Home for the holidays

After several years and many effulgent panegyrics from game critics later, I’ve finally tried out Gone Home for myself.

You play as a 21 year old girl coming home to Oregon in 1995 after a year of travelling overseas. The entire game takes place over one stormy night as you wander around the empty house wondering where your family is as you search for clues in their underwear drawers and spiral ring school notebooks.

I think it’s best to manage expectations, so let me enumerate what the game is not. It’s not a horror game, though the atmosphere may make it feel like one. It’s not an adventure game, as the puzzles barely deserve the name and one can progress forward in the game by practically doing nothing besides walking forward. It’s not a visual novel, as it offers a lot more space while at the same time having much fewer characters. But I think the visual novel is its closest comparison, as the game is essentially a 3D first-person visual novel. It’s not as simplified as a visual novel, where one can move the story forward by doing almost nothing more game-like than pressing a button over and over, but its interactivity and deliberately pared down choices certainly put it in the same narrative ballpark. Some may question whether Gone Home is a game at all, but if we can call a visual novel a game then I think we have to call this a game as well.

The narrative itself feels rather slight, and I agree with Eurogamer that the game’s story “would come across as deeply generic if it wasn’t told in such an unconventional medium”. I actually felt embarrassed on behalf of the characters when I uncovered the rather cliched teen rebellion portion of the story. The game has been lauded for its story by many gaming publications, but I think that its accolades speak as much to the low level of quality in video game writing than to Gone Home possessing an absolutely superlative narrative. I do wonder how well the game can come across if the player has no nostalgia for the setting, if the player has no personal connection to the material reality of the knickknacks and curios that continually thrust the setting’s 1995-ness forward.

I liked playing the game and thought it was a decent way to pass a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, but I concur once again with Eurogamer‘s assessment: “The Fullbright Company has built a fine house for intimate storytelling in games, but it hasn’t found the story to live in it yet.”

Sophomore thoughts

Well damn, Buzz Aldrin provided the voice of the old alien in the after-credits scene from Mass Effect 3?

That’s kind of out of left field. What’s even more out of left field is that I learned about Buzz’s voice work in a discussion of noted conspiracy theorist Marion Cotillard’s views on 9/11 and the moon landings on the Onion AV Club (Buzz apparently is a global warming denier).

American Justice

A proposal on reform for the United States Supreme Court:

My view of statutory and constitutional interpretation/construction, btw, is that appellate judges should always strive to figure out what a law could reasonably mean (by looking at the universe of possible meanings derivable from the text and the circumstances of its enactment) and then pick whatever meaning that Captain America would prefer. If the Supreme Court did this consistently, I am sure that we would live in a much better country.

I have walked 500 miles

Above a port city of soaring spires hangs a female rogue on a rope spanning the blue sky and aims a throwing knife offscreen while in the background a woman on a balcony looks out at the sea.
This scene never took place in the game.

I think I’m more than halfway through Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal. I’ve been playing the Baldur’s Gate series off and on ever since I loaded up the first game probably eight or nine years ago. I used the Baldur’s Gate Trilogy mod to have BG1 run through the BG2 engine, so essentially I’ve been playing a single run of a computer role-playing game for most of a decade. With the end fast approaching I wanted to take a look back at the highlights of my run. Call it a greatest hits compilation. Continue reading I have walked 500 miles

Able Archer ’83

I finally got around to watching the German miniseries Deutschland 83. I love spy stories and this show really scratched my itch. The premise is similar to The Americans, except it’s about an East German spy infiltrating the West German branch of NATO.

It’s a lot more devoted to the material aspects of historical fidelity, which is to say that it’s scrupulous in showing the knickknacks and gewgaws that signify the 1980s to audiences in the 21st century. Plus the spy stuff is more realistic, since a military attache to a highly-placed general in the Bundeswehr is more likely to find worthwhile secrets than a travel agent in DC. But like its US counterpart, this show is also devoted to having a contemporaneous musical soundtrack. At times the music can get rather on the nose and overbearing – I mean, yeah, I know this is the 80s, quit beating me over the head with it.

The personal stuff, more often than not, didn’t do it for me. I kind of got bored and sometimes a bit confused at the stuff dealing with the protagonist’s girlfriend and mother back in East Germany; similarly I got a tad annoyed with the West German general’s son. The amping up of the family drama near the end dragged down the climax for me, as I much preferred the spy versus spy stuff.

Overall, though, I enjoyed watching this show. I’m looking forward to the sequel series set in 1986, with a possible third part in ’89.

Back in time

The manga Luca, The Summer I Shared With You is essentially a love letter to classic Western sci-fi, with most of the chapters being titled after science fiction classics. The throwback atmosphere is probably why I liked this book so much.

The story itself is about a teenage boy whose sister’s mind has been replaced by that of a soldier from the future trying to prevent a disaster. It feels kind of like a mid-century sci-fi juvenile novel, especially with the focus on the made-up science and the way the protagonist is always coldly rational, though the weird time travel sex shit is more like Heinlein’s adult works.

But hey, the art is great.

Bottom line? I loved this manga, warts and all.