Retrobooster, Taking Back the ‘Verse

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Now, this game has nothing to do with Firefly, but just humor the analogy for a moment.  In Firefly, it felt like it treated space, matter and physics correctly.  Everything reacted right, there was no sound in space and it was full of excitement and narrow escapes.  Retrobooster does the same thing.  You are affected by gravity, how you are steering and every other force that might interact with your ship.  It makes sense and it is packed with full-throttle moments where I can imagine your pilot hitting the pedal to the floor in a crystal-clear moment of balls-to-the-wall commitment to death or victory.  I am having a hard time finding things about this game that I didn’t like, so excuse me for gushing a little bit. Dick.

Play the tutorial first.  If nothing else it will give you an idea how to steer your ship: more in relation to which method suits you best.  You can use either the arrow keys or the mouse or the arrow keys to steer your ship, known as a Starblade.  Using the arrow keys is a solid method, but it felt weird to me having both hands on my keyboard.  Utilizing the mouse is more fluid, but there is more margin for error.  Both methods are good and fly suitably smooth, the choice is really in what suits you best.

Now, you have two weapons – a gun and a launcher, we’ll call them.  With each you can find a spectacular array of weaponry to equip and deploy.  You can get varied ammunition for your gun, varied ammo for the launcher or a powerup that will make you more powerful for a short time.  For the gun, my favorite ammo variation were the thermite rounds.  These are like shooting smoking pellets of smouldering napalm.  They wreak havoc on enemies that have clustered together, and it happens more than you’d expect.  For the launcher, I have only really had the guided missiles, but they are magnificent.  Nothing better than going into a fight knowing you can start blowing holes in enemies from the start.  In some cases, the missiles give you a fighting chance. Powerups give a lot more variety to gameplay.  Sometimes they’ll give you a scatter shot that fires in a cone in front of you, other times it will be a constant shield that lasts for 25 seconds.  Either way, it’ll be something useful.

Boom boom boom boom

Boom boom boom boom

Two of the most important things to keep in mind are (duh) health and shields.  In this game, it is too easy to fuck yourself up and if you don’t get flying down, the enemies just have to sit back with some popcorn and watch you kill yourself.  Hit any obstacles and you’ll take damage.  There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, don’t crash into shit.  Shields are useful because, in the heat of a fight you will end up crashing into shit.  Hold the spacebar a couple seconds to use your shields and avoid unnecessary damage.  Simple as that.  Shields can also be use to deflect enemy fire, but be careful as your shields are limited.  If you do well and kill a lot of enemies in a row, you’ll get a token to increase your shield meter or heal your ship (green bar at lower left is health, blue bar is shields).

Enemies in this game are aliens that remind me of what would happen if Apple invaded another galaxy; they are all white and smooth with softly glowing lights and a sort of arrogance that makes you want to punch them in the teeth.  Of course, killing isn’t everything, and Retrobooster recognizes this.  I suppose this is why the developer made the wide array of aggravating puzzles to solve.  They are things like pushing a button and then flying past obstacles to get to the door you opened in time, or manipulating forcefields to get to the button you opened.  Either way, it pumps your adrenaline and has pushed me into plenty “leaf on the wind” kind of moments.

I'm a leaf on the wind, watch how I desperately try not to get blown to pieces...

I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I desperately try not to get blown to pieces…

These moments often launch you through a narrowly closing door only to send you blasting out the other side… directly into oncoming fire.  It sucks sometimes, but in my mind my character and his co-pilot just carry the adrenaline and go from one second to the next, flying by the seat of their deeply soiled pants.  Funny part is, once you’ve killed off enough enemies for the area to be reasonably safe, you start looking for survivors.  by survivors I mean humans that have survived the alien onslaught.

Just be careful, cause these guys are delicate...

O, hey! He’s reached his ultimate power level… O, no.  He’s bursting into flames.. my bad..

Some things to keep in mind with survivors.  First, they are squishy, flammable and all kinds of easy to kill by accident.  Many times aliens will just walk over them and squash them, other times the detritus jettisoned from an exploding enemy will be enough to kill survivors.  That is why you want to take enemy fire to your shields to protect them, use your ion bolt to blow up wreckage before it can kill them and do whatever else you can to protect these guys.  Next, when you land, you have to do it gingerly.  They will generally avoid you when you are coming down, but once your landing gear touches terra firma, all bets are off and they come running.  Some times your ship might bounce a bit and squash someone under it, other times if you come in too close to the people, they will catch on fire.  This is hilarious, but probably bad.  When they come aboard, they will give a small boost to health and shields.  Not much, but enough to bring you up from a tough fight.  My question is how do they all fit in there….

Enemies coming in from all vectors!

Enemies coming in from all vectors!

Retrobooster is a great game.  Gameplay is fluid and feels great.  It can be tough to navigate and aim at the same time since your shots follow the momentum of your ship, and shots fired can push you backward in space.  It really feels like you are floating around in a low-gravity environment battling foes.  Weapons are fun to use and explosions are satisfying.  Puzzles are a real challenge and you will die a few times, even if you are really good at flying, but that makes the game all that much more fun to play.  You only get two lives per level, which can be a pain in the ass at times, especially since there are no extra lives to find; however, longevity can be attained through skilled maneuvering and liberal application of ion blasters.  The most irritating thing about this is that sometimes the people look like they have no joints, sort of like Rayman, but there isn’t anything annoying enough to make me not want to pay the 17.99$ for this game.  If you are looking for a spectacular space-fighting challenge with a retro feel, this game is going to rock your ‘verse.  Really Slick lived up to their names on this one.

Gone Home, Manifesto of Modern Rad-Femme Extremism

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Warning: this read is LONG AS HECK!  A lot of games are pretty poignant and come out at the right time.  Gone Home is a game that came out about two months after DOMA and Proposition 8 were ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court.  Being in the Army at the time, I literally watched the military go from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to “First Sergeant is going to help me and my partner get housing benefits.”  It was a monumental time. I was actually in basic when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and everyone thought I was going to come out.  Next morning at formation I was asked by several fellow soldiers and replied “I’m still rather fond of boobies.”  But in the swell of history-changing happiness, it seems a doctrine slid into place that, even now, is permeating the industry and much of our society.  Gone Home has a deeper, toxic narrative that uses the inspiring narrative of the game to hide and poke holes in American society, quietly going so far as to say that it should be restructured with women in the position of power over men.

In Gone Home you play Katie, the elder of two sisters who has just returned from a year-long trip to Europe.  Throughout the game you find various postcards sent home by Katie from a variety of historic locations.  This adds a sort of innocent perspective of family as perceived by someone removed from the conflict; but conflict in this game is constantly reviewed and discovered in the past tense, not personally experienced.  In order to get a proper context for the events of Gone Home, you should get to know the remaining characters.

Sam Greenbriar is Katie’s younger sister and the primary focus of the game’s narrative.  She seems to have started her last year in High School, but her grade is never explicitly stated.  Sam meets a girl, named Lonnie, that she becomes friends with, but the relationship goes further than she ever expected and blossoms into a full romance.  It’s 1995, so this doesn’t exactly go over well.

Janice Greenbriar is the mother of the household and, as the Head Conservationalist of Flintlock Forestry station, she is the bread-winner of the family.  While Janice is assisting with the Takelma County Forestry Service in a controlled burn of a section of forest, Janice distinguishes herself and is promoted to Regional Conservation Management Director.

Terrence Greenbriar is the father of the household and is a writer struggling with his own flaws to create a successful sci-fi historic fiction series known as the “Accidental” series.  Terrence is traditional and dreamy, but he seems given to periods of self-doubt and, possibly, depression.  He struggles with his job, too, losing a good gig in reviewing music from one room to the next.  The house they live in was recently acquired in a will from his recently deceased Uncle, a pharmacist named Oscar Mason.

Lonnie is Sam’s girlfriend, but it doesn’t start out that way.  They just start out as girls being girls but it develops further.  Lonnie is in ROTC and is training to join the Army.  Lonnie exposes Sam to a whole new life and way of thinking that was previously alien to her, but Lonnie is very conflicted and this comes through often.

Daniel is a background character.  He was friends with Sam when they were very young, before their recent move.  Same actually describes Daniel as a “default friend” in a journal to Katie and generally only talks to Daniel to get his “good” Super Nintendo games.  Sam is markedly slow to return these.  Sam distances herself from Daniel as she grows up, claiming that he got “weird.”

Big, happy family.

Big, happy family.

Now, Sam meets Lonnie in the most innocent fashion, and it starts out as the two having fun and being girls.  They explore the mansion, which neighborhood kids call the “Psycho House” since there was a tragedy that befell a previous owner, so it is rumored to be haunted.  As it turns out, the house may very well be haunted and there are numerous secret passages within the building.  Lonnie and Sam spend more and more time together, falling in love.  For the longest time they keep their love a secret from Sam’s parents, but eventually it comes out.  Now this would all be fine since this story is conveyed nicely and it is quite inspiring, but that is not all that lies within the text of this game.

While the girls are hiding their secret love, Sam creates two fictional characters, which she writes about.  The telling of these stories comes in a reverse order, starting with the most recent first.  I will start with the oldest one first, which is returned to Sam by Daniel.  In a child’s handwriting, the story describes Sam and Danny exploring a forest, finding an ocean with a pirate ship in it and manning it.  Sam declares that she will be the Captain and Daniel the First Mate.  Daniel replies with an “Aye, aye, Captain!”  This is two kids playing and seems genuinely innocent, but take note here that Sam automatically takes the dominant role in their relationship and  Daniel accepts unthinkingly.

Wait.. is he staring at her butt?

Wait.. is he checking her out?

Our next entry in this miniature “narrative within a narrative,” the First Mate is in trouble and shit gets weird.  After exploring the house for some time, you find hidden compartments in the walls.  In one compartment is another story about Princess Allegra, as the pirate captain has by now been named, is searching for her First Mate in a forest.  He has been captured by the Green Glacier Amazon Tribe.  Upon confronting the Queen Amazon, Allegra tries to stop the Queen by throwing the sword at her hand.  She is too late, though, and the First Mate falls into a vat of water.  Things go quiet and the First Mate emerges from the water transformed from man into woman.  Here is where shit gets weird.  The Amazon Queen says “She is one of us now.  She is ours.”  Allegra responds “That’s the love of my life, and you can’t have her.”

One of us! One of US!

One of us! One of US!

Now, looking at this for face value, it seems like a story about the transformation of a girls sexual identity from hetero- to homosexual, given the context of the main story; however, in the context of the deeper narrative context provided by the actual characters. This story takes on a totally different hue, which I will return to later.  Throughout the game, there are examples of women in a position of power over men, and it’s not even subtle or accidental – it happens in every possible relationship created in the game.

The only living primary male character is an example of male failure.  His job is not working out because he is infecting his reviews of music, where readers want to hear about the quality and value of hardware, with tangents and diatribes about the ruination of his childhood.  This is found in a typed letter from the reviews editor of Home Theatre Aficionado Magazine.  Terrence also receives a letter from the publisher for his “Accidental” book series, Mercury Books, that due to sales of the second books being worse than the first, they would no longer continue to publish his work.  Now, this all comes alongside the standard trope of older men being alcoholics.  Gone Home serves this up by placing a bottle of whiskey atop the bookcase in Terrence’s office; then, later, the rejection letter from Mercury Books can be found in the bar, just down the hall.  Here it looks like someone has recently spent a lot of time drinking by the sloppy placement of glasses on the bar and one on the table by the record-player.

Aside from failing at his work, Terrence is also failing as a father, at home.  We’ve already established that Janice has a steady job, which she is good at – given her promotion, but there is something else going on under Terrence’s nose that he isn’t even aware of.  Following Janice’s little story, you find that she has been spending a lot of time with a man named Richard Patermach.  Rich is man that she met during the controlled burning operation with Takelma County Forestry Service.  In what seems to be a personal room where she paints still-lifes, you can find a performance evaluation of Rich on the table.  Janice, being in a position of superiority over this man, gives him a glowing review and even says that she will put in paperwork to request his transference to her forestry station.  I mean, she cirlces all the ‘5s’ in a 1 – 5 evaluation scale, which TOTALLY doesn’t look suspicious.  In the next room you find a romance novel about a “fireman” set against a background of a forest.  Later on, beyond what is initially a locked door, you find some important scraps of paper: one is a receipt for a makeover given to Janice totaling 119.50$.  Now that is expensive, but according to this inflation calculator that is worth 186.03$ in 2014, which isn’t a huge gap, but when you have a daughter in high school and one in Europe, a husband that is struggling and a house that is in disrepair – according to the electric company inspection in Terrence’s office – that is a good chunk of change.  But why did she spend that much? Well, upon entering the dining room where mom and dad confront Sam about her sexuality, there is a table with a note bearing the Takelma County Forestry Commission’s logo.  Between these scraps of paper lie a promotion notice for Janice and a manual from Takelma’s forestry commission.  The note is from Rich and it invites Janice out to see a and EWF concert.  His girlfriend wasn’t into the concert and he invites Janice instead.  But there is no evidence she accepted, right? Wrong, ticket stub for Earth, Wind and Fire in the heating vent in the hallway.  How can we guess at the motivations for accepting and assume it wasn’t innocent?  Looking in the drawer behind the table sits a letter from janice’s friend, Carol, where she describes Rich as “our favorite flannel-clad hunk,” which describes Rich in terms of a character on the cover of a romance novel like the one in the backroom of Janice’s little personal room.  Later on we find that Rich gets married and Janice and Terrence end up going on a couple’s retreat, which, according to the calendar in the kitchen and the pamphlet by Terrence’s new writing spot in the greenroom, where they will likely review their marriage and where it is going.  I mean, Janice has been nothing but supportive of her struggling husband, why wouldn’t she feel the urge to leave him?  But the support shown to her husband mostly seems like a way to cover for her deeper intentions and desires, considering there is one physical instance of her support and numerous others detailing the narrative between her and “our favorite flannel-clad hunk.”  It is an objectification of a man with the female hegemonic gaze, just as is decried by feminists in terms of games where women are represented as sexual objects.

She knows this is supposed to be an objective rating of his job performance and not how he might be in bed, right?

She knows this is supposed to be an objective rating of his job performance and not how he might be in bed, right?

Through the rejection of his life partner, we see that Terrence is cast as an impotent male in terms of his fulfilling the gender role a man is supposed to: the provider of the home.  Hell, we even see an unused condom in one of Terrence’s drawers in their bedroom.  It looks like it has been there for some time, and there is only one, so it is more like a “just in the wild case” rather than hopeful premeditation of a sexual exchange with his beloved wife, not to mention they could just use the pill for a more intimate encounter.  It is the 90’s, afterall.

Terrence isn’t the only male rejected by a female.  Sam, our leading character, has a childhood friends who she regards right off the bat as a “default” friend, since he lives right next door.  She even goes so far to say that she only really valued their friendship because he had good videogames because he became weird.  You’d expect someone that is made fun of at school for living in the “Psycho House” to look past the exterior at who a person really is, even if she is a lesbian.  Lesbians can have friendships with white, hetero males and not want to be with them, I promise.  When Daniel calls she rejects him by not calling back.  He doesn’t even mention that he wants his game back until after what seems sustain cases of rejection.  Sam is, honestly, a cold little girl that only considers males in terms of what they can give her.  In the kitchen we see that Sam and Daniel finally reconcile when he returns the oldest page of the pirate story with the picture above and comes after Sam is confronted about her sexuality.  She wants to talk about her remorse about their lost childhood friendship, but instead tells him about Lonnie and recent events and then tells him about “how sorry I was that I wasn’t his friend anymore.”  This is nice and all, but it only comes after the boy has submitted to her, contacting her over and over and over with no response, asking for his game, trying to see her.  Finally she reconciles with him because, why?  Because he gives her some comfort in a tough time by hugging her and saying it’ll be ok, bringing a piece of her childhood self and reminding her that he had submitted to her from the very beginning.  I think this is referred to colloquially as the “friendzone,” where a female keeps a boy around for the value of his emotionally supportive nature.  This renders the guy more of a comfort object, similar to a teddy bear, rather than a person with his own thoughts and feelings.

Ah, the dead pharmicists personal opiate stash. memories.

Ah, the dead pharmicists personal opiate stash. memories.

And it doesn’t stop here!  We never get the full story of what happened with Oscar Mason, but in a safe in the basement we find a letter that was written before he died to his sister, Mary Greenbriar.  In the end of the letter he says “If no response is received, I shall henceforth accept my sentence, and one day simply cease to be.”  Throughout the letter we get the impression that something had divided him from his family and, in the rejection of the letter, he is never reconciled.  Like Terrence, who turns to the bottle to ease his emotional pain, we can suggest that Oscar may have done the same, the safe being filled with syringes and morphine syrettes.  There is even a rubber hose used to constrict the veins of the person taking the medicine, so they bulge with pressure and are easier to find.  You know, similar to the trademark hose of the heroine addict?  In his final weeks, maybe even days, Oscar reaches out in an attempt to reconcile with family, but his letter is rejected without being opened: it is marked with a red ‘X’ and scribed with the words “return to sender.”  By the admission of the last line of the letter, we can not only say that a judgement has been passed on him by Mary, but his situation is doubly cruel considering she never had the decency to open the damn thing.  I mean, none of us liked my grandmother, but when she died we went to her bedside so she would know that, despite all the horrible things she did, we were still a family.  That is a message infinitely more comforting than “return to sender” (subtext: so he can die sad and lonely with no one by his side.)  So where men aren’t sexual objects in this game, they are impotent examples of their own gender role or outright rejected until they submit to the females in their lives.

There is another function that Oscar fills, even in death.  Sam and Lonnie seek to contact his ghost with a Ouija board by performing a seance in the secret room under the stairs.  This contributes to the completely bizarre atmosphere Gone Home carries throughout.  With the flicker of lights, soft patter of rain at the windows and the lighting that occasionally lights up the halls, Gone Home has an ambiance right out of a horror game.  It even has a jump scare in it.  This feature, I think, shows an even more sinister and dark side of this game’s ideaology.  Oscar Mason is dead, yes, but his death and potential spirit haunt Sam in her life to the point where she is bullied in school as the “Psycho House Girl.”  We get the implication that the Uncle went crazy and this somehow resulted in his death.  I was never able to explicitly discover why or how, but it haunts her throughout the game.  Initially it’s only the bullying, but later we see a much more vague form of this influence.

This family is traditional and they keep a couple old bibles in the house.  This is common, though, and could be dismissed, but then there is the film “Inside Edition,” which is mentioned in the game.  In a scrap found in the room with Janice’s makeover bill, we find the schedule for the movie and description saying “Investigative team visits camp whose specialists help adolescents overcome deviant behaviour and homosexuality.”  Since the film is in the parents room and clearly written in a feminine handwriting, we can assume it is the mothers.  This would show the mother as being the true matriarch of her house, seeing a problem and using a film with religious undertones to uphold the most patriarchal aspect of their lives.  Of course, her own brush with deviance at the EWF concert leads you to think that maybe she isn’t so committed to that.  Either way, when the parents confront Sam, she remembers that it is Dad who really confronted her on this matter.  He even leaves a note on the kitchen table, so since he is the one writing for Home Theatre Aficionado and records numerous films on VHS, it’s not a big step to consider the possibility that Dad told mom to record the movie.

Oscar’s other role in influencing Sam comes in his own religious quality.  It is only truly discussed in the sole jump scare in the game, which takes place in one of the secret passages.  After looking around the area a bit, you can find a cross that has the words “for god so loved the world he gave his only son.”  When you grab this crucifix and examine it, the light bulb in the room explodes.  Sudden, unprecedentedly creepy, and another tie to Oscar through the use of the supernatural.  Oscar’s greatest role in this is similar to the ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is Hamlet’s father, referred to as King Hamlet for differentiation.  In Hamlet, the ghost comes back from the grave to tell Hamlet the secret about his Uncle Claudius.  Given the powerful nature of Oscar’s spirit and his reaction to your touching his cross – there are many other things of his to touch, but this is the only one that induces a jump scare – you can assume that he is likely very religious.  His spirit being such, he would disapprove of Sam and Lonnie’s relationship, and given their attempts to contact him and their playing in the secret places of the house – possibly more than just playing – Oscar would have the best view of their clandestine relationship.  While he never says anything to either Terrence or Janice, the house has an overall foreboding ambiance, which doesn’t suit the love story at all.  It feels more like Oscar represents the oppressive nature of the male patriarchy, expressed through religion.  The supernatural affect of Oscar, linked through religion to the parents, would seem like a sort of thematic amplifier to personify the oppression of the two young girls.  Though Oscar isn’t advising the parents take revenge on the girls from the grave, his disapproval  echoes across their generations in attempt to oppress the girls from beyond the grave.  Even if the mother would be the one that recorded the film, it would make sense since she is the head of the house and, thus, the one in the masculine role of power.  If the spirit is trying to reach out to Terrence, the darker implication would be that Oscar, Terrence’s uncle, is trying to tell Terrence to take vengeance upon the women in his life for usurping his natural “head-of-household” gender role by enforcing religious strictures upon Sam, his daughter.  Either way, the implications are pretty grim.  That is a lot to take from the game’s themes, though.  I mean, it’s not like there is a character in the game that personifies resistance against a greater male patriarchy that oppresses the deepest desires and natural state of the young women in ques… oh wait…

Kicking men in the face as they look up your skirt and making it a move against the patriarchy. A lost Marvel classic.

Kicking men in the face as they look up your skirt and making it a move against the patriarchy. A lost Marvel classic.

Note the upside down cross...

Note the upside down cross on revolution girl’s choker…

So where do they get the names?  Well, Sam takes on the name of Captain Allegra here, as the character in her story, and Lonnie gets to be Rev-L-Ution Grrrl.  you know, the one with the upside down cross on her choker?  No wonder Oscar is trying to come back from the grave, Lonnie is an anti-establishment lesbian that fights every element of the male patriarchy all while being in the ROTC.  One of the best parts of the game’s deeper story is where Lonnie explains her JROTC awards to Sam by drawing the awards.  The description for the last award for Adventure Training reads “I am a born adventuress and no borders can hold me.  The Army recognizes this.”  She also has an award for rifle training which makes her a “certified killing machine” and an award for orienteering.  Lonnie explains this last one as “the army thinks I can find my way around” but her having this award might be interpreted as “I can find my own way.”  So, in this game her position in ROTC and her affiliation with the military serves only to characterize Lonnie as a male in a female body and, thus, the epitome of an anti-male revolutionary.  The army is only used to make her stronger than all the other men in the game and point her out as unique, interesting and important.  Lonnie – carrying even a distinctly unisex name – is an example of the Butch Lesbian trope.

I am not sure that is quite what that means...

I am not sure that is quite what that means…

Entertainingly enough, Sam takes on another trope similar to the Butch Lesbian, known as the Pirate Girl. I mean, she writes about a pirate girl, fancies herself as one and even dresses like one at some point.  To quote the site from that link, the Pirate Girl trope often has a Dark and Troubled Past detailing how she ended up in this position; abusive fathers who they are in a “Well Done, Son” Guy relationship with seems to be a common theme.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this suits Sam to a tee.  Trouble past – Uncle goes crazy and dies.  Yup.  Abusive father is a little tougher, but he is a drinker and he does seem to focus on himself a lot.  The issues he is having with his work, his writing and his love life might be enough for him to take this out on others, women or not.

So how does this narrative of women end?  Well you won’t be able to guess, but the rejection of male patriarchy for the freedom of feminine justice embodied in the true love of our lesbian couple.  Yes, I am dead serious.  In a game full of weak male characters, men as oppressors and even men as oppressors through female couterparts in distinctly male gender roles, the game ends with a romantic “fuck you” to the male oppressors.  How?  Predictably toward the end, the real thing that separates Lonnie and Sam isn’t their parents, but the Army.  What better example of a real, existing male patriarchy that one might fight against than the military?  Religion is old school patriarchy, military represents the modern struggle.  Lonnie leaves for the army and Sam goes to cry and sleep in the attic.  She misses the first two calls, but the third she gets.  it’s Lonnie and she’s stepped off the bus to basic training and is telling Sam she can’t live without her and that they will drive until they can find a place where they can just be together,  likely New Hope, Pa.  Now, this might just seem like a play on the usual romance film ending, but with lesbians, but think about this a second.  If you are on the bus to basic, you’ve already signed the papers and handed your life over to service in the name of your country.  If you try to bail at this point, you are effectively going AWOL.  This is an offense punishable by law, so Lonnie’s actions are literally a big old middle finger to male-driven responsibility and the patriarchy.  Not to mention, Lonnie came to be in this position because she looked up to her Dad’s old army buddies, so it is in all ways Lonnie telling off everything male since it was a decision put into her by the influence of older men.

This is why the house is empty when Katie comes home.  Sam would be there, but she is off supporting bad life decisions.  I was touched at the end, but then I really started to think about what it would mean.  Sure, Sam and Lonnie might get a few good years together at best, but one day the man will be knocking on their door with a warrant full of feminine oppression to take Lonnie off to federal prison.  But that isn’t even the ending to the narrative of the game’s text.  The ultimate message in this game is more deeply hidden in a letter from Terrence’s father.

Gee, thanks pop...

Gee, thanks pop…

This preachy letter combines with the feminist narrative to create a big old fuck you to something particular here.  let’s see if you can guess it:

“An author’s work is the externalization of that which he holds dear (and that which he fears), and in this respect I believe your work was successful.  But the lens through which the personal shone was needlessly clouded by genre cliches and implausible dimestore science-fictional dei ex machina.  The great authors speak of their life’s milieu in clear and honest tones, the lens crystal that refracts their thoughts without distortion.  [...] I urge you to shed artifice. You can do better.”

This preachy little letter can be found in the basement and is the only letter from the male character with the only positive representation in the game.  Granted, we can probably assume he is either really old or dead, so he is still a decently impotent male – maybe even literally – to suit the feminist attitude of this game.  He is also Terrence’s father and, being male, Terrence will follow his advice unthinkingly.  And he does, too.  The office is filled with chaotic notes on a bulletin board as Terrence reaches deep inside for something better.  In the greenroom typing area – a move that might have been an attempt for a fresh, new perspective – we find Terrence’s synopsis for the last book in his “accidental” series and it describes the main character having to save himself.

I call this letter, The Fullbright Company’s letter to the gaming industry.  Gone Home’s critics often dig into this game for being a walking simulator and having no real “game” features.  This game would be best called a dull adventure game, but they wanted it to be this big, artistic masterpiece: poignant, timely and edgy.  In this letter, the developers of the game tell you what they want to see in the industry as a whole and, combined with the other deeper narratives of this game, it is a bleak prospect: they want to tear down the oppressive patriarchy of games with exaggerated tropes and over-the-top themes.  They want games to become less ludic and more film-esque.  See the reason this thinking is fundamentally flawed is simply that games were created originally to be games: fun, meaningless little pieces of entertainment that get your through a day.  Recently, games have taken on a far more artistic trend, becoming more narratively advanced and deeper as a result, but to take everything out of a game that makes it fun just shows the drive of a rebellious sect of videogaming.  This is not unlike the spate of absurdist films way back in the day, like Un Chien Andalou.  Films like these were often artistic as hell and shed the existing trappings and tropes of film like “the carapace of a bug” but these movements often die out quickly due to their cliquish sentiment and limited appeal.  They are an important and interesting piece of history that is often referenced in films, but they ultimately just represent the art in terms of “overly artistic crap meant for a small clique.”

He's about to cut her eye open with a fucking razor...

He’s about to cut her eye open with a fucking razor…

Don’t get me wrong, I like artistic games, but not if the game element has been altogether erased in favor of a preachy and, frankly, insulting narrative.  This game even makes inside jokes about feminist film theory by suggesting how to “subvert the male gaze,” which is an element of film theory that says the way women are displayed is often used as a sexual signifier of women in terms of what men want from them.  It represents objectification of the woman’s body by the use of the camera ti display them in a sexual manner, as a man might look at a woman with his eyes.  You know, following her ass or looking down her shirt at the right time.  Modern film is admittedly guilty of this, but Gone Home’s calling this out only proves that this was a contrived piece of feminist workmanship.  Like, it was a fucking sign.  Ironically, right across the room the father had a porn mag buried in a box of his own discarded books, whose publication was halted.  A box of male degradation.

Overall, without all the feminist input, this game is alright.  Without paying much attention to anything but the lesbian narrative, one gets a touching game about real love and facing adversity as a young homosexual.  But this story is the cover for a story that is as socially intolerant of men as Birth of a Nation was for black people.  I don’t mind a so-stated “non-game,” but it still has to carry elements of its media.  Putting players into a world where there is nothing resembling a game at all is similar to someone selling a movie that is just a series of pictures of letters on the screen set to music that the viewers have to read to get the story then saying “it’s the artistic direction of the industry.”  That is stupid.  Truly talented developers take the ludic characteristics of a game and weave in the narrative like so much thread in a tapestry.  It is relevant to the industry and its consumers and has something deeper to it that shows it has soul beyond just killing some dudes.

This game looks nice and plays well, but the speed at which your character moves is deliberately slow and infuriating.  The whole game takes 2 hours only because you move so slow.  Judging this as a game would give it a unprecedentedly low rating, but this isn’t a game: it’s an interactive narrative.  It is preachy, oppressive, and is certainly not the future of the industry.  A true artist does not have to drain the color from a piece to make it profound, why do you think people make fun of hipsters that take pictures of their food, apply a sepia tone and post it on Instagram?  I am glad that I got this game on the Humble Bundle, because i didn’t give these people more than a few cents for a game that is 19.99$ on Steam.  This game should be going for FAR less than that, but everyone got so worked up over its artistic and deep narrative that they missed what this game was really about.  The funny thing is that they missed a message so toxic that they didn’t realize they were supporting a narrative of anti-male hate.  I am not an anti-feminist, I would say I am a feminist.  Feminism is not supposed to be about oppression of the opposing sex, it is about bringing men and women together as equals so we can create a better tomorrow.  Gone Home does none of that.  I’ll be looking for the sequel to this game where Lonnie is taken away by the government and Sam leads a feminist revolution to overthrow the oppressive, patriarchal government to free Lonnie.  Oh, no.  That would require killing dudes, and might make the game too much fun.

Letters to T-Mobile: Call to Action

First I just want to express my deep frustration toward Comcast.  When COMCAST DECIDES TO DIE FOR SEVERAL HOURS on a Sunday night right after I already decided not to run an article the previous night to attend the birthday of a close friend’s daughter, it gets a little frustrating.  Just wanted to apologize for breaking my schedule and I will be on it again now.

GG_VJ

Some of the latest that I noticed last night: After the foot-biting of Pol, people started to calm down and remember that we have a mission here.  King of Pol reminded us that we should, in fact, watch what we are saying but not become the thought-police in the process.  I also saw this exchange of tweets cross my vision:

POL_MOBILE

T-Mobile seems to have stated, to some effect, that they will not be swayed by any number of emails and that they require an out-pouring of physical letters about the topic to flood into their offices.  Honestly, I chuckle and think of the scene in the first Harry Potter film where the letters explode in through their mail slot.  We need to make it rain on them, and I have an idea how.  Write 5 letters a week, by hand.  PLEASE do not use automatic mailers for this one, people, as they are asking for physical letters in order to see the human side of this conflict.  The human side of us.  Write with your own meat-hooks.  I know this is difficult, but do it.  Some of us may be dislexic or unable to hold a pen properly, please feel free to sign a printed letter.

For the rest of us, though, make 5 letters to send out during the week and mail one each day to T-Mobile.  I know it sounds silly, but this will have the effect we, and T-Mobile, are demanding to see.  It will help us make the change happen and it will show T-Mobile the human cost of doing business with these folks.

Here is the Address for T-Mobile.

T-Mobile Customer Relations

PO Box 37380

Albuquerque, NM 87176-7380

I will include a typed copy of my own letter for an example.  Please feel free to embellish, improve and personalize.  That’s what they are asking for!  Just no death threats or evil letters of angry anger-tude.  That will set us back in this.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of T-Mobile,

My name is _________ and I am a blogger, gamer and supporter of #GamerGate.  Please hear me out.  I am writing to you tonight concerning a request, issued by your company, for physical, written statements concerning recent events with Gawker Media, Vox Media and statements of bullying.  First, let me give you a little background.

When I was younger, I received the brunt of much bullying from Elementary School all the way through High School to where most of my memories of being a child focus on being bullied at school.  It had a powerful influence on myself as a child and is still visible in me as a man.  It is one of the reasons that I loved Boy Scouts so much that I and my four brothers became Eagle Scouts.  Despite boy scouts being my only refuge from school life, even it got hard at times and many nights I would cry to myself.  I would stay home from school “sick” and have even considered self-harm.

I am a man now.  I am lucky enough to have found a spectacular wife (who I met in high school, funny enough X D!) who is excited to bear our children.  When those children go to school, I know, though it saddens me deeply, that they will face bullies as I did.  How they and others like them handle this harsh reality will be greatly influenced by the “real world” and its perception of these acts.  If they see in our society the same sort of ambivalence toward, or even support of, bullying, I honestly don’t know how many of them won’t commit suicide.

As a father, American and former military member, I will likely tell them what I will advise you tonight.  Fight them and others like them.  There is nothing bullies fear more than isolation.  Seeing those that once laughed with them and echoed their ideas walk away shaking their heads is always at the back of their minds.  They know that one day no one will care what they have to say.  My kids will be taught not to feed into them and, worse comes to worse, how to throw a mean left-hook; but the response I propose for T-Mobile is less straight-forward and immeasurably more effective:

Please discontinue any support and advertising for all Gawker Media Sites (Kotaku, Gawker, Kinja, Deadspin, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, Gizmodo, Lifehacker), all Vox Media sites (The Verge, Curbed, Racked, SB Nation, Polygon, Eater, Vox), Gamasutra, Destructoid and Ars Technica.  These sites and their staff have repeatedly bullied their consumers, at one point releasing a media blitz of 14 articles in one day – around Labor Day nonetheless – stating that gamers are dead, that we are evil and misogynistic.  They continue to state that we are part of some great misogynistic narrative, created by them to validate their extreme ideas.

Recently these groups, their sites and their staff have suggested that bullying “nerds” is acceptable and even that it should be “brought back.”  They have provided some apologies, but this seems to be a hollow-hearted reaction to losing money and financial backers for their sites.  Their constant rhetoric, damaging relationship with their (former) readers and constant harassment make the support of bullying the last PR straw that should break their wallets.  People this toxic shouldn’t be paid for insulting others.

In every way, as you may imagine, these words – especially as they come from major voices in my favorite hobby, gaming – anger and disappoint me profoundly.  I have been a regular customer of T-Mobile, enjoying your mobile products and accessories for many years.  They have brought myself and my wife hours of fun and good times playing games and communicating with loved ones.  For a time I even had a T-Mobile phone when I was in the Army, used to talk to the woman that would be my future wife.  If T-Mobile supports these individuals and their rhetoric, I will have no choice but to consider my time as a consumer of T-Mobile products at an end.

As a concerned business made of responsible, reasonable people and parents, please stand with GamerGate to relax their grip and teach them the level of their relevance.  Help us speak out against these bullies.

Signed and dated.

Now I will be including printed copies of tweets in question and other items that can be referenced as you might put links and such in an email.  Hopefully we can get through to them.

Watching

I just want to say congratulations on your birthday.  Watching this girl grow from the little one that I knew… what? 7, 8 years ago?  It has been very touching and having people like these in my lifemakes it all worthwhile.  Thank you for having me and happy 14th birthday!

Terrance the Flying Eyeball, Disembodied and Ready to Rock!

ReleasePoster

Somewhere on the corner of creativity and the truly bizarre sits this little game that can be found on itch.io.  I have never played any games where I was just a single flying body part, but this is surely a whole lot better than some games where you play the disembodied head of an ancient samurai warrior.  Granted, this game is not a shooter, it’s just a simple little timed game where you have to get to the end of zones.  And it’s not easy.

Controlling Terrance is pretty easy: just hit the arrows or the WASD keys, whatever your preference.  He doesn’t stop immediately, so you have to prepare for a little bit of fishtailing.  You’ll guide Terrance through small obstacle courses filled with all manner of bizarre and inventive dangers.

Just don't touch 'em, just don't touch 'em..

Just don’t touch ‘em, just don’t touch ‘em..

If I were actually Terrance I would be a neurotic mess.  Without explanation and, from what I can tell, shortly after his creation in a lab, this little eye has to face some pretty harrowing obstacles seemingly crafted for him.  First, there are electrified walls and blocks that disappear when you run into them; they’re the orange ones.  These wouldn’t be so bad, but then at some point there are these purple mines that come into play.  Tap one and you have 3 seconds to vacate the area or be zapped to death by purple plasma.  Each time you die, you are sent back to the beginning of the level, which makes me wonder: are you one eyeball or do they just create another?  Each level is filled with equipment and what seems to be some Looney Toons version of measuring devices in the background, so maybe this is a series of test chambers not unlike those in Portal?

Each level ups the ante on level of challenge, too.  I am still having trouble getting to the end of the second zone.  See, there are these plasma-shooting blaster things, and after a while, they home in on you and fire a lot faster.  At one point, I have to break through these glass tubes in order to progress with the blaster shooting like there’s no tomorrow behind me.  If you run into it directly, you bounce just far enough back that you’ll get zapped, so you have to run into it and use the momentum to get you past the plasma balls.  You will not be at a loss for a challenge.

Fuck whatever mad scientists designed Terrance's horrible life... seriously..

Fuck whatever mad scientists designed Terrance’s horrible life… seriously..

As far as a game goes though, especially one on itch.io, you really can’t do better.  The art here is fantastic, resembling a sort of Dexter’s Laboratory feel.  For those of you not familiar with the old Cartoon Network tv show: it’s smooth and very professional-looking.  Terrance the Flying Eyeball is a game that focuses more on timing and skill than other game elements.  If you’re looking for a fun play with a simple concept to give you a break from all those deep gaming experiences that crowd the popular platforms these days, you could do worse than Terrance.  The music is peppy and fun, the gameplay is fluid and easy to pick up.  If you don’t get some enjoyment out of playing this game, even for a little bit, then you might just be expecting too much out of your games.  Hell, the game doesn’t even cost that much.  You can pay what you want for the game.  Mind you, this is a title that has a some work in it, so leave a few notes in the till, please.  I would say this game is worth at least 5$.  If more indie devs put out games like this, competition in indie games would be even closer than it already is.  Terrance feels like a game from a game jam and is just as delightfully creative.

10 Second Ninja, Moments Before Death

10SN_logo

Far more aggravating than the art style would have you believe, this game requires the player to execute a number of rapid attacks in the span of a few seconds in order to beat each level.  Despite how much I think about it, another, similarly fast-paced game doesn’t come to mind; another game like this one simply doesn’t exist.  If you are looking for a fresh platformer that will challenge your skills, you’ve found it.  Also you get to kill Nazi robots from space.  Did I mention that yet?

Everything in this game is pretty simple and fluid.  If you play this on a keyboard, you’ll be using the arrow keys and the ‘z’ and ‘x’ keys.  The ‘z’ key allows you to throw one of the three shurikens you’ll have per play.  Hitting ‘x’ allows you to make a katana attack, which is so fast that there is only a flash of steel and then nothing.  Shurikens aren’t the best way to kill enemies but they allow you to attack from a distance and even kill multiple enemies at once.  It’s not terribly fast, but you can use them to kill numerous enemies while you take out the rest of their friends.  Double-tap the up button and you can double-jump.

The remainder of all their lives comes down to the most disappointing 10 seconds ever.

The remainder of all their lives comes down to the most disappointing 10 seconds ever.

Luckily for players, the enemies are not a crew of enemies that you feel bad for.  First off, their robots, so they’re not really people, second they’re Nazis so they’re not even human.  Plus explosions are cool.  This game follows a history of asian folk heroes killing evil robots in the fashion of Samurai Jack.  Of course, this little ninja literally takes maybe a couple of minutes to do more damage than Jack accomplished in an entire season.  Granted, ninja were never supposed to use katanas either, but let’s try to stay focused here.

Each level has three stars, and if you try to get them all, you will tear out every follicle of hair your possess on every surface and orifice of your body.  The first star is usually pretty simple – get better than 8 seconds.  After than it gets ungodly hard right fucking quick.  From there you will have to knock up to about 2 seconds off your time.  After that, half a second.  The only time I ever got 3 stars was when I somehow managed to win in 3.98 seconds.  There were only 3 robots on that level.

I took a picture and it DID last longer!

I took a picture and it DID last longer!

There are also bosses, but they are really all just Robot Hitler, but you have to defeat various versions of him.  Actually, they are all the same Robot Hitler, but some times he wears a party hat or something.  Cut-scenes explain the scenarios, what is happening and why he would be dressed that way, but it’s really just all the same robot psycho.  Overall, this is a good game, but it requires a certain talent.  If you can sit down and beat this game, congrats, go make a YouTube video about it.  Seriously, someone probably made a 10 minutes speed run of them beating this game in its entirety while getting all the stars.  Clearly there is a lot to challenge you, and the game’s actually is a lot of fun and really satisfying when you can finally get that last star, but there is no way I am going to replay it a million times to squeeze out the last fractions of a second.  You have to jump over spikes, run across collapsing platforms and god knows what else when you get further along.  At 9.99$ I would say go for it, but grab a controller or you are going to be groaning a lot over lost fractions of a second.

Clockwork Empires, Wondrous Melange of Steampunk Insanity and Bugs

CE_logo

It should come as no surprise, since this game is currently in Early Access, that Gaslamp Games’ latest title is buggy, broken and incomplete as fuck.  That being said, it is the most fun that I have ever had with a game this broken, and at some points I am having a hard time telling what is broken and what is actually supposed to be happening.  Overall, if you have been waiting for a good game that well-represents steampunk, but you were wholly disgusted with Bioshock: Infinite, then this game is one you should consider after a long debate about whether Early-Access gaming is a worthy direction for the industry.

Clockwork Empires is a game with personality and a lot of bizarre quirks.  You are a group of colonists starting a small colony of the Great Clockwork Empire – at least I think you are since this is never really specified, just referred to as “The Empire.”  But fear not! This is nothing like sitting in a Jane Austin novel set on a frontier!  You have to help your people to survive in a world of horrors! HORRORS!

So when you start, you’ll want to start assigning work crews by clicking the work crew button and deciding which people will do which jobs.  Trust me, division of labor is a pretty important concept in this game, since it will dictate which jobs get done fastest.  My opinion is that breaking things down like this bears some of the best results.  2 crews for farming and foraging.  This is most important.  Foraging is how you will get the initial glut of goods to sustain your people in the beginning and you’ll have some food from the Empire, but airdrops are too infrequent, sometimes inaccurate, to rely on.  You have to get farming or starvation will set in briefly before cannibalism starts.  These little bastards don’t even think about it either, they’re just like “What ho!  I’m rather peckish and Nancy just died.  Guess we’d best start rationing her out, hey chaps?”

Clockwork Empires 2014-10-14 10-47-07-71

Listen up, Steelwalker. You and your chaps will start looking for the best way back to the Empire, cause this place sucks!

After food income is determined, the next most important economy is the space economy.  This is handled mostly by one or two crews that are set to forestry, mining and hunting.  Forestry is a task that will have them chopping wood, removing terrain obstacles and other sundry natural objects.  Hunting will make them a useful source of occasional food.  The tasks I always break out are construction and workshop jobs.  Now, in the outset you can easily group these two together since there will be no workshops in the beginning, you’ll have to build them.  But if you keep your workshop crews constantly divided between construction and their workshops, goods production will go WAAAAAY too slowly.  Eventually construction will become its own job and given that there are so few people for all the jobs, and the more people you get the more likely you are to starve, it is something that will have to be done in spurts.  Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Exceptions are always important.  In the very beginning, farms should be among your first things you create, but farms alone aren’t great for producing food.  You’ll need workshops, and the two most used are the kitchen and the carpentry shop.  The tutorial actually recommends you make the carpentry shop first, and they are right.  The carpentry shop is where you will create planks that are necessary to build nearly everything else in the game.  After the carpentry shop, get on that kitchen.  Chances are that you chose wheat as your first couple farms.  Great choice, but without a kitchen you can’t use the wheat you’ve harvested to make bread.  Your people will die staring at sacks of flour.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our ubiquitous hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our glowering hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Construction in this game is definitely unique and undeniably irritating.  First, you have to build on the grid, but the grid doesn’t run everywhere.  Some areas are just not to be built upon.  No real explanation, but I assume there is a ditch or unstable terrain there or something.  Once you’ve cleared a spot to build upon, you now draw the outline for the building.  It doesn’t always have to make sense and it is the most impressive feature of the game.  You can make a thousand of the same building and each can be vastly different from the others.  Once you’ve got your blue outline, you then place your modules.  These are the things that give the buildings purpose and character.  Some are required, in the above case a door and a worktable, some are optional and the rest are decorative.  I like putting the massive bay doors on my carpentry shops.  Just gives the impression of industry.  And make sure you put one or two decorations.  It might just be a game, but it’s the little things that give a sense of immersion.  The most irritating things about the construction system is that you can’t add a few things in at the start and then finish up later.  You are building everything that is going to be in that workshop for the rest of the game.  That is irritating as fuck because gameplay develops as the player interacts with the game.  It is just restricting and never shows any growth or development.

So you’ve got the makings of a colony, and things are moving along.  You’ve got your basic workshops, goods are moving and you’ve finally gotten a few bunkhouses up for the lower class and the middle class.  You are going to start having issues.  Most namely among these issues are the foes: cultists, fishpeople and all manner of eldritch Lovecraftian horrors.  The best part is that the fishpeople will walk in at random intervals and menace your people.  Sure, you can forage their eggs as exotic caviar, effectively eating their children as a delicacy; but cogs only know why the beasts so hostile, amirite?

Charles, gather the basket.  I must defend the crown!

Charles, gather the victuals. I must defend the crown!

I haven’t really gotten very far with this game simply because it is so fucking broken.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this game, but the level of incompletion and inoperability make this game absolutely frustrating to deal with.  My biggest gripe is that saves don’t really seem to work.  I have saved games and come back to them with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes they work, other times reloading a save causes the game to utterly crash.  If this were the only issue I would be less annoyed with the game, but sometimes it just crashes mid-game.  All of my plays invariably end with a crash of some sort and then me sighing about everything that I didn’t save.  Then I remember that the saves rarely even work and go play something else.  Sure, you might be saying “But Crotchety, this is an early-release you ass-burglar!  Of COURSE it’s buggy, they are still working on it!”  Let me say this to you little shits, never judge anything by what it could be some day.  That is how Hitler managed to convince people into the Holocaust.  One day we’ll eliminate all the weaker genes in the human race and the world will be full of happy, healthy blonde-haired blue-eyed babies.  Sure sounds nice until you remember you had to kill millions of people to get there.  Also, the price of the game on Steam is 29.99$ AS IT IS!  That is 30$ that would probably be better spent on a portion of Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Malfeasant clawbulb.  Fucking.. what?!

Malfeasant clawbulb. Fucking.. what?!

Despite the issues, there are still a number of reasons to be excited about this game.  There are some surprises like random crops growing in your farms, enemies and content updates.  The art is nice and the music is fun.  Every so often you will get drops and immigrants from the empire that will help your colony thrive, but there are so many bugs.  I read about this game back in the April 2014 issue of Game Informer and getting ridiculously excited about what I was reading.  Finally, a steampunk game full of cogs, gears and fishpeople and its an RTS!!!!  The unfortunate fact is that this is a game whose release I am still waiting for.  The best way to play these Early-Access games, in my opinion, is to buy it, play it a little bit to get the impression then let it sit for some months and let it get updates.  Sure this suggestion might make developers nervous, but if you can’t release a full game, it is going to suck and hurt to play.  Just like every time I have to be punished for not saving and, saving, have to be punished for buying the game early when my saves don’t load but, instead, crash the game.  Well, at least the game is fun and quirky.  Even the crash messages say “What ho! The game has crashed!” or some such irritating nonsense.  If your game crashes, it shouldn’t be cracking jokes.  This is where your skirt has blown up.  Fucking apologize for your broken game.