Saturday, December 25, 2010

Star Wars teaches us to hate Christmas, life

This post originally contained the 2010 version of my post on The Star Wars Holiday Special. Click here for for the current, expanded 2011 edition. Happy Life Day to you all!

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Here comes an angry mob of new challengers: Part 1

Thanks to my highly-placed game industry contacts and arduous journalistic efforts- a description I like to think captures the intrepid spirit of Pointless Side Quest better than the more literally accurate "we're friends because I went to elementary school with his cousin, and I asked him if he was interested in writing something on my blog when I was at his apartment watching Kingdom of the Spiders"-  we at Pointless Side Quest are proud to feature  a two-part guest post by Kevin Folliard. Kevin is the writer of the popular video game movie spoof Press Start from Dark Maze Studios, its forthcoming sequel, and the ongoing online animated series Press Start Adventures. Today, we join him on his recent, ill-fated expedition into the very heart of darkness, otherwise known as Capcom's Chicago Fight Club, in search of an early close-in look at the newest entry in the Marvel Vs. Capcom series.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3:  Fate of Two Worlds.  Imagine my enthusiasm when I learned of Capcom's Chicago Fight Club event, showcasing the latest build of the game right in my hometown!

Growing up as an introspective gaming nerd, a good part of what got me through the doldrums of high school was looking forward to the next blockbuster fighting game.  As a comic book geek and a Street Fighter junkie, there was no series throughout the late nineties that brought me greater joy than the Marvel Vs. Capcom franchise.  All the mechanics and conventions of my favorite games,  bright vibrant animation, and my favorite American superheroes.  That's why, ten years later, I've become giddy with anticipation over the revival with youth and exuberance, free Capcom merchandise, and a good time for all, right?  Not so much.

Allow me to take you on a journey, my friends.  A journey that reveals the depths to which obsessive anticipation can bring you.  The spectacle of five hundred whiney, greedy, impatient fan boys and a complete and utter disregard for the words "organization" and "crowd control" have proven to me once again that I am officially, unequivocally, a mature functioning adult.

On the afternoon of September 21st my cousin and I set out for a shady warehouse on Wolcott Avenue. (Interesting choice, Capcom.  You do realize this wasn't a real fight club right?)  There we meet up with a good friend who had generously purchased us fast food.  A wise strategy, as we would need sustenance to last the night.  The event was to run from 8-11PM, and the first one-hundred receive special "swag".  So arriving at 6PM seemed reasonable, right?

Oh me of little faith.  The truly obsessed and devoted had arrived at 3PM, and received special wrist bands indicating their placement in line.  Fair is fair.  Furthermore the line in the small warehouse courtyard winded from the entrance and snaked back and forth at least eight times.  It would be a long wait, but at least my fellow gamers  had formed a neat and manageable line.  Slowly but surely, we'd all make it in and play the game in a calm,
efficient, and respectable manner.  After all, people who are obsessed with video games are often social outcasts, but ones with mutual respect for one another, an intellectual and progressive brotherhood of upstanding citizens, right?  But as Jurassic Park's Ian Malcolm taught me long ago…

Chaos is inevitable.

Enter Capcom USA:  master planner.  An inaudible set of directions indicated for the chosen first one-hundred to step forward and receive their coveted promotional crap, and it begins.  Four or five gamers, sweaty with anticipation, decided that with this new development they could no longer stand to be in the neat and organized line that had formed throughout the courtyard, and so they bum-rushed the entrance, prompting a lemming-like stampede in almost everybody.

When it was over, we had all been compressed like sardines.  Fronts had become backs.   Left had become right.  Yet some strange compact semblance of the line remained.  Apparently we were all respectable citizens until some guy says something we don't fully understand.  (In the future Capcom, invest in a megaphone.)  It wasn't clear what the coveted swag actually was from our vantage point.  But I conjecture had it that it involved some kind of eco-friendly Capcom shopping bag.  Ah well… I guess I won't be browsing the aisles at Trader Joe's with a Servbot tote-bag anytime soon.

Already it was clear that it would be a long, uncomfortable night.  After a drawn out-process, the chosen one hundred were beckoned forth, and the line dissipated completely into a crowd of seething, rabid fanatics.  My rational-minded companions and I shuffled forward to accommodate a frenzy far more brutal than a mob of Resident Evil zombies.  Somewhere to the right a Capcom grunt held fistfuls of special wristbands, intended originally for the second and third batches of hundred to arrive in order but now doled out at random to any screaming nutjob with the ability to push and shove like a preschooler.

When the frenzy settled and the wristbanded chosen were slowly but surely shuffled into the promised land, my compatriots and I found ourselves a good seven feet from the entrance.  Surrounded by my hardcore gaming "brethren," I suddenly felt about as alien as the Silver Surfer.  There was:

The gentleman in front of me with the "I *heart* vaginas" hat.

His pal with the "I love boobies" wristband (apparently not the kind of wristband that Capcom acknowledges).

The sweaty vein-busting loud mouth demanding that he be let in next because he is wearing a Marvel t-shirt and an official Street Fighter IV Ryu headband.

The terrified and dejected youngster who had collapsed on the ground behind me, hugging his knees and rocking back and forth, forcing me to balance on an angle to avoid falling on him and crushing his neck.

 A self-righteous fighting game fanatic behind me snapped and suddenly lost faith: "This is EXPLETIVE DELETED ridiculous!  What the EXPLETIVE DELETED are they doing?! EXPLETIVE DELETED, EXPLETIVE DELETED morons!  Don't they EXPLETIVE DELETED realize that I have to get some EXPLETIVE DELETED sleep tonight?!"  Apparently he was so forlorn that he forgot that nobody was forcing him to stay.  From inside the club a techno remix of Ken's theme from Street Fighter II drifts out and he becomes even more incensed, "Why the EXPLETIVE DELETED are they playing Ken's theme?!  This makes no EXPLETIVE DELETED sense?!"

While I too am hot, and tired of standing as the hours creep by.  I also can't help but smile at the displays of childishness, impatience, and irrational entitlement that surround me.  And all over a game that, a year from now, we'll all be tired of playing.  Which I point out, to the amusement of some of the more level headed folks around me.  It made me feel safe to see such rational acknowledgement.  These were my kind.  Accepting of their quirks, but able to function in the real world respectably.  You can see it in their eyes.  And suddenly I no longer felt so alone, and I had the courage to withstand the nonsense that tormented me… for a little while longer.

Kevin Folliard is a writer in the Chicagoland area, having written several screenplays for Dark Maze Studios in Champaign which are available worldwide on DVD, including the acclaimed video game parody “Press Start.” He is also the creator and head writer for the companion monthly web series to the film “Press Start: Adventures.”  His short fiction has appeared in the literary E-zine “Burst”.  Kevin is currently an academic writing advisor for the Effective Writing Center at the University of Maryland University College.

Will Kevin ever penetrate Capcom's inner sanctum, where the object of his quest awaits? Will Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 fulfill the lofty promise of its lineage?  Will the guy with the "I *heart* vaginas" hat ever actually get any? Stay tuned for Part 2! 

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nothing ends, Cid. Nothing ever ends.

Leigh Alexander has an interesting post at Kotaku about her problems with finishing games that she likes: the more she enjoys a game gets attached to its world and characters, the more she'll try to extend the experience as long as possible and the less likely she is to actually finish it.

I can relate to this. Unlike Alexander, I do always finish a game if I like it, but I've definitely had the experience of trying to put that off as long as possible. The most memorable time this has happened in the past few years has been with Persona 3 and Persona  4. I loved both of those games, both for their gameplay and for their characters and story, and I didn't want to leave either behind. I've also put a ridiculous amount of time into Just Cause 2 and have yet to complete the final mission, though my hand will probably be forced in the near future by sheer lack of anything left to destroy.

My earliest recollection of doing something like this, however, is my fanatical Glenn-Close-in-Fatal-Attraction-esque attachment to Final Fantasy III /VI on the Super NES. It wasn't the game that introduced me to RPGs and made me a fan of them- that was Dragon Warrior- or the game that made them my favorite genre- Final Fantasy II/IV-  but that game enthralled me like nothing had before. I loved everything-  the gameplay, the story, the characters, the absolutely incredible music- and just didn't want it to end. It helped that my excitement for the game had been raised to a fever pitch by the fact that I wasn't able to play it for several months after it first came out. I didn't have the money to buy it, and the sole rental copy at my local video store (kids, ask your parents) was always checked out. And I mean always; I know because I walked or rode my bike up there every day for months to see if it was in. I was eagerly looking forward to it after being amazed by its predecessor and tantalized by playing a few precious minutes of it at the local FuncoLand (kids, ask your grandparents),  so once I actually got hold of the game I held on to it like grim death.

November, 1994: A young John Markley traverses the Chicago metropolitan area in search of Final Fantasy III. While Markley would ultimately find an available rental copy in a now-defunct independent video store, many were not so lucky; between October of 1994 and the release of Chrono Trigger in August of 1995, thousands of gamers who left home in the '94 Chicagoland JRPG Rush would lose their lives to frostbite, starvation, avalanches, and the dearth of console RPGs on the American market during the 16-bit era. 

Still, I couldn't leave it unfinished- I had to see what would happen. More importantly, not killing  my archnemesis Kefka would've set a dangerous precedent. You let one insane, magically augmented jester get away with becoming a god by tapping into the power of three ancient imprisoned goddesses, unleash a storm of cataclysmic destruction that scours the planet with fire and rearranges the very continents, slaughter uncounted millions of innocent people, leave human civilization in ruins, and turn the entire world into a bleak, desolate, post-apocalyptic hellscape with the most depressing overworld music in the history of RPGs, and the next thing you know they're all going to be doing it. You've got to nip this sort of thing in the bud.

The result of my dallying was that when I finally, reluctantly, decided to finish things, my character's levels were so absurdly high that my final encounter with Kefka lasted all of about half a turn. Attacks in Final Fantasy games back then had an absolute, unbreakable limit of 9999 damage per hit, but when the toughest character in your ludicrously over-leveled party is equipped with both the item that lets them hold a sword in each hand and hit twice with each attack and the item that lets them do a quadruple attack every turn, it doesn't really matter that much.

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