Dev Discussion: Modern Gaming and How it’s Evolving

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Today I will feature a discussion that I happened upon on the internet.  Developers were having a heated exchange about an age-old argument that most often causes bloodshed between gamers.  For the sake of constructive intellectual exchange, I will curb my PC bias and look at this objectively.  Note also, Console v PC.  I will make fun of Mac gamers.  That is comedy that writes itself.

Gamers often get into heated debates over which is better: PC or Console gaming.  Console gamers often cite titles and communities as the strongest factors favoring console gaming, while PC gamers will fill your screen with chart after chart displaying the raw power of a PC compared against consoles, or grab screenshots to illustrate the visual differences between the graphics.  While each side certainly has a compelling argument, which really is better and , more importantly, where is it leading us?  This exchange focused more on the evolution of the various facets of the industry, rather than an argument over which is better.  Joining the Crotchety Old Gamer in the discussion, we have three fine gentlemen: Joe Yeats (@ProceduralJOYE via Twitter), a developer from the UK currently working with Autelia LTD on Human Orbit, a procedurally-generated simulator about shaping a computer-controlled utopia.  Max Krieger (@MaxKriegerVG via Twitter), an Indie Game Developer from Chicago and student at DePaul University.  Drake (@DMODP via Twitter), a programmer, designer and writer.  I came late into the discussion, but some very intriguing points were made.  Feel free to join the discussion in the Crotchety Gamers United Steam group!

Lightly paraphrased, Max said that the time-proven model of Mac vs PC illustrates why Console and PC gaming will coexist.  While Drake and myself were somewhat confused by the statement, Max was happy to provide a more detailed explanation on his viewpoint:

“[…] In this age where computing platforms are all headed in the same direction, the differentiating factor that will be key to platform sales remains the image and curated experience of that platform. I used Mac OSX as an example because it shows how illogical this thinking can be – OSX is really cumbersome for a lot of simple tasks, doesn’t play nice with industry standards, and only runs on a very closed line of hardware, but people lap it up because of the image it supports: a creative, media-oriented one that strives for intuitive use over flexibility. Make no mistake, I am not an Apple/OSX fan, but they’re one of the biggest proven examples of the curated platform image in the modern tech industry.”

Max does make a good point.  Essentially, he is saying that the biggest difference between the PC and console crowds is the image they use to represent themselves.  With the development of the Steam Machine, this viewpoint was never better supported.  Steam started as a PC gamer’s wet dream, but recent implementations in the retailer (such as Big Picture mode) reveal a strong push toward console gaming.  Not to mention, the fact that the Steam Machine plans to license its construction out to third parties, which will create a variety of hardware builds, make it a bit of a frankenstein PC-esque Console.  With companies bridging the gap between the two worlds, one has to wonder when the differences will be declared null and void.  Drake had a similar thought process, but with a different approach.

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Drake also did me the favor of elucidating his view:

“The reason people often side with one or the other and not both is […] because they’re polar opposites. They have their own unique control schemes. Consoles and computers are polar opposites not [just] because of their difference in controls, but in their difference of experience. First, [PC gamers] don’t have to move to a different part of the [house] to experience games. They’re right there on the same machine we use for work, surfing the web, social media, etc. Second, [PC gamers] can open windows […] for reference material […] but this is also good from a social standpoint. [PC gamers] can take screenshots and post them [on the internet], we can respond to [people] on our favorite social network, etc.”

So, as you can see, Drake has a solid point, too. Despite consoles, such as PS4, recently enabling access to other forms of media and direct internet streaming capability with the touch of a button, there are still a myriad of things that PC’s can do that still remain unavailable to Console gamers on just their consoles.  Drake continued, elaborating on the features of the console camp:

“I feel consoles are the extremist response-time choice. […] For response-time challenges, the question is: Who can execute the highest number of actions in the shortest amount of time? It provides a completely different experience from computers.”

My personal experience with computers, however is totally different.  The mouse offers pinpoint accuracy while playing a game.  How can you get more direct than pointing at it with your mouse? The answer is getting a touchscreen and pointing yourself.  Of course, Drake had his own response to this:

“[…] A controller’s reaction time is far more demanding. It’s more than clicking a billion times a second. It’s about hitting the right buttons at the right times and getting your fingers everywhere they need to be without looking down at [the device]. Console games often assume the player’s really good at this activity to the point they make [players] do everything all the time. [Console gameing] is about just doing.”

Of course, I would offer that this depends on the player.  I grew up on PC gaming first, so the ‘WASD’ model is practically gospel for me.  Sure, different games have different controls, some even have demanding hotkeys, but use of them is up to you.  You can customize the experience to your own play-style, and the majority of games tend to use the keys immediately adjacent to the ‘WASD’ keys for additional actions where applicable.  Not to mention, the sticks on a controller can’t be as accurate as a mouse.  A mouse is literally point-and-click.  Controller sticks are more indirect.

Joe’s thoughts on this topic were a bit of a combination:

“It’s obvious that some genres are better aided by certain input hardware than others. This is certainly the case with simulators and strategy games, which usually do better with a keyboard and mouse. I don’t think it’s necessary to expound on this.”

Max largely agreed with Drake’s assertion of their differences, but had his own interpretation of how this affects gaming.  The tech he refers to is more the innards and less the interface devices:

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Max got more specific in explaining this part of his thought process:

The Playstation 4’s success also may owe itself to [platform image], but it’s too early to tell. Sony has always given the PlayStation brand a mild sense of curation by endorsing or even producing avant-garde titles on the platform, moreso than any other console maker in history. Going forward, this curation may end up being the PS4’s largest difference when PC hardware overtakes it again at an equivalent price point.”

Around here, Joe had some relevant input on the topic:

“The technical boundaries between a console and a desktop machine have become increasingly blurry over the years – but we’re all still pretty sure what they each are and when we make a decision about how we want to play a game, we know how to compare the ‘desktop experience’ to the ‘console experience’. We all know that we can hook our PC up to the TV and use a bluetooth controller for a ‘console-like’ experience: but most of us aren’t going to do that. The reputation and image of the formats has been accrued over a generational time period – we couldn’t shake that easily and there may not even be a good reason to do so (even if all games were available on all platforms). When I play a game on a console, I know that it has been tailored for the specific controller that I’m using, for the hardware that it’s running on. I can expect a reliable game experience without having to faff around. The experience has been designed for me down to the slightest detail. I don’t even have to tweak the graphics settings. I just need to switch on, plug in & tune out.”

The conversation gradually drifted in the direction of mobile gaming.  Drake disagreed that mobile gaming had a different target demographic and said that it targets everyone, presumably everyone with a mobile device.  Of course, just in the virtue that targeting “everyone with a mobile phone” is a task achieved differently than targeting “everyone with a specific console”, it logically follows that it is a different target demographic.  In fact, because of the similar situation of iOS v Android, console and pc gamers might find themselves on either side of the mobile discussion depending on their devices.  In this way mobile almost has a market that is totally separate from, but still noticeably influence by the gaming market comprised by PC and Console gamers.

Of course, Drake also touched on a separate issue that abounds in the mobile gaming market: the quality of games:

greatmobile

Now, before someone starts cluttering the comments sections with cries of Angry Birds adoration, Drake is referring to the fact that simple, casual games, like Angry Birds, currently dominate the mobile market.  And while he is right in that great mobile games are hard to find, they are far from non-existent.  The greatest example of a mobile-specific game that uses its functionality is Ingress.  Read about that game here.  And Ingress isn’t the only one, but, to my knowledge, it is the first.  Windows phones will be able to play QONQR, a game that wants to be Ingress, and X-Tactics, a game that is just like “Fuck Ingress!  And now for something completely different!”  Of course, location-based games are certainly not the only angle mobile gaming could take.  The fact that progressive-thinking developers have tried, and failed, to make augmented reality games more accessible overall shows that we are still a long way from making it work effectively, even with Google Glass.  So, Drake definitely has a point with mobile games being “designed to waste time while you [wait] or short experiences.”

Of course Max breaks back in and asks for a thought experiment:

“[…] If all consoles disappeared overnight, could mobile [gaming] fill their place? Yeah. But they’d have to cater to both convenience and involvement – two contradictory ideas that dilute platform image.”

This is true, but if gaming were to be forced onto mobile devices, I find it believable to find games evolving to replace what was lost – FPSs utilizing the mobile device in question combined with the player’s surroundings, RPGs that focus more on tap-controlled characters, etc.  In short, mobile games wouldn’t stop being the simple, casual games, but these types of games would be joined by an overwhelming number of widely varied games and genres.

There was more discussion about Mac OS vs Windows, of course.  This piece of the discourse was meant to display how the image-focus model has affected other markets aside from gaming.  Max posited that Mac OS continues to sell primarily because it does “normal user” better than Windows. He continued saying that Windows tried to retake that ground by creating Windows 8.  This undermined the “pro” part of Windows, which upset their users. Then, when Windows repaired the alterations to their OS, the image of a “jack-of-all-trades” OS persisted. Max maintained his standpoint, saying “image is everything.”

Max’s final thoughts on the discussion were pretty broad, but still relevant.

“Ultimately, I believe that the current trend of consuming media in any environment is one that will plateau once our near-omniscient media viewing capabilities lose their novelty. It’s an undeniable phenomenon that certain forms of media are better consumed in certain environments and settings. The biggest obstacle to a unified platform for all gaming is not the tech, nor the interface, but human nature itself – not something that can be so easily overcome. Nobody expected the PS4 to be doing as well as it’s doing right now, and I think that alone is proof enough that human nature has a lot more twists left in the evolution of gaming tech than we expect right now.”

Drake came from another angle, though, saying that games are a form of media.  And if there is one thing that is true now more than ever, it’s that people want their media no matter where they are.

everywhere

Joe broke into the conversation here, pointing out the relevance of the feature of PS4 where it can be played remotely from the Vita.  Drake admitted that he hadn’t tried it, but named a relevant issue with that right off: not every PS4 owner has a PS Vita.  Drake also suggested that the Vita isn’t the best handheld to carry around with you.  Joe threw in some more thoughts of his own regarding the PS Vita.

noway

Drake added saying that it really needs to be a native experience that still feels extremely great. But to do something like that, you’d have to take the ‘app’ structure and generalize the controls, then change the controls so they cater to every device the game might appear on.  He had a lot to say about this especially, and there was also a considerable piece of discussion about porting.  That will be included in another piece since this one is long enough already.

If you’ve made it to this point, please remember, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic!  Come join the discussion on my Steam Group, and let’s see if we can get some interesting exchanges started!

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Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

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You backed it on Kickstarter and now it’s happening.  We were excited about the mechanics, but what about the elements we’ll all fall in love with?  Who are the characters? What are their struggles?  What is their world like?  I wanted to know, and Falco Girgis and the Elysian Shadows Team agreed to tell me.  So what’s behind the game?  Find out with the Crotchety Old Gamer!

I am excited as anyone about playing this game, but who will be our window into the world?  Who is the main character of Elysian Shadows, and what drives him?

“The main protagonist of ES is named Julien. He is the son of two famous “diggers” who were well known for their research of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land of Elysian Shadows. Julien grew up traveling with them on numerous expeditions and learning about the different ancient cultures of the past. He was well on his way to following in their footsteps as an accomplished digger, when the two mysteriously wound up missing during an expedition. An adolescent Julien was then sent to live with a family friend, the local museum owner, where he grew up despising the ruins that claimed his parents. Rather than exploring them with a passion and thirst for understanding as he had in his youth, he now scours them for a means to survival, plundering and looting their treasures just to make ends meet. 
Julien has virtually no motivation to take part in the party’s quest in the beginning. He is thrust into the action by necessity rather than choice, and it’s initially the other party members who drag him along on the journey. For Julien, this is a quest of personal growth. It’s him having to come to terms with his traumatic past and face the ruins that caused him so much pain, and his struggle to reignite a long-lost passion that died along with his parents. Julien’s character represents crawling back up and trying again after suffering an extreme loss or emotional defeat. Whether this be a metaphor for learning to love again after heartbreak or learning to try again after seeing your dream project crushed on Kickstarter. Heh heh.”
Julien and the other diggers have to rely on physical weapons when excavating ruins because magic is a power reserved exclusively for the religious. While the technology for Julien’s time is not particularly advanced by today’s standards, many of the weapons and artifacts the player encounters within the ruins from civilizations long past are far more advanced than those found in his own time. The diggers and the scientific communities rely on these kinds of manufactured and uncovered weapons for combat while the religious are strictly magic-users. But what if Julien and his friends somehow discovered a way to use magic as well?”
Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound...

Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound…

Julien, like most people, is dealing with a  secret pain.  His struggle might be unique to himself, but each of us has our own climb from the bottom.  Each of us has a cave of terrible darkness and untold treasures unique to our souls that we must brave before we are free to be who we are.  Joseph Campbell wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces, which concerned itself with the way characters like these resonate in each of us.  What about the world, though?  What is the story told by the world Julien and his people will inhabit?
“Elysian Shadows is a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is associated with faith and the religious. Technology is associated with scholars, scientists, and explorers who have turned away from The Creator’s divine gifts in an attempt to better understand the world around them. The technologists are seen as heretics, while the religious are seen as sheep, following blindly. Julien and Eryn, who both work for a museum, are sent on an expedition to uncover a valuable artifact for a new exhibit. The two quickly find more than they bargained for in the ruins. They stumble upon a discovery that thrusts them into the middle of this mounting conflict between magic and technology, forcing them to unlock the mysteries of ancient civilizations and prevent their own people from sharing this fate.
The storyline of Elysian Shadows was heavily influenced by the moral dilemmas of our own technologically advanced society, especially with recent advances in bio-engineering. With stem cell research, cloning and the human genome sequence, science challenges religion on a fundamental philosophical level. Science is beginning to encroach upon powers that many people argue are reserved exclusively for God. Do we have any business modifying our genetic make-up? Is it moral to alter a fetus before its birth? Is it wrong to artificially produce life in a laboratory? Science claims that these advances could drastically benefit all of humanity, while religion claims that we are meddling with things that we have mo business meddling with. We wanted to create a story that was more than just a superfluous JRPG experience. We wanted something that would make the player think; something that would engage them intellectually and emotionally.”
Lovely vistas!

Lovely vistas!

Elysian Shadows seems like it will strike a chord that resonates with our own lives, possibly even a few nerves, but who would we be if art never asked hard questions?  And how we answer these questions are part of what make us individual from one another.  Our varied ways of thinking and how those come together for a common goal are part of what has made America what it is today: a center for all people to share ideas freely, and sometimes those ideas reach back out to the people that created them.  So how will the characters accompanying Julien contribute to the game?
“Julien is initially accompanied by the lead female protagonist, Eryn, who is a tech-savvy university student. Eryn helps her father run the local museum, showcasing various exotic and mysterious artifacts from the surrounding ruins. While Julien’s past has rendered him jaded and disinterested in discovering the secrets of these ruins, Eryn explores them passionately in hopes of uncovering their secrets often dragging Julien along for the ride. She is a strong-willed tomboy and often the most level-headed and responsible member of the party with a ruthless pragmatism. 
The two adventurers find themselves in the company of one of Eryn’s professors after his lab is ransacked and his research is destroyed ( presumably because he was getting too close to a breakthrough with his work ). While Professor Rand is brilliant, he’s also infamous for dysfunctional antics and living a life of excess. His peers in academia generally disapprove of his hedonism, but they are often forced to concede to his genius and gift for piecing together puzzles. Rand serves as a non-traditional guide for the party, and he is well-versed in the ancient ruins and their technology. Unfortunately Eryn finds herself having to guide Rand just as much throughout their journey, keeping his arrogance in check and ensuring that his decadence doesn’t get the party deeper into trouble along the way.”
...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

There is a big adventure out there for us

Allies and enemies and what separates the two is a major point of reference in how each of us live our lives.  It says something about who we are and what we want.  Note that Julien is already surrounding himself with those that spend their time largely concerned with the ruins, the very thing that he blames for the loss of his parents.  This means that, despite his feelings on them, somewhere they are still very much a part of him, maybe even one he wants to love again as it would be the only emotional link back to those happy days of youth exploring with Mom and Dad?  Eventually he will have to face those emotions, and his friends will be the ones to help.  So, what about the game itself?  How will each of these characters actually work together?  I was allured by the claims to an inventive new system for skills and jobs – How will these systems work and how will they be reflected in each character?
“It’s actually a mixture of two different systems. We ran into a kind of design dilemma early on when we were dreaming up skills and abilities for characters. On one hand, we wanted each character to have their own unique feel and play style. We didn’t want every character to feel completely interchangeable, and we wanted to give each their own innate strengths and abilities. But on the other hand, we are huge fans of job and class systems, and party customization is something we very much wanted to do with Elysian Shadows. We really wanted to give the player the freedom to customize their party as they see fit.
So we wound up with a hybrid system where each party member learns their own unique set of skills and abilities during combat and storyline progression. They each have their own unique skill trees and pools that are independent of the other characters, which is how we intend to make our characters unique and interesting. Then  each party member can be assigned to a certain class wherein they unlock class-specific skills and abilities. This allows the player to really fine-tune their party, offering a considerable amount of strategic freedom within the combat system, while still allowing us to create unique and interesting characters.”
Giant swords and power help, too!

Giant swords and power help, too!

This means the class you choose for each character determines what role they will play, and allows you to dictate how the party reacts to challenges.  Alongside this, one character might have access to certain elements within there skill tree that other characters simply cannot get to – the same way Falco and myself might both become developers, but we would end up using those skills to completely different ends and learn different, though equally useful, methods of making games.  Well, damn, I am glad I contributed to the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter!  Of course, there are still 5 days left to contribute to the ES Kickstarter, but what about those that miss the opportunity?  How much will they have to pay and what outlets will the game be available on?
“Since we’re targeting so many different platforms with completely different indie markets and economies, we can’t really set a fixed price point across each. The price of ES will most likely be adjusted so it’s comparable to other indie games available on each platform. Currently, digital copies of ES for Steam and OUYA can be preordered for $15 through our Kickstarter. This also includes our development tools, ESTk and ESGamma. The standard edition of Elysian Shadows for the Dreamcast will be $49, which includes a professionally produced jewel case, color instruction manual, and pressed disc thanks to our publishers at Watermelon Corp. The game will look like a 100% legit Dreamcast release picked up from a commercial retailer back in 1999. You will also be able to choose between PAL, US, and JAP style packaging so ES will match the rest of your DC collection no matter what region you’re in!”
Painstaking attention to detail, thorough skills and class systems, complex characters and a complex storyline balancing the the beliefs of a world against the pain of one kid: Elysian Shadows is going to have something for everyone, and a little extra to boot.  I have never been this excited for another modern retro game; not Shovel Knight or any other mainstream title.  Elysian Shadows, however, is more than just a modern retro 2D RPG: it is our modern 2D RPG.  More than just this game, I look forward to the ripple effect that this game will create and how that will resonate across the industry.  Here’s to hoping it contributes to some interesting developments all the way around.  But whether or not it does, either way, it’s going to be an awesome game!  As always, you can check the Elysian Shadows website for more about the game!

Haunt the House: Terrortown, Murderous Spiritual Mayhem!

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Not since Haunting starring Polterguy has there been a game this indirect about its approach.  In Haunting, you play a ghost who was recently rendered spectral by a careless family of fucktards that killed you while skateboarding, so you make it the purpose of your afterlife to rectify a vendetta against them.  Terrortown’s ghost is more of a motiveless malignancy that likes to kill people and scare the ever-loving piss out of them.  At least Polterguy had a purpose, granted his manifestations were exceedingly more graphic.  But he never killed anybody!  This adorable little ghost has a bloody, murderous core.  No wonder it can’t move on.

Everything in Terrortown starts in the clocktower in the middle of town, where the ghost lives.  After a brief tutorial on possessing and manipulating objects in the environment, you are set loose on the town like an apple-cheeked Mongol set on destroying families and lives.  A couple things of note in the clocktower, though.  During the tutorial, what they teach you possession with is a bell, of which there are nine, plus the one you possess.  There is also a large, out-of-focus painting that looks like it was painted in a JRPG with the bloom turned down.  More on these later.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

Calling this game a puzzler is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, since the only puzzle you are solving is how you will drive terror into the hearts of the town’s citizens.  I would call this more of a strategy game, considering you are tasked with manipulating circumstances and individuals to reach a specific outcome indirectly.  The ghost in this uses possession to its advantage.  By possessing the various elements of the environment, you are able to manifest the fears of people in the things around them.  Now the things you can make people see depend on the level of fear in the atmosphere.  At the base level – relaxed – everyone is milling about in “thumbs-up-asses” mode.  Starting from relaxed, you will only be able to move furniture or swing chandeliers, rattle bars, etc., but once you start to creep people out, the fear level rises.  Increase it to perform higher profile scares and soon you will have people leaping out of windows to escape the house.

Once you have the fear levels up to fever-pitch, people are twitchy if not outright terrified.  You are performing bizarre and ostentatious scares, people are running around terrified and the general populous is jumping out of window to escape.  Revisiting the bells in the clocktower, each level has a few haunts that get bloody.  Several people in the game are asking for it, seemingly pretending nothing is going on, and the scares you perform near these guys get them fucking killed.  This is where the ghost gets murderous: it’s already sucked the happiness and fun out of a room faster than Carl Sagan at a confirmation party, now you’re going in for the kill.  Each person you assassinate gets the esteemed position of haunting the fucking belltower with you, circling a bell themed after their purpose in life to haunt them forever.  How wonderfully sadistic.

That's right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

That’s right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

The goal of this game is to get everyone out of the public places.  Once this goal is accomplished, you win!  Seriously, though that is it.  There are 4 locations to haunt and you are done.  This is a little frustrating, but I get the feeling there is more to come.  At least there better be.  Even though the game is 4.99$ on Steam, I have played other, cheaper games that are, in fact, full and finished.  Don’t get me wrong, this game is great, especially since I was such a big fan of haunting on Sega Genesis, but it literally feels like you finish the first level and it’s over.  I have had farts that lasted longer than this fucking game, regardless of how awesome and adorable it is.  The only thing that takes a long time to finish with this title is figuring out who the last fucking person in the goddamn museum.  I had to look up a walkthrough to figure that shit out.  Overall, it is a fun game and worth some money, but until they add ore content to the title, it will always feel short and incomplete.  And if they charge for DLC, I will pitch a bitch fit.

How Elysian Shadows Team Plans to Revive The 2D RPG

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In 1998 I spent my time roaming the castles of Thief: The Dark Project and watching The Matrix, but I also have a strong memory of hearing about this mythical console set to ride an eastern wind to our shores.  Its name was the Dreamcast and it was Sega’s final all-or-nothing bid to take the game console market by storm.  It had numerous features that were well ahead of its time.  Unfortunately, it was too far ahead, like trying to explain electricity to cavemen.  By the time the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube were released, it was just a shadow of a memory from a glossy magazine page.  After the Dreamcast, Sega didn’t die, it just slid out of the limelight and settled for publishing games instead of consoles.

Many did not get to experience the Dreamcast, but for those that did, it was more than just a console, it was a lost piece of gaming history.  Even today, developers are putting out titles for Sega’s last console, and the Elysian Shadows Team proudly stand among their number.  Falco Girgis is the Engine Architect and Team lead, and he explained his motivation to me when I asked why develop a game for the Dreamcast in 2014?

” I found my way into the Dreamcast scene at around the age of 14.  I had always loved video games, and I had done a little bit of programming, but when I discovered there was an entire community of crazy fuckers out there developing their own apps, emulators, and games for the console, and I had the opportunity to also do that without being part of a huge studio, I fell in love immediately.  You have to realize this was before Steam, smart phones, or any kind of indie support on consoles.  The Dreamcast allowed the average guy with a dream to develop for a platform.  I taught myself to code just for that little white box.  I fell in love with it, and what it represented as Sega’s last console.”

So, it was a console Falco loved immensely as a teenager and he learned to hone his craft on it.  That just means it has a special sheen, right?  It’s a dead console, though.  So what?  I was still wondering if there was even still an audience for the console as Mr. Girgis continued.

“It’s so underappreciated, and it innovated so much in gaming–poly counts in the millions, hardware support for bump mapping (PS2 can’t do that), memory cards with screens, online gaming.  It also had an insane amount of AAA titles for a console with such a short lifespan.  It really felt like Sega knew it was their last chance in the hardware market, and they poured their hearts and souls into it.  For those of us who were able to experience the Dreamcast, it’s kind of an immortal thing, and it shows.  Most of our money from our Kickstarter is from Dreamcast sales.  There are still gamers everywhere who have not forgotten the Dream, and I have made it my personal quest to realize my childhood dream of releasing a game for the console.”

Honestly, I was taken aback.  Jump over to their Kickstarter and tell me what you see.  As of right now, I see 90,448$ with 760 backers.  Doing the math, that would have to be about 119$ from each backer, and considering only 182 backers pledged 100$+, that means there is a formidable Dreamcast audience.  Granted, some of those backers gave 1k$ – 5k$, so this game has a spirited group of supporters…

...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

…And when you really look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaid.

Everything I see on their page makes me flash back to the numerous hours I had when I discovered Chronotrigger, Secret of Mana 1 – 3 and (US) Final Fantasy 6 on emulators.  There is a lot on that kickstarter page, but seeing everything made me wonder, what are they really trying to accomplish?

“Our overall goal is pretty multi-layered, haha!  The biggest thing we wanted to achieve with Elysian Shadows itself was to reinvent the traditional 2D RPG formula in a manner that makes it new, exciting and relevant by today’s standards.  We don’t want games like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana to be a thing of the past, and we certainly have not been too thrilled with the slow demise of the JRPG itself.  Most of our team members can be quoted saying that they want to create the game they wanted to play most as a young gamer, including aspects of games that they grew up loving as children, and trying to use them to create a unique RPG experience that could appeal to an audience beyond just RPG players.”

“I have found myself,Falco, really wanting to make an emotional connection with our audience through ES.  I want to create a game whose story and characters are relatable, and whose struggles are relevant to the lives of our players. I feel like this connection is really the ultimate goal of any form of art, and this is especially true for video games as they’re an aggregate of every other art form: writing, art, music, etc.  I’m really an introverted guy who loves to play the outgoing extrovert, but I have very few close friends and I tend to not have much in common with most people.  The older I get the more I feel like my contributions to ES artistically are some kind of attempt to connect with players and fans on a deeper level.  I’m sure Freud would have a field day psychoanalyzing that.”

That really explains everything.  Elysian Shadows is a collaborative piece of art interpreted through the hearts and souls of its creators.  Each of them has something unique to put in and being indie developers lets them do this the best they can.  And when you look at what it adds up to, you can’t help but feel the passion and love there.  You can’t helped but be awed.  Personally, I think it’s moving.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I really enjoyed taking in everything that Falco and the team were telling me, but what is the rest of the team like?  What do they do and who are they?

“We have 7 team members total:

Falco Girgis

Falco Girgis

 Falco Girgis is our engine and toolkit developer, and he’s also the one who developed the framework, allowing us to target so many platforms (including the Sega Dreamcast).  He’s basically the team mad scientist.  Falco loves the Zelda franchise, pretty much anything on the Dreamcast, and obviously all of the 16-bit JRPG classics.

Tyler Rogers

Tyler Rogers

 

Tyler Rogers is the gameplay engineer, who basically takes the art, music, and levels then puts everything together into a cohesive gameplay experience.  Tyler is very into Legends of Dragoon, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy tactics.

Daniel Tindall

Daniel Tindall

 

Daniel Tindall is our web developer and level designer, and he has been very much a secret weapon for creating our Kickstarter and Steam pages.  Dan’s favorite series is Metal Gear Solid.

 

Patryk Kowalick

Patryk Kowalick

Leandro

Leandro Tokarevski

 

Patrick Kowalik and Leandro Tokarevski are our two pixel artists, both self-taught and classically trained traditional artists who decided to get into game development to broaden their horizons through pixel art.

 

 

 

Connor Linning

Connor Linning

Connor Linning is our team rock star and audio composer, bringing with him a background in rock, metal, electronica, and survival horror music influencing his musical direction with Elysian Shadows.  Connor is obsessed with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series.

Eddie Ringle

Eddie Ringle

 

Eddie Ringle is the team mobile developer, who has been the guy working on the OUYA, Droid, and even Google Glass builds of Elysian Shadows.

We aren’t just retro gamers either.  Falco is totally into the new adventure-style games: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us.  So good.”

It feels like I just put up a description of the A-Team, or something.  Hopefully each of these pictures gives you an idea who we’re dealing with here.  Each of these guys is immensely talented and putting everything they have to make something amazing.  I hope Ebert is rolling in his grave because if this isn’t art, nothing is.  Of course with the influence each of these games has had on the Team, what games have a direct influence on Elysian Shadows?

“There really is no single inspiration behind Elysian Shadows, and I kind of feel like that’s why it’s so special.  It’s why our team is so emotionally invested in the project.  We have all found our own ways to endow Elysian Shadows with a piece of what we like best in gaming, each of us growing up with different backgrounds and inspirations.  Obviously games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star have deeply inspired our direction, but there are quite a few more inspirations that aren’t even from the RPG genre.  Falco and Tyler grew up loving the Megaman Legends series, and it has influenced their direction with the whole “ruins” concept.  Even portions of the storyline.  Connor is a huge survival horror fanatic and, oddly enough, he’s found ways to endow ES with that kind of emotional tension through dynamic lighting.  Once we added jumping (initially inspired by Mario RPG), we quickly found ourselves able to design levels with influences from games like Super Mario and add combat moves from games like Megaman X.  I feel like there’s little pieces of numerous games influencing what we do with ES.”

So Elysian Shadows, almost literally, draws its lineage from the DNA of a widely-ranging gamut of games without any single influence dominating completely.  The more I hear about it, the more excited I get.  This isn’t just a game, it’s a love letter.  The kickstarter page has an amazing set of features.  Elysian Shadows Team has partnered with Pixellamp, which allows for impressive pixelated shadows.  The combat is set to be real-time and the gameplay will have a strong feeling of freedom.  Splicing 2D RPG and platformer elements, this game will go boldly where other games are limited from going.  There will also be a complete class or “job” system where characters’ innate strengths, weaknesses and gameplay styles can be augmented through a wide array of job-specific abilities and talent trees.  A lot of this is straight off the Kickstarter page, so you can go there and get the complete feeling for what backers are getting out of this.  They have samples of the music, the art and descriptions of various details planned for the game up there, too.  The initial goal is to reach 150,000$ with stretch goals all the way up to 800,000$.  And considering that last one would make this into an MMORPG, I hope we get as many additional backers as humanly possible.  They also have an entry on Steam Greenlight, so if you can’t put any money in, vote them up on Steam!  This is one vision that is extremely close to meeting its funding, and it threatens to shake the boundaries of games as we understand them.

 

A lot of this article has been lightly edited to flow as neatly as possible.  The message conveyed has been kept the same in all respects.

Black Ice, Warning: Incoming Game!

BI_logo

 

Remember those days when we imagined all the different ways that life would be different inside a computer?  Any male product of the 1990’s would remember Reboot: a show whose name is invoked, intentionally or not, when an old series gets updated and made dark and gritty.  It was about the denizens of a cyberworld inside a computer where things were fine and happy until some jerk decided to play a game.  If that were the case, my computer’s inside city is a post-apocalyptic nightmare ruled over by the churning wheels of a citizen-rending machine known only as Steam.  But before all that happy-go-lucky bullshit there was a guy who envisioned a world destroyed by cybernetics and supercomputers.  Where the ultra-wealthy elite do as they please with the world, ruling from corporate arcologies where they look down and see an infinite sea of light reflecting the scintillating beauty of the stars above.  This vision of the future, as seen in Bladerunner and Shadowrun, is called cyberpunk.  Black Ice takes place in the minds of those called hackers, and it is a love letter to that vision of a future age.  Garrett, the developer behind this game, shared some of his own thoughts on the inspiration driving this title.

Black Ice was inspired by many things, but mostly Neuromancer by William Gibson and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I wanted to experience the hacking as described in Neuromancer, but I also wanted to find cool loot and blow stuff up.  I think it’s obvious that I took a lot of inspiration from Diablo 2 and Quake 3, but I also looked at things like the Android: Netrunner card game and older games like the original Rise of the Triad. I want you to feel dread at what’s going to come out of these servers, to risk it all for the potential of awesome loot. I want you to feel great because you found an awesome ability combo and are wrecking servers that used to give you trouble. I want you to feel OP.

– Garrett, Developer, Black Ice

Jacking into the Supermesh can be a bit overwhelming at first, since you start the game at level 0.  The game is far from perfect right now, but it has a good thing going.  Check in options that you have the tutorial activated your first run.  It will give you an idea where to start, level you up and secure you some first-level loot as well.  But after running the tutorial once make sure you don’t have it active anymore, or else it will run every time you play.  Irritating.  Sure, in most versions of a cyberpunk future you are dealing with a massive computer network cybercomplex known as “the matrix”.  Gibson used it, Shadowrun uses it, the Matrix used it: at this point the matrix is an irritating trope, so I am glad someone saw fit to call it something a little different.

Towering cybernetic arcologies etched with fluorescent dreams and backlit by scintillating points of data

Towering cybernetic arcologies etched with fluorescent dreams and backlit by scintillating points of data

Once inside the supermesh you will see block after block of fluorescently lit data archives.  These are the servers.  Each one is owned by a company or organization and each one holds a dark secret and terrible power, and you can read about them on their little terminals.  But don’t get too distracted; there is a lot to get a hold of.  Each attack you possess costs you RAM.  Think of RAM as stamina in other games: every action you take aside from pressing ‘wasd’ costs RAM.  Sure, your RAM replenishes but how quickly depends on your talents.  You also have a health bar, experience and an actions hot bar.  You can slot actions into your left/right click and numbers 1-5.  You will also be able to slot abilities into spacebar and shift.  While I went with the age-old gaming medium of shift to run, space to jump, you will certainly have options open as you can slot any ability anywhere.  You could have 6 different types of lasers, an icebreaker and a rocket pack and play the whole game that way.  Your arsenal depends on your hacking style.

Each of your attacks and abilities is governed by a talent.  This is like the character sheet for your standard RPG, but this one is a bit more extensive.  There are a lot of things to consider while you are running the supermesh. You have your hacking talents ( hack speed, hack time, hack range) which govern how you attack servers.  Increase your hack speed to speed up your hacks.  Decrease your hack time so there is less time on the clock when you start the hack.  Increase hack range and you get a larger playing field.  Now, when you hack a server, you run up to it and activate your icebreaker.  Why the fuck is it ice?  What is with all the fucking ice?!?!?! Is it cause the ground is light blue like ice or something? No.  Fuck no.  Those playing Shadowrun are aware that each server deploys Intrusion Countermeasures to detain or kill anyone trying to gain unlawful access to the data on the server.  Your icebreaker lets you tunnel into the server and gain access in a matter of seconds.  In the meantime, you have to deal with Black Ice, the ICs designed to kill the operator.  These are what you shoot, nuke and destroy in the game.  You main enemies.

Your next series of talents are what I have dubbed your general talents (Movement speed, Loot Find, RAM, Health) these let you do various things, mostly self-explanatory. You want all of these increased as much as you can get them.  Some items increase your RAM incrementally or by a percentage, each is displayed separately.  Your next round of talents will be your combat talents ( attack speed, accuracy, critical hit chance, weapon damage, weapon range).  Again, all self-explanatory.  The last round of talents are really just secondary combat talents (Damage returned, chance to pierce, drunk projectiles, knockback power, homing, chance to ricochet, damage reduced, chance to colorize, RAM returned).  A lot of your talents cannot be increased by level, so watch what items you slot.  You don’t want to give up an icebreaker that has a nice range if you really need space to move!

When you see this fucker you better run.  It's a shark that fires missiles out of its jagged-toothed mouth.

When you see this fucker you better run.  UFO shark is gonna shoot you with missiles!

Some points to consider while leveling up.  While having an ass-load of RAM is good, some abilities will reduce your RAM by a percentage.  This means the speed you’ll run out of it will not change ever.  So the best stat to level up if you want a good bit of RAM every time you hit that button would be RAM return.  This will increase the rate that your RAM bar refills.  There are a lot of talents in this game, so don’t be afraid to experiment with each of them.

Personally, I did a lot of experimenting with ways to play this game.  For example, nothing is more annoying in battle than being unable to find the attack you want right before some cyberweb crawler leaps at you and takes you out.  This is frustrating.  So I arranged my abilities and weapons so my attacks would be easier to access.  In order to activate my icebreaker, I have to hit 5.  Essentially, I cannot hit that button by accident.  Your supermesh cybercity will be arranged so that a level 300 server is just next to the level 80 server I want to hack.  If I am finishing off the target server and accidentally attack the level 300 server just next to it, I might get my bits scrambled before I can exit the hack range.  I have had my bits scrambled a lot, and every time that happens you lose bitcreds, in-game money.  So placing my icebreaker in a tough to hit spot helped me stop doing that shit.

Another fun fact you might notice while playing is that you can crack multiple servers simultaneously.  This helped immensely when I was level 50 – 70 and was getting bored.  Cracking one server at a time is a slow leveling process, and you have a long way to go until you can attack your final server, the aptly named Finality, Inc.  It is the giant silver server guarded by a roving warship of doom, called a S.H.A.R.K. and topped with a spinning cybernetic skull.  Can’t miss it.  Anyway, being able to take several servers at once gave me the ability to level fast as shit.  I got from level 51 – 80 in a matter of hours; each server provided a healthy boost of around 1000 exp.  Activating several servers simultaneously allowed me to create a giant Venn Diagram of death.  Pure magic.

Enemies in the red, orange, blue field are assholes that don't like video games.  I nuked them with a logic firebomb.

Enemies in the red, orange, blue field are assholes that don’t like video games. I nuked them with a logic firebomb.

However, I still wasn’t leveling fast enough.  I got frustrated and went to the store to sell a fuckload of goods.  After cracking a few hundred servers, you inventory gets a little full.  So you go to these giant solid-colored store servers.  I hadn’t bought anything until level 47 and boy was I surprised when I did.  I realized that I could buy some crazy missile attack that allowed me to blow up anything in sight. I also got a secondary, slow-firing shotgun attack that fired missiles instead of pellets.  That shit hurt a lot.  Now I was cracking 2 servers twice my level.  At my best around level 50 I was able to take down a level 110 server and a level 160 server at once.  Anything more than that and it gets really dicey.  These attacks even let me take on the dreaded sharks, and that got me even stronger weaponry, since Finality Inc is a level 500 server.

Now I am pushing level 99 and I am able to take on three level 150 servers at once, but I generally just take a level 175 server and a few smaller ones with it.  An important factor to note in server crashing is that when you attack more than one server at once, each server’s ICE will attack the others.  This means that if you grab a spam server, all the other ICs will be bogged down trying to fight the little guys.  Most other servers will kill off a spam server for you, and you can just watch.  Granted, you would normally get experience per kill.  If ICs kill eachother, you get nothing for it, however, you will still get the exp when the server goes down and the loot inside.  But this means that you can use two or three larger servers against eachother, but be careful!  Each server is killing each server and any IC not engaged in combat will lock into you if close enough, so it is best to keep within the range of enemies you can feasibly take down.  I still shy away from servers at the upper 200 levels.  Utilize these tactics well and you will turn all your enemies into a neat little pile of cybernetic death confetti, just make sure not to get your bits scrambled in the process.

It's like a party for you imminent demise! YaY!

It’s like a party for your imminent demise! YaY!

Black Ice is a great game, but it is in pre-release status, so it is far from perfect.  It has a modern-classic feel to it, though, and will definitely get you back to reading some Neuromancer.  It is available on Steam right now for a cool 9.99$.  Not bad considering it is a good time.  At the moment you’ll be plowing through servers like you’re some kind of bit drinking data vampire after a camping trip in the Australian outback, but it is a lot of fucking fun.  My favorite thing is standing on top of a server, looking out and seeing the ghostly outlines of the numerous servers I’ve crashed.  Sometimes destruction is its own form of creation.  This is another game that includes a photo-sensitive mode designed to aide those suffering from light-sensitive seizures that still want to enjoy it.  For those that care, this one is firmly planted in my favorites on Steam.

I was driven up a wall by one thing in this game, and it wasn’t the web crawlers.  The thing about this game that got me so frustrated is the distinct lack of anything.  It is a lot like being in an actual server: lights, a droning noise some soundtrack but there is no life!  Can we have the game elements of this one already?!  I mean I don’t want to go trade war stories with Mr. Rodgers or anything, but when I am cracking servers just to have someone to associate with, you know there should be a little more variation.  Whatever, maybe I can just go hang out at Finality, Inc.  Live every week like it’s shark week!

Spec Ops: The Line, Heart of Darkness

2268428-spec_ops_the_line_wallpaper

 

A man who is always angry misses the beauty of life.  So after beating this game in a few days, I admit this one fulfills my desire for art in games.  Spoiler alert: if you are so slow on your gaming schedule that the ending for a game that was released in 2012 is still unknown to you, fuck off. Stop here, go play and come back.  In reality, I served in the military for 2 years and this game would not disturb me any less if I never had.  But that is the key to art, isn’t it?  Beyond just being a nice painting or a pretty song, its goal is to make us feel something.  And the feeling from this piece is a mixture of dark and sullen emotions that directly confront the joy and fun of playing a game where you run around killing people all the time.  The worst, I think, that anyone who is a huge fan of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and any of the other “power fantasy” military games in this genre, can say against Spec Ops: The Line is that it didn’t make them feel right.  And in that it has done its job.  Note that I do interchange between you, your character and Walker when talking about the main character as you experience this through him and, because you control his actions, identify chiefly with him.  What happens to Walker happens to you.

You start this game doing reconnaissance on a post-disaster Dubai, a city known for being a major tourist destination in the Middle east for the ultra-wealthy.  Massive raging sand storms have brought unfathomably large waves of sand that cover everything in their path, and the only survivors huddle in between a few luxury hotels and casinos hoping not to die horribly.  Well, America sends in a Battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel John Konrad, said to be the Patton of his time.  After Konrad gets a couple thousand people killed trying to lead a convoy out of Dubai, he pulls back, hunkers down and tries to survive.  Military Brass orders Konrad and his men to pull out and give it up, but they stay put.  At some point a group of insurgents forms among the surviving civilians and they start to attack the men of Konrad’s Battalion, known as “The Damned” 33rd.  We find that this insurgency is led by the CIA with the aim of bringing down Konrad, his men and anyone left in Dubai in a final move by the CIA to cover up the failure of Konrad and thereby avoid bringing the ignominious facts to the world.  As far as the US government seems concerned, Dubai can just get buried and everyone remember it as a tragedy for which we did all we could.  Avoidance of disgrace.

When you first come on the men of The Damned 33rd, they are rounding up civilians with a DJ announcing loudly over the radio that they broke a ceasefire and that he had the perfect song to “play them off”.  He then starts playing some Vietnam era classic rock which makes the gunfight that much more exciting.  Now by this time you have seen a ton of dead bodies and are travelling from one CIA operative’s corpse to another trying to figure out what the hell is going on.  You never try to negotiate with the men of the 33rd, you just assume they are rounding the civilians up for unstated nefarious purposes under Konrad’s command.

After dispatching the civilian-corralling soldiers (whom, I might add, you never explicitly see shooting civilians but shooting upward to scare them) you move on to find a CIA operative being tortured, but it turns out he’s been long dead and you’ve been lured to an ambush by Konrad.  Another operative, named Gould, helps pulls your team’s ass out of the fire and you watch him get captured shortly thereafter while leading a diversionary insurgent attack against the 33rd.  Once you find Gould, you have the choice to save him or some civilians.  Gould dies either way.  Your character then decides to exact revenge on “The Damned” 33rd.  You infiltrate their camp and fire bomb them with white phosphorus, which, I might add, the 33rd used themselves in an engagement against the insurgents only a short time ago.  So you torch them like bugs.  As you walk through the devastation of the aftermath, charred men crawl from under humvees, you hear one man trapped in a tent begging for aid.  He dies shrieking.  Unless he was screaming for ice cream.  Which I doubt.  As you wade through the carnage, one surviving soldier with half a face left claims they were “helping”.  Your character Walker thinks a solid minute before turning to a tent at his side.  A large tent.  At the back of the base.  You enter to find the crispy remains of some deep-fried civilians.  To top it off, in the center is a woman corpse crouched clutching a child corpse, thus dissolving all notion of good will and, incidentally, Walker’s sanity.  While your friends nearly get into a brawl over their newly earned status as war criminals, Walker is just like “No, we have to push on.  Konrad made us do this.”

Honestly I would be struggling with a crippled psyche to comfort the gaping hole where my soul died, too.

Honestly I would be struggling with a crippled psyche to comfort the gaping hole where my soul died, too.

So it goes, you all push on, Walker thinks he sees some guys hanging by ropes with snipers trained on them.  A soldier and a civilian.  He hears Konrad’s voice tell him to choose one to live and die.  Later you find that they were desiccated corpses and there were no snipers, but, hey, you’re losing your last nut.  Why stop there?  After discovering a talkie with the corpses of Konrad’s former chief officers, you find later that the talkie never worked.  When a group of civilians lynches your sniper and translator, Lugo, you and your hitherto sane/reasonable assault squaddie just gun them down like dogs.  Sidenote, in true “shits about to go down” form, Lugo is the wise-cracking and likable squaddie.  They always kill the guy you really like when shit’s about to go down.

Later on you help the last CIA agent steal the water supply of the city and in a last ditch effort to keep it from enemy hands the fucker crashes the trucks and destroys it.  This ensures the complete annihilation of everyone left in Dubai in 4 days.  Oh I forgot, at some point before Lugo bites it you storm the DJ’s hideout and the sniper aerates him with a pistol. You fly a helicopter as an exit strategy, leave the tower a smoldering ruin and engage in a replay of the opening sequence to which Walker says “We did this already!”  At that point you should be like, am I losing it too?  Well, after a while your assault squaddie gets wiped out Alamo-style and as you run off you only see the flicker of multitudinous explosions behind you.  But nothing really concrete.  Either way, you know that a ziploc bag might be too big to send his remains home in.  I might add that during this last sequence the loading screens say things like “It’s not your fault” and  “You’re still a good person”.  Well, the reassurance did nothing to ease the growing knot in my guts.

So, you climb the stairs to the tower and enter under the premise of surrendering to Konrad only to discover “The Damned” 33rd surrendering to you.  I was confused since, usually, if they have enough firepower to make you surrender, there are at least a few of them left.  In the lobby though the so-stated remainder of the 33rd is like 12 guys.  Konrad summons you up to his loft where you find him painting a rendition of the above image like some kind of serial killer therapy patient.  Best part is, Konrad was never there.  How could he paint this?  Simple answer, he wasn’t and this was painted by Walker.

A little happy blue here and you capture that incriminating glare.

A little happy blue here and you capture that incriminating glare.

He disappears behind the painting and you follow him only to see a person sitting in a chair. Konrad’s corpse wearing something totally not his above hippy-gamer look. So he monologues to you over a montage of earlier events explaining that you have fucking lost it.  At one point you see Walker even talking to himself.  Now this is where the “Fuck me I am a horrible piece of human trash” realization kicks in.  In the final boss battle you basically shoot his reflection in a pane of glass before he shoots you and then radio for evac.  Among imaginary Konrad’s last words he says that after all this you can still go home. The final epilogue gives you the chance to surrender to some recon force or mow them down with an AA-12 and grumble cryptically over their radio “Welcome to Dubai” to their superiors.

So. There are a few things that piss me off here. Not in a typical rage sort of way but in a more “my brain won’t stop running over it for days” way. First off is Konrad.  As you and imaginary Konrad stand over Konrad’s corpse he says “Looks like Konrad’s survival was vastly overstated.”  Cheeky fuck. This implies, however, that he has been dead a while. Possibly the whole time, but you pick up the broken talkie further along in the game. So either your character lost his mind the first time you crashed the helicopter or Konrad died sometime after you heard him over your operational receiver but before you pick up the talkie.  Another thing to consider is the helicopter sequence.  Why do we see that twice? And how is it that Walker knows that this is the second time this has happened?  One theory I have is that everything that happens between the beginning of the game and the second helicopter sequence is the you reliving the horror of what happened up to the point where he truly loses all grasp on reality: the gunning down of civilians. As you gun down those civvies it seems weird as shit that suddenly your previously rational squaddie suggests and even begs to mow them down. So that makes it seems possible that maybe your squaddies have been dead this whole time and your character is sifting reality through his broken psyche alone and dying in the desert sun that his squaddies tried to stop his carnage, but in reality they were never there at all.  Perhaps even these are the events as they were imagined to justify a lunatic engaging in a murderous rampage?  And if Walker did paint the above masterpiece, that means he sees a whole lot of shit the wrong way.  Honestly, the implications are just too vast to be fully expounded upon.

The game makes you feel like an absolute piece of shit for finishing, too. As if somewhere that tent is still sitting huddled in an abandoned Dubai full of charred corpses. I mean, Konrad even says to you “None of this would have even happened if you just stopped” which automatically sounds like he’s talking to YOU.  The goddamn player.  Like, YOUR bloodlust and YOUR insane desire to see the game out to the very end and impassively dictate the actions of three Special Operatives as they murder Americans and torch civilians is more to blame than the videogame character Walker himself.  Not sure about you, but this one had me wiping the fingerprints off my mouse and keyboard.

Overall, this game made me feel.  And not just fucking feel but hard, deep and powerfully. Like ouch. It is a masterpiece of gaming that makes you ask way too many questions in what is supposed to be the conclusion and has been hailed by many as a redux of Heart of Darkness, a book written by Joseph Conrad. O, yea, that last name look familiar? It’s the ‘K’ threw you off, wasn’t it? And that was artfully redone by Francis Ford Coppola as Apocalypse Now.  Wasn’t the famous line from that “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”?  Well, Walker favors the sizzle of white phosphorus, but the homages to the film don’t stop there.  The DJ is a hippy-lingo slinging wastrel with trippy visuals in his broadcast hideout and a sort of “fight the power” vibe to him. AND he plays Vietnam-era classic rock over the radio for the murderous audience. AND the game’s opening screen starts with Jimmi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner! So, yea, this is a hat-tipping frenzy to rival an earthquake in a haberdashery.

My honest opinion is that this game is an example of what I feel videogames struggle with most: legitimacy as art.  This game sits in the same genre as Call of Duty and its ilk, but it is far beyond them all in scope.  I now feel I have to do this game a duty and reread Heart of Darkness (since I forget mostly everything about it) and watch Apocalypse Now (since I’ve never seen it).  If this game doesn’t make you feel at least a piece of all that, then fuck you.  You may be beyond redemption.  Anyways, this is my blog. Deal with it.

Steam and its box

steam

 

Possibly the best thing ever invented for gamers.  When this baby came out in 2003, it forced a fuck-ton of Counter-strikers the world over to download it.  It was a little rough around the edges and infuriated a LOT of people, but Valve cleaned it up and it is now the first thing I download on a new rig after Chrome.  It’s like iTunes if iTunes let you keep everything you ever bought rather than limiting you to 5 downloads.  Assholes.  But Steam sells you the licence for the software and you can download, uninstall, download, uninstall etc. ad infinitum.  Why am I even bringing this up? ‘Cause I fucking LOVE it!  I am currently debating with myself where I want to get the above image tattooed on my body.

But its other fantastic features include non-video game software like Maya, fantastic sales, an immense library of indie games and community-selected greenlighting on games.  If you don’t use Steam Jesus doesn’t love you.  If you still hold fast to your skepticism, you can make your friends buy you games you like by adding them to a wishlist, gain early access to pre-release games, earn achievements and check out any number of stats on games you love.  It even recommends games to you based on games you already play!!!1!11!  If you still think this isn’t for you, go get a console.  I will always love you Steam.

Valve-SteamBox

Oh, right.  Need I mention the Steambox?  A console that you can use to play Steam games?  Xbox and PS4 won’t even know what hit them.  I have been saying they should make this baby since 2005!  Of course, I just googled ‘Steambox release date’ and I found this article calling it the Steam Machine.  It was updated today, too, but there is no release date.  It looks like Valve is just like, “Fuck your consoles, get a console that lets developers push the envelope, would ya?”  That is nice to hear since us PC gamers look at the console wars like a bunch of retards arguing over their favorite color flower.  But everyone in the world plays console games ( as they want you to think ), so in a lot of ways gaming has been held back repeatedly by its slowest evolving component.

This offers a chance to up the ante in the console wars.  Maybe.  You can talk a mean talk, but when your new console boasts an i5 processor, 16 gb RAM and an NVidia GTX 780… Hey. That is almost exactly what I have in this computer.  I just built it, and it cost me $2000 on Newegg.  Granted, it has a much larger case a monitor and a new mouse on that price tag, but the processor, graphics card and RAM altogether will run you around $1190.  Granted, the Steambox doesn’t have a centralized developer.  It’s licensed out to developers and each of them makes a version of the system that will match the base requirements for running Steam, not any particular games.  A netbook could probably run Steam, so that worries me.  If this system is going to sport the power of my system and be like $900, what is the point of getting a bitchin’ computer rig?  At that point only computer hobbyists would, but I doubt that such a competitive price is even possible.  Oh, wait, did I say competitive?  The PS4 and Xbox One are half that price albeit with a fraction of the computing power.  Did I mention that Valve is hinting at virtual reality support? True life.  Just scroll to the section of the aforementioned article labelled ‘Virtual Whispers’. Sounds kinda sexy.  And there is the point that the Steambox’s controller looks like an alien pleasure device.  Who is supposed to use this thing, jedi?  There are prettier versions, but it looks as intuitive at first-glance as a Ouija board.  I am a proponent of what Valve’s Steambox proposes to do, which is ass rape its competition until they are firmly relegated to historical footnotes, but at what cost?  I would say that innovation is the key to owning the future, but sometimes it can lead you to the Wii U.  And as this guy details, such shenanigans will lead you to ruin.  I hope they know what kind of shitstorm this is setting up because if Valve is not careful they’ll be the ones left without an umbrella.