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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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)
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.
Double Fine Games came into super extra megaton popularity earlier this year with their monumental Kickstarter that launched the excellent Double Fine Adventure game now codenamed REDS along with the so far six episode documentary Doublefine Adventure from 2 Player Productions. If you aren’t already a backer on that and getting to enjoy the awesoment development, art, production and stories on this future old school inspired modern adventure point n click adventure game from the mind of Tim Schaefer and as of now featuring the art design of Peter Chan, Scott Campbell and most specifically Nathan “Bagel” Stapely, there’s still time with their Slacker Backer program. That isn’t what this is about though. In the continued interests of opening of their doors to all, Double Fine decided to take their annual two week new idea/prototype development session a public event. Titled Amnesia Fortnight, previous years have brought forth prototypes that gave us games such as Costume Quest, Stacking, Trenched and Once Upon A Monster. Now this year we’ll be seeing five new prototypes, but for the first time these prototypes will be shared with the public. Well that is if they buy into the Humble Bundle for the program. Not only will one get these 5 new prototypes though, they’ll also get three old prototypes if they give at least the minimum top price suggested on the bundle. Humble Bundle gives to charity as much as it does itself and the developers, you get to choose how much you give for how much you get and how it gets allocated. The three prototypes available are Happy Song (which became Once Upon A Monster), the original Costume Quest and a game called Brazen which was made in last years Fortnight and is now being prepared for further development. Along with the prototypes you’ll also get documentary episodes of the daily progress on the development produced by 2 Player. On top of all that there is also a live stream from twitch, running from 10 AM-6 PM PST. It has been running since last week and shall continue along till the games are ready to be shared in the two week process. Each of the five games being developed were actually whittled down from 23 pitches from various Double Fine employees which were voted upon by fans who discovered the Humble Bundle project on day one and wanted to be right on the ground floor. It could be said the five best choices were selected, but some of the games not being worked on this Fortnight definitely deserve exploring at some point and I believe this is honest being considered. Of the five games I personally am excited for the two artistically envisioned games, but from the work shown on all them they should all be awesome. Here’s a list of the five, short descriptions based on my personal understanding, and a cool progress image that shows what I think is exciting. More images can be seen on the Doublefine Tumblr and the Doublefine forums. The White Birch: A plat-former with exploration, there won’t be foes, but the protagonist must continue climbing and exploring to reach the top of a strange tower where an actual White Birch tree sits with a prize and I assume the only way home. I believe the prizes and exploration will change in repeated playthroughs as there will be multiple paths to the top, but not ways to actually go back and explore the other paths once you choose one. Here’s some early concept art from Derek Brand.
Black Lake: From the mind of Levi Ryken, this looks like it’ll be a 3rd person top down perspective. You’ll be playing a mythical animal hunter who doesn’t actually hunt, but uses some type of dream control mechanic to capture these supernatural beasts in a combination of action/adventure and another mechanic not fully explored. Levi’s art concepts are what really attracted me on this one. Here’s a final version of the lead protagonist he designed.
Autonomous: The brainchild of Lee Petty, the same man who gave us the ingenious STACKING, this is set to be a first person game (the first 1st person game from Double Fine they keep saying, although I thought that the cancelled SPECS was first person). In it your character programs, but does not control Automotons… also known as robots. Through basic input these bots will help the character explore and survive the world he has found himself in. The team is hard at work on robots and especially making really awesome looking arms that would be the main inputting. Here’s Lee’s early arms design that 3d modeller Ray Crook has been building furiously.
Spacebase DF-9: A simesque game that being pitched/promoted as Dwarf Fortress in Space with graphics (and I assume simpler mechanics). You’ll be building a spacebase, hiring employees, setting up shop, and placing characters in situations and then watch what happens, with each playthrough creating a virtual fiction/story that I assume can be easily shared. I have to admit I am still not sold completely on where the fun is here. I understand some people find this fun and once upon a time I actually thought the idea of games like this sounded like the most fun ever, but I’ve changed. What I feel shall be one of the saving graces of this game is the creative minds of DF instilling their humorous creative juices and also that Nathan Stapely is working on the character designs that will if anything make the game fun to look at. I know I keep using the word game, instead of demo and/or prototype… as none of these will be full games, but a game is still something someone can play and hopefully have fun with, so… game. Spacebase doesn’t really have any mockup graphics to show off that make me go “Oooh…” but the twitch.tv stream showed Bagel working on the characters and they look great.
Hack n Slash: A NES/SNES Zelda-esque game in which instead of slashing away at stuff, you actually try to hack the game using codes, glitches and various secrets to find your way around monsters, walls, and more. Team leader, head programmer Brandon Dillon really seems to have most of the game figured out mentally, so it all comes down to the programming itself. Mark Hamer has come up with a great character design and Raz has conceptualized an awesome background, so visually this game is looking awesome. I actually at first really couldn’t even see how this game would work, but I really do look forward to it.
So get in on the ground floor now for what could be the next best great Double Fine game to come after the upcoming The Cave from the mind of Ron Gilbert, the iOS superhero management sim Middle Manager of Justice, the sequel to Double Fine Action Theater known as Kinect Party, Double Fine Adventure and who knows what else they have up their sleeves. If the 2012 Amnesia Fortnight is any hint to some of the ideas running around, expect awesomeness.
I had many panels laid out for myself to hit, but I also knew that I also had press sessions this day and Saturday, so anytime not in one of those would be the only time I would have to actually be on the show floor itself, so I took advantage of that and hit the floor hard.
This meant visiting The Block and checking out vinyl toys and one off exclusives I couldn’t even begin to think of buying, but I took my share of photos and had conversations. Got a sketch from Australia’s Sekure D which was pretty sweet. I really liked Ron English‘s big statues he made to have shown off at the show as well. What was really sweet was seeing some of the art fromSpoke Art, especially the work from there Wes Anderson art show Bad Dads, where they had prints from both this last year and this year’s show.
The Block is next to where all the super expensive autographing of wrestlers, playboy bunnies and pornstars who aren’t actually guests of the con are located, so I got to see Brutus Beefcake, Tito Santana, and Greg Valentine whoring themselves across the aisle from the real Delorean and 1960’s Batmobile with a fake Marty McFly. Nearby was Shifty Look who had an old school arcade set up which was pretty cool. This was near the Podcast arena where I got to say hello to Keith R.A. DeCandido and next to him The Chronic Rift‘s John S. Drew who I haven’t met in person before but have talked to online. I also stopped in the Fandom Dating booth and got to talk to the site’s runner/owner. I had a feeling I wouldn’t make it to Sci-Fi Speed Dating during the show so at least being registered on that site might make something happen, although I’ve gotten two totally Spam or just “Really? Why would I respond to you?” things from it and the one person who caught my interest responded with such a blah response I didn’t follow up. The sites still in beta though and the NYCC was a big part of building the site, so we shall see.
My interview session withRed Bubble was rescheduled through txts while walking the floor so I made my way over to their booth. It was completely a thrill to learn more about the site and this is another one of my specific articles coming up with pictures and more, so I won’t say more now.
I had a little time to kill at this point and also bumped into a few friends on the floor just walking around, so I took advantage of this fact. I made my second purchase of the show around this time inTHEY LIVE Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray. Shout Factory, the distributors had it available for $25 and almost a month before release to retail so I just grabbed it since it’s something I’d buy in stores eventually anyways. After this I made my way over to Artist’s Alley for my first of two trips as there was lots of aisles in Artist’s Alley in the very large North Pavilion. While there I got to at least say hello to my good friend Laura Lee Gulledge and become a member of the Molly Danger fan club, Jamal Igle’s awesome project he’s working on.
Somewhere in this time I also made it over to Scott C.’s table in Autographing to pick up his new book The Great Showdowns, which would be purchase three of four, for those counting along. I had worn my Double Fine Adventure shirt specifically hoping a few folks would notice, but mostly Scott. I asked him to draw rejected versions of the two protagonists from the still codenamed REDS in a showdown inside the book.
The most exciting time I had on the schedule for the day though was getting to sit with Mary Lynn Rajskub, Hank Harris and Jamie Clayton, the cast of the transmedia program on rides.tv from Fourth Wall, DIRTY WORK. It was great to sit down with them and discuss working on the show, some behind the scenes and questions that haven’t really been covered, but mostly it was the meeting them that was most awesome and now having an excuse to promote the show even more than I was doing so before. I want more episodes and so does the cast, they really seemed to enjoy being part of this production.
After the press room I had a few hours to kill till I had to get my opportunity to interview Nick Kroll, so back to Artist’s Alley to try and finish it up knowing that I might not get back there Saturday or Sunday. I saw a couple of Cosplay’s that really caught my eye, most notably BATTLE POPE. I also made my final purchase, number four if you forgot from a few paragraphs above. It was the collected edition of ACE KILROY Volume One. When the collection first appeared on Kickstarter it really caught my notice, but at pledge rate it was going to run $40, a bit rich for my blood at the time. I am very happy and feel fortunate that the guy’s had a very successful Kickstarter (200% funded) and that the collection was at the table for $10. I snatched that right up! Can’t wait to sit down and read it.
Finally I headed back to the Press Room area which was located in the back of the Que Hall C used for letting folks into the building in the morning and the IGN theater after that. It’s what feels like a three block walk on paved concrete designed for cars and planes, not feet. That press ran a bit long, ending up at a table that was next to last in 15 minute roundtables. Yet I had lots of fun and got a great video which also features John C. Daly and executive producer John Levenstein.
It was more floor walking after till I decided to check out Scott C.’s Unbound stage talk where he went into further details behind the history of The Great Showdowns. The highlight of it all though was that during the Q & A Scott draw the questioners portraits. Yes, that means I have a quick sketch portrait of myself by Scott C. It’s a big large though, done on 11 X 17 paper.
I went over to theTitmouse panel after this and had gone to try and get some giveaways (I only wanted the coloring book actually), but as I was sitting there watching the sizzle reel I remembered that there was a Bravest Warriors/Superfuckers party down at Jim Hanley’s and so I rushed down there and while I was late, Nate, marketing director at Frederator had them reloop the Bravest Warriors episode, which ended up being the full version, which is not what was shown the next day at the panel. I also got some awesome buttons. If you aren’t subscribed to Cartoon Hangover, go do so now! Also, at the Titmouse panel I did at least discover that this awesome music video directed by Mike Judge of Zac Brown Band animated by Titmouse existed.
Thus ended my second day at NYCC and boy was I exhausted!
As TellTale Games truly expands their line of excellent produced games in the end of 2011 and beginning in 2012 with magic based on the Jurassic Park movie franchise, and two very popular the Comic books in Image Comics The Walking Dead created by Robert Kirkman and the Vertigo fantasy series FABLES created by Bill Willingham, I thought it best to look at Telltale’s game history as a whole as well as quickly review their three last distributions in Back to The Future-The Game, Puzzle Agent and the second chapters of Hector-Badge of Courage.
I’d previously reviewed the first chapter of Hector on PCS, but I’ve yet to throw praise their way for everything else and they’re highly deserving it. So, away we go, with the history of the company as I understand it without all that legal and technical mumbo jumbo and with applauding their efforts and criticizing a bit (because it’s video games and one still must criticize video games) along the way.
Telltale was founded by former Lucasarts team members Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner. Both have had an extensive hand both creatively, administrative and technologically in bringing to life some of LucasArts most popular franchises such as Sam & Max and Grim Fandango, along with some Star Wars titles as well. Along the way they’ve been able to bring in some really awesome people to the team including Mike Stemmle, who was co-lead on Sam & Max as well as Escape from Monkey Island, Andy Hartzell, an award winning independent comics cartoonist and most notably Dave Grossman, co-creator of Monkey Island, Pajama Sam, and Moop & Dreadly with Ron “Grumpy Gamer” Gilbert (who now works at the other base of operations for awesome games Doublefine with Tim Schaefer, who worked alongside Stemmle, Connors and Brunner back when) was brought in as head designer. Along with incredible artists, producers and more, this assembled team has allowed Telltale to be one of the only successful adventure game companies in the United States today. Most of the adventure game companies with success are based in England, the Netherlands and Germany. Thankfully though Telltale exists and helps bring franchises you’d think were primed for a game, but also difficult to envision to life.
The first series they tackled was Jeff Smith’s BONE. Visually and intellectually, as well as voice acting, this production was awesome, but it definitely suffered serious flaws in their action and mini-games sequences. Despite this, it is a great shame that they only got to do Out From Boneville and The Great Cowrace. I’d love to see them return to the series at some point and maybe try and create a side adventure instead of the adaptations done here. Maybe an untold Grandma Rose story would be best suited.
TellTale was given the CSI franchise to develop for publisher Ubisoft, but these games never really seemed to fall into line with where Telltale’s style and bread&butter landed. It wasn’t long into Telltale’s existence as a company though that the opportunity to “come out like gangbusters” presented itself. While the exact reasoning behind how Sam & Max ended up at Telltale has many stories suffice it to say they got their hands on the Freelance Police, along with their creator Steve Purcell along for the ride for brand new adventures not tied to the LucasArts design. That gave us “Save The World” which was followed by “Beyond Time & Space” and eventually “The Devil’s Playhouse”. All three games used very interesting and intriguing uses of puzzle design and twists in the adventure gameplay to deliver games that were quite awesome, even if they somehow never have yet to reach the epic-ness that was “On The Road”. This was not for lack of trying. It could be because of the SCUMM system, maybe it’s because of nostalgia on my part. I enjoyed all the Sam & Max games from Telltale but there were decisions made in gameplay style which caused problems.
These same issues would plague their very thought out and high quality “Tales of Monkey Island” series. This game did have the excellence of Ron Gilbert working alongside Grossman and Stemmle to come to fruition though. What hurt this game, much like in the Sam & Max game was that each episode was not exactly standalone. They were treated much more like chapters in a book and some episodes were weaker than others, in terms of length, puzzles and more. If played in one sitting, this could be ignored, but if played the way they were originally designed it was very noticeable. In the long run though, it truly proved that Telltale was on to the magic. (Although it should be noted Ron Gilbert did come in for one chapter of this series, helping with design and writing, helping stir the pot that Stemmle and Grossman started.)
During this time they had also worked with Aardman Animations on their “Wallace & Gromit” franchise. Now I never saw how that could be a video game, but they figured it out. Even more amazingly they found how to turn the Strong Bad flash cartoons in to fascinating and funny games. I was never a fan of Strong Bad and I am still not, but my god, they seriously figured out how to make me in the least like those Strongbad games. It’s a testament to the talent of the Telltale team.
In 2010, Telltale became more than just a developer of their own products, but the housing platform for smaller games which would come out on their own, but with Telltale backing them had much more chance at being seen by a public desiring adventure games on all levels. They called it the Pilot program and the first title was Nelson Tethers, Puzzle Agent. Designed by cartoonist Graham Annabelle, who had been working in some capacity at Telltale since 2005 as they published his webcomic DUNK, it was an an example that Telltale didn’t just make good games, but they really could find excellent ones. I actually had problems with Puzzle Agent, both the original and the sequel in the puzzles. Some of them just went beyond my style of thinking. That’s not on me though, the game is called Puzzle Agent and that meant all kinds of puzzles, logic, math, visual, and when it comes to two of those I tend to have some issues, especially super complicated mazes. The game has both super easy and then slider puzzle types and I am not good at slider puzzles. Never hand me a Rubik’s cube, my way of solving it is to crack it open and re-glue it together when solved.
Back to the Future: The Game was announced in June of 2010, alongside with the upcoming Jurassic Park, as part of a licensing deal with Universal. Fan interest was high straight from the start and only got higher when the game was announced as “the fourth chapter” in BTTF and that Christopher Lloyd would be voicing Doc Brown. From the first chapter I was immediately sold. While my computer wasn’t completely up to snuff to handle the graphics completely I could tell the writing, acting and gameplay were everything I’d been wanting from Telltale and that the franchise only helped this. I think with this series the company really found their swing. Maybe it was knowing that there would be even more discerning eyes on it to accomplish their goals. Yet, yes, the episodic formula caused this to also suffer from some episodes being weaker than others and the game can truly only be appreciated best if played in succession. It truly was one of the strongest efforts from Telltale and gives amazing hope to their Jurassic Park game, not to mention The Walking Dead and Fables.
The most recent Telltale game to “ship” were chapters 2 & 3 of the Straandlooper developedHECTOR-Badge of Carnage. These both continued the excellence of the first two chapters and truly compel you complete the entirely funny, well thought out and constructed point & click game. The way this project finished gives me not only hope to see what if anything Straandlooper produces next, but what the pilot program may offer. While it’s obvious Telltale’s efforts for the next year will be in the three previously mentioned franchises and hopefully a second Back to the Future game, I hope they understand what they can really do here for gaming as a whole. Especially being one of the only, if not the only developer who is not an independent creator to produce games like this with distribution on almost every available platform one can think of.
There was a TellTale panel scheduled for New York Comic Con 2011, but based on research I could conduct it has been postponed for rescheduling or possibly all out cancelled. This is a shame as I was excited at the prospect of possibly meeting Stemmle, Grossman, et. al… but alas. I shall just continue to enjoy their products.