Three hours is a nap.

I was out late last night listening to musicians singing rock and roll songs. I also forgot to adjust my alarm clock. Between these two events, I got a hair over three hours sleep last night.

I’m going to spend a week at the beach with my sweetie and her family this next week. We’re embarking at midnight this evening for a ten hour drive.

I do not know when sleep will come.

Bully

Released 2006
Playstation 2
I paid $20

I love the concept of social games like The Sims and Animal Crossing. The concept, not the actual games. Those I have all found to be not at all fun. Along comes Bully. While it runs on a variant of the GTA engine, it doesn’t play like a normal sandbox game. It is a social simulator, a spiritual peer to Animal Crossing. However, unlike its milder cousins,  Bully has action, a storyline, and a mean streak.

Bully has you playing a year in the life of Jimmy Hopkins, a 15 year old with a bad attitude, recently enrolled at Bullworth Academy. Your goal is to navigate through the social waters of Bullworth, a hell on earth environment where dog-eat-dog is the rule of the land, and everyone is constantly being tormented by someone else. Needless to say, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the typical high school experience.

The game starts with Jimmy being dropped off at Bullworth. As he enters the school, he is surrounded by kids taunting each other, chasing each other, crying. It is a nightmare given form. He soon befriends Petey, a pushover, and Gary, a scheming sociopath. Gary has a plan. Gary wants to take over the school.

Gameplay itself is nothing special. The missions are pretty mundane: fetch this, protect her, beat up him, etc. Combat amounts to little more than mashing down on the square button. If a game where nothing more than the mechanics of play, then Bully would merely be a very watered down GTA knockoff.

Fortunately, Bully isn’t really an action game. It is a dark high school simulator, and the joy of it is in the little details. As a student, Jimmy has classes to attend, and a curfew to keep. Get busted and you’ll have to attend class or detention. Stay out too late, and you’ll pass out. Classes are minigames, that teach Jimmy new skills upon completion. As the year progresses, the seasons change, complete with holiday decorations. These details, and many others, make Bullworth feel like a real school, albeit one with much of the drudgery stripped away.

At the heart of the game is the miniature society found within Bullworth’s walls. Each student is a distinct character with his or her own personality. At any time you can have Jimmy interact with any of them, with the option to either be friendly or to be hostile. Most students belong to a clique, and how clique members respond to Jimmy changes as he gains and loses favor over the course of the game. It captures the feel of a small community.

It is a little disappointing that your standing with the cliques is wholly based on the results of your scripted missions. And the social mechanics, which have been stapled onto an action game engine, aren’t as deep as it feels like they could be. But the game has enough depth that I found myself getting pulled into the world of Bullworth Academy.

Bully has received a lot of media attention as various parties attacked it as a bullying simulator, but they’re missing the point. Jimmy is certainly a thug, but at a school where the motto is Canis Canem Edit (dog eat dog), that hardly makes him unique. Thugs are everywhere, and Jimmy spends as much time fending off attacks from other students as he does causing trouble. As do all the characters. All the students at Bullworth are lashing out against others, out of a constant state of fear and insecurity. Jimmy is just playing by the rules. When one asks who is the bully in the title, the game’s sly answer is “Everyone.”

Those expecting a solid action title or a deep sandbox game might be disappointed by Bully’s gameplay. But if you want a game that is halfway between Animal Crossing and GTA, peppered with blunt satire, check it out. It isn’t going to be a game for everyone, but I was charmed by the game’s style.

Objective Rating: 78
Subjective grade: A-

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

In my defense, Brave Mode is really friggin tough

So I was digging through some old photographs when I came across a picture of Darth Vader’s head with the message:

FINAL SCORE: 03062550
DARE YOU TRY BRAVE MODE…

Apparently, when I had been younger, I had been sufficiently impressed by my high score in the video game Super Star Wars that I felt the need to record my score for the ages. I have no idea if 3062550 is a good score, but I dig that the score wasn’t even on the hard difficulty level.

I love the Super interpretation of Star Wars. The story is something like this:
Act 1
Young farmboy, Luke Skywalker, fights hordes of wamp rats as he makes his way across the wilds of Tatooine. He kills The Sarlac.
Act 2
Skywalker murders dozens of Jawas as he breaks into their sandcrawler and steals their droids.
Act 3
Kill more wamp rats.
Act 4
Skywalker, alongside smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, gets into a huge barfight.
Act 5
The trio mows through hundreds of Imperial Stormtroopers before rescuing the nonplayable Princess Leia.
Act 6
Trench battle! Hitting that exhaust port is much easier than I had been led to believe.

Toasted Head

I was at the grocery store yesterday, when a bottle of wine caught my eye. A wine called “Toasted Head” had a label that just blew me away with full force awesomeness. Forgive me if y’all are all familiar with the product, but it is new to me.

This is basically the best thing ever.

Chomp!

Yesterday I played dolls with my friend Tony. He had a bunch of dolls that looked like monsters, but I had a doll that looked like a Tyrannosaurus! My Tyrannosaurus doll ate some of his dolls, and some of his other dolls ran away! I won the game of dolls.

Hooray for Dinosaurs!

Role Playing

by Isaac


I’d been in a bad relationship for almost 15 years: A relationship with video game RPGs. It has taken a long time, but I’ve finally realized that I wasn’t getting what I needed out of our relationship and now I’m trying to move on. It wasn’t the fault of the genre, really. I just kept expecting RPGs to fulfill my needs in a way in which they never could.

Now that the love is gone, I’ve noticed that I hate the RPG genre. I hate being stopped every three steps for a random encounter. I hate the monotony of the combat. I hate having to talk to every damn villager. I hate micromanaging spells and equipment and skill progression. I pretty much hate every thing there is to do in these freaking games.

And yet, I kept messing around with them for years. I’ve started things up and not finished over a dozen of these games. I’ve repeatedly, over the years, spent weeks being confused as to why I wasn’t enjoying the game I was playing, before wandering away, always with the intent to return and finish later. To date, I have only actually completed one traditional eastern RPG: the original Final Fantasy.

It was only in this past year that I have realized the terribly obvious fact: I don’t like RPGs. How could I spend 15 years not noticing this incredibly obvious thing? Why did I keep playing them? Why didn’t I know better?

I think the thing of the matter is, there is a coolness to the RPG genre. Now, clearly, I don’t mean that RPGs are in any way actually cool, assuming you define “cool” in the classic sense of you are more likely to get laid if a potential mate sees you participating in the activity. GAMING ISN’T COOL, KIDS. That said, if you’re a nerd, RPG’s have a very tangible appeal. These games let you have epic scale adventures that are also (somewhat) non-linear. You can watch your characters start as wussbags and build them into godslayers. And the choices you make in the game might affect the final outcome. That’s pretty appealing, and back in the cartridge-based days of yore, a pretty good trick.

But the thing is, RPGs are perhaps the most inefficient way to have fun that man has ever invented. You play these accursed things for the stories (which are usually bog-standard fantasy boilerplates.), but rather than just tell you the story, the game makes you play the dullest, repetitive, math-iest “game” you could imagine before doling out a small part of story (traditionally told by slow scrolling, badly translated text). And then you get to undergo a few more hours of random encounters and equipment micromanagement. There is fun to be had in this, but it is at staggeringly low levels. Meanwhile, these things take what? 40 hours? 80 hours to get through? That is 80 hours that could be spent playing with your friends, taking in a concert, making out with someone pretty. We’ve only got so many hours in our lives, people!

If you like juggling numbers, get a job as an accountant. If you like crappy epic fantasy, read a Dragonlance novel. Don’t play RPGs. Playing these games requires a special kind of stupid. A kind of stupid that I now recognize in myself, and that I’ve moved past.

Except.

Except, RPGs are turning a corner, aren’t they? Knights of the Old Republic was a fun, immersive game that rarely felt like resource management. I’ve heard amazing things in the same vein about Final Fantasy 12. And Mass Effect is right around the corner and just might blow all of our minds. RPG doesn’t seem to mean what it used to. They just might be growing up. So, what now? Just as soon as I walk away from the relationship, it looks like RPGs might finally be getting their act together, changing their ways. Do I give them another chance? Or do I make a clean break of it?

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.