Girl in the Machine
Monday, March 3, 2008
I Left my Heart in Nova Prospekt.

Warning! Half-Life series spoilers follow.

I think we can all agree that 2004's Half-Life 2 came as a huge surprise to fans of the original game. Valve Software took us from the isolated, alien-infested corridors of Black Mesa to a full-blown apocalyptic Dystopia rife with new locales, vehicle portions, a very prominent physics engine, and scores of NPCs both old and new. Alyx Vance is one of the newcomers to the series, joining Gordon as part of the rebel forces that oppose Earth's new rulers, the Combine. She was just a child during the events at Black Mesa in the first game, and grew up under the Combine's reign. As players battle through armies of manhacks and headcrab zombies, Alyx is often along for the ride.

Alyx is the daughter of Dr. Eli Vance, who briefly appears at Black Mesa in the original Half-Life. She's a proficient hacker, adept with both machines and firearms, and wields a unique automatic pistol when fighting alongside Gordon. Her "pet" robot, Dog, also helps out with a lot of the heavy lifting. Awesomely enough, and something that's definitely not seen often in games, she's not only a woman of color but of mixed race as well: Dr. Vance is black, and his late wife was East Asian.

I adore Alyx Vance. She's another rare (but appreciated) example of an awesome female character. Her presence is neither forced nor stereotypical: she plays a major role in the plot, has a scientific mind, and doesn't fall into the pitfall of being of The Girl. She actually has a fleshed-out, fully-realized personality, with a sense of humor and everything! Seriously, though, she often provides a "voice" (both literal and figurative) to play off of Gordon's trademark silence, and she's also a source of comic relief to complement the tension of the plot. Though she sometimes finds herself in a pickle and needs a hand, she also rescues Gordon more than once, making her more capable companion than damsel in distress.

Alyx also has a great relationship with her father. Having well-written, fully-realized characters in a video game is a rarity, and both women and minorities are often underrepresented and stereotyped in an unfortunately typical fashion. However, such is not the case here. Alyx resembles an actual, you know, person, with emotions and relationships and stuff. Her interactions with her father are natural and sweet, making it even more heartbreaking when she witnesses his death at the end of Episode Two. And though she is the series's Love Interest, her connection with Gordon isn't shoehorned or condescending in a "Hey, she's a chick and he's a dude, they totally hook up at the end" sort of way. She even interacts with another woman, the perfidious Dr. Judith Mossman, who betrays the rebel forces in favor of the Combine. However, when Mossman has a change of heart and aids humanity once again, the two reconcile. It's not much, but it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, and with the state of games today that's good enough for me.

I'm as eager as anyone to see what becomes of Alyx in the concluding Episode Three. Both the prescient Vortigaunts and the G-man insinuate that Alyx and Gordon are somehow fundamentally linked, and I'm waiting for Episode Three to blow us all out of the water. Perhaps there will be a Half-Life 3 at some point, but I have a feeling that this final episode will be the last we see Alyx in such a significant role, and I can't wait for Valve Software to wow me at least one more time.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:49 AM + Link to this post

Friday, February 22, 2008
Turok's Gay Agenda

The simply-named Turok, released at the end of January, is the latest in the first person shooter series of the same name. The game itself has nothing to do with the plot of any of the past Turok games (or the comic book, for that matter) except for the protagonist's name, Joseph Turok, but nevertheless has been seen as a worthy addition to the series. That, and the whole shooting dinosaurs thing.

Looking at the cover of this game, one thing comes to mind: macho man shoot 'em up. Turok's standing in the shadows of a dark jungle, packing some major heat, ready to take down whatever's going to come at him next. The typical targeted demographic for Turok games is thus fairly obvious--guys who wanna shoot shit. Like dinosaurs, as I've previously mentioned.

Imagine my surprise when I got a load of this via Gay Gamer:

Yes, that would be Turok laying one on his man partner before racing off to battle.

What could this mean? It's an official story board from the game, after all, of a scene that didn't quite make it to the final product. Several theories are running rampant online:

First, some believe this was a legitimate story plot that was taken out of the game last minute. If this is true, it was either included simply for shock value or as another facet of Turok's character. The more cynical of us consider this a joke the creators put in the story board for shits and giggles--a sort of "Wouldn't it be hilarious if he did THIS" kind of deal. They refer to the "Panel omitted from game" comment below the panel in question as evidence.

My thoughts go two ways. First, I would like to believe this was considered a legitimate side story in the game. Turok is the perfect candidate to help dispel the stereotype that all gay men are fruity and femme-y, which is still a common misconception. I think it'd be awesome for this super-tough shoot 'em up manly man to love the cock, too. I don't think the comment below the panel is sufficient evidence against this because to me, it looks like someone else could have added it in, although I can't say for sure. However, I can't deny that using Turok's potential homosexuality as a joke wouldn't be below some game developers of macho FPSs such as this. And if it was put in as a joke, it's not in very good taste to imply the thought of Turok being gay is so far-fetched that it's funny.

I suppose all we can do is play the game and imagine what could have been. Sure, the man love didn't make it in this game, but perhaps this is one step closer to macho gay FPSs in the near future. Yes, one can dream.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 1:55 PM + Link to this post

Monday, February 11, 2008
Half-Life's All-Woman Hazard Team

In 2001, Gearbox Software released a Playstation 2 port of the much-beloved FPS, Half-Life. Bundled with the game was Half-Life's third expansion, Half-Life: Decay, a co-op experience designed for two players on a split screen. Unfortunately, though a PC port of Decay was made, Gearbox was never able to release it, so the true core of Half-Life's fans -- the PC gamers -- never even got to play it. Which is a shame, because Decay rocks.

Just like its predecessors, Blue Shift and Opposing Force, Decay's sequence of events coincide with those of the original Half-Life. Two Black Mesa scientists, Dr. Gina Cross and Dr. Colette Green, are the monitoring team for Dr. Gordon Freeman's experiment that causes the resonance cascade (in fact, Cross is the one to deliver the cataclysmic GG-3883 test sample). When the shit hits the fan, as it is wont to do, Cross and Green grab their HEV suits and find themselves fighting to survive the onslaught of Vortigaunts, headcrabs, and zombies.

Decay is rife with two-player puzzle action throughout its ten mission-based chapters. While single players can get in on the excitement by switching between Cross and Green, the gameplay is definitely designed for the buddy system. (And don't tell me that finally getting the opportunity to crowbar headcrabs with your best pal isn't a treat.) And Cross and Green aren't just side characters, either: like their buds Shepard and Barney Calhoun in their respective expansions, their actions have a direct effect on the original Half-Life's plot. Specifically, they launch the satellite used to weaken the resonance cascade and prevent another dimensional rift from forming, an event that Freeman witnesses.

Of course, I noticed right off the bat that Decay features -- shock! and awe! -- not one, but two female protagonists. This is quite unusual, particularly when the most I've come to expect from games is the age-old Male Character 1 and Female Character 2 combo. Cross and Green are on the same playing field as Half-Life's other protagonists, and they don't fall victim to cheap shots like unusually sexy HEV suits or watered-down combat. It's also great to see women as scientists (particularly physicists kicking ass) instead of damsels in distress or hapless girlfriends. Cross herself has cameos as the holographic guide in the HEV training course in both Half-Life and Opposing Force, and she can also be seen delivering the test sample in a security video in Blue Shift.

Unfortunately, the fate of Cross and Green is up in the air as the game never discloses whether or not they survive the nuking of Black Mesa, so cameos in future installments are unlikely. However, Alyx Vance and Portal's Chell continue the trend of excellent female characters in the Half-Life universe, and FPS gamers everywhere are on the edge of their seats to see what Episode 3 has in store. In the meanwhile, you can support Decay by visiting the fan-made effort to port the game to the PC, which is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2008. You're welcome.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:54 AM + Link to this post

Friday, September 7, 2007
First Friday Drinking Game

Welcome to another installment of the fabulous First Friday Drinking Game. This month, we'll be raising our glasses to the fine games in the Metroid franchise in celebration of Metroid Prime: Corruption's release last week. While it is well known that I am a fanatic of the series, there are still plenty of things I feel the need to have a drink to. So, let's get on with the rules!

1 drink every time a monster is just below/above normal cannon fire
1 drink every time Ridley comes back from the dead
2 drinks if Ridley's a robot
1 drink for every infuriating speed block puzzle (Note: 1 drink may improve concentration, but be wary of multiple puzzles--blurry vision does not help with timing)
2 drinks for every wall jump puzzle (I'm looking at you, Super Metroid)
1 drink for every daring timed escape out of anything that's about to explode, be it ship or planet
1 drink for every arm cannon switch that takes a little too long
2 drinks whenever hunter Gandrayda refers to Samus as "Sammie" (okay, so it is pretty funny, but still drink-worthy)

And finally:
Finish your drink at the end of a Metroid game if Samus's outfit under her suit has random peep windows/weird cutouts have no reason to exist on something she wears under her suit during missions

Warning: Excessive drinking during gameplay may result in a reduction of cannon accuracy and a dramatic increase in metroid head-munching. Play with caution!

Think I forgot something? Suggest a rule in the comments section!

What drinking games do YOU want to play every month? If there is any genre or specific game you want featured in FFDG, drop me a line at PlasmaRit at gmail dot com.

Plasma out.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 4:30 PM + Link to this post

Friday, August 24, 2007
Countdown to Corruption

Over the past few weeks, life at chez Plasma has been full of Metroid goodness in preparation for Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. I've played through Metroid: Zero Mission again, restarted MP 2: Echoes (for sadly, I lost my original memory card), drooled over Samus statues (thanks a lot, Brinstar), and of course downloaded the Corruption Preview channel on my Wii. It's been a while since I've been reduced to a giggling school girl this often.

Of course, these videos aren't helping my situation either. While we wait the agonizing three days for the game to be released (August 27th, people! Mark it!), I leave you with these breathtaking glimpses into the game. Enjoy!

Title Screen:


Aurora Units:

E3 2007 In-Game Footage:

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:37 AM + Link to this post

Friday, July 27, 2007
Jubilations for Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Plasma's a very happy girl. You see, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is coming out in less than a month, and I can hardly contain myself. MP 2: Echoes slated my thirst for more Metroid but left me wanting a little more, and Corruption looks like it will take up the slack--and then some. I've been browsing around the internet for previews, pictures, and other little gems about the game, and what I've seen has justified my jubilations.

The story, while not the most unique of stories, leaves the game wide open for very cool happenings. Rumor has it that Space Pirates have harnessed some kind of deadly virus that must be stopped. Bounty hunters from near and far are gathered, Samus answering the call as well, to deliver vaccines to cities for restoring their Aurora Units and to stop the pirates before the virus spreads. I'm sure metroids factor into the equation somewhere as well, and a quick viewing of E3 trailors confirms the inclusion of the ever-revivable Ridley as one of our dastardly space pirates.

The graphics. This game is breathtakingly beautiful. Mp3: Corruption flaunts the capabilities of the Wii every chance it gets, from Samus's detailed ship to the gilded buildings of Skytown, Elysia. This is no Gamecube game that somehow found its way onto the Wii (I'm looking at you, Twilight Princess); Corruption is a sparkling jewel of lush environments and really, really cool suits.

The controls. Retro Studios fine tunes the Wiimote in a way that far outshines many of the Wii's current games. Players use the Wiimote to open doors, enter codes, type on keypads--and blast a few space pirates into oblivion, of course. Implementing this technology is realistic (ie, opening doors) rather than gimmicky, a complaint I've had about the Nintendo DS's touch screen for several games. While there is an auto-lock feature, Corruption doesn't spoon-feed combat strategies. There is a learning curve, and players can hone their skills early before facing more challenging monsters in the future.

The new suit. The cherry on top of every Metroid game, the new suit in Corruption is sleek, beautiful, and dangerous-looking. This PED suit (Phazon Enchancement Device) comes with a slew of cool new abilities, too: remember the first Metroid Prime? The PED suit allows Samus to harness her Phazon powers and throw the bounty hunter into a temporary hypercharged state, or the creatively-named "Hypermode." It's a sweet new addition to the library of suits.

The people. Most Metroid games are very isolated, with Samus as the only real character in a world of impersonal creatures and space pirates. Corruption takes a page from MP: Hunters by adding more bounty hunters to the mix. Samus gets to interact with other humans/humanoids (which, after so many years of limited human contact, I'm sure Samus herself is excited about), and--what is this? Another female character, perhaps? If I'm not mistaken, this is one of the first Metroid games to feature a female character other than the famous bounty hunter herself. And speaking of which . . .

Everyone's favorite bounty hunter. What kind of dangerous hijinks with Samus get into this time? How will she react to certain situations? Will players learn a little more about our intrepid hero? Inquiring minds want to know! I see this game as a great opportunity to expand on Samus's character, to let her grow and change. I enjoyed Metroid Fusion for allowing Samus a voice to express her thoughts and views throughout the game; it was something I missed in Metroid Prime. I want to see more of the bounty hunter as a person, which can be done in subtle but effective ways. Corruption's pristine graphics should allow more than enough room to fill Samus with life and expression, even while in her suit.

So enjoy this trailer from E3 2007, on me. What are your thoughts on Corruption? Is it living up to your expectations, or do you want more? I'd be more than happy to discuss.

Special thanks to for images.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 2:11 AM + Link to this post

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