Just in time for Thanksgiving, Craig and Chris offer a juicy, mouth-watering buffet of discussions, including the Xbox One, the bevy of recent Persona announcements, the Wii U’s first year anniversary and more. In the past week, the lads have been playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Super Mario 3D World, Killer Instinct, Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW and Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
About Author: Craig Lupienski
Posts by Craig Lupienski
Uploaded a week late, in this episde, Craig, Chris and Seth discuss the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the sale of one million units, as well as Bravely Default’s North American release. The guys have been playing a ton of games, including Resogun, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Flower, The Wolf Among Us, Proteus, Lost in Shadow and more.
My siblings and I had kind of bad upbringing. Not “oh no I’m grounded because I did something stupid and I can’t get my way” kind of bad. Tumultuous, hungry, turbulent, lonely, even violent bad. We poor, abused, confused.
In the mid to late 90s, we found solace and solidarity in otherwise mundane things. Fall afternoons shooting Nerf guns at each other. Hours wasted away watching Nickelodeon and The Simpsons. Three controllers plugged into a curvaceous, charcoal Nintendo 64. Small, unremarkable bubbles that kept us safe.
I’m not interested in discussing sales numbers or the rate at which new releases appeared on the Nintendo 64. I’m not even interested in discussing the quality of the games. All of that whiny shit is just fodder for boring people with no other way to measure the worth of the dollars or time spent on some appliance that now rests, slanted to one side, somewhere in their closet. The value of the Nintendo 64 is not measured in numbers or dick waving for me.
To understand the value of the Nintendo 64 is to understand what it is like to have nothing else when dinner is but toast and watered down Kool-Aid. The terrifying feeling of not knowing when your parents will be home. To know what it’s like to be scared, to not know where you might sleep tonight, to absolutely hate every other moment of your life. Four controller ports. That’s all it took to stave off depression, anxiety, frustration, anger. Nothing else at the time could have bound us together.
The Nintendo 64 was a port in a storm. Shelter in a disaster. It brought me and my brother and my sister together around a mediocre 20″ tube TV, its cord severed and taped together after our father cut it in some fit of rage. Cartridges shoved into a console. Loose, wobbly analog sticks. Shit talking, wailing, complaining, mostly just laughing. We had so very little else. It’s not a number, it’s not just an appliance, it’s not just video games. There is no argument; it might have been all we had.
This week, on the cusp of the launch of new consoles, Craig, Chris and Seth talk about… how disinterested they are, as well as the general fatigue or boredom of the industry at large. From listener feedback, the trio discuss an interpretation of Majora’s Mask, the definition of “next gen,” and the memories or nostalgia that can be tied to video games. They have been playing The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Fantasy Life and Rymdkapsel.
It’s been a while but we’re back in style! Craig is back from Japan and talks a little of his trip, Chris makes nonsensical jokes while inebriated and Seth talks about go karts or something I don’t know who cares. The guys discuss the IronFall 3DS tech demo, Swap Note and Pottery Barn. They’ve been playing Pokemon X/Y Version, Senran Kagura, Sonic Lost World on both the 3DS and Wii U, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Fatal Frame IV and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies.
IronFall demo on the 3DS
Asterix and Obelix XXL on the GBA
COP the Recruit on the DS
I’ve long liked video games. Why has always been a moving target, and so what I look for in a game, what I enjoy in the industry, has always changed. It is an eager, insatiable desire to experience and learn all that I can. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like the industry has kept pace with my appetite.
I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 games and have played thousands more. I read and talk about them; I’ve written about them both as an enthusiast and as a professional. I’ve covered events, interviewed developers and taken hundreds of photos. I know there are a lot of people in the same position and I have no idea how they maintain driven or excited. I’m bored.
I don’t finish my games nearly as much as I used to and I’ve made peace with this, but in many cases, I feel aimless and tired even within a couple hours of beginning to play a brand new game. I was probably even looking forward to it. But it’s composed of the same systems I’ve experienced dozens of times over, propped up by a paper thin narrative stretched out over 10 or 20 or even 50 hours. I cared, and then I got the game in my hands and then I stopped caring. Most games just feel like sleepy fall afternoon.
Earlier this week, discussions erupted about the resolution differences between games on the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Players and writers alike weighed in. Twitter, GAF, blogs. It was pervasive. And I just don’t care. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a judgment. I think other people can value whatever they please. But I don’t value this and I can’t help but feel like a medium, a hobby, an industry I’ve loved for decades has been careening into a direction I can’t understand. My favorite system right now is the 3DS. It’s the size of a couple of Pop-Tarts, it’s the least powerful of the modern machines and it doesn’t get what are considered AAA or blockbuster experiences. I’m on a different planet all together.
Compounding my frustration is that I am a collector. I like holding and preserving these things I really enjoy. The harsh reality? Many of today’s games just aren’t worth preserving, even many of which I actually really like. They’re redundant and too long. Too banal. They’re not challenging, and I don’t mean “challenging” as in difficult to play. I mean powerful, alluring, arresting, interesting. They don’t just challenge me, they challenge the entire medium. Why are these games so few and far between?
Proteus challenged me. Gone Home challenged me. I am glad for them. I wish, though, that more games like them existed. I wish they were physical, I wish I could save them, share them, return to them. Touch their art and flip through the pages of their manual. There isn’t much posterity in a downloadable game. In 10 years, it will be difficult to return to it and in 20, it might not even be reasonably possible. What a blow to what is still a growing a medium: Its most compelling games are essentially born with an expiration date.
Maybe I shouldn’t have gobbled up games and knowledge and experiences like I did. Maybe I’d still be content playing just a handful of samey games a year. Maybe I’d care about resolution and RAM. But maybe the industry can stop chasing overwrought, super long chore generators. I’m tired of the tutorials and all the terrible dialog and the 15 minute credit scrolls. There’s gotta be more than this.
The concept of the ocean terrifies me. Not water and not even the ocean itself. I swim, and living on a coast, sometimes even in the ocean. It’s really more the thought of a vast expanse of, like, nothing. And only seemingly nothing. An entire universe of things lurk below the surface. I’m never in the middle of the ocean so the fear rarely rears its head, though seeing photos of things in the water that don’t belong in the water (sunken ships, cars in pools, that stupid LEGO dragon) will trigger a sudden wave of anxiety and dread. No, no, no. Get out of the water. You don’t belong there. It’s primal. It’s my subconscious telling me “Don’t die here. You will be lost forever.”
Before The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Link had traveled the ocean just once and it ended in disaster. He was on his way home. He was done. Almost there. And BAM! A bolt of lightning reduces his boat to splinters and he sleeps on a log for eight dungeons or something. Not an all together pleasant experience. Of course, Link’s Awakening Link and The Wind Waker Link are different lads, separated by centuries and a couple of retcons, but man. Wind Waker Link should have just stayed on Outset Island and chalked up his sister’s kidnapping to the rough and tumble life in Water World. Let Kevin Costner handle it. Stay safe. Forever. In your hut with your grandmother’s soup.
The Wind Waker’s Great Sea is filled with dangers: Cyclones, pirates, ghost ships, fucking giant helicopter fish with crazy clown mouths full of teeth. They’re all just waiting out there, somewhere, far off on the hazy horizon. But they’re not the real menace. No, the flying fish of nightmares are just victims of circumstance. They didn’t ask for this giant, stupid ocean. The ocean is the real enemy here, and it’s at its worst when it is at its most idyllic.
In Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the 3D Zelda games preceding The Wind Waker, Link swam in translucent bodies of water which made Lake Hylia and The Great Bay only slightly less terrifying. Even in the games to follow, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, the waters are clear. Not so in The Wind Waker. Every body of water is a cold, hard, opaque cerulean. It’s an entity all its own and it’s hiding secrets like a sentient being.
Out here, in the middle of nowhere, the solid blue extends in all directions. Link’s tiny boat creeks and groans over the waves, and somewhere below us the entire kingdom of Hyrule sleeps. Dark and slimy. Decaying. Hiding. And I can’t see it. I only let Link leave the safety of the boat if I must. The immensity and the loneliness of the Great Sea is all the more apparent when the momentum of the boat is halted and Link leaps from his craft into ocean. His small frame cannot match the scale of anything in the world around him. I can’t see half his body. The little orb that tells me how long he can swim alone is emptying and Link struggles to even tread water. He’s coughing and sputtering. Why can’t this child from an island village swim for more than two minutes and oh dear god why am I in charge of him?
So we stay in the boat, the closest thing to shelter we have. I keep my eye on a soft, gray shape in the distance. Maybe it’s an inhabited island, maybe a platform, but it’s probably just a scraggily cluster of rocks. A few blades of grass waving in the breeze. It’s a lifeless clump of nothing, and I want to get there desperately but it’s so far away and I can barely see it. A few Tingle Bottles drift aimlessly along the way. I scoop them up and we read them. Brief notes. Photos. People had been here before and now they’re gone. No one is here now. I scribble my own note and toss the Tingle Bottle into the Great Sea.
Don’t die here. You will be lost forever.
As I cruised through Los Santos, a woman cowering behind a trailer in an alley called for my help. She was a celebrity of some kind and wanted assistance in getting past the paparazzi converging on her location. I was confused, so I really didn’t know what to do. She sighed, said she would do it herself and jumped into a nearby SUV. I jumped in with her. She drove. More specifically, she plowed through several paparazzi and barreled through a bunch of intersections. I was given a single star Wanted Level for her transgressions. She slammed on the brakes and fled the vehicle. With the cops steadily approaching, I took the wheel and tried to outrun them in a giant busted pile of steel. I crashed into a tree. As bullets flew everywhere, I ran into the nearby hills where I was chased by a mountain lion so I shot it in the face. I looked up. I was at the Vinewood sign.
This bizarre series of events is a prime example of some the best and most surprising stuff Grand Theft Auto V has to offer. Unexpected, emergent situations. You can’t write this stuff, and the stuff you can write? Well, maybe it’s not so hot.
Grand Theft Auto III once felt scandalous. We huddled in Becca’s basement, passing the Dual Shock 2 controller around, taking turns jacking cars and beating people with baseball bats. Matt would pounce up in down on the couch with each blow. GTA III offered unbridled cartoonish freedom. Violence was how you communicated with the world. Dealing death was your agency. Years on, GTA has lost its bite. It’s a rockstar that has long since forgotten what made him so punk rock in the first place.
Over the years, a shift occurred. Even the box arts communicate the change in tone from a silly cartoon to something more serious.
A lot of modern games try to spin “mature” and “serious” yarns and most fail, so I won’t hold that against GTA. Poop jokes and dogs humping each other, though, are all still par for the course in GTA V. It’s lowest common denominator kind of stuff, scatological humor awkwardly wedged between realistically animated cut scenes about moving up in the world or forgetting one’s past. It’s a complete tonal misfire, appealing to the sort of people who still think GTA is “satire” because it lazily tackles low hanging fruit like Facebook or iPhones. I sort of just wanted to help Michael with his family, and get Franklin a construction job or something. I’m uninterested in poop.
So GTA isn’t written particularly well. It doesn’t play very well either: GTA V still has clumsy physics, cars that don’t really handle like cars, sloppy shooting and many missions ripped right from the franchises’ history books. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. If the game didn’t have a marketing budget rivaling the GDP of small nations, or an enormous and visually pleasing map, I would actually swear it was a middle tier franchise knocked out the door by Atari or something. Which is to say little more than I don’t understand the bold and grandiose statements proclaiming Grand Theft Auto V to be the greatest achievement of the generation. Or ever. Guys. The writing is really stupid and the shooting still sucks. We can do better.
But that isn’t to say I don’t like GTA V. Surprisingly, I do. Much more than I thought I would, in fact. What I don’t like is easier to deconstruct. The only game in the series with consistent themes, art, narrative and gameplay might be Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (so it should come as no surprise that it’s my favorite). GTA V is inconsistent across the board. But the things I like are more abstract and harder to articulate. I can drive down a dusky highway listening to Robyn. I can plan a jewelry store heist and make a clean getaway. I can shoot a mountain lion in the face. GTA V is fun and for all its faults, that’s still worth something.
Few things fill me with both joy and anxiety as the box art for Link’s Awakening.
I turned 10 in 1993. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening released late that summer, just a couple months before my birthday. The commercial was totally a product of its time, campy and stylish. It feels like sheer genius now. I remember seeing it on TV only a couple times, remembering it like a hazy daydream until the advent of YouTube. I do remember it sending me into a frenzy. Playing Zelda on my Game Boy was super exciting.
My mother spent the time between Link’s Awakening’s release and my birthday assuring me that it would be my birthday present; her idea, not mine. She would tease me with faux empathy about how I had to wait so long. I think sometimes she was making herself feel like a good mom, a mom who could deliver a relatively inexpensive birthday present her son wanted as he entered the double digits. It didn’t quite go like that.
My birthday came and went with little fanfare. There was certainly no Link’s Awakening. Though this was not a particularly low point financially for my family, we were typically not well off at any point. Given this, in retrospect maybe I shouldn’t have bugged my parents every other day about the game, but I don’t think I understood economics so well. I did understand being told nearly every single day for two months that I’d get something really great for my birthday and I did not though.
Some time after my birthday passed, and I guess some time after my mother had heard enough “Where’s Zelda?” from a stupid fifth grader, she finally bought it. She came home, threw at me, yelled obscenities, called me names, and in an all too familiar display of creative cruelty, she let me keep the game and my Game Boy, but removed the batteries and told me to figure out how to play it. I didn’t own much, but I managed to scrounge up batteries from odds and ends in my room. I got maybe an hour out of them before I had to micromanage the contrast knob as the picture dissolved and the Game Boy died.
Many of my video game memories link escapist joy with a kind of dread. It creates a strong and lasting impression, though the bond is unbreakable. Often times, to relive the joy the game brought me, I can’t shake how awful I felt to just look at the logo on the box. Link’s Awakening is a terrific game that makes me feel like a terrible human being.
Saints Row is not a series that wastes its open world or its player’s time. I often find open worlds directionless or lacking in enough playthings to justify its existence as an open world all together. But not Saints Row, and especially not Saints Row IV. The transition from hunting for baubles, to engaging in optional activities, to accepting narrative driven missions is easy and frictionless. Even movement is crafted to be joyful. This is a game that wants to be played, and affords the tools and the opportunities to do so at every turn with minimal frustration. The optional side activities and Loyalty missions especially showcase SR4′s flexibility in design and storytelling, heartily encouraging exploring different systems and backstory without being too obvious.
Realizing simply emulating Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t cut it, Volition has continuously embraced the absurd. SR4 has a dubstep gun that literally shoots dubstep at your enemies. You can jump kick an alien in the face after learning the move from being trapped in a side scrolling beat’em up. Your character, the leader of a known crime syndicate, is elected President of the United States, Keith David is your Vice President and wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper shows up to help you out. All of this would come across as an inconsistent childish mess without strong writing that pokes fun at and pays homage to a variety of source material, and builds camaraderie between the primary cast. It’s self-aware and genuinely funny.
The player character and a fellow Saints Row member belting out a duet of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” on a car ride is one of the best moments I’ve had in a blockbuster game.
I often don’t see open world games through, and I certainly don’t take them up on so much of their tertiary content. I usually either become overwhelmed, or bored, or both. But the Saints Row games are one of the few exceptions to this rule, and SR4 plays well to the franchise’s strengths. Few walls between a wealth of great gameplay go a long way in a sandbox city. Dubstep guns don’t hurt either.