Courtesy of Kotaku, here’s the launch trailer for Rogue Legacy. The post about it caught my eye by claiming it’s a game where having OCD is an advantage. That’s only slightly misleading.
The protagonists in this new indie computer game all have a medical condition that impacts how they play the game. The OCD knight earns bonus points for breaking all the pots. The colorblind knight plays in a grayscale environment. The near/farsighted knights have blurry vision for distance/closeups.
Rogue Legacy is a rogue-lite game, meaning the levels randomly (technically, procedurally) generate to a point. Think The Binding of Isaac. You’re not going to randomly get the final boss battle after the title screen, but you can’t predict which of the first world stages you’ll get before advancing to the second.
TooManyGames is a Pennsylvania-based video game convention and expo. This past weekend, they celebrated their 13th year of bringing together gamers (10th year as a convention) and I was fortunate enough to attend the last day.
When I applied for the convention, I didn’t realize that the schedule for the camp I teach theater at was set for back to back training weekends. I thought there was a gap in between. I was wrong.
That meant trying to fit as much of TooManyGames as I could into one day. It was a challenge that was so worth it. TooManyGames was so organized and laid out so well that I could literally go down the line in one section of the convention and meet with half of the indie game developers back to back. I could turn the corner and hit a stretch of used game dealers and dig through my childhood memories playing the NES and Genesis. There wasn’t any wasted space in the design of the convention and that’s a lot rarer than you might think.
I arrived shortly after the doors opened at 10AM and introduced myself. I e-mailed them earlier in the week to confirm I could still grab the press pass on Sunday and was told there wouldn’t be a problem. Not only was there not a problem, as soon as I asked where to go for the pass, the person I e-mailed flagged me down and sent me on my way real quick.
The layout was very intuitive, but the 8bit map was very much appreciated
Walking into TooManyGames was an overwhelming experience, as any good convention always is. There’s so much to see right away that your eyes take a moment to adjust to the right path for you. I swung through the outer perimeter, checking out the various districts of the convention: a concert hall for chiptunes performances, a huge series of gaming stations with comfortable chairs for tournaments and casual play, plenty of tables for tabletop gaming and demos, long stretches of indie video and tabletop game developers, a large collection of retro and music arcade consoles set for free play, and a huge expanse of dealers and artists peddling their wares.
I wound up making a lot of loops around the show floor in the six hours I was there. At a convention like TooManyGames, there is absolutely no reason to wait on line for something. If someone is playing the Centipede machine you wanted to try out, step on over to Frogger and set the highscore (and then beat it twice throughout the day). If the demo for the soon to be Kickstarted throwback RPG is being played, swing by the developers with multiple iOS and Nintendo eShop titles to try out. There’s so much to do that, even when the convention hit its peak traffic in the early afternoon, you could easily walk by and find a new activity to occupy your time.
It’s hard to even keep track of what happened during the day. I’m so used to panel hopping as a substitute for interactive events or poorly planned convention floors that I really did lose track of time just hanging out with the vendors, developers, staff, and attendees at TooManyGames.
The whole event was just so fluid in the best way possible. You would actively have to set out to not have a good time as a gamer at this convention. At one point, I heard some really cool sounding chiptunes and followed the speakers to the concert hall. The music I thought was a recording was actually live DJs, chiptune performers, and bands performing for most of the day.
At another point, a table with three artists stopped me to compliment me on my shirt. We got to talking about all the different badge classifications at the convention because I was clearly press–laden with cameras, bags, and notebooks–but had a generic guest pass. One thing led to another and we exchanged information for some possible work revamping my web presence with new custom art.
The soft squishy ufo hat was not meant to be mine
Then there was the point where I wound up entering a video game contest just by walking past a booth at the right time. I’m an avid gamer but not a great one and throwback Asteroids-styled shooters are not my forte. Still, the opportunity came up and I had a good time. I narrowly avoided coming in last place and saw my best score of two rounds more than quintupled by the winner (who just won a tournament at the booth next door). To give myself a little credit, I did play better than I expected to. I just got caught up with some minor latency issues being worked on for the Apple OS version of the game still in development.
It always feels great to go to a convention like TooManyGames. There was no way to get lost. The staff were very helpful. There was a huge variety of content to satisfy any gaming fan. For me, it really was too much to try to fit into a day. I focused on the indie developers and had to forego tabletop gameplay, console gaming tournaments, and the panels on arcade and online gaming culture.
If you’re in the greater Philadelphia area and you like games, you should definitely try to make it to TooManyGames in 2014.
Here’s a gallery of the show. Keep checking back this week as I have posts coming up dedicated to the indie games hitting stores near you and some really cool vendors you’ll want to support.
TooManyGames Show Floor
TooManyGames Smash Bros. Melee Tournament
TooManyGames Chain Chomp Realness
TooManyGames Mario Car Topper
TooManyGames Mario Car Whomp!
TooManyGames Mario Car Loaded Trunk
TooManyGames Award-Winning Mario Car
TooManyGames Chiptunes Concert
TooManyGames Tournament Sign-Up
TooManyGames Music Arcade
TooManyGames Retro Arcade
Another week, another new set of deals at my GameFanShop partner store. You get great discounts on PC games while I get a small cut of the sale to help keep Sketchy Details up and running. This week has great deals on Remember Me, BioShock Infinite, Grid 2 and more. There are over 1000 games to suit any PC gamers wants and needs.
Little Inferno is an indie puzzle game with a bit of a dark edge. You are a child living in the future. The sun hasn’t been out in years and the world is getting progressively colder. Everything is covered in snow. Your only chance at survival is the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You are told to burn all of your toys and possessions, then to buy more toys and possessions to burn in the fireplace. Different combinations are rewarded with extra money, used to buy new things, and stamps, used to speed up delivery. Figure out enough combos and you unlock the new product catalogs.
The controls are very simple. It’s point and click. You click to buy objects, click and drag to throw them in the fireplace, click to start a fire, and click to collect money and stamps.
The game is first person, which makes the darker edge of the story all the more sinister. You start to receive letters from someone who calls herself Sugar Plumps. She wants to be your friend and help you do the best you can with the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. If you buy her a gift, she sends you a gift back. She seems to be able to see you and knows more about you than you do at any given time.
You also get letters with the weather broadcast–cold, getting colder, and no sign of the sun–from The Weather Man and advertising and instructions from Miss Nancy–the creator of the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You burn everything you buy in the fireplace and start to receive cryptic warnings not to turn around and not to burn certain combinations of items.
Here’s the rub. Miss Nancy tells you the bad combinations are outlined in the instruction manual. Yet, Little Inferno forces you to burn the instruction manual before you can proceed. Burning the manual is the tutorial stage. It’s the one document sent to you that you can’t read. All of these referenced warnings were turned to ash long ago.
Little Inferno has a really charming style. The brick fireplace has a decorative face in the back with its eyes closed. Sugar Plumps, or S.P. as she prefers, warns you that the face is always watching. Little spiders and flies climb down into the flame as you stack up bricks, books, robots, toys, and rotting food for points and profit.
Everything burns in Little Inferno
Each item in the catalogs has its own unique reaction to flame. A doll dressed like a Valkyrie sings opera. A miniature moon creates an orbit that begins to spin all the items in the fireplace. Soda cans explode and video games create bonus levels of zapping flies or ducks in the fireplace. The different combinations produce different results that alter the animations.
Yet, something doesn’t quite sit right for me with Little Inferno. It tries to teeter the line between cute and menacing. I found the darker aspects of the story–the world slowly freezing over, the cryptic warnings about how the fireplace really works–far more compelling the overly cutesy combos and repeated cycle of buying items. The game guides you until it doesn’t and the combos have clear relations to the titles in the combo list until they don’t. It’s just odd.
The ending of the game puts the emphasis on the darker narrative and feels like a really well-conceived storyline. It’s just not emphasized as much as it could be during the puzzle-solving. Little Inferno incentivizes every action with a reward and never punishes you for bad choices. It’s all reward, no risk. A few more setbacks and challenges could have made the ending all the more powerful.
Little Inferno is a very clever indie puzzle game that older gamers can enjoy (a bit too dark for children and do you really want them virtually playing with matches?). It really is fun to explore how all the items interact with the flame and what combos will be rewarded. The story pops up just enough to keep you engaged for a complete playthrough in one sitting. If you take your time, it’ll take you about three hours to get to the end of the game. Aiming just for the bare minimum amount of combos would be even faster.
Little Inferno is available to download on PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U. You can score the PC/Linux version through next Sunday (9 June) as part of Humble Indie Bundle 8 with Thomas Was Alone, Awesomenauts, Capsized, and Dear Esther (!!!) for as little as $1. Beat the average price and you also get Hotline Miami and Proteus.
Like the review? Share it on your favorite social media accounts. Have any thought on Little Inferno? Respond in the comments below.
At this point, a lot of indie game developers try to make mind-bending puzzle games. Portal helped bring back the genre in a huge way with the taunting narrator and level manipulating mechanic. A lot of games fail to even offer a fair challenge, mistaking difficulty or narrow unmarked accuracy fields as compelling game design.
Not Thomas Was Alone. Mike Bithell didn’t fall into the “harder is better” trap with his rectangular puzzle/platformer game. He creates a captivating environment with very minimalistic graphics that will draw you in with charm and humor.
Thomas is an anomaly in a computer system. He’s a randomly generated error shaped like red rectangle. He begins to explore the world that created him, reaching for teleportation outlines that bring him to the next area.
The computer system begins creating other errors with other abilities. John is a tall skinny rectangle that jumps exceptionally high. Claire is a large blue square that can float on the water–a deadly element to the other glitches. Together, the team of seven shapes begin to go further and further in the computer world that made them and wishes to destroy them.
For a game with rainbow-hued rectangles on muted backgrounds, Thomas Was Alone sure has an engaging story and great character development. The seven glitches fall in love, like each other, hate each other, and distrust each other in equal measure.
The flavor text/narration is worth the price of admission
Claire’s not sure about Chris (a squat but strong orange square), but Laura (a flat pink rectangle that act as a trampoline) falls in love with him pretty quickly. Chris hates John for being so upbeat, tall, and jumpy, but John wants nothing more than to earn the respect of Chris and Thomas. And Thomas, the title character, is routinely referenced as the glitch in the artificial intelligence that would be destroyed first if these other characters weren’t forced upon him.
Charm and character development are not a substitute for good gameplay and responsive controls in a puzzle/platformer. Thomas Was Alone proudly stands as a well-executed game. The controls are simple. You use up, left, and right (or WAD if you prefer) to move the characters and Q/E (PC/Mac) or shoulder buttons (PS3/Vita) to toggle between characters. A row of colored squares appear on the corner of the screen to let you see the order of the toggle. The game automatically centers on the active character, as well.
The level design is challenging but not so exacting that only one out of hundreds of possibilities of landing a jump is correct. Some levels are just simple platforming, moving the characters from the beginning to the end in a clear path. Others require cooperation between the characters–building staircases for smaller players to climb, floating on Claire’s back to pass through water unscathed.
Thomas Was Alone has excellent level design
The hardest levels split the characters into odd combinations that force you to rethink the relationships between them. Chris and John are a terrible pair because John can’t carry Chris and Chris can’t jump on John without at least two layers of platforms, yet they’re forced to work together to handle narrow passageways no one else can fit into. Claire and Laura can only jump high enough to get on top of Chris or a low platform, but the two are often paired up to create a high enough trampoline for other characters to use to hit switches. Thomas Was Alone refuses to let you fall into patterns of behavior that rely too heavily on one character combination over another.
While the opening text of each level derides the characters, the cast of Thomas Was Alone is best represented by Claire’s introduction to the game. Claire believes her ability to float makes her a superhero. She is proud of the fact that she can do a job no one else in the computer world can. The more she helps characters, the more satisfied she feels with the hand she was dealt.
Each of the seven characters in Thomas Was Alone is a superhero to the other characters. They just don’t all realize it. They have phenomenal abilities that allow the entire crew to pass through without detection by the menacing pixel cloud in the sky. The game is a crash course in teamwork and a very smart commentary on learning to believe in yourself. It has the biting wit of Portal which a much more life-affirming message.
Thomas Was Alone is available to download on PC, Mac, PS3, and PS Vita. You can score the PC version through next Sunday (9 June) as part of Humble Indie Bundle 8 with Little Inferno, Awesomenauts, Capsized, and Dear Esther (!!!) for as little as $1. Beat the average price and you also get Hotline Miami and Proteus.
I know the Dead Island series, especially Riptide, is pretty polarizing with video game fans. The trailers suggested far more emotional gameplay than the open world survival horror/rpg title delivered. Those storylines are in the game, but they’re not the focus and you rarely deal with those scenarios while playing.
Riptide‘s advertising campaign has been fraught with controversy. The special edition statue of the ripped up female torso in a bikini was heavily criticized as soon as it was announced.
It is a, shall we say, jarring choice for a promotional figure. What does sexualizing a beheaded corpse have to do with the game? Not much. It was a misfire. Not all ad campaigns and promotional materials are good choices.
What I thought was very effective was the CGI trailer for Dead Island: Riptide. A man and a woman, clearly in love, are on a small yacht in the middle of the sea. An ominous music cue pushes the couple below deck. A romantic piano theme accompanies the couple’s embrace in the small quarters. The camera pans up and zombies are trying to smash their way onto the boat. The propane tanks are open, causing waves of gas to ripple against the zombie-obscured sunset. The woman mouths “I love you” to the man before joining his hand on the lighter they will use to blow up the ship and save themselves from becoming zombies.
It is a dark and brutal love story that is meant to shock the viewer. It is a reminder that the zombie apocalypse has landed on Dead Island and it’s an either/or proposition. Either your character survives or the zombies thrive. One character type must die to allow the other to take control.
The NSFW and triggery video is embedded here.
I think it’s a brilliant advertisement for a game that needed a boost to sell. The critics were kind to Dead Island but word of mouth gave it a disappointing reputation.
I enjoyed the open world gameplay and wide variety of missions to find and reconnect missing persons but others were let down by the constant assault of human zombies. Techland and Deep Silver aimed for naturalism in a zombie game and the lack of more diverse enemies–they’re all regular human zombies–played against the standard design for survival horror. If the enemies just increase in number rather than difficulty, it can become repetitive.
Australia’s Advertising Standards Board has banned this Dead Island: Riptide ad from appearing on TV in Australia. Why? Suicide.
The Board noted the fantasy content and the stylised nature of the advertisement and considered that the issue of suicide is a depiction of violence which is not justifiable even in the context of an advertisement for a computer game aimed at adults.
The issue of suicide is a very significant community concern and considered that the use of images which are strongly suggestive of suicide is not appropriate in the context of a television advertisement for a computer game.
AIE is distributing the game in Australia and attempted to fight the ASB’s decision. Their argument is perfectly valid. Dead Island: Riptide is a game for adults that covers mature subject matter. The advertisement does not sensationalize suicide, encourage it, or depict it in a way that diminishes its impact.
ASB’s response basically says they feel any depiction of suicide is inappropriate for any audience in an advertisement. That’s a huge restriction to set. Sure, most products would not benefit from an ad featuring this kind of imagery. But a survival horror game, a dark film, or a cerebral novel might have to address it in an advertising campaign.
Now, the ASB has established this standard that suicide cannot be depicted in ads. They’ve done it under the guise of protecting viewers from violent and upsetting imagery. They either believe an adult audience is not mature enough to ever handle the subject matter or that video games, as a medium, are not mature enough to address significant social issues like suicide. It’s a case of censorship by way of overly protective media guides.
I can’t tell if they’re insulting the intelligence of the target audience, insulting the artistic integrity of the video game industry, or slapping both groups in the face at the same time. Either option is equally depressing to me. The quality of the game is inconsequential to the discussion. The ASB said people and/or games can’t handle mature themes, therefore mature themes do not belong on TV advertisements. That’s a very limiting view of advertising and video games and it makes me sad for whoever handed down this decision.
Anita Sarkeesian’s new videoTropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2) premiered today on YouTube. Sarkeesian, the creator of Feminist Frequency, lays out her purpose in creating videos right at the start. This is the clearest I’ve ever seen her (or any media critic, for that matter) explain why we find it necessary to closely examine media we’re drawn to.
Over the course of this series I will be offering critical analysis of many popular games and characters, but please keep in mind that it’s both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.
This is not about instantly being against a subject because it features something objectionable under a certain school of theory. This is about examining something you enjoy to understand the quirks of how it works and why it chooses to characterize certain aspects with certain tropes and shorthand. It’s about the impact of the institutionalized choices of media on the greater world.
Unsurprisingly, before I even got a chance to watch Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2), the trolls that attempted to destroy Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign already got it falsely flagged off of YouTube. It was an easy enough fix to get the video online again since there is no hate speech or TOS-violating content contained within.
Much like Part 1, I’m going to do another response to Sarkeesian’s video. I walked away very impressed with the construction of the argument and the research the last time. Will Part 2, dedicated to the “dark and edgy” Damsel in Distress style, be as strong?
Part 2 is grounded in Sarkeesian’s research into games that teetered on multiple tropes. It’s hard to argue against anything she says when she can reduce plot points for many games in a row to “his wife is murdered and he must save his daughter.” The exercise becomes so frustrating that, when exploring how game developers combine the Damsel in Distress (female character kidnapped and incapable of being freed without a male character’s help) with the Woman in the Refrigerator (female character brutally murdered to advance story/character arc of male character), Anita Sarkeesian actually facepalms. No, seriously. Look.
Bionic Commando is the game that broke Anita Sarkeesian
It only gets worse from there, people. Sarkeesian starts discussing the combination of the Damsel in Distress with the Mercy Killing (where a character is killed to save them from a worse fate). She’s defined a lot of terms in her Feminist Frequency series but none have hit me so strong as “The Euthanized Damsel.” We’re led to believe that the best thing for a female character who has already been trapped in a perilous situation she can’t get herself out of is death. Not freedom, not a chance to return to a normal life, but death.
When was the male hero who couldn’t even stop the bad guy the first time they met suddenly upgraded to the status of God? How is it that game developers think executing the victim is a compelling or thought-provoking ending? I share Sarkeesian’s disgust with this trope combo. Most cases are lazy, manipulative writing and their screenwriters deserve to be named and shamed. There is a world of difference between double tapping a zombie bite victim who played a big role in the story before they transform and double tapping a victim whose only role in the story was a treasure to be reclaimed by another character.
All of these games feature violence against women to free loved ones
The next segment focuses on an even more absurd spin on the same trope. The only difference is that you beat a woman who you are dating or related to until the evil escapes or she dies peacefully. The only way to advance in the narrative is domestic violence and the women are literally asking for it. This is the part where I facepalmed. I don’t know how I managed to avoid so many of these games, but I’m kind of glad I did.
This is also the part in Part 2 where I disagree with Anita Sarkeesian’s analyis. She attempts to tie real life violence against women to in-game violence against women in the same way the NRA attempts to tie violence in video games to violence in real life. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that playing out these terrible scenarios in games actually has an impact on how the gamer behaves in real life. She backtracks in her conclusion, but the rhetoric is briefly identical to anti-video game advocates. The trivialization of the social narrative surrounding violence against women is all too real, but her attempt to tie-in real life violence is a stretch.
Her conclusion, however, is very strong. The discussion of mechanics as an accidental function of sexism is brilliant. If the most popular video games rely on violence to tell their story, the only way to conclude the story is with more violence. If the story hinges on abducting a female character, violence must be used to resolve the abduction of the female character. Until game developers find a new way of telling these stories, the darker spins on the Damsel in Distress trope will all too easily rely on violence against women to create a grander story.
Have you had a chance to check out my GameFanShop partner store yet? Now’s the perfect time to explore. It’s a PC gaming paradise. You get great discounts on PC downloads and get to help support Sketchy Details in the process.
Buy Dead Island Riptide at GameFanShop
There are a bunch of new deals this week for some high profile releases. Dead Island Riptide, the sequel to the ridiculously fun open world island-set survival horror game, can be had for $33.99, 15% off the regular price. Battlefield 3 with early access to all DLC and a ton of bonus features is $39.99, down from $49.99. Darksiders II can be yours for 60% off the regular price, $19.99.
Perhaps the most intriguing sale is Don’t Starve for $13.49. This is a really ambitious indie simulation game where your goal is to survive. You have to forage for food and supplies to extend your life a few hours longer. Don’t Starve is getting really great reviews from indie-friendly critics and even the bad reviews acknowledge that there’s something really cool happening with the game. Check out the trailer below.
The biggest deal of the week is Need for Speed: The Run for $17.99. This game is normally on sale for $29.99 at GameFanShop, which itself is 40% off the regular price of $49.99. That means you can get a really solid racing game for 65% off the regular price.
Buy Portal @ GameFanShop
For the throwback pick this week, I have to go with Portal. The devious puzzle game has become embedded in pop culture with its quirky references and plot devices. I mean, you can buy Portal cake mix now. There’s so much more than hype in play here. Portal is sharp and challenging with a brutal wit and mind-bending puzzles. The actual mechanic of creating tunnels in space with a gun instantly became a video game standard that was often imitated but never duplicated. Portal can be yours for $9.99 at GameFanShop.
Those are this week’s deals at GameFanShop. With over 1000 titles to choose from, you’re sure to find something to fit your gaming style and needs. You order the game, register your account, and receive the download code by e-mail for Steam, Origin or whatever proprietary download server the developer uses. You get a great game at a cheap price and I get a small commission that helps keep Sketchy Details up and running. It’s a win/win situation for everyone.
Geek & Sundry has a new series from some of the Robot Chicken creators called FetchQuest. Each week, they release a short animated video looking at various aspects of the video game industry. It’s sharp and committed to the theme of the episode no matter how many people it may alienate in a given week. It’s not my fault that some people don’t understand Journey, so I can’t be too mad when their indie game episode boiled down to “indie games have no point other than to make you feel stupid.”
The newest episode, “It’s Not Wii U, It’s Me” actually hits on a rather raw subject in the gaming community. Watch the catchy and provocative music video then continue on down the page.
I knew what would happen when the video was released on Wednesday and I was right. The fanboys in the YouTube comments (I know, never read the comments, but I find them so inspiring) are flaming each other non-stop. There are a lot people who believe “It’s Not Wii U, It’s Me” is some official declaration of Nintendo being a bad company because casuals, lol. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s a joke about an issue that’s actually fought over at this point.
I don’t think FetchQuest realized how accurate they were
For me, the entire point of video games is to have fun with interactive media. There’s no room for excluding any gamer from the community. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all target every demographic from young children to the self-declared hardcore gamer. There’s room for everyone on every console. Excluding people from the discussion because they don’t play x, y, or z is not doing anything to elevate gaming beyond children’s toys in the greater cultural discussion.
The idea that Nintendo is the only console that targets children is a laughable one. Every console targets children with colorful games, recognizable mascots, and huge advertisements in TV shows and ad circulars. Why? They’re the largest market. So long as gaming, as a whole, is viewed as something for children to do, the entire gaming market is going to target children on whatever consoles are available.
Each console gets the same shovelware–fast and poorly produced video games designed to turn a profit on a small amount of sales because they were developed for so little money–yet Nintendo is the company stigmatized for it. The motion control for the Wii made it so that a bunch of generic shooting, sports, and point and click games could be developed for home consoles instead of arcades. They wound up on the PS3 and Xbox 360 anyway with d-stick or even Kinect control schemes.
No, but seriously, we need a sequel to Eternal Darkness.
Furthermore, each Nintendo console generation since the SNES has been accused of being just for kids when it was released. It took years for people to acknowledge that the N64 had great games beyond Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, and Super Smash Bros.. The same cycle happened with GameCube (Metroid Prime and Super Smash Bros. Melee) and is, unsurprisingly, starting up with the Wii already. If everyone who now claims to have played Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, an M-rated horror exclusive, when it was released on the GameCube actually played it, we would be swimming in sequels by now. Hindsight is 20/20 and people get lost in hype, positive or negative, when dealing with any kind of technology.
The bigger accusation against Nintendo is that the company only targets children. It’s simply not true. The common argument is that since Nintendo has cute games, they’re for children. I remember being pretty shocked the first time all my Pikmin were swallowed whole by enemies in Pikmin for the GameCube where my older brother just thought it was funny. A game like Animal Crossing, all about free exploration and interaction with NPCs and fellow players alike, could probably hold a child’s interests for a few hours but will keep an adult coming back to build, customize, and collect all the items for months.
There’s a distinct difference between producing a game for children–an educational title featuring Dora the Explorer or a point and click adventure game featuring Mickey Mouse–and producing games that can be enjoyed by anyone–the entire Mario series, Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda series, Pokemon, etc.. The latter are probably only going to be mastered by more mature gamers.
Nintendo’s goal is not to appeal only to children but to create games that can be enjoyed on different levels by different gamers. Let’s take Pokemon as an example. My OCD self will spend hours grinding up a small roster of Pokemon to equal standing before developing different team combinations to use against real world and NPC challengers. My younger OCD self would level up the starter Pokemon so high that it could beat any gym leader by itself; I would also only choose the water starter because it was blue and I liked blue. And other people memorize rankings, stats, and develop game-breaking training techniques to max out the perfect team from the start.
EV training is a real thing. (click for full) from http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/156325700
As the series grows, new features are added to appeal to even more gamers. You can go all The Sims on Pokemon Black/White by building a shopping mall from the ground up or training Pokemon to star in movies and beauty pageants. You can buy stationary to send notes to your friends or spend hours mastering the Pokemon battle subways in multiple battle formats. The ability of a child to play the same game as an adult does not mean that the game is being explored or appreciated in the same way.
Most major triple A titles get ports or specifically designed releases on Nintendo’s consoles, including the Resident Evil series, Call of Duty and even Mass Effect. The Wii U already has a ridiculously hard M-rated exclusive, Zombie U‘s one life and you’re done mechanic is certainly not aimed at children, and will have another this summer with Bayonetta 2. Nintendo doesn’t typically design M-rated exclusives themselves, but neither do Sony or Microsoft.
Another week, another new set of deals at my partner store with GameFanShop. GameFanShop is an online store for downloadable computer games. You visit the site with my link, pick out what you want, and I get a small commission on the sale. My commission doesn’t impact your price point. All it does is help keep Sketchy Details up and running. Once the sale goes through, you receive your download code for Steam, Origin, or whatever server the game company distributes the title on.
This week, a lot of great titles from last year have dropped in price. Action RPG Darksiders II is 50% off, dropping down to $24.99. Ubisoft’s massively popular FPS Far Cry 3 is $29.99 this week, down from $49.99. Turn-based strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown is $10 off this week, available for $29.99. And the biggest deal of the week is FPS Battlefield 3 on sale for $20.99, 58% off the retail price.
If you’re a fan of The Sims 3, you can get some great deals on the expansion packs right now. Seasons, which adds new tasks throughout the year, is on sale for $29.99. Late Night, which adds everything from night clubs to vampires, is on sale for $20.99. Supernatural adds on werewolves, fairies, and witches for $26.99. My GameFanShop partner store has all of the expansion packs available, including all of the branded designer packs for the OCD decorators like me. You can find all of The Sims 3 expansion packs here.
I was very excited when I realized that GameFanShop carries Psychonauts. Psychonauts is one of the most polished and entertaining platformer/adventure games I’ve ever played. You play as Raz, a young boy with a tremendous psychic gift who obsesses over joining the Psychonauts. He sneaks into the Psychonaut training camp right when an evil plot is unfolding to destroy the program from the inside out. He must battle through physical and mental spaces to rescue his fellow gifted youth and preserve the integrity of the Psychonauts. The game still look and plays great. It’s funny and has a great story. I think the best descriptor is charming. The best part is that you can get it right now at GameFanShop for $9.99.
GameFanShop has over 1000 titles to download at any given time. Browse through the site and see if there’s something that catches your eye.
I’m working my way through the new Tomb Raider right now and really enjoying it. The game is just a more evolved version of the original games on the PlayStation. It has all the same elements–the platforming, the puzzles, the adventure story, and the high stakes combat. They’re just so much easier to see and process. The game is challenging for the right reasons, not because you literally cannot tell the difference between a platform and a giant chasm.
Part of the joy of the game is the beautifully executed tutorial stages. Almost every modern action/adventure/platformer game puts how-to instructions for the controls and game mechanisms in the game itself at this point. It usually feels super-clunky and forced. It’s the evil you have to go through to get to the good of the game.
Buy Tomb Raider
Not in Tomb Raider. The new Tomb Raider has one of the most suspenseful, action-packed tutorials I’ve ever experienced. The opening cinematic introduces rookie archaeologist Lara Croft. Her fighting for the chance to explore the dangerous Dragon’s Triangle is engaging. The most senior member of the expedition refuses Lara’s proposal until everyone else on the ship votes for Lara’s theory on the location of the lost Yamatai civilization. Then the actual gameplay starts and you’re immediately put in great danger.
To learn how to use all the features of the game, you’re dragged into an underground cave system filled with the grisly remains of human sacrifices. Bleached skulls and rotting corpses line the walls and ceiling. You learn how to light a torch, crouch, escape capture, and respond to quick-time events as you’re pursued by a wild man in the cave.
The story grows more suspenseful from there. You traverse cliffs, fallen trees, and abandoned towns, learning new skills at each new challenge. The story does not stop developing just to send you on a random collection mission. Lara is clearly exhausted after surviving a shipwreck, an abduction, and a near-death escape from a collapsing cave. Of course she needs to get fire and food to survive. By incorporating actual exposition into the tutorial stages, developer Square Enix justifies standard learning missions as essential to the story.
A bad day gets worse in Tomb Raider again and again (click for full)
When Tomb Raider goes past the basic tutorial, it only gets better. Tension is already high from the life or death stakes of the first chunk of gameplay. Now that the story and world is open to explore, you run the experience. The game is filled with alternate missions–unmarked tombs to explore–and a great upgrade system you earn by trying different techniques and discovering different artifacts. You do not have to seek out anything you don’t want to, but the game does reward you for taking your time and exploring all it has to offer.
The Tomb Raider reboot shows how to do the tutorial mode most modern games cannot escape. If you actually make the game focus on the real story from the start, you can slowly integrate the new skills needed as a welcome part of the gaming experience. You don’t need literal signposts and labeled training missions; you just need to trust your audience to interact with a gentle push here and there during the story.
Thoughts on the new Tomb Raider? Share them below. You can also help out the site by buying the new Tomb Raider at the Sketchy Details GameFanShop site. The PC edition is $35.99 through Sunday, 21 April.
Another week, another set of new deals at my GameFanShop partner store. You order the game through my partner link, register your account, and receive the download code for Steam, Origin, or whatever the manufacturer’s download site of preference is. I receive a small commission on the sale that helps keep Sketchy Details up and running. It’s a win/win for gaming fans.
Buy BioShock Infinite
A few really good deals from last week have gotten even better. BioShock Infinite is on sale for $44.99, down from the regular price of $59.99; this is $2 less than last week. Defiance is on sale for $43.99, down from the regular price of $59.99; this is $6 less than last week. Tomb Raider is on sale for $35.99, down from the regular price of $49.99; this is $1 less than last week.
Dishonored is added to the weekly deals today, dropping one of my favorite games of 2012 to 53% of its retail price. $27.99 is a steal for solving every puzzle by summoning plague rats. For the FPS fan, Borderlands 2 also drops to half off at $29.99.
The Sims 3, a game I really enjoyed when it came out for its scope and new gameplay elements, can be had for $15.99 this week. That’s 47% off the retail price. If traditional Sims action is too passe for you, you can pick up the wild The Sims Medieval for $12.99 (57% off). That’s the stand-alone spin-off with light RPG elements and a high fantasy setting. It’s a hoot.
Finally, for my older pick, I have to go with one of the more inventive puzzle/adventure games in recent memory. Stacking has you control the various members of a family of Russian stacking dolls. The family members are abducted in unexpected ways and they must manipulate the other dolls around them by jumping inside to obtain new abilities. It’s a very stylized game that can be great fun for the whole family. You can get it for $14.99 right now.
GameFanShop has over 1000 games that you can download. Check out their selection today.
Have you ever seen a horror film where there is a huge shocking set piece at the very beginning followed by a good 30 minutes of low key exposition? This is one of the most common horror film tactics. The opening scene–be it the shocking death of the would-be protagonist in Scream or the quick cut hit and run of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?–shows you the worst case scenario.
The sequence is over the top to draw you into the terror and telegraph what this film will ultimately be about. It forces you to pay attention and then leaves you questioning when, exactly, the next big scare will come in. It’s related to the jump scare because those tiny moments are an act of misdirection to remind you of what could happen at any moment.
Unsurprisingly, this is a technique that has made the jump to survival horror games. You get a big scare scene at the start that forces you to quickly learn the controls and rules of the universe. Then the game relaxes a bit and shoots out a lot of exposition. It’s effective in the moment but difficult to maintain that level of suspense.
Unlike a film that has the luxury of brevity, a game has to hold your interest for hours upon hours. A film can get away with not having the next big scare until the second act because it’s only a 30 or 40 minute wait. A video game has to constantly up the odds and change the environments to maintain a similar sense of novelty and intrigue.
Nothing survives the apocalypse
One recent horror game manages to pull off the hard parts with a lot of style. I Am Alive is a post-apocalyptic game where you control a man trying to reunite with his family. The city is in ruins and people are tense. Do you bet on their better nature and negotiate for safe passage or do you pull out a weapon and bully your way through the world? And what of the helpless survivors you meet along the way? How do you maintain your humanity when faced with such dire stakes?
The opening sequence of I Am Alive is one of the most frightening levels I’ve ever encountered in a game. You are dropped in the middle of a torn up street. Cars are abandoned, trucks are flipped upside down, and the bridge that takes you to the city has collapsed into the raging river below. You have to climb up the structure of the suspension bridge, shimmy around edges, and slowly work your way to the next section of stable road. Your body can only endure so much before it shuts down and falls from the bridge. You have to manage your resources and find. safe places to rest during your expedition. Sometimes, you have no choice but to push your body to the limit to even have a hot at survival.
Shocking heights and devastation (click for full size)
This is the perfect sink or swim moment for this game. You’re given a new control mechanism to manipulate every few steps, from running to pushing your limits. Then, you’re left to your own devices. There is only one safe way across the bridge and the game’s only hint is the inability to actually walk off the road into the water below. The camera swings to dizzying heights, never letting you forget what happens if you make a wrong move.
From there, I Am Alive takes a few moments to breathe. You’re introduced to the other survivors and how you can interact with them. You see the man’s video messages to his wife and daughter. You control the man as he reacts to the total destruction of his world by an unnamed disaster and, ultimately, learn to trust no one but yourself.
I Am Alive PS3
These fast lessons result in a very palpable level of suspense. You never know who or what will pose the greatest risk as you explore the city. The unknown even becomes more comfortable than what you’re experiencing in the moment. If you go just a bit further away from the last challenge, you might finally be safe; you never are.
I Am Alive Xbox 360
I Am Alive succeeds because, no matter how familiar the mechanics become, there is nothing familiar about this world. Have you ever had to climb a wall to go up a floor at the local mall? Or pull an unloaded gun on an old woman so she’d stop shooting at you? No matter how strange the story gets–and it gets wild near the end–the world feels real enough after that opening sequence to handle the weight of any worst case scenario apocalypse action.
Thoughts on I Am Alive? Share them below.
Must Read: Misogyny, Sexism, And Why RPS Isn’t Shutting Up. John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun breaks down the typical troll derailment tactics used when anyone tries to discuss the role of women in video games and fan culture.