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!
I started this draft ages ago – when the Oculus Rift was first becoming “a thing.” Now I’m revisiting and revising the entire post because I can truly back up my feelings with the OR team’s latest announcement.
On paper, I was incredibly jazzed for virtual reality – especially at the level of quality that the Oculus Rift was promising to deliver. The implications in a multitude of industries and fields for research and training were really exiting. Watching the early developer videos hitting YouTube of the roller coaster riders, and people getting executed via guillotine were mesmerizing. But when it game to gaming – I didn’t actually care that much.
And maybe that’s just because I hadn’t seen any actual game utilizing it. My previously mentioned nausea from narrow field of views might have also been playing a part in my lack of excitement. I just assumed that strapping the goggles on would make me ill.
On February 5th, the official Oculus Rift blog announced that EVE: Valkyrie will be the first co-publishing venture for the Oculus Rift and will be a launch title. All I saw from a news outlet that covered the news was the .gif I posted at the top of this article, and that alone made me wicked excited. For the first time since hearing about the Oculus Rift, I really want to buy it, and if a demo proves to induce illness because of a narrow POV, I will be truly disappointed.
Immersion, right? That’s always the name of the game. Space shooter don’t exactly get my blood boiling but if I can completely submerge myself in a world where there is nothing else pressing for my attention, then I’m at least intrigued, if not excited. Narrative and backstory combined with the hardware to block out all other distractions could really be the final destination for the best games of the next gen (since next gen is now current gen with the Xbone and PS4? I dunno, educate me in the comments).
Is virtual reality your thing? Are you even interested in trying the Oculus Rift, or are you ready to sign the dotted line for your own set of equipment? Let me know in the comments!
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!
Heeeyyy yooooouuu guuuuuys!
Shoutout to the Goonies fans.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you to everyone who liked the Facebook page, commented on my last post, and gave me some feedback about video content. I responded to Robyn’s comment explaining that I have some video content coming and I’d like it to get as much traction as possible, so maybe tinkering with it a bit to better address what you guys want to watch will help me in that. Also, all the Facebook Page Likes give me Facebook Insights (which is essentially Google Analytics for the Facebook page) which again, will maybe help me get some more readers, and gain some more traction.
Because so many of you graciously said you weren’t really participating in the giveaway, you just wanted to help me out, I made this a contest of two: Mikael and A4man. Drum roll please . . .
Out of the 50/50 chance (I flipped a coin; Mik was heads, Adam was tails) Mikael won! And because Bastion is cheaper than Portal 2 right now, Mik, you won Bastion! Also because I love supporting indie devs and it’s a stellar game (and soundtrack) and you should definitely see what it’s all about!
I’ll get in touch with Mikael and send him the game, but again, thanks to everyone who commented!
If you haven’t ever heard of Kentucky Route Zero, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Although the indie title from Cardboard Computer didn’t make a huge splash across all gaming news outlets, I had happened to read a rave review of it on Kotaku. After that, I didn’t hear much about it. I believe it’s in a humble bundle of some sorts, but I can’t confirm (is humblestore.webs.com really affiliated with the official Humble Bundle website? Can’t tell).
I bought a this game full price on Steam because after reading it’s description, wouldn’t you?
“Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King’s Quest series, or more recently Telltale’s Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.”
Fun fact about me – magical realism is MY JAM. I love the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I love the idea of magical realism (inexplicable [“magical”] things happening in a seemingly realistic world), I just . . . love everything about the genre. I haven’t ever been a big sucker for point-and-click games, particularly if they involve guess clicking, but that last clause, “focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill” put a grin on my face as soon as I read it. I knew I had to buy this game.
Since the Steam Summer Sale is well under way, I had to start looking through my unplayed Steam games from last year’s sale and picking up the slack. I decided to force myself to start playing some of the games I had been looking forward to but never got going on, I would install them, so they would be staring me in the face. I finally installed Kentucky Route Zero and started it Sunday evening. Because it’s episodic (five parts), I’ll publish a series of posts as I play through each episode.
The intro menu is minimalistic, asking which chapter to start on – simple Courier New text on a black background. The title displays across my entire monitor, again, just white text on a black screen. Immediately I am charmed by the polygonal, geometric art work. All the colors are muted, and much of every scene is dark, but it helps that much more to see where you click to move forward the protagonist, Conway. The graphics indicating gameplay are clever: an eye to look at a person, animal, or object; a notecard to speak with someone; two stick figures holding hands when you and another party member can interact with an object or location point.
After a simple introductory fetch quest with an old man at a gas station, you jump in your moving van (Conway is a driver for an antiques shop) and hit the world map, which is essentially just a road map. Major highways are numbered, but only by driving down a road do you then learn it’s name. A handy logbook keeps track of your conversations that had driving directions. Your position on the map is indicated by a wheel that rolls along as you click on various roads. Points of interest only come up as you pass them. Some allow you to get out of the van and interact with a new scene, while others are strictly text-based wanderings through buildings (e.g. churches, museums, stores, etc.).
The aesthetic of the whole experience is very minimalist. There is no soundtrack – only sound effects that vary as you move through areas. One outstanding example of creating an atmosphere is when Conway enters a bait shop, and the game informs us that he sees a cashier and a row of tanks filled with water. As this text is populating, a faint water-bubbling sound fades in as though we’re standing near the tanks. If you choose to approach the tanks, the bubbling grows louder. If you choose to talk to the cashier, the decibel level of the tanks remains faint. These kinds of details aren’t new to video games, and we all know that good details like that are the best way to achieve immersion in a video game. All the same, that attention to detail from an indie developer, who is very aware that there are few sensory inputs in their game so every detail counts, is delightful.
By the same token, that minimalism creates a very . . . uneasy feeling as I played through the game. I don’t believe this is in the horror genre, and yet something fishy is going on. There are ghosts, and no one seems to be able to give you a straight answer about this mysterious Route Zero. I don’t ever feel like something is about to pop out at me, but . . . I also never feel completely secure in my chair. As someone who thoroughly dislikes being scared, this is a perfect medium. I am completely head-over-heels into this environment without being forced to jump out because it wants a cheap thrill. The sound effects and lack of soundtrack are what really bring these feelings home while playing through episode one.
My only concern as I gear up to jump into episode II is that there are sometimes a dozen different story options in one conversation. I’m playing by gut, just kind of approaching situations as though I were Conway, but because I’m a completionist (I’ve played Mass Effect 3 four times to make sure I’ve seen every different conversation choice), I’m wondering what I’m leaving behind by not repeating conversations. I hope all hanging plot points (there are a lot) get resolved by the end, but I suppose I’ll wait and find out!
Currently, Cardboard Castles has episodes I and II out, with promises of III-V coming before the end of the year. The two-man dynamo team also has an experience available for free called Limits & Demonstrations: A Lula Chamberlain Retrospective. From the page itself, it says “Marking the first major public showcase of her work in over twenty years, this retrospective exhibition of work by pioneering installation artist Lula Chamberlain comprises a diagonal slice through time, place, and form.” You know me. Any labor of love I’m definitely going to be checking out. Post forthcoming about that title, most definitely. Also, what a great way for me to be introduced to artist, Lula Chamberlain!
Thus far, a huge round of applause to the Cardboard Computer developers, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy. Playing Kentucky Route Zero is a treat audibly, visually, and intellectually. I can’t imagine the future chapters going anywhere but up. Pick it up now for 25% off at the Steam Store!
My people! I would love to give you something to show my utter appreciation for all that you do for me by just reading my blog, or clicking the “Like” button on a post, or even commenting. I love you all, and that is no lie. So! I figured I have at least one Steam game I can giveaway, perhaps more by the end of this Steam sale, but to make this so super legit it’s like I’m actually getting paid to do this or something (ha, wouldn’t that be great . . .) I’d love to use this chance to get some feedback! Here’s what I would love to see, if you want a free Steam game:
1. Like the Little Sister Gaming page on Facebook (here’s a workaround – just add it, then immediately click the drop-down arrow on a post in your Newsfeed from LSG and click “Hide…” THEN YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO SEE IT, but the Like still helps me! How does it help me? Once a Facebook page has 30 Likes, Facebook starts giving you analytic information about that page. Kind of silly for a blog as small as mine, but hey – it’d be nice).
2. Comment on this post about what kind of video game video content you like to watch. Do you love browsing Let’s Plays, or something more specific? Do you only watch machinima, or do you prefer vlogs about video game issues? Do you only watch video game video content if someone is livestreaming a game you really like?
3. IN THE SAME COMMENT AS ABOVE, say what Steam game you’d love to buy but can’t because you’ve sworn to not spend any money during the Summer Sale. I have a copy of Mass Effect 1 to give away. Old, so probably not a great incentive; if your wishlist game in your comment goes on sale for cheap sometime this week, I may or may not pick YOUR wishlist game to buy and let you choose which of the two Steam games you’d like (if your name gets picked). ALSO, if everyone really wants Half-Life 2 or something and it goes on a daily or flash sale, I’ll DEFINITELY buy it, so there is some extra incentive.
I’ll give this a week! On 7/21/2013, I’ll assign every comment a number in a spreadsheet, use a random number generator to pick a winner, post about it by 7/22 at the latest, and gift that person his or her Steam game.
Simple enough? Let’s get crack-a-lackin’! I want to spread some Steam love! A big, fat, serious, thank you to all of your!
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.
A) Can I just rant about the spam comments on WordPress? Double digits! Every day! Spambots, relax, I know you are fake, please leave me alone.
B) Just a quick post today because I actually have some huge deadlines at work looming (hence the lack of post on Friday) but my co-worker and I were just chit chatting about Minecraft and he told me this story and it warmed my heart so I thought I’d share.
My co-worker is married, has one little baby, thoroughly enjoys video games but doesn’t have a ton of down time and would love to play games with his wife rather than spend their precious time together, separated. I’ve met his wife a few times and she seems like a wonderful woman. That is further supported by the occasional story he’ll come in with, like “We bought a random trivia game on Xbox Live last night and she played with me for awhile; she liked it all right! We had a good time.” Small spouse gaming victories like that are always heartwarming to me because I’ve always seen gaming as something that brings me closer to people (my brother, new friends, internet strangers who become friends, cashiers at fast food restaurants [true story]) so when I hear tales of the opposite variety, “My wife/husband plays Skyrim nonstop and I hate video games!” I get sad.
This morning my co-worker stumbled in, told us how he had been sick all weekend, and had told his wife Sunday would have to be a lazy, in-bed kind of day because he felt so terrible. So he started trying the Minecraft demo, having never played extensively before, and so did she, to keep him company. Sure enough, she fell in love with the game, as did he. Of course they bought it.
I laughed at his funny explanations of their botched attempts to build and farm and do other things in their first bout of playing the game. He told us about a sheep that wandered into their home that they couldn’t get rid of so eventually he proposed harvesting it for food, to which his wife exclaimed, “NO! You can’t kill Lamby!” I followed up all of this with the comment, “Well that is awesome that you guys can enjoy that together” to which he said “Yeah, that really is the best part.” D’awwwwww!
Hit me with your sappy, togetherness stories that gaming facilitated! I love to read ’em, I want to read ’em, and I want to celebrate what gaming can create, not what it can break when applied incorrectly.
YOU GUYS. 50 people follow my blog! My mind is blown. A hearty thank you to everyone who clicked the “Follow” button on this little site; dumb milestones like that make me feel good, even though I’m pretty sure less than half of that number actually read the content I write. BUT! For the non-zero number of you that do read the content, I love ya. Thanks, sincerely.
On that note, if you don’t look at your WordPress feed too often and want to keep up with my posts, you can like my Facebook page, Little Sister Gaming.
On to more important matters! Remember when I said gaming is not a chore? I still believe that, but I also think blogging shouldn’t be a chore. And even though I’m going strong on my daily-except-for-vacation blog posts, I’m still not exhausted by it. But with the vacationing, the moving, the unpacking, the all-the-other-things, I haven’t gamed in FOREVER. I finally got to game with my brother last night and we restarted the Halo 4 campaign on the Legendary difficulty setting. Damn, it is difficult. Mainly because I am not a valuable contribution to our duo, ha.
Anyway, my point is this blog is not a chore to me, I love it, I’m more motivated than ever now that we’re a thriving community, but I am scraping the bottom of an empty, dry, splintering barrel for content (e.g. yesterday’s repost of an article without even any critical thought from me – I AM SORRY, GENUINELY). This is all a lead up to an actual, legitimate question I thought of asking you all today:
What’s your gaming furniture/hardware setup?
I moved, and I had to buy a desk because I have a gaming desktop and awesome, massive monitors, and I kept getting perturbed by desks that required me to either put the desktop on the ground or in a tight, non-breathable cabinet. I also had to buy a TV stand that would hold my Xbox and my Wii and my games and controllers and other peripherals and movies and cables and headset. Booooo space. So I bought my second favorite desk choice (opting for speed of delivery over what I exactly I wanted) and I bought the cheapest, open TV stand (but didn’t think about cable management at the time, facepalm).
The cables behind the TV look pretty horrendous, but all of the stuff I’ve crammed into the shelf hides it fairly well. I had to STUFF that stuff into the shelf so it would all fit however. And I’m realizing the desk doesn’t have enough drawers/cabinet space, and the desktop has to sit on the floor (at least it’s a hardwood floor) and I’m just a little bummed out.
Do I just have to spend a ton of money the next time around? Do I just have to build my own furniture like a boss (even though I have no knowledge or means to do so)? Am I just anal retentive (yes)? Do you guys worry about cable management, or have you ever had to homebrew the perfect solution for your gaming set up? I’m also in the conundrum of finding a great gaming chair, since the couch in the living room is on the wall opposite the TV, and too far away to game properly. Any suggestions on that front?
Share your woes, celebrate your triumphs, give me some obvious advice that I need to hear from a stranger to know that none of this actually matters.
I read this article yesterday and was going to “review” it, but it’s just too good. If you love the concept of storytelling and exceptional writing in video games, you have to go read Susan O’Connor’s take on it. Who cares about Susan O’Connor? Oh, I dunno, she wrote some of the best video game plots of the past 10 years including Tomb Raider, Far Cry 2, and BioShock. She also headed up the Games Writers Conference. So yeah. READ IT. Then come back and talk to me about it 😀