Immediately, that title might seem odd because I really did play the game. I really did get the 64 cube ending. I pushed all the buttons and shifted all the perspectives. What I mean by the title is that most of what I did in the game was informed by the viewers in chat while I was playing on Twitch, telling me what to do. Someone in chat explained to me how to read the tetronimo code throughout the game. Someone in chat googled all of my questions. Together, chat and I googled how to solve the damn waterfall puzzle. It was the most collaboration I think I’ve ever experienced with a video game, and I used to play the MOBA Smite daily. With friends. In person.
After awhile I figured out how to decipher the code on my own and wasn’t so dependent on chat to help me solve the puzzles. At one point, someone asked if I felt like the game was so easy now, since I was able to just breeze through puzzles that I used to have to literally just sit and stare at chat, waiting for the buffer delay so the smarter-than-me viewers could help me. I realized that I didn’t think it felt easier, I just felt like more of a badass. That in turn, surprised me. I usually feel a dose of guilt when I extensively google how to get through a game (I’M SORRY, BRAID. OKAY!? I’M SORRY) and I did the smallest percentage of original work yet puzzling through FEZ. But I felt more satisfied completing that game than I have felt completing any other game in the recent past.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt like this game wasn’t just me being lazy and googling, or not wanting to sit and think to figure something – this game was legitimately hard. In hindsight, I haven’t talked to anyone who has played FEZ who hasn’t googled at least one solution, usually more (that could probably expand to every player because no one figured out the Black Monolith room – the community solved it through collaborative brute force). For the first time, googling solutions was the norm, even for hard cores and fan bois. I was in the norm! There were multiple instances I scoffed at solutions to rooms and said “Right – like anyone could have figured that out . . . yeesh” but I suppose someone did first. But no one else did after that, heh. For whatever anyone thinks or says about Phil Fish and/or Polytron, FEZ is an amazing puzzle game. And even in it’s pixel art, it’s beautiful. A game that requires that kind of depth of thought is something to be admired regardless of your preferences or politics.
And I suppose to wrap up the sap, it really hit me at the end of this game that Twitch is all about community. Streamers are nothing without their chat and I had read that before but after this experience it became even more abundantly clear to me. And the people in chat don’t want to one up you or be annoying – they want to help. They want to work together with someone to play a game, together. The more I stream the more I learn. The more I stream, the more I want to learn. FEZ was a blast, but I doubt it wouldn’t’ve been quite as fun without the crowd.
When I was planning what to play on my 3rd day of full-time Twitch streaming, I was at a loss. I had decided to start two days earlier with Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor but after lackluster intro content (including tutorials) and visuals that disappoint for just having come out in 2015, I wasn’t engaged and excited to play the game, and therefore put out fairly poor stream.
The next day, I decided to finally give The Banner Saga a shot and while the visuals and music and emotion of the game were portrayed excellently, it just didn’t seem like the type of game that would give a good stream experience and I wasn’t particularly excited to continue playing it. Did I mention that I am also just abhorrently bad at tactics games and brought my usual talent to The Banner Saga? Yeah.
So there I was, needing something to really pep up the “Past Broadcasts” on my channel. And then I stumbled over Dust: An Elysian Tail in my Steam library. It was in my wheelhouse – platformer, button masher, indie, great art, jammin’ tunes. This was my time to shine.
And bless Dust‘s heart, it totally worked! I had a blast playing the game during the past 3 streams and finishing it up last night. I might stream it a 4th time to wrap up the 117%. Which is actually a perfect segue to the nostalgia-laced trip it was in this final stream. SPOILERS ABOUT THE SECRET FRIEND COLLECTIBLES AHEAD (no main story line spoilers) (oh and 117% was the full completion percentage of Spyro so . . . nostalgia).
A kind Twitch passerby stopped to watch the stream and while we were chatting back and forth about the game, which he loves to death, we were talking about all of the extra “secret friends” you can get by unlocking special chests throughout the different regions. I had already collected Super Meat Boy, Howard the Duck*, and the main male character of Spelunky. He was super in to helping me find the rest of the secret friends before I called it quits on the game (I’m not generally in to collecting achievements or completion percentages for Steam games and I was playing on Steam) so I beat the story mode and then together (via chat) we started going through the game to unlock all the secret friends.
The first secret friend the Twitch chat lead me to was Bandage Girl, also from Super Meat Boy. When I unlocked Super Meat Boy himself, I was tickled pink. It was an obviously frivolous addition to the game, but at the same time, it was the perfect level of non-committal to making the game different in anyway. And it wasn’t a super dose of nostalgia. If anything, I read the secret friends in the game as nods to great indie games of our generation.
I got some others, including the female Spelunky character which made me smile wide, but I also kept thinking about the beginning of the game. The first time you hack down a wall a “Mysterious Wall Chicken” pops out, which when eaten grants back 80 health. The first time that happened I also laughed out loud because come on – Castlevania! Why the hell was cooked poultry popping out of the walls in that game? No one knows, and Dust made me laugh about it.
Later in the night I got to a secret room and I couldn’t quit tell for the first few jumps what this room was hailing to until I realized that the music and particle effects were only moving when I moved. I was about to unlock Tim from Braid. Perfect. What a masterful game to quote in a game that might not be on par with Braid but one that perhaps acknowledges it and doesn’t feel bad for falling short. Later there was an area that populated isometric-view blocks as you ran forward. Bastion. And the final secret friend I unlocked was in a pixel area with three brain-busting puzzles to get through. Fez. The whole time my smile was growing as I was shaking my head. This is the way homage is intended to be. A slight tip of the hat, a comfortable acknowledgement of past greatness, and a shrug at the naysayers who don’t like what they’re playing as much as what they played before. This was perhaps the first game I had played that didn’t feel like it was pandering but was instead honoring. And that is 100% the nostalgia I can get behind.
While the story had some facepalm moments and the voice acting was a bit try-hard at times, the gameplay, the art, the BluePrint system, and the music all made this some of the most enjoyable 14 hours I’ve dumped into an indie arcade in my life. If I play a game that has some Dust easter eggs in the future, I’ll tip my hat, smile, and remember fondly what came before.
*I googled this to make sure I was saying the right thing because I don’t know my Marvel lore and don’t know anything about Howard the Duck, but lo and behold this was actually someone named Hyperduck? Which makes more sense when they both become Daft Punk. . . But anyway, I’m going to keep calling him Howard the Duck because I don’t know who Hyperduck is either. Sorry.
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,
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.
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!
My people! Here’s a bit of news that might appeal to the general demographic we all belong to:
I started co-hosting a podcast with two (sometimes three) other gentlemen. They founded it and called it Go For Rainbow! and it is delightful! One of the hosts, creator of Pocket Tactics, suggested I like the Facebook fan page and a few days later the frontman posted a status from the page, asking for any female listeners who would be interested in co-hosting. I responded, and learned that this isn’t just some hodge-podge, fanboi mashup of opinions. These guys have a slick operation going! Sponsors, real celebrity guests (Ellen McLain [GLaDOS], Simon Parkin, Steve Gaynor, etc.). and a weekly schedule. Legit! Oh, and yeah, it all worked out and now I’m one of the regular hosts.
So. Subscribe on iTunes if you’d like. Like the fan page on Facebook if you want. Definitely listen every week because we get real guests and biz-ness. Just wanted to share all the links and let you know what I keep tweeting about! The most recent episode is particularly relevant to this group, I think, because we talked to Simon Parkin who is the games critic for The New Yorker, and he writes regularly for The Guardian, and multiple other gaming outlets.
If you have any suggestions, questions, whatever, leave me a comment and I’ll pass it along to the group!
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.
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!
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.