Looking to resume strips for real soon because frankly, I feel kind of worthless when I stay unproductive for too long. But as a happy coincidence, for the first time in a while diving into my Steam backlog has yielded some experiences I actually feel like writing about! I kind of got into a stretch of playing plenty of games, but there’s usually kind of a ‘click’ moment when I find something I really want to talk about, or at least can make fun of at length, and I hadn’t really been getting that for a while. I guess part of it could be blamed on my gaming setup destabilizing somewhat for a few months there, hardware issues kept me hopping platforms for a while, unable to focus on any one topic long enough to sit through the entire creation process. Last year, I had two great examples- I was going to do a Freedom Wars strip, but it wound up being one of those super long ones and I plain fizzled out on it; the other was that Five Nights at Freddy’s strip I planned to do as an ‘arc’ to cover a bunch of then-recent/trendy games in one fell swoop. (My in-world excuse for the lack of updates was Dixie purposely refusing to play anything recent to piss off Marie, whose entire shtick is riding on whatever is hot at the moment.)
Can I talk about Marie a moment? Of course I can, it’s my stupid page. She’s been… a tough character to do. She basically represents a sort of offshoot of internet/game culture that bugs the crap out of me and I don’t really participate in. Naturally, every time I put her in something I feel like I’m coming off as a geezer yelling at kids playing on the lawn. She’s the studio’s “social media guru,” hired by tech-illiterate older people running the place, and she’s concerned first and foremost with popularity and attention, and doesn’t really have her own ‘identity’ for me to look at like the others and go “yep, that’s definitely a very Marie thing to do.” She’s got a past with Dixie, but since that’s old news it doesn’t exactly inform her current self. Or at least, she doesn’t let on that it does. At least her lack of personality gives me an excuse to not even try to be consistent with her outfit. I think my favorite bit in the like… one strip she’s in is that her rubber bracelets keep disappearing or changing colors between panels.
So yeah, definitely on the block soon is Transistor, which I fell hard for after picking it up on a flash sale, and a sort of origin strip/retro flashback thing I already penciled a bit of then stopped… because I was playing Transistor too much.
I’m going to make more of an effort to keep up to date here rather than Tumblr. Totally accidental, there- I usually toss up some stream of consciousness drivel while I’m in the can at work or something like that, with the intent of polishing it, adding a picture or two, and reposting it here. Basically, in addition to Eishi n’ Dixie, I also plan to continue working on Project Irrgarten and starting Gatty’s comic, Angel Dust fairly soon. I’ve got a couple Game Maker projects I’d like to do too, but they’re kind of on the back burner to be picked at when I feel like since it’s the thing I’m the least experienced doing and all. I’m not gonna make any huge promises, I’m just at one of those points where I feel like I can’t not create again. It’s both a good feeling but kind of tinged with sadness that I’ve been so lax pursuing the things I actually love because I’m afraid of not being able to feed myself and all.
When they first announced this program I was actually looking forward to it a bit, but the comments here as well as the actual policies laid down reminded me, oh yeah- this is Gamestop.
Now, personally, I don’t have the hate-on for them that some seem to. I’ve got one super close, the staff are pretty friendly, not too obnoxious with upsells, and for the most part seem to know their stuff more than I usually expect. (Not to knock their employees on the whole or anything- I imagine working at a game store means you have an interest in them, but working retail outlets I know not every employee knows every item under the roof so I’m kind of pleasantly surprised when I go to buy some of the weeaboo cult garbage I like to play and wind up chatting and trading recommendations for stuff.) But if there’s one thing that does let me down past online testimonials, I do think the trade in system is kind of balls and dabbling into the retro market doesn’t seem like it’s going to bode well. For starters, the pricing model seems oversimplified, particularly for the collector set who are probably the biggest target for the program. Having a box and manual is kind of a big deal to collectors, generally speaking the more complete an item is, the better. So, maybe they want to get more casual, curious types’ attention? Their shops have the market for convenience pretty cornered in my area, either tucked in malls or Wal-Mart adjacent, with the smaller local shops relegated to strip malls and the downtown area. (Maybe not such a problem for some, but I’ve been without wheels a while now.)
I guess ultimately how I feel is that a big part of the scene around old games is based around the community. They’re games we grew up with, have memories attached to, or longed to play for years and years before spotting a copy by chance in a dusty shop or convention booth. It’s a tall order to take that scene, put it into a nationwide chain, and expect it to flourish put alongside the brand new stuff that most Gamestop customers are there to pick up. Best case, it will mean having a convenient and possibly cheap spot to pick up old titles on a whim. Worst case scenario, it may wind up hurting the existing aftermarket trade by absorbing potential stock and eliminating copies from circulation. Taking another bite out of smaller game shops probably wasn’t out of their consideration going in. Gamestop dealing in retro hardware isn’t entirely unprecedented, though, they’ve been offering vintage merch in the PowerUp Rewards shop for a while, so they probably have some kind of stash or supplier already to kick things off from.
I’ve been keeping text fairly minimal on here lately, mostly I just don’t feel like I have a lot to say, partly I kind of feel like it wouldn’t matter if it did. These days, I coast along on sort of a combination of minimal sleep, caffeine and a sort of numbness to failure that’s bizarrely inspirational. I find myself falling into funks where I just sit around and stare at the monitor or the wall, then beat myself up for not getting more I want to do, done. That’s really why I started doing this ‘post a thing daily’ routine; if I make myself do *something* each day, I can usually stir up a bit of momentum and get even more stuff going. I can only blame so much on fatigue from the day job, but today was definitely one of those days that left my body worn out and my brain racing. It was hard to work up the nerve to sketch, but once I did, I was glad I did. I may not be the most skilled, or popular. Crickets chirp whenever I mention I’m open for comissions. But still, drawing reminds me I like drawing (usually) and I have no intention of giving it up.
Also just by the way, I’m not giving up writing about gaming stuff, I just haven’t really felt the urge to lately. Although I gotta say, I’m appreciating Black Rock Shooter a lot more on the second run through than I probably ought to…
I’ve been away for longer than planned, sorry about that! Back on an old forum, someone told me that failing to update my page isn’t something you should apologize for if you’re doing it for fun, but I just never could make myself buy into that. I would go into my usual “it’s been cuh-razy around here” in some nondescript way, and let the reader’s imagination fill the blanks, but real talk- I’ve just been tired out and keep telling myself that I’m going to draw say, after dinner, which I intend to make once my feet stop hurting, and my feet stop hurting about 2-3 hours after getting home from work.
Current things I’m actually, honestly working on right now are an article inspired by a friend’s blog post (which I suppose in this day and age I should post to a tumblr account and label as a “meme” in hopes it becomes a thing), a +/- strip on Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (which I have a hard time not just calling “New Zelda”), and ongoing work toward a new long-form webcomic I’ve been teasing about and brainstorming for a while now. It’s had a funny development history, in fact the point I’m starting from is technically “Season 2” of the overall series as planned, but the ideas were just flowing so easily I decided to roll with it after a friend suggested kicking the start point to there. The downside is I have to come up with a new title since the original was named after the heroine, and she isn’t in this part of the journey! Hoo boy.
I am totally wearing my shirt inside out right now. Agh.
Welcome back for another over-analytical trip down memory lane! If you’ve checked out the other entries in this bit of digital navel gazing, you’ve probably picked up that it took me a long time to warm up to the RPG genre. But what changed that and got me interested in it at long last? The answer won’t surprise you if you’re literate enough to have read the header line of this post.
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what bug bit me and told me I NEEDED this game in my life- probably Nintendo Power’s showerings of praise, in spite of it introducing me to “treasures” like Xardion and Rise of the Robots. I got my copy at a secondhand shop across from the “Springfield Mall,” which probably isn’t actually called that, but dammit, that’s what it was to our family. (This same shop yielded my copies of Metal Warriors and Cybernator, so I missed the hell out of them when they yielded to the Gamestop juggernaut.) I played it some in the store because it had a pretty ridiculous sticker price on it even used, and (I forget if this was me or Dad) wanted to be sure I would damn well enjoy it. I really didn’t know what to make of it- the characters ran about freely like an action game until they hit an enemy, then everyone leapt into position and things went menu-y on me. Yet, when I chose attacks, instead of some limited flailing animation or a flashing spell animation, the characters actually leapt in, had actual attack animation, and jumped back. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but I was definitely interested.
There’s so much to love in Chrono Trigger. Not to be down on Final Fantasy, but most of what grabbed me was how NOT like FF or Dragon Warrior it was. There weren’t any magical WHOOSHES that whisked you off to a battle screen that may or may not resemble the room you were in- enemies were visible and usually avoidable if you weren’t in the mood. All the characters were detailed, distinct and well-animated instead of giant-headed characters who had all the posability and expression of Lego people. The combination of keeping enemies visible and battles on the actual map just seemed to make everything feel more legit than the popular alternative. When given a mostly featureless cave maze where you can be jumped without warning, all it’s ever done to me is give me, well- the 2D version of tunnel vision. I focus more on how to reach the exit in the minimum number of steps because the more steps I take, the more likely I am to get jumped by the same handful of non-animated monster sprites. So even if there is some clever environmental design going on in that cave (as an aside- there almost never was), I’m more focused on counting squares than admiring the water drips or gargoyles, or whatever else might be there that isn’t an item or an exit. CT’s world felt like a WORLD. With PLACES. Guardia Castle was Guardia Castle, not “a castle tileset in a place named Guardia.” If you were crossing a rope bridge across a chasm, being attacked by Free Lancers didn’t teleport you to a mountain path, the enemies would actually float around the party who were forced to line up on the bridge and fight them off- while it didn’t really change anything mechanically, it still felt like a tense encounter rather than busy work.
All of the “Not Final Fantasy” stuff may have pulled me in, but the depth of the experience is what kept me in there. The menus and ATB system took a while for me to warm up to as more of a shooter/brawler player, but I grew to appreciate being able to take a second and think over the best action for the job. Admittedly, Chrono Trigger wasn’t exactly rocket science- there were a few gimmick bosses revolving around elemental strengths and weaknesses or taking out parts of a boss before killing the main body, but nothing that made it utterly necessary to chain a series of color coded skills together to ‘truly’ kill something and get the best ending. (“That comes later.” /Bane voice) It was also pretty cool finding and figuring out equipment, even though it still kind of bugs me to this day that Frog and Crono can’t swap weapons. They’re both swordsmen, damn it.
It isn’t just the presentation or the mechanics, though. Chrono Trigger was a game where everything just clicked together so well that it formed this intangibly wonderful ball of awesome. It has a very welcoming pace that can let it serve as a great “first” RPG, yet it’s not childish or dumbed-down feeling. Pacing is a thing that few old RPGs did well, and CT positively nailed it. All of my favorites “work” for me because they feel like an adventure, not just by having a good story backing them, but creating a sense of energy that makes you WANT to keep pressing on rather than viewing the actual game as an obstacle keeping you from turning to the next page. It felt to me, like a band of friends always on the run to the next step in the quest, or from some great disaster. The gelling is even seen in the battle system’s combo Techs, where two or all three members could join up for an extra-big beatdown. There were even extra, hidden items that would allow Triple Techs minus Crono or with the addition of the otherwise odd man out, Magus.
To this day, Chrono Trigger is the only RPG that I played for months trying to see every variation of the ending possible, endings which- might I add- were (mostly) dependent on actual choices or actions you took throughout the game, including the “Dev’s Room,” which I got a kick out of just for how strange it was. The amount of freedom you had was really something, especially considering the time. You can even choose NOT to ressurect the main character after the first direct confrontation with Lavos and see how the rest of the party takes the reins and still works together as a damn good team. Like I said before, everything just clicked perfectly, and the later ports additions honestly feel like they kill it a little. I don’t really need to see Ayla save the team from Reptites TWICE- once in an anime cutscene and once in the original sprite form. All it does is break the feeling that everything is happening in one cohesive ‘place.’ And frankly, I really don’t give a crap about adding a scene to the end that ties the game more solidly to Chrono Cross, because well- I don’t want to think about Chrono Cross, frankly.
…You guys are going to try and make me think about it again, aren’t you?
How did it affect me? Well, other than opening me up to trying an entire new genre that places storytelling and exploration before “BLOW SHIPS UP GOOD” or “JUMP ON ANIMALS AND COLLECT THE SHINIES?” Well, I can pretty readily admit the idea of technology and magical stuff existing side by side had a lot of influence on the RPG settings I’ve either latched onto or created. Revolver Knight was originally inspired by a mash-up of Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire II, and a little Earthbound, even if the version of the tale that made its way online was pretty drastically different than the original ones. Mostly, it was just the first time I was so enamored with a video game’s story. Even more so than when the stakes were on the fate of my Uncle Steve. I spent a good while in my Jr. High/High School years regaling my friend Josh on the bus with a spoken account of everything that had happened in my game. I felt like the old man at the start of Conan or something, spreading word of some epic adventure that happened long, long ago.