Heeeyyy yooooouuu guuuuuys!
Shoutout to the Goonies fans.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you to everyone who liked the Facebook page, commented on my last post, and gave me some feedback about video content. I responded to Robyn’s comment explaining that I have some video content coming and I’d like it to get as much traction as possible, so maybe tinkering with it a bit to better address what you guys want to watch will help me in that. Also, all the Facebook Page Likes give me Facebook Insights (which is essentially Google Analytics for the Facebook page) which again, will maybe help me get some more readers, and gain some more traction.
Because so many of you graciously said you weren’t really participating in the giveaway, you just wanted to help me out, I made this a contest of two: Mikael and A4man. Drum roll please . . .
Out of the 50/50 chance (I flipped a coin; Mik was heads, Adam was tails) Mikael won! And because Bastion is cheaper than Portal 2 right now, Mik, you won Bastion! Also because I love supporting indie devs and it’s a stellar game (and soundtrack) and you should definitely see what it’s all about!
I’ll get in touch with Mikael and send him the game, but again, thanks to everyone who commented!
If you haven’t ever heard of Kentucky Route Zero, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Although the indie title from Cardboard Computer didn’t make a huge splash across all gaming news outlets, I had happened to read a rave review of it on Kotaku. After that, I didn’t hear much about it. I believe it’s in a humble bundle of some sorts, but I can’t confirm (is humblestore.webs.com really affiliated with the official Humble Bundle website? Can’t tell).
I bought a this game full price on Steam because after reading it’s description, wouldn’t you?
“Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King’s Quest series, or more recently Telltale’s Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.”
Fun fact about me – magical realism is MY JAM. I love the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I love the idea of magical realism (inexplicable ["magical"] things happening in a seemingly realistic world), I just . . . love everything about the genre. I haven’t ever been a big sucker for point-and-click games, particularly if they involve guess clicking, but that last clause, “focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill” put a grin on my face as soon as I read it. I knew I had to buy this game.
Since the Steam Summer Sale is well under way, I had to start looking through my unplayed Steam games from last year’s sale and picking up the slack. I decided to force myself to start playing some of the games I had been looking forward to but never got going on, I would install them, so they would be staring me in the face. I finally installed Kentucky Route Zero and started it Sunday evening. Because it’s episodic (five parts), I’ll publish a series of posts as I play through each episode.
The intro menu is minimalistic, asking which chapter to start on – simple Courier New text on a black background. The title displays across my entire monitor, again, just white text on a black screen. Immediately I am charmed by the polygonal, geometric art work. All the colors are muted, and much of every scene is dark, but it helps that much more to see where you click to move forward the protagonist, Conway. The graphics indicating gameplay are clever: an eye to look at a person, animal, or object; a notecard to speak with someone; two stick figures holding hands when you and another party member can interact with an object or location point.
After a simple introductory fetch quest with an old man at a gas station, you jump in your moving van (Conway is a driver for an antiques shop) and hit the world map, which is essentially just a road map. Major highways are numbered, but only by driving down a road do you then learn it’s name. A handy logbook keeps track of your conversations that had driving directions. Your position on the map is indicated by a wheel that rolls along as you click on various roads. Points of interest only come up as you pass them. Some allow you to get out of the van and interact with a new scene, while others are strictly text-based wanderings through buildings (e.g. churches, museums, stores, etc.).
The aesthetic of the whole experience is very minimalist. There is no soundtrack – only sound effects that vary as you move through areas. One outstanding example of creating an atmosphere is when Conway enters a bait shop, and the game informs us that he sees a cashier and a row of tanks filled with water. As this text is populating, a faint water-bubbling sound fades in as though we’re standing near the tanks. If you choose to approach the tanks, the bubbling grows louder. If you choose to talk to the cashier, the decibel level of the tanks remains faint. These kinds of details aren’t new to video games, and we all know that good details like that are the best way to achieve immersion in a video game. All the same, that attention to detail from an indie developer, who is very aware that there are few sensory inputs in their game so every detail counts, is delightful.
By the same token, that minimalism creates a very . . . uneasy feeling as I played through the game. I don’t believe this is in the horror genre, and yet something fishy is going on. There are ghosts, and no one seems to be able to give you a straight answer about this mysterious Route Zero. I don’t ever feel like something is about to pop out at me, but . . . I also never feel completely secure in my chair. As someone who thoroughly dislikes being scared, this is a perfect medium. I am completely head-over-heels into this environment without being forced to jump out because it wants a cheap thrill. The sound effects and lack of soundtrack are what really bring these feelings home while playing through episode one.
My only concern as I gear up to jump into episode II is that there are sometimes a dozen different story options in one conversation. I’m playing by gut, just kind of approaching situations as though I were Conway, but because I’m a completionist (I’ve played Mass Effect 3 four times to make sure I’ve seen every different conversation choice), I’m wondering what I’m leaving behind by not repeating conversations. I hope all hanging plot points (there are a lot) get resolved by the end, but I suppose I’ll wait and find out!
Currently, Cardboard Castles has episodes I and II out, with promises of III-V coming before the end of the year. The two-man dynamo team also has an experience available for free called Limits & Demonstrations: A Lula Chamberlain Retrospective. From the page itself, it says “Marking the first major public showcase of her work in over twenty years, this retrospective exhibition of work by pioneering installation artist Lula Chamberlain comprises a diagonal slice through time, place, and form.” You know me. Any labor of love I’m definitely going to be checking out. Post forthcoming about that title, most definitely. Also, what a great way for me to be introduced to artist, Lula Chamberlain!
Thus far, a huge round of applause to the Cardboard Computer developers, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy. Playing Kentucky Route Zero is a treat audibly, visually, and intellectually. I can’t imagine the future chapters going anywhere but up. Pick it up now for 25% off at the Steam Store!
My people! I would love to give you something to show my utter appreciation for all that you do for me by just reading my blog, or clicking the “Like” button on a post, or even commenting. I love you all, and that is no lie. So! I figured I have at least one Steam game I can giveaway, perhaps more by the end of this Steam sale, but to make this so super legit it’s like I’m actually getting paid to do this or something (ha, wouldn’t that be great . . .) I’d love to use this chance to get some feedback! Here’s what I would love to see, if you want a free Steam game:
1. Like the Little Sister Gaming page on Facebook (here’s a workaround – just add it, then immediately click the drop-down arrow on a post in your Newsfeed from LSG and click “Hide…” THEN YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO SEE IT, but the Like still helps me! How does it help me? Once a Facebook page has 30 Likes, Facebook starts giving you analytic information about that page. Kind of silly for a blog as small as mine, but hey – it’d be nice).
2. Comment on this post about what kind of video game video content you like to watch. Do you love browsing Let’s Plays, or something more specific? Do you only watch machinima, or do you prefer vlogs about video game issues? Do you only watch video game video content if someone is livestreaming a game you really like?
3. IN THE SAME COMMENT AS ABOVE, say what Steam game you’d love to buy but can’t because you’ve sworn to not spend any money during the Summer Sale. I have a copy of Mass Effect 1 to give away. Old, so probably not a great incentive; if your wishlist game in your comment goes on sale for cheap sometime this week, I may or may not pick YOUR wishlist game to buy and let you choose which of the two Steam games you’d like (if your name gets picked). ALSO, if everyone really wants Half-Life 2 or something and it goes on a daily or flash sale, I’ll DEFINITELY buy it, so there is some extra incentive.
I’ll give this a week! On 7/21/2013, I’ll assign every comment a number in a spreadsheet, use a random number generator to pick a winner, post about it by 7/22 at the latest, and gift that person his or her Steam game.
Simple enough? Let’s get crack-a-lackin’! I want to spread some Steam love! A big, fat, serious, thank you to all of your!
It’s been awhile. I want to say “I’m making awesome video content!” but what’s really happening is I’m constantly checking my Amazon purchases and my Gamefly account to see if all necessary software and hardware will arrive soon so THEN I can start recording awesome video content. In the meantime, I should be writing up a storm on this blog, but alas – holidays always throw me for a lazy loop. But enough of this! On to the bee in my bonnet.
I was browsing Xbox Live accounts online at work today and I realized I needed to not be lame and just drop some points for some non-lame avatar threads. I started with updating my hair (since I chopped it all off a few months ago) and the thought crossed my mind “Maybe it’ll look weird since I have to choose a guy’s haircut to put on my female avatar.” Without much surprise, the hair looks fine on the avatar, so I moved on to updating my pants and shoes to something less frumpy. I opted for some standard shorts that look like what I wear most summer days, and then I realized that there weren’t any shoes that looked like shoes I wear. I then realized that I was only looking at the women’s shoes options. “Ah, makes sense. I did choose the female avatar body. But I bet I can find some shoes I like in the men’s section.” I came across some Oxfords, thought “Perfect!,” and tried to preview them on my avatar.
ENTER GENDER BINARY OPPRESSION. I got an error message telling me “Oops! These shoes are for the other gender” or something very similar to that message. The “Oops!” was definitely there.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to protest Microsoft, and I wasn’t distraught for days. If someone has run across this error message before and has subsequently protested Microsoft or was distraught for days – I feel you. Those are appropriate responses. That rejection of how you identify can be really frustrating and even traumatizing. For me, it wasn’t, but I was bummed out, and annoyed at Microsoft’s short-sightedness.
Gender-specific clothing? Really, Microsoft? I just . . . man. What a antiquated thing to code into your social service. Clothes are just clothes! People make avatars to be a cooler version of themselves. I don’t own Oxfords, but I want to, and I want my dang avatar to wear them, because I hate flip flops and clunky tennis shoes. And if I were a dapper butch lesbian, I’d want to have my tie on my avatar and my loafers, ya dig? Microsoft shouldn’t pidgeon-hole people or how they identify. Free the clothes for all, Xbox Live!
Add me if you so desire: lbizz66 (note that the shoes my avatar is currently wearing are not accurately representative of the persona I’d like to project on Xbox Live. Thank you).
Have you run into a bummer like this before? You identify as a dude that loves heels, or a chick that loves ties? Leave a comment, rant against The Machine (Microsoft), and let’s keep our eye on the avatar editor to see if Microsoft figures it out sooner rather than later.
On Tuesday night I went to the first (annual?) Utah Game Wars. It was an event for local game developers to get funding to further their projects. Out of I believe a total of 12 submissions for consideration, 8 finalists made it to the evening to showcase their games to judges first, then to any member of the public who registered for the event. The devs submitted their works as either developed (published on any kind of platform, available to the public) or undeveloped (not yet released anywhere), and the public got to cast their vote for a people’s choice award. Developed games could win $10k, undeveloped $15k, and an extra $500 to the crowd favorite.
I didn’t research any of the games before showing up, nor did I read the print and eat the free food that was provided, so it was off to a rocky start when I showed up around 7pm. As I perused the room and listened to developers explaining their projects to people, I was . . . surprised. There was an educational game, a sports stock exchange website, a isometric high fantasy regurgitation for tablets, and other equally equally forgettable games. I was excited to go to the evening because I thought I’d get to see the next Super Meat Boy or maybe something really radical like Hotline Miami or something. Instead, it was all safe, tame, and not very enticing to the stereotypical indie gamer.
Thankfully, the developed game category winner (and people’s choice winner) Tripleslash Studios pulled through and made the whole night worth it for me. Back in the corner of the layout was Magnetic By Nature, developed by a handful of University of Utah students who make up Tripleslash. After a successful Kickstarted seeded them $10k, Magnetic By Nature: Awakening was released on the Xbox Live Indie Games. For 80 credits, I can tell you its a steal. Here was the only game at the event that was by gamers for gamers.
You control a robot in a 2D side-scrolling environment. As the title suggests, your magnetic body traverses the art deco inspired background and a darkened foreground (ala Limbo) by attracting to different magnetically poled spheres. In a word, the whole look is incredibly charming. Although the foreground reminds all of Limbo, the lively backgrounds and obstacles you run by brighten up the gameplay and make the world fun to go through.
I didn’t get a chance to oust a small child off of the demo machine and try the game myself, nor have I purchased the game on the Xbox Live Arcade yet (yet being the operative word . . . I want to buy this game, and I will), but the gameplay seemed to be three primary buttons – jump, attract to a blue magnetic pole, attract to a red magnetic pole, and of course, the analog stick to run forward or backward. Like all great puzzle games, the complexity comes layered into the finesse with which you can navigate spinning sawblades and swirling seas that threaten to end your life, not in the gameplay mechanics.
And if the description and screencaps don’t convince you enough to give this game a shot, then the amiability of the developers should. I chatted at length to two of the gentlemen on the team and they were very willing to answer my questions, hypothesize about the future, and reminisce about the beginning. I was pleased to hear that they have ideas for more games in the future and would love to keep pushing into the industry with their studio, Tripleslash. First priority though, fattening up Magnetic By Nature though. The developers excitement and enthusiasm was infectious as they started talking about sprucing up the artwork and adding more mechanics (one dream mechanic was being able to throw your head and then attract your body to it to get through levels).
I’ve talked about this before but it’s the same every time I get to interact with Good Guy Greg developers – I just want good, nice people to succeed, 100% of the time. Tripleslash Studios are good people, and their victory (including the people’s choice) at the Utah Game Wars just warmed all four chambers of my heart. I hope to watch their meteoric rise with this project and all their future endeavors.
The official website doesn’t work right now but I’ve been assured the Facebook page is a good way to get a hold of the developers if you’re interested. You can also follow their updates on their official twitter account, @TeamTripleslash.
Everyone who read that title should’ve vomited and then unfollowed this blog. In reality, there is never enough vacation, but sometimes, vacations should include some video games, amirite? Let me elaborate.
The first Friday I went MIA on this blog, I went to San Francisco. After an early start Friday morning and running around enjoying every minute of the city, I woke up Saturday morning with no voice, a ton of congestion, and a throbbing ankle. I watched reruns of Top Gear on BBC America all morning before going out to meet friends. You know what I wish I had been doing? Playing video games, before going out to meet friends.
But Laurie, you cry. You blog about mobile gaming all the time; where was your phone? Let me elaborate on the garbage that is my phone’s battery. I’m constantly charging that hunk of junk. So I never game on my phone any more, because doing so would mean not having a phone in critical situations, e.g. getting to and from the airport, meeting up with friends while we’re both out on the town, etc. First world problems, eh?
Last week while I was MIA, I was in Hawaii. On Thursday and Friday afternoons, after mornings of activity and evenings full of plans, I had to take some R&R because I am a weak, lesser human being (read: riddled with Crohn’s disease). It was nice to sleep on Friday, but on Thursday I watched a movie. Also nice, but you know what would’ve been really top during those few hours? Playing video games.
So the bottom line is at the beginning of May was my only window of opportunity for justifying buying a handheld console and I missed it. Now I’m done traveling for at least a year, and won’t have need of a 3DSXL or a Vita, or whatever the young hip hoppers are playing these days. But my eyes were truly opened to the luxury of having a portable console, for coping with whatever your vacation deals you.
What are your guys’ portable consoles of choices? Or do you hate all non-vacationing while on vacation? It’s a valid point, wax eloquent in the comments below!
PS Thanks to all the new followers! You all warm my heart immensely. Looking forward to getting back in the blogging saddle!
I believe other people have blogged about this fairly recently. Part 2 of this series came out last week, a friend sent it to me, I watched parts 1 and 2, and have now formulated opinions about this, then remembered that people might’ve already spoken about this. So wa hoo, I get to add my voice to the mix!
Frankly, anyone who finds fault with anything that Anita Sarkeesian has said in any of her videos are not thinking critically enough. I’ve been binge watching her whole channel now (spoiler alert: I love it) and I can’t recall if it’s in her tropes video or an earlier video, but she points out how just because we critique something doesn’t mean we don’t love it. I think some critics may have missed that Sarkeesian loves the classic games she picks apart in her part 1 of the series. She says she was raised on Nintendo. It’s not that I don’t love video games, but it’s undeniable they need to step up their game in regards to equal treatment of women in narratives.
And I love her point that they need to step up their treatment of men in narratives. It’s weaksauce to pin character development on the loss of a loved one, and obviously so hackneyed. Do more for your Hitman, your Max Payne, your male protagonist!
Her evidence is unshakable – there are way too many damsels in distress in video games, and way too many “killing women to save them,” and all of the other points she brings up. I think people get defensive about video games and this issue because no one wants to be labeled as a misogynist for playing these games or for not noticing earlier. If I was insinuating that, I would be indicting myself as well. I never noticed these things before Sarkeesian’s videos brought them to my attention.
That doesn’t mean I’m an idiot for not noticing, it means someone has given me some new, good information that can improve the future of video and the future of my video game involvement. That’s to be celebrated, not balked at! It also doesn’t mean these things didn’t exist before, or that because you didn’t notice they aren’t there. It’s just a testament to the pervasiveness of patriarchy in all media outlets.
Finally, lots of people like to argue that the developer didn’t want to say that so it’s taken out of context, and she’s digging to meaning that’s not really there. Here’s the thing about that: it’s not about what you recognize, it’s about what you subconsciously absorb. Anecdote: I worked with a guy who let his 4 year old son play Red Dead Redemption. The kid killed a prostitute in the game, then the next day drew his toy sword on his mom’s throat and said something to the effect of “I’m a cowboy like the game!”
I would bet cold hard cash it wasn’t a conscious decision to think “Oh, I have to commit violence against women to embody this new exciting game that I played” but subconsciously, that’s exactly what happened. We’re absorbing and learning behaviors about how to treat women based on the entertainment we consume. That’s why the rest of Sarkeesian’s videos about a broader spectrum of pop culture are equally valuable and fascinating to me. People try to debate this EVERY DAMN DAY to me and while I try to be really open-minded 100% of the time, everyone who disagrees with me is incorrect. We all absorb what we see, consciously or unconsciously. Often these don’t mean we’re going to go out and kill prostitutes (but for some horrendous people in really extreme, unlikely circumstances, it does) but it does mean we just moved the water level of respect of women one millimeter lower in our subconscious. Because people don’t see that in everyday interactions in the minute scale it occurs in, it is ignored, scoffed at, and dismissed.
Here’s the take away: People will make you uncomfortable by pointing out biases you didn’t know you had, and pointing out some of your favorite things that might have really unsavory aspects to them (e.g. I absolutely love Red Dead Redemption, but yeah . . . there are problems in it on a social level, most definitely). So, if you previously ranted against Sarkeesian for her cold hard facts about how women are treated in video games, reassess what made you so defensive in the first place, swallow some pride, and acknowledge your discomfort so you can have an honest conversation with yourself about the content you love (and that I love too) and how it treats women and minorities and how that affects you or others who play the game. It doesn’t mean we have to abandon the games we love. It means we have to be informed consumers of a culture we love and participate in, and perhaps, when given a chance to vote with our dollar or internet comments, we can lean towards making choices that support/further positive women roles in video games, and help others do the same.