Monday, February 27, 2012

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 15

Getting back into things, we have a classic moment from the game Bioshock.

It's not the one you're thinking of (that one's coming later). It actually happens at the very beginning of the game, so there's truly no worrying about spoilers.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 15

 Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Hack'n'Slash'n'Chat'n'RPG
Difficulty: For being an RPG, it's got some bite to it. I'll give it a '7'.
Beaten: Yes

The acronym 'RPG' ostensibly stands for 'Role Playing Game'. That's nice, but it seems that in most RPGs of the 'hack'n'slash' and fantasy varieties define the player's role as 'dude who swings the sword'. Characterization has never really been a strong suit in most hack'n'slashes. Luckily, Bioware has never shied away from strong characters.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to give Dragon Age a try. It got great reviews and it's got all the proper Bioware (my favorite developer) hallmarks. I suppose I'd just been annoyed by one too many Lord of the Rings-style fantasy games - see a billion enemies, hack them to pieces, skip every cutscene. Thankfully, Dragon Age never succumbed to that.

Okay, so you probably couldn't tell the two apart based on this screenshot. Trust me - it's much cooler.
The dialog trees might not be quite as complex as KotOR or Mass Effect, but they have a lot of sway on the course of the game. Be a annoying do-gooder who does every single side quest for every single villager, and you'll annoy Morrigan to no end. Kick puppies left and right, and Allistair will get pissed off. It's a nice bit of depth in a genre that usually doesn't allow for it.

Oh, come on, Ms. Crabbypants, you know you want to help Billy find his pet puppy.
I don't know that there's one particular part that Dragon Age: Origins does that much better than anything else, but the combined finished product is far above and beyond the hallmarks of the Dark Fantasy genre.

Spookymilk Survivor X: Machine of Death

He knows I’m in the room. I’m half surprised he can’t hear my heart beating. He’s flipping desks, scattering chairs and cursing loudly. I don’t even know what the suitcase contains, but they’re very insistent that I return it and promptly die. My free hand slips into my pocket to pull out the vial. I’ve never had to use it before, but it’s always at the ready.

He’s getting closer, and he’s definitely getting angrier. “When I find you, I’m going to…” he doesn’t finish. They never really do, these low level thugs aren’t really the imaginative types. I just need to wait him out for couple minutes, but that’s going to be tough to do in a room this size.

The thug finally reaches my row. I try to scramble around to evade his line of sight, but I’m not quite quick enough. He utters a quick profanity and starts after me. I hear his gun go off and feel a quick burst of pain in my back. The vest takes the killing force of the bullet away, but it still hurts like hell, and in the time it takes for me to gather my wits, he’s on me. I turn around just in time to see his fist coming in. The foresight allows me to duck mostly out of the way, but he still connects enough to knock me to the ground.

For the next punch he throws his weight behind it. This one strikes true, and my world goes dark.


Five years ago, I was nobody. I lived under a bridge and spent my days as a pickpocket. The one thing I had going for me was the fearlessness of a very specific Machine result. I was to be killed by Grapefruit. The barrio is a terrifying place for a teenage girl; it’s a slightly less terrifying place for a girl who knows that all the guns and knives in the world can’t touch her.

That sort of fearlessness gets noticed after a while. I had attracted the attention of a local radical group called The Collective, they used me a courier. The longer I stayed with them, the more they felt like the family I had never had. I began to do more…dangerous work for them.

The Collective’s exploits gained more and more notoriety, until finally, the law took notice. One night, agents began to pour into one of The Collective’s local hubs. During the raid, one of the agents drew down on me and demanded that I stand down. Instead, I beat him senseless with his own weapon. I was about to end him when a man stepped out of the shadows.

“You’re fearless.”

I pointed the weapon at him, “It would seem you are, too. Either fearless or stupid.”

“Don’t mistake this for stupidity. ‘Gunshot’ might not be in the cards for you, but there’s nothing that says that I’m going to kill you.” he motioned off to my left and right, where agents were beginning to accumulate, tranquilizer rifles drawn. “How would you like to put your boldness to a more… constructive use?”

“I won’t betray my brothers and sisters.”

“I don’t doubt that. The name’s Henter, by the way. We’ll be getting aquainted over the coming months.” he said. With that, he motioned to his men. I heard the shots of the tranq guns, and the lights went dim.

Over the next months, I and the other recruits were trained. Project Samson was filled with a group of people like me – people whose ultimate fate was a strange, non-violent death. 

By day, we trained until our bodies could scarcely take any more; by night, we sat around drinking and concocting different scenarios in which the incense candles, aloe vera plants, and grapefruits from our machine readings could do us in. We all hated our handlers, but the hatred gave us purpose, and we felt a kinship in it. Over time, I began to feel the camaraderie that I had felt with The Collective.

Then, one day, Henter came and told us that our training was complete. We were herded into vans and shipped out to our assignments. I never saw any of my Project Samson friends again.


I come to a few seconds later to find him hovering over me, briefcase in one hand, pistol in the other. He gives me a slap to make sure I’m awake before rudely demanding to know who I am and who sent me. The guy is an amateur. If he knew anything he’d know that I’m not going to tell him anything, and he hasn’t even gotten around to restraining me yet. Maybe he doesn’t think a woman could do any real damage to him, but that’s a sexism that I can use. I tell him to fuck off, and he points his gun at me and furiously repeats his demand. A smirking head shake is all he gets. Completely losing his cool, he shouts so loudly that spittle flies out of his mouth, and he pulls the trigger.


Judging from the slack expression on his face and the quizzical way he stares at his gun, he wasn’t expecting that. Unfortunately for him, I was. I jump to my feet and drop him with a quick but potent kick to the knee. He screams in agony as he goes down, he has the sense to swing the gun around toward me, but as he does, I kick it out of his hand. I smile at him and speak a single word, 
“Grapefruit”, as the charge blows out the window across the room. The helicopter is right on time. I’m a mile away by the time the bomb I set goes off, obliterating the facility.

Henter takes the briefcase from me and opens it. He smiles and pulls out the pulls out a couple of pages of paper.

“What are they?” I ask him.

“The locations and Machine readings from everyone in Project Samson.” he says. “Good job, Grapefruit”.

“Always a pleasure, ‘Concrete’.” I say.

It takes him a second to take in what I just said, he face goes ashen. “Where did you find that out? What are you do…”

He reaches for his gun, but I’ve already unlatched his seat-belt. The pilot activates the emergency hatch to Henter’s left and I quickly shove him out of his seat and into the black night.

“Where are we headed now, Claire?” the pilot asks.

I flip through the report. “‘Footstool’ is closest to our current location. Let’s start there. We’ve got some old friends to look up.”

Here's what the judges thought of it.

K: Okay, I LOVE this concept. The fearlessness that comes with knowing a person’s mode of death has been touched on by a few writers in the book, but this group – this larger idea – is something so obvious that I feel like it should be official canon. I would have spent more time with Grapefruit here, and I like that the writer didn’t feel the need to explain her death in this story. But… “we’ll be getting antiquated?”

DK: This one, on the other hand, I kind of wished there was a little more of. The flashback section could have used a little more fleshing out, I thought; I did really enjoy the action of the present-time sequences. I try not to comment on mistakes like this, but I couldn’t stop chuckling at “We’ll be getting antiquated” and that kind of threw me out of the mood that the first section set up really nicely.

Okay, a couple things. First of all, against my better judgement, I've edited this. When I first typed this all up, Henter (the name 'Henter' is a nod to the best pitcher in Bases Loaded for the NES, besides which, it's just a cool sounding name) simply said "I don't doubt that" before ordering his men to sedate the protagonist. I had already typed everything up and copied it into Hotmail to send off when my attention got drawn to that and how... fulfilling it looked. Because of my tight schedule (we'll get into that in a second), I added the sentence you see above - unfortunately, I made a typo on the word 'acquainted', which was instantly caught by spellcheck. Any other time, and I would've taken my time and checked which word I was pulling from the spellcheck list, but this time I rushed it and sadly chose the word 'antiquated'. Now, antiquated is a kickass word... a perennial favorite, however, it makes zero sense in the context, and ended up standing out horribly. Truly unfortunate.

When I first figured out that I was going to be getting to this point in the game, I was excited, because I've had an idea rumbling around in my head for quite a while. Long story short, I was simply unable to cram it into the confines of this week. I started a few times, but each time, the concept felt forced, and the word count (3500 words!) felt insufficient. It's a good idea, I know it is, but I just ran out of time to make it work for this week.

So I punted. I came up with a brand new concept on Sunday morning with about an hour to round it out. My mother-in-law's birthday was yesterday, and Linds was already irritated that I was sitting on the computer writing instead of helping her get ready to go and cook her mom's birthday meal. I came so close to non-subbing this week that it isn't even funny. I went to bed Saturday night an absolute annoyed wreck, just knowing that there was no way I was going to able to come up with a decent concept and hammer it out in time. Luckily, I came up with a concept that I liked (how has that not been touched on before? the military would jump on that in about 2 seconds), and was able to come up with a semblance of something decent. I really wish I had started the week with that concept, and I might actually expand on the middle section as DK suggested, and see what I come up with.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Triumph or Tragedy

Homestretch time, everyone. Last week, the last remnants of 'I'm With Stupid' went the way of the passenger pigeon.This week, we inched a little closer to the finale.

This week's challenge was to take a historic tragedy and write about the perspective of a (hopefully fictional) person caught up in it. Would they triumph over circumstance? Would they succumb to bitter tragedy?

With this season's cast of writers, what do you think. Don't expect triumph.

It came to us a year after the last of the supply ships left.
We were already in the path of destruction, with food dwindling, and every new day seemed to find ways to torment us. One day, it was disease; the next, one of the hostile local tribes would attack one of our hunting parties. Each day brought us closer to our demise.

One month ago, Thomas Green found it on the shores of the bay. He had been digging for clams when he saw a glint coming from from the mud. He washed the muck away to find a finely carved wooden amulet, bearing a creature with a skull for a head, with a man in its claws. Though the object was entirely comprised of wood, it showed no signs of rot or decay from having been in the mud for an untold period of time.

We wondered if such a piece of jewelry might be of value to the nearby tribes, so we inquired to several of them. Each experience was the same. When any of them took a look at the amulet, their faces would turn ashen, and they would not speak another word to us. All contact, friendly or hostile, with the local tribes ceased immediately.

For a time, we praised the amulet as good luck charm, but within a couple of weeks, we noticed Thomas Green exhibiting strange behavior. One day, we found him sitting on the ground in the middle of the square, babbling to himself, his hands bloody beyond measure. He had fully dismantled his house in a single night. Though his hands were torn to shreds, he held the amulet with death’s grip, and when some of the men tried to help him to his feet, he turned on them with a demonlike rage, beating them all to within an inch of their lives within moments. We forcibly subdued Mr. Green and took the object from him.

The next day, we found poor Thomas, dead from a makeshift noose. The villagers were aghast, but even worse was the fact that three more individuals had succumbed to the madness. Within days, nearly everyone in the village had torn the buildings and fortifications to the ground. By day, they stalked the village like caged animals. By night, they fought over the talisman, often killing each other merely for a chance to touch it.

Those of us who had kept our distance through this mess had enough wits about us to come to a decision. The amulet had tainted us through some manner of foul magic, and it must be destroyed. We formed a small militia and fought our way to the object’s current owner. Upon procuring it, we built a large fire and attempted to burn it. Though its form was of wood, the amulet persisted. Hearing a crowd of the tainted coming our way, I hooked the talisman out of the fire and stole into the night.

The next morning, I sank all of the boats but one and ventured across the bay to a nearby island. I walked as far inland as I could, zig-zagging along to ensure that I did not recall the direction I took. I dug a whole as deep as my exhausted limbs would allow, and I buried the charm there. On my return to the colony, I began to pass the bodies of my neighbors, who had – finding the boats usless and submerged – attempted to follow me by any means they could manage.

I am the only resident of the colony left alive. I’ve spent the last three days trying to discern a way to warn others, but the icon’s grasp on my mind is strengthening, even though I’m nowhere near its proximity. Last night, I awoke to find myself in the boat headed to Croatoan to dig the cursed object back up. I think I should write a message, but what sort of message would inform the viewer of the evils of that damned island?

I carved the name of the island into one of the trees in the area a couple of hours ago, I don’t know what that will do – probably nothing. My thoughts turn to dust. It’s calling me again. This must cease.
I’ve been swimming for a half an hour. Soon, I won’t be able to see the shore. My thoughts will be own own again.

I tried to warn the supply ships. I fear I have failed. May God have mercy on their souls if they happen upon Croatoan island.

So... no triumph, I take it. How'd the judges like it?

K: This is hard. I fucking hate you guys. Maybe this person knows me enough to know I’m completely enthralled by the mystery of Roanoke, but it doesn’t really matter. What started as a story with me wondering “This person can’t be using Lord of the Rings for source material, right?” ended with me simply shaking my head at this clever explanation of a deeply disturbing mystery.

DK: This is a very creative idea for a tragic basis, and it’s very effective as a narrative building tension. I felt like I was a little held off from caring about the particular character at the center of it – that’s not really a flaw since this story isn’t really designed to make you care about more than the situation itself.

The protagonist is a bit weak, even if you're supposed to be caring more about the situation. I was actually quite concerned that the judges were going to look at it, realize that it was speaking in terms of the fantastical, and simply disregard it. I'm quite glad they gave it any props at all.

My first idea for a story was, in fact, that of the 30th man on the Edmund Fitzgerald. He'd tell his story years after the fact to an interested soul. There were multiple problems with this.

1) I don't know anything about ships. I've seen Lake Superior when it was mildly creepy looking, but only from the shore, it's hard for me to imagine the type of seas that would crack a ship that big. Any attempt to do so would have had the chance to look underwhelming.

2) The protagonist was going to be younger than I wanted, stories of this type work best with a 70-some year old guy looking back on things. A 50-year old look at it could conceivably offer fresh prospective, but that perspective wasn't readily coming when I was writing it out.

3) Spooky actually mentioned the Edmund Fitzgerald as an example, which scared me off. This needn't have been the case (Novak wrote a very good 9/11 story, and Spooky used that, too), but even the thought that the inspiration might have been subconsciously lifted sort of soured me on the whole thing.

I toyed around with the idea of placing the whole thing in the French Revolution, putting our dearly departed Andy on the chopping block and having us all end up killing him, but that was meta in a creepy way, and I couldn't find a way to keep the other contestants (who I have really enjoyed playing with) from looking sort of evil. Sorry, Andy... I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who even wrote a rough outline of your eviction as a historical event, though. So there's that.

In the end, I decided on Roanoke. It's fascinated me ever since I learned about it in third grade. Something about the lone word carved into the tree, and the mystery of the whole thing just unnerved me and ignited my imagination. I have to imagine that in those days, colonies disappeared or were evacuated without explanation fairly often, but this one stands supreme through the years. Why not offer up "evil demon talisman" as a valid reason for its disappearance?

There was a little bit of narrative oomph I think I could've squeezed from this one that I didn't quite get. As DK mentions above, the narrator is a faceless person afflicted by it. That was my intention, but I could have fleshed out things a bit more, given him a family that goes mad and possibly given him some motivation for doing some of the things that he does. As it stands, it's essentially a creepy campfire story, with some polish, it could have been a little more (if only a little).

It doesn't matter in the end, I wasn't going to beat Shawn's cannibalistic Depression-era folk. It just wasn't going to happen. Vogons might not have strictly vogoned, but there are still five of us left.

Of a slightly geekier note, I get to do Machine of Death for the challenge this week. I'm quite amped about this. If you've never heard of this fine book, check it out here. I'll have more next week.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Before and After

It's down to brass tacks, Survivor fans. The tribes have merged into a Vogon-filled party bus. With no teams to shield a player, one must hope that either:

a) They've made some friends this winter, or
b) They can win the next several challenges outright.

This week's challenge was complex.....I'll just have Matt explain it to you.

Before and After

Two characters, let’s call them A and B, interact. They have a conflict. The kind of conflict that good stories are made of. And lucky for you, this conflict is exactly what your story is about. It’s at the center of your story.

But we’re not interested in the center of the story. Instead, your challenge is to write the story from only the before and after perspectives. And because that seems kind of easy, each of the two separate parts has to be written from one of the separate character’s perspective. That is, the “before” section of the story should be written from Character A’s perspective (or B’s if you prefer), and the After section of the story should be written from Character B’s perspective (see previous parenthetical).

Now, we’d hate to actually see Character A and Character B get into a fight. That’s not what this challenge is about. But we know full well that there’s a conflict between them. So we’re just going go ahead and put one last rule in place, to make sure they keep their distance from each other. The rule is simple: at no point in either story can the two characters directly interact with each other. They can talk about each other. They can interact with other characters (who can appear in the other part of the story). They can even set into motion and/or respond to interactions that would happen in the “center” portion of the story. They just can’t directly interact. We want to see the conflict, without seeing the conflict.

So... yeah. Complex.

Anyway, here was what I came up with.

Livingston Estate front porch, 3:13am
To the owner of this, the lawn on which I currently call my bed,

You may notice I am currently passed out on your lawn. You may wonder how this came to be.
I decided to get, as my dear friend Robert might say, “Hella smashed” on Saturday evening. To that end, I procured several bottles of the cheapest flavored vodka I could find and endeavored to drink as much I could from each of them. I noticed, with some dismay that the taste of the “cake” flavored vodka reminded me of an ex-lover, so I took it upon myself to seek out and find this lost love.

My searches were in vain, but as I wandered the streets, I did happen upon your property, and glimpsed your lawn ornament, which – in my intoxicated state – amused me. In point of fact, it amused me to the point that I found myself transfixed by it. That glorious statue of two fish entwined reminded me of the nights my darling Angela and I would spend, our bodies woven together by our love. Those nights, I scarcely knew where I ended and she began.

I must admit that this thought piqued my lust. I am a simple man, sir, with simple appetites. I find no pride in these appetites, but when I begin down that lustful course, blind animal nature takes control of me. I apologize for what I may have done while under the influence of these urges.

It is not my intention to bear unmitigated bad news, however. I expect that your anger against a lustful intruder should be fierce, but that anger should be tempered by joy. You may take solace in the knowledge that the feelings that your property has instilled in me shall remain a part of both of our lives forever. Your unwitting generosity has touched me, my friend, I shall now show my gratitude by mowing your lawn this very evening. I was unable to procure a key to your garage, so I took a small stone and gained entry through other means.

May your kindness, however unconscious it may have been, be spoken of for generations to come.

Your eternal friend,
Wallace Percival Brown

Livingston Estate, 7:54am on the day following the writing of the Wallace Brown note:

In the wake of the previous night’s events, Lewis Livingston had not noticed the note which had been hastily scrawled and secured to his porch with a rock. The note was illegible, save for the words “Fuck you, Angela” and a drawing of what looked to be a man having sexual relations with a shark. Lewis was struck dumb by the revelation, except for a single phrase.

“What the fuck!?”

As he turned to go inside, Lewis happened to glance over at his hummingbird feeder, which appeared to have been defiled by the drunken intruder.
What the fuck, indeed.

Here are the judges' comments:

K: This is fun enough…well, let me rephrase that, because it’s a lot of fun, but not fun enough to win this week. The idea is a funny one but I think it has legs that it didn’t show…some more time and punching up with this one would have been essential up against what it was up against.

DK: Another very funny treatment; the juxtaposition of the first guy’s imagined speechifying combined with the B section’s vulgar reality creates a nice, quick punch of amusement.
I'm actually pretty satisfied with how this one turned out. For the first five days, I wracked my brain trying to think of something that would work. I thought of existential plots (man vs. death, man vs. wolves), serious, even meta (that would've gone over just greeeaaaaat). Finally, I just gave up and stopped thinking about it. Then, it came to me as I sat on the frozen lake while partaking in the local Ice Fishing tournament.

Drunken silliness.

There was going to be a lot of darkness with this challenge, and making something that was purely comedic struck me as what I wanted to do. There was just one problem. I was going directly from the tournament to a hockey game in the cities, and I had no idea what time I'd be back on Sunday.

Luckily, it turned out that we got home around 5pm on Sunday, and I had a couple of precious hours to knock it out. It turned out funny (my biggest question was which animal the drawing was supposed to be displaying - sharks are funny). I was 99% certain that it wouldn't win, but if I need to win every one of the remaining challenges, I'm not going to make it very far, anyway.

On a completely different note, now that we're merged, there is no more "Nibbish and His Vogons", so I guess we'll be going our own way at this point. All of my teammates, both eliminated and still in the game have been true pleasures to play with. It's been a blast, and you've all made up the best team ever. Thank you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 16

Today's moment is sort of a video gaming classic. It comes from the fantastic Final Fantasy VI. Even if you haven't played the game, you've probably heard of this part, or seen it referenced. It's not really any kind of spoiler, but I'll hide it behind a jump, anyway, because that's just how I roll.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 16

Just about every platform I've ever owned or played a video game on
Absurdly Specific Genre: Being the best 3D platformer/shooter ever - that's not really a genre, is it.
Difficulty: From 1 to 10, depending on how fast that damn block is dropping
Beaten: A close as it can be, I suppose.

Seven shapes. One goal. Endless permutations. A video game that has pretty transcended the medium (admit it, you don't even really think about it as a video game anymore).

Tetris is, of course, the game that most of us can play by now simply by closing our eyes. It's the first game in which I had even a modicum of skill.

The elegance of the game is obviously is absolute simplicity. A child can learn to play passably within minutes, yet a player who has been playing for years can be tripped up in a humblingly short period of time with just a few bad blocks (usually those damned 'S' and 'Z' blocks).

Yeah, screw you. You're not welcome here - and by 'here', I mean 'anywhere'.

I haven't played the game properly in a long time now, but the next time I do, I'll feel that same exact way that I have on countless occasions - enthralled, with nothing required of me but reflexes, and all manner of enjoyment to gain. Tetris is no ordinary timewaster, it's the supreme timewaster. None can hope to match it.

Now, if I could just get that 'l' block...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

CD Review: Lana Del Rey - Born to Die

With everything that's been said about Lana Del Rey, it's worth noting that her major label debut album has been out for all of one week. We've heard all about the woman's image, her constantly morphing videos, her lips (especially the lips), and how calculating it all is. All of that chatter has two sizable disadvantages. First, it has a shelf life that expires, it would seem, about two weeks before the album itself drops (publications that adored the idea of getting 'firstsies' when 'Video Games' came out are falling all over themselves to distance themselves from the finished product). Second, it really has nothing to do with the only thing I'm even remotely interested in.

Is the damn album any good??

Well, yeah. It is. I mean, to a certain extent, it was bound to be. Anyone with an open mind loved 'Video Games' and 'Blue Jeans' (I certainly did), and the title track is excellent, as well. That's three good-to-great songs - already more than to you're likely get out of a vast majority of pop albums. The only question was whether or not the rest of the album was going to live up to those songs. On that count, how could it possibly do that? Anyone who was going to enjoy Lana Del Rey at all was going to have heard their favorite song by the time they pop in the disc for the first time (and truthfully, if you hated "Video Games" or "Blue Jeans", then you really don't need to give this a try... nothing here is going to convince you if you didn't like those songs). The track listing doesn't do Born to Die any favors, the three songs people have heard are loaded at the front of the album, giving people a glut of lesser songs to close it out.

The music itself is darkly poppy, with a hint of hip-hop beat to go with the string flourishes that Born to Die is absolutely full of. Lana's better with the solemn stuff, her voice sounds a little frail for the more upbeat stuff (though I will cop to enjoying the 'harlot scarlet' bit in "Off to the Races"). She's clearly meant to evoke a sultry nightclub singer, but there's always a weird "innocence corrupted" angle that pops up. The allusions to Lolita obviously aren't by accident. They are a recurring theme throughout the entire album ("Off to the Races" directly appropriates a line from it, and several other songs allude to it). This could come off as heavy-handed, or even a little creepy if the music wasn't so damned catchy - and make no mistake, the songs are catchy. Even if they sometimes have obvious flaws (would it have killed them to do a take where she takes an extra half pause between "let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain" and "you like your girls insane"?? I may have to make an edit that adds it in. It will never stop bothering me), they are well built.

Born to Die is interesting to me, not because of the weird controversy that hovers around it, but because it's a well built, if flawed, album. The flaws seem so correctable in spots, but they give the whole thing a character that overcomes what could have been a connect-the-dots affair. At the same time, it leaves a lot of room for Lana to improve. I think there's every chance that she will. This might be truly great, but if she can capture that dark, haunted, yet cynical vibe that makes her best music jump, there's no reason to think her next one might not be. I'm a lot more interested to see that than I am to hear another heavy-handed dissertation on how her lips make her a sellout.

7 / 10

* Born to Die
* Blue Jeans
* Video Games
* Diet Mountain Dew

Monday, February 6, 2012

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 17

Today's top video game moment comes to us from Mass Effect. It's a relatively substantial spoiler, so if you haven't played through the game, you'll probably want to steer clear.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 17

Platform: Playstation 2
Absurdly Specific Genre: Being the best 3D platformer/shooter ever - that's not really a genre, is it.
Difficulty: 5-ish, I think?
Beaten: Yes.

I'll level with you. I know the following things about this game/series:

  • * It's my favorite 3D Platformer/Shooter
  • * It's a better series than Jak and Daxter
  • * This is the best game in the series of the ones that I've played (the first three).
  • * I absolutely loved this game when I played it.
Unfortunately, it falls in the same mental hole that Jak 2 does. I remember particular parts of the game (the ending, the vid comics, and some of the basic gameplay), but the gameplay by and large escapes me.

Worse still, I can't just pull it off the shelf and play it, because I lent all three games out to a friend of mine, who never returned them (I found out later that he forgot that they were mine and sold them at a yard sale).

I certainly plan on purchasing all three games again. I loved these games. The excellent mix of self-aware humor and kickassery; the RYNO (one of my very favorite weapons); the little segments where you had to play as Clank... everything about this series was spot on.

Ah, I should go play them all front to back right now......

...oh, wait.

Spookymilk Survivor X: Afterlife

Last week, Vogons just couldn't be stopped. They vogon'd everywhere. It was glorious, like a big, Vogon-y dream.

This season (like many seasons), it seems all of the contestants are intent on killing as many characters in as many colorful ways as possible. This week, we took a break from murdering our characters to briefly contemplate what might happen to all of these unfortunate souls. The theme was 'Afterlife', and the only rule was that the duration of the story had to occur post-mortum.

Did Vogon keep vogoning? Let's find out. First, my take on the great beyond. (note, I'm putting the formatting marks back in, because it kind of looks like ass without them)

A man and woman were in the car, arguing. What they were arguing about was unclear.

He awoke in an unfamiliar room. The fact that he had a mild headache was quickly overshadowed by a curiosity about his surroundings.

The clothes he was wearing were his, and he got the feeling he had been in this room before, but nothing about the room itself seemed familiar. He slowly got to his feet tried to figure out how he had gotten there. The previous night was a blur. Bits of pieces of memory came to him, but nothing that would explain his current predicament.

As he looked around the room, he saw two doors. The first was locked tight, the second led to a street. The sun was shining down and a robin chirped away in a nearby bush. Something about the street seemed familiar, so he walked its length for a while, eventually coming to a tree. The tree itself looked like a normal cottonwood that lined the streets of his childhood neighborhood. Whereas the sun was illuminating the rest of the street, the tree itself remained dark and foreboding, and a chill ran up his spine when he was near it.

As he turned to head back to his room, he saw her. A woman, dressed in a beautiful dress, her face obscured. He didn’t know why, but he felt terror in her presence. He began to run in the opposite direction, but as he did, a car came down the street. Waving his arms frantically, he tried to flag down the driver, but the car didn’t even slow down, and hit him at full speed. His broken body lay on the pavement as the world began to go black.

The man and woman were in the car, arguing. The woman crying as the man shouted angrily at her. Too late, he noticed the dog in the middle of the road.

He awoke in an unfamiliar room.

The sun had fled, replaced by clouds, but the scene unfolded, same it had had before. How many times it had happened, he didn’t know, but every motion he made gave him a sense that he had already experienced it. The street, the tree, the woman – everything was familiar, yet trapped in a part of his memory that he couldn’t quite grasp. Like a fading dream, everything became more unclear the harder he tried to remember it. The car came down the road, same as before, and left him bleeding and fading on the asphalt, same as before.

In his attempt to avoid the animal, the man sent the car off the road. He tried to hit the brakes, but the rain made slowing down in time an impossibility.

He awoke in the same unfamiliar room.

Rain poured from the sky. The man was drawn to the tree, same as before. Why didn’t it occur to him to take a different road? To take a left turn instead of a right? The tree stood before him, scarred by some horrific calamity. He turned to face the woman. He knew who she was now. He had always known.

The car claim to claim him again. He didn’t even flinch – he felt a strange sense of justice about it. He deserved this.

The car collided with the tree at full speed. A couple of bystanders tried to pull the couple’s bodies from the wreckage, but it was in vain. There were no survivors.

He awoke. The woman was sitting at the foot of his bed.

“Why are you avoiding me? Why are you trying to torture yourself over and over again about it?” she asked.

He opened his mouth to speak a couple times. There was nothing he could say. Nothing he could do to make it right. All he could do was damn himself to recreating that night over and over until he could make it right.

“Why can’t you forgive yourself?” she insisted.

“That night – the car wreck – the things…..the last thing I said to you…” he was kneeling on the floor. Practically choking for breath.

She knelt down beside him and stood him to his feet. Embracing him, she said “You know that I already forgave you. It’s time to let it go.”

“What if I can’t?”

“Then you’re just going to have to trust me, and I’ll be waiting for a time when you can.” she said, motioning him over. “Come here, I want to show you something.”

She withdrew a key from her pocket and unlocked the door.

Taking his hand in hers, she opened the door, which led to a beautiful meadow.

“I love you” he whispered. She simply smiled and gave an ever so slight nod.

Together they walked through the open door.

The judges' critiques.

K: Is it hell, or a hell of the dead’s making? Interesting. Again, I feel like the emotions could be ratcheted up here; I want to feel his despair so much more strongly so I can truly feel the catharsis the story deserves when the woman forgives him. 2

DK: This one really got to me. The repetitive structure was used to great effect, in my view, and the idea of being trapped in one’s last, greatest mistake for eternity really resonated with me. The emotional impact throughout rang true. 5

Back a few years ago, Roger Ebert made a point about video games not being 'art'. I thought things over (I concluded that he was at least half right, but that's a story for another post) and tried to contemplate what a video game might be that could qualify as having the same story and dramatic heft of a quality film. The rough outline that I came up with was a man waking up in the afterlife (though neither he, nor the player would understand this immediately), having just died in an automobile accident. The gameplay would be sort of Myst-like as he found pieces of his old life, all the while being haunted by the spectre of his final moments on earth and his last argument with his love. I decided that for maximum effectiveness, the whole thing would take about two hours in a straight playthrough, and would have a variety of endings, varying from the man running from the past fully (and thus damning himself to repeat his own little private hell forever) to owning up to things and moving on in the only way that could possibly make him happy. The ending that I used was more of a neutral ending. Like most of my ideas, nothing was ever expanded upon.

I thought of this concept immediately upon seeing the challenge, the only question I had was how to pare down what was essentially a two hour story (and only a rough outline, at that) and format it into a sub-1000 word story. A friend of mine came over unannounced and ended up staying at my house all weekend, so the final draft never got rounded out quite like I was expecting, so I'm not sure I succeeded (some of the emotional heft was drained by the lack of minutae, as well as a couple of wordy segments), but I'm overall pretty happy with the concept. Maybe I'll revisit it someday, maybe not.