Ethical Gamer: La-Mulana

Writing a review for La-Mulana might be every bit as hard as actually playing it.

Games made by fans of the particular genre of video games known as “Castleroids” tend to be exacting, grueling affairs if done poorly; exacting, grueling and COMPELLING affairs if done exceedingly well. La-Mulana, in both its original (freeware) form and its 2012 remake manages to achieve just about the perfect balance of difficulty and depth, even where it leaves me needing frequent breaks. The Japanese indie outfit Nigoro originally created the game to be a PC retro game that apes an MSX game — the MSX being the Japanese Microsoft home PC during the Famicom era. In fact, Konami and Hudson Soft developed heavily for the system before moving on to the true consoles, including such titles as Metal Gear (an MSX exclusive, at the time).

I’m currently playing the 2012 remake of La-Mulana, having only briefly attempted a playthrough of the original game. Its graphics bring to mind a 32-bit game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, only much cuter and more cartoony. Your character, the one-block-high Professor Lemeza Kosugi, is a Japanese-American ninja-slash-archaeologist. The “ninja” part is evident in his choice of sub-weapons like caltrops and shuriken, and the “archaeologist” part is evident chiefly in his Indiana Jones attire and bullwhip main weapon.

And, I suppose, the setting — you’ve travelled to La-Mulana, the “cradle of civilization” and evidently a single ruin that contains references to numerous world cultures including Aztec, Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian and Japanese in a sort of Stargate sort of way. With your bullwhip, laptop and a million shuriken (which you have to buy at a gold apiece), you’ll have to unravel the mysteries of the ruins in order to beat your father and professional rival to the punch.

Content note: I complain about another game by this dev that involves “creepshots” type sexual assault. Highlight where the note is to read it.
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Ethical Gamer: Screencheat

Do you remember playing split-screen multiplayer competitive Goldeneye for the N64? I do.

Do you remember people getting horribly upset because you’d recognize what parts of the level they’re in and zero in on them like a guided missile? Yeah, that was me too.

Here’s a game by a dev team called Samurai Punk that takes that slightly-unethical video gaming tactic, one that’d surely win you a swirlie from the bully up the street even while he does it to you constantly, and turns it into a legitimate game mechanic.
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Ethical Gamer: Mercenary Kings

Welcome to my new side-project: The Ethical Gamer. As a hardened Social Justice Warrior (Tank spec) who just hit Level 47, who also happens to be a person who spends an inordinate amount of time on video games and has purchased a large number of Humble Bundles leading to an expansive Steam library, I figured I might as well jam these two facets of my life together somehow. That somehow, as it turns out, is reviews of video games from a social justice perspective.

What could possibly go wrong?

First up, Mercenary Kings. A game that, by all rights, I should absolutely adore, but I’m finding a major struggle just to bring myself to play any more.

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What alignment are you?

I think this is very proximate to our discussions about gender, given that gender and sex are both social constructs and the problems we’re seeing with having in-depth discussions about these constructs being spectra rather than binary is that it seems those people who can’t answer “trans women are women” think this means we’re creating and reinforcing a binary rather than demanding a spectrum of genders.

Good and evil, order and chaos, are two axes describing spectra of behaviour related to social standing and pro-social behaviour. Dungeons and Dragons has a mechanic wherein you can assign your character Good, Neutral, or Evil, and Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic, making a 3×3 grid of alignments. It’s certainly more interesting than a binary Good/Evil choice (or, say, Paragon / Renegade, or Light Side / Dark Side), and it means very little outside of the scope of interactions with other human beings. It’s still by necessity an abstraction. Something like the Kinsey Scale for hetero/homosexuality being a 1-9, or Dawkins’ atheist/theist 0-7 scale — neither of those describes the panoply of positions one can stake coherently.

But, still interesting. Take this alignment test to see how you stack up. A number of my friends (including my wife) got Chaotic Good. I got Neutral Good:

A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Yeah, that does sound a lot like me. Including the sentence fragment in the last sentence! (I assume the “when” is superfluous.)

Pause for station identification

I have the Mock The Movie transcripts still to finish — CA7746 is sending me subtitle files galore, and I have yet to upload them because they’re always a bit of a pain to attach within WordPress and link appropriately. (The fact that I have to upload them as .txt instead of .srt is not the least problem.)

After that, as promised, I’ll be doing short reviews of my cornucopia of Steam games, starting with, oh, let’s say Mercenary Kings. And don’t worry, they’ll be reviews from my Evil SJW Perspective.

In the meantime, let me remind you where you are.

Welcome to Lousy Canuck.

I like turtles.

Batman: Arkham Knight on PC pulled from Steam (and a possible fix?)

Apparently, a bunch of folks are having a terrible time getting Batman: Arkham Knight for PC to work. It’s glitchy and unplayable to most. As a result, WB had it pulled from Steam until they could fix the bugs. They are also offering refunds.

Dear Batman: Arkham Knight PC owners,

We want to apologize to those of you who are experiencing performance issues with Batman: Arkham Knight on PC. We take these issues very seriously and have therefore decided to suspend future game sales of the PC version while we work to address these issues to satisfy our quality standards. We greatly value our customers and know that while there are a significant amount of players who are enjoying the game on PC, we want to do whatever we can to make the experience better for PC players overall.

Thank you to those players who have already given valuable feedback. We are continuously monitoring all threads posted in the Official Batman: Arkham Knight Community and Steam forums, as well as any issues logged with our Customer Support (http://support.wbgames.com/). If you purchased your copy of the game and are not satisfied with your experience, then we ask for your patience while these issues are resolved. If desired, you can request a refund at https://help.steampowered.com (Steam refund policies can be found here: http://store.steampowered.com/steam_refunds) or the retail location where you purchased the game.

The Batman: Arkham fans have continually supported the franchise to its current height of success, and we want to thank you for your patience as we work to deliver an updated version of Batman: Arkham Knight on PC so you can all enjoy the final chapter of the Batman: Arkham series as it was meant to be played.

I got the game for free with the laptop I just bought that has an Nvidia card that happened to be running a promotion. I encountered a bit of glitchiness when I first launched it, but I overcame that fairly quickly. Judging by reports, what I encountered may not be the only real issue at hand. Only a fraction of people seem to be complaining about what I was seeing. But what I did was fairly easy and fairly repeatable, from what I can tell.

The specific behaviour I saw was that when you launch the game, it would immediately minimize itself. Once minimized, if you click on the icon to bring it back up to the foreground, it would hiccup repeatedly to a black screen, exactly like this:

The solution for me was to use a gamepad, launch the game, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to get to the security options in Windows. Choose Task Manager. You may have to do this more than once to get it to bring Task Manager to focus.

As soon as I managed that feat, suddenly the game in the background was running smoothly, with the Windows task bar and Task Manager in the foreground! Every time I clicked back onto the Batman window, though, it would revert to its buggy behaviour. So, I moved Task Manager out of the way, picked up my gamepad, and went into the graphics options, and tried selecting my current screen resolution (1920×1080), Windowed Borderless mode. Then I dared to click back into Batman — and it worked! It also works for subsequent launches. The issue appears to be with the fullscreen, and possibly with some bad window management as a result. It might be possible to induce this specific display mode through the command line launch options or some INI file, but I haven’t gone digging.

Seriously, if this turns out to fix all your problems, then it’s a shoddy implementation of windowing on Rocksteady’s third party PC porter’s fault, which should have been easily caught and (hopefully) easily fixed in QA — you DID do QA, right? It also only appears to happen with certain Nvidia cards, from all reports I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a number that report that over time, the game will eventually start crashing. I’ve only played through the first Batmobile AR mission, so I can’t tell if that’ll happen, but long-running games eventually crashing sounds a lot like memory management issues to me — some garbage collection isn’t being done, or something.

I still can’t get over the fact that this is a Batman game where you shoot tanks with missiles though. And where the first car you have to fire on actually does have a person in it, you make it flip, and it’s only through the grace of plot that the dude — a banged up wreck after being in a horrific missile-induced rollover — climbs out for you to interrogate.

Exploring the wasteland in a red dress

I’m just finishing a playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas, which I bought when it came on sale as a bundle with all the DLC — none of which I’d played my first time through. In this playthrough, I’m playing a female Courier (I’ve long said that if I always choose playing a woman in the games I get that give me the choice, I might come close to 40% female representation!). I have just completed Dead Money, during which playthrough I obtained Dean Domino’s tuxedo — on him, it’s a three piece with bowtie and albeit dirty, still looks damn dapper after two hundred years of consecutive use by its previous ghoul owner.

I put it on my Courier, and like the formal wear the tuxedo is based on, it becomes a pink dress. It’s still CALLED “Dean’s Tuxedo”, mind. But nothing in this game is more jarring than taking a piece of armour off of someone and having it appear completely different when you try to wear it yourself. Something similar would happen if I was playing a male Courier and I tried to wear Vera’s rose-adorned dress. Suddenly, it’s a red and black tuxedo, looking nothing like the piece of fabric I picked off that skeleton.

Today, I saw rumblings that apparently that sort of clothing metamorphosis will no longer happen in Fallout 4, which should have been a happy improvement in the series. That news was incidental, though, obvious only in a segment of trailer displaying a burly male protagonist playing dress-up for his dog through a series of bad-ass and silly outfits then suddenly the outfit is “red dress with a sledgehammer over one shoulder”. (At 9 seconds in, so you don’t have to wait long.)


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Actually, let’s talk about ethics in Watch_Dogs

Let’s all say it: Ayden Pearce is morally repugnant. Errant Signal does an excellent and thorough job itemizing exactly why.

I had been interested in this game, and in the concept of hacking-as-superpower, but when it turned into yet another white-guy-does-whatever-he-wants story, where every moral decision boils down to “shoot the guy or blow up the guy”, where you’re given tidbits of information about the lives and dreams and desires of each person you’re systematically murdering, where you’re essentially obligated to spy on and not intervene in situations where you could actually legitimately make a difference because they’re just cut-scenes inserted for flavour, I couldn’t bring myself to play.

It’s like all the power they give you is misdirected, where you can’t fix the system but you can take advantage of it for your own gain. Where you become judge, jury and executioner for crimes that haven’t yet been committed, and you let other grievous crimes go entirely unpunished because you, omniscient privileged douchebag, cannot be moved to actually do anything. And when you DO do something about an injustice, it’s the wrong thing entirely, against the wishes of everyone around you. Where you’re both the cause and the violent solution to the problems in your life. Where your actions are supposed to be good but your opponents’ actions are bad, despite the fact that you’re doing a thousand times objectively eviller things as a matter of course.

If we’re going to talk about ethics in video games, this is ultimately a Douchebag Hacker Empowerment Fantasy simulator, and it doesn’t remotely touch on any of the things that need to be discussed with regard to the disturbing surveillance culture we’re in. I can get empowerment fantasies in far less problematic worlds than this, without feeling like I’m railroaded into the Evil playthrough of a game like Infamous where the moral choices are approximately “save the box of kittens, or stuff them with grenades and throw them off a building indiscriminately”.

War never changes, but it gets a bit more saturated

FALLOUT 4. Now in Technicolor! It’s going to take place in Boston, because we don’t have enough New England as yet in the Fallout lore. *snrk*

I am so happy this is not an MMO. That would have been a monumental mistake, I think. And I really hope they don’t fragment the content the way Rocksteady just did with Batman: Arkham Knight and the pre-order bonuses.

For the uninitiated, the Fallout universe is not, actually, about an alt history with the Cold War resulting in the apocalypse, believe it or not. It sure looks that way, though, with its 1950s arrested development. Instead, in this universe, nobody invents the transistor during WW2, and instead we invest all our tech development on the vacuum tube. The Great War happens in 2077, over resources, because humanity never gets away from the larger and more resource-consumptive technologies. For some reason, culture is slowed drastically, and by the time of the Great War, America is roughly in the 1950s, only with a Mr. Handy helper robot in every kitchen. After the apocalypse — when India, China, Russia, North Korea and America all nuke the living fuck out of each other (and everyone else, for funzies) — the only survivors are those who went underground into Vaults. They emerge to a wasteland that is populated by mutants, ghouls, raiders and the very dregs of humanity.

I’m happy with this incarnation of the Wasteland. It is significantly closer to Fallout 1 and 2 in looks than 3 ever was, and at the moment, during my replay of Fallout: New Vegas, the only way I can stand to look at it for any length of time is with the Imaginator plugin that offers different colour palettes. (I am presently using the Trek Vaseline Cam palette, which makes the Mojave look a lot like that planet where Kirk fights the Gorn. You know the one.) So I’m looking forward to scavenging the wastelands with more varied landscapes, and with my dog inevitably named Dogmeat at my side.

The only way they could have made this better — at least in my mind — is to have the generic character at the end be a woman, because it’s *just* a generic character, and there’s nothing holding you to picking that specific dude they showed. Could you imagine the outrage from certain quarters? The only way I could think of to make hateful antifeminists lose their shit more than that, though, would be to force the character creation to only allow you to create women. In either case the resultant rage could power me for centuries.

Enjoying problematic video games

One of my favorite game franchises has long been Final Fantasy, much to the chagrin of some elitist nerds for whom the series of JRPGs represents an erosion of the concept of the RPG. Regardless, its take on mythological creatures, even in its Super Nintendo days, served to clue me in on a small piece of context with regard to religion, from which I synthesised a deeper understanding of religion as mythology. (I’d detailed this in my deconversion story in Mission Creep — it was Behemoth and Leviathan in Final Fantasy 2 that gave me the clues I needed, if you’re wondering.)

That’s right, the video game franchise actually helped me to become an atheist — perhaps not singlehandedly, but it was certainly some scaffolding for my building my epistemology. So, even with its warts, of which there are numerous, and even with the side-eye I get from other gamers, it holds a place in my heart.

And yet, I still must criticise, even if I know that doing so might paint me as a studio-shill Social Justice Warrior journalist-sans-journal, and thus a target for the culture of entitlement that is GamerGate.

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