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Awesome Possum is the smarmy, environmentalist video game hero we need

Screenshot: Awesome Possum…Kicks Dr. Machino’s Butt
Screenshot: Awesome Possum…Kicks Dr. Machino’s Butt

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Because Of The Times

Earlier this week, word got around that Sega is looking to revive some of it dormant properties, which got us thinking about the unused Sega series we’d like to see resurrected. Of course, commenters had plenty of their own suggestions for classic Sega titles that should return and how to modernize them. It’s not a Sega game, but the discussion did get Venerable Monk reminiscing about a god-awful mascot platformer they played back on the Genesis and mapping out a thoroughly contemporary take:

One admittedly terrible platformer that my siblings and I played all the time was Awesome Possum…Kicks Dr. Machino’s Butt, and it never even got a sequel. It was basically a Sonic ripoff with a more overtly environmentalist message. You play as a sassy possum with loads of ‘tude, whose whole job was to wreck a greedy businessman’s multi-sector corporation by smashing up robots. Instead of imprisoning cute animals in robot bodies, this nefarious PhD-holder was simply clear-cutting their forest homes and installing giant landfills. Really, it’s only differentiating factors were hanging from trees by your tail, riding a couple animal friends, and (obnoxious) voice acting for a few characters. If I’m not mistaken, there was also a cute in-game justification that, being a possum, you were simply “playing dead” whenever you succumbed to the robots.

So it would be hard to argue that this game absolutely needs to be revived on its merits, but that’s not what I’m up to here. I’m thinking they ditch the intelligent, Kingpin-looking Dr. Machino in favor of a villain that resonates a little more strongly with today’s players. I’m thinking Dr. Machino’s grandson perhaps? He inherited the business, ran it into the ground a couple times, turned the brand into a middling TV show, and eventually failed upward into a position of real power.

This time it’s not just the local wildlife in jeopardy, but the fate of the planet, because Douglass J. Machino wants to undo all the great work our hero Awesome did in the last game. He’s out to dismantle the environment’s protectors to make way for his cronies in the coal, oil, and natural gas industries, and Awesome has to come out of retirement to stop it! He’ll have to team up with even more animal friends to blaze a sarcastic path through strip-mining operations, offshore rigs, and eventually climb Machino Tower to set things right with a swift kick to President Machino’s butt!

The Monster In Me

Screenshot: Geneforge/Spiderweb Software

For the second part of my ongoing Prey review, I dug into the game’s tendency to toy with your character’s humanity—or lack thereof, if you’ve decided to imbue yourself with psychic powers that were stolen from the aliens you’re fighting. Down in the comments, BadNflu3nce3 drew an uncanny comparison to an obscure but intriguing series of role-playing games:

The issue of “How inhuman are you willing to become?” is explored pretty well in the indie RPG Geneforge series. In the first game, you, a “Shaper” able to summon monsters to fight for you, encounter these mysterious canisters that imbue you with stat buffs, higher skill levels, and new monster spells. You are forced to use them to survive, since you are stranded on an island with no teachers to give you new instruction. There are no consequences of using the canisters, but other characters remark that you are giving off a blue glow in the shade (one gives you a mirror to look into and your character is shocked by the change), and NPCs remark that you are becoming more irritable. You read the journal of a Shaper researcher who used too many canisters and went on a power trip, delving into necromancy and getting all of his researchers killed.

In Geneforge 2, you encounter a city inhabited by Shapers that have used a lot of canisters, and they are all arrogant, prone to losing their temper and mistreating their servants, and their leader thinks he is God on earth. You have the option of using canisters or learning spells the hard way, with training and saving up to buy spells, but still, there is no in-game consequence still for using canisters. Using them only gives you a slightly worse ending than not using them.

In Geneforge 3 and 4, the games have by now given you pretty clear hints that these canisters are subtly robbing you of parts of your humanity. As such, the game begins to actually give you real in-game consequences of using too many canisters. If an NPC is casually rude to you in conversation, your Shaper character abruptly loses their temper and the descriptions of your character’s thoughts turn into things like “How DARE these WORMS mock you!” The conversation ends, and you attack the NPCs and kill them. There is no “calm down” option. You literally have certain side-quests unavailable to you because you end up losing control and killing people in your arrogance and temper because of the side effects of using too many canisters. It may feel unfair that you lose part of your agency as a player, but you cannot say the game did not warn you beforehand. This makes a canister-free playthrough satisfying, if harder.

Miscellanea

Screenshot: Final Fantasy XV/Square Enix

As usual, today’s What Are You Playing This Weekend? thread is full of insightful check-ins from the various games the community is working their way through. Indy2003 is nearing the end of Final Fantasy XV and is a little unsure about its progression:

I am playing Final Fantasy XV, which I am still enjoying despite the fact that the game is doing everything in its power to self-destruct as I get deeper into it. I’ve been alternating between side-quests and the main missions based on recommended mission level—basically, I do all the side-quests I can until the next main mission has the lowest recommended level on the docket. However, I was surprised by how quickly the approach nudged me out of the open world and sent me barreling down an almost entirely linear narrative path. Sure, there are ways to go back and keep side-questing, but the shortened daytime cycle introduced later in the game makes doing so more frustrating than before. I figure it’s best to just go ahead and plow through to the finish line and then get back to my previously-scheduled busywork.

I just finished the Chapter 13, so I think I’m near the end of the campaign. The second half of the campaign isn’t terrible, exactly, but it feels unfinished. Why, for instance, is the Venice-style city you visit in that one chapter so empty? They couldn’t toss a few side-quests in there to extend your stay (and make it feel more like all the major locations from the first half of the game)? And while the Leviathan boss fight certainly offers some impressive visuals, I’m sort of shocked by how sloppily designed it is otherwise. And the storytelling over the course of the last few chapters has gotten even messier, often feeling like a bizarrely rushed Cliff’s Notes version of a grand Final Fantasy saga.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the post-game. Riding across the countryside via Regalia/chocobo, completing absurdly simplistic side-quests, listening to Final Fantasy soundtracks, battling monsters, fishing and chilling at the campsite with my bros is the stuff I actually enjoy. I’m eager to get back to that.

Elsewehere, Thyasianman mentioned their recent graduation—congratulations!—and current attempt to break into the games industry as a programmer. Diet Kloster Wallace offered some great, practical advice:

Here is my unsolicited advice, as a former software developer with friends in the gaming industry. If you already have a computer science degree, but no real work experience:

1.) Go get a regular software developer job outside of game dev. You still don’t have a game dev job, but at least you’re making great money while you job hunt. Also, a computer science degree makes you awesome at algorithm analysis and

small-scale problem solving, but doesn’t do a lot to prepare you for the tricky art of managing massive code bases or working on a real world software development cycle. You’ll get invaluable experience that will help you land that game dev job.

2.) Work on your portfolio. Spend your weekends making games. Start small. A very small, but polished, and finished game looks better than some alpha stage monstrosity with intriguing ideas. Get your games on steam, hosted on your website, etc.

3.) Network. Find artists, sound designers, etc. at meet-ups. Build games together so everyone can build their portfolios. Go to every local game jam. Pick up freelance work as it becomes available.

4.) Eventually, it might be six months from now, or it might be five years from now, you’ll get an offer for your dream job in game dev. By having other development experience on you resume, and a portfolio of released games to show people, this search will probably be quicker than it would be otherwise.

That’ll do it for this week, folks. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!