Category Archives: Video Games

Platypus Musings: The Wily Wars

gfs_74304_2_17_mid

Ah, 1994. As I waxed in a previous post, I consider that year to be one of the most memorable in my thirty-plus years of existed. I traveled to Kauai as part of what one could describe as a grandiose family reunion, toured the American Midwest and Ontario, and most of all, solidified my identity as a Sega enthusiast. Unfortunately, it was also the same year that solidified my interest in the Blue Bomber, Megaman. My cousin and I played Megaman 2 endlessly when were staying at my uncle’s in Mississauga and I even got a taste of Megaman 6 when we visited the Nintendo pod at Ontario Place. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to reconcile my enjoyment of both Sega and Megaman because the latter was Nintendo exclusive. Imagine my excitement when I saw Megaman: The Wily Wars listed as future release in a Consumers Distributing catalogue…

…Only to face disappointment as the game never saw a physical North American release, though it was available on the short-lived Sega Channel.

While ROMs of the Japanese and European versions circulated on the Internet via emulation, I never found myself too immersed in the game when playing on an emulator. I am a proud console/retro gamer and it feels too unnatural to play the game on a keyboard in a tactile sense. Hence why I turned to the Virtual Console re-releases for the Wii/Wii U/3DS for my fix of the original three games. However, I found a reproduction cart of the game at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo last year and did not hesitate in buying it. So how does the remake compare to the originals?

It is certainly beautiful from a graphical standpoint; the Genesis’ superior palette makes the classic “trilogy” more vibrant than its NES counterparts. Plus, the added power of the Genesis allowed for more detailed backgrounds, tiles, and sprites, which is quite apparent in the original Megaman where the backgrounds were mostly solid colors with a few exceptions. Wily Wars adds a nice rippling “heat wave” effect for Fire Man’s stage or scrolling clouds for Elec Man’s though the graphical enhancements for Megamans 2 & 3 are not as eye-catching. I would say that I prefer the look of Wily Wars to Megaman 7. While the SNES packed more of a punch in the graphics department, Megaman 7 was my least favorite of the classics because the larger sprites made the screen appear more cramped and the cartoony look always seemed more exaggerated whereas Wily Wars seemed more balanced and the colors bold compared to 7’s semi-pastel look. Megaman X still outshines this game though not only in graphics but also music, which bring me to my next point…

Say what you want about the Genesis; it may have lacked the sound chip the SNES possessed, but it could send Nintendo packing in the right hands. Listen to Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for Streets of Rage, Masato Nakamura on Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel—hell, Tommy Tellarico pumped out some good tunes for Global Gladiators and Disney’s Aladdin, which outshone some the SNES’ best music. None of that is present in Wily Wars, which I would describe as serviceable but generic for the Genesis. I like to believe that each Megaman game had its own character. 2 had an exciting, blood-pumping track that made you believe you kick the gate open when you stormed Skull Castle; but it sounded much more subdued when I played Wily Castle 1 in Wily Wars. While the quality varies, the general feel from the music is something I would expect from a middle-of-the-road Genesis game and not something that is of Capcom’s caliber.

I suppose I can blame of that and the game’s other “quirks” on its troubled development, which Keiji Inafune described the debugging as a nightmare (according to Megaman Complete Works.) Though I can only speculate, I assume that many of the game’s drawbacks are a result of the developer’s unfamiliarity with the Mega Drive’s hardware. The biggest of them is slowdown, which is very prevalent in the game though it is your saving grace against the Yellow Devil without the classic pause/resume trick from the NES original. Oddly enough, the Wily Wars is easier than the originals in some respects. Remember how a game over meant losing your E-Tanks in Megaman 2? That is not a problem because of Wily Wars’ save feature. Otherwise, the Wily Wars difficulty is identical to the originals’, even Megaman 1’s unforgiving difficulty.

Though what makes Wily Wars a must have for me is the inclusion of Wily Tower. Wily Wars draws many comparisons to Super Mario All-Stars and for good reasons (graphical and audio upgrades), thus Wily Tower functions as the Lost Levels in that it offers extra content. However, unlike Lost Levels, you need to unlock Wily Tower by completing the first three games, which separates the diehards from the casual players. It (and a bout of insomnia) motivated me enough to slog through Wily’s domain in the game: a gauntlet of four robot masters fought consecutively with no health refills with one that can clip off a third of your lifebar in one hit if your jumps are not pixel-perfect. It was worth it so I could mix and match weapons and items from the first three games to use against three new bosses and another Wily castle. Though brief, it feels like the game tosses you a bone for playing through the slowdown.

So in the end, was it worth the twenty-year wait to plug it into my Genesis? As a fan of both Sega and Mega Man, I would say yes. More fair weather fans would be better off playing the NES orinals, the devoted can go download the ROMs, and the truly diehard should either import or by a reproduction cart. It is an interesting if not obscure piece of Megaman history that deserves at least one glance.

The Moral Hypocrisy of #StopGamerGate2014

I truly wish that I did not feel the compulsion to write on the unfolding GamerGate saga but recent events have given me cause to reconsider. Last night, the #StopGamerGate2014 hashtag trended on twitter after developer Brianna Wu had received threats from an as-of-yet unknown party. While there is no evidence that anyone affiliated with GamerGate issued the threats, that has not stopped the StopGamerGate crowd from painting all “gamers” with the same broad strokes. Prominent YouTube personality, MundaneMatt, recently had something of a Howard Beale moment decrying the embellishments and outright lies spread by the StopGamerGate movement. I leave my own tweet here for everyone else for see. I will be the first to admit that my comment was mean-spirited  and unnecessary. However, I believe that it I must show it and explain that it was out of sheer exasperation at the hypocrisy I see in it. Especially when you consider that many supporters of StopGamerGate are equally guilty of harassment as the people they criticize. Yet too few within that movement call them out on their behavior.

They have reduced the words “harassment” and “misogyny” to meaningless buzzwords to silence their critics. Do I believe that Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu were telling the truth? Yes, yes I do because the Internet is full of vile cretins who will hide behind their anonymity to harass, belittle, and threaten others. Do I need to bring up John Gabriel’s “Internet Dickwad Theory?”

dickwad-theory_2

The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to conclusive prove that the trolls who threatened these woman were associated with GamerGate because that movement is far from organized and is an unruly mob at worst. Moreover, to tar all gamers with the same brush is disingenuous. “Gamers” are not a monolithic or homogenous entity. My definition of the work gamer is simply a person who plays video game; there are RPG gamers, FPS, casual, hardcore, and it covers spectrum of people of different races, ethnicities, creeds, and sexualities. Hundreds of millions of people across the planet plays video games, and a maybe a few dozen threaten Ms. Sarkeesian et. al? Is it fair to hold those millions to account for the actions of a millionth of a percent? I suspect there other forces at play here.

I was born in the year 1984. I am all too familiar with the moral panic over the violence present in games like Mortal Kombat and Doom in the mid to late 90s. Many self-anointed moral guardians claimed that these games, along with other facets of youth culture, motivated or “trained” the Columbine High School shooters to carry out their heinous actions. Similarly, disbarred lawyer and activist, Jack Thompson, when on a similar crusade against games like the Grand Theft Auto series during the aughts. We are now in the “New Tens” and we have a new breed of crusader claiming that developers and gamers are fundamentally sexist and/or misogynist.

Yes, I have just compared Anita Sarkeesian to Jack Thompson, and I am not the first person to do it.

Do Ms. Sarkeesian’s criticisms in Tropes vs. Women have merit? To an extent, perhaps. Back in my misguided youth, my compatriots and I used to joke around about how you could solicit the services of prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto III and then kill them in a grisly fashion to get the money you spent on them back. However, does that inform my attitude towards women today? No. It does not because I learned such behaviors and attitudes are abhorrent. However, as JJ McCullough observed in his rebuttals to Ms. Sarkeesian, her methodology is spotty and allegations of her cherry-picking information to suit her confirmation bias exist.

I do not have a problem with feminism; I hold a great deal of respect and admiration for the first and second waves of feminists that struggled for legal and workplace equality the turn of the 20th century to the 70s. However, I have come to believe that third-wave feminism has become a toxic strain of a once-noble ideal. Sarkeesian and her ilk embraced an ideology that believes we exist in a “rape culture” where everyone with a Y chromosome is out to rape women and the fight against “the patriarchy” completely inform their world view. Ms. Sarkeesian’s confrontational manner in approaching a perfectly valid conversation on sexist imagery in video games has no doubt contributed to Gamers’ defensiveness on the subject. Not that it justifies the threats made against her and her compatriots, but this anger and indignation does not exist in a vacuum.

Like Ms. Sarkeesian, Jack Thompson had received harassment and death threats in the past but the reaction to it by the gaming press at the time was ambivalence. Granted, Mr. Thompson’s antics did not endear him to gamers or the press, but where was the outrage then? Part is has to do with my belief that Ms. Sarkeesian, Ms. Quinn, and other feminists inside the industry positioned themselves in a place within the industry that grants them a great deal of privilege. After the threats leveled against her when Tropes vs. Women first appeared on YouTube, all Ms. Sarkeesian has to do to deflect criticism is accuse her critics of misogyny and harassment.

What I find ironic is that while Ms. Sarkeesian criticizes the “damsel in distress” trope present in Super Mario Bros. with Princess Peach’s multiple kidnappings, she, as well as Zoe Quinn and Brianne Wu, show no hesitation in weaponizing the trope to suit their desires. People generally fear being labelled a misogynist or sexist in today’s increasingly politically correct atmosphere, hence many will gladly jump on the feminist bandwagon to appear “progressive” and “enlightened.” Ms. Sarkeesian, et al. exploit the well-meaning chauvinism of men like Bob Chipman, Joss Whedon, and several other prominent male celebrities out for progressive credibility and that is the problem.

#StopGamerGate, from what I have observed, is largely, if not entire composed of affluent white people. I have read personal accounts of how video games were a source of comfort for people who suffered abuse and prejudice in their childhood years. What touched me the most was the testimony of a user named Docheisenberg on the KotakuInAction subreddit.

Due to redistricting, I was assigned and had to commute to a public school in an affluent, largely white neighborhood. Wasn’t a great experience. I was bullied by kids with money and status. Being a working class vietnamese kid going to public school only a few years removed from The War was not fun. I caught crap from racist teachers just as much as I did from other kids. I got called a lot of things; a lot of them racist, but the one that stood out was when they’d call me “Apartment Boy” because of where I lived. That certainly drew a line in the sand. It and other things were why I got drawn in to games and geek culture so much; it was a chance to explore and dream of worlds better than reality. Better than having rich white people treat you as something less than human, or condescend to you about how inferior your culture is and tell you how they want to “help” you. I can’t decide what was worse, the blatant discrimination, or the half-assed ideological imperialism.

I bolded “ideological imperialism” because that is what #StopGamerGate is. The reason why the #NotYourShield hastag exists is because of minorities are tired of a small group of privileged, white, middle class children trying to co-opt their voice. GamerGate may not be perfect, but it is a diverse group that encompasses people of various persuasions whereas StopGamerGate is very much conformist in an ideological sense as evidenced when their gaming media circled the wagons in August. Combine that with their blatant chauvinism and hypocrisy, it is little wonder why I am exasperated.

Perhaps it is an unserious debate by unserious people, but maybe it is time for both sides to stop demonizing each, find some common ground, and discuss the issues as Boogie2988 proposed. However, that will require compromise on both sides, which is part of adulthood as well as an end to the accusations and threats on both sides. Given how polarized both sides are, I do not know if that is realistic.

Platypus Musings: #GamerGate, A Perfectly Valid Question

I never thought I would agree with the Guardian on anything, but this article by Keith Stuart makes a lot of sense. Particularly this quote:

And ultimately, those members of the gaming community who distrust the games press, have a really wonderful option: make the alternative. Instead of constructing strange conspiracy theories and flooding games sites with vitriolic comments, withdraw entirely. Make your own game sites. It has never been easier – or more viable. Because however much you mistrust them, the big gaming sites serve the needs of millions of gamers who don’t worry about the relationships between the press and the publishers – who just want approachable reviews, cool videos and funny list features; that’s their choice. They can’t be denied or derided either. So the best, most positive option, is to create something else.

I seldom visit Kotaku, Destructoid, or IGN and I never even knew Polygon, Gamesutra, and many other sites involved in this debacle even existed before Zoe Quinn’s ill-advised DCMA request turned the video gaming world into a raging inferno. Why even visit these sites when it clear that the people in charge of them have nothing but unbridled contempt for their audience? Maybe it is time for those on the gamer side #GamerGate to write their own “Declaration of Independence” and make their own websites by the people, for the people (so to speak) or look elsewhere for honest reviews. Many of the reviewers I trust are people like AngryJoe and  YouTubers like BalrogTheMasterKwing, and many others who are not involved in this, to my knowledge. In any case, the gamer faction should not patronize these sites at all, even if they have AdBlock on. Visiting these sites only lets these people know we are still looking at their articles. Why give them that pleasure?

As for another point Stuart makes:

The games industry is a global, multi-billion dollar giant, fuelled by money, not dogma. There will be no social justice revolution.

Let us be completely honest here. Is Nintendo really paying close attention to this controversy? Is Sony? Is Microsoft? I am guessing they are not because the “Social Justice Warriors” are a niche market at best. People like Zoe Quinn, Patricia Hernandez, and Anita Sarkessian by deride games as sexist and oppressive, but guess what? The late Roger Ebert (rightly) savaged Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but that did not stop the film from grossing over $800 million worldwide. The impact Quinn and her ilk make in mainstream is akin to a ripple a pebble makes in the Pacific Ocean; not a big one. Perhaps it is time we, as gamers, walk away from this. There is nothing to gain by engaging with ideologues who compare gamers to ISIS and the Nazis. That only makes them look foolish in the end because gamers are not committing genocide like ISIS is doing to religious minorities in Syria and Iraq or what the Nazi did in the Second World War. There is no comparison to be made, and the “Social Justice Warriors” are losing the argument if they are making such claims.

The gamer is not going extinct despite those on the SJW side of the debate would like their readership to believe. Not any more than film buffs or bookworms are these days. As long as video games exist, there will always be gamers of various stripes. People like Quinn and Sarkessian may believe they wield a lot of power but their influence is negligible beyond their sphere. Nintendo will keep producing games where Mario and Link save the princess; people will still obsess over World of Warcraft; and Call of Duty and Battlefield will still sell by the wheelbarrow-full regardless of how much the SJWs crow about sexism or whatever their agendas. Let them have their indie festivals and let us go back to the games we cherish,

Platypus Musings: Thoughts on the Quinnspiracy

First, I must confess that I do not follow the current generation of video games or gaming journalism and have not for years. To be brutally honest, I feel that I live in a time warp where the nineties never ended and thus I pay more attention to what Nintendo releases on the Virtual Console and retrogaming from the fourth to sixth generations. However, I find the controversy over Zoe Quinn and her exploits has aroused my attention because of the firestorm that erupted from it. To the six or seven who have not heard about it yet–Eron Gjoni, Ms. Quinn’s former boyfriend aired his dirty laundry about how she cheated on him with five other men. Something I would not normally condone because of how petty and vindictive it is but the interesting part of the post is one of the men she slept with was her boss, Joshua Boggs, another was Nathan Grayson, who writes or wrote for Kotaku and RockPaperShotgun, and the other three being independent developers. With Ms. Quinn being an independent developer herself, now (in)famous for Depression Quest, the implication now is that gaming journalism and the independent gaming scene itself is rife with neoptism, elitism, and no one is familiar with the term “conflict of interest.” It appears that the masses are rising up against them and the aforementioned Kotaku, RockPaperShotgun, as well as the Escapist, Destructoid and other gaming news sites are circling the wagons.

Another thing I must make clear is that I do not identify myself as a feminist. Like the good reverend Martin Luther King Jr., I believe that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin or the the chromosome they had received at conception. This group called The Fine Young Capitalists wanted to start a production that would promote female developers, something I actually believe would be an excellent opportunity for any woman to get her foot in the door– except Ms. Quinn torpedoed it. TFYC stated that they would create concept art for them to pitch their game, people on the Internet would vote on what game they wanted, and TFYC would produce said game without cost. The winner would receive 8% in royalties and the rest would go to charity. Somehow Ms. Quinn deemed this “oppressive” because “they expected women to work for free.” Apparently Ms. Quinn refused to consider that being the winning entry would look good on the winner’s resume. I mean, people use volunteer work as experience on their resumes doing things they feel passionate about, why not games? In any case, Ms. Quinn destroyed a perfectly good promotion that benefited women to suit her ideological ends.

As Internet Aristocrat mentioned in my previous link, the gaming media has taken a “social justice” flavor that paints the vast majority of gamers as misogynistic troglodytes. The trouble with so-called “social justice” and its acolytes that dub themselves “warriors” is that their thinking restricts itself to binary think. From what I have seen on Tumblr (and needed to take a cold shower afterwards), Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) believe there are two categories of people: the oppressors, who are typically white cis males, and the oppressed/victims, who are everybody body else. The oppressors are responsible for everything that is wrong with society (i.e. the patriachy, for one) and the victims are not responsible for their actions because it is always the oppressors fault and never theirs. In the case of Ms. Quinn, she intertwined her professional life, something that is largely public, with her private like when she got under the sheets with Boggs and Grayson who were contemporaries of hers. Yes, Eron Gjoni did a something horrible by exposing her infidelities, but it solely Ms. Quinn’s fault for compromising what little professional integrity she had by sleeping with (allegedly) five guys. However, I believe that Zoe Quinn sees herself as a perpetual victim of “the system” and thus absolved of any responsibility of her actions. In some ways her mewling over her private life is an implicit suggestion that she sees herself as an inferior in need of an army of (mostly white cis male) white knights to defend her. An irony that is not lost on me because the idea of a woman dependent on males to defend her honor strikes me as very anti-feminist.

In the end, I believe that video gamers are tired of the gaming media talking down to them and decrying them for being misogynists over actions of trolls. Forbes writer, Paul Tassi, seems to be indicative of how detached gaming journalists are from their audience when he says:

In truth, no one wants you to be completely unbiased, as that’s usually inescapably dull. They just want you to have their bias. Right now, the general consensus of the games press is to be extremely biased against those who use terms like “White Knight” and “Social Justice Warrior,” often the same people who will harass and threaten and psychologically destroy those in the industry, or often the press themselves.

And yet it is so easy to look the other way when Zoe Quinn send her pals in the video game press corps to ban a group that wanted to showcase women in video games from Twitter and dox one of the organizers.

Their hypocrisy is galling, but at least the gaming press will learn a painful lesson (assuming they are capable): those that sow the wind will reap the hurricane. The media is nothing without the trust of its reader/viewership and in their attempts to suppress an honest discussion of this issue by issuing bans, the they only make themselves appear guiltier.

As for me, I think I will go play some Super Metroid  because as a misogynist white cis male gamer, I hate playing a game with a woman as a protagonist.

Platypus Musings: The Better Sonic Game (For The Genesis.)

I am a Sonic the Hedgehog fan and I am not ashamed of it, despite the fandom’s rather unpleasant reputation it has earned over the past few years. Allow me to make my intentions clear: this post is my opinion, which–for better or for worse–is largely influenced by nostalgia and sentimentality rather than objective analysis. I have no specific area of interest; I read the comic books published by Archie; I play whichever games I find appealing; and I am a fan of the animated series that aired on ABC back in the nineties. However, the original Genesis trilogy (I lump in Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 because they were intended to be one game) will always hold a special place in my heart. When I look at “Top XX Sega Genesis Games” list online, it usually comes to either Sonic 2 or Sonic 3&K. Both are awesome games in my books with colorful and vivid graphics that were an improvement over the original game (which was no slouch either) as well as memorable music and tight controls. But when it comes down to which game I prefer, I would go with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. While the first two games were iconic, the combine third and fourth games were an experience.

My affinity for Sonic 3 goes back to late January of 1994 when my family went to the Garden Island, otherwise known as Kauai, to escape the bitter Canadian winter. I recall visiting the Sears at Kukui Grove Shopping Center in Lihue (which has since closed, sadly) where I found Sega Genesis on display with Sonic 3 in the cartridge slot, the strange part is that it had a copy of the game running days before its official release date: February 2, Groundhog Day–make that Hedgehog Day. Though my 10-year-old self probably did not care, he just blasted through the Angel Island Zone and Hydrocity. Well, to tell you the truth, I sucked at the game at the time but it left an impression on me. It was part of a larger experience that included fun at the beach, parties with the whole family, and enjoying the verdant beauty of the island, which is part of the reason I asked for a Sega Genesis that Christmas–so I could get a copy of Sonic 3 to remember that trip in some small way. Unfortunately, that did not happen until eighteen months later until Mom bought me a copy of the game from a Kaybee Toys in Washington State though I do not recall the exact location. 

Sentimentality aside, there other reasons why I preferred Sonic 3 & Knuckles to Sonic 2. In terms of graphics, the sprites where slightly more detailed with a gradient that made Sonic and Tails stand out better against the background, and speaking of which, the levels–The Angel Island Zone had quite a lot to live up too considering the Green Hill’s iconic status as the tropical wonderland. Personally, I preferred Angel Island slightly more. While I love the checkered landscape of the Green Hill, Angel Island seemed more more lush with its verdant foliage (the reminds me a bit of Kauai) with the mellow beat of  the bongos. Emerald Hill, on the other hand, was a rehash of its predecessor whose background music lacked the “get up and go” of Green Hill. Another aspect that I like about Angel Island ties into another part I liked about Sonic 3. Back when I was playing through Sonic 3 in the Sears at Kukui, I (finally) reached the halfway point of Act 1 where the mini-boss descends from the sky. I try to hit him when a whole fleet of mini-bosses firebombs the stage. My thoughts at the time were probably this:

10-Year-Old Me: Holy $#!^!

Mom: Watch your language!

Something I believe many people overlook about Sonic 3 is that it was the first game that was trying to tell a story. The first two games broke the action when you finished a level or beat the boss by showing the title card for the next level and BAM! you are in the next level without the game telling you why. Whereas in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, after you beat the boss for each level, there is a reason why you ended up there and why you needed to be there. For example, after you beat Robotnik in Angel Island, Knuckles blows the bridge and Sonic (with Tails) plunge down a waterfall to Hydrocity. Similarly, in Hydrocity, after Robotnik runs away with his tail between his legs, a large jet of water sends the two flying toward Marble Garden and in the case of Sky Sanctuary, Knuckles takes Sonic and Tails there so they can catch up with and board the Death Egg. Momentum was always an integral part of the Sonic games and the story told in Sonic 3 & Knuckles gives the game a larger sense or momentum and urgency to it. Factor in the addition of the three shields (Fire, Lightning, and Water), the different gameplay mechanics of Tails and Knuckles, and the larger levels with more branching paths, the game feels like a more complete experience than its predecessors.

That is not to say the first two games are not as fun to play, they are every bit as entertaining. As an aspiring writer myself, I like it when the game attempts to frame a story around it without becoming cumbersome, and despite the comparatively primitive technology at the time, Sonic 3 & Knuckles performs admirably well, especially without using dialogue and letting the player’s imagination fill in the gaps. Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 simply do not engage me that way. I enjoy blasting through the Green Hill or Chemical Plant Zones as much as any Sonic fan. I plan to dust off my Genesis and play them again in the future but Sonic 3 will always be my favorite because of the impression it left on me.