Gaming without your brother

Category Archives: Indie

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!

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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!


Tripleslash Studios Magnetic By Nature: Awakening

From Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace

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.

Tripleslash Studios Magnetic By Nature: Awakening

From Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace

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.


Not from lack of games. In that department, I’m actually drowning. I should rather say my gaming writing well is running dry. I haven’t played games in so long! LIIIIIFE. WHY HAST THOU FLOODED ME!? It’s a great thing, really, but seriously, the best gaming experience I’ve had in the past week was playing Fruit Ninja in the bathroom at work. How do you guys do it? How do you carve out time to prioritize games in your life? Teach me your ways!

In lieu of being able to talk at length about one or more games, I’ll just highlight some flash/mobile games that I’ve gotten a chance to check out in the past little while:

Disclaimer: I’m not an iPhone hater, but I do have an Android phone, so all the app links are to the Google Play store. ALSO! Lots of these cost money, but there are really awesome free apps everyday in the Amazon App Store so be sure to check that to pick up some of these for free, like I did!

Pixel Dungeon – My brother put me on to this game a while back (for the subtitle of this site, “Gaming without your brother,” he certainly does come up a lot . . .). It’s a randomly generated dungeon crawler; find the next set of stairs down, go down the stairs, try to find the ultimate artifact, the Amulet of Yendor.

It’s still in beta, but that also means it’s free for the moment! There’s 20 levels at the moment, with more coming in the next update says the dev. It’s difficult! Which makes it fun, but there is perma-death which is heartbreaking. Three classes (warrior, rogue, mage), potions and enemies and weapons and armor and items – all the needed elements for a fun action RPG. And the pixel art . . . gets me right in the nostalgia every time. Well done pixel art is my jam.

Candy box ! – Automated ASCII art?! Get out of town! The key in this game is to just wait until you have more than two options. Then it becomes seriously exciting/addicting because you wonder “WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT!?” You can also “save” which is nice for a browser-based game. Shoutout to friend and reader Susan for putting me on to this super fun game.

Robot Unicorn Attack – Super old, but I figure it’s mildly relevant because RUA 2 just came out, AND, I really am playing this game a lot. Something about endless runners . . . I just want to beat my old high score! I would’ve been hopeless in the 80s, all those arcades around. I also can’t try RUA 2 until I feel like I’ve sufficiently used the original app approximately $2 worth (for the app, free online though). Anyway, an oldie but a goodie!

Continuity 2 – Another oldie but goodie that again my brother put me on to. I had never heard of it, but this a puzzle game I can really get behind. You move around tiles that are snapshots of the actual level to facilitate the character you’re controlling to be able to move through, collecting the key to the last door, as well other little tokens. ALL AS FAST AS YOU CAN! Three factors rank your level success: time taken to complete, how many tokens collected, and . . . moves maybe? I forget, and to find out and tell me how stupid I am, download Continuity 2!

Osmos HD – This game. YEESH this game. I mean that in the best possible way. It’s so good! So addicting! Such a great soundtrack! So hard for me! In general, the object of every level is to become the biggest cannibalistic blob. You can only absorb blobs you’re bigger than, and you die by bumping into blobs bigger than you, which then absorb you. There are some different types of blobs that attract things, and move faster. A cool mechanic is being able to slow down time in the level which gives you a little bit of reaction time buffer. And fo’ real, the soundtrack. Dat soundtrack. Check out the game!

Temple Run 2 – I wasn’t going to include this game because I am a little embarrassed that I play it so often instead of playing some of the other critically acclaimed games in my library, but what can I say? I just love unlocking stuff and endlessly running (virtually that is, never in real life. Have you seen me?) It’s a good game! If you want something mindless that’s easy to play while you’re going to the bathroom at work, this would be my top recommendation.

I enjoy these games that have depth, that I can spend an hour or more on (equivalent to how much time I would spend playing a console or PC game) but can do out and about, away from my TV or monitor. Ya hoo for the increasing caliber of mobile gaming!

What about you guys, what games do you love on your phone, or tablet, or browser? Let me know in the comments!


Originally published on 10/30/12

So this is old rage by now, because this draft has been sitting, waiting to be finished, for at least a week, but you know me and my ability to hold on to rage . . .

I saw GameSpot.com tweet an article with some inflammatory lead-in like “Are all gamers stupid?” or something ridiculous, so naturally I took the linkbait and then watched a GameSpot.com video feature Edmund McMillan, Cliff Bleszinski, and a number of other prominent gaming names, articulating their opinions about whether or not games are getting dumber.

I was almost instantly incensed. What kind of dumb generalization is that, “all games are being dumbed down”?! Of COURSE “all games” aren’t being dumbed down. Are some? Naturally. There’s a huge market for the less intelligent who also love video games. And really, you know what, I shouldn’t even be that dismissive. Really, there are people that buy from that pool of games because they don’t want to think when they play video games. And I’ve been there, I get that. Sometimes you’d rather mindlessly kill things than work through puzzles or an emotionally compelling story. That doesn’t mean you’re missing brain cells, it means you just want a relaxing, thought-free evening every once in awhile.

I wrote out paragraphs and paragraphs of a tangent, but I reigned myself back eventually to what my point is (you’re welcome): the gaming community and industry is now too big to say crap like this. Back in the day, you could make sweeping generalizations about gaming and video games and your exceptions would be one or two titles, so people got away with it. Now? There are hundreds of games released in a year. Potentially thousands, depending on what you’re counting. Some people enjoy “dumbed down” games, some people only enjoy those games once in awhile, and really, those games that appeal to the lowest common denominator of gamers are the biggest cash cows for publishers, so yeah, they get a lot of face time in the media (and some games get media time because they’re just awesome and not dumbed down, like Dishonored).

But there is so much more out there! And the sad thing to me about the video was that Edmund McMillan (co-creator of Super Meat Boy, arguably one of the hardest games of its generation) and Cliff Bleszinski know that. I know they know that. But they must be seeing the games that demand more out of players as exceptions rather than norms. And really, I’m not sure there is a gaming norm any more. Again, the industry is too big for generalizations.

We’re seeing factions and pockets of specific gamers pop up all over the place. Indie gamers, racing gamers, only platformers, only MMO  players, only FPS players. There are all kinds, and I’m grateful, because it takes all kinds to make this beautiful gaming world go round. When you get that kind of genre passion, that leads to experimentation to take something you love so deeply to another level, just to see what can happen. And that innovation elevates the industry, despite any of the “dumbed down” games that some think are ruining it.

I guess in the end my rage was really just sadness. I’m sad that from the inside out, the industry is being hated on from people that a) worked to change it in the first place and b) have seen it’s growth and should know better than to generalize such a diverse place. For shame E and Cliffy B. For shame.


So everyone is talking about Torchlight 2, but being the really up-to-date gamer that I am (/sarcasm), I just finished Torchlight 1. I repeat, you’re about to read about Torchlight 1. If you’re not interested, I understand completely. Here are some thoughts:

Worst version of this meme ever created, but you get the attempted joke.

Worst version of this meme ever created, but you get the attempted joke.

A) I’m a sucker for cartoon-y artwork. So even though it might make the game “less hardcore” (what does that even mean?) it is fun and I enjoy it. I will also say, all of the armor looked good! How often does that happen? I hate having to pick between form and functionality in games like Mass Effect, where great armor looks disgusting. Thanks, Torchlight artists. You done good.

B) If you haven’t played this game yet, be sure to carefully read and believe the descriptors for the difficulty settings. Not only did I not read them carefully but when I selected a difficulty, I kind of did see the descriptors telling me that “Normal” was for new adventure game players, and I didn’t believe it. Subsequently I died about a handful of times throughout the whole game. I’m not sure how many hours it took me, I didn’t do much side-questing, and I do love to dominate in wicked sweet equipment, but come on . . . I gotta die a little! That makes it more interesting! Anyway, bottom line: not really a Runic Games problem, more of a reading comprehension and dumb person problem. Don’t play on normal unless you’re a child.

Drew the BAMF and his trusty dog turned demon, Rat

Drew the BAMF and his trusty dog turned demon, Rat. Too much epic gear, I destroyed all evil easily.

C) The game play and the story were . . . straight forward and uninspiring. But tried and true, I suppose, and therefore had some base appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but it felt tedious at times, simply clicking and walloping baddies and doing nothing else. There was no real “world” exploration, just dungeon exploration, which doesn’t hack it for me. I don’t love open worlds like the Elder Scrolls series because I get overwhelmed, but I want a bit more than just going through dungeon level after dungeon level, which is all you do in Torchlight. To the game’s credit, the dungeons do not have the same layout every time, but . . . same feel; got bored.

At the end of the day, I had a good time playing it, for sure. I bought it awhile back as a bundle: pre-order Torchlight 2, get Torchlight 1, so I’ll be playing 2 . . . soon. I think I need a break from this point-and-click adventure genre after pushing through Torchlight 1 this week, but the series overall does good things, even if the things they do are unoriginal.

__________

HA. I made a deliberate effort to not mention Diablo even once in this post. Mission accomplished! That sentence doesn’t count. Why does it matter at all? I guess it doesn’t, but I think it’d be nice if a game could just stand on its own for once, instead of always being second chair to a predecessor.


When I read the synopsis of Splice in the back of the PAX program, with the rest of the PAX10 games (ten indie games at PAX, highlighted by industry experts for how awesome they are), I was pretty sure it was going to be over my head. But I had made a goal to try and play all ten PAX10 games before the doors of the convention center closed two days later. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play all ten games (I couldn’t find six of them whatsoever, so that’s on you, PAX), but I did get a chance to try out Splice and pick up a coupon code so I could buy it on the cheap after PAX, which I did.

Splice was made by Cipher Prime Studios and is currently available in the iTunes app store as well as on Steam for Mac and PC. The marketing copy boasts over seventy levels, and the company also offers a deluxe edition that comes with the soundtrack. That was my first tip off about the music. Just like Catch-22, in the exhibition hall at PAX I couldn’t hear the soundtrack but when a game starts offering their soundtrack along with the game, not as an afterthought months later, you know it’s going to be a good soundtrack.

I didn’t get to talk much to the Cipher Prime guys at the booth because some “big wig” who “voted for their game to be in the PAX10” or something lame like that walked up right when I did. Sheesh. The nerve, huh? /sarcasm. Anyway, I pieced together a little bit of the game play, got stuck on the seventh strand of the first sequence, congratulated them on the game, and left. I finally got around to buying, installing, and playing the game last night.

As for the actual game play, all the player has to do is move around microbial units (sure, that’s what we’re gonna call them) to fit in the frame that the level provides. But when you move one microbe, it effects where the others are and they move as well. You have a limited number of splices, or moves, to get all the microbes to match the shape of the frame. In later levels, microbes get special actions, such as splitting in two to make more microbes, and other actions that are harder to explain. I heard one YouTube reviewer compare the sequences to worlds in a platformer, and the individual strands of Splice to levels in a platformer. So when I say sequences and strands in the rest of this, think of it like that. Strands are levels essentially, and they’re grouped into sequences, which are pretty much only there for organizational purposes. The funniest phrase of this paragraph is “all the player has to do,” because for its simple objective, I found Splice stupidly hard.

My previous admission about how terrible I am at puzzlers still stands. So it shouldn’t be surprising when I got stuck on the same strand of the same sequence two weeks after I played it at PAX. I eventually got it on my own, but it took me so long, it wasn’t even gratifying. I was still shaking my head, like “Man, how could I have figured that out faster?” I got stuck again on sequence two, strand three but not wanting to waste more time (which is how I always view beating my head against puzzles, i.e. as a waste of time), I googled a solution. Thankfully (for my pride, anyway) the reviewer explained some more mechanics of the game so I didn’t have to watch the full solution; I realized the solution now that I understood what the new microbes actually did.

I haven't rage quit Splice . . . yet

I haven’t rage quit Splice . . . yet

I stopped my brief run through at sequence three, strand five. Like all puzzle games I play, it might be awhile before I actually finish this one because I am impatient and apparently an idiot. I recognize the deliberate choice to go minimalist on the game play by not explaining how to play the game, but at the same time, players get nothing to go on . . . For as much as I love progressive gaming, the lazy, puzzler-handicap in me shakes its head at setting up gamers to fail. And it’s more than others. Limbo, for instance, explains nothing. But it’s such a familiar backdrop (i.e. platformer) we instinctively figured out what to do. Splice is breaking boundaries all over the place, so our frame of reference is limited, if not gone entirely for those of us who don’t play puzzle games often enough. I think at the end of the day however, I’d rather developers assume I’m too smart than assume I’m too stupid. This rant is just because I’m mad that I’m really bad at this game.

Far and away though, this has got to be one of the most beautiful indie games I’ve ever played. There isn’t a ton to go on visually throughout the game, it’s true, but again the minimalist art style and controls, as well as a superb soundtrack (officially called Flight of Angels) that I’m going to buy off of Bandcamp in just a few minutes, creates an ephemeral place in which to ragequit. Ahh, how pleasant.

If you like puzzle games, you will love Splice and you should definitely spring the $10 to buy it. It’s only $4 for the iPad, and I don’t see anything telling me that it has any fewer levels, so if you have an iPad, save some dough and buy it in the app store. If you don’t like puzzle games, I think this is still a beautiful enough game that if you like being challenged in non-puzzle games, you’ll appreciate the experience in Splice. Just wait until it goes on sale.