Eyes on Transistor

Hey, Supergiant Games has been getting a lot of attention with their latest release.  Apparently, Hades is a good game.  So I thought today, we’d take a look at… something completely different.  

A while back, we took a look at Supergiant Games’ first published effort, Bastion.  I like the game, a lot. And I wrote a lot about it, once! Today, we’re going to follow up on that, by taking a look at their follow up, Transistor.  

Transistor is a pretty obvious spiritual successor to Bastion, working off of the same DNA while really doing its own thing.  In Transistor, you play as a woman without a voice using a sword that is also her lover in a world that’s cyberpunk as all hell and maybe is inside a computer or is a virtual reality thing or something to fight beasties that are probably computer programs gone wrong.  Uhh… it gets a little weird when you phrase it all out like that.  Let’s start over.

In Transistor, you find yourself in the city of Cloudbank, a city where absolutely everything, down to the weather is democratically determined, and as a result, has a bit of a problem with constant meaningless change and mediocrity.  Whatever’s the lowest common denominator catches on the most, and never sticks around to make an impact.  Nearly everyone is registered and set towards two determined goals, and individuals rise and fall all the time with barely anyone caring.  You play as Red, a popular singer and maybe something of an activist who’s become ‘the voice of the people’.  The local illuminati, the Camerata, who want to break Cloudbank out of that democratic quagmire it’s in, attack you, trying to stab you with the titular Transistor.  Your romantic partner, a mysterious man who’s somehow entered Cloudbank without anything about him being registered, takes the hit for you, and his soul is absorbed into the Transistor.  And then the Camerata take your voice somehow.  You escape, get your hands on the Transistor, through which your boyfriend is still able to speak with you, and then you get attacked by computerized beasties as a result of something called the Process running amok.  So, there’s the background of the game.  In much more accurate and describing wordy-things this time around.  

It’s never especially clear what exactly Cloudbank’s nature is, what’s outside of the city, etc.  The game’s short on details in general.  We’ll get into that later.  Anyways, programming themes abound, which does lead to the impression that it’s all software.  Most of the potential interaction points are highlighted using what looks like code, all your moves are code terms, your enemies and so much about the setting are computer terminology, Red, at least, seems rather adept with programming language, etc.  It overall gives the piece a somewhat surreal tone.  Visually and auditorily, the world hear is very somber.  Colors are high contrast, but very muted, and the music, although nearly as good as we heard in Bastion last, are much less solely listenable, serving more to set the mood in combination with the story and the game, rather than standing on their own as great listens.  Between that, the game feels a lot more lonely and oppressive than even Bastion’s post-apocalyptic romp with less characters than this game did.  The music, they do some really interesting play with that I have to commend them for.  Red, your character, is a singer, and you can unlock some of her songs.  Moreover, even though she lost her voice, she can still hum, and will do so along with the background track at the press of a button.  So you get your lead pretty heavily involved in the game’s soundtrack, hearing her voice where you can’t hear her otherwise.  It makes for a really interesting tour through the game’s soundtrack.

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Gushing about Bastion

Alright, boys, girls, ladies, and gentlemen, I think we need to set some ground rules here.  Normally, I wouldn’t say I entirely adhere to the traditional review format, but with my “Eyes on” pieces, I like to take things as objectively as I can when looking at an inherently subjective medium.  But try as I might, I can’t really do that today.  Not with this piece.  I absolutely love Bastion.  And I love it for reasons that are a bit hard to articulate, and definitely aren’t universal.  It connects with me in a particular way.  A way others share, absolutely, so it’s not perfectly unique to me, but it’s a way that not everyone is going to connect with.  But maybe some of you reading this would!  So, in order to bring some light to it, I’m going to talk about Bastion today.  But keep in mind, this is going to be less a review, and more me just gushing about one of my favorite games.  

The game begins with your hero, the Kid, waking up after the Calamity, an apocalyptic event that blew his home city to pieces and turned most of the people therein into statues of ash.  In third-person isometric action gameplay style, the Kid then makes his way to the titular Bastion, which was supposed to be the safe haven gathering spot for the city in the event of disaster, accompanied only by the ongoing narration of Rucks.  Upon reaching the Bastion, the Kid learns that it has a function that can maybe do something about all of this, but it’s incomplete, so he needs to venture off to the various parts of the territory that had been sent sky high to regain the pieces it needs to work.

One of the most striking things about Bastion is how much it leverages its unique character.  This most notably presents itself in the aforementioned ongoing narration.  Rucks is, for the most part, the only character in the game to get any lines and personality, but he’s showing it to you constantly.  As long as you’re continually moving forward and you’re outside of fights, he’s usually commenting on whatever’s going on.  Your actions, the surrounding area, the backstory of the city and the calamity, the motivations of the enemies you’re facing, everything.  All of your interactions with the world and people around you that go beyond hitting them with a hammer are relayed to you by the narrator rather than you seeing them directly, which in most instances would be absolutely frustrating to get through, but Rucks has such flavor to him that the game makes it work.  The voice-acting, direction, and writing of the narrator is so beautifully on point, and it adds so much life to the game.

It helps that Rucks has a lot of good material to work with.  The setting is a very interesting and unique one.  It strikes me as being the type of place you’d see more often if the standard fantasy tropes were influenced by early American culture more so than Western European.  The city of Caelondia was founded by pioneers from outside the area, and grew into a major economic and technological center in the world.  They originally bought land from the natives to it, then ended up having a lot of friction with them.  The city grew large, but it still had a lot of wild, untamed areas, of which many people were set to explore and master.  Judging by Rucks, the people of Caelondia have a southwestern twang to their voice, and you see railways, revolvers and muskets, and other standard from the Wild Western genres.  The major god of the parts is stylized as a ranch-style bull.  One of the locations is called a Melting Pot, another is a straight up bayou, you take barges down big rivers, etc. If you mixed the classic western with fantasy, you might get what you see here.  That, and the interesting applications and hints of a guild structure, the variety of items and descriptions you find, and the way Rucks adds so much character to even the simplest of things ends up making the game world so interesting.  

The story’s really solid as well.  It’s a lesson in minimalist storytelling, you only have four real characters, and everything is filtered through the viewpoint of a single one of them, but it ends up having a real impact in its execution.  You get hope, guilt, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, all flowing into each other really well.  In optional challenges, you can explore everyone’s backstory as well, which proves itself to be really well thought-out and rounds them out as characters while also tying them into their role in the current plot really well.  It makes them all, and their actions, seem very relatable, whatever they end up doing.  Without spoilers, the endgame in particular makes me want to chef kiss at how it plays out.  It really uses the imagination well, leaving just enough gaps for you to fill things in and bring things more to life in your head, without underexplaining anything or avoiding conclusions.  It also has some capital letter THEMES, and it hits those beautifully.  It really doesn’t feel like the freshman effort it is by Supergiant Games; the game moves its pieces around that central theme so adeptly I’d swear the team was all old hands at this. It really works best because it’s a somewhat short game, and has so few moving parts, as I feel like if they made it more complex than it was it’d all start to fall apart.  As is, the basic elements of the plot may be things you’d see in many other places, but the way it’s handled here really sets this game apart in terms of storytelling.  

Beyond that, the music of this game is absolutely stellar.  This game has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and it’s probably the one I’ve returned to most often over the last decade.  The southwestern instrumentation lends a lot of the songs a classic western feel overtop the modern and industrial foundation while all maintaining a pulse-pounding energetic feel.  They evoke emotions and a sense of action very well, and truly add a lot to the piece.  The songs with vocal tracks also provide a bit of a glimpse into the characters behind them, and really gain a lot of emotional grounding in context as well.  So yes.  Music.  Marvellous.  Dig it.

And I’ve been talking about the presentation a lot.  You’re probably wondering about the gameplay.  And you know, it’s good.  Not quite as overwhelmingly stellar as the narration and music, but it’s still very solid.  Walking around and bashing things feels very good, and you’ve got a great degree of control over your character.  The Kid is pretty slow in ground speed, but that seems deliberate, and puts a greater emphasis on using your other tools for defense than just walking around attacks.  There’s a really big variety of enemies for how long of a game this is, so you’re constantly changing up and adjusting your combat operations.  You get a huge amount of options in setting up your character’s loadout, making the Kid incredibly versatile.  It seems like every other level you get a new weapon, all of which play completely differently from each other, and you can mix and match upgrades to significantly alter their functionality.  You’ve also got a number of buffs you can apply between levels that, again, significantly change the way you play, and, if you’re so inclined, a number of debuffs you can apply to yourself as well.  If you’re interested in a combat systems that gives you a lot of control and is constantly introducing new things, Bastion scratches that itch well.  Navigation is a bit of another story, however.  Between the Kid’s slow movement and the fact that the world is remaking itself around you, it’s not too much fun to be walking around the parts in between when you’re crushing baddies, and it can be pretty confusing to get to where you’re going.  Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time slowly hugging the walls, expect to leave a lot of goodies behind.  You can buy them later, but that takes resources you can probably put to better uses.  It’s a lot better experience when you have the opportunity to just flow from one fight to the next.  

The visuals of the piece are kind of ok.  They’re colorful, and characters, creatures, and sprites are very distinct, making things really pleasant to look at and really easy to navigate in the midst of really complicated sequences.  I do kind of get tired of nearly everything being made of tiles, but that’s kind of a necessity with the way they set things up here.  Artistic design is a little mixed, most of the characters and some of the monsters do look really nice, others are kind of bland or visually confusing.  It hits right when it matters most, at the very least.

But yeah.  Less of a review.  More of me raving about a thing I really like.  But I REALLY like it.  And now you know.  So there.

Early Impressions on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know by now that I’m a big Yakuza mark.  Love the games.  I love the deep social conspiracies, I love the badass manly drama, I love the big dumb crazy sidequests, I love the action, I love the tone shifts, I love the gameplay, I love the world, etc.  A new Yakuza game came out a few weeks ago.  And it reflects a big shift for the series.  So much so that the localized version completely removes the sequel number from the title, opting to be released as Yakuza: Like a Dragon rather than having it a proper Ryu ga Gotoku 7 as it’s called in Japan.  Yakuza 6 provided a soft end to the saga of Kazuma Kiryu, meaning this game introduces a new lead character for the series and with it a whole new story thread.  And the gameplay’s been changed up so significantly it’s not even in the same genre as the rest of the series anymore.  

Well, with such a monumental step for one of my favorite series, I felt it only right that I give my esteemed judgement on how well they did.  Because who else understands and appreciates this series more deeply than I do?  Nobody I know, that’s for sure.  My word on this is pretty much the bottom line.  I play through these games pretty slow, though, take my time, explore every inch of it until I am satisfied, so if you want the full review, that’s going to be a while off.  But here’s my impressions of this new Yakuza not-7 from my playtime so far.  

With Kazuma Kiryu out of the main event picture, Yakuza: Like a Dragon has us in the shoes of new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his hair.  I like Kasuga.  Not so much his hair.  For the most part, the Yakuza series has been really reliably good with the characterization, writing, and design of their player characters, and Ichiban Kasuga is no different.  He’s got a heart of gold and an ass of dumb, and he’s very outgoing, kind, and earnest, and seems not to let setbacks bring him down.  He’s a very likeable character, and with the depth and development they gave him, particularly in the early stages, it’s clear how a lot of facets of his personality developed.  Kasuga doesn’t always make the most sensible decisions, but I found myself really understanding him and his thought process in the decisions he was choosing to make, which is something that’s really not easy to establish with a fictional character.  And for as charmingly dumb as he is, Kasuga has a great gift for insight, and it’s a really common plot factor wherein someone is acting brusque and off-putting in an attempt to hide their intentions but he’s able to understand what’s really going on with them.  

 With the developers seemingly intending Kasuga to take Kiryu’s place as the game lead for future titles, it’s really interesting both how many parallels he has to Kiryu as well as the very clear ways they approach things differently.  The basic backstory is the same for both men.  In order to protect someone they considered family, they took the blame for a murder they didn’t commit and spent long years in prison, only to find out on release that the person they sacrificed huge chunks of their lives for changed drastically in the time they were gone and now act very much against the values and yakuza family they once held dear.  Both believe very strongly in the romantic ideal of the yakuza, and that forms the basis of a plot-long struggle against the reality that these are organized criminal who do horrible things to innocent people for personal gain.  Kiryu’s back is tattooed with a dragon, while Kasuga is emblazoned with a dragonfish.  Both model themselves after father figures who are in deep with yakuza leadership, and admire the high ethics and nobility they display in their roles.  Their backstories are very similar.  Yet their approaches from there are very different.  Kiryu, through his building of alliances and his just being harder than everyone else was very effective as a yakuza.  Kasuga was a horrible yakuza, being too nice to earn much.  Kiryu was very well-respected before his fall from grace and infamous and reviled afterwards.  Kasuga was unpopular among his fellow yakuza beforehand, and utterly forgotten afterwards.  Kiryu was stoic and reserved.  Kasuga is expressive and a giant dork.  Kiryu’s largely self made, whereas Kasuga relies on the assistance of others.  Kiryu made things go right by having a highly developed moral code and being strong enough to crush whatever goes against it.  Kasuga, at least so far, makes things go right by using his background to understand others and taking bold action to bring them around to his point of view.  Kiryu was laser-focused, whereas Kasuga rolls with changes and takes a more short-term mindset. It’s starting out with the basics of a similar story, but their divergent personalities end up making them approach it in very different ways.  

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Epic vs. Apple, Round 1

Man, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of those business analysis posty things.  Do you remember those?  How I would use my business education and past experience as an entrepreneurial consultant to sound smart while talking about video game business things and everyone thought I was so cool?  Yeah, good times.  So let’s do that again.  Because I’ve got some thoughts.  About a thing.

And that thing is the Epic vs. Apple lawsuit.  

And, looking back on that post after I’ve written the thing, those thoughts are really rambling and I’m not sure what kind of point I was trying to make, but hey, it was on my mind and now it’s out here so I hope you enjoy.

Now, going into this, I should put in a couple of caveats.  Epic has chosen to make their case in terms of antitrust law.  Now, my education did include a class in business law, but we didn’t devote a whole lot of time to antitrust, and my work following that was largely in small business and microenterprise and other areas where that sort of thing just doesn’t come up too often.  Also, I hate antitrust law.  So I’m haven’t devoted any more time to looking into it than is required to pretend I know what I’m talking about and properly enjoying the drama of this case.  I’m going to seem like I’m well informed here, probably.  But keep in mind that I’m not, and it’s not especially important to me that I am, really.  So although I am incredibly wise and intelligent and sexy and you can usually put a lot of trust in the things I say, don’t base any judgments on what I’m talking about with regards to the law, here.  Also, there’s a bunch of other factors I could look up here, like the contents of the emails between Epic and Apple leading up to this, but I choose not to.  Because I’ve got better things to do with my time.  Like making this post.  So go me.

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Mommy’s not here, gotta fight! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(b) – Characters: Yukari and Junpei

Part 6(a) S.E.E.S. and Protag

Yukari Takeba

The Lovers

Ah, Yukari.  In my view, she’s the most realistically complicated character in the Persona series.  She is complex and inconsistent in much the same ways that real life people are.  She is very open and socialable and popular and has no close friends whatsoever and is incredibly lonely. She’s a caring person who keeps an eye out for the needs of those around her and she frequently lashes out at others with little to no provocation. She is incredibly insightful, often picking up on things that nobody else even notices and remains grounded even when everyone else is distracted, and also fears abstract concepts and fictional spooks greatly.   She’s a lot more complex a character than you usually find in fiction.  As a very complex character, fan opinions of her also vary quite a bit.  Some like her.  Some hate her.  Some are annoyed by her at first, but like her more as the game goes on and she develops as a character.  Some start out a fan of hers, but then hit a point in her social link where Japanese and western principles and values vary greatly and she ditches you if you do what seems most natural and supportive to her from our perspective.  Fun times.  

Yukari officially joined S.E.E.S. a short while before you did, although she’s been on their radar for a while before.  She just recently awakened to her persona before the start of the game, and isn’t yet adept at facing down the emotional hurdle required in summoning it.  When Yukari was a kid, her father was one of the scientists working on the Kirijo Group’s Shadow project, the thing that ended up creating the Dark Hour in the first place.  When things went south there, the only thing the public knew was that there was an explosion that killed a lot of scientists, for which the survivors used Yukari’s dad as a scapegoat, posthumously.  Because we’re dealing with a society that’s horrible and hateful in this game, although Yukari’s dad also died in the blast, everyone around treated Yukari and her family horribly because of it.  Between the grief from their loss and the combination of pity and hatred they faced, they had to move quite a bit of times, preventing them from building any real connections with anyone.  In her grief, Yukari’s mother sought solace in a series of short-term romantic entanglements, which led to Yukari being neglected, at least in her view.  Yukari started living alone, some time before starting at Gekkoukan High School, and it seems she and her mother rarely talk, now.  Ten years after her father died, Yukari gets a time capsule letter he left for her, full of good feelings and love, and with that, Yukari doesn’t believe he really could have done the things he’s been accused of, and, knowing his experiments were tied with Gekkoukan High School somehow, enrolls there to figure out what exactly happened.  

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Eyes on Dead Cells

Yeeeeeaaaaaah!  Let’s talk Dead Cells!

So, Dead Cells is a roguelike action platformer with some Metroidvania elements.  It’s awesome.  Sorry for spoiling the rest of the review there.

It’s also hard, as befits a roguelike.  But sometimes you have to play and beat those hard games.  Because that’s how people know that your penis is big.  Even if you don’t have a physical penis.  Your metaphorical penis is big.  The penis of your soul.  

Anyways, Dead Cells is really a great model of what makes roguelikes so enjoyable to play.  For those who aren’t super familiar with the model, let’s go through what makes a roguelike a roguelike.  The model traditionally built around having a high degree of challenge, a very high skill ceiling, and permadeath, meaning that the games are very hard and if you die you’re right back at the beginning, but there’s a lot of room for you to get very very good at them and they’ll throw challenges at you for near every level of skill.  Given that you’ll be dying and going back to the beginning a lot, the model makes heavy use procedurally-generated levels (well, at least semi-procedurally generated, a lot of games will cheat by just having premade rooms connected in a randomized layout) and randomized gear and resources, which cuts down on the repetition by changing up the levels and your playstyle each time.  In fact, the randomized gear adds a lot to the gameplay of the model, as you have to try out and adapt to a lot of different capabilities and your strategy needs to adjust constantly to the specific things your character is capable of.  In more recent games, roguelikes have started adopting a practice of having you collect resources in each run that unlocks upgrades or new weapons or whatnot that linger between characters, meaning the game will grow as you play it more.  Success in a roguelike usually relies on three factors, your knowledge of the game and its future possibilities and various microcomponents, your ability to use that knowledge to make strong decisions about how you’re building your character with the limited and randomized resources available to you as well as your decisions to manage risk, and your in the moment gameplay skills in whatever genre the roguelike is.

So Dead Cells takes that foundation, just as described there, and builds on top of it a very technically solid action platformer.  Your main character is… well, a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse, but it really doesn’t control like a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse.  Your character is quick and incredibly responsive, and it feels very natural controlling them.  It does take a little bit of getting used to, but soon you’ll be zipping back and forth around enemies, dodging through their attacks, leaping through platforms and coming up behind them to bring the pain in no time.  Moreover, this game does a thing.  A thing with speed.  Every time you kill an enemy, you get a speed boost for the next several second.  This stacks to a certain extent, so if you’re smacking down enemies over and over again, you’ll get pretty darn zippy, which you can then use to beat the level in record time or to be even more deadly against your foes.  Complimenting the great controls and speed here are that your rank and file enemies are very distinct in their moves.  They telegraph their attacks really well, both with their sprites rearing back as well as with a nice exclamation point decal alerting you to the attack, even if it’s coming from off screen.  They’ll also pause just long enough for you to take a single action, aggressive or defensive, as long as your reflexes are on par.  There may be a bit of trouble time as you get to recognize the enemies and the nature of their attacks, but once you learn how and what they do, if you get hit, it’s because of a mistake you made and you know exactly what that mistake was.  Usually.  Because there was at least one point where I got killed by an enemy that attacked in half the time its fellows did with absolutely not warning.  Jerk.  But yeah, the game is hugely demanding and its very easy to make mistakes, but aside from those few times, its completely fair in its challenge.

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Eyes on Blood and Truth

Rail shooters haven’t had a great time since arcades falling out of favor.  The Wii picked up a few good ones, which makes a lot of sense, as I’d guess that controller was tailor-made to mimic light gun games if I didn’t know any better.  But post Wii, what did we get?  We get Blood and Truth.  That’s what.  

Not just Blood and Truth, really.  The rise of VR opened up the genre all over again.  I can’t say whether they’re good or bad, ‘cause, you know, I haven’t played them.  But I can say that VR+Motion Controller+Rooty-Tooty Point and Shooty makes for something that’s just viscerally satisfying.  It feels good.  It feels right.  

Blood and Truth is a Playstation VR exclusive made by the same Sony London Studios that made the Playstation VR Worlds collection of quick little tech-demo games, and specifically, this game is pretty much an updated, expanded version of The London Heist from that collection.  The game has you in the shoes of Johnny Shootbangs (note: not his real name), a UK Special Forces soldier who gets a leave of absence and gets called home after his father, the boss of London’s largest crime family, passes away.  From natural causes.  Kind of unexpected given his occupation.  Anyways, you go home to do the family stuff, and one of your dad’s crime captains kills your friends and kidnaps your family-family so he can take over your crime-family.  So you have to go shoot everyone until things are better.  Just like in real life.

I didn’t actually say that.  FBI, please don’t add me to a list.

Anyways!  Big thing with Blood and Truth.  Think of action movies.  Imagine you’re the lead character.  This is that.  I would say this is inspired just as much by movies as it is by video games.  Except that’s almost certainly wrong, and I am never wrong except when I’m doing it deliberately for art, so I don’t say that.  But still, very inspired by movies.

So yeah, it’s a rail shooter.  Remember the arcades.  Like Time Crisis or House of the Dead or Virtua Cop or something.  You’ve got a gun that you can point and shoot.  Or you can do two guns.  If you’ve got the motion controllers, you’ve got two of them, and you’ve probably got two arms, so you can dual-wield like crazy if you want.  I want.  Makes me feel like a badass.  Like I mentioned before, the gunplay in this game feels fantastic.  Even better than those arcades.  Something about the nature of VR and the specific feedback this game gives really makes it work.  Normally, with rail shooters, the game controls the rate of your progression, but here, you do.  To move forward, you have to point at a suitable location and press a button.  So slightly more interactive than your typical rail shooter.  I really have to complement the game on its handling of accuracy.  Real-life aiming is freakin’ hard, but this game has it going to where it feels rather satisfactory.  There’s enough give that you point and shoot, it feels like you get some real action to it.  I’ve had mixed results shooting in meat-space, but here, I’m able to aim well enough to get some real progress, while still feeling like it’ll miss when I truly deserve it.  Even dual-wielding, which is near impossible in real life, is rather achievable here.  This game feels really good in gameplay as a result.  I don’t know that I can overstate it enough.  This game feels absolutely fantastic.  It’s visceral and hits a really great level of game-feel, like you’re getting enough feedback through sound and visuals that that it seems more than just like you’re some incredibly sexy nerd with a doofy headseat and weird controllers in your hands.  

As I mentioned before, this game feels like an action movie.  Which means a couple of things, different from your typical video game.  First is that there’s actually long periods of time in which you’re not shooting things.  Some games, that would be a bad thing.  Not here.  Honestly, they make incredibly good use of your non-combat time.  The dialog in this game is really good.  Sometimes you’re just spending time getting to know your siblings, or arguing with the CIA guy who’s interrogating you, or flipping off people you hate, and it works really, really well.  The characters, although they largely take up pretty typical archetypes on paper, actually feel rather unique and charming in execution.  The story, much like the characters, wouldn’t be much to write home about in summary, but honestly, in execution, it feels pretty solid.  In terms of writing, things really shine in the details of the piece.  I mean, we’re talking about larger-than-life professional criminals and killers whom we barely get any time with, relatively, but things feel surprisingly human in that.  It’s the little pieces, your brother’s sense of humor, your rival’s love for his brother and for art amidst his pettiness in his campaign against you, the mystery amongst your handlers and that weird woman working for the enemy, they take this story from a simple one-paragraph summary to something that you can build a connection with.  Second, the game is big in setpieces.  Every level has at least a couple of big, visual capital-M Moments.  Giant explosions or gunning down some sort of heavy enemy equipment or basejumping (which is an incredible experience when you’re using VR to treat a visual-motion disorder, btw) or making a daring escape by leaping on top of moving things that aren’t meant to be leapt on top of.  This extends even to the non-combat scenes, which some absolutely fantastic look-what-we-can-do-in-VR interactables that are seriously impressive and stand as examples of what other genres should be doing in VR, even when there’s absolutely nothing that you want to point a gun at.  

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Snap Judgements: Quarantine Edition

Hey!  As it turns out, with this whole quarantine thing going on, all those people endlessly hounding me looking for romance actually back off for a bit, which means I’ve actually got some time for my hobbies for the time being.  Now, I’m a man with many irons in the fire, so that doesn’t mean I can devote everything I have to games just yet, but I have been able to get in a bit more time than usual.  And I’ve got some thoughts.  As I do about everything.  And as all my thoughts are, they are absolutely genius.  So I thought I’d share.  My gift to you.  So here’s another installment of Snap Judgements. Many games! Short reviews! Three paragraph max! Let’s go!

Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom

I have to thank Red Metal for this one.  He gave a great review of this game himself, one of his very rare 9/10s, then got it into my hands.  And you know what?  Turns out Red Metal knows what he’s talking about.

So this is an officially licensed and assisted indie-produced sequel to the Wonder Boy franchise.  Fan-made products can be a real mixed proposition.  Enjoying a game, even enjoying a game deeply, doesn’t give you a great insight into how to build one, and the flavor of any creative work requires such a sensitive balance that is not always apparent to its consumer.  So yeah, when you have the fans creating the new media in an established franchise, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it ends up incredibly misguided.  And this game, and I say this as someone with barely any history with the Wonder Boy series, is good.  Even outside the Wonder Boy history, this stands alone as an absolutely fantastic game.  At its core, it’s a very tightly designed Metroidvania built around a character transformation mechanic, where you get a number of different forms with a number of different combat and traversing abilities.  It’s a little hard to describe what makes the game work exactly, it’s just really well-designed.  You get to use abilities in a lot of really creative ways, but ways that they have great visual cues to indicate to you.  Presentation is excellent, with beautiful visuals and music, and gameplay is generally tight.  A lot of it works like a more responsive classic Castlevania, you’re up against a bunch of enemies with rather defined movement and attack patterns while your most reliable attack has a very specific range and spread that you need to manage constantly, although you do have resources and tools to extend of change that range. The world is also generally a joy to navigate, and again, it has some really creative puzzles before you.

Which is not to say there’s not some faults in it.  It does have some issues.  Checkpoints aren’t always convenient, and the game has a big problem with not giving enough health recovery out.  The economy gets to be a bit of a problem in the end game, and you don’t get enough money naturally to get everything you might need or want.  And the ability progression is a little lopsided, to the point that once you get your late game forms and equipment, you don’t have a reason to use the unique features of your earlier ones unless the game forces you to.  But really, it is an absolutely marvelous game, even for someone who’s not a Wonder Boy fan by any means.

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Too Many Games

Here’s something of an absolute nonproblem. I’m starting to think I have just too many video games. Sometimes, I look at the size of my library, and the expectation that I’m going to actually play all these things, and I don’t know how I’m ever going to get near to do that.

I’ve been collecting games all my life. So at the point when, years ago, I started this quest I’ve mentioned several times here, to beat every game I own, or come as close to it as I can, the task was already staggering. But still feasible. After I started that, however, I got myself a gaming-capable pc. And that changes things. It is ridiculously easy to build up a massive digital library on PC with little to no investment. It started with the Steam sales, letting me build up a pretty big library for cheap. Then I got into Humble Bundle, which get’s you buying curated collections of games for really cheap, oftentimes getting the one game I wanted on there along with a bunch of others for less than the usual price for that single game. And it pitches in some to charity too, while you’re at it! Can’t complain with that. Oh, and they give away free games every once in a while if you subscribe to their newsletter. All well and good. But then one day, Amazon started giving away five games a month if you link your Twitch account with an Amazon Prime account, plus extras. Daedalic Entertainment and SNK both seem to be dropping big chunks of their back catalog on there basically whenever they feel like, on top of the usual Amazon collection. Then Epic Games came around, offering 1-3 free games every week. And now it’s starting to get overwhelming.

At this moment, I own 410 games on Steam, of which I’ve only bought 108 directly, and the rest came from Humble Bundles, Humble’s free giveaways, or the occasional gift or offer. I have 182 games on Twitch, all given through that Amazon Prime connection. I have 90 on Epic Games, all of which I got through their weekly giveaways. I’ve got a more modest 40 on GOG, many I bought myself, in addition to the freebies they offer, free games on purchase threshhold, copies they make of games in your Steam account, and one gift. On Uplay, I’ve got 24, from one Humble Bundle, some free ones they gave away, and copies of games I got through other clients that require a Uplay log in. On EA Origin, I’ve got 16, all Humble Bundle gains or games they once offered for free. There’s a decent amount of overlap in those numbers, but still, a massive amount of games in my digital PC library. Which isn’t even considering my sizable console games collection. Although, as an odd point, at this point I’m pretty sure I own more games digitally for PC than I do games for my console, in spite of the fact that I’m generally a console player. And between Twitch Prime and Epic Games, I’m adding double digits numbers of games to my library each month without dropping a dime (well, outside of my Amazon Prime subscription, which I’d be maintaining even without the Twitch deals.) I don’t even play through double digits worth of games each month.

I feel like what it means to own a game has shifted. During my developmental years, new games were somewhat of a rarity, while time to play was more ample, so my peers and I absolutely consumed games, beating them over and over again, exhausting their content, overcoming every challenge. As I came older, I was able to afford more games, but had less time to spend on them, and games themselves were designed more as full experiences in isolation rather than things that could sustain the kind of repetitive depth-plunging play of my youth, so I had more breadth of experience in games but less time spent with most individual games. Now, driving by the likes of the backlog producing deep and wide sales, the bundling, the free giveaways, etc., I feel like a lot of the games marketplace, especially Humble Bundle, Twitch Prime, and Epic Games, or itch.io’s recent 1,000 games deal are creating a games culture where you have libraries of games. You’re not intended to, and for many partaking of it, it’s not even possible to, play absolutely everything in there. But digital keys don’t take up any space, they don’t need upkeep, and as long as your machine can run it, they don’t degrade, so you have it in your collection, and who knows, maybe one day it’ll come up in conversation and get you interested or you’ll play something else by the makers and want to come back or you’ll just find a really weird itch that needs something particular to scratch. And there’s something to be said to that, too, having the virtual library where you may not check every book but they’re all there if you need it. I recently had the classic FPS Strife come up in a conversation I was following, describing how groundbreaking it was at the time. I would never buy the game myself. It’s too old, probably blown past by industry standards, etc. But, given that context, I’m kind of curious to check it out. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s right there in my Twitch library.

As I said, sometimes it’s overwhelming. I’ve still got this quest, beat all the games I own. And this is making that quest impossible. I’m also actively avoiding bundles now, even when it has games I want in it. I really don’t want to be making my Steam library run away any more than it already has. I just have too damn many games. But that’s really a problem with me, and my perceptions, and how I’m approaching it. It’s not a problem with all these agencies wanting to throw games at me for free, and all these developers happy to get into my library and take whatever financial benefit they do from the Humble Bundle/Twitch Prime/Epic Games giveaways. It is kind of ridiculous of me to be complaining that I have just too many games that I got for free or alongside games I was wanting to buy anyways that I got to pay an even lower price than usual for.

It does mean I’m going to have to rethink my quest though. Not cancel it, because I’ve been enjoying how it structures things for me. But it needs to adapt to the new realities of the online personal library the industry’s using, at least in part, now. So far, my thoughts are to keep it as normal for all my console games, as those are all things I’ve invested in. Same thing with any PC game I’ve actually paid directly for, or the games that were the reasons I bought a given bundle. Those are all getting beaten. I have my challenge to myself. The hundreds of other PC digital games…. well, at least my Steam list, I’d like to at least give everything a try. Maybe not a full beat, but either play it until I tire of it or at least give it a sample. I’d like to do that with the UPlay list and EA Origin as well, as those are finite. Those aren’t getting added to. I’m already most of the way there on my GOG.com library, outside of the games there that are duplicates of those in my Steam library, so… good show I guess. As for the ever expanding Twitch Prime and Epic Games, I’d really like to do the same thing I’m doing with Steam, at least sampling of giving a run to everything on there, but I don’t know if it’d be possible to keep up, the rate they add games. I’ll probably just do what probably everyone else is, and play if I’m interested, leave it if not, and not sweat the growing size of the lists there, as it’s really a personal library I can check things out from whenever, and not a backlog. And although I have this drive to beat everything I have, likely driven by the way things were in my past, it doesn’t really fit the environment we’re in now. And I need to grow comfortable with that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an hour before my next commitment, and I got Cultist Simulator from Twitch Prime a while back, and that game is absolutely baller. I need to get some of that on.

Visual Novel Theatre- Analog: A Hate Story

Ok, here’s the deal.  Working from home has led to me playing a lot more visual novels.  Taking my lunches in my War Room makes that a bit more convenient.  So we may be seeing some more of these posts in the future.  Recently, I played/read through Analog: A Hate Story by Christine Love, and wanted to give myself a blast from the past, given that two of her earlier works were two of my first posts in this blog that has a hell of a lot of tenure in the old blogosphere.  But, time’s at a premium.  So I’m going to challenge myself here.  Set myself a time limit.  Write this, quick and dirty, in the time I have available before my next engagement. So, this is going to be rough.  No editing.  Little polish.  Minimal talking about how sexy I am.  Which is very.  Just so you know.


I’m getting sidetracked.

Analog: A Hate Story is, as the name implies, a successor to Christine Love’s first work, Digital: A Love Story, and you could maybe call a sequel because for all I know they take place in the same continuities.  You’re some sort of future space scavenger.  Which basically just means that you go into space and hack dead people’s email accounts.  Somebody hires you to go do that to the Mugunghwa, an old Korean space ship that’s just shown up on the parts of space that people bother looking at again after like a thousand years.   So you go there and start up the ship and it turns out you’re the first person to do anything with the ship in like 600 years, and everyone’s dead, and even before everyone died things went to hell.  So you talk to the AI and snoop through people’s e-mails, which are strangely full of logs that are actually useful and descriptive and more like diary entries and there’s not a penis enlargement spam thing to be seen.  I don’t know why they keep sending those to me.  My penis is glorious enough already.

I’m getting sidetracked.

Gameplay-wise, the ship itself, you control through a text parser.  When you activate the AI, you’ll get a more flexible interface to be reading all the stuff.  The AIs are very advanced, incredibly human-like, and have their own motivations, actions, and what not.  Unless you know the right codes, you can only see whatever e-mails the AI are willing to show you.  The AI’s ability to directly accept speech has been broken, so your interactions with them are limited to answering binary questions they present to you and showing them whatever emails/log entries you want them to comment on.  And, that’s how you progress through it.  Read the stuff, slowly piece the story together, try and get enough of a dialogue going with the AIs to get to the real good plot-twisty material.  

The plot itself largely centers around sexism.  And before we get the idiots from both sides that seem to make up the loudest voices whenever sexism comes up in games, this is a specific type of sexism, that doesn’t really apply to modern day life.  No matter how much said idiots talking about the game online seem to try to make it do so.  In the ship, it looks like most everyone all died at one specific year.  300 years or so before that, something happened to the ship that set their culture, collective knowledge, and overall intelligences back to a Joseon-era Korea style community.  So this is about sexism in Joseon-era Korea.  With artificial intelligence.  And e-mail.  And spaceships.  It’s a weird sort of anachronism that honestly seems a little forced, although the VN doesn’t say why they got culture-shocked back to the bad times so maybe it makes more sense once the sequel picks it up.  In any case, when that happened, AI memory got wiped and reprogrammed, everyone turned into idiots, and things got bad.  Like, we see it from the women’s point of view most often, and they definitely got the short end of the stick, but backwards societies are no good for anybody, and, realistically, nobody’s really living up to their potential there.  Birthrates have been falling to an incredible degree, men and women’s roles are sharply divided and both are recognized solely for their political positioning rather than their merit, few know how to actually work the technology they depend on to survive and they have even less knowledge of medicine, old age sets in when people are in their 20s to 30s, etc.

C’mon Aether, gotta pick up the pace here.