Promotional art: Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night/Castlevania Crypt
Keyboard GeniusesKeyboard Geniuses is our occasional glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the community’s discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity.  

Let’s Playlist!

The latest edition of Let’s Playlist, our feature where the Gameological staff and community assemble a themed set of great video game music, was dedicated to celebrating the 30th anniversary of Castlevania. With the staff’s initial 12-song list, we wanted to represent all the eras and sounds of Castlevania, painting a musical history of the series and its evolution. We’ve expanded on that with the community’s favorite tunes, bringing the playlist to a whopping 40 songs from 21 different games. You can listen to it here using the embedded video above, or you can check it out track by track over on YouTube. Here are the reader nominations:

Take It Easy

Screenshot: Hotel Dusk: Room 215

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This week, Anthony John Agnello led a remembrance of Cing, the defunct developer best known by the mystery games it created for Nintendo, Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory, aka Another Code. Their most remarkable quality, Anthony argued, is how they managed to be compelling stories despite devoting so much of their time to the tedium of everyday life. “It would be boring if it didn’t feel so natural,” he wrote. Down in the comments, Wolfman Jew notes this is one of the more effective ways Hotel Dusk evokes its film noir influences:

Of all of Cing’s games, I’ve only played Hotel Dusk, and one of the things this article expresses really nicely is how much that game evokes classic film noir. The majority of neo noir works, from Sin City to LA Noire, often fetishize the excitement or sexiness of those stories, but they completely excise the sense of dread that defined earlier noir movies. It’s all about the gunfights or action, but those things were small parts of classic noirs, if they were in them at all.

By contrast, Hotel Dusk—whose cinematic aspirations can be seen in, among other things, the manager being a dead ringer for Robert De Niro—goes much more for the turgid pacing and intense weight, the feeling of struggling to find a light switch in the dark. It’s rare to find games that do this that aren’t survival horror, and even then those are much more action-packed than Hotel Dusk. But that inaction is far more compelling in this case than if it were more eventful. It feels much more like a “real” mystery than, say, the Layton games, where the puzzles are more contrived or elaborate.

I don’t think Kyle is quite as disaffected by the events of the game as Anthony suggests. It’s more that he’s resigned to the reality of what transpires. That’s another thing films like Force Of Evil, Ace In The Hole, and The Big Sleep were often about. People changed (often for the worse), but the world was much bigger than them and just keeps moving. It’s still a compelling mystery, with drama and satisfaction, but it’s not really treated as the be-all and end-all of things because it really isn’t going to alter the lives of the people in the story. The best thing Kyle can possibly get out of his search is maybe closure, and even then, it’s more out of desperation.

But that’s not really “normal” for game design, which often stresses an abundance of action or import, and most likely why the few of us who played Hotel Dusk found it as compelling as we did. Truth be told, it gets boring after a while to be the hero or the villain, and it’s nice to play something so that’s comfortable with what it’s trying to be.

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Unexpected Dave remembered a scene that was Hotel Dusk at peak banality and power:

The scene from Hotel Dusk that sticks with me the most is the dinner scene. There’s no feeling quite like the mix of boredom and awkwardness that you get while you’re waiting for your meal when dining alone. There’s no one to talk to, and you never think to bring something to read. All you can do is look around and wait. The game really managed to capture that feeling, and that sense of relief and satisfaction when the meal finally does come. Years later, I can still taste that delicious steak with garlic butter, despite never actually eating it.

And Venerable Monk lauded these moments of dull verisimilitude in other games:

I never had the chance to play these games, but I’ve always been fascinated by moments of dull realism in the games I play. Folks mock the way you can brush your teeth or use the toilet in Heavy Rain, but those parts of the game fascinated me way more than the action and intrigue parts. It might just be that sense of filling empty time, something we do every day, that interests me, or it might be that most video games (and really most entertainment) deliberately ignore mundane tasks like making scrambled eggs before you can eat them. I like to think that I’m contributing to the characterization and deciding for myself what some of the protagonist’s mannerisms are, which is something that you can’t really do in other scripted media.

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DL elaborated on that with another cinematic comparison

It reminds me of movies from the first half of the last century, where a scene would open with an empty room, lingering for a two or three seconds before the phone in the foreground rang on a small desk/console. A woman would enter the scene, slipping on her house coat as she crossed from the other side of the room, take a seat at the table, cross her legs, remove her slip-on earring, then answer the phone on the seventh or eighth ring.

Scenes lingered so much longer back then, likely a throwback to the live theater where every scene occurred in its entirety. I can’t help but be fascinated watching these films, wondering how people didn’t get bored and walk out. Watching them is almost like time travel, where you are transported to that place and are living in that scene with the characters. There’s time to embrace detail, from the wisps of cigarette smoke to the etched pattern of the whisky decanter. Those mundane actions are left front and center the way they are when you’re really chatting with a friend—and neither of you are checking your phone.

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And elsewhere, WoodSword asked for recommendations of other games that are similarly uneventful. Otakunomike pointed out that the visual novel genre tends to fall in this camp:

A lot of visual novels can get pretty meandering between plot moments. Kagetsu Tohya and Fate: Hollow Ataraxia are essentially 80 percent wandering around talking to people, doing silly little unimportant things, and only occasionally stumbling into something that actually advances the plot. And at least in the case of Fate, the main story is probably the least interesting thing in the game. The scenes of you going to the pool or telling ghost stories with your friends are far more worthwhile.

And Pak-Man remembered what might the king of games with a realistic pace:

The dawdling adds so much atmosphere to Shenmue. “Well, I need to get revenge for my father’s muder, but first I’ve got to go to work down at the docks. Maybe swing by the convenience store on the way there and hit up the capsule toy machines. Then I should really ask the patch salesman where sailors hang out.”

He’s after revenge, but he has a life too, you know? There are lots of games you can play in, but you live in Shenmue.

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That’ll do it for this week, folks. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you again next week!