Wednesday, February 26, 2014

3 days of...DOTA 2!

I have no idea what I'm doing

Taking on the challenge of a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) like DOTA 2 might have been my worst choice this week. Especially considering the 3 day time table I've been giving myself for games lately. It's been truly harrowing to understand that I'm a disgusting piece of slime that doesn't deserve to walk the earth because I don't know how to "lane" properly.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm especially bad at DOTA 2. I come from the game of it's origin, Warcraft III, where you not only have a hero to control, but an entire army. So I figured that it wouldn't be that hard. I was undeniably, especially, horrifically wrong. I was more wrong than Miley Cyrus on stage.

And the ensuing torrent of flames, regardless of announcing myself a NOOB, was endless and horrible. I even prepared myself. I went out to a nice dinner, dressed up in my finest collared shirt, and had a glass of wine with a blackened chicken breast. I had a confidence boosting night for myself so that any comments on DOTA wouldn't absolutely wreck me. I failed completely. It took me two good games before I was sitting in my hotel room hating myself for being such a horrible person and teammate to people I didn't even know.

Honestly I don't remember feeling this bad for letting down people I DO know. Thinking of that made me feel even worse. The fact that I wanted to please these digital avatars of people I'd never met before more than my own comrades and friends makes me feel bad. It's the competition in me, I feel the need to be useful in-game, and instead my very presence is a burden to both my team and myself. It's hard to get started in a MOBA, and yet there's something that draws me back to it every time.

I died immediately following this battle.
The endless combinations of hero teams, and shop items. The cosmetic shop that Valve has showed a mastery over. The undeniably fast matchmaking. The UI that screams efficiency and friendliness at the same time. Everything about the game has been tooled down to the smallest detail. To the point that I don't even feel bad about losing, because I know it's not the games fault, but my own.

DOTA 2 makes losing fun. Honestly I've never felt better about losing while hating myself more. I learned so much. I know things now that I didn't before 2 matches vs. humans and dozens of training matches vs. bots. I'll keep trying to get better. The day I top those charts on my team for the first time I'll be ecstatic. Until that day I'll have to keep training.

I'll give it this though, DOTA 2 has got hooks, and if you're not careful they'll sink their teeth into you, and you won't be able to pry them loose.

You'll like this game if: You're a competitive asshole looking for a place to flaunt your digital talent while making other people feel inadequate. Also if you like fun games, no matter how hard they are.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

3 days of...Brothers - a Tale of Two Sons!

What was so great about Brothers?

Take a game with a halfway decent story, strip out the game-play elements, take out any dialogue, and give some amazing environments to adventure through and you've got Brothers by Starbreeze Studios. There are so many amazing things to see and truly wonderful places to visit. The entire time I played (and I actually got to finish this time) I was amazed by the things I saw. 

That's about where the entertainment ended for me. You can't really call Brothers a game as much as you can call it a split medium between cinematic adventure and puzzle game. It's more an interactive story. There are some minor puzzle elements, though most of them are mindless, or merely there to waste time. There aren't really many rewarding sequences, unless you count story progression as a reward. And there aren't any other game play elements besides running around and wordlessly interacting with the gorgeous environments.

Teamwork is key
I wanted to like the story, I really did. While I played I started to form a bond with the characters, but somehow I feel like that bond was never complete. I felt like these were puppets that had no right to speak, and so they didn't. There wasn't anything they could do without me. I turned out to be the big older brother holding their hands. 

The music was amazing, really it fit every moment of every scene. There wasn't anything I didn't like about the music as a matter of fact. I think I'll end up buying the soundtrack to listen to it in my car. It's soothing when there are great overlooks, and it's tense when you're being hunted. It served the game very, very well, which is what every good soundtrack should do.

The greatest part though was the environments in which all this took place in. The environments were so refreshing that I am willing to forgive everything else. I can't even talk about them without giving them away, but the world you explore is really the treat. The story you witness is nothing next to the wonders that the brothers so blindly walk through. I couldn't blame them, they've got a mission and they wouldn't give up for anything. Really though, what they just so wildly prance through is astounding. 

If a game designer could learn something from Brothers, I sincerely hope it would be how to progress a world around the player. To truly give the player a sense of wonderment at what might be behind the next hole in the wall. Honestly, if all games did what Brothers did in environment I would be ecstatic. 

You'll like this game if: You love gorgeous environments;regardless of what genre you enjoy you'll love being led through some of the most interesting and fun settings in modern gaming, Brothers is truly a treat in this way.

 Work, School, Kid, and more work.

I want to write more, but I've been busy this week with work, school, and trying to raise a 2 year old that just said no to me, again. Literally while I'm writing this. So even though I finished Brothers I don't think I was truly able to appreciate it. That's the name of the game though. Through rain, sleet, hail, snow and I suppose head cold, I'm playing these games no matter what it takes.

So I'll be choosing a game that won't take so much time because I'm traveling all this week as well. Hopefully the quality of my reviews doesn't suffer. It seems as though my opinion has suffered because looking up the rest of the reviews on this game tells me that I'm definitely in the minority. Oh well. 

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

3 days of...Overlord!

There's not enough time in the day for evil

Too many games these days have you playing the tireless hero, constantly fighting the barrage of henchmen put in your way by a malevolent being bent on destruction. In Overlord by CodeMasters you are put in the iron boots of that evil mastermind. It's slightly older, released in 2007 with the earliest games of the last generation, but it holds up amazingly well. It's some of the best fun I've had in a game for quite some time.

Scenes like this make me want to laugh maniacally
I'll speak quickly on what makes the game good, then I want to bring up some unique things this game does right. Right off the bat, the mechanics are well explained, and the tutorial is rife with entertaining quips to make it worth playing rather than a chore. As a matter of fact the entire game is ridden with slapstick humor, and it never takes itself too heavily. There are even themes of female domination and slavery, still eliciting laughter from me, even if I felt a little guilty for it. The voices of the minions are constantly referring to your environment and offering their praise, and gold, in uplifted hands at every command. The graphics are standard for the early generation, though the human characters have faces are reminiscent of a warped garry's mod joke. The gremlins that you control however, are well done, and have personality that shows through their wrinkled, toothy grins.

Now, on to what makes Overlord wonderfully unique; everything that it leaves out. It doesn't have a mini-map, or any sort of direction. Most gamers these days would scoff at such a feature left out, but it honestly adds to the game rather than detract. It makes you invest some emotion and time getting to know your surroundings, and in the end makes you begin to care how the world is constructed around you. Establishing a mental map of the dungeons, towns, and paths makes this world inhabit a portion of my mind. Possibly because the protagonist is silent, I care more about a world that I have to actively observe and by extension it's residents. 

The only girl that stands up to you does it from behind a grate.
One of those resident characters being the minions, you might think of them as expendable as you throw them into fountains to their doom to provide you sustenance. However, as you progress through the story, one of your followers may don a pumpkin from the patch you destroyed 15 minutes ago. Or a crown from a treasury that was guarded by a massive half-ling you all took on together. Patchwork armor is formed after killing waves after waves of enemies. Even though they are small and easily dispatched, it's hard not to start identifying with them as they begin to represent your destructive adventures. You miss the little guys when they fall in droves and regret throwing them to the proverbial fire. I've not played a game where I felt so attached to my nearly worthless minions. Individually they are unimpressive and demure, but they're a part of your team and they become important nonetheless.

If anything Overlord is worth playing for the lighthearted commentary on anti-heroes. It's definitely worth it because of it's originality and the unsuspecting way it catches your attention and forges emotion from what seems to be originally a shallow world. After a few quests you even want to begin being the hero, and in a way you are. I mean you have to have a population to rule over don't you? Half the game you spend protecting the spoils of war that you claim a right to. You do this until you begin feeling like you aren't actually a comical villain; instead an unintentional benevolent force sweeping the hills with his mad laughing cohorts. 

Minions are great for carrying the load.
Even if it's not your own
You'll like this game if: You wanted to see the classic hero story from the opposite side of the spectrum. Traveling with minions singing your praise and fulfilling your every wish is one of the best ego-trips I've had in gaming. Ruling with an iron fist can be fun!

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Good Corporate Choices in Gaming: VAC vs. Cheaters

Lessons from Valve are always valuable.

Recently, Gabe Newell posted on reddit about some bans that happened because of their anti-cheat system, called VAC. When I read this post, I hadn't even heard about the 570 cheaters banned for linking their accounts to cheat servers. So that tells you how fast they replied, since gaming news is about the only news I follow. This should be lesson number one learned from Steam and Valve consecutively. Know your policies, and act on them quickly. 

Gabe knows his policies and seemingly so does his company. They've always been very consistent about providing the best possible gaming environment for their fans, and the increasing popularity of Steam just shows that it's working. Putting another feather in their cap here just makes their many plumed business plan shine that much more.

Basically what they're saying is that cheaters aren't tolerated, and at the same time, they are given many chances to right themselves. The avenues that VAC uses to determine cheating are none too short, and very fair as Gabe explains in his lengthy post. Honestly, I didn't lack faith in Valve, but if anyone did this post should squash that distrust with fervor. 

This type of exposition is a breath of fresh air. From the convoluted press releases that I'm used to seeing from EA, and the lack of information from other developers, a divide from developer to consumer has formed. It's uncomfortable and unnecessary. Most of their audience who is concerned with this type of news can easily decipher subtext from context. So telling it how it is, with specific references to cache and parsing is probably the smart thing to do, as Valve has promptly demonstrated.

I wish more companies would stop trying to fool themselves into thinking they can pull the wool over the eyes of their public. The public they serve are the tech savvy, the IT gurus, the hardware hackers,  that inevitably will find the truth no matter how much you try to hide it. So the next time a large corporation finds itself in a dilemma, maybe the best thing to do is just to tell the truth, and trust the public you have invested so much time and money into. If you can't trust that, then maybe you should re-evaluate what you're doing.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

3 days of...Endless Space!

Bringing simultaneous turn chaos to the 4x genre

When I first began playing Endless Space, a 4x strategy game made by AMPLITUDE studios, I immediately drew comparisons between it and games like Sins of a Solar Empire and Star Wars: Empire at War. And it's true there is a lot of aesthetic similarities between them. Space faring races pushing for control of a galaxy with limited resources, with massive fleets throwing lasers and missiles at each other high above newly colonized planets. Unfortunately looks can be deceiving, and I had to stop mid-way into playing it, put aside my disappointment and look at the game for what it truly is. And it represents the origin of 4x Strategy games, namely the archaic board-game, expertly. 

It's very easy to see that card-based layout influenced this display.
This is the problem with modern 4x games. They betray the board-game aesthetic and separate themselves visually from their ancestors to fit in with modern games. This visualization is the first introduction to the game most people get, so they begin comparing the game with other games that are visually similar. However Endless Space isn't mechanically similar to a real-time strategy game, so if you run into it with those expectations you'll be sorely disappointed.

I suspended my belief of the illusion it was delivering, and though of it instead as a very complex board/card game.Then I truly began to appreciate it for what it did well. The tech tree is very complex and forces you to choose paths within paths in order to get ahead instead of generalizing. Exploring the galaxy and managing your empire are both deep and easily automated. As a matter of fact, everything can be automated by default so you won't forget to keep a planet producing something each turn. Hero units don't necessarily have to be generals either, they can advance as planetary administrators, which provides an interesting change of pace from other strategy games. 

At one point, I had this series of planets running themselves. Until
I got stabbed in the back by my neighbor.
Endless Space executes these things wonderfully, and stays true to it's 4x nature to a point. When you begin meeting other races, you'll soon realize that your turn is co-mingled with every other players. That's right, everyone performs their turn at the same time. Scrambling to move your colony ship to that planetary system before a competitor has a whole new meaning when speed is involved too. Positioning your cursor right after clicking the end turn button becomes important, and adds a new element to 4x strategy that certainly is interesting, but can be just as frustrating, as speed can get you rewards faster, but allows enemy fleets to dodge yours as fast as they can move. 

Combat is handled like a miniature card game, offering you 3 chances to trump your opponents chosen attack/defense type. Regardless of this however, it's difficult to beat a fleet that happens to be more powerful or prepared than your own. Taking this into account, preparing fleets ahead of time with plenty of options or just specializing in a specific type of attack becomes very important. During combat a cut scene is played displaying your choices and showing the ensuing exchange between fleets. The cut scene is purely there as a slow-moving visual representation of your battle; meaning you have little control over the fight beyond changing the next card in the lineup. Honestly, you can skip this minute long affair and just treat battles as if they were card-games with no animation. At least until your fleets become large enough to be impressive on screen.

Battle cutscenes are visually pleasing, if a little bit slow.

Like any other 4x game I walked into Endless Space thinking I could be an all controlling dictator, pushing automation to the side in favor of tasting everything the game had to offer. When I realized that speed mattered though, I began pre-programming what my systems would do, and how my units would move as much as possible. Automation seems to be the name of the game, and treating your empire like one big programmable robot seems like the best way to beat out your competitors, who are inevitably doing the same thing. It's just not possible to pay attention to actively moving fleets, and manage your empire at the same time. 

In some ways I enjoyed this. Endless Space handles automation like few other games I've played, and it was never a hassle to see what my directed tendencies did to my systems. In other ways I felt that I was just lining up actions at a point, and then ending turn after turn waiting for the next production queue until some galactic event changed the way I wanted to play. Giving me something to do every turn would have been a nice change of pace, or something they could have added, but I could literally go 5 to 10 turns sometimes without even having to do anything in my systems. That just happened to be the most efficient way to play. 

Compared to other 4x games (and board games), Endless Space doesn't disappoint, and delivers a rewarding and very challenging experience. There are endless ways to play, and the game gives you complete freedom on how you progress. It brings the 4x genre back to it's board game days and at the same time brings something new to the table in it's simultaneous movements. I can appreciate that. Things that I wish were better? Having something to do every turn, like playing the political meta-game with the opponents. And having a more useful battle interface that I'm not tempted to skip every single time it pops up. 

You'll like this game if: You enjoy delightfully complex board games, and wanted to see a wonderful visualization set in a detailed science-fiction universe. You might like it even more if you wish you could run a galactic bureaucratic administration to rule as much as you want to engage in large intergalactic hostile takeovers.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fallout from the Indie Gaming Bubble

How the Indie Bubble is forming

I was reading some news on the Video Gaming industry and I came across this article by Joystiq on the indie gaming bubble. The phenomenon is well known especially in the technology sector in the last 10-20 years. The dot-com bubble, the mobile bubble, the real-estate bubble. All these are recent examples that anyone, young and old, should vaguely recognize. The bubble represents the rise of a new technology, and the resulting bandwagon of start-ups that try to grab on to this new economic gold-mine. Really, they start popping up left and right, good, bad, it doesn't matter. When a bubble forms everyone wants a piece. 

Joystiq in their article mostly addressed how the developers feel about this bubble. There was one quote in the article sums up how any indie developer should see the market now. Retro City Rampage creator Brian Provinciano explains it best: 

"The big challenge we now face is saturation, quality and protecting platforms from the race to the bottom, which happened to mobile. It's been a bit concerning to see that this most recent Steam Holiday Sale saw developers doing deeper discounts than last year, no doubt in an effort to try and rise in the charts against the ever-increasing competition. However, it's a very slippery slope, and if this continues, it will once again become less viable to be indie."

Steam and GoG are the current propagators of the indie bubble,
and a good indicator of when things will start turning south.

What the scene will look like after it pops

Historically, when there is a bubble in the economy, it boosts production, and quality for a while. It lowers prices and makes everyone all giddy over the possibilities. However like any bubble it's got to pop. From what I've seen of the over saturation on the Steam store, it's beginning to happen already. Games are green-lit to go on Steam with very little following, and in order to appease the masses, Steam is lighting up more and more games, regardless of the assurances or quality of the product.

Historically, two things happen when a bubble pops. They take place on two sides of the situation; effects on the producer, and the consumer. The consumer up until the bubble pops, has a high perceived value of assets they gain from the bubble. Goods from the bubble are cheaper and easier to obtain, and have high relative value. When the market becomes well saturated, the consumer uses this perceived value to justify spending in high quantities. Much more than when they had to pay more for similar goods. When the bubble pops, people recoil in their spending, and suddenly there is much less to go around, especially to those who can't withstand the sudden drought of economy.

After the over saturation of digital marketplaces, we can expect this to happen. People will see a rise in prices, as indie companies try to improve their quality of games. Consumers will stop spending as much money on those games, and in general when they realize the back log of low-priced goods they already have. Indie companies will suffer as they can only sell games when there is a seasonal sale, and even then have to compete with other studios for the lowest discount to reach larger audiences.

Finally, indie studios that have to disband or go bankrupt will have to let loose massive amounts of developers that are qualified for a single type of job that may or may not be applicable elsewhere. When you have a bubble burst, you end up with an over saturation of the work force for that particular industry. Game developers, artists, and programmers will be everywhere, and there won't be enough jobs to go around because of the recoil from the bubble popping. Unemployment and a general distaste for the industry will prevail amongst those who cannot be hired, and they will apply their skills to other areas, as the pool thins itself out. 
Here's a good visualization of how a bubble looks when it pops.
The digital market is nearing the "New Paradigm" marker.

The good news?

The good news from all this, is that eventually the over-saturated pool from which developers hire will regulate itself to a lower number of higher quality individuals. Over time the quality of games will return to what the average should have been prior to the inflation of the economic bubble. So games will return to the AAA quality that we remember from the initial release of the XBox 360 and PS3. You remember? Halo 3, Modern Warfare, Oblivion, Skate. Games that bring new and exciting things to platforms will return with the talent returning from the indie scene. We might even see a massive conglomeration of indie studios form a new gaming corporation. the possibilities after the market re-establishes a norm will be endless. Until that happens, brace yourself, because the gaming community is most likely going to be weathering some hard times soon. 

You'll like the bubble if: You dislike all the indie games that are low-quality coming out on the market and want higher quality, if less quantity.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below!)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

3 days of...Sword of the Stars: The Pit!

The Humble Rogue-like Bundle: Game 5

Those tentacles don't want friendly hugs.
Heading deep into the Pit for the hundredth time, I realize that I'll probably never beat this game on normal, or even easy mode. And I'm completely okay with that. It's moments like this that remind me how a good rogue-like is supposed to feel; Sword of the Stars: The Pit definitely has that aura about it. Made by Canadian developers Kerberos Productions, SOTS The Pit (hereby to be known only as The Pit) is a procedurally generated dungeon crawler placed in the Sword of the Stars universe.

Just a warning to those who want to jump right in. This game is HARD.

You'll often enter a level immediately surrounded by danger.
I'm not talking finding the motivation to clean your garage on Sunday, I'm talking climb Mount Everest hard. There is so much hate surrounding the difficulty of this game that I can't help but laugh. Visiting the forum boards for this game is like going to a bad comedy show that sells ripe fruit. And Cerberus takes it like a champ, with each new DLC they keep dishing out the punishment.

To be fair, they also have added features like 2 or 3 new character types and loads of new items for each DLC, which helps give the game more longevity -- and me more patience for having to tolerate so much failure. You can also save a single file of each character type, or leave weapons and armor on certain levels for other characters to start with, rather than having them level up. These DLC packs add enough noticeable content to be worth the money, but you'll likely end up spending near $20 for the full package. That may not be worth it if you're not a fan of rogue-likes, but if you are then this is at least something to try. You can find the demo on the Kerberos website here.

The Pit has crafting, unique enemies, interesting weapons, and a persistent recipe system that rewards you beyond your characters death. That being said, the best way to play this game is blindly, and starting on easy. You will not be able to survive even on Normal until you've unlocked some recipes from the lower difficulty. Even then, surviving to the end on easy will take a while with the 30 levels currently in the game. I personally never got past 14, and I've been playing this game since well before my "3 days of..." series.

Rats won't keep you from eating what
is found in these kitchens if you want to survive.
The last thing I have to say is the artwork is interesting to say the least. I'm not quite sure if it's the dimensions, or the quality of the art that put my eye off a bit, but there's definitely something unusual about how The Pit was animated. It was one of the things about the game that attracted me in the first place, and it looks great. The animations are sound, especially for your character, and the rest serves its purpose well, with recognizable symbols and items teeming in the levels. You'll soon discover a regular route and plan for each corner and room as patterns start to identify themselves. 

You'll like this game if: You enjoy rogue-likes, and you want to see more of them in a speculative fiction universe than a fantasy setting. You may also enjoy trudging through living slime, and the corpses of man-size rats. Enjoy!

The Finale of the Humble Rogue-like Bundle

Finishing up this latest Humble Bundle was loads of fun. I was excited to see that they featured Rogue-likes a couple weeks back. I will definitely be coming back to at least 3 of them in particular: Dungeons of Dredmor, Binding of Isaac, and Sword of the Stars: The Pit. These games represent what I believe to be the best rogue-likes in my recent memory. I can't think of anything that will surpass them for some time. And that's part of the magic of rogue-likes. They won't become obsolete, mostly because graphics and game play are neatly secluded. Graphics as they are so important these days have no sway on the quality of a good rogue-like, so you can rest assured that those favorites in this genre will remain standing the test of time.

You'll like rogue-likes if: You are getting older and all those whipper-snappers and their Black Ops shenanigans get to you. All you want to do is play a game alone in some peace and quiet, is there anything so wrong with that?

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below!)

Monday, February 10, 2014

3 days of...Paranautical Activity!

The Humble Rogue-like Bundle: Game 4

Paranautical Activity by Code Avarice is unlike any of the other rogue-likes in the package I picked up on the late humble bundle mostly because it's a First-Person shooter style action rogue-like. Most rogue-likes stick to the tried and true top down perspective. Paranautical Activity challenges this standard by giving you a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action game with 8-bit inspired graphics. This new perspective seems like a good way to bend the genre a bit and allow for fresh ideas to spawn, and I commend Code Avarice for trying something new. 

Demons with guns abound in Paranautical Activity. Scary!
I began realizing some ways in that they are losing a majority of their audience with their unusual take on dungeon-crawlers. It is still in development early-access on Steam, so hopefully they find a way to attract both FPS action fans and Rogue-like players. Playing it right now, it's a good idea with good mechanics, but there's just something that it needs to push it over the edge to greatness.

The game itself gives you a fast way in, allowing you to chose from several characters with different guns, run speeds, health and alternate weapons. After you chose you are immediately dropped into a cell-based maze with differing rooms culminating in a boss room that will eventually take you to the next floor. There are shops, mini-bosses, and just mob rooms. Everything that makes up a fun rogue-like is here so you won't be missing anything. When you die you can reset and play again just as fast, tempting you with the "Just one more round" mentality.

The shooting mechanics are well thought out and most characters move fast enough to dodge well. It takes some getting used to but the First-Person idea pans out well enough to work in combat. Jumping is essential to moving around the maps and avoiding damage. It also happens to be very fun. Your speed increases ever so slightly it feels when you jump, giving you a sense of flying around rooms, dodging your enemies in midair cleverly. There also happens to be a boss early on that gives you double-jump, making moving around doubly fun. 

The Trident is a one shot power weapon, difficult to aim
as I'm dying to this demon moth.
The aesthetic of the levels is pretty bland for now. Not abysmal, it certainly serves the function but there's nothing special about the arenas you fight in. For example every boss I fought had an empty room to himself with no obstacles save the enemies you fight. this feels like a missed opportunity to give the boss a different room and thus different fight each time you enter. The music is good, a digital electro-track with heavy drums. It serves the purpose of raising your heart rate as you jump around bland darkish rooms but it looses its touch after a while and becomes a bit repetitive. Changing up the aesthetic of the rooms and the music a bit would make this an entirely different game and hopefully the developers change these things up a bit.

Paranautical Activity contains a great idea that hasn't quite panned out enough to bring a wide audience to it. It certainly has it's moments and it's tense combat is more thrilling that most other games I've played recently. It is still under development granted, and I certainly like the direction it is going. Hopefully some of the issues are fleshed out before release and it takes off, because the combat certainly was fun and I see some great potential here.

You'll like this game if: You like FPS and Rogue-likes, and want to see the two combined with fast paced action and techno music. Even if this sounds remotely like a combination you would enjoy, I recommend following it's development on Steam.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below!)

Friday, February 7, 2014

3 days of...The Binding of Isaac!

Crying in the basement was never this fun.

I would cry too if this were my basement.
I’ve been playing the Binding of Isaac made by Edmund McMillen over the last 3 days and I’ve greatly enjoyed every moment. The game mashes up a Legend of Zelda screen moving, dungeon crawling experience with a two stick shooter style combat. Throw in a bit of rogue-like randomly generated levels and dozens of bosses and enemies and you’ve got yourself a great game that is easy to pick up but difficult to master. You begin as a naked boy living through his nightmares in the basement of his house, crying on his enemies until they smear the ground red with blood; eventually to reach the finale and face body parts of your crazed radical Christian mother attempting to kill you in the name of voices she hears in her head.  That was a mouthful of crazy wasn’t it?
We've all had this dream...right? Guys?

The controls are smooth, though if you want to use a controller you’ll have to pick up Joy-to-Key software. The sounds are pretty well done, though nothing unique popped out at me. The controls, graphics, and sound all serve the function of the game, which is to give you a brand new experience every time you sit down. And The Binding of Isaac accomplishes this wonderfully.

Every level you conquer grants you at least 1 new upgrade or ability, so the better you get the more interesting your games become. I can honestly say that I never came across the same level design twice, and I never got the same combination of upgrades at any time. Every single game I played was unique. If that isn’t enough there are 10 challenges that make the game many times harder and plenty of characters with starting abilities to unlock. And everyone loves challenges and unlockable content right? 

Subjecting yourself to this maze may
leave YOU with nightmares too.
The best part about this is that each game only extends to a maximum of 45 minutes, to beat the final boss. It’s never easy unless you get ridiculously lucky. This natural timing of each session makes it a great game to pick up knowing that you’re going to be done within an hour. Though there are plenty of times you’ll play for 10 minutes and die frustratingly, only to restart immediately. That is what makes the game so addicting; there are challenges abound and each new life happens so fast that it’s easy to continue to try to get better items and beat the game better.



Christian Mythos and Gaming, are they compatible?  


This all makes for a wonderful rogue-like and I’m glad I had the chance to play it, but there’s something else that needs to be pointed out here. The game takes advantage of the Christian mythos in a way that I’ve rarely seen in other games.  I was raised in my younger years with religion constantly in our home, so I understand that any threat to marginalize Christianity is taken very seriously. Growing up now and taking a look into the entertainment industry, especially gaming, I see that every OTHER religion is treated in this way. However only on rare opportunities do I see Christianity as a centerpiece in Video-Games. Fortunately, Japanese Video Game studios have been doing it for a VERY long time.

Looking at many JRPGs you can see hints of Viking polytheism, Christian archetypes, Pagan Fae, and Greek Demi-gods come to life.  The Shin Megami Tensei series takes lots of religious themed characters and puts them into a mish-mash of RPG and monster collecting and calls them all Demons. Despite the possibility of causing riots in religious centers everywhere it also happens to be one of the most popular and long running JRPG series to date. Xenosaga is a great example that had a plethora of wonderfully subtle references that filled me with giddy laughter and surprisingly got me to commit to some off controller research time. And every game using classical magic is basing it on religious myths based in the Wicca Religion.

Becoming a headless Demon is
commonplace in the Binding of Isaac
Like these games previously mentioned, The Binding of Isaac takes many familiar legends and common Judeo/Chrisian concepts and makes them into power-ups, baddies, and bosses. The game is BASED around the psychosis induced on young children by overbearing and radicalized parents inducted into the Christian cycle in the same way. And it’s WONDERFULLY fun and charming. So why don’t we see Christianity featured in more games? The mythos would make for a very interesting central pillar for a theme. Even if it is flushed out a little with a splash of imaginative fiction. I love seeing religious influence in games, especially when it falls into the category of fantasy and anything can happen. Possibly it’s not used often thematically because it is a hostile environment for making lighthearted entertainment about religion. I don't think it's quite fair to have such an imbalanced market, for fear some people may not like the themes in your game, but I wasn't raised with much tact or business sense.

Unfortunately in this case majority rules. And since Christianity is so widespread there isn’t a chance that many games will include their mythos for fear of being outcast and losing sales. It’s smart business sense. Don’t marginalize the most popular Religion in the region of sales and you won’t lose as many customers. Personally though, I’d like to see more Judeo/Christian Influence in modern games. I like recognizing themes and seeing new and interesting interpretations on millennium-old ideas. It makes for a fresh perspective that many games these days lack.

So what do you think? Should religion be more prevalent in Video Games to be used as a thematic element? Or should we leave it alone as to not incite controversy?

Let me know what you think and if you have a suggestion for a game I should play let me know!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kickstarter News: Sinister, and the future of gaming hardware

Evolution will create the next controller, but what will it be?

For the last decade there hasn't been a large jump in video game controller technology. Many of us either use the classic keyboard and mouse, or the more ergonomic console controller. There hasn't been a major evolution since the original XBOX and PS2. Even modern day PC controllers imitate console controllers since their inception. There have been attempts at left-handed gaming devices that allow for WASD and hotkey commands to be mapped to keys that conform to the palm while you play your favorite MMO/FPS but they haven't turned out to be all that popular, except with the most eccentric and hardcore of PC gamers.
This is just one of MANY configurations that are possible.
With stagnation and demand just waiting for the right tool, Tivitas Interactive, a hardware deveoloper in Canada, has decided to pounce. Right now there is a Kickstarter campaign funding a new technology called Sinister. It is a fully customizable left handed gaming device, that allows for seamless integration into your current setup. It has haptic feedback and is designed to evolve as new modules are created. So you can truly create your own experience, and then upgrade it as the company creates more modules for future games. I truly support this controller, as its the first gaming device that is designed to evolve as time wears on instead of forcing games to conform to a single standard.

Think about it, games releasing modules to be attached to your Sinister device so you can use their exclusive control to make the game more interactive. I'm not saying that Sinister is THE device that will change gaming, but it's a step in the right direction. No new technology has really captured the market, and had the opportunity to change the way we play.

The thing is, that visual information can only evolve a bit further and then we will have true-to-life resolutions and then where will we go? Hardware is where we turn to make the next big step. Virtual reality with the Oculus Rift, or possibly new input devices is where we turn to change the way we interact, and bring us closer to a visceral, tactile experience. Being interested in hobby electronics I'm truly excited for this technology, as hardware improvements have been slow over the career of gaming. 

The new age of gaming will truly depend on hardware choices, as software reaches it's peak. I want to be on the side of progress and evolution here, so I'll be supporting the Sinister gaming device as much as I can, if only a meager amount. Right now Sinister is only at about 10% of their goal, but they've still got a month to go -- it's not too much of a stretch to imagine them attaining their goal before that time.

What do you think will be the future of gaming? The Sinister or something like it? Or does the controller represent the ultimate in gaming interaction?