Dec 14, 2010

Time to make some CRAZY MONEY!

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Every serious gamer has that one game that they can can proudly proclaim having absolutely mastered. For most it is a competitive game like Street Fighter, Halo, Starcraft and so on. Winning tournaments and destroying friends and making enemies left and right. But sometimes the game is more niche. Perhaps the mom who plays noting but Gameboy Tetris. Or Steve Wiebe's dramatic run for the title of world's best Donkey Kong player. In these cases, your measure of 'masterhood' is defined by the most basic building block of video game accomplishment, that old tenant of arcade days gone-bye; the High Score Table.

In todays landscape of narrative driven games and hollywood spectacular-esque experiences, the High Score Table is all but dead. The only thing that keeps it alive is also probably it's greatest stage in evolution: The Worldwide Online Leaderboard. What was once a random machine in an arcade or pizza parlor tracking the accomplishments of the few random players who sauntered up and dropped in a quarter (and probably registering their initials as ASS) is now a seemingly limitless number of networked consoles all uploading score data to a centralized server.

The majority of current games can be beaten by pressing forward and tapping 'A' until the final credit sequence. But to truly master a game, especially one that finds it's genetic roots firmly planted in the era of arcades, you have to post a Big Score. A score that shows your dedication to the craft. One that destroys all of your friends measly, pathetic scores. Maybe one that is so big, so impressive, that it sits proudly at the top of the worldwide online leaderboard.

For me, that one game I can consider mastered is Crazy Taxi.

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Good ol' Crazy Taxi. Developed by Hit Maker and published by Sega, Crazy Taxi started as a arcade game where you recklessly pickup and deliver passengers as quickly as you can earning 'tips' for driving as dangerously as possible. It has a timer, and an open city, and a ton of demanding potential fares scattered about. If you deliver a passenger as quickly as possible, you will earn bonus time to be added to your timer. Spend too much time crashing into things or not getting to your destination in the required time and you will anger your passenger reducing your bonus time and fare. Possibly even to the point of them just straight jumping out of the cab. Once your timer runs out, the day's work is done, the fares are added up, and your score is posted to the High Score Table.

Sound pretty easy and basic. And if you only played the game a few times I can understand why it would appear that way. But if the absolute mayhem of smashing through traffic and flying off the side of a parking garage seems a bit, well... Crazy to you, you might find that the game has gotten it's hooks into you and you start to see the deeper game mechanics hidden behind a layer of vibrant carnage.

For starters, your cab (one of four selectable) has taken a que from another arcade stand-by, Fighting games. Hard to believe but you can perform 'special moves' by shifting your gearbox and cutting the wheel. No, the cab will not throw a Hadoken at a passing car, nor will it perform a Fatality on that bus blocking your way. The most basic special move you can do is a 'Crazy Dash' which is performed by: Let off accelerator > shift into reverse > shift into drive and simultaneously slam on the accelerator. This will give you a temporary speed boost, but if you perform it over and over again, you will put the car into a overdive state called a "Limiter Cut". And while you are performing this quest for lightspeed, remember to keep dodging oncoming traffic, and there's a totaly sweet jump coming up.

There are a few more moves such as the Crazy Drift that help reinforce just how damn insane these drivers are that seem to please the fickle passengers thereby increasing your tip. It's the most basic risk-reward system. Drive like grandma and the game is quickly over with a limp score. Blaze down streets and narrowly avoid vehicles, get airborn, and swing your cab around corners in a wild out-of-control fashion and you will find yourself racking up bonus time and big scores.

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So I've played this game. A lot. It started on arcades but was quickly ported to Sega's Dreamcast where I really dived into the game. Once I saw some of the ways to improve my game I was completely addicted. Game after game, day after day. I was able to drag that inital 3 minute timer out over a game that would last almost two hours. My highest scrore was around $62,XXX.XX. To put that in perspective the game ranked you as so:

• $.01-$999.99 = E License
• $1,000.00-$1,999.99 = D License
• $2,000.00 - $2,999.99 = C License
• $3,000.00 - $3,999.99 = B License
• $4,000.00 - $4,999.99 = A License
• $5,000.00 - $9,999.99 = S License
• $10,000.00 - $19,999.99 = AWESOME! License
• $20,000.00 or more = CRAZY TAXI! License

So yeah, $62,000.00 is more than 3 times what the maximum score the developers thought was the best.

And now, that old Dreamcast classic has been ported to PSN / XBLA. It's a simple $10.00 downloadable title. Completely worth a nostalgic trip down memory lane...if that that trip was going 200 mph and memory lane was a street littered with destroyed vehicles and smashed up payphone booths. It's missing a few things, namely the licensed locations (Pizza Hut, KFC, etc.) and awesome super-catchy licensed music that I've never been able to get out of my head. Fortunately, the game supports custom soundtracks, and it just so happens that I have all the original music sitting on my hard drive.

But this version does add one thing. A Worldwide Online Highscore Table. No longer can I be content beating my own highscore. Now I can shit on all my friend's score tables and maybe even (gasp!) go for the number one position.

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Competing against not just myself, but the whole damn world has only increased the sickness.I have mastered Crazy Taxi so I MUST get that top spot.

It's all just happening again...

Way down the line.


Nov 10, 2010

Tampering with Perfection

Recently I was delighted to find a copy of "Silhouette Mirage" at the local game shop. I hadn't heard too much about the game, but I knew that it was not only a Treasure game, but it was also in some ways the spiritual precursor to Ikagura, having introduced a similar light/dark battle mechanic. Normally I don't buy games that rely heavily on 2D sprites for the PlayStation, especially if they're available on the Saturn...but in this case, I decided to make an exception. I even bought the game with the full knowledge that Working Designs were in charge of the localization. I thought to myself, "How bad could this be? I know they fuck up all of their translations and the dubbing is horrible, but I'm willing to deal with that if it means I get to play a fun game from Treasure." Oh, how woefully naive I was.

When I started playing this title it I was frustrated by the bizarre systems behind the powerups and odd gameplay mechanics. It didn't feel fun and organic, like most Treasure games. The basic concept was great, but progressing through the stages felt unusually tedious. So, I opened the instructions and came across a special message from Working Designs, where they detailed the many "improvements" they made to the game. I'll just let you read from the instruction booklet, and allow you to bathe in their self congratulatory smugness.

Horrified and generally alarmed by this, I hopped online to see just how much had changed from the original version. Did these additions just increase the difficulty? Perhaps they weren't that big of a deal? Sadly, as I read the reviews, it became all too clear that they had completely broken the game.

Gamespot plainly states in their review that "what was once a perfectly fun game is now an unrewarding chore overwrought with tedium."
"The need to drain enemies of their spirit energy is new to the US version and is the single greatest flaw in the game. Not only does this force you to constantly ration firepower, it also weakens your weapons as you fire them. As a result, a weapon will oftentimes not be there when you need it most. Compounding this problem is the inflated cost of weapons. The US version significantly ups the price of the game's weapons, forcing you to beat each and every enemy if you want a half-decent arsenal. As a result, the price for using weapons other than the boring one you start with is precipitously high and will cause some players to opt in favor of simply not buying weapons for most of the game. Additionally, if you want to succeed in the game, expect to spend lots of time tediously robbing and draining every enemy before you kill it."
The always excellent Hardcore Gaming 101 had an equally unforgiving review.
"Ultimately, however, the changes do more harm than good. Most of the weapons drain way too much power to be useful. It also pretty much forces you to drain every enemy before killing them, and potentially you can expend more energy than you replenish. It also forces you to use the weakest weapons in most cases, since that usually expends the least amount of Spirit. Quite simply, the game is already complicated enough trying to deal with the different classes - keeping track of ammo conservation just isn't fun.

Furthermore, Working Designs upped the difficulty by increasing the damage inflicted by enemies, as well as making all of the items in the shops more expensive. The latter solves nothing - having to stop and cash bash enemies to be able afford upgraded weapons and health replenishments was already somewhat tedious in the Japanese release, but this just makes everything worse."

I expected the horrible, grating dubbed voices. I even expected the translation to have virtually no connections to the original story. However, I was willing to deal with those issues in order to enjoy fun 2D platformer with beautiful sprites. What I never expected was that they would attempt to tamper with perfection. I never thought a localizer would get so fucking delusional that they would fundamentally alter the gameplay on a finished title. It's astonishing to me....that this group of translators suddenly decided they were not only on equal footing with Treasure, but that they KNEW BETTER than them, and could improve on their efforts. Working Designs, you are not a game studio. If you were, you'd be releasing original content instead of just pissing all over someone elses games and proudly proclaiming it an improvement.

Listen. When something is licensed and brought to the US, it is already finished. It is a completed work. Done. The creators, the team that put huge amounts of hard work into generating this product, have finished working on it and it's now in your hands. Your job is simply to translate it, that's it. You don't get to add things that you would like to see, because you aren't part of the original team. You aren't a writer. You aren't an animator. You aren't creative. You happen to know several languages. That's it.

I mean, it sure is a good thing Working Designs was able to come along and make this game "more challenging and/or enjoyable"! In the Japanese version, players "merely" got to play a game designed by a real studio, but they sure fixed that!

Thank you Working Designs, for taking a finished game by Treasure, and tampering with it juuuuust enough to render it completely unplayable. Hey, why would we all assume Treasure, fucking TREASURE, knows how to make a good game? I mean, it's not like they're a legendary studio with countless hits to their name. It's not like they are renowned for creating gorgeous titles with flawless, finely tuned gameplay that have been captivating players for years. It's not like their games aren't highly sought after, even 15 years after being released. It's not like you didn't ACKNOWLEDGE this in the same instruction manual where you so blatantly proclaim what you fixed. You actually quote Masato Maegawa, the President of Treasure at the time, as saying, "I cannot rank which title is No.1, No.2...this is because I love all my titles in various reasons. Like parents cannot rank own children because they love all their kids."

Do you understand, Working Designs, that by altering this game, you've effectively performed unauthorized surgery on one of Masoto's children? You just went in and tinkered around until you were able to step back with a satisfied grin on your face, declaring that, "Well, this kid was okay before, but Americans like big tits, so we gave him a boob job. Also, he wasn't tall enough, so we just extended those legs by a few inches. Sure, he's too frail to walk on his own without crutches and his center of gravity is way off now, but he's TALLER with BOOBS. We made him BETTER. Man, we are, like, unfathomably awesome in ways the word will just never understand."

I haven't even mentioned the lack of backgrounds and differences in sprite animations. This, at least, I can't fully blame on Working Designs. The PlayStation can't handle 2D like the Saturn can, so I expected a few downgrades. Still...the highway stage feels painfully empty without the doesn't directly affect the game but it really hurts the overall "art" aspect of the title, especially if you're a nerd like me that loves to ogle sprite based games. (The images below were taken from the Hardcore Gaming 101 review.)

As much as I wanted to play and enjoy this game, It looks like I'll be permashelving it.

I should also mention that this kind of editing actually happens all too often in the world of anime dubbing. Some of the most offensive examples are from the two Evangelion films, "Death and Rebirth" and "End of Evangelion." Amanda Winn Lee, a voice actress, was somehow given the role of ADR director and put in charge of the English language dub for both movies. She proceeded to make a myriad of changes and edits to not only the dialogue, but also the soundtrack itself.

Pivotal scenes were altered because she felt they needed to be "improved." Lines of dialogue were added where there were none and some lines were altered to "lighten the mood". Rewrites of several pivotal lines completely changed the meaning and intent of certain scenes. Incredibly, she even added sound effects to certain scenes. Once again, we see the incredible arrogance of someone who feels they have the right, nay, the DUTY to improve upon the the completed collective hard work of skilled artists. Evangelion is an absolute masterpiece, but due to the overblown ego of a few people, the dialogue was altered and everyone who chose to watch it in English experienced a flawed version of the film. Some of the gory details can be found here, along with a critique of her astonishingly disrespectful commentary track, where she gleefully gloats about the changes and alterations that she decided these films needed.

To sum this all up, I will simply leave you with these wise words from anime blogger Evirus:
"The translator, and a dub, should serve to simply address the language barrier, not transform or hijack someone else's original work. The violation is no less obscene than an arrogant high school drama teacher re-writing Shakespeare to "improve" it. Even in theater, where contrasting interpretations are encouraged, the original text cannot be re-written—only cut for length. With film, any differing interpretations should be found only in the impressions of the audience, not in the "vision" of some hack."

Jun 7, 2010

Self Destructing Fads

I finally realized what this whole revival of 3D movies reminds me of: Pogs.

Stay with me here.

I knew I'd seen this scenario before, I just couldn't place when or where...

Hollywood studios are currently rushing to get the majority of their movies either filmed in 3D or converted in post to a kind of half-assed pseudo-3D. They are led by the belief that audiences not only want this, but that viewers will pay up to $5 more per ticket for the luxury of wearing those fancy plastic glasses and enjoying a dimmed, but extra dimensional, picture show.

It doesn't matter if the 3D effect will actually make the film be more enjoyable. It doesn't even matter if the 3D fits with the style and content of the movie. The only thing that matters is that they can advertise each new release as "showing in 3D" and not be the last kid on the block who hasn't gotten with the program. It's a blind stampede to capitalize on a new fad, one that has so far shown itself to be incredibly lucrative for them.

At first this reminded me of when Toy Story first came out. It was a phenomenally popular movie and it instantly legitimized computer animation as a serious film making technique. It also put the final nail in the coffin for traditionally animated "family" films, which had been steadily losing audiences for years. The problem was that the studios couldn't understand what made the movie so popular. It never seemed to occur to them that it was because it had a great plot that was well written, skillfully directed and performed by a talented cast of voice actors.

All they could see was that Toy Story looked drastically different from all of those other animated films that had been losing money. They noticed the least important factor of the movie, the fact that it had been animated with computers. So, of course, over the next couple of years we were treated with a plethora of shitty computer animated garbage, disguised as "family entertainment." They pumped out an endless stream of dull, unimaginative movies and sequels, all computer animated and trying to copy the "Pixar look" as closely as possible.

It's painfully obvious that the exact same thing is happening right now with 3D in films. Avatar was a huge success, and instead of looking at the content of the movie to discover what made it so popluar, the studios have all decided that it must have been entirely due to the 3D effects.

Much like the CG films that attempted to imitate Pixar animation never approached the same level of quality, the 3D films being released now are often hastily put together and the effects just don't compare to the visuals in Avatar. While this might not matter to the general moviegoing public, it's managed to ruin quite a few movies that would have been perfectly fine without the added tinkering.

Here's the thing that really drives me insane though. Movie theaters around the country are tearing out their old screens and setting up expensive new equipment designed to show 3D films. Manufacturers of high definition televisions have stopped working on advancing the quality of the picture, and have begun to focus on producing HDTV's that are designed to show 3D content. Even game consoles are busy working on methods to display games in 3D, despite the fact that this can only be done by drastically reducing the quality of the graphics. There's even a damn newspaper that thought it would be oh-so-clever to have an issue that came with 3D glasses.

Listen. Everyone needs to calm down and think about this for five minutes. I know it seems like 3D is the next huge thing, and everybody is talking about it...but just stop for a second and ask yourself, "Will an average person put on 3D glasses every time they sit down to watch TV at dinner? Is it a good idea for children to be wearing 3D glasses for 5 hours at a time when they play games? Will a bunch of guys drinking beer and watching a football game actually wear 3D glasses the whole time, and not feel like idiots?"

This is what brings me to pogs. I was only 13 when these things came onto the market, but even then I remember being skeptical. There was nothing cool or interesting about them...they were little cardboard discs that had pictures printed on them. They weren't collectible or fun, but we were constantly assured that they were in fact SUPER fun and so totally collectible. Actually, the first time I remember hearing about them was on the news, there was a feature on this crazy new collectible game that all the kids were into. I was curious about this, considering that I was a kid that would be in the target market for these things and I'd never even seen them before.

Soon enough, a few kids brought them to school and then of course everybody else had to get some, just because. Aunts and Uncles would give pogs as gifts for birthday presents, because the employees at the toy store informed them that these were the hot new item that every boy and girl wants. Every possible cartoon character was immortalized in Pog form, you could get pogs in cereal boxes featuring the sugary mascots, there were pogs with video game characters, athletes, and just generic designs and colors. They were fucking everywhere.

Here's the thing were never really that into these things. Pogs were never actually "popular", they were just plentiful. It was widely believed that these were the next big thing, so every company and studio absolutely needed to get their licensed characters and property converted into Pog form. All this did was oversaturate the market with a flood of colorful cardboard discs. The huge production numbers just killed any perceived rarity, and there was no quality control since they were manufactured by so many different companies. No one cared if the pogs were actually a good product, it was enough that they were pogs.

I've noticed extremely similar trends with the current 3D fad. No one releasing a 3D film seems to care what it actually looks like, as long as it's in 3D. That's enough, and they think that audiences won't notice or care. TV manufaturs and theater owners seem convinced that we all want 3D content, just like our Aunts and Unlces were confident that we would love a set of Simpsons pogs as a gift. No one is demanding 3D content, it's just being provided. If you release films with special features like that, of course audiences will go check it out. People aren't picking 3D movies over traditional films, you only need to look at the opening weekend performance of the latest Shrek 3D embarrassment (roughly $71 million) and compare the numbers to Iron Man 2, which was mercifully left in 2D (about $128 million). How can that beeeee? I thought all blockbusters need to be in 3D to compete?

If the studios had kept their cool and released one or two big budget 3D blockbusters a year, they could have built up massive anticipation and excitement. They might have shattered records with each new release, and it would have been a truly "special" experience to see a 3D film that was filmed using actual, proper 3D equipment. It could have been marketed as a "rare, major event." Instead, they got greedy and flooded the market with lackluster films that have been converted to pseudo 3D in post. The films studios are so busy pumping out what they think the audience wants that they've managed to make their product common and dull. Like pogs.

(All pog photos lifted without permission from various eBay auctions. Yes, people are still trying to sell these things on eBay.)

May 11, 2010

The Allure of Trophies

I'm somewhat new to the current generation of games. For years I've always been stubbornly "last-generation" when it comes to consoles, refusing to buy the newest system until it's life cycle is basically at an end. That way, I could pick up all the games I wanted on clearance or at used shops for a fraction of the cost. (This was way back when game stores were plentiful. It was actually possible to comparison shop at different locations to find some really great deals.) I never had an urgent desire to play any of the current games, mostly because I was still busy working on the "new releases" from a few years earlier. It's not a bad way to build a collection if you don't mind waiting a few years to pick up the titles you want.

There were exceptions of course, I bought a Dreamcast pretty early in it's life, and I picked up a Neo Geo Pocket Color as soon as I could find one. Of course I latched on to these pretty hard and I still collect and play games for both systems. About a year ago I finally played through Rayman 2, and it was amazing. I had tried it in college but at the time I was really fixated on the Saturn and sprite based games. It took a while for me to overcome my polygon prejudice, but now I can go back to quite a few titles that I missed out on.

As of a few months ago, I now own a PS3. I'm still a bit late to the party, but this is the first time I've ever owned a console during the prime of its life. There are a lot of things that separate this generation of gaming from the last, but one of the biggest changes that I've noticed is the inclusion of trophies/achievements. No longer do bragging rights just come from beating a game, you have to prove yourself by completing a series of goals given to you by the programmers. It reminds me a bit of those old Nintendo Power "Super Power Club" trading cards. If you were a subscriber, they'd include a perforated sheet of cards in the back of each issue, and every card had a "challenge" on it. There were varying degrees of difficulty and they often focused on tests of endurance, such as beating multiple levels without using certain items, or completing stages within a certain time limit.

(Yes, these are from my personal collection. I still have to scan the rest...)

Of course, if you could actually perform these feats there would be no way to prove it unless your buddy sat and watched you do it. You could just complete them for you own sense of self satisfaction, but that's just not enough for most gamers. Ever since we were ten years old we've been bragging during recess about about our conquests, telling tall tales about how we can beat Mega Man 2 without dying, or speed run through the Mario 3 without using any warp whistles. It's part of our nature to want to show of the pointless tasks that we spend hours mastering, and now with Trophies/Achievements, the whole world can see how frighteningly dedicated we are to our hobby.

I've never considered myself a "hardcore" gamer. I don't often play through games for a second time, and there are plenty that I haven't even finished once. I like fighting games and shoot-em-ups, old school platformers and ridiculous puzzle games that involve colorful blobs and anime characters screaming catch phrases when you complete a chain. The idea of playing through a title for a second time on a harder difficulty always seemed like such a time consuming task with no real reward. It's one thing if there are new items or additional bits of plot, but if it's just more punishing, why not move on to a different game? I have so many piled up in my backlog, I feel like there's just not enough time to replay something.

That all changed for me after Dead Space.

I had just finished Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube, so the transition to Dead Space was an easy one. Similar in just about every way, Dead Space does everything exactly as well as RE4, just in space, in the future. I loved every minute of the game and I have to admit it actually really creeped me out on more than a few occasions. I played it while Alicia sat by my side and watched, having just as much fun as I was. She would often bug me to play in the evenings so she could see the story unfold. As I played through I got a few trophies for simple things like finishing a chapter or collecting a certain amount of money. My first concern was to successfully finish the story, so I didn't concern myself with the extra tasks at first.

I completed the last chapter around 1am on a Saturday night, and was quite satisfied with my victory. Alicia was with me the whole time and having stayed up way past her bedtime, immediately hit the hay. I stayed up a bit longer, because now that I'd beaten the game, I wondered if I could maybe get a few of those trophies. It would be kind of neat and they seemed within reach. I decided to take on the challenge of killing 30 enemies with each weapon, since I'd already done that with the main weapons I used during my first play through.

There were 8 of these trophies, one for each weapon and one for melee combat. I started with the melee since I figured it would be easier to beat the shit out of the creatures early in the game when they were considerably less powerful. As I fought through the opening scenario, I found myself using a different strategy, paying more attention to the patterns of the monsters and thinking more about how to handle a group of them. I wasn't just going through the motions and replaying the level, I was having a lot of fun and experiencing it in a new way.

Once I'd earned the "Melee" trophy I bought one of the weapons from the shop that I had not used at all yet, the force gun. I was shocked when I realized that it was AWESOME. I kind of wished I'd used it the first time, because it was really effective against an enemy type that had given me a lot of trouble before. Now I had a new strategy, a new technique in my arsenal, and as I forged ahead I had a blast taking on those little bastards that had fucked with me so many times before.

I would not have done any of this if I was not motivated by the trophy system. There would have been no real reason for me to jump immediately back into the game unless I was really curious. Hour after hour went by as I went through the list, until finally I killed the 30th creature with the flamethrower, the most worthless piece of shit weapon in the entire game. What a pain in the ass it was to fully defeat even one monster with that thing, much less THIRTY. They didn't really seem to mind being on fire, so you had to run backwards while shooting bursts of flame to keep them lit up until they FINALLY collapsed. You know what though? It was challenging, it was satisfying when I actually did it and it was fun. At this point I was a little over halfway through the game already, so I figured, hell, if I just keep going, pretty soon I'll have enough money to max out all of my weapons, which would give me a GOLD trophy! So I went for it, searching extra hard for hidden items, checking every corner and defeating every monster in order to get as much money as I could.

At around 10am, I finished the last chapter for the second time. I had spent 9 straight hours on the couch replaying the game in its entirety, immediately after I beat it for the first time. It was one of my favorite gaming experiences in recent memory, and later that day I loaded up that save file and began my third journey through the USS Ishimura. I'm currently a little more than halfway through my "One Gun" trophy run, which requires you to beat the game using only the plasma cutter, the equivalent of a standard pistol. Along the way I continued to hoard my cash so that I could finish upgrading each weapon, even if I couldn't use it. It's starting to get difficult, and I've ended up in a few situations where I ran out of ammo and had to retreat in panic. However I've also gotten much better at targeting enemies and disabling them with as few shots as possible in order to conserve ammo. It's great, and I wouldn't be getting this much enjoyment out of the game if I hadn't been enticed my trophies.

I also bought some of my first downloadable content. I bought two suits, purely for their aesthetic beauty. Both are slightly less powerful than the Military suit that I earned for beating the game the first time, but they just look really cool and I figured if I'm going to play through at least two more times I might as well wear something different. The all black PS3 Obsidian suit is bad ass, it looks great and was totally worth a dollar fifty. This suit used to be free when the game first launched, but it looks like they decided to start charging now that it's been out for a few years. I figured it was worth having for less than what I normally pay for an energy drink, plus it came with a slightly stronger Plasma Cutter. According to the EA forums this won't effect the "One Gun" trophy, so that's what I'm going with for this run. I also grabbed the insanely awesome Astronaut suit, which I plan on using when I attempt to beat the game on Impossible. That might have to wait until I get an HDTV though, since I'd like to revisit this game when I can finally see it in High Def.

Because I was enticed by trophies, I feel like I've learned a greater truth about gaming. I said earlier that I never saw the point in replaying a game on a harder difficulty. Now, I understand. I get it...there's a depth and a certain type of dedication that has its own rewards. Would I still do it in a different game if there were no trophies for my efforts? Maybe. Who knows, I might even take a shot at something like Monster Hunter, which requires inhuman levels of dedication but is immensely satisfying...

I should also mention that the proper term for playing through a game in a single marathon session without stopping is "Shenmue Style." This was coined when Equidist, the other contributor to this blog, bought Shenmue when it first came out for the Dreamcast and proceeded to play through the entire damn game without ever turning off the system. It took a few days, an entire weekend I think. He would occasionally fall asleep, controller in hand and Ryo left standing in the street, idling for a few hours. When he woke up he'd jump right back in, gazing at the screen like a zombie and propelling the characters in the game towards their final destinations through sheer will power. It was a legendary feat and I still use that term today, much to the confusion of anyone listening.

You earned a trophy, "Shenmue Style"

(Dead Space screencaps taken from Visual Walkthroughs.)

May 5, 2010

85 hours into Monster Hunter Tri

This Quropeco armor isn't a costume, it's a way of life.

Sure, the abundance of vivid feathers and assless chaps might make me look like Chief Smokescock gearing up for the pride parade, but in truth, I'm preparing to hunt. I'm going to hunt the large reptilian beast that has been terrorizing the small coastal village of Moga. They need a hero, a savior, they need... a MONSTER HUNTER.

Or something. Whatever. That's the entire Monster Hunter Story. The game has a rich and well realized backdrop that can be summed up with: Humans enter a tribal iron age alongside huge dino-dragon beasts that rule the land. The bravest of humans become Hunters and claim their rightful place at the top of the food chain by killing these large beasts and saving the day for everyone. But all you really need to know is: You -> puny human, That big scary thing -> going to ruin your day and then feed you to it's young.

But thankfully, the humans have something on their side. Ridiculously Huge Fuck-Off Swords (and other weapons, but mostly RHF-O Swords). And you get these swords by killing a monster and then carving pieces off of it to make even bigger Ridiculously Huge Fuck-Off Swords. If swords aren't your thing, there are also RHF-O Hammers, RHF-O Lances, RHF-O Bowguns, and so on. So the basic progression of the game is: Kill big thing to get bigger sword to kill even bigger thing to get even bigger sword, repeat ad-nauseam.

Sounds like a grind, right? Wrong! No wait, that is actually right. But where as other games might define a grind as wandering around the map and killing things over and over again to watch your XP slowly fill up, Monster Hunter has you embroiled in basically a series of boss battles. And it's an action game. You are not turn-based menu surfing, selecting 'attack' over and over again, sometimes selecting the 'heal' menu option. Nope, you are in 'the shit'. You are slashing and stabbing. Diving and rolling. There is no lock-on, no easy mode. You succeed or fail based on your own gaming merits. Sure, you craft better weapons that do more damage, and better armor that gives you different skills. But there is no XP counter slowly going up. The only XP you are gaining is in your head.

Real XPerience. Like "When that monster rakes his foot across the ground, he's about to roar and give me a chance to get some free hits in." or "When he looks over his shoulder, he's about to barrel-roll in that direction and I want to NOT BE THERE.". The monsters are full of tells like this that you only discover by fighting them. When you are playing MH 'right', it's like you are dancing with the beast and it's leading.

That flamboyant armor I am wearing was crafted from many a dead Qurupeco. It's an entry level monster that resembles a large green pelican dinosaur thing. It has three spots on it's body that I can destroy thereby removing some of it's abilities. For instance, It can puff it's chest up and then release through it's strange beak-sac different mimicked calls that summon other creatures. If I Smash it's beak in enough I can stop it from doing that. Sometimes it summons small annoyances, and sometimes it will summon another boss three times bigger and badder than the Quru. It really is in my best interest to cleave it's face in two. Plus, if I do succeed in disabling that ability, I have a better chance of carving a beak off it's dead body and I needed two of them to craft that fabulous headdress.

So why would I want to wear such an 'alternative' set off armor? Well the defense is better than my last set, but really it's all about the skills. Each piece of armor (head, chest, hands, legs, uhh.. skirt?) has it's own set of skill points, and when these skill points add up to a certain number, usually 10, that skill is activated. That Quru armor gives me Defense Up (S), Evasion +1, and Recovery Up. Plus, I stuck enough gem decorations into the armor to give me the Autotracker skill that always lets me know where the monster is. Sometimes the skills are self explanatory, sometimes obtuse (Punishing Draw, HG Earplugs, Divine Whim), but they are always useful. You will find yourself mixing and matching pieces just to activate certain skills that useful against certain monsters.

The weird part is that I've been wearing that armour for so long long that I'm starting to identify it as 'me'. Yes, that is who I really am, on the inside. The Village People need me. They need me to thrust my mighty sword into the beast again and again until one of us falls over, exhausted and spent.

I'm here. I'm Queer. I'm wearing that thing's sphincter as a belt.

Deal with it.

May 3, 2010


I'm sure quite a few people realize this, but I'd just like to point out a few reasons why Avatar is not science fiction, it's a fantasy film.

First, the generous use of magic. The process of using the actual "avatar" was basically getting into a magic chamber and possessing a new body. I know it's all supposed to be linking neurons based on tissue growth and all that, but really, they never got into the technical side and basically just said, when you get into here, your brain goes over there! Magic! How does it stay remotely connected even at great distances? Magic! How does the connection stay strong in regions that are filled with electromagnetic energy that makes every other piece of technology in the film go haywire? I can only assume it's through the power of magic, since this is never addressed in the film.

The whole "electric forest network" really seemed like a way of disguising a mystic forest with spirits and ghosts as a sci-fi theme. Yes, I get that they "downloaded" their memories into the "hard drive" trees, but really this was a magical forest that had creatures who could hear your thoughts and a powerful protecting spirit that predicted the future and gave the animals instructions. The forest also had the same magic powers that the magic chambers had, but with even more magic! Just lie down and the forest fairy will guide your conscience into the new body.

This isn't really a bad thing, it's actually pretty clever to dress up a fantasy film with sci-fi themes. Maybe I'm wrong here, but between the all the dragon riding and floating mountains, it sure felt like a magical journey to a far away mysterious land full of wonder, the kind of place you might go in an RPG. It's like if the space marines from Halo decided to land on a Final Fantasy planet to steal their Mana points.

I'm obviously nit-picking here, but I just wish that for a movie that takes place roughly one hundred and fifty years in the future (150!) We would get to see some cool future technology or innovative, visionary advancements. Instead it all looked like things we could do in the next 15 years. Wow, computers with screens that you can see through from behind! The ability to map a brain! Holograms! Helicopters! Clunky, bulky, mech suits that reminded me of Robot-Jox! Come on, this is so far in the future it's the equivalent of the difference in technology between 1860 and 2010. Go crazy James Cameron! Make some cool shit up! And why are people still smoking? Why not have some other, weird future drug choice or something.

I just feel like the sci-fi aspects were an obvious afterthought to the fantasy world of Pandora, as if he just pulled from his past films and other standards to get it out of the way so he could really focus on ways to make the Na'vi just the right amount of alien while still being sexually attractive. This right here is where his often proclaimed love of anime is showing, he filled the whole movie with fan-service! I'm on to you, Jim. Way to flood the internet with a new breed of self-insert fan-fiction authors. You gotta give him credit though, he knew exactly what he was doing when designing those creatures to be the perfect mix of cute/sympathetic/sexual.

Two of the things I enjoy about sci-fi movies are the "science" and the "fiction." I like seeing a director come up with a new creative concept, and then making that idea a reality through their film. I like seeing unique interpretations of what the future will hold, or what an alien planet would look like, or what would happen if time travel was possible. Just having a movie take place in the future doesn't make it sci-fi by default. Even the inclusion of giant robots doesn't necessarily make it sci-fi, especially when those robots aren't a huge stretch from what would be possible with current technology.

I think that's what bothered me so much about the movie, there was no exploration of the technology or the future world. I mean, it was hardly even touched upon. The same goes for Pandora, sure, the audience gets to see a lot of it, but it was just visual. Maybe they could have spent, oh, I don't know, five minutes perhaps, explaining exactly what the hell "unobtanium" is and what makes it so desirable. Is it a fuel source? Has it helped advance technology? Is it the new monetary standard, replacing gold? Why does it float? If it floats, doesn't it seem to make sense that those floating islands would be entirely made from this stuff?

I'm not saying that a movie needs to constantly over explain everything, but seriously, this mineral is the entire driving force behind the push to wipe out an alien race. It might be good to fill the audience in on exactly why the government of the future thinks it's a good idea to commit genocide in order to get it.

Anyway, none of this will really make a difference for most people who see Avatar. It bothered me enough to write about it, but I suppose I'm just disappointed by the many missed opportunities in the film. This is my way of venting my frustration that James Cameron felt the visuals of this movie deserved much more development time and attention than the plot.

I'll just leave you with this, Wikipedia's definition of sci-fi (emphasis mine):

Science fiction is a genre of fiction. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas".[1] Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities.[2] The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality, but the majority of science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief provided by potential scientific explanations to various fictional elements.