The Comic Commish: Syberia

It's speedrun fever here on Giant Bomb and gaming circles elsewhere right now, as SGDQ 2015 continues to exploit, explain and expedite its way through a number of beloved games (and Sonic) for the sake of charity fundraising and our collective entertainment. What better way to honor their celeritous struggles than with a super leisurely graphic adventure game? Before we begin though, I'll just throw out the standard boilerplate for The Comic Commish: For every month this year, I'm taking a brief pause from all my screenshot LP-ing to create a screenshot LP of a game that was gifted to me by a generous Steam donor. This is just my small way of repaying their kindness or, occasionally, debasing myself for their amusement by earnestly playing their gag gift.

Here's what we've encountered so far in The Comic Commish '15: Harvester - Long Live the Queen - Luftrausers - Papers, Please - NiGHTS Into Dreams. If you'd like to see me "get all lugubrious for the lulz" (as the kids say), feel free to send me (at KingMento on Steam) whatever dreck you have lying around in your Steam gift folder. It appears I am socially obligated to show my gratitude with a documented playthrough regardless of however miserable the game might be, so take advantage all you will (and someone's already sent me Bad Rats, before you get cute).

Syberia

I knew next to nothing about this French adventure game, only that it was old (2002, which isn't too old) and that it looked a bit like Myst in that it used the same format of a lot of late-90s graphic adventure games (and many games in general from this time like Resident Evil and FF7) with pre-rendered backgrounds and static camera views for its environments, and put models for the characters on top. I'm not sure we were at in 2002 with this genre, as it had more or less retreated to the European mainland at this point, but Syberia still looks pretty good. The protagonist Kate Walker isn't quite as uncanny valley as I was anticipating (though the designers were wise to not animate her too much during cutscenes), and the game's backgrounds are picturesque (which, I dunno, is probably a word that loses all meaning when applied to actual pictures).

But there's even more interesting stuff to dig up by looking into the game's background. Microïds isn't the first French developer that comes to mind - I'm usually considering the big corporations like Ubisoft or Atari SA (formerly Infogrames), or the smaller, arty studios of my youth like Delphine, Coktel Vision or Silmarils - but they've been plugging along since the Amiga era and continue to produce moderately popular games in their home nation and elsewhere. Lots of adventure games of late, and Syberia is one of their two biggest along with Post Mortem/Still Life (from which I also own games). Syberia also has the influence of Belgian cartoonist Benoît Sokal, who got into video game development in his middle-age and hasn't slowed down. So yeah, there's an odd arty-farty French pedigree to this game. Look forward to that I guess.

(Shout-out to @omghisam who gifted me this game and its sequel years ago.)

Welcome to Syberia! Check out this lensflare-heavy intro. Like some bad Canadian TV show about hunting relics.
We arrive on what is presumably the funeral for Toyman. That's a Superman villain everyone's familiar with. Good goof, here.
We also get a glimpse of our (humanish) protagonist Kate. We still don't know what's going on, but then this is a game all about mystery. That's not just me being flippant either; the game's appeal is entirely predicated on setting up mysteries and then resolving them. More on that later, however.
The game lets us take over shortly thereafter. Interface is super basic: the icon changes depending on what you're pointing at, allowing you to take items or get a closer look at tabletops or notes.
The game's got a lot of text too, in the vein of these collectible notes and journals. It also serves as a practical means to tell the player all they want to know about this location: Valadilene is an alpine village kept solvent by a large clockwork toy manufacturer. The automatons, as the locals prefer to call them, are all over the place and lend the town a retro Victorian-era charm. It's odd that the game insists that the place is on hard times because of modern technology rendering the local cogs-and-gears industry obsolete, because it'd be crawling with steampunk nerds were it real.
The first "puzzle" is simply finding the key for this little bell-ringer and hitting the button. It's very simple, hardly Fireproof's The Room, but it's also a subtle and intuitive tutorial and those are definitely preferential to big arrows everywhere.
I don't know what this two-bit font they're using is called, but I don't care that its capital "I"s still have dots. We're briefly introduced to both the innkeeper here, Kate herself and Momo.
This is Momo. The game has a recurring theme of "idiot savant". Momo talks in broken third-person English but is a whizz with mechanical gadgets and is the protégé of the CEO of Voralburg Manufacturing, the aforementioned toy factory.
I should say "former", because she just died. That was her funeral before. That puts Miss Walker here in a fix because she's supposed to be here to sign off on a contract to sell the manfacturer to a giant toy conglomerate back home in New York. Fair warning: both these captions and the game itself is extremely narrative-heavy.
We're dumped in our hotel room. It's a cozy enough place, but the only things we can look at are our suitcase and a fax left on the table. The game has ample opportunity to fill its screens with hotspots that simply fill in more story, but opts not to. The game can definitely be a little too economical in spots, which is a shame for something so story-focused and clearly spent no expense in creating all these pre-rendered settings.
There's something to be said for economical puzzle design in adventure games too, of course. I played this game for several hours and didn't get stuck because I lacked some item I couldn't see. We're even told about this fax ahead of time, so there's no missing it and wandering around the town ratiocinating on what to do next.
Our mission, if it wasn't clear to us yet, is to get Anna Voralberg to sign over the property to our corporate client. Aren't many games that put you in the high-priced "biz cas" shoes of a lawyer and then tasks you with doing actual law work for the first hour or so of the game.
But yeah, looks like I've got a little more to do here than to stick a contract under the nose of an old lady and make her sign it. Kate's mobile phone comes into play a few times, but while I have a list of contacts to call I don't think we're quite talking Metal Gear Solid's codecs. If anything, they tend to call me at certain points of the story and are busy signals the rest of the time. I'll admit that I haven't tried calling them too often; it's not like you need a lot of hints for this game.
More faxes! These were still a thing in 2002. Actually, I guess it's still sort of vital in the lawyering world to send official documents to and fro. I just tend to put faxes in the same place in my mind that telegrams and the ravens from Game of Thrones live. Anyway, we need to find this notary fellow and get the scoop on how to proceed from him. To the lawmobile!
Well, no, I'm just going to walk there. It's a nice day and I really have no idea where he is, so this is the part of the game that lets you explore a bit.
Not that there's much to see. This old man here essentially explains why there's no other NPCs around: the ailing local industry meant everyone moved out to seek employment elsewhere.
Going north lets us pass over this bridge and to the chapel on the hill. The game doesn't look half-bad in motion, and if you aren't here for the scenery there's a "running" speed for Kate. I'd prefer a screen-skip if you double-click an exit or some sort of navigable map, but at least a run is something.
The chapel's presently closed. I get the sense that it won't be forever, though.
Heading south, I pass through this door. It needs something to work, which the game was kind enough to inform me. "Not yet, bucko" is the message here, in so many words.
She says this about every entrance that isn't (presently) story significant. Even those that aren't "down" anywhere, like this raised doorway. The localization from the original French isn't always perfect, which might actually explain why there isn't too much incidental text in the game. What there is mostly fine from what I've seen.
Oh sweet, I can pick up a brioche and maybe a croissant and... nope, closed. The baker says that because today's a day of mourning, so all the businesses are closed. His is the only "business" I've found that isn't the hotel though, which of course isn't closed. I suspect he's just lazy.
This is either an ugly mailbox or the notary is screening his guests. In which case, I need to present that fax in order for it to let me in.
This one wasn't too tricky either, though you don't often think to use notes (which are kept on a separate inventory screen) to solve a puzzle. The automaton reads it, while the notary looks through its eyes with a periscope device. Why not just get a secretary?
So, yes, apparently the game is not ten minutes long and there's another snafu.
Anna left a note to suggest that her younger brother, whose death was faked long ago by their jerkwad father, is still alive somewhere in Siberia (hence the name, I suppose). As we'll find out, Anna's brother Hans is also responsible for the designs of all the automatons in the city, and continued to send blueprints to her from his travels around the world.
The notary decides to recuse himself from the rest of the game with the flimsiest excuse I've seen yet. "Sorry, too tired to help. Good luck!". We're on our own if we want to find out what happened to Hans.
Y'all are probably dozing off too, so let's wrap this up.

I guess the focus with this LP was less to show off the excitement and thrills of Syberia and more to explain, precisely, what the game is all about. It's not Myst, at least not quite; the puzzles so far (I'm a few hours into it, though still in Valadilene) have been more genteel and so while the sense of mystery is still as pervasive as it is in the Miller brothers' pioneering adventure game Syberia's been less inclined to really challenge the player analytically. In a sense, it feels like every modern "casual" adventure game that tends to involve a lot of hidden object scenes and straightforward inventory puzzles and is really more focused on conveying genre fiction with a handful of video game trappings. Your Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Cans and the like, or maybe the various critically-acclaimed "walking simulators" that are more interested in exploring what this medium can do for storytelling than looking for a new way to challenge players via the standard skill-focused paradigm. That's not a knock against Syberia's comparative simplicity; on the contrary, as it's neither one of those early FMV adventure games which is far too obtuse for its own good nor does it look embarrassingly dated in 2015. I'm enjoying the pace and mystique of the story and while the English voice-acting isn't great, I tend to give smaller foreign developers a pass in that regard. But yeah, it might just a little too leisurely-paced and soporific for most, and the moment you stop caring about the central story thread or its characters is the moment you put it away and never look back. Keep in mind that I'm probably less than 20% through this game - I'll report back if it starts ramping up the difficulty.

I'm going to stick with it because it's relaxing as heck and not particularly challenging, and I'm a very lazy person who likes both those things. It's a good tonic for the busy and weird Metal Gear Solid 4. The sequel's a bit more recent, so I might want to try that too depending on how this one ends, and apparently there's a third entry that's due any day now. The series is presently (for the week of July 27th to August 2nd) on sale too, but then I imagine it's been on sale a lot in its lengthy tenure on Steam.

I'll leave you all with the eponymous Comic Commish, as I predict where this game will eventually lead:

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Wiki Project: Summer Games Wiki'd Quick 2015 (Cont.)

Please refer back to the first part of this Wiki Project rundown for additional information. In a nutshell, I've just been sprucing up the wiki pages for games featuring in this year's SGDQ, due to begin tomorrow. I extracted ten games of note based on how unusual I expect the run to be (without seeing any prior speedrun footage) or how much work their page required, but the original intent was twenty. As such, I've extended it to a separate article here. I guess I didn't really need to explain all that, huh? Well, that's me. Mr. Explainy. (As before, all times are in GMT.)

Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue

[06/30 - 6:30am. 37 minute estimate.]

You may be asking yourself... well, possibly a whole lot of things. But specifically, why would anyone speedrun a Hello Kitty game? That wasn't Sanrio World Smash Ball?) Well, she has rollerskates so that probably means that, regardless of whomever she's rescuing, she can presumably get to them fairly quickly. Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue is the vanguard for the Silly Games Done Quick block this year, which replaces the usual Awful Games Done Quick block. I couldn't say whether or not Hello Kitty is silly or awful or both (y'know, let's go with both) but I'm curious to see how someone might speedrun through it. Well, the archive anyway. I'm not waking up at 6:30am for any man or beast or beloved yet monstrous combination of the two. Give my regards to KeroKeroKeroppi when you see him in Roller Derby Hell.

Samurai Pizza Cats

[06/30 - 7:10am. 15 minute estimate.]

Continuing the Japanese cat theme for Silly Games Done Quick is a mostly forgotten Famicom adaptation of the Samurai Pizza Cats cartoon, known in Japan as Kyatto Ninden Teyandee. The history of the show is a little weird: while a minor footnote in its home nation as part of the endless parade of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles clones happening on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, its incredibly goofy US dub which has very little to do with the original Japanese dialogue allowed it to take on a much more prosperous second life overseas. It's perhaps not everyone's favorite early 90s cartoon, but it certainly stood out among shows like... I dunno, The Adventures of T-Rex. The game, alas, has very little of this manic dub's influence, based as it is on the original Japanese incarnation of the show (though it too received an English translation that wholesale replaced the script with a more comedic take more in spirit with the US dub). Could be fun for SPC fans.

Panic Restaurant

[06/30 - 7:35am. 16 minute estimate.]

I'm not sure what it is with chef protagonists, but between BurgerTime's Peter Pepper, Panic Restaurant's Chef Cookie, Halo: Combat Evolved's Master Chef and Out to Lunch's Pierre le Chef we suddenly saw a lot of them running around and trying to defeat the unholy sentient food monsters that they were usually partially responsible for releasing. Panic Restaurant seemed more like a traditional side-scroller from what I played of it, but like Pizza Pop! last year I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop and something completely bizarre happen in its later levels. It does have an incredible opening movie with a Waluigi-style rival cook named "OHDOVE" as well as some absolutely horrifying box art. I can't promise you an utterly insane NES oddity made even nuttier with a glitch-exploiting speedrun, but the building blocks are certainly there.

Kaiketsu Yanchamaru 2: Karakuri Land

[06/30 - 7:55am. 15 minute estimate.]

As in, the sequel to Kid Niki: Radical Ninja. The Kid Niki games began and ended with the first game in the US and Europe, but in Japan the series kept going for two more entries. Oddly enough, the main character Kid Niki/Yanchamaru got a facelift with each new game. In the first game he looked like a mildly bemused mannequin, the second (this one, Kaiketsu Yanchamaru 2: Karakuri Land) depicted him as some kind of goblin with an overbite and the third game gave him a bean-headed head and a wicked ninja ponytail. I suppose Mario went through various sprite differences in his three (well, four) NES adventures too, but it wasn't quite as pronounced. If you wanted to see a speedrun of a classic Famicom "Nintendo Difficult" ninja platformer that Arino Kacho hasn't already played on GameCenter CX, this seems like a good one.

Stretch Panic

[06/30 - 10:05am. 35 minute estimate.]

All right, this is the last Silly Games Done Quick entry, or I'm just going to end up covering the whole thing. Stretch Panic is Treasure's inaugural PS2 game and is very much continuing the spirit of their prior nonsense simulators Dynamite Headdy and Mischief Makers. It's a pretty short boss-rush type game too so I'd suggest sticking around to see how quickly the runner can take down the thirteen bosses with nothing but a pinchy scarf and a few demons with giant boobs to practice on. Because I'm weird, Stretch Panic (known here as FreakOut) was actually the first Treasure game I ever played, and it acted as a gateway to some of their earlier (and, it should be said, far more difficult) games for the N64 and Genesis. I'll always have it to thank for introducing me to Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier.

The Oregon Trail

[06/30 - 11:45. 15 minute estimate.]

I'm just really curious about this one. I'd guess that there was some foolproof means of getting across the entire North American continent without falling prey to a thousand different maladies, ranging from pooping diseases to getting massacred by Quetzalcoatl after disturbing the Snake God's final resting place in the Rocky Mountains, but maybe there really isn't and the speedrunner's banking on the RNG being kind to them. The Oregon Trail's RNG has been feasting on schoolchildren for four decades and growing stronger all the time, do they really expect anyone to defeat it? It'll chomp their head off. Just like Quetzalcoatl.

The Wheel of Time

[06/30 - 2:25pm. 20 minute estimate.]

I'm adding this one out of personal morbid curiosity. You see, while I don't have a whole lot of familiarity with Robert Jordan's one-man attempt to deforest an entire continent a.k.a. The Wheel of Time anthology, this was the last game based on an original IP (well, the first video game adaptation of that material anyway) produced by Legend Entertainment. Legend are a favorite developer of mine, producing a number of excellent and maybe slightly less excellent adventure games in the mid-90s around the time when the genre was starting to wane. After being bought out by GT Interactive, publisher of a lot of big, loud first-person shooters, they immediately took Legend off the interesting and well-written adventure games based on literary properties they were known for and put them on producing even more big, loud first-person shooters. Wheel of Time represents the moment in which the two incarnations of Legend Entertainment were balanced between the thoughtful literary-based adventures of their salad days and the first-person shooters they'd be working on for the rest of their life. The Wheel of Time feels like one of those games I want to see for a sense of closure, if nothing else. Watching it get speedrun to pieces is just a bonus.

Doom 64

[06/31 - 4:30am. 40 minute estimate.]

The curious thing about Doom's N64 port is that it's not a port at all. Id Software and Midway built the whole thing from scratch on the N64's hardware, giving all the usual Pinkies and Imps a graphical facelift and adding new enemies and an upgradeable laser weapon to replace the plasma gun/BFG. It also has an original story set after Doom II. At the same time, it's a little shorter and quite a few elements had to be scrapped to fit onto the N64 cart, including multiplayer. Odd to imagine, considering Duke Nukem 64 and Hexen 64 - which used similar tech to Doom II on the PC - were straight (if considerably inferior) ports. If you're not familiar with this particular entry in the Doom series, what better way to see as much of it as possible than by watching someone run through it as fast as they can? Either that or a new Breaking Brad. Hmm...

Super Turrican

[06/31 - 12:10am. 20 minute estimate.]

I thought it was interesting Super Turrican showed up on the schedule, given its relative unknown status outside of Europe. The product of German engineering, Turrican is a Contra-style run-and-gun with a bit more of an exploratory bent. It's generally kind of average but for its incredible soundtrack which I'm sure survived the trip to the Super Nintendo's sound chip largely intact. If you haven't checked my output for a while, the two things I'm blogging most consistently about right now are SNES games (as per an ongoing Wiki Project that isn't this one) and Atari ST games (as per a weekly retrospective on the platform) and this sort of fits in with both. So yes, I added this to the list of games to check out when SGDQ begins so that I could plug two of my other concurrent series. There's a strange sort of respect to be earned through audacity, I think.

Ikaruga

[07/01 - 7:20am. 21 minute 29 second estimate. Well, not even an estimate.]

As the show begins to wrap on the final full day of the streams, there's time for one more TASBot segment. The TASBot segments are a recurring feature in each GDQ event in which a carefully programmed speedrunning robot completes games via the optimal route. There's very little room for error and the little guy appears to freak out as it plays every game given to it perfectly. They've done some amazing work with the TASBot in the past, but I'm really curious to watch it be tested with a bullet hell shooter like Ikaruga. What's amusing to me is that the estimate provided by the schedule knows down to the second how long this stream will last, and even how long it will take to set-up. A joke, I'm sure, but they've probably clocked the TASBot enough times to get a good idea of how quickly it can pass through a shoot 'em up. I'm just picturing them measuring its output with a whole bunch of computers like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.

Well, there's no easy way out after referencing Rocky IV, but here goes: I'm fully expecting to enjoy the following week of speedruns, at least the ones I'll be awake to see, and I imagine I'll be chatting with some of you duders in ExplosiveRuns when SGDQ 2015 starts tomorrow. I hope this list (and the last one) have hyped you up sufficiently for donating to a good cause and watching a bunch of nerds beat games really fast.

Also, be sure to check the official GB discussion thread here for more details on the event including which naming incentives the GB collective decides to donate towards. I'm going to push "Jenks" for someone, anyone (maybe Frog? He's British and hates Satanic cultists too).

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ST-urday #005: Prophecy 1: The Viking Child

We're just a day away from the advent of SGDQ this year, not to mention the new season of the deliciously weird Rick and Morty, so I'm getting excited about having stuff to watch again. That isn't to say the site hasn't been killing it lately between robo-UPFs and throwing people the horns and asking them what it would mean to them, but more distractions are always welcome.

Talking of distractions - I realize that I'm procrastinating on MGS4 despite edging ever closer to the juicy parts - we have this week's ST-urday. Rather than burn out on CRPGs, I'm going with a UK-developed action game this time around about which my impressions have shifted considerably in the twenty-odd years since I last played it due to the benefit of acquired knowledge and years of additional video gaming.

(I didn't realize while playing it, but just like Federation Quest 1 last week this game is also the first part of a planned series that would never see a sequel, but was still so cocky as to include a "1" somewhere in its official title. Weird.)

Prophecy 1: The Viking Child

Prophecy 1: The Viking Child's about as mainstream as I'm willing to go for the rest of this series. While the game was built for the Atari ST and saw the requisite Amiga and PC DOS ports, it was also released on the Game Boy, Atari Lynx and Game Gear. There are a number of games I want to cover further along that also saw console ports, usually the SNES and Genesis, but I did find it a little odd that this game came out for every prominent portable system released at the time but nothing for the home consoles. We're talking a 1990 release, so it's perhaps before the purview of the Super Nintendo (which was launched in the US in 1991 and Europe/Australia in 1992), but I might've assumed a Genesis release?

Well, actually, there might be an issue with that. You see, Viking Child is a flagrant clone of Wonder Boy in Monster Land: the first in Westone's Wonder Boy series to start adopting light RPG mechanics like purchasing weapon upgrades and finding secret routes through stages. Sega kept a stranglehold on the console rights for Westone's Arcade series, denying Hudson the use of the name and forcing them to find creative ways to get around it for their NES/TurboGrafx-16 ports of the same series: The NES's Adventure Island, the TurboGrafx-CD's Dynastic Hero and the TurboGrafx-16's Dragon's Curse are just a handful of these workarounds. While Sega evidently weren't watching the Game Gear too closely - like Sony and the PSVita, they'd all but written it off after it was clear Nintendo were whupping their asses in that market - maybe a Wonder Boy clone wouldn't have been quite so welcome on their flagship system. Of course, that's all conjecture. It would be equally fair to surmise that most big console developers simply didn't consider games coming out of Europe at the time unless they were getting rave reviews. Viking Child's were acceptable, but not glowing.

Nailing down who actually created this 1990 game is trickier than I thought it'd be. DMA Systems (apparently unaffiliated with DMA Design: the developers behind Lemmings that would later become Rockstar North) is credited as the developers in affiliation with UK developers Imagitec Design Ltd. It's possible the former is a subsidiary of the latter, or maybe just a guy who joined Imagitec's team to develop this one game. It was published by Wired for the Atari ST; another company I'm unable to track down because, understandably enough, Google points to a hundred different articles from Wired Magazine with every variant of "Wired game publishers". The inclusion of Imagitec meant the musical influence of the talented composer Barry Leitch, whose in-game music tracks are definitely a highlight. Here's a sampling: Intro, Title Screen, Level One: Village.

Welcome to Prophecy 1: The Viking Child! Someone probably spent a really long time on this logo. It's certainly... pointy. (I suspect everyone was trying their hand at a Roger Dean logo after Shadow of the Beast.)
I won't cover the whole story here - there's ten more pages - but I'll show off some highlights. Our coiffed protagonist is Brian, one of the least exciting heroes I've yet to encounter. Grey and brown, huh?
Odin the White Wizard gives us a pep talk after our village gets wiped out by a freak hurricane and we start bawling our eyes out. A rainbow for a steed? Turns out the Norse God of Mischief sent the twister to kidnap everyone. That's not very low-key of him.
The whole story's available on the game's wiki page. It's essentially "Kid is sad because tragedy, gets told he's the God's chosen warrior of prophecy, decides to take on the world with a tiny dagger and his shorts". You'd think Odin could spare a broadsword or something.
More pointy logos. I really like this title screen though. Odin's quietly contemplating how "wise" it was of him to send yet another pre-teen out to his probable death.
Oh hey, the map screen from Dragon's Breath is back. I guess this feature's going to keep feeding back into itself as we keep going, huh?
This is Viking Child. A lot of ST games would minimize computing power by filling the screen with distracting HUD nonsense, but it's not quite so bad here. I dunno if we need the little satyr sword things, but they look neat at least. (They also blink, so try not to get weirded out.) Talking of blinking... really, Brian? Right when I was taking the shot?
The dagger doesn't have much of a range to it, but it can be upgraded. Most of the time Brian is dependent on the power-ups you can see across the bottom of the screen. We'll cover those when we can access them.
Brian doesn't take fall damage, but he will be stunned briefly. Time is a major factor in this game, as it was in Wonder Boy in Monster Land, and you can see the hourglass on the right. Once it empties, which is about thirty seconds, Brian loses one of his ten hearts. That's more damage than most enemies can do, so time's of the essence. Then again, so is exploration and earning money. Hard to praise Viking Child for a risk/reward balancing mechanic that it purloined from elsewhere, but it's effective motivation to maximize the efficiency of one's route.
Another similarity with Monster Land are the frequency of shops, found as doors spread across the landscape. These things are essential points in the game due to how necessary it is to... did he blink again? Unbelievable.
Stores are the only place to get consumable power-ups, hearts and, eventually, weapon upgrades. The upgrades tend to be better hidden though. I've yet to find any money so I'm going to leave Merlin and his little goblin assistant be.
Money randomly drops from enemies in two forms: the coins on their side like the above are worth twenty, while the other kind is worth fifteen. You can also find diamonds and jewels, which simply boost your score and are therefore useless. These drops can also be found in the environment in secret places by jumping around a lot, though it's hardly a good use of your time to leap around hoping for riches to fall from nowhere.
While stunned, you can't be hurt by enemies, but you will be hurt the moment you stand back up. Best bet is to simply stick to one side and hope they leave you alone until you can recover. I think I've eluded this moody Goomba thing.
It's paramount to restock your health whenever possible. Hearts only cost ten each, so even if you're a little short, it's worth sticking around and grinding for the rest. Wouldn't hurt to fill up on these consumable items either: Bombs are thrown straight up which makes them useless for everything except annoying flying enemies, but this is balanced by them being the cheapest to stock up on; Bolas fly horizontally in the direction you're looking, like Castlevania daggers; Fire Sprites can home in on enemies, making them great against everything. Items need to be selected with the space bar (like many action games for the ST the player only has one "fire" button, but they will make liberal use of the keyboard) and used by pressing down.
There's some neat touches to the game. For instance, this flytrap enemy spits grey blobs from you at a fair distance, making them tough to pass. However, the first one we met didn't expectorate a thing. The game eased us in gently.
These mushrooms are my favorite. All they do is hop and give us the shifty eyes. What do they know that we don't?
It'd be easy to walk right past the well, but it actually leads to a part of the level that is unfortunately necessary. Still, the game has imparted the importance of jumping regularly to find secret stuff. Wouldn't take much to accidentally fall in even if you didn't plan on going down there.
I remember there being a long well in Fantasy World Dizzy too. Maybe everyone just has a phobia about falling down wells. I blame Timmy.
This Puyo Puyo has finally snapped. The village well and sewage system has more elaborate architecture than the village itself. Someone was serious about pooping.
It's been a while since I found a shop. You might notice that I no longer have the little version of Brian in the item bar: this is actually a voodoo doll that dies instead of you when you run out of health. It's an exceptionally valuable (and rare) item that the game is kind enough to give you from the offset.
That wasn't a shop. More Monster Land similarities: bosses are found behind the same innocuous doors that shopkeepers are hiding behind. I don't know if this is a baby dragon or a mutated rat or what, but its reach is a lot further than it seems. Fortunately, all it does is jump around a bit. Easy enough to avoid, and it helps to have some ranged power-ups so you aren't getting clobbered by being too close when it leaps.
Bosses drop all sorts of useful items, but will also drop a key that allows you to leave the level. Once you get the key, you're automatically moved on, so it's actually best to avoid it until you've grabbed everything else.
I can't believe it's taken this long to mention it, but the game plays pretty well. A lot of Atari ST "action" games feel kind of stiff due to the Atari 2600 joystick, but the game has a decent sense of what is and isn't a platform and the game has plenty of air control. It's not Mario, but it's smooth enough.
The last two power-ups is a stun that damages the whole screen, and a potion that does the same thing but all but kills everything. However, they cost more and give you less items per purchase, so I find the fire sprites give the best balance between damage and cost. Of course... there's something to be said for putting some money aside for an extra Brian doll or possible sword upgrade should be lucky to find one.
The door at the end of the village moves onto the next stage. Little reason to stick around, as your health is constantly trickling away, so off we go to the castle. I notice Loki left this one standing.
Our first human opponent. Maybe Loki owns the whole castle then. Enemies in this game, despite a range of appearances, tend to fall into the same movement patterns. Often that pattern is simply walking left to right, but some also jump around a bit to confuse you.
This guy just looks incredibly pissed off. Hey, buddy, today hasn't been great for me either.
Here we are. The Brian dolls are outrageously expensive, but you really can't afford to be without one for long. Ideally, you want to be restocking your health before it drops to zero and necessitates the use of the doll, but that's not always easy to do especially with bosses around.
The castle stage has a lot of these hidden floors. It's actually quite linear for as circuitous a route as you end up taking, but there's a few secrets I'm sure I've missed by falling into these invisible pitfalls.
This stage is absolutely lousy with shops too. It makes it far easier to pass through than the village, even. You can't go fifty paces without another shop with which to refill your hearts.
The heart stack is an interesting item. It completely fills your health gauge, but unless you have less than five hearts left it's actually a rip-off compared to buying the hearts individually. Occasionally, shops will only stock heart stacks instead of singles.
The game toys with you with these horizontal floating platforms. Half of them allow you to be carried across without needing to touch the joystick, while the other half require that you walk along with them as they're moving. It's a little odd that they didn't standardize that, but then there is a line in the manual about how the platforms are meant to trick you occasionally.
So many damn shops in this castle. Did the Vikings have malls back then?
We finally have access to stun powder, but I'm not inclined to buy too much of it. You only get two charges per purchase.
There's the other three powers above, which I've yet to mention. These give you a temporary burst of one of three beneficial states: the ability to glide over wide gaps, the ability to cloak (actually makes you invincible rather than invisible) and the ability to run really fast which can come in useful if you want to get to the next boss quickly. Unfortunately, they become active as soon as you leave the shop rather than being player-activated.
The potion is the most expensive and the most powerful power-up in the game. It kills any enemy on the screen in one shot. It'll even do a considerable amount of damage to bosses. Trouble is, it costs 60 gold for just a single use. Maybe if I was swimming in dough...
That... wasn't a shop door either. In my defense, it looked like every other door this time, not quite as ornate as the last boss door was. There's little strategy to this guy, but he's also incredibly tough to avoid since he runs the entire width of the screen. He does jump occasionally, but you really need to be quick to get underneath him.
Fortunately, I had a whole bunch of items, so I was able to just barely survive by spamming them all. I doubt I'll have that doll for much longer.
I think we'd better call it here. The game continues on in this manner for a while yet, including a stage where a viking passes through a pyramid. No thematic consistency, I tells ya.
I'll leave you all with this metal as hell high score name-input screen. I'm sure the Saga of Butt will live on in Nordic lore forever.

I actually still like this game, for as much as I realize how transparent a clone it is in retrospect. Keep in mind that I didn't have internet back in those days and thus very little knowledge of the Wonder Boy franchise, so I really appreciated how "uniquely" it managed to combine aspects of my beloved (if not necessarily great on average) ST action games and the complex RPGs that belonged to my parents that I could only follow half the time. Music's a bit more bloopy-bleepy than I recall but still has a lot of craft behind it, and it certainly doesn't look bad for a game made in 1990. I say that a lot, but then I've considered a side-by-side comparison with the games that were released on NES and Genesis around the same time frame. I bet the ST would acquit itself nicely.

I guess the most exciting thing to take from this, at least personally, is that there might've been a whole bunch of games I thought were novel but were actually based on Japanese games that the developers hoped were too obscure for the general gaming population to know about. The classic example would be Super Mario Bros. and The Great Giana Sisters, and the various Capcom ports of variable quality we'd receive on the Atari ST, but I'm hoping to dig up more elusive cases like "Wonder Brian the Viking Boy" here in the weeks to come.

(Back to the ST-urday ST-orehouse.)

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Mento Gear Solid 4: Puns of the Patriots: Part Four

So I guess we're doing this again. Metal Gear Solid 4. I'll warn you, it gets rougher to read the further you go down, but since I always write these intros last I can tell you that despite what follows I'm actually enjoying this game, admittedly by a very loose definition of the term. I'm like Alex Navarro, inasmuch as my sense of humor is apparently powered by spite and ridicule. For as often as I take digs at the game and by extension its fans (as that's how it always seems to work whenever bad reviews show up), I want to assuage any concerns and say that I think it's perfectly acceptable to like this game from what I've played so far. Maybe even love it. Just, uh, be aware that I'm probably not going to be particularly kind to it, mechanically or narratively, in the near future.

While we're discussing the usual disclaimers: You guys shouldn't be reading this if you're unfamiliar with the game and/or haven't yet seen up to this point in the Metal Gear Scanlon video series, happening concurrently with this observational log style LP. I haven't seen any of those videos myself - I half expect Ryckert to run his mouth about something that shows up later in the game and immediately try covering it up by switching to Party Bill for fifteen minutes - but they're easily the best place to get the hours and hours of exposition that this game regularly throws at you for which I am providing only the barest summary thereof. I'd also like to point you towards Part One, Part Two and Part Three if you're just joining us. I know how new blog notifications tend to get buried.

The end point for today: The completion of Act 2: Solid Sun. Nice and succinct.

  • Getting better at moving through areas now that I'm just finding somewhere small and concealed to hide, tranq-ing every person I see and tranq-ing everyone who comes by to check up on them. The ammunition I'm using is easily replenished with the money made from collecting all their weapons. As always seems to be the case these tranq guns are OP, but I'm not complaining. I'm really just here for the story; for as frequently as I mock it.
  • Hey, I discovered a new control thing. Folk are suggesting I look to alternate ways to play to keep myself amused, and I found one: if you hold the movement analog stick very gently while crawling Snake starts moving extremely slowly while humping the ground. I'm sure that'll come in useful later. Maybe I'll need to press a button on the floor at some point without the use of my hands.
  • I don't know what these boys are carrying, but I'm getting $12k apiece for them. Is it weird that I wish there were more items to purchase other than weapons? Like little figurines, maybe? (I already found one of those in the parking garage after the FROG soldiers, so I'm guessing they're boss trophies? Or maybe they're like the camos of MGS3 in that they only drop from non-lethal boss defeats?) Actually, I probably have enough weapons and ammo to buy without worrying about cosmetic extras I don't need. I mean... what was I really suggesting, here? Concept art?
  • I'm finding that, after tranqing PMCs, the rebels run past and shoot them in the head. Hey, I'm not taking the blame for those. You make your own bed (so to speak) when you fall asleep on the battlefield.
  • So the big base to the northeast is bad news, but the one to the west is considerably safer without all these mortars going off. I suspect I probably should've gone that way to begin with.
  • I figured out that there's a difference between exclamation points in this game: a blue one says "I've been shot! There's someone out there!" and red means "Hey asshole! Those bullets you shot at me hurt!". Which is to say: Blue (or white) means that you haven't blown your cover but the dude is looking towards wherever the shot came from, while red means that they can see you. Spotting the blue exclamation point is super helpful for figuring out if your tranq hit them or not because they otherwise won't react at all until they eventually fall over.
  • Also the Mosin Nagant is loud. I'm making sure not to use it in populated areas to take down distant enemies (like those in watchtowers) in case I get made by the noise it makes. Rather, I'm shooting them from remote areas outside of where they're gathered. It's sort of like how I used to clear out bases in Far Cry 3 and 4. Well, except for the part where I shot the locks off tiger/elephant enclosures.
  • We're now at Vista Mansion. A bunch of arid grasslands seems like a pretty crappy place for a mansion. Especially now that a bunch of army dudes are blowing it up.
  • Being in the mansion is better than being outside, I've discovered. The place itself seems empty, while there's PMC soldiers all around its perimeter that keep showing up. You have to wonder where they're coming from, but then there's just as many rebels pouring in from nowhere to help me out so maybe I should just overlook this.
  • Who the heck is Akina Minami? I found a picture of her and Snake seemed super pleased. Well, not quite as pleased as he was with that girly poster he found in a locker that one time, but he still recognized her and his psych meter went up. Wait, are cheesecake photos all I need to get Snake's psych meter up? 'Cause I'm rocking five or six Playboys at the moment.
  • After a crazy route through the mansion, happily devoid of enemies, I found the hidden research lab. Weird coincidence that I name-dropped the Spencer Mansion last time. I suspect I'm going to get an earful when I finally locate Naomi; provided I don't get a faceful from her guards first. Of bullets, I mean. Weirdos.
  • Oh wait, it's just Naomi here. We sure built up a lot of suspense for nothing then. When we finally see her, we spend an awful long time looking at her cleavage (there's not even a prompt this time, like there was in MGS3) as she completes a phonecall and then gets hit with what looks like a non-fatal FOXDIE attack. I guess that's what she injected herself with earlier. Except she just injected herself again, so maybe this is to slow down FOXDIE? I dunno. I'm sensing there's going to be a tragic arc with Naomi, because that's how Kojima rolls with female characters.
  • While we're talking about Otacon and Ocelot, I keep seeing glimpses of OctoLady with the L1 view. Boss fight!
  • Well, no, long dialogue about what Dr. Naomi's been up to first, then boss fight. Vegetables before dessert, I guess would be the pertinent analogy here.
  • Talking of pertinent, do we really need to keep staring at Dr. Naomi's chest as we're talking to her? It's odd how they portray Snake as both a sex-starved maniac and a suave action guy who's too cool to get involved with all the ladies swooning over him. I guess that never stopped the writers of City Hunter though. Now that's an anime Dan would be into.
  • More nanomachine talk. Apparently, that affair that occurred at the end of Act One was Naomi and Liquid turning off everyone's nanomachines, which had up to that point been regulating their hormones and other brain chemicals. The sudden burst of post-traumatic stress and lack of emotional regulators caused them all to freak out like that. I'm not sure I buy it, given how much dialogue has been spent on how the nanos minimize war atroicities and other elements of combat that might scar a dude for life, but I guess those little bots can do some psychological damage after tinkering with one's noggin for so long.
  • I also note that Kojima loves to wheel out this computer footage of soldier mugshots and little gauges everywhere. Presumably, this is how the Patriot AIs see the world.
  • We get to hear a bit more about our old ninja cyborg buddy Gray Fox when Naomi eventually says this: "Until that point, war was like a game to them." Suddenly a list of all the Metal Gear games shows up in the XMB format. It'd be cute if it wasn't so blunt.
  • I just refilled my psych bar with a sneaky upskirt glance. Turning this off.

So that's the end of our Metal Gear Solid 4 run. I'd like to thank everyone for joining me on this journey, and for all the advice and comments you've been providing with each new entry. As I consider the direction Metal Gear has-

  • No, I'm just messing with you. Like Solid Snake and war, I've slowly built up a tolerance to the intolerable.
  • We need to get naked now and there's no time to explain why. Naomi freaks out and starts crying as soon as she sees Snake without his shirt on. When doves cry, man.
  • She mentioned that "70% of [my nanomachines] were lost through breeding or excretion." By "breeding", does she mean those nanomachines left via...? Which were then passed onto...? Wow. I think Snake has some difficult phone calls to make once he gets back home.
  • Naomi confirmed that Snake's short lifespan is due to how he was genetically built, rather than something he contracted later in life. I guess this had all but been confirmed in the previous games but it doesn't hurt to make sure here. I also get to save the game, which isn't ominous at all.
  • "How long do I have?" "Half a year." *psych meter goes down, makes a slide whistle noise.* I guess it was either that or the Price is Right foghorn.
  • We have a bigger problem, it seems. The FOXDIE is mutating inside Snake's body, threatening to turn into super AIDSthrax and just murder everyone instead of specific targets like the DARPA chief. It'll be like Outbreak, which makes me hope that Drebin's creepy monkey will be the first to bite it.
  • Oh, and the disease is likely to start spreading in three months. That's another slide whistle. At least he gets to have his cigarette. Can I get a psych boost for that?
  • OK, so now it's the boss fight. After a few waves of FROG grunts, Laughing Octopus shows up and the real fight starts. This is our first proper boss fight! Yay! She's tough to hit when she's out in the open because she'll reflect most bullets with her tentacles. She does let her guard down when she's about to fire her SMG, so I'm using that to blat her with the Mosin Nagant and getting out of view. If she can't see you she can't block the bullet, so it looks like finding hiding places to shoot from is working out. I'm also dropping stun grenades when appropriate.
  • She's invisible to both myself and the Solid Eye radar (though I admit to my chagrin that I forgot about the night vision), but she frequently taunts me which ghosts her position briefly on the radar. She's also way more perceptive than I am, so it's hard to get the drop on her. I'm actually finding it easier to just whomp her with the Mosin and hit her again when she recovers, though she will eventually curl up into an invincible ball, drop an inky smoke grenade and send some testicle grenade things floating after me.
  • Now she's rolling into me. It's like fighting a psychopathic female Sonic the Hedgehog. (So Amy Rose the Hedgehog, then.) I also noticed my camo is doing absolutely nothing if its percentage is anything to go by, so I guess whatever advanced OctoCamo she's wearing can see through mine.
  • Oh god, she was posing as the MRI machine and surprised me as I passed by. This battle is starting to unnerve me. I'm just going to try to brute force it before Snake's (and my) heart gives out.
  • Found her that time. She was in a box, with her tentacles hanging out (ew). I guess she wants to play hide and go seek, huh? She was the simulacrum next (I wondered why that was here. Why else decorate Naomi's lab like it was a science classroom?).
  • Otacon starts calling me. One check-in with the Codec later and... yep, that's not him. Nice try, OctoLady. I now recall that she's based on Decoy Octopus from the first game: the master of disguise and duplicity. Hey OctoLady guess what? I killed that dude without even trying, so what hope do you have?
  • Ha, I didn't see where Otacon's voice was coming from. It was from a five-foot tall Mk.2, just standing in the corridor. I retract my "nice try".
  • Wow, posing as the body of one of the fallen soldiers that time. Unfortunately, she was lying on top of another one, and I already knew where all the bodies were. Doesn't help her that she keeps killing their prone forms with her explosives (and I won't take the blame for those either).
  • Okay, turning into Naomi isn't going to convince anyone. I saw her get carted out of here, and she wasn't wearing skintight leather. Though I suppose any excuse to depict her in same, right?
  • Finally, I took her down. Actually not too tough: While she hid a lot, she also telegraphed her attacks a fair deal, making it easy to get out of the way of her gunfire. The arena with all its doorways and windows to hide behind helped too. It felt more like a tutorial boss fight that set the tone and meter for the rest to come. I approve - sussing out her hiding places and the spooky atmosphere set by this insane octopus lady was a lot of fun. There you go, I've said a positive thing about the game.
  • I'm talking like I didn't expect there to be a second stage to this fight. She sheds her tentacles and reveals herself to be... Heather Mason? So wait... you're telling me this young woman was a squid now, and she's a kid now? She's a squid, she's a kid? Unprecedented.
  • She's still crazy, and I don't think I want to go near her. She's coming in for the hug and I'm not having any of it. She's legit creeping me out even more than before just following me around with a static grin on her face. Also the whole arena just went grayscale and the BGM's gone super hardcore weird. Guys, am I dying? I mean in real life? Is that burned toast I smell...?
  • Well, "Laughing Beauty" has a health gauge, so I'm taking out the Mk. 2 Pistol and turning her into "Sleeping Beauty" if it's the last thing I do.
  • I took too long, so I got punished with a time limit and had my background privileges taken away. It's just white space now.
  • She finally went to sleep, though it almost appeared as if she bought the farm with a very tragic and tearjerking death scene in which the camera spent 80% of its time staring at her shapely derriere. You might assume I'm being too gutter-minded about all this salacious camera work, but if it zoomed in any closer we'd be able to see her kidneys.
  • Oh sweet, we picked up her FaceCamo. Now we can get up to some Mission: Impossible mischief. Well, after it gets adjusted to fit around a mustache. (The game just completely ignores this and lets you equip it in the very next sequence.)
  • Holy crap, this backstory on Laughing Octopus. You're a sick guy, Kojima. Also it all reads like some terrible creepypasta: "everyone in her village was killed by cultists except for her and then they made her torture and kill her family even her dumb brother who still hasn't given her back her yu-gi-oh cards including the super rare mega-pharaoh card brent and then they made her laugh when doing it and then she saw the blood was black like octopus ink instead of red and laughed some more and then she became an octopus who laughed and killed people and then she found a haunted pokemon red cartridge that told her she would die in seven days unless she traded evil pikachu to another person with the link cable and then they would die instead also it said 'slendermon' on the title screen."
  • Oh hey, so I got her FaceCamo and her face for the FaceCamo. Now I can walk around pretending to be her. The chameleonic mask's on the other face now, ain't it?
  • Got in contact with Raiden again. He apparently became a tracking master since we last saw him. Dude's really made an effort to improve himself after the feedback he got in MGS2, wowzers. I like how he suggests Snake track the prints and Snake says "I'm not Big Boss, I don't know how to track" which is just one step removed from "This isn't MGS3 and there's no hunting and tracking mechanics. I'm going to need to visit GameFAQs for a map or something."
  • "Ninja are the ultimate scouts." Yep, even after going up five levels in badass, our little Raiden is still the weenie we loved to love feeling ambivalent about.
  • Haha, this Laughing Beauty mask looks super great on my muscly old man body. Oh boy the fanart this probably lead to.
  • Anyway, enough funning around with masks and stupid Raiden. I gotta follow Naomi's trail to see where she was taken. Raiden said a whole lot about birdcalls and the wind, but it looks like I'm just following footprints. That knucklehead always has to make things difficult.
  • Did I just find a crop circle? The dulcet tones of Colonel Campbell recanted his experience with a UFO (the AI rambling of MGS2, of course, which Solid Snake couldn't have possibly known about) as I checked around for alien weaponry. No zappers, alas. I bet they would've been worth a mint.
  • "Naomi's footprints just vanish beyond this point. But just hers." That's because Jesus was carrying her at that point. I guess I need to look for a guy with long hair and a beard who has a habit of coming back from the dead.
  • Yeah, yeah, Vamp grabbed her. I sort of figured already. Snake chose to shoot him in the same place Raiden did. Maybe he figured twice was the charm. Even with a hole through his head he finished a chat with Liquid on his mobile and took a nap as the chopper took off, just before hitting us with the brown note again. Is every Act going to end this way?
  • Those mooing Rockette robots are back. Fortunately, Naomi gave me some syringes earlier to counter this nanomachine business so I don't have to fight them with the nastiest of hangovers.
  • An oddly altruistic Drebin suddenly drives up to the chopper and caught Naomi. Apparently the goons in the back of the chopper (who also inoculated themselves) had no problem with this. Maybe Vamp never filled them in about how crucial Naomi was before his forty winks? Honestly, if I was a regular mercenary (well, a regular nanomachine-enhanced super soldier) I'd be sitting there wondering what the hell was happening too. My boss just got shot in the dome mid-phonecall, an old man in a musclesuit opened fire on my buddies and a monkey riding on an AFV just kidnapped the woman I'd rescued minutes before. Makes you wonder what was in those injections.
  • Well, we all got in and escaped the Geckos. The monkey offered the nice doctor lady a cold beverage. You know he probably tampered with that can, right?
  • The Act's still not over? We're being chased through all the prior regions now on top of Drebin's AFV. And, well...
  • I decided to restart from the last checkpoint because I'd murdered people with the turret-cannon before realizing I had a strong enough tranq weapon to get past the power-armored dudes without despoiling my "no kills" rule. So I quit to the main menu, loaded up the auto-save and... there's no auto-save. I forgot that the people who made this game are living in the damn 1980s. So I'm back to just after the Laughing Octopus boss fight. Just gimme an hour to get back to where I was, and...
  • OK, so back to the truck then. I think from now on I'm just going to ignore any comments that say anything along the lines of "the checkpointing isn't too bad. In fact it's probably too generous" because they're made by silly people who should go to a dungeon. That mountain trail area was just as huge the second time.
  • Okay, so this region does have a checkpoint mid-way through that I didn't notice. All you silly people can be released from that dungeon now. I've got my eye on you, though.
  • Drebin: "We've got an MGS on our ass." More like this MGS is ass. Yeah, I said it.
  • Finally reached a marketplace where we crashed the truck. We're certainly taking our time getting out of the vehicle, given how those Geckos were mooing down our necks a minute ago. Ah well, out of sight, out of mind.
  • Well, they're still hovering around, turns out. Then Raiden showed up and just one-shotted a whole bunch of them with his little samurai sword. Hey, game, even if you show me Raiden doing cool ninja shit it's not going to change a thing. Once a weenie, always a weenie.
  • So the last part of this Act involves running past a bunch of Geckos to reach Otacon's helicopter in the town square. Those things were tearing the place up and spinkicking me to near-death whenever I got too close. Sure was exciting though. Too bad about all those poor civilians getting trampled, but as I've said a number of times before: That shit won't stick on me. I'm Teflon.
  • Naomi got to the chopper and shared an interesting look with Otacon. What's going on with you two? Did you know he still wets the bed, Naomi? Or, more vitally, that all his love interests end up dead because drama reasons?
  • Vamp's here again. He's doing little pirouettes under the Geckos. I really, really hate that man.
  • He's going to torture Raiden, but stuff happens. I dunno. I'm inclined to skip anything regarding either of these two Todd McFarlane rejects. Let them lick blood homoerotically and do ballet dance choreography and talk about how they don't fear death all they want - I don't have to pay attention to any of it.
  • Oh good, please say they just killed each other. That would make my millennium.
  • No such luck. A half-dead Raiden's now with us in the chopper, and Vamp's going back to Liquid to presumably write poetry about the full moon iceskate up a hill send his bat minions to knock Vinny Belmont down a pit over and over search for Big Boss's body. Try the MSX.
  • Also I guess Raiden is a robot now. That's SMAKA #3, because there's no way I managed to completely avoid hearing about Revengeance. He's also vomiting up Bishop blood everywhere in the chopper; it looks like the War Boys have been through here there's so much chrome paint.
  • We are to meet Raiden's boss "Big Mama" next. We're coming for you Martin Lawrence!

And that's the end of Act 2. The thlot is certainly pickening now, and the game's established a lot more in this Act than the previous one did. We now know that: multiple parties are looking for Big Boss's corpse; the nanomachines regulate emotions and can be used to mess with people; Vamp still looks like an extra from the rave at the start of Blade; Raiden's an androgynous ninja robot from one of Otacon's Japanese animes; Snake will kill the whole world in three months with his foxy virus; I'm quickly losing patience with any game that doesn't know how to save properly; the Beauty and Beast fights work by creeping me out with scary discordant laughter/screaming and then creeping me out in an entirely separate way by showing off so much squirming latex T&A that the Marquis de Sade would be embarrassed if he was caught watching it; Drebin's monkey still dwells within the uncanny primate valley; and finally, despite every impulse in my brain telling me to stop, I need to see what happens in Act 3 (which I only imagine is the last Act because that's how Acts are supposed to work).

Thanks for stopping by for this super lengthy blog today. I wanted to keep going until I saw that end of Act results screen and maintain this "two entries per Act" system I've got going on, but it turns out I had a lot to say about the first B&B fight and the madness before and after. Don't be too concerned with how quickly I appear to be burning out on this game: I'm in it for the long haul now, and I don't like quitting games (or blog series, for that matter) midway through. At the very least I hope my pain continues to be entertaining for you all. Apologies to anyone who actually likes this game; our love can never be, for our worlds are far too different.

Stick around for Part Five, where we'll locate Big Mama's house and get even more answers. Nothing but answers, you might say. Can you believe I thought the game would be cagey about revealing too much too soon? What series did I think I was playing?

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Mento Gear Solid 4: Puns of the Patriots: Part Three

I think Metal Gear Solid is unique in that I feel Pavlovian shivers every time I reach for the controller to start playing it, and yet I find I can't put that controller down for several hours once I begin. I mean that in the figurative sense, of course, as I'm frequently putting it down to watch the 80% of this game that is cutscene, but there's always something about the bizarre otherworldly logic behind the way this universe works and its "half overheard from Syfy Originals, half overheard from WarGames"-style world-building that forces me to keep watching to see what happens next, because I lack the imagination for even a fraction of the revelations it throws my way. It's like the video game equivalent of a Mexican sci-fi soap opera; doubly so, when you consider how few words I can make out.

For that reason, I cannot ever claim to "hate" Metal Gear Solid. Not even the second one, for as often as it would test me with its terrible escort and platforming sequences. Not even the game's series-long aversion to proper saving/loading/checkpointing protocols and defying what I consider to be the prime detective of all video game design - don't waste the player's time. Equally, I can never profess to "love" these games either, for as uncomfortably attached as I find myself to seeing how they pan out.

I'm sure there's a name for this kind of "hate" and "love" relationship, but I'll be darned if I can think of what that might be. Instead, let's resume from where we left Snake. Oh right, he was a quivering mass of jelly because a bunch of nanomachines pooped in his brain. Let's resume from slightly after that:

(Today's disclaimer for where today's update will end: After a power plant, and a corpse-related power play. If you aren't familiar with that part of Act 2, please wait until Drew and Dan have caught up before reading. Here's Parts One and Two.)

  • Act 2! Let's do this! And we get another Nomad briefing scene with Sunny, her eggs and her numbers song. I don't remember that one from Sesame Street. I really hope this doesn't turn into Mercury Rising with the autistic kid (and holy shit did the title of that movie get funnier/more depressing in retrospect thanks to those anti-voxxer idiots).
  • Olga photo in the kitchen. Guess that confirms that. Hey Otacon, don't lose this child genius as quickly as you did the last one.
  • Kid burned the eggs and then got burned about the eggs. Dairy wasn't the only thing getting served. *Z-snaps*. (I'm saying this briefing scene is like a bad sitcom so far.)
  • We're talking about Naomi now, and I guess if Otacon had to run a DNA trace on the syringe she was holding he wasn't watching through his robot when she did the whole "standing over Snake and talking to him" bit, which would've been slightly more telling (but then who even knows with nanomachines). I suppose the Mk.2 was getting all nano-sick too off in the corner somewhere.
  • Naomi apparently Skyped Otacon at some point after we fell unconscious. As she's explaining FOXDIE and nanomachines too a webcam that keeps swinging around, it somehow manages to accidentally point at her open cleavage a couple times. Subtle.
  • Hey, we just got a note about Mei Ling helping us out too. The whole gang's back together. How long's it been since Shadow Moses? Around nine or ten years?
  • Where the hell is the Colonel broadcasting from? The Pope's office? Spencer Mansion? Looks expensive as heck. Also, I'm not sure who's skulking around in the back, but I'm sure there's going to be another five minutes of explanations soon enough.
  • Haha, okay I love that. The Colonel's talking about how Liquid's base, where we're heading next now that Naomi's given us the coordinates, has "a regime backed by the PMCs, and a rebel army fighting to overthrow it" nearby. He then pauses with this kind of half-smile and then nods slightly as if to say, "Yeah, we're repeating the first bit again. Deal with it, wuss."
  • Pieuvre Armement. That's the French PMC from before. Maybe I was a little off with the FROG comment earlier. I'm sure the Pieuvre Armement's special soldiers are called the C.E.S.M. (and kudos to anyone who deciphers that joke).
  • And yes, I did notice that the first PMC had a mantis-based name/logo and this one has an octopus-based name/logo. And that there's five PMCs in Liquid's control. And that there's five mysterious female badass cyborgs. And that there were five members of MGS1's FOX-HOUND group that wasn't Snake. It's this "recreate Shadow Moses" AI meme shit again, isn't it?
  • These flashbacks don't really add a whole lot, given how indistinct they are and how it's dawning on me just how much of a bad idea it would be to make Metal Gear Solid 4 your entry point to this series. But the game gives me bonus Drebin bucks for viewing them, sooooo...
  • Briefing's over. We're off to South America. Replacing the adobes with favelas, huh? I didn't expect this game to be so Call of Duty-y. It does also have an old guy with a cool mustache though.
  • That peeg totally got ate by that snake. Make sure no-one lets Brad play this... oh, he reviewed it? Peeg's out of the hutch now, then.
  • What the hell is Snake doing? It's either some kind of super stealthy belly crawl or advanced calisthenics to keep his old ticker in check.
  • We're at the base and... no. No! That Anne Rice reject is back! I thought I kille- yeah, I'm not going to assume that's going to mean anything. Octopus lady is here too, and has a bad case of the buttersnakeface. I don't even want to imagine why she looks like Solid Snake, though I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that Vamp coaxed her into the idea before whatever they were about to do got interrupted by the rebel attack.
  • She sure is crazy as shit though. It says something when Vamp is the least insane psycho person in the scene. She told the surviving rebel goon to "remember her face". Uh, he's probably going to remember the rack too, and it doesn't look like Snake's suffering any gynecomastia in his old age.
  • "That was Vamp! I'll never forget his face." Specifically the fangs, right? Or the bullethole scar on his forehead? Or how he looks like he's waiting for Kate Beckinsale's Underworld character to swipe him on TinderVania? Otacon's talking as if Vamp wouldn't be memorable if not for the stepsister-murdering.
  • After more complaints about Vamp (Otacon, baby, I'm right there with you) and how my OctoCamo isn't quite as unique as Snake had hoped, I finally have control again. I need to remember to turn the controller off between acts to save all that battery power.
  • It also means I can buy that gun I keep talking about that I can't be bothered to look up how to spell it properly this time! Good thing the clock just ticked over to 12:30am Wednesday and I got the discount price.
  • Drebin also has a new porn mag? "Beauty and Beast". The boss squad's on the cover. So they're the Beauty and Beasts? (Before you wonder if this is something revealed ahead of time, I did notice that Vamp called the OctoLady by the name "beast"). So... the beast is the animal-like outer shell and the beauty's the crazy lady within? Sure, okay. I guess I'll find out soon enough.
  • Well, I managed to only accrue about a dozen alerts sneaking past a single village. Good to know my sneaking game hasn't gotten rusty in the months since I started this Act. What really did me in is how people are marching across the map every few seconds, picking a route I cannot seem to ascertain ahead of time. I was sneaking up a guy and about three or four them ran up behind me. Mind jogging somewhere else? You're biting my style. And also shooting my style, repeatedly. And by "style" I mean "ass".
  • So that's who the woman in the background was in the Colonel's mission briefing video call. I had a horrible suspicion after seeing that haircut, but I'd managed to convince myself otherwise out of sheer optimism. It's Rosemary, a.k.a. Rose, a.k.a. "Please be quiet about our relationship troubles for five minutes, I'm trying to save the President". Hearing she's a psychologist these days doesn't fill me with hope for the United State's mental health care system.
  • Snake and Colonel begin to converse about her and her background like she isn't even there while she sits in the Codec's viewscreen fidgeting nervously. I'd make a "shoe's on the other foot now" joke about her discomfort but she's suffered enough. I mean, she's had Raiden's baby. What a beautiful, bullied kid that little nipper must be.
  • Rose specifically trained in the psychology of soldiers, PTSD and the effects battlefield stress. I'm guessing after MGS2 Raiden didn't speak to her for six months. "Shell-shocked from his mission, clearly," she probably thought. I notice he hasn't shown up yet.
  • Rosemary's married to the Colonel?! What? You sure can pick 'em, boss. And Rose, not to be crass, but are you sure the Colonel's famous purple stuffed worm can still do a raw blink on your Hara-Kiri Rock at his age? Also, yeah, I guess that means Raiden's been out of the picture for a while then. Probably laughing it up on a tropical island somewhere surrounded by busty women who aren't the least bit concerned about putting away some money to buy a house together. Or being a pissy little baby in a VR training facility somewhere. I dunno. I'm not his day planner.
  • So what I thought was my stamina bar is actually a "psych" bar. Presumably it drops whenever I see a spoooooky ghost. Did they seriously implement a sanity gauge into this game? Or is it more that it's actually a stamina bar in all but name, but it just so happens that Ms. Psycho Mantis will be able to drain it with weird brain shit as well?
  • If the psych bar is low, I won't be able to shoot or move around as effectively, similar to how low stamina effects you in MGS3. The game suggests that the best way to boost psych if it's getting low without using expensive meds is to call Rosemary on her line. Talk about your Morton's forks.
  • All right, in this new area now. The rebels are creating distractions but it was hard going with all those narrow valleys. Hopefully this power plant area's a bit more open.
  • Oh yeah, we got a mysterious phonecall from Deep Throat. Nah, not really. For some reason, Snake thought it was Jack (i.e. Raiden, a.k.a. Blond Weenie), despite the fact he sounded bass-y and almost kinda Caribbean. Either they upgraded the voice actor or Snake's hearing is going.
  • I snuck around back, hoping to find a way in. Instead I find Drebin and his cigarette-stealing monkey.
  • He's going to tell me about the B&Bs (Beauties and the Beasts, I'd assume) but first a dig at my age, which apparently drops my psych gauge. Am I really going to get penalized for age jokes? You'd think a legendary soldier like Solid Snake would shrug off insults from a guy wearing zebra print camo.
  • Yeah, Drebin's confirming what I pretty much already ascertained about this boss group. Well, except that they're all victims of war atrocities that went insane from their PTSD. I didn't expect Kojima to use that to create his bunch of expendable villains. Maybe in MGS5 I'll get to kick a guy in a wheelchair down a hill (no, I already know what's in 5 and it's even worse, though still along a "women and battlefields don't mix" theme. This is the same series that had The Boss just a little while ago, right?)
  • "They [The Beauties/Beasts] all think that if they kill Snake, their minds will be freed from all the pain. From all the fury. From all the sorrow. From all the... wait, which is the one that jumped around the trees?" "The End?" "No, no, he was half-tree. I'm talking about the Ninja Scroll knock-off." "They were all Ninja Scroll knock-offs, you'll have to be more specific." "The damn snake-y tree guy with the poison darts! Remember, everyone yelled at you for not feeding him rotten food?" "Ah yeah."
  • Raven, Octopus, Wolf, Mantis. The SNAKEHOUND unit. They aren't even trying with these unit names anymore, are they? At least make them MONGOOSE. That'd be slightly easier to backronym with military jargon you damn hack.
  • Also, I said "five animals" earlier, to go with the five PMC groups, and we've only been told about four B&Bs. We're one B&B short of a tourist brochure. Who's left? Please say there's an Ocelot too. One that Liquid Ocelot has taught how to cat growl, like in the good old days. If there isn't a cat lady cyborg causing Old Snake and/or Batman trouble, I'm calling foul.
  • Drebin's switched topics to the Patriots AI. I guess we kinda let them be after MGS2. Old Skullface Campbell's still out there, determining the rules of the world. I think his most recently implemented one is that all cutscenes need to be five times longer and full of barely comprehensible exposition, as per the precedent he himself set at the end of MGS2.
  • That monkey needs a nicotine fix and Drebin's having none of it. Poor little guy. Actually that monkey creeps and irritates the crap out of me in equal measure. Maybe the next time I stop by I'll bring some "bad dates".
  • Didn't get really get a chance to explore the power station. Unfortunately, while we were talking, the repels were rebelled... wait, that's... nah, forget it, let's keep moving. So anyway, I've had to sneak around a bit more without the distraction to help. I did find an area full of stuff, but it meant blowing up the plant's power station first. Good thing I found all this C64 in the nearby room.
  • Oh cool, it's my old friend the Stinger missiles. Given the amount of palaver required to reach them, I'm hoping I don't have a Hind D fight coming up. All the same, that's a nice piece of kit, and if I find any more I imagine Drebin's going to pay me a premium for 'em.
  • I like how, if you're moving around in a crouched position, Snake always arcs his back straight up to reload his gun. It's stealthy, is what it is.
  • So, as soon as we hit a new area we're hit with even more exposition. Sure, it's been almost ten minutes, what do you have?
  • Raiden tells us he's been out digging up bodies. Big Boss's to be precise, on the orders of a "Matka Pluku". Apparently, whoever Big Boss was in life, he caught the attention of the Jedi Council and they want to give his remains a proper funeral so he can rejoin the Force.
  • Actually, it means "Big Mama" in some language neither Raiden nor Snake felt like telling us. Hmm. I have a suspicion I know who this is too, though only because we're running out of major female characters from the last three games who haven't already made cameos.
  • Of course, if there's Raiden talk to be had, that means another long chat from Rose about failed relationships and Raiden becoming emotionally distant and oh god why did you let her pursue a counselling degree, Colonel? That's like giving a pyromaniac nitroglycerin. She's weaponized talking about her feelings now.
  • I've been given the advice to talk to my Codec contacts more often, but it doesn't seem like there's any point. They're all calling me every couple minutes to see what's up anyway. Maybe they read somewhere that you have to regularly talk to seniors to make them not die. Or maybe that's plants. My only options are Nerdlinger and Clingy anyway. I think I'd get more productive conversations introducing myself to enemy soldiers.

That's about all I can stand today. I have a psych meter too, you know, and it's bottoming out something fierce with all this Raiden and Rose business. When I next join you all, we'll be heading through a confinement facility (why not "prison"? Or does it confine something else? I'll guess I'll find out when I accidentally shoot at it and discover it's nuclear material) and possibly meeting up with Bellend Lugosi and a chuckling Cyborglapod (that's a good portmanteau, right? I'm pretty tired).

I've appreciated all your comments, and I'm still reading them and taking their advice on board. For that reason, no spoilers. Also, don't expect me to gymnastically waltz through this game either: I'm not particularly proficient in any game that gives you a thousand commands to memorize (I tend to panic and forget all of them except for the "go into the foetal position" button) nor am I the most patient player when it comes to stealth games - though I am now getting used to being spotted constantly and running off to hide somewhere instead of anything more drastic. "No Alerts" wouldn't be nearly as restrictive were it not for the game's awful checkpointing, so as it is I'm just going to drop any illusions of subtlety. I'll stick with the no-kills thing for as long as I can though, as I can at least conveniently buy ammo for the two (yep, I bought the Mosin Nagant) tranq guns in my possession whenever I need to.

Thanks for stopping by and I'll see you soon for more of Act 2's Solid Shenanigans.

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Mento Gear Solid 4: Puns of the Patriots: Part Two

I perhaps didn't choose the best place to end last time, as it turned out I was a handful of areas away from the end of the game's first Act. I haven't quite got a sense of how the game is paced just yet: I'm aware that there are five "Acts", but have no clue how long each one is individually, nor is that something I'm eager to dig deeper into in case of spoilers. So while I intend to find "appropriate" points upon which to end of each these observation LP chapters, they're going to end up fluctuating in size a lot. Then again, I'll be posting a new one every other day or so, so it's hardly as if there's going to be a dearth of sarcastic MGS quips emanating from this corner of the internet.

Be sure to read the first part of this series if you're just joining us, and keep in mind that I may be pushing ahead of the MGScanlon videos from this point forward. I'll preface every new part of this series with a vague indicator of where I'm at in the story, just in case you're experiencing the game for the first time through the filter of Drew and Dan nincompoopery ("poopery" being the operative word this time around thanks to Akiba). Today's end point is the end of Act One.

  • Heading through a busted-up building. Between the confusing level geometry and the sounds of death and destruction happening around me, this is probably a fairly close approximation of how terrifying it would be to get around in a warzone like this. Well, aside from the goofy little weapon drop blips that follow every dying scream.
  • I've found a couple of them so far, but these iPod track collectibles are kinda weird. Mostly because that they look like briefcases instead of other iPods, but also because they're branded Apple products and not some in-game generic term like "Earsnakes" (y'know, like earworms, as in catchy music? Sure, fine, I'm not a MGS joke writer. Not yet).
  • Big Boss Porta Pros! Shout-outs to Jeff Green and his preferred headphone brand.
  • Talking of branded goods, the "sexy magazine" is now an actual Playboy. With actual photos of girls in it. The game even lets you flip through the thing, like Snake doesn't have enough to focus on. Well, it's not like this isn't the first Metal Gear Solid game that lets him "enjoy himself".
  • We're out of the building and there's... a fart barrel. Well, no, it's our old incontinent pal Johnny Sasaki suffering from the green apple splatters inside an oil barrel before getting made and having to run off with his pants between his legs. Solid Snake (I'd make a poop joke, but with Johnny it's usually Liquid) makes the interesting decision to pick up and carry around a 9kg oil barrel that someone's shat all over. This game.
  • I've not really been helping the rebels around here, despite dressing like one, but it behooved me to remove that sniper before he took my head off. The guy next to me was all "hey, thanks man". Believe me, the act itself was its own reward (plus the free sniper rifle I used the Mk.2 to fetch).
  • The checkpointing in this game is... well, just as awful as it's always been. I lost twenty minutes of progress there, from finding the barrel to sneaking through a dozen alleyways and past snipers and other soldiers. I got shot because I tried to hide in an enemy area with constantly respawning units. This is a whole bunch of bullshit, frankly.
  • OK, I found a better route this time and was able to make it over the last hurdle by crawling along my stomach where there was an incline. Absurdly dangerous, but I guess there was no better way. The game could use some better checkpointing if it's going to make its individual areas this large.
  • Wow, who rigged this whole place with sleep mines and claymores? Probably the Rat Patrol, since I'm supposed to be meeting them here. Perhaps my reputation precedes me.
  • I bumped into those clowns on the top floor. They got the drop on Old Snake, so it's surprising to hear him criticize the whole bunch as rookies. Maybe you just get to call everyone "rookie" when you hit 70 (or appear to).
  • Yay, it's Meryl. She has a real character model now, and is no longer just bunch of cubes stacked on top of each other in a vaguely sexy manner. "Akiba" is what we're calling Johnny these days and then there's these other guys with distinct personalities and nicknames who are probably going to be worth remembering and certainly won't die in an upcoming cutscene. They've even worked out their own group pose. Adorable.
  • I love how they followed a "Akiba has diarrhea" gag scene with the line "Liquid's been in the area for four days". Timing is everything.
  • Okay, the mohawk exclamation joke got me when Meryl was introducing the team. More like it scared the bejeezus out of me.
  • The nanomachines, which is a word I'm almost certainly going to repeat a thousand more times in this playthrough, apparently monitor every aspect of a PMC soldier's status, from their heart rate to their reserve bullet count (presumably this is monitored separately via the gun's ID tag, though maybe soldiers in this world swallow bullets they aren't using). Creepy stuff, and factors heavily into the Patriots AI business from the end of MGS2. Why follow one weenie around recording his every move when you can do the same for entire armies?
  • Meryl explains that constant monitoring and ID tagged weapons prohibit renegade soldiers from committing atrocities and acts of terrorism, because their guns would suddenly stop working and everyone within a fifty mile radius would suddenly get a heads up to shoot the assholes who aren't playing by the rules. A little too altruistic a system, especially as we already know how to get around the ID tags. I suspect a lot of Liquid's personal units aren't beholden to these same rules.
  • Meryl still hears "la li lu le lo" whenever Snake says "The Patriots", which must make New England football matches hilarious in the future. The very next piece of dialogue is, "They call this nanomachine system 'the SOP'", "Sons of the Patriots...". No, that'd be SOLLLLL, idiot.
  • We're getting attacked by some badass (and creepy) FROG soldiers. I guess this would be the French PMC the briefing was talking about. I'm glad I removed all the traps heading up, because trying to avoid all these guys (and their screaming?) would be hard enough without it.
  • I think the implication here is that Johnny just went in his suit. They're really ramping up the poop jokes in this game.
  • The FROGs appear to be all women (hence the screaming) (which, uh, probably isn't a cool thing to say? I just mean that they shriek more than they grunt when they die. Nope, still sound like a psycho) and they all disappear into ash once shot. Some spooky shit is going on here. They actually remind me a lot of Mantis, in fact. He didn't have a hundred heretofore unknown sisters perchance?
  • Meryl's team splits and Snake decides to call her out on a Codec call to Otacon, saying she's worse than Raiden with all this l33t nanomachine bullshit. "In my day, rookies got overconfident because of too many Virtual Reality military video games dagnabbit. Now you got these kids running around with tiny robots in 'em and grah grah grah get off my Lawnmower Man."
  • I've acquired a lot more Drebin bucks, running around collecting all those FROG weapons, but it looks like all the prices have gone up by 50%. Hold tight, lil' Mogin Nasant. I'll rescue you from the cool guy and his monkey soon enough.
  • Now we have weird wolf and raven cyborgs? And an octopus. And a floating psychic person. Why does all this feel so... familiar? They all knew I was here too, which doesn't bode well. I guess we've just seen this game's boss group?
  • I eventually make it to Liquid's camp, where I spot the dude himself. He's looking more like The Sorrow these days with his smart little glasses and trenchcoat. What happened to you, Shalashaska? You used to be cool. (Nah, you were never cool.)
  • Rat Patrol's here too, and despite saying they're not getting involved with Snake's assassination mission they're certainly sneaking furtively around the camp for some reason.
  • Whoa, Liquid just activated some brown note thing that's causing everyone with nanomachines to freak out. Johnny and Liquid appear to be the only ones not suffering any ill effects. I guess that's what happens when you let a shady organization put tiny robots in you.
  • Now they're going insane and whacking each other. Jeez. Oh, and a mystery woman showed up next to Liquid. Might be Dr. Naomi, since they bothered to mention her in the intro? Hard to tell without all the green scanline PS1 graphics. Liquid managed to spot me, because I'm being less than subtle with this mind spike going on, so I get to hear a snippet of his flamboyant rants about whatever utter nonsense plan he's cooked up this time as I pass out. Ah, memories.
  • Hey, it is Naomi. And she just injected herself with something before telling Snake to split and walking off. Then they both took off in a chopper with a dozen of those creepy Gecko things chasing after them. Thanks for stopping by, Snake. Thanks for breaking my cow lamp.
  • Akiba came through for us and carried us out of there like he presumably did with his team. That little poopypants is going to get a proper redemptive arc, I can tell. No Incorrigible Buffoon Storyline (I.B.S.) for him, no sir.

Well, that's the end of Act 1. It sets up a lot of questions, though probably more than it ever intends to answer, and given us a glance at some of the game's major players, including the new boss troupe. They struck me as kinda feminine, like the FROG soldiers. Is this just Kojima being Kojima? Will I have to knock their clothes off before I can defeat them? I also saw more jokes about feces than I anticipated, suggesting that the humor of the series is clearly not aiming for subtlety for the time being.

Regardless, I think this is a natural end point for today's update, even if it's a little shorter than yesterday's. With the bonus bucks I earned at the end of this Act I might finally have enough to purchase that dang ol' Mogin Nasant. Everything's coming up Old Snake. Well, except for that whole "nanomachines just set my brain on fire" thing.

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Mento Gear Solid 4: Puns of the Patriots: Part One

Hoo boy. A new Metal Gear Scanlon series means a new Mento Gear Solid to accompany it, as I attempt to sneakily get ahead of Drew and Dan so I can enjoy their video content without spoiling anything about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots without the "purity" that comes from your own playthrough. Prior to their initial Metal Gear Solid run, I hadn't played a single one of these Kojima-penned nonsense tactical stealth action games before, partly because I've never particularly cared for the stealth genre. My present attachment to the series is entirely due to its legendarily daft plots filled with random asides, dumb jokes and the most ludicrous grasp of modern military thriller movie tropes. Now I join them on Solid Snake's fourth video game adventure - which is still technically true despite MGS2 and MGS3 having different protagonists, though you'd have to take into account the two original Metal Gear games and probably exclude a whole bunch of extra side-story stuff for portables that I don't know about.

I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. Jeff's stated in the past that MGS4 is his favorite, and largely because it's even more insane than the previous games. That remains to be seen, of course, but even if that's a high bar to reach I have no doubts that Kojima pulled it off. For the number of common sense complaints I can level against the guy - plot and game design decisions both - no-one directs a game quite like he does.

Some disclaimers before I start:

  1. I absolutely encourage everyone to watch the corresponding Metal Gear Scanlon 4 vids first. I'll have to go back and ensure that they match up once I'm reasonably certain that I've gotten ahead of the videos and can watch them, but the idea is that this loose "observation log" style is chiefly meant for those familiar with the game already. I'm skipping, or at the most briefly summarizing, the game's many huge cutscenes and story exposition dumps, and the game makes little sense already without getting an incomplete Cliff's Notes version from yours truly. For the sake of your own enjoyment of this feature, only start reading these if you're familiar with the game's events or have watched Drew and Dan play through the same part already. (I just hope Drew hasn't beaten me to many of the same jokes yet; we share a similar sense of humor, I've discovered.)
  2. If you'd like to read my prior war journals on this series, please feel free to start here with Mento Gear Solid 1, here with the two-part Mento Gear Solid 2 rundown and here with a six-part Mento Gear Solid 3 scrutiny here. Watch a series neophyte lose his damn mind in (almost) real-time. (And hey, give my other concurrent series some love too. It's about old European computer games no-one remembers!)
  3. Please, no spoilers in the comments. Not from the Scanlon videos if they've managed to get ahead and not even from Peace Walker, which I'm presently skipping for now. Story elements from MGS1-3 are fine, except when they directly relate to something coming up later in MGS4, like the re-emergence of a beloved series character (so no "hey, you should go back and read what you said about _____. I think you'll change your tune about it soon enough ;)") I have an inkling about a handful of twists and cameos, but I'd prefer to remain surprised. It'll make the reactions funnier, if nothing else.

I was reliably informed to watch the Act 1 Mission Briefing before starting the game proper, as it was deemed "too much cutscene" for the game's opening and was relegated to a main menu extra. That's setting an ominous precedent. Well, let's just tear this band-aid off already:

(Final disclaimer: I'm playing up until the point where I meet a certain coke-swilling monkey. If that checkpoint makes sense to you, the MGS4 fan and/or Metal Gear Scanlon 4 viewer, read on.)

  • PMCs are the name of the game this time around. They've taken over most of the conventional militaries of the world. I guess this was every modern military game's plot in the 00s.
  • Oh hey, there's a kid in Otacon and Snake's base. She's called Sunny. Is this Olga's kid? The way I see it, either Otacon got lucky with a woman who didn't immediately die on him, or the duo managed to locate the hidden high-tech Patriots safehouse where they were keeping Olga's child and defied the odds to free them. The latter seems more likely. (Helps that she looks like Olga too.)
  • Otacon's also working on that little Metal Gear that was in Snatcher. That's cool, I guess. I hope it yells at me if I decide to peek on a girl taking a shower.
  • Ah, we're actually flying on some ex-military airplane called The Nomad. Sunny's yelling at Snake for smoking on what is presumably not a commercial airliner. Dude already looks like he's in his seventies; I don't think the tar is what's killing him, junior.
  • Before we continue... SMAKA (Stuff Mento Already Knew About) Alert #1 for this new playthrough: I'm aware that Snake is aging rapidly, and appears to be an old man when really he's in his 40s and it's only been about five years since the events of MGS2. I'm not quite sure why yet. I recall hearing from one of the earlier games that the Les Enfants Terrible project had some built in genetic failsafe that rapidly aged the clones in case they, I dunno, wanted to live a normal life or something. Solidus got hit with it extra hard as a means to explain why he looked older than Solid.
  • PMCs are now more populous than regular national forces, due to the lessening of the US's military after the Big Shell (of MGS2) incident. The only nations with overwhelming military might these days are the richer ones who can afford to pay for all these mercenary armies. Like the US. Wait...
  • Nice little shout-out to Raiden with the "more orphans, more child soldiers" bit of this briefing. How much did the Colonel pay for this Powerpoint presentation? It's super elaborate. After MGS3's less than kind treatment of the blond wonder, I think it's 50/50 whether he'll show up again.
  • France and UK have two of the most valuable PMCs? Sweet. Oh, they're run by Outer Heaven.
  • Outer Heaven is, of course, run by Ocelot/Liquid (Liquid Ocelot, I believe is the preferred nomenclature, because everyone is just an adjective and an animal in this series). For someone who hated his dad so much, Liquid's sure eager to complete his dream. And we gotta go kill him. What, you mean again?
  • The cutscene just turned into some 24-esque picture-in-picture thing. Did I do that? Why am I controlling the cutscene now? For a semblance of interactivity?
  • "There's a rebel army of ethnic minorities in the Middle East, waging a civil war against the regime in power." Way to get specific, Otacon.
  • So the mission is to sneak in disguised as one of the goons the locals have hired to stop the goons the regime has hired. We need to rendezvous with Rat Patrol 1, who will be henceforth referred to as Ratrol.
  • Colonel Campbell's getting awfully cagey with how well he knows Ratrol. I suspect we'll be seeing a certain someone's "fantastic ass" in due time.
  • That's the end of this briefing. I guess I learned some useful things. I've been told the extra context is useful, but I suppose I'll need to get a little further for that to sink in.
  • And now we're watching a commercial for an exercise program from some hell dimension. What is this? All it needs is Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom to show up, point at the camera and ask if we're ready for pain.
  • It's still going. Did they hire Tim and Eric for this?
  • Okay, this intro credits sequence is a little more somber than those commercials. The crazy tonal shifts are back. This is Metal Gear Solid all right.
  • "War has changed. It's in 1080p now. Well, upscaled to 1080p, but the difference in image quality from 720p isn't so signif-"
  • Oh shit, I'm in control. I put the contoller down because I fully expected this opening to take thirty minutes. Just a few lines grousing about "proxy battles" and "emotion control" (the original name for SIXAXIS?) and I'm suddenly neck-deep in Fallujah.
  • Sneaking through a warzone is interesting. The game's too linear right now to properly exploit all the commotion to hide myself, but it's letting me get a feel for... what the hell is that mooing sound?
  • What the jumping Jehoshaphat are these things? They look like AT-STs with weirdly muscular legs. Geckos, I think Otacon called them. Why do they moo?
  • Snake's cloak falls off, also displaying a new and overtly revealing muscleman Sneaking Suit. I feel like I just fell biceps-first into Cho Aniki.
  • Oh, so this is OctoCamo. SMAKA #2. I'd heard about this chameleon sneaking suit somewhere before. It boosts its own camo index so I don't have to, but I gotta sit/lie/lean still for a few moments for it to shift colors to match the surroundings.
  • Title drop. "Opening theme: Love Theme" credit seconds after. This is such a dumb movie of a game already.
  • And we're "Three Days Earlier"ing for more cutscenes in a graveyard. I get it. Start us off with something controllable and ease us into the five hour... wait, is that a button prompt?
  • Oh, so these are like little flashbacks you can trigger, a bit like the "Snake view" in MGS3. A few flashes of story points from previous games in case you forgot. I like how they made them all blurry and indistinct, both because that's how memories tend to work and also to disguise the blocky mannequins of MGS1 (though I suppose they're more likely to snatch those screengrabs from Twin Snakes, huh).
  • They addressed the aging thing. I guess they'd have to sooner or later. It's not like you can say "oh, he's always been this old, but you just couldn't see the wrinkles until the series went HD". FOXDIE was also brought up, so maybe that's partially to blame too. They did kind of leave that whole "FOXDIE's going to kill you at some point" thread dangling at the end of the first game.
  • Odd, we got a few seconds of the eggs and Sunny cutscene from the briefing before, but it suddenly skipped back to the warzone. Glad I saw it then, even if the game didn't consider it important.
  • Wait, Sunny helped build Otacon's Snatcher Metal Gear? Is she another child prodigy? Why are there are so many of these in this series? Otacon gives us the scoop on the Gekkos (why are they named like the guy in Wall Street)? Anyway, we're to meet with this robot ahead.
  • Got instantly spotted because I was getting used to moving behind cover and using CQC, discovered the game STILL doesn't have a "reload last checkpoint" button. At least I can go back to the title screen and load without waiting for them all to kill me, though it's only marginally quicker. Why is a convenient restart function still not a thing in a game that prioritizes stealth and rewards players who don't set off alarms? The mind boggles.
  • I almost stopped playing MGS3 because of this shit. I want to play these games stealthy. If I get caught, I'd ideally like to quickly reset the present area, and I really don't mind if I end up a few rooms back. I just don't want them to waste my time more than it already does with its Mickey Mousecapades hijinks about staring at boobs from inside a cardboard box. Every game past the first one (which can be forgiven, to an extent, due to it pioneering the whole genre) continues to surprise me with how lacking it is in some core game design necessities, and that's especially egregious given how much additional game design frivolities there are to an obsessive level.
  • Anyway, just because Snake looks like an old man, doesn't mean I have to grumble like one. I'll keep the kvetching down a tad as I keep playing. Well, at least the kvetching regarding series-wide problems. I'll keep the whining specific to MGS4, is all I can promise.
  • And I'll make sure to keep manual saves because I'm going right back to the beginning cutscenes for Big Boss's sake why is it doing this why did anyone think this was acceptable in 2009
  • Okay, grabbing the statue's junk is funny. You've won me back over, MGS4. Well, no you haven't, but I'll accept this as a peace offering. (It even comes off? I think if Michelangelo's David lost his D, I'd be more avid about it.)
  • I'm getting the hang of the controls again. They fixed CQC I noticed, making the "hold R1 while you're grabbing a guy" now the "knock him out" move rather than the "slit his damn throat" move. I wasn't informed ahead of time that no-kills was the preferential way to play this game, unlike in MGS3, but it's how I play every stealth game so let's stick with it. Of course, I'd need to get an actual tranq weapon first. The game's being a lot more cagey about giving me one off the bat this time.
  • I grabbed a PMC weapon after choking out a dude but I can't use it because of the ID tag. Clever stuff. Means I'm not finding high tech gear early and often, though presumably the ammo still works. Still, the way Otacon left off with "I wonder if there's a way we can remove the tags..." very pointedly suggests these locked weapons might be worth hanging onto.
  • Finally met with the Mk.2. It really is the Metal Gear companion from Snatcher. How long has Kojima wanted to reuse this little guy?
  • Neat, this little guy is just packed with gadgets. Now I have my tranq pistol and some "detective vision" eyepatch thing. Otacon calls it "Solid Eye" instead of "Snake Eyes" for some reason.
  • Man, this place is getting blown to shit. I think I got spotted trying to find the one staircase I was allowed to go down, but it didn't seem to have much impact. I'm sure I've lost some kind of amazing post-game item because of it, but...
  • Well, for the sake of transparency, I did check the trophies real quick (no spoilers!) and, unlike MGS3, they are completely asinine. In fairness, that was the case with most trophy/achievement sets around the time the feature was introduced to the 360/PS3 in the late 00s; it's clear no-one really knew what to make of them. At least that frees me up to be a little less stringent than usual. Probably for the best after the Kero-tan madness of that MGS3 Platinum run...
  • So all right, I'm in a safehouse now and the walls have finally stopped exploding all around me. It's dark and there's still hostiles around, but I'm a little more at home sneaking around in the shadows. The Solid Eye is super handy for being a combination enemy-spotter, radar, binocs and night-vision, though I'm guessing from the battery meter that I can't keep it on forever. Again, this feels like a convenience thing, though one that the game was thoughtful enough to include than to ignore, unlike the save states.
  • I'm grabbing all sorts of sweet gear I can't use from this bunker. It feels like I'm playing Borderlands in a late-game area with weapon drops and allies that are ten levels higher than me.
  • I didn't mention it earlier, but items in this game no longer spin around in circles in mid-air. Maybe the developers didn't think it was particularly verisimilitudinous or something. They got around the "well now the items just look like every other background prop" issue by having the Solid Eye point them out to you, including the item's name and other useful details like whether it's a weapon or a curative. Sneaky, but it means constantly having use this eye in the active item inventory (the L1/L2 side) instead of keeping rations available in case of healing. Would make more sense to just have this "normal mode" be the default vision format and add in other features (like the radar, binocs, night vision, etc.) as the power-draining bonuses you can switch on and off.
  • I also found a disguise. It'll make getting past the militia easier, but way harder to get past the enemy PMCs since they'll still shoot me on-sight, but I won't be able to use the OctoCamo to get away from... is that a monkey drinking Coke?
  • It's a cool black guy weapons smuggler. Drebin, that's a name that inspires smoothness and competency. Maybe we'll bring him along if we need to foil an assassination at a ballgame in the most slapstick way possible.
  • Actually, I wonder if this guy inspired the equally cool black guy gunsmith from Deadly Premonition? He had a stupid name too. "Wesley." Felt like I was Mr. Belvedere every time I bought something.
  • We've determined that Drebin's a useful asshole, so now we're trading weapons and counterfeit ID chips with him.
  • He just injected me in the neck with some suppressor thing to eliminate the old nanomachines (presumably the FOXDIE ones. Maybe should've removed those a long time ago?) I was wearing my militia disguise, though, so he actually injected all those priceless nanos into my headscarf.
  • You know, for a whole cutscene talking about how he's going to set us up with any guns we could want for the right price, he did just drive away before a vendor prompt came up to do any business. Maybe I'm supposed to do it remotely?
  • There's also "the war price" which fluctuates depending on the intensity of the fighting. I imagine that's an excuse to boost and drop the prices at random points in the game, story permitting.
  • I was right about the remote thing. That's a relief. Otacon said that I'll automatically sell duplicate guns I find, which is an awesome system that should be in more games. To my knowledge, the only other game that made it that convenient to sell vendor trash is the 2004 The Bard's Tale reboot, where treasures (and weaker/identical equipment) are automatically exchanged into their value in gold.

I was hoping to get to the end of Act One before stopping today, but I've clearly written more than enough for an inaugural "Mento Gear Solid" observation log. Chalk that up to a long intro and a lot of new mechanics to introduce.

My early impressions so far? Well, aside from the undercooked saving issue that I've already whined at length about, I'm starting to turn a corner on the game's other additions. The Solid Eye's a neat idea, I'm looking forward to using this robot more often to go exploring and this stuff with Drebin sounds like the sort of fun, dumb side-activity that I'm going to get weirdly obsessive about, tranq-ing folk so I can steal their guns (or have the little robot do it) and start earning Drebin bucks. That said, I have no desire to use any of the lethal weapons that need unlocking or purchasing - regardless of whether or not there's a big trophy/achievement for doing so, I always try to play stealth games with a no-kill style. (Of course, Dishonored tested that resolve by making all the assassination magic powers so darn tempting. I'm hyped for that sequel.) However, he does have one of those Mogin Nasant tranq sniper rifles at a ludicrous price, so I guess I'd better start building some credit.

When we come back for part two, I'm going to find the Rat Patrol (yeah, I didn't like "Ratrol" either) and hopefully get out of these war-torn adobes and into a cool metal base with lasers and Nikitas and shit. Old times, old crimes. See you then, everyone.

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ST-urday #004: Federation Quest 1: B.S.S. Jane Seymour

ST-urday's going to keep going down this Eurotrash hole for the time being, looking at the sorts of unique products coming out of my home continent in the late 80s and early 90s. We're back in the UK with Gremlin Graphics as it turns out, the developers behind the adaptations of board games Space Crusade and HeroQuest - the former was covered during the Estival ST Festival and the latter's definitely on the upcoming list. They acted as publishers for this particular game: the developer was a guy named Dr. Dinosaur. Yeah.

As for the past week, well, it's been a period of highs and lows. The passing of Satoru Iwata is a heavy blow that this industry, let alone Nintendo, won't be quick to recover from. It's a common observation that the higher up a corporate chain a person gets, the less they seem like a human; every public appearance they make is carefully crafted and stilted so as to not to lose face or seem weak in front of investors and millions of consumers. Iwata cared more about the games he was producing to ever let any of those corporate charades get to him, and dared to be silly in his frequent appearances in the Iwata Asks and Nintendo Directs his company would regularly produce. Dude always came across as genuine, and I hope Nintendo carries on in that spirit. Please understand.

On the flip side, between Contradiction: Spot the Liar! and Rocket League, we've had a lot of fun with GBEast coverage this week. And I was concerned there'd be nothing to show this month, smack dab in the middle of the Summer slump. Here's hoping next week will be just as entertaining; between SGDQ (check out my write-up for a Wiki Project concerning SGDQ if you haven't seen it yet) and Rick and Morty season 2 on the 26th, I just need to hang in there for another six days. I suppose there is that Metal Gear Solid 4 playthrough I've been putting off...

Federation Quest 1: B.S.S. Jane Seymour

Federation Quest 1: B.S.S. Jane Seymour (US title is "Spacewrecked: 14 Billion Light Years From Earth") is one of those games that, from all appearances, seems steeped in obtuse rules and mechanics, but is actually deceptively straightforward. You do need some direction before playing it though, which is why I'm here (or perhaps the wiser choice would be an online copy of the manual). There's a lot to unpack, but let's just start with the title.

I believe the Federation Quest series was meant to be a multi-part series of dungeon crawling games with a sci-fi theme. Think something like Captive, which I covered a little while ago in a Brief Jaunt: the mechanics of Dungeon Master, just with a handful of modifications to make it work in a sci-fi setting. I don't know how well this first game did, but it probably says something that there wasn't ever a Federation Quest 2. B.S.S. Jane Seymour is the setting of the game: a spaceship that was briefly lost to the Federation for over a year after being hit with the radiation from a nova before reappearing with failing systems and still a considerable amount of distance to go before reaching Earth (no Event Horizon hell dimensions, fortunately (or unfortunately?)). The player is one of the surviving crew, and must systematically repair each ship in BSS Jane Seymour's fleet (there's twenty, so that's twenty "dungeons") until they can get the transporters back online and can head over to the next one. The flagship at the very end of the chain is thought to have enough fuel to make the trip back home to Earth, though it'll also be the closest to full meltdown in the time it'll take to get there.

Of course, it's never that simple. Captured alien specimens have escaped and are rampaging across the ships, crewmembers have mentally deteriorated due to sustained cryosleep and are now psychotic madmen and every ship is continually losing power to vital systems, including life support. There's a ticking clock to every mission, though fixing a few key systems gives you some breathing room to fix the rest. While it's all a little confusing and stressful with that time limit and your limited means to defend yourself from hostiles, each of the twenty ships follow a similar repair process and you'll get into the swing of things quickly enough.

It's also distinctly less "RPG" than other games in the genre as your character never goes up levels or gets stronger: rather, the goal for each mission is to explore the ship, repair the key systems with coolant and move onto the next one. It's simply that items and geography get shifted around, tougher monsters are present and more systems begin on the fritz as you get further along. It's an odd format for a game - an action-adventure game with a dungeon-crawling format that emphasizes your role in the story as an engineer and mechanic with limited martial ability. It's a bit like EA's Dead Space in that regard, and almost as spooky when the lights go out.

Welcome to BSS Jane Seymour! As title screens go, this seems a little thrown together.
You get this cool little docking animation before the game drops us back to the main menu.
This is the main menu. You also come here to save/load the game, and there's even passwords if you don't have a formatted save disc handy. We can also select our avatar here: there's Arnold Schwarzenegger, or...
Téa Leoni? Let's stick with the Terminator. I suspect I'll need the muscle.
The game just dumps you in the hangar and lets you get on with it. It does at least give you a handful of useful items right off the bat.
We have a pass key with a limited amount of power, a goshdarned gun and a mysterious book.
Oh. Cute. Well, while I'm here, might as well explain this interface. Your face, heart and ECG all tell you different things about your status: face is HP (or "stamina") and gets progressively more skull-like as you take damage (what did I tell you all last time when playing T2? Skull HP gauges forever). Heart displays the effects of radiation or poisoning and the ECG changes if you've been performing strenuous activities, like fighting or running around too much. Your health comes back gradually, but not as quickly if you're stressed or poisoned.
Hydroponics is one of the many "non-vital" room types you can come across while exploring the ship. While vital to any star voyage, there's nothing we can do here: it simply serves as dungeon dressing.
There are many terminal rooms on the ship, and they act as great hubs because of how vital they are for information. The player has a map, a database of the creatures/crewmembers they might meet and a diagnostics window that tells you how all the ship's systems are doing, but all three can only be accessed from within one of these rooms. A room that can be interacted with has its own symbol on the bottom taskbar, which in this case is using the terminal. As long as I'm in here, I can access it.
The map fills in as you explore, of course, and uses a very easy-on-the-eyes grid model. Rooms also have number and color codes to help distinguish them.
The room codes tie into the ship's systems. There's a lot of information feedback here, but essentially the golden items are the "master" systems, while the greys underneath each of them are their "slave" systems. By fixing the golden one, you also fix the greys attached to it. I'll just quickly whizz through these: Bio Control involves the ship's lifeforms, which isn't so important on its own but if Cryogenics or Stasis Fields start failing, they'll unleash their contents (insane crewmembers and aliens, respectively) on the ship, which will be a big issue for us. Life Support is self-explanatory, and easily the most important to fix first. The galley serves food, making it a free-healing zone, but only if it's operational. Lighting is self-explanatory (hope you have a flashlight if it goes down), malfunctioning doors mess up the passkey system and rad filters are, in addition to being rad, necessary to prevent radiation poisoning. The rest are information-based, and if they go down you'll get less info from the terminal rooms. Phew!
Despite all that, our directions are clear: we need to find flasks (and the manufacturing room to create more), fill them with coolant in the laboratory and then head to the various rooms that house those master systems and repair them with the coolant. There's a few more wrinkles to take care of, but we'll access that bridge when we come to it.
Ah, the game's other big headache: robots. The player can have up to six robots following them at any given time. They have multiple applications, not least of which is additional inventory space, and can also be programmed to go off an perform repairs and other tasks while you focus your efforts elsewhere.
While each bot is purpose-built - the sensor droid here will inform me if enemies are nearby with its built-in lifeform detector - they can be given additional command routines via data cartridges you find lying around. I'll set this little guy to follow me for now, but it's worth keeping in mind that almost everything in the game eats power while turned on and the ship can only recharge so much while it's in disrepair like this.
I just so happen to have a Medical cartridge I found next to the droid, so now it'll heal me whenever I ask it to. Also, this red herring? Don't worry about it. It's not important.
That reclin-o-bed sure looks comfortable. If all the cabins look like this, I think I understand why everyone went insane. You might've noticed that the text side-bar has been yelling at us for a while about the missing energy flux decoupler - the ship can't really be fixed without restoring power first. Fortunately, that's what that thing in the middle of the room is.
It's a large item, so I can't carry it in my inventory: I can only hold or wear items that size, and the latter only if it's something I can put on (like a spacesuit). Fortunately, my robot chum's a little burlier than I am.
Hooray! This is one of the intermediary steps we needed to take of first. The initial dungeon makes it easier by putting it and the power room close to where we start, but future dungeons won't be quite so accommodating.
Regardless of how fixed some systems are, there'll still be rooms like this one where the lights don't work or there'll be too much background radiation around. With a flashlight it's not a problem, but you have to find one first.
I do have one. The game's generous this early on. I also have a lifescanner, a knife for when my gun runs out, a funnel which makes moving coolant around easier and... that's a flamethrower. Huh. Maybe I'll just take that with me...
Our first alien! Greedo here isn't a big threat, but I've already expended my handgun ammunition and have gone mano-a-fisho with this boxcutter. You can see that I've taken a few hits. An explanation for how weapons work: all weapons produce a crosshair on the main window, which jiggles around a lot as you try to line up a shot (because you're terrified, you see). As long as the crosshair is in within the monster's sprite when you fire, it counts as a hit. It makes for the worst FPS ever (a year before Wolfenstein 3D even!) but it's an interesting mechanic for this genre.
When enemies die, they leave behind... a typo and a not-so-well tended gravestone? This game likes to have its fun, imminent threats of disintegration aside.
Medibot here can patch me up. I sort of wish I'd remembered about the flamethrower during that fight, but switching weapons in your inventory happens in real-time and I was kind of busy.
The recharge room is a great find. As well as recharging my energy weapons - there's one on the floor there, conveniently - I can also recharge some other things.
Stuff like my flashlight, my robotic companion and even door passes. The way door passes work is that each door requires a certain amount of door pass "power" before they'll open. The higher the security clearance, the more power the pass needs. Key cards don't expire, but they will eventually drop to "red" making them useless until recharged.
Since I have a few full "white" door passes now, I can continue past some of the security doors in the previous corridor. i'd really like to start finding one of the four Master system rooms before I start losing lights and oxygen.
No real reason for this screenshot. I just wanted to show off these ugly carpets again. The game has some decent graphics for 1990, but these "MS Paint spray tool" floors aren't doing it for me.
Robot's about another two or three cartridges away from attaining sentience. That isn't a thing, but he sure is a little polyglot these days. I've now installed a Comms cartridge and given him a sci-fi walkie-talkie, so if I want to I can go send him around the ship to do tasks and report back to me. This is actually essential in some scenarios, as the background radiation will be too high to go myself.
Finally, I find a laboratory. I haven't found the manufacturing room yet, so I can only use the two flasks I've found so far, but I start filling them up post-haste. This filler will actually scan the flasks for imperfections first: the coolant is lethal to the touch, so as a safety measure the computer won't accept any flask that isn't perfect. It means there's a small chance (that increases the more you use a flask) this thing will reject and destroy any flasks you give it. Annoying, but if there's a manufacturing room nearby it's not the end of the world.
I've also found Life Support, which means I can finally start fixing this place up.
To fix a system, you need to inject with it as much coolant as you have to fill up that bar in the middle there. Your odds of successfully fixing the system is based on how broken it is and whether you have an applicator (that funnel thing in my inventory), a repair kit (which is necessary, and fortunately also nearby) and a robot with a repair cartridge.
I finally find a manufacturing room a little while later and start producing flasks. You can only hold five at once, but the robot can also carry some extra. Now back to the lab to fill these up...
While the systems continue to deteriorate as I mess around looking for flasks, I do at least have some means of fixing the ship now. It's simply a matter of finding the rest of the system rooms and carting coolant back and forth. I can program my robot to do the same if I want to speed things up.
There's also alternate decks, with more dangers and more vital rooms to find. But I think I've uploaded enough screenshots for today.

That's essentially how every mission goes in BSS Jane Seymour: the player has to quickly establish a foothold, find a number of items that range from crucial (flasks, pass cards, a weapon) to handy (an applicator, a communicator, robots) to downright pointless (crappier weapons, that dumb guidebook joke). As there's no RPG mechanics and no merchants, there's no reason to hang onto anything you don't need. It's a game about efficiency and exploration, and you're always bouncing between one objective or another. It does mean that the game gets a little repetitive - especially as every solution is the same - but there's a clarity that comes with always having some clear target to work towards. The game can also do some mean things with the "established route" once it gets further in, like hide the flux whatsit on the opposite side of the ship and turn all the lights off.

It's an interesting experiment, using the constraints of this very specific real-time first-person format with which to create a game that's really more like a sci-fi puzzle/strategy affair with some action and exploration thrown in. The sort of curiosity I purposefully began this feature to highlight, in fact.

(Back to the ST-urday ST-orehouse.)

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Wiki Project: Summer Games Wiki'd Quick 2015

Summer means Summer Speedruns and... well, very little else. It's the least exciting and most humid part of the year, and I'm happy for any small distraction from the flesh melting and tedium to keep me busy until the mercifully temperate and game-packed Autumn season finally falls slowly upon us like so many golden-brown leaves. Which is an odd way to introduce an article about working on the Wiki pages in preparation for a charity speedrun event, I'll grant you, but then the heat always does odd things to my temperament.

The Event

Summer Games Done Quick 2015, the schedule for which can be found here, is a week-long charity event from July 26th to August 2nd in which various members of the Twitch speedrunning community meet in some hotel lounge for several days straight of playing video games with great celerity. Each speedrun ranges from a short ten-twenty minute affair to a three or four hour marathon; so, pretty much the same as any given Quick Look. Viewers are encouraged to donate money to Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, no relation to Outer Heaven) in the name of Games Done Quick, either out of largesse or to be entered into a raffle for prizes or for the chance to influence a future speedrun: like selecting between two possible games to run, or to ensure an RPG character has a certain name. The Giant Bomb community always tries to push one of these "incentive" bids, so I'd recommended waiting to see what we're up to before you start donating. (Hopefully we don't get into a bidding war with the French again. People will tell you those guys surrender easily, but they don't.) Either way, be sure to join the community in the ExplosiveRuns chat when it begins on the Sunday after next.

Like last year's "Awesome Games Wiki'd Quick", the goal of this mini-project was to simply ensure that all the games pages relevant to the endurance event are looking their best for when they'll all, by the fey powers of Twitch, become associated to our database. I forget if Twitch actually links back to our Wiki or simply uses it for data purposes (I'm fairly sure the latter but I'm pretending it isn't, just so this project is a little more necessary than "hardly at all"), but it'll help if we have all the right pages in working order all the same.

The Project

For the most part, even though there's some 200+ games featured in the event, this Wiki Project isn't a huge timesink. The GDQ streams tend to play a lot of games that are very popular - both because they draw the largest speedrun communities and also draw in as wide an audience as possible for the fundraising - and so the same games tend to show up year after year with all the new tricks and exploitable glitches that their respective communities have discovered in the downtime between events. It's doubly useful for this project, as it means I'll have already fixed up the majority of these pages for the aforementioned Awesome Games Wiki'd Quick Wiki Project. However, there's still a few outliers and oddities with pages that needed some elbow grease, and I'm going to cover ten of them below, and another ten closer to when the event starts.

I was tempted to call these "the twenty most potentially interesting speedruns", but on top of the fact that using such a superlative would drag us into unfortunate "listicle" territory it's also apparent that we already have a decent idea which will be "the most interesting speedruns": it's going to be TASBot utterly breaking games, it'll be watching the inhuman reaction speeds of the Tetris Grand Master exhibitions and it'll be the exceptionally close and tense multi-runner races that games like Super Metroid, Strider and Castlevania enjoy every event. Still, I'm looking forward to watching the following, as a fan of obscure and unusual video games.

(I've added the [planned] times for each game's respective speedrun and their estimated time for completion. All times are in GMT, so just subtract the 5-8 hours where applicable. Part Two will come later this month, a few days before the event is set to begin.)

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric

[07/26 - 9:10PM. 50 minute estimate.]

While the Sonic the Hedgehog series is hardly a shrinking violet, and continues to be a very prominent part of every Games Done Quick stream due to the games' natural inclination towards going fast, the newest Sonic game promises to be a curious run to watch simply because it'll demonstrate just how thoroughly broken Sonic Boom is. The Knuckles endless leaping glitch is well-known at this point, but I look forward to seeing the myriad ways the game's programming will fall apart if you stare at it hard enough. On the plus side, it's possible that every unfortunate ten-year-old who was saddled with this 'tude-heavy trainwreck on Christmas 2014 is now on the fast track to become impassioned video game programmers and quality assurance testers, after spending five minutes tearing it to pieces from the inside out.

As one of the most reviled games to hit the Wii U, a console that badly needs some third-party support that isn't whatever sewage run-off former embittered rival Sega plops on its doorstep in a flaming paper bag "for old time's sake", it'll be interesting to watch the kind of reception the run will get. A lot of nervous laughter once it gets rolled out, is my guess.

TRAG: Mission of Mercy

[07/27 - 12:50PM. 56 minute estimate.]

I have no idea what TRAG: Mission of Mercy even is. I looked it up and found that it was called something else in Europe (Hard Edge) and I still have no idea what it is. From looking at it, it appears to be a Resident Evil clone with Lost Vikings-style character switching puzzles - a combination that is also present in the PS2 game Project Eden, which I'm more familiar with - but it's definitely not a game I'd heard about before starting this project.

The page for it was a mess too. For one thing, both it and Hard Edge had separate pages despite having no other differences (Hard Edge is also the Japanese name, so SunSoft only knows why they changed it for the US. License issues?). It was also blank of text, so I threw something on there. I look forward to seeing more of it, albeit as it quickly whizzes by, during the speedrun.

Disney Extreme Skate Adventure

[07/27 - 2:15PM. 22 minute estimate.]

People are getting stoked, and rightly so, for the imminent return of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise. Said amount of stoke is dependent entirely on how much of the game they've actually seen or read about, but there's no harm in being cautiously optimistic, even after the hash job that was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD. It's worth remembering that it had its rivals in its day, though. No, not Skate, which was attempting something very different with their analog stick-enabled tricks - I believe the mission statement was "make the player work for every ollie and grab, because skating is supposed to be 10% fun and 90% knee injuries that won't ever heal properly". No, it wasn't Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX either, because that was bicycles and not skateboards. Two wheels, not four. Thrasher Presents: Skate and Destroy? Get he fuck out of here.

No, it was this game. Probably. Disney Extreme Skate Adventure. The one where Sheriff Woody decides to shred a mean nosegrind-to-boneslide. Or maybe a Snake-in-My-Boot 360; I don't know if they actually tried to theme the trick names or not. I'm looking forward to it, purely because I want to see Simba's toss sick ollies over the stampede that kills his father. That canyon was practically a half-pipe, right?

Disney's The Little Mermaid

[07/27 - 2:40PM. 10 minute estimate.]

I guess there's some kind of Disney block going on? I wasn't even aware Capcom turned Disney's The Little Mermaid into a game, like they had for many other big Disney names like DuckTales and Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers. They even invented their own sequel story to the game, long before Disney would follow suit with that Direct to DVD movie with the dumb kid.

I'm always up to see a classic NES game get beat speedily, especially if it happens to be one that I wasn't even aware existed. I guess 1991 puts it somewhere close to the end of the NES's lifespan, which partly explains why I haven't heard of it (the other reason being is that I'm not some NES savant). Oddly enough, when working on the page, I discovered that there was an entirely separate Little Mermaid game for Sega consoles that plays, aptly enough, like the Ecco the Dolphin games.

Maldita Castilla

[07/27 - 6:55PM. 35 minute estimate.]

Maldita Castilla ("Cursed Castle", but there's a subtle pun for Spanish speakers) is a 2012 Spanish Indie take on the Ghosts N' Goblins series, two games from which precede Maldita in the schedule. I'm just curious about this one, though not to the extent that I'll go chase it down myself: it's apparently filled with monsters specifically from Spanish mythology. In a sense, it's taking the same approach as the Indonesian horror game DreadOut which, while it had its share of technical and pacing problems, enhanced its horror beats with the inclusion of some really creepy weird shit that you didn't regularly see in other survival horror games, sourced as they were from Indonesian boogeymen. At least Indonesia has that brutal martial art Silat to keep them safe. What hope do we Euros have against the forces of evil?

I don't expect Maldita Castilla to lean too hard on creeping the player out; the goal appears to be to recreate Capcom's classic series of brutal action-platformers with a Hispanic twist. Even so, it's one of those culturally unique games that might be worth a look. Or it's completely broken and the speedrunner will just obliterate it. Either way, if it made it onto the speedrun schedule, it's probably going to be fun to watch.

Spica Adventure

[07/27 - 11:50PM. 8 minute estimate.]

Taito dropped Spica Adventure, an obscure platformer with some neat Mr. Driller style visuals, on the increasingly underpopulated Arcade in 2005. It must've been a sight, nestled between all the DDR machines. What's perplexing is that Taito never bothered to release it outside of Japan, or on any home system. It's not like Spica Adventure has any Arcade hooks, like magnetic cards or a giant controller shaped like someone's backside. It features a girl with an umbrella, who finds numerous interesting places to p... this sentence isn't going anywhere good. Let's just say it's a versatile platformer that spoils the player for choice when it comes to traversing its stages in any direction, and greatly emphasizes speed to avoid various maladies that show up if the player spends too long on any one stage.

It's perfect for speedrunning, though how the speedrunner managed to find it is anyone's guess. They are extremely resourceful people, if watching them work has taught us anything.

Digimon World

[07/28 - 11:05AM. 1 hour, 35 minute estimate.]

With so many of these games, I'm generally more curious about the game itself than how it will be run. I've yet to see many of these in action, and while I suspect that watching a speedrun isn't the best way to get slowly acquainted with a game, I'm probably going to end up watching as much of these streams as possible. Might as well be happy that I'll get to see some obscurities along the way.

Digimon Evolve represents the other side of that coin. Games that I'm very sure about, if not necessarily intimately familiar with, which I'll be watching purely to see how the speedrunner gets through it. Digimon World is the first in a series of Pokemon knock-offs that would become something of a minor phenomenon itself. Like Pokemon, it began as a combination pet-raising simulator/RPG, and would later take off with various anime series and other franchising opportunities. Even with that generous estimate, I have to wonder how a slow game about raising a baby monster and teaching it to poop in the correct poop receptacle is going to be completed in so short a time limit. I suspect there must be some devious plan afoot to roll up one of the game's incredibly tough and incredibly hard to find monsters through some abstruse process - like the powerful magic-using Ghost monsters of Monster Rancher 2. Without following up on the exact path involved, I'm content to let this speedrun surprise me. Maybe it won't be a 95 minute slog of monster-raising tedium.

Kirby: Tilt N Tumble

[07/29 - 2:00PM. 18 minute estimate.]

Oddly enough, I was going to discuss a couple of games that were going to be featured on the always-fun "Awful Games Done Quick" (though this year they're calling it "Silly Games Done Quick") block: The Blues Brothers and Zen: Intergalactic Ninja. It appears however that both of them left the schedule at some point after I last checked it, possibly due to scheduling conflicts. Instead, we'll move onto Kirby: Tilt N' Tumble: a GBC Kirby game that used an accelerometer built into the game cartridge (which means that, should you play on the GBA SP, all the gyroscopic actions will occur upside down), similar to what Warioware Twisted would later do.

With this one, I'm curious about: A) How the speedrunner will beat the game quickly when so much of it relies on careful manipulation of the physical cartridge, and B) How they expect to stream the video out of a GameCube (which is what the game will be played on, via the Game Boy Player) that's being spun around the room. It's almost certainly going to lead to a lot of inadvertent physical comedy, and possibly someone getting beaned in the head with a cuboid game system.

ToeJam & Earl

[07/29 - 4:15PM. 30 minute estimate.]

ToeJam & Earl is a favorite of the Genesis set, and I'm sure its inclusion in Summer Games Done Quick is at least partially inspired by that successful Kickstarter for its sequel that ended recently. What's less obvious is how anyone expects to speedrun a game with such a potent randomized element. The bane of any speedrun, the RNG lords over innumerable enemy attack patterns, item drops and, in the case of a roguelike similar to ToeJam & Earl, power-up allocation, enemy placement, enemy population and geography. I don't remember the algorithms being too complex, but it doesn't seem likely that the speedrunner will be able to rely on getting the right presents. Presumably there's some fast track to the elevator that'll still apply regardless of the level permutation. Even so, speedrunning a roguelike sounds like a nutty idea, especially for a big live event like this, so I'll enjoy seeing how it turns out. It's possible that estimate is a very rough approximation, or is set to be a lot longer than an ideal run would otherwise take.

I also bring up this funkiest of games because the page had one of the worst cases of "You-itis" I've seen in a while, easily the worst of this project. Over 130 cases of a 2nd-person pronoun ("you", "your"): a practice which has long been verboten on our wiki. Clearly someone didn't do their research ahead of time and left a huge mess for some schmuck (Hi!) to clean up. It's odd to imagine that it's cases like these, where you'd think a game as beloved as ToeJam & Earl would be one of the better filled-out pages, that take up the most time to correct. Adding a brand new page from scratch is a brisk affair in comparison.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble

[07/29 - 8:35PM. 25 minute estimate.]

I'll leave you all the same way I joined you, with a Sonic game. The only reason I can think of for including this obscure Game Gear iteration is that it's one of the few Sonic games that hasn't yet been covered by one of these events. Why else would you dig so deep for a Sonic game? Then again, it'd be fair to assume that the Game Gear does have a sizable speedrunning community; they did have to beat those games within an hour before the batteries gave out, after all.

But really, people focus on the modern Sonic games and how abjectly horrible they are, but it's like he has this whole hidden non-canonical mythology with his Game Gear and Master System games. Even though I've never been a particularly big Sonic fan, I feel like I have enough of a handle on his 2D adventures. But what even is this game? What is that cowboy fox? Why does he have a Chaos Emerald?

The Bit at the End

I think this is ironically long enough for a blog that's concerned with getting through things as quickly as possible. Look for another ten curiosities closer to the event, and I hope to see many of you in the ExplosiveRuns chat on July 26th and after.

Meanwhile, it's time to return to adding generic Mahjong Super Famicom games to the wiki for the next few weeks. Feels good to be back. (And yes, I'm getting around to Metal Gear Solid 4 at some point this week, to ensure I'm caught up with Solid Scanlon. I have a lot on my plate right now, which I'm putting off by building a giant sky tower in Terraria. I'm the Sovereign of Scheduling.)

The second part of this list is now available.

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ST-urday #003: Dragon's Breath (Dragon Lord)

All right, enough of the port/licensed game softballs. For the next few weeks I'm going to focus on what I intended to do with this feature from the very beginning: look at some weird computer games created in Europe that are more befitting a mouse and keyboard platform. That means games with more complexity, specifically CRPGs and strategy games. This does lead to a minor problem with how best to present such layered games in only a scant few dozen screenshots, but fortunately we're talking about the late 80s and early 90s for the most part. While something like the original Ultima is almost impenetrable to a CRPG fan spoiled by modern conveniences like myself, it isn't necessarily because of the number of working parts to monitor or features to demonstrate. More because it's all awkward keyboard-heavy text user interfaces that make my eyes glaze over.

While perusing information for today's game, I did come across a site I've had to bookmark for later: The CRPG Addict. I'd visited his Blogspot briefly before - he's part of the "chronogaming circle" that includes the likes of Jeremy Parish (of Game Boy World, as well as the EiC of USGamer) and Doc Sparkle (of Chrontendo) - but if I'm going to keep spelunking the dark depths of the Atari ST's CRPG library, his measured and intelligent appraisals are going to be some useful research material down the line. Naturally with a title like that, he's on the longest of quests to play every CRPG from the dawn of the genre to modern day (though I have a suspicion that intends to end his run somewhere in the late 90s). I'm especially enamored with his overly elaborate scoring system; germane for a fellow who has the tolerance for those obtuse old RPGs.

I can't help but feel the urge to start my own chronogaming series, but the only thing that would interest me beyond the Atari ST would be the SNES/SFC (I'm still in November '94 regarding the Wiki Project, thanks for asking) and I've seen enough of that console's immense library to know that I'll never be able to muster more than a sentence or two to say about its vast number of pachi-slots, baseball and mahjong games. Maybe I could be The JRPG Addict? I'll see if I have the two decades to spare for that project lying around somewhere.

Dragon's Breath/Dragon Lord

Today's game skirts the line between RPG and strategy game, and far more the latter than the former. It has RPG elements (and hey, what doesn't these days) but it's a turn-based game about resource management first and foremost. And also dragons. Let's back up a little.

Dragon's Breath (Dragon Lord in the US) is set in the fantasy world of Anrea. Anrea enjoys a level of prosperity and industry of the odd sort of steampunk/medieval overlap more commonly seen in early Final Fantasy games, where people live in feudal or monarchical societies but appear to have airships and steam technology. In the center of this world is the enormous Dwarf Mountain; either ironically named for its size or an allusion to the Lonely Mountain of Tolkien lore. At the top of the mountain is a fortress containing an immense power so evil and corrupt that it actively makes life worse for the villages that are situated closer to the mountain, bringing wars and famine. However, if someone were to take control of that power, they would be immortal. All they need is three pieces of a talisman to open its doors. That's where you come in.

The player can select one or more of three playable characters: Bachim, Oureod and Ametrin. All are talented alchemists with their own strongholds, but more importantly is that all three are capable of breeding and raising dragons. These dragons are sent out into the world to wreak havoc, conquer settlements and, one way or another, raise money for their masters. Money is essential, as the player's dragons need constant upkeep, and the heating bills to incubate new dragon eggs is astronomical. The player needs at least three dragons to win, however, as they have to sit and guard the three pieces of the talisman. Finding and procuring these talisman pieces is how you win the game.

There's some other fine details I'll get into once we start, like creating spells by experimenting with alchemy ingredients and keeping track of new developments in the world of Anrea to find opportunities for big cash rewards. Suffice it to say, though, that while the game can be a little too leisurely paced for its own good, there's something about wrecking shop with an army of dragons that sat right with a younger me.

Welcome to Dragon's Breath! The mighty draconic race has no need for apostrophes.
The game begins with this ominous little opening crawl that isn't so much referring to any kind of backstory (the game doesn't really have any to speak of, besides that bit about Dwarf Mountain and immortality) but more to the type of people we're dealing with here.
Dick move, bro.
Bachim's the antisocial alchemist with the Selleck 'stache on the left there. His properties are blue. Oureod is a dumpy looking vampiress, while Ametrin is simply announced as "the Green Beast". You won't like him when he's angry.
I dig the little isometric map the game uses. Active players are shown on the bottom (their portraits are grayed out if they're CPU controlled or eliminated). Each player has to choose an action for that turn, then hit the hourglass to make the next turn happen. It's imperative you do something too, because you need money and lots of it.
Reminder that this game was created in 1990. That is a great looking castle right there (the music's good too, I'll include some at the end). This is the individual character screen, where you can access any of those icon-based actions along the bottom.
The dragon eye lets you examine the dragons under your control, though we only start with one. His name's Calgor. Ancient Chinese secret, huh?
The crystal ball takes you to your laboratory and the game's magic system. It's absurdly complex, but each ingredient performs differently depending on which of those funnels it's sent through (it goes cutting, grinding, mixing, and normal from l-r), the intensity of the heat and that round thing at the top right is the condenser. You aim spells either at yourself, a dragon, an egg being incubated or a village and, again, each reagent will have a different effect, and not necessarily positive. It's an incredibly elaborate set-up, and you need to properly study the game's spellbook manual to make sense of it. It can definitely help.
Talking of incubation, that would be the egg/fire icon. Incubating eggs is a big investment, as you're kind of stuck with it (and its large heating bills) until it finally hatches after a period as lengthy as a human pregnancy, or longer. You can cast spells on the embryo to make the baby more powerful too, though there's usually side-effects. You need dragons to win, or really to do anything, so that means you need to cook up one or more of these bad boys - as many as you think you can afford.
It's dry, but the keeps careful track of your expenditures. Considering the game is instantly over as soon as you lose all money and dragons, it's an important thing to keep an eye on.
Traders occasionally appear and can be accessed with the door icon on the main menu (when applicable). It's the most reliable way to buy new alchemy ingredients, but it doesn't come cheap. I'd feed Neckrolls the Gouger here to my dragon, except I suspect I'll need to keep on the merchants' good side if I intend to do any magic.
The only thing left to do is click that map icon and find somewhere to send my dragon. The goal of the game is to find the talisman pieces, which are either scattered across the countryside (it's why you need a lot of dragons with good eyesight to find them) or hidden in villages, which you'll need to invade to search for them.
I forget what the borders around villages mean, it might just be a regional indicator, but the important details are on the right there. I'm not entirely sure what industrial and yeomanry indicate, but I'd guess "money production" and "soldiers" respectively. I'd guess I want more of the former than the latter.
When attacking a settlement with a dragon, you have the option of setting its "zeal", or how much you want the dragon to give a hoot. Higher bar means more damage and better chances of conquering a settlement, but it can also mean the dragon incurs more damage, possibly killing it.
Bachim's turn is set, so I go check in on our rivals. It's a little cheap to make all three human-controlled like this, but I just wanted to show off more of the game's artwork. This place reminds me of Game of Thrones's The Eyrie.
Ametrin lives in the middle of a desolate plain, surprise surprise, but at least he still gets some amazing sunsets.
Once everyone's been given something to do, the turn's over and the dragons perform the tasks given to them. Each makes their way to their destination.
Estor, Ametrin's dragon, gets to his village first and burninates a whole bunch of thatched roof cottages. All it needs is tiny burning people running around.
Ouread, quite accidentally, takes on a village presently at war with another town. In gratitude, the other town gives her some money. It's also possible to earn alchemy ingredients this way, and they're presented as an alternate to the cash reward. The bigger the town you're helping, and the more damage you do, the better the rewards.
The red tome in your library will dish on all the gossip happening in Anrea. It's useful to keep track of wars, but will also include barbarian sightings (buff heroes that can kill your poor dragons, so don't let them occupy anywhere that has a barbarian nearby) and princess kidnappings. Kind of backwards to send a dragon to rescue a princess, but the rewards are worth it.
Back to Bachim, and we've sent Calgor to sit on this village and scare the bejeezus out of them until we can convince them to give us money. Won't take much with a giant lizard peering through their windows.
Fortunately, you can lower the "uprising" bar by casting spells on the village to increase its population and prosperity. If I play my cards right, I can make them super happy about being a part of my empire, bringing my dragon home without worrying if they'll stop sending me taxes.
As you can see, the population has drastically increased. The industry is way up too, and the plague is... oh hell.
C'mon, back you get. I'm not letting you catch the dragonpox. Damn overly complex alchemy, grumble grumble.
Optionally, instead of setting the zeal for an AI run, you can control the dragon yourself! These sections play a bit like Namco's Dragon Spirit, only not as particularly easy to follow.
It's also super hard to control, and I'm evidently not very good at it. This would be a badass image to leave this LP on, though, so let's do just that.

Coming back to Dragon's Breath after all this time, with years of additional wisdom and all the knowledge of the internet at my command, is a little surreal. I feel like I understand this game far better in the few hours I spent with it this afternoon than I did playing it for years as a pre-teen who just wanted to make the dragons fight each other (which they can totally do. I should've capped that, dang). That said, my appreciation for a game willing to give you the full Daenerys Stormborn experience (with the exception of that extended diarrhea sequence in Dance of Dragons) is tempered a little by the game's many faults, including its slow pace and ludicrously Byzantine alchemy system. I do still think it's a pretty game for its era, though, and here's a bit of the game's music I was talking about earlier. (I sadly couldn't find the better in-game menu music, at least for the Atari ST version. You'd think 25 year old computer game soundtracks would be more accessible.)

If you've ever wanted to raise dragons and burninate the peasants, then by all means try it out. I doubt it'll pop up on GOG any time soon - it collectively has fewer than a hundred votes on its wishlist entry - but there's no harm in waiting for it to patiently arrive. That patience will serve you well in the game itself.

(Back to the ST-urday ST-orehouse.)

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