Posts Tagged ‘Video Game’

The Bureau

January 8, 2022

John remembered the knife plunging into his gut. He remembered staggering through the alley, unable to ask for help loud enough to draw anyone. He remembered falling to his knees and crawling, trying desperately to find anything or anyone who could help him. All in vain. He remembered the warmth leaving his body before everything went black. He remembered all of that which meant that he had reached game over. There should have been no continue, no option to put in more tokens. Yet, here he was sitting at a table in a barren room.

He took a deep breath to prove that he could and then tapped his fingers on the table. Sight, hearing, and touch were all still working. At that moment, he could not smell anything but there did not seem to be anything especially fragrant in the room. He was not about to taste the table, of course. Still, it seemed that he was alive. Why he wasn’t patched up in a hospital bed was not exactly evident. The mystery nagged at him. He should be dead or at least severely injured.

He reached down to his side and felt no wound. There was not even any tenderness at the site of impact. Still, touching it was making him remember the attack more vividly which made his anxiety levels rise. He jerked his hand away. He spent time doing the customary checks one does after misadventure. He counted his fingers. He checked to make sure his limbs were intact and moved around. He checked his head for any bumps or contusions. He seemed to be in full health as far as he could tell. He stood up.

There was a sudden smell of a mix of peat and blood that strangely did not smell too bad. Any displeasure was offset by the realization that his sense of smell still worked. Another test passed with flying colors.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Caldwin,” a woman’s voice said. He looked back at the table and there was a woman sitting in a chair that had not been there before. She was wearing a wide-brimmed hat in such a way that he could not see her face. He had not seen or heard her come into the room. He sat down. As soon as he did, he noticed a steaming cup of coffee that had also not been there before. He drank without hesitation and without consideration even afterward. His anxiety lessened. The woman was looking at some sort of file folder.

“Thank you,” John said. “I mean for the coffee, of course, but also for whatever you did to keep me alive.”

“You’re not strictly alive,” the woman said without looking up. She wrote something quickly.

“I beg to differ,” John said. “Everything seems to be in working order and I’m not a bleeding wreck on the ground in an alley.”

“Well yes,” the woman said. “We are responsible for that. So you’re welcome.”

There was a long silence after that little exchange. John slowly sipped his coffee and watched the woman’s hat bob a bit as she read and wrote in the file folder. He was uncomfortable with the silence. The woman seemed to be just fine with silence.

“So you know my name,” John said, waiting for the obvious answer.

“I do,” the woman said. She kept her focus on her file folder without fail.

“And you areā€¦” John said, trailing off to let the woman fill in the blank.

“Very busy,” the woman said. She finally looked up and John was taken aback to realize that she had no face. Where a face would have been, there was a blur that was uncomfortable to look at. John found himself staring at her hat rather than trying to establish eye contact with non-existent eyes.

“I don’t mean to be rude but you seem to be missing your face,” John said, trying to be helpful. “It’s just not there.” He managed calm words but he felt the cold stab of fear.

The woman sighed. “It’s not missing,” she said. “I just don’t have one. I’m not a human. I’m more of a concept. Please focus on the important things.” She closed her file folder and it ceased to exist.

“Is this the part where you explain things to me?” John asked. “I really need it to be the part where you explain things to me.” A headache was slowly forming behind his eyes.

The woman sighed again. “I don’t have time for that,” she said. “This book will explain everything.” She placed a leatherbound book on the table and then she vanished into thin air. At least she left the coffee behind.


Hypnospace Outlaw

January 18, 2021

As the trailer above illustrates, the basic premise for Hypnospace Outlaw is what if somebody in 1998 had invented technology to allow people to surf the Internet while they sleep. Two brothers, a programmer and a money guy, put together a company called MerchantSoft that creates a device and platform to create webpages and send emails while dreaming. This is called Hypnospace and it quickly becomes the new fad despite rumors that the new technology might not be safe. With the surge in traffic, you are tapped to act as an “Enforcer” which is bascially a content moderator. You are given categories of content which is against the terms of service and must be elliminated. You mark things for review and are given Internet bucks for correct selections.

You start pretty easy with the mission to enforce copyright violations. You go after the older generation of Goodtime Valley who have decided to stamp everything they own with popular comic strip character Gumshoe Gooper. You earn no friends as you basically break all of their JPGs because of their harmless violations of the rights of the cartoonist’s estate. During this phase you spend a lot of time getting to know the cast of characters in your jurisdiction. You also need to learn (or in my case relearn) how to navigate pre-2000s webspace.

Next on your todo list is stamping out harassment in the Teentopia section. A lot of it boils down to a feud between two teenagers named Zane and Corey. The two are merciless about mocking each other even though your detective work finds that the two are not as different as they seem. Zane is an ultra-edgy dude who draws comics making fun of Corey while Corey creates the Zane Sucks Club. It is really a pleasure to squash these squabbling fools.

You then are tasked with tracking down illegal software dedicated to extralegal commerce. Basically, a couple third-party businesses are using a banned form of currency called Capacash. These businesses have locked their paysites behind passwords or otherwise hidden their sites. In order to find them, you actually have to infect your set up with adware which creates popups that send you these sites.

After that it is on to more serious business as you must track down the source of a virus which is causing shock images. Since it is a teen who is behind it, the images are actually quite tame. Still, the virus is really annoying people on the platform and you have to track it down. You descend in the world of Tim who is a wannabe hacker who unleashes a virus in order to win back his ex-girlfriend.

You are back at it again when you must go after a bit of “malware” created to provide a speed boost to people’s surfing. It works but it is unauthorized and creates an annoying pop up. In order to track down the program’s source you have to infliltrate an unlisted section of Hypnospace created by disgruntled Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Video Games, Techie, and Comic Book fans. They are disgruntled because they have been brushed aside by MerchantSoft so that they could focus on the mainstream (forgetting that nerds and geeks were the backbone of the Internet at the time). This investigation leads to the firing of a MerchantSoft programmer who is the ringleader.

You then have to get to the really serious business of illegal downloading and uploading of music files. You need to stalk through a file sharing service called FLST. Every user has their own FLST site which works much like platforms like Napster and Kazaa. This is an underground solution for what was fomerly an official service that ran into too many legal problems. You start nailing these criminals and eventually find out that the head of MerchantSoft is engaging in a lot of this activity. Reporting Dylan Merchant pisses him off and you get fired.

Because of the continued chaos of traffic of New Year’s Eve, you are somehow rehired. Tim the Hacker is back at it again with another desperate attempt to win back Tiffany. This time he has created a virus called the Y2000 Mindcrash Attack which warns users of an imminent attack by Tim. The virus can only be shutdown if Tiffany performs a certain input into a webpage. The problem is that Tiffany seems to be nowhere around so you have to do it for her to save the rest of Hypnospace. You have to investigate more of Tim and Tiffany’s lonely corners of Hypnospace in order to solve the problem. Even when you succeed, Hypnospace still crashes which fries a lot of people’s brains leading to injury and death.

Flashforward to the “Present Day” where you are recruited to join four other members of the Hypnospace Archival Project. The project is tasked with cataloguing and saving what is left of Hypnospace. However, you are secretly tapped to instead carry out two investigations. The first is to prove that MerchantSoft knew the dangers that the technology posed. The second is to locate an admission of guilt from MerchantSoft that they caused the crash which harmed or killed people. You discover a hidden hacker collective existing on unlisted pages. They were trying to expose MerchantSoft and one of them managed to store a lot of evidence. It turns out that the year 2000 update from MerchantSoft actually caused the crisis. They cast blame on teen hacker Tim who was sent to prison for the remainder of his teens and was left with great remorse over his actions. This leads to a public confession from MerchantSoft and a proper memorial for the deceased.

The game is absolutely a fun parody of the Internet around the time complete with broken code and a lot of the goofiness of the Internet when it was truly the Wild West. They did a lot of worldbuilding by creating a lot of original content. I am especially impressed by all of the original music created for the game. You get both full songs and little commercial jingles which are all delightful (even the annoying ones). The game is entirely point and click and involves detective work and puzzle solving. It is a great game.

The Return of the Obra Dinn

September 9, 2019

I have been obsessed lately with playing a game called The Return of the Obra Dinn lately. I play it on the Microsoft Windows platform through the GOG (Good Old Games) app. I found out about the game by watching the early parts being played by Barry Kramer on Twitch. The game was developed and designed by Lucas Pope. It is his second commercial game after the highly celebrated Papers, Please. Like his earlier game, this game plays with your perceptions and completely submerges you into a world unlike your own. After watching some footage, I really wanted to play it myself because the game fascinated me.

The game is set in 1807 near the port of London, England. You play as an insurance adjuster for the East India Trading Company who is tasked with investigating a ship named the Obra Dinn. The ship was supposed to travel around the Cape of Good Hope but it disappeared in 1803. All sixty souls on board are unaccounted for. You are tasked with finding the fates of all sixty people who were on board. Some died, some disappeared, and some may still be alive somewhere. You are given a journal with a roster of names and three pieces of artwork with people’s faces on it. Every single passenger and crewmember is depicted in one of those drawings to help you match them up.

That is where things start getting weird. The East India Trading Company has also given you a magical compass. Now, I know some people are immediately thinking of the previous connection between The East India Trading Company and a magical compass in Disney’s Pirates of the Carribean franchise but it’s not that. This compass reacts to the remains of the deceased and transports the user into the moment of that person’s death. When you activate the compass, you are transported into a snapshot of a moment in the voyage of the Obra Dinn. You are immediately confronted with a grisly death in progress. It is often quite impossible to predict what you will be walking into next. Along with being inside the visual memory, you also get a short audio log of anything said directly before and after the death. A lot of this is automatically entered into your journal.

These are not only two-dimensional images either. They are three-dimensional environments that you can walk around in. You can peer at people’s faces and they will immediately be matched up with their picture in the drawings. This gives you your first hints on who they might be. You learn who people are from who people hang out with, what they do in crisis and downtime, and even where they sleep. You learn what happened to them by following the story from body to body, opening up more of the ship to really dig into what happened. It is a roller coaster of a story that I definitely do not want to spoil. Needless to say, it is an inspiring tale of fantasy and high seas adventure and intrigue.

From there it is a game of being a proper detective and using clues and informed guesswork to determine everybody’s identity and fate. As you get three fates correct, they are magically confirmed so that you know that you are making progress. At present I have determined 51 of 60 fates after playing for hours, running back and forth through memories for evidence and studying the journal. It feels so intimate being in such close quarters with these memories like you are part of their story. I am very close to completing the game but the last few puzzle pieces are hard to settle. Added to that, there is a sort of blacked out period in the journey that you can only get access to once you have submitted all but the last few fates. I eagerly await what horrible thing happened in that time period.

I definitely recommend the game. For those who are squeamish, the art style turns everything into a sketch style so the gore and violence are not photo-realistic. However, the deaths are still incredibly visceral, especially with the accompanying audio logs. The moment of reveal of each death can be horrific but most of the game is spent in quiet reflection, study, and observation to figure things out. The game has captured my imagination and I would love to see a similar game made in the future because I know that when I finish I will want more.


April 24, 2018

Alright, this post is definitely going to get very spoiler heavy but for a computer game that came out over 2 and half years ago. If that sort of thing bothers you, I do not blame you if you step away right now. Also, if there is any chance that you would play a game that I will be actively endorsing (#notsponsored), go and play it first. The rest of you may stay and learn why I think that this was an important game that everybody should experience in some way. If the way you want to experience it is through reading this post instead of playing an admittedly frustrating game for hours then thank you for sticking around. That being said, let us get down to business.

The game is a combination of a roleplaying game and a bullet hell game. “Bullet Hell” is a genre that often leads to very difficult gameplay that often has a fairly sharp curve. In bullet hell games, literally a multitude of objects come at you and you must dodge them or die. Winning the fight is more about survival than actually attacking the target. The video below will illustrate what is generally considered hardest fight in the game, one I never even attempted. Most of the combat is easier than that. The other part of the game is roleplaying which means you spend a lot of time going to and fro and talking to people and fetching items while you are traveling from point a to point b. The closest thing I have seen to it is probably the Paper Mario games.

The thing about that roleplaying aspect is that practically everything that you do is a choice that you made which effects the way the story goes for the rest of the playthrough. The story begins as you play a small child who falls down from the surface to a cavernous world of monsters. In any other game, your goal would be to fight every monster you come upon to escape the monster kingdom. Except that your first clue that this may not be the case is that after you fall, you are taken in and fed by a kind sheep woman who wants to protect you. When you try to leave, she stands in your way and refuses to budge because it is too dangerous out there. Your first real choice is made at that moment. You can kill her to start your journey toward freedom or you can wear her down by being stubborn until she realizes that she cannot make the decision for you and lets you go.

This video brought to you by Holly Conrad and Ross O’Donovan.

This kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game. If you wait and see what happens, you are often rewarded with pacifist options to get through the rest of the game. Your next destination brings you to a monster village dominated by two skeleton brothers one of whom was friends with the earlier sheep lady. Their names are Sans and Papyrus (after the fonts Comic Sans and Papyrus). Papyrus talks a big game about wanting to kill all humans but when it comes down to it, he is a pathetic guy with few friends and is overjoyed to change his tune if you befriend him instead. Sans is a lazy guy who just wants to tell puns and live in peace. The fight against Papyrus is the first time where it is really difficult to tough it out until he becomes your friend. You are almost punished with harder gameplay for being nice which is a great mechanic. It is harder to be nice sometimes but it is ultimately more rewarding.

As you continue through the game in this “pacifist” route, you really start making friends instead of enemies. Befriending Papyrus allows him to help you befriend the hardcore soldier Undyne who is as intense about being your friend as she was in hunting you down. Having befriended Undyne, you will have an easier time befriending the kingdom’s nerdy, shy royal scientist Alphys because she has a major crush on Undyne. Finally, you reach the only exit of the kingdom but the King Asgore (scary name) stands in your way. You find out that he only wants to kill you because he can combine your soul with six other dead children to free his people from a magical barrier. He does not want to do it but his people will eventually die out trapped in the cavern and he feels they deserve to be free. He also wants to do it in honor of his son who died which broke apart his marriage to Toriel, the sheep lady from the beginning.

In the end, if you chose a pacifist run, you are able to defeat but not kill the king and you are to able to defeat and lay to rest the spirit of his dead son. In doing so, you are able to wield the energy from the seven hearts and break the barrier, freeing all of the monsters. It is such a touching moment as you look out over this new horizon with your new friends, all of whom have come to love and accept you. Through the game, you spend a lot more time talking to characters to get them what you want to achieve a peaceful resolution. In fact, the random monsters that pop up to attack you all can be disarmed by giving them gifts, telling jokes, complimenting them, petting them, or just running away. As I said, this makes the combat more difficult because you spend a lot of time dodging obstacles while not attacking. Instead, you spend time figuring out what each monster wants and how you can give it to them.

Of course, this is only if you do the pacifist run. To get the other half of the game’s experience, you have to finish what is called the “genocide run”. In the genocide run, you do what comes naturally in a video game. You go around and you kill everything and everyone. Doing so gives you EXP and LOVE and makes it easier to get through a lot of the bullet hell segments, at least early on. However, you later learn that EXP does not stand for “experience” and LOVE does not stand for “love”. Instead, they mean Execution Points and Level of Violence. The more creatures you kill, the more evil you become. Characters who could have become your friends now flee before you and the ones who tried to stop you in the pacifist run are even more desperate to do so. And you know what? You can sympathize with them. I actually wanted them to defeat me because I felt bad for them and their deceased friends.

Eventually, you reach the end of the genocide run and you have murdered everyone who did not run away from you. The level of power that you have absorbed from all of the blood you have shed takes a form separate from you as a malevolent murder spirit. It asks you if you want to join it in destroying the universe. Whether you agree to join it or not, it will go ahead and destroy the universe. In addition, two characters in the game (Sans and Flowey) know that they are in a game. Even if you start a new game, they will both remember that you finished the genocide run. Forever. It will permanently change any other playthroughs of the game even if you go on to be as nice as you can be. The game remembers that you were the real monster. Because, just like in real life, everybody remembers the bad things you do and you must learn to live with the mistakes you have made.

So why is this game so important to me? Why did I think it was important to let you know about it? I can answer that in one word: Morality. The game is a great example of what sticking to good morals can get you and the consequences of bad morals. You can be as wrathful as you want to be. It will probably get you money and things and power. However, it will not win you any friends of substance and you will ultimately be alone and angry. It can truly be harder to be nice and positive sometimes especially in the face of adversity. When being mean is a shortcut, we all consider it at some point. However, most of us know that we will not be able to live with ourselves afterward. This game left me with a lot to think about and hopefully, this small bit leaves you with something to think about.

Pokemon Alpha and Zulu

April 18, 2015

What follows is a partial outline for a Pokemon game I’ve kind of created in my head bit by bit.

So we begin with the normal selection of the girl or boy model and name selection. Your character starts in the lab of Professor Cole. You select your starter pokemon. I would say Vulpix, Poliwag and Oddish for the sake of argument but it would probably be new pokemon.

Once you have chosen, the professor starts to explain your new duties as his assistant. He tips his hand and lets slip that he’s working for Team Rocket. He abandons you and leaves you to face a member of Team Rocket. After that, you swear vengeance and begin the journey to earn gym badges and take down Team Rocket.

Along the way you face down several Team Rocket threats and plans. You also meet and travel with a young trainer named Carrie whose family is kidnapped by Team Rocket. She travels with your character which provides for plenty of double battle and versus opportunities. She starts with one of the starter pokemon and builds a balanced team on her own.

The player is separated sometimes from Carrie. At these points the player is alone or joined by another NPC. The player fights gym leaders and the Elite Four and various Team Rocket bosses. What follows is a list of gym leaders.

Gym Leader 1: Matt the Immovable Gym Leader
Type: Normal
Badge: Huge Badge
Pokemon: Snorlax, Slaking, Munchlax, Ursaring, Stantler

Matt is a lazy gym leader who enjoys his power as a gym leader more than he enjoys actually battling to keep his position. When the player arrives at the gym, Matt’s Slaking is blocking the door and taking a nap. After he is beaten, the player double battles him and Cooper before reaching the fifth gym. He was beaten by a trainer named Carrie who he wants to impress so he made her gym leader and is now trying to whip himself back into shape.

Gym Leader 2: Cooper the Party Gym Leader
Type: Grass
Badge: Party Badge
Pokemon: Ludicolo, Leavanny, Tangela, Roselia, Grovyle

Everybody in town loves Cooper because he throws the best parties or that’s how it used to be. The townspeople are tired of Cooper throwing all night parties all the time and have become embarassed that he isn’t trying harder to excel as a gym leader. He feels no motivation to try any harder since he has never lost a battle before. When he is beaten by the player and then Carrie, he sees that he must try harder. You and Carrie double battle him along with Matt later on as both have banded together to help each other train.

Gym Leader 3: Leo the Power Station Gym Leader
Type: Electric
Badge: Power Badge
Pokemon: Rotom, Pikachu, Emolga, Zebstrika, Galvantula

Leo is a hard worker and maintains the largest power station in the region. He is an expert in electrical engineering and splits his time between maintaining the power grid, battling and helping to teach less experienced trainers. After the player beats Leo, Team Rocket attacks the station and Carrie and the player must defeat them. In the ensuing battle, machinery is damaged and it is revealed that a legendary electric pokemon has been assisting in the operation of the power station. The player must then fight this legendary pokemon.

Gym Leader 4: Ariana the Circus Gym Leader
Type: Poison
Badge: Center Ring Badge
Pokemon: Arbok, Seviper, Skrelp, Victreebel, Nidoqueen

Ariana grew up as a child of circus performers and took her parent’s passion as her own. She combines that with her passion for pokemon and holds gym battles as part of her circus. Ariana loves snake pokemon in particular and they can be found crawling all over her circus and two of them are part of her team. She isn’t invested in the main storyline but is more than happy to battle the player for her badge. Before that she really puts the player and Carrie to the test in a series of double battles and solo battles.

Gym Leader 5: Jack the Sanctuary Gym Leader
Type: Flying
Badge: Wing Badge
Pokemon: Talonflame, Aerodactyl, Noctowl, Skarmory, Staraptor, Altaria

Jack’s gym sits on the roof of the Cindelle City department store and is a sanctuary for flying pokemon and also a research center. Jack balances the responsibilities of being a gym leader with trips into different regions and areas to look for flying pokemon. He is friendly but always determined to come out victorious. The player can meet him again on Victory Road where he’s all to happy to get a second chance at winning.

Gym Leader 6: Alex the Fighting Star Gym Leader
Type: Fighting
Badge: Spectacle Badge
Pokemon: Hawlucha, Hariyama, Mienshao, Hitmonchan, Gurdurr, Sawk

Alex comes from a long family tradition of fighters and has incorporated that into his Pokemon battling. However, when he was five years old he got bitten by the showbiz bug and started working toward the first television station in the region. When he inherited his family dojo, he converted it into a television studio as well. He eventually also made it a Pokemon gym when he earned that title. His family wants him to treat the honor with more respect but he is blinded by the lights of the cameras. Eventually he’s able to compromise and bring honor to his TV show.

280 sq ft/18 boxes

Gym Leader 7: Captain Heather the Enforcer Gym Leader
Type: Steel
Badge: Iron Badge
Pokemon: Doublade, Lucario, Bisharp, Metagross, Steelix, Escavalier

Captain Heather is a detective for the police and hard on the trail of the new boss of Team Rocket. She appears at the end of most of your run-ins with Team Rocket to arrest any members left on the scene. She also teams up with the player and Carrie during the battle to take down the boss once and for all. She’s more than pleased to take a break and battle the player for her badge. Once she has been met she hands out sidequests to the player.

Gym Leader 8: Mira the Studious Gym Leader
Type: Ghost
Badge: Spirit Badge
Pokemon: Mismagius, Haunter, Hoopa, Golurk, Spiritomb, Litwick

Mira is a bookish and quiet young woman who regularly communes with the dead, creeping out many in her community. Still, she’s fiercely loyal to her town and her region and protects both with a furious vengeance. Most think of her as a meek librarian type but when she’s challenged she is a dominant opponent who easily eliminates many threats. She secretly helps the player against Team Rocket by sending her Mismagius and Litwick to help with puzzles. She also fights alongside the player and Carrie on Victory Road.

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