Fewer than 21 Important Answers to Questions Movies Forgot to… uh… Answer

Today Cracked.com put up this list of 21 Important Questions Movies Forgot to Answer. One of my favorite pastimes as an insufferable internet dork is to point out the obvious answers to pop culture questions people come up with to make themselves look smarter than film writers but actually only make themselves look like morons who don’t like to think about things for more than two seconds. (My other favorite pastime is constructing unwieldy run-on sentences.)

There were 21 questions in the Cracked article, but I haven’t seen all the movies referenced, so unfortunately I can’t answer all 21 of them. Feel free to fill in the gaps in the comments!

Q. Did [Detective Kujan] forget that Kint admitted to shooting Saul Berg, murdering him in cold blood? The Usual Suspects
A. Kujan was single-minded, and interrogating Kint for just one specific thing. He didn’t care who Kint may or may not have killed, didn’t have any evidence to prove it anyway, and was probably aware the confession would not hold up in court given the nature of the interrogation.

Q. What the hell happened to these four basterds? Inglorious Basterds
A. They died during World War 2, a military conflict which claimed the lives of thousands and thousands of American soldiers.

Q. Tony, why? Why didn’t you make [Black Widow, Captain America and Hawkeye] Iron Man suits? The Avengers
A. Those characters have super powers that do not lend themselves well to being locked in a bulky nuclear battle suit. (This does not necessarily mean those super powers are more useful than “nuclear battle suit”, mind you. But there’s something to be said for maintaining one’s individuality.)

Q. So how did [Lando Calrissian] get a job working security for Jabba? Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
A. I haven’t seen this movie in over a decade, so this is just a blind guess: Lando infiltrated Jabba’s organization in order to rescue Han Solo, and Jabba (who is a hedonistic crime lord and not a super-intelligent criminal mastermind) did not know who he was.

Q. Come to think of it, what happened to [Lando’s] cyborg? Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
A. It got lost or destroyed, and nobody cared, because sentient mechanical beings are not considered to be people or even “life forms” in the Star Wars universe.

Q. How did Forrest Gump … obtain a license to operate a commercial shrimp boat? Forrest Gump
A. It was established very early in the movie that, as far as the state of Alabama is concerned, Forrest is of “average intelligence”. The Department of Shrimpin’ Boat Licenses (or whatever) probably was not in the habit of denying licenses to people who talk funny.

Q. What holiday is this parade celebrating? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
A. A traditional event of local significance of the sort commonly commemorated by parades or festivals. (Admittedly these were probably more common in the ’80s.)

Q. Where did Edward Scissorhands get all that ice? Edward Scissorhands
A. By freezing water, which is one of the most abundant resources on the planet.

Q. Woohoo! … Wait, now what? Finding Nemo
A. The fish will starve to death. Alternately: that’s the joke.

Q. How the [expletive deleted] were humpback whales communicating with an alien intelligence? Star Trek
A. ESP. This is not a flippant answer. ESP really exists in the Star Trek universe, and there’s no reason to believe a species that went extinct before ESP was studied wasn’t capable of it.

Q. Sure Elsa, you got your own ice palace, but what the hell are you going to eat? Frozen
A. Food brought to her ice palace by one of her giant, sentient snow monsters.

Q. Wait, so how old was the Prince when he answered the door? Eleven? Beauty and the Beast
A. Yes.

Q. If the yellow brick road goes to the Emerald City and the Wizard, where does the red brick road go? The Wizard of Oz
A. Nowhere. It ends. Alternately: it doesn’t matter, because Dorothy isn’t going that way.

Q. When did Andy learn that he was in possession of valuable, vintage toys? Toy Story 3
A. Sometime during the ten years between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, where he was growing up into a thoughtful young man who takes good care of his toys, and also had internet access.

Q. So why did this machine combine only Brundle’s and the fly’s DNA? The Fly
A. The collective DNA of single-celled organisms didn’t provide enough material for the machine to work with. They were either destroyed, or they were absorbed but had an only negligible effect on the completed mutant. (This is a junk science answer, but it was a junk science movie, so I’m okay with that.)

Q. Revenge for WHAT? Star Wars: The Phantom Mence
A. For whatever it was the Jedi did to them that drove them underground, defeating them and forcing them to operate in the shadows rather than openly. Also, be careful what you ask about; leaning too hard on this question might result in more prequels!

Q. OK, so when can you start feeding [mogwai]? 1am? 2am? Noon? Gremlins
A. Presumably after sunrise, given that “after midnight” colloquially means “very late at night”, and the man who gave the instructions was an ancient Asian mystic rather than an internet smartass.

This has been your daily dose of Me Being a Smart Ass. Thanks for reading!

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Castlevania is terrible.

Castlevania is a terrible game. I am sorry if you like it, but you like a terrible game. Maybe it was not terrible in the ’80s, when important lessons had not yet been learned about how to make non-terrible games. Back in those old dinosaur days, a game where you didn’t have to pump quarters into a machine to keep playing it felt downright friendly, I suppose. But even by NES-era standards Castlevania is terrible.

I have debated fans of this game at great length over the years. They see a game where brutal challenge and player abuse is a desirable thing, a sort of merit badge to be earned. Beating Castlevania is an achievement in ways that beating Mega Man and Kirby are not. I suppose I can see that point of view. My own beloved Final Fantasy shares many of those nutrients, especially when you consider some of the insane challenge runs I’ve completed in that game. Beating Final Fantasy with a solo mage puts me in an elite club of power-gamers and makes me an authority on the subject. It feels good to be in that place.

But when it comes down to brass tacks I could never argue that “Final Fantasy as a solo mage” is a fun challenge that other gamers should feel comfortable undertaking. I can’t defend my accomplishment in terms of something a sane, rational person would do. When people ask me which Final Fantasy they should play, I recommend the modern versions of the game that don’t involve player abuse.

For years this is how my relationship with Castlevania persisted. I was on the outside, looking in at an elite group of players who had managed to tap into the genius of a classic game. A game I grew up with, but could never tame. A game which did not synergize with any of the skills I’d picked up from other action games over a gaming career that spanned decades. I figured if I could just break through that shell and get to the creamy center of Castlevania my opinion of it would change.

So I did it. I sat down and learned the game. Every brick and candle. Every boss fight. Every screen full of monsters. I’m good at the game now. Good enough, at least, to clear it consistently without a continue. But my opinion didn’t change. The game is still terrible. In some ways, I think now I actually hate it more.

Nostalgia
The first thing I want to mention is that I have a lot of nostalgia for this game. Castlevania is one of the earliest NES games I played. Before I owned an NES I would play over at a friend’s house, and his collection was basically Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, Gyromite and Castlevania. When I finally got my own system in 1990 this was one of the first games I asked for, simply because I had played it so much and didn’t know any better. This would have been when I was seven or eight years old.

Many of those old memories are bad, though, and it’s not hard to see why. The game is just too difficult. Games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 taught me that the more forgiving a game is, the more fun it is to play, and so I gravitated towards that style of game more and more. I mentally filed Castlevania away as something that was just beyond my ability, and left it there. I picked it back up every now and again, sometimes with the mindset that it couldn’t be as bad as I was remembering, only to be reminded that, yep, it sure was.

That particular shelf of games — the ones that were too hard for me as a kid, but which I rediscovered as an adult — is dwindling more and more. I conquered Dragon Warrior and Legacy of the Wizard, toppled Contra and Super C. Zelda 2 and Metroid and Faxanadu. The Wii’s Virtual Console brought me back to Kid Icarus. Sometimes I found the old games really sparkled after I picked them up and polished them off, but sometimes it turns out they’re just turds.

Bad Controls
For years my biggest complaint about Castlevania were that the controls are bad. Purposely bad, I mean. Designed to be bad in order to increase the difficulty of the game. The kind of bad where, if it were baked into a Mario or Zelda game, fans would understandably riot.

It’s not just about the deliberately-measured jumps and attack delay, although that’s part of it. It’s that parts of Simon’s moveset are removed at arbitrary points in the game for reasons the player can plan for, but not control. If the stairs go up and to the left, Simon cannot throw his subweapon to the right with any kind of precision. You can’t duck under an axe or a medusa head if you’re standing next to stairs, because Simon will interpret the command as “climb down stairs” and then get hit. And under no circumstances may you throw your subweapon while ducking.

Many Castlevania fans hold this up as a feature of the game. Mastering the bad controls (and I am certain they will object to my use of the word “bad” in this context) is part of learning the game, after all. My usual flippant response to this is, “If overcoming bad controls is so rewarding, why not just break your controller and play every game that way?” That’s not fair, but I really do feel that way.

The counterargument I hear a lot is Bionic Commando, an action game where the controls have a steeper learning curve than even Castlevania. It takes a lot of practice before you are good enough at moving around in Bionic Commando to even really start playing the game, so surely that’s worse, right? The difference is, in Bionic Commando the controls serve a style of gameplay that is truly unique. Novices can play around with it and do things that are reasonably cool, even if they never get good enough to finish the game. Experts (like me!) get to experience a style of gameplay that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the gaming landscape. Tall ladder, strong payoff.

Castlevania has no such payoff. It’s an action game where you navigate platforms and kill monsters with a variety of weapons. At the top of its tall ladder is a type of game that exists by the dozens in the NES library. Novices who play around with Castlevania‘s controls mainly just jump into monsters and fall into holes, and experts don’t get to do anything cooler or more impressive than a typical Mario or Mega Man game.

Mostly Great Level Design
Once you do master Simon’s awful jumping and whipping actions, most of the levels in the game are fun to learn and fun to play. I am mentioning this because, even though Castlevania is a terrible game, there are the roots of really genius design here. The game did not spawn a million sequels and spin-offs by coincidence.

The game is made mostly of blue and orange blocks, so it’s easy to judge things like “how far will my attack reach” and “can I make that jump” at a glance. Examining the layout of each level is like reading a textbook in how to take a short list of enemies and obstacles and create a huge variety of challenges with them. This is something the old Castlevania games are very good at, but the modern ones are very bad at.

I enjoyed learning the levels in this game and I enjoy sitting down and playing them. I enjoy them more now that I know them pretty well, too. I’m mentioning this not to try and balance out my negative rant with positive observations, but because in some ways my brain registers a terrible game as being more terrible if it has some pleasing aspects to it. Like, if Castlevania were uniformly terrible it’d be easy for me to just write it off and forget about it. Its bad parts sting all the more when I see the shadow they cast over the really good parts. That feeling of, “I would really be enjoying this if not for _____!” drives me absolutely bananas as a player. I would say it’s one of my main sticking points, actually. It rubs me raw more than most folks would think is reasonable.

Or maybe it’s not that, and the bad parts of Castlevania are just really, really bad.

Totally Uneven Boss Fights
The really difficult parts of Castlevania aren’t the levels, though. Except for a few screens (maybe fewer than ten screens in the whole game), you can clear the levels by being very careful and treating every monster and chasm as a discrete challenge. (That’s a good aspect of the level design, by the way: two axe knights in two different situations should feel totally different.)

(There’s another way to get through the levels, too, which I’ll mention later.)

The bosses, aside from Dracula, are just terrible though. They are either 100% trivial, or 100% impossible, and never any point in between. There’s no watch-and-react, no give-and-take. There is no chance of a loss if you’re prepared, and there is no chance of a comeback if you’re losing. They are the antithesis of everything I hold to be true about making fun, challenging boss fights in 2D action games. I hate them. I hate them so much.

The first two bosses in the game do not exist. You can out-damage them even if you walk into the room without a health advantage. Go in and whip, whip, whip. Don’t bother aiming or positioning yourself, just hammer the button, fool! The third boss is almost as easy, although you do need to walk in with a health advantage to make the whip, whip, whip strategy work. There is beef inside the boss room to help you accomplish this.

The fourth and fifth bosses are an order of magnitude more difficult, though. They control so much of the screen with randomly-moving attacks that even if you were playing a game where the hero didn’t control like butt you would still probably end up trading hits. This doesn’t work, because your strikes deal one bar of damage and theirs deal four. I am confident in saying that only a very small group of Castlevania grandmasters can consistently win these fights with just their whip.

But ah, there’s a trick! If you have the right subweapon both of these boss fights are trivialized. Easier, in fact, than the “whip, whip, whip” of the first three bosses. The gap in difficulty is really unreasonable here: you either walk into the room and get destroyed, or you walk in and totally dominate. There is no middle ground.

I am very familiar with this style of boss fight. It’s the core of every Mega Man game, and that’s one of my favorite action series! In fact, my biggest gripe with the latest installment is that it doesn’t let me just walk into boss fights and rule the roost. So what gives?

“Infinite” Continues
In Mega Man, the weapon you need to dominate the boss fight is on your menu screen. You win it from another boss, then you have it forever, and can use it whenever you want. In Castlevania the weapon you need comes out of a candle somewhere in the level. You lose access to this candle if you die or if you accidentally pick up a different weapon.

To its credit, Castlevania doesn’t ever give you a real game over. When you run out of lives you can always start back on the level you died on. This is, in fact, friendlier than a lot of arcade-style action games of its era. In addition, each level has multiple checkpoints, so you aren’t always sent back to the very beginning when you lose.

Let’s mix all these ingredients together, now: the levels are generally safe to traverse if you take them methodically. The bosses are total pushovers provided you have the correct subweapon, which you find in a candle at the beginning of the stage. And when you die, you start back at a checkpoint at the middle or the end of the level.

The end result is, the game’s friendly lives-and-continues system actively works against you! If you die towards the end of the fourth or fifth level, you might as well lose all your lives and start over anyway, because the boss is so unreasonably difficult without a subweapon you now cannot retrieve. And when you continue, now you have to replay the entire stage, slowly and methodically, just like you did last time, and the time before that.

You don’t even have to die in order to feel this sting. Whipping the wrong candle replaces your good subweapon with one that is worthless, and now you might as well start over. Subweapons drop randomly off of defeated enemies, too, and can ruin your run just as quickly.

Fail, then Fail Some More
You can get pretty powerful in Castlevania. Once you have the best subweapon and the highest shot multiplier, you are in excellent shape to blitz the game. At my level of skill, this typically means I can grab the holy water at the beginning of Stage 3 and keep it until the end. The problem is, failing at any point along the way (dying, whipping the wrong candle, whatever) removes all the advantages that were helping you succeed. Depending on where your checkpoint is, you probably have no way to recover except to restart the level.

This property exists in a lot of old games, notably Gradius and Contra. In those games, though, you respawn immediately at the spot where you died with a generous amount of invincibility time. Dying means ruining your flow but not necessarily killing your chances. It’s common to die repeatedly in Contra because you lost your spread gun, but it’s also common to pull out a kludge-y win by chaining the invincibility of repeated deaths while pumping bullets into a boss’s face.

That element of recovery doesn’t exist in Castlevania. Dying means being sent back to your checkpoint with a short whip and no subweapon. As a result, an unlucky death tends to be punished by more death, without any real upside. The slippery slope is demoralizing and painful. The further you are into the game, the tougher it is to get back up to the power level you need to be at to win.

I remember being very young and recognizing this same situation in one of my favorite NES action games: Super Mario Bros. If you’re very careful and know just where you look, you find a fire flower in 8-3. If you can keep this fire flower to the end of 8-4 it is easy to defeat the boss and win the game. If you get hit at all in 8-4, though, you lose your flower and there’s no way you can get another one without replaying the world from 8-1. The last two monsters in the game are very, very difficult to avoid without fire, involving precise timing and a little luck. This gave the end of the game a very off-putting “all or nothing” feel. Some Mega Man games have the same feel in certain areas, usually having to do with weapon energy respawns. Players I talk to generally consider this kind of thing to be a flaw, and yet all of Castlevania is built this way. Am I the only one who noticed?

Memorize, Memorize, Memorize!
The other way to clear the levels, outside of playing methodically, is to just commit them to memory. This is going to happen anyway, at least a little bit, because you’ll be replaying them so much as the bosses terrorize you. And like I said, the stage layouts are generally designed so they become more fun as you become familiar with them.

There’s a line, though, that separates being familiar with a level and committing it to memory. Castlevania‘s levels are on the wrong side of it. To move through the levels quickly, you need to know the position and direction of every enemy. You have to know where health and multipliers spawn. You have to know which medusa heads you should whip and which ones you should jump. You need to know the spots to jump and whip to kill an enemy that wasn’t even onscreen at the time you started your jump. If you know all these things, you can usually run through the levels as quickly as Simon’s stout little legs can carry him. If you’re fuzzy on one detail, though, or mistime one jump, or are a tad slow with one attack, it ruins your rhythm and now you’re on that slippery downward slope.

Rote memorization is by far my least favorite way to win a game. Mario requires the player to build up a set of skills, and then provides levels where those skills are used in response to the level design. Mega Man requires some in-game knowledge, but generally for abstract things like “use x weapon on y monster”. Even Bionic Commando, that bitch-hard game with the incredibly high learning curve, mostly involves assessing risks on the screen and then reacting to those risks.

Castlevania involves knowing what your next action is going to be before you perform it, every screen, for the entire game. Because the only winning strategy is “get the super weapon and then keep it”, riskier approaches are penalized too severely.

I think it’s very telling that videos of good Castlevania players always feature them knowing what’s going to happen before it does. The best Mega Man and Metroid players do the same thing, but underneath them is an entire class of merely-good players who just take the game as it comes. It’s a bit frightening to me that I can break Level 5 of Castlevania down into a list of discrete actions, but not, say, Snake Man’s level of Mega Man 3, which I have played fifty times as much.

Solutions
Brainstorming ways to fix this terrible, terrible game are counter-productive because its fans like it just the way it is. I generally think it’s a good thing when they fix obvious problems with my favorite old games for re-release, but then I tend to love the old games despite their flaws, not because of them.

My knee-jerk reaction here is to just point at Super Castlevania IV, because that game keeps all the fun and challenging things about the formula while changing or removing all the things that make me want to rip my hair out. Let’s pretend that’s a cop-out answer, though, and that turning Castlevania into Castlevania IV is not desireable, even though it would be totally sweet.

Let’s also pretend that we’re limited to small tweaks, rather than sweeping changes to the game. We’ll accept that the game is basically good, and that we want to keep as much of it intact as possible.

First, I would remove the first two levels of whips. The game drops the whip upgrades so quickly that you never play with the starting whip anyway. There is a weird edge case where instead of a whip upgrade you will get a double shot after you die and respawn. This means that once in a while, for no discernible reason, you sometimes have to play an extra screen or two with a short whip. There are maybe two spots in the game where this matters, and when it matters it is always “well, I got screwed” rather than “well, that was neat!” Learning the levels with the long chain whip is already difficult enough that learning backup plans for the leather whip seems unnecessary.

Next I would eliminate subweapons as random monster drops. Losing your advantages because of death really sucks, but it’s appropriate. Players should lose some state because of failure. Losing your advantages because a monster randomly dropped a knife, though, is abusive and adds nothing to the game. Players should never feel afraid of death drops in this sort of game; kill the monster, grab whatever it drops, and move on. Can you imagine if robots in Mega Man randomly dropped items that sapped your weapon energy? That’s what happens on certain screens of Castlevania.

Then I would alter the Level 4 and Level 5 boss fights, but only slightly. Both fights require you to watch multiple objects on the screen, anticipate their movement, and dodge accordingly. You can’t dodge them after they’re coming your way; at that point it’s already too late. I consider myself an average player, and I can’t win these fights unless I have the correct subweapon or phenomenal luck. I think that’s unfortunate.

For the Level 4 boss (The Creature), I would slightly increase the amount of time Igor stays stunned when you hit him, and add a slight delay between the time his stun wears off and his next jump. Alternating hits between Igor and The Creature is a good strategy, and I think players should be rewarded for discovering it rather than disappointed when they discover it but can’t do it because it requires insane timing to actually pull off.

For the Level 5 boss (Death), the problem is getting overwhelmed with sickles. I would leave the boss fight alone, but change the drops at the end of the level. Instead of health in the wall after the checkpoint, I’d put a double shot. Dealing with the sickles is a full-time job, and double crosses would go a long way to helping keep the screen clear. The fight would still be incredibly difficult, especially considering the brutality of the preceeding hallway.

As much as I harped on it before, I think I would leave the “keep your subweapon OR ELSE” stuff alone. I have to admit that the sense of grabbing a weapon and holding it forever is fun, and that requiring the player to have back-up plans in case their primary strategy gets shot down adds depth to the game. For the two tallest brick walls in the game, though, that back-up plan is “play perfectly, and maybe get lucky”, which isn’t the level of dedication the rest of the game demands.

A version of Castlevania in this state probably still wouldn’t be good, but at least it wouldn’t be terrible. And I think it would be close enough to what its fans love it for that they wouldn’t complain too loudly, either. Well, okay, of course they would. What I mean is, if the game were originally released with these changes in place, its fans would fall in love with it for all the same reasons, and not notice anything is missing. Then someone would release a romhack version where Igor recovers instantly and everyone would declare it to be bullshit.

Brick, You Are Stupid and This is Stupid
Yeah, probably! I mean, yeah, difference of opinion, not all games for all players, etc. I mean, I get why people love this game and why it is considered a classic. And I realize how unfair it is to judge the game by 2014 standards, or even by 1990 standards. I love watching speedruns of it (and of other games in the series which use the same formula), and I think it’s important to recognize the game as a piece of console gaming history.

Castlevania fans tend to love the game precisely for the reasons I hate it. That’s fair enough.

I really did think, though, that familiarizing myself with the game would change my outlook on it. That’s happened quite a lot in recent years, most notably with Final Fantasy Tactics, Metal Gear, Metroid: Zero Mission and Pikmin. These were all games I didn’t really understand when I first played them, but went back and learned properly, and now I understand where they’re coming from and what their merits are.

Try as I might, I still don’t see the merits of Castlevania. It’s mean and sour and stingy. It’s highs are low and its lows are really low. And revealing my distaste for it gets me called bad names by its fans like no other game I can think of. (Just tweeting out the premise of this article earned me two fuck-yous and an appeal to burn my house down. Playfully, I realize, but zow! What passion!)

I tried to love you, Castlevania. But you are terrible. You are the very most terrible and I never, ever want to play you again.

That goes double for you, Castlevania III.

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Perlers!

I recently got back into perler beads. That’s where you buy 6,000 little plastic beads, painstakingly arrange them to look like video game sprites, then iron them enough that they fuse together but not so much that they melt into an ugly blob.

Here are some crappy cell phone pictures I snapped:

link_blondeA cute little Link I whipped up during one of our streams. This got mailed off to one of our viewers around Christmastime.

 

dekar_blurryDekar from Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. The coloration on this one is weird but I swear it is accurate. The picture is blurry because I am bad at camera-ing, but I didn’t bother to get a cleaner one because I don’t like the finished perler that much.

 

hoots_perlerHOOTS was a fan-favorite when I streamed Pokémon Red, so I made this to commemorate his awesomeness and also his birdiness. I took the sprite from the old pea-green Gameboy game, but added the coloration from one of the newer DS games, and I think it came out real, real slick.

 

mcdohlMcDohl from Suikoden. I really had to finagle the coloration on this. On the original sprite the dark yellows and dark reds bleed into each other in this mustard-y brown color, which looked awful when beaded out. Also the character is supposed to have black hair, but that looked awful too, so I changed it to brown, which looks better in my opinion anyway.

 

shantae_ironedThis gargantuan piece takes up six boards, and is my first attempt at a jumbo-sized perler project. The piece came out gorgeous, but I botched the ironing pretty badly. One day I’ll pin it to a backing board and put the whole piece in a frame, and it’ll flatten out and look pretty slick. I’ve made a couple more patterns at this same six-board size, which I’ll get around to doing someday maybe.

Thank you for reading this blog post about a grown man playing with plastic beads!

 

 

 

 

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Let’s play Sonic Adventure 2

The Sonic Adventure 2 LP series is behind me at long last. Thank. Merciful. Christ. This series taught me quite a bit about how I need to approach game selections going forward, especially requests.

This game was requested for part of the Talking Time fundraiser, which came with a not-exactly-small price tag attached to it, and so part of me felt really bad for disliking the game as intensely as I did. I record my LP videos long before I start uploading them, and so with this particular series I reached a point where I knew I’d be uploading something very negative for the benefit of one of the game’s fans. The question became what to do about it. As I saw it, I had four options:

1) Do nothing, and just release the videos as-is, regardless of how bad they were.

2) Scrap the videos I had and practice the game long enough that I could beat it without trouble, then record that run of the game.

3) Change the tone of the LP to something really fake and self-depricating, to try and hide my contempt for the game. (I doubt this would have fooled anyone, I couldn’t have kept it up for 30+ videos anyway.)

4) Contact the donator, explain the situation, and reach some compromise.

In retrospect #4 would have been the mature thing to do, but at the time it felt like it would be a weird cop-out. Not only had the poor guy donated to see this game played, but he bought me enough PSN points to buy the game in the first place. I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate to go back and tell him to pick another game, or tell him I was only going to play one third of this one, considering the fundraiser was originally pitched as “Brick will play whatever you want.” I also reasoned that, as a long-time fan, he would both expect and appreciate my honest opinions of his selection, even if those opinions were disagreeable to him.

In the end I went with a mix of #1 and #2. Sonic Adventure 2 is split into three sections: Hero Story, Dark Story and Final Story. (I knew about Final Story at the time, but pretended I didn’t for comedic effect, though I doubt that fooled anyone, either.) I trashed the videos I had already recorded for the Hero Story and then played it off-camera, start to finish, venting my frustrations on Twitter along the way. That one pass of the game gave me enough experience to draw these two conclusions: 1) playing the Hero Story a second time would be a lot easier and make for much better video, and 2) I now had enough context to play Dark Story blind, as was my original intent.

It turns out the first conclusion was correct but the second one was way, way wrong. The Hero Story videos still weren’t pleasant, but they were brisk, and I was able to split my attention between playing the game and explaining coherently why I wasn’t enjoying it. The Dark Story, though, is much harder and throws a lot of really awful gameplay gimmicks at you. Partway through recording I realized I was having the same problem I had in the Hero Story: awful game is awful, and is making for some awful video.

This time, though, I didn’t have the will to junk what I had and learn the game. I just wanted it to be over and didn’t care how terrible the resulting videos were going to be. If my YouTube Analytics were to be believed this was a big mistake. During this time I was alternating between uploading really negative episodes of SA2‘s Dark Story and a really boring and unpopular playthrough of Halo 4. Viewer retention and new subscribers both took a huge hit. I don’t make a lot of money from my YouTube channel, but the loss of about 60% of my sandwich money sent a very clear message: “Wow, if I were doing this frr rllz, and I actually relied on this income, I wouldn’t be able to make my fucking rent this month.”

While these numbers were dropping I also started getting very strong and negative feedback in my comments on each new SA2 video. Inexplicably, this goddamn game is a fan favorite among the Sonic hardcore. This is something I really didn’t expect these people would be so numerous in my own viewership, but in retrospect I really should have. It’s still very, very hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that there is an entire generation of gamers behind me, who grew up during the Gamecube era rather than the NES era. I tend to think of games from that period of time as “grown-up games” because I, myself, was a grown-up when they were released. I had forgotten how strong an attachment kids can form even with bad games, and how strong that attachment remains into adulthood. A lot of their defense of the game was based on emotion, which is exactly how I defend the questionable design of Final Fantasy and Mega Man when I get into it with modern gamers.

(In particular, a lot of their ire came in the form of “Quit your bitching, the game isn’t hard or stupid if you know [some precise thing only veteran players would know]!” I catch myself using this same argument whenever people rage about grinding in Final Fantasy, or swinging mechanics in Bionic Commando, and sometimes it takes me a while to remember it’s a bullshit argument. So while I never agreed with the SA2 fans commenting on my videos, I empathized with their position quite a lot.)

So what were my final thoughts on Sonic Adventure 2? I’ll summarize for those of you who didn’t watch the videos (and I don’t blame you!). Rather than itemize my list of complaints, I’ll just focus on the really big one, since I feel all the smaller ones stem from it anyway: the game is way too ambitious for the meager resources it was designed with. There are more gameplay styles, stage gimmicks and combat options in this game than in any single Mario game I can name. The design philosophy of most Mario games (even Super Mario Sunshine, which I despise), is to take a very small list of ideas and mold them into a full-featured game. Sonic Team seems to have done the exact opposite with the Sonic Adventure games, and cram every single idea they had into the game no matter how unpolished, how inconsistent, or how little it offered in terms of fun gameplay.

To put a much finer point on it: we know Nintendo can make a fun platformer, and a fun combat system, and a fun kart racer, and a fun farming simulator, and a fun shooter, and a fun puzzler, and a fun adventure story. But they never tried to stuff all that into the same game. No design team has those kind of resources!

The result of trying to wear too many hats was that all of SA2‘s hats were unfinished, uncomfortable to wear, and run the risk of setting your hair on fire. All of the resources that should have gone towards designing and testing a working camera system instead went towads driving levels. All of the resources that should have gone to making fun, playable driving physics instead went towards shooter levels. All of the resources that should have been spent making a fun rail shooter instead went into the optional farming simulator.

And what did I learn about recording LPs? I really need to pay more attention to what I’m uploading, and when. Halo 4 finished up while SA2 was still going, and gave way to River City Ransom, which saw an immediate turnaround in my slumping numbers. That was happy news, and I really should not have been surprised. The original reason I started doing updating my LPs two at a time was so viewers who didn’t like one of them still had some reason to watch me. If you’re not into watching, say, Riven, that’s okay, because tomorrow I’ll update Kirby, or whatever. But I lost sight of that, and so for a long span of time all I was offering people was a crybaby SA2 series and a boring Halo 4 series. I really need to not do that again.

More importantly, though, I need to really work on my attitude towards games I dislike. This is something I’m really bad at, and really need to improve. It’s come up a lot during streams, too, where I get angry and frustrated at a game and just end up embarrassing myself. I know the angry, rage-a-holic gamer archetype is popular on the internet, but that’s not what I’m aiming for. It’s a really shallow form of entertainment and it’s just not what I want to do with my work. There are positive ways to react to bad or frustrating games, and I need to get better at exploring them. To that end I have another “game I hate but am playing anyway” project in the works, and it’s shaping up to be a lot more pleasant than SA2 was. I’m hoping that experiment goes well.

I’ll hedge my bets with it, though, and not upload it alongside a bland first person shooter.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for the bad LP!

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The Plot of Metal Gear (as concisely as possible)

One of the defining Metal Gear series is its incredibly dense and complicated storyline, a military fantasy epic filled with betrayals, amazing coincidences, pratfalls and switchbacks, double- and triple-crosses, supernatural and technobabble elements, and yes, a plot hole or two. It’s so difficult to keep all the schemes and players straight, in fact, that Kojima Productions released an exhaustive interactive document alongside Metal Gear Solid 4 which reads as a sort of Cliffnotes to the series. Even with that resource, though, it’s quite difficult to explain in short terms what the series is about.

My goal in this blog entry is to provide a concise resource people can point to explaining the series in the broadest strokes possible. Each individual game has a plot unto itself, of course, filled with fiddly details and twists and connections and references and retcons… but I’m not concerned with any of that at the moment. Let’s leave aside for a moment all the things that happen throughout the series and look at what it all means.

In the beginning, there was The Boss. For the purposes of the Metal Gear universe, we can safely say that The Boss is a symbol of perfection. Her ideal of a world without boundaries greatly inspired those who served with her, and her manipulation and death at the hands of her government had a deeply profound impact on those people. They formed an organization dedicated to preserving and fulfilling The Boss’s vision for the future. This group was The Patriots, and it was headed by Major Zero and Big Boss.

But neither Zero nor Big Boss were perfect (unlike The Boss), and so their interpretations of The Boss’s will was perverted. As a result, their methods deviated both from The Boss and from each other. Zero saw a world united through force, and worked to expand his military control and influence to that end. Big Boss, meanwhile, became obsessed with the idea of freedom from governments and other manipulating agencies. They had a falling out, and began working at cross-purposes.

Both Zero and Big Boss inflicted great evil upon the world. Zero became corrupted by absolute power, eventually leading to the creation of self-propogating AI systems that could control people down to the genetic level. Big Boss became the leader of several private militias, instilling in an entire generation of soldiers and mercenaries the dream of battle without adherence to a specific flag or ideology. Both men lost control over the systems they had created. Those systems took on a life of their own and began warring against one another with the help of nuclear-capable walking battle tanks.

One of Big Boss’s sons was Solid Snake. Snake had no knowledge of Zero’s machinations, nor did he share Big Boss’s obsessions. The world was a much simpler place, by Snake’s reckoning: regardless of country, creed or ideology, the world deserved to live without the fear of nuclear-capable walking battle tanks. Snake devoted virtually every moment of his life to saving the world from the disasters constantly brought on by his forebears. In this way Snake (and several of his close allies) fought for The Boss’s beliefs despite never being made aware of her existence.

In the end, Snake brings down the AIs and the private militias, leaving the world in a state much like what The Boss would have liked to see in her own lifetime. He bears witness to the deaths of Zero (who is too infirm to realize what is happening) and Big Boss (who is repentant of his course of action), and then exits the battlefield for good.

Whether or not the story has a “happy” ending depends on whether you consider Metal Gear Rising to be canon, I suppose. Other than that, I hope I’ve cleared it all up for you. Thanks for reading!

 

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The Science of BONK: A Methodology for Quantifying the Violence in River City Ransom

Today I put the finishing touches on River City Ransom, which Dan (KefkaFloyd) and I played back in December. Please to be enjoying the playlist:

Throughout the LP I kept a running tally of how we were dispatching each dude. What sorts of violence were Dan and I most drawn to? The people had a right to know.

I had to go through each episode frame by frame and keep track of what was used to attack each dude. I was less interested in the actual number of dudes dispatched as the method of attack. Because of this, you can’t just add up the stats and get a final tally of dudes dispatched. As far as I know, Dan and I used every type of attack and weapon at least once. They are:

  • “Dudes punched”: dude is struck with the hand or fist, including the combo-ending uppercut
  • “Dudes kicked”: dude is struck with either foot, including jump kicks
  • “Dudes bonked”: dude is struck with a stick/bat
  • “Dudes trashed”: dude is struck with a garbage can
  • “Dudes whipped”: dude is struck with a chain/whip
  • “Dudes boxed”: dude is struck with a box/crate
  • “Dudes stoned”: dude is struck with a rock
  • “Dudes knucked”: dude is struck with a brass knuckle
  • “Dudes rolled”: dude is struck with a tire/wheel
  • “Dudes clobbered”: dude is struck with a pipe

Each of these methods of attack were counted once per dude. On the frame in which I confirmed the dude was attacked (that is, he makes his BARF! face), I incremented that particular counter by one. If the dude is later attacked again via the same method (e.g., a dude gets kicked by a player, then later gets kicked by the other player) the counter is not incremented a second time. However, if a dude is attacked via a different method (e.g., a dude gets kicked by one player, then bonked by the other) the counter is incremented once for the second attack.

ALEX and RYAN — the players — are not considered dudes for purposes of the count.

The origin of the attack does not matter, though this only comes into play when considering thrown weapons. Usually, dudes cannot hit other dudes, although once a weapon is airborne it will always damage its target, regardless of who threw it. A dude hit by a thrown chain counts as +1 “dudes whipped”.

In addition to the methods above, there were three more counters I felt were worth keeping:

  • “Dudes thrown”: dude is picked up and thrown (regardless of whether that dude sustains damage)
  • “Dudes glitched”: dude somehow clips into an obstacle and becomes un-targetable
  • “Dudes beaten with other dudes”: dude is struck by another dude, which one of the players has picked up

I don’t well understand how the game determines whether a dude is thrown or jumps free of the player’s grasp, so I counted all instances of a picked-up dude leaving the player’s hands as being thrown.

Technically, the “beaten with other dudes” counter should by necessity be incremented by two in each case, since beating Dude B with Dude A by definition also means Dude A is being beaten by Dude B, depending on your frame of reference. In the end I decided that a picked-up dude being used in this way temporarily counts as a weapon, and therefore “not a dude”. A thrown dude striking another dude would have counted +1 “thrown” and +1 “beaten with other dudes”; however, this case did not come up during any of our trials.

There were cases where two dudes were struck by the same method on the same frame. In these cases, the counter was incremented by two.

There were also cases where two attacks were launched by different sources at the same dude on the same frame. As far as I can tell the game does not allow two sources of damage to connect at the same time, so only one counter was incremented. Determining which one sometimes meant carefully measuring the direction and trajectory taken by the dude after being stricken.

This is all I have to say on the subject of dude science. Thanks for reading!

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South Park, and Solving RPG Combat

There’s little point in reviewing South Park: The Stick of Truth. I can neither recommend it nor not recommend it. If you like South Park, you want to play this game, full stop. And if you don’t like South Park, you’re going to be so turned off while playing it that you might actually throw up in your mouth. It’s a sixteen-hour-long episode of the show with turn-based RPG combat. That’s either your dream game or a dripping, horrible nightmare.

Personally, I mostly loved the combat and was pleasantly surprised at how often the game featured environmental puzzles requiring more of me than “find the key then find the door”. I did run into a problem, though. I hesitate to even call it a problem, really, because I know a lot of players strongly feel it belongs in the “feature not bug” category. I know that because this same problem has cropped up in a lot of turn-based games recently. Just off the top of my head, I remember encountering it in Persona 3, the first two Paper Mario games, and all three Final Fantasy XIII games. I’ll describe it to you, and see where it gets me.

About halfway through the game — maybe a little less — I realized I could win every random encounter with this sequence of actions:

  • Get the first strike by hitting the monster on the map.
  • Use the attack that causes Bleeding (South Park‘s version of Poison) on all the bad guys.
  • Use Jimmy’s bardsongs to restore some PP and then put all the monsters to sleep.
  • The monsters all wake up from heavy Bleeding damage, but not before losing their turns.
  • Combine my “do shitloads of extra damage to Bleeding enemies” attack with my passive “take another turn when you kill an enemy” ability to mop everything up.
  • ???
  • Profit!

Okay, so I couldn’t resist sneaking in an Underpants Gnome joke. It’s not really appropriate here, because there is no “???” step. I had a perfect formula for winning every fight without 1) ever allowing any monster to have a turn and 2) ever using most of my player characters or special attacks. Indeed, there’s an entire type of magic I never used once in the entire game, until the very last battle where it was required to win.

Sometimes I would screw up the formula. Like, I’d be using some non-Jimmy character for their map ability, and forget to swap him back in. Or I’d botch the first attack and let the enemies get a free opening round on me. In these cases it was actually faster to just reload my save and start the fight over than to just play it out.

I don’t know how I feel about it. On one hand I never really got bored with the combat. I mean, the game just wasn’t long enough to wear out its welcome. And the game goes out of its way to let you skip a lot of combat by exploiting environmental hazards, which was fun. And, I don’t know, maybe the Killer Formula only exists on the character class I chose, and 75% of players don’t encounter it. Or maybe the fights don’t boil down so well if you play on Hard Mode, rather than Normal.

Or maybe not. Sometimes, if I didn’t reload after a botch and the monsters actually got a turn off, I’d find myself pretty deep in the shit. South Park is similar to a Zeboyd game in how quickly battles can turn against you. One bad round and you’re on the mat. Good thing for those friendly reloads! It very much feels like the game intends for you to find and apply the Killer Formula as early and often as possible.

I remember thinking of this as a flaw in Persona 3, where battles either went 100% in your favor, or 100% against, with very little middle ground. You either got the first strike and scored an All-Out Attack on the first round, or the monsters shoveled so much rapesauce onto you there was no way to recover. What that game, and South Park, and much of the back half of my beloved Final Fantasy XIII fails to convey, is a sense of heroes actually fighting monsters. Instead of going up against bad guys and having a damage/buff/heal back-and-forth, you are instead presented with a puzzle. Once you solve it, the game tests you by making you solve that same puzzle, repeatedly, for as long as you can stand it.

I want to stress that South Park doesn’t have enough combat for this to become really tedious. It’s a rare dungeon that has more than four or five encounters, as opposed to several hundred like in Persona 3. But I did notice myself reaching that point where I felt like, okay, I already know which six buttons to push, and in which order, and it’s not really engaging anymore. The game never challenged me to look beyond my Killer Formula.

Maybe the lesson game developers ought to learn is “don’t make your turn-based RPGs longer than sixteen hours”. Which… yeah, I could get behind that. We’ll go with that. Thanks for letting me think this one out, guys!

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Kinetic Cipher Questions

Today some nice fan left a few questions about the plot of my old RPGMaker game, Kinetic Cipher. I worked on that game for about five years and never finished it. Since it’s a dead project, I see no harm in answering those questions now.

1. Who is the final boss of the game?

Erin, Karen and Nero’s guildmate from the first few scenes of the game. The backstory gets a little too complicated to summarize in this short space, but it boils down to: an evil monster was planning to possess Karen’s mind when they were both girls, so Erin killed the monster to protect her, and part of the monster took root in Erin’s mind instead.

My buddy Holbert always used to pick on me for how close the plot and theming of KC drove to Star Wars, so he’d get a kick out of learning this, because in retrospect the end of the game would have been a very Luke-and-Darth-Vader moment.

2. What was the final uber-dungeon going to be?

The Quevari Realm is that crystalline world parallel to the real one. Eventually the party would have been able to use it as a sort of quick-travel system, like the Nether in Minecraft. In the middle of the Quevari Realm is a sealed hole leading to an ancient, Lovecraftian dimension of untold horror etc. The idea was that the quevari seeped through the cracks in this hole and into the real world, where people harnessed their energy to power psionics. Grandmaster ciphers called the seal over this hole “The Veil”, and so the final dungeon was going to be “Beyond the Veil”.

As for how that dungeon was supposed to be structured, it was so far away that I hadn’t put much thought into it yet. One idea I had was to make it like the Rift from Final Fantasy V, where it used bite-sized chunks and combinations of old dungeons. I probably would have invented something new for it instead, though.

3. What is the background of Insandru?

He doesn’t really have one. Insandru was a red herring, and not the story’s true villain. His deal was, as a tatheril, he knew of ways to use the quevari to build material weapons rather than to fuel magic powers. The bomb he used to blow up Darmenia was such a weapon, as was the device he used to erase Karen’s defenses in the opening scene. Eventually Insandru recruits Cor and Erin to his cause, but they each had their own goals outside of “help Insandru” and were independently planning to double-cross him and neutralize him as a threat.

He doesn’t really need a backstory to fulfill his role in the plot, but if I had to put a pin in it I would just say “he’s some terrible guy who wants to control people because that is what terrible guys want.”

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Steam Winter Sale Breakdown

I nabbed a ridiculous number of new games during this winter’s Steam sale. The perfect storm of insanely low prices, credits from selling virtual trading cards, Steambux in the Christmas stocking and (this is the part that really blows my mind) gifts from YouTube and Twitch viewers, I walked away with more games than I could play in a reasonable amount of time. However, I have finally finished making the rounds and thought I would share a few half-formed thoughts I had about them.

Bioshock Infinite

I’m only about halfway through this one, but so far I like it for all the same reasons I liked the original Bioshock, and then some. The story, setting and characters are intriguing. Combat is fairly painless, even for poor players like me who suck at FPSes. (If you’re a game developer, by the way, and you want to accomplish that: include viable melee options and special abilities that don’t require aiming.) What I really need is a day where I have six or eight consecutive hours to sit down and complete the rest of it.

Borderlands 2

I decided to take a chance on this after watching a buddy play Poker Night at the Inventory and falling in love with Claptrap. The game so far is charming and funny, and it really pokes that part of my brain that painstakingly loots every barrel and crate in Elder Scrolls games. The guns are easy to aim and fun to use (unlike Fallout 3, which really should have filled my quota for “Skyrim with guns”, except I found it impossible to play). Where I left off the other day was a string of demolition derby quests which were just good, clean, stupid fun.

My main complaint so far is that the game is really, really hard. I haven’t completed a story mission yet where I didn’t die five or six times. Enemies soak up unbelievable amounts of damage and spend most of their time running towards you, unloading their weapons. I’m playing a sniper class, which I figured meant I could pick bad guys off from a distance, but they don’t actually seem to spawn until I’m inside their range of vision. At which point, of course, they spot me immediately and shoot me with perfect accuracy.

That said, respawning is instant and cheap, and I’m solving a lot of problems by just throwing my sack of meat and bones at them repeatedly. I’ll probably play this one in short spurts over a long period.

Costume Quest

A charming little RPG about kids in Halloween costumes. Unfortunately it’s also boring to play. One afternoon was about all I needed out of this one. Combat isn’t varied enough, is the problem. When it takes two minutes to resolve a battle, and there’s always an obvious move to make on every combat round, the formula has a kink in it. I feel bad for not finishing it, because I want to spend some more time with the characters and learn how the story plays out, but I’m too old to boot up games that don’t respect my time.

FEZ

Overrated. Attractive to look at, but not fun or interesting to play. Perspective gimmicks are a tricky wicket. Yes, they’re clever and visually impressive — but they’re also trivial to solve. You spin the thing until you see the thing and then you get the thing. I played this for about two hours, and that time didn’t involve anything deeper than “jump to platform” or “spin world”, so maybe that’s all there is.

The game was also pretty chatty at the outset, though it didn’t have anything interesting to say. It seems to think fezzes are inherently funny. I don’t know if it’s going for a “lol monkey cheese random bacon” internet meme style of humor, or what, but it didn’t work for me. At first I wanted it to shut up and let me play it, and then it wasn’t that much fun to play. Oh well.

Guacamelee!

I can’t recommend this game highly enough. It has a freeform world structure like Shantae, and intense air-dash/double-jump/world-switch platforming challenges like Giana Sisters, and crazy melee combat like… well, like nothing else, really. (Maybe They Bleed Pixels?) You pummel, grab, throw, and slam enemies together in a gloriously violent ballet. That kind of gameplay is thrilling, but doesn’t usually have any staying power with me. Using Metroidvania elements to glue the fighting sequences together is just what the doctor ordered.

I could write an entire article about how much I liked the structure of Guacamelee!‘s post-game.

I’m interested to see how well this game holds up on replays, but I gotta say, the fact that I’m considering replaying it all so soon after completing it already speaks volumes.

Hotline Miami

About as fun as any high-end browser game that sells itself on retro graphics and gratuitous violence. That said, I had more fun with this than I usually have with games this shallow. It’s carnage for a few hours, and then it’s done, and then you can forget about it. At first glance it almost looks like you can examine a game level and execute an effective strategy. That is doomed to failure. Embrace the chaos and restart a lot, and you’ll be more successful. I do wish it had been that game of plan-and-attack, though; I don’t feel the random weapons or split-second instakills did it any favors. Many of the game’s fans have embraced it for exactly the reasons I shrugged it off, though, so what do I know.

Just Cause 2

I, ah… crap. I thought I had played all these! I’ll get to it later, I guess. I bought it because it has a grappling hook, and I fully expect to spend one night trying to grapple everything in sight, then never touching the game again. Does that sound about right?

Long Live the Queen

The trailer for this game made it sound a bit like if Princess Maker 2 were a black comedy. It is neither of those things, though. Outside of the adorably tragic death cards there is nothing funny in the game at all — it is played achingly straight, and slathers the drama on three inches thick. It also lacks the elements of randomness of Princess Maker, and all but one of the gameplay modes. All you do is pick your school schedule and then make choices during pre-written cutscenes. Instead of watching your princess’s growth and having her logically or intuitively react to things that pop up in the game world, you are rewarded for taking painstaking notes so you can make a more correct set of decisions next time you play. Or, I suppose, you could keep an incredibly large number of carefully labelled and categorized save games in conjunction with your notes. Either way, it’s paperwork.

The formula would have worked if the writing were spectacular, and if there were a user-friendly system built in to rewind the game to any previous state you’ve had it in. That game still wouldn’t be much fun to play, but it’d be a worthwhile read and wouldn’t actively punish you for not having Excel opened in another tab. I played quite a lot of Queen, carefully mapping out its plot graph, before I got irretrievably bored and looked up the solution to get the ending I wanted.

Mirror’s Edge

I played through the training mission and hated it. Why would anyone make a first person jumping-and-climbing-things game? The game would say things like “press LB to jump then LT in the air to coil yourself up and avoid the barbed wire ahead”. And I would push those buttons, and then die, because I jumped too early or coiled too late or who knows why. And then on the fourth or fifth try I would succeed and go on to the next bit, which told me to press some other combination of buttons, so I could fail four or five times on that. (And who’s idea was it to map jump to a bumper in the first place? And who decided we’d want two logically-opposed actions on one side of the controller, rather than on opposite sides — especially considering those two buttons would have to frequently be held together? Blah!) It was irritating as hell and I simply could not shake the feeling that the game would be so much smoother if I could just see my character’s position and orientation in the level. I hate feeling like I have to wrestle a game rather than control it, so that’s about all I was going to put up with.

Monaco

Pure liquid fun. The solo game is something like a thoughtful puzzle experience, tempered with just a touch of adrenaline. You carefully plan a route through each level, leveraging your crook’s special abilities while dodging guards and pocketing loot, and you have enough tools to salvage the mission should things to sour. In that sense it’s a bit like if Hotline Miami dialed back the insanity just a few notches.

The multiplayer is the same song, except things will almost immediately go to shit, and you and your teammate will be left frolicking through waves of hilarious, boisterous chaos. Clever cooperation is rewarded, but so is fast thinking, resource management and even stupid risk-taking. We’ve watched entire levels melt down, come through them anyway, and then were totally unable to discuss what happened because we were laughing too hard.

It’s intense and wonderful and beautiful. Highly recommended.

Risk of Rain

I was so excited about this game that I couldn’t even wait for this post to break down what I liked about it. Go read this big, gushing blog post about how challenging and rewarding this game is. I can’t wait for them to fix the multiplayer!

Super Hexagon

I got this for like $0.69 — which I earned by selling Steam cards in the first place — and immediately wanted my money back. Loud, flashy garbage.

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Famous Plot Holes That Aren’t Plot Holes

I’m a grotesque nerd, so plot holes bother me. I have lost sleep over movies with logical contradictions. This is a mental deficiency that will likely plague me until my dying day. It would not surprise me if my last thought upon exiting this world is something like, “…but Aladdin wished that he was a prince, not to pretend to be a prince, dammit!”

That said, spotting plot holes can be fun. It’s a side-effect of over-analyzing a work of fiction, which is a worthwhile pasttime in and of itself. Nothing makes you feel smart quite like noticing something super obvious that a writer missed. It’s especially satisfying in this day and age, when you can run off to your social media outlet of choice, share your amazing discovery with all the world, and allow others to bask in the warm glow of your smugness.

You know what makes me feel even smarter than that, though? When some dude comes along complaining about some plot hole he discovered, and it turns out it isn’t a plot hole at all. Because sure, it takes a little creativity to spot a plot hole in the first place, but sometimes it only takes a tiny bit more to close that hole in a logical way. If you’re going to overthink things, overthink them.

There are a few dozen infamous plot holes the internet likes to flip its collective shit about. They get recycled a lot as Top Ten lists on Cracked and Buzzfeed. I find a lot of these popular examples to be objectionable, though. For one thing, it seems that I operate under a much narrower definition of “plot hole” than most people do. I only count plot points that are logically inconsistent, whereas the internet at large seems to prefer a much broader interpretation like “anything in a movie that doesn’t immediately make sense”. So before I get to my list of famous examples, here’s a short list of things that don’t qualify as plot holes at all.

Things That Are Not Plot Holes

1) Unanswered questions. It’s not a plot hole if a movie fails to explain in detail something you wish had been explained. What’s in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase? Something expensive and of great value to Marcellus Wallace, probably. More information than that is not required to make the plot work. Pretty much every problem anyone has ever had with Lost falls into this category.

2) Stunning coincidence. It’s not a plot hole if a thing happens that is vanishing unlikely. I didn’t see the Star Trek reboot, but apparently a bunch of people were up in arms at a scene where a young Kirk crash lands on an ice world and just so happens to run into an elderly time-traveling Spock. Pointing out the unfathomable odds against this encounter isn’t identifying a plot hole, it’s just identifying that the writers chose to have a billion-to-one event happen in their story. (Presumably, having Kirk crash on an ice world and then die of exposure would have been preferable.)

3) Obvious executive meddling. Sometimes there is a perfectly good explanation for a plot hole, albeit not a satisfying one. People have agonized for years about why the machines in The Matrix needed humans as batteries as opposed to, say, just building nuclear reactors. The answer is the writers had a much better explanation in mind but the producers thought we were all too dumb to understand it. Oh well.

4) Hollywood writers aren’t scientists. This is a different flavor of #3. The more familiar you are with science, the more often you will notice physically impossible things in film. These technically count as plot holes, but neglects the simple fact that writers tend to focus more on telling interesting stories than making sure all the chemistry and physics check out. The answer to “How come the microwave weapon in Batman Begins doesn’t vaporize people, who are 70% water?” is “You need to re-calibrate your Disbelief Suspension Module, you grognard.”

5) Pedantic bullshit. The previous two examples are both about plot holes that involve questions with reasonable, if unsatisfying, answers. This one is about plot holes that involve questions the viewer shouldn’t be asking in the first place. “Who built the cars in Cars!?” Maybe it’s an animated kid’s movie about talking cars and you’re a creepy weirdo for speculating whether or not their exhaust pipes are genitals.

And now, a list of things I decided aren’t actually plot holes, even though most of the internet still seems to think they are. I’ve placed these in the rough order of when I figured them out.

Brick’s List of Plot Holes Which Aren’t Actually Plot Holes

1) How did Jeff Goldbum upload a virus to the alien mothership?Independence Day

I loved this film when it came out in theaters. I saw it with a friend of mine, who was a bit of a computer nerd, and who had already seen the movie once. On the way to the theater, he told me to watch for one thing at the end of the movie that was totally impossible. At the time, we were both young enough that “planet invaded by aliens” didn’t qualify as such an event.

At the climax of the film, Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith travel into outer space to dock with an alien mothership. While there, Goldblum uses a laptop computer to upload a virus into the mothership’s main computer, thereby disabling the force fields on all the smaller dropships on Earth’s surface, so rednecks and inspiring presidents could blow them up.

After the film, I admitted to my friend that I didn’t see the impossible thing, and I thought he was kind of a genius when he explained it to me. And so it was until high school, when we revisted the topic in one of our incredibly nerdy movie discussions. We concluded that, really, it made perfect sense that the laptop could interface with the mothership.

Earlier in the movie, it is revealed that Earth had contacted these aliens before, when one of their scouts crash landed at Roswell and was subsequentially impounded at Area 51. This was in the 1940s, and was immediately followed by fifty years of unprecedented advances in computer technology. We reasoned that, after years of research, American scientist simply reverse-engineered the alien ship and then marketed the resulting achievements. Ergo, Goldblum’s laptop was the same technology as the mothership it was attempting to interface with. The bigger question is why he programmed a cute skull and crossbones into his virus.

Upon arriving at this conclusion my friend and I decided we were both geniuses.

2) Why doesn’t Bruce Willis know he’s dead?The Sixth Sense

This glaring plot hole was hotly debated when The Sixth Sense was brand new, and even way back then, I had no idea why. The answer seemed so obvious to me and to this day I am kind of surprised so many people continue to miss it.

The premise of the movie is that Haley Joel Osment (who is 26 years old now, holy crap) can see ghosts, and Bruce Willis is some kind of paranormal psychologist who specializes in helping kids who can see ghosts. The big twist at the end is — surprise! — Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, and only Haley Joel Osment could see him. The issue people had with this twist is the great lengths the movie takes so Willis is never seen actually interacting with anyone but Osment. This makes sense at face value, but fell apart as soon as people started thinking about it a little more. How did the guy not know he was dead the whole time? Did he think it was normal that his wife didn’t talk to him all year?

But creepy sees-ghost kid offers us an explanation to this exact issue partway through the film. He tells Willis that ghosts “only see what they want to see”. Even on my very first viewing of the movie, I took this to mean “ghosts perceive reality differently from people, and that’s how they don’t know they’re dead.” There are lots of reasons Bruce Willis might not know he’d died. Perhaps, as a ghost, he experiences time differently from us, or perceives events out of sequence. Perhaps his ghost brain selectively forgets anything that would reveal its own true nature. Perhaps the mind of a ghost becomes so laser-focused on one obsession that anything not immediately related to that goal simply gets glossed over. Hell, this happens with people sometimes.

I should point out that I didn’t actually see the twist coming. I’m not that smart. All I did was pay attention when the movie established its ghost rules.

3) Why doesn’t Scar kill Simba?The Lion King

This came up as the topic of discussion in a creative writing I took at my one year of college. The topic of the discussion was how to fix famous plot holes. One of the girls in class pointed out that, in Disney’s The Lion King, the evil villain Scar chases the young Simba away rather than just killing him, and I was shocked that so many people in the class agreed with her. I’m shocked all over again when this one pops up in internet discussions.

The answer is, Scar does want to kill Simba, and he does try. He sings about it during his big villainous musical number. He purposely concocts a situation where Simba is almost sure to die. When Simba miraculously survives, Scar sics his ravenous hyena goons on him with explicit instructions to kill him. And when Simba shows up later alive and well, Scar expresses surprise and irritation at said goons at that fact.

How can this be interpreted as “Scar kills Mufasa but lets Simba live”? Scar was banking on Simba dying in the stampede or, failing that, being mauled to death by hyenas. It’s not as though he’s going to kill Simba with his own claws; that’s not Scar’s style. Scar’s problem wasn’t a sudden change of heart, it was his overestimation of obviously incompetent henchmen.

4) Why doesn’t Marty’s mom recognize him?Back to the Future

My mom’s three favorite movies are the Back to the Future trilogy, which as far as I’m concerned is irrefutable evidence that my mom is cooler than your mom. When the films first came out on DVD I sat down with her and marathoned all three, back to back, in a particularly heartfelt example of mother-son bonding. And while the BttF movies are ripe with low-hanging fruit as far as spotting plot holes is concerned, my mom said this is the one that bothered her the most.

In the film, Marty McFly travels back in time to 1955, where his own mother promptly falls in love with him. Why, then, does she not recognize him in 1985, after he’s all grown up? Wouldn’t she immediately notice that her son is the spitting image of a guy she fawned over in high school?

So I asked my mom, can you honestly say you remember, with perfect recall, someone you haven’t seen in thirty years, and don’t have any pictures of? And she said, huh, no, I guess not. Good point.

Mrs. McFly no doubt has fond memories of her one week with the mysterious teenage heartthrob who dropped in out of nowhere, but human memory is a funny and fallible thing. On the off chance she did notice some resemblance between her spring fling and her teenage son, it’s not likely her first thought would be time travel. More likely she’d just conclude that her son grew up to look maybe a little bit like some guy she knew, and isn’t life funny?

Focus on the parts with the inconsistent alternate timelines, guys. At least those plot holes go somewhere fun.

5) How did Andy Dufresne hang his poster back up?The Shawshank Redemption

I don’t recall exactly who first pointed this out to me. It bugged me until I re-watched the movie, upon which I immediately spotted the solution. It’s another favorite subject of internet lists, and I can’t help but shake my head in dismay every time I see it.

In the film, Andy escapes prison by digging through the stone wall of his cell with a rock hammer, and covers his progress with a girly poster on the wall. The morning after he makes his escape the prison warden angrily rips the poster from the wall, revealing the hole underneath. Everyone stands in utter amazement at the feat, but nobody thinks to ask how Andy hung the poster back up after crawling through the tunnel.

Answer: he’s a wizard.

No, actually, the answer is he’s a normal person with, like, half a brain. Any thinking person could solve this problem in a manner of minutes. In Andy’s case, the poster is normally secured to the wall with tacks or nails. On the night of his escape, he simply secured the top two nails, carefully climbed into the hole underneath the poster, and that’s it. If he climbed through the hole backwards, he could have done a passable job of putting the bottom tacks into the wall by reaching underneath and pushing them in, or attaching the sharp end of the tack to a piece of string and pulling it in, or whatever. Or maybe he didn’t do any of that, and everyone was too focused on the missing prisoner to notice the poster was just hanging freely at the bottom.

Shawshank Redemption is one of the best films ever made, and I’ve seen lots of comments to the effect of “the movie would be perfect if not for this one thing!” Worry no more, for I have fixed everything and now the movie is just plain perfect again.

6) Why don’t the Eagles just fly Frodo to Mordor?The Lord of the Rings

I admit I cheated on this one a little bit, because I actually read The Lord of the Rings long before the third film came out and set this question on everyone’s lips. The solution involves extrapolating information about Middle-earth which is trivial with the added context of the books, but is not so obvious just from the movie.

The story goes, Frodo has to carry an evil ring to an evil volcano and throw it in. This took three four-hour-movies, endless trudging hardship, thousands of dead goblins, and some eleventh-hour rumination about the taste of bread. Once the ring is destroyed, Gandalf the wizard sends in his magic giant bird friends to retrieve Frodo so he doesn’t have to walk all the way back.

So why couldn’t the eagle just take Frodo in to begin with, and spare everyone the hike?

There are actually several totally reasonable explanations for this, and I’m sure die-hard Tolkien fanatics could come up with a few more. Here are the top three most relevant ones to the events of the film.

First, and most obvious, is that the bad guy has flying shadow demons guarding his lands. Any eagle that flies into Mordor is going to be spotted immediately — after all, the bad guy is literally a giant, unblinking eyball — and set upon by indestructable witch-lords.

Second, and maybe somewhat less obvious, is the evil ring is, in fact, evil. Its very nature corrupts whomever carries it, rendering them unable to destroy it. This happens even to Frodo, in the end, even though Hobbits are known to be somewhat resistant to its effects. Handing the ring to an eagle would not result in the ring being dropped into a volcano — it would result in a corrupt, invisible eagle coming under the power and influence of the Enemy.

And third, it helps to remember that the eagles of Middle-earth are, in fact, capital-E Eagles. They are a sentient species akin to Elves and Dwarves and Ents. They have their own Eagle society which may not have an immediate interest in this whole ring-destroying folly.

7) Who jacked Cypher into the Matrix?The Matrix

I’m stretching a bit on this one, because it’s more a personal “What If?” theory than a full-blown plot hole debunking. But it’s far more satisfying to think about than why robots need human batteries, so try and stick with me here.

At one point in the film, we cut away to see Morpheus’s crewmate Cypher having a steak dinner with Agent Smith. He gives a little speech about how ignorance is bliss, and sells out the entire crew in return for being plugged back into the Matrix, because he would rather dine on fake porterhouse than real snot-gruel.

The problem is, we’ve already established that you can’t jack yourself into the Matrix. You need a spotter on the outside to plug you in, monitor your position and, when you’re ready, pull you back out. So who jacked Cypher in, so he could have this conversation in the first place? It couldn’t have been anyone on the crew, or the betrayal wouldn’t have worked. It couldn’t have been an evil robot, because such an intruder would have been detected right away.

Cypher provides us with a clue, though, during one of his first conversations with Neo. He has been monitoring the cascade of green pixels and glyphs that make up the Matrix for so long, he can actually decode it in real time. He doesn’t even see the code, he says; he just sees “blonde, brunette, redhead”.

My theory: he’s not in the Matrix at all. He’s watching his screen. He knows how delicious his steak is because he’s that adept at reading the code. His entire meeting with Agent Smith, where he hammers out all the details of his betrayal, happens during his graveyard shift at the monitors on the ship.

I’m not a programmer, but I’ve dabbled enough to know strange things start happening to your brain when you stare at code long enough. You can see it compiling before you run it. Now imagine a world where that code is literally your only stimulus. That’s the place Cypher lives. Honestly, I can’t say I blame the dude. I’d want to be jacked back in, too.

8) Why did Dr. Manhattan kill Rorschach, but not destroy his journal?The Watchmen

Most people who read The Watchmen despised the film. I’m not one of them, though. I think both versions of the story have their own merits. Not having been a comic book geek back in the 80s, most of the nuances of the graphic novel were lost on me during my first reading, but I did think the ending was pretty brilliantly played. I can see how a lot of people misinterpreted it — and then misinterpreted it again in the movie, where it was unchanged.

The broad strokes of the ending are as follows: Rorschach, the crazy vigilante, twigs to the evil plan of the villain Ozymandias, and writes all the details down in his journal. Before embarking to help stop the villain, he deposits the journal into the inbox of his favorite crackpot right-wing slander rag. That way, if he fails, he reasons, his story will still get told.

The villain ends up going unthwarted, though, and the heroes decide it’s for the best that the rest of the world is kept in the dark as to the particulars. All but the fanatical Rorschach, that is, who plans to go back home and tell everyone. The the omnipotent and omniscient Dr. Manhattan prevents this by exploding Rorschach all over Antarctica.

Just to be safe, shouldn’t Dr. Manhattan also have destroyed Rorschach’s journal? It’s already established he knows everything and can do anything, so this should be a trivial task even though nobody ever told Doc about this journal sitting on the other side of the planet. So what gives?

What comes across really well in the graphic novel is that Rorschach is, in fact, a crazy fanatic whose journal reads like an insane conspiracy theory. There is literally no evidence to support the incoherent ravings contained therein. The truth gets out, yes, but it’s not a truth anyone is going to believe. Doc knows the journal poses no threat. And when I say he knows it, I mean he knows it. He can literally read the future.

Maybe the nuance doesn’t come across so well in the movie, if you haven’t read the book. I guess I can give moviegoers the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Thus concludes my list of popular plot holes which aren’t actually plot holes. I’d be interested to hear of any plot holes you’ve managed to close on your own, or if you think I’m wrong and stupid about any of the ones I’ve presented here. Thanks for reading!

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