Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Basement Collection Talk (also a Review I suppose)

Alright, turns out I have a piece of Apocalypse World art/playbooking to share, but I want to do something else first to break up the spree of AW stuff, I've had like four posts in a row on the AW theme. If you're curious, it's an Incredible Hulk-type art and a couple linked moves.
In the meantime, I figured I can talk about The Basement Collection. The Basement Collection, if you don't know, is a new game (or collection, obviously) by Edmund McMillen. McMillen was thrust from being an obscure indie game designer with a couple noticeable hits, but was largely unknown to the general public, until designing and releasing Super Meat Boy in conjunction with programmer Tommy Refenes (the pair goes by the moniker Team Meat, even though Super Meat Boy was not their first game, as I'll talk about later). He then threw off all taboo restraints and went absolutely wild with his next game, The Binding of Isaac (done with programmer Florian Himsl). By some amazing alignment of the stars, the public ALSO loved it, and Edmund has become one of the premier figures of the indie video game world. This is likely evidenced by the fact that Super Meat Boy was the star case and the main feature of Indie Game: The Movie, which I haven't seen yet though can't wait to be able to.

I am now a through and through Edmund McMillen fan. No, I didn't know him before Super Meat Boy. I actually didn't know him until The Binding of Isaac, when I got it through the Humble Indie Bundle (I think it was the Vexel bundle BoI came in) and then got SMB through Humble Indie Bundle 4. However, I've never been of the mind that SMB was McMillen's first game, which many were, though I wasn't sure WHAT his previous games were until I wrote my Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac reviews, which happen to be some of the first entries on this blog after I rebooted it. Here, have some links.
The Logbook Project's Binding of Isaac Review
The Logbook Project's Super Meat Boy Review

So I mentioned that some people were of the mind that Edmund started with Super Meat Boy. That's what The Basement Collection is all about - dispelling that belief and exposing his earlier work, minus a few (the big one I noticed absent was Gish, presumably because it still lives pretty well as a standalone game). You see, as Edmund mentions on one of the Q&As, he really doesn't like the idea that people are getting that he started with SMB, primarily because it puts up a false idea that you can succeed right out of the gate without the hard work and failure or experience, which is entirely untrue, especially from Edmund's perspective - he had many failed little games before coming upon his super-hits.
So what is actually IN The Basement Collection? Here.
* Meat Boy (NOT Super Meat Boy - this is the original flash game)
* Coil
* Triachnid
* Aether
* Time Fcuk
* Spewer
* Grey Matter
* Two Secret Games (only one of which I've unlocked, AVGM - the other I need to beat Spewer to get)
* The Soundtracks to all the games
* Unlockable comics, sketch books, Q&As, Trailers, Prototypes, and a whole scene of Indie Game: The Movie stock footage.
* I'm sure there are more unlockables that I have yet to obtain.

So I'll start by talking about the Title Screen itself. You're met with a full-screen mostly-white banner with small doodled images of all the characters in the game in the background. On our left are 4 buttons: Exit, Mute/Unmute, Credits, and FullScreen/Windowed. These four buttons never leave - none of the games are quite rectangular enough to fill the screen, so we're always going to be left with white boxes on either side, so we always have access to the buttons. We're met with a wheel of things, more than coincidentally reminiscent of the Binding of Isaac character select screen. For each game it's tagged with its credits: Design + Art (which is always Edmund McMillen), Programming + Design, and Soundtrack. It's also tagged with its release date and the development time, which is, with one exception, 4 months or less. It gives you a little star to indicate if you've not beaten it, beat it, or 100%'d it. You also have a box with a bunch of buttons that lead to all of the extra content.
So what are these games/how are they to play?

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: Jon Mcentee
Soundtrack: Danny Baranowsky
Release Date: 10.06.2008
Development Time: 3 Months
Bonus Content: Meat Boy Bonus Map Pack.
It's just like Super Meat Boy, but the controls are a lot more imprecise.We've also got far fewer stages, and all the alternate character skins, while entertaining (I like Gish and the Blue Castle Crasher), don't have actually different behaviors like the SMB ones do. There's not that many levels, and probably the biggest frustration is the responsiveness of the controls - specifically the wall jump, since you have to still be holding toward the wall when you jump or you don't jump off the wall, you just fall off, likely into spikes. Also, scrolling rooms where the screen can kill you are lame, though understandable. I just know that if this is with improved controls, I really don't want to go back and play the original.
It isn't impossible. I beat the main game in maybe two hours, with a few levels giving me real trouble. I've beaten SMB though, so maybe I already have some experience at this. The Map Pack you unlock by beating the game is also nice, gives a ton of extra levels. If you enjoy the experience with this, you should definitely try Super Meat Boy. If you don't enjoy this though, still don't count Super Meat Boy out - it's not more of the same, it really is a lot better.

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: Florian Himsl
Soundtrack: John Erik Kaada
Release Date: 02.01.2008
Development Time: 6 Months
Bonus Content: Coil Dev Sketches, Coil Character Sketches, Indie Game The Move: Coil Deleted Scene, Coil Q&A
Coil...Coil disturbed me. It is a very strange game, and I really just didn't get it until yesterday I listened to the Q&A. You see, in Coil the written story and the gameplay are actually separate - they don't relate to each other. The gameplay starts with conception and moves through the development of this alien fetus creature. The story, on the other hand, is a poem-like series of texts about a woman. Now, Edmund has now stated that it's about a woman, essentially being haunted by a spectre of her past, unable to really release that person despite wanting to. However, the poem is non-specific - it's highly interpretive, and I've heard several versions of what people interpreted it to be. Rape is one interpreted theme, as is abortion. I saw hints of the rape theme, but I saw an abusive relationship. However, knowing Edmund's intent takes it out of that terrifying space where it could be any of these horrible things, and actually places it as something a lot more sensible and, in my opinion, better. It's a story about death in a game about growth.
Coil keeps doing some weird things. Right off, you realize one thing very clearly: Edmund is NOT going to tell you how to play his game. Not, like, the way you should play it, he actually doesn't say how you play it at all, like what to do with the mouse and stuff. His intention is really interesting: it was, essentially, to weed out the casual folk who aren't looking to come play a weird experimental game. It didn't really work all that well - it wasn't that hard to figure out what you're doing, and even worse (as he mentions) people did it BY ACCIDENT and then got trapped on the next story screen where you need to do the same thing (it's moving the mouse around the circle in the direction of the arrows btw). In Edmund's estimation, the game isn't any good, and I can definitely see where he's coming from, but something I really like about it is the interpretive poem (which, if it had been the intention instead of him having a theme already in mind, would be excellent - this is a disappointment from his side, not really from ours) and I really like the kind of rough-around-the-edges style. Looking at my brother play Guild Wars 2 yesterday, I realized that one of the things I really love about some indie games is that they don't have that really plastic-y, shine-y, over-polished textures and objects that you often get from high-profile games; indie games tend to be a little more raw and rough, and that gives them this air of authenticity, the feeling that it's a visceral projection of someone's vision, not a manufactured product. Coil has that feel, of being real, even if it's scary and weird and confusing and not very good as a game. Essentially, this is his first shot at abstract storytelling and, well, an art game, and while the game itself isn't perfect, those intentions come through and you can feel them all throughout, in a good way.
In summary, I think that even if you're iffy on the Basement Collection as a whole, play Coil. It's on Steam, listed as a demo even though it's the whole game, and as such is free. Try it out - it only takes like 15 minutes to complete.
Oh, also, the soundtrack is freaking haunting and awesome. It's just a 10 minute long song just called Coil, and it's really nice. If I wasn't using a main song from the Basement Collection for this post's song, Coil's music was my likely second pick, competing with Aether and Time Fcuk (don't worry, we'll get there).
Curiously, this is also the longest development time by quite a bit. From what the Q&A said though it sounds like the development time was split partway through because Florian went to serve in the military.

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: Florian Himsl
Soundtrack: Tin Hat Trio
Release Date: 11.02.2006
Development Time: 4 months
Bonus Content: Indie Game The Movie: Triachnid Deleted Scene
NOTE: I have not yet watched the scene.
Triachnid is weird. This is the oldest game in the collection by over a year (though still two years older than Gish). It isn't hard to grasp really - you grab his legs and move the to stick to surfaces. He has three legs and a central eye and mouth. However, I'm not very good at Triachnid. He wobbles a lot, and sometimes he just seems to drop what he's holding. Also, doing the string-swing move is super dangerous, though interesting. This game has a lot of depth to the gameplay - there's a lot of Larva, which are collectibles. It's hard getting them - I think I got one total. There's more unlockables if I get more, but getting more isn't all that likely -_-'
Triachnid isn't all that long, but it's quite fun once you get the hang of it.
Figured I'd mention that Triachnid got a recognition boost from being included in The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb as an extra boss (who is quite a chore to kill, I'll add). In fact, playing through the Basement Collection, I'm finding that The Binding of Isaac has a bajillion more references than I noticed hidden in it.
Also, the Triachnid himself is actually kinda cute, what with that big shiny eye of his.
I really don't have a ton to talk about with Triachnid. Oh, the soundtrack is pretty good, although it's a bit quiet. Not the star soundtrack on this thing, but still nice. I'd like to see a real pro play this game, I feel like it would be pretty amazing.

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: Tyler Glaiel
Soundtrack: Tyler + Danny
Release Date: 09.08.2008
Development Time: 14 Days
Bonus Content: Aether Dev Sketches, Aether Character Sketches, Aether Tech Demo, Aether Audio Prototype, Indie Game: The Movie Aether Segment, Aether Q&A, #another one that I haven't unlocked#.
Aether is charming. It's a small story, and the gameplay is really simple (though at times challenging if you lose your momentum). Swinging around and going off the clouds (and then stars) is remarkably fun. Each of the little puzzles for each planet are fun to discover, though the blue one where you go inside the planet is a BITCH to get out of.
Aether's story hit me as quite simple, and pretty interesting, but after listening to the  IG:TM segment it becomes something a lot more profound, essentially because this is a very personal, nigh-autobiographical game for him, about a stage in his childhood. I'm not going to recap it - it is REALLY worth seeing that. And based on its naming as the Aether Segment rather than a Deleted Scene I'm guessing it made it into the movie (and as I'm watching these deleted scenes, I'm finding that I REALLY need to see that movie, I'm profoundly interested).
Aether has a lot of depth to it. Not in its general gameplay, but in its design. Check the achievement list for TBC and you'll find an awful lot of ones for just discovering all the stuff out there in space. They don't do anything, and I think it would be difficult (and ruinous to the fun of the game) to map the game's skies. At this point, more people have 100%'d Meat Boy (quite a feat) than have found either the Lost Bird or attained the Lost In Space achievement. In my playthrough I found just one of the many. Unfortunately, while these make for a lot of cool easter eggs, they don't do anything, so the majority will end up ignored, and there's no reasonable way to hunt for them aside from blind luck. It seems like a lot of work that may not have been worth it. Speaking of amount of work...
This is the game created in the least amount of time (other than AVGM, which is essentially a non-game) - two weeks, if you didn't notice. It was done quickly and yet it doesn't feel hurt by it. Yes, it's short, but especially in light of McMillen's context I really like it.
Additionally, the game has a great soundtrack. By soundtrack, I do mean one looping song. However, you have a choice of three songs to loop - one classic made by Tyler (the only one in the original game), and one by Danny Baranowsky and one by Laura Shigihara (if I recall, she did the Plants vs Zombies soundtrack). I like Danny's personally, but they're all cool, and the game is short enough that you could probably run through it with all three soundtracks quite easily.
Aether wound up being one of my favorite games in the Collection.

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: William Good
Soundtrack: Justin Karpel
Release Date: 09.16.2009
Development Time: 3 Months
Bonus Content: Time Fcuk Dev Sketches, Time Fcuk Character Sketches, Time Fcuk Prototype, Time Fcuk Speech Prototype, Time Fcuk Trailer, Time Fcuk Q&A
Note: You may have heard of this game listed as Time Fkuc, Time Cufk, or any other variety of those last four letters other than fuck. Despite this, you always pronounce it Time Fuck. Reasoning for this comes out in the Q&A.
Anyway, Time Fcuk is incredible. This is without a doubt my favorite thing in the collection. It's deep and extensive, it requires you to think through the levels, its soundtrack is great, its art is gorgeous, its story is intriguing and very well written, there's a very extensive level editor and a Random Organization of Rooms mode, and, most importantly, it's crazy fun. It also gets very hard once you beat the main game (chapter 1). There's going to be a LOT of stuff I'm going to not see because of a very hard level I'm on right now. I  kinda wish respawn time was slightly faster. The level I'm actually on is, um, very reminiscent of Veni, Vedi, Vici from VVVVVV - this is both a good and bad thing.
On the note of the story, it's not only very cool and interesting in the game itself, it too has a more profound context.
I have very little more to say. This is fucking fantastic and I'm amazed it didn't make a wider impact. I'm also saddened that I didn't play it beforehand, even after knowing its name after researching Binding of Isaac because of Steven's cameo. The four dollars to buy the Collection would be entirely worth it on this game alone.

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: Eli Piilonen
Soundtrack: Danny Baranowsky
Release Date: 05.04.2009
Development Time: 3 Months
Bonus Content: Spewer Dev Sketches, Spewer Character Sketches, Spewer Prototype, Spewer Puke Test
I have not spent a lot of time with Spewer. It looks like there's quite a bit to do, and that the mechanic will make for a cool puzzle-platformer. Unfortunately, the mechanic also makes me a little sick - Spewer vomits out gunk to fill spaces and move and propel himself more and swim in. He has a limited amount of the stuff, and to get some back you actually eat it back up. Blech. It's just an in-your-face grossness that gets to me more than anything else yet.
Spewer has good art, a nice soundtrack by Danny, and looks to be long enough to be quite the experience. I really should beat it - beating it will unlock the other secret game, which I don't even know what it is yet.
I wish there was either an IGTM scene or Q&A about Spewer. I feel kinda spoiled by having them in everything else.
I very well might report back on Spewer when I've done more.

Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Programming/Design: Tommy Refenes
Soundtrack: Danny Baranowsky
Release Date: 10.30.2008
Development Time: 3 Months
Bonus Content: Grey Matter Dev Sketches, Team Meat Photo Album, #Locked#, Grey Matter Q&A
This is the very first Team Meat game! These are the guys who went on to upgrade Meat Boy to Super Meat Boy.
Grey Matter is, as they've described it, a reverse bullet-hell shooter. You are the bullet, and it is your job to dodge more bullets and smash yourself into the enemies. It's about losing one's mind apparently, and I entirely agree because if I keep trying to do it I'm going to go nuts. I'm AWFUL at games like this, oh my god. I'm never going to beat this, and I likely will never unlock whatever that is in the bonus content.
Seriously, fuck this difficulty. But hey, figures that at least one of the games in this was difficult enough to have me just stop.
The game's not bad, don't get me wrong. I just can't freakin' DO it.

A.V.G.M. aka Secret Game 1
Design/Art: Edmund McMillen
Soundtrack: Danny Baranowsky
Release Date: 02.01.2009
Development Time: 24 Hours (apparently, actually 4 hours)
Bonus Content: Indie Game The Movie: AVGM Deleted Scene, and a pile of stuff that says "Available only through DLC".
AVGM is shit. Yup. It's a shitty game making good commentary about the shitty practices of other shitty games. It is SUPPOSED to be a shitty game. That's the commentary.
Abusive Video Game Manipulation. That's what the name stands for. It is flipping a lightswitch over and over to make, basically, furniture appear on the screen. And you just keep flipping and flipping. Nothing ever does anything, you just keep flipping. There is NO point and you may have seen a couple all-caps tweets on my Twitter I auto-sent from the game to announce that I'd beaten a mode.
Yes, I played all the way through Normal mode. It took over 10,000 clicks. It was awful. I did it for a little white star over the game's name.
Yes, I played through Nightmare Mode. It took over 20,000 clicks! It took me many hours. I used it as a tactile tool in my classes that day for something to do with my fingers while I paid attention. It was hellish. I didn't even get a reward.
And yes, I will likely go through Hell Mode and whatever is left afterward. All for a little black star with a face telling me I 100%'d the game. Because the Platinum God achievement I will never have is so, so tempting.
I will also have worn out my left click button by the time I've done this.
If you want to know more about like, the theme and the commentary and stuff, buy the game, beat Meat Boy, and watch the IGTM scene, it's really descriptive of it.

 That's all the games I have! What about some other stuff?
The Box is a box of art from a couple years of Edmund's childhood that he found in his grandma's closet. Some of it is frankly frightening in the context of a little boy drawing it, but it's a big insight into his childhood mind. He talks about the contents of The Box in the Aether IGTM segment.
This also has the bonus content of a couple of photos of young Edmund.

This is scans of a couple of Edmund's sketchbooks ranging from 2004-2011. They're really interesting, though quite different from the stuff he does for the actual games. Check out page 12, it's one of my favorites.

This is a children's book. It is a disturbing children's book I would not read to a child. It is also quite interesting, and the story is all in rhyme. It is creepy.

This button opens Windows Explorer to the soundtrack, where you can take all the songs and copy 'em to wherever you keep your music. Very nice for it to all be available with the game's purchase, unlike many games which make you buy the soundtrack separate.

I think I've very well talked about everything I have in the game! Here's a couple lists:
Favorite Game:
1. Time Fcuk
2. Coil
3. Aether

Game I would most buy as a standalone: Time Fcuk. Second Place: Aether if it was extraordinarily cheap, due to length. Otherwise Triachnid.

Game I think everyone should try out: Coil. Second Place: Time Fcuk. I think if you're only going to try one, I'd say Coil. But Time Fcuk is, as a game, better.

Best Soundtrack: Wow, tough one here, between the soundtracks of my three favorite games there. I'd probably say Coil for soundtrack as a whole, Aether in second place. Time Fcuk has a couple GREAT tracks, but is not that level of amazing the whole way through.

Comparison to SMB/BoI: Not quite as entrancing as Binding of Isaac to me, but I actually prefer playing the stuff in this to Super Meat Boy as whole. I love Super Meat Boy, much more than Meat Boy itself, but I think the combination of things in this bundle, especially Time Fcuk, tip it over. I'd love to see a "Super Time Fcuk," where everything is overhauled, enhanced, and extended the way Meat Boy was turned into Super Meat Boy. And I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I'm not a big Gish fan - I just don't get the controls. All three of these are over Gish, in my opinion.

IS THIS GAME WORTH IT: Hell yes. It costs FOUR. FUCKING. DOLLARS. I don't care if you've never heard of Edmund McMillen, you don't know SMB or BoI, hell, even if you didn't like SMB or BoI, try these things. It costs about same as a coffee and a pastry, so save yourself the caffeine addiction and the extra calories and play some thought-provoking games.

Thanks for listening. Sorry it's taken so bloody long to get another post up - scheduling has become a total bitch and I'm trying to make the next session of Apocalypse World happen. Soon! Friday evening or Saturday are the goal days.
I hope to have something else for you soon! Also, I'll start whetting any appetite now - I've decided that October will be another Songaday month! I just can't hold it back, and I want to be able to have SOMETHING to post every day. Look forward to it!

End Recording,


  1. Greetings! What's your point of view on what does your average reader look like?

    1. Hey there! My average reader? I honestly don't hold an image at this point. Especially because of my involvement with the Story Games RPG world (who seem to be the bulk of my readers), they're an incredibly diverse group of people and I've just stopped making average assumptions on who they are/what they look like. I imagine that they're interested in at least one of the following: video games, music, tabletop gaming, movies, art. (at least I hope there's folks who come cuz they're music fans - I certainly post enough of it!).

      It's definitely an interesting thing to think about though. Any particular reasoning behind the question?