An illusion of reality

As you enter Yellowstone National Park in Firewatch, you do so with wide eyes and expectations open. You do so knowing that you seek isolation. It is not a game purchased for drama, but rather an escape from traditional narrative progression. All those lessons we learnt about story in high school are abandoned. There is no conflict or resolution here, barely even a beginning. No, Firewatch is a vignette, a tale between tales, a story of pause, breath, and perhaps, a little bereavement. It is in this way that it embraces the old platitude, that it is the journey not the destination…

We take the mantle of Henry, a 40 something, apparently pragmatic and healthy man, who isn’t as much running from his past, but escaping his present, and in quite a dramatic way. I should iterate, that the past in Firewatch is a character itself. It is an organism, living and breathing, and tailored by the player. Unlike Gone Home, Henry’s past is the context for his present, and the largest determining factor for his choices going forward. And what a past he has. It does not unfold through multi-layered hints and anecdotal evidence, but rather an emotional drunken haze at the beginning of the game. It echoes the nature of memory in a fairly honest albeit cruel depiction. Hazy.

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Henry’s recollection of the past in the first 5 minutes of game play demonstrates something Hollywood never does. That memories aren’t a series of flashbacks, narratological pauses in sepia, but instead deeply fragmented landmarks in his (our) consciousness. A sort of collection of agreed upon events, which don’t flash, but resonate. And that’s how memory actually works. A thought, or pulse through our mind, rather than a re-enactment or visual display. Words float, feelings tied like knots to the most significant events in our lives. It’s poetic really, and suffice to say that I enjoyed the first 5 minutes of Firewatch more than the next 4 hours.

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It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Firewatch, I mean it’s fucking beautiful. And poignantly subtle in it’s detail. It’s almost like a love letter to nature, and the imagined landscape. No, I thoroughly enjoyed the game, I did… But well, I can’t help but feel there was a missed opportunity here?

 

What Firewatch isn’t, is exactly what it purports itself as being. The journey, not the destination. In Stanley Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut, we see how imagination can add flame to drama, and spiral even the most rational into believing the absurd. In Michael Hanake’s Hidden (2005) we realise that not all questions have answers, and simply put, we would never find resolution. Blow-Up (1966) one of the greatest movies ever made (in my father’s opinion) plays with the role of paranoia in constructing truths, and questions the legitimacy of our own truths as we create them. So no, it’s not a new idea, but popularised games are a relatively new medium, and by far more interactive. Our expectations as an audience have not been called into question by this medium as of yet, so when I started Firewatch, I figured that like most games, drama would rear it’s head in some way. And surely enough, two young girls went missing. Here it was, the great mystery, and coming heroism I craved. What a fool am I… Not for having expectations, but for not knowing how stupid my needs as a player were.

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But the game got me, got me more than I got myself. It understood my expectations for drama, heroism, detective work and the enjoyment of a puzzle, and yanked the cloth out from under me. Days flittered past, and the girls disappearance, what happened to those seemingly important plot devices, became a thing of the past. Just another floating thought for Henry’s unconscious memory. The calendar rolled on and nary a mention of those girls again. Just a sunset, and a budding romance. And it dawned on me, here is a game, not obsessed with some larger purpose, but obsessed with the present. The now, smelling the flowers if you will. There was no drama, but the drama of a moment. The slipping on a rock, or the blockage of a vine on a path. Henry’s diary entries are rather telling in this way, by escorting the player into the deeper layers of his thoughts. Innocuous, irrelevant information is massive to him. It’s very human.

A hand drawn child’s map, a 20 sided dice, a fossilised claw in a cache, a bag hanging from a tree… These things became sweet swansongs of the past. Constant reminders that Henry wasn’t the centre of the universe. People had come and gone, left there mark, but more importantly, been marked by this gorgeous environment. This story of Henry’s was a shared one. His escape, his vignette, his novella, it’s minimalism, but also grandeur of scope, was one shared by others before, and would be shared by others after.

Firewatch seemed to understand this about itself. An introspective and self-reflexive tale about the nature of reality. And to ground us in it’s reality it constantly reminded us of larger than life detective cases. Silly novel blurbs tell stories of grand exploits, serial killers, and a rogue detective. An ironic reminder that life is not that large, that Henry’s life is not the largest part of the universe which he traverses, but a small mote in a much larger scheme- and his romance with Delilah, sure it’s doomed, but it’s present, and now, and the entire world to us (and Henry) as it unfurls. It’s kind of poetic again. We are tiny and massive all at once. It’s the kind of thought you have post break up down by the ocean as you stare at the stars.

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(I won’t speak much on Delilah, most reading I have done has deconstructed her pretty well. So well in fact, I felt dirty thinking about how much I liked her.)

So where is my issue with Firewatch?

It’s in the drama! A game that made such use of digression grounds itself in a greater narrative. Which to me, felt unnecessary, tacked on, and sporadic. Like the Jackson Pollack equivalent of story writing. Slap, intrigue. Slap, danger. Slap, conflict. And big fucking slap, drama. I wanted drama, I desired drama, but as it turned out, I did not need it, and nor did Firewatch.

At some seemingly random point in the tale of Henry, some bizarre shit starts to happen. He gets knocked out. He finds a transcript of his chats with Delilah. Some weird Egon Spencer ectoplasm detector replaces his compass. And what should have been Eyes Wide Shut or Hidden, becomes Adaptation instead.

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The story takes this dramatic turn and spirals into a chaotic mountain hunt. AND hey maybe that was the idea. Maybe the novel blurbs weren’t ironic after all, but foreshadowed a new detective novel. Perhaps they paralleled the purpose of the game, and to be fair, it reads great. “Henry’s wife recently was diagnosed with dementia and she has been taken away from him. In an attempt for introspection he finds himself in Yellowstone National Park in a Fire Watching tower. But in his isolation, Henry starts to notice strange happenings. Is he mad, or will Henry find he’s not alone after all.” Fuck I’d read that blurb and think ‘that’s a cool premise’. Then throw it at my parents for their birthday. Sounds like a Jeffery Deaver great… A quick Google search of Firewatch images provides hundreds of plausible book covers.

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At first, I thought the strange occurrences were a symptom of paranoia. A greater metaphor for isolation. Like Into the Wild, things are only real if shared with another, and like Christopher McCandless, Henry realises through his loneliness that connection to others is vital to his growth. I even questioned whether or not these events were somehow attempting to conceptualise dementia.

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Like a sort of Notebook twist, we’d discover that Henry was in fact suffering from the disease, either sympathetically or literally. But no, none of this, it was all real, and the metaphor? A big farce to distract from some PTSD fucker who may or may not have killed his son. Shit I don’t even care about whether or not he did it. I wasn’t interested. All it did was undermine Henry’s journey. It turned his wife’s dementia, and that first 5 minutes into pretext to getting him into the hills so some stuff could happen to him. Which to me is bullshit, I chose a god-damn dog for fucks sake, that means something to me. Do not make me choose a dog if that dog is just bloody pretext.
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I wasn’t upset by the fire at the end. Sure it was dramatic, but it felt like a purge, a cathartic end to what was a hiatus from real life for Henry. If the game was a metaphor about disease, or respite, or whatever, the forest fire made a lot of sense. But it also, and to my disappointment was a ‘smokescreen’. The real danger, or narrative was hidden in the mountains. A trove of paranoid ramblings which confirmed Henry’s greatest fears. He was never alone, and he was always in constant peril. How neat. Glad we got to the bottom of that mystery. I was jerked around about the two missing teenage girls, but thank god I found out that the mountain truly was haunted by a creepy old Vietnam veteran. Big thumbs up.

I wanted a conclusion, until I didn’t any more. And then they gave it to me regardless. I kind of have to scratch my head and wonder why. Why not just gate off the mountain, lead me to the copter, and leave me with more questions than answers? Why answer that one question above all others? And seriously, just to add insult to injury, Delilah didn’t wait for me at the copter? That’s totally out of character. I get that the game never wanted the player to see another persons face, or ruin the illusion of Delilah… but seriously, find another way. “Nah mate, fuck ya, the mountains going up, I’m outta here,” was not the solution.

What I wanted was to think, not have thoughts linger, and then snatched at the 11th hour. I really thought I’d made it through the entire game without any resolution, and felt mocked once it was dolled out. Firewatch could have been fantastic, but to me, it will be a mediocre memory. A beautiful, stunning, emotive and deep reaching beige swirl. I just thank God that it came with a dynamic theme, otherwise that’d be 30 bucks that would have been better spent on a 6 pack while going though Google images, and enjoying the illusion of what Firewatch could have been, instead of what it became.

Maybe I missed the point. Maybe missed an opportunity. I’m willing to bet, it was the latter.

 

 

Swords before Broads…

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I have spent a lot of time in fictional worlds, and can say with some degree of confidence that I have enjoyed them in a myriad of ways. It is not always about the story for me, in fact, less and less do I even pay attention to narrative in video games… It’s a sad reality, but when a cut-scene starts I zone out. Gone are the days where I’d invite a friend over after school to show them the awesome summoning cut-scenes in FF8, or the opening track to a ‘Tales of’ series. I must’ve replayed the Ganon fight 150 times as a kid. Every time we had a sleepover, my friend’s and I couldn’t help but re do the climatic final battle.

Alas, now-a-days I can barely find the patience to sit through one piece of dialogue in the Witcher III. I am constantly lost in games because I refuse to listen to quests or narrative markers. The irony being that I spend much more time on walkthroughs and guides to get me through the simplest tasks…

One thing that contributes to my enjoyment of gaming which has never changed however is gear. Fuckloads of gear. And upgrades, and cosmetic items… Gems, enchants, runes, transmogrification. Sexy shit, gawdy shit, sleek, shiny and sharp shit. It’s an obsession. In Dark Souls I had basically one of every item fully upgraded just for an e-peen meter.

I just love showing them off. And no one fucking cares. I see my friends eyes rolling. I hear their subtle queues. “This is boring”, “we fucking hate you”, “No one fucking cares”… I can read between the lines… But I don’t care. I just love it, and want to share it with someone. To me, being good at a game comes down to hoarding. I’ve rarely ever mastered a games combat more so than my friends. I’ve never been strong in any competitive sense. But what I truly love, is accumulating more than everyone else. (this extends to just about every facet of my existence, not just games)

So what is this preface… prefacing? Well, My favourite weapons (specifically swords) from video games. Now I will say this, all weapons merit attention, not just swords. However it is a long standing tradition that designers give swords in their games the best lore, quests, animations and aesthetics. That is a rather gross over simplification of the nature of things. I mean it ignores pretty much every sci-fi or current context based games. But I mean swords have a very solid history laced with tradition through every major ancient society. Whether it’s a gladiator’s sword, a knights, a Vikings, a samurai’s. Pretty much all history has stories of powerful blades. So it’s not surprising then that they get special treatment?

So in writing my favourite weapons, it just so happened I had about 9 swords… So I thought fuck it?! And here is 10 swords for your viewing pleasure. Maybe one day I’ll do a list which omits swords, but for now…

 Before we start, to get you in the mood, here is an unsorted playlist of my some of my favourite game music. Enjoy!

10) Xenoblade Chronicles – Monado 

monado3-1280x720I hated this sword at first. I hated it’s name. I hated Shulk’s name. It so happens I still do. And the way the characters say it, with their disgusting cockney accents. “Ohhh the monaaaarrrdoh.” I cringe.

It was gawdy as fuck, round and not sharp. And red? Why red… It doesn’t actually go faster… Was it to match Shulk’s dumbass shorts? I mean it a lot of ways, I seriously hate this weapon…

 

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So why is it here? Well to me, weapons are linked to their usage and the combat system for which they are built. And when I played Xenoblade Chronicles I was taken aback. It’s like when think you’ve heard every song you’ll ever love. That all music must have been discovered by now, but instead you end up hearing something entirely new, and different, and appeals to you in entirely new ways.

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To me, that’s what Xenoblade Chronicles’ combat system did… I thought I’d played all that Jrpgs had to offer, and that none could surprise me… But here was an entirely different combat system. So much more involved, and rewarding. It was difficult at times, super easy at others, but always took my full attention. I could not just put auto attack on and wait for combat to end. And the reality is, if a Final Fantasy game offered the Heroes auto-play function. I’d probably use it.

And eventually the blade gets cooler too. Opening up with different runes or words or something. I can’t remember. But you could never change it, so you learnt to love it visually. At least, I did…

I guess what it comes down to is that I loved the combat, and the sword was intrinsically linked to the combat. I had to play as Shulk (because I want to be the protagonist) and I had to use the sword. So I had to love it, and I did.WeeklyBigIcelandgull

9) No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle – Dual Beam Katana 

no-more-heroes-20080102034605065_640w I could say nuff said – but i’ll tell you this. When some one does, it means they are using the ‘get out of jail free card’ of writing. It is never enough said. I tend to write more than I need to (this being an example) but… it is never enough to say ’nuff said’. But I could, because this entry speaks for itself. Truly.

NMH is fucking cool. That’s it. It was a cool game, that revelled like a pig in a sty in its gross nerdiness. Like how confidence gets women, confidence gets gamers. It prided itself in all its Japanese culture. It gave no shit what you thought. And that made it cool.

And the controls were great at the time, and the combat was fun and fluid. Bosses were tough and upgrades were cool. And then NMH2 comes out and offers dual wielding. Shit, it could have just been a $100 dlc and I probably still would’ve bought it. It was that cool. I’m pretty sure reviews at the time just said “dual katanas” and that was it…

It was just a rare game where you felt cooler by playing it. And that was equal parts due to Travis Touchdown and his sword / swords.

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(Forgot the mention the charging animation – just like real life recharging)

 

8) Morrowind – Crescent Blade

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This is the type of sword I might regret being in here later. I certainly like it more than the other two before it, but It just feels less deserving of the list… It’s hard making lists you know? I mean I remember it, and remember loving it, but I’m sure there are other swords that are more list worthy. This just feels like a non thing…

Anyway, what? It fucking looked rad. It broke my mind when I was 12. And this was an era where internet searching didn’t exist. A friend told me about it. And my friend had told me a lot of bullshit by this point. A talking crab with replenishing gold? Armor which gave 100% fire resist and meant vampires could walk in daylight. Pfft, this guy was full of shit… And so here was another lie… An item you stol from House Telvanni(?) which meant you faced a Daedra who wielded a badass moon shaped blade.

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I should mention too, that all Daedric shit is outstanding. Everything about them(?) it(?) is awesome. I’m sort of at a loss of words now. I wish there was more I could say. I guess in a way this was my original and first RP blade? By no means the most powerful weapon in the game, I still had a tonne of fun running around in Daedric armor, with one of the masks and this sword… Good times.

 

7) Diablo – The Grandfather

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My brother’s had a huge influence on me as I grew into myself, and one of the earliest lessons I remember learning was ‘less is more’. Bigger isn’t always better (a lesson which I learnt to be wrong later in life, heh heh heh).

If this were favourite weapons, my most covetted, and eventually owned, was the Messerschimdt’s Reaver. Which I got in Hellfire, and traded over, etc, etc… There was no quick or easy way to get these weapons. I never even got The Grandfather. And it really wasn’t the best weapon (close to though).

Uniques really had meaning in this game. I think in one playthrough of Diablo 1 you could get to exactly level 28 and on a subsequent play through, to level 31. I know this, because I did it a lot. This is prior to the shit expansion which introduced new difficulties. And you could, play the game through on all 3 original characters, and never see a unique item. Not one. (short of the lying blow jobs which were the Butchers Cleaver and Leoric’s Crown. Which make me roll my eyes just thinking about) Yeah there were a few quest uniques, but I mean random drops. And it wasn’t really random, it was pre-ordained. If said mob, would drop said item, on level 13, he would regardless of how many times you quit.

There was no farming, no guarantees. Your work really just sometimes, would never pay off. Shit, even if The Grandfather dropped, no guarantee it was on a warrior character.

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So why did I want it so bad? Why did I love it? It was a giant fuck off Katana, which was indestructible. THAT’S RIGHT, it needed no repairs! And Diablo needed a truck load of repairs. Like remember when D3 came out? And you’d farm all night, just to acquire enough gold so you could farm for gear the next night and be able to repair? (God what were they thinking with the early D3 game, it fucking sucked…) It seriously was probably the worst game ever made.

Diablo was a game where to buy good gear in town, you had to duplicate pile and pile of gold, until you’re inventory was full of the shit. Seriously, the new generation of gamers? The one’s that don’t fear adversity, and get laid for being nerds? You are not hardcore. You are not hardcore, unless you live hardcore. We played games that could only be completed with god mode. We played games where you grew excited knowing that in next months Hyper magazine, there would be a strategy guide. We had books of codes and hints. Like fucking anthologies. Know this new gen, I hate you, you are lazy, you don’t work for anything, and you benefit from all our effort, and you show NO APPRECIATION.

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Did I mention it’s also the only 1 handed great-sword in the game? Yeh, now I have.

Anyway, it was a badass sword, and it didn’t need repairs. I wanted it, still do. Kthnxbai.

 

6) Golden Sun: The Lost Age – Sol Blade / Gaia Blade

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I haven’t quite given this game the love it deserves. It deserve to be in my favourite bosses and OST’s. It truly does. And like high up there. Golden Sun made the infamous sound card of GBA sound like thousand piece orchestra. (I have no idea how many pieces in a quality orchestra, but I do know the guy in Freaks and Geeks has a 29 kit, and he rocks.) But I’m no Marty McFly.

So here is me making up for it. Golden sun was a traditional Jrpg in every sense. It took a real top down perspective on building it’s world. Taking the best from every Jrpg before. It didn’t really do anything new, just refined everything that came before. And the product was a stunning game.

The Gaia / Sol blade’s, were respectfully, the best blades in the weapons in the first and second instalment in the series. I suppose I would prefer to focus on the Sol Blade here, because I have much better memories of it, and spent a lot longer in The Lost Age, using the original game as more a precursor to the events of the second’s instalment.

The Sol Blade didn’t look phenomenal, but what it lacked in looks it made up for in effect. With a very high proc rate on its special summon ‘Meggido’ The Sol Blade became a players most powerful tool for damage. Where prior to it’s discovery, I relied heavily on Djinn for most of my damage, now I had a whole new avenue to uncover.

A whole new realm of play unfolded before me. Where I could rely on spells, and melee, subbing out Djinn combos to create new powerful classes (sorry that’s Golden Sun lingo you may not understand). And in every battle, I could reign havoc down with my new band of weapons, lead by the Sol Blade. xx.

5) Zelda Skyward Sword – Mastersword

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Link_and_the_Master_Sword_(Ocarina_of_Time)It could be said that this is the ultimate sword from any gaming franchise. I’d certainly argue that it is the most recognizable and significant in a game to date. Well, no, I wouldn’t argue, I’d just call you a moron if you disagreed and disregard all your opinions henceforth. But it’s not my favourite… and after all this is a favourites list.

The Mastersword has seen many iterations, constantly being reconceptualised for each Zelda game it enters. It has been with Link from 2d isometric, to side scroller, 3d, cell shaded and even motion control in its latest major console release. That is to say, not only has it updated graphically, but it continues to engender its platform and pioneer its generation. I am romanticising it a little bit sure, but it is seriously iconic.

As it so happens, I probably prefer the Biggoron’s Sword, or the Great Fairy’s Sword in terms of fighting style. I like being a big badass with a gnarly weapon. However, not many games have made sword and board style cool like Zelda has. And it has stuck to its guns. It was one of the original advanced combat systems in games. Fluid and tactical, Ocarina of Time really showed what combat could be like in 64bit. Some of the best parts of Ocarina, were one on two battles with skeleton warriors or those lizard guys.

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That targeting system, dodge mechanic, and special attack system has gone on to define combat in games stretching as far as Bayonetta to Dark Souls, and its all due to the fact that Nintendo HAD to integrate the Master Sword intuitively into the gameplay.

If I had to choose a favourite through the years, it would probably be the interpretation from Skyward Sword. I enjoyed watching the sword grow, and never having it superseded. Then again, the finale of Twilight Princess, and the final cut scene, really does spring to mind as an epic Master Sword moment.

4) World of Warcraft – Quel’Serrar

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Classic WoW was a different place. I could reminisce, romanticise and croon over a lost love here, but the objective truth is, it was shit. Levelling was a disaster, gear and stats were a mosh pit, and raiding was dull as all hell. Simple things, like having a level 60 mount, were almost impossible grinds. The first level 60 I saw was in the barrens. His name was Shagrath, and I immediately thought us friends through our similar music tastes. He had a Great Kodo with blazing eyes and iron riveted armour. (This statement alone demonstrates when I was playing, as great mounts did not gain armour or distinguishing detail until about a year into WoW). The early level 60 mounts are probably trhe rarest and most coveted among hardcore players.

Alas, I digress into romantic fantasy. The point is, there were these things, reverent things, and I worshipped them.

As I grew as a warrior, slowly, I leant my purpose more and more to tanking. That is, being the biggest badass in the raid. The go to guy, the bro who made sure everyone stayed alive. (A tank is only as good as his healers, if your reading this) but seriously, tanks are all that matter. I started with ZG then MC and Onyxia. And that’s where Quel’Serrar comes in. To my memory, you gained a rare drop from one of the harder, and longer dungeons named Dire Maul. A Dull and Flat Elven Blade would rarely drop and start the quest.

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In Classic, forming a group for DM was comparable to successfully courting a supermodel. It couldn’t be done. NO ONE WANTED TO GO THERE, I don’t blame them. UBRS was infinitely more rewarding and useful for Fire Resist Gear, and Scholomance and Stratholme were much closer. DM sucked.

Once you finally had farmed the blade, which I did, all you had to do now was stand in front of a fucking dragon, get bathed in fire, and live. All without a real weapon in tow.

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It was epic, it was meaningful, and it embraced the truest fact of them all. Tanks were better, cooler, and more important than 39 other people in the raids.

Quel’Serrar was ugly as shit. Massive, glowy, and green. But there was just something about it, ‘the high blade’, it being elven, and born from the world’s greatest threats flames.

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This was a time before gear customisation. If you had a helm and shoulder’s from AQ, gloves from MC, a shield from BWL and Quel’Serrar. You looked ridiculous. A big fancy joke. But no one would fuck with you.WoWScrnShot_013116_032352

Quel’Serrar in Latin roughly translates to – “It feels good to be the man”. And it really did. It so fucking did.

3) Badlurs Gate 2 and Ice Wind Dale 2 – Carsomyr ‘The Holy Avenger’ and Cera Sumat, ‘Holy Avenger’

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I touched on, but didn’t really talk about flavour text. A weapon is only good as its story, and by now you should have realised this. And a lot of time, that story is a holy crusade, or a battle against a dragon. Either way, it’s about struggling against adversity and triumphing over evil. It’s about lore, holding history in your hand, and feeling the power of the past wash over you.

Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale were like the original Dark Souls, telling more of their story through descriptions on weapons and in books rather than through dialog. The lore was laced into the gameplay. It didn’t feel forced, there weren’t long cut-scenes, or boring as fuck QTE’s. There was no following a guy down a path as he spoke about shit all… The story was buried under the surface, available at the player’s discretion. And once you looked, once you really looked, it was unavoidable and tangible. Like Justin Beiber’s vocals on his new album Purpose, Black Isle knew that good story had to take centre. Not flashy lights, glittering guitar solo’s or ephemeral vibes (whatever the fuck that means Pitchfork). Focus on what’s important, and make it right.

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I could tell you that Carsomyr dropped off the dragon Firkragg, who held a village at ransom as a ploy to toy with the Bhaal Spawn. Or that Cera Sumat was only available to Paladin’s in late game when visiting a fallen orders gravestone.

I could tell you that both were labelled the Holy Avenger, one a grand, and stunning two hander, and the other, a sleek one handed ‘heavy’ sword.

I could tell you that both stood as perhaps the most powerful weapons in their respective games, and that both took an amazing amount of tact and skill to obtain.

But I won’t. Instead, here are some excerpts from their lore:

Carsomyr: Carsomyr is a weapon of legend, perhaps one of the most powerful blades ever forged in Faerun, though it’d origin and history thought purposefully forgotten, such that the sword itself never overshade the importance of the struggles that must be fought today.

Cera Sumat: The Holy avenger is the paladin’s ultimate weapon against the forces of evil (…) and this one, perhaps more so than others. Once, it was nothing more than a simple iron sword, but through the courage and faith of one man, it became something more. The blade of this holy avenger glows with a soft golden light, inscribed upon the hilt in flowing gold letters is “Cera Sumat,” which roughly translates into “Six, now Silenced.”

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Just let that sink in, and its only scratching the surface. Every single weapon in these games were a tour de force of rich story. In these swords I found every box ticked, and they remain go to names for avatars to this day.

2) Dark Souls –Greatsword of Artorias
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It should have been noted earlier. My top 3 (4) are basically all number 1. Ranking them was a tough job, and may change on another day of the week if you caught me in a different mood. I’ve replayed all games within the last year, so I feel its right, but they are also in the order in which I played them, number 1, being the most recent.

I feel a little talked out at this point, as you can imagine, and I’m staring down the barrel of another 2 hours of editing and 2 hours of adding details like pictures.

But my sad sorry tale aside, let’s talk this sword, ever so briefly.

1GpSprMThe Greatsword of Artorias is the classic tale of a story well spun. A seeming misnomer at first, a sorta red herring, the sword served little narratological purpose. There was this big wolf, he had the sword, apparently it owned to his owner… Who cares right? Sif himself (the wolf) felt out of place, considering the way you had to reach him.

Sif was the first boss you cared about. His cut-scene introduced a protective animal, guarding a gravestone, and the fight would lead to his cowering and limping and eventual demise. Even the music pulled heartstrings differently to other bosses. Yet none of this made a lick of sense until the expansion pack, which was, for all intents and purposes, one of the best pieces of DLC of all time.

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Artorias was a great knight of Gywn, who’s exploits and heroic deeds had lead to his downfall. Fallen to corruption in the past, Artorias, the owner of Sif became one of the most difficult and memorable fights of the series.

Leaping around the coliseum which would become his grave, you can’t help but wonder how he fell so far, and like BG2 and IWD2, all this information is available upon deeper inspection. I won’t spoil the story, mostly because I forget it and cbf researching it, but also partly to maintain the mysticism of surprise.

The Greatsword of Artorias is gorgeous and comes in three forms. Cursed, restored and broken. It’s the restored that I love. Statisically the hardest hitting weapon in the game as max stats (which I doubt anyone got close to even with cheating). There was something enchanting about this blade.

The sword lead to heated online debates about which hand Artorias preferred, with the consensus now being he is left handed. The boss was also linked to an unlockable cut-scene with Sif, and eventual ally when facing Manus. I’ve said just about all I can about every type of sword, so why is this number 2, because I don’t think I’ve sold it.

 

 

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Honourable Mentions:

Okami – Eighth Wonder

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Okami had great weapons, and the glaives are no exception. However, the reason they don’t make the cut is simple. The Reflector is a much more exemplary example of weapons in Okami. If this were the top 10 weapons, Amaterasu’s Reflector would make the top 10 with no doubt, it’d just that of the divine instruments, the glaive is not the coolest.

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Final Fantasy Tactics – Judge Sword

I’d never played a tactics game when I bought Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and at first glance I hated it. I bought the game because the cover had a cool kid with a badass sword. Turns out, its one of the best games I’ve ever played. The sword however is only there for aesthetics. You never actually get to wield it. Which is cool in the sense it encourages growth in all fields, but a shame as a young boy wishing to smoosh shit with a big sword.

Bloodborne – Saw Cleaver

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Bloodbornes sawblade, which saw itself slapped across all promotion was sick. I loved it. It remains about the only weapon I used up to level 280. That was a mistake of the game to not really encourage testing other weapons, when level capping a single weapon was only doable once per play-through. Its reason for not being here is basically that I only wanted one souls series weapon, and there was no competition between the two. It didn’t have the lore, or the aesthetics, or the quest, or the fantasy of Artorias’ Greatsword. But still, awesome.

Fallout 3 – Shishkebab

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I didn’t get into Fallout 3, and there is a story here. I pottered around, bored to death by the environment and the setting in general. And then I found this sword. Super excited that the game actually had a vast array of melee weapons, I went online. Turns out this was basically the best and only sword. So quit and never played again. So there’s that. But cool sword hey.

Kingdom Hearts – Key Blade

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Don’t really like Kingdom Hearts, the combat stinks, it’s hard, and Squall’s voice actor made me cringe. But I’ll keep trying. I just thought if some big gamer guy reads this and doesn’t see an acknowledgement to the Keyblade, I’ll be shanked. Also, a key as a sword is kinda dumb.

1) Final Fantasy VIII – Gunblade

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The Gunblade is and has been for as long as I have cared, been my favourite weapon. I recently read a post about the most ridiculous weapons in video games, and it was pretty high up there. To that guy, I say a big fuck you, with two middle fingers up. You know what I think? I think you have fucking low self esteem and sexual inadequacies. Either your mother loved you too much so that so no women would ever be good enough, or something happened in catholic school. Basically, you hate yourself, and your gender, and your penis. Cause the Gunblade is fucking awesome, and it is an extension of the player behind it. I pity you, for you, have no joy in your life.

My joy is very simple. Mixing guns and swords into the coolest implement ever dreamed by man. The Gunblade is the weapon of choice of many SEED students of the Gardens of the World. A purely offensive weapon wielded with two hands to create a balance and free movement for magic usage. Whilst utilized by many, the swords most unique and prominent forms are held in the hands of the protagonist Squall and his rival, and perhaps chief antagonist Siefer.

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Their swords operate to (to repeat a phrase) extend their personalities. They are ying and yang to one another, complementing both in form and character. Squall’s looks and holds like a revolver, the lone gunman. An outlaw, and ronin rapped into one, he carries his blade with the respect of a samuairi. Whereas Seifer’s blade is carried with ego and challance, propped on his shoulder, his left arm extended to a come hither. A cavalier knight, marked with crosses and an arrogant attitude.

The idea of the blade isn’t what you’d think, and maybe I shouldn’t say either. The illusion is cooler than the reality. The reality of the fiction of the game that is. Anyway, it’s not that the gun fires bullets, no that wouldn’t make sense you see. The blade actually explodes with gunpowder, and vibrates, increasing it’s damage capabilities. So yeah, that’s dumb, but put that aside for a second and you have a very inspired idea.

It should be mentioned that Squall’s sword updates a number of times at the players discretion. Some of its upgrades are cool, others, especially the most powerful, the ‘Lionheart’, are ugly (which is a shame because of the namesake, and the significance of it in the narrative.) With these upgrades come new limit breaks, which effectively become your main source of damage, and awesome visuals. But it’s the original Gunblade which remains the most memorable and widely recognized.

Final Fantasy VII’s Gunblade had it all. Power, looks, story, character and originality. Above all else, it had a lot of heart. It made Squall infinitely more likable and identifiable. For some reason, it gave an almost hollow character a whole other dimension and depth. The way Squall was, and the way he was meant to be was foreshadowed by his blade. Like an outward projection of the man he would one day become.

Take an hour from your life and see the story of FF8 in all its glory condensed. It’s magic.

 

 

Until Next time. Remember the Alamo!

 

 

In the words of Hilltop Hoods

I once had time on my hands and now I’m handling time. I will post something of more significance, or at least that I can be proud of this weekend. I have been a little busy because of work, which always throws me right off my game. I’d like to write about comics again soon, or perhaps expansion packs or television shows. But I think there is a more pressing topic. We will see. I apologize for the current state of sorry affairs.

The Employers and the Denizens they control.

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I’ve spent a good portion of my life raiding. Been at the end tier of accomplishments in World of Warcraft a few times. Primarily during Cataclysm. I’ve played the game since Classic, yet I can’t remember my guild’s first attempts at Ragnaros. I think I have a faint memory of Hakkar… The Burning Crusade comes into focus a little bit more, I was leading a semi-successful Australian guild on an American server. I remember Prince Malchazan, and Gruul. The “clear vent(s),” “stay calm(s)” and of course “Don’t loot the gold(s)…” But with every passing year, the excitement started to wane, the faint recollections of cheers over Ventrilo became meandering musings of the past. With every success came the realization of eventual farming and progression. I didn’t feel I’d achieved anything if Nightbane didn’t drop his boots… I mean Warmaster Blackhorn with 20 weeks of heroic kills, and 21 of normal never did drop his shield… Well no, he did the one time I did Dragon Soul on my Mage. And it was disenchanted… I was disenchanted… I didn’t care about the boss, nor did I feel any particular imperative to kill him. No drive, no compulsion. His move set didn’t particularly ‘mean’ anything, you know… on a deeper level? What was he other than a Tauren with blue armor and a drake? For some reason hes more powerful than giant old gods, because he can what, throw fire on a Zeppelin. I fear I’m getting off topic…

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What makes a boss good… Simple phrasing, tough question. Some bosses are challenging beyond words, frustrating and incredibly rewarding. Some are much easier but incredible in their emotive prowess, participating in a greater narrative. Some bosses engage us on a technical level, testing our understanding of the mechanics of the game. Whilst others, are just formidable, imaginative, and entirely new in their conception… I don’t know if there is a common thread among these criteria, and perhaps I’m missing some concepts that define a great boss battle, though I think that any good boss, is cathartic, for one reason or another. It can sometimes be the challenge, or the antagonistic aspect of a particular character. Whatever the case, some sort of emotional response has to be triggered… So that’s why I’m going to briefly do a top 10 boss battles. I do so much love my top 10’s!

I should note, that not all games have bosses, and I don’t criticise that. As much as a boss can be incredible, they can also cheapen and detract from the gaming experience. Dues Ex: Human Re-Evolution comes to mind. Where the bosses feel clunky and almost inserted posthumously. That’s the wrong word, but I’ll let it fly, because I believe, if what I’m told is correct, Dues Ex: Human Re-Evolution‘s Bosses were created by a different company and inserted after the fact. I might even argue that The Last of Us’s finale is cheapened by the convenience of an arbitrary antagonist. I wouldn’t, because the game rocked. But not all games need bosses…

Let’s get started…

10) Bad Girl – No More Heroes 

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I love No More Heroes. Its cheap and easy fun. It doesn’t ask anything of a player, and doesn’t mistake itself for anything for what it is. Through the years, Suda51 have replicated it time and time again, with Chainsaw Lollipop being its most successful title. But, to me, it seems that upon each recreation the endearing charm became less apparent. No More Heroes was new, and really tried to integrate the Wii Mote more than most other games had. There is something to respect about a company working on the Wii rather than doing the cross platform shit on Xbox and PS. The combat was completely impressive for this reason, I found that I wanted to be good at the game, because being good looked cooler when I showed off to my friends. That said the game only really tested you on boss battles, with all other combat being just a combination of long chains and big finishers.

No More Heroes is really just a series of mini games and punchlines that fill in the gaps between boss battles. I’m not selling it huh. The bosses however (particularly the less gimmicky ones) are tough, and very very punishing. Shinobu springs to mind. All of a sudden, you’ll wish you hadn’t skipped all those tutorials on dodging, blocking, stunning, wrestling moves.

Bad Girl comes much later in the game (which is still pretty early when you take into consideration the shortness of the game) and assuming you have beaten every boss up until her, she won’t drive you to throwing the controller away (made impossible as you are using the Wii’s wrist strap right? Like a responsible gamer?) I’ll admit, I still sucked right up until Bad Girl, finding myself using charge attack pot shots rather than tactically attempt to dismantle her. I did try a few times but lost my nerve.

When you enter the boss battle, Bad Girl is seen from behind, lining up her bat for the oncoming strike. A conveyor belt brings a sorry young man, in a BDSM style mask down the pitch, straight to her, and with a fierce swing, she decapitates him. I assume so anyway, I don’t believe the game shows that amount of detail. When she turns, you’ll realise, she’s a babe, like a mega babe. Complete in Sweet Lolita Fashion, a pink frilly dress and thigh highs. She’s also a Psychopath. Most of her attacks are devastating, and you’ll no doubt by this stage have realised your health is but a fraction of the boss you’re battling.

What Makes Bad Girl awesome is her psychotic behaviour, unpredictability, and perfectly rounded characterisation in the few minutes you deal with her. I can’t be the only guy that fell for her crying trick right? On intervals she will fall to her knees, crying for mercy, you gotta approach her, if only to deliver the killing blow… You want to kill her because she’s a complete bitch, but she’s also a babe, and without entirely knowing why, within the fiction of the universe, this means something significant. You’re Travis Touchdown, babes are kinda you’re thing.

 

Upon her defeat, she mercilessly beats you until she finally runs out of steam. And then, you get the victory screen and music. The perfect reward for a brutal, challenging and fun battle.

9) Great Commander – Star Wing 

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When I was a kid, I hated Star Wing. I believed it could be finished, but I couldn’t finish it. I could barely get past the second boss on the easiest mode. For this I hated the graphics, I hated the characters, I hated the music… Skip forward about 10 years, I pick it up again on a whim, and realise, as a kid, I was a fucking moron.

I’d probably choose the Atomic Base boss if the actual battle wasn’t just tedious, but the moment you approach the battle station as it were, you’ll realise why kid me was a moron. It’s epic. And epicness is a big reason I chose the Great Commander. In my opinion, more than any other boss in the game, he is entirely unique. It’s like a giant space cowboy duel, and you are the underdog. You are taking on a galactic battle cruiser for gosh sakes. The reason this fight is so enjoyable is because it’s really the only time in the game where you are given at least the illusion that there isn’t one linear path. As the Goliath ship does sweeps at your tiny ship, it fires a series of bombs and flies underneath you, forcing for you to turn and face him, realising that he is again, a huge distance away.

For the first time in the game, time and space become a reality. You feel as if the universe is this great big thing, and you are travelling through it at enormous speeds. Until this point, its hard to gain perspective on how big the worlds are and how fast you’re moving. The fight itself isn’t very hard, a little tricky because of the angles, and there are a number of difficult bosses, thought none of which to me summed up the game as well as this one did. It took me years to get to this boss, and when I did, and when that boss warning message sounded began, and when the build up music lead into an anxious drum roll, I got worried. He started so small, just a small craft with a few lasers. Then a second piece flew out, somewhat bigger, and I figured I’d just have to shoot the small piece as I dodged the big piece. Then finally a third comes spiralling up, and joins the fray. When they all connect you are given a real Imperial Star Destroyer feel. You become tiny, and it becomes huge, how can you possibly win?

Once you get past the clunky graphics, and begin to understand the worlds as being real, adding windows in your mind to the buildings, and detail to the ships, the game becomes much more enjoyable.  And to add to the mystique, Starwing 2 is an entirely finished game (I think) that never got realised but has been datamined and is playable. I havent yet, but videos make it look incredible.

8) The Butcher – Diablo

The Butcher is stuff of nightmares. Stationed in the second level of the Labyrinth. Before I played Diablo, I played the demo from a PC Powerplay magazine, it was just what we did back then. In a lot of ways The Butcher was a lie. A single boss with a completely unique weapon. In fact, the reward from the quest is the The Butchers Cleaver, which on the ground has a unique texture. A very powerful weapon, (if you’re a warrior.) Diablo is a game that I played many more hours that it could possibly warrant. But the atmosphere, the loot grind, the need to fill every corner of every map was real.

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The Butcher was brutally difficult (unless you were a rogue). I can still remember watching him slashing at my corpse for minutes after he’d killed me. Eventually I just used the mechanics of the game against him, locking him outside of a gated room and shooting him through the wall… As a boss, he epitomizes everything that made Diablo a superior game to it’s followers. In particular Diablo 3, which I realise gets a lot of grief, and I hate to factor into it, but their is something indescribable about its failure to entertain me. The Butcher scared me, in a simple primal way. He was big, fast, and shocking. Inside his lair, upon discovery, were dozens of mutilated corpses. It was very graphic in it’s content, especially for it’s day. Stripped naked, man and woman alike had become victim to his insatiable lust for death. He’s the stuff for Fan fiction. It’s a shame they brought him back in Diablo 3. He was fun sure, big, fierce, and a nice tip of the hat for the players. But he wasn’t significant.

The Butcher stood at the doorway to Diablo, being the first challenge a player will face. He is also the first unique item, and the first reward. It’s difficult for me to say why I love The Butcher so much, all I can remember is that at the time, I couldn’t stop telling all my friends about him. To this day I find myself saying, “ahhh fresh meat!” and not soon after hearing his death cry.

 

7) Ovis Cantus – The World Ends With You

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Two screens, one controlled with the D-Pad, the other with the stylus, and you, contorting your hands into a strange claw shape. I had welts at the base of my thumb for weeks after TWEWY. It wasn’t as bad as Metroid Prime Hunters, but there was much pain had. Unlike Hunters, this was the most rewarding game I had ever played. Square Enix at the helm of a modern JRPG based in Shibuya, whilst totally regarding its context as part of the game. Shopping, clothes, music, and food, were all integral parts of both the gameplay and the story. It even created a faux phenomenon called pins which were used in a kind of Bey Blades mini game called Tin Pin Slammer. These pins served a much greater purpose however, like Pokemon, they were many, all with unique powers and effects that were displayed on the bottom screen of the DS. They could require, slashing, yelling, blowing, scratching, circling, holding, tapping, and probably heaps I’ve forgotten. Some badges worked better together (as they were all of different fashion labels) others didn’t work at all without a full set. They were awesome.

All the whilst on the top screen, your partner was controlled in a rhythmic, Guitar Hero style d pad challenge. Following arrows, matching pairs, and something to do with numbers, would achieve huge Gaurdian Force summon style effects that did huge damage and took over both screens. Like most games however, you aren’t really challenged until the first boss. In this case Ovis Cantus. (Singing Sheep) A giant Ram dude who had some affinity with cooking.

Ovis Cantus is nowhere near the coolest boss in the game, but he certainly was the first time I realised what the game could do. That it had no limits. I couldn’t wish for anything more. On the bottom screen, Neku our protagonist is dodging a set of script telegraphed attacks. He faces the beast in its prime, massive and daunting in the background. It’s raining hard, and lightning flashes. On the top screen, Shiki is against his ill proportionately huge head. Between controlling two characters, watching for two health bars, and attempting to deliver damage and stay safe, you still find enough time to be in awe of the perfect visuals and great music.

Ovis Cantus is the first time TWEWY delivers, and it delivers in bucket loads. Immediately after his defeat Shiki is taken away, Neku is reset to the first day of the week, and as a player you will think, “What the actual fuck…” Unforgettable.

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6) Mewtwo – Pokemon Red / Blue

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I’d like to write nuff said and be done with it, but I really can’t. I’ll try keep it a bit briefer though, for you, the readers, benefit. Mewtwo really isn’t one of my favourite bosses, in fact I could care less about Mewtwo. No, its more what Mewtwo stands for that I care about. In my first play through of Pokemon Blue, I used my master ball on the first legendary bird I came across, which in this case was Zapdos. In my defence I was like 9 and didn’t know what was going on. I’d walked into a room and saw what appeared to be Pidgey in the middle of it. So I clicked on it, without hesitation, only to be drawn into a battle with a Pokemon that was level 50 (If memory serves). I was confused, dazed and bewildered, frankly a little intimidated. I’d gotten to the end of this mighty dungeon and hadn’t saved in a while. I was concerned I’d lose my opportunity at this rarity and I threw my mystical ball.

When I finally had caught all the birds, Zapdos had quickly became my favourite, and now my all-time favourite Pokemon. Then I found Mewtwo, this ugly ape like alien, and I just didn’t care (he was hideous in the original games.) Though as legendries go, he’s the go to guy for legendary battles. Right up until the Black and White Gen, I never once looked at the pokedex’s or walkthroughs before playing. I had no idea who the legendries would be. Rayquaza being another of my favourite Pokemon, is probably my ‘real’ Mewtwo, and Ruby and Sapphire are my favourite Gen.

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All that said, not much compares to a Pokemasters first encounter with the mighty level 70 legendary. Nothing compares to legendary hunting. Or knowing you’re in a cave that later in the game will reveal some all mighty Pokemon. (I personally feel it’s a shame that Acerus never made it to gaming content, and instead was just a level 100 download at your local EB.)

If you need more evidence, listen to the Mewtwo battle music (Which got remixed for the Gen X,Y much to my glee)

5) Jon Irenicus – Baldurs Gate 2

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When I was about 11 through to 14, I pretty much exclusively played Diablo 2. Baldurs Gate 2 had been floating around for some time, but I didn’t like the graphics, or the armour system (the better the armour the lower its score, to this day that doesn’t make sense to me.) Eventually something compelled me to try it though, perhaps it was hours of watching my older brother play, or maybe I just saw an enemy that took my fancy. Whatever the case my brother does play a rather big part in my love for Baldurs Gate 2, and more extensively, Icewind Dale, Pool of Radiance, Neverwinter Nights, Planescape Torment and The Temple of Elemental Evil. In a lot of ways, DnD is the most ubiquitous fantasy realm ever created. It is a shame that it belongs so fully still to such a small populace in comparison to LOTR, Harry Potter of GoT’s universes. There is so much to love about these games, as they cover perennial themes that prevail in our modern life, have a timeless setting and graphics, and they created an everlasting foothold in both turn based and real time action based combat.

Jon Irenicus is representative of the divide between action RPGs and RPGs. His motivations, his needs and desires are fleshed out in an orderly and timely fashion. He wants power, specifically the protagonist’s power. He wants revenge on the Elven peoples. And eventually, you realise, he wants love, of a past relationship. He has become a twisted mess through heartbreak. He isn’t Ganon, seeking to rule the world (I assume?) or an ancient evil hell bent on world destruction. He is just one, super powerful man, with an arsenal of abilities, not without a persuasive tongue, and an army at his disposal. He is ultimately human, his motivations are human. They are understandable, and if it weren’t for his relentlessness you’d almost wish it were different circumstances. He’s ultimately, more fleshed out than many of the NPCs you can use to battle him. You understand his goals, and the events which led him there.

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The battle itself, can be quite difficult, he himself isn’t all that powerful, but as such an advanced sorcerer he can cast in quick successive blasts, many potent magic’s. Though within the fiction of the universe this makes sense. Whereas one might question the presence of a giant bone demon, or a huge spider, conveniently placed at the end of a temple, begging many questions about tactics and strategy; Irenicus is unquestionable. I’d imagine with time and the means, any man could ascend to his level of power.

Ultimately, it’s his humanity that both leads to his downfall and creates such a breathtaking and overwhelming boss.

4) Yami – Okami

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I mentioned once before how much of a sucker I am for wolves, it’s why I love Twilight Princess, a major aspect of Dark Souls, and TWEWY. Basically, put a dog in your games, and you got me hooked. Well Okami is an entire game based around a sun god wolf with mystical powers that work like items in Zelda. It’s an incredible play, not for the bosses though. Most of them are really easy, nuke slash rushes with a few elements of strategy. At times they are so open to different tactics that because everything works so equally well, they become 30-45 seconds of attacking and guess work. They do mostly look awesome, and all play on this motif of a ‘set of tendrils spreading across the sun’, and you’ll be always be of the opinion that the boss you’re on is in fact the final boss. Alas, it’s normally not. But I love Yami.

Yami is the final boss, translated from a Japanese word for darkness I believe, so suitably, it is the major antagonist for Amaterasu (heaven’s illumination.) Yami isn’t a particularly challenging boss, nor is it a very imaginative looking boss. It isn’t even very interesting in terms of narratology, but to be fair, nor is Ganon really. Just because something reoccurs, doesn’t mean its great.

The reason I love Yami is two-fold. Lucky for you as a reader. The first, is the all-encompassing joy and relief a player feels when Amaterasu is returned to not just her former glory, but a new unbridled level of power that you had not yet witnessed. Just as you faced defeat, the people of Nippon raise their hands up and pray for the sun to return, prompted by Issun, you’re compadre who’d seemingly betrayed you hours earlier. As they pray, the music goes from that expected dramatic music of a boss battle, to the stuff of dreams and heroism. You’ve battled doggedly (pun intended) and are rewarded with the boon of gods, and you become all powerful, if only briefly, it’s very emotional, and very rewarding. What you infer by the shift in music is you are unstoppable, and that is truly the case, Yami doesn’t have a hope.

The other reason I love Yami is much simpler. The fight can be very tedious, unlocking all you’re powers again (imagine having to pick up all of Links items mid boss fight and watch the cutscene where he turns and faces the camera, over and over…) But the fight also has some very interesting mechanics. Depending on how you battle Yami, some interesting mechanics can become prevalent. Climbing on its body as steps being my favourite. Before then, in adventure games (noted this is way before God of War or Bayonetta) bosses were static, and sure sometimes you’d climb on them, but it always felt scripted. In this case, Yami was new to me, unexpected, and very fun in the way I could interact with it.

3) Ornstein and Smough – Dark Souls

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It’d be a mistake to trump Dark Souls (and the other DS games) to a series of epic boss battles. The entire experience of a Dark Souls game is unlike any other. Knowledge truly becomes your best friend. I bought Dark Souls, hearing that I’d have to “prepare to die”. I figured, that no game could kill me, let alone break me. Within about 2 minutes I was dead. Run away the game suggests to me, but I refused. I ended up looking up a walk through, re-rolling black fire bombs, and killing the first boss. It wasn’t until recently I found out that you could drop on his head eliminating half his HP in one go. That’s actually bizarre, as I played the game through about 14 times, and levelled legitimately (without PvP bullshit) to like 300. Took about 150 hours. I pretty much mastered the PvE in DS1, and I understand a lot of you don’t give a shit, but sometimes it’s about personal victories.

So, that withstanding, eventually I got to a boss called the Capra Demon. You may not know, but DS games do not explain fuck all (it stands a testament to the games hold on me that suddenly my language has declined, it still makes me angry). I didn’t know if there was a level cap, nor did I know really what the stats did. Str here, Int there, maybe some End too… Most of my big stat allocation history came from DnD games, where all stats mattered for a well-rounded protagonist. I got to Capra, and died, like a lot… (One thing I love about DS is hearing what boss got different people, some I one shot, were others bane’s, which is really cool.) So here I am dying, with nowhere else to go. Turns out there were a few places could go, but eventually all roads lead to Capra. After 50 quick deaths, thrown pads, hitting myself (hard [I get really angry {I have issues}]) I go to the dreaded IGN forums. Apparently you can run up a side stair case, and there’s a drake sword if you have a bow (I didn’t.) Stair case didn’t work another 50 times, I quit the game for a week. Re rolled a new character, got the drake sword and demolished him. After that the game didn’t hold me up again, few deaths sure, but I’d mastered the art of dodging, and realised blocking is massively important. I no longer had some two one handed set up, or a two handed mace, the game made sense.

But we aren’t here for Capra. Ornstein and Smough are my pick, and most. I think it’s for a lot of reasons they are so popular among fans. They look awesome, they are super powerful and brutal, they come at the end of a very difficult zone and they are human. Not a big fuck off dragon, just humans with a lot of power. Something I really love. Fighting dragons, and Gods and such is all well and good, but fighting a really cool, regular shmuck, who is just over powered is always my pick.

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What makes Ornstein and Smough great is that there are two of them, both charging at you, and at first most people go ultra-defensive. Manoeuvring around strategically to learn the tactics. You’ve learnt well, having survived the tricks and traps of Sen’s Fortress. Eventually, you’ll probably fall, but not without doing some damage, and you’ll acknowledge “hey I can do this…” Let’s say by the fourth attempt of whittling them both down Smough drops, and you think, one left, 5 estus, easy, and of course a wrench in thrown into the works. Ornstein devours Smough’s power, heals to full health and gains a new set of abilities. Let’s not lie, you kind’ve knew it was going to happen just wished it wouldn’t.

So after 2-3 hours of attempts you win, not sure if that marks the end of the game, good news is it didn’t, bad news was, it marked you’re battles against the four great lord bosses. Anyway, just a mighty fine victory, kept just out of grasp, like keys under the car. Different to those gargantuan beasts that O.K.O a player in that you finally felt armed to deal with a challenge, both physically and mentally.

2) Twinrova – Zelda Ocarina of Time

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We are getting to the point in the list where you wonder why Ganon hasn’t appeared, and now I’m at Zelda and I choose Twinrova??? I’m not insane, I’m just different (perfect in my mother’s eyes). I don’t much care for Ganon, except in Twilight Princess, and that’s mainly due to his epic death. In most games he feels like an afterthought, the cumulation of all your endeavours lumped into one enemy. He doesn’t require really any strategy, and his towering rampart of a dungeon is usually pretty lack luster, all of which is especially true of OoT. I did love killing him in OoT, but in retrospect it wasn’t the most engaging enjoyable boss battle.

Twinrova was at least my first boss who forced me to use its powers as a weapon. The whole fire vs ice thing? forgetaboutit, that shit is awesome. It’s expected in Zelda now, and in most adventure games. But at that point, it was entirely original. Link had been armed with the mirror shield, and not knowing quite the specifics of how to use it on the boss you begin to reflect beams of either ice or fire to shoot back at the pair of evil witches who have plagued you’re journey thus far. After defeating their first form, the pair become a very buxom mixture of fire and ice. The sound effects are sweet, they are mad, they are gnarly… They are the best of the 90s. The witches themselves are some of the funniest npcs in the game, and watching them merge is very satisfying.

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The music rocks, the Spirit tTmple on the whole is great. Did you use Epona to jump the bridge into Gerudo Valley? Did you practice stealth arrow shots to escape the prison? Did you do their trial for the ice arrows which are awesome? The spirit temple is the only temple that asks for both young and old Link, it rewards two awesome items, and had these mini boss armoured dudes that click to summon giant battle axes. All in all, my favourite times in the Zelda universe were had in this dungeon and on this boss.

1) Mother Brain – Super Metroid

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If I was to write a list of the best bosses of all time it would be very different. But as it stands this is my list, and it was always going to finish here. Mother Brain is never far from my thoughts. Now Prime, and Fusion both have great bosses too. Fusion has ‘Dark’ Samus who has made the game nightmarishly (nightmare is also awesome) tense at times, and Prime has an epic Ridley battle, but my heart lies with Mother Brain.

Much alike Okami, this is mainly due to the rewarding experience of becoming the hero Samus so deserves to be. What starts as a lame plat forming environmental battles becomes a towering T-Rex of unfathomable power. The fight itself is impossible without aid, Samus is doomed to lose against the force of Mother Brain’s Rainbow cannon. Which, granted you lost too much health can kill you. I learnt this as a child after getting the boss to the point where it breaks out its Rainbow Beam. I cried as a child, because I thought it was impossible.  My dad and older brother were in the room, thought I doubt they remember the tears.

Mother Brain will decimate your power, and diminish your attempts, its inevitable. Samus falls to her knees, and as much as you try to regain control she struggles to move. You can try and dodge the Rainbow Beam, but it will catch you, and slam poor Samus into the wall. It’s brutal in its simplicity. You’re thrown like a ragdoll. And just as you give up, Samus is on such low health she can’t possibly survive and Mother Brain charges up for the final blast, something beautiful happens. The massive Metroid who had once tried to kill you, recognizes Samus as its mother and comes to your aid. Sucking the life out of Mother Brain. The noises that ensued just previously are such an assault, you think Mother Brain is surely done for. The Metroid at this stage could kill you, but instead begins to restore you. Much to your dismay, the all-powerful Mother Brain begins to breathe, and attack the Metroid, which has chosen to defend you over killing its enemy. The end result, its ultimate sacrifice for Samus’ life, imbuing Samus with some sweet ass rainbow beams of her own. It’s complicated okay, just watch the fight!

The sound effects of Mother Brains bomb Blasts and piercing screeches, the change of music from ultimate boss style to heroic, it all collects into an epic experience, complete with a self destruct sequence.

Conlclusion:

So there you have it, another list complete. In conclusion I’m quite happy with the results. I am saddened that Bowser and Final Fantasy didn’t make my list. Mario Galaxy 1/2 Bowser really deserve a spot, but mainly were omitted due to their repetition and ease. They are amazing though, being beautiful fights, and the whole planet, spherical thing is sweet. Final Fantasy VIII is my favourite of the series, and really, after Idea, the boss battles didn’t inspire much feeling. Sure they are challenging in that JRPG take your party to 1 HP sorta way, but the game always was about the characters. Perhaps one day I’ll do a top 10 protagonists. That’d be a very different list in regards to Amaterasu and Link etc… Props go out to King K. Rool and Grunty also.

Isair and Madae (IWD2) get an honourable mention for their honourable intentions but poor execution. And Seifer (FFVIII) for his undying devotion as a Sorceress Knight despite realising his own wrongful doings. It’s an endearing quality when someone battles on despite knowing they are wrong and they have lost.

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I still don’t quite know what makes a great boss, It’s entirely subjective, thought I tire of those lists which are basically, Dr Robotnik, Bowser, Ganon, Ridley, and so on. If there is one thing I realised, being well known does not make you great. So I’d love to hear back from some peeps, holla at me some time my 1-2 readers.

 

P.S. Shadow of the Colossus didn’t make my list strictly because I couldn’t decide if there are great bosses in that game, or no bosses at all. The boss battles really are more like big living dungeons, designed to test your problem solving skills. Amazing game though, by a different criteria, I’d imagine it would make most people’s lists.

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Me no write, me make fire.

So after literally about 2 hours of labour, I was able to import the video from my phone onto the computer. GREAT NEWS if my free WordPress account allowed me to encode video… I used a website http://www.benettonplay.com to create a flipbook. I’ve made a few in my life, they are a lot of fun and a total time sink. I’ve created capra demon, dragon ball z, and love letter themed flip books, so this is not my first. However I lost heart half way through. Interesting tid bit, the upload and save feature on the website has never worked for me resulting in me losing the first two flipbooks I ever created… So Now, I film them on my phone, and send them to my intended audience. However that is rather difficult considering the internet is now my intended audience…

So, Now after about 3 hours trying to create a flipbook which denotes the process that an amateur writer goes through to maintain interest, and 2 hours trying to find a simple way for you to see it, I find myself thinking FUCK THE WORLD… I should just upload it to youtube hey… I cant encode it, I cant turn it into a gif, I should just ooootuuuube it… So I shall.

Okay so its uploading apparently. On my fathers youtube account. I think its hilarious how anti tech I am, and yet here I am blogging. Even in the flipbook I drew the monitor of the computer sat on the computer tower like an IBM… It’s hard to escape our perceptions hey… ‘

While I wait imma listen to Deafheaven – Sunbather and attempt to link the lyrics to the songs. As much as I love the album I’m at a loss as to how the lyricist believes he’s annunciating ‘Manhattan,’ it’s almost as if he personally wrote the lyrics for lyricsondemand.com or what ever shit site I’m using.

Trying to think of what I should blog about next. My favourite spin off games? My favourite boss battles, perhaps the relationship between horror, the 90’s and Australia? Horror and France? Gone Home and the haunted house? Perhaps My favourite super hero comics… or more acutely my favourite comic book moments from Marvel and DC… Maybe the best episdoes from any tv show ever, or the best tv shows of the 90’s… I’m basically at this point jsut organizing my thoughts…

Heres the shtick… While I upload this totally important, imperative, pivotal, significant video… I’m going to go watch Buffy. Someone once said that Buffy is the most accurate social commentary on teenage-hood that has ever been conceived… I tend to agree. Maybe I;lkl do a top 10 best Buffy commentaries?…

Seeya Soon.

Robgordonian Listing to coin a term

I couldn’t sleep, so I came here. That’s not entirely true though, I was somewhat sleeping, lapsing in and out of 20 minute cycles when eventually my dog licked my face and stuck her head between my bed and the bookcase adjacent. Her way of saying she can hear thunder. It’s worth mentioning that the idea of waking for a crying baby terrifies me, but being needed by my dog at 1am??? I’ll cherish that every time. So here I am, and since no one thing has inspired me today to write, in the same strain as yesterday I’m going to do a top 10 of my favourite Indie comics from my last 12 months of reading… This will be a count down of sorts, 5 today, 5 as soon as I can be bothered.

I should preface this by saying that Vertigo and Icon aren’t really independent comic companies as they are owned by Marvel and DC. That said, they don’t fit into the universes that respectfully, the big companies have created. So this won’t be indie by everyone’s definition, but it’s late, and  despite doing so, I really don’t need to explain myself to all 3 of my readers…

10) SEX – Joe Casey & Piotr Kowalski – Image

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SEX exists to explore the unasked question pertaining to the relationship that exists between vigilantism and eroticism. It’s not unfair to ask me now, what relationship? Well how does one spend his entire life jumping from roof to roof, disobeying laws, picking gang brawls and having fleeting sexual rendezvous’ entirely behind the guise of a cowl? Now the word cowl is almost synonymous with Batman, but so is SEX’s allusive world. Simon Cooke is a retired super hero, attempting for the first time ever to actually run his multi million dollar corporation rather than sit behind a panel of C.E.O.’s. He has returned to Saturn City after an unspecified hiatus from his dangerous life style, his disguise still in tact. He realises upon his return that despite his efforts, Saturn City has not changed for the better, if anything, it has become more sordid. Rather than fight the disease in his city, Cooke fights his own impulse to cloak himself in the night and fight crime. SEX takes Bruce Wayne and Batman as a trope,  with complete his own Selina Kyle (namely Annabelle Lagravenese). His life as a super hero has taken its toll on his ability to socialise and form relationships.

Cooke towed a very thin life in his youth, a line we see often crossed by young NRL players… How can we expect young men to, for money, show acts of huge aggression, and then turn off the bravado off the field. Wayne and Cooke alike are highly intelligent, that’d be one tool to combat boredom. But similarly, Cooke put himself in the cross-hairs supposedly for the benefit of the city, but as we know from many Batman comics, it’s much more complicated than that. SEX, very blatantly asks us, what is the relationship between Sex and and the Age of Heroes? How would heroes having survived a bomb blast celebrate? Would villains use rape as a tool for their own betterment?

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The writing of SEX isn’t perfect, and where ever sex is you can expect a certain appeal to shock value, which can be distracting, and hollow. The art is beautiful, creating a neon wonderland of Saturn City. Rather than the morbid repulsion of Gotham, Saturn is a city of dreams gone wrong. A fallen Metropolis. It’s not obvious to it’s denizens, but the creation of Saturn City is dystopian in its Faustian construction. I will remark that the lettering is a little jumbled and confusing, with highlighted portions begging the question. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why particular words had been secluded… Definitely worth a read, especially if you want to see HBO’s effects on the comic world.

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9) The Manhattan Projects – Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra – Image

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There isn’t much I can say about TMP, except I can’t stop reading it. I’m a huge Hickman fanboy. His Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors are indeed the first comics I loved. Now I can acknowledge that not all his work is equal, even his critically acclaimed The Nightly News came off to me as pompous in its didactic direction. TMP however is something new, and very different. I’ll start by exploring the art. It’s grotesque and simple. The detail is ‘Quiteleyesque’ in its lining facial shots. But unlike Quitely, there is little to no beauty here. The colour pallet is often Fauvistic, rallying the prime colours in an abstract visual assault. All that said, its utterly engrossing, and entirely sensible considering the subject matter. It cheapens atom bombs, dulling mass killing and makes frivolity of war. It’s fun but intense, creating a putrid portrayal on the men behind all the big decisions.

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TMP is cerebral, as most of Hickman’s works are. I hate to say that, because it’s like saying “the comic is brain.” Which Means nothing… But Hickman doesn’t let up as Einstein is replaced by his evil twin from another plane of existence, and J. Robert Oppenheimer battles with his evil twin Joseph who devoured him in their youth, taking in his knowledge and expertise through this cannibalistic ritual. Laika the space dog tags along with the team of 10 strong scientists who are seeking to ‘better’ the world in a post war America.

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I’m not confident to comment on the historical accuracy of Hickman’s comic, but I’m pretty sure that Harry Dauglian  was not a floating irradiated skull in a space suit. I’ve been wrong before thought (who am I kidding, I’m never wrong). What I am confident in saying is that this is a shout out to history fans, and perhaps If I was more well versed, It would be higher on my list. If you like big twists, in the fun caper Hickman style, than you can’t avoid it. If you love Frank Quitely and want to see how his styles can be harboured to diminish and subvert in an artistic and eloquent manner. Then again, read it. And if your a massive history buff, or just like scientists and have always wished they got the attention that presidents, explorers or generals get, then read this. It’s really a lot of fun.

8) The Deep – Tom Taylor & James Brouwer – Gestalt

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I’m pretty excited about The Deep, and I’d almost guarantee no one has ever heard of it. Hopefully this will change as it’s been green lit for a television series. Had you read it, and not known this, you’d have thought “this deserves to be a TV series.” Gestalt as a company came into my radar after watching a two part program featuring their companies struggles in breaking into the comic market. I was transfixed, never in my life did I think I’d watch something on television that would make me want to tune in again next week. The program highlighted just how unglamorous the industry is. These guys and girls were fucking sadists, giving more time and money to this ‘thing,’ this idea, this dream. Chasing endlessly to achieve what they’d set out to do. But this isn’t Lisa Lionheart, one dolly just doesn’t make the trip worth while. But The Deep, The Eldritch Kid, and Changing Ways are all fantastic comics. All entirely unique, all quite fresh in their approach. They are the labour of love, and do not read like another churned out Remender book.

The Deep is about the easiest and most accessible read you’ll find. Child friendly, heaps funny, clever as hell, and beautiful. I just wish there was more. I almost feel like I’m punishing it as a comic putting it this low on my list, but that’s primarily due to the fact that it not incredibly dense. But does everything have to be an exploration of the human soul? Can’t some things just be enjoyable, and created for the sake of enjoyment… The difference between The Deep and Watchmen is the difference between The Last of Us and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, except in this case, The Deep has the opportunity to exceed its own grasp.

The Nekton family are explorers of the deep ocean. The family is made up of mother, father, a young son and teenage daughter. Lightning fast is their familiarity, mirroring transitions and phases in our lives in an instant. Like a Disney film it takes no time to understand their relationships, so perfect is the writing that the voices of each character carry over panel to panel, blending perfectly into the art. And make no mistake, if Disney played as much a role in your childhood as it did in mine; The Deep will serve as perhaps the most modern and nuanced spiritual successor to films like Aladdin, and Mulan. I’m glad I’ve lived to see the regression of the perversion associated with adult enjoyment of cartoons (Bronies excluded). The Deep is just one more way we can comfortably relive the 90’s and pay homage to all those the stories that shaped our understanding of the world.

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7) WE3 – Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely – Vertigo

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This probably wont be Morrison’s only addition, as he will grace our presence in the top 5. Honestly, I didn’t get All-Star Superman, and New X-Men didn’t do much for me. Batman R.I.P shitted me to tears… It’s amazing I even returned to Morrison after so much hype and so much disappointment. The dream team? Frank Quitley’s Emma Frost camel toe? I just didn’t get it, and I’ll admit, I still don’t fully comprehend the fascination. I will however reread All-Star Superman at some stage. WE3 was not an extraordinary story in retrospect, but it is responsible for my Morrison revelation. What it is, is a modern fable, about, well, a lot of things. Significantly genetic modification of animals but on a greater scale, the cost of man’s progress.

Three animals escape a secret laboratory that has made them into grotesque weapons of mass destruction. A dog who has been manipulated into a contorted tank, a cat who has been shaped into a stealth based assassin unit and a rabbit which is deformed into a bounding bomb dropping machine. And why not? Why not remove the human casualty from war if we can? Why not use animals as slaves for our needs, I mean is it that unrealistic. We are the only creature who farms other animals, who make decisions based primarily on taste. It’s okay as long as we don’t look right?

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There isn’t much speech here, the vocabulary is limited to simple sounds and the type of words you teach and animal on command. Think Pizza Dog from Hawkeye  by Matt Fraction. It’s a testament to Morrison’s writing, and Quitely’s ability to adapt his scripts into a narrative. The reason I loved WE3 was one image, so solitary, but so honest to me. In the image, the canine nestles it’s head into the hands of a human. It’s injured and is seeking comfort. And it is so beautiful, and so evocative, that it trigger my most base human instinct to nurture my dog. It made me weep in sadness, that I have and will continue to consciously ignore my harsh treatment of animals for my benefit. It suddenly occurred to me what makes Quitely so amazing in that moment, the sadness that the image carries, it’s ugliness, had been approached with such softness and delicacy. It was like staring into Kevin Spacey’s eyes at the end of American Beauty.

It’s also worth a mention that the issue covers are very clever and almost worth the purchase just for them.

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*Edit* – Upon flicking through the pages, again I’ve realised that time is played with in a fairly interesting way in WE3. During the action sequences, Quitely has communicated how one second can represent a myriad of moments instantaneously in a number of different ways. Rather than still frames, WE3 attempts to deconstruct how time can have more meaning than simply what a frame can show us. Perhaps the best way to describe it is through Cubism. A Cubist painter approaches his subject from every angle all at once, showing how there is no one pure representation of a thing. The analogy is rather stretched, as WE3 is anything but cubist.

6) Black Hole – Charles Burns – Pantheon

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Charles Burn’s was originally introduced to me by a friend who knew I read comics, and knew I liked the band The Knife. He told me that one of it’s members had a side project called Fever Ray, and the art of her album was designed by Burns. I think since it’s come to my attention that it’s only in his style, but it definitely intrigued me. So as a massive hoarder, I without question bought Black Hole, his largest comic series to date, in a collected soft cover. I let it rest for many months, as many tomes, primarily due to its size, and if I have to be honest, its monochrome pallet. I don’t like black and white, I tolerate it, its a distinction I have to draw. There is something absurd in hearing that as a comic reader I’m sure. No I have not finished Maus, I got bored… Yes I love Sin City, but the colour were safe havens for my eyes. Maybe I have a problem, but I find Black and White so dated. I also promise to restart Maus. I did read all of Persepolis, but for all it’s merits, it wasn’t really a comic, but instead a set of graphic novels, utilizing comic strips as a medium for narrative exhibition.

Black hole is no different, frankly I didn’t like the art on first glance, finding it cluttered and abstract. But a coincidence occurred. I was travelling to Vietnam, I wanted to read a comic, but didn’t want to weigh down my bag with too much. Persepolis would have been perfect, but I’d just finished it. Black Hole was big, dense, and light. One afternoon as the tour group left for a cooking class, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to read. At first my intention was to just read a little, but within the 4 hours, I finished the book. Someone once told me that a novella is something that can be read in a lazy afternoon. This is exactly what I’d done.Burns-55WB

Right off the cusp of watching Freaks and Geeks, Black Hole had successfully engaged my interest in the mid 70’s to early 80’s time period. Drugs, sex and rock and roll. The teenagers of Black Hole are ostracised by their free behaviour, not in the societal sense of Freaks and Geeks, but in the literal sense because they begin to mutate. Having sex, turns these teens into freaks, growing tails, malformed boils, or extra limbs. But this isn’t a story of the ‘X-Men’, nor is it a commentary on their behaviour. A reader isn’t enlightened into some moral position of acceptance of adherence with societal norms. Burn’s doesn’t really have a purpose other than crystallising a mood, encapsulating a feeling that existed in western culture in the 70’s.

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It’s be easy to say he uses chiaroscuro, but it seems fallacious. There is no blending, rather shadows are jagged lines cut into the stark white panels. Light and dark aren’t used to create depth, but instead create a flat plain composition which highlights the starkness of reality. It’s exaggeration, pushing the foreground forward, rather than creating a sinking feeling in the images. Black Hole is most likely the strongest use of vectors in a comic I’ve read to date. We follow lines and shapes as Burns intended us to do so. It’s all very deliberate, all very finely crafted. I’d imagine there is a lot you can miss in Black Hole if you forget to look away from the centre of each panel. The most remarkable part of Black Hole isn’t what it does, but what it fails to deliver. So many questions are left unanswered, but as a reader you don’t feel cheated. In fact, you never expected an answer. Black Hole gives you a window into a short period of time in a few teenagers lives, attempting to articulate what it feels like to be this age. And what it made me realise is that those struggles? are ageless.

At this point I’ve written quite a lot about Black Hole and haven’t once mentioned the dream sequences. Rife with allusions, dense with imagery and symbolism, they act as both to foreshadow and to throw readers off the scent of narrative structure. Perhaps most of them are just red herrings… Black Holes are mystifying occurrences, beautiful but destruction in totality. They suck in, and decimate everything in their surrounds. They create a sense of both anxiety and awe in a viewer. To Burns, sex, drugs and rock and roll are black holes. Everything, all at once, totally consuming and powerful. Black Hole is somehow incredibly sexy and horrific. It does nothing, but says a lot, and deserves more attention than it has received through the years.

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A Change of Pace.

So, I’ve broken my proverbial blog virginity and would like to create a second post off the bat. A complete tonal shift if you will. Off the cusp off my Gone Home writing, I feel its necessary to inform my reader(s) that I was listening to the games soundtrack for inspiration, which got me thinking. What are my top 10 favourite game soundtracks of all time? So until I revisit the subject, here they are, in no particular order, my 10 favourite game soundtracks of all time (at this moment). Paying particular homage to my brother.

10) Final Fantasy 8: Liberi Fatali (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zfd9krEsr-k)

Now any Final Fantasy Game could make the list, well specifically, the ‘Nobuo Uematsu’ years. I choose Final Fantasy 8 for several reasons, primarily because it’s my favourite. But between Liberi Fatali, and it;s hidden ‘succession of witches: love’ message and the battle theme which has become arguably the most memorable of the series, a type of consensus is formed. Laguna’s desperado music, find your way, the castle… All incredible tracks. The language of Nobuo’s original composition perfectly communicated in 8bit. Whilst some criticise the heavily Japanese style of the piano, it still takes an amazing man to capture an idea in an instrument as refined as a piano and still maintain that message when reduced to the simple level of 8bit. It was my brother who said, to paraphrase; “its harder than you think, to create an entirely unique character in 8bit graphics.” We should all be a little more appreciative of how impossibly absurd the music was in the middle FF games…

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9) Super Metroid: Wrecked Ship (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=floKywOCRPo)

In the same strain as Final Fantasy 8. I harken back to 8bit music. This was the first game to make me feel fear. The first game to make me cry as mother brain punished me with her rainbow cannon… The universe, the planet, Zebes, became real to me, as much through the image as through the music. To utilize my brother again, I must fairly cite that he was the first to make me revere the moment Samus lands on Zebes. The rain in falling, a sound alike static. The thunder is crashing, and all else is silence. Yet in the absence of sound, I was transported to an alien world. I felt as Samus, alone, afraid, and isolated… All in 8bit… When I was in Norfair, it sounded as If I were surrounded by a dictatorship army, burning with aggression, and to this day gardens resonate Brinstar’s theme in my ears. Don’t even get me started on the Maridia…

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8) The World Ends With You: Twister (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d58sfK8DgM8)

Okay, so it’s starting to seem to me that my favourite soundtracks looks a lot like my favourite games… With an asterisk, it would seem ‘modern’ games lack the oomph! that games of my childhood had. Maybe I’m cynical, but I feel like film started a trend by which music became more a background feature than a character of the text? An argument for another day. This is not the same with TWEWY, a game which puts music right at centre stage. In an age of portable games, and I mean really portable… How many people did you see using their game boy pockets / colours / advances on the train huh?… It’s still slightly taboo here in Aus, I’m not sure about world wide. But I feel more comfortable than ever playing 3DS on a train, and fuck you, I even put the volume 1/3 up… Regardless, I played all my portable systems silent until recently. The Advance SD as I remember lacked an AUX socket, a huge design flaw… But TWEWY protagonised Neku as much as it did music. As he hunted down the truth to his misfortune, he was accessorized with new headsets, and the ability to buy new music. I remember being so very excited at seeing new cd’s in stores, even if I didn’t have the Yen to purchase it. Suffice to say, the soundtrack is kickass, and as playful as it is dramatic. It feels both relevant and real, just as the TWEWY world does. You imagine Neku is listening to the radio but as a gamer are convinced you are too, never ever, being removed from the gaming experience. Seamless.

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7) Okami – Ruoshima Plains (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsnJRyTlFb0)

Okami is the sort of game which can easily slip into obscurity. And I could argue why, for a beautiful game it is congested with flaws. Not like game breaking flaws, not glitches, just, errors in design. I’ve traversed many jrpgs, and many adventure games. This is the latter, though it embarks on the kind of speech heavy driving of an Etrian Odessy game, of Tales of game. I’m talking serious button mashing to skip speech. Paired with (originally) blurred graphics, and fucking annoying margins that are like curtains, the first 2 hours are almost unplayable… I’d know, I replayed the HD version recently. This is emphasised by the fact that your character appears bored herself by the conversations (falling asleep, yawning, or looking about the place aimlessly.) When you consider that Orochi (and every other boss) feels as if you are fast approaching journeys end, it’s easy to neglect this game as the gem it is. What Okami does do however, is create a rich and deep cultural experience unique to japan, whilst also being in my opinion the best action-adventure game of all time. The music is flawless, beautiful, and engrossing. Heroic and imperfect in its humanity. Ironically, its the stuff of Japanese mythology, Godly in it’s emotive properties. What can I say? I’m a huge fucking sucker for pan pipes (if that what they are).

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6) Donkey Kong Country – Fear Factory (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v18pEFQb3EM)

As Super Metroid made me feel fear, DKC made me experience menace, as the elements pitted all the had in an appeal to destroy me. In a lot of ways this was the first game I ever finished, and it took years. That’s how it was. A kid didn’t sit down and play games for 15-20 hours on end in an attempt to reach he finale before all their friends… No that really only began with Halo 2…  No, I returned to DKC after maybe 7 years of having left it with the admittance of my N64 and eventual xbox. And I was at poison pond, with no end in sight… I finished it in about 2 hours after that… Now like most people I know, I can polish the game off in about an hour… What has this got to do with music? Listen to the Ice Cave Chant, feel hope as I did at 7 and then feel it taken away in northern hemisphere. The game that became popular on its graphics, brought music to the third dimension. It feels like where DKC left off N64 picked up, music was no longer static, it was no longer flat. With a few exceptions, the Snes was flooded with cheesy riffs, and catchy theme music. If you would, listen to the Chaos Engine intro… this was the age where Aerosmith had a video game for Christ sakes… DKC created a realm where the immersion relied as much on music as it did on graphics, and in my opinion, Nintendo have spent their career with this in mind. Cheers Rare, you redefined games… And I had a massive boner for Candy Kong…

This it also the OST that got me onto ‘Overlocked’ Remixs. Google it if you havent. It’s fucking awesome.

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5) Zelda Ocarina of Time – Gerudo Valley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy0aEj85ifY)

I’d feel cheap using OoT as my Zelda of choice, but then I remember that Twilight Princess’ OST is pretty much a carbon copy repeat of OoT, to the point that it sounds like its made on an 97 synth… (I really hope that’s an allusion that no synth heads will tear apart.) Why not Windwaker? Windwaker is incredible, and the soundtrack stands as testament to that fact. That said, OoT introduced a feature to the Zelda universe I doubt any one at Nintendo would have known would be as significant as it has been. Music. More accurately, the ocarina. It’s been replicated in a few games as a harp, or a baton, and maybe in the future it’ll return as a pan pipe (please, PLEASE!) but not since has it matter as much. Have you ever whistled Saria’s Song? Or attempted to list the synonyms used for the temples tunes? (Minute of the Forest, BOLERO OF FIRE!!! ummm requiem of spirits? Serenade of Water? Nocturne of shadows) <- I’m actually proud of how many I remember off hand, and if it wasn’t for initially spelling serenade, ‘senanade,’ I’d totally high five myself. I mean shit its the stuff of oblique tattoos amirite? And that’s it, there, that makes OoT significant, not in the way that a top 100 games of all time is topped with Mario on nes… but in the sense that the music actually meant something to us. Tell me you don;t remember lazy days in Gerudo Valley, or deliberatly fuckign with the windmill guy? Right, left, right, left, forward, left, right… I still remember Saria leading me.  I had a bit of a crush on her. All credit to my brothers Best Friend who made me first feel comfortable with this crush.

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4) Yoshi’s Island – Flower Garden (Stoned) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXswn1BKnS8)

It’s worth mentioned I never owned this game on Snes, only rented it… I still don’t, and one day I will. I did since buy it on GBA, and for all intents and purposes, it’s a better game on GBA. Colours are sharper, music is clearer, and it features a set of extremely challenging bonus levels. I believe I got 100 ‘points’ on every single level in the game before the new unlockable levels. Some of which I still haven’t completed, and those that i did? I got like 16/100 on… So if you’re hardXcore, the GBA version is exceedingly better. Anyway, it’s late, and I’m laughing because the youtube video I found of the soundtrack I wanted to feature is called ‘Flower Garden (Stoned)‘. This is off the level, touch fuzzy get dizzy, which I, in admiration, as a child, labelled, Touch Fuzzy Wuzzy Get Dizzy Wizzy. To this day, I’m convinced my name is better. So from a musical perspective, why Yoshi’s Island? Mario Galaxy 2, Paper Mario and The Thousand Yrar Door, and Super Mario 3 all have incredible soundtracks? They do, but none of them sound as good as Yoshi’s Island on an electric guitar… Seriously though, Yoshi’s Island (story, yarn game etc…) continue to make ‘cute’ cool… Yoshi’s Island created a pace, that remarkable constance of the Mario series. It forced a player to continue into a world that progressively got more challenging, as any game does, all the whilst the music synchronised with the gamer. It warned us, comforted us, and reminded us that we were running out of time, but never seemed to falter in its melody… That’s kinda awesome when you stop to think about it… When the music actually feels like its part of your movements in a game

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3) The Curse Of Monkey Island: Intro / Theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtEnXj0ABLk)

At 7 I thought I;d never be able to list the 10 most significant soundtracks to me, at 3, I’m concerned I’m running out of room. Room… Room… Think about room, its a space, with objects right? Which you interact with. Be it a dvd and a dvd player? or a sausage and sauce. Okay, thats a really embarrassing segway into point and click adventure… but I’m like 10 beers deep and you gotta understand, Point and Click, its a real fucking thing… Lost in time, like a submarine bombed into the abyss… One day we will look back on Darkseed, Broken Sword, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Indiana Jones, Dig, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, Disc World, and Kings Quest and think… That’s where we went wrong, that’s what we lost… And as much as I miss these games, and as much as developers are still creating them (see Machinarium and Gemini Rue [both are awesome games with kick ass soundtracks]) The Curse of Monkey Island is the moment for me, the head of the spear. MK3, was the last 2d game of the Lucas Arts Genre. Now Telltale has taken over, and as fine as Tales of Monkey, Sam and Max, and Back to the Future are, they are sloppy. Due, almost entirely due to funding. The controls, the music, the graphics, all seem dated, even when compared to the comic styling of MK3. What I remember is this. A birthday. My aunts come over. They give me a hulk and a spider-man transforming figure (which sucked). The main event? waiting, for the install of MK3… Paitently as all, like 1 megabyte installed… All of 4 hours went by in front of the Computer… And finally… IT was ready to launch.. as always, fuck you readme file, ye I want a link on the desktop JUSTGODAMNLOAD… blackscreen…. waiting… waiting… waiting… CMI the monkeys are listening… What the FUCK was that I just heard? (In retrospect what I heard was perfect programming.) A map, then water, a crescendo of sound. THEN, the maps whisked away, MONKEY ISLAND… And the music, leads me straight to Guybrush off the cusp off Big Whoop… (A joke I have to lend to my big bro.) Then the diarising, Guybrush rampantly entering his thoughts… Is he cursed to starve their on that ocean… BOOM… Just watch the intro okay? and play it loud, music wasn’t meant to be played loud or muted…

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2) Diablo: Tristam Village (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnMR6SOBa9k)

So, I have to be really careful now. Only 2 slots left unless I cheat and add a 0, which I probably will just to fuck with you. I haven’t said Halo, Pokemon, Morrowind, Turok 2… Heaps of games… I can’t ignore Diabloe, albeit I can’t ignore Blizzard. I took sick days off school for Diablo 1, I had my mum buy it at Grace Bros (R.I.P) for me for god’s sakes… In fact I swear it has an America 21 + rating on the box… To list a few, I played Star Craft on N64, diablo 2 was my first online game, Diablo Hellfire took more than 50% of my original computers memory (at 255megabytes) I had sexual fantasises over the succubus and ‘women’ in the butchers room from Diablo 1 (don’t judge I was very young, and breasts were few and far between), Lost Vikings was one of my favourite games…. And WoW, Wow I put over 320 days played time in. I owe this company, but they don’t and will never make my top games… For all that they are worth, they were a distraction fro the intellectual taxation of every other game. Diablo 2 could distract me from even the least trying of games… It became a gaming mantra for me, something repetitive, necessary, addictive. And I know I’m not alone here. What I can say is, that through the years, Blizzard have never opted for shit sound design, striving for the utmost with every expansion, every game, every thing. Thereby I tip my hat to blizzard, for never giving up hope that they’d be accepted as a real gaming company, and not a money hungry, cesspool of all things awful… Even if they are probably the sole cause of those incessant apps, ads, and emails inviting you into yet another awful game which promises its exactly like “Wow and Pokemon” all at once.

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1) The Sims – Under Construction (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eipSV0t6pKs)

Okay so here we are, at the end of my list, which I specifically told you WAS NOT CHRONOLOGICAL. But you’re only human, so I forgive you for treating it thus. Odd place to end it mind you… The Sims, elevator music really… But a friend recently sent me this soundtrack on Spotify… I’d searched, and still do many games on Spotify, but their soundtracks don’t seem to make the ranks… The Sim’s does, and deservedly so… It was the second time in my life that piano made me feel… feeeeeeeeeel… You know what I mean. It’s clean, its pure, it communicates. What more do I want from a games soundtrack. I spent HOURS cheating to this soundtrack. I would cheat money, spend hours building, and get bored the moment it was time to play. It’s like an Etcher Sketch, if Etcher Sketchers had a gaming mode after you’d finalised your drawing… The game wasn’t in the living, it was in the building. It’s kind of shocking minecraft took so long taking this into account. It’s Simple really, games are supposed to remove people from their existence and insert them into virtual reality. The Sim’s did this. For the first time ever, a player was in control of every aspect of their persona’s life. It’s no wonder that the game really introduced the first comfortable ‘girl’ gamer. The Sim’s should go into the American Archive for shit to be shot into space to alien races. It says more about us as a persons (not peoples [becauseeverymanisanisland]) than 1984 or Brave New World. It’s Dystopian in its unlivingness. The Sim’s ushered in an age of vicariousness, and popularised a vapid hollow culture of gamer which is in turn, the sole reason gamers are not longer persecuted or ostracised. Big call? Well… I’m Drunk so fuck you! We owe The Sim’s as much as it owes us. Next time you line up behind a fat old mother trying to trade in skylanders figures, remember this, when I was a child, no one had a tri-force cap… We made a trade off, for bad or for worse, we have to sleep in the bed we made.

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0) Morrowind / Icewind Dale 1-2: Kuldahar (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y96Y2JE5F8)

Okay, so we hit the end and now I’m kind of cheating. That said, this is my blog and the rules are my own right? Call it an encore if you must. I’ll be short for you… Jeremy Soule, one day this guy will be gone, and when he is, fantasy will die with him. He is the Howard Shore of games… I whistle monthly the Morrowind Theme, and if I cant sleep, on goes the IWD2 OST. It makes you wonder, did this guy every stop and think, will I one day be so important that I’m required for a young man’s sleep? You can achieve a lot in your life, but if you are the tune a teacher whistles as he relentlessly paces back and forth over the quadrangle at school for 60 minutes, you have literally given back more than you took. So cheers Jeremy Soule, you have minimized the longest of hours of my life to mere seconds, and extrapolated leagues of time from mere minutes of gaming. It’s worth mentioning, this guy did the music for Skyrim, and pretty much has dabbled in every other game you’ve every played…

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Blastoff!) Gemini Rue : Another Days Work (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLSkrcc18QY)

Okay so we are done, and I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. And even though there are plenty of honourable mentions. I want to end here. Revival. You can;t buy a computer game at a store without it coming complete with its OST and a poster, and a sticker, and a demo, and a PLEASE GOD BUY ME pin… Production, distribution is at its end, and maybe I alone float the market, buying every intriguing game I find on computer. Gemini Rue fell right into this. The last of an age and the first of an age… I mentioned 2000 words ago that for the past 5 years soundtracks in games have been monotonous in nature, churned out, and filtered into the background. Nothing of importance, not worth a gamers concentration. NO, focus on the sharp images, and meticulous graphics…. And in this battle for your attention, Xbox, and Playstation, crippling Rare Ware, and Sega, propagating Nintendo as a joke… and all the while giving you call of duty after Halo game to bite into… you never asked the cost… I sigh *sigh* because I’m off topic, but if we are ever without Zelda, and Metroid will you join me in my plea to retain enjoyment in games?

Gemini Rue… Reminds me, as a Saxophone does, of my childhood, I can Here Ms (not Mrs) Jennings saying X is for Saxophone X(ecks), X(ecks), X(ekcs)… It’s almost sordid. Three X’s that close together, even in a kindergarten rhyme. And if you listen to the track in the title, you’ll realise ‘X’ is beyond savoir. ‘X’ is sordid, it is muddied memories. It’s more than forgotten, its begotten.

I have often in my car listening to this OST, in the hope my passengers will remark on its imperfect beauty… but every time without failure they have asked me “what the fuck is this depressing shit”… I suppose they hear American Beauty in it… What I hear is everything good about Blade Runner, minus the overt symbolism of Ridley Scott. Gemini Rue to me, is hope… that one day, 26 years from now, a young man such as myself may write his top 10 (12) list…

So I did it, and despite not being chronological, 3000 words + a 6 pack, tells you a lot about yourself. I can’t lie, as any list, it became personal at a point. What I have realised is while I wish I was around for the future, flying cars, and digital prostitutes, I am glad I’ve seen the wave of games hit the societal shore and create a wake that lingered on the sand’s bank as foam… I should get a shirt printer that says “I was their for when games stopped being nerdy and started being awesome! (literature).

So I’m done, I hope you enjoyed the top 10 list, and I hope you have thoughts of your own. Feel free to share them with me. There are some honourable mentions, and some games forgotten… It’s a difficult list as you can imagine. Can’t wait to hear your feedback.

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Peaceout!

 

 

 

Honourable Mentions:

Body Harvest: Bh1f (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp_W2MJEEbU)

I have a very fond memory of inviting my dad in to listen to the music as I entered a house in Greece. Shame the game was so very, very shit…

Xenoblade: Mechonis Field (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p45gdP2OKmU)

An incredible post FF game with an incredible post FF OST. In more ways than one it bests FFVIII’s OST. It’s No coincidence that Shulk (the protagonist) has found his way into Super Smash Bros.

Machinarium: The Robot Band Song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRW1qnFXKxY)

A point and click puzzle solver… so flawed in its logic that its soundtrack and art are much more memorable than its plot or design. Worth a play, if only for the Didgeridoo. (and the Oboe, another instrument I love)

Sonic the Hedgehog: Green Hills Zone (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF9ZLNxHaBY)

Lets call a spade a spade… This is where is started. The ergency, the need, the want, the compulsion. And who better to take your hand than a blue hedgehog who runs at the speed of sound. I recently finished this game, much to my surprise, long thinking it impossible. All I can think now is how unfortunate it is that Drake, Kanye and Kendrick haven’t seen the untapped resource that is the Sega master system. It has no start, and needs no end. It existed to set a moment, not a scene. There is no context except, green, hills, zone. Perfect in it’s vacuous vapidity. It however can’t be shallow, because, to its merit, it existed before such terms.

Metroid Prime: Metroid PRime Theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfGsArRQjKE)

I have a rule. Never repeat a game in a series. Its probably too harsh on myself. Especially considering all that nintendo have done with their original cast from nes… Be it Mario, Zelda or Samus… Time has shone its considerable light on all the franchises. Strangely, all have only strengthened. All have changed considerably, and none have faltered. Zelda retained it’s action adventure heart with a discovery based, tool centred platformer. Mario maintained it’s progressive and colourful level design with increasing difficulty but also backward exploration as it embarked into 3d… But where did Metroid fit in… Perhaps my favourite FPS of all time, equip with rain on visor, scan capable and a linear level design, all the whilst keeping in check our sense of alienation and wonderment…  It’s no longer extreme for a game to go from 2D to 3D, and as much as Mario and Zelda OoT did for their Franchises, Metroid is ingenious. Side Scrawling to First Person, and yet to this day people thinks Samus is a Dude in Smash Bros???

Metroid Prime skipped a Gen in gaming. There was no Metroid on N64. But when it returned on Gamecube, it brought with it a rule set by which FPS’ to this day SHOULD be operating. Unfortunately to this day it goes as an unrecognised cult hit. To put it plainly, my best friend of the time said “I don’t like it because it only has four guns.” Last I checked he was dealing drugs and hated homo’s, blacks, and women… That withstanding, if you don’t play and LOVE Metroid Prime, then you are literally the scum of the universe.

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Peace out!

Coming Home…

Recently, as things tend to do, a coincidence formed, whereby I connected a set of seemingly disparate dots. An epiphany if you will, where it seems some unknown, all powerful, omnipotent force is attempting to shine a light through the floorboards of your mind, the way headlights part through Venetian blinds in a shitty 90’s film. The luminescence of epiphanies is more present in the shadows it forms than in the light is gives off, like grabbing at something in your peripheries, the ghost of an idea hanging just out of lens shot… I allude to peripheral, but this is much more ephemeral, the sounds and shapes and smells invoked by a certain set of unique circumstances, impossible to replicate. I’m of course talking about my first true sense of nostalgia…

Kids today say #Y.O.L.O (actually saying hash-tag) … They really do, I teach the little buggers. Midsummers Night Dream class sets are peppered with it as graffiti. We all know what it means, and I wont disgrace myself by defining it and sourcing urban dictionary… However, truth does resonate in the acronym, in the sense, we can only truly experience things once. It’s almost a shame, good or bad, we can’t ‘dement’ ourselves to lose a memory to have it again. Finishing the Harry Potter series for the first time, waiting and watching the entire LOTR films as they came out by yearly (which to me as a teen would probably be analogous to Star Wars.) I remember a sense of foreboding doom, a pain in my chest that said to me, “What if I don’t live to read the final Harry Potter’ Book?” as I put down the ‘Half Blood Prince’… An incredibly privileged, upper-middle class, white, male sense of life and death. Surely people did die between the books… people who cared more than me? How do I fathom that… This is getting dark, but, nostalgia is dark. In the most pure sense, is comes from the ancient Greek Nostos (return home) Algos (pain). This is a feeling I’d thought I’d had at 18, when listening to top of the pops 94, or plugging in my Sega Master System. But reminiscence is not nostalgia.

                                     Gone_Home

I read recently (which I’ll source soon) an article about a video game, and how its most striking feature was its reverberating nostalgic presence. Before I began my rant, this post was ‘supposed’ to explore the horror tropes and their relationship with nostalgia in the game, but I will leave that now for my next post. By name, ‘Gone Home,’ is a game about returning home. In the fiction of the game however, you’re persona isn’t arriving ‘home,’ Per se, but rather to the house that her family has relocated to during her hiatus around the world tour. It’s no mistake that a twenty-something year old girl who (in America) most likely lived at university, would feel a sense of displacement from any house. The concept of ‘home,’ changes rapidly during these fleeting years. And this would perhaps be a major factor in why she (we) want to travel. We lose a part of ourselves in our 20’s to establish who we are becoming. We leave the past behind as we rapidly exhale into the future. And perhaps its for these reasons and many more, that I recently felt the pain of home.

I was reminded of a thought I’d never had, but always partaken in. In 1988 when I was born, I was 26 years ahead of 1962. An era I couldn’t feel more disconnected from. As I sit in a common room at 26, it’s hard for me to connect with my fellow staff, who are on average boarding on 57. It’s much easier for me to connect with a 16-18 year old, I mean it was only yesterday I was them… right? But to students, I’m heaped into the Geriatric department in a hospital. I no longer tick the 21-25 box on dating sites, but the 26-35. To be fair, this isn’t an existential crisis, and I apologize for the hyperbolic tone. I don’t feel old, and I know I’m not.

What I do know, is a new pang of pain, a feeling, a sense of disconnectedness. It’s different to heartbreak, and its different to smelling your grandmothers perfume in passing in a crowded place. It’s neither memory, nor is it loss. It’s the indescribable echo of an acoustic guitar in a hollowed hall. Pretentious as that sounds, I can’t quite grasp my own meaning, and its fucking frustrating. I suppose nostalgia is like a 6th sense I’m not quite akin too..

To give my first ever blog post some validity, I’m going to finalise by saying, ‘Gone Home’ is perhaps the most significant thing I’ve ever been witness too. It’s at once a stand alone game, and a powerful machine of feeling. It isn’t an afternoon special about a boy who finds a stray dog, but he’s not allowed to keep it so he lets it go, and then he finds it, /cry… You don;t experience joy upon completion or sadness, but it did bring a tear to my eyes. That type of solitary tear you push and milk for all its worth, to retain that hollow unmistakable feeling of loss. John Stuart Mill wrote an essay called ‘What is Poetry.’ In this essay he negotiates the difference between eloquence and poetry, which is, to paraphrase, the difference between deliberation and beauty. It’s worth a read. But… if… Poetry is in fact an utterance unconscious of its audience, overheard by a listener in a moment of supreme emotion, than ‘Gone Home’ is poetry.       

Most games soliloquise, creating a vicarious experience for a player. On face value (contemplated using prima facie there…) so does ‘Gone Home,’ engaging verisimilitude to the utmost to construct another family’s life. But in the divide between persona and protagonist we find a unique role play, more like a memory and less like a game. What is ‘their’ present becomes our past… Anyway… totally recommend it, more than any other game… It’s worth mentioning as many others have, that there is so much to write here, and I hope you’ll give me credit for my first post. 

Peace out!