Well, it’s the end of the year. When I wrote about visiting The Last Blockbuster back in August, I had promised a regular post as well as another I Bought Some Stuff article at some point. I’ve since fulfilled the former, and now it’s time for me to fulfill the latter.
Since the last I Bought Some Stuff, I’ve… kinda slowed down on buying things. That combined with my fluctuating mental health gave me little incentive to go out and shop. Though, when I did head out, I found some really neat things. This will cover May to December of this year, and mostly rides the gamut of music and video games. Let’s wrap up this year with some oddball stuff.
I will forewarn you like before that I will nerd out about music in this one, like I did in the last one. There are games in here, don’t worry!
Not long after the previous entry, I ended up checking a Goodwill around my neck of the woods right at the end of May. It’s not one of the usual places I visit, I was doing something that required me to be around that neighborhood and I figured since there was a Goodwill nearby I might as well poke inside. Well, I’m glad I did.
Back in the High Life by Steve Winwood
El Oso by Soul Coughing
The Futureheads’ self-titled debut album
Mission: Impossible and Other Movie Hits by The American Film Orchestra.
Already I’m starting with some rather eclectic choices. Hey, I never said my purchases make sense!
Back in the High Life is one of those albums that we already have but was in terrible condition, so this is one of those “replacement” discs. Much like a lot of ’60s-era musicians, Winwood mounted a brief comeback thanks to “Higher Love,” which was a Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit. The title track is alright, but otherwise the whole album is inoffensive yuppie pop music. Stereogum’s Tom Briehan in his article covering Billboard number one hits, called “Higher Love” white man’s overbite music, and I agree with him.
El Oso may not be an album you’re familiar with, but if you’re a Person of a Certain Generation and watched a fair share of Cartoon Network in the mid-to-late ’90s, you’re probably familiar with their song “Circles” being used as a montage for Hanna-Barbera cartoons, almost in a proto-Anime Music Video sort of way:
Another song from this album, “Rolling,” was also used the same way as a music video, set to a Betty Boop cartoon. I honestly grabbed this album because I remember those songs, and thought it might be an interesting listen.
The Futureheads are one of those 2000s indie rock bands that populated the landscape around that time. I’m familiar with them because one of their songs, “Decent Days and Nights,” made it into the Burnout 3: Takedown soundtrack courtesy of EA Trax. (Remember EA Trax? That was definitely A Thing.) I basically grabbed it only for that, and also because they covered Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” and considering how “Running Up That Hill” was gaining traction thanks to Stranger Things, I figure it was nice timing to get this.
Finally, one of my go to YouTube channels is Oddity Archive, where Ben Minnotte covers the pop culture and technology obscura. One of my favorite series from him is Record Ripoffs, where he’ll cover the myriad of knockoff albums “performed by The Original Artists*” and how they stack up to the original article. That album was basically me being curious how a composer made an album to capitalize on a big Hollywood hit at the time — in this case, 1996’s Mission: Impossible. And according to the album, this is literally one guy, Lee Johnson on keyboards. It’s… an interesting listen.
It’s December! Around this time, The Game Awards makes its presence known, with World Premieres, sponsored content and of course, games winning awards. Started by Geoff Keighley in 2014, it’s now entering its eighth year of trying to be something that’s the video game equivalent of the Academy Awards. Whether or not he’s succeeded is up for debate.
Way back in 2012, Year One of this blog, I had made a post about the “highlights” of Spike TV and their Video Game Awards, the predecessor to The Game Awards. It was rather crude, much like a fair share of my first few years of this blog, of which I eventually went back and gave it an overhaul in 2019. You can see the updated version here. I figured since I’m still going at this “writing about games” thing 10 years later, I figure it’s time to do part two of this series, covering the current version of the Video Game Awards.
The Game Awards are something I really hold no love to. It’s the most crass, commercial thing of the entire video game industry, replacing E3 as the most visible but problematic thing about the toxic game industry. Thus much like the first post, I’m going to point out some of the more awkward and stupid moments of this “revered” Game Awards.
But first, some ground rules: We’ll go year by year, covering what I feel are the most notable parts. We won’t talk much about what games actually won, as awards like these are arbitrary, and having a conversation about what should’ve won is like people who constantly debate about game review scores: pointless. We’ll only cover things that I think are worth being a lowlight, which might be missing out on some things that others might consider “cringe” and should be covered here. (Which means you won’t see me post something like SonicFox winning Best Esports Player in 2018 on this list, because he deserved that. Sorry.)
That being said, let’s get started.
The Repeat Offenders
Before we get into the inaugural year of The Game Awards, I’m gonna start by covering certain events that happen repeatedly in several years, to speed things along.
From 2016 onward, each Game Awards starts with a 30 minute pre-show. During this process, they would alternate between interviews about the show, and showing off World Premieres and giving out some awards before the actual broadcast. In essence, the pre-show is like the regular show but at a faster clip. The hosts changed from year to year, but the hosts were Kyle Bosman (2016-2017), Geoff Keighley (2016-2018), and Sydnee Goodman (2019-present).
What awards get mentioned during the pre-show vary from year to year, but usually it’s the ones that wouldn’t have people come up to accept the award, or in the case from 2019 onward, the Esports centric awards. Shoving these off to a pre-show just to have more World Premieres always felt scummy to me, but apparently most contemporary award shows don’t cover all the awards in a single broadcast either, so… I don’t know. At least in some categories, they do have people come up to accept the award, so they at least get some time in the spotlight, just not on center stage.
In addition, this rapid-fire announcement of awards continues well into the regular broadcast. In a lot of cases, Geoff will appear on stage and go through up to 3-4 categories at a time, most of the time being the ones that are voted on by viewers. Again, nothing really wrong with this per se, but it just makes the actual awards just be a prop so we can get more World Premieres in.
Finally, returning from the Spike Video Game Awards, there are promotional ads everywhere. These change from year to year, but they’re often the go-to digital services of today: Discord, Grubhub, TikTok, Spotify, the works. Sponsors for upcoming video game films and video game-adjacent products are prominent. Facebook Gaming sponsors a taped segment each year covering gamers from around the world. And in some years, there’s ads for services that no longer exist, like go90 being incredibly prominent during 2015’s broadcast, or 2019, which had several ads for Google Stadia, a service shutting down in early 2023.
Much like its predecessor, there’s still award categories sponsored by brands like Samsung, Gillette and Subway. While there’s no “Most Addictive Game fueled by Mountain Dew” category anymore, it makes the award show feel a bit hollow to have brands sponsor specific awards.
The debut year of The Game Awards was an… interesting affair. Since Geoff and the show’s production team were transitioning from broadcast television to internet streaming, there’s a fair share of technical problems that happen throughout the broadcast. Microphones don’t work, awkward camera cuts, the works.
One of those technical problems seems to be this secondary camera angle that they constantly cut to when not on center stage, where Geoff will either be talking or doing an interview with someone like Marty O’Donnell. I assume this camera angle has a purpose: maybe to get a better angle of the people being interviewed. But instead it just looks like someone in the control booth accidentally switched to the wrong camera. It’s kinda funny to get rather unflattering angles of people like Reggie Fils-Aime.
One common award featured during these broadcasts is “Trending Gamer,” an award voted upon the community highlighting notable internet gaming personalities. The award would eventually get renamed to “Content Creator of the Year,” but with the same rules in place.
The inaugural year has Justine “iJustine” Ezarik and Stephen “Boogie2988” Williams presenting the award, of which the candidates were a bunch of relatively unknown Youtubers, Pewdiepie, and weirdly, Jeff Gerstmann. The winner ended up being John Bain, better known as “TotalBiscuit.”
I’m putting this here because TotalBiscuit was one of those personalities who was very much on the side of Gamergate, even though he tried to renounce it a few times. He was a fairly toxic personality when it came to gaming culture, complete with saying that his critics “didn’t actually play games,” and introducing The Framerate Police, a Steam Curators group that basically wagged fingers at games that dared to have locked framerates for their games, like the original Tomb Raider from 1997.
TotalBiscuit passed away in 2018 from cancer, a few years after this award. At the time TotalBiscuit had found out he was in the early stages of cancer, thus he accepts his award from his home.
For the record, I do not wish he died of cancer. I wish he was still alive so that he could get his head on straight and not try to pander to the angry gamers crowd like he had. At worst, he could’ve gone the Pewdiepie route and powwowed openly with right-wing fascists. At least then I could rightly ignore the guy. Though, in retrospect, The Game Awards did go with the more safer choice, because if Pewdiepie won, the award would’ve been a much worse look today. But honestly, I wish Jeff Gerstmann won. After all, Jeff Gerstmann is still a threat.
In a continuation of the slapdash production of the first Game Awards, we have miscommunication leading to an awkward presentation.
Best Mobile/Handheld Game was presented by comedians Matt Braunger and Ron Funches, two fairly amusing people — I always loved when Funches appeared on The Giant Beastcast. After doing a silly bit where they try to rip off Angry Birds, they announce the winner: Blizzard Entertainment for Hearthstone. Matt then says “Blizzard can’t be here tonight,” and they accept the award in their honor. Cut to Geoff, confused, where he mentions that someone from Blizzard is at the show, but continues with a conversation with Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime. Eventually Blizzard producer Eric Dodds appears to accept his award and give his speech at the little nook where Geoff is interviewing Reggie. It’s kinda hilarious that such a thing happened, and wouldn’t be the last time we would see award mishaps like these.
About 10 years ago on another WordPress blog I had, I made a rather dumb wordy rant about how retro pixel-style games sucked and how I was getting sick of them appearing everywhere. This was before games like Undertale and Celeste came out, games that showed how you could make that style work perfectly. In essence, I was being a graphics snob, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of me these days.
I only mention this because this post is gonna be about a game that uses pixel art, and how surprisingly good it looks. Basically letting my past self have some crow. Though in this case we’re talking about a fox, not a bird.
FOX n FORESTS is a retro-style 2D platformer developed by Bonus Level Entertainment and Independent Arts Software, two studios based out of Germany. Bonus Level is a modest indie studio founded by Rupert Ochsner, a former developer who worked on projects at Deep Silver including Saints Row The Third, though mostly in a business role. Independent Arts on the other hand, are known for a myriad of games, mostly ports of games like Tropico 6 to console platforms and the Moorhuhn series of games (known as Crazy Chicken outside Germany). So two developers with at least some amount of game history, just on the more “shovelware” side of things.
Originally pitched on Kickstarter in 2016, FOX n FORESTS was released in May 2018 on all the major platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and of course, PC via Steam. Outside of getting mentioned by James Stephanie Sterling in their “Greenlight Good Stuff” series, this game very much came and went when it came out. Yet I’m always curious about lesser-known games that aren’t talked about much, so I was willing to give it a try.
You play as Rick, a “foxtastic” – their words, not mine – hero who is persuaded from murdering a poor partridge to help the Season Tree, who’s lost their magic bark to various villains around the seasonal world. It’s up to Rick to recover the pieces of magic bark and give them back to the season tree to save the day, and get handsomely rewarded in the process.
Is the story a bit silly? Yeah, definitely. But I’m not expecting high-quality writing here, especially for a game trying to hearken back to the days of retro platformers from the SNES era.
Rick starts with a fairly simple arsenal of a sword and a bow. The sword is used to attack enemies while moving, crouching or jumping. The bow is used to attack enemies at a distance, but requires Rick to be completely stationary and on the ground. As Rick progresses, he gets arrows that can alternate between special fire modes that come in handy later on for damage, or to activate platforms he couldn’t get to previously.
The sword has a very special ability: pressing on either left or right trigger changes the season, which varies from level to level. The first level lets Rick switch between the warm summery colors to a wintery cold, which freezes all the water and makes some platforms easier to see.
Another level switches between a spring dusk to a fall breeze, complete with growing fruit and falling leaves that double as platforms to make progress. This is a pretty neat mechanic. However, visiting the other seasonal area slowly drains your mana bar, so this requires a balance of switching between seasons at the most opportune times to make progress.
At various points, another character named Retro the gaming badger appears to save the player’s progress mid-level, at the cost of some gold. Naturally he spouts off a bunch of retro video game references, as a wink and a nod to the games inspired by FOX n FORESTS.
Oh, right! It’s October. Usually that means having some kind of “spooky” game to write about. Under normal circumstances I would find some fairly obscure Halloween-themed action game and write about that. But it’s been quite a busy month for me, combined with there not being many spooky games that aren’t just horror clones ripping off Amnesia: The Dark Descent or SOMA. This makes actively seeking out something like that a challenge for me.
So instead I’ll probably dip more into the side of spooky games I can deal with. A spooky shooter game that thanks to recently replaying it again, has gotten me to appreciate it in a way I hadn’t done so before.
I replayed Monolith Productions classic horror-humor FPS Blood. Released in early 1997, it’s been labeled one of “the Holy Trinity” of Ken Silverman’s Build Engine, the others being Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior, a game I wrote about way back in 2012. Of course, there’s other games that use that engine, though most of them are mediocre-to-bad, like Redneck Rampage or NAM. But that’s only a small blemish on an otherwise good game engine. After all, you haven’t truly made it as a game engine if you didn’t have a stinker or two using said engine.
A Discord server that I’m on has a monthly event where folks play a randomly determined game by poll. Blood ended up being the themed game for October, and that gave me enough of an incentive to jump back in and toss dynamite with the best of them. The last time I went through the game was 2019, so let’s see if I remember how this classic FPS plays.
My family were packrats. For the longest time, we’d just hoard things that we might need someday. But as time goes on, we’re slowly culling away those things we held onto, often times just books and old toys we no longer need. Often times it’s just stuff we didn’t need to hold onto, but some of it was fairly sentimental.
During this process of unearthing storage, we discovered a bunch of old things I honestly thought we tossed away, like the Sega Dreamcast keyboard, various board games and electronic toys. But there was one thing that we found that suddenly caused a wave of nostalgic feelings: A kid’s cassette boombox.
This is the “My First Sony” CFS-2050 cassette boombox, released around 1992-93. My First Sony was basically Sony trying to make music players that were more child-friendly, with a red-yellow-blue color scheme. This one also came with a microphone that could be used for recording onto the tape, or just doing amateur karaoke. It could also double as an AM/FM radio if that’s more your thing.
Much like a lot of old hardware, the system came with problems when it was unearthed out of the storage tub it was in: The tape mechanism didn’t work at all. One of the most common problems with cassette players of this vintage is that the belts that handle playback have disintegrated, turning into rubber goop upon use. Indeed, after trying to use it once, one of the belts broke off and just wrapped itself around the motor. The other belt was still on the cassette deck, but I figure it wasn’t gonna be long before that too would end up breaking.
I am not really much of a repair person, but this thing’s held a bunch of memories to me that I couldn’t toss it away. A brief web search made me find the service manual, which had the part names for the two belts, which I was able to find thanks to a website that sells replacement parts for old music players. (I’ve linked the site in question at the bottom of this post.)
After removing the old belts and using rubbing alcohol to clean off any residue that might be still be on the wheels, I replaced the belts. After testing it opened up with a tape I had, it sprung to life and started playing music again.