Jack Gardner

 
This is Quill. She's the protagonist of an upcoming VR title called Moss and has enraptured thousands of gamers across the United States. How did she achieve that feat? Simple. She introduced herself - in American Sign Language. 
 

 
Last week, Polyarc animator Richard Lico made a routine tweet about his work bringing Quill to life. He'd had a bit of inspiration and decided that the voiceless mouse might be able to use sign language to communicate. "Since she can only squeak, I figured I'd play around with ways she can communicate with the player. Also a great perk for our deaf players," he tweeted.
 
Seeing an endearing mouse using American Sign Language in a video game understandably caught a lot of attention, snagging tens of thousands of likes on social media. 
 
"Quill often needs to communicate with her guide, [the player], and I'm exploring ways in which she can do so. I came up with the idea of using ASL in conjunction with her existing pantomime methods, and wanted to test the idea," explained Lico in a short video posted the next day. "I had never animated sign language before, so I did some homework, and created this as a test example of what she could do in game. The response has been positive, and we're super excited about the opportunity to help support those who rely on ASL." 
 
 
In Moss, players take on the role of a spirit guide for Quill as she embarks on a heroic journey. The plan for Quill was always to have her communicate wordlessly with the player. She would use squeaks and broad pantomiming motions to get her points across. However, the strong reaction from the gaming community toward Lico's animation seems to have cemented the use of various ASL signs in Moss. 
 
“Sometimes she’ll pantomime if there’s not a good sign for it, and other times she’ll flat-out sign language what she wants you to know. This tweet really confirmed that we should do this,” Lico elaborated to Kotaku. “I’ve been blown away by the responses. Especially the ones where you get actual deaf people saying ‘Thank you.’ I just had no idea, being able to emotionally connect with something like that.”
 
While this might seem like a small thing, sign language has largely been absent from video games. In fact, searching for any other results for sign language in games only turns up results for games that help people learn sign language, a barren Reddit thread from 2016 that mentions how some sign language is used in the background of Fullbright Company's Tacoma, and articles about Quill. There was some buzz way back in 2009 that Half-Life 2: Episode 3 would include a deaf character and sign-language, but... well... it's a Half-Life game and Valve, so we might not be seeing that any time soon. It's pretty incredible that Quill might just be the first video game character to communicate with predominantly via sign language in video game history.
 
Moss is set to release sometime this winter for PlayStation VR. 

Jack Gardner

 
Earlier this month, Waypoint ran a month long game jam called New Jam City that attracted a number of interesting entries. One of these entries lovingly resurrected the Noid, an advertising mascot for Domino's Pizza in the mid-80s. Strangely, the Noid managed to become somewhat popular, resulting in several video game adaptations of the character over the years. One of these was Capcom's Yo! Noid! for the NES in 1990. It wasn't a particularly great game, which is why the creation of a direct sequel, even as a game jam entry, is turning some heads.
 
Yo! Noid II: Enter the Void ia a reimagining of the Noid as an early PlayStation One/N64 platformer that plays like a strange cross between Mario 64 and Tomb Raider. The game begins with the titular Noid losing his trusty yo-yo and platforming through New York City to get it back. However, that certainly isn't the end of the adventure. After obtaining the yo-yo, the Noid falls into the Noid Void, an interdimensional wasteland populated by strange mushroom creatures and peppered with various pizza-themed levels and collectibles. This is where Yo! Noid II opens up and allows for exploration and a great deal of puzzle solving. 
 

 
I'm going to level with you, this game is actually fun. Not in an ironic, "haha, isn't it dumb that they made a game starring the Noid?" way (though don't get me wrong, it is absolutely dumb that someone made another game that was in any way affiliated with the Noid, a fact that the developers certainly understood and embraced to great effect)- I genuinely enjoyed playing Yo! Noid II. Wall jumping and running work rather well when paired with a ledge grab mechanic that comes in very handy. The Noid can even use his yo-yo to swing between platforms, pull levers, and open pizza portals to other worlds. 
 
Oh, the Noid also dabs now, because of course he does.
 
All of this is done in an endearingly janky style that's meant to be a call back to those early 3D platformers that both enthralled and frustrated a generation. It's unclear if the somewhat wonky and temperamental camera was designed to bring out that style or if it's simply a frustrating camera. However, for a short nostalgia experiment with a sense of humor like Yo! Noid II, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. 
 

 
Yo! Noid II: Enter the Void is a far, far better game than the Noid has ever deserved, but it's free at the moment and certainly worth your time. You can download it directly from the developers to see what the Noid is up to in this age of HD gaming. There's also an official soundtrack because why not? The Noid is a thing again, so why not?

Jack Gardner

 
Everything is stories. We talk in stories, we learn from stories, we distill our experiences into stories. Our history is the culmination of a million different stories all thrust together, bound in books by people who sifted through those multitudes of stories. And from those histories we gather lessons and ideas; dreams of what might be.
 
But what if some of those stories weren’t exactly true? What if some of them were, in fact, beautiful lies?
 
That’s the idea behind Johnnemann Nordhagen’s Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Nordhagen helped co-found The Fullbright Company and programmed Gone Home, however he left the company in 2014 to try new and wonderful things after the success of Gone Home. He went on to found Dim Bulb Games, a studio where he felt he could pursue a collaborative dream. That dream has finally manifested in the form of a trek across a Depression-era United States that mixes the countryside mysticism of tall tales with the stark realities of living.
 
I had an opportunity to talk with Nordhagen about the creation and stories of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Dim Bulb Games’ first title has brought together writers from across the game industry to tell stories; stories that might shed more light on the history of the United States; stories that might just help lift the veil of what Nordhagen refers to as “the shining lie.”  
 
 
So, can you tell me how the idea for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine came about? It seems really collaborative with all the writers you have, [gesturing toward a piece of paper covered in the names of contributors] I saw that list right there.
 
Johnnemann Nordhagen: Yeah, so I got the idea for the game--I was travelling around a lot after finishing my last game, Gone Home. I traveled the world and I was encountering a lot of other travelers. Every time you do that, you swap stories with them. You say, 'Oh, you should definitely go here,' or, 'I got my pocket picked here; watch out!' Thought it would be cool to make a game about that. I also really like American roots; music, blues, bluegrass, jazz, things like that. And so, I wanted to pull it to America, set it during the Great Depression with all these songs. You're in this world of down-on-their-luck gamblers, and people are selling their souls to the devil at the crossroads. It's kind of like a folkloric world, right? But I also wanted to bring in a little bit of American history and the lives of people who have maybe been forgotten by modern history. You've got sharecroppers in the South, or Pullman porters, Navajo women during the Long Walk of the Navajo. I'm obviously not the right person to write all of those stories. So I went out looking for other writers to help me tell these tales and fill out this roster.
 
This game spans the entirety of the United States from the East Coast to West Coast?
 
JN: That's right. You can walk anywhere in the U.S., except for Hawaii and Alaska, of course. But yeah, you can walk anywhere you want. You can also hop trains, or hitch hike to get around faster. Each of the different regions of the game has its own set of stories, its own set of characters, its own music and also its own color palettes. They're all very distinct little regions. 
 
How did you manage to get an entire country into your game? That's a pretty big scope!
 
JN: Yeah, well, it is a pretty big scope! It's obviously scaled down, it's not the real size of the U.S. I've done a lot of work to map it out and lay it out. I also tried to put characters that came from different areas of the country so I could tell stories about all these different places. 
 

 
Is there a goal to the game, or is it open exploration; choose a destination, go?
 
JN: Right, it's an open world game, so you've go to choose your own direction. There is a framing story to the game, which is that, in the beginning of the game, you lose a hand of poker to the wrong person. Because of that, you're cursed to wander the U.S. carrying stories around, spreading them. You're kind of the Johnny Appleseed of folktales, basically. And part of your job is to also collect the true stories of these people's live and add those to the Big Story of America.
 
Did you write the overall arching narrative, or did you have one of your--
 
JN: No, I came up with the overall story. Yeah, yeah. I did a lot of writing that fills the gaps in the story. And then the little adventures, we call vignettes, those are written by other people. Then each of the characters, of course, are written by someone else.
 
You built an entire game based on telling stories to each other. I feel like that's a really outside of the box way of going about game design. How did you come up with the gameplay around that concept?
 
JN: It took a little while and some bouncing around to get there, but…. I really like the idea of telling the stories is the way we share culture and idea among people. That's always been something that I've tried to get in there. Over time when I was working with the game, just various pieces fell in to place where it became the natural way to do it. I want it to be about folktales and the way they change and grow, how [people] spread them around, and how that works.
 
I also, when I first started making the game, I thought it would be really interesting to try to avoid combat mechanics. I was wondering, ‘how would you do a game if you can't do that?’ The last game I worked on was Gone Home and that was a first person shooter without any shooting in it, right? And so when I started coming up with ideas for this game, I was thinking like well, what's another kind of genre of game that I could look at, taking the combat out of it? I actually thought about JRPGs and what you would do if you remove fighting from JRPGs. This has moved so far away from JRPGs it's not really there anymore, but you can see a little bit of where I was going with the overworld map and the interactions with the characters, the kinds of encounters you have. I guess all of those areas is where that came from.
 
 
How exactly does the storytelling mechanic work? 
 
JN: So what happens is that you have these little adventures, these vignettes. They're like little text adventures where you have two choices, and you can feel your way through this adventure that happens to you. You get a story at the end of that. Then you have the story of whatever happened to you during that time. Because you're choosing from two different branches, you can sometimes choose what kind of story it is. ‘Is this a love story? Is this a tragedy? Is this about family? Is this about being trapped?’ And then you gather these stories into an inventory.
You take them and you [encounter characters throughout the world], and when you tell these characters a story- You tell them a story about a family, for example, they'll tell you something about their family in return. They'll also ask for different moods of stories. So they might ask for a scary story, and if you tell them a scary story about family, whatever that would be, you'll not only hear what they have to say, but you'll also gain their trust and move forward in their story. So the next time you meet them, you might get the next chapter. When you get to the final chapter of their story, they'll also reveal their true self to you and you'll see an actual visual transformation take place and they'll be a really exciting piece of art you get to look at. 
 
And there’s another aspect of the storytelling mechanic, as well. As you tell these stories, they sometimes get told around behind your back and they'll grow and tell in the way that folktales do and "level up" as they do that--and come back to you the same story, but bigger, better, weirder. 
 
Part of my attraction to this game is just that there's nothing else like it? There aren't a whole lot of games that completely throw out combat mechanics and are about something other than violence. And maybe some of the stories involve violence to some degree, but that's not the focus of the game. 
 
JN: I think one of the interesting thing about the stories in the games there aren't a lot that are directly violent, but there is a lot of systemic violence that you see. We're trying to talk about the more of marginalized people in the United States. So you hear from a lot of people--sharecroppers whose union was busted by cops, by Southerners with guns. You hear about the Long Walk of the Navajo where the U.S. military uprooted an entire people and forced them to walk hundreds of miles across the desert where many of them died. So no, there's not combat in the game, but yeah, you are always immersed in this sort of systemic oppression and violence. It's lurking in the background, always.
 
Often stories that delve into the past have a message about the present. Have the current social or political climates had any effects on this game? Does it have a message for modern times?
 
JN: Aah, it's actually really weird, I didn't actually set out with that in mind, but reality has gotten closer and closer to this game, to be relevant to this game, as time goes on. It's very strange. I started this in 2014 and now it's like, wow, 'What the heck happened?'
 
I think there's a lot that happened [during the Depression-era] of American history and a lot that happened to these characters that's very relevant to what's going on today. There're definitely political messages in this game put there both by me in designing the game and also by the individual writers as they're writing their characters that I think are very relevant to what's going on today. 
 
I'm really glad that I feel like I have something relevant to say about our current life, the way it is right now, with my art. At the same time, I wish things weren't the way they are. I wish I didn't feel like we were entering an era similar to the Great Depression.
 
You mentioned traveling around, sharing stories—Where the Water Tastes Like Wine seems like a really good fit for that theme, but why the Depression-era? Was it the blues-y aspect of the time? The ridin' the rails culture of it?
 
JN: It was all of that. I really like this sort of music, the blues, bluegrass. I love the world contained in the stories, as well as the music itself. Those songs are all about this era and this magical way of existing. It's also the heyday of travelling in America in a lot of ways. You know, more than two million people were displaced, or homeless, wandering the streets during the Great Depression. So that hobo era is a really powerful time [to draw upon].
 

 
You decided what kinds of characters would be in the game, and then the writers wrote the stories around those characters. So how did you decide which characters you wanted to include?
 
JN: I think there were a lot of interesting stories from around this period. Stories neglected in American history that you don't often hear about, especially in video games. [For example, in doing background research for the game] I did not know the extent of the Mine Wars when the U.S. military was dropping bombs from planes on West Virginian miners. That’s a big deal! And you don't really hear about that at all, so I wanted to capture more of those stories. These characters represent events that you don't hear about as often. 
 
Maybe the rougher bits of history that get glossed over in textbooks? 
 
JN: Exactly, yeah, yeah. That's what this is supposed to be, exposing the truth of the American dream in some ways. There's a character at the beginning who tells you America is built on stories and all those stories add up to a ‘big, shining lie.’ That's the phrase he uses, a shining lie. And he asks you to go out and find these true story and add them to the Big Story and talks about a tarnished truth being better than a shining lie. That’s part of the idea for the game.
 
I know you had a lot of contributions from other writers, but for the parts that you worked on, did you look back at media like Sullivan's Travels, media from or about the time?
 
JN: Yeah, actually. The way the characters worked is that I did all the research for those characters. I found a bunch about these different people, gathered a bunch of factual information. Then, I would go to these writers and say ‘Hey, can you write a Pullman porter for me? Here's what a Pullman porter is. Here's all my research; here's some cool facts.’ And they took that and they made these into these real, three-dimensional people with wants and needs, and hopes and dreams, and families. All the good parts of writing, right? I did a ton of research. Both for the individual characters, and, of course, the era in general.
 
For the research, if there are people--maybe this is getting a little too niche--who are interested in this time period, what were some really good resources you found?
 
JN: Yeah! There's a great book about the dust book called The Worst Hard Time that is really, really a great read. There's also...I watched the Ken Burns Dust Bowl documentary. I watched, there's a fantastic John Sails movie called Matewan. It's like fictionalized history, but it's about the kind of Mine Wars of West Virginia, the turn of the century--that's really great. There's a book call Sister of the Road, it's supposed to be an autobiography of a woman hobo travelling during the era. There's also a number of books I read about the Great Depression that I'm blanking on names of. I drew a lot from fiction, too. Things like Huck Finn, On the Road, I pulled from all sorts of different places for the characters. They have their own stack of books that I worked from. 
 

 
You basically just took all that information, threw it at writers, and they gave you back gold?
 
JN: Yes. It's amazing, amazing stuff. I'm super lucky to work with all these talented people, and they gave me back just amazing, amazing writing. This game is most spectacular on three fronts, I would say. It's my game, so take this with a grain of salt. The art is really amazing, the music really, really wonderful, and most of all, the writing is our strongest pull. I think that anyone could pick this up and enjoy the writing for its own sake. 
 
Did you handle the art style? It's very distinctive.
 
JN: Thanks! No, I didn't. I'm not an artist at all. I'm kind of the programmer and creative director. I have a team, a company that's called Serenity Forge. They're doing the art for me and helping me with the design.
 
How did you wind up linking with them?
 
JN: Actually at IndieCade last year, we were at a party together and we were talking. I had just lost my art team for various reasons and needed a new one! So they were willing to do this co-development thing with me, and it’s worked out really well. I'm super happy to be working with them. 
 
The music is also really good. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine draws heavily from blues, bluegrass, folk. That's all original music that's been composed for the game. Each character has their own piece of music in addition to the overworld song that changes character as you go from region to region. There's like an Appalachian-bluegrass in the Northeast and it becomes a folk song in the Midwest, a little bit more blues-y in the South. 
 
How did you go about composing that music? To clarify: It's not based on older, pre-existing songs?
 
JN: It's all original, but it is very much in that vein. I'm not the composer. My composer is Ryan Ike. He worked on Frog Factions 2, actually. […] He's fantastic, he's amazing. Everyone who has played the game has said the music is really good, so I'm very happy.
 
Did he also play the music?
 
JN: He performed some of it, but mostly we got live performers to do a lot of the stuff. People that sing and play banjo and guitar and violin. […] He's really, really good at this.
 
So he just took the idea and ran with it?
 
JN: Yeah, yeah. He was super, super excited to do this because this is unlike most game music. It's very different.
 
 
Where did you get the title for the game? It seems kinda like that old song about the Big Rock Candy Mountain?
 
JN: I'm really glad you asked that question, actually. It's a line from American folk culture. It pops up in a bunch of different folk songs, it shows up in stories. It's a folk saying, ‘the place where the water tastes like wine.’ It's always a place that's somewhere nearby, but inaccessible. It's maybe the next county over, there's a place where the water tastes like wine. And all of the stories in the game feed into this theme of people looking for something. They’re looking for… for their promised land, their Big Rock Candy Mountain, their place where the water tastes like wine. And of course, the sad truth at the heart of that is that there is nowhere where the water tastes like wine. The whole game is about the failure of the American dream to live up to what it has promised us.
 
[…] One thing I wanted to add, the whole game will be voice acted eventually. It's not in the demo now, but we're adding voice acting for all the characters.
 
Have you run into any problems with the voice acting strike? Has that made casting any harder?
 
JN: One of the things I--I don't know how much I can say about this--this game, a lot of the characters in this game are union members. There's a coal worker in the United Mine Workers; there's a farm worker from the United Farm Workers; we've got the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Sharecroppers’ Union and a bunch of other characters in there. I am personally a big fan of unions, and union labor, and I would really, really like to support SAG-AFTRA and get union actors to act this game. I don't want to make any promises, but that's what I'm trying to do.
 
How has public reaction been to Where the Water Tastes Like Wine so far?
 
JN: It's been really nice to have people check it out and play it [at events]. This is not the type of game I expect to resonate with everyone, right? This is very much a niche game. But, the people who have come by and have heard about it, and been interested in it have been really interested and really enthusiastic. I've gotten a lot of rave reactions from people. 
 
And it will be on PC, and then eventually PS4 and Xbox One, right?
 
JN: Later this year or early next year. We're gonna try to figure out if we can avoid the horrible rush window of all the big stuff popping in the fall and Christmas season. We're also talking about a tablet version for iPad. 
 
Any plans to bring Where the Water Tastes Like Wine over to the Nintendo Switch at some point?
 
JN: I would really love that, but I have not talked to Nintendo at all. I have development agreements with Sony and Microsoft so I'm going to say those have worn me out. I'd love to bring it to Switch, but I don't have any news on that front. So, Nintendo, call me!
 
~~~
 
A big thank you to Johnnemann Nordhagen for taking the time to answer questions! Look for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine to become available in early 2018 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Jack Gardner

 
In 2008, the now defunct Lionhead Studios released what many saw as the culmination of founder Peter Molyneux's vision. Molyneux had hyped the original Fable as a game that would change the very fabric of the industry, which left fans very underwhelmed when it released as a solid, but rather run-of-the-mill RPG. With Fable 2, things were destined to be different. Molyneux apologized for his salesmanship of Fable and swore that things would be different. Fable 2 managed to deliver on what Lionhead had seemed to promise with the original - it was actually a different kind of RPG. Also, there was a dog and it was very endearing. 
 
It's time to ask: Is Fable 2 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.
 
 
Outro music: The Sims 3 'Musicolours' by Guifrog (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02420)
 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it!
 
If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod 
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Joseph Knoop

 
For as long as combat games have been around, there have been plenty that put players in the driver’s seat of all kinds of vehicles, from apocalyptic race cars, military fighter jets, and space ships galore. For players wanting a more nautical experience, pickings have traditionally been slim, especially if they wanted to go beneath the ocean’s surface and face the depths below. The team behind Aquanox: Deep Descent are on the case with an expansive prequel to the original Aquanox games of 2001 and 2003.
 
Quick refresher for those of you, like myself, who might have missed the original deep sea shooters. Aquanox takes place in a world besieged by nuclear war and resource scarcity. After humans leech everything possible from the surface, the few remaining survivors fled to the depths of the sea, scavenging and fighting for as many supplies as each faction can grab. Their strength comes in the form of submersible combat ships, complete with a small army’s worth of firepower and technology to aid in the fight against the hazards of the deep.
 
Extra Life got the chance to preview a hands-off demo for Aquanox: Deep Descent from developer Digital Arrow and publisher THQ Nordic.
In Aquanox: Deep Descent’s single-player mode (10-12 hours long, according to the developer), players will build up a home base full of upgrades for their ships and the community. Ships are fully customizable, with players spending credits earned completing missions and scavenging resources on upgrades for engines, armor, weapon loadouts, electrical systems, and more. Ships are already divided into classes, though, like the light scouting class, the fighter, or the siege ship. For example, siege ships are primarily the tanks of Aquanox, built to take and deal massive damage while sacrificing ease of movement.
 
Aquanox: Deep Descent’s single-player mode also acts as a drop-in-drop-out co-op mode. When a friend joins, they can choose one of the four available main characters to play as, along with their ship’s traits.
 
Combat in Deep Descent moves much like a space flight simulator (think Eve: Valkyrie or Elite: Dangerous), but with the added twist of water impacting movement. Natural momentum carries a ship further and in a less direct way than an airplane might, meaning every dodging maneuver against enemy ships must be calculated for maximum advantage and minimal damage. The last thing you want is to crack open the hull of your ship on a rock or a poorly dodged torpedo. You’ll also be able to maneuver in any direction, opening up possibilities for offensive or defensive strategies.
 
 
To hear it from the developer, Aquanox: Deep Descent may, to some players, feel like a more tactical round of Unreal Tournament, flitting around the environment to land a carefully aimed shot at a distant target. From a hands-off perspective, the comparison certainly carries some weight, as victory often goes to the player who can not only maneuver more strategically around their opponent, but also who can react faster and with more precision, balancing combat in a way that, while perhaps not perfect, fits within its own world just fine.
 
Like those quirky combat games, Aquanox will also feature a variety of weapons that will have players adopting unique strategies. There’s the Shrapnel cannon, which launches a close-range burst of debris at opponents for devastating damage. There’s the the Hazard, or “Gooey,” which launches canisters of explosive bio-chemical liquids that stick to enemies and can later be detonated. Then there’s the high-powered Shard rail guns that let players snipe from afar, making the vast expanses of empty water a threat to all.
 

 
Secondary weapons include mines, as well as mortar fire that can strike from above. Other secondary weapons perform specific actions like automatically firing at enemies within range or from any side, giving you the chance to slip away.
 
All these abilities will be available in Aquanox: Deep Descent’s multiplayer mode as well, which includes solo deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and a domination mode.
 
To Digital Arrow’s credit, what we’ve seen thus far of Aquanox’s updated world looks impressive. For fans of “aerial” style combat games, the amount of customization and the frenetic pacing of these seadog fights are impressive. For those wanting a more exploratory adventure, the game’s visuals certainly hold up, and obviously look more impressive than its predecessors. While a game like Subnautica is incredibly expansive, Aquanox’s style seems decidedly more pronounced, with the darkness of the ocean depths shimmering against plant life and wreckage.
 
Aquanox: Deep Descent is scheduled for a 2017 release date on PC.
 

Daniel Jones

 
Nobody at Queasy Games wanted to work with Beck. Well, almost nobody. The alt-rock musician can be a divisive figure, for sure, but that wasn’t really why the team working on 2012’s Sound Shapes had misgivings about his involvement in its game. Prior to this, the game’s development possessed a distinctly “indie” feel, and the publisher, Sony, had kept red tape to a minimum. Throwing a Grammy winning rock star into the mix would surely overcomplicate things, as far as they were concerned. Yet the partnership ended up producing what many fans consider to be the highlight of the Sound Shapes experience.
 
“Cities,” the first of three Beck-soundtracked levels in the game, is all gloom and groove, presenting a strange dichotomy between the song and the visuals on screen. It’s set against the backdrop of a war-torn metropolis and a dance-able beat. Beck sings of a dead city as the refrain “You weren’t made for this place/ It’s not your fault,” billows from smoke stacks, while missiles, bulldozers, and other instruments of destruction strut along to the beat. It’s at once distressing, relaxing, beautiful, and sad. It’s Sound Shapes at its best.
 
Originally, Sound Shapes wasn’t even conceived as a video game, but rather as a music visualizer. Shaw-Han Liem is a Toronto based musician known by the stage name I Am Robot and Proud. After a show in his home town, Liem met Queasy Games founder, and fellow Toronto native, Jonathan Mak. The two began hanging out and playing around with the concept of fusing interactive art with sound. “At first,” says Liem, “our intention wasn’t to create a game, we just wanted to explore, in general, music and visuals.” Though Sound Shapes would grow into a multi-studio production, involving major label musicians, according to Liem, “it literally started out with two people in a basement.”
 
In the beginning, Liem was the only musician on the project and thus, he set the groundwork for how the design teams would work with the other musicians. “I was working with the team every day so I was the closest one,” explains Liem, “so with the levels I did, we tried to have the musical aspect of the game involved at a much earlier stage for the level.” That would require the music itself to be fluid and moldable. If an object needed to make a different sound, Liem could easily make that change in his song. As Liem describes it, “The levels and music were written as one process.”
 
 
 
When the alt-folk songwriter Jim Guthrie became involved, the process didn’t need to change too much. “He’s also in Toronto and he’s a friend of ours, so it was easier for him to be more involved and do more iterations and revisions,” says Liem. The team of designers that worked with Guthrie to make four levels based on his songs, was the same team that would go on to work with Beck’s music, though the process would prove to be very different. When it came to Beck, the team simply didn’t enjoy the same collaborative benefits it had experienced with Guthrie and Liem. “With me and Jim,” says Liem, “you could do that, but obviously you can’t call up Beck and be like, ‘can you try this drum beat 10 BPMs slower? Because the level’s too hard.’ It was an experiment for us to see – does this concept scale? Does it allow us to take an already completed song and turn it into visuals or gameplay in a way that feels organic?”
 
Beck’s lack of involvement was a big sticking point for the team at Queasy Games, but Sony’s marketing department saw it as a worthwhile trade-off. Level designer Danny Vader and producer Mathew Kumar – both on loan from Capy Games – were handed what was, at that time, the unenviable task of translating Beck’s songs into the Sound Shapes format. Vader was the only Beck fan on staff and remembers the initial hesitation. “The other artists,” he says, referring to Beck and Deadmau5, “were secured by Sony corporate as like, ‘here, we paid these guys some money to use these songs.’ That’s totally fine, it’s just different from how we did all the other stuff.”
 
As Vader explains, “Beck has singing and lyrics and nothing else in the game had done that. So that was a huge challenge.” Every object in Sound Shapes visually represents a part of the song that accompanies each stage. A kick drum might be represented by a hopping enemy that always lands on the beat, or a dancing blob might represent a song’s buoyant bass line. Lyrics required a completely different approach; they needed a physical, on-screen representation. However, whereas instrumentals left room for interpretation, the lyrics told a story that somewhat dictated what the designers could do. “We can’t just do whatever we want with this “Cities” level because it’s sort of saying something and we had to discern what was being said,” explains Vader, “I remember all of us sitting around listening to this song over and over again, not just trying to figure out what he’s saying, but figuring out what we are going to do with these lyrics in terms of conveying the meaning of the song.”
 

 
At one point, the team even considered cutting the lyrics altogether. “I think we were pretty beaten down trying to figure it out,” recalls Vader, “it was even floated, ‘F___ it, let’s just cut the lyrics. Let’s cut the singing and just use the instrumentals. I was pretty adamant and maybe even a jerk about keeping them… We have Beck, we gotta have Beck singing. You can’t call it Beck if it’s just some beats and s___. We gotta have his voice.” They devised a few clever solutions to the problem. At one point in the song, the words “move a little/ shake a little/ hurt a little/ break a little” are personified by a platform that does exactly as the words say. When Beck says move, it moves, and when he says hurt, the platform turns red and hurts the player’s little avatar. The lyrics end up providing context and warn the player of coming danger. It’s a clever little solution to the problem, and “Cities” is full of examples just like that.
 
Originally, however, when Queasy received the “Cities” track from Beck, it was only instrumental. Without the lyrics, the song does possess a more uplifting vibe. The original instrumental track that the developers received from Beck’s team was even titled “Happy Africa”, which caused a bit of a mix-up. Vader and Kumar worked with Pyramid Attack, a Toronto based art studio, to develop the level based on the “Happy Africa” theme. Kumar recalls the confusion. “When we got more feedback from Beck’s people, we were like, ‘oh we need to throw all of that away.’ We’d actually gotten it all wrong.”
 
“There was all this sort of African mask stuff. We went heavily in that direction,” adds Vader. “I think the file we got from Beck – he probably just… had made the beat first and just named it Happy Africa as a file name. We got that file, and then [his people said], no no here’s the song. And we hear the lyrics and we’re like, ‘oh f___, this has nothing to do with Africa at all. He’s just using a kalimba and calling it that.”
 
Meanwhile at Pyramid Attack, Steven Wilson, the artist working on the Beck stages, needed to redo all of the artwork he had originally conceived for the “Happy Africa” version of the level. Every time Vader and Kumar had to change an asset – which was often – they asked Wilson for a different take on something he’d already given them. “He was a trooper,” jokes Kumar, “we got back five versions of everything we asked for, until we could drill down exactly how the level looked.”
 
In the final version, none of the African themes made the cut. “It ended up having what I think is an unexpected visual vocabulary,” says Wilson. “The concept of this level doesn’t fit the song at all, but somehow it works. The song has a sense of space and place that I really liked. I pictured an African savannah at sunset with baobab trees, swooping insects looping in the air, friendly-looking animals, huts, campfires, dancing musical instruments, etc.” Though he tends to have a fondness for the Happy Africa version of the level, Wilson appreciates that the final design helped distinguish “Cities” from the pep and color of other levels in the game.
 

 
Another point of contention between Vader and Kumar and the rest of the design team, was the giant red sun that slowly envelopes the screen several times in the song. Some of the team leads were afraid that the sun wouldn’t be pliable enough for player creators in the user generated content. Player created content was the number one priority for Queasy Games – if something wasn’t useful in the level editor, it wasn’t worth putting in the game. But the designers fought to keep the sun in there. “I remember there being a lot of discussion on that,” says Kumar, “because it was such an overpowering entity in the game. But to me, that’s one of the Beck moments that we wanted. We kinda had to fight about that.”
 
Vader and Kumar had to convince the project leads that the sun was worth keeping in the level. “I think there was a lot of discussion about, ‘ok, that is an important sound in the song,” says Vader, “but how are we going to make an entity out of that? So let’s just make that into notes, or let’s cut that sound.’ But that is such an important sound. For that not to have a gameplay component just seemed like it was going to be such a glaring omission.”
 
The legacy of Sound Shapes is one of collaboration; players are not only listening to a song, but actually engaging with it, contorting it, and taking some ownership of it. “It speaks so much to how music is different things to different people,” says Kumar, reflecting on the game’s legacy. “We were able to create this thing that people could bring themselves to by playing the level and seeing what we have to say about it, or by taking those pieces and making their own stories with it.”
 
Despite the challenges of working with a major artist like Beck, the team found that his involvement was well worth the added complications. “With this, we were sort of changing the idea of what authorship means - what does it mean to have a completed piece of music? So Beck was a great match because just before we had talked to him he had released an album that was just sheet music,” says Liem, referring to Beck’s sheet music album, Song Reader, which encouraged listeners to record their own versions of his songs for YouTube, just as so many Sound Shapes players have remixed the pieces from “Cities” into thousands of creative levels. Liem continues, “so he’s obviously interested in experimenting with ways of releasing music that aren’t an album on CD.”
 
Beck has never released “Cities” or any of his Sound Shapes tracks in any other form. They exist today, only as interactive songs inside the game. “Cities” lives almost exclusively inside that context, and the team is proud of that fact. “We’re the only people to hear those songs the way he recorded them,” recalls Kumar, “We were basically told that as far as he’s concerned, the versions in the game are the versions that should be out there. That’s something I appreciate and I think Beck understood that when he gave it to us.”

Naomi N. Lugo

 
Let me get one thing perfectly clear, Slime Rancher is absolutely adorable. The premise behind the game keeps things simple. You play as Beatrix LeBeau, a young Earthling who traveled a thousand light years to reach the Far, Far Range. Your mission: Ranch some slimes. 
 
Daily life consists of cultivating and caring for these critters as well as exploring the alien landscape. Some standard procedures apply here; you'll have to work your way from the bottom to make a profit. Generally, you feed the slimes various resources found in the world then harvest and sell the plorts they produce as the result. Yes, slime poo equals money. Any cash, aka newbucks, you make goes back into the farm and your equipment as you expand, upgrade, and unlock new areas. 
 
When not keeping up with daily duties at the slime ranch, players can venture out into the world to discover new slimes and the various foods that keep them fed. Beatrix has something called a vacpack with her at all times, a very handy tool that can suck up pretty much anything. Players use this to collect slimes and resources as well as for self defense. 
 
I first played Slime Rancher when it came out on Early Access to PC in 2016. I played... and I didn't stop until I had unlocked everything possible and made so many newbucks. In short, I utterly consumed the game and wanted more. Since then Monomi Park has been adding content up to its full release on August 1. A majority of these updates include new areas of the map like the Ancient Ruins, Indigo Quarry and Glass Desert. With the new areas came new slimes, resources, story elements and other features. December last year the game saw a major gameplay mechanic addition with Slime Science, which allows players to craft various slime-related gadgets in their ranch's lab.
 
 
This game feeds my brain in the same way that cat memes do. It's pretty much impossible to have any negative emotions while playing. The world has bright and colorful elements and the slimes make ridiculous noises. An achievement called "Boop!" is unlocked if you let the kitty slime "headbutt you right on the nose." Dawww. 
 
And good news for the cynics out there who might be allergic to this particular brand of game: Slime Rancher does cutesy right. It's not only adorable, it's also charming. Sure, pink blobs sprout kitty ears, but the whole game is centered around harvesting poo. Text throughout the game understands this tone. Take, for example, another achievement titled "You... Monster!" where you "send an adorable chick to a fiery end, the same place you're now destined to go."
 
The world allows you set your own pace and project yourself into it. The "story" comes from what you seek out. If you wanted, you could just play the core farming and exploration loop. No cut scenes or voice acting interrupts you. The only time you'll see the protagonist is in the opening menu and when in the ranch house. To get the story, players will have to read Starmail, the Ranch Exchange, and notes that are found throughout the world.
 
The main motivation in gameplay lies in unlocking new areas and features. The thrill of opening up new zones and abilities keeps the game going, however that comes with a caveat. Once you unlock a sizable piece of the content, the game kind of loses its luster. With everything unlocked and maxed out, making money remains the only thing left to do. Luckily, the lifespan of the game extends with the added content. Hopefully Monomi Park will keep updating and add new areas and slimes. 
 

 
Conclusion:
 
Slime Rancher speaks to my soul. Sure, it might be in a gurgling slime language, but I'll take it. I can indulge my need to surround myself with cute things in this little segment of adorable escapism. While the game might not keep me entertained forever, it does a really good job as a mood enhancer in the meantime. A word to the wise, tearing away from the game will be tough. Plorts always need harvesting, so make sure to clear your schedule and allot a decent amount of time to get immersed in Slime Rancher. 
 
Slime Rancher was reviewed on Xbox One and is also available on PC. It is available for free download from now until Aug. 31 as a part of Xbox Games With Gold. 

Jack Gardner

 
Slime-san released on PC back in April, but the charming, goopy platformer about a slime with a heart of gold has released for the Nintendo Switch. 
 
The adventure is simple enough - Slime-san was living happily in the forest until one day a gigantic worm ate him! Players must help the intrepid little slime ball escape the digestive tract of the worm while navigating around hazards and making new friends who survive within the gargantuan worm.
 

 
However, in order to complete his escape, Slime-san will have to conquer 100 different levels, all rendered lovingly in a retro art style. Players will be able to unlock new play styles, outfits, shaders, and multiplayer mini-games that make use of the Switch's Joy-Con controllers.
 
Mastery of the fast-paced platforming is a must for players looking to escape the worm alive and avoid an oncoming wall of stomach acid. Slime-san uses his slime body to his advantage, squeezing through tight nooks, dashing through broken obstacles, slipping and sliding off of walls. Sliming around on the ground slows time, while dashing speeds it up. 
 
 
Players looking for a more competitive challenge will definitely find one in Slime-San. Fabraz, the title's developer, has added a timer to each level. Players can compare their times with online rankings to see how they measure up to Slime-san players around the world. New challenge modes like a New Game+, Speed Running, and Boss Rush can also be unlocked to up the ante. 
 
Last, but certainly not least, Slime-san features a wonderful soundtrack from over 10 different composers including the likes of Richard Gould, Adhesive Wombat, Tiasu, Meganeko, Kubbi, and Inverse Phase. It's definitely worth a listen, even if you're not a fan of platformers.
 
 
Slime-san has been recognized on numerous occasions for its standout gameplay and aesthetic, including being part of the Smithsonian Arcade Selection in July. 

Jack Gardner
  Telltale Games announced a couple weeks ago that we would be getting another episodic series based on Batman. Today, they released the official launch trailer for Batman: The Enemy Within along with a few key details about what players can expect from the five-part series.    Episode one, titled 'The Enigma,' releases next week on August 8 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac. Those looking for an Android or iOS release will have to wait until early October. The episode focuses on the return of The Riddler, a sadistic villain with a love for constructing brutal puzzles that torture his victims. Batman's investigation is complicated by the arrival of a federal agent and the appearance of the Joker. To accomplish his mission, Bruce Wayne will have to navigate a web of deceit and decide who to trust when he dons his cape to become Batman.    Telltale Games has put an effort into making The Enemy Within welcoming to those who never played the first series as well as veterans. Players can come in completely blind or carry their decisions over from Batman: The Telltale Series for smooth continuity. The multiplayer Crowd Play feature will be available to players who want to play as a family or group, allowing multiple people to vote on what course of action should be pursued.    Troy Baker returns as the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman alongside Anthony Ingruber who voiced the mysterious John Doe in the previous series.      The physical disc will hit store shelves on October 3 for Xbox One and PS4 (expect to see the Android and iOS version around this same time). The disc will contain the first episode and allow for downloadable access to all future episodes. 

Jack Gardner

 
We've known for a while that Tequila Works was going to be bringing their adventure game Rime to Nintendo Switch. Now we know when it will be hitting Nintendo's flagship console. 
 
Rime launches for Nintendo Switch on November 14. It will be receiving a special, physical edition that contains the full game and the original soundtrack by David García Díaz (a soaring, magical score that would be right at home in a Studio Ghibli film). The physical edition will retail at $39.99 and a digital version will be available on the Nintendo eShop for $29.99.
 
Rime is being ported to the Nintendo Switch by Tantalus, a company that specializes in bringing third-party titles to Nintendo systems.
 
"As big fans of Nintendo, we truly appreciate our fans’ patience as Tantalus and Tequila Works continue working on RiME on Nintendo Switch; we are all committed to making sure all players get the high-quality experience they deserve," said Raúl Rubio Munárriz, CEO and creative director of Tequila Works. Now that Tequila Works has completed work on Rime, they've moved on to developing several other original IPs. The only one publicly known at this time is The Invisible Hours, a VR murder mystery. 
 
 
Rime is currently available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Be sure to read our review of the PS4 version!

Joseph Knoop

 
The studio behind Killer Instinct is primed to bring another hard-hitting action experience to fans of properties like Attack On Titan and Shadow of the Colossus. Extinction drops players into the role of one of the world’s last Sentinels, warriors tasked with protecting the realm from towering, bloodthirsty ogres. Through a mix of high-speed movement and careful precision, players will have to find each ogre’s weak spots before they level the world.
 
Extra Life got the chance to preview an early build of Extinction at E3, with Iron Galaxy and publisher Maximum Games showing off the basics of combat and just how we’ll be tearing down these monolithic monstrosities and their smaller minions.
 
Iron Galaxy started our demo off in a modest village with a smattering of stone towers and houses. As Avil the Sentinel, we’re gifted with the ability to leap great distances and slice through ogre flesh and armor with a swing of a sword. Several ogres are bearing down the center of town, smashing entire buildings with their feet and fists. Iron Galaxy says each level will be completely destructible, and it certainly shows in the path of carnage each ogre leaves behind them. The only shortcoming is that each building leaves a perfectly squared pile of ashes, though it’s unclear if Iron Galaxy will add in some sort of destructibility physics so it looks more natural.
 
As for the buildings that aren’t crushed, however, Avil can make great use of them by bouncing from canopies, gliding alongside walls, and dashing up them as well, similar to games like Prototype and Metal Gear Rising. When Avil makes it to his first giant ogre of the day, order of business dictates that he needs to dismember as many of its limbs as possible. He has to act fast, though, considering each limb can regenerate as long as the ogre still possesses its head. Avil strikes each limb’s armor, shattering it in one powerful swing, then ripping flesh apart moments later. All the while, the ogre is taking great swipes with its fists and stomping its feet in an attempt to smash him. Once the ogre is damaged enough, it slumps over, letting its wounds heal, allowing Avil to leap up its backside and slice it across the neck, cutting its head off and evaporating the body into valuable energy that Avil can absorb for his own benefit. You’d be forgiven for noticing the similarities ripped right from Attack On Titan, including the need to cut each giant’s nape, but in fairness the ogres do possess enough individuality among them to make them a little more entertaining than the awkward-looking Titans.
 
 
And it won’t just be one ogre at a time. Iron Galaxy has shown off groups of ogres attacking from different directions or in packs, adding to the difficulty. There will also be a number of smaller minions (including human-size ogres and winged beasts) scattered about the map to distract you from bigger threats. Through it all, though, the visual aspect of combat does look entertaining, to say the least. Leering up at a giant from underneath its toes feels daunting, especially when those toes are closing in at high speed. That these creatures can be scaled relatively easily, in an environment with hundreds of variables to consider, means players will hopefully be more focused on the fun of the experience than battling the control scheme.
 
The only possible downside to Extinction’s gameplay thus far is whether or not performing the same executions will get stale, and whether or not Iron Galaxy can instill a bit more life into these levels so we can feel like we’re saving the world, not just building after building. It’s fine that the world of a game called “Extinction” feels a little barren, but hopefully players will feel like they’re fighting for something instead of being the sole human left on the planet. Beyond the world-building, hopefully we’ll get a few more moves at our disposal for dispatching ogres, as the same combination of leaping, slicing, and wall-riding might feel played out by the time Extinction hits its third or fourth level. There’s still plenty more to see before Extinction releases sometime early 2018.
 

StarkleSparkle
 
A true advocate, Alyssa speaks openly and frequently about her struggles with mental illness. "Everyone has issues," she says. "At least I know what mine are." 
 
Since Alyssa's diagnosis at age 3, when her tantrums lasted for hours and she refused to sleep, she's made incredible strides. Coping techniques, biweekly counseling, a restrictive diet, daily medication and supplements help her handle the ups and downs of life. 
 
When Alyssa feels out of control, she goes to Cincinnati Children's mental health treatment facility. Though she doesn't look forward to these visits, she knows the staff there will love and support her until she is able to keep herself and others safe. 
 
At school, Alyssa is excelling, especially in math and reading. She loves volunteering as a peer tutor for kids with special needs. Alyssa's teachers say she has a special gift for communicating with these students, demonstrating empathy beyond her year. 
 

 
HOW DONATIONS HELPED ALYSSA:
Funds raised through Extra Life help CMN Hospitals fund the most immediate need for local kids. In Cincinnati, Extra Life funds have been able to help the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital general fund, which supports the residential treatment facility that helps youth manage mental illness through healthy decision making, appropriate communication and behaviors. All which help kids like Alyssa, live healthy and productive lives.