Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Top Ten Favorite Video Game Songs

Hey y'all!  I finally, finally got done compiling information for my "Top Ten Top Ten: Video Game Music" blog.  I now have all the final votes I need to present a complete and proper list of everyone's top ten favorite game songs.  However, it's gotten really late, and I'm tired and cranky.  Don't worry, it'll be up soon

As for now, here are my ten favorite video game songs!  No, I won't be counting them as a part of my "top ten top ten", because even if my list made sense, that would just be unfair.  So, here we go!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Nitpickery: Serenity Movie Review

Hey y'all.  It's about time I actually posted my nitpicky review of the Firefly series movie, Serenity.  For years, before I'd seen hide or hair of Firefly, I'd see the Serenity poster and wonder if it was a good movie.  It appeared really sci fi and cool, other than the chick with the stereotypical movie poster glare on the front.  I kept telling myself that I'd see it eventually, but never did.  Sort of like the Animorphs books.

But eventually I did see it, primarily due to my ex-boyfriend and his man-crush on Nathan Fillion.  And I was disappointed.  Of course, it's easy for me to be disappointed because I nitpick and enjoy it, but honestly, all I expected was an adequate sci-fi story.  Something with a plot and actors that were decent or at least bad in a funny way.  Basically just a regular sci-fi that you might see on TV.  For some reason, none of the characters in Serenity felt very science fiction.  It felt...forced.  But since that's an intuitive observation and can't really be logically explained, let's go into what can be logically explained.

The last episode of Firefly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Write Club: Week #6 -- Poetic Basis

Hey y'all.  I've been noticing that in my group that while we do a lot of fun exercises, what we don't do is work on our own stuff.  So this week's meeting was pretty casual.  I did do a few beginning exercises, just because it's fun and you get to see how people think.

The exercises this week had to do with poetic basis.  Basically, symbolism.  If you notice, all good poetry is more or less symbolic, and by this I mean saying something without actually saying it.  So we practiced a little with a few subjects.

The first subject was a monkey.  So, we had to say mention a monkey without actually saying the word monkey.  It's really cheap to say something like, "a long armed primate with fur" or something bland like that.  The point of the exercise is to learn to say something unique, so that when you get to a spot in your narrative where you find yourself bored in writing, you go around the boredom by describing it another way.  For example, in the Sherlock Holmes series, Holmes tells someone that he could be hanged.  But does he say "you'll be hanged"?  No, he says that the British people will create a new tavern called "the Dangling Prussian".  Now isn't that unique?

So back to monkies.  How do you describe one this way?  Here's a couple examples.

- The primitive beast looked out at me with almost intelligent eyes, but its covering of furr clearly distinguished it from my brother.

- Darwin's symbol, representing the most eloquent symbol of science, flung its poo at the zoo director.

So yeah.  What I did here was attach the monkey to two different things: the character's brother and Darwin.  This is how you add it to your writing.  You connect seemingly unrelated things, just as Sherlock connected hanging to a bar.

In the second exercise, I had us describe a monastery without saying it, because that's the setting for one of my writer's stories.  Here's what I wrote:

- Oh delightful castle of untouched bachelors! ...All too preoccupied with reading and praying to pay much attention to the lonely single girl.  Caught up in the raptures of ancient, philosophic literature, what could the presence of a woman do but bring them down from those lofty heights?  I kicked at the stone pathway, bitter at each cloaked monk.  Was I really less appealing than Gregorian chants and puttering around in a vegetable garden?  That's what these not particularly eligible singles did all day, in their centuries old house of stone.

You'll notice that I was not just describing a monastery, but how the character felt about it.  Namely, bitter and jealous.  This is a useful technique in spicing up your long narratives: instead of just explaining what the character sees (which is fine from time to time, especially at important settings), you use them to show attitudes or foreshadow the future.

For my third example, I chose an abstract concept, loneliness.  This is of course very difficult, because it exists in several different situations and can look any number of ways.

- Drifting off in space, the battleship spun gently.  Friction was gone in the quiet, worldless expansion.  Bits of shrapnel flew around, the only remnant of the battle squadrons.  Derek stayed near the window, keeping his grasp on one of the bars installed on the wall in just this circumstance: the loss of gravity.  He did not try the communications system.  He didn't look out the window in the hopes of seeing a friendly ship.  And he didn't look behind him to see if any of his crewmates remained; he wanted to retain memories of them as living people, not as bodies floating about.  All Derek did was stare outside, watching the stars his mighty war vessel, now a crippled bucket of metal, drifted into forever.  He said nothing and thought of nothing, especially not the faint, half-powered alarm bell that meant oxygen levels were dropping rapidly.

This is quite a troublesome example, yes?  One member's example was no better.  She described loneliness as being trapped in a field where no one would hear you if you rotted to bones.  Apparently we both associate loneliness with death.  Lovely.  But in any case, if you find yourself getting stuck on a story, you can pick a related emotion and build the setting around that emotion.  For example, drifting shrapnel in space has a lonely feeling, as does bones in a prairie.

So where are you stuck?  Pick an emotion, a metaphor, or your character's attitudes, and spice up your scene.  You can do it!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Top Ten Top Tens: Scary Things in Video Games

Hey y'all.  So I was puttering around on youtube, and I got to thinking about something for a Halloween special.  I wasn't planning on doing something like this, but it just happened.  So what are the top ten scariest characters?  Naturally, this is pretty subjective, but I like to do everything in an objective way, even in subjective matters.  Because I'm just contrary like that.

So how do you figure out a subjective thing objectively?  Certainly not by my opinions.  The things that scared me most in video games were either strange or from more obscure games: the Sequel Policemen from Space Quest  IV, the game over music in Yoshi's Island, and the secret copyright violation screen that's on Donkey Kong Country 2.  These things scared me far more than characters other people mentioned in their videos.

That leads me to how I got to make this top ten list.  I watched a bunch of other top ten lists on youtube.  Even the sucky ones with no vocals and bad rock music playing in the background.  The only one I made an exception for is this one where a guy is literally just sitting and talking into the camera the whole time, with no words, no pictures, and no video clips from the games he talks about.  Now that's just lazy.

But I did go through as many of these videos as I could find, and so here they are, the top ten top ten scary things in video games.  So let's go over the rules for this list.  I picked every mention of every scary thing, moment, or person as a point.  It makes no difference as to whether they were high on the list, or lower down.  Now, some people made lists longer than ten, and a few shorter.  For the purposes of this survey, only the things mentioned from fifteenth to first place get a point.  Whichever has the most points gets ranked higher.  In the case of a tie, the one that seems more frightening objectively, ie, can cause more deadly or sickening consequences, will be placed higher, and sillier ones will be placed lower.

Keep in mind, however, that there is a limit to how objective this can be.  After all, I looked at youtube videos to create this list, and the sort of people who make video game lists might not be a good sample size. It might reflect biased people, or people who are just simply afraid of certain things that normal people aren't concerned with.  Also, a lot of people on youtube don't make scary lists.  But let's just say that this is a youtube survey and be done with it.

So what do people think is scary in video games?  Let's see!  Now, I swear to you, I am not making this first one up.  I literally saw it in five different "top ten" videos on Youtube.  This one ultimately puzzles me, as he doesn't seem scary so much as just generally awesome.  And who is this nefarious mofo?

---- #10 ----
Andross from the Star Fox Series

No really.  I swear that he was in several different videos.  Here I am, sifting through all of this Halo, Silent Hill, Majora's Mask stuff, and I keep running across mentions of Andross.

Bio: Andross is a giant floating monkey head who is a cube, except when he's a giant brain or a robot.  Actually, the Star Fox series never really clarified what exactly Andross is, other than that his general guise is a giant monkey head, sometimes with hands.

Andross first appeared in Star Fox for the Super Nintendo, and admittedly, had a really weird introduction.  He was a flat panel of metal, and then all of a sudden all the metal turns into a face, like the image shown above.  And then he turns into a cube with a monkey face on every side.  In Star Fox 64, he reveals that he is a giant brain, and you must defeat him by shooting out his eyeballs and then his cerebellum.  I guess that's kinda creepy.

Our super scientist monkey villain is motivated by revenge.  He's mad because nobody on the planet of Corneria respected his intelligence, so he's decided he can rule the Lylat system better than anybody and will now conquer it.

To be honest, I'm really happy for Andross.  He's one of my favorite villains, simply for the fact that nobody's really sure what the crap he is, and that he always surprises me.  The first time you play the SNES version, you're stunned by the Tron-like face, and it's funny as crap.  Even better is in the 64 version when you're suddenly fighting a giant brain.  Honestly, none of us saw that coming.

So anyway, congrats, Andross!  Maybe you're not as scary as Silent Hill, but people seem to think you're scarier than the Left 4 Dead witches (I'm not kidding), the Moon from Majora's Mask, and the giant pile of poo that was in Conker's Bad Fur Day.  Personally, I think all those things are scarier than Andross, but that's only because I feel Andross is hilarious and awesome.  Bravo, giant monkey man!  Bravo!

---- #9 ----
Psycho Mantis

The trouble with doing a list like this is that you run into characters from games you've never played.  And I have not played the game with Psycho Mantis.  However, from seeing the clips, he angers me more than he scares me.  But it's easy to see why this guy creeps people out.

Psycho comes from Metal Gear Solid 4, and it really makes me wonder about the Metal Gear series.  I was under the impression it was a moderately realistic game, but I suppose they came up with a scientific reason why Psycho is a telepath.  Not only does he read Snake's mind, but he also "reads" the player's mind by examining their game data on the console.  It doesn't help that he has three creepy portraits of business goons laughing in shrieky voices on the wall behind him.  And he wears a gas mask.

Honestly, this dude is creepy though and through.  He's not as dangerous as some of the other scary people, but if no one spoils his gimmick for you (sorry!), then you're sure to be freaked out when he mentions that you don't save the game as much as you need to.

---- #8 ----
Nightmare from Metroid Fusion

My first reaction to seeing this guy in the scariest character lists was to be confused.  Why is this guy so scary?  I didn't grow up with the Metroid games, so maybe that has something to do with it.  But when I saw the little video clips again and again, I began to get it.  This guy is kinda freaky.  He's a project created by the Galactic Federation to be a monster weapon for them.

Honestly, it's not the background that makes him scary.  He's more or less a mindless monster who doesn't quite know exactly what's going on.  And that makes it worse.  Poor guy is just a monster with long, drooping, mechanical arms and a face shoved in like goo.  As our girl Samus shoots him, his face melts more and more, turning disgusting and frightening the longer the fight goes on.  It doesn't help that the rest of his suit stays intact, so you get the impression of a poor little slug creature being forced to fight against its will in a mech suit given by scientists.  I feel so bad for this guy.  Maybe I'm just saying that because I haven't played Metroid, but poor little dude.  Shame, Samus, what did he ever do to you?

----  #7 ----
The Regenerators from Resident Evil.

It should be noted that I counted votes for the Iron Maidens as votes for the Regenerators.  It's fair because the two are very similar, and probably members of the same species.  Simply put, Regenerators are zombies that grow back.  You shot a leg?  Oh, there it is back again!  You managed to knock of its head?  That'll grow back too!  The Iron Maiden is exactly the same (it doesn't look like a chick, though), except that it tries to grab the player and shove him into the spikes that grow out of its body.  That is friggin' sick.

Honestly, there's no need to know the background of these guys.  They're really a very simplistic enemy that is very easy to understand why they're scary.  Imagine you're stuck in a zombie situation and no matter how hard you smack a monster, he just keeps coming back.  That is pan-ultimate freaky, no explanation required.

---- #6 ----
Alma Wade

Alma Wade is a character from the FEAR series, and who apparently was being tested in a lab for her psychic abilities since she was three years old.  At five, she managed to figure out that she should fail these tests to make everyone stop being interested in her, but that didn't quite work out so well.  She was kept in the project even though she constantly attacked the lab workers, and may have even killed someone before her eighth birthday.  She was forced to birth psychic children when she was old enough, and eventually was able to merge her mind with one of these kids and thus continue to attack her captors.  They pulled the plug on her life support systems and let her die at 26.

So why is this chick creepy instead of just tragic?  Well, let me just quote her wiki here.

"Among Alma's other powers, she is able to kill people with a psychic attack that literally liquefies all their flesh, leaving behind only a charred, blood-drenched skeleton, something she does several times during the course of the games. She can also create a number of different hallucinations and can take the Point Man into her dream world where she is even able to summon malevolent phantoms. Alma also seems to display other powers associated with the mind. It is assumed she can perform pyrokinesis, as seen during one encounter when she sets off fiery explosions through an entire corridor, hurling the Point Man through a window. It can also be inferred that she has some level of telekinesis, as random objects move with her approach, or even in her absence."

Well that's freaky.  Though, to get a little nitpicky, a child who was raised in that sort of environment would come to believe that that environment is somehow normal, or that she in some way deserves that kind of treatment, simply because the child isn't aware that there are better ways to live.  Of course, she's a psychic so maybe she can just find out for herself what the deal is.

The slow revealing of her backstory, the fact she drove a doctor insane, and the fact that her psychic emanations remained after her death combine to make her a truly freaky person.  Yeesh.  I'm never going to play the FEAR games.  There's just no need for that crap.

---- #5 ----
Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Okay, so who's the scariest character from this game?  Apparently no one can decide.  So instead they picked the entire dang game rather than choose a moment, level, or character.  More than one actually said directly in their videos that they couldn't possibly choose, and so just picked the game.  Nobody who mentioned this game even wanted to go into much detail about it.

The basic premise of the game is that a guy named Daniel has no memory and is exploring a creepy castle with all manner of monsters.  And you know what?  He gets no weapons.  He has to hide or escape from monsters rather than fight them.  Even worse, he has a sanity meter, and you have to keep him from going completely nuts.  Even worse, when Daniel gets his memory back, he finds out that he was torturing people and even killed someone, all because he was tricked by an evil being trying to get back to its homeworld.

Uck, this series doesn't sound very good.  Especially since the game designer said that this was a game to be experienced, not won.  That's a bad sign.  In any case, the concept worked, and this entire game has scared the crap out of people and earned its place at number five.  Yeah, pretty dang scary.  You can watch let's plays if you want to, but I'm not going to.

---- #4 ----
Zero 2 from the Kirby series

........You're kidding me, right?  I swear I'm not making this up.  More people are scared by a giant floating eyeball than the entire Amnesia game?  You're serious?  He beats the moon from Majora's Mask and Alma Wade?  Andross was at least funny, but this is just sad.

Zero is a giant eyeball in the Kirby series who controls something called "Dark Matter" that can take over the minds of other creatures.  In the midst of the Dark Matter cloud is Zero, an eyeball that bleeds.  This returns in a later game to become Zero 2, which a giant eyeball that bleeds and has angel wings.  I know technically Kirby is a kid's game and it's innappropriate to have blood, but what the heck?  Why the crap does this get so many votes?

Someone who talked about Zero in his top ten as an honorable mentions (which I did not count as a vote), said that the only reason Zero is scary is that he's in a kids game.  Honestly people, that kind of thing doesn't count.  This is wrong.  I can't believe that I have to put Zero 2 somewhere on this list.  Come on, people, my fear of the Yoshi's Island game over music was more rational than this nonsense.

Alright, let's get to the last three.  Unlike the rest, these three are consistently picked by a larger margin of list makers.  Ordinarily the lists I found on Youtube vary wildly and span a range of games.  These three, however, beat all the lower ranking items by a large margin.  Over time, I began to expect all three of these to appear every time I clicked a video.  You might know what I'm talking about.

---- #3 ----
The Piano from Mario 64

Imagine one day you're just taking a happy little stroll when all of a sudden -- BLAM BLAM BLAM -- you're being chased by....a giant piano with teeth!


Actually, unlike Zero 2, this is pretty dang creepy.  Pianos are supposed to nonliving.  They're supposed to make beautiful songs and make your living room look great.  This piano does none of that.  It sits in a room quietly, just waiting for Mario to come in and say, "Oh, look, a piano!  Let'sa play it!", when it suddenly does the opposite of what every good piano should do.  It snaps to attention and starts opening and shutting its back cover like a jaw with the most hideous banging sound you've ever heard.

You'd think that because you know it's there after the first time, it would stop creeping you out.  Actually, in my case it got worse (and no, I didn't count my own vote).  I found myself sticking as close to the opposite wall as I could every time I went into that room, repeating in my head, "don't come near me...don't come near me..."  What the crap is it with this piano?

The more you think about it logically, the less it makes sense.  This piano has no motivations.  It isn't out to conquer anybody.  It doesn't have a digestive tract, so it doesn't gain anything by eating you.  And crap, do you see the two little doors in that room?  It can't possibly get out of there.  But the thing that really terrifies everyone about it deep down is the fact that the piano's only possible motivation is simply to see you suffer.  And that's pretty dang freaky.

---- #2 ----
Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2

This one was pretty much a given.  I mean, if you're going to pick something from the endlessly freaky Silent Hill games, why not Pyramid Head?  Personally, the only Silent Hill game I ever played was at my neighbor's house, and I never got to finish it because it was stolen by a druggie "friend" of his.  I swear, the people who say drugs don't hurt people aren't right in the head....

But that's another topic.  So anyway, I wasn't really familiar with Pyramid Head, but like most Silent Hill characters, he's a symbol of something bad: guilt.  He's a dude with a giant metal pyramid on his head.   He's naked to the waist, and then he wears a strange skirt-like thing that is apparently made of human skin or something.  He wanders around, doing suggestive things to NPCs while hauling a friggin' huge knife.

This pyramid the dude wears apparently is not naturally a part of him; he staggers around to figure out what's around him, and often acts as if it's uncomfortable.  Similar enemies in later games called the Boogeymen force the main protagonist into a pyramid helmet, so it's possible that Pyramid Head is just a normal guy.  Of course, if he's not simply a manifestation of guilt.  The makers of the game have him obscure on purpose, I'm sure.

Okay, before we get to number one, let's talk about some honorable mentions!  First of all, here are the game things that scored just too low to make it on the top ten list.  Note that these are all tied.

Just Too Lows:
- The Moon from Majora's Mask
- Blizzeta from Twilight Princess
- The giant pile of poo from Conker's Bad Fur Day whose name I forgot but won't look up again because I don't want to.  He's gross.
- The witches from Left 4 Dead
- The nurses from Silent Hill
- The Headcrabs from Half Life

Some people suggested a few weirder characters or some people that I didn't expect.  People are pretty creative, and here are some few that didn't get a lot of votes, but still scared people anyway.  All of these recieved at least two votes.

- The monster Sinistar from his self-titled game.  This is odd because he's from an old arcade game, and yet people know and fear him.
- The Old Chateau from the Pokemon series.  It's pretty surprising that a place in a non-horror game can achieve such horror.  Perhaps Pokemon is just too colorful and silly to have places like the Old Chateau, or something.
- Mad Jack from Donkey Kong 64.  People are really scared of this guy?  He was a really annoying boss when I fought him as a kid, but scary?'s scary how long they make you fight this mofo.

Arc Rose Honorable Mention, Character:
- Mimi from Paper Mario
Mimi is pretty freaky.  It's obvious why.  She cracks her own neck, and then spider legs sprout out of it while her body dangles there limply.  That is freaking nasty.  If it weren't for the fact that she was made out of squares, triangles, and lines, then she would be far higher on the list.  She wins Honorable Mention because of the thought of what she would look like if she were done up by the Silent Hill crew.

Arc Rose Honorable Mention, Game:
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Honestly, this competition was pretty unfair for Majora's Mask.  There are just so many things in Majora's Mask that freaked people out, that all the votes got spread out over several characters and things.  Several votes went to the moon, and of all the items in the game that tops the Zelda list.  But that's not the only scary thing.  There are the redead, dead hands, that area with all the ninjas, Majora's wrath, Link's creepy mask transitions, wallmasters, and not to mention Tingle.  Oh, and what about the horrifying moment where a poor little girl gets kidnapped by aliens and has her mind wiped?  There is just so much freaky about this game, supposedly a non-horror title, that it got more mentions in top ten lists than series such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil, FEAR, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Majora's Mask deserves this spot, no question about it.

But what about number one, you ask?  You probably already know.  It's...

---- #1 ----
- Giygas from Earthbound.

This thing is horrible.  This is the worst thing ever.  It's evil.  Note that Earthbound is a really cute game where the protagonist fights things with a yo-yo.  It's colorful, cute, and from the older era of games.  And yet it easily kicks every modern horror character in the teeth with how many votes it gets.  Well, except for Pyramid Head, who it only beats by one.

What is Giygas?  Apparently it's the embodiment of evil.  No really, that's what it was designed to be.  Apparently the creator of this evil freaking abomination witnessed a rape in a movie, and designed this boss after the imagery.  It shows.  Which is why there is no picture of it here.  If you're really curious (curiosity killed more than the cat, by the by), you can look it up for yourself.  Having to record the votes for this was bad enough.  Honestly, Pyramid Head didn't even come close to freaking me out more than this guy.

Thankfully, Giygas dies.  That's the important part and this is the end of my list.  And now, a fuzzy little kitty. I think we all need it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Write Club: Week 4 -- Characters

Hey y'all.  I know last week that I was ranty, and didn't really get into activities.  Sorry about that.  We had an influx of new people, and I had to make sure we were all on the same page, as well as get through a particularly ranty topic.  Don't worry.  From now on, I'm going to be doing a lot more activities.  I just had to get that one ranty week over with.

And so it is!  This week, we will be focusing on characters.

For our warm up exercise, we'll be taking the pictures I got from Lowe's and looking at them again.  We won't be making up stories, however, but rather coming up with characteristics of why the person put each item in their room.  Why did they paint the walls green?  What kind of person would want a chimney in the living room?  Exactly what sort of person would have a white chaise lounge?  Think of specific things that directly correlate to specific items in the room.