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 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.
I should’ve posted this yesterday but I realized if I get into the habit of daily posts, I’ll be beating myself up to maintain that and I don’t want to sink into gaming as a chore again. So I paced myself, played another one of the PAX10 (ten of the best indie games shown at PAX, chosen by a panel of industry experts) called Containment, and had a fairly good time doing it. Good, not great.
I happened to wander by the Bootsnake Games booth in between waiting in line for panels. It was on the sixth floor and not in the hubbub of the AAA title company booths on the fourth floor, which I preferred. I set out at the beginning of the weekend to make sure I played all the PAX10 games (which didn’t happen), but I saw this booth fairly early in the weekend and confidently stood behind someone else playing a demo to listen to an explanation of the game (I did in fact play the game a few days ago, have no fear).
Containment is a zombie puzzler, where you manipulate people in four classes (primarily designated by four different colors) to surround a zombie in the four cardinal directions. Once a zombie is surrounded on all four sides by one color (e.g. all pink, all green, all blue, or all orange) the colored characters kill the zombie and more characters slide down from the top of the screen to fill in the spaces that were just occupied by the zombies and the attacking characters. You can swap characters from any spot on the grid to strategically place a character. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a turn-based game. As I sat for the first few seconds pondering what I wanted to do first, a zombie ate the character next to it and turned it into a zombie as well (the primary zombie movement mechanism – infecting others). You can surround groups of zombies with one color of character to defeat them as well, and edges of the count as the color of character you’re using, automatically. Defeating all the zombies in a grid before another zombie can crawl it’s way in advances you to the next grid and through the game.
Different classes drop different items. Surrounding zombies with all pink doctors will sometimes mean these pink ladies drop a hazmat suit item that protects three horizontally adjacent characters of your choice to be protected and to act as character color wildcards, still swappable anywhere on the grid. Surrounding zombies with all green soldiers will occasionally net you a grenade to blow up a cluster of people, whether zombies or friendlies. Blue groups killing zombies will sometimes drop a sniper shot to take out one zombie outright (there are varying classes of zombies that are harder to kill as the game progresses), and orange characters that kill a zombie or group of zombies sometimes drop a Molotov cocktail that will burn a cluster of zombies and allies without discretion.
As I said, one of the first game play features I noticed was that it’s not turn-based. Zombies don’t want for you to strategize before munching on your citizens. Initially I thought this was clever because it forces players to think and act quickly, which isn’t always the case for the puzzle genre. Later in the game though, I realized more and more that I was approaching levels with a brute force approach because I felt time was more important than finesse. It’s a fine line to be sure, and one that might be praised by some and criticized by others. I vacillated between the two, as I said.
Another strength to the game were the characters. While the animation was clean and neat, but nothing special, the characters you move on the grid to surround and kill zombies had some really clever short lines of dialogue, and the voice actors did a good job in their brief appearances.
Now to reference the title, and my easily contained excitement for the game. I was impressed that the team at Bootsnake Games bothered to put in a story at all, and the exposition that rolled onto the screen in between zombie grids had some funny one liners every so often. However, overall it was your standard zombie tale, without novelty. Also, I couldn’t imagine a more boring font. I’m no typographer so I don’t want to purger myself but the font of the story was something like Helvetica or Arial. Seriously? I would’ve preferred the cliche zombie font over reading three acts with five levels a piece entirely in the plainest sans serif font available. A small detail, you’d think, but from the time the first bit of plot was scrolling off of the screen and to the next grid, I was already bored of reading it the exposition in such a boring font.
Overall, the game was a little easy. I didn’t die once until sometime in the middle of the second act. In Bootsnake’s defense, I only played through the campaign mode. There is also a survival mode that I would bet gets pretty difficult. Additionally, there is no penalty for incurring collateral damage. In fact, killing more of your allies unlocks Steam achievements. I think an easy way to up the difficulty would be to penalize players for avoidable friendly fire. Without that penalty, I was dropping grenades, warheads, and Molotov cocktails willy nilly, just to get a few zombies.
Update: I just jumped into Survival mode for a few rounds to double check, and not be a lazy/crappy reviewer, and you do get ranked on how many civilians you kill per round. Having said that, I wasn’t too careful about it, and I got an “A” in the first three rounds so . . . maybe it’s still not that hard.
And again in the game’s defense, there is the company itself, Bootsnake Games. I said it once and I’ll say it again – the nicest people go to PAX. I listened to one of the people working the booth explain the game and gently guide the PAX attendee playing the game to make better choices. Another booth worker came up to me to answer the rest of my questions, invite me to try it out on the iPad, and convince me to buy it for $3 there at the booth. Supporting the indie devs! My favorite pastime.
The game is available on Steam for the PC (which is how I played my copy when I got home from PAX) and it’s in the Apple App store. For $2, I would recommend giving it a shot on the iPad, just because it is generally fun and I bet you can get more traction out of the survival mode than I got in the few hours it took me to complete the campaign. For $5 on the PC right now . . . sure, I recommend it too, so long as $5 is chump change to you (right now, $5 is a day of food for me so Containment wouldn’t be a priority. Catch-22 would be, just for reference). Like I said, I just love giving independent developers all of my money.
Any zombie games you guys have totally loved? I usually try to avoid the genre, but this was a pleasant introduction. Leave suggestions for me in the comments!
Here’s the thing: I’d love to write about the great games I played at PAX, but I’m too busy implementing the awesome knowledge I got at PAX. For example, I’ve applied to about a billion jobs tonight. That may or may not be hyperbole. The point is, I didn’t review games like I was supposed to tonight because I’m trying to do what all the geniuses at PAX panels told me to do. Here’s what they told me, that I am now going to share with you all:
- First I went to the Destructoid panel on Friday morning. I had zero idea of what to expect, but things started off on the right foot when a Destructoid employee randomly handed me a Razer Taipan mouse. Sweet! I’m now an insta-fan. The biggest piece of advice I got was to post like crazy on sites internal blogging systems. For example, I blogged a lot on that IGN system when I was trying to get to E3, but apparently I shouldn’t have stopped. Sites that have internal bloggers like to hire from that pool. I didn’t get a chance to ask if they wanted original content or if it didn’t matter, but because I’ve already invested money and time into this blog, I’m going to double post from here to IGN to Destructoid to BitMob, to any other place I can find.
- I went to what was called the PC Gamer Mega Panel as well that had Notch, Dean Hall, Sean Vanaman, a guy I should know who is a big wig with that new XCOM game coming out, and another guy I should REALLY know because he was big time involved with Bastion at SuperGiant games. Man, ultimate fail with names right now. Anyway, it was mainly just fascinating to hear these guys talk about storytelling in video games (the subject of the panel), primarily because they had two true developer-created stories in The Walking Dead and Bastion, and XCOM to a certain extent, but then it was juxtaposed against the player-created worlds of DayZ and Minecraft. Just really incredible to listen to and contemplate. Put that in your brain basket and chew on it for awhile. Leave comments with awesome insights. One great insight in my notes that I wrote down was “Create real loss in games,” ala DayZ. Another post with more thoughts on this forthcoming.
- Friday night I got the best advice of my life from Chris Kohler, from Wired. I asked the panel if I should give up my writing job because it wasn’t in video games, or keep it because it was writing, and the advice didn’t exactly match my question. But one of the panelists mentioned that her fiance just happened to be a gaming journalist and I could talk to him afterwards, and of course I did that. So I got to ask him my question and he said “Well if you really don’t care where you end up, script writing or journalism [which I don’t] then you should just get into the industry by any means then work your way towards writing.” BOOM. DONE, CHRIS KOHLER. Finally a definite answer to something I’ve been puzzling over for months now. So, I’ve been applying to all kinds of jobs tonight. Mainly SEO, writing, and PR stuff, things that I think I would still enjoy doing if I were actually hired and have a minute amount of experience in, but man . . . very time consuming. Also, it should be noted that that is not an absolute direct quote from Chris Kohler. That was the gist of what he said to me, personally. I don’t want to get in trouble with Chris Kohler for a misquote or something. Chris Kohler.
Saturday’s panels were less helpful to me, but somethings that might help you:
- These are great tools to use to start actually making games with little to no programming knowledge: Construct 2, Game Salad, Game Maker, Unity. Even though the panelists of the “Breaking into the Industry” panel weren’t writers, many of them started making games on their own to then work their way into a company and to get where they wanted.
- The number one advice in the “How Not to Write a Game Review” panel was to be specific and to not use cliches. For example, don’t say something was good or bad, but make sure you mention specifics and if you reference a past game or different game in comparison, you gotta explain that to. THIS was the panel that I got Evan Lahti’s card from PCGamer.com. BOOM. Small victory.
Long. Lots of text. Nothing to funny or exciting. But I know the majority of anyone reading this blog post is someone who like me is blogging for fun and trying to get somewhere. So I thought maybe I could let you benefit from my experiences. To close, I’ll share the inspiring story from Niero Gonzalez, founder of Destructoid, that I hadn’t heard before.
He started a a gaming blog all on his own. He would get up early to schedule blog posts about gaming news throughout his day while he was at his day job, he would then sneak onto his blog to post and write during his day job, and then he would stay up late to write more content to auto-post the next day while he was at work. In his first year, he published 2,000 blog posts. And when he saw PAX was coming up, he called to see how he could get there with a media badge and they said all he had to do was show them his professional website. So with his minimal knowledge of web design, he made his site look as professional as he could, PAX bought it, and he got a media badge to go cover his first PAX. He posted mostly humor, and just about anything he could find in his first year, and that’s how he started his following.
It was kind of intimidating to hear that story, to be honest, but I also found it inspiring. He did it, guys. We can too. It’ll be really hard, but we can. I don’t think that’s naivete, I think it’s hope and hard work. My goal, for the record here, so I can be held accountable to strangers on the internet, is to make it to PAX with a difference badge next year, whether as an exhibitor because I helped write and develop a game or as a media representative because I’m writing for an outlet, or my own blog that I tricked them into thinking was real. I’m not sure how, at the moment, but next year I’m going to PAX as more than an attendee. And you can too!
You guys. Holy crap.
So I heard some of my friends were going to PAX a month or so ago, and I was pretty bummed because for the first time in my life, I thought that I might be able to start going to cool things like PAX or ComicCon or any of the other awesome cons that are around the country. But, because it had never really been on my radar before (in a real, I-can-actually-go sort of way) I wasn’t aware that PAX Prime was Labor Day weekend, and I missed buying tickets. Frankly when they went on sale, I was most likely too poor to buy them anyway.
Last night I was hanging out with these PAX friends and my hometown of Seattle came up so naturally, one friend asked if I was attending the Prime convention next week. I said no, I was bummed and jealous of them, but also excited for them and thought it would be awesome. AND THEN, the best sentence I had heard in a really, really long time was uttered as this friend said “Do you want to go? I have an extra ticket.”
I said yes without thinking about how my monetary situation is kind of tight right now, but I don’t mind eating beans for the next week and a half and a few weeks afterwards to take advantage of the opportunity. Because there are so many reasons why this is a great thing for me.
A) I just love being anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. I anticipate being at the convention all day, every day of the weekend, so I doubt I’ll really get to soak in the Puget Sound or the lush greenery, but simply being in the vicinity always makes me feel a little more whole. I’m pretty dang obsessed with the place.
B) I love video games so being around video games is spectacular. I will get to play games and go to panels and all the great things that come with going to PAX. This is the “duh” bullet point, but I felt like I should at least put it down for the record.
C) I don’t think I’ve ever been around a large group of people that love video games and nerd culture . . . ever. In this quest to start this blog and work in the game industry, I’ve realized how oppressed I really felt, as though video games were always a waste of time and a lesser hobby than anything else. WRONG. So, spreading my wings even further by going to PAX is just going to help more, with all of those feels.
D) I am going to try to network the crap out of that place. I am printing business cards as we speak, that are admittedly sparse, but they list this site and my email address so . . . *sigh* here’s hoping. Head high, Laurie! Hope for the best! I refuse to feel defeated before I even get there. Phew. Good pep talk.
Anyway, these friends I’m going with are just awesome guys, so it’s going to be a blast, I’m positive. And the best news for you guys: I’m gonna blog about it every day! So will everyone else and their dogs I suppose, but hopefully I can offer a more personal perspective and maybe look at things that other news outlets will skim over. At the very least, it will beef up my writing portfolio and I will enjoy it. Boom. The end.
If any of you are going to be at PAX, I would love to bump into you and say hello! We probably won’t have much to talk about, but it would be cool right? I just love strangers with one purpose all together in the same place. Like when everyone sings the same lyrics at a concert. Those are some of my most uplifting memories, that really give me faith in humanity. I don’t want to project too much on PAX, because it could turn out to be full of tools, what do I know? But I actually feel confident at the very least it will be highly enjoyable and at the very most, it will make me love everyone to a Pinkie Pie kind of level. That’s right; I just dropped some Ponies on you.