I’m an invert, absolutely. “Neck controls” — left is still left but “down” and “up” mean tilting the back of the skull. Like Jeff and chris said. Wonder if it’s some kind of generational thing?

Got a sack full of used games today in my messenger bag with a plan to shuffle down to GameStop when work is done and excange them in barter for Dead Space and other delights. I’m not sure why THIS time I’ve decided to trade in rather than hoard titles (as is my wont) but the fact that I’m tracking and budgeting game purchases via my Mint.com profile now probably has a lot to do with it. You can really startle yourself during one of these heavy months when you look back over your recipts and find hundreds of dollars burned up in the service of our delightful publishers. Also, even thin-packed I’m running out of space on my shelves and I don’t want to end up in the position of Feen with his 900 DVDs. I already have an old-skool Xbox, Gamecube and Dreamcast complete with game libraries that I will never play and have no idea what to do with.

Has anyone in the squad played Moonbase Alpha? NASA’s weird little conceptual proof-of-concept that came out some time last year? I fooled around with it on the weekend with a couple of friends and was very pleasantly surprised. Co-operative moon base fixin’ against a clock, with lots of atmosphere. Not exactly AAA or even BBB material but would certainly make an hour’s diversion with the right-minded crew of laid-back astronauts. I would genuinely be interested to see where this goes if they do MMO it… the groundwork for a much larger game is certainly there with all the drivable vehicles and beacons and stuff. It’s free, and downloadable on Steam with no strings attached so you’ve got nothing to lose if you’re into trying out something different. I’d be up for some squad time on the moon with a few collaborators againt the largest map possible. Makes me think that “co-operative repair game” could easily be a genre. As I was playing, I was reminded of those Euro style cooperative boardgames we enjoy so much here. 6 players on a 6 player map makes it too easy though.

Finished Nier (with ending “A”) and have much to say about it. I think probably the Squadcast would be the best venue for this rant in general, but let me give you the coles notes version:

  • Nier sidequests are bullshit. Egregious, horrible bullshit. I did not realize that there was NO REWARD (not even an achievement) for 100% completion so if you play it, you can feel free to stop after the 50% mark which is where they stop giving you achievement badoops. There are, all told, something like 60 of these fuckers and 75% of them involve fetch quests going from one of the game’s three locations back. And forth. Back. And forth. When you’re not grinding for 10 of these rare drops or 5 of these rare widgets here and there to fulfill some stupid obligation in one. Don’t be like me. Do enough sidequests that you have all the weapons in the game and then pass on this.
  • ESPECIALLY PASS ON THE FLOWER GROWING SIDEQUEST. I guarantee right now that Pete is the only one of you crazy enough to even attempt the “Ultimate Gardener” achievement which involves a byzantine process of crossbreeding flower seeds Gregor Mendel style IN REALTIME. Long story short: Planting different colored seeds next to one another in your garden can randomly result in flowers that blend their hues when they bloom (red and peach next to each other have a 5% chance to create pink flowers, for example.) THIS QUEST OCCURS IN REALTIME with a flower cycle taking between 24 and 36 hours of Xbox-system-clock time to grow from seed to germinating bud. Extra special: If you go “too long” without playing Nier and checking in on your crops your flowers WILL wither and die, as happened to me the weekend I decided to do something else enjoyable instead of playing Nier like an idiot all the time. Did I mention that 36 hour cycles with a 5-hour window are inconveniently timed so as to mean that the game expects you to get up in the middle of the night regularly and check on your crops else they die on you? Oh yes.

The only reason I have this achievement AT ALL is because I fooled around relentlessly with my system clock last night while my wife was cooking supper, finessing saved games and methodically forwarding time 36-to-48 hours at a time on the Xbox 360 in defiance of everything the game’s rules lay down as the play contract. By realtime standards it would have taken me until 5:35am on February the 14th 2011 if I checked in **every day** and had **no mistakes** while planting. INSANE. I have IM messages from Future Beige pinging me Quantum Leap style from February 14th. Message contents: “Cease planting. Stop. It’s not worth it. Stop.” Oh yeah, there’s a similar quest w/achievement for catching the Ultimate Fish.

  • The world: Nier has basically 8 areas, which translates to 6 “screens” plus some small connecting bits. Essentially 3 towns, 3 dungeons and two large fields connecting the two. Aside from some minor deviations you will spend the ENTIRITY OF THE GAME (30-ish hours if you’re as determined as I am) there on these 6 screens. Pretend Ocarina of time was Hyrule field, the castle, and four dungeons. That’s what you get. And you will revisit them again. and again. and again.
  • Nier is easily the most bleak and depressing game I’ve ever played — so relentlessly so that by the end of the game it Ilwraths right back around again into being hilarious. I strongly encourage all of you who never intend to play this game to read my wife’s eloquent breakdown of the finale that she sent to a friend of ours last night, which I am going to post HERE for your reading enjoyment. This will basically tell you everything you need to know about the tone of Nier but IT WILL SPOIL THE HELL OUT OF IT so don’t click unless you don’t mind that sort of thing.

So… Is the experience “worth it?” That question depends entirely on your reasons for playing video games. There are a ton of reasons to play Neir and a ton of reasons NOT to play. Whether those positive reasons outweigh the egregious parts are 100% dependent on your nonsense threshold as well as what you intend to get out of the experience at the end of the day.

DO NOT play Nier if your primary purpose for playing games is to have fun and enjoy yourself. DO play Nier if you’re prepared to put in a lot of work to get a memorable experience against the grain of most conventional game stereotypes.

Longform: Play this game if you’re sick to death of games where plucky JRPG heroes save the World from the Great Evil That Is Threatening It For Great Justice and happy kawaii silly fun times and you want to experience a game whose entire purpose in life is just to pull down its pants and drop a big fat deuce on the keynote microphoone of a japanophile love-in convention.

Nier is the diometric opposite of Dragon Quest in just about every way it’s possible for a game to be and still be from Japan. It’s as laborious, ponderous and outright “fun” as Russian literature, cut from the most bleak, depressing and soul-crushing cloth of utter blackness that it’s possible for a game to be cut from. It sports a superb cast of very well-written likeable well-voice-acted PCs who, by way of tremendous suffering, manage to both be rediculous and believably human at the same time. The game’s purpose is to abuse these poor folks like you wouln’t believe over and over and over again. Every moment of play Nier is set up to cause maximum player anguish, maximum “I feel conflicted and/or terrible about this” maximum “are we laboring to any real purpose?” maximum “are we helping or hurting people here” tension. If you want every moral choice to carry some degree of tragedy, futility and guilt Nier is for you!

My take: Nier is totally worth playing if you want to experience horrible loving brutality from some obviously very smart developers. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s 100% crazy unique… you will not find a game like this again. When it is at its best it is excellent — both from a mechanical and narrative standpoint. When it is at its worst it is TERRIBLE. It’s a wild off-trope pendulum swing between suck and amazing in the same vein as Deadly Premonition but much harder to recommend to the general populace because of its total lack of b-movie levity. You have to be at least a partial masochist to dig it. It is deliberately wearying both story-wise and gameplay-wise in its very design. You have to want to slog towards the blackness with gritted teeth.

I am still in awe of some of the game’s brutal design decisions (even beyond the whole flower growing thing). Mildly bastardly: In the first playthrough the game will pointedly NOT answer most of your questions about what the hell is going on. I’m OK with this, it’s obviously been designed this way from the very beginning. NewGame + mode begins you halfway through the game’s story WITH A NEW PARTY MEMBER who will shed light on a lot of these WTF moments in new extemporaneous cutscenes designed purely for NewGame + play the second time around. Upside: You keep all your levels so that you can rip through the story again in an hour or two getting maximum Rashomon points with your new perspective and you don’t have to do any sidequests. I will totally be doing this at some point in the future.

Most bastardly: There are actually 4 endings to Nier, each one a matroshka doll of more distilled and condensed suffering hiding inside the larger one. New secrets are revealed to the player, new backstories and rationales are explored. Each one makes you feel worse and worse. Oh, and the kicker? If you go ALL THE WAY to ending 4… if you replay the game 3 times from the halfway point, expanding and expanding your understanding of what’s going on. If you get that far?…

… wait for it…. When you view the “true” ending to Nier… when you finally know what’s going on? They kill EVERYTHING you’ve worked to achieve. In a literal sense. Viewing the 4th ending permanently deletes all your Nier saved games and saved data from your 360. Just to make sure you get how fucking serious they are. I’m not even kidding about this — you better want it that badly.

Will I be attempting this massive exercise? Quite possibly. The second half of the game is easily the best half and it shouldn’t take me long to find out if it’s worth consideration.

There’s a fantastic SomethingAwful “Let’s Play Nier!” thread which is worth a read to those who care to hear the case FOR playing argued more eloquently. There are charts and stuff, and I love this guy’s style. He basically saying the same thing I am.