Lore in a Minute

Do you know what’s confusing? Video game stories. Seriously. Have you ever played a narrative-driven video game? Too many games set up complicated backstories or mythologies to rival Tolkien’s, which nearly always leave those games with one of two problems: explaining too much, or else not explaining enough.

I’ve played a lot of games with fantastic settings, brilliant characterization, and intricate plots—only to see those things obscured by poor storytelling. (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Metal Gear Solid.) All the worldbuilding in the, um, world won’t matter if a game’s lore is too complicated for players to understand.

Fortunately for video game aficionados everywhere, a YouTube group called Lore in a Minute has taken it upon themselves to explain the complex lore of various video games, each in one minute… ish.

The video above explains the (admittedly complicated) setup of Chrono Trigger, which I consider probably the greatest RPG ever made. It takes one heck of an explanation to make sense of the time-traveling adventures of a swordsman, an inventor, a princess, a steampunk robot, a prehistoric cavewoman, a demon king, and a medieval knight/talking frog.

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird game. You should totally play it.

Moogle

Make it happen, Google.

For the uninitiated: Moogles are small, furry creatures from the Final Fantasy series of video games. They’re known for selling stuff, being adorable, and saying “kupo” a lot. (Don’t ask me what kupo means, or why moogles have antennae with fluffy pom-poms; I neither know nor care.)

Moogles are an important reminder that life isn’t all dragons, monsters, swords, and sorcery. At the end of the day, no matter how many friends you’ve lost or villains you’ve slain, it’s important to appreciate the things that are cute.

303. About Storytelling: Temporary Death

Death is one of life’s few absolute certainties. Others include taxes and the fact that every person will, at some point, step in a puddle of water on the bathroom floor while wearing socks. Yes, life can be cruel.

Death is inevitable. For the most part, even fiction acknowledges this. What some stories don’t guarantee is that characters will stay dead. I’ve discussed how to kill off fictional characters, and even mentioned temporary death as a video game cliché, but I think it’s still worth taking a look at how characters in some stories recover from death as easily as getting over a cold.

There are endless possibilities for cheating death in fiction, going all the way back to classical mythology. In Greco-Roman myths, death was a literal place from which a surprising number of people managed to escape: Heracles and Orpheus, among others.

The past few decades have given us an endless array of methods for cheating death, especially in geekier media like comics, video games, and fantasy fiction.

Here are some of my favorites.

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

Time travel

How often dead characters have been restored to life because someone went back in time to rescue them! Thanks to the butterfly effect, tiny decisions in the past can have huge consequences in the future. Probably my favorite example of time travel resurrecting a dead character comes from Chrono Trigger, pretty much the greatest RPG ever made, in which characters travel to the exact moment of a man’s death to save his life.

Superhero comics

There is no single explanation for this one—comic book characters are revived in such a staggering variety of ways that I can’t even begin to list them all. A mutant’s seeming death triggers her evolution into a more advanced mutant. A superhero’s innate healing abilities pull him back from the brink of death. A villain fakes his death by a stupidly elaborate scheme. Really, the possibilities are countless.

Magic

When in doubt, magic is the ultimate deus ex machina. Magic is mysterious and inexplicable by its very nature. If a writer resurrects characters by magic, who is there to argue? Miracles, such as the triumphant return of Aslan or Gandalf, fall into this category, which also includes medicines like the chocolate-coated pill from The Princess Bride.

Supposed to be dead

What? I’m supposed to be dead? Well, this is awkward.

Technology

By technology I mean magic as it is called in sci-fi stories. Let’s face it: advanced technology and supernatural magic are practically the same thing in some science fiction.

Reincarnation

This metaphysical concept has been lifted from various religions and adapted to everything from Avatar: The Last Airbender to Doctor Who. (The Doctor’s regeneration is basically sci-fi reincarnation.) Characters may technically die, but reincarnation allows the narrative to bring them back.

Afterlives

This brings us to ghosts, phantoms, and other not-alive states of being. Again, even if the story considers characters dead, they’re still fulfilling the roles of living persons by lingering as spirits.

Fake deaths

This one annoys me. (All the same, I’ve used it more often in my writing than I care to admit!) When a character seems to die, the narrative treats them as dead… until they turn out to have been alive all along. Fake deaths generally cheapen the reactions of living characters. Responses like mourning, grief, and anger become less meaningful when they’re revealed to have been unnecessary. Besides, fake deaths are generally predictable.

I think temporary death is a valid storytelling trope, but I prefer death in fiction to be permanent. Death is more realistic, and carries much more weight, when it’s treated as an everlasting reality instead of a fleeting condition.

Anyone who knows anything about video games probably knows that Aerith dies in Final Fantasy VII. Partway through the story, this cheerful flower vendor is impaled by the villain. That’s it. There’s no resurrection, no last-minute deus ex machina. In the game, she is dead. The other characters mourn her… and so does any player whose heart isn’t made of stone.

Death is tragic. It often seems meaningless. However, in storytelling, that miraculous medium which makes all things meaningful, death matters—especially when it lasts more than a few minutes.

284. TMTF’s Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games

It would be tough to live in a video game.

Seriously, I wouldn’t last two minutes. If I were extremely fortunate, I might end up in a nice, nonviolent title like Animal Crossing or Professor Layton. I would more likely blunder into a racing game, fantasy RPG or first-person shooter and be run over, beheaded or blown to bits. Even family-friendly titles like Mario Kart offer plenty of opportunities for violence and mayhem. (Curse you, blue shells!)

With perils, pitfalls, monsters, explosions, blades, bullets, traps, tyrants or bottomless pits at every turn, life as a video game character must be tough. It makes sense, then, for video game characters to be tough dudes. Today, dear reader, we will look at ten of the toughest.

For the purpose of this list, toughness is defined as the quality of being durable, stoic, intimidating and that word I can’t use. The usual top ten list rules apply: only characters from games I’ve played, only one character per game series, no licensed characters from other media (e.g. Han Solo or Indiana Jones) and so forth.

Toughen up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Wobbuffet (Pokémon series)

Wobbuffet

At this point there are more than seven hundred Pokémon, representing all kinds of creatures and concepts. It makes perfect sense, then, that there is a punching bag Pokémon. In battle, Wobbuffet doesn’t ever strike first, but receives blows and then counterattacks. The stoic, patient way it takes its enemies’ attacks is astonishing.

9. Chell (Portal series)

Chell

Chell isn’t a dude, per se, but the mute protagonist of the Portal games is as tough as they come. Unfazed by deadly traps, frightening falls and the childish taunting of a deranged opponent, Chell solves puzzles and cheats death with a deadpan expression and stubborn silence that would make Clint Eastwood proud.

8. Link (Legend of Zelda series)

Tough Link

Link is an all-purpose hero, navigating dark dungeons, solving puzzles, defeating monsters and wielding an endless array of weapons with effortless aplomb. Neither horrifying enemies nor baffling riddles seem to trouble him in the slightest, and no obstacle or pitfall ever derails his adventures. Link would be much higher on this list if he were not so adorable.

7. Jim Raynor (StarCraft)

Jim Raynor

Jim Raynor—a man covered in tattoos and ammunition, and probably smelling of whiskey, tobacco and engine grease—is a marshal-turned-outlaw-turned-hero. Bringing together the grit of a Wild West lawman and the tactical brilliance of an admiral, this spacefaring marine is betrayed by humans, hunted by space monsters and feared by practically everyone.

6. Bowser (Mario series)

Bowser

Bowser may be surly, self-absorbed and not very bright, but there’s no denying he’s tougher than iron. This hulking monster survives eight plunges into molten lava in his first game alone. The games that follow subject Bowser to falls, beatings and all kinds of injuries, yet the only thing he ever seems to bruise is his ego.

Update: My younger brother corrected me by pointing out that Bowser plunges into lava only once in his first game, not eight times. Notwithstanding this correction, Bowser is a pretty tough dude.

5. Samus Aran (Metroid series)

Samus Aran

Samus Aran, like Chell, isn’t a dude, but that never keeps her from being resourceful, independent and ridiculously tough. Venturing alone onto enemy spaceships and hostile planets, Samus guns down the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals and escapes without a scratch. Truly, hell hath no fury like a woman with a laser cannon.

4. Tyrell Badd (Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth)

Tyrell Badd

Look at those bullet holes. Look at them. Even Tyrell Badd’s necktie has bullet holes. I can only surmise that the bullets, after passing through his tie, simply bounced off Badd. This hard-bitten homicide detective is a man of few words. Really, his coat says it all. By the way, that’s not a cigarette in his mouth, nor is he grabbing a gun when he reaches abruptly into his pocket. No, that’s a sucker in his mouth, and he’s reaching for a hand mirror. It’s a testament to his toughness that Badd makes even these effeminate items seem intimidating.

3. Leon S. Kennedy (Resident Evil 4)

Leon S. Kennedy

Nothing seems to faze this tough-as-nails government agent: not homicidal maniacs with chainsaws, not mutated monstrosities, not even the whiny college student he is sent to rescue. Leon S. Kennedy calmly and professionally handles every crisis, making every bullet count, thinking on his feet and suplexing anyone who gets too close. His tireless persistence and grace under pressure are remarkable.

2. Auron (Final Fantasy X)

I’m not sure I even need to say anything about this guy. Auron’s sword is nearly as big as he is, for heaven’s sake! He often fights one-handed simply because he can. His clothes are equal parts samurai and gunslinger, with an awesome pair of shades for good measure. Auron is noble and courteous, but takes no nonsense and will cut any obstacle into very tiny pieces. Oh, and one final thing: Auron is dead. Not even death can stop this man. He lingers for one final adventure simply because he has unfinished business in the land of the living. Heroes hardly get tougher than that!

1. Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid series)

Naked Snake

Naked Snake is the perfect soldier: an unstoppable combination of sniper, spy and infantryman. He sneaks through jungles and military bases, enduring harsh weather, surviving on rats and snakes, digging bullets out of his body with a knife and patching up his wounds before charging (or sneaking) back onto the battlefield. Snake defeats legendary soldiers, destroys massive war machines and prevents worldwide nuclear war at least three times. Then, tired of serving a corrupt government, he becomes a mercenary, creates his own nation-state and nearly conquers the world. (Note also his wicked eye patch.) There is no tougher dude in video games than this man.

O people of the Internet, what tough video game dudes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Video Games Need More Gilbert Gottfried

Video games are great and all, but do you know what they need? Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian who voiced the parrot from Disney’s Aladdin. Gilbert Gottfried is what video games need.

That said, here is two minutes and forty-five seconds of Gilbert Gottfried voicing iconic lines from video games, followed by a few very brief observations of my own.

1. Navi, the fairy from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, would be less annoying if she were voiced by Mr. Gottfried.

2. Mr. Gottfried’s quiet “Fus ro dah,” a casual performance of a fierce dragon shout, is still enough to send a man plummeting to his death in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The man’s got skills.

3. The famous opera scene from Final Fantasy VI definitely loses some of its charm and beauty when Mr. Gottfried reads its lyrics. I suppose he can’t win them all.

4. A Mario game in which Mr. Gottfried provided Mario’s voice would be sublime.

5. Mr. Gottfried’s performance is possibly the only thing in the universe that could make Liquid Snake’s monologue about genetics from Metal Gear Solid any cheesier.

Now all we need is a video in which iconic game lines are read by Morgan Freeman. Get on it, Internet!

275. TMTF’s Top Ten Chase Scenes in Film

Do you know what’s exciting in movies? Chase scenes. I love chase scenes. Chase scenes are wonderful.

Whether the heroes are fleeing in fear from something dangerous or bravely pursuing an important objective, the high-speed, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping excitement of chase scenes is glorious. I’m no film expert, but I like movies as much as anyone, and today we’re looking at some of my favorite chase scenes in film.

The usual one-per-series rule applies here, of course, and I’ve included YouTube links to chase scenes wherever possible. Observant readers will notice a lack of scenes from the James BondDie Hard and Bourne movies. This isn’t due to any personal prejudice against action thrillers. It’s because I’ve seen hardly any of those movies I wanted this list to have some variety!

On your marks, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Chase Scenes in Film!

10. The Mines of Moria (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)

Mines of Moria

Although this chase isn’t as action-packed as others on this list, the Fellowship’s flight from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria ramps up the tension with an awesome musical score and a moment at which they must leap over a chasm as the unseen menace of the Balrog draws nearer. The monster doesn’t appear until the end of the chase, but the mere noise of its approach is enough to send Gandalf, a powerful wizard, running like a spooked cat. When the Balrog finally catches up with the Fellowship, it’s an epic conclusion to a thrilling chase.

I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so you’ll just have to watch the movie.

9. Light cycle chase (Tron: Legacy, 2010)

Light cycle chase

Short, sweet and colorful, this race between a Blue Guy and a Yellow Guy is great fun. The lack of music lends an understated realism to the scene; it reminds me of the podrace from the first Star Wars movie, but with brighter visuals and no annoying commentary. This chase also gets an honorable mention because Jeff Bridges.

You can watch this scene here.

8. Escaping the Reavers (Serenity, 2005)

Reaver chase

I was going to put the iconic speeder bike chase from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi on this list, but then I remembered this little gem from Joss Whedon’s Serenity. It has all the excitement of the Star Wars chase, and also boasts wonderful dialogue and much higher stakes. As an all-or-nothing escape from vicious cannibals, it’s a tense scene… but not so tense as to exclude one or two really funny lines.

You can watch this scene here.

7. Motorcycle chase (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

Motorcycle chase

Indiana Jones is practically synonymous with exciting chase scenes. Every film starring this intrepid grave robber archaeologist has him running away from something. This chase is by far my favorite. I mean, it has motorcycle jousting. It also has Henry Jones’s deadpan reactions to his son’s violent tactics. These disapproving glances, like the relics Indiana Jones picks up on his adventures, are simply priceless.

You can watch this scene here.

6. Fleeing baboons (Tarzan, 1999)

Fleeing baboons

This wonderful chase has Tarzan rescue Jane as she flees a hoard of angry baboons. Sprinkled with droll humor and backed by a lively musical score, this chase also features CG effects that were pretty impressive for the time. My favorite part of this chase? Tarzan’s facial expressions.

You can watch this scene here.

5. Pirate pursuit (Castle in the Sky, 1986)

Pirate pursuit

This chase is one of the best scenes in what may be my all-time favorite film, a classic from the legendary Studio Ghibli. The Dola Gang, a notorious band of sky pirates, pursue an innocent boy and girl into a canyon. When the children hop onto a train on raised tracks, the pirates follow in a rickety automobile. This beautifully-animated scene would be wonderful even without the pirates’ dialogue, which is hilarious.

I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so you’ll just have to watch the movie. Seriously, go watch it. Stop reading this blog post and go watch the movie!

4. Race through Bagghar (The Adventures of Tintin, 2011)

Race through Bagghar

Steven Spielberg, bless him, sure knows a thing or two about directing great chase scenes. This chaotic rush down the streets of Bagghar, a fictional Moroccan city, is a joy to watch as Tintin crashes through buildings and over rooftops in a motorbike, trying to snatch a scroll from the talons of a hawk. There’s also a tank and a zip line and some accidental cross-dressing. Really, it’s quite a chase.

You can watch this scene here, but the quality of the clip is very poor; you may be better off just watching the movie.

3. Motorcycle duel (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, 2005)

Motorcycle duel

Despite a nonsensical plot, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is probably the best video game movie I’ve seen, and a personal favorite of mine. Why? Because it’s packed with scenes like this one, in which the hero wields an oversized sword to fend off bad guys while hurtling down a highway on a motorcycle. Everyone in this scene has superhuman agility and reflexes. There are gratuitous slow-motion shots. Explosions and gunshots punctuate a frenetic musical score. (It’s basically The Matrix, but better.) And this, an extended version of the scene, throws in some helicopters because why not.

You can watch this scene here.

2. Locomotive chase (The General, 1926)

Locomotive chase

Chase scenes are generally frantic, but they don’t have to be. The General, Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, has two phenomenal chase scenes that last at least ten minutes each. In the first, the protagonist chases a train on foot, and then on a handcar, and then on an old-fashioned bicycle, and finally on his own locomotive. In the second, the protagonist’s locomotive is pursued by enemy trains. Everything about these chases is perfect, from Keaton’s deadpan expressions to his ingenious solutions for overcoming obstacles. They may not be fast or furious, but these chase scenes are outstanding.

You can watch part of the first chase here, and you should go watch The General in its entirety. It’s a great film.

1. Toy train shenanigans (The Wrong Trousers, 1993)

Toy train shenanigans

My favorite chase scene in film history has no guns or explosions. What it has is a penguin, a dog, a toy train, a pair of mechanical trousers and a middle-aged man in his underpants. This scene, animated painstakingly in clay, is superb. As I worked on this top ten list, my younger brother asked me if this scene was number one, and added that he would slap me in the face if it was not. It’s that good. This brief, bizarre, brilliant chase through an ordinary English residence is my favorite in all of film.

You can watch this scene here. Please do.

What is your favorite chase scene in film? Let us know in the comments!

The Ability to Pull Stuff from Nowhere

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. As you watch a movie or play a video game, a character pulls out something from nowhere. Bugs Bunny and Wakko Warner reach behind their backs and bring out anvils or sledgehammers. Solid Snake and Link produce an endless assortment of gear and weapons from thin air. As Link demonstrates in the clever picture above, actually carrying around all that stuff is a physical impossibility.

The ability to pull stuff from nowhere is sometimes called the back pocket, a wry suggestion that the things characters pull from behind their backs were in their pants pockets the whole time. (This concept is particularly amusing in the case of characters that don’t wear pants.) In anime, the concept is called hammerspace. A comedic trope in Japanese animation is for characters to express anger by hitting something (or someone) with a large hammer produced from nowhere, making hammerspace the hypothetical place where all those hammers are kept.

The back pocket concept is usually played for comic effect in animation. Pinkie Pie, an exuberant character from a surprisingly awesome show about ponies, produces a wide assortment of items (including freaking cannons) from nowhere. Other characters know better than to question Pinkie’s defiance of physics.

In fact, when back pockets are used in any show or film, no one ever seems surprised.

In video games, back pockets are utilitarian rather than comedic in nature. The fact of the matter is that Link from the Legend of Zelda games needs his gear—all of it. Limiting his inventory would be a hindrance to the player, who would have to backtrack every time she needed something Link didn’t happen to be carrying at the moment. Constantly retrieving items, or plodding slowly under their weight, would be horribly annoying.

Thus Link carts around enormous shields and heavy explosives and iron-shod boots without any trouble. (Humorously enough, the iron boots only weigh down Link when he’s actually wearing them.) Solid Snake somehow sneaks through enemy territory burdened with cardboard boxes, sensor equipment and an entire arsenal of weapons (including massive rocket launchers). Every Final Fantasy character carries up to ninety-nine of every kind of weapon, armor and potion.

Where is all that stuff kept? Where does it come from?

Some questions, dear reader, are simply beyond answering.

A Video Game Character, Lost and Found

Larry and Cid

These are two unrelated video game characters… or are they?!

Yeah, they really are.

All the same, my younger brother and I couldn’t help but notice a distinct similarity. On the left we have Larry Butz: the short-tempered, dimwitted Casanova wannabe from the Ace Attorney series. On the right, we have the well-meaning but cowardly Cid Randell from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a tragically underrated strategy game. Both men are losers, and their resemblance is striking. What if, we wondered, they were the same person?

I mean, just look at their in-game portraits.

Larry and Cid (Portraits)

Coincidence? Yes—they come from games developed by separate companies—but it’s still fun to imagine these losers are the same guy. I’ll be the first to admit our theory is absurd, but it springs from the same great question that lies at the heart of all great stories…

What if?

Tolkien on Fantasy

It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill.

J.R.R. Tolkien

There are a few works, just a few, which have given me glimpses of Fantasy.

Sure, I’ve read and seen and played plenty of fantasies. Few have shown me Fantasy. You see, Fantasy is a realm beyond our own: a mysterious, beautiful, dangerous place we are seldom privileged to see. Tolkien called it Faerie.

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.

There are worlds we know, the worlds of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy: Middle Earth, Narnia, Hyrule, Spira, Ivalice and others. None of these are Fantasy, yet all of them have given me glimpses of it. Like Thorin’s golden harp, they carried me to faraway places full of danger and beauty and mystery: snowy peaks and tangled forests and mines whose gems shine like stars in the dark heavens.

I enjoy escaping to Fantasy. My brief trips there are never planned, sadly. They just happen, and I think they’re a good thing. Consider these words from Tolkien:

I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

In my ordinary life, I appreciate my fleeting visits to Fantasy. It’s nice to get away!