2017: A Look Ahead

2016 is near its end or it’s over based on when you read this. It was a rough year in many respects, but it gave us a ton of excellent pop-culture. 2017 as of now promises to do the same. There’s SO much to look forward to. To list it ALL would take forever so I thought I’d just focus on a few things here and there.

NETFLIX is hitting hard with a multitude of shows debuting or returning. Amongst them:
Degrassi: Next Class Season 3 – Available January 6, 2017.
A Series of Unfortunate Events: Season 1 – Available Jan. 13
Santa Clarita Diet: Season 1 – Available Feb. 3
Marvel’s Iron Fist: Season 1 – Available March 17
Sense8: Season 2 – Available May 17
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later- Date TBA

In terms of Network television I can highly recommend the 12th and final season of BONES on FOX premiering Jan 3rd. I’ve seen the first three episodes and they are very hard to comment on without spoilers, but plot twists, reveals, robots and one of the greatest actors of any generation Hal Holbrook are involved.

The reimaginging of the L. Frank Baum saga by Matthew Arnold finally happens with David Schulner (creator of Do No Harm) and so far poorly reviewed but keeps getting work Tarsem Singh at the helm. If anything NBC’s Emerald City looks like it’ll be definite event TV or fail drastically and get cancelled before all 10 episodes even air. One or the other should be fascinating to watch.

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In terms of films I’d have to say LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is high on my anticipated list. Sure it’s not by the actual writer/directors of Lego Movie (they’re busy making Lego Movie 2) but it has a good pedigree and every teaser and trailer has me excited.

I’m also intrigued by Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. For his first follow-up to Instellar to be a WWII flick is fascinating. It’s also his first SOLO project since Inception as brother Jonathan was busy creating and developing the excellent Westworld. Equally fascinating is the amount of work put into this film. It’s not a remake of the late 60’s film, so it’ll truly interesting to see what stories Nolan chose to build upon to coney emotion, gravitas, and character even when the lead character is still the operation and Dunkirk itself (the film was actually filmed there).

Also pulled in by the adaptation of Dave Egger’s The Circle with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. James Pontsold makes visually enticing, perfectly paced films and chose the easiest and simplest yet not simple Eggers novels to turn into a film.

There’s a ton of amazing video games coming 2017 too but this site is still without an XBoxOne or PS4 so the focus is on PC games but those that will not require a $5000 rig to run.

First up on the excitement board is Full Throttle Remastered the next rebuild of the classic Lucasart’s games designed by Tim Schaeffer which Double Fine was able to get the IP rights back for. I’m really curious to see how they update some of the worse parts of the game like the combat and the maze puzzles. I’m not completely sold on the art actually but I’ve been happy with DF so far, so I’m in.

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier (First Chapter out, but the rest hits 2017) is awesome. I already reviewed it and I’m excited for the rest.

thimbleweedAlso excited for platform point & clicker A NIGHT IN THE WOODS.
Third person action adventure co-op player TROLL AND I.
2-D Shooter with old school animation CUPHEAD.

and most especially, Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, David Fox and teams’ THIMBLEWEED PARK, the pixel point & click dream of a game I think many thought Broken Age would be. I loved Broken Age, always will, but Thimbleweed Park is looking bigger and better then I ever imagined it could be. I didn’t get to back when I wanted to, but I wouldn’t been able to back what I wanted anyways. This is probably number one on my experiences for 2017 I look forward to.

There’s a share of BOOKS coming out as well.

First up two genius female writers tackling heroes from Marvel and DC.

Shannon Hale (with Dean Hale) does The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Meets World and Gwenda Bond comes forth with a third in her awesome Lois Lane series with Tripleflaminglips Threat.

There’s a really cool STEVEN UNIVERSE ORIGINAL GN coming out called TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL by the show’s co-creator Ian Jones-Quarterly, Jeremy Sorese, Asiey Barbie and Josceline Fenton

Michael Crichton’s never before published posthumous novel DRAGON TEETH comes out May 23rd. It’s a Western during western times but about dinosaurs!

Neil Gaiman ventures into both old and new territory retelling the tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and more in NORSE MYTHOLOGY scheduled for February 17.

George Saunders first ever complete novel, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO comes out February 14In music I’m mainly excited for one album.

The new The Flaming Lips titled Oczy Mlody. AFAIK I believe I’m seeing them live in March as well so that makes 2017 awesome.

A New Frontier is still full of Pain & Walkers

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When you go into anything associated with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead you know to expect dread, pain, and situations in which you feel that everyone was in a “screwed if you do, screwed if you don’t, so may as well just screw it” place in their thought patterns. From the comics, to every season of the AMC series, and through Telltale’s now 4th game its an inescapable feeling. You go in with the intention that you’re about to have your heart strings pulled, that people you like or even love quickly might die, with that gripping of wanting to turn away and leave because you can, unlike the characters stuck in the universe of the walkers, factions and a falling down society. Yet you don’t, you venture forth, with each death, with each kill, your eyes and/or ears stay affixed.

In the case of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games it becomes even more painful. You are at times deciding who lives and who dies, you are struggling with the difficult decision of who to trust, of what is the right plan of attack. Just as in the earlier versions of the game, it never feels like you are making a small choice either. While some things will happen no matter what you decide, just as Season 1 and Season 2, A New Frontier presents you with choices that will definitely make you wonder “what if?”.

For my first playthrough in terms of writing up the game and presenting it to you I chose to come in as if I knew nothing. It might be hard to actually say how effective this was since I’ve got that tight connection to Clementine from being a previous player, but I really feel the writers did their best in allowing someone to come into A New Frontier completely blind, new to this world of The Walking Dead, pulled in by the shows recent resurgence of popularity.

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The Telltale series has really been an interesting ride. I’ve written about TWD Season 1 but never got to tackle Season 2 as much as I should have and since it’s creation, the company has since explored the shows popular character Michonne, delved and reimagined Batman, made an original story based on Minecraft and next year tackle Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

It found it actually fascinating in Season 1 that you played a character with a slighty scewed moral code, only for season 2 to toss you into playing the girl who went through hell and back in season 1 only for her to go back to hell and maybe stay there but keep surviving. With season 3 here we are leaping into another character with an interesting backstory that gets established but not completely covered by the end of episode 2. We get a new layer to the girl we’ve been living with Season one, or if you are new to the series a character you quickly find intriguing simply because Clementine is a truly intriguing character. The flash back sequences flesh out the new character you control in Javier, and then flesh out his new “partner in crime” in flashbacks. It might be jolting for new players to be thrusted so quickly into a new character after starting with Javier like this, but it’s done so well it can be forgiven.

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What can’t be forgiven, but I also let it slide is that at times with QTEs (and yes, the game is full of QTEs) I had to switch back and forth between controller & mouse/keyboard because of the response time. You can and will die in this game and unfortunately sometimes the checkpoint between when you died is just a tad long in the tooth. It was actually in two particular instances (one in Episode 1, another in Episode 2) where I found myself getting a little frustrated by game mecahnics. Yet, at the same time without these, it wouldn’t be a game, it’d just be a choose your adventure which is something some players have complained about in the past. The delicate balance Telltale works on to create interactive story versus actual game are actually intriguing.

Another small nitpick is that my gear can handle TWD at the highest graphics with ease, while Batman still has to run at the lowest possible.  Are we not sharing engine fixes at Telltale between teams?

What can’t be denied (at least for this player/viewer) is the emotional investment quickly gained which caused screams of NO, AH, and even AWWW at times. And at the end of Episode 2, you don’t have a “Wait, WHAT?” moment, you are a strange non existing being and must be expelled with a crowbar to the head like the little walker you are.

The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier Episode One: ‘Ties That Bind’ Part I & Episode Two: ‘Ties That Bind’ Part II are now available for download.

These first two of five episodes in The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier are available starting today on PC from the Telltale Online Store  or Steam ,

You can also get it on the Xbox Games Store for Xbox One®  and on the PlayStation®Network for PlayStation 4.

(this review was written from a pre-release copy offered gratis from Telltale)

2016: The Year That Was (Making The Best of a Bad Thing)

2016 isn’t over but it will be soon. It’s been a really rough year for many folks, for pop-culture, for the world as a whole. Yet, many of us still stand and we can’t just stop. We must keep going. On that fact I want to reflect on the good things that happened in 2016. For myself, for my friends, for pop-culture, so I’ll do my best. In terms of movies, TV and music I’ll only mention those that were at least from my view less mixed and truly favorable opinions of what was delivered and even if some mixed what I felt were a really nice thing to make 2017 look happy and smiley. These are incomplete lists, not definitive and just trying to capture some of the good in such a bad year. This also was an incredible year for professional wrestling. From debuts, to folks making it to a bigger show, to smaller shows becoming bigger, it truly was way too many grand things to truly list.

MOVIES (this list should probably be longer, but I’m way too critical and also have not seen many of the films being given FYCs for Awards)
Zootopia
Deadpool
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hardcore Henry
The Jungle Book
Zoolander 2
Captain America: Civil War
Keanu
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass
The Secret Life of Pets
Nerdland
La La Land

TELEVISION (both Network, Cable, and Internet)
Mr. Robot Season 2
Gravity Falls – “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls”
Regular Show in Space
Grease Live
The Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker Trial
Westworld
Suits
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Elementary
The DCTV CW Crossover (and all of Supergirl, Flash, Legends… only some of Arrow)
Luke Cage
Shut Eye
Fuller House
Preacher
Blindspot
Gotham
Timeless
Lucha Underground
Devs Play by Double Fine X 2 Player Productions
The Venture Bros.
Braindead
Planet Earth II
Dreamcorp. LLC
Royal Pains final season
Steven Universe
Blunt Talk
Girl Meets World
Degrassi: Next Class

MUSIC (This is way more a personal thing)
Green Day – Revolution Radio
Good Charlotte – Youth Authority
Sixx A.M. – Prayers For The Damned and Prayers for the Blessed
Lady Gaga – Joanne
Panic at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor
Miike Snow – iii
Sia – This Is Acting
Animal Collective – Painting with
Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello
Pet Shop Boys – Super
Travis – Everything At Once
Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway
Sabrina Carpenter – EVOLution
Waterparks – Double Dare
David Bowie- Blackstar
DNCE

VIDEO GAMES (again this is personal and to stuff I played & loved and stuff I wish I gto play but didn’t have the console of required PC power)
Oxenfree
Not A Hero
Uncharted 4
Firewatch
Amateur Surgeon 4
Batman – The Telltale Series
Slayaway Camp
Dots and Co.
Watch Dogs 2
Day of the Tentacle Remastered
Samorost 3
Quantum Break
The Final Station
Dishonored 2
Headlander
Kathy Rain
The Witness
Small Radios Big Televisions
Mother Russia Bleeds
The Banner Saga 2
Quadrilateral Cowboy
This is the Police
No Man’s Sky
Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre
Obduction
Mafia III
Let it Die
The Last Guardian
The Walking Dead – The Telltale Series: Season Three
INSIDE
Yakuza 6

COMICS (this is personal as because of limited funds and the higher cost of comics while pay checks stay the same I don’t get to read as much as I like these days and hence do not get Previews to explore independents more then I’d like)
West Coast Avengers
Howard the Duck
Future Quest, Wacky Raceland, The Flintstones, and even Scooby Apocalypse (the HB reboots)
Sugar & Spike-Metahuman Investigator from Legends of Tomorrow
The Adventures of Miru
The Twilight Children (Darwyn Cooke’s final published to date interior art work)
CAGE by Genndy Tartovsky & Stephen DeStefano
Superfuckers Forever by James Kochalka
The Red Hook by Dean Haspiel

and here’s a few PERSONAL highlights for the author of this (me)
Kaiju Big Battel with Liza followed by FTW Wrestling where I hung with the workers during. Saw Scotty Too Hotty do the worm.
Day out at mall in CT with mom, Al’s and Al’s family.
Becki’s Moving Party.
Passover with mom, Al and Al’s family.
Mike and Lauren moving into a house.
Trip to Philly with Nick and Terri.
Best man at Nick and Terri’s wedding.
Guns n Roses: Once in a Lifetime with David S.
Tarin becoming a full fledged hairstylist.
Hanging out with Brad at my place and his place and other places.
Hanging out with David at his places, other people’s places, parties, events.
Robots Will Kill 15 Year Anniversary.
Ad Hoc 10th Anniversary party.

Here’s hoping 2017 will be better in the ways that 2016 was not and that in terms of pop-culture things will continue to be excellent.

Who Thought Landing Your Head Could Be So Fun?

As anyone who pays attention to me or this infrequently updated site (which is why there’s a twitter feed running and links to all my social media elsewhere), I am a huge Doublefine Games fan.  They’ve yet to make a game I haven’t enjoyed even if the genre was not to my liking.  Be it Dear Leader in Amnesia Fortnight, Costume Quest, or even Dropchord.

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Well they’ve done it again in collaborate distribution with [adult swim] games for Headlander.  Lee Petty’s crazy yet simple concept of a man or  woman (you can choose your head) who leaps from robot body to robot body to explore properly this extreme weird future in which a huge and brilliant backstory exists.  To give it away is to essentially give the game away.  That said, there is a section in the game involving a huge action oriented chess board.  If done as it’s own separate game it probably would’ve been appreciated.  There’s actually tons of little bits like that throughout the game that show a larger world then the game that would be fascinating to explore as mini games, comics, cartoons and more because that’s what the team at Double Fine do when they develop worlds.

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I feel it is the script and the design of characters that is the crux of this 2.5 D side scrolling Metroid like platform shooter.  It’s a genre I tend to get annoyed and frustrated with.  My hand-eye coordination is just not the greatest when it comes to video games, I have to readjust my eyeline (which I’ve become very good at especially in real life); Yet there’s SO much happening on screen it can be quite difficult.  It’s done in such a charming, enjoyable, beautiful way though that even when you’re ready to give up you just keep trying it and trying till you beat it.

The music (masterfully written and performed by David Gregory Earl and an amazing soundtrack in its own right) , sound design, visuals, make it all worth it.  Just when I just wanted to throw my controller at the screen, I breathed, put it down and felt that need to come back and figure it out.  I’m betting so will you if you haven’t played it.

I’m not set up with a rig to do a Let’s Play, so you have to trust my words.  You could also go check out trailers and videos online to get your own impressions, but then you’re not listening to what I’m saying which is just go experience it for yourself.

I enjoyed Headlander so much I went and used my limited but still better then most Photoshop skills to design a new avatar for the excellent, supportive and loving DoubleFine Forums.

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Notice on DFA Documentary/Broken Age

While PCS still awaits the Kickstarter Collector’s Edition we wanted to give you a heads up on the excellent Documentary by 2 Player Productions now being on Steam as well as a bundle sale on Broken Age with the documentary and soundtrack.

Here’s the official word from DF themselves:

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October 1st 2015 – San Francisco

Double Fine Adventure Documentary now on Steam, 66% off this weekend

The Double Fine Adventure Documentary by 2 Player Productions is now available on Steam, with an introductory 66% off sale price until Monday October 5th!

The collaboration between 2 Player Productions and Double Fine Productions that launched a historic Kickstarter campaign has reached its conclusion! A three-year journey spanning twenty episodes, the “Double Fine Adventure” series chronicles the creation of “Broken Age,” from a germ of an idea in Tim Schafer’s notebook to a finished game and beyond.

Along the way, the team is confronted with production delays, internal strife, and outside controversy in what is the most honest, in-depth look at video game development ever created. Previously exclusive to Double Fine’s Kickstarter backers, now everyone can share in the passion, humor, and heartbreak of this landmark documentary series.

Now available on Steam, the Double Fine Adventure comes with 10 collectable Steam cards featuring art by Michael Firman, 5 Theme Badges, 5 Emoticons, and 4 Profile Backgrounds.

“Double Fine Adventure is the best video game documentary to date”

– Eurogamer

“A must-watch for those intersted in the art of game creation”

– Game Informer

“Even if you don’t care a jot about adventure games, even if you’ve never picked up a Double Fine game in your life—this is a documentary that demands your eyeballs (and your heart).”

-8bit-chip

Double Fine Adventure

Regualar price $14.9 – $5.10 until Monday (66% offf)

http://store.steampowered.com/app/402590/

Double Fine Adventure + Broken Age + Broken Age Soundtrack bundle

Regualar price $44.98 – $15.30​ until Monday (66% offf)

http://store.steampowered.com/bundle/141/

Mindjacking, Puzzle Solving, Pixel P & C Fun (DEMO style)

TB-logoI just finished the demo for Technobabylon which you can get off their website or on STEAM:

It was one of the best p & c demos I’ve played yet.  It was an amazing teaser that showed the games mechanics and revealed a clever puzzle thought mover with an epic story.

Here’s the official text on it:

ABOUT TECHNOBABYLON

City of Newton, 2087. CEL agents Charlie Regis and Max Lao are investigating a serial Mindjacker who is tapping into the neural wiring of seemingly ordinary citizens, stealing their knowledge and leaving them dead. An agoraphobic net addict named Latha Sesame might be the next target. But when Charlie’s past comes back to haunt him, he and his partner find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with Latha’s fate in the crossfire. All three of these characters are introduced in the demo, and you’ll get to play as two of them. Blade Runner meets Police Quest in Technobabylon, a slick point & click adventure that blends past and future with its retro-styled pixel art and intense cyberpunk plotline. Technobabylon sets you loose in a world where ‘wetware’ wires people directly to the web, where the cerebral online Trance has replaced almost any need for human interaction, where the city’s omnipresent AI, Central, has eyes on everyone and everything — a world that could someday be ours. Learn more at the official website.

PREORDERS Through May 21, Technobabylon is available for preorder from the official website (http://www.technobabylon-game.com/preorder) and GOG (http://www.gog.com/news/preorder_technobabylon). The $14.99 preorder includes a digital soundtrack and behind-the-scenes goodies.

I hope I can afford an Afterlife train ticket (Grim Fandango Remastered overview)

In 1998 I was in third year of college and working hard. I’m not even sure how I found time for video games, but I did and on top of that heap was Grim Fandango. Up to that point I was a Lucasarts adventure game for lifer starting back with Loom. When Grim Fandango came out I can’t really remember the marketing at all, but I knew the Day of the Dead plot and that it was from the mind of the same person who made Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle and that was enough for me to grab it up for whatever probably outdated PC I had at the time.

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Truthfully though I don’t think I ever beat it. I do remember being amazed by the music though. Peter McConnell at that point had cemented his abilities with various LucasArts games but he seemed to become super inspired through Fandango’s mexican jazz and noir influences. That music would stay with me for years past ever actually touching the game. What also got me was that voice acting. At that point the lead, Tony Plana was a pretty established character actor with multiple film and TV appearances and an impeccable voice for comedic timing while still coming across as serious. Equally Alan Blumenfield who at the time was also one of those character actors who fell under the “hey, it’s that guy” was just perfect as the super energetic bounce off Plana’s cool and collected. The rest of the cast was full of known acors as well, but what stood out for me then and NOW was Pamela Segall. That was the coup of the voice casting, she was a former child actor and known cartoon voice actress at the time so hearing that she would be part of Grim was exciting. Honestly though I don’t know if I ever got far enough in the game to actually hear her in 1998. Those tank controls were… well, like controlling a tank. A headache and a half. I don’t care what Tim Schafer thinks… they aren’t fun. They’re a new device never used in an adventure game adding to the difficulty, but they also took away from the fun and ability to enjoy his clever script, engaging puzzles and curious plot.

Thankfully, in 2015 that all got fixed with Grim Fandango Remastered. Over the years I’ve tried using the fan made systems to play Fandango on new windows and even tried the fan made P&c scheme, but it just never felt… right. Multiple crashes and other doohickey annoyances made it nigh impossible to finish… even more than the the old tank controls.

While Remastered allowed me to finally play Fandango from start to finish without having to rely on tank controls even then it wasn’t completely easy. The game is difficult and has certain puzzles that were more annoyances then puzzle solving (ex: the section getting past skeleton tigers, and in the same general area, following an arrow). So it wasn’t the game I loved. In retrospect now as I sit here thinking of the experience, the game is actually not fun… but the acting, the script, the characters really just propel you to go forward. Some of the logic puzzles are equally obtuse as any adventure game, but the way they play out are either funny or justified in a way that made me continue and nod in a “allright, that works”.

What really makes Remastered special isn’t being able to play in a new game style way though. It’s the extras and bonuses. The commentary tracks are amazing and cover so much ground. There are interviews with not just Tim or Peter, but also the designers, the programmers, the casting & voice director and everyone in between. The making of the game is truly explored in fun and interesting ways along with a large gallery of design art including unused cut scenes and a full storyboard. On top of that the amazing soundtrack has truly be remastered and in cases re-recorded using a symphony guided by McConnell. It’s a wonder to hear and behold and makes playing so worth it.

The only thing not included (as far I could tell) was the original puzzle document. Fortunately that wondrous piece is still on the internet. Don’t read it till you’ve beaten the game though.

GRIM FANDANGO Remastered is currently available on PC/Mac and Linux DRM-Free and Steam as well on PS4 and PS Vita for $14.99.

Tim Schafer Games: the History of, and my Love of BROKEN AGE


Double Fine Adventure was what turned me into a Kickstarter fiend for a few months. The only thing that ended that fun was a mix of finances and seeing certain projects I funded just take way too long. Still I pledged $100 to DFA with trust in what Tim Schafer and Nathan “Bagel” Stapley coming together and combining their efforts to create a modern point and click adventure based off the strength of Tim’s previous work and where it’d lead had he not had to move on to things such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. This is not a commentary on those games, but more to explain my views of what became BROKEN AGE and my feelings towards it versus how certain reviews and opinions have formulated based on preconceived expectations based on misunderstanding and lack of comprehension on the part of the backers.

Being a backer meant that for the last two weeks I have gotten to playtest, look for bugs, analyze the game and prepare for whatever post release onslaught could be coming. The fans on the boards who were negative… and I mean NEGATIVE and I can understand most of their issues. Yet, those issues are mostly based in falsehood expectations that they had. Not one of them have I heard complain about the story or the art. Many of them have complained about length and character, but the second is to each his own. Some people love Natural Born Killers, others hate it, the same with True Blood, My Little Pony, Ben 10, Batman and many many other things. One person will say the character was full of emption and I could really relate and another person of the same exact character can say they had no emotion and could not relate at all. These are things that happen with every creative piece of art ever made and BROKEN AGE truly is a piece of art and it is a game.

It is is not an interactive story, or an animated children’s book which you can press buttons on. It is the perfect example of an adventure game that exists as it would’ve had if when Double Fine was created did nothing but point n click games. This is how they would evolve. They wouldn’t just be retreads of Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle or even Grim Fandango, but the next step, following the path that gaming has taken from going casual, back to hardcore, a return to casual and then reaching a happy medium that isn’t exactly a perfect balance and definitely won’t please all, but would allow for something fun, creative, purposeful, enjoyable, engaging and for some challenging, while others truly easy. For those who find it too easy though they would be getting something that no other game possessed. A special kind of charm, a witty humor, a sense of logic and story building that only Tim Schafer and a team he helped hand select could create.

My personal largest issue is people saying this is not what they expected and yet their expectations are all based on their own personal nostalgia and conception of what a Tim Schafer game is instead of the reality of it or at least to sound less biased, that there is another view of that and that the most important one is Tim Schafer’s. I will leave this argument and focus more now on the game itself and a couple of facts on the history of Tim Schafer games and Double Fine.

I feel to look properly at BROKEN AGE we must skip Monkey Island, as those were mostly Ron Gilbert games in which Tim got input but did not show us what type of game he would make. Day of the Tentacle is the first place when one sees the type of game Tim would make. Something that would take the genre to the next place. While multiple characters had been used in Maniac Mansion, finding a way to have those characters work together was new. DOTT was not as hard as people seem to remember though. Dave Grossman co-directed it and lots of his work which would be seen later on Moop & Dreadly and the Telltale Games catalog was definitely in place here… and they were equally Tim’s. Simplifying things to extract humor and thoughts but not making things so hard. The same can be said with Full Throttle, a game that was much more about fun, humor and story then trying to make things hard or complicated. It was short and balanced and even combined a difficult but not impossible action sequences, the first hint that Tim felt the best way to expand the genre was to simplify puzzles and add different types of gameplay. Full Throttle also showed Tim’s great and intriguing choices in voice casting and focusing on getting performances that would really show off his hilarious quips and really thought out storytelling. Mark Hamill, Maurce LaMarche, Tress Macneille, all inspired choices who at the time were established actors known to animation and genre fans worldwide. Then with Grim Fandango he flipped EVERYTHING upside down and made a 3D game with difficult controls, an abstract plot and even more abstract casting with voices everyone knew… Tony Plana, Maria Canals, Alan Blumenfeld and Pamela Segall-Adlon were all established actors with careers. It was an indication that if Tim could he’d really reach as far and as wide to get performances above and beyond that of a normal video game. The kind of performances we have all slowly now gotten used to, but back then… not even close to the norm.

Then… Tim Schafer stopped making point and click adventure games. Psychonauts had puzzles, but it was also an action platformer and one that took that genre into new directions with a heavy emphasis on conversations, visual cues, great storytelling with depth, and amazing acting performances. There was some really interesting casting on it with Armin Shimmerman, Josh Keaton and Tara Strong. He also proved a dedication using a lot of the talent from Throttle and Fandango. Then came Brutal Legend, turning the entire third person action adventure game in new ways and at times trying to do also way too much by adding Real Time Strategy. Yet, inspired casting, dialogue and story really leaped and showed Tim’s true talents as a director. Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Tim Curry, Jennifer Hale, Cree Summer and of course getting those legends of Rock.

After Brutal Legend and how it fared though Double Fine went smaller and Tim became a department head, while other voices in Double Fine showed how equally awesome they were. Costume Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade, Middle Manager of Justice were all brilliant and definitely Double Fine games which also felt like Tim games even with Tasha Harris, Lee Petty, Brad Muir and Kee Chi as directors.

All this brings us to BROKEN AGE and I’ll start with this. I love it, I understand any negative reviews and complaints but respectfully disgaree with them and I think this is something all gamers who want a new experience that at the same time feels old. Tim’s handprint is all over this thing. The jokes are aplenty and funny. Some are easily missed if you don’t experiment at illogical things, but there comes the real fun of adventure games. This is the linchpin of everything for me. Tim has created something that is funny, heart warming and full of depth. Are the puzzles easy? I guess. I’ve seen plenty of people also stating they were stuck in places and actually turning to a walk-through or asking for a hint, so I think the balance has been hit. A delicate balance that any game of this type will have had trouble juggling. I believe they have done so successfully. We also really get everything we’ve gotten from Tim in the past, innovation, the next step. This is the game he’d of made in 2014 as an adventure game especially if Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were point and clicks if he had complete control without publishers and never turning to Kickstarter in the first place. Turn to Kickstarter he did though and that created a whole different setup. Because this might not be the game he would’ve made under a publisher. A publisher would’ve maybe given him that little amount asked for and then he’d make a game and publishers would complain instead of fans. All this could be wrong, but it’s what I feel and isn’t that what reviews are, feelings?

I think the biggest thing that makes BROKEN AGE special is twofold.

Firstly, taking the evolution of casting to the next level. Tim brought in a ton of old friends along with him, including the folks with him since Day of the Tentacle and even bringing back Jack Black, as well as Cree Summer and even recruiting Wil Wheaton again. It’s the NEW people that are so exciting though. In the leads Elijah Wood (yes, that guy!), Masasa Moyo (best known for Team America: World Police and Young Justice), and David Kaufman (Danny Phantom and animated Jimmy Olsen); joining them in minor roles are major voice actresses like Hynden Welch and Grey Delisle with a final extra special appearance by the creator of Adventure Time & Bravest Warriors (and the voice of Spacy Lump Princess) Pen Ward. It’s like the greatest cast ever in forever for anything.

Secondly is the art style. No game has ever looked like this, because no game has ever tried to look like a painting by Nathan Stapley (well other than the Flash game on Double Fine.com based on his comic book). While he’s been an employee at Double Fine for a long time and was previously at Lucas Arts, his personal work is something special and other worldly. His palette and style has a frenetic energy that has not been seen by many… not even his occasional mate and fellow Double Fine employees Scott Campbell, Levi Ryken or Lee Petty. “Bagel” is a very special artist and that comes through every image in the game. While Peter Chan and the other artists I mentioned had a major part in the concept art, the final look of this thing is still all through the eye of Nathan.  Words really do it no justice, so here’s two screen shots.  One from the “fantasy” world and one from the “space” world.  Both have all the artistic influences in here and really show off how absolutely beautiful this game is.

The final word from me is you need to get BROKEN AGE. Be it now (released February 28th, 2014) off STEAM to experience the awesomeness of ACT 1 and marvel at an amazing Part 1 or waiting for the whole game off of Humble and other sources. I say play it now… as you get the entire game. Also grab the soundtrack.

I’m being hacked by Double Fine!


—TRACE BEGIN—
> CONNECT host:www.hacknslashthegame.com port:80
> SEND ApplicationData
>> GET /download/hacknslashannouncement.txt HTTP/1.1
>> Host: hacknslashthegame.com
>>
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: Apache/2.2.15 (CentOS)
Connection: close
Content-Type: application/octet-stream

DOUBLE FINE ANNOUNCES PUZZLE ACTION GAME HACK ’N’ SLASH
Former Amnesia Fortnight Prototype to Launch in First Half 2014, Supported by Indie Fund and friends of Double Fine

SAN FRANCISCO–December 10, 2013–Double Fine Productions today announced that Hack ‘n’ Slash, a hacking themed puzzle action game for Windows, Mac, and Linux, will release in the first half of 2014. A version of the game debuted during Double Fine’s Amnesia Fortnight 2012 internal game jam. It was selected by the gaming public to be turned into a two-week prototype, after garnering more votes than any other Amnesia Fortnight pitch.

In Hack ‘n’ Slash, a young elf uses her computer hacking skills to cheat her way through a classic action/adventure game. The game was funded by Indie Fund, Humble Bundle, Hemisphere Games, make all, AppAbove Games, Adam Saltsman, The Behemoth, Morgan Webb, and Rob Reid as part of a two-game deal that also includes Spacebase DF-9, which released in Early Access Alpha and recouped its investment within two weeks.

“I’ve always loved games with lots of secrets in them,” said Hack ‘n’ Slash project lead Brandon Dillon, “and when I first discovered a hex editor in an emulator, it dawned on me that I could be a kind of digital treasure hunter—no game could keep even its deepest secrets from me if I adventured long enough in its code and memory.”

By subverting old-school gaming tropes with unique hacking mechanics, Hack ‘n’ Slash allows non-programmer players to experience that same sense of mystery and discovery.

“Look, I’m going to be honest with you here: I don’t really understand what’s going on inside this game’s code,” said Double Fine president and CEO Tim Schafer, who claims to possess a degree in computer science. “I believe it contains ‘algorithms.’ But I know what’s going on inside my heart when I play it. And that is joy.”

“We’re psyched to be helping with Hack’n’Slash because Amnesia Fortnight projects are about empowering individual creators,” said Indie Fund partner Ron Carmel, who definitely possesses a degree in computer science. “And I can confirm that this game’s code does contain algorithms.”

Hack ‘n’ Slash will be released for Windows, Mac, and Linux on Steam and DRM-free in the first half of 2014. It will include algorithms.

> CONNECT host:hacknslashthegame.com port:443
> SEND ClientHello suites:TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA certs:x509 random:xIl3HWupPdsvwY94XV3UHtW04aE/wT4X8p7FmdSxW5w=
RECV ServerHello random:Up2+Rmzxa4CFywMpfAMCBn7wJHaiBnwEGslWPq4QaTQ=
RECV Certificate [verified]
RECV ServerHelloDone
> SEND ClientKeyExchange premaster:AwKV0UmxkA/iXZ4Y4NDn0P1Ju/m6GNL10FR7PuJae/83Ghy3Eo+6qDiJwQsNzjyB
… [encrypting provided premaster]
> ENCRYPT
… [computing master key]
… [sending ChangeCypherSpec]
> VERIFY
… [computing verify_data:Tcz7sewhNdF70Xmd]
… [sending Finished]
>SEND ApplicationData
>> ******************************************
>> ***************************
>>
… [sending ApplicationData encrypted_payload:9Uxik4wGjQEoga0gznSZM7H+x4gnbdG9iqVwCOucgvE=]
… [sending ApplicationData encrypted_payload:Z41sWWPE2pPTxXnfbb/ju+g9NGrE/7gMltSvCW2J5aLCjH0R5k8E1iHJydJ1OuguAyZqKPlUDOxVZ6I1dnIJkPBXre5y2wcZU5misdX8Hk+exdqsbpjeDRwQKxwxcOTm]
wqbzvEF9EWuIshMxNfrvhg75TbHD5/WY4dA8m73GW6kX6S7lszdMKCKr3QWz0/2EAwdkU51tyAqEMB1DR87/9PnAXnECqvbVZLWL8MBNgcyd4ri+YzRDF/R+XbJ3qXbRIfuaiJGqjB8AQSYTHdmBIqdcamc6404t5cw0Gx7oRyYmudXx4CZ1D2fpD801jKNOm/Zv0saw3XwF7j0gPvvKZBWmUzwGc9L8PNFkKzsliozmBUxyE3hdRu0L7G5fqviPejgjau3VBC3LI64nvNz8yQ27yoZKpaqAlAV69tnPkwqTGeXgFM6ev4w6CTFUYPHucogo5OJ3V0G0n69k8+aljaeeNTuVzmRML9bHJdzVB4s252NF2PrgPlzGQIgbih7P4unwshrtCLeg8zLF0AApCA==
—TRACE END—

Cognitive Reasoning Turns Its Final Time

When things end, especially serials we hope that even if they end with room for more, they offer a satisfying ending. One we can contemplate and understand what has come and what may come. With so many series recently ending in ways that have left me scratching my head I am glad that COGNITION: An Erica Reed Mystery has concluded with an open ending that brings a MORE than satisfying conclusion to its whole and that its final chapter answers any and all questions developed through the first three chapters.

I had previously written about those first three chapters here on The Spectrum and stated how excited I was for the final chapter. It delivered and in spades, but not completely as expected and with surprising moments and changes that actually make a second playthrough not just good for the acting, music and story but that decisions you make will actually create a different ending.

This new factor the game was fascinating and it’s played through a great mechanism. Through dialogue trees, how you respond to certain questions and sequences will change how a character feels about you. There is no wrong or right answer in these cases, they will just decide which direction the ending will bring you. They are not a solution to a puzzle but an extension of nuanced game playing and upping the ante of play styles that have built through the first three chapters.

The puzzles this time actually do take a part of the pattern that I really didn’t like in the end of chapter 2, but this time around they weren’t as complicated and felt like they fit right into the fact that we are the final complex chapter of this dense mystery with characters who can see the past, the future, read minds, shoot guns and solve complex puzzles without any powers even.

Amazingly one of the most interesting and exciting parts of this final chapter is the tutorial section that delves deeper into some history that reveals the motivations behind the lead characters relationship with an important side character. It really sets up the game well too, guiding you to remembering how the supernatural powers combined with actual detective work really go hand in hand and make Erica Reed a special character.

I must also applaud the acting in this particular chapter. It seemed to be a bit of a step up even though it was the same actors as previous chapters, by the end it really felt like Raleigh Holmes had found a voice for Erica that really is its own. It made me feel sad that this might be the last we see of the character for awhile actually.

Here’s to hoping Phoenix Online Studios decides to work on a followup to Erica’s new mission, there’s plenty of story to be told and so many more intriguing ways to delve into the powers that were actually only touched upon in this final chapter.

COGNITION: The Cain Killer is now available on STEAM, GOG and the POS website and if you act fast you can catch some great sales on the POS website.