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Games I Like: A lonely night spent in Room 215

My story emerges from one of those cold autumn afternoons, sometime mid-October where brown leaves painted the pavements with a crisp diverting colour and nights begin to creep in ever sooner. Dusk settles its darkened soul at around five in the quaint little hometown I’ve come to know, yet at this particular hour I’m finding myself out on the streets, searching for something unknown. A friend of a friend in idle conversation tipped me off about some joint down the south side, place where few venture and I seldom been in three years living this way. Location seems to have been hit hard with injustice: barren with wooden windows and hoods at every retreat. Turns out a store just opened down there a month ago who have no idea how to price videogames though, so I guess the risk is worthwhile.

Emerging the shadowed alley to the location, I tread lightly down a new path, fingers pressed in a solemn V toward my lips. Slowly I remove them, and ruffle the cold air in front with my breath, like a cigarette that doesn’t exist. Instant credibility to the slouched youths on the other side, nudging their collective heads in my direction. I feel like one of them: harder boiled than an egg that’s been in a few minutes too long and even the Nintendo snuggie I’m using to keep warm can’t deflate that. Across the road I view my target, quietly framed by two trees, inviting me with their almost picturesque stance. Rustling the leaves on my way I proceed to enter its wide opening, to discover the kinds of bargains that needed to be found. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for only eight of my coins, I say to myself, in a gruff yet unmistakably British voice. Immediately I hand my pounds to the tall, bottle nosed man behind the horribly beige counter, and shuffle the item into my inventory.

With the deed done, I leave the store taking a moment to fix my eyes onto the gleaming full moon, and reflect on the kinds of adventures that may await me in this mysterious hotel. Taking another puff on my fingers, I turn to the darkened alley from whence I arrived, and run back into my old life. Away from the darker side of town, away from the gang of hooded youths currently in pursuit, away from my story.

Every man secretly dreams to look like this and/or be with another who looks like this.

I think there comes a time in every man’s life where he wants to be Kyle Hyde. Not only an incredibly handsome individual, but throughout his investigation within the walls of Hotel Dusk he’s the kind of guy who consistently exerts that laid-back, slightly jerky charm only reserved for those existing inside a time-period long passed. A man of the people, transcending gender, culture and age; unbound by life’s shackles and only still in existence himself to maybe share a smoke and a story with those weary travellers who happen to stumble upon his person. It’s fitting, that it’s on a dusty highway somewhere in Los Angeles on the eve of December 1979, where we first meet the travelling salesman central to this tale. Most people would be in their homes with their families celebrating the dawn of a new year, not to mention a new decade just on the horizon. Not our guy. With only the coat on his back and a story in his pocket, three days after Christmas he finds himself on a job in the middle of nowhere: truly fortifying that essence of freedom bound into the atmosphere around him.

And loneliness.

The twin screen visual style is quite appealing to the eye. Should-be static characters sway with a lovely pencily vibrancy, thanks to the fantastic art direction.

At its heart, Room 215 is a story about people’s lives intertwined who just happen to find each other. If the mood takes to drag out a particularly overused cliché, they are also on a journey to find themselves. A distinctly melancholic tale is presented, of people alone, simply drifting through life during the holiday period because they have nothing else to do. In this late winter they manage to find each other, interact with each other, and ultimately help each other. The real beauty however, comes from the magic’s at work turning the gears within this straightforward narrative, to bring the cast of mismatches together.

Perhaps the most significant element that struck me during my stay was the way its characters are handled. You’ll quickly learn that the residents and guests each have a very distinctive background hiding behind their name, as well as some rather sinister motives for occupying this unknown place during the festive season, yet still, even with this clash of personalities they manage to inhabit a world without prejudice. In fact some of the most poignant moments for myself were in thirty-something Kyle’s interactions with a young girl, who is waiting to finally see her mother. Watching these two diametric forces respond to each other on the same level brings quite the many beautiful occurrences in themselves (my favourite being a simple “puzzle” involving a Christmas tree), and best of all, there’s not a single accusation of being a child predator to be found. Juxtapositions and social taboos from today’s culture take centre stage and help shape a memorable tale you’ll take with you long after it’s reached its final weave. I entered those double doors expecting a murder mystery affair, but upon leaving I knew I held something much more. A commentary of sorts, on the nature of human interaction and those silly fallacies that crop up in our own time period, if you choose to interpret it that way. It is very clear that Hotel Dusk resides in a completely different world to us.

A 2009 version of Hotel Dusk was planned, but had to be scrapped after five minutes in, the story suddenly ends and sees Kyle Hyde being arrested for conversing with an eight-year-old girl. How our times have changed.

Not just in spirit, but technology to boot. Much care and attention has been provided to the atmosphere in order to make it feel like you’re living a noir-fiction at the end of the decade. Us humble observers of the 21st Century are in for a trip back in time, to a world where seventeen inches of screen is considered luxury, computers are a completely alien concept, and picking up a screwdriver falls under the criteria of exciting event. (1) As an individual whose knowledge of the seventies extends merely to “that one after what The Beatles did”, it was intriguing for me to discover what they actually did for entertainment back then. Turns out that they used to engage in an art lost to many of this generation: they chatted. Good old fashioned talking to each other. After a generation of living in an environment defined by the availability of impersonal communication, this blew my mind. Strangers aren’t portrayed by the human eye as intergalactic paedophiles from outer space, and the next person you meet in line is more likely to offer you a cup of tea than question your sexuality. The illogical conclusions the Internet has brought us don’t exist without it: this is a world that I would like to live in. (2)

It’s wonderful, how a man can mock another completely out of the blue, and have no bad blood exist between the two gentlemen. I know if I questioned a random person on the street today and proceeded to tear into their private life, in the regard that Kyle Hyde so often gets away with, id probably end up with a fat lip and a black eye rather than mutual respect. Still, Room 215 somehow manages to portray every human being on the same level and wrap it inside a believable tale. All of them are looking for something in specific, including our protagonist, so there is no sense of a defining social class throughout the entire twenty-hour narration. Even the wisecracking street-thief-turned-janitor achieves the title “brother” from dickish-ex-cop Hyde. And I stress that he’s an ex-cop. It’s been mentioned before that his current profession is that of a seventies cross-country travelling salesman. Heck, any guy who manages to make that job look glamorous must be on the level.

Each guest room of the Dusk has a swish name to it. The "Room 215" of the title is said to grant wishes to those who stay there. Only way to find out is to spend the night.

I could sing the Dusk’s silky atmosphere praises to high heaven for the next four paragraphs, as I believe its one of those rare occurrences that everyone in this business should experience, but how does the game built around it fare. As it turns out, not so great. Presented over the double screens (held out like a book, Kawashima style) are a map and a three-dimensional image of where you’re facing, controlled via either the pad or touch screen. The 3D image isn’t controlled as you’d expect however, making it a little jarring at first as you press the natural forward to see your character do a 180 about himself. Also are the presence of Game Over’s, which simply cannot be avoided for the most part. There are a few key points throughout the story where it’s possible to be kicked out the hotel, and I think I tripped all of them. You’re not warned of these moments at all, so the only way to get past them is to either fall into the game’s obscure logical crevice, (3) or just accept the fact that you’ll be replaying some of the more frustrating elements a few more times than you’d like.

The games “puzzles” can also be considered a crippling factor, as more often than not they will demand annoyingly precise degrees of stylus prodding. (The only reason I managed to get through the “circle the handwriting” task halfway through was because I watched someone else lose their mind over why it wouldn’t register beforehand) And I continue to use quotations for the word, as they’re rarely challenging enough to be considered puzzling in the slightest, instead serving more interactive interludes to break up the pages of script on offer.

On the other side of the coin, parts of this game can be incredibly clever. For those of you who have previously played Trace Memory, remember how some moments required applying your in-game logistics to the DS hardware itself, in obscure I-didn’t-think-that-would-work ways? (4) Remember how its cunning trickery made you believe the developer had truly stretched the system to its limits? Hotel Dusk one-ups this feeling with one of its later equations, proving once again that Cing is a master of picking out those little instruments you had no idea existed and exploiting them for all to see. Even Nintendo borrowed their notorious debut brain-bender in Phantom Hourglass. That’s the kind of flattery we’re dealing with here.

To oversimplify the exceedingly varied world of videogame storytelling for a second, I believe that every game can be placed into one of three tiers. Tier one represents the downright nasty: maybe a game with a horribly uninteresting tries-too-hard plot that you’re only really stuck into because the game happens to be rather good. Fallout 3’s ending would fit nicely in here. Tier two I reserve for those who house that kind of inoffensive, enjoyable plots that while not groundbreaking, are nice enough for you to pay attention to. Think Street Fighter 4’s loose fabrications accompanying the arcade mode, or the twee “save the princess” stuff you get in Mario. Finally, tier three is home only to the absolute pinnacle of digital storytelling achievement. These are most defined by their sweeping epic scale, emotionally engaging plotlines, and the occasional cases of nerds across the world excitedly pushing them onto cynical film buffs, demanding they accept videogames as a legitimate art form. Your Metal Gear Solid’s, Bioshock’s, Final Fantasy’s would take this prestigious centre stage, and now, for me, Hotel Dusk will join them. I really couldn’t recommend it any more.

Good morning, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed your stay.

The recently announced sequel will see Hyde wearing a suit, looking melancholy in the rain. I'm sold already.

(1) I cite the screwdriver as an ironic example because it’s the one item you can pick up in the entire game that I found no purpose for whatsoever. And now you know!

(2) Your writer is aware of the glory that the Internet has brought us all, as well as the probable dirty stuff going o in Kyle Hyde’s world, beyond the boundaries of his videogame. Sometimes though, it’s nice to look through a glass window and see the image of a perfect world, and that is how I felt about the minute fragment that Hotel Dusk presented. If only everyone else was like those guys, eh.

(3) There’s actually a secret ending post credits for people who manage to complete the game without bumping into a single game over screen. I defy anyone that actually managed to see this on his or her first time through without using either gamefaq’s or Youtube.

(4) I’ve officially sold out as a Brit failing to call it by its true name, Another Code, (And anyone who cares to debate that claim can have a copy of the Wii sequel shoved in their face) in light of Dtoid’s predominantly American audience. I’ll be stowing away on the next flight from Manchester Airport after I’ve posted this and hopefully parachuting out somewhere over the States where I truly belong. I wonder if I’ll find out what a corn dog is?
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About Discarded Couch Sandwichone of us since 8:25 PM on 03.17.2009