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My name's Nic, here are some facts -

I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.

I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.

When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.

I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.

Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!

--
Alternate Reality: Alan Wake, Synchronicity, And The Dark Presence

2010 Sucked: Why didn't anybody buy Alan Wake?

Technical Difficulties: Some Mother#*!&ers Always Trying to Ice Skate Uphill

Who Wants to be the Bad Guy?

Games I would rather see remade than Halo

Disappointment: A Postmortem of L.A Noire

Try Something Different: Slippery When Wet

It's all about the powers you don't play

A Captain's Primer to FTL

A Grandson's Struggle With Alzheimer's and Dark Souls

Sony's Share Button: The Reason I'm Excited For the PS4

Rogue Legacy: Family Survival Guide









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I watch a lot of YouTube on a regular basis, but since I've busted up my foot and find myself sitting around home all day, my dosage level has skyrocketed to Keith Richards-esq proportions. Sometimes I'll wake up, cue up some videos, and just sink into a deep Y-hole until noon (which actually sounds kind of offensive now that I've said it out loud). 

But since I'm watching so much and have nothing else to do, I thought I might share a few of my favorite videos with you all in the style of Occams recent post


Music


Grinderman – Heathen Child 



I've always been a sucker for crazy music videos. I used to stay up late on Sunday nights watching The Wedge and Going Coastal on MuchMusic (the surprisingly hip Canadian equivalent of MTV), wading through hours of tripe just to find a few gems. Now, in the age of YouTube, you can find just about anything with a few taps of your fingers. It's beautiful and amazing, but being the hipster contrarian I can sometimes be, I occasionally miss the treasure hunter vibe of staying up past 2:00 AM on a school night just hoping to chance upon something cool enough to make it all worth while. 

This video from Nick Cave's side project, Grinderman, is just the kind of aggressively bizarre tongue-in-cheek crap I would have had a fit snickering at while trying not to wake up the house. It's got old men in thongs, a spooky girl in a bathtub, and it steals a split second clip of animation from Pearl Jam's Do the Evolution video. What's not to love?


Red Fang – Prehistoric Dog 



Speaking of old men being assholes, I love this video. I'm not nearly the metalhead I used to be, but Red Fang still manages to charm me. This video takes a real turn at the end that makes it worth watching even if you can't stand bearded men getting thrashed and wallowing in their own filth (and why not?)


La Roux – In For The Kill



I listen to more upbeat pop music these days than a 16 year old girl. I suppose a big part of that is all the 80's revision-ism going on these days. Artists that take the trappings of the 80's and doll them up with a sizzling gloss of style that blows anything that really happened during that decade out of the water. This video oozes 80's “charm”, pop-up headlights, bloomed out video, neon colours, and more leather than a Danier's surplus outlet. Also, I can't help but think that Elly Jackson looks like a cross between an anime character and Conan O'Brien. 


SebastiAn – Embody



If I had moves like that, I'd never stop.

Videogames


OnlyAfro – The Wall



There's no shortage of Dark Souls “troll” videos out there. Most of them are done by tone deaf tryhards using well worn cheese builds or strategies on obviously inexperienced players, with a retch inducing slathering of “YOU MAD BRAH!?” spread on top. But every once and awhile you come across something so creative or diabolical that you can't help but smile. OnlyAfro is the kind of clever/evil asshole who really demonstrates the depth and beauty of Dark Souls many overlapping systems and the ways they let you inflict cruelty upon your fellow man.

Other times he'll just sit on a bridge with a giant shield like a jackass. 


DrGamerz - Street Fighter is Hard #13 – Abel

 

DrGamerz Street Fighter Is Hard series is a favorite of mine. His quest to attain the elusive “C to shining C” achievement (getting to C rank online with every character in the roster) is documented with fantastic editing, great musical picks, hilarious asides, and more than a little pain. I don't think this series would have worked as well for any other fighting game, the SFIV characters are just so large on the screen and comically expressive, it's like they were made for YouTube shenanigans. 

I will say it's also fun to watch some Street Fighter that more closely resembles my own humble level of play on YouTube, rather than the crispy-link ultra-pro tournament players I usually watch that make me feel hopelessly outclassed. 


SubtleArt – Super-Pichu Party Adventure (through Badwater)



Love this guys style. He was pushing the Spy game to its most hilarious extremes back in the early days of TF2. Sadly, it sounds like SubtleArt has passed on in real life, another charming rogue taken too soon.


Jon Bois – NBA Y2K: The death of the NBA 



Jon Bois Breaking Madden and NBA Y2K is some of the best games writing I fear not enough people are reading because it has to do with Sports Balls. I always think it's the mark of a great writer when they can get you to read, and be thoroughly invested in, a topic you'd normally not even glance at. The video trailers for his NBA Y2K articles (and trust me, these articles deserve trailers) phenomenally demonstrate the pathos, grandiosity, and utter incompetence of final years of the NBA.


LordofUltima – Silky Smooth Hado



Well made tutorial videos are like catnip to me. Seriously, I'll watch tutorials for characters, classes, and even entire games I don't play if they're slick enough! LordofUltima's guide to turning Evil Ryu into a jazz devil certainly is. This video is actually a small addendum to his much more in-depth and instructional Evil Ryu guide, just demonstrating a few tricks and high-concept ideas for the character, but that's one of the things I like about it. The video dispenses with any kind of written instruction, but if you understand what he's showing with the multiple picture-in-picture shots and quick menu changing, you can totally follow along and many of the tricks are quite devious. 


Veselekov – When I'm Gravelord'n



I like deep cut references, I like Dark Souls, and sometimes, I like real dumb things.


Comedy


Ashens – Knock off He-Man figures 



Knock off shit is fantastic. The aisles of your average 99 Cent shop or the dusty shelves of a mom & pop convenience store are a comedy gold mine waiting to be plundered. But you'd think Ashens had scraped the bottom of the bargain bin barrel so hard he'd of snapped the ladle by now. 

I have a lot of nostalgia for old toys, and knick-knack junk, so his ever growing collection of oddball tat never ceases to amuse me. There are He-Men figures with melted faces, knock-off Lego people that look like the Children of the Corn, and an endless parade of disturbingly S&M-esq luchadors out there if you know where to look, just waiting to ruin a few childhoods.


LackingSaint – A Realm Man's Drink (Giantbomb animated) 



The Giant Bombcast, as seen through the nightmarish lens of a Tex Avery cartoon animated while under the influence. While the topic of this podcast was already a little unseemly, the disturbing caricatures of the GB staff really take it over the top. Reminds me of some of the fanart old Podtoid used to get when Jim was still with it. 


My Brother, My Brother, And Me – Ghost Boss



The brothers McElroy are a constant source of amusement for my entire family. This sample culled and loosely animated (pictured?) never fails to crack me up. Cake Boss!


Wonderful, Terrible Things


Hot Cartoon Box – Mechcommander



Probably my favorite video on the internet. These guys peel back the layers of a franchise to expose how sublimely dumb MechWarrior can truly be. 


ZeFrank – Teddy Has An Operation



If there was ever a wonderful, terrible thing, this would be it. Cute and creepy at the same time.


Jim Henson – Limbo



This extraordinary piece of experimental puppetry appeared on the Johnny Carson show back in 1974, pretty mind blowing. I can't imagine something like this crash landing on a modern late night talk show. “Nobody” was one of Jim's freakier creations, which makes it all the more interesting to wonder how many kids he helped to learn how to count to ten when he showed up on Sesame Street

Unknown – Max Headroom WTTW Pirating Incident 



I have a strange fascination with signal hijacking and pirate broadcasts. YouTube is a phenomenal source for any number of real and faked hijacking, number stations, and other weird nonsense. The Max Headroom incident is fairly well known, but I still love it for it's audacity and super villain swagger. It seems campy to watch it years later on a computer, but imagine how freaky this would have been in real life. 


Dimdike Stare – Hashshashin Chant



This video combines both creepy 1960's medical experimentation, weird repetitive tones, and horror movie shticks. A lot of things to love about this creepy music video. 


Don't Touch Me I'm Scared – Bad Things That Could Happen



This is basically my mind at all times.
Photo










I have a slap-slap-kiss-kiss relationship with the Battletech/MechWarrior franchise. MechWarrior Online is a game I keep returning to even though I find it ridiculously underdeveloped and often completely frustrating to play. The Battletech universe is something I've warily watched from afar, skimming the wikis, reading the occasional game scenario or novel synopsis, trying to make sense of it's often nonsensical and bizarre trappings. I just dip my toes in from time to time, I've never gone full "Batchall" into any of the lore, it's all too silly to take seriously.

But there is something there. The games are bad, and the universe is crazy, but it keeps tugging on my mind, making me glance in its direction every now and then in spite of myself. It's why I can never seem to quit MWO for good, despite threatening to do so on a regular basis. Beneath the occasionally embarrassing robot designs, the consistently embarrassing characters, and the shamefully embarrassing racial stereotypes embedded into the franchise, I've always felt there was a small hard kernel of unrealized greatness buried in there. Something about these futuristic knights in enormous mechanical suits of armour, fighting for political dominance in a feudal solar-system; it speaks to a nerdy and lonely part of my heart that grew up on tales of Camelot and Transformer cartoons.

So when my brother picked me up a couple of Battletech novels from a book fair as a joke (he choose them based on how terrible the covers looked), how could I resist the chance to finally indulge my mildly worrisome interest in the series? I thought it would be a fun goof, a little light-reading during a hot summer evening.

When I was finished, I wasn't exactly laughing. Instead of a fun lark, I ended up with a deeper understanding of the MechWarrior game I've played so much of and the fanbase that supports them; and it wasn't pretty.


- Only 25 cents each, can you believe it?

I started with Malicious Intent, a story set slightly after the time-period MWO is set in, with the eternally embattled Great Houses of the Inner Sphere begrudgingly forced to work together to defend against the threat of a renewed war with the Clans. The Clans are an equally contentious group, a society of deep-space warlords with superior technology, curious syntax structures, and a high school sophomore's understanding of eugenics (infused with some fairly unsettling undertones of incest).

Michael A. Stackpole is supposedly THE name in Battletech literature. Asking MechWarrior fans about the books generally elicits a slightly apologetic response. They'll shift about and tell you how they really enjoyed them when they were they were young, or how some of them are kind of corny but enjoyable reads, always with a cautious bit of distancing. But every single one of them willl vouch for Stackpole's contributions to the series. His Blood of Kerensky trilogy is considered holy canon for the fandom. So when I saw his name on the cover of Malicious Intent, I was almost disappointed. I wanted low-brow sci-fi trash I could snicker at, not something written with quality and craftsmanship.

It turns out I didn't have much to worry about.

To be clear, Malicious Intent was not the worst novel I’ve ever read. It was a breezy sci-fi read filled with giant robots and one-dimensional characters (which is probably what you should expect from something called Battletech). But considering how Stackpole is considered the one best of the Battletech writers, I was surprised by how amateurish large portions of the novel struck me. When I read something silly like this I don't go out of my way to pick it apart, but the number of times characters would repeat certain phrases or perform the same actions stood out even without looking for them. There are more "devious smiles" in this book than at Satan's own poker table, and if I don't think I'll ever hear a variation of the term "bleed them/us white" without thinking of the uncountable strategy meetings scenes where worried men hovered over causality statistics, fretting about the forces lost on both sides. Also, I guess a bottle of sipping brandy is a required component of every Star Captain's chamber? Inner Sphere, Clanner, good guy, bad guy, everyone in Malicious Intent enjoys brooding over a snifter of brandy.


- Dammit Bing, if you just spit it out we could have skipped this part and gone straight to the swag Christmas outfits.

I've always hated novels and movies where the plot hung on a simple misunderstanding that could be resolved with a minute or less of talking (I take an annual nap during the drawn out third act of White Christmas when Bing Crosby flounders to explain himself for an excruciating 30 minutes, it's tradition). But it turns out the opposite is nearly as frustrating. Conflict that is introduced only to fizzle out mere moments later is just as painful. I can't count the number of times two characters in Malicious Intent would seem on the verge of exchanging blows or declaring war, only to be appeased and suddenly friends within a few paragraphs. There's a whole lot of "WHAT IS THIS GRIEVOUS INSULT!?... Wait, I see the wisdom in his actions... Well played worthy adversary. Perhaps we can help each other..."

It reminds me of playing with action figures as a kid, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would always have a brief fight with He-Man before realizing they were all good guys and could beat up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man together.

The comparison says something unflattering about the maturity level of the audience the Battletech books are aimed for (and I suppose by extension, that includes me).

To the author's credit, he did a great job of replicating the feeling of the battles of the original tabletop game - maybe too good. Battletech is a strategy game, you choose your units, place them on the map, and try to outmanoeuvre your opponent. But it is also a game played with dice and diagrams, and chance. When a mech launches an attack, dice are rolled for each weapon fired and those random numbers determine if, and where, those weapons hit their target.

This results in a lot of random crazy hits and ridiculous bullshit. Considering mechwarriors are supposed to be the elite of the elite, and battlemechs themselves are priceless, finely tuned instruments of destruction, the wars of the Inner Sphere frequently devolve into farcical displays of ineptitude and comedic pratfalls. These machines blunder into battle, spaz out, and spray artillery all over the place. A battery of lasers will burn the shins of an enemy while an auto-cannon rakes the shoulder (despite both of those weapons being mounted on the same arm of the mech firing them), while a bad roll can cause a gyro-failure, sending a mech ass-over-teakettle right in middle of battle.

While reading through Malicious Intent I often wondered if the author didn't set up little mock battles with the miniatures and dice while writing those scenes, transcribing the results of random rolls and dressing them up with dramatic language. Which is actually kind of an adorable image.


- "The elite warriors of the Inner Sphere moved out to flank the the attcking Clanners... Oh god this is silly."

It lends an air of deeply nerdy credibility to the proceedings. The Morlocks who've played the tabletop game would certainly appreciate the commitment to Battletech's quirky mechanics. However, I can't help but wonder what non-fans reading it would think. Readers unfamiliar with the Battletech style, puzzling over why these futuristic war-machines can't seem to hit the broad side of a barn, or why anyone would want to pilot a giant bumblefuck robot that can helplessly tip over mid-battle and die like a turtle stuck on its back.

I suppose the reasoning was that nobody outside of the die-hard fans would be reading these novels anyway, so they might as well cater to their core fanbase at the expense of outsiders.

This was my first deeper observation about the franchise, because this exact toxic frame of mind continues to haunt the series to this day.

For a F2P game that should supposedly thrive on a huge playerbase of casual players, curious mayflies, with a small hardcore audience to anchor it, MWO does not give a fuck about new players. Not a single one. Zero, zip, don't even ask.


- This isn't even all of the possible HUD info that can be on screen at one time. Good luck new players!

I’ve never seen a game so stubbornly refuse to do even basic things to reach out to a broader audience. Hell, it took them nearly two years to even add a bare bones tutorial to the game. MWO is a mechanically broad game (I would never call it "deep" like Dota or Street Fighter, because it isn't, but there is a lot to learn and keep track of). The jumbled HUD full of indicators, paper-doll readouts, weapon groups, and endless meters is flat-out overwhelming for players new to the series. But PGI doesn't care, they expect you to either figure it out on your own or go read up on a forum or fan-made guide.

The same cavalier attitude continues on into almost every aspect of the game. It's 2014 and MWO doesn't have support for voice communication. They don't even have radio commands or quick-select responses like EVERY OTHER GAME released in the last decade. If you want to communicate in this team-based game, you either need to stop and type it out, or find a Teamspeak, Mumble, or Ventrillo server to link up with friends on like it was 1999. Similarly, the UI for building mechs is a confusing mess of numbers and statistics. If you haven't been following the games for the past two decades, or are not willing to do some serious reading on fan maintained wikis, you can expect to make some costly mistakes in the mechlab until you figure it all out. It's all incredibly unwelcoming. Keep out, nerds only, no fun allowed.

That's not even getting into the pricing structure. Most F2P games rely on constant small transactions. Impulse buys, cosmetic trinkets, time-savers bought for pocket change and the like. MWO has all that, but it's loads more expensive than almost any other game I've played. One shade of paint for your mechs can easily cost nearly $7. "Hero mechs", unique chassis that can only be purchased with real money go as high as $40, that's nearly the cost of an entire whole game for ONE character (oh, and you have to buy the garage space for it separately for another $1 or so). The recently released Clan packs were sold from anywhere from $45 for the most useless set of Clan mechs, to $210 if you wanted the whole collection (IE, the good ones). And lets not forget the $500 gold painted limited edition Clan mechs available for the "truly devoted".



These are not prices you set to attract a new audience, it's the kind of premium you put on collectables and nostalgia. The prices you set to milk old men with too many fond memories and not enough sense. PGI seems to have given up on bringing in new players, so instead they've decided to cannibalize their existing fans, sucking them dry until even the marrow has been consumed.

I always laid that blame on PGI's feet. I thought they were shortsighted and greedy (and even a little exploitative), but maybe that tendency has always been there in the franchise. Maybe that's why Battletech has disappeared off the shelves while similar games like Warhammer 40K soldier on, why MechWarrior couldn't find a publisher to fund a proper single-player campaign game and had to go the F2P route.

The franchise has eaten itself hollow from the inside out.



While reading the book, I couldn't help but smile as familiar mechs from the game made appearances. The diminutive 20 ton Locust is regarded with the same scorn in the fiction as it is in-game (nothing will elicit more moans from your teammates than dropping in the pint-size walking coffin). It was refreshing to see the Hunchback, a personal favourite of mine, regarded in high-esteem in the novel (it's performance in MWO has suffered as power-creep from newly released mechs make it more obsolete every passing month). While more bizarre mechs like the hilariously stupid looking Baboon seemed to have been chosen at random, or maybe for comedic value.

What also struck me was how familiar many of the tactics employed in the novel seemed to me. There is a pivotal battle early in the book where the fearsome Clan warlord Vlad (the antagonist or anti-hero of the book depending on how sympathetic you are to Clan bullshit) fights a one-on-one duel with another Clan chief to settle some ridiculous nuance of honour and vengeance.

Vlad, being the tactical genius the book constantly goes to great pains to remind you he is, carefully selects his mech for the battle. He chooses a ride with a greater firing range and more focused pinpoint damage over his opponent's close-in slugger of a mech. He meets him on a flat and desolate field like gun-fighters at high-noon, and promptly explodes the other mech with a distant barrage of fire before the other guy really has a chance to fight.


- This picture accurately sums up most matches in MWO. Ground based mechs like the much maligned Hunchback and Commando spend most of the game hiding from their flying, PPC wielding overloads. The artist of this pic, Alex Wolfe, created an entire series of comic images detailing the often tragic experience of playing MWO

It was a scumbag counter-pick. The mech combat equivalent of picking Guile to fight against a scrub Zangief and then acting proud of beating him with 50 consecutive Sonic Booms. This brilliant strategy is lauded as an amazing tactical insight on Vlad's part, which made my eye twitch with barely suppressed rage not just because it was some lazy writing to prop up a Mary Sue character, but because that’s exactly how the meta-game in MWO has developed. In this case, life really does imitates art.

There are truckloads of weapons designed for exciting, close up, mech-to-mech combat in MWO. Powerful short range rockets that can blow off chunks of a mech like a sledge hammer punching through drywall, massive school bus sized shotgun cannons that launch robot shredding buckshot, there are mech's that can strap on a battery of small lasers, making up for raw damage with a never ending series of surgical cuts. But none of those weapons really matter. If you want to win, there is only one way to go in MWO – high damage sniper fire. You want to strap on as many lightning bolt-esq Particle Projection Cannons as you can (just like Vlad!), find a nice ridge to hide behind, and play peek-a-boo for the next ten minutes. Whoever gets bored and leaves their hiding spot first, loses.

Over the past year or so of the game, the playerbase has wised up to this tactic and even casual pub matches are dominated by jump-jetting snipers playing jack-in-the-box over a mountain. It makes matches incredibly slow as most players are too terrorized to leave the safety of their nook. To top it off, those same sniper weapons are equally capable of brawling as most of the specialized close-in weapons! So even if you do manage to wade through the never ending downpour of lightning bolts and electro-magnetically hurled gauss slugs, you won't even have the advantage in the knife fight!


- Robot bullet-hell.

Again, this is one of those things I've always blamed PGI for. That they suck at balance (they do), that they are blind to obvious facts about the game (true), and are way too slow to react to mass player concerns (undoubtedly). But maybe the cancer was always there. Maybe the idea of fun rock-em-sock-em robot battles in the series is just crippled by design. Things were ruined the first time a pen-and-paper designer sketched out the idea of the gauss cannon, and the disease has just metastasized over time. Growing and spreading as the game left the world of random dice rolls (where your super powerful sniper shot could uselessly ping off a mech's toe by the whim of the dice) and allowed players with eyes and brains to target those sniper weapons where they'd do the most damage. PGI has been negligent, but the patient was doomed long before their malpractice.

The other book my brother picked up for me, Test of Vengeance, had an Atlas on the cover, so I was immediately expecting great things. The Atlas is a hulking 100-ton death-machine with a skull shaped cockpit, bristling with some of the heaviest firepower in the Inner Sphere. A book all about a kick-ass Atlas pilot messing people up? Fuck yes.



The Atlas on the cover is dead within the first 20 pages and the rest of the book is about inbred Clan warriors whipping it out and measuring each others honour. Fuck no.

I've never liked the Clans, even with my limited knowledge of the franchise. They're basically the same as every other PROUD WARRIOR RACE like the Klingons, Krogan, or Spartans, except with uglier tattoos and an incredibly unappealing mode of speech. They're belligerently aggressive, blindly bound to tradition, and like all proud warrior race stock-types, spurn emotions and keep interpersonal relationships as distant and chilly as possible. How utterly boring.


- The Klingons should consider legal action.

It turns out there are even better reasons not to like the Clans than the stereotypical traits. Not only are they dull, they're also creepy. Slavery is a big part of the Clan experience, so that's fun. While warriors taken as a "bondsman" in defeat may one day earn a chance at freedom or the right to be a warrior for their "adoptive" (by way of Stockholm syndrome) clan, there is never much mention made of the ENTIRE PLANETS full of civilians they shackle. I guess it just sucks to be them.

A Clan warrior's entire reason in life is to earn a "Bloodname" and prove their genetic material is fit to be added to their Clan's eugenics based breeding programme. They're all basically test-tube babies born from the same collective genetic material, raised together in "Sibko" nursery/school/boot-camps essentially as brothers and sisters. Then when they reach adulthood, they'll totally fool around with each other all the time because sex has no emotional attachment and nobody gets pregnant by regular means.

Again, they are all basically brothers and sisters.

Ewwwww...



The more I understand about the Clans, the more suspicious and leery I become of their self-proclaimed fans. The dudes that run around in Clan role-playing groups, who have Clan emblems as their player icons, or quotes from great Khan's in their forum signatures. I don't trust those dudes anymore. It's like being stuck on a bus with a guy who won't stop telling you about how the MRA movement is misrepresented in the media, or that one weird clerk at Chapter's who always puts The Fountainhead up as her "Staff Choice" book. These are people you don't want to know, much less hang around and play robots with.

At least I don't have to hear them in game. I suddenly see the wisdom of excluding voice chat from the proceedings. Well played PGI, my worthy adversary... (fuck, it's happening to me now).

While the Clans caught me off guard, the antagonists of Test of Vengeance didn't. The Draconis Combine, a Great House of the Inner Sphere modelled after the samurai of ancient Japan (as well as some random Chinese elements because why the heck not) were every bit as painfully stereotypical and vaguely racist as I expected. The leader of the "Black Dragon" army is exactly the Fu-Man-Chu knock-off you'd be embarrassed to caught reading (long white beard, takes his command meeting in a zen garden while sitting cross-legged in a pristine white gi, simply closing his eyes and taking twenty minutes between every cryptic riddle of a command) and yes, the mechwarriors of the Combine do indeed shout "BANZAI!" as they charge the enemy.

This would have shocked me if most of the mechs of the Combine didn't already tip their hand on the racist thing already. My favourite is the Hatamoto-Chi, which is an 80-ton ROBOT that's head is shaped like a big ol' samurai helmet and will walk into battle with a gigantic katana and a replica wood and fabric banner flying from its back. We're talking Capcom levels of cultural sensitivity here.


- Yup, not embarrassing at all.

You'd have to burn it all down.

You would have to chop, and torch, and pulverize everything but the core ideas. Go back to square one, rewrite everything – pitch the stereotypes, re-write the Clans to be more ominous and alien than banal and creepy, re-work all the weapons and mechanics of the mech so you could build a fun and interesting game around them.

I always thought the Battletech/MechWarrior franchise could aspire to more. That with the right steady hand on the rudder, the series could make a comeback, both with the games and the novels. With the success of Pacific Rim and Game of Thrones, you would think the time was right for people to accept a series about giant mechanical knights duking it out on the battlefield while future space viziers stabbed each other in the back in a deadly political game. But I can see that I was wrong.

It doesn't need a steady hand, it needs an iron fist. A great merciless smashing of retcons and reboots.

But maybe the time is right for that as well. Look at Star Wars just casually dismissing huge chunks of its universe as non-canon. Look at the number of game franchises that have rebooted over the past few years, who shirked their cumbersome baggage and re-released as something a little more fit for the times.

Maybe it's time for "The MechWarrior" to make an appearance.

Or maybe it's time to just dump the franchise into a shallow ditch and be done with it. At this point, I'm not sure anyone would notice.

Photo Photo Photo










I haven't played Risk since high school and I hadn't been interested to try it again since.

But then again, regular old Risk never had mech-suits and bear-riding future Vikings did it? Enter Risk: Legacy, which upgrades the game pieces from French musket-men to a variety of kickass sci-fi warmongers straight out of Mad Max and SpaceMarine.

If shiny new pieces where all Risk: Legacy had to offer, that wouldn't be very exciting, but thankfully the changes it provides are much more than skin deep. Legacy introduces the idea of persistence to the game. At every stage, from set-up, to mid-game, to crowning a winner, the game has you get out your pens and markers and ink up the board and cards. Winners can found major cities in their favourite countries, name continents, and write needless mean-spirited smack talk on the highscore board. The game gives you stickers that you slap on the board and game pieces, permanently altering the landscape. Scar a nation with ammo shortages and other maladies to dick over your friends, build bunkers where you plan to make your stand (then weep in anguish when your girlfriend steals them out from under you and you send men to die against the very walls you built). You take cards out of the deck, rip them up and make it rain shredded cardboard. Sometimes this the result of a binary choice, a one-or-the-other deal. Other times just out of pure spite and malice against your friends, a monkey wrench tossed into their scheming tactics, you make them watch as you strangle their golden goose.



The rule book is basically half written when you take it out of the box. There are huge sections missing you have to fill in later as you reveal rules and expansions and new game pieces. The box comes with sealed envelopes and containers with conditions written on them "open the first time a player is eliminated", "open after all players have a nuclear missile" and even one that is temptingly labelled "never, EVER, open. Seriously". For real, this is a boardgame with potential spoilers. These rule changes and new pieces turn the world over on itself, I won't ruin it for anyone but from what we've seen so far there is some wild stuff.

It's incredible. Boardgames get a bad rap as the stodgy old grandpa of the entertainment world, but Risk: Legacy is pure punk rock. It's daring and crazy and the entire time I've been playing it I've been wondering why the hell we don't see more videogames like it.

How often are games sold to us as "persistent worlds" these days? Since GTA 3 came out it seems like we've heard nothing else. How many RPGs or online shooters or war simulators are there out there that promise "faction gameplay where the battles shape the gameworld!" only for that to translate into pie chart scoreboards and intractable stalemates engineered into the game by design? Where are the punk rock videogames?

We gathered up the usual suspects. Me, my girlfriend, my brother, his girlfriend. Instead of a few "good" natured hands of Cards Against Humanity or drunken Samurai Gunn, this game night will be devoted to conquest (and so will next weekend, and then a random Thursday night afterwards as it turns out). Dice rolls, choices, and human cruelty slowly create a narrative.



Within 5 games Europe is a smoking crater, the hotly contested territory where I built my stronghold has been pockmarked and ruined by ASSHOLES who either scorched the earth or encircled every square inch of what was left. Like some other famous Germans, I abandon my once proud war empire and flee to Brazil, pledging to rise again and very seriously looking into cloning techniques to bolster my numbers. The historical associations are troubling, but I must press on. Khan Industries needs room to breathe.

Meanwhile Kassie has claimed the entirety of Australasia with one well placed fortification. She holds and ruthlessly exploits a nation of thong wearing surfers and koala bears, feeding their young men into the meat grinder of her constant expansion of Asia. Her crafty power choice during character creation lets her generate a resource card with every 4 uncontested territories she waltzes into. She wastes no time smelting those resources into guns, and men, and tanks, and conquest, and blood, and tears.

Bear-riders swarm the Americas nearly unopposed. Nobody wanted to fight for all nine territories and Nate recognized that hesitation as weakness, immediately founding cities in the Great North and turning Greenland into a suicide zone for attackers. The Bering Strait is stained red from his clashes with Kassies' forces as they each try to invade the other with Pac-Man logic.

Jacquie mostly stays out of the way and tries to win an economic victory trading resource cards for game winning tokens. She claims Africa, harasses South America, and constantly wars with Kassie over the Middle East, largely just to prevent Kass from gaining a sweet continent bonus and flooding the board with overwhelming troop numbers. She has the bomb now, and the glint in her eye when she took possession of it was unnerving. Africa is stirring, it's time for the Saharan Republic to leave the desert and claim greener pastures for themselves.



Risk: Legacy is the only board game I've ever played where you "build" a character by choosing between unique powers and abilities. This isn't some goofy house rule like "the race car in monopoly can go an extra space because IT'S FAST", these are real decisions. At the start of the very first game you choose one of two possible starting powers, peel it off, stick it to your faction card, and rip the other one in half. As someone who has been preaching the virtues of a less is more philosophy towards character building in games for years now, the act of permanently destroying an option sent a shiver down my spine.

The best games know that character choices are only interesting because of what you leave behind, the things you can't do define what is cool about the things you can do. It's why the first half of a Fallout game (when you're forced to make the best use of your skills and maybe you never get to know what's in a safe or behind a locked door because your clumsy mutant fingers never took the time to learn how to pick locks) is so much more interesting than the second half (when you're a wasteland God swimming in stat bonuses equally capable with a plasma rifle as you are at performing surgery and juggling high explosives). The commitment to that philosophy here is bracing.

Would the results of our wars have been different if we had all taken different powers? Probably, but we'll never know. Those cards are ripped up, shredded, in the garbage next to cracked egg shells, coffee grinds, and too many empty cartons of chocolate milk. Those other powers? They're fading memories. I remember the other Saharan Republic power looked very strong, it would have allowed Jacquie to move her troops around at any time during her turn, not just at the end. The two choices Khan Industries had were both kind of ho-hum. I bet Nate wishes he took whatever that other power was, his Bear-Riders have yet to use their special power in anger because it turns out rolling three-of-a-kind with dice is pretty unlikely.

But wishing for it only makes it bleed. We made our choices, and now we're stuck with them. Do-overs are for the weak and respecing is for pussies.



The board has room for 15 winner entries and the various unlocks and actions are scheduled to more or less happen within that span (the instructions do warn that some of the more obscure rule changes or unlocks might never be revealed depending on how your games play out, how cool is that?) After that, the game is essentially "finished" you can still play on the board (scarred and divided and bizarre as it has become) but there are no more changes to be made and you're pretty much playing for fun at that point. This might be a bit of a turn off to some people, but honestly, how many board games have you ever played more than 15 matches of? I've racked up some serious Scrabble time in my day, but I'm hard pressed to name another board game I've played more than 15 times on the same set. In fact, there are plenty of $60 videogames I've either left incomplete or played through once and never touched again.

So I'm unperturbed by the idea of playing a “mere” 15 games that take 45 minutes or so each, generating a unique world and totally spontaneous narrative with my group in the process, and being "done" with the board when it's over. That doesn't strike me as crazy. That strikes me as a damn good time. In fact, I like that there is an end point, a finale to the story instead of slowly petering out as players get bored or busy or move on to other games.

Here again is something I think videogames could learn, forever is not necessarily a virtue. Multiplayer games always tout their replay value as line item number 1 or 2 on the back of the box, and I get that. The combined harsh economic realities of a consumer's limited disposable income and the typically Machiavellian business models of most publishers makes replay length a pressing issue for most gamers and developers (however destructive you may or may not think emphasizing that value above all others is). This is why MMOs and other massive multiplayer games set in persistent worlds that promise "REAL CHANGE" in response to player actions never end, they just keep going and going and going. Which presents something of a problem when stacked against that promise of "REAL CHANGE." How do you meaningfully change the world when you still need to accommodate thousands of other players and keep the game going indefinitely? The only title I can think of that has managed to pull it off has been EVE: Online, and they accomplished that by largely handing the reigns of the game to the players. But that game is so bizarre and unwelcoming to new players at this point that I would almost consider it some kind of social experiment rather than a videogame.


- Many persistent world games boil down to moving around numbers on a pie chart. How thrilling.

I'm just spitballing here, but maybe there should be more games designed to be played with a group of friends over a moderate period of time. The MMO has been a declining genre for years now, the giddy thrill of playing with thousands of people at once (read: push through a crowded main hub city filled with dancing idiots to get to the lonely instanced dungeons that make up most of the real game) has long passed; but I still like the idea of playing with friends. I just don't want to do it in a gigantic world filled with chuckle-nuts that takes 100+ hours of grinding to "get to the good part".

I would love to play a game designed for a small group that can affect BIG changes over another title that features huge player counts in a mostly static world. I have no interest in playing TES: Online, but you know what, I would kill to play Skyrim with a couple of friends. Trucking through dungeons together, getting into crazy situations, and really messing up the world ("my Dark Wizard friend just charbroiled the king on his throne, guess that's the end of that quest-line"). All the better if the characters had more limited stat points and skills, where you really had to rely on each others talents-

Wait, I think I'm actually just describing D&D at this point. Oh lord. Is that who I really am?

What I'm trying to say is that I'd rather play a game with just a couple of friends that let us really mess shit up and make a mark on the world than plug more time into a meaningless pie chart squabbling over pretend resources. I'm not buying into these Planetside-esq schemes anymore. I'm not interested in MMOs with their cladding and tricks that try to pantomime player action against the world while never really changing anything. Fuck perceiving a different sky-box than the other guy because you finished a quest and he did not, I want to SCAR THE SKY. I want to tear open heaven, heave out its cloud guts, and use them to stitch my name into the stars. And every time my friends look up, I want them to see "WRENCHFARM RULES" so they know what’s up.



I think above all else, what I take away from Risk: Legacy is that it's a game that values YOU. You the player, your group, your friends, your experience. It isn't about the game you bought so much as the game you make together (if that makes any sense). We need more games that do that. That take risks, that trust the players to make choices and live with them. That value a fulfilling experience over play-length padding.

Bring on the punk rock videogames. The short daring games that aren't afraid to let the players take the wheel. That trust you enough to let you screw up and play around those blunders. That know the best stories are the ones you make together. We'll be here waiting for them with our mechs, and bears, and purple tanks, and regrettable decisions.
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Capcom has finally laid out the release dates for the latest update/expansion of Street Fighter IV. More importantly, they've more or less finalized the change list, the little tweaks and nudges made to bring the cast in balance or iron out some rough spots.

My eyes almost fell out of my head when I read what they've done with my boy Vega.

Vega got a booty? HE DO!

You can watch at that sweet Spanish tush allllll day as he crosses you up his jumping light kick. After years of watching all the other kids have fun, Vega is finally getting a FOR REAL cross-up of his own! Now when you finally score a knock down, you can press the advantage without burning meter on a risky, super-strictly timed EX-Barcelona attack that doesn't work against half of the cast. Vega already has a variety of tricky corpse-hopping set-ups and a threatening kara-throw/poke guessing game to use on downed opponents, giving him a viable cross-up is going to be nuts.

An offensive Vega? What dreams may come!

Jump on my claw all night long



Longer active frames on Vega's crouching fierce punch (and possibly an adjusted hitbox) might actually give him a decent answer for dive kicks! I don't even care if it trades, so long as Rufus doesn't get to pogo like a spastic monkey for free all match, I'll be happy


- Look how hard Vega has to work to deal with that stuff! Major props to Zeus for the swag comeback in the first match.

But cr.FP isn't the only move getting an adjustment. His close medium kick is faster to start and has fewer frames of recovery on hit and block. This opens up a whole new world of reliable combo starters and a close fast poke! Rolling Crystal Flash has a faster charge time in Ultra, significantly lowering the difficultly of close fierce punch-RCF combos. It also has more advantage when cancelled using an FADC. In English, that means Vega can safely get out of a badly planned blocked RCF instead of eating a punish combo, or he can possibly extend his RCF combos further! Do you understand? They changed a few numbers here and there and made him and entirely new fighter!

Vega is getting new ways to open people up, and more tools to do damage? Capcom, you're gonna make me cry. A few other tweaks to make his Super and Ultras more consistent are just the cherry on top - yup, I'm actually crying now.

The best revenge is living well


- As always, thanks DeviantART for not being creepy at all.

It's not just the buffs that Vega is receiving, but the sweet sassy nerfs coming down on the rest of the cast. A lot of the top-tier characters are getting slight tweaks to take the edge off their most egregiously powerful stuff. Most Dragon Punches can't be safely FADCed forward anymore (a manoeuvre that allowed many characters a get-out-of-jail-free card that either resulted in a massive Ultra combo comeback, or a safe reversal that put them at an offensive advantage – zero risk, massive reward), a lot of easy escape options have been shut down, and some of the most spamable attacks have been toned down.

Fuck your rekkas and cannon spikes. Fei Long and Cammy had it too good for too long.

Combine that with some of the new mechanics, and you have one happy Spanish Ninja (whatever the hell that is anyway). Things like wake-up delay (the ability to stay on the ground a few extra micro-seconds to screw up the timing of vortex character shenanigans) might be "nice" for most characters, but ANYTHING that helps Vega deal with wake-up pressure is a godsend. WUD on it's own is going to be a big boost for Vega. The new Ultra system that will let you trade raw damage to have both Ultra types available is a fantastic opportunity for narcissists everywhere. With no way to reliably combo into either option (unless your a God like Zeus), Vega players have always relied on his Ultras as escape and punishment tools. You slap on Bloody High Claw to as a paper tiger threat against fireball happy players, or just use Splendid to get out of a dive-kick situation once a match. You could fight all night and never actually LAND either Ultra. Being able to have both options at once is going to increase his bag of tricks and capability to deal with characters like Akuma who have both a deadly pressure game and strong projectiles. I'll take flexibility and mind games over a few points of damage any day of the week.

This is why I'm stupid



I am legitimately excited about these changes. I want you to know that, and I want you to know how dumb that really is. I am going to be buying Ultra the second it hits Steam, and I'm going to watch EVO in July, and I'm going to cheer whenever I see a claw rip into someone, cringe when Vega gets shut down by dive-kicks, and hope against all logic that maybe THIS will be the year that a Vega player makes it into the Grand Finals. Get hype.

Capcom did it again.

This is the dark truth of the matter. This is why no matter how badly they mismanage Megaman, or sabotage the Resident Evil series, or fail to find a way to market Monster Hunter in the west, Capcom will never really go out of business. All they have to do is take a 5 year old game, adjust some numbers, move some hitboxes around, and dunces like me will line up in droves to fork over their money. I've bought this game, what? Like three times now? Maybe the fourth time is the charm.

I really don't even care about the "new" characters lifted from SFxT, or the stages they ported over, or Decapre (although her stylish choice of a mask and claw does endear her to me slightly). Those features are decoys, chaff Capcom has to dispersed to give the illusion of value and justify another title.

Make no mistake though, what I (and I imagine quite a few people) will be handing over money for are essentially number changes. Little tiny adjustments in and XML file somewhere. Slight alterations on hitboxes. Barely perceptible differences in animations. A thousands small adjustments that when taken together result in a different game, a game I want to play because I think it will flatter my playstyle and favourite character. A game I can imagine will FINALLY be the version of Street Fighter I can excel at.

Capcom knows exactly what buttons to push.
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Watch_Dogs is coming out in a week, and I'm just not that terribly excited.

But I should be.

Watch_Dogs is the game I would have designed back in high school, back when I tried to paint in my Breakfast Club-esq one-dimensional personality trait as "the politically aware guy". It's exactly what I would have liked to have seen, an open world game, set in a recreation of our own reality, no hiding behind fake city names and clever puns. A real, serious title that dares to take on the seedy corruption of the system, a game that empowers the common man to strike back at injustices that surround him, with a combination of wits, firepower, and collapsible batons.

Hell, I bought one of those batons in a dingy military surplus store and carried it around under dubious legal status when I worked nights downtown. This game is EVERYTHING I would have wanted.

But I'm still just marginally interested. It's out next week, but I don't plan to be sitting at any midnight launch. I haven't even pre-ordered it from Steam. I might just wait for a price drop.

Why?

Am I tired of fighting the man? Has rebellion become passe? Or have I simply played so many games that this point that let me take on the system, that I don't even care about it anymore? Looking back, there sure were a lot of them.

Here is a vaguely chronological list of some of the most outwardly anti-authoritarian games I've played over the years. That's not to say these are all great games (a lot of them aren't) or that I loved them all (I didn't), but when I think back to memories of sticking it to the man, these are the titles that leap to mind.


Skate or Die



Skate or Die 2 was about as radical and in your face as things got on the NES. We're talking serious 'tude. Gnarly grinds, terrible dyed Mohawk haircuts, and painfully out of touch street-slang that was no doubt written by a white man in his mid 30's, what else could you ask for? If you like broad, inaccurate stereotypes of 90's youth culture, SoD2 is the game for you.

Compared to games these days, SoD2 seems harmless, quaint even. But in 1990, when educators were up in arms about kids doing the Bart-Man, and fretting parents wondered if the Ninja Turtles were a little too bodacious, SoD2 was fairly provocative. Especially when stacked against other games of its period.

Forget rescuing the Princess or zapping aliens to set a high score, SoD2 was about TAKING ON THE SYSTEM. When the mayor unjustly outlaws skateboarding in town, the only solution is citizen protest, which the game's logic takes a few interesting ways. The first level ends with a showdown against the Mayor's wife, because what better way to effect social change than to harass an old lady? The second part of the game has you crashing into window shoppers and splattering mall cops with a paintball gun as you shred through the local shopping centre trying to earn some cash, FUCK CAPITALISM. Later levels let you terrorize beach floozies and macho-men with firecrackers, and... petition local city ordinances to file for a permit to build a skate ramp? The fuck? What the hell is this game?

Punk is dead.


Revolution X



Hot on the heels of the wild success of the famous Terminator 2 lightgun arcade game, Midway was eager to pump out another big licenced arcade game to keep the money rolling in. That's understandable, sure, the industry has always favoured iteration and safe bets. If something works well, do it again. What was unfathomable was the licence they chose.

Revolution X is set in a dystopian future where Sonya Blade (Kerri Hoskins dressed as a slutty Nazi) rules a one-world government that has, for reasons never fully explained, outlawed rock music. In this dark and bleak alternate future, there is only one band who will dare to rise up and oppose this 1984-by-way-of-Footloose dictatorship, motherfucking AEROSMITH. (Whaaa?)

Well, sort of. The bandmates of Aerosmith won't actually DO anything, I mean c'mon, they're rockstars not guerrilla fighters. But they will gladly cheer you on from the comfort of their plush dressing room, getting fresh with groupies while you gun down untold scores of jackbooted audiophobes on their behalf.

The gameplay is basically the same as T2, only instead of wiping out non-sentient robots who have committed genocide, you'll be killing truckloads of identical riot cops wearing raincoats and motorcycle helmets. Instead of blowing up into little mechanical bits, these guys splatter the screen with blood a'la Mortal Kombat. I'm all about taking on the system, but the sheer body count involved here makes even me somewhat uncomfortable. Granted, Sweet Emotion is a great song, I'm just not sure how many people I would STRAIGHT UP MURDER for the sake of listening to it.

Revolution X was an FMV fiasco of the highest order. Sloppy, repetitive gameplay sold using a licence nobody cared about or asked for, and acted out by a band that could not give less of a shit about the project. It's truly bizarre, like playing the videogame equivalent of a TV Carnage clip. Revolution X is terrible and wonderful in all the mindbogglingly dumb ways I love. The only thing that could have possibly topped it was if they actually made the Public Enemy based sequel they were planning on.



That's right, before the poor console sales of Revolution X put a halt on the project, Midway was spinning up a sequel title that would have featured Public Enemy. If reality had shifted just a little bit, we could have had a game where Chuck D and Flava Flav explained to you how “music is the weapon” in a stilted tutorial video. We could have had a stage where you defended Chuck's bulletproof 98 Oldsmobile as he tried to escape the clutches of washed up Mortal Kombat actresses. It could have been AMAZING.

Apparently, it took a nation of millions saying “NO” to the original to hold them back.


State of Emergency



The 1999 Seattle WTO protests were a culturally shocking event. It highlighted the vast economic and ideological difference splitting the country in two. It resulted in hundreds of unlawful arrests, massive property damage, and a huge drain on public resources. It called attention to the role of police intervention on the behalf of multinational corporations and charged the political atmosphere of the next election. It was serious business.

So why not make a shitty beat-em-up budgetware game that trivialized every aspect of it?

State of Emergency was weird. For what tuned out to be a seemingly half finished budget title, I remember SoE having a huge marketing push behind it. This was during the heyday of print gaming magazines and I'd be pick up copies of Game Players, EGM, and other mags every month, and every single one of them were running preview articles and full-page ads for it. I didn't quite understand it, to me the character design of their tank-top wearing frontman was unappealing, and even with all the hype surrounding the title, I still wasn't quite sure what the game was really about. But gradually the slow erosion of the marketing grind wore through the rational part of my brain (like it always does), and by the time it hit my local Blockbuster I couldn't wait to rent it, race home, and FIGHT THE POWER.

A few hours later I was fine with just being passive-aggressive to the power. Or leaving the power alone all together. You know, whatever.

In State of Emergency you play as a troublemaker with a laundry list of odd jobs to take care of in the middle of a riot. Deliver this, fetch that, smash up X amount of stuff in X amount of time, etc. Rather than an exciting, cathartic expression of rage against a society that's marginalized you, the revolution mostly felt like an annoying part-time job you didn't enjoy. The combat was squishy and unsatisfying, with miserable controls that made brawling a chore and trying to aim any of the rare weapons available a matter of luck. The story was near non-existent, and the gameplay as repetitive as a highschool punk band's baseline The whole debacle was a clusterfuck I was glad to dump back in the Blockbuster dropbox at the end of the weekend.



SoE did have one notable draw though – the crowds. You have to understand, this was nearly a decade before Dead Rising, having more than four or five characters on the screen at once was like some kind of black sorcery. Being able to rampage through an under-detailed downtown core swarmed with ineffectual protesters and non-descript riot cops was a genuine thrill. For the first 20 minutes or so anyway.

Maybe that was why preview buzz was so good for the game. Maybe when game journalists got to check it out at a trade show demo they had the most flattering look at the game as possible. A few minutes to experience the giddy rush of the marauding crowds, the naughty buzz of a game that tasked you with taking on the man, and then the demo was over before tedium could set in. A quick smash and grab of the game's best qualities, of course the preview coverage was going to be enthusiastic. Or maybe a simpler, and more sinister, explanation is that Rockstar just dropped a dump truck full of money on promotion, bought good coverage, and found a way to market a glorified tech demo as a full game to unsuspecting chumps.

The revolution repackaged and sold through the machinations of crass capitalism. Don't forget your to buy your matching Che Guevara T-shirt.


Deus Ex



You actually start Deus Ex working for the man. You're a UNATCO special agent, filled to the brim with experimental nano-bots; boldly stepping out into the world to enforce order, wearing some obnoxious late-90's shades and a baggy coat that makes you look bigger than you are. But don't worry, it doesn't take more than five minutes into the game before you're openly questioning your superior's orders and sympathetically identifying with the “terrorists” motivations. You might start out as a government stooge, but by the end of the game you'll be knee deep in dead Majestic 12 agents and an official enemy of the state.

Deus Ex is a legendary game, praised for its sharp design, deep level of player choice, emergent gameplay, and branching plot points. It was revolutionary at release and still compares well against similar big name releases these days. When a developer name-drops Deus Ex as an inspiration or comparison point, it's subtle shorthand for "we've made a real smart game", or at least "we're trying to sell ourbog-standard game with a pretentious veneer of class and brains."

What gets lost in the praise though is just how badly this game lets you stick it to the man. Stick it to the police. Stick it to the multinational corporations. Stick it to the mob. Stick it to the government. Stick it to the shadow government behind the government. Stick it to EVERYBODY. Except the lower class, whom the protagonist is generally sympathetic to (despite a few “badguy” player choice moments if you feel like being a dick).



Members of the creative team, notably designer Harvey Smith and writer Austin Grossman would team up again years later to work on Dishonored, a game that carries on many of the same themes. Government conspiracy, abuses of authority, the plight of the underclass, and an uneasiness with using violence as a solution to these problems.

While both Deus Ex and Dishonored give you all the tools you'd need to be become a high-tech or magic-powered assassination machine, capable of slinging hot death at any oppressor who glances in your direction. But they also provide you with plenty of non-violent solutions and abilities to use instead -- and perhaps more importantly, and more difficult to accomplish inside the trappings of a videogame, they give you ethical reasons to use them. Both games are stridently anti-authoritarian, but weave a subtle message -- you don't have to be destructive to fight a destructive force.

Bully



Despite the title, Jimmy Hopkins isn't a bully. He's just a young man who gives people what they deserve. But when you place him in the dog eat dog world of Bullworth Academy, where socially stratified cliques openly fight each other for dominance, abusive prefects and hall monitors mercilessly torment the student body, and a staff of incompetent or downright corrupt teachers do nothing to improve the situation, what people deserve can get pretty nasty.

Bully is obviously anti-authoritarian in that you play a young punk who will break rules and get in scraps, but past the boyish pranks there is actually some pretty scathing criticism to be found. One of the main recurring points that comes up in the plot of the game is that it is the institution of Bullworth that makes the school such a shithole. The corruption comes from top down and trickles down to the students who are forced to survive in an overly competitive and insular world their faculty, parents, and local government have created.

In typical Rockstar cynicism, even the universally reviled Nerd clique, who reside at the bottom rung of the social ladder, jump at any chance to be just as mean, petty, and vindictive as the cooler kids that prey on them. Nobody at Bullworth sees a way to stop the oppression, they just want to become the oppressors (so don't feel too bad stuffing them into trashcans or flinging a handful of itching powder into their eyes). When you finally start making some headway, busting down the cliques and structures of the place, it turns out most of the individual kids are actually decent people. Even the arrogant preppies and domineering jocks have more depth than you might initially think.

People are good, groups are shitty. Bully wants you to bust down the herd mentality.



When it comes to sticking it to the man, I think Bully deserves some bonus points. More than just allowing for some polygonal rebellion, Bully made a lot of real life moral guardians and anti-videogame critics look absolutely foolish. The light hearted violence of the game that culminated in spitballs and wedgies, instead of guns and decapitations, made pre-release accusations of the game being a “Columbine simulator” look hysterical and unfounded (which of course they were). The casual inclusion of bi-sexual flirting options (Jimmy could woe the occasional boy into a kiss if he so desired) let a lot of bigots expose themselves for what they are when they latched on to that as a reason to keep criticizing the game. “Ok, there may be no blood in the game, but it has THE GAY!”

Bully is one of my favourite games. Distilling the basic gameplay fundamentals of a GTA open-world game to a PG-13 friendly school world populated with distinct individuals rather than faceless mooks, Rockstar did something truly special. It is a tragically underrated and under-appreciated title. How many houses do I need to egg before Rockstar will make a sequel?

Bioshock Infinite



When it comes to saying “fuck the police”, you can't say it any louder than a mechanical hook snapping the neck of a peace officer. Get used to that sound, because in Bioshock Infinite you'll be hearing it a lot.

Not that you need to feel bad for them or anything. Columbia is patrolled by a never ending supply of racist, violent, fuckwit cops who circle jerk over the grave of John Wilkes Booth, so pardon me if my well of sympathy is a little shallow for them. While not necessarily billed as an overtly anti-authoritarian game, it's hard to ignore the sheer body count of Infinite's primary enemy type – cops. Over the course of the game, Booker DeWitt will kill upwards of 800 boys (and ladies) in blue with everything from guns and hooks, to electric bolts and crow attacks. Not to mention a number of animatronic George Washington's, which I mean isn't as bad as 800 dead police officers, but still, RUDE.

Infinite starts strong with a harsh look at American exceptionalism and religious fundamentalism. Granted, these aren't exactly mind blowing positions to take. Almost everyone can agree to some extend that murdering the indigenous natives of North America with a combination of guns, small pox, and economic starvation is probably a blemish on the history of the new world. Only crazed neo-cons who slobber over PNAC reports really want to see America literally take over the rest of the world. But it is nice to see that kind of narrative being tackled in a major big name videogame (even if they had to sneak the subversiveness into gamer's homes under the trappings of a dude-bro-action cover).

About halfway through the game, Levine gets a little bit cheeky. The resistance, assisted by Disney Princess Elizabeth's reality distorting powers, manage to successfully lead an armed rebellion against the establishment. This isn't a happy ending though, this is a nightmare. The resistance turns out to be every bit as cruel and unreasonable as Comstock and his ilk were, slaughtering not only their previous oppressors, but basically anyone they don't like. Average citizens, children, resistance members who don't give enough of themselves to the cause – nearly everyone can look forward to a bullet or worse under the new regime.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Roger Daltrey would be proud.


GTA and Saint's Row



Oh c'mon, you didn't think I could get away without talking about the big dog did you?

Yes, the GTA series seems pretty obvious for this list. It's a series all about climbing up the criminal food chain by committing more and more outlandish crimes, I couldn't avoid mentioning it.

But for all the mayhem and destruction, I think GTA's best stab at the man lies in the series inevitable late game twists. After working your way up through petty crimes, street gangs, and into organized high-profile jobs, almost all of the major GTA games have you working for the cops near the end of the game as the final organization you need to ascend. GTA 3 has the wordless Claude take jobs from a stereotypically bent cop from the privacy of a shithole park washroom. CJ is blackmailed into taking jobs from the C.R.A.S.H anti-gang crime department (a satire of the real-life, and outrageously corrupt, Rampart Division formerly of the LAPD). Niko Bellic ends up running errands for both a shady detective who commits crimes under the pretence of serving the greater good, and an even shadier cloak-and-dagger agency heavily implied to be an arm of the C.I.A. Even the much more independent trio from GTA V wind up being forced into jobs by the F.I.B while also planning heists that rip off corrupt military contractors working for the government, a mad with power Homeland Security Department, and a rural Sheriff's Department so in-bed with the local meth business that they have literally millions of dollars locked up in a local bank.

In the world of GTA, the biggest crooks are the cops.

It's one thing to make a juvenile game that celebrates wanton destruction. It's another to make a series that has consistently attacked the very foundation of trust and authority that police and government agencies are built upon for over 15 years. Rockstar's brand of criticism might not be the most incisive or nuanced, but they stick to it with dogged determination. Fuck the police indeed.



Before I close this out, Saint's Row deserves honourable mention. The series started as a run of the mill GTA clone, but has since taken a bizarre and beautiful form of it's own. Taking the most ludicrous aspects of the GTA series to the comic extreme, Saint's Row no longer pretends to represent any kind of reality or present any facade of intellectual criticism. Sure you still stick it to the man, but the game is so insanely over the top in every single way that I can't see anyone taking it as a subversive or harmful message. It is a series that abandoned authenticity, and somehow became more pure and authentic than most games could ever hope to be in the process.

My favourite description of the Saint's Row franchise is that it is like living inside the internal logic of a rap music video. That the Saint's games do the same thing for gangster rap as Brutal Legend did for heavy metal, and I think that is wonderful. I love that we have a series that celebrates ridiculousness, that will basically play out as Kanye's best wet-dream featuring himself.

There are plenty of games out there that are accidentally dumb and kind of embarrassing to the medium in general (see Revolution X). It is an amazing thing to see a series intentionally embrace silliness and do it perfectly.



I've mellowed out over the years. I'm not the angry little class warrior I used to be (and really it's for the best, because that dude was kind of insufferable). I don't go around looking for injustices to brood over, or fantasize about torching banks anymore. That seems like a natural result of growing up and maturing, but I have to wonder if games like the ones I've listed here are part of the reason I've cooled my jets. Maybe these anti-authoritarian games have let me channel those feelings in a more positive direction, one where I can blow up a few virtual cars before sauntering out the door and joining society as a peaceful productive member...

Or maybe, now that I think of it, games are just another tool for THE MAN. A pressure valve they use to let us blow off steam in a nice, tidy way that doesn't impede business. Maybe I've been a sucker all these years. They've put virtual saltpeter in my brain's diet, watered down my zeal, strangled my passion. They laughed all the way to the bank as I hammered away on the controller, so self-satisfied with my pretend revolutions and fantasy rebellions.

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe it's time to put down the controllers, unplug the Xbox, and hurl it through the windshield of a police cruiser.

Fuck the police.
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In an effort to keep myself sane as I wait for the PC release of Dark Souls 2 (an idea that sounded good in my head a month ago, but has ended in nothing but jealousy and self directed rage since), I've been digging DEEP into Dark Souls, picking every last shred of meat from its undead bones. After playing for hundreds of hours, launching countless invasions, and banding with innumerable random strangers for the joys of jolly co-operation, you'd think there would be nothing left to learn about Dark Souls.

You'd be wrong.

The world of Dark Souls is rich and detailed, packed with sly references, loving homages, and even some cheeky gags. While some of the references From Software tucked away in Dark Souls are well known, I've collect a few of the strangest and most interesting references in the game (or in some cases, references that were ALMOST put in) that even the most ardent Warrior of Sunlight might have missed.

Please keep in mind that I've only collected this list. The credit for finding these hidden nuggets of gold goes to the widespread and industrious members of the Dark Souls fandom, who have been mining both the content, and data files of the game since its launch.



Berserk references are the low hanging fruit of Dark Souls trivia. Lead director Hidetaka Miyazaki has expressed his love for the manga series and cited it as an inspiration for him and his team before. It doesn't take a microscope to pick out many of the nods to the series they put in the game. The Balder Armor set is almost an exact replica (if a little worse for wear) of Berserk protagonist Gut's suit. The menacing Red Eye Orb used by bloodthirsty players to invade other worlds bears more than a passing resemblance to the cursed Behelit pendant worn by the big bad of the series. Not to mention the entire design of Artorias is a direct reference to later series Guts, complete with the handicapped left arm and feral wolf theme. Heck, the promo art for the Artorias of the Abyss expansion is nearly identical to a cover used by the manga!

Interesting stuff, but I'm going to bet a lot of you already knew about those references. So here is something you might not have come across.



Buried deep within deleted game files, uncovered and resurrected by fans with far more technical savvy than I'll ever have, is an alternate character model of the NPC Witch Beatrice that depicts her as a child. This is intriguing in its own right (there are no other child characters in Dark Souls), but for readers up to date with the Berserk manga, you might notice a striking similarity between child Beatrice and the young witch Schierke who accompanies Guts on his adventures. But the similarities go much further than the colour of her cloak and stylish hat.

Like many Dark Souls characters, there is precious little information available about Beatrice. What we are able to glean from the descriptions attached to her items and equipment, Beatrice is described as a "rogue witch". Unlike every other sorcerer in the Dark Souls world, Beatrice did not study at the Vinheim Dragon School. Her catalyst (wand) seems to have been handed down from generation to generation, implying she was taught by some kind of mentor figure that ceded their power to her, not unlike Schierke in the manga.

Oddly enough, there is a chapter in the manga series where Schierke summons a group of benevolent elemental spirits referred to as the 4 Kings of the World to protect herself and her companions. The second boss fight you can summon Beatrice to assist you with, and where she met her apparent demise according to her item descriptions, is the infamous 4 Kings. A far cry from the gentle spirits Schierke summoned, these 4 Kings are the twisted wraiths of the former lords of New Londo, banished to the Abyss for their heinous crimes. Pure coincidence, or a cheeky dark mirror of the manga?



So why was child Beatrice cut? We have only speculation to go on, but the deleted content seems to imply that Beatrice was a bigger character at one point in development. Maybe she got the axe due to time constraints, or perhaps like some other dropped plot points, the story evolved during development and her part no longer made sense. Or maybe From Software thought they were getting a little too close to the materials they were drawing inspiration from and decided to steer in a different direction. Who can say? Those answers, much like Beatrice herself, are lost to the Abyss.



From Software is a development house with a keen sense of their own history. They seem to enjoy sneaking small references of their previous games in every title.

Seath the Scaleless, the insane dragon who betrayed his own kind in anguished jealousy, seems like the kind of character that could only come from Dark Soul's grim world. But fans of the Kings Field series know better. Seath was plucked from that franchise where he existed as a creepy albino dragon/deity figure. I never played the Kings Field games myself, but apparently Seath is a major player in the series, present in every game and occasionally serving as the final boss.

I think that's super cool, but what really blew my mind was finding out Seath's counterpart in the Kings Field games, a huge, black, one-eyed dragon named Guyra, is a dead ringer for Kalameet, terror of the Artorias DLC. Compare some screenshots of the two and it's easy to see the resemblance. It's a wonder From Software could resist the urge to make him a direct reference to the Kings Field series as well, but I suppose they were happy with a subtle wink for observant fans. Who knows, maybe Guyra will get his time in another Dark Souls game.

Fittingly, the weapon you can claim from chopping off Seath's tail, the Moonlight Greatsword, cutsits way between From Software franchises as well. A recurring item in the Kings Field series, it shows up in Demons Souls and both Dark Souls, baring it's distinctive wide blue crystal blade in each game. That seems rather matter of fact, a little Easter egg between fantasy RPG series. What's more fun is that the Moonlight has also made appearances in the futuristic sci-fi world of the Armored Core series.



Wielded by a knight or strapped to the arm of a 50 foot tall mecha, the Moonlight is a force to be reckoned with. Since the first Armored Core game, a version of the Moonlight laser-blade has been a bonus weapon hidden away for intrepid pilots to discover. This isn't the kind of gear you can just pick up at the garage along with an oil change and a cockpit air freshener. Similar to Dark Souls making you clip it off of a dragon's tail, the Moonlight blades in the Armored Core series are always squirrelled away in a secret location or require some kind of special effort to unlock them.

It tickled me to realize that the Moonlight in Armored Core 2 had the exact same special ability as it has in Dark Souls, casting a crescent wave of destructive blue energy after a swing. It seems magic really is indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology.



The infamous Yellow King makes a deadly and bizarre appearance in the game, but most people probably never realized the significance of the character until it was recently popularized by True Detective. Taken from a collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, the King in Yellow (who would later be folded into Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos) is described as a menacing other worldly figure who lives in a forgotten land, wearing a tattered mantle of yellow cloth and hiding his alien face behind a mask. His corrupting influence is spread through a stage play; merely reading the script is enough to turn one mad, while an actual performance of the play may just be a dark summoning ritual.

Thankfully, he lives up to the image better in Dark Souls than True Detective's creepy groundskeeper.

Players who explore the optional and other worldly land of the Painted World while in human form run the risk of being invaded by the dark spirit Xanthous King Jeremiah. "Xanthous" is an obscure term for yellow, so his name could be read literally as "Yellow King Jeremiah". This disturbing invader attacks the player with a barbed whip and master level pyromancy, a rather unique (and nasty) combination. His yellow robe is described as tattered and his face is hidden under a towering turban of yellow cloth. Despite having the same look when worn by the player, concept art of Jeremiah implies that his face really is concealed under that enormous head wrap, supported by a giraffe like neck. Eww.

Coincidentally, I can't help but notice there is actually some thematic overlap between True Detective and Dark Souls. Rust Cohle's famous monologue about time being a flat circle, where tragic events endlessly repeat, seems like an amazingly succinct explanation of the world of Dark Souls and the undead curse. The dead rise to suffer the same agonies over and over, while the twilight of the gods' is staved off by endless repetitions of sacrifice. It's all coincidental I know, but tell me the idea of the Yellow King appearing in two works with similar themes doesn't give you a shiver. Plays are out of vogue these days, maybe the Yellow King has found new mediums to spread his influence. I hear his robes are back in Dark Souls 2...

Or maybe he's just a reference to the Old Monk in Demon Souls and I'm being silly (hint: I'm being silly).



While looking all of this up on various YouTube channels and message boards, I ran across more than one person who said that finding out about the Berserk references, or other nods and references ruined the game for them. The fact that the developers took some inspiration from other series somehow made the game less unique or special to them. I couldn't disagree more. Nothing is made in a bubble, not even the lands of Lordran. We are all shaped by our experiences, the people we know, and the media we consume. To deny that, or to insist that what we create must be entirely free of those formative experiences, is ludicrous.

I love that From Software wears their heart on their sleeve. It brings me joy to know that they have reverence and respect for their past works, that they are taking this just as seriously as their fans do. I think it's wonderful that they managed to sneak in the occasional nod and wink to what shaped their creative process. Dark Souls is an inscrutable game, and even years after it's release there are still open ended questions about what it all meant. When I'm able to catch a reference they made, and get a peek behind the curtain into the dev team's head space, I feel like I'm better able to understand what they're trying to communicate.

If Dark Souls 2 has even half of the original's command of subtlety and and world building, I can look forward to being a happy Undead for years to come.
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