The Agony and the Ecstasy of Trials: Evolution

Oh Xbox Live Arcade, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. There are so many good games coming out now even an indie snob like myself is satiated. We had the release of Fez a couple weeks ago (which will be the subject of another post) and now we have the release of another game that is slowly consuming me, Trials: Evolution.

Did you know that in Europe there is a sport that involves people on motorcycles riding on pipes that are swinging over ravines? I think it’s called Motocross? Well apparently this is what the new XBLA game Trials: Evolution is based on. Trials is a 2.5D game that is the spiritual successor to Excitebike. 2.5d meaning the character models and environments are in 3D while the gameplay exists on a 2D plane. The visual style of the game is a Tony Hawkish “cool” aesthetic meshed with a extreme silliness. I mean how “cool” can a motocross rider look when he flips over and over again only to land on his head and explode? In reality Trials: Evolution has more in common with Super Mario than Motocross.

There’s something magical about this game. It channels the old school platformers that tempted you with forward movement only to throw lava pits for you to fall in to at the last second. You’ll slam your fist in frustration while offending roommates with a string of vile expletives expressing your contempt for everything the game stands for all the while continuing to power through the same obstacle over and over and over again. Do you remember the angry trance of playing that speeder level in Battletoads? Well Trials: Evolution lets you play that bit over and over again and again. I know that doesn’t sound fun. I know that’s the reason you threw your NES out the window into that car that landed you in Juvenile Hall for 3 years. Look it will be okay, the quick respawn time, copious checkpoints and infinite lives won’t give you the chance to get up to pitch the accursed system out the window. It will force you to repeat the same goddamn jump over and over until you get it right. And when you finally cross the finish line, you get a satisfying spectacle as your character is killed in a unique and brutal way. The game designers took a tremendous amount of time designing unique death sequences for your rider. My favorite involves being immediately blown up, having your rider packed into a box by a forklift which then picks him up and deposits him on a shelf in a warehouse. The satisfying frustration of the gameplay followed by the release of seeing the rider being brutally killed is fucking sublime.

The game eases you into the difficulty, allowing you to learn how to play it before ramping up the difficulty you with Hard and then Extreme game modes. As of writing this I am still working on Gold medals for all the levels, which means fast times with no vaults, in order to unlock the Extreme modes. There is also a rich competitive multiplayer mode with unique tracks for players to race against each other both locally and remotely. The only real weakness I could find was the music, which is hilariously bad. The title screen rap, which the game forces you to listen to, is perhaps the worst thing ever recorded. I have a feeling that it’s a deliberate nod to not taking itself seriously at all.

TL;DR Trials: Evolution is a superb XBLA platforming game that will make you relive the most frustrating moments of your childhood.

Attention Philly-gamers! A call to cyberdecks…

Shadowrun 20th anniversary edition

Dear Philly-area gamers,

If you are involved with a Shadowrun RPG or would like to run one in the Philly area, please contact me here. I have several interested parties who want to participate in a Shadowrun game after playing a session at Dreamation 2012 a few months back.

Why we unplug – femme adventures in gaming part 2

Out of my group of female gamers, a few also play video games, but most refuse to use multiplayer mode due to aforementioned unicorn-fetus-induced behavior, myself included. Although, recently I was coerced into a playing top selling role-playing game that proclaimed the benefits of its multiplayer mode contributed to the single player campaign. I begrudgingly decided to check it out and after many fumbles and failures, I got the hang of it and began to enjoy what I once despised. For the sake of my sanity and enjoyment, I never plugged in my headset. Although this particular game isn’t pvp, I knew that SOUNDING LIKE A GIRL over XboxLive was the perfect way to invite aggro behavior and verbal abuse from the other players. As far as I know, I’ve never heard any other females using the audio channel on XBL, possibly for the similar reasons.

A few headshots later, a friend invited me to play in party setting, a private audio chat, with a group of other dudes I’ve never met, online or otherwise. I decided to go for it and plugged in my headset. The experience was fascinating; we had intelligent conversations about religion and spirituality, and of course I disagreed with all of them, but at least it was civil. When the tide turned to the topic of sexuality, one of the particularly poignant guys proclaimed that homosexuality was completely unnatural. Not WRONG, just, you know — UNNATURAL! This is why we can’t have nice things, Internet. The conversation was going so well! It’s really difficult to concentrate on staving off waves of mutant alien horde while you’re sputtering and trying to parse through someone’s unfathomable opinions. Looking back, the whole exchange was absurd and I’m sure the other people in the party were listening in for shits and giggles. Was it worth it? I work in a public library, so I get to argue with patrons all day about petty crap. Do I really want to do the same on my off hours? It’s a tough call.

I’m a glutton for punishment, so I decided that — YES! I want to argue with more people on XboxLive. Here are a few more nuggets I heard while plugged in, semi-paraphrased:

“Are you a girl? You kind of have a deep voice so you could be a prepubescent boy.”

“Clearly, you and your boyfriend don’t have a real relationship since you don’t spend every waking moment together. The rest of the world says your relationship is invalid.” This was said after revealing that I was in fact in a relationship with an independent person. *

“You are a useless t–t! DO SOMETHING.”**

“So, there’s this girl I play with on here, but she won’t turn her headset on. I really thought we were getting somewhere with the friendship, but she refuses to talk to me!” Priceless. This conversation went on for a while.

Oh, and I was virtually tea bagged by an adult male. Or… it was possibly an invitation for oral sex. Who knows?

Do I continue to plug in my headset? Not unless I want comedy gold or serious abuse — anonymity is a hell of a drug, but thankfully XBL does have a mute button. Virtual rape is possible; still, it’s easier to pull the plug or log off than it is to get a restraining order.

* Possible attempt at flirting?
** Such speech tends to come from military gamers. Fact. These guys get reported.

Why we unplug – femme adventures in gaming part 1!

I’ve never been a fan of multiplayer online gaming. The idea of entering into player-versus-player (pvp) combat against people who invest a vast chunk of time in the competitive gaming arena doesn’t usually tickle my fancy. Every gamer knows about the bullying, tea-bagging, and trash talk that goes on in such venues. As one friend put it, “It’s like they drink a tall glass of brain damage, hate, and unicorn fetus right before they log on.” I play video games to relax, to disconnect from the daily grind for a while, and to virtually immerse myself into well-crafted stories framed by the most expressive media of our time–not to be harassed by XBL denizens who have supped upon unicorn fetus. I can’t proclaim to understand exactly why other people game, but can assume it’s for similar reasons. Or not?

When it comes to real life interaction with male gamers, respectful guys in my circle of friends are willing, and often prefer, to game with the ladies–as if they really had a choice. Most women in my immediate friend circle are fellow gamers and some of them, like the ever-awesome J.R. Blackwell, publish imaginative, original games. One of the most engaging tabletop games I’ve ever experienced was an all-Girl Game where gender-bending and romance intertwine within a sci-fi/historical horror setting full of skin-wearing alien vampire lesbians! A woman portrayed a woman pretending to be man pretending not to be a vampire, women role-played men, and women played women. Our fantastic storyteller, Ms. Blackwell, introduced the idea of “lines and veils”, a social contract between gamers and gamemaster where specific player triggers are completely left out of the story or occur non-descriptively behind a veil. The topic had not been broached in any previous games I had experienced, but it was clearly a brilliant idea. Our game, now called “Girl Game”, had characters in hetero and gay relationships without any awkwardness or misinterpreted affection that may come from role-playing sexual situations with men. I felt free to truly stretch the creative capabilities of character due to the non-judgementmental environment. It’s not that I don’t enjoy role-playing with men, it’s that with Girl Game there was never any instance of someone trying to tell you what to do with your character or making backhanded comments about a character’s decision in the name of being helpful.

I love interacting with gamers in person. From PaxEast to Dreamation, game conventions continue to be awesome and enlightening, although the Penny Arcade debacle makes me cringe. Luckily my personal experiences remain untainted by what Filamena describes over at Gaming as Women. Molestation at cons seems to be more of a problem than I thought after talking with friends about their own incidents. Despite my introverted nature, I find all humans easier to communicate with in person than online (or the phone, but that’s another story) due to the asshat-compulsion of anonymity, hence my preference for in-person social games.

But then, crap like this is brought to my attention. Anyway.

Mass Effect mixed tape

As a teen, I was really into devising soundtracks in the form of mixed tapes for my various literary obsessions. The Lord of the Rings trilogy mixed tape had a healthy dose of shoegaze and ethereal goth; House of Leaves was a melange of industrial and indie rock, just to touch on a few self-created scores. Most of the books weren’t chose-your-own-adventure style, but I felt compelled to go beyond the text to affect the ambience and emotional tone of a story by providing the musical score.

Fast forward 14(ish) years, and I haven’t made a mixed tape until now. I blame college and grad school. That brings us to my Mass Effect mixed tape.

The Mass Effect video game trilogy takes individual gamer choice and customization to an extreme degree. Casey Hudson, Bioware‘s Mass Effect project lead, reports that over 1000 different variables are built up over the course of the gameplay. In the most simplistic terms, the games are chose-your-own-epic-video-RPGs. Bioware writers and developers have admitted that player feedback/desire has been a driving force for a few of the plot arcs. Overall, the trilogy provides for some very personalized in-game experiences. Mass Effect 3, the conclusion of Shepard’s (the main character) story, managed to piss (almost) everyone off, me included, in the last ten minutes of the game. There are very plausible theories about the game ending (SPOILERS!), but I’m not going discuss them here as they’ve been talked to death everywhere else on the ‘webs. Sure, I’m frustrated, confused, and slightly angry about the ME3 conclusion, but it’s like a bad break up. I just need to move on and talk about the music.

Clint Mansell and Sam Hulick, along with others, artfully composed the main score for ME3. It’s emotional, evocative, and fits well stylistically with the game’s retro-futuristic design. I received a digital copy of the score with a purchase of the Collector’s Edition, but it wasn’t included in the regular release. I’m not here to debate the brilliance of the score, or to improve it, but will attempt to put my own spin on musical storytelling. So, here you have it, my Mass Effect mixed ‘tape’. Please pop these songs in order, or not, into the preferred music player of your choice for maximum satisfaction. Clarification: most song sections do correspond with the originals for clarity, but are my particular choice for that section of the game. Enjoy.

Fate of the Galaxy:

Gary Numan – Random

Leaving Earth:

M83 – Safe

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