Thursday, December 29, 2016

Analogue: A Hate Story (Or, Joseon Korea in Space!)

It seems that Korea and Koreans are represented pretty well in the indie game market. Dust: An Elysian Tail, by half-Korean developer Dean Dodrill, incorporates a number of Korean elements in the story and design and has sold over a million copies. On a smaller scale, the visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story from Love Conquers All Games is explicitly based on Korean history. In case the hanbok and Hangul on the box art didn't clue you in:

Image courtesy Raide and Love Conquers All Games
The idea is that you are some kind of cyberpunk data hunter. For this job, you've been tasked with fishing out information from a long-abandoned space colonizing vessel, the Mugunghwa, which was originally launched in some unknown year by the (obviously fictional) United Korea Space Federation.

Mugungwha at a grave site in Uijeongbu, South Korea
As you work with the computer's AI system and access the ship's logs from high-ranking passengers, the science fiction background quickly takes shape: Joseon Korea in space! A cool conceit, but I would have loved to see it explored more in depth. I appreciate that Love tried, however, and it's pretty obvious that she is deeply interested in the topic—the game is available in Korean as well as English, so it might be a fun way to get in some language practice? Even though Love isn't Korean, she obviously did her research (and very helpfully names it in the credits!). But there are Korean scholars out there who are better equipped than I am to comment on the accuracy of her portrayal. Anyway, on to the game itself!

During the job you interact with two different AIs, who show you different logs from the long-dead residents of the Mugunghwa. Those logs comprise the story of Analogue. There are also dating sim overtones, as your dialogue choices with the AIs determine if you leave the job with none, one, or both of them downloaded to your own computer. More importantly, your choices dictate which logs they decide to show you. The easiest way to "hack" the game is to remember to show every log to both AIs. (You can't talk to the AIs directly; the game's conceit is that you communicate by answering their yes/no questions and showing them log entries you want to know more about.)

There's also a small but significant element of the story that takes place in a faux-*nix command line, which tickles me to no end (as a Linux user myself). This is where the game's one and only puzzle comes up, and it's a bit of a doozy. I thought it was, anyway; I had to look up a solution online.

Analogue is generally pretty forgiving. You can't really die—I guess maybe only if you don't solve the puzzle you can, but that's it. Your choices aren't so critical, either. This isn't to say that none of them matter. If you're too rude to Hyun-ae (the main AI), or too disinterested in her, she'll disconnect and you'll lose the game. If you neglect to talk to the AIs (by showing them certain logs), you won't unlock all of the content, and you certainly won't be able to finish the game. But otherwise, you can't really lose.

As the story is presented achronistically (achronologically?), it's hard to tell what's happening at first. This is a point in the game's favor, as it makes repeated play-throughs more rewarding. I don't think I really understood things until I unlocked my third or fourth ending (out of seven total).

It's important to save! There comes a point in the story, maybe like halfway or two-thirds in, where you're railroaded into finishing the game with whatever AI you're engaging with at the moment; if you want to get the other AI's ending(s) and you haven't saved in good time, you'll have to start from the beginning.

Overall it's cute. I don't think it's quite as holy shit!! as some of the breathless reviews on the website make it out to be, but I think it's a mildly interesting story presented in a really clever and creative way. I would have loved to see more backstory and less dating sim, but maybe she tackles that in the sequel, Hate Plus.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Park Geun Hye's Downfall

Damn, y'all. What a time to not be in South Korea. This is the kind of thing I would have loved to talk about with my students, at least to hear their perspective.

When you're the first minority anything (or at least the first in an official capacity—black people were playing baseball before Jackie Robinson, and so on), the burden is on you to not fuck it up. Beyond that, the burden is on you to be unbelievably good at what you're doing. Twice as good for half the credit, as the expression goes.

As the US is on the brink of its first woman president (knock on wood, get out the vote, etc.), and as I left the country almost four years ago (where does the time go?!), it's a little shitty of me to sit high and mighty and talk about Korea's patriarchal society and its relationship with Park. From a distance, her presidency has looked a little troubled, but I don't know the details. But it's not the details I'm interested in at this point (or well, I am, but you know), but the ramifications.

The next woman to run for office in South Korea is going to have to contend with this shitshow. It doesn't matter which party she's in, or her career up to that point, or how long it's been—the pundits will all bring up Park Geun Hye. Whether it's a favorable or unfavorable comparison doesn't matter; thanks to this scandal, it'll be hard work to come out of the shadow of Park's legacy.