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This Summer: The Kacho Has Never Been More On

Sometimes I really wish I lived in Japan.

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What I’m Playing Right Now

Just a quick update. I feel like I should write something here.

- I actually wasn’t kidding about playing the second Phantasmagoria. I’m an hour or so in and, while it’s still a long way from a good adventure game, I can truthfully say it is miles better than the first one. I haven’t been able to work up the gumption to put any honest time into it yet, though. I’m sure I’ll get a bug up my butt one of these nights and plow through almost the whole thing in one sitting.

- I just finished Burnout Paradise for PS3. Well, finished as in ‘saw the credits’. Actually finishing that thing, as anyone who’s played it knows, would take about 100 hours. Not sure what to say about this one–it’s kind of weird! A lot of fun and a ton of content, but there are strange design quirks that make it pretty annoying to play at times. At its best, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had driving a car in a video game. But it can be immensely frustrating, too–sometimes almost simultaneously. It’s definitely a game that you need to be pretty GOOD at to get anything at all out of it, and I’m only middling. I don’t regret getting it or anything, though. I’ll probably come back to it here and there to (try to) unlock more cars.

- I also beat Picross e for the 3DS. This one I did actually finish–all 150 puzzles or whatever. I love me some Picross! Bring on e2 and e3!

- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies just came out. If you know me, you know this basically amounts to the Second Coming. My spirits are only about 10% dampened by there being no physical release. Such a sadness–but I’m soldiering on. I’ve beaten the first case and it’s all coming back to me…

- I also played some Jak 2 on the Jak and Daxter Collection last night. Last year, I 100%ed the original Jak and Daxter on it, and then started the sequel only to quit in frustrated bewilderment. I played about an hour and a half last night and beat the part I was stuck on before, but quickly found myself in some kind of apocalyptically bad hoverboarding minigame. From what I can tell, it is required to continue the game. They plunk you down in this skate park and clumsily teach you all these button combinations for tricks like it’s Tony Fucking Hawk all of the sudden. Fuck this game. I do not understand why TONS of people seem to swear by it. It’s one of those weird divisive games that people think is either the absolute best or the worst in the series–no inbetween position. That probably owes to how different it is from the other two. Personally, I haven’t enjoyed a goddamn second of it. Part of me me wants to skip straight to Jak 3, part of me wants to just write off the whole collection, but none of me wants to play this stupid game anymore. I don’t think I’ll be coming back to it again.

I think that’s it for now. Stay tuned!

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Another Brief Word on Phantasmagoria

RAPE!

There, now you know how I felt upon starting my latest (and last) session of Roberta Williams’ Phantasmagoria. Turns out I had saved right before that infamous scene of sexual assault that so dominated the coverage of this game in its day, so it was literally the first thing that blindsided me when I turned the game on. Also, the scene itself had about as much class, tact, and nuance as someone just yelling the word, so, there you go. There’s your Phantasmagoria experience in a nutshell.

Truth be told, the scene itself is pretty tame, and probably didn’t warrant as much discussion as it got. Loving dry-humping through clothes turns into angry, forceful dry-humping through clothes, and thats about the extent of it. But, for the time that was pretty unheard of (I mean, I guess it still is now, huh?) so Mrs. Williams’ desire to push the boundaries paid off.

Of course, the only other boundaries she pushed with this game is just how much you can steal from your genre contemporaries and embarrass yourself in the process. As I described in the last post, the first half of the game is a slog through a cut-rate, silly version of The Shining‘s setup, but plunging into the back end where you “unravel” the “mystery” of the “story” quickly reveals that the game is actually just an enormous ripoff of Trilobyte’s 1993 point-and-click puzzle game The 7th Guest.

Phantasmagoria’s plot turns out to be about how the magician who once lived in Adrienne’s new mansion practiced real, black magic and was possessed by a demon which caused him to murder his many wives and his daughter. As you progress through the later part of the game, Adrienne has visions of the murders occurring throughout the house, and ends up facing her possessed husband, and eventually the (incredibly ridiculous looking) demon itself.

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Ahh! It’s Blue Diablo!

The 7th Guest is also about how a famous entertainer of children–this time a toymaker–used demonic magic to build his career and ended up murdering a bunch of people in his creepy old mansion, which the player similarly witnesses as flashbacks, and slowly pieces together by exploring the grounds and seeing what happened in each location.

So, Phantasmagoria ends up being the answer to the abhorrent question “What if we took The 7th Guest and made it…more EXTREME?”. Where Guest has a tasteful, mostly implied sex scene, Phantasmagoria has a full-on rape. Where Guest has the player witness ghostly murders play out from a first-person, detached viewpoint, making them distant, obscured and disturbing, Phantasmagoria has a bunch of multi-angle-shot scenes of “ironic”, grisly murders (exclusively of women) which the player’s character witnesses by looking through mirrors. Where Guest has a supernatural villain respresenting greed who exploits the many weaknesses of humanity in order to carry out his dark urges (stealing the souls of children), Phantasmagoria has a literal, giant demon that chases you around the mansion and kills people because it’s evil, and that’s what evil things do.

Phantasmagoria’s plot is incredibly pedestrian and yet confusing becuase of how poorly it’s told. Depending on how you play, you can end up missing large chunks of it, but that may actually be for the best. I’d love to describe it in more detail, but I a) hardly remember most of it, which should tell you something, and b) what I do remember is so overwrought and embarrassing that I don’t have the energy to go into it. It’s like one of those bad movies that’s almost ‘so bad it’s funny’, but just ends up being ‘so bad it’s really, really boring’. Like Christopher Lambert’s Beowulf.

As much as I want to be done talking about the story, I think I do need to touch on at least one particular scene, which may be the clumsiest and most ludicrous moment of exposition in anything, ever.

WARNING: None of this is a joke, or even slightly embellished.

After wandering around the mansion for a while and wondering what the heck the deal is, Adrienne is invited to participate in a seance hosted by the two squatters who she discovered on her property earlier, and inexplicably agreed to take on as groundskeepers. For the record, these two people are: An ultra-exaggerated caricature of an old, haggard bumpkin woman, and her enormous simpleton son, played like an actual Warner Brothers cartoon-character version of Lenny from Of Mice and Men.

So yeah, they’re holding a seance in the barn and Adrienne is like, ok, I’ll indulge these mentally-handicapped people who work for me, why not? Of course, the old mother manages to actually contact the spirit world, but what happens as a result is absolutely unhinged. She starts seizing and barfs up a load of green goo which (in an effect lifted directly out of The 7th Guest) forms into a face. It’s the spirit of the evil magician himself, who proceeds–quite politely–to explain his entire backstory and the central conflict of the game.

“I, Zoltan Carnovasch, was greedy and foolish, and opened the door to the dark dimension. I released an obscenity, an entity of pure evil. It had been contained, but now the pestilence is free to infect once more. You are the chosen one. Only you can send it back.”

Graceful, yes?

Sigh. I’m getting tired of ragging on this game, so I’ll stop now. It’s just really, really, really bad. Maybe one of the worst games I’ve ever played. But it has a couple of good points…I think? Let’s see how many I can think of.

- “Carno”–the villain’s stage name–is pretty perfectly chosen. The root carn (meaning flesh) brings to mind a lot of gruesome imagery (carnivore, carnage), in addition to sexual (carnal) and other fun connotations (carnival). Fits the game’s themes very well.

- Victoria Morsell, the actress who plays Adrienne, is actually kind of not terrible in a couple scenes. Read any line from the script and you can tell she’s not exactly being given a lot to work with, and there have been worse green-screen performances. Certainly much better than the guy who plays her husband (who’s so over the top he’s wrapped around and is back at the bottom). Also, she’s pretty cute.

- I like that Don, the husband is a photographer, and so as he’s going crazy, he spends more and more time in his dark room. For some reason I always enjoy a dark room as a threatening place. I also like that the final chase sequence kicks off there. (And hey, it’s a DARK room, get it?)

- Adrienne and Don have a cat named “Spaz”. That’s a great name for a cat.

- Uh…

So yeah, I think I’m done here. If I have some flashback to something ridiculous that I forgot, I’ll let you know. But, suffice it to say, Phantasmagoria is pretty terrible.

On to the (non-)sequel Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh!

ph2curtis_7290

Thrills!

P.S.: Remember in my first post about this game, how I complained about how slowly your character does everything? Please enjoy.

 

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A Brief Word on Phantasmagoria

It’s tough to motivate myself to write anything here when I’m staring down that long list favorites, so I think I need to start out a little smaller. In that spirit, I’ll just write about what I’m playing lately. For some reason, that is Phantasmagoria.

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Oh, I’m praying, alright.

Sorry, “Roberta Williams’ Phantasmagoria”.

Yup, it’s one of those. Has any game with a designer’s name on it every been good? Actually, nah, there are plenty. Sid Meier’s been doing it his whole career and his shit’s legit. I guess American McGee has just ruined it for everyone else, heh.

Anyway, putting her name on the game betrays Mrs. Williams’ pretensions right from the start, and to be honest that is most of the problem with this game. It’s a notoriously bad point-and-click adventure, and you know, I could usually get behind that! Bad movies and games are great, and especially (as Half in the Bag recently discussed) when they’re made with earnestness, and true belief that the production is good. But when that honesty spills over into a clear, deep arrogance like this, then you’re in trouble.

This is obviously Roberta Williams’ attempt to take the then-burgeoning FMV adventure game trend and put her stamp on it. After all, she’d basically invented the genre that that particular fad was nested in, so why shouldn’t she show ‘em how its done? Well, at this point in her career, it was evident that she was already losing her touch. She’d just put out the abysmal King’s Quest VII (a to-this-day shocking and unexplained turnaround from the genre-defining King’s Quest VI), and like Phantasmagoria, that game suffered immensely from a misplaced emphasis on long-winded storytelling amid messy, experimental, great-in-concept visuals.

Like its precursors, Phantasmagoria takes on the tall order of merging rendered 3D backgrounds with green-screened video footage of live actors. As anyone who’s ever played one of these games should know, this looks weird. Good games of the time creatively worked around this issue, or cleverly masked it. Myst kept all of its live video footage confined to magical books the player viewed other worlds with, making the divide in visuals seem natural. The 7th Guest had its video characters appear only as wispy, transparent ghosts against its dark haunted-house backdrop, using the disparity to support the spooky vibe and working it into the story. Phantasmagoria has no such resourcefulness. It just smashes into the problem head-on, presenting us with real actors onscreen 100% of the time, floating through brightly lit, enormously ugly renders of the silliest haunted mansion you’ve ever seen, as well as everyday environments like streets and stores that look like they were designed by aliens.

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Seamless.

It’s weird. There is absolutely no cunning or cleverness about this production whatsoever. Like, you think they’d cut away from questionable-looking shit or use some kind of tricky filming to get around the awkwardness, but they don’t, they never do. Every shot of the characters miming an interaction with a badly rendered door or whatever is soooo slooooww and longgggg that you can see every minute detail of how they were directed to do it. It’s like they’re weirdly proud of their achievement, or something, but even for games of the time it’s terrible! I don’t get it.

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So natural.

Just walking the game’s heroine, Adrienne, around the opening environment for a couple minutes will give you the full measure of this game’s weirdness. Between walking animations, Adrienne always stands in the same awkward stance–back perfectly straight, eyes blankly ahead, feet together. She transitions into and out of this pose before and after everything she does, as this is clearly the ‘default’ position they used as the cornerstone to make her animation work. I get it, that’s fine. But the default they chose is so incredibly unnatural that it destroys any low-level immersion the game had managed. Seriously, imagine you’re watching a movie and every time the main character did anything–opened a door, bent down to pick something up, turned off a water faucet–they took two seconds to return to a rigid, robotic posture before doing anything else. It’s jarring. She’ll even do it before a cut to a different angle, which strikes me as the perfect opportunity to ditch that shit, but no. Actually, maybe that makes it better. Makes you think…that’s just how Adrienne is! She’s a weirdo about posture, haha. Ahh…

On top of that very basic ineptitude, there are other weirdnesses with the filming and how the characters are portrayed. For one, every single thing Adrienne does takes so FUCKING long, you will not believe it. I can’t complain too much, because you have the option to skip any animation (the game would be unplayable if you didn’t), but it is downright comical at times. I found myself completely entranced last night, while after commanding Adrienne to climb out of the cellar she took a solid, no-shit TEN SECONDS to close the trap door behind her before moving on. I know that doesn’t sound like too much, but seriously, this is a video game. Watching your character close a door for ten seconds is absolutely ridiculous. Now apply that to every other action in the game, most of which are equally mundane. Turning on and shutting off a faucet, unlocking a door with a key, walking up a flight of stairs–it’s all interminable. And it can be easily explained, sadly. When they were filming these actions, they obviously did only one take, called it good if it went ok, and didn’t think for one second about how it would translate into a GAME. Oh, and then used that footage untouched, no matter how long or bad, in the final game. I swear, this game plays like a long string of completely unedited footage from dailies off some bad movie. There is no pacing or artfulness to anything. Virtually no thought to framing, composition or anything else from a young person’s first hour at film school. It feels so wrong.

In addition, our poor heroine herself is ridiculous. The actress playing Adrienne is very pretty, and the camera sometimes seems to linger on her face and chest for longer than it needs to, imparting a touch of creepy voyeurism (and given what I know about what happens later in this game, I’m confident I’m not reading too much into things here), but at the same time, her clothes are weird and unflattering. Adrienne’s sporting a dull orange sweater, black mom jeans, and bright white sneakers. And hilariously, despite the events of the game taking place over a series of consecutive days, this is what she’s always wearing. Her character waffles between being an intelligent, independent woman and a weak, dominated dim-bulb at a moments notice, and it ends up making her as blank as the look on her face when she’s standing around between actions. For another female protagonist from Roberta Williams, the woman who dared to break that boundary earlier in her career when it was unheard of, this is pretty disappointing…and doubly so, given, again, what I’ve heard about the later events in this game apparently involving rape and lots of women being murdered in creative ways.

But, oh boy, doesn’t that last part sound exciting and adult! Rape and murder! In my computer adventure game! That was how they were selling it back in the day, and I’ll admit that the notoriously ‘adult’ nature of this game is part of why I’m playing it now. But man, oh man, people must have been disappointed in this game, haha. I am coming up on halfway through it and noooooooooooooooooothiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing whatsoever has happened yet. I’m not even talking like the gruesome shit. I’m saying seriously nothing. Here, I’ll sum it up for you, tell me what you think.

The setup is that a young couple moves into a crazy, creepy mansion once owned by a scary magician who died here with his wife, or something. They’re not sure.

Now imagine that basic setup as the plot of a film (The Shining, perhaps), and how you figure the pacing of that should work. Now imagine it as a VIDEO GAME, which is going to be much longer than a film yet at the same time demand more action up-front, as it is an interactive medium.

So, with that in mind, imagine that this is the entire first half:

  • The husband and wife move in, and the husband sets about working on the plumbing, which is in disrepair.
  • The wife explores the strange mansion and experiences minor potential poltergeist activity, all in broad daylight.
  • The wife meets two squatters living on their property and agrees to let them stay in exchange for work, without consulting her husband.
  • The wife visits the nearby town and speaks with her realtor, the owner of a general store, and an antiques dealer, all of whom intimate that the mansion may be haunted.
  • The wife also discovers that the magician had a young ward who stayed at the mansion, and who, despite being one hundred years older, is still alive. She visits him at his home and he confirms that he knew the magician, and asks how the house is now.
  • The husband, without warning, becomes combative and abusive towards his wife. She mostly puts up with it.

AND THAT’S IT. Halfway done and that’s where we’re at. Seriously, if you can think of a video game where less happens in the first goddamn three hours, please mention it in the comments. Even for adventure games this is unheard of.

But you know what? All that said, I’m still enjoying myself. It’s crazy to see this, the weird grand finale to Roberta Williams’ video game career. It’s such a great monument to PC video game design of the day (it came on SEVEN CDs!!) that I’m just treating it like a gonzo history lesson. And it’s got a couple of ok points, too. Maybe I’ll talk about those in another post after I’ve played more.

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Been a While!

So, I’ve been dragging my feet with this blog for so long now that my Top 50 Favorites are actually a tad out of date. Without taking the time to actually think about it too hard, I’m guessing there are at least five games I’ve played in the three and a half years(!!!) since I made the list that would qualify for it.

Which puts me in a weird spot, kind of.  I feel like trying to start to begin to think about making a go of writing some entries again, but do I soldier on with the old list until I finish it, and then add the new arrivals in at the end as an addendum? Or should I figure out where they would place on the list now (an involved and scientific process which I won’t share with you) and then place them as they come up? Hmm.

Maybe I should just try fucking writing something here and worry about stupid logistics later.

Oh, and I should still change the name of the blog, too. Sounds stupider every time I see it. I dunno. Thoughts? Anyone read this anymore?

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SEGA’s Mascot Sonic the Hedgehog’s Most Excellent and Ultimate Sega Genesis Game Collection Compilation

It kind of is, though.

 

So, I’ve been playing this lately, and it’s really great!

For some reason, old school compilations like this have escaped me until now. Well, that’s not entirely true. I own Sonic Mega Collection and Mega Man Anniversary Collection for Gamecube, but other than that I never bought any of the hundred million of these things that came out for the PS2. Are they all as good as this? I doubt it.

First of all, the selection of games in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection is both enormous and comprehensive. You’ve got:

- Every single Sonic related Genesis game (seven total)
– All three Golden Axe games
– All three Streets of Rage games(!)
– All four Phantasy Star games(!!)
– The three Shining games
– Both Vectormans (Vectormen?)
– Both Eccos
– And THIRTY-TWO other ones, including classics like Ristar, Decap Attack, Dynamite Headdy and Shinobi

Forty-nine total games, yo. That’s a lot for $29.99. Oh wait, that’s what it cost originally. Now it’s about $15 on Amazon with free shipping. So $0.30 a game.

At that price, just the games would be enough, obviously, but there’s a lot of TLC in this package, too. The menus are slick and easy to navigate. There’s snarky little descriptions and fun facts about each game, clearly written by a knowledgable fan with a sense of humor about the whole thing. And these write-ups accompanied by hi-res, viewable scans of the box art, which is cool. The games themselves can be played in widescreen and there’s even an optional smoothing effect you can turn on if you’re a idiot and want the sprite art to be completely ruined for you. Save states too, for WEAKLINGS. (like me :| )

One of the best parts about the package, though, is how they implemented the achivements/trophies.  Maybe my expectations were set a little low, but I was pretty surprised at how varied and fun to get they were. They range from simple (Complete Mission 2 in E-SWAT) to more involved (Play Streets of Rage with all three characters) to murderously difficult (Beat Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine). So basically, you’ll stumble upon a good deal just screwing around with the various games, but there’s a number of them that you’ll have to actively try for. It’s a good balance, and that’s key, because the game’s extras are tied directly to the achievements. Once, uh…achieved, most will also unlock a developer interview or another playable Sega title, including Master System and coin-op arcade games. Oh, and they were clearly named by that same guy who wrote the funny game summaries. Very rewarding.

So, if you’re interested in any of these games or the Sega Genesis in general, please buy this. It’s got a ton of classic gameplay, it’s an absolutely outstanding value (especially now) and it was obviously made with a lot of love. What other game of this generation can you say all that about?

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Study Up, Son! – Chrontendo

Have you heard of Chrontendo? I hadn’t either until a couple weeks ago, when 1UP’s Bob Mackey did exactly what I’m doing right now and wrote a blog entry celebrating its many splendors. Feel free to stop reading this and just go over to his blog instead, if you want. I’m probably about to say all the same stuff about it anyway, and he’s a professional video game writer, so…

Anyway, Chrontendo is an expansive video series in which one very knowledgable dude called “Dr. Sparkle” sits down, plays, and talks about every single Famicom/NES game ever in the order of their release. Yep, all of them. He also gets into the development of the system, its place within video game history, its competitors, localization quirks and the individual stories of the various developers and publishers behind the titles we know and love (and the zillion that we don’t). He’s managed to find a perfect ratio of breadth to depth here, covering about 15 games per hour-long episode, and he’s currently 42 episodes deep.

I’m only on episode 12 at this point, but I’ve been really, really enjoying it so far. As you may know, I was a kid of the 16-bit generation, and I was juuuuust too young to have been able to enjoy the salad days of the NES’ dominance. Watching these videos is like an awesome, entertaining history lesson–a fully narrated encyclopedia of the industry’s resurgence and biggest creative boom. It’s a lot of fun to see the stories of these developers and franchises that we still celebrate today; to watch them take their first tentative steps out of the primordial ooze of arcade and computer development, and into the new frontier of home consoles.

Dr. Sparkle himself seems like a pretty cool guy, too. He’s exactly the sort of super-nerd I would want hosting something like this–studious, respectful, unpretentious, but with a dry humor that only peeks through when called for. Not to mention he really, really knows his shit.

So, if you’re interested at all, you need to check it out. Go here (thanks again to Bob Mackey) for the older entries if you want to start from the beginning, and also check out Dr. Sparkle’s current blog, which I linked to at the beginning of the post. Also, please note that he has started similar series covering the Sega Master System and the TurboGrafx. Those are sure to be awesome as well.

P.S.: Another big reason this series appeals to me: I kinda wanted to do something like this myself at one point. Being that the NES is such a big hole in my vidya knowledge base, I felt like eventually I should make an effort to just play every game and journal it in some form here. I was thinking it would be mostly for laughs, with me being amusingly baffled by weird old bad games, etc., etc., har har har. Obviously, Chrontendo is infinitely more useful and entertaining than me being all LOOK HOW SILLY THESE GRAPHICS ARE, LOL GUYS for 800 straight posts or whatever. Maybe someday I’ll find something to do here that isn’t completely redundant.

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