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Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Kids, have a seat. We have to have a talk.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

You might be wondering why videogames and I have been sleeping in separate beds these last few weeks. You see, Videogames and I, well, we haven’t been making each other very happy lately and sometimes when grown-ups don’t make each other happy, they have to spend some time apart. Now, you’re going to hear an awful lot of awful things like “Daddy’s been spending all his time with that juggy mistress of his; the one that keeps him in the basement until all hours of the morning recording a six song EP with his friendly gang of un-likely troubadours. He comes home with whiskey on his breath and malice in his heart,” and I just want you to know, it’s not your fault.

With what little time I’ve managed to scrape together, I’ve found comfort in the wide and welcoming arms of a little browser-based game called Echo Bazaar. My career’s experience with the genre has failed to hold my attention, but this unique little game has turned the tide. It drops you in an oddly titillating subterranean setting that has consistently had me thumbing the worn edges of my credit card, considering spending ten of my hard-earned dollars for ten more Actions/Day. “Fallen London” is a semi-steam punk, Dickensian, film-noir flavoured metropolis full of imaginative oddities and beguiling narratives. After character creation, you escape from prison by utilizing one of four unconventional RPG stats: Dangerous, Persuasive, Watchful, and Shadowy.  Your stats increase with use, the higher the stat the more challenges are available to you and the more likely you are to succeed at them. Regardless of their outcome, every course of action is rewarded with a sumptuous ration of literary swagger, where in the bulk of the game’s merit lies. Their words are a torrent of sinful drink, flowing o’er the palette’s edge, staining the weave of your crisp, new, camel coloured topcoat. The Escapist gave it their “coveted” albeit verbose Best-Browser-Based-Game-of-the-Year-Award, but mind you its not for the unimaginative given that the game is 90% text based, but if your brain has yet to degenerate in to grey, milk-flavoured mush, check it out.

A group of us sat huddled round the initially innocuous glow of my roommates monolithic, billion-inch TV with the lights off and watched as Amnesia: The Dark Descent made children of us all. If you haven’t heard of it, Frictional Games has put the “survival” back in survival horror. Armed with little more than an oil lamp and your own fleeting grip on reality, you must descend in to the acrid bowels of a labyrinthine medieval mansion as Daniel, a man suffering from self-induced “Amnesia” (Hey…) in order to find and kill a man named Alexander, as you have instructed yourself to do in a letter written by your pre-amnesiac self. The plot is revealed bit by bit, in notes and letters found throughout the castle as you play through something resembling the horrific love child of Myst and Silent Hill 2, but don’t come looking for nurse-crunching violence. You’re told early on that you have no chance of defeating the living nightmare that is constantly pursuing you and flight is the only option. Torches must be lit and Daniel must remain in light lest his sanity meter plummet, causing you to collapse to the cold stone floor, sucking your thumb in a puddle of your own lukewarm urine. Had I seen it before the Riddlethos Awards week, I’d have quickly crowned it the Most-Atmospheric without a second thought.

Hopefully I’ll learn to manage my creative output a little better after my run-in with the Tyrannical Time-Hitler that has been these last few weeks. Should anyone be interested, this is the reason you haven’t heard from me in a while. That will change.

Call Me Lameish – Game of the Year 2010

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

May I have the envelope please…

On a more personal note, thanks to everyone who’s voiced their support for the Call Me Lameish video series. Since I signed on with this venerable troop of misfits earlier in the year, it’s made all the difference in my motivation to continue writing and producing the best content I can. See you in 2011.

-Lameish

Best Atmospheric Exerience 2010 – Lameish

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Heavy Rain

Every time I sat down to play this game, I walked away craving a stiff drink, a cigarette, and even the most remote sign that my actions had any consequence against the crippling omnipotence of a human propensity for the rape of innocence. No HUD, no score counter, just you and the most claustrophobic urban wasteland imaginable, where the broken make their homes and the naked hide from light. You’ve failed as a father and a man, allowing your life and the life of your one surviving son to sink in to disrepair, until he is stolen out from under your crippled hands, taken to a place that, in all likelihood, is better than the rickety tin-roof you’ve managed to raise over your head. The nights are black and the days are gray and the rain floats the sewage out in to the streets and its all you can do to bend to your antagonist’s will in the desperate hope that you might return your son to the bleak life you’ve carved out for him. Hookers, trench coats, and typewriters all decorate the walls of this grizzly jouer-noir. I’d sign a petition to get a surgeon general’s warning put on the box and little travel pack of Prozac placed inside. Gold star.

Runner Up: Mass Effect 2

Every planet, space station, and starship bears its own individual architecture, customs, and practices. Where other games struggle to assemble an effective atmosphere, Mass Effect 2 pulls off dozens. Just another brilliant example of the level of detail and creativity that went in to this game’s construction. Unfortunately, it suffered from being a jack of all atmospheres, master of none. In fairness, its hard to compete with a game that makes you take a serious look at dropping your un-paid, part-time videogame journalism gig to work the homicide beat.

-Lameish

Most Addictive Game 2010 – Lameish (Sort Of)

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

The Beast

Borderlands

(Yes, I know it came out last year, but consider this more of a personal outreach for sympathy rather than a real assertion of objective merit.)

A dear friend brought a great evil in to my house in the days leading up to Christmas. Its name was Borderlands and its hunger for our leisure time knew no earthly limits. All that kept our lives from being completely digested was our agreement to only play it together, whenever our respective schedules would allow. More accurately, it would of, had I not been LYING. I’m sorry, Jeffrey. It was clever in its malicious deception. It came in the guise of a colourful post apocalyptic shooter, complete with comprehensive customization options and an exciting visual style. What lay beneath was something infinitely more sinister, and when the fog was lifted and its true nature could finally be seen by the cruel morning’s light, it came at me with fangs blazing and bore me down to its acrid den, permitting me to emerge only once its abyssal appetites had been sated, a husk of the man I once was.

Did it come out last year? Yes.

Should it be filed under the best of 2010? Probably not.

But take head. Evil has little regard for something so trivial as chronological acuity.

Runner Up: Mass Effect 2

Borderlands swallows you up by dangling colourful treats in front of your nose, where as Mass Effect is more like the best bedtime story ever told. The latter beckons you onward with promises of dreamscapes populated by the fantastically intrepid and unprecedentedly strange, where as the former maintains the illusion of consistent and quantifiable self-improvement. Neither has any relevance beyond its own boundaries, but only one nourishes a beautiful sense of childish intrigue and relentless fascination for meticulously constructed fantasy worlds. Guess which one.

-Lameish

Dirty Words: The Low Art of “Splatterhouse”

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Remember the perverse little thrill you felt hearing the first hushed whispers of Mortal Kombat? A game your parents wouldn’t dream of ever letting you touch, forcing you over to a friend’s house who’s parents were mid-divorce and couldn’t be bothered to do any real parenting? A game where the right combination of buttons, skillfully entered, would result in violent decapitation, or dismemberment, or getting uppercut in to a spiked ceiling, or a lake of acid, or an active wind turbine? If that was a definitive moment in your sordid relationship with videogames, Splatterhouse is going to have you feeling all warm and gooey inside. That, and it means you’re one sick twist.

Namco’s newest is another revival trend game that reboots their classic arcade beat’em up of the same name, with a sinister and ambiguous agenda. You play as Frank, a noodle-armed mama’s boy who’s decided the perfect place to propose to his college sweetheart is the cavernous anti-chamber of her chemistry professor’s labyrinthine estate. The professor reveals himself to be more of the “mad scientist” persuasion and exhibits his questionable ethical standards by snatching up Frank’s steady girl and putting a pill in the poor fellow, leaving him to bleed out on the cold tile floor. Jason Voorhees evidently popped in earlier and must have left in something of a rush, because he left his hockey mask lying about and it ends up seducing poor, bloody Frank in to putting it on, which then transforms him in to a  leviathanic man-rhino. Frank subsequently maims his way through level after level of 3D and 2D platforming, rending limb from splintering limb in a homicidal rampage that lends new meaning to word “gratuity”. Funny thing is, it came ofs as quite artistic at times.

The word “Pandering” ranks among the lowest and most repugnant as can be visited on any work of art, regardless of the medium, but Splatterhouse has forced me to re-examine the term. Traditionally it connotes construction based solely around the market’s demand rather than creativity, with only a financial goal, and not an artistic one. Its what most franchise videogame adaptations are guilty of, unfortunately leading to a generalization that can at times be un-just. In this case, what initially came-off as shameless demographic targeting was later coloured with tones of solidarity and understanding for the most torturous of adolescent, hormonal frustrations. Splatterhouse exhibits an extremely intimate understanding of the appetites of the standard issue pre-teen, to the point that it could easily be imagined as a sort of cathartic exercise in alleviating adolescent angst. The commercial result is easy enough to document, but the artistic result is easily missed.

Grasping at straws, you say? Projecting my own bleeding-hearted desire for videogames to be validated as an artistic medium, am I? Perhaps, but consider this: following his transformation, the mask communicates with Frank, seemingly from somewhere within his mind, suggesting all manner of base savagery (in which you subsequently indulge) and influencing the actions of an otherwise rational protagonist. Call it instinct, ID, or the devil in our shoulder, but its no rare occurrence that the soul of man is divided in to conflicting entities, each vying for dominance, pulling in polarized directions. Being the young man that he is, Frank would be enduring the pinnacle of his life’s hormonal craze. Those of us unfortunate enough to remember it would not be far fetched in equating the experience to a struggle for self-control against ruthless and morally un-sound influences, emanating from within.

Your first vengeful romp through the good doctor’s halls reveals a room with numerous plaques adorning the walls, each with a gibbering, many-eyed maw, cackling away in cruel-hearted ridicule. It is derogatory and direct, aimed squarely at Frank, who must fend off waves of enemies that will only cease when enough blood is spilt causing the laughter to stop, and the way to become open. An arbitrary scenario to most, but to the downtrodden teen male, facing daily ridicule form his peers, however jovial, it’s a cathartic exercise, full of appropriately surrogate parties. Reality would forbid such vengeful violence. Splatterhouse demands it. Indulge your aggression until the sting of belittlement stops; A more accurate appraisal of the teenage dream, if you ask me.

As a game, it didn’t do much for me, but this shouldn’t be considered an assessment of its merit as a means of entertainment, so much as an interpretation. Even with our calamitous puberty behind us, many of us bear sufficient scars, figurative and quite often literal, to be easily reminded of its obstacles. The good folks at Namco remember them too; only they took the opportunity to explore them and extract something that sates every unfulfilled appetite we were left with. It’s a game that creatively illuminates an aspect of the shared human experience, and even though it grew tiresome, there aren’t many of those around these days.

-Lameish