The Petscop Mystery

On 12 March of this year, a new YouTube channel began, called “Petscop“. The channel was devoted to a Let’s Play of a single and previously unknown game. (For the unfamiliar, a “Let’s Play” is a series, usually on YouTube, that combines player-recorded gameplay footage and audio commentary/reactions. I’ve done quite a few myself, and even uploaded most of an LP of Ultima: Exodus for the NES)

The premise was simple: our Let’s Player had found a copy of an unreleased, unfinished PlayStation 1 game called “Petscop”, apparently made and never finished in 1997. The game had you searching through a number of stages (or “houses”) to rescue 48 total pets that were left in the “Gift Plane” after said area had closed indefinitely and the staff had left. The game encouraged the player to find these pets, each one unique and valuable, and surely they’ll find one they can love. It was a puzzle game of a sort: solve puzzles to get to and “capture” each pet. The first pet captured was one in a cage, another was a simple music puzzle.

Then the Let’s Player (called Paul simply based on what he names his game file) mentions a note that was with his copy of the game. The note was in two parts, written by two different people. The first was seemingly written by a child, to judge by the words and phrasing: “I WALKED DOWNSTAIRS AND WHEN I GOT TO THE BOTTOM INSTEAD OF PROCEEDING, I TURNED THE RIGHT AND BECAME A SHADOW MONSTER MAN.” The second half of the note contained a date and instructions to go to a certain room, pause the game, and enter a sequence of button presses before resuming gameplay. Paul did that and the game subtly changed. At that moment, the only noticeable change was that the music stopped playing.

This is where everything in the game changes, where it goes from being a friendly puzzle-solving capture-the-creature game to something else, something more.

There have been attempts at this idea in the past, of a creepy video game. All notable examples I know of are based on existing video games, which is useful if you want the audience to go into this sort of story with a certain set of knowledge and expectations. For example, there was the famous BEN Drowned creepypasta, a story of a haunted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the N64. This story combined text story posted to the /x/ section of 4chan and short gameplay videos posted to YouTube. Those gameplay footages were what sold this story and cemented it in Internet lore: we actually saw what the author, “Jadusable”, was discussing. We saw the game glitching out, we saw that Elegy of Emptiness statue follow Link around, we saw the corrupted text. But this was all based on an existing property, and we knew the rules of the game, we knew the limitations of what could be expected. The only time these limitations were approached were when footage from another Zelda game (Ocarina of Time) were briefly spliced in, which only hurt a viewer’s immersion in the story (that visual data does not exist on Majora’s Mask, there’s no way that could possibly show up).

Petscop is something different, something new, something unexpected, and something that is still, seven videos in, a complete mystery.

Petscop is not an existing game. Prior to this, no one had heard of Petscop. The videos set this up as some existing and unfinished video game from 20 years ago, but it is highly doubtful that the game actually exists outside the world of this Let’s Play; that is, this game is purely fictional and the gameplay we see was made solely for this video series (and is probably being created as these new videos are made). A lot of people have been wanting the series creator to release the ROM or ISO of Petscop, but for reasons I’ll mention later, I do not think such a ROM or ISO exists, nor will one ever be released to the public. No, our view of Petscop, our understanding of Petscop, will be limited to what “Paul” decides to show us of the game.

Once the code is entered, the “hidden” portion of the game is found. Exiting that first stage (called “Even Care”) does not return Paul to the overworld of the Gift Plane, but rather to a vast, grassy, and flat plain we eventually learn is called the Newmaker Plane, an area resting under an eternal night. At first, the Newmaker Plane looks to be empty, until Paul finds a staircase that leads down. Through there, Paul finds a game world far larger than the incomplete “Even Care” stage from the “actual” game, a game world that includes a child’s grave, a windmill, a kiosk that allows him to communicate with something (or maybe several somethings), and a long list of mysteries. There are clues to what the “hidden” game is about, and this is where the viewer must start questioning their own limited interaction with the series.

You see, the game starts throwing out names, such as Michael Hammond and Candace Newmaker. Simple searches reveal that Candace Newmaker was a victim in a very real case of a dangerous therapy method with no basis in science. The methods of this therapy are referenced in this Petscop game. The “hidden” game is referencing child abuse and death, and this is where the purpose of this is brought into question. Who is actually doing this and why? What’s the ultimate point of this Let’s Play? Is it simply to show us this supposed lost PS1 game and the odd content it hides?

Pictured above is the Quitter’s Room, which people have taken as a reference to the Newmaker murder. As is documented, her “therapists” taunted her by calling her a quitter. This room was a brief oddity in Petscop 2, but is revisited in Petscop 7 and greater significance is placed upon it. The game plays an unknown melody, presumably played by the mirror character on the left. The game starts communicating with Paul directly in this room via a note on the wall.

The game starts taking on a life of its own. In an early video, Paul notes to himself that this is not an incomplete game, the whole game is actually this hidden content, and the Gift Plane element was just a cover. This part of the game feels finished, like a whole lot of work went into it.

But is this a real game? Any possibility of this game being real can be discounted quickly, mainly as it references a murder that happened three years after the game was supposedly made. There is one fan theory going around, however, that claims the Gift Plane section was made in 1997, game development ceased, the game was shelved, and revisited by someone in 2000 following that horrible event, that the Newmaker Plane section was made in reaction to that.

The latest video, “Petscop 7”, concludes with Paul visiting the rooms of Mike and Care. In an earlier video, Paul discovered a building (one that Petscop 7 reveals is a “Child Library”) that lets him visit numerous different rooms, each accessed by inputting a set of facial features (eyes, eyebrows, nose). The first of these two rooms doesn’t seem too unusual. Each of these rooms contains a different carpet, and different items on a table. The carpet pattern and items on the table presumably represent a specific child. It is the second of these rooms, a variant on Care’s room (the facial design he input combined Care’s face with Mike’s eyebrows (lore from an earlier video told us that Care doesn’t have eyebrows)) that brings the video to a halt. From the moment Paul enters, there is a censor block (added, we are told, after the gameplay was recorded, so not by the game itself) over something on the table. There are no outright clues to what information is being withheld from the audience. What is on the table? What are we not being shown? Paul is fixated on this unknown object, and spends a lot of time focused on the table, staring at it. Our only spoken clue is Paul’s guess that it might be something the game puts in any room. Whatever this object is, it clearly unsettles our narrator, as he remains silent the rest of the video, and barely moves the character; his attention is held by whatever that is on the table.

It’s the presence of this censor box that leads me to believe that we, the audience, will never be given a copy of the game to play ourselves. If there is graphic content (by graphic I do not mean obscene or violent, I simply mean visual) that must be withheld from the audience, then simply giving the audience the game would reveal that content anyway.

Petscop 7 ends with text telling the viewer that further information will be withheld from future videos. Besides acting as a way of telling the audience to expect more censorship, this also acts as a preview of what to come. We now know to expect “a big present with a sticker on it”, “something on a wall, in a black house”, and something “written on a chalk board”. We know Paul is going to continue exploring the Newmaker Plane and discover these locations and items.

We know more is to come of this series.

So what is Petscop, exactly? It’s still too early to tell. The creator of this series is keeping silent. Websites like Kotaku have reached out to the creator (how they did or what channels of communication they tried are unknown. How do you even find the creator of something like this who does not want to be found?) with no response. It’s good for this series that this person is remaining silent, as it keeps the mystery alive. Right now, there is still an element of doubt as to whether this game actually exists (it very likely does not).

What Petscop is is a very modern form of storytelling. This is a story told exclusively through recorded footage of a video game combined with that player’s reactions and thoughts to what is happening. We aren’t given any outside sources of information, the videos are it. We learn as Paul learns, we experience as Paul experiences. We even notice things that Paul doesn’t notice (there is an ever-growing list of things in the videos that we as an audience see but Paul never reacts to). There is a story hidden here, mysteries hidden, just waiting to be unraveled. There have been attempts on this format in the past (including an infamous story based on a supposed Godzilla game for NES), but Petscop is being really creative with the format and drawing the audience in. We’re still early in the story with no idea where it is ultimately headed, and the journey is exciting so far.

For all of its darker elements, though, what drives this series is all of its mystery. What is Petscop? What is the point of this series? Where will it go? Is it a real game? Will we ever get to play it? Who are these characters? Is it actually Paul uploading these videos? What are the pets? Who are the children? Who is Marvin and should Paul lead him back to his house?

We’ll see what, if anything, Petscop 8 and future videos explain.

In addition, I have recorded a Radio Free Caemlyn episode discussing Petscop.

MST3K Returns! (A Non-Spoilery Review of 11.01)

Today, the 9th of April, 2017, saw the advance online screening of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 11.01 for the Kickstarter backers. I was sure to be awake at 3am local time so I could start watching it the moment the stream launched.

I backed the MST3K Kickstarter at a sufficient level to allow me digital downloads of the entire season once available. Recent updates from Joel have revealed that I can start streaming the new season on Tuesday.

Anyway, my thoughts on 11.01, while giving away as little as possible (because this episode works best when you don’t have anything given away).

In the months leading up to this, I wondered if they would explain the hiatus in any way within the narrative. I also wondered if they would explain how our new main character, Jonah Heston, ends up on the Satellite of Love and as the subject of these experiments. Joel Robinson was already there at the start of the show (in both versions of the narrative (Joel Hodgson as a lone survivor on the Satellite of Love and Joel Robinson as a guy not-too-different from you or me who is shot up into space because his bosses didn’t like him) and Mike Nelson just ended up there after Joel’s last episode (his arrival on the SoL implied but never explicitly shown on-screen other than what was used in the title sequence). Turns out this episode’s intro handles all of this quite deftly, combining an “origin story” with the title sequence, setting the stage for this new season nicely. (The only nitpick I could possibly have is that the Satellite of Love is back and the bots are on board. How did that happen? Did Kinga build a new SoL? Did she kidnap the bots away from Mike (and steal Gypsy back from wherever she was)? I should really just relax)

With backstory out of the way, we’re tossed right into the first experiment. It’s a bit jarring to see an HD print of a movie used but, hey, technology marches on and it fits with modern-day broadcast resolutions (a thing I neither care about or keep up with (4k 8k or whatever doesn’t really mean anything to me)).

Riffs were fast and frequent, but sometimes they flew by so fast that I wasn’t able to catch everything. This is kind of par for the course, especially with the Mike-era of the show. This episode introduces some really neat visual effects for the silhouettes, especially for Servo. Even Gypsy visits the theater a couple of times. Riffs involved references both old and new fans of the show will get. This, the real meat of the show, felt true to form and convinced me that MST3K is really and truly back.

Host segments are back, although they all feel a bit rushed. There’s a single gag and the segment is over, ended all-too-quickly by movie sign. There was a really great song in this episode which had a great segue into movie sign, though. It’s just…after rewatching a lot of Mike-era episodes, the host segments in this first episode felt like an afterthought (which isn’t to say they weren’t entertaining, they were).

The door sequence has been nicely updated, with tons of visual easter eggs to sift through. There’s even a replacement Crow head hidden in the last section before the theater.

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt join the cast as the new Mads. There’s not much to say about the characters at this point as they were only barely in the episode (they were in the title sequence and the segment just before end credits, but that was about it). I like the idea of the characters, but it’ll take some more episodes to get a better feel for them.

Something I’ve seen a lot of people complain about is the blatant use of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as a name within the lexicon of the show itself. The name is referenced several times by main characters, and the moon logo is even seen within the world of the show itself. Is this a problem? I don’t think it is. Going back to the Joel era, you’ve got numerous mentions by Dr. Clayton Forrester to his “Mystery Science Theater” or “Mystery Science Theater 3000” project. KTMA episodes have Joel “Hodgson” referencing the theater as “Mystery Science Theater”. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but I think Dr. Forrester again mentions MST3K by name as his project in the movie’s intro. Usage of the name died off in the Mike-era, though, and I don’t think Pearl Forrester ever used that name. So, is having Kinga referencing MST3K by name a problem? It really is not, and helps to tie the show back to its earliest seasons.

The show will air on Netflix, and being there the show will not have advert breaks. The original show was built around advert breaks, with host segments leading to those. In a recent interview, Joel Hodgson said he was including those segues again not just to hold true to the show’s history but also because he found that relic of TV show evolution to be fascinating. These new episodes retain those cutaways to advert breaks and do so in a really neat way. There are references to the original show in these interstitials as well.

The sets hold true to the show’s original spirit of kitbashing, or taking stuff from various models and kits and throwing them together. To me, though, the SoL bridge feels a bit empty. They’ve a lot of screen-space, but there’s little going on in the background when compared to Joel- or Mike-era SoL sets. Maybe this is a minor complaint, because it all looks good on screen, it just doesn’t have a lot of personality.

Overall, the show looks great and has the sense of humor and fun of the original, which is what I wanted. Jonah fits right in as test subject, and is already establishing a different connection to the bots than Joel or Mike had. Joel was their creator. Mike was their big brother. Jonah is trying to fit in and the bots are already resigned to this guy going away and being replaced.

I enjoyed the first episode. Bring on the remaining 13 episodes and many seasons more!

Phone Losers of America Videos I Sponsored

This post is just a way for me to list all the videos from the Phone Losers of America YouTube channel that I have “sponsored” or “produced” via its Patreon.

🌵Pizza Delivery Problems

🌵Rich People Recycling Problems

🌵Getting Info From a License Plate

🌵Hotel Guest Prank Call – Yet Even More Excessive Water Use

🌵Home Security Prank Call – Peace of Mind

🌵FedEx Prank Call – Marijuana Smell

🌵Bank Customers – Identity Thief

Will post more as I find them on that channel.

Thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I tried to think of a witty title regarding the upcoming Wii U/NX Zelda game, but gave up. Was going to use “Fresh Air, With Rand al’Thor”, but whatever.

I’ve been a fan of The Legend of Zelda since I was old enough to play video games. It was the late ’80s and my parents had just gotten an NES. I played the hell out of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. I also spent a lot of time with games like Top Gun (never was that good at landing that damn plane!), Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers (loved the two-player co-op on that), Ultima: Exodus, Dragon Warrior, Golf, Kirby’s Adventure, and PinBot among many others.

I loved the open-world nature of the original Zelda. Hell, I even loved the sidescrolling dungeon design of Zelda II. (Although, for a reason I wouldn’t discover until just recently, the towns freaked me out (turns out my mom had discovered wrong-warping in towns decades before it was discovered and exploited by speedrunners and shown off at GDQ events, and it was the glitching out of towns that scared me as a kid)) To me, a true Zelda game allowed you the freedom to explore its vast world with little to no restrictions. To be fair, the first Zelda had some restrictions to explorations by requiring certain items (such as the raft or stepladder) to access certain ares, but most of the world was accessible from the start if you were daring enough.

A lot of Zelda games have turned out to be more linear. The Oracle games are decidedly linear, forcing you to beat the dungeons in a certain order (there is no real freedom of exploration in either Holodrum or Labrynna). Even Link’s Awakening is mostly linear. Ocarina of Time returned some nonlinearity to its gameplay, but you still can’t access the Temples until you’ve cleared the first three dungeons and collected the three spiritual stones and the Master Sword. Majora’s Mask offered a lot more freedom to the player. I’ve only played Skyward Sword once but I remember it being very linear. Twilight Princess bogged the player down with story, always holding a tantalizing glimpse of the larger world just out of the player’s reach. There was a lot to do in regards to story, and you never had much of a chance to just go and roam the world until late in the game. You didn’t even get an item to summon Epona until near the end of the game. Let’s not even get to the DS games

Much as I like stories in my Zelda games, they often just served as a barrier to the exploration I wanted. I just wanted to set out, no major backstory to sit through.

And here comes Breath of the Wild. Everything about this game makes me excited, but mainly the absolute freedom the game offers. Past Zelda games have limited players on how puzzles are solved and how dungeons are tackled. No actual dungeons have been shown yet, just the shrines. Aonuma has hinted that the dungeons are quite different from the shrines.

There’s a small bit of story to set you on your way, with Link waking up in the Shrine of Resurrection. However, once you leave the Shrine, you can go any direction you want. The only restriction at this point seems to be that you have to get the paraglider from the old man, which allows you to safely escape from the Great Plateau. From there, we don’t currently know what to expect.

I’ve not played any of the Dark Souls games, but I keep seeing people reference those games with how BotW plays. I like how you can ambush enemies, steal their weapons, distract enemies. There’s just so much to this game that the demos we’ve seen so far are clearly just scratching the surface.

I’ve loved the Zelda games over the decades, but BotW looks like a full realization of what Miyamoto originally intended with the first game.

Twitter Printer Adventure

In the early years of Twitter, there were a lot of experiments like this, where someone would connect a printer to the Internet and somehow set it up so that it printed tweets containing either a certain username or character string (the letter generally being what became known as a “hashtag”).

My friend Daily and I would find these, and start spamming messages to be printed. Usually these printers would also be shown on a live video stream, so you could see your messages as they were being printed out. These were fun to watch, but I could it was a relic of a time when Twitter was not as popular as it is now, or as frequently used.

These screenshots are from a printer that was set up on 16 November, 2011. Daily and I would send messages and watch as they were printed. I brought in my Twitter alternate account, IvanButtons, for additional comments. Lots of screenshots ahead, so I’m putting them behind a cut tag. Probably not necessary in today’s Internet, but I’m still doing it.

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