Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  He’s the reason we’re able to push an outdated program like RPGMaker into the modern age.

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

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

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

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Yep, the skill is visible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the complete vision for the game itself?

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

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

Whoa. Badass.

Whoa. Badass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love these emblems.

I love these emblems.

What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vaulting halls of the Hunters' Guild!

The vaulting halls of the Hunters’ Guild!

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

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

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

Double-Up Discussion: Catch Aliens, Free-Diving Hunter

In the spirit of moving forward, it’s time to get back to the games.  Today I will be discussing two iOS games because my wife would like her iPad back.  Granted, there is a reason I haven’t been able to keep off the thing, and these two games are it.  There is a lot I have to say about these titles, though so strap in.  This might get a little on the long side.

 

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First up is Catch the Aliens.  Just from the logo here, you get a distinct sense of awesome.  I don’t want to burst that bubble, but you do play glorified dog-catcher.  That is alright, though, since the game itself is actually a lot of fun.  There are two modes of play: Casual Level-Based and Competitive Endless.  Now, these terms are advanced language, and in gamer-speak they translate to “singleplayer” and “multiplayer”.  In what I am coining as the “singleplayer” mode, you play by yourself and clear a space station room by room.  In the second mode, or “multiplayer”, you compete with friends on Facebook for scores.

Now, as you play, you are confronted with room after room of fairly cute aliens that scamper around and cause a nuisance.  These guys vary in color and “ways they piss you the fuck off”.  That second quality is key.  Now, your method of controlling the alien-catcher is to sort of lean the idevice, like you are gingerly erasing an etch-a-sketch.  If you don’t know what that is, your parents should be smacked.  Either way, I was using an iPad despite the fact that this game was meant for an iPhone.  That would make the game more responsive where I felt like I was wrestling a bull to the ground by its horns.  It added to the game itself, but for quality performance I recommend something with a smaller face-area.

And stay in that bubble!

And stay in that bubble!

Despite all this, the game was still a lot of fun.  Levels are small arenas with up to 4 aliens running amok, and you have to catch them by tapping them with your forcefield alien catcher.  You tap them and BAM! instant bubble.  Of course, if you are too slow to catch the others, they will free the ones you’ve already caught.  This causes issues as you have three green dots at the top of the screen.  Each time an alien is freed, the dots turn red.  If they all turn red, you lose and have to restart that room.  It gets frustrating, but there is a certain strategy to the game: yellow aliens just run around, kind of slowly.  They can be caught last.  The guys you want to go after first are the spitting purple aliens, which can pop bubbles from across the room, or the speedy green aliens.  To catch the speedy guys, you’ll need a speed boost, or you’ll have to get on the inside of their turn out of a corner.  The rest of them can be mopped up thereafter.  There are also red aliens with horns that you have to tap twice before catching, but they aren’t too fast, just a little annoying and take a bit of time.

Now, accomplishing three challenges in each room grants you stars.  These stars are required to progress to the next floor, each floor having more rooms than the last.  The challenges are Life, Order and Sparkles.  Yea, that sounds like the motto of My National Socialist Little Pony Party, but that’s because it’s not really called sparkles.  That is just what I call it.  See, when an alien is freed, you lose life.  Hence, no life lost gets you a star.  There is also a certain order you are “supposed” to catch the aliens.  If you get it right, you get another star.  Every time an alien is caught, it emits a cloud of little sparkles, which you then collect and store.  Get enough of these and you will get the.. um.. sparkle star.

This game also has some optional in-app purchases, and I can see how extensive play would necessitate a high-level of skill or concession to buying your way up the spacestation.  It isn’t in-your-face, but after each level, there are ads which take up the whole screen.  maybe on the iPhone it would be less irritating to eliminate them, but on the iPad the word ‘iPad’ and the wifi meter get in the way of closing the ad.  Grrr…  Not blaming the developer on that one, I am the guy using the giant older brother of the device this game is meant for.  The best part about this game, however, is that it is free on the app store.  You can get to the game through Panipurisoft’s site.  They also have a facebook page.

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I think I downloaded a broken version of this game, because there were no in-app purchases that I could find.  It terrified me.  I sobbed-heavily with my new found freedom to PLAY A FUCKING GAME!!!  It was majestic, it was awesome.  Thank you.  Thank you.

The game itself is pretty cool, too.  When I was in the military, I knew a Hawaiian gentleman who told us about his exploits with free-diving.  It sounded like he was evolving into a fish, honestly, and he has a general disdain for octopopuli.  I don’t know how to pluralize that, so fuck you, english.  Either way, it sounded like something intense and soothing at the same time.  Now, that gentleman only dove with a snorkel and a knife.  This game doesn’t have as much faith in your lung capacity.  You have a snorkel and a speargun.  Now, the much-needed tutorial feels a little basic, but it gives you what you need.  The controls are wonky as hell, but they make sense, and once you get used to them, they react well and make sense.  At first I was cursing mightily, but this game requires practice, honestly.  Putting a little time in sharpened my aim with the speargun and honed my agility with the diamond.. space… non-joystick.. of mystical..  That thing!  The fucking thing in the lower right hand corner!  That is what you use to control your diver! JEEZ!

DUN DUN.  DUN DUN. dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun.... oh you get it..

DUN DUN. DUN DUN. dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun…. oh you get it..

Now, the rest of the game orbits you in the form of the admittedly cluttered UI.  Starting top-left you have your level and lung capacity, bottom-left is the dive button over top the speargun trigger, center-right is a compass, further right is the.. ahem.. control reticule, tucked beneath the swim button.  Top-right you see the UI toggle and then your score.  Now, in a game where you swim with a spear gun, there should be no surprise you catch fish.  Of course, this ends up being like a low-tech alien abduction to them as they are speared and wriggle around until you reel them in.  The game process goes like this.

Just snorkeling here.  Nothing to see.

Just snorkeling here. Nothing to see.

You start in a third-person view.  Pressing swim will make you move forward while you control with the reticule, roving for prey.  Once you find a fish you want to go after, hit the dive button and slide down a little on the reticule.  Maneuver yourself until you are heading toward a fish.  As soon as you dive, a timer will come up on the screen, starting at the max for lung capacity.  As you hunt your prey, the timer ticks down.  If you let it tick out, you might black out before you can resurface, which freezes the game for a full minute, but it is tough to have it happen if you pay attention.

Once you start closing in on your prey, you will eventually see an exclamation point appear over their head.  Hit the trigger!  If you hit, you enter a battle-mode of sorts.  During this mode, you have to hold the reel button, which replaces the trigger after firing a spear, while the fish is stationary.  It will still be wriggling to get free, but it won’t be swimming around.  If you reel in while it is stationary, its life (a red bar) goes down.  If you reel in while the fish is swimming, your line’s strength (a blue bar) goes down.  If your line loses strength, you lose the fish.  Catch the fish and it adds to your score, and every 5 fish you’ll gain a level.  Each level will grant you one more second of lung capacity and you will also gain better gear!

Now gear has some stats of its own.  These are swim speed, gun strength, gun reach and … shaft speed.  They are all.. pretty self-explanatory.  Except that last one.  I am sure it makes sense and I am sure it’s relevant.  I have no idea what it does besides make me giggle incessantly.  It doesn’t help that I leveled up a bit and got Depth Max brand gear which has a high shaft speed and makes my gun stronger and shoot further.  I am so sorry it’s come to this.  Ok, let me get control of myself.

The art of this game is fantastic.  Each fishing area has its own challenges from increased depth to sharks.  I tried hunting the sharks, but their only real function is pissing you off, since they can eat the fish off your lines.  Fuckers.  Lucky this isn’t FarCry3.  I would C4 your ass in a heartbeat…  But each area is unique and has a sort of excitement, like you’ve found another great hunting spot.  The music is a sort of asian-keyboard reggae.  It is relaxing and enjoyable, but it’s odd.  Just listen to it, ok?  This game is worth its 1.99$ price, and if you like those outdoorsman games by Cabelas etc., you should try this out for a fresh new take.  I have never played a firt-person fishing game, but it is really fun.  I just hope this doesn’t get bought out by EASports or something.  They would fuck it all the hell up.  Of course, this might be cool on a Wii U or something.  The developer has a Facebook page here and a website, with free demo, here.

 

Fuck Chess! We’re Playing Beguile!

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I am not the right kind of smart to play chess.  A lot of people suck at it, and just being smart doesn’t help.  It takes a certain patience and a skill for long-term planning, both require focus, discipline and training.  It also requires a strong resistance to falling asleep while sitting down, ability to avoid daydreaming and a skill for not flipping the board when you lose after 4 hours of grueling play.  O yea, and if you play it in the park, you have to do all this on a fucking timer.  Fuck that!  I am just not studied enough in the art of chess to really know how to play!  I know the basics though.  Plenty of sorry fuckers know the basics!  We were fucking taught them by some masochistic prick (or prickess) that taught us to play only so they could experiment with strategies before mercilessly murdering us.  It’s not funny.  It’s not fucking fair.  And it is about fucking time we got even.

Thanks to this fucking guy, we’ll be able to do just that.  Study that face.  He’s is the guy normal people like me will be hi-fiving while our chess-skilled friends will hire a band of rabid ninja monkeys to hunt him down.  Really, I am pretty sure that the kickstarter for the game will be used to fend off rabid bands of ninja monkeys.  All he did was add cards to chess.  Yup.  That is fucking it!  So what do they do?  Oh, my that is the fun part.  In short, they will make it so that you will be on fair ground against your chess-club friends.  It makes chess shorter, more fun and hilarious.  Our game took only an hour and a half, accounting for the stops to marvel at the wonderful art on the cards.  The creator was able to send me some demo PDF’s that I printed for play!

Had my pawns running offense for my knight until he was taken with this card, getting an enemy knight one extra space for the kill!

Had my pawns running offense for my knight until he was taken with this card, getting an enemy knight one extra space for the kill!

My brother Joel has an awesome twili… I MEAN.. vampires vs werewoles chess set.  Black is werewolves, white is vampires.  It went with the medieval theme of the game, and even played on some of its more magical or demonic cards.  You play chess as normal, except at the start each player gets 5 cards.  You can play one card per turn and there are two different card types: T cards that take up a whole turn and C cards that play concurrently with a piece move.  Now, I started off the shenanigans with a “Rally the Troops” card that allowed me to move three pawns at once!  It was one hell of an opening move that made my brother laugh and get his game on!

As we played we realized that this made chess casual and even entertaining.  We scarcely took the game more seriously than we would have if we were playing parcheesi.  And as each card went down, it made one of us laugh and groan simultaneously.  After a few turns, I started really getting devious with Joel.  I charged my rook through a pawn with “Phantasmic Step” and took my brother’s rook, leaving him a little confused.  This happened a lot though, one or the other of us would make a crafty play or take a good piece and we’d look at the card: half to verify that was actually in the deck, half to see the artwork and read the card itself.  The cards can often be funny and they make a serious effort to look really really nice, which worked.  Look through the cards on the Beguile site.  Rather lovely.

Our majestic wall of Old Spice

Our majestic wall of Old Spice

Then there is this fucking card.  Did you read that card?  Yea, I was mopping the floor with him.  I got all of his pawns, a rook, a knight and even his queen while simultaneously making a few devious plays of my own.  I used “Necromancy” after sacrificing my queen for a good capture, then I used a bishop to take a few pieces and played “Sacrificial Lamb” to sacrifice a pawn and keep my bishop.  I was closing in for the kill… then he played that shit up there!  I heaved a massive sigh and traded spots with him.  Now faced with grim prospects, I began picking my attacks more carefully.

Joel started getting really devious, throwing out a few plays that got a couple of my pieces.  At one point he played “Holy Warrior” and moved his knight like a bishop to take my knight.  Except I had “Man in the Mirror” and took his knight instead!  There were a number of really clever plays he got off, but by the luck of  the cards I was able to get his army down to nothing but a king.  I got his king into checkmate and!   …. He played “Back Against the Wall” teleporting the king across the board.  He was also able to use catacombs to get across the board and take a couple of my last remaining pieces with just his fucking king!  That was ok, though.  After a while I was letting him take all my pieces.  just waiting.   Waiting until stalemate.  Once it happened I stood victorious!  I threw down “Sir Charles Roundhouse”, which allows you to win in a stalemate!  I got that card on the second turn and was able to really give it to him!

Sir Charles Roundhouse now has a barony in the wolf-lands of Nothern Siberia.

Sir Charles Roundhouse now has a barony in the wolf-lands of Nothern Siberia.

The moral of this story is that you don’t need to know how to play chess to have fun with chess anymore.  Beguile adds some great flavor and a faster pace to a game that is traditionally pretty tough and makes it casual and entertaining in ways that it was never meant to be.  The great news is that the Kickstarter is already past 50%!  Woochah!  Let’s get some money in there so we can start working on those stretch goals!  (note to Americans: It’s a Canadian Kickstarter, so exchange rates account for the shipping cost!)  This would be a fantastic addition to any nerd’s game cabinet!  I wonder if something like this could be done for checkers?

Stumble Upon a Preview: A Clumsy Adventure

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The dutch have a pretty good thing going in the gaming industry, and a lot of what they’ve been putting out has given me a reason to nod with confident approval.  Excamedia is another dutch developer, and their game – A Clumsy Adventure – does anything but fall flat on its face.  Still in Pre-Alpha, its platforming charm and unique design leave me wondering what lies beyond the curtain at the end of the preview build on Indie Database.

In A Clumsy Adventure, you play as Zack, a clumsy soldier taking part in VR training.  He manages to destroy a supercomputer and gets discharged.  Not a huge fucking surprise, considering supercomputers usually run into the millions.  So this guy is off to a shitty start.  Zack is kidnapped by a secret group of aliens and he is used to brainwash the entire human population.  From the description on the company site, it seems he is possibly the dumbest person on Earth.  Nice fucking job, Zack!  At least you don’t spell your name with an ‘h’.  Our whole world defenseless, Zack can’t remember what happened, likely repressing the memories of how he rendered the collective grey matter of the human race as cognitively effective as rice pudding.  And the best part?  This fucking guy has to save the world!  The ENTIRE world! IN FOUR FUCKING DAYS!!!! This is the most terrifying apocalypse story I have ever heard.  He ends up in a dark place, with only one friend: a light that follows and guides him.  To succeed, this fucking guy has to beat the generals of the alien army and steal their dimensional keys, then stop the evil alien emperor AND his alien fleet from destroying everything anyway!

That look on his face is scarcely the confidence-inspiring countenance of heroism

That look on his face is scarcely the confidence-inspiring countenance of heroism

Zack has a lot to put back together, but on the bright side it can’t get much worse.  Despite his inhabiting the least-envied place among heroes, the game itself looks and feels pretty nice.  In the pre-alpha, you drop out of the sky and land in a jungle fraught with chaos.  In the background, massive beasts stalk through the dank undergrowth, redeyes dart between trees and the howls of unknown origin resonate for miles.  It is a scenery well set.  It isn’t long before the tutorial is delivered via internal monologue.  I always find it weird when we are led to believe that a character jumps by thinking about a green A-button, but it always makes me giggle.

After pushing around a boulder, jumping up some ledges and running around, you start to get a feel for the controls.  Everything is fairly simple and, mostly, smooth.  Granted, you have those odd little hiccups, but the game reeled me in and didn’t stop until the curtain (quite literally) fell.  One of the most noticeable elements of this game is its use of the lighting in Unity.  Now, I am not a fucking developer, I’m just not that dedicated.  I took the easy way out and became a writer.  But this game honestly uses Unity like the swatch-board of lighting and color that it deserves to be noticed for.  I saw screenies made with Unity that I thought were taken from an unannounced Elder Scrolls title (lord knows the series will need to be resurrected after ESO).  Richard Garriott favorited that tweet.  Made my knees weak.  But Unity honestly has so much more to offer than just an overwhelming deluge of apps and mobile games.  Unity is an engine with so much untapped potential, and A Clumsy Adventure is reaching deep into that pool and procuring something magnificent.

Aside from being a clumsy jerk, Zack is also a genocidal maniac when it comes to red-eyed alien things.

Aside from being a clumsy jerk, Zack is also a genocidal maniac when it comes to red-eyed alien things.

The game goes from nearly 2D, accomplished by silhouetting everything, then it switches to a world of vibrant colors and magnificent flora.  Ironically, this switch comes from outside, where it is dark, to inside caves, where the character becomes the focus and light and colors abound.  Granted, the artistic silhouetting has the effect of bringing out the colors of enemies and pickups.  Pickups come in two forms, only one of which I’ve been able to get: the backpacks and the batteries.  The backpacks are lives, I think.  I am not certain be cause I always freak out when I get surprised by the occasional enemy.  Given their size, I imagine that they come with a full trauma center complete with defibrillators and flirty, blonde nurses.  There are also the batteries, which luminesce an ethereal green.  While it is possible these have a yet unstated link to the aliens, I like to imagine they will power the radioactive Nerf guns Zack must inevitably employ to vanquish the evil alien emperor.  A lot of the simple jumping puzzles that the devs employed in this pre-alpha preview also utilized strong deviousness.  I am excited to see where else they will go with this title in the future.

Lovely pink everything!  My wife would never leave this cave.

Lovely pink everything! My wife would never leave this cave.

This game has a feel that reminds me of Earthbound for reasons I cannot explain.  Though I doubt this game will have the same vaguely off-color pop-culture references, there is still much we can expect A Clumsy Adventure to provide.  All of it good, but mostly me getting pissed off at this.  I guess I should look on the bright side, Zack spends his whole adventure making up for the fact that he blundered his way into subjugating the human race, and there isn’t an evil dictator that could accomplish this with all his efforts.  Toss a few coins at it once the kickstarter takes off and watch this one.  I have a feeling it should blow your minds.

Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

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

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

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

Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound…

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

Lovely vistas!

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

There is a big adventure out there for us

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

Giant swords and power help, too!

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

Why is Bojan Brbora Merging Film and Gaming?

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At the end of July I reviewed 4PM, a game that you might say takes games a little too far.  Receiving mixed reviews, this game boldly stares down such topics as alcoholism, adultery, drunk driving and suicide.  While I can say that  topics with this gravity don’t typically feature in games, it is a trend that is on the rise.  Today Bojan Brbora, the serbian cinematographer behind 4PM, discusses his motivations with me and sheds a little light on what is driving this dramatic explosion of artistic games.

For those not entirely familiar with Bojan and his work, he gave a little personal background:

Cinematography used to be my full time job up until two and a half years ago, when I came to the UK from Serbia and earned an MA in Game Design at the National Film & Television School.  This is where I made 4PM, as well. I worked full time in the Film industry back home for about 8 years before deciding to take a break and learn this new medium.  Currently I try to split my work 50/50 between Film/TV and Game Design, and I am quite keen on continuing to work in both areas.  The projects that I mainly seem to work on are drama related, which is probably why 4PM is in the same category.

So Bojan has years in the Serbian film industry, but what would make someone take the step into gaming directly from film?

Around three years ago during slow periods, I was playing things like Mass Effect and Deus Ex and realised how much I had grown attached to the characters, especially after making choices and changing their path in the story.  I really felt like I was participating in the narrative, and being responsible for what happened on the screen; something which you rarely get in other media.  I thought this was really interesting.  What if one applied the same thing, but created a more contemporary and contextually relevant narrative?  Since this isn’t commonly done, I decided to give it a go and signed up for the course here in the UK.

(beware of spoilers) In 4PM you play as a reckless alcoholic named Caroline, who is grieving over the loss of her father.  Granted, she is personally responsible for his death due to her inebriation at the time of the car crash.  After another rough day at her soul-sucking deskjob, Caroline decides to sneak down to the bar for a drink.  On her way, she runs into a man who throws her a listless glance and continues past her to the roof.  You then get to decide to follow or go to the bar.  Following him you can learn the truth about yourself and save him.  Going to the bar gives you a front row seat to his suicide, as he lands on a taxi parked in front of the bar.  Atop the roof Caroline learns that recently she has been having an affair with a married man – the jumper on the roof – whose wife is leaving him.  Despite Caroline failing to remember any of this, she does have moments of recollection where the past comes trickling in to haunt her.  On that rooftop she faces down herself, the truth of what she has become and where she wants her future to lead.

Given the gravity involved, I wondered at the inspiration behind the narrative Bojan concocted to accomplish the task he set out for himself.  His answer sounded like the beginning of numerous indie films.

4PM started out as a situation, a meeting of two strangers on a rooftop at sunset with some sort of mystery element bringing them together.  Extra tension was provided by having one character on the ledge, ready to jump.  It was a very simple setup, from which I wanted to expand and see who these characters are, and why they are really there.

A very humanizing situation

A very humanizing situation

So why create a game that is more a dramatic narrative than an actual game?

I think the reason why I made more of an interactive story than a game is because I really wanted to expand what the medium can do and try to attract people who are not gamers; hence the removal of most classic game elements and introduction of film language, which is more recognizable and an easier transition for most people.

Bringing non-gamers into a game like this is a challenging task.  Interactive media are the only ones in which you take part in a story, driving its significance deeper into the player.  Each action taken in-game is part of a developing story, which makes the internalizing of story elements that much easier via Suspension of Disbelief.  Such internalization is made even easier by games since the player doesn’t just see it happening to people on the screen, they experience it happening through their decisions as they play out via the avatar of their own conscience: the primary character of the story.  Of course, if the end result doesn’t accurately detail what the player might be working toward, the story could be rejected outright.  So, what this cinematographer proposes is an immeasurably more difficult task than what film sets out to do: film shows you a story and ask you to think, such games challenge you to live a story and see where your decisions lead it.  This process is profoundly more difficult since the interaction between game and player is exceedingly more intimate than that between film and viewer, and the interaction itself largely occurs in the mind of the player.

So this becomes a natural obstacle for the creation of such narrative games, making the player navigate events and emotions that they might altogether avoid themselves.  But as movies challenge viewers to place themselves into a character and understand the context of their lives, so, too, does 4PM.  You wake up in bed as Caroline, and her life and decisions become post-it notes and empty bottles on the floor.  Her life becomes yours for a short time and learning who she is becomes a large part of the curiosity of 4PM.  Then, by making decisions that control Caroline, you adopt her as the chosen form to explore the story.  And it is a tragic story.  So why make a game that is this tragic?  Is there a greater message here?

Through developing the details of the story with my writer, Stefan Kaday, something kept pulling us down this very dark path and outside of just typical thriller material.  We stumbled onto some very real and difficult themes, but in my view, this could only be a good thing as it felt like something novel; a place where few games want to go.  It is a difficult thing to research, as nobody really likes talking about things like alcoholism, guilt, suicide and compulsion, so most of the conversations with people that had gone through them had to be indirect and were quite often emotionally draining.  I don’t believe 4PM has a direct message, it is more an exploration of how complex human relationships are and that a lot of us suffer every day, but we rarely face or talk about this due to some ridiculous social stigma.

Pick your poison

Pick your poison

So the nature of the game itself is its topic: exploration of these themes rather than a judgment on them.  The player decides the path that Caroline takes, and decides what they see.  Therefore, it is ultimately the player that dictates the message conveyed by the narrative.  For this reason, 4PM was victorious in its task.

Games like this are not uncommon, though, and have recently been cropping up everywhere: Depression Quest, Papers, Please and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.  Bojan was happy to provide his thoughts on the rise of the dramatic narrative in games.

It is a sign of the medium finally growing up and having a big niche in serious, adult themes.  This is a good sign, and I hope developers continue to do more projects relating to real world issues, though there is still quite a bit of work to do in making these experiences more subtle and entertaining to a wider audience.  This is only a matter of time though, and I am sure the next few years will bring some ground-breaking work.

And that is solid logic.  People seem to be buying these games, so it would follow that more of these games are forthcoming.  Can we expect more of these games from Bojan Brbora?

I am currently doing some work for other people to survive in the UK.  I also needed to take a break from being in charge of absolutely everything on a project, as it left me psychologically drained. I am developing a few ideas and prototypes, though, and VR seems to be quite an interesting new platform, one currently worth exploring.  I’m also working on some film ideas.

Games, of course, take a team of developers given the enormity of their content.  Who were the people on 4PM’s team?

While this was essentially a one-man student project, I did work with a few people from the film courses to make the project really unique.  Stefan, whom I already mentioned, fleshed out the story and plot, wrote the dialogue and served as an excellent fresh pair of eyes and counterweight to my crazy ideas.  Neo Peterson was instrumental in filling out the world with sound and audio atmosphere.  Terence Dunn was the main music composer, and did an amazing job putting together the orchestral and some electronic pieces.  I am also very thankful to the guys from “Kazoo”and “et_” for letting me use their music as it plays a huge part in making 4PM what it is.  These are all extremely talented and kind people, and I look forward to working with them again in the very near future.

What was you favorite part of developing this game?

My favorite part of creating this game was working with other creative people, bouncing ideas off them and learning these complex, new tools to make the project happen.  It also brought me to a new country, where I met so many new, talented people and expanded my horizons.

Games like this really have the potential to make games something more, and help us explore our world in ways we never expected.  Although some dissenters fail to visualize the potential of such experiences, games are moving into the realm of true art, a modern art that is just as powerful and relevant as any film today.  Bojan had some final thoughts to leave readers with regarding this.

I would like to urge people to support projects like these, both socially and financially, as it is the only way to move the industry forward and avoid stagnation.  They are currently experimental, and rough around the edges, but the end goal is something spectacular, so we really need your support.

Hopefully we can develop these games into something spectacular. 4PM is available now on Steam for 4.99$. Thank you for reading.

 

Please note that material has been lightly edited for flow and coherence.

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

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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!