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Joined 10/12/2012

Remember, always remember, to watch out for fireballs!

12 Posts

Specifically old game music.

Have any stories, opinions, feedback on old video game music and sound? Last generation or before? Please share!


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Hey guys.

Me and some of my goofball friends will be live streaming some Binding of Isaac tonight at 9PM pacific. Come join us!


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I don't write on here as much as I'd like (work/podcasts/class!) but I wanted to pop on and announce a new show that we're doing. If you are interested at all in the game Dark Souls (and you really should be), we have the show for you:


Have any of you ghosties played it? What did you think?

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Here goes! I'm trying to come at this from a "how to" or "guide" angle because I feel like my 360 hours of this game should be good for something. Let me know what you think.

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The Link's Awakening discussion made me think of this. World building is one of my all time favorite parts of video games and I wanted to start a series/discussion about concrete, specific moments that contribute to it. It's easy to say, "Oh, I was just totally lost in the world of Ico, it's so ethereal and wonderful!" It's much harder to point to specific moments and assets.

So I want to talk about my 3rd or 4th favorite game of the year, Dishonored. Dishonored creates an incredible world, a "whale punk" setting that I've never seen before. But I want to mention, specifically, food in dishonored. Just like in Bioshock, you can constantly chomp on bits of food to regain a little health. The food itself, however, reflects the world perfectly. You're not running into burgers and fries. In poor areas, you're running into Potted Whale Meat, Prachett Jellied Eels and Brined Hagfish. Give me a moment while I vomit. It's disgusting! But it really shows how the essential economy of this world is shaped by the sea.

In wealthier areas, you find tarts and fruit. Sausage from far away lands. Dishonored has some very heavy themes around class and the food plays into this wonderfully. You spend time in the slums and are disgusted to chomp down some jellied eels, you go to the wealthy district and are relieved to eat a Tyrian Pear.

It's just a tiny example of an essential principle of game design: Everything needs to be there for a reason. Setting needs to serve theme and character.


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For the 5th episode of Watch Out For Fireballs, we did a good example of what would almost become a standard for the show: Deeply Flawed Gems. I'm on the record as saying that the open ended, first person RPG is more or less my favorite genre. You know, Deus Ex, System Shock, Bloodlines...um, almost nothing else? Bioshock and Dishonored sort of scratch this itch but criminy, are there not enough games like this. I feel like each one is a national treasure. I want a Bloodlines related holiday some time in April.

Bloodlines, like all those other games, is about choice. Choice is what separates games from puzzles and pure narratives. Choice is the ESSENTIAL aspect of game. If you aren't making choices, you aren't playing a game. I value games that value this. Bloodlines is ALMOST great at it. For most of the game, you can sneak or negotiate or kill or use powers or what have you. What happens about 3/4 the way through, however, is the Troika effect; the devs ran out of time and/or money and things get rushed and combat heavy. So god help you if you didn't roll a combat viable character.

The game plays drastically differently based on your choice of race in the beginning of the game, which points to the 2nd bit of choice being the essential aspect of game: you need to make choices, they need to matter. If you're a Malkavian, you are batshit insane, can spread your madness, have entirely different dialog the entire game. If you're Nosferatu, you can't allow yourself to be seen by humans without dire consequences. Other races impact your skills, abilities and dialog.

Still though, the story is dark and engaging, the quests are varied, the world is rich and interesting. More and more, I'm finding that almost all of my favorite games have a lot in common with table top gaming. Emulating that experience makes for a very different kind of fun than a mario or a zelda. Play this game when it goes on sale for five bucks on Steam.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention The Oceanside Hotel. A haunted house mission where nothing can hurt you, you'd be hard pressed to find a more tense, lovingly crafted horror experience in games. I want an entire game of this, just haunted houses where nothing can hurt you but everything freaks you the fuck out. It's not the best horror experience in gaming (or even the best one we'd done on the podcast so far) but it's top shelf.


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SMRPG is a game that, in retrospect, I consider to be an interesting failure. There's a lot to recommend it but almost as many sore spots. Let's start with the good:

The Timing System: What is the number one genre staple in JRPGs that is persistently tolerated and rarely improved? The grind. 80% of JRPGs consist of pressing the action button. This is true. Random battles rarely require any sort of deep strategical thinking and can be conquered with basic attacks. This is necessary; it'd be exhausting to think each and every encounter. It'd be like having to figure out the best way to tackle a goomba. So, this gets boring, almost every time. In SMRPG, they introduce this rudimentary timed button press system to keep you engaged throughout. This is a masterstroke innovation.

The Tone: Most JRPGs are bleak stuff (Earthbound aside). The tone here is goofy, light and fun, a real rarity at the time.

Then, we run into a bunch of stuff that's passable in the middle. The character advancement, as it were, the level designs, the music. It's all *fine* without being remarkable (at least to me). On to demerits:

The Characters: I might be in the minority here but I didn't like many of the new characters introduced. When you have a powerful license like Mario, why populate your game with uncharismatic new comers? A lot of the designs just seemed dumb and amateurish to me.

The Villains: This ties into the last point but this game has a serious case of an unforeseen bad guy coming up out of nowhere at the end. Now, Final Fantasy 4 does this as well but much more successfully. The ultimate antagonist of SMRPG is just an evil weapon maker with no back story. At least in FF4 he was an Azathothian cosmic horror.

In the end, worth playing but I didn't love it. Check out the episode for a more in depth discussion:


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Warning: This is a poorly organized gush.

I love the world of Call of Cthulhu as it relates to games. I have a post I want to write at some point about the table top game but what it comes down to is what I like to call a "disempowerment fantasy." We spend so much time as badass spacemarines and sparkflash embermages that it's refreshing to play a game where we're just a regular dude. This lends itself well to the horror genre but a lot of survival horror eschews this idea. Though you may start out relatively powerless in Resident Evil or Silent Hill, before long you're blasting and/or bashing in skulls and even in the early game, you are more than a match for a few zombies. There are exceptions, of course, like the Penumbra games, Amnesia, Haunting Ground or Clocktower.

This game straddles the line. For the first half, you are entirely defenseless and moreover, it plays like an adventure game. You're solving puzzles and soaking in atmosphere. The game is bifurcated by one of my all time favorite sequences in a video game (I'll talk about that a moment), and afterwards you have weapons. But your aim sucks and it's hard to hit enemies. If you run into a couple of guys, you're more or less fucked. I'm not going to say it's realistic but it's more so. You're not a badass. You're a bookish detective. It's very rarely a good idea to just charge into a situation with guns blazing. You use splits to heal broken legs and bandages to heal cuts. Super neat.

Further, the game does a great job at being unnerving without resorting to jump scares. The citizens of the town you're explore are subtly off and refer to terrible things in off handed ways. They're not openly malevolent, until they are and christ, it's amazing. This game is based on a couple of books by HP Lovecraft, the primary one being The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The climax of that book is an escape from an inn and this game replicates it perfectly. I'm going to say that it's the best translation of a specific scene from a book to a game EVER. If you've played it, you know what I mean. Thrilling, terrifying. I fucking love it. This game is must play up to that point.

Yes, it loses some shine, yes it has some rough edges. We talk about those a lot in the episode. But there are things this game does better than any other game I've played, specifically the idea of pursuit as a game mechanic.

I apologize for the touch of madness that caused this to be so disorganized. Underrated gem.


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In the first Watch Out For Fireballs, we did a show about the evolution of a series. For the second, we went with something closer to a revolution. Adventure games simplified their parser through the years, starting with straight up text (Use lamp on torch) to a verb based system (like Monkey Island) and eventually moved to this entirely contextual, one click interface. How did this change the game?

Myst is a product of this entirely. The puzzles deal with mechanics, literally, because when you only have one possible interaction with something, "operate" makes the most sense. The nouns you interact with in Myst generally are just switches, buttons and levers: perfect for this sort of set up. This could lead to a purely puzzle based experience but the game deals out narrative in an interesting way: entirely through background text and images. Indirect, like Half Life 2. You don't know exactly what happened, just that something has, and you piece together the story slowly and methodically. You do so by exploring these deserted environments and the feeling of isolation is powerful.

That said, there's a huge divorce between play and story. The hardest part to get used to is that it feels a little like story bits are separated by puzzles. The puzzles are sort of flood gates between bits of narrative. In other adventure games, the puzzles and solutions are often tied directly to what you're trying to do (fool a guard, get a trinket out of a sewer). In Myst, you're often just trying to get somewhere or get past a literal gate. This is jarring if you're not expecting it.

There are some BS puzzles and I mostly favor adventure games a little closer to the narrative side of the axis but this is a must play and available on just about everything.


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There's a joy to be had in perfection through simplicity. The kind of perfection that comes without dizzying highs. Revolution over evolution, etc. That's what I think of when I think of Mega Man X.

Mega Man 2 was my first NES game (along with SMB and, puke, Operation Wolf) and my imagination was ignited by the setting and concept. There's something elemental to the idea of killing an enemy to get his power. It's why ancient tribes ate the hearts of their enemies. This game allows you eat metallic heart after metallic heart until you have the power of a dozen tribes. Mega Man X perfected what Mega Man 2 started and that's why we chose it for the first episode of Watch Out For Fireballs.


Every aspect of the earlier Mega Man games is improved here. The levels are more complex now that the wall climb allows verticality and, in a move few games have replicated, the order you tackle the stages greatly changes their content. The way this blew my mind as a child....

This game not only rewards reflexes but also exploration. By searching out of the way places and applying your myriad powers in creative ways, you can get a host of upgrades that, in turn, unlock further exploration. This metroidvania touch works wonders, elevating the game from an arcade platformer to something more.

Since you're going to be spending so much time dissecting these levels, it's a good thing they're varied and interesting and it's a good thing the music is top notch. One of the top 5 SNES games, I'd say, and one of the greatest platformers ever.

What do you guys think?

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