Category Archives: opinion

Chrono Trigger – The Underdog

This article was originally featured at HonestGamers.com

Where I Began
I have a vague recollection of the first time I picked up a Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller that vaulted me into Chrono’s distinctive reality. Memory can be vague, and I could imagine that it was in the company of a friend, or with a “Rental” sticker on the cartridge; perhaps it was the time I relived the adventure in retelling to another Role Playing Game fan who had yet to discover the ground breaking, time travelling tale.

That is perhaps part of the inspiration for Chrono Trigger, I could easily ascribe such, logically. However, my experience with the game was probably not much different than yours. I ran around, stole lunches, drank competitively, beat up a robot; checked on the girl I’d knock over first and definitely did not wait around for her to decide what candy she wanted.

Then I was judged summarily guilty as a subversive terrorist against the Kingdom and locked up in a tower. What a morning! To suggest I wasn’t have a great time would be a mistake, even though I learned, much to my chagrin, that the game was taking notes about my choices. That there were tangible consequences to my actions was a lesson I did not forget.

I didn’t care for a second that it was genius world building, mechanics-in-story seamlessly interwoven. This is a game that defined how time travel mechanics, world building and character design needed to work. No one aspect of its design received less attention than any other, and this is apparent even in detailed analysis.

Chrono Trigger is a masterwork of pixel art, eight channel orchestral character themes, strategic turn based combat and some of the most memorable characters you’re ever likely to meet. With character designs by Akira Toriyama, music by Yasanori Mitsuda and Nobou Uematsu, this is no doubt the console’s most ambitious title. Many of RPG gamings most familiar tropes got their start here, even if it did not originate them.

A Fantasy of Power
Chrono Trigger’s defining quality is its ability to allow you to become invested in your choices. Even if you don’t care, personally, for Marle, the rudderless princess you knock over, concern for her life and your impact upon it places you squarely in the middle of events. Your personal involvement with each of the characters not only dictates how much work you put into them, it also determines the outcome of the game.

To quote Nick Fury, “Ever been in a war, Councilman? Did you feel an over-abundance of control?” Each choice you make has an ever outward scaling knock-on effect that draws you to an apocalyptic conclusion seemingly beyond your control. You can escape death, rescue the princess, thwart the tyrant and even befriend the monster, but can you prevent the destruction of all humanity? Perhaps the ultimate answer we seek is addressed by Chrono Trigger: We can decide the outcome of the future.

Grandmastery
The heads of the creative team behind Trigger are considered grandmasters of their respective art. Their music, character design, pixel art and world design have inspired countless people to try their own hand at it. I submit there is no greater achievement than that. Let us not forget that the programmers also achieved an incredible feat on the aging console.

I remember being astounded that I could talk to someone and then run around the screen with the dialogue page still on screen. At the time I called it “multitasking”, though in truth it’s probably closer to task switching. Ever the techhead, I was impressed at the performance of that little grey box. Spell effects were impressive, many of which filled the screen in a showy fashion not before thought possible.

To say that these developers and creators were at the top of their craft is a fact, and they pushed the SNES to its limits and proved it still could awe the fans … without the use of any in-cart accelerators, I might add. There is no substitute for creative talent, and Chrono Trigger stands as a testament to that fact. So why is it so easily overlooked?

Progression and Heroism
I stared in heartbroken awe as Chrono’s sixteen pixel tall figure was disintegrated by Lavos’ vicious attack. Then, as Undertale would say, I was “filled with determination”. I had rescued Marle from death, and didn’t believe for a moment that he would succumb. I knew in advance that he was locked as the first party member for a reason.

It wasn’t cynical anticipation; I knew something terrible was going to happen. I’d watched games try new things and was curious what was next. Excitement may be a strange attribution to player death, but I trusted Chrono Trigger to continue to give me choices. When given the opportunity to restore the timeline, I got right to it. I know now I didn’t have to bring him back, but here’s the thing: When I play Chrono Trigger, I can’t bring myself not to.

I feel obligated to bring order back, to restore what is ruined, to vanquish darkness and win the day. I know it stems from the deeply rooted sense of right I have within me, and here’s something else: I’ll never try to get any of the other endings. Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Your Ending
There are thirteen distinct endings in Chrono Trigger, and each can be effortlessly pursued thanks to New Game+, which grants you all of your prior equipment. You can defeat Lavos at less than half of your party’s maximum strength. That is a clever hint; all of the game’s potential has not been exhausted, and neither has yours.

In 1995, no one was told Chrono Trigger had multiple endings. The Internet was slow and communication was sluggish and not centralized. Translation: We didn’t have Facebook, Skype, Discord or any social media forum of significance. I don’t know how long it took for word to get around about alternate endings, but our perception of the game as complete was transformed. I didn’t have access to Chrono Trigger to explore the other endings, so for me, it was, but I don’t recall wanting very much to pursue them.

Did I find the man in the spacesuit underwhelming? Mechanically, not at all. “Core Lavos” can still be a tough fight if you’re not on your toes or privy to its defenses. Akira’s designs have a tendency toward silliness, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. Defeating Lavos, though, isn’t the point of the game.

Cause Without Root
The emotional resonance we talk about as reviewers, players and critics, is a blustery way of saying “I felt that.” Determination to win was what the characters, quests, music and art gave me. I remember feeling joyous – happy-sad – when Marle was re-united with Chrono. It may be ironic that Chrono Trigger doesn’t have a lot of emotional resonance.

All of its storytelling force comes from its ability to make you want to complete the goals that you own. They aren’t your goals; they’re preset, and can be broken down into a flow chart of relatively simple cause and effect events. We know that doesn’t lessen their meaning, because we make simple choices all the time. The difference is we get to see the resolution, or conflict, that comes of those choices in a short time frame.

Stories struggle with multi-universe scenarios. Chrono Trigger’s successor, though not direct sequel, Chrono Cross, is a branch of that narrative root. Players, when presented with forty characters to chose from, would chose not to play the game. Would a direct sequel have worked better? Would it even have been possible? I doubt it; other games have tried to recapture the magic and been panned in the attempt by critics and fans alike.

Chrono Trigger speaks to the power of our choices, and the uncertainty of consequence. Perhaps if it had just one ending, it would be more favourably regarded. It does not pretend that your choices do not matter; that there is only one possible outcome. It takes a risk and entrusts you with the fate of everyone within its world.

Why do I call this an underdog? Chrono Trigger changed how RPGs played and our expectations. It is easily glossed over as one of the best RPGs of all time, possibly because of its signature art style and narrative themes. When the world had moved on to Final Fantasy Tactics, critics still recognized Chrono Trigger’s deeper influence.

Is it preservation that has caused Squaresoft, and now Square Enix, to shut down every reinterpretation of its work? Three dimensional worlds do not suffice, novels of great respect, nor even a modest upscaling or remastering of the original assets behoove. Their narrow path of marketing does seem puzzling in the face of so many remasters of their other franchises. Let’s wrap this up.

Conclusion: Infinite Inventory
Chrono Trigger is a seminal classic. It has a novel presentation that relates the power and powerlessness of choice. Its music is some of the industry’s finest, and extolled strong female characters well before it became an industry focus, thanks to Lara Croft (also released in 1995). It continues to sell in a largely unmodified form, ported to many platforms.

It’s greatest weaknesses are indeed simple: Akira’s particular art style may just rub you the wrong way; the main storyline is uncharacteristically short. Some music themes can overstay their welcome, rarely exceeding a minute in length as was typical of the SNES. Multiple endings can be a chore to pursue.

Nonetheless, this is widely regarded as a must play, and is available on mobile for Android and iOS. If you’re retro-curious, it was also ported to PlayStation One and Nintendo DS with additional features including animated cutscenes, additional endings and more. ‘Nuff said.

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Filed under article, gaming, good things, history, my view, opinion

Critical About Gaming: Where Do You Draw the Line?

I’ve never killed a man. Not once. Not even accidentally. I’ve hurt people, sometimes intentionally, physically, and emotionally. I make mistakes. I have no desire to hurt even a misogynistic misanthrope like Trump.

My Steam library approaches five hundred titles of which I will play only a portion, but some not ever. Certainly there isn’t enough time in the day to get to them all, even if I were employed gainfully to do so. No, when it comes down to I choose not to be part of certain scenarios and character behaviours.

In my youth I gave death no thought; in Doom demons were slain; in Duke Nukem, mutant cops and aliens; Quake, monsters, and notably, other players. Friends and associates. Capture the flag, shoot anyone who tries to stop you from running away with it. A fair description for a game? Continue reading

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Filed under indie, marketing, opinion

Pre-Post Trump

Trump is the first pure entertainer candidate for President of the United States of America. Building on the lessons learned as owner and participant in World Wrestling Entertainment (National Review, Apr. 4th 2016), he zoned in on how to play the crowd and draw all of the attention to himself. In other, public and private arenas, he would test his theories and formulate his plans (NYMag, Apr. 3rd, 2016).

Meanwhile, in 2014 Trump Stadium filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Does that sound like a man concerned primarily with success? He let it fail and avoided fiscal responsibility. A good man takes the losses with the wins and relies upon experience to be the teacher.

Trump continues to defy convention because he employs his own. The pillar concepts of ‘best’, ‘winning’ and ‘losers’ form a storytelling structure that tell us ‘I’m the best, winning against the losers.’ To understand how he uses them, we need to define them according to his paradigm.

Trump’s Pillar(s)
To determine what is ‘best’ we have only to look at his actions: Avoiding confrontation, positioning himself as the champion and always saying he will do what others cannot. He’s known for headstrong choices lacking savvy and tact, hence his string of business failures that pockmark an otherwise unremarkable career. ‘Best’ is getting what Trump wants.

Politically_Awkward_Donald-Discinclined-400px‘Winning’ has subtleties that reflect the structure of Trump’s thoughts more than they do reality. You see, winning is not accomplishment oriented but praise oriented. Trump had cold parents, and remembers ratings more than any affection on their part. Ratings are double edged but readily available, and having never been scolded effectively, he will do anything for them. ‘Winning’ is attaining praise with very little worry about cultural values and morals.

‘Losers’ is a generic reference for anyone who deserves Trump disapproval for reasons temporary and circumstantial. A valued ally one moment becomes a belittled foe if doing so will improve his notion of ‘best’ or chances of ‘winning’ praise for being who he is. Trump does not present concrete facts about his opponents, but invents them just as a schoolyard bully might. Hard facts would distract from the main event: Trump.

Working Effortlessly
All of his language fixate upon these because that’s how you pitch a concept, it’s how you sell a show. You keep it simple so that it will have broad appeal. You use small words, bold language and exaggerated caricatures. You get personal with the fans and invite them in with largess. They aren’t voters any more, they’re fans, this is zeitgeist. So possessed are they that the impossible is within reach.

Why not? Abraham Lincoln ultimately unified America over slavery, though it took a war to hash things out. Trump has provided all of the stage presence of a man who’s going to war against the government, that he’ll reclaim it and champion his cause by … well, the trouble is he doesn’t have any plans. Just statements.

Wile-E-Coyote-Blueprint-The-Anvil-Drop-Trap_art

This is gonna work.

A real plan is very much a blueprint, unmistakable and believable when read. When broken down – by others, I add – Trump’s ‘plans’ are financially unfeasible, legally irresponsible and are at the minimum unprofessional.

For so much of his campaign, Trump has functioned as one who desires attention and knows how to do very little work to get it. Now that he appears to need to do real work and set aside the bluster, posturing and outright hatred, he has passed off the labour to others.

Make no mistake, Trump understands the Art of the Delegation (not delegates), but even when tasked with the most basic task of learning how the electoral process functions, he has demonstrated zero interest. Rience Priebus has got to be shaking his head. The GOP have been kicking themselves for weeks, mostly into gear, so that they can oppose him in fear of the Republican Apocalypse. Would he destroy the Republican Party? To take them so lightly after a mistake of this caliber is understandable, but also pure folly.

They have not survived worse, but they also would have had to do nothing in order to accept responsibility for Trump’s existence. The divide in the electorate will do more damage than Trump could ever comprehend, which brings me to my point: What does Trump want?

Coming To A Head
We’ve established that he wants attention, and this is the biggest Trumpfiesta of his life, with billions of dollars in free advertizing; I mean, listen to me, will ya? But after that, when the party is over, what will we see that his show has wrought?

Understand that when a man leads he signals to others and asks them to join him. Either you do, or you don’t, based on your assessment of his value to your goals. Trump’s celebrity depends upon this abusive ‘persona’ which he positions as threatening the establishment. ‘Threatening’ is the key word, here.

It’s easy to say he doesn’t care about anyone, that he’s unbalanced and unhinged, but that is far from accurate. Donald J. Trump has decided to put his wants before anyone and tell them they are the most important. POTUS is – in theory and practice – the one who sees the needs of the many and does everything they can do to see them met.

Donald Trump is the sad case for the ruination of the greatest nation on Earth. It is his wake to be dreaded, not the strangely animated features of his coloured face. So help us if his brand of violence sends someone to the hospital, or worse.

So let us respond,

#ForeverHope

#ChooseTheRight

#NotTheMight

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Filed under article, celebrity, news media, opinion, politics

Troubleshot in the Wallet

Microsoft’s idea of help has always been questionable, but you can rely upon the focus of someone getting paid for something. That’s not inherently wrong, but it does come across as sneaky and underhanded, especially the way Microsoft presents it.

For instance: Adobe Photoshop, once worth $700-$1200 now ships under the guise of a service entitled “Creative Cloud”. For a nominal monthly fee you get access to the unfettered, full version of Photoshop, or any other single program they ship via this model.

Even $260 a year doesn’t sound that bad for a single program, unlimited support and handy extras like stock photos, cloud storage and a bunch of other stuff. Frankly it’s a good ideal and probably more than most people need.

Which brings me to the alternatives. You can pick up Paint.net for the glorious price of free, or grab Photoshop CS2 which grants you 90% of the greatness that otherwise costs so dang much. CS2 is free because its unsupported, so if you’re in need of a full, legit version of Photoshop, you can hardly go wrong with this.

(Adobe’s links are now behind an Adobe ID sign in blockade. They’re obviously not pleased with the adoption rate of Creative Cloud…) Adobe Suite CS2 was developed for use Windows XP and glitches a little on newer versions of Windows. The last patch brings it up to version 9.0.2 but doesn’t address any of these issues, and they have no plans to do so.

Microsoft knows this and has tailored the Compatibility Troubleshooter to pitch you the retail solution if you’re unsatisfied with the glitches, which are minor and entirely tolerable. Specifically, after roughly a half hour the floating menus begin to disappear, not to mention your photo windows. Clicking on them brings them back from … whereever it is they jaunted off to.

I tried setting the compatibility setting to Windows XP Service Pack 2, and this solved the issue of the floating windows going away, but upon exiting Photoshop I was greeted with a question. You know the one: “Did this program run correctly?” Auotmatically I selected no, because I wanted to try another setting. Instead it popped up this window:Troubleshot_in_the_back

A what is who now? Excuse me? How does it know? Oh wait … I mean, I turned off Siri—um, Cortana. All of those advertising options and sharing nonsense are also switched off.

I don’t trust Microsoft, that’s all. Ultimately this isn’t hard to understand, Adobe’s a big company and have a vested interest in making sure depreciated versions of their software are broken… I mean, that new software runs great on the latest Operating Systems.

Am I suggesting sabotage? Perhaps by inaction. Adobe isn’t required to patch their old software, but it would encourage me to invest in the Creative Cloud for new features that overshadowed the old software. Except of course that none of the CC “apps” do that. We’re talking about a value proposition that can be difficult to substantiate when so many other pieces of software give you a high percentage of the functionality for free.

Yes, I can use Gimp, and it does more, but it also turns filters into a ridiculous guessing game. Anyone determined to become proficient with Gimp has too much time on their hands, and that doesn’t represent most of us.  Photoshop just works and is still more user friendly than Gimp.

I know that’s like saying building a house is easier than baking a cake.

The strangeness didn’t end with Microsoft’s retail pitch. Curious, I clicked on the link to take me to the “paid software upgrade”. Here’s where I landed:

Er_What-Adobe_in_Spanish

Er … um. Hey, what? In Canada our national languages are English and Canadian French. Not … Spanish. I think that’s Spanish. Truly impressive. Why do I think that this was something simple they should have gotten right but still managed to screw up?

Because I know Microsoft. This is what they’ve been doing for over thirty years.

Stay on your toes folks, because I don’t expect that to change.

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Filed under marketing, opinion, sale

Retail Rocks

We seem to have come at it from the wrong end of things: if it’s broken, throw money at it. My nephew made an amusing and accurate observation while we examined the purpose of three waist-high rock laid on the corner of access to a parking lot. Continue reading

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Filed under impromptu, my view, opinion, practical challenges

Location Unknown

Irritably enough I am reminded that the Cloud is just that. Intangible but enforced by marketers as ever necessary for all tasks. Offline access of files, while crucial, remains awkward. Not seamless, not particularly user friendly either. Continue reading

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Filed under marketing, online services, opinion, technology, viewpoint

Morning Reflections

Crazy. Each time I get back into tech it’s cheaper and better. Nice screen, snappy performance, loads of features for an almost silly price. Shame Web OS was a flop, it really is a smooth, logical system, and so much more comprehensive than iOS. Continue reading

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Filed under immediate response, impromptu, opinion

Don’t Stop Writing

So much can get in the way, but for every successful writer I have witnessed one constant: A trail of countless words. Be a critic, be an editor, find your specialty, but don’t stop for a moment. Get a few words in a day, or every other day, once a week. Continue reading

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Filed under challenge, creative process, gaming, good things, immediate response, impromptu, my view, news media, opinion, personal growth, writing

Remember I said “Total Radio Silence”?

Starwise-bust-watermarked

Fliss Starwise

Okay I admit I never said that, but I did mention that this “wonderful new story”, entitled Sliver of Light, would not receive the spoiler treatment. Having totally turnedcoat on that idea, there is now a ‘novel development blog’ which I will be updating whenever it feels appropriate. Not in such a way as to detract from the core business of writing. The blog is called Cobalted (link opens in new window/tab), and has of this moment features a character synopsis for the main character, Fliss Starwise with more on the way soon.

Go check it out. This isn’t my usual kidnapping, disappearance or abuse intrigue and mystery. The narrative is called limited omniscient, my favorite writing style, granting me access to the thoughts and feelings of every character and it is my most comfortable vantage point. I’ve gotten the impression that many of my followers appreciate Aaran’s personality, or frankly, how real she is. So do I and I’ve mentioned that I was moving away from the darkness in which she lives.

A tale that any one can pick up is just more important to me than trying to be something grittier than myself. So many Canadian games and fiction comes across as harder and more jaded because that is what is expected. It’s not enough to be brilliant, genius and amazing if you’re nice, too. Without getting into the subject at length, I don’t believe that’s necessary to demonstrate integrity.

I will say this: We can recognize the battlefield and fight it without letting go of our souls.

You do know that is the core of Aaran Vanadyl’s being, don’t you? Some of you must. It’s easy to become comfortable with stories of abuse and pain, desensitized by the commonality and medium of experience and incident exploited for entertainment. I do not miss the contrast and ironic barriers placed on sexual content verses everything else. Let’s not limit the idea to violence, because that’s escapist. Violence is not the only victim silenced in our public discourses.

Sliver of Light will feature action (read: violence with a purpose) as much as its other elements, which include fantasy, mystery and of course, fiction. Foremost it is an ‘ordinary tale’ of adventure and coping with life as it happens to its cast. Awakening the heart of Amustere Goldfinch, the languishing mind of Diver Seasmoke and meeting the beautiful Pittance with her own goals.

I take a risk in exposing this work so early on, and I know it. However … I believe I am not alone in seeking and elevating what is good. Even with “so few” followers, I am further assured. So, as always, thank you. Cobalted will update with new chapters every Monday, because it should be a day you have something good to read.

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Microprocessor Bubble: Tick, Tock

Whilst my parents and I were playing Lineage II a saying hopping into my mouth: “If you can’t find a game to play, you’re not looking.”

Pre-macroeconomicshrink/shirk, I heard that applied to the valiant task of job hunting. It was true. I fell into work with very little effort. Now the attitude of employers is different – they have the pick of the litter. If we don’t like how we’re being treated, someone else hankering for a pay cheque will take our place. Continue reading

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Filed under economics, my view, opinion, technology, unvarnished