Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pluggity Plug for That Random Podcast Show Episode 7: Guilty Pleasure Movies!

Wachowskis, Laika Animation, Crappy Syfy Channel movies. We talk about so much!

Consider this in place of my usual longform article. Tryptophan and Titanfall 2 is a hell of a drug!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pluggity Plug for That Random Podcast Show Episode 6: We Talk About Steven Universe

All I wanna do is see you tune into my podcast showww. My podcast shooooowww. Yes, this episode we discuss the return of Steven Universe after it's hiatus and pine about various cartoon shows we remember fondly for better and for worse.

By the way, my Thanksgiving was pleasantly mellow and relaxing, even though it involved me doing most of the cooking and cleaning, my turkey knocked everyone on their ass and put them into a food coma!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pluggity Plug for That Random Podcast Show Episode 5: So Awesome It Skipped Over a Few Numbers!

Yep, another one of these. What happened to episodes 3 and 4? Well the short answer is I'm a lackadaisical son of a gun and forgot to plug them here. Long answer is so my Obligatory Post About the American Election. Don't forget to like, share subscribe, and click that bell thing while you're at it!

Topics are Dishonored 2, the recently launched VRV streaming service, and the always chewy subject of quality versus quantity. Also a shout out to Harmonquest on SeeSo. Real funny stuff.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Pluggity Plug for That Random Podcast Show No. 2: Electric Boogaloo

That Random Podcast Show actually has a bit of traction now. Episode 2 has been out for a while but I'm plugging it here because why not!

Michael and I talk a lot about television and stuff so have a listen!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ladykiller in a Bind: An Adult Game That Actually Feels Adult

Warning: This post discusses adult video games with explicit sexual themes and acts. You have been warned. Also this post was supposed to be up last week, but personal obligations prevented me from being quick. I may have no readership but that is no excuse for laziness!!

Bartender, break out the specialty drinks and for the next several hours it's Happy Hour. Because oh boy do I have a topic of discussion for you.

We are going to talk about sex and intimacy in the context of video games.

Those who came in here thinking we don't check for ID or legally acquired prosthetics, one way or another you're going to feel older now. After all, age is a number, the only true measure of well spent years is experience.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Nintendo Switch Trailer Breakdown!

Round of drinks on me Bartender, we have ourselves a grand situation right now! A fantastic celebration that has brought great joy and a much needed charge to my metal joints.

It is the official announcement of Nintendo's latest console. The much rumored Nintendo NX has now been revealed as The Nintendo Switch.

And in three short minutes it is a fantastic stroke of precise, condensed visual information.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fall: The Season Of Doing Something Different

Bartender, patrons, ominous looking spider drone taking pictures of structural weaknesses in my establishment but I allow to remain because he bought some peanuts, I officially feel more in my element. Not because I hit a lucky break with a larger games press website; I didn't. Not because I can finally be with someone who can put up with my weirdness; jury's still out. And most certainly not because I finally sat down with a head doctor and figured out what that ominous whispering is about; as if I could afford it.

No, the reason is simple: Fall is here, and I love Fall!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Late Night SoC Review: Virginia

Written below is a review I wrote for the interactive drama, Virginia. It was originally intended to be published on another site but complications have lead to it being placed on a crank file. Keep that in mind and enjoy my Stream of Consciousness review.

 The word cinematic has become a dog whistle to game critics in recent years. At its worst it is a buzzword that means nothing. At its best it describes a game that uses elements of film wisely without detracting from gameplay. Virginia, an interactive drama from developer Variable State that proudly markets their experience as being the best possible version of the latter. Using film editing techniques in a unique and seamless manner within gameplay to allow for a compressed piece of storytelling that pulls inspiration from the likes of Fargo and True Detective. It's a dangerous position to walk between gaming purists and those more open to increasingly hands-off experiences, but while Virginia has some small problems the overall experience is decidedly novel and a step in the right direction for the emerging subgenre.

The Vanishing of Lucas Fairfax
The game opens in 1992 with you assuming the role of freshly minted FBI agent Anne Tarver, a woman of color who has been given her first assignment: investigating the case of a missing boy in the small town of Kingdom, Virginia. At the same time, you are involved in a secondary assignment, an internal investigation of your partner, Maria Halperin. What transpires starts as a simple police procedural story that unfolds into a mystery thriller before descending into a dreamlike descent into a psychodrama.

The game immediately declares its strengths with confidence. The musical score by Lyndon Holland is a grand sweeping epic that brings operatic emotion to every scene, the visual style uses simple low poly character models and a quaint almost garish pastel color palette, juxtaposing idyllic almost Rockwellian imagery with foreboding and intense musical swells. Character animation can look unnatural and a bit odd, but a lot of personality is injected into such motions, both idle and pronounced. This is all especially important because the storytelling is done through the environment, character interaction, musical choices and the occasional bit of text. There is no dialogue in the game's entire two and a half hour runtime, yet it is completely possible to understand each character's motivation, personality type and mentality from their body language alone. Even in bigger budget productions, that kind of verisimilitude is rarely seen.

First-Person Cinematography

As is the case with interactive dramas Virginia focuses less on traditional gameplay and primarily on immersion and character dynamics. The entire narrative is in a fixed first-person perspective from Anne's point-of-view with your actions limited to looking, walking, and contextual interaction with various objects to continue the plot. All standard fare for experiences like Firewatch and Gone Home that keep the player in the shoes of the protagonist through everything that transpires, from dramatic emotional reveals to the more mundane and tedious moments of walking for long stretches. Virginia on the other hand uses small snippets of gameplay the same way a filmmaker would use an establishing shot, and then right when the player understands where they are geographically or the content in the scene concludes, the game “cuts” to another scene with the player elsewhere in a seamless transition. A similar technique was used in the 2012 indie game, Thirty Flights of Loving, but Variable State took the concept further with proven cinematic shorthand. Fade transition to determine an amount of time has passed, cutting to a black screen to signify the start of a new day, smash cutting from location to location to simulate a long trip expressed in a time lapsed state, the list goes on. The first time it happened in my playthrough it was legitimately jarring to go from walking down a hallway to suddenly be halfway down a stairwell then outside a door near a boiler room, but within minutes I became completely comfortable with it since the cuts weren't too rapid and it helped cut down on what could have easily been fifteen minutes of interactive fluff.

It is a bold move by Variable State that is quietly revolutionary in its execution. It would be one thing if the game just jerked the player around from location to location with no sense of cinematic language, even comedic experiences like The Stanley Parable know a thing or two about well placed transitions after all, but Virginia marries the execution of savvy scripted artistic film direction with the inherently impactful emotional punch that comes from an interactive medium. There's a particular sequence about halfway through the game where Anne wakes up at her partner's home after a long night, goes downstairs, has breakfast, then they continue the investigation. In a more reflexively self-conscious experience the entire exchange could have taken fifteen seconds with the camera focusing on a distinct character tick and maybe one or two details before coldly moving on without letting the player drink in the atmosphere, utterly afraid they might not see or comprehend everything presented. However, the scene lasted roughly four minutes because not only was this the first time Anne entered Maria's home but it was the first time a large amount of information came to the forefront, not just of Maria's living condition but also of her emotional baggage, which culminated in a scene of mutual respect and understanding between the characters punctuated by sitting down and having a meal together; all at the player's own pace and discretion.

Ludo Cinema Dissonance

Just on these merits alone Variable State receives the highest praise with its innovation in the integration of both film language and interactivity, but as far as interactive narrative quality is concerned, Virginia has some issues. First and foremost a telling side effect of having controlled scene transitions is that while pacing is consistent, it can actually alienate the player, making them feel less like they are fully experiencing Anne's journey firsthand and more like they are an increasingly detached cameraman simply witnessing things happen. There are some attempts at character interest such as collectible bird feathers and flowers peppered throughout the experience, but when it comes to active contribution the player just occasionally clicks on an object and lets a scene play out. It works when it works well and doesn't impede upon the player's limited control, but then there instances where it just leads to confusion.

This point is particularly poignant when the game reaches its final act and emotional climax. As mentioned before, Virginia utilizes dream sequences and uncanny mindscapes full of odd symbolism throughout its run, anything from stress induced nightmares Anne is having during the case to inverted soul-gazing punctuated by evocative imagery. It's caused Virginia to be unfairly compared to the uncanny and off-putting imagery used in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, the most deliberately unsettling recurring elements here is the image of a buffalo and a cardinal which is hardly as unsettling as half the things FBI agent Dale Cooper experienced, but it makes the experience feel closer to an abstract tone poem where the focus is less on logic and cohesion and more on selling a mood. But broad emotional connection and a threadbare breadcrumb trail can only make us empathize so much with the cast that when the third act dives into a complete psychedelic succession of vignettes and poignant crescendos to character arcs it feels like a pay off to a second act that never came. Using the earlier example of meeting Maria's in her home, the finale of Virginia assumes that not only did you take that scene for its intent but then, most likely in an ill-conceived use of visual ellipsis, jumps to a bunch of allegedly emotional pathos that is begging for more context.  There is an emphatic pay off to themes of duty, loyalty and friendship and Virginia does everything in its power to sell these elements with its minimalist approach, but there is only so much detail that can be gleamed from creative broad strokes. As such, the big revelations don't hit with as much punch as they should and what ostensibly feels like a conclusion to several story threads feel like a rush to the credits.

Of course this obfuscation can be deliberate by design. Director Jonathan Burroughs brings a clean and grounded visual style to proceedings so when something surreal does enter the scene it is an active choice rather than a chaotic placement for its own sake. It will be the subject of debate just how much any of it really means but that is an essay for another time.

As a linear experience, Virginia doesn't completely stick the landing but the strides it takes make an experience worth checking out for yourself. Equal parts unsettling, endearing and morbidly fascinating, this is one trip to a small town that you won't forget.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pluggity Plug for That Random Podcast Show

Folks, bartender, that guy in the back sniffing the pretzels, I apologize for not another longform post this past weekend. Don't worry, I have a few good excuses. First I was in the middle of recording a new spin-off podcast with GameBit Podcast member Michael, That Random Podcast Show. Second, I had a bit of an anxiety attack due to the upcoming presidential debate. Don't take that as an endorsement or condemnation of either candidate, just know the whole thing absolutely mentally drained me. So in lieu of another post, here's a link to the podcast courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy my voice before we get struck down by a YouTube Heroes asshole!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Relationship Between Editor and Writer

Line up the shots, barkeep, I have a doozy for you tonight.

Recently I have had the utter joy of publishing a piece for the up and coming website,, and it involved my growing outrage and pain for the growing game industry trend of implementing freemium elements into major AAA productions. My particular focus was on the otherwise excellent Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and how Publisher oversight and mismanagement overshadowed an excellent contribution to interactive entertainment. In fact, my opinion on the practice is very well documented dating as far back as the early podcasts I used to do for game-criticism websites based all the way in Australia (we all have to start somewhere folks) and even as recently as a series of longform articles I have written as recently as a few months ago.

But lo and behold when I decided to promote myself by linking to some of my prior work, it's not egotistical it's just good business, I discovered that my work was quietly dropped from the website without my knowledge. Obviously for the sake of professionalism and a big old dose of the benefit of the doubt, I will not disclose the site in question or the reasons why the content was dropped but it has lead to my rambling thoughts for the night.

When it comes to Game Journalism and Game Criticism, the job that most people not in the biz underestimate is the editor. For all of the fancy and colorful personalities out there, Total Biscuit, Angry Joe, and Caddicarus, most do not think of the critics who simply type and investigate. Those who have to help their words and voice make sense, doubly so.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Open For Blogging!

Welcome Internet to the Cyber Tavern, where everybody needs a tall one to deal with being on the Internet.

So since you're here, time for a less flowery explanation of this blog. I write about video games and gamer culture on a semi-professional basis. I freelance my work, and am currently a rowdy individual on the GameBit Podcast. I'm also a  big media sponge for pop culture, then again aren't we all in this social media age? I deal with editors, write long-form op-eds, and with entitled assholes who think I'm an entitled idiot that isn't "completely objective" despite the fact my work can be summarized as informed opinions - the textbook definition of subjective - and I needed a form of release from my stress.

It can't be more video games for two clear reasons. First, I have an addictive (or in the case of gaming, compulsive) personality so even something meant for abnegation like a JRPG or crafting sim like Minecraft would lead to a lot of bad habits. I am able to offset this in a professional manner when I'm crunching for review purposes or writing an op-ed, mostly because despite what anyone else says doing this line of work is 80% sitting at a computer's blank screen trying to express thoughts with words, 10% aggressive editing due to being your own harshest critic, and 10% actually playing video games; but it's a dangerous tightrope to walk. A tightrope walk that will only exacerbate the stress I am trying to alleviate.

Second, game burn out happens. You play so much in such a short amount of time and are expected to think critically about what you are experiencing the whole time that you don't want to deal with it anymore. I've actually had instances where I wanted to just chuck all of my electronics out the window and just go native for a while, but I talk myself out of it by thinking about how there is still insight and wonder to be found with the medium... as well as how much it would cost to replace everything once I calmed down and I am not in the mood for dealing with another loan shark. I already lost one kidney.....

It can't actually be alcohol either. Why? Read the first reason above for one. And two, alcoholism and I have a adversarial relationship involving complex emotions regarding my father that I do not want to deal with here. Yeah, end one paragraph with loan shark joke and the other with dark personal details. Watch out readers, the tonal whiplash might snap your neck.

Which finally brings us here to this quaint little Blogspot fixer-upper. It's simple, the voice is a lot more casual, no editorial oversight is a blessing and a curse so read at your own expense (commas kill coherence people!), and the abstract concept of sitting at a bar and confiding in a digital bartender about my annoyances and joys sounds more therapeutic and fiscally sound than going to an actual bar. Plus, you know, I don't think normal bartenders will know or even care about stuff regarding Steven Universe, Bojack Horseman or the Deus Ex series.

Which brings me to why I'm sticking with a cyberpunk motif for this. Well, just calling it "The Blog Where I Complain About Stuff" isn't nearly as cool sounding if more honest than most blogs out there, and I have a certain love for the Cyberpunk genre. It's a combination of being a 90s kid right when the genre was at its most fertile with stuff like Ghost in the Shell, Shadowrun, etc., and when it comes to the protagonists in those stories I feel a certain level of kinship. For the longest part of my life I was an aspy, that is Asperger's Syndrome which is on the Autism Spectrum in case you didn't figure that out, and it lead to a lot of social anxiety and problems with making connections with people despite having a brilliant mind. Not to brag but I was deep-reading at a Master's Degree level back in 3rd Grade at the cost of zero social skills. So the themes of fighting to retain or redeem humanity in worlds that have become cold and harsh appeals to me on a deep personal level. Plus taking down corrupt evil megacorporations with film noir detective work, gunfights and robot parts are cool as hell.

Which finally brings me to setting down a modest amount of ground rules for this blog, and my fellow readers' discourse:

First and foremost: I have zero tolerance for toxicity. Use any name or label in a derogatory sense, and you will be out on your ear, my bouncer is the admin tools and he's efficient as hell.

Second of all the Cyber Tavern is a place for thought cataloging and polite discourse over complex subject matter, it is not a "safe space" to spout ignorance. Basically an extension of the first rule but I am a proud LGBTQ ally, it happens when the coolest people you hang out with are non-heteronormative in the most diverse of ways and I do not want this to turn into a place where people complain about rising awareness and progressive trends on the simple basis of not liking change. Grow up and learn to express in layers people!

On the flip side of things, while I do advocate activism for marginalized groups of people getting a raw deal, the Cyber Tavern will not be a soapbox for extreme SJW activity. For those needing clarification, let me paint an example: an activist is someone who petitions and works hard to convince a school board to include ramps to allow wheelchair bound students access to the school, an extreme SJW is someone who will yell and actively condemn everyone else for their "ambulatory privilege" while ignoring any form of compromise as not being enough. There are shades of grey to be sure in this distinction but for the most part I will avoid Social Justice topics and in the case where I address it I will do everything possible to parse it as inoffensively as possible.

Finally, I will do my best to put up a new blog post at least once a week on weekends. It can be anything between what I'm working on currently, what my overfocused brain has chosen as its unconscious obsession at the time, or even mild reviews or observations about a show, movie, or smaller video game.

Open up the kegs and get out the nanite paste people, we are open for business!