Friday, September 30, 2016

A Month of Horror Games - Baroque

"This is the age of Great Heat. This is the world it destroyed."

Baroque is a supremely odd and unsettling game. Debuting on the Sega Saturn in 1998 (and receiving a PS1 port a year later), the plot involves...well, maybe you can explain it to me.

The general idea, though, is that a cataclysmic heat wave known as The Blaze has effectively ruined the world. Earth is a barren, red wasteland sparsely populated by what were once humans--over time their minds and forms have been warped by their "Baroques"; delusions and desires that they cling to in the absence of any other hope for the future. Everyone else has been completely changed into hostile creatures known as "meta-beings".

Few structures seem to remain standing in the world, but the most prominent is called the Neuro Tower. The Neuro Tower goes deep, deep underground, and somewhere within is the secret to the world's destruction. Your character has no memory of his past. It is only his unexplained sense of guilt and the guidance of a mysterious being called Archangel that compels him to enter the tower.

There isn't a pleasant bone in this game's body. Similar in style to King's Field and Shadow Tower, Baroque is actually a rogue-like; upon the player's death (it'll happen), they will revive outside of the Neuro Tower, minus any items and experience/levels. It's rough, but in some cases death is necessary to further the plot. Almost everything in the game is hostile, and to stave off death the player must regain health and stamina by eating the hearts and bones found in the Tower. Just existing is hazardous to your health as well, as your health will tick down endlessly whether you're being attacked or simply standing around.

For fans of the 32-bit aesthetic Baroque is a beautiful game!

Flying "meta-beings". These are by far the least weird ones you will encounter.

One of the warped humans. He's more or less on your side, at least.

The sound is excellent! Outside the Neuro Tower the only thing you can hear is the lonesome howling of the wind, occasionally interrupted by tortured howling of another kind. Could there be animals still alive, or is it from the meta-beings? Inside the tower the isolated, unwelcoming atmosphere is set by droning, antonal ambience reminiscent of Akira Yamaoka's Silent Hill soundtrack.

The Neuro Tower is painted in drab, dark tones; all decaying concrete and pitted metal with the occasional wash of hot red, seemingly as a reminder of the devastation above ground. The industrial setting really brings to mind images of Kowloon Walled City. And should you reach the bottom of the Neuro Tower, well

that's reassuring
 Playstation 2 Remake

If you can read Japanese I highly recommend the Saturn or PS1 versions. For everyone else, the game was remade for the PS2 and Wii. The gameplay is marginally less clunky than the lo-fi original (notably including a character who can store items for you outside of the Neuro Tower), but a lot of the unique and creepy atmosphere was lost in translation due to the more polished graphics.

The worst thing about the remake, however, is the soundtrack--the moody, industrial ambience of the original has been replaced with hella lame dark techno that doesn't fit the mood whatsoever. I turn the music off in the options, personally. For some illuminating comparisons between the original and remake versions of Baroque, check out an earlier post I made on the subject.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ILLBLEED - Audio Easter Egg

October is coming!! So, I have a small bit of Sega ephemera for you.

Some games know they're dumb, and they embrace that. Illbleed takes this approach and runs off a cliff into a volcano with it. Released by Crazy Games (formerly Climax Graphics, the auteurs behind Blue Stinger), the premise behind Illbleed is just awesome: a horror theme park that is so scary that anyone who conquers it is awarded one million dollars (or one hundred million, depending on which script the voice actors are reading). The park isn't scary so much as it is filled floor to ceiling with ludicrous booby traps. Illbleed is a total mess, dumb as shit, poorly presented and I love it.

Apart from the many, many horror movie references sprinkled throughout there are two fun Sega references near the end--one extremely obvious one and one that is a little more subtle!

Enter Zodick the Hellhog, a boss in the final chapter of the game. There's your obvious reference. But check out the spoooooky sound that plays when he appears:

European and Japanese Sega fans probably picked up on this pretty quickly--the sound heralding Zodick's arrival is actually the boot up theme when you turn on a PAL or NTSC-J Sega Saturn!

I'll admit that when I first played Illbleed I was so disappointed, because I approached the game in the wrong way. Before it was released I was under the strange misconception that it would be a straight-faced horror game and to find that it was a goofy parody made me put it away for years. Now that I can appreciate how bonkers it is, going through and finding little touches like this is a real pleasure.

Playing it may be kind of a chore for some (most) people, but if you want to see it presented by someone who is Not Annoying and also has real enthusiasm for the game I recommend this series of videos by Stop Skeletons From Fighting!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Game Bird Color (it's a fan art zine and I made it and I love it)


I finally finished my first ever zine! It's called Game Bird Color and it's currently the only field guide to video game bird characters that I'm aware of.

Making the zine was a huge ordeal. Originally planned to be black and white sketches, I decided to color one and when I hid the lineart on Photoshop I fell in love with the solid color, lineless style and decided to make that the whole thing. The plan was to start small and draw 6 characters--just enough to get my toes wet and have a finished product to call my own. However, there are a lot of cool birds in the video game world and before I knew it the page count had more than doubled to 15 illustrations!

Then the troubles came. As I was just finishing up the zine and getting ready to lay it out and send it to the printer, I did...something with my photoshop file that ended up eating the project. All pages, gone forever. Rather than giving up (which I almost did) I redrew it, working from screenshots I had thankfully taken of some of the pages and relying on my terrible memory for the rest.

It wouldn't be a Ribbon Black project without references to games nobody but me cares about

So I finished the zine, again, and sent it to the printer. An eternity later and they come back, looking pretty damn good! Except for the artifacting, of course. I had somehow exported the pdf in a compressed form even though "Press Quality" had been selected. The artifacts are faint, but as Vanilla Ice said, "anything less than the best is a felony". Once I pulled myself from the depths of depression over that, I decided that for its flaws it's still a zine, and zines aren't supposed to be perfect. So I decided to sell it!

Game Bird Color is 15 pages, printed on nice thick glossy stock with cute hand-stitched binding by my fiance! Supplies are quite limited. If you want a copy, I have it for sale here:

Big Cartel shop (recommended as you don't need an account to purchase)

Etsy shop (more expensive because of their fees, but if you wanna use Etsy...)