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.
Why raise money for sick kids? I mean sure, sick kids. That’s a pretty good standalone reason. But it is kind of a random thing to jump on board with. As I was examining my own motives the other day, I remembered when I was hospitalized with Crohn’s disease 7 years ago. Poo talk coming in the following retrospective; you are forewarned.
I was 17, had no medical snafus in my life (or even in my family) until I had 6 weeks of debilitating symptoms. For me, one of the worst symptoms I experience with Crohn’s disease is urgency. I don’t mind going to the bathroom a lot, and I don’t even mind if going to the bathroom is painful, but when I wake up multiple times a night to go to the bathroom, every night, for weeks on end, it starts to feel like your mind is fraying. On top of that, I was incredibly anemic so combined with little sleep, I remember parking my car and closing my eyes to sleep for five minutes before having to go in to school, and skipping classes just to sleep in my car, and getting home from classes and falling asleep on the couch every afternoon, waking up to eat, do whatever homework I needed to, then falling asleep again until the morning.
The breaking point was Memorial day weekend, and after a visit to an walk-in clinic, my parents made the executive decision to take me to the ER. When I got taken back to a room, I remember feeling isolated just looking at the arrangement. There was a single bed in the middle of the room. After some initial tests, the nurse told us that I’d be getting some more tests in the morning, and they needed to keep the IV in me over night. My parents left to get some sleep at our house, the nurses left, and I was alone on an island.
The treatment and care I got at the hospital was phenomenal, I don’t want to knock that. And to be fair, my disease is really minimal. I also had health insurance and my parents were equipped to take care of me. I cannot imagine the hurdles for more care-intensive illnesses, a worse condition, inadequate health insurance, or being any younger and having to deal with what happened.
I know that Primary Children’s hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network of hospitals, and Extra Life are making the first experiences for kids going to hospitals safe and comforting. I know these organizations are supporting family members and friends to feel empowered and like they can make it through some of the worst times of their lives, and the lives of those they love. I can’t imagine one of my nieces or nephews entering a hospital at any age and feeling isolated and alone, faced with a single bed in the middle of a stark white room. With support, facilities like Primary Children’s hospital will continue to operate and provide the reinforcements kids, families, and friends need in their darkest times.
That’s why I’m involved. That’s why, although I’d never do it for any other cause (and never have), I’m asking for your donations to help kids in their scariest times. If you could change your scariest childhood memory into something warm and kind, would you? We can do that for kids, with a few bucks, no minimum requirement.
Thanks for reading, and a huge thanks to those who have already donated. Don’t worry – the 24 hours of livestreaming gaming on October 25th will be a lot less heavy than this blog post 🙂
“Laurie, why break your silence now?”
“BECAUSE I BOUGHT A WII U and kind of regretted it for a minute or two but now I don’t.”
I’m starting a video game production master’s program (an expensive master’s program . . . ) at the end of August, so I’m feverishly playing through my backlog of “important” games from the past few years to make sure I have an robust vocabulary when it comes to talking about games in my upcoming classes.
Last week I saw an article with Kotaku and the powers that be at Nintendo at E3. The article was pleasant enough, but I was reading a “what are you gonna do when Nintendo fails” kind of vibe underneath all of the journalist’s questions (maybe that’s just me being defensive for what is essentially the embodiment of my childhood). In my indignation I started pricing out the different Wii U bundles available at the moment.
Buying a Wii U has been in the back of my mind since they debuted, and I always knew it was a matter of when not if. My most recent decision had been to hold off and if I were to make a big gaming purchase before school started, it would be a used PS3 to catch up on those exclusives that seemed to hold more critical weight than any Nintendo exclusive. And yet there I was on Thursday evening, standing around a Target electronics section, waiting for a minimum wage employee to unlock the cabinet for me so I could pick up the Mario Bros & Luigi games Wii U package.
Today I was reviewing my finances and realized that a $300 purchase was . . . not terrible but those $300 could’ve been applied elsewhere. And since I bought it, I have played it once, very unsuccessfully with my girlfriend. And it’s not just like I didn’t get around to playing this weekend, I actively chose to finish Tomb Raider (AMAZING GAME) on my PC, instead of sit down with Mario on my Wii U. Why did I just drop a good chunk of change on this console?
Because Nintendo. And at first I thought it was stupid to justify the purchase by that alone, but now I’m realizing that it’s like doing a solid for a friend. I would do just about anything for the friends I’ve known since my single digit years, and Miyamoto is that friend. I’m positive (as are most industry analysts with a level head) that Nintendo’s dark spell of sales will pass. Zelda will come out. Mario Kart 8 has come out and everyone loves it. The Wii U will continue and I’m positive in a few short years, Nintendo will come up with something else that no one has ever seen, like the Wii remote or the touchscreen gamepad.
And even if they don’t, does it really matter? These are the pioneers of gaming as we know it today. I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and buy a Wii U but I do know that my brief remorse of supporting a company that fostered as passion that has become my life has faded to nonexistence. After thinking of that, it’s only natural that I throw Nintendo a bone and buy a cool system in exchange (that can control my TV like a remote! COOL!)
This draft was created on 2/23/14. For the record. The record of documenting how often I think about this blog and say “I’ll come back later.”
I applied for the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering master’s program. In non-education-ese that means it’s a master’s program where I learn how to make video games. Specifically, I applied to the track labeled Game Production which means at the end of two years, I should essentially be a Producer, which means I should essentially be a project manager. For the record, that sounds great to me, but I’m sure that sounds terrible to many people. I like organizing and task driving in a benevolent way. The other two tracks are more tradition art or development/programming.
Anyway, I submitted this application on 2/28/2014. With the application, I had to write a statement of purpose. Naturally it went through multiple iterations and the third to last was a coming-of-age, overcoming-obstacle level of dramatic. Because I’m self-indulgent, I’ll post it here.
At the end of my undergraduate degree in 2012, I was a interning as a content writer for a web hosting company in Orem, Utah. I realized that I was going to get a full-time job offer upon graduation, and was relieved to lock in health insurance and a steady income to start paying back my student loans. It was where I had planned on ending up after graduating with an English degree and years of technical support experience – a writer at a technical company. Reaching the final destination of the plan should’ve been elating but despite my satisfaction with where I was, I realized it wasn’t truly where I wanted to be. It was a good job. I wanted a great career doing something I was passionate about – I wanted to help make video games.
Some of my earliest memories are of watching my brothers play their Nintendo Entertainment System. The Christmas my parents broke down and bought me a Gameboy Color with Pokemon Yellow is perhaps the best Christmas I’ve had to date. I was proud to finish my undergraduate degree, but I was more proud of the gaming PC I built on my own a few months later, as a belated graduation gift to myself. The first Dungeons and Dragons campaign I role played through might be in my top five favorite games of all time, despite lacking a screen and controller. I’ve always loved video games and the magic they create but I assumed working in the industry was a pipe dream. After my final college credits were completed in 2012, I realized the least I could do to approach the pipe dream in my free time would be to build a games writing portfolio. And thus, littlesistergaming.com was born.
The frequency of posts has waxed and waned over the past two years but more than just sharing my experience of playing certain games, I became a part of a community. Unbeknownst to me at the time I started the site, there was a thriving, underground band of would-be video game writers who all dream of getting paid to work with video games in one way or another. The 60 or so of us write on our respective sites, read each other’s work, and share, comment, and support other authors through various mediums like Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress. The pinnacle of my experience with Little Sister Gaming was being published on VentureBeat for writing about one of the Indie 10 games at that Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington, in 2012. The re-published version lacked my voice and style, but having my name next to a piece of writing on a video game website gave me a sense that perhaps working in the video game industry wasn’t as out of reach as I thought.
At the Penny Arcade Expo in 2012, I networked with another aspiring games writer who introduced me to an indie board game developer. Years later, this developer thought of me when looking for a third host for his video game podcast, Go For Rainbow. We have interviewed the team behind Magnetic By Nature, Ellen McLain of GLaDOS fame, Simon Patrick from The New Yorker, and other developers and artists from the industry. I was finally lining up real outlets for my gaming passion, instead of simply gaming as a hobby.
I started working at Property Solutions International in November 2012 as a technical writer. I was the only writer, and was hired specifically to document a massive new product the company was rolling out in beta. It was a moving target that few of the employees had a firm understanding of, but clients needed definitive answers in a user guide. I set out to identify my variables, gather the information, liaison with the developers and designers that would be able to answer my questions, and churn out a polished final product as quickly as possible. I began managing that first documentation project, and have continued to manage documentation projects for the rest of the company’s 23 products since then. Recently I’ve been tasked with creating a development roadmap including user stories for an internal software project to streamline all of the technical writer work, including editing software release notes every week. All of this experience to date has accumulated to approximately 2,000 hours of project management experience to apply towards my Project Management Professional certification application.
I purchased multiple books about Agile software development methodology to learn the guiding principles and values behind our continuous software updates, so I could understand why it was important to offer our customers such quick turnaround (instead of lamenting that frequent updates in software meant frequent updates in documentation). I taught myself Adobe InDesign and have begun to learn the Markdown markup language, to improve the deliverability of product documentation and efficiency of updating that documentation. In the past three months, I was promoted to a team lead position and was intimately involved in the interview and hiring process for three more technical writers.
After speaking with students of the EaE program and the University of Utah, I’ve heard first-hand how rigorously the curriculum prepares students in all program tracks to hit the industry floor running. In an effort to be kind, multiple students have tried to scare me away, citing the workload and frenetic pace of projects in the program. Despite their best intentions, these anecdotes excite me more than ever. In the video game industry, I want to be a part of great art. I want to be a part of an experience that people from all backgrounds and all ages can’t get anywhere else. I want to solve problems and facilitate solutions for teams to meet deadlines and break boundaries. It all sounds hyperbolic, or idealistic, but I’m listening to the Journey soundtrack right now and it’s hard to not write soaring words to match the soaring melodies. I have learned in my limited professional experience that my best move is the assist, and my natural position is the organizer, the facilitator, and the researcher. I know in the EaE game production track I can go into industry and deliver games into the marketplace for fans to enjoy and newcomers to discover. Games change lives. Games changed my life. Games gave me something to look forward to as a child and something to aspire to as an adult and I want to learn how to create something that will have the same effect, in the EaE game production track. Thank you for your consideration.
PS I got in! With a much better/more professional, but equally awesome statement of purpose created after this one.
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:
- Display: 4″ IPS LCD
- Resolution: 640×1136
- Pixel Density: 326ppi
- Processor: Dual-Core Apple A7
*specs courtesy of PhoneArena.
- Display: 5.1″ AMOLED
- Resolution: 1080×1920
- Pixel Density: ~432ppi
- Processor: Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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 Kart, Zelda, 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.
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!