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Five for 2015: 5 Great Games of the Year

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With the new generation of consoles finally coming into their own this year, it's been a great 12 months for blockbuster games. Here's the five which gave me the most fun - and in return, I've given them good write-ups. It's actually about ethics in end-of-the-year listicles.

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Extended Memory: SimAnt

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Game: SimAnt: The Electronic Ant Colony (1991)

Developer: Maxis Software

Original platform: DOS, Amiga, and SNES, to name a few

Greetings, human reader. I am an ant. I have lived as an ant. I have died as an ant. I have been reborn as an ant more times than I can count. This poses some interesting questions concerning the nature of cooperative insects and the finer points of reincarnation, but these are topics best left to you modern primates. It is not my place to speak on philosophy. I am an ant.

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Extended Memory: Crosscountry Canada

Crosscountry Canada

Game: Crosscountry Canada (1991)
Developer: Didatech Software Ltd.
Original platform: DOS

I’ve never been farther north in the Americas than Seattle, but I’ve long wanted to visit Canada.  I have friends who make their homes there. I like trees. Vancouver sounds like it might be my jam. Every so often, my other half and I look at each other and say something to the effect of “we should make a Canada trip happen.”

But no more. I have spent an evening driving the roads of the Great White North, and I no longer care about Canada. Or video games. Or anything, really. All that’s left of me are ground-down teeth and an extreme aversion to maple syrup.

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Extended Memory: Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness

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Game: Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness (1994)
Developer: Bridgestone Multimedia Group
Original platform: DOS

I grew up in the Catholic Church, which feels exactly as an old religion should – austere, towering, kinda spooky. It’s got incense and chanting and gilded human bones. As a kid, mass was an experience that teetered between abject boredom and divine intimidation. There was nothing fun about it, nor should there have been. This was God’s House, and that meant serious business.

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Extended Memory: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Mexico city

Game: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego - Enhanced (1989)
Developer: Brøderbund Software, Inc.
Original platform: DOS

I know this is not the intended lesson of Carmen Sandiego, but god help me, I’m considering a life of crime.

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Weirdness Rodeo

image from Andreas FeiningerSay hi to our newest contributor - Becky Chambers! Becky's Extended Memory column involves her reviewing all those wonderful (we hope) classic PC games, and she's kicked off by returning to her very first game - Beyond Dark Castle.

New short stories are coming from William Curnow, Jennifer Moore, David W Pomerico, Marie Vibbert, Michal Wojcik, Olivia Wood and JY Yang.

Meanwhile, on the rest of the internet...

A study out of the University of Colorado reports on an interesting trend:

The study examined in detail the yearly top 30 Billboard songs from 1960 to 2013 – a total of 1,583 – and found a steep increase in `advertainment’ or the use of product placement, branding and name dropping among the most popular music in the nation.

[The study] found a total of 1,544 product references in the five decades of songs he analyzed with more than half occurring between 2000 and 2010. The study also showed a direct link between product placement and brand awareness. For example, after the 2002 Busta Rhymes hit single `Pass the Courvoisier,’ sales of the cognac jumped 10 to 20 percent that year. 

Movies have already 'sold out' to product placement, music doesn't seem to be far behind... how long until some far-sighted marketer starts flogging products through literature? 

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Extended Memory: Beyond Dark Castle

Thanks to the Internet Archive, all the classic computer games are now available online - a blast of easily-emulated nostalgia that reminds us of after school computer lab and the era where you couldn't save games, find internet walk-throughs or even distinguish between the faces of the characters. Extended Memory is a second chance at classic games.

Intro

Game: Beyond Dark Castle (1987)
Developer: Silicon Beach Software
Original platform: Apple Macintosh

This is the first game I ever played.

I’m four years old, or maybe five — old enough to have developed some decent motor skills, young enough to still be sitting on my dad’s lap. We’re in front of his boxy beige Mac, and he’s teaching me how to use the keyboard, how to click the mouse. These are skills I’ll take for granted one day, things I’ll do while eating sandwiches or looking away from my screen. But in this moment, everything is new.

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Tell Me About... Tékumel

TekumelThanks to a sale at DriveThruRPG, I finally picked up Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) and read my first Tékumel sourcebook. I've heard about Tekumel for years, including reading some tantilising details in Gary Alan Fine's study of gaming, Shared Fantasy.

Upon opening Empire of the Petal Throne, the first thing to strikes the reader is this lavish opening praise from Gary Gygax, who, as far as I can understand, wasn't often all that glowing in his adoration of stuff:

It is a great privilege to be given the task of writing the prefatory remarks to Professor Barker's tremendous creation Empire of the Petal Throne. It is also something which I approach with considerable reservation, for what can I tell you about this incredible labor that its author and the game components haven't already said far better than I possible [sic] can? So I simply state that it is the most beautifully done fantasy game ever created. It is difficult for me to envision the possibility of any rival being created in the future. Comparisons are often misleading, but carefully drawn ones can be helpful and informative. Therefore, I must the reader to view the world of Tékumel in comparison with J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. A study of the background detail and society of each will force the reader to the conclusion that the former work is, if anything, at least as painstakingly and lovingly detailed as that of the acknowledged master of the fantasy world in toto. J.R.R. Tolkien did not, of course, ever imagine his Middle Earth as a vehicle for the play of fantasy games - much to the loss of his myriads of devotees. But Professor Barker has neither had the opportunity to introduce and familiarise his Tékumel by means of popular works of fiction.

Emphasis mine.

I am, within the confines of 1975 rules (and layout) design, rather impressed by the world - it is Weirder than I expected, especially in the monster design, but also simultaneously more Burroughsian (Barsoomian?) than I would've thought. 

Has anyone read more of the sourcebooks? Or, even better, have any of you played in this world? Please share!


Pygmalia: Galatea

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz

Many people suggested the subject of this month’s column, either in the comments here at Pornokitsch, or on Facebook/Twitter, so here we go with this column’s first video game! Or at least, text-based adventure. 

GalateaGalatea (2000)

Galatea, by Emily Short, is an award-winning text-based adventure, or interactive fiction game. Praised for its NPC, the eponymous Galatea, it apparently revolutionized the genre of interactive fiction games due to of the depth and complexity of Galatea’s responses to the player. Not only that, but the game is multilinear, meaning you can take multiple paths to the same endings, having a different experience each time, creating your own story within the framework of the game.  

On its surface, Galatea seems simple enough: you are a famous art critic at a gallery opening, and you discover the statue of Galatea on a pedestal. But Galatea is more than a statue; she is an “animate,” which you may or may not get explained in more detail, while you play the game. The game is then to talk to her, to solicit responses, and respond in turn to have a conversation with this strange creature. Once you start, however, you may find it's more challenging than it might sound...

The first thing Galatea says to you is, “They told me you were coming.” From there, you can speak to her by “asking” about topics. You can “look,” you can “touch” and do other physical actions like “embrace” or “smell” Galatea; you can “tell” her things, and apologize if you annoy her. 

The game is… unsettling. Galatea is wise but naïve, direct but oblique, as confusing to speak to as you might imagine a living, sentient statue would be. She has what appears to be a rich inner life. It is very strange.

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