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.

What Inception Says About Gamers

This article will fuck with your mind.  It is a personal opinion piece that I have cited the best I can given limited intellectual resources.  I wish I still had access to something like JSTOR from college, but a membership in such a database of works would require current membership at a college.  Oh well, hopefully you enjoy my machinations anyway!

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When you dream, you set yourself aside for a time and drift down into the subconscious place of your mind.  There is an element of entertainment that allows us to do something similar, and it exists in a place you’d never guess: movies.  This mechanism of reality-alteration is known as the suspension of disbelief.  It means that while you watch a movie, you accept for the duration of the film that its reality is plausible and that many of the laws that govern our day to day lives are inapplicable.  Just as with a dream, reality is set aside to allow a false reality to be experienced.  By setting aside the judgments of the ego, you allow the film to supercede even yourself, just as your dream supersedes your personal consciousness.  But there is another form of this that exists, and the location of this is even more astounding: video games.  During a videogame, you willingly set yourself aside to allow the assumed identity of the main character to be taken on.  Many of us commit horrible atrocities during this state, too, but as a movie will not correct you to become more like a main character without your permission, you will similarly not become like the characters of game realities unless you will it.  But one thing that video games do is empower their players, and through the looking glass of the suspension of disbelief, players are delivered onto the doorstep of a self that is capable of changing the fabric of reality.  Video games don’t make you a person consumed by insatiable violence, but they prepare your conscious self to deal with reality.  They don’t make us the most violent people in the world, they make us the most powerful people in the world.

Through the suspension of disbelief, we enter a dream-like state where true reality is willingly set aside.  Now, comparing a dream to a video game, we are the player and the designers; but in Inception, a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio about shared-dreaming, there is a whole structure to generating the dream-world.  In this example, consider the “subject” of the dream to be synonymous to the player in a video game.

First you have the Architect, or the level-designer.  This person generates the world that the subject finds themselves in and makes it as convincing as possible to keep the person from realizing they are asleep and waking themselves up.  They have to get the dream-world itself down to such a perfection that every aspect will be believable, and the world is hemmed in by maze-like logical loops.  In this way, Architects are also like graphics designers, and, in the beginning of the film, we see the consequences for the first Architect for inadequately recreating those graphics, that reality.

The Architect’s function allows the Extractors to do their job and pull information out of the subject’s mind.  Another primary element of the dream is the device in the briefcase.  This object is never fully understood nor explained, but it seems to be what links the dreamers and delivers the sedative that keeps them asleep and allows them to dream so interactively.  This briefcase acts as the game’s engine in that it is the background mechanical element that makes the shared-dream possible.

During the primary operation of the film, where a team convinces Cillian Murphy to dissolve his father’s multi-national corporation, several other people are called in to help sustain the veracity of this dream-world.  Several of the team’s members are called upon to act as Architects, or level designers, for each dream-level that the participants descend.

Most important is the role of the Chemist, who serves as a sort of gameplay designer.  He makes a sedative strong enough to keep the team and subject asleep for the duration of multiple dreams.  He allows them to stay engaged, even if some element of the Architects’ constructions are flawed.  It is also this sedative that brings in the threat of mortal danger during the operation, as anyone killed can now stay locked in the infinite dream-world of their own subconscious.

Now, in this film we see one element that doesn’t seem to match this analogy entirely.  The projections, or people that populate the world, are all generated from the subconscious of the player.  But in a video game, the player does add something to the game.  Without the player, every element of a game is just a piece of a perfect whole, unperturbed by outside forces.  A dimension unto itself.  Only by the player breaching the space of this game do the decisions of the player tell the game where the world will go.  Now, some of these are inconsequential alterations; like losing a few missions for killing the wrong character, as is possible during the assassination missions presented by the story arc of colluding with the Dark Brotherhood in the Elder Scrolls series.  Some of these are serious consequences, such as destroying the entire settlement of Megaton in Fallout 3.  Either way, the projection of the player’s own subconscious self through the medium of their own actions, in a sense, populates the world just as the subject of Inception.

But what of being discovered by the projections?  When the player is pulled too abruptly out of the suspension of disbelief by unrealistic elements of the game, they might begin to behave as someone who knows they are in a game reality, which does not matter.  So they might just go on a rampage, kill everyone in sight and let the cops chase them, as in Grand Theft Auto.  It doesn’t matter, and they can just revert back to a previous save once they’ve had their fill.  Just as the projections in Inception, only to (normally) have them wake back up.  At that point, the player is entertaining the conscious ego that has become bored and knows it is playing a game, rather than engaging their true self and setting aside their personal ego.  Inception sets in one more ingenious piece of the development puzzle, which takes the form of the Forger.  The Forger is a person who, through the strength of their own imagination, is able to make themselves look like a projection of the subject’s subconscious.  The Forger on the operation is then able to engage the subject directly.  The Forger functions as a game’s AI, which is created to be as intelligent as possible to create a more immersive and believable gaming experience for the player by mimicking real intelligence thereby creating a higher level of difficulty.

At this point you might be wondering what what Inception, if anything, has to do with video games and how that ties back to reality.  Freud’s idea of the subconscious mind, or unconscious mind, as represented in the film Inception, is similar to a dark cave; and this is described aptly by Joseph Cambell in his book, The Hero of a Thousand Faces.

“The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors. odd beings. terrors, and deluding images up into the mind – whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared integrate into our lives.”

In the film Inception, Cillian Murphy faces his own subconscious after being conditioned by the team of extractors.   They implanted the suggestion that his father wanted him to live his own life and not be like he was.  Lo and behold, when Cillian Murphy gets down to his own personal subconscious (perhaps ingeniously placed in a massive, technologically advanced vault), he sees a projection of his own father telling him he was disappointed Cillian tried to be like him.

Game developers are capable of the same thing, creating a narrative that we follow through a series of twists and turns, which mimic the dark and perilous caves of our own subconscious, to come to some conclusion about the character and the events in the game.  But because of the suspension of disbelief, we have been personally identifying with the main character’s struggles.  We have followed every twist and turn, and followed along with the narrative.  And, unlike in a movie where you sit impassively denying your own self for about 2 hours, in a game you spend several days engaged with this character.  In an article on Cinemablend, they arbitrarily throw around a range of numbers at 8 – 10 hours, it’s suggested this is part of a modern trend of shortening game-lengths.  Even at that length, you are talking about a length of up to 5 times the length of an epic feature film, which means more time for the player to become engaged with the main character.

In an attempt to utilize the game’s Photo Mode to capture cinematic pictures emulating his real-life works, Ashley Gilbertson recently “embedded” himself in The Last of Us, a video game that takes place in a zombie apocalypse.  It is understandably violent in a graphic fashion.  Gilbertson says in the article:

“To be successful, a player must be the perpetrator of extreme, and highly graphic, violence. I’m interested in a more emotionally engaged type of photography, where the human reaction to a scene is what brings a story to life. That was tough inside this game. Occasionally the characters show anger, though generally they’re nonchalant about the situation they’ve found themselves in. In the end, their emotions mimicked that of the zombies they were killing.  By the time I finished this assignment, watching the carnage had became easier.  Yet, I left the experience with a sense that by familiarizing and desensitizing ourselves to violence like this can turn us into zombies. Our lack of empathy and unwillingness to engage with those involved in tragedy stems from our comfort with the trauma those people are experiencing. […] I came away from the experience having learnt a couple of things: that the work I usually do is an antidote to the type of entertainment this game represents and that I suck at video games.”

I would argue, however, that Gilbertson’s statement at the end of the article is the most revealing: he sucks at video games.  Earlier in the article he describes how the game seems to make him feel ill, the reason he has to bring it into the Time studio and have his colleague play for him, handing off the controller so the photographer could take screenshots.

This means that Gilbertson was not engaging with the characters and not giving into the suspension of disbelief.  This is understandable since he obviously does not play video games on a regular basis, so it can be assumed he won’t be able to utilize the controller effectively.  He even describes the death scene with intense detail, likely earned by frequent visits to scenes where he is eaten alive.  In that he can only blame his own inexperience with gaming and the etiquette of the controller.

But his own experience is telling about the nature of gamers and gaming: if you do not sit down and take the time to work through the struggles of the game’s characters, you will not be able to associate with that character.  If you look at how old CNN suggests modern gamers are, you’ll realize they are adults with regular jobs, kids and real-world concerns.  This means that they might sit down with a longer game and play for short periods of time.  You know, in between laundry and diaper changes.  Even if they get in 1 – 2 hours every night or two for a couple weeks, that is still the amount of time you might spend with a friend.  Shit, if CNN is to be believed in that article, most gamers play online, so they very well could be playing with friends.  But those fictional characters in that fictional narrative are still characters that you are with.  And before someone says “but you control that character!  How can you identify with a puppet of your own manipulation?” First, you might control their actions, but it is generally understood that the actions of the player are the actions of the character that you guide between cutscenes.  Add to that the dialogue that you hear, and in some cases guide, and you have a fully contextualized expression of the player’s own personal motivations.  Mass Effect is a perfect example of this.  it is a game where you choose the general concept of what you say to others, and you have to choose carefully because in some cases it will get others killed.

My point is that if you play the game and control the character, your actions are inseparable from those of the character and, therefore, the ending to the narrative is a reflection of your own unconscious decisions as they guide this character.  Whether it has multiple endings or one ending, the ending of a game forces you to confront some logical conclusion, guided by the player’s own actions, of the narrative of the game.

Coming back to Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio has a discussion with his new Architect early in the movie at a cafe during a shared dream.  During this conversation, he tells the Architect that, during a dream, you are able to get in between the process of creation and perception to achieve what he calls “genuine inspiration.”  In the film, the only way to sustain this is through shared dreaming, but I submit that this could be an accidental allegory for the video game.  When a developer creates a game, they create an interactive experience that allows you to simultaneously create/manipulate  your world and perceive/discover it.  Of course, some games are too simple for this part of the discussion; but games like Skyrim fit right in there, allowing you to decide who is right and who is wrong in a political clash that shapes the future of the world, choose which missions you complete and when.  You can even personally design the facial structure, sound, race, skills and lifestyle of your own character, features that might draw you deeper into the character.  Hell, even Massively Multiplayer Online games are taking this angle, with Sony going so far as to create Landmark, a game where players have been helping to create the world of the company’s next installment of the Everquest franchise.

The point is, we are getting to a place in video games where one can get in between creativity and perception to achieve genuine inspiration.  Just as the singer in Wallace Stevens’ The Idea of Order at Key West, gamers are getting to a place where they are just as much creating the game as they are playing it.  But what does this mean?  Well, to put it simply, if gamers are able to create the game as much as they play it, it shows that they help guide the characters in games as much as they help shape them.  It is only a short step before they are able to apply this to themselves and make their lives a product of their own actions thereby making their own lives in the image of their imaginations.  And if enough people are able to do this, they will shape the world to fit the image of the imaginations.

Don’t think this is even remotely possible?  Check out game designer Jane McGonigal on Ted Talks and how she thinks that video games will save the world.  And considering that philosophers like Renee Descartes have been using thought-experiments to test or justify various theories like the “brain-in-a-vat,” video games provide a virtual space that multiple people can interact with simultaneously.  Recently, when writers spun rhetoric in publications favored by gamers, the gamers initiated #GamerGate, probably the most successful consumer revolution ever seen.  Even now, they are in the process of altering the fate of games reporting, and that discussion started back in August.  Face it: Gamers are simultaneously the most dangerous and the most capable humans on the face of the Earth because we have be trained to shape our own world to the image of our own imaginations, and they are taught by the most effective teachers in history: game developers.

 

Legend of Grimrock, Tearing Out RPGs by the Root

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Before all the cutesy, fluffy shit that inhabits most RPGs these days, before Final Fantasy and JRPGs had infested every corner of the genre, there were dungeon RPGs.  And they weren’t the Diablo-style one-button RPGs that breed tactical laziness; that’s right tactical fucking laziness.  Diable RPGs are allow for a wider range of motion and strategy, so you can hem enemies in with firewalls and nuke them with fire or something.  Tactics requires the careful execution of a concerted attack effort.  A small group of doomed warriors in a massive dungeon have a solid understanding of tactics.  They know if they break ranks and get isolated, they are doomed.

The first and last of these types of games I ever played was Eye of the Beholder, a game we played on SNES.  In the game, you play a group adventurers exploring the sewers of a place called “Waterdeep” to cleanse some ancient evil.  We did not understand the alignment system although we often chose whatever we wanted and joked about it like kids.  When we were in the game, we never got the gist of how to play.  We would throw our gear at enemies since it was the only way we knew to deal damage.  Eventually it got to where we were disrobing and throwing our clothes, desperately trying to kill the foes.  That never ended well… But we were idiotic 8 and 9 year-olds.

Grimrock makes a lot more sense to me.  Controls are easy and you barely need a tutorial.  Just click around, left click picks up an item and releasing it mid-screen will throw that item. Right-click to attack or to throw a weapon.  Everything is a pretty straight-forward RPG style and this makes combat more exciting, too.

Wait! I left the garage door open!

Wait! I left the garage door open!

When you start the game, your characters are assumed to have performed some transgression against King and country.  The vague nature of the opening titles leave you to think you could have raped the Princess all the way down to eating the last piece of strawberry cheesecake.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re fucked and they push you down a hole.  Best part is, at the top of the mountain Grimrock your crimes are all forgiven and you are free.  But the only way down is to descend into the bowels of Grimrock.  Oh, by the way, no one has ever fucking survived.  That’s ok, I don’t usually come for the accommodations anyway.

Down in the dungeons, you have to navigate labyrinthine corridors filled with unspeakable monsters, like giant snails, gargoyles, mushroom herders, little magic-casting mushroom guys, undead soldiers etc.  Each creature adds its own challenges to combat, and one should consider combat a feat akin to dancing.  If you just take two warriors and attempt to plow through, axes and swords swinging, you will end up a dusty pile of bones.  Many enemies are able to out-number you, out-damage you or can take a hell of a lot more punishment than you can.  Did I mention you are all prisoners?  Yea, this means they pushed your ass down in the pits with aught but your chapped asses to defend yourselves.  As you progress you’ll find the sparse weaponry left behind by other bands of hapless adventurers, so you’re not exactly a keen-eyed fighting force armed for rigorous combat.  The most common early ranged weapon is a rock while the most common melee weapon early on is a fucking torch.

When enemies come at you, the best thing to do is to lure them off one at a time where possible.  As they round corners you can stab them before back-pedaling toward an open area.  As you back pedal, you can throw rocks at them and ready up a spell.  Spells are a devastating way to deal damage, but you can’t unlock spells with the spellbook until you find the appropriate scroll, which can be frustrating.  Once you get them, though, they are profoundly useful.  Be careful, too.  If someone in your party dies, you’re all fucked.  Sure, you can keep going, but you’ll be needing the full group throughout the game.

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I'm eating at Denny's...

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I’m eating at Denny’s…

Character customization is excellent, and you can choose between human, minotaur, lizardfolk and insectoid.  I usually pick two humans, a minotaur and a lizardfolk.  I like having two rogues, as this allows me to have a ranged rogue and a dps rogue.  You know, for extra damage for the rogue since rogues prefer it from behind.  Then there is my mage, human female full of glorious spellcasting magery, and likely the smartest of the entire group.  Finally, I like to take a tank, too.  That is my minotaur.  He has a trait called headhunter where he gets extra damage for collecting skulls.  Finally a use for those useless collectible items!  I also use the minotaur for a pack animal, since they also get major strength bonuses.

The ambiance is terrific, and you get the sense of an ever-present evil throughout the game.  All the time some dark whispers can be heard in your ear, muttering in a chthonic  language some horrid curse, luring you deeper into the dungeon.  The music in the title screen also brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it and filled me with the glee of a glorious adventure.  Throughout the game there is little more than ominous noises.  Sometimes you can heard the groan or squeal of some distant creature lurking about, waiting for its next meal to come trundling down the corridors.  There is also the fantastic element of eating whatever food you find lying all over the ground, like some kind of mad baker was damned to imprisonment here and he found some magical means to leave bread everywhere.

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn't make it too far either...

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn’t make it too far either…

One of the things this game does really really well are secrets.  Notice how the walls are all constructed of a similarly-colored, moss-grown mortarless masonry?  Well, every once in a while you will see a chink in the stone or a brick out of place.  Click that shit!  Somewhere nearby a door will open and permit you access to a secret room and you’ll get some badass loot, much needed food or a magic scroll!  It takes me back to the old days of Wolfenstein 3D and Thief: The Dark Project where you had to just run along the walls at a certain angle to open secret doors or cut down every wall-hanging you could to unlock secret doors.  I find the best way to search for secrets is to stand in the corner of a room and look from afar.  Secret switches are pretty obvious if you know what you are looking  for, but they can often be just as easily over-looked, so stay sharp!

Probably the only thing that bothered me about this game was the straight-forward manner of the enemies.  This game could be very well served by some wall-lurking enemies that you don’t see until you are right up on them.  Granted, the current combat system would make that a tad difficult, but putting in enemies that climbed out of grates as you walked by or changed from statues into flesh and blood foes when you walk past them would make this spooky game into a fantasy-horror adventure.  Don’t mind my little intrigues, though.  This game is worth every cent you can throw at its creators.  It is a load of fun in a genre that I have not seen since I was disrobing for battle.  On Steam this game is an overly-reasonable 14.99$, but wait there’s more!  This game has a community of dungeon-dwellers who create new content and new levels and games with the map editor of Grimrock!  It’s fucking fantastic.  And THEN you have Legends of Grimrock 2 to look forward to!  Just in time for Halloween!  You can pre-order it now!  Screw trick-or-treaters!  Crawl the dungeons and unlock the treasures within!

Eufloria, Tripadelic RTS Invasion

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Eufloria is a game that defines some of my earliest days with indie games, and it’s far from showing its age.  There are those who would have you believe that indie is a style that can be encapsulated in a game with a whacky storyline or super-artsy hand-painted backgrounds, but I call bullshit on that.  You don’t have to put girls in cakes to make an indie game: what you need is balls.  Eufloria shows a lot of that brazen attitude in the way it took a bizarre concept, ran with it, made it work and did the whole fucking job well.  That is how you indie.

Eufloria is a game where you take control of an army of flying seedlings, and then impregnate various ‘asteroids’ with them.  The key to this army is their flexibility.  depending on the characteristics of the asteroid that spawns them, they will have a mix of 3 traits: energy, speed and strength.  Depending on their combination of these traits, they will look different.  If they have a higher strength, they will have a longer tail, of they have higher speed they will have wider tails and if they are energetic they will have longer beaks.  Each of these traits translates into something completely different in game.

Euf_traits

Like little, zappy death bugs…

Each of those little flying things is a seedling, and they serve any number of functions from soldiers to colonization.  When you send a collection of these little guys at an enemy, they will start zapping them with a little laser.  No fucking clue how that works, I will get back to you on that.  When you hit that button down there, they kamikaze into the asteroid and a tree starts to grow.  Logical in a sort of odd way.  As far as I have progressed, there are two trees: a dyson tree, which generates more seedlings, and defensive trees, which lob explosive pods.  Planting a dyson tree will generate seedlings with traits mimicking those of the asteroid.  Some important things to keep in mind on this point: speed seedlings are fast as fuck and are great for rapid reinforcements, strength seedlings are great for taking out enemies and defensive trees, energetic seedlings are great for taking over enemy asteroids.

Eventually, you will start dealing with enemies, and a fucking lot of them.  They swoop in low and start zapping fucking everything, and you have to counter.  Now, the way you direct your seedlings is by clicking and dragging.  This will launch all the seedlings circling an asteroid at the target in an awesome attack formation that makes me want to turn on Flight of the Valkyries every time I do it.  If you want to send only your fastest seedlings (in case you have to contact the Dread Pirate Roberts), you double-click and select the fastest seedlings.  This will turn your cursor blue, for speed, and then you drag from origin to target.  This can be done with any of the types.

Euf_converge

Ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada baaaa!!!!!

Reading the placement of the asteroids is important, too, because where you can go depends on which asteroids you control.  Each asteroid has a range that you can fly from it to reach other asteroids.  Once you get there, you’ll have to lay waste to the enemies like a swarm of genocidal gnats.  The best part comes when you take the asteroid.  To achieve this, the seedlings zap a tree until it explodes.  They then fly down into the remaining roots to attack the core, where they fucking explode.  If you have a fear of bugs flying into your ears and laying eggs in your head, this is not an okay game for you.  I fucking love it, though.

The older your trees, the more seedlings or explosive pods they will generate, so size matters.  Watching an old asteroid take hits is a bit gut-wrenching, but the respawn rate for seedlings is pretty good; I still recommend filling up the max tree level as best you can, though.  Once you strike an enemy, they will ALWAYS try the fucking dick move and strike at the asteroid you vacated to attack theirs.  That’s ok though, you can always pull a few from another location to clean those guys up.

Euf_swarm

So… whatever is on that rock is about to fucking die.

As you can see, the art takes a minimalist style, utilizing color to make the world feel warm and alive.  Every time you start a level you will have a different color and each level has its own challenges to overcome.  The way the colors seem to vibrate with life takes on a role of its own in the game though, and it really starts to feel more like a full region than just empty space.  As you conquer and cultivate each asteroid, you can zoom further and further out to see all of what you’ve created, and the later levels get pretty expansive.  The music combines with this warm sensation to create an ambient space of wonder and interest.  This is like playing an RTS painting and each factor is shaped specially for the task.  Despite feeling like you are a swarm of dust mites conquering the equivalent space of someone’s nostril, the game itself really has a life and style of its own.  I would like to see some major fucking publisher with the balls to release this one.  It’s available on Steam right now for 14.99$ and I recommend it highly.  It is a magnificent game that really draws you in and challenges you, but in a soothing and enjoyable way that isn’t like every fucking RTS Blizzard made since Warcraft 3.  It’s wonderful.  Fucking play it.

Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

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Most people haven’t heard of Living Dream Entertainment, and for good reason.  This is another group of gaming idealists that have a vision defining, for them, the perfect game.  So far everything I have heard and seen out of these guys is impressive, despite things being in an early phase.  To be honest, they remind me of Elysian Shadows Team in the sheer audacity of their project and what they want to accomplish.  People should know who they are and what they are planning because it will be something really special when it is finished.

Living Dream Entertainment is a small independent game development team working on a game called, A Shadow’s Tale, through a process they call Project Shadow.  I wasn’t too sure why there was such a distinction between the two, but I have come to understand that Project Shadow will also invite players and fans to contribute to the finished game itself.  No seriously.  You can make a quest, a character, customize their style, how they fight, who they are: nearly fucking everything.  Check it out here!

Dakota Barrett, founder of Living Dream Entertainment, was happy to answer some of my questions about themselves and the game they are creating.  So who are these people and how did they come together?

“Originally my team started out as many indies do: a group of friends with a common interest.  That team died over about the course of two months and got down to just me.  Around this time I was getting some money in doing odd jobs and I started to contract freelancers.

“First there’s Riley, our character artist.  Her job is to draw the busts of characters that you see in dialogue, and often everyone else’s work is based around her creation of a character.

“Then we have Tony, who seems to be the favorite of the public, which is rightly deserved because the guy has a lot of talent. His concept art has a unique style.

“Devon worked with us on and off for several months before becoming an official member of the team.  He does our code work and makes a lot of my crazy ideas come to life.  He’s the reason we’re able to push an outdated program like RPGMaker into the modern age.

“Elbert does our sprite art and animation and he’s really good at it.  We spent four months going through dozens of applicants for the position and it wasn’t until I met Elbert that I knew I had the right guy.

“Saad is our composer and most recent addition to the team.  Unlike everyone else, I wasn’t actually looking for a composer at the time.  Saad was just interested with the project and sent in a sample of his work.  I loved it so much that I included it in our announcement video of Project Shadow and asked him to join our team.

“I run social media, talk to journalists, run the business and all the legal work that comes with that, and I make everyone’s work show up and coordinate in-game, creating the world for the player to enjoy.  But at the heart of it all, I’m a designer and writer.  All the stories, dialogue, and gameplay mechanics start off as ideas in my head.  I have about three gigabytes worth of just notes alone.”

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Yep, the skill is visible.

So this is already a strong team of talented individuals with a common purpose.  From the teaser trailer for the game itself, I know I got a strong impression.  So, if Dakota is the main drive and energy behind this game, what brought him into gaming and games development?

“Throughout my childhood I played a lot of games through frequent visits to BlockBuster when it was around and you could get a game for a week, which was perfect for me because I usually binged a game until I beat it.  I’ve played all sorts of genres from big AAA titles to the little indie teams, but I think where I truly fell in love with games was with role playing games like Final Fantasy IX and X, Knights of the Old Republic II and the original Fable.

“As I entered adulthood I started to bind my passion for games with my passion to write.  I tried out a few development programs, such as Unity, Blender or Game Maker, but the one I settled with was the one that best served my roots as a gamer, RPG Maker VX Ace.  It’s a pretty simple program that could allow even a child to make a game but over the time I had it I started to find how to push it further and further and when I started to really see the potential with the program I started working on the very early concepts of A Shadow’s Tale.”

Projects of passion are often rare gems, because they are so hard to attain.  When such a project can be made possible, they often turn into impressive entries in a genre and even in a field of art.  The biggest obstacle is often money, and that can kill a project before it ever even happens. How has A Shadow’s Tale gotten its funding so far?

“It started out as a birthday/graduation gift.  I was the first in my family to graduate high school, which isn’t much of an accomplishment, but it was something.  So I took what was likely meant to be the means of buying a car and put it towards making a game.  When that ran out, I started funding the project with what I could from my paycheck, which to this day is  just a part-time, minimum-wage job, so progress has been slow.  Our goal is to crowdfund with the community we’ve built up, but we’re not quite ready for that just yet.”

Each game has its own draw, something makes it stand out.  What are the features of A Shadow’s Tale that will really set it apart from other games of its type?

“Simply put it’s how the game is designed overall.  It’s not meant to be a retro throwback to the games I and others grew up on, it’s meant to be Living Dream’s first step in showing what the industry is capable of producing.  Though it’s an open world RPG, it takes inspiration from all sorts of games, old and new.

“To be more specific I would say the focus on your actions is at the heart of the gameplay.  In many games that I enjoy, like the Mass Effect series, you get to make choices that change the universe you play in and could very well cause your experience to be completely different from all your friends who played the game.  But if you look back, almost all these choices centered around dialogue.  The hundreds of people and monsters you killed didn’t change anything and where you went didn’t really matter as long as you completed the main goals of the game.  With our game we’re putting a focus on what you do, as with reality it’s not so much what you say that affects others and who you become, but what you do.”

So what is the complete vision for the game itself?

“As I hinted at earlier, our goal is to deliver not just a game but an experience; one you’ll look back on for years to come as I have with the hundreds of hours lost in the universes of RPGs.  A world in which you grow attachments to the characters as if they were truly your friends or your enemies.  One where your actions changed the world.  I believe that what people want is their actions to matter.  For something we did to have an affect on the world, be it big or small, to know we made a difference in other’s lives.

“That’s my goal for the game at least, for Project Shadow itself you could say it’s the same thing but in the real world.  I want our community to truly feel like they had a part in making the game without handing over the files and expecting them to make sense of it.  That’s why we’re allowing the community to co-design elements of the game alongside us.”

Whoa. Badass.

Whoa. Badass.

That is a lot to shoot for, so the game itself has to measure up to this, helping the player insert themselves into and influence the world in a noticeable way.  What are some of the mechanics of the game and how will they facilitate this?

“I would say our combat system is probably the most interesting mechanic of the game outside of the responsive world system.  RPGs have been going back and forth between the blood pumping excitement of live action and the tactical thinking of turn based combat.  They both have their benefits and downfalls and I believe we found a unique way to combine the two.

“In the game the controls are rather simple: WASD to move and spacebar to interact and use skills.  Now that second part is the key to shaping combat.  When you press space, a wheel of icons displays over the head of the player.  This wheel technically consist of dozens upon dozens of interactions and skills, but since that would be a pain to cycle through, we’ve made it contextualized; depending on what you’re facing, it will only show what makes sense with that person or object.

“As with the rest of the game, this was designed to give the player a choice in how they go about getting past enemies.  In a sense it’s more like a puzzle than straight up combat.  You could go around in stealth taking enemies down one or two at a time.  You could break, throw, or burn objects to cause distractions.  Use skills or dialogue to manipulate people, or straight up fight your enemies in turn based combat.  Even the turn-based combat itself is designed to give you challenges through three gauges, health, energy, and fear.”

What games have you played an liked?  From there, what games can you say have influenced A Shadow’s Tale?

“I mentioned the RPG genre before and some games that are a part of it, but I pull my inspiration from all types of games.  I enjoy simple and quick RTS games like the Command and Conquer games or Halo Wars, which I still play on occasion.   Shooters like Destiny and some MOBAs have also left their mark.

“Two games which probably have the biggest impact that aren’t straight up RPGs are Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  They both have RPG elements but they’re almost entirely based around quick combat in first person.  Both of which I focused on stealth and I had great joy is crawling in air vents only to come out and beat someone to death with a refrigerator (Yeah I’m probably a bit too violent).  This approach of deal with enemies how you want was really enjoyable and that can be seen in our own combat, though it isn’t a straight up choice between stealth and action.”

I love these emblems.

I love these emblems.

What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

“We will be doing crowdfunding, but it won’t be through Kickstarter.  That is why we’re creating Project Shadow which works like the crowdfunding with Star Citizen, this sort of build over time instead of all at once approach.  Except our design is not so much to keep raising more and more money and add more to the game so much as we want the community to be a part of the design with us and get to see right away what their money goes to.  When you contribute hundreds of dollars it’s not really fair you have to wait months to even start to receive what you paid for and it’s usually physical merchandise and not the actual game itself.

“Instead with Project Shadow you choose what you want to co-design such as a character.  Once you’ve selected what type of character they are, where in the world they live, and what the character consist of we’ll get to work with you within a few days and start fleshing out the details so that the artist can truly bring your character to life and you get to watch the whole thing happen.  If you want you can share it with the world too, just avoid any spoilers.”

Awesome!  Well that is good to hear.  I will be interested to see how this community develops!  What can you tell us about the contest?  Where do people participate?

“We’re giving the community a chance to co-design a character prior to the fundraising of #ProjectShadow.  Now usually you would cover the cost of your character, but this time around I’ll be covering the cost for the winner.

“So how do you participate?  All you have to do is write us your idea for a character and we’ll select our favorite and start working with you on bringing it to life.  All the details and guidelines can be found here, which I recommend you read thoroughly if you want to win.  One last note: unlike with Project Shadow, you won’t be choosing the character type.  Instead, we selected one for you that is one of the more interesting and costly to make.  Out of the character types (basic, advanced, keeper, friend, faction member, faction captain, and major) this one is a faction captain, which is a mini boss as your enemy or a faction-related quest giver as an ally.

“One of the key features of Project Shadow (actually the entirety of Project Shadow) is that it allows anyone to be a part of the creation of a game.  It’s really great in that you get the benefits of coming up with ideas and seeing your creations come to life without having to deal with the stress of actually being on the team and hoping the game does well because your livelihood depends on it.  You get to create whoever or whatever you want that fits within the fantasy world we have created, and in doing so you get to share it with the world and at some point experience it in game as well.

“We may not be doing the crowdfunding now but you can still join in by getting in touch with us.  Tweet us @LivingDreamEnt, or use #ProjectShadow on Twitter.  Or you can email us at, livingdream3r@gmail.com

“It’s really important that you do because even though it’s not giving us the funding we really need to make the game it shows us the community is ready for this and they want to be a part of it.  The sooner we see that people are ready for us and we too are ready for them the sooner we can get this started and start to build a world together.”

The vaulting halls of the Hunters' Guild!

The vaulting halls of the Hunters’ Guild!

Awesome!  Personally, I am really looking forward to this community event.  Living Dream Entertainment is taking on a whole new approach by getting players and fans involved in the creation of the game itself.  As the game is developed, players will get to have input on what gets added and it will be, in more ways than normal, our game.  A game that we don’t all just love and play, but a game that we’ve all given input and some of even helped to design!  Dakota also wanted to leave a special message to followers and fans:

“Thank you for reading this article and please follow us and share us with friends!  This Project is entirely based around a community we’re beginning to build, and we encourage every one of you to participate and get involved!  If you like our art share our DeviantArt account.  If you like what we’re doing on YouTube, share it.  Don’t be afraid to contact us at anytime because we’re here for you and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible!  Please consider following @crotchetygamer and his blog.  He’s a great guy and amazing with words!”

This interview is based on an email correspondence between myself and Living Dream Entertainment.  The conversation has been lightly edited for flow, coherence and grammar.

Special Report: Adam Baldwinn and InternetAristocrat talk GamerGate on Ed Morrissey Show!

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First, I just want to include that the views on my blog and in this article are solely those of myself and are not connected to any games reporting outlet for which I produce content.

In what feels like the first high-profile open discussion about GamerGate, Ed Morrissey stated up front that “opponents of this movement were invited to participate […] and did not respond.”  That should tell you something about how they plan to handle this situation, potentially even their confidence in their side of the discussion.  As the host of the show, Ed says also that he is playing the role of the “interested moderator.”  You can find the video on Townhall Media’s YouTube Channel.  I’ve linked it here with the exact time the GamerGate discussion picks up.  The discussion was held on the Ustream for The Ed Morrissey Show, which is featured on Hot Air.com.  He’s a video blogger and conservative grassroots journalist.  He was joined today on his program by Kevin Glass, the managing editor at Townhall.com, Internet Aristocrat, a video blogger whose Quinnspiracy video largely rallied the gamer community, and Adam Baldwinn of Firefly and The Last Ship fame.

The major points that are touched on in the 48-minute discussion were the primary arguments of the #GamerGate movement, the first of which was the ethics being displayed in gaming journalism.  Adam spoke up first saying “I’d like to focus on the most important part [which] is […] companies that are basically in business to make ad revenue providing information to gamers and for them to go to war with gamers over their complaints seems […] professionally suicidal.”  Now Adam is no longer a bystander in the GamerGate discussion and even says that he’s “tried to be neutral as he can” but that he’s clearly taken a position in this discussion.  Cinemablend released an article in late August about Adam’s contribution to The Fine Young Capitalists IndieGoGo campaign supporting women in gaming, and harassment he received in response to tweeting about his contribution.

Adam also commented on the response from major games journalists saying “it’s shocking to see the vitriol and the silence that has descended upon what could be a very productive conversation.”

And honestly, he’s right.  Just today MundaneMatt, a YouTuber whose channel was under direct assault in this controversy, ran a video about four hours ago discussing how games journos are now hiding their Patreon pledges and withdrawing from this discussion.  As for the vitriol: do I really need to reblog that same STILL GROWING list of sites I will refuse to take gaming news from henceforth?

Internet Aristocrat provides a number of eloquent and thorough monologues on GamerGate from start to finish.  He comments, while games reporters are people who like games, we would like more disclosure about their biases and their connections within the games industry.  Ed agrees saying that in the film industry movie critics like movies and go to movies, but what they really need is jounalistic distance.  That is something we are not seeing at all in games.  I have listed the ways that I have supported crowdfund campaigns and I will openly admit that I have accepted review copies of games, but the level of convolution in the games industry is showing a consistent profusion.

Ed mentions to Adam that some of the sites involved have put out disclosure rules on their websites just this week, but Adam responds saying “Well that’s all well and good, but the question now becomes enforcement […] if those policies are not enforced internally, then they’re just pieces of paper.”  And for the most part, supporters of the sites have been pointing at these as the “valid response” and that gamers need to call off the dogs.  Some people are still just lambasting gamers, saying that there is nothing to this “scandal,” labeling gamers as sadistic ‘misogynerds’ wanting only to keep down women in the industry.

But Adam continued, saying “the reason this scandal blew up and what caught my attention was the way the attack came. […] When […] the “twitter inquisition” descends upon you, that’s a tip off that there’s something there.” In my honest opinion, at this point anyone still saying that gamers are off-base is just plugging their heads in the sand and ignoring the facts.

Of course, the next element of the GamerGate discussion came out of Adam’s thoughts. “I can understand why anyone would want to protect someone who’s being attacked or harassed, coming to the defense of your friends: that’s a noble thing.  But it’s really moved beyond [the events] that catalyzed this whole thing.”  And he’s entirely right.  We mostly decry harassment, but this discussion has moved well beyond just chastising a few basement-dwelling misogynists.

The next point covered comes out of Kevin Glass who says “[online media] are maligning the term ‘gamer’ way too broadly, and they’re indicting the entire community for the actions of a smaller group of people.”  Absolutely.  That is only too true.  Adam briefly mentioned the GamerGate Blitzkrieg as I detailed in previous articles, and even seems to have been personally insulted by some things he’s read.  Kevin makes another solid point that “you go into an online community and [the abusive element] is often the loudest group of people there.”  He also says “some people seem to be trying to preserve gaming in a pure, apolitical way that might not be healthy for the game industry.”  I have to agree whole-heartedly with that as well.  As I have said in this blog’s about page and previous reviews, games are a developing art form, and the best way that we can obtaine validation for games as art is to approach broader topics with an open mind.  And many games including Heavy Rain, 4PM and Braid have done so in an entertaining and interesting way.  Even Kevin Glass admits that games like Depression Quest and Gone Home are “counter-intuitive and have socio-political messages that [gamers] aren’t really used to,” but there are approachable and entertaining ways to create amazing games with powerful statements without making them boring to play and difficult to engage but for an elite few.

Honestly, this whole conversation is a wonderful piece and I will love all of these people forever because of the stand they have made and the discussion they’ve had.  Bear in mind, the games journalists have decided to remain silent and removed themselves from the discussion.  If anything is true about social progress, removing yourself from talks guiding it exempts you entirely.  I am not sure if they realize it, but they are damning themselves by not speaking up.  So, please, watch the video and show your support.  Check it out and keep this in mind: we’ve won the first battles of GamerGate and gotten it out to a broader audience.  Now let’s finish the war.  Stay in the fight and stay strong.