Posts about gaming

on the defiance of expectations in Epic Mickey

I love it when a game defies my expectations sufficiently to make me uncomfortable. If a game can make me feel discomfort, there's something worth considering there--something that merits deeper understanding. There are things that a game can say about the player that couldn't be said in any other medium, and sometimes the message is all the more effective when I'm caught vulnerably by my own assumptions.

My first experience with this kind of discomfort came during my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2. Near the end of the game Shepard--the protagonist and player character--has accumulated a band of compatriots toward a final mission to stop the Reapers; but just before that final mission, the ship's crew is abducted by the Collectors.

Mass Effect is a role-playing game, and understanding genre tropes is an important aspect of interpreting a work and its impact. Many fantasy role-playing games have a similar plot point: the hero has completed his preparations. He is near the end of his journey. The stakes have never been higher, and the situation is urgent: Meteor is about to crash into Midgar; Gannon is about to destroy Hyrule; or, as is the case in Mass Effect 2, the Reapers are preparing to consume all life in the galaxy.

But role-playing games have another trope: the side quest. These are typically available throughout the game; but the moment before the final climactic mission is the last chance in most RPGs to finish up any side-quests that have been left undone. In Mass Effect 2, side quests take the form of "loyalty missions"--character-specific missions that provide additional backstory and inter-personal context for the members of your cohort. Completing these missions also improves an invisible but important loyalty stat which affects how team members respond to Shepard.

I'm a bit of a completionist, so I took this opportunity before the final mission to complete all of these loyalty missions. I did this all while I poked fun at the video game tropes on display: the big bad, poised and ready to attack; we, the player character, traipsing about the galaxy on unrelated menial missions. After all: Meteor won't crash into Midgar until the plot is ready for it; Gannon never will destroy Hyrule; and the Collectors will wait around until Shepard is good and ready to face them.

But that's not what happens. When I finally did embark on the final mission to stop the Collectors and rescue the crew, we found only Dr. Chakwas alive.

They're gone. All of them. I'm the only one left.

I watched them die. They were... processed--rendered down into some kind of raw genetic paste and pumped through these tubes.

What took you so long, Shepard? You could have saved them if you'd gotten here sooner!

Dr. Chakwas' words are true. While I was taking my time maximizing a gamified loyalty stat, the game was monitoring my activities after the abduction of the crew. Leave immediately, and you may save them all; but the longer you wait, the more of them die.

With this, the game defies trope, and punishes the player for approaching the work as a simple genre piece. In reality, Shephard would never meander about, but would prioritize the mission and the retrieval of the crew. But it's just a game, right?

But it is the fact that it is a game that enables this experience. A character in a book won't die because you waited a week to read the last chapter; but in my Mass Effect, we lost the entire crew: named characters with backstories and interactions that had developed throughout the game. And the consequences don't end there, either: Mass Effect is a three-part series, and the death of these characters carries on even into the next game.

Mass Effect 2 expects you to care about its characters; and, if you don't--if you just play it like a video game, expecting it to behave like other video games--it punishes you for it by taking those characters away.

But even then, I never would have expected to feel this same defiance of expectation from Epic Mickey.

Epic Mickey could hardly be more different from Mass Effect. It's a third-person platforming character action game with light adventure elements. It's a children's game, contrasted with media hysteria regarding Mass Effect's "mature" content. More immediately, Mass Effect is a good game; and I definitely wasn't enjoying Epic Mickey.

But I have kids, and those kids were excited about Mickey, so I was playing through it as a social activity with them. I really wasn't taking it seriously: jump on the platforms; paint the environment with the magic paintbrush; mash "A" when characters talk to you; make "progress."

Not too far into the game, I ran into a character called "Small Pete," a rendition of a classic Disney character, "Pete," who often serves as the antagonist of a Mickey Mouse story.

I spent years getting' along with gremlins. Only had to knock 'em around on occasion. Then, the ONE TIME I crash my boat into their village, they seem to think I'm some kinda villain.

Not that I give two hoots what they think, but it WAS an accident. And my ship's log will prove it.

Those little monsters won't let me near the wreck to get it, though. Hmm... I'll bet they'd let you.

I was immediately suspicious of Small Pete's story (assuming I paid it any mind at all, beyond just mashing "A"); but we got a quest objective and moved on.

I continued jumping between platforms, tagging the environment, and mashing "A," until we met Gremlin Shaky.

Gremlin Shaky offers to trade a pin for Pete's ship's log

I smell treasure! You found it!

How's about you trade me that ship's log for a flashy new pin?

I still wasn't paying attention. Why would I? The platforming was mediocre. The characters were either flat or carbon-copies of each other. Each gremlin looks the same as all the others. So I interpreted this interaction with the same level of attention that I would pay to most collect-a-thon games:

"Oh, right. The ship's log. I guess I picked it up along the way. Pete wanted us to get that for him, right? What was that for, again? This must be the guy I'm supposed to give it to. And when I do I'll get a pin as a reward, eh? Ok, I guess it's a collectible, so I guess I'll do it."

Thank you very much. This will make excellent reading. Here's your pin.

But that wasn't all there was to it. Immediately after finishing the interaction I received a "quest failed" notification.

Quest Failed, find Small Pete's Ship's log

I kept playing, just accepting that I had failed the quest, and probably missed out on some minimal benefit. But something about the interaction bothered me. Small Pete seemed to be a character teetering on the edge of villany. He was willing to "knock 'em around on occasion"; but he seemed genuinely (if covertly) concerned with clearning his name. He wasn't a villain yet. He was a bully.

So you left my ship's log with those grubby gremlins, eh? Well, here's a little taste of what happens to those who cross me!

I had betrayed Small Pete. I hadn't done it out of malice. Worse: I had paid him no mind. He asked for help, and I ignored him. Eventually, I traded his name for a collectible pin I didn't even care about. In a literal sense, I had turned him into a villain: Small Pete had become a video-game boss, generating a combat encounter to punctuate the chapter.

I found myself considering what it would take to correct this mistaken path through the game's narrative. I had overwritten my save several times since I had given Pete's ship's log to Gremlin Shaky. I would have to start the game over from the beginning.

The very fact that I was considering it made me uncomfortable. I did not enjoy playing this game. But, for the sake of a fictional character as absurd as Small Pete, I was considering sacrificing some portion of my time in pursuit of his redemption.

I tell my kids that it's part of a parent's job to give them consequences that they can learn from and grow through, while protecting them from consequences that they can't recover from, if only for a time. In a small, but very real, way, Epic Mickey was that for me. I ignored a call for help. I was careless. A character was treated unjustly, and that injustice led him to embrace his own darker tendencies.

I never did go back and do right by Small Pete. In fact, I don't think I played the game again after that. I'm sure we were called down for dinner, and then distracted by another game I enjoyed playing more. But I still think about Small Pete, about the time I didn't pay enough attention, and about the consequences that might develop when I allow myself to become just a little bit more callous to the world around me.

Introducing civilfritz Minecraft

I started playing Minecraft with my brother and old college roommate a few weeks ago. My expectations have been proven correct, as I’ve found it much more compelling to play on a persistent server with a group of real-life friends. In fact, in the context of my personal dedicated server instance, I’m finding the game strikes a compelling chord between my gamer side and my sysadmin side.

There’s already some documentation for running a Minecraft server on the Minecraft wiki, but none of it was really in keeping with how I like to administer a server. I don’t want to run services in a screen session, even if an init script sets it up for me.

I wrote my own Debian init script that uses start-stop-daemon and named pipes to allow server commands. Beyond that, I made a Puppet module that can install and configure the server. You can clone it from Git at git://

I also really like maps, so I started looking for software that would let me generate maps of the world. (I was almost pacified when I learned how to craft maps. Almost.) I eventually settled on Minecraft Overviewer, mostly because it seems to be the most polished implementation. They even provide a Debian repository, so I didn’t have to do anything special to install it.

I’ve configured Minecraft Overviewer to update the render once a day (at 04:00 EST, which hopefully won’t conflict with actual Minecraft server use), with annotations updated once an hour. You can see it at

I couldn’t get Overviewer to display over https for some reason I don’t understand yet; so all access is redirected back at http for now.

Installing Netflix on an import PS3

I purchased my first HD console—a used PlayStation 3 Slim—from a friend as he was leaving KAUST. Tokyo Games (the most trustworthy games retailer in the kingdom) imports its PS3s from somewhere in Europe: I knew when I purchased it that I would not be able to play region-locked Blue-Ray disks. I really only care about games, though, and PS3 games are region-free.

When I returned to the US, import PS3 in tow, I added a use-case for the system as a streaming media center. Hulu Plus worked well enough while I had it; but, when I dropped the service in favor of Netflix, I couldn’t get the Netflix application to install.

NetfliX is only licensed for use from the US. Though I was in the US, and logged-into an explicitly US PSN account, the XMB never presented me with the option to install the Netflix application. It’s not listed in the PSN store, either; so if the XMB doesn’t advertise Netflix to you on it’s own, there’s no way to get it to install.

I went back and forth for a while with Sony support; but, ultimately, they were completely unhelpful. I was sure that, if only I could get the application to install, it would work, but the technician didn’t seem to understand the technical side of the issue I was having.

Thankfully, the people at unblock-us did understand the problem, as I discovered on my own while waiting for the Sony technician to catch up. Ultimately, all I had to do was visit from the internal PS3 web browser. An HTTP redirect points to the installer on the Sony download server, prompting the system to download and install.

As expected, once the application had been installed, streaming worked perfectly.

It’s disappointing that something intended to simplify the user experience (don’t advertise applications that don’t work in your region) ended up severely complicating mine. I had the stubborn persistence to find a workaround myself; but there’s no reason Sony shouldn’t have a similar URL available and documented for people who take the time to contact support. It’d be even better if Netflix was just listed in the PSN store, too, as that’s already filtered by the region of your PSN account, irrespective of the console’s origin.

At least it “works for me” now.

I wrote about Astro Warrior for GameSpite Journal 12

My article on Astro Warrior was actually published on, so feel free to go read it over there. As with my Spore article, it was included in an issue of GameSpite, Journal 12. Unlike GameSpite Journal 11, though, I don’t have a physical copy. I’ll probably order one some day; but I’m already having a difficult time dealing with the glut of stuff (a large portion of which is books) I’ve had to cram into our new Manhattan apartment.

This article kinda came out of nowhere—who would have thought that a random Master System vertical space shooter could serve as a memorial for my mother?

Astro Warrior | GameSpite Journal 12

Astro Warrior box art

By all accounts, Astro Warrior is unremarkable. It’s a competent 8-bit shooter; but being, as it is, a product of the 1980’s, it falls victim to many of the nostalgia-shattering tropes that plagued early consoles in their first strides away from their quarter-hungry arcade brethren. Unforgiving controls are the worst offender, with speed powerups making it simultaneously easier to evade enemies and more difficult to avoid crashing into them. Add to that the kind of relentless difficulty that justifies a game with only three zones. Every powerup is greedily and hastily accumulated, culminating in a multi-option death machine that slices through entire fleets of enemy fighters… until any single mistake strips you back down to the base ship, stranded in a now-overwhelming sea of enemy units and fire.

But I was young and oblivious to concepts like design and quality. I played the first stage over and over, each frustrated rage-quit lasting only a few minutes before my next attempt. (After all, my only other option was Altered Beast.) Glossed over as my memories are of the game, I’m sure I never conquered Zanoni, the first of the game’s three bosses; but that didn’t keep me from playing the game, nor did it keep me from remembering it as awesome twenty years later.

See, my mother worked part-time at the local hospital. A few days a week, after picking me and my brother up from school, she’d take us back with her to work the last few hours on her shift. That Master System in the children’s recovery room was the most advanced video game system we had ever seen. That we had never seen past the first stage was a detail as easily ignored then as the game’s design flaws are now (with the benefit of rose-tinted glasses, of course).

Playing through the game again now, I think about everything that was just a little bit beyond me at the time: about my younger self, always falling just short of getting to that second level, all the while blissfully unconcerned with the hard work that brought me there.

Today, Astro Warrior can only really survive through nostalgia. For some, that might strip the game of all value; but, in the end, nostalgia isn’t about the object of a memory as much as the context that it returns us to. Astro Warrior might be objectively unremarkable, but to me it will always be a reminder of my mother–a symbol of her dedication to her children and her family. For that, Astro Warrior will always be a classic in my book.

Astro Warrior action shot

Spore | Gamespite Journal 11

At the 2005 Game Developers Conference luminary Will Wright of Maxis Software amazed attendees with his seminar, “The Future of Content.” He began simply, outlining for his audience the trials and travails of developing content for an increasingly high-definition medium. No one could have been surprised when he supported his arguments with experiences from his widely successful titles SimCity and The Sims; no one should have been surprised that his content strategies were being prototyped for a new game; but no one could have been prepared for Spore, or for the scope of the demonstration that promised an ever-growing, seemingly boundless galaxy filled with content birthed from players themselves.

From his perspective in the gaming industry, Wright had seen development budgets explode. Creating content to fill increasingly higher-fidelity worlds was getting more expensive every day; and though a developer might spend twice as much to create HD-ready models and textures, that expense carries a diminishing return in value for the player.

At the same time, Wright had noticed that some of his most engaging gaming experiences had little to do with anything the developer had defined beforehand. This had always been true of Maxis’s own games; but, with the advent of the Grand Theft Auto series and the era of sandbox gaming it had inspired, more and more players were creating their own stories in these virtual worlds. More importantly, these were the stories that players related to each other, often ignoring the story that had been written for them by the developer.

It seemed a perfect fit: on one side, an industry struggling to keep up with the cost of creation; on the other, an ever-growing mass of players eager to create. So Maxis created Spore: a set of intuitive content creation editors that would bring players and developers closer together, amplifying the player’s own creative abilities with procedurally generated models, textures, and animation.

Wright aimed beyond simply equipping players to create: Spore needed to inspire that creation as well. Inspiration comes from the context of the world we’re placed in, and the scope of what Wright had in mind was more than anyone present in the conference hall could have anticipated. With brief diversions into the philosophies of creation, play, and Care Bears, he unfolded Spore’s world. A single-celled organism grew to inhabit an ocean. He added legs to his creatures and they crawled onto dry land. Given tools, they formed tribes and built cities. Their starship carried them to other planets orbiting the sun and, then, to other stars, each with its own unique planets, cities, and creatures. Each iterative expansion of scope was met with another round of amazed applause.

This presentation was my first exposure to Spore, separated though I was from the event by a layer of Google Video. I was awestruck by the game’s depth: it seemed to be a world without end! As the player I would be able to create creatures, vehicles, tanks–entire planets! I could explore every drop of water at microscopic detail, or fly across an entire galaxy; and, thanks to Spore’s content distribution network, each new corner of that galaxy would be full of unique content created by other players.

Which is to say: I bought into the hype.

When Spore was released three years later, it seemed a shallow reflection of what had been on display at GDC. The creature editors were still intuitive and the galaxy was still near-infinite, but the magic of watching the game unfold was missing. I had imagined a world with depth to match the amazing breadth on display; but Spore lacked the essential details that make virtual worlds feel alive. The final game was, in fact, even shallower than what had been shown before. Exciting features like emergent abilities and behaviors, procedural verbs, sea creatures, and underwater civilizations were conspicuously missing. Creature evolution, originally rooted in iterative experimentation with the emergent properties of the game engine, was replaced with a linear tech tree of parts. Social interaction, once experimental and unpredictable, now amounted to little more than a repetitive game of “Simon Says” powered by static bonuses granted explicitly by parts purchased in the editor. Military conquest and religious proselytization were nearly indistinguishable, both playing out as a tank parked outside a city, shooting missiles (or is it music?) at an opposing population.

But what if my disappointment with Spore was simply the product of my own unrealistic expectations? The game I had imagined was the perfect fulfillment of every pipe dream that 2005 Will Wright had for it, but reality rarely matches up with such high expectations. Perhaps now, another three years divorced from the romanticism that had preceded the game’s launch, I would be able to appreciate Spore for what it is. After all: I don’t even remember my creature from my first session at launch. Resolved to approach the game on its own terms, I did my best to take ownership of my worlds and creatures this time around. As a result, I created the Qwertz: a race bent on conquest, dominance, and vague Klingon pretension.

Even as the simplest of cellular life the Qwertz survived by consuming and eradicating others. On land they preyed on those around them, quickly rising to dominance over Handwalkers, Skyles, Flirgle, and all manner of strange creatures.

The Qwertz were terrestrial conquerors, but the final frontier was cold, strange, and empty. Unable to anticipate the strength of other space-faring races, they fearfully allied with neighboring species: the Ixplix, snake-oil salesmen of the highest order, ready to sell of their goods and their lands to turn a profit; and the Leafel, quiet, continually distressed over this diseased native or that ecological collapse. For a time, the Qwertz lived in peace–in a different world, this peace might even have survived–but it was not to be. The Algernon Empire, ministers of the Spode, introduced its philosophy with the heated end of a laser cannon. The Qwertz had seen their fair share of religious fanatics at home and, finding security in the smallest foothold of familiarity, they met the Algernon threat with new-found ferocity.

Reassured by the fresh taste of victory, the Qwertz resumed their conquest. The Ixplix were the next to fall; then the Kirgle and the Ashonas, mutual opponents in the Spode. One by one the Qwertz hunted ever-greater opponents, leaving behind a trail of smoldering colonies and fallen empires as they made their trans-galactic pilgrimage to the core. There they finally met the Grox: the uncompromising, overpowering, infamous scourge of the galaxy.

This story that I told myself–of the Quertz, their conquest of the galaxy, and their eventual encounter with an oracle of their future selves–may have been birthed from my own imagination, but Spore lacks the depth to bring it to life: it exists almost entirely in my mind. My return to Spore left me sometimes frustrated, sometimes bored, and sometimes compelled to keep playing into the early morning; but I’m not sure that I ever found myself having fun. The content creation editors are as easy to use as they have always been, but they quickly start to feel like a chore. The player can meticulously design every building in every colony on every planet, but why bother when doing so has no impact on the game itself?

The pervasive absence of detail leaves Spore feeling soulless. I could play again–create another creature and make up another story–but the structurally uniform game world doesn’t provide any incentive to do so. Every planet has three plants (one small, one medium, and one large) and three creatures (two herbivores, one carnivore) per T-Score. Every sentient creature is shoehorned into the same handful of archetypes, and interactions with any creature within an archetype is identical to those with any other. I could terraform every planet in the galaxy to T3, place the maximum three colonies on each one, and purchase every item in the game; but the galaxy will always be mostly empty space homogeneously populated with pallet-swapped versions of the same shallow “characters” I saw when I first entered the space stage. They will always cry out with the same restricted vocabulary of mission templates: they’re either under attack, nearing ecological collapse, suffering a labor strike, conducting a planetary survey, or in search of some special artifact. One mission in particular sent me, to my surprise, to exterminate members of a rival religious group; but the mission framework, unable to distinguish even between religious homicide and disease control, instructed me to “exterminate the infected creatures.”

Yet, as disappointingly shallow as the narratives that emerge from the gameplay are, Spore does have at least one worthwhile story to tell. It’s a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of modern game development, starring the plucky hero Maxis and his fall from grace.

Spore was a dream of a new era in game development. It was an experimental response to the unsustainably ballooning budgets of the industry. In the best tradition of the original SimCity, Maxis sought to counter this trend while, at the same time, equipping the player to be creative, to experiment, and to share that experience with others. Wright wasn’t alone in his vision of the future, and his insights as shared by others are responsible for the burgeoning small and independent game development market that is thriving on digital distribution services like Steam, XBLA, PSN, and iOS. The Maxis of SimCity would fit right in with the likes of Studio Pixel, Amanita Design, and Frictional Games, creating focused conceptual experiments in gaming that inspire audiences and developers alike; but the Maxis of The Sims, toiling now in exile at the behest of the corporate behemoth that is Electronic Arts, is no longer afforded the freedom to commit to a singular vision (least of all a risky experiment) at the potential expense of wider market appeal. Spore’s pedigree begot a budget that crushed the life from its initial innovation, spreading it so thin as to be nearly inappreciable.

Spore’s ultimate failure to deliver on its potential might have robbed mainstream gamers of the experience of losing themselves in a world of their own creation, but the intent of its design lives on in a new generation of developers independent of the pressures of traditional game publishing. The communities that surround relatively niche titles like Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress are rooted in the same emergent storytelling that I had hoped to find in my procedurally generated galaxy. Spore might lack the depth to tell players a worthwhile story of their own creation, but perhaps it can tell developers large and small a story about a little studio called Maxis and what happened when innovation was exploited, rather than fostered.

session eleven | Oblivion

Nov. 13

I'm going to get wood for my mage's staff. It seems I have to go to a wood on the far side of Imperial City if I'm to obtain it. REally, these mages don't seem to have any trouble making everything into long and laborious tasks. I hope it shall be worth it.

On my way I discovered an invisible town with residents asking me to fix their problem for them. Of course. I suppose I shall return if I find I have nothing better to do.

I arrived at the cave for mage's staffs to discover the person I needed to find was dead and a necromancer in his place. I don't even know why I was surprised. No one in this place ever seems to have much of a handle on things. I found the man I needed dead, and also an unfinished staff. I guess there's nothing to do but take my news back to the University.

I took my staff back to the University and got a new fangled one which shoots fire! At least some usefulness has come of all this. I also sold off some more gear. I do wish there was a faster way to make money in this stupid country for someone like me who really doesn't have much time to settle down into anything in particular.

session ten | Oblivion

Fort Blueblood.

I have gone seeking after an amulet for the Leyawinn Recommendation for the Mage's guild. For Blueblood was full of Marauders and Mage's guarding the place. I am tired to continue on these annoying quests, but I hope that my goal will be well worth it. I found some chests of gold and fought off the inhabitants as I could.

Eventually I found that the body and Amulet I sought were guarded by a Mage angry with the leader at Lewalwinn. He wished merely to hide it from her in order to unseat her. How ridiculously petty and annoying. I am not sure why I should make a better Mage by completely tasks such as these for these people. At least the tasks are easy, if trivial and time wasting.

Now back to Dagail with her father's Amulet.

Dagail was very happy to receive the Amulet and to see an end to her visions. Yay for her, I suppose. One more recommendation is mine. On to the next banal quest for these useless people. I hope that becoming a mage does not make everyone so annoyingly trivial.

I sold off the Dwarven Armor which I had found in the Fort. I got a very nice price for it. I feel slightly mollified at that waste of time. I also went on to sell my other items and purchase.

I have reached the guild hall in Cheydenhall. I have been sent to retrieve a ring from a well behind the place. It is as if they had heard me complaining and decided to make their requests even more demanding and annoying. The guild leader is quite terse and seems to think this task is difficult. He probably threw zombies in the well or some such. This should be interesting, or at the very least, time wasting.

The ring was merely a trap to lure me into drowning in the well. It was a good thing that I had my magical water breathing necklace. I had to unburden myself of some of my things before I could pick up the amazingly heavy thing, but I managed it. Falcar, however, the good for nothing that assigned me the task has escaped without helping me as he said he might. I must either find a recommendation he left behind or seek the man himself to force his hand.

It seems that Deetre or whatever the woman's name is who ousted Falcar, is willing to write my recommendation herself. Upon finding black soul gems in the man's room and reporting to her, I was able to receive this promise and the assurance that it would be what I needed.

After I left the mage's guild, I found a man who's brother I had met awhile back. He rejoiced, not knowing that his brother was alive at all. He invited me to Chorrol to celebrate, and I intend to go and see if their is some sort of reward for supplying this information.

I went to Bruma. I found a woman there who sent me to quest after her and her lovers gold hoard. She wants me to get the location from him in jail and then reveal it to her. HA! More like get the location and never set foot near her again. Ah, gold.

Got the gold gold the gold! A guard in the jail double crossed everyone and killed off the woman for me. As both of the couple are out of the way, and a guard did all the evil I was free to help myself to the loot with no guilt or trouble. If only it had been more than a measly 40 coin.

Fjotreid in Bruma has an 81 point disposition with me. It is a good place to sell my goods.

On to the Bravil Mage's guild. I hope I shall not have to do to many more of these quests…I had to restore a staff that a lovestruck mage stole from his woman, blah blah blah. I Beguiled the man who bought it in Imperial city and bought it back. I hate that I gave up 200 good gold for this. This recommendation had really better be worth it now.

Now I'm helping the Mage Guild leader find a friend. Why do I do these things? He is trapped in a dream world and I must release him. What is the solution? It seems I most join him in the dreamworld. I am not sure why his friend could not do it, but this task is at least, interesting.

I got the man out of his dream. Blech, barely a reward. On to Arcane University!

Game bounty | 2011


During my recent trip to the states I visited with family and friends; traveled via plane, bus, and car; wandered the streets of Chicago; and climbed [[!wikipedia Medicine_Bow_Peak desc="the highest peak in the snowy range"]]. But today I'm going to talk, in stead, about the pile of games that I acquired.

GameStop has apparently decided to get out of the used PS2 market. I can hardly blame them: they have an incredible inventory with a low signal-to-noise ratio. The Illinois stores that I visited all had "buy two, get two free" sales ongoing, and the Wyoming stores still had lots of boxed and unboxed games at pretty low prices.

I only got my PS2 in 2009 while I was stuck in hotel rooms waiting to move to Saudi. There's a lot of good PS2 games that I have yet to play, and the huge GameStop inventory means I'm bound to find at least a few good games. The aforementioned low signal-to-noise ratio meant that I spent a lot of time leafing through the same Guitar Hero, sports, and racing games. That said, I almost never left a store empty-handed.


I also picked up a few DS games. I ordered Dragon Quest V and Retro Game Challenge from Amazon before we left the kingdom: Dragon Quest V has always interested me since I read Jeremy Parish's writeups on GameSpite and 1UP; and I played Retro Game Challenge back at Argonne with Daniel and Cory, but... less than legitimately.

I've been tangentially aware of the Professor Layton series for a while, but never with any detail. I originally thought it was some kind of RPG, but my interest waned a bit in the face of its more traditional puzzle structure. Andi took to them quickly, though: she's already finished "The Curious Village," and we got a copy of "The Diabolical Box," too.


Like I said, I've come to the PS2 a bit late, so I'm doing what I can to go back and visit the classics. I found boxed copies of "Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance" and "Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence"... awesome! I've already started enjoying MGS2 (though I must admit that I have been disappointed by Raiden in comparison with Solid Snake, even without any preconceptions or hype.) I later found out that Subsistence contains ports of the MSX versions of "Metal Gear" and "Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake." Very cool: now I won't have to suffer through the horrible NES localization.

I heard about "Space Channel 5" on Retronauts' Michael Jackson episode. Knowing that it (and its "Part 2") were just forty minutes each, I tackled those first thing when I got home. Aside from possibly Incredible Crisis, these are the most Japanese games I've ever played. The first in the series had a few technical flaws (at least, the PS2 port I got did), most off-putting being the incredibly picky controls. That was cleaned up in the second game, along with the VCD-quality pre-rendered backgrounds from the Dreamcast original.


I jumped on a disc-only copy of Suda51's "Killer7" on Yahtzee's recommendation: "As flawed as it is, get it anyway, because you'll never experience anything else like it." I haven't even put this one in the console, yet, but the last game I played on a Zero Punctuation recommendation was Silent Hill 2: one of the best games I've ever played. I don't expect Killer7 to be as significant (or even comprehensible) as that, but it should at least be interesting.

A copy of "Oni" seemed familiar, but only in the back of my mind. Turns out it's pre-Halo Bungie. (Actually, Bungie West.) The Marathon influence is obvious, but the default controls are really twitchy. Hopefully I can adjust the sensitivity a bit when I come back to it.

I didn't have any multiplayer PS2 games yet, so I picked up copies of "Soul Calibur II" and "Gauntlet: Dark Legacy" for parties. Of course, I forgot that I only have one PS2 controller. Hopefully I can pick up few more up along with a four-player adapter. (Otherwise, what's the point of Gauntlet?) Soul Calibur is as well-made as I expected (though the disc is FMV-skippingly scratched); but Gauntlet comes off as a bit cheap. The gameplay seems good enough: it just doesn't feel as classic as it deserves.

I keep hearing mention of the "Ratchet and Clank" series, but I haven't touched a PlayStation platformer since MediEvil. It hasn't really caught my attention yet, but maybe "Jak and Daxter" will.

I picked up a copy of "Batman Begins," but I apparently had it confused with "Arkham Asylum." "Tokobot Plus" was actually a "new" game, but priced down such that you couldn't tell. I guess it didn't sell well: but it reminds me of the "Mega Man: Legends" world. Hopefully it will, at least, be interesting.

All told I got twelve games (fourteen if you count the MSX games included with Subsistence). [edit: turns out that I only got disc 1, so no MSX games.] Despite Batman's misdirection, I think I did alright--all for less than you'd spend on two current-generation games--and not one generic brown FPS in the lot.