Keyboard Geniuses

Chex Quest

Cereal Killer

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By John Teti • May 11, 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.

It’s The Story. Of A Man Named %$&*!

Prototype 2

On the last episode of this month’s Digest, Chris Plante and I rolled our eyes at Prototype 2’s story. The game’s crime is not that it tells a story, per se, but rather that it tells a dull, bombastic, trite, profanity-laden story. The subject inspired Raging Bear to live up to his name:

I feel that really bad stories should be punished. At the very least, whoever wrote for Prototype 2 (and the original, judging by the distinctive F-bomb count) should never be allowed to write anything more elaborate than a shopping list again. And even then, those lists need the attention of a powerful editor, just to keep this jackass from always coming home with twelve shopping bags full of fuck.

I’m often asked why so many games have lousy writing, and my stock answer is that the people who make many big-budget games don’t dedicate any resources to it. Vervack went deeper:

I think the idea that we should ignore the story is a self-perpetuating cycle. We ignore the story, the publishers interpret that as the belief that story doesn’t matter, developers continue to hire fourth-tier fan-fiction writers to write the stories, we ignore them out of disgust, and so on, and so forth.

In the episode about Trials Evolution, we discussed the apparent reality that Trials Evolution is much more fun to play than it is to watch—to onlookers, the constant restarting and backtracking in races can feel like what I called a “fever dream.” I asked the readers why some games are so much less pleasant for viewers than players. Cowtron responded with this:

If someone is truly stuck at the same place over and over, “fever dream” about covers the experience of watching that. The player might be completely engaged, but to just about any audience it gets more and more difficult to take in. The main reason, I think, is because the audience doesn’t know the moment-to-moment decisions and drama that are taking place; there’s a huge disconnect. For games to be watchable in general, I think the audience has to be able to follow the drama of the player and have a sense of the problems and tension that drive the choices they’re seeing, and when that loop’s broken, it gets boring pretty quick.

Rhapsody In Blue

Matriarch Benezia, Mass Effect

One thread in this week’s Inventory of games with mommy issues turned to discussion of the Asari, the alien race in the Mass Effect series that is, in essence, populated entirely by toothsome blue women. Is this classic hetero-male sci-fi exploitation, or is the portrayal of the Asari more sophisticated than that? Wherever you come down, the Mass Effect creators at least appear to be aware of the question. SaoirseRonanTheAccuser pointed out a moment of tongue-in-cheek Asari ogling in Mass Effect 2:

There was a bar where a Turian, a Salarian, and a human were all sitting around a table watching an Asari do a table dance, ostensibly for the Salarian’s bachelor party. If you stand around and listen, you get to a pretty hilarious argument where the Turian questions why the other races find Asari attractive, given that they just look like softer, blue Turians. Then the Salarians say the same thing, followed by the humans. It ends with them coming to the realization that the Asari may just be mind-controlling everyone to look as attractive as possible and propagate their own species. We’ll never know, though—they then get distracted by all that sexiness and forget the conspiracy completely. I think the writers definitely treated the “sexy blue alien” thing pretty tongue-in-cheek throughout.

A Pointless Perspective

The Pointless set

In response to my review of the British game show Pointless, Emma Smith shared her experience as a contestant on the show, including a behind-the-scenes report on the making of my favorite sound effect—the “oooooOOOOOOH” chant that accompanies an especially good answer:

Having been a contestant on Pointless, I can tell you the “swell of vocal anticipation comes into the soundtrack” is actually live, and the warm-up guy runs the audience through it to practice a couple of times before they start recording the show!

[The live production of the show is] pretty much as it seems [on TV]. Most of it is filmed almost as-live. The only thing that really gets the edit room touch is the intros at the start. They will cut you a bit if you ramble too much or are a bit indecisive, but as far as my experience goes, most of it was pretty much exactly as live.

The presenters get the odd pickup of fluffed/tongue-tired answers and questions (I think between both of recordings they had one or two pickups and one of them was technical because the countdown board did something weird), but the banter is pretty off-the-cuff, both between [co-host] Richard and [host] Xander and the contestants which makes it very enjoyable.

They record three shows a day. Each one takes about two hours to record. The only thing that really takes time is moving the podiums about for the different rounds (which is actually fairly welcome as you get to have a bit of a sit down and get some water). It is extremely professional and smoothly run – we were on series four, so by that point they would have filmed somewhere between 150 and 200 or so episodes.

The only thing that isn’t quite as it seems on TV is the set, which close-up looks like it is made of fiberboard and sprayed with silver spray paint. And you are told not to touch it, as I think it it a bit wobbly if you do. But I guess that is how TV really works everywhere!

Annals Of Sentences That Have Never Been Written Before

In the threads for Samantha Nelson’s review of World Gone Sour—a game about Sour Patch Kids, those candies they always sell at movie theaters—HobbesMkii strung together a series of words that I believe are unprecedented in the history of the English language. It comes in the last sentence of a missive about Chex Quest, a freebie game that apparently was given away in boxes of Chex in the days when AOL discs choked landfills nationwide: 

It’s wild, but it’s still pretty cheap by today’s standards. It cost them about $750,000 in today’s money to develop, and they cut that some by letting AOL piggyback its trial on the discs. And it is literally just Doom reskinned, so in that respect, it’s largely just a mod with some new cinematics. It was my first foray into contemporary gaming at the time. I perhaps owe everything I am in gaming to Chex Quest.

Everyone has their own path to glory. Thanks as always for your comments. Keyboard Geniuses is just the tip of the iceberg. See you next week!

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646 Responses to “Cereal Killer”

  1. 3FistedHumdinger says:

    This is still far-and-away my favourite feature on the site.

  2. Oh man, I remember Chex Quest! It was actually a really impressive game, all things considered. Unfortunately, it made my brother a bit motion sick to play, but he’s always had that issue with most shooters.

  3. HobbesMkii says:

    *sigh* This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to getting my essay on Chex Quest accepted for publication.

    Also, “toothsome” is a great word for the Asari. You’re very diplomatic, Mr. Teti.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Mind you, “toothsome” is usually followed by the word “wench”, so it sort of evens out.

      • HobbesMkii says:

         Really? I feel like it’s something I’d read in Victorian literature, so they could avoid sounding overtly suggestive.

        • Effigy_Power says:

           Well, I used to be active in Ren-Fair and LARP circles… ahem… and well, anyways, I have never heard the word “toothsome” without being followed by “wench” or “fellow”… which of course could just be the moronic way us Americans think they talked in the late medieval.

      • Girard says:

        ‘I have never heard the word “toothsome” without being followed by “wench” or “fellow”‘

        …You know, this could just be a sign that YOU are a toothsome wench or fellow…

  4. Aaron Riccio says:

    Since this is the place to recap comments from the week, I’ll just reiterate that if anybody is picking up Max Payne 3 next week and wants to represent the growing Gameological Society with some old-fashioned multiplayer presence, I took advantage of Rockstar Games’s very shiny new “Social Club” interface and made a “crew” for MP3/GTA5:  

    If you’re interested, the tag is “GLOG” and the logo looks like an evil version of the one used for this site. I’ll leave it to someone else to keep up the attempts to give us some presence on Steam (or any other MP platforms).

  5. doyourealize says:

    Not really sure if this the place to suggest something, but I’m not where else to do it, so I’ll just ask.  Is there any way to get a little icon on the front page (like on the top right where this other site does it…can’t remember the name) that let’s you know if anyone’s replied to a comment of yours?

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      I know what you’re talking about, but there is the little grey box next to the community icon at the top of each comment section — that should help to provide a similar service.

      • doyourealize says:

        I know, but I’m a spoiled American who finds it inconvenient to have to click on an article and scroll down.  I mean I’m busy!  I have video games to play!

    • HobbesMkii says:

       As @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus says, it’s the grey box that says “0” in it at the top of each comments section. But when you’ve got replies, it lights up red and says “1” (or “2” or “3” etc. etc.).

      Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps) you have to go into an article to find it. It’d be nice to have it somewhere at the top.

    • John Teti says:

      Someone else suggested this too. It’s a good point. I’m trying to figure out a way to incorporate something like this the next time we roll out design tweaks. I think it probably would end up near the top of the right sidebar.

  6. Raging Bear says:

    Two weeks in a row! Now there’s pressure to continue the streak.

  7. Effigy_Power says:

    -hangs head-
    I need to quit my day-job and post more.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       According to the community stats, you’re 3% of all the comments.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Omygosh… a little longer and I am the 1%!
        Nobody occupy me, I just mowed the front-lawn and planted a Rhododendron.

      • Sarapen says:

        How do you find these community stats? Not that my pathetic post count would show up as anything more than a rounding error but I’m curious about functions I don’t know about.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           There’s a little community box at next to the alert box at the top of the threads. You press that and it gives you general stats about the site and (for some reason) a leaders board for the top 5 commenters and the top 5 liked commenters.

        • Effigy_Power says:

           Great. Now my almost sick sense of competition kicks in and I have to make a ton of comments.

        • Effigy_Power says:


        • Effigy_Power says:

           You have only yourself to blame, @HobbesMkii:disqus .

    • Girard says:

       I think the people who post the most are probably those with day-jobs…

      • Effigy_Power says:

         True. I guess I need to find a way to make my day-job less distracting. It really interferes my ability to post on forums and such.

  8. Haughty Todd says:

    I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of my life playing Chex Quest.

  9. Mr. Glitch says:

    Hi everybody, Mr Glitch here with another classic game review!
    Today I’m reviewing Blaster Master, released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. Terrific controls, detailed graphics, complex level designs and some of the best background tunes the NES has ever spat out combine to make it a must-own.

    Blaster Master begins its tale in suitably bizarre Suncom fashion. A series of stills tell the story of a young boy’s pet frog who becomes sick of his owner’s constant tapping on his aquarium and cheeses it straight to the family’s stash of radioactive material. Upon contact, the frog grows to an enormous size and escapes down a hole into a subterranean labyrinth. The boy follows his wayward mutant frog into the hole, where he encounters a sporty tank-thing named Sophia The 3rd. He hops in, cranks up the Molly Hatchet and tears ass towards the biggest adventure of his life.

    You spend most of the game driving your sports tank in a side-scrolling landscape reminiscent of Metroid, though much more colorful. Your tank can jump, (of course) and aim its turret straight up to shoot enemies above you. It also packs a limited supply of ordnance such as homing missiles and lightning bolts that shoot straight down from your tank. Your character can hop out of Sophia and go it on foot, though he has much less firepower and is vulnerable to falls from too great a height. Scattered throughout the levels are small doorways that your character must pass through on foot. When he does, the game shifts to a top-down perpective as you maneuver through the rooms, collecting power-ups and occasionally fighting the level’s boss. Yep that’s right, you have to fight them without your tank’s firepower, which adds a pretty unique twist to the game. Once you defeat the boss, you earn an upgrade for Sophia that typically gives you access to the next level–another huge nod to Metroid here. These upgrades include added firepower, the ability to drive up walls, and hover for briefs periods. They add a lot of replay value to the game too, since they give you the opportunity to explore previously unreachable sections of completed levels. 

    For all its brilliance, Blaster Master does have a few drawbacks. It’s not an easy game to complete. You get a health meter, three lives and a handful of continues to support you though all 8 levels. There’s no battery backup or password save either, so you’re playing through the whole game in one shot, or you’re leaving your NES on overnight. There’s no recovery time when you get hit, so you may find yourself stuck in a lava pit with your life bar quickly draining away before you can escape. Fortunately, enemies often drop health when killed, so recovery usually means finding a shady spot to pick off a few baddies. The top-down portions of the game have a pseudo-3D dynamic dynamic that adds a bit of realism, but a lot of frustration. You have to imagine the enemies are standing up out of the screen and aim for their feet, or your bullets just pass behind them. You carry a gun in your left hand and a grenade launcher in your right, and you’ll frequently run across problems lining up enemies with either one. Even worse: some bosses are immune to your grenades, leaving only your chumpy little pea-shooter to fight it with. The overhead game and boss battles do tend to drag the game down, but the reward for your efforts is palpable when you hop back into your newly-upgraded tank and explore more of Blaster Master‘s world.

    Blaster Master sold very well when it was released, and today it’s super-easy to find online and around town. It spawned a number of sequels and re-imaginings on the Sega Genesis, Game Boy Color, Playstation and the Wii’s Virtual Console. In fact, I’d say the Wii is the way to go, since it will allow you to save the game’s state, negating the game’s biggest problem.

    Thanks for reading my review! I’d like to wish a happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there in Gameological, and an extra special one to Mama Glitch, who bought me this spectacular game for my birthday all those years ago.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Hey, these are pretty cool to read each week. They don’t seem to get a lot of comments, but I enjoy them! Do you take requests? And what would you consider old enough to write about? Are SNES games out of the question?

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        Thanks, I’m glad you like reading them! I was wondering if anyone was. My SNES collection is pretty puny, but if you have any requests I’ll see what I can do–and I’m always looking for recommendations.

        I’d thought about limiting myself to 16-bit & older, but man, I have a stack of Dreamcast & Saturn games that are just too awesome to ignore.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          SNES is probably my favorite system, so I’d love to read about some more obscure games I may have missed or whatever. I also recently got my hands on a Dreamcast, oddly enough. What a weird, cool little console.