Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Lego City UndercoverI think video games sometimes forget that their job, at heart, is to be fun. Too many of them, especially those churned out by the largest developers, feel as though they’ve been designed by committee. They attempt to do so much and yet end up appealing to nobody. Those seeking a challenge are turned off by how easy they are, and those seeking escape are turned off by how complicated they are.

Games want to be bigger, louder, and more complex. But we don’t play games because they’re big and loud and intimidating…we play them because we want to enjoy ourselves.

I love Lego City Undercover, because “fun” seems to have been its guiding virtue during development. It positively pulses with charm and possibility. It creates a world that’s an absolute joy to explore. And that’s all it does.

Oh sure, you can unlock new vehicles, and switch from costume or costume to unlock new parts of the map. You can find hidden items and compete in races and scale the tallest buildings. But that’s just because you can do anything. This isn’t a game…it’s a universe. And it’s brilliant.

I don’t like that games are so terrified of being themselves that they feel like they have to be everything else at once. I like it when some major title manages to buck the trend simply by saying, “Here’s what I am. I hope you like me…but if you don’t, no hard feelings.”

Because all Lego City Undercover had to do was give us a loveable little Lego man to guide around a fantastically impressive plastic metropolis. Maybe we solve some crimes along the way. Maybe we cause trouble. Or maybe we just climb to the top of the tallest sky scraper and admire the view, appreciating the world of possibility that stretches out in every direction.

It’s always a beautiful day in Lego City. The game doesn’t feel the need to go dark, to take itself seriously, or to worry about how it’s going to be received.

No matter how we feel, Lego life goes on. And that’s exactly the kind of confidence that wins me over.

It’s a great game. I still haven’t seen everything it has to offer, and there’s a reason for that: I’m just enjoying my stay.

R.I.P. Richie Havens


“Here Comes the Sun,” Richie Havens
Alarm Clock, 1971


“Watching TV,” Roger Waters
Amused to Death, 1992

Man DrivingHere’s a public service announcement: stop waving people on, asshole.

I know, you don’t think you’re being an asshole. You think you’re helping. I understand where you’re coming from. But it’s really important that somebody tell you you’re being an asshole. So, asshole: you’re being an asshole.

Right of way exists for a reason. Do you want to know the reason? It’s so you can keep driving your car without killing or being killed. Pretty obviously a good thing for all involved. So why do you think it’s polite to surrender that right of way? It’s literally the only thing between you and a car accident.

It’s nice to think that coming to a complete stop in the middle of the road and waving someone past is somehow a nice thing to do. But it’s not. Because you haven’t just surrendered right of way…you’ve surrendered the silent agreement between another person and the traffic around them. You’ve put them in danger. I know you didn’t mean to do this, but you did. And that makes you an asshole.

Don’t surrender right of way. You will kill somebody. If recent history is any example, it’ll probably be me. So fucking stop.

Some reasons not to surrender right of way:

1) Nobody behind you knows what the fuck you’re doing when you suddenly stop your vehicle and sit there waiting. Nobody else can see what’s going on. They are likely to try to get around you, and then the person you were waving on gets hit.

2) The person that you’re waving on doesn’t know what the fuck you’re doing either. In the time it takes you to silently negotiate this temporary alteration to traffic patterns with somebody else via vague hand signal, you could have just driven past and the person waiting would already be on his way.

3) Pedestrians also don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, so they’re not going to know who’s turning where, or when, or at what point it’s going to be safe for them to cross with their groceries, their dog, or their child.

4) The other lane or lanes of traffic can also be added to the long list of people who don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. You may come to a dead stop and wave somebody on, and that’s so very nice of you, but traffic moving in the other direction isn’t privy to your grand gesture and they’re going to keep coming, and they’re going to hit the person you’ve just waved into their path.

5) You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing either. If you did, you’d know that you stop at a stoplight or a stop sign, and that’s it. The roads are designed and traffic patterns are determined on the assumption that vehicles move. The moment you betray that assumption, you’ve cast everything else into doubt as well, and motorists will take steps to keep moving forward themselves. At best, you waste somebody’s time. At worst, you kill somebody or start a pileup.

You’re not doing anybody a favor. When I’m waiting to cross the street, I’m waiting for a reason: I’m supposed to wait. I’m not waiting for some gallant hero to stop his car…I’m waiting for that fucking car to get out of the way so that I can cross.

Why? Because I don’t know…what…the fuck…you’re doing. And once I figure it out, and I try to cross, the guy behind you almost hits me because he had no idea what was going on. Because your dumb ass is in the way, and not going anywhere, and he has somewhere to be.

So don’t wave me on. And definitely don’t get huffy when I wave you right back on in return. Especially since you’d already be long gone and I’d be well on my way if you didn’t put me, yourself, and everyone else on the road in that particular moment in immediate danger.

When you drive, I know what you’re doing.

When you drive, everyone knows what you’re doing. Why? Because the roads have been laid out in such a way that it becomes easy to anticipate what you’re doing, as long as you follow the rules.

When you surrender right of way, nobody knows what your intentions are, why you’re doing it, or what they’re supposed to be doing in return. And you look like an asshole.

Which is fine. Because you’re an asshole.

This has been a public service announcement. Asshole.

Metroidvania is not a thing.

It isn’t. Or, at least, it’s not a thing that should have that particular term appended to it.

“Metroidvania” is a classifying term gamers use to refer to video games, usually 2D, that restrict or grant progress based on the items you have. It typically takes place in a large world comprised of smaller sections. As you find items and upgrades for your character, you can explore more and more of that large world, and usually even find additional treasure and passages hidden in previous areas.

If it sounds like I’m describing Metroid here, that’s because I am. And if it doesn’t sound like I’m describing Castlevania here, that’s because I’m not.

The term “Metroidvania” is an obvious portmanteau of those two series. But there’s a problem, because Castlevania has fuckall to do with the formula.

See, when Metroid was released, this sort of gradual progression in all directions was a relatively new navigational approach for video games. Whenever a game was released afterward that followed a similar mechanic, it was usually classified as Metroid-like. Just as games that offered a stage select were often compared to Mega Man, and games that featured you jumping on enemies to kill them were compared to Super Mario Bros.

Castlevania began life as a simple — though very good — side scroller with a Hollywood-Gothic horror theme. The antagonist was typically Dracula, and the protagonist was a vampire hunter (typically of the Belmont lineage) who set out to destroy him. You fought with a whip or similar weapon through linear stages. Sub-weapons were temporary, there was no backtracking, little in the way of alternate paths, and no permanent upgrades of any kind.

In other words, it was nothing at all like Metroid.

Eventually however Konami struck rightful gold with Symphony of the Night, which was a lot like Metroid. The entire game takes place in Dracula’s castle, and you progress by collecting upgrades in the forms of items and abilities. It was, and is, a great game. And thus, “Metroidvania” was born.

Symphony of the Night — along with its similarly-themed quasi-sequels — is about the only time the term “Metroidvania” makes any sense to use. After all, it combined elements of Metroid and Castlevania.

Since then, however, the term has been thrown around to encompass anything even remotely Metroid-like, whether or not it incorporates any elements of Castlevania whatsoever. Somehow these two games — despite one being a series-wide approach and the other being a series exception — got hybridized in the cultural consciousness and had a genre of their own named after them.

But that doesn’t work. Or shouldn’t work. “Metroidvania” only makes sense if the game being described contains elements similar to each of those series, and, really, nearly always, that’s not the case. A game in which you explore a funhouse or something, throwing pies at clowns and gradually opening passages can be like Metroid. It doesn’t sound to me, though, like it could possibly be anything like Castlevania. So why would we call it a “Metroidvania?”

I find it interesting that one singular game could be looked at as Metroid‘s equivalent in defining the genre…and I also find it inaccurate. Symphony of the Night borrowed Metroid‘s approach. It added its own elements, yes, but those are not the elements that define most other games that have since fallen under the classification.

The fact that the term “Metroidvania” exists speaks volumes about how immediately important Symphony of the Night was to gaming. But nearly always, “Metroidvania” is a misnomer.

That game you’re playing where you’re seeking jump upgrades and better bombs to blast open new doors? It’s a lot like Metroid. It’s nothing like Castlevania. It is, I’ll grant you, a lot like Symphony of the Night. But Symphony of the Night was a lot like Metroid, so let’s not complicate things.

It’s Metroid-like. Unless it isn’t.

And it usually, unquestionably, is.

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