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person who made Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle and that was enough for me to grab it up for whatever probably outdated PC I had at the time.


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!

> 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

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]
… [computing master key]
… [sending ChangeCypherSpec]
… [computing verify_data:Tcz7sewhNdF70Xmd]
… [sending Finished]
>SEND ApplicationData
>> ******************************************
>> ***************************
… [sending ApplicationData encrypted_payload:9Uxik4wGjQEoga0gznSZM7H+x4gnbdG9iqVwCOucgvE=]
… [sending ApplicationData encrypted_payload:Z41sWWPE2pPTxXnfbb/ju+g9NGrE/7gMltSvCW2J5aLCjH0R5k8E1iHJydJ1OuguAyZqKPlUDOxVZ6I1dnIJkPBXre5y2wcZU5misdX8Hk+exdqsbpjeDRwQKxwxcOTm]

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.

Ba Dum, Chimk, Tzzt… Feel the Beat, of Beat Buddy

This first time I tried out BEATBUDDY was a long time ago, or least a year. They had a pre-alpha demo on STEAM that was designed to literally just get you excited and it did. It looked really cool right away and was fun with awesome music.

I devoured every news tidbit that came in as the game went into full flung production. From the first trailer designed for PAX EAST 2013 to the announcement of the stunningly beautiful and brilliant writer Rhianna Pratchett of Heavenly Sword, Mirror’s Edge and the extremely well written 2013 game Tomb Raider joining the team to help out. The fact that Austin Wintory had provided music for the game had also made me excited.

They released an almost finished preview copy of the final build and that blew me away. Yet then I got my hands on a finished review copy of BEATBUDDY: TALES OF THE GUARDIANS and that is when problems started rearing their head. I am ignoring any and all bugs I encountered and just focusing on the overall difficulty. This game just amps its difficulty more and more but doesn’t really ever give you chance to get better before the difficulty hits. One second it’s smooth sailing, suddenly you’re having to zoom down with enemies hitting you, avoiding spikes and trying to grab a key at the bottom of a pit with the door you need to open at the top of the pit and all the while the pit has a spike ceiling which is coming down at you.

There’s another section where you’re in a ship and another ship is coming uo behind you. Your job is to protect this ship, but this ship can take hits and you can’t. Yet there are obstacles the whole route and the ship keeps trying to get ahead of you, so if you don’t destroy those obstacles or get stuck behind and then, well, death. This could be fixed in the final build, but it was the most headache time I had the whole game. I only beat it because of a bug which suddenly that ship I was transporting disappeared completely, so it was easy.

SIDE NOTE: The final released version of the game fixes these glitches I discovered, but obviously doesn’t fix the difficulty, that’s still pretty damn high, but that’s part the course for action platformers.

When the game isn’t being impossible than it’s absolute joy with charming visuals, a story that makes you feel compelled to continue and some of the coolest sounding music ever in a game. In terms of praise there’s very little more to say… I mentioned the writer, one of the musicians and that the game looks great. If difficult action platformers that are beautiful is your thing, you can’t go wrong.

One of the best things that THREAKS, the company that made BEATBUDDY did was it’s campaigning of the game. They were open creators, answering questions, and being just a fun company. On top of that early preview copy they released a year prior, they kept fans up to date with press releases AND if you really followed along? You got your hands on a Beat Buddy plush. Beat buddy is so damn cute, I could’ve hated the game and I’d still love him. You should play Beatbuddy just to LOOK at Beatbuddy and listen to the music because who doesn’t love cute and music? Well, somebody, but no body that I like.’

If you still aren’t sold though there’s a demo available of the first two levels on Steam right now.

How Many Hits Can You Get? A Combo Crew review

One of the biggest things that have become a regular part of life over here at Pop-Culture Spectrum is mobile gaming. I’m grabbing my iPhone and playing things like Robot Unicorn, Whale Trail, Punch Quest, Middle Manager of Justice, Eyelord and even Angry Birds. What we haven’t done though is discuss these games and that stops NOW with the following.

The Game Bakers have made three awesome, intriguing, cute and fun games. These three games are not without their flaws, but as mobile games trying to give the feel of what mobile and touch is truly capable of they have surpassed their goals each time. With their first two games SQUIDS and SQUIDS: Wild West they combined RPG with pull physics to create something very unto itself and yet infinitely playable with a quest, bosses, story and lovable characters.

In their latest they seemed to go a new path, gameplay was the main focus here, although story and character still shine. The new game is COMBO CREW. Inspired by 80’s arcade games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage in which the longer you can hit without getting hit the higher your combo score goes up and the better points you they’ve delivered something just as fun as those games and yet equally as frustrating.

One of my biggest issues and problems with those old arcade smash em-ups was being fast enough to hit the counter while in the middle of a combo. The same issue exists in COMBO CREW. As my chosen character is unleashing a combo on an enemy I get warned that another enemy is about to attack but I’m either not fast enough OR the game is not fast enough to recognize my tap to stop the attack. Not always, but when it happens I get tempted to throw my phone across the room. I would never do that, because… it’s just a game. A good game that when you die and get a game over make you go “ARGHHH!” but just a game. No worries about this argh happening in public either. I’d almost be scared to play it in public with the furious finger swiping it takes.

The game has a co-op but being a solo gamer means I’ll never experience that, but the idea of it is pretty good.

In terms of replayability it has it in spades, as you’ll automatically get better with time, you’ll score higher and unlock more combos and additional characters.

There’s two modes as well, a “story” mode and an endless mode. Once unlocked endless can help you in story to get stronger, faster, better to get to the top of the tower.

In terms of developing something that really was made for the idea of touch, Game Bakers has succeeded again immensely and this is one of those games that if you have an iPhone, iPad and yes, even an Android. Of course if you don’t have one of those and only have a PC you’re out of luck!

Yet, you can still experience some Game Bakers with a PC version of SQUIDS.

COGNITION: Looking through the chapters

Through three chapters the saga of Erica Reed, a paranormal detective in the series of COGNITION has grown in amazing ways. In episode three brand new developments to gameplay as well as story bring things to amazing climax which in the end will have any fan (new and old) salivating for the final chapter.

As an FBI agent focused mostly in serial killer investigations, Reed tends to find herself in dangerous situations and unfortunately for her years ago, a serial killer chose to attack her family. This killer was never caught and years later this event seems to be a constant to everything happening to Reed within the confines of the games narrative.

Working as a traditional point n click, COGNITION is all three episodes is just as good as any, with good dialogue, well thought of puzzles and plot structure that pushes the game along. Yet when Erica Reed’s power of the mind comes into play the game takes a solid turn at being something different.

In the first game the basics of being able to see into the past give you clear understanding of the mechanics without anything being too complicated or overwrought. Sometimes it even seems like your hand is being held, but with such a new game mechanic in place to this type of genre and the very intense, gory, and distressing story it tells this was necessary.

In the second chapter all seems fine, the hand is let go, your training wheels are removed and off you go flying trying to put together the puzzle pieces and solve the mystery before time runs out, even in some cases time has run out for everyone. It’s smooth sailing till the final puzzle, when the game falls off the rails and takes a detour into “Hey, I know you just learned how to ride a bicycle, but here’s a unicycle, also juggle these flaming bowling pins”. It’s a deep turn of puzzle difficulty which while it does not break the game nor deter you from wanting to finish it does put a damper on things. Nonetheless you are compelled to move onto the third chapter.

This third chapter takes things to another level adding to your power abilities as well as adding a second playable character. To fully explain this would create major spoilers, but it works really well and to the plot of the game, the way it has progressed and such. I will say story structure wise that if you are used to paranormal mystery stories nothing really comes as a shock or surprise here. If you’re one of those this is more about getting to read a well crafted, although as cliched as ANY of them and really, they’re ALL cliched… betrayal, unfocused love relationships, people not appearing to be who you thought they were, all these stories are exactly like COGNITION. What makes COGNITION different is the fact that not only is it a game, but a well made game.

It’s not just the gameplay though. The art is superb, between the 3D esque normal play and the painted cut scenes everything shines. The music composition really shines, swifting you through the tale with just the right emphasis and notes, but what really makes the game is the lead voice acting by singer/actress, Raleigh Holmes, who is also coincidentally step-daughter of the game’s consultant Jane Jensen. Okay, not a coincidence, but Raleigh would be right for this part even if she didn’t already have a connection to it. There’s just something about her accent, her gruffness, her delivery that adds a gravitas to the entire game and makes it a must play.

I’ve said before in this blog that I look forward to the next chapter and once again, there is no mistaking I look forward to seeing what the final chapter The Cain Killer brings to COGNITION and how they decide to twist things again gameplay wise to keep it all interesting.

(images shown are from COGNITION: THE ORACLE)

Spelling Words, Making Magic. A Game Not To Miss!

I have never been good at word finders, and I actually not even really good at Scrabble. I miss those large scoring words, because even though I know them, the scrabble part of it always confuses me. Yet I play Scrabble, but not online. I never got into Words with Friends or anything like that, but I get the appeal. I like developer Ryan Creighton have always wondered what a game like that if brought to something even bigger. Ryan was inspired by a game that he thought was going to be that and wasn’t. I see Ryan’s game as pretty close to what I’ve always envisioned a word finder game at a larger scale where the word building wasn’t just a game but a function of the story telling.

That in a nutshell explains what SPELLIRIUM is. A word finder/builder with a story that is enjoyable and intriguing. One of the best things the game has going for it is the art design, from the characters, the backgrounds and the cut scenes. In simply still an alpha state this is blowing my mind. Being able to actually play something in Alpha is always fun. You’re not actually a playtester but you get to really see where a game is at before completion. I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let me rewind a tad.

Untold Entertainment is doing a special way of pre-order for their game in which isn’t a Kickstarter, but a kickender. This game is happening, it’s coming out. The question is how good will the final product be? Production costs money and while kickstarter is meant to do just that for projects, SPELLIRIUM has funded itself along the way with grants, funding and out of pocket and has a long way in its development. Despite being a point n click game and 2013 being definitely The Year of Adventure Games Return To The Mainstream it is also a niche game. It is not your traditional puzzler with fetch quests, inventory options and more, no it really combines two genres that you wouldn’t expect to work but in your mind want them too.

This isn’t to say that the Alpha isn’t full of flaws, but the promise it shows makes the Pre-Order completely worth it. Certain bugs are causing at least for me an impossibility to beat a certain puzzle, or maybe I just am not good at this stuff. It’s also about predicting vowels and consonants and understanding a structure of charges and combos and all that jazz. If you love things like Bejeweled, etc. or supposedly some game called Bookworm, then you’ll love this and you’ll enjoy the fact that it’s not just a word connecting. There is definitely still that point n click aspect and there’s the entire figuring out what to do next/where to go next thing going on as well.

In terms of seeing games always changing, evolving, taking the next step while staying in their roots of fun, good graphics, fun, good stories, interesting gameplay, fun then you can’t go wrong with SPELLIRIUM (even if admittedly my difficulty with a puzzle I can’t beat because of my skill level/bugs within the game).

So if you’re still staring at the screen shots, or reading this, stop. Just go and pre-order the damn thing already. You know you want to. Flaws and all!

Also… how can you resist a campaign that gives you something like this?

Come mothers and fathers, come sons and come daughters,
come graduates sprung from your old alma maters
come lovers of words, come adorers of books,
come peer at these pages, come take a good look
For today at long last, you will finally play
the game we’ve been building for many a day
(i’m so proud to say it, it’s making me teary some)
this is the day that you’ll all play Spellirium!
While it’s not fully finished, it’s come well along
we’re ready to let you all play, you big throng
and with your support, it will end perfectly
and we’ll make it the game that we meant it to be.
So open your wallets! Un-mattress your cash!
Donate all your savings, and empty your stash!
Dig deep, and find money, and give it all here
And then yell to your friends so that they overhear
And THEY give us their money! And THEIR friends do, too!
and then when it’s all over … just what did we do?
We shut down the banks, and we took all the bucks
and every last dime in the world went to us
The people of Earth will all turn out their pockets
And hope, beyond hopes, that we’re gonna rock it
And rock it we will, for the price you did pay
Oh, the game that we’ll make. OH, THE GAME THAT YOU’ll PLAY!!

Best Point n Click/Adventure Games of 2012/Early 2013

In 2012 the point n click adventure game of yesteryear saw a true resurgence. This return to a beloved game form that had been more cultist and present over in Europe for the last few years started making mainstream breakthroughs with the success of Double Fine’s Kickstarter. That success brought forth a lot of other old guard to bring their games to life such as Jane Jensen of Gabriel Knight fame, Chris Jones & Aaron Conners of Tex Murphy fame, The Two Guys From Andromeda, Al Lowe, all popped up on Kickstarter. Not to mention a bunch of other folks with new ideas for point and click adventures with new Ips such as The Last Door, Homestuck Adventure, Jack and The Necronauts and more. Some games on Kickstarter actually preceded DFA successfully and they’ll be discussed shortly as I analyze some of my favorite adventure game experiences of 2012 and early 2013 with a look forward to what the rest of the year will bring. In some cases I’m thinking it might be best to just link to my review that already exists with maybe a single line from it.

Resonance: “Hit it out of the ballpark with a few fouls. I absolutely loved using all four characters to figure out different puzzles, the clues and development of the long term and short term memory, the variants in puzzle style and design that kept things interesting and yet never stopped one from being able to continue on.”
It was also one of those games that got its support on Kickstarter and before DFA, so it was a long time coming and came out great.

Cognition-An Erica Reed Mystery: Two chapters of this game episodic game from Phoenix Online Studios (creators of the excellent Silver Lining which started as King’s Quest fan game) that also found its backing on Kickstarter. The first chapter “The Hangman” introduced a great world, story, characters and intriguing gameplay. Chapter two kept up the great writing and story, but the mechanics and puzzles definitely suffered. I have more to say on this and hopefully will, but despite many flaws in Chapter 2’s “The Wise Monkey” I am still excited and interested in the continuing story and how it will all come together in the end.

The Cave: Double Fine’s first new game of 2013 and it’s first to launch on PC, Xbox, PS3, etc. on the same day is a strange creature. Not fully an adventure game despite it’s marketing, not completely a platformer even though it works like one, it’s got its great own little niche. The kind that one has expected from a games company whose yet to make a game that can actually be classified as they all had elements of adventure, puzzles, platforming, action and other gameplaying tecniques. The Cave’s graphic design and abstract puzzle design shows that the team is still rooted in its Lucasarts beginnings even as it branches out from there.

Kentucky Route Zero-Act 1: Another project that started out on Kickstarter, it is less point n click adventure and more interactive visual fiction, but that doesn’t take away from it’s amazing use of art, game mechanics and storytelling to create an excellent “game”. If you haven’t given this one a go you’re really denying yourself an experience worthwhile.

Primordia: “This game presents a very large and over encompassing story about a post apocalyptic (or seemingly so) world in which only robots remain and these robots live in a 1984 lifestyle in which your character invades, upturns and rearranges in surprising ways. All along the way you’ll laugh, cry, be amazed and question your choices.”

The Ballads of Reemus- When the Bed Bites : I amazingly never wrote an actual review of this, but I did shoot an unpacking video showing my pure excitement for it. Made by Clickshake games this was the promise of an epic after many successful flash games and they delivered on their promise. Amazing artwork, great vocal work, intelligent puzzles, amazing humor. I wish there was a way they could do their games like this more often instead of simpler although that takes nothing away from their more recent production Wentworth which must been played.

Screen 7 Summerbatch: This amazing bundle offered four games of varying style, but all old school point n click. I loved everything about this. This is one where I must direct you straight to my review. Unfortunately only one of the games in the bundle are available (and for free), but the creators of the games have other games they’ve made that are available and if you go the main website and click on each developer you should find something worth your time if you really look.

Botanicula: The weird, fun, awkward work of Amanita Design followed up on Samorost so nicely. This isn’t your typical point n click, but it’s still totally a point and click game in that there are puzzles to figure out, things to click on and even “conversations” in its own strange way. Visually it might be my favorite of all the games I played in 2012.

Papo & Yo: It’s hard to argue Papo & Yo as an adventure game as it has platforming and action elements, but it really is an adventure game as well as interactive fiction. Unfortunately it’s also a Playstation exclusive and a PSN exclusive at that. I could see the game easily ported one day to PC though here’s hoping for all those who didn’t get to experience it.

Da New Guys: This humorous wrestling classic point n click was another awesome exciting adventure for me in 2012. I just had a lot of fun with it, but my review will let you know even better.

Secret Files 3: Animations Arts out of Germany has been making the Secret Files series for all while and Part 3 was another excellent example of the company understanding how to make drama filled pont n click traditional with comedy. As excellent as Secret Files has been, their Lost Horizon game was

Shadows on the Vatican Act 1: Part of this episodic drama is a balance of easy and hard with comic book style art and old school point n click, along with some of the newer additions to the genre over the years and some of the less appreciated puzzles of yesteryear as well, but none of them so bad that you’d not want to continue the tale and see where it is headed. Like Cognition, a big story is being told here in long chapters instead of one enormous game and it’s a story I’ll be following.

Deponia/Chaos on Deponia: From Daedelic, another Germany company with a track record of well animated, classic style point n click, these two games are the first two chapters of a trilogy of a steampunk comedy fantasy. Daedelic’s games are actually quite difficult, with puzzles that can really stump you and scratch your head. This isn’t a bad thing, but it has meant that I haven’t even beaten by Chaos yet and I might not by the time their next game comes out.

Yesterday: The last game from Pendulo Studios before focusing on remakes of their older games and trying to find the eventual funding for their next and possibly largest adventure, this horror themed adventure had a lot going for it. Albeit short and obscenely easy from a puzzle standpoint, it still had the great CGIesque art Pendulo has become famous for as well as their unbalanced, but funny and intriguing storytelling. It’s not one to be skipped.

As the rest of 2013 and even 2014 comes there’s a lot to look forward to in the adventure gaming genre, especially with many of the old stalwarts coming out of the proverbial woodworks even. Here are just some of the games coming that have me excited (even if I didn’t jump on their kickstarter bandwagon):

Double Fine Adventure/REDS: I’ll have lots more to say about this in a forthcoming much delayed Kickstarter experience article, but a quick note to tell you this is going to be one to look out for. This game in my mind will definitely be coming out and while The Cave has received mixed reviews, I expect the gaming community to really fall for this in a big way.

Moebius: The first game from the new Jane Jensen spearheaded Pinkerton Road feels like it’ll really one to watch for. Jane never really disappeared from games making, but her last game as full on writer was the much muddled and production delayed Gray Matter. Other than that she’s helped direct and design lots of casualesque adventure games as well doing consulting for Cognition. This is her first big return to the stage making the game she wants to make. It should be exciting.

Kentucky Route Zero Chapter 2: As it’s planned to be released in chapters, of course I am very excited to see what the next chapter of this will look, sound, feel like.

Reincarnation-Root of All Evil: The flash games for the series about a little purple demon who takes the souls of evil for hell have all been amazing. I really look forward to seeing what a full fledged game will be like. The last truly classic feeling point and click he did was years ago and it was awesome, yet hard, which their small games are as well, but they look great and are fun.

Shadows on the Vatican Act 2: I feel really grateful that I got a free pre-order on this through a bundle as a secret surprise bonus, but if I hadn’t I’d totally ended up buying it when it came out. Really good story, awesome art and in part 2 the promise of controlling two characters for the whole game instead of just a portion? Sold.

Lifeless Planet: This was a project that launched on Kickstarter before the DFA explosion so I missed it, but as doing research this sci-fi 3D epic looks promising.

I could go on and on with games such as the new Broken Sword, the new Tex Murphy, Beyond Two Souls from the makers of Heavy Rain and more. I just love that my favorite genre is alive!

A Look at Independent Games that Are My Fancy

Independent video games have tons of soul, but finding ones that truly call to me are difficult.  Finding video games that I want period are difficult, but they do exist.  I generally enjoy point n’ click adventures, third person action games (not shooters) or side scrolling platformers.  As I said, they exist, but the prevalent gaming still is the FPS, the multiplayer insanity and the MMO RPGS and they get the focus.  Here using the entries to the IGF I found a share of games that I enjoyed and I think you might too.

Bollywood Wannabe: I don’t tend to like rhythm games myself, but if they’re your thing this is the one to look into. The graphics are superb, an amazing art style that truly pops. The concepts of adding a bit of platformer style to the game is awesome too. One of the main issue missing is being a keyboard only game from what I can see, but if you actually like games that test your hand eye coordination with high quality graphics and funny script this might be up your alley. Try out the demo in the very least.

JazzPunk: This looks like a really fun first person action/adventurer with fun graphics and lots of humor, since well that is how it’s being advertised, but the current video teaser shows it to be just that. Definfitnetly one I’ll be keeping my eyes on to see how the final product is.

Pavilion: Best described by their own words. Pavilion is a fourth person exploratory experience about guidance, influence and subliminal control. Manipulate the surrounding environment, influence his sense and guide the main character on the path towards truth.

Spoiler Alert: I highly recommend this innovative but simple platformer available for the PC and Mac and being developed for mobile. It’s a two button game with the main mechanic that you have actually ready beaten the game and you are playing in reverse, having to actually recreate the game you played. It’s actually quite hard to properly convey, but it’s a great idea and this little game gets it just right. Best of all the complete game is free.

The Insulines: A traditional point n click adventure with finding a way to make the mundane actually fun. It’s meant to be part rock n roll comedy/part insulin&diabetes PSA. As someone who has more than a few friends with diabetes I can see how as the story goes along it”ll grab me more. I really like the art style, it’s quirky. The song “Sugar Free” which you can hear through the chrome demo and linked through their twitter is also really worth checking out.

Back to Bed: An intriguing and slightly difficult puzzle game in which you must make a man not fall of the path. You control a dream dog or something who must lay the path out on a dreamscape with added difficulty each level. It’s esoteric and challenging and it’s free.

Owlboy: A pixel art platformer with really high quality pixels, an awesome looking main character, awesome conceptual art and based on what they consider an outdated demo from 2011 really quality gameplay mechanics. This definitely one to check out. Grab that old demo, enjoy it and then just wait with baited breath for the final version.

Beat Buddy: A platformer swimmer with music mechanics that looks great and sounds great as well. There’s a pre-alpha demo up on Steam right now which just needs to be played. It’s a full level and really shows off the promise of what can be a very fun game to run around in and experience.

Contrast: An upcoming action platformer with puzzle mechanics and more based in 1920s France under the allure of performing arts and using shadows mechanics to tells it story. No demo available, but the teaser trailer is amazing and it was greenlit on Steam, so the expectation and excitement is high.

OIO: Intriguing well designed puzzle platformer with a cute lead character a great art design. There’s a demo to make you want it which really accomplishes this goal. A well polished indie gem for PC/Mac.

Douse: This simple, but elegant project from students at Digipen is like platforming version of Flower for PSN. There basically no challenge, it’s pretty much an art game, but it is really beautiful experience.

A Cat’s Night: A very classic style point n click that is cute and fun because you play a cat who is trying to save his shelter from being destroyed and thinks he can do it all without leaving the shelter. The art is really cute and it’s another free one.