Gone Home, Manifesto of Modern Rad-Femme Extremism

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Warning: this read is LONG AS HECK!  A lot of games are pretty poignant and come out at the right time.  Gone Home is a game that came out about two months after DOMA and Proposition 8 were ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court.  Being in the Army at the time, I literally watched the military go from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to “First Sergeant is going to help me and my partner get housing benefits.”  It was a monumental time. I was actually in basic when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and everyone thought I was going to come out.  Next morning at formation I was asked by several fellow soldiers and replied “I’m still rather fond of boobies.”  But in the swell of history-changing happiness, it seems a doctrine slid into place that, even now, is permeating the industry and much of our society.  Gone Home has a deeper, toxic narrative that uses the inspiring narrative of the game to hide and poke holes in American society, quietly going so far as to say that it should be restructured with women in the position of power over men.

In Gone Home you play Katie, the elder of two sisters who has just returned from a year-long trip to Europe.  Throughout the game you find various postcards sent home by Katie from a variety of historic locations.  This adds a sort of innocent perspective of family as perceived by someone removed from the conflict; but conflict in this game is constantly reviewed and discovered in the past tense, not personally experienced.  In order to get a proper context for the events of Gone Home, you should get to know the remaining characters.

Sam Greenbriar is Katie’s younger sister and the primary focus of the game’s narrative.  She seems to have started her last year in High School, but her grade is never explicitly stated.  Sam meets a girl, named Lonnie, that she becomes friends with, but the relationship goes further than she ever expected and blossoms into a full romance.  It’s 1995, so this doesn’t exactly go over well.

Janice Greenbriar is the mother of the household and, as the Head Conservationalist of Flintlock Forestry station, she is the bread-winner of the family.  While Janice is assisting with the Takelma County Forestry Service in a controlled burn of a section of forest, Janice distinguishes herself and is promoted to Regional Conservation Management Director.

Terrence Greenbriar is the father of the household and is a writer struggling with his own flaws to create a successful sci-fi historic fiction series known as the “Accidental” series.  Terrence is traditional and dreamy, but he seems given to periods of self-doubt and, possibly, depression.  He struggles with his job, too, losing a good gig in reviewing music from one room to the next.  The house they live in was recently acquired in a will from his recently deceased Uncle, a pharmacist named Oscar Mason.

Lonnie is Sam’s girlfriend, but it doesn’t start out that way.  They just start out as girls being girls but it develops further.  Lonnie is in ROTC and is training to join the Army.  Lonnie exposes Sam to a whole new life and way of thinking that was previously alien to her, but Lonnie is very conflicted and this comes through often.

Daniel is a background character.  He was friends with Sam when they were very young, before their recent move.  Same actually describes Daniel as a “default friend” in a journal to Katie and generally only talks to Daniel to get his “good” Super Nintendo games.  Sam is markedly slow to return these.  Sam distances herself from Daniel as she grows up, claiming that he got “weird.”

Big, happy family.

Big, happy family.

Now, Sam meets Lonnie in the most innocent fashion, and it starts out as the two having fun and being girls.  They explore the mansion, which neighborhood kids call the “Psycho House” since there was a tragedy that befell a previous owner, so it is rumored to be haunted.  As it turns out, the house may very well be haunted and there are numerous secret passages within the building.  Lonnie and Sam spend more and more time together, falling in love.  For the longest time they keep their love a secret from Sam’s parents, but eventually it comes out.  Now this would all be fine since this story is conveyed nicely and it is quite inspiring, but that is not all that lies within the text of this game.

While the girls are hiding their secret love, Sam creates two fictional characters, which she writes about.  The telling of these stories comes in a reverse order, starting with the most recent first.  I will start with the oldest one first, which is returned to Sam by Daniel.  In a child’s handwriting, the story describes Sam and Danny exploring a forest, finding an ocean with a pirate ship in it and manning it.  Sam declares that she will be the Captain and Daniel the First Mate.  Daniel replies with an “Aye, aye, Captain!”  This is two kids playing and seems genuinely innocent, but take note here that Sam automatically takes the dominant role in their relationship and  Daniel accepts unthinkingly.

Wait.. is he staring at her butt?

Wait.. is he checking her out?

Our next entry in this miniature “narrative within a narrative,” the First Mate is in trouble and shit gets weird.  After exploring the house for some time, you find hidden compartments in the walls.  In one compartment is another story about Princess Allegra, as the pirate captain has by now been named, is searching for her First Mate in a forest.  He has been captured by the Green Glacier Amazon Tribe.  Upon confronting the Queen Amazon, Allegra tries to stop the Queen by throwing the sword at her hand.  She is too late, though, and the First Mate falls into a vat of water.  Things go quiet and the First Mate emerges from the water transformed from man into woman.  Here is where shit gets weird.  The Amazon Queen says “She is one of us now.  She is ours.”  Allegra responds “That’s the love of my life, and you can’t have her.”

One of us! One of US!

One of us! One of US!

Now, looking at this for face value, it seems like a story about the transformation of a girls sexual identity from hetero- to homosexual, given the context of the main story; however, in the context of the deeper narrative context provided by the actual characters. This story takes on a totally different hue, which I will return to later.  Throughout the game, there are examples of women in a position of power over men, and it’s not even subtle or accidental – it happens in every possible relationship created in the game.

The only living primary male character is an example of male failure.  His job is not working out because he is infecting his reviews of music, where readers want to hear about the quality and value of hardware, with tangents and diatribes about the ruination of his childhood.  This is found in a typed letter from the reviews editor of Home Theatre Aficionado Magazine.  Terrence also receives a letter from the publisher for his “Accidental” book series, Mercury Books, that due to sales of the second books being worse than the first, they would no longer continue to publish his work.  Now, this all comes alongside the standard trope of older men being alcoholics.  Gone Home serves this up by placing a bottle of whiskey atop the bookcase in Terrence’s office; then, later, the rejection letter from Mercury Books can be found in the bar, just down the hall.  Here it looks like someone has recently spent a lot of time drinking by the sloppy placement of glasses on the bar and one on the table by the record-player.

Aside from failing at his work, Terrence is also failing as a father, at home.  We’ve already established that Janice has a steady job, which she is good at – given her promotion, but there is something else going on under Terrence’s nose that he isn’t even aware of.  Following Janice’s little story, you find that she has been spending a lot of time with a man named Richard Patermach.  Rich is man that she met during the controlled burning operation with Takelma County Forestry Service.  In what seems to be a personal room where she paints still-lifes, you can find a performance evaluation of Rich on the table.  Janice, being in a position of superiority over this man, gives him a glowing review and even says that she will put in paperwork to request his transference to her forestry station.  I mean, she cirlces all the ‘5s’ in a 1 – 5 evaluation scale, which TOTALLY doesn’t look suspicious.  In the next room you find a romance novel about a “fireman” set against a background of a forest.  Later on, beyond what is initially a locked door, you find some important scraps of paper: one is a receipt for a makeover given to Janice totaling 119.50$.  Now that is expensive, but according to this inflation calculator that is worth 186.03$ in 2014, which isn’t a huge gap, but when you have a daughter in high school and one in Europe, a husband that is struggling and a house that is in disrepair – according to the electric company inspection in Terrence’s office – that is a good chunk of change.  But why did she spend that much? Well, upon entering the dining room where mom and dad confront Sam about her sexuality, there is a table with a note bearing the Takelma County Forestry Commission’s logo.  Between these scraps of paper lie a promotion notice for Janice and a manual from Takelma’s forestry commission.  The note is from Rich and it invites Janice out to see a and EWF concert.  His girlfriend wasn’t into the concert and he invites Janice instead.  But there is no evidence she accepted, right? Wrong, ticket stub for Earth, Wind and Fire in the heating vent in the hallway.  How can we guess at the motivations for accepting and assume it wasn’t innocent?  Looking in the drawer behind the table sits a letter from janice’s friend, Carol, where she describes Rich as “our favorite flannel-clad hunk,” which describes Rich in terms of a character on the cover of a romance novel like the one in the backroom of Janice’s little personal room.  Later on we find that Rich gets married and Janice and Terrence end up going on a couple’s retreat, which, according to the calendar in the kitchen and the pamphlet by Terrence’s new writing spot in the greenroom, where they will likely review their marriage and where it is going.  I mean, Janice has been nothing but supportive of her struggling husband, why wouldn’t she feel the urge to leave him?  But the support shown to her husband mostly seems like a way to cover for her deeper intentions and desires, considering there is one physical instance of her support and numerous others detailing the narrative between her and “our favorite flannel-clad hunk.”  It is an objectification of a man with the female hegemonic gaze, just as is decried by feminists in terms of games where women are represented as sexual objects.

She knows this is supposed to be an objective rating of his job performance and not how he might be in bed, right?

She knows this is supposed to be an objective rating of his job performance and not how he might be in bed, right?

Through the rejection of his life partner, we see that Terrence is cast as an impotent male in terms of his fulfilling the gender role a man is supposed to: the provider of the home.  Hell, we even see an unused condom in one of Terrence’s drawers in their bedroom.  It looks like it has been there for some time, and there is only one, so it is more like a “just in the wild case” rather than hopeful premeditation of a sexual exchange with his beloved wife, not to mention they could just use the pill for a more intimate encounter.  It is the 90’s, afterall.

Terrence isn’t the only male rejected by a female.  Sam, our leading character, has a childhood friends who she regards right off the bat as a “default” friend, since he lives right next door.  She even goes so far to say that she only really valued their friendship because he had good videogames because he became weird.  You’d expect someone that is made fun of at school for living in the “Psycho House” to look past the exterior at who a person really is, even if she is a lesbian.  Lesbians can have friendships with white, hetero males and not want to be with them, I promise.  When Daniel calls she rejects him by not calling back.  He doesn’t even mention that he wants his game back until after what seems sustain cases of rejection.  Sam is, honestly, a cold little girl that only considers males in terms of what they can give her.  In the kitchen we see that Sam and Daniel finally reconcile when he returns the oldest page of the pirate story with the picture above and comes after Sam is confronted about her sexuality.  She wants to talk about her remorse about their lost childhood friendship, but instead tells him about Lonnie and recent events and then tells him about “how sorry I was that I wasn’t his friend anymore.”  This is nice and all, but it only comes after the boy has submitted to her, contacting her over and over and over with no response, asking for his game, trying to see her.  Finally she reconciles with him because, why?  Because he gives her some comfort in a tough time by hugging her and saying it’ll be ok, bringing a piece of her childhood self and reminding her that he had submitted to her from the very beginning.  I think this is referred to colloquially as the “friendzone,” where a female keeps a boy around for the value of his emotionally supportive nature.  This renders the guy more of a comfort object, similar to a teddy bear, rather than a person with his own thoughts and feelings.

Ah, the dead pharmicists personal opiate stash. memories.

Ah, the dead pharmicists personal opiate stash. memories.

And it doesn’t stop here!  We never get the full story of what happened with Oscar Mason, but in a safe in the basement we find a letter that was written before he died to his sister, Mary Greenbriar.  In the end of the letter he says “If no response is received, I shall henceforth accept my sentence, and one day simply cease to be.”  Throughout the letter we get the impression that something had divided him from his family and, in the rejection of the letter, he is never reconciled.  Like Terrence, who turns to the bottle to ease his emotional pain, we can suggest that Oscar may have done the same, the safe being filled with syringes and morphine syrettes.  There is even a rubber hose used to constrict the veins of the person taking the medicine, so they bulge with pressure and are easier to find.  You know, similar to the trademark hose of the heroine addict?  In his final weeks, maybe even days, Oscar reaches out in an attempt to reconcile with family, but his letter is rejected without being opened: it is marked with a red ‘X’ and scribed with the words “return to sender.”  By the admission of the last line of the letter, we can not only say that a judgement has been passed on him by Mary, but his situation is doubly cruel considering she never had the decency to open the damn thing.  I mean, none of us liked my grandmother, but when she died we went to her bedside so she would know that, despite all the horrible things she did, we were still a family.  That is a message infinitely more comforting than “return to sender” (subtext: so he can die sad and lonely with no one by his side.)  So where men aren’t sexual objects in this game, they are impotent examples of their own gender role or outright rejected until they submit to the females in their lives.

There is another function that Oscar fills, even in death.  Sam and Lonnie seek to contact his ghost with a Ouija board by performing a seance in the secret room under the stairs.  This contributes to the completely bizarre atmosphere Gone Home carries throughout.  With the flicker of lights, soft patter of rain at the windows and the lighting that occasionally lights up the halls, Gone Home has an ambiance right out of a horror game.  It even has a jump scare in it.  This feature, I think, shows an even more sinister and dark side of this game’s ideaology.  Oscar Mason is dead, yes, but his death and potential spirit haunt Sam in her life to the point where she is bullied in school as the “Psycho House Girl.”  We get the implication that the Uncle went crazy and this somehow resulted in his death.  I was never able to explicitly discover why or how, but it haunts her throughout the game.  Initially it’s only the bullying, but later we see a much more vague form of this influence.

This family is traditional and they keep a couple old bibles in the house.  This is common, though, and could be dismissed, but then there is the film “Inside Edition,” which is mentioned in the game.  In a scrap found in the room with Janice’s makeover bill, we find the schedule for the movie and description saying “Investigative team visits camp whose specialists help adolescents overcome deviant behaviour and homosexuality.”  Since the film is in the parents room and clearly written in a feminine handwriting, we can assume it is the mothers.  This would show the mother as being the true matriarch of her house, seeing a problem and using a film with religious undertones to uphold the most patriarchal aspect of their lives.  Of course, her own brush with deviance at the EWF concert leads you to think that maybe she isn’t so committed to that.  Either way, when the parents confront Sam, she remembers that it is Dad who really confronted her on this matter.  He even leaves a note on the kitchen table, so since he is the one writing for Home Theatre Aficionado and records numerous films on VHS, it’s not a big step to consider the possibility that Dad told mom to record the movie.

Oscar’s other role in influencing Sam comes in his own religious quality.  It is only truly discussed in the sole jump scare in the game, which takes place in one of the secret passages.  After looking around the area a bit, you can find a cross that has the words “for god so loved the world he gave his only son.”  When you grab this crucifix and examine it, the light bulb in the room explodes.  Sudden, unprecedentedly creepy, and another tie to Oscar through the use of the supernatural.  Oscar’s greatest role in this is similar to the ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is Hamlet’s father, referred to as King Hamlet for differentiation.  In Hamlet, the ghost comes back from the grave to tell Hamlet the secret about his Uncle Claudius.  Given the powerful nature of Oscar’s spirit and his reaction to your touching his cross – there are many other things of his to touch, but this is the only one that induces a jump scare – you can assume that he is likely very religious.  His spirit being such, he would disapprove of Sam and Lonnie’s relationship, and given their attempts to contact him and their playing in the secret places of the house – possibly more than just playing – Oscar would have the best view of their clandestine relationship.  While he never says anything to either Terrence or Janice, the house has an overall foreboding ambiance, which doesn’t suit the love story at all.  It feels more like Oscar represents the oppressive nature of the male patriarchy, expressed through religion.  The supernatural affect of Oscar, linked through religion to the parents, would seem like a sort of thematic amplifier to personify the oppression of the two young girls.  Though Oscar isn’t advising the parents take revenge on the girls from the grave, his disapproval  echoes across their generations in attempt to oppress the girls from beyond the grave.  Even if the mother would be the one that recorded the film, it would make sense since she is the head of the house and, thus, the one in the masculine role of power.  If the spirit is trying to reach out to Terrence, the darker implication would be that Oscar, Terrence’s uncle, is trying to tell Terrence to take vengeance upon the women in his life for usurping his natural “head-of-household” gender role by enforcing religious strictures upon Sam, his daughter.  Either way, the implications are pretty grim.  That is a lot to take from the game’s themes, though.  I mean, it’s not like there is a character in the game that personifies resistance against a greater male patriarchy that oppresses the deepest desires and natural state of the young women in ques… oh wait…

Kicking men in the face as they look up your skirt and making it a move against the patriarchy. A lost Marvel classic.

Kicking men in the face as they look up your skirt and making it a move against the patriarchy. A lost Marvel classic.

Note the upside down cross...

Note the upside down cross on revolution girl’s choker…

So where do they get the names?  Well, Sam takes on the name of Captain Allegra here, as the character in her story, and Lonnie gets to be Rev-L-Ution Grrrl.  you know, the one with the upside down cross on her choker?  No wonder Oscar is trying to come back from the grave, Lonnie is an anti-establishment lesbian that fights every element of the male patriarchy all while being in the ROTC.  One of the best parts of the game’s deeper story is where Lonnie explains her JROTC awards to Sam by drawing the awards.  The description for the last award for Adventure Training reads “I am a born adventuress and no borders can hold me.  The Army recognizes this.”  She also has an award for rifle training which makes her a “certified killing machine” and an award for orienteering.  Lonnie explains this last one as “the army thinks I can find my way around” but her having this award might be interpreted as “I can find my own way.”  So, in this game her position in ROTC and her affiliation with the military serves only to characterize Lonnie as a male in a female body and, thus, the epitome of an anti-male revolutionary.  The army is only used to make her stronger than all the other men in the game and point her out as unique, interesting and important.  Lonnie – carrying even a distinctly unisex name – is an example of the Butch Lesbian trope.

I am not sure that is quite what that means...

I am not sure that is quite what that means…

Entertainingly enough, Sam takes on another trope similar to the Butch Lesbian, known as the Pirate Girl. I mean, she writes about a pirate girl, fancies herself as one and even dresses like one at some point.  To quote the site from that link, the Pirate Girl trope often has a Dark and Troubled Past detailing how she ended up in this position; abusive fathers who they are in a “Well Done, Son” Guy relationship with seems to be a common theme.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this suits Sam to a tee.  Trouble past – Uncle goes crazy and dies.  Yup.  Abusive father is a little tougher, but he is a drinker and he does seem to focus on himself a lot.  The issues he is having with his work, his writing and his love life might be enough for him to take this out on others, women or not.

So how does this narrative of women end?  Well you won’t be able to guess, but the rejection of male patriarchy for the freedom of feminine justice embodied in the true love of our lesbian couple.  Yes, I am dead serious.  In a game full of weak male characters, men as oppressors and even men as oppressors through female couterparts in distinctly male gender roles, the game ends with a romantic “fuck you” to the male oppressors.  How?  Predictably toward the end, the real thing that separates Lonnie and Sam isn’t their parents, but the Army.  What better example of a real, existing male patriarchy that one might fight against than the military?  Religion is old school patriarchy, military represents the modern struggle.  Lonnie leaves for the army and Sam goes to cry and sleep in the attic.  She misses the first two calls, but the third she gets.  it’s Lonnie and she’s stepped off the bus to basic training and is telling Sam she can’t live without her and that they will drive until they can find a place where they can just be together,  likely New Hope, Pa.  Now, this might just seem like a play on the usual romance film ending, but with lesbians, but think about this a second.  If you are on the bus to basic, you’ve already signed the papers and handed your life over to service in the name of your country.  If you try to bail at this point, you are effectively going AWOL.  This is an offense punishable by law, so Lonnie’s actions are literally a big old middle finger to male-driven responsibility and the patriarchy.  Not to mention, Lonnie came to be in this position because she looked up to her Dad’s old army buddies, so it is in all ways Lonnie telling off everything male since it was a decision put into her by the influence of older men.

This is why the house is empty when Katie comes home.  Sam would be there, but she is off supporting bad life decisions.  I was touched at the end, but then I really started to think about what it would mean.  Sure, Sam and Lonnie might get a few good years together at best, but one day the man will be knocking on their door with a warrant full of feminine oppression to take Lonnie off to federal prison.  But that isn’t even the ending to the narrative of the game’s text.  The ultimate message in this game is more deeply hidden in a letter from Terrence’s father.

Gee, thanks pop...

Gee, thanks pop…

This preachy letter combines with the feminist narrative to create a big old fuck you to something particular here.  let’s see if you can guess it:

“An author’s work is the externalization of that which he holds dear (and that which he fears), and in this respect I believe your work was successful.  But the lens through which the personal shone was needlessly clouded by genre cliches and implausible dimestore science-fictional dei ex machina.  The great authors speak of their life’s milieu in clear and honest tones, the lens crystal that refracts their thoughts without distortion.  […] I urge you to shed artifice. You can do better.”

This preachy little letter can be found in the basement and is the only letter from the male character with the only positive representation in the game.  Granted, we can probably assume he is either really old or dead, so he is still a decently impotent male – maybe even literally – to suit the feminist attitude of this game.  He is also Terrence’s father and, being male, Terrence will follow his advice unthinkingly.  And he does, too.  The office is filled with chaotic notes on a bulletin board as Terrence reaches deep inside for something better.  In the greenroom typing area – a move that might have been an attempt for a fresh, new perspective – we find Terrence’s synopsis for the last book in his “accidental” series and it describes the main character having to save himself.

I call this letter, The Fullbright Company’s letter to the gaming industry.  Gone Home’s critics often dig into this game for being a walking simulator and having no real “game” features.  This game would be best called a dull adventure game, but they wanted it to be this big, artistic masterpiece: poignant, timely and edgy.  In this letter, the developers of the game tell you what they want to see in the industry as a whole and, combined with the other deeper narratives of this game, it is a bleak prospect: they want to tear down the oppressive patriarchy of games with exaggerated tropes and over-the-top themes.  They want games to become less ludic and more film-esque.  See the reason this thinking is fundamentally flawed is simply that games were created originally to be games: fun, meaningless little pieces of entertainment that get your through a day.  Recently, games have taken on a far more artistic trend, becoming more narratively advanced and deeper as a result, but to take everything out of a game that makes it fun just shows the drive of a rebellious sect of videogaming.  This is not unlike the spate of absurdist films way back in the day, like Un Chien Andalou.  Films like these were often artistic as hell and shed the existing trappings and tropes of film like “the carapace of a bug” but these movements often die out quickly due to their cliquish sentiment and limited appeal.  They are an important and interesting piece of history that is often referenced in films, but they ultimately just represent the art in terms of “overly artistic crap meant for a small clique.”

He's about to cut her eye open with a fucking razor...

He’s about to cut her eye open with a fucking razor…

Don’t get me wrong, I like artistic games, but not if the game element has been altogether erased in favor of a preachy and, frankly, insulting narrative.  This game even makes inside jokes about feminist film theory by suggesting how to “subvert the male gaze,” which is an element of film theory that says the way women are displayed is often used as a sexual signifier of women in terms of what men want from them.  It represents objectification of the woman’s body by the use of the camera ti display them in a sexual manner, as a man might look at a woman with his eyes.  You know, following her ass or looking down her shirt at the right time.  Modern film is admittedly guilty of this, but Gone Home’s calling this out only proves that this was a contrived piece of feminist workmanship.  Like, it was a fucking sign.  Ironically, right across the room the father had a porn mag buried in a box of his own discarded books, whose publication was halted.  A box of male degradation.

Overall, without all the feminist input, this game is alright.  Without paying much attention to anything but the lesbian narrative, one gets a touching game about real love and facing adversity as a young homosexual.  But this story is the cover for a story that is as socially intolerant of men as Birth of a Nation was for black people.  I don’t mind a so-stated “non-game,” but it still has to carry elements of its media.  Putting players into a world where there is nothing resembling a game at all is similar to someone selling a movie that is just a series of pictures of letters on the screen set to music that the viewers have to read to get the story then saying “it’s the artistic direction of the industry.”  That is stupid.  Truly talented developers take the ludic characteristics of a game and weave in the narrative like so much thread in a tapestry.  It is relevant to the industry and its consumers and has something deeper to it that shows it has soul beyond just killing some dudes.

This game looks nice and plays well, but the speed at which your character moves is deliberately slow and infuriating.  The whole game takes 2 hours only because you move so slow.  Judging this as a game would give it a unprecedentedly low rating, but this isn’t a game: it’s an interactive narrative.  It is preachy, oppressive, and is certainly not the future of the industry.  A true artist does not have to drain the color from a piece to make it profound, why do you think people make fun of hipsters that take pictures of their food, apply a sepia tone and post it on Instagram?  I am glad that I got this game on the Humble Bundle, because i didn’t give these people more than a few cents for a game that is 19.99$ on Steam.  This game should be going for FAR less than that, but everyone got so worked up over its artistic and deep narrative that they missed what this game was really about.  The funny thing is that they missed a message so toxic that they didn’t realize they were supporting a narrative of anti-male hate.  I am not an anti-feminist, I would say I am a feminist.  Feminism is not supposed to be about oppression of the opposing sex, it is about bringing men and women together as equals so we can create a better tomorrow.  Gone Home does none of that.  I’ll be looking for the sequel to this game where Lonnie is taken away by the government and Sam leads a feminist revolution to overthrow the oppressive, patriarchal government to free Lonnie.  Oh, no.  That would require killing dudes, and might make the game too much fun.

Hashtag Dungeon, Preview of DOOOOM!

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Today I spent about 3.5 – 4 hours in one game, so this post is coming a little on the late side.  I promise this was worth it.  Sean Oxspring sent me a copy of this game to preview some time ago and I left it in my downloads.  I can honestly say I will never uninstall this game for the shallow hope I will be able to bring my murderous dungeon of death to others.  This game is a ton of fun and, although it is simple, the open and social nature of this game is what makes it so much more intriguing.  It is the first game that I’ve seen that uses social media as a preexisting  user workshop where dungeons can be made and propagated on twitter.

Starting from the basics, this game has two characters: blue and green… but for the sake of them sounding cooler than just a pair of primary colors, we’ll call them Verdi and Azure.  Through rampant speculation, it looks like Verdi is female and Azure is male as Verdi is slimmer/smaller, but it could just be a wiry little guy.  Either way, to me Verdi is female, Azure is male.  Both characters have the same magic-missile attack, so if they are both guys, the only style differentiation comes from the colors.  After speaking with the game’s creators, I am told that this game will later features varied classes such as knights and rangers!

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At the very least I assume Verdi is female cause it looks like her hair is longer

Of course, you don’t select a character until you’ve chosen a dungeon to run.  What it seems is that you will take a minute compiling various tweets under the #hashtagdungeon with a specified dungeon hashtag.  Mine was #deathtothesheeple and you can run it if you dare, though I haven’t gotten all the way through it myself.  It is pretty tough, sure, but I also get this message as the game crashes.  It is an early game, so it has a few bugs.  This happens to me almost every time I encountered numerous zombies in one room.

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FATAL ERROR in

action number 1

of Step Eventobj_KnightsGrave

for object obj_Zombie:

Push :: Execution Error – Variable Get -1.xoff(100380, -2147483648)

at gml_Object_obj_Zombie_Collision_205

############################################################################################

 

This is horrifying on its own, considering you don’t have any saves.  Granted, a standard dungeon only takes about twenty minutes to run.  But then again, this is what my dungeon’s floorplan looks like:

HD_sheeple

So it is a little bit taxing on a computer, I guess…

Each darkened square is a room, by the way.  If you don’t have the gams to run one of these dungeons without the promise of a saved game, you might want to consider something easier.  This pixelated, retro runner is like Contra and the difficulty is up to the lunacy of those crating the dungeon.  I can tell you right now that there are a decent number of loot and treasure rooms, but getting to them can be a challenge.  Keep in mind, though, this is a good 3 (ish) hours of on-off work.  @hashtagdungeon can attest to that.  They recieved a good 90% of the tweets!

In each room you will find an assorted collection of monsters and enemies, traps and sometimes (if the dungeon creator cares enough) some loot and health!  Once you are in a room, every entrance is blocked until you kill everything in the room.  Keeps adventurers honest.  Personally, I feel that creating dungeons is a big part of playing this game.  After all, if no one makes dungeons, what will players run?

HD_maker

Shittiest library ever. 1/10 would scream at checkout.

The above is one of the rooms I created in my dungeon.  I feel I started most times at the scenes, which are what the dungeon room looks like.  This one is the library.  I threw in an Oculus (the beholder in the center) and a couple demon dogs.  This screen is where the most additions will be visible.  Even if you don’t create dungeons regularly, you’ll end up coming here just to get a good hold on things that are in the game since last update.  Once you have a scene set in place, you can pick from the traps or enemies.  You can see that I set in four spike pits that will pop up and down as you avoid the enemies.  The traps and enemies will fill that green bar.  The further the room is from the center, the more enemies and traps you can fill the room with, you sadist.

Magic and objects in the special category will fill that bar as well.  Magic contains various spells that will make enemies more powerful.  They’ll shoot out little electric charges, run faster or take more damage.  Those are actually the only spells right now, but the guys over at Hashtag Dungeon are working on a number of add-ins, including a halloween update!  Special objects tend to consist of loot, monster generators and things that contain loot.  This is good, since you’ll die without buffs, and pretty quickly.

The last element is the clutter.  You can see four little pots in the room above.  Those pots are destructible, and they can give you loot and power-ups alike.  As you place them, the blue bar will fill up.  It takes a good bit of clutter to fill up a room entirely, but this is likely to keep people from doing something really irritating and filling up an entire room and making the only way through open by stepping on exploding traps numerous times.  That would be a real dick move… which I totally tried to do.

HD_witch

I ran for cover a LOT in my own dungeon.

The way this game spreads the dungeon rooms to players is pretty ingenious, though.  As you make each room, you hit TWEET to save the room and simultaneously send out the data to recreate that room in other versions of the game.  I am impressed since I have never heard of anyone else sending out data for mass consumption in 140 characters or less.  These guys deserve applause.

Overall this is a great game and its devs are hard at work trying to make it a reality.  It is a lot of fun creating a dungeon, but then playing it and having others play it?  It is a lot of great fun.  Of course, it won’t exist without your help.  Go check out the game’s website for more info about the game and to sign up for the mailing list.  Vote for the game on Steam Greenlight, please!  This game implements amazing ingenuity and it shows what really lies at the hart of videogames as a whole: the desire to reach out and play with others.  That sounded a little dirty.  LoL!  Either way, vote this game up!  It’s a great example of the experiments of ingenuity that indie gaming allows.  It is great fun now in its natal stages, despite a few bugs, and it will be a monumental achievement once it has gotten a little traction and is able to really take hold of an audience.

 

Legend of Grimrock, Tearing Out RPGs by the Root

LoG_logo

Before all the cutesy, fluffy shit that inhabits most RPGs these days, before Final Fantasy and JRPGs had infested every corner of the genre, there were dungeon RPGs.  And they weren’t the Diablo-style one-button RPGs that breed tactical laziness; that’s right tactical fucking laziness.  Diable RPGs are allow for a wider range of motion and strategy, so you can hem enemies in with firewalls and nuke them with fire or something.  Tactics requires the careful execution of a concerted attack effort.  A small group of doomed warriors in a massive dungeon have a solid understanding of tactics.  They know if they break ranks and get isolated, they are doomed.

The first and last of these types of games I ever played was Eye of the Beholder, a game we played on SNES.  In the game, you play a group adventurers exploring the sewers of a place called “Waterdeep” to cleanse some ancient evil.  We did not understand the alignment system although we often chose whatever we wanted and joked about it like kids.  When we were in the game, we never got the gist of how to play.  We would throw our gear at enemies since it was the only way we knew to deal damage.  Eventually it got to where we were disrobing and throwing our clothes, desperately trying to kill the foes.  That never ended well… But we were idiotic 8 and 9 year-olds.

Grimrock makes a lot more sense to me.  Controls are easy and you barely need a tutorial.  Just click around, left click picks up an item and releasing it mid-screen will throw that item. Right-click to attack or to throw a weapon.  Everything is a pretty straight-forward RPG style and this makes combat more exciting, too.

Wait! I left the garage door open!

Wait! I left the garage door open!

When you start the game, your characters are assumed to have performed some transgression against King and country.  The vague nature of the opening titles leave you to think you could have raped the Princess all the way down to eating the last piece of strawberry cheesecake.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re fucked and they push you down a hole.  Best part is, at the top of the mountain Grimrock your crimes are all forgiven and you are free.  But the only way down is to descend into the bowels of Grimrock.  Oh, by the way, no one has ever fucking survived.  That’s ok, I don’t usually come for the accommodations anyway.

Down in the dungeons, you have to navigate labyrinthine corridors filled with unspeakable monsters, like giant snails, gargoyles, mushroom herders, little magic-casting mushroom guys, undead soldiers etc.  Each creature adds its own challenges to combat, and one should consider combat a feat akin to dancing.  If you just take two warriors and attempt to plow through, axes and swords swinging, you will end up a dusty pile of bones.  Many enemies are able to out-number you, out-damage you or can take a hell of a lot more punishment than you can.  Did I mention you are all prisoners?  Yea, this means they pushed your ass down in the pits with aught but your chapped asses to defend yourselves.  As you progress you’ll find the sparse weaponry left behind by other bands of hapless adventurers, so you’re not exactly a keen-eyed fighting force armed for rigorous combat.  The most common early ranged weapon is a rock while the most common melee weapon early on is a fucking torch.

When enemies come at you, the best thing to do is to lure them off one at a time where possible.  As they round corners you can stab them before back-pedaling toward an open area.  As you back pedal, you can throw rocks at them and ready up a spell.  Spells are a devastating way to deal damage, but you can’t unlock spells with the spellbook until you find the appropriate scroll, which can be frustrating.  Once you get them, though, they are profoundly useful.  Be careful, too.  If someone in your party dies, you’re all fucked.  Sure, you can keep going, but you’ll be needing the full group throughout the game.

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I'm eating at Denny's...

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I’m eating at Denny’s…

Character customization is excellent, and you can choose between human, minotaur, lizardfolk and insectoid.  I usually pick two humans, a minotaur and a lizardfolk.  I like having two rogues, as this allows me to have a ranged rogue and a dps rogue.  You know, for extra damage for the rogue since rogues prefer it from behind.  Then there is my mage, human female full of glorious spellcasting magery, and likely the smartest of the entire group.  Finally, I like to take a tank, too.  That is my minotaur.  He has a trait called headhunter where he gets extra damage for collecting skulls.  Finally a use for those useless collectible items!  I also use the minotaur for a pack animal, since they also get major strength bonuses.

The ambiance is terrific, and you get the sense of an ever-present evil throughout the game.  All the time some dark whispers can be heard in your ear, muttering in a chthonic  language some horrid curse, luring you deeper into the dungeon.  The music in the title screen also brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it and filled me with the glee of a glorious adventure.  Throughout the game there is little more than ominous noises.  Sometimes you can heard the groan or squeal of some distant creature lurking about, waiting for its next meal to come trundling down the corridors.  There is also the fantastic element of eating whatever food you find lying all over the ground, like some kind of mad baker was damned to imprisonment here and he found some magical means to leave bread everywhere.

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn't make it too far either...

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn’t make it too far either…

One of the things this game does really really well are secrets.  Notice how the walls are all constructed of a similarly-colored, moss-grown mortarless masonry?  Well, every once in a while you will see a chink in the stone or a brick out of place.  Click that shit!  Somewhere nearby a door will open and permit you access to a secret room and you’ll get some badass loot, much needed food or a magic scroll!  It takes me back to the old days of Wolfenstein 3D and Thief: The Dark Project where you had to just run along the walls at a certain angle to open secret doors or cut down every wall-hanging you could to unlock secret doors.  I find the best way to search for secrets is to stand in the corner of a room and look from afar.  Secret switches are pretty obvious if you know what you are looking  for, but they can often be just as easily over-looked, so stay sharp!

Probably the only thing that bothered me about this game was the straight-forward manner of the enemies.  This game could be very well served by some wall-lurking enemies that you don’t see until you are right up on them.  Granted, the current combat system would make that a tad difficult, but putting in enemies that climbed out of grates as you walked by or changed from statues into flesh and blood foes when you walk past them would make this spooky game into a fantasy-horror adventure.  Don’t mind my little intrigues, though.  This game is worth every cent you can throw at its creators.  It is a load of fun in a genre that I have not seen since I was disrobing for battle.  On Steam this game is an overly-reasonable 14.99$, but wait there’s more!  This game has a community of dungeon-dwellers who create new content and new levels and games with the map editor of Grimrock!  It’s fucking fantastic.  And THEN you have Legends of Grimrock 2 to look forward to!  Just in time for Halloween!  You can pre-order it now!  Screw trick-or-treaters!  Crawl the dungeons and unlock the treasures within!

Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

AST_panlogo

 

 

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.”

AST_toad

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.

Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

ES_logo

 

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!

Zeno Clash 2: Much More ‘What’, Equal Parts ‘The Fuck’

ZC2_logo

 

Zeno Clash 2 is a perfect example of what happens when an imaginative group of talented developers find a publisher and can make a game the way the always wanted.  Granted, it is fucking bizarre as pink dancing hamsters in tutus tearing apart two cows having a threesome with a Scottish midget, but there is just as much fun and blood involved as the above description.  This game is fun.  It is a ton of fucking fun heaped into a bizarre surrealist world and topped off with guns.  Not to mention, the storyline is interesting as fuck.

So Ghat makes his comeback in this sequel by doing the opposite of what he did in the first one.  Literally, the fucking opposite.  Where before he was trying to kill father-mother and break up the family in order to avenge FM’s baby-thieving, now he is trying to save FM from a much-deserved ass-kicking and reuniting the family.  I honestly think this guy just likes to fucking beat shit up and kill motherfuckers.  I mean, that is what he did as a Corwid, and he hasn’t changed anything but the fact that now he no longer wears a mask.  I would hypothesize that this shows that Ghat is willing to face who he is and give into his dark, true self, but that would almost be too fucking involved.  I think he just likes to fuck shit up.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom.  See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom. See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

Halstedom has been taken over by the North Golem, Kax-Teh.  You know, the guy you brought to Halstedom to deal with Father-Mother?  The North Golem, the guy with the Rubick’s cube from ZC, has built a jail, the colonnade-adorned head building, to incarcerate criminals in the town.  Makes sense, guy’s a natural fucking philanthropist.  Except one thing.  These people have no idea what this concept of “law” is.  It is literal anarchy.  Whoever wants to rule can, if they can get enough support from other thugs and people in the area.  So he is literally forcing these foreign concepts of law and order onto a city of people that have trouble with the concepts associated with a can-opener.  They are children, and he is ruling them with an iron fist from his head-palace using concepts none of them can understand.  Very little about any of this makes much sense.

With FM behind bars, you would assume that everything should be alright in the world, but Ghat is a more motiveless malignancy than Iago, so he gets tired of starting bar-fights all the time.  Luckily, Rimat, a woman wearing a rice paddy hat from FM’s family, decides to start some shit.  See, after everyone found out about FM’s treachery and baby-stealing, the North Golem told them who their real parents are and where they could be found.  Many went to him, but a few did not.  Rimat was one of those who didn’t.  Her opinion was that you cannot change the past, so she cannot change the fact that she was raised by a giant, hooded man-bird.  And, honestly, she has a compelling point.  This is something that many adoptees have to come to terms with, but Rimat, given the chance to go back to them, prefers to stay with the familiar.  She chooses to stay with those that she grew up with.  Very interesting.  So together with Rimat, Ghat helps to break FM out of jail and seek out the various members of the family.

After they’ve found all their brothers and sisters, they then turn their goals against the golems.  As it turns out, the golems are just the servants of some infinitely wiser entities, and they were put in place to keep the Zenos from leaving their land of Zenozoic.  The term “zenos” is used to describe anyone from this place, too.  I would want to keep these guys out of my backyard too.  I mean fucking look at them!

Ugly is a polite term for these people

Ugly is a polite term for these people. I mean, the police force wear flour sacks on their heads leaving you to imagine the horrors beneath!

Above is one of my favorite features of this game.  Normally, the gameplay is something like a free-roaming RPG, but there will be these areas where you’ll be pitted against a ton of enemies.  Unlike other games such as Half-Life 2 or any FPS by Flying Wild Hog, these arenas are not resolved with a sword or by gutting people with a machine-gun.  These battles are most often resolved with combo attacks and flying double-fist strikes.  Massive battles like this are resolved like street thugs would back in the 1920’s:  Everyone has a nasty brawl and the victors are the ones who are right.  Sometimes you will have some assholes sitting back, picking people off with a rifle or a grenade launcher, but hit them hard enough and they will drop it.  Of course, if there are weapons like rifles and grenade launchers, why even get into pitch brawls like that?  Simple, the guns in this game are few and far between and there isn’t oodles of ammo laying around.  It’s actually somewhat realistic in this way.  Of course, why not grab a club?  Those are around too!  This game forces you to deal with someone via fisticuffs.  Weapons that you have to strike someone with, including guns without ammo, will break and shatter.  The most reliable way to deal with your issues is to beat them to a bloody pulp with your bare hands, as God intended.

The landscapes in this game are absolutely magnificent and always always always have elements that make you curious, intrigued and outright confused.  As you wander these landscapes, you might be wondering if you are on Mars.  Actually, the game gives you ample reason to believe that it might be Earth, but the game has numerous regions.  Each region can be explored and explored freely.  Some are more open than others, but each area has its own unique look and feel, and each area has its secrets and stashes.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture region made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

Two features adding to this are stashes and skill points.  Stashes are places where you can find items (food to heal, totems to fill the special attacks meter, weapons etc) which fulfill a variety of uses, mostly combat-oriented.  These stashes look like giant, horned clamshells and function much the same way as chests.  The art director for this game should be drug-tested hourly.

The other feature are the skill point totems.  These appear as skulls hanging from a crude stand and can be found nearly everywhere.  A couple time I revisited regions only to find a new skill totem that wasn’t accessible without equipment I found elsewhere.  These totems are well-hidden too, almost as if they hired someone from Flying Wild Hog to put in the secrets.  When you interact with these totems, half the present skulls disappear and you get points equal to the number of skulls obtained.  Once you have the points, you can go ahead and start pouring them into the various skills: health, stamina, strength, leadership. Health is health, stamina dictates how many punches you can throw before getting weak, strength is how hard you hit.  Leadership is the most interesting skill, though.  Throughout the game, you will switch out between various characters that will help Ghat and Rimat on their journey.  The higher your leadership, the more powerful the allies that you can recruit to your quest with you.  These guys are useful, too, especially when you find yourself suddenly confronted with a massive mosaic of faces as seen above.  You will be fighting ALL those fuckers, often in close-quarters.  With little space to run and twenty mother-fuckers trying to kick your ass, you will need some friends to mix up the melee.  I poured nearly all of my points into leadership.

The skills are accessible from the map screen, where you can also find some collections.  There are a variety of things to collect, all of which are random and make little sense.  They are a ton of fun, and when you play, you’ll likely see how they add their own pieces of flavor to this game.

Make a left at the canyon filled with testicle-chinned shrimp, pass by the butthole-licking tribe of barbarians and we'll arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people.  Remember to pack sandwiches!

Turn left at the canyon of testicle-chinned shrimp, pass foot-collecting barbarian tribe and arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people. Remember to pack sandwiches!

Do not play this game thinking you will not be saying “What the fuck” every five seconds.  This game is just as whacky, if not moreso, than the first, but its gameplay is memorable and awesome.  I honestly hope they take this formula and apply to a remake of Double-Dragon or Final Fight.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have a fighting-style free-roaming first-person RPG like this one in a vast post-apocalyptic, future cityscape where gangs tear eachother apart?  You could have some guns in there, but they might be so rare that they are almost a form of currency, so battles are largely solved with blades and fists.  Just food for thought to give Ace Team.  This game itself is a hell of a thing though.  It feels like the greater narrative of morality and law being waged by the golems is the true story, and the rest of the world is made to be ridiculous so a seeking mind is almost forced to latch onto the golems and interpret their story.  Then Ghat comes in and fucks shit up, believing, I guess, that true freedom requires the death of law.  Whatever you glean from this game, it is likely to be memorable.  And the best part is that its Special Edition currently on sale for 2.99$ on Steam, although it is deserving of every cent of the 24.99$ usual asking price.  Go get it now! Seriously!  It’s fucking awesome!

Memories of a Vagabond Should be Repressed

MOAV_logo

 

I would say this is what happens when a game studio doesn’t hire dedicated writers, but looking at the DarkElite Studios website, they have several.  I think one of their staff is even from Blizzard, but even throwing a name like that around did nothing for MOAV.  Certainly one of the worst games that someone is asking money for.  I am not sure why the most terrible games I have played are mostly RPG’s, but this one made me shake my head in disappointment numerous times.  It wasn’t all bad, just mostly.  Come with me as I plow through this clusterfuck of under-utilized potential.  Wow.  What a keynote.

Let me start this review off by naming the many things this game did right.  The music in Memories of a Vagabond was pretty spectacular.  It was appropriate, enjoyable and I often found myself tapping a toe.  Battles often found themselves alongside the usual battle-music, while the boss fights had a badass metal riff going.  Music provided an acceptable variety with a new jam for each area.  Granted, there were one or two recycled songs, but they were still enjoyable.  Another fantastic feature of the game was the art.  If you are feeling nostalgic for the old days of RPG, a la FFVI or  Chronotrigger, this pixel art will definitely feed that craving.  Every sprite is lovingly crafted, the areas are imaginative and exotic and the characters are pretty fancy.  And when I say characters, I mean all the characters.  This leads to anther really great element of the game: its soul-mechanic.  Throughout the game, you get the choice of playing as 4 different characters: warrior, mage, bounty hunter and assassin.  Should you die, you also get the chance to change to another body.  Almost made dying worth your time.  I spent most of my time, however, as the Bounty Hunter.  That honestly concludes everything good that I have to say about this game.  Get your snorkel out, baby.  We’re going down into this shit.

You're right. Not everything on Steam is worth playing after all....

You’re right. Not everything on Steam is worth playing after all…

Oh my godness is right.  I have combed the Dark Elite site looking for evidence that they are primarily made up of people from a non-English-speaking country, but I have found nothing either way.  I can say that it seems they could afford to pay for someone to look over the writing on their site, so there is no reason they shouldn’t have been able to correct the gross errors in their dialogue.  And it is beyond a few adorable mistakes here and there, they literally have numerous instances of the most common errors in the English language.  It seems the editing was either done by someone who is not familiar with English, or the writers just didn’t care.  The main story-writers have  names seemingly of French origin, so I will give them some leeway here.  However, with a dedicated person for text-corrections, I have to wonder if she played through the game even once to pick up on its myriad English faux pas.  I will decorate this article with examples in pictorial form as Vlad the Impaler decorated his castle with corpses: to show others what not to do.  Granted in Vlad’s case, the message was “you should move to another country”.

Moving on from the language and toward the story, I have to say that this seems the biggest gripe I have over low-budget indie games.  They are willing to cut out story and writing in favor of mechanics and coding, which makes some sense on the surface.  Codeslingers are the ones that make the game playable.  Without them the mechanics, engine and other important elements won’t work.  Of course, if you skimp too hard on your writers, as MOAV seems to have done in spades, you get a game that isn’t tolerable.  Some fucking morons and reckless retro fanboys might be willing to overlook such “dispensable polish” as story and language, but one of the things that was so spectacular about retro games like Final Fantasy and Chronotrigger was the level of detail they paid to story, art, music and the entire package.  In this title, you have a game story that is a joke compared to those games.  Your character starts off proposing to his love.  No fault here.  After a night in bed with his beloved where they “sleep” (I rarely believe titles anyways), she is pulled from bed by some evil demon, who then kills you.  After a visit to hell you meet some soul-dealer that will rent you a new body for the low low price of any dignity you soul might possess.  If you chose the old man body, that shit is on you.  Later you find out, pretty unceremoniously, that the soul-dealer and the demon were working together.  The best part is that the soul-dealer is all prophetic when you meet him, then, after time traveling to defeat the demon and save your lady-love, you see him sitting out front the house with the evil demon as if they are both ro-sham-bo-ing for who will steal the broad.  I face-palmed.  Now they aren’t actually doing this, I am being dramatic, but then he turns to you and you shout something like “traitor!” and this soul-dealing demon of fate replies, “look guy, I don’t know who you are, but I have lives to ruin right now.  Take a number and get in line.”  Not an exact quote, a creative paraphrase.

Lift a.. what?  That sounds like it could be gross.  I wouldn't want a demon lifting his "finger" on my wife either...

Lift a.. what? That sounds like it could be gross. I wouldn’t want a demon lifting his “finger” on my wife either…

There is also the matter of your fellow adventurers.  The only one that gets any real explanation is the bunny-girl, who spends a lot of her time early on being inadvertently sexual, and she makes a big deal out of sleeping in a bed with you.  She tells her employer that she wants to explore the world, then you suggest she do it with you, to which she replies “that was my idea.”  So we have some cute, though awkwardly-handled war-of-the-roses banter.  Fun.  The other characters are sort of just lumped into your party after you do a mission with them.  Nothing is said, and you never tell them that you will be fighting demons.  Imagine that conversation “Yea, I am out to find my fiancee, kill a couple eldritch demons of screaming horror, then be home in time for tea.”  It almost feels like this game was getting down to the wire and they didn’t have time to throw in any real material for the characters.  They are all pretty flat, beyond a mission or a little feature here or there.  The hero doesn’t even allow them into the conversation most of the time, occasionally talking at them amidst exploration.  As long as they bring their gear to battle.  Sure, one is a mercenary, but treating that as an excuse to just have a character thrown into the party that sits there and attacks back is just lazy scriptwriting (not the code kind), and makes me think someone didn’t put more than a weekend into it.

There were also a number of 4th-wall breaking elements of the script that felt less like clever little “we’re making a game” jokes, and more like careless writing.  In some places it even felt like an outright refusal to give any fucks and arrogant dick-wagging like they thought they were creating some masterwork.  This is barely a finger painting.  Granted, it was hung on a billion-dollar refrigerator, but Steam needs to learn how to vet its selection.  This just shows low standards.

While we are talking about characters, there is this fiancee.  With all the attention paid to her side of things, she might as well be a Princess Peach life-size sex doll.  At least DLC Quest had the decency to call their lady “Princess McGuffin” and obviate the fact that she is little more than motivation for the hero to act.  I am not one to go all activist on a game, but she is a sex-token that does nothing for indie games and treating women with any kind of respect in gaming.  At the end I thought she would turn out to be the villain, but she just kind of lilts and says how glad she is to see you.  Y’know, like a good little Stepford robot.  See those bodies around on the ground?  They are, as I realized hours later, her fucking family.  The hero pays them no mind, nothing is said about them if you “interact” with them.  There is no dramatic elements drawn from the wholesale slaughter of her family, and they are not explored in any fashion to give you the feeling of them being anything more than randomly selected sprites on a rooftop.  There is a vague dream-sequence that I just now realized includes them, but they say these detached lines and mill about in a spectral manner.  It feels like they are just figments of the dreamworld, and they have as little relevance by now as possible.  Any drama to be gleaned from them is diluted heavily.

Man, these thatch roofs are fucked!

Man, these thatch roofs are fucked!

There is also the matter of ???? island.  Wander to the lower-right edge of the main continent, and you will find a row boat to ???? island.  It has a small town with some guy that buys journals and another lake with a fishing spot, one of two in the game that I found.  Go inside the houses, and the rain follows you.  Sure, there is some thatch roofing involved, but they were never this bad.  Seriously, it is like aliens invaded only to replace their roofs with holograms before disappearing without evidence of having been there.  At this point I realized the entire game is a broken, unfinished mess.  Or so it feels.  It’s almost as if the game has cardboard cut outs stuck up and put out.  Sure, you could argue that publishing unfinished games is now the industry standard for indie games, and you’d be right.  But that is for “pre-release” or “early-release” games, not supposedly completed titles like MOAV.  And with a name attached to this like Blizzard, I have to wonder where that guy’s influence was.  It must have been a case where someone knew the guy and he stood in the room and used their bathroom to give some credentials to the title.  Don’t be fooled.  This is not a piece of mastery, it is a shoddy piece of work that is scarcely better than the games that my friends and I made on pirated copies of RPGMaker 2000 back in middle school.  Before Steam.  Fuck you, shit was tough to come by.

Fuck you, guy.  I will gladly drink whiskey from your skull this night.

Fuck you, guy. I will gladly drink whiskey from your skull this night.

Overall, this game is pretty easy, non-complex and has a storyline with as much depth as a snack cracker.  The characters mostly feel like cardboard stand-ups and the language and writing is so god-awful unprofessional that I almost puked.  I feel like this is what CoD players see at the epitome of RPG gaming, because the other RPGs are too “complicated and wordy” for their tiny brains, although I am certain they would phrase that “fagit gamez for FAGGITZ!”  The best parts of this game are the music and the art, which seemed to get all of the attention.  The mechanics have a lot of potential, especially the soul-changing concept, but that could have been better employed.  I would have liked to see the developers give each body a different story that you had to help sort out before being able to find your own lady and resolve your own quest.  Instead, this plays like a twelve-year-old raging through the world after his sex-bot is taken, bashing in the heads of any nebulous foe that appears until he gets strong enough to fight the last bad guy.  There was also a battle arena, but that was literally like putting up a sign saying “grind here.  we were too lazy to make an actual game.”  I didn’t even bother to try fighting in there.  Another point of interest.  I didn’t want to purchase the services of the mercenary in the beginning, thinking “hey, the devs might have added more interesting and involved characters later.”  I mean, all I did with this guy was meet him and get his axe in exchange for armor.  Then at the end, each character gets a nostalgic little send-off, which would be great, except that there was no bonding with the characters.  There was no interaction.  Just, “I helped you so you’re now my friend that will help me get my sex-doll back.”  This game costs money , too.  It is currently 5.99$ on Steam.  5.99$!!!!  I wouldn’t give them a turd in a blanket for this game, let alone 5.99$.  This game should be 0.12$ on itch.io or Desura, not cluttering up Steam and making it dirty.  Not recommended, but you are certainly welcome to make your own judgments on this one.  Steam needs to get some standards, this game is evidence.