Jack Gardner

We had our first official guest on the show this week, UI designer and FarCry superfan/Pagan Min lookalike Erik Scott! Erik nominated Resident Evil 4 for its importance, for good and bad, to the survival horror genre. Join us (minus Daniel, who was out sick) as we discuss Leon Kennedy's one-liners, fish suitcases, and the rise of Quick Time Events. 
It should be noted that we encountered a number of technical difficulties while recording the show, so if you notice any odd sound changes or abrupt transitions, that's due to there being multiple recording sessions stitched together. 

You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. Since the latest couple of flags on our channel have been dropped expect some incoming uploads to the YouTube channel, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod You can find the talented Erik Scott on Twitter as well: @MadAdam_
Outro music: Super Street Fighter II Turbo 'Sexy Trunks' by Neostorm (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR01036) 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

Remember the keys from Super Mario World that you could take to special keyholes and access new parts of the game level? Well, those are being added to Super Mario Maker in a free update today. Players will be able to place keys by shaking P-switches and keyholes by shaking doors. The additional options this opens up for world builders everywhere are pretty exciting. For example, players can attach keys to enemies to create boss battles required to progress to the end of the level.
This update will also affect coins and Thwomps. Players can shake coins in create mode to generate pink coins. When someone traversing a level collects all the pink coins, a key appears to allow for additional progress. Thwomps can now be shaken to turn them into the giant falling columns that first appeared in Super Mario World. 
The free update brings additional difficulties and rewards to the 100-Mario Challenge. Super Expert will pit players against the hardest of the hard player-created levels. Intrepid gamers who manage to conquer Super Expert will be rewarded with five new Mystery Mushroom costumes. Those who complete Normal and Expert difficulties following the update will be rewarded with three and four new Mystery Mushroom costumes, respectively.  
As of January 27, there were over 6.2 million Super Mario Maker courses in the world with a total of over 400 million plays of those levels. That's a lot of Mario.

Jack Gardner

The SXSW Gaming Expo will be going from March 17-19 and will feature the debut of Telltale Games' Batman series on the 18th. The 45 minute event will be hosted by Kinda Funny's Greg Miller who will be interviewing members of the Telltale team as more details about the title are revealed. Batman will dive deep into the life of Bruce Wayne as he struggles with his dual identity as a rich billionaire and the iconic cowled crime fighter. Kevin Bruner, Telltale's CEO, claimed in a recent interview that "It's not like any other Batman game out there." 
Admission to the expo and the reveal panel is free for all comers to the Austin Convention Center. You can find the full schedule for SXSW proper and the gaming expo online. The Batman reveal details are below:
BATMAN: Telltale Unmasked with Greg Miller
Friday, March 18 
4:30PM - 5:15PM
Admission: FREE
Austin Convention Center 
531 E 4th St
Ballroom C 
For those outside of the Austin area who can't make the event, fear not! The whole panel will be streamed live on Twitch via the SXSW Gaming channel: twitch.tv/sxswgaming
Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks!

Jack Gardner

For our fifteenth episode, we thought we would do something a little different and tackle two of Valve's incredible games at once. Made several years apart by completely different teams while using the same, iconic gameplay mechanic, which is the better masterpiece: Portal or Portal 2? We devote our first versus episode to this argument for the ages.
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.

You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well (when our channel is not fighting off copyright strikes from YouTube's automated copyright system that doesn't know how to discern fair use #WTFU), so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
Outro music: Outro music: Portal 'Still Alive (Featuring Sara Quin)' by Jonathan Coulton and Sara Quin (http://www.jonathancoulton.com/store/downloads/)
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with documentary filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall to talk about Thank You for Playing, a film about the Green family and their struggle to make a game (That Dragon, Cancer) about their terminally ill son, Joel, while also caring for him as his condition worsens. It's a powerful, moving piece of film making. Right now Osit and Zouhali-Worrall are in the final hours of a Kickstarter campaign to fund national distribution of their film.
Earlier this week, I published the written version of the interview. However, that thing is a massive bit of writing, so I asked David and Malika if it would be alright to publish the audio of our talk and they have graciously allowed me to put it out into the world for your listening pleasure. 
Outro music: Super Mario Bros. 'Me and Mario down by the Schoolyard' by FFmusic Dj and Geoffrey Taucer (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03100)

You can check out their Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1372561818/bring-thank-you-for-playing-to-theaters-screens-wo?ref=project_tweet

Jack Gardner
I had the opportunity to talk with Malika Zouhali-Worrall and David Osit, the two filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary ‘Thank You for Playing’ which follows the development of That Dragon, Cancer and the lives of the Green family as they fight with hope and love against the cancer that slowly took their son, Joel, from them too soon. I was able to see the film prior to the interview. While I can’t say a whole lot about it right now, I will say that it is a gorgeous film that brings out the joy and light that exists even in the depths of sorrow and loss. Malika and David are currently in the final days of a Kickstarter seeking funding to distribute the film. Success would mean ‘Thank You for Playing’ could be shown in theaters across the country as well as enabling the two documentarians to publicly screen the film at events that present people with the opportunity to play the game and see the movie. Check it out and if you feel like it’s a worthy project, toss a few bucks their way or share it with friends and family.
Jack Gardner: Thanks for talking with me today, I know you two are busy what with the movie coming out. I looked at your history of work and it didn’t seem like you two had worked together before, so what brought you together for Thank You for Playing?
David Osit: We met at a film festival a couple years ago, a film festival called True/False Film Festival in Missouri. Malika was there with her last movie, Call Me Kuchu, and I was there with my last movie called Building Babel. It’s a film festival and just a great way to meet people and we became friends really quickly. We were collaborating on a different project when I read this brief blurb on Kill Screen Daily, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, and it had this two sentence description of That Dragon, Cancer. This was way early on when it was still under production. Ryan [Green] had only really demoed one scene of the game at the GDC at that point. I think just reading that brief blurb about That Dragon, Cancer that early on was very intriguing right away. It seemed almost like a movie synopsis, just right off the bat; this idea of somebody making a video game about their son who has terminal cancer. I think it just sparked a lot of thoughts in both of our brains about what would that game look like? What would the experience be of making a game like that? I think we both wanted to know more and wanted to follow up the story so we went out for just a four day shoot with the Green family in Colorado, we are based in New York, and that was really the beginning of the film. A lot of the footage from that first shoot is in the movie and that was the beginning of approximately a year and a half of filming.

Jack: That kinda blows my mind. How did you- how did you approach them with the idea of making something like this in the first place?
David: Yeah, well, early on I just found Ryan’s contact info. I think by that point he had already gotten a little bit of press, certainly not as much as he has been getting since the game has come out – since everyone has been talking about it, since the release. I just said to him, you know, hey we are documentary filmmakers we’re really interested in the story of what you’re doing. It sounds great. It sounds like you are kind of doing something very similar to what we like in storytelling; which is thinking about what is the personal story of what you are trying to say. We both love autobiographical documentaries - there are some of them that are exceptional.
And to us, we didn’t know how true this would eventually be, but we realized that it wasn’t terribly dissimilar from making a documentary - what the team behind That Dragon, Cancer was doing. They were essentially pointing the camera into their own lives only in video game form. We were really intrigued by that and I thought that what would be super fascinating was to add a layer of documentation to that and make a film about the creation of this documentary but in a different medium than we are used to. I think they were really receptive to that because they were already in the process of documenting their own lives just in video game form.
So, we talked for about an hour and a half the bunch of us. Over Skype we talked about our favorite movies and what we were interested in doing. Ryan and Amy and Josh, the co-creator of That Dragon, Cancer, were just always so open and incredibly generous with their time to let us film in the first place and so trusting to let us film in the first place. We just really appreciated how much they were willing to give us of their time and their energy. I’d like to think that they also really appreciate what we were able to create out of our time with them.
Jack: Oh yeah, I had the pleasure of watching it last night. One of your PR people sent it to me. There is a part near the end where Ryan is talking about trying to frantically grab all this footage as they can because time is limited and time is short. I imagine they are super grateful for having you guys around just for all the extra footage you captured of Joel and their family together.
David: Yeah. Absolutely.
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: I think in, you know like David was saying, in many ways we were an extension of the same effort they were involved in. So, I think they really saw everything we were involved in as part of the same mission. Really part of this process of going against these taboos that really seem to exist around death and illness in our societies. They are just kind of not really talked about so openly. They are working on the game and blogging about their experience and allowing us to film with them really was part of the same process and the same goal.
There was something else I was going to say about that… Oh yeah, and as a part of that process they actually never asked us to stop filming. They kind of allowed us to continue filming and as you can see in the film they really allowed us to continue filming at times that, um, to be honest both of us in some ways felt very uncomfortable with our presence- like, with the fact that we were in some situations with our cameras because they felt so intimate and private. On the other hand we recognized, by that point we had been filming with them for more than a year and we recognized that we had committed to complete this process and that we owed it to them in some ways and their story with Joel to actually keep filming in order to really document the aspects of the process and experience that they believed were important to be included even though typically those might be moments when one would turn off the camera. I think that was a very difficult process for the both of us, but we realized it was very necessary and in many ways made us really think about what our role and responsibilities were as documentary filmmakers.

Jack: I’ve played both the game and now I’ve seen the movie. In your Kickstarter video you guys talk about the two being complementary and they really do complement each other very well. I played the game first and one of the big questions that was of the questions was how. How could a game like this be made? That’s such a big question at least to me because most people don’t go through such a candid grieving process.
David: I think the thing, though, is that people al do go through a grieving process like it, but it is so hard to go through it with a degree of consciousness, you know? To grieve not just consciously, but publicly in a certain way. And that is something that we were both really taken by which is that this- what we were watching happen over the course of our filming was that there was kind of this window into their grief through the process of making this video game. That window was there, we were just there to film it. That window was brought on by Ryan and Amy and their whole production team behind That Dragon, Cancer getting together and saying how can we paint our grief in a way that is not just a portrait of grief or a por6trait of caring for a child, but in a way that is actually experienceable by other people and in a medium that has not ever been known for such an interaction for such a window into empathy.
So that I think is what was very interesting for us. What they went through is what many, many people go through, you know? Like thousands and millions of people go through this. But the way in which they dealt with it and the poise in which they dealt with it and the invitation that they provided for other people to play through that experience, to be a part of that experience in a way; that was what was really special and profound.
Jack: Where do you two come in, gaming-wise? Are either of you gamers? Do either of you have a lot of experience with the general culture?
David: Yeah, we are now. We’re definitely into it now, in part because we’ve seen how exciting the world is in terms of its artistic innovation and how many exciting things are happening within the space of gaming – especially independent gaming. I think, I mean, we both played Mario for sure as kids. I came in with a little bit more knowledge and my friend sent m me this article on Killscreen and I heard a little bit about independent gaming prior to this. I’d watched Indie Game: The Movie and things like that. But it has definitely been an exciting world to learn more about and I think being aware of the artistic side- honestly the parallels between indie film making, indie documentary filmmaking, and indie game development are pretty amazing to us. It didn’t take us long to realize that it’s very similar [laughs] like, you have to freelance on your own time and work on your passion projects whenever you have the time to. It takes X amount of money and you gotta crowd fund occasionally. You have to get distribution or get people to really back your vision and believe in you. You have to hire a team of people who want to work with you, you know? It’s not terribly dissimilar.
Also in a sense that it has only been, at least as far as we can tell, within the last decade or so that independent gaming has been able to flourish because technology like Twine and Unity has actually made it viable to create games on a smaller budget on a smaller scale. And that’s also true within documentary film. Twenty years ago you pretty much needed to rely on having film and that’s expensive. Now with digital cameras within the last ten, fifteen years and being able to edit on your laptop these are all innovations that have enabled art to trickle down to us plebeians in a certain sense and that has been pretty cool to see.
Malika: I think one thing that has been particularly exciting in the gaming world is that while film was a lot more expensive and laborious to work with before digital media […] there still have always been artful, independent filmmakers for decades, right? But in gaming it is really interesting how this technological change really does seem to have revolutionized developers’ access to the creation process of games to the extent that now people have access to making games who just previously weren’t a part of gaming culture. The result is games like That Dragon, Cancer as well as Depression Quest or Neverending Nightmares or Dys4ia or, you know there are so many within the last five or ten years, games and developers that are emerging that there just wasn’t room for before. I think one thing we both found particularly exciting was this idea that that has created room not only to explore new topics and areas and concepts and approaches to video games, but also to let more people in and create more diversity in the gaming world in general. It really feels like a turning point for the industry.

Jack: I 100% agree. I think it is also super important that the technology to distribute games like this is in place now, whereas ten years ago where were you going to put an indie game if you didn’t go through a big name publisher?
Malika: Of course, for us that means that Thank You for Playing - while we are focused on one particular game and one particular team - it feels like Thank You for Playing is about this larger shift that is happening in this industry and this approach that most people in the mainstream entertainment world just didn’t think was possible in video games, but really is starting to happen now.
Jack: I think the documentary and the game work together in interesting ways. Thank You for Playing is a good entry point for people who aren’t as involved in the game industry whereas people are already involved can take that with them to the documentary. It’s kind of like two worlds overlapping. There’s nothing else really like it.
Malika: Yeah, on top of that there was also an interesting process working on the film, which neither David nor I had ever actually experienced, which is that we were in the process of creating this documentary work that was also about Ryan and Amy and Josh and their team being simultaneously in the process of creating their documentary work in video game form. The result was really interesting because it meant we were all going through these creative processes at different points and all involved in documenting slightly different things, but then there were interesting ways in which those ended up overlapping. So there were points at which we were actually kind of mutually having conversations about how we were going to be representing certain aspects of the experience. Or even to a certain extent collaborating on some things - even though we all worked on the film and the game with the understanding that they were independent of each other and each team had independent control over each thing of course. But there were some moments, like we shot a scene of the family by a lake feeding the ducks. We shot that, I think, slightly before the game team had fully started to build their lake scene which you also see in the film. So, one day they gave us a call while we were back in New York between shoots and asked if we could share the audio from that footage with them so they could use it as temp audio while they were building that scene in the game. There are a whole bunch of examples like that of moments when either we documented something and shared it with them in order to help them create their game or they documented something in the game and shared it with us in order to help us think about how to kind of show that in real life and show how that was part of their real life as well as in the game world.
Jack: How often were you involved in the Green’s lives? It seems like over a year and a half or so you got to know them pretty well.
David: Yeah, yeah, I think over a year and a half was essentially the duration. We did about six or seven shoots over that period of time and each shoot was probably a week or so long. When we weren’t filming we were in close touch, obviously, just kind of chatting with them. We became friends. We see each other relatively frequently as part of the game and the film coming out and being released, but we have become very close with the Green family and with Josh and John and Ryan, the other Ryan, all these different people that were involved with the game’s creation as part of Numinous Games.
So, yeah, we spent a lot of time with them, but I think also that intimacy that we had with them was part and parcel to making a documentary, you need to be able to be close with the people you are filming, especially if it is a personal matter, but it is also a by-product of the fact that we grew close to the family. The one time that we didn’t film was when we attended Joel’s funeral. That was very much as guests to be there to mourn with them, not to be filming. That was kind of again as Malika was saying before, that was our own line that we drew in terms of what we wanted to film and not film. We had consistently taken our page from the game team in terms of what we wanted to film what we wanted to include. Ryan and Amy and Josh were always focused on this idea of showing the beauty of their experience and the beauty that shines through in the midst of tragedy. That’s what we wanted our film to embody as well. It made sense for us to be there as guests because we were guests in their lives in the first place.
Jack: You mention beauty in the midst of grief. I think that’s part of what makes the grieving process in this country seemingly so private is that people imagine it to be this wall of sadness when it is really a spectrum of emotion there is joy and love there, too.
David: Absolutely, yeah. Neither Malika nor myself are particularly religious, but I know that in Jewish tradition when a loved one dies you sit Shiva for seven days and it’s joyful. You regale each other with stories; you eat lots of food. It is kind of this sharing and overflow of joy and talking about the loved one’s past. I think that that seems a little bit out of place within the context of a lot of what Western culture is about when it comes to grief which is since it is so difficult to talk about and when we have trouble talking about things we put them away. We put them in corners. It comes out inevitably, but it is hard to access sometimes.
I think that’s something that we really, really noticed very strongly within the course of making the film and just looking at our own lives. It is something that we don’t talk about and it’s something that we have trouble dealing with, but that’s exactly what was so interesting about watching That Dragon, Cancer being made. It was really just pulling the curtains back and letting all the light shine through in terms of what this experience is like for a family and people aren’t necessarily ready to go there ever, but especially in the format of a video game. I think the main thing that surprised us wasn’t that people reacted as strongly as they did, it’s just how much it made them want to share more; how much it made them want to talk to Ryan and share their experiences with Ryan as well. It definitely belied a lack of the conversation happening. As much as people want to talk about it as much as they did, it definitely showed that there was – it opened the door and a lot came through for many people who played the game.

Jack: It comes through the movie, too. The film stands as a bit of a repudiation of keeping all of that bottled up and private. There were several lines of Ryan Green talking and one that stood out was him saying, “I think we’ve been told a lie that it’s safer to escape.” And then he says something along the lines of “I see people saying that they use games as a form of escape, but what are we escaping from? This is who we are; these things make us who we are.” That’s important to acknowledge at the very least and I think you guys did a good job getting that point across.
David: Thank you.
Malika: Thank you.
Jack: Have you two sat down and played the game?
David: Over the last two years we’ve been playing various incarnations of it for sure. Have we played the very final, final build?
Malika: I have not played the final one all the way through. I think there are still even some scenes that we’ve realized are in there that we haven’t yet played completely, so yeah. [Laughs] I think in both our cases we’ve been waiting for like, a two or three hour period to be able sit down and do it properly in one sitting.
David: It feels important to do it properly, that’s the funny thing. We could, I think, find time to play, but there is something about the experience being crystalized into a virtual experience now that’s actually playable from end to end. I think we both want to be emotionally available for that moment.
Malika: And then on top of that we are also just bizarrely intimate with a bunch of scenes in the game that we edited to put in the film. Again, I think that’s another reason we need to sit down and experience the game from beginning to end for however long it takes. Otherwise dipping in and out will feel very similar to the relationship we’ve had up until now with the game, which is editing a screen capture of it, which isn’t what it is, ultimately.
Jack: You raise another good point. A lot of games in modern sensibility, the bigger the better. But that dragon cancer crystalizes it down to something you can experience in one sitting. That’s rare. Most games are a bare minimum of six hours. I did sit down and finished it and it blew me away, just eviscerated my heart. Then the movie did it all over again. I can’t imagine trying to experience the game and the movie back to back, let alone living through it. It must have been hard for you to be there, too.
David: Yeah. It was hard for us. It was hard for us in a specific way of us being in this moment and being as powerless as anyone else who cared about Joel and the Green family. Watching this happen to them and becoming close to them and becoming close to Joel and having that experience of being present for these moments.
Grief is hard for everybody. You don’t know the Green family personally, but you play their game and you watch the film and you are along on this journey with them in some small capacity. I mean, that’s what art is capable of doing, and it has always been capable of doing that. That’s, I think, one of the things we found so powerful about the story that we saw being told and that we wanted to tell. This is what art can do and here is this medium that’s capable of showing you this emotional experience in such a profound way but also in a way that transcends the despair that often accompanies our approach to grief in Western society. It’s not about despair; it’s about beauty; it’s about hope. That was a very special thing for us to be observing as the Green family went through what they went through. That’s something that we wanted to show.
So, yeah, obviously many parts of the film were difficult for us to make and to film, but ultimately we do feel like the film depicts our mean experience of creating the film, which was watching this family triumph and persevere through very, very difficult circumstances to be able to come out the other side with a beautiful outlook on life that was simultaneously hopeful, but also very aware of the fact that this does in fact happen. This is what life is built on. Life is built on loss; life is built on grief. To be able to stand aside from that and to continue living with grace and with compassion, that was what was so exceptional to see.
Malika: I think ultimately that they were able to do all of that through creating this work of art. As a result, it feels like in the film we were able to explore this even more universal idea of the role that art plays in our lives and in human society which is this way of processing and exploring and sharing some of the hardest experiences that human beings go through. I think it was kind of particularly exciting to see and be reminded that art has this – that is at least one of the key roles of art in our lives: to shed light on what we go through and what we experience and the ways in which those are shared. All human beings have in some ways similar experiences and in some ways very different experiences. I think it was very special to see that and to see that from the point of view of not the elite art world so to speak, but to see people doing that and realizing that in a very organic and ultimately in a medium that is certainly not usually associated with that.

Jack: That was a really beautiful way of putting it. What are some of the important takeaways for the two of you from creating this film? Filmmaking-wise, game development-wise, life-wise, emotionally – what are your big lessons for lack of a better word?
David: Gosh, I feel like everything we have just been talking about could be thrown again in answer to that question. I mean, there is obviously so much that we felt in terms of making the film. I don’t think we would be able to articulate it again as well as we might have done in answering your last few questions, but essentially just this idea of we really wanted to create this portrait of what it looks like to use art not only in an innovative way in the context of making a video game out of an emotional experience, an emotional, personal experience, but how that art can transcend its medium to be something that can really reach other people in a profound way and open up a dialogue with people who either have gone through a similar experience or who have never gone through a similar experience, but to break down the barriers that we throw up around ourselves in times of duress, in times of pain, and really transcend what happens when we are stuck within the well of grief and the well of sadness and feeling like we can’t connect to anybody. It’s true not just with a game about losing a family member to cancer; it’s true about many experiences.
[Technical difficulties ensued, but David resumed several minutes later]
We both as filmmakers and as human beings became close with the Green family and with the team behind That Dragon, Cancer. We’re just really amazed to be party to the creation that they made and to see this video game that they created, like any exceptional piece of art, was capable of doing so much as it went out into the world and impacted people who had either experienced grief of losing a family member or have not experienced anything of the sort. The fact that this game was able to start so many conversations with people and open doors for the Green family to experience what they went through and to be able to digest it and deal with it in such a beautiful way. That was really special for us to see. We became very close to the family and just for us to be witnesses to their evolution throughout the process of making this game; their evolution not only as game developers, but more importantly as human beings, as parents, as a couple. Ryan and Amy, just seeing their strength that grew around them while going through this experience of making the game while caring for Joel. It was really special to be a part of that and I definitely know that what we filmed what we captured with them, for us transcended simply just making a film. We know – we have gained close friends in the Greens. We really appreciated being let into their lives and we are so glad that the product that we made as it stands is able to even sit in the same room as That Dragon, Cancer because we think it is just such a beautiful experience in game form we are so glad that we could contribute even more to that experience through making a film about it.
Malika: I think also one other kind of slightly more mundane takeaway in some ways was also coming to an understanding and a respect for the interactive media as a totally separate artistic medium in the same way that painting and sculpture and film and whatever separate artistic mediums. I think, specifically, that this is maybe more relevant to the film world, but in the film world there’s so many examples of filmmakers kind of experimenting with interactive work, which is really exciting, but I think there can sometimes be a bit of attitude as seeing it as an add on or extension that can be made to film. I think working on this film and working so closely with a team that was making an interactive artwork, in this case a video game, was really eye-opening in helping us realize the significant differences between the mediums, between film and interactive media, for example. And really respecting it as its own artistic medium.
[Laughs] Just to give you an example, I see it as a very different – it has a very different set of narrative challenges compared to filmmaking. Coming from the film world, we were taking that seriously, but I think in the film world that’s maybe not taken quite or hasn’t been taken quite as seriously as it could be. So working on this film really opened out eyes to that. In some cases we were faced with really interesting challenges with how do we represent this interactive artwork in out film? How do you represent something where inherent to it is the concept of interacting with it, but obviously we want to begin to show people what the experience of playing it is like in a film and I think things like that really brought us face to face with the idea of these being very different mediums and figuring out how to creatively show that in film form was fascinating, a really interesting challenge. And then also simultaneously making a film about other artists who are also telling their own story and really focusing on telling the story of those artists while not exploiting the incredible storytelling that they were creating themselves too much. One thing we realized would be important was that however we made the film ultimately we hoped that it would encourage people to want play the game rather than feeling like they had seen the whole story, the whole game in the film itself.
Jack: Can you go a bit more into how you overcame those challenges of displaying interactivity?
Malika: There was an example, can you remember what it was? It was that one thing we figured it out in order to represent…
David: I think- do you know what it is?
Malika: I’ve just remembered that thing, but if you have a point-
David: No-
Malika: [Laughs] I think we realized it was sound design. We realized that we needed to use the sound design of interaction, like mouse clicks and so on. So we worked with a sound designer to really- and we actually worked with a sound designer who works on video games in order to develop the sound for the gaming sections of the film in a way that really emphasized that you are not just watching a screen capture, you’re watching a screen capture of someone playing the game. I think maybe that was a really crucial thing when we realized that the sound of the interaction, not just the game, was an important way of conveying that.
David: There were degrees to which, at certain points of the film depending of what you were watching of the video game we wanted you to either feel like you were A.) watching the creation of the video game B.) watching a scene from the video game and C.) like in the video game. That was accomplished primarily through either easing back or pulling forward on some of the things that Malika was just talking about. In terms of are we going to immerse you in everything that the game sounds like? Are we going to make you feel like you are hearing the click of the mouse as you are moving forward in the game world? Or are you just going to be essentially watching an animated film for a moment? That was kind of a decision as to how much do we want to insert people based on where we are because everything that you are seeing in the film is not the final version of That Dragon, Cancer. That was footage of various incarnations of various scenes some of which aren’t even in That Dragon, Cancer anymore. Throughout the creation of the video game. It was neat to show the evolution of the video game itself because within the evolution of That Dragon, Cancer is also the evolution of Ryan and Amy and how they began to process the experience of transmuting their reality into this virtual space. Certain scenes that were removed from the game were removed because they didn’t really match how they felt anymore or vice versa scenes that were added because they needed to be there because they reflected more accurately and more precisely how they felt since their son passed away. Those are specifics to the game and the film so we don’t want to talk explicitly about them. It was very much trying to walk this line, which hopefully we succeeded in because we didn’t really have much precedent for walking that line, of how do we involve people in different ways as feeling that they are part of this world  and giving them the perspective and permission to look at it from a detached perspective.
Jack: Yeah, and you mentioned that you played through several different incarnations of That Dragon, Cancer. What was it like to play through those as the Green’s story progressed?
David: Early on for about the first half of filming, there were really just one or two scenes that were available to play through. The first scene is the first scene that the team created at all, which was a scene that takes place in a hospital room that came from a real life experience of Ryan trying to calm Joel down when he was dehydrated and couldn’t stop crying. It’s the scene that they took to the Game Developers Conference which was afterwards written up in the blurb we read about That Dragon, Cancer. That was the first thing we played and that was the last thing that they ever changed. As a creative, as a filmmaker, I remember thinking it was interesting that that’s the last thing they went back and changed because that’s how I would have done it too. Like, if it was the first thing that I had ever cut and felt strongly about I would definitely wait until the end to do anything with it because I know from there sparked five thousand other ideas and ten thousand other ways to approach them, you know? So seeing the game being built was less of a gradual thing than you might expect because toward the end of our filming our focus became much more about the family’s experience than about the production of the game because their own experience echoed that. Towards the end of our filming it was much more so about caring for Joel and less about creating the game. There was sort of a pause that came over the situation. We definitely followed these various incarnations, but in terms of individual scenes changing that happened more so once we had finished.
Malika: Well, I think one thing that we were lucky enough to start filming early enough to capture were a number of initial concept brainstorming sessions, both between Ryan and Josh, but especially between Ryan and Amy. I think what was really special was actually being able to see in our footage the way in which ideas that had come up in a very organic way through Ryan and Amy just sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing scripts that they had written. The moment you particularly see in the film is Amy sharing a script with Ryan that she’s written for a scene. And then kind of seeing, whether or not we included it in the film, but seeing those moments play out and seeing those ideas play out in the game. Especially in Amy’s case because she was writing with Ryan, but she wasn’t involved in creating the artwork or coding the game in any way. I think it was an especially special thing to see how Amy’s writing played out in the final game and the ways in which these ideas she was able to bring to the table really ended up being very strong in the final product.

Jack: Let’s turn to Kickstarter. Why Kickstarter? Why not Go Fund Me or something else?
David: Sure, well, That Dragon, Cancer did a great, successful Kickstarter campaign and it made sense to be able to tell that network of people who were so generous and donated to That Dragon, Cancer’s Kickstarter campaign that, you know, if you liked that game, then here is a film about the creation of it. So it was pretty simple and Kickstarter is a great organization and we are happy to be working with them.
Jack: The money is to get a theatrical release, right?
David: A theatrical release and also a community screening campaign wherein we are very, very excited about doing a situation where we could have the film and the game in one room one evening as an experience for people. You suggested that you’re not sure if you could do both at the same time, but I have a feeling that, and we have done this a couple times with folks, that doing both at the same time is a very powerful experience and we are really excited to see what that opens up for people. We did it in Toronto at the hospital for sick children; we had a screening with a bunch of medical staff, medical students, medical staff, oncology, social workers. They watched the film and they could play the game right afterwards and the reception was fantastic. We want to be able to emulate that experience as much as possible because there was something really special, not just in the sense of experiencing that story, but even just if you are interested in art and the potential for art and the different mediums of art and how it manifests itself. To be able to see the same story told in two completely different mediums, you don’t really see that frequently. We’re really excited to see what that looks like and present it to people.
Jack: It sounds like it would have been really interesting to be there for that screening.
David: Yeah, and that is what the Kickstarter is for, you know? To do that in as many cities as there are people who are interested in having that experience.
Malika: The cool thing about the Kickstarter which you have probably already gathered by looking at it, but isn’t always typical of film Kickstarters so we want to emphasize it, but it is the kind of crowdfunding where the goal is to have people help fund everything that David just described but they can do that through essentially pre-ordering. So often Kickstarter is more about donations and so on, in the case of ours, you can actually crowdsource the distribution process, too, because you can just commit now rather than later and enable us to have then have the cash available in order to fulfill this distribution properly. In some cases we’ve actually been, in the course of the Kickstarter, we’ve already booked a whole bunch of screenings at universities and churches and gaming organizations and so on. There is actually a deal on there that which is that all the community screening booking opportunities are all at a steep discount. So anyone booking at that level, if you want to book a film screening for your community, it’s actually at a much discounted rate than usual. There are a whole bunch of ways that we are not just asking for donations, but asking people to commit to a film that they are already interested in screening.
Jack: Like you said you are Kickstarting the distribution process, too. I mean, it is $25 for the film and that’s pretty reasonable. Ideally what would you like to see from this crowdsourcing campaign?
David: I guess besides the obvious that we would like to see it funded. [Laughs] We are kind of interested in posing a soft challenge to the community. Will you support the idea of gaming like this becoming available to the masses? Are you behind the idea that the definition of what a game can be is not only malleable, but becoming more interesting to way more different kinds of people than would have been calling themselves gamers ten years ago, fifteen years ago. People’s grandmothers are gamers now because people have mobile phones with… with… whatever those- I forget what they’re called, let’s just call it Farmville even though I don’t know what actually is popular now. [Laughs] But this is now the reality and the gaming world is now not just defined by a teenage boy at home in his basement playing games after school. So it is a lot more exciting a lot more interesting. We are humbling putting this film before the gaming community and asking, “Are you interested in exploring how far the definition of a game goes?” We would like to be able to bring this film to people and have them see this isn’t niche, that this is as exciting as the gaming world can be in terms of artistic expression. The challenge as a crowdfunding campaign the onus and the challenge is now on the people who are passionate about their world of gaming to be able to support projects like this.
Jack: Obviously right now you are very focused on the Kickstarter and if it succeeds everything that comes with success of the crowdfunding campaign. Do you have any plans for after that?
Malika: [Laughs] We are also working on a short film which will hopefully be out in about a month that’s actually about a number of developers, about three different games that we think are part of this pretty revolutionary new direction that is happening in gaming. That will also be another thing to look forward to down the road.

Thank you to David and Malika for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with me in such candid detail about their film. It was a definite pleasure. If this captured your attention, be sure to check out the Kickstarter page for ‘Thank You for Playing’ before the campaign ends in the next couple days.

Jack Gardner
After returning from Extra Life United running a fever of 102, Jack had to sit out the recording session of Episode 14. Being the troopers that they are, Jeremy and Daniel recorded an episode on 2008's PlayStation exclusive LittleBigPlanet as well as a casual discussion on the state of gaming in general. While it deviates a bit from the show's norm, it's a fun listen! 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.

You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (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
Outro music: Illusion City 'Enter the Illusion' by Jorito and Metal Man (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03226)
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

Extra Life United: Day 2

By Jack Gardner, in Features,

In recent weeks we have been talking about an event called Extra Life United, a time once a year for Extra Lifers to come and celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments with the kids who have been helped in children’s hospitals across North America. Only a small portion of the community attends, so what exactly is going to Extra Life United like? As this has been my first year attending ELU, I figured I would document my daily experiences.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were long and relatively sleepless. I managed to pull off roughly an hour of sleep, give or take a few minutes. Mostly I wrote, trying to capture the previous day while the memories still held together. The longer you wait to write things down, the more bits and pieces, the small specifics of those moments, float away. It seems a bit sad when I put it that way, but I suppose that’s why we invented cameras and video recording in the first place. With those tools we can capture little details like how we really craved pancakes one evening or how we walked a bit funny because our new shoes pinched in a certain way. Maybe I am projecting a bit because I would kill for some quality pancakes right now, but I digress.
I found a few minutes between waking up, chugging a Redbull, and reaching the beginning of the day’s tournament to stop and inhale some french toast. I was shocked to almost be charged $50 for two slices of battered bread, but luckily it turned out that the cash register had been on the fritz recently and the cashier charged me a much less expensive $15. I took my seat next to a very pleasant looking family and began to wreak havoc on the syrup-covered dough. The parents looked on in horror as I utterly demolished the helpless plate of breakfast food. Finally sated and able to think properly, I left the remains of my meal (and probably my dignity) to make my way to Veracruz Hall.

One thing that some Extra Lifers might not know is that Extra Life United exists as part of a larger Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals event called Momentum. Hospital representatives from all over North America come to mingle and network with the CMNH organization. As Extra Life has grown, so has its presence at Momentum. In addition to United being a supremely fun event, it also shows hospitals and those in the CMNH network that Extra Life is a powerful, growing force for good in the world. United more than doubled in size this year and seems to be on track to do it again next year. Rallying such a fantastic community around such a valiant cause is a potent demonstration of what Extra Life is and a promise of what it could become in the future.
With that in mind, I was excited to see what this event finally looked like when it was fully in motion. As usual, Extra Lifers didn't disappoint. People had already filtered in and the day was beginning strong with Extra Lifers gathering around their platforms of choice and preparing for tournament play. The area buzzed with an expectant, excited energy. I found a place for myself at the relocated table for last-minute registrations that slowly shifted throughout the day to become a help desk of sorts. As I typed away, writing the stories of the first day, every so often someone would come up to ask for assistance. A few of these were hospital reps who hadn’t involved themselves with Extra Life much, but were interested in learning more. Some who approached me were Extra Life people who needed help with systems, had tournament questions, or just wanted to chat. All in all, it was a very communal experience and I enjoyed it quite a bit, even if my writing was a bit slower than it could have been.
We had set up a flipbook creation station nearby for Extra Lifers to make flipbooks of themselves and friends in front of a greenscreen background (I made some gifs, but can't upload them until I get home because hotel wifi makes angels weep). They’re pretty incredible and fun, especially with the props we had on hand for people to use (think inflatables, cartoon ninja heads, and more). People could act out several seconds in front of the greenscreen and the book would be printed out and stapled together in only a few minutes.

One of the more overlooked aspects of Extra Life tends to be the tabletop players. Most people associate Extra Life with video games, which makes sense; there are a lot of video games out there and it’s relatively easy to stream a digital game. However, I loved seeing the tabletop players out in force at Extra Life United. Spirited games of Settlers of Catan, Fluxx, Blokus, Love Letter, Liar’s Dice, and even Connect4 really brought home that Extra Life supports all kinds of participation. For the kids: play whatever you can, however you can with whoever you can.
Not making much writing progress in the craziness of the exhibit hall, I made my way back to my room for some quiet and a more capable piece of technology on which to whip up an article. Like the previous day, I flopped down face first on the bed. Unlike the first day, I immediately blacked out. For those of you who have never fallen asleep at a 45 degree angle, I do not recommend it. I woke a half hour later to awkward muscle spasms and the general feeling I imagine one experiences after being hit by a bus made out of sleep. Shaking myself out of my sudden stupor, I spent the next hour or two typing and editing to get the account of Day 1 finished and online.
I went back to Veracruz Hall to see the end of the first day tournaments. The Twitch streaming was in full swing complete with broadcasters shoutcasting and cheering audience members. #IDARB proved to be a really exciting semifinal event, coming down to a couple of tense closing rounds. You can watch the streams for yourself online. Following the conclusion of the semifinal, the day began to wind down. I ignored dinner and went straight to my room where I wrote until I passed out for an interminable amount of time in the wee hours of the morning.

It was incredible to see the community come together and fight for the kids in their own special way. Knowing that everyone in the tournament was having fun while also trying to raise as much money for their hospital as possible - it was a truly beautiful thing.
That message was hammered home when Laurie Wenzel shared the Rooneys’ blog with me. That proved to be the defining moment of day two of ELU for me. Sean and Trish had been writing about Dominic and their journey with him and have continued updating the space regularly since his passing. Sean Rooney ends one of his most recent posts titled ‘Love Play Cry’ with the words, “who wins this week won’t matter as much as the connections we forge, the memories we make together.” I cannot understate how true that statement is.
While the winners of the tournaments will bring their hospitals some extra money, what is even more valuable is that we come together as a community. Together we can spread the stories of kindness, strength, and love that we discover and forge here. The hope is that each person who comes to United will hear a story, see a picture, or feel in some way touched by what we do here and then take that home with them and share with their friends and family. Whether it is the story of one of the champions that came to United or the story of a tournament underdog, we all bond around stories. United is all about bringing people together in fellowship around a cause that asks people to care about people other than themselves. And not just those here at United, but to all the people who participate in Extra Life, the people who have cared enough to try, thank you for going your time, your effort, and your love for these kids.  
That is awe-inspiring.
That is freaking beautiful.

You are awesome.

Jack Gardner

Extra Life United: Day 1

By Jack Gardner, in Features,

In recent weeks we have been talking about an event called Extra Life United, a time once a year for Extra Lifers to come and celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments with the kids who have been helped in children’s hospitals across North America. Only a small portion of the community attends, so what exactly is going to Extra Life United like? As this has been my first year attending ELU, I figured I would document my daily experiences.
It’s a funny thing, traveling. You can plan it months in advance, but the butterflies never seem to quiet in your stomach. Those butterflies kept me up most of the night on Monday, muttering about the things I had forgotten or the items left unpacked (the things that were not in fact forgotten or unpacked when I slipped out of bed to check). Those same internal jitters woke me after a night of pacing and triple checking itineraries and tickets to slowly, tensely move me into the shower before the sun had even begun to consider rising.
I don’t know why I am not a fan of flying. It’s awe inspiring to see a metal tube weighing the same as a small building defy gravity and hurtle through the air at ridiculous speeds. I suppose that I would just rather not be inside of it when it leaves the earth behind. Especially if it means that I have to be at the airport before the sun rises in the middle of a snowstorm. Despite that, I found myself boarding an airplane in the dark to make my way to Orlando, Florida for Extra Life United. Despite the misgivings about riding a bit of metal propelled at ridiculous speeds by two turbine engines, I’ll still move heaven and earth to get a window seat. Maybe I have that compulsion because subconsciously I’d like to know for sure if the plane is going to crash or not should something terrible happen. Morbid, I know, but years of disaster movies can make the mind turn in strange ways. Thankfully, after a brief de-icing on the runway, the flight proved uneventful. The couple sitting next to me were lovely traveling companions, demonstrating an admirable amount of focus and dedication to several episodes of Friday Night Lights. In a matter of hours we touched down in Orlando.

The Orlando airport appeared surprisingly calm, though I suppose it was silly of me to imagine disembarking into a swamped terminal on a Tuesday afternoon. Though a thunderstorm had recently passed through, the sun was out and the weather was a good fifty to sixty degrees warmer than the climate of the frozen tundra we call Minnesota (or Minnesnowta if we are feeling silly and sufficiently weathered). A great deal of my nervous anticipation melted away as I boarded the bus bound for the Coronado Springs Resort an hour from the airport. After a meager few minutes of relaxation next to a silent senior citizen, the remaining minutes of the journey were punctuated by one of the loudest temper tantrums I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. It had been a long day of travel for the southern family behind me and the tired child became inconsolable. It got to the point that the mother apologized to the other passengers and stated that if she could do something about it, it would have been done by now. Sealed in that bus of misery, we arrived at our destination after a period of resigned silence filled only with the gnashing, gnarling cries of a very young human who was very unhappy with the world.
Quickly scooping up my belongings and escaping into the relative quietude of a bustling hotel, I breathed a sigh of relief. A pleasant concierge from Illinois helped me get the lay of the land, giving me a once over of the various highlights of this particular Disney resort. The place has five bus stops around its perimeter. Five. When she pointed that fact out, it really impressed upon me how large the grounds of this picturesque place were. Done in a spanish style, the sprawling Coronado Springs Resort encircles a small, almost too perfect lake that I assume to be man-made. With flashy fountains, perfectly trimmed, green foliage, and hundreds of seemingly happy people around, I wondered how I had been transported to Starfleet Academy. Then I remembered Starfleet Academy is canonically near San Francisco, on the other side of the country. Silly me!
I made my way to my room, flopping gratefully down on the bed to take a few moments to center myself and enjoy the warm sunlight, a precious and rare commodity in the hostile northern climes at this time of year. Basking in the afternoon rays was nice for a few minutes, but I had come to Orlando to experience Extra Life United and that just wasn’t going to happen if I tried to catch sunbeams all day.

I walked through the meandering main complex of Coronado Springs, taking in the sights and sounds. Guided by several smiling people with authoritative looking badges, I found a bustling registration area filled with volunteers and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals staff along with the one and only Liz Aponte, who directed me to the main area of operations for Extra Life United in Veracruz Hall one of the largest convention spaces within the resort. Striding through rows of chairs, couches, televisions, and Xbox Ones, Jeromy “Doc” Adams was the eye of a focused, productive hurricane. Marshalling volunteers, staff, and even his own kids, he enlisted me in prepping the Xbox One stations for later in the evening and the coming days. Each needed to have controllers synced, codes input, and games downloaded while strategically applying the scant number of steady internet connections available in the convention space. The next several hours were a blur of working on Xbox Ones, losing my wallet, panicking about losing my wallet, finding my wallet, and working on more Xbox Ones.
The amount of prep work that goes into an event like Extra Life United hard to understate. Light technicians, experienced streamers, heavy lifters, everyone came together to create a space that really went all out to honor the cause and kids that Extra Life and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals stand for. Towering banner displays honor the heroes who will be joining the event in the next few days, lining the entrance with their accomplishments and well wishes from their friends and family. There are so many it can be overwhelming. Names like Chloe, age 8, who has been suffering from cancer; 16-year-old Aidan from British Colombia who lives with acute lymphoblastic leukemia; Alabama’s James, a 13-year-old with a combination of hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and dandy-walker syndrome; Taylor from Hawaii and her acute myelogenous leukemia at age 12; or 10-year-old Dayton from Louisiana who has complications from a traumatic motor vehicle accident. You walk through that space and see those faces and names - the faces and names of the people we fight for - and it all becomes a lot more real than the abstract idea of helping sick kids.

To hammer home that point even more, I had the pleasure in the midst of all the prep time craziness to meet the Emmons, the parents of Tori, the little girl who became the inspiration behind Extra Life in the first place. It would be difficult to understate the humility and grace that Victor and Jo Ellen put forth in their demeanors and slight Texan accents. Even though I had only met them, they treated me warmly, like an old friend. It made the convention center, 1,400 miles away from where I’ve put down my roots, feel like home.
As the prepping wound down to a minimum, we held a dress rehearsal for the coming night’s kickoff event. Jeromy hopped on stage and began making the last minute touches to how he would ring in Extra Life United 2016. Like a general preparing for battle, he made adjustments to the visual cues and presentation on the fly. But one of the highlights was the preview of Dominic’s Story - an eleven minute short film about Dominic Rooney and his family, a young baby who received a terminal cancer diagnosis and passed away before his second birthday. The Rooney’s were in attendance and saw the film for the first time during that rehearsal. The video ripped through the volunteers and preppers and there wasn’t a dry eye to be found. It’s a powerful, powerful testimonial about what Extra Life can be and what it can do, both for the kids and those who play for them. The rehearsal continued after that, but I had to excuse myself to regain my composure.
Before the actual event kickoff, Laurie, our Canadian programs and events manager, and I discovered that there had been a mixup in the staff shirts and that women’s and men’s sizes had been accidentally mixed, explaining the absurdly small size of my medium shirt and the difficulties that a few others on staff had encountered with their own shirts. With that minor mystery solved and a staff now wearing shirts that fit properly, we sallied forth to open the doors and welcome the onrush of amazing Extra Life people who had come to experience United. And you know what? Everyone was amazingly cool as they moved past us into the exhibit hall and filled the seating we had put out for them.They chatted with us, joked, and it might sound a bit sappy, but we really did feel united.

The presentation itself was incredible to watch unfold. It opened with two videos of Jessica and Joe who have been helped by Extra Life and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, overcoming a brain tumor and living with cystic fibrosis respectively. The two of them took the stage with Doc afterward to talk about their experiences. Jessica was able to talk a bit about meeting Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and the rest of the cast of Pixels. Joe discussed how he manages to lead an active life with cystic fibrosis, which requires seven or more pills with every meal.

Following Joe and Jessica, the Emmons took the stage to talk about Tori and how honored they are that the Extra Life community has rallied around her name and generated tens of millions of dollars to help kids like her around North America. Then they introduced Sean and Trish Rooney. Dominic’s Story played to the packed audience of around 150 attendees. Their story full of heartache, triumph, and humor touched every single person in that room and I would be surprised if I found out someone in that room didn’t tear up. I had to leave midway through the video so I could be composed enough for what remained of the evening’s kick-off. In the teary aftermath of Dominic’s Story’s public debut, the Emmons and the Rooneys talked with one another and I swear that you could not find people with better hearts. The families consoled and bolstered one another while serving as inspirations for what we should strive for as Extra Life supporters.

Whatever you do, talk about it. Share your story and make it mean something.
The rest of the event consisted of a free-play time on the collection of PCs and Xbox Ones. People jumped and laughed in Just Dance 2016, hail maryed and fumbled in Madden, and rocketed around in Rocket League. It was a great opportunity to talk with the community and learn more about the people who had made the trip out from different ends of the earth to attend Extra Life United. I met Canadians, Kentuckians, Alaskans, and a fair number of people from other places. They all came to experience what has always been the essence of Extra Life - the willingness to come together as a community to do something amazing for kids who need help.

That about wrapped it up for the first day of Extra Life United. I retreated to the warm embrace of a delicious Texas bacon burger, which tasted like a slice of heaven after a day during which I was too busy to eat for over 16 hours. Then I made my way back to my room to write and recount the day’s activities. 

Jack Gardner

There was very little debate about whether we would talk about Super Mario Bros. 3 on this podcast. It was only a matter of time until we tackled one of the first console blockbuster titles. Did you know that Super Mario Bros. 3 inadvertently spawned Id Software, the creators of Doom? Is there a hidden artistic message? What exactly makes the legendary NES platformer so legendary? The three hosts go over this and a whole lot more while discussing whether or not it is one of the best games period.
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.

You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (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
Outro music: Super Mario Bros. 3 'Battle Rocks' by AmIEviL (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR00970)
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

Would you go through Hell itself for someone you loved? Thomas Brush's Pinstripe poses that very question as a gorgeous 2D adventure game that has met its initial Kickstarter goal and it now on track to release on PC August 2016. Brush will be using the Kickstarter money to focus on the game full time to finish it in time for an end of summer release.  
Pinstripe tells a story about fatherhood and Hell, tasking Teddy, an ex-priest, with tracking down his daughter Bo through Hell itself. A variety of creepy, unnerving creatures inhabit the place and one who claims to be God has spirited her away. All of this plays out as a detective adventure game with light platforming elements. Add an incredible, haunting 2D aesthetic complimented by a moody piano soundtrack with a classical accompaniment and that's a recipe for a grandly compelling title with some interesting things to say.

Currently Pinstripe has achieved its base goal of $28,000. Its stretch goals include expanded levels, a New Game +, voice acting, and a version of the title for mobile devices. 
For those interested, people can play Thomas Brush's earlier games, Coma and Skinny, online. 

I remember playing Brush's solo project for the first time almost three years ago at E3 2013. It was an incredibly crazy year and I stumbled into the IndieCade booth during a bit of down time to see what some of the smaller projects were bringing to the table. And on a small laptop in the back of the IndieCade area was a build of Pinstripe waiting by itself. Brush must have been taking a break, so with no preamble I sat down and began playing. 

A lot has changed since then. For one thing, the protagonist is no longer named James Weaks. For another, from what I played that day, the setting was left as a vaguely sinister surreal location rather than blatantly stated as being Hell. The character models have received a rework or two. Perhaps most importantly, the main character is now searching for his daughter rather than his wife, which presents a dramatic change in theme.

However, even after all that time, I still remember the odd moments, the strange characters and the puppy companion named George. Spiders the size of rooms, black sludge monsters that row boats, a taunting black cat, and the enigmatic pinstripe man wedged themselves into my brain and just hearing the word pinstripe is enough to bring back those memories. I still remember how touched I was by the moment George the puppy, with the blind love and devotion of a dog, allowed himself to be trapped in what seemed like an eternal prison to free his master. I don't know if that scene remains in Pinstripe after three years, though I hope so. I do know that I am excited to see what the final game has in store when Thomas Brush's labor of love is finally complete. 

Jack Gardner

Looking for some classics to add to your gaming library for the low cost of $0? Sega's got you covered. As part of their ongoing Valentines Day promotion they are giving away Golden Axe, Jet Set Radio, and Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (along with its two DLC packs).
In order to pick these up for yourself, log in to Steam and go to the store page of any one of these titles. On the page there will be an option to download the game for free and this will also give you the option to download the other free titles Sega is offering. Alternatively, you can follow this link to the list of games being offered.

The Make War Not Love promotion puts players to the test to unlock new rewards. Every 48 hours new prizes will unlock based on the time players put into Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2, Total War: Attila or Company of Heroes 2. The prize changes based on which game proves to be the most popular. The title that has the most time in it by the end of the promotion will receive a free DLC pack. Dawn of War 2 is currently in the lead for round 2. Prizes for this round will unlock tomorrow morning and include Streets of Rage II, Binary Domain, and Condemned: Criminal Origins.