It’s an “away” week for me – I’m currently sitting in my Significant Other’s kitchen in Sydney, air-conditioner thankfully tempering the 36 degrees outside – which means that I’m (somewhat self-)limited to mobile gaming. Sure, she’s got a Wii (and PS4) here, but – with the exception of some Skyward Sword practise a few months ago, I’ve not really tinkered with consoles here… it’s very much her (or rather, her kids’) hardware.

I have tried to make a bit of an effort to clean up the iOS section of The List a bit in the last few months, playing a few games pretty heavily, but my inability to Complete anything (just one good run needed for Monotaur, a 1000 Nagoya Attack game for Space Invaders Infinity Gene, a defined endpoint for Super Tiny Leap, and a lifetime of skill for Pilot Winds) left me a little… well, mopey. In an effort to liven up my interest a bit, I decided to have a little taste of all the games that I’d acquired for that platform that I’d never played before… and there were a few.

Hundreds impressed early, with a beautifully clean aesthetic and smooth gameplay. Forty levels on one plane ride was perhaps an overdose, in retrospect, though I yearn to return to it… if only to figure out what the mysterious messages embedded in the game mean (I hope I can get them re-displayed!). Pivvot was an interesting followup, with relatively swift gameplay making me feel completely cack-handed. I haven’t quite figured out my Completion requirements for that one yet – unlocking everything is a bare minimum – but I’m sure I’ll return to that one soon. Great music, too. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective certainly looks great, but it appears that the DLC Chapters are unavailable (again, apparently), so I’m unsure what I’ll do about that.

But the bulk of my playtime this week has (unfortunately) been with Nihilumbra. I can’t recall when I snaffled this game, or on whose recommendation I decided to acquire it, but it has been one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in years. The last level of the game’s Story Mode conjure more ill-tempered profanity from me than anything in recent memory, with unclear mechanics and twitchy controls getting in the way (hah!) of a heavy-handed monologue that seems like it’s been translated to English from a depressing East-European fable (via a dissimilar African language). I’m determined to Complete this one as quickly as possible, but the Void Mode – super-difficult remixes of the Story levels – is almost tedious in its aggressive hate for the player.

So… I’m not liking it much.

I’ve got another week here, banging my head against Nihilumbra‘s obstinance and (hopefully) some cheerier DS-ing, before returning to Adelaide for a couple of weeks… and I’ve already got a plan-of-attack for my console-time: Dark Souls.

Apparently, I like torturing myself.

Coming Clean (Part 2)

One year and one day since my previous admission (and, indeed, the previous post on this blog), I thought it time to re-engage my writing gear. There’s been a fair few personal changes in the last 366 days: I was (amiably) retrenched by my employer after around seventeen years, and am (still) considering a career sea-change whilst burning my redundancy payout. I’ve also formed a blissful relationship with a Significant Other, and she’s brought a pair of children (and a dog) into my world… a world that, previously, had been free of such non-gaming-things. It’s been a real whirlwind of personal growth, of evolution, and there’s more to come.

The gaming that I have been doing has evolved a little as a result: my Significant Other lives in Sydney, and my current lack of employment has seen me spend half my time there, and half at home in Adelaide. Mobile games are getting a bit of attention, now: the 3DS is getting a bit of love, and so is the gaming platform that shapes the bulk of this post… my iOS devices.

I was never a big Consumer Gadget Guy: I tended to buy electronic gadgets based on the opportunity to programatically tinker with them… which I rarely ever did. Yes, my Clié 710C and an assortment of phones were never really gaming platforms to me: more utilitarian than playful, as anyone who “played” those early Java applets on the Sony Ericsson T630 would know. But one day, almost on a whim, I decided to buy an iPhone 3G, and my Apple lock-in began.

Since then, I’ve upgraded a few times – I’m not a massive bleeding-edge fanboy (despite having waited in line on release day once or twice), and I’m still relatively happy with my current iPhone 5S and iPad 3. And, as pretty much the entire gaming world would know, they’ve really matured as gaming platforms (despite Apple’s lame protestations)… so it’s time to add the bulk of the games I’ve acquired of six years of iOS ownership to The List.

(There are some notable omissions here: I’m not listing my sudoku, Go, or chess apps. I’m not really compelled to “complete” them, which is just as well: I’m completely crap at chess and Go, despite loving them both.)

  • Brain Exercise with Dr. Kawashima
  • Archon
  • Space Invaders Infinity Gene
  • Poppi
  • Noby Noby Boy
  • Osmos HD
  • Bit.Trip Beat HD
  • Bit.Trip Beat
  • Cut the Rope HD
  • World of Goo
  • Minotaur Rescue
  • Today I Die Again
  • Pilot Winds
  • Frog Minutes
  • Minotron 2112
  • Angry Birds Rio Free
  • Alien Zombie Death!
  • Deflex
  • Zen Bound 2
  • GoatUp
  • PicoPicoFighters
  • Monkey Bump
  • Caverns of Minos
  • Jelly Pops
  • Gridrunner
  • FiveADay
  • Rubik’s Cube
  • Lumicon
  • Super Ox Wars
  • Super Hexagon
  • Lost Winds
  • ZooKeeper DX
  • Lost Winds 2
  • Monotaur
  • Super Tiny Leap
  • Middle Manager of Justice
  • Lost Treasures of Infocom
  • 10000000
  • Osmos
  • Hundreds
  • Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
  • Nihilumbra
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Pivvot

These, along with some other gaming pickups in the last year (some redundancy-splurges, Games For Gold freebies, and the sublime WiiU triple-threat of Bayonetta 2, Splatoon, and Super Mario Maker) leaves The List with a paltry 143 outstanding games.

Good thing I don’t have a pesky job, then. But I do have a wonderful partner, two amazing kids, and a needy (and adorable) puppy to distract me…

Coming Clean (Part 1)

So – four weeks after my previous post, I’ve finally built up the courage to put another post out into the wild. And this one… well, it’s a bit tough to write. Tough to own up to.

See, over the many years that I’ve (occasionally) written on this blog, I must have posted a link to The List – my entire gaming life – hundreds of times. I’ve made constant references to the burning desire I have to whittle The List down; I’ve set myself Resolution goals (mostly unmet) targeting List reduction. But, deep down inside, I knew it was a little bit of a lie.

See, I’ve been playing these video game thingies at home since 1983, when I first got my C64. I’ve got a squillion (well… at least a hundred) original games for the C64 that don’t exist on any List. In fact, it’s somewhat curious that those games never triggered off an OCD tick with me… I definitely can’t explain that.

And, once I started going to Uni and bought myself a fancy Mac (a Macintosh IIvx, the shortest-lived model of the Macintosh ever, rocking System 7.1), there were a few pretty games on that, too. Again, none of those games exist on any List, and – in another inexplicable OCD-defying move – I sold most of them some years later (I’ve still got the IIvx, though. It’s a beast).

But finally – and most significantly – is my Windows-based collection of games.

It all started out innocently enough: the Quake series was the thing I really followed (though I never really cared for the multiplayer-focus of Quake III), but – as I quickly churned through generations of hardware subsidised by “work” – I started acquiring a stack of pack-in games, usually through new video cards. And, quite frankly, there’s some absolute belters in that lot: Thief II. Soldier of Fortune. I even got Deus Ex as a freebie…

Deus Ex! One of the greatest games ever created! Free! (Guilt has caused me to purchase it multiple times since, however ;)

And then came Steam. I was committed to consoles by the time Steam hatched, but I inadvertently created an account to hook up to Wolfire Games‘ first Humble Bundle – which I only invested in to support the idea of getting those games a wider audience through bundling. (Don’t get me started on the AAA Bundles nowadays… can anyone say “devaluation”?)

So I had a Steam account. An Amnesia Fortnight here, another indie Humble Bundle there, the IndieVision Bundle that contained a bunch of game-related movies I wanted…

Suddenly, I had a bit of a Steam backlog. That wasn’t mentioned on The List.

For a while I pretended that it wasn’t really there… that none of those games really mattered. Sometimes I would fire one up out of curiosity and just tinker, not really compelled to engage. And that always made me feel a little disingenuous: I wasn’t giving the game the best opportunity.

In my other life, where I’ll willingly throw money at artists to sit in their shows, I do a bit of pop-psychology on myself before the show starts: I’ll take a moment to repeat to myself, over and over, that this could be the best show I’ve ever seen. Sure, that’s rarely realistic, but I think it’s important to get in the best frame of mind possible before engaging with a piece of art.

And yet, in the world of gaming – which I strongly do believe is art – I was giving short shrift to potentially great games because of their platform. And because I didn’t want the number associated with that platform to dilute The List.

You know what? No more.

It’s time to come clean. Here’s a dump of the PC games I know I’ve got, though I’m sure my archives will deliver more in time:

  • Quake
  • Quake II
  • Quake 3
  • Soldier of Fortune
  • Deus Ex
  • Thief II
  • MDK 2
  • Starship Titanic
  • Grim Fandango
  • Full Throttle
  • Astro Tripper
  • Gridrunner Revolution
  • Space Giraffe
  • Aquaria
  • Gish
  • Lugaru
  • Penumbra: Overture
  • Samorost 2
  • World of Goo
  • Portal
  • Psychonauts
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • Bastion
  • Braid
  • Lone Survivor
  • Super Meat Boy
  • Dear Esther
  • The Longest Journey
  • Dreamfall
  • Thirty Flights of Loving
  • Air Forte
  • Atom Zombie Smasher
  • Flotilla
  • Gone Home
  • Fez
  • Broken Age
  • A Virus Named TOM
  • Serious Sam 2
  • Serious Sam 3: BFE
  • Serious Sam Classic: The First Encounter
  • Serious Sam Classic: The Second Encounter
  • Serious Sam Classics: Revolution
  • Serious Sam Double D XXL
  • Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter
  • Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter
  • Serious Sam: The Random Encounter
  • Cryptic Sea
  • SoundSelf

The List now stands at 110 remaining games. And as for the C64 and (scarce) Mac games… well, they may require some serious research. And meditation.

Finally: see the title of this post? See the bit that says “Part 1”? That’s foreboding, that is. More to come!



I certainly didn’t mean to let this blog atrophy for a year (yes, my last post is celebrating its first birthday today), and it’s not as if I haven’t been writing: in that year, I’ve written over two hundred posts on my other blog, and a ream of tearfully self-indulgent joy-words on Facebook. But this blog… well, I just haven’t really felt like writing about gaming much.

In fact, I haven’t really even been playing games that much… at least, not compared to previous years. And there’s a couple of reasons for that.

The first thing to drag me away from gaming is the last-minute writing I tend to do on my other blog; the last couple of months of the year, as well as January, tends to be chock-full with panicky Fringe recollections after I back myself into a corner and have to finish the previous year’s Festival writing before the next one starts. (This year is a little different, though: discipline saw me wrap up the 135 posts I committed to before the end of August!)

Another factor was the Next Generation of consoles… or, rather, the complete lack thereof within The Moobaarn. With the exception of the Wii U (of which I’ve been an owner since its 2012 launch, and a happy owner since December 2013), I’ve not plunged into the current console generation yet: there’s nothing really there to interest me, quite honestly, and the one game that I’m really looking forward to – Bayonetta 2 – is a Wii U exclusive… so there’s no need for me to commit… yet. So whilst other people wax lyrical (or wane painfully) about this generation, I’ve not got much – if anything – to say.

And then there’s the little manner of my latest little addiction, affectionately referred to as my K-Pop Midlife Crisis, which commandeered the normally lucrative Christmas gaming time and instead sent me to Seoul for my first real holiday in nearly a decade. But that’s not really a story for this blog… well, some parts of it kinda are. Maybe.

And finally, the gaming world… well, it can be a bit of a shit-storm, can’t it? Three big incidents in the last couple of months alone: Puppy Games Dark Side of Indie PR blog post launched a shitstorm of hatred from narrow-minded, short-sighted “gamers”. The initially hilarious Moms Against Gaming Twitter feed showed that many cannot recognise satire, and rapidly became tragic: the blundering hatred spewed forth by some “gamers” can truly defeat a hopeful man. And as for the bile directed at Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (and, thence, Phil Fish)… well, you know what?

Fuck those people. Fuck them all. Fuck them for tainting a hobby I enjoy – and, in identifying themselves as “gamers”, they do taint gaming in general – and, most importantly, fuck them for threatening people like that.

(Oh – and swatting? Seriously… what the fuck?)

And when I say “fuck them”, hopefully you’ll note that I’m not saying “I’m going to FUCKING KILL THEM”, or including some threat of sexual violence. No – I use a commonplace dismissal, a common expression of exasperated disappointment. Because that’s what I feel: Exasperation. Disappointment. Frustration. And a massively conflicted and confused quagmire of emotion whereby I want them to receive their comeuppance for their petulant comments (that, unfortunately, must be taken seriously), but which the pacifist in me wouldn’t want to see inflicted.


So… that might explain why I’ve felt a bit disconnected from gaming – or at least writing about gaming – lately. But it’s not like I haven’t been playing anything… So, carrying on from last time:

In between my random treasure drop Uncharted 3 multiplayer excursions, I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in September 2013. It’s a short – but powerful – little game, with a handful of amazing moments packed into it; many will mention the emotional impact of the third act of the game, but for me the sheer exuberance of the goat-ride through the mountains made it totally worth playing through a second time.

The inspired decision to buy a second PS3 – and learning to operate four controllers at once – saw me boost with myself and collect the rest of my Uncharted 3 trophies surprisingly easily… I only wish I’d thought of doing so earlier. I toyed briefly with the idea of continuing to play Uncharted 3, but common sense got the better of me. I think I made it to Legacy 3, and I’ll certainly remember some of the team antics that occurred as a ragtag group of Aussies gathered together to take on the opposition (whistling “toot toot!” after every kill. Super mature ;)

A play through of Psychonauts on the PC was completed (it really is a wonderful game), and November saw the purchase and completion of Remember Me on the PS3: an interesting game with some occasionally compelling combo combat mechanics, and voice acting at both extremes of the spectrum. And whilst the game doesn’t outstay its welcome, it seems like the narrative could have had a few more things to say; overall, it proved to be a fun distraction, but hardly necessary.

With the release of the latest handheld Zelda title – A Link Between Worlds – I finally had an excuse to pick up a 3DS XL (especially after the universally glowing pre-release hype). However, I’ve barely played more than an hour or two of that game since then: but I have played (and completed) Super Mario 3D Land, which proved to be the perfect game for ten-hour plane rides to Korea. I absolutely adored 3D Land… but then Super Mario 3D World was released on the Wii U.

Holy shit. What a game! Tight controls, wonderful level design, and everything that’s great about Mario. I’m way off finishing 3D World – Champion’s Road is insane – but I’ll keep plugging away until I’ve got all those stamps. The Wii U still gets plenty of use from Wii Fit U, too – my spreadsheet of score bands is pretty comprehensive at this stage, and – just like its predecessor – it’s encouraged me to lose some weight, too. Bargain!

Xbox Live Games For Gold offered up some appealing items: Sleeping Dogs was knocked off in April (and I highly recommend playing The Zodiac Tournament Pack – even if you got the game for free, that add-on is worth every cent of its additional cost), and Lara Croft: Guardian of Light was a quick jaunt in March. And I’ve also snaffled Dark Souls via GFG… I’ve been too scared to start that one, though ;)

Once the last piece of DLC was released for Bioshock Infinite, I dove back in to finish that off. The wave-based Clash in the Clouds DLC freed the gunplay from the jarring contrast of the narrative, and was actually a pleasant challenge; and Burial at Sea was just fucking lovely. Really lovely storytelling, immersive gameplay, and… just wonderful. Way better than the original game.

The StreetPass freebies on the 3DS have kept me busy for a while; Picture and Mystery Manor fell quickly (after the discovery of HomePass), with Quest and Battle soon following. Garden was a bit of a pain in the arse, and I’ve still got one task outstanding for Force… hopefully I’ll conquer that soon, just as I conquered my Heroic run through Halo 2 a few months back, and rolled up all the countries at the end of Katamari Damacy.

But the biggest gaming accomplishment – yes, better than nailing the final Achievements for Lumines Live – was completing Dyad. Some of Dyad‘s Trophy Levels are fiendishly difficult… but incredibly rewarding. I’d honestly be hard pressed to think of a more satisfying moment in my gaming history than seeing Dyad‘s Platinum Trophy pop… it really was everything I want from a game: An abstraction of a world. Consistent rules. A test of mettle.

The plasmic eye candy helped, too.

But you know what’s missing from the year’s worth of gaming above? Any mention of Perfect Dark Zero. Again. Oh, and any discussion of the not-insignificant content of my Steam account. Because discussion of that would cause The List to leap into triple figures.

And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Word Dump

Right, it’s about time I started writing again… but time seems to be at a premium at the moment, so let’s start with a little word dump from the last couple of months.

A quick recap of the last three (three? really?) months, then: Deadly Premonition is a Twin Peaks rip-off (not homage) that still manages to find a bit of heart amidst its self-referential quirkiness. Spec Ops: The Line is a really wonderful bit of gamemaking, with possibly the least dissonant gunplay I’ve ever experienced, and comes highly recommended… if only for the monstrous FUBAR difficulty. Uncharted 3‘s multiplayer is alright, apart from the community and random Treasure drops; its single-player campaign, however, is still the polar opposite to Spec Ops in terms of gameplay-narrative cohesion, and it proved to be laughably easy on the hardest difficulty setting. Paper Mario is still a gem, but has now been crossed off The List. Dyad is still a mind-melting joy; I’ve not touched BioShock Infinite‘s poorly-received DLC yet.

Oh, and Psychonauts is still one of the best-written games ever. So get it played.

A Word Dump of Intentions: more Uncharted 3, praying for those Treasure drops. More Psychonauts and Zen Bound 2 and Monotaur. And then… PDZ. Oh yes, this is the year. I can feel it.

KartOps DyadShock

Once again, it’s been way too long between posts for me, and the excuses are many and varied: getting sucked into extended play sessions that eat into my allocated writing time. Much more local theatre-going than I’d expect at this time of year. Unwanted time spent in hospitals supporting family members. The onset of Cabaret season here in Adelaide, with both a Cabaret Festival and Fringe to investigate.

But there’s been plenty of playtime, though. Oh yes, plenty.

When I last wrote, I’d just completed my first play through of BioShock Infinite; I gave myself a couple of days of palate-cleansing, then went back in and wrapped up a 1999 Mode run. Whilst it was nominally the highest difficulty level of the game, my familiarisation with the game’s expectations (not to mention the “Return to Sender” trick on the final battle) made this feel far easier than my first run through the game. I still love the story, and I still think the gameplay adds nothing to it – but I wait to see whether the forthcoming DLC will be able to bridge the gameplay-narrative gap.

As soon as I had finished Infinite, I ducked into XBLM and bought Spec Ops: The Line from Games On Demand… and, after two back-to-back playthroughs, it’s a chin-stroking contrast to the polished sheen of BioShock. In no way could Spec Ops‘ gameplay be considered superior: there’s way too much awkwardness to entertain that idea, with the cover system a particular source of great frustration. The visual and aural aesthetics, whilst pleasing in their own way, are also a notch below Infinite… and the narrative could only just be deemed on par (which is excellent).

But where Spec Ops: The Line excels is exactly where I hoped it would: in the ludonarrative realm.

In encouraging (not telling, with one notable exception) you to perform some truly horrific acts of war, Spec Ops creates a sense of inner conflict with the player’s character – and, as strange as it may seem, that soon becomes congruent with the clunky controls. Walker fights your control because he’s fighting with himself; the uncomfortable extended periods of checkpoint-free play has the effect of forcing you to sit there and ever-so-slowly tiptoe through the horrors of the battlefield, contemplating each move as if it were your last.

At least that’s how I react to it. Maybe that’s a little fanciful, but it seems entirely consistent with my experience.

I loved my two playthroughs of Spec Ops: The Line, and only today did I finally gather the courage to start the slog through the FUBAR difficulty level. And it is, without a doubt, the most punishing third-person experience I’ve had; popping out of cover for less than a second at the wrong time can mean instant death. There’s a high degree of chance involved with this difficulty – if you even blindfire at the same moment that two enemies fire upon your location, you’ll die – but I’ve made it through two of my ScaredyPoints already, so I’m feeling like this will just be a grind. A good grind.

But, in late May, with the prospect of being out cabaret-ing five nights a week for the month of June, I didn’t want to necessarily start a game with a heavy narrative thread. So I decided to start a game that I could just tinker with… you know, just play an hour or two here and there, whenever I got the chance. I decided on Mario Kart Wii… completely forgetting how sucked in I get by a lot of Nintendo games.

And did I ever get sucked in by Mario Kart Wii.

And I discovered a whole bunch of new ways to swear.

My goals were simple: unlock all the content available within the single-player modes. This boils down to unlocking all the Expert Time Trial Ghosts (largely a straight-forward affair, with one or two exceptions), and one-starring all the Grand Prix (including Mirror Mode). And one-starring essentially means: stay in first place most of the time, and win most of your races.

On 50cc? A doddle, even whilst learning the tracks. On 100cc? After experimenting with a few new karts and drivers, pretty easy.

On 150cc? Oh fuck you Mario Kart, fuck you right in the eye. Imagine three flawless races, leading from start to finish, and then – on the fourth race – getting double-blue-shelled on the second lap (the second time whilst in the air over a drop) and falling from first to unrecoverable last because your items turn out to be little more than chaff.

Yeah, that happened to me. So did double-blue-shell mere metres from the finish line; blue-shell-red-shell-POW on the final turn; triple blue-shell on the second lap.

But I eventually one-starred 150cc.

On Mirror Mode? Fuuuuuuuck.

I’ve never sworn more at a game… yet immediately returned for more. It’s an incredibly well tuned piece of software that can keep you interested, even when it’s cheated its arse off and abused you in the process. But, despite Mario Kart Wii being a planned gaming distraction for the month of June, I played and I played and I played and… I eventually won. Or rather, one-starred everything (and even managed a few three-star rankings on easier levels). So Mario Kart Wii is now off The List.

Which leads me to one last piece of gaming news: a game that I’d been looking forward to for nearly a year.


A particularly industrious procrastinative mood saw me finally set up a US PSN account so I could purchase Dyad; even now, months after the European release, it’s still not available for sale in Australia. So: I bought; I downloaded. I eyed the game on my XMB with some deal of hesitancy; I know this is going to be a List-Lingerer, I know this is going to be a game I want to love and adore but which I will be astonishingly poor at actually playing.

But I took a deep breath, and started playing anyway.

Initially, I was… well, disappointed. For all the talk of minimalist presentation, the level introduction screens felt cluttered; for all the promise of transcendental visuals, my Space Giraffe-ready eyes weren’t really challenged. It looked pretty, yes, and it sounded lovely, for sure; but it was not what I had expected.

Mind you, I had expected it to change my life… so the problem there is with me, clearly.

But I decided to force myself through all the levels (as recommended by creator Shawn McGrath) before attempting any of the “Trophy Levels”… just a couple a day. I’d come home from work, duck out to the theatre, come home, push through a few levels of Dyad. Every new level introduced a new mechanic, or put a slight twist on an established mechanic – it’s a relatively linear learning curve.

And that plan worked well… until I got within a handful of levels of the end. Some of those later levels required many, many attempts to garner even a solitary single-star rank; I was actually starting to get demoralised by Dyad. Depressed.

But then came the level “Giraffes? Giraffes! From Outer Space”.

And if my first play of this level doesn’t win my Best Moment Of Gaming Award for 2013… well, something pretty unbelievably fucking special is going to have to come out.

It was amazing. Exactly the kind of experience I was looking for.

Dyad is brilliant. I’ve yet to sink any time into the Trophy Levels, and there’s a fair few of the “story” levels that are still at one-star rankings, but I am so looking forward to getting to know this game better.

The Narrative-Gameplay Contrast Project

So… I’m embarking on a little project.

I’ve been insanely curious about Spec Ops: The Line since its release, with many (somewhat trusted) media sources raving about the use of narrative in the game. See, I’m a big fan of narrative… but only when it makes sense in a game. Which is a backwards way of saying that I’m not a fan of narrative/gameplay dissonance.

Now, I must be honest here: I was sorely tempted to write “ludonarrative dissonance” above, because that’s what all the Kool Kids are writing about at the moment… especially regarding BioShock Infinite (which I’ll talk about a bit more later). But I’m not quite sure that’s the right fit for what I’m talking about.

Ludonarrative dissonance – as I understand it – contemplates the conflict between the narrative aspects of what the game projects, and the actions that it asks you to perform as part of the game. In my mind, any game that tries to engage in a real-world scenario is always going to have some sort of ludonarrative dissonance: the need for scoring mechanics, and the simple mapping of such a mechanism onto “winning” (usually “killing”), makes it difficult to reconcile any narrative arc (which usually tugs on emotional heartstrings for effect) with that mechanism. Curiously, that implies that Call of Duty-type games suffer less dissonance than, say, Uncharted.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m more interested in the feel of the game… the physical expression of the player in doing what the game is challenging you to do.

The Wii (oh, that’s so last generation) had it easy with its motion controls: Wii Sports Tennis is the very epitome of this type of engagement, but that’s cheating a little bit… that’s mimicry. I want to dig into the games that somehow conjure up a physical correlation between what the game wants, and what you – as the player – deliver.

Consider Ico – a stunning game, to be sure. One of the best, in my book. But part of the reason I feel that is because holding Yorda’s hand – which you’re doing for much of the game – is accomplished by curling a finger around onto R1 on the DualShock controller. When I’m playing Ico, and my index finger isn’t on that button, I’m anxious – Yorda’s in danger.

The game did that to me. I suspect it’s a glorious combination of narrative and control tuning that works for Ico; but other games manage without narrative… and I usually describe them as having “responsive controls” or, more often, not notice it at all. The absence of engaging controls is, after all, easier to describe: games can feel “floaty” or disconnected.

But then there are games where the physical interaction is so at odds with the narrative aspects that it’s jarring – proper harshing-my-gaming-buzz jarring. But more on BioShock Infinite later.

So I’ve decided to embark on a little project. I was originally just going to play the aforementioned Spec Ops: The Line, fully expecting the narrative to be completely divorced from the gameplay: everything I’ve heard suggests that the gameplay component is an average third-person shooter, but that there are Decisions to be made… and I want to see how that process is presented by the game. But, with BioShock Infinite getting a lot of positive comments about its narrative aspects from reviewers and punters alike, I thought I’d give that a bash as well… and then there’s the Director’s Cut of cult-classic Deadly Premonition, a game lauded for its great story and cack controls.

Three games of wildly varying perceived quality, all with reportedly strong narratives, none of which are really in genres that elicit enthusiasm in me: I call this the The Narrative-Gameplay Contrast Project (NGCP).

But before I launch into that, there’s a little tidy-up and context-setting to be done: in the last fortnight, I managed to conquer the last of my Colossi, knocking Shadow of the Colossus off The List (a game that also has a wonderful physicality to it… even though I think it’s a poor game in comparison to its spiritual prequel), and rushed through a playthrough of Uncharted 3 on Normal, mopping up treasure and weapon Trophies. Uncharted 3 is, of course, a long-term project, with a squillion multiplayer Trophies to be hunted down; I’ve started playing it a bit online, and it’s a much more accessible game than Uncharted 2 ever was (though there’s issues with balance being skewed by high-ranking perks). But the single-player campaign is absolutely devoid of narrative engagement; as I’ve mentioned before, the game presents itself to me as an asset tour, but I’m not necessarily one to be wowed by those assets.

Which brings us – finally – to BioShock Infinite.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: I love the narrative of BioShock Infinite. I think it’s on par with movies like Inception (which I quite enjoyed, but not to rave-worthy levels), and I think that it’s fantastic that Irrational have chosen to deal with issues like racism and class warfare and personal engagements, all steeped in waves of cheesy nostalgia that evokes The Truman Show. And it certainly presents a wonderfully realised environment; there’s lots of assets to be toured there.

But as for the gameplay

Well, it’s functional, at least. But there’s something about the gameplay that keeps the story at arm’s length for the entire game; it’s almost like it belongs to some other story. Or that Infinite‘s narrative belongs in some other game.

I’m really shocked at how disjointed it made me feel; and that prevented me from actually engaging with the characters, and emoting in moments that were described in the Game|Life BioShock Infinite SpoilerCast (which really is quite spoilery, so only listen to it after you’ve played the game!).

But then there’s the ending.

Not the final “battle”, which is as jarring as the realisation that Brütal Legend is actually an RTS, but the significant end-game sequence (seriously: put aside an hour for it).

The ending is, for me, BioShock Infinite done right. And I know that I say that as someone completely divorced from the history of the game (I’ve only played the demo of the first BioShock, and neither of the System Shock games)… but there’s lots of other disconnects there for me, too. The pervading nostalgia for Americana of a bygone era is lost on me, and it’s only today that I discovered that the oft-referenced Wounded Knee was a real (and horrific) event. But that end sequence absolutely nails the physical engagement with the game for me: every button press was considered, even though there was no bearing on the outcome.


That end sequence that I enjoyed so much? There’s an indie game that does something similar, but so much better. It’s only five dollars, it’s maybe thirty minutes of your time (if you’re a nosy explorer like me), and it’s a really, really wonderful experiment in game-ified narrative. It’s Thirty Flights of Loving, and it’s… well, I’m glad I played it; I’m glad it exists.

Further thoughts on The Narrative-Gameplay Contrast Project as they arise…

Je Retourne (2013 Edition)

Hello once again!

This is just a (relatively) quick post to placate the few readers who are still subscribed: no, this blog is not dead. Yes, I will endeavour to post more frequently (i.e. more than once per calendar quarter). But something has just happened that I wanted to scream from the rooftops in joy, and I figured this is as good an excuse as any to start posting again.

But first… what have I been up to?

Well, since you (by which I mean me) asked, I started the New Year by tackling one of the games on my Resolutions: Shadow of the Colossus. I’d already completed this game on the PS2 way back when, and couldn’t actually remember much of the process, so I figured I could knock it off relatively quickly in January. Of course, I’d neglected to take into account the hundred-ish posts I had to write for my other blog in January, so I managed to push my way through the game on Normal… but in doing so, the memories came flooding back.

Colossus is not a particularly difficult game to finish; even the Hard difficulty is not particularly tricky. But when it comes to completion – or, in the PS3’s case, the complete set of Trophies – the Time Attack mode is the killer. In particular, Hard Time Attack (HTA). With the memories came the sense of time and practise required to clear HTA; another reason why I abandoned Colossus mid-January.

But I still felt obliged to complete something in January, so I picked up The Unfinished Swan off PSN. It’s an easy game to wrap up, looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous, and performs some absolutely wonderful storytelling. If you’re PS3-friendly, it’s well worth picking up for something a little different; even the trickiest Trophy is an absolute delight.

Back to the Resolutions I went; February and March, which host my beloved Festivals, are always “short” months, so I tried to find something that I could finish; with only one Achievement left to obtain, Geometry Wars Evolved^2 seemed to be a reasonable choice. The missing Achievement, Smile, required about eight minutes of perfect play… which I was not able to master before the start of my Festivities, leaving February barren.

My Fringing and Festivalling was amazingly fun – friends made and re-made, some amazing performances (including one of the best dance pieces I’ve ever seen), and way too much fun. Unfortunately, the last four days were marred by a premature bout of Fringe Flu… well, more like Man Flu, but it made the closing days physically draining… and caused me to collapse immediately following the close of activities.

But, once back in front of the consoles, I returned to Geometry Wars Evolved^2 – another thirty-or-so hours of practise saw me Achieve my goal (after one heartbreaking attempt that saw me fluff the very final level). At that point I decided to return to Shadow of the Colossus; Normal Time Attack was a little tricky, but – in between squeezing in twenty(!) movies at the French Film Festival (yes, another festival!) – I managed to scrape through those Attacks with only a couple of problems.

A quick query of Google reveals that most people have problems with Colossi 3 and 15; I’ve also had massive issues with 13, and only managed to scrape through that on Normal Time Attack when a chance physics glitch worked in my favour. And, true to form, Colossus 15 was really tough; three hours saw it sorted.

Then came Hard Time Attack.

I remembered Colossus 3 being particularly tough, and Google once again revealed that most PS3 colossi slayers struggle to get anywhere near the five minute mark. Apparently there’s been a few changes in the physics handling between from NTSC PS2 version that frustrate the majority – the PAL version was the basis for the port – and so much of the grumbling was due to that; I, on the other hand, was buoyed by the fact that I knew that I’d managed this once before. I seem to remember that I relied on a sword jump to claw enough time back; I’ll just do that again, I thought.

But could I reproduce those skills? Could I fuck.

I struggled. I really struggled. I figured I could do one HTA per day and – whilst the first two colossi took maybe an hour of practise each – I figured that was relatively doable. The third one, though…

I checked all the online tutorials I could – there’s still lots of sword jumps, but also mystical discussion of Perfect Grip (which I am convinced is a myth) and a few other tricks… but none of them worked for me. But then I found this video, and practised and practised and swore and practised and shut off the PS3 in disgust and practised and…

…I just beat that fucker. With fifteen seconds up my sleeve.

So I’m pretty bloody happy right now. I know that I’ve still got Colossi 13 and 15 to go, but I’m hoping that I’m over the hump.

And with that… well, I’m back. You’re up-to-date. You don’t need to know what I think about the PS4 or anything – there’s more thoughts on the next-gen that I’d like to collate first. And, hopefully, I’ll write that sometime soon… but first, I’ve got another seven Colossi to kill.

My 2013 Gaming Resolutions

You know what? I’ve grown to love writing this post every year. Looking at the cold, stark numbers, trying to figure out whether the lofty goals I arbitrarily gave myself this time last year have been satisfied… and then creating another list of arbitrary goals.

Because it should be obvious to all and sundry that I Love Lists. Especially The List. Although that’s probably more of a love/hate kind of thing.

So let’s first review how I performed with 2012’s Resolutions…

…to leave 2012 with The List pared back to… 64. Yep, the same target as two years ago. Soft, but – on previous efforts – pretty unlikely.

Verdict: Success! The List currently sits at 63, albeit mostly because of a self-imposed buying freeze post-Wii U. Even so, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever managed to hit an end-of-year target (regardless of its mediocrity).

…to (still) keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. 50% is fine, since it means that some of the back catalogue is getting wrapped up.

Verdict: Another success! Seventeen games were bought during the year, and fourteen of them were completed – the only stragglers being the inadvertent Mario Kart Wii (which is currently serving as a nice Christmas break challenge), Nintendo Land (which will probably be a List-Lingerer, much like its spiritual ancestor Wii Play), and Shadow of the Colossus (which has been installed, but never played, on my PS3).

…to knock Perfect Dark Zero, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 2, and Halo: Anniversary off The List.

Verdict: Ooof. I played the first level (or, more accurately, the tutorial level) of PDZ, and Skyward Sword progress halted at the quest to get the Hyrule Shield on Hero Mode. On the other hand, Uncharted 2 was sufficiently completed after some of the most painful multiplayer boosting sessions I’ve ever experienced, and Halo: Anniversary was completed early in the year. Two out of four should be a pass… it doesn’t feel like one, though.

…to beat Luxor 2‘s Normal skill level.

Verdict: Comply… and exceed! Not only was Normal conquered, but I turned right around and played through Expert and the extra Challenge of Horus levels, blasting Luxor 2 off The List. Hurrah!

…to make some inroads on both WipEout HD and F-Zero GX. Racing ahoy!

Verdict: Early signs were good – I created some comprehensive spreadsheets to help me track progress in both games, and started playing both earnestly. Then something else distracted me… I returned to WipEout eventually, pushing through to 41.92% completion on my spreadsheet (my goal was 33%), but F-Zero GX remained untouched for the rest of the year – languishing at 5.06%, well short of the target of 25%. Conceded Pass?

…to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles… fo’ real this time. Ninety-Nine Nights, Rez, Shadow Complex.

Verdict: Fail. I played one game each of N3 and Shadow Complex, and the odd boozy game of Rez HD, but nothing to threaten The List.

…to break at least 500 GS in Child of Eden.

Verdict: Oh man… Success. I’m so bloody proud of this!

…to play something new; something outside the stuff I know I like. To take a risk!

Verdict: You know what? I’m giving myself a pass mark here. Early in the year I decided to chance my arm on Journey and, not only did it turn out to be one of the most wonderful games I’ve ever played, but it encouraged my OCD to pick up the rest of thatgamecompany’s work, which I had never previously contemplated. Both fl0w and Flower proved to be flawed gems that I feel glad to have experienced.

On the basis of the above, 2012 was probably my best year yet when it comes to Resolution success. So should I now up the ante? Or stick with this apparently maintainable workload?

In 2013, I resolve…

  • …to leave 2013 with less than sixty games on The List. That’s six-zero, a nett reduction of at least four – which may be tricky, given that there’s no clusters similar to the Jet Set Radio triple that helped so much this year.
  • …to give some attention to the games I wish I had played this year: The Unfinished Swan, Fez, Spec Ops: The Line. And Dyad, if it ever gets released over here.
  • …to knock Perfect Dark Zero (a fourth attempt, I believe), Shadow of the Colossus, and Uncharted 3 off The List (the latter being particularly problematic – I’ve seen estimates of 100+ hours minimum for the multiplayer trophies, with one friend sinking over 500 hours into it).
  • …to remove two twin-stick shooters off The List. So that’s probably Geometry Wars^2 and… ummm… oh shit. That’s a tough one… The original Geometry Wars, that I’m insanely shit at? the monumentally difficult MSR? or even more monumentally difficult Robotron? Eeep.
  • …to continue with this year’s good work in Child of Eden and nab two five-star levels – and one gold star – in that game.
  • …to see a nett reduction of three games on the Wii, one game on the Jaguar, and four games on the 360.

At first blush, that’s a pretty good list – some stuff that looks well within reach, some stretch goals, and – no doubt – a whole lot to panic about come September.

And, cut’n’pasting a line from previous years… What are your Gaming Resolutions for 2013?

2012: The Year In Review

As I suspect no-one has noticed, I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog lately. Absent, even. I just haven’t felt like writing much about gaming; sure, I could say that I’ve just been distracted by stringing words together on my other blog, but the fact of the matter is that I feel like I’ve absolutely, one-hundred-percent, left the gaming mainstream behind.

I haven’t even felt like I want to be part of that conversation anymore.

It’s become more and more apparent to me just how abhorrent I find the idea of violence against humans in video games. Sure, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not desperate to see attempts at modelling “reality” in games; realism feels like such a lazy art-style choice to me. The fact that it’s so often coupled with gameplay that involves the slaughter of other human beings is a step too far; alien abstractions I can deal with, but realistic depictions of someone’s child? That’s too much for me.

Now, I’m not trying to be all holier-than-thou with these statements; I’m not suggesting that other people follow suit. But I recognise that these are things that I feel, that I believe, and I’m going to be putting my money where my mouth is. I do not want the gaming industry to become a race to see who can create the best stabbing-people-through-the-face simulation; gaming can – and should – be much more than that.

What I want to see is what gaming can do that other mediums cannot. I want to see new ways to tell stories. I want to be subjected to new ways of conjuring emotions. I want meaningful abstractions that engage my mind. I want to be treated as an intelligent human being.

But, by the same token, I don’t want to eschew fun; nor do I want to avoid the glitz and glamour of sexy sights and sounds. But “realism” isn’t a style that I want to partake in; cartoonish-realism is only barely tolerable to me now.

So I’m not supporting those games anymore. I’ll purge my OC tendencies on some of my existing titles through clenched teeth, but I’m now going to try and find the glory of gaming through more… well, passive avenues. The one exception will be Spec Ops: The Line, which I will purchase first thing in the New Year. I’ve heard that it does some pretty interesting things with character development and storytelling… and, as I indicated above, that is the stuff I’m interested in.

Another reason for my absence is that I’ve been paying attention to a… well, I guess it was another type of game. Throughout my thirties I managed to pack on the weight to the stage where I was… well, lardy. I objected mightily when a gastroenterologist I consulted classified me as “obese”; when Wii Fit gave me the same summation, I started to take it a little more seriously. What this says about me – that I trust Nintendo over a qualified doctor – is left to the reader’s imagination.

Still, somewhere between Christmas and New Year in 2011, I decided to clean my act up a bit. I know myself well enough to recognise that I had to make a game out of it, and – believe it or not – Wii Fit provided the perfect framework for that. And, just to be quite clear, I’m not saying that Wii Fit is a substitute for any type of combination of decent diet and exercise; it’s just that I was able to use it as a motivator. I’d weigh myself every day: that’s a data point. I challenged myself to get a certain number of Fit Credits every week: that’s motivation.

Long story short: I dropped twenty kilos in the last year without any real “effort”… well, it didn’t feel like effort, anyway. But I acknowledge that it did eat into my gaming time (and especially my writing time, which is always the first thing to feel any pressure) somewhat.

But anyway… what a year 2012 was. Some great games, for sure, but I just wanted to note that there was some other stuff at play, too. So now, let’s focus on the fun stuff!

A cursory glance at my spreadsheet reveals that I bought seventeen new games during the year (of which fourteen were off The List by year’s end), and there were no real Retail Therapy lapses. On top of that, I knocked off eight older games this year too, leaving The List at a rather slimmer 63 on New Year’s Eve. That would have been more svelte had I not picked up a Wii U on launch day, though that – so far – seems to have made about as much of an impact on me as my initial PS3 acquisition.

But now… onto my crapulent GotY Awards!

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: So… I swore off Assassin’s Creed. I was never into Mass Effect. And I even left Halo 4 alone. As usual, mainstream AAA-gaming has little appeal to me.

The “Someone’s Cutting An Onion” Emotional Punch-In-The-Guts: Oh god, will anything be able to top that climb up the mountain in Journey, especially when you’ve just been led through the secrets of the game by your playing companion? It’s an astonishing piece of game design, to conjure such compassion out of nothing. To Nivekien: thankyou thank you thankyou.

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: In a year where I spent over three days playing Uncharted 2‘s multiplayer (discovering that “boosting” in PSN-land can be slower than just earning multiplayer Trophies legit), two positive multiplayer moments stand out: assembling a cross-continental Bling Brigade (at 4am!) in WipEout HD that was full of considerate, respectful, and fun people was certainly worth a mention. But the standout multiplayer moment was playing through Portal 2‘s multiplayer with my not-frequent-enough accomplice, Lita. The bits that she knew well were bloody brilliant fun to breeze through… but when we hit the DLC levels, that neither of us had seen before, I encountered some of the most rewarding online experiences in recent memory. Even if we did get a little snippy with each other :) Thanks, Lita!

The Screaming Child Plead-for-Sanity Pacifier: OK, so I probably wouldn’t have bought The Walking Dead even if it was for sale in this country. But can someone please explain why Dyad can’t get Classified over here? Please, OFLC, please let this one through.

Disappointment of the Year: After hearing endless success stories with people transferring their Wii content to their new Wii U, I was saddened to see my attempts to do so blocked by an “error”. No description, no suggestion… just a quiet little “go fuck yourself, Pete, your purchases are staying on your old Wii.” Add on the dreadful menu load times of the Wii U and I’m left thoroughly un-enchanted.

The “I’m Out” Moment-of-Realisation Deep-Fried Tofu: The audience cheering for shotgun-in-the-face “fun” at The Last of Us‘ E3 showing this year. Au revoir.

Griddy McGriddle’s Spreadsheet-of-the-Year Calculation: Phwoar, you should see my F-Zero GX sheets in Google Docs. I can tell you – with absolute certainty – that I am 5.06% of my way through GX. And that’s the easiest 5.06%. It’s depressingly uphill from here.

Blast From The Past Award: Two playthroughs on each of three different versions of the Dreamcast’s Jet Set/Grind Radio series taught me to love the game… and even Mew, who I’d previously regarded as a Rhyth wannabe. Bless her :)

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: Uplay. So I’m wrapping up Assassin’s Creed II, and I’ve a couple of sequences left to go. I grab the DLC, for completeness’ sake, and it’s pretty… well, awful. But the final thing I need to do to get my sync to 100% is to grab one sequence from Uplay, Ubisoft’s own online gateway… but could I get access to that content? Could I fuck. Ubisoft’s “support” was essentially “restart your console,” and then they questioned my competency to do so; what they should be telling people is that they’ve turned off the servers. Well done, Ubisoft – you’ve ensured that I’ll never buy another game that has any interaction with your shitty Uplay service.

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: I flew to Melbourne to see Tetsuya Mizuguchi speak. Arriving early, I went into an exhibition that featured some of his work; after unlocking Area 5 in Rez for all to play (god knows why that hadn’t been done already), I set about unlocking the Hope Archive in Child of Eden. About three-quarters of the way through the Journey Archive, I was interrupted by staff who wanted me to leave; I turn around to discover that Miz had been standing behind me for the last couple of minutes, watching me play his game. We chatted, I had my picture taken with him, and – after he’d left the vicinity – I threw my arms into the air with joy. Another Hero met :)

The “What Have I Done?” Time-Sink Tentacle: Saints Row: The Third is silly, cartoonish fun. Thirty-five hours, I thought… easy. And then I discovered that each of the seven character voices offered to the player at the start of the game have their own unique script lines… After playing through the game another six times, some of the jokes wore a little thin. But not too much ;)

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: Sound Shapes may have appeared to have squidgey platforming mechanics, but its gorgeous visual aesthetic – and stunning soundtrack – results in an amazingly rewarding gameplay experience.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Buy Sound Shapes, you fuckers. Buy a PS3 first, if you must.

The Start-Fuck-Start-Fuck-Start Cycle-of-Pain Sushi Roll: My high-score in the easiest mode of (the glorious) Super Hexagon is 20.48 seconds. I’ve got time for another ten or twenty goes before typing the next category.

The “Flow Like A River” Natural Gameplay Award: There’s a bit in Journey where you’re introduced to sand-surfing… and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. And you’re surfing along, and the camera pans to the side to show you surfing through this structure, through which you can see this incredible landscape, but you’re still in control and you realise that you’re drooling and awestruck and overfilled with joy and that you’re playing a game. Yep, that bit takes this award.

…aaaaand that’s all I’m going to write about 2012. There’s been plenty of fun, plenty of joy, and a little bit of grief – but it’s certainly within my purview to minimise the latter in favour of the former. But there’s two special games I want to call out before New Year’s Eve rolls around.

Sound Shapes is a flip-screen platformer that may put people off with its deceptive simplicity; graphics are initially plain and bold, seemingly lacking in subtlety. But as the game opens up, different visual variations and game styles are introduced, and the use of sound throughout is stunning – it creates an adaptive audio soundscape more effectively than anything since Rez. I’d even argue that it betters Rez in creating an enveloping audio landscape within which the game can thrive. All that, and it brings forth the grins, too.

But – as if it isn’t obvious enough already – my Game of 2012 is Journey.

I honestly believe that Journey is one of the most important games in years. It manages to conjure an incredibly emotional experience out of something apparently so simple; creates a social engagement out of isolation. But why’s it so important? Because Journey uses the medium to tell a story like no other game before it; it uses the medium to encourage you to emote like no other game before it.

It is the knockout punch in any “games as art” argument.

And so, without further ado… Happy New Year!

Ten Years

About a decade ago, back when I actually enjoyed my day job, I used to work as a contractor. I was good value for my employers, and I went out of my way to maintain a morally consistent stance when it came to the tools of the trade – the thing about contractors, I (and the tax office) argued, was that they provided their expertise and tools to their employers.

So I had all my own hardware, and bought all my own software. Anything that was required, I bought – that seemed completely logical to me. Someone wants money for something they made? Fair enough. Hell, I even bought WinZip once upon a time – and how many people can say that?

Anyway… at the time I programmed in Object Pascal, using a fantastic IDE called Delphi. The latest version, Delphi 7, had been released in August 2002, and I’d promptly upgraded through my usual software supplier, Microway. It was a great upgrade, and I fired it up every day in joyful anticipation of the development process.

But this post isn’t about programming, or my tools of choice… it’s about gaming.

And, at that stage of my life, gaming was a very sporadic pursuit – twice a year, a game would arrive with the purchase of a new piece of PC hardware (graphics card purchases presented me with Deus Ex and Soldier of Fortune, amongst others), and I was a big patron of the Quake series; whenever a new game was acquired, I would play it incessantly until completion (usually requiring a couple of non-working days)… but between those episodes, there was precious little gaming going on. And there was certainly no video game consoles in my house. Ever since I became a C64 owner at the age of thirteen, I was a PC snob: how could a console – a toy, emphasised by the departments in which they were found in stores – possibly compete on any term with a computer?

But then, on the 9th of October, 2002, I received a phone call that would change my attitude… and most likely changed my life.

“Pete… it’s Chris, from Microway,” was the response when I answered my mobile. Chris was my regular contact there.

“Chris! What’s up?”

“Good news! You remember that competition you entered a few months back?”

I did not. I had no idea what he was talking about, and relayed that to him.

“Oh,” he said, slightly taken aback, “…well, when you bought your copy of Delphi 7 you were entered into a sweepstake. And you won!”

“Great!” I said, still completely unaware of what he was talking about, but excited nonetheless. “So… what’d I win, then?”

“An Xbox console,” he replied.

Now, quite honestly, my heart sank a tiny little bit upon hearing that. My head had gone racing ahead with ideas like “ten year MSDN subscriptions!” and “a new monster PC workstation!”… so the reality felt a little less impressive. Still, the gears started grinding, and I figured I’d be able to sell the Xbox to one of those silly console “gamers” at work and pocket a couple of hundred bucks.

After a bit of stuffing around – Chris wanted me to clear the prize-winning with my manager, which wasn’t really a problem due to my self-employment – the Xbox was given an address, and dutifully shipped.

It came into my possession on Thursday, October 10, 2002. Ten years ago today.

I thought I’d give it a look, and unboxed it, hooking it up to my TV. The weight, the textures, the styling of the Xbox was fantastic – it felt significant, and the controller (an original Duke) felt like a weapon. The rumble of the Xbox boot sequence tantalised on a bass-rumbling level, too.

But… there was no game to play. I thought these things had always come with a pack-in game? So – off to the local video store, only to discover that they only stocked PS2 and N64(!) titles. Into the city I went, to the closest department store; their range was brash and colourful, and the names meant nothing to me. But then, at the bottom of one green-tinged case, I spied a logo: “Bungie,” it said.

Years earlier, I’d played a demo of Marathon on my Macintosh IIvx – I’d loved the tone and feel of it, but not enough to go out and buy it in the software-starved Mac market of the mid-nineties. But that flicker of recognition encouraged me to pick that game up, purchase it, and wander home, curious as to how one could possibly control an FPS with that massive controller.

By the end of that weekend, I was convinced: it was doable. In fact, it was more than doable… it was perfect.

I was not merely convinced… I was converted.

Jet Set Luxoruga Adventures

Well… it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Thankfully, sheer laziness has been only a secondary cause for my lack of blogging; the primary reason is that I’ve been to busy actually playing games. And procrastinating. But, spurred on by a (necessary) resurgence of my other blog, I’ve decided that the words need to flow on this one, too. Too much of a blockage can get uncomfortable, y’know?

When I last posted something on this blog, I was battling with Ikaruga – in attempting to get an A-Rank on the first (and, by far, the easiest) level, the best I could manage was a B++… 1.86 million points, and little idea of how I could realistically up my game to get that extra little points bump. After watching a pile of replay videos (a wonderful feature of the XBLA port), I realised that I was missing out on some serious use of the energy absorption / release mechanism: not only was the homing super-weapon useful for chain maintenance, but absorbing bullets actually scores points.

I switched from Easy mode to Normal mode, with the result that slain enemies dispatch little clusters of same-polarity bullets… and there was an immediate pay-off, with a score bump to 1.93 million. Another day of practice and I hit 2.03 million – and with that Achievement unlocked, my Gamerscore completion percentage hit 96%.

The following weekend I accompanied my nephew to AVCon where, as luck would have it, they had a Gamecube running Ikaruga in an unofficial high-score competition. Once I got (re-)used to the wonderful Gamecube controller, I figured I knew the level well enough to get into the 1.5 million range… but, after about half-an-hour of play, I managed to snag a score just over 2.1 million – better than my own local highscore, a fact that is likely to play on my mind in the future. When I left AVCon that day, I was still the highest score by about 1.8 million points(!).

Ikaruga [1] 2,182,540

After moving furniture around to accommodate the camera, I managed to rope my ex into helping me out with Kinect Adventures… she was incredibly sceptical of the Kinect initially, but we were soon leaping around, sweating up a storm, pushing through for the co-op Achievements. She gracefully retired, and I spent another couple of nights flailing around to get the requisite platinum ranks… and knocking Kinect Adventures off The List.

Quite unexpectedly, I found myself playing Luxor 2 again, pushing through the Normal difficulty level and into Advanced. Things seemed to be pretty easy going early on, but I hit a tough patch around Stage 9: some levels were taking up to two hours to tip-toe through. Perseverance paid off, though, and I breezed through the final handful of stages in one grumpy after-work evening; a weekend of more troubling levels in the tricky Challenge of Horus netted the final skill-related Achievement. A few hours of whoring, and Luxor 2 was also off The List.

With that large project off my plate, I started looking for another to tackle… and, with the imminent re-release of Jet Set Radio, I decided to tackle the three Dreamcast variants of the game that I had squirrelled away (two of them still shrink-wrapped!). After discovering the extent of the game’s unlockables – and its annoying peccadilloes – through a play through of the PAL version, I threw away my progress and started from scratch, stepping through all three versions of the game in parallel. The differences with the Japanese version were most noticeable, of course, but even the US and PAL versions had their (inexplicable) differences… but by the time I finished all three games, I was well practised in the game.

So when the 360 version was released on September 19, I leapt into it with gusto. I surprised myself by Jetting most of the levels on my first attempt – muscle memory really pays off, I think! TrueAchievements had me pegged as the sixth person to “complete” the game (though I seem to have dropped to eighth now), and I would’ve been much higher on that list… had I not taken a little trip to Melbourne to see Tetsuya Mizuguchi speak. Oh – and to meet him. He watched me play Child of Eden, don’t-you-know. But there’ll be a (longer, painfully detailed) post about that later ;)

Miz and Me

There’s other games that’ve been played – Child of Eden, Rez, Burnout Paradise, Mario Kart Wii – and most recently I’ve returned to Uncharted 2 (in an effort to wrap that up before year’s end, as resolved). I’m still champing at the bit for Dyad (which is caught up in Certification Hell), but there’s not really that much else that’s tickling my fancy at the moment. I’m just cleaning up older games at the moment – or, as I like to think of it, following through on prior commitments.

Oh – and the Wii U? I’ve only got one thing to say about that…

RocketChild LuxoRuga


That’s what I though to myself on Tuesday evening after scouring the PSN Store – to no avail – for Dyad. I should have read the fine-print on all the announcements – Dyad‘s July 17 release date was for North America only, with the EU release (which should result in an Australian release) still a couple of weeks away. Deflated, I had to make do with watching poor YouTube videos of other people’s first encounters with the game… but I soon realised I was hyping myself up too much.

Of course, this week’s Giant Bombcast contained a good deal of Dyad discussion which did little to temper my longing, but there was a quick remark in there that made me a little sad – apparently Dyad‘s creator, Shawn McGrath, has been trying to contact Jeff Minter to see what he thought of the game, but Jeff hadn’t responded to any of his messages. From the look of it, Dyad seems like it really could be Minter’s cup of tea, but I wonder whether it’s a cruel reminder of the failed Unity project…

The Bombcast also lead me to another podcast, too – the GameSpot GamePlay Spoilercast for Spec Ops: The Line. Now, I had absolutely zero interest in playing this game prior to hearing the Giant Bomb crew flubber about its narrative, but the Spoilercast – featuring the lead writer on The Line – was absolutely fascinating, making it sound like the story arcs are indeed worthy of investigation. But that interest is curtailed somewhat by the mention of a rather straightforward third-person shooter that sits atop the narrative, and the potentially jarring content within; maybe it’d be asking a bit much of myself to actually enjoy such an experience. In fact, I’m pretty sure that enjoyment would be out of the question, and that I’d be playing it to experience a confronting narrative experience… and I reckon I prefer that sort of thing in the cinema.

So, apart from talking myself out of buying one game – and not being able to buy another – it’s been a pretty solid week on the 360 for me. Plugging along with Luxor 2 (98 levels left!), snaffling another few Achievements in Kinect Adventures (whilst leaving the rest for a co-op session with my ex). I overcame my fear of the Passion Archive in Child of Eden to 100% it and, along with the last Archive, unlocked enough GamerScore to boost my tally on the game to 540 GS – and with that, another Resolution fell.

But, rather than moving on to the next Resolution, I started prodding one of my spreadsheets… and noticed that I’ve got a bit of a milestone coming up. In 222 GS time, I will hit a new personal best completion percentage for my Xbox Live profile – and that number is a pretty significant driving force for me. Now, Kinect Adventures has 350 GS up its sleeve, so I’m not really too concerned about that milestone… but, earlier this morning, I needed 40 GS to hit 96%, and 468 GS for 97%.

That 97% level is tickling my fancy a little, and it should be doable once Kinect Adventures is taken into account; but I thought it’d be nice to get that 96% mark out of the road today. So – back to Child of Eden I went, attempting to snaffle some Achievements for completing levels on the Hard difficulty level… before being rudely rebuffed. So I returned to a game I’d not touched in yearsBoom Boom Rocket – and, with TA hints, a twenty-cent piece, and a lot of swearing, I managed to eke out two Achievements and 20 GS.

So… 20 to go. I search my pending Achievements again… oh alright, let’s give Ikaruga a bash again.

After a couple of hours it was becoming clear that I wasn’t really improving all that much – I need another 700,000 points to hit an A rank on the easiest level. But it’s still a bloody brilliant game – tight as a duck’s chuff, though. But it was a welcome distraction from settling down with the next thing on the Resolution list, which will probably be Perfect Dark Zero… again…

Child of Luxor Adventures

Short and sweet: I managed to push through the remaining Luxor 2 levels to finish off the Normal difficulty, earning myself two Achievements in the process… and, more importantly, successfully fulfilling one of my Resolutions for 2012. I flirted with the idea of pushing on, wondering whether I could commit to finishing the game this year – but I’m all too aware of what would likely happen if I chose to do so: I’d hammer through the first thirty-or-so levels, burn out, and then buy a whole bunch of new games in a cycle of guilt and inadequacy that I can recognise, but not seem to do anything about. So I’ll put Luxor aside for now, perhaps only tinkering with a level or two (of the 108 outstanding) if I feel a real hankering.

I also quickly wrapped up another Kinect Adventures Achievement, but the bulk of the week’s game-playing time was taken up with my attempt to tackle another Resolution – breaking 500GS in Child of Eden. I scored a few 100% Purification runs, and a couple of small cleanup tasks, raising my total to 450GS… and I was feeling pretty good about things. Confident, even. I’d originally planned to just hammer playthroughs of the game until I unlocked all of Lumi’s Garden (a handy little 50GS), but I’d had pretty good fun working on those 100% levels… maybe I could clear them all out for 90GS? Or hammer through a few more levels on the Hard difficulty?

All those plans were scuppered the moment I decided to play through the Passion Archive again. I’d only completed that level once before – no big deal, I figured: that was back when I was trying to push through the game as quickly as possible. And my first revisitation was going oh-so-well – I was actually on pace to 100% the level until I fluffed the very last wave of patterned squares. Not bad, I thought, I’ll pick that up next run. But then came the boss fight…

…oh dear. Purple bullets filled the screen in seemingly incomprehensible patterns; my reticle digitally flailed in response to my panic. Death came quickly.

The memories came flooding back: I’d been stuck on that level for weeks on my first run through the game (in fact, three months elapsed between the conquering of the Beauty and Passion Archives). All of a sudden, my confidence was sapped – did I actually think that I was even capable of learning to tackle this boss? A boss which required ten minutes of slog before I even reached it?

And, of course, that just brings up more Fear – these are the easy bits of Child of Eden, I’ll say to myself; I haven’t even started to look at the high-score runs yet, let alone Gold Star runs. All I’m doing at the moment is brute-forcing my way through the game… there’s no skill there yet, and I need plenty.

And that inadequacy just makes me want to go and buy something new. Luckily Dyad is out this week…

Of course, beyond all Dyad‘s glorious technicolour synaesthesia there will be a game that I’m monumentally shit at… but damn I’ll look pretty while I’m being shit!

The Temptation of Spelunky

A bit of a slow week for me, gaming-wise; Ubisoft have been resolute in their claims that nothing is wrong with the Assassin’s Creed II Uplay service, and none of their suggestions have helped me claim my final mission of the game. So I reckon I’ll give them a fortnight to try and sort something out before dismissing the game as Completed.

I’ve been pottering around with Child of Eden most nights, just trying to brute-force my way into some additional Achievements. I finally cracked the Evolution Archive on the Hard difficulty setting, though it was a close-run thing; I seem completely unable to handle the speed of the incoming enemy fire during the phoenix stage of the boss fight, and I’m buggered if I know how I’m going to gold-star that level (on Hard or Normal). But I’m up to 400GS for that game now, with my Resolution‘s target of 500GS well in sight.

Today, though, found me in a mopey kind of mood. I didn’t want to return to Eden, I’m too scared to practise the boss rush in Skyward Sword, and – despite loading Perfect Dark Zero and watched the superlative opening FMV – couldn’t face that, either. I paired up with a random for the sole online Kinect Adventures Achievement, which inspired me to look at some other games that need some work… but after giving both of the 360’s Geometry Wars games a bash, and been staggered by the poor voice acting in Ninety Nine Nights, I decided to fire up Luxor 2 for the first time in ages… and there I stayed for the rest of the day, grinding out a handful of levels. Only six more levels before I get another Achievement in that, and another five levels for more GamerScore… but it’s getting much, much tougher now, and exploiting the gamesave feature is genuinely nerve-wracking; several times now I’ve made poor calls (with hindsight) that have left me fighting to recover.

But the big game – kinda, sorta – of the week is Spelunky. Now, let me make one thing clear from the outset: I’ve not bought Spelunky (yet), but that doesn’t stop me from being head-over-heels in love with what it is. With what it does. With how it unashamedly brutalises all who choose to play her. The random level generation and deep mechanics, in conjunction with its rich visual lexicon, are a joy to behold; the difficulty cliff and unrepentant intolerance for mistakes is absolutely charming. Giant Bomb’s Quick Look had me giggling away, with back-to-back yelps and sighs of “I fucking hate this game” / “I fucking love this game” warming the blackened areas of my heart. And the demo agrees with everything anyone has said about the game: it’s cruel. It’s vicious. It’s brilliant.

And yet… I’m not sure I’m going to buy it.

As I’ve mentioned before, The List weighs heavy on my psyche, and Spelunky – with it’s chance-influenced Achievements and demand for devotion – would undoubtedly be a List-dweller. And I like enough of what I’ve already played to want to be able to play the game well – even really well – but that would take an almost obsessive amount of time… time which I don’t really have. Time which should be spent becoming better at F-Zero GX, or Metroid Prime, or Geometry Wars… because these are all games I love too, and games that I want to be good at.

Sadly, I don’t think there’s enough room in my life for Spelunky… at the moment…

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