QUICK UPDATE

Well it’s been a little while since I’ve posted something but there is a good reason for that.. well… two… well you’ll see.

First off is Norway! Yup. Winter people, real Winter. It’s not even here yet and I’m already suffering a bit. The temperature is dropping steadily and the first snow has started falling, it’s snowing right now actually. Up until now I’ve been living in a place with 40degree celsius Summers and Winters that dip below zero sometimes but always after daytime temperatures around the 20’s and 30’s. Now I get to look forward to -20’s I hear.
Take the black! Man the wall!

I wasn’t kidding when I said that starting over in a new country is hard. My job right now is delivering newspapers at 2AM in the morning come rain or snow and that can be tough. Now there’s also the added element of the sun going down around 4PM to confuse my body. It’s all very exciting and I love it to be honest but adjusting to it all can leave a person really tired.

Secondly I’ve been offered a job back in Africa for a few months that I have to take. I am a cameraman and editor and soon I will go back to the desert to make a documentary on cheetah! It’s a big deal and will help me get somewhere in Norway after I get back. The problem is that for this job I will be living in a tent in the bush for weeks at a time. Because of this I doubt that I will be able to get much practice playing STG’s.
I do look forward to posting some pictures of shmup gaming in front of elephants and lions though!

So I’m shifting this blog a bit. From here on out I will be concentrating mostly on handheld games with RPG’s featuring heavily in addition to shmups. I will be doing this because I love both genres and because in a way they complement each other perfectly. One genre is built mainly around story telling while the other is built completely around gameplay. I think there will be some interesting comparisons to be made. Hell, some games in the past have even combined the two genres in spectacular fashion.
Oh! Handheld gaming also perfectly fits in with the middle-of-nowhere lifestyle I will be embracing in 2013.

Well I guess that’s about all i have to say really.

I hope this post finds you all brilliantly happy and entertained.

wds

SHORT STORIES / MINIATURE BULLET HELL

“Short stories do not say this happened and this happened and this happened. They are a microcosm and a magnification rather than a linear progression.” – Isobelle Carmody

Of course this also means more scrutiny. Even the smallest crack becomes a chasm when it is magnified. When I started studying film our lecturer gave us an assignment. It was simple, “Make a 5 minute movie.” Piece of cake, I thought arrogantly. This’ll be a breeze, walk in the park, easy as pie. You can guess what happened next. That little assignment kicked my ass. Turns out it was harder to come up with a worthwhile narrative that was 5 minutes long than it was to think of something four times that. It’s one of the lessons I’ve never forgotten to this day. Short stories are like that. Underestimate them and they will destroy you.

When I started writing I attempted short stories first just like everyone else. The stories themselves weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great either. It takes experience and hard work to write a truly gripping short tale. I’m talking about stores like I, Robot by Isaac AsimovDagon by H.P. Lovecraft, A Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe,  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

There is the possibility that you have not read these stories, but I will wager that you’ve at least heard of them. Have you seen Battle Royale? No? What about The Hunger Games? You could draw a straight line from them to The Lottery without much difficulty at all. This is the power of a well written short story. It may be small in volume but its potential for growth is almost limitless.

On Monday this week I finally downloaded Aa Mujou Setsuna (or Metal Torrent as it’s known in the West)  by game developer/publisher Arika. If you know shmups then you know Arika. They’ve been involved in a bunch of Cave stalwarts, DoDonPachi Dai Jai Ou and community darling Ketsui amongst these. Arika also brought Ketsui Death Label to the DS and of course Metal Torrent to DSiware.

There are a fair amount of decent shooters on the DS and 3DS so far. Ketsui Death Label, Metal Torrent, Liberation Maiden, Space Invaders Extreme, Retro Game Challenge’Cosmic Gate and Bangoi-O Spirits (by the monolithic entity known as Treasure) are all available on one version of Nintendo’s little handheld or another. Old NES classics such as Gradius, TwinBee and Xevious have all been released on the eshop as of late allowing for some bullet dodging on the go. For those of you who like manic shooters there are only two options though and not surprisingly they’re brought to us by the Cave / Arika combo.

“Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.” – Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve poured hours into Ketsui Death Label and still the beast living in that little cartridge demands more. It’s basically just a boss rush mode of Ketsui but does that make it bad? No not at all, not to me at least. Finding a review of Ketsui Death Label on the net is tricky. Vertical shooters simply do not command the same amount of interest here in the West as they do over in the East, and something like Ketsui Death Label even less so. It’s seen as a cop-out by many because they wanted a port of the original. Look around a bit and you’ll find one or two reviews worth your time but that’s about it. I love Ketsui Death Label for what it is; a scaled down version of the original that I can delve into whenever and wherever I want. It isn’t a DS port of the original arcade game but that’s ok since that exists on other systems more suitable for it. That doesn’t mean that this DS version of Ketsui doesn’t have content. Play hard and long enough and you’ll unlock extra difficulties, each one more brutal than the last. There’s even and Extra mode which lets you play through a single complete stage. Be warned though. It will eat you alive.

“My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…” – Haruki Murakami.

I think of these games as short stories. They aren’t fully fledged novels but rather snippets, things that may never be whole. You could call them footprints left in a forest somewhere, shadows as Murakamiputs it. They are, in short, glimpses into the minds of their creators. Photographs which hold a fragment of creative thought captured and looped forever.

“A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” – Stephen King, Skeleton Crew.

It’s true that Ketsui Death Label and Metal Torrent may seem one dimensional to some people and I get that. If you look at the games as full-fledged releases they fail. Are we meant to look at them in this way? I don’t think so. These games are centered and built around a single, specific gameplay mechanic. Poe‘s comment on short stories hits the mark perfectly:

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Alan Poe

When viewed in this light both Ketsui Death Label and Metal Torrent exist and succeed perfectly.

BATTLE BAKRAID! THE CHOSEN!

After reading up on the rank system  of Battle Garegga I decided to try out Battle Bakraid. I’d never played this game before and knew next to nothing about it. So full of doubt I fired it up and decided to see what all the fuss is about.

Battle Bakraid is a game by 8ing and is the sequel to Battle Garegga. The game itself isn’t very much like its predecessor as described in Malc‘s review. I shouldn’t go into details about the differences as I haven’t clocked enough hours on Battle Garegga to have a valid opinion yet. One change is easy to see and anyone who’s played a bit of both should spot this difference immediately. The graphics instantly tell you that these games are related but the biggest plus point for me is that the bullets have been changed. In Battle Garegga I struggle because I have to collect medals, shoot enemies, keep an eye on rank and dodge bullets. This is made difficult because the bullets are slim and hard to see. Half the time I die is because a bullet I never even saw hit my ship full on. I can appreciate that it makes things more realistic and thus harder but I’m honestly just not at that level yet. I’m not knocking Battle Garegga at all. I’m admitting that I don’t have what it takes to manage all the game requires yet.

I truly love Battle Bakraid. There is so much to it. The game oozes options from the mode select menu to the huge amount of fighter planes. Just selecting your ship with a different button each time will change the way it reacts in battle fundamentally.

Then there’s the medal, scoring and rank systems to consider.  There just seems to be so much to this game. So much to read about and try out. It will take time to perfect the layers of complexity in this game but damnit I really want to commit to it. Battle Bakraid is easy to get into but hard as nails to masters but I’m just so into it.

From here on out I will be bending all my attention towards 8ing‘s brilliant little shooter. This is the game I want to 1CC frist but I want more than that. I want to get good at the game. I want to learn it inside out and learn the techniques needed to attain a killer score.

A played Battle Bakraid seriously for about an hour today and this is what I’ve achieved. It’s nothing great and the score is laughable but that will change soon enough!

The first steps

SIDEQUEST 01 : RANKING SYSTEMS

Once again there is no quarter given and not a shred of mercy shown.

I’ve been looking at some STG’s lately in the hopes of finding something to practice on. Mainly I’m looking for a game that I can play on the side, something not by Cave. OK I’ll be honest… I’ve been looking for something a little easier to start with! If Ketsui is my main quest, then I want something a little more light-hearted to be my lover on the side. Something relaxed and distracting. There are a few candidates for this, games I’ve spotted around the net and on random forums. I’ve tried a bunch by now and was starting to get worried. Why can I make it to stage 3 on one credit in DonPachi when I die all the time playing games like Battle Garegga, Shienryu and Strikers 1945? I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t stumbled across a great review of Shienryu over at Edward’s 1CC Log for Shmups. It was here that I read about rank management for the first time. I’d seen the term in other places before of course, but I’d never thought much about it. Turns out I should have.

 I followed a link on Edward’s blog to a review of Daioh by shmupper called Battletoad and continued from there across forums and blogs as if following a digital grapevine. Slowly understanding dawned on me. One glance at the strategy section for Battle Garegga over on the Shmups! forum told me all I needed to know. I’d been going about it all wrong. I’d been holding the fire button down and dodging bullets for all I was worth. Looking for something a little less manic in terms of the labyrinthine bullet patterns of Cave games I’d found something else, something decidedly unsettling. Here was intelligence, even thought perhaps. In the code behind the detailed and inviting graphics something lived, pacing to-and-fro in the gingerbread house. That something wasn’t very nice either. It watched you from behind the shiny reflection of the screen, greedily caressing your fingertips from beneath the buttons. Battle Garegga sneers at your feeble efforts at fame and wants nothing more than to bring you to your knees.

I think I may have flinched a bit when I realised just how many things affect your rank. I tried to find something less bullet heavy and succeeded in finding something far more manic in a totally different way. Not passive, as bullet patterns mostly are, but active and constantly evolving. Not only was it menacing, it had teeth.

Scratch the surface and you’ll be amazed how many shooters employ some sort of rank system. Few are as psychotic as Battle Garegga though. In my mind the AI trapped in 8ing/Raizing’s shooter has the cold calculating voice of HAL from A Space Odyssey 2001.

I would have simply put this damned thing in my rear-view mirror if the game itself wasn’t so incredibly fun. I can understand why this particular shmup has such a devoted following within the community. Just have a look at the list of TV tropes attributed to Battle Garegga for instance. You can feel that there’s something special about the game just by looking around the internet randomly. This is perhaps why I hate the game a little. I wanted to find something easy and fleeting and what did I end up with? I fell in love with a game that would need even more attention and hard work! It’s like dating a girl who’s really terrible for you. You know this, yet for some ungodly reason that you’ll never understand, you simply keep at it.

You drift, a slave to every sweetly torturous moment.