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I’ve discovered a surreal sub-pastime. I’ve discovered long-forgotten tribes, comfortably keeping ancient traditions (just barely) alive.

It started when I went back to play some 10-year-old games I’d missed on release, including No One Lives Forever. I finished the single player game, and in a fit of whimsy, clicked the “multiplayer” button. I joined the only populated server. I saw people! Approximately four of them, engaged in the happy activity of lagging around a nightclub throwing poisoned perfume at each other.

“Who are these people?” I marveled. “How long have they been here? Do they know TF2 is free now? Or are they just ironic tourists like me?” It warmed my heart, especially when I turned out to be an equal match for at least their lower echelon. I was further pleased to discover a real live facebook group of NOLF multiplayer fans! I, uh, never ended up going back and playing again. >_>

Star Wars: Republic Commando (a newer game, but still 8 years old) helped me discover this eerie sensation again, a couple of days ago, as I was repeatedly sniped by someone who has apparently invested a great portion of those 8 years into sniping. That was a much less laggy time, and I may actually go back again.

I see these lonesome servers on lists that are designed to hold so many more, and I become inordinately wistful. =P There’s a few facets to it…the idea of these stalwart fans of a particular system, watching all but a handful of their fellows migrate to the next big thing…but also the lovely idea that even a decade later (games having such a uniquely short lifespan) there is someone playing on this old playground, keeping it from lapsing fully into “bygone” status. How can I explain it? It feels like wandering into an Entmoot, or seeing an archive of a geocities website devoted to a poet that nobody knows.

(Admittedly, the subject matter of SPACE MARINES and SUB-MACHINE GUNS is a contrast to all these hazy meditations. =P)

Two more things I wonder: firstly, since there only seem to be a handful of people playing any one of these old games, do they become fast friends? Or do they continue the mostly-silent public server weapon-scrounging mindset? Weirdly, the couple of games I played seemed to tend towards the latter…but I have always been chattier than the average FPS player, especially in games without voice chat. Hm.

Secondly, DEAR READER, have you ever traipsed into such a time capsule of a server as the ones I mentioned? Or, even better, are you a regular member of the Old Guard for a game like this, treading the familiar path to where the secret minigun spawns, while clucking your tongue at unfortunate travelers like me? Or PERHAPS BEST OF ALL, do you skip all that nonsense entirely and go for the convenient LAN option, inviting all your friends over to play Descent 2 in the garage, as though you live in some sort of Atlantis of Games?

Occasionally, a little game will surprise me by being bigger on the inside. On rarer occasions still, a little game will take unfair advantage of my underutilized senses to help me solve conundrums in ways I had not considered possible. The Last Symphony does these things! It does them by offering an unknown number of nicely tailored endings, and by linking up its rather easy puzzles perfectly with the story and purpose of the game. In the process, it also makes me feel like a creative genius and museum curator / sleuth-biographer extraordinaire.

(The title “extraordinaire” maybe should be limited to sleuth-biographers who do not need to travel back in time and take four tries to get the job done. I rescind the compliment, and retire an untitled, but very contented, museum curator.)

A brief description — it is a hidden object game but not the awful kind where the hidden objects are just “hey the outline of that lamp looks like a bird, I FOUND A BIRD”. This is a hidden object game about actual objects hidden in actual clutter, which is better. Going a step further, after finding a batch of hidden objects, you must select which handful of them combine to make the nicest museum display — and leave the rest behind. Also, there is so much music, and it’s mighty pretty and quite important. Play this game if you want to listen attentively to mighty pretty music, sift peaceably through a dead man’s possessions, and be harrumphed upon by his sister if ever you start pixel-hunting.

P.S. If you play, please do see about getting at least two of the various endings. I needed four playthroughs before I really started to grasp all that was going on in this game…and not because it’s really obscure, but because — as I said — I simply didn’t expect it to be so sensible and extensive. I should say, I needed four playthroughs before I started giving due credit to The Last Symphony. As soon as I showed it proper respect, I basically started pwning teh game.
Play The Last Symphony on the world wide web:

http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/summer2012/thelastsymphony_play.php

Trine, I Played It

I beat Trine with wife Berzee (sitting slightly behind me and yelling in my ears whenever things got exciting) this past week. It’s magnificent fun, and probably best with two people since you get the cooperation but also retain a little bit of the on-the-fly character switching. I doubt I can say anything revelatory about the fun of it, actually, but I will tell you the three important life lessons I learned as I played it:

1. Levels where lava rises up from the bottom of the screen are never fun. Can you think of a fun lava-flood level? I’ve played a hundred, and I know I can’t!

2. Spikes can actually be believable in a game if they’re fashioned from tree trunks and pounded into the ground or suspended with iron bands and suchlike…instead of…y’know, uniform metal cones. Spikes that only hurt you if you walk into the spiky part (but don’t hurt you as you walk towards them on the ground) and that don’t cause instant death are also super awesome. Trine has redefined to me what spikes can be.

3. Some Wizards Have Special Powers.

Hello, dear friend. Welcome to my revamped and revitalized blog. The first stop on our bold new journey is a look into the intricacies of Wizardry VI. It’s sure to be a crazy time! Here’s a little taste of foreboding, courtesy of another fine sixth game in a series of games.

But before we get to the skeleton portion of our article, let’s take a hard look at some Topics. Namely backtracking (both cartographic and narrative), bathrooms, and inexcusably awful ghost priests.

Backtracking! I talked about that with mixed feelings a few days ago. Today, however, I had the pleasure of going back to the second map I ever drew — Castle Floor +1 — and filling in a long-forgotten empty space behind a locked gate. This made the map complete, I think, and much more symmetrical too. It was a milestone on a months-long adventure; it was satisfying in the same way that organizing my bookshelves is; and my feelings about Bane’s backtracking are not mixed at the moment! It was also nice to have another look at the first few maps I made, when I was full of ambition and a desire to color things and draw straight lines…and yet knew nothing about how to properly label staircases. Oh, youthly foibles!

Narrative Backtracking! The other superbly strange thing about returning to the first levels of the castle is that a number of the random room descriptions are starting to click into place. I thought they were there for local color, and they are starting to creepily coalesce into something like a plot. For some reason I did not trust this game to truly tell a tragic tale through ghosts and ruins and crystal-bound wizard heads. But it seems to be heading that way!

Here’s what I know so far (hand-wavey plot spoilers of atrocious magnitude, of course): The king and the wizard were busy getting cursed by a universe-altering writing utensil. The sorcerer’s apprentice (“I brought a little SCIENCE with me!” -__-) was busy getting turned into a very exciteable snake. The queen was busy collecting more snakes and being creepy and terrible. And finally (or maybe years earlier? I’m not sure), the worst vicar ever was busy ignoring 1 Corinthians 7:9 and also becoming a father. I do not say that for this he is The Worst. What makes him superlatively bad is, well, look:

Worst Vicar Ghost Ever

The Evil King decided to become a necromancer; the vicar was a handy test subject.

In his two minutes of non-pausable dialogue pieces, this ghost said the name “Annie” approximately 37 times. The name has lost all meaning to me and is now a mere botheration. I am sorry if your name is Annie, good reader. I will watch Anne of Green Gables and maybe some other Annie-themed cinema to try and recoup my losses. He also apparently thinks that children born out of wedlock are inherently more evil, so I am not endeared by his shaky moral framework either — but he is a confused and repetitive ghost-vicar and so I will not hold him to that. Apparently, he also had been carrying a magical horn around for a few hundred years which could have released him from his earthly shackles. I think that he did not blow it until now because he was waiting for me to kill his zombie girlfriend (a task which I have long since accomplished).

On to a less maddening undead creature! Everybody’s favorite: Charron!

Charron, Ferryman of the Dead

Boy am I glad to see you.

This is a nice businesslike skeleton-man. Extremely businesslike, as it turns out — 500 gold pieces it cost for a ride across the river! His fares are definitely a lot higher here than they were when he worked for Sierra…

Awesome! I’m finally across the River Styx (after stopping to say goo’bye to Queequeg, of course). In an unexpected show of good grace, I think that the ferryman will even let me pass back over to the Castle if I wish. I’m hoping it stays that way, because I always tend to fail at finishing games if they include a THE VOID OF NO RETURN AND ALSO EVERTHING IS DARK AND GRIM section. (At least there is no danger of the scenery becoming unfamiliar, in this game).

What else? I told you I would speak on the subject of Bathrooms, and so I will. In fact it was Mrs. Berzee that mentioned it — Wizardry VI often has tiny one-tile rooms with nothing in. I always assumed they were closets, but she suggests that they are an early bathroom prototype! This, plus the florid descriptions and basically logical layout of the rooms, makes Wizardry a competitive game in the arena of Feeling A Tiny Bit Actual. (Can you think of any other games with Immersive Bathrooms? Deus Ex comes to mind, but only just).

And that’s a post!

Next up:

Charron sailing me away

Sail away, sail away, sail away…

As decided in the last post, the Wizardry VI saga will continue in a less-detailed format, and I still intend to beat it! Possibly the main force driving that decision was my semi-conscious desire to tell you how excited I am that Fallout 3 has bathrooms.

Nevermind that I’m four years late to talk about this game. I never bought it because I hate all that is not bright and cheerful and laden with wizards (or 2 out of those 3, at least). I also hated zombies before hating zombies was hip; especially bio-zombies (or “fake zombies” as the necromancers say). But I was bored, and it was on sale, and I watched that part where you’re a baby and Liam Neeson is your dad, and etc…

Overall, I still think the setting is equal parts Good Fun and Stupid Gross, but it did cause me to realize what I miss most in my usual fantasy-themed fare.

A Men's Bathroom Sign!!!

Gentlemen is what I miss most?

Granted, I remember some chamber pots in Skyrim. But this screenshot was taken in a library! If there are any chamber pots in the College of Winterhold’s Library, they must have been hidden from my sight. If there was a survival mod that included waste disposal, I don’t even know where I would Go at the college.

Before we draft a petition for convenient public restrooms in every game, I will clarify. My favorite thing about Fallout 3 is that the buildings seem not only lived-in, but liveable. You can see where the occupants of a tiny house tried to find room to squeeze in a coffee maker! The library contains not only restrooms, but a separate children’s wing and a computer lab. The lab can be looted, but that’s not its primary purpose. It exists mainly because without it, the library (before its destruction) would have been kind of lame. I like it because it adds to the suggestion that the library isn’t “for me”, that it was for other patrons two hundred years ago, and they needed to use their internet! It’s a joke for a single-player game to claim “I’m busy with my own stuff!” and pretend it isn’t showing off for me — but it’s a thoughtful joke and an appreciated one.

Something about the shabby real-world setting, I suppose, made the designers think that perhaps Bandits In A Cave wouldn’t be content with a sleeping mat and a lantern forever; at some point they might settle in a bit. Alternatively, it may be that there are many such details in fantasy dungeons and I just don’t notice them; maybe I need to see familiar sights like restroom signs and computer labs before I can be convinced of a structure’s plausibility. In any case, I think that games are very fun when they prompt me to admire the cozy living arrangements of the bandits I have recently killed. And now I wish to find a game that achieves the same effect in some fantastical setting, as Fallout does in Washington D.C.

But after further consideration…if I ever became a Wizard, I should first of all research a magical alternative to pooping. Thus it is not for me, uninitiated in the mystical secrets, to judge the College of Winterhold’s facilities and find them lacking.

In this post, I had planned to discuss the pros and cons of Wizardry’s approach to backtracking. But I am fearful of blathering on a topic that might not be deep enough to support it, so I will sum up my thoughts in a sentence or two. Wizardry features more backtracking than All The Other Games, but instead of feeling like a lazy way to pad the game, it feels instead like Sir-Tech thinks it is hilarious and refreshing to wait until you forget a door exists before they slip its key into your swag bag. And maybe it is! When that gets tiresome, you can always mix it up by creating a single door that is opened by a rutabega or a ring or something, instead of a key.

I met a crazy snake who was supposed to give me a hint about that, but I was too distracted by his frequent use of exclamation points.

Mystaphaphas the Snake Apprentice

Meet Mystaphaphas. He wasn’t always this way.

He said a lot of things, but Xorphitus totally sapped my will to transcribe conversations. Instead, let me show you the other two high points of my recent foray into the castle.

I'm Ready For My Snack Now

Nothing beats warm cookies, frosty milk, and discovering that the new page you have been mapping actually joins up with a preexisting page and so can actually be merged onto a single map of the Wizard Cave. Nothing beats that.

Fire Cat

It does help that when you do have to backtrack through a door, there’s probably something like a fire cat on the other side.

Speaking of cats, this world wide web log has begun to feel a little bit like one of those websites from 1994 where someone posts pictures of their cat for everyone to admire. Which is to say, that I wonder if I haven’t said everything I have to say about this game — not that I’m tired of playing it! But aside from new monsters and new plot developments (which were not what I initially planned to showcase), it is doomed to be a pretty repetitive read now that I have settled into a good system of making maps. Not to mention that this game is about 5 times longer than I thought it would be!

So, gentle reader, my new plan is to just play through the rest of the game at a good clip, without checking in to apprise you of any but the most astonishing revelations. I’ve run out of jokes about keys and doors. =P

Do not weep for me, nor for yourself. My plan for the idyllic glade that is MuscledFangFireBaby was to finish up Wizardry VI and then write about many other vidyogames in a less rigorous fashion — as I did with Nitronic Rush. Consider yourself warned! The branching has begun, but the Wizardry finale is still to come. (Tell me how good a scheme for the future you think this is.)

Next up: Oh my goodness! The world is our oyster, friends. Who can say what is next up now I’ve jumped the tracks? In Wizardry, I am still seeking passage across the River Styx. But I’ve been playing a lot of other things recently, and any of them might be chosen for a bit of a think: Stacking, Fallout 3, Thief 3, Just Cause 2, Peggle, Orcs Must Die, Tribes, Super Meat Boy, Way… As you can see, I’m very up-to-date and with-the-times.

Toodles, chumps!

(**SPOILER ALERT** — this post contains significant plot-related spoilers. If you are one of the eight or so people who consider Wizardry VI’s plot as the most significant part of the game and what ought not to be spoiled, you should skip this post. The rest of you, who are doubtless primarily concerned with avoiding any graph paper spoilers, are safe to read on and see a crazy wizard do his thing.)

Chisel Wizard. Turn that over in your mind a couple times. A delightful phrase.

So listen — I knew from walkthroughs that the spooky river (also known as the river of CRAZY XP because of the swarms of ninja sirens in the area) was actually the River Styx. I had a great idea for how to get Charon to manifest and transport me ‘cross the river of the dead.

The Plan: Kill Bukkit! What deathly ferryman could resist such a piteous hobbit corpse? Well…Charon. He didn’t show. =(

Plan B: The Internet! I mean, the collected wisdom of the ages. Can you guess what it told me? What I overlooked in the chaos of my numerous knapsacks?

Breakin' diamonds with a chisel

CHISEL

(This next bit is…wordy. Because wizards, well, they don’t let mundane things like “meaningfulness” stand in the way of their conversation. Don’t expect a lot of commentary from me. I think Xorphitus has got it covered. o_O)

Wizard

WIZARD

“FREE AT LAST!”

I DO NOT KNOW THEE, BUT I HAVE KNOWN OF THEE, SINCE THE TIMES WHEN IT ALL BEGAN…

MY TIME IS SHORT, FOR AS YOU CAN SEE MY BODY HAS LONG AGO DIED, AND IT IS ONLY THROUGH THE LAST VESTIGES OF MY FORMER POWER THAT MY SPIRIT HAS HELD THIS FINAL GRASP UPON YOUR WORLD, SO THAT I MAY SPEAK TO YOU NOW, AND AID YOU IN YOUR QUEST. I WILL TELL YOU A STORY, AND LET THIS STORY SERVE AS A WARNING TO YOU AND THEY WHO WILL TRY TO FOLLOW IN YOUR STEPS…

I AM HALF OF THE FORMER WIZARD KNOWN AS XORPHITUS, WHOSE BONES YOU SEE ON THE MANTLE BEFORE YOU. A HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS AGO, I ENGAGED UPON THE QUEST FOR THE COSMIC FORGE, THE BANE PEN FROM WHICH ARE WRIT THE WORKINGS OF ALL THE UNIVERSE. TO SPEAK OF THE PEN, I MUST SPEAK OF THE CIRCLE, THE BLESSED ALTAR FROM WHICH THE PEN WAS STOLEN. TO PROTECT THE POWER OF THE PEN, IT WAS WRITTEN THAT THE PEN WAS ONLY TO BE USED UPON THE HOLY CIRCLE AND THUS IT CAME TO BE. IN ORDER TO WREST THE PEN FROM THE CIRCLE, SO AS TO FREE IT FROM THIS MANDATE, IT WAS NECESSARY TO CONTRIVE THE EXCEPTION, THE SINGULAR EXCEPTION WHICH ENSURES THE FREEDOM OF THE PEN, AND LIKEWISE DOES NOT VIOLATE THE ORIGINAL ORDER. THUS THE GREAT EXCEPTION WAS FORMED, THAT WHOSOEVER SHALL SCRIBE WITH THE PEN NOT UPON THE COSMIC CIRCLE, WILL SUFFER HIS WRITE AS A BANE, AND SHALL NOT REST OR BE FREED FROM IT UNTIL A NEW GENERATION HAS PASSED, THAT TIME BEING EXACTLY ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS, AND AFTER THAT SHALL HE BE OF HIS OWN DOING AND FREE FROM THE WRITE AND THE BANE.

MY TIME IS AT END, FOR THEE HAS COME AND SET ME FREE, AND AS MY BONES LIE BEFORE YOU, THIS BECOMES MY DOING, A FATE THAT RELEASES ME FROM MY CURSE. NOW LISTEN, AS I REVEAL TO YOU THOSE EVENTS WHICH LONG AGO TRANSPIRED, SO THAT YOU MAY ACT WISELY AND RIGHTLY. ONCE I WAS XORPHITUS, A GREAT WIZARD OF MAGIK AND POWER, AND LIKE ALL WHO TASTE OF POWER, THE MORE I DRANK OF IT, THE GREATER BECAME MY THIRST. SO IT WAS THAT I CAME TO MAKE AN UNHOLY PACT WITH ANOTHER WHOSE HUNGER WAS A COPY OF MY OWN, AND TOGETHER WE HELD THE DREAM OF UNIVERSAL DOMINATION.

WHEN AT LAST WE HEARD OF THIS COSMIC PEN, WE KNEW THAT TO MAKE IT OUR OWN WOULD MAKE OUR TRIUMPH COMPLETE, AND SO WE PLOTTED A SCHEME WHICH YIELDED US THE “COSMIC FORGE”. BUT HOW SOON WE LEARNED OF THE BANE THAT FOLLOWS, SHOULD THE FORGE BE REMOVED FROM THE CIRCLE AS WE HAD DONE.

YES, ONCE I WAS XORPHITUS, AND I WAS DETERMINED TO DEFY THE FATES, AND SO SCRIBED THE WORDS WHICH TOLD OF THIS MORTAL WIZARD WHICH SHOULD BE CALLED XORPHITUS, AND HOW HE SHALL KNOW ALL THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE, THAT HE WILL THEN KNOW HOW TO EVADE THAT DREADFUL BANE. AND YES I CAME TO POSSES FULL KNOWLEDGE OF EVERYTHING, AND WITH IT WAS I RIPPED ASUNDER, TWAIN INTO TWO BEINGS, FOR THE NATURE OF ALL THINGS IS DIVIDED, THAT WHICH IT IS, AND IS NOT, AND THUS AS THE KNOWLEDGE LIVED IN ME AS ONE, THUS IT MUST PASS THAT I THEN BECOME DIVIDED. FOR AS I KNOW ALL, I MUST ALSO KNOW NOTHING. AS IT WAS THAT A MAN SHALL KNOW “GOOD”, SO WAS I COMPELLED TO ALSO KNOW “EVIL”.

EVERYTHING WHICH IS KNOWN IS DIVIDED AND THAT WHICH IS NOT DIVIDABLE WILL NEVER BE KNOWN.

THUS SHALL MEN FOREVER SEEK TO KNOW, AND THUS WILL MEN ALWAYS BE DIVIDED. THIS IS THE NATURE OF KNOWLEDGE, AND I TELL YOU THAT THIS IS HOW IT LIVES INSIDE OF YOU. THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, THIS IS HOW YOU THINK, THIS IS HOW A MIND BELIEVES, AND HOW A MIND SPEAKS UNTO ITSELF.

BUT TIME GROWS SHORT AND THERE STILL REMAINS MUCH I MUST TELL YOU. THOUGH I, XORPHITUS, AM DEAD, XORPHITUS, MY OTHER HALF LIVES ON! AND AS I DO BUT AID THEE, HE SHALL DO BUT HARM THEE. HIS KNOWLEDGE IS INCOMPLETE, SINCE I POSSESSED ITS COMPLEMENT, AND HE CAN BUT STUMBLE BLINDLY, HALF-RIGHT, AND HALF-WRONG, IN EVERYTHING HE DOES, A MIND FOREVER FLOATING THROUGH A POOL OF DARKENED WATERS. HE IS INSANE, AS AM I, BUT YOU MUST SEEK HIM OUT, FOR AS I KNOW OF THE PEN AND WHY, AND DO TELL YOU, HE WILL KNOW THE WHERE AND THE WHEN OF IT, BUT NOT WHAT, AND HE WILL NOT TEL YOU. THAT IS WHAT MUST BE DISCOVERED FROM HIM, AND WITH HIM LIVES THE FATE OF THE FORGE, THE PEN AND HAND OF DESTINY…

“I AM FREE AT LAST!”

and the vision softly fades…

wizard

And then I found five dollars.

Wow.

Next up: maybe I find that which knows not but is known by its reflection in the pool of wisdom? I bet it will be a scary monster.

P.S. How was your vacation, Mr. Berzee? It was lovely, thank you; I climbed Every Mountain!

P.P.S. I was going to make a Youtube Video Recording so you could listen to that speech instead of reading it. But both me & wife gave it a try and realized we are pretty ashamed of our attempts at Wizard Voice. Therefore…if any of you feels taken by a wizardly spirit of a sudden and decides to post an inspiring recording of this speech on the internet, I will probably be so grateful that I’d link to it here and also write a nice poem about you; I’ve been known to write some nice poems about people, when they meet my demands.

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