Alan Wake: A "Review"

Yes, I know that the game came out half a year ago, but I only recently had the chance to play it. Really, I just want to talk about it.

Let’s get the whole “game” thing out of the way; it’s a competent game with fairly solid controls. It does get let down a bit by being relatively easy, with a halfway competent player finishing most levels with the maximum number of flashbangs and flares. Also, the suspense tends to be killed somewhat by music stings and slow-motion camera angles giving away the enemies approaching, especially since the stings play when the baddies are far enough away to be killed effortlessly.

This is secondary to the real meat of the game, though. I am one of those pansies that actually likes a plot with his gunplay, and the world of Wake was fairly engaging.

Many of the great survival/psychological horror games have one thing in common: they all take place in an environment where the world itself seems to be out to ruin your day. Silent Hill 2 was famous for this, as well as the Condemned series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the famous Ravenholm chapter of Half-Life 2, and various books and movies of all kinds.

All of these examples have various ways of accomplishing this goal, but let’s focus on Wake’s method: darkness.

The fear of the dark, one of the primal fears that everyone has rooted in their subconscious, is a powerful thing in a horror setting. After all, darkness represents the unknown and can house any number of horrors. However, it’s more than simply a cloak for scary monsters to hide under, it can take on something of a physical form as well.

Light and darkness have always been opposites, this much is obvious. Consider how each of them plays a role in their respective time periods, i.e., day and night.

Day: Light, provided by the sun, fills everything that isn’t purposefully constructed to hide from it (sunshades, buildings with tinted windows, so on). Most people are active during the day as well, which means that every building is filled to the brim with fluorescent lights. The only place where you might find true darkness would be a windowless basement or the depths of a cave, and the former can be lit by simply opening a door. In short, light is in excess to the point where darkness must be purposefully constructed.

Night: However, the roles are reversed at night. Since the sun, and therefore the unlimited source of light, disappears, darkness reigns supreme. Darkness has a different dynamic than light, though, it acts as an encroaching force that must be driven back by a man-made light. Yes, the moon does prevent the world from sinking into pitch blackness, but anyone that has tented in the woods before can tell you that it doesn’t help that much.

Note that the light, your sanctuary from the dangerous darkness, is man-made; this means that it can be destroyed. Houselights are tied to powerlines and generators, both of which are located in, you guessed it, the dark. Generators are particularly vulnerable, as they require a constant fuel source. The same goes with flashlights (batteries), lanterns (batteries or a combustible fuel), and even torches, which can burn down or blow out.

This fact is important because it makes your light source, and therefore your assumed well-being, fragile. And even if it was unlimited, it only helps to a certain extent; they illuminate either a conical area brightly or a general area dimly. The effect is still the same, you have a single source of light barely keeping back the cancerous approach of darkness.

Of course, darkness is not intrinsically evil. After all, the absence of light is exactly that, nothing. However, our minds have a tendency to personify such things, giving them cruel intentions.

Why is darkness so powerful a force, then? It takes away the power from the character and forms them into nothing more than an insect trying pathetically to stave off its impending death. Think of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, where the humans were faced with a power that was so immense when compared to their own. There’s plot strength in forces that are overpowered like that, where the creature would normally look at your tiny little flashlight and laugh. No, that wasn’t an euphemism.

The second aspect of the power is more cliche, but no less true. It’s fitting that Wake opens with one of Stephen King’s more memorable quotes, which essentially says the appearance of the monster in the story is always a let-down. It’s comparable to waking up in the night and hearing something banging around in your trash cans. It could be a raccoon, or it could be that serial killer that you’ve been hearing about on the news. Guess which one your mind will jump to first?

The darkness is a faceless entity, one that is never truly defined and therefore always scary. After all, you know that there is something out there, hiding behind the bushes, waiting for you to walk by…

Wake follows this idea to the letter in the implementation of the Taken. Oddly enough, some of the sections in the forest are the low point of the game, and not because of the gameplay. It’s because killing a group of Taken means that you’re safe for a while, as they rarely spawn rapidly. This is a tension-killer, of course, because the tension of the forests comes from the hiding of the enemies, not the fighting. Thus, the appearance of the monsters is a fairly big let-down.

There are parts of the game, through purposeful design or bugs, where you won’t get a sting until the group is almost on you (if at all). These are the pants-wetting moments, as the shadows of the bushes begin to look a lot like a man with a chainsaw after you’ve been running around in the dark for a while.

It’s the unknown, the anticipation, the fear that makes the game, well, scary. And that’s what gives the darkness power.

I’m rambling, so I’ll wrap it up. Let me say this: good horror doesn’t rely on the jump-out-and-scare-you kind of things. Real horror is the kind where the author could write the monster out of the story completely and it’d still be terrifying.

Oh, Alan Wake. Hmm. “Good game, let down by some poor choices in the mechanics. Decent story, would probably be better as a book”. Speaking of which, I hear that there actually is a book based off the game. So it’s a writer writing about a writer writing about a wabble dongking loosch. Still, might be decent…

Journal (Page 5)

This will be my final entry in this journal, as I fear that these moments may be my last on this world. I’ve been… permitted to write an entry in this journal; I only hope that someone will get a hold of this.

Following the tubes that I found yesterday resulted in my stumbling into a large, cavernous room with an even larger variety of pipes and silos. It could probably be described by comparing it to a chemist’s workstation, with a million confusing tubes running all over the room. Following the line took quite a while, but I eventually ended up at a brightly lit storage area filled with those tiny blocks from the pipes. The room looked like a swimming pool for a geometry fetishist, with gigantic piles of the bits everywhere.

I suppose my first mistake was walking into a room with a heavy door without checking the surroundings first. Not five minutes of sifting through the piles passed before the entry slammed closed behind me, pitching me into utter blackness. Despite my shaking hands, I managed to start a torch. It didn’t matter, though. I was trapped.

My attempts to break through the walls of the room with my pick were useless, they seemed to be covered with a coating that prevented any contact with the blocky wall behind. The door itself must have been imported, because it looked similar to any iron door that you might find on the mainland. Perhaps off of the scientist’s boat? At any rate, I’ve bloodied my fists and hurt my legs by attempting to break down the door; it still stands at this moment, mocking me.

A hidden speaker, another anomaly of the design, came to life with a screech, followed by a raspy voice. It sounded like an old man, voice gone raw with overuse, but another sound was present in the background. I suppose the only way to describe it is to guess at the origin; it sounded like the voice was being played off a highly damaged audiotape. Of course, this is speculation.

“So, your curiosity finally got the best of you, eh? Good for you, too few of my visitors find their inner explorer, they just opt to starve to death on the surface. Or, if they fail at that, we do have,” he cleared his throat, “‘garbagemen.’ You found your way here, my friend, and you will receive your prize”.

“You see, I’ve discovered the secret to immortality in these blocks. Your little friend was right to call it an infection, yes, we know about him. He’s been dealt with. Anyways, the blocks that you see before you have the ability to convert your cells into living stone, while retaining most of the motor functions that you possess now. You should be glad that you’re one of the brighter ones, a few of my guests tried to eat the leaves off of the trees and turned into non-living rock. As you might guess, the stones must be converted into a usable form in order to avoid instant death”.

“It has taken me years upon years and many more subjects than I can remember, but I’m getting close to perfection. If I can make a flawless stone then I can stave off death until, well, forever! And you can do the same, my friend”.

“I won’t lie, it’s dangerous. There is a very high chance that you will suffer massive mental damage in the process of transformation, leaving you without high-level logic. And even if that doesn’t occur, there are still bugs in the system. For example, the rock-breaking methods that you’ve undoubtedly discovered will work on you, as well as falling from great distances. Having joints and a head makes your body fragile, after all”.

“Also, well, how do I put this?” the voice said, quizzically. After a spell, it started speaking again, slowly. “You know of my workers, correct? It seems that the transformation changes your sight in a strange way, which results in the man seeing my workers as actual monsters. Isn’t that odd? I should have that bug worked out in a few months or so”.

“But think of the advantages! You’ll never die, only deconstruct. I have a device that can pull similar pieces back together, you can never permanently perish. You won’t have to eat, or drink. You’ll be a god! All you have to do is swallow one of those blocks”.

The tape clicked off, leaving me in silence.

Of course, I wasn’t going to swallow a brick, I was rather fond of being human. At first. However, spending hours in that prison cell does tend to make you rather famished, especially since I didn’t bring a lot of food. This was supposed to be a short trip, just a hop down a hallway, and I hadn’t expected the processing plant to be so close to my home. I attempted to figure out whether consuming a small amount of the blocks would nourish me without “changing” me, but I couldn’t chance it.

My silence was broken after a day by the same recorded voice. Clicking to life, the speaker spat out a tone of disgust. “Since my sensors report that you’re still flesh and blood, I take it that you’ve rejected my very generous gift. I tried to be nice, but I can see that you’re not the type for kindness. Well, that’s unfortunate for you. After all, I need my data for this new batch, and you’re the one that is going to give it to me. You are going to swallow that block, and then you will return to the surface, destroying all of your tunnels and structures on the way until you reach the reassembler on the shore. I will observe your movements from then on, and use that data to further perfect my project. That door ahead of you will open when it senses that everything in the room is stone, and not a moment before. Thus, unless you have a strong desire to take up auto-cannibalism, I suggest you follow my orders and swallow a block”.

The speaker squealed off with an angry grunt.

I don’t know what will become of me. If I can’t find my way out of here, I may have to take the chance with the blocks. After all, it has to be better than starving to death, right?

The writing changes as the new paragraph begins, becoming much more shaky and smeared.

I gotta do it. Im so hungry. I ate everything that I could find but I cant help it anymore. The nice doctor said that he would plant his reassembler on the shoreline so that I would never die, I can live forever. Maybe Ill see you again, my love. I might be a monster, but Ill still love you and that is enough.

Its now or never. Wish me luck.

All the remaining pages are blank.

Journal (Page 4)

Another restless night. Thoughts flying about my head, I decided that my sleeplessness should be put to constructive use. A few additions to the fort were completed by sunrise, with a small chest for holding tools in one corner and a rudimentary bed in the other. Not that I’ll get much use out of the latter, I fear, but it is worth the attempt. A door is now fitted into the wall, allowing for much easier exit and entry. I doubt that the “monsters”, as I called them before, will try to open it, as they are simple actors.

This confidence has its roots in Gavril’s confession from the day before. A nagging doubt lingered in that the rest of the actors might be more, shall I say, “dedicated” to the farce. However, I can probably rest assured that they will avoid causing me harm if they can.

A man must be prepared, however. An emergency escape route, if you can call it that, was another addition under the cover of night. To be truthful, it is nothing more than a vertical shaft with a ladder attached leading to a hallway, which in turn ends with a hidden hole in the mountainside that I so precariously perch upon. It is well hidden, however, and may serve me in the future.

Attempts to probe deeper into the island have been fairly unsuccessful. While the strange properties that Gavril described seem to be present in all the materials on the surface, there has been little in the way of an underlying infrastructure. It’s as if I am trapped in a child’s pile of blocks, looking for a way out of the toybox. Today will mostly consist of gathering wood and coal for creating torches and ladder, as well as gathering food. You see, I believe that there must be some sort of technology that runs under the island, and I plan to dig as far as I can until I find it. Wish me luck, my love.

Later

Success! I dug for hours, losing picks and torches all the way, but my predictions seem to be correct! There seems to be a massive layer of wiring deep beneath the surface of the island. Moving along the layer eventually bore fruit as I found an access panel, although why a panel would be present in such a place is beyond me. Perhaps for maintenance?

Opening the panel revealed a ladder leading down into the darkness. Steeling myself and taking my sword in hand, I dropped a torch down the hole and slide down the ladder after it.

What I saw when I reached the bottom was only mildly surprising. Then again, I couldn’t be shocked at this point  if a Lovecraftian horror showed up for tea.

The scene around me was filled with various glowing pipes, leading away like veins in the body of the earth. I couldn’t tell what was in the pipe, as each was filled with a mess of colors. A solid mass would bump against the translucent sides on occasion, revealing the small squares being channeled through the system. Said masses were only the size of a grape, and their function utterly escaped me.

Confused and quickly running out of torches, I decided to return to the surface for now. Erasing my tracks and resealing the hatch as I left, I ensured that no one would know of my intrusion. Tomorrow I will set out at first light to explore the underground facility. It will be dangerous, yes, but my choices are limited at this point. Wish me luck, love.

Journal (Page 3)

June 8th, 1982

The creatures were back again, scratching at the walls. I resolved to see who it was, as the sound was destroying any hope of sleep that I had. Breaking open a hole in my ceiling and climbing out, I quickly popped a torch on the roof and glanced over the side. Shocked, I fell off the stairway and reflexively sealed the hole back up.

I couldn’t believe it. They were humans, not slavering horrors! Each was dressed in a certain way, with one sporting a leaf-green outfit, one in a lighter-green box, and even the white man from the other day. Masks covered their faces, but I still had the impression that my gopher impersonation took them by surprise.

What terrors of this island could reduce these men to beasts, good for nothing but primal needs to eat? Beings so braindead that they would scratch at a wall for hours because there might be something to eat inside? I’m sorry to speak about myself as a steak, but you must understand that I speak from the perspective of the poor bastards.

I did not sleep well for the rest of the night.

At daybreak, when the scratching stopped (as it always does), I decided to track down the white man. While verbal communication might be impossible, I may be able to solve some of the mystery from the bizarre fellow.

Approaching the tunnel from the day before with my sword in one hand and a torch in the other, I peered around for anyone watching me. There was a  feeling in the back of my mind, one of the ones that you get when passing by dark alleys in the middle of the night. The ones that make your hair stand on end and ears burn. Shuddering, I slowly walked through the tunnel, intensely listening for any sound that would indicate the movement of the man.

However, the chamber was empty. Except for the few arrows that embedded themselves out of reach, the cave was utterly devoid of any indication that the man had been there. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

Figuring that I was already in the cave, I began digging away for more coal. I was running low, after all. While the torches seemed to last forever at the start, they have been burning down much quicker since the first night. Picking my way though the walls, I collected heaps of the sticky substance. However, my blows were interrupted by another tapping sound. It was almost rhythmic, an even tap-tap tap-tap.

I began to head in that direction, digging straight through the rock. When I was close enough to accurately locate the sound, I paused. It sounded like it was getting closer! As I peeked back over my shoulder, the wall in front of me collapsed into dust suddenly and a pair of arms yanked me forward. Then, just as quickly as it disappeared, the wall was rebuilt and I was plunged into complete darkness.

I was terrified. Being in a dark, narrow tunnel with a hostile creature is not good for one’s sanity. However, I didn’t want to light a torch and give my exact position away. Perhaps I could sneak down the rest of the tunnel, back the way that the monster came! If I could outrun h-

“Hey,” the man said, “one second, let me get us some light”.

A flare flashed and the tunnel was filled with red light, clearly revealing the mask of the white man. Said mask was quickly removed, however, revealing a moderately handsome, tanned face underneath. I was flabbergasted.

“I… but you… how…”

The man put up his arms to stop me. “Yeah, I know that you must be confused. I’m sorry that we must meet under such drastic conditions, but I don’t really have a choice. My friend, you are in terrible danger”.

“Let me introduce myself; my name is Gavril Lutrova. I am a worker here worker of twenty years on this island, where I play the Skeleton Man. Now, it would be difficult to fully explain the depth of your situation without speaking on the history of this place”.

The man gestured to join him in seating, so I did. While I was curious, the simple fact that I was hearing another person’s voice was a wonderful thing, and I felt that I could relax. Replacing the sputtering flare with a torch, I motioned for him to begin.

“Okay. A research time landed on the shores about twenty years ago, as they are wont to do. The reefs around here are treacherous and the storms fierce, so the scientists were stranded for a very long time. They made a discovery of gigantic proportions within a day, however.

The science is fairly foreign to me, but here’s how I understand it: every material on this island is… infected with a kind of touch-based psychic link. Basically, the material is organized into a solid block that is held in a rigid, cubic structure until someone interacts with it. Using some kind of conduit, you can cause the structure to bend and break into whatever you wish. It was a miraculous find, one that the scientists found an endless source of uses”.

Gavril sighed. “Such tales always end the same way, however. When the other scientists set sail with samples, one of the more “eccentric” ones jumped overboard and into the sea, intending to swim back to the island. Well, the rest of them couldn’t turn around and go back for him, as the winds were already picking up and they certainly wouldn’t risk their find for one loon. So, the man got away and the scientists set sail again. But you already know the latter part, no? I expect that the material made a huge difference on the mainland”.

I shifted uneasily. I had never heard of such technology before, despite the earth-shattering ramifications of such a find. “No, I’m afraid not.” I rasped out.

“Then they must have been lost at sea,” Gavril said sorrowfully, “what a loss. Still, the man escaped, and he set about turning this island into his own twisted nightmare. You see, he was tryi-“.

The hidden watch on the man’s wrist beeped loudly, cutting him off. Gavril leaped to his feet, swearing loudly. Replacing his mask and grabbing his hidden bow, he began to run back the way he came. Thinking twice, he briefly stopped to shout a warning.

“Listen, my friend. You must find a way off of this place. Trust me on this, it’s your only way of survival. I won’t be able to help you in the open, I must keep my cover. But you have a friend, trust me”. And he ran off into the darkness.

Confused, I returned to my house. I suppose that I should begin to build a boat, but what if it’s a trick? What if Gavril was the mad scientist? I will mull over it more tonight. For now, rest.

Journal (Page 2)

June 7th, 1982

This date is a only rough estimate, but I am sure that I’ve been unconscious for more than a day due to the growth on my face. But that’s not important right now; there are creatures on this island. My rest was interrupted at one point by scratching on the other side of the rough wall, accompanied by the same moaning that I head out of the cave. However, when I awoke and dug myself out of my hovel, the walls were immaculate and the creatures gone. A feather lying on the ground was the only trace that I could find of anything being there at all. Could I have imagined the entire thing?

In any case, I will have to arm myself. I’m hungry again and I refuse to repeat what occurred the day before. The wood blocks that have formed my home seem to be fairly malleable despite their strength, and I may be able to create some rudimentary tools. We will have to see.

June 7th, later

The crafting worked surprisingly well, much to my surprise. The wood came apart with enough force, and the resulting sticks and a few rocks lying around made a decent crafting bench. After that came a few tools, an axe for chopping up trees was the most obvious choice, a wooden sword for fighting off monsters. Well, “club” might be more appropriate, as I couldn’t get it to hold a blade for all the world, so it’s more a bludgeoning tool. But it’ll keep my hands clean, and that’s enough.

I also managed to create a pickaxe with some measure of success. The landscape is littered with stone, but smashing it like the tree only caused it to shatter. I had to hit the damned rock until my hands bled, though. Perhaps a pick will give some degree of precision to the work. Of course, a wood pick will probably shatter against the rock on the first attempt, but it can’t hurt to try.

Speaking of stone, there appears to be a vein of a sooty material in the rock nearby, much like coal. I may be able to form torches from this material, if I can get it out of the rock. Anything to conserve the dwindling fuel for my lighter.

June 7th, night

My rock venture was successful, the picks worked beautifully. The resulting shards of rock seem to possess the same adhesive properties as the wood, which made making new tools a breeze. It might be possible to create a better stronghold, given enough time… we shall see.

However, I must regretfully return to the subject of the beings on the island. I spend much of my time in utter isolation, with only the rare herd of cattle or pigs to make my company. However, my mining adventure is worth noting.

I was following a vein of coal (I’m now sure that the black substance must be coal) and inadvertently broke through into a cavern. Before I could light another torch, however, an arrow embedded itself by the side of my head! Ducking back into my makeshift hallway, I called out to the shooter to inform him of my humanity. Unfortunately, the arrows simply kept coming. I moved my eyes inch by inch around the corner, but was forced to take flight under a barrage of arrows.

I only caught a glimpse of the man, but I could tell that it was a very thin human with incredibly white skin. Perhaps he was a native of the island that lived in the cave exclusively? I would certainly explain his alabaster pigmentation, much like the albino rats in the sewers. The man certainly wasn’t a “rat”, I would live in a cave if I dared enter one.

Speaking of which, I must figure out how to venture into the caves. Perhaps I should parlay with the man tomorrow, maybe he can advise me on the best methods of spelunking.

I sealed myself in my hovel again, writing tonight by torchlight. The scratching is back again, but it only seems to be coming from the ground floor. Could I open up the top to get some air flowing? It’s awfully stuffy in here.

Again, something for another day. Tonight, I sleep. Goodnight Lucy, my love.


Journal (page 1)

June 5th, 1982

I write the following pages with the unsteady hand of a man drowning in confusion. The Fates have placed he in a bizarre land for which there is no escape… will I ever see you, my family, again?

I’m getting ahead of myself. I should explain who I am, perhaps repeating that information will help me keep my sanity. My name is Gerald; I am the captain of the Wanderer, a long-distance cargo vessel built for moving… special good in between Europe and America. At least I was, a terrible storm threw me off course and ran me aground somewhere in the sea, which resulted in my catapulting over the railing and into the freezing sea. After a time, it must have been days at the least, I woke on the shore of a lush island with staggering cliffs. Noting that everything but my bag, the emergency lighter attached to my waist, and this journal had been taken by the sea, I was first filled with despair. However, that agony quickly turned to determination. I am going to survive this, I swear it. Lucy, I will see you again.

My survival instincts took over the prioritization of what needed to be done. After all, there are only three things that a man needs to live, right? Water wouldn’t be a problem, as it seems that fresh, flowing water is commonplace on the island. So that leaves food and shelter, the former being the most important at the moment. After all, being adrift for days tends to leave you famished, no?

It was… horrible, Lucy. I am ashamed to admit to the lengths that I had to go through to obtain food. All of the curious trees were bare, and no bushes were around to pick fruit from. After searching for what I estimated to be an hour I saw what looked like a pig in the distance. As I approached, however, its true form was revealed to me. While it did have the correct coloration and general look of a pig, the dark pink skin was the same all over the creature, with no blemish or crease. It’s as if the creature was painted by the cruel gods of this island. However, I wasn’t able to be picky, as I was starving. Of course, I had no weapons or tools to neatly kill the creature with, so I was forced to… God help me… beat the beast to death with my bare fists. It took a long time, with each strike of my fist drawing blood and sounds of crunching bone. It was so strange, my dear, the beast didn’t try to fight back. It only looked at me with a pathetic, detached look in its eyes until it fell dead.

Tearing it apart, I was able to find a few decent pieces of meat. A few bits went in my bag, and I devoured the rest raw. I’m only a few days away from delightful meals with my ill-fated crew and I’m already feasting like the beast that this meat came from. What will the future hold for me?

Washing myself in a nearby stream and drinking to quench my thirst, I noticed that the sun was moving quickly across the sky. Knowing that night is coming, and the unknown horrors that I expected it to bring, shelter moved to priority one.

Searching around, I figured that I had two options: I could hole up in one of the natural cave formations, or I could attempt to build something rudimentary on the top of one of the many hills. Figuring that the first would be the fastest and easiest, as I was still exhausted, I approached one of the dark caves. However, I froze in the spot after getting close, as a terrible sound was coming out of the darkness. A walking, shuffling sound, which could be indicative of another human on the island!

“Hello! Is anyone there?” I shouted.

The sound that returned was strange, terrifying, and damned familiar at the same time. Do you remember those trashy monster flicks that we always watch? It sounded like the roar of a creature from those films, a primal urge to kill. Needless to say, I ran as quickly as I could.

Thus, the second choice became the only one. First, however, I would need materials. I searched well into the night, looking for any kind of stick that could make a quick wall. However, the fields were strangely barren of materials of any kind. Smashing my fist into a tree in an act of frustration, I met with a shock. I swear upon my mother’s grave, Lucy, the tree cracked, as a thick plane of glass might. Realizing the implication of this, I hammered on the spot again and again, watching the cracks grow larger and larger. Eventually the entire piece slid away, leaving a hole about two feet tall in the tree. I say “hole” because, despite the base being detached, the tree stayed in the air! I was convinced that I had gone insane on the sea, and this was just delusions of my fevered mind. I’m still not sure that I haven’t.

At any rate, I slowly dismantled the tree into pieces, throwing them behind me. At the end of my barrage I had four blocks, about four inches in area. Trying to figure out how solid the pieces were, I gave a swift kick to one of them. Strangely enough, that gave me four different blocks, about the same size as the original, as well as a pain in my foot. It might just be the exhaustion, but this barely surprised me. Perhaps I’m just becoming jaded to the strange magic of the island. Kicking the rest of the blocks, I stacked them in a couple piles of four while I obtained more wood from nearby trees. In all, I ended up with forty blocks or so.

Figuring that they were enough to create a decent shelter, I dragged the lot of them to the top of a hill. Creating the building was surprisingly easy, as the blocks seem to be coated with a sticky residue that is strong enough to adhere to other blocks without a support underneath. It was quickly approaching night by the time I finished building my wooden prison. Thus, I decided to write down today’s bizarre occurrences by the light of my emergency lighter. I must extinguish it soon, however, to conserve the limited supply of oil. Tomorrow I’ll have to figure out a better way to light my way.

But, for now, I must sleep. Goodnight, dear Lucy. I hope you realize that I’m missing before too long.

Nostalgia

Those of you that play WoW, and probably quite a few that do not, will know that tomorrow marks a big day in the history of the game. That’s right, everyone, the Shattering is coming tomorrow, and it’s going to be big.

Since this patch will effectively destroy every place that I have fond memories of my wasted time and youth tied to. Thus, I thought that I’d take this time to recall some of my favorite places and the associations tied to them, as well as I can. Feel free to join in the comments section!

  • An obvious one: Orgrimmar, a name that I still can’t get right on the first try. This was the home of many newbies, especially my thousand alt. It wasn’t as pretty as some of the other cities, definitely, but it fit. However, Org is nothing compared to…
  • Undercity. My first character was an undead warlock, and I still love him dearly. Walking into Undercity, trying to navigate to the elevators, /sit-ing on the king’s throne (as all must do)… this was basically my home through level 50 or so. A lot of people didn’t like it for reasons that I wasn’t too clear on. The design was efficient, it was relatively difficult to raid straight through (as far as I can tell) and it hosted the Forsaken! What could be better!
  • Hellfire Peninsula, immediately post-WotLK. I was one of the poor saps that was leveling my lock main through BC during the Great Death Knight Explosion (Yes, I was a late bloomer). I will never forget searching for people to group with to run the instances and seeing page upon page of nothing but that infernal red text that indicates a Death Knight player.
  • Ulduar: Not for a feature of the dungeon itself, not at all. I’ve never been an instance that got farther than XT. However, that dungeon was the reason why I went from a new recruit of a fairly large, established guild (That I can’t remember the name of, it has been a while) to raid leader in less than two days. Personal record? Hells yeah.
  • Hall of Lightning: I swear to whatever dark gods govern my life, I must have run HoL a thousand times when I was trying to get to 80. I can still play through the entire thing in my head. Before LFG you had to take whatever group you could find, and EVERYONE always wanted to run HoL…
  • And while we’re in Storm Peaks, let’s not forget Boldercrag’s Refuge, where I went through the Level Cap. Note that I said “went through”, not “reached”, because there’s a certain thought process involved with hitting the level cap:
  1. “Holy shit, I finally did it! Level 80! I finally get to train my top-tier abilities, and I never have to grind quests for experience again”!
  2. “What should I do now? Train my abilities, of course!” (You train your abilities)
  3. “Okay, let’s do one of these ‘raids’ that I’ve been hearing about!” (PM a raid caller, get turned down because your gear is shit) Here is where you hit what I affectionately call the Gear Wall, the gap between hitting the cap and having decent enough gear to get into bigger instances. Now that the auto-LFG system lets you power through emblems this wall is much easier to break through, but pre-LFG it was a bitch and a half. I actually stopped playing intensively because of the wall, for a while.
  4. “Well, I can’t raid, quests don’t do anything for me but give me more money, instances are a pain in the ass to do… now what”? And that’s the last stage of the Level Cap.
  • Western Plaguelands: Any Undead-area-leveler knows exactly what I’m talking about. There’s a border between the Western Plaguelands that leads into Tirisfal Glades, which is what, a 40-level difference by conservative math? If there’s a single newbie that didn’t stumble in there and get insta-killed by the Level Death bears, I will eat my hat.
  • The Barrens. Oh, the Barrens. I know WHY they are changing the Barrens. I have to admit that it isn’t exactly the most interesting place to level, what with the gigantic open plains filled with nothing but mobs, but c’mon, it’s the Barrens. Every Horde player that wasn’t Undead had to go through there at some point, and the shared memories of the torture of the torturous fetch quests and Barrens Chat is something that the Alliance will never hold over us. And who could forget Mankrik’s Wife?

Oh, the list goes on and on. Some of these aren’t changing, but so much of it is, and we can never go back.

Farewell, my sweet, sweet Azeroth. You may be ravaged by the flight of a dragon, but your spirit will never be broken. And I guarentee you one thing: your citizens will have their sweet, sweet revenge someday. I promise.

With love,

Cat.

    Orgrimmar

    Internet Sorting Algorithm

    The ISA has come up in recent thought, and I reference to the idea a fair bit, so I thought that I’d cover it.

    On the by, the name is a bastardized version of this trope. So, yeah.

    The internet works in a peculiar way when it comes to products. In the “real world” an inferior product can be destroyed by negative reviews, as people won’t spend money on something that has bad press. Take a game, for example: if everyone says that it’s crap then you won’t pay for it, denying the creators the profit.

    However, websites and their content can be viewed for free, which generates profit for the owners through ad revenue. Thus, any viewing of the page will pay the creator off, regardless of the opinion of the reader.

    There’s an old saying that “There’s no such thing as bad press”, and that applies to the internet doubly so. If CNN were to find the deepest, darkest pit of the internet and write a five page thesis on how terrible it is, that site’s pageviews will skyrockets from people just wanting to know what all the fuss is about.

    Thus, the only way to get rid of something bad on the internet is to ignore it into oblivion. People won’t keep sites going if no one is visiting, why do you think so many first-time bloggers fail? Especially if they are paying to have them hosted somewhere.

    That’s how we tend to treat truly bad things, we just don’t talk about them. We ignore them, and they fade from the consciousness of the Hive Mind that is the Net in a process that I’ve lovingly stolen titled the Internet Sorting Algorithm.

    The ISA is why I always say that I only review topics with some measure of worth. Okay, I made an exception for one comic, but only because the creator advertises like he dumped Scrooge McDuck’s bank account into Project Wonderful. As a rule, however, I don’t write on utter shit because there’s no point to it, and I really don’t want to give them justifying pageviews. I just let them sit on their own little corner until they get better and people start noticing or the domain 404’s for good.

    You might be wondering why this is a pressing concern all of the sudden; it’s because of the 4chan-tumblr fiasco that occurred a few days ago. And before you channers start calling me out for blogging about it, you idiots made “4CHAN” trend on fucking Twitter. I don’t want to hear about it. Learn to keep your mouths shut.

    If you hadn’t heard about it, Tumblr has been stealing content, 4chan got sick of it, and decided to DoS attack Tumblr. However, the entire thing backfired to the point where both sites are full of members of the other, and (/cringe) “Chumblr” content has been posting everywhere. Plus, various news sites and the aforementioned Twitter nonsense added to the press.

    So, basically, in their attempt to attack Tumblr the Channers gave it a thousand points of free publicity.

    Here’s the kicker: many people had no idea what Tumblr was before the attacks started, myself included. Thus, why would you bother with it at all? Why not let the ISA take care of them, pushing the crazy hipsters into the peripheral until they were so sequestered that they didn’t bother anyone, or they disappeared forever?

    In short, the internet has its own way of purging the crap from itself. There’s no need to attack the obscure crap, because that only validates their existence. This was intended as something of an informative piece, but take away something from it: the next time that you’re going to click through “just for kicks”, think twice. Do you really want to give away that pageview? You’re just feeding the creator, who will take your traffic and push on to make worse and worse material.

    Kinect

    Whelp, it looks like it’s time for me to do a piece on the Kinect. After all, what self-respecting geek blogger would I be if I didn’t put my three cents (inflation) into the subject? So, here it goes!

    First, the obvious comparison, the Wii.

    I’m betting that most of you have a Wii. Now, tell me, when’s the last time that you “serious gamers” broke out that little white box? A month? Three? Personally, I hadn’t used my Wii for at least half a year until recently, when I rented No More Heroes. Why? Because it’s not for the “hardcore” gamer.

    I take back that last statement, as what constitutes “hardcore” is a subject that has been widely debated. After all, there are hardcore Farmville players. Perhaps the more appropriate term would be “violent” gamer. You know, the kind of gamer that doesn’t mind a little blood and guts in a game; in fact, they usually prefer it. This is the traditional “gamer”.

    The Wii came out with a few titles for the “gamer”: Metroid Prime: Corruption, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, so on and so forth. However, there were limitations, as there always are.

    1. The Wii’s processing power was crap.
    2. The motion sensor didn’t operate on a 1-to-1 basis.
    3. It’s Nintendo, by the terror of the Dark Gods. That’s almost synonymous with “kiddy”. (Note the “almost”, fanboys. Don’t rage on me.)

    The Kinect can deal with #1 and #3, but what of #2?

    The system supposedly works very well, tracking every part of your body via the camera and sensor. On an aside, the first time I heard about the sensor on your spine I couldn’t help think of the plugs from the Matrix… huh. Anyways, let’s pretend that you have the ridiculously large room needed to play the Kinect correctly, and it can sense your movements perfectly. Does that make it a good system?

    Answer: Not really. See, the problem with the Wii’s controls was that they weren’t perfect. Note that I didn’t say that they were “bad”, they simply weren’t perfect, and that was the reason for their downfall.

    Motion controls work on the same principle as the uncanny valley. It’s okay if they’re completely crap, because then you simply won’t play the game. If they’re perfect then there’s nothing but flower and unicorns. However, if they sit in the valley between unplayable and perfect, where they’re good enough to tear through the game but still annoy you to no end, then that’s the real problem.

    The key to the success of the games I mentioned before was that the motion controls were reserved for what were essentially gimmicks, mostly. Okay, Metroid had you point and shoot, but that barely counts. They took advantage of the motions, but they didn’t rely exclusively on them. When push came to shove, there was always good old buttons to get you out of a jam. This was especially useful for the twitch aspect of gaming, where you don’t really have time for the system to figure out if that imperfect motion you made was to draw your bow or swing your sword.

    However, the Kinect won’t have the ability to use buttons for anything. This might be their big position, the “Pff, who needs buttons?” idea, but let’s face it: games will have to be fairly easymode to compensate for any kind of mechanical failing. Basically, the Kinect has two options: it either works flawlessly out of the gate, or it’s going to find itself in a cardboard box.

    And before you lot say anything, yes, all of these things apply to the Move as well. But at least *that* has buttons all over the lollypops.

    However, let’s pretend that the motion controls are perfect, for the sake of the argument.

    It’s still not going to surpass the controller. Why? Because the end goal of gaming is to lose yourself in the game, which motion controls simply can’t do without a holodeck situation.

    Why? Immersion. That all-too-common word that we hear again and again from game reviewers everywhere. The exact definition of immersion varies, but the general idea is that the game draws you in enough to make you forget that you’re playing a game. It’s like reading a really good book, eventually you stop noticing the words and the fact that you’re turning pages.

    Motion controls kill immersion like no other, because thinking about what motion you need to do in order to perform a certain action will rip you out of it faster than… I don’t know, a really fast thing. You don’t want to know what my first thought for that analogy was.

    Anyways, in order to cut back on movement failure you have to have one motion, such as pressing a button, always respond to one action. If you want to convert that idea into motion form then you need to make your body waggles very specific, but also very forgiving. You couldn’t have your sword slash as a horizontal slash but have your Magic Death Spell be diagonal, because then you would have players casting that spell by accident when things got hectic. Plus, arm flailing? Not quite immersion-making.

    Thus, it isn’t for the gamer.But hey! It’s not meant for us, it’s the system for the casual gamer, right?It’s the toy that the nuclear family will play with in-between going to family reunions and telling each other how much they love each other!

    Except for the fact that selling the system to what we affectionately will call “non-gamers”, who will be referred to from here on in  as “your mom” (yes, I am going there. It fits!), will be an uphill battle the entire way, as it’s only cost-effective if the family already owns a Xbox.

    Think of the mindset of the average person. They want a videogame system. There’s three choices: the Wii, the Xbox, and the Playstation 3.

    First, let’s examine the sheer cost of the systems, which will probably be first and foremost on the minds of the Kinect’s target audience. Your darling mother doesn’t care about brand loyalty, or exclusives, or backwards-compatibility, or any of that. She just wants a game system. Thus, which is she going to favor the heaviest in the trio? The Wii, of course, which costs half as much as the Xbox.

    Secondly, the Wii has already been well-established in that classy lady’s mind. It has been the baby of the media for a long time, with so many stations running stories about how the system helps the elderly, how it brings families together, and so on. Thus, when your matriarchal figure thinks of a gaming system then she is going to think of the Wii.

    Thirdly, it’s fucking Nintendo. Enough said.

    In all, I’ll be really interested to see how well the Kinect actually sells over Christmas. Microsoft is predicting 5 million sales, and I have to say this: I sure hope that launch is outrageously successful, because who knows if they’ll get a post-season.

    Towering Pile of Pamphlets

    On the by, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Look that shit up.

    Anyways.

    As we all know, elections are upon us. By the Old Ones, do we know.

    I’m not going to debate positions or platforms, like I’ve said before, politics (and by extensions elections) are 95% full of crap. However, an interesting phenomenon happens around these times: the cold-calls and the pamphlets.

    Tell me, readers, how annoying are those calls that you get all day long from various parties, looking for your support? How many do you get per day? In the last few days… hm. I’ll say that I get at least one call per hour during the waking hours, or at least the hours of normal people, and my peak mailing was 14 pamphlets in one day. So that’s (1 call *  11 hours) + 14 pamphlets = 25 contacts. Pain in the ass.

    Now, think about what goes into making those calls and letters, designated here by a $ sign. They’re all done by automated machines ($) and delivered by phone ($) or the USPS ($). The phone companies and post offices don’t house the machines for making them, so you need office space ($) and workers ($, if not volunteer). Plus the electricity to fuel the whole process ($), which probably won’t be provided for in the office agreement, in addition to the cost of the ink and paper ($). Oh, and lest we forget the road signs that dot the neighborhoods ($).

    That’s a ton of money, folks. Just for those annoying ads.

    Now, these are the candidates that are complaining about the recession, how the government is wastefully spending, and how the state is running out of dough. Hypocritical? Absolutely!

    I’ll tell you what, you slimy bastards. I’m going to go back and count every single call that you sent me, every letter as well, and I’m going to put them in piles with your names on them. Whichever pile is smallest will win my vote, because that was the person most frugal with their funds. If there’s a candidate that I didn’t receive mail from then guess what! They get it.

    Oh, and Aaron Bailey, you’re disqualified. I think that your pile would probably topple over and kill me if actually created.

    Of course, I’m not actually going to vote that way. However, it does raise the question: how effective are these things? They’re not, we know that for a fact. The only use that anyone can get out of scare mail is heat in the form of fire. And the calls are even more useless.

    So, to the politicians everywhere: do you know what would impress me? If you took your campaign funds and put them towards something useful, like all the things in your platform that you won’t get around to due to “lack of funds”.

    Your bud,

    Cat.