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Remember that guy I was making fun of yesterday? You know, the guy who told everybody else to stop telling people they’re wrong when they like lousy games? I guess I was just in a huge rush to make fun of that awful Game of the Year list, but somehow I overlooked the fact that that guy is the editor-in-chief of a magazine that is almost entirely devoted to telling you which games are good and which games are bad. His goddamn job is to tell you you’re wrong if you like the new Transformers game. So is this just those horrible people in /1 who aren’t allowed to do that, then?
I spend a lot of time on this blog making fun of awful TV, radio, and web journalism, and that’s all fine and good, but the one thing I don’t tend to touch is print journalism. The reason for this should be blindingly obvious: because, contrary to what may be implied by my physique and wardrobe, I am not actually a caveman. I’m just willing to leave it as settled fact that nobody reads magazines anymore, and, as for people who read newspapers, well, I kind of figure they deserve what they get. So print journalism has just sort of been a de facto dead zone as far as the me-making-fun-of-it goes. Until today.
Due to a comedy of errors that is, in an ironic twist, not nearly comedic enough to bother making any jokes about on a snotty blog, I have come into possession of a copy of the February 2013 issue of Game Informer. I can’t be the only one who figures this is yet another manifestation of the secret workings of the Lord, can I? Clearly He wants me to complain about this thing, or He wouldn’t have put it in My mailbox by mistake. His will be done!
Before I start, let me acquaint you with Game Informer real quick, since I imagine you’re not cavemen either, so you’ve never read it. It declares itself the "world’s #1 video game magazine" right there on the cover, but it’s in a tiny little pathetic font. Here — if your eyes are really good, maybe you can find it yourself. I added a big red circle to make it a little bit easier. With all those Marvel characters oozing out of every corner of this thing, I can’t help but be reminded of the way Marvel — a company with a testicle or two — did exactly the same thing. Seriously, Game Informer, sack up; if you’re not comfortable bragging big and bold like that, then maybe just stay quiet and hope nobody notices you.
Logo comedy aside, I actually have a history with Game Informer. Ten years ago, I ended up with a one-year subscription to this rag somehow; I don’t remember if I won it in a contest or it was included with some other thing I bought or what, but the long and short of it is that, for twelve consecutive months, Game Informer appeared in my mailbox actually on purpose. And I’m pretty sure every single one of those issues contained an article about Final Fantasy 7 and an article about Metal Gear Solid. This was 2004, not 1997. So that’s just a nice little bit of introduction for you so’s you can get an idea of what kind of magazine this is.
The first thing we find upon opening the magazine is an editorial written by a dude whose little headshot makes him look like a grown-up, but which is — I shit you not — about how hurtful it is when people call you names in online games. Fuck the heck? Verbatim quote: "I’d pay any company an exorbitant fee to play on an age-gated service that actively and aggressively removes dirtbags." So, okay. Play private games with your friends, because, hey Andy, in the real world, you do have to cope with people who aren’t all just like you. Also: "stop telling people they are wrong" when they disagree with you about video games. Holy shit, dude, if you need a hug, I’m not helping you. I just paid like five dollars for your magazine — as far as you know, I mean — and I didn’t do so for the privilege of listening to you cry that people are mean to you when you add many whelps. Handle it!
So that’s the first thing in the magazine. Off to a good start. Next is reader mail, which can’t be bad; here’s what the letters are about this time:
- Grand Theft Auto
- Grand Theft Auto
- How do I keep my brother out of my Minecraft account?
- Uncharted movie
- This magazine rocks!
- This magazine totally rocks!
- Games are unrealistically and disturbingly anti-wolf
- No, really, this magazine is the fucking best
- Mario sucks
- Nobody makes shmups anymore
- Nobody makes RPGs anymore
Getting an idea of the demographic this magazine skews to yet? Like, that it’s really really young? And also clueless about video games? I can’t believe the guy claiming there are no shmups.
Next: Games of the year for 2012! Odd thing to run in February, but I like to think they did that just so I could make fun of them, because they did the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Game of the year for 2012: Halo 4! Woo! Which I guess is fine by itself — and even moreso if your audience is mainly 15-17 year old males — but Halo 4 did not win Best Shooter. Hate to break this to you, guys, but: that makes no fucking sense. Also makes no fucking sense: Best RPG of 2012? Mass Effect 3! Which is, you know, not an RPG. Curiously, Assassin’s Creed 3 somehow did not win Best Sports Game, but I imagine that was an oversight. The other best thing is the choice of 10000000 for runner-up Best Mobile Exclusive. Now, I’ve played 10000000, and it’s pretty fun, but, if that link didn’t give away the game, I’ve played it on the PC, because it’s not a fucking mobile exclusive. Good work!
Next there’s an article about how great the next Xbox is guaranteed to be, even though the Game Informer staff admits in the article that they know nothing about it whatsoever. All the details are entirely secret and they have no inside information at all, but they just know it’ll be the best! Then there’s a "top ten best dragons" list that at least only manages to include two things that aren’t dragons, though, bizarrely, does also include the fucking dragon from Adventure. What?
Next: an article about how great Halo 4 is, and especially how great Halo 4′s cutscenes are. I guess that’s in case you weren’t yet sure who paid the most product-placement money this issue. Then there’s a similar article about ZombiU, and then — so help me — an article recapping Spike TV’s idiotic video game award show, in which I guess Half-Life 2 was named Best Game of the Decade despite coming out last decade. The only worthwhile article in the magazine comes on page 34, with a two-page story about Pier Solar, which is a game you haven’t played and actually has a really interesting story behind its development. Sadly, Game Informer is maybe just a hair behind the zeitgeist on this one, since Pier Solar came out in 2010.
Then comes a big article about the Wii U launch ports, and how they compare to the versions already released on existing hardware. Spoiler warning: they hate all of them. Then they close the article with a really classy dig at Reggie for having the audacity to suggest that the gaming media’s report of the Wii U as a colossal failure for only selling four million units in three months (for comparison, the Xbox 360 sold 2.5 million units in its first three months) might reflect some institutional bias. This is followed by yet another developer interview about a game from last year. What the fuck, Game Informer? Is there really nothing at all to talk about? No news or information or even any cool pictures or codes like game magazines used to have? This whole magazine is like an American AAA developer circle-jerk. Then there’s a two-page article about how, if you want a tablet, you should get an iPad or an Android tablet or maybe a Windows tablet, which I’m not 100% sure counts as information. Then a full-page article about about how we’re all assholes for thinking Mass Effect 3 had a shit ending — Mass Effect 3 is a year old, Game Informer. You are not "informing" us about a goddamn thing! And the screenshot — which takes up half the page — is not a screenshot from Mass Effect 3. It’s just, like, a screenshot from some random game tacked on to fill space.
Finally we get to the cover feature: fourteen pages about Lego Marvel Superheroes. To save you some time: yeah, they don’t know anything about it other than what was in the trailer. Six pages about the new Shadowrun-themed XCom ripoff, but, again, they have no new information to share. Then there are some crap one-page previews of upcoming games that also don’t contain anything you haven’t seen on every web site ever. And then the reviews come! They review Devil May Cry on two consecutive pages, and give it two different scores, which I still can’t quite understand. But they love it because it has lots of blood and cutscenes. They actually didn’t like Ni No Kuni, which I think makes them the only people in the world who didn’t; reading through this review, the main problem is apparently that you spend too much time playing the game, which interferes with watching the cutscenes. Then there are a whole bunch of shorter reviews, and, in time-honoured balls-less reviewer style, everything gets between 6.5 and 8. So: all the games are "pretty good," and they’d all be better if they didn’t have so much goddamn gameplay. Then, finally, on the very last page, there’s actually something good in this fucking magazine: a big sprite-sheet of all the Mega Man bosses! I have no idea why, mind you, but I’m not complaining. At least it’s cool to look at.
Well, there you are. Now you know why you don’t waste your hard-earned money on gaming print journalism: because it’s fucking awful. Long gone are the days when magazines had any actual information to share; since they can’t update exactly as things are happening like the internet can, they’ve apparently been reduced to boring retrospectives on what happened in gaming last year, and the worst opinion pieces of all time. And, of course, the obligatory bought journalism that just tells you how rad the sponsor’s products are. After all, Jeff could tell you what happens to professional game journalists who don’t praise the sponsored games enough. And then how would these points of light get paid to whine about all those mean people on Xbox Live?
I was not one of the biggest fans of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t keeping company with this douchebag, but I didn’t love it. I found the controls often frustrating, with Mario wall-jumping constantly whether I wanted him to or not, and the goofy Wiimote-shake spin jump firing any time I so much as tilted the remote, and dumping me in pits all the damn time. My overall opinion of the game was that, principally due to the control issues, it was only pretty good.
New Super Mario Bros. U, on the other hand, is not pretty good. In point of fact, it is goddamn phenomenal. What I honestly expected to be a decent but unremarkable launch title turns out to be one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. The game follows the usual visual and audio aesthetic of the New SMB series, and is full of bright primary colours and lively landscapes and catchy background tracks that the mobs (and some environment details) move in time to, and that’s a good thing; the look-and-feel has always been a great strength of the New SMB series, since, frankly, after a while one gets tired of looking at drab, dark, pseudo-futuristic brownscapes, as I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice over the past few years. But New SMB U goes beyond just making things bright and pretty; every level I’ve played so far (and I’m on world 3, so it’s a fair few) contains some new thing you haven’t seen before, and almost all of them are interesting or exciting. I don’t think I’ve said "wow" so many times playing a video game since… ever, pretty much. There’s always something new and surprising popping up here.
The gameplay is probably more balanced than it’s ever been in a Mario game. For once, there isn’t one powerup that’s just better than the others; remember how you haven’t really ever wanted a fire flower since, like, the original Super Mario Bros. since there’s always something better? The raccoon tail in SMB3, the cape in Super Mario World, so forth. They all have the same problem: they give Mario an attack that’s maybe not quite as good as the fire flower, but then they also let you fly and fall slowly and deflect incoming projectiles and hit blocks form the side and on and on. Well, not this time; the glider suit Mario gets from the acorn powerup has no attacks built in, and doesn’t add nearly so many movement buffs; all Mario can do with it is double-jump and slow-fall, which means there are actually times you’ll want something else. On top of the powerup balance, this is the only Mario game I’ve ever played (and I think I’ve played all of them, including the arcade version of Super Mario Bros. and Wario Land on the Virtual Boy) in which the timer actually matters. You have to haul ass to get through the levels on time, even in 1-1.
Playing the game with the Wii U gamepad removes the control issues that dogged New SMB Wii; the game is also playable with a Wiimote (and you have to use a Wiimote for multiplayer), but at this time I’m unable to say if the spin controls have maybe been sensitived down somewhat or if it still throws you in pits constantly. Mario’s wall-jumping reflexes are a bit more on-target this time, though, and it’s not so common that you’ll be trying to make a bunch of rapid jumps and end up bouncing in weird directions you don’t want.
In addition to the campaign and the multiplayer modes, New SMB U also adds a bunch of challenges, which is good stuff. It’ll give you a level to beat in a certain amount of time, or a target number of coins to collect, or something totally oddball — one of the first special challenges has you seeing how long you can survive while dodging fireballs from a pair of Fire Bros. None of this stuff is necessary to play the game, so if it’s not your bag, you can completely ignore it; it’s just a fun little extra from the main menu. There’s also Miiverse integration, which means you can post comments on levels and look for suggestions and such on a spot you’re stuck on without leaving the game at all; I’m not sold on this, but it’s also easy to turn it off, so I really can’t complain. It’s there for people who want it and not there for people who don’t.
If you have a Wii U, there’s no excuse for not getting this game. It’s brilliant. I just hope they have some brilliance left over to use on the upcoming Super Mario Galaxy game.
When Xenoblade Chronicles finally blessedly came out in very north America, I suspected that I really liked it. I wasn’t sure, though, because I was paranoid about Monolith, especially as regards games with "Xeno" in the title. But now I’m a hunnert percent sure I loved it. Why? Because I watched this trailer — which is awful — and it really made me want to play Monolith’s upcoming Xenoblade knockoff on the Wii U, especially if they manage to brown it down 40% or so. Seriously, game developers: what is it about HD that makes you think "brown?" Do you think the D stands for "brown?" In your world, does it mean "high drabbonnation?" Honestly, Xenoblade Chronicles — which I realise was on the Wii, what with its fewer triangles than the competition and that — had utterly captivating environments. Yeah, the faces weirdly looked like shit — I played Last Story too, so I know you could have done better — but the environments kicked my ass since no environments had since Super Mario Galaxy (and before that: mofo Zangarmarsh). So if you fuckers take all those extra Wii U triangles and paint them all brown, I will kill you all in your sleep. With rape bees. Which are like normal bees except you fill in the blanks since you’re all such goddamn geniuses and also you’re Japanese and so oh hey about that.
Seriously, how can I disable Swype on the Kindle Fire HD? It’s making me want to kill myself and also Rihanna but that’ll be another blog for another day.
Funny thing is it’s real big, but national companies don’t always seem to grasp that. Like there’s this radio ad playing lately about a new Pier 1 that just opened in Fairbanks. Which is fine and all, except that Fairbanks is four hundred miles away. I do not recall hearing radio ads when I lived in Massachusetts about new stores that just opened in Pittsburgh.
Let’s say you’re not interested in my moral philosophising from the last post. What the hell, you say. You came here to read about how awful video game journalism is! Well, I have a deal for you on that front also. We all know that modern rock radio is the very very most awful radio format, right? It clearly is. Well, on the local modern rock station — which, regrettably, I often endure at work — they do video game "news" segments also, and they are as bad as you’d expect video game journalism on a modern rock radio station in Anchorage goddamn Alaska to be. But today they really one-upped themselves (get it? That was a video game joke): they no-fooling claimed that there are not, nor will there ever be, any shooters on the Wii U. Which is nonsense. I mean, obvious, provable nonsense. It’s one thing if you want to be like Gamespot and claim that nobody should buy the Wii U because obviously it’s for little girls and homogays, but it takes a special kind of stupid to claim that this list contains no shooters at all. I mean, for Pete’s sake, it has damn Mass Effect 3 and Black Ops 2 on it, right? And those are just about the biggest shooters that came out this whole year. And they’re officially 100% already out, so you can’t even cop out and claim that you figured they’d get canceled.
I mean, I often get accused of being a Nintendo partisan, and there is some (though only some) truth to this. Generally, I find Mario way more fun than some boring-ass multiplayer army shooter. That’s just me. But I do not believe it counts as me being partisan to say, you know, there might be a shooter or two on the Wii U. So, congratulations, radio station: you’ve managed to be worse than Gamespot and IGN.
A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers filed a complaint with the labor board against my employer. The exact details of the complaint I won’t go into here for reasons of privacy (I’m not precisely authorised to talk about it, you understand); suffice to say that there was a certain policy in my workplace that the employee in question did not like, and said employee — instead of talking to my employer about it, or perhaps — perish forbid! — getting a job someplace else that had more acceptable policies — petitioned the government to force the employer to change this policy. So there are a few things I’d like to say about this.
First off is the smug but correct observation that violence redounds upon the perpetrator; the overall effect as of this writing is that the old policy has been replaced with a new policy which is vastly more draconian and which the employees like much less, but which does not run afoul of the technical point of regulation that caused a problem with the old policy. So it’s the old story: prepare for unforeseen consequences and all that.
The more interesting point — and now that I’m done being smug, I’ll get to it — is that, yes, this most assuredly was an act of violence. To threaten somebody with harm unless that person complies with your wishes is called coercion, and it is violent, antisocial, and — dare I say it? — evil. It makes no difference if the weapon you threaten to harm your target with is a fist, or a knife, or a gun, or a government, the effect is the same: you have just imposed your will upon another person under duress. Consider now the original situation: your employer has a policy you don’t like. In fact, let’s role-play, since this is a nerdy web site and that; let’s assume that I offer you ten dollars to mow my lawn. In this context, I am now your employer, at least for the duration of and in the context of my lawn getting mowed. So far, so good, right? You mow my lawn, I give you a sawbuck, everybody’s happy. Now try this one. The next week, I offer you another ten dollars to mow my lawn again, only this time I tell you I don’t want you to mow within two feet of my apple tree. If you do mow closer to the tree than that, I won’t pay you a dime. Is this itself a violent infringement upon your person? Surely not. You’re free to walk away from this deal if you don’t like the terms, or to try to negotiate with me terms you find more acceptable. Now let’s say you do accept that deal, and then you discover after you’ve mowed the whole lawn that the unmowed circle around the tree is only eighteen inches wide — you’ve run afoul of that pesky policy of mine. So when I tell you I’m not going to pay, you put a gun to my head and tell me to fork over the ten bucks.
I think we’d all agree that this is a violent act. We engaged in a free exchange under terms we both freely accepted at the outset, but then you used the threat of bodily harm to compel me to accept different terms ex post facto. The dynamics of the situation do not change if the gun is in somebody else’s hand, either; if you have your brother come over and hold a gun to my head, you are still committing violence. If it’s your aunt Petunia, or your hired goon, or some guy off the street you offered to split the ten dollars with, it’s still the same. And it is the same if the gun belongs to somebody in a government suit. The only thing that changes is that you can skulk around in the shadows and not admit that you were the one who sought a violent solution to a peaceful disagreement. By which I mean: it’s easier if you’re a coward.
And don’t preach any nonsense at me about how the situation is any different if the government makes its onerous "regulations" in advance. It is not. First of all, unilateral decree is not generally considered a valid agreement. If I stand at the entrance to Best Buy and tell you that, if you buy a Wii U, I will punch you in the kidneys, and then I do it, am I absolved of responsibility because I told you in advance it was going to happen? Obviously not. Again, nothing changes just because the bully in question has a hat with "GUVVERMENT" written on. But even if that did change anything, it is also the case that the laws and regulations are literally impossible to know to their full extent, and, even if they could all be known, they are often contradictory and nearly always unclear; they can be interpreted to mean whatever their enforcers want them to mean at the moment of enforcement. Books have been written on this subject by more learned men than I, so, as my main man says, you don’t have to take my word for it. Government "regulation" is clearly not a freely-negotiated agreement, and there is no moral impetus to obey it (though there is the obvious practical impetus of not getting murdered to consider).
The really sad part about this whole affair is that, with only one exception — your humble narrator — every employee at my workplace hails this petty thug as a great hero for standing up to somebody who never did us any harm but unreasonably expected us to honour an agreement we freely entered into. Truly the indoctrination runs deep. Is this truly a model for reverence? Somebody who uses force to take what he wants from somebody else? I think we can set our sights a bit higher than this.
Actually, I lied. The really sad part is that the office chatter has now turned to the subject of getting compensation from our employer for all the times we obeyed this policy in the past. But don’t worry; I’m sure somebody will solve that problem soon enough, too. We just need to figure out whose gun to use this time.
A conversation I swear I really had today at work:
Her: What kind of movies do you like?
Me: I really don’t.
Her: Oh. Well, there’s this kids’ movie out called Wreck-It Ralph–
Me: ! Wait! I’ve seen that! That’s the one movie I’ve seen.
I don’t know what she was actually getting at because I murdered the conversation.
It started a week or so ago, as the wife was carping at me about movies. "Darien," she sez, "why don’t you take some time off from your busy schedule of being an international hero and sex symbol and stare at movies with it instead?” So I explained to her again that movies just aren’t very interesting to me, and I’d prefer to spend my time on other pursuits, such as playing video games, making video games, swearing about video games, and saving your life in the future. "But," I fatefully intoned, "there is one movie I’m interested in."
So the next thing I know I’m being carted off through the gale-force winds of downtown Wasilla — which was used as the model for that Chrono Trigger level where you have to hide behind the trees or else the wind will murder you — to a damn movie theatre.
Now, I haven’t been to the movies since my honeymoon. In 2001. And that was a specalised old-tymey theatre; it’s been even longer since I’ve been to the normal movies. So I’m not equipped to say if this is an especially nice theatre or if they’ve just gotten better o’er these many years, but I actually didn’t hate the experience. See, the trouble is, I’m a mayor. As such, I have the typical mayor body type. Theatre seats — like airplane seats — are very much too narrow for my Bigfootesque shoulders, and tend to be very uncomfortable. The movie was pretty good, too; I saw Wreck-It Ralph, which, as a cartoon about video games, was right up my alley. Probably I’ll write more about it later; Amazon just pushed a Kindle Fire update that included this obnoxious Swype bullshit I can’t figure out how to get rid of, and typing has become a tremendous chore. Send help.
There’s this game called Puzzle Strike, right? It’s pretty fun. But if you have the physical copy, there’s a bit of a chore right when you get started because you need to choose your bank chips, and there’s no efficient means of doing so. Well, here comes Darien riding to the rescue! I’ve just released the first public version of my Puzzle Strike Randomiser app for Android. Here are some screens:
This is the main screen, which you see as soon as you run the app. It generates ten chips at random from all the possible bank chips, and sorts them by cost (and then by alpha within cost).
And this is the set filter menu, useful for those people who may not have every single Puzzle Strike chip ever made. You can select or deselect any sets, and it remembers your settings between sessions so it’ll just automatically be right forever once you set it once.
It may not be the prettiest thing ever, and the code contains a few inelegant kludges that I really do mean to fix as soon as I’m able, but it does what it’s meant to do pretty well. I do have plans to expand on this in the future, but it’s on hold for a bit due to the pending move.
You can download the app right here for free. You’ll have to enable loading arbitrary apks on your device; how to do that varies from device to device, but most of them will prompt you for it as soon as you try to install something that’s not from an approved store, so it’s not really very hard. And it will tell you it wants full internet access; this is nothing to do with my code (which has no communication desires or abilities at all) but is a requirement of the Adobe AIR framework, which I used. I should also make it clear that this is 100% my own creation, and you shouldn’t harass Dave Sirlin about it — he has nothing to do with this (past giving me permission to distribute it, anyway), and is not able to support you if you have any problems with it. You can feel free to post any questions, concerns, problems, or feature requests in the comments on this post, and I’ll attend to them as I am able.
At present, this has been tested on three different phones and two different tablets, and works fine on all of them. If you happen to have a phone with a really small screen — say, smaller than 450 x 600 — it probably won’t work right. If enough people do have such phones and really want support, it’s possible that I can be arsed to make yet another graphic set for still smaller screens, but I don’t wish to bother if nobody has that.