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Shovels, shovels, shovels.

I just finished Shovel Knight, and my therapist has been a great help.

 

I haven’t written here in a while, but I think I’d like to do it more. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been picked up by Last Token Gaming, a great bunch of guys with a vision for how a gaming blog should look. That said, sometimes I get a little claustrophobic with the high standard, and I realized that I also enjoy writing stuff while being apathetic to whether or not people actually read it!

Hence, this blog! Hooray!

Now *ahem* Shovel Knight.

Oh yes. He is fabulous.

Oh yes. He is indeed fabulous.

 

Look at that swagger. Look at that swank. Look at that spade and his cerulean sexiness. The aptly named Shovel Knight is here to save the day.

My first impression of the game is that it’s some sort of distant relation to Axe Cop, with names like “King Knight,” “Shield Knight” and the ever-lovable “Tinker Knight.” Turns out, “Knight” is just the new “Man,” and “Shovel” is just the new “Mega.” That’s right, folks. It’s a Megaman clone that puts all other Megaman clones (and some of the Megaman games) to shame. (I’m looking at you, X6 and X7). You fight your way through gorgeous themed levels, with extreme puzzles, tough enemies, secret treasure, and a final boss with their own wiles, dangers, and annoyances.

First thing about this game: its controls are GORGEOUS. I love the simplicity; it can literally be played on an NES controller. ❤ Fast response times, interesting mechanics, cool chargeup moves… this game’s got it all.

Second thing: it is truly and awe-inspiringly gorgeous. It is a pixel-art dreamboat. I can’t imagine how much time it took to draw, animate and put together all of the different levels and enemies, but Shovel Knight’s retro graphics just gave my rapidly aging self a huge nostalgia atom bomb to the feels. It manages to be in different scenes cute, adorable, terrifying and awesome. And there’s this guy:

Half trout, half apple, all pimp.

50% apple, 50% trout, 100% gansta.

On to the next excellent quality of this game: the music. First, I love me some good old retro-sounding chiptunes. “But, Another Gamer,” you wheedle. “Hi-def audio is so IN right now! How can you like beeps and clicks more than EPIC LOSSLESS ORCHESTRAL ACTION?” Listen to the first 5 seconds of this and tell me you don’t have a soft spot for the old-fashioned music.

That’s right. You love it.

There are 46 tunes in the Shovel Knight soundtrack, and all of them are killer in some way or another. They even hired the original composer for Megaman, Manami Matsumae, to do two of them. Leeeeeeegit. He’s one of the ancient giants. But the nicest thing by far, is that you must collect “music sheets” in the different levels through which you travel, to bring them back to the bard in the village for a reward. I LOVED this mechanic for a couple of reasons: 1. It makes the player value the music. 2. It provides an unlockable soundtrack, one song at a time. 3. It puts the music in the foreground! It makes the player pay attention to the music that was going on in the background of their level, makes them listen to it, and then makes them realize how completely and utterly AWESOME IT IS. Mission accomplished. THAT is how you do a soundtrack.

Okay, so graphics, controls, and music are all completely rad. What about storyline? Well… you’re rescuing the lovely Shield Knight from the clutches of the Enchantress, in the Tower of Fate, protected by the Order of No Quarter, which just happens to be 8 knights of differing proclivities that own large, extravagant, deadly castles/airships/submarines in various parts of the globe.

Compared to Megaman games, it’s got plot coming out of its ears. But it’s no Final Fantasy. Just saying.

But I’ve missed talking about the most important part of the game…

Its difficulty.

This is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I beat Ninja Gaiden. I beat Hotline Miami. I played Dark Souls until I stopped. I beat Final Fantasy Tactics and Diablo III on Hell and etc. etc. etc. This is the most punishing, miserably difficult game I have ever played in my short span of existence (with the notable exception of I Wanna Be The Guy, which I don’t count as a game so much as an adventure in masochism). The bosses often pull some unfair crap, and the levels are unbelievably wicked. The same jump has killed me probably… 6 times in a row? And this is on multiple occasions. It’s a brutally challenging game, and because its controls are so responsive, you have nobody to blame but yourself (and the developer, for making the levels so hard).

That said: this game is fun. It’s incredibly fun and challenging and interesting and engaging. It’s funny and witty, complex and rewarding. It’s worth its price tag and more.

~AG

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Like, Roguelikes, man!

(To read the original post on Last Token Gaming, go here. I’d love if you folks would like, comment or subscribe at the new page!)

 

 

 

 

 

Ahh, the Humble Bundle. Charity organization, life wasting supergiant… all around, a wonderful development in the indie gaming world.

But the dear Humble Bundle happened to be charitable-r and life-wastier than usual with its most recent publication: The Roguelike Bundle.

Oh boy.

Roguelikes are the new “in” genre for gamedevs these days. They’re akin to one of those health food fads like wheatgrass or quinoa but they have the exact opposite effect on your body. Countless hours are spent with rear in chair, trying to get all the things you need before you die in a horrible unavoidable situation.

In case you still have no idea what I’m talking about, some well-known examples of the genre are The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky and FTL. Played them? No? Well, get to it, folks! Time’s a-wastin’, but not nearly a-wastin’ enough!

Now I bet you’re wondering why we classify these games as roguelikes when nothing seems to tie them together. One’s a sci-fi spaceship game with turn-based(-ish) combat and RPG elements. One’s a top-down Zelda-style beat-em-up, and one’s a platforming exploration game!

Well, there are some rules that govern how roguelikes are made. Why? I’m getting to that. Let’s take these rules with a grain of salt, though, because almost every modern roguelike bends or outright breaks one of them.

1. Levels must be randomized.
Ah, good old procedural generation. Basically, the next time you play this dungeon, it’s not going to be the same. Good! But not enough to be a roguelike.

2. Items must be randomized.

A lot of roguelikes outright ignore this one. If there are magical items (and there should be, because why not), they should have randomized abilities that may even be unstated in the item description. It’s magical! Use it! What do you mean it’s the magical wand of explode-in-my-face?

3. Death must be permanent.

Well, now that you’ve discovered what the magical wand of explode-in-my-face does, it’s time to start over! From a checkpoint? No. From the beginning of the level? Nope. From the beginning of the dungeon? Nuh-uh. The very beginning of the entire game is your starting point, and every time you meet your unfortunate end, you’ll walk through the door and be in dungeon 1, level 1 with nothing but the clothes on your back (and likely not even that). Sound fun yet?

4. They must be turn-based.

‘Nuff said. This doesn’t mean Poke’mon style battles, but it does mean being able to plan your moves out carefully, so if (and when) you die, you really feel like it’s your fault.

So now we know!

But who came up with these rules? What game are roguelikes trying to be like?

Gee. Big surprise, that one.

It basically all started with this game. It used procedurally generated levels made of ASCII characters, lots of random items, enemies, pitfalls and mysteries to grab hold of your attention, and after dying for the umpteenth time, you start getting better… until you run into the next thing you didn’t expect, and die yet again. It’s unforgiving, but it teaches you by killing you (now an approved teaching method in California).Play it here!

Next came a game called Nethack. You can play it here for free if you like. It’s complicated! I won’t get into it, as I don’t have all day to explain. Rogue was complex in its own right, but many gamedevs saw that (and still do see it) as a feature to be expanded upon. This one’s a perfect example. We’ll get to a later one in a bit.

If you’re not digging the super complex ASCII-art based stuff, let’s move on to a slightly more modern version: The Enchanted Cave. This game came out about 3 or 4 years ago, but it’s done in the style of a roguelike that would have been popular around the 90′s. (Please note: the guy went on to develop a mobile version, and as such the graphics, animations, textures, sounds, and everything else have gotten a HUGE update. This is a much shinier game than it used to be, but the soul is the same.) Play it on Kongregate! Or don’t! As an aside: you’ll notice that in this game, there are ways to improve your stats and equipment between runs. This became a heavy feature of roguelikes around the 90′s because they started to become more popular (or vice versa?). People who were less “hardcore” still wanted to progress through the game, so they found ways to make death beneficial outside of the know-how you gained from being mutilated, impaled, incinerated, poisoned, or otherwise exterminated. Thus: stat boosts!

Okay, now we’re getting to modern times (and you still haven’t had to spend any money! Hooray!). Ever heard of Dwarf Fortress?

Oh, yes, it’s a roguelike. If the ASCII art didn’t clue you in, ten minutes playing this game would have. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It LOVES to kill you. Instead of controlling a single hapless adventurer, you are controlling (or trying to control) up to 200 equally hapless dwarves, guiding them in the growth of their kingdom by providing bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, wells, workshops, military outposts, trading posts, gardens, pretty fountains, fishing holes, and a zillion other things to keep them (more or less) alive. And when that fails, you must provide them with graveyards. Or they’ll haunt you. Download it here. Don’t forget to get the Lazy Newb Pack.

If you play one game from this multitude, I recommend DF. It took me three tries installing and playing, uninstalling and repeating, to get into it. It takes time to learn, and it can be frustrating. But once you really get into this game, you’ll understand how unbelievable it is that such a gaming treasure is free. There’s a reason the developer calls it “his life’s work.”

We’re almost through! I promise! Don’t you feel educated?

As we get into the modern era, you get a lot of the roguelike elements tossed by the wayside, and these quasi-rogue-like-ish games have been dubbed “roguelite” games. The Enchanted Cave would probably be one. But others? Games like Diablo have procedurally generated levels and treasure (and can have permadeath, too). Rogue Legacy can sometimes let you play the same level twice, but is otherwise roguelike quality. The Binding of Isaac doesn’t have procedural items. Spelunky doesn’t really even HAVE items. FTL is just plain different. These are all “roguelite” games, but they’re the modern offspring of a great concept, and they’ve taken the world by storm.

Of all the games I just mentioned, only Spelunky is free. But… try the others. They’re all fantastic. Rogue Legacy will dominate your life and make you laugh. The Binding of Isaac will make you cringe and scream profanity at your screen. Diablo is… well… it’s Diablo. And FTL is a game that I kick myself constantly for not having bought earlier. They’re all great, and if you feel like investing, you’ll get a great feel for what roguelikes are all about. And you’ll get a feel for why they’ve been more addictive than crack since 1980.

I hope you’ve all learned something today. And I hope I haven’t just inspired you to start skipping your real classes. Happy gaming!

~AG

P.S. As always, don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe!

Product or Process: an Indie Game Question

I haven’t been thinking about games much. Finals are rapidly approaching and so is Christmas. Though I’m not technically in classes, everything is coming to a head and I haven’t had a free moment to do some serious processing of my gaming experiences for this week. But I had had an issue a couple of weeks back that I wanted to blog about but couldn’t, so I figure there’s no time like the present to try and get my ideas out there (and probably crash and burn in the process).

There are a lot of issues with the indie game community, which I have tried to be involved in supporting and encouraging through my blog posts, my money and in a (very) small part my musical/programming ability. I feel like it’s a healthy community with a lot of people in it that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition from the mainstream media. (Interesting tidbit! NPR just did an article on “The Stanley Parable” that was an actual serious review of it in an artistic sense. Huge step forward! Read it here. As it turns out, they have articles about indie games every Tuesday? Who knew?)

I find it’s also a lot more of an artistic medium (the indie game community, I mean) than the triple-A games because there’s not so much commercial pressure. I’ve talked about that before, too.

But here’s the thing. It’s a COMMUNITY. There is no triple-A game community. There are businesses and that’s about all we can say for it. Sure there are developers and programmers and musicians and artists and writers and etc etc etc who are all well-known in their own communities of developers and programmers and (you get the picture)… but no crowdsourcing, no community involvement, no back-and-forth between the people playing your game and the people developing it. Massive outcry over Mass Effect 3’s ending got them to change part of it, and some other large protests (please note, PROTESTS) against things done in triple-A games have sparked change. But there’s no suggestion box at Blizzard’s or EA’s HQ.

There’s a lot to be said for that, though! Producing a PRODUCT is what video gaming is all about. You want something that a player can immerse themselves in and enjoy. They don’t worry about how it was made, they don’t question whether or not it could have been made better. Did you do your beta testing? Did you work out the bugs? Are you suuuuuuure?!?! (I’m looking at you, Skyrim.) Then we’re good. Ship it out, sell the preorders, make the DLC, reap that cash cow for all it’s worth. We’re done here. That’s how the industry works. You don’t regularly update something you sell people on a Blu-Ray disc. You can’t.

Granted, some game companies try to. It’s not always pleasant.

But an INDIE game, oh! The possibilities are endless! Every time you play it, there’s a new update! New updates every Tuesday? Twice a week, even? Say you’re playing at 8pm, and the update comes out. After you download it, at 8:30, you could be playing a different game! One that’s better, has more features, has less bugs, and more exploding cool stuff! (That falls under the realm of “features” but bears special mention. I mean, c’mon, EXPLODING STUFF, HELLO.)

Indie games have the ability to get you up close and personal with the development process. Let’s go into WHY that is!

1. The Kickstarter

Kickstarter/IndieGogo/Steam Greenlight have helped indie games in development get community support (and build their fanbase) since their inception (ooh, Inception!). They say, “Look at the potential of this idea! Help me make it a reality!” And the community overwhelmingly responds…

Fry <3

Fry ❤

What else? They provide “stretch goals.” This is also brilliant because even at the very outset of a game’s existence you’re involving the community in deciding what is in the game. Whoa. (This theme comes back, remember it.)

2. The Wiki

Great indie games have great wikis. How do these wikis get built? The community! Now, having said that, this is definitely a two-way street. The developers have to put their time into giving people the framework they need to edit and expand a wiki, and they need to be diligent about its upkeep… but the rewards are enormous! All you have to do is create and maintain a webpage (which I’m certain every gamedev has to do twice or three times for each blog/merchant site/github/etc. they own), and now your community is talking, discovering, playing your game, and making things happen. If they run across an item or dungeon that they don’t know about, it’s only a matter of time before they start figuring out how to explain it or use it in wiki-able terms. People talk about your game? People can get an inside look into your game before buying it? People can see how it develops? Good news, everyone!

3. The Forums

It seems ridiculous that a triple-A game would be without forums, and for the most part, you’re right. There are, of course, discussion forums for many, if not all triple-A games, but please, I beg of you, go on them and lurk for a bit. You’ll notice that it’s a greasy mixture of bragging, complaining and outright indecency and it quite frankly scares me. 

But, go on the forums for a game like MineCraft or Gnomoria, or Proteus or Bastion or Desktop Dungeons or or or or… and you’ll see something different. You’ll see (most of the time) a nicely organized and well-run site that puts updates up and posts patchnotes, encourages discussion AND FEEDBACK  about their game. WHOA WHOA WHOA. Stop the presses! Feedback? That makes a difference? My god! You mean that involvement in the process of the game’s development could… somehow… influence the game’s development in a positive manner? Holy cow!

Sorry about the sarcasm. But many triple-A games ignore their communities, and they sort of HAVE to. In a commercial business model, there is no open beta. There is no free updating. There might be some bug fixes, but if there’s going to be extra content, you’re going to be paying for it and it was probably already in the works when the game came out. The gradual adding and changing of features is something that’s only possible with an indie game community that’s involved and active in the development process. They don’t need to know how to code, but they do need to be able to say, “This was unbelievably frustrating. I tore out chunks of my hair.” or “Man, I wish this could be faster.” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were horses? I like horses.”

That’s community right there.

4. The Let’s Play

Everyone knows that MineCraft started the Let’s Play boom (sort of). People made living wages by being entertaining commentators of their exploration through the game’s mechanics. They showed curious users how to do everything from starting the game to building a house to farming to finishing the regular content of the game. Many just show people playing, screwing up, dying, figuring out their mistakes and growing from their experiences (okay, maybe not that last one). If there’s an indie game, there’s an LP of it.

I don’t know if I have to go too deep into why this is great! Why do you test-drive cars? And why DON’T you test-drive games? An LP is a real-life look into how a game works, how people play it, as well as figuring out a lot of the mechanics and playstyles of the game. It’s a fantastic and free way to get people interested in your game. It’s free advertising that comes from the ground up.

A lot of triple-A games have significant Let’s Plays behind them as well, especially in-depth, open-world games like Skyrim, but if you watch enough of these, you’ll notice a difference in the flavor of commentary and playing styles. In triple-A games, it’s not an adventure of discovery, because even in the newest, most innovative games, you’re still expecting the quests, blacksmithing, vendor trash and conversation options of the next Elder Scrolls game, or the “boogey-boogey-boo” scares of a game like Dead Space. When a Let’s Player plays a game like Proteus, Journey, or even the first forays into the world of MineCraft, often the player (and the audience) has no experience and, as a result, few expectations. You get this excited sense of discovery with indie LPs, instead of the… less discovery-oriented excitement of “WOOH LET’S KILL ZOMBIES GUNS GUNS GUNS FIRE YEAH!!!”

Also worth mentioning: dedicated Let’s Play creators are an amazing asset to gamedevs who want people to experience firsthand the changes made during beta. Instead of reading patchnotes, your prospective clientelle can watch the new features and cool stuff unfold before their eyes with snarky British commentary.

5. The API

“What’s an API, Another Gamer?!? Is that a kind of beer?” No.

It’s the Application Programming Interface, which is a complicated term (like everything in CS…) that explains a simple concept: it’s how the parts of your program work together, and how they receive and deal with extra parts. The modding API of games is a modders ability to reach inside the code, change things, add things, and extend the functionality of an already complete game.

Whew. A lot to take in there.

Why do you care? Because the mod API for games like MineCraft turned it from something of a curiosity to a fantastic, enormously massive game of never-before-or-since-seen proportions. Indie games have a penchant for letting their users fiddle with the guts of the game, and with MineCraft especially it has produced results that never fail to boggle my mind. Computer crafting, power and electricity frameworks, extra minerals, creatures, trees, biomes, items, weapons, items, armor, items… there’s a mod called “Too Many Items,” and a snarkier, newer version called “Not Enough Items.” There are mods that stretch the bounds of creativity, crafting elegant storylines and forging brand new dimensions for you to explore, mine, battle, and die in.

It’s about involvement in the process. It’s about involvement in the product. Indie games can do this, and they’re unique in their ability to. It’s a magnificent skyscraper of artistic and technological achievement that is built from the millions of users and their involvement with making something greater than an already pretty great game made of blocks.

Of course, not every indie game supports modding as well as MC (as a matter of fact, none of them do). It may be the difference between changing the zombie skins to My Little Pony characters, but most games have some small ability to be modded. Word to the wise, though: this mutability and versatility is what made MineCraft what it is. If you’re smart and you’re creating a game that is in any way a changeable experience, then let your users change it. Let them design new events or levels or characters or enemies. If you build it, they will come :3

I couldn’t figure out how to work in Garry’s Mod, but… Garry’s Mod.

It’s a long post, I know, but there’s a lot to be said for involving and building your community when you build a game. It’s something that indie games can use to gain a huge advantage in popularity and advertising reach, and it’s just a nice thing to do. Whereas big companies may have insidious ways to push their new game (toolbars, mobile apps, etc etc etc), this is a pure, simple way to be a good development company while putting yourself out there (or allowing your users to do the work for you!). As a dev, it’s great. As a consumer, I find it equally great, and if you didn’t appreciate it before… go out and buy MineCraft and start appreciating, damn you!

~AG

Triple-A Games: Not Necessarily the Future

Okay, misleading title, I’ll give you that. But at least I’m updating! It’s not as easy as it seems!

What do I mean by “Triple-A games?” I’m glad you asked, person-who-is-not-a-gamer! They’re the games you hear about. “You mean like Mario?” No, person-who-is-not-a-gamer, not quite. Good try, though.

They’re the games that you see ads for on TV. They’re the games that have life-size cutouts of their characters plastered in front of every GameStop or video game store in existence. They’re the large franchises of the big three consoles, and they’re the games that you pay 60 bucks for (unless you live in Australia… poor aussies…). Think BioShock, GTA, Mass Effect, Call of Duty, the Zelda games, the Final Fantasy games, Dead Space, StarCraft, etc.

They’re big titles with a huge amount of support and money behind them. Their credits are longer than some flash games I’ve played on Kongregate. They have language teams, they higher game testing firms, and they have multinational branches of operations. They’re the games that you hear about in that they’re pretty much the only games you know of if you aren’t a serious gamer.

Of course they’re “the future.” They have the most well-funded operations, they have the best technology and they’re the most widely publicized.

But what most people don’t realize is this this rather strange truth: people like Pong.

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New Game +: Desktop Dungeons!

(Don’t forget the Rafflecopter giveaway of a free game of your choice! Or do it on Another Gamer’s Blog Facebook page!)

I wanted a catchy catchphrase for when I review a new game, but the fact of the matter is, that happens so seldom that I just picked “New Game +” and left it at that. You’re only going to see it once in a blue moon, so don’t let the lack of originality keep you up at night.

DESKTOP DUNGEONS!

Catchy!

The goat on its logo is very important.

First of all, let me invite you to watch the trailer for the game here:


If you don’t get what’s going on in the end, go watch 2001 Space Odyssey, or at least the end of it.

Anyway, nuff said.

So, there’s a lot of stuff I want to cover about the game. First off, it is a ROGUELIKE. For the uninitiated, there was this one game a long while back called “Rogue,” and it was cool and people have been imitating it since then.

The qualities of Roguelikes are varied, but they do have some in common:

1. You die a lot. Hooray.

2. You learn stuff by dying, or otherwise accomplish objectives that aren’t undone by your death.

3. You have to start from the beginning when you die.

4. The levels are procedurally generated, meaning you never go through the same dungeon twice.

People have called Dwarf Fortress a “roguelike,” but certainly games like The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy (making a named tip of the hat), and the free Spelunky all fall into that category. If you play any of these games, you will see that the qualities that make a roguelike in no way dictate the qualities of the gameplay, story, or difficulty of the game.

Having said that, most of the time they’re pretty flippin’ hard. See rule #1.

Desktop Dungeons is a roguelike, through and through. You enjoy small trysts in procedurally generated tile-based dungeons in a delightfully old-school setting. And you die.

Over and over and over.

Having said this, the gold you collect by your successes (and the lesser of your failures) can be used to buy upgrades in equipment, character classes and other devillishly delightful things. That is the essence of the game. Simple to learn, difficult to master.

There are also puzzle challenges that test your efficiency with different obstacles, equipment and powers. I should mention that I seriously like this bit, because the only way to beat these difficult problems is to use said equipment in the “proper” way. This means that it’s an underhanded education (underhanded because you DIE SO MUCH) in the finer mechanics of the game.

Having said that, the game is exceedingly difficult, and here’s why. It plays like a much faster game. There aren’t many animations, and damage appears to be dealt and healed instantly. However… revealing tiles restores health (yours and the enemy’s), you can destroy spells for permanent racial stat boosts, and health/mana potions are extremely limited. If you’re a gamer and you’re putting the pieces together, you should have this next bit figured out.

It’s a puzzle game.

Sorry to disappoint. The fast-paced action-y aspect of it is really cool, but as you get past the first levels, you’ll find that “preparing for a boss fight” doesn’t mean killing enemies until you’re strong enough, it means squeezing every last experience point, item, healing point and special ability out of the randomized level so that you have enough resources to take this guy on. It’s one huge puzzle, and unfortunately it takes a while before you can see if you’ll be able to solve it. It’s a well-constructed game, but I feel like it was marketed as something other than it is. This is particularly ironic because, well… it’s a lot more similar to “Rogue” than most of the roguelikes out there. I guess I’ve been spoiled.

But alas. It does mention that you die a lot.

It’s worth mentioning that the game is fantastically sarcastic. Goats, banking vampires and other ironic dungeon denizens abound, and the biting (literally with the vampires) humor makes it enjoyable, even when you die. The retro graphics and nifty soundtrack keep it from getting boring, and even though it IS a puzzle game, eventually you begin running into the same situation enough that the pace of the action begins to increase as you get ahead of the (steep) learning curve.

It’s fifteen bucks, and in the experience I’ve had so far (which is really, really just the tip of the iceberg), I’m gonna say that it’s worth it.

But don’t trust me! Play a (rather awesome) demo on their website! (Unity’s required but hey, that’s free too!)

Let me know if you folks cave and buy it! Other than that, see you Monday!

~AG

The Storytelling of Bastion: Another Look

Hi folks! Good news in the blogging world, my blog may be eligible to partner with a certain game-distributing website to offer free game promotions to my readers! If you know somebody who loves games and doesn’t read this blog, let them know! If you’re just here for the free stuff, welcome to the club 😀

I’m replaying through Bastion. Don’t ask me why, it’s like that stereotypical pop song where the dude who’s hasn’t thought about that one girl in years calls her up at 2am, only instead of calling girls I’m smashing things up and listening to the sexiest narrator this side of Sam Elliott.

Proper story's supposed to start at the beginning... got any sasparilla?

Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning… got any sasparilla?

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Fez: An unparalleled giant of game design.

There’s a point I get to in every game called “judgment time.” In some games (like Mario), it’s pretty early. “What makes up this game? Jumpin’ on stuff, gettin’ high on shrooms, SAVE THE PRINCESS YEAH!” Other games, like Okami, take time. “Hmm, now I can go to this place that I couldn’t before… how does this weapon change how I’m able to fight things…? What, a plot twist?!” You get the picture.

At judgment time, I look at what the game has to offer me and figure that it’s not going to change all that much during the course of the rest of the game. In The Last Story, which I “reviewed” in another post, it took me all of about four seconds to realize that I was going to hate myself for playing the rest of the game. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long to know. Same with Megaman X7. Yeesh.

Fez screwed with me, though. Playing Fez was like falling in love: just when I thought I had seen all there was to see about the game, it threw something else at me, something unexpected and beautiful. Had I chosen to get everything in the game (which I unfortunately elected not to do), it would have taken many weeks, perhaps even months of careful searching and playing. Even through to its multiple ends, the game leaves you with more than you began with, as well as some delicious food for thought.

This pixely little guy goes to pixely places, and you just wish you could be there too,

This pixely little guy goes to pixely places, and you just wish you could be there, too.

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A Gamedev You’ll Love: Cellar Door Games!

It’s that time again! I’m not used to blogging twice a week but it’s a nice reprieve from the daily grind, especially when preparing for writing involves playing lots of video games!

Cellar Door Games! Relative new kids on the serious indie game development block. Up-and-comers. Mavericks. Like that one undercover cop dude in the first Fast and Furious movie. Dangerous.

Their logo is... well...

Their logo is… well… a cellar door.

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A rare find, perhaps?

So, yes. I’m a horrible person, so on and so forth. I haven’t been updating, even though I came and said I would. The main reason for this is because I am woefully without internet at my current place of residence! Unfortunate, to be sure. But that’s okay. I’m sitting here in the music university, surrounded by one love, writing about another. Who could ask for more?

Except, of course, internet in my house. That’d be good.

One of my professors (a Texan who speaks flawless Italian. They exist??) mentioned offhand that German internet sucks. Since he probably has more experience with it than I do, that doesn’t bode well for me! Hopefully I’m the exception to the rule… or else, how will I surf Facebook and make meaningful blog posts about the nature of video games??

Anyhow.  If I had previously turned you on to the idea of the Humble Bundle, you hopefully bought the most recent one that came out. It was a little bit geared towards mobile-gaming again, but it still had a couple gems in it that I’m playing, have played, or am looking forward to playing. But I won’t talk about that now, for the reason that it’s irrelevant (as you can no longer buy it). Sorry! I hope that you made your purchase in good time, and I’ll be sure to make another post when the next one comes out. Naturally, I want you, dear reader(s?), to take advantage of the artful awesomeness that is indie gaming.

But for now, today’s blog post is about a gem that I found recently. This game is certainly not NEW, by any sense of the word (except the astronomical sense. Everything created by man is extremely new in the grand scheme of time), but it is both extremely interesting and a little bit fun, too. The game I am speaking of, of course, is Zelda 2.

What… what is going on?

It’s… side-scrolling. It’s a side-scrolling Zelda game! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? Well, 1987, to be exact. A couple years before I was born, but then again, I am so saturated with old games that one would have thought I’d have played this to death. But, (obviously, due to the surprised tone of my earlier sentences) I hadn’t discovered it until only a couple weeks ago. Sure, it’s an old game, but in the grand scheme of the Zelda franchise (and video games in general), it illustrates a very important concept.

What concept, you inquire? Well… the concept of a franchise! The concept of putting a number 2 next to the title of that game you released a while back, and hoping people will buy it and enjoy it just like they did the first one. There is a reason the Zelda franchise was so successful! And… well, it wasn’t this game. Just from looking at one screencap, you can immediately tell that this game is entirely different from every single other Zelda game in existence (with the slight exception of one part of the first dungeon in Link’s Awakening, where you get knocked off by the boss into a pit-type thing that is in fact side-scroll-y). It’s got experience bars, it’s platforming, it’s a very great deal more action-y and less puzzle-y than most Zelda games we’re aware of.

So, why does it exist? Knowing what we know now about the Zelda franchise, why didn’t they make a game that improved upon the concepts of the first game, offered a different storyline, and more cool features for the player to take advantage of? That’s what EVERY SINGLE OTHER Zelda game is! Why make this one such an anomaly? (Okay, that’s one too many rhetorical questions.) The answer is, naturally, because there were no rules and strategies to this sort of “franchise” thing. The world of console gaming was just starting to come into being, and the idea of putting out multiple games and relying on the brand of a fictional character was somewhat… foreign! It’s not just the matter of sticking your quarters in a machine anymore; it’s the idea of playing a whole other game, from start to finish, just because you liked the first one.

Now, if that were your goal… how would you go about it? Would you, say, make a game that is in most respects quite similar to the first game, but fluffed up a little bit, with more bells and whistles? Of course not! In the eye of the game developer, it would be foolish to put out such a similar product, and kind of seems like selling out, too. That mindset is all well and good, (and this game we’re talking about is produced FROM that mindset,) but as we now know, that’s not what video gamers desire! I know that when I play a Zelda game, I know what I want, and I know that I’ll find it within. There’s going to be a gradually increasing level of difficulty, lots of puzzles, tons of special items, princesses, Gorons and Zoras, something about the Triforce and the Master Sword… and it’s all going to be in top-down goodness. That’s a Zelda game. That’s the Zelda franchise.

And so, we have this game, different in style, and certainly less famous and less successful, all because it wanted to offer a totally different experience with the characters you know and love. Everyone knows, however, that characters don’t make a game franchise, because we’ve all played Super Mario Bros. 2. Turnips? Magic potions? Hearts???  (By the way, in case you didn’t know, Super Mario Bros. 2 was not originally Mario at all. Check it out here.) It’s a good game, but it’s an anomaly.

So, finally, what I’m getting at with this whole thing. The idea of a video game franchise is more than simple characters and worlds. It’s also gameplay! We have these great worlds that are developed, with cool characters, and interesting plotlines. However, when we play these franchise games, we expect them to behave a certain way! Metroids are ALWAYS frozen with ice missiles! Latikus ALWAYS drop spike balls. You ALWAYS get the Master Sword somehow. It’s the way the game works. You can’t just go fooling around with them willy-nilly. (By the way, willy-nilly is a totally awesome word. Use it in conversation sometime. But not willy-nilly!)

Having said all that, aren’t there good examples of games that HAVE been changed drastically within franchises that have also been successful?

Absolutely. Games and their franchises change with the capabilities of their systems. The ones that are successful, however, move the concept of their games to a new system, utilizing the capabilities of said system fully while preserving the idea behind the older games. Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the best games Nintendo has ever released. Super Mario 64 is another. Argue with me if you like, but… maybe you should just trust me on this one.  These games are both in 3D, which is an entirely different feeling for both franchises: Zelda’s top-down was equally as iconic by this time as Mario’s side-scrolling excitement. And, certainly, the idea of playing a musical instrument (actually controlling it with your controller, I mean… not Oracle of Seasons/Ages style)… was a game-changer (pun absolutely intended). Same deal with Mario: you now had health, and the world was way more free-form, even quest-oriented. There were little races and challenges and strange things that none of the other games before 64 ever had. And yet… Ocarina of Time? It’s a flippin’ PUZZLE game. You spent hours in the Water Temple not FIGHTING crap (except for those Tekteks. Screw those guys), but solving puzzles! You pushed blocks, shot fire-arrows, used small keys, hookshotted the hell out of targets and vines alike, and made your way through dungeons not by brawn, but by brains. It was a Zelda game, through and through. That idea was preserved. And NO ONE can dare to say that Super Mario 64 is not a platformer. Perhaps it was a little more forgiving with lives than the earlier Mario games, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t spend hours timing jumps right and trying to run without falling off one edge or another. The feeling of Mario was there, even if it looked a little bit different. Super Mario Galaxy and Skyward Sword (or Twilight Princess, too), took the games in a different direction. But c’mon. They’re still Mario and Zelda. You’ll always know a little bit what to expect.

So we see these games, how they change, how they stay the same, and we ask ourselves: SHOULD it be that way? What if every Zelda game had a different gameplay style, a different goal, a different set of mechanics governing your experience? Would those games still be good? The answer is unequivocally yes. The only thing is, instead of making these games “Zelda” or “Mario,” why not call them by another name? That way, we don’t have the problems of brand name expectations, and we can work within a much freer framework for what we can do and what we want to do as game developers! Let’s have a look at the result: Chibi Knight!

 

Click to play CHIBI KNIGHT, The Zelda 2 Knockoff.

 

If you decide to play it (and you really should), you’ll find that it’s fun, cool, addictive, engaging, and altogether very well-made! It’s also exactly the same style of gameplay as Zelda 2. So, after all this, I’ve come to this conclusion: the failure (not really FAILURE, by the way. It was successful in its original run, but it failed to stand the test of time like some other Zelda games we know) of Zelda 2 wasn’t because of its actual gameplay… it’s no longer a popular Zelda game because it was just too different. I guess the moral of the story here is “Be careful what you call Zelda.”

Also, in case you were wondering HOW MUCH Chibi Knight is like Zelda 2 (and how obvious the relation is)… Here’s the opening screen from Zelda 2:

Hm. I don’t see the resemblance at all.

Happy gaming, see you next time!

 

~Another Gamer

 

I’m baaaaack!

Hello, ladies and germs! Actually, I should say “guten Tag!” because I’m in GERMANY.

Whoa. Guys, I’m in Germany.

For the new folks here at the blogoblag, let me fill you in: I’m studying electronic music at the Hochschule Trossingen. Unbelievably rad! My studies begin in about 4 weeks, but right now I’m taking a 6-week long INTENSE German language learning course. Every day, 6 hours a day, just German. I haven’t been speaking a lot of English lately, so forgive me if I occasionally use a German word now and then. Actually, that won’t happen, as these blogs are rigorously edited for spelling and grammatical errors.

Not.

So, the transition from American culture to German culture has been a little bit difficult. I had my trusty DS with me, and I’ve been playing a lot of Poke’mon: White to pass the time. I’m staying with a host family that didn’t have internet (UNTIL TODAY thank Jobs), and so I was woefully without games that require the internet to play (like Diablo and Starcraft and often Minecraft and a lot of Steam games) and games that require the internet to DOWNLOAD (like the new Android Humble Bundle 3. I hope you bought it!). But now, German DSL is screaming along, giving me access to you, my dear readers, and to a wonderful cornucopia of other things like Facebook and Reddit. Actually, those things aren’t wonderful. They’re just excuses not to go outside and see this totally different, beautiful country that I’m in. So, perhaps I’ll slack off on keeping up with my American friends or the newest cat pictures.

But this blog! It must not be forgotten.

This particular post isn’t actually going to have anything of real substance (deep, well thought-out opinions about the true nature of video games will come later. Pinky swear). However, it’s going to let you know that all is not lost! There might be a brief hiccup when I move from my current location to Trossingen, because, well… new living location, lots of stuff to do, no internet, yadda yadda. Everyone who’s ever moved out of their parents’ basement knows what I’m talking about: that brief couple of days (or weeks) that you realize there is NO WAY for you to know what anyone else on the planet is doing. Interesting feeling.

So! The rest is bookkeeping. It is rather late here, and I almost said “the rest is beekeeping.” Perhaps a more interesting hobby, but I don’t think the analogy works here.

I’ve been nominated for the “One Lovely Blog” award by two separate people: cary, a longtime follower (really, one of the first) and a damn good game blogger in her own right, and Brendan, a blogger I wasn’t familiar with until, well, he sent me his nomination. Mea culpa.

As I tend to Google things, I have discovered that a ton of people have been “nominated,” and that there’s actually no one who really AWARDS these things. However, it’s totally nice and cool and it was the impetus for me to get my butt onto the computer and do some serious writing about video games! So, thank you both for the nominations… I found it very sweet.

About my day job (you know, this whole “music” thing I’ve flown halfway across the world and abandoned my family and friends to pursue). Before I left I spoke with a friend who has been in the film and video game industry for a long time, often as a certain type of artist, but as of late more as a representative for other creative types. I won’t be too specific, but she’s pretty awesome and knows EVERYONE. Anyway, we got to talking about how I would absolutely love more than anything to write music for games. It’s been a pipe dream that I’ve never considered to be a real possibility, but she was very supportive (which is a big thing, considering she KNOWS the industry and how difficult it is to enter). She mentioned something about lending her support in a more tangible way (which I also won’t mention here), but would perhaps be my “foot in the door,” so to speak. It’s not a free ride. I’d have to work hard. I’d have to start at the bottom, getting coffee for people like Hans Zimmer or Nobuo Uematsu (truthfully, getting coffee for the people who GET COFFEE for these composers). I jest, a little bit, but the important thing is, that I’d be working in that industry. Here’s the caveat: if I did take her up, I’d probably be working for a LARGER game company (think EA or Blizzard or Bethesda or something). They employ a lot of people, and as you may have read, I’m not always on their side. I think my goals and my ideals align more with an indie game group, but alas, it’s pretty much impossible to “apply” for a job in that world. It’s a great deal more about knowing the lead programmer (for example).

So what do you think? It’s a complicated decision, to be sure. Fortunately, I don’t have to make it for a year yet, and by then, everything could change. But I’m interested to know what everyone thinks.

That’s all for today! Sorry about not having any unrelated analogies or funny pictures. More will come. I just wanted everyone to know that I haven’t died or fallen off the face of the earth. I’m just on the OPPOSITE face of the earth. Completely different thing.

~Another Gamer

P.S. Here are some games. I think they’re awesome, but a couple of them will be relevant to my next post. SO PLAY THEM! Don’t slack off, you have gaming to do.

Dibbles: A puzzle game with a rather morbid (and awesome) twist.

Zombotron… 2! (even more fun than the original.)

Glean: I love these types of games. Perhaps not a “blatant” ripoff of MotherLode, but similar. This one, however, is complex, rather beautiful, and extraordinarily well-written. As far as flash games go, I recommend it very highly. Play it, be completely engrossed, leave a comment when you remember that there exists an internet outside of finding the next treasure chest.

P.P.S. I’m glad to be back. I don’t know if you could tell. I’ve missed writing about video games so much. I haven’t stopped being passionate about them, so not being able to write is a rough business. I’m glad to be back.