We hate Paul

This video has been around for maybe a day and a half, tops—in Internet Time, it’s already months old—but I really enjoyed its not-too-malicious dramatic reenactment of the dumbest, most interesting Holiday Shopping Nightmare human interest story ever told in 2011.

Also, Revision3’s Anthony Carboni is nowhere near jacked enough to play Paul, the villain in this melodrama, and this bit of miscasting is charming all on its own. (Kotaku and Escapist have the full deets, but the video might be enough.)

There are a lot of things about this I don’t understand. I don’t quite understand why “Dave,” the unhappy customer, forwarded his ongoing, charged email exchange to Mike Krahulik (“Gabe” of Penny Arcade, AKA the hotheaded one), except that Dave needed some muscle on his side. Mike tried his best to mediate, which is weird enough anyway, but there was little reasoning with “Paul,” the erstwhile giant of PR (whether he is even a PR guy is up for debate) who until recently had mishandled the marketing for some weird video game peripheral. Which, if you are wondering, did not ship in time for the holidays, and how dare you email Paul about this, Dave.

In a way I do feel bad for Paul. When a shipment is trapped in customs, you might feel helpless, especially when the holdup is not your fault. You can’t get frustrated with other people, though. Like, you just can’t.

So it turns out Paul might be a little bit of a nutjob; unsurprisingly, Paul no longer has a job.

And yet, and yet. There is so much pleasure—so much schadenfreude!—to be derived from this entire Greek tragedy, and I’m trying to wrap my head around why I’m getting off on it, along with the rest of the mob. It’s just so much fun to see a juiced-up marketing guy finally get peed on, isn’t it?

But why do we even feel that way?

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Replay: ‘Scapeghost’ (1989)


A screenshot of 'Scapeghost' in DOS

AKA Spook
Level 9 · text adventure · text parser · 1989
Platform · Amiga · Amstrad CPC · Atari 8-bit · Atari ST · C64 · DOS · ZX Spectrum
Download · DOS · Spectrum

There is only one reason I would ever deign to tell you about some boring old text adventure, and here it is: Scapeghost is awesome.

For one thing, the game is well-written—we hardly get to applaud computer games for good writing anymore!—and for another, it is authentically creepy.

A lot of the creep factor is indebted to the atmospheric artwork that accompanies each new location’s block of text. (One 1990 review calls the VGA art “photorealistic,” which, no, but all the versions really are very good.) You can’t interact with the pictures—that’s the sort of thing you’d find in Déjà Vu, a super-duper-early Macintosh point-and-click adventure game—but each backdrop goes a long way in establishing the setting’s grim moodiness.

You were Alan Chance. You were a good cop; now you’re a dead cop. You were trying to bust a dirty drug deal and now, in death, everyone assumes the worst about you. You wake up at your own funeral. You can practically taste the mist.

From the get-go, this adventure is slim on real mystery. If you already know to follow the one especially-suspicious dude, he basically confesses to your murder under his breath. God, why do murderers always talk to themselves? I ask you.

So you already know the identity of the two-timing detective who offed you. All that’s left is to vindicate your own death… FROM BEYOND THE GRAAAAAAVE.

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Happy holidays! 1986 style

Screenshot: a Christmas card from Sierra

Sierra is pleased to present this living Christmas card. It is intended to help you demonstrate the color and sound capabilities possible with today’s personal computers while promoting the Christmas spirit within your store.

As an added bonus, you may customize this program each time you run it with a message of your own. This allows you to advertise your sale items, or to wish your customers a Merry Christmas in your own words.

This program is hard disk installable and is meant to be run in the morning and left running all day.


The Kinn of Fighters: Neo Geo, FNG, and a Detroit gaming legend

After what seemed like ages The King of Fighters XIII has finally come out to consoles, bringing a gameplay style and aesthetic practically lost to the modern clump of fighting games. Gorgeous hand-drawn 2D spritework with a combat system that values smart gameplay and skill over comeback mechanisms, it is exactly what I’ve been wanting in a fighting game for a long time, and hopefully heralds SNK’s big break back into the US fighting game market. Sadly, the man who really brought me into the Neo Geo gaming fold, the man who was a die-hard fan of SNK’s games in general and the KOF series in particular, passed away a year ago, on October 16, 2010.

That man, Kinn (also known by his handle “Robotron,” or by his real name, Kim) was more than just another guy who played video games in the Metro Detroit area. He was a patriarch to the gaming scene who worked to foster a sense of community, and whose breadth of classic gaming knowledge made him nigh-unstoppable in games such as Mr. Do, Burgertime, and Zanac. An old school player through and through, Kinn grew up in the heyday of arcades in the late 70s through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. He worked in arcades, won local tournaments in games like Robotron: 2084 (leading to his handle) and generally enjoyed gaming as a pastime on par with fishing, comic books, and cheesy science fiction featuring robots. Naturally he picked up the consoles of the day as well, and even started importing Japanese games in the early 90s once catalogs became available to purchase them through.

After a grievous injury on the job, Kinn lost his left leg, limiting his chances to take part in his more active hobbies and exacerbating preexisting health problems he already had to deal with, and so he spent more of his time with games and movies at home. While he did not entirely eschew modern gaming systems and genres, from the Dreamcast era on he focused his new purchases on arcade-style shooters (shmups, STGs, whatever you want to call them), multiplayer games such as Mario Kart, classic games, and of course, fighting games. Due to this fairly small trickle of new content he was picking up –- both domestically and imported –- he was able to focus much of his new-game budget on the newest releases for his favorite console, the Neo Geo, right up until the end of the console’s run, topping off at over 60 games before he ultimately sold the whole thing. In context, these were all critical components to a weekly event he held at his house off of 8 Mile since the 90s, known as Friday Night Gaming, or FNG.

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Watch for the changes and try to keep up

Photo: Robert Downey, Jr.

Put your pants back on and take that seat over there. Good, thanks. Let’s hash some things out.

Let me start by reminding you that I’m a girl. Not only that, I’m an angry girl.

Joel Johnson, Kotaku’s fairly-recently-appointed Editorial Director, posted a little article titled “The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku.” (Evidently, Johnson has been taking a lot of flack for Kotaku’s new editorial direction[s], which is increasingly fluid and interesting.)

And I enjoyed the post on its own terms because, let’s face it, it is filed under a blog category titled “Fan Service.” So the post was very conspicuously directed at Kotaku’s “old guard”: here, of course, I mean the Internet’s loathsomely entitled commenters, who are mostly white and heterosexual, and male, who might fulfill almost every possible permutation of “ordinary” and “normal,” and who tend to shriek for the smelling salts anytime a lady or queer struggles into their line-of-sight. (This is a terrible stereotype to perpetuate, yes, yes, and Gawker’s own comments sections do a bang-up job of perpetuating it, not for any fault of its editors.) But let’s be coolheaded. When you deal with that type of readership, you have to be very caring and compassionate and patient, even when you don’t want to be, and so you assert things in a debilitatingly accessible way.

“What’s happening to my precious Kotaku?” the old guard must have screamed through the tips of its nervous little fingers, illuminated as one in the glow of the laptop’s screen.

So Johnson defended all of Kotaku’s editorial decisions, and his argument was compelling, and if you aren’t going to just look at the post I’d better do my best to recount it:

Johnson did anticipate that some readers would have difficulty reconciling Kotaku’s overt legacy of, say, cosplay galleries, with Kotaku’s now-implicit stance on genderjamming. So naturally, he combined both arguments into a single blog entry. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried. Listen boys, he might as well have said, you can screech about “what’s with the scary minorities on my video game blog all of a sudden” as much as you like, but it’s about as ‘normal’ to love tits wrapped in cosplay as it is to be ‘into’ anything else. That was his argument to these folks in a nutshell.

And Johnson posited this assertion in a way that heteronormative fellows who have never had their realities rocked might understand, and he pursued his argument to its logical conclusion, which is that we all fetishize something—like it or not, I’ve seen Dan Savage make this exact same argument in his columns about sex and love—and maybe you fetishize cars, computers, video games, politics, girls dressed up as Soul Calibur characters, chubby people, Japanese things, French things, your own sex, whips and chains, quoting Jesus when you do it, whatever. And if you’re fetishizing—as opposed to exoticizing, right—what’s ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ is kind of beside the point. You’re into what you’re into, and that is in some way neurologically hardwired.

Besides! Johnson sagely added, the site is actually called Kotaku, which riffs on the word otaku, which lends the notion that it’s, uh, cool to be into whatever you’re into. So let’s all be good people; let’s not fracture in dissent. Thanks!

Johnson posted all of this, not as an editor, but as a moderator. He explained all the sides of everything that has ever been, ever, just as well as he could. Maybe it got a little mangled in translation. Sure.

He probably posted all this and then ducked for cover, and with plenty of reason: every pocket of enthusiast readership he could have humanly offended was sure to let him know.

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Here is a really old Katamari/Shadow of the Colossus mashup

Colossal Katamari

Jeesh, how had I ever missed this? It’s called “Colossal Katamari,” and I guess Joystiq reported on it in 2006 (the year in which I continue to live, apparently). And! It’s MS Paint. MS Paint, you guys.

I feel like you can get a much better feel for it at the link, so go look. And use the little zoom buttons!


On writing for print

A painting of an eye-in-the-sky, looking over a city, by artist Jose Luis Olivares

I am about to try something really new. I’ve said that before, but this time I definitely totally mean it.

Lately, I have been getting messages from friends (Allan) about an essay of mine that appeared in Kill Screen Magazine, Issue 3: Intimacy. People, this thing was published in April. Come on.

Obviously I think you should buy the US$15 magazine, which is still available. I know a lot of people get irritated at the idea of spending that kind of money on printed media, which baffles me, but some people believe everything should be online for free. They’ve gotten used to a certain type of accessibility, and I guess that’s OK.

There are a lot of reasons you should buy the magazine, though. For one, it isn’t that old, and it’s a really good issue, and $15 isn’t that much money, and you will have this magazine forever, unless you lose it. For two, we need to support print media right now. (This is very much like a plea I meant to post back in April.) For my own part, I was already paid for my contribution to the magazine, so just buy the magazine, already. For another, we owe the person who ably and singlehandedly edited the piece, writer Chris Dahlen, because he really did do most of the work. Without a good editor, I A) would have given up, or B) would have written something much longer/shorter/worse, but probably just option A.

I wrote this essay, “All the Spaces Between Us,” very specifically for Kill Screen Magazine. It had occurred to me to pitch it to Chris one night in the car, I think in October 2010, when I was going down the highway. (This is how the magic happens, you guys.)

I realized I had some things I wanted to talk about, but if I wanted to go all the way, all-in, I’d have to write for print. That’s because the printed word affords you a freedom you don’t really get with Internet writing. Everyone can see Internet writing and then pass it around, so you have to watch what you say. Plus you don’t want to experiment with putting your whole soul on the line for strangers, and then here comes Joe Dickhead in the comments, picking it apart. Listen, Dickhead! That’s what college was for! OK!

With print, though, people have to pay for the privilege of taking your writing seriously, and because your writing isn’t very muscular anyway, a lot of people are going to flip past your essay. That’s a very freeing feeling, to know that a lot of people won’t stop to read, or else they will get exhausted and stop reading before you ever start making your Very Important Points.

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‘Love Plus’ now playable in English

Screenshot: Rest Mode in 'Love Plus'

I have, more than once, written in defense of Love Plus, a game I have never even played. (In fact, I have only played and critiqued one high school dating simulation, Brooktown High for PSP. My review appeared in Electronic Gaming Monthly in 2007; I remember feeling very conflicted, because that game was hardly The Worst.)

In early 2010, the Japanese-language dating simulation got a ton of maybe-undue coverage, mostly because the types of people we figure are playing Love Plus on their Nintendo DSes are, we imagine, Akihabara-dwelling hikikomori who have never touched a breast that isn’t made of plasticized vinyl.

In April of last year, I admittedly got a little agitated and said too, too much about Love Plus+’s “Rest Mode.” Soon after that post, someone anonymously asked me to go into more detail, so I did:

…I can’t condemn a love simulation like Love Plus+ because that game only asks the heart to do real things in artificial situations.

Much worse, I think, is behaving artificially during true situations. And that is a truly human behavior. I guess in that way, some games train us to be better than ourselves.

So if Love Plus+ really is about manipulating girls and playing romantic odds, to hell with it. But if it instead teaches painful moments of human connection, which are rare in these times, that’s awesome! Embrace it! “Personal Trainer: Heartbreak.”

The point of all this is, I’ve always wanted to play Love Plus, since God knows I’ve already stormed the Internet with all my readymade assessments of the game. No more excuses: an English-language fan translation is now available as a patch.

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On games, comics, narrativity, and time

Chris Ware

From a longwinded, boring diary entry wherein I transcribe notes on a panel/Q&A/lecture with comix author Chris Ware, dated May 9, 2010:

That is because comics use space instead of time (McCloud, Understanding Comics).

Also, speaking of space-as-time, as the eye travels from (in our English-speaking world) left to right, the eye’s spatial movement conveys the illusion of the passage of time. And after all, the passage of time itself is illusory. So what happens on the left side of a panel happens before what happens on the right side of the same panel, and the eye arrives at each spot and puts them into that spatial/time order, into sequence. Or! If a panel makes your eye jump left and right and left and right, as with speech bubbles in a dialogue, you interpret it as a fast exchange, bullets shot back and forth in almost a single moment. And! A long panel is a long moment, or maybe a long sequence of moments, and a huge panel with not too much inside of it is a perfect and lingering, cinematic Tarkovsky moment which, you know, is the exact opposite of montage. So I want them to all talk about that.

During the Q&A session, and I do not know this yet, they’ll get to it.


Here come questions about scripting a story in advance. Do you? Do you script your stories? Ray [Ray Pride, the panel’s moderator] wants to know.

This question made me think about college and about Professor Gary Saul Morson’s excellent textbook, Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time, which is important for you to read if you have any interest at all in not-linear, unscripted literature, and also especially Slavic literature, which is Professor Morson’s mode. That book is about time, chance, and narrative possibilities (McCloud’s Understanding Comics is about space, chance, and narrative possibilities, so there is your connective tissue).


Morson’s book is also pretty great if you like the idea that morality is grounded in all things being changeable. What I mean is, a lot of Doomsday Christians, right, excuse themselves from accountability because they believe we are driving toward a predetermined ending anyway. Eschatology allows for incredible human unkindness: if all that matters is the Next Life, what shit ought we give about one another in this life? And so we are preoccupied with saving one another’s souls when maybe instead we ought to pay more thought to how we are planning to feed, clothe, and shelter one another, etc etc. So if you believe in determinism, and I try so hard not to, how can you believe in living ethically also?

Anyway, “narrative freedom” is an important point to stress, because how can a story, told in seeming sequence, be full of narrative possibility, if it is true that the story is also barreling toward a predetermined end? How can that be so? Morson’s book is about that, about how the two can impossibly happen at the same time, and so is McCloud’s.

And actually, I have always dreamed of Chris Ware talking about this, because in his stories’ architectures maybe you are not always sure of which direction your eye ought to travel (or, and so, in which direction “time” and sequence ought to be moving), or in which order you ought to read, but his storytelling itself is good enough (and seemingly pre-plotted enough!) that the story works in all radiating directions, and so, in navigating the seemingly sequential narrative, you are free to wander and choose.

Here I have written in parentheses, “video games too,” and I don’t remember why.

But maybe this is an OK thought because, say, the Astro Boy game for GBA is about hopping around through “time.”

Like, OK, in any 2D platformer, time is plotted as “stages” (or “levels” or “boards”), and these are basically panels that usher you through the “timeline” of a game. And that’s interesting because if you are “stuck” on a level and can’t pass it, you’re basically locked in this stagnant moment in time and story. So Astro Boy is a pretty normal 2D platformer, and you play through levels like normal, as in any game. But when you are made to play through the narrative again, or maybe not directly play through, but “revisit” the stages, I guess—and this is happening in the game because, as Astro Boy, you have to make something right in another place and time, looking for the spots where a time-traveling villain has changed the narrative timeline to suit his own nefarious ends—you play the levels out-of-original-and-established-sequence and not-linearly, and there are all these clever little narrative changes happening in the levels as you are revisiting them.

Or, OK, I like Braid, and while I’ve long since lost my notes on Braid, that game is about time being represented spatially—like, in some stages moving left-to-right makes time move forward, and in kind, moving right-to-left makes time go backward—and you play through the levels asequentially, or you can revisit narrative sections on a whim, and so on. And that game is all about stopping time and reversing it so that you can rectify your mistakes: you have second, third, fifth, millionth chances to make things right again, not only as a gamer who made a concrete misstep, but also as a human who is incapable of loving people the way they wish you would love them. I think that’s what the story is about, anyway. Maybe it isn’t.

Or, maybe—I’m not sure why I wrote “video games too” in parentheses, remember—maybe I’m not thinking about different ways to afford a gamer his own narrative freedoms at all. Maybe I am wondering instead about what would happen if a game were not too, too well scripted before its developer actually began working on it. That could be why I prefer smaller, low-budge games to big-budge AAA games, which are terribly scripted and, also, terribly scripted.

On scripting, Ware—who pre-plots sort of, kind of, but not especially so—sez: “Scripting seems to make both the reading and the drawing of the work ‘drearily boring’”

I like that idea, too, because it’s easy to forget that, as a writer and illustrator, the not-knowing, the wide open possibility, is preferable to the mundanity of always-knowing, or always driving ahead according to preset goals.


What ‘Glitch’ can teach us about being alive

A screenshot from the free-to-play MMO 'Glitch'

Derek and I have been spending an awful lot of time in Glitch, the free-to-play MMO that launched, finally, last month. (And when I saw “an awful lot of time,” I mean it. I’ve gained noticeable weight in the last three days. I’ve practically forgotten to keep eating, breathing, pooping, et cetera.)

Gameplay is ostensibly based on, of all things, the theory of ‘infinite play’ as outlined in this ultra-slim work of philosophy. The real point of Glitch, then, is “to continue the game for continuing-the-game’s sake.” There are gods and cities and objectives, sure, but there is no win: there is only forward.

In the earliest portions of Glitch, the dreaded ‘tutorial’ phase is scuttled in lieu of a long, unslodgy process of exploration. Your “Familiar”—he’s a google-eyed rock at the top of the screen, with occasional speech bubbles blooming from his sweet, mouthless little face—will give you small, achievable quest missions, which are less ‘go fetch’ and more ‘go discover!’ Your Familiar also helps you learn different “skills,” which open doors, in turn, to other skills. (When the Familiar is “studying,” his blank visage assumes a pair of reading glasses, adorably.)

Your autodidacticism is always and invariably rewarded with a triumphant trill, maybe even a badge or trophy, but then there’s that terrible carrot—there’s always more. And here is the truth about Glitch: the tutorial never ends. Because you’re always learning. That’s the game. And this could make you feel tired, but instead, it makes you feel awake.

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Lost & Forgotten: ‘Extra Terrestrials’ for Atari 2600 rediscovered

One of the more interesting aspects of the pre-crash era of video games is the curious proliferation of fly-by-night game production houses. Since actually making a game for the retail market was comparatively inexpensive at the time—compared to the million-dollar landscape that a high-profile game can demand now—small companies like Spectravision, Apollo, and Starpath were releasing games alongside the higher-profile publishers such as Atari, Imagic, and Activision. Even companies such as Parker Brothers and 20th Century Fox were involved in the game publishing world. While the smallest companies, such as MenAvision or Commavid, produced games with incredibly small print runs before the industry crashed, game collectors and historians believed they had accounted for all of the released unique North American games by now, roughly 30 years on.

As such, the surprising news that Syd Bolton, curator of the PC Museum in Brantford, Ontario, had come into possession of a previously unknown retail release titled Extra Terrestrials, has come as quite a shock to the Atari gaming community.

Extra Terrestrials was developed by the Canadian company Skill Screen Games, and ended up being their sole creation. The company was a family business, operated by Tom, Peter, and J. Maitland Banting, and the game was manufactured by Telcom Research, a manufacturer of time code generators that Tom Banting was also the president of. The game had no official distribution channels; instead, the Bantings had to take the game door-to-door to individual retailers in early 1984. Peter Banting told Bolton that in the end only a couple hundred copies, at most, were sold to retailers in southern Ontario before the market collapsed and the entire venture ended. The game was designed and programmed by Herman Quast, though Bolton has not yet gotten in touch with him to ask for details about the game’s development.

History aside, the other major question for anyone with my gaming priorities would be: how does the game play? And what’s its point? Bolton has been painstakingly figuring the game out; the Banting family, who first donated the cart to Bolton’s PC Museum, believes the accompanying box and manual were thrown out long ago. So far, Bolton has determined that Extra Terrestrials is a two-player-only game, where one player controls an alien collecting dots, and the other player is a human trying to catch the alien. Bolton explained to the Atariage forums that there are also “invisible walls, and eating the pellets gets you points.” There are also a few different alien sprites available for the player to choose from, including one that pretty clearly rips off the title character’s sprite from the underrated Atari release E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

Bolton recorded a gameplay video and uploaded it to youtube:

Bolton has not yet been able to get the game’s ROM archived; however, he is seeking someone with the equipment in southwestern Ontario to help so that the game could be made available online. For those who are in the area, he intends on having the game playable at the upcoming PC Museum open-houses on October 15 and 22, 2011. Road trip?

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“Break out” your 2600s today: a ‘Breakout’ flashback

Screenshot: Breakout for 2600

Breakout, based on a concept by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, was designed by Steve Jobs (with pal Steve Wozniak doing all the heavy lifting, of course). The game was released in May 1976, just two months before Jobs and Wozniak unveiled their first creation as Apple Computer.

Here are some game-winning tips:


Classic television, arcade style

What might happen if all your favorite old television shows—circa 1978, say—were gussied up as Intellivision games? Motion graphics collective PUNGA has the answer!

Here’s their cheery promo ‘spot’ for a block of retro television programming, slated to air on FOX in Italy. D’awww! B.A. Baracus never looked so twee!


Daily Linksplosion: Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just as soon as I figure out how to schedule cronjobs with the new Delicious.com, we’ll be back in business. Until then…


Daily Linksplosion: Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rubens’ Tube Zelda from Brad Silcox on Vimeo.

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