Some reviews (Yu-No, Yooka-Laylee, Control)

It’s time for “Han Tani Reviews!” Today I’m reviewing three games I played recently. Maybe I’ll post more later… maybe not…

Here’s my rating scale:

Kinda Weird – The highest praise. Something that left an impression, gave something to think about at length.

Pretty Interesting – Had a few memorable qualities that were mostly worth the time investment.

Nice – Had one or two things that were neat, but either overstayed its welcome or was generally conservative/noninnovative in its design

No Impression – A game that failed to leave much of an impression, either through design/story/etc that has been treaded by other games many times, its overall design not resonating much with me, or being plain bad. While in a bad mood I might rename this category “bad” or “forgettable” or “big nani”.

YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (1996)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YU-NO:_A_Girl_Who_Chants_Love_at_the_Bound_of_this_World

A 1990s erovisual novel, one of the biggest first successes of the ‘multiple route mystery’ subgenre of visual novel adventures. I saw the remaster was coming out, noticed that it unfortunately updated all the graphics and music, and got myself a copy of the original to play.

The character designs are suuuper 90s moe, but to my eye in 2019 they’re refreshing and nostalgic. Such is fashion.

The gimmick of the game is you can find 8 gems that act as save state slots. The game is split into distinct time ‘coordinates’, these coordinates represent a state of the entire game. So coordinate “10” might be evening on Day 1, but “20” could be evening on Day 1 where you decided to not talk to a teacher or something. It’s a neat way of representing how these games work under the hood, though I’ve yet to think of an elegant way of representing it in data (it’s easy to think of nightmare hacky ways.)

You can use a stone to set a save state, then you can return to that time coordinate at any time. Your character’s memory doesn’t carry over, but key items do, which are what you use to unlock certain branches or endings.

The goal is to find all 8 stones, which are hidden in certain time coordinates. You get a map that fills itself out as you explore time coordinates. The way the game is meant to play is, you progress the story. The UI will sparkle when you’re approaching a ‘fork’ in the story, at which point you can leave a gem and progress down one branch. But… the problem is… as you start with so few stones which makes it hard to explore freely, and if you use all your stones the map disappears and you have to find another stone to see the map again. Playing blind, you don’t know when the important branches are (some branches will rejoin). So it’s possible to screw yourself by running out of gems at the wrong point, requiring a 20-30 minute replay of content you’ve seen, just to return to a branch.

However, getting stuck without the map is a unique kind of lost – you do get the sense of being trapped within a 2 day nightmare cycle. The game has maybe 20 main screens you frequent, over two days of time. Not having that map must have been awful if you played on the game’s release, without a handy translated visual guide to save you!

jlkcjsad.PNG

“E” represents an ending. There are sometimes gem markers on screen showing various time coordinates. The portal icons represent story events that throw you back to a past point.

Er, so that’s the general exploration mechanic. How it ends up feeling is tedious – you have to click around a lot on the screen to find the next progression flag. The remaster has streamlined this, showing all interactable objects, and probably adding other QoL things like a true skip function and text log.

As for the story itself, it’s split into a prologue, Main Game, and epilogue. The prologue is a standard fixed-choice-based text adventure. Some characters are introduced, and it’s all played according to VN stereotypes of the time, but very knowingly. A boy in school tells you to talk to him when the ‘real game starts’. Eventually things slip into the supernatural.

The core mystery of the game is fun, and each main route (associated with one of the women) will reveal a key aspect of the mystery. I didn’t really find the SF/time travel ideas particularly fascinating, but they were enjoyable, even though the epilogue’s explanation was remarkably complicated and finicky to understand.

So, the characters… I didn’t find any of them particularly interesting, but they weren’t flat, either. The main characters are primarily women, and each had their own personal challenges to deal with. The general moe stereotypical surfaces revealed a nice layer of depth that you would learn over the game’s two days, but I can’t say anything was particularly mindblowing or memorable. Well-done, I guess.

This is an erogame so you do have sex with most of the characters, but I think the sex scenes are mooostly earned, with exception of the epilogue. I do think that not much thought was given to the implications of woman teacher-male student sexual relations, though. This happens twice in Yu-No and it seems to be played off as sort of a ‘hot’ thing where in reality often times there’s coercion and assault.

Removed from the teacher context, I guess it’s okay. The way sex plays out follows these cases:

  • Overlapping moments of emotional turmoil leading to temporary mutual need
  • Hidden feelings surfacing after two people acknowledging mutual interests and building a relationship
  • A woman encountering her first emotionally intimate relationship
  • Sexual coercion in order to get a man to do something
  • Using someone as a surrogate for a passed away partner to recreate certain feelings

I will say some of these are very sketchy circumstances – a stepmom and stepson, for example. Some play into bad stereotypes about women, but sex is used in different ways each time, and nothing seems totally out of left field for the characters involved. The writing during the scenes is… OK but I don’t think it’s the main attraction here. And yet here I am having written 100 words about it… sorry….

The epilogue of the game is cool, but a nightmare in many ways. I don’t feel like writing about it, watch it if you want. It’s isekai, cool at times, drags on a bit, and has bad wish fulfillment sex and a handful of content-warning contexts for sex and stuff… incest, cannibalism… ugh.

Er… other than that, the game’s world is very convincing despite being a few scenes. It is full of horror, happiness, mystery… the music is sooo good, using these FM synths of the era for spooky effect! I had trouble sleeping one night. I don’t see that as a good quality but the music was used effectively.

The main writer and composer passed away this decade, which is sad.

I’d say this is worth checking out for historical value, if anything, if you can look past the problematic parts. I didn’t find the story too thought provoking but it was a fun ride for anime mystery/sci-fi/slice of life. I’m not a ‘time loop sommelier’ so the sci-fi stuff was fun, but maybe if you played Stein’s Gate or Clannad (two games which owe a lot to Yu-No), the concepts in Yu-No will be dated.

The remaster is probably the way to go if you don’t care about the worse “HD” music/art/character art, due to QoL, though the game really could use more save states and hints, less trial and error.

Rating: Pretty Interesting / Nice

Yooka-Laylee (2017?)

For a spiritual sequel, I didn’t see much learning from Banjo-Kazooie 1 or 2 in the first Tropics level. While I give Banjo games shit for various things, I have to commend many of Banjo 1’s stages (and some of Banjo 2, from what I remember) for being quite navigable and easy to parse. N64 had an advantage in the limit of what you could put on the screen, as that also required levels to be more carefully designed, I think.

I only played about 30 minutes but the first main level felt sprawling, visually uniform and confusing so I quit. The tutorial NPC is a dick joke and the voices seemed really annoying this time around or the text slower. The game controlled absolutely fine, but you couldn’t change the button prompts from Xbox to PS4? I programmed Anodyne 2 to automatically do that, and you could even switch at will. And Ano2’s UI doesn’t scream an irritating vocal utterance every time you moved the cursor. AND I added Switch buttons. Yooka-Laylee was funded on Kickstarter for about 40x Anodyne 2’s budget, too…

From the limited amount I played, I felt some similar problems to Hat in Time – overall too much object and visual noise, difficulty of orientation in 3D space. Collectathons aren’t just about tons of stuff to find… I think they’re about spaces with personality, and legibility of goals…

Rating: NO IMPRESSION

Control (2019)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_(video_game)

The first game by Remedy I’ve played, the narrative premise was fun – a spatial construction of bureaucracy, of how some people in the public view governmental agencies, or of how some workers there viewing themselves as superhuman, the ways in which a workplace can get shift how you feel over time and control your behavior .

My favorite idea was the ‘altered objects / objects of power’, the idea of a physical object becoming more than it is merely by people’s impressions. Celebrity-ification and parasocial relationships had been known to me for a while for how people can treat other people who have some semblance of power/notoriety, but I haven’t thought about it in the context of regular objects or myths, of how object can take new meaning when rumored about or spoken of in certain ways.

I really enjoyed the few moments where you could have a small branching chat with the other characters, and I totally would be fine with just having it appear as text with no acting. For some more obviously symbolic characters like the janitor, the vagueness was fine and worked well. I feel like there’s a trade-off though – the main characters (Emily, that security dude, etc), work really well BECAUSE they don’t say much, because they seem overly formal and non-freaked-out, because they randomly disappear. But at the same time I kind of wanted to talk to some people more? But I see that as an impossibility as in a way, all of the NPCs in Control act as a sort of “MetaNPC” for the bureau, for bureaucracy, for individual blindness to the absurdity of a system. And if we were to get emotionally attached to some characters, that might contradict the value of that MetaNPC feeling.

At its best, the gunplay was fun, at its worst, it was frustrating, too easy to die, not easy enough to grind to adjust difficulty, or too common. Minmaxing my equipment so I could reduce the number of “bonfire runs”¬† for a boss was menial. In certain areas like the Black Rock Excavation site or the Mold Area, I could feel a similar texture to the best Dark Souls or Metroid Prime areas.¬† I think the game really shined there. But all too often, especially from a ‘lore litter’ standpoint of picking up random scraps or 2-minute audio logs, it felt similar to the “Spaceship Janitor” type of game where I was going from sector to sector to fight so and so enemies before maybe maybe advancing the plot (like System Shock 2 or New Prey or Bioshock).

I feel as if Control is around the upper limit of AAA, a demonstration of how the need for marketability¬† and conservative mechanics in order to meet sales figures, as well as the general difficulty of steering the overall design at AAA scale, lead to obvious compromises where we get way too much traditional shooty-shoot. Control could have been far, far weirder. Stuff like the hotel, the alternate dimension, that ending door sequence, the big black void leading to the deeper areas of the game, etc… that could have all gone harder. I guess the DLC probably will do that, but who knows.

When you see a game being praised for its architecture, it’s hard not to think of a game like Manifold Garden which pursues those premises deeply in an interesting direction. For a game about ‘shifting spaces’ and the mazelike nature of its levels, Control doesn’t have many of them? With an AAA technology budget, rooms could loop nonsensically, have infinite looping architecture, and generally do a lot more. But Control’s atriums are very pretty.

Rating: (Pretty Interesting + Kinda Weird) / 2.0

11/4/2013

development has been as usual – a combination of

– figuring out what later areas should be in specific (we have an outline of each place, or at least I do – but as you implement some areas on the level design level you somehow get some better vision of what a later level should be – this is also in part to finding coincidentally useful inspiration from outside of my room-office).
– actually making levels (level design)
– programming new entities (traps, ‘enemies’ ,etc), implementing features, fixing bugs, tweaking previous entities
– writing a variety of music for the game

and it will likely be like this for quite a while since there’s still a fair number of areas to finish. and that’s only for The Ocean part of EtO, but they are basically two games so we’ll finish the ocean first, then move on to Even (then release, I guess! so far away…)

i’ll post music later …maybe, or screenshots, but http://seancom.nfshost.com/songaday.html has some stuff though most of it is like WIPs or scrapepd things

—-

anyways

happy halloween (well, belated…), if you celebrate it. i ended up streaming anodyne while using the bitmap cache scrambling thing.

room insulation is an annoying thing. i was hoping to save a little on heating by insulating the windows with film, but I did that and I’m not sure if it helped, but then I had to put stuff on the bottom of my door because there was a draft there. maybe insulating the other apartment doors and windows will help?

2013-10-20. humble bundle etc, other things

oops, look, i have forgotten to write anything recently..

still working on even the ocean most of the time, and then a small SECRET side project, hm, i can’t say much about it, but it is releasing in japan first in a very uh, different way, which should be interesting. that release won’t be for a few months though.

another side project is on the backburner, but that’s okay, since i’ve hardly done anything for it (it’s a small adventure game i want to make).

—–

anodyne stuff

so, maybe the most recent bit of news is that anodyne android finally released! well, it released through the HUMBLE BUNDLE. This is great exposure wise for anodyne and also financially for jon and I! I had to make a few fixes though and push another build (barf). thus ends the anodyne saga forever, which makes me happy because i’m fucking sick of working on it (I was sick of working on it since like i started fixing the mobile version and bugs). it’ll be out on google play when the bundle sale’s over, anyways.

Hooray!!!

more to the anodyne postmortem is coming (never) whenever i decide to (never) write it(.)…

ANODYNES DONE FOREVER!!!

anodynedone

—-

even the ocean

development’s fine. it has just been programming features and then staring blankfaced at the level editor (when you stare into the empty level, the empty level…)

didn’t decide to enter the igf, there was really no point because we’d have to spend all this time doing ‘glue’ stuff making the game playable in a coherent way (right now it is just transferring the coherent world design in our heads into levels. so we are building levels now, for the most part, which is time consuming! i stare at an editor quite often, – the level editor or code editor)

we decided to spend most of our time working on THE OCEAN and once we finish that, do EVEN. so that will be a long time i guess, but i’ll keep myself entertained with development on even the ocean , side projects, and musical projects. i have this thing of needing to release stuff every now and then so the long development cycle of ETO might drive me insane otherwise (but when it’s done it’s gonna be so so good!).

with THE OCEAN, we’re in a “early/mid july” anodyne state…i.e., we are building out dungeons and levels and tilesets and sprites and music and have all of the main dungeons/levels planned, with some interstitial stuff that will be thought of as we go. so realistically…there is like 5-6 mos of work left on The Ocean. I will try to work harder though to get it done faster…

—–

this post gets more miscellany/boring/personal after this point, so you could probably skip it.

music stuff

in a secluded northern place

I wrote this for the indiestatik kickstarter and also even the ocean. it’s in an even-the-ocean melodic style (even the ocean music is tending to fall into a melodic or ambient style, both being sort of supported by use of sound effects as instruments at times).

i’ve been using the free Carbon2 NI synth for some of my sound effect instruments and leads/pads/etc. It’s nice, i guess, but I like to balance it out with snes/genesis instruments to not give the music too much of a ‘modern’ feel, because i feel that would overly clash with the art style.

luckily, my production is quite bad so i would probably have trouble giving a modern feel to the music, whatever that means

Little Neurotic Space Station Vignette #1

http://tindeck.com/listen/hhau

This is a non-game music project I’ve been working on.¬† you can listen to the first song here (i need to fix it, it clips in this.) The title is mostly meaningless but seems to describe what it ended up sounding like. I’m trying to work on a series of sort of upbeat, melody-driven/traditional structured electronic stuff that kind of focuses on describing an abstract scene or short series of events. i’d like to add lyrics in some way but i don’t know how to do that / setting up recording is a huge pain / mixing is hard / i should practice more at writing something that is electronically interesting without the difficulty of lyrics anyways

So, yeah. I’d like to nail down a personal style for my non-game music, but it may take some time. Ideally a style I would be able to do a live show with. It may be cool to sing or whatever, but I don’t know what to sing about…I don’t really have any emotional crisis or thing worth singing about – my outlet for that is often talking with friends – what would i sing about? hm. maybe i’ll just not sing. I think I have an okay style for my game stuff – it will get better as i get better production skills, I think – i would like to experiment more with incorporating sound effects into the music)

i’ve also been listening to a lot of perfume’s LEVEL3 and capsule’s CAPS LOCK. the first is nice dance/techno/jpop fare from yasutaka nakata, the latter is also by him but more of an avant-garde/electronic self expression album, which is more interesting i think.

———–

outside of that,

…it is starting to get colder. chicago weather can be like that, fall ends so quickly and then you get this sort of mediocre muggy wet/freezing period that goes on until half-ending in april/may and then summer. i am also trying to get contact lenses. i got some last fall as a test (they charged me like $200-$300 without telling me to ‘get them fitted’, what a load of shit), and i can’t get them in. my eye hurts after trying, but whatever, i will figure it out eventually/