Month: August 2015

Abnormal Mapping 35: Crumpet Up Your Strumpet

Bowser

Legends tell of a man, a quiet man, a man who jumps and a man who spins, a man who one day—this day—must rise and save us all. But that man was not available, and so it falls upon this paper plumber to embark upon a journey to the stars to save a princess oft and once more kidnapped.  The Mappers embark upon this man’s journey through a twisted land of pun-laden characters and self-aware deconstruction, and arrive finally at the end of their quest with only the corpses of penguins to show for it*.

(*No penguins were harmed in the making of this podcast.)

As a companion piece to this episode, Matthew produced an zine for Paper Mario, featuring cool and cute paintings and sketches of the characters and the world of this month’s game! You can (and totally should, it’s really good!) pick it up at either itch.io or gumroad.

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

This Month’s Game Club: Paper Mario

September’s Game Club: Framed

Games Discussed: Papa’s Donuteria, Racially Diverse Kitchen 3, Metal Gear Solid, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Roger Ebert’s Great Movies, Player 2, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, The Minesweeper Wall, Paper Mario, Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars, Iwata Asks for Paper Mario Sticker Star, Upon Reflection, Retro Game Challenge, NES Remix, Shovel Knight, Attack of the Friday Monsters, Yakuza 3, Gone Home, Her Story

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Attack of the Koopa Bros. by Yuka Tsujiyoko & Taishi Senda
March Ahead by Yuka Tsujiyoko & Taishi Senda
Nice To Meet You by Yuka Tsujiyoko & Taishi Senda
Detective Mario by Yuka Tsujiyoko & Taishi Senda

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Great Games: The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac

Developers: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl
Platform: Pbinding of isaac rebirthC
Release Year: 2011

The basement should be a place of fear for a kid Isaac’s age, but when Mom pulls a knife on him in the name of the Lord, he’s willing to take his chances. Flies, poop, and deformed infant familiars are apt partners for he who is already accustomed to daily horror. There’s a deceptive quality to Isaac’s setting. The basement is a world of impressive number of items, enemies, and secrets.

If games are only supposed to be uncomplicated fun, how does one explain the dark catharsis that’s taking place in the game’s story? With each discovery, a twisted shadow casts itself onto Isaac’s home life, with implications of neglect and abuse. There’s an unsettling distance between the satisfaction of collecting power-ups and battling monsters, even when those power ups are represented by things such as dirty syringes and the monsters are giant pinworms.

My fascination with Isaac has yet to wear off; one run is never like any other. The combination of variables ensures that while each run follows the Biblical archetype of it’s story, the specifics will always align in a novel configuration. This is a game thrives on secrets both mechanical and meta; an endless string of brutal challenges and obscure unlockables that drags you through an unknowable nightmare.

However, Isaac is a game of the wiki era, where knowledge can be achieved through research and permutation. Thus, it becomes an experience not just in learning how to do the things required, but in teaching yourself patterns and rituals in order to ensure survival. It becomes less frustrating to die over and over when you’ve gained a sense of the game’s quirks. The game asks you to open your mind towards the unexpected. Winning is a larger thing than defeating Mom, not only in the literal sense, but in a figurative one, as well. To begin to play Isaac, you must first let go of the expectation of control over myriad soul-crushing challenges the game will present to you.

The God in the Old Testament is indifferent to effort. He asks for unwavering devotion in the face of extreme suffering, without the comfort of explanation or the promise of mercy at the end of this struggle. The Binding of Isaac is a rare portrayal of the intricacies specific to faith, a juvenile skewering of a sacred tale that manages to empathize with the great energy required to communicate with spirituality. Through poop.

Great Games: Player 2

Player 2

player2Developer: Lydia Neon
Platform: PC
Release Year: 2013

Created in Twine, game making software which due to ease of access and use has become synonymous with intensely personal stories from those often marginalised (see Videogames For Humans), Player 2 is merely black text on a grey screen. At the outset it appears impersonal, almost robotic, as you are removed from the scene-setting sounds and images that could help set an atmosphere and placed in a situation in which you are alone with your thoughts.

The Player 2 in the title refers to anyone in your head: anyone you have had conflict with in the past. The game never asks you to choose a certain type of conflict, it could be something as small as an argument with a co-worker or something as large as decades of anger and resentment towards a parent who broke your childhood home. The conflict itself is irrelevant; what is relevant is the process. The object is not to win, lose or even end, but to understand and make what was overwhelming comprehensible again.

It’s able to be both vast or specific depending on who’s playing. It eschews any sense of narrative metaphor for direct and open communication with the player, leading them by the hand to a catharsis, rather than invoking it through a more traditional win state or storytelling climax.

Yet, whilst it may be called Player 2, what makes the game truly special to me is that it’s more accurately a three player game. It’s not just a spreadsheet of human psychology to help you process your thoughts and feelings, it’s an intimate expression of a worldview: the worldview that we can all get better, that none of us are beyond help. The game is acutely aware that the both artist and audience are living, breathing, loving beings in a moment of connection. The presentation may be bare, but the words themselves are so full of humanity that to play Player 2 is to feel less alone.

It’s so easy to forget, especially in games, that there exists humanity on both sides of the screen, and our relationship to a game can always be a conversation. But Player 2 removes all extraneous elements and strips itself to its very core, laying bare the necessity and power of art in the difficult act of simply getting by. Because we deserve to not be alone. Because we deserve to be loved. Because we deserve to be free.

Great Games: Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl

81ux19hIa5L._SL1500_Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl

Developer: Atlus
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Year: 2013

Like most RPGs, Etrian Odyssey Untold has a bunch of side quests, and most of them are of little import outside of the hefty chunk of XP and item you get as a reward for completing them. So when I took a quest that challenged me to spend 5 real time days on floor 8 of the single, massive dungeon that comprises EOU’s gameplay, I hopped to it expecting little more than a boring back and forth shuffle, killing now-trivial enemies as I waited for the in game clock to tick towards my goal. What I found instead was the heart of this game, and of Etrian Odyssey in general. (more…)

Abnormal Mapping 34: I Don’t Give ADAF

AM 34

A few weeks back, Jackson participated in a panel for the Alternative Digital Arts Festival, run by Zolani Stewart, Austin Howe and Solon Scott. The folks behind ADAF have kindly given us permission to post the panel in our podcast feed for your enjoyment, if you missed it at the time!

It’s a panel on Games & Mental Illnesss, featuring Heather Alexandra, Zeiya Speed and Austin Howe. We discuss representation of Mental Illness, how our own experiences with Mental Illness inform our readings of games, and the responsibilities of portraying Mental Illness narratives for an audience. In addition to the panel, Matthew, Jackson and Destiny got together a few days later to record a short cast with follow up points and extra discussion.

It all comes together to form a really interesting 2 hour package of great discussion about games, Mental Illness, and the intersection of the two. Please enjoy!

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

August’s Game Club: Paper Mario

Games Discussed: Final Fantasy VIII, Depression Quest, Actual Sunlight, Metal Gear Solid 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Hellblade, Kane & Lynch 2, Her Story, Silent Hill, The Static Speaks My Name, Cart Life

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Theme of Laura by Akira Yamaoka
Eternity by Nobuo Uematsu

Visiting Jackson’s Homeland

I don’t travel. Partially that’s me being a stubborn, introverted butt, but partially it’s just a function of being poor and working on too many things all the time. One of the things I’ve always liked about video games is their possibility to take us to places we wouldn’t otherwise see, and allow us to explore spaces that we either can’t afford to go to or that simply don’t exist at all. Blame a childhood with CD-ROM Encyclopedia’s with Myst-like slideshows of famous locations. Blame the interactive Star Trek: TNG encyclopedia, which allowed you to slooooowly see every floor even if they only had four set photos of corridors to show.

It’s why I like ‘walking simulators’—not because I’m especially into them as a subversion of games, but because I think walking around a space is one of the coolest things games can do.

So when Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture came out, I relished its spaces. I don’t want to talk about what those spaces meant, but I did appreciate the six hours I spent crawling through them, happily stopping to watch smoke rise from an ashtray or rain pool on pavement. It’s a great game, even before you get to the story it’s telling. And I got to take a bunch of pictures! Jackson did this too, but I followed in his footsteps in order to explore a land he claims is pretty accurate to Real Life Britain, which is supposedly a place you can visit? It sounds like magic.

I guess there are spoilers here, if you count locations as spoilers? Nothing narratively is given away, though. Just how pretty houses and plants and lighting can be. So please enjoy. (more…)

I Walk Around This Empty Town

Yaughton

I’ve spent the last couple days playing through Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. It’s a beautiful game, one that ended up resonating with me far more than I ever expected it to. And maybe one day I’ll write about the story, the themes and the ending, but it is not this day. This day I present to you the pictures I took along the way, the document of my journey through Yaughton, a place which doesn’t exist but a place I know that I have been. The game has such a beautiful sense of mundanity in every location that I thought I’d share with everybody a little gallery of the town, inspired by my friend Dylan’s similar work.

If you don’t want to be spoiled on the sights that await you in the game, please don’t scroll down this list. There are no explicit spoilers, but discovering the town is a large part of the experience, and I don’t want to rob anyone of that.

With that said, please enjoy this small little town in the British countryside. (more…)

A Need For Productivity: Persona 4 & The Plan

Persona 4Like a lot of people, I make lists.

Even when I write them down, I know I’ll never stick to them – I never have before – but in the moment of writing I feel so much better about myself. I take something from the idea that through writing these words I have been able to create a potential version of myself, a version of myself that succeeds and follows through, a version of myself that doesn’t have panic attacks, a version of myself that finishes what they start. I will never be that person, the goals I set for myself are far too lofty and unreasonable, as if I’m a six year old making shopping lists from a catalogue. But I still get to stand in the framework of that person, create them from nothing until they are a tangible idea. The words may never become true, but that doesn’t make them any less real to read on the screen. (more…)

Advanced Warfare: The Distance Between The Beginning and The End

This piece contains spoilers for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

awI played Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare the other week, mostly because I’ve not touched a Call of Duty game since long before we started this website, which was the catalyst for my approach to games expanding significantly. It was an interesting experience, to revisit something that was important to someone who isn’t me anymore, and catch up with how it’s doing these days first hand.

For all intents and purposes, Advanced Warfare is competent, if not legitimately great by its own standards. It hits all the beats a Call of Duty is meant to hit, the levels flow from setpiece to setpiece with a sense of purpose, and there’s very rarely a drag in the pacing. These are ebbs and flows that have long since been calculated, refined within an inch of their lives and executed upon with a deft and considered touch. There’s nothing as impactful as Call of Duty 4, but there’s nothing as embarrassingly dull as Modern Warfare 3; the game is a constant pleasant buzzing in the ear, a way to occupy my hands as I sit in a skype call.

There is a but – of course there is a but – and it’s the obvious one. It’s a Call of Duty game, it is what it is, jingoistic and cruel yet persistently inoffensive. Seemingly designed not to elicit but to placate, all the while delivering ideology that veers from the questionable to the inexcusably repugnant from year to year. If Advanced Warfare was just that, it would be gross and awful, but in a manner barely worth commenting on. What makes Advanced Warfare interesting, and indeed frustrating, is for at least its opening act, it appeared to be the opposite. (more…)