Spelunkoetry: What are the Best Words? What is their Best Order?

Here we must diverge from the poetic definition a bit. In poetry the ‘best words’ will carry with them the perfect literal and metaphoric meaning for their specific situation, the perfect emotional resonance through implications or cultural baggage from the word’s use history, as well as encompassing the perfect sound, cadence and metre. While still a factor in Spelunky’s epigrams, the latter factors about the words’ phonology matter less here.

This seems the best place for the ‘this is all subjective’ disclaimer. Language is a slippery fish. Consider yourself disclaimed. Continue reading

Spelunkoetry

The first in a series, closer examination of the epigraphs themselves will follow in later articles…

Nearly every part of Spelunky is procedurally generated. Not only the levels, but the positioning of the desert rocks and trees Spelunky Guy treks past when you boot the game, and the little epigraph that appears over this scene.

These three lines are the closest the game comes to having a plot. The camera pans down from the blazing desert sun, and as sand-laden winds whisper and rustle the palm fronds a diminutive adventurer, insignificant to the vastness of the desert, strides purposefully among the dunes:

With the desert stretching behind me,

I squeezed the whip at my side,

And felt the gods smiling upon me.

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Science fights Giant Enemy Crab

Hey.

So I recently had an article featured on user-submitted satirical website Newsbiscuit, after the title of this Guardian article tickled me.

The article I originally submitted was full length (<400 words), and appeared on the site edited  to fit their <200 category, a tussle with a crab hardly being frontpage news, as well as being heavily tweaked (rightly) to better fit the site’s tone and to be more accessible to anyone less familiar with the subject matter.

Anyway, thought I might as well stick the full original up here, I’m reasonably happy with it:

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Super Mario 64 and Freedom, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

 

What I only realised recently is how the game teaches you that you don’t have to play the stars in order on the very first level. Right at the beginning of the game you have no choice. You must tackle star one on level one -‘Big Bob-omb on the Summit’.

After being dropped in you’re taught how to read/speak to things. This is the only thing the game forcibly teaches you, as it is the only thing it can’t teach you through reading or speaking to things, all of which is optional. The game encourages you just learned on a friendly, fuchsia explosive (remember, this is Mario), but you don’t have to.

If you do elect to, he/she/it confirms what would probably be your natural inclination based on the star’s name: to head to the top of the level’s only hill, where the personable pink ordinance tells you an important bad-guy is waiting.

Your path to this moustachioed munition however takes you right past a caged star in plain sight, guarded by a huge Chained Chomp (a massive, vicious metal ball with teeth and eyes, for those unfamiliar) whose chain is held in place by a wooden stake hammered into the ground.

You know you can ground-pound (If you read the manual. This is the 90s.), and that post looks awful stomp-able. But surely, it wouldn’t let you get that star this early… would it? Dodging the chomp, probably taking a few hits and retreating to get some health-giving coins [insert satirical comment on US health system/future of the NHS], you eventually land the three required butt-slams to drive the thing completely into the ground, freeing the chomp. Liberated, the beast galumphs in happiness, smashing the cage before bounding away to freedom. You grab the star, and upon re-entering the level discover that it was actually the sixth (of six). The blinkers are off.

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Super Mario 64 and Freedom, Part 1

So shortly before it stopped, ByteXplosion was putting together a collab piece for Nintendo’s 125th anniversary where we all contributed around 200 words. This was mine:

Even with all my nostalgia for it, playing Super Mario 64 isn’t as amazing as it once was.

It’s of its time. The controls now feel a little stiff, sure; but that’s not it. We’re simply too used to 3D now.

Before Spyro, Banjo, Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto III and Skyrim there was this. You pushed the stick and – provided there was ground under him – Mario would keep going in that direction, jumping over and belly-sliding through anything in his way. This doesn’t sound much, but you have to imagine you’d never played a 3D game before; not even Doom-style shooters or into-the-camera Star Fox.

The game’s progression matched this newfound sense of freedom. You were checked by star totals, the castle was split into thirds by Bowser levels. That’s about it. You could stay on one level getting all the stars in order and move on to the next when you’re good and ready, even ‘skipping’ levels by farming enough stars on previous ones, or do the bare minimum on each level to see everything new as quickly as possible, the freedom was such you didn’t even have to do the stars within a level in order…  and I’m out of words. Might have to do a standalone article on this.

As the ending hints, I approached the editor to see if he was interested in a full article and got the go ahead. Tbh I probably would’ve written it for my own (this) blog had he not be interested anyway. But before even the first, collaborative piece could go up, the site was discontinued. Here is the follow up article. Continue reading

So-Bad-It’s-Good and Video Games, Part Two

In part one we discussed why really bad media can sometimes be enjoyable and why watching Let’s Plays of bad games ticks many of the same boxes as watching a good-bad film, without the frustrations that would come with actually playing a bad game. Now we’ll consider whether playing is even necessary at all to get the heart of the good-bad experience.

So for cheap, short, throwaway games it might be worth experiencing the badness for yourself, we concluded. For longer, more expensive examples, perhaps not. But there are actually theories that seeing or playing a good-bad game/film are not even necessary for participation in the phenomenon of it:

The social aspect […] is really key. I think, if we’re being honest, they’re not so much movies to be watched as they are movies to be known about, to be shared, and to share in the complete disbelief of. Watching is not the primary experience […]; celebrating is.” – Mike Rugnetta, PBS Idea channel.

In gaming the Zelda games on the Phillips CDi are the perfect example of this: they are hugely ‘popular’ yet being rare, expensive games on a rare, expensive and temperamental console almost no-one has played them; most people’s exposure to them was first through YouTube poop and then through reviewers like the Angry Video Game Nerd and PeanutButterGamer. Furthermore every youtuber who does play them usually comments that the controls and design choices mean that they are no fun at all to play.

Emulation may fix some of the control issues, but this itself presents two problems: Firstly, you are not experiencing the ‘true badness’ that made the games legendary in the first place; and secondly the design issues (lamp oil and rope requiring rupee farming, darkness, enemies too short to stab) are still bad enough to make everything between the hilarious cut-scenes you’re probably playing it for a painful experience.

Hence, it could be argued it is the viewer – either of a review, a Let’s Play or the cut-scenes in isolation – who is getting the best experience.

The idea of good-bads to be ‘celebrated’ rather than watched/played brings us on to ‘manufactured’ examples, things designed to hit those notes of silliness on purpose. In movies, this is Sharknado, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and the like. By some reports, Sharknado did better on twitter than it did on television. People were so enthralled with the idea they skipped watching and went straight to celebrating.

However, the movie itself is by The Asylum, who also produced the aforementioned Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and Snakes on a Train. They are competent cheesemongers who know what they’re doing, and their productions lack the necessary grand pathos of a Birdemic or a Sonic ’06.

In video games we have Goat Simulator. Every physics glitch short of game-breaking has been diligently not fixed, and some (the way the goat climbs ladders) it’s hard to believe were not put in on purpose. What’s more it has reasonable controls, is quite cheap, and everything is pretty much instantly accessible. Thus it sidesteps most of the issues that put people off true good-bad games.

On his first impressions video, John ‘Totalbiscuit’ Bain commented that the game—amusingly buggy by intent and highly focused on emergent interactions—seemed more designed for Let’s Players  than a general audience. Indeed, the Game Grumps and PewDiePie have both played Goat Simulator multiple times, nearly always garnering many more views than their average. Though still apt, this criticism seems addressed somewhat by the update adding a much larger second map and multiplayer functionality, though these things of course benefit the Let’s Players as well as the general ones.

As of August 2014 Goat Simulator has “almost 1 million” sales. This is a hell of a lot. It has been proven that Let’s Plays increase sales so it was a shrewd move by the developer to make a game so perfect for them, as this will have shifted a lot of copies. Still, PewDiePie’s first Goat Simulator video has over 9 million views (he averages around 3-5 million), some subsequent ones have over 6, 7 and 8 million views respectively. It seems Bain was right on at least some level, many more people would rather watch the game than play it.

Perhaps, if we go by the above Ideas Channel quote, this is all that’s necessary. A Let’s Play or even a 20 minute ‘review’ are enough to show us the game’s most egregious aspects.

Whether good-bad games (for playing) will ever take off is a question that’s hard to give a sweeping answer to. There are too many variables; the situation will be different for each game. Yahtzee (him from the beginning of part one) said of Ride to Hell: Retribution “It’s bad. It’s explosively apocalyptically bad and you should totally buy it. I’m serious; you have to see this shit […] this could be our Plan 9 from Outer Space.” though he does admit at one point that ‘adorably bad’ sometimes starts to stray into testing the patience. Ride to Hell (metascore 13-19) is £8 on Steam, less if it’s on sale.

I sure as hell don’t know if it’s worth the time, money and frustration. But maybe it doesn’t need to be when it gives sixty-six thousand results on YouTube, and every video on the first page has over a hundred thousand views…

Image: Coffee Stain Studios

Literally Taking the P*ss: Ten New Faces That Should’ve Been in Smash Bros 4

In the run up to the new Smash Bros., it seemed like everyone who knew that Smash Bros. is a Nintendo-ey crossover fighting game and not an obscure 80’s band was reeling off lists of characters they’d like.

Thankfully this is over. Let’s celebrate with another list.

(This nonsense was inspired by the wording in the title of Ewan Moore’s list from right after the Villager/Wii Fit Trainer/Mega Man reveal in June 2013. Remember, to quote my own ‘about’ page: “…likes wordplay, perhaps a little too much”.)

It starts off relatively sane and gets sillier as the list goes on…

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