California Literary Review

The Dialogue Tree

A Video Game Blog

Fistful of Fillibuster: Director’s Chair Envy


March 10th, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Perhaps it’s the fact that the last couple of games that I’ve reviewed have been about beating the ever living snot out of folks, but I’ve been put into a fighting mood. Well since I’ve got this forum here from my home base at the Metro City, I’m going to turn this mood into a big rambling speech about an issue that’s been in games for a while, the fact that games are so often trying to be movies.

So in case you’re not from here, and by here I mean Earth, a couple of great mediums emerged out of humanity’s technological innovation last century. We had film, television, and of course the main purview of this blog, video games. Oh and since you’re not from our planet, please don’t kill us gentle aliens from beyond the fold, we know so very little of your ways, and mean you no harm. Probably.

Now the main thing all three of these mediums have in common is that they’re all great ways of conveying information. But since our cultural roots love to tend toward the dramatic and humorous, our preferred form of information consumption comes in the form of story. Hell, even when we just want basic information, we probably are going to end up getting a story along with it.

Which plenty of old-timers will so gladly waste our time with. I just wanted to know whether or not this road led to Pico Boulevard gramps!

Gaming is a bit different from the other mediums though, it allows us far more control and interaction than simply whether or not we’re paying attention to what’s on screen. This interactivity is gaming’s main appeal, the aspect that sets it apart from everything else that has come before.

So then why is it that so often in games, the developers that make them decide to try and make movies instead? Playing through Fight Night Champion’s story mode, it was very apparent that the team involved wasn’t attempting to make the greatest narrative in a boxing game, but trying to make a boxing movie that just so happened to let you play through a few parts of it.

Here’s how it breaks down: During the course of your run through champion mode, you will watch a cinematic for a few minutes, play a few minutes of boxing, then watch many more minutes of cutscenes. Most of the fights are based on the time limits of actual boxing matches, usually 2 or 3 minute rounds, in varying numbers of rounds. The longest match is a 12-round battle against the final boss, Isaac Frost, but this is buffered with a movie before and after the match, and with 3 in between certain specific rounds!

Assuming you don’t get stuck for too long on any particular fight, you’re looking at a total playtime of probably five or six hours. At least half of that time (and probably more) is spent watching these little films, where you are simply watching things unfold and with no interaction. Not only that, but when you do interact it’s a very simple pass/fail system. Either you win the match, or you retry it, it’s just not very interactive.

Sure there are plenty of games that are only just games in the more traditional sense. Tetris and Bejeweled are plotless abstract tests of mental reaction. A team deathmatch in Call of Duty fires up the same school-yard competitiveness of capture the flag or hide ‘n seek. It’s not like every game is attempting to be Dostoevsky. And yes, all games to some degree or another only deliver their content, including story, based on whether or not you can beat them.

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The Ballot Box Beat Down – A Hard Corps look at DLC


February 21st, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Here at the Metro City Reform Committee we take a look at the issues going on in gaming and hand out screeds of street justice along with lightning-strike legislation if some ne’er-do-wells decide to abuse the good name of gaming. But over the last week, the meaty harvest that is MvC3 has kept our bellies full of fighting. Thanks goodness some alert citizens hopped on the chance to grab the red emergency phone by the handle and give us a call- albeit about a long running issue in gameland.

That issue fine readers, is DLC. It stands for Downloadable Content and though, wait, “Downloadable” is a single word! Shouldn’t it just be DC? Or is the “L” there just so the Distinguished Competition doesn’t get all pissy and start suing everyone?

It may not be that, but I am sure Luthor’s behind it. You just can’t trust that guy. Also – Happy President’s Day Folks!

Regardless, DLC certainly has its high points, and heck, we all love it when our favorite games don’t have to end just yet right? If your online multiplayer game of choice gets a few extra maps, it helps get rid of repetition, and is a breath of fresh air (and camping spots). So yes, DLC is most assuredly good, and besides it’s always optional isn’t it?

But some folks seem to think that there’s “Bad” DLC, or if feeling really immature, “Stupid-Smelly-Looks-Like-My-Little-Sister DLC”. Yes maturity is going to be a factor here, as many would say complaining over what publishers offer to gamers as options reeks of the worst kind of entitlement.

Okay, not the worst. The worst kind is pictured above – just find one space that your car fits in and isn’t a handicapped zone you %*#&$@#!

So who is in the right? What can be done? It’s a two-sided issue at least, and right here, right now at the MCRC we’re going to see if it’s Publishers that need a swift re-secretarizing of their interiors, or if it’s the gaming public that deserves a few lumps on the noggin if they’ll just stop complaining for once. Besides, it fits nicely as a post-script to the MvC3 review just published on this very site, where such concerns were a definite topic!

Thankfully Konami and ARC Systems Works came and provided us with a perfect example this week – Hard Corps: Uprising! We’ll take a good hard look at that game, as well as a few others, as we examine this issue before coming to a final declaration of justice in the most American of fashions: by voting. So dig in on that trashcan ham and walk along as we smash these problems one at a time!

The Main Event! . . . Of Serious Issues:

Issue 1: The game just came out and on Day One, you can pay more for it!

Now Hard Corps: Uprising is a true spiritual successor to the Contra name. You and another player take control of two soldiers who run, gun, and double jump your way through levels hard enough to make diamonds turn to dust, and filled with enough to bullets, lasers, and other deadly objects that you just might lose your marbles trying to get to the end. Oh, and in true Contra fashion, you get to fight walls!

How do you make a wall an interesting boss? Add a crap-ton of lasers!

But if you decide to take the plunge and pick this game up be forewarned, on day one it came with DLC, specifically two characters that double the playable roster from two to four. This little fact has several fans in an uproar, causing them to go on message boards and scream such petty threats as,

“Yeah I love Contra, no doubt about it. But this Paid DLC on Day 1 business needs to F off big time.” *

Or, “God I hope this game bombs just because of that DLC.” *

*Actual quotes of course. They can be found here .

So what’s wrong with this?

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“I’ll Buy That For A Dollar!” – A Public Service


February 14th, 2011 at 6:45 am

Back in the early nineties if you were a gamer you undoubtedly spent plenty of time at your local arcade, pumping all of your hard-earned allowance and any extra quarters you could mooch, beg, or steal into the big noisy machines that promised massive entertainment for as long as you had the cash. Unless you were either very rich or incredibly skilled, there was little in the way of long-lasting achievement; your high score was probably gone by the next week when the machines were turned off as their owners collected the precious metal tokens you would jam into them relentlessly. Truly, it was a fine object lesson in capitalism for many a youngster.

One of the most shameless games to suck your funds though, was Smash TV.

Smash TV Title Screen

For the amount of money I lost to this machine, I could have payed off my college tuition.

The set-up was simple. You, and possibly a friend, were competing in a game show of the future where you were handed a leftover Double Dare costume and a machine gun, and had to work your way through several rooms of a large television studio while hordes of thugs, bombs, tanks, monsters and robots were thrown at you; all for the sake of collecting toasters, home games, roadsters, “Super VCRs”, cold hard cash and the attentions of skinny models with big Texan hair. America watched to see if you survived, and a very exuberant announcer shouted catchphrases at you from the sidelines.

Stuff like,” Good Luck! You’ll need it!”, “Big Money! Big Prizes! I LOVE it!” and of course “I’ll buy that for a dollar!”

The game was (and still is) brutally difficult since the developers wanted you to lose your lives so you would give them more money. It was actually a fair bit of crass, violent fun, so it worked. So these catchphrases from the MC were burned into the collective consciousness of an entire generation.

This leads us – as all things eventually do – to Robocop.

He’s so awesome he won’t even stop his jazzercise routine when delivering justice- in the form of bullets!

That’s where the “I’d buy that for a dollar” comes from, it’s a quick reference to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic action/satire featuring a cybernetic police officer who doesn’t so much as uphold justice as shoot the criminal underworld in the crotch. Along with The Running Man (the other obvious inspiration for Smash TV), Robocop predicted a future where America was caught in massive economic turmoil and recession, people drove huge gas-guzzling SUVS, corporations had more control than government, and ridiculous reality TV ruled the airwaves.

Huh. With the exception that both the films and the game thought reality TV would still be limited to the game show format, as opposed to the atrocities we’re actually getting, these movies unfortunately turned out sort of accurate predictors of our current economic and cultural climates. Just with fewer robots.

Japanese robot

But as with everything else, Japan’s working on it.

Anyway, here at the Metro City Reform Committee, we’re familiar with hard times (mostly since we deliver them to our enemies); we know that sometimes you need to save a bit of cash to eat or pay rent or whatever. We graduated from the school of Hard Knocks after all, getting a doctorate in awesome – sometimes this means we give back fistfuls of caring rather than our usual knuckle sandwiches of words. Let’s do this by borrowing an already borrowed phrase, and using that as our theme!

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The Metro City Reform Committee: Monday Nights at the Giant Ape Fights!


February 7th, 2011 at 5:08 am

The MCRC’s been delayed for a bit, and for that I apologize. We had a few topics, especially one about active video game protagonists to discuss, but couldn’t get the government funding to conduct proper investigations. So we broke the nose of our handler with a witty rejoinder, and he eventually gave us the 10-90 IJ forms we’d needed. That’s what happens at the Metro City Reform Committee: we deliver beatings with words.

Perhaps it was dealing with weak government officials, or perhaps it was playing through Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, but we got to thinking about Boss Battles. They’re great aren’t they? One of the reasons to play any good action game, if you get right to it.

Link Versus Ganon

Some well known boss rivalries could even be considered . . . legendary? I know, I know, that was terrible.

But something seems wrong in gamingdom. The boss battle and especially the LAST boss battle to occur in a game, is dying. I’m not entirely sure why exactly. It’s probably due to zombies, I mean; they’re in just about every game ever so of course it has to be them! Even if it’s not rooted in zombies directly, it’s definitely a plague occurring in games at about the same rate as the current zombification.

Think of several of the last games you’ve played, especially those you’ve beaten. Think about Borderlands, Alan Wake, Halo 3, and tons of others. Think about the complete letdowns of those finales (for Halo 3 I’m thinking about the Guilty Spark part, not the chase, that was cool), about how it seems a lot of modern games just don’t get how to make interesting final bosses, and many don’t get how to even do regular bosses. Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to games that are in newer or in more modern genres, but even in classic ones as well; a few of the worst battles I’ve recently seen occur in BCR 2.

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The Metro City Reform Committee: An Inaugural Address


January 17th, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Everyone has a hero or two or three. For you, it might be Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator. For others, it might be Caterina Sforza, George Washington Carver, or John Lennon. For myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mike Haggar.

“Who the hell is Mike Haggar?” is what I’m imagining the vast majority are saying upon reading that, and possibly “Why would he be so worthy of praise?” if they were prone to speaking aloud any thought that passed through their head.

I’ll give you a clue, he probably has something to do with the attached picture. Just saying.

Well to me, as I’m sure is the case with others, a personal hero is someone who inspires you by exemplifying the traits you find admirable in humanity. Unfortunately, I often find that the nature of politics is ill suited for nobility and perseverance. Even those who accomplish great things turn out to have plenty of dark secrets, human foibles or just plain bad habits that make it hard to not get too cynical about them.

If you dig deeper, you’ll find that Gandhi probably beat his wife, Martin Luther King Jr. swore worse than a sailor and might have stolen some of his best lines from other speeches, and Lincoln was often depressed if not possibly living a double life. In the grand scheme of things, they’re still noble men, but men all the same and so fallible.

Unfortunately it’s probably true. The man famous for non-violence wasn’t always this way with the woman who was closest to him.

Thus, as a child growing up in the birth of the digital generation it was easy for me to latch onto heroes that would only exist in bits and bytes that could be controlled only via an arcade stick or mouse and keyboard. There were plenty to choose from: Mario, Sonic, Guybrush Threepwood, Mega Man. All of these characters were favorites and loved for a time, but as the years went by, most passed into the territory of “remembered fondly”.

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