Archive for August, 2007

Explore the World of the Walkthrough Writer

August 27, 2007

Friend, are your Ready for the Journey that lies ahead of you? Then access your Inventory to Equip the **150 Page Video Game Walkthrough .txt File.** Fight past the **Lvl. 37 ASCII Art** to reach the treasure chest at the bottom left of your map. Open it to find **An 8th Grader’s Grammar Skills.** Continue through the Corridor until you reach the Boss, **THE WALKTHROUGH WRITER.**

**THE WALKTHROUGH WRITER** is indeed a Fell Beast. A Hardy Species, he can be found in such Diverse Habitats as the Philippines, Eastern Europe, or the Deep South. Yet despite his near-Ubiquity, he can be Hard to Spot. Generally Quiet and Brooding, he often avoids direct Combat, choosing instead to seek Refuge in his parents’ Basement.

There, **THE WALKTHROUGH WRITER** will Engage in any number of Activities common to his Breed, including, but not limited to: Watching Anime, Drawing Anime Characters, Creating Anime Music Videos, Dressing Up as Anime Characters, Watching Anime Music Videos, Listening to Video Game Music, and Playing Video Games. Occasionally, **THE WALKTHROUGH WRITER** will Communicate with fellow Brood-members through a Mystical Device known as **The Message Board.** There he will Brag about his Extensive Knowledge of Non-Canonical Gundam Trivia or Participate in Ritualistic Competition regarding Superior Computer Specifications.

But his most Impressive activity, and certainly his most Fascinating one, is what gives him his Namesake: The Writing of the Walkthrough. Nothing less than a Rite of Passage, it is an Intensely Difficult and Lonely Process, the Details of which have always been Obscure to Outsiders. Indeed, while all Avid Gamers are Familiar with the Walkthrough, few have ever dared Investigate the Manner of its Creation.

For that reason, I have Dared to Approach one **WALKTHROUGH WRITER** and Speak with him so that I may Learn about his Ways. The Document is Copied below for your Convenience:

Noble Studier of Beings (NSB): Oh Great Walkthrough Writer! Be not Alarmed, for I come Bearing no Ill Will towards you or your Kind. I come instead to gain Knowledge! Please tell me of Yourself! Tell me of your Main Hobby!

Walkthrough Writer (WW): My name is Kevin Hall. I’m 27 years old, live in Mississippi. I’m currently unemployed though I’m in the process of getting a job at the moment. My main hobby is video gaming, which I suppose is very evident. It’s been my main hobby for quite a while now.

NSB: Kevin Hall, Mighty Writer of Walkthroughs! When didst Thou Forge from the Depths your Very First Walkthrough?

WW: The first walkthrough that I wrote was in the summer of 2001. I had a bunch of extra free time during college semesters, so I decided to try to write one for GameFAQs. I actually wrote it to try to win one of their bounty prizes. And yeah, I did win that prize if you’re wondering. It was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be, so I started working on guides during the summers when I didn’t have anything else to do then I slowly started to write more often on a regular basis.

NSB: Mighty Kevin, You Crafted one of the Finest Walkthroughs to date, that for Final Fantasy XII. Surely this was your most Challenging Venture?

WW: Yeah, it has been the hardest so far. But the experience wasn’t near as bad as I thought it would be since I enjoyed FFXII so much during my first playthrough and didn’t mind playing through it again or writing about it whatsoever. I used to sit back and wonder how in the world a guide writer could write a walkthrough for an RPG. There’s so much info! I suppose it all depends on how much you like the game. I would spend about 5 hours a day (maybe more) on FFXII. I started in November and I guess you could say the guide was complete by January. I still don’t view it as complete, but I’ve stopped working on it for the most part. There’s still a few areas that I’d like to add… and I might do that before the year is out.

NSB: If what Thou sayst is True — and I Doubt it Not — then the Process Endured well over 600 hours. Why Undergo such a Trial? Mayhaps for Compensation?

WW: I write them because I enjoy it. It’s the ultimate cure for boredom, and also I do it because it adds a lot more replay value to the game for me. With some of the games that I write for, I would usually toss the game aside after completing it fully, but while writing a guide, it gives me a new reason to go back through the game. I usually play through the game at least once before writing for it.

And no, there is no payment for the most part. I have done some Featured Guides that are exclusive to one site and received payment for those guides and I have received gift certificates or free games/services every now and then from other sites.

NSB: Do you Converse with your fellow Walkthrough Writers, such as Famed Alex? Is there Territorial Competition amongst you?

WW: I don’t keep in touch with other authors myself, though I do visit the GameFAQs contributer board every now and then to read about some of the stuff that is going on with them and the site. The GameFAQs contributor board is a very solid community with a bunch of fine writers on it. There’s a little competition among us. There has to be some there for all of us to write well. I think every writer is a little conceited in their own way.

And no, I haven’t spoken with Alex, or any of the other guide writers for FFXII, though I have emailed Split Infinity and sephirosuy a bit to discuss a few minor details on FFXII. I’m the kind of person that prefers to work alone. That’s just my style, though I would be open to some collaboration with the other writers at some point if they didn’t mind.

NSB: Yet surely you could not have Uncovered all the Secrets of the Game yourself. I Think of the Zodiac Spear, which can only be Obtained by Not Opening Certain Treasure Chests. How Discover you such Mysteries? Do you Communicate with Game Developers?

WW: Yes! The Zodiac Spear in particular was one secret that I had to find online – the GameFAQs message boards. There are a few treasure chests that were looked up online as well. I try to verify every single thing before I add it to a guide of mine, even if that means going through a long section of the game again.

And no, there is no help from the developers, either I learn through the info online or it is from my own experiences. Some of the boss stats were taken directly from the FFXII Bradygames guide since it’s impossible to find that info otherwise. Most of the writing in the walkthrough is based on my own experiences or reader submitted.

NSB: Having successfully written several Walkthroughs, how has your Life Changed? Have you Gained Friends? Does your Family support your Noble Venture? Dost Thou Seek Professional Employ in this business of Walkthrough Writing?

WW: I definitely have more online acquaintances. Not so many friends though since I tend to keep to keep a low profile most of the time. My family is slightly supportive. They know all about this hobby of mine – throughout the family. Though it’s not really something that I can sit down and discuss with them that often.

I’m really not sure how one gets into the business of writing a strategy guide professionally. For Bradygames and Prima Games, I have read that you basically just send off your resume after you post a guide up on GameFAQs (with a link to that guide) and hope for the best. I still haven’t tried that. If you look on Gameindustry.biz you’ll find a resume of mine up with the other resumes though. I’ve just recently posted that up.

NSB: Kevin, Walkthrough Writer, your Words have Struck great Rays of Light through the Obscurity of your Trade. I thank you, nay — the very World thanks you, for your Time.

WW: No problem. Glad to speak with you.

Gregory House: The Rarest and Most Realistic Character on Television

August 25, 2007

I really like House, both the show and the character. The show is full of humor and insight, and manages to deliver both in doses that facilitate their digestion. The same can be said for the balance kept between plot advancement and focusing on the diagnoses process, each one entertaining but eventually fatiguing if not helped along by the other.

When I talk to people about the show, they seem to be watching House from the outside and only relating to the supporting cast, House’s more “normal” residents, attending physicians, bosses and colleagues at Princeton-Plainsboro Teach. They might have a liking for Dr. Allison Cameron (which I might share), or they might find Dr. Eric Foreman a friendly and human counterpart to House’s unwavering misanthropy.

Most people never get past the initial impression you get from Hugh Laurie’s character – the show even gives us some sparse but critical views into House’s nature or motivations, but most people I talk don’t seem to have been awake during those scenes. The reason I say that House is the most realistic character on television lies in those moments when we it becomes clear that the show manages to slowly explain the reasons behind his acidic (and yet strangely magnetic, at least for all of his co-workers) personality.

House sees beyond the world that his fellow doctors and patients live in, which is what gives him the ability to be so good at his job. He has a strict definition of what consists of entertainment for him, and where everyone else is busy exploring themselves, House discovered “himself” a long time ago. He’s not bitter or misanthropic, he’s just extremely self-aware. List the things which House might do when not practicing, and the items won’t extend too far past riding his motorcycle or playing games within his social environment.

My point is that this TV show has captured a type of person that doesn’t exist in any other show, but which we occasionally encounter in real life – someone who doesn’t have the need to question their actions. This is troubling, and we’re inclined to think that at some point House will see the error in his ways, apologize to everyone and marry one of the women with whom he has constant sexual tension, but this would be defeating the realism of his character, and I hope it never happens.

I hope the final episode of House shows no change in his person. As of now we believe that House’s years of personal development are behind him, and if he is to remain a realistic character, this must be the case. He’s not happy, and definitely doesn’t experience the fleeting moments of joy his friends might when they run around and repeatedly make personal and professional mistakes (as is the case with most characters on TV). He knows who he is, and he judges the world we live in while making no concessions. He’s not happy, he’s content.

Judd Apatow and Fairytale Sexism

August 23, 2007

I know it’s a little late to be talking about Superbad, but this is less a review than it is a reflection on Judd Apatow’s two newest and successful movies, Knocked Up being the first one. It should be noted that Apatow is credited only as a producer on Superbad, but the two films have essentially the same personality. While that personality might be actor/writer Seth Rogan’s, I’m assuming it belongs to Apatow. It doesn’t really matter either way. What does matter is that behind the big laughs and revenue these movies have garnered lies something a little more sinister. I don’t know exactly what to call it — misogyny is too strong — it’s more like fairytale sexism. By that I mean an extremely crude simplification of women characters for the sake of the male protagonist and his ego.

What I don’t mean is the sort of thing that no-name critic Angela Baldassarre talks about in her review. She accuses Superbad of having “misogynist undertones” because it “shows insensitivity when it steps out of character and focuses on, say, the merits of menstrual blood or why women don’t get excited at erections. A line should have been drawn.” How dick jokes are out of line for a character who is obsessed with drawing dicks is beyond me. The characters, and by extension, their humor, lack “sensitivity” when it comes to women, but as we see their awkward come-ons and painful rejections, isn’t that the whole point?

What I’m talking about is more along the lines of what no-name critic Carina Chocano talks about in her review of Knocked Up: “Knocked Up is so enamored of Ben and his insouciant charm that it fails to wonder what it must feel like for the girl. It’s one thing to go with the idea that Ben and Alison dwell in different leagues, which after all is the point of the movie. It’s another thing altogether for the heroine, who in true girl-on-pedestal form is beautiful, smart, successful, nice and pretty much cool with everything, never to get even the tiniest chance to wonder if maybe she might have done a little better.”

This is what fairytale sexism is. It’s idolizing the woman at the cost of her identity. By making Alison essentially perfect, Apatow prevents her from noticing what any real woman ought to: Ben is an overweight deadbeat pothead. A funny and kind guy to be sure, but probably not marriage material. That Alison never even takes this train of thought is a fatal flaw to the movie’s structure.

So it’s extremely disappointing to see Superbad make the same mistake, only worse. An otherwise solid movie culminates in a bizarre scene at the mall. Seth, Jonah Hill’s character, sees his crush Jules at the escalator. The previous night, Seth had drunkenly tried to make out with Jules, who rejected him. Following this he wept and then headbutted her in the face as he passed out on the ground. To top it off, Seth is even fatter and less attractive then Ben in Knocked Up, while Jules is fairly hot. So this encounter at the mall shold be intensely awkward. Yet for some reason, Jules eats up Seth’s graceful apology and invites him to go buy makeup with her. (She needs something to hide that black eye.)

What the fuck? How could a movie all about superficial lust and pre-college sex preparation end with a girl ignoring all aesthetic and social cues to hang out with Seth? What is Jules thinking?

The answer is, apparently, that she’s not. At their best, Apatow’s women characters are as shallow and horny as their male counterparts. But when the fat guy needs to get laid, shallowness and horniness aren’t going to cut it. Neither, for that matter, is an emphasis on personality, because Apatow’s fat guys aren’t particularly good people. The result is a golem, a clay princess, someone designed to give herself away without ever questioning her own feelings. A patient Rapunzel letting some porker clamber up her hair when there are better, and lighter, princes out there. It’s this failure to locate the woman’s motives, this fairytale sexism, that spoils Knocked Up and Superbad for me.

Animal Cruelty vs. Gambling: Which Do I Give Less of a Shit About?

August 15, 2007

Professional sports are going through a rough patch. Tim Donaghy, an NBA referee, just pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and gambling. He gave inside information to bettors and went so far as to bet on games he was reffing. Donaghy faces up to 25 years in prison. Meanwhile, Michael Vick, the immensely talented but underperforming quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, has been charged with sponsoring dog fights. He’s currently working on a plea bargain that will land him no more than a year in jail, but if it falls through he could face up to 6 years. We’ll see what kind of punishment Barry Bonds gets for using HGH and then lying to a jury about it.

Pumping steroids, dogfighting, illegal gambling — these sound like the national pastimes of most countries in the EU. So I don’t get why the US is so infatuated with dishing out immensely harsh penalties for them.

Let’s be honest: our government is hypocritical when it comes to gambling. It’s illegal, unless you’re an American Indian. Or you’re on a boat. Or you live in any of 15 states that allow it. Or, as is the case with the Lotto, the government is taking advantage of you directly. Then it’s fine.

As for dogfighting, it’s like the poor black urban version of Dungeons & Dragons. You give your dog all sorts of potions (read: cocaine) to enhance its performance. If you win, your dog gets (along with crazy XP) to rape the other dog’s bitches. If you lose, you have to drown your dog or something. I dunno, maybe it’s nothing like D&D. But I bet it’s pretty sweet. Besides, there’s no scientific literature showing that dogs are happier sitting around getting obese than they are tearing the shit out of each other.

But in the end, it’s not about condoning gambling or dogfighting. It’s not about showing how ridiculous the national attitude toward gambling is (really ridiculous) or about how lame groups like PETA are (really lame). It’s about looking at those crimes and realizing they’re way too petty to get the jail sentences — and the media coverage — that they do.

Sure, these guys have damaged the reputation of the NBA and the NFL, so if you want them out of those sports, fine. But sports should exist outside and beneath the “real world.” The fact that even now the Senate is conducting an investigation on steroids in baseball is the perfect symbol for our distorted national priorites are.

As a side note, when is this guy going to die?:

Death of Phil Rizzuto

August 14, 2007

I was about 9 years old when my grandfather gave me a baseball signed by Phil Rizzuto, some old guy who I hadn’t really heard of. Gramps had met “Scooter” at a charity golf tournament and, jokingly, asked him to sign a baseball for his grandfather. I guess he was looking for a laugh, but apparently Rizzuto didn’t get it, and just asked, “Sure thing! What’s your grandfather’s name?” Joke having sailed way over Scooter’s head, my 65 year-old Gramps dutifully responded, “Nick,” and so I got my ball.

rizzuto.jpg

I’d come to learn that this wasn’t Rizzuto’s only oblivious moment. During his Hall of Fame induction speech, he mentioned that he thought New Guinea was full of Italians. When keeping score during games, he coined the notation “WW” for plays where he wasn’t watching. Scooter’s scorecards must have been brimming with WWs, because some guys were able to make a poetry collection out of all his in-game musings. A few examples:

Two balls and a strike. You know what they had on TV today, White? “Bridge on the River Kwai.” Everybody should have gotten an Academy Award for that movie. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it. About forty times. Alec Guinness! William Holden! Three and one the count. I just heard somebody whistle. You know that song? That’s what they whistle. Nobody out. And he pops it up.

Or,

The legs are so important.
In golf, they’re very,
People don’t realize
How important legs are in golf,
Or in baseball,
And football, definitely.
Track.
O, in track.
All-important.
Jumping.
Soccer.
Is there anything, what?
Is there anything where the legs
Are not the most important?

This guy was like Yogi Berra, minus the hidden insight. And like Berra, he’ll probably be remembered not for his on-field brilliance but for his off-the-field quirkiness. Not that I have a problem with that — it probably makes my ball more valuable. I’m accepting offers now at alphazeromail@gmail.com.

Thoughts of a Hero

August 14, 2007

Recently people have been asking my about heroic situations. In particular, what makes someone act as a ‘hero’ in a heroic situation?

I’ve always thought the answer lay in some inherent qualities of heroes, for whom courage and action are ever-present in the mind and ready to make themselves useful at any moment. This was until today, when an encounter with a mother and her lost child (along with a good dose of meta-thinking), gave me the right answer to the question posed above — a hero is just someone for whom the mental decision-making roulette falls on “act” as opposed to “ignore” more often than not.

Here is what happened:

I was downstairs in the lobby of my office building, having come back from eating lunch (hot dog, Diet Coke® and two Tylenol® Cold Multi-Symptom). As the doors to my elevator began to close, I noticed a little girl, alone dressed in pink, crying in a corner of the lobby. At that moment I would have had enough time to stick my arm through the elevator door and stop it, walk to the girl and escort her to a guard. In the heat of the moment, I chose to let the doors close, mostly due to laziness and telling myself she would be ok since the lobby was full of security people.

I get to my floor, the elevator doors open, and I’m immediately confronted by a distraught mother (also dressed in pink) and an entourage of helpers. “Have you seen a little girl?” she asks. “I saw a little girl, alone, crying and dressed in pink” I reply. Her face lights up and she rushes past me into the elevator, saying “That’s my daughter!” I step out and start talking to her entourage – she seems to have just met them. They tell me the little girl stepped into an elevator and went down on her own. We talk about 9 seconds, and right then an elevator across the hall opens, and inside is the little girl, still alone and crying her eyes out. One of the men I was speaking to lunges to hold the door open so we can wait for the mother, but it closes before he can properly get to it. If I had acted quickly enough, I probably could have gotten there before him (he looked about 70) and held the door open. But I didn’t, I just assumed everything would be ok, that he would get the door in time.

This shows that, at least for now, my roulette isn’t set up for heroic acts. Like anyone else, I’d love to think that I would jump into incoming traffic or spread myself taught over a manhole, but empirically it looks like I would just think that, as Sweetbox told us, everything is gonna be alright. Hopefully I can change that, and next time I’m confronted with a situation like the one above, I’ll act as if my roulette had landed on “be a hero”, if only for the sake of writing about it later. I’ll be a hero next time.

The Emmy award nominated NBC show “Heroes”, which follows the lives of several seemingly ordinary people who suddenly seem to have superpowers, makes the wrong assumptions about what it means to be heroic.

For the show, its hero main characters are imbued with a passive quality which makes them heroic – whether it is the ability to fly, teleport, copy/paste the time/space continuum, or never get hurt. In the real world, very few of us, if not none of us at all, have any of those abilities, so the closest parallel we can find is the incorrect assumption I held in the beginning of this essay that heroes are people who possess an inherent quality which reveals itself in a stressful situation, but which is always present.

This quality, much like the quality of NBC show which everyone seems to love, is inexistent. The following diagram explains the only difference in the minds of heroes and non-heroes (I believe this can change at any time during a person’s, whether through conscious or unconscious processes):

heroes.jpg

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl

August 7, 2007

 

 

IN GAME 

I’ve been fighting the same battle for 45 minutes. The camp leader is dead. Sergiy, a guy I befriended at the beginning of the firefight, the man I gave my last set of bandages to so he could keep fighting, died by my side 5 minutes ago. The Polar Explorer, a jovial young fellow who had just arrived in the Zone, is dead. Before the battle we were sharing an energy drink.

Right now I’m sitting in a derelict toll booth, crouched under a broken window, and the bullets refuse to stop. Earlier I thought I had killed the last of them, so I wandered around the camp for a while. As I kneeled next to Bes’s body, mourning his loss and eating some sausage, a bullet ricocheted off the helicopter next to me and into my leg. I barely made it to this booth, where I have managed to stop the bleeding and reload. I’ve identified three targets over the hill, and they know I’m here. My only chance is to lure them into the valley next to the camp, where I know there are some radioactive anomalies which might slow them down. I’m turning off my flashlight.

[…]
I’ve found a bus in the valley to hide behind. They had to chase me around the camp fence so I had time to stop by Bes’s again and pick up his AK-47. It’s been upgraded with a muffler so the bandits will have harder time pinpointing where I am. The mutated jellyfish I’ve strapped onto my belt seems to be helping my blood clot, but the radiation is making me terribly dizzy. I’ve finished my last bottle of Journeyman’s vodka, but I feel like by now it’s doing more harm than good.

The bandits are getting closer, wasting their ammo on the side of this bus, but they seemed to have taken a position a few meters away from where I know is an extremely radioactive area. They don’t seem to want to get any closer.

[…]

Finally it’s over. The cold steel of a broken-down helicopter I’m temporarily calling home feels like a mother’s womb. A wasted whore of a woman who didn’t want me but who couldn’t keep Misha the tax collector off of her loins on a late Ukrainian night, but a mother nonetheless. By crawling over here I managed to lure the bandits into the radioactive trough – I watched with relief and disgust as their bodies writhed with pain in the throes of death, the alphas and gammas making short work of their ghostly porcine vessels.

As for me, I’m fucked. I must have sucked up dozens of rads walking over here, and my Geiger wont stop clicking. The anti-rads are sticking out of my arm like an Andalusian bull’s worst nightmare. For whom the bell tolls…probably for me.

OUT OF GAME

“STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl” is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a while. This shows that we don’t need Silicon Valley venture capitalists and preppy CNET journalists drinking free mojitos at E3 2007 to tell or define what makes a good game. If it were up to them, we would all still be playing Oblivion, a game which shipped with equal parts frustration potential and unoriginality.

The truth is that the creative Kiev-ites at GSC Game World, the developer that managed to put together this excellent game, know what your average intelligent and demanding game-player of the 21st century wants. I don’t know if I’m part of the principal demographic that most developers are trying to reach, I probably am, but I’m forced to write off most contemporary games as miserable failures.

The Ukrainians have rediscovered why I spent hours playing games like Chrono Trigger when I was a bit younger. Not that STALKER has anything to do with Chrono Trigger, and the appeal for each game comes from completely different sources, but they’ve tapped into the same quality muse which so rarely opens her arms to game developers.

I won’t go into the reasons why STALKER is such a good game, you can read this to see why, but everything about it makes me smile (even the terrible translation). The plot is loosely based on the 1971 science fiction novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. I can’t say much about it, but I know that the Scandinavian Congress on Science Fiction Literature named it the best book of the year printed in Sweden.

I’m still not very far into the game, nor have I ever even seen this book, but I know that it tells the story of treasure hunters looking for radioactive artifacts which have been imbued with powers which defy laws of physics as they are commonly understood. The most sought after of these artifacts, having achieved almost legendary status among said treasure hunters, is an item called the Golden Sphere, which has the power to fulfill your deepest desires. Even though I haven’t read the book, clearly Michael Crichton has.

Poem by Isuba Nikora

August 7, 2007

My Japanese poet friend has been working on her first poems in English, and asked me to post this one. Her name is Isuba Nikora, she’s pretty well-established in her home city of Kagoshima, which she says is the inspiration for all her work.

Karrupusamy

what has she?
height, iran, oreo, coach, a knee.
two (oh you will be) (oh he she me)
green, oh touchy bone, a trunkless ashy.

so rare, I know, cheek, a coo day,
fun, sigh sorry, to visage
no use or she soon you carry dome,
or son,
a coat soon a hand boon
she calm me me, she wallow
say, rarely talk:

what has she, no name?
has ozymandias oh no oh day I rue:
me decide what has she
knows she go to,
cue die
not yet
oh you be set soon bony!

zen boots or no,
got one, no not any more.

no foe, show note:
I’m don’t coming back
erasure base
we hate nothing, have took only nobody.