Let’s Play… (ep. 7) – Tomb Raider, Part IV

Welcome to part four of our ongoing “Tomb Raider” misadventures!  In this wacky episode, we collect mushrooms, Laura gets shot… a lot, we fail to understand the limitations of the game mechanics, and Harry Potter turns into Jack Dawson.

Part 1/4

Part 2/4

Part 3/4

Part 4/4

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Follow-Up to “Crash Course (ep. 11) – Cave Story”

If I could sum up my experience with this game in three words, they would be as follows:

“Awesome! Save often.”

I really enjoyed what this game had to offer. The gameplay is enjoyable; the controls don’t have a huge learning curve; the stages were large enough to make each section feel like its own unique chapter, but they were short enough to keep an area from becoming tedious and boring; the teleporters allowed for easy back-tracking and exploration later in the game; the music is phenomenal – it’s just a really solid game.

On the other hand, the story is… odd. There’s not a lot of background given to our silent protagonist. At first I thought he was a little kid, then it’s revealed he’s a soldier from the surface, then you learn he’s a robot as well, and he’s supposed to be fighting the Mimigas (the rabbit-people) – I don’t think I really caught it all in the first play-through. Or, at least, I didn’t understand it all.

That being said, I will admit that I want to go through this game again. After I beat it and the credits finished rolling, I decided to look up a guide for the game online. While going through the game, there were a few rooms that didn’t seem to serve any purpose, and there was at least one treasure chest that I was unable to open. Knowing that part of the game was locked to me, I searched through the guide to see what I missed and what I should have done. Apparently, there is a super-secret ending to the game that you can get if you make a specific series of decisions throughout the game. During this ending, more of the island’s backstory is revealed, and supposedly things make more sense in general. I like to experience the entirety of a narrative, so I guess I’ll have to play through again, but I’m not complaining.

One thing that I had to get used to is that this game doesn’t auto-save for you. Ever. I’ve played plenty of games in the past that haven’t done that (I was raised on those types of games), but a lot of games nowadays have some sort of auto-save checkpoint mechanic built into the progression of the narrative, so it slipped my mind at first to save whenever possible. After dying and being kicked back in time about half an hour on more than one occasion, I became much more vigilant in hitting up every save point from then on out.

Anywhosit, final words on this game are that I very much enjoyed it. I can also see its soundtrack finding its way onto my iPod at some point in the near future. (Seriously – the music is boss as hell!) I wound up beating the game on Easy Mode (yeah, that’s right… what!) in about 5½ hours, so I don’t mind playing through the whole game again to get the super-ultra-special ending.

And maybe this time I’ll play it on Normal Mode. Oooooo!

Revisiting “The Tomb Of Horrors”

Tonight I got the chance to go back to a beginning, and in the process see new beginnings.

During my junior year of college, I found a steady group to play Dungeons and Dragons with.  I first played D&D near the end of high school and continued playing with the same initial group during my first few years of college.  We would get together over summer and Christmas breaks when the gang was all back in town and just binge sessions for entire weekends.  But in my third year I roomed next door to a few good friends of mine, and in our conversations we realized that all of us played D&D.  They had a regular group that they had played with for a few years at school, but some of those people had either graduated, transferred, or had become disinterested or too busy to play.  They had openings, and I inquired about joining them.  I also talked to Brighton about playing, and she reluctantly decided to tag along.  They said “yes, of course”, and thus my Second Era of D&D began.

We started with a little module called “The Tomb of Horrors”.  For those of you unfamiliar with the dungeon, “Tomb of Horrors” is a sadistic meat grinder made by none other than the godfather of D&D himself – Gary Gygax.  It was originally created for first-edition D&D, but there have been several updates and remakes to keep up with the different versions of D&D.  The whole point of “The Tomb of Horrors” was to destroy the spirit and soul of players that boasted of their amazing characters and gaming prowess.  Gygax made it just to show those people who the boss was.  It’s full of over-powered monsters and hideous traps, as well as puzzles, riddles, and riches (for those that find them and live to make it out).

This module was what we used to kick off a new group.  This was the ice breaker.  This was how I was going to transition from one group of players and friends to another.

And this was to be Brighton’s first game.  Ever.

Ladies and gentlemen… we saw some s**t.  It was ridiculous right out the gate – no – not even in the gate.  We had a player die before getting in the front doors of the tomb.  This is that kind of quest.  And Brighton was as green as a baby frog on St. Patrick’s Day.  Traps were triggered, pits were fallen into, people were poisoned and trampled, a soul was devoured – it was awesome, both in the level of fun and the amount of reverence and fear we felt.  (Also our DM scared the s**t out of us and almost got a table thrown at him.  Good times.)

Suffice it to say, Brighton made it out alive and actually showed us all up with her ability to solve some of the riddles.  She also kicked some ass in combat, so that’s cool, too.

And now, here we are five years later.  The same kid that lived in the dorm room next to me that ran the module (as well as the campaign that stemmed from it) – the same friend that I’ve been living with now for four years – has decided to crack open the book once more and run some newbies through “The Tomb of Horrors”.

Brighton and I are now veterans of the D&D world.  We are now the wise and aged masters that the young minds turn to when there is a question about grappling (yeah, we know how it works).

There are two other friends playing with us – one who has been playing with our current group for the past few months.  He’s new, but he’s gotten most of the stuff down pretty quickly.  In fact, the first thing he ever did in D&D was DM a pre-written module, so that’s pretty hard core.  Along with him is his girlfriend.  They have been dating for maaaybe three weeks, and she has never played D&D before.

And this is the ice breaker… once again.  But this time, on multiple levels.  “The Tomb of Horrors” is how we are getting to know another human being, and it’s how she’s getting to know her boyfriend’s wacky, nerdy friends.  How will this turn out for everyone?

Well… so far it’s pretty ballin’.

We gathered our ragtag band of misfits together to take on one of the most difficult challenges that the game can offer, and we’ve been able to delve into the depths of the tomb without too much trouble.  Our knowledge of the area has waned in the past five years, so don’t you purists fear about us metagaming.  Most of the familiarity comes back retrospectively.  Also, our DM hasn’t pulled any punches, either (save for his forgetting one crucial special attack on a monster that would have killed one of us, but forgetfulness isn’t pussyfooting) – if we bumblef**k our way into a pit of acid or a monster’s maw, he ain’t gonna’ save us.  He’s said that since character creation.  But like I said – so far so good.

It’s also reassuring that in our few hours together yelling at one another and bleeding out on the hewn stone floors of the crypt, we haven’t discouraged or driven away the newbie.  She’s genuinely having a ton of fun with the game, with the campaign, and with us.  It’s too bad that this is just a short side-adventure to do while one of our epic campaign regulars finishes up with exams, but who knows – maybe when we get back to our regularly scheduled program we’ll have a sixth member of what we affectionately call “The Eh? Team”.

Until then, we just gotta’ not die.

Follow-Up to “Crash Course (ep. 10) – DLC Quest”

The second installment in DLC Quest – “Live Freemium or Die” – was more fun than the first mission in the same way that a turd sandwich with Tabasco on focaccia is more appealing than a turd sandwich with mayonnaise on generic store-brand white bread. The game is still just a medium used to make jokes and comments on the current “downloadable content plague” and all the overused tropes in video game mechanics and storytelling.

However, this time around the gameplay is more fun. You can actually get hurt and die in this version, which means that once you reach the end of an area you actually feel a sense of accomplishment. The platforming is a bit more difficult as well. There are monsters to fight that also fight back (… for a bit), and the boss battle isn’t a cut scene – it’s an actual boss battle that you could die in that requires coordination and timing and oh man it’s like a real game!

Of course, the new story continues to bring the laughs as well. In fact, this adventure’s jokes go past s*****g on DLC and rehashed storytelling cliches; it has a few gaming “in-jokes”, pokes fun at varying art styles that are prevalent in different genres (shooters are brown because they’re realistic, introspective indie games are in silhouette, etc.), hyperbolizes product placement and fetch quests, and even has a pseudo-cameo in the character of Groove, the bearded, fedora-wearing miner. The dialogue and ridiculous DLCs are still clever and hilarious, and the climax to the narrative is as over-the-top as I hoped it would be.

So now the big question from the first mission comes back: “Is this fun?” And I will answer again, “No, but it is funny.”

I watched back through my Crash Course video of the first level and listened to my own rant at the end of it while writing this follow-up. I believe I may have been a little hard on this game in the first passing. I was expecting a game that had some jokes about DLC in it, not a long joke about DLC wrapped as a game. And when I look at it from that same frame of reference, yeah – it f*****g sucks. But looking at it a second time – playing through it a second time – I started thinking, “How much have I spent on a single stand-up comedy DVD? And how much enjoyment – both time-wise and laughter-wise – did I derive from this purchase as opposed to that DVD?” And in all honesty, when I looked at the game from that perspective, it made it worth the money. Sure, I may never play this game again, but how many times past that first viewing did I watch that DVD by myself?

The answer is zero.

Once that sunk in, I realized the game’s creator wasn’t setting out to make a game with compelling gameplay. He was creating an interactive stand-up routine with the purpose of using the medium of gaming to point out the flaws in the modern gaming industry. Hell, the opening text box of the game said that it was purely satire, and I was foolish enough to hope for something fun rather than thought-provoking (or at the very least humorous). I took the piss out of a game whose sole purpose of existing was to take the piss out of games in general. The game isn’t inviting you to have a good time because it tells a grand story or has some amazing, innovative game mechanic. It purposely doesn’t have any of that so that its satire is brought to the forefront and made as obvious and blunt as a giant inflatable squeaky mallet swinging at your face.

So perhaps I was wrong about this game overall. The point wasn’t to have a heart-felt, deep experience that will last a lifetime. The point was to make me laugh and perhaps think.

And it certainly succeeded in that.

If you wanna pick up “DLC Quest” in all its silly glory, you can do so on Steam (for Windows and Mac) or on Xbox Live, available both places for just a couple of bucks.

(It’s still a terrible f*****g game, though.)

Follow-Up to “Crash Course (ep. 8) – World of Goo”

I’m not going to waste your time telling you how much fun “World of Goo” is. It’s garnered praise across the board and has won tons of awards since its release in 2008. If you haven’t played it yet, congrats! – you live under a larger rock than I do.

Instead, I would like to talk about how f*****g weird this game is. And not just weird – it’s unsettling. Narrative-wise, the game is about a company that awakens sentient primordial ooze when it starts jamming vacuum-pipes into the ground. These globs have the curiosity of a young boy on the moon, so naturally they build themselves up to the pipes only to be sent away to be processed into consumer goods at the World of Goo Corporation. The rest of the narrative is told through occasional cut scenes and the numerous signs and speakers that appear in each stage. The common wooden signs are normally located in ludicrous places and are always signed by “The Sign Painter”.

But who is this “Sign Painter”? What does he know? Or is it she? Or is it genderless? Could the signs have been made by other goos that have found out secret information about the goings-on at the Corporation? Come to think of it, are goos genderless? Where did the goos come from? One stage says that some goos are woken from a slumber that lasted thousands of years. Are the goos, in fact, primordial? (Hey – I may be on to something there!)

We never get any answers to these questions.

I don’t know if the game’s creators are trying to make any kind of social statements with the game or if they’re just being bizarre, but either way they have succeeded in being bizarre. At one point in the game you start moving and escorting large goos that are cartoonishly made up to be pretty women. At the end of the stage is a red pipe that is very exclusive as to which types of goo it absorbs.

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Once you drop the large “pretty” goo down the ramps, it is smashed into tiny red-lipped versions of its former self.

Complete with a pair of unblinking, soulless eyes.
Complete with a pair of unblinking, soulless eyes.

There is also a stage later on where you have to separate the “pretty” goos from the “ugly” goos and then smash apart the “ugly” goos to be used as a bridge for the “pretty” goos to roll across.

Once again – I don’t know if the developers are trying to make a statement of some sort about the over-beautification of consumerist society, or if they’re just being looney for the sake of being looney, but my money’s on the first option.

Eventually the civilized world as we know it is destroyed because the goos awaken and release a spam bot (which seems like a reasonable way for the apocalypse to happen). The goos then try to access a telescope positioned on the top of a series of large spires that were created from the Great E-mail Bomb.

This is where the game ramps up in difficulty. The last three stages are absolute murder. One stage has you flip a bridge ass-over-teakettle across several ravines by way of repositioning balloons. Another has you build a giant arch over a spinning gear of destruction (much like in an early stage in the second chapter). But the worst – the worst of all of these! – has you build… a bridge! And I am TERRIBLE at building bridges! If you watched me stumble-f**k my way through the first world in the video, then you know how horrible I am at building bridges in this game. Luckily you aren’t supposed to build a bridge on this stage (which I figured out after spending about 30 minutes trying to build a g*****n bridge!). Instead, you are supposed to build a giant tower and roll it to the right so that it hits the island on the other side of the ravine, bridging the gap between the two spires. Even after figuring that out, I still wasn’t able to accomplish the task. I always had the tower fall over too soon, or – when I did get the tower high enough – it would buckle halfway up and fold over on itself.

But during one of these marvelous deflations I saw something that got the ol’ hamster upstairs a-runnin’ and a-spinnin’. As the tower folded over it would hit the side of the spire (which was lined in spikes) and break apart and kill several goo balls. Sometimes during this breakup, a triangle or small line of the goo structure would detach completely and go spiraling into oblivion. I got the idea to rescue that one piece with the single balloon I was given at the beginning of the stage and float it across the pit to the goos on the other side.

Time and time again I half-assidly threw together a tower, watched it topple over the side, and tried to throw a balloon on a surviving shard of the structure. After countless attempts, lady luck finally graced me with my chance to get past this sisyphean-like challenge.

Behold, my salvation:

pic4

Look at it tumble through the air with such grace as two goo balls and a balloon have never seen before.

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Finally, I reached my destination and let the apparatus plummet onto the vacuum-pipe.

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All but one of the sleeping goos on the opposite ravine awoke at the arrival of the dangling deity. The last, sleepy goo had to be roused with the balloon that allowed this entire silly plan to exist and be successful.

Wake up, sleepy-head! Time to go to the end of the game!

Wake up, sleepy-head! Time to go to the end of the game!

The final stage was not much of a stage, as I stated before. You basically attach floating puffer fish to the Eye of Sauron and watch as the whole damned mountain detaches from the earth and drifts into the heavens.

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“Weee!”

And that’s the end of the game and the story… essentially.

Now to talk about some of the frightening imagery in this game, most of which come from Chapter 3.

In the video, I built a F*****G BRIDGE out from a forlorn mechanical frog… thing.

And here it is in all its majesty!

And here it is in all its majesty!

Well, in Chapter 3, you have to build yet another F*****G BRIDGE across a marsh. Let’s see if our little buddy from earlier shows up again. Oh look! – here he is….

Oh dear.

Oh dear.

And if you think that’s scary, wait ’til you see what it looks like when you hover the cursor over its eye socket:

JESUSCHRISTNO

JESUSCHRISTNO

Would you like a bit more nightmare fuel?

Why did I take so many pictures of something that disturbs me so, so much?!

Why did I take so many pictures of something that disturbs me so, so much?!

Also there’s the stage with the soulless, spiked, dead robot that you have to blow up. And his head swivels ’round and ’round like the month-old corpse of a hanged man.

You get to blow this nightmare up at the end of the stage, so everything turns out OK! YAAAY! No need for therapy! :D lol

You get to blow this nightmare up at the end of the stage, so everything turns out OK! YAAAY! No need for therapy! 😀 lol

So… yeeeeeahh… this game was weird. But! – I enjoyed it. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I got the “OCD” rating on about seven or eight stages just on the first run-through, and I was able to plow through every stage from every branching path in about 6½ hours. I don’t care much for going back and getting the “OCD” award on every stage, but there are user-made tools and levels available online, so I might look at some of them later.

Overall it was a fun game that made me think, and I believe the mechanics of the game make it accessible to a wide range of audience age, genre fandom, and familiarity with gaming in general.