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.
Our mini-series about video game-themed episodes of television, Games Go To Hollywood, wrapped up this week as Steve Heisler profiled an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart deals with the moral ramifications of shoplifting a game. As a parent (and possibly as a medical professional) Dr Flim Flam had mixed feelings:
This is an episode I both love and hate. I love it because it is, of course, hilarious, tapping into the culture of fear we have surrounding video games, but I hate it because of how accurately it portrays both sides of the divide, and the discomfort that comes with it. I am sure we have all had that moment when we disappointed our parents so badly that they didn’t even have to punish us; the punishment of our own conscience was so severe they couldn’t come close.
On the other side of the equation, as a parent now myself, I can attest to Lisa’s timeless wisdom and perception. “Her heart won’t just wipe clean like this bathroom countertop; it absorbs everything that touches it, like this bathroom rug.” That’s part of being a parent. Loving a child that will disappoint you, shock you, and occasionally crush you. That’s a very small part of it, and doesn’t compare in quantity to the good times, but those moments don’t ever really leave you, either. Being a parent is about taking all of that in and still loving your child no matter what, as they grow and change and both do and do not make you proud.
Mourning the end of a good run, Staggering Stew Bum kicked in his own entry for the series, and detailed an episode of The X-Files and its yarn of a sentient video game murder-bot:
Pity that this is the final installment of this feature. A show that would have been great to feature is an episode of The X-Files called “First Person Shooter” (recently reviewed over at The A.V. Club by the always awesome Todd WanDerWerff), which follows our heroes as they investigate a virtual reality shooter game. A rogue program inexplicably gets in and starts offing real-life game participants because they deserve it, probably. The rogue program, who is of course a tall busty young lady who laughably symbolizes female empowerment or some bullshit, feeds off the sweaty male testosterone exuded by the players, which she/it uses to become stronger, breastier, plot-holier, and violenter.
This episode taught me that games cause people to behave out of character, that men are naturally violent nasty bastards (ok, fair point), and also that cover in a shooter is not necessary if your name is Dana Scully, especially when you are fighting cloned amazonians sitting on tanks. It also taught me that games can be horribly dull, a fact that I refused to believe until I accidentally tried to play Yakuza 3, when that message became all too real.
Dude’s Got Mad Skulls
Ryan Smith found Skulls Of The Shogun, a tactical strategy game set in a samurai’s afterlife, too irreverent for its own good. Apparently hearing spectral warriors reference pop-culture chestnuts and utter turgid puns doesn’t make for good atmosphere. However, TheBryanJZX90 defended the game’s humor from a broader perspective:
The forgettable puns and references actually benefit the game. The review might sense a disconnect between the game’s murderous beginnings and it’s lighthearted treatment of afterlife, but there would be an even greater disconnect between the reviewer’s desired pathos and the quick, pick-up-and-play nature of the game. The best feature of this game is playing a bit on your computer, saving, and picking up your turn later while you’re on the bus. Skulls already does so much to cut away the fat of strategy games, slathering on a complicated plot would have been a true tragedy.
HIghway To The Hydrocity Zone
A discussion bubbled up about underwater games in the comments to Anthony John Agnello’s Sawbuck review of Ikachan, an submerged Metroid-like from the creator of Cave Story. In the midst of a thread about some of the worst water-based levels, Caspiancomic passed along a link to a jaunty theme from Sonic 3.
Homebrew Away From Home
Joe Keiser has been away in Nairobi, Kenya, and he found an unconventional way to stay connected to the video game world from there. In a special feature, he took us through some of the insane PlayStation 2 knockoffs he’s come across in the country. As much as we all gawked at titles such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Kirk Douglas, and a special Eddie Guerrero edition of Battlefield 2: Special Forces, Kyle O’Reilly had another, less jokey takeaway:
Weirdly enough, I think this article humanizes the people of Nairobi more than most articles about the region. Video games are usually thought of as a first-world pursuit, and so we think of Japanese games, American games, and European games. No African games, that’s for sure, right, guys? Most gamers never stop to think if the fictional Africans they’re blowing away in Call Of Duty have real-world counterparts, who don’t chase American Black Ops agents across the desert, but sit on their couches playing video games just like CoD to diddle away the hours.
Something about the idea of a 24 year old dude, chilling out in Nairobi playing Grand Theft Auto: Kirk Douglas, while I’m in America playing Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, makes me realize how similar we really are at our base level.
Despite the huge differences in our upbringings, culture and environment, we both just want to unwind playing a game where we can smash cars into light poles and run away from the police.
Staggering Stew Bum transcribed a conversation between Keiser and Gameological editor John Teti that surely must have occurred at one point or the other:
Joe Keiser: But you know what the funniest thing about Dubai City is?
John Teti: What?
Keiser: It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just…it’s just, there it’s a little different.
Keiser: All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Dubai City and buy a non-alcoholic beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup; I’m talking about a glass of non-alcoholic beer. And in Dubai City, you can buy a non-alcoholic beer at Burger Shot. And you know what they call a Heart Stopper in Dubai City?
Teti: They don’t call it a Heart Stopper?
Keiser: Nah, man, they got the Sharia Law. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Heart is.
Teti: What do they call it?
Keiser: They call it a “قلب سدادة.”
Teti: “قلب سدادة.”
Keiser: That’s right.
Teti: What do they call a Meat Stack?
Keiser: A Meat Stack’s a Meat Stack, but they call it “Le اللحوم المكدس.”
Teti: [in mock Arabic accent] “Le اللحوم المكدس.” [laughs] What do they call a Stuffed Pollo Todo Frito?
Keiser: I don’t know, I didn’t go in a Cluckin’ Bell.
Syrian Games: Company Of The Future
John Teti followed up Keiser’s article with an expanded gallery of more jaw-dropping covers from bootleg games, all coming from Syrian Games, the folks behind such hits as Jump Start Wildlife Safari Field Tripand Monkey Magic. However, Cloks saw the covers as more than cheap cash-ins:
I like to believe that what they’re representing here aren’t products, per se, but the direction they believe the video game industry will take as a whole. Every game becomes a rehash of existing properties to tie into established markets? Check. Games are only made for systems with a significant installed user-base, regardless of console age? Check. The concept of “video game” becomes a floating, mystical squid that deigns to delight us with psychotropic tentacles delivering a vision of “video game” beyond what those of us on the Mortal Plane could experience? Check.
Taking us through the visually confusing Antichamber, Kate Cox reviewed and enjoyed the maze’s mind and logic-bending puzzles. Merve chimed in with another perspective:
Though I don’t think the game is particularly good at teaching players its mechanics, I agree with everything else in Kate’s review. Yet somehow, Antichamber just didn’t work for me. It’s far from the worst game I’ve ever played, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it the worst game I’ve bought at or near release.
My main gripe with it is that it’s so intent on being different from typical games that it forgets to be a good game. It tries to surprise the player with impossible geometry and dissolving staircases, but they’re two of only a half-dozen or so tricks that the game employs. Because the game has so few tricks, they eventually start to repeat, and after a while, the “surprises” become mundane and, well, unsurprising.
Antichamber also tries to be different from other games in the way it’s structured. It can be difficult for the player to tell if he or she is actually making progress, because the game gives limited information in that regard. Often, you’ll spend minutes grinding away at what appears to be a tough puzzle only to realize that it’s actually a dead end. Antichamber seems to want to upend the notion of traditional reward structures in video games, but it never makes the case for why its reward structure should be considered better.
The thing is: I want games to be daring, weird, and unique. But none of those words is necessarily synonymous with “good.” That being said, “good” is entirely subjective in this context. I think Antichamber will be up a lot of people’s alleys, if only for the sheer mindfuckery of it all. It just wasn’t up mine.
Bespoke And Be Beheard
This week’s Q&A asked the readers and staff to answer the question, has it ever seemed like a game was designed “just for you”? Craig came across his perfect game a little too late in life to fully enjoy it:
World Of Warcraft, but about 15 years too late. If a game like that had existed when I was 13 years old, I don’t think I would have done anything else but go to school and then come home to fight monsters with my friends. The idea of an online role-playing game that you could play with other people was a far-in-the-distance pipe dream back when a couple of us trying to play Eye Of The Beholder 2 together was as close as we got to cooperative play of an RPG that didn’t involve actual pen and paper. But when it finally did come out, the moment had passed for me, and I’ve never had any real interest in it.
Well, that’s it folks. As always, thanks for reading and commenting, and we’ll see you next week.