The Backlog: ‘Braid’

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A deep, mature, and intriguing story imbued with beautiful art and a fantastic score make ‘Braid’ a worthwhile experience.

‘Braid’ may be uncommonly simple and even a bit boring at a glance, but the art and music will undoubtedly cause you to look again. Every inch of every level is expertly crafted to create a subtle sense of peace, loss, or wandering when intended. The backgrounds move to your every step. A ray of sunshine will only grow larger as you move forward but make its way back to its source as you backtrack a few steps. The music permeates through every level to set the mood for each part of the story. Rain will hit the floor as a sense of depression is set into place or the horizon you see behind the trees will become clear as you near the end.

‘Braid’, at its most basic telling, is a puzzle game. An outstandingly  good puzzle game. One that may induce a rage-quit or three. The game is brutally difficult in its later levels. Jonathan Blow, the game’s creator, put himself very much into his work. ‘Braid’ is a very personal work for him but I feel as though the difficulty of the game isolates many players. Some of the later levels and secrets seem near impossible to solve without help. I will admit, I had to search for video guides on a couple puzzles. In most games, finding a solution online may cause you to feel stupid as the solution is quite simple once put into perspective; that is not the case here. The game is just that hard, which may be its only downfall.

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‘Braid’s’ game play is very simple and streamlined. It’s premise, however, is more complex. It introduces a new direction of time manipulation to video games. We have had games like Ubisoft’s ‘Prince of Persia’ that rely heavily on the overall concept, but death is still a part of its gameplay. ‘Braid’ diminishes the idea of death and ‘extra lives’, as it were, replacing them with the idea of ‘again’. Face your problem from a new angle, at a different point in time, or just do the exact same thing again. You are never punished for a mistake, just given the chance to rewind life to a point in time before it ever happened. This plays very heavily into the narrative. As the game progresses, new mechanics are introduced to provide variety. As you play the game for a second or even sixth time (don’t judge me) you may focus more on the story and all of its nuances to realize that some of the gameplay mechanics are yet another level of the character’s struggle.

Though the music and art help this game to shine, its true luminance comes from its story. ‘Braid’, unlike many games, can be labeled a true novel experience. Tim, the game’s protagonist, is a broken, depressed, and seemingly insane man. The story unfolds through a set of books which you are given the option to read before each level. Tim is responsible for something horrible. Something that not only destroyed the one he loved, but the people surrounding his negligence. He arrives home to find himself alone and is left to his thoughts, which in his case are dangerous. Each level, puzzle, and gameplay element add to his seeming insanity, his way of coping with his mistake. Braid addresses the troubles of regret and the dangers of holding on to your past.

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Tim is searching for an answer that will only bring him back to where his problems started, that is, with himself. Braid lays bare the unwelcome facts that we make our own mistakes, that we are the ones who choose to be content in our own turmoil, and that regret and depression are the outcome of such a state of mind. Facing these things is the only way to let go, and Tim is a fine example of a man struck with such opposition.

Though it may be difficult to grasp at first, ‘Braid’ is an experience that, once fully invested in, will keep you wondering long after its unquestionably genius final moments. It is very much a game for adults and a story all the same. If you are in the market for something mature in its telling then this game is for you.

Help Wanted! 9 Pitches to Tickle Your Fancy

While scouring Kickstarter this past week I stumbled upon some great pitches. Nine in particular peeked my fancy (is that weird to say?). It’s a pretty diverse set of pitches, each of them deserving equal attention.

Liege:

The first of these, and possibly my most anticipated is ‘Liege’. ‘Liege’ is a turn-based tactical RPG by John Rhee of Coda Games. The story is said to be mature and meant for adults. It doesn’t play like other tactics game such as ‘Final Fantasy Tactics’ but is an open world RPG that seamlessly integrates combat into exploration. You can see gameplay footage here.

Coda Games was asking for $15,000 in its original pitch. There are two weeks left and Rhee has raised double that amount. The company doesn’t need any more money to make the game but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use more for improvement. Its stretch goals are exciting and, with 14 days left and the help of additional support from you all, this game could be something worthwhile (not that it doesn’t look that way already).

Lioness:

This one, I must say, is a tad sketchy. The video is nothing but a trailer for the game. A beautiful trailer, mind you. ‘Lioness’ is a point and click adventure by Zak Ayles. It is said to center around human connection and ‘he soon befriends a nicotine addicted cat and unravels a plot involving time-travel, yakuza, and interdimensional coffee.’ (I don’t know). The trailer is just so darn intriguing. It will be an episodic adventure taking place over 7 ‘sessions’.

Zak and the composer Phillip originally asked for $7,000 but in a matter of days have raised almost $10,000. This project looks absolutely amazing judging by the trailer and Zak believes he could be treading new ground in the way of interactive narrative. I would love to see this project come to light, as I’m sure many of you would but like anything you put your money towards, be careful.

Celestian Tales: Old North:

Courtesy: Ekuator Games

Courtesy: Ekuator Games

‘Celestial Tales: Old North’ is intended to be a throwback to the classic RPG era. The game revolves around 6 children pulled from their parents to discover nobility. They must learn to survive as they grow up together struggling with blind faith, grand morals and fake concepts of freedom. The game adapts to the players choices over three decades of the characters. An ambitious idea for a small studio but a wonderful idea for any classic RPG fan.

The pitch video shows off some gameplay but mainly focuses on the development team. Their passion for the genre is clearly seen through the pitch and I believe they can be trusted with you support. The team is asking for $40,000 and has currently raised just over $6,000. There are 26 days left to reach the goal. I don’t think you all will be disappointed with this one.

Legend of Iya:

‘Legend of Iya’ is metriod-vania style open world platformer featuring a young girl venturing through a fantasy world. Sure that seems a bit shallow but the game just looks crazy. It has been in development over a decade on the developers spare time. He has worked with professional studios for a very long time and his profession is clearly seen in the trailer. The pixel art and animations are so highly detailed they demand recognition.

Ten years is a very long time to stick with a project and doing so displays passion in my book. I hope you all consider ‘Legend of Iya’. It looks to be very fun, very fantastic and very promising. The only downside to this project, the Dev is asking for $75,000. He may be planning to take on the project full time so a considerable amount would go toward supporting his family. Although I think $75,000 is a lot to ask people for I do think the project is an admirable one. Whatcha think, worth your support?

Game Loading Rise of the Indies:

Courtesy: StudioBento

Courtesy: StudioBento

Well, it’s not a game. It’s a movie about games. Indie games. Unlike ‘Indie Games: The Movie’, ‘Game Loading’ focuses on the lesser pendant studios all around the world. Much progress has been made on the project but there are many events that the team wishes to film at, some of which require international travel. I am particularly excited about this as I am for anything bringing indies into focus. Although ‘Indie Games: The Movie’ was an important movie I think ‘Game Loading’ will impact the scene on a much higher level.

StudioBento is asking for $50,000 and has already raised over $10,000. With 30 day left I think they will far surpass that. What do you think, are indie games worth all the attention?

Monochroma:

‘Monochroma’ is a dark platformer that seems to take inspiration from the hit indie game ‘Limbo‘. You play as a young boy leading his little brother through a dark steampunk-esk world. The game world is almost completely shrouded in darkness which provides a very interesting mechanic. The player can’t leave their little brother behind for he, being a small child, is terrified of the dark. The game doesn’t feature combat, cinematics or dialogue but tells its story through the world and its many environments.

Nowhere Studios is asking for a lot. $80,000 a lot. They have raised just under $10,000 but still have 40 days left in their pitch. I highly suggest checking this one out as it is greatly intriguing in its presentation and bold in its telling.

And also this…

Which is your favorite? Are you a fan of indie games and a believer in what Kickstarter can offer the indie scene? Are there any projects you wanna share as well? Please, by all means, let us know!

Originally posted in Another Castle.

The Backlog: ‘Botanicula’

Courtesy: Amanita Design

Courtesy: Amanita Design

Amanita’s ‘Botanicula’, well, it’s beautiful. The game is smart, it’s funny, it’s charming and it is absolutely original. I really can’t say enough about this game. Amanita Design has outdone themselves in every way with their latest title. Although the game is short, the developers manage to pack in more smiles, laughs, lovable characters, brain twisters, and moments of awe then you could ever expect. Never have I experienced all of these things, in continual succession, so meticulously packed into a span of three hours.

The Characters in ‘Botanicula’ are adorable and in every single way; Charming. The main cast consists of a flower bud, a mushroom, a flee… thing, a large nut (I think), and a walking stick (sort of). Each character has a specific roll to play in your adventure and is utilized in very unique ways. They stick together for most of the game, making funny and cute childlike sounds when excited, scared, or just tired. You are guaranteed to have a smile on your face each time the characters interact with the world, the puzzles, and especially with each other.

The story of ‘Botanicula’ isn’t a particularly worthwhile one, but the world it revolves around along with the characters and creatures inside that world are unbelievably original. It starts out atop a large tree. Spiders come and completely overrun it, consuming its life force. The five characters are, in a roundabout way, forced together, each struggling to save their colonies. They are not heroes but rather a group of frightened children. As you work your way from the tree top, to the lower ‘city’ area of the tree trunk and on to the root system, you see that the spiders have sucked almost all life from the tree on their way to the top. Your quest quickly becomes clear… bring the tree back to life while removing the spiders.

The puzzles here are not very hard, but they aren’t all that easy, either. The game is split into four parts, each with its own set of unique puzzles, most of which can be completed in any order, with the exception of a few chained puzzles. The majority of them require your characters to interact with NPCs and the wonderful creatures in the world using sequence and timing to activate an event, usually allowing you to grab an item. The difficulty setting was a smart design choice for Amanita, it causes you to think a little bit but never pushes you into frustration and away from the heart of the game.

‘Botanicula’s’ visuals are astounding. The hand drawn aesthetic makes for a heartfelt adventure that causes you to stop and admire it’s scenery almost more than you will actually be solving puzzles. I second Mark Walton in saying that the way Amanita sees the world is extraordinarily special. The childish heart and mind the team possess brings you back, in a sense, while allowing you to take in the story and events in a more mature manner. A great amount of work and passion goes into creating something as warm as ‘Botanicula’. Its charm comes from the small details etched into every branch of this imaginative world. Each click of the mouse, even on the most obscure little objects, results in a unique animation, bringing a smile. Amanita’s got a knack for that sort of thing.

Courtesy: Amanita Design

Courtesy: Amanita Design

The music and sound design in this game stand out among almost all of its features. DVA, the band responsible for the soundtrack, ingeniously create music perfectly fitting of the tone of every level and frame. Every character and creature, surface and item (the intractable ones, anyway) make a very distinct and unique sound… again with the smirks and smiles. There isn’t much more to say other than the care and quality put into it are superb.

‘Botanicula’ is an especially respectable game if you take into account the massive piracy issue Amanita faced with their first full length title,’ Machinarium’. With less than an estimated 15% of the copies in circulation actually purchased, the Czech studio took it hard. Its a joy to see their resilience. Amanita is playing a big part in the revival of the beloved adventure genre and will undoubtedly play a huge role in carrying it in the coming years.

I suggest ‘Botanicula’ to ANY adventure fan. Its… well I already said it. Play the game, it’s worth every penny.

Behold, The Unfinished Work: An Opinion Piece On Downloadable Content

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Courtesy: Irrational Games

DLC is a great thing for gamers. Studios continue work on their games well after release to keep players engaged for long after their purchase. DLC isn’t just good for the player, but it can be a great thing for passionate writers. Why not revisit or expand the world they have created, writing new stories and characters for the property they had worked so long on? While DLC is great, it can also be misused and abused. Let’s talk about the former.

‘Bioshock Infinite’, Ken Levine and Irrational Games’ newest work, came out late March of this year. For $20 you can pick up a ‘season pass’ for the DLC expected to grace the title, offering the three pieces in a discounted bundle. The thing is, it’s July and there haven’t been any, save a very small weapon pack which is not included in the pass. Fans that have already purchased the season pass are getting pretty antsy. Just a few days ago Ken Levine himself said that first big piece of DLC is coming but it is taking time. He also mentioned that it has been in the works since the game’s initial release. This just goes to show that the team is working just as hard to further your experience as they did to bring it to you initially. Man am I looking forward to it.

Lets talk about two games that every player expects to receive DLC for; That is ‘The Elder Scrolls’ and ‘Borderlands’. Both of these games are sprawling open world adventures. The initial games you can easily(and I mean easily) spend 100+ hours in. This isn’t enough for the developers. Games that are huge and passionately imaginative like these deserve to be revisited and expanded time and time again, that’s why developers continue their support. The fifth entry in ‘The Elder Scrolls’ franchise, ‘Skyrim’, released in November of 2011. The last of 3 DLC pieces didn’t release until February of this year. I don’t think it entirely necessary for me to mention the level of good, caring business on Bethesda’s end. ‘Borderlands 2′, it was released in September of 2012 and it’s final piece of DLC is not even 2 weeks old. These developers care about their customers and want to provide extended experiences from the core game.

Courtesy: Bethesda

Courtesy: Bethesda

And now we have Ubisoft and their cash hound that is ‘Assassin’s Creed’. Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not bias towards this franchise, in fact I was a huge fan, spending far to much money on ‘alls dat gamer swag’. ‘Assassin’s Creed 2′ is one of the best games I have played this generation; A true epic. But with far too many properties there comes a point where their publishers start to milk them for all they are worth. This particular franchise started early on in this generation of consoles, making its highly acclaimed debut in 2007. The second entry was a huge step forward in every way and a truly inspired experience. Since the release of ‘Assassin’s Creed 2′ in 2009 there has been 6 entries in the franchise, 3 of which are main console entries. There are a total of 9 ‘Assassin’s Creed’ games along with several comic books, novels and browser games since 2007. In addition to all of this we will be seeing the release of ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’ in late October of this year.

Courtesy: Ubisoft

Courtesy: Ubisoft

This is fine. Although I am not going to spend any more money on this ridiculously convoluted franchise, I don’t really mind that there will be another game. As it in no way effects me, why should I care. Where I do take issue is on the subject of the game’s DLC. A Best Buy listing says that the season pass will include a new playable assassin, single player missions and multi-player content. Most of this is all well and good as DLC is just that, single and multi-player content. But the issue comes from the the fact that this content is already in the works and the game is still 4 months out. Why Should I pay for something that you are only holding over my head to make money?

These were my initial thoughts and I assume aligned with many others.

After hearing of this I looked into the ‘day-one DLC debacle'(I am not using the word ‘debacle’ lightly) concerning BioWare’s release of ‘Mass Effect 3′ last year. As I was not planning to buy the game I hadn’t looked into the issue at the time. Both BioWare and Bethesda executives reached out during this time saying that player’s issues with DLC being available on day one of the game’s initial release comes from a misunderstanding of the development process. Casey Hudson of BioWare said that the post-production phase takes about 3 months. He also said that there would be no reason to start work on additional content, and as said content has no manufacturing process and is very quickly certified, a day one release is quite possible.

All this said, any misgivings towards Ubisoft concerning the announcement were done away with. This doesn’t mean I don’t think DLC is, at times, used as a cheep marketing ploy. Let us not forget Capcom’s dreadfully insulting DLC for ‘Street Fight X Tekken’. Games in the fighting genre are ones we expect DLC for. New characters, game modes, arenas and customization options are always welcome. Where I draw the line at insulting is when all of the planned DLC for a game is completed and already packaged on the disk and the developer/publisher expects you to pay for it. The content was locked to players who bought the game and they would have to wait until the ‘release date’ of the DLC to purchase it. Not only is this extremely poor and offensive marketing, but Capcom defended it’s decision with a completely bogus statement which you can read here.

Courtesy: Capcom

Courtesy: Capcom

So this is me, very lately chiming in on the debate of DLC and developer’s marketing stance. This generation of consoles has provided a way to keep players entertained and immersed in an experience well after they purchase a game. It offers the chance for developers to stay involved in work they love doing and it is a very effective way to increase revenue in between projects. I think this generation was a huge learning experience for both sides of the industry and has provided meaningful lessons for moving forward. Marketing was indeed a big one. I think consumers should start to look at the bigger picture when making a purchase and especially before blowing up in a forum. Things like day-one DLC should not be scoffed when you probably no nothing about making a game. This idea should be applied to really any subject matter. Just look at things from a broader point of view and take things with a grain of salt, as it were. I had to.

Sources: Steam|Gamespot|Best Buy|Twitter|Capcom

Nintenday: Moving Forward For Nintendo

pikmin_3_release_date.0_cinema_960.0 June 20 saw both Kotaku and IGN releasing interviews with the key members of the Nintendo discussing their plan for supporting their current hardware and where they stand on the issues facing the industry. Icon Shigeru Miyamoto opens up about women in games and presidents Reggie Fils-Aime and Satoru Iwata talk software.

As many may be well aware, female gamers have been long overlooked and largely objectified in the industry. We are indeed seeing a turnaround in the idea of what it is to be a ‘gamer’ and recognizing what effects certain development choices can cause in the long run. Early 2013 saw the release of the first episode in the highly controversial ‘Tropes vs Women In Video Games‘ series by Anita Sarkeesian. The series digs well into the history of, not only video games and the roll women have and are playing in them, but also the history of the tropes applied to literature all the way back to the Roman Empire. Anita shows how these tropes and the objectification of women have effected culture over time and the ridiculous reasons we have allowed it to happen. There isn’t a better place to start than with Nintendo and their roll in the industry. Kotaku’s own Stephen Totilo interviewed Miyamoto about his awareness of the ongoing debate and his thoughts toward it.

After finding Miyamoto to be very aware of it all, Totilo asked what the company plans to do about it. While an argument could be made that Nintendo has been supporting women in games since the release of ‘Super Mario Bros. 2′ in 1988, this is completely debunked in Anita’s first video. The company’s firs genuine inclusion of a playable female character wasn’t until ‘Super Mario Kart’ in ’92. A steady appeal to female gamers has been pushed by Nintendo since the release of the Nintendo DS, which caused a highly significant rise in the percentage of female gamers. Miyamoto was asked what he thought about a game centered around a male character being rescued by a female character and said:

‘So, yeah, certainly, I think there are opportunities to do it. One, I think we could do it as a parody of everything else we’ve done. But I think, certainly, we would want something where it would feel like the natural way for the game to play and in that case we would certainly take that approach. ‘

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He then shared that his usual design process stems from a game play idea before any kind of story and setting is applied.

‘Pikmin is a good example of that. In Pikmin, the original structure of the gameplay was centered on all these individual little creatures moving around like ants. As a result of that, the world that you’re in is kind of earthy and natural settings and the creatures you’re fighting seems sort of like insects, because that’s what the gameplay centers on.’

The interview ended on a rather curious note and later Totilo acknowledged that both Miyamoto and himself completely forgot about ‘Super Princess Peach’, which is exactly what we just talked about.

In other news, IGN interviewed presidents of Nintendo and Nintendo of America, Satoru Iwata and Reggie Fils-Aime. In the interview both men have a full awareness of the state of their current hardware. Iwata said first in the interview:

‘Our focus is, first of all, to regain the momentum of the Wii U towards the end of this year, and then we’ll try to establish successful third-party Wii U software titles. I believe in the importance of third-party support for Nintendo platforms.’

Fils-Aime addressed the companies ongoing involvement and participation in the discussions happening over what Nintendo should be doing and how they should be doing it. Third party support is an integral part to the success of the Wii U and the company is indeed aware that their fans are not solely looking to play Nintendo games on a Nintendo console. The third-party support for the console is fairly extensive as we can see from the Nintendo Direct which took place during E3. The next 12 months are going to see a lot happen on the console but for future support it will have to be in more living rooms. Fils-Aime said in the interview:

‘Looking at this through the prism of a business decision, if I’m a third-party publisher, what I want is that I want a large, diverse installed base to invest in my development and be able to monetize against that large installed base, that’s why, from a Nintendo first-party perspective, we have to drive the installed base.’

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In other other news… ‘Majora’s Mask’ remake? In another interview beween IGN and Miyamoto, ‘The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’ was brought up. Last year, in yet another interview with IGN, either a classic style ‘Zelda’ game or a ‘Majora’s Mask’ remake were said to be in the works. We know now that Nintendo opted for the former. Turns out the internal discussion may not have been about which one to make, but which one to make first. Once asked if fans of the Nintendo 64 gem were simply ‘out of luck’ Mr. Miyamoto simply chuckled and said:

‘Well, they’re still in my memory.’

@Tyler

Sorces: Kotaku, IGN

Originally posted to Another Castle