Game Pile: Gex

Videogames exist in a sort of weird plateau in the modern era. Speaking broadly, games these days aren’t that different from games five years ago, and it’s mostly just an evolution of user interface and following different trends. Sure, if you’re really into them you can appreciate the differences between Assassins Creeds 3 and 4, but a casual observer can be forgiven for thinking they’re basically the same game. It’s even easier to look at games in terms of their attempts to cash in on styles of games – the military shooters, the racers, the sporters, etcetera – rather than on their actual gaps in time.

Let’s look back then to a period when a style of game was a thing. We’re not going to look at the leader of a trend, we’re going to look at one of the most blatant followers.

Let’s talk about Gex.
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Print and Play: Adventure Town, Pt 3

For this latest update on Adventure Town, let’s talk about the actual things you’re trying to roll. Unicode is nice and includes a set of die faces (⚀ ⚁ ⚂ ⚃ ⚄ ⚅) so we can use an ordinary text editor to sort out an example of our play boards.

You’re rolling dice to make your businesses and investments in the town do things which will give you money, which will in turn let you buy things to upgrade the town. Ownership of things in town gives way to complex rules, so the personal tableau should be as simple as I can make it.

Any given die roll in a d6 set is as likely as any other, so while we can construct a number of die roll setups, no matter how outlandish they look, they’re as probablistically likely as one another provided they want the same number of dice. Plus, it’s a drafting game – you roll 6 dice, you pick the ones you want, you use them.

Here’s an example, based on what I have in mind.

Let’s do a quick mechanical rundown of the ideas represented here:


This is where the player draws a symbol or signs a letter or makes a drawing that represents ‘their property.’ When they advance on the town board, they get to sign this symbol onto the properties they built, which also shows which buildings trigger at particular events.

I like this being something the player draws, it gives you some feeling of ownership on the space. We’ll have to decide what kind of space we want it drawn in later – like its shape and dimension.


These are simple cash ins: You can trade two dice of the sets type, and get a payout. Every time you get that payout, you put a cross in the box next to it, and that means some of them can run out. This feelsl ike things where the player is only so able to make money off things a certain time before the demand dries up.


Plans let you spend one (or more, depending on how many) dice you drafted to cross off die in the Plan list. Plans are more restrictive, in that:

  • You can only work on one Plan at a time
  • Every time you advance a plan, you have to do it with the exact numbers you need to advance it.

This means that a player might roll a 3, decide they want to start on the third plan, and then can’t advance any more plans until they cash in a 4, then a 3 again to finish that plan. Plans make your other payouts better, though – both payouts for opportunities and triggered things from businesses. Consider these a way to earn XP when you want to do something with a die roll other than throw it away to the Old Crank in town (who will buy any die for 1 coin).

You can advance plans with as many or as few die at a time as you want, but it’s your whole turn; so if you draft a 5 and a 6, and only the 5 is useful to your active plan, you don’t get to cash in the 6 for money.


These are different, because quests are big cash payments. They might not even be cash – it might be that they give you another currency, like Quest Points, you can use to cash in for some specific buildings (like, say, a Wizards’ Tower or a Cathedral). Quests, like Plans can only be advanced one at a time, and need the exact next roll to advance.

Also, some adventurers will finish quests for people, based on what they’ve got.

Other Features

I know one feature I want on this is a corruption row – a line of tickboxes that just give you 2 coins every time you hit them. You can use this to make money when you don’t like your die rolls, but excessive corruption can lead to bad effects, and some player boards might secretly punish you (or reward you) for excess corruption.

Sonic Boom

What right did this series, this series of all things, did this series, have to kick ass?

Sonic Boom is a tv series made up of ten minute shorts based around the adventures of a hedgehog named Sonic, his enemy Dr Eggman and his friends, Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and Sticks, and a host of other characters. And from there… what is it?

Let’s talk, real quick, and by that I mean the bulk of this article is going to be about it, about intertextuality.

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Meaningless Conclusions

Recently the world has been in the grip of continuity fever, as movies and books and TV and radio have been building big, sprawling, endless continuities, whether in the very low-key work of things like Homestuck or the megabudget billionaire spaces of the Avengers franchise. Particularly important in this generation of media are the seemingly endless twin leviathans of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Now, my scorn for these series isn’t any kind of secret, and if you happen to find some enjoyment or tension in the relentless whirring of a pointless murder tombola, so be it for you, but these stories are staring down the barrel of running out of stuff to tell you.

That is, they’re approaching their ends.

As we’re also near the end of an anime season we’re faced with the unpleasant conversation about how many anime that were well liked drew to a conclusion that was, well, probably bad. I mean I’m not thinking of any specific example, it’s just anime is full of bad endings. It’s absolutely crammed to the gills with unsatisfying conclusions that are ill-thought out or badly connected to their premise and while I have my thoughts on why that happens, what I find more interesting right now is talking about why having a bad ending matters.

Now, there’s a time and a space for a conversation that’s about how these works don’t actually serve as a conventionally structured narrative, but not now, not here. The question we’re asking is why does it matter if a story ends badly. If there are 13 episodes of a series, and 11 of them are good, does the bad ending mean anything at all? What does it mean to define where a story ends, in the first place?

It feels a bit strange to have to explain this, but let’s talk about the most fundamental element of resolution. I mean there are some people who when you tap out half of Shave and a Haircut are going to give you a look until you tap out the two bits, and to those people we don’t need to explain why resolution is satisfying.

What I care about though is how conclusion determines text. That is to say, your conclusion is how you answer the question of any given story which is why am I reading this? The premise of a series like Game of Thrones tends to be sold where the anguish and distress of the sympathy of the experience is that it has some meaning. That, when viewed from the perspective of the whole of the story, you’ll be able to see that the death had some impact, that the losses were worth it.

It won’t be, by the way.

Yes, I know this is me basically picking on Game of Thrones, but I hate it, I’m being open about that. But the thing I hate the most about it is the way that once it ends unsatisfyingly, having shed viewership on the way, we’re going to be treated to part of the Throne-Critical Complex of people talking about how it was okay that the end was bad, that the bad ending was someone else’s fault, or maybe it doesn’t matter how endings are bad. And that makes me very angry because I’m one of those writers and creators who believes in the idea that your audience’s attention is worth something, it’s a gift.

You don’t start a story with the end. You don’t start a story by saying ‘this dude punched a dragon, the end. But now I’ll tell you who the dragon was and who the dude was.’ That’s the conclusion. That’s the point you’re building up to. The story is a frame to make that moment mean something. The introduction gets us into the story, the development shapes that story to set up the conclusion, and the conclusion shows us how that event comes to a head, how all of that means something. And that meaning is derived from being able to put that conclusion in a meaningful context in the whole of the sequence of events that lead up to it. If the ending of a story introduces aliens or teleporting Nazis or reveals the whole thing is just a conversation between ad executives, none of that relates to the previous story – and it ruins it. Ending a story well is the way you show what that story was about.

I mean in a way I’m really just railing against this post-structural view of storytelling, the idea that everything is a franchise and that being able to tell a story well, cleanly, quickly is less of a skill than teasing out people’s attention over months with an incomplete story where you yourself don’t know where you’re going. Basically, we’re at a point where multimillion dollar movie franchises are being constructed with roughly the same structural worldview as Webcomics, and webcomics were able to grow up and out of it.

Maybe if I call this ‘narrative lootboxing’ I can get people to pay attention to it as if it’s worth being as unhappy with as I am.

Some work cheekily tells you it doesn’t matter, you enjoyed the ride, and some of them even go so far as to not bother trying for conclusions. Sure, that’s fine. We can talk about those works some other time. There is definitely a place for work that’s more about the experience than the point – but you’ll notice the best of those works don’t tend to really bother with endings. There’s a reason a soap opera is twenty plotlines, no waiting, beginning and ending all over the place together.

In the end, media and stories are ways we practice, in our own emotionality, what matters to us. They let us practice our love and our hate and our youth and our age and our competence and our naivete. They let us practice being ourselves and being other people. They let us craft memories of nothing that is or was but that we wish would be.

And in that space, it is worthwhile learning how to end, and how to end well.

Because, in the end, what does it matter the way a man falls down?

When there’s nothing left but the fall, it matters a great deal.

Emoji Rebuses: FPS!

Hey, here’s a bunch of Emoji arranged to suggest the names of various classic First-Person shooter videogames. Can you guess what they are? I bet you can’t! Oh yeah? Says you! Well I never!


Return To Castle Wolfenstein

Rise of the Triad


Duke Nukem

Legal Tender


Redneck Rampage



Unreal Tournament

Catacomb 3D

Alien Vs Predator

System Shock

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Tower of Guns

🥋🐉✊ 🌽
Ken’s Labyrinth



KISS Psycho Circus



Mirror’s Edge

Game Pile: Beyond Good And Evil

Regarded largely as a modern classic, Beyond Good And Evil is one of those games along with Psychonauts that it launched on the overwhelmingly busy Gamecube and PS2 marketplaces, didn’t stand out in that attention economy because at the time, games journalism was still really difficult, and only a few years later, after its window for impact was past, people picked it up, noticed that it was phenomenal, and we ended up with a modern classic. Still, classic games get to be exulted the same way classic literature and classic medicine does, with an understanding that maybe being good for its time is not the same thing as always going to be good.

There’s a certain risk of rhapsodic enshrinement with games like this, where a game transitions from unknown to classic and we miss a chance to talk about what in the game is interesting or cool. And what with a trailer for Beyond Good And Evil 2 launched last year (again), I figured the time was ripe (several months ago) to replay and talk about Beyond Good And Evil.
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Shadow The Hedgehog is Queerness

In music theory there’s this understood idea that brasses sound heroic and powerful, and strings sound gentle and feminine, a theory reinforced by years of musicology in theatre. What happened is when movies were new, and attaching music to characters in a particular way moved out of the Musical and into just telling stories, a sort of language of music got started.

We already had it that brass music sounded powerful and forceful and heroic – something that John Phillip Sousa sort of ran into the ground as a theme. By comparison, strings sounded delicate and Not Like Brass, so the formed an obvious counterpart for the fragile and the frail. Then over several thousand movies and repeated use of these two ideas in movies where boys were strong and girls were objects, we wound up where we are now, where despite never actually being true, horns ‘sound masculine’ and strings ‘sound feminine.’

I mean, think about this: What’s the Superman theme sound like?

Anyway, this means that when we reach back into earlier, pre-movie theatrics, though, we still now see that same coding. The association with the music extends beyond the media it’s in. Now, marches that predate movies are seen as ‘masculine’ because the movie comes with them. This is the power of the archetype, where when you’re seen as relating to a thing, it doesn’t really matter what you are doing, because it’ll all be seen in relationship to the archetype.

What does this have to do with Sonic The Hedgehog?

Shut up I’m getting there.

The point is, movies wound up this way because they were being slowly but steadily built for bigger and bigger markets. The more people you want to get involved, the more you lean on those archetypes, on a frame of reference. Brassy heroic music is, archetypally, masculine, and so, when you want to signal a masculine dude, you use brassy heroic music. This means that lots of this media is full of signals that are more about telling you A Thing Is A Way It Is Because It Is The Way It Is. An archetype is, basically, lots of reinforcing, circular story stuff. It doesn’t have meaning of itself – it’s just a way of signalling a thing should be sort of like these other things.

And now we get to Sonic The Hedgehog, the media franchise. We’re not talking about the game character – Sonic doesn’t really belong to games any more. When you’re talking about cultural impact, Sonic’s been in twenty five years of comics, three manga series, six books, and five television series, with a live-action CGI movie in the works being financed by a man who’s also repsonsible for the XXX and Fast and the Furious franchise. Sonic is a transmedia property, and matters more as being Sonic than he matters as a game entity. And despite all of this, this enormous spread of media representation, when you go looking for an answer to the question who is Sonic the Hedgehog you don’t find anything, really.

You get an archetype.

But that archetype gives us structure – and that gives us a place to look at the Sonic the Hedgeverse.

What then, is Sonic? What archetypally remains around this character? Well, he’s a Cool Hero. He’s edgy, in a very generic, mid-90s kind of way, in that he thumbs his nose at authority, he likes speed and going fast and doens’t like rules, man, but at the same time you know he’ll never blow off something that matters because that plays against being a hero, so what you’re left with is this character who is simultaneously unreliable but also very reliable. This is reflected in Sonic’s writeup on Wikipedia, composed of multiple sources, saying that Sonic is

…”like the wind”: a drifter who lives as he wants, and makes life a series of events and adventures. Sonic hates oppression and staunchly defends freedom. Although he is mostly quick-witted and easygoing, he has a short temper and is often impatient with slower things. Sonic is a habitual daredevil hedgehog who is honest, loyal to friends, keeps his promises, and dislikes tears. In times of crisis, he focuses intensely on the challenge as if his personality had undergone an astonishing change.

If you sit down and cross out those sentences that mean nothing like ‘makes life a series of events,’ you’re left with a loose drifter without any fixed goal who is a staunch defender of freedom who always stands by his friends, easygoing until he doesn’t have to be, patient unless he’s not and is like the wind except he also always keeps his promises. In essence, there’s nothing there, but despite that you can still say you know something of who Sonic is. It’s even there in his visual coding – red, white and blue. Sonic is a Bold Hero Guy.

Once he’s the Bold Hero guy, everything else kinda falls around him. Tails becomes the Sidekick Boy, who has to be smaller and worse at everything than Protagonist Guy by default, so he can be rescued but also so he has some reason to aspire to being like Protagonist Guy. He can be sweet and kind (which aren’t edgy and cool), and he’s probably a tiny bit more femme than Protagonist Guy, in the vein of the nerdy friend. Tails fits this archetype pretty easily – he’s better than Sonic at machines, which builds in that ‘nerdy friend’ slot.

You can play this outwards; Knuckles is the voice of authority, with his stable position and opposition to Sonic because Sonic isn’t following the rules. There’s Amy Rose, the Good Girl who hangs around him and has an interest in him (which shows he’s desireable), but for some reason he never has to commit or dismiss this – Amy will want him regardless of what a doofus he is and she will usually be at fault for any discomfort he experiences. Rouge introduces a sexy other to Amy, again, a reflection of an image of Sonic, and then, finally… we get Shadow.

Note that up until now, none of the other major characters (Sorry, Big) introduced have been like Sonic. They’ve been explicitly unlike him – Shadow is the first opposite to Sonic (unless you count 1994’s Anti-Sonic The Hedgehog, which we don’t, and he didn’t come back as Scourge the hedgehog until 2011, well after Shadow’s appearance so don’t @ me). And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there is an identity that exists for the characters in movies and TV series like this. The place for a character who is the same type but not the same way. He is coded cool, but 00s edgy to 90s edgy, making him seem slicker, more fashionable, more aware, compared to Sonic’s suddenly oblivious-seeming 90s sort-of-surfer coolness. Shadow is angry, he is resentful, and that casts Sonic, for all of his quick temper, as almost a beach bum. What’s more, Sonic is surrounded by friends and is a celebrated hero – he’s the Protagonist Guy.

In a template where the Cool Guy is opposed by someone Equally Cool But More Distressed, we enter the cinematic tradition of The Other. He’s bad, but not that bad, he’s an opponent, but not a villain. That makes him a humanised Other, a character who stands to contrast with the hero (in a way that once, Knuckles did). The thing with The Other is, they take on a LOT of forms in different media, but if you’re queer, chances are your favourite character is a The Other. Camp LOVES them to bits.

In the greater narrative space of Sonic the Hedgehog, these characters are still mostly empty. They’re a description of a handful of traits in relationship to one another. In that space, Shadow the Hedgehog is a camp antagonist, an example of The Other, who can be – and sorta IS – All Queerness. What you see there is what you can pour into him.

Notes: Toy Galaxy (In General)

I’ve been watching these videos mostly as I do other work, something where if I miss a detail I’m not missing much, but the main thing they show me is interesting ways people applied small, interesting ideas of how toys work, or of what people thought were worth making into toys.

These videos are weirdly comforting to me because so far the philosophy of the channel as I see it, tends to regard these toys as toys. There’s a note about when the toys are played with, when they are appreciated, when they are loved, and a noncompetitive spirit talking about other collectors. Dan is willing to use his own personal preferences, his tastes as a guide, and his talk about these are things he regards as cool rather than things he regards as expensive.

This is something that makes me happy.

Also, weirdly, looking at the silly things we used to make toys out of? Gives me ideas for games. Like that Mighty Max playset shark!