All About Maxwell
John Dies at the End
A very funny and enjoyable book; bit of mix between Clerks and Ghostbusters (if that makes sense?). The story revolves around two smalltown boys who are swept into a supernatural adventure after ingesting a living drug from a shady Rastafarian. Hilarity ensues, possibly involving aliens. The writing is fast-paced, witty, and has earned a sequel (available now!). If you only read one book from this list, think really really hard about picking this one.
The Raw Shark Texts
Amazon has a real wishy-washy description for this book, but I can't blame them. Yeah, it's about a guy on an adventure to regain his memories, but there's so much more. Of course, telling you would spoil the whole first act (which is very mysterious). What I will say is that this book deals with memories, their power, and the worlds we create inside our heads. It's also not as heavy as I'm making it sound. And yes, there is a shark (of sorts).
House of Leaves
This book is a trip. It's a three-part story that is unorthodox not only in structure, but in presentation. Let's break this down Inception-style. Bottom layer: a family thrown into chaos as they discover oddities in their house: dimensions that dont add up, rooms that shouldn't (and couldn't) exists, and a hallway into nothingness. Middle layer: an old man whose life's work has been compiling information about the family. Top layer: a younger man reading the old man's work about the family and experiencing weirdness in his own life. This is a book of puzzles, and pages filled with sideways text. Its a tough read, but very memorable if you make it to the end.
Ready Player One
I'm sure you heard someone mention this somewhere at some point. It's that book what has all the video game references in it! Ready Player One cronicles an MMORPG player as he explores his digital world to solve an elaborate riddle, which is steeped in 80's geek trivia. The reward: control of the game world and the company that owns it. Of course, there's an EVIL CORPORATION trying to stop him. It's all very 80's action movie.
And if you have any recommendations of your own I'd be happy to hear them in the comments section below.
Sometimes I catch myself missing how I used to play video games. Today, when I sit down to play a game I have a pretty good idea what to expect within minutes of pressing start. Using my combined experiences of hundreds of games--plus the copious amounts of pre-release materials--I can set expectations very quickly.
But it wasnt always like this. I remember a young Maxwell who had zero expectations. He could take a game and in his own mind transform it into something completely different. For him, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis was less of a game and more of a toy. Remembering that kid tells me not only how Ive changed, but games as well.
Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who had a gaming cave: a space, usually their room or basement, where they could retreat with their friends and play, undisturbed by the outside world. Me? I had a jungle. For part of the year, at least.
When it would get cold, my mother would bring in the potted plants from outside and store them in the basement. Surrounded by Fiddleleaf Figs and Arrowhead Vines, I would slump down in my old, brown recliner and lose myself in those digital worlds.
Not to gush, but those days were pretty awesome. Im sure thats how we all remember them, right? It was so easy to simply lose myself within their digital worlds, so much so that I would often ignore the central plot or object and strike out on my own. Exploring every inch of the game, and creating my own, internal narrative.
Earthbound on the Super Nintendo was a prime candidate for this. In the game, there was this really run-down house you could purchase for a huge sum of money. The joke was the outside of the house looked really nice, but the inside was a complete pigsty--one of the walls was even missing. I guess this was supposed to leave you with a tinge of buyers remorse, but I thought the house was awesome!
Inside that shack I would act out whole narratives where Ness and his friends had jobs, ran errands, and lived out their day-to-day lives together. It was a little sitcom inside my head. There was no fighting, no plot-advancement, or anything like that. I was basically recreating The Sims inside of a SNES game.
Today, this never happens. I approach games--all games--differently. There are several reasons for this, such as: my age, amount of pre-release exposure, or advancements in storytelling. Something I enjoy (but secretly loathe) is how much exposure we have to games before their launch. Look at Resident Evil 6. For an astute enthusiasts, you can get the bulk of what a game is about just from pre-release media.
Modern videos are so much more proficient at directing your experience to ensure all key moments and plot points the designers wanted you to see arent missed--no matter what! While entertaining in their own right, more complex games, more complex characters, and more complex stories are (perhaps) driving out room for imagination on the players part. Classic Mario and Sonic games had little to no story whatsoever. Save the princess. Stop Robotnik. It was up to the player to fill in the blanks about the world and its inhabitants.
And how many older games have you played where the art on the cover looked completely different from the game itself? That design constraint meant that as you were playing, say, Gauntlet on NES you were in your mind recreating those little sprites as epic warriors and monsters.
All this is not to say that I hate modern video games or good stories or anything like that. Im just...concerned about a perceived loss of imaginative engagement between player and game. Perhaps Im way off the mark (as I often am) in my less-is-more creative approach. Did anyone else even DO this as a kid?
We don't have an episode of On the Spot airing this week, but I'm still going to bring indie games to light with this text-based version of Maxwell McBargains. As some of you already know, each week I'm granted $5 dollars to save or spend on interesting indie games. After the E3 hold, my current total is $7.05, and I'm going to spend $1.99 on A.R.C.S. from developer Retromite.
A.R.C.S. is a survival game where you command a small group of mercenaries battling waves of invading aliens. It's an enhanced version of a free, online game of the same name. Using the mouse, you move a targeting reticule and shoot down enemies with a variety of weapons. Between each wave you're awarded currency based on your performance to spend on various upgrades. These upgrades include new weapons for personal use, upgrades for the infantry's weapons, and repairs for the base.
Right away I got an arcade, light gun-vibe from this game. The action is pretty slow in the beginning as you pick off little enemy tanks one after the other, but give it a few stages and the enemy variety shoots way up. Flying enemies, heavy tanks, enemies that repair other enemies--the list goes on. And each one is venerable to a different type of weapon. Juggling between these weapons is easy enough, but to truly master the game you must learn to manage your reloads. Different weapons reload at different speeds, and while one is reloading you can switch to another.
I have found that it's easier to focus on only a few weapons for yourself, and pour most of your resources into upgrading your teammates (who attack automatically). Doing so simplifies matters, but may not be the best strategy since I've yet to finish the game. This is especially challenging since a Game Over means you're starting back from the very beginning. You can save and continue during your journey, but dying deletes that save.
If you're interested in checking out A.R.C.S. you can pick it up via Desura for $1.99. There doesn't appear to be a demo, but you can always player the free version online. And if you want to check out the other McBargains recommendations, the list is as follows: Out There Somewhere, 1000 Amps, Birth Order, Lone Survivor, Offspring Fling, Wizorb, Noitu Love 2, Wyv and Keep, and Data Jammers: FastForward.
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