I Have No Style, I Have No Grace

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Tiny Kong meant a lot to me as a ten-year-old girl in 1999.

I’ve been revisiting my childhood recently by trying to beat a game I never beat when I was a kid. Donkey Kong 64 went unfinished in my household because at the time I was only 10 years old and the scope of the game was just massive. There was so much stuff to collect and gather, and eventually my kid brother and I moved on to other games. I’ve decided that enough is enough and I’m going to beat it now with the 101% completion the game offers.

As of this post, I’m about to take on the boss in the third level, Frantic Factory (my favorite level as a kid – apparently I’ve always had a thing for creepy things aimed at children). I particularly enjoy this boss fight because I get to use Tiny here, and she’s always been my favorite to play as. As a ten-year-old in 1999, it was pretty uncommon still for me to find female characters I could play as who weren’t just boobs attached to a body, so having a female character who was probably around my age (and had pigtails and wore overalls and a beanie, a very fashionable look in the late 1990s) was such a huge influence on me. There had indeed been female characters in games before, but Tiny was the first one who I played as who was around my age or so and who despite her small size could beat the living hell out of pretty much anything thrown at her. Since I’ve always been small myself (I maxed out at 5’2″ around age 13), having a character like that reminded me that I, too, could beat the living hell out of pretty much anything thrown at me, which was a good thing to internalize considering that I was about to start middle school in the fall of 2000.

(I beat the hell out of middle school.)

Since starting my replay of this game, I’ve noticed that there are certain parts that are extremely difficult for a kid to play through. The port of the original Donkey Kong arcade game from 1981, for one, gives you only one life instead of the customary three, and it forces you to play through four screens perfectly before giving you the well-deserved Golden Banana. And then you have to do it again on a higher difficulty to get the Nintendo Coin, an item you need to be able to access the final boss battle and beat the game. This arcade machine (located, again, within Frantic Factory) has apparently stopped a large enough amount of people from clearing the game to be notable. I’m actually about to take yet another crack at it after I finish this post. I love playing 1980s arcade games and even I’m having trouble with this.

And yet this didn’t frustrate me as much as racing the beetle did. In Angry Aztec (and apparently again in Crystal Caves, much to my annoyance since it means I have to do it again), you have to get Tiny down a slide faster than a large beetle and collect 50 coins along the way. Easier said than done since touching the beetle at any point makes you lose three coins and, well, you can fly off the stage at several points. It’s a lot like Rainbow Road except it makes you really homicidal. You just don’t want to do it after a while. I spent an hour and ten minutes straight trying to beat it, and by the time I finally pulled it off I had a blister on my thumb. I continued my playthrough the next day with a Band-Aid over it because, well, I’m apparently a masochist when it comes to gaming.

In fact, the more I think about all of this, the more it becomes apparent that there’s a reason I haven’t picked this game back up in roughly 17 years. It gets strangely hard strangely fast. I suppose that’s to be expected since the game was made by Rareware, the company responsible for the notoriously difficult Battletoads, but come on, kids were playing this one, too! It wouldn’t hurt you to let them, you know, beat the game, right? Or is that too much to ask here?

At any rate, I suppose I ought to get back to work with that arcade machine. I’ve got the first two levels down pat now. It’s just a matter of clearing that third one, the one with the springs and the elevators. Time to be that retrogamer I keep telling people I am.

Star Trekkin’ Across The Universe

I’m currently in between jobs at the moment, and as I try to find someone willing to take a chance on my archival abilities I’ve been spending my days watching the original Star Trek, something I never actually ever got around to for some reason despite the show turning 50 years old this year. My dad grew up as a Trekkie (and has an amazing con story about James Doohan), and yet somehow I’ve never done this.

I’m currently two episodes into season 2 and I just witnessed this:

um okay

I’m not really entirely sure how to describe what I’ve seen over the course of the series so far. I knew the show was groundbreaking, and it’s had some profound moments so far, but I didn’t realize that it was also just really weird. Someone sat down in the writers’ room and said, “What if we got the Enterprise stuck by having a giant green Hulk hand hold it in place for this episode?” and someone else agreed to that. To be fair, the show did break a ton of new ground in the 1960s and is partially responsible for the birth of modern fandom (Kirk/Spock being the first popular slash pairing to appear in zines in the 1970s that we have records of), and I’m really enjoying looking at it through a historical lens since I’ve grown up with fandom being an almost constant part of my life since middle school. If you’re interested in fandom history, I highly suggest watching the episode Amok Time – it launched a thousand ships.

Oh, and Kirk had a boob window.

BOOB WINDOW

Actually, one of the funniest things about TOS to me thus far is just how often Kirk manages to remove or tear his shirt. It happens pretty much every single time Kirk gets into one of his cheesy fistfights and it’s hilarious and incredible. It also gives me a lot of terrible fanart ideas and I love getting terrible fanart ideas. But that’s beside the point here, I think.

The point, I suppose, is that this series is definitely worth watching. Yes, it’s very dated now, but it also set the stage for a lot of series that followed and helped to spur on the growth of modern fandom, which makes it historically and culturally significant and therefore worthy of preservation and lots of rewatches. And hey, if you like it enough, I hear there’s a big con about a month before NYCC at the Javits Center in Manhattan that might pique your interest…

Undertale has left me feeling very loved…and determined

Player character Frisk, as drawn by me.

Player character Frisk, as drawn by me.

Over the past week, I’ve been dealing with a really unpleasant cold, so I spent my Friday doing nothing but finishing my playthrough of wildly popular RPG Undertale. I went for true pacifist (because really, who has the heart to hurt Papyrus?) and now consider a bunch of fictional monsters to be my friends. I really, really like my new friends, and so does pretty much anyone else who befriends them, too.

The game’s almost universal appeal, it seems, comes from the fact that it plays with and even subverts the concept of what an RPG is all about, in one major case entirely inverting it: you can get through this game without killing a single enemy and leveling up. Every encounter in the game can be ended non-violently, a stark contrast to most RPGs, which involve grinding on area enemies to gain EXP and become strong enough to take on boss battles. In one of the routes, a mechanic in the final boss fight actually involves you dying and reloading the fight where you last saved because the boss knows how to use save files too. You can’t sell things to most shopkeepers for money because that’s generally not how it works in the real world. (The exception is in one location, Temmie Village, and it’s implied that Temmie is the only one not bright enough to stop you from selling things back to her.) The game completely shakes up what an RPG is supposed to be, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

If that wasn’t enough, the writing and soundtrack are killer, and the character designs are a delight to behold. Oh, and you get to date a skeleton at one point. He’s wonderful. You will love him. Everyone loves him. Papyrus the skeleton is undeniably Character of the Year. He’s the best thing about this game, bar-none.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid playing this game, you can get Undertale right here! It’s one of those things that I really don’t suggest avoiding. After all, it’ll fill you with determination, and what’s better than that?

The Exciting Cosplay Adventures of Mike Schmidt (not the baseball player)

I’m back from New York Comic Con now (my one annual indulgence) and as usual I had an absolutely delightful time. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, so I’m still completely exhausted, but I got to attend on Thursday (the industry day) for the first time and I networked with other librarians, which was so, so great. Several library panels later, it was Friday, so it was time to whip out the cosplay.

On Saturday, my friend and I went as Asahi and Nishinoya from Haikyuu!!, which was a ton of fun, especially since we met a lot of other Haikyuu!! cosplayers and took photos with them. I also happened to be cosplaying Noya on his birthday, which I somehow completely forgot about. But the most ridiculous fun I had was on Friday and Sunday, when I cosplayed security guard Mike Schmidt (not the baseball player, although that’s a joke I make constantly) from Five Nights at Freddy’s.

Things started off a bit iffy – my train was late by twelve minutes, so I sat in cosplay by myself at the train station awkwardly until the train got there.

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From there on, though, it was smooth sailing, and it was time for Schmidt to go on some con adventures. (Well, after I went to the librarian cosplay photoshoot first. I can’t wait for the photos to come back from that.)

To further the joke about Mike’s name, I naturally had to get a Philly cheesesteak for lunch.

Would you be happy if everyone made baseball jokes about your name?

Would you be happy if everyone made baseball jokes about your name?

And then I finally found some animatronics. It’s cool, though. They couldn’t kill me since this was during the day.

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After meeting up with my friend (who was cosplaying indie wrestler El Generico), some more exploring was in order. For the most part, Friday was quiet after this, but I did record a video documenting day one of what I termed “Schmidtcon.”

Although I wasn’t cosplaying Mike on Saturday, I did record a brief Schmidtcon video anyway once I got home because I got a Puppet hat and was really, really excited about the darn thing.

Sunday is when things got really busy and exciting, though, because Sundays at NYCC are family days and they have more activities geared towards younger children. FNAF is wildly popular with the younger set right now, so I was expecting to meet some people. And boy, did I!

Before heading out, I made sure to inform everyone that Mike was borrowing Jeremy’s music box. Which did turn out to be helpful, actually, because there were a lot of Puppets around.

Oh, and since I write Mike as an adrenaline junkie I had him do this.

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Once inside, there were actually a ton of families cosplaying FNAF together with their kids and it was the cutest thing.

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First, though, here’s a Puppet.

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This family was so, so cute!

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In between all of this, I found a booth selling FNAF security badges, so I immediately made this extremely important purchase and promptly stuck the badge on my hat to make things even more official.

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And then Foxy tried to kill me. Not cool, man.

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The only other guard I ran into on Sunday, and they had a Foxy and the cutest little Mangle to boot!

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And then Foxy tried to kill me again. What a life.

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On the train back this guy across from me was reading a book entitled “Robot Movements and Control.” You sure about that, buddy? I’ve seen some things that might make you want to rethink that…

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And then the whole con was polished off by making Mike drive everyone to White Castle. That’s pretty much how every con I attend ends, though.

I don’t often cosplay current characters, and when I do, they’re often not the more popular ones, so this was especially fun to do this year! As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to likely keep this cosplay around for a while and just do stuff with it because a) it’s fun and b) I do actually genuinely enjoy FNAF. Oh, and c) baseball jokes. I make too many of those. Like, waaaaay too many.

In all seriousness, though, NYCC is an amazing con. I’ve been attending for years, and I highly recommend it to everyone, although it’s a bit overwhelming the first time you go so you might want to start small if you’ve never been to a convention before! I can’t talk about how great it is enough, though. It’s been running for ten years now, and it’s only getting better with each installment. Join us next year, won’t you?

Welcome to FMV Hell

I’ve spent the last several months being extremely amused by the existence of FMV (full motion video) games. I remembered them being a thing from when I was little, but I never really paid them much mind until I was an adult and discovered that the cartoon ones were often beautifully animated. Since I’m an animation nut, I got hooked really quickly.

Specifically, I got hooked on Braindead 13, a title from 1995, because main character Lance Galahad (his real name) is the most 90s fictional character I’ve seen in years and I find it hilarious. It’s more or less a playable cartoon, but the animation is gorgeous and I never get tired of watching it. That and I find Lance’s existence really, really funny because he’s basically a walking time capsule for me.

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Look at this kid. Seriously. He just screams “HEY! IT’S 1995 AND THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE THINK IS COOL EVEN THOUGH IT’S REALLY NOT!” I love him. He even does the Hat Turn of Seriousness, a gesture which 90s children like myself would later come to associate with Ash Ketchum:

And he looks like a colossal nerd doing it, too.

And he looks like a colossal nerd doing it, too.

This kid aside, FMV started to hit the big-time with the 1983 release of Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair, which he followed up with Space Ace in 1984 and an eventual sequel to Dragon’s Lair in 1991. Since these games ran on LaserDisc technology, there was a lot more storage space, so instead of using sprites to represent the characters the games were able to incorporate Bluth’s incredibly gorgeous animation. Although they were basically ten minutes of quick-time events and didn’t feature any other gameplay, the animation drew a crowd.

A bunch of other games followed suit, although not all of them were as fortunate to have animation on this scale. In fact, a lot of them used live-action video, and that’s where this gets funny. Live-action FMV games are often regarded as some of the worst games ever made, and once you’ve seen them it’s really easy to see why. Take, for example, perhaps the most famous of all FMV games, Night Trap:

The best way I can explain Night Trap to people who have never seen it is that it’s kind of like playing Five Nights at Freddy’s in reverse. You’re switching between cameras, but instead of trying to stop something from getting to you, you have to stop these things called augers from getting to the girls at a slumber party by activating traps in the rooms they’re in. If you’re good at FNAF, you might have a knack for Night Trap. The problem is that in order to see the story of the game, you can’t stop enough augers, and if you stop all the augers, you miss the story. Fortunately, someone put the feeds for all of the cameras into one video simultaneously:

This game is notable, though, because there was a scene where one of the girls was attacked – fully clothed – in the shower, and people thought this was obscene. (She wore a nightgown.) This was, however, around the time of the congressional hearings concerning video games in the United States, and games were being heavily scrutinized. (Nobody seemed to actually bother to look at Night Trap, though, because somehow people involved thought that the player was trapping the women, not saving them.) At any rate, with games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap raising a stir, the ESRB was eventually introduced, and the existence of the ESRB is probably a good thing because your five-year-old cousin probably shouldn’t be playing GTA.

There’s no doubting, though, that the lowest of the low is the “adult” game Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. I can’t even describe how bad this game is. It needs to be seen for itself. It’s not even an FMV game – it uses more of a slideshow format, so you feel like you’re playing through a really bad PowerPoint presentation:

Enjoy your descent into Hell.

I’m not sorry.

Settling for good games because it’s hard to find bad ones…

I’ve been at my new library post for almost three months now, and I’m finally settling into some degree of regularity with my schedule, which means I’ll be able to settle into drawing more again. I was looking for something to do as a warm-up to get me back in the groove, so over the past week I’ve been working on headshots of the playable characters from Maniac Mansion and its sequel, Day of the Tentacle.

I’ve never actually gotten to play either of the games – Maniac Mansion was released two years before I was born (in 1987), and DotT was released when I was 4 (in 1993), but they’re readily available online and I’m certainly interested in playing them. What caught my eye recently was how easily these games and one of my favorite weird games, an FMV title called Braindead 13, could happen in the same universe. (And that was after I realized that due to the 1990s settings Braindead 13 and Five Nights at Freddy’s could be set in the same universe.) I haven’t played a point-and-click game in years, but this would be as good a time as any to get back into that sort of thing. I mean, those games can generally be played in one sitting and they often have pretty cool art.

Laverne meeting up with Dead Cousin Ted in Day of the Tentacle. In the future. Whilst wearing a tentacle costume. Yeah.

Laverne meeting up with Dead Cousin Ted in Day of the Tentacle. In the future. Whilst wearing a tentacle costume. Yeah.

Buuuuut it’s me, so I have to put out some extra effort to try to find a really weird and/or bad one because I love games that are really weird and/or bad. And obviously, that disqualifies Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, because they’re pretty great. I need to broaden my horizons and find a really bad one. It’s a bit hard to find one just from a Google search, so I’ll likely have to try Newgrounds and see what the worst-rated ones are.

The thing with bad games, though, is that not just any bad game will do. If a game is run-of-the-mill bad, it doesn’t stick with you and you generally end up tossing it aside. It has to be so bad that it becomes some sort of bizarre masterpiece. See, for example, Big Rigs. Big Rigs is so bad that it’s amazing. This is the same reason I still use Storybook Weaver, actually. It’s so bad that it’s hilarious and I love it. Sometimes, finding the best bad game to play is actually kind of hard and takes time. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true.

So in the meantime, I’ll have to content myself by playing and/or watching good games. That’s fine, too.

Laverne gets Dead Cousin Ted to win a beauty contest in this game. I'm serious.

Laverne gets Dead Cousin Ted to win a beauty contest in this game. I’m serious.

The Thing Ignored It: My Life With Storybook Weaver Deluxe

There’s really no other way I can start this blog out than by talking about my 21-year love affair with Storybook Weaver Deluxe.

(Video is my own because I really do still use this program.)

My parents purchased Storybook Weaver Deluxe, a MECC product, for me when I was five years old in 1994. My kid brother was too young to use it at the time (he’s four and a half years younger than me), but as he got older he soon joined me in bizarre Storybook Weaver escapades. The Windows 95 program had truly weird clip art paired with horrendously bad MIDI files, so naturally we used it to write really messed up things. Oh, and it had a text to speech option, which was truly a gift.

In fact, because of that text to speech option, my brother and I – as well as our parents – continued using Storybook Weaver as we got older to write really inappropriate things just to have it read them out at us in a monotone. These really inappropriate things would, of course, be illustrated with the strange clip art to produce truly Dadaist results. For example, the object below is labeled by the game as “Figurine.”

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My brother and I generally just referred to this as “the thing” as kids because we had no idea how to describe it. Strangely enough, the game considers this to be a sort of statue. All I know is that as an adult I still call it “the thing” and want to 3D print it and leave it all over the place.

If that wasn’t enough, the program provides the user with “story starters,” little prompts with a title page and the first page of a story that leave the ending open-ended for the user to write their own conclusions. (The video above is my favorite one.) My brother and I discovered at some point that some of these could be permanently edited, at least in the 1994 version, so naturally we messed them up horribly and were very proud of ourselves. (The 2004 re-release of the program doesn’t appear to let you edit the starters. I’ve tried. And yes, I have both the 1994 version and the 2004 re-release. I know, I know.) Some of the story starters are in Spanish, but the text to speech has no idea how to pronounce Spanish (both the European and Latin American dialects) so they sound worse than the whitest person you know trying to order food at a Mexican restaurant.

And I love every minute I spend with all of it.

I’ve been using Storybook Weaver Deluxe since I was five years old. As I write this, I’m now twenty-six. I have literally been using this program for twenty-one years of my life. It’s been installed on every computer I’ve ever personally owned. I took the re-released version with me to college and introduced it to friends there. I’ve sent the game in a zip file to online friends so they could share in the horrible writing carnage. To this day, my brother and I have inside jokes about how the game pronounces certain words – and our parents know exactly what we’re talking about whenever we bring them up. I converted all the MIDI files to .mp3s and put them on my iPod recently. Somehow, as .mp3s a lot of them manage to sound even worse and it delights me to no end.

I really didn’t expect this program to become such a big part of my life, but it has. It’s a childhood memory that mutated into a depraved adult stress reliever (I laugh literally every time I do something with the program even now). Very few people today even still use it, at least to my knowledge. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best thing MECC ever did. (Yes, I like this even more than Oregon Trail and Word/Number Munchers.) It’s an absolute gem if you like really, really weird things.

Especially “figurines.”