roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)

Bonus Level: Heart Machine — Hyper Light Drifter

April or May 2016

OK, I'm gonna be honest here: I have no idea how I decide which video games go into the book review log. Like, for example, I also played The Last of Us and Uncharted 1 and 3 last year, but those didn't seem like they should go in. Why?! Well, I guess that's what I originally meant by that "Bonus Level" tag: I'm random about this, not rigorous.

But I AM more inclined to write about games where I spent a lot of time thinking and reconsidering after the end, and I spent quite a while chewing on HLD's spare, oblique story.

One thing I really couldn't let go of: what was the ✨fuckin deal✨ with the ominous dog-angel? Is it some kind of guardian or failsafe from the previous era? A personification of nature?

It didn't occur to me until way later that it means the same thing a spectral black dog always means: your personal doom, beckoning you onward to certain death. Duh.

Anyway, you should definitely play this game. It's one of my favorites of the year, possibly at the top of the list. Incredibly lush and active environments (all done up in Mana Fortress neon, with that "hi-bit" style that's all the rage these days), refined and precise gameplay, a really satisfying difficulty level (plus an easy mode if you prefer), and music and sound design that's just to die for. What a fucking delicious video game.

Anne Fadiman — The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Dec 12

Holy shit, this is a really good book and I'll recommend it to literally everyone.

I don't know how to tell you what this book is about, because the real answer is "basically everything." In that sense, its thesis statement is the "fish soup" anecdote from chapter 2, in which a student's French class assignment on a soup recipe leafs out into a history of fishing practices, the seasonal habits of particular fish, and a branching flowchart of tackle and bait.

More narrowly, though, it's about cultural conflict and confusion. It's... I don't know. The author's afterword to this decade's edition is careful to emphasize that it's "a book written in the '90s about the '80s," but reading it today, it still seemed important and relevant. The situation for Hmong in America has changed a lot, but the most threatening questions, lurking behind every encounter in the book — how can we communicate usefully across radically different cultures? What makes a doctor (or anyone) good or bad at their work? — didn't go away.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen — Moving Pictures (comics)

Dec 17

I liked this, but I'm still not sure what to think about it. An exercise in sympathy for unsympathetic characters.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen — Russian Olive to Red King (comics)

Dec 17

A grim story about endings that trail off like no ending at all.

And something in there about... not fragile masculinity, but about masculine fragility. The empty, lonely unresilience hiding behind the brittle crust of American manhood.

I really liked all the broken parallels in here, how everything refused to match up. Like, Red is going into this tailspin of grief and thinking about nothing but Olive, but Olive, for what's left of her life, doesn't seem to think about Red at all; not because she doesn't care, but because there's just no room for anything but trying to survive and stay maybe 1/8 to 1/4 sane. And then that big art installation section at the end, and how that breaks the symmetry of the whole thing.

I dunno, this was a real lingerer of a comic. I'm still gnawing on it.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Okay, I realize I just posted some reviews last night, but shut up, listen: for the first time in LITERALLY YEARS, I have no pending reviews that still need to be written. My shit is CAUGHT. UP. I couldn't resist the temptation to empty the entire queue.

Bonus Level: Firewatch

Nov. 20

A story game in the "walking simulator" genre.

This was immaculately produced and very elegant, but I didn't really emotionally connect with it.

Well. Until the very end. It turns out there WAS a story in here that I cared about... it's just that the two main characters had very little to do with it.

Anyway, for all that this left me two-thirds cold, it did some really cool stuff. The way you get to choose Henry's backstory at the beginning is clever, even though it still didn't result in a character I was invested in. The radio controls were VERY clever, pretty much the only time a dialogue system has let me walk and chew gum at the same time. I liked the tactile map and compass system, and the feel of navigating the world was very good. (I love the way Henry grabs the platform as he swings down the stairs.) And... it's a first-person walker where I can see my character's feet??? Unprecedented. :O

Worth a play if you see it on sale, but I didn't quite love it.

Bonus Level: Journey

Nov. 20

I liked this a lot. It's really abstract, and kind of on the border between a bunch of genres — not quite a puzzler, not quite a walking simulator, not quite an action game. But it's a beautiful experience. It reminds me a bit of Monument Valley or Sword & Sworcery EP — I guess I'm into spare, strange journeys of atonement and sacrifice, or something.

Martha Wells — The Cloud Roads (reread)

Oct 17

I was having kind of a rough fall, so I was in the mood to re-read an old favorite.

Martha Wells — The Edge of Worlds

Nov 1

And then I remembered that there was a new novel in the series that I hadn't read yet! Score!!! Too bad it ends on a cliffhanger. 😫

These books rule, but I don't know that I've done a good job at selling people on them in the past. And the pretty-but-more-than-a-little-furry-ish cover art might raise some doubts about whether these are for you.

So here's what's up with these books: they're masterpieces of incredibly tense action plotting, with really satisfying character writing. Wells does romance really well, and here's one of the things about a significant romance in a story that's not primarily a romance novel: you can bring it to a satisfying resolution and then continue to follow those characters and show them working as a team and continuing to grow. IDK, is it just me or is that actually as rare as I think it is? Harriet and Lord Peter are the only pair coming immediately to mind here. Oh, and also the main pairing in this series is a somewhat open relationship and the protagonist is bi? And the gender power dynamics are really odd and interesting, for societal and biological reasons?

Also, the setting is the best kind of bonkers. This world has what seems like hundreds of mostly unrelated sentient species, crowded together and jostling for resources. The place is positively littered with the wreckage of past civilizations, and the current ones are all kind of hanging on by their teeth. A lot of effort is devoted to avoiding predators, and the main villains of the series are a particularly nasty breed of city-killers. There doesn't seem to be a definitive explanation for why things are like this, but the world has a LOT of weird shit in its past, and it's a magic-rich environment, so it's kind of a toss-up as to whether the development of intelligence was juiced somehow for forgotten reasons, or whether it's just an out-of-control natural arms race. A big part of the series's thematic interest is in the boundaries between people, animals, and monsters, and how those boundaries shift and squirm.

All right, I think that's about two thirds of what I dig about these. Hopefully you have a better idea of whether you'll be into this than you got from the cover art.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Sofia Samatar — A Stranger in Olondria

June 21

Jevick of Tyom has always seen the Empire of Olondria as a paradise, rich in everything he spent his childhood starving for. Olondria sees Jevick (and his recently acquired ghost problem) as a political football in its long-simmering religious conflict over who controls history and knowledge.

This book is about a lot of things, but the most troubling of the bunch were the ways your culture can fail you, and the ways you can fail your culture.

It is also a ghost story, and a story about stories. It's deliciously gothic, and the prose was lush in a way that reminded me vaguely of Maggie Helwig's Girls Fall Down.

I enjoyed this immensely. I am SUPER HYPED for The Winged Histories, but I don't know when I'll be in a mental state to withstand it.

Zan Romanoff — A Song to Take the World Apart

Oct 12

A story about a teenage siren who Makes Some Mistakes.

I liked this. It's overheated and bombastic in the way a story about dumbass teenage first love kind of has to be, but it has an admirable... hmm, I might need a word other than "restraint," here. "Economy," maybe — it's un-redundant, and resists the temptation to waste your time.

Here's my review: I wasn't really in the mood for this kind of book when I read it, but it was so well done that I loved it anyway.

Elizabeth Hand — Available Dark and Hard Light

June 17 and June... 24?

I read Generation Loss ages ago and liked it a lot, or at least liked most of it a lot. I had no idea there were sequels until rushthatspeaks wrote this glowing endorsement of them.

The thing I snagged on in Generation Loss was... well, it's a spoiler, but Cass does something legitimately unforgivable. Hardboiled detective fic has a solid tradition of dark (even murderous) acts, but this seemed to break some unstated rule of the genre.

These two sequels lean into that break. On the surface level, they're really entertaining page-turner mystery novels, but on the level under that, they're maybe defying the genre's whole raison d'être?

I think maybe these aren't human detective novels. They're detective novels that presuppose the moral priorities of Something Entirely Else. Cass IS following the rules of her role and receiving its dubious rewards, but it's not the same role that detectives like Philip Marlowe play. She serves an alien moral framework. Like, the ending of Hard Light doesn't even really make sense if you try to treat it like a normal mystery.

I dunno. Read Rush's review. I enjoyed these a lot, but I'm still not entirely sure what to make of them.

Bonus Level — Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong

Oct 8

The near-universal consensus on these games seems to be as follows:

  • The first Shadowrun Returns (which I haven't played) shows potential but is basically skippable.
  • Dragonfall and Hong Kong are both good; you'll love one of them but merely like the other.

Anyway, turns out I'm a Dragonfall partisan. I think it has a better harmony between setting, character, and gameplay!

Hong Kong has some significant gameplay improvements (especially in the Matrix), and more variety in the missions. (There's an honest-to-god murder mystery/trial! That's neat! And the broader Yama Kings investigation subplot was cool, although the sleep requirement was arbitrary and opaque.) It's worth playing! But I REALLY liked how Dragonfall dropped you into a pre-established group of characters with their own relationships and loyalties. I appreciate what Hong Kong was trying to do with making the relationship with your character's brother central, but I think it wasn't a good fit with the type of game this was; the squad-based structure of the game demands a more balanced ensemble cast. Dragonfall's scenario was a nearly perfect fit, and so I love it more.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

Kelly Link - Get in Trouble (short stories)

Sep. 24

There's some excellent stuff in here, but after chewing for a bit, I think I have to say this isn't Link's best collection. (That's still Magic for Beginners.)

But I DO still highly recommend it. For one thing, it's got possibly her best story so far, "Valley of the Girls." (I'm serious, this story is mandatory.) For another, even Link's weaker stories are good.

It's also her most unified collection, in a way that's hard to pinpoint. Something about a commitment to characters always making the wrong decision. A persistent turn towards... not evil, but badness. Heroes you feel driven to root against.

Anyway, I'll re-read most of these on some rainy day. Probably starting with The Demon Lover as Halloween gets closer.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - Saga vol. 1 (comics)

Sep 13

Yeah, okay!! This is about as good as everyone says it is. I kind of find myself holding it at arms-length a bit; something about it encourages a bit of emotional distance, signals you to not let the characters get too close. But it's a heck of a ride, it spends twenty-dollar ideas where anyone else would spend a fiver, and the art is really honest-to-god first rate.

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Sep 26

This was great.

I'd forgotten Aimee Bender completely, and then remembered her suddenly when I was trying to figure out what to say about Uptalk. So I checked in at the library, and she'd put out another story collection and this novel while I hadn't been looking.

It's been almost exactly ten years since I read An Invisible Sign of My Own (I found a brief comment in my journal about it: November '06, which was before I started keeping this book log!) and I can only remember so much of it, but the impression I'm digging up is of an intriguing but wildly off-center novel that threatened to fly apart off its axis at any moment. This is more controlled and much improved, but it retains that sweet intensity of dissatisfaction and magic and discomfort and yearning. I'm glad I remembered Aimee Bender.

Carla Speed McNeil — Finder: Third World (comics)

February? January? I forgot to write this down b/c I was at my parents' house or something.

This went some really strange places, and I don't have anything useful to say about it now. Finder's great, you should read Finder!

Bonus level: Severed

Aug 2

This was on sale for its recent iOS release, and I loved Drinkbox's last game (Guacamelee), so I went for it.

The narrative is extremely spare; so spare that I'm kind of reconsidering putting it in the didread list (which I usually only do for story-focused games). But I still find myself thinking about it from time to time, so.

As for gameplay: Housemate saw me playing it for a few minutes and said "So... it's Wizardry meets Fruit Ninja?" Not wrong! It starts really simply, and in the first area I found myself wondering if there was actually a game here. But once the difficulty ramps up and you have to juggle three or four aggressive enemy timers at once, it's kind of a blast.

Not a lot of replay value, but a solid experience the first time through.

Kate Wilhelm - Storyteller

July 24

An occasionally interesting memoir of running the Clarion writers' workshop. I needed an undemanding nonfiction read, and this fit the bill.

There're some fragments of useful stuff in here about the practice of writing and workshopping fiction, but most of the focus is on anecdotes and institutional history.

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

Andrea K. Höst — The Touchstone trilogy (re-read)

Feb 20-ish, 2016

These books still rule, and I needed some comfort-food re-reads.

This is where I remind you that the first book is free — kindle, smashwords — and you probably still haven't read these yet. Hint hint!

Bonus Level: Cardboard Computer — Kentucky Route Zero: Acts 1, 2 (replays), and 3, plus "Limits and Demonstrations," "The Entertainment," and "Here and There Along the Echo"

Mar 25, 2016

I think I've talked about Acts 1 and 2 here before. Act 3 is even better.

An interesting thing about KRZ: not only is it episodic, but it has a bunch of free, optional side-episodes that you can download as separate apps. These tend to be experimental and weird, but will drop crumbs of the main story from time to time. I highly recommend playing "The Entertainment" before starting Act 3: it's basically a metafictional overture for the whole act, in the form of a student play put on the ’70s by Carrington (the guy you can meet in act 1 who's seeking a venue for his new project). It's kind of a confrontational anti-game, with a hilariously shocking ending that turns out to be extremely relevant the instant the curtain rises on Act 3.

Anyway: this game isn't quite about what I thought it was about, and I'm excited for the next act.

Nicole Kornher-Stace — Archivist Wasp

April 5, 2016

A strange and intense post-apocalyptic ghost story.

I started out skeptical of this, but it won me over. It's kind of genre salad in a way that, now that I think of it, reminds me slightly of Smoketown. (Running in a very different direction with it.)

The metaphysics didn't quite make sense; it never really followed through on the tease that we'd find out what happened to the world; I remain very curious about why there are ghosts now when there didn't seem to be ghosts before. But ultimately it satisfied in the ways it needed to satisfy, and I kind of savor the lingering mysteries.

Andy Weir — The Martian

June 27

This was a really relaxing read, and it went down in a flash. A+ airplane or beach book; I quite enjoyed it.

"Relaxing????," you say. Well, it's technically a story about repeatedly almost dying in a frozen airless hellscape, sure, but in practice it reads like a series of really fun forum posts about how badly the HVAC system managed to fuck itself up (and our hero's legendarily janky patch job). About 4/5 of the book is the protagonist's log entries, which he only writes once he's tamed enough chaos to sit at a computer for an hour. So they're paradoxically calming!

The log entries are written in what I suspect is Weir's natural forum-post voice. He's not a very versatile writer (the 3rd-person alternate POV sections are all pretty weak), but he's very good at conversational technical explainers, so most of the book is A Real Fun Read If You Like That Sort of Thing (And I Do).

Bitter life-or-death struggle, presented as a series of really knotty engineering problems with clever "solutions" (including multiple off-label abuses of a plutonium-containing device). Good times.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Re-read: Rosemary Kirstein — The Lost Steersman (The Steerswoman, book 3)

Nov. 5

Ruth was reading the Steerswoman books while we were on vacation, and I was SUPER PUMPED to talk about them with her! And she finished this volume and made a sound I have never heard her make before, hahahahahahaha! Anyway, I had to immediately re-read it.

As much as I love The Language of Power, I have to admit book 3 is objectively the best. It's SUCH a tour-de-force, and ARRRGH, I can't even explain WHY without spoiling half the effect!

Well. If you read it and come find me later, I'll tell you what I really think about it. Until then, go buy the ebook reprints! They're all cheap as hell, and there's nothing else like them in science fiction right now. The state of the art has not caught up with Rosemary Kirstein.

Bonus Level: Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Oct 1

Halfway through playing this, I was overcome with a weird feeling of familiarity, and for a while I couldn't figure out why. I never played any of the original pen+paper or SNES/Genesis Shadowrun games... and yes, it's just Borderland But Also Cyberpunk: The Video Game, but this was an intense fuckin' sensation, not Hey, Rememember Thing.

Some days later, I got it: Dragonfall is actually the game I thought Final Fantasy VII was going to be, during the first eight hours or so before I left Midgard. The color palette and the moody Sector 7 style music are dead-on, which is probably why that familiar feeling was so intense, but also the gray morality, the omnipresent subway trains, the corporate sabotage, and the uneasy found family who don't necessarily have any reason to trust you.

OBVIOUSLY I FUCKING LOVED IT. I like tactical RPGs in general, and while this is deep in unfamiliar Western PC RPG Land (I grew up in Japanese Console RPG Land), the subconscious FF7 resemblance got me past the hump of figuring out how the systems work, and the gameplay was simplified enough that my poor console-weenie brain handled it just fine. (Once I turned off the single-click no-confirmation combat interface, WHY is that the default, whyyyy.)

Anyway, good times. I liked this a lot, and I bought the followup (Hong Kong) in the Thanksgiving Steam sale, so we'll see how that is.

Bonus Level: Undertale

Oct 11

This is the most ambitious deconstruction of the classic JRPG form I've ever seen. It mercilessly disassembles every mechanism the genre has at its disposal, and stitches them back together into an unnerving and revelatory and FUN emotional/intellectual tour-de-force.

And I'm not gonna say much more about it, because the game is constructed as a dialogue with your expectations and reflexes, and if you're a person who would enjoy it, the best thing a reviewer can do is get out of your way.

The music is amazing. The combat is incredibly fun, and consistently surprising and innovative. The plot is satisfying on so many levels it's hard to even know where to start. The writing is superb, funny and poignant and crushing by turns. This is possibly the best (and certainly the most interesting) game of 2015. If you care about the narrative potential of video games, scrounge up $10 and play Undertale.

William Gibson — The Peripheral (re-read) and Zero History (re-read)

Nov. 12, Nov. 16

I'm just going to let prior reviews stand, for these. They're still faves, which is why I re-read them on vacation in a foreign land.

William Gibson - All Tomorrow's Parties

Dec. 7

Idoru was kind of a mess, and this sequel was also kind of a mess. They're enjoyable! But the machinery of the story doesn't quite work right.

In the Bridge trilogy, I think Gibson was trying to be more rigorous and near-future with the inputs of his books, but he was also aiming for highly bizarre outputs, and I think maybe the intervening processes weren't up to the task, and in trying to smooth out and unify the whole, those outputs ended up mostly just incomprehensible and uninteresting.

It's funny to read these after reading the Bigend books and The Peripheral, because you can sort of see the learning process that made those later stories so much better.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Joan Opyr — Shaken and Stirred

July 16

Okay, I picked this up at the Title Wave on spec because the cover was kind of unbelievable. Somehow, and for some reason, the publisher (a small-timer out of Michigan focused on contemporary lesbian fiction) had gotten the printer to cover it with, uh... I don't know the proper term for it, but, alpine flower guide / field first-aid manual cover stock. The really plasticky, resilient stuff with a grid of little nubbins on it to give it a more matte feel except they're too big for matte so it just feels like plastic with a grid of nubbins? Y... you know??? Okay, I'm gonna just assume you know — who the hell puts that shit on a novel?! I HAD TO FIND OUT.

Well, it turned out to be a pretty good read. I give it three-ish stars, because I feel like the ending didn't really come together, but I enjoyed the middle of the book quite a bit. A witty and wistful story about a gal going home to bury her shitheel grandpa, which closes with a romance ending that really could have used some additional reinforcement.

Jillian Tamaki — SuperMutant Magic Academy

July 19. Comics.

This ruled, go get it.

I was mildly bummed that I hadn't known about Tamaki's webcomic until it was done, but also excited about getting a big airdrop of cool stuff all at once.

The tone is very different from her novelistic work. It's insistently a comedy, but it veers between comedic modes very fluidly. The Everlasting Boy interludes tend toward this violent, gonzo physical/metaphysical absurdity; the stuff with the core cast (Marsha, Wendy, Gemma, Frances, Cheddar) moves in and out of Peanuts-esque wry melancholy, situational gags, Gunshow-esque left turns, and more. The out-of-continuity strips with one-off characters are... I dunno what you'd even call this, but I love it.

My original plan for this review was to close with a gag about The Magicians, but I couldn't quite make it work, so never mind.

Hugo Pratt — Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea

Aug 22 (comics)

So, Corto Maltese is this ancient Eurocomics property, which my memory is a little hazy on the details of; I think he outlived his maker like a louche, chain-smoking Mickey Mouse and you still get new animated features dropping once in a while, but I'm not positive.

I think this book was his first outing, and damn it shows. It's rough as hell, it wanders all over the place, it insistently refuses to cohere. It was only translated recently, and as far as I can tell the English availability of the rest of the comics is spotty at best.

Anyway, this volume included way more than its fair share of high colonialist bullshit, and the story's not solid enough that I could recommend it to anyone. I'd be interested to see a later adventure and find out how much it improves, because god damn is Corto himself enjoyable to look at. What a fuckin beautiful character design.

Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin — The Rise of Aurora West

August 22. Comics.

This was weird and intriguing. I'm not entirely sure it's for me, but... there's something in there that I can't let go of.

Jeff Vandermeer - Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance (the Southern Reach trilogy)

Aug 24, 25, 26

This was creepy as hell and I enjoyed it a lot. More to the point, it managed to achieve a satisfying resolution without ruining the mysteries and incomprehensibilities that drive the story, which is what I always worry about when getting into this sort of thing. (I get paranoid whenever I catch a whiff of that old Lost scent, you know?)

Top-notch weird horror. If you're into this sort of thing at all, this is the real deal.

Bonus Level: Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

Aug. something (video game; ipad version)

An old favorite of mine from back in the Playstation 1 days; it was remastered and retranslated for the PSP some years back, and they later ported that port to iOS.

Back in the ’90s, FFT was notorious for its shit translation; it was arguably the pinnacle of a certain form of incomprehensible Engrish in video games. If you never experienced it for yourself, it's worth checking out some of the greatest hits of dialogue from that monster, just to see how far we've come.

But by the end of the PS1 era, at least some parts of Square had corrected course, because Vagrant Story was pretty much the high-water mark of ja->en translations for that whole console generation. They were aiming for this sort of retro-Elizabethan gruffness, vaguely Shakespearean diction but with the sub-frame lopped off and the tailpipes wrapped in insulating tape, and — improbably — it worked great. So when it came time to rehabilitate FFT, the translators turned to Vagrant Story and its late-PS2-era successor Final Fantasy XII for guidance.

And the result is excellent. I actually kind of respect this game for its story, now!

The original script was functional (albeit comical) for its first three chapters, but chapter four was basically unreadable; I don't think I knew anyone who really understood what was going on with the Zodiac Braves, Saint Ajora, or even the late-stage political machinations.

But now that the incidental confusion has been brushed away, the remaining confusion improves the story. I originally thought there was supposed to be a single Church cover-up about Ajora and the braves, but in the new translation, it's clear that there have been multiple revisions of history, every one of them performed in ignorance of some incredibly crucial information lost in the last pass. The result is that history in Ivalice is complete garbage by now, and even people who think they've found the master key to the real truth have no idea what's going on. The (allegedly bombshell) secret scriptures Simon gives to Ramza seem to imply the opposite of what you're actually encountering, and even the Lucavi seem confused about some of what the Auracite can do.

I like that a lot better than my original interpretation of what was happening. It casts the Church in a much more interesting light, and it adds a certain melancholy to the proceedings; even whoever recovers the Durai papers won't be able to figure out what the hell Ramza and company were actually up to, much less whatever the fuck went down back in the airship era.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)
If you didn't already know I was the worst, I made a trilogy of mixtapes as a soundtrack for this video game idea I had! I am actually super proud of these, and I think they're some of the best mixes I've ever put together.

This is sort of an experiment in mixtape-as-short-story. Definitely influenced by This Time I Know It's For Real (Brenna and Chase's epic playlist / comic). It's also an exercise in exorcism. This story works best as a video game, but I really didn't want to make a video game, and trying to do it in pure text would have lost enough in translation to not be worth it. But the plot and main characters congealed really quickly and vividly for me, and I wanted to make something tangible to share how much fun I'd had thinking about it. So! Multimedia funtimes.




The librettos over at the mini-site only talk about the story, but I spent some time thinking about gameplay too, so maybe I'll say a thing about that before I hit post.

I love top-down brawlers, and I love it when combat acts as a story vehicle. I also like when a game's walk-n-talk segments stay in a restricted area so you get to know the NPCs really well over time. (Alundra pretty much did this part the best.) I'm also fascinated by the potential of friendship/relationship sim mechanics; I haven't really liked any of the games I've tried that are built around this, but I loved stuff like deciding who would choose to lead the party after Crono died. (Sorry, spoilers I guess.)

So anyway, S&1000×H would be split between brawler and walk-n-talk segments.

The brawler part is nothing but bosses. Some of the battles have a chase component, and some enemies will throw some mooks at you, but the core is just eight big multi-part setpiece fights. Combat would have a lot of context-sensitive actions; lots of blocking/parrying, and a few different attack types to choose from at any given time.

Each fight is split into multiple parts. In most of them, you're badly outmatched for the first round and have to struggle to stay alive, but you learn a lot about the enemy's tendencies and patterns. At the halfway point you get to use the power you stole from the last enemy to improve your battle transformation, making a choice from a few options. These changes add up, and your battle form gets progressively more inhuman over time, resembling your enemies more and more. Then you fight back on a more even footing for the second half of the battle.

(This totally guided the structure of the mixtapes! I think having several songs per boss let me outline their personalities a bit even if you aren't combing the libretto.)

(Also, I liked the effect of breaking the rhythm in Act 3.)

Cleista fills the "spotter" role, telling you what to watch for during a fight and often talking back to the enemy. He's usually an invisible voice, but can sometimes project as a human figure made of insubstantial flames.

Some of the walk-n-talks are pretty long, but they all limit the amount of stuff you can do before the story moves on. So the player will choose to hang out with the NPCs that are most interesting to them, and that will determine who Jessie's closest to. This is mostly for its own rewards, but I figured whoever turned out to be Jessie's boyfriend or girlfriend or bestie would be the person Melciel the Nail would choose to take control of, and then you'd have a different voice actor reading her lines in the endgame depending on how you played the friendship sim part. Yes, it's totally impractical, BUT ADMIT IT, THAT WOULD RULE.
roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Eh, it's been a while. Let's drop a book post.

Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber — Superior Foes of Spider Man, vol. 1

Jan 3, 2015

Okay, I was ready for this to be one of those comedy "villain" stories with a highly telegraphed heel-face turn so that everyone's misdeeds are pre-tinted with a sepia oh-but-they're-really-just-lovable-scamps filter. Which could have been fine, because there're right and wrong ways to do that, and it all ends up depending on tone.

But no! The protagonist is truly a total shitbird, and once I caught on to that (sure, it said so at the beginning or something but I didn't buy it) I enjoyed the book even more. Fred's saccharine folksy narration starts out aggravating, but once it becomes clear how sociopathic and incompetent it is, it's actually kind of great.

The writing is solid, and the art is fabulous, and they work very well together, with a fine eye for visual comedy. And a predilection for word balloons containing inappropriate non-word objects, which in my opinion never gets old.

William Gibson - Pattern Recognition (re-read)

Jan 12

I hadn't read this for a good long while, so I picked it back up during Second Christmas.

I'd forgotten how physically uncomfortable the part about catfishing Taki was! And I'd forgotten how his subplot actually got a satisfying ending when I thought it was going to just stay gross and bummersville, yaaay. I'd also forgotten that Cayce gets together with someone at the end of the book?!

All told, I actually think this is my least favorite of that trilogy, although it seems to be the most popular. But "least favorite of the Bigend trilogy" still makes for a great book.

William Gibson - Spook Country (re-read)

Jan 14

...and then since I had my momentum up I went ahead and re-read Spook Country. I don't think I need to add anything about this, I reviewed it really recently anyway. In some ways this is my fave in the series, and in other ways Zero History is. ZH suffers from lack of Tito. It was cool and refreshing to jettison the techno-psychojustifications and just have him be an actual mystic, a post-communist warrior monk.

Jessica Reisman - The Z Radiant (re-read)

Feb 6

I reviewed this pretty recently, and don't have much to add. It's still really good, yo!!!

Andrea K. Höst — Touchstone trilogy: Stray, Lab Rat One, and Caszandra

Jan 31, Feb 2, Feb 3

(First book is free, both on Smashwords (all formats) and on Kindle.)

This was the shit! Junk-food reading almost perfectly tailored to my tastes. I read it compulsively.

The setup is that a random Australian teen walks through a random dimensional gate and ends up on an alien planet... in the middle of shitty nowhere. In the woods. But then after (barely) surviving for a few weeks, she gets rescued by some humans from a third planet, and the plot starts in earnest.

There's a lot to love in here! Well-written characters, ancient civilizations, semi-alien cultures, archaeology, planet-wrecking calamities, psychic powers, secret militaries, freaky-ass monsters, teen drama, reality TV, and Mysterious Shit that actually culminates in a pretty impressive payoff. Special bonus points for the depiction of that third planet, Tare: it's not a dystopia, but it definitely sucks in a lot of ways, and Höst did a good job keeping it mysterious and cool while showing what a mixed bag it is.

(Although, the way the Setari are organized seems like a repurposed concept for a video game. But I give Höst a pass for it, because A: everything is really well integrated into the world, and B: that game would have been badass.)

Bonus Level: Transistor

Feb 8 (video game)

That ending is pretty much bullshit. And while the final battle was an awesome setpiece, I think it was incompletely set up.

But right up until then, I loved this, and I think I'd still recommend it (with those caveats). The environments were beautiful and awesome, the gameplay was fun, the narration was well done. And I liked the main character a lot. Design-wise, I consider her a good example of a female lead who's beautiful but really not sexualized. And although she's a silent protagonist, we see a lot of personality in her movements, the way she ignores suggestions and refuses to turn back, the stuff she types into the terminals.

The plot was really interesting, too: higher-level application constructs in a virtual universe accidentally gaining access to lower-level functionality and getting overwhelmed by it? And hence the omnipotence of the "Transistor," at the lowest of levels? That is a cool approach to a my-virtual-universe-is-crumbling type of story, and weirdly it felt a lot more... rigorous? than various other attempts I've seen?

The gameplay was knuckle-biting once in a while, with optional limiters to make it tougher if you start to get ahead of the curve. (And some formal challenges that sort of teach you how to break the game. When my most convenient functions got overloaded during a perf test, I had to fall back on help() and learned that I’d missed its potential by not enhancing it — turns out a properly kitted-out Super Friend can do ~750 backstab damage in a turn, or have a blast radius, etc.)

Isaac's theory was that the characters have forgotten they're in an MMO, and getting killed by the Transistor boots you back out of that MMO, with the farm in the ending being the real world. I disagree; I think the farm is a sentimental depiction of a dubious afterlife, cf. the numerous references to being "sent to the country" in the unlockable flavor text and its resemblance therein to the traditional "we sent Marfy to live on a farm in the country" dodge when the family dog gets put to sleep.

My theory of the game is that we never even get a glimpse of the "real" world. Royce and his cadre got access to a lower level of reality, and it was so unlike normal application-space that they experienced the beings down there as, like, eldritch horrors. But it's still a construct, and I don't think they ever breached down into an uncomputed universe. And I don't think the sentient beings in application space originate outside the computed universe, or at least they don't each directly correspond to a person in the real world. What's outside the simulation is a mystery.

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

Hato Moa -- Hatoful Boyfriend

Nov. 23, 2014

Uh, I played Bird Smoochin Game. I got all the endings. IT WAS REALLY WEIRD GUYS. Also my heroine was named Breakfast Burrito, because I wanted a name birds would find alluring and mysterious.

I can't really say I liked this, but I had some fun with it and I'm glad it exists. If it goes on sale for $5 again, you should grab it, even if just to infuriate and confuse your Twitter followers.

Most of the ~game~ portion is boring, because it's just a prelude/teaser to the bonkers-ass payoff ending. The structure of the experience is, roughly: you cycle through a bunch of poorly signalled repetitive trial and error nonsense to "date" a bunch of flying ashtrays* who are so roughly sketched that you have no real reason to prefer one over another or care what happens to any of them. You get about four or five solid bellylaughs out of it, plus some creepy foreshadowing and a generous cup of what the fuck. You are murdered at least three times, then take a brief detour into a JRPG joke that only barely overstays its welcome. You use a FAQ because you're not a masochist. Finally, on your last pass through the game, everything goes horridly off the rails, it turns into a gruesomely absurdist political SF mystery story, several characters acquire some personality and backstory, and the weird turn pro.

I enjoyed that final path a lot, for its sheer balls-out WTFness. Play the game for that. (And for the first time you get executed by ninjas.) Also, I'd need to play through some stuff again to be sure (and I won't), but I think it mostly manages to keep the character starting positions consistent through all the endings -- re-writing pre-story state is a pet peeve of mine, and it's easy to screw it up on a branching paths situation where some paths go gonzo.

The interface and the experience of play were needlessly crap, alas. This is just a very vanilla RenPy game, right? So why the hell is it missing scrollback? You get it for free, you have to turn it off on purpose! Boo to that. Anyway, compare HB's interface to Christine Love's Don't Take it Personally, Babe: the scrollback function there makes it really easy to explore alternate choices without wasting your time on convos you remember verbatim, and I didn't feel like I spent any appreciable time sitting around tapping my fingers. But the fast-forward thing in this game is a junker of a replacement. Also, save games were glitchy on the Mac version as of late November, which didn't really add any fun to the mission.

I remain very iffy on visual novels as a form, even iffier on dating simulators as a genre within that form, and pretty iffy on the allied noninteractive genre of harem anime. (Although… given that HB is a deliberate misuse of both form and genre, I guess I wasn't expecting it to clear anything up or show me what I'd been missing.) From my limited run-ins with the date-sim/harem genres, they seem to tend toward fairly blank and shitty protagonists who are meant to function as player/viewer self-inserts, and I just haven't been able to dig that -- I find it boring, and maybe a bit gross. I don't want to date any of these anime babes and/or hunks, I want to watch them date some other character who has my primary sympathy but who is completely distinct from me and whose tastes differ from mine. (Also, insert something here about the weird checklist approach to romantic pursuit in these things, but, eh, video games, whatcha gon do.) OTOH, when I've seen the standard approach sufficiently fucked with, I've seen glimmers of something interestingly solid. E.g. Ouran High School Host Club, where Haruhi was a present and active character -- I enjoyed that show a lot. Or Don't Take it Personally, where it's more like you're playing matchmaker/observer in a number of relationships you're not directly involved in, and all the participants in those relationships are pretty well fleshed out. Or... does Haruhi Suzumiya count? Probably partially.

I dunno, has anyone played or seen a straight-ahead version of the genre that redeems the standard structures and tropes? I'm about ready to say it's not for me, but hey.


* I was once told this was widespread Montreal slang for city pigeons, and I love it.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

The Fullbright Company – Gone Home

Video game. Aug 15, 2013

I need to start just running a tape recorder when Isaac and I are bullshitting about games, because I feel like I already wrote a very detailed review of this but didn’t get any actual text for my troubles. >:|

Anyway, play this. It’s only two or three hours long, and you can probably get it for a fiver if you keep your eye on Steam / Humble sales. And it’s important to the conversation about where games-as-storytelling-vehicles are going and where they haven’t yet successfully gone.

I’m gonna try and condense the things I think came up in talking with various folk about this:

  • The layout of the house defeated my suspension of disbelief. It shouldn’t even be possible to get locked out of an entire wing like that (WTF! I would go OUT OF MY MIND living there), and the chronological/spatial mapping of the trash you’re picking up for clues makes it look like your parents and sister have been living in a nomadic camp that picks up and moves to a different room in the house every month or two. That’s demented.

    The game actually has an option to start with all the doors unlocked, and I’m tempted to say you should ignore the warning and enable it. I actually haven’t tried this, but I think it would make the house feel less empty and bizarre? It might also let the story emerge more naturally and disjointedly—it’s so simple in its outlines anyway that I don’t think spoilers are a concern. Just save the attic for last and you should be fine.

  • Very mixed feelings about the voiceover. On one hand, it feels like a compromise that sabotages the idea of uncovering a story through the environment and encourages laziness in thinking through certain implications. Other hand: the VA is very competent and her voice does add a lot to the atmosphere. And on the third hand, if you look at it the right way it’s not… really cheating? I guess? Because it’s all info Katie eventually has access to, but temporally shifted by an hour or two and spaced out? But I still dunno if I like that. If you don’t mind being experimented on, I’d love to hear from someone who played for the first time with Sam’s diary turned off.

  • Back on the house again: it’s too big. I realize it’s canonically, diegetically too big. But practically speaking, it seems impossible to make it feel like a lived-in environment. Too many empty identical writing desks and sideboards and the like. I get the feeling Fullbright could have built a much more immersive home, but the bigness was working against them.
  • The actual trash Katie spends her time picking up and looking at, though, that stuff is GREAT. Likewise the parsimony of her narrations/reactions to stuff.
  • The primary story is unsubtle in the way a story about teenagers falling in love for the first time kind of has to be, but there are some very satisfying details that help it stay real. It was hella cute and very good.

    The B, C, and D plots are quite subtle and sly. Well, B and C are sly. D is more on the crawly side of subtle, and TBH I didn’t figure out what was happening on my first time through.

    I’m actually not going to say anything more about the secondary plots, because they DO follow through on the idea of trash-only storytelling, and it’s interesting to see for yourself how well it does or doesn’t work.

  • You don’t have to put stuff back where you found it, and I pretty much left the house looking like 300 raccoons got in there. Throwing board games down the stairs, moving all the pens in the house to one room, leaving the water running. WATCH OUT PARENTS, I’m back from Europe and ready to FUCK SHIT UP.

  • It seems worth asking what a post-Gone-Home story game will look like. Did we learn anything illuminating, here? What, specifically? I think we did, but am not sure what yet.
  • Yes, the fact that there is now a (widely discussed!!) video game about coming to terms with your sexuality amidst ’90s Riot Grrl subculture is probably kind of a big deal for the breadth of the form.

Christine Love – Hate Plus

Video game. Aug 24, 2013

Hmm, my memory of how I felt about this game has gotten a bit hazy.

I think the original Analogue holds together a bit better and has a better story-shape. I also think Analogue was already complete without an explanation of the year 0 discontinuity. But there was a lot of good material in here.

I never finished the part with *Hyun-ae where you have to pause to make a cake (I wasn’t in the mood for cake), and I feel OK with that. In large part, this was *Mute’s game and Analogue was *Hyun-ae’s game.

I can’t shake the feeling that the tragic ending on *Mute’s path is the canonical ending. I don’t see another way out for her.

Finally, I remain kind of conflicted about VNs as a form. Love’s games are the only ones I’ve much enjoyed, so far, and even they’re kind of weird and awkward.

roadrunnertwice: Jane from Octopus Pie, mashing a button with a maniacal expression. (OctopusPie.Jane - PRESS)

Continuing the series of bookposts with... not books.

Bonus Level: Yoon Ha Lee - Winterstrike

Feb 8

(website)

Wait, what? Card-based interactive fiction is a thing? Okay.

This was really weird! I like Lee's short fiction, so I gave this a shot. It was intriguing, and taught me that I probably don’t need to play Fallen London (whose engine it uses). I had major issues with it, but respected it as a work of art and enjoyed the setting a lot.

The main issue I had with it is, like, to hell with micropayments linked to in-game currency. They impede my enjoyment of game art, full stop. I would much rather pay an up-front fee and feel free to role-play and explore without taking external considerations into account. Does Maig the exiled university student give a shit how much "Nex" Nick has in his account? She sure does now! And that sucks. (I ultimately spent $7.50 on the game, which is absolutely peanuts in the scheme of things, but I was raised to be cheap thrifty, that hindbrain training doesn't go away easy, and the game kept hitting that training with its blizzard of paid story branches. I'd have preferred to play the first phase or two and then pony up $10 to finish and explore.) When I run into these schemes and it's not a game tied to some auteur I have a pre-existing fascination with, I always and always bail out immediately. They are toxic to fun.

The other main problem was that the game was just really opaque, and it was not at all clear what I had to do to see new things. And if you don't do the right things, you will just grind the same cards forever and make no progress. I eventually got the hang of it, but at the start I was trying to role-play, and the personality I'd chosen for Maig was very much not a Yoon Ha Lee character. So there are four factions you're asked to choose between, and various actions increase your affinity for them, and you have to get high affinity for ONE to get past the first big wall in the game, and the sum of the actions that were in character for Maig ended up canceling themselves out, affinity-wise. It was kind of funny, once I understood what was going on.

If you DO play the game correctly, with a personality that's more harmonious to the setting, there's some interesting stuff in here, especially the tension of wanting to be nice to the ironbird vs. slowly figuring out what was going on with it (which, proving that I did it wrong, I managed to barely even touch any of that in Maig's playthrough; she kind of stumbled into the de-fused ironbird ending without really grasping the magnitude of what was happening. But after her I played a disintegrating Ocular Guard character where I broke hard toward the ironbird, and it was pretty hair-raising). And like I said above, the city of Iria is just an awesome setting when you let yourself sink into it.

Overall I don't know what I'm recommending you do with this. If I could, I'd suggest experiencing the setting and the story possibilities without having to wrestle with the gameplay, but it was pretty rewarding and I found it worth playing despite the frustrations.

Bonus Level: Cardboard Computer - Kentucky Route Zero, act 1

Feb something

(website and store)

I enjoyed this a LOT, and recommend it highly.

It's not a very game-y game. You're mostly exploring environments; there aren't any puzzles per se, and your only real choices consist of inconsequential (so far) dialog trees. It's still riveting, and the dialog trees have given me some really strong opinions about "my" Conway. (Hint: back up your save file, because there's only one. I did another playthrough to see more of the dialog options, and had to then re-do my first playthrough because he wasn't "my" Conway anymore.)

If you're wondering if you'll enjoy this, grab the vaguely-related Limits and Demonstrations. If you're bored by it, KRZ might not be for you; if you're intrigued and frustrated, then go for it.

(Also, turn off your lamp when you're driving the minecart, especially as you're approaching the mine's exit. This works best when someone is watching over your shoulder.)

roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (HarryPotter.Hagrid - Two wheels good)
So the occasion for the NY trip was that I was on a work trip that ended in New Brunswick, NJ, and I decided to just delay my return ticket by a week.

The work trip consisted mostly of getting up obscenely early, driving and/or flying around, doing work stuff, and then being extremely tired in a hotel room. But on one of those nights, I did manage to get into some primo 16-bit Overthinking It:

Storify: "Yes He Can Do All 14"
roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

So the idea of "body horror" as a genre or generic marker is that you are being transformed into something intrinsically and personally monstrous and everything is terrible. Right? So I figure the reverse of body horror is when you are transforming yourself into something (conventionally) monstrous because it's awesome and beautiful.

And the core idea of the magical girl genre is about undergoing a transformation into a prettier and more perfect version of yourself -- becoming more capable and self-actualized, then performing that capability aesthetically (prettier) and through ritual combat against physical embodiments of negative and destructive psychic forces (more perfect).

I figure? After the first time you have to defend your friends' lives by going toe-to-toe against a monster-of-the-week, your idea of "pretty" is going to change pretty damn quick. Fast and strong and efficient and shiny and bulletproof, and taking down a demon before it even gets a WHIFF of your designated love interest; THAT's pretty. And thus, our heroine's mystic-gem-fueled magical girl transformation gradually becomes more and more inhuman, but, and here's the thing, she is totally cool with this, because she A: has a job to do, and B: is in the process of adopting an aesthetic of function. And the monsters of the week are stuck dealing with eight feet of shiny glittering motion-blurred blade-fingered lantern-eyed (ribbon-bedecked, glass-armored, short-skirted, and let's be clear here, you get a super-legit sparkly transformation sequence before each battle) insectile terror.



more thinking about video games and practical genre abuse )

Twinery

Mar. 7th, 2013 01:26 pm
roadrunnertwice: Dialogue: "I have caught many hapless creatures in my own inter-net." (ActivitiesForRainyDays - Inter-Net)

(Autocorrect tried to turn that title into Reinsert???)

So TMBG's newsletter linked this New Yorker review (which is extremely wrong about The Else, their second-best record of all time), and it had something in the sidebar about Anne Hathaway, and that reminded me that I still needed to look up this game Isaac and Robert were telling me about. And, uh.

Anne Hathaway: Erotic Mouthscape

Not safe for anywhere.

Poking around afterwards, in a mild state of shell shock, I found that it was part of a Twine-based game jam on Porpentine's site. So I ended up playing a bunch of Twine games.

Porpentine appears to be the real deal, and I've had good luck with her shorter stuff -- "All I want is for all of my friends to become insanely powerful" is basically perfect. Cry$tal Warrior Ke$ha isssss uuuhhhhhhhh. I'm gonna dive into her longer and freakier stuff later, starting with Howling Dogs. Following her trail led me to some other peoples' stuff too:

(A technical note: watch out for mojibake. It you see any textual garbage, change your browser's charset to UTF-8.)

I also ran into THIS little tangent (part one, part two), which, I can't tell if they're talking about an actual game they played or having us on or writing some collaborative story or what? Google appears to know NOTHING about this game aside from these two posts, and it may or may not be real.

Anyway I'm definitely going to make a Twine game.

The pile

Nov. 16th, 2012 10:38 pm
roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)
Soooo... sometimes I make my own fun.

There's a game called Cave Story, I was obsessed with it, and I still play parts of it several times a week as a sort of electronic cigarette break. But not, like, playing a whole area through or anything. More like, go into the falling blocks room in the hell level and make as many back-and-forth trips as you can with only the fireball and the bubbler until you die. I dunno, it's completely stupid, but I love it. It's relaxing. (This sort of thing only works with games where the controls are super tight, by the way, so that you're exactly as good as your reflexes. If it doesn't present the illusion that you could do it literally perfectly if you were only good enough — while staying hard enough that you'll never get there — then it's not any fun.)

Anyway, I made up a new game-on-top-of-the-game the other week, and I call it "Mountain of Blondes." Because the re-release has a challenge mode with a boss that throws clones of Curly at you, and if you get it down to a third of its health, the number of clones in each drop will keep doubling every time. And their bodies don't go away, so you can try try to completely carpet the room before you die!

curlypile

Um, yeah.
roadrunnertwice: Jane from Octopus Pie, mashing a button with a maniacal expression. (OctopusPie.Jane - PRESS)

Oh hey, it’s a long-belated bookpost. Featuring:

  • Bryan Lee O’Malley – Lost at Sea
  • Jen Van Meter and Bryan Lee O’Malley – Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero
  • Kate Griffin – A Madness of Angels
  • Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber – Underground
  • Victor Pelevin – The Helmet of Horror
  • Maureen Waller – 1700: Scenes from London Life
  • Leonard Richardson – Constellation Games
  • Martha Wells – City of Bones
  • Bonus Level: Christine Love – Analogue: A Hate Story
  • Bonus Level: Christine Love – don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story
  • S. Bear Bergman – The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

Cool, let's get to it. )

roadrunnertwice: Tyr ransoming his hand to Loki's wolf. (Norse.JohnBauer - Tyr and Fenrir)
Just beat Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP for the second time, and wow, just what an awesome game. If you have an iOS thingamabob, it is absolutely worth your $5. I'm actually a little emotional at the moment about things like using semirepetitive environments/enemies/tasks to evoke the aesthetic of old Atari cartridges, and the business with the hit points, and the music.
roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)
I grabbed the Humble Bundle 4 before it finished, and one of the things in it was the Nicalis remake of Cave Story! Yay. The new challenges and stuff are pretty neat (modulo a few bugs and an odd decision or two -- y u no missiles or snake in sanctuary rush?!), and overall it's a great clean-up of a great game.

But there's a big wart, which is that the English script is... pretty bad. There's this very distinctive rhythm to a literal Japanese -> English translation, and it functions as a big flashing "amateur hour" sign, and Cave Story + has it.

What kills in this case is that the actual amateurs did it much better! The volunteer-made translation patch for the original samizdat release of Cave Story was just fine! The dialog in the game is spare by nature, but every character had a distinctive voice, and any weird turns of phrase were for atmosphere or for their own sake rather than for want of a writer and editor.

If Nicalis didn't have the internal resources to write a good translation, they should have just bought republishing rights from the original patch volunteers. I don't know, maybe there was some good reason why they couldn't, but I'd have appreciated something; it's just embarrassing when the script in the paid version is inferior to the free one.



Okay, back to the writing. Missed that year-end mark I was trying to hit, but I'll be done soon. TAKKA TAKKA TAKKA.
roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)
Okay, let's post a pair of essaylets tonight! This one's been simmering for a while, and it just came up again in a conversation with [livejournal.com profile] roler, so I'll get it out for public comment:




The ending of the Scott Pilgrim movie kind of sucks, and that actually doesn't really bother me. Which might surprise those who've heard, for example, my insufferable Howl's Moving Castle spiel. In short, I think the way the movie engages with video game grammar and video game logic allows multiple endings to harmoniously co-exist in a way not possible when those methods of story aren't invoked. (Wayne's World notwithstanding, because Wayne's World is special that way, and besides, it doesn't work quite the way I'm talking about here.)

Which is to say, video games are a narrative form where multiple endings are equal peers in an integrated whole. Sure, there's usually a "best" ending, but if you do a perfect playthrough to the good ending and then never touch the game again, you actually haven't experienced the whole game. Multiple passes, some of them "failed," are expected and accepted on the road to completion.

This lets the Scott Pilgrim movie diverge radically without becoming an "alternate" take on the story; it remains an integrated part of a single work. Without importing the concepts of branching paths and multi-pass completionism from video games, any ending to a story is necessarily the only ending, which polarizes readers and viewers and forces adaptations to exist in private worlds apart from their sources.

Anyway, the ending of Scott Pilgrim: The Movie is the perfectly legitimate ending that happens if you don't do any of the sidequests* and don't manage to keep Crash and the Boys alive through the fight with Patel. Yeah, it sucks; play better next time! (i.e. read the comics.)




* Ramona's fights at the library and Lee's Palace, learning how to fight girls, meeting Lisa at the mall (necessary for moving in with Ramona at the end of the Roxy chapter), helping Kim move house, the recording sidequest, facing Nega Scott early enough that you can unlock the Power of Understanding once you get to Gideon, getting a fucking job**, etc.

** Zvi, who hadn't read the comic at the time, pointed this one out: "I do think it's interesting that this is the only movie I can think of where the hero's sole reward at the end of the film is romantic fulfillment. He doesn't have a job, he doesn't have a place to live, he doesn't have a calling: all he's got going forward is Ramona. On the one hand, I disapprove of that as a conclusion for anyone, but, on the other hand, if that sort of thing is going to say with us, I think it should be an ending for boys, too."

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