Ever wonder what sort of computer games a lone individual could make in a single weekend? Well then boy do I have a website for you. Lumdum Dare
is a thing I just learned about after I stumbled upon a little game called Dream Fishing
(created by a Sophie Houlden
) that was a product of one of these weekend challenges that they host. Apparently what happens is a theme is stated and people jump on board to make games based in the given theme. This time the theme was "Minimalism".Dream Fishing has this in spades...if that makes any sense. The game is controlled purely with your mouse. There isn't much to the environment (shocking, I know) but you can use your mouse to look around the game world to check out the things that do exist. You can also traverse the, erm, implied landscape by pressing or holding your right mouse button down to move forward. The only other actions you have involve your fishing pole -- holding and releasing the left mouse button will cast your line out and your scroll wheel can be used to draw said line back in.I think it's worth noting that I was having a really, really bad day and Dream Fishing managed to lift my spirits. To me, that's really something. There aren't any objectives to speak of; just a pond with some scattered fish just waiting to be caught. It doesn't take any brain power or critical thinking whatsoever to engage yourself in it but somehow it's really charming and I never found myself bored with it. I'd start it up, play around with it for a bit, and then leave it alone once I felt my mood brightened. And this has worked for me three times thus far.Your guess is as good as mine.So what exactly happens when you play Dream Fishing? Well, not a lot. There is no music while you survey the area and pick out your fishing spot, but pleasant tones sound as you walk about.
It's when you catch a fish that the magic happens.
No caption can do this justice.
So pretty much you catch a fish, it tells you something thoughtful (i.e. gives you advice) and then punctuates that potentially profound statement with a bit of nonsense. And then your fish sprouts wings and soars away as though demonstrating its own enlightenment. Then it returns to the water -- presumably where it waits to share its fishy insight with the next person who happens along.
Oh, and the fish speaking with you and then flying away is the only part of the game accompanied by music. Yeah, I don't even know. This probably sounds really dumb but somehow I found it heartwarming every single time.
Sadly, most of the bits of fish wisdom that I enjoyed most made me hesitate too long to get a good picture. On the other hand, it made me actually stop and reflect a few times -- which is rare for a game to accomplish. I know a lot of people would probably dismiss this whole thing as pretentious or stupid. Heck, I'm not honestly sure how I feel about calling it a game. It's just kind of an interactive...thing since it's devoid of anything resembling a goal. But I simply can't get over how this genuinely brightened my day.
The funny about this is that the lack of an objective makes it a better experience. If you were meant to collect all the fish or something it wouldn't have nearly the charm. You can't win at Dream Fishing.
Alternatively, everyone wins at Dream Fishing.
I really wish my dreams had this much atmosphere. But more than that I wish that someday I can write something that will make someone laugh or pick them up or entertain them or do whatever it takes to make someone's day the way Dream Fishing made mine today.
Come back! You have so much more to teach me!
If any of this interests you at all you can check Dream Fishing out for yourself here
.You can also watch a time-lapse video of the game's creation. Amusingly, the creator stops to watch some
Azumanga Daioh a few times over the course of the process. That might explain some of the surrealism actually. That video here:
And that's all out of me today. I'm going to rest up so I can go see Iron Man 3 at midnight tonight. And then next post I'll either tackle Neverwinter Online or continue on with Secret of Mana. No idea if anyone actually reads any of this but if they do; any input is always welcome. Until then!
Secret of Mana. Man, I loved this game as a kid. When I moved in with some friends at age 18 I distinctly remember asking Zudz if he wanted to play some Secret of Mana with me and he shrugged it off as a mediocre game and declined my invitation. That blew my mind at the time. How can anyone not like Secret of Mana? The masterpiece action RPG from my childhood that was both beautiful to behold and a joy to listen to? The atmosphere! The action! The magic and character progression! Whaaaat?!
Then I actually played it. I got about halfway through and realized I wasn't having as much fun as I remembered having as a kid. So then I put it down --- until now.
So today we look at Secret of Mana. I want to get into the game, the mechanics, the story. The everything. This is going to have to span multiple posts that will have to focus on different subjects as I go along. So yeah. Secret of Mana!
Let us begin...at the beginning.
"First game in a new action / adventure series!" = "Keep an eye out for Sword of Mana in about a decade!"
I understand that nostalgia is a powerful thing. Once upon a time I thought very highly of SoM and I know that today my experience with it won't hold a candle to what it did for me when I was young. And that's okay. SoM was a joy to me once and nothing can ruin those memories or tarnish what this game meant to me. But the question now is: Does it hold up? Do I still think it's a good game? Let us dive right in.
Using the power of Mana a civilization had grown strong...
In time, Mana was used to create the ultimate weapon: the Mana Fortress...
This angered the gods. They sent their beasts to destroy the Fortress...
A violent war rocked the world, and Mana seemed to disappear...
Before all was lost, a hero with the Mana Sword smashed the Fortress...
Though the civilization had been destroyed, the world was peaceful again...
But time flows like a river... and history repeats...
I have to admire Secret of Mana's pace. It wastes no time in getting you into the meat of the game after the initial (badly written) exposition dump. The game has you name your blank slate of a hero, fall off a bridge, discover and grab a magic sword, learn the combat mechanics, doom all civilization, fight a boss, and then get exiled from home all within ten minutes. It's honestly impressive and it only really feels rushed when the village elder suddenly busts out into an uncomfortably forced telling of your origins. In case you don't remember how bad this is I'll grab the text.
I took you and I raised you. But there's nothing I can do to help. Please forgive me. I know I've told you this before, but...
Your mother brought you to this village when you were just a baby. Soon afterwards, she disappeared...
I took you and have done my best to raise you. But now we must part. I truly hope you can find your mother someday.
But let us back up a bit...
"In retrospect I probably should have mentioned that the Mana Sword rests less than 200 paces from our village and that tampering with it will plunge the world into chaos. Please leave before anyone starts pointing fingers at me."
So. This game is astoundingly negative in the way it treats the main character. We're here getting yelled at by our foster parent right now but let's see how many things have gone wrong for us already.
*Fell off a bridge
*Doomed all of humanity.
*Got attacked by monsters on the way home.
*Insulted by your peers as soon as you arrive back at town to explain the situation.
*Your caretaker flips out at you.
And then an earthquake splits the ground and the planet consumes you and one of the other village kids.
And this guy is waiting to greet you there.
You have with you what was just confirmed by your village elder to be the sword of legend. The sword that the intro text said destroyed the Mana Fortress and saved the world. Another kid from your village has fallen and is helpless. You must stand your ground and rise to meet the great destiny that you have been charged with.
You are the Hero.
So when I did this fight the Mantis Ant opened with the unavoidable Gem Missile spell, knocked me down, jumped on me, and then slit my throat with his scythe arms all before I got to do anything. So yeah, he stands good odds of whooping your ass. If (or when) your HP hits zero you die. You get a creepy little grim reaper icon over your head and everything. But it's okay because you're revived by supporting character Jema who also gives you some advice on how to deal with the situation at hand.
Clear your mind, wait until you have 100% power, and aim carefully!
"Are you hitting him with your sword? You should try hitting him with your sword!"
Okay so we can add Died to the list of things that have gone badly for us today. But after we un-die we defeat the Mantis Ant, earn a Sword Orb, and triumphantly...get kicked out of town forever by the people we just saved. Woo?
Okay so now we're outside of town. We're homeless but we're also free. Free to explore and take on the world and...immediately get ambushed by goblins. A scripted encounter -- you can't even put up a fight. You just get rolled and then this happens.
Any time life is going badly just remember -- it could be worse. You could be the hero of Secret of Mana.
I know I just spent a lot of time putting this character down but the game just doesn't let up. Even when you have the other characters in the party and you're far into the game it seems like the hero is just kind of there. But to go into that is to go into game mechanics and party dynamics. And those are things for a much bigger, more detailed post.
But since we're talking about The Hero right now there is one more thing that I want to touch on real quick. He's really flippin' boring. I hesitated to bring this up because I know he's a silent protagonist and that you're supposed to project what you want onto him but he's so hollow that only so much can really be done to salvage him.
I hate to make this comparison because it's really, really unfair but take a look at Crono from Chrono Trigger for just a second.
Crono is also a silent protagonist and yet this scene gives him more character than the Secret of Mana hero gets throughout his entire game. The beautiful thing here is that we don't really know what goes through Crono's head so there's still some room for you to project your own thoughts onto him. Does he burn for adventure? Does he feel guilty for what happened to Marle? Does he dive into the portal because he really wants to get into her pants? These are all acceptable answers.
Crono is a hero because something bad happens that he doesn't understand and he steps up to face it anyways in order to protect somebody. Secret of Mana Boy is a hero because...he needs to cut down some shrubs that are in his way and accidentally attunes himself to a weapon that has to save the world? It's heavily implied that Jema intended to take up the sword himself and that you screwed the much more capable person out of being the hero.
So I guess we can add THAT to the list of things that the main character screwed up his first day on the job.
We're off to a great start here.
I first found out about Guacamelee! by complete accident. I was at the most recent PAX East looking around for mushrooms that had been hidden by Riot Games (finding one and bringing it to their booth won you a pretty sweet League of Legends hat) and my search caused me to unknowingly enter the territory of Drinkbox Studios.
There was an awkward conversation when my snooping around was interrupted by a guy who assumed that my approaching their booth was due to interest in their game. I didn't wish to be rude; so I stuck around and heard him out on his pitch to me and I asked some questions to keep engaged in the conversation but the whole time I knew, in the back of my mind, that other people were out there finding mushrooms and winning hats while I was trapped in conversation about a game that I wasn't terribly interested in.
When I managed to break away I hadn't honestly learned much about Guacamelee! other than it was a "Metroidvania" (yes, they used that word) title set in Mexico, that it starred a luchador, and that it had couch co-op (but not online co-op). Also the game was nice to look at. Truthfully I pretty much forgot the majority of the conversation's details in short order.
Perhaps partially out of guilt for brushing Drinkbox off the way I did; I decided to give Guacamelee! a closer look when I saw that it had released on the Playstation Network not long ago. I had some extra money sitting in my PSN wallet anyways and I figured that at worst I could hate it and rant about it to my buddy Zudz later.
(...also I hadn't played anything on the PS3 lately and this seemed like a cheap way to fix that.)
Initially I actually considered doing something of a review for it. But instead...well, I think it's more interesting to take a look at what makes this particular game genre work and pick out exactly where Guacamelee gets it right and where it drops the ball. I guess that's still a review. Okay, it's still a review. Kind of. It's a review only if you want it to be. There.
Guacamelee! is a fun but flawed product. One can't go into talking about a "Metroidvania" style game without drawing immediate comparisons to Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Those are hard acts to follow. I'm pretty much just going to dive right into this...
Guacamelee!'s visuals are excellent. The game world is vivid and makes great use of color that is appropriate to the Mexican setting and folklore it's representing. The characters that actually matter are drawn well and have a great deal of personality to their movements -- making the whole package really appealing to look at.
Just look at this scene from the game's start and tell me that you don't want to find out more about these characters.
Día de Muertos skeleton guy (with kidnapped damsel), the player character, gunslinger dude who is perpetually on fire, evil chick with wavy hair. I'm five minutes in and I'm already sold on this.
So pretty much the above-pictured dbags steal your girl, wreck up the place, and foolishly assume that you can never rise up and stop them. It's a simple, cliche plot -- but the game plays it tongue-in-cheek enough to make it rather entertaining. Heck, the love interest is referred to only as "El Presidente's Daughter" throughout the entire game. At least the game is being straightforward with you.
As long as we're talking about the game's presentation; it's worth mentioning that the world you explore is absolutely stuffed with references to other games, movies, and even internet memes. Some of these fall flat (especially when a character needlessly drops "Your princess is in another castle"). But a lot of the visual references are a treat. I absolutely loved seeing advertisements for wrestling matches that are clearly Luchador'd versions of childhood favorite characters.
There's a ton of stuff like this; and I found myself running all around the towns just to seek them out.
In the gameplay department, Guacamelee! should have been called Guacaplatforming! because that is honestly the game's core strength. The best part of being a luchador is apparently running, jumping, and using your special moves to get into all the nooks and crannies of the game world. And as you learn new powers you'll have those delightful "Ah-ha!" moments where you remember something you couldn't reach before and know that you now have the power to get there. These are the moments that make the genre -- and you get that here.
Speaking of the platforming; the game has enough tricks up its sleeve to make for some genuinely tricky challenges in this realm. The really taxing ones are optional, as they should be, but they provide a nice sense of satisfaction when you figure out the appropriate way to string together a double jump / upper-cut / cap-closing punch / ect to land you onto a ledge to get a reward.
It's probably also worth noting the mere fact that a couch co-op option exists if you want to play this with a friend. I'm not convinced the game's more complex platforming sections would make for an enjoyable experience; but it's worth pointing out that the option exists.
Oh, and the game is pretty blatant about wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. How blatant?
That's a Choozo Statue. Not to be confused with a Chozo Statue.
The actual combat is where Guacamelee! sort of shits the bed. It gets the job done and it has its moments but that isn't exactly what I was hoping for out of a game starring a masked wrestler that features the word "Melee" right there in the title. While exploring the terrain is fun, having to stop to fight quickly starts to feel like a hassle. Pretty much you run up and punch things until you can grapple them (a triangle-button icon showing above the target's head flags them as vulnerable). Then you throw them. There is some fun to be had in throwing a dude into his friends; but you can get by fine just using specials or regular punches without putting much heart into any of it. It's all just kind of "meh" and that's never a good sign in a game.
There are a few core issues here. One, there's a huge lack of enemy variety. I understand that this is a fairly short game (there's nothing wrong with that for a $15 PSN game) but I've seriously played first generation GameBoy games with more enemy variety. That's disappointing no matter how you slice it. You know how in Super Metroid you'll enter a new region and there will be new things to fight? Yeah, Guacamelee might introduce one new bad guy in a new region. Heck, I can only think of one flying baddie in the whole game. Yaaawwn.
Boss fights also aren't very spectacular. Which is a shame because they have these totally sweet poster-like things before they begin. Check this out!
I just found out I can post animated GIFs. Ta-daah!
Another combat issue (and I bring this up right after showing the X'tabay banner for a reason) is that there are few to no recovery frames when you get hit by something in Guacamelee. That means that an enemy can hit you multiple times before you have a chance to actually respond and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. One of X'tabay's attacks was frustrating enough in this regard that it earns special mention -- and that honestly should have been fixed in testing. It's not god-awful but it can quickly remove fun from the encounter.
Moving on to other game features that don't quite work; there's also a shop where you can buy different throws and stuff but I never once found them to actually matter. Some of them advertise themselves as great single-target damage or having a good blast radius for taking down multiple foes but...my experiments with these things never felt very fruitful. I could already accomplish all that stuff anyways by just grabbing a dude and throwing him at his buddies. What I'm saying is the shop felt like a lot of wasted potential.
Oh, and some of the supporting characters are pretty lame. Especially the goat man who pretty flatly states that he wants to plow your mom. That is to say the player character's mom. Not, you know, actually your mom.
(That's my job)
If I asked Zudz what his favorite optional thing to get in Symphony of the Night is he might answer with The Shield Rod. I'd answer the same question with Sword Familiar. In that (and Super Metroid) a huge part of the fun comes from the cool stuff you get for going above and beyond in your searching the game environment for the coolest swag you can find. You don't NEED the Spazer Beam or Spring Ball to beat Super Metroid, you know? But they're fun to have. And that's a big part of the fun.
Guacamelee! doesn't reward you as well for your dedicated exploration, and that's a shame. Time and time again I'd find my way somewhere cool and the reward would be an extended health bar or more of the gauge that powers my special moves. Those are okay; but they don't change the way the game is played like the Screw Attack or the thing that changes Alucard's mist form into a damaging gas. The Metroid and Castlevania games were really good at enticing you to explore because you knew that those games were packed full of fun toys just waiting to be discovered. Come on, Guacamelee! You can do better!
Guacamelee! offers an unlockable "Hard Mode" once you beat it the first time. I'm not excited by that but I feel like I should be. I've played Super Metroid through getting only the bare minimum power-ups. I've played Symphony of the Night using only my punching to fight off Dracula's forces. These are, in a way, self-imposed Hard Modes. So Guacamelee giving me the option straight up should be cool, right?
Playing through a Metroidvania style game again is always kind of odd because the exploration is over and done with. Barring a sudden case of amnesia, you can only really explore a game's world once and then that aspect of the game is behind you. With that part of the game lost, what brings you back to Planet Zebes? What makes you storm through all Dracula's minions again? Is it the promise of loot and toys? Is it the fighting? Is it the simple joy of uncovering the whole map?
What Guacamelee! boils down to is this; do you play these games to explore or because you want to collect cool stuff and fight things with that stuff?
Guacamelee! is in no way a bad game; but it lacks some of the polish that those titles that coined the Metroidvania term had. My final answer would be that if you want a game world to explore and stomp around in, you could do a whole lot worse than Guacamelee! But if you want meaningful combat and lots of goodies, you won't find much of that here.
It's worth noting that I played this for a while and had trouble putting it down. Then I ignored it until days later, when I was driving somewhere and randomly got the itch for more Guacamelee! Draw your own conclusions from that.
(I'm still sorry for brushing the guys from Drinkbox off the way I did. And consider this my formal apology in the event that anyone from there ever somehow reads what I wrote).
Ho'kay. Took a couple days off there, so it's time to get back to it. This is probably my penultimate post about PAX. PSJ got some great cosplay pictures, maybe we'll get to see them if he gets around to uploading them all. But now, Dungeons and Dragons.
I actually played two games at PAX that were very different. I played a brief playtest session of DnD Next and I played a scenario out of the Legend of Drizzt. I want to mention both here, so this'll be a two parter.
First, Legend of Drizzt. This is a scenario driven board game that runs on trimmed down 4E rules. It took a couple minutes to get everything setup, but we had a WotC staffer on hand to help out. Once we got all the tiles and cards sorted out we set to making heads or tails of the piles. In a somewhat Hero Quest fashion, everyone chooses a character and gets a pile of cards representing their abilities. You start with a small number of these abilities available to you, and then you can earn more during gameplay.
If you've ever played Dungeons and Dragons, everything here should be second nature. Your actions are basically move and attack. Exploration uncovers monsters and traps that need to be killed or disarmed. Everything is determined by a 20-sided die. Damage is fixed for all attacks, so it's pretty binary (hit or don't). Monsters have their actions governed by the directions written on their card.
A side note about the monsters. The monsters and characters all have little models to place on the board during play. They look fantastic. They're all unpainted, but are fairly detailed. We ended up facing off against a water elemental at one point and the model was a little translucent blue wave with a face. They could have just as easily put in papercraft monsters, or tiles with icons printed on them, but they went whole hog and made awesome minis. The game is pricy (About $60, if I recall correctly), but the quality can't be denied.
The scenario we played required us to find a specific set of rooms, which we were instructed to seed into a pile of tiles. The result was that rooms were put into play randomly, but we were guaranteed to find everything within a specific period of time(about 20 tiles). In the beginning we were only on each tile for one or two turns, but the last three tiles took about three or four turns each to clear (mostly because of a sudden trap buildup that we had to take care of or risk being poisoned every turn). The whole session took about an hour, and we had one close brush with death, but ultimately were successful.
The only thing I didn't like about Legend of Drizzt was that we had no healer character in the box. The WotC staffer told up that she wasn't sure if that's the stock state of the game, but the pieces had become mixed with one of the other boxes over the weekend. The only healing we had access to was out healing surges, and the party as a whole only got two of those for the whole scenario. I ended up buying Wrath of Ashardalon (one of the other DnD board games) pretty explicitly because it came with a healer in the box.
These board games aren't replacements for playing DnD, but they're a great way to get that same kind of experience without needing a lot of prep. The different boxes (Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt, Castle Ravenloft) are all designed to work together, so you can expand your tilesets, characters and monsters. It's also simple to add or create new scenarios, or even just explore in a roguelike fashion.
Overall, two thumbs-up. I super enjoyed playing Legend of Drizzt with a group of random PAXers, and I can't wait to break it out at home.
So, I've spent a lot of time being really positive about things I played at PAX East this year. I'll get back to that, but first I want to take a moment to talk about a game that was awful. That game (as this post's title suggests) is Wild Star.
First, credit where credit is due. Graphically, this game is excellent. It's borrowed from WoW's brightly colored aesthetic, and appeared to be generally higher quality. It's an engine build nine years after WoW launched, so it makes sense that it would be an upgrade. It wasn't an especially marked improvement (in my opinion) but it definitely looked good.
The character choices for the demo were a chick who fired spells with her dual pistols, a machine race who looked like a cross between Garrus and Voltron and who gives a damn about the third guy? I seriously don't even remember who the third guy was. I went straight for the turian robot man. The customization was pretty basic, but they let me choose from a variety of hear and eye styles, crown and ear frills, and a variety of color schemes. I didn't get to pick my class, but this was compensated for by arming my character with what appeared to be a two handed crystal laser sword. Frankly, I looked awesome.
My character was dropped into an area lightly populated by NPCs. After about ten seconds I realized that they all had exclamation points over their heads, or marking them on my mini-map. I set to talking to everyone I could find. Eventually I got bored of accepting quests and walked out into the world. By "world" I mostly mean plain. I appeared to be on some kind of savannah. I wandered out and began killing what appeared to be a robot bandit.
So, this is the point at which I really stopped caring about the game. I'm going to complain for a bit here, but all the things I don't like about this game boil down to one point. They've recreated WoW. WoW and I have had our ups and downs, and it's not my favorite game, but if I wanted to play WoW I would play WoW (not NCSoft's recreation of the same blessed game).
So, attacking things works essentially like it does in WoW. You press buttons and things happen. It's marginally more complicated because attacks hit small areas, which are drawn on the ground in various colors. As an added bonus, I get to see my opponent's abilities's outlines as well. If you thought WoW was pretty good, but that basic combat really needed more time dedicated to worrying about positioning, this is the enhancement for you. It's inoffensive, but after games like Tera and Vindictus, I'm turned off by the clunkiness of pressing 1-5 to attack.
Looting things is simple. You beat your enemy like a loot pinata, then press a button (I think it was v in the demo) and you'll pick up everything within reach. Loot doesn't stay in the mob's inventory, instead opting to spill out in every direction on the ground. I wasn't playing with anyone, so I don't know if loot is individualized, or open for the taking.
While I talked to a lot of NPCs, and eventually started turning in quests, no one said anything interesting. Much like a WoW questing hub, I found myself simply smashing next so I could hurry up and accept whatever menial task they had so I could move on. This is perhaps the greatest failing of the demo. Even if your game has no story to speak of, your demo should have a carefully crafted narritive. Something that will really pull me in and make me give a damn. When I leave your booth I shouldn't be feeling as jaded about your game as I do a (nearly) ten year old competitor.
Even more than the fact that NCSoft for some reason wants to build WoW, this is their issue. Wild Star evokes the exact same reaction that WoW does. I've played WoW, a lot (though not nearly as much as PSJ). While occasionally has the ability to provide me with a sense of novelty, it's mostly just cynicism and ennui these days. These are really very bad emotions to be inspiring in your demo for your brand new game. I've played WoW (and many other MMOs before that). I don't want to buy in to WoW again. Give me something original, not just a fresh coat of paint on the same old thing. And, seriously, would it kill you to move away from hot bars?
H'okay. I'm done droning on about how much I hate this new game. I'm not bitter at all that CoX died and this is what replaced it. I'l find more positive and upbeat things to talk about next. Stay tuned!
At this rate I think I'll be writing about PAX longer than I was actually at PAX. But today is a good day, and I want to write about two games that I contributed to on Kickstarter which were present at PAX East with demos. Unlike Shovel Knight, these projects have ended funding already, but I still want to talk about how awesome they are.
I'm going to open with Delver's Drop, because it's awesome.
A brief summary: You pick a class from which you are assigned a random member who gets a name, a starting weapon, and tossed in jail. In this case, jail is a massive series of rooms full of monsters and traps. Your character is basically serving a sentence of "death by monster."
The rooms in the dungeon drop sub-weapons (I found bombs and arrows) which can be used both to kill monsters and to help solve puzzles. Most rooms in the demo were variations of "kill all the dudes", but there were some carefully crafted set pieces as well. One of my favorites was a room full of slimes surrounded by bumpers. The slimes moved mindlessly towards me, but swinging at them caused them to slide into bumpers, which in turn made the slimes bounce around like crazy. The actual goal was just to get to the other side of the room and step on a button, nothing to do with the slime/bumper induced chaos I created.
In addition to the story mode dungeon (which is supposed to have slightly different content depending on which of the 7 classes you choose) the stretch goal for a 100-floor Puzzle Dungeon and a 4-player versus mode were both reached. Even more exciting, the goal for a pet system was reached which will be used for drop-in couch co-op.
There are plenty of details on their website (delversdrop.com
), including a link to their Greenlight page on Steam. I encourage you to check them out and rate them up!
(One last brag before I move on. I managed to clear 11 rooms of the dungeon I was in before I died. The gent I was talking to let me know that Jerry had played their demo the night before and had made it to floor 4... on his second try.)
Unfinished character sprites for possible Delvers. Taken during the final day livestream by the Pixelscopic team. Kickstarter backers will be voting soon to determine which classes actually make it into the game.
And now I'm going to close strong with Two Brothers, because it's awesome.
Two Brothers is a game set in a monochrome world where one of the titular characters dies, discovers color, and then comes back to life. I was aware of the unique death mechanic going in, so I asked which part of the demo had the most intentional suicide. The devs kindly pointed out an area for me, and I was off.
To say that the demo resembled Link's Awakening is a bit of an understatement. Clearly someone on the team (perhaps even multiple someones) loves that game. About 30-seconds in I discovered the body of a dead hero, whom I was informed was not Link. Curious, I found myself a bomb and promptly blew myself up. This took me to the afterlife where I was able to find the spirit of the hero and ask him about the island. He provided me with some hints and exposition, and then I was returned to life on the island. Once I fought my way into town I discovered a girl who had fallen into a coma. I was also informed that the mayor had the key to the local dungeons. After poking around in town and not finding anything interesting I went outside and blew myself up again. Having returned to the after life I found the spirit of the girl stuck in a coma. Despite her protests, I shoved her bodily out of heaven and her spirit fell to Earth. Once I returned myself I found the girl had recovered from her malady, and I was rewarded for my heroic pushing with the key to the rest of the island.
The demo technically included the local dungeons, but standing on concrete dissuaded me from playing further. As with every indie booth I visited, the team was great to talk to. They answered all of my questions, and thanked us for our input. It warms my heart to know that people like the teams at Ackk Studios, Pixelscopic and Yacht Club Games (hopefully!) can run successful projects and get to make their dreams reality.
Also, Ackk Studios had awesome demo stations.
Four buttons? Must be a Super Gameboy.
I mentioned in the Shovel Knight post that other Kickstarter Devs had been working to get their goods on Nintendo platforms. Ackk Studios are those some of those devs. It was only mentioned briefly at PAX East, but they talk about it in more detail on their project site. This is another example of a very small developer being enthusiastic about the support that Nintendo has given them in getting their product onto the Wii U. I'll admit, when I first read Ackk's account of working with Nintendo, I thought it was largely rose-colored glasses. These guys obviously have a long history with Nintendo properties, and I thought that any obvious flaws in the process would be obscured by their fan-boy desire to get their game onto consoles. After having talked to Yacht Club Games and Ackk Studios, I have to say that I feel pretty optimistic about the future of indie games on Nintendo's platforms. I hope this is the beginning of a trend that continues for a long time.
Okay, that's it from me for now. More to come!
I actually had the chance to see a few booths for successful projects I backed on Kickstarter while we were at PAX East (most of which PSJ was kind enough to follow me to, even though he wasn't a backer). I'll talk about them later. Right now I want to take a moment to talk about a project which is currently on-going.
Shovel Knight. This game is amazing. PSJ and I talked with the devs a bit in their booth and both had a turn at the level they had up for demo. As should be apparent from the info-card, Shovel Knight is a knight with a shovel. You use it to attack enemies, dig up piles of treasure, destroy walls made of dirt and sand, and even reflect magic spells back at your foes. Also, a personal favorite, you can press down while you're falling and Shovel Knight will pogo off of an enemy's head ala Scrooge McDuck. He's pretty much a badass with a shovel.
There's not super lots to say about the game that the Kickstarter doesn't already address, but there are a couple things to add. We played the game on a controller, and it felt super tight. Shovel Knight wasn't floaty, or loose. He jumped just the way I thought he should, and swung with just the speed I wanted. Honestly, the handling in the game felt a lot like an early generation Mega Man game. Everything seemed very evenly paced. It may seem like controls are a simple thing at this late stage in the life of video games, but somehow people still manage to screw it up some times. Fortunately, Yacht Club has controls under wraps.
The music in this project is great. If you ever find yourself humming the chiptune sounds of your youth then you should give this a listen. There's a sample track on the Kickstarter page, and it's just fantastic stuff. It's actually the track that plays during the level they demoed at PAX.
The last thing I want to bring up is only kind of Shovel Knight related. It's the fact that they're launching on Wii U, 3DS and PC. I've seen one or two other games (one of which I'll be writing about in this space later) with similar development paths. I asked the Shovel Knight guys about this, and they said that Nintendo had been super great to work with. They had apparently been accommodating about the upcoming need to distribute pre-paid copies to backers, and had been helpful with development challenges. They really had nothing but glowing things to say about Nintendo's support of indie development. I don't currently own a Wii U, but if this is the direction that Nintendo is taking with their new console I may find myself back in the Nintendo camp.
Moral of the story: go back Shovel Knight! They're good people making a great game, what more could you ask for?
Shamelessly pilfered from their Twitter feed. I'm in the high score from PAX East! I'm ZDZ on the right monitor!
PSJ and I just spent the weekend at PAX East. It goes without saying that we had a blast, and we wanted to share some of what we saw with the Internet. I think we've each got a couple things we wanted to talk about, so look forward to that for the next few days.
I'm going to open with an easy one. Bizzard's new thing they announced. By now everyone has heard that it's a card game called Hearthstone. It's "free to play" and intends to launch on PC, Mac and (eventually) i-devices. If you've ever played Magic, Pokemon, Magi Nation, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc, you understand the basic mechanics already. Briefly: You accumulate resources (in this case, Mana), and spend them to play cards from your hand which represent summoning monsters and casting spells. The end goal is to use your spells and monsters to assail your opponent and bring their Health Points to zero.
Hearthstone mixes up resource acquisition. On the first turn you have one Mana to spend. On the second turn you have two. Each subsequent turn adds one to your max mana for the turn and replenishes you to full. It removes the randomness that Magic and Pokemon had, and frees you up to worry about other things. There isn't any "green mana" or "lightning energy". It's pretty much just MP, and you spend it to summon things (primarily, I did have some direct damage in my hand, but it seemed rare).
Here's the part that I found strange. It's a WoW themed online TCG, but it isn't an implementation of the TCG they already built. I didn't get any quest cards during my game, for example. While I understand the desire to create new products and engage new audiences, it feels like this is ground Blizzard has already tread. The eventual transition to mobile makes more sense to me (the demo was actually on an iPad, and it worked well), but it feels like an underwhelming reveal.
A brief glance through the FAQ for the game (available at http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/
) tells me that additional cards will be purchasable via the Battle.Net store. I find myself remembering how much I spent on each of the aforementioned TCGs in turn during my youth, and this seems like an obvious cash cow for Blizzrd. Just one that I'm not particularly interested in.
Do you like TCGs and have money to burn on digital goods? Are you anticipating the inevitable tie-in with the core WoW game? This is for you.
Don't play WoW? Already playing another TCG? Uncomfortable spending untold fortunes on random (digital) card packs? Skip it. I'll be right there with you.
A cell phone shot of my game in progress. I'm getting ready to summon that Oasis Snapjaw you see. His cost is in the top left of the card (marked by the blue hexagon). The bottom left is his attack power (noted with the sword) and the right number is his health (shown in the drop of blood). Bottom center of the screen is my hand. To the right, my current mana and max mana this turn. Part of playing was selecting a character and their unique ability, which you see just above my hand.
It looks pretty, but it's a dirt-standard TCG. Take that for whatever it's worth.
We've got more opinions about things from PAX, and we'll be posting them over the next couple days. Stay tuned!
I've been spending way too much time on game forums lately and I've noticed an odd trend where console RPGs coming out of Japan are being brushed aside or, worse, insulted purely because of the genre they belong to. I'd really like to talk about this because I've been rather disconnected from the genre for a while now. I don't dislike JRPGs -- I just haven't seen any in a long while that have caught my eye. But why is that? Maybe the genre really did turn to crap while I wasn't looking.
One of the big sticking points I see in this argument is that JRPGs lack in innovation. They're always the same story with the same game mechanics. This isn't me coming at this from some random comments on GameFAQs either. This is people with industry presence weighing in on the issue.
Years ago, Greg Zeschuk (co-founder of Bioware) famously stated...well, take a look. He said exactly this:
"The fall of the JRPG in large part is due to a lack of evolution, a lack of progression. They kept delivering the same thing over and over. They make the dressing better, they look prettier, but it’s still the same experience."
I could be mean and say some things about Bioware games; but that would be avoiding the issue. Is this true? Are JRPGs failing because they have been delivering the same things to us over and over for years now?
Let me think back to the last JRPG that I actually invested some time in.
Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King didn't have much in the way of innovation as far as gameplay is concerned. In fact, for a Dragon Quest title I can't think of any that doesn't involve the fully 3D world and change in how combat was displayed. But that's it. The presentation was different -- but it was very much rooted in tradition. And it sold roughly a bajillion copies and is largely remembered fondly as a gem in the PS2's ridiculously massive game library.
See, I don't think you need to be innovative to make a product that people want to play. Now I'm not saying that innovation is bad; I'm saying that the formula works if care and polish is taken in the making of a game. If you have characters or a world that people can be invested in then you are doing something right.
For one thing, if people getting bored of "the same thing over and over" (as described by Mr. Zeschuk) was actually such an issue; the movie industry would have been fucked a long time ago. Wreck-It-Ralph was not an innovative movie. But it was clever. And enjoyable. And I'm buying in on blu-ray as soon as I possibly can.
For another thing:
Pictured: Innovation (?)
I'm led to believe that Black Ops II made all the money in the world. I'm also led to believe that isn't because it refined the game genre that it belonged to. But I'm not here to crap on shooters. I'm here to weigh the actual value of innovation.
Pictured: Innovation. Shameful, shameful innovation.
Now I'm looking at Wikis for this one so bare with me. But here is some stuff about what went into FF13's design.
"Tsuchida's concept for the battle system was to maintain the strategic nature of command-based battles."
Okay so this guy was FF13's "Battle System Director". Cool. And he wants to maintain strategy and menu driven combat. Totally fine; that's a staple.
"The system stemmed from a desire to create battles similar to those found in the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children."
Fuckin'...whaaat? Dude, when I think of Advent Children I don't think of strategic battles. I get that you're going for a particular look (action! vibrant action for our game trailers!) but people jumping around like Dragon Ball characters didn't make Advent Children good and it didn't make FF13 good.
"Magic Points (MP), which had been a part of the battle system in previous Final Fantasy titles, were removed in the game's battle system as Tsuchida and the other designers felt that it gave players an incentive to not use their most powerful magic attacks due to the MP cost, in turn making battles less interesting."
Okay. So this is actually innovation but it's for the wrong reasons -- which is exactly what I'm getting at. Your special attacks are special because you can't use them all the flippin' time without any thought. See, having to weigh your options because they have actual consequences is what provides depth.
As an example: Imagine playing FF1 without any of the Mage type characters. You end up with a party that can mindlessly swing away every combat round for a bunch of damage. And that's fine; people do that. But nobody would call that deep or strategic. See the Mage classes were fragile and you couldn't use magic often. Your Fighters and such had to cover for them a lot of the time; but that was a trade-off being made. When you did decide it was time to throw down a Lit3 or Lif2 it could turn the tide of combat instantly. If you blew all your magic spells on the goblins and crap on the way to the boss you weren't going to be in good shape when you got there. But that was your choice. And you lived and died by those choices.
That is almost entirely where your "strategic nature" in these kinds of games come from. You make estimations about a combat situation for any given round and (using the information available to you) decide on a course of action. That is fucking strategy. Pre-programing my allies in a menu ahead of time is not the same thing as actually executing choices. You say you want to maintain strategy but you don't.
You don't need to flash words like "Paradigm Shift!" across the screen to tell me that I've made a meaningful decision in combat. My decisions playing out should let me know if something is a good idea or not.
Look at all this shit happening! Truly this is the dawn of a new age of JRPG!
I rant about this because it isn't an isolated incident. All this crap like FF8's Junction system and FF12's....Everything Related To Combat system were answers that game developers came up with to address problems that didn't actually exist.
Change itself isn't good or bad. But if you're going to change things it needs to be for good reason. Trying to look more like an action game (or, worse, fucking Advent Children) to appeal to modern audiences isn't good reason. Nobody plays Final Fantasy for the action. Hell, you have Kingdom Hearts for that.
Square-Enix says the Final Fantasy series has always been high on innovation in the genre. And I don't disagree with that statement. I mean from Final Fantasy 1 to 2 was a big, daring shift in design. But surely by now you would think that the Final Fantasy franchise has been through enough ups and downs that they would have hammered out what worked and what didn't. I don't get the vibe they have any idea why some installments are regarded as better than others. I'd also have to look back multiple console generations to find a non-MMO Final Fantasy title that I have fond memories of.
Now to look at the other extreme:
Pictured: A license to print money without any innovation whatsoever.
Pokemon is a very extravagant form of Rock / Paper / Scissors wrapped in a simple RPG. That's all it has ever been and all it ever will be. Nintendo has a winning formula and knows better than to change it beyond minor additions like 2v2 battles and such.
Now I'm not saying that Pokemon is flawless. I haven't picked up one of their games since Platinum. But I know exactly what to expect when I play one of their core releases. They do all their wacky crap (innovation?) in side games that I can simply ignore. And if I ever want to I can pick up a new Pokemon game, know exactly what I'm getting in to, and have some fun with it. Damn, that's simple.
This is totally okay for a franchise to do. People give Pokemon crap for never changing. But what if Pokemon did completely overhaul the way combat worked every few years? Would it still be good? Or would we be in another situation where people would miss the glory days of the originals because the new ones are shit? I don't know. But I do know that Nintendo is steering clear of changing things up too much for a reason. They like money.
What Does It All Mean?!
Change is scary. Especially when it comes to things we love and have a lot of history with. We clearly liked the way things were enough to like said things in the first place; so it's easy to blame alterations to the old ways as bad. If only there was a JRPG that I could point to that took a strong foundation and built on those mechanics in a positive way.
You took the combat from EarthBound and made it more active by allowing me to string attacks together by syncing my button presses to the game music?! Well that's absolutely crazy. And kind of clever. And spices up my attack command. And is actually fun. Holy shit. You CAN take something and make it better without compromising the whole thing in the process.
And it didn't even require eight pages of tutorial or anything!
So Zudz has been playing a bunch of Final Fantasy XI again and asked me to return. I resisted. And then in an effort to drop the topic I insisted that I wouldn't pay a cent to set foot in Vana'diel. He offered to front the cost for the subscription. Hum. Didn't see that one coming. Well FFXI would have to wait because my recent move left my old game discs packed away somewhere and --- oh, he sent me the digital version from Steam. I guess that's a thing now.
Well, my playtime in Mists of Pandaria and Borderlands 2 was starting to slow down anyways. And I always loved the holiday event music / scenery in FFXI. Perhaps it would be worth going "home" for the holidays just this once.
It's a very odd business being back in the old game after a four and a half year absence. Learning to play again has been an amusing ordeal. So much has changed. And yet so much is exactly as I remember it. Many classes have new abilities, the level cap is different, the way the game is played is amazingly different.
I think it's worth noting that getting my account set up, my new Abyssea stuff registered, and getting the game working the way I wanted was an exercise in frustration. I've played a ton of MMOs in my time; and I have to say that logging in through PlayOnline seems even more archaic now than it did to me a few years ago.
My macros are, of course, gone. I had an amusing moment where I had to refer to a guide that I myself had written years ago over on KillingIfrit.com in order to help myself remake my own macros. As though the whole thing had been a macro time capsule for myself. Very surreal moment having to use my own game guide years later. THAT is how out of touch I am with the game.
A better example might be that when I first logged in I didn't remember how to move my character. I did remember that I needed to get into the Config menu to go to "compact mode" -- but I couldn't recall how to pop the menu. Escape key? No. Function keys? No. Spamming every key on my keyboard? No. After a few awkward minutes I gave up and decided to check my map to see where I was in the world and where I wanted to go. I instinctively pressed the "-" key on the numpad (thus, popping the menu I had been looking for the whole time) and hit my map. It took me a second to realize that I had subconsciously solved my earlier problem.
Logging in and exploring the world again made for some interesting moments. I felt painfully alone at first. I didn't know what to do or where to go. I ran into cutscenes everywhere that started new plotlines for new quests and missions. I didn't have anyone to ask for direction or help. My only comfort was the nice holiday music (which, actually, I think I'll go ahead and link) and decorations. And I actually logged out pretty quickly in frustration my first time back again.
My second attempt at playing was a bit more successful. Zudz got me in contact with his new linkshell; Fromtheashes. A group seemingly made for folks like me who are returning and trying to get back into the swing of things. They've been a great help at answering my questions, getting me familiar with the new Abyssea content, and giving me someone to talk to. Putting the social back in my social game was the first major step towards me actually enjoying FFXI again.
The Mithra in white was the first NPC I ever talked to in game. Just seeing some of these old NPCs was super nostalgic.
The second huge step was this:
Fate was kind enough to allow me to run into an old friend. A good friend from my previous adventures in Vana'diel years ago
.I admit this was kind of an emotional reunion. And really reinforces to me what these games are all about. The people.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have happened upon Arilayne again after all this time. She was, after all, one of my closest friends on Odin back when I was a regular. And she was very happy to also lend a hand in getting me back up to speed -- and inviting me to the very manly "PrettyPinkPrincess
" linkshell.I'd write in more detail about what I've done since my return -- but I'm honestly kind of unsure about what I've been doing. It's been a lot of being dragged around under the wings of more knowledgeable players and doing as they say in order to try to catch up a bit.It's been a wild ride seeing the new face of Vana'diel. And I have to say that even though I find playing my class of choice (PUP) to be clunky and some of the game design aspects to be really unpleasant.....I'm having quite a bit of fun among my friends. It's a wonderful thing.Oh except for this.
This just made me cringe.
I only spent how many months of my life trying to farm this crap up out of the event battles and now it just straight up drops from trash?!
I did manage, though, to organize and run the old Nyzul Isle Assault with some friends. It's a total joke now. Which is kind of a shame since it was one of my favorite activities in the game way back when. Apparently they revamped it for the level 99s but I'm not at all ready for that. I did manage to get a pair of Inferno Claws thanks to my old buddy Spiritsand and company, though. With little thanks owed to my healing as RDM (with hastily thrown together together macros that I weren't sure would even work). That alone is kind of a funny story since we organized like this initially:
Special thanks to Spiritsand and Econo for letting me drag them into Nyzul.
Two Puppetmasters and a Thief. Crap, we're going to need a healer. Okay, who can heal? What? Me? Surely you jest.
Oh, that's seriously going to be the plan. Okay.
I'm pretty sure I'm going to die the first time I press my Convert macro! You guys still want me to heal?
But again the content is so outdated that it doesn't matter. I mostly stayed behind the level 99s, threw some support and heal spells as needed, and ran back to click the portal to advance us through the 100 floor dungeon. My goal was to collect some of the fancy Nyzul Isle weapons that I had never gotten way back when. And it worked out since Econo wanted a staff for his Scholar. Go team!
Well, I'll be taking those!
The new claws are nice, but I think the real prize was the little bit of combat experience on RDM. Before long I was slinging Paralyna, Erase, Barspells, Cure 4, Haste, and Refresh no problem. Riding a bicycle and all that, eh?
We ended up running a couple more times. And even managed to get Econo his SCH staff. Hurray!
Beyond that, I tooled around in Abyssea a bit with my friends. I don't have a powerful enough grasp of what is and isn't important in Abyssea for me to talk much about that. What I do know is Arilayne & company killed a bomb cluster that dropped yet another slick pair of PUP claws. Huzzah!
I don't want to cover too much ground in a single post (it's already way too big) but I did have to make special mention of this random tell I got while in game:
I wasn't even town when I got that. I was off doing stuff with Zudz and Spiritsand when I got that message. And it pretty much blew my mind. All these years later and someone remembered me purely from my old blog? Wow. I'm beyond touched that anything I wrote was memorable enough that people in the FFXI community still know who I am. Jimyjazz totally made my day. Seriously.
Aaaaand that's probably about it for right now. I guess I'll pick this back up later? If anyone cares, I guess you can look for the continued adventures of Myrrial (the lolpup) here on PuppetShowJustice.com. So. Yeah.