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Matt, 24, Philadelphia

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Headache Heroes - My webshow!
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Favorite Games/Series: Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy(IV-X), Portal, Super Meat Boy, Fez, Silent Hill, Mega Man, Metroid, Suikoden
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Finally get past the second episode of Game of Thrones to see what my family, friends, and coworkers are all talking about? Nah, Game Center CX episode 67 please.

I seriously can’t get enough of this show. I’ve put about as much time into it as I may have put into a single JRPG when I was a kid - grinding through episodes like I would levels.



I think the reason I like it so much is because it showcases such a different perspective of video games from my isolated western vision. Especially in Arino’s regular arcade trip segments, where a mom & pop corner store might nonchalantly have a Metal Slug cabinet sitting out front and it is considered just a standard part of the quaint scenery. That kind of accoutrement for a neighborhood is really in the service and care of its local children, whereas in the west there is instead an emphasis on children making their own fun while out of their homes. Though that may just be my experience before home consoles truly took over the living room.



Besides the fun of watching Arino truly work for his goal (he puts in 14 hour+ days with little help, sometimes just to beat a single game), there is a clear respect for the medium in the format and writing of the show. Writer Masayuki Kibe is occasionally featured on the show and is obviously the soul of the low budget production, dispensing history lessons here and there, usually through the show’s excellent narration. He is potentially the only true video game aficionado on the staff, but as long as he is in charge of the structure the show takes, I am fine with that.

There are also insights into much more than Japanese gaming culture, such as what they find funny and how painfully awkward I surmise their everyday lives must be, camera-or-no. I am endlessly fascinated at the way Arino speaks and is spoken to and how insults and embarrassment seem to facilitate the comedy of his interactions with fellow staff on camera. This is especially evident when AD Nakayama joins the crew. He is painfully shy and that is made very clear to Arino and the viewer in the same moment. Arino’s job is to make light of the situation, so insulting jokes ensue. But it begs the question, why hire a socially awkward person to be on camera at all? This is yet another fascinating decision that you would never see a producer in America give the go ahead to.



Another reason I can’t stop watching are the wide variety of Japanese games that are covered and their many details, some of which are showcased in such minute detail that it’s almost as if you are suffering through the wild designs yourself as you watch Arino play. Individual gameplay moments are repeatedly elaborated on as he struggles to surmount them, which not only allows you to witness the awesome mood and concentration transitions of a person bent over hard by a set of digital rules, but it also gives you the opportunity to truly examine a game’s design decisions from a distance. That is, without the influence of anger or frustration heaped on you.



For example, Castlevania III’s falling block level segment, which Arino has a notoriously difficult time toppling. It is brutal and arduous, and tugs at my curiosity so very much. Game Center CX is an experiment. As in, “what if someone were to play these games how they were meant to be played?” and tests the boundaries of level and control designs that seem almost sadistic. Arino, someone who seems like a typical Japanese comedian who happened to like games just enough to score this hosting role, is just the laughter sprinkles on this heaping mound of sweet old video game analysis sundae.



I wish Game Center CX had enough of a following in the states to warrant a legit release of some kind, especially a Netflix streaming type of deal. There is a DVD collection of some of the best episodes of the show in the states but it suffers from narration that features ham-fisted American pronunciation of Japanese words with absurdly bombastic inflection, removal of entire non-challenge segments (the arcade trips), and is being promoted under the entirely different title of Retro Game Master, which all do a disservice to the potential the show could have presented on its own through a broader format. Some of the best episodes also have been licensed to Kotaku to present, which in turn takes away the ability for online subbers of the series to legally share their work.

The desire for the authentic presentation of the original show harkens back to the difference in attitude towards video games in Japan and the States, at least from what I’ve gathered from watching over 100 episodes of GCCX: the former has such reverence for the form that it blends into their everyday lives like media of any other kind and the latter resists it until video games are pushed into isolated corners of public space where it can be labeled and identified safely and separately. Or confined to the bedrooms of segregated nerds across the country who now rely on the internet to feed their thirst for game appreciation and examination.










The first goal you are presented with is jumping over three abandoned cars. You manually set the position of the ramps, the person who issued the challenge nonchalantly tells you to go for it, and soon you're easily hopping over derelict booted vehicles in the heart of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground's (2007) Philadelphia level. The outset of the game continues in this fashion. The player is taught the basics of the controls while using the misshapen design of "Inner City" Philadelphia as a canvas on which to hastily jump, grind, and progress. None of the characters address the condition of the world they inhabit and your strange antics have no impact on this vision.

Unlike the New Jersey neighborhood level in 2003's Tony Hawk's Underground, which was built to be a caricature of the storied perception of a trashy and polluted state, this modern approximation of Philly is meant to have a tonal seriousness. Abandoning the rudimentary progression the game asked of me once I unlocked the "Downtown" portion of the city map, I muted the game's music volume and hopped off of my skateboard in order to take in more of Neversoft's vision of a totally skate-able Philadelphia.



Overcast skies, a drained JFK Plaza fountain, homeless NPC's strewn about. Even a non-interactive event featuring two under-dressed police officers prodding a drunk who had taken refuge in someone's backyard. Sirens echoed in the distance, rain fell onto a giant tarp covering half of a mid-reconstruction City Hall. It was a dismal, dreary, and depressing world. Are these the characteristics of Philadelphia that game developers see when they visit for research? I began to wonder, how else has Philadelphia been portrayed in video games? What do designers choose to leave in when they begin to build? Landmarks? Statues? What do they choose to leave out? Nondescript housing? Sidestreets and alleys? If so, which? How accurate is the portrait they are painting and what kind of attitude does it promote about Philly?


I've always felt jealous when I've explored a real city recreated in a video game. Residents of New York and Los Angeles have had more than a few times to indulge in this fascinating construct of interactive art that only the 21st century could properly produce. Philadelphia, the city I've grown up adjacent to and now work in, unfortunately has been passed over time and again by game studios who want their worlds and settings to have the widest appeal. That is, to make their stories take place in highly recognizable, populated, and thematically dense areas. But what is more intriguing than being able to jump into an artist's lifelike, digital approximation of the city you live in? Philadelphians haven't often been able to delve into such a niche luxury. In fact, I've only discovered that there are only five games that truly feature Philadelphia in some form or another*.


New York & GTAIV's rendition

The first is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Developed by Los Angeles-based Neversoft studios and released in 2000, the Philly level is about as rudimentary as you'd expect from that era, especially for a skateboarding game. Only two landmarks are truly on display here: JFK Plaza and FDR Skatepark. The level has no other characters to interact with and when the music volume is muted, only the sounds of passing traffic and birds chirping can be heard beneath the rattle of your board. If you can ollie up high enough onto a balcony near the start of the level you can turn a valve that empties the fountain at JFK Plaza out, which then becomes skate-able. The only other feature of the environment worth mentioning is how the famous LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana is replaced with the letters T, H, P, and S. Overall the depiction of Philadelphia here is simple and concise. It's peaceful, grassy, and fun to skate in.



Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (2004) features the same level found in THPS 2, only revamped with better graphics and new goals. The environment is nearly identical, save for scattered "hogeys" (sp) that you have to smash and bright yellow trash bags that, upon contact, break open to spew forever-undulating aluminum cans onto the ground. The background noise now features the occasional blare of sirens as well.

Moving past the aforementioned Tony Hawk's Proving Ground in 2007 is 2010's Heavy Rain. This game technically takes place in a fictional nameless city but it is widely known that its creator, David Cage, wanted Heavy Rain's world to be Philly-influenced. Its plot line revolves around a serial killer and the individual stories of the people interested in his capture. Much like the Tony Hawk games, Heavy Rain doesn't often comment on the state or condition of the setting behind the action, but rather uses it as a backdrop to flavor that action. Here is David Cage on why he chose Philadelphia as the setting for his noir-crime drama:


Not having your story in a specific place helps to make it more universal, but also to reflect the state of mind of everybody; they are all lost in one way or another. I am a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan's movies like Unbreakable and Six Sense; I discovered they were shot in Philadelphia. I was just in the writing process and had no specific idea regarding the background--I knew I wanted a place that would say something. I didn't want just a postcard in the back--make my story happen in New York, or in Miami. So we took a plane to Philadelphia, hired this movie scout that worked on the movie Philadelphia. We asked him, "Could you take us to some poor houses and meet poor people?" The movie scout was surprised by the request. I was inspired by Bowling for Columbine, the movie by Michael Moore. The social background he showed in this movie was a big shock to me, being European. I know the U.S. quite well, but I was always in L.A. or in New York. I never saw what Moore showed in his movie. I thought he was telling something very interesting about the United States--not the Hollywood side where everyone's tanned and has big muscles and is very sexy--but how people actually live.






What we discovered in Philadelphia was beyond anything we could imagine. We saw despair. We saw violence. We saw fear. We saw poverty, in a way that no one in Europe could imagine takes place in the U.S. And we saw all these huge factories near people's houses, these big chimneys with black smoke. You know where Ethan looks for his son near the school, big chimneys just behind it? This is something we saw in Philadelphia. And we met poor people. They kindly let us come into their house and take pictures. We didn't want to just imagine what it looked liked, we wanted to take pictures--which is a very stupid thing to do, when you think about it. I remember one specific time where we went to this family, and the movie scout had arranged it a month before. But when we arrived, their ten-year-old daughter had died the day before in an accident. The family was there crying in the kitchen and we immediately said, "We're going to go. Sorry." And they said, "No. You came from France to take pictures of the house, please come in." We didn't want to say no, we couldn't say no. And we were taking pictures of their house while they were crying about their daughter. This is something that stayed in my mind for all the years I spent writing, this moment of intense sadness, and depression, and death. I hope a little of this is in the final story.



It's clear from this quote that Mr. Cage was looking for something very specific and dark from Philadelphia and was most likely pointed in very distinct directions in order to quickly find it, snap some pictures, and jettison himself back to Europe as hurriedly as possible. Even so, public opinion can be influenced by any sort of popular media and by crafting versions of Philly that are dreary, dark, full of crime and trash and misery, game developers have turned the city into a setting that is just bleak enough to serve their narrative and thematic purposes without requiring players to inhabit a full-on hell scape.

Residents of Philadelphia know that their city has its flaws but there is an enormous amount of clean, beautiful environments and lively, fantastic cityscapes to uncover around every bend. They know that the history, style, and culture of Philly has potential to be a centerpiece for a potent digital world, not merely a one note motif generator to be exploited for narrative or thematic gain. Local developers Port 127 understood this and saw fit to build a fun, lighthearted, and somewhat accurate layout of Philly in their 2011 iOS title, Hipster City Cycle.



The game has you playing as Binky McKee, a mustachioed hipster-type who must navigate traffic and stop lights amidst the clamor of South Philly, Center City, Northern Liberties, and West Philly neighborhoods on his bike. Hipster City Cycle is a painstakingly crafted vision of Philadelphia that recreates entire avenues and neighborhoods, down to the precise location of shops and banks and parks. Despite being the most recent vision of Philly that I can find in video games, the graphics call upon an older style of digital world-building: pixels. This works to the game's benefit as it allowed Port 127 to really go the extra mile in working in every possible unique nuance and tongue-in-cheek reference that they could, all in the name of painting a portrait of a fun, bright, exuberant Philadelphia.



Before doing my research and truly looking into the individual facets of what made Philadelphia levels in video games what they are, I was jealous of the bigger cities that had received more time in the digital spotlight. I thought that exploring a virtual recreation of a city I am familiar with would be interesting and fun, especially when realism was the name of the game. But the more realistic the games got, the more it was clear the designers wanted to showcase pain and misery. They seemed to only be interested in using Philly in the name of gloomy story settings, even in games that had almost zero narrative to begin with. These details, forged in the name of substance, must be what New Yorkers are confronted with every time they load up an open world game like Grand Theft Auto IV or Mafia 2. I found out that there is little pride in exploring a world that is yours when it is decrepit and broken. So I no longer feel jealous.

If grit and grime are the only details that big name game developers are interested in showcasing about America's largest and proudest cities, then I say let 'em have their realism: I'll be weaving in between cars on my way to sit in the shade at Rittenhouse Square.







*Assassin's Creed III (2012) places you in Philadelphia for a brief moment, but only within a depiction of Independence Hall in 1775.










Headache Heroes has officially launched with two episodes! In our first challenge, we attempt to save Tails from an early grave in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yeah, it doesn't go well. Neither does simply starting up our co-op game of Resident Evil 6 in our second challenge.

The show is like a mix between Game Grumps and Game Center CX - all of the fun that comes with playing a game with a buddy and all of the frustration that comes with trying to topple a challenge you know is nearly impossible.

I am tremendously proud and excited for this. If you enjoy the show, share it with your friends, subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you!

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Challenge:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jTNW8tTCb0

Resident Evil 6 Challenge:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC5tU-T4Y1c








Ritos 'n Dew (2010) was a weekly webshow in the style of Continue? and Game Grumps that featured playthroughs of retro video games and commentary by the titular stars, nicknamed Ritos and Dew.

Discontinued after only 3 months of airtime on Youtube, the Ritos 'n Dew channel suddenly vanished, leaving fans to wonder what happened.



"Frankly we were just jumping on the bandwagon." admits Dew, who to this day wishes to keep his real identity a secret. "I didn't think it would go anywhere and it never did. I'm honestly embarrassed by the thought."

Ritos was unavailable for this interview.

"I haven't spoken to [laughs] Ritos in three years," Dew surmises, "but I doubt he wants to speak to anyone."

Prone to fits of rage and audio-breaking yelps during recording of the show, Ritos was known to be abrasive and rude, especially to his loyal fans.

"I watched the show from the start," recalls Youtube user samueleck, "and I always left encouraging comments and shared their vids on Reddit. Ritos would almost inevitably respond with scorn, telling me to fuck my fagg*t ass back to Tuesday and other such nonsensical crap. I stopped watching shortly after that."

---

What was clear to fans was that Ritos 'n Dew was not an ordinary Let's Play webshow. The two young men would load a windowed Nintendo emulator onto a PC and begin to play Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda with what could be described as the frantic tapping of laptop keyboards keys clacking beneath their labored voices.

A lack of understanding for the mechanisms of old video games were pervasive in Ritos and Dew's commentary, often calling the low resolution graphics "fat chunky kid sh*t" and the music "f*ggy circus boops".

"Like I said, I'm not proud of my work on that show. It was a one off and I was ready to move on the second we- well I, called it quits. The last thing I need is my wife to find out what kind of bullsh*t I used to be apart of in college."

Whether Dew is confiding an old sentiment or crafting an entirely new excuse to color his participation remains to be seen, but what is clear is how strongly Ritos wanted to feel a connection to their content, but could not seem to manage it.

"We played a lot of Call of Duty back then, and drank a lot too. Video games were purely a recreational thing. Something secondary to our lives." Dew recalls, "I went along with the idea when he brought it up because it seemed fun, but I didn't think the idea was coming from anywhere malicious. At least not at first."

Archives of the web series are difficult to track down, but thanks to a Youtube user who wishes to remain anonymous, I was able to obtain digital copies of the long forgotten show.

---

Each episode begins with a cheery jingle, much like similar content on Youtube at the time. Mario is Fun, Zelda too! Ritos and Dew, just for you! Poorly photoshopped logos for Mountain Dew and Doritos spin onto the screen, hovering over the baseball cap-donned figures of the young men themselves.

"No, there wasn't any sort of promotional deal. Ritos just thought [pauses] that there might be some marketing opportunity in there somewhere. I just went along with it."

What follows are 10 minutes of fuzzy, crackling audio, an absurdly zoomed-out view of a Nintendo emulator playing against a backdrop of a early 00's era Alienware desktop background, and some of the most cacophonous video game commentary this writer has ever heard.

"Welcome back to [burps] Ritos and Dew doo doo doo doo. [burps] This fagg*t sh*t. Today we're playing... fuck! This fagg*t sh*t." [Mega Man 2]

And that is just a sample. The cruel nature of the language used, specifically by what one could assume is Ritos, escalates as the videos progress. One playthough of Ghosts'n Goblins in particular ends abruptly with gameplay ceasing for exactly one minute and forty-three seconds as the sounds of breaking glass and loud stomps are heard penetrating through the barely audible game audio. What almost sounds like an imperceptible scream of a woman can be heard for a mere half-second as the video comes to a close.

"Those were tough days for him. I think he just needed something to latch onto. Something from his childhood maybe. It was a wonder we got any views at all." Dew confides, "Uploading the videos was all I was willing to do after a while. I refused to listen to the latter episodes that I wasn't involved in. It was hard enough watching my friend destroy himself, I didn't need to hear it too."

When asked about why he bothered to upload the videos at all, Dew ceases our correspondence for a period of two weeks. After a follow up email wondering about his silence, he sends back a single message: "I've said enough. Move on."

---

One question remains then: where is Ritos now, and why did he bring the show down with him?

"There is no real clear answer. When he took our channel down he also removed himself from every social media service there is and even changed his phone number." says Dew, "The guy is a ghost. I just hope he's doing alright, wherever he is."

Whether Ritos' destructive on-camera nature stemmed from the difficulty of the games or more deep-seated, personal circumstances we may never know. What remains is a mysterious legacy that few knew of, and even fewer remember.


If you have any information as to the whereabouts of the internet celebrity known only as "Ritos" please contact me at rathowreck@gmail.com.
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I've been reminiscing on where I fit on the human timeline thanks to all of these cool 25th Anniversary celebrations going on for series like Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Final Fantasy lately.

Lots of people say how they feel like they were born in the wrong era, usually because the music they listen to and the attitudes they perceive about places in time (like Late 1960's San Francisco) feel more appropriate to them then the current milieu of pop culture entertainment around. I however feel like I was born in the perfect time when it comes to my personal choices in entertainment and art.



My birthdate is October 31st, 1988. Not only is this the exact day after the world was apparently supposed to end in Donnie Darko, but it's also amidst some of the most important and prolific video game and console releases ever! This was the time when video games were finally coming into their own about boy howdy did I reap the benefits in the coming years.



In Japan, the Sega Mega Drive was released two days before the day I was born! And only a week prior, Super Mario Bros. 3 was released! In Japan again but...golly! At least Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on the 9th of my birth month and shit: Mega Man 2 came out on Christmas Eve of that year! Mega fuckin Man fuckin 2!

Other notable releases during my birth year: Double Dragon II, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Final Fantasy II, Blaster Master, Bionic Commando, Altered Beast, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde



I think that's some pretty darn cool stuff. What was happening in video games when you were pushed outta dat womb?








I think Game of the Year lists are pretty fun so I thought I'd make one of my own!


5. Journey

This game made me feel: sentimental. I also feel like a jerk. I only played Journey completely through once, everything that can be said about it has already been said, and I most likely had the same exact super-special experiences that every other bro did with it. Even so, it's hard to be a human being and not have this game resonate with you in some way, even if that way is very intentionally designed and predictably somber. That's probably a signal of perfect game design though. Journey really, really made me care about my anonymous multiplayer buddy. I put voices to our little glyph bursts as we died and it mattered a heck of a lot. Never before have I felt such a strong, dense connection with the mask I wore in a video game and how it interacted with the masks around it.


4. Super Hexagon

This game made me feel: adroit. I haven't cared so heartily about an abstract game and getting as far as possible in it since Tetris. The difference here is that Tetris is pretty slow, whereas Super Hexagon throws you right in the mix right off the bat and creates a very distinct sort of pressure. Hyper chipmusic cackles away, you're a triangle, and now a wall has just killed you. Game over shithead! That was fast. I love games that make that saying "practice makes perfect" so utterly tangible. Super Meat Boy did this too with it's immediate respawn system: you feel yourself getting better with repetition and before you know it you're conquering segments of the game you wouldn't have been able to even see just a couple hours, even minutes, ago. Getting even one second more of a level logged in is an incredibly satisfying feeling that still begs to be conquered immediately afterwards.


3. Fez

This game made me feel: lost. In a good way. Fez is the epitome of the one thing I ultimately look for and care about the most in video games: exploration! I feel like the non-stifled version of myself, the one who didn't grow up in the shadow of Philadelphia only to end up working there and eventually living there, is the one who acts out his fantasies of exploring mysterious wilderness and ruins and cliffs and trees and caves thanks to games like Fez. Shadow of the Colossus and Skyrim both do this sort of unspoken solitude-in-nature simulation as well, but Fez has that extra kick thanks to its wildly video game-y aesthetics. I can fall into the gameplay even more easily thanks to music that soothes just as much as it haunts, and an art style that I wanna consume and digest until it becomes apart of my DNA.


2. Hotline Miami

This game made me feel: vulnerable. Cactus sure knows how to make a fella sick. Not to mention feverishly obsessed and afraid of the reactions it is simulating in him. I'm a big fan of nightmares and gameplay that stabs at me until I begin to feel the result of my character's actions, and Hotline Miami sure as shit provided this with ample consequences to my barbaric, frenzied murder sprees. Not only was my character prone to death at a moment's notice, but I began to feel a white hot ache of delirium which I imagine killers feel when they do the deed. We were both prone to wounds.


1. Mark of the Ninja

This game made me feel: powerful. Mark of the Ninja doesn't completely appeal to me with it's graphics, or sound, or characters, or story even, but it has the most refined and satisfying gameplay system I've played maybe ever. The emphasis on choice, the constant visual and aural feedback, and the razor-sharp controls each gave me a sense that I had complete power over my character at all times. I was a gosh darn ninja and holy hell did it feel satisfying and perfect. Game of the god darn year.


Runners-up: Trials Evolution, Botanicula