Category Archives: The Android’s Liberal Arts Degree (Meta/Critical)

Guest Post: On Being a ‘Girl Gamer’

Today’s guest post is a bit of an introspective one. I feel fortunate because the gaming community has been 99% wonderful to me in the many years I have spent in it, but it’s very important to see other perspectives as well, so here are some thoughts from someone with different experiences.

On Being a ‘Girl Gamer’

That’s right, you caught me; I’m a gamer, and I’m also a girl. The world of a ‘girl gamer’ is one fraught with stereotypes and misconceptions, but I’m here to assure you that I don’t just play games to impress the boys, and my game collection (totalling over two hundred titles across eight gaming platforms) contains a lot more variety than just some kids’ games and The Sims.

When I tell people I’m a gamer, I’m almost always met with doubt. When I went into my local game store to buy Grand Theft Auto V last year, the male cashier asked me if I would be more comfortable playing Mario Kart instead. He was serious.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a night of Mario Kart with my mates – but you don’t have to be a woman to get a kick out of using a mushroom power-up to speed over the finish line, just as you don’t have to be a man to enjoy speeding away from the cops or shooting up the streets in GTA.

On countless occasions I have been directed away from ‘manly’ games to more casual, ‘girly’ gaming experiences like Mario Kart, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro or Just Dance. The problem doesn’t lie in these games, each of which I enjoy in their own right; the problem lies in the idea that I am not allowed to also enjoy GTA, Call of Duty or Gears of War.

Why are some games considered ‘not suitable’ for a female audience by many of the males who play them? Is it the realistic graphics of blood and gore? The multi-faceted narratives? The course language, sexual references and drug use? All I know is that I am considered less welcome in FPS multiplayer than the twelve-year-old boys once the other players realise they’re being taken down by a girl with a gun.

Somehow this attitude seems to only exist to this extent within the gaming community. Society has had a lot more time to get used to mediums like novels and movies, and I can only assume that this is the reason nobody has ever told me to put down a Stephen King novel because its content is too horrific for my simple female mind.

Art by Irishhips at DeviantArt
Art by Irishhips at DeviantArt

I feel like we are perhaps on the cusp of a similar shift in the gaming community. Two of the most incredible game releases last year—Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us—have taken wonderfully three-dimensional, strong female characters and placed them inside FPS games. These characters are not without their faults, with Elizabeth sometimes acting like she is merely Booker’s assistant and with the AI in The Last of Us making female characters seem rather useless at times, but these attempts to show women surviving and thriving in shoot-‘em-up environments are definitely a step in the right direction. Perhaps if we get to see virtual women holding their own in-game, the wider gaming community will realise that real women are a little bit tougher than everyone seems to think.

However, recent events, such as the Assassin’s Creed Unity debacle during E3 2014, didn’t make gamers feel particularly united. With comments that it would have taken too much work to include female multiplayer characters, it was easy to feel like an unimportant member of the franchise’s fan base. Ubisoft’s follow-up comments about striving to incorporate diversity in Assassin’s Creed games felt somewhat hollow considering their only playable female character so far has been in Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, a game originally released exclusively on the PlayStation Vita. I had hoped the game’s success, and subsequent re-release on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, would have encouraged further inclusion of female characters in future instalments, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

This situation demonstrated an obvious step backwards by a developer regarding the ongoing endeavour to represent women as capable, strong characters in action games, but there was comfort in the consequential uproar from gamers of all genders. The reaction suggested that diverse representation—not just of gender, but of all facets of human varience—is something that at least some members of the gaming community are striving for and will fight for.

Today’s post was brought to you by writer Alayna Cole, who can also be found on twitter at @AlaynaMCole.

The Elder Scrolls: Where Everything and Nothing is Canon

The Elder Scrolls lore community is like no other fantasy/sci-fi lore community I have ever seen.

Now partially this is due to the TES community’s tendency to spend less time talking about, say, characters or worldbuilding and a lot more time talking about gods, dreams, arcane metaphors, and giant robots powered by literal dwarven souls (which is where the Dwemer went, by the way).


Mostly, though, it’s about canon.

Canon is that word used in fandom to denote what is “official” lore. In most cases, this includes the original source material– whether it be a book, movie, TV series, comic, video game, or what-have-you– and occasionally peripheral but related spinoff material. In some cases (example: Star Wars), the “extended universe” is so vast that the canon is broken down further into “levels” of canon. And then, of course, there is the fanart and fanfiction, which is often playfully defined as “headcanon”– i.e., not approached as canon by anyone but yourself and maybe a few devotees.

The newcomer to the TES lore community, then, is promptly shocked when they ask for a source for some lore term and are directed to, say, twelve-year-old off-hand forum statements, or the archives of some nebulously-termed “semi-official” roleplay, or the drunken ramblings of a rogue ex-dev.

That’s because Elder Scrolls fans play loosely with canon. Really loosely.

Basically, if it’s good, unique, and fits, it’s essentially canon.

Talos is only scratching the surface.
Talos is only scratching the surface.

What do I mean by “fits”? Well, it’s got to be creative and fanciful. Most diehard fans will tell you that it all sort of winds back to Michael Kirkbride, who wrote a lot of really weird stuff for Morrowind (see: The 36 Lessons of Vivec) and, who due to his enthuisasm for the series and the fact that he has never quite gone away despite leaving Bethesda long ago, has become the sort of unofficial arbitrator of TES lore. This means that statements he made, even after leaving the company, are usually considered canon. This means that statements by fans that he simply likes are often considered canon. And in a truly respectful nod to its community, Bethesda often listens to this community and “canon” as they work on their games. A term called “monkey truth” arose to describe this unusual relationship: we’re all just monkeys playing around in Tamriel (or Tam! RUGH! as we call it in monkeyspeak), but sometimes we collectively come up with something great (and usually Kirkbridian in style) that we all realize rises above simple fanfiction.

The cult of the monkey truth has crystallized so much that monkey truth is not only considered valid lore, it is sometimes placed above the acutal in-game lore.

As an example, the province of Cyrodiil was long deemed a thick jungle before Bethesda retconned this in the game Oblivion and made it a picturesque English meadowland. Michael Kirkbride (or MK) wrote a bit of fanlore that said Talos transformed it to be this way to show his love for his people. This was then accepted as the new canon by the fans, and, by the way, made it into Skyrim.

"Let me show you the power of Talos Stormcrown, born of the North, where my breath is long winter. I breathe now, in royalty, and reshape this land which is mine. I do this for you, Red Legions, for I love you."
“Let me show you the power of Talos Stormcrown, born of the North, where my breath is long winter. I breathe now, in royalty, and reshape this land which is mine. I do this for you, Red Legions, for I love you.”

All sorts of other monkey truths that did not make it into the games are frequently nonetheless considered to be de facto canon by the community as a whole. How much of this is okay, exactly, continues to be much debated, but the fact that the debate exists to begin with is fascinating.

Recently, MK wrote up and released a script called “C0DA“. C0DA is… difficult to read, to say the least. It’s thick with arcane lore, and anyone whose only experience with TES is through the games is going to have a horrific time trying to make heads or tails of any of it. The long and short of it, though, is that C0DA is the prologue to an open source TES universe, and MK’s way of saying that both everything and nothing is canon. This, of course, also means that C0DA itself also both is and is not canon.

What is the truth, then, and what is canon in TES lore?

Bethesda will tell you the games are the lore. But when they need ideas for their next game, they’re going to look down at all the monkeys scrabbling around with dragonbreaks and dreamsleeves and memospores and they’re going to weave bits and pieces of those into their universe.

And then, much like Vivec and Talos themselves, the fans will be the ones who reshape and take control of Bethesda’s dream world.


Urban Legend Confirmed: Treasure Trove of Games in New Mexico Desert

One of the most enduring legends in the world of video games is the one stating that Atari buried millions of unsold cartridges of its failed game E.T.: The Extraterrestrial in the New Mexico desert. Between the game’s terrible reception and the video game crash of 1983, Atari wound up with more unsalvagable merchandise than they could handle.

So they buried them in the desert.

Or so the story says.

Because that’s just what it was, right? A story? An urban legend? Something whimsical we’d like to think actually happened? Something for us to dream about how, gee, wouldn’t it be neat if someone went and tried to dig these things up and find out once and for all?


As it turns out…

Someone did just that.

The story is still developing (seeing as this all went down about a half an hour ago), but for those of us who have been hearing this story for decades, this is a magical moment indeed.


Guest Post!: Valkyria Chronicles

Because Mister Adequate is busy being sick, and Pike is busy working on a writing project, we are proud to present you with a guest post from one of our very good friends. Enjoy!

I met Mister Adequate last year, and one of the first conversations we had was about the true definitions of the terms “strategy” and “tactical.” These were both terms he was intimately familiar with, and terms which I have no doubt I will use incorrectly throughout the rest of this article.

Title card

Valkyria Chronicles is the first installment in the series of the same name. Categorising this game is a challenge, as it seems to blend elements from JRPG, turn-based strategy and third-person shooter. The resulting mix is an enjoyable, anime-styled tale of a misfit group of soldiers who turn the tide in a war. For a game that is almost 5-years-old, Valkyria Chronicles has not only aged gracefully, but is also an example of how to innovate in an industry that, at times, feels very “samey.”

Plot-wise, Valkyria Chronicles is just a colourful reimagining of World War II. Set in the supposedly-fictional-but-way-too-obviously-inspired Europa, the game concerns a massive conflict (the Second Great War, would you believe?) between the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation, a coalition of allied democracies.

The similarities are painfully obvious, but Valkyira Chronicles makes up for it in other areas. Our heroes are from peaceful and independent Gallia, a little nation rich in “Ragnite,” a material highly prized for its uses in medicine, technology and armaments. The Empire invades and Gallia struggles against them – I’m sure most people can figure the plot based on tropes. It’s presented through a history book, a concept I enjoy quite strongly.

Battles and cutscenes are all played out from this menu. It would be perfect if it didn’t ask you to reconfirm your action every freaking time you try to start a scene or battle.
Battles and cutscenes are all played out from this menu. It would be perfect if it didn’t ask you to reconfirm your action every freaking time you try to start a scene or battle.

The cast is mostly comprised of stereotypes, all the way from protagonist Welkin Gunther (idyllic country boy rises to the challenge) to the minor squadmate Marina Wulfstan, whose lone-wolf sniper personality is textbook – and the allusion in her name doesn’t go amiss either. The characters are fun and light-hearted, and Valkyria Chronicles goes out of its way to develop the backstories of the squadmates you can recruit in an attempt to get you to care whether they live or die. Some of the racism-related discourse is actually decent quality too, but it tends on the didactic side and it’s almost too in-your-face at times.

The true value in Valkyria Chronicles, the thing that really sets it apart from its rivals, is in the battle-system. Blending turn-based strategy and real-time shooting sounds confusing (explaining it is going to be an absolute bitch), and while it is hardly perfect, it works.

This is the command map. Pick your unit and send them alone into the firing line, you monsters.
This is the command map. Pick your unit and send them alone into the firing line, you monsters.

You’re given a set number of units (of varying skills and abilities) as well as a set number of moves. Moving units involves a transition into third-person and real-time, where enemy units will open fire, you can move (up to the extent of your movement points), take fire and attack. Multiple units can be moved on your turn, or you can move the same one multiple times.

After your turn, the enemy follows the same process, giving your units the chance to automatically return fire as the enemy approaches. Battles are simple “capture the flag” type affairs for the most part. It invokes feelings of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, if Fire Emblem had guns and heavy-handed allusions to World War II and Advance Wars had units you were meant to give a shit about. It really is one of those things you have to see to understand.

Conveniently, I have a link. And yes, it takes 2 minutes for the battle to begin; Valkyria Chronicles isn’t for those who love fast-paced action.

It is far from perfect, however. Of the five classes, you only really need one – the Scout – with occasional assistance from the anti-tank Lancer units. After each battle you’re given a ranking. The only way to achieve a decent rating is to throw strategy to the wind and simply rush the objective, hardly an exercise in effective tactical warfare and one that punishes the careful commander.

At the end of the day, Valkyria Chronicles tries something new and half-succeeds. Even though it was far from a commercial hit, it isn’t a surprise two sequels have been made – though Sega really dropped the ball by releasing both on PSP and only one outside of Japan. Valkyria Chronicles is not only decent, it is a shining example of an attempt at something creative. While most innovation in the current day centres around narrative (as if injecting narrative into any game automatically improves it), it’s nice to see that some people are trying to do interesting things with gameplay too.

Today’s post was brought to you by the immensely talented and lovely Dakota “Jiro” Barker, who can also be seen at his own gaming news blog. Don’t forget to imagine everything in an Aussie accent when you read!

On Morrowind and Non-Western Fantasy Cultures

I hear you groaning, dear reader.  “Another Morrowind post?  Pike, you need to start playing something else!”

And perhaps I do, but not before I write up a little treatise on it and what makes it so special.  I mean, it’s far from a perfect game.  The actual gameplay itself, in fact, is somewhat flawed.  It’s certainly not bad, but it’s not astounding, either, and the combat system is almost universally criticized.  Just what is it about Morrowind, then, that draws you in?

For me, it’s the in-game culture.  You see, while other people bandy around the idea of less-generic fantasy, Morrowind pulled this off with aplomb ten years ago.

It’s really an anomaly not just among the general fantasy genre but within the Elder Scrolls series itself.  The first two games in the TES main series were called Arena and Daggerfall, and although they both achieved cult classic status there’s also a reason why most people today haven’t heard of them, so don’t feel too bad if you haven’t, either.  Anyways, these two games set the general tone for the series as a very Dungeons and Dragons inspired medieval fantasy.  Arena took you across the entire continent of Tamriel and every province could have been lifted directly from Lord of the Rings, if Lord of the Rings had been built in Minecraft.  Daggerfall limited you to a smaller area (in theory, anyway– its random map generation was nearly limitless), but the overall style was still the same.

Then Morrowind came along.  Morrowind is populated by Dark Elves, or Dunmer in their native tongue.  And that is where all similarities to traditional western fantasy end.


Morrowind is not medieval Europe.  Morrowind was actually inspired by Egyptian, early Japanese, and Middle Eastern cultures.  And the keyword “inspired” is very important, here, because the developers and artists didn’t just take those cultures and transplant them, wholesale, into Tamriel.  Instead, they used these cultures as inspirations to create their own very vibrant land and people.

Let’s start out by talking about the world.  There are no horses in Morrowind.  There are, however, giant dinosaur things which are used as pack animals.

Say hello to a Guar.
Say hello to a Guar.

There are also flying reptile things

Lots of them.

And gigantic fleas the size of elephants (or larger) which are used to travel from town to town.

d11IlInsects are actually a major part of society here on Vvardenfell, where various giant bugs are farmed and ranched.  The are no sheep or cows here, only giant floating jellyfish.

morrowind_small_netchbull-1Now let’s talk about the inhabitants of this strange land.  Traditionally the Dunmer are nomads who live in yurts.  Yurts.  There are major characters of this game who spend the entire game quite happily living in a yurt.  When was the last time you saw that in a fantasy game?  They dress like nomads do, too, wearing different types of clothing depending on where their tribe is currently located, based on what resources are available to them.  There has been a shift from this traditional style of living toward living in buildings in cities like the Empire does, and the traditional nomadic Dunmer– called Ashlanders– are not particularly happy about this development.  Still, these city-dwelling elves don’t live in anything that we would remotely identify as a traditional house.  They live in these:

balmora-thieves-hideoutOr these:

Ald'ruhn_Fighters_GuildOr these:

vvard_big_tel_moraSo we’ve got a bunch of elves who ranch bugs and wear clothes made out of insect shells and giant jellyfish leather wandering around and living in houses that may be inspired by Middle Eastern or Asian architecture or may also be a giant mushroom.  This just gets better and better, doesn’t it?

Let’s keep going.  Traditionally the Dunmer worship the Daedra, powerful demonlike gods whom most of civilized Tamriel won’t touch with a ten-foot-pole.  But for the past several generations the citygoing Dunmer have been worshipping three “mortal” gods who make up what is called the Tribunal.  The Tribunal consists of a powermad and ruthlessly intelligent woman named Almalexia, a reclusive wizard building himself a literal clockwork universe named Sotha Sil, and finally Vivec, a bi-colored warrior-poet who may or may not be both male and female at the same time.

Needless to say, they’re a pretty fantastic trio.

They’re watching you, scum.

Much like the Dunmer themselves, the gods are neither good nor bad.  They exist in a constant state of gray between the two extremes and they are capable of much good and also much evil.  The Morrowind universe is not black and white.  The Dunmer are intensely xenophobic.  Slavery is legal.  So is assassination.  And yet, as you play the game, you come to care for this place and its people anyway.  And that, readers, is the true triumph of Morrowind and how its very non-standard and non-Western culture is used as a fantastic narrative device.  Your character isn’t the only one to come into this world as an outlander– you do, too.  Then as you come to know and love the land and its inhabitants, you can decide whether or not to save it.  You learn about this strange new world as you go along and then travel through an arc much as your character does.  Would this have worked out as well in a more traditional fantasy setting?  Maybe, or maybe not.  I’m leaning toward the “maybe not”.

Unfortunately, although the series continues, The Elder Scrolls has yet to achieve another setting as intensely unique as Morrowind’s.  Although originally established as a rainforest, Talos conveniently showed up and turned Cyrodiil into an idealized medieval England just in time for Oblivion.  (This is what that guy in Whiterun is always yelling about, by the way.)  While this is a neat piece of lore, it does mean that Oblivion was largely set in a very traditional fantasy setting.  The next game, Skyrim, went for something slightly more exotic by making everything Nordic-themed, but that is still an overall very “safe” Western setting.  The upcoming TES Online has the potential to do some interesting things with provinces like Elsweyr and Hammerfell, but seeing as they’ve already retconned out the aforementioned Talos story and cemented Cyrodiil as an Idealized Medieval England simulator regardless of time period, my hopes for anything beyond fleeting oddities aren’t very high.

So here I am, waiting.  Waiting for more elves that live in yurts and adorn themselves with tribal tattoos and crazy piercings.  Waiting for more games that take their fantasy out of Western Europe, and not just for one throwaway setting or expansion pack.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in Vvardenfell.


A Re-examination of the so-called ‘Tyranny’ of Dr. Ivo Robotnik

Perhaps one of the best-known faces among gaming’s antagonists, Dr. Ivo Robotnik (aka Dr. Eggman or just Eggman) is the longtime foe of Sonic the Hedgehog and has grown famous for his lust for the Chaos Emeralds and the quest to roboticize all living things within his empire.

Or that’s the Blue Blur’s official line, anyway. If you are inclined to put aside your prejudices and overlook the propaganda, I’d like to highlight what I believe to be the truth behind these lies, which can be demonstrated by facts that no amount of Sonic’s lies can obscure.

First, and most simply, let us consider the sheer endurance of Robotnik. No matter how many times Sonic’s gang of insurgents sabotages his plans, destroying an absolutely staggering array of material (including several vast space stations) he always returns. Some would say this proves his lust for power; I say it proves his resilience and his capability. How many of us could go through even one loss on the scale of Robotnik’s and recover, let alone do so over and over? He is clearly an unrivaled master of planning and forethought if he always has the necessary resources to rebuild, and in these troubled times I think we can agree someone with a proven record of excellence in planning.

Nothing to lose but your chains!
Nothing to lose but your chains!

This leads into the greater thrust of my thesis though. Planning is only part of the story and it can be used to plot evil as well as good. What does Dr. Robotnik use his considerable talents for? Sonic’s cadre claims it is to enslave, which is a handy fiction, but let’s look at who is making that claim. Sonic the Hedgehog is “the fastest thing alive”, capable of unbelievable feats of speed and dexterity. He is, in point of fact, uniquely fast and strong. Few things can even pose a threat for him, and only Robotnik’s most dedicated and specialized units such as Metal Sonic have ever slowed him down. Robotnik, meanwhile, gives us a great clue in his name, whether it’s his true name or a nom de guerre. The term ‘Robotnik’ is a word meaning “Worker” in the Polish, Czech, and Slovak languages. Indeed several underground papers in Polish history have borne the name “Robotnik”, and in 19th century Czech areas, peasants revolting against landowners were referred to as “Robotniks”. Does this by itself prove anything? No; but it does help in providing an understanding of Dr. Robotnik’s operations and motives.

Dr. Robotnik’s roboticization policies are intended to convert the animal population of Möbius into robotic equivalents. This is portrayed as being a truly evil act – but who is responsible for this portrayal, and what do they gain from it? The answer is Sonic, and what he stands to gain is the preservation of his status as an elite. This is the crux of my argument, so let’s make sure it’s properly outlined. Sonic is the arch-bourgeoisie, he is capable of feats unique to any living being on Möbius, and he is special precisely because of this. A couple of his allies are also special, but they have their own unique qualities as well – Tails has two tails and can fly with them; Knuckles can punch like Vodka Drunkinski – and Sonic tolerates them only insofar as they are subservient to him and never steal his primacy in the spotlight. The other animals, the ones ‘rescued’ from Robotnik’s machines, are universally average. None of them have any outstanding qualities which we are shown. They will never be as fast as Sonic or as tough as Knuckles, or able to fly as Tails can – unless they adopt the technological power offered by Dr. Robotnik.

Robotnik’s policies are raising every animal on the planet to parity with Sonic and his cadre’s powers. They are becoming faster, stronger, and gain abilities such as flying or operating aquatically. Robotnik is a revolutionary figure who is trying to overthrow the existing order, and Sonic is a reactionary, counter-revolutionary whose sole objective is maintaining his position of primacy and privilege. Witness, for example, how animals ‘released’ from Robotnik’s exosuits are completely unharmed. They are immediately aware of their surroundings, they are in perfect physical condition, and they are evidently in no way permanently attached to those machines. It is also telling that the second they are ‘set free’ they bound away from Sonic at top speed – except those who have no such luxury, because Sonic destroys a squirrel’s flight units while it is several thousands of feet in the air (cf. Sonic 2, Sky Chase Zone). In short Robotnik’s machinery is painless and its only purpose is to enhance the inhabitants of it. Sonic cannot stand for this.

Sonic also enforces patriarchal values and denies the agency of Amy.
Sonic also enforces patriarchal values and denies the agency of Amy.

Sonic (tellingly a blue creature, the traditional color of Tories and the phrase “blue-blooded”) is surely a figure of hate to these creatures, who don’t even presume to equal him, but only to exceed their own bodily limitations. He will have none of that. Only he, and to a lesser extent his biologically gifted and ideologically pure allies, may possess any form of exceptionalism. Only he may stand out from the crowd. Only he may be special. By virtue of nothing more than birth he is to be elevated and venerated and he will brook no challenge from Robotnik – the Worker, dressed in red and black, the very flag of revolution. He fights violently and campaigns tirelessly to defeat absolutely any and all technological developments made by Robotnik and to keep Möbius in its pastoral state. This is a handy secondary effect of his oppressive crusade, as it allows him to paint his side as the one supporting a pristine, natural world opposed to the artificiality and machinery of Robotnik’s. These is never any examination on Sonic’s part of why one should be inherently better than the other, never any attempt to seek an agreement with Dr. Robotnik, never any consideration that perhaps those animals are encased in machinery not by force but by choice, to enhance their own capacities and labor in a worker’s collective for the benefit of all. A final damning comparison: Robotnik seeks the Chaos Emeralds to power vast machinery, enhancing again the power of many citizens and providing who-knows-how many jobs. Sonic seeks them in order to enhance his own power, becoming even more superlatively strong and unassailable.

I hope this essay has demonstrated why the presented, official line put out by Sonic propagandists should be doubted and questioned. Robotnik may not be perfect (Though it bears mentioning he is far from paranoid – his objectives have as I said been repeatedly foiled by Sonic and he faces a constant threat from the reactionaries and their running echidnas) but he is clearly the superior moral force in this struggle, one who seeks to ensure equality not by keeping everyone equally subservient but by making them equally capable, equally free.

Missed Potential

I was recently hanging out with my friend Mike having some drinks, watching some movie (The Raid is amazing seriously go see it) and playing some games. Of course while doing this we were chatting about various things – mostly games – and we turned to stuff from back in the day that we liked, as us old-timers are prone to doing.

Something we both agreed on though was that for all the newfangled graphics and physics engines, and for all the gun games of recent years, gaming seemed poised to go down a particular path and then swerved violently away from it. Probably the best example of this path is Bushido Blade, a fighting game where you choose your character, weapon (such as the Ancient Hanzo Sledgehammer), and have at it. Thing is there are no health bars; you take swings, they take swings, and you might get one-hit killed or cripple their leg or all sorts of things. It’s ropey, because it’s an old game that never had a huge budget to begin with, but it’s honestly one of the best fighting games ever.

You know in Samurai movies when the two dudes stand facing each other for a long, long time before making a single sudden attack that decides things? Bushido Blade is the only game I’ve played where that can happen. You and your friend will be sitting there watching, circling each other, trying to feel each other out, and then there’ll be a sudden burst of violence that decides the round. It’s brilliant – and even by the time the second game came out it was abandoned in favor of health bars and too-crazy characters and so on and so forth. It was a shame, though the original is still worth popping in if you’ve got a copy.

You can also fight in a bamboo forest and chop bamboo down.
You can also fight in a bamboo forest and chop bamboo down.

But it’s emblematic of a rather broader trend – namely, the reduction in experimentation over the years. Now to be fair this is picking back up a bit again, as indie games gain more and more ways to reach people, as kickstarters let people choose the sorts of things they want to see, and as publishers see the success of games they might not typically consider salable, such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Still, in this day and age you’d think we’d have developed depth that built on the sorts of ideas Bushido Blade seeded – locational damage in a fighter for instance. Or look at the game Sentinel, which had a very ambitious conversational system where you could actually ask NPCs things in a free-form manner. Underdeveloped and ropey, again, but a thing with so much potential. Instead we get yet another Soul Calibur, yet another Tekken, yet another Call of Duty. Nothing wrong with those in their own right, just sad to see there’s so little experimentation and attempts to use computing power for anything other than better graphics.

It’s Always Harder The Second Time Around

When we’ve got done with a game, but still want to play more of the game, it’s not uncommon to go back and try and do it differently. Some games build this in in various forms, either because the game has a large random element (For example Civ IV) or thanks to a New Game Plus or the like, but in a lot of them you’ve got to find your own ways to spice things up.

The first thing you might try and do is to master the game, to 100% it, and that’s all well and good, but there’s so much more that can be tried. Interestingly it seems to go in two wildly divergent directions; either you try to find every loophole, glitch, and exploit in order to break the game completely over your knee, or conversely to impose strict conditions on yourself so you make the game more challenging. Of course we probably all try both these routes at times but it still struck me as a curious point.

Some forms of this have taken off and become more popular. There are all kinds of challenges for Final Fantasy for instance, such as No Materia runs in VII, or Nuzlocke runs in Pokemon. Me, I like to pick someone in Kaiserreich and take them to glory no matter the odds. I played a game last week where I was Britain and every other Syndicalist power in the world was gone except for the Bhartiya Commune and Mexico. It was a long, difficult fight that had to be planned carefully and executed well because the longer I took, the longer the gigantic German alliance would have to build themselves up – still, after 20 years of warfare the Red Flag flew not just over London and Calcutta but Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Washington, Ottawa, and Rome, among many others.

That Solidarity feel
That Solidarity feel

What sorts of things do you do to keep games interesting? Do you look for complete mastery, or for a real challenge? Tell us in the comments below!

A Not-So-Indie Bundle

Hey friends, Pike here.  Long time, no post… from me, anyway.  I do apologize, but writing… and of course lots of gaming… have been keeping me quite busy.

Anyhow!  Today I come bearing news that you may have already heard.  Basically, there’s a new Humble Bundle in town, and it’s a little different.  It breaks away from Humble Bundle tradition in more than one way: The games are certainly not “indie” ones, for starters, oh, and Steam and Windows are both required.

A few people are questioning the wisdom of this move.  People don’t like taking the focus away from indie games, and Mac and Linux users are certainly not impressed, either, since Humble Bundle has traditionally prided itself on offering games to users of all “major” operating systems.

As for myself, well, I see little to complain about.  It’s still cheap games, money is still going to charity (heck, you can give it all to charity if you want), and honestly with THQ in the financial trouble it is currently in, they may as well be their own charity case.

As a self-professed Linux fan the lack of Linux support does bother me a little, but ultimately if you are a Linux gamer you should probably have accepted a while ago that there are a good many games you’re going to be missing out on.  I’m not saying that this is right, necessarily, but I am saying that this is reality.  We’re getting a big ol’ bone tossed to us in the name of impending Steam support, and honestly that’s got me happy enough.  In the meantime I’m willing to dual boot in the name of vidya gaems.

So anyway, do give it a look if you haven’t already.  It’s a solid lineup and worth getting for Company of Heroes alone, not to mention the other games.

Vidya season and Mr. Adequate is mad

It’s that time of year, when the dearth of summertime videogames leaves us behind and we begin to be swamped by an increasingly heavy deluge of videogame releases over the months running up to Christmas. Mists of Pandaria, TL2, and Resi 6 just came out, soon arriving is XCOM, then there’s AssCreed III, Dishonored, Farming Simulator 2013, Halo 4, Hitman: Absolution, ZombiU, Company of Heroes 2, and a bunch of other games besides on the way. In short, it’s a busy time for folks like us – please tell us in the comments what you’re looking forward to in the coming weeks and months, and any cunning plans you have to avoid other obligations in favor of the important things, i.e. playing videogames!

But despite this deluge of delectable distractions I’m not altogether happy. No sir. Let’s take one of the games in the above list, XCOM. Now obviously anyone will be well aware that Pike and myself are tremendous fans of the series, and from what we’ve seen the new tactical game actually has a chance of being a true successor of that series, especially with things like the difficulty modifiers for NG+ runs (In fact a couple of those, such as depleting Elerium stocks, are even more hardcore than the original!) So hooray, I can’t wait until Friday so I can play!

Please mister can I have some videogames please?

Wait, Friday? Well yes, because as you may recall I live not in the glorious United Syndicates of America but in the Union of Britain. And whilst Americans typically see things released on a Tuesday, Brits instead have Fridays. This makes some sense of course; you can grab your new videogame and run home to spend all weekend playing it. In times past it was of little consequence, but the ever-increasing ubiquity of the Internet means that this sort of thing is utterly ridiculous in this day and age.

X-COM is a digitally distributed game. I’m sure there are physical copies, but who buys those for PC games anymore? No, we’ll mostly be getting the Steam version, no doubt – and yet Steam will distribute this game to people in the UK days after those in North America. If you folks can begin to see sense in that, I’d love to hear it, because I sure as hell can’t. The really weird thing is that many companies are learning you can’t get away with that anymore, because the same distribution channels opened to them by the Internet open less savory methods up as well. I want to play X-COM, I really really do, so why am I being made to wait an arbitrary few extra days? Because it seems to me that I’ll be able to get it elsewhere without needing to wait for no reason. I hadn’t intended on turning this into a treatise on piracy, but one of the lessons learned over the years is that perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to prevent piracy is to make your product as absolutely convenient as possible for people to get. The lack of paying money is only one appeal of piracy – getting what you want how and when you want it is also a huge incentive.

So, because of the no reason whatever, British fans of X-COM (A British series, I’d point out) have to wait longer to play it. If all this seems like I’m getting mad about videogames, well – I am!

I am as mad as the grumpiest cat