Tuesday, 14 August 2012

How to spot a truly oddball moment in a video game

The word 'weird' in its broadest absolute sense can relate to anything or anyone that seems out of the ordinary, or not conforming to a general expectation. However weirdness is in the eye of the beholder and is more often than not a relative concept. If you imagine what a weird person would act and look like then chances are there is somebody that approximates that description who has a completely different idea of what a weird person is. It also depends where you are standing, at a cosplay event it is perfectly natural to see somebody dresses as Dr. Fetus from the Meat Boy games, but if my driving instructor was wearing that to a lesson... you get the idea.

Although I don't know when or where I'd consider "Bananarine" a regular part of my day.
So when I'm playing Conker's Bad Fur Day I don't think it weird that there's a sunflower with big boobies that I need to use to reach higher platforms. If that was in Super Mario Galaxy, yes, that would be messed up (although that would probably be more legitimate way to move between planets) but since it was featured in a game also including a giant boiler with balls and a couple of "pissing sections" it's not considered to be all that weird within the scope of the game. I must also emphasise that these oddities are made all the stranger because the player has to actually interact with these scenes. You do need to jump on the boobies instead of just hearing about it happen. Here are a couple of my personal experiences with true gaming weirdness.

The Girl Next Door - Final Fantasy 8
Now I'm one of those people who think the Junction system in this game was pretty effing cool and that number 8 is one the best games in the series. Maybe the fact that despite the widespread use of magic and the commonplace existence of monsters and other creatures, that the human society of this world is actually kinda normalish. People don't live in castles, villages or forts. They live in towns and cities with trains, hotels and tv studios. Even the character design isn't too over the top and this is Square (pre-Enix era, a.k.a "Square Preenix") we're talking about here. The 'modern society' bent of this game was possibly pushed a little bit too far by the inclusion of an item called "The Girl Next Door" which has an item which reads "a naughty magasine". You aren't actually allowed to buy it either because the shopkeeper says the group is  underage, which clears up any ambiguity that this is porno we're talking about here. Little did the shopkeeper know that my characters would need the material to calm their nerves before a big assassination mission further down the line.  

"Don't worry mate, I've got the emergency porn right here"
But as luck would have it, you can just find porn lying around on the street in the city of Timber. So I pick up my "naughty magasine" and get on my merry little way. That was in Disc 1 somewhere. Hours later in Disc 3 I find an NPC by the name of Zone who can not believe that I've found a copy of said sordid material and demands that I sell it to him. I can get 25000 gil for it (!!!) or I can give it to him for free and get a couple of rare cards for the Triple Triad card game, which is by far the better prize. So basically my main character Squall (I'm having none of this 'Leon' shit) has been reduced to a tawdry porn courier. Worse still, is that the moral of this particular side quest is that "It is morally superior to give porn you find on the street away for free". Possibly even more disturbing is that you can elect to keep the magasine all to yourself, which brings me on to my next example.

To the Men's Toilets for a Quick Perv  - Catherine
This game, unlike FF8 is meant to rife with sexual themes, given that the main story focuses on a man guilty of cheating on his long term girlfriend with the titular Catherine. Given that the main character Vincent spends most of his time running around block puzzles wearing nothing but pink boxer shorts and some fetching ram horns (the horns are on his head if you were wondering) I wouldn't even think twice about a 'naughty magasine' making an appearance. That would just be part of the fun!

There is already more explicit content in this game on its front cover then there is in FF8
    But twice during the game (maybe more than that but I played the "faithful lover" story line) Vincent receives provocative text messages from Catherine who has taken pictures of herself posing suggestively. Pfft, whatever that's fine, I know that's consistent with what Catherine is like as a character and fits in well with the game's overall tone. What really takes the biscuit is that in order to open the image attachment on his mobile phone, Vincent insists that he needs to do so in the privacy of a toilet cubicle at the Stray Sheep bar. I've already fulfilled the role of 'discarded porn courier' but now Atlus expects me to be okay with the role of 'shameless toilet masturbator'? Odder still is that there is no benefit or downside to doing this, it's just in the game. So yes, I was okay with it. Still weird.

I am the Eggman  - Dark Souls

I've discussed at length before how great I think the tone of this game is. In fact I even beat the haughty likes of Edge magasine to the punch in talking about Anor Londo's grandeur so there's no doubting that this game is polished and feels awesome to play. They might have pushed the 'we're going to make you feel insignificant' button a little too hard when they decide how to transport you back to the Undead Asylum for any revisits you make to that location. For the most part, Dark Souls boasts a seamlessly epic world where you can walk to anywhere on the map without loading screens or tedious Mass Effect style elevator rides. However for some transitions they do break this rule. To get to Anor Londo you need to be carried there by winged demon angel creatures, to get to the Painted World there is a fade out as you enter the painting and when you leave the Undead Asylum for the first time there's a really cool segment where a giant raven (or is it a crow? If only there was a device that would automatically tell the difference for me...) snatches you up and flies you to Lordran.

"That's so Raven" -- unless it's a crow.
But to get back to the Undead Asylum you need to somehow coax this giant winged fellow to take you there and you do that by crawling into its nest and pretending to be an egg. I may be imagining this but I'm sure a button input command appears as you approach the nest which says (Pretend to be an egg) or something daft like that but the fact remains that this moment is a single beacon of stupid in an otherwise flawlessly harrowing, desolate game.

I could make this article go on for pages more but there's my little selection. Honorable mentions go to:

  • Hugging (or not hugging) Leonardo Da Vinci - Assassin's Creed series
  • The Toilet Hand NPC - Legend of Zelda series (what is he doing in there?)
  • The Tea Brewing Side Quest - Professor Layton series

  That's plenty of article. Bye.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Jak's Minecraft Diary #2 - The Matrix Reloaded

It's been a long long while since my first Minecraft write-up but that's because there's been a major shake up in how the server I'm playing on operates.

Diary #002 - Reboot to the Law of Nature

During the third act of The Matrix there is a memorable scene where Agent Smith shares a monologue with a heavily drugged up Morpheus, where he talks about the a prototype Matrix in which the machines designed everything to be perfect so the humans would want for nothing. "It was a disaster" declares Smith, saying that the humans couldn't handle a life without pain and turmoil. As a result the machines tore down that version of reality to build the humdrum, truer to reality version of the Matrix that exists.

Morpheus never did get the hang of those pesky headphones.

A parallel to this tale occurred in NoomCraft, where originally it was the case that every user had psuedo-admin right that gave them the right to gift themselves with any amount of any type of item they pleased. be it gold, diamond or netherack. The world soon became a joyless place where crazy structures sprung up within minutes and no sense of achievement was to be had from building the highest towers or by surviving in the Nether when a full complement of diamond weapons and armour was but a mere command line input or two away.  

It was basically too easy to do this, amongst other things.
So with a swift reboot of the world there was a new addition to the Noomstitution...

The Noomstitution - 2012
  1. Thou Shalt Not Rob from Other Miners - (meridian)
  2. When Lodging in the House of Other Miners, Thou Shalt Not Leave the Doors Open (meridian)
  3.  No Griefing (meridian)
  4. Thou Shalt Not Let Mobs Follow Thee Home At Night (Jak)
  5. If Thou'st Allow'st a Creeper'st to Blow'st up'st the House of a Fellow Miner, Thou Shal'st Repair'st said House. (Jak) 
  6. Everyone Shalt Toil in the Field and the Mine for Every Little Thing (meridian)

So with that in mind the regular users (whose ranks have somewhat increased since last time) set about carving out a little slice of heaven for themselves the hard way with shovel, hoe, axe and pick. Soon an effort to create a full on kingdom was hatched by users meridian and nadir, who showed us all how it was done by building the world's first super castle near the spawn settlement area.

It was a doozy too, no shortcuts here!
 The above image was borrowed from the server's very own blog, which features some lovingly taken screenshots of some notable buildings so far.

With the castle built, many other users felt inadequate in its presence and began to populate its interior with small buildings, modest tree houses and in my case... a hideous water slide of a house. It seems that most of my more ambitious creative efforts are doomed to fail. As well as constructing my aquatic monstrosity...

I've managed to ignore the laws of optics to create an inverted rainbow. But the castle rules right?
So sulking in my little corner I decided that rather than fail on my own, I'd contribute to the overall kingdom feel to the server's ever burgeoning development. While the architects that brought you this castle were off building another mega structure, I decided to ask the community what use I could be in fleshing out the world that has been so lovingly crafted. Would I get to build a village? An agricultural vista of corn perhaps? 

I was asked to provide street lights to the main roads connected settlements. My dad used to be project manager overseeing the installation and maintenance of lamp posts in the North East of England. Now by some trick of fate I was fulfilling this role in a virtual world. Although this depressed me at first...

Something about this job feels very fulfilling to me
Hopefully in the next instalmnt of this feature I'll have been given a more satisfying role to fill. See you next time chumps and chumpettes!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Project Zomboid: An Undead Adventure in Pictures - Part 1 - Michael Dodds

A few weeks ago, I did a brief review of Project Zomboid, a survival horror RPG made by The Indie Stone. As you may recall, despite the game being unfinished, its atmospheric elements seriously impressed me, and I gave it my blessing. I promised that I would do a walkthrough of a free roam game, and without further ado, here it is. Just a few points to note before we sink our teeth in:

            -This version of the game is NOT the same version that I reviewed. It is an adapted version for Mac users (like me), which is similar to the full Windows version, but still contains a number of bugs, This is why, for instance, I haven’t shown the character creation screen.

            -The graphics are improved from the screenshots in the review, and the gameplay map is much, much larger, as is the variety of weapons and in-game items.

            -I’m writing this in real time, i.e. I’m pausing the game and taking screenshots every minute or two of gameplay, and writing captions then about what’s going on.

1.  Okay, this guy is Ben Jakson (or Jak Benson). He is a construction worker character, meaning he builds barricades faster and quieter than other characters, is more difficult to injure, and is shirtless. I seem to have spawned in a bathroom, but, because my spacial awareness is limited, I have no idea what is in the rest of the building.

2.  Venturing into the unknown, I find that I’ve spawned in an office building, which isn’t ideal at all. There are many points of entry, a lack of food and weapons, and a lot of places for those tricky zombies to hide, (zombies will only appear in the illuminated area of the gameplay screen, which represents my character’s point of view). I’m also probably in the most populated area in town, and therefore the most dangerous. I do, however, find a lollypop in a drawer. It gives me a small boost to hunger and happiness (apparently). Every cloud.

3.  A quick search of the building lets me know there are no zombies inside. I can see a few in the street though, and I’m not armed. I could outrun them, and find more suitable shelter, but it’ll be tricky, and it’s going to be dark soon. I’ll spend the night on one of those sofas and pray that no brain-munchers happen to stop by. There is also an awful lot of whiskey and anti-depressants in these desks. It was clearly a fun place to work.

4. I ingest a cocktail of drugs until I’m drowsy enough to go to sleep. I wake up earlier than I had hoped. It’s still dark, and I’m hungry. What is even more pressing, however, is that I can hear the squeaky pawing of zombies on the windows below. Whether they know I’m here or not, they want in. I should probably think about getting out of here.

5. A quick scan of the street from the roof of the building. I can see bodies on the street. They might be NPCs, they might be zombies. I can’t tell from here, but like it or not, I’ll find out soon enough.

6.  IMPERIAL TROOPS HAVE ENTERED THE BASE! Definitely time to leave. I have no way to defend myself yet.

7.  Wielding a frying pan I found in a desk at reception (spawning of items is something this game doesn’t seem to have down yet), I make my way to street level. An NPC was on a serious rampage here last night, which explains the zombie population, as well as the chunky bits on the street.

8.  While I’m panicking too much to take any screenshots, a posse NPCs show up and distract the zombies, allowing me to escape. This was a fluke, as AI in the game isn’t actually that advanced, Thanks anyway, Greg Sanchez, you plank wielding guardian angel!

9. My jubilation is cut short, as my request to team up is met with heartbreaking yet  relatable rejection. NPCs can be just as dangerous as zombies in this game, so I decide to leave old Mr. Sulky Sanchez alone. I don’t want to get the plank in the face, after all.

10.  Speaking of my face, and to add injury to insult (see what I did there?) I notice that I’ve been injured. A zombie must have grabbed me as I tried to battle some of them, and my face has been scratched. This yields a 25% chance of infection, and I have to find some way to treat this. I’m outside a suburban home, so I have a good chance of finding food and water here. My character is stressed, hungry, in pain, and angry as hell. I just need to go unnoticed for a little while so I can recover...

Will Ben Jakson find his redemption within the suburban home? Will he earn Grumpy Greg’s trust? Will he EVER get the chance to slay a zombie with his trusty frying pan? Find out next time, readers.