Hoxton’s Housewarming Party

The latest Payday 2 super-event is over, and I’m glad to say that Overkill learned their lesson from the mess that was Crimefest 2015. (They even poked fun at it with the trailer).

Not only was the content far less controversial than the microtransactions of last year, but the lack of a challenge meant that it was not going to be overhyped like the last time.

I like the new safehouse, even if the “raid” missions are a little too Warframe-y for my tastes. In all, it was a good event.

A Journey Through Ambiguity

Ok, I’ve been on a kick regarding nightmarishly ambiguous fiction. I don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve been on.

Sometimes, an ambiguous work of fiction is best left ambiguous. There’s a quote from an author (it might have been Tolkien, although given his love of detail, it doesn’t sound like him) that I vaguely remember as being how a landscape often looks more beautiful from far away.

Sometimes it can work, and sometimes it doesn’t.







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On one extreme, you have an old horror/adventure game called Yume Nikki (lit. “Dream Diary”). The game has essentially no plot beyond “a young woman who won’t leave her home has creepy nightmares, collects twenty-four ‘effects’, and then throws herself off a balcony.”

The speculation gap was filled because of that, with countless interpretations of the strange characters, the history of the protagonist Madotsuki, and even the seemingly straightforward suicide ending.

The alternative approach to the ending intrigues me. I honestly think it’s more than just trying to shove a happy ending into a game that obviously isn’t a happy one in the slightest.

What the alternate theory amounts to is that even the ‘real’ world is a dream by itself, that Madotsuki is confined/trapped there (somehow), and that the suicide is only killing her “dream” self and waking up. There are countless pieces of “evidence” for this (many of which are things that could be explained ‘out of character’ as game engine limitations), but I think an appeal is that it gives the game a story more adaptable to a conventional narrative, and consider it telling that the manga adaptation went (mostly) with said theory.

Then there are the other popular interpretations of Madotsuki, one depicting her as a psychotic fugitive (one of the effects is a knife, and the player can use it)…

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Rather than go even farther down the dream-rabbit hole that is Yume Nikki speculation[1], I’ll turn to another dark, bloody minimalist game-which did everything that I warned it shouldn’t do.

That game was Hotline Miami-the original. The original was a simple, confusing, game. The sequel explained everything. And not in a good way. Any sort of hideous speculation is gone, and in its place is just a nonsensical storyline of the USSR invading Hawaii, turning the US into a puppet state, “resistance” fighters with animal masks taking on mobsters, and everything being nuked at the end.

Behind the curtain was a clotheless emperor holding nothing but shock value. The questions and fog surrounding Jacket were gone, replaced by a entire leading cast.

(A part of me thinks that the entire game was just angry trolling by the developers. With a strong suspicion that their hearts weren’t in it and that they didn’t want to make a sequel at all, the reveal is just a “look-here it is-nothing but (insert expletive here)” moment. This may just be me being too cynical for my own good.)

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With Hotline Miami being a perfect example of how not to maintain good ambiguity, an example of one that is “straightfoward” yet incredibly surreal is OFF (of which an excellent Let’s Play can be found here). The very setting gives rise to a lot of fan theories, and also does the more famous Undertale[2], where we know the Underground but little beyond it.

Even the more “non-surreal” Payday has its own mystery moment-the strange Dentist’s Loot[3], which is a heavy case with the infamous eye-pyramid, that is never talked about in any detail. What it is, and why it ended up in a casino vault is deliberately unclear.


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I’ll conclude this rambling by talking about what I think is an example of something that became ambiguous when it wasn’t meant to be. Yes, I’m talking about the Monkey Island II ending. I said people were overthinking it-call me a hypocrite.

There’s obviously no way of telling for sure, but I have a suspicion that the ending was the result of muddled changes. My guess is this: The writers use the ‘it was just a kid’s fantasy in a theme park’ ending they’d originally wanted to use in the original. But it doesn’t work in a long-installment setting the way it would in a standalone game. So, spurred by either by LucasArts’ hand or their own, they change it to the “illusion” ending that the later games used.

However, with the scene becoming famously bizarre, the developers make the understandable decision to run with the romance of it. After all, it’s far more fun to hint and wink rather than admit that it two unambiguous ones mashed together through the need to accommodate a series.

At least that’s what I think.

And I have some weird theories of my own, which I hope to share.

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[1]”rabbit-hole” is not an unintentional pun, there’s a lot of fan art crossing over Yume Nikki with American McGee’s Alice, thanks to the many similarities.

[2]Probably the most dubious and loudest claim is the “Sans is Ness from Earthbound” one. Look it up yourself, I think it’s garbage not worth discussing further.

[3]One of my many bizarre theories is that the Dentist himself is a being from another universe. No one knows anything about him, and he’s the only one able to fence the most famous diamond in existence successfully.

Looking At Loopfics

So, I feel like writing about the “infinite loops” fandom again, after revisiting it. Looking at a few loops here and there, and taking the recent drama into account (which brings about both cynicism and hope), I want to blog about it.

I mentioned the time loop craze on Spacebattles before. I feel saddened, annoyed, and-disappointed by it, but also slightly hopeful. Very slightly.

The Infinite Loops aren’t/weren’t (just) a decision to write Groundhog Day-styled stories in various fandoms. They are their own universe of countless crossovers. The TVTropes page can at least bring a slight explanation. And-yeah. They’re something.

I like weird crossovers. Even with Sturgeons Law of 90% of everything being “bad”, and even knowing how especially hard it is to make a weird crossover good, I still like the concept. (The amount of theoretical heists I have daydreamed for the Payday cast is astounding, as is me mixing Fallout and the straight JRPG fantasy of the Fire Emblem series). Now, the issue is very simple.

To do a weird crossover right, it must be either extensively thought through or be a total goofball of a fic. The latter can work, but can’t really sustain a full story. The former requires a lot of thinking. To use my example- is there any chance that a noble (in all senses) squeaky-clean JRPG hero would back the psychotic Caesar’s Legion simply because they’re still the form of government they’re used to and know best? Could they stand House treating them as an especially bad primitive?

The loopfics somehow manage to combine all of the weaknesses of both approaches with none of the strengths. Most stories end up as tiny snippets. The ones that “continue” use the format as a way to shove aside anything in the original canon that the author dislikes-nearly always for the worse. So, they’re just tiny “crackfics”-


-that are tied together by a set of rules-Anchors, Admins, Awake, and terminology that I still have trouble getting. References to past entries that in practice take the form of in-jokes and arguments. Constant talk of violations of the rules. This was what kept me away from the loops far more than the content itself.

So, now for the events. Mods stepped in, trying to bring order to the chaos .The loop threads had one of the lowest posts-to-views ratios on the forum, and there was precedent in the Familiar of Zero threads, which went from anything goes “Louise summons ____ lol” to structured ones with strict observation and a firm requirement of substantive content.

This slowed the threads down but prompted much argument and few cohesive requirements. So looking at them now, can I say that it’s a total failure?

No. I’m seeing some better self-restraint, and some attempts at bringing order. Maybe that’s all that can practically be done-Familiar of Zero was at least a single setting, while the Loops were focused on massive crossovers from the start.
But there’s still a tiny bit of hope amidst the goofy.

Coiler’s Year In Gaming

I got a lot of games in 2015. Only a relatively few I actually played in depth. That being said, here’s a somewhat unconventional list (I’m not listing “best”):

Note: I’m using the time I got them, not the time they were actually released.

Most Played: Payday 2

Payday 2 is an interesting study in how a relative few changes can make a game far more accessible than its predecessor. Consider that while I barely played the original, Payday The Heist, the sequel is second only to Command: Modern Air Naval Operations as my most played game.

I think it’s this: Accessibility. The easiest heist in Payday is still long, and has a low overall completion rate. The easiest heist in Payday 2 is effectively impossible to lose on lower difficulties. Because of this, I can go for an easy “relaxation” mission, or push myself with a hard one.

Now to stop buying all that DLC….

Most Disappointing: Invisible, Inc.

Invisible Inc. isn’t a bad game. The production values are very good, and the mechanics are clearly quite deliberate. Applying an XCOM-style turn-based grid game to stealth gameplay is unconventional, but they clearly figured out how to make it work. So I didn’t and don’t want to rip the game apart.

But it has one problem that just, for me at least, bulldozed the entire experience-the level design. All the levels are procedurally generated. This did several things. The first is ruin the immersion-even with the game’s story being the most generic cyberpunk imaginable and the character design a mishmash of eras, seeing an obvious videogame level that looks like it was a graphically-touched up stage from XCOM-the 1990s XCOM-, breaks it.

The second is to go against its own genre. Stealth is hugely dependent on level design, and this throws it aside. In my short time playing it, I could get near-impossible missions where the objectives were scattered, and easy ones where they were close together. So this choice made me sour on the game.

Game I Want To Play More Often: Black Closet

Black Closet is a Ren’Py-engined mystery game where you control the leader of a student council in a boarding school, and must solve cases of varying-intensity. While the setting isn’t the first I’d pick, the mechanics-of questioning, searching, and interrogating, are excellent. (It’s really easy to imagine an intelligence service game with very similar mechanics).

So, why have I only gotten as far as deliberately going to the bad ending? I think it’s because it’s a game you need to be in a certain mindset to play in, and because I’m busy so often, that mindset is too infrequent. I have to think and record rolls, not just stumble through with my M308.

That the game is designed to be hard doesn’t help either. But I want to play it more, I just have to be in the mood.

Greatest Accomplishment: One Way Heroics

I beat a roguelike. Repeat-I beat a roguelike. For anyone who understands the genre, little more needs to be said about that.

CMANO Accomplishments:
I released fourteen scenarios to the community pack. In spite of my slump, this was still a good number, even if a lot of the scenarios were small and basic. These range from the futuristic “War of the Thirty-Fives” to the right-after-WWII “Phoenix of Indochina”, where I find a use for Japanese WWII aircraft beyond repeats of The Final Countdown.

A Gaming Contradiction

The games I can get the most into are the ones I play the least.

This may seem contradictory, so I’ll explain. I’m tired after a long day, and the choice is this. I can play a game with difficult mechanics and/or a huge quantity of text to read. Or I can play one that has very simple and/or memorized mechanics and doesn’t have much of a “failure” option.

Which sounds more appealing?

But just having free time often isn’t there-for the complex games, I often find I have to be in the right mood. I do enjoy them when I’m in such a mood, but without it-it’s not much fun to blearily stumble through a game your mind isn’t in the right state to enjoy.

My most-played games for my “low-thought mode” are:

Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations. Much more if you count the standalone version. Although an extremely complex game, it’s very easy for me (thanks to my mastery) to just make a tiny scenario in the editor, or even look at the database viewer.

Payday 2: Run Four Stores, Jewelry Store, or something similar on a low enough difficulty that it can be engaging without overly challenging.

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Looking at my playtimes, you have:

-Freeform games like Kerbal Space Program and Automation.

-More linear games of all genres. Beat them (if possible) and then be done with it (sometimes). These can be a few hours, or they can be something like XCOM Enemy Unknown, which was much longer.

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Pretty interesting to look at. There’s a huge paradox between a game I’m eager to dig into being played infrequently and one I know well being played often, but that’s how I play.

Crimefest 2015 Reflections

So, the last update released as part of Payday 2’s Crimefest 2015 event has been installed, and now I can write my retrospective. This was an event that had a lot of drama and had a lot of flaws in its structure.

So, Overkill Software, the developers of Payday 2, released a “Road To Crimefest” event, with mystery clues unlocked by players completing long, repetitive challenges like playing a certain number of heists a large amount of times, or using a certain weapon to defeat so many enemies. The event ended on two stressful ones-a coordinated effort to get double the usual amount of players online at any one time, and a down-to-the-wire heist completion one finished on the last day of the event.

Then on the first day of the event itself, the reward was a Counter Strike: Global Offensive-style weapon skin market. To introduce an inevitably controversial new feature as the initial “reward” was not exactly the best move, and the reaction was immediate and angry. Overkill did make a large change in response to the initial criticism, allowing the “drills” that unlocked the “safes” holding the weapons skins to be received in in-game pickups rather than just being purchased.

But microtransaction controversy aside, I do think the whole “mystery reveal” combined with grinding challenges wasn’t the best setup even if it hadn’t started with such an awkward move as that. If one ran Rats a million times and found the reward was just a mask, a reaction of “That’s it?” would not be surprising. I think Overkill set expectations too high with the mystery, with the inevitable disappointment when the small-scale rewards were finally revealed.

With all that criticism, I still enjoyed the content. I basically shrugged at the microtransaction introduction, liked playing the new heists, and had fun with the masks. Payday 2 still remained the fun game I continue to enjoy, even if the event wasn’t the best-conceived.

Fanfiction Friendliness of Settings

Some settings are seemingly better for fanfiction writing than others. One example, which was part of a major craze on Spacebattles, is the light novel/anime series called The Familiar of Zero. The plot is basically this-in a fantasy world similar to early modern Europe, a bumbling mage named Louise summons a bumbling Japanese teenager named Saito as her familiar. “Antics” ensue.

The FoZ craze had external factors going for it, such as a popular Fanfiction.net author kicking it off. However, the way it was sustained had a lot to do with the setting. Namely, there were just the right factors for why it got so much attention.

-First, the summoning mechanism allowed for a lot of easy, “built-in” crossover opportunities. For a fanfic writer, making a crossover would be as easy and natural-seeming (unlike contrivances) as “Louise summons _____ instead of Saito.”

-Second, the setting itself was viewed as something potentially interesting, motivating the “fixfic” interest. Unlike the traditional swords-and-sorcery, this was an early modern musket setting, making it stand out conceptually. In addition to this, the “mechanics interest” group liked the intricacies of the magic system (A lot of Spacebattlers like anything that seems quantifiable). That the original works squandered this in favor of “antics” made the motivation all the greater.

The FoZ craze has now burnt itself out, and the new hot fanfiction topic is a web-novel called Worm. That has plenty of its own reasons for the waves of fanfiction, but that’s another story.

Now, there is another work that, despite its popularity, has featured very, very few fanfics. Having finally reached the “Infamy Rank” in Payday 2, I can see why that series has so few entries on fanfiction.net. The setting seems to have everything that went for FoZ going against it. On paper, crossovers could be possible, and in fact official ones have been done in the game itself.

-The setting is much more rigid. Being an un-supernatural, at least nominally grounded modern world, a writer is more limited in what they can actually make. Not that that would stop anyone who really wanted to do something differently, but it’s still an obstacle.

-More importantly, it’s less conceptually interesting and tougher. Being built as a game where the player follows their character by default, there’s no need to ‘hook’ them. The existing characters are some of the least sympathetic protagonists anywhere, and they have just enough personality so that the author can’t use them as blank-slate protagonists like an RPG customizable character.

The modern action setting isn’t novel or possessing of much opportunity to ‘fix’, and is made worse by the game being hard to extract from its mechanics (in-game and the few cutscenes, the Clowns can mow down waves of officers who charge blindly forward, and then can stay hidden-to apply even the slightest amount of plausibility to it would be a Herculean task).

This doesn’t matter for the game itself, but does for a fanfic of such a work.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and the internet can be weird. If Payday had spawned a giant fanfic community and FoZ been left with a few scraps, I would probably be writing a blog post on how it was natural that such a popular and already crossover-apparent setting could have so much writing (just look at how easy it is to insert a new heister/rogue, since they did it in canon-etc), while totally understandable that a mediocre goofy anime would be left in the dust (Well, how can you make anything good from a silly little “antics” show-etc). But I still feel that some settings are just more fanfic-friendly than others, for reasons other than the popularity of the original/canon work.