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Facebook Challenges Videogames

10 Days/10 Videogames Facebook Challenge

I might be only just getting around to writing it up now, but I completed the 10 days/10 videogames straight after the books challenge back in May. I’ve been meaning to get this post written since, but it’s taken a while to get around to for some reason. Anyway, here we are. I presented my games in chronological order of release cross referenced with when I played them. These are the most influential games in my life.

Day 1: Starwing/Starfox (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)

Given my age, this is a fairly recent title to pick. Starwing (as it’s known in the UK) or Starfox (the rest of the world), was released in 1993 (the year I turned 11) & I remember we got a SNES that Christmas, Starwing was one of the games that we got with it. The others were Super Mario World (which I just replayed last week) & Super Mario Allstars. Previously I’d mainly played games on cassette (I had an Amstrad 6128 plus, which was kinda shit. My friends generally had ZX Spectrums) & maybe the odd NES game. The 3D graphics of Starwing absolutely blew me away as a child, but more importantly, it played like a dream. A linear 3rd person spaceship shooter with a story about anthropomorphised animals fighting against a supernaturally powerful evil emperor & a soundtrack that still holds up to this day. I still play it regularly on the Nintendo Switch’s virtual SNES.

Day 2: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)

I bought Final Fantasy VII, with my own money, from a car boot sale. It became a pretty much permanent fixture in my life. I struggled through it the first time, not 100% getting the complex systems like I would later come to, but transfixed by the amazing story, the hand painted environments & the stirring, melancholy score. Later I would replay it again & again, even buying the official Brady Games Strategy Guide years after it had gone out of print, for far too much money. I just had a look now & found one going for $69.99 on Amazon. I remember the excitement that all of the various spinoffs generated too. The Crisis Core & Dirge Of Cerberus games, the Advent Children movie etc. I was initially excited about the remake, but the wait was so long that I lost enthusiasm for it & have yet to actually play it.

Day3: Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (PC)

Have you ever played so much Command & Conquer that you close your eyes & you can still see masses of Apocalypse Tanks & Kirov Airships slowly pouring across the screen on the backs of your eyelids? I have. In my mid twenties I played this game a hell of a lot. My friend & I loved the Arctic Circle map & would play it over & over again, trying to find new ways of winning the skirmish with maximum number of enemy factions. Towards the end of the games shelf life (killed for me when my last PC died, I’ve had Macs ever since), I remember every time I played it I used to just take over every enemy base, with engineers, until I controlled the entire map.

Day 4: The Elder ScrollsIII: Morrowind (PC)

Morrowind was my first proper open world, sandbox RPG & I absolutely loved it. Playing it for the first time felt like coming home. It was so engaging, like something that had been missing from my life up until that point. Admittedly, it hasn’t aged as well as it might. The combat is clunky, travelling is slow & keeping track of quests is notoriously difficult, but none of that mattered, really. The freedom you felt just walking around Vvardenfell, a unique & alien landscape completely different to any other fantasy world, was just amazing. You could just walk off in any direction & do what you felt like. & honourable mention for the soundtrack. Check out the main theme, it still gives me goosebumps today.

Day 5: TimeSplitters 2 (PlayStation)

I could have chosen either Timesplitters 2 or it’s sequel TimeSplitters: Future Perfect for this list, I spent vast amounts of enjoyable time with both. I decided, however, to choose the one with the best cover art & , in my opinion, that is TimeSplitters2. It’s a slick, smooth & sophisticated (for the time) First Person Shooter with a short but fun single player campaign, a plethora of other modes & levels to play (both single & multiplayer), shitloads of unlockable playable characters & an advanced, deep map maker for making your own maps (incl. logic programming to make your own story levels, challenges etc.). It was a veritable toybox of great content & is long overdue a remastered version for the current (or next) generation of consoles.

Day 6: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PlayStation)

I’ve just finished replaying this absolute behemoth of a game on the Xbox 360 rerelease. It has aged very well. The older graphics have taken on an almost cartoonish element over the years, which is humorous when you think how realistic we used to find it. San Andreas improved on its GTA 3D universe predecessors (Grand Theft Auto 3 & Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) in almost every way imaginable. Light, but welcome, RPG elements were added to make your character adapt & grow over time. Small changes like the ability to swim & dive (previously, entering the water would kill your character) helped to make the world seem so much more open & explorable. Speaking of the open & explorable world, San Andreas, distinct from previous games, was a whole fictional state in Rockstar games fictionalised America. Rather than being a single city, like III‘s Liberty City (based on New York) or Vice City (based on Miami), San Andreas featured three complete cities Los Santos (based on Los Angeles), San Fierro (based on San Francisco) & Las Venturas (based on Las Vegas) as well as the stretches of countryside, desert, rivers, lakes, small towns, army bases & airstrips between them. It was huge. The story was absolutely top notch too, taking inspiration from a huge amount of popular culture & stocked to the gills with easter eggs & references to movies, TV, comics etc. The voice acting was also top notch & featured such high profile voice actors as Samuel L Jackson & James Woods. Still the top game in the Grand Theft Auto series, in my opinion.

Day 7: Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)

I’ll probably get people in the comments (or friends privately) telling me that I should have chosen Fallout: New Vegas here. Whenever I post about how much I love Fallout 3, that always happened. It happened on the original Facebook post which this blogpost is based upon. I’m not sure why people feel the need to police peoples opinions of the Fallout series, but it is endemic. I love Fallout 3. Partly because it was the first Fallout game I played & partly because it is of extremely high quality. I really enjoyed catching up on the earlier games in the series (Fallout, Fallout 2 & Fallout Tactics) & the following games (the aforementioned New Vegas, Fallout 4 & even the critically maligned Fallout 76) but none of them have succeeded in recapturing that spark which made me fall in love with the series in the first place. Fallout 3 is set in the post-nuclear ruins of Washington DC & surrounding countryside (The Capital Wasteland) 200 years after The Great War, which almost wiped out all life on earth. It is a grey & lifeless place, at first glance, but the more you explore the more it opens up to you. Towns & villages have sprung up from the rubble, some of them in ingenious & interesting places. Arefu, for example, is built on a half destroyed highway overpass. An excellent Open World RPG in a unique setting, Fallout 3 remains essential gaming even today, 12 years after it was released. I may do proper blogpost about it in the future.

Day 8: Metro 2033 (Xbox 360)

Following in the Post-Apocalyptic, post-nuclear theme, Metro 2033 takes a look at the survivors of a nuclear war who took shelter in the Moscow Metro system. Decades later, the Metro dwellers have developed a self contained society – or group of societies – in the darkness. Living off cultivated fungus & the few livestock animals they managed to get underground (pigs & chickens mainly), the various factions (or nations) of the Metro system are locked in an endless struggle for supremacy & survival. The game follows a young man named Artyom, form Exhibition Station, on his journey to the heart of the metro to warn the rangers of Polis station of a new mutant threat which is encroaching onto the Metro from the edges. Metro 2033 is a fairly linear, story driven First Person Shooter. There are elements of customisation (especially weapons) & survival (requiring gas mask filters to survive on the surface) but the game’s immaculate story (based on the excellent novel Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky) & atmosphere are the reasons I love it so much. I play it over & over.

Day 9: Dark Souls (Xbox 360)

Dark Souls is a Japanese Action-RPG with a difference. It’s challenging combat, interconnected world & demanding puzzles are as rewarding as they are difficult. The storyline in the game is never explicitly told to you by characters or narration (with the exception of the introductory sequence, which lays out the games creation myth/lore), but is almost hidden in plain sight for the player to put together themselves. Snippets of storyline & lore can be found in item descriptions, names of places, occasional NPC dialogue & can be pieced together by inquisitive players, almost like an extra puzzle in the game. The lore & story of the series is very interesting & piecing it together is very satisfying & rewarding. Alternatively, maybe you’re not that interested & just want to play the game. The option is there for that too. If you’re struggling, or uninterested, with the story, there’s a whole community of online commentators who catalogue & explain the lore. A favourite is YouTube “historian” VaatiVidya.

Day 10: The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt (Xbox One)

The final game on this list, The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt is probably the biggest, most open & most rewarding game I’ve ever played. An expansive Open World RPG following the adventurous of Witcher (a kind of mercenary monster hunter) Geralt of Rivia as he murders his way through monsters of Polish folklore, navigates political intrigue & battles the otherworldly forces of the titular Wild Hunt. As impressive, & vast, as it is, the open world of The Wild Hunt plays second fiddle to the sheer brilliance of the storytelling. There’s a fine balance struck between the dark & cold, & the warmth & light. Choices are as morally ambiguous as they’ve ever been. The Bloody Baron quest-line alone is enough to fill a lesser game. Heartbreaking & sad, touches of humour, & real humanity in a way you rarely see in video games. Possibly the most three-dimensional characters in video games history.

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Videogames

Super Mario World (1990)

For the first time since I was a teenager I have just played through Super Mario World, for the SNES, from 1990. It’s a fun but challenging game that I heartily recommend. It is widely available today on the SNES mini, Nintendo Switch, 3DS &, if all else fails, I’m sure you can find a SNES emulator & a ROM of the game. I played it on the Nintendo Switch.

One thing I really enjoy about the end of the game is the montage of screenshots which form the ending sequence & give names to all of the enemies you have fought throughout the game, up to & including Bowser himself. Check them out.

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RPG Videogames

Scruffy Undertale Adventures (Part 5) – Lore

The following screenshots illustrate the background lore to Undertale.

The various monsters I have spared throughout the game came and told me the lore of the underworld in a series of random encounters. Seriously, check out these monster designs.

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Politics Videogames

Tonight We Riot

I haven’t played enough of the new game, Tonight We Riot, by Pixel Pusher Union 512 to review it or say much about it. What I can say is that it is a pixelated side scrolling brawler where your character leads a gang of workers through armies of riot police. Utilising such tools as bricks, molotov cocktails & work tools (ie. wrench as a melee weapon), the aim is to liberate as many workers from capitalist oppression as possible while keeping as many of them alive as possible. It is a game which is unashamedly and openly left wing and is a welcome antidote to the neoliberal, imperial fantasies that most modern games are.

To get an idea, here are screenshots from the opening cutscene/slideshow:

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Art Literature Music Videogames Visual

Cultural Significance in Art (Part 1)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cultural significance of art and what gives a piece of art the kind of longevity enjoyed by the works of people like Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dickens, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso and others. I’m wondering a lot about the art that has been produced since the millennium and if that art is worthy of things like Guernica or Macbeth.

Picasso’s Guernica. Image from Encyclopaedia Brittanica

I have recently studied the concept of creativity from a linguistic standpoint and feel like this may be, subconsciously, why I have been thinking about this. My study materials offered a definition of creativity which I found useful. The introduction to the block of study titled “Language, Creativity & Humour” states that:

“for something to be creative, it must be:

  1. novel
  2. appropriate to the task at hand
  3. considered to be of high quality.”

So, this gives us a functional definition of what creativity is but assigns no level of significance or importance to it. Is, for example, Banksy’s Love is in the Bin (the self-shredding framed print which sold at Sotheby’s for £860,000) more, less or equally as important as Petscop, the mysterious Playstation game Let’s Play YouTube series? The Banksy piece is more likely to be thought of as culturally significant by those educated in art, but Petscop uses modern technologies (Playstation, coding, YouTube) in novel ways which are “appropriate to the task at hand” and the cult-like following, or fandom, on forums such as Reddit and YouTube certainly perceive it to be of high quality. Saying that, by incorporating a shredder into the frame of Love is in the Bin, Banksy too used technology in a novel manner.


Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

How much of a factor in this is marketability? As previously noted, the Banksy piece managed to fetch £860,000 from obviously wealthy art collectors. Petscop, meanwhile, made by one person who had an idea for a mystery story and the skills to make it work, didn’t make any money as it was just released to the public free of charge. This reinforces observations I have made (and heard discussed in various media) about working class voices being frozen out of the arts. Working class people cannot afford to take the time, let alone the materials, to create engaging and well thought out pieces of art. This, however, is a topic for a different discussion.

The reason I chose these two pieces to discuss is because they are both very recent. Petscop ran between 2017 and 2019 while the Banksy piece was made in 2018.

People in the 21st century appear very reluctant to assign cultural significance to art, myself included. I can only think of a small number of pieces which I find possess that strange quality which lends cultural significance to something. I intend to write more about this going forward but, for now, here are some of the pieces of art made since the start of the 21st Century which I feel have enough cultural significance to carry them forward into the future in the same way as a Shakespeare play.

Petscop (2017-2019)

Petscop is a gripping mystery told through a new artistic medium: the YouTube Let’s Play video. The story goes that the narrator, Paul, found an old PlayStation game (with an important note) and decided to record his playthrough. What starts out as a colourful ad childlike game about catching pets soon turns into a dark and sinister mystery involving murder, child abuse and allusions to real life crimes. The series ran for 3 years and the creator, Tony (@pressedeyes on Twitter), planned, developed, coded, scripted and performed the whole thing. He even built that actual game (using it to record the videos rather than merely animating them) from scratch, using only technology and styles which would have been available for a PlayStation game.

Bob Dylan – Murder Most Foul (2020)

Released at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown in the US & UK, Murder Most Foul is both a poetic retelling of the assassination of JFK and a mournful goodbye to post-war age we appear to be finally exiting. I wrote a review of this when it was released on With Just A Hint Of Mayhem.

Undertale (2015)

Undertale is a videogame that I am still playing but I am already convinced of it’s status as a masterpiece. I am already blogging about it regularly:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Going forward with this series of posts, I will consider other pieces and if they fit into this ideal or not. An important thing to consider is that the evolution of the technologies we use to produce art & entertainment will force us to not only create art in different ways but also give us more things to express and address in our art.

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RPG Videogames

Scruffy Undertale Adventures (Part 4)

So I came across this Spider Bakesale. You could buy Spider Donuts or Spider Cider. 9999 gold each. I declined.

This poor fool did not decline. He spent everything he had on a Spider Donut. Rookie error.

After a boss fight with the spider lady running the bakesale (Muffet), I was ambushed by the killer robot Mettaton again. This time he sung a romantic, operatic song for me. The words actually seemed to fit perfectly with the chiptune opera soundtrack.

He then opened up a trapdoor beneath me and I had to solve some puzzles to escape from a dungeon.

I met some of his fans outside.

I’d defeated these two Royal Guardsmen (on the right) earlier by convincing them that a) the one on the left had a crush on the one on the right and b) to go and have an ice cream. They found the Ice Cream Seller (left) and bought all his stock. They told me they were taking a raincheck on the whole killing me thing.

I then came across the Resort. I had some dinner with Sans. The note to the right of me said to check the alleyway for great deals. Fearing it might be a trap I decided to check anyway. Milking this game for all the content I can.

Down the alleyway I encountered these two teenage girls, Bratty and Catty, who also happen to be an alligator and a cat. They were a laugh.

After buying some junk food from them, I proceeded to enter the Resort. The lobby was full of interesting looking characters. Note the Mettaton statue in the fountain.

And that was the end of this evenings gaming.

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Scruffy Undertale Adventures (part 3)

So, I woke up early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. So got up and played some more Undertale. So here’s some noteworthy stuff that happened.

Firstly, I added a border to my game.There are only three to choose from but I chose the sepia one. So after leaving the Ghost’s house I arrived in the traditional ‘lava level’. Every game has one. The first thing I found after the save point was a laboratory. Inside the laboratory, the scientist was watching me on a huge monitor.

After meeting the scientist, Dr. Alphys, she tells me that she has built a robot to be the ultimate celebrity/superstar. Unfortunately, she has also programmed it to be a human killing machine. Just as she’s telling me this it bursts through the wall.

This then turns into a boss fight where I have to answer questions until either I die or the robot gets bored and leaves. After the fight, I head out into the lava zone, solve some puzzles and meet a few interesting characters while remaining in contact, via cellphone, with Alphys. These characters on the bridge are talking about the quiz show I was on with the killer robot.

A couple of minutes later, i seamlessly walk from a lava field into a picturesque kitchen and the killer superstar robot reappears.

After taking part in Cooking with a Killer Robot, I return back to the start of the lava area (just in front of the laboratory) via a newly unlocked elevator. Heading south I find a river with a boat.

I can’t help but thinking of this person as Charon. and this river as Styx. I decide to get in the boat and we head back to Snowdin, the obligatory ‘snow level’ from earlier in the game. En route, the boat person (named River Person on the Undertale wiki) sings a jolly tune.

Well, that’s all for now. I returned to the save point as my real life doggo had awoken and was demanding to be taken out for toileting and exercise. Until next time.

Aforementioned real life doggo

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Scruffy Undertale Adventures (part 2)

So next thing I found amusing enough to blog about was the Joke book in Sans and Papyrus’ house.

Also in the same town, I knocked on this door and the occupant said:

So I knocked again and:

Subsequent knocks were met with:

I also went for a burger at Grillby’s with Sans. He passed me the ketchup but loosened the lid first. The entire bottle’s worth went all over my burger. Cheers Sans.

Later, at a waterfall in the pouring rain I shared an umbrella with Monster Boy. We spotted a spooky looking castle in the distance.

After falling down from the waterfall into an underground landfill I am attacked by a ghost-possessed training dummy but saved by a ghost friend I’d met earlier. The ghost invited me to it’s house and fed me. After which it invited me to lay on the floor with it. Things went pretty cosmic when I accepted the invite.

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Undertale – first impressions

I’ve just started playing Undertale this afternoon on Nintendo Switch. First impressions are pretty good. I’m around an hour and half in and I’m really enjoying it. As well as a brief explanation, I’ve taken some screenshots that I think are amazing. These screenshots alone justify this post (in my humble opinion).

The game, at least so far, plays a little like a classic JRPG. The combat, for instance, shares visual similarities with the early Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior in Japan) games. The exploration is also similar to Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. You walk around a 2D map solving puzzles and getting into random encounters.

The battle system is unique in that you don’t have to kill any of the enemies you fight. There is always another option. One monster I fought was a woodland creature a bit like a reindeer called a Gyftrot. Locals like to decorate the antlers of Gyftrots. You can “win” the battle by “undecorating” his antlers which makes him happy and you can select “Spare” from the combat menus.

I’m currently in a town called Snowdin. I love this bear’s grasp of political science.

Inside the bar, Grillby’s, that the bear is standing outside.

I previously had to fight the four dogs sat around the table in the four ground. I managed to spare them all from death with strategic petting. The two with armour and halberds had to be persuaded that I was a “strange puppy”. I had to roll around in the dirt and let them re-sniff me. Once they were convinced that I was a puppy, I then had to pet them again. Their minds were blown that dogs could pet other dogs and now they say their lives are changed forever.

Finally, I believe I may start using this picture at the top of any post I make about politics:

If you’re interested in this game, here’s a trailer to watch. Think it’s available on pretty much every platform except for Xbox. I bought it for Switch.

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