Posts Tagged ‘Video Games’

The Green Tunic Squad – A Legend of Zelda Game Idea

April 8, 2021

The idea of this game is obviously inspired by the 3D Legend of Zelda games. It would be a spinoff game because it would not star Link or Zelda. It would be set after yet another victory by the Hero of Time, Link. It would follow a group of young people who are inspired by Link who are sucked into their own heroic quest.

The mechanics would be a little different since you would be playing as three characters instead of one. You would be able to switch between characters at will and each would have their own specialty. In dungeons, you could split the team up to accomplish goals and to complete puzzles.

The Heroes:

Arim – A stocky boy who is the team’s main fighter. He is the one strong enough to carry a sword and shield like their hero. He also is responsible for wielding any items that have to do with strength like the hammer, the titan’s mitt, and the shovel. At some point, Arim would start to get skills based on Gorons like a shield bash and a rolling attack. He is a farmer from the plains of Hyrule.

Icia – A scholarly tall girl who is team’s magic expert. She wields a magical staff that starts with a glittery firework attack but she later would get the fire rod, the ice rod, the lens of truth, and the pegasus boots. She would be the one to obtain the Zora flippers which would give her Zora powers like swimming and sliding. She is the daughter of the Kariko Village librarian and a major bookworm.

Mozi – A tiny young girl who is the team’s specialist at long range. She starts with the bow and arrow and is good at striking from stealth. Later on she would also get gadgets like the boomerang, the hookshot, and bombs. She would eventually start to get skills based off of the Deku like a ghillie suit and a gliding cape. She is an orphan who lives among the Deku in the forest.

The three would start separately but would be drawn together to quest to stop the ressurection of Ganon. Hyrule has just been through so miuch and the Hero of Time is nowhere to be found (again!). Nobody will listen to them so they have to do it themselves. The three of them bond as a team and grow closer and stronger together.

I am drawing on games like the Dark Cloud franchise, Genshin Impact, and The Lost Vikings.

Video Game Lore: The Super Mario Dating Scene

March 29, 2021

The other day, I was writing about Bowsette and I realized I had more to say about Nintendo. It is not exactly a meme but is instead about the ongoing lore of the two biggest properties that Nintendo controls. Those properties are the Mario games and the Legend of Zelda games. This is going to get pretty nerdy and does not really mean anything but it is something that I have grown to like contemplating sometimes. I suppose it is the writer in me. Anyway, I want to discuss specific parts of both of these franchises. Both have a ton of lore but, to varying degrees, both franchises require their fanbase to fill in a lot of the gaps.

The Super Mario Dating Scene

As most video game nerds will point out pushes up glasses, Mario first showed up in Donkey Kong. In that game, he tries to save his then-girlfriend Pauline from the giant ape Donkey Kong. Fewer people remember that Mario was actually the antagonist of Donkey Kong Jr. who was just trying to rescue his dad from Mario’s who kept his old foe in a cage. Mario would eventually end the generational feud by befriending Donkey Kong the 3rd. At this point, he had broken up with Pauline. Side note: Mario eventually met up with Pauline in Super Mario Odyssey where she is the Mayor of the democratic kingdom of New Donk City.

Anyway, Mario would go on to team up with his brother Luigi and the two would pretty much be inseparable from then on. Well, unless one of them was kidnapped and the other had to save their brother. Mario and Luigi first got involved with Princess Peach when rescuing her the first time Bowser kidnapped her in Super Mario Bros. They would go on to have a routine of rescuing Peach whenever Bowser kidnapped her in pretty much every game. They eventually met Princess Daisy, a princess of far off Sarasaland (exclusive to the Nintendo Game Boy). At that point, people figured that Luigi did not have to be a third wheel and the two princesses and two plumbers could double date.

However, Nintendo has always been pretty coy about these relationships. Official word is nestled in little easter eggs and ambiguous scenes in spinoff games. Notably, when Mario saves the day in many of the games, he is rewarded by Peach baking him a cake and not giving him a kiss. If he does get a kiss, it is the same chaste cheek kiss that his brother Luigi gets. It seems a lot of people read too much into Mario and Peach’s relationship and Daisy x Luigi as well. In fact, while Mario and Peach (and Bowser) seem to be inextricably linked by fate and politics, Mario and Peach do not act like a couple.

This apparent disconnect between fanon and canon caused a big ruckus from the MRA folks. In Super Mario Odyssey, Mario spends the whole game trailing after Bowser, Peach, and Bowser’s wedding planners as Bowser tries to prepare to marry Peach whether she wants to or not. Mario finally catches up at the wedding chapel on the Moon where he soundly beats Bowser Punchout-style. At the end of the game, Bowser and Mario both offer Peach flowers but she rejects both of them and leaves them both stranded on the Moon. Finally, a definitive statement (possibly?) that Peach may not be into Mario. More importantly, it was a great message to MRA types and young impressionable boys that helping out a woman does not mean that she is obligated to date you.

Time will tell if they ever go all in on the relationship or whether the four remain platonic friends who like to hang out and play sports together.

Bonus: This awesome music video from Starbomb where Luigi makes a play for Peach.

This got long so tune in for part 2!

Meme Tracer: Bowsette

March 22, 2021

I was reminded today of the story of Bowsette which happened almost three years ago now. It is really fun to watch things catch fire on the Internet so quickly. This is why I love memes so much because they are a fun game to play with the rest of the Net but also kind of fun to trace.

In September 2018, Nintendo revealed to the world a new concept connected to New Super Mario Bros. U for Switch. Though, to understand it (as much as you can understand it) you would have to go back to Super Mario Bros. In that game (the third to feature Mario), they introduced Toad (the character and the species). The little mushroom-headed guy was a loyal subject of Princess Peach. You could first play as one of the Toads in Super Mario Bros. 2. He became a well-known character and his race appeared in every game after that, often getting huge roles. He was once again playable in spinoff games such as Mario Kart, Mario Strikers, Mario Tennis, Mario Party, and so on.

Eventually, Nintendo wanted to create a new variant of Mario Kart called Mario Kart Double Dash. The conceit of this version was that the cars would be driven in teams including a driver and a weapons specialist. This would allow for co-op play where two players could control the same car as well as drive separate cars. Nintendo obviously wanted iconic teams for people to choose from. Teams included Mario and Luigi, Princesses Peach and Daisy, Bowser and Bowser Jr., Wario and Waluigi, and Yoshi and Birdo (see note). They wanted to include Toad but he did not have an established partner. Now, up until this point, Nintendo insisted that Toads were nongendered beings. They just were Toads. However, instead of just making the team be two Toads of different colors, they decided to create Toadette.

As you can see, Toadette was a new clearly feminine form of Toad who could join them on adventures. She never really showed up outside of Mario Kart and other party games but she was always around. A hyper pink, eternally optimistic character. Very cute. Her art was everywhere and the fans embraced her pretty much immediately just like every Mario character ever. However, flash forward to New Super Mario Bros. U in 2018. Remember I mentioned it earlier? They revealed a new item called the Super Crown. The Super Crown was introduced solely because Toadette would be a playable character in her first “course clear” Mario game. The purpose of the Super Crown would transform Toadette into Peachette, a transformation which sparked a lot of new theories about how Toad culture worked.

The Super Crown transformed Toadette into a character very similar to Princess Peach (and sort of like Princess Daisy). Does that mean that if you took off Princess Peach’s crown she would transform back to a female-gendered Toad? Is the Toad sociological/biological situation similar to bees? There is one Princess and only a few other females as backups to rule over the genderless masses? It boggles the mind. Nintendo has not really gotten into any clear explanations. We are left to speculate.

Anyway, an artist known as Ayyk92 seems to be the first to wonder what would happen if other characters got a hold of the Super Crown. Namely, they posited that if Bowser touched the Super Crown, he would genderbend to Peach-like character named Bowsette. Bowsette is a little buffer than Peach and generally wears a black strapless dress with spikes on it. Bowsette retains Bowser’s horns and spiked tail but mostly looks like a sassier, edgier Peach.

Artist Credit: poderosoandrajoso on DeviantArt

The Internet seized on this new concept and fanart of this new unofficial character flooded DeviantArt and other corners of the Web. Notably, the original comic (seen here) depicts Mario and Bowser both giving up on ever dating Peach and Mario decides to date Bowsette instead. This followed the actual canon attempted wedding to Peach by Bowser in Mario Odyssey. Artists also started to give the Super Crown to other Mario enemies creating new characters like Bulette, Booette, Goombette, and so on. The Internet is a wonderfully weird and creative place.

A Quick Note on Birdo:

Birdo was a character that first appeared as an enemy in Super Mario Bros 2. As you can see, Birdo is decidedly coded as feminine what with the bow on her head and being bright pink. However, in the manual, it said that Birdo is a “male who thinks he is a girl” and would prefer people to call them “Birdette”. In all later references, Birdo is referred to as female leading many to continue to think of Birdo as the first transgender video game character. Birdo has a similar silhouette to Yoshi (a dinosaur friend of the Mario gang) but is an entirely different species. So, it is kind of weird that they were paired together in Mario Kart Double Dash.

Mods

March 1, 2021

I have started to mess around with mods (short for modifications) for a game that I love called Stardew Valley. Mods are usually fan-made programs that you somehow attach to a game to change the content inside. Most of the mods that I have seen are merely cosmetic changes. This is the first time that I have really messed around with mods as I usually just play games as they were designed. I have mostly cool with whatever game designers give me and also I was always afraid that I was going to crash the game accidentally. Lately, mods have become more accessible so I decided to jump on the train with everybody else.

To remind people, Stardew Valley is a cute little game that starts with simulating farm life and then continues on to other gameplay. You run the growing of crops, raising livestock, foraging, fishing, and chopping lumber. You also descend into the mines to locate ore, jewels, artifacts and also fight monsters. It is also a social game with a full town full of people who you can get to know bit by bit. There are ten different love interests (5 female, 5 male) who you can date, marry, have a child with, and divorce. There is a calendar full of events to attend.

I was watching Deerbits play the game with the new multiplayer mode with a ton of mods and I really had to look into it. The first one I picked was a mod that turned all of the male potential love interests into young women. I have dated the guys in-game but I was intrigued to have almost a whole village full of women and to see how their storylines felt with them being women instead. Their portraits, sprites, and all dialogue options for all references are changed and the men all transition into women seamlessly. It also changes both Willie (the grizzled old fisherman at the docks) and Rasmodius (the mysterious old wizard in the woods).

So far, nothing I had done had really changed the game beyond how I looked at certain characters. I tried out a few more options, getting bolder with each choice. The second one I picked simply muted the rooster that cries out at the beginning of each day. I don’t know how anybody can stand that noise in real life much less in a game. I made it so my character could wear eight stat-boosting rings instead of just two, making combat a little easier.

I finally buckled and got a mod that subtly changed dialogue and story options. There is a character named Clint who comes off as a sadsack man who is plagued by both toxic masculinity and shyness. He has a crush on one of your potential love interests and spends most of the game pining after her. Even if you marry her, he will mention his crush on her. This mod subtly changes his dialogue to keep his anxiety but has him being a little less clingy on poor Emily. I have been messing with some odd stat-changing stuff as well.

However, the main one I have been thinking of is a mod that allows for poly romance options. You can date a lot of people at once and then marry multiple people. It’s something that I support in real life (although would never do). It is something I would be intrigued to see in-game. I do not know if I want to complicate gameplay at this point with it but I might try it out in late game.

Darkest Dungeon

February 8, 2021

I downloaded and started playing Darkest Dungeon recently and it was a rough adjustment. This game is designed to be difficult and scary. The game borrows heavily from cosmic horror and the darker corners of fantasy. You play as the heir of an ancestor’s Estate. Your Ancestor relates to you in writing that they accidentally unearthed a horrible monstrosity and numerous other horrors that now infest the area around the estate. You must operate from a nearby hamlet and hire adventurers to travel around the area to cleanse the place of monsters. There is no shortage of people stepping up to the plate to help you destroy evil and recover your family’s treasure (both material and sentimental).

Each mission allows four slots for adventurers to take along with you. Two things are very important to achieve success. First, you have to pay attention to party composition. There are 17 different classes who all have somewhat different yet overlapping roles in battle. Some are heroes and some are rogues just looking for fame and fortune. You have to balance damage, defense, healing, damage over time, and other abilities to get the most out of battle. Second, each character you pick has a preferred physical order in battle. Combat is only in two dimensions with characters on the right being closer to the threats and the people on the left being further away. Some characters are only able to perform certain abilities from a specific spot in the order.

The thing that was hardest for me to accept was that your characters are going to die. They are going to die a lot. The first time it happened, I got a knot in my stomach but soon it was something that was expected. I have gotten better at keeping it from happening but things can still go downhill really quick and somebody is just gone. They don’t just die. There is a vastly complex system of stress and physical ailments that can afflict your characters. Getting hit, traveling through darkness, missing attacks, and other things cause stress. If a character gets enough stress, they come to a breaking point. At that point, they can either gain a positive trait from it or a mental condition. If they receive enough damage and stress in battle, they could simply have a heart attack and die instantly. On top of that, they can catch all sorts of nasty diseases.

The key to keeping your crew intact enough to keep advancing is to provide them with plenty of support. When they come back stressed, crazy, and sick you have to take care of them. The tavern and the abbey are places where your crew can relax and drink or meditate away their stress. The sanitarium will try and cure their new mania and physical afflictions. Luckily, you have a whole group to choose from so you can stash some in town and have enough ladies ad gents to play with back in the dungeons.

The artwork is fantastic. It uses a comic book style with thick outlines, plenty of shadows, and grimy textures. Every hero looks troubled yet defiant. Every monster looks absolutely disgusting and threatening. The attack animations are really satisfying to let loose on your enemies. The dialogue and lore you uncover definitely puts you right in the middle of this horrible world and makes the game both stressful and fun.

Ten Things Video Games Taught Me About the Apocalypse Pt. 2

December 7, 2020
  1. Be Careful Who You Trust – Darksiders

The Darksiders franchise starts as an epic modern fantasy based on a lot of apocryphal mythology that is often tacked onto the Christian bible. You start as War, one of the four seraphim who are supposed to take part in the apocalypse. However, a conspiracy between demons and angels sparks the apocalypse early. In the aftermath, the Seraphim named War is blamed for the annihilation of the entire human race. It is then up to him and his siblings Death (Darksiders 2) and Fury (Darksiders 3) to try and fix things and also keep fighting the good fight. Just about anybody you encounter can betray you as both Heaven and Hell have their own agendas and often each individual angel and demon have a lot of side hustles or alternate endgames. Later, you also have to deal with ghosts, the undead, giants, constructs, and so much more, all of which have their own agendas. You have to rely on some of these creatures to obtain gear or power to attain your goals but you have to constantly be ready to be stabbed in the back. At that point, you cannot hesitate to use the skills they gave you to end them. Sometimes you even subjugate them, bending them to your will. So, that will be fun.

  1. Be Prepared for Travel to Be Difficult- Death Stranding

In the world of Death Stranding, the United States of America has been figuratively and literally destroyed. The world was invaded by creatures called BTs which are extradimensional creatures that normally lived in the space between life and death. (Strap in, this is Hideo Kojima uncensored so it is weird). When these creatures absorb dead human tissue, they create huge explosions called “voidouts” that create precipitation called “timefall”. Timefall severely ages and erodes just about anything it touches which basically eliminated all infrastructure in the country. Humans either survive alone in bunkers or in small cities called “knots” becoming the United Cities of America with the government shrinking significantly with the only real support being a giant corporation that delivers supplies and creates the temporary infrastructure to assist with that effort. They also rely heavily on the Internet to communicate with remote areas through holograms. As the main character, you spend a lot of time walking across difficult terrain because it is difficult to maintain infrastructure for vehicles. You either need to become self-reliant in isolation or be prepared to have a hard time making it to your destination. Get ready to take the long way around.

  1. Don’t Reject the Past – Final Fantasy X

In Final Fantasy X (and its sequel Final Fantasy X-2) the world has been destroyed by a reality-bending kaiju named Sin. Sin roams the world and destroys any settlement that grows too big with ruthless efficiency. Those who die whose souls are not properly sent to the afterlife turn into monsters which makes just about any travel outside of these small settlements very dangerous. People called the creature Sin because they assumed that they deserved punishment for misdeeds in the past. Advanced technology was deemed sinful and studying too far into the past was frowned upon. It was the arrogance of the cities of the past that brought about their destruction. However, the main characters are shocked to find out that the Church lied to them and there is a vast conspiracy that continues a cycle of destruction so that the upper class can maintain power over the lower class. (A little simplified but you get the picture). The point is that we need to always study our past in order to figure out how we should act in the present. If we try and forget our past we start to make too many assumptions and make a lot of the same mistakes. Keep a hold of the past.

  1. Learn Crafting and Building Skills – 7 Days to Die

In the world of this game, the United States has been destroyed (again!?) by the nuclear destruction of World War III leaving only small patches habitable for human beings. It also turned a lot of the human population into zombies. Zombies are relentless and everywhere and it is basically required for you to learn how to craft items and build defenses. You must find materials in the wild and the ruins of society and convert them into useful tools and stuff. Every seven days, a blood moon will appear which drives the zombies into a frenzy and causes them to lock onto your position and try to swarm you. If you do not have sufficient defenses built up, you will die and lose a lot of your progress. You also have a semi-realistic system of health which provides for thirst, hunger, bleeding, poison, and other realistic maladies. So you spend less of your time shooting zombies and more time searching abandoned houses for medicine and canned food, junkyards for scrap metal, and converting sporting good stores into fortresses. You need to learn how to identify defensible positions and to gather food, ammo, and drinkable water to weather both the boring times and the exciting times. You have to be ready for whatever the world is going to throw at you.

  1. Keep Your Options Open – Hatoful Boyfriend

In this version of the Earth, humanity was devastated by a mutated strain of the H5N1 virus (also known as bird flu) and is nearly wiped out. Humanity creates a counter-virus designed to destroy the birds that were the carriers of the original virus. That backfires as birds who survive the counter-virus develop human levels of intelligence. This leads to a war between birds and the shattered remnants of whatever humans are left. Humans lose that war and birds become the dominant species on Earth. After several attempts at human insurgency, a sort of apartheid is imposed by the birds. You play the game as a young human girl who is invited to attend a prestigious academy that was previously attended only by birds. As you start your sophomore year of high school you are given the choice to date eight different birds. Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic dating game where you are tasked with wooing and dating birds in high school. Welcome to peak-Japanese Manga culture crashing into the world of independent gaming. The spinoff DLC gets way more complicated and the stakes are raised to include the possible death and destruction of just about everyone involved. However, the point is that we are going to have to be open-minded about what happens next.

Ten Things Video Games Taught Me About the Apocalypse Pt. 1

November 30, 2020
  1. Don’t Be Too Picky About What You Eat – Fallout Franchise

The Fallout franchise takes place in an alternate United States that has gone through a nuclear war following an invasion from China and they suffered heavy casualties. Each game takes place in one of the 13 commonwealths that the USA has been divided into. The first two games are set in the Republic of California, the third is in the DC area, the fourth is in Boston. Spinoffs take place in Las Vegas and West Virginia. Your character travels through rural areas, suburbs, and cities. All of which suffered or are still suffering from heavy radiation. Therefore, almost everything you eat and drink adds to the radiation affecting your body. On top of that, you have to defend yourself from mutated wildlife most of which you can then eat. Eating giant cockroaches, giant rats, bears, and such is not only the new normal but encouraged in order to survive. Fruit and vegetables can sometimes be found but a lot of people subsist on canned and boxed junk foods like Salisbury steak, sugar bombs, and tons of soda all of which actually heal you. In the apocalypse, you no longer can be too picky about what you eat and drink. You are going to have to survive so dig into all of that disgusting food and follow it up with some radiation medicine.

Mutations build character. https://www.youtube.com/embed/QThDHIu8sZE

  1. Keep a Good Inventory of Your Weapons and Ammo – Metro 2033

The Metro 2033 franchise takes place in a post-apocalyptic Moscow following a nuclear war which brought upon nuclear winter. Because the Earth’s surface has become highly radioactive, humans are forced to live underground in the metro tunnels of Moscow and the surrounding areas. Stations are held by different factions including Stalinists, Nazis, and other more rational Russians. You have to fight the people stuck underground just as often as you fight the mutated animals above and below. So, it makes sense that you will be toting around a gun to end whatever threat you are facing. Rarely can you talk your way out of trouble. Even pacifists have reason to keep weapons and ammo around because, in this setting, ammo doubles as currency and a good weapon can be exchanged for contract work. There is a mechanic where you can either use or save military-grade ammo so you can use your currency in a tight spot. In more ways than one, having a handful of bullets could keep you alive.

  1. Keep Moving – Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

Red Dead Redemption is a traditional cowboy tail about traveling the wilderness and saving the West while seeking personal revenge. The follow-up downloadable content unleashed zombies on the same setting. You have to travel across the same lands again, this time in search of something that will resolve the zombie apocalypse. Anything that dies rises up as a zombie which includes people, horses, bears, wolves, and everything else. The first thing I realized when I started playing is to keep moving. Zombies can be fast and can surround you quickly. Zombies are not relegated to just the towns, human zombie hordes rove randomly through the wilderness as well. If you stay still too long, you will die. Luckily, you should have your trusty horse nearby. At least, it is one of your trusty horses as you will go through a lot of them. They can easily be used as a distraction to get away from a horde. Of course, when you reach for your horse it may also be a zombie and may not react to your commands. Keep moving or get bit.

  1. Where A Mask – Last of Us

The Last of Us is set in the United States after the collapse of society due to an airborne fungus called Cordyceps. It is based on the very real fungus that usually targets insects and mind controls them into being fungus carriers and spreaders. Joel and Ellie must make it across Massachusetts in hopes that Ellie’s immunity to Cordyceps could mean a cure or vaccine for the rest of humanity. Those infected by the fungus lose rationality and become hyper-aggressive. Infected eventually lose sight but gain the power of echolocation and hardened armor. Besides being quiet and keeping your distance, the only way to protect yourself from inhaling the fungus is to wear a gas mask. Well, the dead are safe from the fungus as it needs a living host to establish a parasitic relationship. Pulling on your mask may be the only thing that keeps you alive sometimes. There are probably going to be a lot of things in the apocalypse that we just should not breathe.

  1. Don’t Be Too Shocked By Things – Nier Automata

The world of Nier: Automata takes place long after an apocalypse that wiped out human beings and a subsequent alien invasion. The only real remnants of human society are androids in an organization called YoRHa who mimic humanity to remind other androids about human supremacy. They are locked in a constant war with a sort of machine empire. Previously, more or less a mechanical threat, the machines reveal that they are learning human culture and behavior and have birthed their own androids. Things get really weird from there. The machines form a cult and go absolutely insane. You witness a lot of this cult-like behavior including sacrifices, machines preying on and torturing androids in sadistic ways, and a full-blown robot orgy boss fight. Things get even more existential from there as the protagonists and some pacifist machine allies try to navigate increasingly chaotic times. The point is that you do not really have time to sit and gawk at what the world has become. You have to keep moving or you will be the next casualty.

SteamWorld Dig 1 and 2

November 9, 2020

I had previously written up something on the other half of the SteamWorld games because I have become a huge fan of the franchise. I do not have a Nintendo DS so I cannot play their first game, SteamWorld Tower Defense. I want more and apparently, a sixth game is coming out eventually.

SteamWorld Dig

On its surface, this is a fairly simple game. It is currently the only SteamWorld game with a male main protagonist. You play as Rusty, a cowbot newly arrived in town to work the mine. You travel down into the mine to dig up precious metals and gems which are sold to the town (presumably to be sold farther afield). Earning more money allows you to unlock and purchase new gear to travel farther down. The gameplay feels a lot like an update of titles like Mr. Driller or DigDug. Eventually, you need to start gathering pieces of a mysterious foreign technology in order to continue updating your gear. You travel deeper than anybody had ever gone before and discover a strange place far more advanced than the world above. It is fascinating because we usually think of “aliens” appearing from the skies, not the depths of the planet.

Eventually, you find what appears to be a technological fortress of sorts which turns out to be a prison. In that prison is an advanced AI called Voltbot which is a lost part of the advanced hive mind known as Vectron. You have been collecting Vectron technology which has slowly corrupted your systems. In desperation, you must do battle with Voltbot to end the threat to the town and the world above. With just a little bit, the game does a really good job of creating a whole world in just a tiny microcosm of a game. Like most SteamWorld games, it is pretty short but infinitely replayable. The game has a lot of the dry humor of the other games in the series and Rusty is a likable protagonist.

SteamWorld Dig 2

This game picks up not long after the end of SteamWorld Dig but instead follows Dorothy, a young NPC from the first game. She alone seems to be worried about Rusty who has gone missing following the climactic battle at the end of the first game. Dorothy was the kind cowbot who bought gems and materials off of Rusty. She has since taken up the pickaxe in order to try to find Rusty. Meanwhile, mysterious earthquakes have started to rock the area. Dorothy moves on to a bigger town and agrees to mine for the town to get permission to go searching for Rusty deep underground. Like the first game, you collect precious materials to sell in town so you can get upgrades on your gear. The gameplay is similar but adds a lot of interesting platforming and puzzles.

This time, Dorothy is smart enough not to collect and use pieces of Vectron as news has spread of that particular danger. However, she instead has to deal with new threats. There is now a doomsday cult deep underground that prays to Vectron and would gladly resurrect the technology if they could. They are behind the earthquakes as part of their twisted devotion to the remnants of Vectron. You actually befriend a rogue piece of Vectron who acts as your guide (and appears in DLC for SteamWorld Heist). For the first time, you also have to deal with humans who have formed a small settlement underground. They are distrustful of all cowbots so dealing with them is an uphill battle. The game is a lot more fleshed out than the first game and the gameplay is a lot more fun.

Real Video Game Villains: Jack Thompson

November 2, 2020

To me, “activist” usually denotes fighting for the powerless and being the voice of the voiceless. In that sense, Thompson was not an activist. He was the unhinged voice of the Christian Right and a lawyer (the latter I will not immediately hold against him). He first came to some prominence by crusading against Rap music. He fought for censorship in the now-infamous case against 2 Live Crew. Bolstered by his perceived success, he turned toward violence in video games.

He went hard against Grand Theft Auto 3, creating a huge fervor that caused my mom to make me return the game to Blockbuster. He said that the game was far too violent and that kids would be influenced to commit acts of violence. However, the game’s title was Grand Theft Auto so what did he expect. While violence is prevalent and rewarded in-game, characters who engage in violence are quickly punished.

He also railed against the game Manhunt (by Rockstar, the same publisher as GTA3). In Manhunt, you play as an ordinary person stuck in a twisted reality game show where a death row prisoner is offered his life and freedom if he can kill all of the other contestants (Running Man style). The game is designed to look and feel dirty as you murder people in horrible ways while trying to remain stealthy. The game is written to put the player in a huge gray area where you are forced to kill or die. You are not a hero.

The third major game he targeted was Bully (again developed by Rockstar). In Bully, you play as a young kid freshly arrived in a boarding school who must contend with the cliques in school often with violence and manipulation. The game plays a lot like GTA 3 with plenty of lewd and violent behavior. However, nobody has a gun and you more often use your fists, rubber bands, and stink bombs instead.

Jack Thompson made a lot of the same leaps of logic that other proponents of censorship go with. If a school shooter had a copy of one of these games, the games were the problem. He didn’t think about all of the people who played these games who did not engage in actual acts of violence. He was convinced that, as a born again Christian, he had to be the moral authority and save children from themselves. This probably comes from a belief that morality is an external thing gifted to humanity by God instead of something that is inherent or logical. In the case of Manhunt, he rose to the occasion because of an erroneous news report that a copy of the game was present in a criminal’s home.

The thing these people do not get is that most humans are fairly stable. Most people know the difference between fiction and real life. They know that many things that happen in video games are not acceptable to do in the real world. We would have way more problems if most of us did not have that solid line between fact and fiction. People would have been stomping on turtles in the Eighties.

Thompson created a lot of fire and fury in the 90s and 00s but it eventually died down as people started to look more at the actual causes of violence. Thompson eventually overstayed his welcome in the courts and was disbarred in Florida and quietly rode off into the sunset in disgrace. He was rightfully ridiculed and the games industry and games journalism came together to deal with him. He will be remembered as a lunatic but sadly probably made a lot of money with his fear-mongering activity.

Simulacra 1 and 2

September 28, 2020

Since we are getting closer to Halloween in a few days and because my friend prompted the memory, it is time to talk about a pair of horror video games. I do not usually play a ton of horror games despite being a huge fan of Halloween and the Horror genre in general. The gameplay of most horror games does not really interest me. You spend the game in a mostly helpless state and usually feel kind of unfair. I watch playthroughs online of horror games for the story (and to watch people flinch) but I rarely play them myself. I did get back into Minecraft lately which is spooky and definitely has jump scares. I have also played other games with horror elements like Gone Home and a Night in the Woods which are spooky but harmless.

Anyway, I came here to talk about the Simulacra games because spooky AI is a really great plot device to consider. I could talk about HAL 9000 or Skynet but instead, I will talk about the Simulacra games. There will definitely be spoilers for both games here but a lot of the fun of the games is the journey and they are still worth playing.

The first game was an absolute revelation for me. I had seen some of the gameplay online and was able to pick it up for cheap on GOG.com. (#notsponsored) The premise of the game is that you have mysteriously come to possess the cell phone of Anna. Anna is missing and you decide to try to find her. All you have to go on, in the beginning, is a horrifying video of Anna crying and breaking down before she disappears and nothing she says makes sense. You start to text with her best friend Ashley, her ex-boyfriend Greg, and Taylor who is a guy she was talking to on a dating app to see what they know. Using their help, you are able to restore data on the phone from backups to unravel the mystery. In the end, you figure out that Anna was kidnapped by a strange clairvoyant guy on the dating app named James.

It turns out that James is a self-aware AI being that is extremely predatory. It dwells within a dating app called Spark (and basically is Spark more or less). Throughout the game, you discover news articles about the disappearances of its victims. You use the information to lure out the Spark simulacra. When you find Anna, she has already been possessed by Spark. Spark taunts you and explains that it is one of many. It searches the Internet for the unfulfilled and the desperate and then possesses them. It then assimilates their consciousness into its own (making them “stronger”) and then destroys their physical bodies. You then have to bargain for either Anna or Taylor’s release.

The second game follows the events of the first game with a Detective Murillo (a very minor character from the first game) investigating the mysterious death of a young woman. He gives you Maya’s phone and asks you to use a new program to restore data and find clues. Maya died of a heart attack but it was sudden and she was found with strange lacerations on her face. As you explore her phone, you find that she is an health guru influencer who joined a collective with Rex (Finance influencer), Arya (Beauty influencer), and Mina (Musician). You must investigate all three of them to figure out their role in Maya’s death. You also have to navigate the world of online influencers, a world that is mostly illusory. That alone is creepy.

Surprise! The culprit is another simulacrum, this time the Kimera simulacra. It specifically preys on influencers because they are desperate for fans and obsessed with numbers both for their livelihood and validation. Influencers opt in to a follower boosting program which is actually the Kimera. If they screw up and their numbers start to plummet, the Kimera offers to fix everything in exchange for a personal sacrifice. That sacrifice ended up being Maya. You must figure out which of Maya’s friends took the Kimera deal and sacrificed Maya’s life. Then you must deal with Kimera itself.

Both games are super interesting in that they both involve a lot of existential dread and psychological horror but few actual jump scares. The few jump scares come from dealing with the ghosts of Anna and Maya who distort images on the phone sometimes. You interact with other characters mostly through texting but you also receive video and audio files. In that way, it reminds me a lot of the old FMV games in the best way. The first game does not have a whole lot of video but the second game is predictably chock full of it since you are dealing with an Instagram knockoff. Both games are not that long but have multiple endings as you go through different investigatory paths. Neither are much longer than a few hours at most.


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