My interest in Pokemon Go completely died when I hit level 20

Pokémon Go was a great experience. It really was. I wrote before about all the positive interactions I had with players, especially random people I met on the street. But as a game, Pokémon Go was quite lacking, and once I hit level 20 after a ton of grinding, my interest died.

Several factors contributed to this decline. The game’s concept is still amazing, and augmented reality has a bright future. But how do you sustain interest in a game that, fundamentally, isn’t that fun to play?

Now, saying Pokémon Go isn’t fun might be a little harsh. At first, the game was a ton of fun. Finding Pokémon in my front yard, in the supermarket, sitting on top of friend’s shoulders, in the park—that was exciting! As a kid, who didn’t imagine themselves walking through a forest, finding a Pokémon, and catching it? Pokémon Go made that fantasy a reality.

Many people complained about the substandard battle system in Pokémon Go, and those criticisms are relevant. But to me, the fun was in capturing Pokémon, evolving them, naming them, and helping them grow. Unfortunately, the game was severely unbalanced, and at times unfair, on all these mechanics.

To start, there are far too many Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, as this parody “Pokémon Go Rap” emphasizes:

Everybody learned early on that these Pokémon only had one value: to evolve them quickly to gain experience. Pidgeys and Weedles took 12 candies to evolve, giving players 500 XP. Rattatas took more candy, 25, but there are so many Rattatas I usually have a stockpile of candy in the triple digits.

Once people learned that these evolutions earned quick XP, they started to see the value in Lucky Eggs. This item doubles your experience for 30 minutes. The optimal game strategy is obvious: save your Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, use a Lucky Egg, then spend the next 30 minutes evolving everything in your bag, racking up thousands of XP.

Farming XP is essential to leveling up quickly. Like all RPGs, the amount of XP you needed for each level gradually increases, making leveling up slower. However, the higher levels are essential to finding better Pokemon.

And it’s in this grind that my motivation died. I did the Lucky Egg trick three times and made a concerted effort to hit level 20. That’s when you get access to Ultra Balls!

I also walked a TON. I logged 97.7 km, 2.3 km away from earning the silver Jogger badge. I hatched 27 eggs. Unfortunately, for all that effort, about half of the hatched eggs were useless Pokemon that I could find in the streets easily.

Everybody has their favorite Pokémon. Finding specific Pokémon, however, was next to impossible. It seemed like every other player but me had better Pokémon.

I wanted so bad to get all the Eevees. Eevee was always one of my favorite Pokémon. Every player that I met told me how easy it was to find Eevees.

Maybe not in my neighborhood.

I worked hard to get my measly 25 Eevee candy. The first evolution was Vaporeon, the second was Flareon. And I never worked hard enough to get the one I really wanted: Jolteon.

Pokémon Go also had a way of insultingly making your treasured Pokemon worthless. I would spend hours and hours catching Pokemon to get a new evolution. And then, after spending all that time getting your first version of an evolved form, like Butterfree, you walk outside and find a random Butterfree that has a higher Combat Power than the one you just invested in. Naturally, you send the weaker one back to the Professor.

A final issue that I had with Pokemon Go is that I was rarely able to compete in gym battles. It seemed like every time I found a gym it was already packed with Pokemon in the 2,000-3,000 CP range. I struggled just to get my Pokemon up to 1,000 CP!

My Pokemon team in Pokemon Go

These are my best Pokémon. It’s so sad that Pidgeot, a very common and weak Pokémon, is in my top three.

This is why I never play competitive online games, like Call of Duty or MMORPGs. There are always players out there who invest more time than me, who are objectively better than me at the game, and I can never compete.

That’s not to say I expect to win all the time: but it would’ve been nice to win more than 10 or so gym battles.

I hear there’s a new update to Pokémon Go that adds a lot of neat features. I’m sure it’s fun. But right now, I’m not ready to go back.

I realized right away, within the first week of Pokémon Go’s release, that the joy derived not so much from playing the game, but with being a part of a fad. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t describe Pokémon Go as a fad as a way of dismissing it! Fads are highly enjoyable, but by their very nature, they fade away.

It was fun to play the game when everybody else was playing.

It was fun to find strangers all over the city, in the park, in the airport, in the store, on campus, EVERYWHERE playing Pokémon Go. The game was an instant conversation starter, and each random conversation was a glimmer of hope that humanity is fundamentally goodhearted. While the faces of those strangers I met are starting to blur, those interactions will stay with me for a long time.

It was fun to discover new Pokémon for the first time, to get new evolutions.

It was fun to hear stories of kids catching 10 CP Pidgeots, and to see the little battle animation above gyms letting you know that somebody, RIGHT NOW, is near you fighting.

It was fun to meet a group of kids telling me to just go around the corner to catch a Spearow. I hadn’t seen a Spearow yet. I searched for it, and didn’t find it, but that’s okay. I felt like an explorer.

But the summer had to come to an end, and the school year started again. While my interest in the game is over for now, I don’t regret the dozens of hours I poured into the game.

For 20 years, Pokémon has seen fad after fad. When Red and Blue hit America, everybody in school was playing it. Then we were watching the anime. Then we saw the first movie in the theaters, and then the second movie, but I never saw any of the others. I played the card game for awhile, and then lost interest.

When Pokémon X and Y was released, I played that game for 4 hours a day for two months. It took me 100 hours just to complete the game because I spent so much time training my Pokémon, catching Pokémon, using Wonder Trade, and battling others.

Even the Twitch Plays Pokémon fad was a glorious 16 days.

And considering I never spent a dime on Pokémon Go, I can’t complain about the hours of enjoyment I had.

Game on,
~Dennis

What’s worse: Beating up Anita Sarkeesian or Donald Trump in a game?

In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian became an internet icon and firebrand following the success of her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games Kickstarter campaign. Soon after, Sarkeesian became the the target of repeated online harassment, becoming one of the centers of hate in the #GamerGate community.

Sarkeesian has been very open about sharing examples of the toxic hate she’s received, even to the present day. One of the early attacks took the form of an online game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” (this article contains screenshots of said game). The game allowed people to beat up a photo of Sarkeesian: the more beatings, the more her face got bloodied and bruised.

Many supporters of Sarkeesian rightfully pointed out how vile such a game was. While I may disagree with some of Sarkeesian’s analyses (see past posts), I don’t condone any of the harassment she’s experienced online. I’m sure she’s very nice in person and I’d probably have a great time playing Mario Kart 8 with her on the couch.

While many people condemned Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, I wondered recently: would those same people condemn “Beat Up Donald Trump” games?

Beat Up Donald Trump

Several of these games exist online. For example, Silvergames.com has “Beat Up Trump” and Unblocked Games Beast has “Punch The Trump“. Now, I’m not sure where these games originated or who made them. Both of these games appear on many different websites: Beat Up Trump even appears on a site specifically targeting girls: Girls Go Games!

Beat Up Donald Trump screenshot

Opening of Beat Up Trump

Hitting Trump with a flaming bottle in Beat Up Donald Trump

The player clicks on various weapons on the left, which assault Trump. There’s not much of a “game” here.

Donald Trump hate is rampant right now, for obvious reasons. I’m not here to discuss the politics of Trump or any other presidential candidate. I’m just making some observations. Games like Beat Up Trump fit into the same category as Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, and yet I’ve heard no condemnation from anybody.

In fact, on the site Girls Go Games, most of the commenters gleefully supported the game. Examples include:

  • HE DESERVES IT!
  • i love this game!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I’m crying… OF JOY
  • This is so beautiful
  • I HATE TRUMP!!!!!!!!!! 😄
  • DIE, TRUMP! DIEEEE!

In this mess of comments, a couple people thankfully thought the game went too far. One person wrote “i dont like him but this is pretty harsh he is just a person.”

He is just a person

For all of Trump’s bluster, for all of his money, for all of his privilege, he’s human just like everybody else. Despite being a 70-year-old man with a ton of experience in the public eye, it’s been clear this campaign season that Trump gets emotionally hurt by attacks and criticisms. I’m not sure why that is: I’m not in a position to psychoanalyze him.

Policy and rhetoric critiques aside, think of how many people bully Trump over his age, his “small” hands, his orange skin color, his hair. I’m almost certain that whenever Jimmy Fallon impersonates Trump he puts on orange face: but that’s okay, because Trump is white and deserves the ridicule, right?

I conducted numerous searches to see if anybody had written any op-eds critical of people who bully Trump based on his physical appearance. Such articles exist, but they are few and far in between. In fact, most of the articles that come up are about Trump insulting other people, and how he wrongly engages in personal attacks in excess.

He deserves all the criticism

The crux of these observations, then, hinge on Trump’s general unlikeability to many people. Because Trump is a billionaire, white, male, straight, and because he attacks others on a daily basis, people feel justified and confident in levying personal attacks against him. A game like Beat Up Trump is seen as par for the course. I imagine most people wouldn’t have a problem with the game. The reasoning might go: “Trump attacks everybody else. People are right to attack him back!”

And maybe so. Again, I’m not here to defend or critique Trump, and I’m not writing an apology of his personal attacks against others.

Punch Donald Trump screenshot

Punch The Trump is a fairly simple boxing game.

Punch The Trump screenshot

As the game progresses, Trump gets visibly injured.

All I’m pointing out is this: when the Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game made its rounds, many people saw it as sexist harassment. Journalists in the gaming press condemned it. The visuals of Sarkeesian’s bruised and bloodied face are so striking they still appear in articles about online bullying.

Such a game was obviously wrong to create, and if I was in Sarkeesian’s shoes, and somebody made such a game about me, I would be upset as well.

Where’s the outrage, then, when the exact same type of games are made for Trump? Honestly, I’m only focusing on Trump in this article to be provocative: some people do feel justified in hating him. Pick any celebrity you want: thousands of these games exist online, all free to play and easily accessible. Why were feminists enraged at the Sarkeesian game but are mum on the Trump games?

Some might argue that these games are harmless fun: the creator of Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian saw nothing wrong with his game. I’m not suggesting that anybody who plays these games will have any lasting detrimental effects: after all, I played these Trump games in research for this post!

I’m just not sure it’s good for our souls to spend even a few minutes playing games that demonize and torture real people. Whether you are a gamer who hates Sarkeesian, or a liberal who hates Trump, or an American who hates Osama bin Laden (dozens of “the best” anti-Osama games can be found on Newgrounds), can we agree not to play these games?

People are people, created and loved by God, despite any and all sins we’ve committed. Disagreeing with people’s ideas, even intensely, is sometimes necessary. Punishment is sometimes necessary for actual criminals. But why poison your mind by engaging in virtual torture of real people with real souls?

Game on,
~Dennis

8 neat things that happened playing Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go has been out for a month, and so far it’s taken the globe by storm. When I first saw the trailer, I was intrigued by the premise, but ultimately not that excited.

Then when the game came out and everybody was talking about it, I had to give it a try.

I’m glad I did. Despite so many server issues and glitches in the game, Pokémon Go is easily the best mobile game I’ve ever played.

Here are 8 neat things that happened to me while playing the game.

1. Finding Marjorie Bailey’s ghost

Okay, so this first story didn’t happen directly to me, but it’s the story that convinced me to download the game.

In college, me and five of my friends rented a house together. It was the first time this house had been rented, as the previous owner was a recently deceased old lady.

While looking through one of the drawers, we discovered an old campaign poster for a woman named Marjorie Bailey. We concocted a fantasy that Marjorie Bailey was the woman who died, and now haunted the house.

Fast forward seven years. My college friends and I had a reunion at my parents’ place. Before he came over, one of my former roommates drove past our old house.

And what did he find? A Ghastly in the front yard! He caught it, and promptly named it “MargeBailey.”

Her ghost exists after all!

Ghastly in Pokemon Go

2. Finding a Krabby in the seafood section

A couple days later, I downloaded the game on the way to the grocery store. I was with Mom, so my job was to push the cart. While in the store, I opened up the game. The first Pokémon I caught was a Krabby, conveniently sitting in the frozen seafood section!

Then I caught a Pidgey next to the chicken.

Krabby in Pokemon Go

3. Opening up my imagination

After that first experience catching Pokémon, I walked around my neighborhood, smartphone in hand. Pokémon kept popping up: Rattatas, Pidgeys, Caterpies, and Spearows. While the game has its flaws, still the most exciting aspect is imagining that Pokémon actually exist, and that they inhabit our world!

While I rarely play with Augmented Reality turned on, the camera feature is a nice touch. For a few moments, I get close to realizing a fantasy that’s been living in my head for 20 years.

Spearow in Pokemon Go

Rattata in Pokemon Go

Weedle in Pokemon Go

4. Finding my first lures

A friend and I had a couple hours to kill before dinner, so we took out our smartphones and started exploring downtown.

A couple minutes later we found a pack of teenagers roaming the city. They told us there was an Abra around the corner, and they were really excited that they caught it.

Abra in Pokemon Go

My friend and I went from Poké Stop to Poké Stop. I looked on the map and saw that one Poké Stop a few blocks away had drifting purple hearts over it. I knew this had to be a lure.

We went to the Stop, and sure enough, the kids we saw earlier had placed a lure. There was a second Poké Stop feet away, so they put a lure on that as well.

For the next 30 minutes, we caught Pokémon after Pokémon. And those lures attracted many others, players more experienced than us, who shared tips on how to get ahead.

We met a dozen people during that half hour. Almost everybody was the stereotypical nerd: a bit goofy looking, a bit socially awkward, but also entirely nice. I was in the company of my people, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with the game.

5. Meeting the boys at the mall

I learned early on that high population areas have more Poké Stops, and thus more Pokémon. My neighborhood was pretty barren, plus it was the height of summer, 90+ degrees outside. I headed to the local mall where activity was buzzing.

Upon entering the mall, I found two Poké Stops, each with lures on them. I sat down in the food court and started playing.

Within seconds, two boys and their father were standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. The game had been out less than a week, so most people still didn’t understand how it worked.

I showed the boys my Pokémon, and they watched as I caught a Pidgey and Spearow. They were so excited to see Pokémon pop up right in the food court! They hadn’t played the game yet, and likely didn’t have smartphones themselves.

But I suspect they asked their dad to download it on his smartphones as soon as they left the mall.

Pokemon Go

6. Playing Pokémon Go at church

A couple weeks after the game dropped, my church (Methodist) decided to get in on the action. The church was a Poké Stop, so one forward-looking congregant suggested hosting lure events on the front steps.

Every Sunday and Wednesday nights at 7 the church drops a lure. They have music playing and provide snacks and ice tea to anybody interested. Kids, along with their parents, come out to play. Even the pastor plays!

The lure events have been very successful. Sometimes people simply pass by, but for others it’s a friendly, nonthreatening way to talk to people at the church.

Spiritual conversations don’t happen often, but that’s okay. The church should touch peoples’ lives where they are at. What a great way to show the world that Christians can indeed play video games in a safe, healthy way.

Jigglypuff in Pokemon Go

7. Evolving my first Eevee

One of my all-time favorite Pokémon is Eevee. She’s so cute, and her ability to evolve into many different forms is so much fun.

Eevee in Pokemon Go

When I played Pokémon X and Y, I stuck my toe into the competitive waters. I’d always liked Jolteon, but this game cemented my love for Eevee. I trained a Jolteon and Vaporeon and picked all the right moves. They were the foundation of my fighting team.

Lots of Pokémon Go trainers have Jolteons, Vaporeons, and Flareons. But I have such difficulty finding Eevees!

Finally, after catching hundreds of Pokémon, I had enough Eevee candies to evolve. I spent the 25 candies, and got 950 CP Vaporeon! After training, my Vaporeon is at nearly 1100 CP, and still has room to grow.

Now I just need a Jolteon.

Vaporeon in Pokemon Go

8. Finding a board gaming group

Last night while hanging out at a Poké Stop I met a professor from the university. I met him last year, so I knew him well. He had just started playing the game, and Pokémon was a new concept to him.

We got talking, and he told me that he and his husband host a board gaming group with other professors from the university! I moved to Bloomsburg, PA a year ago and thus far haven’t had any success finding fellow board gamers.

When I lived in Florida (while getting my PhD) and in North Dakota (as an adjunct professor) I had great board gaming groups. That was one of the things I really missed when I came to PA.

Beedrill in Pokemon Go

But now it’s okay; I’ve found a group again! It’s amazing how Pokémon Go, at its best, is a conversation starter. It gives you something to talk about, whether it introduces you to new people, or introduces you to existing friends in new ways.

If you have had any fun experiences playing Pokémon Go, please share in the comments!

Game on,
~Dennis

Video: Visual storytelling in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

After writing three in-depth posts about the visual storytelling in World 1, World 2, and World 3 of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, I realized something: the blog format isn’t well suited for what I’m trying to explain. So I rectified that oversight by creating a more complete analysis, this time of the entire game, in video form!

This video was a lot of work, but I think it turned out well! Thanks to everybody who’s been following my posts thus far. I had a ton of fun making this video, so I’ve started a new YouTube channel for this blog: Dpad on YouTube. Please check out my video and let me know what you think!

I’ve been watching Let’s Play videos for several years now, and after being an admirer from afar, I decided to finally tackle this new method of analysis. In this post, I want to talk about what went into the creation of this video. I’m sure there are plenty of resources out there for Let’s Players. Here’s my perspective on what I went through in the creation of this first video.

Research

First, I needed to play the game again so that I knew what I was talking about! I’ve already played DKCTF extensively for the write-up of the previous posts, but I went through the game for the umpteenth like, making notes on each level I played. I did this without capturing any footage; the focus at this stage was just to get information, and to figure out what footage I needed to capture.

I also played bits and pieces of the previous Donkey Kong Country games, as I knew I wanted to make comparisons to Tropical Freeze.

Gathering the assets

Next, I needed the assets: that is, the audio and visuals needed to make the video happen. I captured footage with the Hauppauge HD PVR Rocket. There are probably more sophisticated game recorders out there, but this one seemed intuitive to use and was fairly inexpensive at $140. That said, before I started gathering my assets, I played around with this recorder for a couple hours, learning how it connected to the system, troubleshooting errors that came up, and experimenting with short videos to see how big the file sizes were.

Once all that was out of the way, I played through each level, starting and stopping the recorder for each level so that I could better organize the data. Some levels I played all the way through, especially those levels where I knew I would be taking about them extensively. Other levels I knew I wouldn’t devote much time to analyzing them, so I played until I died, sometimes only 30 seconds.

One great feature of many games is the ability to adjust the volume of the music and sound effects independently. In 25 years of playing video games, I’ve never found a use for these options. But for this project, they came in handy! I turned the music all the way down, recording only sound effects. I knew that when I put the video together, I would have music playing on a separate track from the gameplay footage.

Then I needed to capture music. I readjusted the settings—turning the music all the way up and the sound all the way down. Luckily, DKCTF has many unlockables in the game, like soundtracks. I recorded 2-3 soundtracks from each world, usually for 3-4 minutes so that I had plenty of music to work with. The game doesn’t let you unlock all the soundtracks, so in a few cases I went to specific levels to record the music I needed.

Finally, I gathered some footage from the previous games in the series: DKC, DKC2, DKC3, and DKC Returns. I had the SNES games on the Virtual console, so I played them right from my Wii U. I also had DKC Returns on disc. No emulators were used in the creation of this video!

Recording the scripts

With all assets gathered, next it was time to write the scripts. This was a challenge for me: any follower of my blog knows that I write lengthy posts! The difference between reading and speaking, though, is that somebody can read something much faster than speaking the same words out loud.

The final script was over 6,000 words long! I tried to limit my discussion of each world to around 600-700 words, plus there was a little extra to introduce and conclude the video.

The scripts written, the next step was to record the voiceover. I purchased the Snowball iCE USB microphone by Blue from Best Buy. The mic is pretty good quality for $50. I figured, before I buy a ton of expensive equipment that I might not even use, it’s best to start with fairly inexpensive equipment and improve it over time should I really get into making this videos.

I recorded the scripts in chunks, only 2-3 sentences at a time. If I tried speaking longer than that, I usually stumbled over my words! I recorded the audio in Audacity, a free, open-source audio editor. After recording each segment, I combined the segments into one track, spacing my sentences apart as naturally as I could.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the voice-over work in this video. If I made the video again, I would spend more time editing my scripts for word choices (I tend to repeat certain words and phrases a few times, which makes the voice-over sound redundant in parts) and I would’ve rerecorded some of the sections so that the cadence was more natural.

Preparing the video

With all this prep work complete, it was time to put the video together! I edited the video with Adobe Premiere. I don’t own the program myself, but I’m a professor in a Mass Communication department, so I have access to this program on the school’s computers. I’ve used video editing software before, mostly Sony Vegas, but Adobe Premiere was considerably more sophisticated than Vegas. Fortunately, Google is a good friend! Typing in “How do I do XXX in Adobe Premiere” taught me a lot!

With the project open, I started by laying down my voice-over tracks. Then, I created text overlays for all the level names in the game. I relistened to my voice-overs, had whenever I started discussing a new level or world, I dropped a text overlay at the appropriate place.

Then I laid down the music. Each song would play long enough to cover the analysis of 4-5 levels of a given world. I think there are 15 tracks total in this video. I couldn’t have the music competing with my voice-overs, so I adjusted the audio so that the voice-overs were the loudest, and the music was quieter.

Finally, I was ready to sequence the game footage. I started at the beginning of the video and worked through to the end. I imported the videos, adjusted the volume so that the sound effects were quieter than the music, then cut the video into pieces, depending on what I discussed in the voice-overs.

I didn’t use all the footage from each level, so if I had unused footage, I put it toward the back of the timeline, as I knew I would need some general filler footage for the intro and conclusion to the video. By the time I got to editing the conclusion, I had a couple dozen clips to choose from. Almost no video repeats itself on this project!

Of course, there were several snafus I had to overcome in the creation of this project. Sometimes I forgot to record a tiny section of gameplay, or my voice-over just wasn’t good enough so I rerecorded it. Sometimes the video wasn’t displaying properly in the editor, so I had to fix it. And exporting the video took a few tries until I was satisfied with the final result.

Overall, I estimate that it took about 40 hours to produce this 37 minute video! Hopefully in the future, now that I’ve been through the process once, I can produce videos faster!

Since I am so pleased with how this first video turned out, for my next project I’m going to analyze the visual storytelling in the first Donkey Kong Country game: how did the inaugural entry to the series tell its story?

Stay turned for more videos, and more blog posts!

Game on,
~Dennis

Storytelling thru Gameplay: World 3 of Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

In this post we’ll continue our examination of the visual storytelling behind Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. In previous posts we examined the storytelling in World 1 and World 2 and discovered that, if you look at each level’s backgrounds, enemy placements, and themes, you can learn much about DK’s quest to return to his frozen homeland.

Let’s get started!

An African homecoming

World 3, Bright Savannah, is a welcome addition to the Country series’ themes. While we’ve seen plenty of jungles in the DKC series, a natural habitat for gorillas and monkeys, we haven’t seen the savannah before. The first level, Grassland Groove, has such a happy vibe to it that it really contrasts with the previous worlds, especially the Lost Mangroves.

We see a few Snowmads in this level, but they are relatively peaceful. Considering the dancing trees, the chanting voices, and the frequent fireworks, Grassland Groove doesn’t seem to care about the conflict between DK and the Snowmads!

In the background we see several houses, though it’s not certain who lives in them. In the previous world, Autumn Heights, it was clearly established that the homes were the refuge of the owls.

Grassland Groove

Grassland Groove

The inhabitants of Grassland Groove, whoever they are (the flying chickens?) have a rich culture, as seen with the animal totems and fireworks.

Grassland Groove

Grassland Groove

By the last third of the level, the backgrounds open up to reveal miles and miles of unspoiled grasslands. While some culture outside of DK and the Snowmads live in the Bright Savannah, their impact on the land is minimal. As I gazed upon these soaring vistas, I felt like the Snowmads could make a life here without disrupting the current ecosystem.

Grassland Groove

The level ends with DK on top of giant totems. The sun shines, the music swells, and the chorus sings “Donnnnkeyyyy Kongggg!”

Grassland Groove

As we’ll see later in this post, the Snowmads don’t have such a respectful approach to the Savannah as this level might suggest. In fact, this level might have worked better as World 1-1. This optimistic level, the best one in the game with a complete through line, would’ve been the perfect way to begin the game.

A harsh landscape

In level 3-2, Baobab Bonanza, we learn firsthand what a difficult terrain the Bright Savannah is. The baobabs are trees that release giant, crushing seeds. Not only do DK and the Snowmads have to contend with the plant life, but also the high rocks, waterfalls, and charging water buffalo. It’s survival of the fittest in the Savannah!

Baobab Bonanza

Baobab Bonanza

There’s little evidence that any particular culture lives here—monkey, Snowmad, or otherwise. The threat of three-story tall seeds probably has something to do with that.

Baobab Bonanza

In 3-3, Frantic Fields, we see that the Snowmads have indeed established a firm presence on the Savannah. Grassscapes extend from horizon to horizon. While both the Snowmads and DK caused me a bit of consternation in World 2 for their mutual destruction of the owl’s culture, I’m fine with the Snowmads taking up residence here.

However, they learn right away that this land isn’t for the feint of heart and weak of will. A mighty windstorm rises up, threatening to undo their progress.

Frantic Fields

Frantic FieldsThe numerous Snowmad flags show that they’ve been here for a while, and they intend to keep this land as their own, like imperial conquerors.

Frantic Fields

Their ambitions, though, are checked when pieces of their bridges and structures are torn away by tornadoes.

Frantic Fields

The native fauna don’t seem to be putting up too much of a fight against the Snowmads. Additionally, they aren’t rushing to join their cause either, like the owls did in Autumn Heights. The animals have enough problems of their own. Just look at this water buffalo tumbling end over end through the windstorm!

Frantic Fields

That scene just cracks me up. 🙂

The environmental challenges increase in 3-4, Scorch ‘n’ Torch. As far as I can tell, there’s no evidence of any cultures that live in this level. We don’t see homes like in Grassland Groove, and we don’t seen wooden forts like in Frantic Fields. It appears that in the burning land, anybody who can survive can claim it as home.

Scorch 'n' Torch

The Snowmad penguins seem oddly complacent in the land of fire. Considering fire isn’t the natural habitat of the penguin, I’m not sure if these penguins are resigned to their fate on the Savannah or if they are that confident they can survive in the face of overwhelming odds against them.

Scorch 'n' Torch

Jackpot! The Snowmads find fish

In level 3-5, Twilight Terror, the visual storytelling gets a lot more interesting. This is a pseudo-water level. Given that the Snowmads are a seafaring nation, and comprised primarily of water-loving animals, Twilight Terror showcases the first part of the Bright Savannah that’s actually suited to their needs and desires. In fact, of all the levels so far, the shores of Twilight Terror are the most fitting home for the Snowmads.

And boy have they settled in. A series of dams, cranes, and structures cover the landscape. The Snowmads have set up shop in a big way.

Twilight Terror

These waters prove bountiful. The Snowmads lift net after net of beautiful, glistening fish from the sea.

Twilight Terror

The Snowmads have even set up some sort of processing (or canning?) operation, perhaps to send much needed supplies to places like the Lost Mangroves.

Twilight Terror

In 3-6, Cannon Canyons, we find the largest Snowmad base yet. This sprawling city, extending high into the air and through every canyon, shows that the Snowmads mean business. This city is a large contrast to the more modest camps seen in previous levels. Perhaps with the huge supply of fish close by, the Snowmads figure they can make a life here on the Savannah.

Cannon Canyons

While the Snowmads had trouble settling the land in earlier Savannah levels, by 3-6, they’ve proven that they have the engineering expertise needed to survive.

DK, though, does everything in his power to blast through their walls and towers, doing some damage to their city.

Cannon Canyons

Cannon Canyons

Cannon Canyons

Maybe if the Snowmads didn’t construct their DK traps out of dynamite, they could’ve avoided some of this damage. 🙂

Despite the threat posed by DK, and the numerous anti-DK signs everywhere (the red ties on shields with a line through them), some Snowmads apparently find time to rest. Inside the building to the right of DK in the following screencap, a penguin sleeps peacefully. It’s hard to tell in the screencap, but in motion, you can see the penguin’s chest rise and fall as his head rests on his plump belly.

Cannon Canyons

In 3A, Rickety Rafters, the Snowmads continue to build their civilization. They create numerous mechanical contraptions and homes on stilts, and at first, it’s not clear what they are trying to accomplish.

Rickety Rafters

Rickety Rafters

In the middle of the level, we get a glimpse at what these machines might be for. Three Snowmadic ships are hanging suspended in the air. This, however, is only a partial explanation. Why hoist the ships so high? While it’s a neat visual, I’m not sure how it fits with the wider storytelling on display in this world. If you look at the Level Select map before entering the level, there isn’t even any water nearby.

Rickety Rafters

The Snowmads can’t survive everywhere

Level 3-B, Bramble Scramble, shows that the Snowmads are still having some trouble on the Bright Savannah. Thorns cover the level from top to bottom: almost nobody lives here, though a few penguins are seen wandering around. This level, much like Baobab Bonanza, shows that the Snowmads can’t adapt to every environment.

Bramble Scramble

Bramble Scramble

Just like the other worlds, a secret monkey temple was constructed on the Bright Savannah long ago. In 3-K, Precarious Pendulums, we find that the Snowmads have raided another temple.

This temple features many movable contraptions, though I don’t think the Snowmads made them, despite their engineering prowess. Considering the deep scratch marks in the stone walls, these devices have been here for some time.

Precarious Pendulums

What’s interesting about these temples is that, while Snowmad imagery like flags drape the interior, they seem like they were hastily hung up. Given the emptiness of these temples, it’s probable that the Snowmads already raided these temples of their treasures long before DK arrived.

Precarious Pendulums

Precarious Pendulums

Silly monkeys with their bananas

DK and crew arrive at the final boss to find their bananas stolen again. While previous boss battles have featuredcrowds of Snowmads eagerly watching the conflict, the this arena is relatively sparse. Only a few penguins sit in the stands.

Triple Trouble

Do they not see DK as a threat? Are they bored with these staged fights? Or do they have more important things to do? Considering how industrious they’ve been in building cities, cranes, and fish nets, the Snowmads might be too tired on the Bright Savannah to give entertainment much thought.

The enemies this time are three apes, decked out with Snowmad helmets.

Triple Trouble

Given that monkeys aren’t seen elsewhere in the game as enemies, it seems to me that these monkeys are screwing around, having some fun with DK, rather than siding with the Snowmads the way the owls did in Autumn Heights. Monkeys naturally compete over food in the wild, and given the taunting attitude of these monkeys, I’m guessing they put the Snowmad helmets on as a way of taunting the penguins.

Maybe that’s why nobody’s in the stands.

Overall, the Bright Savannah has some interesting contradictions as far as storytelling goes. On the one hand, I think this world’s bright opening would’ve made it much better suited as World 1 than World 3, especially since the theme in World 1 isn’t that memorable. The first few levels show a surprising balance between the Snowmad civilization and the native animals.

As the world progresses, though, the Snowmad civilization really gets established in a much more effective and permanent way than in the previous two worlds, justifying the Bright Savannah’s placement as World 3. The Snowmads cut their teeth in World 1, and ultimately realized, as did past civilizations, that the Mangroves are uninhabitable. In World 2 they recruited the owls, in part because of DK’s violence against the owl culture.

Now in World 3, the Snowmads have established a firm presence. Will the Bright Savannah serve as a launching point for the conquest of more islands? We’ll see next time as we explore the storytelling of World 4: Sea Breeze Cove!

Game on,
~Dennis