Halo MCC: Achievements Run Amok

Before we jump right in to the subject of this post I wanted to explore my special feelings for the word “Amok:” which, being one of those special words that sounds very different from how it is written – and how significant it is to expression an idea accurately.

The Word “Amok”

The word first entered popular usage in both English and Spanish in the mid 17th century, and its roots can be found in the original Malay word mengamuk – which is defined as “rushing with great frenzy”.

The origin is significant for a number of reasons, not the least being the general atmosphere for highly educated and verbally articulate members of society at the time.

Perhaps more significant (at least in terms of its strategic use in debate) is the fact that it contains specific emotional and even religious connotations.  It is fair to characterize Amok as being similar to the original meaning of Berserk, the two words sharing a fanatical religious origin.

It certainly helped in increasing the popularity of these strange words and ideas that there  was something in the atmosphere then that was very much like that of the habitual collector – and when we say “habitual collector” we are tactfully saying they horde… That comment requires some explaining…

In the mid-17th century the world was rapidly growing smaller, and not simply because everyone and their brother was outfitting small merchant vessels for exploration and trade, dispatching them to the far flung corners of the earth in the hopes of discovering some very specific goals that were widely believed to exist.

Around 1 in every 5 of these expeditions actually returned, and of the roughly 20% that completed a successful voyage, perhaps 1 in 10 returned with the fortune in goods and spices that their benefactors hoped for.  Dismal odds to be sure!

The European exploration of the Pacific during this era was largely inspired by four obsessions: (1) finding a faster and safer route to India by sailing into the sunset; (2) finding the fastest and most productive routes to the spice-rich islands of the Moluccas.

In addition to those two important considerations, there was (3) finding undiscovered sources for cash crops like cocoa beans (which recently gripped the continent in a vice-like habit of taking in the news – and the newest beverage of the elite – whipped chocolate); and finally (4) locating the route to the vast and as-yet undiscovered massive southern continent that simply MUST exist in the South Pacific waters!

A fifth consideration actually existed – though this one was what we might call a fringe element today, and was not widely embraced by nations or the leaders of city-states, and that is that the origins of social culture and wisdom originated not in Africa, but in the South Pacific!

Specifically it was thought that if an island so small and isolated as Greece might produce learned men such as Thales of Miletus, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Plato, what might the islands of the South Pacific offer?

Fame and Fortune via Patronage

The consequences of this rapid exploration though mostly unscientific was new opportunities presented to the naturalist and natural scientists of the era – men (and with rare exception a few women) who could go to the New World, spend six months collecting seeds, drawing plants, and classifying them, taking samples back with them to England or one of the more affluent European city-states.

A system of fashionable collectors and patronage existed that basically meant that any natural scientist who managed to defy the odds and get their new collection of notes, seeds, and best of all, live plants — back home — could depend upon widespread support to the extent that certain collectors of botany and keepers of rare plants would fight over who got to purchase that new flower!

Now add to that environment a subset of scholar-patrons whose interest fell in both the preservation AND the inclusion of languages, lore, history, and the like, and you can easily see how all of those language books, history books, and basic travel guides ended up being published.

To help explain the thought patterns of the era and color-in the personalities and how that all came together try to accept that for these wealthy sorts who considered themselves the patrons to the natural sciences, any triumph for one of the many natural scientists, biologists, linguists, and scholars that THEY supported was widely accepted as reflected glory for THEM.

So you see, when the book was published it did not simply contain a dedication to Mssr. Ronald Smythe-Blunt, Patron, but was credited as published by that patron.  So shared glory was largely the currency of the realm in terms of fame at the time.  Today we have YouTube.

You have to remember that this was a period roughly 75 years BEFORE Carl Linnaeus appeared on the scene and delivered his significant influence on the great value of learning and classifying the discoveries one makes in both the world and natural sciences!  More on that in a moment…

First though, consider this: the Javanese language was virtually unknown in contemporary and learned society outside of the small community of naturalists whose hobby-slash-profession included exploring the mysterious corners of the world, and what was at that time considered to be the last truly great mysteries – the South Pacific Islands.

While very few readers could tell you where the islands upon which these amazing words and ideas might be heard, words like Amok very rapidly entered the lexicon largely due to their colorful nature and a shared desire to be able to speak influentially.  That last bit was very important to the learned and those who thought that they were learned.

Amok Amok Amok!

The early use of the word – and the reason that it so quickly caught on – was as a noun denoting a Malay who was in the grip of a homicidal frenzy and on the attack.  Several very popular (read that commercially successful) exploration adventure books (these were a specific sort of adventure book that were a mixture of non-fiction and fiction, very heavily embellished and, prior to the mid 17th century, largely focused upon the dark continent (Africa).

You could do no better in scoring social points – and particularly among the diverse collection of psuedo intellectuals to be found in coffee and chocolate houses – to win an argument using a real word that was so new your opponent lacked the basic comprehension to know HOW to respond to you when you used it – and so words like “Amok” soon became the .44 Magnum Bullets of the day for personal dueling.

It may help you to understand why this was so powerful a phrase to consider that by its very definition an episode in which the person has run Amok was normally thought to end with the attacker being killed — either by bystanders or by committing suicide – and thus you can see how colorful it stands as a way to paint an adversary as being on the route to a Pyrrhic victory.

So Where is This Taking Us?

When Halo: The Master Chief Collection (hereinafter called Halo: MCC) was announced the fact that it was to include FOUR major game titles under ONE roof was not lost on the gamer community in general, or Halo fans specifically.

It did not take long following the announce for speculation to begin on how the Achievements would be handled.

It was widely accepted that the games would probably get a brand new Achievement scheme, one that combined game play rather than isolating it.  Oh man was that off target!

Not only did the wizards who were creating this new package opt to retain the original Achievements Scheme, they did so with no apologies offered – to the tune of 500 Achievements worth a total of 5000g (!!)

500 @ 5000g

Those two numbers are so large that they deserve some examination.  The first point is there is no way to use the traditional display system on either the Xbox 360 OR the Xbox One to set and display them.  There are simply too many.

As a result of this reality in place of the standard sliding row of Achievements what we received instead was a token sample in that format that, once the player actually moved to examine the remaining 95% of the Achievements was then forced into a PiP window in the form of a narrow column divided into two themes: Locked and Unlocked Achievements.

Okay that is not so bad really, and it is easily managed up to a point, for sure, but once you actually begin to dig into the first game (and most players pretty much started from the beginning) which is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (or Halo: CEA) a curious pattern emerged.

The typical player ended up STAYING in HCEA mode far longer than might otherwise be the case, largely as a result and consequence of the Achievements!

Put this another way – most players were loathe to move on from CEA until they had unlocked ALL of the Achievements that they felt they likely COULD unlock, for reasons (we suspect) that have more to do with the ungainly display scheme for Achievements than anything else.

Oddly enough – considering that WE do not play these games strictly for Achievements or adding ‘g’ to our score, we also found ourselves being influenced by precisely THOSE concerns!

So what does that look like?  Typically we mean? Consider that for JUST Halo: CEA there are 91 Achievements worth a total of 855g (those do NOT include the Common ones, of which there are 71 Achievements worth a total of 895g!)

Loitering for Achievements and ‘G’

Using Halo: CEA as our example, the Achievements Scheme for the game is structured as follows:

  • Common Achievements – G that applies to ALL of the games equally / cumulative activities.
  • Story: Level Completion – 10 Achievements worth a total of 100g.
  • Conditional: Par Times – 11 Achievements worth a total of 120g.
  • Conditional: Par Scores – 11 Achievements worth a total of 120g.
  • Conditional: Terminals – 11 Achievements worth a total of 70g.
  • Conditional: Skull Collection – 14 Achievements worth a total of 85g.
  • Conditional: Completion Difficulty Levels – 4 Achievements worth a total of 70g.

The remaining Achievements consist of a collection of conditional events as well as multi-player events that require some rather amazing commitment from the player to fully unlock.

Put it this way – in terms of TIME, the soonest that a player can complete unlocking the entire Achievements for Halo: CEA is around one (1) month (depending on the day of the month you begin) since one of the Achievements can only be unlocked on the 15th of a month.

Notes:

“Common” = Achievements that are shared among ALL of the games.
“Conditional”
= Achievements that require the player to do specific actions for set results.
“Skulls”
= A collection set that consists of Skull Objects that when used perform specific game mods.
“Story”
= Achievements that are unlocked as part of the Story Mode for Single / Multi-player and so cannot be missed.
“Terminals” = A collection set that when used triggers an external news and notification system.

So because of the diversity in the design of the Achievements – and the odd display scheme as well as organization – most players (particularly those who are into neat and orderly game play in terms of Achievements) quickly find that there is no way for it NOT to be messy!

Because of that we find that a lot of players end up opting to stick around in CEA until they have taken the unlocking as far as they reasonably can BEFORE moving on to the next game in the series, Halo 2, where they do precisely the same thing!

Is that strange or what?

Now that you understand that – and we have very well defined both the meaning and the origins for the word “Amok” – can you think of a better and more accurately descriptive word to use for this instance?  Because if you can, I would really sincerely like to know!

The Deed in Practice

Recently a reader emailed me asking if I actually really and genuinely DO the things I write about?  Now as I am a firm believer in full transparency it appears to me that the best way to demonstrate that I do, indeed, do the things I write about, I cordially invite you to verify that which I say!

You can accomplish this UN-style Trust but Verify policy by loading your favored Web Browser and pointing it at any of the following URLs:

You can also log into your Gamertag Account on Xbox Live (http://www.xbox.com/en-US/) then select the following:

  • Log In
  • Click the “Friends” Tab
  • Enter “Recnef” in the Search Box on the Friends Page

You are sincerely invited to “follow” me if you like but please do not send Friend requests (you can follow w/o doing that).  It is NOT that I do not want to be your friend mates, it is simply that I have run out of slots in the Friends Scheme and I cannot accept new friends.

I don’t want you to think I am ignoring your request but there is nothing I can do about it if you do send one.  Just saying.

Note: You will need to select View Xbox One Profile for the details on Halo: MCC…

Not only will you be able to verify my G and Gamerscore, but for most of the above you can see details on the different Achievements including data like the date it was unlocked, what it was worth, and the like.

Happily you can ALSO see my G in other games, and even compare YOUR status to mine if you like.  And how cool is that?

As you will quickly note, I do not speculate, but put into practice that which I write of!

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Ghosts and the Paranormal in Video Games

An original painting by artist Nicole Wong (http://nicole-wong.com) titled Cemetery Ghost.

An original painting by artist Nicole Wong titled Cemetery Ghost.

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After I wrote this I realized that I needed to preface it with something to explain that it was not an indictment of the paranormal and ghosts — a disclaimer was required or I am certain to end up on the receiving end of a lot of angry email telling me how much of a wanker I am…  This is not my first rodeo, just saying.

Part of my concern has to do with the fact that ghosts — and the paranormal — are not really a simple, cut-and-dry issue.  Not like UFO’s for example, which really, if you think about it, we all have to believe in because anything that you see flying in the sky or in space that you cannot identify is actually technically and in reality a UFO — an Unidentified Flying Object.

The question of ghosts and the paranormal is simply not that easily managed because there are a lot of people out there that firmly believe in them, believe that they have seen some, and believe that they know what it is that they saw.

I am not one of those people — but at the same time I am also not one of the people who say that ghosts do not exist because the bottom line is… I don’t know.

So to head all of that off, I want to say, first thing, that I am NOT saying there is no such thing as ghosts. Quite the contrary, what I am saying, again, is that I don’t know.

It so happens that I do not suffer from the sort of hubris that dictates that, just because I cannot prove something or because I don’t know something, means it cannot be so.

In point of fact — and I feel like I really need to explain this: I have never been a person who was sure of things I was ignorant of.

I had a lot of experience with that sort of personality type while doing my military service, and I can tell you first hand that not only does nobody like that type of person, they don’t trust them, because that sort of mental attitude can get you into dangerous situations where asking “what is the worse that can happen?” is not a good idea.

As a result of early exposure to that mindset, I have always been the sort of person who endeavors to take personal note of my inadequacies — particularly where knowledge is concerned — and act and react accordingly.

After quite a few years of living and experiencing life outside of environments in which people have to do what you tell them to do because you outrank them, I have come to believe that as rare as it is, the type of personality inclined to qualify situations with the acknowledgement that a lack of certainty, familiarity, or knowledge is present is most often a personality trait typical of the writer — and I am a writer.

It is a good thing to know your limitations and not be afraid to admit that you don’t know — especially if you are in a group where there might be someone who actually does know, since you can then consult them.  There is no shame in admitting your ignorance, only shame in concealing it.

With that on the table, I should explain that my general awareness of the paranormal is a sort that comes from being (A) Catholic, (B) part-Irish, and (C) spending my formative years surrounded by other people who are both Catholic and part (or completely) Irish.

That is to say what I knew I knew from childhood stories and the often necessary rituals that one performs to ward-off evil spirits.

So my imperfect knowledge of the paranormal was in line,  I suspect,  with that of most people, or it was until just the last few years anyway.

Even now, what little I do know on the subject was acquired via listening to Tim Weisberg, and his radio show Spooky Southcoast on WBSM FM radio which has a more scientific approach to the subject.

I should point out in the interest of transparency that Tim is a colleague who, in addition to covering sports for our sister publication, The New Bedford Standard Times, also hosts two radio shows at WBSM — a Saturday morning talk show that I have never listened to because I never get up on Saturday morning unless pastry is involved, and his famous Spooky Southcoast radio show on Saturday nights which I do listen to, especially when Pizza is involved and it usually is.

Tim sort of opened my eyes to the whole paranormal sciences thing in the world, though not in video games because my eyes had already been opened to that phenomenon due to events that took place years ago.

Ghosts and the Paranormal in Video Games

The subject of ghosts in the real world is a bit tricky because for the most part, it is my understanding that to see and experience ghosts in the real world, you actually have to go to them — which as I am mobility challenged and use a wheelchair, is rather more difficult — I suspect — than you might think.

I do not imagine ghosts prefer to appear in handicap-accessible locations that would be convenient for me to access…  If they were I suspect that the existence of ghosts would be a lot wider in both recognition and posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Ghosts in video games on the other hand, while clearly created by the developers as a recognized mechanism for moving the story forward (or for some other purpose such as a cameo by a dead person, or a comic element) — are pretty obviously a LOT easier to come by.

This is true particularly when it is a game that is about ghosts or the paranormal, but not so obvious when it is framed as a cameo or ancillary part of the story being told.

Game developers tend to use that sort of thing as a tool, and usually without investing a lot time, energy, or research in terms of plot and background let alone the actual manifestation sciences that are attached to the phenomenon, so I imagine that they get it wrong more often than they get it right…

The use of ghosts — and more widely the paranormal — in video games probably does not make games — or the people who make them — very popular with the folks who actually DO study ghosts…  Just saying.

With all of that taken into consideration, the first “ghost story” that I recall being aware of outside of the video game itself happened as the result of a conversation covering that aspect of a game, which took place among a group of my peers that began — as such conversations often do — as a friendly conversation that very nearly devolved into a fistfight.

To qualify this just in case you want to ask, the introduction of violence (or the impending introduction of violence) is not a usual element in the conversations that I have inside or outside of the games journo environment, and it should be well understood that this was not directly the fault of any ghost, real or video game.

I should explain…

The games journo community is pretty small compared to the that of other, more traditional beats in journalism.

A nice way to describe that community would be “intimate” but honestly “small” is more accurate — in that small is the size and the number of journos who can make a living on that beat.

The natural result of this is, when a sufficient number of what we have taken to calling “traditional games journos” (I will write about that distinction some other time) gather in one geographic location — for example covering one of the many annual video game expos that take place around the world –we make it a point to get together and break bread — and chat — at least a few times during the event.

These gatherings often take the form of dinners or, more frequently, evening drinking sessions, though the truth be told we are most of us reaching the point at which our advanced age makes all-night drinking sessions a thing of the past.

If you are curious these gatherings tend to take place in the same locations, year after year, granting a measure of familiarity that we crave due to having to travel so much.

If you were thinking that I was actually going to tell you where these meet-ups take place, well, no…  I am sorry to say that I can’t do that for several very good reasons, not the lease of which is legitimate fear that one of the less stable gamers who, having taken umbrage to the hatchet-job of a review one of us did to their favorite game, might be so inclined to show up wearing a propane tank… You can’t be too careful these days.

Back from that digression, the conversation took place in a very nice and comfortable  restaurant on the evening before the opening day of E3 2010.   I am reasonably certain it was E3 2010 because the subject that kicked-off the conversation was the video game Alan Wake — which had released just before that E3.

Considering the subject matter of Alan Wake, it both fully qualifies as a ghost-story game, but also seemed to be overkill in that regard since its primary foundation was built around the darkness and its ghosts. Well, sort of.

A Conversation Starter

Bearing in mind that the conversation I am about to relate to you was, if any term can be used to properly define it, an alcohol-fueled discussion of the role that ghosts have played in the world of video games — by a group of writers who would know — and you should get the idea that it was slightly more than simply shop-talk.

While Alan Wake served as the spark that started the conversation, it quickly moved on to other games with less obvious spookiness — but still ghost-story worthy — naturally starting with some of the earliest examples of this unofficial games genre like the ghost games of the early computer-based gaming scene.

Please bear in mind that if you did not cut your teeth on Commodore Computing’s C=64 or Apple’s II GS model line, chances are you never heard of most of the games we were discussing…

Among these ghost-game titles the Blackwell game series quickly popped up — actually there was no way that the Blackwell series was not going to come up in the conversation because one of the games journos present — before he crossed over to a very successful career in games journalism — worked for Wadjet Eye Games, which is the tiny development studio started by Dave Gilbert to produce his games, among which was the Blackwell series.

That part of the conversation began with an argument – we could not decide if the Blackwell series (which was created in the mid-00s) was related to another ghost-story video game we all thought was called “Blackwell” that was released in the mid-80s for Commodore’s C=64, Apple’s II GS, as well as the Amstrad — the former pair being pretty common to the gaming community in the 80s while the latter would place you in the UK at the time.

That was about the same time that the sequel to The Staff of Karnath — a game called Blackwyche — appeared on C=64 as a continuing adventure for protagonist Sir Arthur Pendragon — that being a pretty infamous game series in its own right.

The insertion of The Staff of Karnath and Blackwyche into the conversation served to muddy the waters, but it also clarified them as it was at this point that we all realized — pretty much simultaneously — that the game we were thinking of as “Blackwell” was in fact Blackwyche, and the mystery was solved with our recognizing that the game we were thinking of pretty much had nothing at all to do with the Blackwell series that came later!

The actual Blackwell series was an important game series in that it certainly had a heavy influence upon the ghost-story genre of games and, in terms of the games industry, upon many of the games that followed throughout the late 00s and beyond.

There were four titles in the main series: The Blackwell Legacy (2006), Blackwell Unbound (2007), Blackwell Convergence (2009), and Blackwell Deception (2011), all of which pretty much dealt with the subject of ghosts and what they need.

The intense story-arc begins honestly enough with Rosangela Blackwell (Rosa), a young freelance writer based out of New York City — so right there the developers already had us cold.

You see games journos — like journos from the other beats — tend to quickly and willingly accept and embrace anything in the entertainment realm that purports to tell the story of a freelance journalist clawing their way up the ladder.

Do you remember Dick Wolf’s television show Deadline? We do.

Interestingly enough the paper from that show — The New York Ledger — featured prominently in some of Wolf’s other shows, particularly Law & Order and its offshoots, but for some reason Deadline only got one season.

Anyway the Blackwell games started out honestly enough, as a ghost named Joey Mallone appears in Rosa’s flat as she is working on a piece on suicide following the recent death of her aunt, Lauren Blackwell, who it quickly develops was a medium who was in regular contact with “the other side.”

As the story began to unfold it worked out that Rosa had inherited that talent — or ability — that bit was never really all that clear.

So Rosa learns about her new (or maybe it was deeply suppressed) ability as Joey explains how she is needed to perform a critical service to the newly deceased — that being to help them “cross over” into the afterlife by helping them to resolve outstanding issues that are keeping them chained to the mortal world.

In the process of this she discovers a link between the death of a girl and other deaths that happen to relate to the assignment she is working on, and it sort of snowballs from there.

Not going to go too deeply into the plot here in case you end up deciding you want to give the games a go, in addition to fleshing out the world of the super-ghost-talking-to-hero that Rosa is, you also get a chance to see how fragile the world of the freelancer is, and why they try to keep their editors happy if at all possible…

The thing is that, as cheesy as that plot might sound, The Blackwell Legacy was actually a very good (and more important, entertaining) video game.

So good in fact that in 2011 they re-cut the game to feature the voice actors who did the other three, for continuity, and released the first three games (with the re-cut first game) as a bundle at the same time that the fourth game in the series was released.

The game series just gets better from there, but you know we never did hammer out whether or not it was the fact that the games featured a journalist protagonist that was the primary attraction for us, or that they were ghost-story games…

Either way though, we all agreed that we liked them and that they were very good games for the retro-style point-and-click graphic adventure genre that they were part of.

Killing Time

At that point having exhausted the subject of the Blackwell series we were all willing to allow that, while Alan Wake game was entertaining and very well written, it was not really in the same league as the other ghost-story genre of games.

None of us were willing to admit that we had played any of the Casper series, let alone offer an opinion regarding like/not-like, but all of us were willing to offer opinions on Clive Barker’s Undying (2001) and Jericho (2007) — though considering the source material it was kind of difficult not to.

The Nightmare entities from F.E.A.R. were next but they were quickly supplanted by the “Water-Clock of Thoth” that served as the MacGuffin for Killing Time (we all agreed that the original release by 3DO Studios for the 3DO – 1995 – was far superior to Intrepid’s port of the game for Windows 95 and the Mac – 1996).

Killing Time was actually rather innovative for the ghost-story genre in that it was not only an Action-Adventure and Mystery game, it also happened to be one of the first fully legitimate zombie-shooters for the genre.

If you are not familiar with Killing Time,well that is a shame.  While none of the structure in the game was really original, the manner in which the development team took core elements that were either new to gaming or that were just getting popular, and mixed them together to create this Ghost-and-Zombie-Shooter-Mystery-Action-Adventure game really stands out.  More importantly though, it had a significant impact on games and gaming.

In Killing Time you play an ex-Egyptology student who has set out to solve the mystery revolving around the ancient artifact called the “Water-Clock of Thoth” that had been discovered — and brought back to New York — by your professor of Egyptology, the mysterious Dr. Hargrove.

This sort of situation where often priceless historical artifacts were found on foreign digs by a team of teachers and students, who pretty much took whatever they wanted from the dig in terms of artifacts, without bothering to seek the approval of the local government, which in the case of Egypt was, after all, largely made up of corrupt wogs who simply wanted to be bribed, right?

Well that was the 1930s for you; besides the fact that the artifact was probably historical, and certainly has a paranormal and powerful magic power in it, the important bits you should be taking away from this is that it has gone missing following a visit by Hargrove’s patron, the very wealthy and equally mysterious Tess Conway.

It does not help that Tess Conway shortly thereafter turns up missing (just how one “turns up missing” was never really all that clear) and her disappearance took place while she may or may not have been holding an occult gathering at her estate on the semi-private Matinicus Isle, in Maine (say, with proper nods to Stephen King who is a God among games journos, why is Maine such a ghostly place???).

As the story unfolds we discover that Tess is far from slightly-interested in the subject of archeology and serving as an angel investor to help fund historical research — in fact it works out that she is, in fact, something of a diabolical monster in her own right.  Well that and she not only knows what the secret power is for that particular artifact but means to make use of it to further her nefarious plans for immortality.

At this point you should pretty much get the basic idea. We already knew it because hey, we are all games journos and we not only played (and liked) the game, most of us actually wrote reviews of it.

What set Killing Time apart from other games in the ghost-story genre at the time was the fact that the back-story was largely revealed to the player in the form of live-action cut scenes acted out by real actors, which was sort of a fresh idea at the time (think Red Alert).

The live-action CS’s helped the game to stand out in its genre, but it was really its status as a shooter that pushed the attention its way.

Among the arsenal of weapons for this game (the game was set in the 1930s but thanks to the isolated location in Maine the developers were able to interpret the era loosely), which included a collection of weapons that would seem more familiar to bootleggers than a wealthy heiress, it offered serious opportunities for ass-kicking that few games of the era provided.

The weapons in the game include the to-be-expected magical Ankh that delivered devastating AOE — which the player used to quite literally wipe out a large number of enemies in one go (assuming that they were conveniently grouped inside the AOE range of the Ankh, which invariably they were).

Seriously.

The weapons also included the required Crowbar for melee (1930s era archeologists routinely opened well-made wooden crates all the time so naturally they had a variety of hefty crowbars handy at all times – just ask Indiana Jones!).

The gangster-collection of traditional shooter weapons included dual-pistols, a shotgun, and a Thompson sub-machine gun (what they called a Tommy-Gun in the vernacular of the era).

If that failed to get the job done you could always use your Molotov Cocktails and trusty flamethrower, both of which were very useful for dispatching the undead.

We were tempted to say “killing” the undead — but really if you think about it, being undead is what they do, so unless you can completely destroy them, you cannot “kill” the undead you are merely slowing them down, right?

While Tess Conway is legitimately a nutter, among the other characters in the game were some interesting personalities, and among them, two really stand out in memory.

There is “Mike” — who is Duncan DeVries personal bodyguard and who doubles as the director of security for the estate — and “Lydia Tweksbury” — who gets extra points just for having that name, but turns out to fill the Judas role in the game in a way that only she can.

Sadly if you are going to play the game we cannot go any deeper into our reasons for selecting these two characters as the truly standout characters, but suffice it to say that despite their very minor roles in the small picture, in the big picture these two are rockstars.

Can’t say anymore than that and I have probably said too much already, sigh.

We all agreed that the creative use of real-world locations as part of the backdrop for the game was a significant element in quickly dispelling doubt and permitting immersion to take place naturally.

It was certainly an important element, particularly the use of the very real Boldt Castle, found on Heart Island (one of the islands in the Thousand Islands region of New York State) along the shore of the Saint Lawrence River — which stands in to represent the Conway Estate.

The appearance in the castle of a ghost — who as it turns out is more or less the castle ghost — cannot be dismissed however, despite the fact that your character handles that pretty well considering that it doesn’t you know, freak out or anything…

But then again your character has a six-shot revolver that fires an unlimited number of shots without ever having to be reloaded (watch the video) so it makes sense that something like a ghost who appears offering advice is not going to phase them, right?

The back-story of the castle ghost eventually gets explained — don’t worry, watching the video we embedded above will not really ruin the game for you — but we all agreed that her second ghostly form (the white one) pretty much reminded all of us of the appearance of Princess Leia in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, where R2D2 shows the partial message to Luke before Luke inadvertently brings the droid to the intended recipient of the message.

If the amount of detail about Killing Time I have shared here gives you the idea that it represented a significant amount of the conversation we were having, that’s good because it did.

Despite its very Doom-like appearance, the game did have a significant impact not just on the games journos but to some extent the games community in that it provided what amounted to the first taste that most gamers had with the notion of treating the undead the same as the living with respect to the shooter genre of game…

So if you are looking for who to blame for the massive number of zombie-based video games that now plague the world, look no further.

Bubble, Bubble Ghost, Toil and Trouble

It was at this point that someone made an unfortunate comparison to Bubble Ghost, another ghost-story game with roots in the mid 80s, and nearly caused a fistfight.

The game Bubble GHost was widely known in its era, having appeared on pretty much every gaming platform from C=64, II GS, and the Amstrad, to PC DOS, the Amiga, Atari’s ST line of computer/game consoles (the ST included a cartridge slot), and later, on Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld games console!

The basic mechanics for the game involve the players guiding a ghost around the castle, positioning it to use its ghostly breath(?!) to guide a bubble past a series of obstacles while avoiding having it come into contact with surfaces or other obstacles.

The ultimate goal being to activate different objects and, eventually, to enable your escape.

Part of the reason why this was an unfortunate comparison is that the developer of Bubble Ghost (Infograme) put a lot of pressure on its North America publisher (Accolade) to push the many ports it had created as a hard sell — which it seems was what the company was doing in Europe and the UK, where it WAS the publisher — using a variety of ad campaigns that were, well, creative.

It will help if you are aware of the back-story here: Infograme was a massive French holding company based in Paris that had the well-deserved reputation of being something of a whore in the games industry.

A lot of games journos at the time considered the company to be shameless producers of shovelware — low quality games that tended to make their entire profit during the first three to six weeks following launch; that being the time period before word-of-mouth could succeed in revealing the true quality of a game.

I don’t know how much of that was truth and how much was rumor or unfounded opinion — I was not a games journo during that period I was still a kid and gamer — but I do know that the feelings among the veteran journos at the table were such that the comparison was interpreted as a slap in the face to one of the journos present who had worked on the game that was being compared to the shovelware…

Anyway due to its rather trite underlying mechanism for game play, you may be amused to learn that among the old school games journos, the game Bubble Ghost is often called that Ghostly Blowjob game…

Speaking of Chuck Norris

We were not speaking of Chuck Norris, but being the sort of person that chooses to use humor in order to defuse stressful situations, and concerned that a punch was about to be thrown that, once thrown, could not be taken back (and the certain knowledge that the person who caused these bad feelings and would be on the receiving end of that punch was just the sort of person who would, in fact, call the cops) I popped off the following:

“You know Agent 47 may actually be more formidable than Chuck Norris.”

The reaction I got from this was way better than what I was hoping for…

A chorus of “What?!” and a few “Waitress, I will have the crack that one has been smoking” quickly followed, and then the insistence that I explain myself…

“Remember the ninth mission in Codename 47? It was the seventh mission in Hitman: Contracts too — but you remember it, right?” They nodded for the most part.

“OK so after Agent 47 enters the hotel, and makes his way through the halls to the room where the crime scene was, where the murder had been committed?”

This was the mission in which you were supposed to derail the plans of terrorist Frantz Fuchs, who was like the less-clever cousin to the terrorists in the first two Die Hard movies?

Basically you were supposed to eliminate Frantz, secure his bomb — it was a very nasty chemical bomb — and then you needed to escape to the rendezvous spot, all without being detected by the army of cops and private security patrolling the halls and rooms in the hotel.

Typical Hitman mission structure in other words, but of course getting through the mission with a Hitman rating was like, well, like being Chuck Norris?

Actually it was better than being Check Norris, they agreed, but then insisted that I explain the ghost-game connection and my assertion that Agent 47 could out-Chuck-Norris Chuck Norris.

“Well, Agent 47 kills the ghost in that one; I think there actually might have been an Achievement for doing that — so do you think Chuck Norris could do that?!” I demanded.

I distinctly recall the reaction of the journo who was, moments before, about to throw a punch: “What ghost, what the hell are you talking about?!”

Great, I silently said to myself. Now instead of wanting to hit that wanker, he wants to hit YOU!

“The ghost that you see outside of the hotel room where the murder took place.

“The ghost that you can, if you are really fast, sort of kill with the shotgun on the floor of the bathroom but not really because to kill the ghost you have to sort of catch it unawares, and use your garrote!” I explained.

It took me nearly twenty minutes to convince them that I was not having the piss on them, and even then to fully satisfy that lot I ended up whipping out my trusty HP notebook and loading YouTube.

After quickly hunting down the video “Hitman Ghost” (http://youtu.be/V_z7AZR2euo) that not only features that ghostly encounter, but was created by a gamer who made it a point show just about every sort of interaction you can possibly have with that ghost, and well, then they were convinced!

The conversation at that point turned to how the developers had managed to slip in a ghostly encounter AND a ghost that for the most part they were completely unaware of, though several of the journos allowed as how, now that they had seen the mission on YouTube, they did actually remember the ghost, but they did not realize that it could be killed…

We played and then replayed the video over and over, and noted the different potential interaction options that were available to the player — here is the list:

 

  • 0:00 – 0:45 — Getting to the hallway.
  • 0:46 – 0:47 — The first sighting of the ghost, in the hallway.
  • 1:11 – 1:25 — Seeing the ghost in the bathroom mirror and taking a shot at it (note the blood splash).
  • 1:46 – 2:16 — Properly garrotting the ghost and then dragging its ghostly body into the hall.

Note that the first almost full minute if the video consists of the player just getting Agent 47 into a position so that he would actually be in the right area…

I suspect that the reason most players both never knew that the ghost was there and did not interact with it has more to do with the desire to score as highly as possible in the game (meaning to get the best hitman rating).

Ghosts in Video Games

When all was said and done we had, between the twelve of us, worked it out that video game ghosts come in three basic types – the first type, in games that are about ghosts, haunting, and basically are ghost-games as a genre, because it is more or less about ghosts, elevates them to a character in the games and so rarely ever observes the different rules that people serious about ghosts tend to state that ghosts follow.

What I mean by that is simply that in that type of game environment, you can end up having long and meaningful conversations with ghosts, which sort of flies in the face of the whole ghost science thing considering that while real ghosts (it seems to me) may in fact have a message that they want to share with you, don’t use punctuation.

The second type of ghost in video games usually takes the form of the ghost-as-guide, in that they generally are there for a very specific reasons and, once they fulfill their purpose, pretty much disappear, never to be seen again.

Finally there is the third type, which I like to call the Accidental Ghost. These can take the form of ghostly cameos, or a ghost who appears because ghosts are known to appear in that place/time, and of course the not so rare but nevertheless heartbreaking use of ghostly appearances when a loved one dies.

That last one can, arguably, be explained away as the overpowering grief and the desire to see that person just one more time, so it may actually not be a ghost so much as a sign that your player is going nuts, like in Heavy Rain…

Ghost Games You Might Enjoy

Since this is a muse about my experience with ghosts in games, I thought it would be a good idea to close this with a list of games you might like to play — if you are looking for a game with ghosts that is…

  • Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
  • Blackwell Series (PC)
  • Calling (Wii)
  • Clive Barker’s Jericho (Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC)
  • Cursed Mountain (Wii)
  • F.E.A.R. (Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC)
  • Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (Nintendo DS)
  • Haunt (Xbox 360)

I did not include the obvious or funny – Ghostbusters for example — since these are supposed to be games that sort of treat the whole ghost subject with a bit more respect…

If you have trouble sleeping after playing these, don’t blame me mates.

Cheers!

C

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Note 1: While this post was created as one of the “muse” posts which are about things that amuse me or stories that are somewhat to very amusing, since it was about the subject of ghosts in video games and since ghosts appearing in video games (even games that are NOT strictly speaking about ghosts) I decided to include a selection of videos from YouTube about ghosts appearing in video games.

The idea here is to provide you with a selection of the different ways that ghosts have been used in video games, but also to break up what would otherwise have been experienced as a solid wall of text, and I think we did OK at both goals…

Note 2: I was not aware of this until quite recently but it seems that WordPress has recently changed its policy on free hosting for blogs in that the hosting is not, entirely, and strictly speaking, free anymore.

A case in point is that for blogs (like this one) that chose NOT to pay the ad-free fee that is now required, WordPress may insert ads into the posts on those blogs as a means of making a little pocket change off of those freeloading blogs.

So IF you see ads on this blog, it was NOT us that did it – it was WordPress.  We apologize to you for exposing you to advertising and want you to know you are under no obligation to actually purchase any products in those ads – we do not in any way profit from those ads.

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