• Reading time:1 mins read

There’s this mission in Fable, where I’m supposed to rescue a kid from a cave filled with monsters. I tried twice to beat it. It wasn’t any fun at all. I mean, I really did not enjoy it. The second time I nearly did finish, but I died again. The third time, which I attempted just today, I succeeded — but then I failed anyway because the kid I was supposed to protect got killed somehow. When I failed, I figured, ah, well. So I failed it. At least I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.


So. I was forced to start again.

Finally I completed the quest effectively. I went back to the guild and leveled-up. I went back to town. I bought a few items. I checked on my wife.


I… I tried loading the last autosave. It was was just before that quest, again.

I’m… about to kill something.

I certainly don’t feel compelled to continue playing.

The Focal Point

  • Reading time:4 mins read

It seems to me that the distinction here between the “big” and the “small” is one of focus. And I think that’s what made me think of B-games.

Silent Hill 2, Ico, and Shenmue are all very small games in the sense that they each consist of really one key theme, or concept — with maybe a related secondary theme, that helps to flesh out and color the primary one.

Further, each game is mechanically, substantially, practically designed so as to illustrate the theme at hand as well as possible. The games don’t always succeed; there are often silly elements present for no good reason. Some of the mechanics aren’t thought-through or implemented as well as they might be. The intent is there, though.

Ico is about Yorda, and the intent to create affection, a protective impulse for her. The game is designed in order to do that, without any distraction. There is no life meter because it’s not about life and death. You can die if you do something retarded, like jump from ten stories up, but that’s just there to keep the player from doing something retarded and to make the world feel more believable. What genius there is in the game is in what it chooses to omit, in order to make its point.

Silent Hill 2 is about James’s emotional state; the entire game is a dive into his subconscious, into his guilt and sorrow and his inability to let go. Everything — well, nearly everything — exists as an ingredient for exploring this: the monsters, the level construction, the imagery. Even the way the game determines the ending is tied into what the player focuses on; how he or she has, intentionally or not, chosen to narrate the game and thereby illustrate the details of James’s condition, through his or her behaviour. There are a bunch of issues with the practical implementation (particularly in the actual moment-to-moment details of gameplay), that threaten to get in the way. Ultimately they don’t occlude the underlying design, though.

Shenmue exists to illustrate the mundane beauty of Being. That life is in the moments, not in the goals. Some people complain that the game is boring; those same people probably wouldn’t think of staying up all night just to watch a sunrise. It’s almost Hitchcockian in the way that, right from the start, implicit in the gameplay, the game lets the player in on something that the main character can’t even see, to try to make its point.  In a way, Ryo himself is kind of a caricature of the average singleminded teenager who would likely play Shenmue, and thereby a perfect tool for the game’s purposes. Everything in the game exists either in attempt to illustrate the simple beauties of life, or to support the plot and characters which wind through this mission — in time, perhaps, to get to the point of seeing what the game has been trying to show the player from the outset, and thereby clearly state its case.

The games feel small in the same sense that a good movie will always be too short, and a bad movie will always be too long.

Same deal with B-games. Often as not, they exist to illustrate one concept. That concept might be philosophical or emotional; mostly it has to do with a unique idea for a play mechanic, or some other gimmick. Anyway, these games don’t mess around; for well or ill, the entire game exists to try to get that central idea across. See Gyromite or Pikmin — which I do consider a B-game. Heck, see Katamari Damacy. It is effective because in the end, its entire being is focused on getting one thing across.

In contrast, games which try to please everyone (like, say, Final Fantasy) try to include something to please everyone. So they come off as unfocused. Expansive. Big. Games which exist solely to reflect some outside idea (like, say, the games based on the Lord of the Rings movies) by nature don’t really have a focal point of their own. So regardless of their craft, they tend to feel empty.

Optional behavior

  • Reading time:1 mins read

That’s a thought.

The focal point of Gradius is the Options. It always has been. They are the most uncanny element of the game. They are one of the most critical elements to success. They are what make Gradius what it is.

G5 knows this. As mentioned, it designs the controls and the power-up systems around the Options. There is also the respawning, though. Unless, for some foolheaded reason, you set the game to restart you at a checkpoint, the Options wait around for you to reclaim. They are the powerups you keep with you throughout the game, regardless of error. With the Options in hand, it’s not too difficult to get back on track. All you need are a few speed-ups and a laser. That’s not hard to earn back.

Options, for all their enigmatic charm, are the heart of Gradius as a game and a series. G5 is the first game, though, to notice that; to be entirely built around them. At least, so far as I am aware.

I intend to dwell on this for a while.

Ultima disappointment

  • Reading time:8 mins read

Gradius V has now arrived.

It is, of course, terrific. I could go into detail. Instead, I ask:


I could have sworn it was there at E3, last year. Now player two just steers a red-tinged Vic clone.



Otherwise, all is good.


Here are some things from an IM conversation with Shep over the evening:

Gradius V is really, really good. It’s pretty hard. It’s the kind of hard where you get a little further every time, though.

It’s also got a lot of… details. I mean. You can set two different kinds of respawn behavior, in the options. The default is Life Force style. You can also set it to go back and restart at checkpoints, though, as in the other Gradius games. If you really want to.

If you get your ship fully sped-up, it nowhere near as too-fast as in past games. And then it cycles back. If you want to slow down, you just get another capsule and select it again, to reset.

Also. You don’t need your shield to be depleted entirely, to activate a new one. This is actually helpful.

The game looks like Ikaruga, stylistically. You can tell they just dumped everything they learned about rendering a 3D 2D shooter into this.

It also, though… incorporates some elements of Ikaruga’s decoration. Along with all of the Gradius and Life Force stuff. Subtle things.

Like the tube that the player’s ship flies out of, as Ikaruga begins. I swear that’s in the background somewhere.

When you play for long enough, or maybe when you get far enough, or when you reach a high enough score (I’m not sure which), you unlock more credits. To start with. Much as in Ikaruga.

There is a little Bangai-O influence in here. Mostly with how chaotic it can get, and the way the options work now.

The remixes of old Gradius and Life Force tunes somehow make them sound majestic. Epic. Something from a big space opera. That’s part of the whole tone the game tries to capture. This elegant… space thing. Even the font on the side of the DVD case looks like the one used in the logo for The Last Startighter Starfighter.

After three or four tries (and after having already practiced all last E3), I managed to improve enough to beat the first level on one life. I’ve discovered if you can power up the Viper to full strength by the beginning of level two, you should have few problems for a while. If not — well. It’s not impossible, like other Gradius games. It’s just much tougher. Treasure manages to always leave leeway — some desperate means to get through a situation, even if you’ve no real means to protect yourself.

So far.

Limeade! BRB

Smiley: I want Limeade.

Actually. The boss of level four — I blew two credits on it when I went in with full power (and still had all of the options for the subsequent lives). Then I went back and beat it without a single power-up. Not even a speed-up.

It’s. I really like the balance here.

Smiley: Whrr? That… didn’t used to happen in the old games. Dying was a pretty big deal.

I know. It’s been a real torture in past games. Now it’s just… very bothersome. It makes the game much more hair-raising. You have to try that much harder.

limeade! brb

Smiley: Now you’re just taunting me.

The game does similarly. I mean. It has fun with the player. In that virtuosic, subconsciously self-aware Treasure way.

In round three, three-quarters of the way through the level, you blast a hole in the floor and start scrolling down. You know that boss-thing from Gradius, that pops up at the end of every level? One of those starts chasing you down the snaking corridor, shooting all the while. You need to either aim your options to shoot behind and above you, to hit it while you’re running away and dodging its shots and trying not to get crushed against the walls, or you need to wedge yourself through a corner and behind it, so it passes you. Before you’re done, another one appears. Then another. And then you’re done with that section. You start to scroll to the right. You shoot your way through a few barriers. Now you’re in a narrow corridor, with very little space to move around. And another one of those boss-things starts to hurtle right at you, from the right side of the screen, spinning as it goes. Then another. Then another. And another. And another. And another. If you’re fully powered-up, you can blow up each one an instant before it collides with you. Otherwise, you need to duck into any crevices you can find or somehow time it to slip past as they spin.

It’s… just toying with you.

At one point, you go through a time warp and meet the Vic Viper from some earlier Gradius game and you have to help it defeat an older boss. [EDIT: Actually, that’s not so. After beating level seven, it becomes clear what’s going on.] After that comes a huge sequence of boss battles. One after another. There’s another stage where it calmly throws an entire screen full of asteroids at you, to find a path through. And you scream.

It likes to scare the hell out of you. But. It’s Treasure. So. There’s always a way through, if you know what you’re doing. Usually more than one. They just like trying to rattle you.

As in every Gradius game since 2, there are four different power-up schemes. All of the facets except for the Options one are more or less standard, across the board. One scheme will have rear shot; another will have double. One will have this kind of missile, one will have that. The factor that all of these are balanced around, however, is the options: how the options behave. And rightly so, since they’re a big part of what makes Gradius what it is.

The first scheme is a the classic one. The options just follow you as normal. If you hold R1, they freeze in place, relative to your ship. Easy enough.

The third scheme causes the options to line up vertically, above and below you. When you press R1, you pull them in or stretch them out.

The fourth one allows you to gyrate the options quickly around the axis of the Viper. When you have the laser, this is particularly interesting to witness.

The second scheme is the scheme; the scheme which makes Gradius V what it is. Namely, it lets you aim the options. By default, they shoot forward; when you hold R1, then press a direction on the D-pad, you swoop the options’ beam in that direction. When you let go of R1, the beam stays fixed. It’s… kind of like Forgotten Worlds. You can aim them in any angle. And. Most levels are designed around you doing this constantly.

Now. There’s only one kind of laser. The only other things which really change, from scheme to scheme, are the bomb and the double shot. And, again, they change according to the option behavior. In scheme 2, clearly, you have no need for a standard double shot, since you can just aim the options wherever. Instead, you have a rear gun. Of course, this means when you aim the options… you get a lot of bullets. Because the options have the double-shot as well…

Scheme 1 is the “classic Gradius” scheme. Scheme 2 is the G5 scheme, essentially. Scheme 3 is for tacticians, who want to precisely control where they’re putting what shots. Scheme 4 is kind of the opposite. It’s for going nuts.

And. Actually. More than the other Gradius games I’ve played, this game does seem designed specifically to allow any of these approaches. Even if the second one is the one it’s really made for, you can still come at it with any of the above strategies. And heck, again, you can even set it to the old style of respawning, using checkpoints, if you want to go all the way with the “classic Gradius” layout.

It’s a very flexible game, in that Treasure way: amenable to, and understanding of, the different ways people go at material like this.
Depending on your approach, the challenge will be a little different.

It really took someone with a bit of distance to dissect the series and put it back together again, to make it everything that it could be but never quite was (with one exception). Mostly, fun. Focused. And yes, majestic.

“‘Chicken-chaser’? Does that mean you… chase chickens?”

  • Reading time:2 mins read

I just got Fable.

Why the fuck is there a top-level menu item to watch commercials for other, unrelated games published by Microsoft? I mean. Could they not have used that disc space for something more constructive?

I feel slightly dirty for having witnessed this.


I actually am enjoying the hell out of this, even if it’s not what I expected. It’s not even close. I was waiting for a cross between Shenmue and Morrowind. That sounded like the original concept for the game, anyway. Now it’s more like the offspring of Zelda and The Sims.

It sure ain’t the revolutionary leap it was touted as. It has a lot of charm, though. Even if the save system is bothersome, and I CAN’T GET THE DAMNED GOD-VOICE TO SHUT UP.

If the game were to just leave me alone and let me do my own thing without badgering me like, uh, any recent version of Zelda, I would have little problem with it. From what I’ve seen. Even its dumb videogamey qualities (the chests littered around the game world) seem on some level deliberate. If the game were to take itself seriously, I might not feel the same way. The tone is just what’s needed, though, to make it work in the form it is.

This evening, as I was pouring virtual beer into a virtual barmaid, in real life a terror-soaked voice echoed from down the street: “HELP! OH GOD, HELP! CALL THE POLICE! SOMEBODY! HELP ME PLEASE! SAVE ME! OH GOD! POLICE!” And. So on.

This was followed by another voice: “What the FUCK‘s your problem, huh?” And a smacking sound.

Then. Nothing.

Several minutes later, we heard a series of loud noises. Noises I have trouble finding words for. They sounded like the midway between a buzz-saw and someone sucking ice cream through a straw.

I don’t know what connection, if any, exists between the above events.


I just realized why the music so made me think of Danny Elfman — to the point where I was constantly tempted to mutter “something’s up with Jack/something’s up with Jack…”.

It’s because the music is written by Danny Elfman.

I, uh, had forgotten that.

Chilled Pain

  • Reading time:2 mins read

Where did Henry’s bottle of white wine go?

It vanished around the time I picked up the rusty axe.

I… never even got a chance to use it. I was saving it for a special occasion.

I notice that, contrary to expectation, I actually don’t mind the “item box” mechanism in this game. It makes sense, within the game’s format. Every hole you encounter is akin to a save point; it’s just that when you warp back to your room to save, you have other tasks to attend to; things to check on, things to put into and take out of the chest, things to reference. It’s a bit of a vacation, both for Henry and for the player. Much as how in Morrowind I dump all of the tools I know I won’t need for my upcoming task into some corner of my stolen house, if I know I don’t need three golf clubs and several clips of ammo, and I figure I won’t need all of these puzzle panels anytime soon, I can just dump them in the room and cut down on the clutter; free them from my mind.

This stands in contrast to the previous games, where the player is forced to continually carry a huge inventory of random objects, wondering when the game will demand they be put to use. It somehow feels more organic this way. Especially since, hell, you’ve got the room there to hold your crap. It’s like your own pocket dimension. Why not use it to your advantage, instead of lugging everything with you?

I also enjoy the logic of the game’s puzzles, so far. They’re kind of contrived, yes. Yet they rely entirely on the logic of what has already been established. And again, they help to tie the Room into the game as a more advanced concept than as just a save point.

I. Was going to say something else. I can’t remember. (EDIT: It was that the game is structured such that the player doesn’t really need to juggle items, to keep everything in inventory that he wants or needs. There’s no inventory management. The mechanic is more a convenience than anything.)

The game has been referencing Rear Window continually. However, Henry just now began to notice the parallel himself. This strikes me as terrific.


  • Reading time:4 mins read

My reluctance to throw things away — my propensity to collect: it has to do with evidence. Evidence to whom; to myself? Evidence of the links between the world within me and that without. Evidence that the things I know of did, at least once, exist. Once those physical tokens are gone, there is no more certainty. I can’t be sure of anything anymore.

I have played the first hour of Silent Hill 4: The Room. Yes, it arrived today (alongside Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda); I am not allowed to play much further until all accountable women have returned to roost.

Nevertheless. The game is supposed to have been principally inspired by Being John Malkovich. That is quickly obvious, now that I have the chance to inspect it more well than before. This knowledge also offers some possible, if incomplete, clues regarding just what’s happening in the game.

Before the opening credits disseminate (another addition to the series, and not an unwelcome one), the game provides a short introduction in the first-person perspective that will later be common to scenes transpiring in The Room in question. In this sequence, however, the room is different: bloodied, rusted over, dirty, abandoned-looking; it resembles the “dark world” from the earlier Silent Hill games. Henry, the main character, is understandably surprised — or, should I say, alarmed. He does not seem to recognize anything. He also, I noticed, fails to cast a reflection in the picture frames scattered around his apartment — frames which reflect everything else around him. I pinpointed this as intentional, especially given that only minutes later, once the credits play and Henry wakes up again in a “normal” version of his bedroom, he no longer seems at all confused by the room’s (clean, yet otherwise mostly-identical) furnishings.

Henry still does not have a reflection, however. In cutscenes, he does; just not in the game proper.

So. Never mind that.

The people on the street outside the window walk like robots. Most of them wear the exact same clothes, and walk in synchronization. A polygonal edge to the hole behind the cabinet flickers into and out of existence as the camera rotates past it. The effect is hard to ignore, given the size of the area in question, its prominent location, and how important this hole is supposed to be.

The soundtrack comes on a separate disc, in a little paper sleeve. Luckily, it does slide easily into the game case. Still, considering that the previous game in the series made space for its soundtrack by default, this all could have been a little prettier.

Although I yet again am not allowed to remap the controls at will, at least the default scheme works for me. For some reason, as minor as the changes were from the previous games, I had real problems playing Silent Hill 3 with any of its predesigned setups. Everything felt like it was in the wrong place; it made me feel a little ill, even. Strange, the psychological effect of control design. I wonder if it could be put to real use, rather than ignored or made as invisible (or as “realistic”) as possible, as are the current strategies.

There’s… something here. Maybe.

Tonally, the game reminds me more of Silent Hill 2 than of the other two. This is not a bad thing. Perhaps it is an intentional thing, even. It also feels tangibly different — more like a mystery than a horror story — and is so far intriguing in that.

EDIT: Naoto Ohshima is involved again, as a camera programmer. I noticed his name flash by in the credits to the first Silent Hill, I believe as some kind of graphics programmer; did he do anything in the middle two games?

Artoon is owned by Konami now, yes? Or involved with them somehow?

EDIT 2: And I like the way the camera works. Mostly. I don’t think I’ve seen quite this technique before.

KOF: Maximum Impact (PS2/SNK Playmore)

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by tim rogers [don’t capitalize my name, please]
red text by [name redacted]
green text by tim rogers
teal text by [name redacted]

Yeah… I don’t know what happened here.

King of Fighters was a union of Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting; there were other characters from other places, to be sure, and there were plenty of new ones. [Here, you cut out my explanation that in KOF: Maximum Impact, Geese Howard is running for President of the United States. There are political posters and everything.] [Yeah, I liked that part. You took too long to get to the following sentence, though.] The first thing King of Fighters did right was remove the damn stupid plane-switching and the god-forsaken nausea-inducing zooming. This spirit has carried the series into the present with a vigor that only fans previously known as “hardcore” could appreciate: each new game in the series subtracts one unnecessary formerly-experimental element for each new feature it adds. [clue 1b]

( Continue reading at Insert Credit )