Saturday, August 31, 2013

August of Games: Day 31 - FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL's soundtrack isn't complicated, but it's often very pretty. Very fitting to the action of the game.

FTL: Faster Than Light
Developer: Subset Games
Genre (Setting): Spacefaring Sci-fi
Genre (Gameplay): Real-Time Strategy I guess? It's nothing like other RTS's, but it's a fitting title.
What is this game: In this game, you are the crew of a spaceship. The evil rebel forces are moving to destroy the federation, and you have to keep ahead of them and get across space to warn the Federation fleet and destroy the Rebel Flagship before it's too late.
As a game, you have this map of your ship, and you need to manage your crew members and he power to the various areas of your ship, as well as your weapons systems when you get into fights. At any time you can pause the game to give commands, but actions are only executed outside of the pause. This kinda breaks the real-time thing, as you can take your time to strategize. When unpaused though you have to be fast, because the enemy ships aren't relenting.
The game is randomly generated. Play is split into sectors, each of which has stars you jump between and need to get to the Jump Gate at the end of each system to move to the next sector. The sectors branch, and have different traits, but all converge on a single final point - the Federation fleet. Along the way there's all sorts of encounters as you move between systems - enemy ships, friendly encounters, distress signals, quests. There's an incredible number of things that can happen. There's also a ton of ship types to play as, and a ton of different weapon configurations. It reminds me of Binding of Isaac in its replayability.
It also reminds me of Isaac with its difficulty, but FTL is WAY harder. You need some luck to get a good loadout for your ship, or else you need an incredible level of skill. I've beaten it a couple times, but only with the Kestrel Type A and Torus Type A, all times on Easy mode.

What's great about it: I've already kinda gotten into the good stuff. It's super hard, it's super replayable, and combat is fast, exciting, and dangerous. The graphics are simple and readable. The AI is very very smart. The only drawback to me is that the AI draws a TON of power from your CPU; my computer crashes from overheating while playing occasionally, but my computer has a shit fan, yours will probably just get very hot.

I gave this game a shot after watching Jeph Jacques (of Questionable Content) rave constantly about how good it was, enough that he uploaded some Let's Play videos, and watching those convinced me that yes, this game is good enough that I have to have it. His videos might help you too.

How do I get it: Steam mostly, for $10. It's a steal.

So, um, that's it! That's August of Games! I hope you've enjoyed this month. I certainly have! Unfortunately it might look a little sparser next month, but I'm gonna try and stay really active. Avatar World is nearing initial completion, so look for that, and for my next game project, The Old World!
End Recording,

Friday, August 30, 2013

August of Games: Day 30 - Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

Just...just listen to the soundtrack. I have no words to describe how great this soundtrack is. Promised Moisture, Sad Monster, Sound of the Wind, and Monster's Rondo are also great representatives of this stellar soundtrack.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
Developer: Square-Enix
Genre (Setting): Fantasy (huh, that's like the simplest definition I've given all month)
Genre (Gameplay): Action, RPG
What is this game: This is a spinoff of the Final Fantasy series released on the Nintendo Gamecube. Departing from the series's turn-based standard, this is an action game first. You explore the world, collecting myrrh, which protects things around it from the poisonous Miasma spread across the land. You are the leader of a Crystal Caravan, a group that goes out and collects Myrrh to bring back home, where it is used to empower your town's crystal and strengthen its safety against miasma. As you venture further and further, you experience encounters with other travelers and slowly uncover the mystery behind the miasma.
As a game, you run around and hit stuff with your sword until it falls down and solve minor RPG-style puzzles then fight a boss. There's some extra tricks to the formula though. First, there's the miasma. You have the Crystal Chalice, holding your myrrh and protecting a radius around it from miasma. As long as you're within it, you're safe. If you leave though, you start taking damage at a set rate. In the single player game, you have a floating moogle helper who can help carry the chalice. However, multiplayer is where the game shines. Made to use the GBA-GCN link cable, up to four people can play as long as they all have GBAs hooked up, In that mode, one of the people needs to carry the chalice, and you'll juggle it around depending on who's the best for the situation.
The game is long and while you'll repeat areas, they are different and tougher each time. It also gets pretty tough.
What's great about it: I should note something: I did this single player. I didn't have friends with GBAs. Despite what some people say, I LOVED it. I found it very fun, though sometimes very hard. The gameplay ideas are innovative, though not always conducive to good design. Where I really fell in love with it is the world. The general art direction of creature and character designs is great, ESPECIALLY for bosses. Each place is simply extraordinary looking. Here's my declaration: thanks to the unbelievable design work, this game generally looks better than a lot of modern games, including all of its own successors, which adopted the DS art aesthetic started in Phantom Hourglass, continued in Final Fantasy III, and used consistently in just about every 3d DS games. Rebena Te Ra, Veo Lu Sluice, Gigas Manor, Leuda, Alfataria, Tida, everything. It's up there with the original Metroid Prime in terms of art design. The feeling is just enhanced by the music, which is one of the best soundtracks in gaming.
How do I get it: It's a Gamecube game, going used is your only option. If Nintendo is kind they'll update it for the Wii U - either for the Virtual Console with online multiplayer or a full-blown HD remake (which, if they did, I would be very careful around).

This was the final mainstream game of August of Games! Only one more day. Thank you for making this a record-breaking month.
Oh, and I'm gonna be at PAX all four days! If you're around, drop me a line on Twitter or here and we can hang out a bit. I'm gonna be tweetin' all about what I'm doing, and I'll be running games at Indie Games On Demand on Saturday from 6pm-10pm, Sunday from 10am-2pm, and Monday from 10am-2pm. If you've ever wanted to give Monsterhearts, The Quiet Year, or Fiasco a try, those are my main offerings, though if there's something you're into I can totes see if we can't figure it out. Maybe I'll stuff Lady Blackbird in my pack...
End Recording,

Avatar World: The Monk, The Warrior aka The Rest of the Fiddly Bits

This is from Jack Wall's Lost Planet 3 soundtrack. I gotta say, this soundtrack is THE BOMB. Genre'd as "Alien Country" but Wall, this is what Borderlands 2 or RAGE should have had. Actually, you know what this sounds like? This could be straight out of Firefly. Hells yeah. There goes Jack Wall, kicking ass all over again.

Holy shit, you're reading the last player-side update of Avatar World before I release a whole alpha draft! Just for the record, two pieces will be missing from the alpha draft that will be included in later versions: name lists and sub-playbooks. I'll be including one or two sub-playbooks as an example (thinkin' The Plantbender and The Doctor since those are written), but otherwise they're not needed to play the game in its basic form. Technically, this is good enough right here to play - MC Threat Types is a nice step but not explicitly necessary either.
Oh, and technically the Scholar and Waterbender don't have flavor text yet, but those will just show up, I'm not dedicating a post to them.

I should toss out the idea that I realized that potentially an alternate name for The Monk could be The Enlightened, which avoids the whole "D&D Monk" issue while keeping the same vibe. Maybe. I don't know.

Also, because I ended up not making a big deal of Chakras in the Monk, I've decided that that's what I'll be calling "Chi Keys". Just a heads-up.

Flavor Text:
The world has secrets even the brightest scholars cannot fathom, secrets of the spirit and the soul. The cosmos saw fit to whisper to you, and now, more than ever before, you understand. You understand.
Stat (Pick One Array):
* Natural +2, Hot +0, Solid +1, Keen +1, Fluid -1
* Natural +2, Hot -1, Solid +1, Keen +0, Fluid +1
* Natural +1, Hot -1, Solid +1, Keen +1, Fluid +1
* Natural +1, Hot -1, Solid +2, Keen +1, Fluid +0
* Natural +1, Hot +1, Solid +2, Keen +0, Fluid -1
Look (Pick One From Each Set):
* Carefully maintained beard, hairless, symbols of your order, unkempt.
* Brightly-dyed robes, tattered rags, temple clothes, dull and simple clothes.

You have nothing but the clothes on your back and the mark of your order.
Your monastic order requires a vow to stay away from a particular sort of corruption. Name your order, and promise yourself that you will never: (choose one)
* afford yourself any luxury,
* cause no intentional harm,
* tell anything but the honest truth.
Yes, I've only provided a couple options for the major vows. It's the Vow of Poverty, the Vow of Pacifism, and the Vow of Honesty. If the MC allows, you can pitch your own idea, but it needs to be a really serious vow. If you're interested in writing your own, check out the special below.
* Faithful and preachy,
* Calm and reserved,
* Sensitive but disciplined,
* Hard and jaded,
* _________ (write your own)
When you study under an enlightened soul you have a chance to renew your vows. Make a new oath to yourself that makes something valuable to you off-limits. When you uphold your vow at the cost of a significant opportunity, mark XP.
So here's the thing: if you want to renew your starting vow and still have it around, you need to vow an amped-up version of it. Maybe you'll not only afford yourself no luxury, but also give any luxury you come across to those who need it. It's just as nasty, except now you'd probably want to give away the stuff you find to people who don't happen to be your companions. The trade-off for this being an amped-up version is that you get a much stronger benefit from it than most oaths-with-yourself (also quite fitting, as it's not "completable").
This lets you write your own. The MC should be a part of the writing process to make sure they aren't going too easy on themselves, but be lenient, and remember that they're always the ones in charge of it.
This is one of my favorite Special moves, and I've been really fond of most of the special moves I've written over the past week or so.
When you have 5 XP, you can gain no more. Reduce your XP from 5 to 0 at any point to take an advancement:
__ You have +1 Natural (max +3)
__ You have +1 Hot (max +3)
__ You have +1 Solid (max +3)
__ You have +1 Fluid (max +3)
__ gain a new chakra from the list, or write your own.
__ gain a new Monk move
__ gain a new Monk move
__ gain a new Monk move
__ gain a move from another playbook
__ gain a move from another playbook
///////////////////////// (these improvements can only be taken once you've taken 5 of the above improvements)
__ You have +1 to any stat (max +3)
__ Retire your character to safety
__ create a second character to play side-by-side with this one
__ change your character to a new type

Flavor Text:
Death is never to be taken lightly, but there are always those who simply deserve to die. Who better than you to put them down, or to keep your friends from meeting the same fate at their hands?
Stat (Pick One Array):
* Natural -1. Hot +2, Solid +1, Keen +0, Fluid +1
* Natural +1. Hot +2, Solid +0, Keen -1, Fluid +1
* Natural +0. Hot +1, Solid +0, Keen +1, Fluid +1
* Natural +0. Hot +1, Solid -1, Keen +1, Fluid +2
* Natural -1. Hot +1, Solid +1, Keen +0, Fluid +2
Look (Pick One From Each Set):
* Humble clothes, uniform, stealth garb, obviously armed.
* Cold eyes, dangerous eyes, relaxed eyes, cunning eyes.
A deadly weapon: (choose one)
Blade (3-harm), Polearm (2-harm, armor-piercing), Archery (2-harm, long range), Many small weapons (1-harm, infinite, short range)
1-Armor, appearance is up to you. No matter what you're wearing, you have 1-Armor.
This is the first real instance of descriptive tags. They should be self explanatory. The exact definition is up to you - blades can be swords, axes, scythes, whatever, polearms tend to mean lances and the like, archery is obvious but if the technology in your game supports it, that's what a gun would be as well, and Many Small Weapons would be like knives, shuriken, kama, and other small things, and you can always pull out another one. Short range means it includes throwing stuff, but can't get near as far as bows or guns. Note that for the bow's Long Range, you can Hard Move them about it if they shoot it in point blank combat, but there's no reason they can't use it close up. Legolas managed just fine, you know.
* Someone needs your protection and you've promised it to them, whether they want it or not.
* You've promised vengeance upon someone who deserves it. Who?
* Intense and unflinching,
* Violent and frightening,
* Honorable and fair,
* Ruthless but respectful,
* __________ (write your own)
Once you've trained with a master warrior, when you you enter battle you may vocally single out out one target. Until you attack a different target or an ally of yours attacks them as well, you have +1 to Commit Open Violence and to Move With Intention against them, and if they attack an ally of yours instead of you, you may Stand Fast to intervene and take the hit yourself.
This is the former Samurai's Duel move, expanded to include assassination-style attacks. Like with Apocalypse World and the Gunlugger, it's up to you to define how broad "enter battle" means.
When you have 5 XP, you can gain no more. Reduce your XP from 5 to 0 at any point to take an advancement:
__ You have +1 Natural (max +3)
__ You have +1 Hot (max +3)
__ You have +1 Keen (max +3)
__ You have +1 Fluid (max +3)
__ gain a new Chakra from the list, or write your own.
__ gain a new Warrior move
__ gain a new Warrior move
__ gain a new Warrior move
__ gain a move from another playbook
__ gain a move from another playbook
///////////////////////// (these improvements can only be taken once you've taken 5 of the above improvements)
__ You have +1 to any stat (max +3)
__ Retire your character to safety
__ create a second character to play side-by-side with this one
__ change your character to a new type
Rock it.
End Recording,

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Avatar World: The Firebender's Fiddly Bits

I'm a fan of Angel Beats!, though I'd probably not admit in public. The couple of GirlDeMo albums are actually pretty good! Maybe it's just my attitude lately. And yes, I prefer the Yui version over the Iwasawa version. That's not true for all the GirlDeMo songs, but it is for Crow Song.
Maybe I'll post something not anime soon. I'm kinda spending all my game tracks on August of Games, and I haven't found the right Nightcore song yet to feature (maybe I'll do that Sunday), but for now, anime!

Nothing special here, just some fiddly bits for the Firebender! 2 more to go.

Flavor Text:
Fire is the great destroyer and the life-giver, and you've trapped it in your soul. You're quicker to be emotional than anyone else, but disciplined enough to stay in control. Most of the time, that is.
Stat (Pick One Array):
* Natural -1, Hot +2, Solid +1, Keen +1, Fluid +0
* Natural +0, Hot +2, Solid -1, Keen +1, Fluid +1
* Natural +1, Hot +2, Solid +1, Keen +0, Fluid -1
* Natural -1, Hot +2, Solid +1, Keen +0, Fluid +1
* Natural +1, Hot +2, Solid +0, Keen -1, Fluid +1
For reference, that's "Soldier", "Mako", "Iroh", "Zuko", and "Azula", roughly. I'm blessed with quite the selection of inspiring firebenders! (note: Mako's not that inspiring though, didn't really like him much)
Look (Pick One From Each Set):
* Exposed muscles, intimidating clothes, simple garb, obvious burns
* Burning eyes, warm eyes, smoldering eyes, lively eyes
Defensive wear (1-Armor)
A family heirloom
* Your fire hurt someone and you promised you'd  make it up to them. Who was it, and how do you plan to redeem yourself?
* There was something you swore you'd never do with your fire. What was it? Why is it important to you?
* Volatile and explosive,
* Honorable and disciplined,
* Excitable and energetic,
* Understanding and peaceful,
* ________ (write your own)
Once you've trained with a master firebender, you may add the Area tag to any of your firebending attacks, striking at many foes without penalty.
 When you have 5 XP, you can gain no more. Reduce your XP from 5 to 0 at any point to take an advancement:
__ You have +1 Natural (max +3)
__ You have +1 Solid (max +3)
__ You have +1 Keen (max +3)
__ You have +1 Fluid (max +3)
__ gain a new "Chi Key" from the list, or write your own.
__ gain a new Firebender move
__ gain a new Firebender move
__ gain a new Firebender move
__ gain a move from another playbook
__ gain a move from another playbook
///////////////////////// (these improvements can only be taken once you've taken 5 of the above improvements)
__ You have +1 to any stat (max +3)
__ Retire your character to safety
__ create a second character to play side-by-side with this one
__ change your character to a new type

End Recording,

August of Games: Day 29 - Dead Space

Hey, uh, I've literally not had to do this at all this month, but I genuinely am not impressed by Dead Space 1's soundtrack at all, so I've picked a song from DS2. Jason Graves still went a little crazy on the ambient stuff and could use a little more melody, but DS2 is at least better about it.

Dead Space
Developer: Visceral Games
Genre (Setting): Space Survival Horror
Genre (Gameplay): 3rd-Person Shooter, Survival Horror
What is this game: In this game you are Isaac Clarke, an engineer. After the USG Ishimura (an enormous obrital mining ship) goes completely silent, a small group is sent to investigate, Isaac among them. After discovering that the ship is infested with strange zombie-like creatures with scythes for arms, all but three of the crew are killed by them. Isaac needs to figure out how to get off the ship and safely find his way home, but gets wrapped up in the secret of the what the Ishimura found on Aegis VII.
The setting is quite rich; much of it exposed through audio and text logs dropped throughout the ship, and even more of it exposed in the following games.
The gameplay is mostly survival-horror-ish, trekking through the ship and taking down necromorphs wherever they appear. The combat is different from how you're used to playing third-person shooters because of the design of the weapons and the weakness of the necromorphs: they're killed by taking off their limbs, rather than their head. Your primary weapon, the plasma cutter, has a three-shot row pattern, which you can orient vertically or horizontally (note: Plasma Cutter + Metal Gear Rising's Blade Mode could be super rad). There's a lot of guns, more in each game, some quite interesting, some kinda useless. For reference, I like using Plasma Cutter and Pulse Rifle. Single shots or distributed damage like the Seeker Rifle, the Force Gun, or the Flamethrower aren't great usually because they can't cut off limbs easily.
What's great about it: The story is pretty decent, the setting and art design is excellent (if you get a chance, check out the book The Art of Dead Space), and the gameplay is decently fun - the shooting improves as the series progresses. The horror is pretty good in the first game! An over-reliance on jump scares, but the general atmosphere is very spooky. Some folks don't agree, but I've got pretty damn thick skin to horror media, and I recognized it as pretty good. As the series goes on it becomes more and more of an action game until DS3, which doesn't even pretend to be a horror game.
I'm being pretty brief I think, but it's a lot of fun. The difference in shooting for limbs rather than heads seems minor, but it completely changes the manner with which you play the game.
How do I get it: Xbox 360, PS3, Steam, Origin. $20 on Steam, probably about that much on the used game market.

End Recording,

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Avatar World: The Earthbender's Fiddly Bits

So over the past three days I've watched all of Sword Art Online and then it's technically-unrelated cousin .hack//SIGN. This is from .hack. I loved them both, though I think I preferred a lot of the modern sensibility and style of SAO.  However, the soundtrack is one area where .hack//Sign completely owned SAO - Yuki Kajiura created something amazing here.

Welp, might as well toss around some Earthbender fiddly bits!

Flavor Text:
Hardy and centered, earthbenders are the backbone of many villages. They are the plow that shatters their foes, and the wall that stands between an earthbender and his friends.
Stat (Pick One Array):
* Natural +0, Hot +1, Solid +2, Keen +1, Fluid -1.
* Natural +1, Hot -1, Solid +2, Keen +0, Fluid +1.
* Natural +1, Hot +1, Solid +2, Keen +0, Fluid -1.
* Natural -1, Hot +1, Solid +2, Keen +1, Fluid +0.
* Natural +1, Hot +0, Solid +2, Keen -1, Fluid +1.
Look (Pick One From Each Set):
* Peasant's clothes, high quality robes, muscles exposed, worn and dirty clothes.
* Stony eyes, scheming eyes, unflinching eyes, rough eyes.
A weapon, heavy and blunt, worth 2-harm, 
Padded and reinforced clothes, worth 1-armor.
* You vowed to keep a fellow PC safe - who?
* You left a debt behind in a recent town. Who do you owe, and why did you flee from it?
* Stable and cautious,
* Slow-to-anger but vengeful,
* Dependable and hard-working,
* Dedicated and stubborn,
* _______ (write your own).
Once you've trained with a master earthbender, whenever you pass up an opportunity for action or resist opposition without reaction, you get a point of Stored Energy. Spend a point of Stored Energy to add 1 to any roll, but you must spend before rolling.
Hey, uh, I think I cracked Bumi's neutral jing. I probably should make this a full-on move, but I like this idea of keeping it under the special section for some reason. Also, this is one of the very rare instances of the unconditional +1 in this game, but the context justifies it to me.
I have two remaining concerns: the first is that this is fiction-informs-mechanics, but the mechanic doesn't inform the fiction in return. The second is that I'm kinda encouraging inaction here. Thematic for the earthbender, but kinda dangerous in an RPG. It's up to the MC to put them in situations where they are conflicted about whether they should act or stay put.
When you have 5 XP, you can gain no more. Reduce your XP from 5 to 0 at any point to take an advancement:
__ You have +1 Natural (max +3)
__ You have +1 Hot (max +3)
__ You have +1 Keen (max +3)
__ You have +1 Fluid (max +3)
__ gain a new "Chi Key" from the list, or write your own.
__ gain a new Earthbender move
__ gain a new Earthbender move
__ gain a new Earthbender move
__ gain a move from another playbook
__ gain a move from another playbook
///////////////////////// (these improvements can only be taken once you've taken 5 of the above improvements)
__ You have +1 to any stat (max +3)
__ Retire your character to safety
__ create a second character to play side-by-side with this one
__ change your character to a new type

5 down, 3 to go. Almost there. Hell, at this rate I might actually finish by PAX.

End Recording,

August of Games: Day 28 - Bit.Trip presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

I've featured this lovely soundtrack before in Sunday Songs (which I realize I missed this week's - my bad, sorry), and it's just awesome. This is the second song from The Supernature, and is one of many excellent songs.

Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Developer: Gaijin Games
Genre (Setting): Retro
Genre (Gameplay): Auto-running Platformer
What is this game: This is a weird game where you play Commander Video, who has to run through a whole bunch of stages in order to get out of the weird predicament he's found himself in. If you haven't caught on yet, this game is all about weirdness and quirkiness in its style. It makes it very clear from the beginning to the end that it's meant to make you arch your eyebrows and say "...wait, for real?" The plot is super simple, but there's a bunch of stages.
The sequel to Bit.Trip Runner, it is actually not a part of the storyline told by the six Bit.Trip games.
What's great about it: Runner2 is all the fun of Runner, plus more! It's got the same addictive and interesting gameplay, with a couple mechanics added in (such as slide-jumping). Probably the biggest thing it has over the original is accessibility: it's much easier for a player to jump into than the brutally-difficult original Runner. Frankly, if you're a veteran of the first game, this one feels like a piece of cake once you get used to the new mechanics. Instead, the game pulls out the most dangerous trick that the Bit.Trip series has up its sleeve in order to provide difficulty later in the game: screwing you over with the background. Not only is there often distracting elements (though interesting for other people to watch while you play!), but the game throws color filters over in some worlds that majorly obscures your ability to see the obstacles. There's some tricky stages, but I was able to perfect every stage on Normal mode, which I can't even come close to in the original - hell, I have a hard time just beating the final stages of the original. Even the Hard mode stages of Runner2 have nothing on it.
Of course, I'm saying how it's easier, but it's not quite EASY - it really is about accessibility, and I consider it a good thing! It's weird, but I suggest playing Runner2 first, then going back to normal Runner.
Anyway, the game has flash and style! It's quite the experience. The graphics are pretty, and the soundtrack is spectacular (as I've already featured in a Sunday Songs post!). There's lots of little collectible stuff hidden behind alternate paths, a bunch of characters and a lot of costumes for those characters.
How do I get it: Steam, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, Vita. Steam price is $15, and is the only version I have expreience with, though I played it with a 360 controller. Get it for the platform of your choice, I can't imagine any reasons one would be better than another with this game.

End Recording,

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August of Games: Day 27 - Dishonored

I haven't often said this this month, but Dishonored's soundtrack is pretty disappointing. It's very much an ambience soundtrack with very little melody, and even the ambient stuff is pretty boring. This is from the trailer, for god's sake. However, this is a great song still. Interesting in-world, fun to listen to as music, sets the right mood, just good. If the soundtrack could have upheld this standard we would have been set. Sorry Daniel Licht, it just didn't work this time.

Developer: Arkane Studios (published by Bethesda)
Genre (Setting): Gritty Dystopian Fantasy
Genre (Gameplay): First-Person Stealth
What is this game: In this game you play a guy who was framed for assassinating the Empress. You bust out of prison and, teamed up with a group of loyalists to the old regime, hunt down the conspirators responsible for the frame job and rescue the kidnapped daughter of the Empress. There's a whole bunch of dudes who need killing. There's some plot twists, but not tons like some other games.
Setting-wise, this is a fantasy city where refined whale oil is the primary power source and the world has been ravaged by a plague that basically turns you into a zombie. Things are gritty and grim, reminiscent of what a city would feel like during the Black Plague, but with more architectural development. Kinda like if the Black Plague had struck in the middle of the Renaissance, rather than before it.
The city is dominated by a powerful and restrictive religion that bans worship of The Outsider, a mysterious individual who grants people magic. You happen to recieve a little of that magic.
Using your magic and your knife, along with a couple other gadgets (like sleep darts or a pistol), you creep through all the levels of the game. You can be totally non-lethal! It's certainly easier than being non-lethal in Deus Ex Human Revolution. But anyway, you can choose to take out even the main targets nonlethally, though it requires a great deal more effort usually. Your most iconic magic is a short-range teleport that lets you move between cover, get up on buildings, or disappear from the sight of guards. You can upgrade your magics as the game goes on.
What's great about it: Let's get this out in the air, because I wasn't sure about this early on: this may have a visual similarity to the aesthetic used in (and share a publisher with) The Elder Scrolls, but this is the polar opposite of Skyrim. TES has a lot of problems, but here's a couple of my big ones and why Dishonored breaks them down.
First, TES is not a narrative game. It is a sandbox game. Skyrim especially was built so you could do whatever at any time and there was no sense of urgency or importance to either the plot or the side stories. It was complete freedom to the point where it sacrificed the cohesiveness of its story. Dishonored doesn't QUITE have the same freedom, locking you into your objectives (with occasional side objective, given that the city is very large and you are free to sneak through many regions of it), but giving you the choice of how to go about things. The story keeps moving forward, and I was sucked into the plot.
Second, there's no grind. Advancement comes through two types of collectibles, which means you go out and do side sneaking stuff that you wouldn't have experienced otherwise.
Third, the environments you explore are varied! Not just in layout, but in appearance as well, which in general was something Skyrim sorely lacked (though I am told this was better in Morrowind and Oblivion). The city, the flooded district, the bridge, they all have distinct looks but share elements that tie them together. On the whole, the visual design of this game is off the charts cool. The setting is very well thought out, and the look of everything is not only thematic, but it's just plain awesome
Gameplay is also FUN! I'm a stealthy sort of gamer, even though I'm usually not good at it, but I feel comfortable replaying levels several times to actually get good at it, which is very, very rare.
There's a lot of angles to come at things, and they expand if you take certain powers. I never even touched Possession or Rat Swarm or Windblast, and those could have opened new opportunities as well. Of course, Blink is important, and the base level is free. Dark Vision, however, is equally, if not MORE, important than Blink. Take it as fast as you can. Also, there's a couple of Bone Charms that are randomized in what benefit they give, so if you get lucky and get either of the "Weapons-Out doesn't slow you down" or "Strangle Faster" ones early you're really lucky.
In general, you experience this game as a story. It's a narrative-driven experience at every corner, which felt really good. I didn't feel railroaded, and I didn't feel unfocused. I really like this game. I'm actually considering recording myself playing it (not that my computer could handle recording AND playing it :/ ). Play this one.
It also has side-story DLC featuring a character who is important to the main game but usually not present, which is a bold decision that seems to have worked. I haven't played 'em though.
And all this from an underdog studio known for cancelled games and providing assistance to other developers rather than making their own stuff. This was their first solo effort since 2006. All eyes should be on what these guys do next, because they've set quite a bar.
How do I get it: 360, PS3, Steam. I don't know its console price, but I'd guess around $40 at this point. Steam has it for $30.

End Recording,

Monday, August 26, 2013

August of Games: Day 26 - Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Man, I actually really like the soundtrack to this game. And this song in particular is BEGGING to be remixed or covered and, to my knowledge, it hasn't been! Someone do it, with real guitar. Maybe I'll get lucky and Familyjules7x will be a fan of the game or something.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Developer: Capcom (specifically Shu Takumi, the Ace Attorney guy)
Genre (Setting): Modern
Genre (Gameplay): Puzzle
What is this game: In this game you are dead. But you are a ghost! And for some reason you have the weird power of Ghost Tricks, which have two main forms: you can perform minor manipulation of object, and if you inhabit a newly-dead body, you can rewind time to four minutes before their death to attempt to prevent it. You can also speak witht hose who've either died or those you've rescued from death, even once they're alive again. There's one little snag: you aren't exactly mobile. You can only inhabit some object, and have to hop from one object to another to travel. You can travel through phone lines, but with your destinations restricted.
Plot-wise, well, you woke up dead, and can't remember anything about yourself. Nothing at all, in fact. And you've only got one night as a ghost, so you spend your time trying to figure out who you are and what happened to you, but get caught up in something so much larger. I confess that I haven't actually finished it yet, because it gets pretty hard!

What's great about it: So let's hit the highlights: A plot that really keeps you guessing, but again, not in a way that the game is trying to trick you, it's just smartly written, as you would expect from the creator of the also-excellent visual novel-esque Ace Attorney series.  Difficulty and ingenuity in its puzzles keeps you intrigued and satisfied with it on a game level. Its pixel art is masterful, some of the smoothest animation in the medium; seriously, I would play this all over again just to see all the animation again. It's smooth, stylish, and exaggerated. The character design is pretty great too. The soundtrack, while bound by the DS, is good in the ame vein that the Ace Attorney games had good soundtracks, as in it's pretty compressed but has strong melodies that are both catchy and mood-enhancing. I'm not saying much, but this is a really good game.

How do I get it: Nintendo DS is its native home, which means that it is best acquired used. It is also available on iOS, with all the chapters available for $10 total. Normally, like with The World Ends With You's Solo Remix, iOS ports are often imperfect, but this game is absolutely appropriate for iOS - you can get the full experience, maybe even enhanced. It's very fitting, so that's actually a good option.

Wow, I'm like 5 days from done! Gonna have to prepare a couple ahead of time, because I've got PAX starting on Friday! So excited!
End Recording,

Avatar World: MC Principles and Moves, Aristocrat Fiddly Bits

More Bandcamp embeds! This is from James Dean's soundtrack for the game Super Panda Adventures, which I know absolutely nothing about. I got the soundtrack from the Game Music Bundle 5, which is also where I got FZ yesterday. Only 1 day left for this bundle!

Let's start accelerating to the finish here! Today I've ironed out some pretty basic MC stuff, the Agenda, Always Say, Principles, and Moves. They're hardly final, but they're draftworthy I think.

Explore a mystical world.
Make the characters' lives interesting.
Play to find out what happens.
Not much creativity here. That first one will likely get a better phrasing eventually, but it's not bad right now.

What the Principles demand.
What the rules demand.
What honesty demands.
Even less creativity here, but the original text is so pithy and forward! Taking my cue from Monsterhearts I've axed ApW's "what your prep demands" though, cuz, well, my idea of prep doesn't DEMAND anything.

* Expose the spirits of the world.
My version of Barf Forth Apocalyptica and Blanket The World In Darkness. I don't think it's on the same awesome level as those, but I think I like it more than Embrace The Fantastic.
* Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
This is a probably my favorite principle built into the engine. I like it a lot, and apply it to other games too now.
* Be a fan of the players' characters.
Yup yup yup same deal as the other engine pieces.
* Put players in the middle of competing factions.
Put another way, make relationship triangles. NPC-PC-NPC, PC-NPC-PC, PC-PC-NPC-PC-NPC, whatever.
* Make your move, but misdirect.
Important, though I admit that that the exact wording on this one has always weirded me out a little bit.
* Make your move, but never speak its name.
This one doesn't weird me out at all though. I like this one.
* Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
Of course. This is just a good practice in general.
* Think offscreen too.
Again, duh.
* Sometimes, disclaim decision making.
And more obviousness. I do more of this in my games than I probably should, but I like it.
* Treat everyone equally - without kid gloves, like people.
My version of look through crosshairs or stolen cars, it means that no one should be protected or kept safe, but that their lives aren't just for throwing away.
* Give everyone a motive.
Here's the thing: ApW and MH have you Naming Everyone, DW has you giving every monster life. AvW, on the other hand, doesn't actually WANT everyone named. There's a good deal of mooks that get tossed around in this sort of thing. However, even mooks have a reason-to-be, and named and unnamed folks alike are pushing for something.
* Be overdramatic.
ApW is about being real. AvW is about being theatrical.
* Fights are never started just for violence's sake. Violence is not to be taken lightly.

This is a big deal to me. Now, once you're in a fight, yeah, it's often just fighting. Maybe "to survive" as the motive. But this is intrinsicly connected to "give everyone a motive", but much more specifically displaying that fighting is a serious thing. Now, this is an action game - you will do a good deal of fighting. This principle is a reminder that just because you do a lot of fighting, you shouldn't forget the importance of what it means to do violence.

* Isolate someone.
Kinda like "separate them" but slightly different.
* Announce off-screen badness.
* Announce future badness.
Yup. Those two are nothing new.
* Inflict harm, as established.
Also nothing new.
* Challenge their oaths.

Don't force them to break promises, but put them in situations where it would be EASIER to break an oath than to keep it.
* Take away their stuff.
Take that a bit liberally and you can block bending with this.
* Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
* Put someone in a spot.
More classic ones.
* Reveal who's really in control.
Good for plot twists! Who's at the top of the villain hierarchy? There's always another!
* Make them promise.
Good for making more oaths.
* Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
* Expose the harshness of the environment.
* Bring forth the Spirits.
Herald the Abyss. Be as literal with this as you wish - I happen to be way into Spirit World characters, so I'll probably use this to literally draw out spirits, but it can be a metaphor if you want.
* After every move: "What do you do?"

 Switching gears now, let's get some more fiddly bits done! Today is The Aristocrat - 75% of the Aristocrat is already done before now, thankfully. Let's get the rest in.
Flavor Text:
Naturally at home in the courts of kings, you're not the same as all those other nobles. You're smarter than them, more cunning than them, and infinitely more ambitious.
Stat (Pick One Array): 

* Natural +2, Hot +0, Solid +1, Keen +1, Fluid -1.
* Natural +2, Hot +1, Solid -1, Keen +1, Fluid +0.
* Natural +1, Hot +0, Solid +0, Keen +1, Fluid +1.
* Natural +1, Hot -1, Solid +0, Keen +2, Fluid +1.
* Natural +1, Hot +0, Solid +1, Keen +2, Fluid -1.
Look (Pick One From Each Set):
Choose one from each list:
    * Courtly clothes, Fancy but practical, humble garb
    * With regalia and emblems, with accessories and jewelery, with intricate designs and colors, without adornment.
    * Ruler, heir, minor nobility, just regular folk
A small weapon, easily concealed.
Clothes worth 0-armor.
Some trinket denoting your position of authority.

* One of the characters is from your area of influence and you've sworn to take care of them. Who?
* What other ruler have you in turn sworn obedience to? Do you still like that ruler?
* Insufferable and privileged,
* Manipulative and treacherous,
* Honorable and trustworthy,
* Commanding and inspiring,
* __________ (write your own).
Once you've trained with a master politician, choose one:
* You're better at juggling many engagements; when you have at least 4 oaths with PCs or NPCs and take on an additional PC or NPC oath, gain 1 Chi. 
* You're most skilled at handling one request at a time; when you have exactly 1 oath (either with a PC or NPC) take +1 ongoing to actions directly related to completing that task.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't like these. Heck, these could have been moves. My mind is actually sort of in overdrive about Aristocrat moves suddenly - unfortunately I actually like all six that made it into the playbook, but hey, loose moves never hurt.
When you have 5 XP, you can gain no more. Reduce your XP from 5 to 0 at any point to take an advancement:
__ You have +1 Natural (max +3)
__ You have +1 Hot (max +3)
__ You have +1 Keen (max +3)
__ You have +1 Fluid (max +3)
__ gain a new "Chi Key" from the list, or write your own.
__ gain a new Aristocrat move
__ gain a new Aristocrat move
__ gain a new Aristocrat move
__ gain a move from another playbook
__ gain a move from another playbook
///////////////////////// (these improvements can only be taken once you've taken 5 of the above improvements)
__ You have +1 to any stat (max +3)
__ Retire your character to safety
__ create a second character to play side-by-side with this one
__ change your character to a new type
Oh hey, and for good measure:
Mixing Business With Pleasure: When you put your oaths to others over your own priorities add one to your Trust with everyone who has an oath with you. When you put your own interests over your oaths to others, you may completely abandon an oath (with all the usual penalties) but gain 1 XP.
That's just a loose move I came up with while figuring out the special. It ain't perfect, but maybe it'll find its way into the playbook, or perhaps a sub-playbook somewhere.
There. That's 4. Airbender, Aristocrat, Scholar, Waterbender. 4 more to go. Also some sort of MC "Fronts/Threats" deal because I like that and think it's valuable. Maybe some "first session" notes more meant for myself than anyone else. After that it's just writing up the damn thing into document form.

End Recording,

Sunday, August 25, 2013

August of Games: Day 25 - Bastion

The final song on the soundtrack, sung by Logan Cunningham, the narrator. Seriously, the entire soundtrack is made of solid gold, even for folks who aren't into game music. My PARENTS listen to this soundtrack. I've featured this soundtrack like three times already on the blog, it's so good.

Developer: Supergiant Games
Genre (Setting): Post-apocalyptic (lush and overgrown, NOT wasteland), Surreal
Genre (Gameplay): Ummm...action? Isometric beat'em/shoot'em action I guess. I think I just made that up.
What is this game: This is the game where you play that kid in that world that suffered the Calamity and you're one of the few people left. You go to the Bastion, the safehouse built in case of disaster, and find it somewhat busted. Guided by your voiceover narrator Rucks who lives there, you go out into the wilderness to fight your way through the beasts of the world to find the missing Cores of the Bastion. As play goes on, you find a couple more people, learn about the Ura and the greater powers of the Bastion.
You walk along platforms that rise up in front of you, armed with many weapons. You walk with one stick, and aim body  and weapons with another.
A hand-painted, very colorful art style with some interesting motifs running through it (such as gears, bull's heads, and crystals), accompanied by a soundtrack by Darren Korb, the genre of which has been dubbed "acoustic frontier trip hop".
What's great about it: Everything. This is an inspiring game. Made by the seven-person team Supergiant Games (Amir Rao and Greg Kasavin wrote narration and directed, Logan Cunningham narrated, Jen Zee did art, Gavin Simon developed gameplay, Andrew Wang helped development, Darren Korb did music), the world-building is just incredible. I'm a huge sucker for lots of lore in games developing the world, but this was exactly the opposite: it threw around words, phrases, and especially names that are never explained and simply add to the evocative feeling that this was a living world and there's so much more to it that we don't get to see. It inspired an as-yet-unfinished art project of mine called Art of the Pantheon, which I should totally return to. The setting is remarkable for being a post-apocalyptic landscape that doesn't look colourless or harsh, instead looking like nature has simply reclaimed everything. And not in a the Last of Us-style depressing way - the vivid colors make it seem like a place of life, rather than the aftermath of death. The character and enemy design is pretty great.
The narrator, usually the sticking point of reviews, is a novel and interesting way to deliver the narrative of the game, which is itself quite good. His voice acting job is incredible, and Rucks' voice has become a beloved component of the game - his voice was even added as an announcer pack in Dota 2. He even sings for a couple soundtrack pieces!
Speaking of the soundtrack, Bastion is easily the king soundtrack for 2011, unbeaten even by the triple-As like Dark Souls and Sonic Generations. Simply unbelievable. I know of at least three features I've already done for it here ont he blog.
Gameplay-wise, my favorite bit is the variety you get. There are quite a few weapons, and since you get two, that's a lot of combinations. My favorite is the War Machete with the Breaker's Bow. Lots of different styles of play in there.
The game has an interesting take on difficulty. You might have caught on from my The World Ends With You day that I'm into weird difficulty adjustments that aren't just modes (it also makes Assassin's Creed's full synchronization system one I like a lot). The Shrine is a place you can open up in the Bastion that lets you turn on Idols, each of which creates a bonus to you, but also makes enemies tougher in some ways, such as being faster, stronger, or exploding on death. Actually, thinking about it, it reminds me of Halo's "Skulls" system, which is something I've always liked, although I'm not good enough to play with either Skulls or Idols.
How do I get it: Steam or Xbox Live Arcade. Oh, and iOS. I don't know prices of anything but Steam, which is $15 and absolutely worth it.

End Recording,

Avatar World: Major Changes Late In The Game, also the Airbender's Fiddly Bits

FZ is a remix album of the Fez soundtrack, split into two discs, Side F and Side Z. They have some awesome artist names in the list, from the obvious (Disasterpiece of course) to the awesome (Jim Guthrie, Big Giant Circles, C418, Souleye) to the surprising (Decktonic, Ben Prunty, Stemage, Solar fuckin' Fields). This is by Br1ght Pr1mate, an awesome chiptune artist who I do the mutual following thing with on Twitter. This song gets a LOT out of having lyrics, and I liked it in the first place even!
Check out the album, it's absolutely worth it.

So, uh, even though I think about Avatar World pretty much constantly I don't make tons of progress. See, the big really-interesting stuff is the move writing, and, well, I'm pretty much done with the bulk work of move writing, so I mostly have fiddly bits that I have to force myself to sit down and write.

A big thought for me, brought on by The Walking Eye's podcast about cultural appropriation in games, was whether or not I was doing naughty-bad things including the real-world baggage-carrying Ninja and Samurai but using them in a generalized context rather than keeping completely true to the historical fact of the words. After a little discussion there and then some more over on Story Games, I was significantly convinced to stay away from Samurai. Ninja was still on the fence, due to the excessive appropriation that's already happened in the 90s, but hey.
The original plan was to rename the Samurai. That plan wasn't really going well to me, stuff didn't feel right.

So last night I was feeling particularly bold and finally took action. The results? The Samurai playbook no longer exists. Neither does the Ninja technically. Most of the Ninja found its way into the new playbook, The Warrior. I abandoned the move Ambush (safely stowed in the loose moves section), and replaced it with Samurai - a much more focused use of the word, focused enough that I feel comfortable using it. Here, check it out:
Samurai: You are trained in open combat, and may wear up to 2-armor (with the associated penalty). Being a Samurai comes with extra baggage: to whom have you sworn loyalty? Do you still feel loyal to them? Make an oath with yourself reflecting your commitment to them.
I'm feeling it. I have vague intentions to make The Samurai a complete sub-playbook, which I feel okay with because I can make it really specific to the real thing and not have to generalize (which I did before because it was one of the nine playbooks that needed to cover everything). Those intentions only come after I've written all the other pieces of the game.

Oh yeah, I also altered the Monk's Calm Stability!
Calm Stability: Until you personally show aggression toward a foe (or their allies), whenever you are still and unflinching in the face of imminent harm, roll+Solid. On a 10+, the danger washes over you harmlessly. On a 7-9, you still come through unscathed except (choose one):
     * the experience is painful (take 1 Harm) but you are unphazed.
     * your resolve is broken, take the Tag Shaken.
     * you can no longer stand by and immediately act against the target that attacked you.
This is pretty experimental still, but I'm pretty okay with it! The Tag option feels weak, but the "you get mad" option feels really nice.
Anyway, let's get on those fiddly bits for the Airbender, huh? Let's go down the list:
Flavor Text:
The wind is a fickle force, prone to changing direction on a whim. So too with the airbender: swift, always moving, quick to decide and slow to commit.
Stat (Pick One Array):
* Natural +2, Hot -1, Solid+0, Keen+1, Fluid+1
* Natural +2, Hot +1, Solid-1, Keen+0, Fluid+1
* Natural +2, Hot -1, Solid+1, Keen+1, Fluid+0
* Natural +2, Hot +0, Solid-1, Keen+1, Fluid+1
Look (Pick One From Each Set):
* Hairless, tattooed body, wild and unkept hair, short and maintained hair.
* Traveler's clothes, temple clothes, commoner's clothes, loose meditation clothes.
* A glider staff, which allows you to fly by spending a point of Momentum.
* A trinket from the ones who taught you airbending.
* You've promised another player that you would do whatever it took to aid them in their own quest. Who was it, and what are you helping to do?
* You owe someone a debt from some time traveling alone. Who? What do you owe?
* Spacey and whimsical
* Hasty and quick to act
* Indecisive and quick to change your mind
* Emotional and sensitive

Once you've trained with a master airbender, whenever you Move With Intention, you also get 1 Momentum on a hit.
When you have 5 XP, you can gain no more. Reduce your XP from 5 to 0 at any point to take an advancement:
__ You have +1 Hot (max +3)
__ You have +1 Solid (max +3)
__ You have +1 Keen (max +3)
__ You have +1 Fluid (max +3)
__ gain a new "Chi Key" from the list, or write your own.
__ gain a new Airbender move
__ gain a new Airbender move
__ gain a new Airbender move
__ gain a move from another playbook
__ gain a move from another playbook
///////////////////////// (these improvements can only be taken once you've taken 5 of the above improvements)
__ You have +1 to any stat (max +3)
__ Retire your character to safety
__ create a second character to play side-by-side with this one
__ change your character to a new type

I think that's it. All I need to do is doodle up an Airbender and this one'll be totally complete. Just 5 more (cuz the Waterbender and Scholar are already complete)!

End Recording,

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August of Games: Day 24 - The Basement Collection

Kaada, who made the song for Coil, well he's pretty eccentric with his music. It all has this old-timey plinking noise, and it really stands out from just about every that gets put out today. I love this song, and this game.

The Basement Collection
Developer: Edmund McMillen (and peers)
Genre (Setting): Variety (collection - most commonly abstract, surreal, and retro-style settings)
Genre (Gameplay): Collection (platformer/physics/puzzle/etc)
What is this game: This is a collection of many of Edmund McMillen's older games from before Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy. It contains a lot of games, including the original Meat Boy, Triachnid, and Time Fcuk. They're collaborations with a lot of people, very often Florian Himsl (who has done much programming work with Edmund and was the partner for Binding of Isaac), but also Edmund's older games with Tommy Refenes (the other side of Team Meat). It doesn't happen to include Gish, but other than that it hits every highlight.
One game in particular I want to talk about: If other things like The World Ends With You or Sword & Sworcery are genre-breaking, Coil exists outside the genre system entirely. Like S:S&S, it's what I would call a game poem: a short, focused piece meant to drive an emotional response. Coil takes about 15 minutes to play through. Its story has ended up quite interpretive, even though McMillen had an intended theme, which has led to him not considering it a huge success in his eyes. Fair, but since the last collaborator is always the audience, I think it's a fascinating piece and everyone should play it. You can even get Coil outside of the Collection for free.

What's great about it: Take one of indie gaming's most famous personalities and compile all the games that led to his success, showing how his success was the result of a long road. After Indie Game: The Movie he felt that it gave a bit of the impression of out-of-the-gate success (certainly helped by Phil Fish only entering the scene with FEZ), and he wanted to rectify that impression. It's a cheap bundle for a lot of fun games. Time Fcuk is incredible, Triachnid is tough and charming, and Aether is captivating. And, of course, there's my highlight: Coil. Please play Coil.
I've talked at length back when I played the collection originally, and that's much more detailed:
How do I get it: Mostly through Steam, for $4, and it goes on sale often. Coil is on Steam as a demo, but the whole thing is actually there, being a "demo" just lets it be free. On his personal site, Edmund usually sells physical copies of the bundle that come along with Indie Game The Movie for $25, which is still worth it.

End Recording,

Friday, August 23, 2013

August of Games: Day 23 - 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors

This game has a weird soundtrack. It's remarkably enjoyable, yet still sometimes suffers from the DS's limitations. Somehow though I prefer the chippy, digital sounds of 999 to Virtue's Last Reward's soundtrack.

999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
Developer: Chunsoft
Genre (Setting): Modern
Genre (Gameplay): Visual Novel, Puzzle
What is this game: This is a very, uh, I don't want want to use the word "bipolar" cuz it's not really proper to the people with that disorder, but it literally jumps back and forth between two extremes without much room in between. It has two modes: novel, and escape. Novel sections are just that - very akin to a graphic novel. Usually I would just think of this as the dialogue sections in a game, but when it takes up more than half of the game it's worth noting. Normally I would groan at half of the game's content being dialogue, but when the game's point is to be modeling a graphic novel, I can give it a chance. Besides, there've been a number of pretty excellent DS games in the heavy dialogue world - Phoenix Wright, and Hotel Dusk: Room 215, for example. Anyway, the game has an awful lot of dialogue, but a very focused but varied cast helps keep things fresh.
The Escape sections are point-and-click-adventure-style sections that have you solving logic puzzles and grabbing clues! They're not complicated in concept, but they are extensive and sometimes quite difficult, and there are a lot of them.

What's great about it: The plot is not just long, but full of replay value! Unless you have extraordinary luck, you need more than one playthrough to reach the real ending. Note: I haven't managed that yet. They very pleasantly added a Fast-Forward feature to blaze through dialogue you've seen in previous runthroughs.
The art is a combination of pixeled character portraits, painted backgrounds, and 3d-modeled objects. While I'm not a huge fan of the blend, it's often very common in DS games. The pixeled portraits are really nice! Overall the graphics give this vibe that is very reminiscent of Phoenix Wright.
Most importantly, the plot is simply enjoyable! Not much to say about it, it's just good.
How do I get it: More DS games, so it's a used copy or pirating.
So, let's talk about "Zero Escape". That's the series name that has been retroactively applied to this game after the 3DS game Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward was released. Now, I haven't played that, but I really want to. It's actually a direct sequel to the plot, though the majority of characters are new - the story is self-contained, but you will probably get even more out of the game if you've played 999.

End Recording,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August of Games: Day 22 - The World Ends With You

The soundtrack is killer. I think it's the best the DS has to offer, and still beats many other games nowadays.

The World Ends With Us
Developer: Jupiter and the S-E Kingdom Hearts team (Square Enix)
Genre (Setting): Modern, Fantasy
Genre (Gameplay): Action, RPG (this game is genre-busting and doesn't match any traditional genre styles)
What is this game: This is the game where you are extremely asocial and wake up with amnesia to discover that you are part of a ridiculous activity  called the Reaper's Game. Only completable with a partner, with failure meaning complete destruction, the Game takes place in an alternate Shibuya coexisting with the real one. Players are invisisble and intangible, but with the ability to read thoughts of the real public and influence the trends of Shibuya. The plot is long and twisting, with a cast of colorful and unique characters.
Gameplay-wise, as I said, it's genre-busting. Out-of-battle, you go around the city, finding tasks and furthering the story. You can shop in the real world's stores (branded with a special mark that allows you to interact with the general public in order to buy stuff). At any point, you can tap your player pin in the corner to read the thoughts of the public and locate enemies to fight.
In battle, combat is split between the DS's two screens. On the bottom screen is Neku, your main character. Neku equips "pins", which are basically different attacks - for example, your starting pin allows you to drag the stylus over space to generate damaging flames that follow the stylus, while another one (my favorite type) allows you to slash across an enemy to have Neku leap across the map to perform a melee attack. At first you can only hold a couple pins, but by the end you can hold six. There's a LOT of pins to try out!
On the top screen is your partner. Each of the game's three partners has a different style of fighting with different commands, but they revolve around either the d-pad or the face buttons (depending on which hand you've got your stylus in). It's very hard to keep track of both at the beginning, but after playing a while you start to get used to it. Thankfully, the top screen will fight automatically if you ignore it (though not QUITE as competently as if you were doing it, but it's good enough that you needn't concern yourself with it all the time). You and your partner share a health bar.
That's a good general description I think. There's a LOT of nuance involved, and a lot of extra stuff.
The aesthetics (sound/art) are a pixeled art style with a lot of care in it and a blend of varieties of music, primarily j-rock and hip hop. The game has some heavy influences from music in general.
What's great about it: Let's get this out in the open: I just walked over and looked through my DS collection (a rather extensive one - overall the DS is my absolute favorite system), and I can say without hesitation that The World Ends With You is my favorite. This is a game made of solid gold, from writing, to theme, to characters, to gameplay, to graphics, to music. Jupiter may be famous for Picross (and Picross alone) and Kingdom Hearts isn't the best reputation ever, but somehow they pulled out a perfect piece. Let's examine.
The storyline is lasting. It's not some one-and-done affair, and even when you think it's coming to a head it manages to keep going, but without overstaying any welcome. I didn't see where it was going, and neither will you - it's unpredictable, but not in a "gotcha!" sense where it takes 90 degree turns just to trick you. I've fallen quite in love with the characters, and Neku/Shiki is one of an extremely small number of ships that hold in my head (the others being Tali/Paragon Shepard and Phoenix Wright/Maya). Tetsuya Nomura often isn't a great designer in my mind (being almost wholely responsbile for the zippers and belts style that has infected Final Fantasy since his work on VII), but his work fit perfectly into the Shibuya setting, as Shibuya is one of the world's hubs of outlandish and creative fashion.
Shibuya itself is remarkably accurate, and many local landmarks are immortalized in pixel not only as background, but as story and conversation pieces. Makes sense I guess, seeing as both Square Enix and Jupiter are based out of Shibuya.
Okay, here's a weird moment for me: so, I'm this huge opponent of grinding. I simply cannot take it. I put down the game after ten minutes, which is a limitation on me enjoying many classic RPGs. Well, TWEWY doesn't require it! Thank god. However, if you want to do EVERYTHING, meaning leveling your Pins, buying everything, making all the shopkeepers your friends, maxing your level, whatever, you're gonna need to do it. For the leveling one, sure, but fighting is also where you get cash. So this is the weird bit: I love shopping in this game. I have no idea why, but I love making friends with the shopkeepers and getting everything from every shop and this takes like a bajillion yen. And somehow, this game makes grinding not so bad! Literally the only other games I can handle grinding in to a large degree is the Pokemon series.
Theme is interesting. This isn't something that will speak to everyone the way it does to me. I'm naturally a fairly shy person, but I want to be outgoing, and the main theme through the story is Neku's coming to terms with the fact that he's not alone in society and that life is richer when we reach out and expand our own worlds. I shit you not: before the bigger social ventures I've done (particularly conventions) I've reminded myself of the big lesson of the game (also the title), The World Ends With You. The idea being that our experiences and understanding, our world, is only as large as we allow it to be, and we expand as people by expanding our own worlds. So yes, this game has some personal significance to me.
The graphics are a little pixelated dream. Real pixel-art, rather than mindless 3d modeling, is an amazing thing in this age, but it's even rarer to see if come up with quality this great.
Musically, well, "perfection" springs to mind! A soundtrack not bound by being stuck with the DS's speakers, it's a regular CD in my car.
So, gameplay. People often critisize a steep learning curve, but it's only bad if you demand perfection from yourself or have too much pride to mess into the very variable difficulty settings. See, there are three mechanisms for difficulty in this game: Mode, Level, and Chain. There are (as of post-game) 4 difficulty modes, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Intense. Higher difficulty modes cause enemies to drop different (better) items. You can alter your own level in this game, from your 1 to your current maximum. Manually reducing your level sets your stats back, but increases your drop rate for each level you removed. You can chain multiple fights together (usually 4, but in post-game your can reach 16), and each fight you add to the chain doubles your drop rate, though you don't recover between fights in a chain. Basically, if you want a very easy experience, you can set it to Easy, max level, and fight one-at-a-time and ignore the top screen completely. If you want a very difficult experience, you can set it to Intense, level 1, and chain together every Noise symbol on the screen at once and control the top screen manually. And if you want something in-between, you have the dials to provide a simply incredible number of different levels of difficulty so you can find the one you like most.
I'll stop gushing about this game now. Please, go buy it and play it. You won't regret it. Basically, this game took a company that is renowned for keeping gameplay the same game after game, and reinvented the whole damn RPG wheel into an innovative piece of glory - and if there's one thing you should know by now about me, it's that I prize innovation.

How do I get it: I'm guessing you have to get it used if you want it for the DS. They recently made an iOS port called The World Ends With You: Solo Remix, which I don't recommend as much - there isn't half as much nuance to the battle system without the partner being a constant control factor, and the redrawn (no longer pixeled) sprites aren't as great-looking. But it's currently the option it seems, and experiencing the game even with these flaws is still an extraordinary experience. It currently costs $20 there.

The Solo Remix fills me with a bit of bitterness because they did a week-long countdown thing in coming up to it in which it was incredibly obvious that it was new TWEWY material, but it looked like it was gonna be a sequel. It NOT being a sequel broke my fuckin' heart. The Solo Remix also comes with hope though: there's an extra little cutscene at the very very end of the game (after the post-game stuff) that heavily implies a sequel. Hope lives.

Oh, yeah. There was this special DS Lite they released alongside the game in Japan! It was a bundle thing. It's also very hard to obtain! I'd be willing to pay significant amounts for it if any of my readers happen to have one. You see, not only is the DS my favorite game platform overall, but the DS Lite in particular was my favorite iteration of the DS. Its size is absolutely perfect for me. Getting this thing would be a dream come true. this is what it looks like:

End Recording,

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August of Games: Day 21 - Element4l

Paxton is a creepy song with a lot of variety. This is one that could blend right into Coil. It gets pretty interesting near the end too! Seriously, this is one of the best soundtracks of the year so far, easily. And that means it's beating out some masterwork stuff like The Last of Us and Now You See Me, and I didn't expect to be topping Now You See Me quite yet, but it is.

Developer: i-Illusions
Genre (Setting): Surreal, Abstract
Genre (Gameplay): 2D Physics Puzzle Platformer
What is this game: This is a game in which you play a mote of energy that can change itself between the four classical elements. Each acts very differently from each other - Air is a bubble that falls slowly and in general is just floaty (though it ISN'T lighter than the air so it doesn't fly), Water is an ice cube that slides along surfaces and easily picks up speed, Stone is a rock that allows for a sudden burst of downward speed (often used before a slope to give starting momentum), and Fire is a momentary push forward. The environment is mostly deadly (Fire and Air can't touch anything), and the puzzles are often very difficult, requiring split-second timing (though I guess that phrase is pretty common in games since things often happen faster than a second, but even then this requires a ton of precision).
It's visual style is a focused on silhouettes with a lot of colorful bloom-y backgrounds. The soundtrack, by Mind Tree, is phenomenal and was already the feature of a Sunday Songs post, which I loved so much I had first heard the soundtrack the Friday before I posted it.
What's great about it: Let's see:
* Experimental. If there's one thing I love, it's innovation. Hell, I like seeing innovation and will applaud it even if the new stuff makes the game no fun! (this is one of the reasons I have at least grudging respect for the Final Fantasy XIII team). In this game it worked out!
It's not TOTALLY innovative though. It's what you get when you take several existing indie games and make them interact with each other - in particular, Element4l is Nightsky meets LIMBO. The graphics are very obviously a blend of Nightsky's colored backgrounds with silhouettes given a makeover with LIMBO's bloom and painterly texture. The gameplay is reminiscent of Nightsky's puzzles, but makes everything really hard and more complex (in a good way!). The soundtrack pulls its inspirations from all over the place, but Coil (Edmund McMillen; I'll be talking about this before the month's out!) and FEZ, with more minor influences from soundtracks like SpaceChem.
* The graphics are fucking GORGEOUS. I just talked about it being obvious where they come from, but that doesn't mean it's not a really pretty game.
* The soundtrack is phenomenol. I already talked about it here, twice actually, but it just never gets old and is charming and haunting and exciting and an all around good time, even for independent listening.
* It is HARD! You will have your money's worth of gameplay just trying to make it all work. If you want a challenge, here it is.
How do I get it: Steam, for $10!

End Recording,

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August of Games: Day 20 - Magical Starsign

You'd be amazed how hard it is to find videos of the songs from this game, and not many of the best ones are even uploaded! This is one of those games where the decision to just use the game's music is biting me in the ass.

Magical Starsign
Developer: Brownie Brown (now 1-Up Studio - they've done a bunch of work with Nintendo and Level-5)
Genre (Setting): Space Fantasy
Genre (Gameplay): RPG
What is this game: This is a silly DS game about kid magic users who find themselves traveling between planets that have elemental alignments and looking for a lady who got kidnapped by pirates with a plot. The kids are several humans and a robot and a salamander-person and a bunny girl. everything is a joke of some kind, the dialog is absurd, and the plot is actually noticeably better than I'm making it sound here (which was a big surprise!)
The gameplay is a no-nonsense RPG. It's actually remarkably traditional, which isn't usually a thing I enjoy but it worked out pretty good. It's also tough for a game that, on the surface, seems built to appeal to a younger crowd.
The pixel art graphics are absolutely fantastic, and I've several times I've tried my hand at the style and I've never quite pulled it off. It looks REALLY pretty. The soundtrack is hurt by being a DS game and having to deal with the DS's speakers, but is still okay if you're okay with that sound.
What's great about it: A few things! For one, if you haven't caught on, I'm a huge fan of silliness in games. This game just goes all out, and it's that, plus a level of detail to the universe that surprised me, that make me love this game. 7 years after release (shit, I was like 13 when this game came out? SERIOUSLY?), I still come back to this one on a fairly regular basis.
Oh, and if it wasn't clear above, I love love love the graphics.
Other players who aren't me will probably enjoy that the game is also a decently long and more than a bit difficult. While the setting and style aren't reminiscent of classic RPGs, the gameplay very much is. I fear there's probably some grinding, but what can you do?
How do I get it: Hell, it's a DS game, I don't even know how you would go about getting this. Used game stores? Piracy? I would hate to see people only experiencing this game through PC emulation, so if you can play it on a flashcard do that, but options are probably limited at this point.
The game never recieved a sequel due to low sales, but it does have a predecessor on the GBA! Magical Vacation is a Japan-only game that I've not played because I can't read Japanese and I wouldn't really bother doing it without the text. Starsign is only an indirect sequel and none of the events of Vacation matter to the plot, so don't worry about just skipping it if you aren't interested.
NOTE: Apparently it's wicked cheap on Amazon, like $7.50 cheap.

End Recording,

Monday, August 19, 2013

August of Games: Day 19 - Final Fantasy XIII

Just some rockin' tunes from the game. The music of the game, and of its sequel, are spectacular, leaps and bounds over the general quality level of the game (which is pretty tough, as the production values of the game are excellent).

Final Fantasy XIII
Developer: Square Enix
Genre (Setting): Fantasy, some sci-fi
Genre (Gameplay): Real-time RPG
What is this game: This is an anime where you play a variety of equally absurd characters and go on an absurd journey with lots of made-up words like l'cie and cie'eth and fal'cie and more. I couldn't explain what happens in this game if I tried. There's a space pope and a guy named Cid who has airships and there's magic and sword-guns and boomerangs and whatever the hell Vanille's weapon is and chocobo chicks and heroics and a black man who dances as he shoots his shiny gold guns. It's rubbish and pure beauty at the same time. It's also like 60 bloody hours long and doesn't need to be at all.
The game mechanically is superficially similar to the other real-time Final Fantasy games - an ATB bar fills and you can use actions when it reaches certain points. XIII has a few additions to the formula that are all its own. One is auto-battle, which is a button you click and the AI will fill in the actions you'll do when your ATB fills. The other is paradigms, which is basically changing your party's classes on the fly to respond to the fight.
Out of battle? Wait, there's supposed to be stuff out of battle? You mean more than running in a straight line? Wow, somebody forgot to tell Square Enix. There aren't even towns!
It features the same "excellent" graphics that you've seen in other final fantasy titles - it reminds me of Advent Children. This is quite pretty, but it also happens to fall pretty far into the uncanny valley, making stuff look, just, OFF.
What's great about it: Here's my confession: this game isn't great. This game is fascinating, but it is not great. If you like convoluted anime-like plots, you'll probably enjoy the story quite a bit - after 60 hours of watching the game I felt little more than fatigued unhappiness at it, but in retrospect I actually kinda like it and think it's worth seeing. The paradigm system is genuinely an interesting mechanic and was a good idea. While the characters aren't GREAT, they at least feel distinct from each other and each feel important to the plot (at least somewhat).
Now let's stop talking about what's actually good in the game and more about why this game is interesting to us as gamers. Final Fantasy XIII is a deconstruction of a bunch of things that are wrong with the current status quo of the JRPG genre, but instead of developing clever solutions, it just highlights the issues by taking the most direct path to removing them. Let's hit a few points:
The big one is Auto-Battle. Auto-battle IS A SOLUTION. There is a lot of people who point it out as "wait, but it's not fun for a game to just play itself! What's the point!?" and they'd be right. However, all Auto-Battle does is speed up the process. The AI selecting what actions you'd use is excellent, and because you don't have to manually scroll through menus to select the actions yourself the game can actually afford to move FASTER without any real loss of effectiveness. Problem: People are completely right that a game playing itself is no fun. But the issue isn't that there's a button that does all the menu navigation for you but that that JRPG combat is so predictable that an AI can do it. The solution is not letting the AI do it but making more unpredictable/varied enemies. Until that's solved, I'd rather Auto-battle, because at least then the battles go faster.
What else? Well, the hyper-linearity. Many JRPGs are very linear, straightforward affairs full of the illusion of choice. FFXIII "fixes" this by just straight pulling back the veil and actually making the game out of straight corridors. It's certainly honest! But it doesn't actually fix the issue. XIII-2 manages to overcorrect for the issue, making the story so nonlinear that the plot suffers from a lack of good direction; at least XIII's plot clearly moved along and told a story, even if the story was really silly and crazy.  But I'll talk about XIII-2 more in a minute.
At first I was gonna try to find a way to express that paradigms are a fix for a very static job and level system in JRPGs, but it's actually an honest-to-god real solution to the issue. The paradigms aren't perfect in the game (often due to the party layouts they stick you with forcing you into certain predictable configurations rather than letting you choose a playstyle), but it was a sound idea.
I'm not sure I would tell you to play this game. I think you should watch this game (I watched Pork Lift and Wateyad's Let's Play of it, available on, and if you have any intention to make an RPG with JRPG elements, it's an important game to understand.
Oh, uh, the music of the game is genuinely good.
How do I get it: Xbox 360 and PS3 only I believe. It's gotta be cheap by now - I wouldn't be surprised at $20 for a new copy.
FFXIII-2 is a direct sequel. It features none of the playable characters from the first game, and has a monster-collecting thing going.. The paradigm system is refined and many imbalances with gameplay are fixed, but the game simply isn't as absurd as the first while not reaching the levels of quality to actually compel me to play all the way through, which is a huge handicap. It is, however, objectively better as a game. The graphics are pretty much the same. The music is freaking FANTASTIC, with a lot of variety. Whether you'll like it depends on what you want out of it. A decent JRPG game experience? Sure, yeah! Silly, ridiculous dialogue, story, and characters? Not as much as the previous one.

I should probably at this point mention that I'm not really a big fan of the way JRPGs do things.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Songs: Anamanaguchi - Japan Air

Anamanaguchi are consistently amazing. Like many chiptune bands they make their music using retro game consoles, but are a bit different in that they don't take their influence from video game music but from other bands like Weezer. The rock/chip mix is excellent. They recently released Endless Fantasy, their second studio album, and this is from that. Dawn Metropolis (the first album) was great as well, and both Mermaid and Blackout City have been featured on this blog, and are findable on the music page. (incidentally, those two are the songs used in Bit.Trip Runner)
Anamanaguchi also did the music for the Scott Pilgrim game, and I fuckin' love Scott Pilgrim, so it makes listening to their stuff even more enjoyable.

This is one of the first songs of their's to use vocals!

Blackout City
Helix Nebula
Endless Fantasy
SPF 420
Canal Paradise
Snow Angels
Another Winter

Note to those who like tabletop stuff: I've been murmuring about this other not-Avatar-World game I'm building over on Twitter a lot, and now a bit on G+. Check it out, it's a game about optimism

End Recording,

August of Games: Day 18 - Cave Story

This guy's upload is pretty lame, it has this weird gusty drone in the background, but Meltdown 2 (aka Sand Zone's theme) in the Cave Story 3D soundtrack is great. I'm a big fan of most Cave Story soundtracks, and there are a great many excellent remix efforts.
Here's a link to the Cave Story Remix Project, home to many of the very best mixes, such as Takedown, Never Die, Labyrinth Skirmish, and Beatbox Toaster.

Cave Story
Developer: Pixel
Genre (Setting): Fantasy
Genre (Gameplay): 2d Platformer/Shooter
What is this game: In this game you play Quote, a little guy who woke up and can't remember a thing. You pick up a gun and start exploring and soon find a town of animal-like people called Mimigas who have slowly been being wiped out by a baddie searching for a girl named Sue. You soon find Sue yourself and get caught into the plot of defying the baddie (along with his minions). In your travels you learn more about Sue, about yourself, and about the history of this fantasy world.
Game-wise it's quite simple, a side-scrolling platformer where you have to jump and shoot your way through obstacles. There's several boss fights, many weapons, and a huge number of secrets. Replay value is very very high.
What's great about it: Well, let's start from the top. To begin with, this is arguably the best-known indie game in the world. Part of that comes from its age: it's from 2004 originally, making it among the oldest notable indie games, a whole 4 years before Audiosurf and Castle Crashers triggered the indie revolution (thanks to Xbox Live Arcade and Steam). It's also freeware, which means there's never been a cost barrier to trying it; the basic version is still free, although there are many new or upgraded versions that have prices attached to them. By now it's been ported like a dozen times thanks to Nicalis' help (and CS triggered Nicalis's fame, which has led to their publishing of the 3DS VVVVVV port, multiple versions of Nightsky, and soon the console and handheld ports of Binding of Isaac: Rebirth), meaning pretty much everyone has had an opportunity to play it.
Another reason it's famous is because it is an incredible feat. Pixel, aka Daisuke Amaya, is the sole name behind Cave Story. He is responsible for everything, from the character sprites to the backgrounds to the sound effects to the music to the programming and plot and dialogue. And each of those is simply excellent. The very charming retro graphics are crafted very. A common complaint I see leveled at many recent indie games is that so many of them are "retro" or "8-bit" just because it's easier or cheaper, when the fact of the matter is that just because a sprite uses a small number of colors doesn't mean it doesn't require a lot of skill or allow for any incredible amount of mastery to be displayed.

Helm's "The Spartan" is extraordinary proof of the capabilities of just three hex codes.
The last reason, and the most important of all that has allowed Cave Story to not only become famous but reamin famous is that it is simply an incredible amount of fun. You need to play through several times to see all of the things the game has to offer, and lots of little secrets are there to find (Chaco's Lipstick, Curly's Panties, the Booster 2.0, the Mimiga Mask, and many, many, MANY more). It gets tough, but rarely frustratingly so. The story is not only enjoyable, but suprising, and longer than you would expect.
I'm sure you've heard of the game. If you haven't played it though, you're depriving yourself.
How do I get it: Cave Story, the basic version is available on this site: It is on Windows, Linux, and Mac, though it comes originally for Windows. It's available on PSP, Xbox, Dreamcast, even TI graphing calculators (yeah, seriously). All of those are free. Nicalis ported it to WiiWare and DSiWare and on the 3DS eShop, and those aren't free. Nicalis made a full 3D version of the game for the 3DS as a complete retail release, with a Danny Baranowsky-remixed soundtrack. Cave Story+ is the version released on Steam, and is $10. I play either Cave Story+ or the original basic version, but many of the others are excellent as well.
Nicalis has done an excellent job marketing Cave Story and making sure it stays relevant in the modern day, 9 years and an entire indie revolution after release.

End Recording,