Bridges of Madison County: DEATHMATCH!!

For my birthday last week I got Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a hypnotic, three-hour, existentialist essay in movie form. My wife and I watched it on Valentine’s Day (not the best choice for Valentine’s Day, but we’d been wanting to watch it and that was as good a night as any). It’s about these three guys walking through empty fields and abandoned buildings in Soviet Russia, talking about the nature of existence and desire and purpose. Ostensibly, one of the guys is a “stalker”, and he’s leading the other two guys (“professor” and “writer”) through a dangerous place called the Zone to a room where your deepest wish is granted. Since the movie was made in Soviet Russia, and since it’s really all about existentialist dialogues, there’s no budget for special effects, so “the dangers of the Zone” amount to the stalker pointing at an empty field and saying “don’t go that way, there are traps”, and the other two guys nodding solemnly and continuing their dialogue. Even when they finally get to the room where your deepest wish is granted — SPOILER ALERT!! — none of them go in; they just look into the empty room, wracked by inner turmoil. It is, quite sincerely, the best movie ever made in which nothing happens for three hours. It’s deep, and hypnotic, and thoughtful, and makes you wander around in quiet contemplation for about 24 hours after the first time you watch it.

It is with this preface that I mention S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. At first I was morbidly curious about the game; the early screenshots showed landscapes that were perfectly-rendered depictions of scenes from the movie. A lush, green, overgrown field full of rusted WWII tanks. A raised train track dotted with rotting and toppling telephone poles. The unassuming interior of a crumbling building, dust motes swirling in a ray of sunlight. Since the developers were Ukranian, the press release that accompanied the screenshots was brief and ambiguous, and said something like “as Stalker, you guide people through Zone avoiding dangers”. Gradually, however, the whole thing fell apart. I started seeing headlines about the “dozens of awesome mutant monsters!” in the game, then about all the “sick guns!”, and “deathmatch options”. Today, Kotaku has a new movie that features S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s hardcore multiplayer deathmatch mode, and I am really just at a loss for words. Some of those beautiful landscapes and tranquil, decaying settings are still right there in that movie, but it’s had a gigantic intestine-load of Counter Strike pooped on top of it.

Actually, that’s a little too harsh; Counter Strike‘s a great multiplayer FPS, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl might also be a perfectly good multiplayer FPS whenever it comes out, too (it’s been in development for four years). I guess I’m just a little shocked by what’s happened in the process of turning Stalker into a video game. Not that Stalker should ever have been a video game in the first place, but if it was it should play more like Shadow of the Colossus, but without the colossi, and with Wander, Augro, and Mono replaced by three middle-aged Soviet men who have all hit rock bottom and are the very epitome of wretchedness and desperation. They would meander around the beautiful landscape and the breathtaking ruins, mumbling philosophy and insight to each other, and every once in a while one of them would point to something completely innocuous and say “don’t go that way, it’s dangerous”.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl being the video game adaptation of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker is like… I’m trying to think of a good analogy using a low-key book most people have read… it’s like if GTA3 was supposed to be the video game adaptation of Catcher in the Rye, or if BloodRayne was supposed to be the video game adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. That doesn’t really say anything about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or Stalker, but the association of the two kind of makes me sick to my stomach. That’s all.

Update: A commenter on this post has said that when the Chernobyl disaster happened, Russians immediately started talking about the similarities to Stalker, to the point that now the irradiated area around Chernobyl is commonly called “The Zone”, and people who are brave/stupid enough to venture into it are called stalkers. The game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is apparently based more around this “real-life stalker” culture than it is on the movie which inspired the culture, which makes a whole lot of sense and makes me feel a lot more comfortable about the whole thing. So there you go. Thanks for the info, Happy Neko!

Free Platine Dispositif goodness

Just a quick note that Platine Dispositif (who, you may remember, I adore) has released one of their older games, Engage to Jabberwock, for free as a Valentine’s gift to their fans. The gameplay is kind of hard to nail down, so I’ll just say that it’s like a bullet-hell Zelda. Go check it out, enjoy it, and then maybe pay them some actual money for one of their other games like, say, Hitogata Happa.

In the past, for some reason, some people have had trouble following links to Platine Dispositif’s site. If this happens with this game, please let me know, and I’ll mirror the download somewhere.

Also note that if you’re playing with a keyboard you’ll need to set the game up for keyboard play first via the settings menu on the title screen.

Le shmup documentaire Francais!

I don’t remember how or when I found this, but since our network was down this morning I was poking around old videos I’d previously downloaded, and discovered this awesome French documentary on shmups.

It’s very exhaustive and impressive, and covers everything from Space Invaders to modern danmaku shmups and doujin shmups.

If you lack mad French skillz, you can get the English subtitle file here, and use it by watching the movie in VLC.

Japanese and Italian subtitles are also available on the translator’s webpage.

I ♥ Bully

A couple weekends ago I settled grudges between four different gangs, I passed English, Chemistry, Art, and Gym with flying colors, I bought a really sweet bike, I trash-canned some jocks who were trying to pick a fight with me, I won a lighthouse in a boxing tournament, I learned martial arts from a hobo in exchange for broken radio parts, I won a teddy bear at the carnival, and I helped my alcoholic English teacher avoid getting fired. Over the next few days I “finished my term” at Bullworth, but I’ve still got tons left to do.

Bully is everything I liked about GTA3, minus everything I didn’t like about it. There’s still a big, sprawling world with tons of stuff to do, it runs in an improved version of the same engine, there’s still tons of variety in the missions, but your sniper rifle is replaced by a slingshot, your grenades are replaced by stink bombs, you can talk your way out of most conflicts (if you’ve passed enough English classes), and nobody dies EVER, which is a really refreshing change of pace. There is still lots of violence, but the majority of it is used to assert your dominance over violent thugs and make them stop picking on weaker kids, and it’s all fistfights (with great, simple, schoolyard fistfighting mechanics). There is no reward whatsoever for random violence (unlike the GTAs, where everyone carries cash), and you can actually use authority figures to your advantage by luring someone into hitting you in front of them and watching them get dragged away to the principal’s office or the police station. If you get caught by the cops or the hall-monitors, on the other hand, the worst you can do is stomp on your captor’s foot or punch him in the crotch, and then run away and hide in a garbage can or a locker until he gives up looking for you. Hitting girls or little kids is one of the most egregious offenses in the game, and will get you sent straight to the principal for a stern reprimand and the confiscation of most of your hard-earned stuff.

It’s also significantly more gratifying to get a health bonus by making out with a girl who you’ve wooed with chocolates and flowers and gotten out of a jam or two than it is to get a health bonus by picking up a random hooker and then face the moral dilemma of whether or not you want to run her over and take your money back afterwards. It’s also pretty funny to watch, since the game’s protagonist is about five feet tall, and the girls are all significantly taller, and if you accidentally make out with one of your girlfriends while another of your girlfriends is nearby they get into a hair-pulling girl-fight over you, which is rather amusing.

On the downside, there’s no radio, but since there’s also no carjacking (there is bicycle-jacking, though) there’s really no opportunity to listen to the radio anyway, and the game’s excellent, moody, Danny-Elfman-esque background music more than makes up for it.

I also have to say that trash-canning jocks who try to pick fights with me is one of the most gratifying video game experiences I’ve ever had.

I “finished” the game last week, but in true Rockstar fashion, even though I “finished” it, I still only have 75% completion. There are still bike rallies and go-kart races to win, rubberbands, CCG cards, and garden gnomes to collect, lawns to mow, and an untold number of hidden mini-missions. The other night, right before bed, I rode my scooter into the driveway of a retirement home, and a little old lady waddled up to ask me a favor. Unfortunately, while you’re riding a bike or scooter, the button that normally targets people so you can talk to them punches instead, and I accidentally punched this poor little old lady right in the crotch. Then I spent the next fifteen minutes on the run from the police, who don’t take kindly to ruffians who punch little old ladies in the crotch.

Rockstar Vancouver also gets major kudos for making the exact opposite game to the one that drooling, headline-hungry fucktards who-shall-not-be-named accused them of making, not only because it makes those idiots look like the idiots they are, but also because it’s a really pleasant change of pace from the head-shots and “Xtreme-ness” that normally fill games from not-Japan. When was the last time YOU played an action RPG in which nobody dies?

At this point I honestly feel that Bully is the best video game I’ve ever played. It’s even ever-so-slightly better than Rez and Rakugaki Showtime.

Hey! Somebody actually wants to hear your half-baked video game ideas!

Rejoice, all ye kiddies who have “this totally bitchin’ idea for a video game” but don’t have the impetus or means to actually make it! As long as your idea is vaguely horror, sci-fi, or suspense themed, you can enter it in the 2007 Eerie Horror Film Festival Game Competition! The competition’s categories range all the way from “complete game” to “game concept”, and although the prizes have yet to be announced, they’re sure to be better than the uncomfortable silence you get from most people who you tell about your game idea!

OK, I kid. Although the vast majority of “bitchin’ video game ideas” I’ve heard from people over the years have been incredibly stupid, I actually have heard a few that would make awesome video games. So if your game idea sounds totally awesome in your head, and especially if it ALSO sounds totally awesome to all of the friends you’ve told it to, then by all means enter the competition, and I wish you the best of luck. The “early entry discount” deadline is March 1st, and the absolute final deadline is September 1st.

In other game competition news, IndieCade 2008, which commendably hopes to be another showcase of independent video games, begins their call for submissions February 28th of this year, and the Experimental Gameplay Project just began a new two-week competition today. The theme is attraction, and the grand prize is an internship at EA. Although it’s not explicitly stated on the competition website, entries involving a gigantic corporation that attracts fresh-faced, naive young programmers, crushes their souls with 80-hour work weeks, chews them up and spits them out and thinks nothing of it because there’s an endless supply of those fresh-faced, naive young programmers, probably will not be regarded kindly.

Super-clever (by which I mean “lazy”) developers will make an attraction-themed horror game and submit it to all three competitions.

For Whom the Chip Tunes

Six months ago I jokingly said that Tim Rogers is the Lester Bangs of video games. After reading Tim Rogers’s novel-length Fukubukuro 2004 last night, devoid of sarcasm and despite the horrible things it might do to his ego, I have to say that Tim Rogers is NOT the Lester Bangs of video games. Tim Rogers is the motherfucking Ernest Hemmingway of video games. Maybe if I’d read any Kerouac I would feel that he would be a better comparison, but I haven’t read any Kerouac, and I have read some Hemmingway, and Hemmingway is what it reminds me of.

Fukubukuro 2004 vaguely claims to be a review of the top 12 games of 2004, but it’s actually a “year in the life” of a womanizing, video-game-obsessed American gutter-punk living in Japan who, by virtue of being American and an incredible writer, ends up rubbing elbows with living legends of the Japanese video game industry. It is quite pretentious, and I get the feeling that there’s a fair amount of embellishment, but that just makes it even more Hemmingway, except with all the droning about boxing matches and bullfights replaced with salient observations about various video games.

The only downside of the work (I don’t feel comfortable calling it either an “article” or a “story”, so “work” will have to do) is that rather than have any sort of ending it jarringly jumps into a review of Dragon Quest VIII. Maybe Tim decided at the very end that a work claiming to be a review of video games should at least have one fairly-traditional video game review, or maybe it’s just there to jerk the reader back into the mundane before the tone of the rest of the work drives him to drink.

I can count on one hand the number of friends who I’d recommend Fukubukuro 2004 to, and I can count on MANY hands the friends who I would NOT recommend it to. Check it out, and if you can make it past the first page without shouting “what is this pretentious emo bullshit???” then you’ll probably enjoy reading it all the way through.