Archive for October, 2008

30
Oct
08

An Ode to Bullet Hell…

When people are trying to grapple with the question of whether or not video games are art, they often come up against the problem of “fun” and whether a video game needs to remain fun in order to be playable, or whether it can forsake fun briefly in order to make an artistic statement.

Bullet hell games are certainly not art, but for many people who don’t have that masochistic “challenge gamer” complex inside them, they take fun and beat it down with the gamer’s own shattered ego. I love ’em though.

They’re sometimes called “manic shooters”, but “bullet hell” seems to be a far more appropriate to me, because it summarizes both what the game looks like and how the player ends up feeling by the end of it. These games are a subgenre of scrolling shooter games, such as raiden, 1942, and the infamously parodied zero wing. Oh yeah and if you take one hit you’re fried… none of this life bar bullshit, and certainly none of this regenerating life bar bullshit.

Holy SHIT

Holy SHIT

Look at that! That’s from progear, in case you’re curious. It’s made by our beloved Capcom.

 

They’re called bullet hell because at any given time there are usually hundreds of bullets and obstacles for the player to be dodging. Often the bullets are made to fire at the player in artful patterns, such as expanding rings or strange wave like formations. They can be quite enjoyable to look at actually, even though they’re enraging as hell to play. There are a few games that fit into this genre available on consoles, and a few available on PCs, but most of these games can be found in arcades.

Because of the sheer amount of shit flying around the screen at any given moment, bullet hell games do a couple things that most shooters don’t to make it easier on the player. Firstly, they tend to make the space in which a bullet needs to hit your sprite in order to actually kill you much smaller than normal shooters. This space is called the “hitbox”, and some games even go so far as to demonstrate where the hitbox is in relationship to your little ship before the game begins. You can see the screenshot that I took above demonstrates the scale of the hitbox. I’m quite clearly overlapping with several bullets, but none are touching the hitbox. They also tend to throw the player a bone and give them some type of “bomb” attack that can only be used a few times, but is capable of clearing the screen of shots for a few seconds.

Another characteristic of bullet hell games is they tend to have very strange and complex scoring systems. I think designers realized that the people who were actually going to play these games are the type of people who have trained themselves to blink without closing their eyes. You know what I mean, score junkies. This means nothing to a casual player, but usually the game involves some type of difficult scoring combo system in order to ensure that a serious player consistently puts themselves in harm’s way in order to score big points.

If you want a challenge, and you have access to these types of games, I definitely recommend them. Consider it training for the most elegant bullet hell game ever created… Ikaruga. But more on that later…

27
Oct
08

The most awesomest boss evarrr

I had several ideas for what this next post would be about. I thought about pointing out the various ways which fallout 3 has already fallen behind fallout 2 in my heart. I’ll wait until I actually PLAY fallout 3 before I really weigh in on that though …

This post is going to be about one of the most awesome boss battles in video game history. I’ll go ahead and let you speculate. Could he be referring to some epic rpg battle? A gimmicky metal gear fight? Perhaps a knuckle busting mega man encounter? 

Nono, this is an article on Seven Force, the boss in the mineshaft level of Gunstar Heroes, for the Sega Genesis. In order to really feel how awesome this boss is, you need to play on hard or extreme difficulty mode. Although I guess if you’re really cool you were already doing that.

Firstly, Seven Force is great in the sheer numbers game of it. Name one other boss that has seven different forms. I don’t mean seven patterns or seven attacks, you literally have to defeat seven forms. The only boss that I know of that even ties that is of course… Ed the Undying. 30 nerd points and optional makeouts for whomever got that reference.

The boss is also technically excellent. It has extremely fast, yet smooth animation. It has really badass music. Oh, and it takes place flying through a mineshaft at a million miles an hour while you’re equipped with a cart that can alter gravity and grip on the ceiling. Dude!

There are no repeats of the various forms either… and each one is entirely unique on how it chooses to punish you. Some are fought on a horizontal scrolling plane and others are fought in a narrow vertical mineshaft. They also unfold in a (mostly) random order, so you never really know what you’re up against next. One of the forms is a giant mechanical gun. As far as I know Megatron can only transform into ONE other thing. Seven Force can turn into SIX more once he’s done with the ol’ gun trick. 

I’ll take a minute to sing the praises of Gunstar Heroes in general. It’s one of the finest side scrolling shoot ’em ups ever created, easily holding its ground next to things like Contra and Metal Slug. It has a huge variety of weaponry, an endless amount of on screen chaos, and the ability to do several martial arts moves in close combat. Unlike most shitty close combat moves in games like this, there are situations where you will actually consider getting closer to the baddies to dish out one really powerful throw instead of standing way across the screen and sniping them.

Oh yes, it’s two player as well. In fact, it’s one of the best two player cooperative experiences you can have with a classic game like this. Another nice feature is that when your friend sucks at it (as friends so often do), after he’s dead he can respawn by pressing start and taking half your health. This sounds like a huge burden on you, and it is, but it also means that there are strategic moments where you might consider taking the hit to your vitality in order to have one extra gun pointed at a tough boss. 

It’s available on the wii virtual console. If you have a wii and haven’t played Gunstar Heroes… ohmygod get it now. Get it and go kick Seven Force’s ass on extreme difficulty!

23
Oct
08

Directionless rambling

Okay I know I aim for relatively well thought out posts on here, but this one is going to be a medley of awesomeness. I use this site to write my opinions about many things, but this one will be nothing but a series of updates on what I’ve been mesmerized with lately. I warn you, this might be one of the geekier posts, so casual readers (and girls) don’t be afraid to turn away now.

I don’t really consider myself a puzzle gamer. I do enjoy puzzles in games, and I love adventure games with all my heart, but little flashing cubes usually can only hold my interest for so long. I discovered the Luxor series recently, which is a puzzle game series… I suppose. It’s not particularly ground breaking; it’s quite similar to Zuma, for those of you who have played that. That being said… Luxor is taking every bit of gamer in me and continually spitting in my face and calling me dumb.

The game is hard to explain, but it’s extremely stressful for a puzzle game. There’s something about the combination of the quick levels and the fact that you actually move along on a little world map, so you get the feeling that you’re constantly moving towards something, instead of simply repeating the same thing faster and faster. Luxor has some tough bits, but Luxor 2 is a huuuge step up. I was ready to come on here and talk about how much easier it is because some of the power ups are more destructive… no, you really need them. I don’t normally get that gamer rage, I tend to be calm even on the 30th attempt of something, but Luxor has enraged me several times. I recommend it, it’s challenging and it will seep into your soul … even if you don’t normally enjoy puzzle games. Give it about 10 stages… it takes a while to heat up.

Moooving on. After four years of translating, a bunch of loyal Earthbound (“Mother” in Japan) have translated the sequel to Earthbound, Mother 3, into english. It’s available on the gameboy advance. They have a romhack that you can use to get the game into our vastly superior language, as well as a translation book/guide if you prefer to play it handheld… with a book in your other hand. Some would call this morally dubious, but there really is no other way you can play Mother 3, since it’s not coming out in english normally, and Nintendo has been particularly dickish about the Mother franchise, taunting North American audiences with promise after unfulfilled promise. I’m playing it now, with a full review to come later. Check it out!

As the last (and geekiest) thing, I’ve discovered a program called “Inform”. I’m extreeemely late to the party on this one, but it’s an interactive fiction programming language. Interactive fiction is an overly elitist term for “text adventure”, but i’ve discovered that the interactive fiction crowd is a creepy bunch who actually do consider the literary merit of each text adventure they play. Whether you like text adventures or not, the cool part about Inform is that you type every line in plain english, and the program figures out how to interpret it and make it into a game. As a Computer Science student turned english student, this is so dorkily fascinating to me, since it literally uses the english language as its programming input. 

I thought this would be really weak at first, but this program has been around for a fair bit of time, and it’s quite powerful. It’s object oriented, with the program creating and manipulating each object, guessing and filling in blanks along the way. Some things are already known by the program, such as the ability to make certain rooms light and dark, or lighting up a room with a lantern, etc. Other things need to be taught to it. Again, using basic english with mostly proper english grammar you can teach the objects in the game world that you’re creating how to react to things like magnetism, fire, and even non player characters. If you have no programming experience at all, but wanna tinker with something in that field and have no knowledge of code, check it out. Who knows, you might make something really impressive. I might post one of the games I’ve made on this site later as well… we’ll see.

Alright that was terribly unfocused, but it quickly runs down the three things that have been interesting me lately. In short, everyone try Luxor; gamers, try Mother 3; programmers and English students, give Inform a shot.

21
Oct
08

“She can suck on sunlight for all I care”

The title of this post is actually a line that a character in True Blood speaks without even a hint of irony. Ooh yes, here we go.

Quickly, for those of you who aren’t connected to reality enough to be affected by the ever so viral marketing campaign, True Blood is a new show on HBO where vampires and humans coexist. In the show, vampires have just recently made themselves public, and the world is trying to figure out what exactly their rights are and if they belong in human society. The show is based on a series of mystery books by Charlaine Harris, who couldn’t look more like a romance novelist if she tried.

The first thing any viewer should know is that this show is about the sexy, misunderstood vampires. Not about the bloodsucking monsters. I realize that vampires and a strange sense of immortal fetishism always kind of go hand in hand, since in the end they usually are giving attractive young people death hickeys, but I never really got the whole “misunderstood” part of it. Maybe I don’t read enough Anne Rice. I don’t know.

In case you haven’t thought it already, it’s immediately obvious that the show is trying to address racism and homophobia through the device of vampires. This is done with absolutely no subtlety. Zeeeero. You will be reminded every couple seconds “oh yeah, they’re in Louisiana and they’re prejudiced… and they’re saying vampire but we know they mean something else subtextually”. The opening credits even have civil rights footage, just in case you didn’t figure it out. Since this is the central idea behind the show, you’d think it would be something that would develop slowly and be respectfully treated by the director. 

The other problem is that for a show that is supposedly addressing racism, the black characters on the show are hopelessly stereotyped. I was convinced early on that Tara was a parody of a sassy black girl. It was later on, when they introduced Tara’s completely over the top alcoholic mother that I realized that parodying sass runs in the family. 

So the show fails as a treatment of racism and homophobia, but that’s not all. The other big draw is the love story between Sookie, the main character, a waitress with telepathic powers, and Bill, a vampire. We quickly find out that Sookie can read everyone’s mind, except Bill’s. In a montage we are shown how Sookie can’t date guys because she can hear their awful thoughts when they’re with her, yet she somehow suppresses her mindreading when around her friends and family. She can’t hear Bill thinking “OMG show me your Rogue boobs Anna Paquin!”, so of course she falls in love with him. Once you remove the lame racism angle of “I’m datin’ a vampiyah and there ain’t nuthin’ you can do about it ma'”, you’re left with an extremely empty love story filled with much inexplicable brooding on both sides. The show also has an annoying habit of having little to no plot forwarding action for a whole episode, only to quickly smash on a lame cliffhanger ending at the end. It also looks like they’re gearing up to throw in werewolves and shapeshifters and all kinds of stuff that they’re going to try and force into the HBO lens of “serious drama”.

One more thing. I don’t really have an ear for accents. I’m generally quite bad at separating individual regions within the umbrella of a larger accent. I’m Canadian, I’ve been told I have the occasional lilt when I say things… some find that endearing. The point is I should have no concept of what a good southern and bad southern accent sound like, but the accents in True Blood are absolutely the worst I’ve ever heard since Keanu in The Devil’s Advocate.

There’s really nothing clever to the writing here. Just because it’s on HBO and people are fucking left and right doesn’t mean it becomes good writing. It’s not funny, it’s not edgy. It’s the stuff of silly romance novels, which are fine by themselves, but here it’s being paraded around with a supposedly serious message attached to it that it just doesn’t have the balls or the skill to pull off.

I was trying to think of a nice pun for a title to this piece other than “True Blood sucks”, which I have seen a few times already. While writing this, it hit me. It’s not clever or witty, and I apologize if it’s pretentious or lame, but it does sum up what I think of True Blood rather well:

True Blood lacks bite.

17
Oct
08

Street Fighter Continuity?

The following post was written by a friend of mine named James, the aforementioned friend who is the only person in the world who follows the Street Fighter story. It is completely unedited, so enjoy. This post will be edited or reposted later just so that it shows up with his name on it. Until then, any feedback can be sent to reddingmineshaft@gmail.com

Ok, so this is more a shout-out to anyone who has tried to follow the Street Fighter franchise based not only on the game, but also the story that holds it together. So I don’t wanna hear any bitchin’ about “who cares” or “what does that have to do with anything?” cause there are some people out there (the very few and proud) who like the characters as personalities and not someone who can “low kick CHAAAAAAIN into the shippu.”

As far as an actual ‘storyline’ for Street Fighter, it isn’t that easy to do. For instance some of the comics by udon and some of the endings of the characters in the separate installations don’t overlap properly or contradict one another. I have my own opinion of how the events in the Street Fighter saga take place, but that is not what I plan to discuss here. Despite there being some inconsistencies, there are some things that are accepted and are undisputable in the Street Fighter Universe. But before I get into that, let’s go over perhaps the biggest problem of all…

Street Fighter IV takes place BEFORE Street Fighter III. Now, not being an expert in roman numerals, I may have this wrong, but I am pretty sure IV is four and III is three. This petty squabble aside… let’s look at the REAL problem with this. But I may as well point this out now, an official story of what is going on in Street Fighter IV has not come out yet (or I haven’t heard of one yet) and so this is all speculation and hearsay (probably should have said that earlier).

Ok, Bison is ALIVE?! What the shit mate? He was killed by Akuma in the second world warrior tournament (That’s right, SFII chums) so he SHOULD be dead. So that’s the first bit of explaining CAPCOM has to do for me. Don’t get me wrong, Bison is a great villain for the series! But he is dead, none of this Shadowloo (-law depending) is still alive bullshit.

Character roster problem #2: Gouken is alive?! I’m sure some people have seen the little anime movies they’ve made for the launch of the game, and put Gouken in at the end of the second movie for no other reason than self-masturbation. And yes, in case you didn’t know Gouken is a playable character. The problem? He is dead. One of the few things we can all agree on in terms of Street Fighter story is that Gouken is dead. The death of Gouken was what spawned Ryu’s journey, it is the reason Street Fighter exists. Throwing Gouken into the mix is for those half-Street Fighter fans; the ones who thought ‘Shen Long’ was Gouken. Again, as my friend made mention, this is just CAPCOM making things more marketable to the group of people who call Dhalsim “that dude with stretchy arms.”

Also in the little anime sort of ‘this is why they are all back’ it is really unimaginative. Essentially what CAPCOM did was remake Street Fighter II in terms of story. Guile still wants to kill Bison cause of Charlie. Chun Li still wants to kill Bison cause he killed her father. And I’m sure Ryu and Ken are in it just to face each other (to be fair that’s why they are always there) and fight Akuma. I’m not sure why E.Honda or Dhalsim are in it, nor Blanka for that matter, but I’m sure it is just a rehashing of the Street Fighter II timeline. Or, as the little anime movie say, because they have the will to keep fighting in them or some shit. That is cool on about a t-shirt or poster level, but it alludes to nothing of the internal struggle Ryu has for becoming the true martial artist (Ok, yeah, cliché sure, but still a hell of a lot better than “Because we can! WOOYEAH ANIME POSE). In that same vein, the ‘four bosses’ are back. Now if you have ANY inclination of the Street Fighter story, they should not be considered the ‘four bosses.’ Sagat is only there to face Ryu again (fuck that’s why we all are there) not so much to further Bison’s plans of world domination (Bison dollars anyone?). Vega is a narcissistic self-promoting pretty boy but does act as Bison’s henchman. The same can be said about Balrog (not so much the pretty part but damn have you SEEN those abs?). The point here is that again, this is how the four characters were treated in Street Fighter II and Street Fighter IV gives them no further development. 

As far as the ‘new characters’ are concerned I have no problem with them. They don’t seem too off the wall. For instance C.Viper, although a little to machine like, is an ok addition as a female. Abel is a great addition in terms of style and approach so no complaints there. El Fuerte is great! They added a Mexican! Finally… now all they have to do is add a Canadian. However that fat pudgy bastard they added should go… he is like dan… only stupid and fat. Again, I don’t plan to complain about that here because Necro was just a combo of Blanka and Dhalsim for nostalgic purposes and Twelve was just a little too Alien for me, but I digress…

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Street Fighter series and I have been watching the development of Street Fighter IV since the day I got wind of it (a LONG time ago). I will most likely play it until I love all the characters equally, but as far as the story is concerned CAPCOM has done a hack job just so that they can get a shinier penny out of it. Who is to blame them really? I mean the 2d fighting game niche is kind of small, and of that niche people who actually follow the story even smaller. So in the grand scheme of things it was probably a better idea to do what they did. They may even try to retcon a few things (which will piss me off) but hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, right CAPCOM? 

14
Oct
08

Brain Drills and Quarantine

Ok, so I did get around to seeing Quarantine. I’ll save you some time on this review here. The big question is, of course, is it better than the original? No, it’s not. It can’t be better, because it’s exactly the same movie. 

This review will have slightly more spoilers, but it won’t be too bad, I promise. Also before we start, the American version is far shakier than the Spanish one, so if you are planning to see this one in theaters, keep this in mind. 

Seriously, all that’s different is American actors like chick from Dexter and dude from Hostel (and let’s not forget the ever famous old guy from mission impossible 2). There’s also what amounts to one extra scene, which features infected dogs, a glimpse of what’s on tv while the quarantine is taking place, and a scene where the camera man beats a zombie to death with the (still running) camera. I’m sorry if I just made that sound awesome. Seriously, it doesn’t add much in terms of awesomeness… and it actually ends up removing tension towards the end of the film.

 The fact that there are so few differences first makes you ask “what’s the point?”. Outside of the cynical “for the money, of course” and “because American audiences are dumb” answers, there isn’t really a satisfying response.

But when there are so few differences, it does call attention to the differences that are there. When you see two different versions of the same film (ie, not a remake, but an extended cut or some such thing), it’s natural to compare them on the basis of the changed/extra scenes. Here we have one extra sequence where a couple more characters die, and an extra shot in the surgery scene. Yeah, it has a scene where the doctors decide they need to drill into a dude’s skull to extract a brain sample. Let me point out that I have no problem with brain drilling. In fact, I wish I saw more of it both in film and in my day to day life, but is this all the American filmmakers wanted to add? Brain drilling? I mean, if you DO have the balls to remake a foreign film a year after it’s original release, shouldn’t you maybe mix it up a bit and make it your own? 

I’d rather they changed it, for better or for worse. I wish they tried something different and ambitious, even if it failed completely. I wish they had SOME amount of creativity with it. Perhaps the director (John Erick Dowdle, by the way… that guy who did The Poughkeepsie Tapes) had SO much faith in the original that he didn’t feel the need to change much… Or maybe he’s completely out of ideas

I recommend this if you’re a huge Jennifer Carpenter fan (hey, it could happen), or if you physically cannot read subtitles. Otherwise, there’s really no point in seeing both films… and you may as well stick with the original, it handles some of the scares better than the American one anyway. 

Preview tease for next monday : Watch as I attempt to understand what all those true blood fans are so crazy about!

09
Oct
08

[rec] just rules…

For those of you who are interested in horror films, particularly zombie films, I recommend the relatively new spanish horror film [rec]. For those of you who are interested in POV horror, or POV filmmaking in general, I recommend [rec]. For those of you who wanna be grabbed by the collar and taken for one hell of a ride, I definitely recommend [rec]. It’s everything Cloverfield could have been.

In case you don’t know, I’ll give you a really quick plot overview. A perky journalist lady and her cameraman are doing a late night feature on firemen. They follow a team of firemen out to an apartment building on a mysterious call… and it all goes to hell from there. This movie is indeed being remade as “Quarantine” in the US, but more on that later.

There will be some debate as to whether it’s actually a zombie film or not. Yeaaaah they’re not technically dead, but it has all your typical zombie movie traditions of claustrophobia, a disease that spreads through bites/scratches, and that pervasive feeling of dread throughout. If you really wanna argue about it, go for it… but it’s at the very least a sub-genre connected to the zombie film.

So yes, it’s a shaky cam POV film like Cloverfield, the Blair Witch Project, and Diary of the Dead. Out of those four, I’d say [Rec] and Diary of the Dead are the two worth watching (zombie bias? I think not!). Diary of the Dead uses the POV camera idea to make a statement about “the youtube generation” and how the internet is affecting the media, as well as society in general. [Rec] uses the POV camera idea to make you jump off the cushion and yell “get OUT of there!” as much as it possibly can. It’s not high art, it’s not well acted cinema, it’s a movie that drags you into hell, leaving you there with the lights out. It’s for people who enjoy the horror genre for the thrills more than anything else.

If you can stand subtitles in the least, do yourself a favor and find a copy of [Rec]. The dialog is pretty light throughout even if you aren’t a subtitle fan… and hey, if you’re REALLY not a subtitle fan, go see the american made Quarantine this week in theaters! 

Okay that was a cheap shot. Believe it or not, I’m not going to hammer on a movie I haven’t seen yet. Sure, it kinda stinks that they’re remaking a 2007 film in English in 2008. Yeah, from the preview it looks like an exact shot for shot redo of the first one. It’s one of those “What’s the point?” type reactions for me. I’m not going to complain unless I’ve seen it though. One thing I will complain about is when remakes tip very important scenes in the trailers. They really shouldn’t show key shots and moments from the last 20 to 30 minutes of the film in horror film trailers. I think The Eye with Jessica Alba did the same thing. Now that I’ve said it you probably know what I’m talking about, but those who pay attention to the trailer may be less surprised by a quite surprising moment in the film. 

Maybe I’ll throw some venom at the remake if I ever get around to seeing it. Fans of the original will give it a good smashing, but keep in mind that it will only bring a bigger audience to foreign horror in the long run. If the Gore Verbinski remake of The Ring didn’t happen, the japanese horror craze probably wouldn’t have taken off nearly as well as it did.

People like to say that Hollywood is low on ideas, but as long as they keep stealing ideas from other countries, they’re pointing to where the good ideas are coming from, letting the real horror fans run out and get scared by some original, innovative filmmaking.