Archive for category Video Games

Banjo Kazooie and the fall of gaming

I’ve been watching Game Grumps a bit lately, specifically the Banjo Kazooie series. Banjo Kazooie was one of my favorite games when I was a kid (I was 11 when it came out), and in watching Jon and Ego play through it, I remembered why I liked it so much.

Banjo Kazooie is one of the first games I remember playing that made me think about a game as a world rather than a series of levels. I was 11, so there’s no way I was actually thinking this as I played, but each new environment I explored felt like a small part of a larger whole. Thinking back, most of the levels are relatively small, but the way that they were enclosed hinted at something outside of the explorable area, places where life carried on regardless of whether or not my N64 was turned on. I always felt like I was invading on some natural area that wasn’t built for me, but arose naturally out of some system.

This idea is fully realized in one of the final levels, Click Clock Wood. I was able to see a forest during four different seasons and witness a myriad of changes, small and large, that the wildlife there had to deal with. Of course, this was probably a decision based on the various gameplay elements that each season brought, but the effect was still impressive.

Many of the games that I love thrive on this mentality of possibility: Pikmin, Donkey Kong 64, Mario 3, Earthbound. It is one of the key reasons that I love video games the way that I do.

When the sequel Banjo Tooie was released, I was as excited as could be. A bigger, better, cooler version of the first game? Heck yes!

Bigger is the key word for the sequel: every level is freaking huge. The unfortunate consequence of this is that every level is also barren, lifeless, and artificial. Whereas I felt like an explorer in the original game, I felt like a player in the sequel, as if every level had been constructed specifically for my entertainment. The result is a decent but soulless sequel to an amazing game.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is the total realization of the ideas brought by Banjo Tooie. Each stage is explicitly artificial. The first stage, which appears at first to be a volcano and a farm on an island, is actually constructed out of sheet metal and wood. Trees fall over when you hit them too hard. The clouds are hung from the ceiling and rotated by a big gear at the top of the world. Reaching the horizon is totally possible because you bump into a big blue wall.

Each level continues the theme of being constructed for your benefit. I’m not sure if this was intentional commentary or not, but it certainly feels like they’re trying to say something about the artificiality of video game worlds.

This really mirrors the path of mainstream video games in general. Modern games thrust you into a world where every scenario is created for your pleasure, where every system is explicit and transparent and there to be deconstructed rather than explored. That sense of wonder is all but gone.

Of course, I’m not really touching on the indie side of games, where this mentality lives on. Still, Minecraft is the most successful indie game of all time, and it feels extremely artificial and constructed. Exploration is nice and all, but it doesn’t feel like a stand-alone world.

Is this really a bad thing, though? I used to think that games were the future of entertainment, that someday everybody would be exploring some amazing fantastical world that stimulated their imaginations and intellects. But maybe games aren’t the future of entertainment, maybe they’re the past. I would bet that kids are pretty cynical about games any more, as well they should be. They are, after all, a very artificial construct.

Maybe the future is in injecting that sense of wonder back into the real world. Smart phones have already done this to some extent, allowing everyone to explore the world around them in great detail, turning every object into a hyperlink leading to more hyperlinks. The whole world is a game waiting to be explored and deconstructed and painted on for everyone to see. Perhaps video games are things that old people make and play, limited to the inside of a computer where the only company is a world populated by poor approximations of life.



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Bloodlust: A game containing monstrous vaginae

My wife is so sick of me talking about this game. Mostly, she’s sick of me using the phrase “Monstrous Vagina,” which I totally understand. I guess I’m just submitting everyone around me to the same horror I had to go through when I played this damned game.

Anyway! I wrote another review/retrospective for the OHR Magazine, HamsterSpeak. Check out the whole issue below:

Regrettably, since the audience for HamsterSpeak has a younger demographic, I had to refrain from posting a picture of the monstrous vagina. You’ll just have to play the game to see it. It being the monstrous vagina.

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Breath of Death: Like Dragon Quest, except way less boring.

I am not a big fan of JRPGs.  Most of them consist of pressing the A button repeatedly until the game ends.  It’s like trying to read Lord of the Rings while someone is constantly vacuuming and throwing small rocks at you, except that might still be worth it.  Final Fantasy is an especially good example of this sort of thing, where the battles feel almost totally unrelated to the story, and all you want to do is GET IT OVER WITH.

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I just finished playing Rameses by Stephen Bond.   Go ahead and click the link, you can play the game right in your browser.  It’s fairly straight forward, and if you’ve never played an Interactive Fiction game before, the most you will need to know is “wait,” “examine” (or X), and “talk to.”

Okay, so if you’ve played it, or you don’t mind spoilers, read on.

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Hostile Universe

“It’s a hostile universe out there,” she said.  She flicked the ash off the end of the cigarette dangling from between her fingers.  “But you knew that already.”

I did know that.  You only had to see the Channel 8921 Intergalactic News once to realize that the whole of existence was bent on destroying itself from the inside out.  But it didn’t mean anything.  Not for me, not anymore.

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No More Heroes – Boredom as a Feature

So I’ve recently picked up No More Heroes on the Wii, and to say that I am impressed is a severe understatement.

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It’s over.    529 games and two days later, glory has been achieved!

Oh, wait, didn’t I explain this?

Glorious Trainwrecks held an event, the 371-IN-1 KLIK & PLAY PIRATE KART II: KLIK HARDER,  this past weekend, in which ~70 people tried to make over 370 games in just 48 hours.  It was a roaring success.

Here’s a list of all the submitted games, and here are the games that I made personally.

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