Hungry like the wolf

So I’m playing Tales From the Borderlands. I’m already on the third episode. This is in contrast to season 2 of The Walking Dead, which I still haven’t finished, and The Wolf Among Us, which took me most of a year to get through.

I think it’s because Tales From the Borderlands is actually fun. It’s not depressing like The Walking Dead (tap X to avoid catching dysentery) or gruesomely violent like The Wolf Among Us.

I’m not kidding about Wolf Among Us – a lot of the Quicktime fight scenes felt shoehorned in, while the crunching sounds of bones snapping and the copious blood leaking out of various gaping wounds was offputting. And I say this as a connoisseur of graphic violence (I have enjoyed works from Messrs. Miller, Tarantino, and Chiba).

It’s probably the air of seedy fictional hyperreality that pervades the game. Fiction always asks that we not pay attention to how artificial their worlds are, but Wolf Among Us was so grubby and bleak that I kept noticing how my narrative path was always railroaded onto the most noirishly depressing options.

But yeah, Tales From the Borderlands – while also containing violence – is too cartoonish for me to be bothered when someone gets shot through the head. And, you know, it’s fun to play. I’ll probably finish it by the end of this week, which is a record for me as far as Telltale Games properties go.

Kung Fu Fighting

Goodness, what is this Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax? A 2D fighting game with modern anime characters, you say?

And it’s available in English on PSN? And there’s a sequel with even more characters?

Let’s see, in the original game there’s Celty and Shizuo from Durarara, Kirino from Oreimo (not a character you’d expect in a fighting game), Holo from Spice and Wolf, Alicia and Selvaria from Valkyria Chronicles (that was also an anime), Satan from The Devil is a Part-Timer . . . Boy, there’s a lot. Fighting game nerds say it’s more for anime nerds, but if I want hardcore I’ll fire up Tekken. This title looks like a pleasant game to relax to as I make cartoon girls assault each other.

The Near-Final Frontier

I’ve been playing Star Trek Timelines, the new mobile F2P game that’s only been out for a few days. I never play these types of games, but I’ve read about them and I’m aware of all the little psychological tricks it’s using to hook me in. But on the other hand, when I click on Worf he says “Today is a good day to die.” Plus, if I keep playing I’ll get to unlock Odo and Chakotay soon. How am I supposed to resist?

The premise is what you’d expect – some time-space hooey is afoot and Q has dragooned you, nameless Starfleet captain, into flying around fixing the problems when past, present, and alternate timelines collide.

The game’s only been out for a few days, though, so some of the kinks are apparently still being ironed out. For instance, I think the beginning is a bit too complicated to just jump into – Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is noticeably slicker (speaking of another mobile F2P game that I just got into over the holidays) – but zooming around in a Constitution-class starship scanning planets is fun enough by itself.

It’s curious that so far I’ve yet to find a characters from the Bakula Enterprise that’s been voiced, considering that characters from the other series have had voices. Not all of them (Yeoman Rand and Keiko are mute, for instance), but enough that I notice. Perhaps there’s something in the Enterprise actors’ contracts that puts a kibosh on video game adaptations? I do notice that the J.J. Abrams movie versions aren’t included, which I assume is because the game’s contract covers only the TV shows.

Anyway, I’m probably going to keep playing this grindy clickfest until I vomit. It’s Star Trek, how could I not?

The Ones Who Live in the Basement

So someone took The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and turned it into a viable business model in The Sims:

Screencap of a 4chan post describing how to make a
Click to embiggen

Every time I play The Sims, I start my family with a “painting goblin”.

I make him/her morbidly obese with green skin. I make sure to give him the following traits:

  • likes to be alone
  • likes art
  • hates the outdoors

The first thing I do once I have enough money is build a small room in the basement, send him down there, and then remove the stairs. I set him up in a tiny little area with only an easel, a toilet, a refrigerator, a bed, a shower, and a trash bin.

All he does all day is paint. That’s it. He paints and paints and paints and paints.

Eventually his paintings become very good and worth a lot of money. Every few minutes I go downstairs and sell whatever painting he has finished, and then I return to playing the game.

My family always ends up feeling blessed because of their fortune, and they never find out about the horrible secret living beneath their home.

Future Imperfect

I love point-and-click adventure games. I love walking around their worlds and clicking “look” on each piece of background scenery, I love talking to every character I come across, and I even love obtuse inventory puzzles that leave me wondering how the hell a rubber ducky is supposed to help me get on a subway train. This is not a rational love but one born from the nostalgia of a person who played a lot of Sierra adventure games as a kid.

But art does not exist in a vacuum. Audiences always bring their prior experiences with them when encountering a text. Keeping in mind my partiality toward its genre, I must say this: I like Technobabylon.

Said the cyborg bouncer with the mohawk:

Part police procedural, part conspiracy thriller, and wholly a sci-fi cyberpunk journey through a decadent city of sorrow and sin, Technobabylon is a pleasant return to the old adventure and puzzle gaming formula. You play as three main characters: a curmudgeonly police detective hostile to the newfangled AI that governs his city (like a white Bill Cosby, minus the rape), his younger and more enthusiastic post-op (actually post-genetic-engineering) female-to-male partner who’s down with the hacking and the tweeting and the bipping and the bopping, and an unemployed shut-in on welfare addicted to the Internet who subsists on protein sludge extruded from her shitty apartment’s food machine. Also there’s a murderous plot which could lead all the way to the top. Continue reading “Future Imperfect”

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).

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”

Do the Mario

Turns out Salman Rushdie stayed in and played Mario when he was in hiding after that fatwa thing:

Apparently when there was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie—when religious fanatics wanted to kill him because of a book he had written—he was in hiding, and he had nothing to do but play Super Mario Bros., and so he was just playing Super Mario Bros. all day long. And he later wrote two kids books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Luka and the Fire of Life, which are inspired by Super Mario Bros., the second one apparently moreso than the first. But it involves people punching objects and having coins come out and that kind of thing. It’s very explicitly inspired by Super Mario Bros.

Show me the money

I’m currently finishing up the final episodes of Gunslinger Stratos. It’s about kids fighting in the future for a science fiction Macguffin. The series is based on a video game, which is quite clear from the finale because it feels like a boss fight. The episode title even sounds like it’s straight out of Chrono Trigger – “Showdown at the End of Time”.

The whole thing is full of cliches about friendship, fighting for one’s dreams, and some light distrust of adult authority. You know, the usual. The show also keeps making a lot out of the belief that humanity is doomed to conflict and war.

It strikes me, though, that probably most of the writers behind this show have never experienced a day of hardship in their lives. The closest they’ve come to war is watching it on the news, though it’s more likely that their experience of war comes from movies and other fictional depictions.

Pontificating pompously about a subject one has no direct familiarity with seems to me like a very teenaged and juvenile thing to do. Which makes sense since this show is made for juveniles and those juvenile at heart.

Anyway, I think I liked writing this post more than actually watching the last episodes of this show. I guess we have to get our enjoyment where we can get it.