Kickstopper: Big Trouble In CyberChina

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Back when I started doing these Kickstopper articles, the first one was for Shadowrun Returns, a rather successful bid to redeem the Shadowrun IP on the videogame front. I’d actually played Shadowrun: Hong Kong, its sequel, a while back, and had even written the review, but I inadvertently didn’t get around to posting it. Better late than never, though…

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

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Nirvana In Mirrorshades

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

If you’ve enjoyed the Persona games – I’ve previously provided reviews of the first, third and fourth – then odds are that sooner or later you’re going to want to explore the wider Shin Megami Tensei series of demon summoning-themed JRPGs. What you discover is a mixed bag; most of the other branches of the series eschew the high school life simulation visual novel and dating sim influences of the Persona games (and only Persona 3 and Persona 4 actually focus on that), and whilst sometimes their surreal takes on fairly standard JRPG plotlines can be quite interesting, other times the games can get bogged down in repetitiveness and tedium. On top of that, there’s a sprawling morass of side-series which, like Persona, take the demon-summoning concept and put their own spin on it.

One of these is Digital Devil Saga – not to be confused with Digital Devil Story, the strapline for the original NES-era Megami Tensei games. Digital Devil Saga was a Playstation 2-exclusive duo of games which emerged after Lucifer’s Call – the sole game of the core Shin Megami Tensei series to get a PS2 release – and before Persona 3 came along to both redefine the gameplay of the Persona series and radically expand the bounds of what you could do in a Shin Megami Tensei game.

Consequently, what you might to expect to deal with here – both from the title being highly reminiscent of the original series and the fact that it preceded Persona 3 – is a more traditional Shin Megami Tensei game, and for the most part that’s what you get. So any of y’all who were hoping for another life simulation will probably be better off waiting for the recently-announced Persona 5.

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Kickstopper: The Three Stigmata of Ada Lovecraft

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

All Good Crowdfunds Must Come To An End

Kickstarter is a big deal these days. Sooner or later, we’ll all collectively get tired of it and the bubble will burst. For the moment it’s just about sustaining itself, but sooner or later we’ll all get tired of blindly pumping money into whatever projects happen to catch our eye.

When that happens, the Kickstarter projects that thrive will be those with credibility behind them – and what better way to build credibility than to have a previous successful Kickstarter project already under your belt? That’s why I think reviews of completed Kickstarter projects have an unusual importance: not only are they about offering a critique of the product that’s been delivered, but they’re also a chance for the reviewer to give their opinion as to whether it’s worth the risk backing subsequent Kickstarters from the same creators. This is relevant not just because of the large sums that are riding on Kickstarters these days, but also because more and more people are becoming serial Kickstarters. For instance, InXile are two Kickstarters deep in the isometric RPG field, for instance, with their earlier Kickstarter project (Wasteland 2) still not finished, though to be fair we’re still months away from the originally projected Wasteland 2 release date and inXile have given a fairly credible explanation of why they’re timing things the way they are. Conversely, Double Fine – who catalysed the Kickstarter videogame boom with Double Fine Adventure – still haven’t delivered on that one, are looking to go way, way over schedule, and are confessing to some mild budgeting problems, but are pushing ahead with a new Kickstarter for Massive Chalice anyway.

Because I’m arrogant and like to grandstand, I’ve decided that a new series of Ferretbrain articles are the solution to all this. The idea is that Kickstopper is all about reviewing the detritus of Kickstarter projects I and other Ferretbrain contributors participate in: when all the excitement of the funding period is over, when the thrill and frustration of waiting is in the past, when we’ve hit the point where either the products are in people’s hands, the refunds have been distributed, or the project creators have vanished in a puff of acrimony and threatened lawsuits, Kickstoppers are about gathering the detritus of what’s left behind and asking the question “was it worth it”?

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GOGathon: Beneath a Substandard Script

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

As you might remember, a little while ago I played through Gemini Rue, a cyberpunk point and click adventure. I enjoyed it so much that it got me back in a point-and-click mood, and it also made me remember that I had a free copy of Beneath a Steel Sky that gave me when I signed up with them knocking about in my account. I remembered owning the thing when it first came out on Amiga and vaguely liking it back in the day, but I clearly didn’t like it enough to keep hold of it. High time, then, to give it another go, and with Shimmin happy for me to climb on the GOGathon bandwagon I thought I’d share my thoughts under that flag.

Designed by Revolution Software in association with Dave “I Drew Watchmen” Gibbons, the game buys into the 2000 AD comic book aesthetic enough that a small free comic actually came with the game to summarise the backstory. (A PDF of the comic comes with the GOG version, though it isn’t especially necessary since the opening cut scene of the game simply presents the frames from the comic book with the voice actors reading the lines.) The action takes place in a world reminiscent of the Judge Dredd setting with the serial numbers filed off and some more generic cyberpunk concepts parachuted in. After a nebulous disaster took out the ecosystem as it formerly existed, most of humanity lives in tightly packed enclosed cities whose spires soar unto the heavens and whose foundations extend deep under the Earth. The game’s main setting takes place in Mega-City One Union City, a fascistic city-state in fierce competition with the Hobart Corporation which controls the main rival city. Union City’s ace in the hole is LINC, the AI which controls the city’s automated services, sets its policies and whose information terminals, cameras, and laser turrets are found all over.

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I Took a Trip On a Gemini Rue Ship

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

One of the benefits of backing Double Fine Adventure is that the backer forums are stuffed with people who have kept in much closer touch with the point-and-click adventure scene over the past few decades than I have, and consequently have some inkling of what’s hot and what’s not (even if this is filtered through an audience who will tend to get enthusiastic for any game in the genre which isn’t inept on a Limbo of the Lost scale).

One recommendation which came up there regularly is Gemini Rue, an indie point-and-click written by Joshua Nuernberger using Adventure Game Studio and published through Wadjet Eye Games. (You can get it on Steam or GOG.) In terms of its graphics and interface is more or less in keeping with point-and-clicks of the genre’s 1990s zenith; the controls incorporate both inventory and command verbs into a small box which appears when you right-click on something, thus maximising screen real estate without reducing your interactions with things to “look at something” and “interact with something” as some late-period point-and-clicks did, and I think there’s occasional bits of graphical flair which old 486 machines would have struggled with (like the rain), but by and large if you have played any vintage graphical adventures you will find this format very familiar and if you haven’t it shouldn’t be too difficult to get to grips with.

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Dick On Dick

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved Dick. Like many of my generation, my first exposure to Dick was through a film, which made me curious enough to seek to experience Dick first-hand for myself. Having sampled my first few Dicks, I was soon hooked; my Dick collection, though not complete (a lot of the lesser mainstream Dicks have yet to grace my shelves) is still expansive, and I would say that it features the best Dicks available to the public.

But here, thanks to the efforts of Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem and a team of assistants, is a Dick which is a bit much for me to cope with. It is a monster Dick. In sheer girth it’s about seven or eight times larger than most Dicks, and three times larger even than most omnibus Dicks. As far as the actual experience of it goes, it’s a little bit of an ordeal; Dicks are known for being an acquired taste to begin with, but there is much about this one which is quite hard to swallow. As it goes through its repetitive motions, there’s no building to a satisfying thematic climax; you just slog on and on, taking more and more in until you have to take a break. Only those with a ravenous appetite for Dick should even think about taking this on; it speaks a lot for the editors’ love of Dick that they were able to derive this Dick from its source, which is apparently around ten times as long.

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The Hipster On the Seas of Fate

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

We were somewhere around Melniboné on the edge of the Young Kingdoms when the drugs began to take hold…

As much as the Michael Kane stories pay tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs, the fact is that Michael Moorcock and the literary circle around New Worlds during his editorship were much more interested in producing fiction worthy of William S. Burroughs instead. Moorcock’s first attempt (at least, in the context of a novel) to abandon traditional SF-fantasy genre conventions in order to embrace a more avant-garde, counter-cultural approach to the genre was The Final Programme, which introduced the world to Jerry Cornelius: amoral dandy, mad scientist, rock star, hipster, music snob, and agent of entropy. When extracts from the novel were published in New Worlds as Moorcock strived to find someone willing to publish the complete novel, various other writers in the New Worlds stable were inspired to riff on the premises outlined in the extracts, leading to an ongoing literary game in which writers would appropriate Cornelius with Moorcock’s blessing whilst Moorcock worked on producing the core narratives of the mythos.

The Cornelius Quartet, the set of four novels beginning with The Final Programme and building on its premises in an increasingly experimental and avant-garde direction has few precedents, though Moorcock’s pal J.G. Ballard was working up the material which would become The Atrocity Exhibition at around the same time. Perhaps the only previous work in the genre that took an even vaguely similar approach was William Burroughs’ own Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express), a saga of alien invasion and scientifically induced apocalypse featuring time-travelling agents using Scientology techniques to eliminate Aztec word viruses from the human subconscious.

As always in Moorcock’s fiction, Law and Chaos is the name of the game here, although Moorcock tends to use euphemisms for those terms rather than referring to them openly. “Entropy” is used in place of “Chaos” much of the time, whilst those who know their thermodynamics will realise that the occasional references to Jerry gaining or losing or maintaining heat will refer to an entropic sort of energy (as opposed to “work”), and the way these references are used make it fairly clear that Jerry is an entity of Chaos who is sustained by entropy. Law, meanwhile, hides behind various masks – culture, civilisation, empire, religion – which Jerry delights in kicking to bits.

In the ancillary novels and novellas collected in A Cornelius Calendar and the various short stories written by Moorcock and his pals some more explanations are offered – it is often stated explicitly that Jerry and pals can travel in time and between planes of the Multiverse, heavily implied that Jerry can travel in time and manipulate causality by accumulating energy through violent action, and there are regular references to Jerry and the others being connected in some way to the Time Centres maintained by the Guild of Temporal Adventurers, who play a rather more prominent role in the Oswald Bastable stories and the Dancers At the End of Time trilogy. (An even more detailed and nailed-down theory of time and multiversal travel is outlined at the start of The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius In the Twentieth Century.) However, in the Cornelius Quartet itself such explanations are either avoided entirely or kept significantly more obscure, Moorcock’s stated aim being to create novels you can just dip into and paddle about in without stressing out too much about trying to put them into a linear order or making sense of every little incident. In other words, they’re designed to encourage you to take Jerry’s relaxed view of causality; those beholden to fannish instincts, intent on working out the “canon” of everything they encounter and reluctant to let an ambiguity just stay ambiguous, are going to be pretty lost here.

All of the Jerry Cornelius stories are self-consciously designed to be products of their time; whilst the novels of the Quartet and, to a lesser extent, the stories in A Cornelius Calendar are mostly responses to the general spirit of the age, the shorter stories written by Moorcock are often his taken on particular topics – though the shorts written by other hands are as diverse as the writers who’ve produced them. Beyond that, various writers (many of them in fact working in comics rather than prose) have used Jerry as the blueprint for their own, similar characters, with varying responses from Moorcock – the great man has embraced Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright, but he’s excommunicated Grant Morrison’s use of a Jerry-like figure as King Mob’s 60s alter-ego in The Invisibles. The borrowing of Cornelius shows few signs of slowing down, with Alan Moore giving the Cornelius siblings a cameo in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier and having Jerry play a rather more significant role in the upcoming 1969 episode of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century. The obvious question, of course, is if the original material is any good, or whether it’s a theme that’s been played better by other creators than by its originator. There’s only one way to find out. Wish me luck.

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