healyg: (scheming)
Today, September 25, is my birthday. Happy birthday, me! To celebrate, I'm gonna talk Gravity Falls for a minute here.

Last Wednesday, Alex Hirsch teased the possibility of Gravity Falls comics. Most people asked for typical pie-in-the-sky stuff (Ford's adventures in the Portal! Stan O'War II adventures! Dipper and Mabel's next summer at Gravity Falls!). Me, I tried to temper my expectations; I figure we're not getting anything with Ford solo so soon after the Journal, and sequel stuff is probably best left to, like, an actual new cartoon. The most likely scenario is old storylines from the show they considered but never actually did, like the one where Stan and Wendy rob the museum. Not that that's such a bad deal, mind! Just so long as we get more of Stan.

But I've also been considering a different tack they could take with this. Consider, if you will, a Gravity Falls anthology series. Each issue, we'd get a couple stories about various characters from Gravity Falls. Maybe Wendy's mom would be the focus of one, perhaps we'd get Gideon's full origin story in another. It'd be a good chance to look at some underused characters, too, like the Manotaurs, or Wendy's teen friends. Best of all, this approach wouldn't preclude the occasional foray into any of the above-mentioned approaches.

But of course, we all know the truly best way for this to all go down: 12 issue Quentin Trembley maxi-series.
healyg: (Book Reading)
Hey there. Sorry for the delay. I'm not sure what happened there. I've been around, just... distracted.

So! Currently I've been reading a whole bunch of things: some of the earlier Hellboy volumes, Astro City: Family Album and Local Heroes, a few volumes of Batman: Black and White... I've even tried reading an actual, no-pictures type novel, like Moby Dick! It's... slow going, so far. I could do without all the digressions about whales, to be perfectly frank.

But the book I really want to talk about today is Gravity Falls: Journal 3, by Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti (diegetically written by Stanford Pines and company). Most of what I have to say about it has already been said before: it's a good book, full of secrets and new info about all your favorite characters, with a touching send-off that emphasizes how far the character of the Author has come by the end of the series. But earlier this week, Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti released an interview about the Journal, in which Hirsch had this to say:

The internet never ceases to impress me. For all the talk about how the upcoming generation has a short attention span, the moment you give these kids a riddle they drop everything and suddenly work together in perfect harmony like a military-level SWAT team to crack the code. It’s incredible. That being said, sometimes fans are often so focused on code-cracking they miss what’s in plain sight—the actual text of the journal! There are connections in there that even the savviest fans still have yet to notice.

The fandom's general response to this has been, "Well, clearly he hasn't been paying much attention to us." I mean, we've already figured out that the party Stan throws in Double Dipper was likely in celebration of his own birthday; that when the Oracle tells Ford that he's got the face of the man who'll defeat Bill, she's actually talking about Stan; that the splotches on the two "Dream Hipster" pages suggest that Ford was more scared of his dreams than he'd like to admit; plus more theories about the true nature of the Oracle from Dimension 52 than I care to go into right now. But not me! For, you see, I have made several theories and observations about the Journal that I have kept to myself. Could these be the connections Alex Hirsch is talking about in his interview? Probably not, but eh, it's worth a shot, writing them down here.

1. So hey! How come none of the dates given on the show and in the book seem to match up? Well, in that big text dump of a coded letter Blendin sends the Pines, he mentions that his time-travel device got left out on a railroad track and was hit by a train. My theory is that this messed up the time stream around Gravity Falls real bad, so everything there lives in a kind of hypertime-esque haze. (Aside: Man, Hypertime really needs to make a comeback.)
2. So Dipper's real name is Mason. What I am proposing here is, what if that's Bill's real name, too? I mean, guy did admit that "Bill Cipher" is a nickname (in response to a question about Dipper's real name, no less!); maybe it's something they have in common? (And yes, I know, Bill says his real name's an unspeakable horror that would spell death to any who heard it, but frankly I don't trust him on this; he's a liar, right?)
3. Did you know that Ford's a hypocrite? Okay, so everybody knows that. But did you know about this specific example of his hypocrisy? Early on in the Journal, before he fell in the portal, he mentions using a giant's thumb as a coffee table. Later, after he comes back, he whines about Stan using the T-Rex skull as a coffee table. It's like, dude, he's hardly the first guy to use weird artifacts as furniture, step off. (Aside: Note the "Stan burning" imagery on the same page. Ominous! But not really, since we know he makes it out okay.)
4. The alternate dimension Ford labels a Better World has had people scratching their heads ever since the book came out. Why would Better World-Stan just take the first journal and go? How did Ford manage to work with Fiddleford again after their falling out? But re-reading this section again, I don't think we're supposed to buy Ford's account that the turning point of this timeline is Stanley taking the book and getting out of dodge; it's far more likely that Ford took Fiddleford's offer to stop the portal test, as detailed earlier in the book. As for why Ford didn't realize this, I dunno. Thirty years is a long time, and it's likely that the pages about it were ripped out or ruined, so maybe he just forgot it ever happened.
5. Speaking of Fidds, I just realized that the reason Ford recognized him so quickly in the finale is because he saw Dipper's drawing of him in the Journal. He must've been like, "Eeewsh!" at that part. Also, the reason why Ford's glasses are always cracked is because he keeps breaking 'em! That's why he kept a spare in the first place.
6. Mabel's beloved Dream Boy High series is a sham! It's clearly a foreign production, like from Japan or Eastern Europe maybe, if Mabel's comment about the lipsynching being off is anything to go by.

It's getting really late over here, so that's about all I feel like writing for now, but I will continue to scour the Journal for whatever secrets it may continue to hold. This is M Healy G., signing off.
healyg: (scheming)
For the past couple weeks, I've been going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I hadn't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing the last game in this series, Oppositely Opal, by Buster Hudson.

In Oppositely Opal, you play as a witch who is trapped by a rival in a cursed cabin. You have to get out in time to compete against her in a potions contest, but all of your spells keep going wrong. Can you work around it until you make the potion you need for your getaway?

Oppositely Opal was nominated for both Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle (catching the pixie), so let's talk about that for a bit. The basic structure, of casting spells to change the game world, is reminiscent of Suveh Nux, one of my favorite games of yesteryear that doesn't get talked about often these days. There's a real delight in figuring out which form your tampered spells will take. Unfortunately, I got caught on a few parts and had to resort to the walkthrough to make progress; the nominated puzzle was one of them, so I'm afraid I can't judge how good it is on its own merits. I think some more cluing when you're on the wrong track would help here. For example, there was a bit in the pixie puzzle where I couldn't tell which spell would turn an object into a trap, and the responses I got when I had taken a wrong guess weren't helping me choose the right spell. In this case, I think including even a short phrase personalized to each spell used would be helpful in visualizing the solution the author wants.

Much more successful in my eyes is the character of Opal, who was nominated for Best Individual PC. She's a real riot, and her (somewhat try-hard) witchiness is what makes the game for me. A couple choice quotes:

Your black and gray striped familiar was found as a kitten in a trash heap somewhere. You decided to name him Lord Doomclaw, Prince of Darkness, and raise him to hate everything as much as you do. Unfortunately, he never grew any less adorable, and he only attacks people with soft meows, playful antics, and unremitting cuteness. You renamed him Killjoy.

and

A stuffed puffin—not stuffed like a cuddly toy, but stuffed as in a once-live puffin that was killed then stuffed. What a terrible fate.

UGH, no, that's not right. You meant to think it was a wonderfully evil thing to do cackle cackle cackle. You scold yourself for the slip in proper witchiness.


But there's also a sadness tinged around her edges, which we see mostly in flashback. I think what makes Opal so great is that she can work so well as both a comic and tragic character; all three of the endings I got in my playthrough were fairly sad, and this worked for me because the game had built up enough of that element in Opal that it didn't seem out of place. A good game to end on.

And that's a wrap for now! I do intend to review Spy Intrigue, which I tried on Wednesday but didn't finish, but that'll have to wait until after the award ceremony. See you then!
healyg: (Pink Alphys)
For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Arcane Intern (Unpaid), by Astrid Dalmady.

Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is about a young intern who gets a job at a magical publishing company. The game is slighter than the other Best Story nominees I've played so far; it's a fairly short work, only taking about 15-30 minutes to play through, and I felt the themes of feeling rejected by this magical world could be more fully developed with a longer playtime, perhaps. But it is incredibly charming, and the middle section, where you explore a labyrinth-like warehouse to get some supplies, gives a great sense of character and setting and really brings the work together. Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is the kind of game you play on a rainy afternoon to cheer yourself up, and though I wish it were weightier, it makes good use of it short playtime.
healyg: (Excited)
For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Cape, by Bruno Dias.

Cape is a near-future superhero story about someone who gains mysterious superpowers after stealing a talisman from a townhouse. It's fairly linear, with a few optional sidepaths (I hear talk of a hidden sex scene from the author, but I'm not sure if that's just a joke or not ETA: This has been confirmed to, indeed, be a joke. Thanks, Bruno!). It was nominated for an XYZZY in Best Story.

I gotta say, I really loved Cape. I'm a big superhero fan, and it hit a lot of the story beats that I enjoy about the genre. It's very thoughtful about the role of violence in a way that most superhero stories aren't, and while the story is fairly "gritty", it's not gratuitously so, like in Long Halloween. Parts of it remind me of Astro City: Tarnished Angel, one of my favorite graphic novels. If I have one complaint, it's that the ending is a little anti-climatic, and didn't answer as many questions as I would like it to. (Perhaps they were left unanswered to save room for a sequel?) Despite this, Cape is still one of the best superhero games I've ever played, and could stand beside the best comic in the genre.
healyg: (Frown)
For the next week or so, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Map, by Ade McT.

Map is a game that is very much concerned the choices we make in life, whether it's to let that person stay with us, or to dance with that guy in the bar. It's about a middle-aged woman whose house begins changing very strangely one week before she and her family moves out; rooms start showing up that allow her to change key moments from her past. It's a conceit you might find in a modern "literary" novel, and a little reminiscent of Photograph, a somewhat similar game from the 2002 IF Comp.

The story (which is what Map was nominated for) is doled out in bits and pieces as you explore the rooms each day, trying to figure out which choice to make in each scene. It's actually pretty interesting to see the results of your different choices play out as the game progresses; the details of the protagonist's life can be very different from where she was at the start of the game. And the ending scene, for me, was very emotionally satisfying and well-done. But I had trouble getting into the game at first, partly because of the protagonist's dreary approach to life at the start of the game, and partly because I ran into a few bugs and SPAG errors; Map has one of the sketchiest implementations I've ever seen from a game that did very well in the IF Comp (it came in second last year). Still, Map does a lot of interesting in regards to tying physical space with more metaphorical matters, so if you're looking for a game that does that, you should give Map a try.
healyg: (aww)
For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing two games: Neon Haze, by Porpentine and Neotenomie; and Beautiful Dreamer, by S. Woodson.

Both Beautiful Dreamer and Neon Haze were nominated for Best Setting (and only Best Setting), so I felt it would be appropriate to review them both at the same time. Both of them have a dreamy atmosphere, but they use them to very different ends.

Let's start with Neon Haze. If you're familiar with Porpentine's work, you probably can guess the milieu she's working with here. How would I describe the setting of Neon Haze myself, though? Um, if William Gibson's Neuromancer and a Kavinsky album had a baby, and you hooked up a fancy brain-imaging machine to watch that baby's dreams, what you saw there would look a lot like the world of Neon Haze. It's a spiraling rainbow cyberpunk dystopia, complete with memory hackers and fully-automated fast food joints. Porpentine's writing focuses more on allusions than straight-forward connections, breaking out razor-blade metaphors and tossed-aside details to set a scene; condensation on the city is said to "rain black and chemical", and air conditioners are described as muzzled sawblades. You can watch something called a "meme-wave opera" on a screen at one point, and there's a weather report that says "Opacity 80%, heavy kinetic water". It all adds up to a dark, hallucinatory nightmare. While I'm here, special props to Neotenomie, who did music and graphics for this game; their drony soundscapes and abstract art really help to set the mood of this game. Wear headphones!

Beautiful Dreamer, by way of contrast, has a more fairy tale-like setting, though no less dreamy in its own way. It is obsessed with the unreal: lunar moths eat the writing out of books and secrete their own nonsense literature; strange and wondrous monuments from precursor worlds litter the landscape; broadcasts from other dimensions can leech in and be heard on the radio; your bathroom is sometimes replaced by the Other Bathroom, where the showers are great, everything is always clean, and the giant creature that lives beneath the tiles is easy to ignore. There's a comforting mix of the fantastic and the mundane here. For example, thanks to corrupt zoning regulations, your apartment building was built above a submerged shrine that is rapidly emerging; thanks to this you're going to have to move out in fifty years, but hey! At least it makes the rent cheap.

Probably the easiest way to demonstrate the contrast between the two's approaches is to look at an NPC encounter from each. In Neon Haze, you meet a stalker with a mask of static, who tracks you down and assaults you to try to get some intel. The scene is creepy and violent; the stalker chases you across an empty parking garage before beating you up and taking you prisoner, they delete your memories in an effort to get you to talk, and you can end the encounter by crushing their windpipe (though I personally did not choose to do so). Meanwhile, in Beautiful Dreamer, there's a short conversation with the god whose shrine your apartment building is built on, and it's a much more pleasant experience. Topics can range from alternate worlds to other god-like beings to that shelf that keeps banging around, and the guy seems rather friendly, if a bit distant. Dreamer comes off as a light and fluffy eclair to Haze's cotton candy-flavored vodka. This is not to dismiss either game, of course! They're both very good, just for very different reasons.
healyg: (scheming)
For the next two weeks, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Expect a new review on Friday this week. For now, let's review tonight's game, Toby's Nose, by Chandler Groover.

In Toby's Nose, you play a dog. Specifically, you play as Sherlock Holmes's dog, Toby, at the summation of a tense case. Sherlock is counting on you to collar the murderer in the room. Can you sniff out the crook, or will you lose the scent? But seriously, the sense of smell is an important part of this game, to the point where the verb "smell" practically replaces ol' IF standby "examine". Smell one object in the text, and you'll find maybe a dozen more things to sniff in its description. Repeat until you have enough clues to arrest the murderer.

Toby's Nose was nominated for both Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle in the XYZZYs, so let's talk about that for a bit. It's your typical Golden Age mystery story, filled with Dark Family Secrets and Rich Ironies and a Cornucopia of Clues and all that good stuff. (It's even got twin brothers for some reason.) It's kind of a trip, sorting through all the scents in the game, trying to figure out whodunnit. While the central mystery wasn't bad, I had a hard time keeping it and the other unrelated subplots apart. It can be very confusing to see how all the threads tie together, and the in-game notes are inadequate for keeping track without taking your own notes. Still, the central mechanic of nested descriptions is a good one; there have been a couple games like it in the past, and I hope there will be many more in the future.

Toby's Nose was also nominated for Best Individual PC, so let's talk about him for a bit. There have been many IF games starring animals over the years, and one of them, Hardy the bulldog from Renee Choba's Snack Time!, has actually won, but by and large they tend to be fairly light in tones, dealing with slight subjects like getting your owner's attention, or stealing a snack. But Toby, being the dog of the great Sherlock Holmes, gets to dwell on darker matters, like murder or class struggles. The nested descriptions, though surreal at times, are a good way of conveying Toby's dog-like nature without compromising the mystery and investigation thereof. And if Toby sometimes displays a greater understanding of a situation than a real dog would, well, Holmes has his moments of magic competence, too. All in all, Toby is a very good dog, and an excellent PC.

Sorry this was so late, I just don't know what happened.
healyg: (Frown)
For the next two weeks, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Expect a new review Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. For now, let's review tonight's game, Hana Feels, by Gavin Inglis.

Hana Feels is a short game about a young woman (named Hana, natch) who self-harms. You play as a sequence of four characters (a helpline volunteer, Hana's boss, Hana's friend, and an old man who runs a support group) who each try to help Hana in their own way. It's very heavy material; I had to take a couple breaks the first time I played because of how intense I found.

Hana was nominated for Best Individual NPC, so let's talk a little more about her. Because of how Hana acts as a focal point for the game, she feels closer to a protagonist than many IF NPCs. The obvious comparison here is to Photopia and Alley, but Hana felt more real to me, perhaps because she's less idealized, or maybe because we see her side of the story more, through both her responses and her journal entries which we see at the end of each chapter. I did think that she could stand to be a bit better characterized outside of her mental health issues, and sometimes it felt like her journal entries painted a rosier picture than would be possible in such a short time frame, but these flaws aren't catastrophic for the game (or Hana). And one thing I thought the game got really, really right is how it's often a bad idea to push someone who's hurting into a course of action, whether it'd be good for them or not. Hana Feels isn't a typical contender for Best Individual NPC, but I think it's worthy of the running.
healyg: (apology)
So this week I've read Kino's Journey, Volume 4 and 5, by Keiichi Sigsawa. (Previous reviews here and here.) It's the same curate's egg as before, some great stories, most undistinguished, some big stinkers. Part of that is due to the anthology format, I think, but I also think a bigger part is because of protagonist Kino's personality.

Gonna put all these words underneath a cut )

So, a question not much different from the one posed in my first review: would I recommend the series Kino's Journey? Despite all my complaints about it, I do still like it; I enjoy reading it for the grace notes and the sometimes-great stories, even though the main character can be kind of a jerk. If you don't like it when the main character of a book is kind of a jerk, maybe you should steer clear.

(Note: Because of time issues, I could not get around to what was going to be a major part of this post. So, I'm going to cut it off here and put all that junk into a new post, due tomorrow! Er, Friday. Look forward to it!)
healyg: (apology)
Sorry I haven't been here in a while! I was trying to write this big ol' post but the whole thing collapsed on me.

Anyways, since this is about three days late, let's go ahead and review three different books!

Book numero uno: How to Torture Your Brain, by Ralph L. Woods, is a compilation of brainteasers, paradoxes, and other weird brain junk. Some of these are going to be a little familiar to most folks, like the infamous question "What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" and the infinite hotel problem, but others, like selections from Greek philosophers, or a parody of the twisted logic Anti-Stratfordians work themselves into, are fresh, at least to me. Be warned that it's a pretty old book, so that some of the examples it uses are a little UnP.C. these days. Here's its Amazon pages, or you could check and see if it's at your local library.

Second book, same as last look: Alan Moore, Storyteller by Gary Spencer Millidge, is a coffee table book about perhaps the most famous British comic book writer of all. Frankly I find the aggrandizing tone of it all a bit wearying (did you know that Alan Moore wrote the very first serious superhero story? And also the first feminist comic book heroine, and also the first interracial relationship, and and and), but hey! That's what you get with these types of books. I don't know, I'm more of a Grant Morrison fan, so maybe this book just isn't for me.

Book number three, oh my oh me I've got a big collection of most of Lewis Carroll's major works, so I'm trying to make some headway into Sylvie and Bruno. So far it's slow going; the joke-to-sentiment ratio is nearly inverted from his Alice books. Mostly I've just been skipping around, and reading an article here or a short story there. There's this one really great story about photographic plates that can write a whole short story from your mind that's just amazing, and I may transcribe the whole thing over here so I can show it off.

Next time, hopefully on time: Next time I really want to play a text adventure, because the IF Top 50 is having another round again and I don't want to miss out. We'll see how that goes.
healyg: (aww)
In which shit continues to get real, even though most of it was fake.

Spoilers within! )

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