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Looking Back at ‘Contact’: An Unsung Hero of the Nintendo DS

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ContactDS

The Nintendo DS was a powerhouse of innovation. The dual-screen technology opened up a multitude of unique possibilities that hadn’t been seen on a portable system, ever. With the library of hundreds upon hundreds of games, some are bound to fail to gain the recognition that they rightfully deserve- and one of these games was Contact: an action-RPG that utilizes both the DS’ hardware and the platform of gaming itself in truly fantastic ways. Developed by art-game architects Grasshopper Manufacture, this title offers a great experience that should not go unnoticed. We will be looking at the various unique aspects of this game, including its thought-provoking ending. With that being said, there will be spoilers from here on out, so if you haven’t experienced Contact and would like to do so with untainted eyes, please stop reading now and play it. You won’t regret it.

Contact tells the story of a young boy named Terry who awakens on an island. Terry is silent, and not much is said about him. He is contacted by an old man called “The Professor”, but instead of talking to Terry, this old man addresses the player directly. And herein lies one of the game’s main unique qualities: the direct involvement of the player in the game’s storyline. The Professor is communicating to you, the player in the real world, to control Terry. The player then guides Terry around by tapping the screen and issuing him commands, but technically, the player is simply playing as their real-world selves. On the top screen, you can see the Professor and his dog-that-thinks-it’s-a-cat, Mochi. The bottom screen displays the world of Terry. Each screen encompasses a unique world and has a unique art style to it, with the world of the professor taking on a pixelated look, and the world of Terry taking on a beautiful, realistic painting style. The Nintendo DS acts as a communication device through which the Professor can contact the player, and then the player can then contact Terry on the bottom screen, following the commands of the Professor. Contact indeed.

contactIf that last description sounded rather meta, that’s okay, because that is the very nature of the experience. This fourth-wall breaking mechanic that the entire game is based around leads to a number of truly memorable moments, including an ending that turns the entire adventure on its head. Once you have collected all of the power cells, the main collectible of the game used to power a crashed ship, the Professor flies away, leaving Terry behind. Terry then has an angry outburst at the player, stating how he knew that the player was controlling him the entire time and that he regrets agreeing to help out the Professor in the first place because he ultimately ended up being used. This sudden self-awareness is jarring and is the first instance in which Terry ever speaks throughout the game- and when he decides to, it’s to directly lecture the player. He then takes his anger one step further by punching the player, by smashing the screen of the DS. Yes, little cracks start to form on the bottom screen as Terry has his angry outburst at you. The player must tap on Terry, knocking him out, before he completely destroys your DS screen.

The credits then roll, and the game is thought to be over- that is until a letter from the Professor pops up on the screen. In this, he details his reasoning for wanting to collect the power cells and admits that he selfishly used the player as well as Terry in his pursuits. He admits his moral failure and asks for the player’s forgiveness. He also admits that he is merely data, and is being forced to write this letter because the developers programmed him to. The Professor states that though the game may be over, he will continue on living, even as you turn off the game system…and much more. This ending sequence brings a level of humanity to the character that is not often seen in fiction. This makes the player a part of the story in a way that transcends the usual level of involvement that one usually has with a game. 

contact

The Professor leaves the player with a hauntingly beautiful sentiment: “I’m going to search for something only I can find.”

As one might see, Contact is not a game that is interested in the status quo of RPGs (or gaming in general) in the slightest. It is a game that asks as many questions as it provides answers for. It is an example of a game fully utilizing the medium to create a completely unique experience. True, the game may have some repetitive combat, and the game’s story may end right when things begin to get really interesting, but the game is certainly still worth experiencing despite these flaws. Fans of RPGs bursting with personality, like Earthboundmay find a lot to enjoy out of this title in particular. If you missed out on Contact upon its release in 2006, picking it up over a decade later still provides an enjoyable, idiosyncratic RPG experience. The ending sequence detailed here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes this game memorable. Combine what was stated here with its hilarious, quirky sense of humor, a surprisingly deep character stat system, and a great soundtrack, what we have here is a game that does not deserve to go unnoticed. By broadening the scope of exactly what it means to be a “video game”, Contact really is something special.

A fan of good sandwiches and good video games. Hopefully you like at least one of those things.

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A Cataclysmic Event: ‘No Man’s Land’ is The Double-Edged Sword of The Batman Mythos

Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom…

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No Man’s Land

Over 20 Years After Gotham Endured its Most Insufferable Time

Hush, Knightfall, The Killing Joke, Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. Whenever anyone gets into a topic regarding Batman’s history of comics the same titles always get thrown around with unmistakable reasoning. All of these stories are phenomenal chapters of the dark knight’s legacy that fundamentally influenced and reforged the character of Bruce Wayne along with his world of allies and rogues time and time again. They changed the way in which audiences view not only Batman’s mythology but how other comic books unfold overarching plots focusing on both their lineup of complex interpretable heroes and villains.

Batman’s overwhelmingly large critically acclaimed catalog will forever be deemed as must-reads and well-known tales to those who have never even cracked open a comic book, however, there is one anomaly that is well-deserving of a place on the grand pedestal. It oddly never gets the acknowledgment it should have within the conversations of the Batman fandom, but it is still critically important to the caped crusader’s ever-expanding modern mythos.

It is truly ironic that Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most impactful pieces of media the world’s greatest detective has ever been featured in when accounting for his own history of storytelling. The saga always appears as the comic series that not many people seem to have even partially read, yet its creative influence on comic book culture still lurks from the turn of the century. Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City in the source material comic book, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom despite its neverending appeal to DC’s mainstay creators who forged the modern image of the billionaire who built their house.

With a sparse amount of collected releases and little to no spotlight from its parent company or fandom, Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most underappreciated stories of Gotham City, yet one of the most impactful.

No Man’s Land is a massive crossover event written by ten different writers through DC’s lineup of late 90s Bat-family comics. This included Detective Comics, Batman, Azreal, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and a few miscellaneous issues from other DC characters. The eighty issue run started in 1998 and ended in the year 2000, however, the series has since been published as seven individual books under the Batman banner being Cataclysm, Road to No Man’s Land Volumes One and Two, and of course No Man’s Land Volumes One through Four.

Without spoilers, the story of Batman: No Man’s Land is focused on a massive self-centered crime war taking place on an isolated Gotham City after the dark knight’s home is struck by multiple natural disasters that cut the central island off from the mainland. Cataclysm is the first chapter in the No Man’s Land saga that depicts the destruction of Gotham by earthquakes. It is arguably the one part of the series that readers can skip as the story is easy to understand without any deep background knowledge of the situation.

The followup chapter Road to No Man’s Land is the real beginning of the consequential aftermath showing how the city fell into chaos as all of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison’s inmates are left free of regulation. Bruce Wayne pleads the government for help but is initially denied any resources as the United States declares Gotham as the first-ever location in the USA to be exempted from their protected territory, leaving the Bat empty-handed and forced to adapt to a new breed of crime-fighting to save his home. While the government threw in the towel on the most crime-infested city in the world, The Gotham City Police Department lead by Commissioner James Gordon attempts to defend its remaining turf as they begin to embrace the unstoppable crisis.

GCPD Map of No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land is the climax, falling action, and resolution of the story arc. It depicts a numerical day count to show how Gotham’s situation has not improved one bit despite the number of months that have passed since the gangs began carving up territory. As the counter slowly rises each issue, the situation further unfolds and resolves through a miracle uncommunicative collaborative effort between the GCPD, abandoned civilians, and the Bat-family.

If this all sounds familiar to you, it likely should. No Man’s Land was the core inspiration for the highest regarded Batman media outside of the comic books- stories that many fans judge the defender of Gotham by today. Batman Arkham City, Gotham, The New 52, and The Dark Knight Rises all borrow several plot elements and character setups from the introduction and rising action volumes of the comic series.

While it did not introduce many new characters the crossover did see the debut of the third Batgirl Cassandra Cain, a new relationship between Harvey Dent and Reena Montoya that would ooze into the first volume of Gotham Central, and most importantly character development for those introduced in the DC Animated Universe that were transitioning into the comics at the time such as the Joker’s sidekick lover Harley Quinn and Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves.

From a cast perspective, No Man’s Land further evolved Batman lore by extensively developing the relationships between specific rivalries and allies- Batman and Gordon most noticeably establish a more so friendly relationship rather than a “just coworkers” status. The core story itself is where the original comics thrive the most due to how it created a manipulative groundwork for other future narratives in the Batman franchise, but it also indisputably began establishing the character interactions we find in the mythos’ modern comics. Perhaps it might have even arguably developed Gotham City into its own character as the location itself draws a deeper persona amidst the chaos at hand during its most desperate hours.

No Man’s Land: Legends of The Dark Knight

Batman: No Man’s Land turned 20 recently and the only piece of media DC published that somewhat celebrated the original comics was the final season of FOX’s crime drama prequel series Gotham– a setup that was more than likely coincidental as the show’s story had always been building up to becoming a “no man’s land” warzone atmosphere. Gotham seasons four and five adapted several aspects from the books, but as expected the show mostly stuck to its own original plot despite heavily featuring numerous callbacks and references to the source material.

Typically DC usually puts out a new collected edition for an important comic book’s anniversary- if not maybe even a social media post at the very least- but No Man’s Land received surprisingly no recognition at all last year. As mentioned before, the latest release of this series was last published as seven separate volumes in 2011. There is currently no box-set or omnibus available for a reader’s convenience but the older publications are still in print and can be obtained at local comic book shops, online stores that sell graphic novels, or even digitally on DC Universe’s streaming service.

The No Man’s Land saga of the Batman mythos is like a double-edged sword. It is a fan-favorite for some, but an undiscovered gem for the vast majority. It passed by in a long string of storylines, yet its significance still has sunk deep into Bruce Wayne’s world no matter the form it is being adapted into. To the creators behind the scenes who continue to construct new features in the dark knight’s eighty-year legacy, it is a crucial precursor for the work that proceeded it despite the low impact it may have had on those who consumed it. The staggering length and price may push audiences away, but for those interested who have the means of seeing it through, it is well worth reading through the story of a dark island that inspired visionaries like Christopher Nolan and Bruno Heller’s interpretations of Batman’s home turf.

Will No Man’s Land ever resurface in a new compact collected edition? As said for all pieces of unpopular yet desired Batman media, “the world may seem dark…”

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‘Read Only Memories’ Comic is Well Worth Reading

Based on the hit game of the same name.

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Read Only Memories IDW Comic Review

Gritty detective stories set in the future have been a source of great creativity in a variety of media forms since the days of Blade Runner. Read Only Memories, the new title from IDW, is no exception to that. It takes classic tropes of both genres and mixes them with a new style.

Lexi Rivers

Santa Cruz, California. 2067. Lexi Rivers is a private investigator who takes on a case from a newly sapient robot. She’s tough but not in that ubiquitous “badass” way female characters are often slotted into.

From moment one, she is interesting and engaging. Lexi starts by posing as a reporter to interrogate a target. Initially, her goal is to determine if the woman is faithful to her partner or not. It’s a classic detective case.

In many ways, Lexi’s a classic detective. She takes rough, morally questionable jobs to make ends meet. Lexi has feelings for a woman who’s probably too good for her. She sneaks favors from friends to make something out of nothing.

Lexi is a detective through and through.

The Story

Read Only Memories

After leaving one case behind, she encounters Hedy, a robot in search of its missing loved one. The story then deftly carries the reader through different locations and people. This is how the story introduces you to the futuristic world and defines Lexi’s life with as little exposition as possible.

Sina Grace, the writer, is extremely effective at doing just that.

Fortunately, a running internal monologue is a huge part of the detective genre. It gives the storyteller a means to get out important information and key details without seeming out of place. Realistically, Read Only Memories has a lot of details to pick up on in the early going.

It’s a big world filled with numerous moving parts. Thankfully, the story gives you what you need to understand. You’re not confused by what’s going on because some of it’s familiar from other stories. Read Only Memories successfully takes those familiar parts and does something interesting with them.

Visual Style

Read Only Memories

Realistically, it can be hard to set the tone of a futuristic detective story without feeling derivative. Stefano Simeone, the artist, has chosen a style that conveys the futuristic vibe well.

Quite smartly, Stefano uses a color palette that sets it apart from the standard detective genre but creates a futuristic feel. Mostly, it’s wonderful shades of pink, blue, and purple. The look is unique and fantastic.

Read Only Memories: What’s Next

Remember, this is only the first issue. In the end, it leaves you in that classic detective story moment. You realize that the simple case is a lot more complicated. Issue two should build nicely from there.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that issue one isn’t burdened by gratuitous or unnecessary violence. Lexi does get her clock cleaned by a gang member who doesn’t like her sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. But that’s it.

Yet another classic detective moment.

There will certainly be more action in future issues but this is a smart way to start. It puts the focus on the narrative and not the violence. If it starts with an action-packed issue, then that is what readers will expect throughout the series.

Reading along as Lexi unravels the mystery presented by Hedy will be amazing. Truthfully, the true test of this story will be in its resolution. Preferably, the journey should be enjoyable but a mystery’s conclusion has to be satisfactory to be worth it.

The rest of the series will be more than worth the read if issue one of Read Only Memories is any indication.

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Comics Editor Allison O’Toole Talks Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred

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Wayward Kindred is raising funds with Kickstarter.

If you enjoyed the Wayward Sisters anthology from TO Comix Press, they have a Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Wayward Kindred. After holding an open call for submissions earlier this year, Wayward Kindred is pressing forward with its goal to tell a wide range of stories about monsters and families. Previews of the anthology include a cursed skeleton uncle, half-vampire teens, siblings transformed into wolves by their aunt, and sentient insects teaching their language to a human child. It looks like a fascinating mix of different stories and art styles funneled through the captivating vision of monsters.

After editing the award-winning Wayward Sisters, Allison O’Toole is back to edit Wayward Kindred. A freelance comics editor, she’s worked on a growing list of comics, including Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, Sam Beck’s Verse, and other TO Comix Press publications like volumes of The Toronto Comics Anthology. With a few days left to raise funds, O’Toole was able to speak with Goomba Stomp via email about the Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred and her work in editing comics.

GS: How would you describe your role as a comics editor? Is it a lot of project management and big picture development with some oversight over language?

Allison O’Toole: That does cover a lot of it! The editor has her hands on every stage of the comic, from the pitch all the way to the lettering, so you’re doing the expected editing tasks at each stage—requesting changes for clarity and storytelling, that sort of thing. But you’re also building schedules and chasing after people to get things in on time. Depending on the publisher, you may also be helping out with other administrative tasks and promotion.

Could you talk about your path to becoming a comics editor? What drew you to editing comics versus other career paths with them? (Like writing, drawing, lettering, etc.)

I started out in comics review, and moved into editing when I realized that it combined my creative impulses with my administrative experience. I love to collaborate with creators and to help them create the best comic they can, so editing seemed like the best fit for my interests and skillset!

How did you end up working with TO Comix Press?

When the publisher, Steven Andrews, was looking for assistant editors for Volume 3 of the Toronto Comics Anthology, I was actively looking for more work experience in editing! Part of the mandate at TO Comix Press is to support creators who are early in their careers, so I was able to come on and learn a lot from that experience, so after assistant editing two anthologies, Steven let me lead my own project: Wayward Sisters. It went well, so now we’re working on that project’s spiritual sequel. 

Did the idea for Wayward Kindred come directly from Wayward Sisters, like the name suggests? Or did it originate somewhere else, followed by the realization that it could fit with Wayward Sisters?

I love monsters, so it was inevitable that I’d want to do more anthologies about them. I definitely want to suggest a connection between the two books, but they’re very different! The concept for this one came specifically from reading Nagabe’s gorgeous manga, The Girl from the Other Side, which I was reading while working on Sisters, so I decided that it would make a good follow up, rather than doing a traditional sequel. 

Could you walk us through the process behind developing an anthology like Wayward Kindred?

Well, to keep it short, once you’ve got an idea, coming up with a budget is the next step—that dictates how many stories and creators you can take on. Then you make a timeline. Even for short comics, we try to allow 2-3 weeks for each stage of the process, so you can build back from your target launch date (for us, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May). You then can open up for submissions, decide on the line up that would make the strongest book, and get started! Some folks like to do crowdfunding at the beginning of the process, but we like to get that in once we have some gorgeous art to show off. Once the art is all in and edited, you send the proof to the printer, and then fulfill the Kickstarter!

You can learn more about the TO Comix Press method for running anthologies in the articles at our website.

Did you end up pairing unattached writers and artists for Wayward Kindred, like the submissions page said would happen if you received pitches from incomplete creative teams? If so, how did you approach matching artists to writers?

We always accept unpaired pitches at TO Comix Press! It’s part of helping creators with fewer print credits find a place to get published. We go through all of the artist submissions and try to decide which portfolios would bring out the best in the pitched story. Often that means looking for similar stories in the artist’s portfolio, but this is a sense that comes from experience looking and reading many, many comics. Reading comics is the best way to get started in making them!

What have you enjoyed most about editing Wayward Kindred?

It’s always so exciting to see stories come together, especially after months of working with creators. We’re getting letters in now, and I can imagine how the readers are going to feel when they have the stories in front of them, and that’s always a thrill for me.

TO Comix Press has previously held Kickstarter campaigns for other publishing projects. How do you approach crowdfunding for a publication?

We’ve got an article about this on the TO Comix website as well! We’ve found that Twitter is always a major source of income for our Kickstarters, so we do everything we can to get folks talking about the campaign on Twitter. 

What draws you to monsters as characters and a source of storytelling?

I’m interested in monsters’ versatility as metaphor. They can stand in for any taboo you can think of, for any kind of outcast figure, for any kind of cultural anxiety—there are so many rich opportunities for storytelling! 

Wayward Kindred is a spiritual successor to Wayward Sisters.
“Forked” by Seungwoo Baek, Grayson Lee, Cam Lopez and Nikki Powers

Do you have any favorite monsters? Like werewolves, dragons, etc.?

Werewolves are my favourite, I just think they’re very cool. For more specific monster stories, I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an early example of a sympathetic monster. I enjoy scary monsters, but I love a sad monster the most—that’s probably part of why I love werewolves, too. 

You’re also editing AFTERLIFT for comiXology. What is it like editing for a company like comiXology versus a publisher like TO Comix Press?

Editing a series has fewer moving parts than an anthology, so I like that. In an anthology, you’re editing many more pages, and wrangling many more creators, which can get a bit chaotic. A series is nice because you have a smaller team (on AFTERLIFT, it’s a team of only 4!), so it’s easier to keep track of. Then again, a series usually has a more rigid release schedule, which adds pressure, so they both have their pros and cons. 

Do you have advice for anyone interested in editing comics? 

If you want to edit, I’d say the same thing I say to any creators getting their start: networking is key! If you can’t meet people in person, then join Facebook groups, or forums online, find other folks who are hoping to learn as they go alongside you, and your careers can also grow together. 

If you’re looking to edit and you don’t have a portfolio with comics experience (or editorial experience in a different medium), publishing reviews on a blog is a great way to show folks that you know and understand comics. You can also show that you can keep things on a schedule if you publish reviews on a regular basis. I got my early editorial experience editing at pop culture websites, which wasn’t exactly the same as editing comics, but got me started on scheduling and keeping on top of writers. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about Wayward Kindred?

I’m so excited about this anthology, and I hope that the readers love it as much as we do!

Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Wayward Kindred and your other projects!

Wayward Kindred recently met its Kickstarter goal, but there are a few days left to raise more funds and pre-order a copy. The anthology is available to backers for a minimum of $15 as a digital download. Higher reward tiers include a physical copy and prints.

TO Comix Press advocates for transparency, and they have shared reports explaining how funds were used for a selection of their previous publications: Wayward Sisters, Shout Out, Yonge At Heart, and Toronto Comics: Volume 3.

Wayward Kindred is scheduled for release in May 2020.

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