The Paper Cow and The Paper Wasp

So, there are two types of enemies in video games that have a reputation for being memetically impossible, for being tough, for being bad. These two are Whitney‘s Miltank from Pokemon Gold/Silver, and Cazadors from Fallout New Vegas.

These happen to be two of my favorite games of all time and I played both extensively. And I can say that I never found either of them that challenging.

First, Whitney’s Miltank. I have an idea as to why she got the memetic reputation. Because Gold/Silver, at least the initial portion, is a very, very easy game. Even as a child, I still knew it was a very easy game. So, anything that makes you grind a tiny bit or use a tiny bit of optimization will look harder in perspective. I never found the Miltank that hard, even by the game’s standards.

Second, the Cazadors. They’re easy to take out compared to say, Deathclaws. My speech-optimized first courier could easy handle them (this cannot be said for some other opponents.) They have venom, but thanks to the “generosity” of legion assassins that dropped it after I took them out, I had plenty of antivenom at all times.

(I also think my playstyle might have helped. Because I mainly ran through the main quests and didn’t wander around, I could navigate cazador-filled areas in short, prepared bursts, so I wasn’t caught by surprise.)

So I’m considering these paper tigers. Or paper wasp-thingies and cow-thingies.

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The Nintendo Direct

So, the newest Nintendo Direct was released.

Nothing for the new mainline Pokemon and Fire Emblem games that we still know very little confirmed knowledge of save for the fact that they exist. (Either E3 or a standalone announcement, I suppose, which makes sense given their size and prominence). So, that disappointment was there-if you can call it a disappointment.

As for me, well, it was like “ok, stuff that looks kinda neat, stuff I’m not really interested in, oooh-No More Heroes, ok, ok, Undertale for the Switch-Whoa! Ok, ok, hmm, that was decent, port announcements, ok, uh, uh, so I suppose it’s-uh, wait-SMASH BROTHERS! WHOA BABY IT’S SMASH BROTHERS!”

It is, indeed, the announcement and reveal of the newest Smash Bros. My delight can hardly be contained.

My five least favorite antagonists

In no particular order, some of my least favorite antagonists in fiction:

SCP-682 (SCP Foundation)

“The Greek” (The Wire)

The Soviet Leadership (Red Storm Rising)

Andries Rhoodie/The Rivington Men (Guns of the South)

Missingno (Pokemon)

_ _ _ _ _

Missingno:

Missingno is just a glitch. It bugs me so much how a programming error can be treated by fans as some sort of creepypasta scary monster. It’s like making a Fallout or Elder Scrolls fic starring the Glitched Monster From ________.

SCP-682

Now this is what happens when “meme” powers become reality. The lizard is indestructible. That’s it. It’s dull and lame and boring.

“The Greek”

That he’s in one of my favorite shows of all time illustrates that even good works of fiction can gave bad antagonists. A sneering one-dimensional mustache-twirler whose entire gimmick is that he’s greedy, “The Greek” is a bad character in a good story. “The Greek” is supposed to represent unrestrained capitalism, but Stringer Bell shows it in a much more balanced and nuanced way. And even his own lieutenant, Spiros, comes across as a much better and more charismatic character.

The Soviet Leadership

The Politburo scene in the beginning of Red Storm Rising has aged poorly and exists to set up the excuse plot for WW3. Sneering supervillain Soviets might work in a Red Alert game, but in a serious book, it’s a headdesk moment. Their entire plan is invading Europe so they can invade the Middle East later. And this is one of the things the copycats have copied. Ugh.

Rhoodie

Guns of the South does many things right. One thing it does wrong is its antagonists. The Rivington Men are some of the worst antagonists. They exist to make the Confederates look better in race relations by comparison (ulp), and then, when they decide that Lee has to go, with all their futuristic technology, they… have guys with Uzis fire wildly in his general direction.

My Pokemon Experience

The original Red and Blue versions are the only Pokemon games I’ve never beaten. Maybe it’s because I was too young to really play them well, then by the time I got a handle on things, Gold/Silver appeared and I fell in love with that, never looking back.

Gold/Silver is far and away my most fond generation of Pokemon games. It could very well be my rose-tinted glasses as I was growing just old enough to appreciate it, but everything, with a two-region game and day-night shifts, seemed so big and grand. Ruby/Sapphire was very good, but it and many of the later one-region games just feel a little cramped in comparison.

I’d say my least favorite (and this is definitely a relative term, the game was still very good) would probably be Black/White. Simply because its story went into a higher “narrative bracket” by trying to cast doubt on the journey-while quickly and totally yanking back to the “it’s totally ok” message. But the gameplay was still very good.

Source Extinguishing

So, I got and beat Pokemon Moon. I’m impressed that I managed a totally unspoilered playthrough. The game is good, even if I think the Pokemon franchise/formula is showing signs of limits. Still, it’s a cash Miltank.

But what it quenched was my SII commando fic concept, simply because playing a cutesy kids game shows just how much force is required to wedge in realistic special operators. The one idea I had was an SII agent in Alola-on her honeymoon.

Kind of illuminating overall, and a reason why I want more fanfic writers to be involved in the source material-(which seems like a no-brainer but sadly isn’t).

 

Lore Pileups

Two years too late, I rediscovered the craziness, madness, and improbable victory of Twitch Plays Pokemon.

The viewership understandably dropped after the novelty of the first Red run. And there was something else I found, something sad but not unexpected. Forced lore.

The original run had organically developed memes and lore, from the Pidgeot to the ATV Venomoth, to of course the Helix Fossil. Later, everyone was trying to build up the lore from the start.

In other internet fandoms, however small, this sort of lore pileup happens a lot.

  • The Infinite Loops started off as a pure crackfic Groundhog Day for the lols anything-goes story-and then developed into a cosmology.
  • The Big One was a forum what-if about a nuclear end to WWII that turned into a massive historical “epic” spanning back to the 300s BCE.

Lore pileups make sense only to the “in-crowd” while turning off outside fans, and seem a lot funnier than they can be. While in some ways unavoidable, they’re a sign that a work is jumping the shark.

Blank Slate Heroes

I have to admit, I have less enthusiasm for Fallout 4 now than I did when it was released. Part of this is me knowing what happened rather than going into the game excitedly, but that’s not everything. (After all, I loved New Vegas despite my runs adhering rigidly to walkthroughs)

I think one big thematic misstep, which one of my favorite game bloggers, Shamus Young agrees with, is making the protagonist voiced. It’s a sort of uncanny valley where they’re too detailed to just be a blank slate, but aren’t detailed enough to be an interesting character themselves.

(That I’m not impressed by the voice acting doesn’t help matters either)

I had three couriers for my New Vegas playthrough. One was a talker who sided with the NCR, one a brute who sided with Caesar’s Legion, and one a physically weak ex-gangster who sided with Mr. House to redeem themselves. (Said courier compensated for her physical weakness by getting power armor and blasting the final boss with a super-railgun).

Even games without the customization of New Vegas make blank slates. For the protagonist of Undertale, the players (eventually) know their name, that they’re nice, and that’s it. For a Pokemon trainer, their family is known, but they’re not.

I do invent backstories for blank slate characters that often contradict the rest of the setting. Why not?

Who Could Be A Fitting “Sans”?

First, an obligatory spoiler warning for Undertale (even if this is like closing the barn door long after every single horse has left).

 

 

So, one of the most interesting and challenging characters in Undertale is Sans the skeleton. At first seeming to be just a silly, lazy character (in contrast to his overexcited, bumbling brother, Papyrus), he’s later revealed to know about the timeline changes caused by the main character/player saving and restarting the game, and becoming apathetic to the world because of it.

Unlike his brother, Sans never fights the player on either a “normal” route or a pacifist route. However, on the so-called “genocide route”, where the player must go out of their way to keep killing literally every single monster in every single area throughout the game, Sans finally rouses himself into action and serves as what is generally considered by far the hardest boss in the game.

The Sans battle in its entirety.
Sans is jokingly referred to in the game’s “check” screen as the “easiest enemy”, having only one HP (but dodging every attack), and only doing one damage (per frame).
Now, I goofily wondered what a rough counterpart to Sans would be in other games. Not in terms of the character (either lazy or uncaring), nor even in terms of being an incredibly hard battle (the mechanics would be different). No, what I was thinking of was the style. To be a Sans-equivalent, said character would have to:
  • Be established throughout the main storyline, regardless of what path the player takes.
  • At the same time, having a good justification not to fight the player unless they go to a terrible extreme.
  • Nonetheless, in that extreme case, going to action.

 

For the most literal example, from my favorite RPG of all time, Fallout New Vegas, the replacement for Sans would be none other than-Yes Man.

Yes Man is a robot/computer program that is programmed to enthusiastically obey any order given to it by anyone. The character is a clear plot device, intended to serve as a bailout for players who fail the other three main quest lines. Yes Man obviously can’t say no, and their inability to be permanently killed (even if contrived) is to prevent the the player from losing that way.

New Vegas’ own pseudo-genocide route requires the player to use Yes Man (after all, even the crazed Caesar’s Legion needs you to spare them). 

The psycho ending.
So, while clearly not existing in the real game, my fanon would involve the Yes Man battle. Throughout the game, not only will he not oppose you, but he can’t. (If you went down that path in the fanon, you’d see hints of indecision and warning start to pop up in his speeches).
Then, after the normal final bosses are dealt with, Yes Man comes, and instead of his congratulations and statement of “assertiveness” (misinterpreted as him going rogue, but another plot device to make him just loyal to the player), he’d (with a changed voice tone and image from the silly smile), say “Do you really want to rule?”, and have a short conversation about how the Lucky 38’s computer installed a defense protocol inside him (the same one that largely spared the area from the nuclear war).
(The player can do a speech or science check, which doesn’t do anything even if passed-the implication being “Ha, now you’re trying to bypass fighting, sorry nope”).
From there, the player has to fight through waves of upgraded Securitrons (all with the “Yes Man” angry face) until they blow up the Lucky 38’s reactor, which destroys the entire area in a giant mushroom cloud and kills them. The end.
Ok, that was still pretty dumb, and me trying to shoehorn in too exact an analogy.
_ _ _ _ _ _
From my childhood RPG dream, there’s a lower-stakes but much easier way to include a “Sans”. That setting would be Pokemon, and the metaphorical skeleton is obvious-the professor that gives you your starter.
Give the player the option of evil shortcuts (stealing trainer Pokemon, using dubious power-ups)-and then, should they use said shortcuts, have them face the disappointed professor with a team of six level 100 fully evolved Pokemon.
The boss would say things like “Do you really care about loving your Pokemon, or just winning at all costs?”

 

(Even Rare Candies might technically qualify, given the number of people who used the item duplication glitches to munchkin their way to the top.)

There are undoubtedly more ways, both as contrived as my Fallout example and natural-seeming as my Pokemon one, to give the player a bad time throughout numerous games. This is one of those silly speculations I love thinking about way too much.

 

When a scenario is too balanced

Here it goes.

I’ve been having less fun making Command scenarios than I did when I first made a few. They haven’t become unfun, just less fun. I didn’t know why, until a Tasteful Understated Nerdrage (excellent video series, btw) video described it.

The games were described as “too balanced”, and having “too much choice”, and the video explained why that was the case. To me, I emphasized with “too balanced”-and the mindset that made games shift from unbalanced to the opposite extreme.

I missed the original Infinity Engine games almost-OK, totally completely. But in other games of that era, I can see the imbalances described at work-the original Pokemon, with its overpowered Psychic type, the stuffing of “poison” to all but one grass-type, the glitches, and so forth.

So, exploring Command, exploring the editor, exploring the circumstances, and, without the clearest picture, making something, was an experience that was majestic. This was also an experience that could only happen once. Even if I made an unbalanced scenario, it would be a calculated one-one of “Ok, let me handicap the Italians with third-gen fighters”, not “Ok, what do they have, hmm, F-104s, ok, I’ll use those”. I know too much about the context and the game mechanics to repeat my initial experience-and that’s both a good and bad thing.