Marcus Stewart

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not Mario Kart 9, nor is it meant to be – and that’s okay. The original Mario Kart 8 was a blast (and my personal favorite entry in the popular series), making this beefed up version for the Nintendo Switch more of the same, but with some added twists.
I had the opportunity to grab some hands-on time with the upcoming Switch title at PAX South last week. I played a demo using the handheld, Vita-esque Switch set up with the JoyCons locked alongside the screen. Impressively, the game looked and performed identically to its big screen counterpart. There’s an undeniable cool factor in seeing something that vibrant and fast-paced running smoothly on a mobile device. While the game controls fine overall, holding down the Switch’s tiny face buttons–which appear to be slightly smaller than the 3DS’ buttons–to accelerate caused discomfort on my thumb after just one race. That’s a concern for those possessing even average-sized digits.
Battle Mode, a glaring omission in the original Mario Kart 8, makes a welcome return in Deluxe. I played a couple of rounds in Splatoon’s Urchin Underpass arena. While the core premise of lobbing weapons at opponents to pop their balloons isn’t dramatically different, the mode remains as fun as it always has been. Perhaps more importantly, Battle Mode provides another worthwhile destination in an already solid offering.  
Not content with touting Deluxe as a straight port with Battle Mode tacked on, Nintendo has tweaked the gameplay and added a number of new tracks and characters. Deluxe players can carry two power-ups at a time, a feature I found added a new wrinkle of strategy to races. New faces like Splatoon’s Inkling Girl/Boy and King Boo join the fray. Fresh tracks and karts (mostly based on Splatoon) offer an expanded assortment of options for experienced racers.
Mario Kart 8’s entire package, including all released DLC, is present and accounted for. Mario Kart 8 isn't the next big leap for the series, but for a super-charged version, it's firing on all cylinders.
The revved up racer releases on April 28 for the Nintendo Switch.
silentfuzzle

In 2003, creative partners Chris Delaporte and Patrick Daher released France’s first feature-length, computer-animated film Kaena: The Prophecy to average and mixed reviews. The two unknowns from the video game industry had still surpassed all obstacles and expectations even with their film’s lackluster reception. Their team of novices created a CGI film unlike any seen before by taking inspiration from video games rather than western 2D animation - a vision sparked by a chance meeting with Steven Spielberg. Its video game influences, however, didn't doom the film and its creators to their current obscurity. Trouble plagued Kaena's development, and its amateur team ultimately produced what critics called a world-heavy story told through ugly graphics. Regardless of the results, video games nudged Kaena into its unique place in the history of computer animated movies. 
Kaena: The Prophecy takes place on a dying world that evolved around a giant tree called Axis. When the tree’s life-giving sap begins drying up, its people refuse to accept that their so-called gods, sap creatures also struggling to survive on the opposite side of the planet, won’t help them. The protagonist Kaena sets out to save her people. She meets Opaz, the last member of an alien species known as the Vecarians, while on her quest. Through him, she discovers the origins of her planet and how to save it.
The film’s history begins at Amazing Studio, founded by Eric Chahi and Frederic Savoir. At the time, Chahi was well known for Another World (AKA Out of this World), a cinematic platformer inspired by Prince of Persia. Chahi and Savoir founded Amazing Studio in 1992 to create their next ambitious platformer, Heart of Darkness. Chris Delaporte and Patrick Daher served as additional team members in the studio with Delaporte creating backgrounds and game screens and Daher contributing to the game’s many pre-rendered cutscenes. Daher was a self-taught 3D animator and video game designer. Delaporte was a graffiti artist and painter until Starwatcher, a canceled film that was slated to be the first feature-length CGI movie, inspired him to become a 3D artist.
A pre-rendered teaser for Heart of Darkness appeared at E3 1995 attracting the attention of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas among others. This teaser showed a sample of the game’s 35 minutes of pre-rendered, computer-animated cutscenes. It impressed Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founders of DreamWorks, so much that they invited the Amazing Studio team to DreamWorks’ offices in California to propose that they abandon the game and make a movie instead. Chahi and his team refused, wanting to stick with their original vision and complete the game even though development had dragged on for three years and would continue for another three.
Not all of Chahi’s crew agreed though. Disappointed with their team’s decision, Daher and Delaporte left Amazing Studio the same year to begin their own video game project. The idea of creating a feature-length film with computer graphics intrigued Delaporte. At this time, the first film of its kind, Toy Story (1995), hadn’t been released. Delaporte and Daher hoped to create their own game like Heart of Darkness with a strong story and nice graphics to attract Hollywood’s attention again. For the next year, they worked without pay on a demo for Gaina, the game that would eventually become Kaena: The Prophecy. Delaporte created the story and world while Daher developed the game system.

In 1997, Delaporte and Daher pitched Gaina to Denis Friedman, the project’s destined producer. Friedman also had a background in the video game industry. Starting in 1982, he worked as a game programmer for Atari until Jack Tramiel, the founder of the Commodore computer company, purchased it. During this transition, Friedman survived as one of 50 out of 3000 employees that weren’t laid off. From then until 1997, he moved between the United States and Europe as a game producer and general manager for Atari, Brøderbund Software, and Sony. Friedman then left his job as general director for Sony Computer Entertainment France to found Chaman Productions and pursue his interest in producing animation and franchises that spanned multiple mediums. When Friedman saw the demo for Gaina, he not only took it as Chaman’s first project but also proposed to produce a television movie based on it. Delaporte and Daher readily agreed. The two of them created a two minute cutscene to pitch the game and 52-minute movie based on it to 200 professionals at MIP TV. The demo received such praise that Friedman decided to expand the TV movie into a feature-length film. He set its budget at 18 million francs, about $4.9 million. The team also renamed the game and movie project from Gaina to Axis to better appeal to English speakers and a more global audience.
Chaman was ready to assemble a crew to create Axis, the film that would become Kaena: The Prophecy, but this was a major feat to accomplish in Europe at the time. Unlike the American film industry, Europe didn’t have established animation studios like Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. Computer animation experts were also uncommon in France. Despite these difficulties, assistant director Virginie Guilminot accepted the challenge of building a crew of 3D artists from across Europe. With ages ranging from 20 to 30 years old, people with more talent, versatility, and motivation than experience ultimately made up the motley crew. Artists from the video game industry formed the team’s core, and beginner graphic designers and professionals from the audiovisual industry joined them.
Delaporte originally filled the role of writer and artistic director, but after several months of confusion he realized that he would need to step up as the film’s director if he wanted it to reflect his vision. Friedman gave him permission to direct provided that he worked with a co-director. This would be Pascal Pinion, a traditional animator and storyboard artist for various American, British, and French television shows and films including Doug and the computer animated series Insektors. Patrick Bonneau took the role of animation director. In favor of finding a job in France, Bonneau had just ended a six year contract at George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Music where he contributed to films like Men in Black and Star Wars: Episode I. Starting with a team of 10, film production on Axis formally began in 1997.

Over the next three years, Delaporte and the team wrote and polished the script to ensure that it targeted its intended audience and completed pre-production on the film. The script went through twelve versions in a year and a half. Japanese anime such as Akira greatly influenced Delaporte, who found it amazing that animated films could target adult audiences. Most western animated films at the time didn’t do this. Delaporte, 25 when he started writing Axis, determined that he would create a film that he as a young adult wanted to watch. Axis’ success would rely on an audience segment of 15 to 25-year-olds that larger studios in the animation industry had mostly ignored. Importantly, this segment also consumed the largest amount of video games and comics. Delaporte and the team targeted that demographic, creating a Lara Croft-like protagonist with an exaggerated feminine form and scanty clothing. The themes of the film also focused on the transition from childhood to adulthood, a relatable concept for teenagers.
While the film originated in France, Delaporte and Friedman wanted to produce it in English. The team felt that Axis’ universal coming-of-age theme would be best portrayed in a more globally known language than French. The assembled cast included Kirsten Dunst, who played Kiki in the English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service, as Kaena and Richard Harris, the original Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, as Opaz. On a side note, Kaena: The Prophecy, as Richard Harris’ last film, is dedicated in his memory.
The production phase and animation began in 2000, and the inexperienced crew quickly realized their weaknesses. Their 3D character models had too many polygons to render in a reasonable time, requiring that the crew remodel all of them. Most prominently, however, Friedman grossly underestimated the film’s original budget. Because they didn’t have the money to invest in custom-made tools and plugins for special effects and animations, the team relied on commercially available software, often using them unconventionally to attain the desired results. The team used software meant for fabric, for example, to create hair. This would later make Kaena: The Prophecy the first computer-animated film of this scale to use only out-of-the-box software and hardware. The team also didn’t have the luxury to update the film as technology improved throughout its development like larger production houses commonly did.

Its ambition made the novice studio the laughing stock of the industry, but that only made its team more determined to succeed. In the wake of the failures of other adult-oriented animated films, including Titan AE and the box office bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, no one believed Axis would pay off. Its original science fiction story and unconventional art style, mixing Japanese anime-like artwork, European imagery, video game-reminiscent characters, and sepia tone realism, also made Axis a risky venture. Combine these factors with a crew that spent as much time botching and redoing as they did making the film, the studio looked both incompetent and naïve.
Chaman Productions forged on, however, even beginning production on the accompanying Axis video game for the PlayStation 2. Twenty members of Chaman co-developed it with an additional team of five from Namco in Japan. Friedman also discussed tentative plans for releasing the game on the GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and Xbox and future plans for more Axis games and movies with Gamespot in 2001. Later that year, the project went through its final name change. The Axis video game became Kaena, and the film became Kaena: The Prophecy. At the height of the movie’s production, the team swelled to 70 people, which included members of Canadian studios who would animate 70% of the movie. At the midpoint of the property’s production in January 2002, Friedman promised that Kaena would appear in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival as Shrek had.
Two months later, disaster struck. Chaman Productions, weighed down by an unrelated multiplayer online game project that it was also producing, filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy took the team completely by surprise, its unexpected nature rendering it even more devastating. Delaporte, Daher, and Friedman dreamed of Chaman becoming the European DreamWorks and looked forward to continuing to work together. Those dreams were over.
The next chapter of Kaena: The Prophecy’s development began at Xilam, the studio that would complete the production of both the film and companion game. Xilam, founded by Marc du Pontavice, was one of Europe’s leading animation companies best known for Space Goofs and Oggy and the Cockroaches. It was about to start production on Stupid Invaders, a computer-animated movie based on Space Goofs, when Pontavice heard that Chaman filed for bankruptcy.

Pontavice found Kaena fascinating, its story inspired, beautiful, and dense with an intelligently constructed universe. The half complete film, however, suffered from an underdeveloped studio with no experience in animation. As co-founder of Gaumont TV, founder of Gaumont Multimedia, and founder of Xilam Animation, Pontavice had extensive experience in computer graphic, cartoon, feature film, and video game production, but completing the project would still challenge him. The budget for the film and game lacked an estimated 5.3 to 6.1 million euros, about $9.5 to $11 million, the film’s investors threatened to cut their losses, and the crew felt similarly disillusioned. Over twelve companies inspected the Kaena property, but only Pontavice had the resources and experience to make an offer to take over the project. Xilam bought the game and movie for a mere 150,000 euros, roughly $270,000, each. For the first three months, Pontavice directed the crew to create a new demo that would attract new investments and reinvigorate the team. Once he’d obtained adequate funding and improved morale, Pontavice reconstructed the full 70-person team and continued production in full force.
Kaena: The Prophecy arrived in France in June 2003, and the game released the following year. Despite its French origins, the film proved easy to export and sold in more than 40 territories. The film cost a total of 14.5 million euros, about $26 million, making it the most expensive animated feature ever produced in France at that time. It won as the first computer-animated, feature-length film in France, but the Spanish movie The Enchanted Forest (2001) beat it as the first such European film. Xilam also finished the Kaena video game in-house. Namco published it on the PlayStation 2 in April 2004 but, bizarrely, only ever released it in Japan. From the time Delaporte and Daher began working on their initial game demo to the PlayStation 2 game’s release, the project spanned nine years.
Since their release, the film and the game have mostly been forgotten, and the creators have moved on to new projects. The Kaena action-adventure game featured beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds akin to PlayStation-era Final Fantasy games, but its poor controls and limited release made it easy to overlook. The film had a slightly better reception, receiving a Golden Globe Award nomination, but the recognition was not enough to keep it out of obscurity. After the film’s release, with the crew eager to use all the experience they’d gained, Delaporte began work on a sequel. He didn’t get far before the project quickly and quietly ended. Since then, he has turned his focus to producing live-action and commercials. Information on Daher is elusive, but he appears to be an animator for commercials. Denis Friedman founded a new company called Denis Friedman Productions. Over the past few years, he successfully Kickstarted and created the pilot episode of his latest project Urbance, a hybrid 2D-3D animated series targeting 16 to 25-year-olds. Marc du Pontavice continues to produce mostly 2D- and 3D-animated series for children under Xilam.
Video games influenced Kaena’s development from its inception, but they shouldn’t be blamed for France’s first CGI movie’s poor reception. The novice video game artists that created Kaena: The Prophecy sought to capture the hearts of teenage and young adult gamers with a rich world, a mature story, and realistic but stylized artwork. Video games inspired, among all of Kaena’s other accomplishments, one of the first movies to explore the distinctive storytelling properties of feature-length CGI films. The creators dared to make a film for a mature audience with a unique story and an art style unlike any seen before or since. In an industry that to this day rarely ventures outside children’s and family comedies, they dared to make a film in a genre that no one has yet mastered in CGI film.
While the fact that its creators were ambitious novices working in a young art form may have doomed Kaena to mediocrity from the start, it took people who didn’t know better to try what more entrenched experts would never do. Kaena prophesized that CGI films didn’t have to be translations of 2D cartoons into 3D or live-action into photorealistic graphics; the fledgling art form had as many great stories to tell in novel ways as any other medium. The challenge remained figuring out how to use it effectively to tell them. Video games inspired the Kaena experiment and have since inspired some of the most flawed, unique, bizarre, and amazing movies CGI has to offer. Imagine the films to come when just the right games motivate just the right teams to fulfill the prophecy that Kaena foretold.
 
Jack Gardner

 
We've covered a lot of games after fifty episodes of this podcast (and a number of fun honorable mentions and extra mini-sodes). Since we are hitting a podcasting milestone, we figured it would be a good opportunity to look back and re-evaluate some of the games we once praised and choose one to kick out of our arbitrary, growing video game canon. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the first of our deathmatch episodes! MUAHAHAHA!
 
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: Donkey Kong Country 'High Tide' by FoxyPanda (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03327)
 
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! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
StarkleSparkle
Congratulations Extra Lifers! You've helped raise $30 million since Extra Life started back in 2008 and have made a huge impact on your local CMN Hospital - funding numerous programs, equipment and charitable care. To help celebrate the miracles you’ve made, here are 10 of the top miracles $30 million made happen at your local hospitals.
 
10.       You Have Made Child-Sized Veins Easier to Find
 

 
CMN Hospitals treat children of all ages and sizes – from the tiniest newborns – to teenagers and beyond. Vein illuminators assist with IV insertion in pediatric patients, making it easier to find veins on the first try, reducing the number of stick attempts for the children. This means more accuracy and less pain.
 
Vein Illuminators are valued in the $20,000 range. With funds raised through Extra Life, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and McLane Scott and White Children’s Hospital were able to purchase Vein Illuminators.
 
9. You’ve Helped Children Understand and Process their Treatment Plans
 

Hospital experiences are unpleasant enough. For a child, they can be especially frightening and stressful. At all our member hospitals, Extra Life has funded Child Life services. Child Life specialists are specially trained and certified to help children and families cope with the stress and anxiety of hospitalization. 
For example, Extra Life funds have helped Child Life fund Teddy Bear Clinic at UF Health Shands in Florida. Powie, the bear from Teddy Bear Clinic helps kids understand the different treatments and how they are performed. In the above photos, Powie and a Child Life Specialist are showing a child patient how an IV is placed. Powie is also wearing Oxygen and a feeding tube to help ease the patient's fears and questions about what happens next. 
8. You Have Provided Charity Care for Patients and Families

Some families have high deductibles, high co-payments, or no coverage at all. All CMN Hospitals treat every child, regardless of the family's ability to pay. Gillette Children’s in Minneapolis, MN shares how this works:
 
“In some cases, many private and public insurance providers don’t cover all the specialty services provided. Extra Life dollars in Minneapolis are used to fund the Gillette Assistance Program (GAP), our financial assistance program for families who can’t afford cost of care. Any Gillette patient can apply for GAP, whether they have health insurance or not.”
 
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals provide $3.4 billion in charity care annually.  The funds you raised have made, and continue to make, a crucial impact on families who need assistance.
 
7. You’ve Made Hospitals More Child-Friendly
 

 
Children are not just small adults. That is why children’s hospitals exist just for them. Children’s hospitals ensure that every staff member is focused on pediatric care, knowing exactly how to work with, and calm children from every stage of the treatment process. One of the first stages of treatment is simply to help the hospital look less scary.
 
Extra Life funds have been used in your community to help the hospital look more fun and exciting to kids. Extra Life funds helped The CHRISTUS St. Patrick Foundation take on a special project to make the Emergency Department more pediatric friendly. The project resulted in 7 art murals being installed, as well as coloring books and stickers created from the art.
 
From murals, to child-friendly playrooms and outdoor spaces to help kids play while at the hospital, Extra Lifers have helped provide it all.
 
6. You Have Kept Patient Services Free for Families
 

 
CMN Hospitals treat children and families beyond their medical care. Hospital staff are trained to care for the developmental and emotional needs of children in addition to their physical needs.
 
Our hospitals design programs that meet all the emotional needs of the family, which can’t be reimbursed by insurance. Child Life, pastoral care and case management as shown above, are all examples of non-billable services that receive support from Extra Life and aid hospitals in keeping these programs free for families.
 
For example, Extra Life funds in Ft. Worth, TX have helped Cook Children’s provide case workers to assist patient families with lodging, transportation and meal cards. Chaplains can visit with families in times of trial or grief. The families are touched by those services, and will never have to see a bill for them. Cook Children’s is just one of many of our member hospitals that have used Extra Life funds for these types of programs.
 
5. You’ve Helped the Natural World and Technology Age Collide for Hospitals
 

 
The benefits of pet therapy are well-documented. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It helps reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can release endorphins that produce a calming effect. Some environments, such as hospitals pose a challenge for the use of live animals.
 
EMHS Foundation in Bangor, ME has used Extra Life funds to provide interactive robots that look like baby harp seals and play a role in pet therapy sessions. By interacting with people, the robotic seals respond as if they are alive, moving their heads and legs, and making sounds. The seals are proving effective at easing anxiety and improving patient’s ability to process feelings of sadness, loss, grief and trauma. Kids are able to calm down quicker and engage in therapy session with better outcomes.
 
4. You Have Helped Kids stay on track at School
 

 
Lengthy hospital stays or treatments can keep kids out of the classroom. However, funds raised through Extra Life have helped kids stay on track at school.
 
In Atlanta, Extra Life funds have provided teachers that help kids while in the hospital, and help them transition back to their school when they leave the facilities. The teachers work with school systems to make sure the kids are on the most appropriate school track based on the child's physical and neurological recovery. For example, a high school student taking three AP classes prior to a traumatic brain injury may not need to return immediately to those AP classes. 
 
3. You Provided Ambulance Incubators for Newborn Transport
 

 
The critical care teams at member CMN Hospitals are available to provide state-of-the-art care and transportation to pediatric patients. Team members include specially trained pediatric registered nurses and paramedics. Each team member not only needs to have neonatal and pediatric critical care experience as well as additional training, they also need to be equipped with specialty equipment to transport patients from prematurity through adolescence.
 
An example of Extra Life funds in action is shared from the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. Extra Life funds have purchased an ambulance incubator for their critical care transportation team.  This machine allows the tiniest of patients to be transported safely with the right life-saving equipment.
 
2.  You’ve Helped Redefine In-Home Care for High-Risk Cardiology Patients
 

 
The first time parents are able to take their child home from the hospital is an incredibly happy moment. For congenital heart families, that moment also brings stress and responsibility. Funds raised through Extra Life have helped families and doctors monitor cardiology patients at home by funding the Building HOPE program at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital.
 
The Building HOPE program allows families and doctors to work together to monitor pediatric cardiology patients once they leave the hospital. Vitals such as oxygen levels, weight, and food and liquid intake data is sent through secure transmission to the team at UVA, who monitor the data in real-time. This allows critical issues to be detected before an emergency arises. Home monitoring programs like this have helped increase the percentage of congenital heart defect patients live safely in their homes from 75% to over 95%.
 
1.     You Have Provided the Power of Mission Critical Funds
 
 
No day at a CMN Hospitals is ever the same. The needs of patients, new research, emerging technology and growing programs all mean one thing: our hospitals are constantly changing. The number one way Extra Life impacts CMN Hospitals is through the power of mission critical funds. The $30 million you have raised has given our hospitals the flexibility to meet and fund these changing needs as they arise.
 
“Some of the most valuable gifts we receive are those that are unrestricted and can be applied to the areas where the need is the greatest.” - Cook Children’s Hospital in Ft. Worth, Texas.
 
Thank you for saving the lives of sick and injured kids in your community!
 
Mike, Liz, Jeromy, Julie, Brooke & Cindee
Team Extra Life
Children's Miracle Network Hospitals
Jack Gardner

 
The final piece of Dark Souls 3 DLC has been given a tantalizing trailer that teases the last bastion of the Age of Fire. The DLC has been dubbed The Ringed City, referring to a legendary stronghold at the end of all things that stands firm against a world smashing and melding in with itself.  
 
According to From Software, The Ringed City DLC will be the final Dark Souls related project before the series concludes, possibly for good. 
 
 
Details in the Ringed City are sure to seem enticing to veteran players. Direct parallels are drawn between the Dark Sign, an emblem central to the Dark Souls Series, and the Ringed City itself. Combined with recurring symbols noticed by a number of Dark Souls sleuths, some people wondering if the city might have something to do with Londor, an elusive land that has never been shown in Dark Souls before.
 
Players will have to traverse an area known as the Dreg Heap, flotsam of cities from across time and space that have smashed into one another and become a dangerous, precarious wasteland of rubble. Beyond the Dreg Heap lies the end of the world where the Ringed City stands alone. The city may have even fallen to the forces of the Abyss, a corrupting force in the Dark Souls universe. 
 
Interestingly, some of the promotional material for the DLC refers to the Ringed City as "a traditional city for the Pygmies." Pygmies have never been mentioned in the Dark Souls series outside of the first game's introductory cutscene which describes one of the ancient Lords as the Furtive Pygmy. This overlooked character took the titular Dark Soul for itself and its legacy traveled down through the ages to the Sable Church of Londor. It would be fitting if the last piece of Dark Souls' story tied in with the most mysterious Lord of the Dark Soul.

Also, the DLC looks like it will be including a bunch of new weapons capable of transforming, one of which kind of looks like a lightsaber. A greater winged demon appears to be one of the prominent boss encounters with some hints that it might be the very last of the great demons. Players should also expect to run into another angry giant in the DLC, possibly the last of its kind as well. 
 
Dark Souls III: The Ringed City releases on March 28 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
Jack Gardner

 
BioWare's next installment in the Mass Effect universe looms on the video game release horizon only a scant few weeks away. While we've certainly seen a decent chunk of gameplay and cinematics, much of game still seems to be shrouded in mystery. Today, BioWare pulled back a bit more of the curtain on Mass Effect: Andromeda. 
 
As explorers sent to an entirely unexplored new galaxy, players need to establish and secure a new world 2.5 million light years away from Earth. If that weren't already a daunting task, the alien races that inhabit that new galaxy are unpredictable - some might greet explorers with curiosity and open arms, but others are out for blood. Players will need to explore, craft, and fight to carve a new home out of a dangerous new frontier.
 
 
Jack Gardner

 
Yesterday, Square Enix teased their followers on social media, asking people to look for a big reveal sometime today. Since Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD released earlier this week, many assumed that this might be some lead up to long awaited details on Kingdom Hearts 3. This view gained traction when Marvel's social media team put out a similar message to their followers. 
 
We didn't get more Kingdom Hearts 3 details, but something entirely new.
 
 
Marvel has partnered with Square Enix to create... something. Shockingly, Square Enix has put two of its biggest, most highly acclaimed developers on The Avengers Project, Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider) and Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided).
 
While the teaser certainly captures the excitement generated by Marvel's superhero juggernaut, additional details have not been forthcoming. The basics like genre, release date, and platforms are still unknown. The Avengers Project might even be a working title as far as we know.  
Jack Gardner

 
Stoic Games, the team of ex-BioWare developers who crafted 2014's The Banner Saga, have returned to Kickstarter to fund the final installment in their turn-based tactical trilogy. 
 
The original Banner Saga was initially funded via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012 that raised a whopping $700,000 - seven times more than the original goal of $100,000. That surplus of funds allowed Stoic to push the initial game much farther than they had originally envisioned and also develop the sequel, Banner Saga 2. 

It might seem odd that Stoic has returned to crowdfund their third game, but the studio has an answer for those scratching their heads. "We’re still solidly indie," says the studio, "[We're] not accepting any investor funding, so Kickstarter is still a great way to rally the community to show support for the game, while letting us call the shots on the games we make. We’re paying for most of the game ourselves, but the funds we’re asking for will enable us to take the time we need and bring the band back together one more time!"
 

 
Stoic seeks to raise $200,000 for The Banner Saga. Given the success of the first campaign and how praise enjoyed by the previous two Banner Saga games, it is likely that the campaign will exceed $200,000 easily. Over $100,000 had been raised less than 24 hours after launching its campaign. No stretch goals have been announced yet. 
 
The Banner Saga 3 will see a number of the contributors that helped bring the previous games alive. Austin Wintory, one of the best composers working in games today, will be lending his talent to the series once again. The animation studio responsible for the trilogy's breathtaking hand-drawn aesthetic, Powerhouse Animation, will supposedly return as well. Stoic has also tapped into Icelandic vocal recording outfit Studio Syrland to capture the essence of the Norse-Viking vibe that The Banner Saga taps into.
 
The Banner Saga series focuses on a story about the end of the world from the perspective of those who live in it. It's a tale of survival against a hostile world full of environmental dangers and the unsavory attentions of predatory enemies. Obscure occult powers, monstrous creatures, and dead gods litter a world which trembles and cracks at their passing. Tough decisions await players as they guild a growing (or shrinking) band of survivors through the perils of a dying planet in an almost Oregon Trail-like fashion. Those choices can change the fate of who lives and dies on the long journey to what will hopefully be safety.
 
Life or death struggles over supplies might break out among the survivors or villainous forces could attack, the player must always e ready to step up and fight. A brutal, unique take on turn-based combat makes up the meat of the Banner Saga series. Equal parts Fire Emblem and XCOM, players must use the unique abilities of their companions to fend off death for just one or two more days. Always one or two more days. 
 
Those who back The Banner Saga 3 will have the option of purchasing both The Banner Saga 1 and 2 for $20 on top of their original pledge once the campaign closes. 
Jack Gardner

 
Jim Crawford might be a genius. Crawford designed Frog Fractions, the 2012 browser game that became something of an internet sensation. If you haven't yet played it and unraveled its secrets, the browser game continues to be absolutely brilliant and available for free. Crawford, seeing an opportunity in the sudden popularity of his incredibly bizarre parody of educational games, launched a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised $72,000 to fund Frog Fractions 2. That would be the end of the story with most normal developers; they'd go on to create and release their game, hopefully securing enough funding along the way to make another game. Not so with Jim Crawford. The path to Frog Fractions 2 was a game unto itself with clues and hints hidden throughout several other games, websites, and even a secret letter hidden within a library. This augmented reality game (ARG) lasted for years and led its loyal followers to the game that contained Frog Fractions 2: Glittermitten Grove.
 
At first glance, Glittermitten Grove seems to be a game about building a fairy village. Its saccharine veneer carefully put together to repel most game-savvy customers browsing through Steam. However, that is not to say that Glittermitten Grove isn't a competent game on its own. Players must care for their forest, growing trees and bushes to support a slowly growing fairy population. To best tend the forest, players manage the seasonal growth of their tree branches, ensuring trees get enough light to grow food and provide wood. Surprisingly, the city building becomes pretty engrossing and enjoyable. The low pressure, relaxing environment and things become relaxing after a while. However, at a certain point players are bound to discover the entrance to Glittermitten Grove's great secret. Either through a portal in the sky or a hidden door deep under the earth, players will be thrust into TXT World. 
 

 
TXT World shifts everything players might have thought about Glittermitten Grove. For all intents and purposes, discovering TXT World reveals the true face of Jim Crawford's sequel to Frog Fractions; a deliberate subversion of player expectations. Even in the name, TXT World undermines the very concept of a sequel (as far as I can tell Frog Fractions 2 isn't a title that ever appears inside of Glittermitten Grove or its component games). Where Frog Fractions employed a linear structure, TXT World embraces an open world heavily inspired by the Atari 2600 game Adventure. Players encounter a random retro mishmash of mini-games hidden throughout the world as they explore and solve puzzles. Some of the mini-games are great, while some only manage to be tolerable. 
 
TXT World truly shines when it embraces chaos and invites players to uncover something new with every screen, be that a mechanic, item, or secret. The novelty of discovering insane mysteries presents a thematic parallel to Frog Fractions and its completely unpredictable narrative trajectory. Cracks begin to show in TXT World's foundations when that fun chaos solidifies into a mundane world to retread.
 
While I admire the throwback to the dawn of adventure games, I would be dishonest if I didn't also mention just how frustrating TXT World can become. Crawford's team employed excellent, clever uses of established mechanics to solve or create puzzles. Despite the effort on display, a fair selection of puzzles feel incredibly obtuse or intentionally glitchy. Succumbing to environmental hazards or enemies instantly respawns the player at the beginning of the current screen in an attempt to ease fatiguing sections of gameplay; it isn't enough.
 

 
The biggest source of irritation in TXT World lies in its open world. While Frog Fractions hops from one game genre to another on a dime and never looks back, TXT World becomes the hub for brief sojourns to other mini-game worlds. Those brief snippets of different game genres reinvigorate curiosity and wonder for a time before returning the player to TXT World, a place that steadily becomes less interesting. The lack of direction amid the disorienting, retro landscape of TXT World itself ensnares players, forcing them to wander old areas in the hope of stumbling across the next thing that will allow progress. Many players will hit a point where they feel like they've been bashing their heads against a wall with no solution in sight.
 
That frustration makes it hard to enjoy the creative slew of mini-games that often come out of nowhere. A humorous take on Flappy Bird starring a toaster or a reimagining of Aliens as a roommate drama/stealth game present some fantastic gameplay opportunities, but enjoying them becomes difficult after an hour of aimless rambling over well-trodden ground. It also doesn't help that some of those mini-games essentially trap the player until they are completed - sometimes in unconventional ways. For example, the Flappy Toaster mini-game didn't allow me to escape until I crashed the toaster through a specific spot in the ground. My exasperation manifested on more than one occasion in the form of turning the game off to do something that didn't make me feel like I was having a migraine.  
 
 
Conclusion:
 
Glittermitten Grove feels like a giant inside joke that I'm not entirely in on. I missed out on the multi-year augmented reality game, so maybe that's why the components of TXT World felt foreign and strange to me. It's more esoteric and random than Frog Fractions, but I'm not sure if that ultimately benefits or hurts the experience. While I'd certainly recommend Glittermitten Grove to those who enjoy the stranger side of the gaming world, I'm not sure that is has the wide appeal or replayability enjoyed by Frog Fractions. It feels odd to say, but Glittermitten Grove, a smokescreen game about building a fairy kingdom, felt more like the game that I'd have rather seen fleshed out than the blighted chaos of TXT World. For all the criticism, there's really nothing else like Glittermitten Grove in the gaming world, and that originality counts for something in a gaming landscape criticized by many for its conformity.
 
Glittermitten Grove is now available for PC 
Jack Gardner

 
A small, independent game released on Windows PC back in 2012. It was the indiest of indies, a title developed largely by one person using RPG Maker software. Many people outside the RPG Maker development community would never hear of Star Stealing Prince, but the community itself showered it with praise and awards. Years later, Ronove's independent game stands tall among larger turn-based RPGs with gorgeous art, an engaging combat system, and a captivating, unique story. Buckle in and listen to why you should check out a largely unknown, free, indie RPG.
 
You can download Star Stealing Prince for free from its Wordpress site.
 
With schedules being what they are, sometimes coordinating a full episode of The Best Games Period can be difficult. When we can't have a proper discussion, we will be breaking off to do these shorter mini-casts, Honorable Mentions, to talk about fringe games that we might not otherwise be able to talk about on a full episode.
 

 
Outro music: Wild Arms 'Godspeed' by audio fidelity and Theophany (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02351)
 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes (consider leaving a review!). A YouTube version is (sometimes) 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
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jo Ellen
Today, January 21, 2017, might be the day after a presidential inauguration for some, and for others it is Saturday after a long week of work but for our family, it is the day we said our goodbyes to the little girl from Orange, Texas. Nine years ago our hearts were broken, our journey had come to an end and with tears streaming down our faces, we told our youngest child, and sister goodbye.
 


When you have a sick child there are no instructions with your journey on what to do, what to say or even how to feel. But when it comes to grieving the loss of a child – it is even worse! There are no amount of words or comfort that can get you through this terrible time. Again, there were no instructions on how to get through such a terrible loss as a family. But yesterday I came across these words and I think they fit perfectly in what I wanted to say today to each of you.
 
“We need to remind ourselves that no matter what happens, we have the ability to handle it. We need to remind ourselves that the best thing we can do is to keep on living in the best ways we know how…spreading love and joy and telling the truth…and standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. We need to just keep going while we see how things pan out.  We need to remind ourselves that everyone is doing the best they can…and the very best thing we can do to help the world and help our lives is to continue to do the best we can do, too…no matter what comes along in life.”
 
Many of you know that Extra Life was started by one person’s friendship with a young girl whose only dream was to live a normal life. Jeromy Adams is an example of what just ONE person can achieve. Jeromy was determined to do something to help others. Both Jeromy and Tori showed us that ONE person can make a difference.
 
Victoria “Tori” was an inspiration to others. She did not let her life get her down and in fact once wrote something on her blog that stated:

 
“I didn’t choose to get cancer once, I didn’t choose to get it twice, and I certainly didn’t choose to get it three times. Yes, some days I feel like saying my life sucks, but you know what – I don’t! I think to myself why am I sulking about my life when some people don’t even get to live an amazing life like me.”  
 
Victoria watched so many little children sick with cancer and other illnesses pass away and never have the chance to really live a life. These children were in hospital beds stuck in a hospital and not out living the life that every  child should live – one free of illness. It became her mission in the hospital to inspire and motivate others to be happy, each and every day!
 
Our family has had the privilege of watching Extra Life grow with the seeds of love and devotion that Jeromy has poured into it and the love he had and continues to have for Victoria and Extra Life. Each year we experience the love of the “Gamers” for the children that they are fighting for, as we watch the fundraising numbers grow!  Each year we are so amazed by what is accomplished and it all begins with YOU.
 
We are so very humbled each and every single time we meet someone new who gives of their time and energy for all children. Each year, we have been so blessed when stories are shared with us about the impact that Extra Life has had on their own life and others. I hope that this year, I can begin my own blog to share with you some of the many stories that have been told to our family.  The stories are both amazing and inspiring. This is why we all embrace Extra Life, for the kids, and the fight inside of all of us to “pay it forward" to others!
 
I want to leave you with these words. YOU are loved. YOU are important. YOU are making a difference! No matter how things turn out, this will never cease to be true. Keep doing the best YOU can. YOU will never know how your life may touch that ONE person and YOU will be forever changed.
 
YOU really are so very loved.
 
A great big thank you to Mike, Liz and the Extra Life Team for a wonderful 2016 year. Your dedication, commitment, and love For The Kids and everyone involved in Extra Life is deeply appreciated.
 
Jo Ellen Enmon
Mother to Victoria “Tori” Enmon
Jack Gardner

 
If you ever wondered about the origins of the Skull Kid and his titular mask from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Ember Lab, an animation outfit based out of California, has put together a short film to give their take on the enigmatic character's backstory. The short, titled 'Terrible Fate,' is a frankly impressive piece of work that manages to be at turns mysterious, playful, and frightening. Visually, Ember Lab seems to have thrown their full talents at this project. Environments pop with life. Characters, even in the short run-time, have arcs that work to flesh out their roles in the game. Terrible Fate adds details to the already rich narrative of Majora's Mask that highlight the tragic ascent of the Skull Kid as a villain.
 
While Ember Lab handled the animation work, the soundtrack does some heavy lifting as well. Theophany, a regular over on the video game remixing site OCRemix, lent his considerable talent to craft a compelling soundscape for 'Terrible Fate.' The result is an incredibly effective synergy between the visuals and orchestral score. Theophany was so passionate about this project that he's committed to releasing a full multi-disc album to accompany the short. While the full composition has yet to be completed, interested fans can listen or download the first disc on the site for 'Terrible Fate.' 
 
 
There have been multiple animation stingers for Majora's Mask appearing on the internet over the last few years, but this might be the most impressive. Even if we never get a live-action Legend of Zelda film, I hope Nintendo sees work like this coming out of their fanbase and gives some serious consideration to a feature-length animated production. 
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