Is this cultural appropriation?

When I was younger, I spent a few years living in a small town in the heart of Corn Country, which you can imagine was a bad place to be the “weird kid”.

To this day, I joke that the first Google suggestion when you type in the name of the town is “how do I escape from…”, and this isn’t ENTIRELY true.  The first google suggestion, in reality, is “directions from xxx to mt rushmore” and I will point out that this is almost the same thing inasmuch as it is a request for a route to get out of town and to somewhere interesting.

In all fairness, now that I live in a coastal state, I kind of enjoy meeting other people who managed to get out of similarly…rural…areas, because we often find a sort of camaraderie in having, for lack of a better term, “hick-offs”, wherein we share anecdotes and try to one-up each other with how awful the places we came from were.

That said, there’s not much that raises my hackles more than being around someone who has never lived in the mid-west but still wants to make fun of the area or its residents.  It’s something you can only get away with if you’ve actually been a part of the culture.

With that in mind, I was a little hesitant to try Far Cry 5, because the first impression I had of it was that it was, in short, “let’s shoot some crazy hicks: the video game”.  I probably wouldn’t have tried it at all if it hadn’t been recommended to me by a friend who has a nearly 100% track record in turning me on to games, but he DID recommend it to me and it DID happen to go on sale on Xbox Marketplace shortly after he recommended it and the rest is something you can probably reconstruct.

I’ve put about three hours in, and I am pleased to report that its depiction of the residents of Montana is nowhere near as stereotypical as I’d expected.  There is, obviously, a cult, but most of the locals are just as unhappy to have an apocalyptic death cult in their midst as the player is, and they happily supply you with supplies and firepower when you show up and start knocking cultist heads about.

I will, however, feign offense at just how well a pair of Canadian studios have captured the essence of small-town America, and I don’t think any example shows this quite as well as the bar in one of the first towns you liberate:

There are also signs for a “Testicle Festival” along the roads, featuring a very shocked-looking bull… and, yeah, OK, you Canadians have us there.  I’m still reserving judgement on whether you have the right to poke fun at us, but I’ll at least admit that you’re doing a good job of it.

 

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Anakin Did Nothing Wrong

I’ve been trying to hold fast to my no-MMOs policy this year, and in general I’ve been doing well with that.  The sole exception has been a bit of a dalliance with Star Wars: The Old Republic, though in my defense I will say that this is something I’m doing at my wife’s bidding since she is a huge fan.  If I wind up falling back into the sort of persistent MMO trance I used to sink into back in my EQ days, she has only herself to blame.

It’s not a typical MMO, though, so it at least has that going for it.  It really feels like eight separate single-player games, one for each PC class, where you just happen to see other people running around occasionally, with no need to interact with any of them if you just want to play through your class story.  There are, I understand, dungeons and raids to be tackled if you want bigger numbers on your gear… but apart from that, the “MM” part of “MMO” seems to be heavily downplayed.

I’m treating this as a bit of an experiment.  The game originally launched as a sixty dollar box with a monthly fee and has since become a free-to-play game, albeit one with some hefty restrictions on free players.  For example, a completely free player can’t store their items in the regular bank but needs to wait until they are high enough level to afford a dwelling to stick things in, a free player is limited to two hotbars of skills, and a free player can’t toggle their helmet graphics off.  They’re also limited to specific, more boring, races and receive 20% less experience than a subscriber.

Anyway.  My experiment revolves around playing the game as a complete freeloader and seeing how far I can get in the single-player stories without giving EA a dime.  To that end, I created a human bounty hunter who I refer to as “Biff Punchnuts” though he of course has a proper and far less offensive name.

So far, it’s looking very promising, and I haven’t hit any roadblocks or needed to do any extra grinding.  Rather, I’m finding that I tend to be slightly over level for all of the mandatory quests, even though I’m completely ignoring optional ones.

But, I want to set any discussion of how the game is as a game aside and talk about the setting, because it’s a setting that has always sort of bugged me.

The Old Republic setting started out with a series of comic books, I think, before being turned in to a pair of well-regarded Xbox RPGs and then into this MMO.   It’s set over three thousand years before the events of Star Wars: Episode I, so the fact that the technology used in the Old Republic hasn’t really changed that much in those three thousand years doesn’t make a lick of sense.  The Old Republic has lightsabers, and blasters that look and sound rather like the ones from the movies, and hyperspace travel is a part of normal life, and the landspeeders on Tatooine 3 millennium ago look awfully similar to one that we see rolling down the Mos Eisley streets as Ben and Luke are looking for a pilot to get them to Alderaan.

This makes even less sense when Luke complains that he can’t get much money for his speeder because there are newer models, or when we hear a couple of stormtroopers talking about some new piece of tech.  It’s almost as if technology was completely stagnant for centuries, and then some event started the cycle of innovation up after this long period of stagnation.

For another example – Y-Wing bombers (the greatest starfighter ever put to film) are considered first-rate ships in the Clone Wars and used to great effect in Rogue One, but barely seen on screen after that and completely phased out by the time of Return of the Jedi.  That’s, what, two or three decades before winding up on the scrap heap?  We’ve been flying F-15s for nearly 50 years and are just looking to phase them out in 2022.

So, what if we assume the event that got technology actually started MOVING again was the fall of the Jedi Order… as if the “thousand generations of peace and justice” Kenobi whines about in his little hut were made possible through the Jedi ruthlessly suppressing any technological advancement that might challenge their position as, well, basically a bunch of extremely self-righteous space wizards manipulating the democratically-elected Galactic Senate from behind the scenes.

The parallels to the role of the Catholic Church in the Dark Ages are obvious, and left as an intellectual exercise for the reader.  I’m not sure who Anakin is in this analogy.  Charlemagne, maybe? Look, my sum total of research on the topic is roughly five minutes on Wikipedia.

It is possible, of course, that I am overthinking this.  This has been known to happen.

Still, I really think they should have set the “Old Republic” stuff a couple hundred years – TOPS – before the events of Episode I.

Posted in videogames, PC Gaming, MMORPG | 2 Comments

14:55:36

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had a habit of starting new Dark Souls playthroughs, ringing the first Bell of Awakening, and stopping there, and that this takes me about an hour each time.

Well, this last time I started wondering just how long it would take to play through the game if I never stopped to grind and just kept steadily moving forward.  It turns out that it’s just shy of 15 hours, though nearly 2 of that was spent just farming humanity so I could save Solaire before he went insane.  I like Solaire, and though I have killed Gwyn without his help in the past… it’s a lot easy with everyone’s favorite sunbro around to take aggro.

Now, let’s be clear.  The current world record no-glitches Dark Souls speedrun is under an hour.  That guy has nothing to fear from me.  On the other hand, it took me SIXTY HOURS to beat the game the first time I played it, so being able to go back and whip it in a quarter of the time feels awfully good.

For a little extra masochism, I played the PS3 version, arguably the worst experience possible.  I’d only played the dsfixed Prepare to Die edition and the PS4 Remastered edition before, so I’d never experienced Blighttown in its original 15-frames-per-second glory.  It was… something.

I also wound up needing to eat some crow, because I’d seen a lot of people griping about the new lighting in the Remastered edition and to be perfectly honest I figured it was just a bunch of whining.  Playing the PS3 version after the remaster… no, they really do have a point.  I think the newer version is still better overall, but it stings a little to see the obvious room for improvement that could have made it the truly definitive version.

Counterpoint: oh my god the lava.  I don’t know what they were thinking with the lava.  It was blindingly bright, and it made the half-dozen attempts at Bed of Chaos just that extra bit of awful.

The bigger shock, however, was just how active the seven-year-old PS3 version is.  Nearly every boss room had at least one summon sign sitting in front of it, even the Kiln of the First Flame.  Early bosses, like the Gargoyles and Quelaag, had several signs, and  I even got invaded twice!

…mind you, I died both times.  But at least they were fair fights, not the “and now I will teleport behind you and backstab you” fights that had me turning off the online on the PS4 game.

I’ve been revisiting a lot of old favorites this year, and I should probably do less of that.  At least I haven’t been BUYING a ton of brand-new AAA games to feel guilty about.

 

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On Cultural Exchange

A few days ago, I mentioned that I’d thrown in my Japanese copy of Dark Souls to unwind after a little bit of a vexing day.  It wasn’t one of my more accessible posts, since I was talking about trophies not popping and giving no explanations for why I found that so weird, and I should probably avoid posts full of in-jokes in future.

…in future.

It’s not the future yet, so I’m going to point out one more thing I got a laugh out of from playing the Japanese version of the game.

One of the more…endearing? Sure, that’s a word. Let’s run with it.

One of the more endearing things about the Souls games is the way that the player base uses the in-game messaging system for two purposes:

  1. In an attempt to get other players to jump off of high places and die.
  2. To make off-color jokes that would be the envy of any 7th-grade cafeteria.

The most prominent example of #2, of course, is the floor in front of Gwynevere, the improbably-endowed self-proclaimed Queen of Sunlight.  Anyone who has struggled through Anor Londo to enter her chamber will be met with a sea of messages along the lines of “Amazing Chest Ahead” or “Try Holding With Both Hands”, and one of the things I have been a little curious about is whether the same sort of sophomoric humor would show up in the Japanese version.

Sadly, I must report that “Amazing Chest Ahead” does not appear to be a joke that works in both languages.

On the other, er, hand,

…I am happy to report that “Try Holding With Both Hands” seems to be universal.

This has been your Cultural Exchange Moment of the day.

 

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An entirely heretical opinion about Mass Effect 3.

So, I finished my full Mass Effect series play-through several days ago, but I wanted to sit on this and think about it.

I first played the trilogy in 2014, and the second game was easily my favorite.  It had a huge cast of characters and I loved how everyone got a spotlight mission to dig into their past and their motivations.  I thought the ending was a little… silly, if I’m honest, but that was my only quibble.

Anyway, a big part of my reason for playing through all three games again was because I wanted to play Mass Effect 2 with all of the DLC expansions.  And they were… OK?  They were pretty OK.  I liked the Kasumi character mission, and Lair of the Shadow Broker, but the other two expansions didn’t really grab me, and adding two more crewmembers to the Normandy felt a little unnecessary considering the size of the cast.

I also wound up feeling frustrated by the simplified character customization options – both the skill trees and the gear you acquired felt like huge steps backwards from the first game.

So, it was still great… but I realized that I much preferred the first game, for all of its janky animations and spotty performance, just because it felt more like an RPG and less like a combination of a mediocre cover shooter and an RPG.

After that, I started Mass Effect 3 with some trepidation.

Mass Effect 3, it turns out, is a bit like a milkshake.  A proper diner milkshake, that is, one of the ones where they bring you out a glass of milkshake and then a tumbler full of more milkshake to pour into your glass when you’re finished with the first serving.  At the bottom of the glass, there is a mess of chocolate sludge that you regret drinking almost as soon as you’ve drunken it.

In this analogy, the tumbler of more milkshake is the DLC and the chocolate sludge is the ending.  Endings.  Look, I’m not particularly good at descriptive writing.

Leaving my literary failings aside, it turns out that it’s a pretty good milkshake.  In fact, I wound up liking it more than the middle entry in the trilogy, which shocked the heck out of me.  It’s still half cover shooter and half RPG, but the shooter part of it feels MUCH better than it did in both previous games, and it’s a lot more challenging on the “Normal” difficulty level than I expected.

Part of that is because your squadmates are as dumb as bricks at times, which I will acknowledge as a very valid critique of the game.  But only part.

ME3 also brings back interesting skill trees and an overflowing arsenal of loot and upgrading weapons and installing mods and choosing between your favorite mods and your favorite ammo types and… look, if enjoying choosing which of a dozen subtly-different shotguns I want Tali to be packing is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Also, while the side stories in ME2 were great, ME3 is where you finally see stuff pay off.  You get to see the end of the Krogan genophage storyline, you find out where the Geth came from and maybe even get to negotiate a truce with them, you catch up with the Rachni queen and even find that Conrad Verner has been hiding a brain under that knockoff N7 helmet.

You notice I am not talking about the END end, just the satisfaction of seeing the plot threads from ME1 and ME2 finally tied off.

Then you dig into that second tumbler of milkshake and it turns out that the expansions are pretty fantastic as well.  It’s a shame that they originally cost as much or more than the game proper, of course.  I’m looking at them from the perspective of someone who got them for 1/3rd of their original prices.  “Omega” is a little bit of a shooting gallery, but “Leviathan” and “Citadel” were so good that it’s nearly criminal that they aren’t bundled with the main game.

It’s one really good milkshake…

…and then you hit the chocolate sludge.  And, yeah, it’s the last thing you’re going to remember about the milkshake, and none of the endings are particularly SATISFYING (Though I did wind up enjoying the Deus Ex-esque “Control” ending), but it’s still a 40 hour game that nails the first 39 hours before hitting a banana peel while trying to stick the landing.

So here I am, completely rethinking how I felt about these games.  I’m not absolutely certain whether I prefer the first or the third, but suddenly the one I would have raved about (to anyone patient enough to listen) is sitting on the third place pedestal and wondering what happened.

Crazy times.

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The Dark Souls of Trophy Glitches

After finishing my Mass Effect trilogy replay – I’ll have a post about that in a few days – I was looking through my backlog for inspiration and realized that I had a bunch of games on the PS3 that had been picked up in one PSN sale or another and never played.  I figured I’d dig the system out, hook it up, and see whether or not I actually wanted to give any of them any serious time.

The answer was no, by the way, which was kind of a depressing realization.  I doubt I spent more than five dollars on any of the games I wound up consigning to the digital trash heap, but it was still a reminder that I used to be pretty indiscriminate in what I bought, so long as it was a bargain.

Anyway, after feeling a bit silly about the money I’d wasted, I decided to work off some of the frustration with a quick Dark Souls session.  I’d never actually played the PS3 version of DS1, but I picked up a disc of it in Japan last year because I liked the cover art and I thought it might be interesting to see what the game was like under the limitations of its original hardware.

(Unsurprisingly, it’s the same game, just a little less pretty and a little more clunky.)

I have a habit of starting up Dark Souls, creating a new character, making a mad dash through the graveyard to grab the Zweihander, grinding up enough levels so I can two-hand it, and then going and killing the Taurus Demon and the Gargoyles so I can ring the first bell of awakening.  It takes me a bit over an hour to do this.  I’m not exactly a speedrunner.

The strangest thing happened when I got to the bonfire above Andre, however – I had the “Estus Flask” trophy pop.  This is normally a trophy you get about five minutes into the tutorial.  On the other hand, I was playing a Japanese version of the game.  Maybe the trophies were laid out differently?

I kept going, whacked the Gargoyles, got the general feeling of self-satisfaction that always comes after killing a Souls boss even if you’ve killed it a dozen times before, rode the elevator back to Firelink and shut the game down.

Then I took another look at my trophies…

…I’m not really sure how that happened, but I’m kind of tickled to see it.

Side note, when it comes to games you wouldn’t expect to still have any multiplayer action happening, the original Dark Souls ought to be right at the top of the list.  It’s seven years old at this point, and there are superior versions on every modern console and PC.  I did NOT expect to get to Solaire’s ledge before the gargoyles and see FOUR white soapstone signs next to his bright yellow summon sign.

 

 

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Being a basically immature individual.

Discovering Evan Dorkin in my late teens may not have been the best thing for me.  That point in your life is when you’re supposed to start Growing Up, and I was doing an OK job of it… and then I found Hectic Planet.  I’m not going to say it’s completely responsible for my spending the last few decades with a maturity level stuck at roughly twelve years old, but it was certainly a contributing factor.

It’s in this general spirit that I regularly seek out and eat novelty “food” items, most of which are Very Bad For Me.  That’s your rainbow frappucinos, your grossly-oversized burgers, your deep-fried-anything.  Fair food.

Frankly, it’s a wonder I’ve lived this long.

Anyway, Carl’s Jr is currently selling a limited edition dessert item consisting of a box of Froot Loops-themed mini donuts, and I would like to be very clear that I was actually sort of being an adult here.  I did NOT go to Carl’s Jr to buy a box as soon as I found out about them.

On the other hand, when my wife asked me if I wouldn’t mind stopping at their drive-thru window so I could bring home burgers, well… obviously it was a sign.

Froot Loops were always a favorite cereal of mine when I was a small lad, and I have fond memories of getting up early on Saturdays to watch cartoons and pound down bowl after bowl of, basically, a shaped and brightly-colored sugar substrate.

I have less fond memories of the first time I actually made myself sick in the process.  But let us continue.

What you get for your money is five tiny donuts in gloriously brilliant shades of neon.

Hilariously, when I went to find the nutritional information for these things on the Carls Jr web site, I found them filed under “breakfast sides” and not “desserts”, which is, um, creative if nothing else.  I guess it’s because they’re cereal themed, but the Dave Berry gag about “part of a balanced breakfast” has never seemed more appropriate.

For the record, the box of donuts is 320 calories – less than a package of Pop Tarts –  so it’s not the absolute worst thing you could be eating.  Take that to heart as you order your own box.

I expected… well, I expected the worst, to be honest.  I have never been a fan of Hostess Donettes, and that’s what these kind of look like.  I also haven’t eaten the cereal these are based on since those days of Saturday morning cartoons, so I was expecting to have some last bits of my childhood ruined.

With that last bit in mind, I cannot say for certain whether these actually taste like Froot Loops cereal.  I CAN say that they have a taste and smell that is 100% faithful to my MEMORY of Froot Loops, so at the very least they are powerful nostalgia bombs.

As a display of self control, I actually did offer my wife one.  Since she is far more of an adult than I will ever hope to be, she graciously declined.  Her loss.

I probably shouldn’t go back to Carl’s Jr until these things have left the menu.  The urge to buy a couple of boxes and bring them home and pour milk on them is strong, and I think – no, I am certain – that I would regret the experience.

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