An Amazon Preorder Problem

Fair warning, this post isn’t going to be like most of my other posts.  Most of them have something constructive to offer.  Or, at least, intended to be constructive.  Like, you’re supposed to be amused or inspired or enlightened or struck by how cool and sexy that Aether guy is or something like that.  This post is just me mildly ranting about something that’s largely inconsequential, with maybe a hint of consumer notice.  One might wonder why I’m even spending the time here on it.

Because I feel like it, that’s why.

Businesses like pre-orders.  It’s good for them.  For producers and retailers, it gives advance economic information on what the likely market for this product is going to be, gets a committed buyer in you, and gets people purchasing items for the intended price, before market forces have the chance to adjust it.  For consumers, the advantage is really only if they expect there to be an insufficient supply of the item, which for games has been fading in the world of cheaply produced storage media and digital distribution.  So game publishers will sometimes add incentives for it.  Preorder bonuses, what not.  Because they want you to get preorders, because it’s good for them.  Sometimes you just preorder because you know you’ll want the game at launch either way.

But however you do preorders, a central conceit of them is that once the item is out, they’ll actually send you the thing.  Apparently, Amazon is trying a maverick new business practice where instead when the item you ordered is released, they just don’t do anything.  That’s right, this is a marvelous new feature where you can take all the time you were going to spend on that item you were hotly anticipating and spend it bonding with your friends and family, going out and volunteering, and overall making your life better instead of enjoying time with your new item.

So… yeah.  I kind of like buying games to commemorate things, when the opportunity presents itself. One of the very very few odd things about me, I guess.  Souvenirs and other simple visuals I’ll inevitably end up sticking somewhere and largely forgetting about them, clothes and useful things will get worn out and destroyed eventually, but games will come back in memory and in turn remind me of the events and people around them.  Every time I think back to Final Fantasy Adventure, I remember the childhood road trip with my Grandpa in which he got me the game.  Metroid Prime 3 reminds me of one of my old, departed, college professors, as I bought it with money I earned helping him put his property in order in the last months of his life.  And early last year, I put a couple of month’s work into a competition, ended up winning a chunk of money in it, and thought I’d get myself the physical release of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove to create some memory callbacks to the experience later.

So I preordered it.

On Amazon.

That was a mistake.

The early parts of it weren’t their fault.  When I originally preordered it, it was coming out in May of last year, but then the developers delayed it indefinitely  Eventually they announced a release of December 10th.  So… there’s like a six month delay between when I expected I’d get it and when I actually should have gotten it that has nothing to do with Amazon.  I use my family’s account, so that holiday season, I couldn’t check in on it for fear of getting Christmas spoilers.  But December 10th came and went with no Shovel Knight.  Well, sometimes things get delayed, and the holiday season’s a busy one for both Amazon and the postal service.  Maybe it’s just running late.  But then a week passed with no Shovel Knight.  Then two.  Then Christmas.  Still no Shovel Knight.  Check the order now, and it’s saying it’ll be there by January 4th.  Never actually was shipped.  I call up Amazon Customer Service, trying to figure out, hey, what the heck, is this actually going to come for real?  I was told it will definitely be shipped out, and would be there January 4th.  It wasn’t.  Call Amazon Customer Service, it’ll definitely be there January 27th.  Check Amazon later, it’s saying January 29th.  For a game that had been out almost a month, and I had preordered almost a year ago.

So I cancel that, order the exact same game through Amazon (Prime shipping is addictive) and the game is in my sexy hands two days later.  Leading me to wonder what the point of preordering in the first place was.  It literally got to me faster and more reliably ordering after release than it did through preorder.

I’ve heard Amazon can be a little hit and miss with preorders.  I rarely preorder games, but have done so before through Amazon without issue.  And I get that Amazon is an organization moving a lot of product, and quantity leads to mistakes, and they’re high pressure as well, which also leads to mistakes.  Things can happen.  But what galls me here is that Amazon had multiple opportunities to detect and correct the problem, at least the times I brought it to their attention, and it didn’t happen.  No problem here, move along sir.  No idea how representative this is of typical preorder on Amazon, or if this might possibly be a nefarious plot by one of my many enemies, but, beware, I guess.  Could happen to you.

Maybe.

But hopefully not.

In Review of the Playstation VR… as a Treatment Method

 

ps-vr-zvr2-model-product-shots-screen-01-ps4-eu-17nov17.jpgVirtual reality.  The next frontier.  If you’ve ever been a child, you have desired it.  Virtual Reality was the future.  And now it’s come.  Didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it has come.  And as with most new technology, time has made it more affordable and accessible.  The tech has its problems and flaws, as everything does, but it’s working, and it’s here.  And recently one of the pieces of VR with the highest user base, the Playstation VR, has entered my home.  So we’re going to take a look at it today.  A review.  But not in terms of gaming.  Lost to the Aether has its place in the interbutts, and that place is not giving you the same sort of content you’d find everywhere else.  Instead, we’re going to be looking at a more unique application of VR.  So here’s a review of the Playstation VR… as an optikinetic treatment method.

Video games for your health is apparently a thing.  We brushed on it a couple months back when we covered Duet, at a point where I had been prescribed video games as treatment.  Some time back, the gods grew jealous of my majestic achievements and physical perfection and afflicted me with an inner ear condition that causes another inner ear condition that in turn messes up with a whole bunch of other things.  Let me drop some science on you for a bit, here.  Your brain gets its sense of balance and positioning from three areas; your inner ear, your vision, and muscles, particularly those in your neck and spine.  When your inner ear stops working so well, your body compensates by over-emphasizing the other two.  Which sounds resilient, but it’s problematic.  It gets really weird when looking down as you’re descending stairs makes you feel like you’re Spider-manning up a wall, or walking through a crowd makes you feel like you’re spinning.

One of the ways of treating that visual motion hypersensitivity is to essentially overstimulate the part where the brain thinks you’re moving because of what it’s seeing, while you’re not in fact moving.  Kind of force the body to recalibrate its overreliance on visual info to determine balance and sense of motion.  The traditional at home exercises for that are to watch videos like this, which, if you clicked that link, you might notice is boring as hell.  Hence why I’d been prescribed video games.  Going through the likes of Fotonica, Duet, and Super Hexagon, both has enough visual activity to trigger that sense of movement, while also not feeling like you’re just sitting there wasting time.  But what if you could take that to the next dimension.  My physical therapist has been trying and failing to get a VR headset and proper apps for quite some time to help treat this.  The problem with doing those videos or games on a screen is that only part of your vision will be moving like that, so your brain has plenty of the wrong anchor points to go “hey, this isn’t really moving”.  I mean, that’s what you want your brain to say, but you want your brain to say that because it can tell you’re not actually moving, not because you can see a wall.  VR, though, that’s all encompassing.  So you can have everything in your vision tell you that you’re moving while you’re actually not.  Get you that optikinetics on steroids.  And, thanks to a friend for whom I’m not sure I’ve done enough to deserve this kindness, I’ve got a Playstation VR to be working through this with.

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I have to say, I’m not super experienced in VR overall, so I’m not the most educated as far as how the Playstation VR compares with other headsets.  Hardware-wise, being based on the Playstation 4, rather than the PC and coming it at a lower price point makes it significantly more accessible to me, personally, than other sets.  That should be the most important consideration for any producer, really, “how likely is Aether to get this in his sexy hands?”  It does seem to be missing a few features that come standard with other sets, as well, including a few odd omissions.  It doesn’t really have an automatic feature to measure your eye position in relation to each other, and its automatic ‘take-a-picture-of-your-face’ get’s the measurements between your eyes way wrong.  The picture was noticeably clearer once I figured out how to adjust that manually, which is really non-intuitive and required a user-made guide to get through.  The Playstation VR will play VR videos through Youtube easily enough, once you have the app, but if you’re trying to get VR videos through any other source, it takes a lot of jumping through hoops to get it working, and it won’t reach up to 1080p, so the resolution is lacking.  A lot of the videos I was trying to get working on it required me to extensively re-process them to get the right formats, codecs, and limited resolutions going.  So as far as the traditional VR videos of bike riding that are usually recommended to help with this condition, it was either go to Youtube or spend an inordinate amount of time getting other sources working, which was a little problematic for those times when I was feeling picky.

But the Playstation is a gaming machine, so how about the games that help with this?  Yeah, as you can probably imagine, that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time.  What’s useful about the Playstation VR, at least, is that it’s been easy to find a lot of discussion about the difficulty of various games and apps, so I can be informed as I’m planning out what I want to play to deal with this condition.  At least one list of game recommendations I’ve come across was helpful enough to have them organized into beginner, intermediate, and advanced VR levels, based on how physically difficult it is to get adjusted to the motion in those games.  Glad to know they’re difficult for people with perfectly functioning inner ears as well.

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As I’ve been exploring the system for the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a bit of a spectrum as far as the impact games will have on me goes, that doesn’t completely match up with the rankings most people seem to give them.  At the gentlest end are games where they move you by fading in and out your view, rather than simulating walking, only move your POV when you move your head or otherwise under you control, and that you don’t need a lot of rapid head movement.  Final Fantasy XV: Monsters of the Deep and Moss are pretty solid examples there.  They’ve been useful for when I’m already stirred up by the time I’ve set aside to do my exercises, or otherwise want something light to get myself adjusted.  There’s a bit of disorientation with these games, but otherwise they don’t really hit me hard.  Up a level from there are games where they intermittently have some sort of movement of your viewpoint, but otherwise have long periods where its relatively stationary.  Astro Bot Rescue mission and the Into the Deep experience in Playstation VR Worlds come to mind here, where you’ll be moved as you progress through it, and there’s a lot that moves within your view, but you do spend a significant amount of time with your viewpoint simply being stationary.  This would be where I’d recommend spending the majority of your time first starting out, if there happens to be anyone else out there using VR as a treatment method for visual motion hypersensitivity or, as I’ve heard similar principles apply, concussions.

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A step up from there would be the games with more constant movement, a lot of visual things going on, but you’re in a vehicle or otherwise separated from your playable character, such as in Battlezone or Rez Infinite.  For whatever reason, the visual motion has more of an impact when you’re in a first person perspective walking than when you’re driving.  So logically, the most advanced games would be the ones where you’re walking in a first person perspective.  Skyrim’s where I’ve been spending most of my time at this level.  Playing through an epic length game at the 20 minutes per day I’ve been able to bear it.  This is also where the goal of treatment is to be able to handle, as this will be more where it’s having an effect.  I wasn’t able to dive right into Skyrim, however, had to move myself up through the earlier levels in sequence.

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Special mention goes to Scavenger’s Odyssey of Playstation VR Worlds, as well, which will absolutely kill me by rotating the view over and over again over the course of the game.  So, rotation is killer.  That might be a level above Skyrim I haven’t reached yet.  So to may be Resident Evil VII, which came in the pack my friend got me but I just haven’t been brave enough to get into yet.  Even people with functioning inner ears claim this game is guaranteed nausea for them.  I would guess it’s missing a lot of the VR friendly features Skyrim has, such as dimming the periphereal vision when you’re moving quickly and snapping your turn rather than a smooth motion when you use the controller to turn.  So there’s still more to explore if I find Skyrim ever starts to get too easy for me.

On the plus side, games like Rez, Skyrim, and Battlezone have you aiming with precision by moving your head.  Which exercises the fine motor control of your neck.  Which helps with the muscular issues your body can develop as a typical reaction to this condition.  So it’s not just the motion VR can help with.

Of course, even at the advanced level, there’s things you can do to make it easier on yourself.  Strafing is misery.  Moving faster is harder than moving slower.  Limit the amount of stairs you walk on.  Things like that.  This isn’t like working out, where you can push yourself to your limits and end up better off for it.  Here, if you go too hard, you’re actually undoing progress, getting your systems maladjusted to the visual information.  So it’s important to know your limits, and know either when you need to switch to a less aggressive movement or stop or take a break entirely.

As for how effective it is, that’s going to matter most in the long term, and time will tell for that.  In the short term, though, I have noticed my symptoms impacting me less since I started using the Playstation VR for my at home treatment exercises.  It’s not a complete cure, or anywhere close to it, and this is a condition that has a lot of ups and downs, so it could easily be just coincidentally corresponding with an up time, but I have to say, I’ve seen results from it so far.  And that makes me happy.

Even if I can’t play as much Skyrim as I want.

Shadows of Mass Destruction. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay

Part 1-Intro

Persona 1 Retrospective

Persona 2 IS Retrospective

At this point in the Persona series, gameplay has truly become only part of the full experience.  Persona 1 and 2 had plots too, and a lot of characterization, but they were still as much gameplay delivery engines as any other game out there.  Starting in Persona 3, they put a lot more depth and content into their plots and characters, to the point where the gameplay is not the only selling point they have.  And for a lot of people, the gameplay is not even the main reason they get into the game.

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Yet, no matter how good your story, setting, characters, etc. are, if the game side of your, you know, game, isn’t up to snuff, the game as a whole won’t be good.  It’s been tried, and good plot really doesn’t make up for bad gameplay.  So even with the Persona series running head-first into the story-based wall, let’s start by taking a look at where you’re actually going to be spending most of your time when you’re actually playing the game.

By this point, we’ve already had two, but three, but really two, games in the Persona canon.  That’s enough to establish a pattern, right?  Although both of those games are rather distinct from each other, there’s still some common design elements that we can pull out here.

So, what is makes a Persona game, and how do those elements relate to Persona 3?  Well, thus far, to make a Persona, you take the typical for the time Shin Megami Tensei design, strip out a bunch of the more unique to the franchise and complicated features to simplify gameplay a bit and make it more accessible to the typical JRPG fan.  And then you come up with some crazy and experimental features that few if any other games in the genre are doing and make them absolutely central to the whole experience.  And then, of course, there’s the whole plot and themes making heavy use of Jungian Psychology personified, and the main characters with the variable stats and ability loadouts, the butterfly motifs, the vast sum of humanity summoning their own demise, multiple endings but not really, etc. Etc.  There’s lots of stuff in the recipe for a Persona, and it all carries through to this game.

And I suppose this is a good time to mention, for pretty much this entire retrospective, I’m going to be basing it off the FES version of the game.  For those not in the know, there was the original Persona 3, then, less than a year later in the US, Persona 3 FES which was basically Persona 3 with a bunch of DLC before DLC was a thing that you had to pay for, including a separate playable epilogue that we won’t get into here just yet.  Then, years later, there came Persona 3 Portable, which incorporated all the gameplay updates from Persona 4 into Persona 3, gave you a choice in the gender of your protagonist and with that vastly increased the amount of content, at turning a lot of segments from more directly interactive bits into visual novel scenes in order to fit it all on the PSP disc.  There’s a lot of discussion on which is better.  I roll with the FES version because… well, that’s just the one I have.  As much as the games industry obviously hates me for it with the remakes and rereleases and updates and Hyper Fighting Championship Editions Turbos they’re putting out, I make a practice of not buying games that I already own.  So, sorry, P3P fans.  Just going by what I have available to me.

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BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY! The Persona 3 Retrospective! Part 1: Introduction

Persona Retrospective Introduction

(Revelations:) Persona

Persona 2:Innocent Sin

Hell yeah!  We’re back with this!  It’s been, what, four years since we did the last entry in our much vaunted Persona Retrospective?  You thought I gave up on it, didn’t you?  And look at how much a fool you are now!  No, you gave up on me!  You think four years matters to one such as I?  I never forgot.  And I never quit.

Well, maybe I did.  Sort of.  You may notice that rather than finally doing the second half of Persona 2, I’m coming right in your face with Persona 3.  That’s true.  And I’m sorry.  I’ve actually tried a couple of times to get the next step in this retrospective going with good old Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and I just can’t.  I was halfway through the game when I made a big cross-state move and life transition, and couldn’t keep up with my usual playtime in the aftermath.  Then, sometime later, I picked up Persona 2: Innocent Sin again with the intention of getting background on that for the eventual Eternal Punishment analysis, but frankly, although the Persona 2 duology does a lot of really unique things and is a very interesting game in all, its design has aged a bit.  Not as poorly as many other games, but I found, with a lot of things I was going through then and continue to go through now, I just didn’t have the patience for it.

So we’ll skip it and come back to it later.  For now, it’s Persona 3 right up in your grill, suckers!

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Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh Aether, you sexy hunk of pure genius, isn’t your time already very full?  And didn’t you just start another project where you’re going to be reviewing all the Godzilla movies?  Are you really going to be able to keep up with another commitment?”  And sure.  That would be what sensible people would think.  But I’m to busy being awesome to be sensible.  I’m not one to let fear of failure or fear of commitment stop me.  I’m going to bite off more than I can chew.  And then I’m going to chew it.

In case you haven’t noticed, I like talking about the thing that I’m going to be talking about for a good while before I really get into talking about them.  But let’s get into that now.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

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Okay, up until this point in the subseries, Persona games have been all about taking the ethos of the greater Shin Megami Tensei series and making it more familiar, more accessible, and more character-driven, while also experimenting the hell out of it.  Shin Megami Tensei has been very WRPG-influenced, and the Persona subseries takes that and fits it into a JRPG shell, creates room for a hell of a lot of character exploration, then adds a whole lot of new, wild, and largely unpolished features onto it.  Persona 3 follows on in that progression.

But it’s also the turning point in it.  See, Persona 4 and 5 don’t carry the same wild experimentation the earlier games did.  Instead, they take the model that Persona 3 built, and polish it further, and further.  And they make beauty out of it.  Persona 3 is a fantastic game.  But it’s like a raw gem.  It’s valuable.  It’s beautiful.  But it needs some rough edges pared off and a lot of polish to really shine.  Persona 3 is a turning point in the Persona subseries.  This is where, I would say, it really hit true greatness for the first time.  And the developers recognized it, and went in the same direction for future entries.

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To really get into Persona 3 and what makes it what it is, we have to talk about another game.  Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.  The first SMT game of the PS2’s era.  And it would represent as much of a shift for the SMT franchise as a whole as Persona 3 is for that SMT subseries.  Shin Megami Tensei games had largely stuck to its classic WRPG influences all through the SNES and PS1 entries, but by the time the 6th console generation had rolled around, frankly, technology had far outpaced that mode.  Even WRPGs themselves were drastically different from the Ultima/Wizardry days.  The technology was capable of so much more than the pure first person grid-based dungeon crawler with minimal world interaction was providing, and the largely 2d and simple visuals those games utilized were growing outright bland in that new world.  So Nocturne brought the series roaring into the new era.  Fully 3d environments, visuals that more accurately represented the urban apocalypse the series brought through, more involved visual storytelling, and a completely redesigned crew of monsters that would be distinctive of the series for years to come, it’s presentation has made SMT what it is every since.  The gameplay updates were no slouch either.  Battles were no longer matters of numbers against numbers, but made much more strategic with the press turn system in which the amount of turns you have were tied to your manipulation of elemental strengths and weaknesses.  Enemy encounters designed so that even basic random battles would test you, requiring so much more than just mashing attack as was standard for most RPGs.  Dungeons built so that the important thing in success is your long-term resource management across hordes of challenges as much as your ability to overcome individual battles.  It created design elements that had ramifications across the entire series.

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And all of that carried through to Persona 3, in some form.  Previously, the SMT series had a more eclectic and varying mix of demons and what roles they held.  Nocturne really codified and brought consistency to the mythological set of demons the series held, and Persona 3 slotted them firmly into the role of your personas.  Your enemies and adversaries were made completely different in both tone and origin, marking the first time the series had such a significant demarcation between persona and enemy.  They use the same visuals for the beasties, too, as do all 3d SMT games from that point further, building and taking advantage from the Shin Megami Tensei trademark design.  The press turn system was imported in a more limited form, with both you and your enemies being able to gain a single extra move for targeting your opponent’s weakness, or lose one if your own are hit.  Tonally, well, SMT has always been about destruction and apocalypse, but Nocturne brought new impact to that in the 3d era, and Persona 3 took that and run with it.  Although it’s not as dire as Nocturne was, it’s still rather oppressive, and it takes that to a more personal level.

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Persona 3 is generally considered the first of the modern Personas, and to many people, apparently Atlus included, the subseries starts here as far as they’re concerned.  This is the first game that has the social link system, where a lot of emphasis is on getting to know and helping NPCs through a sort of visual novel/dating simulator-esque interface, that has become such a series trademark and one of the biggest draws of Persona games.  Although 4 and 5 would make minor updates to it, this is also where they established the game model largely used in everything following.  Whereas previously, every character could use multiple personas, but had some limits on them, and a lot of their capabilities were based on their stats, starting with Persona 3, only your main character could use multiple personas but they had no limits on them and their stats were determine by said persona, making your main character effectively over a hundred characters you could choose from.  These is where you get Lotus Juice and the Jpop soundtrack setting the mood, driving home just how modern this series is in comparison to others of its genre.  The Persona series had been pretty heavy with its theming and storytelling in the Persona 2 duology, but this is the first time the series with so deep in its plot and multi-layered in its themes.  Everything where you have a certain amount of days to do everything you need to do while the plot and conflict progresses on a fixed calendar, where managing your available time as a resource is essential, where basically everything in the combat engine comes from, it all comes from here.  Persona 3 represents not just a paradigm shift in the Persona series itself, it was so utterly different from every other JRPG out there, and yet, for all its experimentation, it still came together in a fantastic form.  Honestly, it’s no wonder this is the model all the rest of the games took after.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man’s Unique Take on Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is where a work will let you in on some sort of information that the characters therein are not privy to.  So it’s when you know something that the characters don’t know.  When your game cuts away from the PC party to show you the bad guy’s meetings where they talk about their future plans in strangely vague terms, that’s dramatic irony.  When the horror movie lets you see hatchet killer lurking around the abandoned house before the soon-to-be victims head inside, that’s dramatic irony.  When your novel is switching between characters who each have a piece of the mystery told to them, that’s dramatic irony.  So yeah, it’s super common, in most every storytelling media.

Why is it used so much?  It’s a really effective way of generating tension, and it’s relatively easy to direct that tension into whatever emotion the creator is trying to instill while you’re driving for that tension to be resolved.  If you know the character is about to get got but the character doesn’t, you’re going to feel it.  You’ll get that tension that then turns into anticipation, or fear, or worry, or what have you.  Or it works for positive emotions as well.  You may get excited waiting for a character to get a fun surprise that you know is coming to him or her.  Or hell, just think of how much comedy is based on misunderstandings.  Guess where that’s coming from.  Dramatic irony.  Awww yeah.

I’ve been playing Marvel’s Spider-Man lately.  And it’s been making me happier than any game has for a good long while.  But you don’t need me to talk about that.  There’s words about it all over the internet.  Hell, I picked it up after a very solid review from Red Metal, so you can head there if you want to find out why the game is great.

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What I’m wanting to talk about today is Spider-Man’s use of dramatic irony, because it comes from a very unique source that I find rather interesting.  So, much like Batman, Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is one of the most notable parts of the IP.  Spider-Man is awesome, but he’d only go so far if he didn’t have awesome villains to oppose him.  And if you asked people on the street who the prototypical, the most notable Spider-Man villain was, you’d get one of three different answers: The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and of course, the most legendary, trail-blazing, dominating villain in superhero comics history, the Kangaroo.  To all of our disappointments, the Kangaroo is not in this game, probably being saved up to be the central figure in the sequel.  However, Doc Ock and the Green Goblin are both in there.  Well, sort of.  And that’s where things get beautiful.

As Red Metal had reported in his review, the developers of Marvel’s Spider-Man were given carte blanche to play around with the canon as they saw fit.  And they used it.  So you get your marquee villians.  But not in the way you know them from pretty much every other Spider-Man thing out there.  To wit, you don’t get Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin.  You get Otto Octavius and Norman Osborn.  The game is clear that Spider-Man is a well established hero with 8 years of activity behind him by the time the game starts, but unlike in… basically anything else Spider-Man, Doc Ock and Green Goblin weren’t a part of any of that.  Instead, you get their normie guises, just the humans that they are.  Brilliant humans, powerful humans, but humans none the less.  Not the supervillians you know them to be.

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Do you get it?  Do you get what was just so fascinating to me?  You know things are going to go wrong there.  Origin stories are so common in superhero media, you know you’re stepping into one the moment you see either of these guys and they’re not already killing Gwen Stacy or marrying your aunt.  You know.  Spider-Man doesn’t.  That’s dramatic irony.  Thing is, the game itself gives you absolutely zero indication of this.  The game does not show you early on that they’re planning turns into supervillainy.  The only reason you know, the only reason that dramatic irony is there at all, is because of the rest of the IP.  You know they’ll be Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin and make Spider-Man’s life hell, but only because this game is adapted from a very well known property but given these weird twists here.

And yeah, this is a minor thing, but this is something that’s really unique to this type of work, an adaptation of a very well-known property.  You want to make something from scratch, you couldn’t pull this off.  And I’ve never seen it before.  They play with it nicely, too.  You know you’re seeing the origin stories there.  Except, only kind of.  They play this straight, but they also subvert it.  They take your expectations, that, again, you only have because you already know Spider-Man, and they use it to lead you in the wrong direction.  Again, that’s something that only this kind of creation can do, and, as far as I know, only Marvel’s Spider-Man has done.  And the storytelling nerd in me really wants to celebrate that.

Eyes on Duet

Man, it’s been a while.  My apologies for that.  I’ve been finding myself pretty over-committed to a whole bunch of things lately, and I just haven’t had the time for this blog.  Which hurts me to say.  In my line of work, you learn to recognize “I don’t have time for this” as being, whether the person realizes it or not, code for “this is not a priority for me”.  Which hurts.  I love this blog, I love getting my thoughts out for the small group of people who enjoy reading all this, and I love the whole sharing of ideas thing on this corner of the internet.  But unfortunately, there’s a bunch of higher priorities in my life right now that have been taking up most of the time that I’d been using to create content here.

Not all of it, however, hence why I’m getting this piece off.  Next in the prestigious ‘Eyes on’ series.  But this is a special one.  This isn’t just a game I’ve been playing for entertainment.  This is a game I’ve been playing for my health.

Seriously, I’ve been prescribed video games by physical therapist as part of treating this weird medical thing I’ve been dealing with that’s thrown my life for a loop.  Specifically, I’m supposed to be spending some time with optokinetics, rebalance the whole visual-motion system.  However, optokinetic videos are boring as hell, so it’s been recommended I spend time with video games.  Not just any game though.  Need games where everything on the screen is constantly moving.  We want nothing to be visually stable.  Which is exactly what brought me to Duet.

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Duet is one of those games that is all centered around an incredibly simple premise.  You control two balls fixed to opposite sides of a circle’s border.  You can rotate them around the circle, but you can’t otherwise change their position on the screen or relative to each other.  Blocks fall down from the top of the screen, and you have to rotate the balls to avoid them.

And…. that’s it.  Post over.  See you guys next time.

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Okay, there’s a bit more to say than that.  The game’s pretty good, even with as simple a premise at that one, at really mixing up the challenges there.  It starts out really basic, to get you accustomed to it.  But then you get the blocks that rotate, and you have to match your rotation to theirs.  Or the blocks that switch sides as they’re coming down at you.  Or the blocks that change their pace as they’re coming down.  It’s actually a rather challenging experience.  It’s one that can drive you into a sort of zen mode, where you’re not so much thinking about what you’re doing, just purely reacting.  The game puts too much pressure on you to allow you to think too much, and thinking’s not typically that useful to you anyways.  Much like it is in life.  In any case, it quickly gets to be rather challenging, requiring snap decisions, perfect timing, and smooth movements to get through a given challenge successfully.  The purest form of what most would consider a skill-based game in all.

It’s really great at instilling a tactile sense into the game.  Fittingly enough given what I’ve been using it for, you can almost physically feel what’s going on.  It has a driving thumping soundtrack combined with a background that pulses along with it.  When you screw up, your ball hits a block with a solid pop, leaving a stain on it as the whole structure streams back upwards to start raining down on you again. It all injects a very real sense of energy into the proceedings, and really serves to elevate it above its base, simple concept.

And… that’s it.  For real, this time.  It’s an incredibly simple game at it’s core, so I can’t really wax on too long about it.  But hey, if you, like me, now need to play video games for your health, Duet could be a good, interesting way of getting you what you need.

Eyes on Antihero

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So, in general terms, an antihero is a bad person who’s really a good person.  It turns out, an Antihero is also a video game.  Who knew?!

Me.  I knew.  Man, I rule.  And now you do too, because I’m telling you about it!

So, Antihero is a turn-based strategy game in which you run a thieves guild.  In said guild, you manage a team of units to help you yank, gank, and shank, all in the name of robbing the rich to give to… yourself.  You’re like half of Robin Hood, here.  To be honest, the ‘hero’ part of Antihero doesn’t really show up in the game.

Antihero is one of those games that’s simple in concept but really solid in execution.  It plays a lot like a board game, honestly.  Except it’s a video game.  It’s a video board game.  Yes.  You play in a semi-randomized section of one of the three types of Englands that show up in fiction (it’s the Sherlock Holmes-type, for reference) and they have you and a CPU or other player facing off against each other, racing to collect enough victory points to win the game before your opponent does.

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One of the things that I really like about Antihero is the way that your strategy has to evolve as you go along with the game.  Each game moves really quickly, and is over in about 15-20 minutes at most, yet there’s a really clear progression in strategy there.  In the early game, you might be able to make a really strong showing of it by denying your opponent access to resources and blocking them from scouting into your side of the board, while you snatch up and burglarize as much as you can.  If you just stick with that, though, you won’t be able to keep up as they start being able to move units through more territory and the places you’re stealing from run out of stuff to steal, so you’d better have built up a solid base of resource generation to keep you going by the mid-game.  And then in the end game, it becomes very difficult to keep units on the board but both sides should usually have enough to keep pumping more out, so it turns into a very aggressive war of attrition, and the guessing game of where to hit them hardest and where to place your own traps ends up ruling the day.

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There’s two major resources to secure; lanterns, which buy you upgrades, and coins, which buy you units.  Upgrades give you access to more units, improve on their capabilities, and boost your resource generation.  You’re not typically limited as far as how much you can get per turn, but every upgrade makes additional upgrades that turn more expenses, and buying units increases the price of other units of the same type.  Another layer of strategy there, sometimes you’re going to be best served by spending your wealth on a number of units, while other times you should spread them out between turns.

I particularly like the way units are designed to deal with the way strategies change throughout the course of the game.  To start with, you’ve got your master thief, who’s basically the queen of the chess board.  This guy/gal is the lynchpin of everything you’ve got going on.  They’re in charge of scouting, stabbing, and stealing.  One of the big strategic keys of the game is working out just when to upgrade their capabilities over the capabilities of the guild as a whole.  Your units can only operate in the locations you’ve scouted, burglarizing is your man source of resources in the early/mid game, and your attack capabilities without the master thief’s contributions has a strict application limit, so a lot of your momentum swings on how you use your master thief.  This unit gets the most upgrades, as well, and you’re able to increase the amount of moves you can make in a turn, the damage they do, the amount of coins you get activities, the types of places you can steal from, etc.  They’ll get progressively more powerful as the game goes on.  And, they retreat back to your hideout at the end of every turn, making it impossible for the opponent to attack them directly.

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Then you’ve got your urchins.  Urchins are pretty much the worker units of other strategy games.  Have them invade businesses, and they’ll get you benefits for it.  Usually that’ll be resources you get every turn, but sometimes it can be upgrades to your units, reduced costs, or even victory points.  They’ve usually only got one application, but it’s one that’s useful the whole game through.

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Your gangs are another one of your backbones.  These are the things that make people hurt.  Got some goons blocking your way?  Give them a good drubbing.  An assassination target?  Send the gangs after them.  They can kick urchins out of buildings, too, paving the way for you to take hold of it yourself.  You get to upgrade them every time they succeed at doing something, building up the damage they do, the amount of urchins they can remove at once, or the amount of money they make when they succeed at something.  These guys are kind of funny, so absolutely vital in the early game, but they end up dying by the droves in the late game, so it’s hard to build them up much then.  Even so, the ability to remove urchins from locations is vital to managing your opponent, and even when they can only do one before dying, it’s still the most cost-effective way of doing so.

Thugs can block off areas.  Neutral thugs will pop up randomly or around assassination targets over the course of the game, but if you want to keep your opponent from scouting out a certain area or reaching a certain resource, you can send a thug of your own to block it off.  They don’t have any offensive capabilities of their own, but you can make your opponent waste some moves in dealing with them, which is crazy effective in the early game.  As your opponent scouts more and more territory, their usefulness starts to wane, but you can always also add them to a gang to boost its health.

Saboteurs are one time use units that are pretty cheap.  They’re the only other unit other than the master thief that can scout, so if you need to extend your reach but the head honcho is busy, they can at least reveal some more street for your other units to prowl.  Their true utility, however, comes in the traps they lay.  Got a business where you just need to make sure your urchins are unmolested?  This guy can plant a bomb there.  It’ll last for a couple turns, and the first unit that tries to mess with that building will be stunned.  It makes the master thief lose all their remaining moves, and it leaves gangs and truant officers helpless in the streets, waiting to be picked off, all while your happy urchins are still there, unfettered.

And then you have truant officers and assassins.  Both one time use units, the best at what they do.  Both the most expensive units available.  Truant officers will roll up, and in the creepiest way possible, remove all the urchins from a building.  Assassins will strike for a whopping six damage, more than any other unit in the game and enough to slay almost anything except for the later assassination targets, before vanishing.  Both are only available by the time you reach the late game, and the economy on them isn’t great, as given enough time you could have a gang do the same work for much less cost, but smart use of them can really turn the tide for you.

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To win the game, you usually need to secure six victory points.  There’s a bunch of ways to do that, but there’s three that’s available on every map.  You can spend lanterns on bribing someone to get a victory point, although the cost of doing so increases each time you do.  You can fulfill contracts for assassination, taking out random targets with more health than you typically have available at that point, although again, the amount of health they have will increase every time one of them falls.  And you can fill a church with urchins, learning enough from confessions to secure blackmail, but this is the only type of victory point you can lose, so you’ll have to defend those urchins until the game is won.  Scenarios may also present you with other means of scoring victory points, such as by stealing a ship’s cargo, sneaking into a masquerade, or overcoming a palaces security and burglarizing its jewels.

The game has a campaign mode that’ll take you through all of these, as it tells the story of master thief Lightfinger as he ousts all the other thieves guilds from NOT LONDON and establishes his control over the city.  It also has an exhibition mode that I spent a fair bit of time in, and a multiplayer mode that might mean something to me if I ever played these things with anyone else.

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All in all, I want to call back to what I said earlier.  It’s a really simple concept with a very solid execution.  I had a lot of fun with it.  There’s not a whole lot of meat there, though.  The campaign mode will take you maybe 3 hours, and when you’re done with that, you’ve seen pretty much all the game has.  Short games don’t bother me at all, and it’s really good for a quick bit of fun, but if you’re expecting something with staying power, this is not it.  It is really satisfying to get a good strategy going, and although you will probably use the same basic model throughout, the different scenarios and actions of your enemies will require a fair bit of variation to that.  It’s good for my thinking cap, is what I’m saying.