February 2nd, 2014

Overgrowth, my latest love. Overgrowth is by far the world’s greatest kung-fu rabbit combat simulator of the 21st century, not because you can be a rabbit that throws swords at wolves, but because you’ve got the tools to expand that to any number of sword-throwing scenarios. Overgrowth features a built-in editor that will let you customize the world in limitless ways as evidenced by the very active modding scene around the game. I played on a map that had floating islands, and one that was like something out of WarioWare. Was it nice? Yes. Did I drool a little? Yes. Was it the funnest thing since that-other-thing? Yes. But enough about mods, let’s talk base game, Wolfire, and rabbits.

Overgrowth is made by Wolfire Games, a small indie developer with a passion for rabbiting, and who you may have seen doing an AMA recently. They seem to like kung-fu and weren’t pleased with neither the kung nor fu levels found in other engines, so they made their own. Sporting the best blood system since Teh Day of all Teh Blod, Overgrowth really gives you that visceral feeling of punching animals. Don’t feel bad. Most of them are jerks. Primarily though Overgrowth is a third person adventure/fighting game where you control a rabbit and fight other animals, such as wolves, dogs, cats, and weird rabbit robots (rabbots). Seems great right? Well it will be. Overgrowth is currently in an alpha stage and though it is shaping up nicely with lots of updates it is still far from its final destination. I like buying into early access games because I like watching them evolve as I play and learning the game over time before its full release. If you’re the same way, Overgrowth is for you. If you expect a finished and polished game when you buy it, Overgrowth isn’t for you yet. Maybe wait a year and try again.

What more is there to say, really? I could tell you that I played a mission where I was a robot with four swords being chased by a huge mob of wolves around a desolate city and escaped by throwing my swords at their faces and using the bought time to do crazy parkour. I could tell you that I had an intense battle to the death thousands of feet off the ground on a floating platform, again and again until the A.I learned enough to finally best me. I could tell you that I climbed a massive structure to jump on an egg, only to miss my jump and fall to my death at record breaking (and rabbit breaking) speeds. Would that do it for you? Cause that would do it for me. That would do it for me in so many ways.

While we’re on the subject of Wolfire, they have another game I like. It’s older, but you get it for free when you buy Overgrowth so I might as well say something. That’s right, Receiver. Receiver is a first person shooter that takes a single mechanic (the gun) and tosses it into a cocaine volcano (Cocaino?). Everything is manual with this game. You grab the magazine, load it into the slot, pull back the slider, toggle auto, pull back lever, and then you can fire. I know how to handle a gun, but actually handling the thing is easier than this. They say it’s a shooter but in my experience it’s more of a horror game. The only two enemies I can find are turrets and hardcore Magnemite reboots. One sits there and shoots bullets at you, the other flies at you and shocks you on contact. One hit from either and you’re dead, but a well placed hit on them has the same effect. You have to collect audio tapes to advance the story, finding them through a seemingly randomly generated world. The problems start when you run out of ammo, as is the case in most games. Finding ammo is difficult, and if you come to an enemy without ammo you’re as good as dead. Receiver teaches patience, ammo conservation, and the ability to yell really loudly over things that other games do automatically for you. It makes me wonder what playing other games with the same mechanic would be like. What if in Half Life before climbing up into the Houndeye cage room you had to unload spent casings from your revolver? It’d make for an entirely different game.

I want more games like Receiver. Not just with the gun mechanics but with mechanics that change how we view the basics that we take for granted. I mean, I also want more of Receiver itself of course. More guns, more enemies, more stuff, more Receiver. This game was made in 7 days and it already in my top 100 games of all time (nonexistent list). I’d be astounded with what they could do with a month or two. Wolfire’s a company to keep your eye out for, even if you’re not a fan of rabbits or guns. Then again, how else could you spend an afternoon?

Overgrowth is available from the Humble Store for $29.95 and from Steam for $29.99.

Receiver is available from the Humble Store for $4.99 and from Steam for the same price.

August 30th, 2013

Press A to Jump

There are some things in gaming that we know. We move with the dpad. We jump with A. We fire with B, charging by holding. We can jump on the turtles and goombas, not the spineys. Pits and spikes are instant kills, but enemies aren’t. Hit the boss 3 times to win. Headshots are an instant kill too, but only with sniper rifles. Where did this knowledge come from? I wasn’t born with it. I didn’t come out of the womb knowing that Level 1-2 has warp pipes hidden above the exit. I didn’t know how to charge the megabuster while I was an infant. I learned it by playing video games, obviously.

My first video game was Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I went in not knowing what a controller was or who this Mario character was trying to rescue. All I knew was that it was the funnest thing I’d ever played in my life. Fuck hopscotch, fuck basketball, fuck cops and robbers. Mario is where it’s at. I went in knowing nothing, but I came out of that game knowing a lot. Jump into the bricks, mushrooms are good, fuck hammer bros., the higher the flagpole landing the higher the score, don’t let the timer run out, and the music gets faster when it does. I did this all by playing a few hours of Super Mario. But what’s more is that I learned problem solving. Don’t jump over the broken up single blocks, just run over them. If you can’t jump on the piranha plants, throw the fireballs at them. If the jump is too hard, it might be because you’re supposed to take the higher path. The hammer brothers don’t die easily, run past them. Before I had played Super Mario Bros I was a dumbass. A kid without a whole lot going in terms of not sucking at everything. Hell, I couldn’t even read. It gave me knowledge I didn’t have before.

If we skip ahead some years we arrive with Tetris, my first puzzle game. Tetris remains one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve never stopped loving the classics, and near the top sits this timeless Russian beast. My problem solving was basic at best, and my reaction times were slow. Tetris changed that. Tetris whipped my ass from a tractor in second gear to Super Schumacher 3. Not only did I have the knowledge of how to solve the problems I found in video games, I had the ability to do it fast enough now too. But those are just the bullet points under the following example.

Portal. You’ve played Portal before, haven’t you? I thought so. When you play Portal you know exactly what to do each time you see a new puzzle, even if it takes some time to figure it out. You know that blue and orange portals go into each other, you jump with Space, move with WASD, fire with the mouse buttons, and take action with E. You know there’s an exit and that everything you see in the level is there for a reason: To get you to that exit. You know that the problem can always be solved; nothing is impossible, it just requires a new way of thinking. Most importantly, you know that you can do it. But where do we know this from? Games, of course. Climbing the cavern edges in Tomb Raider, balancing on the edges in Monkey Ball, searching the walls in Doom… They’re all just ways of solving a problem, and we’re as accustomed to doing it as we’re accustomed to cooking hot pockets. Portal presents you with a problem that you can solve. You’ve got all the tools, you’ve got the right mind, and already you’re churning out ways to solve it. Your knowledge is put to use every second. Every white wall, every black wall, every platform, everything is factored into your analysis. You’re a lean, mean, gaming machine.

But are you really? Well, to answer my own question I’d need to compare myself to you, which obviously won’t go so well. When I solve a puzzle I start by eliminating impossible paths until only one remains, which must be the correct one. I’ve seen others go about it differently, ranging from trying everything to trying the same thing over and over again. What’s the difference? I know more about video games than a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of my life playing them and know how the act goes. For someone who is new to gaming, this is all foreign and strange. They don’t know instinctively that A jumps. Imagine how difficult it would be to play games nowadays like that. When I put in the new Halo game I had already played over a thousand hours of Halo in the past. I knew that RT used your weapon and LT threw grenades. I knew that B was melee and X was reload. I’d know that without a tutorial, and if they dropped me into any level in the game I’d know what to do or could figure it out in no time. If you dropped my aunt into the same situation she’d likely put the controller down and walk away from frustration. She wouldn’t know what to do at all. And there, on a late schedule, arrives my point:

We learned video games, but newer players need tutorials. I’m a child of a time where video games were just starting to pick up steam. I was born into a golden era of gaming, where I played the 2600 and NES, and had great stuff on the horizon. Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, Metroid… Newer gamers didn’t have that. They didn’t grow up playing what we now call the classics. They don’t know what it’s like to open the box around a cartridge, pop it in, and play an entirely new game that had never been done before. They don’t have the experience. They need tutorials. I see people complaining about tutorials everywhere, saying that they know how to play and don’t need them. That they’re a waste of time both for the player and developers. I hope this adds some perspective to those people. For the developers, listen, because I’ve got a simple solution.

At the beginning of a game, start with a tutorial. Have a simple prompt saying “If you wish to skip the tutorial, press Start and select Skip Tutorial.” Then, at the main menu of the game, add an option to replay the tutorial. There, everyone’s happy. People who need the tutorial get it, and people who don’t want to play through it can skip it with two button presses.

Gaming teaches you things that most people nowadays don’t have, but it doesn’t teach you empathy. Or sex-ed. Just remember: Not everyone is like you. Some people need a little explaining.

As always, thanks for reading.

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August 9th, 2013

Another day, another dungeon. Whether they’re crawlers or roguelikes or just another generic “adventure” titles, randomly generated dungeons are definitely not hard to find. I certainly don’t mind their continued existence, and neither do the developers. Cellar Door has created a fantastic title recently named Rogue Legacy. I wouldn’t call it a roguelike, or a dungeon crawler, or a diablo-clone, or anywhere near generic. It’s an adventure in the purest sense of the word. It’s a root game; it brings us back to the old days of gameplay and triumph over cutscenes and special effects. It’s a hack and slash adventure that never tires itself out or overstays its welcome. More than that, it’s fun as all hell. If I can convince you with any one sentence, it’d be: Rogue Legacy brings me the easy fun of today’s awesome titles while giving me the accomplishment that only those like Ghosts N’ Goblins has done before.

When I started playing Rogue Legacy, I knew exactly what was going on. Run in, hit shit, get gold, repeat. By the time I was staring at the credits I knew so much more, and it didn’t feel like it had crammed my head with anything. The spells, classes, stats, and story all came naturally. The challenge was at my own pace, and everything came with it on a perfect ride. There are still special objectives I’ve yet to complete, chests left to grab, and encounters left to, well, encounter. I’ve saved that for New Game+ I suppose. You better believe I’m doing that. I’ve got a lot more running in, hitting shit, and getting gold to repeat, and a lot of time to make that happen. Sure, the story is the same, but does that really matter? Does it matter if the bosses are harder than before without game changes? Does it matter that I’ve already seen all the environments? No. Rogue Legacy is all about the gameplay, and it doesn’t matter one bit if I’m getting more of it. If you’re like me, you like being able to replay your games after beating them. Well, you’re about to be a very happy person.

Let’s talk more on the gameplay. Rogue Legacy gives you scores of children, each with different traits. You can choose from three children upon death, and are in a balancing act of good and bad traits. Despite my last name, I don’t know enough about genetics to verify the authenticity of this. What I can verify is that some traits are bullshit, and some are awesome. Vertigo, for instance, flips your camera upside-down. PAD (Peripheral Arterial Disease), however, lets you walk on spike traps without setting them off. Some can go either way such as Dwarfism which, while it does lower the length of swings, lets you access small areas that larger characters cannot. You don’t know what dungeon you’re going to have until after you pick the character, so it’s all a matter of luck. In addition, each character has a spell. Axes, daggers, fire walls, and more. Some optional objectives (fairy chests) will only unlock if you can properly use one of these spells, but having the spell on hand is usually the problem. Axes can arch through walls, but chakrams can travel across the map. It’s all about the dungeon.

Honestly, there’s not much more I can say about Rogue Legacy, which is certainly a rarity. I’ve already convinced you, so there’s no point going further. If this hasn’t convinced you, please return to the first paragraph and try again. This is a choose your own adventure, but only one ending – and it involves your wallet.

Rogue Legacy is currently available from GOG.com, DRM free, for $14.99 or from Steam at the same price. You can find the PCGamingWiki article here for fixes and additional distribution options.

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August 3rd, 2013

For those whose rocks are much larger than mine, DayZ is a popular mod of Arma II which replaces the realistic military with a zombie apocalypse. You’re a survivor in post Z-Day Russia and must survive against all odds. Your enemies aren’t just limited to the undead, though; other players will stop at nothing to take your life, and more importantly, your loot. Played in a more hardcore fashion than a lot of other games, DayZ is certainly on the opposite end of the shooter spectrum from Call of Duty. Rationing food and water, risk vs reward, long stealth crawls, and quick diplomacy are all essential to surviving longer than the average housefly.

My experience with DayZ has been a very short one. I recently installed the game after becoming bored, and have spent a few action-packed hours in it with a friend. The first obstacle (figuring out the controls) likely took half that time. Despite the lack of time, there was no lack of plot development. We traveled from the coast (the spawnpoint) far inward toward one of the main cities, Электрозаводск. Of course, players just call it Elektro. My Russian isn’t exactly top-notch, which puts my navigating skills somewhere between Christopher Columbus and a shoddily made boomerang. Of course, being that Elektro is a major city, I quickly died. We had crawled our way into a small factory when some zombies were somehow alerted to our presence. I was equipped with one Macarov magazine and three arrows for my crossbow; I had given my friend most of my remaining ammo, leaving us rather well set to defeat a dozen zombies if we played it right. Even better, we were in a tower with zombies entering slowly and single file. I took some out, but found that Elektro held more enemies than I previously thought. I asked my friend to defend while I found an exit, but none was there. Worse, it seems he had no ammo either. It apparently disappeared. Well, shit.

In a last ditch effort we sprinted down the stairs, but there were too many following us to go far. We each climbed separate ladders, him going on top of the factory and me on top of what I believe was a smokestack. Zombies were following me up, and it looked bleak. Suddenly, a helicopter whizzed by. Its pilot jumped out and parachuted to the factory roof, and the helicopter was destroyed. Chat revealed that he had run out of fuel mid-flight, the poor bastard. The loot I held was nice, so I offered up a reward for my salvation. I went to climb down the ladder for a regroup, but DayZ had its revenge. It punished me for my hubris, and cast me from the tower. Ladders are the biggest killer in the game, and an enemy none would expect. I broke my legs, and the zombies finished me off. Sadly, despite my urging to use what they could, nobody went and got the loot off my body.

That’s my tale of DayZ, but only so far. Every life I play through in this game has a fantastic tale of me dying horribly after hours of hard work, and they’re each more interesting than the last. As I learn more about the game I find the possibilities increasing exponentially. Yesterday I found out how to move silently, last night I learned how to make a fire, and today I found out that you can repair and fly helicopter. I don’t know what I’ll learn tomorrow, but I’m sure it’s gonna be awesome. DayZ, “just” a mod, is something that guarantees entertainment, and the single game under the Zombie genre I’d call the best.

DayZ requires Arma II and Arma II: Operation Arrowhead to run. The Combined Operations pack contains both, and is available on Steam for $24.99. An updated standalone edition will be available sometime in the coming months.

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