I think it was in Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District the day before PAX West that I heard, for the first time ever, the original Village People version of “Go West”. It was pretty ironic, considering that earlier this year, we had finished Going West and moved back east, and this Seattle trip was our first return to PST Land since then. We were there, as we had been during the past several Labor Day Weekends, for PAX West (formerly PAX Prime), this time with the added bonus of jetlag.
Panic’s upcoming experimental handheld, the Playdate, was one of the few wholly new things at the show.
This was our eighth West Coast PAX, and our ninth overall, and as usual, it was interesting to see the current state of video gaming reflected in convention form. In the Expo Hall, there was the usual spread of booths from companies both big and small, albeit with two notable absences. Bethesda is one of the more reliable presences at PAX West, but they weren’t on the show floor this year; as if to make up for it, their big fall release, DOOM Eternal, was present at the Google Stadia booth. More startling, however, was the lack of a booth for Microsoft, headquartered in nearby Redmond. While in past years, they could typically be found adjacent to Sony’s plush PlayStation booth, there was no official presence from either Xbox or Microsoft Game Studios.
Brain Scrap House originally took the form of a short-lived column for Clidus‘ now-defunct gaming site Fantasy World XD (you can read both installments via the Old Stuff page). Later, as okamiblog was dying out, I remade it into the site you see here, which went live on May 7, 2009. Ten years and change later, during which the title was changed into the punchier “Brainscraps.net”, I’m still here, writing about (and eventually making) video games for I don’t know how big an audience. Thanks to all of my visitors over the years, whether or not I know you personally. I hope to keep doing this for awhile yet.
Brainscraps’ original look. I can’t remember where I got the header image the first time around.
To celebrate this anniversary, Brainscraps has gotten a new look which was directly inspired by the site’s original Sonic the Hedgehog-themed design; for this remake, the header’s source image came from Sonic Retro. Brainscraps also now has a dedicated Twitter account,
@Brainscraps_net, which will include announcements of new posts and projects, and should hopefully have far fewer retweets than my main one. But wait, there’s more! A Brainscraps group has been founded on Steam, primarily to house a Curator page dedicated to the many PC and Mac titles featured in the annual Gaming Selections posts. Membership is currently restricted, meaning that you must request to join or receive an invite, since I’m not sure that I have the time to moderate a forum. This might change in the future, though; we’ll see.
As for any future anniversary-related stuff, I’m planning to revisit at least one of the games covered during the site’s first year of operation. If all goes well, expect to see new writing about Startopia, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, and/or Halo: Combat Evolved sometime before next May (and before anyone asks, Chrono Cross is absolutely, completely, 100% out of the question). I also have a special project in the works which will be launching within the next week or two, so keep an eye out for it!
Finally, I feel like I should explain why this post is nearly a month overdue, and also why I haven’t posted at all since January. In early April, bitprophet and I moved back to the East Coast, and during the months leading up to it, we were both busy with preparations to do so. After a long, cross-country drive, we spent another month and a half setting up our new place, taking two trips (one planned and one unplanned), and dealing with other odds and ends. In case you’re wondering, I did manage to squeeze in some game time during all that, beating Bayonetta 2, Splitter Critters, and Witch & Hero III; getting roughly halfway through Disgaea 4 and Kirby’s Dream Land 2; and continuing on in Pokemon GO and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’ve been also trying to keep up with my manga, but my current backlog is a bit heavier than usual. I’d like to write about some of this media consumption soon, but in the meantime, a belated Happy Birthday to Brainscraps, thank you for reading, and hope that you’ll all continue to stick with both me and this site.
We had skipped PAX West (formerly PAX Prime) last year, and missed it terribly, so deciding how to spend our 2018 Labor Day weekend was a no-brainer. As usual, the whole process of obtaining the tickets was a white-knuckle affair—most especially and unexpectedly a few days before the show, when one of our PAX friends’ passes got lost in the mail. Fortunately, he was able to get things sorted out, and after a week of preparations on our end (including taking care of our own little emergency involving a pet sitting cancellation), we all met up in Seattle. This even included one of our group who had decided to skip PAX, but wanted to be in town nonetheless. PAX was here!
The following four days were packed with panels, games, and some delicious food, including some from longtime favorites Juicy Cafe and MOD Pizza. Downtown Seattle’s Rock Bottom Grill, our regular post-show spot, had since closed, but the Gordon Biersch in a nearby mall was a decent substitute; it was also the location of the first post-PAX Cheap Ass Gamer meetup that I organized seven years ago.
This past Saturday, we drove down to Santa Clara for this year’s California Extreme, a celebration of classic arcade gaming featuring dozens of video game cabinets, pinball tables, and other amusements brought in by private collectors. There’s an entry fee—we paid $40 a head at the door—but afterward, all of the games are free to play. In addition, CA Extreme features a few panels, evening concerts, and a handful of vendors selling everything from old console games to pinball machine parts.
The range of arcade games, spread across two conference rooms in a hotel adjacent to a convention center, was truly impressive, spanning many decades. There were pinball tables from at least as far back as the late 1950’s up through Stern showing off their newest heavy metal-themed machine, Iron Maiden. Some shooting gallery and other mechanical machines looked even older, and would’ve been right at home in the Musée Mécanique. The newest, and oddest, non-video game at the show was a fully playable Pong-themed coffee table.
On that note, as far as video games went, most eras and genres were represented in one form or another, though the heaviest focus was on 80s titles. Amongst others, there were sections devoted to vector games, Pac-Man and its spinoffs, Japanese rhythm games (including a handful of recent titles), and cocktail cabinets. Throughout the afternoon, with the odd break every so often, we bounced between these rooms and a small console freeplay area upstairs.
It’s the day before we leave for Seattle for yet another awesome late summer weekend at PAX Prime and, as usual, what this means still hasn’t completely sunk in yet. Part of this is likely due to poor sleep and being kept busy with various things, mainly the chores and errands that always have to be done pre-PAX. However, this will likely change on PAX Eve, as it typically does.
In the meantime, I’ve been finishing up a few games and such. First off was the most frustrating Tropico 5 DLC I’ve yet encountered: “The Supercomputer”. The mission included here starts you off in the next-to-the-last era with the regular, bare-bones starting buildings—which is fine. What isn’t fine is the strict time limit to reach the next era, plus the expensive building and maintenance requirements involved. I had a lot of trouble balancing these tasks with keeping my economy from imploding and making sure all the citizens were happy. Eventually, I got through it on my regular difficulty settings, but it took at least a dozen restarts until I found the magic formula.
Next up were an unusual pair of portable games: one was a Game Freak game that didn’t have “Pokemon” in the title, and the other was a non-Game Freak game that did. That first one was HarmoKnight, a downloadable 3DS rhythm game which I beat yesterday. It had been on my radar for quite awhile, and I finally picked it up in the form of a Club Nintendo reward. It was an enjoyable mix of platformer and rhythm game, though some of the harder levels made me wonder if I’m still cut out for this sort of thing. I guess I’ll find out for sure sometime after Hatsune Miku: Project mirai DX gets here next month via Play-Asia.
The non-Game Freak Pokemon game was Pokemon Conquest, which I’d started the day before HarmoKnight and beat today. Aside from some random rounds of Pokemon Stadium at a friend’s place back in the day, it’s the first and only Pokemon spinoff that I’ve played. It also happens to be one with an unusual lineage: made by Tecmo Koei, Pokemon Conquest is a strategy RPG crossover between the Pokemon franchise and the extremely niche Nobunaga’s Ambition. It’s a game that, when it was first unveiled, I thought was never, ever going to be released in the US, but somehow, Nintendo made it happen. I’m kind of glad they did, though; the setting is strange, but it’s a pretty decent all-ages SRPG that happens to feature Pokemon.
Now that I’m through those, I should probably get back to Picross DS, which has continually overwhelmed me with its massive amount of content. Fortunately, I don’t have many more puzzles left to go (I think), and then I don’t plan to play anything else this series for awhile, not even after Picross 3D 2 comes out here (at least, I hope it comes out here). However, part of me also wants to start up a proper Game Freak-made Pokemon again with Pokemon X. This is the last Pokemon game I need to play in order to consider myself caught up with the series; as much as I love Hoenn, I’ve no plans to play Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire. Also, after X, I will have played a game in every major Pokemon setting except for the first generation’s, though I suppose I can always check out Kanto in SoulSilver‘s postgame if I really want. I’m still not 100% sure I should be playing a new main-series Pokemon game less than a year after beating SoulSilver, but hopefully it won’t wear me out on the franchise too much.
Finally, I suppose I should explain the “picks” part of this post’s title. For some time, I wrote annual “Gaming Roundup” posts where I listed everything I played in a given year and some brief impressions. Unfortunately, these posts took a lot of work to compile and I slacked off on them after the 2011 edition. I decided a little while ago that I’m going to bring back year-end wrapups, but do them differently: this time, I’m only going to talk about my top ten favorite games that I played this year, and maybe a few others that left strong enough impressions. Recently, I went through the games I beat so far this year and put together a preliminary list, and it’ll probably be rewritten a few times before 2015 bows out. I can’t say this has been a fantastic year, gaming-wise, though there have been a few really great games that I’ve played. Of course, there will be more about said games, and others, around the end of the year.
Out of all the games Shigeru Miyamoto has created, Pikmin is far and away my favorite. I’ve put countless hours into Shiggy’s creations over the decades, from Donkey Kong to Wii Fit, but none has captivated me quite so much as his intimate tale of a diminutive spaceman and the even tinier creatures who aid him during a crisis. It is visually and aurally charming, not to mention a brilliantly designed example of how to do real-time strategy on a console, but it’s also much, much more.
Pikmin is something which is, even now, extremely rare amongst big-budget titles: a narrative game about a normal grown adult. The main character, Captain Olimar, is on an alien planet not because he’s been sent there to fight a war, nor is he chasing adventure or purpose. He’s there by accident. He’s a run-of-the-mill businessman, in the middle of traveling, who crash-lands in unfamiliar territory and spends the rest of the game calmly trying to repair his ride and get home to his worried wife and kid. There are no princesses or kingdoms to save; the only thing which needs rescuing is himself. Despite the fantastical universe he resides in, he’s as familiar as most any commuter you may see on the train in the morning. In this way, Pikmin is about the trials and mundanities of adulthood as much as many other games are examinations of adolescence. It’s shockingly refreshing, and Olimar has since become one of those rare game characters with whom I can truly identify.
Actually, I have to take something back—part of that “fantastical universe” of Olimar’s is almost as ordinary as he himself is, but in a different way. While the planet Olimar lands on is new and interesting to him, its identity soon becomes apparent to the player. As evidenced by the litter that Olimar encounters during his crisis, this strange new world is our own. Sure, the flowers are giant numbered pellets surrounded by petals, the creatures include two-legged speckled bugs and bird-beaked burrowing snakes, and the Pikmin themselves are plant/animal hybrids that could exist nowhere else but a Nintendo game, but there’s no mistaking it. Olimar is on Earth, and he is the size of an insect upon it.
The presence of the Pikmin and other weird living things, combined with the familiarity of Olimar’s situation and the random man-made flotsam, is perhaps meant to make us think about the nature we too often take for granted and our relationship to it. Study real-life plants and animals closely, and you’ll notice a wondrous, vibrant world, perhaps one similar to that which Olimar sees. Even at the current rate of extinction, new species are still being discovered; with that in mind, the birds and bugs of Pikmin don’t seem all that farfetched. The primary-colored Pikmin are clearly inspired by ants, insects which famously work together in groups and come in a wide variety of types. Scenes of them flocking around any given object are entertaining in the same way as watching ants carry a piece of food that’s much larger than they are.
This mix of the unusual and the ordinary naturally extends to the gameplay. As I said earlier, Pikmin is a real-time strategy game. The RTS genre is traditionally relegated to the PC, due to the need for precise controls, such as with a mouse, to organize and command units. Pikmin takes the RTS concept and simplifies things, with just three types of units (red, yellow, and blue Pikmin) and a total limit of one hundred individuals that can be controlled in the field at any time. The defense stats of these units is indicated, Super Mario Bros.-style, by physical appearance, and the best of these can be most easily cultivated by letting them “grow” in the ground for a longer period of time. In any other situation, this would not be a problem, but Olimar has only thirty days to find the same number of parts for his spaceship before his life-support system dies. Thus, time is Olimar’s largest, most ominous opponent, moreso than the massive creatures that attempt to eat the Pikmin along the way. Success in this game is determined by your command of the Pikmin, and how well they can fight off threats and navigate territory both while searching for and carrying back Olimar’s precious parts. Pikmin can be challenging at times, filled with all manner of clever obstacles and terrain, but it is also quite manageable, with a perfectly-tuned learning curve. It helps that the Wii’s “New Play Control!” port is a dream to play with its remote and nunchuck setup (unfortunately, there is no GameCube controller support in this release, so I could not compare the original control scheme to the new one).
The understated soundtrack is standard-quality Nintendo fare, but as for the graphics, they are Pikmin‘s most prominent weakness, as, despite their novel designs, they haven’t aged as gracefully as the rest of the game. Pikmin was originally released in 2001 and it shows, thanks to now-dated texturing and lighting, and simplistic character models. However, please don’t let this put you off on playing this masterpiece. It is one of the greatest and most unique video games of its kind, and also one of the best Nintendo has ever made. It is a surprisingly deceptive game, in a good way: approachable and wholesome enough for kids, but with a story and protagonist which are more relatable to adults. It speaks to its audience about nature and its relationship with humanity, without passing judgment on anyone or anything, leaving the player to reach their own conclusions about the world and its inhabitants. Most importantly, it is mature, in the truest sense of the word, than most other games which claim that adjective for themselves.
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