Gaming without your brother

Category Archives: Casual

At dinner with a friend last night, I was asked what games I’ve been playing lately. It forced me to vocalize something I had been bothered by and not wanting to say out loud to anyone – I hadn’t played any of the new games I bought over a month ago. The plan was to become a tumor on the couch and breeze through Rise of the Tomb RaiderUndertaleFallout 4, and a bunch more I purchased but didn’t have the time to play until after my semester ended. Alas – none of that happened.

What happened instead  was I also purchased the Legendary edition of Destiny to try and get back into the game (I gave up on vanilla around level 20, a few missions short of the end of the main storyline of the game) by playing with friends. And get back into the game I did. It’s been the first MMO I’ve been really hooked on (despite trying World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2). A few days ago I spent all day farming bounties and getting resources for upgrades and a sword. Most of my winter break from school was spent farming levels to get my first character somewhere reasonable for strikes and the first few raids.

So this friend asked me what I’d been playing and I had to say “I’ve been playing nothing but Destiny and Smite.” Smite is a 3rd person MOBA made by Hi-Rez Studios, and is the first MOBA I’ve ever been hooked on. Late last year I succumbed to peer pressure and tried to play a big friendy in-house of DoTA 2 and hated it. My conclusion was DoTA 2 is for smart people, and Smite is for us common folk. Before that encounter, I tried League of Legends a few times in years past and never got into it – going back to it for a few games with friends in my program it’s pace didn’t capture my interest like Smite did, I would assume because of the camera angle.

This is the first time in my life I’ve been stuck in a spiral of live, online games that don’t just end. This is also the first time in my life I’ve had friends I felt comfortable playing games online with. But even so, my all day farm session in Destiny recently was solo, intentionally, and I was so happy for it to be so. I do a lot of solo queueing in Smite because I don’t play a lot of their traditional 5 v 5 map (the rage from sub-par players toward all the rest of us sub-par players is too aggravating for what should just be a game). I finally did join a clan but the few times I’ve been online since joining, anyone that asks to queue together, I just ignore.

This also boils down to deeper considerations like, why do I feel guilty enjoying a game, even if I dump hundreds of hours into it? Why is that bad, when to some, it’s the most cost efficient game I’ve ever purchased? I’m sure part of it goes to being in a game design master’s program. Like all disciplines, you have to be well versed in it to have the most tools at your disposal to create new and/or interesting things within that discipline. I.e. read often and widely to write, watch often and widely to create films, and play often and widely to make games. But here I am, returning to the same killing fields over and over and over again every day.

So in the academic sense, is there a parallel to playing these games incessantly that’s akin to reading deeply? Analyzing texts requires becoming immersed in all the minutiae of the text. Can I claim analyzing the minutiae of the game, which requires playing nothing else? Maybe. If I were really doing that. Smite lends itself to that, as a competitive eSport. It demands to be analyzed to improve or be halfway decent at – if I didn’t learn something deeper about the game 90% of the time I played then I would be getting stomped every game. And I take pride in saying I only get stomped in 50% of the games I play. Ha HA!

Spiraling deeper into this rabbit hole of self-reflection, I also acknowledge that I don’t play games very deeply in general. My introspection is around the level of “why was this enjoyable? What did it do well? What could it improve on?” not “What was the intent behind these systems to inform my player experience?” Throughout my program, I’ve been adamant that I am not a game designer. Mostly because true game design positions are a lot of spreadsheets, testing variable changes in slight directions, and seeing how those effects propagate out through the game. I don’t have the patience for that. Give me a to-do list, and I will become possessed with the notion of getting list completed (again, part of my recent infatuation with Destiny) regardless of what the end product actually is, so long as it actually fits the quality benchmark set forth at the start of the project.

That infatuation also speaks to some my addictive tendencies. Why can’t I enjoy an hour a day of a game and move on to another game? For me, that will be a learned skill at some point. I feel the height of immersion at around the 4th hour. So jumping in for an hour and jumping out just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I definitely play video games for escapism; due to that, immersion is my preferred state of game playing. And that is a state easily achieved when I have an infinite number of checklists, ala Destiny.

In the end, what am I saying? Mostly nothing. Just rambling my thoughts because I realized recently I missed this site. Ultimately, I know I shouldn’t feel bad about playing whatever I want, even if it’s the same thing day in and day out. I should’t feel guilty about not getting through my Steam/console/mobile backlog, regardless of my student status. Having said that, it’s not a bad thing to consider taking a break from games that offer little novelty and diving into critically acclaimed alternatives, even if it requires forcing myself to do so. If for no other reason, it’ll give me more fodder to come back to this page with.

Do you guys struggle with this phenomenon? What do you attribute it to? I’m genuinely curious to hear your experiences and thoughts on this topic – it’s one I’ve wrestled with a lot the past few months.


Earlier this year, game developer Konami announced that it was shifting its focus. Instead of relying on its top-tier console titles, the company is adapting some of its more popular franchises to the casual casino-gaming and mobile free-to-play school of gaming. The move, while upsetting for some, comes as little surprise. The company had been seeing declining profits in its console gaming division for years despite big name titles like the Metal Gear Solid series.

According to Digital Trends, the first two titles the company is introducing to casinos and pachinko parlors in Japan are the survival-horror franchise Silent Hill and the vampire-slaying platformer series Castlevania. For some gamers, these announcements feel like a slap in the face. Many were looking forward to a now-shelved console sequel to Silent Hill developed in collaboration with Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro.

The low overhead and high return-on-investment from mobile and casino gaming has many companies traditionally known for their console titles looking to move their business to the “freemium” based model sustained by micro-transactions. And Konami isn’t done with just two titles as it’ll showcase many more of its casino offerings at the Global Gaming Expo this fall. CNN reports that the classic highway-hopping game, Frogger, will make its way to the casino floor. The press release also hints that even more classic properties, including Contra and Dungeons & Dragons, will be unveiled.

“Players have the chance to experience their favorite Frogger features with a real-money casino spin,” said Matt Reback, vice president of marketing at Konami Gaming, Inc. “While the primary game carries modernized character art paired alongside our proven video slot features and math, the game’s mystery Frogger Bonus allows players to relive the classic road and river crossing course in retro-pixelated glory.

The conference will take place at the Sands Expo and Convention Center adjacent to the Venetian Palazzo and is expected to bring more than 25,000 industry professionals to Las Vegas. “Visitors to this year’s G2E will have no doubt about Konami’s unique role in the industry,” said Reback. “We’re leveraging our company’s gaming entertainment legacy, backed by an operational stability and dedication to product quality that engenders confidence in the global gaming market.” The expo takes place from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.

This news comes hot on the heels of a movement for new regulations to allow traditional skill-based video games to operate alongside the usual games of chance, such as slot machines. CBS Local reports that the proposed requirements for skill-based games would include providing detailed game rules in advance as well as informing players of potential outcomes.

If the latest regulations go through and Konami’s new gamble pays off, you can definitely expect to see more of your favorite titles in the gambling realm. It’s not that far of stretch to even imagine Nintendo trying to take advantage of this lucrative new market.

Written by Blaine Kelton, who can be reached at BLKelton [at] outlook [dot] com. Blaine is a freelance writer with an interest in mobile gaming currently focusing on portability as it relates to control schemes and the remastering of 8- and 16-bit art styles.


Remember when I talked about a game-a-thon for charity awhile ago? It was a terrible, meandering post about just losing meaning in my life a little bit (maybe the post wasn’t so much about that, but in hindsight that’s the attitude it was written in). This is about that.

I recently tried to get more involved in the Rooster Teeth community. It has . . . been going okay, still haven’t worked up the courage to game with anyone on the site even though I joined a couple of groups for that specifically. Slowly but surely! The best connection thus far has been a Salt Lake City group. One proactive site user in the Salt Lake area has started a team for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, as a part of Extra Life, and I joined!

The link above explains the details of Extra Life, if you haven’t heard of it before. My donation page is here.

Why donate? Why am I doing this?

A) I feel really strongly that all charities should give 100% of their proceeds to who they’re trying to benefit. Check, Extra Life does that.

B) The Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals uses all of its money to let patients stay at their facilities cost free. On the list of noble causes, that’s pretty high up there. They deserve some help for that, doncha think?

C) I get to play video games for 24 hours in a really cool locale, Gamerz Funk.

I understand that part of the challenge of getting donations is that it’s for a very specific, local hospital. The factor that I think could transcend geography is that it’s helping kids, right? You might not know a kid in Salt Lake City, but they exist right? Kids that need help. So if you have a couple bucks and want to encourage me to last the full 24 hours, consider clicking the link above and donating towards my modest $200 goal. The SLC team I’m a part of has a $5,000 goal that my $200 will contribute towards.

Thanks, you know I love you all despite my absence in the blog-o-sphere,

Laurie


Time to move over the top-loader and bury that emulator deep in a folder somewhere, because your favorite old-fashioned games have (for the most part) gone mobile!

Classic games still available today for mobile devices have been re-mastered and partially expanded, leaving gameplay and core mechanics widely untouched. But what are the hardware advantages to players using the most current mobile devices?

Check out the specs on the iPhone 5S and Galaxy S5 and you’ll see:

iPhone 5S*

  • Display: 4″ IPS LCD
  • Resolution: 640×1136
  • Pixel Density: 326ppi
  • Processor: Dual-Core Apple A7

*specs courtesy of PhoneArena.

Galaxy S5*

  • Display: 5.1″ AMOLED
  • Resolution: 1080×1920
  • Pixel Density: ~432ppi
  • Processor:  Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801

*specs courtesy of Verizon Wireless and GSMArena.

Immediately obvious are the combined capabilities of the processor and impressive display of each flagship smartphone. While these systems support wildly more mechanic- and graphic-heavy titles, they’ll prove more than optimal for your retro gaming experience.

If you miss that 8- or 16-bit style of gaming, isometric player viewpoints, total heads-up display, and super-pixelated graphics (which have seen a huge return), look no further for your next mobile gaming experience than these time-tested classics.

Ms. Pacman

While her spouse may have dominated arcade and early console play in the ’80s, Namco‘s Ms. Pacman has held on as valiantly as her iconic husband. The proof is in her game’s availability for iPhone and Android.

Graphics here are left mostly untouched, but more vibrant and noticeable colors go a long way for the vertical display. Ms. Pacman also features a rendered joystick to turn and guide Ms. Pacman’s sprite through the sea of turns and Power Pellets in the game’s D-Pad Mode. Changing to Swipe Mode will allow you to turn the running PacLass with the swipe of a finger. Collect familiar food items and dots without losing all your lives or it’s game over for you!

Tetris

While there is certainly a wide array of available ports for the classic Tetris game, I recommend going with EA‘s app. This recommendation comes partially from the app’s availability for both iPhone and Android devices and also because it offers options and supports online leader boards through Facebook.

For gameplay, the app offers classic swipe controls that emulate the original GameBoy Tetris in addition to a One-Touch feature for fast stacking and a Drag-and-Place feature for a more strategic approach involving speed. Riddled with new power-ups and gameplay modes, Tetris deserves a spot in your games folder as an old-yet-new classic!

Frogger Free

Konami‘s Frogger Free app is available for iPhone and Android devices and is a graphically impressive re-master of the original game, fresh out of the arcade era into your smartphone.

The control scheme has stayed classic but now offers options. The player may choose from swipe, touch, or tilt modes of control over the froggy to guide him through the classic road-and-pond level complete with cars, logs, alligators, and other timeless Frogger friends.

Final Fantasy VI

One of the most beloved of the franchise pre-3D processors, Square Enix‘s Final Fantasy VI is newly available to iPhone and Android gamers.

All of the game’s original content is available in the mobile port, and the character sprites have all been given a re-master—to mixed reviews. Battle and dungeon backgrounds have been enhanced and look absolutely beautiful. The control scheme has been altered, giving a hexagonal D-pad at any location on the screen that initializes with every touch from the player. Specific battle commands like Sabin’s Blitz technique have been given special controls and the soundtrack has been re-recorded. The player has the option to listen to the soundtrack at any time from the main menu. Let’s just call it a masterpiece of a masterpiece.

With mobile technology seeing continued development, we are sure to see more available retro titles on the mobile platform. Be sure to keep your eyes open for further mobile comings from your childhood favorites.

Written by Blaine Kelton, who can be reached at BLKelton [at] outlook [dot] com. Blaine is a freelance writer with an interest in mobile gaming currently focusing on portability as it relates to control schemes and the remastering of 8- and 16-bit art styles.


Little bit of cross promotion here, but last week my co-hosts at Go For Rainbow interviewed Ian Snyder, creator of an indie game that’s quickly picking up press (and recently got put on Steam Greenlight) called The Floor Is Jelly. Unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow me to chat with Ian and the guys but I just finished listening to the episode and finally got a minute to sit down and play the game. I swiftly concluded I must write a blog post, because you all must play it (and vote for it on Steam Greenlight . . . just sayin’).

The protagonist is a small two-legged creature attempting to traverse each level to make it to a window (and after a certain number of stages, an elevator to go to a new environment). The floor isn’t exactly jelly however – it’s a non-Newtonian fluid (or at least behaves like one). Any of us who spent extensive time on a trampoline as kids have a slight advantage, because it operates much the same way; propel yourself higher with the momentum of the rippling ground.

An opening level of The Floor Is Jelly

An opening level of The Floor Is Jelly

The artwork is simple, warm, and beautiful. Rounded edges combined with a stellar soundtrack make the stress of continually dying in this challenging platformer seem to fly away on the digital wind blowing leaves across the background. The music is minimalist, but full-bodied – just my style. I haven’t gotten very far but each environment thus far in my quest has introduced a new gameplay mechanic (most recently, hitting a bullseye rotates the entire world to make what was previously a bouncy wall, turn to a bouncy floor). In short, it contains absolutely everything I love about the very best indie games have to offer.

If I had a wishlist, I suppose I’d add some story to it but I bet players across the world are coming up with their own backstory just fine on their own. When you have a game this full of character, it would be hard not to.

Right now you can pick up the game for $10 USD from thefloorisjelly.com, but you could wait and share the Steam Greenlight link if you’d prefer and pick it up in your Steam library because I’m sure in the very near future, this will be picked to make a Steam debut. I’ll tell you honestly – I forgot that I got a free copy of the game, went to the site after listening to the podcast and bought a copy, remembered I had a free copy already, played the free version (lamenting that I had just spent $10) but after playing three full stages (and itching to play more), am so pleased I supported Ian and his game, despite having a free copy. Pick up a copy, and leave a comment letting me know what you think of the game!


I thought before I typed this up, I should check out the Wikipedia page, see if anything about the developer stood out to me that could be a better talking point than just writing up how much I did or didn’t like the game (because I know this game is ages old and me talking about it now is poor form). This is a quote from the Wikipedia entry for this game: “He [the developer] did not expect it to be a success, and that he was ‘half-expecting it to fail for being too stupid of a game.'”

Despite his concerns, this game is dirt cheap and a good time so you should definitely pick it up. Aside from that, I’m going to touch on, once again, how much I love indie games. You’re welcome.

You know why indie developers are great? Because they just wake up one morning (might have been years ago, before all of their incredibly dedicated, hard work, but all the same! it started one random morning) and decided, “This idea is awesome. I’m going to make it myself because it will be awesome. If no one else thinks it’s awesome, that’s too bad, but at least it was awesome to me.” I think I love this mindset (or that I’m particularly a sucker for it) because I’m so the opposite. I get defeated so easily (see: my track record on this blog . . . ) and never have confidence in my own creativity. Actually scratch that. I have a lot of confidence that some of my ideas are pure gold – I also just recognize the amount of effort they’d take to execute and I give up before I begin. So when one dude decides he’s going to make a game out in Microsoft XNA and assumes it’s going to be too stupid to even make him any money so he sells it for $1, and then it becomes an underground favorite – yeah. I love that guy, and all of his aspirations. Having said that, I never played his other game The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, but all the same! He’s a boss. Cheers to you, Mr. James Silva. Live your dreams, and long live the dreams of all indie developers everywhere.

Speaking of indie developers! My friend made this game called Cyber Heist for his senior thesis/project in a video games development-centric Master’s program and that is awesome that he is in it, and it exists. The game is getting crazy hype and he is getting crazy hype and I couldn’t be more over the moon for him and his cohorts working on the game. Although the premise is tongue in cheek (hackers trying to get into the system to erase all of their student debt), the idea of the second player and first player having complete different gameplay experiences is . . . fairly novel. I can’t think of another game that does that besides Wii U games (people with the Wii U controller in New Super Mario Bros Wii U for example, place jumping blocks anywhere on the screen, and don’t control a character). Comment! Correct me with examples, because I’m sure I’m wrong.

Speaking more about indie games! Tripleslash, the team that made Magnetic By Nature (which I am in love with), is releasing a full version of the game in the next few months. Details seem a little sparse on any official outlet, but it looks like the fully-funded Kickstarter plans on delivering a newly polished, full version in Q3 of 2014 on PC, Linux, and Mac OS. I’m also pretty sure the “Ultimate” version on the official website is for the new, upcoming release, even though the demo video still shows the gameplay of the $1 title on the Xbox Live Indie Aracde (still great, by the way).

Anyway. You know me and indie devs. I’m just a regular fangirl, droolin’ all over people makin’ moves and fulfillin’ dreams without corporate backing. I love you indie devs. Get it, girls.


I started this draft awhile ago, and originally the title was “I will buy a Wii U for Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze.” I am the ultimate sucker for anything Donkey Kong Country related. Have you guys played Donkey Kong Country Returns? Dat game! So good! I don’t know what the critics ended up saying about it, but it had so much charm and the jammin-est tunes since the original Donkey Kong Country, I don’t know how people have survived without playing it. And yeah, I’m being hyperbolic, but Donkey Kong Coutnry Tropical Freeze looks so good and a beloved video game company is doing so poorly . . . I just want to help somehow.

I’ve always been a Nintendo kid. My pedigree includes the NES, SNES, N64, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, and the Wii. I’m a sucker for all Mario, Donkey Kong, and Zelda-themed games. I’m constantly on the fence about splurging and jumping into the portable Nintendo world again, just for a taste of some more Mario KartZelda, and Super Mario Brothers. My frugality has won out so far, but with all of the headlines Nintendo has been making recently about a deeper and deeper plunge into the red . . . my heart breaks a little as I acknowledge my bank account is desperately incapable of helping even the amount of the price of a new console.

I used to think Nintendo was invincible. Even when the 360 and PS3 started eclipsing the Wii hardware, I thought “No way – Nintendo still has something novel here.” And even when the Playstation came out with the Move I thought “Too little too late, suckers.” When Microsoft came out with the Kinect, I thought, “Whoa. That’s pretty cool . . . but Nintendo will pick it back up shortly, they just need a few months.” Time passed, there were more and more reboots of the same IPs and still Nintendo stood in the shadowy plane of 720p behind it’s competition.

When they announced the Wii U, I thought there were some  cool features (different functionality on the controller screen versus the main monitor, playing from the controller and being able to give up the TV on demand); unfortunately I knew deep down it would be up to developer buy-in to really launch Nintendo’s console over the moon. People were worried about release titles, but I sagely remembered that no consoles have good titles at launch, so who cared? Then, the hardware specs came out. All so disappointing. All so subpar. All so definitely not next-gen. Was Nintendo losing its touch?

Time has shown . . . that perhaps they have. I’m not saying I won’t still buy a Wii U at some point, but a Playstation 3 is definitely higher on my list, as are a lot of games. But where does that leave this title, and my favorite franchises? I don’t know, to be honest. It’s with a heavy heart and a hanging head that I doubtfully look at the Wii U price, and games available for it.

This is all very rambley and I know it. Grief is rambley. And of course this is all a little over-dramatic, a little tongue-in-cheek, but honestly at the end of it, I do feel anxious about Nintendo’s future, and how little they’re motivating me to help. I’m undecided if one classic title will be enough to make me pull out my wallet and jump to their aid.


I see that WordPress has kept innovating – I really like the simplified layout. I wonder if it costs more in management functionality. Ramble, ramble, ramble (spoiler alert: the rest of this long post is kind of like this).

You guys. You keep following me on Twitter and including me in your Follow Friday tags and it’s just a lot; naturally I am super grateful for it.

I’ve read many “State of the [insert whatever your medium/project is]” posts all over the internet since this is a new year. I feel disinclined to post something similar (although this might as well be considered that I s’pose) – I’m terrible with goals, because I don’t think being accountable to myself is good enough motivation to do anything. I’m just me, you know? Why do something for me? And sadly I know how thoroughly over-saturated video game blogging is, and how difficult it is to take it to a level to make money from it. I recognize that multiple times (probably all on this blog) I’ve tried to talk about how you can have a different end goal than making money. And sometimes that’s really manifested itself – sometimes I’ve just written to write here because I want to wax eloquent about video games. Unfortunately those moods are few and far between. I know I started this blog to create a polished portfolio to present to Kotaku or Polygon or some online gaming news outlet, to then be hired. But sticking to as schedule feels like a chore, and not sticking to a schedule reduces most any chance of getting virally known (even mini-viral).

Plus, you know, my job is going real well in my real life. I get to write stuff, now I’m managing people, leading development direction in a small number of cases, and getting free break room food every day which helps my grocery bill. The motivation to write to get out of a situation wanes when the situation is pretty good.

The other conundrum is that I might still use this as a dumping ground for thoughts on video games except  I find myself playing video games less and less, which is shameful. I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft in my spare time. My girlfriend is loving Splice, which is super heartwarming. We tried to play through Cogs the other day but god damn that game, am I right? So hard. I suppose I could do a write up on Cogs . . . haven’t done that yet. Aside from that, I finally tried Battle Block Theater (same team that put out Castle Crashers) and I Maed a Gam with Zombiez!!!!111!! Or whatever/however it’s spelled. Okay, okay, I could write up some thoughts about the very minimal amount of gaming I’ve done, you’re right. You’re right.

You know what has really been catching my interest lately? Game casting. Right before I really dove off this blog/the internet, I recorded about an hour of me playing Remember Me (which I “rented” from Gamefly, and still have, and have been paying for without using for . . . many embarrassing months now). I was going to edit it down to at most 30 minutes and then see how people liked it – either keep going with Remember Me or pick another game with a female protagonist (without giving it away, it was kind of the point of the series to play games with female protagonists). The other day I was thinking about that (because I have a to-do task in my Gmail to cancel my Gamefly subscription) and I was thinking what if i just did like 5 minute highlights of playing games with female protagonists? More work on my end . . . but potentially a funnier option.

And I started thinking of that because I made a goal that in 2014 I would get more involved with charity work. I do nothing to give back, and everyone who can, should. I definitely can. But I realized that my primary interests were helping further Child’s Play or like, Extra Life. Their official websites say either go volunteer at a hospital, or be the one streaming games and getting sponsors. Who would want to watch me play video games for 24 hours? I don’t think my mother would even want to watch me play video games for 24 hours, and she’s the most supportive, longest-present person in my life.

Unless I had an audience base. And then, the 5 minute video thought – I’d have to keep them always thirsty for more, so 24 hours was a real treat – something to entice donations, you know?

But we’re back to the original problem/premise – it always feels like work. I get home from work, and watch a ton of YouTube. People doing what I’d like to be doing (e.g. RoosterTeeth and Achievement Hunter). Maybe some of us are just consumers, and some of us are just producers. If only I could get paid to write ramble-y blog posts . . . That’s where my voice shines, but I suppose everyone’s does when they ramble. But I like to think mine stays coherent, which might give me a leg up over other ramble-y bloggers.

I’ve honestly been thinking about posting the following question for awhile, and in sincerity (i.e. please leave a comment with real advice for me because I feel like I’m losing a part of my life and I’m not sure why): how do you get motivated to start/maintain/complete projects? All of these blogs of ours are labors of love, but why can’t I follow through with it? Is that just a personality defect? Which sounds really negative but I can totally accept that – I’m more curious if anyone found themselves in a situation like this and crawled out of it. I suppose the outcomes have to outweigh the costs . . . but I’m unsure if I can achieve the outcomes I want (i.e. at least a little money and a little internet fame)

If anyone has read this far in this post, YOU ARE A TRUE FRIEND. I’m also disproving my false idea that my rambling stays coherent magically.

Honestly, the deterioration of this blog (and my gaming habits in general) always begin when I start dating someone. I don’t think that it’s because I start morphing into the other person, I just have a very strong and specific need to spend every second of every day with that person. So if they don’t want to play video games (and sometimes if they do) I default to doing something else because hey, it’s them. Video games are just video games. Plus, meeting all of their friends, and keeping up with your friends – it all just eats up time, time that I’m happy to sacrifice, but time nonetheless. Is all of that bad, or is it normal? Am I making relationships unhealthy, or is this just a natural evolution?

Here’s the real bottom line: I’ve been really unmotivated and bored at work all day, and thinking about all of this a lot. So I’ve just vomited this all out but I would really love to hear some responses, if you too are bored or unmotivated sometime this weekend.


Image from the Steam Store

Image from the Steam Store

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.

Image from CreativeApplications.net

Image from CreativeApplications.net

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!