thedeadparrot: (oracle)
(posted by on Mar. 12th, 2017 07:39 pm)
I always forget the annoying/bad parts of PAX every time I go back. The lines. The too many people. The orgy of consumerism. There's plenty that I enjoy, too, but man, there's plenty that I hate about it.

Here's an incomplete list of things I played and enjoyed. Mostly so that I don't forget them later.

Game I Tell People About When They Ask What I Saw At PAX

Elsinore - Do you ever experience Hamlet and ask yourself, Man, if only Ophelia were stuck in a time loop that she could only escape once she stopped everyone from murdering each other? Well, do I have a game for you. The build I played was still relatively new and filled with minor annoyances (omg, slow the fuck down so I can talk to you. so I went to the place and then did the thing, now what?). But I do love time loops as a mechanic, and I do love Shakespeare, so this is right up my alley.

Game That Is a Sequel to an Indie Game I Like

Steamworld Dig 2 - Stemworld Dig is such a pleasantly tight game. You dig your way through the ground, collecting gems along the way, and then making your way back up to the surface with your loot when your bag is full. This seems to be more of the same, though I'm a little worried about how some of the magic may be lost once it gets bigger. I also need to play Steamworld Heist which is very different mechanically, but also looks like a ton of fun.

Game That I Really Want to Play More Of Right Now

Ticket To Earth - There's apparently a storyline that goes with this game, but I didn't get to see it in the demo I played. It seems like a pretty fun tactical RPG designed for mobile devices, with the 'twist' being that the floor is made up of colored tiles. You can only walk on one set of colored tiles per turn and walking on those tiles charge up your special abilities. It was pleasing to both the parts of my brain that enjoy tactical turn-based games like XCOM and the parts of my brain that like Match-3 games.

Game That Compelled and Confused Me In Equal Measures But Hopefully Won't In the Final Version

Moonlighter - Both a management sim and an adventure-y dungeon crawl? The Dungeon Crawl parts were excellent and delightful. I didn't get the management sim parts, but that might be because it needs some more polish and/or explanation? The art is lovely and I stuck with it so long I missed texts telling me to meet up with my friends.

Game That Has an Adorable Slug-Cat in It

Rain World - I am not good at this game, but it was pretty, and I enjoyed watching other people play it.

Game That Is Basically Monument Valley, Which Isn't the Worst Thing in the World To Be

Where Shadows Slumber - Instead of weird 3-dimensional Escher-like manipulations, you have a lantern and manipulate shadows. Not as inherently awesome, but the devs were super open to feedback when talking to them, so hopefully the final product will sparkle.

Other things I did/saw:

Utility Kilts Booth - idk why, but this delighted me. Kilts! But functional ones! I'm sure it has a very specific niche and I'm happy for them.

Escape Room panel - I haven't really done escape rooms, but my friends wanted to see this panel, and I'm glad I did. It was fun to listen to the panelists talk about the struggle of being in a fledgling industry. I definitely need to gather people together to attempt one.
thedeadparrot: (death and dream)
(posted by on Sep. 10th, 2016 06:08 pm)
I got to go to the Boston Festival of Indie Games this year, and it was a blast as always. I love how weird and messy and diverse it is. There was, as always, a great mix of tabletop and digital games to mess around with, but here are a few standouts that I'd like to call out.


No Regerts (yes, it's supposed to be spelled that way.) - On Kickstarter now! It's a card game based around getting tattoos. And screwing over your friends. I played two different rounds with two different groups of people, and it was a blast both times. Plus, the art is great, and both the 'good' and the 'bad' tattoos were hilarious. I came home and Kickstarted it immediately.


One of my friends was manning her brother's booth, and it was a super cool game idea that wasn't quite refined yet, but I can see something brilliant in it already. Don't want to say too much just yet, but I'm definitely going to see what it is going forward.

Floor Kids - A mobile game about breakdancing. Gorgeous art, lovely animation. It's not out yet, but I'm so ready for it. Oh, and I discovered that it's based on a digital short, also called Floor Kids, which gives a decent idea of what to expect.

Mind Flock - Co-Op trivia game. You can trade categories with other people on your team in an attempt to get all of them right. Apparently, my teammate and I managed to kick serious ass with a high score of 27. I need to find out if M and I can rock this long distance.

Sad Hill Cemetery - super simple game where you try to prove you're the quickest draw in all the land. Almost no graphics to speak of, but still amazingly put together.
thedeadparrot: (obvious place)
(posted by on Aug. 19th, 2016 08:31 pm)
So I played The Beginner's Guide, which I will need to spoil in depth to talk about with any sort of coherence, but if spending 1.5 hours on a loosely interactive experience that tries to talk about the relationship between the creation of art and the consumers of art told through a very odd metatextual story about a guy who makes video games through a bunch of small video games, well, you should pick it up (in the latest Humble Bundle!) and then come back and read this.

Or you could read this and spoil yourselves. Either way.

Thar be spoilers )
thedeadparrot: (oh the angst)
(posted by on Apr. 29th, 2015 07:29 pm)
Okayyyy, I wrote about the first half a year ago after the game first came out, and now the second half is out and I'm supppppper psyched about this?

I just beat the second half and I have thoughts on it, but I'll first link to Kill Screen Daily's review: Broken Age and the adventure of growing up (alas, some minor spoilers for the game). It covers a lot of my thoughts about the second half, especially the idea of parenthood: "We are broken, and in our brokenness we break the next in line."

If the first act of Broken Age is about shaking off the constraints of childhood, the second act is about realizing that the adults in your life are as flawed and as human as you are. There's something powerful and sad about that.

Let's get the common complaints out of the way first: The second half doesn't introduce much in the way of new areas or new characters. The explanations for things are just plain goofy if/when you try to take them out of the metaphorical and into the literal. The puzzle difficulty has shot way up and with it, the annoyance and frustration that comes with that. Some sites have panned the game quite a bit.

But I still loved all of it anyway. In terms of adventure game puzzling, I found this game far less frustrating than most of the ones I've played. I didn't quite manage to get through it walkthrough free, but I didn't have to stop the game every five minutes to look up the answers, either. Keeping a pad of paper around to help keep track of some of the trickier puzzles definitely helped.

All the characters gain a richness this time around. Vella is more badass. Shay is more sensitive. The people they meet gain a certain amount of depth that most of them didn't have the first time around. There's a lot of delight to be had in giving people the 'wrong' items and hearing their responses. I am so glad we got to meet more cutlery in this half.

The story works best mostly in metaphor, and I think most of the attempts that it makes to explain the events of the game are misguided at best and confusingly terrible at worst. I really can't believe they even bothered. Sometimes not bothering at all is the best strategy.

I know some people think the finale/ending was a let down, but I think it's the perfect grace note on the game. Haters gonna hate, man.

Anyway, I need to go pack now. (I say that a lot, don't I? I definitely say that a lot.)
thedeadparrot: (need for speed)
(posted by on Apr. 22nd, 2015 08:48 pm)
So I ended up reading Second Quest, which is a lovely comic about Zelda (the video game series), an interrogation and deconstruction of it. I want to like it more than I do. It's written by the guy who wrote Saving Zelda and it's drawn by the guy who did the art for Braid, and that was definitely more than enough for me to be willing to give it a shot in the first place.

I love the idea of a feminist examination of Zelda and of the video game tropes that animate it, and the comic definitely takes a good stab at it. But there's something about the execution that doesn't quite resonate for me.

Maybe it's that my expectations were too high. Maybe it's that I'm comparing it (unfairly) to what I've seen fic writers do with problematic canons (hell, and problematic fannish tropes!) and how they poke and prod at it until they've cracked it wide open instead of just tipped things over a bit. Maybe it's that I'm unfairly comparing it to Broken Age, which has similar themes and has more time and space to explore its ideas. But it feels like a shallow, lumpy experience. Parts of it feel too drawn out. Parts of it feel too rushed.

I like the main character Azalea, but she's kind of your standard Plucky Girl Who Walks Away From Omelas kind of archetype and doesn't go much further than that. There are pieces that reference Zelda lore and mechanics, but that feel kind of half-there, not fleshed out enough. The trinkets, for example. The bird companion. Her relationship with her father.

This is a lot of griping, though, and it's a lot better than I'm making it out to be. It has something to say and it articulates it in a cool way. The art is gorgeous. There are plenty of moments of pure wonder. It's jam-packed with interesting ideas. But there's also something frustrating at the center of it, and not in the good way.
thedeadparrot: (blind)
(posted by on Apr. 20th, 2015 08:35 am)
An abbreviated list of things I learned during this expedition:

- XPaths and how weird and fragile they are
- running unittests without nose/a file
- Heroku configuration and deployment
- how to limit gunicorn workers
- how nltk's ConditionalFreqDist works
- how to use Python 2/3 compatibility tools
- Twitter and Tumblr's API's (kind of)
- OAuth again, for about the 50 millionth time. It doesn't like to stick.
- how to express single element tuples in Python
- writing very, very simple websites in Flask.
- template inheritance with Jinja2
- good (any?) tests are really really important :(((((
- how to set up a NewRelic agent on a deploy
- what that one machine learning class I learned in college was good for

Also, now that I am playing through Assassin's Creed 4, I am tempted to train the model on a bunch of pirate AUs full of swashbuckling. Hell, I might even start writing some myself. Lots of research would be needed, though, and I'm not sure if I'm up for that. ALSO, it's hilarious how much of the music I know because there was a pirate acapella group in college. Yes, really.
thedeadparrot: (moby play)
(posted by on Mar. 9th, 2015 07:14 pm)
So this was my first PAX East, a huge fan-focused gaming convention that happens in Boston every year. I've been tempted to go before, but I've definitely been intimidated by the crowds and the general tone of gaming discussions online before.

This year, I decided to go mostly because my coworkers goaded me into it, and I'm glad they did. But I guess I'm feeling ambivalent about it, too.

The Good:
- Lots of games everywhere. I liked the energy of the place, that we were all there because we love games in all their various forms. There's nothing quite like a gathering of nerds.
- Being able to awkwardly fangirl some studios/devs there who have made games that I really liked in the past and were making cool games again in the future. Mostly. It was generally me being like, "I really liked your game." and them being like, "um, thanks."
- Running into random people that I wasn't necessarily expecting.
- Introversion-friendly areas with lots of beanbags and power strips for charging your cell phone/handheld gaming device.
- Seeing other people wearing the Gaming's Feminist Illuminati T-Shirt.

The Bad:
- The heat was kind of unbearable. The crowds were intense. I had to wait in line for 15 minutes to get into the convention hall on Saturday.
- While mostly without visible douchebaggery, there were definitely a few assholes here and there.
- The few panels I went to were pretty meh.

The Ugly:
- I guess one thing I wasn't expecting was the orgy of consumerism on the expo floor. I've only really been used to the low-key indie-focused gaming festival that goes on at MIT every year. The Indie Megabooth was basically like that, lots of smaller lower-key games showing off their wares at their own short tables. But the rest of it? Hoo boy. I'm someone who can deal with Times Square without getting too bothered by it, but this felt like a constant, neverending assault on my senses. So many screens everywhere.
- Plus, I am still totally confused by who goes to PAX to buy their computer hardware.
- Though I did totally shell out money for merchandising, so I guess I can't say anything.
thedeadparrot: (death and dream)
(posted by on Jan. 30th, 2015 08:51 pm)
Grim Fandango is a video game about movies. It feels like a weird thing to say about a video game. Video games, in all their desperate need to prove themselves, crib cinematic language all the time, but that doesn't mean they're about movies.

Grim Fandango is a game that's about movies, specifically old-fashioned, hard-boiled noir films, but one thing I appreciate about it is for all that it evokes the tropes (the dim, slatted lighting, the smoking, the femme fatales), it refuses to rest on them, and instead crafts something smarter than that.

Okay, to give some context, Grim Fandango is an adventure game that first came out in 1998, recently re-released. It's also about death, because you kind of play a (Latino!) grim reaper and all the action takes place in the Land of the Dead. It's been hailed as a classic, the best of its genre, for decades now, and it's been super difficult to get hold of until now.

I've played it through once, and now I'm playing it through again to listen to the developer commentary and just soaking in the zippy dialogue and odd locations.

It captures something, I think, a weird mix between a cartoonish, kid-friendly(ish) world and a real adult sense of loss and regret. The heart of a good noir story is about good people trying to survive in an unfair world, and the game knows it and works it for all it's got.

The entire second act is a tribute to Casablanca so vivid that I immediately wanted to rewatch the movie as soon as I got there.

But it's not just the aesthetics, the little nods to classic film (the musical cue when any sort of bird shows up is pretty much a direct nod to The Birds). Due to the technical limitations of the time, the video game camera remains fixed, static, as your character weaves its way to and fro across the frame, and it completely changes your interaction with the character when there isn't a camera floating over their shoulder every time they turn around. There's also the placement of the camera in each area, which feels deliberate, cinematic. It'd be one thing if it was always placed horizontal to the floor, 5 feet off the ground, but it's not. It pulls out and up when moving into a larger space. It pulls in tight when you need to focus on the details. This can be both disorienting and really effective.

The puzzles of the game? Eh. Not my thing. I mostly forced my way through with a walkthrough. It would be easy to say that this means the game would be better off as an actual movie, but I don't buy that argument. Games are about exploring and interacting with a virtual space, and Grim Fandango is just so jam-packed with odd, interesting characters and weird, fun locations that it's always a pleasure to find someone you can talk to for a period of time.

In many ways, the game both shows its age and demonstrates its timelessness. There's just not a whole lot of people around, and the areas can feel rather small and sparse compared to modern video game environments. But the game knows how to use what it has, and make it work. The voice acting is really powerful. The writing is both funny and effective. I'm still trying to unpack everything the game is trying to say, about death and about life and about making amends for the mistakes of your past and the passing of time. I'm trying to figure out if it's actually what the game is saying or if it's just stealing those themes from better movies.

Anyway, here's Long Live Grim Fandango, which is a great article about the game and about the eventual remaster of it.
thedeadparrot: (light)
(posted by on Jan. 19th, 2015 08:08 am)
Title: The Heroes' Journey
Fandom: The Legend of Zelda
Characters: Link, Zelda
Length: 1:44
Summary: It's dangerous to go alone.
Music: Jim Guthrie - "The Maelstrom"
Footage: Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Minish Cap, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword
Notes: In order to get all this footage, I used several Let's Plays as source material for this vid. I'll link to them in the secondary author's notes.

Streaming (Youtube)
Download (MP4, 100MB)

embedded and notes, omg, so many notes )
thedeadparrot: (crouching tiger)
(posted by on Sep. 26th, 2014 07:22 pm)
Okay, I know there are maybe like two of you who enjoy my posts about video games, but I just really wanted to rec this whole series of columns about sex in video games: S.EXE.

It explores everything from freeware text adventures to AAA games that are ostensibly about driving. The latest column about Gone Home is so lovely, so starkly personal, and so wonderfully about what it's like to grow up female and have to learn to become comfortable with your own female-ness.

Here, have a quote:
I don’t think I’d ever seen a bottle of nail polish in a video game until Gone Home. I stared at it for a good five minutes when I saw it, wondering about all the open world environments I’d traversed, all the fancy worlds, all the adventure games I’d played where the elements of being a woman were strangely absent in the environment. I had the same experience looking at a discarded bra on the floor of a woman’s bedroom in Dishonored. I looked at that discarded bra shocked, and thought, yes. I’d leave my bra on the floor if I lived in this room. Someone who has seen this happen before made this game.

It is almost as if women are not invisible. They might be leaving a trail of their existence.
thedeadparrot: (blind)
(posted by on Sep. 6th, 2014 07:53 pm)
but that's not even worth it.

I still love video games. It's what I've been doing instead of writing or being a responsible adult over the last few days. Hooray.The Humble Indie Bundle 12 is out, and you should get it because Gone Home and Papers Please are great, even though I still haven't finished Papers Please /o\.

Also in /o\, I got good beta feedback on my fic, but I am ignoring actually working on it in favor of playing video games. Whoops.
thedeadparrot: (oracle)
(posted by on Sep. 4th, 2014 07:13 pm)
Thanks for all the kind words, guys! It made my birthday a lot brighter. Anyway, here's that post about #GamerGate that I mentioned, because I just have too many feelings about it.

If you want a summary of it, there's an extremely short version. There's far too much in all sorts of different places for me to summarize, and some of the 'evenhanded' summaries are giving way too much credit to retrogressive fucks that do not deserve it.

Mostly, I'm done. I'm not even in the game industry, and I'm pretty much exhausted, anxious, and miserable watching it all play out because I have terrible self-preservation instincts when it comes to internet drama. So here's a collection of thoughts.

I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. I played Tetris on my grandmother's old handheld, the kind that was only black and white and only played one game. I played SNES and NES games on my neighbors' systems back when my parents wouldn't let me have any for myself. I have nearly hosed my finals because I spent most of that week playing Zelda instead of studying. I have played through all of the Mass Effect trilogy multiple times. I have always been here.

There's this game called Arkham Asylum. You get to play as Batman. I love Batman. This game was lauded from every corner of the game industry. I wanted to play this game. I tried the demo, and when we met this version of Harley Quinn I quit the game then and there. The game couldn't have said THIS GAME IS NOT FOR YOU any louder than it did. So I didn't play it. I'm sure someone would tell me that I'm being unfair for not looking at how great the game is. I don't care. I know that the game doesn't want me there. So I'm not going to give them money and I won't play it.

#GamerGate is the cries of a bunch of whiny babies who have always had their needs catered to, who have never had to slice and dice their cultural milieu for the things they like and the things they have to grudgingly accept. I wonder how many of them realize that the things they are feeling, their claims of being ignored, dismissed, attacked, and insulted, are how women have felt in the industry for decades.

I have no sympathy for the ones who feel anxious about the attacks on the term 'gamer'. Men have been policing it as a way of excluding women forever. Despite the reports that women *gasp* enjoy pleasant mental feedback loops as much as men do, men have been dismissing the games women enjoy as 'casual games', though the real difference between Bejeweled and Tetris has never been clear to me. Outsider, experimental indie games (frequently made by women) have been labeled 'not games'. The neverending war against 'fake gamer girls', girls who have the audacity to enjoy some games without feeling the need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of them, is still ongoing. As far as I can tell, gamers have been reaping what they sow.

Oh, and there's been lots of claims that Anita Sarkeesian is faking the death threats made against her and her family Seriously, fuck you. In order to combat this, she produced a small sampling of the torrent of abuse (warning: extreme misogyny) that she has received.

So yeah. I'm done. Fuck the gaming community. Fuck their self-important bullshit. Fuck their misogyny. Fuck their inability to understand journalism or science. Fuck their complete lack of empathy. I'm going to go play this pigeon dating simulator now.
thedeadparrot: john watson palming his face (facepalm)
(posted by on Aug. 30th, 2014 07:19 am)
I'm glad the story about Anita Sarkeesian's harassment is making the rounds, but I have to say that it's only the tip of a very, very large Shitty Video Game People Iceberg that has been ongoing for weeks now.

I haven't really posted about it, because for the most part it's just been horrifying in the 'I can't look away' sort of thing. There's a pretty lengthy post up on Badass Digest that covers more of the angles, and ironically enough, was written up before the death threats towards Sarkeesian were made.

A lot of gamers have been pulling the #NotAllGamers and the 'this thing happens to everyone famous!' bullshit. I've been in a lot of internet communities over the years, and I've seen them blow up in all sorts of interesting ways, but gamers are by far the most horrifying I've seen of all of them.

It's not all hopeless, of course. A lot of prominent video game developers have acknowledged Sarkeesian's criticism as a clear call to action to do better. Women are consuming more video games every year. The lines are being drawn in the sand, and I think most people know which side they'd rather be on.

In some ways, this whole thing does remind me of RaceFail, a necessary bit of throwing down to clear the path for people to think better, write better, create better. Leigh Alexander, one of the better-known female video game journalists, wrote a marvelous piece about the end of 'gamers'.

We can only hope.
thedeadparrot: (oracle)
(posted by on Jul. 30th, 2014 07:58 am)
I've been kind of off in a video game void lately due to stress and general life business. (Hahaha, who knew that getting a mortgage and buying property would be so much work?) It's much easier to focus on consuming media rather than creating it when your brain is occupied with all sorts of things.

But I recently have achieved some Free Time and some brainspace, and I have been messing around with the Shadowrun Returns editor.

I was playing the game and loving the worldbuilding. It's kind of goofy -- the premise is high fantasy meets cyberpunk -- and wanting fic, knowing that I'd probably have to write it myself. At some point, that went from "I guess I could write some short fic" to "I guess I could use the built-in campaign editor to make some short fic". So here I am, toying with the pieces of it and actually making some progress.

I'm not going to make a full campaign. Combat can be kind of wonky and frustrating, and the animations are pretty limited, but I love the fact that it relies so much on text and dialogue for its storytelling. That definitely lowers the barrier of entry. Words are great!

Right now, I'm actually limited on the writing side of things. Which scenes do I want to build and what things do people say and how do they play out. The fiddly technical bits are actually the easy part of this whole process. I don't know how big this thing is actually going to be, but I'm excited to have the bones of something in place. We'll see how this goes.

(If I were in better shape, this would be where I would write a whole bunch of stuff about companies encouraging modding and how this whole process feels strongly like playwriting or something of that ilk. I spent a whole day learning how to build sets. It was weird.)
thedeadparrot: (crouching tiger)
(posted by on Jul. 13th, 2014 01:17 pm)
I haven't posted much here because of busy-ness -- work-busy-ness and life-busy-ness (omg, who would have thought that buying property would be a lot of work?), but here are things that I have been thinking of:

Snowpiercer! I saw the movie this Thursday with friends. I feel like, after reading some of the reactions online, people either have really positive or really negative reactions to it.

I'll try to keep my own thoughts brief and spoiler-free. I think I fall into the 'positive' camp overall, but that's not without ambivalence and caveats. There's good acting, great art direction, and tiny bits of interesting and fun worldbuilding that is like crack to my brain. But overall, it's heavily metaphorical in ways that highlight the weakness and inconsistencies of the premise rather than papering over them and making them palatable. There's a dreamy fairy-tale quality to the whole thing that's at odds with its attempts at gritty honesty.

Overall, I think the best thing I can say about it is that I would like us to have more movies that are like this. Movies that are ambitious and wild with their ideas and unafraid to push them to their limits, even if they do fall down a little at the end.

There's this game article that I read a while back, Games, Noir, and the 17%, that has stuck with me. Not because it's about this particular game (L.A. Noire) but because how it addresses the way women have disappeared from our media and how we have become accustomed to being disappeared, not just from the foreground, from the leading roles, but from the background as well.

Er, I don't feel like I'm explaining this very well. Just go read it.

World Cup final tonight! I am less excited about the game itself and more excited about my super swanky cream soda, chocolate-covered peanut-butter-stuffed pretzels, and the homemade meatballs my friend promised to make for me. Nomnomnom. The only that could make this better is chicken wings.

Also, how much do I love that the US team is known as the USMNT? SO MUCH.

I have spent a lot of my free time video gaming. XCOM is like crack. Oh look, aliens! Oh look, aliens go boom! Watch me as I cackle as my sniper headshots a fun-loving muton IN THE FACE. Watch me curse as my assault trooper misses hitting a stupid drone thing with its shotgun! So much tasty turn-based wackiness.
thedeadparrot: (dylan jester)
(posted by on Apr. 12th, 2014 10:32 am)
I am going to write a post about the Broken Age documentary (about making a Kickstarted video game) because it is now available for purchase to be streamed or downloaded DRM free with new episodes coming as they release them. There are fourteen episodes released so far that range between 20-55 min. A fifteenth has already been posted for backers but hasn't been uploaded to the other site yet.

I really love this documentary. I've mentioned it multiple times already to many people I know, but I figure I'll just mention it again. New episodes are usually the highlights of my day/week/month when they get posted, and they've been coming out about once every 1-2 months since the Kickstarter first happened. I'll usually watch each episode multiple times like the weirdo I am.

I think I love this documentary because it's about work. It's about the work it takes to be creative. It's about the work it takes to coordinate people across multiple states and across multiple disciplines. It's about the work it takes to make business decisions. It's about the work it takes to deal with bad press.

So many behind-the-scenes documentaries are about the mechanics of making something, the fun of making tiny models or doing clever blue-screen tricks or like, how great it is to work with your costars, or even, a lot of the times, about looking back at things and talking about the moments that stick out, the bright flashes of inspiration. This isn't that documentary.

This is a documentary about the grind. It's about having trouble locking yourself in your office to get your writing done. It's about saying, holy shit, we are building a game bigger than we budgeted for, what do we do now. It's about a director saying to an animator, this is great work that you're doing, but I think it's all wrong for the character so I think you need to scrap it all and redo it. It's about why you shouldn't read internet comments. It's about dealing with a giant, almost-insurmountable list of bugs.

But it's also about the magic moments. Having a mini art jam between all the artists so that you can generate a whole bunch of concept art in a short amount of time. Debuting your teaser trailer in front of a large group of people. Having a real orchestra play the music that will go into the final game. Getting to watch someone play your game out in the wild for the first time.

I don't know how it feels to watch the whole series all in one go right now, but there was a certain magic to watching as the game slowly come together over the months, gaining sophistication and depth. And then, at the end, getting to play it (at least the first half that's been released).

If you want to watch the first ep, it's available for free on Youtube. It mostly just covers the time period of the Kickstarter, but it does give you a taste of what the rest of the series is like.

Also, I really love the soundtrack because of its soothing chiptunes vibes and it can be purchased separately. Bandcamp also lets you listen to the whole thing for free before buying.
thedeadparrot: (blind)
(posted by on Jan. 16th, 2014 07:06 pm)
I love Broken Age.

It's hard for me to say whether or not this is because I backed it a while ago and have been obsessively watching (and rewatching) the fantastic documentary that is being produced as game development progresses, showing the ups and downs of making a complex and ultimately subjective system for the delight of everyone to see. It's a really fantastic documentary (though not available at the moment for purchase) and I love how it's about adults sitting in a room and talking about things and also about making really beautiful things.

But this isn't about the documentary. This is about the game.

I'm not someone who has nostalgic feelings about Tim Schafer and the old school LucasArts adventure games. I once tried to play Monkey Island as a kid and got stuck and bored and gave up on it, and that was pretty much the extent of that experience. I only got around to playing Psychonauts a year ago when it came out on Linux. I've enjoyed plenty of adventure games over the years (omg Machinarium <3), but I have no particular attachment to the old ones.

Broken Age is a modern adventure game, for better or for worse. It's slick, and it's streamlined such that I never hit a point during the game where I got frustrated enough to look up a solution on the internet (trust me, that's happened more times than I can count). It's gorgeous beyond belief and crafted with loving care. Just see for yourself.

But where the game really shines, for me, is the story.

There are flaws, of course. The main characters are draw thinly, but fairy-tale-thin not typical-video-game-protagonist-thin, and since this is Act 1, there's plenty of ways for them to go towards becoming fleshed out. The worlds they inhabit can feel a bit spare at times. The goofiness of video game logic continues to hold throughout the world.

There's something magical about its central theme, though, about teenagers becoming adults and what that means. As you can see, there are two main protagonists, a boy and a girl, and I suspect it's more unintentional than intentional, but there's something about the way their stories contrast against each other feels surprisingly feminist for a story constructed almost entirely by white dudes (trust me, I've seen the documentary, I know).

Vella has been chosen to be sacrificed to a monster that likes to eat girls during the Maidens Feast, and everyone around her talks about how great this is, it's an honor, etc. The game takes the darkly humorous tack of making most of the other maidens super eager to be 'chosen' by the monster, talking about the perfumes they wear, the construction of their clothes, whether it's better to be skinny or fat, and I guess, talking in Valley Girl accents. Vella has already decided this is absurd and upsetting, of course, and is ready to make her escape. This does have the weird, uncomfortable effect of making many of the other female characters around her seem shallow, vain, or downright stupid. But it does, in a lot of ways, remind me of being a girl who liked jeans more than skirts, who thought Barbies were boring, who grew up angry that boys got all of the cool things. There's a lot of effort put into impressing the giant unfeeling monster who probably actually care about the unrealistic and arbitrary demands being made on the maidens. Everyone buys into it. No one questions it, because 'that's the way it's always been.'

Shay, on the other hand, is living a coddled life. He's the only living thing on a spaceship that's been designed for a five-year-old. The ship's computer lovingly puts him into fake adventures where he has to survive hug attacks and deal with ice cream avalanches. Until, well, someone mysterious shows up in the ship and offers him the chance to go on a real adventure. I feel like there's some interesting deeper meanings here, in how we teach our boys to be heroes but not how to be adults. There are very real consequences to Shay's adventuring (which I will not spoil here), ones he cannot see because he lacks the ability to see past his own selfish desires. I think I see that at times in my male friends, the realization that they can't be the gung-ho hero who can do whatever they want and get away with it.

The ending of the first act is a pretty killer cliffhanger, and I'm sure these half-baked ideas that I have will either play out more fully or fall apart once we get to see the rest of these stories. Who knows, man. Still, at the end of everything, this is an experience that has stuck with me for a bit, and I expect it will stick with me just a little bit longer.
thedeadparrot: (blind)
(posted by on Dec. 4th, 2013 10:26 pm)
For those of you who were into Papers, Please, Rock Paper Shotgun did a pretty good writeup of it. And they've actually played the game!

Choice quote:
But the scariest – and therefore, most illuminating – moments were the ones in which my mindset naturally, gradually fell into perfect sync with that of the system I so vehemently despised. Seeds of mistrust were quickly sown. A few botched attempts at being The Good Guy – of believing that empathy and understanding can overcome all, make friends of enemies – resulted in penalties, murder, and terrorism. I became paranoid, sick with stress. If anyone even seemed suspicious, they were getting detained – their basic rights to privacy and freedom torn off their backs just like that. I couldn’t take any chances. People’s lives were in my hands, and back home, my family was counting on me. People pleaded to be let through, but how could I trust them? It was their well-being versus that of me and mine. I picked mine. Every time.

I think in some ways, the beauty of this game might be how skilled the design is, that it can sucker you into its way of thinking. It's interesting to compare it to something like Female Experience Simulator, which wears its agenda on its sleeve, and I think, brings up a defensiveness that makes it easier to dismiss.
thedeadparrot: (eowyn jude)
(posted by on Nov. 25th, 2013 07:02 pm)
I don't think that Anita Sarkeesian puts together the most entertaining and incisive arguments in her videos about awful, sexist video game tropes, but I really do enjoy the amount of polish that the Kickstarter campaign has bought her, and I look forward to watching more.

Jeez, that Ms. Pac-Man commercial is awful.
thedeadparrot: (blind)
(posted by on Nov. 16th, 2013 10:46 pm)
Papers, Please is a game about being a immigrations officer for a fictional dystopian country during the Cold War. Yes, it is a game about verifying paperwork. It is even a game that people pay money for.

I haven't played it yet, but I've read a fair number of reviews for it, and I think there's something fascinating about what it's doing and even what I think it's trying to say.

In Papers, Please, you are put in a position such that you can grant or deny visas into your country, but you have to process enough people to pay for food and heat for your family, and you have a strict and confusing rulebook to follow that changes over the course of the game.

So much of our pop culture gives us the illusion of power, and games especially so, when we are the only 'real' thing in these worlds. (I hear The Stanley Parable is a game that explores this idea in a cool way, and I would very much like to play it someday.) Papers, Please does seem to operate within that framework. The fates of the immigrants that pass through your checkpoint are yours to decide. And yet, there are larger systems at play that will force your hand, that will back you into a corner.

The reviews for this game, mostly written by white men for other white men, express a certain amount of surprise at the choices they do make, when given a decision between becoming corrupt or letting your family starve to death. They look at themselves differently when they are forced into a position where there are only bad choices and they are forced to compromise.

It's only a game. When you turn it off, close that window, shut down your computer, it disappears as if it never existed. But I like that little window it forms, that little glimpse into what it means to be powerless.


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