MisanthroPlay Season 4 - Episode #61 The Year is 201X

the+misanthroplay+gals+celebrate+the+new+year.jpg

We kick off MisanthroPlay Season 4 the only way we know how: hurriedly trying to cram 35 games of 2017 into an hour and forty-five minute podcast. Happy New Year, from us to you!

The Games of 2017: ARMs, Assassin's Creed Origins, Cuphead, Danganronpa V3, Dead Cells, Destiny 2, Detention, Dropmix, The Evil Within 2, For Honor, Hellblade, Golf Story, Gravity Rush 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Injustice 2, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, NieR Automata, Night in the Woods, Nioh, Observer, Persona 5, Prey, Pyre, Resident Evil 7, Ruiner, Shadow of War, Super Mario Odyssey, Tekken 7, WhiteDay: A Labyrinth Named School, Wipeout Omega Collection, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Yakuza 0, Ys VIII

Listen to it here, and be sure to check in with episodes 58-60 if you haven't already!

October Terror Story #04 You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter

by Robert Fenner

youmustbe18.jpg

You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter
Get it at Itch.io

Remember the early days of the net? I do. My household was a very early adopter of internet access, first signing up to America On-Line in 1993 or 1994. Even though the world wide web was much smaller in those days, its novelty and newness felt limitless.

Aged 9 and painfully weeby, one of the first things I did when left alone with the computer was to search for pictures from anime and manga to print and put on my wall. It started with characters I knew and loved; Lum, A-Ko, Ranma, etc., but I also clicked on series and characters I hadn't heard of. The selection of manga and anime was limited and expensive in those days so I was eager to see pictures of what I couldn't get my hands on, whether it be the as-of-yet unlocalized Dragonball Z, or the obscure shoujo anime Hime-chan no Ribbon.

And then I came across the works of Toshiki Yui. His pinup style images of busty women in latex was far removed from what I was used to, and clearly not a still from a film, or panel from a manga. They were meant to be taken as is for titillation's sake, and I knew I wasn't meant to be looking at them. I secretly printed them out and hid them under my bed.

Still curious, I kept clicking around and eventually found images from Toshio Maeda's La Blue Girl. And then Hajime Soriyama. And then I didn't know what to think! But eventually I realized I could just do a Webcrawler search for "sex".

I got caught waiting for an image to load. It was humiliating, not to mention terrifying.

You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter recreates this experience to the letter. Your parents have left you home alone, so it's time to fire up the 56k and log on to AOL to have an impromptu lesson in sex education.

Rendered entirely in ASCII characters, You Must Be 18 sees you clicking through as many images as you please, or choosing to nervously look behind you to ensure you're alone. The excellent sound design does wonders for the experience; you hear to the constant buzz of the hard drive while listening for bumps and scuffles that may be happening behind you. Pop-up ads, literal pop scares, may open without warning in your face, playing sexual sounds that send you scrabbling to close them before somebody else hears what you're doing.

You can quit at any time, or you can delve further, seeking the ultimate depths of carnal knowledge, not unlike a Lovecraft protagonist. But how deep is too deep? Can you handle this, or will your mind be forever scarred?

You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter is stressful, comical, and very true to life for anyone who was once a curious adolescent in the 1990s.

Assassin's Creed: A Film Review

by Alva Chua

acreedfilm.jpg

Assassin's Creed

A Film Review by Alva Chua

I’m not quite a fan, but I’m certainly familiar with Ubisoft’s game series Assassin’s Creed. Despite negative reviews, I wanted to watch the new Michael Fassbender branding vehicle for myself to find out how someone who had enjoyed some of the games might feel. Video game adaptations are a tricky business, and there’s something to seeing how they get adapted, which is often more interesting that the films themselves.

This is not the case with Assassin’s Creed.

There’s a bit of vague promise in the opening, in that there is little to criticize at first and the smoky lighting seems to have something to hide. Then characters start out curt and reserved, only to remain that way. Video games with less technical power behind their visuals tend to rely on starting with good-looking character models, built with faces designed to express the emotions they are meant to contain over the duration of the story. What they lack in the ability to act they compensate for with lighting and camera angles. Assassin’s Creed does this with competent living actors.

sassy

Worse still, the camera seems to cut away every time someone is about to emote. Fassbender’s Callum Lynch gets to look “Angry” or “Concentrating”. Marion Cotillard gets to look “Scientist”, and almost gets to cry for a split second before the camera cuts away again.

If they had somehow managed to squeeze some emotion out of the split seconds everyone seemed to get, the script would not permit it. Video game films can be full of the worst exposition and pointlessly descriptive prose and clunky one-liners imaginable. I longed for such things here. The Templars are a secret society that runs the world, and are dedicated to eradicating free will. We know this because Jeremy Irons and his superiors say this repeatedly, but never emphatically. There is no statement or sense of motivation, they simply say “We are dedicated to eradicating free will,” pretty much without inflection, over and over. Looks like someone got to you first, buddy.

Every other character simply makes statements that are descriptive of their character, or instructions to other characters. If you’re one of those geniuses who wanted Objective Video Game Reviews, here’s Objective Character Dialogue. For the first twenty minutes I thought that the protagonist’s catch phrase was going to be “I’m hungry.” because it was the most personal thing he said. I guess he really was just hungry.

The most spectacular thing in this film was how they managed to waste a close personal scene with Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender. Although if I was Gleeson I might have just punched Fassbender in the face.

Which brings us to the action. The action in Assassin’s Creed is just fine. There is definitely enough of it, and the Animus VR rig turns out to be a high tech excuse to show Fassbender fighting both clothed AND shirtless simultaneously. I hear some people like that kind of thing.

The complete lack of any character definition, especially in the historical sections, robs the action scenes of there intensity. I don’t know enough about these characters to care, and nothing is surprising enough for me to notice it otherwise. I don’t want to ruin any twists, but there is a surprising moment when violence breaks out in a facility that happens to be full of medieval weaponry that just happens to be lying around everywhere.

There are a couple of novel moments where you see crossbows fired from a first-person camera view, but these feel wrong for the setting, and echo mechanics that the source game doesn’t have. Seeing these moments made me think of Dwayne Johnson in the terrible DOOM adaptation, which added a feeling that video game films often have. That sense of being sneered at or patronized. I hope that Assassin’s Creed is simply a terribly dull film, and not one that has been stripped down and simplified to talk down to a perceived audience. Even the very first game in the series had more character than this.

That Time that Telenet Sampled Kraftwerk

exile

The Time that Telenet Sampled Kraftwerk

by Robert Fenner

 

It's no secret that video games and electronic music go hand in hand. Retronauts' Jeremy Parish has written extensively on the symbiotic relationship between video games and experimental music group Yellow Magic Orchestra, while Yuzo Koshiro's passion for rave culture is well-known and documented in his excellent Streets of Rage soundtracks. Akira Yamaoka has expressed that his work on Silent Hill was inspired by Coil (although he doesn't actually seem to like them); Yasuhiro Kawakami may have accidentally exposed his love of Wham! when working on Shinobi; and it's obvious that  Falcom's Sound Team JDK and animation studio Agent 21 both had huge Bananarama fans on board for a time.

It stands to reason. Of course video game composers are music buffs! But I'd like to talk about one title that went beyond mere homage: Exile, a little-known action RPG from Nippon Telenet sub-studio Riot.

Better known in Japan as XZR II: Toki no Hazama Ni (Exile II: A Brief Moment in Time), the title was actually a sequel to an equally obscure microcomputer RPG about a Hashishin named Sadler on a quest to assassinate Syria's Caliph. XZR II saw Sadler continue his adventure in an uneasy alliance with Knights Templar founder Hughes de Payens, on a pilgrimage to locate an artifact capable of uniting the world under one God, to eliminate holy warfare forevermore. Spoilers: things don't go well.

XZR II was successful enough to warrant a 16-bit remake for PC Engine CD and Mega Drive. This remake ditched the number but kept the subtitle and rebuilt the game from the ground up. The result was much more attractive, playable, and accessible, and also excised an awkward late-game sequence in which Sadler time-travels to Manhattan to fight mohawked sk8er bois. Both of these remakes made it to America under the simple title Exile. Working Designs localized the Turbo-CD version, doing a fair job despite being forced by NEC to remove references to Christianity. Renovation handled the Genesis port, which… well, it's barely a step above machine translation.

Naturally, the soundtrack was revamped as well. The original release featured an FM synth soundtrack by Tenpei Sato (Disgaea) & director Shinobu Ogawa. It was catchy and competent, but did little to stand out from its contemporaries. The Turbo-CD remake, on the other hand, is an unabashed Redbook Audio tribute to electronic music, courtesy of a Telenet super team of Shinobu Ogawa, Hiroto Otsubo, Michiko Naruke (Wild ARMS), Takahiro Umezu & Minoru Yuasa.

A trip to see the monks of Mount Koya is accompanied by a piece called "Zen Gun", which combines a thumping TR-909 drum line with taiko samples. Boss theme "Ultimate Rave" does exactly what it says in the title, coming from the same school as Streets of Rage. The team's love of the TR-909 is even right there in track list, with the piece "Tango 909".

As I mentioned earlier, Exile's soundtrack goes beyond imitation and homage. Perhaps channeling Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock", Exile cheekily samples electronic pioneers Kraftwerk's album Computerworld. Not once, but twice!

In the track "Big Junction", a sample of the vocals from "Numbers" can be heard plain as day at 00:20. It's a very daring and flagrant breach of copyright, and one they evidently got away with. Later in the game comes the dungeon piece "Scramble Bones". At 00:39, a synthesizer arrangement from the second half of "Home Computer" provides a bridge for the song to loop back from. It's not as blatant as vocoded German language in a Japanese video game, but still instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Computerworld. Curiously, this particular sample even made it onto Nobuhito Koise's arrangements for Mega Drive, transposed to the Yamaha YM2612 chip:

Incredible, isn't it? The sampling obviously isn't kosher, but I wonder if Kraftwerk are aware that they're featured in a JRPG from 1991. It's a hell of a musical choice for a game set during the Crusades, but it works: Not only were the sound team able to have a lot of fun flexing their enthusiasm for dance music, the full soundtrack, illicit sampling and all, is strangely appropriate to Exile's subversive spirit of anti-traditionalism. I'm for it.

Telenet would later go legit with their electronic music fandom. In 1994, Wolfteam commissioned Yellow Magic Orchestra's Yukihiro Takahashi to compose the soundtrack for Neugier. While there are some stand-out pieces, there's plenty more that underwhelm. It's especially disappointing as the full soundtrack itself only has eleven songs, making it shorter than Neugier's already-short adventure. Oh well.

MisanthroPlay Episode #13 Remembering the Xbox 360

xbox.jpg

A few weeks ago, Microsoft announced that they would no longer be producing new Xbox 360 consoles, the sign of the true end of a console generation. So we thought we'd take some time out to reminisce about our fondest memories of the console, from Alan Wake to the weirdness of Xbox Live Indies, and everything in between.

In What Have You Been Playing, Alvin and Robert get flirty over the fishy Uncharted 4, Momodora 4, DOOM 4 and Trails of Cold Steel...1. 

Xbox 360, we salute you! Head on over to the MisanthroPlay blog to have a listen.