Keyboard Geniuses



Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By Matt Kodner • July 20, 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.

Put Your Left Calf In…

In Out This Week, Steve Heisler lovingly compared Summer Stars 2012 to the famously cumbersome track simulator QWOP. The_Misanthrope ran with this and provided the perfect way to enjoy QWOP:

The mistake is trying to stand and run like a normal athlete. You have to let one leg go all the way back while the other one goes all the way forward. (You may have to travel backward for a while to get in the right position.) Then just slowly shamble—the best word I can think of to describe it—forward, alternating right and left thighs/calves. As long as you keep both legs extended on both sides, you won’t be able to fall over.

Then again, since the point of this game is less about winning and more about seeing just how badly you or your friends fail and laughing about it, this method will likely suck the fun out of that activity.

Tuned Out

In this week’s What’s Your Line? Steve Heisler interviewed composer Gerard Marino about the intricacies of scoring a video game. However, Juan_Carlo doesn’t care for in-game music, preferring to mix a custom soundtrack instead:

Am I the only one who immediately turns in-game music off and then provides my own music? In fact, one of the main reasons I play video games is just as an excuse to listen to music. (Otherwise, I’m not sure when I’d do it, other than while driving.)

I do this so often that games usually become inextricably linked with specific albums I was listening to while I played them in my mind. Plus, it’s a great way to get yourself into more “difficult” music. (Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of 20th-century opera while playing video games, which is great video game music, as it’s not only primarily mood-based, but it’s also so averse to melody at times that it usually takes several listens before you “crack” it, so it can be hard to listen to if you aren’t also doing something else.)

Of course this doesn’t work with certain games (adventure games, for example, which have too much dialogue), but I don’t see how anyone could stand to listen to in-game music. I’d get bored.

Judging by the responses to this comment, people have surprisingly diverse approaches to game music.

Three Little Questions

In this week’s Inventory, we looked at a few games that pass the Bechdel Test, which assesses the roles of female characters at a very basic level. Some fascinating discussion ensued, with way too many smart comments to have a representative sample here. Enkidum brings up the topic of player identification with characters in relation to gender, and knocks it out with a Street Fighter II metaphor:

I think it’s often easier to identify with characters who share traits with us (like, say, our gender), and it’s important for us to be able to identify with characters (which is one of the reasons we’ve been using character-driven stories for thousands of years). So by providing a more representative sample of genders, races, etc., in our media, we encourage a broader swath of people to identify with these characters. This doesn’t mean that a woman can’t identify with a male character, or vice versa. Just that aspects of the character such as gender can help. But unless that gender is somehow important to the plot, it can be almost ignored. (Think of Chell in Portal—yes, there are clearly interesting dynamics between her and Glados that depend in some respects on her being female, but honestly the game would be only marginally changed if she were male.)

If Street Fighter II were all female, would it be better? Well, that’s hardly more representative of the population as a whole than the current state of affairs. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think of it this way: Guile, or Blanka, or Ken, or whoever… they’re all interesting characters to play because they have interesting moves and powers. Chun Li or whoever the other female characters are, are, I think, partly interesting because they are female—it’s like an additional twist on top of the moves and powers. The maleness of Ken is the default neutral standard, the femaleness of Chun Li is something extra. I’d rather see media where both genders were equally neutral, I guess, where it’s not a big deal either way. (Except, of course, when it is a big deal—which is why games that deal with romance and so forth SHOULD make gender a real issue—but that isn’t the case for Street Fighter II, nor for most characters in most games, I think.)

On the other hand, grizzledyoungman saw the use of the Bechdel Test as an ineffective way to discuss feminism:

Seeing the Bechdel test referred to here surprises and disappoints me. I think it’s really commendable that Gameological is so dedicated to challenging sexism and sexist writing in video games. As I grow older, the often skewed and juvenile portrayal of women and gender in video games irritates me more and more, not just because it makes for lame and unoriginal writing but also because it runs contrary to my values.

To make a long remark short, I think that improving the treatment of women, sex and gender in video games is critical to the continued legitimacy of video games as a medium for artistic expression. I applaud Gameological for being part of that.

However, in my opinion, embracing internet pop culture feminism like the Bechdel test is the completely wrong way to pursue such goals. The Bechdel test does very little to explore legitimate concerns about how well a story treats women, sex and gender. After all, I’d say it’s natural, inoffensive and realistic to portray men and women as fixated with women and men (or whatever gender, as it relates to romance/sex) since that’s mostly what we spend our lives talking and worrying about.

You’d be hard pressed to find a man movie that doesn’t in some way revolve around a woman. The Expendables, for example, is a pretty macho movie. At some point, there is a scene in which a bunch of guys throw knives and give each other tattoos inside a motorcycle garage. That actually happens.

And yet, the plot still revolves around saving a woman. Why? Not because men are slaves to the womynocracy and have no independent thoughts and feelings, but because men care about women. A lot. It’s basically all we think about. For me and most of the men I’ve known, it’s really all that matters. (Unless you’re a man who thinks about men, which is cool but still basically the same idea.) So the idea of taking down a dictator for some nice girl makes sense, deep down.

Much as Bechdel and others of her ilk resist the idea, the fact is that women and men give each others’ lives meaning. Personally, I take solace in that.

In response, Fluka thinks about a lot of things that aren’t about men, and makes her case for the Bechdel Test:

“Women spend most of their time thinking about men, the same way men spend most of their time thinking about women.”

I spend most of my time thinking about why the hell my code is breaking, or the fact that I’m procrastinating too much on websites like these, or what is for lunch. My husband is similar. We think about each other, and give each other’s lives meaning, but we have lives and hopes and fears and dreams separate from each other, and from love and sex. My female friends and I gossip about boys or talk about the guys we work with, but we also talk about games, TV, books, the eternal “why the hell is my code breaking,” etc.

This is the point of the Bechdel test as a very simple filter. Men get to have independent lives like these in most movies. Even though they may be crazy unrealistic macho men, they still get to talk together about the fact that they are about to blow up a building or jump the upcoming ravine in a fancy bike, etc. In a very very large number of films, women don’t get that kind of treatment. This can be because there’s only a single female character, or because they only exist in relationship to a main male character. But it’s telling that so many films fail to reach these basic criteria of independence.

Quest for Power

And finally, over at Sawbuck Gamer, Steve Heisler reviewed Astronot, likening it to a minimalist-style Metroid game. Commenters were struck with a wave of nostalgia for the near-impossible Metroid II. Girard shared his harrowing search for a Nintendo Power guide to the game:

One of my most vivid real-life quests in service of a virtual quest was using my “Nintendo Power Index” to look up which back issue had the guide for Metroid II, discovering that the issue that contained it was from years before I’d begun my subscription, then dialing into our local library’s free text-only internet from home to search their catalog. [I found] that the only branch with back issues that old was a 40+ minute drive away in another city. Somehow I convinced my mom to drive me out there one afternoon, and I found the issue in the stacks, and xeroxed the whole Metroid II coverage there, stapling it along the left side to make it into a proper “players’ guide.”

Despite all that, I still haven’t beaten the game.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week.

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1,798 Responses to “Good QWOP, Bad QWOP

  1. Fluka says:

    Aww, me and my Bechdel-passing buggy code made the list!  Cool!
    (No, seriously, fuck you code!  Fuck you event processing software framework!  Gnaaargghhh!  Segfault my ass!)

    • caspiancomic says:

       Welcome to Team Comment Cat! From now on you will spend your every waking hour trying to curry favour with your feline overlord.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         I know it haunts me to my core.  I haven’t been this affected by a cat since the first time I read Garfield.  I wonder what Comment Cat’s stance on Mondays and lasagna is.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Likes Days of Week. Hates Italians.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          As Strongly held and diametrically opposed opinions on Mondays and Lasagna are the copyrighted intellectual property of Jim Davis’ Paws Inc., Comment Cat gets a bit moody on Tuesday evenings and feels tabbouleh can be paired with pretty much everything. 

        • Girard says:

           My inclusion in a few comment cats has warped my worldview in such a way that some small part of me is genuinely disappointed when I don’t make it. “Comment Cat! What did I do to make you angry? I’m sorry! I won’t do it again! Just please, please, include me in your weekly summary of notable comments!”

        • caspiancomic says:

           I never understood the religious fervour that motivates self-flagellation before I got on a Comment Cat hot streak. Comment Cat! I exist only to please you! *lash lash*

        • George_Liquor says:

          Comment Cat, why hast thou forsaken me?!

      • George_Liquor says:

        He’s a fickle overlord to be sure.

      • Staggering Stew Bum says:

        While those of us excluded from the club look on with envy and frustration.

        Anyone would think that the Comment Cat only picks comments from people who provide interesting and meaningful contributions to the weekly discussions! Bah.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I don’t feel bad about not being chosen (I didn’t supply anything of substance this week anyways) whenever @Fluka:disqus gets chosen, because she more or less just thinks my thoughts for me.
      However, I don’t know any code. So I always wonder why my stylus’ tips rub off so quickly. And I don’t think about men in that way. Otherwise… total clone-dom.

    • Enkidum says:

      I just code in matlab and I regularly scream with rage at the screen. Stupid, stupid data.

  2. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    I just got around to trying QWOP.  Good lord is that absurd!  My best so far is 2 meters, most attempts have ended in me falling backwards head first.

    • blue vodka lemonade says:

       In my school’s library we had a perpetual game of QWOP running on a broken laptop plugged in behind the circ desk. Whoever was working would inch him forward a little more (with the one-leg-in-front, one-leg-in-back stance) during their shift.

      We got to about 1000 meters, then the computer crashed. It was like losing a (not very well-liked) child.

  3. Mr. Glitch says:

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

    I recently acquired a Neo Geo CD console, fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was a wee glitch in the early 90s. The eBayer I purchased it from was also kind enough to include the game Crossed Swords to get me started.

    At its core, Crossed Swords is a hack & slash with RPG and fighting game elements thrown in. As far as I can tell, as most the text was in Japanese, you’re a knight from the land of Belkana, tasked with rescuing a somewhat rubenesque anime princess from the clutches of a big gray guy with a catcher’s mitt on his head. The action is viewed from behind your wire frame knight, a la Punch Out, as you engage in single combat with knights, skeletons, dragons, giant bugs, giant crabs, goat-men, rat-men, fish-men and frog-men.

    The name of the game is defense and counter-attack: Pressing up and A swings your sword, while pressing down and A thrusts it. You launch a magic attack by pressing B, while pressing A and B together launches you into a classic anime flurry of blade swings. Pressing up or down on the D-pad by itself raises your shield to block high or low attacks. If you successfully anticipate his attack and deflect his blow with your shield, your enemy will be momentarily dazed, giving you a window to swing your sword or attack with magic. When the enemy is defeated, he explodes in a hail of armor chunks and drops gold, health or magic for you to collect. At the end of each stage, your score is tallied, and if you earned enough experience points, you level-up, gaining a longer life bar and presumably a stronger attack. You’ll also periodically encounter a traveling merchant who sells bigger, badder weapons as well chunks of meat that replenish your health. A second player can jump in at any time too, and fight side-by-side with the first player against his own baddie.

    Staying true to its arcade heritage, Crossed Swords gives you unlimited continues with no consequence for death beyond having to press start within 10 seconds. This is probably for the best since, unless you have the reflexes of a mongoose, you will die a whole lot before you reach the end boss, and then you will die a whole lot more. Despite the wide variety of enemies, the limited fighting mechanics means they all attack in much the same way. Some favor upper or lower attacks, while others occasionally jump out of harm’s way and shoot projectiles at you, but eventually they all fall victim to the same routine: Deflect their blows, strike back, repeat until dead. The repetitive combat and linear level progression limits Crossed Swords replay value, and since you can’t really lose the game, you’ll see everything it has to offer in about a half-hour or so.

    In typical Neo Geo fashion, Crossed Swords has big, detailed, eye-searingly colorful characters and nicely-detailed scrolling backgrounds. The character animation isn’t bad, but it lacks the amazing, film-like fluidity of later Neo Geo games. Crossed Swords packs decent background tunes and loads of unique sound effects for each character, from the knights who chuckle at your misfortune while beating the tar out of you to the frog-men who vomit up deadly projectiles with a convincing *blurp!* If nothing else, it’s a fun game to watch and listen to, even if you play through it once, and then toss it on a shelf.

    Thanks for reading my review! Next week, I’ll get to Guardian Legend. Really.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Fun fact: The Neo Geo is in many ways a Sega Genesis on steroids. Both consoles use the same CPU, a Motorola 68000 running at 12 MHz on the NG and 8 MHz on the Genesis. Both have 64kb of RAM, both use a Zilog Z80 as a co-processor and both use a Yamaha OPN series as its sound chip, though the NG’s is more advanced. Even the A/V cable is interchangeable. The biggest difference is the video chip, which is much more powerful in the NG.

      What? I find these sorts of things interesting.



      • Johan Halin says:

        If it’s any consolation, I find stuff like this incredibly interesting, and I often talk about stuff like this with my brother, especially when we’re drunk.

  4. Enkidum says:

    At last, my life has meaning!

    (Seriously, though, as I was writing like 90 comments on that Bechdel test article, I kept thinking “yeah, this is going to get me on Comment Cat for sure!”)

  5. Merve says:

    Teti, your mom is awesome, but I won’t have anyone sully the name of the glorious sport of biathlon!

  6. bunnyvision says:

    here’s why sexism is over ps I’m a young male who plays videogames, Love, grizzledyoungfuck pps listen to me

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I’m uncomfortably drunk right now and this made me really happy. hahah.

  7. Mike Mariano says:

    To fuse two of the above topics, Metroid II has my favorite Metroid music because it is nearly all atmospheric.  Very few melodies, just the sparse sounds of endless caverns and endless space jumping.

    It’s easy to get lost in that game, but the atmosphere made it seem like it was supposed to be that way.