Above please find criticism of the "Nintendo Children's Toy" from The Design of Everyday Things, a treatise by former Apple engineer Don Norman on how everyday objects derive their shapes and the principles of user-friendly design. Unfortunately, my library copy is not the 2013 updated version - it instead dates from 1990, meaning that much of the book is taken up with discourse on those pesky office telephone hold systems and your impossible-to-program VCR.

The author is obsessed with the idea that kids were going to yank out cartridges without turning off the power first and fry the system, arguing that the console needed a "forcing function" preventing cartridges from being removed before the power was turned off. I'm sure some kids did this, and this StackExchange post claims that it can damage the system under very specific circumstances, but I don't recall this ever being a widespread issue, and I've never heard anyone online claim their NES was bricked by taking out the cartridge early. (Finding stories of bricked NESes is quite difficult, actually.)

I wonder: was this genuinely not a problem, or was the author overlooking other aspects of the design that discourage cartridge-ripping due to his unfamiliarity with the system? For one, given the expense of games at the time and how you learned to give practically any title you were bought or rented a chance, switching between games in the NES era during a play session was a relatively infrequent thing, not the fast cycling Apple Man thought. The door on top of the cartridge slot and having to push down on the cartridge to release it and take it out also slowed down the process of switching carts, discouraging quick changes. Plus, every NES kid came to know from experience that the contact between the cartridge and the NES was touchy, meaning that you had to be a little patient with taking cartridges in & out - lest your precious saved game be erased! Then there's the "hold RESET while you turn POWER off" business, plus often having to seat a cartridge a few times before that blue screen disappeared...and the legendary durability of Nintendo hardware.

I still wonder, though: did the Famicom have this problem, given its top-down design? Was the NES redesigned in part to address this potential issue? I know the NES was primarily fashioned to mimic a VCR and avoid at-the-time toxic associations with video game consoles - but was it a factor?

The book is not as illuminating as I hoped, concerning itself with a vague set of principles for usable design rather than more incisive case studies. Norman also argued me out of his "usability as king" philosophy, at least under his definition of the word, as it frequently ends up catering to the least aware users possible. Now I know who to blame for power buttons that never actually turn things off anymore.

What a mansion.

I ran across Creeping Terror recommended on a blog that ultimately praised it as a "modern Clock Tower," and that's depressingly apt, in the negative sense - it's every bit a product of the soulless app factory, devoid of extra effort or charm. The animations in the central pursuit & hiding mechanic are the same every time; the Scissorman equivalent - a roided-up Undertaker with spaghetti hair - will never dance in glee at winning a shoving match with the heroine or click his shears in frustration (or do an equivalent gesture with his shovel-weapon) when she eludes his grasp. A malevolent parrot will never rat out your location. There's no flavor text - you can barely interact with the environment - and almost no puzzles. Nothing that would impart character is included. Every expense was spared.

Creeping Terror is like Clock Tower in the way that, as the simile goes, getting hit by a car is like driving one - the same elements are present (car, person, road), but they're not doing the jobs they're supposed to. The game takes place in an abandoned manor, but the lack of interaction with your surroundings guts the central engine of Clock Tower's horror: the need to explore despite the danger of repeated interactions triggering an encounter with the killer. The game attempts to limits health recovery and light resources in survival-horror fashion, but since it was made with mobile sensibilities (even if no mobile version exists), there are health-restoring rations and batteries in every other room, so you'll never run out of resources or get caught in a tight spot where you have to, you know, focus on the game and can't put down your device. Never mind that this kills tension and suspense. The backgrounds are exceptionally dark, so much so that they actually work against the horror atmosphere: in two of the few moments when the game was actually trying to be scary, I couldn't recognize the dead bodies on screen as such until a second viewing because I COULDN'T SEE ANYTHING. The devs knew that horror games frequently have documents, but they didn't understand that they serve to tell a story in the deserted environments horror tales favor, so you're instead tracking down random papers offering gibberish that goes nowhere and imparts nothing. It's a student game where the student knew the words - um, some of the words, sometimes - but didn't have a clue about the music and couldn't carry a tune to save their skin.

I did like that expending energy to fend off a stalker depletes not only your health but your max stamina, making it progressively harder to run from your foe and more urgent to find a hiding spot. The watercolorish art style could've been something if visibility had been a priority for more than 2% of the game. The game does have a map, which is super-handy, but whenever you use or acquire an item, the second screen (very little conversion was done from the 3DS for the PC: see above) snaps back to your inventory, requiring a bit of button finagling to restore your setup, which is aggravating. The requirement for getting the true ending (B, for some reason) is ridiculous and near-impossible to find on one's own - once you encounter an elevator, stop and look up a guide. Also look up a guide for the game's lone puzzle at the end, as its mechanics aren't explained, and I spent a good time thinking it was glitched.

I suppose it says something admirable that Aksys brought over this mess, as it demonstrates an understanding that the market for Japanese titles is wide enough to support exporting more than just the very best, but man. Man.

I wonder if the title was inspired by the old Lovecraft text adventure The Lurking Horror, but given its origins, probably not.

After my experience with Kamaitachi no Yoru, I gave its immediate predecessor, Otogirisou, a spin. The title translates to "St. John's wort." The herb has more sinister associations in Japan, of which the main character will gladly inform you at the start of the game. I think he'd have a hard time reversing a few decades' worth of natural medicine PR in the States, though.

I expected a proof-of-concept for Kamaitachi no Yoru, but Otogirisou has its own identity, one that's pretty unique: not only will the plot branch depending on your choices, but the premise of the plot itself will change. Like, completely. In one playthrough, I was exploring the roots of an age-old curse from Bourgogne royalty that turned blood against blood. In another, the hero and heroine mainly concerned themselves with fleeing a giant killer fish. That walked on its hind fins. Somehow. Add this to the very modular nature of the opening developments - where your couple will explore the rooms of a creepy old manor one by one in pretty much the same sequence each time, but the spooks and scares encountered will change according to your choices and the options you've unlocked through previous playthroughs - and you've got a very replayable experience with a ton of content.

It sounds fun, and it is, but the stories end up kind of overly melodramatic or doofy, and the visual style (kinda-clunky Amiga-esque graphics) is limited, which is why I gave it the score I did. As with NightCry, I'm constantly questioning my own assessment, though. Like killer vending machines, ambulatory killer fish don't come along every day.

I was considering going through the twists & turns of the four scenarios I played, but I then realized: there are a lot of differences, and I'm not sure my memory can reliably pair events with playthroughs at this point. Otogirisou is no stranger to mixed-up narratives, though, so that post should be...in the future.

I keep a list of the games I finish & play every year in anticipation of putting together "best of the year" articles that I rarely ever write. In looking over these lists, though, I discovered another problem: I spend a lot of time on middling throwaway titles on Steam that are convenient diversions instead of the big stuff, the potentially great titles and the stuff that seems to speak to me that I've been meaning to get to but actually never do.

So: around the start of the year, I assembled a big Master List of the games I've been wanting to play, to target my focus. It's been...marginally successful, as you'll see. I'd wanted to finish - or at least attempt - all these games within a two-year period. I'm not exactly on schedule. (Games with an X, I've finished; games with an N, I've tried but abandoned.) I am, however, making more progress than I would otherwise.