Slaughterball, Bloody Freaking Fun

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Recently, thanks to Erik at Frog the What games, I had the chance to play through a two-man game of Slaughterball.  It is an inventive and exciting game about a futuristic game, based on handball and combined with genetic mutants and freaks.  These people have been altered by companies to run faster, hit harder and have keen senses.  It’s almost like someone tried to create a human “master race” through genetic alteration, but all they managed was a really badass football team.  This game is up on kickstarter and they’ve been funded to their first stretch goal!  Get in there now and you can still get some serious early-backer swag!  You can also head to the Slaughterball website to get some more information about the game itself!

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Yes, that team looks just like a bunch of orcs.

My favorite part of this game is how everything feels like you should be narrating it with an announcer’s voice, and this is what I did.  It was legitimately one of the most entertaining times I have had sitting on my friend’s floor, playing a game.  As it went, we chose one of the four teams that came with the review copy.  I favored the spartan-themed Swords of Damocles whereas my friend went with the buxom Valkyries.  Now the pieces on the board are referred to athletes and the people playing the game are coaches, which makes sense considering either could feasibly be labeled “players,” so they opted to eliminate that distinction altogether.

Each athlete has 5 stats: accuracy, agility, brawling, speed and toughness.  Accuracy shows how good they are at throwing the ball, so when throwing the ball at a goal, you get the number of your accuracy worth of murder dice to roll.  I call them murder dice because they are covered in knives and skulls.  The more knives you get, the better you roll, so get knives.  To get the shot in, you have to get a number of knives equal to or greater than the shooting distance in squares between the shooter and the goal.  All of the tests work similarly with one stat giving you a number of dice and then another being the stat you roll against for the opposing athlete or just quick checks to see if you make a goal or pick up a ball mid-move.

Once you have your team selected, you have to place the little guys and gals on the board.  Everything is pretty well explained, though.  Once you’re all set up, it’s time to play.  Now each team’s turn encompasses three phases: draw phase, onslaught phase, cleanup phase.  The first phase is where you can discard any number of cards and draw more.  This allows you to mix up your strategy at a moment’s notice and keeps you from stagnating in actions.  There are a lot of cards, don’t be afraid to ditch the ones you have for something better!  During the onslaught phase, your athletes can move, chop (attack, basically) and pass or shoot the ball.  Moving and passing or shooting the ball are all pretty self explanatory, but chopping is where you use your athletes to attack the opposing athletes.

Successfully chopping the other team’s athletes is a good place to start really doing damage.  When you chop, it incurs a DnD-style chop test (with the brawling stat) which you roll the murder dice for.  For our game, both teams’ razors ( the skinny, accurate, fast ball-shooter) ended up in the slaughterbox, which is sort of the game’s hospital.  Except instead of healing the athletes, they are allowed to just lay there bleeding while kids and viewers throw popcorn and ice cream cones at them.  Getting off a chop attack will successfully down an enemy and, usually, score you points! Getting off more chops while they are down will get them injured, slaughter boxed, possibly penalized…. and more points!!!

That's not a scar!  I'll show you a scar!

That’s not a scar! I’ll show you a scar!

When you start the game, the goals are closed and the ball shoots out of a ball-port.  These blast the ball high into the sky, at least in my mind.  The athletes run in, grab the ball and then run into the meat grinder at the center of the board.  Wait…. fuckawhadinnabaht!?! No, they aren’t running headlong into a literal meat grinder like ball-playing lemmings, they are running into a section in the center of the arena filled with skin-slashing spikes, sandpaper carpeting and possibly demotivational posters.  It’s like the chokey for genetically-engineered athletes.  The best part is that you get extra damage on opposing athletes for knocking them down in the meat grinder.

Once someone runs the ball into the meat grinder, all the goals open and you can start making shots.  Keep in mind that any time you don’t run open goals or make a shot with the ball, anyone with the ‘Shot Clock’ card can use it to get an athlete in the penalty box, redeploy the ball and get a little edge over your opponents.  The structure of the game allows you to get some serious synergy, too.  During your onslaught phase, you can select three different athletes (indicated with the onslaught tokens) to make two moves each.  These can be used to run, chop, pass and shoot, as stated.  A lot of times I would use one player to run, grab the ball, throw it to another athlete who would run it to the razor or shoot.  My buddy Dave got two goals in the first round of the game this way.  Granted the ball practically deployed into his hands, but you roll a die to determine which port it comes out of, and the dice are always in that guy’s favor.  Gameplay is fluid, thrilling and fun.  Mostly fun.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn't work.  Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back it up.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn’t work. Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back your strategy.

Notice the letters in different shapes on the athletes’ cards.  These show the different types of athletes.  Int he actual game there will be lovely plastic pieces that have differently shaped bases, but the review copy had these useful proxies.  There is the butcher or ‘square B’.  This is a big fucker that will chop anything and often ends up in the penalty box when you can get the card.  You’ll have one on your team.  The razor or ‘circle R’ is a lithe and speedy little fucker with four-arms who can move like nobody’s business.  These guys make a lot of the shots.. at least until they end up in the slaughter box.  You also have one of these.  There is also the cleaver or ‘pentagon C’.  These guys are pretty good defensive athletes.  They have decent accuracy, agility and speed, but they aren’t much for brawling and chopping.  This means you can use them to run the ball and score pretty well if you lose your razor.  Then there are the slashers.  These guys have higher toughness and brawling than your slashers, which makes them decent for defense.  These guys will be good at carving (providing interference for athletes running the ball) and generally defending the guy running the ball long enough to get a score in.  They are a little slower, less accurate and agile than the cleavers.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box…

I may have mentioned that there are penalties and fouls that you can call.  I love the way the rules are explained for this in the game.  A great way to look at the rules is like the truth during a great story: never let either get in the way of a great time!  This means that the referees of the game are all but fucking terrified to step into the arena.  I would be too with these genetically-altered freight-train people charging and chopping each other all over the place!  Each team looks like a scarier version of the Monstars from Space Jam!  Fuck!  So there are penalty cards, which can be used to call fouls.  This represents a time when a referee was paying attention long enough to call a foul on a player, likely getting himself side-lined to the slaughterbox in the process.  The thing is, violence is one way that the sport itself is so popular.  These athletes knock eachother down, injure one another, rub eachothers’ faces in the meat grinder etc. all for points and the entertainment of fans.  It is like soccer would have been in an ancient roman gladiatorial arena and it is brutal, spine-shattering fun.

One thing that I wanted in this game, which really disappointed me, was that there seemed to be no option for a “fantasy football” league.  You know, an option that would let you alter the stats of your team, name your athletes and get more into it?  I told this to Erik, the game’s creator and he said this:

“In league mode you can design your own roster, picking which athletes are on your team, you can spend winnings to increase your traits and skills.  However, there is no build from scratch mode in this release. That’ll be in the next Kickstarter. ;)”

Back this game NOW!!!!!  This is going to be something awesome that we nerds can have for our own!  It will be a sports game that will allow us to weave in our love of football, american football and other sports that will allow us to make our own teams, then compete on a larger level!  I can see this game being the next big international board game, like Warhammer.

I was playing this game and just imagining the athletes in the arena, I want to see this game turned into a show on adult swim.  Seriously, think about it.  The world has enough personality, there are several layers of conflict (athletes against eachother, teams and their coaches, all the athletes on the board and the referees, the fans and the referees), and you can throw in the TnA of the cheerleaders (available as an extra purchase on the Kickstarter) to make it a great show with an an amazing world.  On top of all that, it would be EXTREMELY relevant considering all the violence in sports these days and it already has a nice fanbase going.  For now, this is just an awesome game, and I am still hotly debating backing it although I can’t really afford to right now.  I mean, look at this game!  I only played a scrimmage, although I wanted to get a larger game going.  It is a great time and it allows you to fuck with the rules, bullshit and not get too upset over getting screwed.  You’ll be screwing up the other player at some point, too.  Sure, they are already backed, so let’s work on getting those stretch goals met!

EDIT: I recently caved and contributed 110$ to this campaign.  I got the early razor and the cheerleaders!  Ra ra! EDIT EDIT: I just bumped my backing up to 180$.  The things that made me do this was the fact that I was already at 150$ due to add-ons.  I also wanted to get my mitts on the extra team that was unlocked (Fury) and I wanted to get two teams’ cheerleaders! Sis boom ba! EDIT EDIT EDIT: Yea, changed it again.. hopefully the last..  230$ now so I can get my name on a card and a couple of cheerleaders teams! WOO TAH! ED.. oh you get the idea..  So I caved and I went for the Hall of Fame backing.  480$ for my name and picture in the game as well as the cheerleaders and every perk from the Butcher level.  I guess I will be really abstaining from backing people for a while! X P!

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Influent, Game of Language Learning

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Something that I focus on heavily here is the artistic quality of games, but there is so much more promise and potential to videogames than just art and entertainment.  This Kickstarter-funded piece of educational software displays that games are tools for learning as much as devices of entertainment.  It’s not a perfect language-learning game, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction and a hell of a lot cheaper than Rosetta Stone.

Influent is a game that would, by normal gaming standards, be considered an educational tool because it is.  When you buy the game, you get to decide which language you want to give yourself a primer for.  To begin with, Influent does not teach you alphabets.  I already have some pre-existing knowledge of Korean and because I participated in the Army’s rigorous linguistics program, I know exactly how your brain learns languages because I had korean jammed into my skull so hard that two years after my last tests, I still slip into korean from time to time.  My biggest problem is that I don’t really have direct access to vocabulary lists, so this definitely helps in that way.

Why do I own three shirts but I've got twelve sticks of deodorant?

Why do I own five shirts but I’ve got twelve sticks of deodorant?

The way that you ‘learn’ in this game is by clicking different items with your mouse.  It then appears down below in the written format and someone says it to you.  The korean speaker has a hard time differentiating between the hard and soft sounds, but, whatever, I know enough to sort that out myself.  Once you have a word you want to remember, you hit the spacebar and it goes to a language list.  I tried sorting my vocab into neat lists like “clothing,” “food” and “things a baby might stick in its nose,” but things are sorted out in this game in a way that makes sense for life, not tailored to making little lists.  This is a plus because if you learn vocabulary in a certain context, you might have a hard time remembering it outside that context.  Right-cliking things in the world interacts with them, like opening doors and such.

Sometimes you will need to break apart a collection of items.  Luckily, the game has sorted this challenge out pretty well.  In order to select something that is a part of a whole, you hit ctrl to identify this, like the pillow on the bed or the leaves on a tree.  There is also shift to crouch so you can see things placed under the bed or in a cabinet under the sink.

Once you have your sloppy jumble of words that you’ve heard, it’s time to start trying to sort this stuff out.  There are two modes of mastery: time attack and fly by.  Time Attack is a mode that will time you on how fast you locate the words in the environment.  It says the words and you have to run around like a lunatic looking for them in the apartment.  This is a useful tool, too, because it lets you choose from a list of ten vocabulary words, which you will remember discovering them, even vaguely, in that order, so your brain lays those pathways pretty deeply.  Another feature of Time Attack lets you choose a randomly assembled list that the game concocts for you to identify.

The black vocabulary box OF DOOOOOM!!!!

The black vocabulary box OF DOOOOOM!!!!

Now, it’s good that you want to sort through these lists, but as you find the items, the words appear saying what it is, and someone says it.  It is easy for you to get brain-lazy and depend on that, though, and eventually you are going to have to start stripping the training wheels away.  This can be done easily, and the game encourages you to do it through the use of achievements.  When you do time attacks you’ll want to start getting rid of the visual aide because that will teach your brain to start identifying what those things are just by hearing them.  This is good because, most of the time, you will be hearing language and not reading it.  It prepares your brain for hearing it.  Take away the voice and leave the visual aide in order to learn the words based on sight recognition.  This will be important for learning to read the language.  I am not sure if you can disable both the audio and video for Time Attack to try in some kind of Hellen Keller mode, but the game doesn’t come with a module that signs vigorously into your hand.

Time to zap the fuck outta that vocab!!

Time to zap the fuck outta that vocab!!

Fly by is a mode where you learn vocabulary by piloting a little toy spaceship and zapping the item in question with the lasers.  Hitting control in this mode still works just fine, and it even slows down the speed of flight so you can adequately identify what you are trying to select.  Hitting shift will just make you fly faster.  Be careful, though, because you can crash the ship, which is mildly frustrating as you wait for respawn.

Overall this is a game that clearly has some thought put into it, but there are many limitations.  First off, there are a buttload of nouns, but there are only 5 adjectives and 5 verbs to learn in any language; in case you were unaware, most of language is fucking verbs and things placed to make the nouns interact with each other.  On top of that, this is not a language-learning game, so much a language supporting game.  It is great for studying up on your vocabulary and such, but it does nothing whatsoever to show you how to arrange those into a sentence and then use it to communicate… you know, the purpose of language in the first place.  No language is spoken by a bunch of people standing in a room identifying objects, although that reminds me of an episode of Star Trek for some reason.  On top of that, the game will show you the language as it is written, which is fine for most European languages as they all use approximately the same alphabet.  But if you want to learn something with a totally different alphabet, this game offers no assistance.  It just shows you how it should sound and what it looks like.  If you want to learn how to write that down, it’s on you.  And one thing that ANY student of asian languages can tell you, the stroke order is just as important as learning what to write.

You are correct, sir!

You are correct, sir!

If you need a great study aide, this game could be a great tool to include in your language-learning kit, especially if you’ve grown up playing games that teach you how to do math or something like that quickly.  I know I did.  Math Blaster was hard as fuck!  The thing is, this game has you trapped in your apartment and it is kind of depressing because you can almost tell what happened to this guy.  There is a report left on the printer, right?  Your door is locked and there is a newspaper and a ton of adverts for food places.  This is a guy who recently gave up on humanity and has decided to sit in his room all day learning languages from the disembodied voices in his head and the hallucinations in front of him.  When you pilot the jet in fly-by, your character disappears entirely, meaning that he is totally losing association with reality and even himself!  Then he runs around the house identifying various things in the house.  Fuck the cat, that thing never moves, it must have died long ago, sad and hungry because the owner lost his mind.

Or maybe it’s just a language -learning game that focuses on a small list of vocabulary to get you started with a new language.  Still, it would be nice to have various DLC’s that I could download for free according to new areas that pertain to real life.  I wouldn’t be able to ask about a library or a restaurant or anything.  It’s like a linguistic curriculum with only 10 different lessons.  But if you want to walk away from this game with a bit more of a vocabulary, it’s definitely helpful.  Check it out on Steam for only 9.99$ per language!

The Secret Cove, Former Deckhand Gone Indiana Jones!

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I was looking over this game and deciding whether or not to back it on Kickstarter and decided I would let me wife, the more casual gamer, decide whether we would back it.  She likes to play games like this on her ipad, and I figured, since it is her area I would let her do the honors.  She watched the teaser video and her face started to glow so brightly I needed to don my shades.  She practically ripped the mouse out of my hand so we could back it!

The Secret Cove starts as all respectable adventures from the UK start: a night of drunken reverie in a pub.  On this particular night you listen to some fishermen tell the tale of a lost smugglers’ treasure, so you decide to go all Indiana fucking Jones and look for it.  You wake up on a beach (I’d wager your butt hurts from a forgotten debacle with the fishermen) and your character starts to analyze his life and wonder where he went wrong.  After all,  to end up an out of work deckhand he must’ve missed a good pointer somewhere.  At least your house is nice.

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The boarded up window is a conversation piece…

Well, fuck it’s a lot better than the house I don’t have.  Either way, your character sets out to uncover the lost smugglers’ treasure.  Throughout this sleepy little fishing village you’ll find connections to witchcraft, smugglers, intrigue and mystery.  The world in this will be non-linear. Have you ever played an adventure game?  Often they more or less leave breadcrumbs along a specific path that leads your through the plotline of the game.  You don’t really take part in a developing story as much as you are a sightseer on a virtual tour group of yourself.  The Secret Cove will be a large and open world composed of about 100 scenes you can interact with.  As you progress, more and more of the world becomes accessible.

Fuck!  I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

Fuck! I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

An interesting feature is that the puzzles will remain as relevant to the real world as possible.  I remember playing a game where I had to tie a rope to a sword to create a sort of grappling hook style device so I could climb up out of a subway.  It wasn’t exactly intuitive.  Granted, that was a comedic adventure, other adventures I have played impeded progress just by making puzzles backward and non-intuitive.  When that happens it makes the player feel cheated and a little stupid.  These devs have decided to go with puzzles that are difficult and still make fucking sense to the character.  Like welding metal together or fashioning a crowbar in a town with no Home Depot (hardware store).  The game makes sense and it is all relevant to the work of a British deckhand.  Well… former deckhand turned rogue archaeologist.  Another thing to consider is that some of the puzzles will be inventory-centric item combining puzzles similar to those found in Zork.  These are fun and you end up with a lot of items one you, but it is fun knowing that you had the answer in your backpack the whole time!

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Perfect! My robot penis is complete!

This dev duo known as Cheeky Sprite Studios is working hard to make this game, and they’ve even enlisted Richard Douglas, professional composer, to work with them.  That soundtrack is available as a backing incentive, too.  Their long list of incentives includes things like getting into their credits, having your name etched on a cave wall, the game (duh), artbook, soundtrack and much more.  Want a little taste of what the game will feel like?  Check out The Secret Cove’s website!  Part of these types of games is getting associated with another lovely locale, and this is no different.  The secret cove will feature locations and scenes from well-known Cornish towns and landmarks like St. Ives Wharf, Padstow Harbour, Minack Theatre, St. Michael’s Mount, Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Tintagel Castle and many more.

They have some pretty neat stretch goals involved, including getting this game on Steam Greenlight and having artifacts that will give you something on their website, so come join us on an adventure!  It’ll be a lot of fun, and I promise you can bring a bag of wheat thins to snack on.

The Best Rash I’ve Ever Had

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When I was a kid, my friend would come over with a copy of Road Rash for Sega Genesis.  We’d race for hours while beating each other over the head with any number of clubbed and bladed implements.  Ah, the joys of youth!  It has been many years since and I hadn’t even heard the name of this spoken, and I had begun to wonder if it was ever real at all.  I played Twisted Metal on the Playstation and any number of other games that tried to emulate it, but none that tried to recreate the balls-to-the-wall motorcycle racing gauntlet that was Road Rash.  Then yesterday, it happened.  I heard of a projecton Kickstarter that was to emulate this game, and it had already reached its funding goal.  Its name was Road Redemption.

In this title, you will be playing a Katana-clad member of a mid-western America motorcycle gang.  You have to move your way up in the ranks and take control of drug trading routes.  It’s a visceral title that will actually hit harder than its spiritual predecessor.  Thing is, it won’t be made by the same people that made Road Rash.  In fact, a lot of these developers grew up playing games on the same systems I did, so they remember the good old days of games that make you earn their respect rather than the spoon-fed titles of today.

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

This looks like a title that will take esports to an awesome new level and bring people away from their Xboxes and Call of Duty.  You’ll earn money by racing, sure, but if I can wield a shotgun on a motorcycle, why would I just want to race all the time?  Luckily there will also be assassinations, robberies and other challenges.  Getting the goods will allow you to level your character, buy better hardware and upgrade your bike so you can really take on the tough guys.

The storyline is a sort of made-in-America Mad Max routine.  You are part of stated motorcycle gang in post-apocalyptic mid-west America, and the country is run by a ruthless dictator.  You gang-leader decides that it would be a great idea to ride into the capital with the intent of killing the dictator.  I guess it doesn’t go too well, since the game description implies heavily that shit hits the fan for you and everyone you know.  You then have to track this guy down and, pending his judgment at the gang’s hands, decide what to do about the whole dictator situation.

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Flying blurry men never did know how to ride bikes well…

One of the more vague features of this game comes with the life-system.  There will be no extra lives, but the experience, gear and upgrades you earn should stick with you.  What does this mean? Fuck if I know, but I guess you have a lot of family members who are willing to step up and take over your cause.  You’re probably from one of those massive Irish-Catholic families you see all over television.  What’s more is that multi-player mode will be all about you building your gang and then taking to the internet where you will join up with or against your friends.  Hey, competition is just as much fun as working together, sometimes.  Personally, I cannot wait to throw someone under a bus.. fucking literally!

The best part about all of this?  Road Redemption comes out tomorrow on Steam as Early Access.  So get those bike helmets ready.  We’re info for one hell of a ride.  Get ready for the best rash you’ve ever seen!

Why do they fear indie gaming?

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In September’s issue of Game Informer the “esteemed” publication seems to be initiating its own quiet assassination concurrent with the #GamerGate wars of Twitter.  While they do not seem to have leapt on the “fuck all gamers” bandwagon with most major games reporting outlets, they do seem to be digging beneath the walls that separate major gaming from indie gaming.  Turn to the two-page spread on 31 and Behold! Matt Bertz throws down his wall-less theory of gaming entitled ‘The Mutating Meaning of the Word “Indie.”‘  I call offended and uproarious bullshit.  Indie isn’t mutating, it means just what it always has: independent.  What this should be entitled is “Why we want to destroy the meaning behind the term indie.”  Strap in, this another rant of bombastic proportions.

Bertz poses the following question in the first paragraph, which will serve as the thesis for the GI article:

“When the majority of games in the contemporary landscape are already coming from outside the walls of big publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Activision, what does becoming indie really mean?”

I am a firm believer that within each question lie the roots of its own answer.  In my opinion, the answer Matt wants you to come out with is “When the majority of games in the contemporary landscape are already coming from outside the walls of big publishers, being ‘indie’ really has no meaning.”  He then goes on to try discrediting the term indie saying that the number and style of the projects that fall into the category “indie” that the term is no longer “useful.”  That is a charming thought but being indie is more than just “breaking away from the standard studio-publisher” model.  Sure, that is a major centerpiece for the concept, but that is not the only thing it’s contingent upon.  Going rogue in the gaming industry takes serious balls, especially in the face of major publishers that are trying to muscle into the region of indie gaming.  The simple fact is that being an indie developer means putting in countless thankless hours developing a game that will likely be swallowed up by the sea of other small titles.  Sure, indie as a genre is useless, which is why people need to stop letting Steam make them think indie just means an artistic game with hand-crafted backgrounds and a bizarre concept.  Indie isn’t a genre of gaming; it is a community of indifferent rebellion.

Bertz then takes two indie developers, Cloud Imperium Games of Star Citizen fame and Lucas Pope of Papers, Please, lays them against each other and claims a multi-million dollar company, such as Cloud Imperium, and lone developers residing in the same sphere degrades the purpose of calling something indie.  Honestly, anyone that would make this claim is just fooling themselves.  I don’t wholly blame Bertz, either.  His misconception is one born of an artistic medium still striving against its own over-bearing identity to define itself properly.  Taking an example from the music industry, Eminem has his own record label and I would call it an independent record label.  At the time of its inception, Shady Records was not a giant in the industry, but it surpassed those lofty heights.  Just because he ‘got big’, doesn’t mean he ever stopped being independent.  Likewise, when developers such as Lucas Pope or Mojang become big they don’t stop being indie developers.  Sure, indie is a genre of music, and that community defines itself with easily identifiable features: retro glasses, a taste for music no one has heard of, flannel.  But Bertz is suggesting that gaming has to take on the same restrictive reasoning.  You are defined by an easily identifiable array of elements that collaboratively structure “how indie games are supposed to be.”  The point of indie development is that there is no structure.  You can create whatever crazy fucking idea you have concocted.  Like Minecraft, possibly the most successful indie game of all time.  Even those musical miscreants labeling themselves as indies listen to a respectable variety of musical types ranging from rock to chiptunes.  Trying to label them all as the same ‘genre’ is just as useful as stating indie games are all the same ‘genre’.

I reported on a fantastic game crowdfund which found itself on IndieGoGo called X-Tactics.  This is a game that will be developed by veterans of Square-Enix, Capcom and Sega, and, as far as I know, it will be an indie game.  This is because it will be a game developed under a name and publisher separate from the major development community.  Other major developers have broken away from the gilt Alcatraz of major gaming and gone rogue.  This sort of thing happens in music all the time with supergroups of famous stars that get together to form an awesome musical entourage.  They don’t feel the need to label themselves indie, although many found independent record labels, I would speculate this is due to a lack of oppressive horseshit experienced in the gaming indusrty.  They have their own struggles with record labels and within their industry, and I am not trying to diminish their battles.   But when you look at the size of the gaming industry and its unrivaled power to crush dreams, the music industry seems positively navigable.  Lorne Lanning, creator of the Oddworld series, is another of these major names, and Oddworld is a game that deserves to call itself indie.  In his interview on VG247 he goes into exhausting detail about why major developers would ever go indie, but my favorite line is:

“I’d rather not make games than go fucking be a slave for public companies who care more about their shareholders than they do about their customers.”

Yea he really says that, and more, but saying ‘established developers going indie would similarly render it useless’ is equally quaint.  The fact is that major developers are terrified of indie developers.  Scared down to their quivering, flaccid cores of achieving the same level of irrelevance populated by Leigh Alexander and Anita Sarkeesian.  But why would they be afraid?  Here’s why:

Some people estimate that Mojang made 84.2 million USD and 66.4 million Euros from Minecraft in 2012.  Sure, they are on the Minecraft forum, but they were estimating out of nerdy interest and had no real motivation other than spontaneous curiosity.   If a fraction of that is true, it still doesn’t account for the numerous other countries that play Minecraft and how much money they’ve spent on it.  When Mojang became a money machine overnight the collective bowels of major game publishers voided into unsuitably diminutive pants.  Mojang showed that a bizarre game with a solid concept and motivation can conquer the world, and they didn’t have to pass through the close-guarded gates built by major developers.  Simply put, major developers weren’t getting a share of that money.  That millions and millions of currency of your choice, and it hurt.  If not in their pockets, somewhere deep in their dark, dusty souls.

Turning back to Berts, he goes on to attack indie from numerous angles: big budgets, large staff, companies that make both major games and indie games, and honestly he continues attempting to discredit the concept of indie games.  It is a shoddy attempt to convolute the real issue behind the conversation.  See, major publishers see everyone jumping ship for this concept of “freedom.”  More and more, major developers are leaving them, and, like a jilted ex, major publishers try to bring them back.  This article points to companies like Ubisoft, which was responsible for Valiant Hearts, and says that the “easily identifiable elements” that make these games ‘indie’ are artistic, retro features of a game that make it bizarre or deviant from the norm of gaming.  Thing is, this article tries to make it sound like indies are becoming just as independent as major developers, when really major developers are just afraid of becoming as small-time as indie.  They are afraid of the change in the industry bringing about new giants and contenders and themselves losing relevance in the swarm of rising stars.  Mostly, this is just the result of gamers becoming largely disenfranchised by major publishers, who want to make the same bullshit over and over and have us swallow their crap forever.  The fact is, funding autonomous studios to make games for you is nice, but the fact is if your game is published and distributed by someone like Sony or Ubisoft, you aren’t independent, which is the source-word of indie.  You are just following the same tired model of the studio-publisher model except that they grant you a little more freedom.  Because that is what is making money nowadays, right?  Indie games are innovative and bold in ways that major publishers don’t have the balls to be, they’re creative in ways that major distributors can’t rely on and they’re unpredictable in ways that can’t be monetized by a massive company effectively.  Indie games are indie games because they succeed by their own virtue, not under the cultivation of a major publisher, which has all the power of a totalitarian propaganda machine at its disposal.

Then again, I am reading this in Game Informer, a magazine that is commonly perused by the Mountain Dew and Doritos abusing target audience of major publishers.  Not like they would ever publish an article that is biased in favor of the people who directly profit from the sale of games created by major publishers (who publish this rag mag), rather than the sale of indie games that sell through Steam or even indiedevs’ websites.  My suggestion is to refer to “indie” games that have been incubated and published by the likes of Sony, Activision et al as subbed indies:  Independent games that are subsidized by major publishers.  Granted, people will likely not care about the distinction, as long as the game is fucking fun.  I just find it annoying when they say the label is no longer “relevant” or “useful” just because major industry gaming thinks so.  Indie games should remain indie because it keeps them from being enslaved by major companies that just want to put their dick in it and soak up profits.

Have your own crotchety thoughts on this?  Join the discussion in my Steam group, Crotchety Gamers United!

Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

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Most people haven’t heard of Living Dream Entertainment, and for good reason.  This is another group of gaming idealists that have a vision defining, for them, the perfect game.  So far everything I have heard and seen out of these guys is impressive, despite things being in an early phase.  To be honest, they remind me of Elysian Shadows Team in the sheer audacity of their project and what they want to accomplish.  People should know who they are and what they are planning because it will be something really special when it is finished.

Living Dream Entertainment is a small independent game development team working on a game called, A Shadow’s Tale, through a process they call Project Shadow.  I wasn’t too sure why there was such a distinction between the two, but I have come to understand that Project Shadow will also invite players and fans to contribute to the finished game itself.  No seriously.  You can make a quest, a character, customize their style, how they fight, who they are: nearly fucking everything.  Check it out here!

Dakota Barrett, founder of Living Dream Entertainment, was happy to answer some of my questions about themselves and the game they are creating.  So who are these people and how did they come together?

“Originally my team started out as many indies do: a group of friends with a common interest.  That team died over about the course of two months and got down to just me.  Around this time I was getting some money in doing odd jobs and I started to contract freelancers.

“First there’s Riley, our character artist.  Her job is to draw the busts of characters that you see in dialogue, and often everyone else’s work is based around her creation of a character.

“Then we have Tony, who seems to be the favorite of the public, which is rightly deserved because the guy has a lot of talent. His concept art has a unique style.

“Devon worked with us on and off for several months before becoming an official member of the team.  He does our code work and makes a lot of my crazy ideas come to life.  He’s the reason we’re able to push an outdated program like RPGMaker into the modern age.

“Elbert does our sprite art and animation and he’s really good at it.  We spent four months going through dozens of applicants for the position and it wasn’t until I met Elbert that I knew I had the right guy.

“Saad is our composer and most recent addition to the team.  Unlike everyone else, I wasn’t actually looking for a composer at the time.  Saad was just interested with the project and sent in a sample of his work.  I loved it so much that I included it in our announcement video of Project Shadow and asked him to join our team.

“I run social media, talk to journalists, run the business and all the legal work that comes with that, and I make everyone’s work show up and coordinate in-game, creating the world for the player to enjoy.  But at the heart of it all, I’m a designer and writer.  All the stories, dialogue, and gameplay mechanics start off as ideas in my head.  I have about three gigabytes worth of just notes alone.”

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Yep, the skill is visible.

So this is already a strong team of talented individuals with a common purpose.  From the teaser trailer for the game itself, I know I got a strong impression.  So, if Dakota is the main drive and energy behind this game, what brought him into gaming and games development?

“Throughout my childhood I played a lot of games through frequent visits to BlockBuster when it was around and you could get a game for a week, which was perfect for me because I usually binged a game until I beat it.  I’ve played all sorts of genres from big AAA titles to the little indie teams, but I think where I truly fell in love with games was with role playing games like Final Fantasy IX and X, Knights of the Old Republic II and the original Fable.

“As I entered adulthood I started to bind my passion for games with my passion to write.  I tried out a few development programs, such as Unity, Blender or Game Maker, but the one I settled with was the one that best served my roots as a gamer, RPG Maker VX Ace.  It’s a pretty simple program that could allow even a child to make a game but over the time I had it I started to find how to push it further and further and when I started to really see the potential with the program I started working on the very early concepts of A Shadow’s Tale.”

Projects of passion are often rare gems, because they are so hard to attain.  When such a project can be made possible, they often turn into impressive entries in a genre and even in a field of art.  The biggest obstacle is often money, and that can kill a project before it ever even happens. How has A Shadow’s Tale gotten its funding so far?

“It started out as a birthday/graduation gift.  I was the first in my family to graduate high school, which isn’t much of an accomplishment, but it was something.  So I took what was likely meant to be the means of buying a car and put it towards making a game.  When that ran out, I started funding the project with what I could from my paycheck, which to this day is  just a part-time, minimum-wage job, so progress has been slow.  Our goal is to crowdfund with the community we’ve built up, but we’re not quite ready for that just yet.”

Each game has its own draw, something makes it stand out.  What are the features of A Shadow’s Tale that will really set it apart from other games of its type?

“Simply put it’s how the game is designed overall.  It’s not meant to be a retro throwback to the games I and others grew up on, it’s meant to be Living Dream’s first step in showing what the industry is capable of producing.  Though it’s an open world RPG, it takes inspiration from all sorts of games, old and new.

“To be more specific I would say the focus on your actions is at the heart of the gameplay.  In many games that I enjoy, like the Mass Effect series, you get to make choices that change the universe you play in and could very well cause your experience to be completely different from all your friends who played the game.  But if you look back, almost all these choices centered around dialogue.  The hundreds of people and monsters you killed didn’t change anything and where you went didn’t really matter as long as you completed the main goals of the game.  With our game we’re putting a focus on what you do, as with reality it’s not so much what you say that affects others and who you become, but what you do.”

So what is the complete vision for the game itself?

“As I hinted at earlier, our goal is to deliver not just a game but an experience; one you’ll look back on for years to come as I have with the hundreds of hours lost in the universes of RPGs.  A world in which you grow attachments to the characters as if they were truly your friends or your enemies.  One where your actions changed the world.  I believe that what people want is their actions to matter.  For something we did to have an affect on the world, be it big or small, to know we made a difference in other’s lives.

“That’s my goal for the game at least, for Project Shadow itself you could say it’s the same thing but in the real world.  I want our community to truly feel like they had a part in making the game without handing over the files and expecting them to make sense of it.  That’s why we’re allowing the community to co-design elements of the game alongside us.”

Whoa. Badass.

Whoa. Badass.

That is a lot to shoot for, so the game itself has to measure up to this, helping the player insert themselves into and influence the world in a noticeable way.  What are some of the mechanics of the game and how will they facilitate this?

“I would say our combat system is probably the most interesting mechanic of the game outside of the responsive world system.  RPGs have been going back and forth between the blood pumping excitement of live action and the tactical thinking of turn based combat.  They both have their benefits and downfalls and I believe we found a unique way to combine the two.

“In the game the controls are rather simple: WASD to move and spacebar to interact and use skills.  Now that second part is the key to shaping combat.  When you press space, a wheel of icons displays over the head of the player.  This wheel technically consist of dozens upon dozens of interactions and skills, but since that would be a pain to cycle through, we’ve made it contextualized; depending on what you’re facing, it will only show what makes sense with that person or object.

“As with the rest of the game, this was designed to give the player a choice in how they go about getting past enemies.  In a sense it’s more like a puzzle than straight up combat.  You could go around in stealth taking enemies down one or two at a time.  You could break, throw, or burn objects to cause distractions.  Use skills or dialogue to manipulate people, or straight up fight your enemies in turn based combat.  Even the turn-based combat itself is designed to give you challenges through three gauges, health, energy, and fear.”

What games have you played an liked?  From there, what games can you say have influenced A Shadow’s Tale?

“I mentioned the RPG genre before and some games that are a part of it, but I pull my inspiration from all types of games.  I enjoy simple and quick RTS games like the Command and Conquer games or Halo Wars, which I still play on occasion.   Shooters like Destiny and some MOBAs have also left their mark.

“Two games which probably have the biggest impact that aren’t straight up RPGs are Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  They both have RPG elements but they’re almost entirely based around quick combat in first person.  Both of which I focused on stealth and I had great joy is crawling in air vents only to come out and beat someone to death with a refrigerator (Yeah I’m probably a bit too violent).  This approach of deal with enemies how you want was really enjoyable and that can be seen in our own combat, though it isn’t a straight up choice between stealth and action.”

I love these emblems.

I love these emblems.

What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

“We will be doing crowdfunding, but it won’t be through Kickstarter.  That is why we’re creating Project Shadow which works like the crowdfunding with Star Citizen, this sort of build over time instead of all at once approach.  Except our design is not so much to keep raising more and more money and add more to the game so much as we want the community to be a part of the design with us and get to see right away what their money goes to.  When you contribute hundreds of dollars it’s not really fair you have to wait months to even start to receive what you paid for and it’s usually physical merchandise and not the actual game itself.

“Instead with Project Shadow you choose what you want to co-design such as a character.  Once you’ve selected what type of character they are, where in the world they live, and what the character consist of we’ll get to work with you within a few days and start fleshing out the details so that the artist can truly bring your character to life and you get to watch the whole thing happen.  If you want you can share it with the world too, just avoid any spoilers.”

Awesome!  Well that is good to hear.  I will be interested to see how this community develops!  What can you tell us about the contest?  Where do people participate?

“We’re giving the community a chance to co-design a character prior to the fundraising of #ProjectShadow.  Now usually you would cover the cost of your character, but this time around I’ll be covering the cost for the winner.

“So how do you participate?  All you have to do is write us your idea for a character and we’ll select our favorite and start working with you on bringing it to life.  All the details and guidelines can be found here, which I recommend you read thoroughly if you want to win.  One last note: unlike with Project Shadow, you won’t be choosing the character type.  Instead, we selected one for you that is one of the more interesting and costly to make.  Out of the character types (basic, advanced, keeper, friend, faction member, faction captain, and major) this one is a faction captain, which is a mini boss as your enemy or a faction-related quest giver as an ally.

“One of the key features of Project Shadow (actually the entirety of Project Shadow) is that it allows anyone to be a part of the creation of a game.  It’s really great in that you get the benefits of coming up with ideas and seeing your creations come to life without having to deal with the stress of actually being on the team and hoping the game does well because your livelihood depends on it.  You get to create whoever or whatever you want that fits within the fantasy world we have created, and in doing so you get to share it with the world and at some point experience it in game as well.

“We may not be doing the crowdfunding now but you can still join in by getting in touch with us.  Tweet us @LivingDreamEnt, or use #ProjectShadow on Twitter.  Or you can email us at, livingdream3r@gmail.com

“It’s really important that you do because even though it’s not giving us the funding we really need to make the game it shows us the community is ready for this and they want to be a part of it.  The sooner we see that people are ready for us and we too are ready for them the sooner we can get this started and start to build a world together.”

The vaulting halls of the Hunters' Guild!

The vaulting halls of the Hunters’ Guild!

Awesome!  Personally, I am really looking forward to this community event.  Living Dream Entertainment is taking on a whole new approach by getting players and fans involved in the creation of the game itself.  As the game is developed, players will get to have input on what gets added and it will be, in more ways than normal, our game.  A game that we don’t all just love and play, but a game that we’ve all given input and some of even helped to design!  Dakota also wanted to leave a special message to followers and fans:

“Thank you for reading this article and please follow us and share us with friends!  This Project is entirely based around a community we’re beginning to build, and we encourage every one of you to participate and get involved!  If you like our art share our DeviantArt account.  If you like what we’re doing on YouTube, share it.  Don’t be afraid to contact us at anytime because we’re here for you and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible!  Please consider following @crotchetygamer and his blog.  He’s a great guy and amazing with words!”

This interview is based on an email correspondence between myself and Living Dream Entertainment.  The conversation has been lightly edited for flow, coherence and grammar.

Valley of the Dead Pre-Releases

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Before any gets clever, I am not asking about the dinosaurs; I am referring to a mass extinction event going on within the confines of digital media.  Early Access games are out there and comprise a large part of Steam.  I have nothing resembling exact figures, but it feels like there are at least 5 unfinished games on steam for every complete title.  Want a more solid idea of how many there are? Early Access is its own searchable category on Steam.  It contains such prestigious titles as The Forest, DieselStormers, Galactic Civilizations III and others.  The three I will be discussing today are those shown above: Towns, Terraria and Stomping Lands

What is Early Access?

Once upon a time there was a magical viking who had an idea for a video game.  You can mine and mine and mine, build a house, a fortress a town, farm, breed animals and fish.  You’ll be able to use portals to travel to other dimensions and work magic.  Monsters will come out at night, but you can defend against them!  And in the End, you’ll fight a dragon!  This game was slow to catch on at first, but once kids and gamers found it, they fell in love.  It rapidly became one of the most popular games of all time, spanning generation gaps and giving everyone something they loved.  This was the first instance of an unreasonably popular early access game.  It was called Minecraft.

Since then a number of companies have vied to create an early access hit like Minecraft.  Steam has been the most successful in its push, encouraging devs to submit their games for rigorous vetting by Steam’s community through Steam Greenlight.  Once the games have been selected, they are allowed to provide an early version of the game at a reasonable price for purchase.  This was awesome at first, but then Steam became progressively more inundated with games that aren’t finished.  And worse than that, some games die in this public-run games incubator.

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This is a brief description from Steam’s website about what early access is and here is a link to their complete explanation about what all of that entails.

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Many people are familiar with this title.  The idea is that you start a small, 16-bit town of sprite people and then guide these people through building a town.  You can do all kinds of fun things from farming and animal husbandry to combating foes.  You can also create a little stairwell down to the mines below.  Of course, these mines are filled with all nature of foul monsters, so you need to attract heroes to your town to battle the enemies and delve deeper.  By doing this you can get better materials to build with and make a fabulous town!

So how did it die?  Sales.  In a lengthy post on the Towns official forum, gamedev Moebius went into detail about why Towns is no longer being developed.  Hardly news, this post goes back to May 2014 and details his reasons.

“When I signed up for working on Towns I was told that we sell a minimum of about x copies/month of the game. I agreed to work on Towns for 15% of what would remain after removing all the taxes and the Steam fee. Xavi and I agreed that this would be a fair amount, and I still think it is.  After getting used to the source code and publishing the first new version of the game, we talked about the agreed payment and it turns out that the sells are getting down rapidly. So we are now selling less than a third of the x copies a month, loosing about 33% of sells per month.”

Yea, that is the most of it.  The game wasn’t selling anymore and the most of the money to be made there was lost in the initial rush of sales.  By the time Moebius was conscripted, it was too late.  If you keep reading that little post by Moebius, down at the bottom they make some spectacularly upsetting statements.

“Xavi and I were talking about a possible Towns2. At the moment this is just in an idea stage and we can’t really say if he, I or eventually Ben have the time to create a Towns2. As faithful fans of Towns we would of course reward you in some way, when/if the new game is released.

“A new game will give us the following advantages:

  1. we can implement all the cool things that are not possible at the moment due to how the core mechanics works in Towns 1
  2. we can also rise attention as this is a completely new game and a successor for once great runnning game
  3. this will also make it possible to have a financially sound basis for a long development of Towns2

“I want to end this post by thanking you for reading this and for all your support in these two months. Again I’m sorry that we had to pull the plug right here, but I sincerely hope you can understand why we had to make that decision right now.”

So let me get this straight.  Not developing the game anymore because of a decrease in sales, so the money isn’t there.  Got it.  Now we are considering a Towns 2 as a sequel to this farce?  What the fuck?  I mean at least they were open about saying the idea is just a way to get more money out of the game, but how do you make a sequel to an unfinished game?  Granted, there have been 2 updates to the game since this post, but they were the only two updates to the game since September 30, 2013.  So fans of the game are left with an occasionally updated title that is a testament to what could have been.

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I am pretty sure this title is older than Towns, but there is a reason I am listing it here.  Terraria is a game where you build 2D houses and dig in the ground for stuff.  At night evil monsters come and try to kill you.  God what the fuck is with all the similarities here…

Back in 2012 the developers of Terraria declared the game had received its final update and that it was “time to move on”.  In this PC Gamer article, it is explained that one of the developers even went to work on Starbound with Chucklefish, which, for lack of a better term, is Terraria in space.  In my opinion, it seems like CF stole the developer for this game to prevent it competing with their own game.  Shady horseshit.  Despite the developers apparently jumping ship, the game is still receiving updates on the Steam store, which makes it seem like the whole “boo hoo we’re ending the game” thing was a cry for help.

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Now we’ve got this game, The Stomping Land.  I was originally planning to review this game, but I spent hours in-game and realized how much it sucks when you play it alone.  To give you an idea, when I first came in, I was a naked caveman.  I was on a beach for about a couple seconds when an idiot burst out of the underbrush riding a raptor and hurling bolas.  Someone else was trying to stop him from killing me, and I managed to use the terrain to conceal my escape.  Crafting was boring and you couldn’t stash your shit except in a box, which you dragged along behind you.  It was utterly unfinished, and now I read THIS horseshit.

Apparently the game has gotten no updates in months, which really got Kickstarter backers nervous.  The company also went radio-silent for a while too, but they came out and said that they were switching to Unreal 4.  That is not so bad, but with the game itself being pulled from Steam, everyone with that game in their library – myself included – shat many bricks of frustration.  Of course, before Alex Fundora, SuperCrit founder, announced the engine change, he effectively disappeared for two months!  Tumultuous, scary shit.

So what does all of this mean for Early-Access games?  Tread lightly.  Many of these games are financially on the ropes as it is, so a heavy measure of trepidation is urged in investing.  Buying these games isn’t you standard I give you money you provide a product, it is literally a form of speculation similar to stocks trading;.  Certainly it is not nearly as volatile or risky, but you might not get your 20$ for that game back, nor might you get a finished game.  It might be a sign that all of these games attempt to emulate Minecraft’s basic structure despite adding new elements to their games.  Just like so many other MMO’s attempted to emulate World of Warcraft’s success and died trying.  In some of these instances you even have games that died and came back from the dead, which gives a new meaning to the term “zombie-game.”

I spoke briefly with my friend Dave about these types of games and he echoed the same frustration that many long-time gamers feel.  When you buy a game, you want a finished product.  You don’t want to play a game up to the point where the bugs are too much to handle and then have to put it down.  Sure, there will be more content later, but it will trickle in; then you’ll log on each time to experience that new content, effectively experiencing the finished game in pieces until the finished product feels as worn and old as the other games in your library.  It is irritating and many of us just want to play a finished game.

Some people seem to be over Steam Greenlight and similar services altogether, but just how many I am not sure.  VG247 had a pretty interesting article back in January 2014 about Greenlight closing, which might not be the complete answer, but I am not sure that too many people would be upset about it.  What are your thoughts about early-release games?  Join me in a discussion about it on Crotchety Gamers United!