In Relation to My Work: How Video Games Spur My Creativity, part 4

Alisia Dragoon, North American (left) and Japanese covers:Regardless of which cover you prefer between these two, one thing's for certain: the quality of this oft-overlooked title.

Alisia Dragoon, North American (left) and Japanese covers:
Regardless of which cover you prefer between these two, one thing’s for certain: the quality of this oft-overlooked title.

How are you today, readers?

In finishing up my discussion on video games and how they inspire me as a writer, there’s one final topic that I’ve planned for some time on bringing to light: the settings of some of my favorite video games. After all, the setting of any story, regardless of what form it takes (novel, video game, short story, movie, television show, etc.) oftentimes says a lot about the story itself and helps to set the stage for what promises to take its audience on a ride that strikes its members’ collective fancy in one way or another. The settings of the games discussed in this article are no exception to this rule, seeing as they, too, have helped establish the scene for stories that have captured the hearts and minds of many a video gamer over the years, myself included. Granted, these same games have many other elements that have been more crucial to whatever success they’ve been able to garner amongst the worldwide gaming community, specifically those such as tight and responsive controls, a reasonable balance in playability for newcomers and challenge for diehard gaming experts, and a solid degree of replay value. However, being a well-crafted and enjoyable game—at least in my personal opinion—only takes the game half-way in providing a lasting experience for gamers to remember for years to come. The other half, meanwhile, has more to do with a game’s presentation and atmosphere. This not only includes such obvious elements as stylish graphics, crisp sound effects, and music so fetching and memorable that it sticks in one’s head frequently enough to the point where one sings such tunes in one’s sleep, either, but also such things as an intriguing plot that immerses players within the game’s own little world, appealing and well-developed characters who participate within the story, and a time and place within which the story takes place. Seeing as I’ve already covered the first two of these three elements in previous entries within this mini-series, I only see it fair to discuss the third and final element in this article and relate to you all what an intriguing video game setting teaches me about being a writer.

Settings that Stand Out

The first category of video game settings I’d like to discuss is the type of video game setting that stands out from all others in one way or another. After all, if there’s one rule to which any self-respecting writer subscribes, it’s this: Originality is key. One need look no further, either, than such classic works as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man: A Children’s Story in Five Nights, and countless other classic novels to see the value of originality within the literary world. Unfortunately, not all stories have the luxury of being one hundred percent original, particularly these days when so many time-honored themes have been covered left, right, and center within various media as matters stand. Not only that, but with so many iterations and depictions of the same genre, from the specific (i.e., war novels) to the flexible (i.e., fantasy and/or science fiction works), it can be quite difficult to develop a story that will stand out from others of its kind and as such stand the test of time to the same extent as the previously mentioned five novels have. This is just as true with video games as it is with novels, for it is all too easy for game developers to produce a game that gamers can very well accuse—either rightfully or wrongfully—of being a rip-off of a popular title that had been developed earlier, such as Data East’s Tattoo Assassins is considered a rip-off of Midway/NetherRealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat or Konami’s Kensei: Sacred Fist is considered a “rip-off” of the games from Namco Bandai’s Tekken lineup. Luckily, many a game that has shown enough diversity from the competition to earn a spot within gamers’ hearts by at least putting its own unique spin on a familiar theme or seamlessly blending two distinct sub-genres of fiction together to produce an environment that captures gamers’ imaginations and establishes when and where the action takes place.

As you can see in the screenshots above, the setting of Alisia Dragoon blends fantasy with science fiction like very few--if ANY--other games of the early 1990s do and pit its intrepid heroine against many a challenging adversary with each and every step she takes in her quest to dispose of the Dark Prince Baldour once and for all.

As you can see in the screenshots above, the setting of Alisia Dragoon blends fantasy with science fiction like very few–if ANY–other games of the early 1990s do and pit its intrepid heroine against many a challenging adversary with each and every step she takes in her quest to dispose of the Dark Prince Baldour once and for all.

One particular game that shows this trait is Alisia Dragoon, a critically acclaimed yet commercially overlooked action platformer developed in 1992 by Game Arts and Gainax for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Credited as being one of the first video games in the industry’s history to feature a female protagonist, AD tells the story of Alisia, a sorcerer’s daughter whose father was responsible for imprisoning the Dark Prince Baldour inside a giant cocoon and launching him into deep space, only to fall prey to the wrath of Baldour’s vengeful followers by being tortured and killed right before Alisia’s eyes when she is still a young girl. Eventually, however, she grows up to become a powerful magician in her own right and a champion of the people who vows to put both her mastery of lightning magic and the talents of her trusty quartet of companions—Dragon Frye, Thunder Raven, Boomerang Lizard, and Ball o’ Fire—to good use in her quest to avenge her murdered father and defeat Baldour and his legion of monsters, which have spread far and wide across the land on account of the “Silver Star” crashing into the earth. From this description here, one can quite easily prepare oneself for an adventure that blends elements of both science fiction and fantasy together to form a world where magic meets high-end intergalactic technology in a way that one might call awe-inspiring. Just imagine firing off lightning bolts and zapping the bejeezus out of such monsters as giant centipedes, living boulders, self-destructing soldier droids, two-legged mutant frogs, and plasma-hurling cultists while navigating your way through the likes of a mutant-infested marsh, a volcanic cavern, an abandoned starship, and finally, Baldour’s sky palace. Indeed, the eight stages that this game provides are surely a sight to see, and not just because of the game’s rich and colorful 16-bit graphics, either, but also because of the many obstacles each stage provides in an effort to test both Alisia’s courage and her athletic and magical prowess. Whether it’d be an environmental hazard that our heroine must avoid at all costs (e.g., falling stalactites or a bubbling lake of fire-spewing lava); an intricate layout that she must learn to navigate, complete with hidden passages and moving platforms; or an army of stage-specific villains and beasts that she and each of her four companions must zap before they can progress to the next stage, each environment succeeds at doing two distinct yet related things. The first, naturally enough, is standing out from the rest of the stages with its own particular layout and consequential secrets and other challenges. The second, however, is how each given stage ties together with the others immediately before and after it to help narrate Alisia’s story with only the pre-game introduction, the ending, and three cut scenes—of which only two have any dialogue at all (both solely from Baldour’s right-hand man Ornah)—to help illustrate the rest of the tale. Without question, this game proves valid the principle of “Show, don’t tell” with this mechanism in story telling by allowing its atmosphere to do the brunt of the presentation, thus allowing the gamer to become that much more immersed in it. Then again, it’d be out of line for me to ignore how well the game’s soundtrack—composed by the likes of Mecano Associates composers Nobuyuki Aoshima, Mamoru Ishimoda, Yoko Sonoda, Mariko Sato, and Fumihito Kasatani—accompanies each of these stages and gives them an even more distinct feel from the others, thus further adding to this method of narration. Needless to say, then, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine why Alisia Dragoon wasn’t as successful a game back in its day…that is, of course, until I find myself reminded of the game’s depressing marketing history, which includes it receiving only a small customer base in Japan on account of an unsubstantial penetration of the video game market by the Mega Drive at the time as well as the underwhelming publicity AD received in other markets. It’s quite a shame, too, in my opinion, for not only was this a fun game that was easy to learn yet tough to master, but its presentation was top notch for a 16-bit title—not just in terms of its high-quality visuals and audio, either, but also in terms of the unique environment that it introduces its players to and all the monster-blasting, platform-jumping, cultist-frying action that takes place within it.

WeaponLord: Often considered to be one of the most underrated fighting games of all time for its classic dark fantasy feel and equally deep and intense gameplay mechanics.

WeaponLord: Often considered to be one of the most underrated fighting games of all time for its classic dark fantasy feel and equally deep and intense gameplay mechanics, as illustrated above.

Of course, sometimes a game doesn’t need to blend genres together in order to present a realm of existence that appeals to gamers, for there is also a sizeable handful of games that deliver straight-up representations of any given genre or sub-genre and have left lasting impressions on the gamers across the globe. One game that comes to mind in this respect is a lesser-known fighting game created by Namco back in 1995 for both the Genesis/Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System called WeaponLord. Known for appealing to hardcore fighting game fans with its deep, complex gameplay—complete with thrust block, weapon clash, and power deflection systems and takedown and down strike maneuvers, to name but a mere few of these features—and grueling level of challenge, this weapons-based fighter presents gamers with a setting that lacked the cartoonish, camp-prone nature of many other fighting games released prior or around its time (save for maybe being able to cut an opponent’s hair, should they lean too far in and leave themselves open for just the right counter attack). After all, the realm within which the story of WeaponLord takes place very readily resembles the world of pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard’s timeless hero of legend, Conan the Barbarian. It is within this gritty, unforgiving world of demons, high sorcery, and archetypically loincloth- and bikini-clad barbarian warriors that the DemonLord Zarak reigns supreme for many years up until a tribal shaman informs him of the prophecy of the WeaponLord, an as-yet faceless figure who is born beneath the ever-so foreboding Warrior’s Moon and is destined to engage Zarak in lethal combat, emerge the victor, and put an end to his reign of ruthless tyranny. The DemonLord comes to accept this prophecy and, in an effort to put the lie to the promise of his demise, prepares to face and fell his foretold killer person-to-person via a grand tournament that he holds for all those born beneath the Warrior’s Moon. What soon follows is the official manifestation of the legend of the WeaponLord, and throughout the game’s course, the player will find himself or herself taking his or her selected fighter across such menacing regions as a desert cliff leading towards a sorceress’s castle that’s shrouded in mystical light, a bone-riddled “Cursed Path,” a number of different gladiatorial arenas—a couple of which bear very striking skull motifs—and even a battlefield that is completely littered with the skeletal remains of countless fallen warriors and overseen by a gargantuan demon who laughs menacingly, even as the player slays Zarak after a grueling one-on-one battle and the Warrior’s Moon rises once more, all blood red and clenched by a menacing skeletal fist. Even the veritable oasis that is the Treetops battleground, lush and vibrant though it very well could be in the sunlight, looks rather eerie when enveloped within the cloak of night, leaving the trees to take on a rather twisted appearance, what with their gnarled bark and all. The fact that the combatants wage their battle against one another upon a spider’s web only adds to the dark nature of such a scene—especially when one fighter’s blade sinks into the other’s flesh and causes the latter’s blood to spray across the arena to the following tune as composed by Brian L. Schmidt. Of course, this tune isn’t alone in setting WeaponLord’s tone, as every track does a fantastic job of accompanying the brutal duels that take place within the game and help them tell the tale with their hard-pounding drum beats, ominous chants, and triumphant blaring of synthesized brass instrumentals—even though general consensus points towards the SNES port’s soundtrack as being the more potent soundtrack of the two in this regard. However, in spite of how all I’ve described thus far illustrates the bleak and desolate nature of the world of WeaponLord, this atmosphere would still not be nearly grim and gritty as it is without all the blood and gore that this game has to offer. As the old saying goes, after all, “War is Hell,” and what better way to prove that saying true than by illustrating it with buckets of blood spraying all over the battleground? I’m not just talking about blood spewing from a freshly cut opponent, either, but being able to defeat said
opponent in grisly fashion—and no, not just by means of a Mortal Kombat-esque fatality. Rather, WeaponLord has an intricate Death Combo system that allows the player to decapitate, disembowel, and render a defeated opponent into a pulp at the end of the deciding round, given that the victor execute the proper move to initiate the killing blow in question. From there, the victor may execute additional death strikes to follow up the initial killing blow and mutilate his or her victim’s corpse even more than he or she already has, given that he or she can follow up his or her initial killing blow with another, given that the initial move could link into the second move. By way of this system, the player can strike an opponent several times upon defeating them and render the poor soul’s body to buzzard food with his or her skull cleanly sliced from his or her body and stripped of all its flesh, his or her brain and/or bowels lying right next to the rest of him or her, and his or her torso cleaved wide open. Trust me…it’s something
that needs to be seen in order to fully understand and appreciate, especially considering what it and all the other factors mentioned here succeed in accomplishing: providing WeaponLord with a setting that evokes a sense of unnerving brutality and stays true to the dark fantasy theme that it ultimately succeeds in emulating. As a result, this game stands out from all other fighting games of its time in more ways than one and definitely deserves to be commemorated right alongside the more commercially successful games of its day for what it was able to accomplish.

Settings that Center upon a Given Theme

With so many diverse environments to explore, dangers to avoid, and enemies to destroy (not to mention a decidedly well-developed story to accompany it all), Akuji the Heartless doesn't disappoint in providing players with arguably one of the more memorable gaming experiences that a PlayStation owner could ask for.

With so many diverse environments to explore, dangers to avoid, and enemies to destroy (not to mention a decidedly well-developed story to accompany it all), Akuji the Heartless doesn’t disappoint in providing players with arguably one of the more memorable gaming experiences that a PlayStation owner could ask for.

Next on the list of video game settings worth talking about are those that revolve around a given theme. To put it simply, a setting need not be only a time and a place; sometimes including additional thematic elements does the trick in capturing an audience’s attention. Cocoron, for example, doesn’t just take place within any old dream world, but rather a dream world based on the dreamer’s own imagination where the whole principle in survival is for the dreamer to put his or her imagination to the test and make the most out of it before the figments of his or her same imagination (i.e., the many hostile denizens of Cocoron’s dream world) overwhelm him or her and lead him or her to his her demise. In other words, the game’s setting revolves around the theme of the duality of human imagination and how it can both help and hurt the individual in question. Such can also be said for the case of certain other video game settings, the least of which not being Akuji the Heartless by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Interactive. Released on December 31, 1998 in North American and in the February of 1999 in Europe for the Sony PlayStation, this action platformer revolves around Akuji, a hardened voodoo warrior priest who is expected to marry the daughter of a powerful chieftain from a rival tribe, the Tanko, so as to forge an alliance between the Tanko and his own tribe, the Selvia, so as to solidify his father Murat’s sovereign over all of Mamora. Sadly, before he and his bride-to-be Kesho (also known as Kaisha by some gamers) can undergo their wedding rites, Akuji is murdered by his older brother Orad, who then rips out his heart and places a curse on it so as to subjugate him to roaming the Underworld for eternity. While trapped within the realm of the damned, Akuji seeks the guidance of Baron Samedi in helping him return to the realm of the living so that he can avenge himself and prevent both Orad from sacrificing Kesho to the gods and the Selvia and Tanko tribes from warring with one another. However, in order for Baron Samedi to even consider his wish, Akuji must collect the souls of his ancestors, which have been scattered across the four vestibules of Hell and are tainting them with their evil presence, and bring them to the loa as a toll. From this information, it should be easy to see this game’s theme: earning for oneself a second chance at what one had lost and going through hell and back—literally, in this case—to regain it. Needless to say, the many regions of the Underworld mirror this principle quite well with all the challenges that they provide to test not only Akuji’s athletic prowess and magical aptitude, but also his courage and therefore his will to make things right again. Granted, these challenges might not seem too difficult for our protagonist to overcome in the beginning, particularly with his initial enemies consisting of the occasional specter and a small handful of creatures one would expect to find in an accursed jungle, such as giant dragonflies, carnivorous two-legged birds, the weakest of all the game’s sandworms. However, this menagerie of monstrosities sure enough grows to include even more nightmarish that quite readily fit in with the whole “horrors of voodoo” theme that the game centralizes itself upon—monsters such as legless and armless zombies, skull-headed beetles, demonic rhinoceroses and gorillas, floating serpents, fireball-hurling demons, and of course, the four nightmarish guardians of each of Hell’s vestibules, all of whom are out to prevent Akuji from fulfilling his destiny. These foul creatures aren’t the only thing standing in between him and resurrection, though, for outside of the battles with the four wardens, each sector has its share of hazards and other obstacles for our intrepid hero to overcome, most of which are unique to the environment to which they belong. For example, Oinos the Dark Acropolis (also known as “The Arena of Death”) is armed to the teeth with retractable floor and wall spikes, spiked roller gates, two sets of rolling boulder tracks, an open flame pillars, and a toxic steam vent for Akuji to either maneuver through or skirt around. Khalas, the Sanctum of Hate, on the other hand, offers such challenges as vanishing platforms, pools of acid, and spinning wooden totems with metal spikes protruding from them that threaten to skewer our hero where he stands, lest he be quick enough to dodge them. There are also platforming sections where the platforms in question are invisible to the naked eye and require the use of the nearby red mirrors to find out where they are as well as a small bridge puzzle high above the final room in the level and a battle with a sub-boss named Vasdu, a wall-mounted skull who guards the spirit gate at the level’s end. Limbo, too, has its own unique obstacles, including a complex system of platforms that are activated by striking various taurus points with either Akuji’s wrist blades or magic and two platforming sections that each involve a giant green sphere of plasma that needs to be avoided by systematically jumping onto a series of rotating platforms before said sphere knocks Akuji down into the bottomless chasm beneath him. I could go further in describing the rest of these sectors in detail, but doing so would be redundant. However, I will say this: If there is not but one thing to enhance this already diverse and spine-tingling atmosphere, it’d be the introductory, intermissive, and conclusive cut scenes and the verbal introduction to nearly (though not necessarily all) every level. During these instances, where Richard Roundtree (yes, the Richard Roundtree from Shaft and the 1977 television series Roots) and various other cinematic and televised productions) plays the voice of Akuji himself and narrates for us our hero’s innermost thoughts and feelings as he progresses through his quest and prepares to face that which lies ahead of him. It is indeed this effort to both show and tell the action in the story that gives the player an idea of how much of an effect his new environment is taking a toll on Akuji’s soul, particularly in relation to that which he had unfortunately endured at the very beginning of the story with Orad. As such, this very narration—aside from giving us a direct insight into Akuji as a character and informing us about just what kind of a person he is—also sensibly enough pushes the story forward and helps the player care all that much more about beating the game and helping Akuji seek retribution against the evil that was responsible for damning him to the Underworld in the first place. It is thanks to it, therefore, that the atmosphere of Akuji the Heartless officially becomes complete and—along with the game’s responsive controls, familiar and easy-to-adapt-to gameplay engine (as used in Gex: Enter the Gecko, also by Crystal Dynamics), definitively developed protagonist and plot, and well-polished graphics and sound—helps to make it one of the more time-honored games of its genre for the PlayStation.

In Eternal Champions, life is the ultimate prize, and you better well believe that the journey to earning a second chance at it won't be an easy task in the slightest, as you'll have to square off against eight other fighters--all equally determined as you are to win back that which has been stolen from them--and THE Eternal Champion himself across many a different landscape in order to prove your worth of receiving such a grand reward.

In Eternal Champions, life is the ultimate prize, and you better well believe that the journey to earning a second chance at it won’t be an easy task in the slightest, as you’ll have to square off against eight other fighters–all equally determined as you are to win back that which has been stolen from them–and THE Eternal Champion himself across many a different landscape in order to prove your worth of receiving such a grand reward.

The theme of retribution is far from exclusive to Akuji the Heartless, however, for there
have been a good number of fighting games that have based their settings on this motif as well. Sega’s Eternal Champions and Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side most definitely comes to mind with its focus on an omnipotent being known as the Eternal Champion holding a fighting tournament for several select lesser-known figures from history and rewarding the best fighter among them a chance to avoid whatever premature and unjust death he or she had suffered in his or her previous life. Naturally, then, though the Eternal Champion’s meditation chamber in Heaven serves as the hub for the entire story, the setting for each fight within the tournament often enough shifts from one time period to the next with each scene representing a certain
era specific to one of the fighters (i.e., the streets of 1920s Chicago for ex-cat burglar Larcen Tyler, a beach near the South China Sea in 1899 A.D. for Jetta Maxx the travelling circus acrobat, the Cyber-Dome circa 2345 A.D. for R.A.X. Coswell the cybernetic Muay Thai kickboxer, etc.). Ordinarily, these separate scenes would make little sense if they were ever put together to constitute an entire setting for any story without a collective motif holding them together such as time travel. Luckily, the aforementioned theme of second chances plays a perfect role as the hub for the overall setting of the EC games, thus completing the picture and giving potential fans the chance to make sense of what the pair of them are all about. The same can be said about Thrill Kill, a game developed by the now-defunct Paradox Development in the late 1990s for the Sony PlayStation that—while never officially released to the masses—nonetheless has its influence on the video game market, most recognizably the fact that Paradox had used its gameplay engine in a number of other fighting games that it was responsible for such as Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, both X-Men: Mutant Academy games, and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots Arena. Originally meant for publication by Virgin Interactive, Electronic Arts had managed to acquire Virgin in the summer of 1998 along with many of the titles that it had planned to publish prior to the company’s purchase. As such, it was EA who was responsible for cancelling Thrill Kill’s release to the public in the October of 1998 on the grounds that they felt it would harm their public image to publish a game that they felt was “senselessly violent”—so offensive in this regard, in fact, that they additionally refused to sell the game to another publisher to be released (For an official quote by then-EA director of corporate communications Patricia Becker, please visit Fuzzd0rk’s Thrill Kill commemoration website.). That didn’t stop former employees who had worked on the game from later it in full on the internet along with various beta versions, however, or from many a bootleg of the game from swarming the market and catching the attention of its intended audience. As such, the title has earned quite a reputation amongst the gaming community at large, and the story lives on with anyone and everyone who has so much acquainted themselves with Thrill Kill. This story is pretty simple: Ten souls, eight initial and two unlockable, have all been damned to Hell for either inhumane crimes that they had committed during their lives (e.g., Belladonna Marie Concherto for killing her husband for cheating on her with her own sister) or because of some disturbing psychological disorder or other that they possess (e.g., Billy B. Tattoo, a.k.a. “The Imp,” for his disturbingly acute Napoleon complex). This isn’t exactly the same classical vision of Hell that the famous Middle Ages poet Dante degli Alighieri told the world about in Inferno, the first part of his highly documented epic poem La Divina Commedia, however. Rather, this incarnation of Hell is more modernized in that much of it is based on the real world as it was inhabited by late-1990s deviants—an all-too-perfect setting for a mess of lost and/or fallen souls who had succumbed to their vices and/or mental weaknesses while walking among the living. Though there are a few less genre-specific dungeons within which battle may partake (e.g., the Chamber of Anguish and the Sacrificial Ruins), some of the more era-specific fighting grounds for the combatants’ bloody melees include a prison cell, a sewer, a public bathroom that comes complete with shattered mirrors and graffiti, and a padded sanitarium cell. There’s also an arena called “Dante’s Cage,” which has a design that is known to have been inspired by the puzzle box from Hellraiser and serves as the chamber of Marukka, the Goddess of Secrets and organizer of this whole psychotic bloodbath. Additionally, there’s one key game design element that helps to further illustrate the sinister nature of this environment within which the game takes place—namely, the meters that exist above each fighter’s name during combat. In other games, these meters would be simple health bars and would show the stamina that each contender had left during the fight. In Thrill Kill, however, no such thing exists, seeing as each of these fighters is no longer his or her living self and instead is a walking incarnation of his or her faults. As such, in the absence of health meters, these very same bars are called “kill meters” in that they fill up with every hit that the warrior in question lands against the opposition. The more devastating the hit, no matter which opponent takes it, the more the fighter’s kill meter will fill up, and once the meter is full, the character may be able to snag any of his or her opponents and perform a fatality on him or her with the most special of all fatalities reserved for the final victim at the end of the battle. All the player has to do is to press and hold the proper combination of buttons on the controller when his or her character’s fatality animation cues up before chasing after his or her intended victim to determine the fate of said opponent, whether that fate be being torn apart limb from limb or being contorted into a human pretzel or even being shrunken down to size and squished like a bug. Oh, and did I mention that up to four competitors can compete in a given arena at once? If so, my apologies, because it is this feature of the game that further illustrates the desperate nature of this little contest that Marukka has staged for the other ten combatants. It’s every man for himself and every woman for herself in this glorified mosh pit challenge, after all, as there can only be one participant who will receive the gift of reincarnation while the rest of the participants are forced to live the rest of their miserable afterlives in eternal damnation for their moral and/or psychological shortcomings. To summarize, then, whether it’s a tournament held for good-intentioned people who all seek to regain the lives they had unjustly lost or evil/tortured souls slaughtering each other in Hell for a chance at rebirth, the theme of redemption and second chances has often enough served as a respectable hub for the settings of video games and gives a common ground for some keenly interesting settings for such games. Only time will tell, however, if game developers will take notice of such an idea and incorporate it into future video games or, in reference to the whole premise of this mini-series, if future authors will do the same for whatever books they plan to write and have published for the mass literary market.

War is Hell, alright--especially when it comes to being one of ten condemned souls who must duke it out within the mosh pits of Hell in order to earn the right to be reborn...although doing a little victory dance after all is said and done isn't completely out of question (bottom right).

War is Hell, alright–especially when it comes to being one of ten condemned souls who must duke it out within the mosh pits of Hell in order to earn the right to be reborn…although doing a little victory dance after all is said and done isn’t completely out of question (bottom right).

Settings that Aren’t Afraid to Go All Out

Finally, there are certain video games that I’ve become familiar with over the years that aren’t afraid to represent their chosen genre in fresh new ways, even at the expense of coming off as relatively ludicrous. Sometimes, these video games do this by incorporating elements of other genres into their plot, such as with Alisia Dragoon, as mentioned earlier in this article. At other times, these games stick closely to a given archetype from the genre they emulate and avoid most—if not, in fact, all—elements that the developers feel might compromise the game’s overall nature, as is the case with WeaponLord. However, as much as these games deserve all the praise they’ve received over the years and then some, sometimes it’s nice to play a game that simply tries to be fun…even if the premise tends towards being campy as all hell. Now, I suppose I could add Thrill Kill to this list, seeing as how its overall morbid tone is oftentimes broken up by a little something silly here or there, such as certain costumes that the characters have or the fact that the player can input a certain command prior to committing a fatality to instead perform a victory dance, usually with the final opponent as a dance partner. Then again, there are plenty of games where the camp factor maintains a more constant flow throughout the plot and establishes the overall mood of the game more definitively. Such games include the likes of Boogerman, Earthworm Jim, Wild 9, Interplay’s Clayfighter series, and a number of arcade beat ‘em ups from the 1990s such as Violent Storm, Battle Circuit, and Ninja Baseball Bat Man. Of all these games, one particular favorite of mine has always been Crude Buster from 1991 by Data East. Also known as Two Crude Dudes, this popular arcade beat ‘em up takes place in 2030 A.D. New York City twenty years after a nuclear explosion wipes out the entire metropolis and reduces it to a rubble-laden wasteland. Unfortunately, while the restoration process had been going well since this disaster, its perpetrators—a terrorist organization known as Big Valley—soon emerge to prevent the city from being rebuilt and reassuming its former glory so that they can use it as a launching pad from which they can gain control of the entire nation. Armed to the teeth with the most advanced and unorthodox arsenal imaginable and consisting of numerous post-explosion survivors whose already genetically altered bodies have undergone further medical experimentation to the point where they’ve been transformed into murderous fighting machines, Big Valley is clearly not your typical street gang and as such need to be handled by only the roughest, toughest, and—dare I say—crudest mercenaries that the U.S. government can afford. Enter Biff and Spikes, the Crude Busters/Two Crude Dudes, who traverse the whole of post-nuke NYC from devastated downtown to Big Valley’s headquarters, the aptly named “Sky-Lab,” in an effort to earn their seven-plus-figure paychecks and face this clandestine pack of international criminals in good old fashioned toe-to-toe combat. Sound a little too insane for a major motion picture? Well, maybe it is…but hey, the whole theme works wonders for a video game—especially one from the early 1990s, when beat ‘em ups were very much in fashion. The setting of nuke-ravaged 2030 A.D. NYC certainly allowed the developers to put the imaginations to the test, that’s for sure, by pitting our heroes against more than just random street thugs—even though such enemies do appear in the game, albeit as obligatory beat ‘em up cannon fodder. For example, Biff and Spike have plenty of cyborgs to lay waste to, from cybernetic hounds and wall-clinging mad bombers to head-hurling cousins of the T-800 from Terminator and even a cyborg with a telescopic arm. There are also, as mentioned before, plenty of mutants, from blood-sucking hunchbacks and a green-skinned, explosive-tossing Santa Claus imposter to all of the game’s bosses, most of whom have one kind of animal motif or another, from the python-whipping Heavy Snake and the bull-charging Rhino-Man to the ravenous and hideous Nail Spider and the outright bestial Tiny Leo. Heck, even those enemies who aren’t cyborgs or mutants fit in nicely with their compatriots with either their unconventional weaponry (e.g., the flamethrower-toting Pyromaniacs and the razor-throwing Disc Cutters) or their simple thug-like premise that remind the player of the urban landscape that the Dudes could very well be traversing presently, such as the Kung Fu-kicking Black Gill to the hefty, hard-hitting, punch-sponging “Grease Monkey” goons. Oh, and don’t let me forget about the miniature tanks that Data East had programmed into the Genesis port of this game. Thankfully, the Dudes are far from helpless against such an outlandish yet nonetheless dangerous army, what with their ability to pick up and throw practically anything that isn’t nailed down to the ground, from trash cans, oil drums, and billboards to boulders, street signs, out-of-order stoplights, and even cars. Yes, people…cars! There are also certain weapons in the game that our protagonists can wield like clubs for a limited number of swings before resorting back to their trusty fists and feet to pound every Big Valley minion they cross paths with…or, for that matter, every decaying wall that stands in between them and their intended prey. Not only that, but inasmuch as this setting has a strong influence on the game’s antagonists, it also allows our heroes to develop personalities of their own and showcase them any which way they can, from flexing their muscles after clobbering the living snot out of a boss to guzzling down Power Cola in between levels and belching (at least in the arcade version) to some of the many macho yet fun saying that pop out of their mouths on occasion, such as “Jingle bell, jingle bells!” at the beginning of the fallout-covered “Winter Wonderland” that is the fourth level, “Pump it up! Stay cool!” after beating a level, or even grumbling “What a day…” when climbing back to their feet after getting knocked down. Throw in a criminally catchy soundtrack of instrumental 1990s industrial music and comic book-like onomatopoeia reminiscent of the time-honored yet admittedly cheesy live action Batman television show from the 1960s, and you’ve got yourself one of the most tongue-in-cheek action titles that the video game industry has ever seen—at least as far as the 1990s are concerned, that is. Granted, Crude Buster/Two Crude Dudes might not be a game for everyone because of its off-the-wall nature, but hey, I myself would be lying if I were to cry out against it, because after all is said and done, I’d received quite a bit of enjoyment from this doggone game and its far-out premise that I will remember for the rest of my days.

Only the strongest, toughest, and (dare I say) the CRUDEST can survive the nuke-ravaged wasteland of 2030 A.D. New York City. Hey, it's as the old saying goes: "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."

Only the strongest, toughest, and (dare I say) the CRUDEST can survive the nuke-ravaged wasteland of 2030 A.D. New York City. Hey, it’s as the old saying goes: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

And so I hereby conclude my discussion on what I’ve learned from video games as a writer, at least for now. I hope that this four-part article discussion has helped to give you readers an idea of how I see video games as every bit of a storytelling medium as I do novels and how they can teach writers some basic fundamentals in how to craft their own works of fiction. If there are any additional elements about video games that I feel the need to talk about, I’ll be sure to add another article or two to this discussion as I see fit. However, for the time being, I’ll be focusing on additional topics for this segment of mine that also tie in to writing. As such, for those of you who have stuck around to read all four parts of this mini-series, I thank you. For those of you who haven’t fear not, for I’ve included links to each of the previous three articles at the end of this one so that you can see what else I’ve talked about. Either way, folks, thank you all once again for your time, and as always, be sure to visit my author page at and my Author Central pages at and Until next time, then, happy reading!


Dustin M. Weber


PS: As mentioned above, here are the links to the other parts of this miniseries:

Part 1: June 30, 2012

Part 2: July 10, 2012

Part 3: February 9, 2013


PS: All games discussed in the article above are properties of the following developers and publishers: 

Alisia Dragoon © 1992 Game Arts and Gainax

WeaponLord © 1995 Visual Concepts and Namco Ltd./Namco Bandai Games

Akuji the Heartless © 1998 Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Interactive.

Eternal Champions and Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side © 1993-1995 Sega Interactive Development Division

Thrill Kill © 1998 Paradox Development and Electronic Arts, Inc.  (CANCELLED)

Crude Buster/Two Crude Dudes © 1990-1991 Data East

All rights reserved.

All images used hail from the following sources:

Alisia Dragoon images from

WeaponLord images from and WEAPONLORD:SEGA GENESIS by bernar lux (YouTube)

Akuji the Heartless images from Akuji the Heartless playthrough by doomer2012 (YouTube)

Eternal Champions images from Mega Drive Longplay [116] Eternal Champions by cubex55 (YouTube)

Thrill Kill images from Fuzzd0rk’s Thrill Kill webpage and Thrill Kill Fatalities by TheUltimateBastich (YouTube)

Crude Buster/Two Crude Dudes images from Crude Busters Arcade – 2 players Playthrough by NzOx (YouTube)

All opinions expressed in this article, however, are those of the author himself.


2 thoughts on “In Relation to My Work: How Video Games Spur My Creativity, part 4

  1. Hey, man! It’s great that you brought up WeaponLord in this article (Awesome game!) but I kinda wish you would’ve shown some pictures featuring the Death Combo system. That stuff blew MK’s standard fatality system out of the water, and MK Armageddon’s “Kreate a Fatality” system couldn’t hold a candle to it, either. In fact, to tell you the truth, I think the next time you talk about video games on this blog, you ought to dedicate a full article to just one game in order to give us readers a full idea of what the game is all about–especially some of the older or more obscure games such as this Thrill Kill game you brought up here. Honestly, I’d never heard about this game until I read this piece, and quite frankly, it disappoints me that you only gave your readers a brief glimpse of what the game is all about. Also, focusing on one game per article might even make your articles shorter and easier to read. I mean, hey, it’s great that you put so much thought and effort into your work, but bloggers like you really shouldn’t forget the importance of keeping your articles short and sweet for those of us readers who don’t have as much time to sit down and read what you have to say.

    All in all, then, this really isn’t a bad read, but I still hope you keep my suggestions in mind for when you post another article up here. In the meantime, good luck with the rest of your blog!

    • Thank you for your feedback. I’ll admit that you’ve made a solid argument on how else I can present my work, and I assure you that if I ever plan on either continuing this discussion or starting up a new mini-series concerning video games, I will most definitely keep your advice in mind–especially when it comes to talking about one video game at a time and showcasing some of the more important aspects of it. In the meantime, take care, and thanks for reading!

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