Category Archives: Games

Documenting a Voyage

Happy Thanksgiving.

This year, there were plenty of things I fully expected to be thankful for: my parents, my sister, my nieces, my wonderful wife, my amazing son, my pending daughter.

But there were also a couple of surprises today that I can be thankful for in an entirely more venial “Ooh shiny” sort of way. Such as the Raspberry Pi Zero, a miniaturized economy model of the already miniature incredibly affordable Raspberry Pi Model B+ computer that retails for $5 (The core components are identical, but it omits the network adapter and has only a single USB connector).

And then there’s this: A few years ago, before-times archivist Jason Scott made a fairly cool documentary, Get Lamp, about the heyday of Interactive Fiction. As part of his research for that, he had the opportunity to scan a big chunk of the private archive of legendary game developer Steve Meretzky’s days with Infocom, the more-or-less undisputed masters of the Interactive Fiction genre.

This archive, dubbed the “Infocom Cabinet” (as in “of Curiosities”), contains internal memos and publications, photographs from company events, notes on proposed games (a combination of enticing hints at what might-have-been and reassurances that Infocom did better to burn out than fade away), and, of particular interest, production documents on several Infocom games, including their adaptation of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and this blog’s namesake, A Mind Forever Voyaging.

Since A Mind Forever Voyaging was one of the biggest inspirations for my own Interactive Fiction game, that last one is pretty interesting to me, since the notes hint at an early concept for the game that was mechanically very different from the version that came to pass. Sadly, nothing in the documents hint at the possibility that anyone other than me was stumped for fifteen years because they couldn’t find the courthouse.

It’s a wonderful and historically important archive, and I urge anyone with a passing interest in that sort of thing to check it out.

Flawless Victory, or, Why Monopoly is More Fun to Suck at Than Mortal Kombat

I stopped reading Phil Sandifer’s Tardis Eruditorium about a year and a half ago on account of it not being good for my mental health (Largely the way I find myself agreeing with every detail of his analysis up to the point where he says, “And therefore Steven Moffat is a subversive genius and objectively one of the greatest feminist writers in television today,” rather than, “And therefore Steven Moffat is a hack whose incompetence ruined Doctor Who forever, and it’s a shame that his clumsy but well-meaning attempts at feminism are undermined by his unrepentant gender essentialism.”), but as he now shares an rss feed with the incomparable Jack Graham and Jane Campbell, his stuff crosses my dashboard once again, and that’s fine. Most particularly, he’s been writing a series of articles about the Super Nintendo as an alchemical ritual to destoy Gamergate. Though really only tangentially related, his latest article inspired me to write this:


My experience of fighting games is, though I did not realize it at the time, essentially capitalistic, and that is why I never liked them. I mean, I could enjoy some, now and again, but not so much as my friends did and not really in the way you’re meant to.

By way of digression, I’m going to talk about Monopoly for a minute. I do not like Monopoly. Monopoly is an intensely boring game and no fun at all. Many people disagree with me on that point, and lots of people agree. But what hardly anyone knows is that I am, in fact, objectively right about Monopoly being an intensely boring game that is no fun (A claim which, as far as I know, is true only for Monopoly and Candy Land, all other board games being only subjectively boring and no fun rather than it being a mathematically provable proposition).

The Landlord's GameSee, Monopoly started life, before several substantial changes, back in 1903 as The Landlord’s Game, product of a socialist named Lizzie Magie. The game was designed to teach the economic principles of Georgism, namely, that when you find a piece of land just lying about and you stick your flag in it and claim it, you are privatizing public wealth, whereas when you tax the wealth a person created through labor, you are socializing private wealth, and this is stupid and backwards and leads to income inequality and deadweight loss, and we should be taxing the hell out of land instead of taxing wages, and I don’t pretend to understand the math and it’s already hard enough not to simply fall asleep discussing it, but the basic tenet of taxing the land rather than the labor has been declared sound by everyone from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman. Karl Marx criticized it as a last-ditch attempt to salvage something workable out of capitalism, which is high praise given the source. And the basic fallout of all of this is that The Landlord’s Game, and by extension, Monopoly, is a game where, deliberately, any small early advantage to one player which arises through chance leads almost invariably to that player eventually winning while everyone else is, in a very slow, protracted way, ground down into bankruptcy.

Of course, many modern players miss the moral and economic thrust of the game due in part to the ubiquity of house rules which reduce the game’s inherent unfairness. For example, apparently (though I literally had never heard of this rule until last year), it’s almost universal these days for fines to go not back to the bank, but into a separate pot which is awarded to players as they land on “Free Parking”. In fact, Magie herself developed two sets of rules for the game. Monopoly is derived from the Landlord version of the game, while the alternate rules, called The Prosperity Game, operated according to Georgist ideals. After a stirring round of The Landlord Game to teach everyone why capitalism sucked, she proposed, anyone fool enough to let the Georgists pick the next game could play the Prosperity version to get a glimpse of a world where the creation of public wealth benefited all and no one had to go bankrupt. Or more likely, you all decided to play Parcheesi instead and not invite the Georgists to game night any more. But in case you don’t have a Parcheesi set, perhaps you’d like to try one of these fine alternate rule sets to better educate you about economics:

  • 99% Edition: All the properties start out already owned by a hypothetical non-player character. Rents paid on each property are collected by color group. Houses and hotel upgrades are done automatically as each group collects enough money to pay for them. Play continues until all players are bankrupted, in jail, or simply give up.
  • Millennial Edition: As above, but when landing on or passing “Go”, rather than collecting $200, jobless Millennials must instead pay $200 in student loan debts. One player, designated the “boomer” is exempt from this rule, and is required to make frequent acerbic comments about the sense of entitlement among young people these days
  • 1% Edition: Any player owning 8 or more properties is “too big to fail” and is given $10,000 from the bank whenever he wants. “Go to Jail” cards have no effect on such players
  • Communist Revolution Edition: After fifteen minutes, flip the board over and shout, “Death to the bourgeoisie!”. Spend remaining time haggling over a single turnip. Optional: kill the Tzar.

The game became popular among socialist Quakers in Atlantic City, NJ, and it was a localization of the game by Charles Darrow (Introducing such innovations as the “Community Chest” cards, and shortening Magie’s rather wonderful “Labor upon the Land Produces Wages” to “Go”) using that city as a template that was eventually bought by Parker Brothers in 1935 (After rejecting it in 1934 as “too complicated,” the same reason they’d rejected Magie’s original in 1909). Monopoly is a game which makes you feel like you are being very clever and strategic in establishing your economic empire, but there is literally no decision you can make as a player that will improve your chances of winning even half so much as the clever strategy of “a series of dice-rolls that result in you being the first player to land on Boardwalk (Mayfair, if you’re playing the 1936 British localisation, which British people tend to loudly and incorrectly insist is the original).”

But at this point, you’re probably wondering what Monopoly being objectively boring has to do with fighting games, or, indeed, with anything at all. It’s all in that “A small initial advantage leads inexorably to everyone else being slowly ground into bankruptcy,” thing.

There’s an old Kid Radd comic where Radd, a platform game hero, visits the world of a fighting game. Though he’s initially intimidated by the fighters’ large stature and complex move-set, things turn around when a fighter tries and fails to execute a combo attack against him. As a platformer character, Radd has invincibility frames when he loses a hit point, unlike the fighting game denizens, who are instead stun-locked. Armed with this knowledge, he easily dispatches all challengers, depleting their life bars in a matter of seconds by simply tossing off energy blasts at regular intervals. As he drains life bars and the counter shows an impossible 36-hit combo, he declares his love for fighting games.

Skill, in fighting games, is largely a matter of learning the (often ponderous) move sets and knowing when to apply them. Back-forward-back. Down-downright-right-upright-up-punch. Execute it at just the right moment and your character will flip upside down and spin across the screen (possibly exposing her underwear), disarming your opponent and optionally removing their spine. In modern games, there’s a menu you can pull up to study these lists of arcane movements, but that’s for pussies, and besides, your human competitor has no interest in sitting around twiddling his thumbs for five minutes while you memorize a move list. You’re supposed to figure it out through the timeworn combination of experimentation and oral folklore. Teenage boys whispering to each other in the din of the arcade the secrets of how to throw a fireball or teleport to the opposite side of the screen or turn your opponent into an infant. But most importantly, practice.

Fighting games are inherently social. Sure, most fighting games have some kind of single-player option, but that’s not what you’re here for, it’s not why the game exists. No, the one true correct way to play a fighting game is 2P VS. And note the VS there: there’s no such thing as a 2-player cooperative fighting game. Beat-em-ups, which are mechanically similar to fighting games, have cooperative play modes. Fighting games, for the most part, do not. So not merely inherently social, but inherently​ competitive.

Herein lies the rub. I come over to your house and I sit down and you stick the cart in the console and hand me a controller. You’ve played this game before. You own a copy. I do not. Video games are like $50 and it’s 1993, and that’s a lot of money back now, and mom and dad are adamant that I’m only ever going to own a small number of games that I really like, they’re not blowing hundreds of dollars to build me a respectable collection of games most of which are almost certainly deliberate attempts to defraud parents out of fifty dollars. You have, for want of a better term, a “small initial advantage.”

So we play — or rather, we fight. And unless I happen to be some sort of fighting game savant, you and I both know how this goes. I’m still not entirely sure which button does what or how the rules work, or why sometimes pushing back blocks and other times it just backsteps, while you do this funny rocking motion that makes your fighter wave his hands around and generate some kind of shockwave that murders my character from halfway across the screen. The fight lasts five seconds before I am defeated and chastened and you are reassured that your penis is of fully adequate dimensions.

I have acquired five seconds of experience. I have in no measurable way gotten better at this game. But then comes the insult to add to injury: you demand that we play again. Because what just happened was fun for you.

It was not fun for me. And you might say one of two things at this juncture. You might say,”you’re just a sore loser.” Possibly. But explain to me, if you can, what fun is supposed to be here for me. There was never any real chance I could have won. I didn’t even get the fun experience of playing a game: I just got to struggle with unfamiliar controls for five seconds while I got cut in half. This wasn’t a pitched struggle where I gave it my all and as a plucky underdog came so close but fell just short — this was just me getting my ass handed to me. So you say the other thing: “well of course you didn’t have fun. It’s not fun to lose. Fun is the reward for the winner.”

Here I’m confused, though. Because honestly, I don’t see the fun for the winner either. I mean, think about sports. As a general rule, when you’re watching the sportsball, you want to see an exciting game with turnarounds and tense plays and the men in one color running into the men in the other color very hard and trying to knock each other down. Sure, you want Local Sports Team to win, but you don’t actually want an utter rout. I’ve watched maybe three or four boxing matches in my life, and I’m pretty sure that if a boxing match consisted of one pug knocking the other pug (I really, really hope this is boxing jargon short for “pugilist” and not, like, some kind of ethnic slur.) out cold with his first punch in the first round, most of the people who spent money to watch two grown men pummel each other would be disappointed. I mean, sure, there are people who just want to see their team win and would just as soon it be a completely one-sided contest that was barely more than a formality, but by and large, we consider those people to be Yankees fans.

But somehow that seems to be the dominant attitude in fighting games. The aspirational goal is the coveted Flawless Victory. Joy is taken not in the playing of the game, but in the avoidance of playing it: you’re only a true winner, a true man if you beat your opponent into complete submission in an utterly one-sided fight that lasts the shortest amount of time possible. Whatever they might say, the only joy is in victory by any means necessary. Sure, technically, an honorable victory is better than a dishonorable one, but a dishonorable victory is still infinity times better than the most honorable defeat.

There was one fighting game I was pretty good at. It’s called Bushido Blade. An odd duck among the genre, its big gimmick was that rather than a health bar, a single direct strike to the head or torso was instantly fatal. Now, in this game, among the playable characters were a few who were equipped, in addition to their primary sword, with an off-hand weapon, which could be thrown: effectively, a ranged attack that only worked once. But once is all you need, and I found that neither the AI nor any of the human opponents I ever faced could consistently evade if you just threw your sword as soon as the round began. Instant, flawless victory. I’ll admit, it was a nice contrast to constantly being owned at games I only had a few seconds of practice with, but I ultimately found it unfulfilling. And it didn’t take long for my competitors to declare that Bushido Blade sucked and wasn’t worth playing anyway.

Games can be fun even if you lose. Mario Party’s fun even if you lose. Racing games are fun even if you lose. Technically, Monopoly is more fun to lose than it is to win, because at least you can go do something else with your life. In principle, between two players of equal skill, a fighting game can be like that. But that was never my experience of it. My experience was that one player dominated, got to keep playing, acquired experience and therefore increased his competitive advantage, while the other player lost quickly, was eliminated, and thus denied the chance to improve.

And yet, even as we’re easily dispatched by mystical ninja powers, neither are we as a practical matter, permitted to simply quit the game. “Don’t be a pussy,” we’re told. “You’re just a sore loser,” and “What are you, chicken?” This game isn’t fun, can not become fun for us, but to concede that and do something else is taken only as confirmation of our weakness, our inferiority.

That’s what makes my experience of fighting games an inherently capitalistic one. Whoever gains a small advantage at the beginning will start winning. And by the very virtue of winning, they can preclude anyone else, barring miracles, from getting any better. Which means that once you start winning, you keep winning, and everyone else keeps losing. Forever. And daring, as the loser, to suggest that this isn’t much fun and you don’t want to play any more is met only with derision and accusations of unmanliness.

“Come on,” they say. “The game’s perfectly fair. Same rules for everyone. You have just as much chance of winning as I do.” I haven’t played this game before. Can I have a few minutes to practice? “You want me to just sit here and watch you play with yourself? Gay (It was the nineties). Why should I have to pay for you not working harder?” It just doesn’t seem fair: you’ve got a tremendous advantage because your mom and dad buy you lots of games. “Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Bootstraps, man!”

Capitalism tells us that we are enriched through competition. But that just isn’t how the real world works. Businesses are not sports fans. Businesses do not want competition. Businesses are fighting game fans. Businesses want a rout. They want to dominate completely, to destroy with no cost to themselves. They want a flawless victory. A victory that leaves you unable to do any better next time no matter how hard you try. And then they want to demand you play again, knowing you’ll lose again. Because otherwise, it means you’re a pussy.

Roll to the Rescue: Transformers Rescue Bots Beam Box Customization

One of the myriad delights of parenthood is discovering the latest in children’s TV without the accompanying shame of being a thirty-six year old man who still watches Power Rangers.

One of Dylan’s favorites is Transformers: Rescue Bots. It’s a kid-friendly entry in the Transformers franchise. Set contemporaneously with the more mature Transformers Prime, it tells the story of Rescue Force Sigma-17, a team of four Autobots specialized for search-and-rescue operations. They’re revived and summoned to Earth after an unspecified long time in stasis. Optimus Prime, surprised to discover Rescue Bots aren’t extinct (There is a fantastic moment in the first episode where he has to struggle for words because he doesn’t want to be the one to tell them what happened to the other rescue teams), realizes that they’re not designed or trained for combat, and assigns them to assist the human search-and-rescue team on the island of Griffin Rock, where the town’s obsession with advanced technology will allow them to work undercover as experimental rescue vehicles.

This show is really fun. The visual style is clean and fun, the characters are well-developed, there’s a lot of action but very little actual fighting, and Levar Burton, Peter Cullen and Tim Curry lend their voice talents. Despite only having four regular transformer characters, they’ve managed to spin out a whole toy line by introducing alternate forms and variants — Dylan’s Transformer collection is starting to rival my own. And these are absolutely fantastic toys. They’re pretty show-accurate, have a simple one or two-step transformation, and feel nice and sturdy. You don’t worry you’re going to break them like you do with the main toy line (A fear I’ve had since my G1 Megatron shattered into about a million pieces thirty years ago), and they transform fast enough to be properly playable (By contrast, it takes about 6 weeks to transform a Movie-style Optimus Prime). Plus, there’s a weird disparity in the storyline of the merchandise and the show which makes me nostalgic for the weird-ass toy/show storyline disparities of my youth.

Transformers Rescue Bots Beam BoxOne of the more creative things in the toy line, and the reason we’re here today, is the Playskool Heroes Transformers Rescue Bots Beam Box. This is a low-end stand-alone game console based around a really cheap imitation of the Skylanders/Amiibo craze.

The Beam Box connects to a TV over a pair of RCA connectors — composite video and monaural audio. You insert one of six action figures (The four Rescue Bots, plus Optimus Prime and Bumblebee) in the box and press the big blue plunger on top. The doors on the beam box close and a spring-loaded mechanism flips the pedestal inside. When you release the button, the doors open to reveal a seeming-identical empty chamber. Sound effects from the TV and the box itself indicate that the selected robot’s been “beamed” into the game. The game consists of a six-level beat ’em up, plus four minigames. The game is voice acted, though only Optimus Prime’s voice is anything resembling show-accurate.

It’s all very cute and very simplistic, about on the level of a collection of simple Newgrounds games. It’s fun enough for an adult to enjoy a bit in a casual-game sort of way, and easy enough for a small child to have a chance.

But there’s a problem.

The console ships with the Optimus Prime action figure. Each of the other figures, sold separately, unlocks an extra character-specific minigame. Blades the Copter-Bot unlocks a game where the player must use the Scoop Claw attachment (1×03 “Hotshots”) to retrieve spilled cannisters from a river while dodging floating lobsters (1×04 “Flobsters on Parade”). Heatwave the Fire-Bot unlocks a shooting gallery-style firefighting game, Boulder the Construction-Bot’s game is, appropriately enough, a Boulder Dash-clone. Bumblebee gets a top-down side-scroller (Which as far as I can tell, may be the only top-down side-scroller ever made).

And then there’s Chase the Police-Bot. Chase’s game is basically Bumblebee’s turned 90°, making it something more conventional. Problem is, the game is broken. Specifically, they somehow seem to have neglected to implement horizontal movement. Which means that Chase dutifully walks down mainstreet of Griffin Rock until he reaches the first obstacle, at which point he gets stuck and that’s the end of the game. This is a really impressive level of incompetence, and lacking any means to patch the game, Playskool responded by slapping a sticker over the picture of Chase on the box and not releasing the action figure.

Which would be mildly disappointing and the end of the story, except that after a few minutes of playing Optimus Prime’s scenario on his new Beam Box, Dylan says to us, “I want to get all the Rescue Bots! But I want to get Chase first!”

And then, to add insult to injury, a few days later, Dylan reported to Leah one morning that he’d had a dream that she’s brought him a large box, and inside the box were the Rescue Bots for his Beam Box. And then — I swear I’m not making this up — he said, “Mommy, can you make my dream come true?”

So Leah found this video, explaining how you can shim some of the figures to fake it. The trick is that, unlike the fancier collectible-toy-based game systems, there’s no NFC chip in the Beam Box figures. Instead, pegs in the base of the figures depress pins in the box, which selects the character who appears in the game. Here’s the pin positions for each figure:

Rescue Bots Beam Box Pin Locations

Gray positions indicate absent pins.

As you can see, Optimus Prime’s pin positions are a proper subset of Chase’s (And Blades for that matter. Also, Heatwave can substitute for Boulder or Blades if you like). Which means that if you shove a folded up piece of paper in on the left of the rightmost pin, the Beam Box will register Optimus as Chase. Rescue Bots Beam Box Bumblebee Dylan was tremendously impressed by this, and spent some time pressing various combinations of pins with his fingers to trigger the Beam Box (You can’t play this way, but the box will light up and the ‘bot will introduce itself).

But that hardly counts as making a kid’s dream come true. But from the chart above, you can see that Bumblebee’s pins are also a proper subset for Chase, and unlike Prime, Bumblebee is sold separately.

Rescue Bots ChaseAs I said before, there’s lots of variants in the toy line. Dylan has a non-transforming Chase figure that’s very similar in style to the Battle Box figures. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s about 30% too big to fit in the Beam Box, the obvious solution would be to cut the base off a spare Bumblebee, shim it, and glue it onto Chase. For that matter, if we had a 3D printer, the obvious solution would be to scan Chase and print off a reduction.

Failing that, we can see that there’s a general sort of similarity between the body types of the two bots. Most importantly, Bumblebee’s jackhammer weapon is vaguely similar in shape to Chase’s claw, and they have the same style of arms.

So. One trip to Amazon for the four available action figures and a spare Bumblebee, and it’s time for Robot Surgery.

First things first, fill in the base with epoxy. This is the functional change that makes the whole thing work: everything else is cosmetic. After the epoxy cured, I shaved it down a bit in the back to make it fit easier into the box.

Beam Box Bumblebee base

Before and after

Rescue Bots Beam Box Bumblebee

Click to embiggen

Next, my trusty X-Acto knife removed the extraneous bits: reshape the head a little bit, modify the weapon, round out the shoulders, and remove the cable from his arm.

Foolishly, I neglected to take a picture of Bumblebee fully carved but unpainted. I handed off to Leah, who, using the figure above as a model, started the long and arduous task of repainting. Here he is with the base coat.

Rescue Bots Beam Box Custom Chase

The white marks on the base are from a reconsidered attempt to recolor it

The biggest physical difference between the two figures that couldn’t be resolved by carving was Chase’s police lights. These I had to build from scratch. Rescue Bots Custom Police LightI made a rough mold by pressing the large Chase’s lights into a block of styrofoam, then filled it with epoxy. Which was a mistake, because epoxy sticks to pretty much anything, including styrofoam. Once it was hard enough, I cut it free and shaved the surfaces with my X-Acto knife, and then trimmed around the edges to reduce the size.

By this time, Leah had mostly finished the detailing. I’m particularly impressed by how accurate the light blue for the weapon came out. We could have left it unpainted, but trimming it into a claw exposed the yellow plastic of the inside.

Rescue Bots Beam Box Chase

Hours of painting and letting paint dry, and it was time for me to epoxy the police lights to the back.

Rescue Bots Police Light

The next afternoon, Leah and I got to make Dylan’s dream come true. I’d have recorded a video of his little happy dance, but he was being resistant to the idea of putting clean pants on after a potty-related accident, and I don’t want to go to jail.

Rescue Bots Beam Box Bumblebee and Chase Comparison

Before, after, and reverse detail. Click to enlarge

Roll to the rescue.

If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother

Leah and I just finished playing through Tender Loving Care, a mid-nineties example of the largely defunct genre of Interactive Movies — essentially a B-movie wherein you’re given occasional chances to interact with events in a limited sort of way. It’s a genre that flopped pretty hardcore due to a combination of high prices, limited interactivity (Though realistically speaking, only a little lower than your average adventure game of the time; this was an era where shallow, underimplemented games outnumbered the really good ones several billion to one), and bad acting.
Tender Loving Care has the distinction of starring William Hurt, featuring a a bit of nudity roughly comparable to what you’d see on Cinemax around midnight, coming from the minds behind The Seventh Guest, and being released on DVD — not DVD-ROM (It was released on DVD-ROM, but that edition is well out of print), but an actual stick-it-in-the-box-under-your-TV DVD. The DVD edition is even more limited in its interactivity than the PC version (which used The Seventh Guest’s “Groovie” engine), but your expectations are lower for a pure DVD. We found it a fun play all the same.
Baf recently played through the PC version to completion, so I won’t bother with interrupting the Moriartython for a full review, but I thought I’d like to share with you a couple of scenes from this game’s gimmick: the Thematic Apperception Test. It’s the closest thing this game has to puzzles — their purpose is to generate a ersatz psychological profile for you, on the basis of which the game chooses between various alternate scenes and edits — indicate that you’re not in the mood for a little spicyness, the camera cuts away a few seconds early when the nurse changes her top. If you’re into harsh punishment, one character uses a hammer instead of his fist at a key moment.
Occasionally throughout the game, the questions get a little… Surprising:

Four Foot Penis

… And why is she shoving a laurel in it?
Welcome to the Penis Farm!

… Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. And on this farm he had a penis, E-I-E-I-O
Because daddy put peanut butter on his balls

… Because it’s your dog!
I have hardly ever...

… What never? No, never! What never? Hardly ever!
I Feel Fresh

… Those eighties chicks were always getting this “Mmm, not-so-fresh” feeling. I’m not exactly sure what the solution was, but it seemed to involve vinegar and water, and may have been some kind of salad dressing.
Badly battered kangaroo

Look at the smile on that Kangaroo’s face and tell me you don’t want some of what he’s on.
Mr. Puss in Boots

… Damnit, deputy, I told you to round me up a little POSSE!
Sliding Board

This game has issues.
It happens to a lot of guys

… Don’t worry. Temporary Rondo Hattenism happens to a lot of guys…

… Don’t worry little boy, the librarian with the rifle will shoot the doctor before he can use that phallus on you!
Addendum: If you happen to have a copy of this game and would like to see the version of the story Leah and I made, use the code

76, 80, 35, 8F, 75, 42, 61, 9A, 6C

Spyro: Part 3

After fighting her way through four elemental-themed dungeons, Frodo meets Iran McKellen in person and discovers that he’s… Another dragon. And now that he’s with Frodo in person, you get… Another block of backstory!
Apparently, the previous purple dragon was… Evil. And Spyro’s girlfriend will be unable to resist his evil. And soon there will be an evil eclipse of… Evil! And then the well of souls will do something and some stuff will happen and boy will it be… EVIL!
Ian McKellen’s plan is for Frodo to just hang with him in the temple until the Armageddon has passed. Frodo, of course, readily agrees and the game ends…
Well, no, Frodo says he can’t leave the other dragons to die, so he insists on going back, and Sir Ian caves instantly. They make an exciting escape from the temple, which is told in the form of a cutscene, and Frodo and Fry instantly arrive at Skeletor’s castle on Mt. Doom.
At the top of the castle, Frodo meets the monkey king in a cutscene so important that it’s on film instead of tape. He makes Frodo fight his girlfriend, but she turns out to still be good, and they pull off a gambit they’ve tried before to disarm the monkey king. It doesn’t work, though, and she gets incapacitated, leaving Frodo alone for the big fight.
After the first phase of the battle, Spyro and the Monkey King fall into a lower arena, where Frodo is hit by a purple light that turns him into a scary-yet-dopey black form that can shoot purple energy blasts.

  • Leah: No! He did not just do that!
  • Ross: You died again?
  • Leah: Yeah.
  • Ross: That’s gay*.
  • Leah: The monkey king guy is surrounded by legions of men.

After losing to Gaul the Monkey Queen a few thousand times, Leah cottons on to the fact that with time stopped, his first form takes a few extra hits each time he’s safe to approach, and this makes his first form not “easier” but perhaps less tedious.

At this point, Leah gets fed up, and it takes about three weeks for me to persuade her to play again.
After an arduous fight (Seriously, Leah can swear like a sailor when she’s riled up), The Pirate Queen orders Frodo to finish him — if he doesn’t, he just recharges and you have to play this segment again. Using Frodo’s Purple-mode finisher, he vaporizes Gaul, and then has to be talked down from destroying the world in a Purple Rage. Unfortunately, the mountain they’re in explodes in a ball of green snot, trapping Spyro, Cynder, and Fry . Recalling the words of Sir Ian — Who I have just learned is actually Gary Oldman — Spyro decides to Wait It Out by using his dragon powers to freeze himself and his friends in a block of ice, to keep them safe inside this volcano until the next game.
Inside… This… Volcano…
Anyway, that’s where the game ends, which Leah found mightily disappointing. I’m inclined to agree, except that it does redeem itself right after the end credits finish, when Samuel L. Jackson shows up to talk to Spyro about The Avenger Initiative.
Spyro’s adventures will continue in: The Legend of Spyro 3: The Quest For Peace…

* A Mind Occasionally Voyaging does not approve of the use of the pejorative “gay” to insult other people by suggesting them to be homosexual, nor do we condemn homosexuality, homosexual behavior, or even, say, college girls getting drunk and making out with other chyx (That is to say, we give Katy Perry a 50% approval rating). You should not call other people gay as an insult. Calling other people gay should only be done as a compliment, as in “Man, Tom, your fashion sense is impeccable, despite your love of intercourse with women, you have the fashion sex of a gay man.”
We do, however, see no issue with assigning human traits to inanimate objects or video game characters, particularly if there is a cheap joke to be made of it. In that spirit, the author apologizes for calling Gaul the Monkey King gay. He meant to say “Gaul the Monkey King is totally homosexual.”

Spyro Agnew: Eternal Nixon: Part 2: Electric Boogaloo :: Overuse of Colons : The SATs

In day 2 of our Spyro experience, Leah spends several hours trying to defeat some scorpions in a gladiatorial arena, where one of the times she gets killed, the game gets confused and gives her a cutscene anyway, which we accidentally skip, thinking that it’s the cutscene from when she respawns. Frodo blacks out and wakes up back at Sir Ian McKellan’s house, where he learns the power of Earth, leaving only Air and Heart (What kind of a lame power is Heart, anyway?). The power of Earth involves spiro having a six-foot long energy tongue with a giant bulbous nodule on the end. Frodo also learns a new finishing move, which is exactly like Eruption and Blue Balls, but it’s green. He receives instructions to travel to Mount Doom The Well of Souls before the rare astronomical conjunction whereupon the evil forces will be able to bring about Eternal Darkness, which was a Gamecube survival horror game with Lovecraftian overtones and a neat gimmick where they would represent the player character’s growing madness by things like having little bugs appear on the screen or claiming that the disc was damaged (Once, my gamecube really did crash, and it took me several minutes to work out that the game wasn’t just dicking with me.)
Frodo wakes up, and has to fight a flying boat with the head of a shark. From time to time, the boat crashes, and you can kick the ass of the pirate inside, which hangs out the tail end of the boat while it’s crashed for extra damage. Unfortunately, once you deplete its life bar, the game does one of its favorite tricks: refills the life bar and makes the monster more dangerous.
Frustrated, Leah goes off to get some soup, leaving the game unattended, whereupon we learn the trick to this boss: if Frodo just stands stock-still in the center of the ring, the flying boat can’t hit him more than once every two of three minutes
The Power of Earth turns out to be a red herring, as Leah spends four hours trying to defeat the damned thing, before I suggest she switch to her much upgraded Power of Fire, and kills the thing on her third try. Back in his cell, Frodo laments that he can’t escape because of the wooden gate that blocks his cell, and a mole named Moliere gives him some fan mail. After that, Frodo is sent to fight the Dilldozer executioner, who can kill him in one hit.
The Executioner nonetheless proves to be a much less aggravating adversary than the flying boat, whereupon the pirate king brings out Frodo’s Girlfriend and orders them to fight. Before they can, though, flying monkeys attack, kidnap the girl, and bust shit up enough for Frodo and Fry to have a go at escaping.
Hours later, Leah’s still fighting her way though this fleet of flying pirate ships, fighting enemies with names like “Tribad Whitespace” and “Ebikat Snakebeard”
Finally, Frodo defeats the boss pirate, and he and Fry fly off into the sunset, revealing that he can fly, so why the hell does he keep on dying by falling to his death when jumping between platforms?
In mid-air, Frodo the Narcoleptic Dragon has another metaphysical experience, gaining the Power of Electricity,, which means he can now summon Captain Planet, and also perform her new Fury move, the Electric Boogaloo.
Sir Ian goes on break, so Frodo has a vision all on his own, seeing his ex, who is bound and being threatened by the monkey goat thing who is going to turn out to be the penultimate boss of the game. (Right now, he’s the boss, but he’s planning to ressurect some sort of ancient evil force of some sort, which undoubtedly he will, and you’ll fight.)
Frodo wakes up on a ruined island, where Fry claims they’re stranded, as they can only fly when the plot demands. This appears to be the same place as the temple of Magneto that Frodo keeps narcolepting to, except that it’s ruined, and possibly sideways. Fortunately, someone set all the broken ionic columns to “levitate” so Frodo can use them to jump around the ruined temple.
Eventually, Leah hits upon a section where Frodo must solve puzzles to awaken enemies. This gets me thinking, Spyro’s very egregious about it, but you see this throughout the genre, say, in Zelda. There’s a huge element of “The goal of this puzzle is to cause monsters to show up and attack you, because real progress is only made by defeating monsters.” If Spyro had any sense, he’d just stop lighting braziers and electrifying switches and pushing things onto pedestals. It never does anything good.

Ross and Leah Play Video Games: Spyro: Eternal Night

Leah has decided that we should stop having a pile of video games we’ve never played. At about the same time as she suggested this, I went out and bought her a new video game. Now, I can’t promise that I’ll blog everything we play and keep to a schedule and be as thorough as Baf, nor will I present as detailed and critical analysis, but I do intend to be snarkier.
And maybe, in the unlikely event I ever get a working video capture device for my MythTV, Leah and I might start taking videos and such to show you our progress. But until then, please just enjoy my sarcastic thoughts on the subject of Spyro: Eternal Night
First off, I’d like to point out that this is the most unlikely game about a former vice president I’ve ever seen, and that includes Aaron Burr and Dick Cheney’s The Most Dangerous Game You play Frodo Baggins, a purple dragon who can fly, but only well enough to make difficult jumps, and, as is apparently standard for purple dragons, HALT THE FLOW OF TIME. He’s got a little dragon-fairy sidekick, Phillip J Fry, who serves to offer “hillarious” commentary.
I should step aside here that, unlike pretty much every other person who has ever written a review of a video game, I actually like the color-commentary-wisecracking sidekick archetype. I liked Arthur in The Journeyman Project, and Dalboz in Zork Grand Inquisitor. I liked your paraplegic tele-psychic friend in The 11th Hour, and I liked the Cheshire Cat in American Macgee’s Alice. I even liked Clippy the– no, wait, actually, I didn’t . And, HEY! LISTEN! I did not like any of the god damned faries in the 3D Legend of Zelda games. But still, there’s a reason I included Julia in my game. It’s saying a lot when I tell you that I do not like Ninja Butterfly Phillip J. Fry. Billy West seems to be playing the role under the impression that he’s meant to be channeling Gilbert Godfried.
Anyway, the game opens with Frodo the Dragon getting dumped by his girlfriend, at which point he falls into a coma where the helpful ghost of Patrick Stewart reminds him how to use the game controls. This involves jumping on a bunch of spinning platforms as you learn to control DragonTime ™, which is a lot like BulletTime ™, except that it is slightly blue. I assume this is a gimmick based on Prince of Persia, but I’ve never played that, so instead, it reminded me of Braid, which I’d just played a few hours earlier.

  • Patrick Stewart: As a purple dragon, you have access to many powers, including power over time itself. Master this power, and you will be able to see things almost before they happen.
  • Ross: Wait a second. Isn’t “Almost before they happen” the same as “When they happen”?
  • Ross: (Lisa Simpson voice) Wow! You really can see the… Present…

After we tired of hearing Elija Wood’s terrified screams as he fell to his death off the edge of a platform a few times, Leah got about the business of actually jumping across abyss after abyss, and was rewarded with “re-learning” the power of Fire, allowing Frodo the Dragon to summon elemental powers based on Fire. So, Spiro’s powers right now:

  • 1. Flies (poorly)
  • 2. Mastery over the inexorable flow of time
  • 3. Breathes fire

At this point, Patrick Stewart has some leftover Staffloses from Zelda attack Frodo so he can show off his attack skills: “Breathe fire”, and “run towards something while breathing fire.” This is when I notice one of the most interesting details of this game. Like lots of games, when Frodo engages an enemy, you get to see the enemy’s life bar up in the corner of the screen. Along with the life bar is the enemy’s name. And this is the cool part: when I say “the enemy’s name”, I don’t mean something like “Skeleton Knight”, I mean an actual, individual name, for Every Single Monster. Like “Skeletor McLovin” or “Keith Richards”. Well, actually, the names all look to fit a fixed formula of taking four random nature-or-fantasy-related words and stitching them together according to some simple part of speech rules, so the names are all things like “Deathmaul Underhill” or “Honeylocust Meadowlawn” or “Dickmonkey Marshmellow”.
This section also introduces us to the game’s number one door-opening mechanic: lighting braziers. Any video game fan will tell you that in a room with a locked door and a bunch of unlit braziers, it’s patently obvious that the door will only open once you light all the braziers. Also, I like saying “braziers”. Braziers! Anyway, you eventually prove yourself worthy and Patrick Stewart sends you back to reality, where you and Phillip J Fry are immediately beseiged by insects and mollusks of unusual size which explode into disgusting goo when you kill them. Leah incinerates the first few, then discoveres that her magic doesn’t automatically regenerate here, as it did in the land of Professor X. So Leah switches over to using Frodo’s non-limited “just whack the bad guys with your body” technique. This isn’t as effective as fire, but it can be used without stopping to recharge. Still, in the heat of battle, I keep having to remind her to use her fire attack from time to time, by shouting ‘Immolate!” occasionally in my Angry-Homer-Simpson voice.
The first boss we encounter is a thingamajigger riding on a giant snail. His name is “Snail Rider”. What, really? You can name every mook we run into, but not the boss who gets his own cutscene?
Shortly after defeating the snail, Leah is halted momentarily by a room one of whose braziers is behind a barrier.

  • Ross: Immolate!
  • Leah: No. (smashes barrier) The answer to everything is not immolate
  • Ross: It should be!

This game’s favorite brazier trick is that lighting the brazier opens the door, only to disgorge a couple of enemies, then close again. Lighting the final brazier here releases a pair of enemies whose last names are, I am not making this up, “Snakekiller” and “Snakefeltcher”.
Other enemies we encounter in this area include spiders who shoot a white, sticky goo at Frodo and Fry, and these sort of bipedal elephant things with scimitars.
Another Snail Rider requires Leah to take a few stabs at it. It’s at this point that I’d like to mention that when Frodo’s “Rage Bar” is full up from fighting, he can unleash the “Eruption”, an attack so devestating that it causes a cutscene to happen wherever he happens to be. This would make short work of the Snail Rider, except that Leah went into a Wii Gesture Fit just before he emerged and swung the nunchuck when she meant to swing the wiimote, causing premature eruption.
Incidentally, everything in this game makes a sort of squelchy sound when you whack it and then explodes into goo. Just sayin.
Eventually, Frodo comes upon a battle between a bunch of elephants and a very large red dragon played by Sean Connery. His name is St. Ignatius of Loyola, unless Leah is having me on. He beckons you to help, then promptly vanishes leaving you to fight some kind of giant demon bat thing by yourself. Fry buggers off, leaving you alone for the battle, as opposed to previous battles, in which he was there but useless. Once you kick the flying thing’s ass, St. Ignatius reappears and asks you what became of your girlfriend. Frodo cops to being dumped, and they do some more cutscenes in which Frodo reveals his creepy nightmares, which turn out to be prophesy about the coming evil. A bunch of big dragons discuss his prophetic dreams in cryptic, vague terms and incredibly overblown accents. They’re especially worried about Frodo’s encounter with Patrick Stewart, since they know that he’s only ever cast in big epic movies where the fate of the world is at stake. The old powerful dragons decide that they can’t just sit back and do nothing, so they decide to bugger off and do nothing, and let Frodo do all the actual work.
St. Ignatius decides to wait back at the temple while Frodo, the chosen one and the only one who can defeat the Eternal Darkness (Hey, that’s an entirely different game! Holy crap! This whole game is just one of those hallucination sequences whne your sanity gets too low!), treks through a poisonous swamp.
In the swamp, Frodo sees some pirates, and then his narcolepsy kicks in again. Fry attracts the attention of the pirates by being a dumbass, and Frodo is sent off to have another zen encounter with Patrick Stewart. (Actually, he sounds more like Sir Ian McKellen now that I think about it). He hands over the power of Ice, which leaves Frodo only two more elements to master, Air and Boron.
Leah masters Ice after quite a few tries at not falling off some more frakking platforms, and learns the Ice-based Rage move, which is like Eruption, but icy. Since I wasn’t paying attention when they explained the move, I’m going to call it “Blue Balls”.
After defeating the pirates, Leah spends the next hour making her way through a cavern that can be navigated only by jumping on jellyfish. Eventually, she makes it to the wizened old tree, which is somehow linked to Ian McKellen, whereupon it turns into a giant wooden monster attacks noble Frodo, eventually, and this is not snark, wiping Spyro’s entrails off his foot
Immolation ensues.
Afterward, the game decides not to let Frodo duke it out against the pirates, so it is assumed that while he could take out a gigantic tree monster five times bigger than she was, it’s not even worth giving you the chance to try to beat the pirates.
Thus do we end tonight’s gaming adventure, locked in the hold of a pirate ship. Fortunately, the USS Baimbridge and a team of Navy SEALs is on-hand to rescue our hero.