“I’m not suiciding myself against the guns of the notorious Keith T. Maxwell,” cries my victim, begging for mercy.
For a moment, even I am fooled by the praise. “That’s right,” I think. “I am a force to be reckoned with,” I consider to myself, forgetting for a moment that most of my engagements end in a fiery wreck upwards of a dozen times before I ever see success. Yes, my foes all fall to me, eventually, but when it comes to suiciding against guns, that was a term more applicable to myself than anyone else in Galaxy on Fire 2.
Yet the victim of my bounty hunting felt differently, and this one throwaway line was surprisingly effective. At least it was for me, so near the target demographic of the game’s writing as I am, for Galaxy on Fire 2 is pure wish fulfillment for 10-25 year old white males – albeit discordantly so.
I imagine most kids who sat down with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island in 1995 were startled to find that it was nothing at all like it’s predecessor – another Mario sequel screwjob, a la Super Mario Bros. 2. Unlike the latter non-sequel, however, I was nonetheless enthralled by Yoshi’s Island’s strange game, with its surreal Yoshis, bizarre enemies, and absurd crayon-drawings of levels. Beyond that, though, it did share one crucial piece of DNA with Super Mario World: unique level design. Both games featured levels with unique features, whether it be the dolphin platforming of Mario World’s Vanilla Secret 3 or the psychedelics of Yoshi’s Island Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy. Let us not fail to mention Yoshi’s Island’s truly bananas boss battles either.
The same DNA exists in Yoshi’s Woolly World, which we played through over the spring. Crayons may be replaced with yarn, but the bold willingness to feature a single mechanic for a single stage remains – and what a joy it remains.
One of my favorite things about storytelling is the study of themes. Whether its man’s insignificance in Godzilla (2014) or the significance of knowledge and understanding in Bloodborne, I love when I can get excited about themes and a piece of work’s methods for communicating those themes.
I also have an enormous backlog of literature, video games, and films that I cannot possibly finish in this lifetime yet prefer to drop in a list of lies where I can pretend that they will all be finished one day, yes, soon, soon!
So this is just a little blog for me to both record my progress through that infinite obligation and my musings about the themes I encounter as I go. And for those works which don’t have much to say in the way of anything, I will nevertheless endeavor to pull out something to chew on, however bland. In either the case, the idea is to take one idea or concept from each work and see how well that idea works – or how it doesn’t.
Let’s get on with it then!
Characters are the currency of storytelling. An interesting story requires interesting characters, and to the same extent, interesting characters all but guarantee an interesting story. It’s why games are absolutely capable of telling a good story, despite arguments to the contrary. It also explains why Chrono Trigger still holds up as one of the more gripping RPGs ever made.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of The Walking Dead comic book series was that its post-apocalyptic zombie setting was more of the backdrop to human drama than the driving force behind it. Of course, the drama was the natural fallout of the apocalypse, but the apocalypse was not what the plot was always about. Consider Dawn of the Dead as a counter-example, where the story is about zombies attempting to kill survivors and the survivors’ attempt to escape their situation. The Walking Dead, on the other hand, though it occasionally touched on such situations, was moreso about survivors attempting to get along with each other – or not – and how their relationships handled – or didn’t – their new world. Robert Kirkman, author of the series, noted in the opening of the first omnibus that he wanted The Walking Dead to be about what happened to the survivors after they escape the initial zombie attack, after the typical zombie story ended. What does a post-apocalyptic zombie world look like, in the long term?
The result of Kirkman’s goal has been a blistering, harrowing, and frequently downright shocking series of books that absolutely rank in the “Comic Books to Read Before You Die” list. And the first seven episodes, directed by Frank Darabont, of AMC’s television adaption, though a little less biting for practical casting reasons, has upheld that standard and has been one 0f the few shows on television right now that I could have recommended without reservation. But from the eighth (non-Darabont) episode on, the show has been hitting a brick wall. Criticized for its slowness, its defense may be that the audience wants zombie action when the show (like the book) is ready to just deliver character drama. But the real problem, as it turns out, isn’t that it’s a show about people (plus zombies), it’s that it’s become a show about zombies (plus people) that is unable to sustain interest when not being directly about zombies.
The following was originally written on 9 June, 2009.
The problem with comparing sequels to their classic predecessors, some argue, is that there is no accounting for that initial sense of wonderment. Sequels can never match up to their classics because you can never recreate that sense of new-ness and awe you felt when you first played the original. Comparing New Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3 is thus rather unfair. Even the best level design cannot mimic the joy of first finding the Tanooki suit in the ice world.
Metroid: Zero Mission, a 32-bit remake of the original Metroid, does not defy these expectations. And if the only thing that made Super Metroid so amazing was its undiscovered country, then we would have to admit that putting the remake in this classic study series is a bit mean-spirited and crotchety. There are differences between the games, however, that do not involve the ephemeral sixth sense of “the first time” at all, for what Zero Mission lacks is not a sense of freshness, but heart.
So while I’m thinking about writing stuff about games again, I’ve been going through my old stuff and reminding myself why I used to write. I’m actually proud of a lot of what I’ve done on this blog, which is surprising. What was more surprising was being unable to find articles I knew I had written. I distinctly remember writing the below bit about Bioshock, for example, but I cannot for the life of me remember where on the Internet it’s got to. Luckily, I kept soft copies on the hard drive, so I’m now able to post it for your reading pleasure, along with a few other finished pieces I’ve found.
The following was originally written 2 May, 2009.
A stream of water breaks over an outspread palm of leaves, trickles like glass down a metal bulkhead overgrown with ivy, and pools at your feet. The pool swells. It creeps over the floor then down a small flight of stairs and there makes another pool. Here the water stops to accumulate.
If it hasn’t occurred to you before stepping into Arcadia, it certainly does here: Rapture is beautiful. And despite the melodramatic narrative of Andrew Ryan, Atlas, and Jack that takes place within, it must also occur to you at some point that the main character in Bioshock is not the player character or even Andrew Ryan but Rapture itself.
I ran across something interesting while browsing the official Torchlight forums the other day. I had been looking for a way to respec my character (which you can, by the way, with this mod) and instead found a topic called “OVERWRITING SAVES! HERE’S HOW TO AVOID UNTIL NEXT PATCH!” For obvious reasons, I opened the topic and gave it a read.
It turned out to be a post from one of the game’s developers, Travis Baldree, explaining that he had finally discovered why some player’s save files were being overwritten. He explained the problem, detailed a solution, and ended the post with, “Really sorry about this folks, but man, am I glad I found it!” And a smiley face.
The even stranger part? The responses to Travis’ confession were nothing but thanks and compliments to Travis for finding the bug.
“Am I dreaming?” I wondered. “I must have typed a wrong address or clicked a wrong link somewhere. This couldn’t possibly be a video game message board.”
I’m playing on Very Hard mode, and I’m only level 18. Twitter buzz told me the game was too easy on Normal, and many players advocated Hard mode for an actual challenge. But I chose Very Hard. And I just died for the hundredth time. What was I thinking?
Hard mode is different for me to begin with. Ever since I decided I wanted to play through my games, I’ve always chosen normal or easy modes. Most times, the experience and story hook me enough that a challenge isn’t what I’m after. Games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic come to mind. I was so enthralled by the characters in that game that I left the combat on easy so I didn’t have to think about my battles. Pulling off strategic victories in a D&D style fight was simply not where that game shined for me.
Torchlight is different. The secret sauce to diablolikes (which is what we might as well call them) is twofold. First, there is the loot. Second, there is the sublime slaughter your loot summons. Hundreds of games feature character progression and loot. What makes the formula so addictive in the good diablolikes (Diablo II, Titan Quest, Torchlight) is how that character progression is linked with power.
Here’s an example.
This article made it to Bitmob! Find the link here: http://bitmob.com/articles/post-mortem-super-metroid
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