Keyboard Geniuses

Final Fantasy XII: Rabanstre

In Defense Of Invisible Walls

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By John Teti • April 27, 2012

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Dispatches From The Unlivable Cities

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Shanghai

Anthony John Agnello’s article on the “urban design” of in-game cities has been a topic of discussion for much of the week. I followed many of the resulting threads with interest. Here’s a sampling.

Commenter doyourealize noted that games’ distortion of space can have interesting effects on the perception of time, as well:

I remember playing one of the Final Fantasies for Game Boy a while ago (admittedly not great, very formulaic games, but I still played them). In the instruction manual, the authors wrote a short story of a journey the heroes take early in the game. In it, they wrote about how it took a few days to travel from one town to the next, a journey that in the game took maybe two minutes. I’ve always remembered that. The good games are pared down so only what’s necessary to the journey is displayed.

And I apply that to cities. We, as gamers, only see what we need to see—at least, that’s how it should be. (I’m looking at you, Grand Theft Auto!) It’s not that Adam Jensen never goes to the gas station to pick up an Orange Fanta, it’s that that doesn’t matter, so we don’t see it. I imagine all the interiors to un-enterable buildings are there, and sometimes your character even goes in them, just not when you’re looking.

Merve apologized for this supposedly “super-pretentious” comment, but I’ve read plenty of pretentious games commentary in my day, and this note on the aesthetics of the Deus Ex seres ain’t it:

One thing I love about the city design in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is how well the aesthetic balances “clean” and “dirty.” In the original Deus Ex, almost every place I visited felt dank, dirty, and grimy. Human Revolution, on the other hand, shows how a beautiful, clean LIMB Clinic and a dark, dirty alleyway can exist side by side. It’s a nice reflection of some of the ideas in the game: haves vs. have-nots, the augmented vs. the unaugmented, a façade of sophistication and scientific progress vs. the reality of dirty backroom deals and corporate espionage.

Now, on your typical internet comment thread, you might expect a post with a byline of ShitMcFuckensteinAVC to be something less than insightful. Those online rules of thumb don’t apply here, though. The right honorable Mr. McFuckenstein launched a discussion about invisible walls with this observation:

On the subject of invisible boundaries (a necessary evil), I’ve noticed that the Grand Theft Auto series seems to go out of its way to avoid them. In the process, they just make the play area an island in an infinite sea. I actually find this more jarring than if there were an invisible wall blocking access to the mainland. It’s definitely a difficult design question because you have to have borders, but you don’t want it to feel like they are there.

A lot of good comments on this one.

Children Are Our Future

In this week’s new-release roundup, I got all crotchety and wondered if the kids these days knew how good they have it, what with the panoply of downloadable, affordable, high-quality games at their disposal. Chip_Dipson reports that yes, today’s youth understand their good fortune on multiple levels:

My nine-year-old son appreciates how good he has it, but his perception of the gaming world is decidedly more fractured than it was when I was a kid. Where video games were essentially “all games are pretty expensive and you need to wait/earn them” for me as a kid, my son is very cognizant that there is a level of game that you wait and save for (console titles, some downloadable stuff), and smaller games that are essentially free and instant (basically anything covered in Sawbuck). The idea of waiting all week to watch a new episode of a TV show or a holiday special, or spending all of a Saturday morning watching cartoon through sugar-glazed eyes, is sadly lost on him though.

On The Kindness Of Clark

Dick Clark on the set of The $100,000 Pyramid

I enjoyed all the reflections on Dick Clark that were posted to my tribute on Monday. Perhaps the most insightful and moving was this comment from MattmanBegins:

More than dealing with the victorious in the Winner’s Circle, what I loved about Dick Clark as a host on Pyramid was how he dealt with the losers, which obviously happened more often. After the clock stopped, the lights would come up, Clark would head over to the rail, lean on it (careful to make sure the player was still the center of the camera shot), and offer his own clues to see if he could trip that trigger in the player’s brain that their celebrity partner was unable to reach. 

Dick was playing along, was engaging genuinely with this thing he was at the head of, and seemed to really enjoy it. Some probably thought that was faked, but I don’t believe it. This is the guy who even gave Michael Moore a brief chance to make sense when ambushed in his driveway in Bowling For Columbine. (Moore ended up looking like the bigger jerk in that scene.)

Dick Clark had more patience and more desire to connect with people than Pyramid, game shows, or his whole career really required. On the game show front, that was what appealed to me, more than the “control” aspect you mentioned. People can say what they want about Pat Sajak’s gee-whiz friendliness, or Alex Trebek’s avuncular positivity toward his contestants, but Dick Clark really carved out the space necessary in each show to indicate the empathy he felt with these players in this position with these phrases. And unlike the more businesslike Trebek, he was able to stay on target for television time limits AND show that warmth simultaneously. As game show hosts go, I probably only hold Bob Barker in higher regard (for his charm, not his boxing skills on the golf course).

Wonderful comment. I agree that Dick’s love of the game and his connection with the players (and audience) were genuine. He was passionate about the game of Pyramid and also happened to be quite good at it, no surprise. Not only was there the ritual in which Dick would jump in after a loss and often come up with an ideal clue, but he also had the pre-Winner’s Circle ritual of giving the contestants a shoulder massage (his “rubdowns”) during the commercial break so that they’d relax. Even after he’d hosted the show for over a decade, he had a heartfelt desire for the contestants to enjoy themselves. He will be missed. Thanks for your thoughts, MattmanBegins.

It’s A Hard-Knock Life

On The Level: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 - Airport

For his On The Level column this week, Joe Keiser considered the airport from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which he characterized as a “place of little failures.” That led a few readers to share their own tales of fail. Like ElDan:

It seems ridiculous, but I totally tried skateboarding one time, on the assumption that if I’m great at Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, obviously I’ve got to be at least decent at real skateboarding. I busted my ass pretty severely twice within 30 seconds and decided skateboarding was dead to me.

Then Effigy_Power did ElDan one better:

I have a story that can top that. My brother had been playing the rally activities of Gran Turismo 2 for an entire day and was then sent by my parents to pick up my little sister from a friend’s house. Deeply inspired by his prowess in the game and lobotomized by nine hours of sitting 24 inches away from the TV, he thought that his 1994 Pontiac Grand Am should be able to sort of slide through a corner. It was winter. The car had all-season tires. My brother is not a good driver. Steel bollards are harder than cars. $1,200 damage. License revoked by parental authority. Shamed for life.

Give Yourself Some Space

Tired of those ugly underscores in your commenter name? There’s a way to get rid of them. From the Disqus menu at the top of every comment thread, choose “Edit Profile.” Then click on the “Profile” tab. In the “Full Name” field, enter the handle you’d like to use in Disqus comment threads. Contrary to appearances, this doesn’t have to be your actual name—just type whatever name you’d like displayed when you make a comment. Most gloriously, you can use spaces in this field (unlike the “username” field), so you can be the dashing “Mega Man 2 Savant” instead of the homely “Mega_Man_2_Savant.”

And no, I have no idea why Disqus is set up like this.

By the way, Disqus may “helpfully” ask you to merge your Disqus comment account with your A.V. Club comment account. For the time being, I recommend you don’t do this. It worked fine for me, but many other people have encountered bugs, and there is no going back. If you upload your avatar image to the Disqus system and use the method described above to set your handle, you can easily create a replica of your AVC identity without having to munge your user information between the two systems.

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1,531 Responses to “In Defense Of Invisible Walls”

  1. 3FistedHumdinger says:

     I had to urban dictionary the word ‘munge.’  I’d like to turn in my geek badge, please.

  2. Chip Dipson says:

    I can shed the chains of tyranny that the underscore has shackled to my wiggly atrophied arms! Sweet freedom!

  3. Merve says:

    Any time I click on one of the links to a comment in the article, the “#” in the URL gets turned into a “%23”, and I end up at a 404 error page. Is this a problem with Gameological, or is it a weird issue with how Firefox parses URLs? Has anyone else experienced this?

    (EDIT – I just tested: this also happens in Chrome and IE.)

  4. Effigy_Power says:

    PS: Great Disqus tip… now that I actually need the underscore.
    Do me a favor and send it to last year. :P

  5. ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

    That made my day. I am a lot less trollish than my name implies but no more mature.

    It’s Mr. BTW.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       What? Why the hell have I been nice to you then?
      Oh right, your personality. Damn.

  6. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Did it work?  Am I underscore-less?  A victory for Crime Syndicate Exo-atmospheric primates everywhere!

    • Merve says:

      If, by some miracle of science, I’m still alive in the year 2700, I will kill myself if there are no mafias whose membership consists primarily of simians. Hell, I’ll even accept a Spacegibbon Mafia!

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        When we meet up again in six hundred years in the brain mines outside of New Disneyland City in the Mexico quadrant of Io, we’ll do a quick tally of our met expectations for the future.

  7. ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

    Ahem, that’s not my name, guys…..

    But, really, yay! I’ve loved THPS3 for years, thanks for giving me a place to finally talk about it, and an awesome article about it to boot!

  8. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Who even designed Disqus and how is there not a better, more widely used alternative?

    • HobbesMkii says:

       There are others. IntenseDebate, for instance. I guess it’s hard to figure out what the best will be before implementing it, and then once you’ve implemented comments, it becomes difficult to change how you do it.

    • John Teti says:

      Yeah, good question. The reason Disqus is so widely used is that from the publisher’s point of view, it is a pleasure to use. It’s easy to install, you don’t have to maintain your own comment database or worry about user security, and it is very straightforward to adapt the system to your own site’s design. (That last one is the most impressive.) The moderation tools are also quite handy and make that task less time-consuming. The comment section on Gameological would have been uglier, clumsier, and less full-featured were it not for Disqus.

      I used Disqus here because it’s what The A.V. Club uses, but I probably would have ended up going with it anyway. It’s that good — again, from a publisher’s point of view.

      The trouble, and it is a big one, is that the user’s experience is inconsistent and often glitchy. Part of this is because it’s really difficult to design one comment system that can seamlessly accommodate hundreds of thousands of different users across the web. But still, that’s what they set out to do, and they ought to do better. “Merging” in particular is such a confusing and unpredictable mess (hence my recommendation to not even bother). They are working on an overhaul of the codebase, though, that will be launched later this year. Most of the pre-release information on this upgrade has been about flashy new features, which gives me pause, but hopefully they are at work smoothing out the bugs, too.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Oh well. We’re ripping on it a lot, but it’s still a lot better than most. I haven’t really had any major problems with it, but sometimes it’d be great to be able to reply further in. Ah well.
        Mind you, it’d be great if you could incorporate the same little response-icon the AV Club has on the top right, so I don’t have to scroll through every article to see how well my comments are beloved and adored.
        THAT would really be helpful.

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

        I rip on disqus a lot but I cannot deny that has brought a more civil tone and sense of community to the AV club ever since the switch.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Honestly, Disqus has worked pretty well here on Gameological so far (besides the beginning invasion of spambot accounts anyway).  I don’t mind that it only has 4-5 levels of nesting, because some of the other comment systems that allow unlimited ones just end up stretching the screen farther than I care to have to scroll.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          What do you have against side-scrollers?

        • Merve says:

          @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus: I’m guessing they’re not “realistic,” “visceral,” or “cinematic” enough for him.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          @Merve2:disqus : That’s true, but we’re talking about nesting, so we’re on the level of Angry Birds, right? More addictive than fun, no? Unless you’re into those short cinematic clips — or a three-year-old with an intensely visceral (by which I mean you just spit up all over the iPad) response to just about everything.

        • Merve says:

          @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus: Angry Birds certainly fulfills my desire for a visceral, cinematic experience. But as far as realism goes, it’s total shit. I mean, the birds have wings! Why do they need to be launched in a slingshot?

      • Mr_Glitch says:

        Did someone say Glitch?

      • Staggering Stew Bum says:

        The option of “Merging” in Disqus felt too much like the ME3 synthesis choice and it didn’t quite smell right, so went with a new account instead.

        • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

          Do you have the same name on AVC?

        • zebbart says:

          I didn’t – I can’t – read your comment because I just keep reading your name and laughing. And I will like every one of you comments without reading them for that reason.

        • Staggering Stew Bum says:

          @ShitMcFuckensteinAVC:disqus No, my handle on AV Club is Diplomatic Immunity.

          @zebbart:disqus Thanks, I stole my name from Scott Jones’ Uncharted 3 review, one of the great moments in AV Club history. As for not reading my comment(s), don’t worry you’re not missing much.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        I figured there was a boring, *practical* explanation, I just wanted to be snarky. I haven’t had much trouble with it really besides my initial “account merge” fuckup and it occasionally alerting me that someone responded to me 4 months ago.  Thanks for the in depth response!

      • Stingo the Bandana Origami Pro says:

        The other day I opened up the A.V. Club while I was logged into Disqus on this site (I use a separate account here to avoid merging) and there was a preview of the “new Disqus” that they were kind enough to show me. It looked terrible.

      • Commenting via my Twitter account has been really easy. 

    • Asinus says:

      I demand Delphi!

  9. George_Liquor says:

    I am George_Liquor, a unique entity split from George Liquor in a freak transporter accident. We cannot survive the re-unification.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      Hmm, I wonder if this link goes to the same wonderful information as the one you posted on the other article?

      If I’m wrong forgive me, but if not, I really effing hate spambots.  Within one day of the first post on my last website attempt, I had comments from the fuckers.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        C’mon now: Spambots are how you know you’ve made it!

        • HobbesMkii says:

           I like it when they decorate their messages with fun characters like * and ~. It makes their spam seem festive. Like dog shit with a bow wrapped around it.

  10. Mr_Glitch says:

    Hi everybody, Mr. Glitch here with another classic game review!

    Today I’m reviewing Galaga 90 for the TurboGrafx 16. Galaga 90 is an amazingly faithful port of the arcade game Galaga 88, released at a time when most arcade ports were still pretty sub-par. Like its predecessor GalagaGalaga 90 is a vertical shooter that pits you against wave after wave of space bugs that fly into a formation and then attack you a few at a time. As before, the Boss Galagas can capture your fighter in a tractor beam, and you can recover it to double your firepower. However, in Galaga 90, you can allow your double-fighter to be captured, and (assuming you have any ships left in reserve) recover it to form a badass bug-blastin’ triple ship! It’s no wider than the double-fighter, but it packs a lot more firepower. 

    Power-ups are few and far between, with the exception of the blue canisters. Collecting one makes you briefly invincible, and collecting two will send you into a “dimensional warp” at the end of the level. Higher dimensions contain different-looking and harder enemies which are worth more points. This unique dimensions system gives you the choice of coasting through the entire game at a low difficulty, or risking the higher difficulties, earning a bigger score and gaining extra lives more frequently.

    In addition to the new strategic elements, Galaga 90 also adds a bit of whimsey to Galaga’s formula. Enemies will explode in a shower of fireworks sparks or pop like overinflated balloons. The bonus stages are now musical interludes that feature the space bugs dancing in time to terrific chiptune waltzes, tangos and jitterbugs. Frankly, it’s a shame to shoot the little suckers–and if you don’t, you’ll earn the “secret bonus.” There are even a couple of boss battles, wherein you fight a super-sized version of one of that dimension’s regular baddies.

    Galaga 90 is a terrific shooter, and a real stand-out on a game system known for its terrific space shooters. Its graphics are vibrant and colorful, its music is catchy as hell, and its gameplay is challenging without being frustrating. If you’re a Galaga fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. It’s available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, and its arcade progenitor can be had on iOS devices as part of the Galaga 30th Anniversary Collection.

    Thanks for reading my review! Next week, we descend to the depths of the Cosmic Chasm!

  11. OhHaiMark says:

    D’aw, it’s just a baby kitty.

  12. HobbesMkii says:

    I like how Teti put quotations around “super-pretentious” when talking about @Merve2:disqus’s comment. Jeez, Merve, learn some self-esteem, huh?

  13. doyourealize says:

    Does this make me famous?

    I do like this feature, though.  I wonder how much it encourages people to put a little more thought into an internet comment.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       That. Very much that.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Early on Friday before this went up I thought, “Shit. I haven’t posted anything all week that was Comment Cat worthy.” So, enough, I’d guess.

    • Merve says:

      Not to disparage this feature in any way, but I think the comment quality has more to do with the welcoming environment. So even if the discussion hasn’t always been intellectually-minded – and really, it doesn’t always need to be – it’s been friendly and civil. Basically, if nobody’s acting like a dick, nobody wants to be dicko numero uno.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        I swear, everything you say in relation to this article just puts you deeper on my shit list. Now you’re putting down Keyboard Geniuses by complimenting the community at large. How dare you? How. Dare. You. You don’t know anything about me. I could be a terrible person. How do you know I don’t spend my days kicking kittens around and would be commenting about it right now, save for the fact that it would never in a million years make it onto this week’s Keyboard Geniuses (I hope)? 

        Vote HobbesMkII for Dicko Numero Uno in 2012! HobbesMkII: An anonymous poster on the Internet you can trust!

  14. Forgive the video quality, but features some more of Dick Clark’s Pyramid playing, this time from the ’70s syndicated version hosted by Bill Cullen.

  15.  Wow, thank you very much, John!  I’d like to thank the Academy, and God, and Bernie Zuckerzuck over at Disqus Or Datsqus Artists United, and, of course, my wife–(orchestra swells, models lead me offstage)

    All seriousness aside, it’s often so tempting for me–as I think it is for a whole lot of A.V. Club/A.V. relatives posters–to just make some pop culture reference or funny remark when I see a story that I feel I have some stake in, however minor.  That’s the sort of repartée these sites thrive on, and I wouldn’t change it for a minute, but it can also be an easy default response when you get home, see you’re going to be comment #378 at the earliest, and think, “ehh, nobody’s gonna read that far down; better to just make a joke and hope for a couple ‘like’s.”  I did that a bit in my own post; being that I now feel like I’ve been called up in front of the class to be recognized, I’m actually sort of glad you edited that part out.

    To get recognized for a sincere and thoughtful observation can really put a spring in your step and highlight some good writing, whether you’re Chip Dipson, Señor ShitMcFuckensteinAVC, or whoever takes the time and effort to be insightful on here (still waiting for Cookie_Monster’s eventual book on macroeconomics).  So, thanks for this feature.

    There’s a moral here about striving for more of a human connection in discussing the aesthetics of modern culture, rather than going for the quick laugh every time,


    but I forgot what it is.

  16. In re: invisible walls, I really liked the way Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne handled it — the playable world was basically various chunks of Tokyo, wrapped around the inside of a sphere. Of course, they had some convoluted in-game mythos justifying this nonsense… but from an atmosphere perspective, it was pretty perfect, a nice balance between almost total freedom within the system and an inability to break out.