Bits and Brew 006: Calm Before the Storm & Mega Man Legends

image from BSJ
image from BSJ

Ballast Point Brewing Company is known for producing high-quality craft beers (with really, really good artwork). One of their more popular offerings is Victory at Sea, an Imperial Porter with cold brew coffee and vanilla added. It’s a seasonal release from October to December that many people look forward to. Victory at Sea strikes a truly wonderful balance between the roasty, chocolate flavors of the porter base and the coffee and vanilla additions. No matter where you look, Victory at Sea is very highly rated. So, it was with trepidation that I approached Calm Before the Storm. See, I love Victory at Sea. I’ve gone through at least a case of it each year for the last several years. So when the announcement was made that Ballast Point would be releasing a Summer version, I was hesitant. I was concerned that it would be a gimmick. I was worried that a brewery I hold in high regard was falling into a marketing trap. And, it makes me happy to say, I was wrong.

image from ballast point
image from ballast point

Coffee beers are very popular and for good reason. Coffee and beer work very well together. The appreciation of both beer and coffee begins in the aroma and for either to be “good” there is no small amount of skill involved. They are bookends to a day, one a morning drink, the other night. Calm Before the Storm is a cream ale brewed with Caffe Calabria coffee and vanilla. The coffee used is the same cold brew coffee that goes into Victory at Sea. As for the vanilla, that’s a bit more ambiguous. The description says a touch of vanilla, not whole vanilla bean like in Victory at Sea. That may mean the vanilla is different in Calm Before the Storm or it may simply mean that a different person at Ballast Point wrote the description. Either way, both the cold brew and vanilla used are very high quality. Caffe Calabria is a well-respected coffee shop in San Diego; they know their stuff. The cold brewing method gives the coffee a really nice flavor with minimum bitterness (if you’ve never had cold brew coffee give it a shot, it’s different enough that if you are not a coffee person it may change your mind). Added to the beer it brings a delicious coffee flavor and aroma. The vanilla adds a touch of sweetness without being overkill. The addition of vanilla to any beer must be delicate. Too little and there is no point, too much and you might as well be drinking cheap perfume from the 90s (seriously, some vanilla beers smell like a high school hallway circa 1996). The balance here is just right. The aroma is just like a really nice cup of coffee with cream and sugar. The cream ale base really lets that shine through. Cream ales used to be incredibly popular in the United States in the days before prohibition as an ale alternative to the traditional lager. Before the craft beer renaissance, the American lager and lite lager became the de-facto association with “beer” and cream ales fell to the wayside, save for a few brewers continuing the tradition. Similar to their lager cousin, cream ales are light, easy to drink, “lawnmower” beers. They have a natural sweetness and very low hop character. Their relative lack of upfront flavors makes them the perfect base beer for the type of flavor profile Ballast Point wanted with Calm Before the Storm. It is a great beer, surprisingly refreshing on a hot day, and absolutely shows that in the right hands, a change from the expected can be a good thing.

image from walls4joy
image from walls4joy

Mega Man has long been a pillar of the gaming landscape. His first game was released in 1987 for the NES and, atrocious cover art notwithstanding, it laid the groundwork on which one of the most popular gaming legacies would be built. To date, there have been more than fifty games for multiple systems, cartoon shows, toys, clothes, and comics. I’ve spoken of my love for this series previously, but that dealt with the original, side scrolling iteration of the blue bomber. It’s a franchise I love dearly and was guided by a creator, Keiji Inafune, that I have great respect for. So when the announcement was made that Capcom was making a 3D version, I was hesitant. I was concerned that the move to 3D was a gimmick meant to capitalize on the 3D trend in gaming at the time. I was worried that a creator I hold in high regard was merely making a corporate product. And, it makes me happy to say, I was wrong.

image from pop-break
image from pop-break

Releasing in 1997 first on the Playstation but later ported to the N64, PC, and PSP, Mega Man Legends is a 3D action-adventure, RPG kinda, game. The game takes place in 80xx, thousands of years after the events of the Mega Man X series. The earth has been flooded, mostly, and is overrun with pirates, mostly. As Mega Man Volnutt, you are a digger, tasked with excavating ruins looking for refractors, the source of energy and money in the world. After escaping the reaverbots (bad guys) and getting to your ship (flutter) in the opening sequence of the game, you crash land on Kattleox Island. The island is attacked by a family of pirates, the Bonnes (main bad guys), and Volnutt decides to stop them. From there, an epic story unfolds with tons of twists and turns. The story, maybe moreso than the gameplay, is what sets Mega Man Legends apart from previous games in the franchise. Before, you ran to the right and shot things with your mega buster to stop Dr. Wily. That’s the basic crux of Mega Man 1-10 and Mega Man X 1-6. Here though, we get so much more. We are given reason to care about the why of the story. Legends allowed players to connect to Mega Man on a much deeper level. And, it introduced us to the Servbots and Tronn Bonne. Those two additions could have been, and by all rights should have been, terrible. Instead, they were written intelligently. The Servbots are, in my opinion, a precursor to the Minions found in the Despicable Me films. They serve many functions and love Tron unconditionally. We connect with them throughout the game and their impact can be seen in not only subsequent Mega Man games but other Capcom franchises as well (Dead Rising and Marvel vs Capcom chief among them). Tron becomes the tragic heroine of the story and a character you can’t help but feel for. Her feelings for Mega Man are real and never come off as pandering or cheesy. I would be remiss however if I did not cover the most obvious difference here, the gameplay. Taking Mega Man into 3D was no easy feat. Taking a game based on platforming and shooting in a 2D space and transitioning it to 3D meant that certain things had to be changed. The lock on targeting mechanic gave players looking to “run and gun” a solid way of doing so. The addition of upgrades to Mega Man’s weapon versus the more traditional boss related power ups kept the strategy but made it work in a new setting. Inafune and his team proved that given a solid framework, action-adventure gaming, and a talented team, anything can work.

So, why these two together? The notion of using the familiar to challenge the norm. In both instances there are established, reasonable expectations of product, a roasty porter with coffee and vanilla and a side scrolling platformer with cool bosses and weapons. And in both cases not only were the expectations grounded, they were grounded by the pedigree of the respective products. Victory at Sea and Mega Man have name recognition, a brand. Each has legions of fans. And each had legions of skeptics when changes were announced. Now, to be fair, being skeptical does not mean being pessimistic. The people I talked to back in 1997 were cautiously hopeful that the move to 3D would not destroy one of their favorite games much the same way the people I talked to in the spring of 2015 were cautiously hopeful that a “summerized” version of their favorite beer would not be a blemish on the track record of a world class brewery. Viewing these in a vacuum, Legends and Calm Before the Storm are wonderful examples of their respective industries that stand on their own merits. But, knowing where they came from, their impact is that much more. One of my favorite things in life is to have my expectations exceeded. I love when something familiar becomes something new (especially when that something new is of such high quality). So as the Summer begins its march into Fall, grab a copy of Mega Man Legends and a six pack of Calm Before the Storm and enjoy these different takes on the standard.

Dean DeFalco

Creator of Websites, editor of content, wearer of vests. This man is said to be "The Jack of All Trades".  Dean has his hands in most parts of the website one way or another. The original incarnation of Geekade, "G33k Life", was Dean's brainchild. While Dean can be found on a number of shows like when he was the former co-host of the Stone Age Gamer Podcast or the current host Vest and Friends or talking about video games on YouTube and Twitch, he is the guy behind the scenes making sure that the site does everything it's supposed to every one else can do their job. There's not a problem he can't solve.....or at least punch and scream at until it doesn't exist anymore.

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