Monthly Archives: May 2017

FGC #281 Doom (32X)

Starring DoomguyI remember being cool in high school. … Wait, no, that’s a lie. I was never cool in school. I’m sure you don’t remember me. However, I know I was cooler than a lot of other losers. I was, like, the coolest kid in the computer club, bar none. I dated actual, real-live women. I went to two proms with three dates. I’m moderately certain I was the envy of at least seven freshmen. And, when I graduated high school, I easily cruised right into college, and wasn’t some lame, always-stuck-in-his-hometown dropout of society. I might not have been the coolest kid in the class, but in high school, I was at least… cool enough?

But a funny thing has happened in the intervening million, billion years since high school. I look at pictures from my old yearbook, or albums from cherished field trips, or even some random pic that gets posted on Facebook, and I see… a nerd? Okay, I’ve always been a nerd, but I at least always had an idea of what was stylish, right? What the hell am I wearing in that picture? And why is my hair… doing that thing? Wait… why in God’s name am I wearing nail polish? I wasn’t goth! Wait… I was dating that one girl for…. But that was just a gag! Like, I didn’t look like that for… where did this picture come from again? Can it be burned? Can we destroy the entire internet and any record of human life from before about 2010? That’d be great!

It's a party!Of course, the only thing keeping me going is that I’m not alone in this phenomenon. My best friend looks like just as much of a nerd as me, thank God. That girl I had a crush on for a solid ten years has hair that looks like it lost a fight with a stylist from Full House. And back to that terrible yearbook, even the cool teacher that was literally voted “Coolest Teacher” looks like something out of a particularly poorly cast 90’s after-school special (maybe something hosted by Garfield?). In short, it is horrifying to gaze upon your own past, as it turns out it’s not just the kids these days that have rotten trends and fashion, it’s everybody.

So what else was popular when I was rocking an ill-fitting Final Fantasy t-shirt and thinking I was the coolest thing since Coolio? Doom.

Doom is a classic videogame. Like Super Mario Bros, Doom basically invented a genre that is still going strong today, and, also like SMB, Doom established that genre by just plain being a good experience. … Except, as has been mentioned once or twice, I’m not a big fan of that genre. And there’s probably a reason for that! I was a console gamer. I’ve never been a fan of using computers for gaming because, basically, I rationalize computers as “work” devices, and have since sixth grade. Couple this with years (years!) of learning that keeping your computer “up to date” is a fool’s errand (I realize this has gotten better in recent years, but the mere mention of “video cards” still makes me indirectly nauseous), and it all adds up to Goggle Bob generally avoiding “computer games”. Sadly, this has continued into the modern age, and I still haven’t played Undertale (I’ll get to it!). Whatever the reason, Doom: The Game To Play wound up not being my thing, so I missed that particular trend, and any fond memories of a Doom-based childhood.

Except… that isn’t completely accurate.

Word!I may not have had a gaming PC, but I did have a whole pile of videogame consoles, and a serious drive to be one of the cool kids playing the cool videogames. This eventually led to purchasing Doom on the 32X, obviously the most superior Doom. It’s got all the Doom you love, and hasn’t been reduced to 16-bit low-fi. It’s got a six button controller, so you’re not limited by a keyboard or a mere four buttons! And it’s a cartridge, so no load times! Eat it, Playstation. This is the game of games on the system of systems! This is the best thing ever! … Or at least that’s what my friends seemed to believe.

And I play it now, and… huh. This is embarrassing.

First and foremost, that precious six-button Genesis controller is not meant for a FPS. In Doom’s defense, for exclusively working with a crosspad, Doomguy controls pretty alright, but little things like, ya know, aiming are impossible. Are the legions of Hell slightly above you? Sorry, you’re going to die. And, as far as I can tell, there’s no jump or climb button, so there are these awful pits that just leave you there to die… but not nearly fast enough (side note: I have no idea how body armor is impacted by standing in a puddle of acid). So, right off the bat, steering Doomguy is about as fun as navigating a hallway full of iron maidens in the dark.

But that kind of thing is understandable. You can start a genre, but it’s unusual to start a genre and perfect it, so a few hiccups are to be expected. And, hey, this was designed for the computer in the first place, of course the ol’ joypad is going to have a problem or two. Nobody ever chastises a teenager just for being young, and nobody chastises a port for not perfectly emulating the source material (this entire sentence is a lie).

No, what is most embarrassing about Doom is… Doom. Or, more appropriately, what Doom used to be.

BLAMMOMy social circle was convinced that Doom was the most mature game in history. There aren’t silly yo-yos or swords here; this is wall to wall guns. You’re not fighting daffy robots or whacky Universal monsters, you’re up against hellspawn and spikey eyeballs. There’s no puerile plumber bounding fifty feet in the air, Doomguy is a real person, he can’t jump or shrink or turn into a raccoon; it’s just him and his bare(ish) fists against the world. Monsters bleed. Doomguy grunts. This is real videogames for real adults, not those childish antics you see on your ‘intendo.

And revisiting that attitude as an actual adult? It doesn’t exactly do the game any favors. Have you been looking at these screenshots? Doom looks about as realistic as something you’d hang on your fridge after Timmy has been a good boy. Hell, some of those “scary” demons look downright cuddly. Cuddly isn’t cool. Cuddly isn’t cool at all!

Doom is a great game. Doom is responsible for much of where gaming “is” today, and nothing will ever change that. However, I opened up Doomguy’s yearbook last night and… uh… Bad news, Doomguy, I think…. I think you might have been a nerd.

Please don’t hit me.

FGC #281 Doom (32X)

  • System: Doom got around, bro. It was on the computer. It was on the Super Nintendo. It was on the 32X. It was on the Jaguar. It was on the Playstation, Saturn, and 3DO. It eventually wound up on the Gameboy Advance. It was released on something called “The Acorn”, which sounds pretty nutty.
  • Number of players: I think we’re stuck with one on the 32X. Was there a deathmatch version here? I’m not going to go back and check.
  • Really?Hot Takes from 1993: Why is Doomguy wearing ab-bearing armor? He’s wearing gloves on the title screen, but his fists are bare when punching demons. John Romero has silly hair! Ha-cha-cha-cha.
  • Favorite Weapon: I am partial to chain guns. Chainsaws are a second runner-up. Maybe I just like chains?
  • Did you know? A lot of people seem to forget that Doom claimed a lot of notoriety by being partially released as share-ware at its release. Trying to make your franchise the hottest thing since sliced bread? Give it away! That always works!
  • Would I play again: I feel like I should… but nope. This is another one that isn’t nostalgic enough for me to hold my attention, and has been improved in every conceivable way by later editions. Sorry, yearbook, you’re going back on the shelf.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Breath of Fire 3 for the Playstation! Now it’s time to see Ryu’s baby photos. Please look forward to it!

FGC #280 Super Troll Islands

Huh?The eyes always have it.

It’s fascinating how much humanity is obsessed with eyes. When you get right down to it, eyeballs are just another in a long series of random bits of anatomy, but it’s not like any gems are named “cat’s elbows”. Eyes are said to be a window to the soul, while absolutely nobody is looking up your nostrils to determine the contents of your heart. Maybe the gateways through which we see the world were always destined to be a focal point of our collective attention, or maybe a beautiful set of baby blues just are that gorgeous. One way or another, eyes have been the subjects of more sonnets and songs than fingernails could ever hope to imagine, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Eyes are here to stay (in our collective unconscious/skulls).

Symbol or no, though, there is power in the humble eyeball. Obviously, people behave differently when they’re being watched. Do you read this site at work? Look out! Your boss is right behind you, and the jerk knows you’re reading a site with a series of articles titled “Wankery Week”. You’re fired, you damn pervert. … Or no one is watching you right now, so you can do whatever you damn well please. Want to open up a bag of doritos at your desk and dip ‘em in hot fudge? Go for it! Don’t get any fudge on the keyboard, and you’ll be fine. But what does that really mean? Essentially, there are two different realities, one where you are being supervised and restrained, and one where you can do anything in the world. And if this sounds bonkers, consider that the basis of some entire religions is simply “capital-G God is always watching you”. God has got his eyes on you, and he knows what you’re doing with those doritos.

But here’s a fun fact: people react to simple representations of eyeballs, and not just actual, living eyeballs. Studies have proven (google it!) that when an eye is in the area, like a simple poster with eyeballs staring straight at ya, people perform… better. People litter less when they get even the impression they’re being watched, and face punching incidents drop by almost 85% [citation needed]. Basically, humans are social creatures, but we’re also stupid creatures, so if we’re in the presence of even a fake audience, we behave more responsibly. This is why I’ve painted pseudo-eyes on the side of my house, and now those neighborhood kids have stopped peeing on my lawn. Life is good with eyes!

Just chillSo it’s interesting to look at how eyes evolved in videogames. Nowadays, even Link is looking fairly realistic, but back in the early times of 8-bit adventures, eyes were a luxury some heroes couldn’t afford. Simon Belmont? No eyes. Bill & Lance? No eyes. Orin the Falconer of 8 Eyes? Barely got eyes. OG Pac-Man is eyeless (his opponents are sometimes only eyes), and Samus Aran can only win eyes through defeating Mother Brain. In fact, you could probably point to some of the most known mascots of the NES/Gameboy era for their eyes. Mega Man and his signature blinks come to mind, and Kirby is all about the eyes, angry or not. And then we’ve got Mario and his world that is filled with eyes. Turtles, chestnuts, mushrooms, bushes, clouds, and I’m pretty sure I saw a few eyeballs on flaming plants somewhere in there. And guess which franchise captured children’s hearts for a generation or so? Yep, it’s the one with the googly eyes all over the place.

But by the age of the Super Nintendo, sprites were getting a bit more spacious. Now we had room for big, cartoony creatures with appropriately scaled eyes. Now we could actually get some of those Mickey Mouse/anime eyeballs in there, and…. Sometimes it went terribly wrong…

Super Troll Islands is a very limited game. You control one of four trolls, and an evil fog has made the whole of the world (Troll Islands?) monochrome for some bizarre reason. But I guess trolls leak color wherever they go, so you’ve got to guide your troll to, basically, just walk all over the place, and thus this fog thing will just work itself out. Your troll doesn’t even have to walk everywhere, you just have to aim for places where, thanks to a number of ladders, you can navigate in a general square/rectangle around an area. Repeat forever, throw in a few bonus stages, and call it a day. Actually, to be honest, I have no idea how many levels are in this game, as I got bored about seven levels in, but there are definitely those seven levels. Are there bosses, too? Who the hell knows.

But that’s not what’s important about Super Troll Islands. What’s important is that, for reasons that can only be imagined by mortal man, at no point in this adventure do these damn trolls stop looking at you.

WHAT IN GOD'S NAME!?

They’ve got cold, dead, black eyeballs, and they’re always staring right at you, player. Running left? Running right? Climbing a ladder? Swimming? There is nothing you can do to get these damn trolls to look in any other direction. Actually, forgive me, there is one thing: the tornado “super move” will temporarily transform your chosen troll into a whirlwind of deadly hair (?), and, for one brief respite, you are free of the troll menace. Then, after the powerup wears off, it’s right back to staring history’s lamest fad right in the face. Trolls are watching you. Trolls will always be watching you.

ArghAnd you really have to wonder what the designers were thinking. This troll staring thing is immediately and obviously… disturbing. Some people might like troll dolls, but nobody wants to have a staring contest with the little buggers. This isn’t “that should be fun for kids”, this is the game you see in the opening to a particularly poorly planned horror movie from the 90’s starring Macaulay Culkin as the unfortunate child that thought he was just purchasing a simple Super Nintendo game, but wound up taking home… a monster! Super Troll Islands isn’t fun, it’s horrifying, and that’s not exactly a good match for a game where you collect ice cream after spreading rainbows. There’s… a bit of a disconnect there.

So remember the lesson of Super Troll Islands: eyes are important, but do not use eyes for evil. Just don’t do it. You are being watched.

FGC #280 Super Troll Islands

  • System: Super Nintendo exclusive! Obviously, it was too much for the meager Sega Genesis.
  • Only Troll Game on the SNES? Nope!
  • Number of players: There isn’t even a perfunctory two player alternating mode here. One troll at a time, losers!
  • Optional: The options menu allows you to adjust the control scheme, or…. Change the direction of your troll’s hair. That’s… important?
  • BONUSFavorite Troll: I don’t know, the green one, I guess. I’ll also note here that I enjoy fluorescent colors… though you probably already guessed that from the site design. Hm. I should switch things up again at some point.
  • Did you know? Troll Dolls have been around since 1959, but they really did the whole fad thing sometime around the early 90’s. This would be right around when the trolls released singles covering Beach Boy songs. It was a weird time to be alive.
  • Would I play again: The eyes… they… they haunt me.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Doom! DOOM! DOOOOOOOOOOOM! For the 32X. Please look forward to it!

FGC #279 The Walking Dead

It will get worseToday we’re going to talk about why zombies suck.

I don’t know about you, possibly-swole reader, but I’m kind of a weakling. I’m not completely helpless (I can help move a buddy’s couch like a champ), but I don’t have much in the upper-body strength department, and, when you get right down to it, I’m pretty sure a group of particularly rowdy preschoolers could take me out. In other words, I’m less Zangief, a lot more Dan. Possibly as a result of this, I do live in a vague kind of fear of other humans. I’m not an agoraphobic, and I don’t walk the streets cowering in my coat, but I know that if some random dude decided to pressure me for my precious wallet, I wouldn’t have much in the way of recourse. I’m not going to bust out my amazing kung-fu, I’m not going to start swinging a secret sword around like a mad man; I’m… probably just going to get beat up. I’m done, the end. I fear the walking living.

But I’m not afraid of zombies. Okay, a prime reason to not fear zombies is that, ya know, they’re fictional. But other than that, zombies are… dumb. Yes, if there were some zombie outbreak, I’d be a little concerned about the dead walking and maybe the moon crying blood or something, but after getting over the initial shock, even the magical “running zombie” isn’t much of a big deal. Humans are threatening because they have intelligence, remove that essential trait, and you’ve basically got a big, lumbering Chihuahua. Look out for the teeth! He’s gonna bite! And… get past that, and we’re in the clear. I’m afraid of a human with a club or gun, I’m not afraid of being scratched to death by some shambling dork. Various bits of zombie media have already included the “neutered zombie”: cut off the jaw, and what have you got? … Wait, has anyone ever addressed zombie versions of people with dentures? Is there truly nothing to fear from Zombie Washington?

Keep on shamblingThough I suppose I’m missing the forest for the trees here, as the real threat of zombies is supposed to be numbers. Zombies have a tendency to herd together, and, while one individual zombie isn’t a big deal, when there’s a whole gang literally knocking down your door, that’s when it’s time to go for the safe room. This is the premise of a healthy amount of zombie media, and allows for fun situations where “there’s nowhere to run”. And, yes, zombie hordes are generally scary… but they’re still basically a problem of poor planning. As I am continually reminded, I am basically a handsomer Batman, and, given enough preparation, I could overcome any problem. Whether it be rampaging throngs of zombies or republicans, I’m still not afraid of crowds, because I am an excellent hider. Give me a general space of about twenty square feet, and I guarantee I could find an area to “hold up” until this whole mob danger has passed. Zombies, even in great numbers, don’t scare me.

And this all might trace itself back to videogames. In a way, every videogame enemy/monster/met is a zombie. They’ve got limited intelligence (AI), can only perform the most basic of functions, and their only goal is your (protagonist’s) death. The end. There is no secret desire of slimes (assuming said slimes are not Rocket), and, like zombies, programmed “intelligence” may be easily tricked by tossing out some bait that would be blatantly obvious to any really thinking individual. Koopa troopas spawn way to close to fire flowers, and zombies have a tendency to follow their noses straight into the threshing machine. Nothing scary about a threat that will walk right into a bullet.

So it’s a minor miracle that The Walking Dead actually makes zombies threatening again.

Am I having a stroke?Come to think of it, there’s a lot that is miraculous about Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. For one thing, it’s either an “old school” adventure game or a slightly graduated visual novel, and both of those genres have absolutely no business being interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved King’s Quest V as much as the next guy, but the whole “adventure game” mold is basically based on making interesting stories with unique ways to interact with the environment before videogames really had the power to do it “right”. And take a look at the number of transitory, wannabe adventure games for examples on the real reason that genre never went anywhere. Oh, and visual novels? Not even going to address why those are terrible. Basically, it’s amazing that The Walking Dead was able to properly synthesize an excellent game out of these basic pieces, left alone the whole zombie problem.

Somehow, I guess two or three wrongs make a right, because, technically, The Walking Dead relies on a phrase that strikes fear into my heart: The Walking Dead is a game-long escort mission. TWD is, at its core, a “dad game”, you’re Lee, who, shortly after the game begins, finds the orphaned Clementine, a little girl that, left to her own devices, will certainly be devoured by the undead inside of five minutes. Actually, that’s probably not accurate, as Clementine generally seems to have her head on straight, but the game certainly treats you, the player, as Clementine’s only hope for salvation. So, dad, it’s time to take care of your daughter for five episodes or so. You’re constantly in danger, Clementine is constantly in danger, and you’re often asked to compromise your own safety for hers. I don’t think I’m even spoiling the ending to note that, yes, at one point you will have to let Clementine “grow up” because maybe Booker Lee started taking this “dad” thing a little too literally to be healthy.

Move alongBut the adventure game motif comingling with the escort mission works brilliantly for the undead hordes. Lee is, at best, equipped with a cumbersome axe, and he is never going to be granted a rocket launcher. It’s clear from the first episode that the most “physical” Lee is ever going to get is reeeeeeally reaching for a key, so don’t expect any crazy zombie jump kicks during this adventure. Ultimately, this all adds up to maintaining the zombies as a constant threat, and then ups the ante by giving the player someone to protect. I’m not worried about Lee dying, after all, he’s a videogame protagonist, any of his deaths will be undone by a quick “Press X the restart”; but Clementine? If something happens to her… well… that would be horrible. I’d give my left arm to guarantee Clementine’s safety!

So congratulations to Telltale Games’ Walking Dead for making zombies scary again. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, the eponymous Dead have become little more than shaved (but plentiful) bears, and every other videogame has made zombies useless fodder. But zombies had a brief time to shine in this Walking Dead. The combination of a bunch of gaming tropes that don’t usually work actually coalesced into something fun… and something to fear.

Good job, zombies, you don’t completely suck. Maybe you just bite.

FGC #279 The Walking Dead

  • System: This might be faster if I just list which systems don’t host this game. It ain’t on any Nintendo systems. Other than that, it’s all over the place. There’s even a Vita version? Weird.
  • Number of players: One player controls Lee, and then a small audience gathers around that player.
  • Race Relations: Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a black protagonist that was smart and level-headed, but didn’t have a background of being a violent criminal? I realize Lee’s whole deal allows for some drama with the cast in the early episodes, but, come on, Telltale, did we need further reinforcement of that unfortunate stereotype?
  • It's GlennFavorite Character: She’s completely insane, but I like Lilly. On one hand, she’s absolutely a pain in the butt in many situations (some of them involving exploding heads), but, really, for all my bluster about not being afraid of no zombie, she’s probably an example of how I would actually operate in a zombie apocalypse. Protect your family, assume everyone else is against you, and maybe go steal a vehicle because you’re secretly kind of a jerk. … Hm, I wonder what this says about me.
  • Did you know? There is a lot of unused dialogue in this game that seems to indicate that there were different plans for various characters and their backstories. It’s kind of amusing that this is the game that really kicked off Telltale’s “adventure game” renaissance (or at least totally funded it), and it’s clear the writers had no idea what they were doing in the early episodes. Okay, they undoubtedly knew what they were doing, they just didn’t have a firm grasp on the characters and future plot from the start of the first episode. It’s understandable, but I’m the kind of guy that meticulously plans out everything I write and… Great, now I forgot how I was going to end this sentence.
  • Would I play again? You know, I enjoyed this game… but I still haven’t played the sequel. The whole franchise seems to dominate this weird no man’s land where it’s not really a videogame (like I wouldn’t sit down to play it like I would a Mega Man title), but it’s certainly more intense than watching a random TV show. I liked my experience playing this game, but I might never do it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Troll Islands for the SNES! Are… are you trolling me, robot? Is this even a real game? Guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!

It will get worse