Retroview: Earthbound

•June 27, 2008 • 2 Comments

It’s the best game that virtually no one has played, and one of the best RPGs of all time. It’s creative and savvy, hilarious and dramatic. Wait… what IS that?!

A collage from the past

Earthbound featured a classic RPG design sense with plenty of innovation, such as using a modern setting with all kinds of weird, abstract elements and positively unique music and illustrations reminiscent of an early 90’s, hip dentist’s office. Well, at least that’s what the furniture reminds me of. (Not to mention the fact that the game forces you to choose a “flavor” of window border, including mint and banana.)

The game play involved battles, over world travel and exploration and item and ability management. The characters utilize abilities via psionics and are able to produce incredible, deadly and even curative effects with the power of their minds.

Ness and Jeff take on animate records and a guitar

The battles are filled with some of the most creative adversaries I’ve ever seen in all my long years gaming. As the story goes, the alien overlord Giygas has come to conquer humanity and his evil will is actually bending people and objects to take violent action against Ness, the hero fated to confront him. There are also plenty of inexplicable enemies, such as “stinky ghosts” popping out of trashcans and mutated fish men.

The classic ramblin’ evil mushroom plants a terrible spore on Ness’ head, causing it to sprout a disorienting mushroom all its own, reversing the control scheme until cured

The graphics may put plenty of people off, but if you stick with this game, its charms will become extremely evident extremely quickly. It’s the piece of Americana that few Americana maniacs know anything about, yet almost any American could relate to all of the themes, ingeniously interwoven, present in Earthbound.

Jus’ bummin’ around Onett

This parting image may even be recognizable by gamers who never played Earthbound but got regular issues of GamePro or perhaps rented weekly from BlockBuster:

Ness’ reflection in the helm of the starman foretells the inevitable “SMAAAaaaaassh!” of a critical hit (with a bat no less)

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Are schools teaching exactly the wrong things?

•June 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I found this fascinating little vignette on a psychology site while I was doing research for my paper:

The Animal School: A Fable

by George Reavis

Animals in the Animal SchoolOnce upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

(from http://www.childpsychologist.com/, published by Rene Thomas Folse, J.D., Ph.D. All rights reserved!)

I couldn’t agree more with the lessons inherent. I’m definitely the eagle. Which animal would you have been in this sad but incredibly common academic tale? I really find this to be true in a terrible way. I believe our schools often end up stunting a child’s personal growth because of conformist bull hockey. Most of the parents are traditional and want a traditional school-that is, if they don’t care whether or not their child is eaten by the school for breakfast. As long as everyone does mediocre, doesn’t rock the boat or try to follow their own unique path, everything is fine and dandy. For the more sanity-oriented parent, expensive private school is the only way to go.

I’m sure public schools vary a lot in quality and structure (I went to a lot of different ones all over the country myself) but they really don’t in a significant way. Unless you’re talking about “bad” and “worser”. For the most part, they’re worse than useless; they’re actually extremely harmful to single people and to society and all of humanity as a result of the destruction or retardation of people’s gifts, dreams and ambitions. I can’t quite even describe how disgusted I am with all of this.

Form Factors, Miniaturization and Ease of Use

•June 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

How small will you go? How much would you like your body invaded by various devices? Will you even have a choice? Welcome to the sometimes bleak but never boring future of communication and computing!

In the near future (mayhap 2050), it will likely be possible to fit today’s PC inside your brain stem, and install a mobile communications device in your ears or even just flat-out brain. With these miniaturizations and the probable accompanying neurotechnology, it will be a very interesting world. Will it be possible to hack into people’s brains? Probably not-either because officials prevent usage of such dangerous devices or because it’s doesn’t really work to begin with. Will we be born with machines inside us as a matter of course? Will we be enslaved by a sinister overlord which chains us in cyber-electronic shackles?

Maybe. But first I want to see some faster connection speeds on my land line.

Tolkien’s Legacy

•June 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

All fantastical literature is not inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien. Just most of it. While the old Oxford pro was totally absorbed in his works, a huge fan base-which would only continue to grow innumerably after his death-was coming to realize what unique and provocative work Tolkien was doing.

Most anime involving fantasy-as well as a lot that doesn’t-and most modern fantasy novels, any show on T.V. with fantastical element, and about a million other things all have likely had direct or indirect inspiration from Tolkien’s works. So where did Tolkien get his inspiration from? I mean, even he did have some, didn’t he?

Yes, he actually did. One large source was his interest in languages, which coincidentally led him into the need for a story, a world in which all of his invented languages could exist. As well, he encountered numerous folk and fairy tales in his studies, alongside poetry and epic stories. In particular, Finnish folklore and language caught his eye, eventually giving rise to Gandalf (modeled on a Finnish folk hero) and the Elven language he used in his Lord of the Rings universe.

Cultural Reasons for Petering Out?

•June 27, 2008 • 1 Comment

Why did we give up on space travel? We used to be passionate about it, reaching far, far beyond our ordinary scientific, personal, imaginative and even financial limits to attempt space travel. It disturbs me to think that it has ended, but it would seem that we don’t really care anymore.

What happened to all of our goals as a society? Why don’t we seem to be striving toward anything? It’s like we just want to run the endless treadmill. People often say we need to fix things here on Earth before attempting space travel for real. I say that’s a terrible excuse. We’ll always have problems here so long as human rule persists-poverty, disease, homelessness and war. If however humanity had something to strive toward collectively, it would energize us. We would reach out and discover, build, grow and mature. Much like an infant with a need to walk, or an out-of-college student in need of a job.

The Uncanny Valley

•June 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The uncanny valley… what is it? Essentially, the uncanny valley is the sharp valley on a graph of human acceptance of humanity-real or simulated-as the likeness becomes more and more human. Things that are sorta human-like but definitely not human see slowly climbing acceptance as they become more human-like. However, they then eventually hit the valley. Right before interaction with real human beings on the graph is a sharp downturn (the valley) accompanied by “uncanny” repulsiveness to the human observer. Something almost human, almost intelligent is perceived as absolutely terrifying or utterly repulsive by apparently all of humanity. Robots that aren’t quite human and the idea of zombies fit within the valley. Think about how scary it would be to interact with such things, on the threshold of intelligence, on the threshold of humanness and just a hair away from what we would inevitably refer to as having a soul…

I Didn’t See Any Mecha

•June 27, 2008 • 1 Comment

Now wait a minute, wasn’t Japan supposed to be replete with robots and armatures and Gaufs?? Where were all of the supposedly Shinto-inspired androids and talking head tour guides?

I always loved mecha shows, even if the story lines were often convoluted or completely awful. There’s a classic, action-packed theme to the stuff, and I remember playing MechWarrior 2 with great fondness. There’s also a sort of romance that goes along with it all-whether it’s in space or terrestrial-and I really like that, too. I was hoping to see some of the devices that inspired or were inspired by Japan’s embrace of the robotic, but alas, I came up empty.

I’m sure it will happen some day though. Unless the uncanny valley can’t be overcome… then we’ll just have mindless machines rather than thinking ones. What’s the uncanny valley you ask? Ready the above post to find out!