HEYO! I just published something weird, which is always nice.
It’s a review, of sorts, in the format of conversations that games writers actually have about games (on a good, sober day). A chain of love letters to subjectivity, talking about Dyad through the coke-bottle lenses of everything else happening in our lives. Initially, a trip to a crappy carnival.
We went on carnival rides that were genuinely fun that night. Quoting GTA as we rammed bumper cars at each other, being hurled around by hydraulic whatevers.
But the ride that makes me smile today, as I write this, is the broken one. The one that left you scarred. An ancient, spinning chairlift that, by the time we climbed aboard it, was too exhausted to lift us up, simply spinning us round and round, forcing you and Brendan into my bony hips. It was agonizing. After 60 seconds of mounting confusion and pain, being forced sideways in a tinnitus ozone of VERY LOUD CHART MUSIC, I was crying with laughter.
I don’t want to compare Dyad to a broken carnival ride, but it makes for an absurd experience (and an even better memory) in the same way.
And so on. Go read!
How many of you loved doomed relationship simulator Catherine? The thing to know there is that Catherine’s a stopgap. It’s what Atlus made between Persona 4 and the upcoming Persona 5. And the thing to know about Persona is that these days, it’s an airhorn going off in the face of anyone who says the JRPG is dead.
Persona games tell the story of schoolkids who find themselves drawn, nightly, into an eclectic dungeon where how popular you are in the real world empowers your warrior “persona”. In other words, Persona 4 is a game where you’ll coolly dispatch a bus-sized boss monster, get home, then freak out as you realise you’ve got an exam tomorrow. And you forgot to pack a lunch.
Persona’s interesting for too many reasons. Because Atlus have gifted it with a rockin’ style that’s all of its own, from the music to the beautiful menus. Because it’s video games’ answer to Harry Potter, securing occult, dangerous imagery in a world of unparalleled warmth. Because the entire thing is an obese allegory for kids learning to hide aspects of themselves as the scientifically devise perfect personalities.
Weirdest of all, though, is that you can file the Persona games alongside the RPGs of Bethesda and Bioware where today, players idly enjoy the combat, but thrill over the growing role of romance, nesting and collecting.
I’m positive that 15 years from now we’ll look back in horror on this era where we furtively hid how much we enjoyed playing house. Sequestering our domesticity beneath all this killing.
You should buy this if you read or can read.
Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake of Your Life, by an anonymous author is:
- A retro choose-your-own-adventure book
- The story of dating an alcoholic
- Not actually a choose-your-own-adventure book
Instead the contemporary story makes it home in the conventions of the retro format, like Jonah hanging a lantern from the ribs of his whale:
October 18, 2003
It is three in the morning when the phone rings, and you answer to the sound of Anne sobbing hysterically. You can hear the sounds of the car. She says they are coming. She was at a party, and they are coming, and she is sorry. The line goes dead.
If you would like to use the radio to return the distress call, turn to October 7, 2006
If you would prefer to stare at the radio while being slowly overwhelmed by dread and longing and sadness, turn to September 11, 2004
The book is meant to be read straightforwardly, like a diary, but the choose-your-own-adventure subtext of crashing your starship on a planet of superintelligent ants can always be followed, if you like.
Thumb tucked between the pages, you can skip forward, or backward, catching glimpses of other dark corners of the relationship, the sinewy fibres of the unnecessary sci-fi analogy always holding. There’s no escaping that story, is the thing. Super interesting stuff.
Passing the pad, exploring a castle. A lazy night, driven like a doorstop into a girl’s busy life.
Let’s define our terms: She’s the best. I am not. In hanging with her I am climbing aboard a train calling at Angst and terminating at Long Walks In The Rain. Why we do this to ourselves? It can’t just be because we’re warmth addicts.
We’re playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, on her insistence. It’s her game.
“It’s on at least two or three times a week at my house,” she says. This is Dracula’s castle, but in a deeper sense, it’s hers.
I swing our sword at a light fixture and an axe falls out.
Eyes flick up from the glow of her phone.
“Pick up the axe,” she says.
The axe is a sub-weapon in Symphony of the Night that travels in a tall parabola. It’s a tool for snagging enemies above or beneath you. In a game as fluent in verticality as Castlevania, it’s a godsend. It also disables your existing subweapon if you collect it.
“You want the axe,” she says.
I don’t pick up the axe. I actually stall, leaping around this portentous little pile of pixels. She is watching me. I continue leaping around, trying to escape the gravity of the girl, the item. Finally I walk away, leaving the weapon behind. The girl squeals at my disobedience.
“It’s the best weapon!” she says. I laugh to hide the… what?
If you’ve never played Symphony of the Night, know that it’s the Castlevania that lent its name to the “Metroidvania” genre. This is the school of design where players enter a fluid labyrinth of puzzles and keys, endlessly doubling back and finding shortcuts, until finally your own ingenuity undoes you. You escape. But you dream of that maze for the rest of your life.
Symphony of the Night makes a breathtaking counterpoint to Super Metroid. Both are games that tease outwards the thread of Stockholm Syndrome, but the games craft it into different cloth.
Super Metroid maroons you on a hostile, uncomfortable planet of smirking wildwife and poison spines, letting you work your way towards a cathartic finale where the world bursts beneath you as you flee it, forever. It’s a jealous lover, alternately slapping at you and teasing you onwards with the possibility of a reward. Even Metroid’s doors are cruel curves, either oppressing Samus or caving under her touch.
Symphony of the Night is not sexy. It’s tender. It’s the Twilight novels. An ostensibly dark and gothic theme conceals the fiction’s comforting nature. Every wobbly medusa head you punch out of the air earns you experience points. Every flickering candelabra holds gold.
In other words, Metroid is about exploring, Symphony of the Night is about wandering.
Metroid is sex, Symphony of the Night is the other thing.
We pass the pad back and forth. We drink. Our protagonist moodily endures various two-dimensional horrors. I suckle foamy lager.
Idly, I swing our sword at some candles. A new subweapon drops out. I snatch it up, causing the bible we were using to spill out of our person.
“NO,” she screams.
“What’s this?” I ask. Both of us are facing the TV.
I use the weapon, which I’ll later identify as the Rebound Stone. Alucard fings it downwards, at an awkward angle, and it bounces neatly onwards. There’s an ease to it, and a knack. The Castlevania subweapon equivalent of flicking away a cigarette.
“I think this is me,” I say.
I throw the stone at a skeleton on the stairs beneath me. I miss.
The stone then bounces, hits the floor, wall, ceiling, until finally it catches the skeleton in the back of the head.
“YES,” I scream. She bursts out laughing.
“This is definitely me,” I say.
“I guess it’s OK,” she replies. “Wait until we find the Handful of Ash. That’s a terrible weapon.”
“I bet it’s fine,” I say. Desperate to find it, and master it. Desperate to prove her wrong. To wield my play like a weapon, and scratch my name in the wall of her castle. To scratch it deeper than the others.
I leap down a tower, casting my stones. Enemies crumple under my assault. At the bottom of the tower I watch the cat’s cradle of my Rebound Stones start to fade.
And it’s not enough.
“Where’s the ash,” I ask her.
“Where can I find it.”
Myself and a friend have been running Shut Up & Sit Down for 16 months now. It’s a board game video review show, and it’s decidedly not awful! We’ve got a nice bit of traffic going, and syndication on Penny Arcade and Machinima. The whole experience has been interesting, but there’s one thing in particular I want to express.
We had no experience in video when we started the site. I mean none. We’d never written television or comedy for screen, had no experience on either side of a camera, and even once we’d jinked past all of this and had the footage on our hard drives, we had no idea how to use editing software. Our inexperience was so gross that throughout the first episode we actually shot into our light source, creating a board game-themed episode of Most Haunted where the audience is sporadically ambushed by loquacious ghosts.
Our hope was that we could just… brute force our way through the process of making TV. With that first episode, we kind of did. Specifically, we made 25 minutes of something that people could watch. Literally dozens did!
So we made a second episode. Then another, and another.
I love Shut Up & Sit Down. I love it because it’s my brick wall.
Will Smith - as in, your actual Fresh Prince - tells a story of how when he was growing up, his Dad physically knocked down an entire wall of the store he owned. He told his kids, none of whom had the first idea about masonry, that they’d have to rebuild it. His tiny kids were going to have to build a brick wall.
Some mad adult’s idea of character building, right? But Will Smith talks passionately about the whole affair. How if you want to achieve something insurmountable you don’t think about the “wall” itself. You don’t think about how you want to build the best wall ever, or worry about how straight it’s going to be. It doesn’t get shit done.
Instead, you worry about each individual brick that’s in your hands, right then. You follow procedure, and you try and lay each one as straight as you can. That’s how you build a wall.
Shut Up & Sit Down is my wall. 62 posts, some of them 35 minute episodes involving hundreds of hours of work, and it was constructed simply from worrying about whatever step of the process was in our hands at the time.
Shut Up & Sit Down is a technicolour diary. It’s us steadily building towards a selection of skills that we didn’t have before- a body of work that we can walk away from it and see how much we’ve grown, whether it’s something as small as acting starting with the eyes or as big as keeping the audience engaged over 30 minutes. Seeing this is the best feeling in the world.
Which brings me to what I really want to express- something I wish I’d known, rather than stumbling painfully across it like a boulder submerged in a ball pool:
Your creative endeavour has to be fun.
Actually, let me rephrase that into something sharper: Your creative endeavour has to stay fun.
We started SU&SD because we wanted to. It’s the same reason anybody starts anything. The really clean factoid you can draw from this is that if you ever lose that same desire, your creative endeavour will be derailed and go ploughing into the bog of lost souls. It all comes back to that maxim that “Great work is done by talented people, having fun together,” which is a phrase that’s fun to just rotate in your head like a rubix cube. To me, it means that when people enjoy something, they invest time, energy and emotion into it more readily.
Until the last few months, Shut Up & Sit Down’s always been fun. Which is a minor miracle. Take our first Halloween special- looks like it was all filmed on one night, right? And it was. …except when we got the rushes home, it turned out the audio on a quarter of the shots was corrupted. With Halloween coming up, we did the only thing we could. Paul left on the hour long journey to my flat the next night, I set up the game and the lighting again, we got into costume, rearranged my furniture and filmed those problem shots again.
We did this because we wanted to, and because we had the time. Just.
More recently, Paul and I haven’t had the time. We’ve been busier. And, without us even noticing, SU&SD became a burden. We still got the work done, but it was becoming more and more stressful. Most recently, last week I had to produce some video content by myself.
Fumbling around with the camera on my lonesome was what squeezed a realisation out of me. I need Paul to do this. I need that because that’s intrinsic to me having fun, which I finally saw as the fundamental impetus of everything we’d done so far. The mortar holding our wall together. And to protect my reserves of the precious “Paul” resource, I saw that I’d need him to continue having fun, too.
I hammered out a new bullet point on the SU&SD charter that night, pausing only to wipe away the sweat crowding my brow. Previously, point #1 was “Make the best board game reviews ever”. We now have a point #0. “Enjoy yourselves.” Not because that’s more important, but because it’s the spark that allows the latter to exist. If you let that light go out, everything else goes dark.
tl;dr: If you want to learn something, or make something? Have fun doing it. It’s your most important resource, even more important than time. Manage that shit.
This huge, gorgeous, mixed-media article on QuakeCon ‘12 is worth your attention. It always takes my breath away when outlets spend actual money on games journalism. More than that, it plays up to my fetish of non-gaming-scenesters writing about gaming culture. They capture the magic.
As they played, periodic voices made whoop sounds in the darkness. Out of nowhere, someone somewhere in the room would call out “Whoop!” And the others would respond in kind: “Whoop!” Then more: Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! It happens so often at QuakeCon, most people barely notice.
What’s great is Chris Delay talking about Dwarf Fortress’ impact on Prison Architect.
“What I love about it the most is that it’s the opposite end of the sprectrum to most game design projects. He doesn’t really do any game design. A better name for it would be a Dwarf Fortress Simulator, in which you just happen to be able to have fun because it’s an inherently fun scenario.”
Which pins down something I circled endlessly in this article on the “weight” of Demon’s Souls. I argued that in its cruel modelling of the heft of your weapon, your stamina, your brittle bones, your loathing of death, the game actually became more fun. It’s as Delay describes- it skirts more towards “simulating” a fun scenario, rather than pursuing joy first and foremost. It’s the same stuff Far Cry 2, Day Z or Stalker chase with their multifaceted (and, to many, tedious) pursuit of grit, freedom, of actual danger.
Which just gets me thinking that there should be a name for this movement. “Hardcore” is far too vague. Also, too shit. And it conjures an idea of difficulty and impenetrability which might (as in the case of Prison Architect) be entirely untrue. Hm.
We have company, sometimes.
Last night was one of those sometimes.
The doorbell rang at 7:02pm, followed by a thump as Brendan’s head collided with the underside of the kitchen table.
“He’s here!” cried Brendan.
I eased the lid off a trembling saucepan, sending a great belch of steam to dissipate on our lung-coloured ceiling. “Yes, he is,” I said, turning to threaten Brendan was a spoon.
“Don’t you dare embarrass me,” we said, simultaneously.
* * *
“So Rob,” said Brendan, half-way through his sixth half-cup of affordable lager. “What’s the secret?”
“Pardon?” asked Rob.
I should our explain. Our friend Rob is what you might call a “man”. He’s our age, but he works as a manager for a white-collar tech company. He assembles wall art from Lego and owns many books. He has a beanbag, and a car.
He has a house. Not like Journo House, with its submarine corridors and twitching bedrooms. When we moved in, our landlady had left a bottle of champagne as a gift. It was empty. We never heard from her again.
Rob is happy, is the worst of it.
“You heard me,” said Brendan, taking his fork and trying to skewer a pea on his plate. Gentle downwards pressure saw the pea launched across the room to slap audibly against the far wall. “FUCK,” he cried.
I cringe, peeking furtively through my thinning hair at Rob’s girlfriend.
She is beautiful. She is a woman like Rob is a man. Throughout the evening I’d listened to her talk about her work in the Territorial Army, her job at the university, her parents’ land, slowly building up the thread count and lustrousness of the bed she was making for me. It was comfortable here. At one point I became aware that I was holding my glass so loosely that I was pouring lager on my crotch.
“What’s the secret of… what?” asked Rob.
“Brendan,” I snarled. “Don’t ruin this!”
“You know what I mean,” said Brendan. “Success. Masculinity. Happiness.” He took a pause, then. Wrestling to regain control of his heavy, celtic tongue. “You’ve got it all. And we want some! What do we have to do?”
“That’s IT,” I cried, leaping to my feet and dashing a salt shaker at my housemate. “You don’t have to answer that, Rob,” I said, thrusting an imperious finger at this foul Irish creature. “This greedy swine has done nothing! Nothing to earn those splendid things!”
It was too much for Rob, of course. You can’t ask a good man those questions. Gripping his girlfriend in his strong hand, the two of them fled the table, the girl careening into the door frame with paint-chipping force. One million years of terror in twenty years of young rubber, as soon as she landed she was up again, falling almost, yes, falling, falling horizontally through the door.
I walked out after them. I was breathing heavily, each dirty burst of breath wiped clean from my face by mother night.
“You can’t hold us both back forever, you flat bastard,” said Brendan, sitting heavily before our television. I watched his hands flex and creep over the PS3 pad, like two spiders.
“Perhaps I can,” I said. “Perhaps I can.”
Been meaning to howl about this for years.
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban is a post-apocalpytic novel where England reverts to an iron age society, entirely written in the first person in the kind of shredded, phonetic English that might plausibly survive. “Inland” is England, “rizlas” survives as cigarette papers, but throughout the book wordplay takes a backseat to nauseatingly dark and evocative cant. Riddley Walker is at turns a story and a puzzle, a literary obstacle course.
More than that, though, it is beautiful.
Raining agen it wer next morning. Theres rains and rains. This 1 wer coming down in a way as took the hart and hoap out of you there wer a kynd of brilyants in the grey it we too hard it wer too else it made you feal like all the tracks in the worl wer out paths nor not a 1 to bring you back. Wel of coarse they are but it dont all ways feal that way. It wer that kynd of morning when peopl wernt just falling in to what they done naturel they had to work ther selfs in to it. Seamt like a lot of tea got spilt at breakfas nor the talk wernt the userel hummeling and mummeling there wer some thing else in it. Like when you see litening behynt the clouds.
Soons we startit off for Widders Dump you cud feal how every 1 wer on the lert and waiting for some thing. Fister said, ‘Les see if we can get there and back without losing no 1 this day.’
Chaucer becomes an obvious comparison, but in saying that you cloud what’s golden about Riddley Walker. Chaucer wrote bawdy, populist tales. Riddley Walker reads like a damp winter, and the protagonist’s journey is mostly him clawing uselessly at the soil beneath his feet, understanding just enough of the abstracted civilization before him to understand how far he has fallen. It is a novel of shame. Of a society that is a living hangover.
Really, as you hold this book, you are cupping Hoban’s pendulous brass balls. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Like many, I’ve come away from indie space opera FTL at bit disappointed with how shallow it is. Tell you what’s stunning, though. The slow death.
In so many roguelikes (even modern gem Spelunky) your death arrives like a punch in the tits. You can’t believe what happened. FTL? It gives you a full 30 seconds to stare down death’s glossy muzzle.
The ship’s ablaze. A murder-bot has teleported aboard, knocked out your sensors, and now stalks what’s left of your vessel. Laser fire continues scratching your opponent’s initials in your dead hulk. You’re one well-placed kick from being nothing but scrap.
But you’ve got one crewman left, and if they can just crawl down the corridors… if they can just get to the bridge… you might… you just might… jump out of here…
I just might…
I just might…
Just a few more step— ***MESSAGE ENDS***