LeaveIt2Beaver
We understand you may be waiting to register and book your flights for Extra Life United 2016 until more information on what you'd be getting yourself into is out there. Well, wait no more! Especially because registration will be closing at 11:59pm EST on Monday, February 8th!
 
TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE
Extra Life United 2016 will feature a round robin style tournament, where participants accumulate points for their performance each round. Participants will be placed in pods of 4-8 players depending on the track (PC, Console or Tabletop) and play a few different games with points being awarded to each round’s winners.
 
On Thursday afternoon, the top 3 participants from each pod will be recognized and awarded prize money for their chosen Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. The first place participant from each pod will move on to the final round of the tournament and compete to win a portion of the Grand Prize Pool (a minimum of $100,000) for their hospital.
 
Participants will be assigned to pods and have a chance to meet their competitors Tuesday night at the Extra Life Welcome Meeting.
 
TOURNAMENT GAMES
If you tuned into the official Extra Life Game Day broadcast last year, it should be no surprise that Rocket League is a team favorite. We hope it is one of yours too as it will be one of the games featured in the PC and Console tracks. If you’re thinking about signing up for the Tabletop track, we suggest you start practicing your bartering skills because some intense games of Settlers of Catan will be going down.
 
          
 
We thought it would be fun to keep you on your toes and have element of surprise to your Extra Life United experience. Below are the complete game lists for each track. Note that we won't have time to get to all of the games listed (you can count on Rocket League and Settlers of Catan) so choose wisely on which games you spend your time practicing. 
Console Track
Madden 16, Just Dance 2015, Halo 5, Quiplash, FIFA 16, Street Fighter, Rocket League

 
PC Track
Hearthstone, Rocket League, SpeedRunners, DOTA 2, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends

 
Tabletop Track
Settlers of Catan, Blokus, Bananagrams, Sushi Go!, Fluxx, Connect Four, Boggle, Liar's Dice

 
WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The fun doesn’t end when the tournament does. On Thursday, we’ve set up an “Open Play Night” for ELU attendees and our patient Champion families who will be there. Attendees will be able to game with and meet some of the kiddos that their involvement with Extra Life has had a direct impact on. These are some of the bravest kids you’ll ever meet who have gone through unimaginable hardships. While unlocking extra fundraising dollars for your hospital is great, gaming with these kids on Thursday night is the real reason you should register for Extra Life United 2016. 
 

 
You can 'meet' all of the Children Miracle Network Hospital Champion families from every state and province by reading their stories here.
 
Those are all the updates for now. If you're on the fence about registering, decide quickly! While this event is something we wish everyone in the community could experience, spots are limited and registration is closing soon. For a complete schedule of events, visit the Extra Life United website here.
 
REGISTER NOW!
 
Hope to see you in Orlando,
 
Jeromy, Mike, Rick, Liz & Laurie
Team Extra Life
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals
Jack Gardner
Despite losing Jack to a case of crippling mouth pain, Jeremy and Daniel soldier on through episode eleven to talk about Insomniac Games' finale to the Resistance trilogy. Though it released to mixed reviews and some heated opinions regarding its box art, Resistance 3 has managed to stand out in the minds of a significant number of its players in the years since. With Insomniac returning to Ratchet and Clank soon, maybe their PlayStation 3 title deserves a second look. Does the divisive ending to their gritty alternate history shooter have what it takes to be one of the best games period?  
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro music: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 'La Gran Fuente de Salsa' by MrKyle (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03296)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jack Gardner
For our tenth episode we cover the twelfth main entry in the Final Fantasy series. Though initially releasing to some of the best reviews of any Final Fantasy title, time has solidified XII's status as the black sheep of the series. Does its groundbreaking visuals, real-time battle system, and risky shake up of the Final Fantasy formula earn it a place as one of the best games period?
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro music: Final Fantasy XII 'The Winds of Inishmore' by Avaris (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR01719)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jack Gardner
In one of the developer diaries, Zach Gage, the system designer at Choice Provisions, talks about the decision to make die rolls the foremost mechanic in Tharsis. In that particular video, Gage states that he wanted to make a game where, “the dice are the arbiter of [the player’s] life.” To Choice Provisions’ credit, Tharsis accomplishes exactly that.

Tharsis puts players in control of the first manned mission to Mars. The astronauts under the player’s command were sent to investigate a mysterious signal coming from the Tharsis region of the red planet. However, mere weeks from their destination, the crew of the Iktomi meet disaster. Their vessel rockets through a field of micro-meteoroids, destroying their food supply and killing two crew members. The game tasks players to lead the surviving astronauts to Mars while facing down the dangers posed by the damage done to the ship and the dwindling scraps of food that remain on board. On top of that, every playthrough is randomized, leading to completely different experiences with every attempt to reach Tharsis. It’s a catchy premise and one which certainly caught my initial interest. However, the way in which Choice Provisions executed on that premise leaves something to be desired.

Imagine you are playing slots at a casino. You are pulling the lever, watching the results mix around on the machine, sometimes winning, more often losing. Along comes the owner of the casino with an offer: You can participate in the grand slot game of the night! In order to win, you have to successfully combine the right slot results over the course of ten rounds. Each round, the required slot results change at random while the casino reduces the number of slot machines you can use. I have basically just described Tharsis.      


You see, Tharsis revolves entirely on digital dice rolls. Every round represents another week in space and each astronaut can move to one module of the spacecraft and make rolls to perform tasks, fix broken systems, or use special abilities. However, each week new problems arise that will cause more damage to the ship, the health of the astronauts, or the number of dice available to the crew. These disasters can be fixed with dice rolls added together to hit a target number. If the ship runs out of health, it explodes. If a crew member loses their last remaining point of health, they croak. On top of that, the crew loses one die for every action taken. Juggling health, dice, and the structural integrity of the ship is a delicate act of probability weighing. One false move could mean almost instant death for the entire mission.

Tharsis shines best during that balancing act. Unfortunately, much like in the earlier comparison to a casino game, Tharsis is heavily weighted against the player. Two to three new events happen each round and all of them are bad. Any attempt to repair the resulting malfunctions carries with it the risk of to freezing certain dice results so they can’t be rerolled, completely taking certain rolls out of play, or damaging the crew member working on the fix. Combine these stresses with an ever decreasing dice pool for each astronaut (barring some exceptionally lucky rolls in the right areas) and the frustrations become clearer.
Choice Provisions attempts to alleviate those frustrations via a mechanic with which players can save and spend die rolls for certain boosts like additional die or ship repairs. These boosts revolve in groups of three and are generated at random. Sometimes they can be immensely helpful and other times they merely represent the hollow hope of survival. If the dice situation becomes extremely bad, players can resort to cannibalism to keep surviving crew members alive and rolling large dice pools.


I dearly wish Tharsis had any amount of character development. Who are these astronauts? Why should I care about them? It sucks when a crewman dies, but it sucks because I don’t get their dice anymore, not because I care about them in any other respect. Cannibalizing these people should be horrible, but it instead feels like a very mechanical decision done for dice with little to no thought about the digital humans stuck in that situation. Having characters we can care about would only serve to deepen our investment in the game and the sense of importance each dice roll possesses.

On the aesthetic front, Tharsis consists mainly of the Iktomi, close ups of the crew in their helpfully colored space suits, and some animatics. While the animatics are visually engaging, the ship and crew appear bland in comparison. The audio in Tharsis is slim, but serviceable. When it plays, the music draws you into the desperate atmosphere of the doomed ship. Meanwhile the voice acting effectively conveys emotion and mounting intensity as the crew approaches their destination. The small budget shows, but it does what it needs to regarding the visuals and audio.


 
Conclusion:

I can’t shake the feeling that there is something really great in Tharsis despite the amount of frustration it gave me. Perhaps with additional ways for players to save their good fortune for the harsh events and poor rolls that inevitably occur along with general rebalancing could save this game. The potential exists for Tharsis to create a more engaging, exciting experience with an expanded array of random events and character development. The core concept of the dice being the arbiters of life and death is a good one, but maybe one or two bad rolls shouldn’t be a death sentence.

Tharsis would be a great hit as a co-op tabletop experience in the same vein as Pandemic. I can see a group of friends really enjoying themselves while taking a morbid trip to Mars, casting lots to see who should be cannibalized to give the others a shot at successfully completing the doomed journey. However, as a video game it feels almost hopelessly stacked against the player, leading to a frustrating time with none of the distractions or house rules that a group of friends can provide. I can’t in good conscience recommend it at the price of $15.    

Tharsis is available now on PC and PlayStation 4

Jack Gardner
Starting April 1 everything PlayStation will be running under one company and Sony Computer Entertainment will be no more. Sony announced that they will be merging Sony Network Entertainment International and Sony Computer Entertainment will be merged into one company called Sony Interactive Entertainment. 
 
Sony Network Entertainment covered the PlayStation Store and PS Plus, as well as streaming services for games, movies, and music. Meanwhile, the Computer Entertainment branch of the company has been the main video game publishing arm of Sony since 1993. Now they will be under one roof while working on PlayStation hardware, services, and games.
 
The new company will be headquartered in San Mateo, California. PlayStation Interactive Entertainment will be overseen by Andrew House, the president and global CEO of the newly formed company. He released a small statement saying:  
 
By integrating the strengths of PlayStation’s hardware, software, content and network operations, SIE (Sony Interactive Entertainment) will become an even stronger entity, with a clear objective to further accelerate the growth of the PlayStation® business. Along with our business partners, SIE will develop pioneering services and products that will continue to inspire consumers’ imaginations and lead the market. We will work hard to maximize corporate value by coordinating global business operations across San Mateo, Tokyo, and London by leveraging local expertise.

The hope driving this decision is that the new company will be able to drive increased performance and revenue in the PlayStation 4's base. The combined resources of the two merged companies and their connections could prove to be a powerful force behind future gaming initiatives on the PlayStation 4 and beyond. 
 
Hop
Jack Gardner
The creator behind last year's indie hit, Her Story, has teased a sequel currently in the works. Sam Barlow went so far as to call the next title Her Story 2, though he stated that Her Story 2 is a working title. Sam Barlow tweeted early yesterday that the new game was beginning development. It will apparently have no story connection to the first Her Story, though it could very well imitate the live-action storytelling of the first.
 
The full teaser image can be seen below:


 
Jack Gardner
In a recent post on the Mighty No. 9 development blog, Keiji Inafune apologized for pushing the game back from its expected February 9th release date. The decision came after the development team realized it simply did not have the time to squash all of the networking bugs before release. The  key problem turned out to be one that affects all the network modes slightly differently and requires a separate fix for each version of Mighty No. 9. All of this led to Inafune's apology: 
 
Unfortunately, this is all a result of miscalculations on the part of us, the development staff. As a result, our fans who have been looking forward to Mighty No. 9 have been forced to wait for over half a year longer than expected, and for that we are sincerely sorry. I want to take this chance to apologize personally, and on the behalf of the development staff.
 
Instead of the February 9 release date, Mighty No. 9 will be launching sometime during spring this year. It will be released on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, 3DS, PC, and Mac.
Jack Gardner
When Braid released on the Xbox 360's fledgling Xbox Live service, it changed everything for the indie games industry. It broke the barrier between artistic game development and more entrenched industry institutions. Its legacy is hard to ignore. The discussion in this episode gets a bit heated, so you know you're in for something good. Does Braid stand as one of the best games period?  
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro Music: FTL 'Faster Than Rock' by Little V (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03137)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jack Gardner
CD Projekt RED announced today that the second game in their ongoing Witcher series will be available for free on Xbox One from now until February 5. This offer is good in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. This comes about as The Witcher 2 becomes available on the Xbox One via its slowly growing library of backwards compatible titles. The developer has decided to allow players to download the title free of charge.
 
Note: Players will need to have Xbox Live Gold in order to take advantage of this offer.
Jack Gardner
Austin Wintory, the composer of the Grammy nominated soundtrack that accompanied 2012's Journey, and the Fifth House Ensemble are teaming up to bring a live performance of the thatgamecompany's PS3 title to venues across the United States. The shows will be performed alongside a live, full playthrough of Journey on stage. Sony has specifically created a soundtrackless version of Journey for these performances. Wintory has teamed up with Patrick O'Malley to create a new arrangement for the Fifth House Ensemble that will include bite-sized music pieces triggered by the live player's actions. The new arrangement will include new instruments not included in the game's original soundtrack. The project asked for $5,000 to make the tour a reality. In under 24 hours the Kickstarter managed to raise over $12,000.  
 
Players on stage will be selected at competitions held prior to the performances. The first competition will be held in Chicago by the Killer Queen Mercury Squad. Future competitions will be posted as updates to the Kickstarter page. 
 
Tour dates
February 20, 2016 - MAGFest, National Harbor MD
February 28, 2016 - Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago IL
April 9, 2016 - Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton FL
April 16, 2016 - University of Illinois - Springfield, Springfield IL
Jack Gardner
Well, here I am. The experience of Numinous Games’ debut title remains fresh in my mind, but it has left me without words. I completed the autobiographical game made by Ryan and Amy Green in about two hours, but less than five minutes into their indie game I began crying. The Greens made That Dragon, Cancer to memorialize their son, Joel, who passed away in March of 2014. It places the player in the role of an observer, both externally and internally, of the big and small moments in the life of Joel and his parents. That Dragon, Cancer will eviscerate the heart of anyone who has even a shred of empathy in their body.
Shirking the weight of heavy-handed allegory, the Greens relate their experiences through a series of vignettes that capture specific moments throughout the final months of their son’s valiant struggle. In those moments we are given incredibly frank glimpses into the minds of Amy and Ryan as they struggle with their son’s impending fate. We see their faith in a God-given miracle that’s also contrasted with their human doubt. We see the couple arguing as the pressure of Joel’s situation causes each of them to cope differently, but also come together to find strength in one another. These are people with all the virtues and flaws inherent to the human race trying to get by while facing down tragedy that no one would wish upon another person.

There are moments in That Dragon, Cancer where I literally became blinded by tears. How else can one respond to such an intimate and powerful work of truth? Playing with Joel in the park while listening to him laugh, knowing where this game is eventually headed - it breaks your heart. That was when I began to weep. I was going to say that was the first time I cried, but I pretty much continued to leak tears for the rest of my time with the Green family. Whenever I thought I had expended my supply of salt water, there was another scenario to bring back the rain.
That Dragon, Cancer takes players on a journey through the valley of the shadow of death and shows that moments of joy, hope, and miracles can still be found even in the face of overwhelming anguish. The simple pleasure of hearing Joel laugh when you know the nature of the dragon he’s facing takes on a new light. We hear Amy’s desolate realization that Joel will never have an Off Treatment Day celebration, but we also see Ryan arrive at a crushing level of despair as he finds himself unable to get his son to stop crying only to experience a minor, comforting miracle.

We live through short, powerful snippets of Joel’s story: Late nights at the hospital; feeding ducks at the park; the final, hopeless prognosis. However, we are never given more than we can absolutely bear. The structure includes enough time between these gut punches to allow players to recover just enough to be able to continue through the razor-sharp moments of heartbreak. However, even the breathing period between these moments resounds with the knowledge that though the Green family is telling their story, Joel’s path has been walked before and will be walked again. Art work from cancer patients, survivors, and those who have fallen adorn the walls of the in-game hospital and we are able to look at each piece and the names attached to them.
The names.
There are so many names.
And that’s not all. The most moving of these quiet moments for me was walking around the hospital after it had been decorated with cards and realizing that I could read them. This was quickly followed by the realization that they were from the backers of That Dragon, Cancer. Those are real cards from real people whose loved ones have beaten cancer, are undergoing treatment, or have been brought low by that dragon. I felt an obligation to those people, to honor those messages. I read every single one of them and they ripped me apart in the process. But, as always, not more than I could bear.

While the term “faith-based game” usually presents a red flag to the majority of the gaming community, That Dragon, Cancer might be the first game to earn that label while also being an incredibly compelling, worthwhile experience. Largely this is due to the most human attribute that many faith-oriented games gloss over: Doubt. Throughout That Dragon, Cancer, Amy Green voices her faith that her son will be healed. Again and again while Joel’s condition worsens she professes her sincere belief that her son will be healed. Meanwhile, Ryan Green despairs at the reality of Joel’s situation. This contrast makes Amy Green seem almost delusional. However, as players near the end of their time with the Green family, Amy gives insight into her faith that gets to the human heart of what she is going through. In a distraught voice she reveals that she has long acknowledged Joel’s condition, but why must everyone continue to chant about his death? “Death is a given,” she says, “but this miracle we are hoping for is worth pursuing.” The possibility of his life is worth believing in, and you know what? Amy is right. As long as hope exists, as long as the barest sliver of a chance remains, who are we to try to drag her down into grief before its time?
These are obviously some very heavy questions, the kind that make you introspective and quiet. The subject matter is uncomfortable and difficult. So it comes down to the gorgeous visual presentation of That Dragon, Cancer to help the bitter pill of the experience become more digestible. Every scene appears as a lush geometric painting that allows for a certain surreal disconnect that oddly brings the ideas at play into clearer focus. Sitting through the final prognosis and seeing the room slowly fill with stormy waters perfectly illustrates the despair of the situation. The faceless character model of Joel becomes both Joel and the countless other children who have gone through similar experiences. That Dragon, Cancer works as both a story about a specific family and a story about all families afflicted with cancer.

It helps that the mechanics of That Dragon, Cancer remain fairly simple, practically point-and-click for long stretches. However, that control scheme works by allowing players to take their time and tackle whatever comes next at their own pace. That isn’t to say That Dragon, Cancer sticks with slow contemplation. The point-and-click segments are broken up by moments that range from cart racing to a side-scrolling arcade game. While these might normally be a bit jarring, they ultimately connect back to the core narrative and work in the wider context of what That Dragon, Cancer tries to communicate to the player.

Conclusion:
That Dragon, Cancer is not fun, nor is it supposed to be. Some people might find fault with that, but there are moments of triumph and joy mixed in with this breathlessly human work. A powerful love woven through the fabric of That Dragon, Cancer propels the Green family’s achievement. It comes through in the visuals, the narrations, the gentleness and sincerity that permeates it all. I would be very surprised if That Dragon, Cancer didn’t go on to become one of the most influential works of game design for years to come.
If you would feel anguish and heartache; if you would feel joy and hope; if you would be moved down to your foundation; play That Dragon, Cancer.

That Dragon, Cancer is available now on PC, Mac, and Ouya

Jack Gardner
The Humble Store carefully timed their sale this year to miss the massive onslaught of Steam and GOG bargains during the holiday rush. Their winter sale is definitely still occurring during the winter season, just with less competition. 
 
The sale goes from now until January 29th at 10am PST. While Steam might have forgone timed deals and surprises in favor of flatly exposing every discount from the start, Humble Store will be having a huge selection of on sale items from the start while also timing bargains that swap out every few days. Humble Store will also be offering 'build your own bundles' throughout the sale period, allowing customers to build bundles of games offered by select publishers and developers. 
 
10% of the purchases made during the sale go to the charity of your choice. Unfortunately, we here at Extra Life don't quite have the systems in place for people to give to Extra Life (though that will definitely be coming in the near future). However, people can give to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, the parent charity of Extra Life, to at least tangentially support Extra Life's mission. If sorting through a list of 30,000 charities sounds like too much work, here is a direct referral link that will automatically select CMN Hospitals as your Humble charity of choice. 
 
What games have you been buying during the various winter sales late 2015 and early 2016?