2016 Game Collecting Goals

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RIP 2015. You were only around for a little while and now you’re dead. And we’re going to bury you and move on to a much younger year full of potential and possibly lots of butt-touching.

Last year was my first “full time” year collecting vidjas. And it was a much more fruitful year than I had anticipated. I had made a goals list, but by about June I had blown past most of my goals (for instance, I wanted to hit 400 games. I’m currently halfway past 800…). This year I don’t intend on being AS ambitious, as I have other things I need to focus on around it. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start up a new 2016 goals list for game collecting.

Console Collecting

As of the start of the year, I own 15 different consoles and 8 different handhelds. My intention is to add at least 3 more consoles and 2 more handhelds. While there are still plenty of them to choose from (some obscure, some obvious ones I have yet to get), here is a list of some of the most-likely (seeing as I actually own games for some of these consoles) and most-wanted that I still have yet to add.

Consoles

  • NES 
  • Turbografx-16
  • Sega Master System
  • Xbox 360 
  • Colecovision
  • Atari 7800
  • Atari Jaguar
  • 3D0
  • PS4

Handhelds

  • PSP
  • PS Vita
  • New Nintendo 3DS
  • Atari Lynx
  • Sega Nomad
  • Wonderswan Crystal (Technically, my color plays all the same games, just want to upgrade)
  • Game.com (Not kidding… it’s a piece of crap, but I want one again…)

Repairs

Sadly, two of my consoles are not in 100% working order and I would like to fix both of them or replace them this year. My Odyssey 2 was broken during an attempt to mod it (oops) and my Intellivision seems to have a controller that doesn’t quite work. This may require replacing both of them, but I’m hoping to look into saving them.

I also need to add a new save battery to my Saturn since I found out it can’t internally save anymore. And I really want to play more of Shining Wisdom since it cost me like 90 bucks…

Build The “Okami Shrine”

I finally threw down the price for the Okami snowglobe that came with the retail HD version in Japan. It cost me a pretty penny, but for my favorite game why wouldn’t I? That said, I want to start collecting Okami stuff and build an entire shelf dedicated to my favorite game.

Seems like every time I check on Ebay, there is new Okami stuff I’ve never seen before. A lot of it comes with a high price tag, so it’ll be a slow process, but I’d like to add several new things to the shelf and find a place for it. I’m looking to own physical copies of the game on every console, including all the Japanese releases (I have a Japanese copy of the original on PS2).

Game Room Updates

The amount of space I have left for games equals… well, zero. I have had to shove stuff in weird places to get by and build shelves out of boxes. So, basically, I need to revamp the room aspect of the game room. I need shelving, as well as a better tv stand and storage for consoles.

I’d also like to add some kind of upscaling device for my older consoles so I can play Genesis games in glorious upscaled mastery.

Build Individual Libraries

While my PS2 library is easily my biggest (with PS1 and Xbox creeping up on it pretty quickly), I’d like to work on building up some of my smaller libraries, as well as expand some of my decent ones with games I really want for them.

I’ve been focusing a lot on boxed N64 stuff lately, and would like to add plenty more to that. I’d also like to finally start building up a better handheld library, since my handheld game collection is relatively small. Dreamcast and Gamecube are also ones that, while expensive, I want to work on building up.

I’ll set some preliminary goals for where I’d like to be at the end of the year for each console. This won’t include EVERYTHING I have, just ones I’d like to focus the most on. My goals will be in blue and my current count will be in red.

  • Dreamcast: 40 (26)
  • Game Boy/Color: 50 (23)
  • Game Boy Advance: 50 (46)
  • Game Cube: 30 (27)
  • Genesis: 50 (39)
  • 3DS: 20 (15)
  • DS: 25 (23)
  • Neo Geo Pocket: 15 (5)
  • PS1: 200 (164)
  • PS2: 250 (245)
  • PS3: 75 (92)
  • NES: 50 (67)
  • SNES: 30 (18)
  • Saturn: 15 (3)
  • Wii: 75 (77)
  • Wii U: 15 (10)
  • Wonderswan/Color: 10 (2)
  • Xbox: 125 (96)
  • Xbox 360: 75 (65)

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Game Study: Crash Twinsanity – Twinsanely Broken

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When Deviant Art Shipping Becomes Game Cover Art...

When Deviant Art Shipping Becomes Game Cover Art…

Crash Bandicoot.

At some point in the late 90s, Sony entered the video game fray with the Playstation 1. And we were still in a time when it was considered common for a console manufacture, and most companies in general, to have a “mascot”. A figurehead that could sit next to the Mario’s and Sonic’s as the “Face Of Video Games”.

For Sony, their first success with this came with Crash Bandicoot. A quirky series of platformers (and eventually spin-offs following the Mario spin-off pattern) started up then unknown developer Naughty Dog. Naughty Dog would go on to make the Jak games, and of course, Uncharted. Flagship exclusives for Sony consoles, and generally well-received and very polished video games.

But all good things must come to an end, and eventually, Naughty Dog parted ways with Crash and the franchise fell into other hands, even going so far as to no longer be an exclusive Sony property.

And the first of those hands? Belonging to Travellers’s Tales. A British developer that’s been around since the early 90s. Often making games for Psygnosis, Traveller’s Tales has now become known as “that company that makes all those popular LEGO movie games”.

They DO Have A Pretty Cool Logo...

They DO Have A Pretty Cool Logo…

Their first Crash game, Wrath of Cortex wasn’t too well received, but it didn’t stop them from making more. Twinsanity was the second of the TT headed Crash 3D platformers, and one that I recently stumbled upon for a few bucks at a thrift store.

In my tween years, I played a lot of the Crash trilogy on PS1, and still to this day find them to be great games. But I’d never ventured out of the Naughty Dog Crash games before, aside from a few levels of the admittedly kinda fun GBA Crash series.

And man, I wish I’d stayed ignorant to this…

What IS Crash Twinsanity?

Crash Twinsanity mixes classic Crash-style platforming with a slightly more PS2-era open world approach. I use the term “open world” very reluctantly, for reasons you’ll see later.

Twinsanity puts Crash and his nemesis Neo Cortex as a team against an alien invasion. It’s a simple storyline that cleverly lends itself to gameplay mechanics. Having the hero and villain of the franchise team up isn’t anything new (Mario + Bowser for example), but having it be a very brutal partnership is something rather funny and refreshing. Watching Crash swing Cortex like a hammer or having one of their attacks literally be them beating each other up in a cartoon dust-cloud style ball rolling around is a great idea. And it would have worked too if it wasn’t for the fact that the game is a complete mess in ways I’d never before experienced.

First, The Good

I want to stress this right away: this game isn’t AWFUL. It has some really great ideas, and given a few more months of work, it could have actually been a pretty excellent 3D platformer and a pleasant addition to the Crash franchise.

Visually, the game is actually quite lovely, for the most part. Fans of the franchise will love the call-backs to the ridiculous (albeit somewhat racist…) tribal islanders from the original Crash. As well as a bunch of familiar faces returning in cameos, such as N. Gin and Dingodile.

I Laughed Out Loud At The Polar Bear Cub With The Bat. (Screenshot Compliments of Gamestop)

I Laughed Out Loud At The Polar Bear Cub With The Bat. (Image From Gamestop)

The game is also quite charming in the sense that it’s well-written. The cutscenes are generally amusing, and there are moments where the game twists conventions for hilarious results. For instance, at one point a NPC is asking Crash and Cortex to help him clear his garden. As a reward, one of the Crystal Fragments. Without hesitation, Cortex pulls out his laser and shoots the guy, stealing the crystal, ending with a “What did you expect? I’m a bad guy” wink to the camera. This works to great effect, and plays to the “teaming with the antagonist” mechanic perfectly.

It’s moments like this where the game genuinely shines. There are so many great ideas at play here, making for a varied and interesting platformer.

The trouble comes in the execution.

Where It Falls Apart

Crash Decides To Quit Adventuring And Become One With Nature. (Excuse The Cellphone Screenshot)

Crash Decides To Quit Adventuring And Become One With Nature. (Excuse The Cellphone Screenshot)

That screenshot is Crash clipping through a tree. Oddly enough, it’s the only tree in the game this happens in. Not really a problem, just a silly random collision issue that happened five minutes into the game. This is the LEAST of the game’s issues…

For those of you that have played the old Crash PS1 games, you know the games can be hair-pulling difficult. With tough jumps and levels stuffed full of traps. But the game gave you the tools for success. You could learn and improve.

Crash Twinsanity acts like a Crash game in it’s design, but throws out most of what made the difficulty less frustrating to overcome. For instance, jumping from tiny platforms in the early Crash games could be less threatening thanks to the utilization of Crash’s shadow, and very tight jumping controls.

Twinsanity does not have this. For some reason, when you jump, the camera pans upwards (especially when you double-jump), which ends up actually cutting off the area below Crash’s feet. This makes it INCREDIBLY hard to position jumps onto single crates or tiny moving platforms. This is made twice as annoying by Crash’s shadow simply not showing up on certain platforms. It’s there on solid ground, but half the time it doesn’t seem to show up on small platforms or crates, giving you almost no indication where you’re actually going to land. And given how many tiny crate-jumping sections there are, this proves to be tremendously frustrating, leading to many pointless insta-death falls. Add in a few deaths I lost to hitting a ceiling during jumps, or not even being able to see pits ’cause of them being almost the same color as cave floors and you have a lot of insta-deaths sending you back to where you last checked in.

It LOOKS Like A Crash Game... (Image from Moby Games)

It LOOKS Like A Crash Game… (Image from Moby Games)

This wouldn’t be TOO awful, it if wasn’t for the game’s atrocious checkpoint system. Checkpoints in an open-world game feel out of place. When you run from one side of a small chunk of island to the other, attempt a platforming piece to get a gem, and die, you often get sent way back to the other side of the level. This means you have to trudge through a lot of empty space just to get back to the mini-challenge you attempted. This happens often.

In fact, the game loves to send you back large chunks just for exploring or attempting a challenge for a side quest or pick up. It’s got open-world aspects, but almost always punishes you for actually exploring or digging for secrets. Eventually, I just gave up exploring and looking for secrets, and instead ran straight to each objective, rendering the open-world aspects completely moot.

Being sent back wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the game pulling out the much-maligned Gaming Sin of the unskippable cutscene. The little scenes in the game are pretty entertaining… the FIRST time you see them. But when you’re forced to watch a 30 second clip ten times in a row ’cause of insta-death and cheap game design, it starts to irritate to no end. And believe me, you will rewatch a lot of scenes, a lot of times. It’s inevitable, especially in more trial-and-error sections of the game.

Want more moments of “wtf” design? For a chunk of the game, I was fighting those islander tribals, little spear-equipped guys. Aside from bad collision detection, they were usually easily gotten rid of. At one point, I’m dropped down in front of two of them and the chief. He sends them after me, and the game gives me back control. Of course I think “let’s kill them”. I try to attack them and am instead killed.

The game wanted me to run. This was one of those Crash staples, the “run towards the screen” segments. Usually it’s a boulder or a dinosaur or something huge and intimidating chasing you, but this time, it was just AVERAGE ENEMIES. Ones I’d killed dozens of earlier in the game. And the game gave me no indication I was supposed to run towards the screen. That’s punishing the player for not thinking the game suddenly introduced a new mechanic to it. Dick move, TT.

Now, these may sound like simple design issues, and they are, but believe me… it gets worse. Oh so much worse…

And Then This Happens…

Here we go… time to dig into the personal experiences that I reluctantly write knowing some of you may not even believe me. These are just that bad. Things that forced me to stop and stare at my tv and go “…nope. NO WAY did that just happen.”.

First, a minor dick move that I was shocked to stumble into.

After battling my way through a handful of “levels” (the game plays out in one continued stretch of gameplay), I finally reached one of the game’s first bosses. As is customary with first bosses, he wasn’t much of a challenge, and after I beat him another cutscene played telling me where my next destination was. I was then left in the middle of the boss arena with the corpse of the giant totem guy I just beat. Now that I had camera control (well, PS2-era platformer camera control…) back, I wanted to look around the boss arena. Nothing there, but the boss himself looked like I could climb on him. So I jumped onto the fallen statue’s hand.

And was hurt. And died.

That’s right. I got killed by a boss I already killed. Just by touching his dead, stone hand. I died.

A Douche Even From Beyond The Grave...

A Douche Even From Beyond The Grave…

And when the game reloaded, I was BEFORE THE BOSS FIGHT! I had to watch a cutscene, beat the boss, and watch the second cutscene AGAIN. Because I dared to go “I wonder if I can climb the boss’ body!”. I was punished for exploring and trying to have fun for a second.

That’s pretty bad. But then it got worse.

Remember that sequence I mentioned earlier, about Cortex killing the NPC instead of playing his minigame? Well, right after that sequence, you’re given a chance to explore again. This game has hidden collectibles in different sections of the game, but no level-select to go back and look for them. It fixes this by giving you a few paths back to old sections. At this point, there was a cliff I could jump down to get back to a previous area. I decided to explore a bit before I went on with the game.

Until I found out I couldn’t get back up the cliff. Great. Now I have to trudge through some platforming to get back to where I was.

As I went along the path I’d tread before, I suddenly triggered a cutscene.

That I had already watched. THIRTY MINUTES AGO.

That’s right: the game RESET ITSELF! By backtracking to an old area, I somehow erased my progress! I re-triggered the event sequences and had to replay sections of the game that should have been done, over. I sequence-broke the game IN REVERSE. I traveled back in time and witnessed the same events, the same cutscenes, the same action sequences I’d already played, finished, and moved past!

The game not only punished me for exploring it’s open world, backtracking in what looked like a path planned for just that, but it did it in a way that reset all my progress somehow. Of course, I went to reload the game… only to find I accidentally hit one of the auto-save points.

Yes, the game auto-saved over my progress with my reverse progress. I essentially deleted my save just by playing the game by it’s rules.

Jaw. Floor.

I’ve never come across a game that has event flags that can be REtriggered simply by exploring it’s open world, let alone ones that allow those retriggered event flags to reset the progress in the game. This is one of the most baffling glitches I’ve ever seen in a game, and speaks volumes about how badly the game handles it’s faux-open world design.

That was the moment I realized I was playing a bad game. A bad, bad, bad, shitty bad game.

Twinsanity could have been good. Hell, it has enough going for it that it could have been GREAT. The creative concepts and charm ooze out of every pore of this thing. It has all the makings of a classic PS2-era platformer. But it’s so unpolished and messes up things previous games in the franchise nailed, that it ruins any chance of being anything more than a frustrating mess. Add in some mind-melting breaks, and it’s a truly painful experience.

Should you play it? Only if you want to experience the decent ideas and can deal with a constant stream of frustration from poor design and breaks. For a few bucks from a thrift store, it’s worth a look, but be prepared for major issues. This is not a good game.

By the way, all of this? Only happened in the first hour of the game. I’ve only played it for an hour.

I’ll let that sit in.

Now… I suppose I should keep at it… if only because I want to see if the game comes up with more incredible ways of breaking itself…

Video Game Cover Up – Underground Pool/Hardcore Pool

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Video Game Cover Up returns with a look at the greatest illusion every pulled by any video game cover artist ever. This time, I look at a random shovelware pool game on the Nintendo DS and it’s rather questionable variants…

Warning: May Be 2Spooky4U

Read The New Cover Up Here

AEGIS DEFENDERS: GENRE-BLENDING IN ALL IT’S 16-BIT GLORY

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Paying homage to the 16-bit era of video games isn’t exactly something unheard of in the current indie market. Many games are lining up boasting beautiful pixel art and retro-inspired gameplay infused with modern design sensibility. But just because a well has been drawn from frequently doesn’t mean the water is any less tasty, nor does it mean that you can’t still occasionally pull up something refreshing and new.

Aegis Defenders, on the surface, appears to be another side-scrolling action-adventure game akin to a Metroidvania with detailed backgrounds and pleasant sprite work and animation. And while this is certainly true, it’s the unique blending of genres that makes it stand out amongst the crowd. Claiming itself a “Tactical Platformer”, Aegis doesn’t just seek to offer the exploration and adventure, but also looks to melt some tower-defense inspired elements on top to spice up the formula.

With such an ambitious combination of elements, I decided to reach out to the team at GUTS to learn more about the game and it’s expansive universe and unique development focus.

“The game at its heart is an old-school, 2d platformer that you may have played back on the SNES. We love those games, but we thought how cool would it be to combine with modern game mechanics. Tower Defense, which is newer game genre and typically resonates a certain type of imagery and gameplay, has been very interesting to us as gamers. The idea of having to fight off waves of enemies while protecting an object is pretty cool and can really fun. So we have implemented the idea of defending certain points and applied it to a puzzle-platformer. You need to figure out ways to defend your “tower”, while using the skills, items and objects you have obtained throughout the game. You also have the ability to switch between your two characters between the game (ala Lost Vikings). Bart is an engineer, he builds, turrets defense blocks and robots – He falls into the tower defense world a bit more. Clu is a hunter, she is essentially a mega-man type character, which represents the platforming world. Using the two of them together, creates an all new unique experience for the player. It then becomes a puzzle game, so to speak, in trying to figure out who you should use in what type of situation. In terms of the overall game play, generally levels will consist of platforming through levels, solving puzzles and then finding the characters in situations that could be considered tower defense combat.  In the end, we like to think out game is a Tactical Platformer.”

The character design and the unique characteristics of Clu and Bart is a great starting point for looking at how the game seeks to mash-up genres and play styles. With Bart more focused on the tactical trap-setting and defense building of the tower defense genre and Clu being used as more of an up-front attacker, you can see how jumping between the two in the heat of battle can switch-up your approach to conflicts easily on the fly.

Enemies Can Come From Both Sides, Giving A Sense Of Claustrophobic Urgency To Battles.

Aegis appears to be building itself around an expansive universe and well thought-out lore. Originating as a graphic novel, Aegis Defenders tells the tale of Elam, a world of ruins and lost technology. The story and it’s concept design remind me of Final Fantasy VI in a way, while staking out it’s own unique territory in the past-and-present collision theme. With forces seeking to use the lost technology in dangerous ways, the stakes are high for the two main characters. How the story plays out, and how their personal struggles in this world develop have all the makings for an engaging story built inside a world that is both beautiful and threatening.

“Aegis Defenders takes place in the world of Elam, which is quite similar to Earth. Elam has advanced so far into the future that the world is once again in the dark ages. However, now there are remnants of ancient technology (or what would be considered our future technology, weaponry, robotics). So there are these ancient artifacts that are found all over the world. Our protagonists, Bart and Clu, a team of excavators, find Aegis, which is a giant robot said to bring uncontrollable power to those who wield it. They hope to power up their God in order to protect their village from Shem, another robotic God. Its a really neat take on fantasy and sci-fi, while remaining grounded.  Interestingly enough, myself and Bryce Kho – the game designer and artist met in graduate film school. Bryce started taking classes in game design, he paired up with engineer Li-fu Lin and started work on Aegis Defenders. Bryce, both an artist and story-teller, had originally been working for sometime on Aegis as a graphic novel. However, after learning he could actually create games, he felt the best way to tell the story of Aegis Defenders was through video game. So the game has a rich story and will follow the relationship of Bart and his Granddaughter Clu as they attempt to turn on Aegis.”

Designing such a world would require a good attention to storytelling and world design, and that’s where the art comes into play. We’ve seen many games design incredibly detailed worlds with pixels, and Aegis Defenders is no different. Sporting some unique visuals, what I’ve seen so far has gone a long way towards installing my faith in the execution of such a robust mythology. Blending lovely environmental designs with detailed ruins and technology long since reclaimed by nature, it’s impressive just how varied the screenshots I’ve seen have been. I mean, just LOOK AT THIS!

Pretty!

I’m also drawn in by the animations of the characters and the enemies you’ll face. The large-scale boss fights shown so far in particular impress me by being intimidating, but also very different in their approach. It looks like you’ll have to use both your action-oriented skills as well as forward thinking in terms of planning out tactics and traps for each encounter in very different ways, with one encounter placing you on what appears to be flying hovercraft of some sort fighting off a slime and the next pitting you against blind worms that burrow under the sand. Also, a giant spider. Because I didn’t deal with that enough in Limbo!

It's ALWAYS SPIDERS! At Least This One Is Colorful!

Aegis Defenders has launched on Kickstarter today, with it’s first focus being PC/Mac, including Steam Greenlight campaign, with consoles being approached as a stretch goal. If you’re into genre-blending retro-homage games with a heavy focus on mythology and deep world building, this one is game to be excited for. For more information, including a ton of pictures (and animated gifs which show off some incredible art and animation work), be sure to swing over to the official Aegis Defenders website as well. Thanks to Brian Ott for answering my questions and filling in some details on this excellent looking game.

What? You want to see more? Then check out the launch trailer to see this gem in action!

DEFINING MOMENTS IN GAMES: LIMBO – THAT F@#*ING SPIDER!

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Welcome to Defining Moments In Games, where I take some of my favorite games of all time and analyze single moments to see what they do right, and how they leave a lasting impact on the game.This time around, we’re throwing aside big-budget productions and focusing on how little studios can still develop strong moments that stick in the minds of gamers for years. Today, I’ll be reliving a traumatic event from one of my favorite indie-developed games of all time, Playdead’s Limbo.

As usual, this is a completely spoiler-filled write-up. Limbo is a short game that thrives on it’s surprising elements and little things, so any spoilers risk hurting the overall experience. I highly recommend picking this game up and giving it a playthrough before reading this article. No seriously, just go buy it already.


Playdead just announced their second game, called Inside, at this year’s E3. It was a long-awaited reveal that no one knew was finally upon as. Immediately, it was easy to tell it would capture some of the same style and atmosphere of Limbo. But why are so many people in love with Limbo and why would one little game leave people in anticipation for a follow-up?

When you break it down, Limbo is a pretty simple game. There aren’t many mechanics at play. You run, you jump, you climb,  you press switches, and you push boxes. That’s just about it. There aren’t a ton of platforming challenges and only a healthy smattering of puzzles. It’s a very short game, but it’s one that lasts long after it’s done.

This is in part to it’s remarkable visuals and open-to-interpretation story. Little details fill the game with mystery and a sense of dread and tension that is unrivaled by a lot of bigger games out there. But there is one moment, or really a series of moments around a singular entity, that stick out in my mind: that f@#*ing spider!

THE SCENE

Limbo’s world shows plenty signs of life, but we rarely see other living creatures. Sure, there are some of those creepy Lord Of The Flies kids trying to murder you in vicious ways, and occasionally a brain-sucking leech falls on your head and makes you act like a zombie, but other than that, the world seems oddly empty. That is, except for that giant-a** spider you bumped into early on.

We haven’t seen anything or anyone since we woke up in this forest, but suddenly our young hero finds himself with a new obstacle in his path: a towering spider, three times our height. And it’s clearly not willing to move. If you get too close, it shoves a spiked foot through your head like a child-kabob. Clearly, this thing is not to be messed with.

Unless we have to to move on.

Later on, you wander into a cave and find yourself trapped on some webbing on the ground. It’s then that our old friend makes his second appearance, and he isn’t particularly thrilled to see us. I don’t get why he’s so angry and won’t leave us alone, it’s not like we did anything to him! Well, besides tricking him into dropping his leg into a bear trap…

For the first time in the game, we don’t have control of our character. He’s stuck, and the spider approaches. It picks us up with one of it’s legs and quickly weaves the kid into a cocoon of web and plants us on the ceiling. He then just leaves us there and goes off to find more prey. We’re literally left hanging.

But, with a few shakes, we’re able to break free of the ceiling. But not of the web. For the next chunk of game, our hero is completely tied up by spiderwebs, moving in a desperate hop to escape. Just when it looks like we’re out of the woods (the figurative woods, still very much in the actual woods), our spider friend shows up behind us at the worst possible moment. Not that there is a good moment to have a giant spider looking to murder you, but he could have waited until after we made it across this spiky pit…

...C***...

After rolling violently down a hill, which luckily rips the webbing off of us, the chase is on. The spider is clearly no longer seeking to capture us, but to finish this pesky rodent off for good. After running from the spider, we come across a boulder. Perhaps we can use this to take down this behemoth once and for all? And why not rip a few of it’s legs off for good measure. Now it couldn’t possibly pursue us anymore.

Unless it dragged it’s body towards us using it’s now-single leg! Come on! In one of the most disgusting, yet satisfying, final moments of any antagonist, we’re allowed to tear the final leg off our former eight-legged enemy and put an end to this little battle for survival. The entire thing plays out in only a handful of minutes, but it was thrilling and tense.

Not So Tough Now, Are Ya?!

WHY IT WORKS

Honestly, this wouldn’t have been nearly as cool if it wasn’t for Limbo’s murky black and white art style and foggy atmosphere. This is a case where this would have just been another typical moment in any other game. But somehow, it’s amplified ten-fold by the art direction of the game.

For instance, when you’re picked up by the spider and webbed to the ceiling, you’ll notice something just barely noticeable in the fog of the background. It appears to be another web sack that seems to be roughly the same size as you. It struggles to break free, but simply can’t. The fact this is kept to the background, instead of being a foreground object, gives a sense of depth to this cave. Turning a 2D tunnel into a massive cavern full of captured children to be feasted on by this spider. It makes your villain seem substantially more evil and deadly. This thing is a master of capturing people. It’s done it plenty of times before. What chance do you have of escaping a seasoned predator? All it takes is a little background detail to give you all you need to realize this. It’s not made obvious, it’s not a cutscene of you discovering bodies in spider sacks, it’s a simple, barely-noticeable background detail.

spider 2

The most striking moment is when the spider returns during your escape from it’s prison. Hoping across a massive boulder, rolling it carefully across a pit full of spikes, something emerges from the blurry edges of the screen. The moment where just the ends of a couple recognizable limbs claw across the ceiling behind you, obscured by the fog, is nothing short of heart-stopping. The timing is perfect, catching you at the most vulnerable moment possible. It immediately returns you to the fear from earlier and forces you to start moving slightly less deliberately, taking more daring jumps, trying frantically to reach safe ground. All the while, the spider slowly becomes more and more visible from the smog behind you. The visual tricks used to make the spider feel as though it’s crawling out of the fog in a 2D game are remarkable.

This is amplified even more when you realize the game has shed yet another traditional element to make this more effective. In most games, a action-packed chase scene like this would be accompanied by an upbeat score. A chase sequence theme would play and we’d be amped up. But Limbo maintains it’s relatively quiet, ambient soundscape. A moody lack of traditional music and sound. Instead, it feels all too real. There would be no chase music if this was really happening, so why should there be here? This just makes everything feel more oppressive and dangerous. It’s not music cues or sound effects telling you it’s time to run, but instinct. You know this thing is going to kill you, and your only option is to run for your life. You also know that everything ahead of you is going to be dangerous, so you have no idea if what you’re running towards is going to be even worse. All of this is achieved by your own mind, instead of tricks by the game makers.

It’s the fact Playdead decided to throw aside all the conventions of most games and focus instead on a more subtle, creeping tension that makes this scene work so well. It’s not over-played or fluffed up. You get exactly what you see. A giant spider and nothing to do but run. No flashy action sequences, just a raw, fearful sprint from a relentless enemy that seems nearly impossible to get off your back. This manages to turn a spider, a pretty common video game enemy, into the most memorable moment of the game.

IT’S IMPACT ON THE GAME

Catching your breathe, you now realize something: that could happen again at any time. Every patch of grass or shadow is now intimidating. Because you have no idea when it might be another creature looking to rip you apart. As if traps and environmental dangers weren’t enough, now we know the game has the potential to throw giant monsters at us too?!

Putting this sequence earlier on in the game, and subsequently ending the spider saga early on as well, allows it to leave an impact on the rest of the game. A lot of games would have had the spider appear early, then maybe pop up a few more times, and finally be finished off towards the end of the game as a final boss. But this all happens quickly, and early on, and allows that lingering fear of giant monsters last for the rest of the game.

Do any more giant monsters appear? Nope. But you’re now constantly on-edge for the rest of the game anyway. It doesn’t matter if there aren’t anymore out there, because the POSSIBILITY they’re out there is enough. This is a very big moment for the game. It sits you down and says “Hey, you’re nothing. You’re a tiny speck of dirt compared to this world. You are not the strongest thing here. You got lucky. And at any moment, you can die. Think about that!”

It’s true. We’re always one step away from being wiped out. But hey, at least we got to rip that d*** spider’s legs off. That was fun.

CREST: REWRITING THE LAWS OF THE GOD GAME

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tumblr_inline_n8um6d8LcD1rk29g4The God Game is a somewhat strange genre. It’s been around for quite awhile, usually most successful on PC, but it’s never been the kind of genre to make a huge splash. Perhaps it’s the micromanaging and the generally slow pacing, not to mention the steep learning curve that is usually involved. Even the, excuse the pun here, Godfather of the genre Peter Molyneux has failed to really bring the genre back to it’s glory days with the recent Godus.

But with the thundering indie scene breathing life into many classic PC game genres, it’s no surprise that the God Game is among them. And Crest, from Among Ripples developer Eat Create Sleep, is the next in line to try and introduce new elements to the overseer game format.

Crest is currently early in development, and the Swedish developer has just released a functional prototype, somewhat of a proof-of-concept to introduce the intended systems involved. While it’s very bare-bones at the moment, it shows a lot of potential for a different take on the God Game genre.

Instead of directly interacting with the denizens of your world, you’re tasked with writing “Commandments” that they must follow as they go about their life. In it’s current state, the commandment system is fairly simple. It mainly focuses on directing how the various traits of your follower clans play to one another. If you want your followers to be careful with their resources, you can write a commandment dictating that if they have a high conservation level, they should hold back on their greedy desires to hoard their food and over-use their resources. Of course, if you wanted, you could send your followers in the opposite direction. And this is where the game has a lot of potential for mayhem and fun.

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Eat Create Sleep describes the game as one focused on expression, where the world and it’s history is developed by your citizens first and foremost. Influencing them may backfire, as much like the real-world, they have the potential to use, abuse, or simply ignore your commandments. How this will play out remains to be seen, but the possibility for an interesting AI-driven look at morality, sociology, and human interaction is there.

Aesthetically, it presents a clean interface and charming art-style reminiscent of some of the greats of the genre in the past. How much more will be added to it’s visuals or HUD remains to be seen, as well as what changes your world may take based on the progression of it’s population.

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The prototype is current available for free download, with the intention being to launch an IndieGoGo campaign, as well as Greenlight voting, on July 28th. I’m looking forward to seeing if the game can take it’s unique concept and introduce more elements and variety. There is a lot of room to move the idea in many different directions with varying results. If you’re into God Games, or simply want to watch the world burn, you may want to keep an eye on this one! Swing by their site and pick up the prototype and guide some folk into the future.

EXPLORING THE RELEVANCE AND IMPORTANCE OF SECOND LIFE

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“I don’t need to get a life. I’m a gamer. I have lots of lives.”

You’ve probably seen this line circulate the internet a lot. It makes for an easy-to-market t-shirt slogan or meme picture, but at its core, it’s actually a decent representation of the appeal of video games to some. Much like any recreational hobby or medium, video games are played for a variety of reasons. From fun to competition to escapism, video games provide different things for different people. But today, I want to focus on the last part: escapism. Escapism is defined by Merriam-Webster as a, “habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine”, and perhaps no game captures this aspect quite as well as the phenomenon that is Second Life.

The fantastical aspects of video games lend themselves to wish-fulfillment, the act of being able to be something that you are not. Ever wanted to be the star quarterback in the Super Bowl? Fire up Madden. Want to live in a medieval fantasy world and slay dragons and save villages? Skyrim. You get the point. Video games allow people to experience things they desire on a fantasy level. Do you want to be rich? Do you want to be heroic? Do you want to simply build your own Utopia to reside in? Video games provide a platform for wish fulfillment and fantasy realization.

But what about the mundane? What about basic life? Sure, we have games like The Sims which allow you to partake in normal every-day life, but it still does it on a very directed path. It is still very much an experience built around the constructs of what the game allows. You’re still at the will of the game’s programming. There is a way to “lose” the game. You are given tasks and direction. You’re not really allowed to fully explore all the aspects of life you may wish to experience.

Second Life is a natural expansion on this idea. To provide the player with a way to represent themselves in the construct of a fantasy world, but without the constraints of direction, or the blockades of being grounded in pre-programmed purpose. It’s an unchained version of the usually structured wish-fulfillment aspect of video games on a level that has a profound sociological impact.

WHAT IS SECOND LIFE?

Second Life, released by Linden Lab (who also currently runs the online video game marketplace Desura) in 2003, is, at its most basic, a life simulator. You’re allowed to craft an avatar to represent yourself and then interact with other people’s avatars in massive virtual worlds. Add in a marketplace for buying outfits, objects, and various other things as well as the ability to craft your own worlds or build your own homes, and you have a fully interactive world built entirely around doing what you want without direction.

And when I say “whatever you want”, I mean it. Unlike most online community games, Second Life has opened itself to allowing people to fulfill whatever fantasy they want, regardless of how it is viewed by our real-world society. Sure, you can go to a dance club and dance with your friends, or wander the beaches and forests. But you can also express your sexuality and desires in a surprisingly detailed fashion.

This is where Second Life tends to be turned into a joke by many. Things such as BDSM or Furry fandom are approached with an openness that strike those that don’t understand these things fully as weird or silly. By providing the ability to build your own locations within the game, Second Life allows everyone to have their own niche, their own place to go to. The game allows you to be upfront about what your locations are for, so you don’t accidentally wander into places that make you uncomfortable.

Seeing as the game is fairly well known, as well as often mocked for being strange and uncomfortable, I decided it was time to finally give it a try. So, I sat down with a friend of mine, built an avatar, and we subjected ourselves to a few hours of Second Life to see exactly what kind of range the game actually has. The results were nothing short of staggering, really.

JUST HOW OPEN IS IT?

After getting acclimated with the game’s iffy controls (it was started in 2003, after all) and dealing with server lag, we started experimenting with what the game allowed you to do. Customization of your avatar is surprisingly deep, allowing every tiny detail of your body to be altered, even extending to what is physically impossible in the real world. This allows you to represent your avatar in whatever way you wish, and when you mix in the option to dress and alter your body in any way, you can truly represent yourself in ways that most games with full customization don’t offer. It’s the most diverse avatar creation I’ve ever seen, and this plays to the game’s strengths, which I’ll talk about a bit later.

We explored a few of the worlds, finding dance clubs, fantasy role playing (the D&D type…), and various sexual-specific rooms (accompanied with Adult Only warnings), and were surprised to find exactly what kinds of things you were allowed to interact with and design. Coming across a place that allowed you to pay in-game currency to create painstakingly detailed and realistic customized genitalia for your characters, or purchase body modifications such as piercings, tattoos, etc. Characters could turn themselves into vampires or grow animal-like appendages. All supported through in-game markets.

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Those markets are where the game’s economy comes into play. As with many F2P model open worlds, you can use real-world currency to purchase in-game currency, which can then be used at various stores to purchase clothing, objects, and even animations for your avatar. However, unlike something like Playstation Home, these storefronts are not run by Linden Labs. Instead, a lot of these storefronts are actual businesses run by people in real life. You can even purchase storefronts yourself in the game’s various worlds and open your own stores.

The economic side of Second Life is nothing short of mind blowing in its complexity and real-world impact, and when you allow a game to run businesses in a global cyberspace, you run into many issues with international law and things like that. Many issues have come up with selling goods using the game’s in-game currency, even stopping short of in-game banks collapsing and causing economic instability.

Of course, when a game is this large and open, there is plenty of abuse to be had. The community attempts to self-regulate as well as use report features to weed out abuse, but with such a large internet presence, it’s hard to completely escape the negatives that can come with this kind of product. It’s something that definitely has to be approached with caution. There have been many controversies and issues in the past, but Linden Lab does a decent job of addressing these things in an attempt to make this a relatively safe place, for the most part.

WHY IS THIS SO BIG?

How can something like this become such a big deal? With millions of users playing for more than ten years already, and actual in-game businesses sustaining the game’s economy for so long, one has to wonder how this can be a success. Allow me to step in try to explain: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

For those of you not familiar, Abraham Maslow developed a psychological theory starting in 1943 about human motivation. It’s since become a standard tool for sociological research and understanding. At its most basic, it’s a pyramid of things humans need, starting with physiological needs and ending just short of the “meaning of life”.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - via Wikipedia

For the sake of this conversation, we’re going to be completely skipping Physiological and Safety needs, since they do not apply to a virtual space (a different kind of safety does, but not physical safety) and can’t be fulfilled through Second Life necessarily. We’ll begin our analysis with Love/Belonging and eventually tie the game to self-actualization.

BELONGING

The first important aspect of providing a virtual world where you can do whatever you want is a sense of belonging. With an openness that allows you to express interests and identities that are often mocked or looked down upon, if not completely alienated in real-world society, and to do so with like-minded persons, Second Life provides a place for anyone to feel comfortable and accepted. To not feel like an outcast.

The reason people often turn to mocking certain activities or identities is due to a lack of understanding, or simply feeling uncomfortable. And to be honest, being in a BDSM furry themed room in Second Life can feel a bit jarring. I didn’t quite understand what was happening, I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I felt like an outcast, out of place. Everyone else was communicating and sharing, and I felt like I was completely isolated. It made me realize, on a very basic level at least, what it must feel like for people who are into these kinds of interests when they find themselves in real-world situations where they themselves feel isolated or uncomfortable. As though they don’t belong because everyone around them is different. Now, within the construct of the game I couldn’t possibly experience the full extent of these feelings in real life, but it gave me a sense of why someone would turn to Second Life as a way of expressing things that society pushes to the fringes or treats as alien and unnatural.

A LGBT Pride Festival Takes Place Within Second Life

Second Life provides a construct for people of any interest to have their own space, a place to connect, a place to be the norm. They’re not outcasts here. They’re not weird or out of place, because this space was built for them and everyone like them. Anyone can find a place where their interests and desires, the things they think and feel and identify with, can be expressed openly and honestly, without fear of being turned away or rejected, laughed at, or even threatened. When you have nowhere in the real world you can turn to, to experience a sense of belonging, you have to find it somewhere else. This obviously doesn’t just apply to sexuality, but all aspects of identity that are shunned or viewed negatively. This is just another way to fulfill the third tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. The section is highlighted as “friends, family, and sexual intimacy” and really, that’s what this provides to some who cannot get it elsewhere.

CONFIDENCE AND RESPECT

Once you’ve established a place to belong, you have to come to terms with who you are and how other people treat you. We’ve already found a place where being exiled or abused can be tossed aside and replaced with acceptance and affection, connection and love. But what of how we feel about ourselves? The Esteem tier of Maslow’s hierarchy mentions “self-esteem, confidence, achievement and respect for and from others” as key needs. These are things Second Life allows through avatar creation.

Avatar creation allows you to be whatever you want. You don’t have to feel restricted to the confines of picking a gender, allowing you to fully project yourself in terms of aesthetic representation. With topics such as gender identity struggling to be properly addressed these days, it’s easy to see the appeal of a welcoming place that allows you to fully represent yourself physically on top of representing your desires and lifestyle choices.

For instance, a transgender person may have trouble with dressing and appearing how they want due to misunderstanding and abuse from others. It’s a common problem, which usually leads to having to “out” themselves first before they can fully dress and appear as they feel, and even that comes with plenty of negative attention from people that don’t understand or respect the individual trying to simply express who they are aesthetically.

Avatar creation is a much less threatening way to start representing yourself properly. It removes the uncomfortable feeling of being referred to by the wrong pronoun, or feeling as though people are not seeing you like you want to be seen. It doesn’t fix the problems with how this is treated in real life, but it at least provides a place to escape to if it’s impossible or too hard at the time to express these things on your actual person, as well as providing a place where you can find support from others like you without worry of abuse or misunderstanding.

I can’t say for sure since I have not experienced these things first hand, but I could see this as a way of building confidence in yourself and how you identify, perhaps making it easier to feel accepted in real life. While we’re still a long way from proper treatment and respect for gender identity issues, this at least provides a start for these people to feel better about who they are without hurtful comments, disrespect, or threats.

Be You.

THE BEGINNINGS OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION

Morality. Creativity. Spontaneity. Problem Solving. Lack of Prejudice. Acceptance of Facts.

While not all of these are fully explored through Second Life, it does use the previous two tiers of the hierarchy, as well as other aspects of its design to provide a base for which a person can begin the self-actualization process.

Things such as creativity and spontaneity are obviously covered, as the game allows you to build whole worlds, as well as change everything on the fly to represent how you feel or what you wish to be/do at the time. This allows all parts of your self-expression to be realized. We’ve already covered a lack of prejudice in the previous tiers, but how does this build into self-actualization? We’ll have to look at some of Maslow’s defining aspects of a self-actualizer.

Maslow describes self-actualizers as people who are self-reliant, basing themselves on their own personal experiences. Removing the cultural and environmental pressures, they base how they are, and who they are on internalized experience. By removing the real-life societal pressure, Second Life allows one to completely open themselves to their own experience and feelings. By using what we’ve discussed earlier, self-actualization can be realized by removing the shackles of the real world and existing in a space where the self is put first.

Other aspects of self-actualized people are autonomy (this is a no-borders world with no allegiances and authority only to regulate safety), strong interpersonal relationships (which can stem from being able to connect with other avatars over things that otherwise may be hard to fully connect with), and the natural, being true to yourself. A game built entirely around open expression and acceptance allows all of these things to be realized safely, allowing self-actualization that may be hard to come across for some people when held under the societal pressures of the real world.

CONCLUSION

Is Second Life perfect? Far from it. Is it some place that can completely save the world from oppression and help usher in an era of full acceptance and comfort? Probably not. But it does provide a place for anyone and everyone to self-actualize and experience what they need to in order to fulfill their hierarchy of needs, at least a little. You can express who you are, partake in things you may otherwise be shunned for, and do it all while being accepted, and connecting with others to help feel less alone.

Second Life can be whatever you want it to be. If you want it to just be a fun, light-hearted chatroom, it can be that. If you want it to be a place to roleplay or have adventures or create, it can be that as well. But it also holds the ability to be a place for something psychologically fulfilling. While many games can aid in self-actualization, very few can do it on such a large scale with such a meaningful range and acceptance. And while some of it can seem silly or weird, it holds the capacity for a lot of great things as well.

This is a truly open experience for everyone. And having something like that available shows one of the true strengths of the interactive medium.

All pictures compliments of Second Life’s website