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Entries in Video Games (10)

Wednesday
Mar122014

Control Hero: Participatory Storytelling and Gaming

 

Dakota Sexton


When I was 14, I was an antisocial teenage gamer with a boyfriend who I thought looked a bit like Vin Diesel. He also owned a dirt bike. We both played an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game, for the uninitiated) called Lineage. On off days, I should add, I also killed a lot of virtual shit with other dudes. But I’ll always remember him.

Maybe it was just because of the crush on Vin Diesel. Or the fact that I did almost nothing else. But without even having the vaguest sense of a running plot in Lineage, I felt part of something bigger. Unlike now.

Now I mostly think of MMOs as a mess of level-grinding and economics-based weirdness. And I talk more about video game-obsessed webcomics (Penny Arcade, MacHall, Little Gamers, Ctrl+Alt+Delete, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, and so many more) than I actually talk about games themselves.

I decided to try to recapture the old flame by signing up for the Elder Scrolls Online beta. Within minutes of logging on and getting to a character creation page, things are pretty cool. There are just short of a bajillion ways to customize a character, but I can handle it. Do I want to wear a tiara while slaying undead corpses? Of course not—it’s silly. I do want to wear delicate, dangly earrings, though. And I don’t give a shit about hand size or forehead height.

But then there’s the screen with boobs. I can’t decide how large my boobs should be. Do I go big? I briefly feel completely unsure about this. I highly doubt it feels this existential to most gamers. People immediately know exactly what kind of boob they want, probably. Just like people know which way toilet-paper should be facing in bathrooms and whether they care about sports.

Yet I can’t help but wonder how that’s supposed to reflect on me. Being able to choose the size of my own boobs hardly embodies (or affirms) my own sexuality or my desires. It’s not like my identity even boils down to having boobs or not having boobs—something that is also particularly relevant in discussions of the feminism (or lack thereof) at play in the movie Her.

Eventually I decide that I just shouldn’t care so much. So I go for middle-of-the-road boobs and start playing.

In past versions of this game, players have had a lot of control over how to respond to morally ambiguous situations. That included being able to choose to lie, steal, or even assassinate innocent folks. And that opened to the door, predictably, to more favors or additional story. The game also built in a lot of completely unexpected continuity, however, as well—and that trend definitely continues in the online beta.

At one point, out of nowhere an attractive NPC named Jakarn I’d once chosen to sneak out of prison appeared behind me. He’s not exactly a “necessary” character. After recruiting him to the crew of a ship and going on my way, I didn’t expect to see him again a whole lot. But then he appears behind me, in the middle of nowhere, and cat-calls me.

He then claims that he’s been following me silently from a distance, ever since I left town. That’s not creepy. Do all the ladies he knows get this treatment? What about his bros?

Clearly, I have loads of objections to a guy being able to be super creepy simply because A) he’s perceived to be handsome and B) I’m a woman that must want that attention. But this is also a great example of exactly the kind of participatory storytelling that I want.

I don’t necessarily need a story to be that original. In the Kickstarter-funded, choose-your-own-shenanigans version of Hamlet by Ryan North—To Be Or Not To Be—no one expects to be able to get a brand new ending. But most of us still want to be able to have the enjoyable experience of getting to choose just how they get to the point where either they die, or everyone dies.

It’s that idea of [limited] choice that’s most important here. I want to be able to feel really guilty or excited because of the consequences of how I navigated a storyline. I want to feel like some of my past actions really mattered. If I can do that, plus actually be able to succinctly talk up a game’s plot while drinking [or playing] with friends? Then I will totally consider paying a monthly subscription for an MMO.


 

Friday
Sep282012

A Beginner's Guide to Gif Artists: Nerd Edition

Most modern gifs are inherently nerdy. They are often animated snippets of a scene in a film, TV show, or game, and they communicate on an obvious level (e.g., that gif of a pair of pants flying through the air with the blinking marquee of OOPS THERE GO MY PANTS in this context implies arousal) and a wink-nudge pop cultural level (e.g., that pants scene is from Breaking Bad, and there's really nothing sexy about that sequence). Below is a handful of geeky gif-makers who go a step further than plopping something in gifsoup.com or sketching their favorite characters dancing Gangnam Style. 

A Link to the Past:
Zac Gorman

The gif world got a beautiful gift when Zac Gorman announced he had “started playing with motion comics.” Sprinkling simple animations on his already-gorgeous drawings was a winning combination. He wondered aloud (on the internet) whether he should do a whole series of Legend of Zelda themed motion comics…and then he did. And then it grew. Today he mixes vintage game nostalgia with core gamer dedication on Magical Game Time.

 

 

Zac Gorman’s art stirs up all these old feelings of happiness and heartbreak, serving as examples of the very real connections we've formed with our favorite heroes and heroines. —Destructoid 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jul272012

Indie Game Friday: Revengeance

Long time no blog, guys! But you knew I’d never leave you, and I can’t help but love you more for staying faithful, hopeful.

Indie Game Friday has returned, ablaze, to help you kill time this weekend. In this issue: a sumo-style shoot em up, a not-quite-game but not-quite-book iOS experience, and a dark fairy tale told in Flash. Together, they total 99 cents. Go play.

SeizureDome

I’m not a big fan of fast paced shoot ‘em ups, largely because I don’t like challenge for the sake of challenge. (I’m a gamer, not a masochist.) SeizureDome is a unique entry in the shmup genre in more than one way. It’s not only pretty, it’s survivable, and the latter is especially rare among developer Cactusquid’s offerings.

In the words of Cactus, “This is a game that works kind of like sumo wrestling, except you have a gun.” In SeizureDome, bumping into an obstacle doesn’t result in an instakill—getting pushed off the screen (or “out of the ring”) does. Scoring is fairly standard—shove, shoot, kill!—and the power-ups keep things interesting.

The abundance of blazing, blinking lights obviously put the “Seizure” in “SeizureDome,” but the visuals are softened by a lot of blurred edges and a focus on pastels. Add to that the peppy and infectious chiptune soundtrack with vocal samples reminiscent of Pogo, and you’ll be having a grand time shooting boxy sumo wrestlers, female body builders, tanks, and babies. (Antagonistic sumo babies.)

Download it here (PC only).

Soundstory

Soundstory is…intriguing. What makes it worth checking out is how it plays with the idea of interactive storytelling. Its second entry is discretely categorized as a book in the App Store, but it’s not something that could exist on paper, and it’s not something that someone unfamiliar with a touch screen could experience. So what is it? No one knows the answer. Not even the creator, Matthew LoPresti.

There are currently two episodes of Soundstory available for iOS. The first is Warm Wisps, set in a grassy field with skyscrapers and a sunset on the horizon. Tapping different areas on the screen opens up different text stories, memories and musings from the unseen protagonist. Each story is accompanied by thematic music—bubbly during an innocent memory, ominous during a discussion of the project that rewrote human history. It gives you just enough of a taste to want to know more, which the second entry, 10:00pm, delivers.

10:00pm lacks the [literal] color of Warm Wisps, but it is overall more sophisticated. Instead of idly tapping on the scenery hoping to find new information, the protagonist is sat at a computer, where he can read emails, journal entries, and refresh a news site. It’s a more guided experience, and it’s timed—you need to gather all the information you can before the in-game clock strikes 10. 10:00pm fleshes out the same protagonist’s tale—or, more accurately, his father’s, as he led nebulous tech project that spun out of control.

Want to know more? Yeah, me too. Luckily, Soundstory numéro trois is on its way.

Straight from the horse's mouth:

Download Warm Wisps (iOS only) for free. » Download 10:00pm (iOS only) for 99¢.

Nelly

You and I both know what to expect when playing a fairytale-esque game with a child protagonist: innocence replaced by gloom and doom, death and darkness, et cetera. Black Square Studio’s Nelly follows this formula…almost.

In Nelly, the titular character follows a glowing butterfly out of her house and into a forest. Before she even gets to said forest, she passes a dead cat seasoned with flies, so the tone is set early on. From there, pits filled with spikes (and there are a lot of them) are the least of her worries.

I was mentally writing notes for this recommendation while playing, and one of them was “really easy puzzles”—which was ironic when I found myself walking back and forth across a series of buttons with no idea how to proceed. Luckily Nelly has a couple of unique gifts that can make not-so-random items (think bridges and bear traps) appear and disappear with a touch of a button.

Nelly is very short and very simple, full of cute-meets-creepy art, sinister and cheeky achievements, and a dreamy soundtrack that gels perfectly with this bleak fairytale. I don’t recall bookmarking it (spooky), but it was an excellent browser-cleaning find. You can play it in your browser, right now, for frees.

Thursday
May312012

Because We May, a game sale

It's a special, rushy edition of Indie Game Friday. It's special because it's on Thursday and it concerns sales.

Most of the games I recommend when I write for Paper Darts are free, have a free demo, or are mad cheap compared to major console titles (and also compared to things like food and losing money in the couch). I understand that "very cheap" doesn't quite cut it when you're "very broke." Lucky for you, me, and humanity, 180 developers who believe in setting their own prices are taking part in Because We May, a colossal sale event which has made cheap indies cheaper still.

Out of almost 400 award- and esteem-winning titles on sale, I picked the ten best looking ones to highlight. After all, this column has always focused on the superficial.

Because We May only goes to (or through?) June 1, so you need to blow your moneywad now

Paperphiles, brace yourselves: And Yet It Moves is a puzzle/platformer that takes place in a ripped paper collage. Better yet, its unique take on platforming extends beyond the look—you use one set of keys to run and jump and another to spin the world around you 90 degrees at a time. Don't deny yourself this experience, friends. 

Steam: $2.50 ● Windows, Mac, Linux: $2.99 

Bauhaus Break pairs some of my favorite elements from Tetris and the lesser-known but infinitely awesome Tetris Attack with simple, gorgeous design. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, this is a no-brainer—it's on sale for FREE.

iPhone, iPad: $0.00

Braid is a staple of the "video games as art" conversation, and Jonathan Blow—the mastermind behind it—takes controversy with him wherever he goes. It's a puzzle game centered on time-bending that asks "What if you could learn from mistakes but undo the consequences?" The story is interesting, the puzzles are challenging, and the art by David Hellman is something else. Something…brilliant.

Steam: $2.50Windows, Mac, Linux: $5.00

Capsized is one of the many games that makes me lament being bound to a Mac. Aliens, 2D platforming, fast-paced action, and highly detailed and richly colored environments…yum. I recall it got middling reviews, but it's so damn gorgeous that I'd buy it anyway if I had the right hardware. Live my dream for me, PC-owners.

Steam: $4.00

There are a lot of things to appreciate about Eliss. It's a fun game. The visual style is simple, retro, and hawt. Finally, it makes great use of multitouch. Not enough iPhone games take advantage of what makes the iPhone's platform unique, but Eliss has been kicking ass at it since 2009.

iPhone: $1.99

I'm not sure many real time strategy games can be called Zen, but then there's Eufloria. It's easy to learn and completely hypnotizing. Plant seeds, grow trees, direct your seedling troops, zone out. It's 75 percent off right now—there's really no reason to not download it. 

iPad: $1.99 ● Steam: $4.99 ● Windows: $4.99

Despite its presence on several platforms, NyxQuest flew (pun!) completely under my radar. The art style and the guarantee that I'd get to fly Nyx across the ruins of ancient Greece and use the powers of Olympian gods were enough to get me to buy this game. The positive reviews I discovered post-buy were a bonus.

Steam: $2.99 ● Windows, Mac: $2.99

Osmos is "part physics-based eat-'em-up, part ambient, cosmic simulator, and part Darwinistic game of survival." What more do you need to know? They had me at "physics."

iPhone: $0.99 ● iPad: $1.99 ● Steam: $2.99 ● Windows, Mac, Linux: $2.99

Look at those little darlings. Look at their mushroomy bodies. Don't you want to keep them in your pocket? Don't you want to direct them away from scary spikes and toward their swirling salvation? Spirits took the Lemmings formula and darkened it. You want to play.

iPhone: $0.99 ● iPad: $1.99 ● Mac: $3.99

Pixels have never looked as good as they do in Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. As I understand it, Sword & Sworcery combines puzzles and rhythm and offbeat fantasy and poetic storyarchs and strange humor and everything else I could ever want out of a game into one much-lauded experience. Until now, I thought it was an iPad and PC exclusive, so I'm very excited to finally dig in (and at a discount).

iPad, iPhone: $2.99 ● iPhone (Micro Version): $0.99

Friday
May182012

Thank God It's Indie Game Friday

Here’s your excuse to stay in one night this weekend: three ringing indie game recommendations by a superficial stranger. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

Proun

Proun by Joost van Dongen

The “abstract racing game” is a long-standing trend I am fully behind. Not many racing games are known for their realism, so fully abandoning that for geometric shapes and jazzy music has my semi-permanent stamp of approval. Proun has been exhibited in modern art museums, and it’s easy to see why. It’s even easier to see why if you see it in motion.

For being pay-what-you-want (starting at $1.00), Proun packs a helluva punch. That includes a range difficulty settings, multiplayer capability, an unflagging soundtrack that you will hum for days, and a fine little library of user-created levels. It’s dizzying and addicting to race along and spin around that cable (or, more accurately, spin the world around you). But even with Proun’s general flamboyance, the little touches, like being able to hear the platforms whoosh by, don’t go unappreciated.

Proun is a PC exclusive. When I heard about Proun, I had an almost-working PC. By the time it launched, I was on a Mac. It’s been a long year waiting to get my fingers on this game, and I may have had to buy and download it on someone else’s computer to do it.

It was worth it.

Buy. Play.

Q – Compressing the Heart

Q – Compressing the Heart by Disco Fish Games

Q – Compressing the Heart makes about as much sense as its title. It’s a short point and click adventure that will leave you wondering. I don’t mean to say it’s a symbolic journey that is purposefully above our heads…I think it is what it is: a weird game with cool art. (Don’t try to tell me it’s an exploration of the morality of the modern man or something; that will just ruin it.)

QTCH is laced with eerie shadows and undulating flora, and while the obvious comparison is Limbo, QTCH lacks Limbo’s “emotional touchstones.” All the shadows can’t mask that the player character is a bit of an asshole, progressing through the game at the expense of others. It makes sense, maybe, as he is literally lacking a heart per an earlier encounter with a baddie.

QTCH won’t enlighten you, but it will surprise you. It’s short and free to play—enjoy it ASAP.

Auditorium

Auditorium by Dain Saint and William Stallwood

Auditorium is at the bottom of the list because you probably already know about it.

As the screenshots above clearly demonstrate, Auditorium is sexy, but its real beauty lies not in its sights but in its sounds. The thrill of solving a puzzle in Auditorium is more than just feeling clever and getting to move on—you get to direct symphonies.

Even sparser than Auditorium’s graphics is the amount of direction it provides the player. It’s a smart move, though—exploring and understanding each tool is part of the fun. Sharing an overview of the controls was against my better judgment, and trying to write that overview (“you drag, expand, and collapse the circles to direct the light/sound to the audio containers”) made it even clearer that the game can’t be explained as easily as it can be experienced.

So, as with all my recommendations, I want you to experience Auditorium. The delight of playing with a new tool, the downfall of one of your audio containers going silent, the frustration of coming back to the game a year or a day later and having no clue how to solve the puzzles again…just do it. 

There is a meaty demo of Auditorium available at playauditorium.com, but the full game is $10. Auditorium is available on PC, Mac, Linux, and iPhone.

Friday
Apr202012

Booty booty booty booty jugglin' everywhere

It’s time for the somethingith edition of Wild and Free and Visually Appealing Indie Games [name pending]. Today: freaky not-hospitals, surreal playrooms, and juggling cephalopods. 

Closure

Closure by Tyler Glaiel and Jon Schubbe

Closure is remarkable. It has more atmosphere and feeling than anything ought to, but it also stands on its own as a fun game. If you ask me, anything that marries enjoyment with artistic merit is worth a try—and doubly so when it’s free. 

Closure’s combination of puzzle solving and platforming has a twist that can be summed up like so: If you can’t see it, it isn’t there. Each new level is nearly pitch black, and the key to advancing lies in transporting orbs that give off light to the right places at the right times. Stepping out of the light will lead to a long fall, but the darkness isn’t without advantages. For example, a wall that halts your progress is just a barrier that’s easy to hop over if most of the wall lies in shadow.

By the same token, light isn’t without disadvantages in Closure. The more of each level you see, the more you wish you couldn’t see it. Ominous messages scrawled on the walls, gnarled trees, hospital beds…y’know. Horror shit. In the end, Closure leaves itself up for interpretation without thinking it’s cleverer than the player, and that is as rare now as it was when it the game was released in 2009.

BONUS: A brand new Closure is available now for PS3.

Windosill

Windosill by Vectorpark

Here’s a true-life anecdote about Windosill: The first time I found it, I didn’t realize it was a game. I clicked around the first level, thought cute, and left. When it cropped up again, I noticed the toy-sized door in the corner. Fast forward to me exploring and making possibly embarrassing gigglenoises and, once I made it through the demo levels, not hesitating to fork over $3 to play the full game.

Windosill is a puzzle-driven surrealist’s playroom that’s high on charm and has low barriers to entry. The only skills you need are “click” and “drag.” The game is short and sweet, and so is this preview. Shut up and play.

Booty Juggler

Booty Juggler by Robin Davey and Thought Den

In Booty Juggler, you control the many tentacles of a pirate octopus trying to protect his treasure from falling bombs. There’s not much more to it than that…and why should there be? It’s as much an interactive illustration as it is a game—Patch the Pirate Octopus looks like he’s straight out of a children’s book I’d want to read, and the playing area’s page-like proportions and papery texture only add to that effect. You deserve to be delighted—give it a go.

Friday
Mar232012

Marry me, Paper Moon

With the Smithsonian kicking off its The Art of Video Games exhibition, the recent release of games-as-art standard setter Journey (seriously…look at that shit), and the discussion of artistic integrity and precedent surrounding fans’ tooth-gnashing and demands over the—uh—unpopular resolution of BioWare’s Mass Effect series, March seems like a perfect time to revisit some arty indie favorites. I didn’t need a reason, but I did need an intro. So now that that’s over with… 

Paper Moon

If I had to marry a free indie video game (it’s a wild world out there, guys…you never know), it would be Paper Moon. And I’m cool with sharing, because no one should have to miss out on this gem, which is a collaboration between Infinite Ammo, Adam Saltsman, and Flashbang Studios.

Paper Moon is a sidescrolling platformer offered in the finest monochrome. Aside from being adorable, perfect, etc., its unique draw is a mechanic that has the player “pop” different parts of the scene forward and backward, like cutouts rigged up to something on the Z axis (they even make a squeaking noise when you move them, as though someone’s operating a rope and pulley off-screen). Needing to ensure the next platform you hop on is actually lined up with you rather than lurking in the foreground or background adds a fun challenge, especially when you can knock yourself (or enemies) off the screen, depending on your timing.

There are multiple paths and a lot of room for exploration—provided you don’t run out of time. And even if you do run out of time, you will want to come back and start over. Paper Moon is drowning in charm, from its cutout aesthetic to its nickelodeon-era piano soundtrack to the sweet little expressions on the player character’s face. It’s so heartbreakingly precious, you should be prepared to confess your love to it, spend the rest of your day musing about it, and then replay it when you have a chance. 

Play it.

Coil

Coil is an experimental game by Edmund McMillen—whose game Aether was in the very first of these roundups and would be second in line if I had to marry a free indie game—and Florian Himsl.

Enter Coil with an open mind. It involves fetal development. It’s possibly about rape, definitely about death. I don’t know much about pregnancy, but I’m willing to guess the in-game embryo we’re dealing with is alien.

If my stuttering and shuffling has not made this clear, Coil is a little weird. Each level is a unique minigame involving tasks like guiding sperm to an egg, separating cells, or feeding the babything using its umbilical cord like a lasso (I assume this is how it works with human babythings as well). The controls walk that familiar line between intuitive and baffling—if it takes you a few seconds too long to get off the title screen, don’t worry…you’re not alone. The wobbly soundtrack is reminiscent of the collective brain of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, so if nothing else about the game causes you discomfort (see: those text screens), it should do the job.

I may have played Coil with a raised eyebrow and wrinkled nose, but I write this with love and wonder.  After all, it’s not easy to get nominated for an IGF Innovation Award, which Coil most certainly did.

Play it.

Hippolyta

Hippolyta, a free indie by Evil-Dog, depicts the Amazon legend’s escape from slavery. I don’t think magic girdles or A Midsummer Night’s Dream ever factor in, but I don’t know for sure because I never got to the end. This didn’t surprise me. Evil-Dog points out right away that “This game is hard! Your reflexes will be brutally tested.” So, watch as I wrap my lack of natural skill in an almost-legitimate excuse: I did not have time to become good at this game. You can reuse that one if you want.

Still, don’t be discouraged! You should at least try the first level. For a little browser-based game, the graphics are intense—the colors are rich, the scenery seems infinitely layered, and everything moves at full charge. If parallax scrolling woodlands aren’t a big thing for you, take a moment to appreciate the epic music and breast physics.

As with any difficult action game, your victories are always sweet. As the levels progress, you’re forced to adapt Hippolyta’s fighting and fleeing style, making longer jumps, timing the arrival of arrows, and determining which enemies to spear, block, outrun, or trample (practice yelling “EAT HORSE”). The game is so pretty that you’ll want to improve so you can progress to the next color scheme and set of shouting Athenians.

Give it a go! And tell me how far you get.