Archive for September, 2009

GUMO #122 - Working With Those 'Abuv You'

One more from Alex. I suppose I should start thinking of something to draw for after that.

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Marshlands

Pastoria City emerges from the darkness and the gloom, an orange glow silhouetting it against the night sky. I stumble towards it, beaten, exhausted, dead on my feet.
The night air is quiet, the only sound the wind through the leaves. The occasional scream far off shatters the still silence.
As I get closer, I can see that the city has already been destroyed. The monsters have brought most of the buildings to ruin, with several others ablaze. The flames crackle loudly in the night, the screams of humans long since silenced.
I stop just inside the city limits to take stock of the damage. From what I can see in the flicking firelight, the attack began from the marshes Pastoria is built on top of. The Pokémon must have left the safety of the swamps and swept through the city, cleansing all traces of life as they went. The ground is dotted with footprints of all sizes, some small – possibly Woopers – some massive, the crushing feet of Tropius.
I search around for any clues at all that might lead me to Dawn.
A human hand pokes out of the ruins of a house. I shift some of the rubble aside to see the remains of the Move Tutor. His head has been caved in, but not before a Carnivine choked him, leaving thick red welts across his throat.
I lay his body back down in the ruins, praying that he died quickly, at least.
A scream, close. Off towards the marsh. Someone is still alive!
I have to save them!
I plunge into the marshes, heading towards the sounds.

Months of Agony in a Second-Long Sound Effect

You know that feeling when you’re really, really full? When your jeans start cutting into your belly and if you don’t undo them, you’re going to explode? Well, it turns out that actually there’s a really simple solution to this, and it’s been handed to us by games. The easy way to get around our wonderful first world ability to eat until we’re sick is to simply hide from the view of the plate for a few seconds. That way you’ll be able to tackle another course of steak in just a moment.

Naturally, I’m being an idiot and we all know it. Hiding from plates for a few seconds won’t solve a damn thing. But the problem is; why do games seem to think this is true? It’s against the course of logic. A few years ago all you had to do to evade an enemy in a game was run around a corner and hide behind a crate until they forgot what they were doing and went back to making themselves easy targets. Even if they’d seen your footprints, found the corpse of their best friend and noticed your graffiti on the walls screaming, I WUZ ERE LOLZ, it didn’t matter a jot to them because they had some patrolling to do.

Back then it was more to do with internal memory than anything else. So what if a guard walked away after unknowingly giving chase? So what if a corpse vanished just seconds after they hit the ground? As long as it kept the game chugging along at the same pace, the gamers didn’t care, and neither did the developers.

But nowadays there is a bigger problem in gaming. The limited internal memory has been almost completely excised from gaming – what with the Blu Ray discs containing room for 50 gigabytes and Wii games drawn on cardboard and animated by ADD-inflicted children – and little room is left for error. Guards now chase you a damn sight longer than they used to. Corpses remain on the floor for the duration of the level. But something much more evil and irritating has crept in to take their place.

I am talking about the recharging of health. A few years ago, a chunky health bar placed somewhere on screen gave a terrifying warning of your own impending mortality. Now there is only a faint red glimmer at the edge of the screen and a thumping vibration in your hands to tell you that you’re squatting on death’s doorstep, begging the reaper to try and chase you off his property. Instead of heath kits, medpacks, medics or magic fairies, the only way to recharge your ailing, bullet-ridden body is to simply not get hit for a few seconds – thus, you must hide behind a crate once again.

Who decided this was such a good idea? When did it creep into games, this idea that removing a permanent warning sign would be a great step forward? It’s one of those things that just makes you scratch your head in wonderment as to exactly why it’s been so readily accepted by the gaming community at large.

The humble health bar was a great thing, simply because there was nothing you could do about it. It sat there at the top, side, or bottom of the screen (or, in one case, on the protagonist’s breasts, forcing you to look down at yourself to check your current status) and every time you got hit, a chunk got knocked off. It was gut-wrenching, intense and forced you to constantly be aware of absolutely everything that was going on around you, to the point where every gamer can remember every single detail about most of the games they grew up playing.

Back before the health bar, there was very little. Sonic had his gold rings. Mario had growth spurts. The Ghouls n’ Ghosts knight had his pants. But the spirit was there: watch your every step! Be aware of your situation at all times!

Nowadays most games have adopted this ridiculously offensive notion that simply ducking out of a hail of bullets is a good idea to inspire you to keep playing. It’s a stupid system that detracts from the credibility of the game. I can understand that maybe the red mist drawing in across your vision is realistic, as is the ‘heartbeat’ vibrating in your hands, but what exactly is realistic about sitting down and taking a time-out?

Heath kits were never a realistic idea – they were always completely absurd, after all, they were just grey boxes with bright red crosses on them – but it was never about that. If you were shot for real, you’d see yourself looking at an extremely long and painful recovery process. That’s the health kit represents – months of agony, hospitals, doctors, unattractive nurses, stitches, x-rays, tutting relatives, sympathetic looks from work colleagues, time off to heal, madness from watching TV alone, lashing out at a loved one, divorce from a loved one, watching the loved one take the kids with them to their new partner they met at whatever event it was you didn’t go to because you were in the goddamn hospital having shrapnel taken out of your arm by a doctor who kept looking at you funny because you’d been shot and he reckoned you were a gang member who had it coming. That’s the health kit, right there. All that trauma compressed into one neat second-long sound effect. Not realistic, not in the slightest, but far and away more enjoyable and intense than the regenerating heath of today.

The main problem with regenerating health is that it lets developers off the hook for whatever bad design decisions they might make. Most games with regenerating health feature incredibly hard and unfair sections that get you stuck like peanut butter to a prostitute’s thigh. Night after night, you’ll wade against a horde of nigh-impossible enemies, constantly hiding to recharge, only to be killed because you needed one more second to collect yourself. If these games featured health kits – limited use, Jesus-I-only-have-two-more-left health kits – you can be damn sure the developers would put a little more thought into what they were doing. Instead, we’re left with offices full of giggling developers, throwing in ludicrously unfair sections over and over again, simply claiming, ‘It’ll look awesome to play, man!’ Even multiplayer is let down by this – what fun is it if the person who killed you is totally fine just a few seconds after your body rots into nothingness? And don’t even get me started on co-op gaming’s ‘tag, you’re alive!’ nonsense.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hide from landlord until he forgets I owe him rent. After all, I’m pretty sure one of us has a limited internal memory and it sure as hell isn’t me.

Volume Five: Redemption

401 – Orientation

Spoiler warning.

So here we are – six months after the most unsatisfying Volume yet, Tim Kring and his team return with more superhero-based drama. Time to ask the same question we keep having to ask – is it time to finally let our Heroes go for good?

Six weeks have passed since Nathan’s funeral/ bullshit plot contrivance and a lot’s happened, as the opening shows us. Peter’s gone back to being a nurse and spends his time running around New York saving lives. He’s basically become Superman, short of ripping his shirt open to reveal a costume. Bennett spends his time alone, mourning the loss of his wife while Claire goes to college. Hiro and Ando are back on comedy duty, having invented the hilarious ‘Dial-A-Hero’ business, which, as Hiro’s sister Kimiko is quick to remind them, is failing miserably. Angela is trying to restart the Company with the slightly unwilling Bennett, while Nathan is beginning to lose control over Sylar and isn’t sure what’s going on. Matt Parkman is back together with his wife, raising their baby together.

The majority of the episode is spent setting up the rest of the storyline for the Volume. Once the token boring ‘we’re just trying to get our lives back to normal’ routine is out the way, the visible structure is revealed and it could be a good one.

This time, we’re following the antics of the Sullivan Bros travelling circus, led by Samuel. He’s got a vast team of superheroes with his already – most notably, his girlfriend – she can create tattoos of people and know everything about them – and Edgar, the super-fast knife-wielding assassin. The story whips along with a tidy pace, putting most of the characters in the right place for the rest of the story, but also getting the interesting ones off to a good start, like the shaky alliance between Tracey and Bennett.

Predictably, the most boring chunks of storyline are given to Claire and Nathan, who spend the episode making the audience wonder quite why they’re still in the show, having contributed nothing to the overall storyline since Villains. Claire goes to college which, like every college on American TV, is nothing like real life, gets an annoying roommate, makes friends with the upcoming lesbian lover and goes to classes with professors that read the same literature as this writer. Nathan spends most of the episode behind a desk, wondering why he can create lightening and summons cups of coffee to his hands at will. We all know it’s just delaying Sylar’s overpowered return, so hurry up.

What’s left is a tidy variety of really good memorable scenes, the first in a long time. Bennett drowning in his car, the Haitian’s stunning three seconds of screen time (seriously, it’s short, but his entrance is one of the best ever), Edgar getting choked by Samuel’s tattoo – bizarre but great – and the Tracey/ Edgar battle, featuring some of the coolest CGI effects yet seen in the show.

Also, a thousand points to the writers for killing off Denko in a manner fitting the rage the audience feels for his abysmal character. One down…

By the end, you’ll be left with the impression that the show is going somewhere good – again. Sure, there are some predictable elements – Hiro’s plot device photo, Samuel’s plot device compass – but there are just as many tantalising morsels to keep you going. It might not be as ballsy as the opening of Villains, or even Genesis, but it’s a damn sight better than Fugitives. A good start – keep it up, guys. There’s life left in the Heroes yet.

Four stars

Part 2

Picking straight up from the cliffhangers laid so carefully in the last part, the episode feels a lot slower than the opener – surely that’s the wrong way round?

Claire’s roommate has apparently committed suicide, so her and future lesbian lover Gretchen spend their time pondering physics and trying out a bit of low-rent CSI. Matt is now seeing Sylar everywhere, which gets fobbed off with the idea that Sylar fought back against Matt invading his mind at the end of the last season and now has a place in Matt’s psyche. Whatever – he just spends ages taunting the detective and trying to get him to use his powers. This strand could go somewhere good, as long as they have the balls to go the whole nine yards and do an ‘evil Parkman’ storyline.

Bennett walks in on Denko’s body and deduces in five seconds that there’s a key hidden in his stomach, setting up the episode’s best scene – a knife fight between Edgar and Peter, both moving at super speeds. Later on, Bennett is stabbed and left for dead over the plot device compasses that keep on popping up, which sets up the most frustrating part of the story so far – a blossoming romance between Tracey and Bennett. Didn’t Tim Kring swear off romantic storylines after the disastrous Hiro/ Yaeko mess in Volume Two?

Aside from the above, the little remaining aspects of the episode feature Hiro somehow being pulled back in time and having his mind slowly warped by Samuel, while Peter continues trying to act like a noble prick.

It’s very disappointing that things have slowed down so much just when you want them to kick into high gear. On the other hand, exactly where the story is going is a complete mystery, and that’s a huge plus.

Three stars

GUMO #121 - Clinging to Sanity

Alex’s recollections of working for an evil IT company will keep us entertained just a little while longer. Please enjoy the Last of the Mohicans theme song:

 

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GUMO #120 - Phone Call From Libby

I’m probably going to have to sort out my schedule somewhen soon. In the meantime, I’ve decided to go the opposite way with the comic and have fun drawing as opposed to spending so much time and energy learning Photoshop.

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Precipice

Posted: September 16, 2009 in Sunday Funday
Tags: , , ,

Precipice

I run into the black night, the wind and rain pounding on my exposed skin like thousands of tiny ice-cold fists. I run through a forest, surrounded by trees on all sides. The pounding of the rain is all I can hear.
The dead face of the Mr Mime is starting to wrinkle and tear from the weather. I stop for a second beneath a tree, breathing hard, and reach up to the Pokémon’s face.
I get my fingers around the torn edges of the skin; feel the serrations from the knife I used to tear it off just hours before. I pull.
The black goo has hardened into a strange kind of glue. It burns like a bitch as I pull. My skin is being pulled tightly, stretched, almost torn…
I scream in pain as the dead flesh finally comes away from my own. The goo feels disgusting. Hopefully the rain will wash that shit off me.
I throw the dead Pokémon’s face away into the undergrowth. What the fuck am I going to do?
A heavy rustling in the bushes near me. A man bursts out, running frantically. He stops a few metres away, looking back behind him, out of breath. I’m hidden in the shadows, about to step out and help him.
A Shinx crashes through the undergrowth where he came from and stops. It glares at him, eyes burning red with foul hatred. A small static shock flickers on its wet blue fur for a second.
The man’s words are drowned out by the thundering rain. His mouth seems to bellow as he backs away from the beast, trying to put some distance between them. His hand goes into a back pocket. My heart’s in my mouth. I want to scream at him, warn him, say something to him. Please, don’t do what I think you’re going to…
He pulls out a Pokéball. Throws it on the ground.
A Bidoof erupts from the tiny red and white prison. It sniffs the air for a moment, sensing blood. It locks eyes with the Shinx. The two seem to be… grinning? There is amusement in those red eyes.
The man points forward, shouting. He seems to be willing his Pokémon to attack the wild creature.
The Bidoof turns to his master. I can’t see what look it has, but there is confusion on the human’s face.
It rushes forward and sinks its huge beaver-like teeth into the man’s ankle. He screams so loudly I can hear him over the rain. His arms flail wildly as he falls to the ground, kicking at the mouth of the chewing Bidoof.
The Shinx jumps onto the man’s chest. A brief flash of electricity shocks the man, who starts shaking uncontrollably.
The Bidoof pulls its head sharply to one side and spits the man’s foot onto the floor. Blood pools out, mixing with the falling rain and drenched grass, lost in the darkness.
The Bidoof hops away from the man as the Shinx sinks its claws into the writhing human’s face and charges up.
It releases a huge burst of lightening right into his face. The man gives a final twitch and stops moving.
The Bidoof picks up the severed foot and runs off into the undergrowth. The Shinx follows it, glee etched into its face.
I step out from my shadows and run to the fallen man.
His eyes are shut, burns visible around the claw marks in his cheeks.
He reaches out for me, one bloodshot eye opening. He tries to speak but blood dribbles down his chin.
There’s nothing I can do for him. I keep moving.
I run into the black night, the wind and rain pounding on my exposed skin like thousands of tiny ice-cold fists. I run through a forest, surrounded by trees on all sides. The pounding of the rain is all I can hear.
A sign ahead of me reads, PASTORIA CITY AHEAD.
The night swallows me.