Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 8

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Grand Theft Auto with Horses*
Difficulty: 3 (this might be the easiest video game I've ever truly loved)
Beaten: Yes (to the true ending)

The cliche goes that this is Grand Theft Auto with horses. That's how the game was sold to me and part of the reason I avoided it for as long as I did, truthfully. I liked each Grand theft Auto game that I played, but only to a certain point. I didn't feel the need to rehash that formula with horses.

...then he kills the dudes and gets Don Salvatore's drug money back. I'VE PLAYED THIS GAME BEFORE, DAMMIT.
Turns out the byline was a little bit off on this one.

For as lauded as Niko Bellic's character was, I never felt a lot of pull toward him, and after a while, Grand Theft Auto IV stalled in the same "beat prostitutes senseless and steal cars and evade police" game that every other GTA game had. John Marston is different.

Make no mistake, Red Dead Redemption is a game that intends to break your heart. What surprised me at first was how much the game made me care about the characters. When Bonnie gets you back on your feet, you care about her when local ruffians start shit with her. Marston goes from merely being the anti-hero protagonist to a tragic figure you can't help but wish good toward.  You actually care about his quest to get his wife and son back. Sure, you're willing to do some pretty shady things to facilitate that, but as opposed to every other game of its ilk, it feels strangely necessary. John Martson will be reunited with his family, and he won't let anything - including his conscience - get in the way of that goal.

Gameplay is, in and of itself, extremely entertaining. There's seemingly no limit to the mischief (and semi-honest fun) you can get into when riding the open range. The randomized events that happen from time to time keep the world feeling alive and vital. Horse riding itself feels a little cludgy at first, but quickly becomes second nature (especially once you get an actual decent horse).

I've already discussed my two favorite moments (here and here) in the 'moments' list, but there's truthfully dozens that could be brought up - the sun showing up as you clear the final hill on the path to Blackwater (that was mostly luck, it happened to be evening when I made that trip for the first time), the way you can whistle for your horse when a thief tries to steal it (causing your horse to buck the would-be thief off), playing poker, the way the music starts back up on your ride back to your ranch.

John Marston is just a cinematic kind of dude.
This game achieves more than I could have possibly expected. The characters are top notch, the music is excellent, the story is gutting, but wonderful. This is far from being "Grand Theft Auto with horses". his is the type of game Grand Theft Auto should be aspiring to take a page from.

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 8

Today's moment comes from the RPG-epic Final Fantasy VI. I loved the Opera House as much as anyone else (it's top 20 on this list, after all), but this is the part that made my go "holy crap".

It's pretty spoilerish, so if you're the type that doesn't want to know how King Kong ends, you might want to steer clear.

Turbo Survivor: Aesop Alteration

Catching up...

Our judges gave us a couple stock Aesop fables and asked us to write a more interesting story to reach them.

Here's mine.

It was the deal of a lifetime.

Well, maybe not of a lifetime, but certainly the best deal Martin was likely to see anytime soon.
Two thousand Silver Sussex eggs were to be delivered that evening. He had happened upon the deal by chance. A farmer had fallen upon hard times, and needed to sell his stock. Martin smiled as he thought of how he had driven the man down from his original asking price. These eggs were worth ten times what he was paying for them. He had lived like a king last night, he planned on doing the same tonight – only bigger.

Rob looked quizzically at Martin. “So, these Silver Essex”

“Silver Sussex” Martin corrected.

“These chicks. They’ll make us money?”

“Lots of money. A week-old chick can sell for up to $700.”

“That doesn’t sound like much.”

“We have two thousand of them on the way.”


“A little under one and a half million dollars.”

Rob said nothing, choosing instead to give a low whistle.

That evening, the truck made its way to the barn that Martin had forced Rob into renting. When the truck pulled up, he impatiently signed the waiver and threw open the locked doors.
The wave of heat hit him square in the face, then the smell nearly bowled him over.

It took a moment for Martin to take in what he was seeing. All of his and Rob’s money being turned into a fucking omelette.

Martin’s heart sank as he called the phone number provided to him by the farmer, only to be greeted with a disconnected number notice.

The truck driver simply spat on the ground and chuckled.

“You know what they say, boys. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Stef: Funny and a nice lead up to the saying. I enjoyed the dialogue and the plot. Nicely done!  GOLD

DK: It was pretty straightforward where this was going, but I still found this moral usage hilarious. It was set up clearly but also subtly enough to not telegraph itself too much.  GOLD
Medal Count:  10

Ah! There we go.

I'll be honest. I had no idea  what Silver Sussex chickens were, but I googled "most expensive chicken" and that was the first result. I don't know what the logistics of keeping two thousand chicks would be, but from previously having chickens, I know that even if all two thousand eggs survived the trip, they'd lose a ton of them almost immediately. Martin isn't too good with the business transactions.

I decided to go with something straightforward, because it was late, and I was exhausted from moving the contents of my office in and out so that the room could be carpeted. I'm not at all displeased with how it turned out (I like the dialog between Martin and Rob, and the omelette line felt good to write), but I liked the Fortune Cookie story a lot better. If I'd had a little more snap to it, maybe we wouldn't have lost KG - sorry, man.

By the way, the farmer was some manner of shyster, if that isn't blatantly obvious.

Turbo Survivor: Fortune Cookie

Wow. When you're doing 3 challenges every 2 weeks or so, they sort of pile up.

Anyway, the challenge before this past one was to make a story about a fortune cookie coming true.

Here's mine.

“The fuck…”

I let my voice trail off as the laughter dies around me at the table.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Sarah asks.

I’ve read the words on the fortune ten to fifteen times, but they didn’t make any sense. Nothing seems out of place in the restaurant – other than the slip of paper in my hands.

“Let’s leave.”

“But we can’t…”


She doesn’t persist. I mumble my goodbyes and toss money on the table and we leave. We’re blocks away by the time she’s able to stop me to ask what’s wrong.

“Read for yourself.”

She looks over the slip of paper before reading aloud “’You will kill Dante Collins tonight.’ Who’s Dante Collins?”

“I’ve no idea” I tell her.

“It must be a sick joke. Some dumb kid. Probably laughed his ass off.”

“What kind of…” my words are cut off by the sound of the payphone.

We both stare awkwardly at it. It stops, then starts ringing again. We evacuate. Lightly jogging, then running. By the time we stop, we’re ten blocks away.

It starts snowing. I can tell that Sarah is tired, terrified, and cold, so we duck into a coffee shop to warm up. We’re there for a couple minutes when the barista motions me over.

“What?” I ask him.

“I dunno, the guy on the phone wants you.”

I feel as if I’ve been punched in the gut. “He what?”

“I told him we don’t do that sort of thing. He was pretty insistent about it.”

I pick up the receiver.

“You didn’t think it was a joke, did you?”

“What do you want” I mutter.

“Kill Dante Collins. He’ll be in an abandoned complex on 12th and Nokomis. Hurry, Mr. Mitchell. The night is slipping away, and you’ll want to be getting the lovely Ms. Davis home safely tonight.”

I don’t even hang up the phone. Grabbing Sarah, I flee into the snow.

“Why do they want this Dante guy dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where are we going?”

“12th and Nokomis.”


I can’t answer that. What will I do? What if Dante Collins is a trained killer? How can I prepare for that?
A couple of blocks away from our destination, I see a few dumpsters and tell Sarah to hide amongst them. I feel like a fool bringing her this close, but I can’t shake the feeling that she needs to be somewhere where I can see her.

I arrive at 12th and Nokomis. I wait around for fifteen or twenty minutes, but there’s still no one. I check my watch – twelve ten. Something’s wrong.


I sprint back as fast as I can toward the dumpsters. I’m a hundred yards or so away when I hear the gunshot. Sarah’s feet come into view. My mind disappears.

I find myself on the ground, covered in Sarah’s blood.

“Oh, God” a voice says.

I look up. Before me stands Dante Collins. My target – the man who has just murdered the love of my life. He drops the gun as if were about to bite his hands off.

“They had Sue…” he begins, trembling and falling to his knees. “They said I had to…”

I get to my feet in a daze. The world is spinning, but I find my attention fixed on the ground beside the sobbing Mr. Collins. I stagger over to the gun and pick it up.

“They were going to kill her.” he pleads, “I’m so fucking sorry.”

I say nothing. There’s nothing left to say.

Two shots later, three bodies lie in the slowly accumulating snow.

Well isn't that... touching. How'd the judges like it?

Beau:  While some of the prose is awkward here, I really like how much plot is crammed into 600 words here.  This kind of reads like the plot of a Koontz novel (minus the golden retriever).  The only criticism I really have here is that the motivation for Mr. Mitchell to follow the orders is never quite explained, but then I can intuit it as the reader to a point.  Anyway, great work here.  GOLD
DK: This has a relentless, engaging pace, and I like the way the tension builds throughout the story as a result.  BRONZE
Medal Count:  6

Okay. better than it's been lately. I really liked the story I came up with for this one, but the word count really shredded it. I needed to remove 300-some words in about 15 minutes. I started getting desperate toward the end, and I'm not sure the story's backbone could really support what I did to it. I really wish I would've saved the original, because if the word limit was 1000 words, I could've done great things with it.

Ah, well.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 9

Today's moment comes to us from the great game Batman: Arkham Asylum. It's not really a spoiler, but the fun of the moment is a lot more visceral if you don't know it's coming.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 9

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Chatting, Exploring, and Romancing...also Saving the Galaxy 
Difficulty: 5
Beaten: Yes

It's a fairly common story at this point, but it holds true again. This one didn't click for me the first time I tried it. There are a variety of reasons why, the Mako (thankfully removed in later games in the series) was unwieldy and annoying, the checkpoint system was dreadful (generally due to the Mako. One of the earlier planets featured a 10-15 minute long run in the Mako, only to be ambushed by a huge force while on foot... hope you enjoyed driving around the ATV), and the inventory was beyond ridiculous. I sort of understood the hype for it, but I just couldn't agree with it.

On the one hand: epic plot, great characters, fun gameplay, on the other hand... this piece of shit

Then I saw Mass Effect 2 on sale for $15 at the local game store and picked it up on a whim. Not wanting to play through it blind, I gave the first another try. The problems were still problematic (more than once, I got killed, cursing the fact that I hadn't saved for quite a while, and the autosave wasn't generous enough to do anything but send me back to the beginning of the level), but everything else about the game started shining. First off, the storytelling is fantastic, and the characters are excellent. The choices you make have weight (this becomes doubly obvious in later games in the series, but would be true even if this were only a standalone game). Shepard (a nicely obvious name) is a great protagonist, and you're able to craft the character exactly how you imagine him to be. Overthoughtful pussy? Abrasive asshole? Something in between? - totally up to you. I admitted in my writeup of Fallout 3 that I'm a conversation junkie. This game (and indeed, this whole series) is like talking porn for me. There's always someone to chat with, with conversations that adapt depending on how you react.

Pointless, you blue whore, just pointless.

As far as the storyline goes, the whole thing feels epic, without feeling forced. Saren makes for a good antagonist, and the Reapers make for an excellent switchout, without feeling like a contrived 'man behind the man' like some Final Fantasy bosses tend to. The final fight (which I won't go into too much depth about, since it's kind of spoiler-laden) is tremendous fun, and the denouement feels less like the end of a great game, and more like the start of an truly amazing series.

Come to think of it, that's exactly what it was.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 10

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Living, chatting, and murdering in the End of the World
Difficulty: 5
Beaten: Yes

Oblivion always annoyed me. It looked beautiful, had a believable enough world with which to play, and had a host of interesting things you could do in that world. Yet I could never make it more than about two or three hours into it before turning it off. It wasn't just that I lost interest - I was actively repulsed by the game. I tried to reason why that might be. The best answer I ever came up with was the it was just squirrely (this is actually the same reason I ended up putting down why I was never able to make it more than a few levels into Descent 3).

Therefore, it seems odd that Fallout 3 would be one of my favorite games of all time. After all, it's been called 'Oblivion with guns', and that's not at all a unjust descriptor. It has that same 'squirreliness' built into it that made Oblivion unplayable. So, why is it Top Ten material?

I mean, other than the fact that you get to battle giant scorpions...
A large part of this is due to the level that the game wants immerse you right from the beginning. This game is about exploding heads, talking with every single passerby (I am obsessive about talking to everyone in any video game that allows me to do so, Fallout ends up being conversation porn), and just being a badass in general. More than anything, though, Fallout 3 is about immersion. The game starts as you are being born, and through a series of quick flashes, teaches you the basics of the game while at the same time building the world around you. By the time you break out of the vault you've lived in your entire life, it feels like a big deal. The way the screen goes completely white when you step into the sunshine for the first time in your life is a brilliant and understated method of making sure you identify with your character... and the game is only beginning.

It would all be for nothing if the gameplay was bad, but the VATS system really made it work for me. It adds a dimension of RPG-style chance to the proceedings, while maintaining the first person view. Some people didn't care for this, prefering a straight FPS experience, and that's okay, you were never forced to go into VATS, it was simply there for you if you needed it. For me, it took the squirreliness out of the game and let me soak in the ambiance that the game fed off of.

Like Moira, your friendly neighborhood Minnesota stereotype
The music was just the final piece in a perfect puzzle. Nothing said 'hell yeah, fuckin' right' like killing raiders in the moonlight as Bob Crosby sang about life 'Way Back Home'.  I might never figure out exactly what it is that makes Oblivion not work for me, but I have no problem figuring out what made Fallout 3 perfect. Every action had meaning, every conversation carried significance. The game tossed you into life after the end of the world, and made you feel like you were there.

Spookymilk Turbo: We Come in Peace!

I'm on a cold streak. Time to get turned around.

This week's challenge was as follows...

So many books and movies about extraterrestrial life focus on the silly humans. It’s all fraidy-cat this and don’t-kill-us that.

Your job is to write about the first encounter another species has with Earth and it must entirely be from their perspective. This can be taken many different ways and they’re all okay; just keep the perspective with the alien.

Word Limit: 400 (HARD LIMIT)
Time Limit: One hour

Okay, 'first contact from the aliens' point of view'. Fair enough. Here's my story.

We watched them for a while. After Brimspark, we knew to we had to do that much, at least.
The communications we intercepted indicated a violent race capable of great things, but content to wallow in id-fueled squabbling. Each new time we checked in on them, we felt certain that they’d used their fearsome arsenal to render the planet an uninhabitable mess.

Then things turned around. Slowly, but surely, they began to turn from the death and war that had previously defined them and began to advance themselves, as we had always known they could. They were finally ready.

Our first meeting was nearly disastrous. They may be moving forward as a race, but violence is a part of their nature. We met with their leaders, only to be met by thousands of armed men. We told them that we meant no harm, and that we merely desired to know more about them, but it didn’t allay their fears. As I looked into the crowd, I saw nothing but fear. I had seen this look on Brimspark, and it ended in catastrophe.

Suddenly, a young man dropped his gun and began to walk towards our group. As his friends looked on incredulously, he approached our group. He stood in front of me and extended his hand to me, smiling warmly. I gave my closest approximation of a smile and took his hand and shook it. Instantly, the tension in the crowd dissipated. We spoke to the leaders, who promised to do all that they could to allay the fears of the larger public. We gave them a few good faith gifts. That soldier’s simple gesture seems to have melted the distrust. If only someone had done the same on Brimspark.

We need a new homeworld, but above all, we need a pristine homeworld. Brimspark was a failure because we thought we could simply sweep the primitives out. If we are to colonize Earth, we will need to take a more long term approach. Our ships have been put on long-term standby. This might take years, but we don’t have anything to worry about this time. When this is all over, maybe we’ll build a statue commemorating Handshake Guy. It’s the least we can do, really.

Beau: Nice. This is obviously reminiscent of “To Serve Man,” but I like the approach this one takes a little bit better. It doesn’t have the “gotcha” punch-line like that episode did, but this one feels more realistic and more depressing. SILVER

Stef: Do aliens ever really come in peace? Doesn’t look like it even if it seems like it could. BRONZE

Okay, it's not a golden triple, but it's a start.

First things first, I regret the ending - specifically the 'statue of handshake guy' portion of it. It feels cheesy in what was sort of meant to be deadly serious. It was an absolute last second addition, and I regretted it right away.

The rest of it is...okay. It's better than the stuff I've been coming up with lately, for sure. The payoff might be a little obvious, but that's mostly because - like Stef says - it seems like Aliens never actually come in peace. I was sort of inspired, weirdly enough, by a short story I read on the net (while writing this recap, I tried to find it again, with no success). Basically, the story has aliens watching earth from afar, seeing that they will eventually doom everyone, and deciding to kill off the planet before they can do it. Obviously, that's not the direction I went with, but it laid some of the mental groundwork for the headspace I was in.

Like I said, it's a decent start at getting back on track. Hopefully the next challenge will build off of it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 11

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Dudes in Camo Shooting Guys
Difficulty: 7 (the final mission, in particular contains one particular structure of halls that made me want to find the level designer and punch them in the head)
Beaten: Yes

Despite what this list might look like at a glance, I'm not really that into first person shooters - especially the "you are a nameless, faceless soldier in the armed forces tasked with shooting all the enemies until you win" subgenre. By my count, only four of the games on this list are traditional first person shooters. This one just so happens to be the best of them.

To most players of video games, the draw to this game was the immersive multiplayer. I suppose I get that, and I pumped in a fair number of hours into that portion of the game, myself (disappointing countless teammates in the process, I'm sure). It certainly has more appeal in this regard than most standard deathmatches of its ilk. The controls are sharp, the kills are quick, and you can generally figure out your own style of play.

I was always a proponent of the "got shot and die" school.
The part of the game that really grabbed me, though, was the single player. Unlike its also-pretty-damned-good sequel, the first Modern Warfare game has a lean, fierce story that it tells with minimal narrative trickery. There are no crazy double-crosses, no convoluted and unrealistic motivations to decipher. This helps what shocking moments there are to be magnified.

All of that would be for nothing if the gameplay wasn't top notch, but it's a Call of Duty game, all they did was take the already tight combat out of the 40's, and bring it to the "twenty minutes from now" scenario. In short, I don't see how any standard FPS could ever beat this. I'd certainly love see one try, but it's going to be a tall order.

Other Games in the Series: I played the older Call of Duty games, but by then, I'd played every variation of Omaha Beach that I ever care to, so the WWII games don't do it for me.

Modern Warfare 2 came pretty close top cracking the top 15, ludicrous plot and all for one huge reason - tactical ops mode. Playing thirty-some short, intense co-op missions with a friend is incredibly thrilling, and kept me coming back long after Branny and I had beaten them all. In the end, though, the story isn't nearly as good, and not a lot of new things were brought to the fabled multiplayer.

I haven't actually played Modern Warfare 3 yet. I've been pretty good about avoiding spoilers, so hopefully it's decent. Since by now I have zero interest in the multiplayer, I'd probably just rent it during a weekend where I have a lot of time on my hands...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Survivor Turbo: After the Happily Ever After

Survivor Turbo is relentless.

This week's challenge was to write about the happenings after a fairy-tale ending. I was given 350 words and fifty minutes.

Here's what I came up with...

They think I’m crazy. It was just a night of dancing – but what a night! Such a charming girl, and so beautiful – princes have married women for worse than fitted footwear.

The first weeks are blissful. Though Ella’s gorgeous, she’s no delicate flower. She insists on doing her share around the house. She is tremendously popular with the help (except with Gaspar the chef, who doesn’t appreciate interference in his recipes). She’s simply a pleasing woman to be around.

One morning, a few weeks after the wedding, I’m jolted by a horrified scream. Putting on my robe, I rush downstairs to find Ella sobbing.

A dead cat lies at the base of the wall. ‘The Past Never Dies’ is smeared in crimson, coagulating letters. An investigation is conducted, but no culprit is apprehended.

Shortly thereafter, Ella announces that she is entertaining some friends from her old village. I offer to prepare a grand party, but she tells me that her guests are tired, and that there will be plenty of time for parties.

That night, as I walk through the halls before I retire, I see a light still flickering in the guest room. I decide to introduce myself to Ella’s friends. At first, I knock politely on the door. Hearing no reply, I inch the door open.
“Excuse me? I thought I should like to…” I stop. There’s no one in the room. In fact, the bed is undisturbed.
Confused, I peer around the room a bit. It is late, and guests should not be out. A foul odor coming from the trunk beside the bed. Taking out my key, I open it. Several dead mice are all that the chest contains. Their now rigid bodies meticulously stuffed into little shirts.

I stand there for a minute or two, not knowing what to make of my discovery. A noise behind me brings me to.
Ella is standing in the doorway. Blood covers her dress. In one of her hands is a chef’s hat, in her other a knife. A deranged smile is set upon her lips.

I got just one medal, so there's only this bit of judge's critique.

DK:  Really like the darkness here, and it connects well with some of the oddities of the original story, the kinds of things that don’t seem weird when you look at it as a fairy tale, but would if you didn’t.  BRONZE

So... I'm a bit disappointed in how this one turned out. I liked the concept a lot, but there just wasn't enough space to flesh out the growing unease. Even my first draft didn't quite do it, and that one was 570 words. One of the tough things about this format is how it forces you to ruthlessly cleave away needed bits of context to fit the constraints of a particular challenge. What it ends up leaving you with are bits like "The Past Never Dies". By itself, it means nothing, in fact, I don't remember what it meant in context, as I'm pretty sure the context was the first bit to go. I need to stop falling in love with a particular concept in this game. In the last game, I could afford to, as most of my concepts were able to be molded - but the word limits were insanely high last time. I didn't even need the whole thing half the time.

Most of the things I liked about this don't end up reading so well in the final draft, but I liked the references (the dead cat is supposed to be Lucifer from the movie, the dead mice are obvious her forest friends). The idea is, of course, that Cinderella was a functional psychopath. All of the movie was delusions, and she was actually locked away in a misguided attempt to keep herself and others safe. That's not exactly a 350 word concept, so it fails. Better luck next time.

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 10

We're finally here. Top ten. I think I'm going to start it off with a classic.

Metal Gear Solid. A certain psychic dude in a gas mask. Let's do this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 12

Platform: SNES
Absurdly Specific Genre: It's a mario game. You eat shrooms, you save princesses.
Difficulty: 5 (though it ratchets to ridiculous levels if you do some of those Star Road levels)
Beaten: Yes, many many times

The NES Mario games are absolute classics, but this is the game that crystallized what a Super Mario game was all about. The already excellent controls were tightened even further, the powerups were expanded, and he got a sidekick (other than Luigi, of course).

There's really very little else to say. This was the last game of the proper 2D era, to be followed by the nostalgia-goggled Mario 64. It's always ended up feeling vastly underrated, though that's probably not the case.

All I really know is that when Linds and I picked up an SNES when we first started going out, this was the game we picked up first. Its replay value may as well be infinite.

Plus, it has giant Bullet Bills. This game is awesome.

Other Games in the Super Mario Brothers Series:

As a quick programming note, I'll this list's policy on multiple games from the same series. Over most of the list, I've decided against it. I don't really want seven Final Fantasy games on here, as it's a lot more interesting to talk about different games. For the top 15, though, I'm making exceptions to that rule. I figure if it's good enough to love that much, it's good enough to be talked about, redundancy be damned. So, for the top 15, there'll be a few games from the same series. This is a weird rule I've made up but... deal with it.

I suppose I'll probably talk about the SMB games that didn't make the list when the next game pops up on the list.

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 11

Today's moment comes from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It's from the very end of the game. If you haven't played it by now, you probably never will, but the standard caveats apply.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Survivor Turbo - Moo With Me!

This week's challenge was to write a story about something major from the perspective of an animal.

Here's what I submitted:

The life of a cow is a simple one. I stand in my stall, chew my cud, and watch the farmer’s wife screw the random gents she finds God-knows-where. This is my nightly routine, why should tonight be any different?
Well, the farmer could come home early. I guess that could liven things up in a hurry.

“Oh, Patrick, this isn’t what it looks like” Farmer’s wife says.

“What… you…”

Farmer looks furious, the young naked man scrambling backward in the hay looks terrified. He should.

I’m not entirely sure what happens next. All I know is that about ten seconds later, the suitor is lying nude in a pool of his own blood, the pitchfork shoved crudely through his chest. Farmer O’Leary is standing over him with a crazed look in his eyes, watching the life drain from his cuckolder.

Miss O’Leary is crying uncontrolably as the Farmer returns to his senses. He begins to look frantically around the barn, but the damage has been done. He’s a murderer. He’s a dead man.

In his haste to exit the murder scene, he doesn’t notice the oil lamp. My bedding instantly bursts into flames. The farmer grabs his hysterical wife roughly by the arm and runs from the barn as the timbers catch flame.

With the barn door hanging ajar, I take my chance and trot out of the blaze and on down the street. I guess I’ll find my own meal tonight.

Because of last week's discussion, the judges will only comment on those stories which they gave a medal to. Prepare for silence on this one.

Beau:  O’Leary’s cow!  Very smart cow, too, it seems.  And awfully fond of Mrs. O’Leary.  Apocryphal, but it doesn’t make it any less fun.  BRONZE

So, obviously this is terrible. The tone of the cow's narration is inconsistent (I am confident that I will never type that sentence again), the subject matter is blunt, and the end deviates pretty heavily from the writing style of the rest of the story. Wonderful. What the hell happened?

Well, the rules of Survivor Turbo dictate that the writer is unaware of the challenge until they send in an email to an address, which gives them an automated reply back outlining the challenge and the parameters (time limit, word count, etc). Sending the email starts the clock, and the writer has a limited bit of time before the challenge is up. Anything sent in after the time is up is invalid and counts as a nonsubmission.

The night in question, Linds was working in her office and I was sitting watching the Twins get beaten up on TV. I decided I had a spare hour and sent in for the challenge. Almost instantly thereafter, Linds came out of her office and decided now would be a good time to discuss our plans for the coming weekend. Fifty minutes later, I was able to get back to the process of writing, but I only had ten minutes left.

I knew what I wanted to write about (the fabled cow that 'kicked the lamp over' and started the Great Chicago Fire), but with ten minutes, the above was the best I could do. I wasn't happy with the result at all, but at least I was able to dupe one judge into voting for it (though he's since admitted he would take my medal away if he could).

There's not much else to say about this one. It sucked, and it was up against some great entries. I guess I'll have to try to do better next week.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 13

Platform: Playstation
Absurdly Specific Genre: Crazy haired dudes and big noobered chicks fighting crazy haired dudes
Difficulty: 7 (I specifically avoided too much side-questing in the main game the first time around so that the final few bosses would be an actual challenge. As a result, I was pretty under-leveled for the final run, and it ended up being pretty taxing)
Beaten: Yes

What exactly can be said about this game?

If you've ever played a video game, you've almost certainly heard of it. You've probably played it. You've probably beaten it. Between certain blonde chicks dying off and certain white haired dudes with improbably long swords, there's not much about the game that hasn't been rendered cliche, myth, or video game canon.

Not that this is always a bad thing...

At its base, it's a fairly standard JRPG - lots of leveling, ambiguous plot, wacky hair. I can't even say there's a wealth of additional things that would make a person think that this game was anything other than hardcore nostalgia goggles and massive overhype.

The only problem with that theory is that I never even played it all the way through until 7 or 8 years ago. I'd seen the commercials for it back in 1997. I'd watched as a friend of mine showed me a bit of gameplay (I think it was the bizarre snowboarding part that never really made much sense to me), I remember thinking that it looked pretty cool, but I didn't have a Playstation, and once I bought a PS2, there were lots of other games that vied for my attention. I bought a copy, played around with it a little bit, got past the famous scene with backs and swords, and drifted on to other endeavors shortly thereafter.

A couple of years later, I picked it back up and started from scratch. This time, it stuck. The combat was fun, the writing - while still a little stilted and incomprehensible in proper Final Fantasy tradition - just sort of clicked this time around. I played for hours a night. My current wife (then girlfriend) would roll her eyes and complain about the music (she's crazy, btw. "One Winged Angel" might be a little overrated, but the soundtrack on whole is top notch). It was an immersive experience, one that matched up easily with the best that the newer consoles had to offer.

Last year, I gave it another run through, and guess what...it still does.

The Honeybee Inn sequence is still a hundred kinds of weird, though.
Other Notable Games in the Series: Final Fantasy X is a much better game than a lot of people gave it credit for back in the day. Sure, some of the voice acting is terrible (the laughing scene, *shudder*), but it packed an emotional punch on a personal level that I'm not sure any of the games since then have managed, I had it ranked in the mid-40's.

Final Fantasy XII was fun, and tried new things game-wise, but for some reason, I never got the bug. I should go back over it and actually try to beat it, because I never even came all that close. What I did play makes me think that it might be top 100, but I'd be hard pressed to put it in just yet.

Final Fantasy XIII had a few hours of gameplay that were absolutely fantastic (basically everything on Gran Pulse). Too bad those few hours of fun were wrapped in 30-some hours of linear slog, which itself was wrapped in a utterly nonsensical and borderline meaningless story (try to explain the ending in a way that a) makes sense and b) doesn't invalidate the entire rest of the game's plot). Not in the top 100.

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 12

Geometry Wars 2 is a good game. Today's moment comes from it.

*SPOILER ALERT* it has to do with achievements. On the one hand, I'm probably hugely overrating the idea, but it stands alone in the 'optional challenge I kept at until I got it' category of video games, and as such sort of serves as a placeholder for all optional challenges in general. I don't suppose it's nearly as hard as I make it out to be, but it stymied me for a long time, so if you don't like it, screw you, it's my list.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Survivor Turbo - Let's Talk About Sex

Today: Sex!!

My submission:

“We don’t have to do this.”

The hell they didn’t. Victoria knew as well as he what was to happen. Both desired nothing else for weeks. The furtive glances, the flirty quips, those smoldering glances that Gladstone thought she hadn’t noticed. Oh, she noticed.

He came for her, carelessly knocking over an antique end table in his path – the mahogany finish chipping on the floor. Victoria knew his ways. She didn’t care; his violence only fueled her lust.

She forcefully grabbed him and began to kiss him. He enveloped her in his strong arms and threw her onto the bed. Her arms splayed, knocking over the nightstand in the process. The original wood stain of the table remained untarnished, but the gold inlay did not survive their passion. The table’s ruination was lost on the passionate lovers as they fell further into each other’s thrall.

This had gone on long enough. Victoria pushed him back, and undid his belt. She worked his pants to his ankles before giving him a playful nudge. He staggered, his weight crashing down on the footstool, which had survived centuries and two world wars undamaged, only to be sundered by their lust.

They made love for what seemed like hours. Finally, as Victoria moaned in the ecstasy that only he could provide, Gladstone gave one final thrust. As waves of pleasure wracked her body, the headboard of their seemingly sturdy Colonial-era oak bed cracked. It’s shattered boards forever bearing testament to their decadence.

And here are the judges' critiques

Beau:  Something about this story just makes me smile.  I think it’s the reminder that antiques are usually just somebody else’s old junk, and I wonder how many people buy things at those stores not knowing that people had sex on them.  BRONZE

Stef: Interesting descriptions of the room here. Not sure what point, if any, is being made in describing the room being ravaged. I can see it as a way to show how passionate they are, I guess. SILVER

DK: I like the setting, I just didn’t find enough else that really stuck out in the way the story was told.

So, the story is essentially a romance novel where the narrator gets sort of bored of the action and becomes more interested in the antique furniture in the lovers' bedroom. It's a goofy, sort of dumb concept, but it made me smile when it popped into my head, so I went with it.

My original concept was going to be a romance novel where the narrator began to describe stranger and more deviant actions until the couple in question lost the mood. It was going to be a little difficult to pull off properly given both the time and word constraints. The one I ended up coming up with ended up being exactly the right number of words (I checked something like four times).

Given how mine was, I figured that the only way it would medal is if someone was a particular fan of the oddball idea. It seems like I confused people, more than anything, so mission failed, I guess. Still an idea that no one else went with, so better than nothing, I suppose.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Previously, On Spookymilk Survivor, Turbo....

So hey, I won Spookymilk Survivor X. That's pretty cool.

Since when have I ever been content to go out in a blaze of glory, though? (let's pretend for a moment that there have been a lot of other blazes of glory that I have embarked on). A new season has started, with crazy new rules, and lots of hijinks have ensued.

You all know what this means. Lots of navel gazing and discussion on what the 100 word story I wrote really meant to me... I know you're excited. I'm excited. Let's do this.

To recap:

  • I wrote a story about a mythological bird. It's my favorite story that I've written so far this season. I don't know that I could've improved it very much.
  • Some crazy person freaked out after she got eliminated. High comedy.
  • My team and I wrote a story during which we were unable to coordinate with each other, the result was hilarious and uneven, culminating with the protagonist rejecting an offer to fornicate in a hospital supply closet, opting instead to murder the propositioning woman by throwing her into the starship's reactor core (surprise! it was on a spaceship! I did not know that...)
  • Shawn Ashley got eliminated. It was crazy, though she did accidentally vote for herself to allow it to happen.
  • I wrote a couple of things I wasn't incredibly happy with. The idea of only having a half an hour to conceptualize, plot, and write a short story is truly a daunting task.
That sort of catches you up. I'll be trying to give proper updates form here on out (or at least from here on to the point where my luck finally runs out and I get eliminated). Best of luck, Team Sponsorship! Let's control the shit.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 13

Okay, okay... this is it. The home stretch. No more playing around. Everything's been written and scheduled.

Super Mario Brothers was one of the first true video games I ever played (along with Joust and - weirdly enough - Jaws for the NES, where I mostly just sailed the boat around and waited for the shark to devour me). There are any number of nostalgic moments I could've picked from the game.

* The first goomba stomp
* The first fire flower
* The first castle (that music... shiver)
* The first time I found the warp pipe
* That one jump in world 8 that seemed impossible until we played it so much that it became second nature.

I'm not picking any of them, and I'm not picking "your princess is in another castle!" like a lot of other folks do. I remember being so incredibly pumped that I beat the koopa in the first castle that I didn't much care about the princess. In fact, I had never read the manual, so the idea of the princess being in another castle didn't strike me as so much a 'wtf' as a 'oh, there's a princess? huh'. The moment in question actually came a year or two later, when I was 8. There aren't any spoilers, so there's no need for a jump, but jumps are how I roll, so read on.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 14

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Refuting Ayn Rand, the video game
Difficulty: It *would* have a fair bit of bite except for reasons I'll get into. We'll say 6.
Beaten: Yes

When I sat down to create this list, this is the game that gave me fits. The atmosphere and story merited a pretty obvious inclusion in the top 50, and the twist demanded respect. The real question was whether or not the gameplay was all that great. I realize that it's cut from a similar cloth of old survival horror FPSes like System Shock (of course, the fact that it's a spiritual sequel to that game helps clarify that link), but the near perpetual ammo shortage always seemed odd (particularly considering there were vending machines that sold ammo littering the halls of the supposed utopia). Also (and I'll be getting into this a bit later in a non-spoilery way) the final boss fight is incredibly dumb.

Then I thought of the Big Daddy fights.

Oh. Uh. Hi there.
The Big Daddies are the sworn protectors of the little sisters, and care for nothing short of their safety. Should you leave the sisters alone, you'll never run afoul of the enormous suit-clad monsters. You could technically beat the game having not ruffled a single hair on the little sisters' heads. Of course, by doing so, you would be passing up both a ton of powerups and the best part of the game's combat. Before starting one of these epic miniboss fights, you needed to have a plan.

"Taking a drill through the chest" ranks very low on the list of proper strategies.
When you started a fight, the Big Daddies brought hell. The fights themselves were grueling, but incredibly satisfying, and when they finally fell, you felt as though you had accomplished something. The best part? You got to do it two or three times a level.

That doesn't even touch on the expertly creepy atmosphere of the ruined city. Rapture might be a deathtrap littered with psychotic freaks and John Galt stand ins, but it's a fallen paradise that you want to explore every part of. The recordings are fascinating, offering little tidbits of insight into Rapture, how great it was, and how it fell.

The story is, of course, the highlight, and the pacing is very well done (mostly). Andrew Ryan is a compelling enemy, and layered characters like Dr. Tenenbaum make the player want to delve further and further into the twisted backstory. The twist is what gets the most discussion, but with very few exceptions, the whole game is on key.

Now, on to those exceptions...

The vita chambers are... mixed blessings. On the one hand, they allow for the fights against the big daddies to be brutal events without ever succumbing to utter frustration. Unfortunately, since they don't give you your ammo back (while simultaneously keeping the damage you've already put on your enemy), resulting in some fights that turned into slogfests. I had a lot more fun with the game once I turned them off.

The end fight flat sucks, and makes no sense in the context of the game. The game attempted to keep a subdued, dark atmosphere through the entire game. The final boss is bizarre and inhuman, with a mechanic that doesn't even have a good explanation in game. The end cutscene is pretty awesome (and quite touching, should you have been a decent individual), but it doesn't really make up for the final boss.

Even with all of that, Bioshock is a fantastic game, and well deserving of its elite status. How could I have ever doubted it?