Day 200: The Man and the Tower of Barbs; ‘Devastation’

On this historic and momentous occasion…

HA. That sure as hell sounded pretty full of myself, didn’t it?

I am pretty excited and downright thrilled though that I’ve made it to day 200. I am a little more than halfway through and the growth I have experienced as a writer, a person, and as a member of this blogging community, has been really inspiring. I’ve been having a lot of fun, still looking forward to every day’s opportunity to write and reflect, and even more so looking forward to the feedback of the readers. The well hasn’t even nearly begun to bottom out, and it feels like it continues to get deeper and that I am continuing to find more and more worth writing about. I even have some ideas of what I’d like to do post-MvL experiment phase.

But let me tell you something about fun…

I have been addicted to this game ever since I heard about it. And I was behind the ball here. A million people downloaded this game after it came out and that’s when I heard about it. A million downloads for a free-to-play game is a pretty big deal. Often times these games have limited exposure and budget. Not to mention that the free-to-play model (often shortened to ‘F2P’) is usually plagued with a flurry of micro-transactions and ‘pay to win’ gimmicks that end up making these games more expensive than big-budget studio releases. I decided to give it a try after such overwhelmingly positive and viral reactions. I am so glad I did, as this has easily become one of my most favorite games on PS4 so far.

The Story

Let us embark on on a journey of discover about the many wonders of the Tower of Barbs. The Tower of Barbs is located on the tiny 3.7 sq mi island of South Tokyo. Legend has it that this island was formed during the Earth-rage tectonic disturbance of 2026. The Tower stands at 1686 feet, the equivalent of a 30-story building with super high ceilings. Many say that the Tower is actually growing with each passing year. Legend has it that a great treasure lies at the top of the Tower. As such, many brave people often attempt to climb the Tower to obtain its riches. However, none have managed to survive the Tower’s horrific trials; and thus the Tower stands as a grim reminder of the many lives lost in search of this mythical treasure. I hope that you too will enjoy your climb of the Tower, and experience the many wonders that it has to offer.

Let It Die’s story is just the right balance of not giving too much information. It’s in the details that aren’t shared where the game takes on its air of mystery and intrigue. And, Let It Die is actually a game within a game. Now, stay with me on this. The game you play, ‘Let It Die’ is set in a world where you are a person inside an arcade playing ‘Tower of Barbs’. Trippy, right? But how cool is that! You’re a gamer, IN a game, PLAYING a game! The ‘real world’ extends only as far as the confines of this nameless mysterious ‘Arcade’ but it is just fleshed out enough to feel immersive. And within the ‘Tower of Barbs’ is a world of violence, survival, formidable bosses, ‘Haters’, ‘Hunters’, and endless exploration. You want to climb the Tower of Barbs. You want to know what is waiting for you at the top. And every time something new is unlocked for you, you’re excited.

The Music

Akira Yamaoka, who worked on Silent Hill, Shadows of the Damned, and the Silent Hill movie, is the man behind the music of Let It Die. It is honestly one of the best and most extensive game playlists I’ve seen. More than a hundred Japanese bands of different styles have been featured in the game offering endless options for in-game soundtrack. More so though, the ambient music sets just the right tone and environment during play. Your heart starts to speed up in rhythm to the fast, intense rock riffs when an enemy spots you and starts chasing. You can almost feel the vibrations in the large echo-chamber like rooms that you explore. The metal clanging in the distance, the ever-present guttural growls of enemies around the corner, the array of sounds and effects create an otherworldly experience.

The Characters

From Meijin, the pro-gamer dispensing sage advice at different times during the game, to Kommodore Suzuki, the merchant/craftsman who builds and improves your in-game gear, the characters of Let It Die have powerful, effective, memorable personalities that make them fun to interact with. You will, over the course of the game, be interacting with every character, as they all serve important purposes. Naomi in the Arcade gives you extra quests to add new obstacles and offer tempting rewards. Meijin will give relevant and often timely advice as you progress along the Tower. Both the Kommodore and the Mushroom Magistrate offer aid in the form of items and gear to help you gain an advantage along your journey.

Within the Tower are interesting and grotesque bosses with pure destructive power. If you’re lucky, you’ll also run into the ‘Moving Department Store’ that gives you the chance to buy ultra-rare and valuable materials and blueprints but for a hefty price. I absolutely love how the game has created its characters. There is a style, like the indifferent bubblegum schoolgirl look of Naomi to the grotesque nature of the mid-boss Coen. There is personality, like Meijin’s hardcore gaming focus and the Mushroom Magistrate’s obsession with the power of ‘shrooms.

But none are more entertaining, more fascinating, and more immediately memorable and likeable, as the skateboard riding, sunglass wearing, accent-heavy Uncle Death, your number one fan.

Everything about this guy screams ‘cool’, man. The sunglasses, the skateboard, the accent, (Finnish, btw), the way he calls you ‘senpai’ (something like upper-classman in Japanese). He’s there offering you advice, sending you emails, and when you land a particularly gory attack, he pops up on your screen to congratulate you. No one wants to see you beat the game more than your sickle-wielding friend, and you better not disappoint!

The Gameplay

Not going to lie, this game is not for the faint of heart. For gamers, it is best described as Resident Evil meets No More Heroes meets Dark Souls. For non-gamers, think of it as a survival horror. You are trying to climb to the top of a tower, not knowing what enemies and horrors await, with an exhausting and frantic combat system that relies on precision timing and fast reflexes. But more than anything else, this game is about death, violence, and devastation. Your most powerful moves are meant to kill enemies in one hit, so they are often comically violent. There is a playfulness to the madness, but one I think only a hardcore gamer would be able to appreciate. In a way, whenever I discover a new weapon on one of the floors, I am excited to see what crazy over the top violent things I can do with it against enemies. The combat is unforgiving and exact, but super-rewarding when you time it just right and are rewarded with a shower of blood and coins. It is difficult and sensitive enough that you never really feel like you have too much of an advantage, even if you are multiple levels higher and better armed than your opponents. Anything can change in the blink of an eye, and if you are reckless enough or unfortunate enough to draw a crowd, you’d better be prepared. Everything from the environment to the equipment you use (traffic cone helmets, pipe hammers, jackets made from rain ponchos) contributes to this idea of survival at any cost. And when you’re low on health being chased by a ‘Hater’ and you’re munching on the grilled body of a frog you found, you feel like ‘anything’ is exactly what you’ll need to do to survive.

I anticipate many sleepless nights with this game, and with the opportunity to continue to add more floors and further developments, I hope to be playing this game for a very long time. It’s slick, stylish, fun, and exciting. And if any of you happen to be climbing, if I happen to send some of my fighters to hunt you down, try not to take it personally. Hahah.

Oh and as a fun side note, I’ve been naming all my fighters after the bloggers I regularly interact with on here! So whether you play or not, chances are there is a version of you climbing up the Tower and slicing off heads!

Day 200

Man: 168 Loneliness: 32

Day 70: The Man and the Day the Plague Wiped Out Ironforge

WoW.png

It’s time to combine two of my favorite things! Zombies and video games. We’re going to talk about an epidemic that affected 6.5 million people worldwide. We’re going to talk about the spread of a disease that wiped out whole cities just from contact. We’re going to talk about one of the biggest online games in the world. And we’re going to talk about how all of it became one of the scariest, realest, and most relevant examples of real life simulation in gaming history and what it means for our society.

We’re going to talk about September 13th, 2005: The Day the Plague Wiped Out Ironforge.

World of Warcraft was first released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004. It was a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that let players create characters who would explore the fictional game world of Azeroth. Much like the real world (hence the ‘role-playing’ part) you would take care of your character avatar, leading them on quests, fulfilling tasks, interacting with other players, and growing stronger over time learning new skills and talents. The game grew quickly in popularity and after just one year reported more than 6 million active online subscribers (hence the massively multiplayer aspect). You could run on your own, join factions or guilds, fight against other players or computers, and basically live a life of adventure by proxy.

One popular aspect of the game was ‘raiding’, wherein players would work together to explore vast and complex dungeon systems and ultimately defeat a dungeon ‘boss’ for the promise of vast wealth and powerful weapons and armor. Blizzard kept appetites sated by constantly releasing new and exciting dungeons with varied bosses and level design to keep players on their toes.

On September 13, 2005 Blizzard released the Zul’Gurub raid and its end boss, Hakkar, on the world of Azeroth. One of Hakkar’s abilities, Corrupted Blood, was designed to be so hakkerthat only high level characters could challenge him. When your character became infected with Corrupted Blood you would take a small amount of damage repeatedly over time. Higher level, more powerful characters would be inconvenienced but ultimately could continue to fight him with little interruption but the weaker characters would almost certainly die before time ran out. Additionally, any characters within proximity of the infected would catch the disease and also take damage over time. It was a dynamic feature that promised smart, strategic gameplay. But there was one huge oversight. Your character could be accompanied by pets who could in turn catch the disease. Although the ability was programmed to end over time after leaving the vicinity of the dungeon, this only affected the characters. The pets, therefore, went unnoticed, unaffected, and when entering a crowded in-game city, could infect other players and other computer characters.

The entire world was thrown into chaos following the swift widespread pandemic that affected almost every character. Animals and pets were unaffected by the damage and could run around and infect everyone it came into contact with. Non-player characters (like civilians and shopkeepers) were asymptomatic but still carried the disease.

This did not just affect your stereotypical gamers. The reason why World of Warcraft was so popular and had such a rich fan base was its universal appeal. Anyone who wanted a shot at adventure or at least a chance to reinvent themselves was on this game. You were witnessing an epidemic that affected teachers, lawyers, plumbers, stay at home mothers, deployed military, ministry, young, old, and all races. The world was literally dying and wedead-city had a front-row seat to the final curtain. People were acting out exactly as they would have in real life, and the sample size reflected that. This was not just the actions of 18-35 middle class males. Predictably, you had those whose characters had the ability to heal organizing and attempting to field recovery efforts in makeshift centers around the world. The game designers attempted to impose player quarantines to separate the sick from the uninfected. Players who could not heal and were willing to risk infection went out into the world to find players and direct them to safe havens where their characters could remain curse free and alive. Those who were infected were marked so those uninfected could know to avoid them. Some abandoned the cities for the relative safety and isolation of the more rural environments in the game. Others straight up decided to simply not play the game until the glitch was resolved. Worse yet though, were the ones who were infected and purposely and maliciously attempted to trick other players and infect them. Some would purposely get their pets sick and then, disguised as uninfected, infiltrate uninfected camps and unleash their animals.

We saw bravery during this time. We saw courage, fear, paranoia, and even malice. We realized how little we knew of each other and how unpredictable mankind really is, especially in moments of crisis. We saw the effectiveness and/or ineffectiveness of organized attempts to control sickness. Cities literally piled with the white bones of dead player characters. Mass exodus and refugee situations. A simulation of the weak and the strong, the old and the young, the poor and the privileged. Hospitals sprang up; quarantines and evacuation attempts were made; purposely planned attacks on populaces were executed.

The gaming community was witnessing a simulation as close to real life as possible short of actually releasing some sort of disease into the world. And they were not the only ones watching.

disease

Epidemiologists, behavioral psychologists, and even counter-terrorism experts began to take notice. They wanted this raw data because of how relevant it was to their fields. Remember that at the time, the world was dealing with a very recent SARS and avian flu outbreak. Epidemiologists were fascinated by how quickly the disease spread and the various factors that caused it. Animal carriers were now a huge concern as in the real world
ducks from Asia had spread avian flu to the western world. The ‘stupid factor’ was exemplified in players who, completely spared of the epidemic by not playing, purposely logging in to ‘see what was going on’ and ultimately contracting it themselves. Behavioral psychologists wanted to witness the madness, try to make patterns and predictions for behaviors and responses to things like quarantines and the knowledge of infection. They saw how many quarantines ultimately failed because, spared of the sight of the mass character deaths, many ‘didn’t take it seriously enough’. They were horrified by how quickly players realized the most efficient way of infected the largest population possible and the repeated efforts to implement these attacks. They wanted to know why those who helped were helping, observed the train of thought of the general population and decisions to either stay in the cities or take their chances in the countryside, and tracked the spread of paranoia among characters who could no longer identify the sick. Naturally, counter-terrorist agencies wanted to witness for themselves how biological attacks could take place in large populaces and how quickly it could spiral out of control. The best and most effective ways to create the most amount of damage and how to anticipate and prevent this from happening.

A variety of studies were done and released based on the Corrupted Blood Incident. Many more were based on future iterations and versions of this computer simulation. These studies could help us better understand how we react and how our enemies could react as well.

I’ve always wondered if a zombie apocalypse could actually happen. We like to assure ourselves that we have a plan set out for any possible iteration of disaster. Then something happens that tests every single one of us and we realize, humans are unpredictable. Behaviors are unpredictable. Disaster is unpredictable. These were not isolated cases. This was not just a population of gamers messing with each other. These were real people making real decisions in real time. We don’t have to be wizards or orcs or elves or mages. We don’t have to imagine a world of magic and monsters just to see how this can relate to us. The world was virtual, but the player decisions were very much real.

September 13th, 2005. The Day the Plague Wiped Out Ironforge.0

Day 70

Man: 53 Loneliness: 17