Yesterday I was torn between streaming Monaco or Mark of the Ninja. In the end, technical reasons forced me to roll with Mark of the Ninja and I thought “hey, you know what? This is great. I saw this game in person at PAX 2012 in the Indie 10, and I thought it looked rad, and now I am finally allowing myself to play it. This is gonna be great; let’s do this!” Can you read all the fake pep? Can you decipher my lies better than I can myself? Here’s the thing – I know I hate stealth. I have always hated stealth. And I knew Mark of the Ninja has gotten oodles of praise for it’s comprehensive and impressive implementation of a great stealth system. So how was this really going to go, huh? COME ON, LAURIE. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
Sure enough, I lacked all patience. I would spawn and run blindly at obstacles and difficult enemies over and over and over until I would throw my hands up and say “I must be doing it wrong! I must need to Google it!” then I would try to speed-Google a solution, on-stream, on my phone, realize I can’t because there are no level names visible when I pause the game and I have no idea where I am, then go back and due to the very brief rest I gave my mind and muscle memory, I would be able to get through to the next checkpoint without dying. Sure the assassinations were so deeply, profoundly satisfying (top notch animations and sound effects, fo’ sho’) but all the in between of trying to sneak up to someone to kill them, etc – no thanks.
I knew this when I played The Last of Us only until Joel and Ellie got to the town with the crazy guy and I had to stealth through the graveyard and the houses to the bus yard at the school and I died so many times I stopped playing until I got the game again, remastered, with my new PS4 at the end of last year. I don’t have the patience for stealth, which is indicative of the very little patience I have for most things in my life. And yet. Here I was. Again. And the “why” finally dawned on me after I slogged through a (to be honest) mediocre stream of the entirety of Mark of the Ninja.
I am deeply impressed by stealth game mechanics and systems. There is honestly so much technical precision that goes in to very well made stealth games, it’s remarkable. The genre itself hones so closely down on level design and character/NPC interactions, I think I subconciously want to observe it all but subsequently hate it all the way through. Even when I was at the peak of frustration with Mark of the Ninja I said out loud “But I mean . . . I still want to finish it.” And despite my lack of skill or interest in games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, I believe the entire genre of stealth is at it’s best when it’s most punishing. Unlike the pandering flip-flopping of Assassin’s Creed, Mark of the Ninja does not allow multiple play types. Sure there are multiple paths and different strategies to implement your stealth throughout rooms during a level but at the end of every experience, you had to be the ninja. You never really have to be an assassin with Ubisoft.
I’m ecstatic to never play Mark of the Ninja ever again. I’m also ecstatic to recommend it to every stealth game lover I know. I’m also ecstatic that I got to experience a quintessential stealth experience in a polished, satisfying, beautiful indie game. Now please, critically acclaimed stealth games – never sneak your way into my life again.
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.
Subject meaning, until the next time I post on this site, you should check for actual, regularly blog posts (whaaa-!?) on a blog I’m academically obligated to create for a rapid prototyping class.
That’s right folks; the few short months between my “announcement” post that I was applying to a game production program at the University of Utah and now have flown by and I’m in the thick of my first week in a mind-numbingly busy program. One class is building a new game prototype every 4 weeks. One requirement of that class is blogging often about what we’re learning and doing. So if a professor recommends I blog twice a week about a class, ya better believe I’m gonna do it. Slightly better impetus to write on that blog, than on this one.
Having said that, I love you all dearly so if you’d like to check it out, the URL is http://blogs.eae.utah.edu/lbanks/.
It’ll be interesting trying to write more from an industry perspective, and less from a consumer perspective. I hope to see you all along for the ride!
Remember when I talked about a game-a-thon for charity awhile ago? It was a terrible, meandering post about just losing meaning in my life a little bit (maybe the post wasn’t so much about that, but in hindsight that’s the attitude it was written in). This is about that.
I recently tried to get more involved in the Rooster Teeth community. It has . . . been going okay, still haven’t worked up the courage to game with anyone on the site even though I joined a couple of groups for that specifically. Slowly but surely! The best connection thus far has been a Salt Lake City group. One proactive site user in the Salt Lake area has started a team for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, as a part of Extra Life, and I joined!
The link above explains the details of Extra Life, if you haven’t heard of it before. My donation page is here.
Why donate? Why am I doing this?
A) I feel really strongly that all charities should give 100% of their proceeds to who they’re trying to benefit. Check, Extra Life does that.
B) The Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals uses all of its money to let patients stay at their facilities cost free. On the list of noble causes, that’s pretty high up there. They deserve some help for that, doncha think?
C) I get to play video games for 24 hours in a really cool locale, Gamerz Funk.
I understand that part of the challenge of getting donations is that it’s for a very specific, local hospital. The factor that I think could transcend geography is that it’s helping kids, right? You might not know a kid in Salt Lake City, but they exist right? Kids that need help. So if you have a couple bucks and want to encourage me to last the full 24 hours, consider clicking the link above and donating towards my modest $200 goal. The SLC team I’m a part of has a $5,000 goal that my $200 will contribute towards.
Thanks, you know I love you all despite my absence in the blog-o-sphere,
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.
I clicked on a Kotaku article the day the Titanfall beta opened, looking for instructions on how to get in on it. I haven’t been following any of the Titanfall hype, except hearing it was about robots and people were generally excited. Skimming the article, I realized that it was an EA title, delivered through Origin. Immediately I was torn. People hate, EA, right? They had done something evil in the recent past, if I wasn’t misremembering . . . but what exactly was it? I honestly couldn’t remember. For a brief second, I thought about googling it or perusing their Wikipedia page but . . . beta sign up . . . giant robots . . . I clicked the link and downloaded Origin. If nothing else, I could get a terrible first-hand experience and raise my voice in a rallying cry to boycott EA yet again.
I loaded Titanfall and it. was. awesome. Seriously incredible. I got the PC beta so I could adjust the FOV to something that wouldn’t make me nauseated. The textures were lackluster, I’ll admit, but the gameplay was so fun. I didn’t play any game type other than Attrition (just kill the other team) but I didn’t even get my fill of playing that, let alone moving on to the other game play types.
Looking at all of the hype, I remember my initial reservation. I haven’t read another account of anyone trying to justify their previously declared hatred for EA with their love of Titanfall. EA reported 2 million unique visitors during the beta. I can’t knock anyone else for going back on their previous lines in the sand – I did it myself. And I don’t even think I have any less integrity for doing so, let alone anyone else (depending on how loudly you yelled about it, I guess . . . ). But isn’t it funny, was all I was thinking about this morning. Isn’t it funny how short our attention spans really are.
People lost their minds over the Origin hatred when it launched. A few level heads pointed out that most people hated Steam when it launched for its spotty service. However since Steam has become ubiquitous with PC gaming, people don’t think about it any longer. And no it looks like people are forgetting Origin and EA’s original evil to enjoy what could be the most exciting FPS in a long time (at least until Destiny launches). It makes me wonder how the tables might turn on EA as a company (especially in light of the Comcast/Time Warner debacle) in the time to come.
Thoughts? General musings? Again, I’m not indicting anyone – I would be indicting myself if I did so (and maybe I should) it’s just interesting the short attention span we all have when something as shiny as Titanfall shows up. Leave a comment, let me know your thoughts about EA, Origin, Titanfall, and whatever else you want.
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!