Endless Hellscape: Introducing… the Backlog!

Believe it or not, these days, I’m almost functional. I know that’s kind of hard to imagine, because depending on how long you’ve known me or how you found yourself at this site, you know me as (pick one): a raw-dog media masochist, a raw-dog media sadist, an alcoholic with no self control or filter1, a spend-crazy madman nickel and diming himself to the poorhouse, a digital hoarder, or just kind of an asshole.

But the damage is done in that while I am trying to become more reliable for, y’know, my wife, family, and friends, I decidedly fucked around and built up a lot of shit I haven’t gotten around to.

oh is that all? Piece of cake. And by piece of cake, I think I’m silently begging for death with my eyes.

There are also a few hundred books, physical and otherwise, film and TV on the pile, and worst of all, I have this hideous compulsion in that if someone buys me a gift, I need to finish it somehow. And if I don’t, it becomes this massive source of anxiety… which is ironic given that the purpose of this column is to try and winnow down some of this massive backlog, starting with those gifts before moving onto odd or curious works. (It’s also ironic in how long I’ve let some of these stare at me and make me feel terrible for not touching them… without touching them.) But there’s the rub.

See, with stuff like License Hell or Bootleg Hell, those are me recycling old content from other dead or dying websites. LH was originally going to be a series of LPs, as I’ve said, and Bootleg Hell was going to be written for a now-vanished television site years back. (For what it’s worth, there’s at least one upcoming series which is also recycling an unfinished idea, but it’ll at least be visual in nature!) This series is the most original thing I’ve created for the site so far which isn’t kvetching about my mental health, and it feels, which I realize is going to sound stupid on a site I bought to put my name and works on, incredibly egotistical. On the one hand, it’s probably good to do some smaller or different pieces here and there to see what y’all enjoy most, or just have a series that I can do more regularly without a huge time investment2, or where my writing lacks. On the other…

There’s a type of creator you’ll see sometimes and they’re people who go beyond “being their own brand”. I get that idea. It’s the modern version of “making a name for yourself”, combined with having to be your own PR and publicity team until you have a base who can take some of the latter work off of your hands. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’d dig someday just being known for writing silly shit like this. But I also worry, especially with this series, that I’m drifting into being the kind of insufferable twit who can’t let themselves try or enjoy anything without making it into “content”.

I confess I hate that term, “content”. It sounds like you’ve turned your work not into an article or a video or a podcast, but just some kind of grist from a mill, the end result of processing it into X amount of time, meant to be consumed and shat out, moved on from. I don’t imagine I’m going to make a lot of stuff early on that you need to revisit, or share around like it’s the hottest new comedy? But I need y’all to slap my hand if it turns out I get into a rut where I’m just writing to hit quotas on here or say “Look, I did a piece every day! I’m regular!”

Anyway! That got a little off-topic! I’ll be back in a week or two with my thoughts on one of the older gifts I haven’t opened, care of a good pal of mine, which definitely makes me feel a little ashamed he bought me this…

Oh fuck me, almost 5 years ago now. Wow. I am the most terrible friend sometimes.

Bootleg Hell: Introduction

Credit where credit is due – I owe the title of this column to my wife, who just slapped me in the face with the obvious after I struggled for a week with the name of this series. Her reply was just “Why not just make everything into some kind of hell? You’ve got a brand going on here.” A part of me now wants to make at least one of these a landscaping pun though. We’ll see if I find that acceptable in time.

I used to have a bootleg guy. For years it was the only way to get art films if you were my breed of insufferable twit, and I was led to him because it was the only way I could get a VHS of The Color of Pomegranates back in the day3. It was a longtime business setup, because if there’s one horrible habit I never got out of, it’s finding a masochistic glee in the lost and the forgotten – especially in television.

I’ve picked up tapes (and eventually, homemade DVDs) from swap meets and trading over the years, because there’s just a particular fun in finding out that sometimes, a forgotten series is a lost gem… or a failure on a much larger scale than anyone knows, because only four people ever watched it in its time. Just like License Hell, I’m going to get flexible with a lot of these updates over time, and one or two of them may be things which eventually got legal releases, but which have a story of how they came to me in the first place to go with it.

That said, if anyone knows a guy, maybe drop me an email, because it’s been a while since mine up and vanished, and I’m still trying to find copies of Homeboys From Outer Space (or most of the UPN lineup from those first two years, honestly).

License Hell: Blade Kitten

Not a single one of you who knows me should be surprised that this is where I began this column.

Blade Kitten is a once-upon-a-time1 webcomic about a catgirl bounty hunter named Kit Ballard, who has a floating weapon known as a Blade, so… yeah, the title is a bit obvious.

I’ll be honest, despite the fact that I actually own the complete2 collection of the strip, I don’t think Blade Kitten is a very good comic at all. The action scenes are photoshop filter disasters, even in the last, best-drawn stories…

…and the dialogue is not great.

But I’m not here to praise the comic, thank god. I’m here to tell you about how I blundered into this property and it is a spectacular success. In September 2010, Krome Studios, a small Australian developer, put out their first digital title (which was not a raging tire fire – burn in hell, Game Room) on the Playstation Network (for PS3), Xbox Live (for 360, obviously), and on Steam.

It wasn’t a visual masterpiece, but it was actually a pretty solid budget release on its own right. The game had more than a little depth to it, between hidden secrets aplenty, a combat system that had moves you never get told about but will probably discover by accident, and quite a lot of traversal possibilities. I know at one point I was trying to best my times for a speedrun, especially when I learned how insanely fast you could fly through levels with the blade leap (shoving the sword into a wall and using that to fling yourself upwards like a pole) and careful abuse of wall climbing.

And then I realized that the developers very clearly intended for that, because at least one level let you skip half of it with a well placed blade leap instead of having to crawl through sewers. It even dropped you right into the miniboss afterwards. It was a delight! And the game was clearly a labor of love, because…

Oh, right, “Space Captain Steve” is the second in command and co-founder of the whole company.

Unfortunately, the saga of Krome and Blade Kitten takes kind of a shite turn at this point, because it wasn’t long after the game’s release, to incredibly rocky reviews3, that Krome Studios shuttered its two studios and laid off all employees in October. It was a month out and for all the teases that the game had a second episode in the wings (with, at the time, entire trailers of new material for that back half being on Youtube), nobody was at the company to release any of it.

For what it’s worth, there was definitely talk of “Captain Steve” and his vision of bringing his baby to life in video game form being a fatal blow to the company, including some quotes from ex-Krome staff in this IGN piece at the time taking him to task. If you aren’t of the type like me to enjoy three page dry articles about the behind the scenes of a closing work for hire dev:

“When questioning former staff about their theories on the company’s downfall, some recurring themes emerged. Among them: a too-heavy emphasis on work-for-hire projects on behalf of American publishing houses instead of their own IP; the creative Director’s self-destructive obsession with his Blade Kitten game, at all costs; a lack of government support for the Australian gaming industry; the tumultuous relationship between the American and Australian economies in recent years, poor management decisions; and the emergence of international studios whose significantly lower project costs are unable to be met by their Australian competitors.”

I can kind of see their point, to be fair – there’s a mass of stuff in this game which seems exclusively tailored for fans of the comic (and I guarantee that was a niche of a niche if there ever was one), and in fact, I don’t even know if some of these characters appeared in the series itself outside of brief cameos or mentions by name. I could wager by a huge margin the most recognizable bonus outfit was Ty the Tazmanian Tiger himself, rewarded in the original release for finding every chest in the game. It obviously wasn’t the greatest motivator, though – Steam tells me I’m one of a mere 2.3% of people who ever did4.

I do not know a lot of the Krome Studios story during the intervening years. At some point, it returned from the dead with a skeleton crew again, and releasing the completed Blade Kitten content became a high priority as a way to get some quick cash. The only problem? Their publisher for the original release had been Atari, a company who you might know to be a four alarm fire at the best of times post-2000s, usually bought up from the last people who ran the brand into the ground, slapped on whatever the parent company didn’t want to put their own name on, and sold off in time for quick cash. It would take four years of struggle for Krome to get the rights back to their own property, and likely more than a little money involved too.

In May 2014, Krome got the license to their own game back, and proceeded to tighten up the engine and fix the bugs that had been sitting in the code for nearly half a decade at this point… on Steam. Two-thirds of the releases of the game would never see closure, and for what it’s worth, Atari is still listed as publisher on those platforms to this day, so lord only knows what the deal was that let them get this far. It would take almost a full year before Episode 2 was released on PC, finally coming out in March 2015. To their credit, a few months later, they would take the already lowered price of $6, and dump the base game down to a mere $3, with the entire package, episodes, soundtrack, and comics thrown in as well, for $7 off-sale.

Doing all this research is probably going to get me to pick it back up and try to finish 100%ing5 the game, which I was already incredibly close to. It’s actually funny, I can definitely see that I was a little less thrilled with it by the time of the Episode 2 release, or maybe I was just burned out from the speedrun practice beforehand – all my level times from the first episode are 2-4 minutes apiece, and then my lone runs of the Ep2 content were scouring for every secret I could find, putting me at 20-30 per. I would still wholeheartedly recommend the game, for what it’s worth, I’m just a lot less obsessive than I once was with it. And I do mean obsessive.

See, I would do this thing where I’d buy copies for friends at the slightest provocation, because I was frothing to the point of going “IT’S SO GOOD IF YOU JUST TRY IT, C’MON”. This was not the only title I did this with, actually, but that’s a story for another column… and for now, all I’m gonna say is give Blade Kitten a shot sometime. $7, c’mon. There are plenty of worse things you could spend that on, especially on Steam.

And if you hate everything that comes out of Kit’s mouth, like 99% of the people who I bought it for, don’t worry – there’s a separate volume toggle for voice alone. (I actually think the soundtrack’s pretty good, for what it’s worth.)

License Hell: Introduction

My name is Fletcher, and I have a licensed game problem.

To be more specific, I have a “problem” in that I’ve spent about five years now hunting down every licensed title I could find, for ill or for good, and playing them to completion or whatever passes for it. Legally, when possible. I’ve probably dumped 4-digit sums into this task at this point just on the games alone. When I began, the plot was to try and turn this into a let’s play series, but for the most part that’s not a thing I do anymore1. As a result, these posts are probably gonna be weird. Some will be multimedia, some will just cover titles in general overview if there’s nothing interesting, and more than a couple are going to be actual historical dives into what in the hell led to the existence of such a thing.

But wait, there’s more! I’m one of those broke-brained Amiga fans from the olden days, which means that like it or not, we’re all going on a trip to Europe for their microcomputer madness, where there are so many of these games from bedroom coders making 5k quid from a publisher who didn’t give a shit what went on the tape as long as it played!


And to top it all off, I’m doing this more to satisfy my own horrible obsession, so what qualifies as a “licensed” title is going to be fast and loose. If I can wiggle it in, it’s making the column2. So strap in and get ready for the first one of these to land this weekend!

Anxiety

I have some problems with anxiety.

That’s kind of an understatement, so let’s go back a bit. This document has been open between my phone and my PC for three days now as I mulled over the different ways to begin1. But what I’ve figured out from absolutely overthinking this piece and how to continue when I pulled it up is the most ass-backwards revelation I think I could have as an adult:

I’m a lot better at pulling my ass out of the fire than trying to avoid it.

Or, to sum up how this relates to writing specifically, I have a dramatically higher chance of getting a competent bit of work out of myself if I shit out an intro and then just keep going from there without stopping, but if I let myself hesitate or overanalyze the concept, I’m going to choke. It came to me when I realized that 99% of my job was just wild improv and figuring out how to make things happen, not trying to plan ahead for them. I’m excellent at cleaning up messes, my own or not, but I just get paralyzed if I try to take it slow and avoid trouble.

This whole thing hit me because I’ve been trying to exercise more, running on my lunch breaks and all. One day, as I’m on the loop back to the office, I see a coworker has texted me a photo: it’s me, looking like a rabid wolverine, mouth wide in a grin that she described as “child-eatingly pleased with myself”. Apparently when I’m on a jog I short-circuit the part of my brain that deals with looking professional2. While I’m decidedly not posting that photo here (yet?), I have kept it on the phone as a reminder that nah, sometimes being a dork is the best option for me, and a little awkwardness is okay in the long term.

Now, this isn’t to say that I should just go off half-cocked all the time. That’s what got me into a lot of horrible problems growing up, ruined multiple relationships, so on, so forth. But I’ve got to stop holding myself up on trying to make things perfect and just do something, there’s time to edit later3. Strangely, though, this has made me realize that this is a problem I’ve had much longer than I realized? When I started this, the idea was to talk about how I didn’t used to have anxiety, but some traumatic events set me down a path of being incredibly timid about the prospect of failure, etc, etc. Then a lot of things clicked when I was trying to find a file on my desktop.

File names removed mostly because some of this involves in-progress work for clients, or just things I’m ashamed to have visible which were quickly shunted into folders. The big thing here is just the amount of installers kicking around near the bottom: I have a lot of software I use where it downloads updates and then I don’t run them because I’m in the middle of something, and I’m worried the update will break something or change a feature I use, but then they pile up and the odds of a major change becomes more likely, and so… etc. Or the PDF books kicking around, some of which were Patreon rewards, or just free downloads, but I hate reading PDFs, so they sit around. Or Cheat Engine tables for particularly thorny games that I stalled out in the introductions of, so…

I could point to my relatively recent hobby of Gunpla4 model kits, which began with me buying one at fire sale prices and then failing to open it for an entire year. (This is still a problem in that my first Real Grade kit is now lying on my workbench behind me for the fourth month, where I stopped at the legs because the skeleton was such a jump up in complexity from prior projects.) Or how unless someone else presses me into trying the pilot of a series, I’m likely to sit on it for a while and just “go back later”. And as you’ve now all seen, lord knows I hesitate and flake on just writing a new piece, which I also confess has been hampered by making all sorts of excuses since it’s the first “real” content for this site.

At first it was wanting to start off with a bang, so that’s the extra-long one I took screenshots for and have half complete as I try to bridge the two parts. Then I started the outline of this one, but I also told myself “well, you can’t make the first post a depressing one, people are going to leave, so you need to finish something more entertaining at the same time!” But then that stalled out, and as you saw at the start… this one has been in the works for a bit now5.

So I guess here’s the plan: this exists, I’m going to finish writing about video games in the next day or two (it will be a piece with a lot more pictures and fun to it), see if I can’t hack together the tag hiding system I’ve been working at, and then start posting introductions to some of the different series of articles I’ve been working on, just to have those out and gauge interest. That sound good? Let’s run with that. Thank you for remaining here, and I’ll be back much sooner.

(PS: in the month since that screenshot was taken I’ve finished running all of the installers and cleaning up a lot of the loose files, reading some books, polishing off one of the aforementioned Cheat Engine titles, and just better organizing. Sometimes, shaming myself works! Hopefully this piece will be part of that.)

How We Got Here/Where We’re Going

Took a year of false starts and coming to terms with my lack of web design skill past “you made a Geocities page in 1995 in Notepad”, but it’s here, and you’re here. Hell Scaper has launched and I’m glad you decided to read on. I’ve mostly stuck to Twitter for a few years, but I realized somewhere in 2016 that I really wanted a place to write longer pieces, and I absolutely cannot stand Tumblr’s interface, so the obvious followup was “Let’s start my own website”. I can probably blame how I came to this decision on a few other writers and/or friends and how they’ve handled being online and their own works:

  • Jeremy Parish: Probably the guy whose work I’ve seen the longest (since the early 2000s, can’t place exactly when), but 100% the person whose skill I’m the most jealous of. I don’t always have the same opinions he does, but reading any critique he writes of something, positive or negative, I’ve been able to figure out whether it’s something I want or not. That’s the kind of goal I’m aiming for: at least you’ll know how you feel about it when you’re done reading. I would also be lying if I didn’t just admit the man has one of the best voices in podcasting.
  • Heidi Kemps: I would be lying my ass off if I didn’t say that Heidi’s site, Gaming.moe, was not a huge part of what pushed me to go “Y’know, I can probably make a thing that fits my tastes and still entertain a few people along the way”. It’s just that when she writes about kusoge (lit.: shit game), it’s cute or related to a point, and when I write about kusoge, it’s over 8k words on a trainwreck of a crowdfunded visual novel.
  • David Brothers: In all honesty, while I’ve known (of) the other two much longer, Brothers is probably the most to blame for a lot of how this site shook out, both in letting me write oddball posts for his former site 4thletter! years ago (shout out to Gavin Jasper for facilitating this because he mentioned a shitty comic and my stubborn response was “WELL I’M GOING TO BUY THAT IN A DOLLAR BIN NOW”), and in a lot of the tips he’s laid out about self-promotion and style over the years. “You can feel free to write for my site, but if you can write for me for free, you can write under your own banner for free and benefit more” comes to mind, as well as “never write anything you would be ashamed to have associated with your actual name”. Odds are good that down the line when this is settled in a little, I’ll probably be letting some friends write here too, but no aliases because, hell, that’s a decent rule.It is also part of why I’m grappling with whether or not a few pieces should go up here, because day job. Ah well, that’s for later.

Speaking of which: you can obviously tell this site is a bit slapdash at the moment. I am no web designer, and while I’m intending to tweak this into something more aesthetically pleasing, it’s gonna be slow going, and I’m just gonna thank you for the patience now. If you think this is bad, you should have seen some of the prior designs that happened along the way before I threw up my hands and went “Fuck it, WordPress here I come”. One looked like a literal vision of Hell, and I actually had to be talked out of using it by a friend. Good news: she suggested some alternate color schemes I’m going to try and implement should you find my eye for color jarring.

Other upcoming features and quality of life I’ve got planned and am going to be working on in the next week or two: tagging system (because I guarantee there are going to be people who want to turn off/easily find certain topics I write about), working on a slightly improved mobile layout (I only have my phone to test on! I’m sorry!), running anything after this post by a second person for editing and critique before it goes live so it’s a bit less rambling, and probably just a few static pages for collecting a few things, like podcast appearances. May as well have a hub for tooting my own horn.

At this point, thanks for sticking with this, and I’ve got a few things coming up soon. I know I’m known as a bit of a game dork, but the goal here is half writing dump as topics and ideas occur to me, regardless of media, and half blog-as-therapy, since just putting a lot of thoughts into words, via conversation or writing, has been a huge help for getting some of my brain problems under control in the past few years. It’ll be marked for easy passing. I’m aware those are self-indulgence. Some of the actual things to entice you to come back, though, are a years in the making deep dive into every stupid and surreal licensed title I could find, musical archaeology, and finishing a set of pieces I started on a now-deceased website years ago that I never gave up on.

In short, and I probably should have put that part first: Thanks for showing up and I hope I can keep you coming back.