A Thousand Words: Sonic Adventure

Sonic Adventure

I was a child when Sonic Adventure first came out on the Dreamcast. I was also one of the rare few who got to see it new and firsthand. At the time it looked impressive. Now with hindsight, it’s basically the Yak-38 of video games.

The Forger was basically a tech demo of a V/STOL fighter that got shoehorned into being an operational aircraft out of desperation. It was horrendously underpowered and unsafe. Likewise, this is a massively erratic way to show off all the things the Dreamcast could do more than an actual game. Sonic himself is a barely controllable pinball. Everyone else is there to represent something “new” and “amazing”. Tails can fly. Knuckles is there to have the same kind of collectathon gameplay pioneered in Mario 64. Amy-uh, does, basic puzzle stealth? Gamma the robot does third-person shooting by way of locking on, and Big the Cat infamously has that classic element of a speed game: Fishing. Slow paced fishing at that.

The cinematography in the cutscenes is utterly horrendous with the slightest point of comparison to anything else. And this introduced the storyline elements that would explode to horrendous proportions in Shadow and 06 and remain with the series even to this day. Which is to say, a combination of mystical mumbo-jumbo, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman messing with something he shouldn’t, and tons of new characters with each installment.

What I consider interesting is that Super Mario 64, made by Nintendo from a position of strength, did not do anything like this. It kept the same basic excuse plot as the past installments, and didn’t feel like it had to push anyone new very hard. Sonic Adventure, made by Sega from a position of weakness, had to stretch, and it failed in that regard.

The tragedy of this for the series was that instead of trying to improve the fundamental controls, Sonic Team focused on one gimmick after another. Mechs, teams, guns, telekinesis, anything but razor-sharp platforming. Adventure didn’t cause the famous 3D pit all by itself, but it started the process of digging.

A Thousand Words: WMMA5

WMMA5

Grey Dog Software’s World of Mixed Martial Arts 5 is an excellent mixed martial arts simulator/tycoon game. It’s best to keep your game worlds small as loading times are still an issue, but that’s the only (small) sour note in a very sweet game. As a tycoon, you can participate in building your own MMA empire, and learn the hard way that trying to do right by either your fighters or your fans has financial consequences.

Or you can just smash the figures together in the game’s Quick Fight mode, which is where I spend most of my time with it. The character editor means you can create anything from all-rounders to monomanical specialists who can’t strike or can’t grapple (or both!) As MMA has even more “moving parts” than boxing, making a proper sim is tough. Thankfully, this delivers.

A Thousand Words: People Playground

People Playground

When I was young, one of my favorite games was the Rube Goldberg generator known as The Incredible Machine. Now I’ve been delighted to announce that I’ve found a spiritual successor, People Playground. You can make all sorts of contraptions there in a physics sandbox-that mostly have the end goal of killing people. Or monsters. Or robots. For someone with as frequently twisted a sense of humor as me, I’ve loved it.

Yes, you can manually spawn a weapon and just kill your test subjects, but where’s the fun in that? One example of the breadth of this game is my most satisfying creation. One victim was strapped to a chair while another had an incandescent light bulb wired to him. The light bulb was switched on and given a heat transfer, causing the first victim to burn to death. A heat pipe was then attached to the second victim’s head, leading it to light up like a candle, before the whole body followed suit.

There’s a real sense of satisfaction in making an elaborate deathtrap that finally, actually works, and it’s for that reason that I recommend this game for people who like messing around in sandboxes. It’s very fun.

A Thousand Words: BUSTAFELLOWS

BUSTAFELLOWS

So, it should be obvious that I’m not the target romance fiction aimed at women. But romance fiction that doubles as a crime thriller? Call me intrigued. So when I saw the Blerdy Otome Review of BUSTAFELLOWS (the official title is in ALL CAPS), I felt like I should check what’s still a crime thriller out. Hey, if an otome game took place in a conventional World War III, I’d look at it (I’d be seriously interested in how someone who came from the opposite background as most technothriller authors would handle it.)

Anyway, BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in the fictional NYC stand-in of New Sieg, where a reporter who can send her mind back in time and bodyjack someone in the past to change the present (the implications are addressed, and it’s portrayed as more limited and less powerful than it could theoretically be) gets involved with five possible love interests/vigilantes. While a visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se save for selecting choices, I have to say that this is one of those “PC version as a total afterthought” ports with a bizarre control scheme. Oh well. I got used to it, and the actual game ran fine.

The good news is that this is the rare “Romantic Suspense” that actually succeeds in balancing “Romance” and “Suspense”. The bad news is A: I think there’s a bit of culture clash that’s iffy but still bears little ill will (I’d expect the same from an American production that tried to tackle East Asian socio-political issues), and worse, B: The tone zigzags too much from “too serious” to “too goofy”. But these aren’t deal-breakers and I found it worth my money.

A Thousand Words: Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas

It’s close to the anniversary of the release of Fallout: New Vegas. That game is one I played a gigantic amount several years ago, and it’s one that seemed to suit my style more than the “Bethesda Fallouts” ever did.

New Vegas has a very simple plot. You control a deliveryperson who gets ambushed, shot, and left for dead by someone in a bad suit who wants to gain control of a Las Vegas that’s been left intact after the nuclear war. After being saved by a robot, making your way to Vegas, and dealing with the guy in a bad suit, you get to decide who gets to control it. The plot is simple, but the setting is amazing. It’s this very interesting “post-postapocalyptic” theme where society has fallen-and risen again with big cities and big armies. It feels alive.

What makes this an orange to the “apples” of Fallouts 3 and 4 is that this is more linear. You’re railroaded on the main quest route both by dialogue and the game placing powerful monsters in all the places you’re not supposed to go, and the world is a lot less flat and explorable than in those two. But because my strategy was to just go through the main quests, I didn’t mind.

While this has the infamous “Gamebryo Bugs” and balance issues (speech is an overpowered skill that there’s no point in not maxing unless you want a self-imposed challenge), it’s still my favorite PC RPG of all time.

A Thousand Words: Pokemon Black/White

Pokemon Black and White Versions

It was recently the 11th anniversary of Pokemon Black and White’s release. Now in terms of actual gameplay, it’s the same monster-catching as always. But in terms of opinion, it’s one of the games where, with full hindsight and difference, my views on it have shifted the most.

At the time, I viewed the story’s very slight challenge of its premise as something hamfisted and dumb. For the gameplay, while it wasn’t bad, it still felt like business as usual. Now with three more generations and a decade of thought, I can actually appreciate it more.

The first thing is realizing that Unova, the region of the game, is (loosely) based off my local area, the New York City metropolitan area. That’s neat, at least. The second is seeing that Game Freak played it so safe with the next three games that their mild, necessarily child-friendly critique comes across as the best they could do. Instead of slamming them for not doing it the best, I can praise them for trying. The third is the graphics. This was the last Pokemon game to feature classic sprites, which reach their apex here. After that, it’s ugly, basic, horribly optimized 3D models.

So what I wasn’t the fondest of at the time has turned into a nostalgic memory.

The Similarities Of Two Seemingly Different Activities

What I like about my favorite simulation games is that you can set up a situation and see how it plays out. Sometimes it’s an obvious situation, and sometimes you legitimately don’t know. Sometimes it’s legitimately relevant to contemporary issues, and sometimes it’s a total gonzo fantasy. I did think that writing fiction was different-until I actually wrote multiple books.

In the spectrum of “write completely as you go along” to “meticulous plotting”, I’m somewhere in between. I do make outlines and character lists, as much as so that I don’t forget them as for any other reason. But my final products have frequently either diverged from the outline or incorporated something not in them. Reminiscing on that has made think “a-ha, so it really isn’t that different from a sim.”

It involves me setting up a situation (which is to say the basic plot and main characters). Then it involves me seeing how that situation plays out over the course of me writing and editing it. It is fascinating to look back on my completed books and see how their development unfolded.

Weird Wargaming: My dream wargame…

…Is based on a boxing simulator.

Yes, after playing a lot of Title Bout Boxing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I honestly think you could apply it to a (consumer-level) wargame. Of course, I’m not a programmer and know very, very well that thinking up something and actually making it could not be more different. But what I think…. yeah.

  • Start with a sort of MCOAT-style War of the Spreadsheets, with a variety of inputs. The fighter stats have this in Title Bout.
  • Make the inputs editable, to remove bias. It would come with several default guesses/theories.
  • Add in other conditions on the menus. In Title Bout, this is the fighter’s career state, skill level, and their corner staff. This could be something like battle circumstances, terrain, skill, and morale.
  • When the fighting actually starts, the player realistically has very little ability to intervene. You can try to push more or less, but the ability to actually execute them depends on the virtual dice. Adding luck is realistic and keeps it from being a deterministic spreadsheet war.
  • There’s a summary afterwards. Casualties are not the same as holding territory.
  • Mismatches can happen. You pit Ali against Ben Askren, and the latter gets crushed. You make a battle where the difference makes the Gulf War look like Verdun, you get that.

The important thing to me is the same thing that made me fall in love with Command when I saw what its editor could do. An ability to combine fast setup with diverse results. Of course, I can already see a thousand pitfalls, but the dream is there.

“Put a higher-than-normal quality force of ‘BTRykers’ supported by independent tank battalions and have them attack an entrenched old-style rifle division. See how it shakes out. See if one side gains territory [the attackers probably would] and list the casualties”

A lot of people might not like this wargame’s lack of interactivity, but I would enjoy it scratching an itch.

A Thousand Words: Title Bout Championship Boxing

Title Bout Championship Boxing

The Title Bout Championship Boxing computer game, released first in the early 2000s, is very strange. It’s had development stop (and start, and stop), had the rights change hands, and yet the initial, stable version can still be legally bought and updated. Even in gameplay terms, it’s the kind of game that I like but I can see why many others wouldn’t.

It really can be summed up as like an MCOAT for boxing instead of military equipment. All you can do is set up the parameters and watch the simulation go forth, with a combination of characteristics and luck simulating the outcome of the matches. This leads to a very deep but very narrow type of game.

So yes, you can simulate Tyson vs. Ali, but save for giving vague and not necessarily follow-able instructions, you really can’t do much except watch. For “normal” players I can see the limitations. But for someone like me who likes seeing different outcomes for their own sake, it’s a very fun and enjoyable game.