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  • Writer's pictureJoshua McLean

Utter Chaos: Bad Silent Hills, Music, Contra, and Go

With apologies to KMFDM, chaos is my mental state. This blog is meant as a holdover until I start an actual newsletter. For this post, I’ll cover the major highlights of my past couple months.

The Silent Hill PS3 Experience

I bought a refurbished PlayStation 3 to play the bad Silent Hill games, Homecoming and Downpour, which are the fifth and sixth main series entries, respectively.

While I’m pleased to say I’ve now played through every Silent Hill game*, Homecoming and and Downpour were a struggle to get through. The latter game’s list of problems could fill an entire book (or multiple tweets). The former is misguided and loaded with questionable design decisions, but if you stretch your imagination, it at least fits into the general idea of Silent Hill.

Downpour took me 6.5 hours, which I think is less than Homecoming (it doesn’t tell you), partially because most of the game is optional and partially because I wanted it over with. But those hours dragged on with many sessions clocking under a half hour because I couldn’t handle any more. At one point I played less than ten minutes because of a stupid deadly electric wire forcing me to repeat a stick-wiggling quicktime event.

I’ll save most of the details for a series retrospective, or a review, or whatever I do in the future. For now, let’s say Downpour is worse than Homecoming, and outside of a speedrun or review context I have no interest in revisiting either one.

It’s not that I regret the experience. I have a broader understanding of the series heading into the upcoming remake of the second game and Silent Hill f. And a deeper appreciation for people complaining about the last couple games. I’m one of them, now.

*Technically, I haven’t played Play Novel since I have no interest, or Book of Memories which I wish didn't exist, and I didn’t finish The Room, but I got close enough to count it. And yes, I did a little bit of Ascension. I don’t want to talk about that, either. But I will defend The Short Message even more, now that I have suffered the fifth and sixth games.

Masks, Ambience, and Music Packs

I’m working on a four-track EP Masks as a vocal debut under my name while shifting the Alternate Sequence project to an ambient focus.

Masks is a deeply personal set of songs, and it’s up in the air whether it will become a full album, including a cover. The cover would be Hurt (Johnny Cash) or Human (Assemblage 23). Once I’ve finished the EP, I’ll make a final decision whether to expand it.

For Alternate Sequence, I’m working toward a double-digit set of ambient tracks code-named Ambience, and I might be lazy enough to stick to that title. Maybe tack on a “Vol. 1” to promise there will be more.

I have four tracks basically done for Ambience, with a new approach which I call “let fate decide.” This involves using the “random instrument” button in Nexus and limiting how much I’m allowed to filter the selection or reroll.

These four are pretty dark, but I’m aiming for a range of feels including calmer or spacier stuff, maybe some lo-fi influence. But that’s the fun part. I don’t know where it’s going any more than you will on your first listen. It’s a shared journey.

My goal for Masks is a June release, which is feasible if I stick to the four but might be a stretch if I go full album. Probably safest to say Q3 2024. Ambience, on the other hand, depends on my whims, so we’ll say Q4 2024 ish.

I’m focusing on Masks and Ambience for the time being, but when I get the itch, I sometimes throw together a chiptune or horror track. These genres have proven to be my most popular free music packs for games, so it’s likely more will appear before the end of the year.

Streams and Videos

Vertical Jam finished, and I’ve been playing through the games to collect footage and ideas for the highlights video. I’m hoping to cram all 27 entries into the video, but as usual the higher-rated games will get more screen time. This usually works out; the 8 Bits to Infinity community is quite good at spotting quality.

For streaming, the plan is to use the same “let fate decide” idea from Ambience. I’ve collected a list of games I’d like to play (and/or master) with Retro Achievements. The basic idea is to use RNG-2000 (thanks Pixel Prophecy) to select a game, then focus on that game to completion through multiple streams. If I really like the game, or all the cheevos feel within reach, I’ll go ahead for mastery.

In typical me fashion, there’s a spreadsheet for me to track it. I’m hoping at some point to move this (and my game “database” spreadsheet) to an actual online database, but since that would be quite the undertaking, I’m sticking to sheets for now.

I think consistently producing content will work better than sticking to a timed consistency, so there won’t be any promise of when these streams will happen. Generally, I can do longer streams on Saturdays, and in the late afternoon during the week. I’m still trying to figure out how to optimize my job schedule, since the hours are flexible, but that will require a lot of experimentation and navel gazing.

As part of the focus on the game, I’ll blog about the experience. I would love to make videos for each one, but they take so much time and effort it’s unlikely to happen very often. Maybe I’ll do shorts, but honestly it’s so much easier for me to organize my thoughts in writing that I might not. I’m old school like that.

I recently made a video review of Contra: Operation Galuga.  I never expected to get the key from Konami through Keymailer. It was one of those “might as well throw my name in the pile” deals. But I did, and it was fun!

I missed a few major points in the video, which is one reason I prefer writing—it’s so much easier for me to revise and spot omissions. The game offers a lot of options related to difficulty, allowing new players to try the game before amping up the challenge. This still allows you to tweak it into typical classic tough-as-nails Contra, and I think even harder than the classics because the screens are often so busy.

I went back to play Contra III: The Alien Wars on the Super NES a bit and it’s a breath of fresh air: so much empty screen space, and clarity in the sprites and projectiles, with lower resolution, limited color, and fewer fancy effects.

I can’t knock on Galuga too much for being overly busy. It makes the game look modern, for sure. I only want to emphasize the point that the difficulty in the newer game isn’t more or less than its predecessors, only more flexible. And that’s critical to making a good game for a broader audience.

Go is Life, Life is Go

I’ve been playing more go (igo/weiqi/baduk) recently, and I swear, the more I play, the worse I get. I’m currently losing all seven games in a 19x19 tournament despite heavy handicap. But as they say, the way to learn is to lose your first hundred (or is thousand?) games as fast as possible.

If you haven’t played go, you should learn it. It’s easier than ever with tons of online resources. And the world needs more go players. Think of it like chess, except good.

My plan is to return to more 9x9 games to strengthen my fighting and local reading, two of my biggest weaknesses. I’ve heard some dan players discourage learning on the smaller board because you don’t learn fuseki, but I think I’m far enough along that playing a ton of 9x9 won’t ruin my bigger board skills.

In any case, you can challenge me on OGS if you like. No guarantees I’ll accept a live game, though, because I might miss the invite. So let me know first, or request a correspondence game.

More on Less

That was a whirlwind journey, right? Future posts will be more focused. I have no plan for a regular schedule, but I hope to have more to say every couple days. This is as much for me to track, reflect, and solidify memories as it is for you to read. It’s like an open journal and a status update rolled into one. Like tweeting, but with actual content. Bring back the blogosphere!

If you did enjoy reading this, or you have comments or questions, let me know below or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you.

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