Best Games - Black Tiger
There was a carousel of arcade machines that rolled through the 7-Eleven just down the street from my high school. A regular noon hour activity was to head down to the ‘sev’ and get in line early enough to take your shot at one of the machines. The games would get changed out every few weeks, unless it was a particularly lucrative game like Street Fighter 2 : Champion Edition. That cabinet sat in the same spot for so long, a crime scene forensics team could probably still detect its presence.
Once in a while the game would be extremely popular and the lineup would would be several kids deep. The odds of getting a game in before lunch was over was really low if you were trying to play something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that machine could handle four players at once. Your lunch would be over, and you would have spent it standing and watching people play.
Other times, a game would barely get any attention at all. Usually it was because they were garbage, like Violence Fight. I know that name sounds like a joke, but Violence Fight is a real game, and it's as awful as you would expect.
Every now and then, there would be a game that gets some initial attention and then all but a few kids would leave it to play the other games on offer. It was either because the other game was some licensed unit that everyone had some prior knowledge of, like Robocop, or, In the case of Black Tiger, it was because the game was blisteringly difficult.
Black Tiger, titled Black Dragon in Japan, shares some DNA with Ghosts and Goblins. Some would even say that it is a spiritual successor to the Ghosts and Goblins series, but where Ghosts and Goblins is almost unfairly difficult and can only really be beaten through luck and rote memorization, Black Tiger can be mastered through skillful play, caution, and strategic planning. A small amount of memorization helps. The crisp, pixel precise movement of the character, and the ability to level up your weapons, armour, and vitality give the player more than a fighting chance against the tremendous barrage of baddies thrown your way. Just don’t ever get poisoned, never ever get poisoned.
I’ll be perfectly honest. Maybe Black Tiger is only a very good game and not really one of the best games of all time, but here’s where nostalgia kicks in. During those noon hour excursions, and maybe a couple that went slightly over an hour (it was for research), I built up the ability to, at first, beat the game, and then went on to defeat it on a single quarter. I’m sure many other people have accomplished the same feat, but I wasn’t in high school with any of them. Sure it may be a dubious achievement, but anything you manage to get over on the other kids you went to high school with, sticks in your memory. They may not have known or cared at all about my small victory, but that hardly matters, now does it.
Black Tiger, one of, at least my, best games.
“Games are a journey, and should be covered like travel journalism.”
One of the finest descriptions of games writing I have ever read was that line from Heather Anne Campbell.
She may have been paraphrasing Kieron Gillen when she wrote that games writing should be like travel journalism, but I figure she could very well have come up with this similar sentiment on her own. If her other writing is any indication, she is at least as clever as Kieron Gillen. Perhaps more clever, since she left games writing for comedy writing, and he moved on to comics writing. That’s not a comparative judgement on the difficulty of the two. It’s an observation on the levels of acidity of each audience.
Comedy writing, where dissenters, historically, throw rotten produce at you.
Comics writing, where the wounded spit through bared teeth that you have ruined their childhood.
Games criticism, where the displeased threaten to murder your family.
I know I’ve said this before, but reviews are not criticism. It bears repeating. It bears being drilled with some slight degree of violence, into every person. The review is a subset of criticism. Where criticism encompases comment of any type or tone, on any topic, related to any media, considering any bias, reviews are small corner of that. Reviews are trivial and ephemeral.
Criticism is more than that. Criticism is the creation of a piece of culture. Criticism is important, and when done well, elevates as often as it disassembles. Criticism of art, is art. Criticism of games, is art.
We tend to view criticism as a finding of flaws. There is a caricature of the critic in public perception as failed creators, or angry zealots that exist only to tear at the good works of industrious people. This perception could not be more wrong, and is as damaging to the media being commented on as it is to those that would comment on it. Criticism is not a thing of lesser value. Thoughtful criticism is not less than the culture it comments on. It is an entirely separate piece of art, with it’s own purpose, and it’s own worth.
I’ve heard too many times, in too many ways, by people too smart to be so stupid, that if some critic or other doesn’t like a thing, they should “roll up their sleeves and create something themselves”. They did. They did create something. They wrote or commented about something they saw. Almost certainly, they wrote about a piece of art in a medium that they love.
You see, it’s very easy to tell when a person writing about games, loves games. It’s so subtle that you could miss it. They choose to write about games.
Games writers choose to create new pieces of art that reference the medium that they love. They choose to create criticism in a medium where the displeased threaten, whether credibly or not, to murder your family. In the face of an infinite variety of tasks that a person could set themselves to, they chose games.
Like any art, criticism has examples of gilded works of towering significance, protruding from vast unending fields of turds. Some criticism is terrible. Some criticism is mean and nasty and vicious for reasons only known to the creator. Some critics are barely tolerable in their condescension and willingness to ignore obvious triumphs to satisfy an audience of what I can only assume are joyless sadists.
All of these critics, the thoughtful and the profane, the ones that you might think are destructive and adversarial, have one thing in common. They honestly love the medium they write about and comment on. Even though some of them revel in being unsatisfied, they all truly, at their core, want it to be better. More than want, they attempt to point the way to better.
Critics are the cartographers of culture. They describe where we have been. They survey where we are, and they plot a course for where we might go. They may not always have the correct heading, they may chart a path that few agree with, but they deeply, passionately want us to become better than we are, and they are drawing a map to better in the only way that people know how. They create criticism, and that has value.
So I wrote a couple weeks back that I was having trouble with my Huion graphics tablet. I had threatened that I would rebuild the whole pc, reinstall windows if I had to, to get my tools working again. I made good on that threat.
There is a bit of a panic feeling deep on the south end of your ribcage when you reset a computer. You start with something that you had been using, issue free, for months, with all of your tools laid out neatly on a shelf. All of a sudden this machine is asking you what time zone this is, and did you mean american english, british english, or czech, and I don’t know if this is a monitor or speaker or a printer. You’ve turned a workshop into a time traveling amnesiac with an obsession for self diagnosis. On the upside, everything this renewed pc will do, will be fast. Well, faster, anyway. So all the resetting, downloading, updating, and everything else will happen without the usual impediments. So, slow, but less so.
Well I got that machine working again, and hours later I discovered that If I just lift the pen clear of the tablet a few inches, far enough for the tablet to lose connection with the pen, that would reset the pressure sensitivity, and the tablet would work properly again. I’m not certain if I would have been able to just lift the pen and put it down and have the tablet work without reinstalling windows, but I know that I lifted it at least once or twice in frustration, and that didn’t seem to fix the thing. It’s was likely a combination of a few driver issues. I sent the bug and the solution I found to Huion, and they sent me the latest version of the driver. It doesn’t fix the bug, but it does have a few extra features, so that’s pretty good.
All this might seem like a huge waste of time, but honestly, other than the not being able to work on the computer while it’s being reset, I find it all pretty enjoyable. Of course, I like fixing things. Tuning them up, and making them work better than they did before. So much so, that I have also put a new ssd in the laptop and installed android on an old hp touchpad. This has been a busy week for hardware getting refreshed in this house.
I have no point to get at. That is all.
This is going to seem like some impressively pretentious nonsense. It’s going to seem like semantic garbage. It might even be those things. I think that the way most people typically view art is wrong, and I hope this can clarify some things.
We use the word ‘art’ incorrectly. Through generations of linguistic evolution, we have changed a word with one definition into a word with several other, related, but different definitions.
Thats not really the problem. That’s just the way language works. It changes, and grows. That’s what makes Chaucer barely parseable by modern english speakers. Some would suggest that this is a loss. That at some fictitious time in the past, the english language was pure, and it is being ruined by colloquialism. That argument is a real sad sort of “get off my lawn”. That’s not what I mean when I say we use the word art incorrectly. Let me attempt to explain.
There is a recent trend among the deviantart set, a group that tends to skew a bit younger, to use art as a verb.
“I have a deadline coming, so I’m going to go art for a while”
“I like your writing. Do you art too?”
“She bought a plain white chair and arted. Now it’s beautiful, but it will be off gassing for days.”
I’m slightly older than the typical deviantart or tumbler denizen (if slightly means twice as old), so at first reading, of course the “get off my lawn” reaction was strong. Sort of like every time I hear someone say that they did something “on accident” a fiddle string breaks somewhere between my ears. A consequence of getting older, is that repetition codifies things like language in your brain. Hearing something that violates those perceptions can be jarring. The first reaction is usually to think that you are right and these young philistines are wrong, wrong, wrong. Who is really wrong here? You guessed it. It’s me. Again.
As much as it pains my ageing ears to hear someone verb a noun, this new usage of art is more correct. You see, art isn’t a thing created by a person. That’s an artifact. That’s an object. A recording. Art is the process of a person creating something. Art is a skill. Art is taught and learned. Art is practiced, honed, maybe even mastered. Art is not something that is hung on a wall. Art is not something you watch or listen to. Art is the creation of those things.
Maybe even more important, art is the creation of anything, by any person. Art is industrial container design. Art is planning bus schedules. Art is tilling land, planting seeds, and harvesting the grain. Art is creating poor puns that play off the similarities between the words arted and farted.
To use the word art again, in it’s colloquial noun form, describing the result of a person applying their skill in the creation of a thing that didn’t previously exist, everything is art, and every person is an artist. Not everything is required to move you emotionally, and not all art is what you would call “good”. Some art is downright evil, or morally repugnant, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t art.
Every time I hear someone say “I like it, but I don’t know if it’s art”, I think that this is a person who needs a more full understanding of the word art. Every time I hear someone say “I have no artistic talent” I first think that natural talent doesn’t exist, talent is a learned and practiced skill, and that they need a more full understanding of the word artist.
Art is a verb, not a noun. As soon as you grasp that, you will see art everywhere and in everything. You will see that you are an artist.
I’m using video games to get in better shape. Well I’m not actually playing the games. I’ve been watching other people play games. So far it seems to be working.
I used to ride my bike to work every day. It was almost exactly 10km from my front step to the back door of the shop, on mostly paved paths. It wasn’t a grueling ride by any measure, but it was consistent and far enough to get a sweat worked up even when it was -30c outside. One day some of the folks at the shop were going to start a weight loss competition and brought in a scale. I tested it out and was shocked to discover that I had lost about 15lbs without realizing it.
I left that job to stay home with the kids, and gained back the 15 and a little extra bonus weight. A few months ago I decided that wasn’t any good, and I missed riding my bike. I’ve tried jogging in the past and whatever that runners high is that people talk about, apparently that isn’t something my body chemistry can muster. I just don’t enjoy running. Skating is probably my favorite form of exercise / method of travel, but skating is not nearly fast enough for regular commutes and snow tires for inlines have yet to be invented. Good for me then, that a close second is riding a bike. I could bike all day. There is a combination of speed and connection to the road when riding a bike that I consistently enjoy. Also, if you really set yourself to it, you can ride a bike through a foot of fresh snow and never have to deal with traffic. Just remember to allow for a little extra travel time.
We have a stationary bike, which is good for getting some exercise, but really doesn’t provide any of the things that make riding a bike fun. I tried reading while I cranked out 30 minutes on the bike, but it felt like the reading was getting in the way of the riding and vise versa. The same went for watching movies. That, and the movies were too long, and I really hate pausing a film and trying to pick it up the next day. TV shows? Maybe, but I wanted to watch something that didn’t require a lot of focus, and I was trying to extend my workout past 30 minutes.
One day, years ago I formulated a plan to dedicate a weekend to playing games. One specific game actually. Metal Gear Solid 2. The plan was to spend every hour that I wasn’t sleeping or eating that weekend playing MGS2. Likely in my underwear. It was a good plan.
When the original Metal Gear Solid came out, I didn’t own a playstation, and really only played PC games. A friend of mine from animation school kept telling me how fantastic this game was and let me borrow his system and copy of the game to spread the gospel. I spent a week swapping back and forth between working on a portfolio project, and playing Metal Gear Solid. I would work on the animation until I needed to set up a render. Renders could take anywhere from a few minutes, to a few hours. When I queued up a long render, I would sit down to play. I finished the entire game in a few days that way, and I loved it.
When Metal Gear Solid 2 came out, I still didn’t own a console. I went out to the mall and bought a PlayStation 2 memory card, for the PS2 that I didn’t own, as the first phase of my plan. I then went and rented the game and console from Blockbuster. It was the last one of both that the I had available. I had decided to play MGS2 until I finished it, and one marathon weekend seemed like it would be enough. I got the game and system home, set everything up and started playing. For about 2 hours. Just as I was settling in for the butt numbing, I got a call from an advertising company to do some work. Since I was working freelance at the time, and getting a call on short notice to do some work meant okay money I grudgingly returned the game and console to the blockbuster, got a partial refund, and went to work. I don’t recall anything about that job, but I can still feel the sting of handing that PS2 back to the blockbuster clerk.
Years later, I picked up a used copy of Metal Gear solid 2:Substance for the XBox. I figured this time I would be able to play through it at a reasonable pace and maybe get caught up before MGS3 came out. I played the game right up until the big shell reveal, and then a scratch in the disc halted all progress. I put the game back down. While I have followed the development of the series closely, and always intended to play one of the newer episodes, I never have. That few hours was the last time I played a Metal Gear Game.
I had switched to watching Giant Bomb quick looks while I spun on the bike. They tend to be anywhere from 30-60 minutes and give me a pretty good idea if an upcoming or newly released game would appeal to me. This was working out okay, and I am able to have my arms free to lift some light weights while my legs are spinning, making even a half hour ride beneficial.
Then they started playing Metal Gear Solid. A couple of the hosts, presenters, personalities, or whatever they are, at Giant Bomb started playing through Metal Gear Solid and it’s sequels. The twist is that the guy playing had never played any of the games in the series, while his co-host has played them all. Dan, the more experienced player will share game lore, interesting facts and easter eggs, while trying not to offer any explicit help. Drew, the guy playing will make mistakes, fumble encounters, but eventually work through the challenges of the game, much like any first time player would. It’s like getting to experience these games they way I would have years ago while watching an entertaining examination of the series. All while riding the bike and lifting weights. My workout time regularly goes past 45 minutes and I’ve hit the hour mark more than once.
I haven’t lost 15 lbs yet, but I’m pretty steadily dropping weight. Better than that though I’ve lowered my percentage of body fat a good amount. In stark contrast to my old plan of sitting motionless in my own filth to play these games, I’m really enjoying them while burning some calories. With dozens of hours of Metal Gear games left to go, watching other people play games might just make me healthier. Thanks Metal Gear.