Horror Review: Yahtzee Croshaw’s Chzo Mythos Part 2 – 7 Days a Skeptic


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Following the success of 5 Days a Stranger, Yahtzee decided that, no! A one hit wonder just wouldn’t do! He had more horror tropes to nod to, more space to cover! And speaking of space that became the setting of the futuristic sequel 7 Days a Skeptic. Most flawed of the series from a narrative standpoint, it might be, however the most horrorific of them.

Skipping a few centuries right into the the year 2385, 7 Days (a game awfully ominous when referred to like this) is played through Jonathan Somerset, experienced psychiatrist of spaceship Mephistopheles. On exploration duty for the Earth 7_Days_A_Skeptic_by_kyetxianFederation, the ship’s crew of Jonathan and five others find a sealed metal box adrift in space. Upon inspection, they find that it contains the remains of John DeFoe, character of some importance to the first game as players might recall. As the crew returns to their assigned duties, leaving the box unopened, Dr. Somerset realizes things start to grow veeeery eerieeee.

With a premise and aesthetical style reminiscent of sci-fi horror movies, particularly Alien, 7 Days is a nice shift while still retaining the characteristics that made its prequel scary. The isolation and inability to run away makes sense when away means out in the vacuum of outer space. Dream sequences still mix into reality, giving it an ethereal feel at times. And it further expands the tales of the series’ supernatural killer, giving him a more active role this time, which makes some parts really fucking scary.

It may sounds ridiculous and hamfisted at first to go from modern to futuristic in one game while still keeping the same themes, but it’s a title that does so unpretentiously. 7 Days a Skeptic is enjoyable and very very creepy and you should play it just for that. And if you don’t do it for the cold spike you feel while being chased by an insane murderer, play it for its sequels because, boy, it’s worth it. And I’ll get to that soon.

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Horror Review: Yahtzee Croshaw’s Chzo Mythos Part 1 – 5 Days a Stranger


maxresdefaultSome are not aware that Yahtzee Croshaw of The Escapist fame was somewhat famous as a developer before his venture into journalism. I myself am still a fan of his for his work making games instead of his deconstruction of them. And that’s mostly because of the Chzo Mythos Quadrilogy, a series that works as a homage to slasher horror films from the 70s and 80s, as well as an independent horror tale with firm Lovecraftian roots and damn good story.

In the first game, the more famous 5 Days a Stranger, you control Trilby, legendary gentleman thief named after a hat. Breaking into a mansion on top of a hill, a fine place to rob as horror tales go, Trilby finds that the window he entered through is inexplicably sealed. It is un-unlockable. It has become unbreakable. It is now thoroughly impassable. Even worse, he finds nothing of value, aside from four other prisoners of a strange house, equally confused with the situation.

Needless to say, people start getting murdered, it becomes a great deal of stress to the survivors as the mystery begins. Who is killing these people? How is this house so hermetically sealed? And we know why Trilby is there, but what about the others? Dream sequences start muddling into reality in-between the twists and reveals in this murder house. What they discover is strange enough to last for three other games.

5_Days_A_Stranger04Made with AGS (Adventure Game Studio) in 2003, 5 Days a Stranger is a refreshing attempt of rescuing the genre, popularized by Sierra and LucasArts with titles such as Leisure Suit Larry and Monkey Island. It’s an excelent adventure game in its own right, being by the time of its release Yahtzee’s most competent game in terms of art, and from a game design standpoint, very well thought, aside from a few pixel hunt sequences which can annoy its player into resorting to a walkthrough, though that was long common in adventure games anyway. 5 Days a Stranger went on to win several awards as an indie adventure game. This, in 2003, was quite an achievement

Inspired by eerie hentai visual novel Nocturnal Illusion (very horrorific in its own right, pornography aside) and classic horror movies like Friday the 13th, 5 Days a Stranger is part of what ascended Yahtzee into internet fame. And besides all that, eleven years ago, it was evidence of how adventure games, which had fallen so high, could still thrive. An amateur game that served as an influence to many others adventure titles released in the last few years. Also, it’s free to play. A gem of the internet, indeed.

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Horror Review: The Walking Dead Season Two


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The Walking Dead by Telltale Games scarcely needs any introduction. Widely agreed to be one of the best games of 2012, its narrative dictated by your choices punched at the player’s gut with its strong emotional content in a subtle sidestory of atonement, fatherhood, and of course, survival, in the zombie universe of The Walking Dead.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

However, the gameplay and its difficult choices were an illusion. A magic trick. As long as you looked at the story you didn’t notice how much you didn’t make a dent at the course of the storytelling. Two playthroughs will prove that the story is almost exactly the same, even if you interpreted protagonist Lee Everett two polar opposite characters. Not that it mattered, since it was made to play once; to become emotionally involved and keep your little saved game until next time, for the next season, much like the TV Series.

And so it came to pass that Season Two came out. Through the emotional roller coaster we go again, load your season one save for vaguely rewarding shoutouts to your playthrough of season one. This time the story is set two years after the its predecessor. You play as Clementine, Lee’s (now) eleven year old protegé. Having survived through the hell zombie apocalypses tend to dish out, young Clem is not the the little girl up in the treehouse anymore, having become sullen and untrusting, used to the bedouin life of scavenging and killing after society breaks.

The story does progress ostensibly slow at first. Episodes One and Two may appear as uninspired reflections of the original game and may be hard to tolerate for some, but it’s worth it. Seeing the full game, they are justified. The magic trick was being set up again, with more flair this time. As you start interpreting this little girl’s choices and behavior, you start to become emotionally involved again. Her persona becomes an extension of your own (Verily, in a way, you become an eleven-year old, which is super fucking weird). By episode three it’s all set, and you’re looking at the magic hand again, while the other supposedly weaves a defined scenario.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

This time is different though. If in the first game you (Lee) took the role of leadership, in Season Two, you (Clem) are the pivot character. People want to do what’s safer for the child, she is the motive of concern of every survivor group, and being forced to take sides ultimately creates different paths that don’t end the same way, in contrast to Season One. The multiple endings pay off. Enthralled by this story, you’re encouraged to follow through it as if you were a wildly different person, with feelings and thoughts. You feel the weight of being Clementine.

From the beggining of episode three to the end of five, the last one, Clem is swept in a crescendo of intrigue. The group is trying not to break and she is often encouraged to voice her opinions, except when she disagrees with someone, in which case it doesn’t matter because adults know better. But that may also mean that she’s agreeing with another person, and her opinion is defended as the most important because the weakest needs to feel safe. You can’t seem to fix this group, driving it further into discord in fact. You may take one side entirely or try to keep things nice and easy for everyone, and in the end you are responsible for Clem’s fate. For better or for worse. The subject “Clem” and the subject “you” are sort of interchangeable in this paragraph.

The new season is more emotionally complex and more morally ambiguous. Really, it’s about the evil that men do rather than zombies. Though not an entirely original concept, Season Two does create a very nice example of it. It’s difficult to say if it’s better or worse than the first one. It’s just different. However, it shows improvement in its immersion and narrative, and proves that Telltale is capable of carrying on the quality of their own version of The Walking Dead.

Review: The Wolf Among Us


The-Wolf-Among-UsThe Wolf Among Us was the first game released by Telltale after the extraordinary success of The Walking Dead. They had finally found their element, and decided (prudently) to stick with it. But how do you follow up a title based on a comic book series recognized by some as the best game of its year?

It’s simple. Make another title based on a comic.

Fables, the series Telltale’s following project was based upon, is about fairy tale characters we grew up reading about secretly living in our real world, in a real city, hiding their existence by creating their own society. None of that Once Upon A Time cutsey niceness. They are opressed and opressors, have severe flaws in their characters, vices and, in some cases, signs of antisocial personality disorder. That is to say, they’re often psychopaths.

I'll reconcile the shit out of you!

I’ll reconcile the shit out of you!

The game gives you control of Bigby Wolf, sheriff of the fables. As you might have guessed, previously known as the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fame. Reformed and willing to put his past behind him, Bigby tries to reconcile the poor and rebelious with the powerful and bureaucratic, in a very socially imbalanced society of mythical people.

Bigby is the most human of all characters, ironically. Given the task of upholding the law in this broken, small society where everyone knows everyone else, he lives a lonely life, being recognized and feared for doing his job, which frustrates him. His tendency to bend the rules makes the fables’ mayor office see him as a loose cannon. Bigby is a noir hero, chain smoking and full clad in trenchcoat. Bitter with having to raise his hand against unsatisfied citizens and with the impunity of guileful villains; forced against rebellion, but resentful towards the bureaucrats, he often passes his own kind of law. His humanity is revealed through conversations with the only people close to him. Colin, one of the three pigs he used to terrorize, and Snow White, secretary of the mayor office and object of his affections.

the-wolf-among-us-004The amount of deviance from the path of justice in the game vary depending on your playing style. As you solve a series of murders during the span of the game, you decide how violent Bigby will be towards everyone, from the mostly innocent to the very guilty. However, this is not a story about choices like The Walking Dead, but about people leading double lifes. By taking fables, one of our most powerful cultural symbols of purity and innocence, and twisting and corrupting them, The Wolf Among Us is a modern and allegorical story with heavy noir influences, with fantasy and magic playing a part in the narrative.

It is not without flaws, however. It should be noted that, as the game needs a central story, the mystery of the series of murders obfuscate this amazing world, and one purely interested in the big picture; the unjust society of the fantastical, would be better served by reading the Fables comics. The Wolf Among Us has lots of ups far too early in the game and a few too many downs too late into it. It serves as a decent mystery thriller, and more importantly as an origin story for the comic book series, and it does have absolutely thrilling moments. However, it doesn’t bring much new to the table of longtime Fables fans other than focusing on one of the most interesting characters of its mythos.

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As a standalone story, The Wolf Among Us has amazing action sequences and is a very exciting story up until the last quarter where it disappoints. As part of the Fables series, and possibly first chapter of others to come, it’s a perfect entry point and highly recommended. The complexity of its premise and excellence of some of its moments more than compensates for the lackluster closure of this first chapter. If that’s not enough to convince you, play it for Bigby Wolf, who might just be the coolest detective in videogame history.

Trailer: The Walking Dead: 400 Days


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One of the most critically-acclaimed video game titles of 2012 returns sometime in late 2013 with a new season of episodic content. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games announced at E3 earlier today that new DLC content will be arriving sometime later this year.

This new season will be called The Walking Dead: 400 Days and it looks to take adventure point-and-click success story of 2012 further into Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse world. There’s no word on whether a certain Clementine will make an appearance in this new season, but the producers from tElltale Games have made it known that they plan to try and get the video game more in line with the tv series on AMC and maybe even get the acting talent from the show in showing up on the game.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days is set to be released in late 2013 for the Xbox 36, PS3, PS Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and iOS.

VGM Entry 10: The RPG


VGM Entry 10: The RPG
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

The music of Super Mario Bros. was also somewhat unique in that it merged flawlessly with a game which had nothing to do with sports or space aliens. The electronic nature of early video game music generated futuristic sounds, and a whole ton of early games being space shooters, the music naturally lent itself to synthesis. Konami’s 1983 space shooter Gyruss is a perfect example of a harmonized audiovisual experience of this sort. But good synthesis also meant stylistic relativity. Not every game on the market involved shooting down space invaders, outrunning enemies through a maze, or bashing in faces with a pixilated club. Many innovative new ideas were in the works which would require a very different sort of soundtrack.

The style of most lasting consequence for video game music was the adventure/role playing game, and it has an extensive history. Link did not spring forth from the head of Shigeru Miyamoto clad in shining armor, and someone somewhere out there still goes around telling people that he was larping as Legolas years before this fancy shmancy new “Dungeons & Dragons” game came along. I think it correct to say that The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest, both released in 1986, were respectively the first adventure game and the first RPG to have massive market success, but both distinct styles emerged from long-standing traditions, and their music was a sort of natural consequence of the nature of the games, not a single individual’s revolutionary new idea.

All joking aside, if you want to go all the way back, you really do have to look at D&D. The first computer RPGs were under construction less than a year after the pen and paper game’s initial publication (TSR, 1974), and they were directly inspired by it and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. These were private affairs, designed by programmers in their spare time, and there were quite a few of them. Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood’s dnd, Rusty Rutherford’s pedit5, and Don Daglow’s Dungeon seem to be the most frequently cited surviving 1974-1976 creations, and there are plenty of rumors of slightly earlier lost works.

A lot of the features of “traditional” video RPGs are direct descendents of tabletop games. They evolved fairly linearly, reaching a proto-modern format by the time of Richard Garriott’s Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (California Pacific) and Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead’s Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (Sir-tech Software), both released for the Apple II in 1981.

RPG-esque evolutions in Japan were far more diverse, but perhaps a bit less exciting. With no D&D tradition rendering particular game features canonical from the very beginning, developers were more experimental, merging all sorts of features from western RPGs, simulations, strategy games, and standard action types. The earliest examples are quite difficult to find samples of, perhaps in part because of the language barrier, but the tradition does appear to have begun a bit later than in the west. Koji Sumii’s Bokosuka Wars, released by ASCII for the Sharp X1 home computer in 1983, is an interesting example of a strategy game set in a Zelda-esque overworld of forests, mountains, and castle walls.

Yoshio Kiya’s Dragon Slayer, released for the PC-8801 by Nihon Falcom in 1984, is a more obvious inspiration for The Legend of Zelda, with its strong emphasis on puzzle solving, though the graphics are deplorable for its time and the sound a travesty. (Scott Joplin? Really?) But whatever their flaws, these games were the prototypes. They set the stage for great things to come. And at least in the west, RPG music would appear on the stage in fairly perfected form in the first instance.