Friday, August 29, 2014

Fail States and Teleglitch

"Sometimes, after you've tried really hard and failed, you feel like giving up. The cool thing about life is that it's okay to give up. It is totally okay. But it's also totally okay to keep trying even harder. The really hard thing about life is making a choice between these two." 
-- Teleglitch death screen

     Death is a. . .peculiar thing in video games. At times it is the most compelling piece of gravitas the medium can bring to bear: a permanent, destructive operation in an interactive environment. At others, it's the least consequential thing you could imagine: a minor setback, discarded from the world's memory when you're forced to reload and try again. A fail state, as they're often referred to.

     Games - in the traditional sense, at least - are kind of about their challenges, which in turn makes failure a sort of glitch in the system. Protagonist's aren't supposed to fail. The hero is triumphant and the villain defeated with their plans sundered; that's how it's supposed to go. Imagine for a moment if Luke never learned how to use the Force, or if Tony Stark died of his heart condition before he made the Iron Man suit. It'd be weird, right? The question isn't whether or not the main character will overcome their struggles, it's how they'll do it. It's the same with games. Despite being about their challenges, games are meant to be beaten; it's a paradox where obstacles are designed to stop you but simultaneously are meant to be torn down.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mushishi Episode 12: Nui is Kind of the Best

     I'm rewatching Mushishi on DVD and blogging it. Previous post here. First post here. You can watch this episode and the rest of the series legally (and free) on Youtube. For those in need of a refresher, there's a list of brief episode descriptions here.

     Have you ever had a really good teacher? Not just someone you liked, but someone from whom you truly learned? Let me tell you, it's a wonderful thing. They say something and you just get it, like you're hooked up to some kind of hive mind and can just share knowledge freely. Imagine that. Imagine being able to communicate with no barriers. No spending nine months typing up a draft (ha ha. . .haaa), no taking awkward pauses to find the right word, no character limits.

     I guess part of what makes these people so special is their rarity. It seems that for every good teacher there are ten bad ones. Think about them for a second, too. What makes someone a bad teacher? There are a multitude of reasons, to be sure, but in my experience a lot of it boils down to being self-centered. I mean that in the most literal sense, too - they just can't see things from someone else's perspective. "This explanation makes sense to me, so it must also make sense to you."

     One-Eyed Fish is an episode about Ginko's past, his relationship to Nui (the narrator), and his deep ties to the mushi. But it's also about good and bad teachers, how they impart knowledge, and the impact that can have.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Pilgrimage of Kate & Maurice, Finale: The Eldergleam


     I'm Kate, a wood elf warrior with no gold who can only use bows. My companion Maurice is Breton pilgrim on the verge of death. Together we're traveling halfway across Skyrim's massive world, on foot, to Eldergleam Sanctuary. There's just one catch: if Maurice dies along the way, we have to reload and try again from the beginning. We're nearly there, and all that stands in our way is a brief patch of hilly forests and the wolf pack directly in front of us.

     I'm. . .calm. Almost eerily so. We've fought and crept our way through the interminable gauntlet of ice wolves and sabre cats, snuck past the bandits at Valtheim, and slew the great demon bear of the river. What are a few mewling curs? As if in some sort of hypnotic trance - and to be fair, I've been awake doing this for far too long at this point - I coolly draw and wait for the now familiar nudge of Maurice colliding head-first into my body, a habit Skyrim's companion AI seems to love. Almost unaware of what I'm doing, I loose an arrow at the most visible wolf and systematically extinguish the other two as they charge in from either flank. We leave the bodies and continue on our way.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Pilgrimage of Kate & Maurice, Pt. 4: Giants and Dragons and Bears, oh my!

     I'm Kate, a wood elf warrior with no gold who can only use bows. My companion Maurice is Breton pilgrim on the verge of death. Together we're traveling halfway across Skyrim's massive world, on foot, to Eldergleam Sanctuary. There's just one catch: if Maurice dies along the way, we have to reload and try again from the beginning. Right now we're locked in mortal combat with our arch-nemesis, an unavoidable cave bear, and Maurice charged across the river towards him when I wasn't looking.

     I can start to feel my chest tighten. I really don't want Maurice to die. He's kinda mean and incredibly moronic, but I've become attached to the guy. We did so well this time. Not here. Don't let him die here.

     No, I won't. I can't. It's not over yet. Maurice only just crossed the river, and he's hasn't reached the bear yet. I might still be able to get a few arrows out before they clash and the foolhardy Breton is viciously mauled. I quickly take aim and watch as my arrow soars through the air and thuds pathetically into the ground next to the bear, hurting absolutely no one. Crap.

     If my chest was tightening before, now it's tied itself into a Gordian knot and set up a winch on either end. This is really bad. Maurice has almost reached the bear, which means another shot like the one I just made has a good chance of hitting my companion if I'm not careful. I don't have a good plan. Even if I do manage to hit the bear, how will I ever do enough damage in time? The desperation is clawing its way into my mouth. Shoving it back down as best I can, I take aim again, sighting at its chest so the arc will lift the arrow into its head. The bear is standing up on its hind legs, about to take a deadly swipe at the now-nearby Maurice. I fire.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pilgrimage of Kate & Maurice, Pt. 3: The River of Death

     I'm Kate, a wood elf warrior with no gold who can only use bows. My companion Maurice is Breton pilgrim on the verge of death. Together we're traveling halfway across Skyrim's massive world, on foot, to Eldergleam Sanctuary. There's just one catch: if Maurice dies along the way, we have to reload and try again from the beginning. After surviving a gauntlet of wolves and painstakingly sneaking past a predatory tiger, we're immediately greeted by another of the feline menaces.

     The Sabre Cat is looking right at us. It's dark out, but it's not that dark out. How are we not being detected? You're just pretending to ignore us, aren't you? We're beneath your notice, is that it? Don't you mock me, kitten. If I didn't have to look after this profusely-bleeding excuse of a traveling companion, I would crush you. With arrows. In the face.


     I'm sorry dear I didn't mean it when I called you names, don't look at me like that, let's just go.

     In an unexpected and not entirely logical twist, I've started to develop survivor's syndrome with someone who keeps dying. Initially, Maurice's idiotic berserker charges into the gas-piston jaws of death annoyed me, but I started finding it a weird kind of endearing after a while. Eventually, my gut response morphed into what it is now: absolute terror. When he pulls out his comically large war axe and bull rushes a pack of wolves or giants that will surely slay him, I can't help but feel reminded of that time one of my dogs ran into the street as a puppy.