Archive for video games

Remember Me: Human Revolution, Part 2

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hey! It’s been a long time again! Long enough that the “Remember Me” portion of the title holds a lovely double-meaning. This is where we normally do a little house-keeping and then move on to the article, but there’s way more house-keeping than article this week, so we’re going to do things in the opposite order, and that will make sense in a minute.

One of the biggest downsides to writing two-part articles separately is that you never know what will strike between setting down one collection of type and the next. It’s the risk we take in indulging serialized media. I’m sure we all know what it’s like to have something simply cease (#Firefly Feels). But, that’s the dread truth of life, isn’t it? The systems, patterns and truths we use to live our daily lives can betray us at any moment. Not that they will, but they can. And we have to live on in spite of that sonorous unknown. We have to, and we do.

Yet, even benign undulations affect us, which brings us nicely back to where we should have been all along: Google. Search engines are a pretty fascinating element of the internet, because they seem to exist as a clear window of exploration. But, even that’s a clever trick. “What trick?” you might ask. The trick of appearing unbiased and helpful while still encouraging a homogeneity of thought. Whether that’s good or bad, I’ll leave to the scholars.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to go off on some paranoid tangent about big-brother and the NSA. The internet does that enough on its own without me gracelessly adding to it. Believe me, if I had something interesting to say, I’d be all over it, but think of what we’re discussing here as a technology that is related to the algorithm that lets someone build a psychological profile from your browsing history. I’ve beat around the bush enough, so let’s make sure the question that leads to the actual discussion is a mirrored crystal: How does Google decide the order and availability of search results, and how does that affect knowledge distribution, as well as understanding?

This question, and those related to it, are part of a growing sector of academia called the digital humanities. The Humanities, if you’re not familiar with them, are all areas of study that are related to humans, culture and history. This includes Psychology, English, Sociology, History, Anthropology, etc. The Digital Humanities is a sub-set of the Humanities that focuses on how the advent of the computer is changing the ways we understand things. The information sources we rely on. The mediators through which we experience culture. The gate-keepers that control the flow of information that informs our daily life.

Because, if we could be said to have experienced an Apocalypse in the last few decades, then it’s definitely the Rise of the Machines. Computers, obviously. You, as you are right now, sitting in your chair in front of a high-def computer-screen with a touch-phone in arm’s reach, have probably grown up with the idea of computers and the internet, but it’s a serious historical game-changer. Or rather, it could be, but that depends on how we use it. Completing the circle of blather and bringing us back to…

Google is the most popular search engine on the internet. It’s capable of delivering millions of search results in a matter of seconds. It organizes those results based on your prior viewing history, anticipating what you’re probably looking for. Typing in “Titan?” If you’re an anime fan, then you’ll probably see “Attack On Titan” as an option. More of a Final Fantasy 14 aficionado? You’ll probably find an entry or two about his boss fight, if not get an outright suggestion in your search box as you’re typing. Then again, there’s always the Titan missile. A Wiki page on The Titan Rocket family (Yes, I’m Googling as I type…). The Teen Titans. The Titans of ancient legend. Personally, the first thing that popped up for me was Titan, the moon.

But, remember, it’s not just the things you’re most likely to enjoy. Google uses a process that orders your search results based on the viewing habits of other people. That’s why Wikipedia is usually one of the first results you get: everyone goes there. This is a pretty neat system, but it’s got a few obvious problems. The first is that it encourages group-think by increasing the chances that we’ll all be seeing the same information. Which sounds bad, but it also makes it easier for us to communicate, because we’re more likely to have seen the same entries, so we might have some common ground. Just think about the sheer amount of legitimacy and authority that being the first search result alone would lend you as a result.

Of course, it takes a lot of views and a lot of traffic to become the very best. So, if you’re peddling grass-grazer gas, you’re probably not going to get there. It’s a sort of quality-control thing, but it’s not perfect. Then again, what is? It can certainly be manipulated. When I’m working as a freelancer, one of the primary things people worry about is SEO (Search-Engine Optimization). This basically means writing the article such that it’s more likely to be picked out by a search algorithm based on its content. Basically, they want mimetic density in the first paragraph. (If you knew how much I was over-simplifying, you might want an apology. If you do know, then sorry!) If you’re writing about sausages, you’ve gotta make sure you squeeze in every sausage-related tid-bit that might be important to the sausage community into the article. Even your jokes should be sausage-based. Pro: Top results are more likely to be related to your topic. Con: It could just be pandering propaganda.

Again, though, it’s hard for pandering bullocks to hold a slot. Eventually, the popular, the informative and the useful rise to the top. And, it’s not like there’s going to be a standard search-result screen; it’s an active, adaptive process. Come on, admit it, Google is elegant as balls.

So, now that we’re on the same page, you can see how easy it would be for Google to alter the course of human understanding. Hell, even Wikipedia could become a hive of scum and questionable sources. We rely on their integrity and the work of a bunch of anonymous fact-checkers to ensure that the information that guides large portions of the digital world is reliable. We’ve all learned to be sceptical, though, right? You always follow the blue links at the bottom of the Wiki article to make sure it’s not just bollocks? Because, I sure don’t.

So, to be 100% clear, Google is controlling your mind by showing you: the information you already know you want, and therefore already agree with, and exactly what everyone else is looking at. It’s a truism that no one looks past the first page of search results, but it could also be reality. The real question is: do we use Google because we trust them or do we trust Google because we use them? It’s the main problem with having one source of information or a Total Institution. Churches, Schools, Prison systems, Legal Systems, they all face this reality with greater or lesser denial and greater or lesser concern.

Come on, though, it’s not like you only get information through Google. And it’s not like you can’t trust them. I do, wholeheartedly, but I know how easy it is for me to simply accept the information and understanding that I’m given, so I’m wary. It’s even easier if you think you ‘re the one that found the information in the first place. Remember, though, you didn’t: Google did.

Where is all this unhealthy scepticism leading us? Right back to the two games we were discussing in the first post. The reason that a search engine needs to be subjected to that level of scrutiny is that it is the tool you use to explore. To perceive. On the internet, Google is like one part of your sensory system. It feeds you information that you can use to direct your behaviour. It also functions as an extension of your body, as a literal tool, because the functions you can perform are restricted and enabled by the engine. Weird, right? Let’s go further.

Now, say, instead of Google, we were talking about a set of prosthetic legs from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. And, let’s say it’s a bit after the game, so we’ve gotten a little creative with our designs. Now, instead of your flesh-sticks, you’re rocking a set of quadruped robot-legs! Pretty cool, right? It’s not all walking up buildings and winning three-legged races, though. The change is going to fundamentally alter how you understand your ability to shimmy. The design of the legs themselves, the way they bend, their length, size and weight, are going to affect how you can move with them. As a result, your understanding of your body and your relationship to the environment will change.

Bringing it all together… What about your mental environment? If you’ll remember, last time, we talked a bit about mental augmentation, storing memories digitally and increasing processing power by fusing metal and flesh. Now, the issue at hand. Take what we said about Google and apply it to your memories. Your brain. Your understanding of everything you are and will be. Make one memory salient and bring someone to their knees. Make the memories of a sickness seem to last too long and you can shatter someone’s resolve. Associate stomach flu and a food, then BAM! Instant life-long distaste. It goes without saying, then, that the search protocols we use in supplemental prosthetic memory must be under even greater scrutiny.

I can’t stress this super obvious, but easy to underestimate, idea enough: your brain and body enable and constrain everything you are. The tools we use, both mental and physical, refine those abilities even further. From those copious refinements comes a multiplicity of interactions that create you. Change any one of those elements and you’ll change the end result. When we start augmenting people, we’ll start changing what we consider to be human.

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Okay, stop, I’m going to break the 4th wall even harder, right now. This is all I can really remember from the original post I had prepared. However, looking back, I can see I put a couple points in the wrap-up that I promised to cover, so I’m going to do that, now. But, I’m going to talk to you in my own voice, instead of Triv’s. I know it’s a small difference, but there is one. Trivial Punk can’t discuss Trivial Punk with you, and that’s what I want to do. But first…

Procedural memories are those you use to perform actions and tasks. Think of your procedural memory as an instruction booklet for your motor systems. There are two things that immediately shake out from this concept, based on our discussion here; 1: Changing your procedural memory will change how you perform actions. If you could hack into that digitally, we’d have… issues. 2: More applicable to robotic augmentation: if you change the tools used to perform the actions, then your procedural memory will develop very differently. Obvious, again, let’s go deeper. What do we use procedural memory to do besides just perform actions? Inform understanding.

We have a complex empathy system that lets us try to guess at the intentions and motivations of the people and things around us. We know when people are happy, because they smile, but we all know that smiles can mean different things under different circumstances, and we know that, because we’ve smiled. We’ve smiled under hundreds of different circumstances in many different ways. But, what if you didn’t have a mouth? How would you interpret a nervous foot-tap if you didn’t have a foot. Or legs. Or a body? Don’t worry, you definitely can, but you might experience the interpretation of the gesture differently. The memories you use to do the interpretation might be more symbolic than kinaesthetic. Obviously, I’m in full speculation mode, at this point.

In the coming generation, we’ll have to begin talking about the strictures of the human form as we begin to download minds, or human-like minds, into currently inhuman forms. That’s enough to consider on its own. Usually, this whole piece would come down to questions of whether or not they’re human. I don’t have that question; I don’t really care if they’re human or not. If they have minds, then we should unite around that commonality. But, you know, xenophobes will be xenophobes. And maybe they won’t care about us silly flesh-babies, but that’s another future to be decided on at a later date. Any ways, the question I’m eager to ask is: should we place any restrictions on form?

Your first answer would usually be, “Of course not!” That was mine, too, until I really thought about it. If we extend those potential-minds people-privileges, and we DAMN-WELL BETTER! (No, seriously, let’s try to never be slavery-genocide stupid ever AGAIN! That’s going to be the social problem of that age, you heard it here 4, 940, 342nd!) Okay, so let’s say we do extend them those privileges, and we can control their physical form, then how far are we away from slavery? No, seriously, if you give something a mind, but only give it the ability to Roomba around a house, then you’re purposely constraining its physical form in order to ensure that it does your chores. It’s a topic to approach carefully; those are some serious future-crimes.

But, okay, maybe you don’t care about robots, so I’ll leave you with this culmination of these ideas. The human brain is a remarkable processor. I actually don’t know the words to make you realize how amazing it is. It contains a universe that actively understands itself based on electrical signals. Seriously take that all in, now look at yourself… your existence is amazing. Moving on, have you considered the computational abilities of your brain, apart from when it’s actually doing mathematics? Each of us is a phenomenal information processor. You know where I’m going with this. You could take the brain of a developing human, a child, and insert it into a system a ‘la The Matrix, but instead of harnessing bio-energy like an inefficient newb, you control the brain’s environment such that the brain develops into a pure information processor.

Between the man-machine interface we discussed last post and this post’s ramblings about how your physical form affects your mental understandings, can you see the rows and rows of bodies? You don’t need the skin if they’re in a tube. You just need to keep the brain nourished and the nerves alive. Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe you just need it functioning and you’re controlling the nerve-inputs, because they’re inefficient. Plato be damned, brains in vats could represent more computing power than currently exists, if you could access it properly.

Or worse, you could end up a helpless, motionless tube that feels and digests food for another set of organisms, depending on how inefficiently we’re running this thing. So, be glad of your body! Never let anyone tell you that your body is your humanity. And always accept augments from strangers.

Okay, let’s get to that house-cleaning now that there’s a way longer post than I intended to write in front of it!

As you might know, I went on a little hiatus to knock my head-brain around a bit. I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life. I want to write stories. I want to make short movies and silly letsplays. There are so many ideas that I haven’t dared try, yet. You know, standard creativity-dreams. However, I’m also kind of a science-nerd, in some respects. Academia could provide me a life doing the thing I find most interesting: thinking. This year, I’ve got to make a decision about where I begin my future. And, as of right now, Trivial Punk isn’t shaping into a career.

Don’t get me wrong, I do this because I love it. And I’m taking the chance to keep doing it, because I want to make interesting ideas and the primal grips of fantasy the central conceits of my life. I want to encourage people to dream, because the future is forward. It’s up in space. It’s beautiful, terrifying ideas about the nature of our developing consciousness. It’s equality as a given, not something we have to continually fight for. It’s finding humanity in the post-human and hope in our most crushing defeats. And if I write nothing more for the rest of my life, or if you read not one screed, not one iota, more of my writing, then, please, accept this final plea, “Don’t give up on what we can be.”

In the spirit of that idea, I’m going to spend the summer working on videos, articles, letsplay and the like with my friends. We’re still learning, but we’ll put all we have into it. All I ask is that you share the things you like. I’m one person; I can’t do much on my own. But, if each single person does just a tiny bit, then we can accomplish great things. Or plug our work, either one. I don’t like talking, or even thinking, in a mercenary fashion. I don’t enjoy self-promotion, unless it’s too true to be manipulative. So, that’s what I’m doing here. Please, share the stuff you like so that I can do this with my life.

Regardless, I’ll still finish the novel I’m writing. We’ll still make videos and put in the time. It’s up to us to make this work. But, let’s be honest, all my work means nothing if nobody sees it. That’s it, cards on the table, honest. Any number of things could change in a given life, so who knows if any of this will hold true in the long run. Literally no one can say. But, it will always be helpful to share the things you like on the internet.

I’m sure you’ll notice some new stuff in the next couple of weeks; here are a couple of new things I’m trying, let me know what you think!

Dead Space Letsplay – Trying something a bit different with this one. Let me know what you think! Did you have enough time to see them all? Were they in the way? Entertaining? Funny? Existentially disturbing?

Doom 3: BFG Edition Letsplay – Simple and sweeeeet.

Dark Souls Letsplay Turbo Preview – The best and fastest way to see us die over and over again.

That’s it for today! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you on the other side.

You’ve Been Doing WHAT With Your Time?

Posted in All the Things with tags , , , , on January 26, 2014 by trivialpunk

Where is my head at, indeed? It can be difficult to explain precisely why there are days I can write and days I can’t. It’s especially difficult when that day stretches on longer than a week. I mean, it’s not the food at that point, is it?

In any event, today isn’t one of those days I can write, either. I sat down, stared at my post notes for today and said, “I can’t… I can’t make that sound like words right now. I’m just gonna write whatever.” So, that’s what this is.

But, I’m not here to waste your time entirely. I may have been slacking on the posts, but I’ve got three new videos up for those of you who are into that sort of thing! (Silent Hill: Homecoming – Part 3 – The Spider Episode) (Doom 3: BFG Edition – Part 1 – Getting Controls Under Things) (Hotline Miami – One Shot – My Eyes! The Goggles Do Nothing!)

What else have I been up to? Well, I’m assuming you don’t want to hear about class, so let’s get to the game stuff. I replayed a few games with a friend of mine. We hit up LIMBO, Trine, and Intrusion 2. I know. I can’t get enough indie platforming, either.

That transitioned nicely into the next weekend, during which we played The Last of Us. I have to say, even after all this time, and a replay, that game still sticks with me. “I believed him.” HA!

Last weekend, we pulled out a shiny new Xbone and hooked it up to a 60 inch plasma. That was a nice time. I got to check out Ryse: Son of Rome, which looks just as good as you think it does. Then, we played some hockey (NHL 14), despite the fact that I’m not really a fan. (Odd for a Canadian, eh?) Finally, we spun up CoD: Ghosts and played Extinction mode for a while. Extinction is the replacement for zombies. It’s aliens instead of zombies and hive-destroying instead of crawler-camping.

I’m a big fan of the CoD: BlOps Zombies mode; it’s a lot of fun to team up with a buddy and mow down the shambling remains of the Nazi threat. Or to just take on zombie Romero. Whatever works. Extinction mode is equally fun, and it tacks on a few extras to keep things interesting. You can customize your character’s ability load-out before combat begins and then activate those abilities in-game by enabling them through a levelling system. Once enabled, you use the money you gain killing aliens to activate them. But, you also use that money to buy guns and perks, so it fits in nicely.

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The alien design isn’t particularly original, sort of Lilo by way of Sunset Overdrive, but it’s fluid and solid. No, not a colloidal suspension, I mean that they are easy to keep track of but fast enough to miss.  At the moment, there’s only one Extinction map available, but it’s a doozy and more are coming. Also, more aliens show up as you progress, so you won’t be disappointed. Even so, repetition is the lesser-known Dagger of Damocles hanging over the head of Engagement. The leveling system and tactics will buy it some time, but we can only hope that they don’t charge too much for the map-packs.

Those of you following my Twitter won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Blackflag. I finished it today. The ending was a bit anti-climactic, and there were a few features that clashed… There were even whole sections, like the underwater diving areas with the sharks, that I hated. However, all that being said, for a game of its size, its quality is amazing. This is the best Assassin’s Creed game to date. If you’ve ever been a fan of the series, or you just feel like blending some free-running into your high-seas adventures, then you owe it to yourself to give this game a try.

Just… don’t be a ridiculous completionist like me. Those last couple of sync percentages would take hours to earn… but, I still think of them. In the night. During the alone times.

That’s what I’ve found time to play this last month. If there are any LP series that you would like to see more of, or if there’s a game you’d like to see us play, then let us know! I’m going to go see if I can hammer these notes into actual text for next time.

Cheers!

Happy New Years!

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on December 30, 2013 by trivialpunk

Hello! So, I was thinking about it, and you might be happier knowing the date of my next post. You see, I spent my holidays recovering from this year. Resting and fighting the mid-twenties, graduate-year angst of what I’m going to do with my life. I’m doing much better now, but I’m on my way out the door and I’ve got plans until after New Years. You know me.

So, the next post from Trivial Punk will come on January 5th, 2014. I’m not sure what it’ll be about, but I’m thinking about what kind of stuff I do here and trying to decide how best to proceed in 2014. I’ve worked on quite a few projects over TriviPunk’s life-time. Some were put aside. Others were quietly released. This year, I’m thinking of simplifying and focusing.

Stuff I’m hanging on to that you know about:
Trivial Punk on YouTube
Trivial Writing (Story section only)
Gloam (I’m nowhere near done it yet)

Stuff I’m hanging on to that you don’t know about:
An Unannounced Novel
The Binder
Code-name: The Pilgrim
The LOMG

Stuff I’m letting go:
Duel (The Online Version) -no funding, no staff

I would also like to offer my sincerest apologies to Recollections of Play and CheeeseToastie, both of whom nominated me for awards: The Versatile Blogger Award and Blog of the Year awards, respectively. Thank you for your nominations, and I sincerely apologize for having a brain too full of frappe’d guacamole to accept in a timely fashion. I feel that it’s been far too long for me to accept them properly, but I’m grateful for the mention. Go check them out! There’s a reason I follow them.

Good luck to you in this new year. Kick some ass! You know, metaphorically.

Here’s wishing you many bright days and High Scores in 2014! Stand steady against the flow of the years, and I’ll see you on the other side.

-Trivial Punk

Oh, and here’s a little something just for you. My name, Trivial Punk, has many different meanings and ways to shorten it. Trivial Punk was something I thought of as a throw-away name for on-line Go games. I wanted something that reflected my awareness of my own insignificance, but also something that would be ironically poignant if I ever became successful. It also gestures towards my love of trivia.

So, Trivial Punk is a reference to my state as a single, unimportant being, my love of things trivial and the irony of how we think of things of relative unimportance. And, if you’re reeeeal good, it shortens to Tri-Pun, for obvious reasons. What’s in a name? Oh so very much and nothing at all. It’s Trivial.

Happy New Years 😀

The Hobbit: TDoS – Spoiler-Lite Brand Review

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by trivialpunk

Well, look at me all posting twice in the same week. I just watched the new Hobbit movie: The Desolation of Smaug and I had to weigh in on it while it was still fresh in my mind. I had a couple of problems with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. To this day, it’s still hard to nail down what they were. Something about the cinematography reminded me too much of the LotR series. I mean, it makes sense, because they were in the same world and created by the same director. But, it felt like the style clashed with the narrative.

The Hobbit has always felt like a pretty personal story to me; it’s much smaller in scale than The Trilogy, even though it’s epic in its own right. So, the panoramic vistas and huge tracking shots felt weird. That’s the closest I can get to articulating my feelings towards the film. It’s not even 100% accurate, because, upon re-watching it, I can’t rightly say one way or the other if that’s a fair assessment. Whatever the issue was, it was completely gone by the time of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I don’t know if it was the relative size of the film or if the cinematography was different or if I’d swallowed some unusual mushrooms before viewing the original, but TDoS just felt right.

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I don’t know if it was because the story was a little more cut up, so there were plenty of cut-aways, or if the film itself just came into its own, but this instalment in The Hobbit trilogy is definitely worth seeing. If you were on the fence at all, then this is my textual shove in the “watch” direction. I’m not going to spoil anything here, because I want you to go check it out, but I will point out a few things I noticed that aren’t exactly plot-relevant.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: this isn’t the book. People going in and expecting to see the book are going to be a little disappointed. It doesn’t deviate wildly, but they added some things and changed the pacing a bit to make it more viewer-friendly. And I think that’s great. Too many book-movies will spend time trying to be exactly faithful to the original incarnation, oblivious to the fact that you can’t expect one medium to translate perfectly into another without an awareness of what the mediums do best and how the audience experiences them.

They added a couple of sub-plots in just the right places. The dwarves split up in Lake Town for an unspecified-here reason, which is appropriate, because it gives each dwarf a little more personality. They’re helping to hold up three movies, so you have to hope that they each get a little personal development. A heady task when your cast is 13 dwarves and a burglar.

Legolas makes his contractual appearance, but it’s not really obnoxious. It feels… right? Maybe that’s not the word, but it flows into the narrative pretty damn well. They put him opposite a female elf that gave me Brave vibes the entire movie. I can’t unsee it.

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I mean, am I crazy, or does anyone else see it?

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Green dress, red hair, bow and arrow, liberal attitude towards established authority, heart of gold, total bad-ass… Either way, she was a welcome addition to the cast. The fight-scenes with her and Legolas are sublime. The combat, in general, maintains its choreography par excellence status. It’s serious sword-play interspersed with some high-level ranger action and a little intense slap-stick.

Some effort is put into making the dwarves more sympathetic by making them fight for their homeland a bit more stringently. In the book, they just kind of show up and piss off the dragon, then let the lake-dwellers clean up the mess. Here, well, let’s just say the fight that caps the movie is cinematic gold.

I saw the film in 3D AVX, so the theatre could take advantage of the greater FPS of the cameras used to film The Hobbit trilogy. You might not notice it if you saw it in the standard theatre, because only some theatres are set up to take advantage of the increased frames-per-second, but the footage was super smooth. It was honestly a bit weird, at first, but, as I settled in, I started to appreciate the added fluidity, especially during the dragon sequences. Even the 3D was used to great effect, notably in… Mirkwood. uuugh… I don’t like things with 8 legs that move with hydraulic motion outside of water. I hid my eyes like a child for a few seconds at one or two particularly disturbing scenes. It helps that I’ve got a bit of a phobia of giant spiders.

But, even the portion with the bee on the screen was effective in 3D. Even so, I do have one particular request to make of film-makers: can you please stop doing the “thing stabs out of screen” shtick? It doesn’t look real. It doesn’t catch me off-guard. It just reminds me that I’m watching a film. Sure, drop something on the screen or have something hover in front of it: that gives us time to appreciate the detail or get caught off-guard by the impact, but nothing looks real -stabbing- out of a screen. I thought we figured this out in My Bloody Valentine 3D. That’s a tiny, irrelevant complaint, though, because the rest is done so well that I’ll forgive the occasional jolt out of the action.

The acting is on par with the rest of the series. Everyone possesses exactly the right amount of gravity and Gandalf is always appreciated. Thorin in particular carried his role very well. And Martin. Let me stop for a second and talk about Martin, because he sold it for me. Somewhere between awkward English slapstick and sheer determined Hobbitness sits Martin’s Bilbo. His scenes in the Dragon’s Hoard are particularly lauwkward (laughably awkward), and his moments as the burglar and the invisible sting are The Hobbit manifest. He’s not MY Hobbit in MY imagination, but he’s a damn good real-world equivalent, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Boondonoddle Cambridge-mat was a believable Smaug, and I have to wonder if those two are ever going to be in a movie where Benzedrine Cabbage-patch plays subordinate to Mr. Freeman (I guess we’ll have to wait for the new Sherlock to find out). In any event, I love their chemistry. Even if, well, the movie takes a very interesting approach to the heat that comes off of flames. And it never bothered me before, but I remember noticing that the ancient races of Middle Earth have a complete and reckless disregard for railings. I have to wonder how many more members of the Old Races fell to clumsiness before hubris. I guess that’s why the elves that remain are so nimble and the dwarves are so stout. Low center of gravity, ya see?

For a two and a half hour movie, it went by pretty quick. The only time it lags a bit is towards the end, but, by then, well… you’ll get it. The Hobbit’s approach to politics is pretty interesting, too. No one is portrayed as simply in the right. Greed is used as a powerful tool for good in the right hands, but it’s also an extremely destructive force. Just like real life! Speaking of politics, there’s a greater depth to the whole situation than there was in The Hobbit the book. Effort is made to tie the franchise to the LotR Trilogy and it succeeds to an admirable degree. Shhh… spoilers.

Also, the whole thing looks awesome, but you knew it would going into this. I’m not sure what they’re working with over in Hollywood, but it’s deep Magick. On that note, they cut out the fairies in Mirkwood, but, overall, the set is fantastic and largely excuses the lack of Fairy-folk. I’m guessing that the fairy dinner would have been a bit difficult to sew into the tone of the rest of the piece, but the manner in which they write it out is totally believable.

The final surprise of TDoS was Stephen Fucking Fry. I love this man in everything he’s in, and he played a right brilliant bastard this time around. I don’t know what your feelings towards the guy are, but he’s a treat in this film. Even comes with his own Wormtongue. In closing, go see TDoS and keep an eye on the number of barrels for me.

TDoS.
TDoS Run.
…RUN!!…

100 Posts and It’s Finally Just About SH2

Posted in All the Things, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2013 by trivialpunk

Well, here we are again. It’s always such a pleasure. God, but I do love ripping off Portal 2, don’t I? Did you know there was a Portal movie in the works to be produced by J.J. Abrams? He’s working on the Half-Life movie, as well. I wonder if he realizes exactly how important those franchises are… well, he’s in charge of both Star Trek and Star Wars, so I’m guessing it doesn’t matter all that much. This guy’s got pop-culture by the balls and no one seems to notice. That’s a pretty big responsibility; I hope he takes it seriously.

Anyways, the reason I’ve gathered you all here is because it’s time for this blog’s 100th post! I know, I took forever to get it together, because I took time off for final exams and term papers without announcing it, but you read my work, so you’re nothing if not patient. I have interesting ideas for future posts, but I’ve been doing puff pieces about stuff close to me leading up to today, so I figured we’d just keep up the momentum and talk about a game I love with every quantum of my heart and soul: Silent Hill 2.

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No, I’m not going to do a retro review, because there are a ton of those already. Besides, I reference and deconstruct this game so often in my other posts that it would be downright redundant to do it here. It’s the source material, the well-spring from which my understanding of horror springs. It’s The Grudge wrapped in SpecOps: The Line sprinkled with Friday the Thirteenth. And I absolutely adore it. Granted, the first time I played this game I was 13, so there’s bound to be a little nostalgia blindness mixed in there. If you think it got to me a bit early, then keep in mind that I was  11 the first time I played the original.

Playing these games was like accessing some deep, forgotten Magick. It was dogmatic taboo channelled through riddles of reference and ominous symbolic meaning. I lapped it up. Nothing about this game pulled any punches. It didn’t have to be gory, because it became a part of me. It showed me my hypocrisy with hideous clarity. BUT, at the same time, it taught me. It showed me ideas and worlds I had never considered before. Growing up in a Catholic school and bathed in the mythologies of Greece and Rome, I hadn’t even considered that something other than an outside force could grant forgiveness. Silent Hill 2 changed all that.

Best of all, it didn’t talk down to me. It didn’t stop to explain to me that the town was the cite of hundreds of sacrificial rituals. There were no support characters explaining that pyramid-head was the executioner, the final punisher of prisoners in the traditions of Silent Hill’s historical fun-land. No one had to explain that the world was a foggy psychological landscape. It was all symbols, quips and half-erased memos. You know what it took to cement my understand that the world I was seeing wasn’t the “real” world? (By the way, this was my introduction to absurdist relativism) On the staircase, when you confront Angela in the hotel and her entire world is on fire, in that brief moment when their understandings intersect, I realized that the world I was seeing wasn’t the “truth.” It was my own tortured mind turning in on itself so far that it became reality, like some weird Escher nightmare. It was my truth.

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To this day, this realization informs so much of my understanding of human folk psychology. And, it keeps me from looking down on kids. If I could intuitively grasp a concept of that magnitude in an instant of interactive learning, then not only are games incredible tools for learning, but we’re kidding ourselves when we talk to thirteen year olds like they’re stupid. They may not be aflush in wisdom, but that’s kind of our job to bring across.

Anyways, we’re just going to talk about some of my favourite moments in the game and what they meant to me. The little red save squares are kind of a tradition in Silent Hill. No, not the squares themselves, but the method of saving telling you something about the protagonist. SH3 had the religious symbols from the church. SH1 had notepads, because Harry Mason was a writer. But Silent Hill 2’s save point are straight up the letter you received from Mary that brought you here. Incidentally, as you slowly learn the truth of it all, that letter fades from your inventory until it disappears, because it was never real to begin with. It was all part of your own self-flagellation. Your own necessary delusion that you’ve been using to protect yourself from reality.

Then, there’s the memorial you find on one of the streets. It’s a stone tablet  that details some of the tragedies that have taken place in the town. It’s a nice bit of background, because it highlights both why you’re here specifically and gives the neighbourhood an eerie magic. Finding the radio by following the blood-trail has always been a favourite of mine, as well as finding the notes that act as a sort of monster tutorial. All of these things let you know that the place you’ve stepped into isn’t friendly. There are no warning lights, no jump-scares, and the only other people you find are either raucously unhelpful, frustratingly uncommunicative or dead. Even the monster introduction is a figure lurching into the fog, followed by it calmly shuffling up to you in a cut-scene. The horror isn’t about freaking you out. You’ll freak out because it’s horrible and inevitable.

Because, the story of Silent Hill 2 was already written before the game started. I mean, more than just literally. You spend the greater part of the game uncovering the truth and learning how to deal with it. And, depending on your actions in the game, how you deal with it in the end changes. If you stopped to listen to the conversation in the Long Hallway, your introspection is rewarded with a healthy dose of reality. If, however, you choose to barrel on through because you don’t care about it, then you get to cry and die, my friend, because you’ve already decided that wallowing in guilt and anger is more important than engaging your inner demons.

Yes, the whole thing is kind of Jerry Spring-esque. You do come here to deal with your problems, but, more to the point, you come here because you have problems that need dealing with, a subtle but important difference. Eddie, the chunky dog-killer, ends up murdering his tormentors. Angela is once again unable to stand up to her abusive father. But, they still get to run around this mental playground in the hope that they’ll figure their way out. Instead, Eddie goes kill-crazy and you have to put him down like a rabid animal. Angela… well, she walks back into the flames, although she’s clearly been busy sewing her tormentors to the walls. Here’s a little background music.

The bosses you face are, for the most part, the demons of the town’s other inhabitants or your own angry self-reflections. There are the cage-monkeys, which are really bodies in bed-sheets and you know why that’s important. The Abstract Daddies of Angela’s nightmares. Eddie himself, because he’s pretty much a demon by this point. Your own demonic wife, the grand-mummy of the cage monkeys. And Pyramid Head. Yes, I know he shows up in other games because he’s the executioner of Silent Hill, but, here, he’s the straight-up shadow of James Sunderland (Why else would you get his knife?). He is the part of himself that James won’t admit to. Masculine, destructive and cruelly torturous. He is guilt incarnate and violence made manifest. Which makes sense, because James is the executioner, after all.

The one line related to Pyramid Head that has stuck with me all these years related back to the absolution of self-guilt: “I was weak…  That’s why I needed you… Needed someone to punish me for my sins… But that’s all over now. I know the truth. Now it’s time to end this.” I get chills just thinking about it. After playing the entire game living in fear of this invincible Hell-monster, this unstoppable ghoul whose only loss comes from getting bored and wandering off, James Sunderland takes back control of his own life and serves, once more, as the arbiter of his own destiny. Though all may judge a man, only a man may truly judge himself. That works pan-sexually, too, but it loses some of its pithy zing when you take out the shortest words available to refer to people. Honestly, that’s why writers use “man.” It’s all about simplicity of word-length. But, if we’re going to topple years of Patriarchy in literature, then we really should use, “Thought all may judge an individual, only an individual may truly judge itself.” There, ideology over style, because some things are more important.

Moving right along, after pinging away at the Pyramid Heads (yes, there are two now, reflections and all) for a while with a hunting rifle, they just up and kill themselves, because that’s the ultimate result of self-loathing untempered by self-understanding, leaving James to ascend the stairs to confront his own sins: the smothering of his sickly, deformed wife. Now, depending on your level of involvement in James’ nightmare world, you can either take this as a kindness or a sickness. Either James did it because he was sick of taking care of her, then, racked with guilt, he self-terminates. Sanitary phrase, that. Or, if you look around and listen to the conversation in the hallway, you discover that his wife asked him to do it. Still morally questionable, but much more understandable.

That’s got to be my favourite part of Silent Hill 2. It doesn’t end by freeing you from your own actions: you still killed your wife. It takes your responsibilities and shoves them in your face to make you deal with them. However, it raises important questions about what those responsibilities are. It deals with difficult issues like euthanasia by presenting them and letting the player decide. Yes, you get to leave Silent Hill after you discover the truth and face it, but the redemption is personal, not moral. You still had to visit this nightmarish town. You still had to face punishment. You still had to accept the mantle of responsibility for taking those actions. After all, you held the pillow. Or, rather, James did.

You are still guilty, but, perhaps, you can still redeem yourself, if you acted well. No one can let you off the hook but yourself. But, you also have to be your own Judge. Self and social responsibility… you know the systems that play with these notions, but rarely are they presented so frankly. The whole thing is complex and tragic. There is no true moral lesson, only interesting questions. Best of all, no one shows up to explain it all to you, because it expects that you can use your own mind. And, look at that, you definitely are. This was one of the first times I remember being treated like this by any form of media, and I truly appreciated it… Like a mother-fucking adult.

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Oh, Pyramid Head… How I am thee. The game is also full of strange WTF moments. Like the inexplicable game show in the elevator where you answer trivia questions about the town. I’m not at all ashamed to admit I knew them all by heart. There are the interesting cross-over clues you find that refer to murders or murderers in the town that tie-in to Silent Hill 4. Then, there’s the whole resurrecting your wife ending where you uncover pieces of the town’s ancient mythos and become proficient enough in ancient ceremonies to banish the demon from her body and resurrect her from the dead. Of course, you can only do that on the second play-through, once you have the chainsaw and have experienced the full force of the actual story, because that really only makes sense. The second play-through is your own revisionist history, how meta. It would sort of take away from it if you could just pop her back to life afterwards.

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Oh, did you know that if you  hold the chainsaw long enough, James’ idling animation is a scream? No? Well, feel free to test it out. My favourite ending has to be the alien one, though. Alien endings were kind of a staple in Silent Hill, which shows you that the series takes itself exactly as seriously as it needs to. Like Castle, when you’re frank about yourself, you don’t have to worry about being a little silly. Or weird.

Speaking of weird… Sticking your hand in the wall with the weird Ba-dooung sounds still sort of freaks me out, especially when the controller vibrates. See? that’s how you do jump-scares. You build up to them and then pay them off. Give me something to dread… like sticking my hand into a wall-hole for no good reason. But James is no stranger to sticking his hand in weird places. Remember in Silent Hill 3 when Heather refuses to root around in a disgusting toilet?

That’s because James did it in this game. You pull a disgusting chunk of something out of a crap-filled toilet and, surprisingly, it’s not just a big piece of poo. It’s a wallet with a safe combination in it. Which you use to get a cache of ammo someone was clearly saving up just in case something like all of this bullshit actually happened. Too bad they died on the toilet without getting a chance to utilize it.

Then there’s sticking his hand through the metal grate in an attempt to reach a key on the other side… only to have his hand stomped on by a little girl he’s trying to help. She actually marks the first time I’ve hated a character, especially a small child, in anything, but then, subsequently, came to understand, even empathize with, them. I’m sure there were plenty of opportunities to really think about empathizing in other media, but Silent Hill 2 got me invested in the world and characters by giving me something to think about while not being too obvious.

That sums it all up, really. Silent Hill 2 was engaging because every part of it was morally ambiguous and mentally challenging. To this day, there’s one thing that still bothers me…

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WTF!?

Thanks for reading through 100 posts! Some of the other bloggers in the sphere have a List-mas thing planned that I’ll be participating in, but, other than that, we’re back in black. Or, I guess, on the blog it’s grey on black sprinkled with orange, but now I’m just being pedantic. See you on the other side! … of 100!

One of my Silly Ideas

Posted in All the Things with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2013 by trivialpunk

This is number 99, yo! I was sitting here thinking of what I was going to do for these last couple arbitrarily designated posts. Number 100 is going to be something kind of personal, so I figured that I’d do something I’ve wanted to do for a while on this post. You see, I started this blog for a few reasons. Most obviously, I wanted to improve my writing skills and to have a place to put my thoughts on horror. I also wanted to spread my love of the genre and games in general. But, there’s a place somewhere very near my heart that wants to gain enough notoriety to do some good with my life.

You see, I try to be as nice as possible in my daily life and, though not always successfully, to be there for my friends and family. This last bit has been kind of difficult lately, because I’m so wrapped up in my studies and the ongoing battle for survival that is making a career out of writing. More troubling than that, though, is that there are many things a single person cannot do on their own. The ability to band together and work as a team is one of the things that makes humanity great. We can be very destructive, but we can also perform acts of immense creation and preservation. I assure you, for every individual that’s motivated solely by money, power or anger, there is at least one person for whom benevolence is part and parcel of their daily lives.

It goes deeper than that. Inside each of us is the seed of both of those acts. Inside destruction is the key to creation. Inside creation lie the tools of destruction. It’s one of the interpretations of the yin-yang, and together, they make up the Whole. As humans, we are Gestalt meldings of these two things, and we can tip the balance in either favour within ourselves or within our society. We can’t always do it alone. That’s why we have words and the internet. Words aren’t always enough in the physical realm, but, on here, they are the basis of our communication. Well, that, jpegs, gifs and videos. So, let me use some words to share an idea I had.

Obviously, I can’t do this, because I’m neither a programmer nor an investor. I don’t own a company, and I’m not connected to, well, anyone with scads of influence. Nor do I own a webpage or have any capital. But, hear me out, and even if you hate this idea, maybe it’ll get you thinking.

Do you remember that printable Starbucks Card that was going around? Well, here’s a little reminder, if you forgot about it. Honestly, it warms the heart. That gave me an idea. A game-related idea. I’ve been a part of the history of gaming for as long as I’ve been alive, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time digging back to enjoy some of the classics we built the industry on. There are games out there that are essential to understanding how we got to where we are. They are, in part, the lifeblood of our gaming culture. A culture that I don’t want to see disappear. This isn’t just The Ozymandias Problem. This applies to the gamers of today, too.

As I’m sure you know, not everyone can afford to be a gamer. It’s a really expensive hobby. Maybe this sounds silly, because there are people starving in the world. In the streets and houses of first and third world nations alike. And, it’s not the Desert Bus for Hope, either. Those guys are a stand-up bunch, just like the charities they support. I’m also a big fan of The Humble Bundle people. Pretty great way to spread the availability of games and raise some money for charity, if you ask me.

The longer I write, the sillier I feel, but I also think that we need to preserve the culture we’re a part of. The only real way to do that is to spread the experiences that helped define it. Right now, we’re in a unique position to do just that. We have digital downloads. A presence on the web. And more gamers than ever before. So, here’s my idea. We set up a webpage where we can vote on the most important games in video game history that are available right now. Obviously, we can’t send people a digital copy of Duck Hunt, but we can get copies of Portal, Deus Ex, Half-Life, Warcraft… there are a ton of games that have helped to define modern gaming. I’m not equipped to define it for you.

Then, we make it so you can buy a key. Hopefully, we can get companies on board to provide it at a reduced price. After all, they’re probably not selling a TON of new copies. That key is then made available on another part of the site for anyone who couldn’t afford it otherwise. Or, we group-finance it. Say, you want to make more copies of Star Craft available, but you don’t want to buy the whole thing. So, instead, you donate two bucks to the pot. That pot is then subdivided into the number of copies that total would otherwise buy. $10 bucks a pop. $98 + $2 = 10 copies available for gamers to pick up. And let’s, why not, put a percentage towards a charity or two.

Humble Bundles are great, but they’re only around for a limited time, and we don’t really have a say in what goes in them. This plan would allow us to increase the availability of the games we consider to be formative to people who might be otherwise unable to afford or procure them. And, I don’t think I need to outline the number of ways this would be good for any company involved. PR, sales on dead products, download service traffic. You know, things companies like.

The main point is that everyone should know why the cake is a lie. I’d like it if this could encourage the creation of ports for masterpieces like ICO and Mario 3. I’d also love it if this idea helped bring the good of gaming culture to as many people as possible. Gaming has seen a lot of bad press in the past, but it’s a grand, new artistic medium. It’s the thing that taught me to empathize. To pick up your god-damn sword (or pen, in my case) and do what good you can with the tools you have. I only have words and an idea. That’s nothing, really. Not without the support of others.

Most of all, I’d like it if you’d consider my silly idea. You don’t have to agree, but if it gets you to think for even five minutes about what good you can do in your life, in your community or with your words, then it’s accomplished as much as I could truly ask for. DFTBA.

A Brief History of Trivial Gaming

Posted in Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2013 by trivialpunk

Welcome back. Today, we’re going to do something a little different. You see, I’m approaching one hundred posts on Trivial Punk, and it’s got me thinking. I know a hundred is a pretty arbitrary number, but it reminded me that I’ve been at this for a while. For almost two years, I’ve been bringing you weekly essays on video games, movies and horror. That’s a lot of time and effort being poured into any project. So, I’m starting to wonder, should I end this journey here and pour that into something else? The novel I’m writing, perhaps? Valid and Sound? PsychWrite? Forgotten? University?!

This is post number ninety-eight. In this post, we’re going to talk a little bit about why being a gamer has been amazing for my life. Ninety-nine, I think we’re going to review a game. For one hundred, we’re going to do… you know, I’m not sure. I’ve got a few things planned, but I’ll save it for the day. On that day, I’ll either recommit myself to the cause or tell you about where we go from here. Today, we’re getting a little personal, so here’s a picture of a younger me.

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Look at that guy. All in his dorm, getting ready to go out for Halloween with a little red star painted on his face. Do you think he has any idea what he’s in for? I’ve been a freelancer, a hotel manager, a sandwich artist, a cook, a baker, a candlestick recommender, a clerk, a bartender, a porter… it’s a long list. I’ve been a fiancée and a boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend and a bachelor (I’m reeeeally good at that). I’ve been a wanderer and a homebody, a hitch-hiker and a student. The one thing that has always remained consistent is gamer. I have always played games. From pogs to Pokemon cards, chess to poker, all before the age of six. I have vague memories of playing an adventure game on a black-green monitor in daycare and booting up King’s Quest on a computer with less total memory than my current CPU.

Its been a long ride. People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your time?” while watching Dancing With The Stars without a hint of irony. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting show, but it’s weird to judge someone on how they spend their free time when you’re spending it in an equally innocuous way. Has it, though? One of the things I’m interested in studying at University is the way in which playing games effects your brain. Yes, that’s the right “effect.” But, more than neurochemistry, how has being a gamer effected me?

Well, it’s definitely affected the way I compete. When I was in my early teens, my friends and I used to spend a lot of time and money playing games at our local LAN parlour: Fragz. We were teenage boys, so it was a pretty competitive scene. I still remember spending hours perfecting my rocket jumps and twitch-killing. I got pretty good at using unconventional weapons, too, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. When we played Counter-Strike, I would always start and play with a pistol then scavenge machine guns from the battle field, but you can blame Trigun for that one.

We played Star Craft a lot. Huge multi-hour, multi-player matches that taught me how to deceive and plan. In fact, a lot of my tactical management abilities came out of playing Star Craft. Getting the right units to the right place at the right time is essential to any management scenario, whether you’re running a Casino or crushing the Protoss (Zerg 4 life.). I wasn’t the best at any of these games, though. There were plenty of players that spent a lot more time gaming than I did. They had their game specialities, and I was trying to be pretty good at everything on a budget. I was playing Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic the Gathering at the time, so you can guess that I didn’t have a ton of cash lying around to buy game time with.

Still, there was a certain synergy to it all. Playing cards games is a great way to learn how to read an opponent, plan an overall strategy and execute logical functions. Seriously, when I studied Maths in school, nothing helped me more than the time I spent pwnings nubs and taking Life Points. Even here, though, I wasn’t the best. I didn’t have to money to buy the shiniest new cards, so I had to think differently. I had to start using unconventional strategies in every game I played to compensate for what my opponents were good at.

When you’re playing against someone that practically breathes rockets or trips over Ultra Rares, you can’t engage them on their ground. You have to get them to play your way. I started using the grenade launcher, because its insane projectile trajectories were difficult to figure out without the necessary experience, and their long fuses often caught people off-guard, especially in a game as fast-paced as Quake 3. Yet, when I really needed to unloaded some damage, a direct hit would cause the grenade to detonate instantly.

Card games were the same story. In MTG, I started playing Blue: the trickiest colour. I learned how to read my opponent’s expectations and violate them as often as possible. The expectations, not my opponent. When it came to Yu-Gi-Oh, I just built decks to beat the standard decks of the time, because there were like three of them. Nothing like a little imagination to slide past roadblocks to success.

However, even with all this, the most important thing I learned was not to hate my opponent. There’s a lot of vitriol that gets spewed on the internet, but that’s not just because those people are gamers. That’s because those gamers are mean-spirited or angry gamers (I know I’m simplifying, but run with me). When I was playing with my friends, we would have to switch around teams constantly. So, my greatest ally could become my deadliest opponent in the time it takes to press free-for-all. It was because of this that I learned how to learn from my mistakes and from my opponents. Love thy neighbour; love thy enemy, because we’re all playing the same game.

Now, when I play on-line, I don’t see some stupid nub who can’t play. I see someone whose schedule is too busy to play every damn day. I know that maybe they’re just having a bad game. Maybe they’re just starting out. I love games. I love playing games. If I want to share that, sometimes that means being patient. Playing at Fragz taught me that I don’t always have to play the way my opponent does, but the flip-side is that my opponent doesn’t always have to play the same way I do. We’ve all got our lives, but if we love games, then that should bring us together, not harass us apart.

Honestly, that’s been my experience. I read quite a bit as a youngin’… still do, actually… and reading isn’t really a social activity. Talking about and loving books can be, but the act of reading is usually a solo activity. Gaming was the key to breaking the shell around me that travelling in a literary universe helped erect. And it wasn’t just social gaming, the fact that someone was a gamer instantly gave us something in common. Let’s ignore sub-cultures for this and just think about it as connecting person-to-person over a common interest. In fact, I met my ex-fiancée because we both played games. I remember it like it was years ago…

She sat behind me in Chemistry, but my friend was sitting behind her. One day, when we were discussing Resident Evil, she piped up with, “Yeah, but Zelda’s better.” I stopped, mid-sentence, and stared. She said that she just didn’t like getting talked over and wanted to say something. From there, we just sort of clicked. Over the years we were together, we had the conversation that followed about the comparative merits of survival horror and action-adventure over and over again. On our third anniversary, I got her a Wiis on launch day, and she got me a PC. We even ran a WoW guild together, nurturing and nudging the newbs we recruited until they were a well-honed fighting force. Eventually, we broke up, but that’s just life. Whatever the reason for it, it was gaming that had brought us together. Let’s see… at about that time, I was wearing this Halloween costume:

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Aww cute. He’s all tuckered out from raving. I didn’t stop running the guild after we broke up, though, because it taught me responsibility. No matter how hard it was, I owed it to my friends and players to keep going. We’d worked too hard to build the Guild to just abandon it. Plus, and this is where things are going to get really strange, World of Warcraft honed my social skills to a fine point.

Do you know how long you have to establish good will when you’re the leader of a 25-person pick-up group or the tank for an instance? Minutes, even seconds. You have to make your players believe that they can trust you, depend on you, to get them to the end of the instance in a decent amount of time and, then, to distribute loot fairly. At the same time, you have to be able to correct people and chew them out without damaging their position in the group or hurting their feelings. Making people feel bad about a performance is NOT going to improve their play. Nerves and all that. It gave me my voice and taught me to be confident in my decisions. Even today, I can always use a little of that.

We can skip over what I learned about economics from the Auction House and mimetics from Trade Chat. Suffice it to say that I’ve written roughly five papers on topics gleaned specifically from World of Warcraft. MMOs are their own human ecosystems, after all.

Problem solving, social relationships, academic considerations… there’s no part of my life that gaming hasn’t touched. Even family. One of my best, clearest memories of my dear departed mother is playing Mario 3 with her. She did that thing that people do where they flick the controller while they jump like it’s going to help them go farther. I bet she would have loved the Wii. Tailor-made. My sister and I still talk about playing Wave Race on the N64. Even my dad helped me solve puzzles in Myst and learn how to catch a baseball. Together, we would play Chess and Go. And we all used to play cards. Poker, Bridge, Rummy… the whole family would gather round and play Sevens or Hearts. When I was eight, I won a lot of money at extended family gatherings from playing Rummy. Well, it seemed like a lot.

The important thing to me was the play, though. We might call it engaging today, but I just called it fun. We call it social media and social gaming, but the truth is that the social comes from us. It comes from players –People– spending time together, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. That large family has sort of drifted apart. I’m far away in another city studying every day and writing posts, making videos and playing games. But, I still have that memory. Those memories. I have gaming to thank for that. I have my family to thank for letting me join in their play.

From all that, I learned the most important lesson of all: how to include someone. Gaming with my family, friends and significant others taught me that no matter what game I’m playing or who I’m competing with, the person on the other end is a human just like me. It’s shown me how to treat them like a person and, if need be, to help them learn how to play. Most of all, it’s ingrained in some deep, secret place of my self that games are more fun when everyone can play.

So, Dear Reader, while I don’t know who you are or what you’re about, I can appreciate that you’re a person. Gaming links us. Sports, cards, PC, Playstation or XBox, we’re all gamers. It’s part of the human condition. Now, the next time someone asks you why you’re wasting your time gaming, you can say, “Because I’m human, and it’s a thing we can do.”

And, you know, while I was going to wait and think about whether or not I should continue writing Trivial Punk, writing this post has made me realize that I should. Sure, it costs time, money and energy, but, like my Guild, I’ve worked too hard at this to just abandon it. So, many happy returns! And, just to show you how far I’ve come to get here, here’s a picture of last year’s Halloween costume… I’m sure you’ll recognize the mouth, if you look up.

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Halloween Steam Sale Buyer’s Guide 2013

Posted in All the Things with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2013 by trivialpunk

It’s that frightening time of year: the time when another Steam sale is out for your blood-money. But what to buy to tickle your scaredy-pants, you might wonder. Well, wonder no longer! As someone who feels it’s his sacred duty to support horror-themed games, I can help you save your money and escape the Steam Money Massacre ali… still affluent.

First, some general advice. You might think it’s a good idea to pick up some of those 5 dollars games now that they’re a buck-fifty, but really think about that for a second. You aren’t playing all the games you buy on Steam as it is. If you really wanted to play that game, you’d have bought it at its 5 dollar price-point. The fact that it is now a dollar-fifty doesn’t make the game any better. It may make you feel better about buying it, but it won’t increase the quality of the time you spend playing it.

Don’t forget to check out the reviews for a game. Even games that sound like really neat ideas can fail in their execution. Also, Halloween-themed games seem like a great idea, but if you want something to scare you in honour of the holiday, then don’t sink your money into a re-skinned version of Diner Dash. Animated pumpkins don’t alter game-play. Unless they do, then umm…

Slender is a massively popular game on-line, so Slender: The Arrival seems like a natural buy, right? Well, hold on. Play the original game, because it’s free. Then, decide if you want to play a better-looking, but not significantly different, version of the game that’s going to cost you money.

Costume Quest is a cute, not at all frightening, game from Double Fine studios. If you like quirky mechanics and a fun aesthetic that weeps personable charm, then pick it up.

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a surprisingly good, fairly graphic, first-person crime-solving brawl-em-up. Enter at your own risk.

The Walking Dead is well-known for its zombification of the Adventure game genre, and we all know that making something a zombie makes it like 30% cooler.

Anna is bad. It literally gave me a headache while I played it. It’s messed up in almost every way possible, though, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then it’s your five bucks.

Dead Pixels: Cool concept let down by unbalanced mechanics.

Penumbra is the series that pre-dated the Amnesia series. It’s by the same developer. It’s scary. It includes physics puzzles.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent: If you haven’t gotten this game, and you’re a fan of the horror genre, then I’d really consider getting it. It takes advantage of the years of experience that the studio had making the Penumbra games.

Lone Survivor: Side-scrollent Hill

Eldritch: Eldritch actually means strange. And this blocky Cthuloid adventure is certainly that.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened: A Sherlock mystery-adventure game about Cthulhuian cults. They literally made this game for me.

Limbo: for those who like platformers and are terrified of giant shadow-spiders.

DMC Devil May Cry: Not at all terrifying. A LOT of fun to smash away at.

Dead Space: It’s still a lot of fun. However, if you don’t feel like buying it, you could always play Resident Evil 4 while watching Event Horizon.

The Wolf Among Us is a cautionary tale about why you should wait for more episodes to come out before buying into an episodic adventure game. It will draw you in. Prepare to howl with frustration at the fact that you have to wait for the next installment.

Damned: Organic, multi-player survival-horror. Why are you still reading this and not playing that?

Resident Evil 6: Playable but ridiculous.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City: Just buy a CoD game.

Painkiller Series: If you loved Quake and Doom, then you’ll enjoy this.

Outlast: a technical masterpiece let down by an incredibly linear story that relies on repetitive game-play. Worth getting if you just want your horror spoon-fed to you by a nanny that only occasionally pries off your finger-nails with a coat-hook.

Alan Wake: A third-person shooter about the super-powers of writers. I love it, for some reason. The narration and story-line alone are worth getting it for, as well as the interesting little philosophical side-notes. Besides being quite beautiful, it’s also very engaging. A tad repetitive on the shooty-front, and you’ll see all the dark, spooky forests, but if you find yourself watching each and every television in the game, you’ll know it was worth it.

Paranormal: An interesting little haunting simulator. Not exactly terrifying or graphic, but if you can sink into it, there’s a break-neck descent into a personal hell just waiting for you to click Purchase.

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill: A game for those who need to improve their secretarial skills, but also laugh at exploding zombie-guts. Honestly, surprisingly, worth playing.

Sniper Elite Nazi Zombie Army: All the head-shots ever.

Deadly Premonition: A port of a cult-classic. Not exactly cutting-edge, but worth your time to consider.

Dark: Vampires the X-men and contextual button-pressing about sums it up.

F.E.A.R. Series: a bullet-time FPS that only occasionally flips out and injects acid directly into your character’s brain.

The Swapper: Surprisingly atmospheric puzzler.

S.P.A.Z.: Fun time-killer, but kills your time for no adequate reason.

Silent Hill: Homecoming: an American developer’s first attempt at a boxed-console Silent Hill game. Not bad, actually.

Deadrising 2: Kill all the zombies in all the ways.

BioShock: Get if it if you don’t have it. Played it? Good.

Home: a short, fun little adventure story about doing horrible things.

Resident Evil 5: Just… okay, you get to punch boulders into a volcano. But, the AI partner sucks. Don’t play solo.

Prototype Series: If you don’t have Saints Row 4 and you want to play as a super-hero, then this is the one for you.

Aliens: Colonial Marines: Don’t.

Okay, that’s an awful lot to take in, and we’ve only gouged the surface. Still, it should give you something to think about while you stare at your dwindling bank-balance.

Addendum: I was watching today’s Extra Credits video and they recommended I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. It’s a dark, grim, mature look at humanity and questions of our right to exist. I haven’t played it personally, but I bought it immediately on their recommendation, because I trust their judgement. Warning: It’s supposed to be very weird. Thankfully, it’s also super cheap.

Horrors in Their Mediums

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else, Game Guts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2013 by trivialpunk

Horror is not a plot-line, an aesthetic or a monster. Horror is an experience. In much the same way that a game is not an event displayed on a screen, but rather an experience had by a player, horror is a perceptual trajectory. You start out feeling, seeing and thinking one way and you end up in an entirely different mental location. Once, I had a discussion with a writing professor about a story I was working on. He said he didn’t appreciate being tricked into thinking or feeling a certain way by the format of the story. Really?

We don’t read fiction because we want the truth. We read it because we want to experience A truth. The best way to read a book or watch a magic show is with the understanding that you want to be fooled. If the production is good enough, you’ll forgive the minor annoyances and obvious realities in favour of the grand design. We know magicians aren’t psychics. We know writers can’t control what we feel. At least, we know that as long as we don’t allow them to. Much like hypnotism, the trick is in convincing someone that, yes, they want to –and can– go along with things. It places a lot of trust in the hands of the entertainer (magicians, writers, hypnotists), but that’s part of our covenant as audience and performer.

Last post, I rambled on about the creation of an environment for eliciting fear responses from players in role-playing games. One of the pre-requisites of that was knowing what kind of horror you were producing. I didn’t elaborate too much on that particular topic, because it’s almost as complex as a person is. The fears that plague our nightmares are grotesque manifestations of our hopes and dreams. They are us, taken to an unbearable extreme. Pain plays a harsh solo on our most delicate, life-preserving senses. Claustrophobia is the comfort of enclosure taken to an extreme we are extremely uncomfortable with; it crushes our personal space with its invasion. Psychopaths are the delightfully unpredictable nature of humanity twisted towards an unpleasant end… for someone.

Well, that’s one way to look at fear, anyways. It’s by no means the only way, and it’s not even technically correct, but it will give you a window into someone’s experience of fear. For us, for today, that’s good enough, because, today, we’re going to look into horror within its medium. No curtain held, let’s start with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

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This is an old one, and we’re going back this far for good reason. Over the course of your lifetime, television and movies have changed drastically. However, as you are part of that stream of televised evolution, you might not be wholly aware of how the small differences in production, society and design have changed the opportunities available to directors. Most of them are subtle changes, but two obvious ones that have occurred recently are high-definition and passable CG. You don’t have to look very far back to see some pretty terrible CG monsters, and I’m sure we can guess how that would ruin a good horror movie. However, high-def is an even fouler culprit. Now, we can see way too much of the shiny, bloody bastards, so they’re not as frightening. I’m sure you’re familiar with the notion that exposing the monster too much ruins its mystique and takes away from the element of fear (You know, unless the monster is cleverly designed to be seen, but we’ll get to that…). Not only do we see each and every imperfection on a monster’s body, but with high-def came 60 frames-per-second movies. 1080p, 60 fps movies –initially– look unusual to us, because for most of our lives, we watch the 30 fps movie standard. Ironically, things just move too realistically, too fluidly, in 1080p; they look fake, because we’re used to seeing things a different way. You can see how tweaks to the presenting medium can change an experience drastically. So then, why Caligari? Because, it was made before the introduction of colour.

Look at the walls in the scene, the way the lines on them flow towards a single corner. Notice how they twist your perception of the frame slightly. The entire movie is like this, giving everything a subtly-overtly off feeling. Without the need for canted-cameras, we get a sense of the obtuse. Even the make-up is stark, deliberately so. Shadows are deeper, eyes more sunken, wrinkles far sharper. These are techniques used to get around the limitations of the day, yes, but they are also marked advantages.  The set, colours and tone allow the movie to be what it is. If you tried to paint a set in a similar fashion today, in high-def with colour, it would look like the bathroom at a rave.

Even the silent movie aspect allows for a sense of pacing and emotional reaction that would be impossible now. You don’t have to fill your voice with the quaver of convincing fear; you just have to look terrified. The fewer aspects you have to worry about aligning, the less likely you are to run into a detail that pulls the audience out of the experience. Also, not having to compete with dialogue allows the sound-track to do its thing at whatever levels are required by the emotional content of the current scene. I’m not saying that these things don’t also present their own difficulties, I’m just saying that this particular movie would not be experienced or created the same in today’s popular mediums. Thus, we’ll never again experience the sheer contortion that suffuses The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in exactly the same way. (Incidentally, you can still find this film. I’d recommend giving it a watch!) But, let’s step even further back…

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To the era of Lovecraft. No, not the 60’s, I mean the author, H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft and Stephen King are big names in horror literature, but, as you’ll notice, they each have very different styles. That’s influenced by many different things: personal style, type of horror, experience, society… yeah, almost everything plays into an author’s work, but some things that are easy to parse out are the places and things they describe and how they describe them. Stephen King, often, discusses very banal things. He works to reveal the insane with the mundane through the use of frightening events within familiar locales. Not only that, he’s often quite explicit. This is because the world King is writing for, our world, is bathed in the garish light of revelation. Now, the best way to frighten someone is to show them how terrifying that world can be. Lovecraft, on the other hand, was writing for a very different world.

Lovecraft’s horror is slow-building and ominous. His descriptions of strange, alien places, in themselves, make his work off-putting, in a fashion similar to the way The cabinet of Dr. Caligari used its backgrounds. I was actually discussing this with a colleague the other day. Aside from mentioning that the directorial style of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari was perfect for a Lovecraft movie, she also mentioned something I found singularly enlightening. One of the passages in Lovecraft’s work describes an extremely exotic locale, full of fantastic sights and peculiar peoples. When she read it, she said she stopped for a second and said, “Wait, Lovecraft, that’s just Hawaii. I can hop on a plane and go there right now.” And while I envy the notion of freely travelling, I agree that the world of Lovecraft was still full of incredibly foreign notions.

At the time, English society was still enthralled with the mystic Orientals, the exotic Amazonians and the mysterious Egyptians. Of course, today, we can zoom around these locales on Google Maps, and I attend classes with people from each of these locations. The mysticism has faded from the world’s far reaches in our post-modern age. The strangest, most alien place that impinges on our everyday existence is space. The threats to our well-being are quite well-known, though, so the best way to scare someone now is to simply show them their home in a way they’ve never seen it. And, that could be why Lovecraft is still horrendously, awesomely readable.

Aside from being very well written, Lovecraft shows us our world through the eyes of a profoundly different society. It makes the world itself alien. I once wrote a work that ended up being similar in tone and style to one of Lovecraft’s works. It was criticised for the style of its language because it didn’t feel right next to contemporary references. Yet, it’s that very alien nature that makes the story readable. This comes back, in part, to what I was saying earlier about allowing yourself to experience something. As a contemporary author, people are pulled out of an experience I create with any linguistic style other than my own, but we are ready to accept Lovecraft’s tone because of his time, so we do. This alien acceptance and separation from our own society only magnifies the content of his work: the Eldritch and the Otherworldly. Things that are so absolutely beyond the scope of human experience that experiencing them rends our minds, or, failing that, are so far outside of our grasp that we can’t even perceive them properly. They’re indescribable. Strange, otherworldly geometries. Experience-induced madness. These are roads well-travelled by Lovecraft. This content resonates with the style of his work, amplifying its effect, regardless of the era you’re reading in. Hmm… but, let’s jump from one literary generation to…

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The wide-world of creepypastas! (If you like the picture, check out the watermark, it’s only fair). Creepypastas are horror stories for the age of the attention derelict. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I love creepypastas; they’re a great way to fit a horror experience into a short span of time. This might sound like a challenge (and it can be), but, again, it’s also an advantage waiting to be exploited. Remember how I said that seeing the monster often reduces its fear-effect? Well, that can apply to many fear-experiences. It’s like porn, most of the time, once you’ve seen the money-shot, the rest is just clean-up. Creepypastas are great for this in that they are almost all pay-off. They’ve got a short establishing section, then it’s right into the horror. Doing this properly can be a real challenge. I know, I’ve tried writing my share, and it’s difficult work.

Each and every section of a creepypasta is incredibly dense. Characterization, motives and monsters are squeezed down into an essential presentation. Yet, since it’s being read by someone ready to accept the world the story quickly presents, these essential elements don’t seem hastily executed on. They’re not being rushed; that’s the format. Even more advantageous, the quick-and-dirty characterization leaves lots of holes for people to fill with their own gooey ego-brains, making it much easier for readers to project themselves into the story. Convincing people to buy into a story, to think about it, and to search for meaning within it, is half the battle when crafting an experience. People reading short-form stories already know that they’re going to have to do just that, which is a huge bonus for any author. Enough foreplay, let’s skip over to games.

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Aha! You thought I was going to talk about the graphical limitations of the Playstation 2 as it applied to Silent Hill 2! Well, no, I’m not going to mention that the feeling of the oppressive nightmare world was enhanced by the fog that was implemented, in part, in order to deal with the limited draw distance of that generation. Not this time! (DAMMIT! >.<) Silent Hill 2 basically has its own section in this blog. Actually, I might eventually give it its own section, but, until then, we’re going to talk briefly about Fatal Frame, the FPS game about a small, ghost-busting Japanese girl. And, by first-person-shooting, I mean with cameras. Capturing the soul and all that. Sort of. The gist of its inclusion here is that Fatal Frame’s graphical limitations, and the graphical state of the industry in general during the PS2 era, allowed for vague, half-seen shapes and half-loaded polygons to flit, uncriticised, across the screen.

What do I mean by allow? Well, we could certainly create games that looked like PS2-era games, but they wouldn’t be received in nearly the same way. If horror is an experience, then it’s readily affected by expectation. You’ve seen that theme running through this entire post. Like the greater frames-per-second of high-definition, we’re influenced by what we’re used to seeing. What we’re used to seeing becomes what we expect to see. We’re pattern-reading beasts, after all. So, while we can still play excellent games like SPC-Containment Breach, Slender and Penumbra, they feel much less immersive than they would have in the year 2000. Still, if you’ve played Outlast, I’m sure you’ll agree that fantastic visuals aren’t all there is to a game, either. Speaking of, I thought we’d round this out with a brief discussion of the high-definition future of digitaining horror.

We may not have the advantage of iffy hardware excusing shadowy figures, but we do have the advantage of visuals that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Look at Outlast. That game looked amazing, and it was only a little bit of writing and some more organic game-play away from being unforgettably awesome (Still good, though). Even so, the graphical fidelity allowed for some pretty chilling visuals (Horror set-pieces, if you will) and a fantastic initial level of immersion. We can now create horror experiences that are eminently visual in nature. Yes, many horror experiences are ruined by the monster-money-shot, but, sticking with the metaphor, what about bukkake? By which of course I mean, what about horror based around the form of the terror? High-definition visuals don’t have to ruin an experience; they can enable it, too. Look at Uzumaki, the horror story about the spiral. Look at… well, just look at spiders. Clowns. (Getting your finger cut off in Outlast). There are plenty of things that scare us because they’re frightening to look at. We just have to find a way to make players see them as horrific in all of their high-definition glory. Also, we have to remember that it’s not ALL about visuals. Hell, you could copy-paste the game-play of Slender or SPC-CB into a game with better visuals and get positive results.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but it takes that simple idea to shift your focus from hiding the monster to displaying it proudly. It’s the same sort of shift that happens when you go from Lovecraft to Stephen King. They’re both clearly writing horror stories, but it would be difficult to derive one from the other. We need to learn from the wisdom of the past, not try to emulate it. I’ve got faith in our devs; they’re up to the task. That’s not idle speculation, either. This era of video games has several other advantages besides high-definition that developers are taking advantage of.

For instance, our physics engines are on another level compared to where they were only a decade ago, and they’re being utilized by games other than Dark Souls to scare our pants off. Paranormal owes its organic haunting experiences, in part, to its physics engine. Thus, paranormal experiences, bloody telekinetic murders and horrific deaths are entirely possible in today’s industry. While it’s still difficult to translate a physics engine into a decent horror story, our current technology can be used to improve the elements of horror that surround the central narrative. Even so, no one ever said that every horror experience had to have a plot. Sometimes, it just has to have a monster.

That’s enough for a multi-player experience and,  relative to history, our multi-player infrastructure is second-to-none. Look at Damned. A game like Damned (on Steam) would never have been able to exist in the pre-broad-band era. Yeah, we had large StarCraft, Quake and Counter-Strike communities, but that’s because… well, that’s most of what we had, besides a few MMOs. We didn’t have gaming platforms designed specifically to bring people to game lobbies. Okay, it’s a little annoying that the next-gen consoles are pushing the open-world, on-line, multi-player aspects of their games so hard, especially for those of us that want a tight, coherent narrative, but that set-up is also enabling some pretty awesome experiences. We just have to design them and find them.

The gaming landscape is changing, so horror experiences have to change with it. That doesn’t mean we abandon the past, though. No, it’s the best source of information on how we can adapt our current understandings of horror to the Eldritch world of next-gen gaming. Some people may say that horror is dead, but they’re just pessimists (When has that stopped a shambling grotesquery before?). Maybe the type of horror we once knew is fading into the shadows, waiting for another day to rend our flesh with its dripping jaws, but horror itself will persist as long as we do. From my perspective, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the terror we can render in 1080p.

Tablet Double Feature: MMoJ and Anomaly

Posted in All the Things, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by trivialpunk

Wow! My throat feels less like a knife-slide and more like a throat! That’s a positive change! Unfortunately, being sequestered in a tiny room of the house meant that I didn’t get to do a lot of the things I planned to do this week, like research and gaming, but I was saved from a total lack of productivity by my new tablet! So, while I didn’t get to create a whole lot, I DID get to consume a whole bunch. It was a feast, dear reader, a feast for the mind-brain.

The first thing I discovered this week was the vlogbrothers. I’m not exactly sure where they and Nerdfighteria have been all my life, but wherever it was, it was too far away. Check them out, if you haven’t already. There’s a veritable learngasm of knowledge waiting for you. There are a bunch of off-shoot programs that they’re involved with or endorse, as well, but, you’ll probably find them the same way I did: by watching their show.

I did manage to finish this week’s Iron Writer Challenge story. It’s my first attempt at a love story, because, why not? Here’s the next Valid and Sound Letsplay, as well. Not toootally unproductive. >.>

BUT, one of the downsides of having a leaky fever-brain is that I don’t get to retain all that much from minute to minute. It makes it very difficult to write, because I usually use my memory to keep track of the synonyms for common words I’ve used and the syntactical forms I’ve employed. It lets me keep things fresh over time. Or, if that sounded too dry, I like to use different word combos to get higher DMC-style ratings. Yeah, that’s better.

Another thing I used my tablet for, as you might imagine, was apps. App games, by design, take very little concentration to play and, thankfully, can always be played on mute. That’s important, because it helps limit the number of times I perceive the feeling that my head is exploding. Which is good. So, other than munching on brain-food and Castle, I also finished two different app-games: Middle Manager of Justice and Anomaly HD. Both of which I will review for you nooow.

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Yeah, I know it’s the PC splash art, but it’s not much different. Anomaly is a reverse tower-defense game that was developed by 11 Bit Studios and published on almost every platform available. Believe me, if you have a screen, you can almost certainly play this game. I got it through the Mobile Humble Bundle a little while ago. The gist of the story is that Earth and then suddenly aliens. The aliens, as per standard procedure, set up a perimeter around their crash site and begin doing alien stuff. That, it would seem, includes building stationary robotic defenses all around the roads of the cities they landed beside. Not like, on the roads, just off to the side.

The Earth reacts by sending in slow-moving, but heavily armed, transport caravans to investigate the situation. A task you carry out by slowly moving around the roads between buildings, instead of, say, anywhere else. But, this is just the set-up for an offensive TD-game. No, it’s not offensive as in bad. Your job is to troll through the towers and take them down with your blasty-cannons. Thoughtfully, the aliens seem to have constructed their towers from Mechano, or you’d never get anywhere.

At the beginning of each level, you get a set of simple objectives and then a tac-map of the surrounding area. From there, you buy your convoy and pick your route through the enemy defensive installations using an intuitive arrow-pathing system.

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As the game progresses, you’ll unlock new types of units, but so will the enemy. Each individual unit can be upgraded with cash, and, thankfully, you can sell the melting slag from destroyed enemy installations for the pocket money you need to make your missile launchers that much more potent.

But, a game wouldn’t be that much fun if you just sat back and let the mission play out from there, despite the thoughtful fast-forward arrow the devs put in to expedite your play-time. So, while your caravan is moseying through town, you can assist them with special powers like the benevolent finger-god you are. It’s easy enough. You just click on a power and use it on an area, but the game wouldn’t be very challenging if these weren’t limited. In order to gain the use of a power, it must first be supply dropped from a passing jet-plane. Coincidentally, this is also how you get more troops, should you feel like buying them en-route. Why you can’t just have them drop you off right next to the objective, I’ll never understand, but I think if we DID know the answer to that, we’d understand the Lord of the Rings that much better. Maybe it’s a laser-targeting thing , but I doubt the eagles used that technology very often.

Anomaly-HD-screenshot

It looks pretty good, and it’s nice to see a civilization that’s gotten its act together enough to paint all of their mechano-kill droids the same colour. It’s a perturbing reminder of what Apple’s military will look like when The Day finally arrives. Won’t be hard to spot, at least. Well, the ones without the Stealth App anyways.

Later on, some of the enemy attacks require you to complete a quick-tap event or change your route on the fly, but it’s rarely intensive. It’s kind of relaxing, actually, to watch them roll through a town, occasionally healing or defending them with an ability. Mostly, tactics come down to ability use and caravan order.

It does have problems, though, and it wouldn’t be one of my reviews if I didn’t point them out. A major flaw in this game, besides the caravan’s obvious weakness to Silent Hill Void-pits, is that you can’t give direct firing orders to your vehicles. I tried for a while, and it seemed like it was making a difference, but that turned out to have been confirmation bias the more tests I did. This is a huge problem, but it saps some of the tactical strategy out of the game. Besides, games like this thrive on busy-work. It just feels weird that they cut it out.

After all, the only real relationship between vehicles and enemy installations is time. Each vehicle has a certain amount of damage it does per hit and a specific rate at which it fires. Each hit does a set amount of damage. Each building-type has a standard life total and returns fire in a unique pattern. Now, since your movement speed it held constant the entire time you’re attacking, each building encounter is a question of efficiency. How much damage can you do as you approach it versus the amount of damage it can do to you. You can stack the deck in your favour by messing with approach vectors and line-of-sight, so planning has to go into that. You can also directly insert variables with your powers. So, perhaps, limiting your control over your unit’s firing patterns was only fair, because it means you have to play around your own AI.

BUT, if you did provide user control to your units, then you could introduce more challenging, frantic scenarios. Ones that require priority fire. The only reason the current set-up is a problem is that there are occasions where you want to be able to set firing priorities. When they throw in game-play elements like escorts and special targets, it doesn’t make sense that your troops would be blasting away at an unimportant tower when another one is pounding your special unit into dust.

That’s just nit-picking, though. It’s not really a deal-breaker, and you’ll probably find that the game is well-balanced enough that this isn’t really a problem. After all, the real fun comes from cleverly picking your route and plowing through those death-lobsters to victory!

Speaking of, the next game we’re going to look at is Middle Manager of Justice!

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This gem came to us from Double Fine and was produced in association with Dracogen. As you might expect from a Double Fine game, it’s swimming in personality. I mean, it would have to be, it’s a game about being a middle manager for a super-hero squad. In a future where civic defense relies heavily on the privatized field of super-heroing to do most of the heavy lifting, you apply for a middle manager position with Justice Co. Or something like that. Your job is to manage the schedules of, hire, train and house a team of super heroes.

Now, team building isn’t usually an easy job, but it’s pretty simple here. Your heroes have stats. You increase those stats through training. Levelling up gives you a certain number of training sessions. You get the picture. It’s a free-to-play game, so there’s an energy system of sorts. But, this is a Double Fine game, so it’s not annoying. The energy cost is time. It takes time to train a hero to do a thing. So, you set a hero to do a thing and they do it until it’s done. You can turn off the game and walk away and it’ll happen while you’re gone. However, if you’re impatient, you can use an in-game currency to buy your way through that time. That in-game currency can be earned rather easily or bought if you’re bored. This is pretty much the only thing you can spend real money on in the game, and it’s completely non-intrusive. Mostly.

It’s thematically unified and well-designed, but it still has the standard FTP model stuff. Catching bad-guys in a region improves that region’s mood. The better the mood, the more they pay you when the pay cycle pops up. Fight crime -> improve mood -> collect money every few minutes -> use money to buy upgrades -> fight more crime. It’s designed to keep you checking back. Although, the mood in a region can always be easily recovered, so don’t worry too much about it if your heroes need time to train.

You start out with a hallway and an office, but you can buy upgrades for your headquarters until it fills itself out, like so:

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Each room serves a purpose. Research for new items (If you’ve got the int). A call-center to make extra cash. A break-room to improve morale. A training center for stats. A different training center for super-moves (Int reqs, yo). A hospital to rest. And, of course, your office. Each upgrades unlocks new capabilities, and they’re all pretty useful. Even your manager can learn abilities, with enough time, commitment and the proper promotions. Oh, he can also fuse super-meteorites together to grant new powers, which is a management class I missed out on in the past. 😥

There are challenges you can fulfil that will keep you on the right track with a little Skinner-box action, but the rewards are pretty trivial after a while.

To actually fight crime, you can delegate, which gives you a “Change of Success” rating or you can indulge the voyeuristic and watch.

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It’s a Final Fantasy-esque back and forth punch-up. Each hero and each villain gets a turn per round to make a move. From here, you can instruct your heroes to use their equipped super move instead of their basic attack and use items. Also, you can utilize your MIDDLE MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES OF POWER! Like, pep-talks and paradigm… shifts… Yeah, but in this world, they’re wildly effective. Eventually, you’ll want to not watch these exchanges, because it does get a bit dull, but heroes won’t use their powers without you around, so you’re stuck with the basic-change delegation problem. Do you take the 78% success chance? Or, do you just swoop in, use one power and win?

Once you have a balanced team, okay equipment, new costumes, items, meteorites and decent powers, there isn’t a whole lot going on on the tactical side. It’s mostly watching with a chance of tapping in the early hours. Neat game, although…

It has two major flaws in my eyes. The first is that your team-size is limited. You start with one hero, but as you work your way up, you can hire more with in-game currency. You’re limited to a team of four, though. Which, to me, is too few. If you want to feel like a true middle manager, then you’ve got to be delegating all the time. But here, you end up micro-managing a lot… maybe you’re more like a middle manager than I thought. But, regardless, if you want to take care of some crime through delegation, do some research, train your heroes and practice super powers, then you’re going to find that you swiftly run out of man-power. It’s a little underwhelming to have to stop fighting crime because you want two of your guys to get their cardio in and another to research a cool new kind of coffee, while the fourth is working on a super power. Even if you do have a free hero, they’re going to be in an endless cycle of punch-up-bed-punch-up-bed… And, if you want a single hero to succeed on most occasions, you’re going to have to watch the fight, which removes the aspect of delegation I enjoy the most: not having to supervise.

Again, though, the game doesn’t punish you at all, and there isn’t much problem with taking the time and waiting it out. I mean, you don’t have to pay much attention, and it wouldn’t be much of a free-to-play game if it didn’t encourage you to come check it every ten minutes for fresh reports of “Job Complete!” or new coins to secure.

The other problem is a bit more obvious and a bit less forgiveable: it doesn’t have a bloody ending. Sure, you can finish the story campaign, but then you’re back to the same mundane grind of keeping the average hoodlums off the streets. Maybe it’s a more complex metaphor than I’m giving it credit for. After all, that IS what you would do as a middle manager. There’s no parade-hip-hip-hooray-for-victory for you. No, there’s a soulless cake and a “seeya Monday.” Still, would have preferred an ending. Even the week has its Friday. (Disclaimer: Being a manager is not actually as bad as I’m making it seem, but Please realize how hard your manager works before she or he pops a blood-vessel.)

Those were the games I burned my time into this week. Not too shabby, all things considered. I’m giving Anomaly: Warzone Earth: Mobile Campain A Delicate Pedal on New-Fallen Snow out of An Exciting Movie Trailer Before A Decent Movie. Middle Manager of Justice is going to receive a whopping Three Red Starburst Candies Packaged In A Row out of The Scent Of A Newly Washed Kitchen. 

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Oh, and, DFTBA!