Tag Archives: game theory

FGC #091 M*A*S*H

Should that 1 be there?M*A*S*H is an Atari 2600 game that was released in 1983. This makes M*A*S*H literally as old as I am, and I’ve been playing video games almost as long as I’ve had thumbs. If I add this all up in my head, it equates to a simple hypothesis: I’ve beaten games that are practically light years ahead of this ancient cartridge, I should have no problem conquering this primitive game!

Oh, how naïve.

If you really think about it, there’s no reason being a 21st century man (or woman, geez, you’re ruining a great phrase) would grant you particular strengths over an older game of any medium. Chess seems to have originated sometime around the 7th century, and, just because I can “program” an iphone to make a drone do jumping jacks, it doesn’t mean I would be able to destroy the average 1400 year old original chess champion (assuming we’re playing by mutual rules we’re both completely aware of, of course. I don’t want to have to deal with “original rules” that dictate losing a pawn means you have to lick an elephant’s tail or something). Poker got going around 200 years ago, and modern skills and techniques might help a bit against the primitive people of New Orleans (1800’s New Orleans, I’m sure modern NO isn’t anywhere near the hellpit I’ve seen described on The Simpsons), but you’re still losing to a full house even with your fancy future knowledge. In a weird way, games are a great equalizer across cultures: once you know the rules, everybody’s in the same boat.

But video games are different, right? Technology is constantly advancing, and gameplay with it. I look at that primitive Atari 2600 controller, with its singular stick and lone button, and I can’t imagine something even as moderately sophisticated as Battletoads being a glimmer in the imagination of video game producers of the time. I have conquered the eldritch horrors of Bloodborne, and ascended to the godhood granted only to someone that has killed every last creature in that universe. M*A*S*H, an Atari game based on a sitcom based on eternally hanging out on the sidelines of a war, should be nothing to one that has slain a partially invisible terror from beyond imagination.

But sad truth? Video games, like computers, have only gotten easier with time.

Talk to any computer geekanerd over the age of thirty, and you’ll hear amazing tales of the good ol’ days, and how the kids these days don’t know a computer from a hole in the ground. Sure, they’re good with them new fangled ipads, but theys ain’t computers! Where’s the DOS prompt! Where’s the install/uninstall menu? Where’s the bloody options for manually configuring an IP address? That’s right, Little Timmy, you keep catapulting those birds, I’ll be over here with my real computer and my ability to actually change a bootup option. I, mighty child of the 80’s, have the capability of writing code, first honed in the trenches of Logo Writer, and I can make my own damn game of tic tac toe. Can you do that on your Weeeefancy shmancy ipad? Hell no. Just buy the app like a good little sheeple.

Of course, the joke of it is that this has always been the way in the computing world. Before his passing, I had the pleasure of working with a gentleman named Sam Harvey, a former VP of Singer (as in sewing, back when that meant something), and one of the first people in Western business to approach computing from a business perspective back in the days of Eniac and other prehistoric computers that took up entire buildings. Sam was brilliant, and his knowledge of the early days of computing was amazing… but he was also an absolute pain in the ass to work with, not only because he was a generally cantankerous 90 year old man, but also because he would remind me, on a daily basis, that I didn’t know jack about computers because I wouldn’t manually code a word processor by hand every time I wanted to write a letter. To him, I was just as ignorant as his grandkids (maybe great grandkids?) that “only” knew about computers from popping games into their “intendas”.

In a way (as old men tend to be) he was right, because I didn’t know what he knew, and I couldn’t whip up a JPEG viewing program in my spare time like he would. Without exaggeration, he was running a Windows 95 (in the age of XP) machine that was stocked with a host of programs that were all almost entirely of his design. Like, we’re talking he was running his own, completely custom, web browser. I can’t do that. I can’t even begin to think how I would do that, but more importantly, I can’t imagine why I would do that, either. Why reinvent the wheel? Why make your own word processor, image viewer, or web browser when there are already tons of options available, each designed by people who know exactly what they’re doing? This is why I want to say treesthe next generation doesn’t give a damn about coding, or “actually” building a website, or learning even what the control panel is; because, in the end, it’s already prepared for them, a series of defaults hardened through decades of use, and that’s that. You don’t need to spend six months customizing a freshly purchased car, so why would you waste your day making your cell phone some kind of personal project? You’re just going to trade it in in two years, anyway.

Back in the days of the Atari, though, the wheel hadn’t been invented yet. I’m sure there’s some debate over this, but I still feel like what’s “allowed” in a video game only became codified in the age of the Nintendo Seal of Quality, and everything before that was a Wild West where E.T. was not only possible, but probable. There are a host of Atari games that are approximations of what fun might look like, but are still smeared with an opaque layer of insanity that prevents any sort of enjoyment. It’s one thing to look at Custer’s Revenge and wonder what the hell they were thinking, but have you ever seen Bobby Is Going Home? It’s like a platformer, but instead of Shigeru Miyamoto at the helm, it was created by escaped sadist scientists that spent their entire lives researching new and interesting ways to damage the human psyche. It’s not very good.

M*A*S*H, really, isn’t all that bad. You’ve got a simple premise: you’re a helicopter (pilot?), and you have to pick up injured soldiers. Fill your copter with five soldiers, and you have to deliver them back to the field hospital, and then repeat forever. While you’re flying about, there are bullets (missiles? What takes down a helicopter, again?) whizzing along, and if you’re hit, it’s not game over, just a delay Don't touch the sides!before you respawn and get back to rescuing. After about a minute of zooming around rescuing patients, you’re then moved into the operating room, and it’s your job to remove shrapnel from injured soldiers. This, rather amusingly, plays out like a game of Operation, complete with “don’t touch the sides” gameplay. The more dudes you heli-rescued, the more time you have on the operating table, and the more points you can score through shrapnel grabbing. Pretty straightforward all around, and, for something out of the early eighties, actually rather fun.

The only fly in the ointment is that M*A*S*H is a competitive, one-player game. There’s a second helicopter, and it’s not enough to just dodge bullets and rescue vets, no, you have to dodge and rescue better than the other pilot, because, if you don’t, the computer wins. And, sad fact, despite my advanced video game skills, the computer always wins.

I admit that, yes, with practice and effort, I could get good at M*A*S*H, and quash that computer once and for all… but that’s not happening. There are other, better games to be played now that the gaming public is no more suffering beneath the heel of a company that would allow Atari 2600 Karate to exist. So, even in the face of all my experience with dodge rolls, dragon punch motions, and proper JRPG inventory management, the M*A*S*H rival helicopter wins every time.

Welp, only one thing to do now. I have heard suicide is painless.

Note: Gogglebob.com and Goggle Bob do not support the idea of suicide due to losing to a 30 year old game. If you are having suicidal thoughts due to an Atari cartridge, please speak to your priest.

FGC #91 M*A*S*H

  • System: Atari 2600. I would not hold out for a rerelease of this one. Probably the license holding it back. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
  • Number of players: One, as far as I can tell, despite the fact that the game itself basically is two player, just the other player is AI. I suppose they couldn’t figure out how to swing the Operation bits for two humans.
  • M*A*S*H memories: I never watched the show much, but I’ve seen a few episodes since it’s been on a constant loop on some channel or another since the 80’s. My most significant memory of M*A*S*H doesn’t even have anything to do with the show itself, just that I had an old boss back when I was a teenager, who, Ferrets?when he was more lucid, would claim I “looked like a young Alan Alda”. Most of the time, though, it was just “that kid that looks like that guy from M*A*S*H.” Ah, memories.
  • Did you know? Aside from the title, the only… words in this game are “Ferret Face.” I’d like to see that take off as a gaming fad. Maybe that can be the entirety of spoken dialogue in Final Fantasy 7 HD.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Ultimately, like most Atari titles, the game is too limited. Hey, it’s a full week of games I’d never play again. Has that happened before? Is anyone keeping track of these things? I should make a chart…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rampart for the SNES. Batten down the hatches, we’re going to defend a kingdom with Tetris blocks. Please look forward to it!

FGC #086 Archer Maclean’s Mercury

ShinyThis is FGC #86. As we rapidly approach FGC #100, anyone that has been reading this site from the beginning (or even, like ten posts back) has likely already picked up on a number of my writing “ticks”. For one thing, I have a tendency to use quotes “completely” randomly. Also (and this has always been a problem), I’m a big fan of parenthesis. I’d probably use footnotes, but those kind of suck for websites. Wait for Gogglebob.com: The Hard Cover for that. And, of course, I’ve ignored every English Teacher I’ve ever had and completely dropped any pretense of avoiding the first person voice when composing a persuasive essay. I just don’t like it!

Even beyond literacy issues, you’ve also likely noted what I seem to notice in games journaling. I always note a game’s system, not only because it’s important to finding the game, but also because saying “Sega Saturn game” or “Playstation 4 game” denote wildly different things for not only graphics, but also storytelling and tutorial usage. Similarly, I always note the number of players a game has, because a crummy “story mode” may be redeemed by an exciting multiplayer mode, or what could be a simple one player game may be marred by a soldered on death match mode. Beyond that, I have a tendency to log favorite characters or stages, because that usually puts me in a good mood (or at least encourages me to say something positive about a turd of a game). And the “Did you know?” question is an excuse for me to research the featured game for more than just five minutes, and attempt to turn up something that makes the game unique. Or I just prattle on about some comic book trivia. Either way works.

“Would I play again” is the most important bullet point in my mind. I’m not one to worry about metacritic or similar “please assign a numerical value to this game” type reviews. As you can probably guess due to my chronic aptitude to vomit words all over the place with reckless abandon, I actually prefer reading long, detailed reviews that outline exactly why a game is good or bad. But, yes, sometimes I want a straightforward, final “Is it good?” and I feel like asking the question of “would I play again?” neatly summarizes my feelings for a game. When you get right down to it, that’s what’s important about a video game: sure, it’s good, but how likely are you to ever pop it in ever again? We have mountains of entertainment media available to us, and, since we only have so much time on this planet, what’s the point in playing games that are best described as “Bubsy-esque”?

And, be honest, how many bosses/levels/side quests/etc. have you completed, and then exclaimed, “Boy! I’m glad I never have to do that again!”

However, with all the things I tend to mention, one thing I generally do not note is the “genre” of any given video game. And there’s a particular reason for this: I have no ability to distinguish video game genres.

This isn’t to say I don’t try. As I’ve made oblique references to in the past, I have a database of all my (preeeeecious) video games; a complete inventory that allows me to, at any time, remember if I own Get away!Ducktales 2 or not (hey, I do!). Honestly, that’s pretty much how it started, because when you start collecting video games, you roll up to a “new” retro game store, excitedly exclaim “Oh man, Final Fight 2! I loved this game when I rented it!” get it home, and then put it with your other six copies of Final Fight 2. Actually, I’ve privately referred to this as “Disney Franchise Syndrome”, because I have a tendency to say things like “Ha, the Lion King for SNES is only five bucks. That was a fun movie, so why not?” and… well… without the database, I’d be able to build furniture out of Goof Troop cartridges. And while the database’s main job is to save me from my own first world problems, it also provides the very valuable service of naturally sorting all my games. My main indexes are by system, then genre, and then alphabet. So if I can remember all that easily, it’s a great way to find Silent Hill on a foggy day.

So, yes, privately I “define” the genres of different games, but I feel like my own sorting methods are not ready for the outside world. I’ve seen wars fought over JRPG vs. TRPG vs. WRPG, and I have no desire to join the fray to die on some hill gasping that Donkey Kong Country is not that distinct from Sonic the Hedgehog.

But, hey, we’re a good 80 or so entries into the site now, so I may as well share my own madness. Remember, this is a safe space (for me), so try not to be offended when I misfile a favorite game.

Action is my “catch all” category, and, conveniently, alphabetically first. This contains basically any game where you’re a dude (or, rarely, dudette) that has the capability of jumping, attacking, and moving forward, whether it be in a 3-D or 2-D space. As I said, this means a lot of games fall into the Action slot, from Yo! Noid on the NES to Mario Clash on the Virtual Boy to Ghostbusters on Xbox 360. Additionally, because I have a clear and overwhelming addiction, pretty much any game that I haven’t actually played, but looks like it might fit thanks to box screenshots, winds up in this category until proven otherwise.

Right?Platformer has a lot of overlap with Action, but my definition of a platformer game is, basically, “is a weapon your main offensive move?” If you have a whip, sword, or blaster, you’re playing an action game. If your primary offense is jumping on, over, or around enemies, then you’ve got a platformer on your hands. If I’m being honest, this genre exists almost entirely because I wanted to distinguish Mega Man gameplay from Super Mario gameplay, but considering platformers seem to be more easily accessible and deliberately less convoluted than Action games of the modern age, I’m happy there’s the division. In my head, Platformers include pretty much all of the Super Mario Bros. games (random exception already mentioned), most Sonic the Hedgehog games (go away, Shadow), and, for a more modern example, Little Big Planet.

FPS, to me, is any action game that has thrown the view back into the head of the protagonist. Honestly, I sort this genre as such because I’ve never been a gigantic fan of that (I really need peripheral vision), and it’s almost become a quarantine genre. This may be entirely the fault of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and early Doom builds. It’s not like I don’t enjoy anything I consider to be a FPS, though, as Metroid Prime Trilogy and Bioshock Infinite are among my favorite games.

Shooters or Shoot ‘em Ups are basically all Gradius, all the time. Contra and its friends are Action, but if you’re in a lil’ ship and irreparably damaging cores, you’re in a Shooter. Unfortunately, this genre hasn’t seen nearly enough entries in the physical universe recently, but I count about 12 billion shooter games on PSN and alike services, so it’s a matter of scale.

Also containing a lot of the same DNA with Action is Adventure. To me, an adventure game is basically just an action game with an inventory, but still action-y enough to not warrant the distinction of being a RPG. I consider The Legend of Zelda (any of them) to be an adventure game the same as Kingdom Hearts, Drakengard, or even the likes of Skyrim. And, yes, I do consider Lucasarts/Telltale style adventure games to fall under this same umbrella, because I can still remember thinking King’s Quest “use this item on this wall” isn’t that different from Zelda “use this bomb on this wall”, so The Walking Dead and Mass Effect wind up in this department just the same.

I don’t have to explain the RPG category, do I? Yes, this includes anything that can be considered a RPG, just so long as it didn’t already pass the Adventure smell test. I admit, even some of these RPGs should be considered Adventures by my own standards (Lightning Returns comes immediately to mind),Gross but considering the bleed in recent years between Adventure and RPG, I usually stick to franchise standards. Final Fantasy 7 Crisis Core is an Adventure game? This is why I try not to think too hard about this stuff…

One of the few genres I consistently “log” on the site is Fighting Games, because there is so little variation in that genre. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! I’m just saying that there’s, on a conceptual level, gigantic gulfs between Action titles like Mega Man and Deadpool PS3, but Street Fighter 2 and Tekkn 6 could cross-over easily, and no one would bat an eye. Oh wait, that already happened. For the record, I consider Super Smash Bros. to be an (albeit competitive) Action game, it’s only a Fighting Game to me if you must use a complicated motion to do something. (I said “must”!)

Related by blood to Fighting Games is the Beat ‘em Up genre. Admittedly, I’d likely lump this group in with Action if I wasn’t such a Final Fight/Double Dragon 2 fan back in the day, but I do have to admit that a game somehow feels different when you have to stand around and defeat enemies, rather than just dash forward and avoid all that messy gameplay. The first game I tackled on this site was a Beat ‘em Up, and more recent examples of the genre seem to live on in Code of Princess and Senran Kagura… hey, I guess Haggar set the dress code for this genre.

Racing is similar to Fighting Games with its clear boundaries. Mario Kart, F-Zero, Nascar 07: if there are wheels and time trials involved, it’s a racing game. I’ll even throw in some games without wheels that are clearly conceptually Racing, like Kirby’s Air Ride and Snowboard Kids. Gotta go fastSimilarly, Sports contains anything that is distinctly a sport, whether it be Football or the Olympics. Very close to Racing, just with more grand slams.

Rhythm is the final “easy one” on this list. If music is happening, and you’re supposed to do something to keep that music playing correctly, you’ve got a Rhythm game. This includes games that require whacky, real-life instruments (Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Donkey Konga), or the story based games like Gitaroo Man or Parappa the Rapper. Incidentally, this is the genre that seems to have the greatest odds of accidentally conquering my life. Just ask Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call.

There are about seven games in my collection that fit this genre, but I’ve always referred to FMV, pre-recorded video based games as Controlled. This started with Dragon’s Lair, and continued with games like Hologram Time Traveler, but the gist of it is that this involves any game where you just press a button when the game tells you to. See: half the Sega CD library, including the abhorrent Night Trap.

Similarly limited in scope is the Free Form genre, which includes Mario Paint and any other game that lets me do whatever the heck I want. These games are pretty rare, as even modern successors to Mario Paint like Super Mario Maker and Little Big Planet are more geared toward another style of gameplay after your creation time is finished. That said, we do have Sega’s Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio, and… Make My Video: Kriss Kross? Woof. At least we’ll always have Mario Paint.

Board Game is any game that might be better served stuck at the top of my attic. Pictionary, Monopoly, and other “digitized” games belong here, along with more modern successors, like the Mario Party franchise. Oh man, I just realized my amiibo collection will one day rot next to a copy of Clue.

Various is my catch-all (also, conveniently last alphabetically). It serves not only as my miscellaneous category (which I try to avoid indulging too much) for games like Wario Ware, but also games that are compilations of wildly disparate games, like Sonic the Hedgehog collections that include platforming, racing, and fighting games. I’ve considered making a “Collection” category since around the Gamecube era, but I do prefer these “grouped” games to hang out at the end of the alphabet.

And now, after 2,000 words, I’m going to start acknowledging the actual featured game for today. The Puzzle genre has always been Puzzlinghard for me to define. To me, without question, Tetris and Dr. Mario are puzzle games. That’s a puzzle game to me. King’s Quest or Zelda involve puzzles, but there’s also a whole lotta walkin’, so they get disqualified. Layton games, meanwhile, are puzzle games through and through, because that’s the emphasis of the game: you’re playing it for the puzzles.

This creates a weird “gray” area for what others might call “action puzzle” games. I’m not referring to Zelda and alike for that description, no, what I’m referring to are games that involve puzzles that also involve a great deal of physical skill. Alright, I know I’m already contradicting myself, because Tetris involves probably just as much quick thinking and quick reflexes, but there’s always a distinction between a falling block game and a game where you have to “steer” an object somewhere.

So, I made my own, wildly specific, yet still seen pretty frequently used genre:

Ball Based

Ball Based started when I was still a young whippersnapper with Marble Madness. Since then, there have been a number of games that are simply… ball based. I know we all had fun with those little “labyrinth” wood maze/marble games as kids, and, really, this might just be an easy way to showcase physics manipulation, but there’s a number of ball based games out there, even in the horrid wastes that is 90% of the app store. Monkey Ball conquers all platforms!

Mercury, to me, is yet another ball based game. True, you’re not strictly a ball for much of the game, but you are controlling a sliver of occasionally balled-up mercury. Actually, more precisely, you are whatever omnipotent entity is manipulating the stage to make the mercury go where it’s intended. It’s pretty straightforward, and remarkably similar to Monkey Ball, because, really, what else can you do with this kind of game? Add a few enemies (weird, mercury devouring bugs), include some whacky teleporters, and maybe slide in a gimmick or two. To its credit, Mercury’s gimmick is at least visually appealing: sometimes you need a new “color” of mercury, but there aren’t any paint stops available to make your mercury, say, green. However, there are blue and yellow paint stops, so spilt your mercury in twain, grab each color, and then recombine to make green. It’s always good when a game encourages you to remember something you learned in Prettykindergarten, and, to be honest, the whole reflective, changing color thing looks pretty rad on the PSP. I give Mercury’s gimmick high points for trying.

But, in the end, Mercury is just a Ball Based game, and your patience with it is directly proportionate to how much you enjoy that very precise genre. Or, maybe it’s not a genre at all, and I just made the whole term up so I could more easily find Ballblazer. It’s my video game database, not yours. Hisssssssss.

FGC #86 Archer Maclean’s Mercury

  • System: PSP. Is it available for the Vita, though? Yes it is! The future is here! A future where the Vita still exists!
  • Number of players: Just one. This was an early PSP game, so they hadn’t started trying to shoe-horn wireless features into every stupid game yet.
  • Failing Memory: I know I have a completed (or near completed, never been one for high scores and their unlockable levels) save of this game somewhere, but that memory card isn’t in my PSP right now, so I’m just playing the requisite hour or so of the game, and capturing what’s available in the first few stages. I feel like I’ve already devoted more hours to this game than it deserves.
  • Favorite Color: What? Like, always, or within Mercury? Yeah, I guess there aren’t any real “characters” in this game, and the levels are primarily just different layouts with different random traps. Huh, not a lot that’s very distinct going on in this game. Anyway. Ummm. I guess green? That’s always been my favorite color, but I do wear a lot of red…
  • More to come: This Mercury got a remake on the downloadable services of PS3 and Xbox 360 by the name of Mercury Hg (clever), and Mercury’s sequel, Mercury Meltdown was on the PSP, and then wound up with another Mercury Meltdown Revolution (clever?) on the Wii. Mercury Meltdown went with a more cartoony visual style, as opposed to the “hard steel” look of the PSP game. I kinda like both.
  • Did you know? Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. For my Ball Based fun, I choose Monkey Ball every time. And, seriously, there are so few reasons to turn on my PSP anymore.

What’s Next: Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania Symphony of the Night. Ha. Sarcasm. Of what profit is it to a man, if he reviews every game ever, but loses his own soul? Please look forward to it, I believe.

FGC #085 Mad Maestro!

Got your attention?Have you ever tried to teach someone how to play video games? I’m not talking about how to “git gud” at video games, I mean, absolute zero point, barely ever held a controller before, this is how you make Mario jump “play video games”. Basically, have you ever had to explain a goomba?

I have. I’ve never taught an adult how to play video games (because adults past a certain age are never going to try, and adults my age or younger at least have some button mashing experience), but I’ve trained the young to participate in the children’s crusade against the Koopa menace. I don’t have kids of my own, mind you, but I am the kind of person that, at any given office, is assumed to have a way of entertaining youngsters immediately available. I’d say it’s an unfortunate stereotype related to the guy that has a cabbit and Slimer on his desk, but given how quickly I can pull a USB controller from my desk drawer, it’s a pretty accurate assessment.

Now, I’m going to try to avoid wandering into old man vs. cloud territory, but these kids these days are trained not on the controllers or joysticks of my youth, but touch screens and sticky iphones of today. This, I want to be clear, isn’t a bad thing, as I’m someone that thinks video games of nigh any platform are ideal for development. I’m not going to remotely claim I have any sort of childhood psychology credentials or even ever once took a class on development of the young‘uns, but, as I’ve mentioned before and likely will again, I firmly believe that video games can impart lessons and morals in a manner unlike any other entertainment medium, even if that “lesson” is simply that daddy is not going to give you his credit card information just so you can ninja more fruit right now.

But the disadvantage of idevice gaming is an unfortunate lack of buttons. Yes, I can play every Mega Man on my phone… but I don’t think I want to. Swiping, shifting, tapping: that’s all fine on the phone, but actual precise “Mario style” The usual suspectsplatforming is not meant for the same system as flapping birds. Again, not saying this is a reason to cast your pad to the wind, simply that this leads to children without the most essential skill that most console gamers take completely for granted.

“Jump! No… jump… different? Better? Higher? Press it harder… no… a little lighter… Oh God, you’re never going to clear that piranha plant…”

When you’re used to something (say, because you’ve been doing it literally longer than you can remember), your vocabulary for teaching the skill quickly diminishes. I remember learning to drive, and my father (who had been driving every day for I want to say thirty years at that point) recommending I “tap the breaks”. My interpretation of “tap the breaks” was in no way what he actually intended me to do, and, if we weren’t already going at 3 MPH because I was terrified of driving, I’m pretty sure one of us would have been at least a little upset at whatever lasting damage was incurred to the poor automobile. Similarly “just put your foot down” for the other pedal involved nearly flying into the bay. Come to think of it, the comparison between controllers and driving is more apt that I initially considered, because the “analogue” is what gets you: when flying along with Mario, you “press” the buttons in a very particular way, with a precise pressure and duration. You’re not simply pressing A, you’re using a skill you’ve honed over years (to clear a damn goomba), just like automatically knowing how to depress an accelerator.

So, I consider it no small achievement that, through a collection of cheat codes (mostly just infinite lives) and save states (mainly for airships), I was able to get a five year old to clear all the worlds of Super Mario Bros. 3. It wasn’t easy, and it took literally months, but I still consider the hardest part of the whole exercise to be “jump” training. Short jumps, long jumps, running jumps, and Take a bow(the most insane) flying/swimming are all skills that you or I take completely for granted, but learning the difference between making Mario hop or leap is absolutely essential. Press that A button just long and strong enough, and you get great results. Do it wrong? Sorry, but you didn’t need that raccoon tail, anyway, right?

Mad Maestro doesn’t include any jumps or goombas, but it does offer the fairly unique opportunity to direct an orchestra. The story is mundane as far as plot-based rhythm games go (sorry, no repelling alien invaders through mariachi music here), you’re Takt, a young composer and conductor who is approached by a magical fairy (okay, maybe the plot is a little weird) with the mission of saving the local Concert Hall with a grand orchestra performance. On the way to the ostentatious performance, Takt recruits a number of townspeople (and a bear) (and some aliens) through playing classical music at random points throughout the city. Help a guy romance his girlfriend, and he joins you with a cello. It’s a pretty standard way to form a band. After ten stages of recruitment drives, it’s time for the really big show, and, assuming you’ve learned, like, something over the course of the entire game, you probably won’t be booed off stage.

The kink to this game that separates it from every other rhythm game I can recall is that you are not playing an instrument, real or imaginary, this time. You are the conductor, so it’s your job to do that wavy hand thing that apparently serves some musical purpose. I would imagine this to be pretty difficult in reality (closest I’ve ever been to being a Hey babyconductor was some heavy flirting with a drum major… actually, two different drum majors on two different occasions. Maybe I have a type?), but during this game, you’re effectively just a rhythm section, forced to tap buttons along to the beat. It’s not that difficult, as I have enough rhythm to win the game, and I’m whiter than some wampas. I can’t imagine how well someone with a greater understanding of 3/4s time would do with this setup.

That said, in a grand tradition that would continue straight into the Vocaloids’ greatest hits, there has to be some kind of catch. It’s not enough to just tap along to the beat, no, Mad Maestro is one of the few games that actual fully utilizes the Playstation 2’s analog buttons. You’re the conductor, so you’re not only keeping the beat fresh, but you’re also responsible for the phat volume highs, and the skinny lil’ lows. As far as rhythm game gimmicks go, it’s one that actually makes sense, and even, theoretically, makes sense for the player. You’re going to naturally hit that button harder when the song is loud and pumping, and you might even be the type to gently tap along to a more quiet section. Should be as natural as singing along to the radio, right?

In reality, though, you’ll experience the flaws in this system before you’re out of the tutorial. To Mad Maestro’s credit, the game is very transparent about what you’re doing wrong. “Too fast” or “Too late” for the beat is great if you have no internal metronome, and the “weight” of your hit has three different color intensities: green, blue, and red. If you see a green note, and you hit it red, then you know you’re hitting too hard, so it couldn’t be more straightforward. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, you have, literally, less than a beat to recognize what went wrong, and adjust accordingly. I assume that the majority of my Don't lookreaders are Zen Masters, but for the rest of us, when you miss a note or two you’re going to grow naturally frustrated, and start hammering that button as hard as you… which will only cause further problems. Couple this with later songs that revel in switching between hard and light notes, and what could be an excellent, relaxing way to “participate” in classical music becomes about as frustrating as shoveling snow with a hairbrush. It’s particularly maddening because, as stated, the game is so forthcoming about what you’re doing wrong, so the minute you drop into a failure loop, you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, but why. Isn’t. IT. WORKING. POUND POUND POUND.

So welcome to being five years old again. Welcome to knowing exactly what you want to do, but not yet having the skill to do it. Welcome to learning a skill. Welcome to not only getting better, but starting from scratch to do it.

And, you know what? Remember that feeling, remember what playing Mad Maestro feels like. Remember that, even when you’re being given perfect advice, it means nothing if you’re too upset to listen. Remember, you can be a better student and teacher through understanding and calm.

You might never have to teach someone how to play video games, but if you do, remember that starting from zero isn’t thrilling for anybody, let everybody take their time, learn, and, one day, you’ll be conducting a symphony.

FGC #85 Mad Maestro!

  • System: Playstation 2. Interestingly, thanks to the requirements of a rhythm game versus wireless controllers, I actually played this game on the original Playstation 2, as opposed to the usual BC Playstation 3 that is used for Gogglebob.com. Okay, I lied, that wasn’t interesting at all.
  • Number of Players: Too many conductors could be an issue, so just one player. Surprised they didn’t try to shoehorn in some weird co-op mode, but I suppose this isn’t a PSP game.
  • Difficulty: Despite the fact that the article might portray me playing this game as a tantrumming toddler, the game isn’t really that difficult to complete. Everybody danceIt’s one of those games where your “lifebar” is large enough that you can basically bumble through any given level and still see the goal through sheer force of forward momentum. That said, since the game logs your every missed note, it’s easy to get the impression you’re failing a lot worse than you are, thus the frustration. Sure, I score a “C” on every level, but at least I finished.
  • If I ruled the world: The final level is that grand Concert Hall performance, and it’s the most difficult level, not only because it’s the longest, but you also don’t have as much of a cushion against failure, so a “C” student might not actually complete the challenge. But it’s a very gentle game, so if you fail, you’re just asked to try again, don’t worry, we’ll save that Music Hall on the next try. If I made this game, though, every failed performance would end with bulldozers plowing right into the stands and shoving the band aside. The future refused to change…
  • Bitter Band Nerd: You want to claim you’re playing classical music around town to collect musicians? Bullshit, Takt knows how musical performances work: you’re gathering together an eclectic band of weirdoes because they’ll be able to sell tickets to their friends and family. The performing arts are basically a pyramid scheme, sheeple!
  • Speaking of Band Nerds: I want to note that I played trumpet throughout my school days, so this always shocks and confuses me:

    I'm right there!

    And I’m still not first chair!

  • Did you know? During the stage where you recruit Martians, Baba Yaga’s Hut from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky is performed. I like that song quite a bit, and it might be my favorite in the game, but, come on, guys, Mars, The Bringer of War from the Planets suite by Holst is right there! It’s got “Mars” in the title! And Catherine has the same problem! It’s good enough for Darth Vader!
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Gitaroo Man is my rhythmic poison of choice on the Playstation 2, so it’s unlikely I’d forsake the Gitaroo way for a game that leaves me fuming every time I pick it up. It’s not a bad game, and I laud any game that attempts to hoist classical music on an unwitting populace, but it’s just not enough fun to play.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Archer Maclean’s Mercury for the PSP! Are we… is this, like, a planet theme, now? Is there a game containing “Venus” next on the list? I don’t know how this robot works… Anyway, please look forward to it!

Bravo

The Gaming 5 #5 Mother 3

Note that this post contains massive spoilers for Mother 3. I’ll warn you when they’re about to get rotton, but if you want to experience the game clean, you’ve been warned.

Go fridgeWhy is it on this list?

The four preceding games are all “games” first and foremost: yes, there’s a story, heroes that grow, and villains to be defeated, but the primary focus of all of these games is the actual experience of playing the game. In a way, they are a miniscule step up from sports: you can play a game of football, but that game won’t be about something, the best you can hope for is to win, or at least to improve your own skills. Give it a few playthroughs, and nobody cares about Sigma, he’s just the last obstacle before completing the challenge.

This, of course, isn’t to say that there can’t be intricate stories hiding within even the thinnest plots. Super Metroid stars Samus Aran, a woman who, to my knowledge, only speaks “in game” during the introduction of one game out of three, and even that “dialogue” could rearrange a few pronouns to make her a complete mute. In spite of this (or perhaps because of it), even though Samus only had a total of three games between 1986 and 2002, she somehow acquired a number of apparently fan-attributed personality traits. Samus is brave and determined and solitary in her dangerous missions… uh…. like every video game character that stuck around long enough to topple the final boss. Regardless, look at the backlash against Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M for sullying the good name of Samus Aran… a character that had previously been little more than a player cipher. The reality is that Samus could either bulldoze everything on Zebes, or cower and never fire a shot to do anything more than defeat a boss or open a door, it was entirely up to the player.

But this is important, and it’s just as much a part of video games as jumping and shooting. More than any other medium, you are the protagonist in nearly every video game ever released. You may relate to Harry Potter, you might admire Schwarzenegger’s latest role, but it’s only in the realm of video games that you so totally inhabit a character. It’s no great surprise, really, as prior to the advent of cinema scenes, you controlled literally every movement of your digital hero for hours, so it’s only natural to feel a close bond with that tubby plumber or little metal boy you’ve been guiding all this time. Who needs virtual reality? We’ve been living it ever since the first person got into the headspace of that long, white paddle (no, it’s not just a vertical rectangle, that’s silly).

So if you get the same feeling from Super Mario Bros., why Mother 3?

Because Mother 3 knows.

For anyone that is reading this site exclusively because they like the sound of my voice in their head, and not because they like video games (hi, Mom!), Mother 3 is the sequel to Earthbound, aka Mother 2. Mother 3, like the rest of the series, was the brainchild of Shigesato Itoi, a name that Powmeans nothing to most Americans, but a fellow that has made quite a name for himself in Japan as a writer. Like… a for real writer, not someone who had to fill up a cutscene with words so “Over 40 hours of gameplay!” can be stapled onto the back of a box. Hey, I admire you, video game writers, it can’t be easy to get JRPG Protagonist #371 to prattle on about friendship for an entire scene and make it seem fresh (or at least not completely horrible); but Itoi was a writer first and foremost, which is very different from the rest of the video game industry where that skill appears to be valued somewhere below “guy who models armhair”.

Itoi started with Mother 1 (and, before I go any further, I want to be clear that I’m not claiming Itoi was solely responsible for these games, as Earthbound in particular was obviously a labor of love for other luminaries in the industry… there’s just an unmistakable tone that runs through all three games, and I find it hard to believe that kind of thing could originate from any more than one dedicated person), a game that was meant to emulate (the big in Japan) Dragon Quest series. It had its fun moments, but it was way too opaque for much of the game, and the charm that would define the following installments was buried under a crushing difficulty. Mind you, this was pretty much standard for JRPGs of the NES era, so whaddya gonna do?

Earthbound, Mother 2, still cribbed heavily from the Dragon Quest series (which, by the SNES era, was becoming about as relevant as Kabuki Quantum Fighter in the West), but anyone willing to deal with its “dated” graphics and gameplay was in for a treat. This was where the meta-elements of the Mother series really came to the forefront, and while it could all be seen as nothing more than silly jokes to a child player, a mature gamer might recognize the variety of components on display that, in their way, mocked the very concept of video games from within a video game. In order to read a sign warning of the dangers of stepping on the grass, you must stand on the grass. A city where everything is the opposite of how it should be proves how a simple switch between Cup o' Joeyes and no really means little when you understand what will happen. A village that caged itself in is convinced that their confinement is an illusion and it’s the outside world that is trapped. A statue gets you high, a stone calls to you, and a rock speaks words. I always disparage the thinking that someone “was so high” to create something creative, but the entire game feels like a trip: something just outside reality so you can return and experience life in a new way. Earthbound may reflect the real world, but it is a fantasy first and foremost, and its tone reminds you to just have fun with it.

Mother 3, though. Mother 3 is reality.

It’s amusing that Mother 3 is the Mother game most based in a fantasy world. Mother 1 & 2 were both set in a modern, suburban environment… albeit one with psychic powers, giant pencil statues, and invading aliens. Mother 3, meanwhile, is tucked into a rural village that has a few modern conveniences at the start, but there’s no reason this couldn’t be some corner of an early Final Fantasy world (or maybe Wild Arms. I do see a cowboy hat). But while the setting is absolutely important to the game, what’s more important are the characters, and, specifically, your character. Yes, you “play as” your entire party (and one mischievous monkey) at one point or another during this game, but the central protagonist, and the number one body you inhabit during this adventure is that of Lucas, a young boy with a mother, father, grandfather, and brother.

This is about where the spoilers get intense… so click to proceed.