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2:54 PM on 06.08.2013

Why I Love Game Center CX

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.   read


12:02 PM on 05.26.2013

Exploring Philadelphia in Video Games



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.   read


11:58 AM on 05.04.2013

Headache Heroes - A Brand New Gaming Webshow



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   read


11:10 AM on 04.04.2013

The Legend of Ritos 'n Dew

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 [email protected]   read


3:12 PM on 12.20.2012

My Birth Year in Gaming: 1988

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?   read


2:33 PM on 12.13.2012

My Top 5 Games of the Year List

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   read


4:43 AM on 12.11.2012

Gaming Culture is in Our Hands

I long for the day when entire 4-block street lengths become dedicated avenues to appreciate, craft, play, and buy video games, much like like Philadelphia's Fabric Row is for textiles.

I long for the day when I can turn on some shitty AM radio station and listen to jerks call in about scandals in game competitions, or exclaim how Street Fighter players nowadays are nothing compared to the likes of Daigo Umehara.


Fabric Row, Philadelphia

I long for the day when "gamer" is no longer a taboo term - whether it's being snootily stomped on within the culture because, like the Insert Credit team has established, gamers are "players of video games" much like people who enjoys books are just people, not "bookers" - or whether it's used with derogatory connotations that evoke the stereotypes of the basement dweller and the CoD bro.

I long for the day when I can type something sappy and hopeful like this out and not feel a lick of shame or fear or potential debasement from my real life peers.

And I long for the day when video games are treated with the respect they deserve - with the passion and dedication given to every other art form around from every community - from corporations, individual developers, the media, the players themselves and non-participants alike.


Akihabara, Tokyo

Judging from the growing pains the film industry went through, we might have a decade or more to go before some of these ideals could be realized. Part of the trick is to not talk outta ya butt all the time and give non-gamers concrete examples as to why they should respect video games. It's a shitty thing to need to do this at all but the form is being tarnished day-in and day-out to the general public through the messages sent by braindead Facebook games, the cruel, mind-numbing bombardment of war simulation game advertisements they are witness to nearly everywhere and by poor associations the media creates in those who are ready to embrace the first opinion of games they hear.

Tell - or, better yet, show - the non-gamer people you care about games that are beyond what they perceive of the form on the surface. If nothing else, no matter how little they care, this will plant a seed that will at the very least garner trust and complacency with the medium simply because they trust you.

For example, I showed my 60-year-old Dad the jaw-dropping historical authenticity of Assassin's Creed III because he loves and appreciates Colonial-era America. I didn't kill anybody - I just skulked around Boston and listened to him comment on the various minute details he picked up on as I went.



It's much harder to convince folks that games aren't all bad using only words though - like my coworkers in the middle of our shifts. This method is necessary when hoping to get into any sort of exchange about my primary passion but it requires much more extreme and broad examples in order to properly send the message. The most clear and obvious example to use is Flower. It's easy to describe, easy to understand, and most importantly - it surprises them. No, you don't kill anything. Really! You control the goddamn wind and you make flowers bloom. Yeah, you heard me right bub.

I am the only "video game person" most of my coworkers know. They come to me when they see me after a couple of days off and relate to me stories of things that reminded them of me - video game and computer-related stuff. I'm that guy - and as much as my identity being put into a box feels stifling, I'm just fine with that. I feel elated and lucky that I've become the example of a gamer for at least a handful of people. However subtly, I've shifted their impressions of the medium through associating it with someone they like and can trust - me!



I think you should do the same, bub. Help undo the damage done by lamebrain corporations and misinformed media outlets - not in the name of trying to impress some faceless "mainstream" but by bringing more of the people we care about into our beautiful circle. Video games are a sorely misappropriated medium, and I think we can do much to positively influence our local cultures to respect them. If we just show the uninitiated the best parts of what we've been concentrating so intently on this whole time, then maybe they will learn to join us on the couch someday soon.

It's a start.   read


2:45 AM on 11.13.2012

Barista Gamer Blues

I am not a suitable fit for my occupation. As a barista, I'm supposed to care about conversation more than cleanliness or even coffee. It was a struggle to adapt to this sort of work having only one job prior, and even then I was only operating a cash register for a couple of months.

It's a neighborhood environment where friendliness is mega-encouraged, and yet the spark for me to care about such a thing has yet to ever really ignite. I've only ever dealt with drunks and blue collar suburban middle aged men before this. I had zero interest in their lives but plenty in the method by which I could swiftly and politely move them away from my life. That is, give them what they wanted so they would go away. Not the best customer service attitude to carry over into a situation that promotes the opposite, but I'm just not meant for that sort of thing. I just want dat $ until I find a better skin to wear.



However, I know what I like. And I like video games. I like 'em hard. What is usually stilted, awkward conversation between myself and people I either do not care for or simply have little interest in knowing, there are the occasional and rare beacons of GAMER NERD to gleefully converse with.

Now, depending on the situation outright labels can be damaging. They can further separate a wonderful thing that everyone should be able to enjoy into something intimidating, stigmatic, or even frightening. Being a flaming f*ggot for example. D*cks are great but gosh darn I betcha there are just a couple bros in the south who almost typed in "c*ck frot" into their local p*rn search bar but in their fearful haze recalled how overt 'fairies' and 'sissies' in their environment are treated and stopped themselves. Therefore I believe the 'gamer' label, as long as it's played cool and casual, is acceptable as shit. Pride is one thing, but as long as you can show the unfortunately sheltered, cringing masses that a gamer or a gay person can be just as much of a boring-as-hell and passionless "normal" as them, they may not be so quick to dismiss, or worse, decry it. It's a shitty world, brother.



I'll even reduce the title for the sake of this missive to just "gamer" simply because gamer nerds are hard enough to come by, let alone someone who regularly enjoys and feels no shame towards their playing of any sort of game, whether it's Madden, Angry Birds, or god damn Thomas Was Alone.

So these beacons, I mean people, are few and far between but gosh darn do I look out for them vehemently. Being a gamer is a large part of my identity. I revel and cherish the medium so wholeheartedly that I am bound to search out those in my local environment who feel the same way so that I can share my love with them and take in theirs.



My primary passion, as with most in my life, is one of unfortunately stout solitude. I can count on one hand the number of gamers, gay folks, furries, and anime nerds who existed in my life for a single year. Some years there were none at all.

So I saw an opportunity to reach out. I purchased gorgeously subtle shirts from Fangamer, and from there the effortless, endless conversation flowed. Customers of all types now banter with me about how I still have at least 20 more hours to go in Skyward Sword even though I'm 30 hours in already(!), how Scarecrow's segments in Arkham Asylum were probably the coolest damn parts of that game, and, astonishingly, how The Unfinished Swan and Hotline Miami exist and yes you should play both back-to-back.



These are the moments I've embraced as an and otherwise reserved, no bullshit, ultimately crappy coffee shop employee. They nourish my constantly waning faith in gaming as an all-inclusive medium and help me feel comfortable and welcome in a place I feel I otherwise do not belong in the long run.

Today I asked to exchange Xbox gamertags with a new found gamer customer and her husband. I gave her a hot cider with caramel and cinnamon and she gave me a receipt with two names written on the back: "Brian" and "Jess".

Oh well. I'll take what I can get.   read


3:39 PM on 07.10.2012

Mega Man 9's "Concrete Jungle": The Insistent Energy of Hyper Chipmusic

Years into my insatiable appreciation of hyper and intensely melodic chipmusic, I return to my origins and wonder why Concrete Man's stage from Mega Man 9 was so special to me - and what it meant for gameplay. (Originally posted here)



Mega Man 9's soundtrack was my first true introduction to chiptune purely as a form of recreational listening (as revealed by my Last.fm account on Apr 16th, 2009). The most advanced and newest gaming hardware I had owned by then was a Nintendo DS, so the existence of Mega Man 9 was far beyond my reach. I knew however that the Mega Man 2 soundtrack was something special to behold and I listened to it and the Sonic 2 soundtrack on occasion alongside scads of older brother-influenced grindcore, sludge, and metal.

Listen to the track here!

The track is unstoppable. It's hyper and upbeat and speaks of an adventure full of action and risk and triumph. How inappropriate then that the level Concrete Jungle is background music for (Concrete Man's stage) is nearly incongruous. Just like I feel my late introduction to chipmusic instrumentation did not fit my musical mindset or gamer status in 2009, the flow and structure of Concrete Man's level in Mega Man 9 simply does not keep up with the flow and tempo of its music. Sure there are plenty of enemies and obstacles in the first segment, but the colors are muted, the risks flat and empty, and the design eventually devolves into a rehash of traditional Mega Man tropes, making the action predictable and a little silly. Somehow dodging the careening ball of a third, identical robo-circus elephant does not match the exhilaration I feel when the arcing crescendos of Concrete Jungle are hitting their peaks.



So this is game music with what I perceive is an intended narrative, but why is my perception skewed in that direction at all? What about the tempo and melody remind me of the thrill of action, whether virtual or real? I'll leave the nature of exhilaration in tunes like this to music theorists, but as someone who loves video games I want to proclaim that there is a reason why a track like this invigorates me so. Perhaps it is an unseen, instinctual part of my brain that connects the speed of the melodies to a meaning that speaks of danger, excitement, and thrill. It is in this fashion that Mega Man 9 advertises action that maybe it can't deliver all too well with such a limited range of designs and features utilizing faux NES hardware, but I say that's okay. The narrative is charming because it displaces power it otherwise cannot provide through other formats which leaves it is up to the player to conceive of the excitement that may not be truly felt without placing full investment into the events onscreen. This is the powerful result of creation within limited fields.



I did not like Mega Man 9's soundtrack when I downloaded it in full before I bought the game. No other tracks spoke to me as much as Concrete Jungle did, and I passed it off until I got my first next gen console in Sept 2010. Mega Man 9 and 10 were the first couple games I bought through XBLA and it was then that I learned my lesson. Without a guide of visuals, story, and especially promised thrill, the music of any action game is going to sound dull and lifeless. Thus upon purchasing Mega Man 9 and receiving the full and intended effect of its tunes as coupled with the action, I was thoroughly entranced and endlessly enthralled. But Concrete Man's stage only gave me a rush when I let it - speeding through enemy patterns after endless practice made me feel like a hero and the feeling finally approached the high water mark Concrete Jungle had set with its insistent and hyper melodies because I allowed myself to fill in the blanks that this particular stage left in my imagination. Blanks that are pining to reach the influence Concrete Jungle sets but can only do so with your complete allegiance.



Thanks to Mega Man 9 and Concrete Jungle, I am now forever hoping to experience that intense narrative and feeling of giving myself over to creative power in every new chiptune mp3 I download.   read


4:41 AM on 06.12.2012

Samus Aran: A Figure of Power, Not Sex

If you want to acknowledge Samus Aran of the Metroid series as the original and most badass female heroine in video games, RESPECT DAT ARMOR, not dat ass.



Zero Suit Samus is the worst idea Nintendo has ever had for a character “re”design, and such a blatant excuse to pander to hetero mouth-breathing stoner geeks who need to beat off to anything with a face. Don’t even get me started on what they did to our beloved hero in Metroid: Other M. Yick.

When you take away Samus’s opaque visor, her stoic silence, and her incredible shape-shifting ancient armor, you are taking away the point of all of it to begin with (besides the need to kick ass in hostile environments and being the last princess heir to a millennial-old race of bird people or something): gender anonymity. It sends a clear statement that “anyone can brave the depths of a ferocious alien planet and BAM! (takes her helmet off when you complete the game)…ESPECIALLY A WOMAN.”

Even Metroid Prime only references Samus's gender when she is at her most brutal: the reflection of her plainly female face in her visor when you blast something with a fully charged beam.



Every lady has a butt and breasts, but only Samus Aran has a perpetually life-saving, impossibly shape-shifting, unfathomably complex Chozo-enhanced Power Suit. So let's celebrate the latter, shall we?




Note: I am aware that the 8-bit renderings of Samus in a leotard at the end of the original Metroid can also be seen as hetero male chauvinism, but I chalk this decision more up to an inability to visually represent someone as a woman in the 8-bit era as opposed to revealing her half-nakedness in the name of showing off "eye candy" (considering the scarcity of detail and realism).   read


12:14 AM on 05.22.2012

Headaches, Mindbend, and Zen: Reveling in Death

I explore playing retro-themed platformers as a means of enlightenment.


I never used to get headaches. Only the rarest ones would come and go throughout my childhood and teen years, usually only due to not eating or sleeping enough during a particular day. I could stay up night after night in the summer and sit four feet away from a bright-blue Final Fantasy inventory screen or THPS park editor and never feel a thing.

Several years later I find myself sitting in my dark bedroom wearing sunglasses to shield my retinas from the multicolor sheen of Super Mario Galaxy. Yeah, some lights were switched on right about then. Nowadays I can't last past three hours of gameplay without needing to pop an Ibuprofen. The health warnings were right and that's fine. I shouldn't play games all the time anyway.

The dedication we have to gaming can harm our bodies and minds. It is the only medium that requires skill, concentration, patience, hand-eye coordination, and potentially lengthy bouts of time to effectively enjoy. I take pride in these facts because they are the most clear and evident link we have to appreciating games as a respectable means of communicating new and rare ideas. These concepts help make them more tangible and real than any other art form around. We slowly kill ourselves to learn and perfect new systems in each title and it's this language of control that is, typically in the name of survival, our common toolset used to avoid near-constant cycles of virtual death. Dying is an inevitability in most video games and perhaps it is this common feature that steers certain individuals away from the gaming experience entirely. This is why I recommend games like Flower to cautious or easily-frustrated non-gamers. They can only live, they can only breathe, and they can begin to disintegrate the disingenuous falsehoods of games that their childhoods and the mass media are telling them they are. Some of us on the other hand prefer the classic pain of survival. Not in the face of an opponent but instead in the soul of our own inherent will to feel alive.



Fez tore my brain apart. Its multiple series of interwoven and complex cryptographic puzzles surprised me continuously with their intricacy and eventually had me scrawling nonsense upon sheets and sheets of graph paper like so many others in April. Your physical deaths as Gomez matter none as he instantly respawns from his last stable stance when you slam into a platform or fall into nothingness. The sound of a small, low electronic beep signals the event but other than that, there is little fanfare for the little guy's demise. Alas, Fez is about slow cerebral torture. A game about death by psychological demolition and expectant systematic failure. True death comes when your brain ceases to function no matter how hard you pull on your hair or how intently you stare at the spinning black monolith. Your natural limitations are measured with a percentage and a decimal: I am dead at 181.5 percent.



Super Meat Boy shredded my hands. I never truly died in SMB because, just as in Fez, there is little fanfare for your repeated demise. Herein lies the pain: the stubborn nature to complete increasingly difficult levels until my hands turned to frigid claws wrapped sorely around my 360 controller and my legs stung with the sensation of instinctively hitting them too many times when my temper would flare from inevitable missteps. Super Meat Boy is entirely about muscle memory and reflexes at this point as it requires a heaping helping of practice before even attempting later or Dark World levels. The individual designs are are so succinct and the control so precise that every micro-action is entirely yours to own up to as a player. Only after arriving at 100% completion did I realize I loved Super Meat Boy for it's heady level of challenge because it offered me a new and distinct feeling unlike anything I had felt before. Unlike Fez, that 100% did not represent death. In fact, death never came in Super Meat Boy. Instead I felt something close to the twists and bends that were required of my mind in Fez.



The torturous pain in dedicating oneself to completing a difficult video game was relatively new to me at the time and only now do I wish I had got to experience this rush sooner. After a while, during maybe the 100th attempt at a particularly sinister level in Super Meat Boy, or while musing on the same silent puzzle in Fez for the third hour in a row, my psyche would enter a state of purity. It was a numbness borne of repetition in the face of constant and potential failure, something we could perhaps call looking death in the eyes. The numbness turns you laser-guided, a being whose sole purpose is to survive as long as your body and mind will allow in the face of intense "virtual" adversity. Surviving not against death but through the ever-encroaching pain of failure at the hands of whatever beast designed such a path, whether cerebral or physical, and expected you to traverse it at all.



Challenge is repetition, repetition is failure, failure is pain, pain is numbness, numbness is purpose, purpose is survival, survival is life. There is no death, only a fear of dedication.



I would call my time with Fez and Super Meat Boy my only moments I had ever reached a state of zen while gaming. I believe video games, in all of their seemingly death, murder, and killing-obsessed glory, represent a new division in entertainment, blazing a killer neon path carved by ancients a quarter century or more ago. As interactive art and as a place to let go of your physical reality and develop an ardent and transcendent new purpose through ritual suicide and becoming a martyr for your avatar's insurmountable cause not in the name of victory, but in the acceptance of failure. Those who do not fear death and who truly understand the pain of second-by-second reflexive or mental dedication can reach a much more pure and pleasurable state of bliss with their time spent with such titles.

Modern games typically lack this ability because they do not pursue challenge as such, which is why I celebrate the design decisions laid out in Fez and Super Meat Boy wholeheartedly. Their primary traits harken back to a time I imagine most gamers were struck with a similar significant feeling of enlightenment and could share it collectively, as evidenced additionally by the reception of Mega Man 9. They perhaps understood then why video games are so special and why those who have not reached such a level could never relate.



Those headaches suddenly become a clarion call for your entrance into a focused and pristine posture. Because when the lights are finally flicked on, you are sobered enough to see that there was no beast in the darkness.   read


6:19 PM on 07.18.2011

Need for Peace: Spiritual moments in a hyper arcade racer

I rented Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for the Xbox 360 because I like the Burnout series and the original series. I enjoyed over 20 hours of over-the-top racing and cop pursuit action, typically never dropping a car below 100 mph and having a blast doing it. Once I decided I had had my proverbial way with the game, I figured I would try some alternative methods of play over those I was accustomed to before I send it away.

I don't play online games. I find the experience taxing and full of pressure. Can't pause? Yeah, not for me. If some collection of the words "free" and "trial" are involved however, I am usually inclined to see what all the fuss is about for a brief few moments. This is after all where the cash and attention in gaming are being injected nowadays so let's just boot up Autolog and-SHUT UP FAGG*T F*CKING B*TCH F*CK EAT YOUR MOTHERS HORSE FAGG*T *SS T*TS BLEHHHHhhh

Ahem. Sure, I expected this. I've heard about it, been apart of it during rare moments of my gaming life, seen the Youtube. Typical bored American male, undersexed over hyped, testosterone-laden no real outlet for energy blah blah blah. Is this aggression inevitable though? I began to ask myself why the ultimate instinct for most online players with microphones and a wandering sense of Quick Play loyalty is to delve into fierce, name-calling competitiveness. The game certainly calls for intense rivalry, as it pits Racers against the ever ravenous and weapon-heavy Cops and is a great example of hyper, modern, adrenaline-laced gameplay. So I considered yet another alternative; how I might play Need for Speed if I was inclined to pay for the Xbox Live subscription, an EA online pass, and a microphone-headset for my system (pfffffftttt) and what it would mean considering the time I spent with the game on my lonesome.



The most important aspect of any game is the world in which the play takes place. NFS: Hot Pursuit's world is precisely attuned to what the player seeks from the promised objective: moving fast. Seacrest County is large and colorful, yet most of it is streamlined and sectioned off, and for good obstacle-less reason. The objective is delivered expertly and with pitch perfect grace, but the trade off is a world that feels empty and forgotten, when considered under a more logical, real world light. Roads never lead out of Seacrest; there is no bridge that is perpetually "under construction" to at least give a plausible in-game reason for such a secluded world to exist. There are no pedestrians, street lights, or wildlife. How does it operate? Does it exist for the racers' purpose alone? Is it all in their heads? Acting out a cops-and-robbers fantasy until the day they are knocked from their self-induced slumber?

But there are thunderstorms, the distinct chirping of unseen birds, an ever-cycling day and night rotation, and tall pine trees that sway in an unfed breeze. NFS is a conundrum because it is practical and concise as a game world but alluring and mysterious as a simulation of the outdoors, especially while exploring in Free Drive mode as opposed to entering into one of the main events to do your misaligned meandering, where you would be timed and pushed to accomplish a stated goal. I am surprised NFS even includes this mode as it offers none of aforementioned practical gameplay mechanics, it just exists so that you and your pretty race car may be.

At the heart of the environmental details are the graphics. The crisp HDMI renderings in NFS are probably the most tangible I've interacted with in my life. I'm sure it'll be topped by another big name triple A title that I'll never play soon, but as a reference point, this is it for me. With such polished games like NFS I often wonder how hard the developers worked on the engine as opposed to secretly whispering prayers to an unforeseen pagan god for nine months until scads of code erupt on their laptops that a pristine game environment can easily emerge from. Realism in video game graphics are not very "videogamey" to me so despite the obvious labors put into Criterion's creation, it still manages to baffle me to the point of whimsical doubt.



Let's return for a moment to that "hypothetical" online gaming version of myself. Stripped of my usual single player tropes and alignments, I wander the Incipisphere for players and matches to ruminate and snuggle all up inside. So cozy! There is friendly competition sure, but this time with the sincere undertone of appreciation for the game as a simulation and a complete realm. I communicate this to my opponents and happenstance teammates and attempt to appeal to their sense of humanity and earthly community for an unlikely moment. Just to revel in some common knowledge of the world and the achievements of our fellow men to replicate it. I get called a d*ck-s*cking fagg*t and am kicked almost immediately.

Is it because these environments have served as a backdrop to their own play so long that it no longer feels like a fresh and vibrant world? Or because what I suggest is less about continuing the urge to dwell in the sensationalist racing fantasy and more about well...life on Earth? I wonder how aggression, no matter how inconsequential and intangible, can translate from such a distinct sense of worth from the play and player. Criterion gave us a gift, a tool to be utilized however we wish. There is a narrative here sure but isn't it when we break these narratives that games become more of our own? Precious and memorable and more than just some measly flash of saccharin entertainment?



Most of my observations of Seacrest County came from exploring the world during Free Drive. Here, the day-to-night cycle continues endlessly and you can traverse all across the expansive map at your leisure. I took my Bugatti Veyron from shiny rain-slick roads in the deep forest to the snow-dusted curves of the highways in the mountains. I turned the soundtrack off and surprisingly found an ignition switch by pressing the left stick and listened to the birds chirp in relative quiet along the coast while the wind whistled across the desert miles away and a full moon followed its sequence in code to a T. I slunk through the dead of night, a field of satellites for a company that was created specifically to convince the player that Seacrest is real, and you can visit it like this someday too. Unauthorized access. I found endless 5-second loops in the driveways of houses that only served as shortcuts in the main races, slowed down and parked to them like a robo-couple in the robo 50's. As you do. Listen.



In trying to understand my alternative ilk, I found peace in a game that I would never have thought would ever provide a lick of it. Slowing down my car and catching up with the blurred textures allowed me connection with Seacrest County. I wanted to step out of my mega-tuned rocket car and just walk perpendicular to the perfectly realized road. In the silence, away from the din, and forward into the reality that digital interactive art will always contain, if you happen to look for it. It is in moments like these, perhaps, that the dredge of online masses could discover some solace and communal understanding in their thumping little aortas.



Or drifting around rain-slick highway bends at 150mph while being chased by scads of cops in race cars is just way more fun. There's always that.   read


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