Love (If You Like) in a Time of Quarters – PC – Arcade Spirits – 2019

20190602025435_1.jpgArcade Spirits
Fiction Factory Games/PQube
Genre: Romantic Comedy Visual Novel

In the early 1980s, the Atari was king of the home consoles for video gaming. As with anything that turns a profit and is fairly innovative, everybody wanted a piece of the new “home gaming” pie and between 1982 and 1983, the home console market became saturated with more systems and titles than anyone could truly afford or have space for at the time. Believe it or not, the stories of cartridges of E.T.  for the Atari 2600 being buried in the desert because retailers couldn’t hold them on their shelves and the poor quality due to rushed manufacturing times are factual, if not a bit inflated, and they were just one piece of the puzzle that nearly stopped heavy hitters like the Nintendo Entertainment System from reaching US shores.

But what if that hadn’t happened? What if the industry had practiced a bit of moderation with their excitement or retailers had sufficiently embraced this cutting-edge technology and had met the demand for supply? What if game manufacturers had been more worried about crediting their programmers and putting out quality product rather than rushing to try for the highest sales they could?

Wow. A lot of this is starting to sound kind of familiar…

In any case, my first introduction to Arcade Spirits was an explanation that it took place in a world much like you may imagine those “what if” situations could have produced. While it’s clear that the game industry is flourishing and not in much immediate danger of history repeating itself, how would arcades, now a bit of a novelty rather than commonplace as they were in the 80s and 90s, have fared if there hadn’t been a video game crash at all?

Well, the chance to see one potential outcome awaits you right behind the neon and brick title screens of Arcade Spirits.

(As a quick note, if you’d like to read more about the gaming crash in 1983, the Wikipedia page here has a ton of information to start with!)
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When You See Yourself There – Pride Month Profile: Tommy (Indigo Prophecy)


(Note: As these posts may dig a bit into character plot points, these may get a little spoiler-y. While the games involved may be old, I’d feel bad if I didn’t at least offer up a warning!)

Representation has been an issue for a number of folks across just about every media platform: literature, cinema, television and, of course, video games. When I started 3PStart originally, it was in part due to the fact that I didn’t see many folks from minorities present in the community with their work being showcased. That’s obviously somewhat changed since I’ve gotten to know more people from various places on the spectrum of race, sexuality, gender, and a number of other bloggers and content creators that fall into plenty of other categories. I feel fortunate to have come across so many intelligent and open-minded creatives in my travels through this mess we call the Internet.

Given that it’s Pride Month, however, this feels like the perfect time to highlight some of the characters that helped me feel a bit more included in the gaming world. At the heart of gaming and plenty of other mediums, I think a lot of people find characters that they can empathize with. Whether they are main characters or they show up in the periphery of the game’s story, a number of folks- especially those who don’t see their less common attributes on display very often- gravitate toward these characters no matter how prominent they are.

The first time I remember seeing representation that meant something to me was when I played through Quantic Dreams’ Indigo Prophecy. While I was really enjoying the game regardless, it wasn’t until the chapter, Dark Omen, that I felt a strong connection to the title. The main characters were interesting and the story was easy enough to dive into. I didn’t realize I could get more connected to the game as a whole, though, until a scene where Carla Valenti, the female protagonist, has a sit-down with her best friend, Tommy.

Now, Tommy doesn’t show up much in the game. In fact, Dark Omen is the only chapter he appears in and aside from reading Carla’s tarot cards and making small talk, he does very little but push her characterization forward. When given the opportunity, though, Carla can chat her friend up about his life and goings on. It’s optional and obviously doesn’t have much weight on the plot, but if players pursue these conversations, an interesting tidbit is revealed.

At one point, Carla can ask Tommy if he’s met anyone. At first, this seems to possibly be setting Carla up to be interested in Tommy since we just met him and this is the first interaction we witness between the two. He responds, however, by telling her about a man that he met who seems to be a promising relationship prospect.

As a young homosexual adult in the mid-2000s, this floored me. It was a time when I was really trying to become more comfortable with myself as a human being, let alone with being out about my sexuality. To see this character, minor as he may have been, just having a “private” conversation about his dating status stopped me in my tracks for a minute- and I really do vividly remember that moment in my dorm room at college, sitting on the edge of my bunk bed. I also say “private” with big finger-curving quotes because while the conversation was in his own apartment with his best friend, an entire audience of gamers were listening in. The scope of the moment felt massive to me because while there were other games that were dabbling in the topic, this was my first exposure to this in a video game.

Cliche as it may sound- I felt seen.

After another line about lamenting on the old “society’s come a long way but still has further to go” topic regarding his alternative lifestyle, Tommy’s conversation goes back to Carla and the actual plot. The points aren’t driven in hard, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes, the representation doesn’t have to be overt. Sometimes, heavy-handed attempts can feel contrived and pandering. Not all of them, but like with many topics, if the attempt is strong and mishandled, it can be less than ideal. On the other hand, examples like Tommy may seem too obscured to be considered true representation to some.

For me, the subtlety of Tommy and his conversation was what I needed at the time and it has stuck with me for years. I’m sure plenty of people, no matter their life status, can trace back to when they started feeling empathy with a character (if they even do, as I know handfuls of folks who don’t become that invested). For a lot of us, though, it can be a really special moment, especially for those who feel like outliers in society at times.

There are plenty of positive depictions of various sexualities, genders, and race among other minorities who don’t see a ton of visibility in general. Heck, there are some quality depictions of more commonly seen walks of life that are much more productive and admirable than most. While I’ll surely be adding more of these throughout the month, I’d love to hear from others through posts, comments, or even just on Twitter if you have a character you empathized with that has meant something to you because you simply don’t see characters like them often. Characters resonate with us for different reasons, be it through aesthetic, concept, or otherwise.

Until next time!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)

With Honey Comes the Sting – Sega Dreamcast – Blue Stinger – 1999

screenshot_215Blue Stinger
Sega Dreamcast
Climax Graphics/Activision
Genre: Action Adventure

During its launch in the US, Sega’s new Dreamcast console released with 18 games in tow. While that’s not a paltry number for the time, there were only a handful of recognizable titles in the mix like Sonic Adventure and Mortal Kombat Gold. Titles like Soulcalibur and House of the Dead 2 weren’t exactly household titles yet but were familiar to the arcade going crowd. Then, there was a host of games to file under the “unknown” label; intellectual properties that were getting the chance to grow and become new franchises on a sparkly new system.

Blue Stinger is the system’s sole attempt at a straight-up action adventure game from their launch. With the newly formed Climax Graphics at the helm and heavyweight publisher Activision helping the game, it looked to be a formidable attempt at starting a new series in the vein of Dino Crisis and other success stories from the time. I still remember seeing a hefty amount of advertising pushing the game in magazines, and my best friend at the time had grabbed a copy almost immediately because it looked so good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t remember much about playing it aside from the opening scenes when I dove into it recently. As a huge fan of the Dreamcast and its unique library, Blue Stinger is a game I’ve been meaning to take a trip through given its strange existence in the gaming community today- plenty of folks seem not to remember the game exists and those who do have polarizing views on it.

Having dug my heels in to finish it recently, I have my own thoughts on it to share on both how it holds up and regarding its place in gaming at the time. Continue reading

Near Perfection of the Digital – PC – System Shock 2 – 1999

TitleSystem Shock 2
Irrational Games/Looking Glass Studios/Electronic Arts
Genre: Horror First-Person-Shooter

There are always games that sound like they will be right in your gaming sweet spot that will somehow turn you away from them. It took me a while to try out Final Fantasy XII and once I did, it became one of my favorites in the series. Another game that I’ve warmed up to but still haven’t completed is Bioshock. A little known fact about me is that I really enjoy first-person shooters and based on what I’ve heard about the Bioshock series, it seemed like a bunch of games I’d easily be able to sink my teeth into. Sometimes, it’s worth taking the chance to overcome your hesitations and just try a game if you can.

Oddly enough, another game that is closely related to Bioshock called System Shock 2 had been on my radar for a while. I was told it was a cyberpunk horror first-person shooter with RPG elements. Literally, nothing in that description does anything to deter me. Looking up the game, though, it looked like a very basic FPS and between the fans online having such fervent positive reviews of the game and the fact that its marketing in the current day felt all over the place, it was tough to get excited about giving it a whirl.

It was the connecting threads from Bioshock to System Shock 2 and the suggestion of a friend (who I will publicly thank “anonymously” as ‘The Horror’) that finally pushed me to install the game. Seeing that Ken Levine and a handful of others were involved with both titles helped me feel like the atmosphere from Bioshock could easily have been translated from System Shock 2. It’s also been rare that Horror has suggested a game that I didn’t enjoy once I got into it.

Eventually, as I was sitting at my computer one day browsing through games in my backlog, I mentally threw my reluctant hands into the air and said:

“Y”know what? I’m gonna give System Shock 2 a go.”
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Top 5 – Video Game Soundtracks

3plogommLately, I’ve been chatting a lot with folks about music, especially given how often it plays a beneficial role in our lives. I love music. I played clarinet in school for years before realizing that I enjoyed singing and moving over to that. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to classical compositions alongside top 40 pop and rock and enjoying different styles of independent music through various means and recommendations from friends. My past addictions to rhythm video games and studying up on different styles of dance music are also known to folks I talk with.
Of course, I’ve also listened to plenty of video game music. Like- a lot of it.

Now more than ever, I feel like I need to outline that this Top 5 is not what I think is the best or most well-composed video game soundtracks. There are a ton of great soundtracks out there that didn’t get attention here for the sake of brevity and because of criteria I set for myself to actually pare the list down enough for a post. I’d love to hear your own contributions and feelings on what your top soundtracks are, of course, but so that you have any idea of what went through my head while I was putting this together:

The soundtracks below are pieces that I’ve gone back to a number of times. When I open my audio files, I find myself gravitating toward them for whatever reason- memories, nostalgia, inspiration; these mean something to me and have followed me for years. They are soundtracks that I can listen through from one end to another nearly every time I engage with them and stylistically, they just hit all of the right spots for me.

Ready to dive into my little corner of the video game aural skies? Then let’s go!
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