Posts Tagged ‘Video Games’

An Exhaustive Summary of the Batman: Arkham Games Pt. 5

December 5, 2022

The story starts not too long after the events of Arkham City. We see the Joker’s body loaded carefully into a cremation oven. As the flames consume his body, his grin seems to glow even brighter. Gotham City Police waits to see who will fill the power vacuum but nobody steps up. A tense peace pervades Gotham City. Arkham City is dismantled and Bruce Wayne’s money is donated to repair the damage. Without warning, Scarecrow returns to the spotlight with an improved fear gas. His attack is senseless and he threatens further terrorist actions, pledging to flood the entire city with fear gas. With such a credible threat, the city starts to evacuate with only a few of the GCPD sticking around to try to keep the peace. With the streets now empty, the gangs of Gotham rise up as looters and rioters.

The story begins with Batman arriving at the batsignal to meet with Commissioner Gordon just as Gordon hangs up the phone with his daughter Barbara who has boarded the last bus out of Gotham. The two speak briefly about whether Scarecrow would actually set off a chemical weapon in Gotham. A call comes in about a missing patrol car but when Gordon turns back around, Batman is gone. We find out that Barbara Gordon lied to her father as she is assisting Batman from her base at the Clocktower. Batman easily tracks down and saves the cop from looters but they are almost run down by a military-grade armored jeep. The vehicle matches the description of one linked to Scarecrow.  Batman summons his new and improved Batmobile via remote and then roars after the vehicle in hot pursuit. Batman races through the city and eventually disables the target vehicle. 

Batman interrogates the driver of the vehicle to get information about Scarecrow. He gets the location of a hideout in nearby Chinatown. Batman takes a pure sample of the new fear gas off of the soldier and sends the information to Barbara to analyze. Batman heads to the hideout to find that Scarecrow has Poison Ivy captive as she is immune to his fear gas. Batman goes to take Ivy in but they are stopped from leaving by soldiers and tanks rolling up on them. Batman operates the Batmobile by remote and displays its new tank mode. With the enemy tanks being drones, there is no need to hold back. After wrecking waves of tanks, Batman takes Ivy back to GCPD lockup for her and Gotham’s safety. 

Batman goes to the Clocktower to use Barbara’s computer to analyze the new fear gas compound. They figure out that instead of tracing the ingredients of the compound, they can try and trace the specific manufacturing process that would be needed to make it. Batman and Barbara use several radio towers to search for and find the manufacturing energy signature. They discover it at Ace Chemicals. During this, Batman debuts his new gear which is basically Bat Armor. Batman relays the probable location to Gordon but Gordon says that he stationed men there. Something is very wrong. 

Batman rushes to infiltrate the Ace Chemicals plant to rescue the police officers and skeleton crew left behind. Once there, he finds that a full-blown paramilitary force has been using the plant as a staging ground. Analysis of their markings matches rumors of a force training in South America led by somebody named the Arkham Knight. Batman comes face to face with this Arkham Knight while trying to track and rescue Ace’s skeleton crew. The Knight taunts Batman and leaves him to fight more drone tanks as his army ships out. 

Batman goes deeper into the plant to stop Scarecrow. It becomes clear that the explosion of gas will not only encompass Gotham, it will cover the entire Eastern Seaboard. After a brief fight, Scarecrow tells Batman to let him go in return for Barbara Gordon’s life. Alfred chimes in to say that he has lost contact with Barbara Gordon. Batman selflessly risks himself to load a neutralizing agent to the tanks. As he puts in the last tank, he turns around to see the Joker pointing a gun at Batman’s head.

We suddenly flashback to Commissioner Gordon arriving at the rundown Panessa Film Studios. He is let into an elevator that takes him down to an underground laboratory. He sees five enclosures. Four of them are taken up by entertainment personality Johnny Charisma, Queen Industries executive Christina Bell, prizefighter Albert King, and boarding school principal Henry Adams. Everybody but Henry displays physical and personality characteristics reminiscent of Joker. Batman informs Gordon that these four slipped through the cracks when people were infected with Joker’s blood. Batman has Robin working on a cure. Meanwhile, the four subjects are basically becoming Joker. Gordon notes that one cell is empty and Batman says that the last patient will be there soon. 

Back in the present, Batman is pestered by the Joker who is clearly only in Batman’s mind. Batman is the fifth infected patient and seeing and hearing The Joker everywhere is a symptom. Batman escapes Ace Chemicals as it implodes but no gas is released thanks to Batman’s efforts. 

However, it is clear now that Barbara Gordon has been taken by the Arkham Knight. Batman breaks the news to Gordon who angrily accompanies him to the Clocktower. Once there, the Joker seems to induce a hallucination in Batman of the time that he shot Barbara Gordon, the incident that put her in her wheelchair. Batman reveals to Commissioner Gordon that Barbara has been helping him in his fight. Gordon angrily rebukes Batman for endangering his daughter and causing her to be put in danger. Gordon goes rogue and leaves Batman to try and track the kidnapping on his own.

Batman tracks the vehicle that took Barbara and finds that it has crashed not too far away. Through forensics, Batman discovers that Barbara caused the driver to crash in order to stash some of the militia’s tech before being recaptured by the Knight. With the help of Lucius Fox, Batman uses the hidden tech to infiltrate the militia’s network and track the Arkham Knight into the sewers. Batman receives a worried call from Robin who offers to join the fight, worried that he has not heard from his girlfriend Barbara. Batman tells him that she is on special assignment and that he is still needed to research the cure. Joker taunts Batman for not telling Robin and for his failures.

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An Exhaustive Summary of the Batman: Arkham Games Pt. 4

August 8, 2022

Batman follows the trail to the Sionis Steel Mill, the legitimate face of Black Mask’s empire. Here he finds that Joker has fully taken over Black Mask’s operations. Batman makes his way through the Steel Mill and then through the massive hidden drug processing facility. Batman rescues Sionis but discovers that this has been a trap set for him by Copperhead. She briefly scuffles with Batman, injecting him with her venom. She toys with Batman as he struggles to get back up to surface level so Alfred can airlift him an antivenom. He starts to hallucinate and sees Alfred, Commissioner Loeb, and the bank manager filling him with shame and doubt. Batman fights hundreds of identical Copperheads until Alfred manages to deliver the antivenom allowing Batman to easily finish off Copperhead. She offers to lead Batman to Joker in exchange for her freedom. While pleading her case, she lets slip that the remaining assassins have a scheduled meeting with Joker which means Batman does not need her. 

Batman scans the city for the frequency of the Electrocutioner’s gloves and narrows down the location of the meeting to a room in the Royal Gotham Hotel. Batman must evade Lieutenant Branden’s team outside to get into the hotel. Meanwhile, Joker is berating the remaining assassins for failing to kill Batman and throws Electrocutioner out of the window who falls to his death right in front of Batman. Most of the assassins leave but Bane sticks around, correctly assuming that Batman would be coming for Joker. Batman fights through the hotel which Joker has fashioned into a strange amusement park decorated with dead bodies. Joker toys with Batman, forcing him to play games to save lives. 

At the top of the tower, Batman’s attempt to get at The Joker is thwarted by Bane who aimed to collect on the balcony. Bane allows The Joker one minute with Batman. Joker spends that minute taunting Batman with the knowledge that he has rigged explosives all over the city and sets one off to show that it isn’t a bluff. Batman tries to beat information on the bombs out of The Joker but the minute is up and Bane attacks. 

Batman fights Bane on the roof of the hotel with Bane using venom and his men to try and outmatch the Dark Knight. Bane’s ruthless cunning and chemically enhanced physicality make the battle very dicey for Batman. A worried Alfred goes against Batman’s orders and anonymously tips off Jim Gordon. Gordon rides to the rescue with his team on helicopters which causes Bane to consider a tactical retreat. Batman places a homing device on Bane. Joker is angry that Bane is retreating and fires on Bane’s helicopter. Bane retaliates by firing a rocket launcher at the clown and the explosion launches Joker into the air. Batman is forced to risk himself to save Joker from falling to his death. Joker is astonished that Batman would save him after all that he has done. Joker kills two of his own men before they can kill Batman.

Joker is arrested and taken to Blackgate where he receives an intake interview from Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Joker instantly charms Quinzel by talking longingly about Batman but in such an ambiguous way that the doctor thinks he is talking about her. As Joker talks about being destined to meet Batman, we see what might be The Joker’s origin story. He is forced to wear the costume of The Red Hood during an Ace Chemicals heist. In the middle of the heist, Batman appears and the frightened amateur criminal who would become Joker unsuccessfully struggles. Joker falls into a vat of chemicals and, when he surfaces, realizes the chemicals have turned him into the iconic Joker that we know.

Batman returns to the Batcave, shaken but still standing. Alfred begs him to stay put since Joker has been arrested which ends the whole affair. Batman disagrees and says that there is more work to be done. There are a few more assassins out there including Bane. The tracer on Bane does not seem to be working.  Just then, there is a report of a body resembling Bane in the morgue. It turns out to be just one of Bane’s henchmen. The signal for the homing device comes online and Batman makes his way into Bane’s Gotham headquarters. There he finds the tracer device attached to undeniable proof that Bane knows that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same. Batman warns Alfred that Bane knows his secret. Alfred requests Bruce’s return again but Batman says that he will be safe alone in the Batcave.

Reports come in that Firefly is terrorizing the Gotham Pioneer’s Bridge. Batman discovers that Firefly and his men have planted bombs all along the bridge. Batman warns Gordon who chooses to trust him and calls for the cops to stay off the bridge and let Batman try and handle it. Batman travels through the train station inside of the bridge and rescues hostages while defusing the bombs. Batman and Gordon clash over tactics but end up working well together with Alfred urging Batman to trust Gordon more. After defusing three bombs, Batman is surprised by Firefly and battles him for control of the detonator switch. Firefly is finally able to use the detonator switch but the delay that Batman caused allowed Gordon enough time to have the final bomb defused. 

Batman gets a call from Alfred but it ends up being Bane who is in the Batcave. Bane taunts Batman with the knowledge that it will be too late to save Alfred and Bane wants to face him again when Bruce’s grief turns to anger. Batman rushes to the Batcave just in time for Alfred to bid him goodbye. A distraught Bruce uses Electrocutioner’s gloves as a last resort and manages to defibrillate Alfred and restart his heart. A convalescing Alfred tells Bruce that he understands the mission now and that he cannot dissuade Batman from his path. However, no man is an island and Batman must rely on others if he is to survive. There is trouble at Blackgate Prison again so Batman calls Gordon to team up.

Batman and Gordon work together and are able to stem the worst of the riots. They are able to rescue Warden Joseph and Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Quinzel tells Batman that she knows why he is at the prison and that Joker is waiting for him at the Panopticon. Batman confronts Joker who has once again teamed up with Bane. Joker has set up a heart monitor on Bane. If Bane lives within the time limit, Joker will fry in an electric chair. If Batman kills Bane, Joker will live. Batman fights Bane yet again and Batman ends up stopping Bane’s heart, saving Joker. He quickly repeats the earlier trick and restarts Bane’s heart with Electrocutioner’s gloves. Bane rages and injects himself with even more Venom and Batman must beat him again.

Joker is waiting for Batman in the prison chapel. He is delighting in this confrontation and gives Batman kudos for stopping and restarting Bane’s heart. He had not thought of that loophole. He dares Batman to kill him by pointing out all of the horrible things he had done. Batman easily disarms the Joker and beats the snot out of him. As he punches Joker, he envisions all of the horrible things that Joker did and set in motion. He starts to strangle Joker who simply laughs, finding it all so funny. Batman knocks out the Joker and chooses to spare him as Gordon watches. Gordon is finally convinced of Batman’s honor since he let Joker live even after everything he did. Gordon is set to become the new Commissioner, a promotion he did not believe in until Barbara and Batman convinced him that it might not be hopeless. Later, Joker wakes up strapped to a gurney and revels in the hilarity of Batman once again sparing his life. This was going to be fun.

An Exhaustive Summary of the Batman: Arkham Games Pt. 3

July 25, 2022

Last time in Arham Games: The League of Shadows engineered a plan to wall off the Gotham slums in order to murder the criminals of Gotham. Batman pulled triple duty by facing off with the criminals of Gotham, a government-contracted militia, and a fatal blood poisoning gifted to him from The Joker. It ended with the death of Hugo Strange, Ra’s Al Ghul, and The Joker himself. We left Batman emerging from the iconic Monarch Theater, cradling Joker’s dead body as authorities (and Harley Quinn) look on.

Eight years prior to the events of Arkham Asylum, the city of Gotham is rife with crime. The days of the mafioso are waning and the first supervillains are emerging. The police force and government, in general, are horribly corrupt. 

The game begins on Christmas Eve and a riot has broken out in Blackgate Prison. Somebody has broken into the prison on the night that Julian Day aka “The Calendar Man” is set to be executed. Batman has arrived uninvited to help with the crisis even though he is a target of police investigation himself. He infiltrates the prison which is spiraling into chaos as several inmates are already free. Batman rescues Warden Joseph only to have to fend off the Warden’s attack as well. He moves on after declaring that he is there to help.

Batman hurries further into the prison, close on the heels of the intruding force. It becomes clear that Black Mask has arrived with Killer Croc who is the muscle allowing him to bypass security. Batman struggles to keep up with the villains as he is forced to stop to fight escaped inmates in order to rescue guards and reporter Vicki Vale. Along the way, he also spots a drone following the path of destruction. Another mystery. Croc eventually destroys the drone much to Black Mask’s annoyance as he wanted the drone to be studied. Batman is able to recover the drone’s data storage before moving on. He arrives at the gas chamber just in time to watch Black Mask force Police Commissioner Loeb to take Calendar Man’s place in the execution. Batman is too late to save Loeb’s life.

Batman chases Black Mask and Killer Croc to the roof where a helicopter is waiting to whisk Black Mask and his men away. Killer Croc smells Batman’s scent and decides to remain behind to fight the Dark Knight. Batman fights Croc in close quarters on the roof as the helicopter keeps depositing Black Mask’s men to aid Croc. Of course, the murderous giant has no regard for Black Mask’s men and is just as likely to hurt them as he is to hurt Batman. As Batman defeats Killer Croc, the helicopter retreats as the GCPD approaches. Batman interrogates Croc who is smugly confident that Batman is screwed since “they” are coming for him. The police rush the roof and Batman comes face to face with Detective Jim Gordon for the first time. Batman avoids arrest by jumping off the roof so the Batwing can swoop in and allow his escape.

Batman quickly returns to the Batcave and he and Alfred access the chip he retrieved from the downed drone from Blackgate. He searches the footage and finds tape of a meeting held by Black Mask as he puts out a bounty for eight of the world’s deadliest assassins. The first is Killer Croc who Batman has already beaten into submission and remanded to police custody. There are still seven assassins out there, hunting for Batman for a $50 million bounty. Those assassins are Deathstroke, Bane, Lady Shiva, Deadshot, Electrocutioner, and Firefly. Alfred implores Batman to just spend Christmas Eve at Wayne Manor with Alfred. No Batman means no bounty. Batman points out that the assassins will simply harm innocents to draw Batman out and he cannot live with that. He sets out to figure out where Black Mask is to put an end to it.

Batman has a lead on an illegal arms sale that is linked to the brand of drone that infiltrated the prison. He flies off toward The Bowery to stake out the sale but the Batwing’s navigation systems are scrambled. It seems that somebody has hijacked the proprietary technology that Batman has attached to radio towers throughout the city. Batman is forced to land at one of the towers and make his way to the top to investigate the interference. Several thugs are protecting the tower. Batman easily defeats these criminals, saving repairmen who have been taken as hostages. As he flushes the hacker’s presence from the tower’s systems, he comes face to screen with a mysterious man who has plans to release the secret information of officials throughout Gotham on Christmas Day to cause a societal collapse. He warns Batman against interfering.

Batman travels to make it to the arms sale and stakes it out. He interrupts the sale and beats up and interrogates the seller, Ricky “Loose Lips” LeBlanc who unwittingly sells out The Penguin as his boss. He tries to figure out the location of Penguin’s hideout but is forced to hack into three of Penguin’s listening posts to help triangulate his position. He figures out that Penguin is set up on an old cruise ship that Penguin had renamed The Final Offer where his normally illegal deals are legal due to a maritime law loophole. Batman makes his way down into the ship and finds that Penguin has built a black market and is hosting a fight club. Batman interrupts the fights only to come face to face with the second assassin, Lester Buchinsky aka “The Electrocutioner”. 

And then the Electrocutioner gets dropped.

The Penguin retreats and Batman must chase Penguin and his assistants Candy and Tracey through the labyrinthine ship. Batman fights through the derelict ship, taking out any criminals he can find. The Penguin has been selling arms to some of the assassins. Along the way, Batman finds out that Penguin is feuding with the Falcone family, the oldest mobster family in Gotham. Penguin has taken advantage of the conflict between the Falcones and Black Mask, using the opportunity to oust Falcone from power. He has captured mob boss Carmine Falcone’s son Alberto who he is torturing in his office. Batman interrupts this torture and starts trying to interrogate Penguin who lets slip a comment about a murder at Lacey Towers.

Batman’s questioning of Penguin is interrupted by the arrival of Deathstroke who challenges Batman to a fight he cannot refuse. The battle with Deathstroke is fast and furious as Deathstroke is a master at combat. He comes at Batman with a bo staff, a katana, his rifle, and a special remote claw device that he uses to launch propane tanks at Batman. The two fight hard but Batman finally knocks Deathstroke unconscious with his own sword. Penguin had been watching the fight but immediately locks himself away when the fight concludes. Batman is forced to leave The Final Offer, begrudgingly satisfied that he beat two more assassins and saved Alberto Falcone from possible murder. He also has the lead of a crime scene to investigate at the Lacey Towers apartment building. 

Batman arrives at the apartment crime scene and finds two dead bodies. The first is a woman known to be a mistress of Roman Sionis aka The Black Mask. The other dead body is wearing the outfit of The Black Mask. This seems to be where the police were satisfied and stopped investigating. Batman looks further and finds evidence that helps him reconstruct the events of the struggle. The mistress arrived at the safehouse, rattled by a criminal known only as The Joker. She was murdered and hung from the chandelier as a psychological message. Black Mask suspected that his mistress’ call may have been a trap and sent in a decoy who was promptly murdered. Black Mask then attacked the intruder but lost the fight. 

Batman has never heard of this mysterious Joker before and, after discussing his options with Alfred, decides to infiltrate GCPD headquarters to access their national criminal database. Batman makes his way inside, knowing that he has to be stealthy as alerting the whole cop shop would end badly for him. The headquarters are in disarray after the murder of Commissioner Loeb with SWAT lieutenant Branden representing the bloodthirsty and corrupt faction within the police. 

Batman listens in to a conversation between James Gordon and his visiting daughter Barbara Gordon. In the server room, Barbara surprises Batman and reveals that she is a fan of his and helps him hack the server. She also reveals that he will need to access the data line in the sewers beneath to gain permanent access. Batman is discovered in the building and Branden rushes with his men to kill Batman for Black Mask’s bounty. Gordon intervenes, wanting to arrest Batman instead. In the heat of the standoff, Batman saves Gordon from being killed by Branden and his men and flees. 

Batman makes his way down to the sewers where he finds that Black Mask has a personal vault at Gotham Merchant Bank only accessible with Black Mask’s biometrics. Batman deduces that this is where Joker took the criminal kingpin. Batman rushes to the bank and the heist is in progress. The bank is full of the dead bodies of its employees. Batman encounters Black Mask who has the bank manager captive. The bank manager has a horrible, uncomfortable grin on her face. Black Mask postures and then is disappointed that people are not playing along. He brings out the captive Roman Sionis (the real Black Mask). The fake Black Mask unmasks to reveal The Joker, a murderous clown. He confirms Batman’s suspicions that he posed as Black Mask days earlier to place the bounty on Batman. He and his men grab Sionis and escape in an ambulance before setting off a bomb that destroys the vault. Batman examines the deceased bank manager who died from some sort of toxin.

Pt. 2 Coming Soon

Ripper (1995) – A Quick Look at the FMV Game

July 11, 2022

I absolutely love Full Motion Video games. They started in the eighties which stemmed from  Laserdisc technology becoming more available to consumers. The ability to preprogram stop and start times on video allowed for more interesting possibilities. A lot of that ended up in the arcades with games like Dragon’s Lair. Those possibilities started to hit overdrive in the early to mid-nineties when the most popular FMV games came out. Personally, my first was 7th Guest. I feel like the medium lent itself to horror but other options were available. There was a glut of games in the nineties and then the fad was over. FMV games are not completely dead but they are not nearly as prevalent as they once were.

An FMV game is basically what it says on the tin. The developer gets a bunch of actors, some costumes, some sets (and/or a green screen), and some cameras. The actors follow a script much like a normal movie except that they have to cover all the possibilities including player failure. Imagine the branching tree of a Choose Your Own Adventure book (or Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). The acting is often over-the-top and melodramatic to make sure everything is clearly conveyed to the player. That means that even the worst FMV game has goofy and fun acting that is hard to not find entertaining. The gameplay is usually point and click adventure game which means that you are hunting for clues, collecting inventory, and solving puzzles.

Ripper is set in New York City in 2040, a science-fiction future that actually still feels like it is feasible which is rare. It is built in the grand tradition of cyberpunk, reminding me somewhat of what bit of Shadowrun that I have experienced. The story hits the ground running as we are introduced to Jake Quinlan (played by Scott Cohen), a rumpled journalist for the city paper and a callback to characters like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. He does not seem to be that great at his job but he is assigned to the crime beat. In a nod to the Zodiac, he has been receiving messages sent to him by a new serial killer calling himself The Ripper. Quinlan never asked for this responsibility but now finds himself thrust into the middle of a mad scramble to find the mysterious killer.

Unfortunately, he is unwittingly in the middle of being scooped by his co-worker, Catherine Powell (played by Tahnee Welch). This will annoy Quinlan when he finds out because A) it’s his story. B) he and Catherine are sleeping together, and C) she’s better at her job than he is.   Catherine notifies Quinlan that she has a lead on the identity of The Ripper. Quinlan gets another message from The Ripper who tells him that the next target is Catherine who has gotten too close. Quinlan rushes to meet up with and protect his lover only for her to fall into a coma right before his eyes. A coma deeper than previously thought possible.

Catherine is taken to the Meta-Cognition Center at the hospital to be treated by Cybersurgeons, equipped to scan and possibly infiltrate her mind to repair it. This is obviously where the cyberpunk stuff starts to really come into the story. I will not be running down the entire plot but the basic point of the rest of the game is thus: To repair Catherine’s mind, Quinlan must follow Catherine’s clues and leads in order to slowly discover the identity of The Ripper. Transmitting facts of the case will allow Catherine to piece together the identity of The Ripper in her mind and wake from her coma. Doing this will also obviously allow authorities to capture The Ripper.

The action of the game happens in the real world and in cyberspace. Quinlan solves intricate puzzles in the real world in all of the spaces that Catherine was investigating. Quinlan also re-questions Catherine’s informants and all of the new people suddenly involved in the case. Puzzles are usually solved by either collecting items and using them in the right places or fiddling with devices based on environmental clues. The other part of the game involves regular trips into cyberspace, an activity that is called “decking” in the world of the game. Deckers navigate areas of cyberspace which is basically treated like a mix of Tron and the virtual reality from The Lawnmower Man franchise. It is really unsettling and I am glad we have not gone in that direction in our world.

The major strength of the game is the impressive cast of characters built from surprisingly high-profile actors all of whom chew the scenery like crazy. 

Christopher Walken as Detective Vince Magnotta – Walken steals every scene that he is in and is so memeable and quotable. Magnotta is an openly corrupt cop who is seen tampering with evidence, beating suspects during interrogation, and taking part in all sorts of stuff that cops do in real life. This is also a world where cops are paid bounties for solving cases. Magnotta hates Quinlan for sticking his nose in the case and threatening his bounty.

Karen Walker as Doctor Clare Burton – Walker plays a straightforward cybersurgeon who takes the case to treat Catherine Powell. She is cold and distant and confuses everybody by stalling Catherine’s treatment and trying to push Quinlan away. She is a top-notch scientist specializing in the human brain and using cyberspace technology to interact with neuroscience. 

David Patrick Kelly as Joey Falconetti. Sidenote: I kept hearing his name as “Falcon Eddie” and I can’t unhear it. Falconetti is a hardcore gamer and decker. He often spends days in cyberspace with the help of nootropic drugs. He is a brilliant mind but his criminal past has precluded any legitimate career. He also has a predilection for horrific and violent imagery. On top of that, he comes off as aggressive and snarky which rubs everybody the wrong way.

Paul Giamatti as Doctor Bud Cable. He picks up the slack and works on Catherine behind Doctor Burton’s back when treatment gets stalled. He coaches Quinlan on how to help with Catherine’s recovery while giving him updates on her condition

John Rys-Davies as Vigo Haman. Vigo is a gangster who surprisingly has had dealings with Doctor Burton in the past, leading to revelations about her shadowy past. 

Burgess Meredith as Hamilton and Covington Wofford. These two brothers are older than most of the rest of the cast and are involved in cyber architecture. Hamilton created a game environment for The Ripper before being murdered. Covington has become a fearful recluse without his brother and has lost his grip on his sanity. You eventually meet an AI version of Hamilton.

Ossie Davis as Ben Dodds. Dodds is Quinlan and Catherine’s boss and he is gruff but fair. He uses his contacts to help Quinlan get some background information on Catherine’s leads. He pushes Quinlan to get the story but also cautions him when things start to get too dangerous.

Jimmie Walker as Soap Beatty. Soap is a computer hacker who was Catherine’s informant but also runs a store. He schools Quinlan on the ins and outs of decker technology and gives him leads and fills in information based on that community.

Richard Bright as Doctor Karl Stasiak. Stasiak is a forensic photographer who has developed a friendship with Quinlan as they met at crime scenes often. Early on, Stasiak is a source for Quinlan within the police department but gets spooked by The Ripper and flees the city.

The long and the short of it is that The Ripper seems to be targeting the Decker community in particular. Slowly, it becomes clear that all of the victims were somehow involved in an old game themed in Victorian London as part of a gaming club. The club would play a game based on the murders of Jack the Ripper. Hmm. Quinlan has to dig up the dark shadows of the past and present of the club to solve the mystery. A mystery that the game changes each time you play, by the way. Quinlan finds out that The Ripper is not doing his ripping in person but is instead infecting people over cyberspace with code that makes their body’s internal pressure rise until their abdomens explode outward. Quinlan figures out who is The Ripper and is able to trap them in cyberspace and destroy their mind (in self-defense, of course).

An Exhaustive Summary of the Batman: Arkham Games Pt. 2

July 4, 2022

Last time on Arkham games: Batman pursued the Joker through Arkham Asylum to stop a plan to spread a new enhanced version of Bane’s Venom to destroy Gotham. Batman fought through Bane, Scarecrow, Zsaz, and Harley Quinn while trying to get to the bottom of the bureaucratic corruption that allowed this all to happen. Batman faced a roided-out Joker and was able to take him out.

After the events of Arkham Asylum, the asylum is closed but former warden Quincy Sharpe was able to capitalize on the publicity of Batman’s victory to get voted in as mayor of Gotham City. He was able to push through a plan to wall off the Gotham slums and create something called Arkham City where all inmates would now be sent. Free of jail cells, criminals are free to engage in gang violence and crews from the outside are formed yet again. The Bowery is held by Penguin’s crew who is focused on accumulating useful technology and wealth. Park Row is controlled by Two-Face who is interested only in his own form of justice. The Joker’s gang holds the Industrial Park. He has used parts from nearby abandoned Amusement Mile to turn the factories into a twisted theme park. The whole thing is under the control of warden Hugo Strange and his private mercenary force, the Tyger guards.

Bruce Wayne publicly protests against the continued existence of Arkham City and in response he is arrested as a political prisoner. Wayne is pulled aside during intake to be interrogated by Hugo Strange. Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman and that he will reveal that fact to the public should Batman try to interfere with his plans. He mentions that Protocol 10 will soon be in motion and that he does not have time to deal with Wayne. In fact, he claims that he will succeed where Batman has failed again and again. He releases Bruce into general population with the assumption that he will be killed by inmates. Bruce is immediately confronted by Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, reawakening an old feud between their families. Bruce is able to get the better of Penguin’s thugs and escape. On a nearby roof, Alfred has the Batwing drop off the Batsuit and Bruce suits up. 

Batman had been able to palm an encryption chip from a Tyger guard and taps into their communications. He finds that Two-Face has Catwoman captive at Solomon Wayne Courthouse and Batman rushes off to rescue her. If anybody knows what the lay of the land inside Arkham City is, it’s Catwoman. In the courthouse, Two-Face is putting Catwoman on trial and is about to execute her when Batman intervenes. Batman’s discussion with Catwoman is interrupted by sniper fire from outside with the bullet barely missing Catwoman. Batman tracks the trajectory of the bullet and finds that it originated in the nearby church bell tower.

When Batman enters the church, he is confronted by Harley Quinn who informs him that Joker is not up to seeing him and to stay away. She says something about having to go fetch a doctor for Mr. J before excusing herself. Batman makes easy work of Harley’s thugs and climbs the bell tower. There he finds that the sniper rifle was automated and Joker appears on several monitors to taunt Batman and detonate a bomb in the bell tower. Batman escapes easily and sets his cowl to track the signal Joker used to detonate the bomb. He tracks the signal down to the old Sionis Steel Mill which he infiltrates through the smokestack. As Batman makes his way through the building, it becomes evident that Joker has been kidnapping doctors but killing them when they cannot help him.

Batman confronts Joker and Harley who reveals that the wheelchair-bound Joker is dead. And then Joker is suddenly behind Batman and able to knock him out with gas. Batman wakes to find that Joker has given Batman a transfusion of the Joker’s own blood. That blood has become incredibly toxic thanks to Joker’s dalliance with Titan during the events of Arkham Asylum. Now both Joker and Batman are on a ticking clock and both will die if a cure is not found very soon. For additional motivation, Joker has shipped his blood to hospitals around Gotham to create a crisis that will also require a cure to solve. Batman guesses that this is Protocol 10 but Joker has never heard of it. Batman reluctantly agrees to track down Mr. Freeze who had been working on the cure for Joker. He locates Freeze’s lab at the abandoned Police Department but Freeze has already been kidnapped by Penguin’s goons. Penguin had his goons blow up the bridges that led to his territory to keep Joker’s forces out. He is holed up in the Museum and using military technology to keep even Batman out. After Batman disables that equipment, he enters the Museum.

Inside the museum, Batman discovers that Commissioner Gordon sent undercover cops into Arkham City to infiltrate the Penguin’s gang. These cops have been found out are being tortured and killed by Penguin and his gang. Moreover, Batman finds that Penguin has separated Freeze from his suit and is holding on to Freeze’s gun. Penguin is ruling over the inside of the Museum with an iron fist and taunts Batman constantly. Batman locates and frees Mr. Freeze who gives him a device to disable the freeze gun. Batman rescues what undercover cops he can and traverses the flooded and frozen museum. He quickly incapacitates Penguin who retaliates by unleashing a captive Solomon Grundy to crush Batman. The battle is brutal and ends with Grundy dying yet again. 

Freeze informs Batman that the cure is not yet stable and the Batcomputer’s analysis revealed that the missing component could be formed from the blood of Ra’s Al Ghul. Luckily, Penguin had captured one of Talia Al Ghul’s elite guards. Batman releases the ninja and chases her across Gotham City and is able to place a tracking device on her. Batman descends into the sewers. There, he finds that Joker’s gang has been getting assault weapons from Hugo Strange as part of Protocol 10. The mystery of what Protocol 10 could be persists.  

Batman tracks the signal to an abandoned, underground city from the 1800s called Wonder City. This small city had been ruled over by Ra’s back when he discovered the Lazarus Pit. Batman locates the inner sanctum of the League of Shadows where he is confronted by Talia, a woman who alternates between being his lover and enemy. Batman is offered the chance to take the trials of Ra’s Al Ghul. He drinks some of the liquid from the Lazarus Pit which rejuvenates him somewhat but also makes him enter a hallucination guided by Ra’s.

Ra’s constantly lectures Batman as he tests his abilities to glide and fight through a landscape that is part desert and part post-apocalyptic Gotham. When Batman is successful in passing a trial that nobody else has, Ra’s offers to make Batman his heir and offers him leadership of the League of Shadows. He also offers to allow Batman into the Lazarus Pit as a condition of that deal which will cure him of Joker’s poisonous blood. However, Batman knows that the pit will also drive him mad as it has done for everyone before him. Batman refuses the offer and must fight and incapacitate Ra’s to get his blood. Batman leaves a furious Talia to return her father to the Lazarus Pit to recover from his injuries.

After reaching the surface, Batman is sidetracked by a report that Mayor Quincy Sharp is in trouble and arrives to find Mayor Sharp getting his butt handed to him by some of Two-Face’s goons. After saving the mayor, Batman interrogates him about what is going on with Hugo Strange. Under duress, Sharp spills the beans and says that Arkham City was all Strange’s idea. Strange came to him with claims of powerful friends who could make Sharp mayor in return for creating Arkham City. Batman has already connected the dots and realizes that political prisoners in Arkham City are those who could have revealed parts of Strange’s plan. He is tying up loose ends. Batman briefly muses about who Strange’s powerful friends are.

Batman returns to the GCPD where Freeze is able to manufacture the cure. Freeze then locks a vial of the cure in his safe and destroys the second vial. He informs Batman that Joker had stolen Freeze’s wife Nora. Batman is forced to fight an attacking Mr. Freeze and barely beats him into submission. During the fight, Harley Quinn was able to retrieve the cure from the safe. Freeze apologizes for his rage and the fact that he does not have the material to produce any more of the cure anytime soon. Freeze begs Batman to find Nora. Batman sets out toward the Steel Mill again to retrieve the cure before Joker can use it. Before he gets very far, a helicopter carrying reporter Vicki Vale is shot down by The Joker. Batman must make a pitstop to rescue her before continuing on.

Batman fights through the Steel Mill yet again and arrives to find that Joker is back to future health and ready to fight Batman. At least, he’s ready for the fight since he has Batman vastly outnumbered. Batman must fight a prolonged fist fight against Joker and at least forty henchmen including a leftover Titan-infused henchman. Joker happily taunts Batman during the fight as Batman struggles to keep upright. Just as things look hopeless for Batman, Talia Al Ghul appears. She reveals that she stole the cure back from Harley and offers Joker immortality through the Lazarus Pit if he will leave Batman alive. Joker accepts and the two leave. 

Unfortunately, that pesky Protocol 10 that Hugo Strange mentioned ten hours ago (in-game time) is enacted. Protocol 10 requires the Tyger guards to murder all of the inmates with missiles. That starts with a missile hitting the steel mill and knocking Batman and, presumably, Joker unconscious. Catwoman arrives and returns the favor from much earlier in the game and rescues Batman from under the debris. 

Batman wants to save Talia from the Joker but Alfred and Barbara Gordon plead with him to resolve Protocol 10 and deal with the murderous Hugo Strange. If nothing is done, all of the inmates of Arkham City will die and Batman is obligated to save them. It is his code. Batman reluctantly infiltrates Strange’s headquarters and fights through a ton of Tyger guards. Strange taunts Batman and blames him for the creation of The Joker and other villains. Batman fights his way to the top of Wonder Tower far above the city where Strange is presiding over Protocol 10.

Batman is able to disable Strange’s defenses and confront the mad doctor. He tries to shame Strange with the sight of Arkham City on fire. Strange says that it is glorious and believes that the eradication of all of Gotham’s criminals is a righteous act. He plans to bring the plan to Keystone City and Metropolis and beyond. Batman easily physically overpowers Strange and allows Barbara Gordon to remotely disable Protocol 10. Strange rails against Batman and warns him that he has friends in high places, something Batman had guessed earlier. That friend suddenly reveals himself by stabbing Strange through the abdomen from behind. It is Ra’s Al Ghul who reveals that he set Strange against Batman to see which of them might be his heir. Strange did not succeed so he is inferior to Batman and is no longer useful. Batman pleads with Ra’s to get Strange medical help but Ra’s refuses. Strange activates Wonder Tower’s self-destruct device out of spite and Batman tackles Ra’s out of the window. Rather than accept Batman’s help, Ra’s allows himself to be impaled as he falls, leaving Batman to glide back down to Gotham’s rooftops.

Batman does not have much time to rest and reflect on the events of Wonder Tower and the deaths of two of his greatest enemies. Joker hacks into the monitors around Arkham City and taunts Batman, telling him that he has Talia at the Monarch Theater. Coincidentally, this is the theater young Bruce left with his family before his parents were murdered in front of him. Batman must make his way through an intricate setup of snipers to make it into the theater. 

At this point, you may be wondering how Joker appeared healthy in the steel mill fight if Talia intercepted the cure. Stay tuned. Batman enters the theater and finds Joker with Talia at gunpoint. Batman keeps Joker talking but is surprised when Talia is able to stab Joker from behind, leaving him facedown on the floor. Batman is arguing with Talia about his code and the whole “no killing” thing when Talia is shot from behind and the cure rolls from her hand onto the floor. The shooter reveals himself and it is The Joker, looking like hell again. Batman looks over to see Joker still impaled on the floor. Talia is dead. Joker reveals that he used a double to keep up appearances both with his gang and to mess with Batman. The Joker double grabs the vial of cure and reveals himself to be Basil Karlo aka Clayface. Clayface turns into his clay form and Batman fights him using Talia’s sword to try to get the cure back. 

After a long battle, Batman beats Clayface by freezing him with Mr. Freeze’s technology and knocks him into a Lazarus Pit, preventing Joke from using it. Batman retrieves the cure and drinks half of it. Joker berates Batman and states confidently that no matter what Joker did (killed many people, tortured and poisoned Batman, killed Batman’s lover, etc.) Batman will still save him. Batman tells the Joker how much he loathes him and how horrible the Joker is. The Joker attacks Batman and causes Batman to drop the cure which is quickly absorbed into the wooden floor. Batman insists that he had intended to save the Joker after all and Joker dies laughing that he has basically killed himself. Batman carries the Joker’s dead body out of the theater to the shock of onlookers.

Fin.

An Exhaustive Summary of the Batman: Arkham Games Pt. 1

May 16, 2022
Batman: Arkham Asylum

The game starts with Batman driving up to the legendary Arkham Asylum with The Joker strapped into the passenger seat. Batman hauls Joker into the Asylum and insists on accompanying the guards as they escort Joker to his cell as he thinks Joker allowed himself to be captured. Joker enjoys taunting both Batman and the guards even though he is strapped to a gurney Silence of the Lambs style. There are some electrical problems but they are brushed off as nothing. As you escort Joker, you find out that there was a fire at Blackgate Prison so a lot of prisoners were transferred to Arkham including Joker’s men. You descend into the bowels of Arkham where it is revealed that Harley Quinn is free and has taken control of Arkham’s security system. Joker has made a deal with a corrupt guard which has allowed him unfettered access to the asylum. They kidnap Commissioner Gordon and announce that there are bombs planted across the city that will go off should anyone try to enter the asylum grounds.

Batman chases after Harley Quinn first as she has Gordon captive in the medical wing. In fact, Joker’s men have captured all of the doctors and nurses in the wing. Batman must rescue them as he searches for Harley. Batman follows Harley’s trail to the morgue where he finds out that Jonathan Crane aka The Scarecrow is also loose. He turns a corner and finds Gordon violently murdered and slumped against a wall. Batman tries to contact Barbar Gordon aka Oracle to break the news to her but gets no answer. He is forced to move on to continue his pursuit of Harley and Joker as the walls seem to stretch and crumble around him. He enters the morgue proper and finds three body bags. He opens the first two body bags and finds his mother and father whose corpses blame him for their deaths. He moves to open the third body bag and out pops Scarecrow who hits him with concentrated fear gas which plunges Batman deeper into a nightmare.

Batman comes to in a surreal dreamscape as he is hunted by an impossibly tall Scarecrow. Batman must use stealth to navigate the gauntlet laid out for him and shine a light on Scarecrow’s avatar to return to reality. Shaken, Batman discovers that a guard’s body is where Gordon was and he can’t trust anything he saw while under the effects of the fear gas. With the actual Scarecrow nowhere in sight, Batman moves on to continue his pursuit, feeling that Gordon can still be saved.

Batman locates and temporarily subdues Harley but Joker releases Bane who is somehow even more juiced than he usually is. The fight is difficult and Batman must focus on removing the shunts used to pump Venom into Bane rather than attack the big man himself. Batman barely survives the ordeal as Bane chases him back up to the surface. Batman activates the Batmobile remotely and uses it to plow into Bane and launch him into the waters of the Gotham harbor, confident that Bane will survive. However, something was very wrong with Bane and Batman deduces that it is probably connected to Joker’s reason for returning to the asylum.

With Gordon finally rescued, Batman retreats to a small Batcave that he secretly installed under Arkham to restock his gadgets and use the computer to figure things out. He discovers that warden Quincy Sharp had hired Dr. Penelope Young as part of Arkham’s new research facility in an effort to cure the patients once and for all. However, Joker’s intricate plan started with manipulating Dr. Young into experimenting with Venom, eventually creating a plant-based hybrid called Titan. This new chemical, which caused subjects to gain enormous strength but also uncontrollable rage, was Joker’s plan to destroy Gotham and finally eliminate the Batman problem. However, Young finally realized that she was being played and refused to cooperate further which prompted Joker to return to the asylum and enact his plan there.  The plan is now clear Batman must prevent Joker from getting his hands on Titan and part of that is finding Dr. Young.

Batman begins to track Dr. Young and rescues hard-nosed guard Aaron Cash who rallies the rest of the still-living guards and gives Batman clues about Dr. Young’s whereabouts. Batman is momentarily sidetracked by another dose of Scarecrow’s fear gas which leads to him reliving his parent’s murder in Crime Alley. While tracking her further, Batman finds the Titan formula and burns it. He finds Dr. Young who has been taken hostage by Victor Zsaz in the warden’s office. After rescuing her, she reveals that she was trying to get another copy of the formula out of the office’s safe. When they open the safe, a Joker bomb goes off which instantly kills Dr. Young. What’s worse, is there are already completed batches of Titan and Joker has them already. 

Batman once again tussles with Harley Quinn in a lengthy battle. After capturing her and sealing her in a cell, he tricks her into revealing that Poison Ivy is being used to manipulate plants in the asylum’s botanical gardens to produce Titan. Batman heads that way to rescue her as she is an unwilling participant. She tells Batman that she can help produce an antidote to Titan but the rare spore she needs is located in the sewers under the asylum. Specifically, the spores are in the lair of Killer Croc.

 Batman descends into the sewers and is ambushed once again by Scarecrow. This time Scarecrow injects Batman with a pure liquid dose of his fear toxin. Batman and the video game itself have a breakdown in perfect fourth wall shattering style. The opening of the game is repeated but this time it is Batman who is strapped to the gurney and the player plays as Joker, escorting his foe to a cell. The villains are in control and Batman and his allies are now the inmates. Once again, Batman breaks through the illusion and finally gets to face Scarecrow one on one in a fair fight. This causes Scarecrow to flee and Batman watches Scarecrow get mauled by Croc before he can save the demented villain. 

Batman sneaks into Croc’s lair and must use stealth and patience to avoid Croc who is swimming in the water all around. In a very lengthy and tense sequence, Batman repels Croc by activating the shock collar still barely hanging on to the beastly man’s neck. Batman is able to synthesize one dose of the antidote before plants destroy his setup.

Batman returns to the botanical gardens to discover that Ivy has been injected with Titan, causing her to lose control and mutate. Batman fights the new monstrous version of Poison Ivy and is able to subdue her.

The Joker lays a trap for Batman and captures him. On the roof of the asylum, Batman and the Joker face each other. Batman is exposed to Titan while Joker gives himself a heavy dose. The two fight like gladiators with Joker succumbing more and more to the Titan as Batman resists. Batman eventually uses the antidote on himself before beating Joker with the classic Batman combination of gadgets, cleverness, and fists. With Joker defeated, the effects of Titan start to wear off on all those who were dosed. Backup arrives and the Joker is finally arrested for real as he is utterly spent by the battle and the toll Titan took on his body. Batman rushes off to stop a crime in progress committed by Two-Face.

Jade Keyblade – A Kingdom Hearts Story

April 12, 2022

Ventus was waiting in a clearing when Aqua showed up on her keyblade glider. As she touched down, the glider disappeared and reappeared strapped to her back. She took a look around before approaching Ventus. The world they were in was covered in lush jungle foliage and it felt warm. It was kind of nice considering how inhospitable some worlds could be. After spending so much time in the Dark World, pretty much anything was pleasant but she was starting to be discerning again. It was humid and that might slow them down in the long term but she was prepared for the mission. 

“Hey Aqua,” Ventus said with a smile. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”

Aqua smiled. “Of course, Ven,” she said. “You know I’ll always come running if you need me.”

They had been sent out by Yen Sid to scout alone. Sora had disappeared and although Riku was on his own mission, it was decided that it would not hurt for the others to roam the worlds and check things out. Things had changed after Sora’s final battle with Master Xehanort and his Organization XIII. It felt like there would always be a new threat around the corner but things seemed relatively calm for now. It was a good feeling but they could not let down their guard too much..

“So, situation report, I guess,” Ventus said. “This world was recently recovered from darkness probably as a result of the big battle.”

“There are a lot of worlds like that out there,” Aqua said. “Why did you bring me here?”

“I got a reading on a keyblade here,” Ventus said. “The signature was not exactly like Sora’s but it was kinda similar.”

“Are you kidding?” Aqua asked. “Why didn’t you lead with that?”

“I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up,” Ventus said. “I decided to call you or Terra and Terra was way farther away.”

“Alright, slightly less flattered that you sent for me,” Aqua said. “Have you made contact yet?”

Ventus shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. “We should do it together. A keyblade doesn’t automatically mean a good guy.”

Aqua thought back to the Xehanorts, Ansem, Vanitas, Dark Riku, possessed Terra, and her own brief descent into darkness and nodded. “You’re right,” Aqua said. “Let’s hope that this is a good thing.”

“That’s the spirit,” Ventus said with that sunny smile of his. “We’re close. Just through here.”

The two of them walked through the trees until they heard what was the unmistakable sound of battle. They ran faster and burst from the foliage onto what looked to be a boat dock. There were Heartless all around them and in the center of them was a young woman with short dark hair that was longer on one side. She was fighting like a cornered animal as she swung a wicked-looking keyblade with a jade chain. She was obviously an expert fighter but she was definitely outnumbered.

Aqua and Ventus jumped into the fight with their own keyblades. The woman spotted the two and accepted their help and the three fought together. With three instead of one the tide of the battle turned and soon the Heartless were all destroyed. The three looked around to make sure that the coast was actually clear and nothing else slithered out of nowhere. All three of them stood there catching their breath.

“Who are you?” the woman asked.

“We come in peace,” Aqua said.

“We’re keyblade wielders,” Ventus said. “We came here to see if this world needed help.”

“This world?” the woman asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Never mind that,” Aqua said, elbowing Ventus in the ribs. He was rushing things. “We’re here to help is the main point. I’m Aqua and this is Ventus. Where did you get that keyblade?”

“I’m Namaari,” the woman said. “You guys don’t look like you’re from around here. Are you from Tail or something?” She had the look of somebody who had been through a lot.

“Something like that,” Aqua said. “What about that keyblade?”

Namaari grunted. “Whatever,” she said. “I don’t really know about this thing. Raya disappeared and those things swarmed me and my swords just passed right through them. Before I knew it, I was holding this thing.” She held up the keyblade. The way she had said the name Raya had a lot of weight to it. It was the same way that Sora talked about Kairi or Riku. It was the same way that Mickey and Minnie spoke to each other. So many worlds and so many loves.

“It’s got less power than Sora’s,” Ventus said.

“But it has a similar power to change forms based on new friends he made,” Aqua said.

“You guys are weird,” Namaari said. “I’ve got to go find Raya, Sisu, and the rest. We’ve got to solve this new threat.”

“We can help,” Ventus said.

“Yeah we’re in,” Aqua said. “We want to help.”

“Fine,” Namaari said. “Let’s go.”

Control

February 14, 2022

Control is a third-person shooter game with puzzle and platforming elements. It is a joy to control and the visuals are absolutely beautiful. However, what continues to captivate me is the game’s lore which seems inspired by stuff like Warehouse 13, SCP, Lost, Twin Peaks, Annihilation, and House of Leaves. It has that great level of weirdness that does not attempt to explain itself too hard.

In the game, you play as Jesse Faden. Jesse and her brother Dylan were involved in a supernatural event that threatened her hometown. A shadowy organization swooped in to clean things up and took Dylan with them. Jesse has floated through life since then, trying to investigate where her brother went and who took him. She tracks it down to The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a government entity. She arrives at their headquarters to get answers but finds the place being invaded by resonance-based creatures known as The Hiss who take over human bodies. She also finds herself replacing the deceased Director of the Bureau. She must now lead the few survivors in an effort to drive out The Hiss and save her brother from them.

Here are a few parts of the game that kind of illustrate its strangeness and how its mechanics work.

The Oldest House – A Brutalist skyscraper in New York City, the inside is shaped nothing like the outside. It is the home of the Federal Bureau of Control and is constantly shifting to accommodate the needs of its denizens or just if it feels like it. It must be stabilized through the use of rituals in order to keep things inside safe. It may be an updated form of Yggdrasil, the tree that is the gateway to other worlds.

Altered Items/Objects of Power – Altered Items are mostly what the name implies. They are physical items that have been touched by paranatural energies and given strange and dangerous properties. These objects seem to have “minds of their own” even though they are not sentient and must be tracked down and contained before they cause chaos, injury, or death. Objects of Power are Altered Items that have been touched by the Astral Plane and become conduits of power. Humans who are capable of it can tap into the object’s power to harness supernatural abilities. Examples in the game are a floppy disk that grants telekinesis, an x-ray box that allows you to take control of weakened enemies, a merry-go-round horse that grants the ability to teleport short distances, and a television set that allows one to levitate.

The Service Weapon – a specialized firearm that is linked to whoever is The Director. It has the ability to change its configuration to provide options in firing types. Those types are a machine gun, shotgun, sticky grenade launcher, sniper rifle, or missile launcher. The weapon is an object of power that is believed to change shape to suit the collective consciousness of society. That means that it may not have always been a gun and could have previously been mythical weapons like Mjolnir or Excalibur. Obtaining this weapon near the beginning of the game automatically proves that Jesse is worthy of being The Director.

The Hotline (to The Board) – This Object of Power takes the form of an old red rotary phone with no dial. Touching it allows The Director to have a direct line to The Board. The Board are beings that exist in the Astral Plane that do not seem to have physical bodies. They speak as one and may have a sort of group mind which results in an odd way of speaking. The Board helps govern the Federal Bureau of Control through undefined metaphysics through Objects of Power. The Hotline also allows The Director to communicate with other entities including dead people. This allows Jesse to communicate with the previous Director, Trench.

The Oceanview Motel – Probably the second trippiest mechanic in the game. This is ostensibly how people travel quickly around The Oldest House. When somebody pulls a drawstring three times, they are transported from wherever they were to the Oceanview Motel, a small Motel somewhere else entirely. By solving a puzzle dictated by the seeming sentient motel, you are granted passage to where you need to go. I still don’t completely understand it.

The Ashtray Maze – An object of power constantly creates an ever-shifting maze around it. The only way through is to use a special song to make it through. Just watch the above video.

A Talking Cat!? (Genshin Impact)

November 8, 2021

Genshin Impact (which I’ve posted about previously) is a cross-platform, anime-inspired game that I play on mobile. It has a metric ton of characters that add to a rich tapestry of emotional storytelling. Stories are told through a series of quests where you often get to know several (NPCs) non-player characters through dialogue and action. Sometimes you are saving the world and sometimes you are helping somebody with their errands. Some of these quests are funny, some are exciting, some are sad, and most of them tend to mix a lot of emotions together. One such series of quests is called Neko Means Cat.

The quest line is actually completely optional as it is an offshoot of an actual story quest. In the world of Genshin Impact, your travels bring you to the islands collectively known as Inazuma. Inazuma is definitely heavily inspired by Japanese culture and folklore. Your goal in Inazuma is to deal with the thunder goddess Ei who is also Inazuma’s shogun (military/political ruler) and see if you can convince her to be a more benevolent ruler and also help you on your main quest line. This goddess (who is only the latest in a line of thunder deities) is worshipped at shrines that scatter the Inazuman islands. Your adventures lead you to Serai island.

Serai Island once suffered a calamity. It was here that the legendary thunderbird, a former thunder deity was slain by Ei after the thunderbird destroyed two of Inazuma’s islands including Serai. The fallout from their battle left Serai island with a perpetual raging magical lightning storm at its center. The player teams with two adventurers named Eiko and Taisuke to solve the riddle of how to get to the center of the island to resolve the magical threat. The two adventurers inform you that four warding stones must be activated to allow you to pass through safely to the center and far above Serai (where you eventually slay a memory of the thunderbird and vanquish the magical storm). They have no idea how the warding stones work but, acting on a hunch, you follow some mysterious footprints.

Following the footprints brings you to Asase Shrine, a small building built into once was the trunk of a mighty tree but is now a stump. When you approach the shrine you are saluted by a talking cat!? The cat introduces itself as Neko and the provisional head priestess of Asase Shrine. Neko knows how to operate the warding stones but asks for your help before she will teach you. The actual head priestess, Hibiki, is away, and in her absence, the shrine has become rundown. She has you repair the offering box so that when Hibiki returns, there will be many donations in the box. After you complete the task, she teaches you how to operate the warding stones. It is a cute little aside in an otherwise serious quest.

However, I stumbled upon the rest of it randomly by stopping by to see Neko again. It turns out that she has a whole list of things she wants done around the shrine to prepare for Hibiki’s return. Once you complete a task, a new one is not available until the next real-world day. So, each day you log in after the start, you get to have a new dialogue with the talking cat and do some simple fetch quests for her. She has you clean up piles of leaves, do more carpentry work, decorating, gathering Neko’s kittens, and feeding Neko and her kittens. One of the big quests she has for you is to find a stone worker to create a statue in Neko’s shape. You bring an artisan to her shrine and the startled artist agrees to make the statue. After the shrine is all fixed up, Neko will grow impatient waiting for Hibiki (remember it’s been at least a week since you started the quest line).

You travel to the largest shrine in Inazuma and speak to the priestess there. You inquire after Hibiki and the priestess tells you a story of a Hibiki who was famous over four hundred years ago. That Hibiki suffered a setback and set sail back toward Asase Shrine but obviously never made it back. Neko is confused and you are able to prevent the priestess from declaring that Hibiki is probably dead. Neko wishes to go back home to Asase Shrine and wait for Hibiki, muttering to herself that Hibiki sure likes to go where she pleases. It is left a mystery about what happened to Hibiki but it does not look good.

Neko is a really fun character. Neko basically acts with the personality that most of us project onto cats. She is somewhat imperious but ultimately kind and loyal. She orders you and the stone carver around but she is obviously not mean about it. She just expects you to do what she tells you. She marvels at the things that humans waste their time on and does not completely understand how the shrine or other human things operate. She seems quite contented with herself and lounges around the abandoned Asase Shrine with a host of other cats and kittens. Everybody who meets Neko (you, your fairy companion, the two adventurers, the stone carver, and the priestess) are astonished that she can talk. Talking cats are not normal, apparently. She is also apparently over four hundred years old. None of that seems to be weird to Neko and she chides people for wasting time wondering at such things.

Spycraft: The Great Game

August 2, 2021

I remembered this game from when I was a teenager. I remember watching my friend play a little bit of it during a sleepover and then I never heard about it again. Cut to seeing it on GOG.com. I bought it for under five dollars and just this past weekend I decided to try and play it.

The game is a full-motion video title that came out at a time when FMV was all the rage. FMV games are typically adventure games that incorporate actual video into cutscenes and gameplay. I have only played a handful of these but I find them fascinating. In this game, you take the role of Agent Thorn, an operations agent for the CIA. You are a rookie agent who gets thrown into the field when a Russian presidential candidate is assassinated. You and your team are tasked with tracking down the killers and uncovering the conspiracy that has infiltrated the CIA. Along the way, you get caught up with the KGB, the Russian Mafia, MI6, and American mercenaries. You meet dozens of interesting characters on both sides played by decent actors in glorious FMV.

The gameplay is rather interesting and is really what I remembered from my previous fleeting experience. The bulk of the gameplay is divided into two categories: puzzles and dialogue. The puzzles are all based on forensics and analysis of data. I will give a couple of examples. The first major one is using a trajectory plotting tool to figure out where the shooter was. Then you use facial-recognition software to figure out who the killer was from a photo taken of the window where he shot from. Then you use evidence from the photographs and eyewitness reports to determine what the likely firearm used was. From there, you have to track down how the experimental weapon was stolen through an entirely different set of puzzles. As a former sound designer, one of my favorite puzzles was scanning background audio of phone message to figure out where an informant has fled to. There are plenty of really neat games to play.

Dialogue gameplay is where you question other characters and navigate through dialogue trees to get the information you need. One particular one that I loved in the game so far is an interrogation of a female agent. You are given the option to torture her by a senior agent but are warned against it and reminded of the Geneva Convention. You are presented with several different strategies as you interrogate her. You can go ahead and torture her, you can merely threaten her with torture, you can come on strong with threats, you can fake her into believing that her lover has already been caught, you can imply that this lover has already betrayed her, and you can imply that her cooperation will benefit her and/or her lover. I chose to fake her lover being caught (with a really good-looking photoshop) and then let her believe that it was in her best interest to cooperate. She did.

There is also a combat system but it does not seem to come into play a lot yet. I plan to only resort to violence when the game forces me to. So far, I’ve been able to outsmart any bad guys.

The game was made by Activision with cooperation by former CIA Director Willaim Colby and former KGB Major-General Oleg Kalugin who actually both play themselves in FMV cutscenes. This accounts for the game really feeling like you are in the CIA and faced with a lot of the moral dilemmas that they faced. It is a fascinating world but of course, they made the game a lot less morally gray than real life. The real CIA is not to be trusted. Additionally, the depiction of the easy access of any intelligence database in the world (FBI, ATF, Police, Interpol, etc.) is frightening. It can only be worse now. All of that aside, it is a really fun game with a compelling story.


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