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Tag Archives: Insert Credit

 

 

Pose.

 

 

It’s raining.

I stand at the end of the pier.

Crashing water.

A gull screech.

I skipped class again.

And it doesn’t matter.

I walk across the university terrace.

I enter the woods.

I sit on a rock.

The rain comes down louder.

Grey falling.

I look up at the trees.

I wonder about the confusion between man and nature.

I close my eyes and think of The End.

I smell the earth.

A dead log in front of me: Bright moss glowing.

No music to play. No poems to write.

Raw, desolate peace.

I stand up and walk into the city.

I stand beneath the awning in front of the library.

I waited for a girl here once.

She never showed up.

I watch a saxophonist belt out some jazz across the street.

I watch him get into it.

I listen to his interpretation of noise.

Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.

I cut the end off a cigar.

I sit down on the cobbled brick.

I watch the jazz player tear everything up.

What was the sense of him being out here in the rain?

Not much money thrown around.

I light the cigar and watch the smoke hang.

The saxophonist stops after a while. He waves to me.

I nod back.

I get up and trudge deeper into the city.

I stand outside the Gamestop.

The last time: I came to pick up The King of Fighters XI.

The clerk was hungover and irritated.

I was trying to learn how to be social.

I tried to start a conversation with him while he was cashing me out:

‘So, I was really surprised this came out here!’

He looked at me.

‘Uh, yeah…’

I walked out.

I walk in.

One clerk. One manager.

I walk around the store.

Look at the used games, the new games.

The clerk begins a conversation with me.

We talk about fighting games.

We talk about games.

We talk about graphics, systems, lighting.

I needed that. I needed to talk.

Another customer walks in.

He enters the conversation.

He is awkward and grating.

He has nothing to say. He keeps talking.

Later on, he would enter the Gamestop Street Fighter IV Tournament wearing a Ryu headband.

He would be eliminated in the first round.

His girlfriend calls him, wondering where he is.

He tells her that he missed the bus and he’s hanging out with his friends.

An hour has passed and the manager is angry.

I walk out.

I walk home.

I try to remember a haiku by Bashō about cherry blossoms.

And I watch everything drip with a blunt, hateful love.

 

Position.

 

The internet was a void.

The discussion around games was dry.

Reviews. Releases. Previews. Business deals.

There was no heart in any of it.

There was no love to it.

There was no concern about it.

The discussion was looking for legitimacy.

It was seeking out the specter of the objective.

The culture was insulated and alone.

And Insert Credit rejected all of it.

It was a new discussion in an honest language.

Years before I began reading IC, it had already influenced my exposure.

It was where my brother discovered rRootage.

It was where a friend introduced my brother and I to MAME.

I began reading it myself.

Each day I spent hours churning through the archives.

Devouring what I had missed.

The stories were subtle. They shifted.

Some were small bits of Japanese gaming culture.

Some were about the intersection of games and culture.

Insert Credit refused the objective.

It refused insulation.

It threw games and pieces of games into the world.

The tone shifted often.

Excited. Cautious. Curious. Introspective.

The narratives were never complete.

IC required the reader to follow-up on their own.

It tried to be the catalyst for growth.

It had expectations.

Sometimes it required curiosity.

Sometimes it required patience.

When I first read Brendan Lee’s infamous feature, I wept.

I wept out of sadness about where games were going.

I wept out of remorse for contributing to the process described.

I wept because it resonated deep inside the guts of my mind.

It changed the way I saw games and the industry around them forever.

Insert Credit woke me.

It was where I learned to rip games apart.

It was where I learned about hardware.

It was where I learned about voice.

Insert Credit was an arcade of a website.

It was a dark glow.

It was full of people who cared.

Brendan Lee. Tim Rogers. Brandon Sheffield.

It was contributors like Ollie and Simoniker.

It was a resonant world.

It became a space of critical emotion.

And one day it all evaporated.

 

Prowl.

 

When Insert Credit stopped, it hit hard.

I used Kotaku to fill that space.

I had just graduated. I was unemployed.

I spent two years trying to be a journalist.

I tried to write about video games on Suite 101.

I started my first blog. I wrote about politics and the Middle East.

It was all terrible.

I was lost.

Kotaku was unfulfilling on its own.

I looked for more.

I found Select Button: A site formed in the absence of Insert Credit.

It maintained the aesthetic.

It was a temporary shelter.

I traced IC’s wreckage anywhere I could.

I found Tim Rogers again at Action Button.

I discovered Mecha Damashii.

I followed Brandon Sheffield on Gamasutra.

Insert Credit’s implosion created the space to further understand their voices.

It pushed me to observe their ideas in different venues.

This sustained me in the years of inactivity.

I moved from Wisconsin to Rochester, NY.

I got my first job after giving up being a journalist.

I worked as a temp in a Blockbuster Distribution Center.

I saw the games people rented.

Madden. Call of Duty. NBA 2K.

It took me awhile to get used to this place.

I read Tim’s review of Bangai-O Spirits.

I spent an afternoon driving to any Gamestop I could looking for it.

It was the first time I made an effort to discover this city.

And Bangai-O Spirits was beautiful.

I gave up writing in my blog.

I gave up writing a novel about being trapped in Lebanon in 2006.

I gave up on social media.

I worked.

I played games.

I read about games.

DoDonPachi Daioujou became an obsession.

Brandon’s words about Ketsui lingered in my eyes.

Every few days I tried to revisit Insert Credit.

And always nothing.

Always stagnation.

It was lonely.

Its absence still lingered.

And one night, it came back.

Insert Credit had a new page.

It was coming back.

I was in my bedroom.

My eyes widened in front of the screen.

I was shocked.

I was thankful.

 

Galavant.

 

The new Insert Credit is larger than itself.

The new Insert Credit is Tim Rogers and Action Button Entertainment.

The new Insert Credit is Brandon Sheffield and Necrosoft Games.

The new Insert Credit is Frank Cifaldi and Other Ocean Interactive.

The new Insert Credit is Gunhouse. Ziggurat. #iDarb.

The new Insert Credit is a podcast full of humor and consideration.

The new Insert Credit is still old Insert Credit with more patience and focus.

Its ideas have spread beyond the written word.

Its ideas, its tone, its warmth, its concern are embedded now.

Watching Insert Credit grow has been a lesson in creative endurance.

Where most game sites would settle for a simple redesign…

Where most game sites would never allow themselves the space to fall…

Where most game sites could never build on their core concepts in new ways…

IC did it all and still stands today.

I started this blog in April 2014.

I started it after seeing Videoball at PAX East.

I spent two days standing at that booth.

Nothing else I saw at the expo mattered.

True to Insert Credit:

Videoball was a million big ideas sliced up into consumable mechanics.

It was a game that cared about games.

I left Boston feeling awake again.

I built this blog off the one I abandoned.

I deleted all the entries.

And I wrote my first post about Videoball.

After three years, a video game made me want to write again.

Insert Credit made me want to find my own voice.

Insert Credit changed me.

It helped me find myself in my writing.

I can’t help but imagine there are a lot of stories like this in the world.

I can’t help but wonder how many others Insert Credit has spurred into action and exploration.

It’s been over a decade since IC launched and the fundamental sadness surrounding it is how entrenched game journalism still is.

Some sites have eliminated numbered scoring for game reviews.

Some sites have tried to post more subjective, experiential content.

But the discussion around games is still full of hype and garbage.

The writing is still bland and lifeless.

The culture is still intolerant and insulated.

That’s why Insert Credit still matters.

That’s why Insert Credit will always be necessary.

It is an inspiring work of endurance and precision.

It is an aesthetic, a philosophy, driven by people who still give a damn.

It’s the punk and the jester.

 

It’s the saxophonist, the noise, and the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At.

 

 

I joined Twitter in 2010.

I had been unemployed for almost a year since graduation and was eating through the endless time on my hands by looking for work, writing, and reading.

The year before, I developed a larger appreciation for Japanese culture.

For Japanese history, art, literature: Expanding beyond the world of games and anime.

In 2009, Jake Adelstein released his memoir: Tokyo Vice.

It told the story of Jake’s life in Japan as an investigative journalist and the only American to be admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club.

Having turned down the opportunity to work in Japan, I was able to experience Tokyo through his work.

After finishing Tokyo Vice, I spent days finding a way to get in touch with Jake.

Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he had made himself difficult to find.

Scouring the internet was fruitless, so I settled on the only public face he had: Twitter.

I explicitly joined Twitter to tell him how much I enjoyed his book.

I was absorbed by it.

After a few exchanges with Jake, I had no idea what to do with this network.

When I moved to Rochester, I stopped writing.

When I started working, social networks didn’t mean much to me.

Through SRK, I found the Rochester FGC and because of that, after a three year absence, I was pulled back into maintaining an internet presence.

I reopened Twitter in 2013 and saw how much it had changed.

The sheer amount of content Twitter was producing, the amount of access it was allowing.

I understood it better now.

I had been listening to the Insert Credit Podcast since its inception, having been a follower of the original site.

I always felt Tim Rogers understood games and language on an intrinsic level.

I always felt he understood what was necessary to express and understand.

After hearing him plug his Twitter account on numerous podcast episodes, I went on to find him.

I thanked him for his excellent writing. He thanked me back.

I was still buying games from Gamestop and stopped by one day to purchase Muramasa Rebirth.

A child was digging through the used game bin and found a knockoff, CoD-style, console FPS.

As I handed the money to the cashier, I overhear the child pleading with his father:

“I want to get this game because I want to be in the army when I grow up!”

I laughed. I remember dropping lines like that to convince my parents of whatever games caught my eye.

At home, I related the story to Tim.

He wrote back: I could have just downloaded Kokuga for the 3DS and I would never have had to leave my house.

I looked up Kokuga.

I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this game.

 

Seal.

 

Kokuga had been released for a year by the time I downloaded it.

As I have often stated: I have a deep, profound love of STGs and have always prided myself on knowing of the ones that mattered.

I couldn’t believe how I had lapsed here.

Kokuga was not only made by G.rev, one of the world’s last remaining and most storied STG houses responsible for the likes of Under Defeat, Ikaruga, and Border Down, but was also directed by Hiroshi Iuchi: Director of Radiant Silvergun, Gradius V, and Ikaruga.

What makes G.Rev’s STGs different from Cave‘s is that they all rely on a combination of fringe mechanics that push the conceptual identity of the genre.

Cave is a company driven by pure arcade action, overflowing with style.

G.rev is a laboratory.

Ikaruga has color-switching. Radiant Silvergun has seven weapons. Border Down’s levels change depending on where you are shot down.

And Kokuga isn’t any different.

Kokuga is not afraid of experimentation and may be the purest form of G.rev’s vision to date.

The game takes place in an era of war between two nations and the player is tasked with piloting country A’s most advanced weapon: Kokuga, a tank of the future.

This is a game made at the cross-section of freedom and gambling.

The player is left to choose where to begin the game.

Levels are all labeled alphabetically and the general trend is that as levels progress upwards, the more difficult they are.

Unlike many of its famous ancestors, Kokuga is a multi-directional, non-scrolling shooter.

It maintains the verticality of other shooters, but allows the player more maneuverability.

The levels are very tightly designed. Nearly claustrophobic.

Levels are littered with obstacles and embedded/mobile enemy types.

To succeed in Kokuga, the player must be aware of the spaces around them, more so than in nearly any other shooter I’ve seen.

Kokuga isn’t just about dodging bullets, it’s about tactical positioning and resource management.

It’s a roguelike disguised as an action game.

The game takes place on the top screen, while the bottom screen is utilized for selecting powerups.

There are four powerups, assigned at random, sitting on the bottom screen.

Any one of them may be selected at any time to bolster either the tank’s defensive or offensive ability.

Each powerup is limited in both duration and frequency. Once you use a powerup, another one is assigned to the slot at random until they run out.

Burn through powerups too quickly and the boss fights become overwhelming. Burn through them too slow and the player is bogged down by the enemy.

This is a game that actually holds the player accountable for the decisions they make.

This is a game that does a fantastic job at giving the player a simulation of the responsibility that comes with power.

The player is free to decide where they would like to enter the world and after making the choice, they are thrown into closed, tight spaces and forced to fight through swarms with very limited resources.

This transition is seamless.

In a traditional STG, the player is only ever allowed to make micro-tactical decisions that mainly involve movement.

The urgency in classic STGs is filtered through the forced scrolling levels.

Even in newer STGs, urgency is manufactured through inverted mechanics: Sine Mora uses time/time-manipulation. Luftrausers uses a simulation of gravity.

While there is tactical urgency in Kokuga, the focus is more on the broader, more strategic plane.

It is a type of urgency which burns slowly at first and accelerates as the level becomes increasingly difficult.

This is further reinforced by the smooth, calm movement of the tank itself. Nothing feels rushed.

Kokuga’s greatest strength is that it does not rely on only one mechanic.

Even though by releasing it on the 3DS eShop, one may get the impression that this isn’t an important game, it is by far the purest manifestation of G.rev.

One of G.rev’s weaknesses has always been their over-reliance on one main mechanic around which others revolve.

One of the problems with Ikaruga was that after awhile it’s color-switching became so overused that it quickly lost its novelty.

With Kokuga, G.rev have been able to multithread their innovative style, creating a game full of interesting mechanics that fit together in a near-perfect way.

Kokuga’s systems not only maximize the game’s obvious strengths, but give the player a more dynamic experience by broadening their access to choice while throwing in a randomness element (powerups) within already tight margins.

Kokuga is a deep meditation on elegant, immersive, mobile game design.

It’s frightening this game almost passed by me unnoticed.

It’s frightening that it has flown under the radar of so many others.

Kokuga is everything G.rev have worked toward: A pure distillation of their innovative style.

With it’s somber tone, wonderful styling, and mechanical coherency: It is the true evolution of Ikaruga.

A true evolution of G.rev’s experimental precision.

 

 

 

 

Sacred Geometry

 

Pythagoras.

 

Prior to PAX East 2014, I had not heard of Midnight City. I bought both Gone Home and Double Dragon Neon and I had never noticed Midnight City before.

Prior to PAX East 2014, I only heard discussion about Videoball on the Insert Credit Podcast. Tim Rogers (Creative Director of Action Button Entertainment and founder of ActionButton.net) would describe and discuss this game as he was building it. I never saw it.

I never watched the Twitch streams of Videoball either, it was a game I already knew I wanted to play, I didn’t need any convincing.

Action Button’s track record with games thus far has been inspiring. ZiGGURAt (iOS): A fantastic game that subverts tower-defense by forcing accuracy and timing with smooth touchscreen controls. TNNS (iOS): A fast-paced, colorful, arcade exploration of physics. Ten by Eight (Vita): A puzzle/matching game that is silkier and more filling than any of the Bejeweled games.

Each one of these games was published by Action Button themselves across the different platforms. I expected the same would be true for Videoball, until I saw Midnight City.

I had no idea what to expect from PAX this year.

In 2013, PAX was host to a barrage of huge games: Tomb Raider, Hitman, Hawken, Elder Scrolls Online, Hearthstone, Assassin’s Creed IV, Remember Me, Watch Dogs, a whole bunch of Capcom reboots, etc.

I had no idea what PAX 2014 would offer. I walked into it with no expectations and was filled with a kind of excited emptiness.

As I stepped into the convention center in Boston, I noticed Bethesda’s booth showing the same trailer for Elder Scrolls Online as they did the year before. I caught a bit of their Wolfenstein trailer, and I managed to feel actual excitement for The Evil Within.

Further in, I caught a glimpse of the massive boss statue from Evolve. I had heard good things about that game, but as with nearly all games at PAX, I had no interest in trying it. I simply moved past the crowd idling, snapping photos.

I wandered around the booths for a while, wondered what was the point of both Borderlands and their particular booth (It was a dome painted like a planet). That game is pretty, but mechanically dull.

At this point I had begun feeling as if this trip was useless. What was I doing in a place where I wasn’t really excited for anything being shown? What was the point of the whole thing?

In 2013, the indie games section of PAX was nothing really exciting or notable. The only game then that caught my eye was Mercenary Kings with its Metal Slug aesthetic and 2-D open world gameplay. I kept it in mind.

In 2014, with nothing else to do, I took a stab again at the indie games section where I finally caught the Midnight City booth.

 

Quine.

 

As I approached Midnight City, the first game that popped out was Krautscape (PC): A procedurally-generated racing game where you can cut through the winding, elevated track by flying from one turn to another provided you hit all required checkpoints. The game was attractive, covered in red with a touch of blue and bold, fuzzy lines that insinuated movement.

Krautscape was being played on two giant screens near the walkway by the booth, which made it nearly impossible to miss.

Even though I had little idea what Midnight City was, I already began to feel that I had stumbled into something significant and serious. It was only when I turned around to check out the other games that I found myself stunned to find Videoball.

I had heard Tim Rogers talking on the Insert Credit Podcast about attending PAX Prime and having mixed feelings about it due to the founders of Penny Arcade having dealt with certain controversies controversially. I got the sense that he probably would not be interested in supporting this event again so it was genuinely surprising to see both Tim Rogers and Videoball in this venue.

For the first time since arriving at PAX, I felt like I was somewhere I belonged.

I had never actually seen Tim Rogers in person before, I had only read his writing and listened to his voice. He was dressed as an extension of Videoball: Neon green and hues of purple. Taking that all in, it was time to finally see what this game was about.

Tim explained the rules quickly and with excitement as games went on:

1) Each team is two players and there are two goals.

2) The ball spawns in the middle of the field.

3) Move the ball by shooting it.

4) Don’t touch the ball. Don’t get shot. You will freeze.

5) Use the left analog stick to move, all the face buttons do the same thing: shoot.

6) Holding the face buttons for varying amounts of time changes your ‘shot’.

7) Level 1 Shot: Small shot.  Level 2 Shot: Persistent Shot.  Level 3 Shot: Heavy Shot.  Level 4 Shot: Blocks.

8) Use blocks to stop balls from being shot into your goal.

9) Double Touchdowns are amazing.

10) Moving and shooting makes your shot faster.

11) There are reversals.

First, I watched others play the game. Videoball is a shower of neon pastel and geometric shapes. The balls are circles, the ships (players) are triangles, the blocks are squares, and the shots are even bigger triangles:

 

 

Screenshot of Videoball from Midnight-City.com

Screenshot of Videoball from Midnight-City.com

 

Normally, I do not enjoy games with abstract or minimal interfaces. I enjoy games that have a fluidity of motion and dense color which is one reason I tend to migrate towards older platformers and fighting games like Hokuto no Ken, Cyberbots, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Guilty Gear.

What all those games have in common as well, what really sucks me in, is the densities of their friction. The hits feel heavy, the characters feel fast, and everything seems to stick. There is no ‘floatiness’ or ‘wobbliness’, just a hard kind of density. Videoball has that density.

The ships don’t just zip around on the screen effortlessly. The ships feel like lead bricks propelled by small boat engines skittering around on a cold, still lake. It takes some time to build momentum and it takes some time to lose it, but you never feel out of control. There is a friction that you understand implicitly after the first time you play. It feeds into a part of your brain that understands the golden ratio of motion.

Because of the thrill of moving in the game, the most frustrating thing that can happen to a player is being  frozen by either getting shot or by touching the ball. Shots from either your team or the opposing team will freeze your ship for a few seconds.

In Videoball the greatest punishment is the inability to move.

Movement in Videoball is the highest insight.

 

Downs.

 

Most of my time at PAX I spent hanging out at the Videoball booth. It wasn’t until late into the second day of PAX that I realized Midnight City was incentivizing people to try out all of their games by issuing trading cards. If a person was to collect all five cards representing all five games being shown at PAX, then they would receive a Midnight City t-shirt.

All of the Midnight City games (Krautscape, Videoball, Organic Panic, High Strangeness, and Super Avalanche) were really interesting. Each of their games proposed something different both from each other and to their respective genres.

But Videoball had the strongest hook that kept drawing me back: The opportunity to expand in a competitive environment.

In this sense Videoball is a modern fighting game. You can only ever have a general idea of what your opponent will do and the flowchart you design in your mind will only be applicable if you can recognize what your opponent is doing before he gets too far along his flowchart.

In the sense of its friction, Videoball is a grimy, sticky arcade fighting game from the 90’s: Heavy and Dense.

The metagame revolves around how good a player is at shooting other players and not shooting your teammate. ‘Dogfighting’ in this game requires an incredible amount of finesse and patience as shots are slow to build. Shots are the currency of this game.

The friction of the game resembles hockey, the shooting resembles sniping, and the strategic nature and metagame revolve around the same kind of decisions a player makes in a fighting game. Videoball forces a sense of persistent motion that  most resembles soccer.

Videoball takes the best high-level thinking across multiple real and e-sports and throws them together into one coherent, elegant whole.

 

Wittgenstein.

 

Tim Rogers and his friend/cohort Vito Gesualdi hustled hard for this game. Tim decked out in his neon embodiment of Videoball and Vito in his mustard yellow sports (announcer) coat pushed this game harder than any other game/company at PAX. Their passion and fury was all on display.

By Sunday, Tim’s voice was faltering. He spent nearly the entire time at PAX just discussing/yelling/informing about his game.

The presentation of Videoball is part of what made it so intriguing.

One thing I noticed at this year’s PAX were the ‘pre-order’ booths. Literally booths where they would ask you to pre-order whatever triple-A game was being touted at that particular location. This struck me as slightly underhanded and manipulative: to ask people for money in an environment where they have been primed to spend money by the giant displays of flash. I don’t recall this tactic being used at PAX 2013.

The Videoball booth (and by extension the Midnight City booth) felt honest. Not only were the games exploring their respective genres in new ways, but they were honest games. The whole presentation of Midnight City was concise, clean, and enthusiastic.

Midnight City made me care about being at PAX. Videoball pulled me out of my bored thinking about games. Videoball made me want to talk about games and design again with anyone who would listen.

So many of the subtle elements in Videoball are a product of thorough analysis and a fricative coherence both strategically and aesthetically.

I actually enjoyed my time more at PAX this year than last year. So much more, that I felt a little sad at having to say good-bye to Tim, Videoball, and Midnight City on Sunday afternoon.

The power of games lies in the interaction of experience. How a person views a game in a particular time has a lot to do with what they are feeling at that time vs. what the game will give them, it’s a two-way street.

I’m not sure what holes in my mind both Videoball and Midnight City filled for me. Maybe they managed to stave off the increasing cynicism I have about modern games i.e. the sheer lack of design and thought in games today.

I came to PAX 2014 expecting nothing. I came out of it with a desire to do so much more for games.

I came out of it with hope and a desire to do something great for games, for a medium that has so much potential.

Actionbutton and Videoball are a raw expression of that potential and Midnight City, the facilitators.

Frank Lloyd Wright was convinced that excellent architectural design could solve a majority of societies problems.

I would say that good game design can solve a lot of problems that don’t need to exist in interactive entertainment, Videoball is the best proof of this…and the loudest shot against an industry that has become bloated, dumb, and self-referential to the point of total inanity.