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.
Drew Toal reveled in the slap-happy insanity of Frog Fractions in a Sawbuck Gamer review. While Drew likened its absurd comedy to Adult Swim’s Sealab 2021, Cloks dug a little deeper, and saw more of a pointed, Tim And Eric-styled (also of Adult Swim) take on the edutainment games Fractions was sending up:
Having now finished Frog Fractions, it seems more like the product of Tim and Eric than a Sealab 2021 production. Much as Tim And Eric is about the nightmarish side of public broadcasting and the freakish world of low budget television, Frog Fractions presents a fever-dream vision of educational software. It bears all the hallmarks of the genre: a vague learning concept applied to a non-cohesive “video game” portion, little regard paid to appropriate scaling of competitive elements and a nonsensical plot.
This topic is especially dear to me, having grown up with only educational games allowed in my house for a long while. Frog Fractions recreates them while turning the concept upside-down, revealing all the flaws and lunacy in a rabbit that obsesses with teaching you how to read or perform math or a group of children who can find simple math on mountainsides and at the bottom of the sea.
Grunts Of Glory
Steve Heisler picked apart the manliness and man-childishness of Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! for the second “installment” (ro ro ro) of Adapt and Die. The game takes the sitcom’s innate doofiness and blows it out of proportion with dinosaurs, mummies, and of course, power tools. Idrin offered up this extra chestnut about the game’s grunt-inducing manual:
Don’t forget one of the dumbest/most fitting parts of this game! The manual was a normal-length SNES manual, but it was entirely blank (outside the normal warnings) except for the first page, which just said “Real men don’t need manuals.”
The screen capture at the top of this article looks astonishingly like a Fate Of Atlantis-era SCUMM adventure game. That would actually be a much more appropriate medium for a Home Improvement adaptation. It seems like a bit of a lost opportunity that more adaptations didn’t take the adventure game route, instead opting for the side scrollers, a genre that never fit very well for any of them. The illogical milieux in this adaptation seem to speak to that: “So Tim loses his tools, how does he get them back?” “Well, he could go around town speaking to people and searching for clues as to their whereabouts. As he does that, he would have to go on side quests, to fix various things. In the game these would be presented as combination puzzles.” “Holy crap! Screw that, just make it a side-scroller where he fights dinosaurs or some shit.”
Drew Toal reviewed Halo 4, the latest in the long-running series. Despite a change of developers, Drew found this sequel largely unchanged from previous Halo games, if not prettier to look at. Drew said the quest’s solemn tone certainly did not help, especially as embodied by its taciturn space-hero, John-117 A.K.A. Master Chief. Grizzled Young Man remembered an earlier time when Halo had more of a spark to its rings:
Halo 1 and 2 were funny, self-aware games. Humor was present in the dialogue, design, animations, level titles, and more. Master Chief’s improbable swagger and blasé attitude really worked for the series, rounding the rough edges off of the Chief’s inhumanity while preventing the apocalyptic tone of the story from exhausting the viewer. If anything, humor deepened the meaning of the war with the Covenant; it felt like these people were laughing so as to keep from giving up entirely.
As Drew noted, the Chief is not that much less alien than the Covenant. There was a certain flirtatious, quippy cadence to the Chief’s banter with [artificial-intelligence companion] Cortana that provided real emotional weight for the first two games. As a player, I was strongly motivated to fight not just for humanity and stuff, but for my little blue girlfriend inside my head, who understood the loneliness of being an eight-foot-tall tank-man.
In a similar vein, Sean Smith threw Master Chief a bone, pointing to the hero’s compulsory bio-goliath origins:
I might be an “emotionally stunted hero” (or at least emotionally stunted) too if the military took me from my home as a 6-year-old, physically super-sized me and then did nothing but train me to be an ultimate war weapon. Then again, some of those Reach Spartans could have a laugh (about killing stuff) once in a while.
Thinking Outside The Sandbox
John Teti interviewed Dan Sochan, producer of Sleeping Dogs, a game that Teti characterized as one of the most pleasant surprises of year. Teti complimented Dogs’ sense of place, and Sochan talked about how they built a distilled, playable version of Hong Kong. As game developers are wont to do, certain geographical sacrifices were made in the name of practicality. This was a bit of issue for The Angry Internet, who suggested that the game missed out on a crucial aspect of the Hong Kong geography:
For my money, the “realistic” Hong Kong went out the window once I realized the entire game was set on a single island. I can understand why they might not want to subject the player to the boredom of constantly crossing back and forth, but there are ways around that. I’m not talking about modeling every square foot of Hong Kong with complete accuracy, I’m talking about something which is absolutely key to the geography of the place. A Hong Kong without a harbor bisecting it is like a Budapest with no Danube.
Taking a different approach to the same problem, Effigy Power suggested setting open-world games outside the confines of a city:
Maybe cities aren’t even the way to go. Fallout: New Vegas works just fine without a massive urban environment, Red Dead Redemption is a lot more thrilling than yet another rush hour in New York City…
I fail to see why this wouldn’t work for driving. Rage failed at it by limiting the “open world” into basically channels, which defeats the purpose. But a massive open world, deserts and hills and towns here and there, long highways and dirt roads—all that played in the Grand Theft Auto sense would totally work. Anyone who has ever cruised along the Chernarus Map of ARMA II should have to agree that there is no reason to think of rural environment as any less interesting for the regard of these games.
Take Our Swag!
Yesterday, we presented you with the challenge of the century: A video game-themed crossword puzzle! Three lucky winners will be selected randomly to receive some cool stuff that John probably found under his bed. (Contest open only to those from America or Canada. Sorry, Puerto Rico. No dice.) Electric Dragon finished the puzzle, and was nice enough to explain some of the differences between American crosswords and British cryptic crosswords:
Unfortunately, not being in North America I can’t receive any swag, but it was interesting to do an American crossword. They’re a very different style to the UK cryptics I tend to do: lots of very short words, abbreviations are permitted, hugely more cross checking—in this grid, every letter is checked, whereas in a British grid only about half would be checked. No length indicators—so you have to figure out if it’s multiple words. Simple definition only but rather ambiguous clues—“Soccer stadium chant,” for example, was a bit perplexing to start with because “Who Ate All The Pies,” “You’re Going Home In A [Town Name] Ambulance,” and “Who’s The Wanker In The Black” just didn’t fit the blanks at all. I’m going to see if I can devise a UK cryptic on a similar theme just so you can see how different they are.
Those UK crosswords have historically done a number on Raging Bear, as recounted here:
Every couple of years, I get ambitious and try to do a UK crossword. After about an hour, when the still-blank paper is sodden with salty tears of crossword inadequacy, I give it up, having surrendered another portion of my self-worth that I will never truly recover.
I settle for just enjoying the joke clues from things like The Sunday Format.
“Scurrilous man stole my kidney (7)”
“Late night jazz upsets Alan Bennett, we hear (9)”
“Monsoon tigers fall backwards over greasy spoons (8)”
“They broke into the flat and messed up all the bees, we hear (10)”
“Trouser elbow (9)”
“Belgian chin music (3)”
“The pope ate all the biscuits. Greedy pope. (7, 1, 5)”
Thanks again for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!