Category Archives: video

Longest Night’s stargazing results in emergent music gameplay

gd longest night final impressions

I’m really excited about Night in the Woods. I mean, yeah, I was excited before, after playing Lost Constellation early last year and seeing what these cute animal friends can get up to and the staggering amount of imagination and creativity to everything surrounding them and their antics, but now I’m even more excited. Unsurprisingly, this all stems from my recent dip into Longest Night, which is actually the first of the two supplemental experiences from Finji, though I’m tackling it second. You know I never like to follow anything by the book…unless it is the Metal Gear series in order of release.

Longest Night is less game and more short story. Or short stories, rather. Snippets of fake history. A gang of four friends–Mae, Bea, Gregg, and Angus–gather around the campfire and trace constellations in the dark sky, bringing to life these legends of old. It’s a classic tradition as part of “Longest Night,” which is equivalent to Christmas or the Winter Solstice in this world. It’s become a part of life, and the older one gets, the further from it they go, which is why no one around the campfire remembers how to make any of the constellations, something they used to do all the time as little kids.

To learn about these historical figures dripping with lore, like Ibn, the First Singer, Quinona, and Tollmetron, you have to trace matching stars to one another. Linked stars all share similar audio clues, so match all the chanting ones together, all the ones that sound like bells, and so on. It’s easy to figure out, if you know that you’re supposed to figure these sounds out. Honestly, I didn’t even realize you could click on them and draw lines to other stars; I thought the whole point of the game was simply to swipe your cursor around, making pretty tunes and enjoying the cackle of a campfire, but eventually I got the feeling I was missing something and started clicking.

Like I said, I spent far too much time simply losing myself in the stars, adding my own beats to the already catchy and, on purpose, looping soundtrack. I didn’t want to trace the rest of the constellations, knowing this dream would come to an end. Here, have a taste of my cursor-moving skills:


To be real, I don’t even know what Night in the Woods is about. I’m being ignorant on purpose; I want to be completely surprised, not just in terms of story, but also gameplay, much like I was going into both Longest Night and Lost Constellation. Sure, a part of me would like to see elements from these incorporated in the bigger adventure, like creating your own snowmen and music beats, but they could also scrap all of this and do something completely different, something totally unexpected, and I would still be content. From a few GIFs that I couldn’t help not look at, it seems like an adventure game with some varying and stylized action scenes here and there. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too. Lots of oranges and blues, falling leaves. Ahhhh.

Now that I’ve played both of Night in the Woods‘ supplemental side stories, all that’s left to do is wait for its final release. Which is somewhere in 2016. Until then, I’ll be staring up at the stars, humming along to a song that never ends.

Sorry, there are no more skulls left in Motocross Madness

final motocross madness xbox 360 post

Motocross Madness is a game I played for a bit after getting it as a freebie back in August 2014, but then drifted away from for a good chunk of time. Many months, in fact. Truthfully, I really only enjoyed the heck out of the game’s Exploration mode, which plopped you down in the world where the game’s race tracks exist, but gives you freedom to explore off the tracks as you please to collect gold coins and skulls. These feed into the medals you get, as well as provide money and XP, so they are more than just shiny trinkets to grab. The standard races and trick sessions are fine enough, but a bit too perfunctory and easy to perfect. My heart can’t resist collecting things; for further proof, see games like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Disney Magical World, and Kung Fu Rabbit.

Right. So, over the last few months, I’ve been noodling away at Motocross Madness, playing for a bit and collecting a skull or two. Incrementally edging my way up to a 100% completion rate. It became a thing I did to fill in the gaps between other games or if I had fifteen to twenty minutes to kill before I had to make dinner. However, it became more of a hassle–in my mind than in reality–to turn on my Xbox 360 now that I had a shiny Xbox One to slobber over, and so Motocross Madness got visited less and less. That is until a few weeks back, when it was announced to now be backwards-compatible on the new console. I’m probably the only person in the world that saw that news and genuinely felt warmth in my heart, but whatever.

I recently had some time off of work over the holidays, and I used some of it to, besides draw and go see the ultra cute and sing-songy Elf the Musical in New York City, well…play more Motocross Madness. I’m totally fine with this. Never let anyone tell you what to do on your days off. Along the way, I also sat down and figured out how to use the streaming programs on the Xbox One, which lead to me recording about four hours of me getting the last flaming skulls and Achievements for all the Internet to see. If you’ve got time to kill, feel free to watch the archived videos over at my YouTube. Please understand before going into these vids that I’m still relatively new to this and am figuring out microphone/gameplay audio settings, but I’m thinking 2016 will be the year I put more effort into this venue.

Collecting skulls was fun despite a few frustrations. It’s multi-part; first, you have to find the skull in the environment, and then you have to figure out how to get it. Sometimes they are on the ground, and you just ride your bike up to it, but the majority are high in the sky, requiring a sick jump to grab. It’s only when you get down to having a single skull left in a large environment that it becomes maddening as you search every nook and cranny, desperate to catch the flicker of orange flames. Eventually, I caved and looked up a walkthrough online, quickly scribbling down locations on a hand-drawn map so that I’d, at least, still not know exactly where these skulls were and have some involvement in their capture.

When examined without the Exploration mode, Motocross Madness is actually a substandard racing game with bikes. The races themselves aren’t all that challenging, especially once you upgrade your hog, and the trick system is not in-depth, allowing you to only do a few moves in the air…unless you’re into crashing. Once you are on “fire,” which happens after building a meter for successfully doing tricks, you can do another set for more points. I highly recommend performing the Rodeo Cowboy each and every time. It probably gets a pass overall because it uses your avatar, which makes the costumes and tricks more fun to see than some generic-looking dude or dudette. Still, once I got all the skulls, I didn’t really know what to do; online racing was no more exciting than the single-player stuff, unfortunately.

Oh, if you were curious what my crudely drawn maps actually looked like, they looked like this:

WP_20160103_16_30_33_Pro

Yup–my art skills are wildly good. Now to figure out what I can stream next. I like the idea of having a goal for streaming, not just playing through the game’s main campaign, though I understand a lot of people do that. Perhaps I can capture getting the remainder of Fallout 4‘s Bobbleheads or causing some random chaos to happen in Just Cause 2. Must think on this. One thing I know for certain is that, just like when I finished up LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, an invisible weight has been lifted off my shoulders (and mind), and I don’t have to return to this digital world ever again. Unless I want to.

Persist, a backwards platformer with spirit

persist final impressions image copy

First you lose your arms, stripping away your ability to swim. Next, the Goddess takes your legs, leaving you as a simple head, only able to roll left or right, deeper down into a dark abyss. And she doesn’t stop there either, relishing in your torture. Persist is a backwards kind of platformer; basically, the further you get, the more standard abilities you lose, reducing you down to nearly nothing, and as the story plays out, it sort of makes some sense why such a being would do this. Don’t be deceived by the game’s retro look and minimalist gameplay–it was designed that way for a reason, and it is totally worth playing.

Again, Persist follows the story of a lone spirit, trying to reach a mysterious Goddess to ask for forgiveness for his past sins so he can ascend to the higher plane of existence. Unfortunately, this Goddess really resents him, which becomes somewhat clearer by the end, and constantly puts him into increasingly dangerous situations, both as a test and a bit of torture. This game was created in just under 48 hours by @AdventIslands for Ludum Dare 26, wherein the theme was minimalism. A couple of other games to come out of that jam that I talked about here on Grinding Down were TOOM and Gods Will Be Watching. It’s absolutely awesome how much can be crafted from the idea of “how little,” and I suspect I’ll keep finding little gems from this jam as time marches on.

For those interested, I played a bit of Persist in my new speculative YouTube adventure called Paul Plays…, and you can check out my lackluster jumping skills in the video below:

 

I did immediately keep playing after the video ends, as there were only two sections left to complete, the one where you’re just a detached head and another that I won’t spoil here. They are very enjoyable and more puzzle-based than everything before it, which is more classic platforming of the Mario kind. The story comes to a head immediately after the last level, and it takes a surprising turn, but it really could have been something more if the writing was stronger and more effectively narrated throughout. I understand that there was a time limit to abide by, but I’d love to have seen a few more levels added or lengthened to stretch Persist out, especially when you’re just a head, as figuring out how to time your rolls from platform to platform was a lot of fun. The small amount of music in the game is quite good; not loud enough to be distracting, but soft enough to jump against, and helps create a rather somber ambiance, which is quite fitting once you learn what the spirit did.

Either way, give Persist a play, and do it sooner than later or else the Goddess might take away your hands, and you’ll have to give up gaming entirely.

My first “Paul Plays…” video, covering Deep Sleep

Okay, so here’s the thing. I played a bit of Deep Sleep, which I recently wrote about, and talked as I pointed and clicked. I’m tentatively calling these things “Paul Plays…” with the intention of naturally doing more. My audio is relatively low compared to the game’s audio, and it’s been an ongoing process, learning how to do this on my own. I will try tinkering with my microphone settings some more before the next go. If any of y’all have tips or suggestions, by all means–share with me. Otherwise, give it a click.

Thanks for checking it out!

What I loved about Chrono Trigger

A long, long time ago–well, back in March 2012 really–I beat Chrono Trigger. It was both a great and grueling experience, and I put down some notes on the things I disliked about the RPG legend that is legendary among RPG fans. And people reacted. Think the post even made it on Reddit. Yeeeeeah. It was like I called their sweet little grandmother a raging prostitute that was the reason STDs spread or kicked their dog into the middle of traffic on a busy highway. It’s either the depression in me or my strengthening pessimistic outlook on life that I can’t see anything as perfect. Videogames can be great, can be a lot of fun, really enjoyable–but never utopian.

Okay, that’s enough intro. I could really go on about all the little things I dislike in games I adore, but my point is just that both exist, and sometimes they co-exist, and other times one is the predator stalking the prey. For now, let’s use the  dual tech Slurp Kiss (Ayla and Frog!) and get into the love.

mighty music

Surprise, surprise–it’s amazing. Here, let me name a few tracks: Corridors of Time, the hauntingly Secret of the Forest, an overworld theme that is both whimsical and foreboding, Zeal Palace, or that battle theme that really gets you into the fight and will thankfully never leave my body. And there’s plenty more. Basically every soundbite, whether it is a song or sound effect (Robo has some great ones!), is highly memorable. Both for its quality and charm.

Chrono Trigger was scored by Yasunori Mitsuda and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Mitsuda spent many nights sleeping in the office, which led to many songs feeling dream-inspired. I totally hear that. He also later suffered from stomach ulcers, and so Uematsu was brought in to finish up about ten songs. Either way, the music from Chrono Trigger is universally loved–and deservedly. I still listen to more tunes from Chrono Cross, but that has to do with a more orchestral feel to them than anything else.

The Millennial Fair

When it happens, it’s downright magical. You’re on trial, accused of trying to kidnap Princess Nadia and take over Guardia Castle. You even get called a terrorist. And you, the player, know none of this is true, and are ready to defend yourself against your accusers. But then the Chancellor begins bringing up actions you took–or didn’t take–at the Millennial Fair, where you first met the princess. Seemingly normal encounters are now twisted and distorted to make it appear like you are one shifty soul, even if you’re definitely not. Like, if you grabbed the dropped pendant before checking on the princess, you are labeled greedy and after the throne. Small things mattered. But you don’t learn this until it is too late, and so it doesn’t matter how many silver points you earned playing games at the fair: you are a criminal. And you’re put in a cell for your alleged mistreatment of the princess, which really gets the ball rolling plot-wise. It all felt so natural as it unfolded, too.

Visible enemies

My distaste for random encounters continues to grow as I get older. I find it way more annoying now, and so when a game gives me enemies on screen, leaving it up to me to fight or flee or sneak by, I am overjoyed. Granted, this phenomenon seems to be more of a later trend, making it a nice surprise when I could watch Blue Imps and Goblins wander in the grass in Chrono Trigger before taking them on. Not only do you see enemies before you fight them, the battle itself takes place right there. The UI switches to reflect this, but other than that, you are fighting where you are standing, and it’s all very quick, a definite upgrade from slower turn-based RPGs.

The jet bike race

It’s random. Really random. But I guess someone wanted to put the SNES’s Mode 7 graphics to use. The jet bike race is found in 2300 A.D., during and after Beyond the Ruins. It allows you to take a shortcut across the ruins, avoiding a couple of screens of monsters to fight. That is, if you win. Which is not as simple of just gunning it all the way. You’re racing against Johnny, a half-tricycle automaton, and he has this way of constantly inching his way in front of you. Rubber-banding, I believe it’s called. It’s tough, but at the time a great change of pace, and you can come back to race Johnny later for various prices, like a Power Tab and Ethers. Once you get the Epoch, you can skip the race entirely as it is avoidable. I’m saddened that this element never spawned a tie-in: Super Crono Kart.

That evil laugh

There is only so much a sprite character can do to evoke emotions. Usually, they hop around and squirt drops of water off their heads if excited or run back in forth in place to express various levels of excitement. My favorite little animated moment is one I discovered purely from curiosity. Games like Animal Crossing: Wild World and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion taught me that sitting in chairs is something one can do in videogames. It’s just as exciting of an action in digital life as it is in real life. And so, when in the Giant’s Claw, I took my lead character at the time–always Crono, yo–and plopped him down in Azala’s chair. He changed. He laughed with mirth and evilness, and he looked right at me as he did it. And then he rejoined his party members to continue the hunt for  Lavos. It’s a really small, random occurrence, but I love these little additions. They show a sort of shared consciousness between the player and those that made the game, that they realized someone would try to sit here, and for that that did, here’s a bonus animation.

Right. Those are the things I loved. I hope this clears up any non-obviousness over how I feel about Chrono Trigger. It’s a fantastic game. It has some problems, but the great outweighs the bad unarguably. I played it fully once now and am glad I did. Given my gaming habits and time schedule, I doubt I’ll ever play it again, whether via New Game+ or starting all over, but other than different endings, I saw a really good chunk of the whole experience. And just like Chrono Cross, I’ll revisit the soundtrack when the mood strikes me, so it’ll always be there, the legend that is legendary.

I’d rather watch Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 than play it

If it’s not terribly obvious, I’m a big fan of the Giant Bomb website. It’s a place that prefers to present things within the videogames industry raw and honestly, as well as welcomes everyone to contribute to its ever-growing wiki. For myself, I’ve done some decent wiki work on Game of Thrones: The Game, The Sword of Hope II, and Musashi: Samurai Legend. I go there every day to read and watch and interact sporadically on the forums.

But I’ve only recently taken it upon myself to experience one of the biggest things the website is known for–their lengthy tackle of playing Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, the critically acclaimed event where the term Endurance Run got dubbed. It’s 155 episodes of varying length, with Vinny playing and Jeff constantly adding colorful commentary, and I’m just under halfway through it on episode 71. Strangely, I’m hooked, and it has a lot to do with the ridiculousness of the game itself, as well as the GB duo’s reactions to these moments. Otherwise, it looks like the kind of JRPG I used to play, but no longer have the time and dedication to handle now.

Persona 4 is an odd story, and I can only imagine it gets more odd later on. Nay, I predict it. The main character and his friends from school form an investigation team to unearth the answers to recent murders in Inaba, Japan. There’s a strange connection between these murders and a TV-world they can enter to fight shadow demons. During the time you are not fighting monsters, you can work on increasing relationships with your friends and family by doing social activities, such as getting jobs, attempting beef bowl challenges, and going to camp. Also, since you’re in school, you have to study occasionally for midterms and finals. And, when certain stars align, you can pursue romantic relationships. Oh man, that’s a lot of systems to juggle.

The First Hour‘s Greg Noe absolutely hated Persona 3, and I have to suspect he’d not like Persona 4 much more, considering that they share the whole “grind in a dungeon and then spend a lot of time socializing with friends and foes” thing; one big difference between the two is that, during battle, you can control everyone’s actions. But yeah, grinding and socializing–that doesn’t sound delicious to me either. But from a watching perspective, hey…it’s quite engrossing despite its slow gameplay. A lot of menu manipulation and a constant pausing when a list of decisions pop up; the greatest part is that it’s not me making these choices or dealing with items and switching Personas in battle and so on. That’s up to Vinny and Jeff, and they can make some silly mistakes, which might normally be frustrating on my own playthrough, but are now hilarious to witness. No, really…keep casting Bufu on enemies that heal from ice spells.

A bonus from watching this Endurance Run inspired me to pick up my bereaved copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Surviver Overclocked again for the 3DS–with triumphant success, too. Though these both come from the same franchise, they are not entirely alike. The Social Linking stuff is gone or mostly diluted in Overclocked, as I have had to make a few relationshippy decisions, but otherwise you just watch a few different plot-driving scenes before going into a battle. Fights are more RTS-based than RPG-based, with character placement and the available number of moves vital to how a battle begins and ends. Individual battles are turn-based, with an importance placed on using the correct elemental spell to earn extra turns; I’m still learning the ins and outs of this, but I’m getting there, I swear. Just finishing up Day 3 after a whomping from the immortal demon Beldr…

So, while I’m not playing Overclocked, I’m watching Persona 4. It’s a nice way to stay within the game’s solar system, even if they aren’t exactly similar. All right. About seventy-plus more episodes to go until I see how Persona 4 ends. I’m contemplating adding it to my 2012 Games Completed list once I’m finished watching because…well, by that point, I will have invested a whole bunch of hours, and that should count for something.

Breaking on through to the other side of Devil Summoner Overclocked

Let’s travel back in time. About a year ago, a crazy hurricane named Irene tore through the eastern side of the United States, doing insane damage and just being overall terrible and freaky. Let’s hope she never returns. It also forced Tara and I out of the house we had just begun renting, pushing us to stay with her parents until power was restored in the Pennsylvania area. Before all of this happened, as a handheld gamer is wont to do knowing that a lockdown is imminent, I bought a new game for the Nintendo 3DS to help…ahem weather the storm. That’s the second time I’ve used that joke, and no, I’m not apologizing for it.

Anyways, that game was Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked, and it seemed like something I’d like at first glance, but proved a little too difficult early on to overcome. Which is a shame, as the story was very promising and had all its hooks in me. And so I set it aside, disappointed in my second retail purchase for that nifty videogame system that displays things in three dimensions with no use of special glasses, only to pick it up nearly a year later to try again and knock down the wall blocking any and all progress. The main reason behind this? Well, I have finally begun watching the lengthy and amusing Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 Endurance Run at Giant Bomb, and all the talk of fusing different Personas and casting of spells like Bufu and Zio and growing relationships amid chaos and disaster reminded me that I had a game quite similar to that. Just a SRPG instead of a JRPG, that’s all.

And so, I hopped back into the thick of things. If you’ll recall, I put Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked down at what I assumed was a boss-like battle early on during Day One of the lockdown in Tokyo, but was really just a traditional battle that stood in the way of the story progressing. My problem with it is that monsters would encircle a character and his or her team of Personas, and then they would KO super fast, then causing the other teams to follow just as speedily. This time around, I strategized and planned to move my trio of teens directly at the toughest enemy on the screen, killing it as fast as possible while keeping everybody close to each other. Also, I learned how to better use certain spells like Aggravate and Dia, as well as exploiting certain weaknesses for specific enemies, which then grant extra turns vital to staying alive. And lo and behold, I was victorious.

As Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked continues on, I’ve entered a few more battles like the one that stopped me in my tracks before. It can be a little frustrating, but I’m beginning to see my mistakes and how I can handle things better. The opening few turns really do foretell how things will go, and one can grind on free battles if they need to level up their teams and Personas. In short, I’m definitely getting the hang of battles more, and I hate–with the deepest and darkest passion you can hold in the blackest spot of your heart–the demon Moh Shuvuu. One thing I still haven’t learned is to not attack her unless you can kill her in a single fight, because she will just Dia (heal) herself immediately after.

Last night, I completed Day One of the lockdown, and am now waking up to Day Two, with the counter on our collective deathclocks reading…one. Aww, boo. The story’s still fantastic, and Yuzu says some hilarious things, especially when nonchalantly talking about summoning demons from handheld COMPs and that one time they all took down a snowman. The voice-acting has really helped keep me engaged as the battles are most stressful than enjoyable, though I have only just gotten into them at this point. Learning to steal skills from enemies gives me a good goal towards perfectly the Personas currently in my party.

But yeah, I’m pretty stoked to have broken down that wall and gotten to continue on in the game. Don’t quote me on this, but it’s looking like I won’t be getting a new game until late September 2012 when Borderlands 2 drops, and so re-visiting a number of games from my backlog and continuing on with them is a good thing. Saves me money and makes me feel better about some of these purchases. Well, maybe not Game of Thrones: The Game; maybe not ever.