Off-Topic 007: Thesaurus Rex

25Jun04 (Monthenor): A guest comic? Yes, a guest comic, sent in by the inimitable Pezchik some time ago. I was feeling despondent about the comic that week -- I forget which week, but it was Thursday and I still didn't have an MM idea. She was high on chlorine and feeling creative. I think we also had a lengthy discussion about what a thesaurus would look like, given the common definition of the word.

I'm gone this weekend for no particular reason, so I'm taking this opportunity to use Pezchik's comic and declare next Wednesday a No-Comic Day. MM096 will appear next Friday, July somethingth. Then GM097 will jump back to Carl, since Wai requested a little recovery time.

Jennifer Reitz, of Unicorn Jelly and Pastel Defender Heliotrope, has seen fit to give me a cameo after basically living in her forum for two years. Taste the Gerbil!

I'm kind of embarassed I linked Zebra Girl on a week he missed a deadline, but at least he had a better reason than I did.

I close my eyes and all I can see is Wesnoth.

25Jun2004 (Monthenor): Siren went back in the mail today. I might have mentioned before that I hate survival horror games, so I'm not sure what I expected out of this one. The press -- the press I trust, anyway -- had given it glowing reviews and I had heard vague things about the plot being awesome. Also, everybody seems to think the game is ass-hard, which piqued my interest. Since GameFly has lowered the opportunity cost of renting to nil, I put it at the bottom of my list and forgot about it.

Until last week. *cue ominous music*

The game wastes no time on niceities. From the very moment you begin the game you are presented with a scenario that makes no sense, and then immediately assaulted with one that makes even less sense. The opening movie depicts Kyoya Suda leaving his bike on a wooded path and walking off into the fog. There's always fog in these games, but it is early morning so maybe that's allowable. He finds a clearing where a girl is hitting something with a rock while a large white dog guards her. The girl looks up, sees him, and runs off the other way.

Literally two seconds later, we are told that it's now 2300. Sure enough, it's night, and Kyoya Suda is standing by the same tree (still? again?). Now there's some sort of occult marriage ceremony going on, and the black brides are moving towards an altar. One of the brides looks up and sees Kyoya...because it's the girl from before! Surprised by Kyoya again! When he's in the exact same place as before! A boy in the wedding party sees Kyoya as well and sends a zombie Shibito policeman after him. Kyoya falls down a hill.

Begin playing.

I still had hope that maybe things would clear up later in the game. I spent twenty minutes dicking around in the extremely small level, trying not to get shot by the zombie Shibito policeman. That's when I discovered that not only do pick-up-able items NOT glow, glint, flash, or otherwise gave any visual indication that they are items, your character doesn't seem to turn his head to look at them. That's a technique at least as old as Grim Fandango, so shame on you.

It was only after this tiny level that I got a tutorial, and a painstakingly thorough one at that. The joystick can be used to walk and run? Press the X button button hard, Siren. The tutorial does get useful when it explains the "sightjacking" gimmick: by leaving your character motionless (and hopefully hidden), you can project your psychic powers and see through the eyes of the surrounding zombies Shibito. By watching what they're watching you can make notes on their little patterns and blind spots and then safely navigate the level. A good idea. A good idea horribly marred by the constant sound of static while doing it. Static has become the latest crutch for "spooky evil sound horror LOOK OUT", replacing screeching violins, and it's annoying as hell. For the last time, static is not scary, it's grating.

Even given that, I was able to play and mostly enjoy a few levels. You jump around between characters and times of day, giving the whole production a feel akin to Run Lola Run or Memento. Fine by me, I'll put the plot together later.

I quickly realized that later was never going to come. This game is difficult. Not in a Shinobi way, in a Myst way. I told Morgion before the game came in, "I've never heard of a game that so blatantly does not care if you win." I was expecting zombies would be grabbing me left and right. I did not expect...*sigh* There's this level. The goal of the level, the only goal displayed, the thing you have to do to leave, is "Reach the road to Karuwari". I completed this goal in thirty seconds just by running at full speed through the map. What you actually have to do to beat the game is described here by Shunichiro, care of GameFaqs:

"Ascend the steps and run towards the cafeteria. Go behind it from the right side. Even though shibitos might have noticed you, they don't follow you there. Open the backdoor and get in the cafeteria. [Plug in] the freezer and take a look at on the table.

"Now run behind the rice shop. There's a shibito weeding behind the corner. Crouch past it and go behind the fire shack. Keep an eye on the street and wait until the two patrolling shibitos turn away. Now go between the Ishikawa house and the barbershop. Soon a shibito will fall from the roof. Run to the bus stop and climb to the top of it. The shibito will follow you and when you see it climbing up, drop down and head back between the houses. Shibito can't follow your fast moves and leaves you be.

"Notice the numeric code written on the backwall of the barbershop (0705). Open the backdoor of Ishikawa's house and enter it. Inside open a door to the room with a tape recorder. Rewind the tape according to the numeric code and press play. You'll hear a four-digit code. Notice the hanging scroll on the wall before going out to [remove lock] from nearby shack with the code. Open the shack and [pick up] the face towel. Turn left and [pick up] the rope. ((This will fullfill goals for mission objective 2 for Kei Makino on Day 3 at 12:00)). Go back to the backroom of cafeteria (beware the shibito hammering the barbershop wall) and [soak the towel] by the sink. Now [place the towel] inside the freezer to ((fullfill goals for mission objective 2 for Shiro Miyata on Day 1 at 7:00)). Now go back to the top of bus stop (remember to monitor the shibitos nearby) and take the path forward to exit the level."

The player is expected to do this without any assistance from the game, experimenting with the map at great personal risk to solve the most inane puzzles I've ever seen, most with no immediate payoff or indication that you did it correctly. The walkthrough is full of stuff like this.

Let's make a distinction here: I would dearly love to see this game play out. I am not going to actually play it. The "plot guide" was wonderful, and I'd be interested in this story as a book or a movie or an anime. You'll perhaps notice that in none of those other media would I be expected to travel off the beaten path into a random abandoned house to retrieve a radio that I would then put in a well bucket just because and then hide until a zombie Shibito came to investigate the radio noise at which point I'd shoot it in the back and cause it to fall into the well which opens up a level for somebody else a half-day farther along the timeline. *deep breath* No, books do not demand that of me.

If you actually like that sort of thing outside of a Lucasarts/Sierra context, go ahead and play Siren. It has a nice atmosphere despite the cliche fogging, and the plot is definitely not right in the head, but the gameplay boils down to the same survival bullshit that developers think we like.

I've already spent too long on this game. I'm going to go watch my hard drive defrag.