Friday, August 27, 2010

The Suicide King

Modern playing cards are filled with layers of meaning and symbology that can be traced back centuries. The four kings, for example, are based off of real rulers: the king of diamonds represents the wealthy Julius Caesar, the king of clubs is the brutal Alexander the Great, Spades represents the strong but kind David of Israel and Hearts represents the… emotionally disturbed, shall we say, Charles VII of France. It is this king that we will be dealing with today. It should also be noted that Charles was the only one of the four who was actually there to see the day that his face was printed on a playing card, which may rationalize why he acted apart from the others.

Charles’ visage was put on the king of hearts at the very beginning of his rule, but he never really got a chance to come into contact with playing cards until many years later when he became very ill with a fever and was informed that he would be bedridden for the rest of his life. It was during this period that Charles began learning card games to pass the time, such as an early version of black jack, “vingt-et-un” (twenty one).

Charles lay in his bed for two years, constantly fiddling with the cards and always getting weaker. As time continued to pass, there were reports that Charles had begun obsessing over the idea that the king being the thirteenth card in a suit was causing him bad luck. He talked about how he was starting to see the number pop up everywhere and that he was close to figuring out its secret. Of course, his ramblings were blamed on the fever, and by the end of the second year, he had been declared insane, and his son Louis XII took over the thrown.

One day, several months after the end of his reign, one of Charles’ physicians went to his chamber to find the frail old man standing in the middle of the room wielding a large sword. Before the doctor could react, the king said, “Ils m’ont montré la vérité de treize, et il n’est pas signifié pour les yeux mortels.” which roughly translates to, “They have shown me the truth of thirteen, and it is not meant for mortal eyes.” Without hesitation the king proceeded to ram the blade in through the left side of his head (between the ear and temple) until it came out the other side.

He wavered a moment, before collapsing to the floor dead.

After the incident was announced and it was made public that the king had gone mad, the image of Charles on the king of hearts was altered to show himself offing himself. Although the picture is now shown significant-ly less graphically, the image of Charles thrusting the sword into his skull can still be found on modern day playing cards. Perhaps the strangest part of the whole story, however, is the day that Charles chose to kill himself: 7/6/1462. Whether or not it was intentional of the king, the facts that 6+7=13 and 1+4+6+2=13 can only be explained as coincidences.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Awesome pokemon game

I’m what you could call a collector of bootleg Pokémon games. Pokémon Diamond & Jade, Chaos Black, etc. It’s amazing the frequency with which you can find them at pawnshops, Goodwill, flea markets, and such.

They’re generally fun; even if they are unplayable (which they often are), the mistranslations and poor quality make them unintentionally humorous.

I’ve been able to find most of the ones that I’ve played online, but there’s one that I haven’t seen any mention of. I bought it at a flea market about five years ago.

Here’s a picture of the cartridge, in case anyone recognizes it. Unfortunately, when I moved two years ago, I lost the game, so I can’t provide you with screencaps. Sorry.

The game started with the familiar Nidorino and Gengar intro of Red and Blue version. However, the “press start” screen had been altered. Red was there, but the Pokémon did not cycle through. It also said “Black Version” under the Pokémon logo.

Upon selecting “New Game”, the game started the Professor Oak speech, and it quickly became evident that the game was essentially Pokémon Red Version.

After selecting your starter, if you looked at your Pokémon, you had in addition to Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle another Pokémon — “GHOST”.

The Pokémon was level 1. It had the sprite of the Ghosts that are encountered in Lavender Tower before obtaining the Silph Scope. It had one attack — “Curse”. I know that there is a real move named Curse, but the attack did not exist in Generation 1, so it appears it was hacked in.

Opposing Pokémon were unable to attack Ghost — it would only say they were too scared to move. When the move “Curse” was used in battle, the screen would cut to black. The cry of the opposing Pokémon would be heard, but it was distorted, played at a much lower pitch than normal. The battle screen would then reappear, and the opposing Pokémon would be gone. If used in a battle against a trainer, when the Pokéballs representing their Pokemon would appear in the corner, they would have one fewer Pokéball.

The implication was that the Pokémon died.

What’s even stranger is that after defeating a trainer and seeing “Red received $200 for winning!”, the battle commands would appear again. If you selected “Run”, the battle would end as it normally does. You could also select Curse. If you did, upon returning to the overworld, the trainer’s sprite would be gone. After leaving and reentering the area, the spot where the trainer had been would be replaced with a tombstone like the ones at Lavender Tower.

The move “Curse” was not usable in all instances. It would fail against Ghost Pokémon. It would also fail if it was used against trainers that you would have to face again, such as your Rival. It was usable in your final battle against them, however.

I figured this was the gimmick of the game, allowing you to use the previously uncapturable Ghosts. And because Curse made the game so easy, I essentially used it throughout the whole adventure.

The game changed quite a bit after defeating the Elite Four. After viewing the Hall of Fame, which consisted of Ghost and a couple of very under leveled Pokémon, the screen cut to black. A box appeared with the words “Many years later…” It then cut to Lavender Tower. An old man was standing, looking at tombstones. You then realized this man was your character.

The man moved at only half of your normal walking speed. You no longer had any Pokémon with you, not even Ghost, who up to this point had been impossible to remove from your party through depositing in the PC. The overworld was entirely empty — there were no people at all. There were still the tombstones of the trainers that you used Curse on, however.

You could go pretty much anywhere in the overworld at this point, though your movement was limited by the fact that you had no Pokémon to use HMs. And regardless of where you went, the music of Lavender Town continued on an infinite loop. After wandering for a while, I found that if you go through Diglett’s Cave, one of the cuttable bushes that normally blocks the path on the other side is no longer there, allowing you to advance and return to Pallet Town.

Upon entering your house and going to the exact tile where you start the game, the screen would cut to black.

Then a sprite of a Rattata appeared. It was the replaced by a Pidgey, and then a Caterpie. I soon realized, as the Pokémon progressed from Metapod to Onix, that these were all of the Pokémon that I had used Curse on.

After the end of my Rival’s team, a Youngster appeared, and then a Bug Catcher. These were the trainers I had Cursed.

Throughout the sequence, the Lavender Town music was playing, but it was slowly decreasing in pitch. By the time your Rival appeared on screen again as the Champion, it was little more than a demonic rumble.

Another cut to black. A few moments later, the battle screen suddenly appeared — your trainer sprite was now that of an old man, the same one as the one who teaches you how to catch Pokémon in Viridian City.

Ghost appeared on the other side, along with the words “GHOST wants to fight!”.

You couldn’t use items, and you had no Pokémon. If you tried to run, you couldn’t escape. The only option was “FIGHT”.

Using fight would immediately cause you to use Struggle, which didn’t affect Ghost but did chip off a bit of your own HP. When it was Ghost’s turn to attack, it would simply say “…” Eventually, when your HP reached a critical point, Ghost would finally use Curse.

The screen cut to black a final time.

Regardless of the buttons you pressed, you were permanently stuck in this black screen. At this point, the only thing you could do was turn the Game Boy off. When you played again, “NEW GAME” was the only option — the game had erased the file.

I played through this hacked game many, many times, and every time the game ended with this sequence. Several times I didn’t use Ghost at all, though he was impossible to remove from the party. In these cases, it did not show any Pokémon or trainers and simply cut to the climactic battle with Ghost.

I’m not sure what the motives were behind the creator of this hack. It wasn’t widely distributed, so it was presumably not for monetary gain. It was very well done for a bootleg.

It seems he was trying to convey a message; though it seems I am the sole receiver of this message. I’m not entirely sure what it was — the inevitability of death? The pointlessness of it? Perhaps he was simply trying to morbidly inject death and darkness into a children’s game. Regardless, this children’s game has made me think, and it has made me cry.


What do?