Saturday, July 11, 2009

for all the wrong reasons, I can no longer hope

Not quite dead yet, you see.

2 weeks ago, I managed what will likely be my biggest jaunt of 2009, a week traipsing backpacked around the world's biggest trees, next to the world's biggest ocean. Camping trips are, 4 years in, still very much a novelty for me (decidedly a town boy) and the jars and stubs imposed by a week mostly deprived and out of doors inevitably do violence to my (way of) life.

I brought more than trail mix home from this trip.

First, after a bookless, image-free and silent week, I needed a fair orgy of consuming. Both to shop and to wallow. Somewhere along the coastal trail I attained the belief that I am become old, a decision/realization with a single exponent: I am now too aged to wear tshirts alone.

Thus the first leg of my journey to acquire and to consume--to the flea market where I could seize collared shirts. I found many potentially suitable items, and settled upon one, a red plaid with short sleeves and a dynamic cut. (The remainder of my cashes I did disperse amongst the shadier aisle of the parking lot for 3 dvds for gentlemen, for another thing I did lack for 1 week was self-love.)1 Enough.

Soon I browsed the mediocre shelves of my nigh-local Game Store. Ah, finally a with-manual2 copy of Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection.3 Also an copy of a (auteur 'lert!) Suda 51 rarity: Flower, Sun and Rain. Minutes and coffee later I graced the localish book store. Not entirely my favorite, this one yet yields reliable...finds. Though not treasures. This trip I succumbed to the worst of my impulses and bought Spook Country, which, yes, I already own alongside the newest Cometbus, which I may never read4, and a pair of paeans to albums that I adored and thus shaped5 me: Use Your Illusion I & II and Double Nickels on the Dime.6

Naturally after still more coffee I went home and read You Can't Win. Then Spook Country.7 I'd read Use Your Illusion at the coffee shop. But how far can that tiny consuming-leg really go?

After work monday, I scoured the Broadway Goodwill on the way home. Alas but that this Broadway Goodwill is utterly unlike its Portland homonym, where never once did I fail to find; this Santa Destroy version is barren, bereft. Nary a shirt combining stain-lacki with the presence of every button. Nary a book of interest. Tuesday's infiltration of the Chinatown Salvation Army would prove substantially worthwhiler.8 2 passable shirts. (One recieved violently mixed reviews, which is exactly the sort of reactionreception I hope for when I'm buying emblems of grownupity which I hope will camouflage me at work.)

Also I scored an unopened copy of the Dark Crystal9, a GCN copy of The Sims: Bustin' Out and Aronofsky's shatteringly wonderful the Fountain. All of that for 5 wing-wangs. Also a cookbook, but I'll let Collision detail that messwreck.

Sims: Can't play. Need another memory card, which I recall is a tough motherfucking (item to) score. Deal with that another time, perhaps.

Gottlieb: the knock on their tables was always: boring. Beautifully built, Gottlieb tables were marvels of engineering but had all their design chops focused on how shit works, and not on what a player might want or be interested in.10

The game is similar, and the techology is clumsy, with meh camera angles, oddly intrusive glass reflections and a very poor decision about the flippers: having to pull the triggers all the way = total garbage. But this joint decidedly isn't 100% weapons-grade bolognium. Nor is it just 'pinball so I like it'. It's good pinball. So I like it.

Methodical and demanding, these tables insist upon skill and patience in equal measure. Probably this setup is the proximal inspiration for Dream Pinball, a DS game I have written easily 10,000 words about. Words you will never read.

Flower, Sun and Rain. We rep Atlus hard here in Reviewiera. Because we both like and respect those motherfuckers. You know what you're getting: enthusiastic and attentive forays into all that is niche.11 Porn for enthusiasts. The surprising thing is that they don't seem to garner all that much underground analysis. The press digs the shit out of them, this much is obvious, but I don't see a great deal of interest among the hobbyists.12 This is all by way of a digression, because while I like and respect Atlus, it's Grasshopper who I melt for.

Grasshopper games will always provide me with menu/item text that redeems even the lamest title.13 Contact, probably my favorite game, had equipment description 1liners that elicited genuine laughs. FSR is similar. Most of the game involved plowing thru dialog--not dialog trees, just plain dialog--and looking up (painfully telegraphed) answers to (usually transparent) puzzle-questions in a guidebook that lives in your inventory.

So it's good that those 50odd guidebook pages are well conceived and competently written/translated. Game's a real slog & noone could deny this. But--it's a Suda 51 game, and he's the most interesting postmodernist in the industry14--the game knows it's a slog. It's supposed to be a slog because all adventure games are slogs and it comments on the trudges it inflicts. This aware commentary doesn't entirely mediate the slogness, but I'll take a game that notes the limitations of its genre over one that simply recapitulates them.

Also a few moths back I indulged in another denigrated pleasure, scoring 3 Milestone shooters, 2 of which I already owned, for the Wii. The Ultimate Shooting Collection, comprising Chaos Field (GCN), Karous (DC), and Rdio Allergy (both, sorta). This version of Chaos Field sucks compared to the GCN version, so fuck it. Karous seems much the same--still a moody romp with a difficulty level nicely tuned for a man who likes but is not terrific at shooters. And Radio Allergy is simply the midpoint. Not so hard, not so accessible/easy (=a certain kind of fun).

Shooters are a weird genre. I've written at least 40,000 useless, unilluminating words on them, as their conventions seem to me to be absolutely constituative of the formal pleasures of the videogame medium: pattern-based skill challenges with increasingly interesting realtime pictures. Yet all I seem truly to respond to within the genre is that which seems to leave the devoted enthusiast community cold: Milestone, Iridion II, while the consensus good/formative pieces, like Xevious or Gradius or whatever, I find...well, too hard. And utterly unengaging.15

Also I play I lot of Alien Syndrome But that's probably for another time.

1. And my sometime lady has of late quit the city across from the city by the bay, repairing herself to Portland. More of this anent, perhaps.
2. As I am 1 stickler, by volume, not weight--indeed. No settling occurs.
3. Did you know I once sold Gottlieb pinball machines--or anyways was paid to try to do same--when they did in that market bring up a savagely pedestrian 3rd place to Bally/Williams slash Sega/Data East? 'Tis true.
4. The last one was That Bad.
5. Deformed?
6. That latter a long-craved and -deferred replacement for a book I oncet loaned a coworker. My mistake and my loss.
7. My Gibson/Stephenson sketch really really is coming soon. Please anticipate it.
8. Allow me now to welcome Substantially Worthwhiler--or Trash Idolizer--to the Reviewiera tribeclan. Moiety? Despite his laughable assertions re: Heata, we' e pleased and proud to have this man On Our Side.
9. This was a HUGE hit in Japan upon its release, and I attribute essentially all aesthetic features of JRPGS to this film. Seriously. Go watch it before you come with your Tezukafied Disney bullshit.
10. This is parallel to my take on Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, which I happen to adore despite the fact that not a second of its ample preparation time was spent giving a dang what anybody would/wouldn't like.
11. Interestingly, the localization enthusiasm/attention levels are often greater than the inspiration/excecution levels. Meanies might dub this "turd polishing". I prefer to think of it as "genre exemplars, respectfully treated".
12. This may be because marks are too busy digging on the games to write longwinded internet pieces about them, while the smarks feel pandered/catered to and therefore get suspicious any time somebody actually gives them what they want.
13. Hitting the ever-popular "not the best, but the best at things I care about" note. See also Yoot Saito.
14. A guy who deploys a preposterous control scheme, to cram home the notion that this is a light-gun game you're playing without a light gun? "Here is a game you'd forget in a week if you were playing it the way it was meant to be played. Now you'll remember it forever b/c it's almost--almost--unplayable. Ah, Killer 7. Ah, Suda 51. You're not Carpenter, you're not quite Tarantino, but I think maybe you're Paul Verhoeven. Or, if you keep making things as wonderful as No More Heroes, David Cronenberg.c
15. My suspicion is that this doesn't actually have anything to do with me not getting the genre or me misidentifying the important tropes. I think it's just a matter of certain styles combining with a certain lack of patience/skill. Which admittedly maybe means I just don't know what the fuck I'm talking about.

a. Best movie of the 90s? Good performance from De Niro? I recall exactly zero De Niro performances that weren't either vomitous self-parody (Midnight Run, say) or tainted and ruined by memories of same (Casino, for example).
b. Yes, still.
c. I really intended not to explain this claimpoint. The idea I have is here is a formalist. Which is to say a historian and traditionalist who is also obsessed--obsessed--with the potential (effects) of the medium. So Cronenberg sees the Matrix and says 'hey, an action movie can tell 2 or 3 parallel conflicting stories simultaneously'i and comes up with Existenz, which tells 2 or 3 conflicting parallel stories simultaneously, and he makes an action-thriller with almost no action, no thrills, but incredible visceral impact.

Goichi Suda does the same thing w/ Killer 7. He notes that if you control the player's movement, as in a rails shooter/light gun game, you can (a) drop in some really keen camera angles and (b) dictate the story-flow absolutely. So you get a game with the most convoluted storyii imaginable, staggeringly nifty presentation and (c) mechanics you have to fight unstintingly to access (a) and (b).

i. Maybe he saw Total Recall, too. Not impossible, I guess.
ii. "Story"?