All posts by C. T. Murphy

Part-time writer, sometimes blogger.

Listmas 2013: Ethan’s 14 Most Influential Games, Part I (Special Guest Post)

Today and tomorrow, I’m running two lists from a close friend and loyal reader. Please show your love in the comments!

This isn’t necessarily a list of recommendations, nor is it necessarily a list of favorites. It could be a little bit of each, or it could be an instruction manual on what games to give to your child while they are still impressionable. Something it most definitely is, though, is a list of the games that have had such a profound impact on me during my twenty-six years of life that they are recorded in my soul-crystals and can never be replaced.

    Super Mario World (SNES)



This was the first platformer, maybe the first videogame, that baby-me was given. It taught me how to jump without moving anything but my thumb, though for many years I would be physically jumping through intense moments in any game. It has a great balance of difficulty, a steady learning-curve, a colorful and imaginative world, tons of secrets and alternate paths including difficult hidden stages for people who are into that, memorable music… everything. It’s not the standard against which all other platformers are judged. Why would we do that? It’s not in any contest with any other game. There are platformers, and there is Super Mario World. There is every other Mario game, and there is Super Mario World. Forever, in my head, saying “Mario” will be a pointer only to this game.

    Final Fantasy IV, VI (SNES)


finalfantasyethan

I can’t pick one–I’ve been trying for years. If Mario taught me how to press buttons, these two taught me how to read. Final Fantasy VI (or III in Nintendo’s renumbering) is theoretically and artistically an amazing triumph and, I’ll always argue, the greatest Final Fantasy. It accomplishes its lofty ambitions so fluidly that it never seems out of place (For examples, having no main character, or having sidequests that are so integral that they are pursued without feeling “secret” or “optional.”) The memories of this game are mixed with Yoshitaka Amano’s beautiful and unique illustrations with which the now-tattered but still-treasured player’s guide was laden. And, of course, every note from the soundtrack to either game can be recalled effortlessly.

Final Fantasy VI was dark and tragic, but IV was lush and vibrant. Final Fantasy IV (or II, Nintendo…) is the triumphant fantasy that we all want told to us over and over–which is pretty much my approach to playing that game, as it was when I was young. Knights! Dwarves! Magic! Crystals! Regret! Rebirth! The future is from the past! Going to the moon in a giant whale/spaceship! So many crystals! There is everything to love, even if it is, artistically, pretty standard. It’s been ported with new content and remade with new mechanics and had sequels forced upon it, but none of that is canon with my childhood, so who cares.

    Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)



I don’t know what to say. I bought a used cartridge from FuncoLand just because I liked the title-sticker. It didn’t communicate anything to me other than “this game has a sword in it,” but that was enough. This game was a new format that allowed a different kind of exploration. The world is open, but obstacles that can’t be passed without certain items make the experience linear. The whole time, you’re taunted with visible secrets and treasures that are just out of your reach, feeding your need to explore. I’ve played every Zelda game since finding this one. More, please?

    Wanderers from Ys III (SNES)


This game feels different from any other in the strangest ways. It feels like it was heavily influenced by text-based games, but it’s a side-scrolling sword-slasher that’s light on the dialogue. There’s a menu element is used just rarely enough to always feel like a special opportunity, unlike Zelda which has you flipping between items in every room. Success is based on experience points, new armor, and magic rings more than it is on skill, due to many misplaced hit-boxes on enemies and Adol, your swordsman, having such a short reach that it’s difficult to avoid damage if you want to deal any. It also has a… story? I never took much notice of it when I was young. It’s far from perfect, but I played it so much when there were so few other games at hand that its battles and music will be echoing through my head forever.



    Megaman X (SNES)



Another legendary game that fell into my hands through magic, this was a gift from my Aunt who had no children and didn’t speak English. This is a side-scrolling platformer with gun-based combat and a massive emphasis on mobility. Wall-clinging and dash-jumping were added from the original Megaman games, giving you the ability to practically fly through stages and dodge anything where you were previously glued to the ground and had to deal with every enemy that didn’t have the courtesy to jump over you. Playing these games just makes you feel awesome, until X5, that is.

    Super Smash Brothers (N64)



This game proved that you could have a fast, technical fighting game without having to memorize button combos. You have two attack buttons and each can combined with a directional button for a different attack. The controls are the same with every character, but they all play differently. It’s amazing. It’s also worth note that games like this, along with MarioKart 64, Mario Party, and Goldeneye pretty much redefined gaming as something (or the very best thing) that could be done casually with a group of friends instead of something for the isolated.

    Guitar Hero 2 (PS2)



I didn’t even like music until I got this game. Seriously. Most of all that I’d ever heard was classic rock, and only while being driven to school. The heavier rock and metal to which this game exposed me was life-changing. It was rewarding to watch my skill-growth over the years that this game would stay close at hand. Listening to the songs while finding the perfect times to hit notes also taught me about beat, note-quartering, and time signatures. It lit a new fire in me. It took a while, but now musician and composer are in my list of skills.

Advertisements

Things I Learned From: Guren Lagann

Gurren Lagann is one of my favorite anime of all time. When I first saw it, I was floored by its over the top story, memorable quotes, loveable characters, amazing art, and unforgettable action scenes. It is difficult to watch a show so awesome and to fall in love so deeply with it without having taken away something from the experience.

These are the things I learned from Gurren Lagann:

 (Warning, Spoilers Ahead)

Having the biggest breasts and the biggest gun doesn’t mean you can’t have the biggest heart too.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 22.31.39

The first episode of Gurren Lagann contains a lot of eye rolling fanservice primarily centered on one of the series major characters, Yoko. A barely dressed marksman with a sniper rifle that only seems to increase in size, Yoko seems like your typical over-the-top anime heroine.

As such, initially I didn’t expect much from her character other than jiggles, panty shots, and a big gun that makes robots explode. If Simon and Kamina weren’t so outrageously charming from the onset, Yoko might have been a reason I stopped watching. I can stomach fan service when the rest of the show is good, but beat it over my head enough, and my Western sensibilities will take me elsewhere.

I would have been completely wrong about Yoko if I had quit.

While she may not be the deepest of female characters, she is one of the most important members of the cast. With Kamina and later Kittan, she does serve as a typical female romantic interest for our show’s major heroes. Still, given the fate of both Kamina and Kittan and her personal journey as a whole, it is difficult to look at Yoko as just arm candy.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 22.32.48

Size matters when you’re having fun.

Gurren Lagann’s single best handled element is the constant increase in size and scope. Both in plot and in the overall size of the mecha, each episode seems to introduce something bigger, better, or bolder. From the beginning in a tiny village underground to the end when galaxies are being used as weapons, there is a huge range is size.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 22.35.32

More than that, the story changes in size as well. As Team Dai-Gurren grows to be the champion for the entirety of humankind, the stakes get raised further and further. By the time the final fight has begun, you begin to realize that Simon and friends are fighting for an infinite amount of spiral lives scattered across the universe to have the right to be in control of their own destinies.

The laws of the universe, time, and space are all meaningless as long as you have an incredible surplus of willpower.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 22.58.12

Other than an ever increasing size, the dialogue and speeches of Gurren Lagann are incredible. Instead of another couple of long-winded paragraphs explaining my position, here is a selection of incredible quotes:

“Listen Simon… Don’t forget. Believe in yourself. Not in the you who believes in me. Not the me who believes in you. Believe in the you who believes in yourself.”

“Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb!”

“Force your way down a path YOU chose to take, and do it YOUR way.”

“The tomorrow we’re trying to reach is…not a tomorrow you’ve decided on! We…by ourselves…choose our tomorrow from the infinite universe! We will fight through it. We will fight through it and protect the universe! We’ll show you we can do it!”

If you can’t believe in yourself, believe in everyone that believes in you being able to believe in yourself. That is until you realize that you should just believe in the you that believes in you. Believe.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 23.02.44

Simon’s character arc takes him from being a self-hating, shy, and honestly useless person to easily the most badass person in the entire Gurren Lagann universe. He even bypasses his mentor and biggest fan, Kamina, by series end, which seems completely impossible for the first fifteen or so episodes.

How does Simon change so dramatically? Through sheer belief and faith, at first in Kamina who had nothing but blind faith in his favorite digger and later in himself. “Believe in me who believes in you” does sound cheesy, but is it really such a crazy idea? The entire series explores the power of having faith in one another to its most absurd level. With the fate of all of humanity at stake, the series’ epic conclusion rightfully involves an entire planet’s faith being put to the ultimate mecha test.

Plus, having faith enough to do the impossible leaves you with a good feeling. Watching Guren Lagann again and again, I always walk away happier for being a living, breathing human being surrounded by friends, family, and community. It gives me faith in humanity, which is something most shows do not do.

Depressed? Suicidal? Just down? Then let me see you grit those teeth.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 22.35.59

Even if Guren Lagann always perks me with its over the top action, positivity-focused speeches, and lovable characters, the characters in the show aren’t always happy.

If I lived in a world where my entire race was subjugated by a series of more and more bizarre villains, I would be depressed too. Throw in the everyday wear and tear of living a mostly normal life with all of the losses and memories and regrets, and its amazing that most characters in the show aren’t constantly bummed out.

Still, Guren Lagann has perhaps the best known cure for depression and self-loathing: a hard punch to the face. So if you are ever down, let’s hope you have a friend who can bypass time and space to give you your wake up call. I’d volunteer but my knuckles are too delicate.

Screenshot 2013-06-22 22.58.07

Something Stupid Sunday: Bad Gaming Fanfiction Ideas

In honor of Amazon’s willingness to go where no one else has gone and make fanfiction a possibly profitable endeavor, here are a few ideas for game-related fan fiction that should never be written:

Star Trick

A massively mesmerizing take on the typical space opera, where week after week pilots are killed outright while traversing null sec or mining in the wrong part of the galaxy means certain death, and if they don’t die, then plan on them being robbed in elaborate, seemingly impossible ponzi schemes.

Breaking Maverick

The story of a discarded reploid with an irreparably broken core who takes over the Maverick underworld, by selling his own unique version of the Sigma virus, at first for the well-being of his fellow factory-mates but eventually to serve his own ego.

Games With Thrones

The epic and dark tale of three would-be queens -Princess Peach, Princess Zelda, and Princess Daisy – battling for control of the Mushroom Throne using cunning, guile, and sex appeal.

Doctor Mario

Utilizing his NES to travel through the Nintendoverse, Doctor Mario is an enigmatic, seemingly unlicensed doctor with a penchant for rescuing his female companions or just saving the day with his brains, luck, or his sonic stethoscope.

Contribute your own in the comments below!

$20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

There is a steep price to pay for knowledge in this country. Year after year, prices rise among our nation’s finest universities and colleges. At the same time, the weight of the burden that many of us choose to put on our backs gets heavier and heavier. Even worse: I pursued higher education for more knowledge and experience and culture, not to pad my resume or launch a career that would consume the rest of my life. But what is the cost of being an intellectual nerd?

My family has never been rich, but we’ve never been completely poor either. My father has spent his entire life working and never went to college. After he took over the family business out of pride rather than honest business sense, my younger years meant that at least one parent had a steady paycheck. Eventually, the decision to put so much into a failing business caught up with us, and after savings dried up, it was clear there wasn’t a silver spoon left for me to get to college without serious assistance.

None of that is an excuse, of course, for taking on so much debt with no clear plan in mind to pay it off. It also has to be stated that I never lacked. My family has more or less always been Working Poor or something slightly better off, and no matter what my parents always found ways to feed, clothe, and entertain my brother and I.

I was an ignorant kid. I thought college was a guaranteed thing for me in a number of ways. I was going to finally bloom socially from my socially-challenged High School self. I was going to experience new cultures and meet new people and escape the narrow spectrum of people typically living in rural Alabama. I thought I would be able to pursue my love of knowledge – history, literature, philosophy – without restraint.

Those things came, eventually, but not as rapidly as the steady stream of 90’s television and movies had led me to believe. And they all came at a cost that I am finally realizing will haunt me for the next thirty years (which is longer than I’ve lived by five years, so a pretty daunting amount of time in all seriousness). I won’t claim complete ignorance, but I won’t claim that I was completely aware of my actions either. I was a kid with delusions and dreams.

But I still believe in my Liberal Arts degree. I still believe in everything I learned from spending the last few years of my life studying Philosophy and English. Despite reason, I still have faith in my past self’s decision to better himself by learning how to learn again and falling in love with the pursuit of knowledge. Money be damned, I am passionate about the Liberal Arts and I took the swan dive to prove it.

I will survive, but I am unsure about the future of higher education in the United States. I firmly believe that everyone deserves a chance at higher education, and with it, a chance not dictated entirely by financial decisions. Beyond thumbs, the human experience is defined by passions for the arts and an unrelenting pursuit of knowledge. Humanity thrives and grows and betters itself on the back of curiosity, not the unimpeded pursuit of one more dollar.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any fixes. With student loan debt now being so incredibly vast, I can only hope that we the people and those we elect see the need to not choke the already struggling students with interest rates that are far beyond fair. Yes, I understand that this is truly our burden to bear and that ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’. I have too much honor and pride NOT to pay it.

I leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin: An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

This post was inspired by:

The Sound of the Crowd

gfn

There comes a time when one man’s voice is lost in a crowd – when his words are lost and go unnoticed. During times like these, it is natural for the self to act out further by shouting louder or resorting to violence. Even then, a sizable crowd will still drown you out. Often when we wish to speak the loudest, we look inward rather than outward. We lend our voice to a greater cacophony with the hope that the throngs will part, and your will be made into the absolute law of the land.

In other words, we become completely useless and counterproductive.

Democracy is a great big crowd of people yelling about this or that. It rarely gets the results that a single individual hungered for, and often leaves its biggest fans even hungrier. Yet, it is a simple truth that the most powerful voice is the voice of the many rather than the few. Instead of lending your breath toward the cacophony of desperate and lonely people each shouting for their own justice, lend it to a single harmony. Find a crowd that you can trust and use that trust to build a community or a … network.

Blogging can often feel like shouting among a great big mass of people who have been shouting longer or better than you, or people who just have more time to spend more time shouting, or even people who are just more photogenic while shouting. It is easy to despair and feel unheard. It’s even easier for those who might be willing to listen to never find you in the first place.

That is why I wanted to be a part of the Geek Force Network. It’s a network of many bloggers that I have found to be both profound and interesting. More than that, it is a shared community where bloggers can be heard. I look forward to learning, reading, and growing in its burgeoning populace!