kjorteo: Screenshot from Jumpman, of the player character falling to his doom, with the caption "FAIL" on the bottom. (Fail)
"Well," I told myself, "I just finished Chocolate Castle. I feel like I'm in the mood for Lexaloffle Games to continue hurting me, but I don't want to spend another eight years on a massive project. What do they have that's bite-sized? Oh, an entire community of PICO-8 games, of course."

GET OUT of this Dungeon is a decently competent Metroidvania, which is pretty impressive when one considers that someone made this in PICO-8. You are Santa, for some reason. You must get out of this dungeon, also for some reason.

It's all well and good, and I did dink around with it long enough to satisfy the "have I actually attempted to play this game" baseline for writing a post. Buuuuut it's a masocore spike hell game with finite lives (100, a decent supply, but still,) the controls are kind of fiddly which is not a good quality to have in a masocore spike hell game with finite lives, and it's just short enough not to have a save feature yet long enough that people are posting their completed screens in the comments with times ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours.

Nnnnnnnah. If I'm feeling an itch for Metroidvanias, I, uh. I have other options.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Daedalian Opus, of a solved puzzle with the text "GOOD" displayed on underneath it. (GOOD)
Much like Zen Puzzle Garden, I picked this up in the Humble Voxatron Bundle back in 2011 and it has been haunting me ever since. Now all I need to do is play Jasper's Journeys and I can finally exorcise the spirit of Lexaloffle from this household, I suppose. Man does it feel like an accomplishment to be done with this one, though.

So. Klotski puzzles. Also known as "sliding" puzzles, "daughter in the box" or "princess in a box" puzzles, "rush hour" puzzles, or "everyone's least favorite part of any given Professor Layton game" puzzles. With me so far?

Chocolate Castle is a slight variation in that many (but not all) blocks are various colored pieces of chocolate. The goal to clear any given stage is to have all of the chocolate eaten (the puzzle is solved when no more chocolate exists on the board) which one accomplishes by via the matching-colored animals. So, for example, if you drag that dark brown dog onto a dark brown chocolate block, the dog will eat the block and then disappear. Furthermore, if you end a move with two chocolate pieces of the same color touching each other, they fuse and are considered one block of that combined shape from then on. This often makes for a very interesting dynamic where you eventually need to Daedalian Opus every matching-colored piece together into one because you usually only have one animal of that color and need to get rid of all of it at once, but you'll want to keep them unfused so they're small enough to get around each other until the very end, which means you'll have to be very careful about where you move.

For the most part, it's a gimmick that's interesting enough to make Klotski enjoyable, which is honestly saying something. When they remembered to use that gimmick to good effect in the actual puzzle design, many of the levels were the best kind of brain-breaking fun, something I was delighted to be stuck on and mad-scientist-cackling when I finally solved. On the other hand, sometimes there's this bullshit.

Chocolate Castle has 120 built-in puzzles (40 each of Easy/Medium/Hard.) There's also an editor for the community to fling rooms at each other, and each puzzle keeps track of how many moves it took in case you want to go for a speedrun or something. I cannot possibly begin to convey the extent to which I don't care; if it took me 200 moves to get through a goddamn ocean of chocolate bricks, the important thing is I got through it.

And it only took, what, eight years?
kjorteo: A screenshot of Magicant, from the SNES game EarthBound. (Magicant)
Last night's dream was the trailer for the upcoming realistic CGI Winnie the Pooh movie Disney was apparently working on (a la Jungle Book, Lion King, etc.) I've never been a huge Winnie the Pooh fan, but I mean I've never been a huge Jungle Book fan either and I loved the new movie, so sure I'll bite.

We start in a farm setting where a certain baby runt pig is being nursed back to health after being caught in a rainstorm or something. The other major characters are introduced as he recovers. The bee non-aggressively snuggles up to him, and given the stylistic choice to go for total realism, no anthropomorphism, yet still scale the bee's size (and, uh, waspiness) up to match, it pretty much looked like a baby pig spooning a Japanese giant hornet. A bit "uh" but I mean if Charlotte's Web can make spiders endearing, sure I'll give it a chance I guess. 8| Then the pig looks up at a certain bear cub over by the fireplace and "you know these two are going to be best friends forever and form the entire plot of this movie" music starts playing. Etc.

It was very Piglet-centric for a movie ostensibly about and named after Winnie the Pooh, but I guess it works out because stylistically this was literally Babe. Christopher Robin was nowhere to be seen, unless he grew up and became Arthur Hoggett, so I guess the whole "child's imagination and adventures with his stuffed animals" framework is gone and everyone is just real now.

It built up to the big triumphant fanservicey shot of an entire barnful of miscellaneous animals singing... uh... the well-known fanservice song from Winnie the Pooh. Is there one? I'm sure there is and someone in the comments is going to be like "HOW DARE YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS NOT USE (song) HERE" but I DON'T KNOW, I WASN'T REALLY EVER INTO WINNIE THE POOH OKAY. I think it just pulled some other famous Disney number (possibly "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes"?) and in dream logic context I just sort of knew what they meant and had that "aaa it's the Winnie the Pooh song" reaction.

My ex from two relationships ago was squeeing with excitement proudly showing off this trailer because she somehow landed a voice-acting role and was in this movie, as a gamer(!?) named Snorch. Your guess is as good as mine how gamers get worked into the plot of a Winnie the Pooh movie, since Snorch wasn't actually in the trailer (but the "and (other ex) as Snorch" byline was) but I was told it was kind of a one-scene cameo type deal. Still, that's impressive! Congratulations and good job and etc.

I woke up about an hour before my alarm was going to go off, so I kind of rolled over and went over what I'd just witnessed, trying to commit it to waking memory so I could write this out later, then drifted back to sleep and--

Wait.

Wait just a goddamn minute.

Winnie the Pooh doesn't have a fucking bee in its main cast.
kjorteo: Crop from Action Replay box art, of a very cheap imitation bootleg Charizard with a hippo-like giant nose and ear tufts.  Text on the bottom reads "NOT FAKE" (PARizard: NOT FAKE)
Logged into Istaria with my dragon alt.

Showed up right in the middle of a (totally in-character, RP'd out with guildmates /em posing at each other) mini-crisis wherein we were struggling to get through to a wild dragon hatchling. The hatchling was deaf and mute and mostly unable to read or right, and was upset to the point of lashing out over something but the communication barrier made it impossible to tell what. Attempts to deescalate the situation failed, the wild hatchling attacked, was magically bound for a bit, then broke free and ran away. One of the others left some food on a nearby hill as a peace offering just in case they came back later.

With that crisis averted for now, the remaining guildmates sat around at just talked for a while. I ended up confessing through several layers of RP server obfuscation about "souls connected somehow" and "guiding forces" and whatnot to spell out the relationship between us and our characters (Syrahlia [F] and Ahrashace [M] are alts, Celine [MtF] and Sara [F] are a plural system, Celine controls both of them, Sara doesn't really play Istaria but watches) and ended up befriending another plural system OOC. We added each other on Discord and I'm looking forward to talking to them more.

Then wild hatchling came back literally right as I was signing off, so that whole saga is going to continue for everyone else. I just kind of left them to it because we had to get to bed.

And that was my Istaria session. Didn't do a single thing that made any sort of progression toward anything. Doesn't matter. Istaria: What Even Is This Game. (TM)

You know, I used to make fun of the fact that the only people who would play Istaria in the year of our Lord Current Year are the people treating it as Dragon Second Life. Turns out Dragon Second Life is pretty awesome actually.
kjorteo: A screenshot of Magicant, from the SNES game EarthBound. (Magicant)
This one is kind of pushing the boundaries of what counts as a game (let alone a completed game) but it's our blog and we want to include it.

Becalm is... not a game, exactly. I wouldn't even call it a tech demo. It's a screensaver, is what it is. There is no objective or win condition. There is no player-controlled steering or movement. The mouse looks around for possible screenshot purposes, the space bar cycles between the settings (the trippy one, the snowy one, etc.) and Escape quits. From the title screen, you have two game modes. One of runs for exactly five minutes and then fades to white and auto-closes, while the other runs infinitely until the player quits. If you've watched the trailer... that's it. That's Becalm.

Becalm is one of those "it's five minutes long and literally free so why not" pretty things my Steam discovery queue throws at me sometimes, and in that sense, it's exactly as advertised. It's pretty. It's scenic. The music is soothing. It's kind of like the home experience of one of those Tunnel of Love boat rides from some old-timey state fair. Sara and I played watched it together on the couch with a Steam Link, and she was into it enough that she let out an adorable little "Ackptthh" when it started raining. It was a brief respite from life, and it was... just... a neat pleasant little thing. We'll probably hang onto this one and do an every-now-and-then five-minute run as a meditation backdrop.
kjorteo: Sad Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: Sad)
I had a bunch of doctor's appointments and exams today, mostly because I only wanted to use one day's worth of PTO to get as many of them crossed off as possible because I'm stingy.

It was... not bad news, really, but not good, and now I'm just okay-but-kind-of-deflated.

Endocrinology and Mental Health:
Hormone levels look fine. The doctor suggested that I could try maybe taking my spironolactone every other day instead of every day if I wanted to boost sexual drive and function a little, but warned that various feminizing processes could regress as a side effect. If they do, I could just go back to every day. Basically their overall point was "you're in control of your meds, you're allowed to see if some adjusting makes you happy and go back if it doesn't." So, that part is all well and good, no problems here.

Because these visits kind of double as general doctor PCP checkups for me (the line in this clinic is kind of fuzzy) we also went over some mental well-being stuff and touched on some issues I've been having recently with my temper.

To be clear, I don't think I have it particularly bad right now. Like, I'm not a short-fused wrathful explosion machine or anything. Any anger or frustration I feel at daily inconveniences is probably within the normal parameters of what everyone goes through. I've even had friends I've explained this issue to react with genuine surprise and an inability to imagine me ever being hostile. Anger issues? Me? Pfff.

However, I used to be that bad. I have matured and calmed down since then, and I'm a sweetie now (or I try to be most of the time, anyway.) And even though I'm better now... I guess the problem is that I never really learned to adjust to the healthy normal person scale? Like, you don't go from being an alcoholic to drinking responsibly after rehab. I'm left with the worrying dread that what if every time I ever get irked at anything is a relapse. That dread itself tends to make outbursts worse, as now there's a sort of one-two punch wherein I first get mad at something and then get crushingly guilty and remorseful as soon as I cool down.

(Look, I have Sara in my head, okay? Even if I do everything right as far as counting to ten and not yelling at people and venting out loud, she gets to see and feel my rage and it's pretty hard to feel good about subjecting her to that.)

So I guess I need... guidance? On how normal people have a mood without turning it into a thing, and I now have an appointment with their behavioral therapist in a few weeks. This would be the same one who single-handedly cured my panic attacks, so at least I'm in good hands.

Speaking of Sara, there's a decent chance she she'll come up at that point. I mean, if even my PCP/endocrinologist knows about (and fully approves of) her, a therapy type environment is more germane to the topic, surely?

Or maybe it isn't? She and I did talk on the way to the bus after getting out of this appointment about how she's my daughter (/sister/girlfriend/however you define our relationship,) not my conscience. She's not a filter, or cog in the Celine machine, or whatever metaphor you want to use to convey it being her job to regulate my systems. She does do that, mind you. She helps me immeasurably in everything from general favors to urging me to get to bed on time to just being there for me as a companion and source of cuddling and comfort. But that's all stuff your partner does for you out of love in a healthy and mutually supporting relationship. She's not meant to be an automatic mental purifying organ like my liver is for the physical end.

The goal here is still to get to the point where I am okay with my mental state, not "my mental state is a mess but Sara cleans up after it and therefore we as a system are fine." Ideally, neither of us should be there because we need each other. We should be technically fine if we had to stand alone, but still together anyway just because we want to be, because we love each other.

So we'll see how this visit goes, I suppose. It's just hard to feel good about the notion that I'm officially entering some sort of Anger Management Treatment spectrum, even if it's, you know, treatment, to fix a problem, and is ultimately a good thing. It's like how getting a hearing aid/glasses is a positive and helpful improvement to your life but the idea of needing them feels bad.

Speaking of....

Audiology:
Oh, my hearing loss is getting worse. I guess that explains why I was making [personal profile] everestdragon repeat himself every second or third sentence. I thought it was a combination of already knowing my hearing is mildly bad anyway + his Australian accent, but it's actually more just because my hearing is moderately bad.

Going to hang onto my audiology test results and maybe think about bringing them into the hearing aid center I usually go to for equipment cleanings and such... in a few months? Maybe? At this point they may need to slightly recalibrate/reprogram the strength on my right aid, and I might have to consider getting a left. I was thinking of looking into if they have newer, fancier models than this old thing I've had for years anyway, but buying a new hearing aid (let alone two) is money, and January is usually not a good month for that. I should be fine by March, and I'll maybe think about scheduling an appointment with them then. And, I mean, it will be nice to get stronger correction if I actually need it, but... sigh.

Vision:
Vision is mildly slipping as well! I'm at about 20/30 now, enough that I can get by just fine, but the doctor wrote me an eyeglasses prescription should I happen to feel like filling it at some point.

I haven't needed glasses since... well, before I had LASIK. I knew that wasn't a permanent rest-of-my-life fix and this day would be coming again, but it's still sad that here we are. I mean, I have no regrets; I got some good years of being 20/20 or even 20/15, and it was worth it for those. But... mmf.

Like the hearing aid prescription, I will probably hang onto this for now and fill it later, when I have more money. I don't expect to wear the glasses regularly, but I could see them being a special-occasions sort of thing if I'm watching a movie or couch console gaming or something. The hearing aid I probably should be better about actually using since I already have it, and even moreso once I get it reprogrammed/possibly upgraded. I guess we'll see.

Almost....

Jan. 13th, 2019 03:55 pm
kjorteo: Glitched screenshot from Pokémon Yellow, of Pikachu's portrait with scrambled graphics. (Pikachu: Glitch)


[personal profile] everestdragon happens to be visiting me for a couple days. Among the other things we've been up to, he took an interest in my ongoing Interlight saga and tried to help out with the emulation issues. Thanks entirely to him, we have made a huge breakthrough, and are closer than we've ever been to cracking this case... though agonizingly not quite there yet.

What you see above is test footage from our attempts to run The Story of Jonah. First off, it runs, which is a hell of a lot farther than we got before Evvy started helping! He found us a working emulator, which was able to read the image I dumped, and this is as far as we got from that.

The issue now is input. Once it gets to the title screen, all action stops. The game is entirely mouse-driven, but we find ourselves unable to move the mouse or click on anything, no matter how many options and settings we've messed with and what we've tried to do. It's agonizing to be this close yet this far... look! Lost Sheep is right there! Literally all we have to do is scroll over and click on it! ... But that is the point we're currently at.

Still, this was at least major progress, and we did learn a few things even from what we've been able to see so far. First off, wow that is some 90s edutainment aesthetic already. Those company and title screens are FONTASTIC. Like, Graphic Design Is Interlight's Passion.

Also, the splash screen goes back to crediting themselves as Interlight Productions, Inc. This even though the game's box (and LinkedIn profiles from ex-employees I found) credit Interlight International, Inc. David and Goliath (which experiences similar issues of working right up until you need to input something) also uses "International" even in its splash screen, making Jonah's splash screen... unique? I'll have to rip the others and see how many International versus Productions screens we have, but that's a project I'm saving until we get the input issue resolved.

Which has us completely stumped and we're stuck again.

But nnngh so close.

(Also, I just realized how much of a perfect creepypasta setup I've accidentally made this whole saga sound like so far. A completely forgotten game no one on the modern Internet has any record of at all, acquired from a mysterious old man at a yard sale eBay, with a series of slowly yet increasingly detailed blog entries delving into the history and backstory of this fictional game and company, complete with glitches and errors when attempting to play the game, and content we're desperately seeking but haven't been able to access yet this early in the tale. The question is, when we finally do get into Lost Sheep, was the CD-i capable of rendering HYPERREALISTIC BLOOD?)

Edit: I told Evvy that same creepypasta comment as above and then the very next thing we went to run another test with some Lemmings ROM and

kjorteo: Crop from Action Replay box art, of a very cheap imitation bootleg Charizard with a hippo-like giant nose and ear tufts.  Text on the bottom reads "NOT FAKE" (PARizard: NOT FAKE)
The main lands of Istaria provide a very guarded view of dragons, especially when approached by other, more bipedal races. We know they are typically very serious, and that there is a major faction-defining schism over whether to be openly speciesist or just politely speciesist.

In this daring exposé, I will roll a dragon go deep undercover to capture the hidden dragon secrets that they don't want the naka-duskael to know.





THIS JUST IN: Dragon hatchlings are giant puppies. Breath of Fire II was right all along.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Werewolf: The Last Warrior, of the titular Werewolf next to a sign that says "Don't Knock". (Don't Knock)
A little more than two years into gameblogging, and every single report I've made so far have been either COMPLETE or ABANDONED. That's how games normally work, right? I don't play MMOs or any kind of everlasting game like that. Everything I've covered so far has been a singular experience I either beat or decided it's not worth beating and quit.

Because I don't play MMOs, you see.

I don't...

Fuck.

*Sigh* Okay.

So, a very, very long time ago, back in the LiveJournal days, I made a snarky writeup looking back on an old (even at the time) MMO I had played and bounced off of: Horizons: Empire of Istaria. That post is still around somewhere, but I'm not going to link to it. It's old, I'm always ashamed of my own writing, I'm especially ashamed when it's a sassy Zero Punctuation-style takedown of something I've come to appreciate more sincerely with age, and it's full of broken image links that I'm too lazy to fix. Just know that, if you choose to take it upon yourselves to find it, I don't endorse it. There's a reason I'm not making it easy and linking it for you.

Short and sanitized version: Horizons: Empire of Istaria was a fantasy swords and sorcery MMO from 2003. You had your humans and elves and dwarves and stuff, your early-2000s mandated quota of one feline race and one lizard race, and DRAGONS. Horizons attempted to set itself apart from other fantasy MMOs of the day via emphasizing crafting (which is everywhere now, to the point that Horizons' "we have crafting" as a selling point doesn't sound particularly impressive, but the extent they pushed it was a slightly bigger deal back then?) and playable dragons. It also boasted a freely changeable class system for both adventuring and crafting schools--got to level 25 as a Mage and decided you didn't like it? Go talk to a Warrior trainer in any town and you are now a Warrior! Decided that was a mistake? The Mage trainer over there can change you back! No need to reroll entire characters for this! (Unless you're a dragon. Dragons have access to exactly one adventuring class, which is DRAGON. This is part of why I'm not a dragon even in the game where some would argue that being a dragon is kind of the point.)

My ex from two relationships ago and I used to play this game a lot, but it was... rough. There were bugs and issues. Performance was choppy at best, unplayable at worst. The City of Tazoon was a vast, sprawling, beautiful abandoned wasteland because of a bad case of what Final Fantasy XIV fans would know as 1.0 flowerpot syndrome: the city was so poorly optimized and technically demanding due to its size that even just looking at it tended to melt one's hard drive.

Horizons developer Artifact Entertainment eventually folded, but sold the game to a company named Tulga Games, who eventually folded and sold the game to Virtrium, LLC, its current owner. There is strong evidence to suggest that AE and Tulga were the same people in different hats selling assets to themselves to get through bankruptcy law loopholes, and the fact that I can't find anything at all about who in the world is Vitrium LLC (since this is conveniently their only product) is... suspicious. The game itself got renamed along the way, too, becoming Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted. But by then, we already didn't care anymore; having moved on to other, more functional, higher-quality games.

Every now and then, maybe once a year or so, I would get gray mail from them to the effect of, "Hey, former player! I'll bet you're wondering about all the stuff that's new and difference since you last logged on! Ever feel like coming back? :3" It would have been easy to unsubscribe from their mailing list after the first year or so and never think about this wretched game again, but... well. It was very infrequent (I probably would have if they'd have spammed me reguarly, but one newsletter a year is nothing) and maybe a part of me did have fond memories of my old friends in my old guild and the fun we used to have together.

This year, they came at me with a special holiday event they were running, with some neat in-game stuff (double XP and things like that) and the news that all old and players could be welcomed back for free with full paid account features and access for the duration of the promotion. By now I had been getting nostalgic enough to either tromp through this game again just to see or at least make [personal profile] xyzzysqrl do it so she could report, and that offer was the perfect opportunity to jump back in.

You know, to see. Have a look around out of curiosity, see if my old characters still existed, just evaluate things before I put it all away again. I figured I could get just enough of a glimpse to confirm that the game is still forgettable, have my curiosity resolved so those yearly emails would quit making me feel things, and maybe get a good quick ABANDONED entry to fill up a category or two for next year. It's fine, I don't play MMOs and Horizons sucked anyway. *stubbornly fold arms*

Instead, what I found was... Istaria is certainly an old MMO and it shows. If I hadn't told you that every screenshot I posted above this paragraph was from 2004 while this one is from last week, would you have known? This game still has a UI straight out of EverQuest 1, and graphics that are... let's say maybe EverQuest 1 1/2 or so (though I hear they're supposedly thinking about overhauling and working everything into Unreal someday.) There are still... quirks. For email after email bragging about how much has changed, there's still so much that hasn't that... yeah, this is still Istaria all right.

But.

Maybe it's the evolution of my attitude. Maybe the passage of time plus my matured appreciation for things turned its jank from unforgivable to retro and strangely adorable. I was almost going to use my Family Dog icon for this entry, in fact.

But that's not fair to this game. Throughout my time in their free promotion, my attitude has evolved from the "lol Horizons sucks" of the Before times to "pff okay this is awesome XD" to "okay but seriously this is actually not bad." For every issue I've had, the support team has been fast, responsive, and friendly to the point of practically rolling out the red carpet for me. The graphics... it's like why I will argue with people that Mario 64 actually has good graphics. They're certainly dated, but if you take the capabilities of your current platform, work them into a style, and makes something that looks good for what it is, then there's a certain timelessness to it. From the smoldering volcanic doom of the Char region to the deadly yet beautiful frozen northern mountains, Istaria's Aradoth is a scenic world. In that sense, it's not even so-bad-it's-good; it's just good.

Those performance issues on PCs of the time? This thing can run on a potato now. Even Tazoon is buttery smooth. (It's still empty, but shh.) It's nice to roam around in, especially now that I can.

Oh, and I could still get conspiratorial over the links between Artifact, Tulga, and Virtrium, but... unless you're one of their creditors, does it really matter who they are? They're putting out a good product that's fun to play. At least Artifact didn't sell Horizons to NCSoft.

In the past couple weeks, I've been all around a digital world, exploring questlines and locations that are both comfortingly familiar yet new and open to be explored. I've made new friends who have welcomed me into their fold. I witnessed a dragon from my newfound circle finish her deeply ceremonial ritual rite of passage to become an adult, and felt more things than I have at some RL cousins' weddings.

I... am going to keep playing this. In a world where $10 a month could get you, I don't know, FFXIV or ESO or whatever new real MMOs kids are playing these days, I'm going to subscribe--not ironically, but proudly--to this one. Not out of hipsterism, or Family Dog appreciation, but out of a genuine heartfelt feeling that this is a good experience and I want to keep experiencing it.

If the polish comes off and I stop having fun someday? Then maybe I'll cancel at that point. I'm not entering a binding contract that gives them my soul until the heat death of the universe or anything. It's a monthly subscription I can turn off if I ever stop having fun. But for now? I like this game, and it feels good to be back.

---

Sara adds:
I normally dislike when Celine falls so hard into an all-consuming game that she starts slipping on chores/bedtime/etc., but good heavens I've never seen these parts of her mind light up like this. This is delightful.

I mean she still needs to quit typing this and go take a shower.

But man, she's just... she's happy and I'm really feeling it too.
kjorteo: Sprite of the dead "boss" and "Sorry, I'm Dead" speech balloon from Monster Party. (Sorry - I'm dead.)
This was another "I saw it on my Discovery Queue and it looked five minutes long and free so eh what the heck" acquisition.

Space Between Worlds bills itself as a minimalist puzzle game about proximity and space between people. It's actually one of those artsy minimalist framework templates for a story of a lifetime, told in minimalist stages that boil down to being in the correct position relating to the stage's title. ("Hug" can be solved by inserting yourself between the two larger squares, "Play" involves chasing and remaining close to an erratically-moving square, etc.)

The Indie Game About Death here is obvious and heavy-handed, but the presentation is neat I guess. If you're in the mood for this then it does a good job being that thing you were probably looking for.
kjorteo: A picture of Celine meditating while Sara embraces her from behind, both looking serene, peaceful, and content. (Celine & Sara: Together)
The year is drawing to a close, and we can all only hope that it takes the bizarre time vortex we've all been caught in with it. Much like [personal profile] xyzzysqrl pointed out, it really does feel like the beginning of this year was at least three years ago. Yet, at the same time, I found myself caught off guard by just about every advance event--my annual vacation, my birthday and Christmas, writing this post as well as the awards posts--in the "wait, that's tomorrow?" sense.

So. 2018. Whewf.

Whewf? )
kjorteo: Sprite of the dead "boss" and "Sorry, I'm Dead" speech balloon from Monster Party. (Sorry - I'm dead.)
This game was about four minutes long for me. I will try not to spend longer than that on the review.

So. Frightened Beetles. You are a series of cute insects. Something frightens each one, causing them to take off running through a gibfest obstacle course, usually to splat against some wall at the very end anyway. This startles the next bug who was sitting right next to that wall, who takes off through their own bloody journey, and the cycle continues like a relay race sponsored by the Happy Tree Friends.

This is... not what I was expecting and not something I would have played if I'd known what it actually was, but hey. It's four minutes long, free, and I can think of lower quality offerings if this genre is your thing.

The first leg is kind of cruel, though. Not only are harmless background leaves only marginally darker in color than the instant death leaves, but this is by design, as the two are often directly next to each other in long sequences that are deliberate attempts to confuse the player into crashing. Not cool.
kjorteo: Uncomfortable Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: Uncomfortable)


"Do you know Hector? Like, is he with you? He just kind of showed up in the office and he won't stop flexing. I am deeply concerned."
kjorteo: Screenshot of the SNES game Family Dog.  The titular dog is smiling widely and looking ecstatic, despite the fact that Family Dog is not a very good game. (Family Dog)
If you are part of Clan Sugardoom, you just saw the title of this post and/or new icon and went, "Oh, God."

OKAY SO.

Family Dog was some short-lived cartoon series that bombed horribly despite having some seriously impressive names attached.

Family Dog was a licensed SNES game-of-the-show developed by Absolute Entertainment and published by Malibu Games, the former of which was kind of another factory for bombs by respected creators who should know better. (Just look at all these great games and remember that this is David Crane's company. And, oh, no, there's Toys again.)

I've only ever seen one episode of the show. It was... okay, I think. The game, meanwhile, is some spectacular kusoge.

Here's a longplay, and yes, the entire game is about 15 minutes long if you know what you're doing, know the trick to get past the outdoor pound area, and don't die or redo areas due to missed jumps. Everything about this game screams low-quality godawful shovelware, but if you look closer, it's actually surprisingly high-quality godawful shovelware.

You are the family dog. You walk and run and jump and bark at things and the controls are about as bad as you would expect. There are like three or four kinds of horizontal and vertical jumping and none of them make it any easier to land on things. You can dig when there are buried items, a mechanic that mostly exists to frustrate you when you hit a patch of "something is buried here, better stop and very slowly inch and sniff along the ground to indicate this" directly under a falling hazard you were trying to dodge.

Barking is your main and only weapon, with most enemies in the game taking 2-4 barks (depending on enemy) to dispatch. Your barks are finite. You can replenish stock with collectible +5 bark powerups, though those are somewhat rare. Enemies usually tend to add either +1 health or +5 barks upon being defeated. The mechanics are somewhat unclear, but my experience is that it more or less works like the need-based system of modern Metroid games, where enemies tend to drop health if you're hurt or barks otherwise. Given the comparative dearth of collectible barks, this is your primary means of replenishing your stock.

This means that it takes barks to make barks. If you're relatively healthy and have a decent reserve of barks already, then you'll never worry about barks ever again; you can afford to shout down everything that moves, especially since you'll almost always turn a profit when you do. However, if you are sick/injured and bark-poor, you will find yourself unable to afford your sole means of survival, with little recourse but to scrimp along until you either get lucky with a collectible or die. I think this game might actually be a commentary about capitalism.

There are three stages. In the first, you mostly wander around your... unusual home. (Don't you just hate it when you're busy dusting all the possessed flying books on the top shelf which is about three miles above the ground, and suddenly you remember that you left all twenty of your ovens on?) In the second act, your family has had enough of your shit and takes you to the pound. Then you escape, and the final act involves you Homeward Bound-ing through a probably haunted-forest to be happily reunited with your loving family. (!!?!?)

All in all, this is a very bad licensed SNES game in an ocean of very bad licensed SNES games.

But.

Young me never knew this. Young me was somehow convinced this game was fantastic, and rented it just about every single time we went to that particular rental store. I never was able to beat it, because actually getting past the pound requires doing a certain thing (you can see it in the longplay video, but I won't spoil it just in case) that is not clear. Said thing happens to hit right in the middle of an almost maze-like outdoor area that expands in all directions and has several open windows leading to other side areas. Therefore, not noticing what the actual solution was, I always got stuck in this part and assumed it was because I had gotten lost. Maybe one of those windows led to the exit, but I just missed it because I'm too high or too low or something as I try to sweep the area. Maybe if I rent the game again and try to map out that whole area really carefully next time....

(Fun fact: One of the times I tried to rent this game, the guy messed up and gave me Cool World instead. Between how awful that game is and how disappointed I was, that was the experience that literally taught young me the previously-unlearned lesson that there is an actual such thing as bad games. Not just ones I'm bad at or can't figure out, but ones where the failure to get anywhere is the game's fault. I never made that connection before Cool World. ... I still loved Family Dog even after having had my eyes opened, though.)

These days, Family Dog is a shorthand reference for a phenomenon that my clanmates and I often experience: that one game you used to play growing up that's actually garbage, but it's your garbage, and you will therefore hold a soft spot for it forevermore. Each of us has our own Family Dog. This has become such a well-understood expression that we actually even call them that. (Well, the others say "X is my Family Dog," anyway. My Family Dog is Family Dog.)

This screenshot of Family Dog, with the titular dog's bright happy joyous expression in contrast to the atrocious game he's in, is even a Telegram sticker we use in clan when we want to visually convey this feeling. It comes up a lot more often than you might expect. And now it's a Dreamwidth icon, too. Expect that (along with the Werewolf: The Last Warrior "DON'T KNOCK" one) to come up every time I need to defend some ancient gaming junk food.

This COMPLETE entry isn't an "I have finally beaten this game" story like Toys, because after I saw that longplay and finally discovered how you're meant to escape the pound, I've actually beaten it before. Nor is this an "I have put this lingering burden to rest" story because, at about 15-45 minutes long depending on skill and as an old nostalgic comfort food of mine, I'll probably keep it in reserve to play again as whim and mood dictate. Still, it was good to get this one out in the era of me gameblogging about the stuff I beat, mostly so I could write all these thoughts down. It was good to refresh my memory (this game is actually quite a bit more difficult than I remember--I think I must have been using savestates last time) and to share the experience with Sara. And it was good to just... you know... play Family Dog again. It's the shitty game that defines me in clan, so I may as well embrace it.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Daedalian Opus, of a solved puzzle with the text "GOOD" displayed on underneath it. (GOOD)
It is time once again for our end of the year video gaming awards roundup! We sure did play a lot of great games this year, and I'm excited to honor them. I'm even more excited to have Sara with me as we do it! The two of us have fun discussing games (you should see us playing Steam Queue Bingo in clan chat) and I look forward to this becoming a tradition for us for years to come.

Get to know your woodrats
Celine Sara
Celine
Sara

Icon-coded for who's talking! Now, let's give out some awards, shall we?

Read more... )

Celine
All in all, this has been one hell of a year for games, hasn't it? I love doing these posts, because it feels so good to look back on everything we played and bask in... man, we sure played some great things. Games are great, actually.

Even better to have Sara with me. I'm sorry about that nominee issue, but we'll have that sorted out by next year for sure. You're still doing this with me next year, right?

Sara
Oh heck yeah. Maybe some of the writeups, too?

Celine
Ooh, maybe.

So yeah. There you have it. As always, the results are compiled here, and will continue to be as more games are added. Updated every time I play something. In fact, I already inserted Qvabllock into a few categories for 2019. Will it stay in those categories as they fill up? Who knows. Guess we'll just have to play more games and see.

Huge thanks to Sara, to everyone who made these lovely games, and to you all for watching us banter for like fifty pages. Please check out Xyzzy's award post, too, if you somehow haven't had enough reading. Otherwise, here's to another great year of gaming, and many more to come.
kjorteo: Photo of a computer screen with countless nested error prompts (Error!)
I regrettably do not have any major discoveries or breakthroughs to announce this time, but I didn't want to leave the Interlight saga hanging with radio silence and no update.

At this point, the current status of the project is that I think I have successfully ripped and dumped The Story of Jonah. IsoBuster can see the contents of the disc just fine, and I extracted .iso and .cue files.

Testing and playing it is the trick, because it turns out that the current state of CD-i emulation is a dire mess. We have tried just about every CD-i emulator on the market, and they all either completely fail to read images (even an actual CD-i ROM I downloaded just to have a known good ROM to test as a control variable) or setting them up is such an arcane advanced degree-requiring nightmare that we haven't even been able to get far enough to read the images. It might just be easier to get an actual CD-i and a capture card at this point, but three problems:

1) CD-is are like $300
2) According to [personal profile] swordianmaster, at least some CD-i units have faulty batteries that tend to brick the system when they die, meaning the console itself is on that whole "better enjoy this while you can before that 30-year-old internal battery finally gives out" doomsday clock that is usually reserved for old console games with battery saves. This makes it harder to justify spending that much money on a CD-i.
3) Even if I capture-carded this, some YouTube videos of me playing Lost Sheep aren't really the same thing as getting dumps published. I mean, ideally anyone who's actually interested after reading all this should be able to check the Interlight games out for themselves, too.

At this point, we're at a loss. Tremendous thank yous to all my friends and loved ones who helped me get the project this far: [personal profile] xyzzysqrl, [personal profile] swordianmaster, all the Video Game Giveaways Telegram group mods but especially Jão, and of course Sara <3 But the next step might just involve expanding our support network out even further. At this point, we have what I think is a good dump of The Story of Jonah (I can dump all the other ones too if that one works, but may as well make sure we're on the right track first) and can provide the files to anyone who asks, but what in the name of all that's fluffy do you do with them? I can't... I'm sorry, I'm not smart enough to hack through the current CD-i emulation scene. If anyone reading this is, or can help spread the word to someone who is (https://kjorteo.dreamwidth.org/tag/interlight if you need a handy link to bring them up to speed on what we're trying to do here and what we have so far,) or knows something I missed, or.... Basically, what I need is someone to either poke around with the files on their end or hold my hand through how to do that on mine.

If you can do this, you will have my eternal undying gratitude. If I'm right about not seeing any of these already dumped anywhere, and Sword is right about even the physical consoles themselves having a shelf life... well. Losable gaming history is at stake.

(Actually, it might be anyway. CDs are more stable than old floppy disks but they are not a permanent safe and secure forever medium. It may take decades, such that these CD-i games from 1991 are still perfectly fine for now, but bit rot can eventually claim them if physical scratches don't first.)

Finally, I need to issue a correction for this part of the log from last entry:

Celine Kalante, [05.12.18 16:13]
Again, it's... mostly just because this is all going so easy so far. Jonah was like $40 on Amazon. All I needed was the full (corrected, thanks MobyGames) company name from the box and I found two ex-Interlight employees on LinkedIn with a simple two-minute DuckDuckGo search. I'm used to how epic that American Sailor Moon article made The Search feel, and this is all just... this is not hard. Why am I the only person who ever thought to do this.


Oh, because CD-i emulation is an unfathomable hellscape and anyone else who tried this probably hit the same hurdles I just did. I see.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Daedalian Opus, of a solved puzzle with the text "GOOD" displayed on underneath it. (GOOD)
Not going to lie: I completed this because I was feeling listless enough to play something from the "I own this game, I really should get around to playing it" list, but I didn't have enough time to commit to anything, so I sorted my HowLongToBeat read of my entire Steam list by completion time and picked one of the shortest games I had. They gave Qvabllock an estimation of 13 minutes. This is exactly what my time ended up being. Good guess!

Qvabllock is a minimalist pixel-themed... thing-collector? You are a white pixel. Avoid the red pixels. You need to collect the green pixel to complete the level. There are usually walls in the way. These walls can be removed by collecting whatever pixel matches that color. Sometimes those walls are also the only thing holding a wave of red pixels at bay, so be careful. The graphics, while not exactly sophisticated, are solid in their own way, each pixel shaded and beveled to stand out in a way that looks very nice.

Honestly, if you watch the trailer, then imagine literally exactly that expanded out to 30 levels and 13 minutes, you've pretty much played Qvabllock. You've heard its one song, you've seen its one tileset, and you've pretty much gotten an idea of its one gameplay mechanic.

Qvabllock retails for one dollar and is often on sale for even lower than that, and for the cost, this was a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The music and gameplay were almost soothing, with the challenge just enough to keep me from actually falling asleep while still far from stressful or frustrating. I feel... nice after this. It was oddly refreshing.
kjorteo: Shocked Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: Shocked)
Holy hell. I tried to scroll down from my most recent Interlight post to my second-most recent (which was a mere two days ago, mind) and it's two entire pages back. I had to click the Previous Entries button twice.

I, uh. Am a little unused to this.

I think I may need to stop subscribing to [community profile] addme in a way that displays all its posts on my reading page (I'll still remain a member and maybe still peek in and browse sometimes) because between that and the people I've added already since my post there went up, I am now somehow overflowing with Friends and Content.

And to think I used to worry about whether Dreamwidth was dead because everyone was on Tumblr.
kjorteo: Sprite of a Skarmory posed and looking majestic, complete with lens flare. (Skarmory: BEHOLD)


They're heeeerrrrreeeeeee

I don't really have the time tonight to get higher-resolution scans of the front and back of the remaining five boxes, like I did for The Story of Jonah. Actually, time is going to be an issue for the foreseeable future. The winners post for the gameblogging awards will involve some writing, as will the year-in-review thing I usually do. We will be visiting family sometime over the Christmas break. Smash Bros. Ultimate arrives tomorrow aaaaaaaa and of course we at least have to peek at that a little, I mean come on. I'd ideally like to acquire and play Detective Pikachu before the movie comes out. All this on top of usual chores, day job, electrolysis sessions when I can squeeze them in, etc.

That said, the good news is I at least have all the Interlight games now, and they're here, safe and sound. The current state of dumping them is that IsoBuster can read the contents of each disc just fine, and extract them to PC as well, but either I'm clueless or it seems to be unable to extract them in the form of a single image file like a .bin or .iso or something. Instead, I get a whole uncompressed actual folder full of the individual asset files. (Things I've learned today: Apparently 90% of a CD-i's content is stored in .rtf files, even things like the video and audio clips. These are of course complete unicode explosion gibberish if you attempt to treat them like actual .rtf files and, you know, read them.) To play these on PC, I will need two things:

1) A CD-i emulator
2) A way of either converting/compressing the raw folder or extracting the actual disc image into a form that the CD-i emulator can read

And that's... more than likely doable, but enough of a fuss that I don't really have time to fight with it tonight.

I don't want to leave this update without any discoveries, though, especially since this marks the update where I have received and now physically have the entire lot of Interlight games in my possession. Much like with Jonah before (though without the time to scan them for now--I promise I'll do that later) I at least went over the boxes, and found some interesting tidbits.

All of them follow the format of primarily being an animated main story, with minigames and bonus features on the side. The usual assortment is the Playroom (which has a coloring book, connect-the-dots, slider puzzles, and singalong songs), browsable Bible passages and "Tell Me More" info about Bibical setting details, a glossary of difficult words (I mean you're trying to market Scripture to young children after all,) etc. plus one big side game. For The Story of Jonah, it's Lost Sheep. David and Goliath has something called Goliath's Challenge, Moses: The Exodus has Pyramid Pursuit, Moses: Bound for the Promised Land has Desert Quest, Noah's Ark has Rainbow Walk, and The Story of Samson has Riddler's Race. So I was right to suspect the other games might have a Lost Sheep equivalent. How good/noteworthy/interesting the others actually are remains to be seen, but this is promising.

Every game in this lot had the dust sleeve and case, and the disc. None of them had that registration card or catalog that came with the other copy of The Story of Jonah I received from Amazon. I now feel infinitely better about having made both purchases just in case; yes I have two copies of Jonah now, but I wouldn't have had access to that catalog at all if I hadn't done that.

So hey, now we're all set for whenever the dumping/emulation issues are worked out, and whenever I can find the time.

On a more somber yet heartfelt note, I'd like to thank everyone who's been following and taking an interest in this series so far. I got... uh... kind of down and discouraged about this entire project the other day, after the last update. Not because anything happened, but just... a kind of wave of... mood crash hit me, and left me feeling all existential-crisis-y about what I was even doing here. I talked about it with a couple clanmates ([personal profile] swordianmaster and Sara, thank you both <3) and they were able to cheer me up. Beyond that, though, every comment I get from you people here about "this is so cool and fascinating and I'm really excited to see what you found" just... keeps me going, let's put it that way.

Log if you want a fuller explanation of what specifically was bothering me about this and the wisdom that pulled me back out. It's kind of long. )
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