Wednesday, August 22

Game Masters: The n00bs Perspective

Back in July, Dutch had the good fortune to visit the Game Masters expo at Melbourne's ACMI. Unfortunately he walked away disappointed however since I don't own around 60% of the games on display like he does, and I play about 99% less games than him I thought I might come away a little more content.


I too walked away feeling somewhat empty; wanting more from what I had envisioned to be a great exhibit. For one it was quite small. If not for a friends quick words I almost inadvertently went to the toilet searching for the next gaming station.

Secondly, it was lacking. While this may be a generic, sweeping statement, the inability to take photos was disappointing especially when there is so much cool stuff on display - models, sketches, a wall of peripherals, a see-through Rock Band controller! I'd feel better about it if the catalogue showcased it all but it didn't.

The main problem was the number of games missing, including historic icons Tetris and Space Invaders. The curator may not have been able to track down a working original version or something but it was a thought shared vocally by a number of visitors during my time there.

But enough about the negatives and on with the positives. Walking into the exhibit to be welcomed by both Pacman and Donkey Kong arcade machines (among others) was amazing. I sucked hard at both but playing them in their original form gave me a new appreciation for them.

I also garnered a new appreciation for the Metal Gear series. When it was released on the Playstation back in 1998(ish) I was hooked. I spent way too many hours playing it. However when MGS 2 came out I wasn't won over at all. After seeing all the games together (including the blocky, green original) I've been inspired to give Metal Gear another chance - here's hoping for a success story.

While the 3D effects on Sonic: Generations molested my retinas, seeing a collection of work by Tim Schafer including original art and models made me feel better. His visual and comedic themes have always enthralled me. From Monkey Island to Day of the Tentacle and even Brutal Legend, his style is both infectious and unique.

A few steps to my left and the constant influx of school kids in my vicinity is usually an annoyance however this time it proved most entertaining as two (teenage) boys battled, quite uncoordinatedly, in a round of some Kinect dance game. It was like a train wreck - I couldn't look away no matter how horrible! Hats off to their public humiliation though. I would never have done that in front if my school class.

The way out featured more recent touch-based games on mobile and tv platforms, pointing the way to the future as we finish moving through the past.

Game Masters may not have met my expectations but I'm definitely glad to have gone. The playable history is like nothing I've ever experienced and being Friday it was only $10 entry (usually $15). Open until October 28, if you've got a spare hour or so and you're in town I suggest checking it out. If not, maybe hire out a retro collection or whip out Mario and live in the past once more.

Be warned though - the seagulls in Fed Square are vicious...

Images courtesy of Impulse Gamer and

Sunday, August 12

Training Tales: The Warlock

I was more tired than usual after the 5 o'clock wake up. Fumbling into one of my usual outfits, I kept thinking there had to be more to life than this. More than long commutes, more than miserable faces on the train, more than living for the weekend.

I walked past the large man. A tower of humanity, with beautiful, light brown skin and a stature more befitting of a professional wrestler than someone who was into this 9-5 setup. We exchanged smiles before he took another bite from his meat pie. Seriously, it's at least six fucking hours before the consumption of such food is considered commonplace; should I suggest he consider a more traditional breakfast? Anyway, his smile. It was white, toothy and shone almost as brightly as his perfectly shaven head in the train station lights.

It was roughly six degrees on the platform, probably a few colder with the breeze blowing through every two or three minutes. I could feel it through my pants: cheap Carters that I'd picked up for the new job. It'd been years since I'd worn anything other than jeans to work. Like I said I was tired. Tired enough to not know whether I was just tired or desperately unhappy as well.

 As the train rocked violently towards the city, I attempted to get some extra sleep. There was little chance of success. Despite the fact it was unreasonably early, some people didn't smell as fresh as they should have. Pungent odors aside, there were also brights lights, the buzz of pre-shift conversation and the constant threat that my pint-sized bladder could strike at any given time. I closed my eyes and waited for sleep's calming embrace. It never came, so I scanned the carriage for anything that could potentially hold my attention.

I could not believe that I had not seen him sooner.

A short, old man in ominous black robes stood holding a sceptre of what appeared to be solid silver. Atop the bright, metallic rod sat a cross with the Christian Lord crucified and staring at the carriage floor. There was not a hair on his head, but his beard hung past his waist: wild, white and unkempt. What held my gaze more than any part of his ensemble though, was his necklace. A cross larger than that on the man's sceptre lay obscured by his wild facial hair. It was larger than my palm and once again, it appeared to be solid, sterling silver.

He whispered olde language under his breath. He stared unfalteringly through the carriage window; I couldn't remember him blinking. Despite the fierce shaking of the train car, the Warlock stood unmoved. Was this some kind of spell, or was I that fucking tired? I know it's rude to stare, but how could everyone here not be put under his dark magic?

There was one man who sat next to him on an Esky. He was in high-visibility clothing and he was wide awake. His eyes darted to meet anyone who was seeing what he was seeing: the white wizard in the dark cloak. At last our eyes met, and his glower told of great fears and yet untold evil. Did he know what the Warlock had in store for these pawns in their suits and ties? Was he merely trying to say "Dude, check out the fucking wizard!" with his eyes? I wish I could have asked him, but terror had rendered me silent.

Artist's impression
The announcer chimed in over the loudspeaker: "Platform's on the right." My stop was the first, and that was all the push I needed. If the Warlock was to commit great evil, I would not be there to see it.

Wednesday, August 8

The "Videogames made me feel some real shit" Mixtape - Volume 1

When my wife and I started dating, I started wearing the same cologne I wear today. It's to the point now where I can't even smell it anymore, I -- apparently -- smell like apples and selected spices all the time. Either that, or my olfactory senses are shot to hell.

My sense of hearing -- while dulled by decades worth of music turned up to eleven -- isn't quite as indifferent. I've shared at least one tale of sound driving me through the depths of emotion, but be rest-assured that music doesn't always drive me to tears. It often sparks a sense of nostalgia tied to games and places from the past, some of which I'd like to share with you.

A Perfect Circle - Mer Der Noms VS Vagrant Story
When I was in my mid teens, I was an awkward beast. The closest I'd come to a romantic relationship were text-based conversations with Aeris Gainsborough, and most of you would know how that turned out *sniff*. I was, however, listening to music written by people who appeared to have the same predilection for the melodramatic that I had developed in my near isolation.

A Perfect Circle's debut album, Mer Der Noms was the perfect accompaniment for the years I spent with Vagrant Story. The brooding arrangements, lyrics loaded with sexual and spiritual undertones, even the album artwork were great matches for the darkened cellars, revealing costumes, evil magic and intrigue that made Lea Monde such a memorable locale. The swaying rhythm of songs like "The Rose" seemed to perfectly match the game's combat system, which required precise inputs in time with the swing of Ashley Riot's blade. The instrumental piece, "Renholder" mirrored the beauty and mystery of the maze-like Snowfly Forest.

Both Mer Der Noms and Vagrant Story hold up pretty well today. Sure, the former may be linked to feelings of loneliness and desperation to which I can no longer fully relate, and the latter's technical brilliance may have been eclipsed (more on a hardware front than anything else); but I still indulge in the combination today. A few weeks ago I tweeted that everytime I hear Maynard James Keenan and co., I have the burning desire to relive my days as a blacksmithing Riskbreaker.; to my surprise and delight, a complete stranger replied that they enjoyed the same association.

Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life VS Blur
In the lead-up to what was a relatively stress-free wedding, I was given the opportunity to work in a senior role for a few weeks to gain some valuable experience and some extra cash. It was a pretty brutal month in an area that offered some truly eye-opening experiences, and with every weekend there came a nervous energy that I needed to expel.

Unfortunately for me, the Grand Final for the National Rugby League's Telstra Premiership fell on the penultimate weekend of my secondment. My fiance was watching that game and the day's worth of fanfare whether I needed to escape or not. It also meant the television was claimed to watch the action; it'd be hard to even get my game on. I was getting desperate, so I plunged into the abyss that was our spare room and found an old, tiny TV. Fucked Up on my iPod, Blur on my PlayStation 3: I was going to ram my way out of this feeling of helplessness.

 Fucking carnage

As the raw, throbbing rage of "Magic Word" pulsed through my head, I collided with expensive cars and felt my anger rub off on my opponents along with a great deal of paint. Challenge me and be trashed: I raced ahead of everyone, everything... I was getting the wins I needed. In somewhat of a contradition, "No Epiphany" was on repeat for the better part of the day; I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Beck - Guero VS Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Despite an abundance of violence and destruction, Mercenaries turned out to be a reasonably light-hearted affair. The absence of colour and the epic soundtrack may have had one believing that this was yet another generic sandbox action game; but when Mattias Nilsson mutters about his love for M67 frag grenades and threatens that the Korean DMZ will be even more dangerous upon his arrival, you know there'll be some laughs to be had.

After a few hours of hunting war criminals to a score of lofty orchestral pieces, I decided that Guero would be a  more appropriate aural supplement for my adventures. I can remember "Missing" playing as I searched aimlessly for a "card" hidden in a treachorous North Korean valley. "Rental Car" blared through my speakers as I bundled over hillsides in an Allied Nations humvee. "Hell Yes" was a fitting match to some of my more beligerent helicopter flights which saw firey death rain on whomever pulled the short straw with regards to my mixed political interests.

Flushing out the odd warlord with a bunker buster sounds heavy enough, but with the help of Beck and some the best vehicle controls I've enjoyed in an action game, fun was always on the agenda. 

Are there any albums you associate with some of your favourite games? Has anyone else tried mashing these combinations together with the same level of success?

Sunday, August 5

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy Review (3DS): The joy only found in song

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy isn't the first attempt by Square Enix to present a cross-section of characters and rivalries from the JRPG series that spans decades and multiple instalments. The Dissidia games were simplistic, though visually spectacular fighters that were padded with nauseating dialogue and questionable exploration mechanics. I loved the destructible environments and spectacular attacks, but the script turned many characters that I had come to love into incoherent and insufferable, oft-gasping low talkers. The developers had managed to capture the look of the venerable franchise, but should've abandoned their attempts at a stand alone narrative. Theatrythm takes a different tact, as hinted by the name, focusing on memorable pieces of music across thirteen instalments of Final Fantasy proper (no material from Crisis Core, X-2, XIII-2 or Dirge of Cerebrus). Does relegating the series' big personalities to the background make for a more pleasing score (ha! review pun)?

The short answer: yes. Having memorable crusaders such as Cloud, Squall, and Lightning act as window dressing for a rhythm game that features some of the most poignant midi tunes in gaming history really works a charm. The RPG elements are still there, however, they are somewhat superficial in terms of implementation (in all but one important instance, but more on that later). While you do indeed choose your party, adorn them with abilities, equip a group item, earn experience points and level up; players can pay lip service to these mechanics and enjoy the tap-heavy action with few concerns of failure. If you plan on taking on the higher difficulties, a Phoenix Down or two will help, but you can still succeed without them.

As I said previously, the implementation of RPG elements in Theatrhythm is usually pretty light except for one important genre trope: grinding. To experience all that this game has to offer, you'll need to replay a modest amount of content ad infinitum.  As an example, to unlock the Expert difficulty for a game in Series mode: you need to defeat a game set on Basic and then play through each of the songs individually on Expert. I'm not even halfway to unlocking one member of the extensive cast of extra characters, and I've beaten the final boss! After six hours I may have seen the epilogue, but I would dearly love to access some extra content without going round in circles.

There are three types of tracks in Theatrhythm: Field Music, Battle Music and Event Music. Field Music tracks are by far the easiest to beat, with a lot of held notes that make it easy to score critical hits. Battle Music gets chaotic (read: awesome) on higher difficulties with notes appearing on four tracks, one for each party member. Event Music tends to be a little harder to master, with varying pace and lots of swiping. One piece of each type from each instalment is available from the outset, and in terms of difficulty across the series, it's all relative. To actually see the challenge that the game can potentially present, you'll need to select higher difficulty levels: Expert and Ultimate. Basic gets a bit tiresome after thirteen games worth of songs, Expert is a genuine test of your tapping and swiping abilities, and Ultimate is hard to the point of trolling!

Presentation is one of the game's strongest points, with each of the franchise's heroes, summons and villains rendered using a gorgeous, chibi papercraft style. Theatrhythm -- in distinct contradiction to both the Dissidia games and what I endured of FFXIII -- even has a sense of humour, subtly poking fun at the melodramatic nature of the series with your party delivering a random, usually nonsensical war cry before each song. The track selection is also of a high standard; even the maligned Final Fantasy XIII ends up sounding good with "Saber's Edge" holding up as one of the series' best boss themes. Your eyes and ears will sing the praises of Theatrhythm, whether you're a fan of Final Fantasy or otherwise. I should note that I preferred to play without the system's patented 3D visuals as I found that focusing on the track line led to blurring of characters and effects.

Theatrhythm may borrow some characters from the Dissidia games, but its aural focus makes for a far more enjoyable experience. Unburdened by lofty dialogue and painful pensivity,  a series worth of memorable arrangements is given new life with a whimsical presentation style and simple, addictive tap and swipe gameplay. There may be some issues with grinding and repetition, but it's an unexpectedly enjoyable trip down memory lane that I can easily recommend to fans of Final Fantasy and rhythm games alike.

Wednesday, August 1

Action figure power play: Solid Snake -- Square Enix: Play Arts Kai

I had a terrible day at work today and if there's one thing that can cheer me up, it's vidyagaemz. Normally I'd calm my nerves by buying a new game, but that was the old Tristan. I have to find some other way to deal with my anxiety and frustration.

Luckily enough I had a beautiful deluxe action figure to open up. The Metal Gear Solid: Play Arts Kai: Solid Snake Action Figure to be precise. I had originally intended to keep the figure mint in box, but circumstances (read: shopping sprees) have forced my hand. 

Plus a post-mortem video where I broke a weapon!