, at which point a giant robot knocks a boulder off a cliff and traps you there. Fortunately for you, there is a beat up old Trotmobile, a mecha evolution of the early automobile, in a trash pile nearby. You and Conny get in, smash the boulder, and start the long journey home.

You pass a farm on your way to the nearest town. The fields are being tended by a farming trotmobile, which is basically a giant robot with tractor parts. Irem uses this image to subtly introduce you to one of the central elements of the world: these giant robots have practical, everyday uses. They are not just weapons for fighting, but tools of industry and transportation. They are more practical than cars, and so they have surpassed them as the default method of transportation for the average citizen.

The flipside of this technology is shown almost immediately afterwards, as you encounter a bandit on the way to town. The bandit accosts you with a “rooster,” a heavily armoured trot armed with a single cannon and designed for mass production. This robot, the imp of the game, represents the dark side of new technology. It shows us how evil people will take a useful but dangerous technology and use it to their own ends. The subject of how trotmobiles fit into the world around them is one of the central themes of the game, and in exploring it Irem crafts one of the richest steampunk settings in all of fiction.

After trouncing the bandit, you enter the small town of Hayabusa and are introduced to a few members of the Garland Globetrotters, Conny's band. These characters become key players in the events to come, and can either be your best friends or your worst enemies depending on the choices you make. Your journey across the land mirrors their concert tour, and at points you will even play alongside them. Regardless of whether you end up with or against them, you will get to know them intimately, and their personal history plays an integral role in the events to come.

For the moment, though, they are your allies regardless of how you act. You journey with them toward the city of Nefroburg, taking down a giant Elephant tank along the way. This first boss fight is one of the most epic moments in the early game, essentially playing out like Shadow of the Colossus with giant robots. It helps to demonstrate the true potential of trotmobile technology, even moreso once its true purpose is revealed later on.


Once you reach the city, the world opens up and the game proper begins. You are given a lot of freedom to dick around, seeing the sights and making money by busking or by trading commodities. Eventually you'll continue down the main story path once again, meeting the rest of the globetrotters and learning more and more about their past. You'll get caught up in a battle against a secret organization, or perhaps join them if you so choose. Many mysteries are discovered and solved along the way, except for one very important one. That, you have to solve on your own.

The Moment

Throughout the game you really get to know the Globetrotters as people. You learn the band's history and that of its past members. As you get to know them, you hear a lot about Dandelion, former leader of the Globetrotters, and his brother Chicory. It seems that Chicory was a rather nice boy, beloved by everyone. He was a constant companion to the band, and to Conny in particular. All of this raises the question: where the hell is he now?

Nobody really wants to answer that question, although an astute player can figure out that it has something to do with Mallow, the rich brunette kid from the tutorial. No matter who you talk to, nobody will give you a straight answer, either dodging the question or feigning ignorance. Despite the fact that Chicory's apparent death is the primary motivation for the main villain's actions, at no point in the main plot does anybody tell you just what happened to him. If you want to find out, you need to do some sleuthing.

Now, where would one find record of a tragic incident that occurred many years ago? Why, at the newspaper archives of course! If Vanilla goes into the archives of the Urban Times in Happy Garland (the main city in the game) and examines the bookshelf within, he will find a newspaper from the day of the incident. The article is intentionally vague, only telling you that Chicory was hit by a car outside the train station, but it tells you enough to point you in the right direction. You ask the Station Master about it, and he gives you another clue that leads you to another witness. Eventually, you get to the town priest, who spills the beans about the whole sordid affair.

It seems that on that fateful day, chicory was waiting outside the train station with a present for Connie. Mallow, the son of a rich hospital director, came along and decided he wanted to bully Chicory. So what do you think he did? He took the gift Chicory had bought for Conny and threw it into the street. Chicory ran out into traffic to retrieve the present and was hit by a car.

Wait, it gets worse.

Because at the time it was practically a death sentence to go against the rich, nobody tried to help Chicory for fear of crossing Mallow and his father. By the time Dandelion and Conny arrived at the scene, it was too late to help him. The boy died while an entire city watched, too scared of Mallow's father to do anything about it.

Holy shit.

I can't find a video of this scene and screenshots of this game are more than a little hard to come by. If anyone wants to help me out it would be greatly appreciated

The Impact

Now clearly this is some pretty heavy shit. Not only does it add an element of tragedy to the world, it also gives Dandelion solid motivation for wanting to destroy Happy Garland. None of that is what makes this a defining artistic moment in video game history, however. What makes this a Memory er... Stick moment is the way in which it is presented.

As I said before, this moment doesn't crop up in a melodramatic exposition. Nobody in the main cast wants to talk about it, and understandably so. It was, as I said before, some pretty heavy shit for the Globetrotters to deal with. Part of the band's character is that behind all of their cheeriness there is this horrible event that none of them want to talk about. It's equally understandable that the townspeople don't want to talk about it. I mean, really, what are they going to say? “Oh yeah, the time we all watched as that kid died in the street.” I don't fucking think so. If it were me, I would keep that shit hush hush.

In forcing the player to investigate and find out the truth for themselves, Irem makes the event feel more real, and the characters involved seem more human. The way the information is delivered shows us wordlessly exactly how harshly it impacted the whole city and the Globetrotters in particular. They don't need to tell us that it still fucking hurts because it is evident from their actions that it's a really painful memory for them.

This is interactive storytelling at its finest. Not only does it force the player to involve himself in discovering the truth, it also shows the player the impact of the events that he is investigating. Better yet, all of it is completely optional. You can go through the entire game never knowing what happened, and as a result the meaning of the plot changes dramatically. Irem has managed to convey meaning and emotion not just through dialog or imagery, but through interactivity itself. Just ponder that for a second. Really think about it. If this isn't the Citizen Kane of video games, it's certainly a massive step in the right direction.

There are a multitude of moments in this game that I could write articles about. In the first 20 minutes alone we have the farm scene, which instantly establishes the game world, and the battle with the Don Elephant, which is probably one of the coolest first boss fights in history. The game is literally packed with multilayered moments like this that express their messages through symbolism and dialogue simultaneously, or that are otherwise just really awesome. If the response to this is positive, I'll probably write another one of these in the future talking about some of them. It's just that this moment in particular really stands out in my mind, which is a testament to its emotional impact on the player.

Steambot Chronicles is a masterwork; A truly shining example of what's possible in the medium. It may have a few control issues (as would, I argue, an actual giant robot whose design was based on a vehicle without power steering) and it may lack a little bit of big budget polish, but it more than makes up for its shortcomings with moments like this. If you consider yourself to be a gamer, you absolutely MUST play this game.   read

11:55 PM on 11.26.2009

Sonic And the Black Knight Review

I wrote this review a while back but never published it anywhere. I figure it's about time I show it to some people. Let me know what you think of it.

To say that I wasn't expecting much out of Sonic and the Black Knight is an understatement. From the minute I saw the first preview I was almost sure that I would hate it. It says something then, that despite my incredibly low expectations the game still managed to disappoint me.

It's clear from the outset that Black Knight relies heavily on pretty graphics in order to draw interest. The opening attempts to draw players in like magpies to a shiny object with a gorgeous pre-rendered cinematic awash with particle effects and featuring almost pixar quality animation. It then throws players right back out in a rather unceremonious fashion the second a character, in this case the sorceress Merlina (hooray for affirmative action) opens her mouth. Yes, the writing and voice acting is terrible, but by now we've come to expect from Sonic games.

A girl version of a character typically portrayed as an old man. Haven't seen THAT before.

The cinematic is followed by another cutscene, this one presented in a charming woodblock print style. Through some poorly written and voiced dialogue it is explained that King Arthur has turned evil, and that it is up to sonic to stop him To do so he must obtain a sacred sword, which is apparently the only thing that can harm the king now that he has become immortal through the power of Excalibur's scabbard. This idiotic exposition lasts less than a minute, which I was glad for at first, but in retrospect I sort of wish that it was longer, as it was the only thing keeping me from the horrendous gameplay.

The game then throws you into a simple tutorial, and the first thing you'll notice is that, though they aren't nearly at the level of the opening cinematic, the graphics are very pretty. The second thing you'll notice is that your control of sonic is a little limited, to say the least. As Sonic's movement is strictly on rails, the only control input you need to use is up on the analog stick. About half way through the level you reach some targets that you can shake the Wii remote to smash with your sword, some of which you need to jump at to hit. Through the next few levels you'll discover that this is pretty much all there is to Sonic and the Black Knight: you watch a woodblock cutscene, then enter a level where you press up, wave the Wiimote from side to side, and tap A occasionally whenever you need to jump.

Well, that's not entirely true. It seems the developers realized that the game might get a little boring if it were just pressing up and waving a sword around, so they created the “acts of chivalry”, which are sure go down in the annals of history as one of the most inane gameplay elements ever concieved. To perform an act of chivalry, you run up to the hobbit-like townspeople, press z to initiate a button based quick time event, and then give them 20 rings. Yes, you read that correctly, the townspeople who you are busting your ass to save are demanding money from you, and not only that, but they also make you jump through hoops to give it to them. If you fail the stupid rhythm minigame, they will refuse to take your money, as though the fact that you can't dance somehow makes your money worthless to the ungrateful bastards. On their own these acts would be an annoyance, but some genius at sonic team decided that they were so fun that they needed to be mandatory level goals. And no, you don't just have to do them once, as each of the act of chivalry levels requires that you give between 80 and 100 rings to the greedy little beggars.

One of the few instances in the game where pressing up is not neccessary

The developers made one other feeble attempt to change things up with the implementation of boss battles, but unsurprisingly these also fall flat. The first battle is against King Arthur himself, who conveniently shows up immediately after you obtain the sacred sword Caliburn. Unfortunately, it seems that the sword can talk, and as you battle the annoying jerk constantly berates you for not being good at randomly waving the Wii remote around. At the very least the sword seems capable of harming the king, who you must chase down and defeat by pressing up and waving the wii remote from side to side. In the next three boss battles you must fight three knights of the round table, each portrayed by one of Sonic's menagerie of friends. The fights against the knights all play out identically: you hold the block button, (which has no use outside these three fights) press up and (say it with me now) wave the Wii remote from side to side.

After about three hours of this repetitive crap you reach the second battle with King Arthur, which is almost identical to the first battle, but with one key difference: it incorporates incredibly unforgiving waggle based quick time events. These quick time events are unforgiving not because they require instantaneous reflexes, however, but instead because they insist on using the Wii motion sensor instead of traditional button presses. The problem with waggling the remote is that it simply is not responsive enough to accommodate that kind of gameplay. Many developers have made note of this, and either make the timing of their quick time events more forgiving or scrap waggle altogether in favour of more responsive controls. Sonic and the Black Knight Chooses to defy common sense, however, and the result is that this battle is an exercise in mindblowing frustration.

After you beat King Arthur, you are “rewarded” with 5 minutes of unskippable credits, followed by an “It's not over! The real villain is -------” plot twist that a blind man could see coming a mile away. From there sonic must team up with the knights of the round table to save the world from the real villain. From that point on all of the levels in the game are put on a timer, and the game throws a smidgen of insta-death platforming into the mix in order to (finally) add a bit of challenge. Unfortunately for Black Knight, that challenge is instantly nullified by the fact that you can play these last few levels as Knuckles, who can fly, and thus can clear all of the levels without dying or even taking a single hit. I'm not sure if that's a game breaking exploit or an act of mercy by the programmer, but it got me through the last few excruciating levels in short order, so either way I'm grateful for it.

This is pretty much the stupidest armour design I have ever seen in my life.

So, after going through a few more pointless levels, you fight the real final boss, who is ridiculously easy, and the game is over. Well, except for ANOTHER unskippable credit roll (seriously, one was more than enough), and an exceedingly cheesy ending cinematic. All told the game clocked in at less than 5 hours (though it felt MUCH longer), and left me feeling seriously disappointed on all fronts. Any and all people responsible for this travesty should bow their heads in shame.   read

3:55 PM on 11.22.2009

Teaching Our kids All the Right Things

It seems every other day there's a concerned mother off on a tangent about how this or that game is corrupting todays youth. As long as games have been made for someone other than two year olds, someone's been around to complain. These days there's even more to complain about. If it isn't Stubbs the Zombie endorsing canibalism, then it's Grand Theft Auto teaching twelve year olds how to steal cars ("Hey timmy, how do we turn it on? I can't find the Y button!"). More recently, minorities have decided that video games are offensive to them, with such titles as Resident Evil 5 and Left 4 Dead 2 daring to show black people living in Africa and Louisiana, respectively. Even worse, the new Call of Juarez has the sheer audacity to cast the player as an indivdual from the civil war era south who just happens to have been a CONFEDERATE SOLDIER (*gasp), because we all know that people living in that area at that time had a choice about fighting for the south.

But I digress. We're here to talk about the loose morality of video games, not their blatant racism. One of the big hot button issues is sex in video games, and no game has taken more hits in that regard than the wildly popular grand theft auto series. In particular, San Andreas has taken a lot of flak for the "hot coffee" minigame that allowed players to control sexual encounters with their various "girlfriends" in rather graphic detail. Of course, that one was bad, but there are arguably worse sexual encounters to be had in the series. Chief among them is the ability to use hookers as Health Packs and then, if you're a frugal player, beat them over the head and steal your money back. I mean, wow, what kind of message is that to send to our kids? "Women are tools to make you feel good and nothing more. Well, actually, they are also piggy banks, so make sure after they make you feel good that you crack them open and take out the money." Seriously, any kid who can't differentiate between fantasy and reality is gonna get messed up over that one. Of course, GTA isn't the only game to feature sexual content.

One game in particular that was a source of much controversy recently was Bioware's Sci-Fi opus Mass Effect, a game that was described as featuring "the ability for players to engage in full graphic sex" by certain newscasters who will go unnamed here. Let me tell you, I spent hours looking for that particular piece of content for, umm... journalistic reasons, and nowhere did I find a full featured sex simulator. The closest I found to that was a single, somewhat less than graphic sex scene that comes as the culmination of a slowly developing romantic subplot. You can only engage in the "act" with a character after you have gotten to know them very well and have developed a close, affectionate relationship with them. Wow, I can only imagine what kind of message that sends to kids. "You should only engage in the act of intercourse with someone you really care for, and when you find someone you love you shouldn't rush things."

Wait a minute.

I'm pretty sure I've heard that somewhere before. It sounds like the kind of thing a concerned mother would say. GASP! Does that mean that Mass Effect is trying to impart a good moral lesson about sexual relations? Could it be that playing Mass Effect could give kids an accurate and realistic view of this touchy subject? DOUBLE GASP! Could it be that video games can tackle mature subject matter without trivializing it?! I'll need to double check. Quick, what's another M rated game? Oh, here's one, Fallout 3!

I remember this one, some concerned mothers in Australia made a big stink over it's depictions of drug use. Apparently they almost got it banned until Bethesda decided to remove the animations showing the drug's use and just have it take immediate effect, a decision that affected every single version of the game around the world. If I remember correctly, the drugs in the game give you temporary stat bonuses, but if you use them too often you can develop an addiction that has a negative impact on your stats when you aren't high. Now what could that teach our kids? "Drugs make you feel good, but they can be addictive and using them can have serious long term effects on your overall health."

What a terrible thing to tea- oh wait.

I guess that's kind of reasonable. In fact, that's probably a more accurate portrayal of narcotics than any I've seen on TV. Especially PSAs that are expressly designed to teach kids about drugs. (POT KILLS. THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS! *frying pan to egg) I'd go so far as to say that's pretty much the ideal thing to tell kids. You inform them of the negative effects without sounding like you're trying to use scare tactics and hyperbole to trick them. Kid's don't like being treated like idiots. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a video game is the ideal place to teach these kinds of things, because it displays some real penalties, both physical and monetary, for drug abuse. If I see a realistic situation where drug use could put me in danger ("OH GOD I CAN'T OUTRUN THESE SUPER MUTANTS BECAUSE I'M OUT OF JET AND IN WITHDRAWL I'M GONNA DIE") or cost me money (for instance, I had to drop, like, ten pounds of loot in order to fast travel from DC to Megaton when I became a buffout addict, and then the doc charged me a whole crapton of caps to cure my addiction), I'll probably be more wary of drugs in the future.

Taking that into account, it's actually kind of morally reprehensible that Bethesda was forced to remove all references to real drugs from the game, using meth and speed instead of jet and buffout would have helped develop a one to one connection in the kids' minds between those drugs and the negative side effects.

So what am I saying here? Basically, concerned mothers need to do some research into things before becoming concerned about things. Just because a game contains sex, drugs or violence does not mean that it is automatically trying to corrupt our youth and turn them into deviants. The fact of the matter is that media can't just pretend that these things don't exist. These are subjects that need to be adressed, after all, it's better for a kid to learn about drugs from tv than it is for him to learn about them from the school dealer. Since kids are going to learn about this stuff anyway, we may as well tell them in the most responsible way possible, and certain video games provide that responsible teaching method possible. So the next time you hear about a game that deals with sex, or drugs, or other mature content, take a look to see what it's actually saying about those mature themes. Because if you automatically assume that every mature game is GTA, you'll end up denying your kids the proper moral lessons contained in the next Mass Effect.

When I have kids, I'd much rather play through Mass Effect with them than just bore them with "the talk" straight up. You know what? I think I will.   read

3:03 AM on 11.18.2009

sucky post deleted, author hangs head in shame

This post sucked. You may all berate me for how much it sucked in the comments, if you want. In the future, this blog will be less about suck, and more about artistic criticism of games. to make up for it I have an awesome blog from my 1up page that I will post for your enjoyment. It is much better than this shit.   read

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