Reviews

'Continue?9876543210': Your Heart Is a Filing System

If you understand why RAM is kind of a reasonable metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence, this is a game that is built for you, both poet and tech geek that you might be.


Continue?9876543210

Publisher: Jason Oda
Rated: N/A
Players: 1
Price: $9.99
Platforms: PC
Developer: Jason Oda
Release Date: 2014-01-03
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Your heart is a filing system, filled up as it is with memories.

Memory is the central focus of Jason Oda's awkwardly titled, Continue?9876543210, concerned as it is with death and using random access memory as a metaphor for the transitory nature of existence. Indeed, if you understand why RAM is kind of a reasonable metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence, this is a game that is built for you, both poet and tech geek that you might be.

The premise of Oda's game is that the player will be taking on the role of one of several video game characters (and one is randomly assigned to you during each playthrough) that has just been killed in a video game. Video game characters are, of course, disposable commodities, given that their often brief existences merely represent a slight advance in progress of a player and a temporary setback -- that is until someone decides whether or not to respond to that nearly universal of video game questions: “Continue?”

The title of the game determines the player's decision as does the opening sequence of the game, which features the dying character falling to the ground before the question, “Continue?” appears on the screen followed by the ten second timer that will determine that characters fate. The timer ticks down to zero, signaling the end of someone's game but the beginning of Oda's game, which is a meditation on what happens after a characters death, what happens to that character before he or she is swept away by random access memory.

Thus, the player of Continue?9876543210 is taking on the role of a character fully aware of his or her own mortality, who is desperately attempting to hang on to life before it slips away.

What follows is composed of fairly minimal rules and gameplay that dominantly focuses on creating a mood to ponder the transitory nature of existence more broadly. Any given protagonist in Continue?9876543210 will concern his- or herself with the quest to escape the “Garbage Collector” that will wipe out any memory of him or her, but he or she will also spend a fair amount of time wistfully reconsidering their own memories of their own existence.

As such, the game is a meditation on the tenuousness of mortality itself, somewhat reminiscent of the desperation of the short-lived androids of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, a desperation that in that film also exists to mimic and remind its audience of the frailty of human existence and the sorrow of the loss of memory -- that which comprises the unique perspective of a conscious being.

The game achieves a kind of admirable thoughtfulness through its slow pacing and somber tone, and playing it is at once fascinating and surprisingly peaceful. However, as a result of the very things that generate its almost zen-like meditative mood, this is not going to be a game for everyone. There is no main menu. The game always starts with the ten second countdown timer and the same lingering sequences that represent the player's death. Frequent and familiar cutscenes will likewise reappear and skipping over them is impossible. Oda recognizes that this would break the tone of the game, ruining what he is trying to accomplish, but players accustomed to convenience and speed in games are going to want to tear their hair out over the inability to jump into the next game or the next level of the game.

And the game itself is hard, making multiple playthroughs necessary to ultimately beat it. It is a game whose rules are initially obscured from the player, so some trial and error is necessary to figure out what to do on any given level, but even once the system that underlies Continue?9876543210 becomes clear, it also becomes clear that the game is unrelenting in its challenge, one or two bad mistakes will cost you the whole game, and games are long, due to the pacing and repetitiveness of its sequences.

Combat itself is simple. You can move using the WASD keys, and you can slash with a sword with a single button press. The real complexity of the system concerns how the player character must explore several unique environments, chat with the NPCs there, gathering information until he or she can earn “Lightning” or “Prayer.” Lightning is necessary to exit a level as each level has several exits that are blocked until those blockages are exploded by lightning. Prayer is used to generate buildings in an environment called your “Sanctuary” that appears every third level in the game. In the Sanctuary stages, the player has to hide out in those buildings from a storm generated by the computer memory that he or she is located in. If you have not created enough buildings to weather the storm, you will die -- this time permanently. There are no continues after this permadeath -- except, of course when you are returned to the title screen to repeat the whole process once again.

All in all, this is very simply one of those games that you are going to love or going to hate. You are going to either find its mood and tone, as well as the themes being played with through the entire approach that Oda takes to its subject matter, engaging and interesting, or you are going to be completely put off by the slow pacing, repetitiveness, and possible pretension of the whole experiment. I find myself in the former camp, rather than the latter. In my estimation, the game is good and treats its subject matter with a quiet dignity that makes constant playthroughs intriguing and challenging. However, I just have to give fair warning to you that this is very simply not a game that just everyone is going to jump into and enjoy. Its audience is narrow, but those who are interested in games that seek to provide a less than common experience are likely going to find something slightly rapturous in the experience of Continue?9876543210.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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