A batch of AGS totally worth more than the price!

Indie game bundles have been the craze for a short while. There’s been Humble Bundle, Indie Royle, Bundle-In-A-Box and the first AGS bundle last year AGS Bake Sale.

AGS Bake Sale offered a ton of amazing exclusive games built in Chris Jones AGS. Primamrily designed for making point and click games developers have branched out and for that bundle, a shooter and a platformer were designed. Not every game in that bundle was gold, but it gave one some excellent work in Nine Months In and Fragment while the rest were excellent examples of how versatile the engine software actually is and how in many times it all comes down to puzzles, art and story telling… not how the game is made.

Independent publisher Screen 7 out of the UK recently published a brand new AGS bundle titled Summerbatch which features 5 games. Four traditional point n click games with varying art styles and story telling techniques and one very different type of game and a new one to AGS I assume in stealth action ala Metal Gear Solid.

In Barely Floating we are introduced to the best animated/illustrated of the works, with some work that looks way beyond indie, while some of the game mechanics still definitely are hobbled by AGS being capable of what it is capable. Extremely funny with some serious mind buzzer of puzzles invoking old school point n click where one must truly pay attention to dialogue and sentences, it quickly became one of my favorite of the games and it feels like there could be a sequel featuring the protagonist. Or maybe a prequel? It felt a little weird that the only thing we really discover about the lead character is his name while everyone else gets way more fleshed out.

Jailbreak is the stealth game I mentioned above. Of the five games I must admit it was my least favorite. While I really respect and appreciate the work of the developers in trying something totally new and different with AGS, the graphics and gameplay really felt short. Others might actually state this was their favorite game of the bundle and I actually really happy it is in there to add variety to the whole thing. I personally would be happy with the four point n clicks, more than happy, so this game is a bonus.

Patchwork is also impressively in its graphics and feels epic in scope, but is actually the shortest of the games and the only one with a puzzle type that I personally always hate finding. Despite that, it’s writing in top notch and it like Barely Floating and PISS and even Nancy The Happy Whore feel like they could be larger games with prequels and sequels.

Nancy is the most crazy of the games, but I even almost feel like it could’ve gone over the edge. Sure pixelized boobies especially in pixel art aren’t exciting, but they would’ve added some humor and fun. Even without the nudity, despite the Happy Whore title, there’s some very interesting twists and intriguing turns to this adventure which starts small and ends up maybe more epic than PISS even since PISS feels huge and epic from the start simply because of its world.

So now we get to PISS, which has been considered the gem of the batch by some. It is a very impressive sci-fi spiritual adventure fantasy, with some incredible writing and with every character being completely and totally fleshed out. Except for the lead who we get more questions than answers in the end about. If any of the games NEEDS a sequel it’s PISS. The others could have sequels. PISS needs one, the story needs to continue. Be it as a game or a book or a comic.

As a whole, Summerbatch is actually a steal at its “Name Your Price” price. Of course it’s worth at least a minimum $15, especially since it went to charity and the games were developed without budgets from the publisher. The deal started in August and runs till November. That’s a lot of time left, but jump on it sooner than later, there’s going to be some long nights for some players indeed.

RESONANCE: Epic Retro Sci-Fi Mystery Does Much Good (some bad)

The best Science Fiction tends to have dubious characters of gray personalities, a terse semblance of what is truly right and wrong, awkward scientific concepts which aren’t exactly plausible and usually, but not always an ending which makes one think “Well, was it all worth it?”. Mysteries seem to have this is as well and then there’s science fiction mysteries who really play into this such as Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Twelve Monkeys, etc. Although science fiction may be the wrong term, possibly speculative fiction is the better genre use. They seem interchangeable and in many ways lots of these books do too. The characters, plots, etc. are all different, but they all speculate the possibility of worlds with excessive control, characters who want to escape that control, twists that possibly change your entire view of the story and an ending in which you feel satisfied, but not happy, questioning your own moral code and the future of our world as a whole.

All this preamble is leading to a look at the just released speculative fiction point ‘n’ click adventure game epic by Vince Twelve/XII Studios, RESONANCE. A deeply satisfying, yet as it seems with ALL video games, no matter what, slightly flawed production, but none that detract from enjoyment. Yet, designer/writer Vince has stated that he expects to be hear these complaints and he’s already had bug detractors from the demo that has been available for a week, so nothing I say here should be too blaring compared to much more delicate video game players who either expect golden platters or never really explore enough to find some of their statements to be completely untrue.

A perfect example of this is in a review I read earlier today which stated that the four playable characters were shallow, the only one with real depth being Anna. This is very untrue. While Anna’s background is fleshed out through nightmarish maze levels which open up flashbacks, the other characters are more than fully developed with back story, sense of being and more through dialogue trees which are not essential to finishing the game and may only be discovered through full discovery are careful attention. I particularly enjoyed Inspector Bennett’s personal monologue that kind of explains about why he is the way he is.

The mechanics of the game are as important as characters and story and in most ways. RESONANCE hits 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. In at least each of the more complicated logic/math/mechanic puzzles there always another solution and in the ones where there wasn’t, it was way less complicated than one thought. I think of one puzzle involving a magnet where I was frustrated forever and then one simple solution and it was really easy. I mean super easy, I just had to think. Actually I asked for help, but I would’ve eventually gotten it and I smacked myself for not realizing it sooner, although one could also blame Vince for not making it as intuitive as possible and I do feel that was an issue. It was actually an issue in various other places in terms of design. A lack of intuitiveness or the system reacting the way one would expect. Having to switch a character because he/she was standing in front of a hotspot another character need to access seemed quite retarded. The short term memory system also had issues in which it could remember items multiple times, wasting slots because of the way the system woke up in certain situations. These were the biggest of the flaws though.

With that out of the way I’ll focus on my personal positives although with still a few negatives for a balanced review. I found all the voice acting to be superb except in some minor spots. It’s like a great movie though where so much money, time and energy has been spent on the main cast that the minor character is played by whoever could show up that day. It reminds me of that scene in Wayne’s World 2 when Wayne goes to the gas station and complains about a very minor role being handled by a “bad actor” and the actor is then replaced by Charlton Heston of all people. Unfortunately here Al Hansen kept his role and we were stuck with the “bad actor”, which more is to say that the performance wasn’t as strong as one would hope on the minor characters when the leads were so fun and quality. Most folks would praise Logan Cunningham, but for me it was Darryl Lathon’s Ray, who in many ways is the most important character, who was awesome. A kind of everyman as the outsider pulled into something that had nothing to do with him, yet becomes as involved and as important as anyone else.

The puzzles be they context based, environmental, logic, visual, etc. were all really well thought out. Even the more complicated ones or the maze like ones, they all seemed to fit. They never once made me go “Oh screw this”. Some may have taken me walking away for a day or two, but THAT is the sign of a well done adventure game. There are no steadfast rules on this though. Some folks love puzzles that are easy and allow a game to be an interactive story as much asd it is a game, while others appreciate games that really force you to think while also balancing story elements. Many of those elements may even become hidden to certain players as they worry more about the next puzzle than asking about every last thing which might extrapolate a line of dialogue that could create further character development. It’s a double edged sword, people complain about everything being fed to them, or people complain that it isn’t fed to them, there seems to be no happy in between. RESONANCE tries it best to find that, but I don’t expect that of any game developer ever. People will see a game the way they want to see it, it doesn’t matter what the game actually is.

As a hard sci-fi near future story with moral gray areas, difficult puzzles, amazing pixel graphics, sensational plotting and writing (that might actually be too gray as a story or movie, but workbrilliantly as an interactive software), concepts that make you think and more, RESONANCE is completely worth your time, attention and money.  I should also mention that unlike most films or books there is one option to see things end up.  There are only a few options available and they are all as gray as the rest of the game and its moral ground, but they definitely add to the entire sensation of the game.  There are also achievements which give the game a bit of replayability not seen in adventure games usually other than to experience the story again.  The alternate endings and achievements are just really nice extra touches that show Vince Twelve has a bit of forward thinking, although equally they may suggest a bit of stretching too thin and trying to do too much as some of the puzzles had shown.  Once again, that double edged sword.

For those weary there is a demo available which gives you a true feel for the production and should either compel you to have to continue on or know if it isn’t your cup of tea.

This review was based on a review copy courtesy of Wadjet Eye Games.  Screenshot courtesy of XII Games/Wadjeteye Games.  Image of Daryl Lathan courtesy of  Genevieve Rafter Keddy of Broadwayworld.com

Nerd Notes for 02/01/2012

Over at my Livejournal I used to take various links I found and collate them all into a collection that I called “Nerd Notes”.  These links could contain anything from videogames to wrestling to movie trailers to news articles.  I have decided that it was an excellent concept and am migrating it now for use at Pop-Culture Spectrum.  This is just the first up many to come and allow me to relay lots of information in short bursts instead of full fledged reviews or articles when something may warrant it, but would take up ample time before getting the product information out there.

VIDEO GAMES

AGS Bake Sale: A collection of fully cooked to perfection games built inside of AGS and bundled for charity, it is available for $1.50 or more based on your choice of donation to Child’s Play.  If you are familiar with the Humble Bundle this is very similar but allows you to play games that are completely exclusive to this pack.  I have played portions of 9 Months In, Red Volition, Indiana Rodent and Abner so far and they are all excellent and worth the price.

Nurse Quest: This free pixel based point and click adventure developed by Robot Lizard for Adult Swim Games is hilarious, crafty and well constructed.  It isn’t a time waster though, so be ready to sit down for a good half hour to hour to enjoy the hilarity.

Da New Guys: Back in 2004 Chris Burton put out an AGS game built around an imaginary wrestling federation and a team known as “Da New Guys”.  It was a critical success and Burton also made a short animated feature with the characters called “For The Winnings” in Blender.  Announcement came of a game sequel but they were continually delayed.  Finally in 2012, Morton teams up with Wadjet Eye Games for “Day Of The Jackass”.  A demo is available.

MUSIC

Sumo Cyco:  Canadian sweetheart and former pop rock darling Skye Sweetnam first became a totally different type of artist with her colloberation “Action” recorded with Tim Armstrong and the bulk of her album, Sound Soldier, but the project she began in 2009 has started to become fully unleashed with 4 very disturbing videos and a sound one would never think that the girl who sang “Billy S.” would lead a band that covered Oingo Boingo along with some really hard metalesque rock..

All-American Rejects first official single “Beekeeper’s Daughter” off the forthcoming studio album “Kids on The Street” is available on iTunes.  I’ll be waiting for the entire album myself and hope that the entire project is a worthy successor to the phenomenal When The World Comes Down

A Stream of Paul McCartney’s forthcoming Kisses On The Bottom, a collection of old standards covered in only the way Sir Paul could.

COMICS

Jon Adams excellent Truth Serum had a tenth anniversary and posted a new strip, guest pin-ups and a cool contest in celebration.

Finally a list of books I plan to read and review in the very near future:
Fun & Games + Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski
Snitch by Booker T. Mattison
WinterTown by Stephen Emond

I shall also being doing an over of all 22 issues of the Marvel comic Agents of Atlas + the Gorillia-Man miniseries written by Jeff Parker.

An overview of the new iPod/iPhone/iPad App and web series Totally Amp’ed is also planned.

Keeping an eye on Wadjeteye

I first discovered the writing and programing talent of Dave Gilbert through the AGS website and specifically the first games he tackled based on the Reality-On-The-Norm universe and then his first AGS game, the uncomplicated as it existed, but still essentially continued (by Blackwell) Bestowers of Eternity. I was happy to see him continue on as a writer with the AGS award winning Two of A Kind and his first major project The Shivah. This game was eventually expanded into a commercial game which allowed him to begin his independent studio Wadjeteye Games which has not only become home to his excellent and inspired Blackwell series, but as a publisher/distributor for games written by.

The latest game from Wadjeteye was The Blackwell Deception, a very well crafted chapter full of interesting dialogue, clever puzzles and exciting plot enhancement and direction which delivered on all fronts for fans of adventure games. While the pixel bit graphics are obviously a desired taste, a true adventure game fan and a person who appreciates great writing as well as the painstaking effort to create recognizable quality pixelart will absolutely love it.

At this years New York Comic Con I had the pleasure to sit down with Dave on a relaxing Sunday after much chaos and have a passionate and exciting 25 minute conversation about his history getting into programming and developing as such.

I found it quite interesting that prior to AGS and Reality-On-The-Norm he had minimal background in programming and had not been published professionally as a writer. It was 10 years ago after going to school for broadcasting and being laid off from a job at CNN, that over a weekend after the Twin Towers/September 11th situation happened he discovered AGS and the RON games and decided he could do this, as the software was fairly easy for one with some basic programming skill and RON already had an established shared universe and graphic assets.

Following that came the aforementioned Bestowers of Eternity, followed by a collaborative project Two Of A Kind, which won lots of merit and awards. Dave laments that the two other people he worked with no longer seem to be involved in the gaming world.

I asked Dave a lot about the writing process behind the entire Blackwell saga, curious to how much he had locked down in terms of where the story is going. He told me that he knows exactly his ending, but it isn’t exactly fully structured out with notes like a set screenplay or novel, there’s no “bible”… just what sits in his head, except some major structures are “written” down, like Joey’s origin. Which I find quite fascinating, cause that’s a lot to keep jumbled up there, but at the same time it allows him to work more freely and let random ideas pop in or change his focus on the sage as it exists. He had done a job where he was paid to defraud a phony psychic and he knew that at some point he wanted to use that as the plot for a game and he worked around that for a Blackwell game, building from the basic plot. The puzzles and writing come first, followed by dialogue and restructuring before the actual coding.

We proceeded talking about puzzle solutions, how people will solve them, how they get decided upon, it was really fascinating, and showed me how passionate Dave is about game creation and adventure games.

One of the final things we spoke of was Dave’s one professional game developed outside of Wadjeteye. Approached by games company Playfirst for a casual adventure game and after several pitches an Emerald City/OZ game was approved. Emerald City Confidential is one of the favorite games in my echelon of ownership. We discussed the conceptions of creating an OZ story and the rights behind creating something in public domain.

I suggested that Dave consider writing his games out as a book as well, we shall see where that goes but in the meantime, grab yourself all the Blackwell games, as well as Gemini Rue, the first published game by another developer from Wadjeteye and do yourself a favor and hunt down other games as well. The AGS scene is awesome and while Dave is one of the tops and deserves the attention, broaden yourself, it’s worth it.