Jack Gardner

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  1. How do you take a brilliant idea for a tabletop board game and make it a reality? Many people have some vague idea of what that process looks like for a video game, but it's quite a bit different for a board game. We sat down with Andrew Reiner, the executive editor at Game Informer magazine, and Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, to talk about their upcoming board game. Code named Project Grendel, the duo offered numerous details on the co-op (or competitive) adventure title while also offering insight into their process and advice for how others can successfully create and sell the game they've always dreamed of making. If all goes well, they hope to have the final version of Project Grendel (which will have a different name upon release) available in stores sometime late 2018 or early 2019. In the meantime, they have opened up about what it takes to make a new kind of tabletop experience. ~~~ How exactly do you two know each other? A former NFL punter and the executive editor of Game Informer seem to be a very unlikely pair for making a board game. Chris Kluwe: No, no, it's totally natural! [laughs] Andrew Reiner: You want to do this one Chris? Kluwe: Yeah, sure, I'll take that one. Basically, I was with the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, and the first year I was with the team one of the local radio people, Paul Charchian, he does Video Games Weekly on the local sports radio station, he invited me to go on the show with him. During that show he mentioned he did a board game night like once a month or so at his house and asked if I was interested in going. I said, “Sure that sounds great! I'm huge nerd; I love board games; this will be fantastic.” So I went to the board game night and Andy was there. I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was. I was playing Guitar Hero and we started talking. Andy mentions that he knows all this cool stuff about what's coming up for Guitar Hero and I was like, “hey, I know all this cool stuff about that too because I know people at Activision.” That had us both thinking “who is this guy?” We figured out later that, yeah, he was the executive editor of Game Informer and I was the punter for the Vikings! Then we learned we live about 10 minutes away from each other and figured we should hang out and play games because it seems like we both enjoy that. Reiner: It was funny, yeah. That night we were leaving at like 1:30-2AM. It was the dead of winter and Chris was putting on sandals at that point right? Total California mistake of wearing sandals in the Minnesota winter, but Paul Charchian is like, “Chris, you’ve got to wear shoes and socks! You’ve got to protect that leg of yours.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Chris had glasses and was wearing an anime shirt - he looks like a typical gamer, right? I thought maybe he had leg surgery or something like that. When I went to Video Games Weekly a few weeks later, Chris was there and I was confused. “Why is Chris here?” It wasn't until Charch started the show and introduced us that I realized he was of Minnesota Viking. It was super funny, but that's how we kind of met each other and learned who we were was through that radio show. Kluwe: It was pretty cool. Obviously we both love videos games, we both love board games, and, yeah, we decided to make one based on a dream Andy had! Wait what? I didn't know this! Reiner: I think we are driving to band practice or something like that. Chris and I would carpool because we live so close to each other. We would carpool the Minneapolis, and I told him, “Yeah, I had this weird dream that you and I were at a game convention sitting at a table signing autographs for a board game we made. And this board game, Project Grendel is the working title, it's about going crazy and stuff and people loved it.” Chris is like, “That sounds cool… We should make that!” [laughs] As we're driving in the car we started talking about what it would be. Chris immediately had a vision of what it could be, so that's how Project Grendel started. Just by saying, “That was a cool dream, let's do it.” Kluwe: And here we are. So from that dream until now, how long has it taken you to come up with the prototype of Project Grendel? Kluwe: Ouf, that'd be like seven years to get to this point, maybe eight years, something like that? Reiner: I mean, it has gone through a number of revisions and renditions. Yeah, up until this point, I think it has been something like seven and a half to eight years Kluwe: The idea we originally came up with - it was okay, but it felt a little overly complicated. It wasn't really striking us as cool as we wanted it to be, so we kind of just sat on it for two to three years. Something like that. Reiner: We got it worked up to the point where we had the art, the map, all of that done. It was map-based at that time, and we just realized there was something not quite right. So, yeah, we sat on it until I got a text from Chris which was, what, 2 years ago now? Kluwe: Yeah, yeah, two years ago now, I think. Reiner: I just got a text a random text from Chris and he says, “I figured it out I know what to do with Grendel!” I was like, “What?” and he was like, “I was in the shower and I figured it out!” Kluwe: [laughs] Yeah, just random shower thought. Reiner: He told me what it was and Chris, obviously you had a random thought in the shower, but I think that's because you were working on your card game at the time, too. Kluwe: Yeah, I think that helped crystallize a lot of game design stuff for me. [In addition to Project Grendel,] I also worked on a card game called Twilight of the Gods which just came out. One of the big philosophies on that game for me and my friends that were working on it was: Everyone gets to play with their toys and players always face meaningful choice. So I was thinking of that and for whatever reason Project Grendel popped into my head. How can we make players have meaningful choice? How can we make sure that everyone is doing something? I was sort of spitballing ideas to myself and all the sudden I was like, “Oh, I think I have it! I think this will actually work really well.” Then I kind of tested it out with my brother, Greg, and I was like, “I think we have something here now,” and I obviously called and told Andy. We had the discussion and it was starting to sound cool. What was that shower idea? Do you remember? Kluwe: Oh, yeah, so originally the idea for Project Grendel was your group is a team of adventures going around this map and as you all go deeper into the game your characters go more and more insane. That part is still in the game. Reiner: From the dream, that's the original inception, yeah. Kluwe: The core concept of the game is that you're this group of people, and there's this thing, this Grendel, you have to kill it before it drives you mad. Now the thing is in this game you accumulate madness which is represented by negative victory points. So, essentially, the more madness you accumulate, the more you're losing, but the more madness you accumulate the more powerful you become. You have to balance this fine line between, ‘okay, how can I be powerful enough to survive these and counters without someone else being able to beat me in the game?’ because you can play this both cooperatively and competitively, and if everyone wants to work together to beat the game, they can you can get a co-op victory. But if it turns out into a competitive victory, there's a bit of a betrayal element in there so someone can decide to screw the group over. If it turns into that, then whoever has the least madness at the end of the game is the winner. So now it really becomes important to watch your madness relative to everyone else's madness while at the same time making sure you're still powerful enough to defeat the various encounters. So that was the shower idea? Kluwe: No, that was the core idea that stayed consistent throughout development. In the original version, we had this map thing where you could go to various places on the map. It just felt kind of like there wasn't a lot of replayability to it in that once you knew the map you could path out an optimal route and that was it. The idea that came to me was why don't we do it more like a tile placement type game, like House on Haunted Hill? That way the players are determining the outcomes. For example, we're exploring out into this wilderness. There are various modifiers on the tiles and you're almost building this path as you're exploring away from the central hub and it's up to you how to forge the path. What kind of modifiers do we want to put on what path? Because some of them will make monsters stronger, some of them make the mini-bosses that you face stronger, some of them will give you more items, but you'll have to face more monsters - stuff like that. The tile system added a lot more variety and meaningful player choice to what was going on. Real quick: Why did you decide to go with Grendel as a name for the various boss monsters? Reiner: That's what the dream told us! [laughs] Kluwe: Yeah that's part of the original dream. Reiner: The name we're not giving you right now because it's not official yet - that is the name from the dream and we were both like, “Yeah that's a badass name for a game.” Basically, the moral of this story is pay attention to your dreams and don't waste your time in the shower it's productive time. Kluwe: Right, that's where you get the majority of your work done! In this case you very literally chased your dreams. Kluwe: [laughs] Dragged them down kicking and screaming until they made sense. Once you had those ideas, those core elements, in place how did you go about actually developing the game? I think lot of people have an idea of what it's like to develop a video game, but I don't think many have an idea of what it's like to develop a board game. Reiner: We talked about the board games the games we liked to play. One of the central things was that we wanted to keep it as simplistic as possible. That's, you know, kind of where the original idea fizzled out. It was a little too complex, a little clunky. That's where Chris really kind of streamlined it. With tweaking the rule set, we looked at things like Betrayal, Eldritch Horror, stuff like that. It wasn't looking at the rules of those games, but how they're constructed; the pieces we wanted and how we wanted the players to interact with the game. Those are things we about early on. I would say that we sat around for a couple hours over the course of three or four nights just kind of hashing out what it was. We started by building the rulebook before we even play tested it we had pieces or anything like that we kind of had a full rule book before we did anything else. Kluwe: From the game design perspective, what you really want to do is figure out what your mechanics are. Once you have your mechanics down, or at least an idea of what you want your mechanics to be, then you need to test those mechanics to see if they are actually fun because there's a difference between an interesting mechanic and an interesting and fun mechanic. [laughs] I've played a lot of games where I'm like, “oh, cool, that's a really interesting mechanic, but I'm never playing this game again because that was an awful experience,” so that's really the big thing. Anyone who wants to do game design just iterate, iterate, iterate. Always be asking yourself, “Is this a fun experience as well as the mechanical experience I want the players to have?” I’ve played some early builds of Project Grendel and you don't have to start your prototype with a fully constructed board game. Your prototype, for example, was drawn-out on pieces of paper. If you’re creating a tabletop from scratch, you don't have to go through the whole production process before you playtest your game. Kluwe: Right and I actually recommend that because it's the same thing I did with Twilight of the Gods. Before we printed out any cards whatsoever we were writing things down on pieces of paper and then sleeving them with Magic the Gathering cards to provide a backing. [laughs] That was literally how we built that game! The thing is you don't need fancy art. You don't need graphic design in order to test your mechanics and what the heart of your game is. That stuff is necessary, but it's kind of like the coat of paint on a car. Yeah, it's great if your car looks cool, but if the engine won't take it anywhere then it is kind of a useless car. When you're designing this stuff, don't worry about the outside coat of paint until you've got the engine humming the way you want it to hum. Reiner: When we playtested the game for the first time on the first day at 2D Con, the playtests were going really well, but we realized there wasn't a lot of variation in the weapons or style of play with that and some of the items. So, we started adding secondary effects to them. You know, just sitting at a table writing on the cards themselves, tweaking what they were to kind of enhance the play. The next day we play tested it again and we were like, “Yes, there's something here now.” It's very much something as you’re playtesting - paying attention to what's going on and how people are interacting with it and figuring out what you can do with it in that capacity. Kluwe: And also listen to feedback from your testers because there may be a mechanic where you love it to death and you think it's the greatest mechanic ever, but if each tester is saying, “Yeah, you know, I'm really not feeling this mechanic. This kind of slows the game down. It's not great and you should probably get rid of it.” Even if it's your personal baby, if it doesn't make the game fun then it doesn't belong in the game because you want players to have a good experience so that they'll come back and play it again and again. How valuable was it to take the prototype for Project Grendel to events like 2D Con to test it with people who aren't necessarily your close friends, neighbors, or family? Reiner: The first year was just seeing if there we had something there, and people seemed to really like it, but we knew something was still kind of missing. That’s where Chris really hit the homerun with making it tile-based. There's some really unique things going on with those cards that enhance the play, too. Then this year we challenged people to try and break the game, to really kind of push it to its limit. We realized that it held together; it was springing leaks, but it held together remarkably well. We realized this game is almost done now, right? Just through these playtests we know we’re super close. It's just a matter of tweaking a couple more things to get it there in a final state. Kluwe: And it's super valuable to have that kind of feedback from people who may not even necessarily know you or have any sort of relationship with you because they're really going to give you their honest opinion. They're going to tell you A. This sucks B. This was great C. I think there's something here, but you should probably do this and this and this. All of that is really super useful as a game designer because if you can get a consistent amount of feedback on certain aspects of the game then you know, okay, if five out of six people are saying they didn't like this mechanic you should probably change that mechanic. If five out of six people are saying they thought a certain part was amazing, well, maybe expand on that part and build it out a bit. It's hard to get feedback like that from people who you're close to like family and friends because there's always that fear that they don't want to offend. Getting that testing at to 2D Con was amazing because they had no horse in the race and could care less who we were or sparing our feelings they found something not fun. Reiner: And a lot of them came back the second day this year which was kind of crazy. Kluwe: They were invested in it! Reiner: We gotta get this game out there! [laughs] Kluwe: They were champing at the bit to try and take down the hardest boss we have in there. That was great for testing purposes, too, because when coming up with the numbers and abilities for the bosses essentially we are just theory crafting. We think these are the right numbers, but we're not entirely sure. We need to see this live, we need to see what happens when people actually use the system. That's another thing that's really important for game designers: It doesn't matter what you think a system will do; you have to actually see it in practice. That's when you'll know what it can do and it might challenge your assumptions about what you thought was possible. If that's the case, you need to decide was that intended play or was that not intended. If it's not intended do we like the intended purpose? Or do we need to change that to make sure that that interaction doesn't happen? Reiner: We have a third person who's been working on this, Greg. He’s Chris' brother, and Greg is really amazing at breaking things and seeing where there might be something that needs work. He's been working tirelessly on making this thing as solid as can be, too. I think we're hitting all the right notes. Hopefully it turns out and we get this thing made. […] We're super close I feel like we're if we show it again it should be some kind of final version. Kluwe: There should be at least placeholder graphic design in place. The next part of game design after you have your prototype, you have to figure out how we relay information to the player in a manner that is understandable. I've also played games where it's like, “wow, this game is really cool, but I hate looking at it because it's a wall of text on a card.” [laughs] That’s an awful visual experience, so it needs to be intuitive for players when they look at a card or a tile or whatever it happens to be, it makes sense. It should be obvious where the elements are and a player should be able to learn what those elements are within hopefully two to three playthroughs. They should be able to just glance and say, “Okay, I know this card, I know what every part of this means.” You were talking about how you had recently released another game, Twilight of the Gods. For people who maybe out there wanting to make their own tabletop game, how exactly do you take it from a solid prototype to the box in the store for people to play? Kluwe: Find a publisher. Show them the game. They will probably sit down and play it through with you. Most likely they will also bring in a couple of their heads of design on their side, and if they like what you have, then they'll probably say, “Hey, we're interested in this game, and we would like to develop it.” And then you talk numbers for contracts or whatever and figure out how to make it a reality. Generally most publishers have published a lot of games, and so they'll be looking at it under the guise of is this a something that we think we can sell, will we make our money back on this? If you have interesting mechanics, if you have something that's new and unique that hasn't been done before, your odds are really, really good. It's okay to take elements of other games and incorporate them into your own, but you also want to kind of have your own thing that sets you apart because if you're just a clone of something, then odds are your publisher is probably going to pass because people who already invested in the original thing are probably not going to play your game, but if you have those unique elements… that's where their eyes light up and they're like, “Oh, yeah. We should do this.” I know you've both written a couple Sci-Fi books together. Is there a background setting to your game beyond the basic dream-Grendel concept? Reiner: I can tell you that we were originally going to go with a steampunk fantasy Cthulhu-esque setting with weird beasts you've never seen before trapped in a Myst-like valley. We ended up moving in a different direction now. We're taking it- We can say right, Chris? Kluwe: Right now we're looking at taking it in more of a Sci-Fi direction, so kind of like Event Horizon - you're trapped on this spaceship, things are going wrong, you have no idea what's happening. But the thing is that might change depending on what the publisher wants to do. So it's great to have an idea of what you want your universe, but also bear in mind that it might be something that your publisher might say, “Well, we love the mechanics, but we want to put a different coat of paint on the outside.” That's what ended up happening with Twilight of the Gods. Originally it was this original thing I had made up of four elements on this Island - it was essentially, you know in eighth grade when you drew on your graph paper notebook and you come up with your greatest RPG ever? That was pretty much what Twilight of the Gods was, and it wasn't great. So the publisher, Victory Point Games, they were like, “Yeah, we love the mechanics. Your mechanics are rock solid, we just need to figure out a different universe for this.” We eventually ended up with ancient mythology, you've got things that all sorts of people can relate to. So, with Project Grendel, I think we'll probably end up going in the Sci-Fi direction, but who knows? It might be a western game, you know? It might be set in ancient Egypt or something like that. You can do any coat of paint you want as long as your engine is good. Are those ideas – steampunk fantasy monsters trapped - are those things that might come up again in a future novel? Reiner: We've talked about maybe writing stories based on this, but now it has changed so much that I don't think we've ever really ever thought about that. We are still thinking about finishing off our trilogy, The Genesis series. We've done Prime, and Splice should come out before the end of the year. We have a third book that we want to finish there so that's probably the priority before you write any fiction based on this, but who knows if this thing takes off. Kluwe: Because you never know what's going to succeed and what's not if. All of a sudden something starts selling like gangbusters, then, well, we should probably write some books in that universe as well seems like a good idea I know it's probably kind of nebulous at this point, but you say you're pretty close to being done with the prototype of Project Grendel. How long do you think it might be until it actually releases? What kind of time line are you looking at? Kluwe: From a design standpoint we are near the end, in the polishing stages where all the mechanics are working well. The interactions are what we want them to be, now it's just balancing tiny little numbers to make sure that everything is perfect. Once that is done, then we'll take it to a publisher. The publisher will either say yay or nay - I highly suspect they'll say yay just because there's already interest in it and they know that we do good work. From that point it comes down to how long it takes their artist to do the art assets; how long it takes for the graphic design elements to come together; and how long it takes to write the rule book in a way that's readable and understandable and doesn't feel like wading through dictionary. For Twilight of the Gods, that part took about Five months, I think five to six months. Then you have to ship it to where you're getting it printed. Usually that's in China just because it's the cheapest place to make board games and card games. From there it's probably another four to five months for them to make it get it shipped over on a boat and then to get it to a distributor so I would say quickest timeline probably ten months from now, eleven months from now. Reiner: There's a chance it could be out next year. I would love to see it, but we'll see. Kluwe: A lot of that depends on whether the publisher loves the mechanics in the universe. And again, they might love the mechanics, but they might want to put it with a different type of universe. In that case, okay, we'll have to make some small changes in terms of what all the items are named, what's the equipment named, who are the characters now. If they're not these people on a spaceship, if they're in some other universe, what are their backstories in that universe? This game could be on store shelves next year? Kluwe: I would love for it to come out next year! That would be awesome. I will be pushing for it to come out next year because I do think we have a really cool game that, just based on the feedback from the people who have tested it, people are champing at the bit to play. Our playtesters want the game, so we want to give it to them. But I also want to make sure that when we do give it to them that it's a great experience for them to have it. I feel like that's one of the things that sets us apart. It's easy enough to rush something out, like, okay; I have my cheap Milton Bradley box of cardboard I've got some plastic pegs inside and some tiles that's it. Like, that doesn't really feel great. Okay, the mechanics are fantastic, the world's fantastic, but it just doesn't feel great. I want it to feel like you're opening up this box, you're playing this game - you are embarking on this adventure. You and your friends, you're going to have this challenge and it's up to you if you succeed or not. You've both touched on this a whole lot throughout this entire interview, but do you have any advice specifically for people who are looking to start from scratch making their own board game? Kluwe: I think the very best advice I can give would be to play a lot of games. That way you can identify which mechanics work best for you, which mechanics don't work for you, what situations you find are fun, and what situations you find that are unfun. For example, for Twilight of the Gods the inspiration for me behind that was that I love playing Magic the Gathering, but I hate getting mana screwed in Magic the Gathering. That was literally the reason I made that game! [laughs] I love this game but there are these problems with it and I think I can solve these problems. Then along the way it led to this other unique idea that I had never seen before in another game. I'm going to incorporate that and now to turn it into my own thing. The only reason I was able to do that was because I had played so many games throughout the course of my life that I could say, “Ok, I can grab this mechanic from here, this mechanic from here, tweak this mechanic here, build my own thing here, modified this other thing here, and put it all together, and boom! Now I have my own game.” The same thing happened with Project Grendel. Both Andy and I have been playing tons of games and saying “Okay. What are the kinds of things we like in these games? What are the things we don't like? How do we fix the situations that we don't like?” Reiner: Yeah and make sure you have the “It Factor” when you go into development. What kind of sets your game apart from the pack? Like Chris said, he didn't like getting mana screwed; that was kind of the “It” right there. That really made Twilight of the Gods different and he just kind of built on it from there and found more unique ideas. For us it was the madness. Even if you're having a game where all five members of the party want to just be cooperative and go for a cooperative victory, as you go mad you might turn on your friends whether you want to or not. I think that really makes our game something special and really kind of puts you on edge as you play. It makes it more exciting. So we knew right away that this was something special, we just needed to make it work. So don't just go into it thinking you're making a clone or like you don't have any ideas; you got to have that one spark that's really going to lead to something unique. Kluwe: And for us that madness thing – okay, we've played betrayal-type games. An issue with betrayal-type games is they’re generally very binary, right? You’re either the betrayer or you're not. So with our game, how do we make this more a player choice? How do we make it so a player can try to betray the others, but if they don't do it at the right time the others can try and pull it back into a cooperative game? Because usually most games you can't do that. Once someone betrays everyone, that's it. You have a betrayer and now it's a competitive game. We've built in ways where it's like, okay, you can try and betray the group, but if you're not doing it correctly, they're probably going to smash you down and force it back into a co-op victory. Then you have to decide if you want to try and do it again! Just clarify, the betrayal element was there from the beginning, right? Reiner: Oh yeah that was my favorite game of all time, Betrayal, so that was something we wanted to have. Kluwe: The other thing is, I love games with betrayal type because it adds that human element where it's not so much the group playing against the odds, you're also having to play against the other people at the table. You know there's always that one guy in the gaming group where you're like, “I know he wants to try and screw us over! [laughs] Will he screw us over or not?” And generally I am that guy. Reiner: It's pretty funny. As we are playtesting it, you know, we kind of set up the game; you're adventuring together. People started looking at the cards and what their characters could do and they started asking questions like, “So does this mean I can do this and go off on my own?” And we're like, “Yeah.” Then we started to see it where players were lying to each other! “Okay, I'll journey with you to take down the mid-boss…” and then then they didn't. They went somewhere else and let this guy go off to the boss on his own. We’re here like, holy cow, this is actually happening and we didn't prompt it. They're fully embracing these mechanics. Kluwe: Right and that's what's so important. Again, I mentioned it earlier on meaningful player choice. If players feel that they have a choice that affects the outcome of the game, it generally makes the game a lot more fun from their perspective because, again, they’ve been able to exercise their own agency. It's not always this card told me to go here and do this thing, essentially playing as an AI not as player. The more meaningful choice you can give to players, the better. Just make sure it's meaningful choice and not just choice for the sake of choice. I played some of those games where you realize it's like none of these choices really matter. I can pick A, B, C, or D and it won't really matter. That's not choice, that's just trying to overload the player with options. View full article
  2. How do you take a brilliant idea for a tabletop board game and make it a reality? Many people have some vague idea of what that process looks like for a video game, but it's quite a bit different for a board game. We sat down with Andrew Reiner, the executive editor at Game Informer magazine, and Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, to talk about their upcoming board game. Code named Project Grendel, the duo offered numerous details on the co-op (or competitive) adventure title while also offering insight into their process and advice for how others can successfully create and sell the game they've always dreamed of making. If all goes well, they hope to have the final version of Project Grendel (which will have a different name upon release) available in stores sometime late 2018 or early 2019. In the meantime, they have opened up about what it takes to make a new kind of tabletop experience. ~~~ How exactly do you two know each other? A former NFL punter and the executive editor of Game Informer seem to be a very unlikely pair for making a board game. Chris Kluwe: No, no, it's totally natural! [laughs] Andrew Reiner: You want to do this one Chris? Kluwe: Yeah, sure, I'll take that one. Basically, I was with the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, and the first year I was with the team one of the local radio people, Paul Charchian, he does Video Games Weekly on the local sports radio station, he invited me to go on the show with him. During that show he mentioned he did a board game night like once a month or so at his house and asked if I was interested in going. I said, “Sure that sounds great! I'm huge nerd; I love board games; this will be fantastic.” So I went to the board game night and Andy was there. I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was. I was playing Guitar Hero and we started talking. Andy mentions that he knows all this cool stuff about what's coming up for Guitar Hero and I was like, “hey, I know all this cool stuff about that too because I know people at Activision.” That had us both thinking “who is this guy?” We figured out later that, yeah, he was the executive editor of Game Informer and I was the punter for the Vikings! Then we learned we live about 10 minutes away from each other and figured we should hang out and play games because it seems like we both enjoy that. Reiner: It was funny, yeah. That night we were leaving at like 1:30-2AM. It was the dead of winter and Chris was putting on sandals at that point right? Total California mistake of wearing sandals in the Minnesota winter, but Paul Charchian is like, “Chris, you’ve got to wear shoes and socks! You’ve got to protect that leg of yours.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Chris had glasses and was wearing an anime shirt - he looks like a typical gamer, right? I thought maybe he had leg surgery or something like that. When I went to Video Games Weekly a few weeks later, Chris was there and I was confused. “Why is Chris here?” It wasn't until Charch started the show and introduced us that I realized he was of Minnesota Viking. It was super funny, but that's how we kind of met each other and learned who we were was through that radio show. Kluwe: It was pretty cool. Obviously we both love videos games, we both love board games, and, yeah, we decided to make one based on a dream Andy had! Wait what? I didn't know this! Reiner: I think we are driving to band practice or something like that. Chris and I would carpool because we live so close to each other. We would carpool the Minneapolis, and I told him, “Yeah, I had this weird dream that you and I were at a game convention sitting at a table signing autographs for a board game we made. And this board game, Project Grendel is the working title, it's about going crazy and stuff and people loved it.” Chris is like, “That sounds cool… We should make that!” [laughs] As we're driving in the car we started talking about what it would be. Chris immediately had a vision of what it could be, so that's how Project Grendel started. Just by saying, “That was a cool dream, let's do it.” Kluwe: And here we are. So from that dream until now, how long has it taken you to come up with the prototype of Project Grendel? Kluwe: Ouf, that'd be like seven years to get to this point, maybe eight years, something like that? Reiner: I mean, it has gone through a number of revisions and renditions. Yeah, up until this point, I think it has been something like seven and a half to eight years Kluwe: The idea we originally came up with - it was okay, but it felt a little overly complicated. It wasn't really striking us as cool as we wanted it to be, so we kind of just sat on it for two to three years. Something like that. Reiner: We got it worked up to the point where we had the art, the map, all of that done. It was map-based at that time, and we just realized there was something not quite right. So, yeah, we sat on it until I got a text from Chris which was, what, 2 years ago now? Kluwe: Yeah, yeah, two years ago now, I think. Reiner: I just got a text a random text from Chris and he says, “I figured it out I know what to do with Grendel!” I was like, “What?” and he was like, “I was in the shower and I figured it out!” Kluwe: [laughs] Yeah, just random shower thought. Reiner: He told me what it was and Chris, obviously you had a random thought in the shower, but I think that's because you were working on your card game at the time, too. Kluwe: Yeah, I think that helped crystallize a lot of game design stuff for me. [In addition to Project Grendel,] I also worked on a card game called Twilight of the Gods which just came out. One of the big philosophies on that game for me and my friends that were working on it was: Everyone gets to play with their toys and players always face meaningful choice. So I was thinking of that and for whatever reason Project Grendel popped into my head. How can we make players have meaningful choice? How can we make sure that everyone is doing something? I was sort of spitballing ideas to myself and all the sudden I was like, “Oh, I think I have it! I think this will actually work really well.” Then I kind of tested it out with my brother, Greg, and I was like, “I think we have something here now,” and I obviously called and told Andy. We had the discussion and it was starting to sound cool. What was that shower idea? Do you remember? Kluwe: Oh, yeah, so originally the idea for Project Grendel was your group is a team of adventures going around this map and as you all go deeper into the game your characters go more and more insane. That part is still in the game. Reiner: From the dream, that's the original inception, yeah. Kluwe: The core concept of the game is that you're this group of people, and there's this thing, this Grendel, you have to kill it before it drives you mad. Now the thing is in this game you accumulate madness which is represented by negative victory points. So, essentially, the more madness you accumulate, the more you're losing, but the more madness you accumulate the more powerful you become. You have to balance this fine line between, ‘okay, how can I be powerful enough to survive these and counters without someone else being able to beat me in the game?’ because you can play this both cooperatively and competitively, and if everyone wants to work together to beat the game, they can you can get a co-op victory. But if it turns out into a competitive victory, there's a bit of a betrayal element in there so someone can decide to screw the group over. If it turns into that, then whoever has the least madness at the end of the game is the winner. So now it really becomes important to watch your madness relative to everyone else's madness while at the same time making sure you're still powerful enough to defeat the various encounters. So that was the shower idea? Kluwe: No, that was the core idea that stayed consistent throughout development. In the original version, we had this map thing where you could go to various places on the map. It just felt kind of like there wasn't a lot of replayability to it in that once you knew the map you could path out an optimal route and that was it. The idea that came to me was why don't we do it more like a tile placement type game, like House on Haunted Hill? That way the players are determining the outcomes. For example, we're exploring out into this wilderness. There are various modifiers on the tiles and you're almost building this path as you're exploring away from the central hub and it's up to you how to forge the path. What kind of modifiers do we want to put on what path? Because some of them will make monsters stronger, some of them make the mini-bosses that you face stronger, some of them will give you more items, but you'll have to face more monsters - stuff like that. The tile system added a lot more variety and meaningful player choice to what was going on. Real quick: Why did you decide to go with Grendel as a name for the various boss monsters? Reiner: That's what the dream told us! [laughs] Kluwe: Yeah that's part of the original dream. Reiner: The name we're not giving you right now because it's not official yet - that is the name from the dream and we were both like, “Yeah that's a badass name for a game.” Basically, the moral of this story is pay attention to your dreams and don't waste your time in the shower it's productive time. Kluwe: Right, that's where you get the majority of your work done! In this case you very literally chased your dreams. Kluwe: [laughs] Dragged them down kicking and screaming until they made sense. Once you had those ideas, those core elements, in place how did you go about actually developing the game? I think lot of people have an idea of what it's like to develop a video game, but I don't think many have an idea of what it's like to develop a board game. Reiner: We talked about the board games the games we liked to play. One of the central things was that we wanted to keep it as simplistic as possible. That's, you know, kind of where the original idea fizzled out. It was a little too complex, a little clunky. That's where Chris really kind of streamlined it. With tweaking the rule set, we looked at things like Betrayal, Eldritch Horror, stuff like that. It wasn't looking at the rules of those games, but how they're constructed; the pieces we wanted and how we wanted the players to interact with the game. Those are things we about early on. I would say that we sat around for a couple hours over the course of three or four nights just kind of hashing out what it was. We started by building the rulebook before we even play tested it we had pieces or anything like that we kind of had a full rule book before we did anything else. Kluwe: From the game design perspective, what you really want to do is figure out what your mechanics are. Once you have your mechanics down, or at least an idea of what you want your mechanics to be, then you need to test those mechanics to see if they are actually fun because there's a difference between an interesting mechanic and an interesting and fun mechanic. [laughs] I've played a lot of games where I'm like, “oh, cool, that's a really interesting mechanic, but I'm never playing this game again because that was an awful experience,” so that's really the big thing. Anyone who wants to do game design just iterate, iterate, iterate. Always be asking yourself, “Is this a fun experience as well as the mechanical experience I want the players to have?” I’ve played some early builds of Project Grendel and you don't have to start your prototype with a fully constructed board game. Your prototype, for example, was drawn-out on pieces of paper. If you’re creating a tabletop from scratch, you don't have to go through the whole production process before you playtest your game. Kluwe: Right and I actually recommend that because it's the same thing I did with Twilight of the Gods. Before we printed out any cards whatsoever we were writing things down on pieces of paper and then sleeving them with Magic the Gathering cards to provide a backing. [laughs] That was literally how we built that game! The thing is you don't need fancy art. You don't need graphic design in order to test your mechanics and what the heart of your game is. That stuff is necessary, but it's kind of like the coat of paint on a car. Yeah, it's great if your car looks cool, but if the engine won't take it anywhere then it is kind of a useless car. When you're designing this stuff, don't worry about the outside coat of paint until you've got the engine humming the way you want it to hum. Reiner: When we playtested the game for the first time on the first day at 2D Con, the playtests were going really well, but we realized there wasn't a lot of variation in the weapons or style of play with that and some of the items. So, we started adding secondary effects to them. You know, just sitting at a table writing on the cards themselves, tweaking what they were to kind of enhance the play. The next day we play tested it again and we were like, “Yes, there's something here now.” It's very much something as you’re playtesting - paying attention to what's going on and how people are interacting with it and figuring out what you can do with it in that capacity. Kluwe: And also listen to feedback from your testers because there may be a mechanic where you love it to death and you think it's the greatest mechanic ever, but if each tester is saying, “Yeah, you know, I'm really not feeling this mechanic. This kind of slows the game down. It's not great and you should probably get rid of it.” Even if it's your personal baby, if it doesn't make the game fun then it doesn't belong in the game because you want players to have a good experience so that they'll come back and play it again and again. How valuable was it to take the prototype for Project Grendel to events like 2D Con to test it with people who aren't necessarily your close friends, neighbors, or family? Reiner: The first year was just seeing if there we had something there, and people seemed to really like it, but we knew something was still kind of missing. That’s where Chris really hit the homerun with making it tile-based. There's some really unique things going on with those cards that enhance the play, too. Then this year we challenged people to try and break the game, to really kind of push it to its limit. We realized that it held together; it was springing leaks, but it held together remarkably well. We realized this game is almost done now, right? Just through these playtests we know we’re super close. It's just a matter of tweaking a couple more things to get it there in a final state. Kluwe: And it's super valuable to have that kind of feedback from people who may not even necessarily know you or have any sort of relationship with you because they're really going to give you their honest opinion. They're going to tell you A. This sucks B. This was great C. I think there's something here, but you should probably do this and this and this. All of that is really super useful as a game designer because if you can get a consistent amount of feedback on certain aspects of the game then you know, okay, if five out of six people are saying they didn't like this mechanic you should probably change that mechanic. If five out of six people are saying they thought a certain part was amazing, well, maybe expand on that part and build it out a bit. It's hard to get feedback like that from people who you're close to like family and friends because there's always that fear that they don't want to offend. Getting that testing at to 2D Con was amazing because they had no horse in the race and could care less who we were or sparing our feelings they found something not fun. Reiner: And a lot of them came back the second day this year which was kind of crazy. Kluwe: They were invested in it! Reiner: We gotta get this game out there! [laughs] Kluwe: They were champing at the bit to try and take down the hardest boss we have in there. That was great for testing purposes, too, because when coming up with the numbers and abilities for the bosses essentially we are just theory crafting. We think these are the right numbers, but we're not entirely sure. We need to see this live, we need to see what happens when people actually use the system. That's another thing that's really important for game designers: It doesn't matter what you think a system will do; you have to actually see it in practice. That's when you'll know what it can do and it might challenge your assumptions about what you thought was possible. If that's the case, you need to decide was that intended play or was that not intended. If it's not intended do we like the intended purpose? Or do we need to change that to make sure that that interaction doesn't happen? Reiner: We have a third person who's been working on this, Greg. He’s Chris' brother, and Greg is really amazing at breaking things and seeing where there might be something that needs work. He's been working tirelessly on making this thing as solid as can be, too. I think we're hitting all the right notes. Hopefully it turns out and we get this thing made. […] We're super close I feel like we're if we show it again it should be some kind of final version. Kluwe: There should be at least placeholder graphic design in place. The next part of game design after you have your prototype, you have to figure out how we relay information to the player in a manner that is understandable. I've also played games where it's like, “wow, this game is really cool, but I hate looking at it because it's a wall of text on a card.” [laughs] That’s an awful visual experience, so it needs to be intuitive for players when they look at a card or a tile or whatever it happens to be, it makes sense. It should be obvious where the elements are and a player should be able to learn what those elements are within hopefully two to three playthroughs. They should be able to just glance and say, “Okay, I know this card, I know what every part of this means.” You were talking about how you had recently released another game, Twilight of the Gods. For people who maybe out there wanting to make their own tabletop game, how exactly do you take it from a solid prototype to the box in the store for people to play? Kluwe: Find a publisher. Show them the game. They will probably sit down and play it through with you. Most likely they will also bring in a couple of their heads of design on their side, and if they like what you have, then they'll probably say, “Hey, we're interested in this game, and we would like to develop it.” And then you talk numbers for contracts or whatever and figure out how to make it a reality. Generally most publishers have published a lot of games, and so they'll be looking at it under the guise of is this a something that we think we can sell, will we make our money back on this? If you have interesting mechanics, if you have something that's new and unique that hasn't been done before, your odds are really, really good. It's okay to take elements of other games and incorporate them into your own, but you also want to kind of have your own thing that sets you apart because if you're just a clone of something, then odds are your publisher is probably going to pass because people who already invested in the original thing are probably not going to play your game, but if you have those unique elements… that's where their eyes light up and they're like, “Oh, yeah. We should do this.” I know you've both written a couple Sci-Fi books together. Is there a background setting to your game beyond the basic dream-Grendel concept? Reiner: I can tell you that we were originally going to go with a steampunk fantasy Cthulhu-esque setting with weird beasts you've never seen before trapped in a Myst-like valley. We ended up moving in a different direction now. We're taking it- We can say right, Chris? Kluwe: Right now we're looking at taking it in more of a Sci-Fi direction, so kind of like Event Horizon - you're trapped on this spaceship, things are going wrong, you have no idea what's happening. But the thing is that might change depending on what the publisher wants to do. So it's great to have an idea of what you want your universe, but also bear in mind that it might be something that your publisher might say, “Well, we love the mechanics, but we want to put a different coat of paint on the outside.” That's what ended up happening with Twilight of the Gods. Originally it was this original thing I had made up of four elements on this Island - it was essentially, you know in eighth grade when you drew on your graph paper notebook and you come up with your greatest RPG ever? That was pretty much what Twilight of the Gods was, and it wasn't great. So the publisher, Victory Point Games, they were like, “Yeah, we love the mechanics. Your mechanics are rock solid, we just need to figure out a different universe for this.” We eventually ended up with ancient mythology, you've got things that all sorts of people can relate to. So, with Project Grendel, I think we'll probably end up going in the Sci-Fi direction, but who knows? It might be a western game, you know? It might be set in ancient Egypt or something like that. You can do any coat of paint you want as long as your engine is good. Are those ideas – steampunk fantasy monsters trapped - are those things that might come up again in a future novel? Reiner: We've talked about maybe writing stories based on this, but now it has changed so much that I don't think we've ever really ever thought about that. We are still thinking about finishing off our trilogy, The Genesis series. We've done Prime, and Splice should come out before the end of the year. We have a third book that we want to finish there so that's probably the priority before you write any fiction based on this, but who knows if this thing takes off. Kluwe: Because you never know what's going to succeed and what's not if. All of a sudden something starts selling like gangbusters, then, well, we should probably write some books in that universe as well seems like a good idea I know it's probably kind of nebulous at this point, but you say you're pretty close to being done with the prototype of Project Grendel. How long do you think it might be until it actually releases? What kind of time line are you looking at? Kluwe: From a design standpoint we are near the end, in the polishing stages where all the mechanics are working well. The interactions are what we want them to be, now it's just balancing tiny little numbers to make sure that everything is perfect. Once that is done, then we'll take it to a publisher. The publisher will either say yay or nay - I highly suspect they'll say yay just because there's already interest in it and they know that we do good work. From that point it comes down to how long it takes their artist to do the art assets; how long it takes for the graphic design elements to come together; and how long it takes to write the rule book in a way that's readable and understandable and doesn't feel like wading through dictionary. For Twilight of the Gods, that part took about Five months, I think five to six months. Then you have to ship it to where you're getting it printed. Usually that's in China just because it's the cheapest place to make board games and card games. From there it's probably another four to five months for them to make it get it shipped over on a boat and then to get it to a distributor so I would say quickest timeline probably ten months from now, eleven months from now. Reiner: There's a chance it could be out next year. I would love to see it, but we'll see. Kluwe: A lot of that depends on whether the publisher loves the mechanics in the universe. And again, they might love the mechanics, but they might want to put it with a different type of universe. In that case, okay, we'll have to make some small changes in terms of what all the items are named, what's the equipment named, who are the characters now. If they're not these people on a spaceship, if they're in some other universe, what are their backstories in that universe? This game could be on store shelves next year? Kluwe: I would love for it to come out next year! That would be awesome. I will be pushing for it to come out next year because I do think we have a really cool game that, just based on the feedback from the people who have tested it, people are champing at the bit to play. Our playtesters want the game, so we want to give it to them. But I also want to make sure that when we do give it to them that it's a great experience for them to have it. I feel like that's one of the things that sets us apart. It's easy enough to rush something out, like, okay; I have my cheap Milton Bradley box of cardboard I've got some plastic pegs inside and some tiles that's it. Like, that doesn't really feel great. Okay, the mechanics are fantastic, the world's fantastic, but it just doesn't feel great. I want it to feel like you're opening up this box, you're playing this game - you are embarking on this adventure. You and your friends, you're going to have this challenge and it's up to you if you succeed or not. You've both touched on this a whole lot throughout this entire interview, but do you have any advice specifically for people who are looking to start from scratch making their own board game? Kluwe: I think the very best advice I can give would be to play a lot of games. That way you can identify which mechanics work best for you, which mechanics don't work for you, what situations you find are fun, and what situations you find that are unfun. For example, for Twilight of the Gods the inspiration for me behind that was that I love playing Magic the Gathering, but I hate getting mana screwed in Magic the Gathering. That was literally the reason I made that game! [laughs] I love this game but there are these problems with it and I think I can solve these problems. Then along the way it led to this other unique idea that I had never seen before in another game. I'm going to incorporate that and now to turn it into my own thing. The only reason I was able to do that was because I had played so many games throughout the course of my life that I could say, “Ok, I can grab this mechanic from here, this mechanic from here, tweak this mechanic here, build my own thing here, modified this other thing here, and put it all together, and boom! Now I have my own game.” The same thing happened with Project Grendel. Both Andy and I have been playing tons of games and saying “Okay. What are the kinds of things we like in these games? What are the things we don't like? How do we fix the situations that we don't like?” Reiner: Yeah and make sure you have the “It Factor” when you go into development. What kind of sets your game apart from the pack? Like Chris said, he didn't like getting mana screwed; that was kind of the “It” right there. That really made Twilight of the Gods different and he just kind of built on it from there and found more unique ideas. For us it was the madness. Even if you're having a game where all five members of the party want to just be cooperative and go for a cooperative victory, as you go mad you might turn on your friends whether you want to or not. I think that really makes our game something special and really kind of puts you on edge as you play. It makes it more exciting. So we knew right away that this was something special, we just needed to make it work. So don't just go into it thinking you're making a clone or like you don't have any ideas; you got to have that one spark that's really going to lead to something unique. Kluwe: And for us that madness thing – okay, we've played betrayal-type games. An issue with betrayal-type games is they’re generally very binary, right? You’re either the betrayer or you're not. So with our game, how do we make this more a player choice? How do we make it so a player can try to betray the others, but if they don't do it at the right time the others can try and pull it back into a cooperative game? Because usually most games you can't do that. Once someone betrays everyone, that's it. You have a betrayer and now it's a competitive game. We've built in ways where it's like, okay, you can try and betray the group, but if you're not doing it correctly, they're probably going to smash you down and force it back into a co-op victory. Then you have to decide if you want to try and do it again! Just clarify, the betrayal element was there from the beginning, right? Reiner: Oh yeah that was my favorite game of all time, Betrayal, so that was something we wanted to have. Kluwe: The other thing is, I love games with betrayal type because it adds that human element where it's not so much the group playing against the odds, you're also having to play against the other people at the table. You know there's always that one guy in the gaming group where you're like, “I know he wants to try and screw us over! [laughs] Will he screw us over or not?” And generally I am that guy. Reiner: It's pretty funny. As we are playtesting it, you know, we kind of set up the game; you're adventuring together. People started looking at the cards and what their characters could do and they started asking questions like, “So does this mean I can do this and go off on my own?” And we're like, “Yeah.” Then we started to see it where players were lying to each other! “Okay, I'll journey with you to take down the mid-boss…” and then then they didn't. They went somewhere else and let this guy go off to the boss on his own. We’re here like, holy cow, this is actually happening and we didn't prompt it. They're fully embracing these mechanics. Kluwe: Right and that's what's so important. Again, I mentioned it earlier on meaningful player choice. If players feel that they have a choice that affects the outcome of the game, it generally makes the game a lot more fun from their perspective because, again, they’ve been able to exercise their own agency. It's not always this card told me to go here and do this thing, essentially playing as an AI not as player. The more meaningful choice you can give to players, the better. Just make sure it's meaningful choice and not just choice for the sake of choice. I played some of those games where you realize it's like none of these choices really matter. I can pick A, B, C, or D and it won't really matter. That's not choice, that's just trying to overload the player with options.
  3. A big, sturdy box can make any game look intimidating, and Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift is no exception. The tabletop dungeon crawler from Dragon Dawn Productions offers players the chance to dive into a cooperative adventure that will test them to the breaking point and beyond. Abyssal Rift takes players into a hive of cultists intent on summoning forth their insectoid god. Drawn by visions and hallucinations, a number of adventurers have come together to put a stop to the dark deeds taking place in the cult’s lair. The base game comes with six heroes to choose from, though more can be obtained in expansions or on the company’s shop. Each champion comes with a backstory and motivation which can be used to roleplay the characters as they fight through the swarms of the insectoid cult. The various champions all have their own stats that affect what they can do each turn and a unique special ability. In order to survive Perdition’s Mouth, players will have to be clever and collaborative. Danger lurks around every corner in Abyssal Rift. Enemies and their ever increasing level of viciousness hammer home the very real possibility of death. In one playtest, four characters entered the first level and only one made it to the exit of the floor alive – and from the first floor onward, encounters only get more challenging. Players accumulate wounds as they take damage and damage effects each character’s abilities. If players fail to stop certain enemies from accomplishing certain objectives on each floor, then the global threat level rises, increasing the number of enemies that spawn whenever they are able to call in reinforcements. That threat level also carries over into subsequent levels. The base game contains eight levels which can be played in a variety of ways to increase difficulty. Each character can be given a special weakness, alternative scenarios can play out over the various maps, and decks can be stacked to include better bonuses… for both players and for monsters. Even on the easiest settings, Perdition’s Mouth presents a fantastic challenge for a dedicated tabletop crew. Don’t confuse Perdition’s Mouth with your run-of-the mill dungeon crawler, though. The rondel stands as the biggest deviation from comparable co-op dungeon crawlers out there. Instead of rolling dice to see what their character can or cannot do, players spend action points to make tactical choices during their round. Selecting an action to perform on the rondel takes a certain amount of action points and then performing the action consumes action points. The switch from dice to rondel might seem small, but it changes everything. What previously would have been left up to luck now relies entirely on the skill and cooperation of the party. On the player round, heroes can move in any order, so coordination becomes paramount in order to succeed. Some characters have fewer action points or unique skills and using them at the right moment or maneuvering around the rondel to set up for a future strategy could mean the difference between life and death. The element of randomness still makes an appearance, however. Each hero possesses a deck of cards from which they draw while performing certain actions on the rondel. They can use these cards to provide themselves with bonuses while attacking, defending, or performing special actions. While each enemy has a set value for their attack and defense, they also have access to a reaction card, which more often than not will provide a bonus to their attack. That means players must always weight their options. Do you spend a precious bonus card from your limited hand to bolster your attack or do you hope the reaction the creature draws isn’t enough to save it? If you spend that card, you might find yourself defenseless at a critical moment. Of course, this being a dungeon crawler, players can find all kinds of items and treasures on their hellish journey to defeat the insectoid god. Many levels include the opportunity to obtain these helpful pieces of equipment, but they might put heroes at risk or be balanced against certain objectives. Do you go for the treasure chest or do you save the innocent victim on the other side of the level? Do you commit the sin of splitting the party to attempt both at once? The treasure or item in the chest might prove to be the party’s salvation, but allowing the prisoners to die or enemies to escape could become lethal as the party makes progress. These are the tactical questions with which groups will have to wrestle. The initial setup for the game can seem a bit daunting. A thick rule book and a plethora of quality miniatures, tokens, and boards initially feel overwhelming for a new player. Luckily, the basics can be mastered with just a few practice rounds on the first stage. It helps to have someone involved in the first session who has played the game before, but if at least one player has looked at the rule book before launching into the game setup and gameplay learning, things will move along relatively quickly. A number of comprehensive overviews of the game exist out there, too; perhaps the best being Catweasle's multi-part series. People looking for a short game will not find it in Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift. The first level with inexperienced players might take two hours to complete. A full playthrough (assuming players survive) spans at least six levels, so if you want to make a stab at finishing one full attempt in a single sitting, be sure to set aside a full afternoon and evening. For people who don’t have that kind of time, the game also comes with cards to keep track of progress so players can resume next time they come together. Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift feels like a long overdue evolution for tabletop dungeon crawlers. The strategy of using the rondel over dice makes every move feel much more personal and when your character falls victim to a wound or falls in battle, it genuinely feels like you were responsible, not the whims of fate. Though certainly difficult (you might want to take the first floor through a trial run before going through the dungeon in earnest), the difficulty feels fair for a game that pits a rag-tag group against the forces of a god. If you're looking to add a spicy new game into the mix of your board game night, Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift is certainly worth a try.
  4. A big, sturdy box can make any game look intimidating, and Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift is no exception. The tabletop dungeon crawler from Dragon Dawn Productions offers players the chance to dive into a cooperative adventure that will test them to the breaking point and beyond. Abyssal Rift takes players into a hive of cultists intent on summoning forth their insectoid god. Drawn by visions and hallucinations, a number of adventurers have come together to put a stop to the dark deeds taking place in the cult’s lair. The base game comes with six heroes to choose from, though more can be obtained in expansions or on the company’s shop. Each champion comes with a backstory and motivation which can be used to roleplay the characters as they fight through the swarms of the insectoid cult. The various champions all have their own stats that affect what they can do each turn and a unique special ability. In order to survive Perdition’s Mouth, players will have to be clever and collaborative. Danger lurks around every corner in Abyssal Rift. Enemies and their ever increasing level of viciousness hammer home the very real possibility of death. In one playtest, four characters entered the first level and only one made it to the exit of the floor alive – and from the first floor onward, encounters only get more challenging. Players accumulate wounds as they take damage and damage effects each character’s abilities. If players fail to stop certain enemies from accomplishing certain objectives on each floor, then the global threat level rises, increasing the number of enemies that spawn whenever they are able to call in reinforcements. That threat level also carries over into subsequent levels. The base game contains eight levels which can be played in a variety of ways to increase difficulty. Each character can be given a special weakness, alternative scenarios can play out over the various maps, and decks can be stacked to include better bonuses… for both players and for monsters. Even on the easiest settings, Perdition’s Mouth presents a fantastic challenge for a dedicated tabletop crew. Don’t confuse Perdition’s Mouth with your run-of-the mill dungeon crawler, though. The rondel stands as the biggest deviation from comparable co-op dungeon crawlers out there. Instead of rolling dice to see what their character can or cannot do, players spend action points to make tactical choices during their round. Selecting an action to perform on the rondel takes a certain amount of action points and then performing the action consumes action points. The switch from dice to rondel might seem small, but it changes everything. What previously would have been left up to luck now relies entirely on the skill and cooperation of the party. On the player round, heroes can move in any order, so coordination becomes paramount in order to succeed. Some characters have fewer action points or unique skills and using them at the right moment or maneuvering around the rondel to set up for a future strategy could mean the difference between life and death. The element of randomness still makes an appearance, however. Each hero possesses a deck of cards from which they draw while performing certain actions on the rondel. They can use these cards to provide themselves with bonuses while attacking, defending, or performing special actions. While each enemy has a set value for their attack and defense, they also have access to a reaction card, which more often than not will provide a bonus to their attack. That means players must always weight their options. Do you spend a precious bonus card from your limited hand to bolster your attack or do you hope the reaction the creature draws isn’t enough to save it? If you spend that card, you might find yourself defenseless at a critical moment. Of course, this being a dungeon crawler, players can find all kinds of items and treasures on their hellish journey to defeat the insectoid god. Many levels include the opportunity to obtain these helpful pieces of equipment, but they might put heroes at risk or be balanced against certain objectives. Do you go for the treasure chest or do you save the innocent victim on the other side of the level? Do you commit the sin of splitting the party to attempt both at once? The treasure or item in the chest might prove to be the party’s salvation, but allowing the prisoners to die or enemies to escape could become lethal as the party makes progress. These are the tactical questions with which groups will have to wrestle. The initial setup for the game can seem a bit daunting. A thick rule book and a plethora of quality miniatures, tokens, and boards initially feel overwhelming for a new player. Luckily, the basics can be mastered with just a few practice rounds on the first stage. It helps to have someone involved in the first session who has played the game before, but if at least one player has looked at the rule book before launching into the game setup and gameplay learning, things will move along relatively quickly. A number of comprehensive overviews of the game exist out there, too; perhaps the best being Catweasle's multi-part series. People looking for a short game will not find it in Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift. The first level with inexperienced players might take two hours to complete. A full playthrough (assuming players survive) spans at least six levels, so if you want to make a stab at finishing one full attempt in a single sitting, be sure to set aside a full afternoon and evening. For people who don’t have that kind of time, the game also comes with cards to keep track of progress so players can resume next time they come together. Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift feels like a long overdue evolution for tabletop dungeon crawlers. The strategy of using the rondel over dice makes every move feel much more personal and when your character falls victim to a wound or falls in battle, it genuinely feels like you were responsible, not the whims of fate. Though certainly difficult (you might want to take the first floor through a trial run before going through the dungeon in earnest), the difficulty feels fair for a game that pits a rag-tag group against the forces of a god. If you're looking to add a spicy new game into the mix of your board game night, Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift is certainly worth a try. View full article
  5. Twin-stick shooters have been gaining more attention lately with a number of small releases like Full Mojo Rampage, Nex Machina, and Helldivers. The influx of indie titles has made the genre become more crowded in recent years. Solstice Chronicles: MIA aims to differentiate itself from the pack, but only comes up with concepts that have been done better elsewhere or half-baked ideas that barely function. Solstice Chronicles: MIA’s most glaring problem comes down to a severe lack of polish. It feels like an unfinished build of what might eventually have been an interesting game. Pretty much every kind of rough edge you can think of permeates the experience. Typos abound in the text prompts. Glitches rear their ugly heads at inopportune times, occasionally completely blocking all progress. It runs sluggishly. The story seems to be missing key parts that would help string it together; dialogue, transitions between scenes, etc. All of that simply leads to a frustrating, jagged mess, which could be forgiven if the gameplay itself was satisfying. Unfortunately, the lack of polish results in the complete disruption of any sense of pacing the various levels might potentially possess. Despite having a system that controls the spawn rate of alien enemies, there never seems to be consistency to it. Some levels begin mid swarm. Others go long stretches at the max alien spawn level without releasing much of anything. Often, the best solution to reach the end of a level is by ignoring enemies altogether and sprinting for the end, fighting only when the game boxes you into a corner to wait for an elevator or a door. During those hold your ground sequences, Solstice Chronicles: MIA manages to have a pulse of life. The developers sometimes provide various tactical defenses like turrets or barricades or napalm bombs, all of which can be placed strategically to help ward off oncoming waves of aliens. Due to the pacing of the game being completely off, you will not often have the breathing room necessary to place those pieces of equipment. Also, for some reason the game seems to think lights are a good defensive item? If you’re given a choice between an automated turret and a set of lights, why on earth would you pick the lights? Also, sometimes doors don’t open or get stuck, leaving you to battle monsters for eternity or until you turn the game off. The story, such as it is, functions. Players take on the role of a space marine left for dead at a remote outpost struggling to find his way back to civilization as a mutating plague infects a nearby colony. He encounters an autonomous drone with some attitude and the two make an uneasy alliance to get them back home and stop the virus. It’s a tired premise, but the dialogue occasionally manages to earn a chuckle. The whole thing ends on a somewhat baffling cliffhanger. We experience this story through a number of cutscenes that often unceremoniously dump the player into the next stage with little to no transition or set-up. As much as I don’t usually point fingers at the graphical quality of a game, Solstice Chronicles: MIA really needed more polish on that front. Most of the locations look or feel the same. If you’ve played a generic sci-fi action game before, you know what this looks like already. A climactic boss encounter occurs late in the game against a giant sand worm while the player clings to a moving train. This sand worm just clips through the surrounding terrain and the train itself. It’s not even uncommon to see similar graphical glitches in Solstice Chronicles, the worm just provides one of the most noteworthy examples. It took four hours to complete Solstice Chronicles: MIA. There are several difficulties, a survival mode, and the entire thing can be tackled with a friend, but only via local co-op. A truly dedicated player might be able to squeeze out twelve hours of gameplay, but most won't have any desire to stay within Solstice's world for that long. The game checks all the boxes of being a functional, if horribly messy, twin-stick shooter, but offers very little else. Some interesting ideas do appear within Solstice Chronicles: MIA. The main innovation takes the form of the drone. Players can use the drone to perform a number of different tasks to add variety during the hectic bullet shooting. The drone has the capability to scavenge, finding ammo, upgrades, and health while mid-combat, but it comes at the cost of attracting more enemies. As a counterbalance, the drone can taunt enemies, attracting more of them to the player's location while decreasing the overall spawn rate. It can also create a forcefield to give the player a bit of temporary breathing room. If things get a bit too overwhelming, players can have the drone detonate an AOE explosion that can be intense over a small area or cover a larger zone and do less damage. If, miraculously, Solstice Chronicles: MIA receives a sequel that has more time to be fully fleshed out, I’d love to see the drone’s unique functions expanded. Conclusion: When everything goes right and Solstice Chronicles: MIA manages to fire on all cylinders, there are glimmers of a much better game. that being said, I find it hard to recommend, especially at the full price of $20. If you’re really hurting for a local sci-fi co-op game, pick it up when it inevitably goes on sale. Similar games exist out there for lower prices and with more content, like the 2010 Valve title Alien Swarm, which offers a more refined experience, four player online co-op, and comes at the low cost of free. Steer clear of this one unless you truly can't get enough twin-stick shooting in your life. Solstice Chronicles: MIA was reviewed on PC and is now available. It has a release planned for PlayStation 4. View full article
  6. Review: Solstice Chronicles: MIA

    Twin-stick shooters have been gaining more attention lately with a number of small releases like Full Mojo Rampage, Nex Machina, and Helldivers. The influx of indie titles has made the genre become more crowded in recent years. Solstice Chronicles: MIA aims to differentiate itself from the pack, but only comes up with concepts that have been done better elsewhere or half-baked ideas that barely function. Solstice Chronicles: MIA’s most glaring problem comes down to a severe lack of polish. It feels like an unfinished build of what might eventually have been an interesting game. Pretty much every kind of rough edge you can think of permeates the experience. Typos abound in the text prompts. Glitches rear their ugly heads at inopportune times, occasionally completely blocking all progress. It runs sluggishly. The story seems to be missing key parts that would help string it together; dialogue, transitions between scenes, etc. All of that simply leads to a frustrating, jagged mess, which could be forgiven if the gameplay itself was satisfying. Unfortunately, the lack of polish results in the complete disruption of any sense of pacing the various levels might potentially possess. Despite having a system that controls the spawn rate of alien enemies, there never seems to be consistency to it. Some levels begin mid swarm. Others go long stretches at the max alien spawn level without releasing much of anything. Often, the best solution to reach the end of a level is by ignoring enemies altogether and sprinting for the end, fighting only when the game boxes you into a corner to wait for an elevator or a door. During those hold your ground sequences, Solstice Chronicles: MIA manages to have a pulse of life. The developers sometimes provide various tactical defenses like turrets or barricades or napalm bombs, all of which can be placed strategically to help ward off oncoming waves of aliens. Due to the pacing of the game being completely off, you will not often have the breathing room necessary to place those pieces of equipment. Also, for some reason the game seems to think lights are a good defensive item? If you’re given a choice between an automated turret and a set of lights, why on earth would you pick the lights? Also, sometimes doors don’t open or get stuck, leaving you to battle monsters for eternity or until you turn the game off. The story, such as it is, functions. Players take on the role of a space marine left for dead at a remote outpost struggling to find his way back to civilization as a mutating plague infects a nearby colony. He encounters an autonomous drone with some attitude and the two make an uneasy alliance to get them back home and stop the virus. It’s a tired premise, but the dialogue occasionally manages to earn a chuckle. The whole thing ends on a somewhat baffling cliffhanger. We experience this story through a number of cutscenes that often unceremoniously dump the player into the next stage with little to no transition or set-up. As much as I don’t usually point fingers at the graphical quality of a game, Solstice Chronicles: MIA really needed more polish on that front. Most of the locations look or feel the same. If you’ve played a generic sci-fi action game before, you know what this looks like already. A climactic boss encounter occurs late in the game against a giant sand worm while the player clings to a moving train. This sand worm just clips through the surrounding terrain and the train itself. It’s not even uncommon to see similar graphical glitches in Solstice Chronicles, the worm just provides one of the most noteworthy examples. It took four hours to complete Solstice Chronicles: MIA. There are several difficulties, a survival mode, and the entire thing can be tackled with a friend, but only via local co-op. A truly dedicated player might be able to squeeze out twelve hours of gameplay, but most won't have any desire to stay within Solstice's world for that long. The game checks all the boxes of being a functional, if horribly messy, twin-stick shooter, but offers very little else. Some interesting ideas do appear within Solstice Chronicles: MIA. The main innovation takes the form of the drone. Players can use the drone to perform a number of different tasks to add variety during the hectic bullet shooting. The drone has the capability to scavenge, finding ammo, upgrades, and health while mid-combat, but it comes at the cost of attracting more enemies. As a counterbalance, the drone can taunt enemies, attracting more of them to the player's location while decreasing the overall spawn rate. It can also create a forcefield to give the player a bit of temporary breathing room. If things get a bit too overwhelming, players can have the drone detonate an AOE explosion that can be intense over a small area or cover a larger zone and do less damage. If, miraculously, Solstice Chronicles: MIA receives a sequel that has more time to be fully fleshed out, I’d love to see the drone’s unique functions expanded. Conclusion: When everything goes right and Solstice Chronicles: MIA manages to fire on all cylinders, there are glimmers of a much better game. that being said, I find it hard to recommend, especially at the full price of $20. If you’re really hurting for a local sci-fi co-op game, pick it up when it inevitably goes on sale. Similar games exist out there for lower prices and with more content, like the 2010 Valve title Alien Swarm, which offers a more refined experience, four player online co-op, and comes at the low cost of free. Steer clear of this one unless you truly can't get enough twin-stick shooting in your life. Solstice Chronicles: MIA was reviewed on PC and is now available. It has a release planned for PlayStation 4.
  7. Aliens have been conspicuously absent from Elite: Dangerous since its release in 2014. Space-faring ship commanders have been fighting with other humans out in the verse for the past few years with human technology. That's all about to change. The Elite franchise once had a species of alien known as the Thargoids, an insectoid race who served as antagonists in the very first Elite game from 1984. In Elite: Dangerous, they have passed into legend. Various bits of in-game lore have hinted at their existence, but most of the evidence that they even exist has been wiped out. It has been hundreds of years since the last Thargoid encounter... but now the humans of the Elite universe will have to adapt to the reemergence of humanity's boogeymen. "Expect a little bit of an arms race to be going on," said Sandro Sammarco on the revelatory livestream held earlier today to talk about the rollout of 2.4. The weapons of the Thargoids will indeed be powerful, however, they will be powerful in a way different from how power has been calculated for human vessels. Their function and abilities will be wildly different from the enemies Elite players have encountered over the past few years of combat and exploration. However, that doesn't mean humanity won't have a way of fighting the alien threat - new weapons effective against Thargoids will be releasing, too. Frontier Developments also showed off the first in a series of cinematic shorts designed to introduce players to the new dangers of the universe. These follow a group of commanders equipped with experimental technology as they attempt to understand the Thargoid incursion. Not all of the features and narrative beats will be present when 2.4 initially launches. Frontier Developments envisions this release as an ongoing process, with events slowly occurring around the universe. Changes will be coming to the way bounties are placed on player killers that haven't been unveiled quite yet, but Sammarco assures players that bounties will have more consequence and be harder to avoid if one is attracted. He also hinted that engineering will be receiving an overhaul, though he couldn't comment on any specifics. 2.4 will go live on September 26, though the full rollout of all features and story points will go beyond that date.
  8. Aliens have been conspicuously absent from Elite: Dangerous since its release in 2014. Space-faring ship commanders have been fighting with other humans out in the verse for the past few years with human technology. That's all about to change. The Elite franchise once had a species of alien known as the Thargoids, an insectoid race who served as antagonists in the very first Elite game from 1984. In Elite: Dangerous, they have passed into legend. Various bits of in-game lore have hinted at their existence, but most of the evidence that they even exist has been wiped out. It has been hundreds of years since the last Thargoid encounter... but now the humans of the Elite universe will have to adapt to the reemergence of humanity's boogeymen. "Expect a little bit of an arms race to be going on," said Sandro Sammarco on the revelatory livestream held earlier today to talk about the rollout of 2.4. The weapons of the Thargoids will indeed be powerful, however, they will be powerful in a way different from how power has been calculated for human vessels. Their function and abilities will be wildly different from the enemies Elite players have encountered over the past few years of combat and exploration. However, that doesn't mean humanity won't have a way of fighting the alien threat - new weapons effective against Thargoids will be releasing, too. Frontier Developments also showed off the first in a series of cinematic shorts designed to introduce players to the new dangers of the universe. These follow a group of commanders equipped with experimental technology as they attempt to understand the Thargoid incursion. Not all of the features and narrative beats will be present when 2.4 initially launches. Frontier Developments envisions this release as an ongoing process, with events slowly occurring around the universe. Changes will be coming to the way bounties are placed on player killers that haven't been unveiled quite yet, but Sammarco assures players that bounties will have more consequence and be harder to avoid if one is attracted. He also hinted that engineering will be receiving an overhaul, though he couldn't comment on any specifics. 2.4 will go live on September 26, though the full rollout of all features and story points will go beyond that date. View full article
  9. Bruce Straley announced his intention to leave Naughty Dog last night. Straley made a name for himself handling the art on the Sega Genesis game X-Men, and has had a somewhat legendary career ever since. He had a hand in the creation of Crystal Dynamic's Gex: Enter the Gecko, joined Naughty Dog to work on Crash Team Racing, moved onto the Jak & Daxter series, became the game director of Uncharted 2, and then was made the game director of what would eventually become The Last of Us. Most recently he won awards for his work on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. This is the guy that gave us "The Bruce" during E3 2012 when The Last of Us was announced. After 18 years, Bruce Straley departs from Naughty Dog to pursue interests outside of the game industry. "This has been the hardest decision of my career, Straley wrote in a blog post discussing his career move, "Naughty Dog is home. The Kennel is family. I’ve learned and grown so much from working with this incredible team. But after heading up three extremely demanding projects, and taking some extended time away from the office, I found my energy focusing in other directions, and I slowly realized this was the signal that it’s time to move on." Straley talked about his beginnings at Naughty Dog saying, "I was employee #15. From day one, I knew I was surrounded by some of the most talented, driven, and passionate people in the industry. They were pushing themselves to do things beyond what they even thought was possible, which in turn pushed me, and I loved it! I mean, it was also extremely intimidating, but the energy and determination to make something great, something we could all be proud of, was infectious. And that’s the way it still is to this day. [...] I can't wait to see what they create in the future." He ended his statement with a heartfelt expression of thankfulness for co-workers, friends, and fans: With the deepest gratitude — thank you to everyone I’ve gotten to work with over the years. I’ll miss you and your energy profoundly. Thanks to Andy and Jason for taking a chance on me and setting the bar. Thanks to Amy and Neil for being great creative partners. Thanks to Christophe for all the support and inspiration — I’ve learned so much from you. And an extra special thanks to Evan Wells. You were the first person I met who truly inspired me to believe in the power of gaming, and if not for you I may never have made it to Naughty Dog in the first place. My appreciation goes way beyond what words can say. And a sincere thanks to the fans. Knowing I was a part of creating something that touched or moved any of you made this whole thing worthwhile — and now I, too, get to anticipate the next Naughty Dog masterpiece! As I close this chapter with a heavy heart and an appreciation for everything Naughty Dog has done for me, I open the next with an excitement to continue the journey into the creative process. I don’t have anything to announce just yet, but I look forward to the discovery and to sharing it with you all soon. You can keep a lookout for any announcements on my Twitter: @bruce_straley Dog for life, Bruce Straley Naughty Dog is sure to feel this departure. Straley is a talented developer - here's hoping his next workplace can help him find happiness and a bit of rest after going through the crazy process of creating numerous AAA titles. View full article
  10. Bruce Straley announced his intention to leave Naughty Dog last night. Straley made a name for himself handling the art on the Sega Genesis game X-Men, and has had a somewhat legendary career ever since. He had a hand in the creation of Crystal Dynamic's Gex: Enter the Gecko, joined Naughty Dog to work on Crash Team Racing, moved onto the Jak & Daxter series, became the game director of Uncharted 2, and then was made the game director of what would eventually become The Last of Us. Most recently he won awards for his work on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. This is the guy that gave us "The Bruce" during E3 2012 when The Last of Us was announced. After 18 years, Bruce Straley departs from Naughty Dog to pursue interests outside of the game industry. "This has been the hardest decision of my career, Straley wrote in a blog post discussing his career move, "Naughty Dog is home. The Kennel is family. I’ve learned and grown so much from working with this incredible team. But after heading up three extremely demanding projects, and taking some extended time away from the office, I found my energy focusing in other directions, and I slowly realized this was the signal that it’s time to move on." Straley talked about his beginnings at Naughty Dog saying, "I was employee #15. From day one, I knew I was surrounded by some of the most talented, driven, and passionate people in the industry. They were pushing themselves to do things beyond what they even thought was possible, which in turn pushed me, and I loved it! I mean, it was also extremely intimidating, but the energy and determination to make something great, something we could all be proud of, was infectious. And that’s the way it still is to this day. [...] I can't wait to see what they create in the future." He ended his statement with a heartfelt expression of thankfulness for co-workers, friends, and fans: With the deepest gratitude — thank you to everyone I’ve gotten to work with over the years. I’ll miss you and your energy profoundly. Thanks to Andy and Jason for taking a chance on me and setting the bar. Thanks to Amy and Neil for being great creative partners. Thanks to Christophe for all the support and inspiration — I’ve learned so much from you. And an extra special thanks to Evan Wells. You were the first person I met who truly inspired me to believe in the power of gaming, and if not for you I may never have made it to Naughty Dog in the first place. My appreciation goes way beyond what words can say. And a sincere thanks to the fans. Knowing I was a part of creating something that touched or moved any of you made this whole thing worthwhile — and now I, too, get to anticipate the next Naughty Dog masterpiece! As I close this chapter with a heavy heart and an appreciation for everything Naughty Dog has done for me, I open the next with an excitement to continue the journey into the creative process. I don’t have anything to announce just yet, but I look forward to the discovery and to sharing it with you all soon. You can keep a lookout for any announcements on my Twitter: @bruce_straley Dog for life, Bruce Straley Naughty Dog is sure to feel this departure. Straley is a talented developer - here's hoping his next workplace can help him find happiness and a bit of rest after going through the crazy process of creating numerous AAA titles.
  11. We finally have more details on the upcoming Square Enix title Project Octopath Traveler that was teased during the Nintendo Direct back in February. With Project Octopath Traveler, Square Enix seems to be angling to recapture the retro RPG fans with stylish presentation, a branching narrative, and a unique combat system. Watching Octopath Traveler in action and it immediately becomes clear that you've never seen anything quite like it. Square Enix announced that the title will make use of a new aesthetic technique that they have dubbed HD-2D. This new style looks like an old-school RPG format that has been tilted into a 3D world while retaining 2D characters. It's certainly unique and eye-catching while retaining that ye olden days RPG feel. We now know that the octopath in Octopath Traveler references the eight potential protagonists that players can select when beginning their adventure. Each character has their own story, motivations in the world, and a unique ability that will allow them to pursue their goals. The two characters shown, Olberic and Primrose, can manipulate NPCs. Olberic can challenge almost anyone to a duel to prove his strength or move characters out of his way. Primrose, on the other hand, can seduce NPCs to help her on quests or lure enemies into traps. While Octopath Traveler certainly seems like a retro RPG, Square Enix has been experimenting with combat mechanics. Turn-based battles that will be immediately familiar to RPG fans are present in full force, but the major difference in Octopath Traveler is the ability to gain Boost Points with every turn that passes. These points can then be used to boost attacks, doing two, three, or four times more damage. They can also be used to heal, cast spells, or even chain combos together. A demo for Octopath Traveler is currently available on the Nintendo Switch eShop. The full game is expected to release sometime during 2018 and, while it has certainly been covered in Nintendo events, it seems like it might be coming to other systems as well. View full article
  12. We finally have more details on the upcoming Square Enix title Project Octopath Traveler that was teased during the Nintendo Direct back in February. With Project Octopath Traveler, Square Enix seems to be angling to recapture the retro RPG fans with stylish presentation, a branching narrative, and a unique combat system. Watching Octopath Traveler in action and it immediately becomes clear that you've never seen anything quite like it. Square Enix announced that the title will make use of a new aesthetic technique that they have dubbed HD-2D. This new style looks like an old-school RPG format that has been tilted into a 3D world while retaining 2D characters. It's certainly unique and eye-catching while retaining that ye olden days RPG feel. We now know that the octopath in Octopath Traveler references the eight potential protagonists that players can select when beginning their adventure. Each character has their own story, motivations in the world, and a unique ability that will allow them to pursue their goals. The two characters shown, Olberic and Primrose, can manipulate NPCs. Olberic can challenge almost anyone to a duel to prove his strength or move characters out of his way. Primrose, on the other hand, can seduce NPCs to help her on quests or lure enemies into traps. While Octopath Traveler certainly seems like a retro RPG, Square Enix has been experimenting with combat mechanics. Turn-based battles that will be immediately familiar to RPG fans are present in full force, but the major difference in Octopath Traveler is the ability to gain Boost Points with every turn that passes. These points can then be used to boost attacks, doing two, three, or four times more damage. They can also be used to heal, cast spells, or even chain combos together. A demo for Octopath Traveler is currently available on the Nintendo Switch eShop. The full game is expected to release sometime during 2018 and, while it has certainly been covered in Nintendo events, it seems like it might be coming to other systems as well.
  13. Far to the north lies a mysterious school for the magically gifted. Children go there to learn how to harness their magic and make the world a more enchanting place. Of course, as with most magic schools, Ikenfell has had its share of near disasters from various magical mishaps. Luckily for the school, one of the most popular students attending Ikenfell has always managed to save it from destruction before going home for the summer. What happens when that student disappears, leaving friends and family behind? Mysteries both magical and mundane beckon in Ikenfell. Players venture there to track down the erstwhile hero of the school, but in the process, they'll make friends, rivals, and maybe even find some romance. Oh, and they'll have to fight some monsters in classic RPG fashion. While the story, retro visuals, and RPG mechanics might be some of the biggest draws in Ikenfell, it's certainly worth mentioning that the music is being handled by aivi & surasshu, a duo best known for their work crafting the songs from Steven Universe. Their heartfelt, grounded-yet magical work seems to be a perfect fit with where creator/writer/designer/artist Chevy Ray Johnston wants to take the world of Ikenfell. We had the opportunity to talk with Chevy Ray Johnston and ask some burning questions to learn more about Ikenfell's delightful magic. Could you tell me a little about your background/history in game development? Chevy Ray Johnston: I've been developing games for around 18-20 years now, starting way back on Hypercard on the Macintosh. I used to make adventure and story games using the software's built-in drawing tools, hand-drawing every single room in the games. I would distribute the games to my friends on floppy disks, hand-drawing the labels for each one. I moved onto Game Maker for several years, making weird experimental games, before moving onto Flash around 2009, where I continued to make weird experimental games. Eventually I started getting work doing games, animation, advertising, and gallery exhibitions doing Flash work. You can see more info about some of the games I've made on my website. This is a small selection, I think in total I've probably created ~20 or so games on my own, and worked on over 30. I now know a dozen or so programming languages proficiently and am running my own game company that is working on Ikenfell. How long has Ikenfell been in development? Chevy: Ikenfell has been in active development since January 2016, so just over a year and a half. I can find old mockups and prototypes that look... suspiciously similar... dating back to 2006 though. Where did the initial idea for Ikenfell come from and how has it changed over the course of development? What games/movies/books/*insert media* did you look to for inspiration? I definitely get some Earthbound vibes from what little I've seen. Chevy: I've had various ideas for a witch/wizard game in my head for a long time that has seen many different prototypes. It wasn't until I read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell that I finally got a huge spark of inspiration, deciding to place the game at a magic school setting. A small location, completely doable content-wise, but a way for me to fill it chock full of detail, history, personality, and hidden secrets everywhere. It started out as an open-ended action RPG actually. You could get different magic spells in any order that would help you explore the school and access different areas. That actually still sounds really fun, but it didn't fit my vision for the story and aesthetic of the game. I wanted you to be able to play a group of friends and rivals, magic students! So I decided to make it a turn-based RPG, and initially it was more inspired by Fire Emblem and Shining Force, battling in the game's regular perspective with a party of magic school friends. What I didn't like about this was that suddenly every room, all the maps, had to be designed for battles, and they hogged all the space. The rooms didn't feel like real rooms anymore, just big open spaces, weirdly laid out for battles, and it lost a lot of its potential personality. Moving battles into a second screen allowed me to keep the school looking and feeling like I wanted, and I decided to spice up the battles by giving them bigger sprites and more animated graphics so they'd feel really big and exciting. I kept the strategy-RPG elements, but mixed it in with some inspiration from a few of my favorite games of all time: Chrono Trigger, Mario RPG, Paper Mario 1/2, and Final Fantasy Tactics. You describe it on Twitter as a game about hugging and kissing, magic, monsters, and there seems to be combat, so how does that all come together mechanically? Can you hug the monsters? Chevy: At its core Ikenfell is a game about relationships. Relationships between friends, lovers, ex-lovers, rivals, students, teachers, apprentices, and yes: monsters. Unfortunately you don't get to hug the monsters (maybe my next game???), but they act as the catalyst that causes the hugging and kissing -- the thing that pushes these relationships to their breaking point, that prods at them and tests their limits. Without giving too much away, what's the general story of Ikenfell? Chevy: Maritte is an Ordinary, a person without magic, but she's OK with that fact. Her sister Safina, on the other hand, is a witch... and a very popular one. Safina goes to a magic school called Ikenfell, and comes home every summer to tell Maritte about her adventures. She's saved the school many times, and also put it in grave danger many times. She's made friends, enemies, and has a tenuous relationship with the headmistress of the school for all the trouble she causes... But one summer, Safina doesn't come back, and no matter how much Maritte asks around, she can't find out why. So she packs her bags and travels to Ikenfell to find her sister. When she arrives, strange things start happening, and she begins to suspect that her sister is at the center of something secret, something dangerous. Maritte must explore the school, find Safina's friends, allies, rivals, and the teachers of the school, to solve the mystery of what happened to her... and also what is causing even magic itself to behave so erratically. What do you think the main draw of Ikenfell will be for your audience? Chevy: It's a hard fight between the exciting story full of a big variety of colorful characters and the original turn based party-oriented battle system that seems to have people's attention. The battle system is nothing you've played before, full of strange mechanics and monsters with a lot of personality, but familiar enough to draw you in if you've played any of the games that inspired it. I get constant messages from people saying they are excited to learn more about the characters, and they often already tell me who their favorites are. How long do you intend Ikenfell to be? Chevy: Ha-ha-haaaa. It was originally supposed to be a 6-8 hour game. I am finishing the 4th (of 8) chapters, and the game is already about that long. Soooo it'll actually end up being around ~20 hours at this rate. No matter how long I make games for, it will forever be impossible to predict this kind of thing. What are some things (story moment, character, mechanic, etc.) that you hope will stand out to your players? Chevy: Each of the 6 party members you get learns 8 spells, and each spell in the entire game is unique. There is no mana or MP, each spell is designed for contextual and strategic use. I think the challenging battles and boss fights will really put these to the test, and players will get excited when they discover new strategies and combine spells that I have worked hard to facilitate. Story-wise, I think people will really like the progression of the game's story. It sets a lot of different plot threads in motion, and builds a big exciting mystery over several chapters. Then, the final 3 chapters of the game are about dissecting and solving the mystery, and I'm working hard to make sure each plot thread has a satisfying and impactful payoff. I might not succeed, but I'm trying the best I possibly can to make it so. What message do you hope Ikenfell will convey to the people who play it? Chevy: I hope the game will help people reflect on the different relationships they have, maybe see them in a fresh light, and find a way to strengthen them. But most importantly, I hope people who know someone who is in pain, or suffering, are inspired to finally step forward and help them. To sympathize with them and give them the support they need to flourish. Several people I love dearly have done this for me, selflessly, and thanks to them I am no longer ill and the happiest I have ever been. If I can inspire others to do the same, hopefully others will be able to make wonderful art and tell their stories as well. I also hope they have a whole lot of raw fun playing it! If you're hoping to get your hands on Ikenfell soon, you'll have to be a bit patient. After a little over a year and a half of concentrated development, the title has a tentative release window for summer 2018 for PC and Mac. View full article
  14. Far to the north lies a mysterious school for the magically gifted. Children go there to learn how to harness their magic and make the world a more enchanting place. Of course, as with most magic schools, Ikenfell has had its share of near disasters from various magical mishaps. Luckily for the school, one of the most popular students attending Ikenfell has always managed to save it from destruction before going home for the summer. What happens when that student disappears, leaving friends and family behind? Mysteries both magical and mundane beckon in Ikenfell. Players venture there to track down the erstwhile hero of the school, but in the process, they'll make friends, rivals, and maybe even find some romance. Oh, and they'll have to fight some monsters in classic RPG fashion. While the story, retro visuals, and RPG mechanics might be some of the biggest draws in Ikenfell, it's certainly worth mentioning that the music is being handled by aivi & surasshu, a duo best known for their work crafting the songs from Steven Universe. Their heartfelt, grounded-yet magical work seems to be a perfect fit with where creator/writer/designer/artist Chevy Ray Johnston wants to take the world of Ikenfell. We had the opportunity to talk with Chevy Ray Johnston and ask some burning questions to learn more about Ikenfell's delightful magic. Could you tell me a little about your background/history in game development? Chevy Ray Johnston: I've been developing games for around 18-20 years now, starting way back on Hypercard on the Macintosh. I used to make adventure and story games using the software's built-in drawing tools, hand-drawing every single room in the games. I would distribute the games to my friends on floppy disks, hand-drawing the labels for each one. I moved onto Game Maker for several years, making weird experimental games, before moving onto Flash around 2009, where I continued to make weird experimental games. Eventually I started getting work doing games, animation, advertising, and gallery exhibitions doing Flash work. You can see more info about some of the games I've made on my website. This is a small selection, I think in total I've probably created ~20 or so games on my own, and worked on over 30. I now know a dozen or so programming languages proficiently and am running my own game company that is working on Ikenfell. How long has Ikenfell been in development? Chevy: Ikenfell has been in active development since January 2016, so just over a year and a half. I can find old mockups and prototypes that look... suspiciously similar... dating back to 2006 though. Where did the initial idea for Ikenfell come from and how has it changed over the course of development? What games/movies/books/*insert media* did you look to for inspiration? I definitely get some Earthbound vibes from what little I've seen. Chevy: I've had various ideas for a witch/wizard game in my head for a long time that has seen many different prototypes. It wasn't until I read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell that I finally got a huge spark of inspiration, deciding to place the game at a magic school setting. A small location, completely doable content-wise, but a way for me to fill it chock full of detail, history, personality, and hidden secrets everywhere. It started out as an open-ended action RPG actually. You could get different magic spells in any order that would help you explore the school and access different areas. That actually still sounds really fun, but it didn't fit my vision for the story and aesthetic of the game. I wanted you to be able to play a group of friends and rivals, magic students! So I decided to make it a turn-based RPG, and initially it was more inspired by Fire Emblem and Shining Force, battling in the game's regular perspective with a party of magic school friends. What I didn't like about this was that suddenly every room, all the maps, had to be designed for battles, and they hogged all the space. The rooms didn't feel like real rooms anymore, just big open spaces, weirdly laid out for battles, and it lost a lot of its potential personality. Moving battles into a second screen allowed me to keep the school looking and feeling like I wanted, and I decided to spice up the battles by giving them bigger sprites and more animated graphics so they'd feel really big and exciting. I kept the strategy-RPG elements, but mixed it in with some inspiration from a few of my favorite games of all time: Chrono Trigger, Mario RPG, Paper Mario 1/2, and Final Fantasy Tactics. You describe it on Twitter as a game about hugging and kissing, magic, monsters, and there seems to be combat, so how does that all come together mechanically? Can you hug the monsters? Chevy: At its core Ikenfell is a game about relationships. Relationships between friends, lovers, ex-lovers, rivals, students, teachers, apprentices, and yes: monsters. Unfortunately you don't get to hug the monsters (maybe my next game???), but they act as the catalyst that causes the hugging and kissing -- the thing that pushes these relationships to their breaking point, that prods at them and tests their limits. Without giving too much away, what's the general story of Ikenfell? Chevy: Maritte is an Ordinary, a person without magic, but she's OK with that fact. Her sister Safina, on the other hand, is a witch... and a very popular one. Safina goes to a magic school called Ikenfell, and comes home every summer to tell Maritte about her adventures. She's saved the school many times, and also put it in grave danger many times. She's made friends, enemies, and has a tenuous relationship with the headmistress of the school for all the trouble she causes... But one summer, Safina doesn't come back, and no matter how much Maritte asks around, she can't find out why. So she packs her bags and travels to Ikenfell to find her sister. When she arrives, strange things start happening, and she begins to suspect that her sister is at the center of something secret, something dangerous. Maritte must explore the school, find Safina's friends, allies, rivals, and the teachers of the school, to solve the mystery of what happened to her... and also what is causing even magic itself to behave so erratically. What do you think the main draw of Ikenfell will be for your audience? Chevy: It's a hard fight between the exciting story full of a big variety of colorful characters and the original turn based party-oriented battle system that seems to have people's attention. The battle system is nothing you've played before, full of strange mechanics and monsters with a lot of personality, but familiar enough to draw you in if you've played any of the games that inspired it. I get constant messages from people saying they are excited to learn more about the characters, and they often already tell me who their favorites are. How long do you intend Ikenfell to be? Chevy: Ha-ha-haaaa. It was originally supposed to be a 6-8 hour game. I am finishing the 4th (of 8) chapters, and the game is already about that long. Soooo it'll actually end up being around ~20 hours at this rate. No matter how long I make games for, it will forever be impossible to predict this kind of thing. What are some things (story moment, character, mechanic, etc.) that you hope will stand out to your players? Chevy: Each of the 6 party members you get learns 8 spells, and each spell in the entire game is unique. There is no mana or MP, each spell is designed for contextual and strategic use. I think the challenging battles and boss fights will really put these to the test, and players will get excited when they discover new strategies and combine spells that I have worked hard to facilitate. Story-wise, I think people will really like the progression of the game's story. It sets a lot of different plot threads in motion, and builds a big exciting mystery over several chapters. Then, the final 3 chapters of the game are about dissecting and solving the mystery, and I'm working hard to make sure each plot thread has a satisfying and impactful payoff. I might not succeed, but I'm trying the best I possibly can to make it so. What message do you hope Ikenfell will convey to the people who play it? Chevy: I hope the game will help people reflect on the different relationships they have, maybe see them in a fresh light, and find a way to strengthen them. But most importantly, I hope people who know someone who is in pain, or suffering, are inspired to finally step forward and help them. To sympathize with them and give them the support they need to flourish. Several people I love dearly have done this for me, selflessly, and thanks to them I am no longer ill and the happiest I have ever been. If I can inspire others to do the same, hopefully others will be able to make wonderful art and tell their stories as well. I also hope they have a whole lot of raw fun playing it! If you're hoping to get your hands on Ikenfell soon, you'll have to be a bit patient. After a little over a year and a half of concentrated development, the title has a tentative release window for summer 2018 for PC and Mac.
  15. Popular Twitter Account Closing Next Year

    Today Kaz Hirai announced the end of an era. Not the real Kaz Hirai, of course, the president and CEO of Sony probably has more pressing things on his plate than a Twitter account. No, the legendary CEO Kaz Hirai parody account released a statement to let the world know that 2018 would be the final year it would be active. In a rare moment of seriousness, the fake Kaz Hirai explained why the account would be coming to an end: Hello, For over 6 years now I have been running this Twitter account. I originally started it because I wanted to make jokes about video game news, rumours and press conferences, but I knew nobody in real live that would have got them. Between then and now I have somehow inexplicably managed to gain over 100,000 followers. This has included people in the games media that I read on a daily basis, people who have worked on some of my favourite games and, most importantly of all, Shuhei Yoshida. It has been, from the very start, a ton of fun. It has been great interacting with people, whether they were well known names in the game industry or random schmucks just like me. It has been cool seeing tweets show up on Reddit, Tumblr, Neogaf, and even in Sony Press Conferences. I enjoy seeing everybody's reactions, whether they are positive or negative (or just plain confused because they haven't worked out I'm fake yet). I'm still kind of shocked with how well this has gone, and how long it has lasted. Recently though I have been tweeting a lot less often. While I still spend plenty of time playing video games, I spend a lot less time following video game news. I don't watch every press conference like I used to, and I am now not normally online when a big story breaks. I also find myself repeating jokes more and more often. It turns out there are a finite number of ways you can say "nobody wants a Vita" or "The Last Guardian/Final Fantasy/Kingdom Hearts has been delayed!" I have therefore decided that 2018 will be the last year of this Twitter account. I realise announcing the end this far in advance makes me sound incredibly self-important, but I chose to do it this way for a few reasons: I want to do the account for one more E3. I also want to give myself time to do a proper ending for this account. I don't know what it is yet, but I don't want it to just peter out. I am rubbish at giving up things, and this announcement will force me to end it. I don't know what exactly when I will end it, but it will definitely be after E3 2018. Between now and then I will try to tweet more often and make my tweets a bit better, too! I want to thank anybody who has followed, replied, liked or retweeted. I hope that you have enjoyed one or two of my tweets as much as I have enjoyed writing all of them. Many Thanks, Fake Kaz Hirai So, we have a few more months of jovial jabs at the game industry from the best fake CEO around, but after that? The game industry's social media landscape will be a slightly colder place. Here's to you, Fake Kaz Hirai!
  16. Today Kaz Hirai announced the end of an era. Not the real Kaz Hirai, of course, the president and CEO of Sony probably has more pressing things on his plate than a Twitter account. No, the legendary CEO Kaz Hirai parody account released a statement to let the world know that 2018 would be the final year it would be active. In a rare moment of seriousness, the fake Kaz Hirai explained why the account would be coming to an end: Hello, For over 6 years now I have been running this Twitter account. I originally started it because I wanted to make jokes about video game news, rumours and press conferences, but I knew nobody in real live that would have got them. Between then and now I have somehow inexplicably managed to gain over 100,000 followers. This has included people in the games media that I read on a daily basis, people who have worked on some of my favourite games and, most importantly of all, Shuhei Yoshida. It has been, from the very start, a ton of fun. It has been great interacting with people, whether they were well known names in the game industry or random schmucks just like me. It has been cool seeing tweets show up on Reddit, Tumblr, Neogaf, and even in Sony Press Conferences. I enjoy seeing everybody's reactions, whether they are positive or negative (or just plain confused because they haven't worked out I'm fake yet). I'm still kind of shocked with how well this has gone, and how long it has lasted. Recently though I have been tweeting a lot less often. While I still spend plenty of time playing video games, I spend a lot less time following video game news. I don't watch every press conference like I used to, and I am now not normally online when a big story breaks. I also find myself repeating jokes more and more often. It turns out there are a finite number of ways you can say "nobody wants a Vita" or "The Last Guardian/Final Fantasy/Kingdom Hearts has been delayed!" I have therefore decided that 2018 will be the last year of this Twitter account. I realise announcing the end this far in advance makes me sound incredibly self-important, but I chose to do it this way for a few reasons: I want to do the account for one more E3. I also want to give myself time to do a proper ending for this account. I don't know what it is yet, but I don't want it to just peter out. I am rubbish at giving up things, and this announcement will force me to end it. I don't know what exactly when I will end it, but it will definitely be after E3 2018. Between now and then I will try to tweet more often and make my tweets a bit better, too! I want to thank anybody who has followed, replied, liked or retweeted. I hope that you have enjoyed one or two of my tweets as much as I have enjoyed writing all of them. Many Thanks, Fake Kaz Hirai So, we have a few more months of jovial jabs at the game industry from the best fake CEO around, but after that? The game industry's social media landscape will be a slightly colder place. Here's to you, Fake Kaz Hirai! View full article
  17. Sometimes people pick up games and never feel inclined to pay for the season pass. For people who never opted to buy the season pass or DLC for Star Wars Battlefront, EA has a sweet deal: A free season pass. The only hitch? You'll need to own Star Wars Battlefront on PC and the free season pass will only be available through EA's Origin service. The pass usually retails for $20, so it's a no-brainer to go download it if you have Battlefront on Origin. The free release comes as part of EA's ongoing On The House program that periodically releases free games and/or DLC to its Origin users. Heck, even if you don't own Star Wars Battlefront, you can still log into Origin and claim the season pass - you just won't be able to play it. The season pass includes the Death Star, Bespin, the Outer Rim, and Rogue One: Scarif. These four bundles add sixteen maps, eight hero/villain characters, and four game modes. The On The House program is a pretty sweet deal, but it never announces when its offers will end. If a season pass for Star Wars Battlefront sounds enticing, you'd better download it sooner rather than later. The sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II releases on November 17, so this On The House offer is probably meant to drum up some additional excitement for the impending release. View full article
  18. Sometimes people pick up games and never feel inclined to pay for the season pass. For people who never opted to buy the season pass or DLC for Star Wars Battlefront, EA has a sweet deal: A free season pass. The only hitch? You'll need to own Star Wars Battlefront on PC and the free season pass will only be available through EA's Origin service. The pass usually retails for $20, so it's a no-brainer to go download it if you have Battlefront on Origin. The free release comes as part of EA's ongoing On The House program that periodically releases free games and/or DLC to its Origin users. Heck, even if you don't own Star Wars Battlefront, you can still log into Origin and claim the season pass - you just won't be able to play it. The season pass includes the Death Star, Bespin, the Outer Rim, and Rogue One: Scarif. These four bundles add sixteen maps, eight hero/villain characters, and four game modes. The On The House program is a pretty sweet deal, but it never announces when its offers will end. If a season pass for Star Wars Battlefront sounds enticing, you'd better download it sooner rather than later. The sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II releases on November 17, so this On The House offer is probably meant to drum up some additional excitement for the impending release.
  19. From humble beginnings as a Flash game back in 2008, Super Meat Boy sprang forth from the minds of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes after a brutal development process that placed everything on the line for the duo of Team Meat. The plucky platformer stole the hearts, minds, and wallets of gamers when it helped to ease mainstream gamers into the indie scene back in 2010. Can Super Meat Boy's pinpoint platforming and blistering difficulty propel it to the pinnacle of gaming? Is Super Meat Boy one of the best games period? You can play the original Flash game for free if you have only experienced the refined commercial release. 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: Super Meat Boy 'Spoiled R0TT3N' by Ben Briggs (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02158) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  20. From humble beginnings as a Flash game back in 2008, Super Meat Boy sprang forth from the minds of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes after a brutal development process that placed everything on the line for the duo of Team Meat. The plucky platformer stole the hearts, minds, and wallets of gamers when it helped to ease mainstream gamers into the indie scene back in 2010. Can Super Meat Boy's pinpoint platforming and blistering difficulty propel it to the pinnacle of gaming? Is Super Meat Boy one of the best games period? You can play the original Flash game for free if you have only experienced the refined commercial release. 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: Super Meat Boy 'Spoiled R0TT3N' by Ben Briggs (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02158) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  21. Feature: Review: Pyre

    Supergiant Games never makes the same thing twice. Bastion tackled a fantasy post-apocalypse, melding it with a grizzled narration, some western twang, and hooked players with engrossing isometric action and light RPG elements. Transistor told what can best be described as a Shakespearean techo-revenge tale that leaned more heavily into turn-based RPG elements. Pyre goes for something completely different: A story following a ragtag group of misfits who play a religious sports tournament to earn their freedom from exile. If NBA Jam had a visual novel component, gorgeous visuals, and endearing characters, it would be called Pyre. In the world of Pyre, the Commonwealth stands as the last powerful empire. Those who run afoul of its laws or make the wrong enemies are exiled from its safety into another world, the Downside, a harsh purgatory where only the strong survive. In this environment, criminals and ne’er-do-wells fall prey to their vices or, in rare cases, find redemption and new purpose. Pyre thrusts players into the role of an unnamed character known only as “the Reader,” an individual who broke one of the most sacred laws of the Commonwealth by learning how to read. Near death, the Reader is found by a trio of Downside wanderers who invite them to read a set of texts that detail an ancient set of rituals, known as the Rites, which can set one free from exile to begin a new life in the Commonwealth. These Rites are only known to a few and represent the one and only chance for an exile to rejoin society. The trio reveal themselves to be a new incarnation of the Nightwings, a familiar name among those who pursue the Rites. The Nightwings have reformed to seek their freedom, overturn the order of the Commonwealth, and bring an end to Downside exile forever. To that end, the player travels the Downside to participate in the Rites, clashing with other teams who participate in the religious tournament. These competitions represent the meat of Pyre’s gameplay. To win the Rite, players must douse the flames of the opposing team’s pyre with a stellar orb that falls from the sky. Each side controls three different characters, but can only move one at any given time. Every character controls differently and possesses different powers that must be used strategically in order to emerge victorious. Each character can jump, sprint, pass or throw the orb, and cast their aura, a mystic energy field that banishes any opposing character that comes into contact with it. Banished character return to the match after a set period of time, but that might be just enough time to get the orb into the pyre. A few small glitches occasionally rear their heads with some head-scratching hit detection, but for the most part, the quick, smooth gameplay experience feels great (the game even includes a local multiplayer mode). This all works very well, capturing the arcade feel of an SNES sports title in modern form. However, the gameplay only represents half of the overall experience. Between matches, players travel from location to location, often making decisions that affect how the Rites will proceed. Perhaps you spend time tutoring a member of the Nightwings, digging for buried treasure, or sabotaging the opposing team. Maybe you have time for a heart-to-heart conversation with one of your teammates where you could learn more about what sent them into exile and what they hope to accomplish when they return home. In the text and characterization of the Reader’s companions we find the beating heart of Pyre. You see, the more you use a character in the Rites, the more powerful they become. However, the more useful the character, the more you learn about what drives them and the more worthy of freedom they seem. The dirty secret of the Rites is that only one person may go free with each season of the ritual games. Often the best character on your team might be the one you select to go free and live out their days in the Commonwealth. By structuring character growth in this way, Supergiant Games creates a natural and emotional roller coaster for each character. And by each character, I really do mean each character. Every character encountered in Pyre has their own arc and can achieve liberation through the Rites. The option is always left open to lose a Rite, to allow an adversary to ascend back to the Commonwealth instead of an ally. In clashing time and time again, players learn about the cast of antagonists, some of whom might be deserving of their liberation, too. That’s the whole tragedy of the Downside – everyone can be redeemed, but not everyone is. It stands as the defining power Pyre gives over to players; deciding who possesses qualities worthy of salvation within a corrupt system. A larger story functions merely as a vehicle for players to interact with these characters and experience the thrill of the Rites. The overarching narrative deals with revolution and the role stories play in wider societal change. In many ways, Pyre is about how the games we play, the stories we create can change the world, for better or worse. There are three levels of drama to Pyre’s adventure through the wastes. One the most immediate level, the second-to-second excitement of the Rites. It’s visceral, tangible. Then you have the intermediate drama, the relationship with the characters that extends beyond the Rites. Players learning who characters are by interacting with them directly or by witnessing them interacting with one another. This deepens the drama on the base level because Supergiant manages to make players care about the individual characters who all have stakes in the Rites. Finally, the overarching narrative adds a more abstract scenario that limits how often players can interact with the other Nightwings, how many people can go free, which places a final, excruciating weight to the player’s decisions up until that point. I'd be remiss at this point if I didn't give Pyre praise for its incredible art direction. Jen Zee has to be one of the most striking artists working in games right now. Her style remains instantly recognizable and captivating. Her hand-drawn approach to visually designing the ethereal world of Downside gives rise to haunting visions of giants, lively, expressive characters, and a hostile beauty. Darren Korb returns to Supergiant with a full, rambunctious musical score in which one can hear hints of the old Bastion country twang. Korb's musical style works hand-in-hand with the visuals to allow the player's imagination to run wild, filling in the gaps created by the constraints of Pyre's visual novel approach to storytelling. In this case, Korb has a literal stand-in character in the form of The Lone Minstrel, Tariq, a celestial being with a haunting voice - one of only two intelligible speakers in Pyre. Conclusion: Supergiant Games stands as one of the most fascinating developers working today. Their games possess vision and take bold risks. Bastion and Transistor hammered home their overall narratives with great skill. Pyre relegates the overall narrative to the background while highlighting the characters. It’s bold; it’s different; and it doesn’t quite work as well as its predecessors. The reason for this seems to be the focus on characters above all else. The narrative ostensibly deals with a revolution in the Commonwealth, but the game itself stays far removed from those events. This keeps the focus squarely on the cast, but it puts them and the player in a reactionary role, rather than a proactive one. Players merely react to changing circumstances rather than having any direct agency in changing events. That lack of agency could very well tie in with the theme Pyre goes for, but it doesn’t manifest as clearly as the themes in previous Supergiant titles. All of that said, Pyre stands as a great game. The weakest Supergiant title still holds its own as one of the most original and interesting games in the industry. What other studio could successfully meld NBA Jam with a gladiatorial revolution while retaining a cute, gorgeous charm? Pyre’s one of the most unique games available today and certainly worth experiencing, especially if you are looking for something different. Pyre is available now for PlayStation 4 and PC. View full article
  22. Review: Pyre

    Supergiant Games never makes the same thing twice. Bastion tackled a fantasy post-apocalypse, melding it with a grizzled narration, some western twang, and hooked players with engrossing isometric action and light RPG elements. Transistor told what can best be described as a Shakespearean techo-revenge tale that leaned more heavily into turn-based RPG elements. Pyre goes for something completely different: A story following a ragtag group of misfits who play a religious sports tournament to earn their freedom from exile. If NBA Jam had a visual novel component, gorgeous visuals, and endearing characters, it would be called Pyre. In the world of Pyre, the Commonwealth stands as the last powerful empire. Those who run afoul of its laws or make the wrong enemies are exiled from its safety into another world, the Downside, a harsh purgatory where only the strong survive. In this environment, criminals and ne’er-do-wells fall prey to their vices or, in rare cases, find redemption and new purpose. Pyre thrusts players into the role of an unnamed character known only as “the Reader,” an individual who broke one of the most sacred laws of the Commonwealth by learning how to read. Near death, the Reader is found by a trio of Downside wanderers who invite them to read a set of texts that detail an ancient set of rituals, known as the Rites, which can set one free from exile to begin a new life in the Commonwealth. These Rites are only known to a few and represent the one and only chance for an exile to rejoin society. The trio reveal themselves to be a new incarnation of the Nightwings, a familiar name among those who pursue the Rites. The Nightwings have reformed to seek their freedom, overturn the order of the Commonwealth, and bring an end to Downside exile forever. To that end, the player travels the Downside to participate in the Rites, clashing with other teams who participate in the religious tournament. These competitions represent the meat of Pyre’s gameplay. To win the Rite, players must douse the flames of the opposing team’s pyre with a stellar orb that falls from the sky. Each side controls three different characters, but can only move one at any given time. Every character controls differently and possesses different powers that must be used strategically in order to emerge victorious. Each character can jump, sprint, pass or throw the orb, and cast their aura, a mystic energy field that banishes any opposing character that comes into contact with it. Banished character return to the match after a set period of time, but that might be just enough time to get the orb into the pyre. A few small glitches occasionally rear their heads with some head-scratching hit detection, but for the most part, the quick, smooth gameplay experience feels great (the game even includes a local multiplayer mode). This all works very well, capturing the arcade feel of an SNES sports title in modern form. However, the gameplay only represents half of the overall experience. Between matches, players travel from location to location, often making decisions that affect how the Rites will proceed. Perhaps you spend time tutoring a member of the Nightwings, digging for buried treasure, or sabotaging the opposing team. Maybe you have time for a heart-to-heart conversation with one of your teammates where you could learn more about what sent them into exile and what they hope to accomplish when they return home. In the text and characterization of the Reader’s companions we find the beating heart of Pyre. You see, the more you use a character in the Rites, the more powerful they become. However, the more useful the character, the more you learn about what drives them and the more worthy of freedom they seem. The dirty secret of the Rites is that only one person may go free with each season of the ritual games. Often the best character on your team might be the one you select to go free and live out their days in the Commonwealth. By structuring character growth in this way, Supergiant Games creates a natural and emotional roller coaster for each character. And by each character, I really do mean each character. Every character encountered in Pyre has their own arc and can achieve liberation through the Rites. The option is always left open to lose a Rite, to allow an adversary to ascend back to the Commonwealth instead of an ally. In clashing time and time again, players learn about the cast of antagonists, some of whom might be deserving of their liberation, too. That’s the whole tragedy of the Downside – everyone can be redeemed, but not everyone is. It stands as the defining power Pyre gives over to players; deciding who possesses qualities worthy of salvation within a corrupt system. A larger story functions merely as a vehicle for players to interact with these characters and experience the thrill of the Rites. The overarching narrative deals with revolution and the role stories play in wider societal change. In many ways, Pyre is about how the games we play, the stories we create can change the world, for better or worse. There are three levels of drama to Pyre’s adventure through the wastes. One the most immediate level, the second-to-second excitement of the Rites. It’s visceral, tangible. Then you have the intermediate drama, the relationship with the characters that extends beyond the Rites. Players learning who characters are by interacting with them directly or by witnessing them interacting with one another. This deepens the drama on the base level because Supergiant manages to make players care about the individual characters who all have stakes in the Rites. Finally, the overarching narrative adds a more abstract scenario that limits how often players can interact with the other Nightwings, how many people can go free, which places a final, excruciating weight to the player’s decisions up until that point. I'd be remiss at this point if I didn't give Pyre praise for its incredible art direction. Jen Zee has to be one of the most striking artists working in games right now. Her style remains instantly recognizable and captivating. Her hand-drawn approach to visually designing the ethereal world of Downside gives rise to haunting visions of giants, lively, expressive characters, and a hostile beauty. Darren Korb returns to Supergiant with a full, rambunctious musical score in which one can hear hints of the old Bastion country twang. Korb's musical style works hand-in-hand with the visuals to allow the player's imagination to run wild, filling in the gaps created by the constraints of Pyre's visual novel approach to storytelling. In this case, Korb has a literal stand-in character in the form of The Lone Minstrel, Tariq, a celestial being with a haunting voice - one of only two intelligible speakers in Pyre. Conclusion: Supergiant Games stands as one of the most fascinating developers working today. Their games possess vision and take bold risks. Bastion and Transistor hammered home their overall narratives with great skill. Pyre relegates the overall narrative to the background while highlighting the characters. It’s bold; it’s different; and it doesn’t quite work as well as its predecessors. The reason for this seems to be the focus on characters above all else. The narrative ostensibly deals with a revolution in the Commonwealth, but the game itself stays far removed from those events. This keeps the focus squarely on the cast, but it puts them and the player in a reactionary role, rather than a proactive one. Players merely react to changing circumstances rather than having any direct agency in changing events. That lack of agency could very well tie in with the theme Pyre goes for, but it doesn’t manifest as clearly as the themes in previous Supergiant titles. All of that said, Pyre stands as a great game. The weakest Supergiant title still holds its own as one of the most original and interesting games in the industry. What other studio could successfully meld NBA Jam with a gladiatorial revolution while retaining a cute, gorgeous charm? Pyre’s one of the most unique games available today and certainly worth experiencing, especially if you are looking for something different. Pyre is available now for PlayStation 4 and PC.
  23. Destiny 2 has launched into the wild (review coming soon). People have been long awaiting the next installment of the sci-fi FPS. Now that it is finally available, what better way to feel excited than by busting a move? Or, if you aren't the dancing type, maybe watch this trailer with dozens of dancers outfitted in full Destiny gear going wild on the dance floor? Destiny 2 is now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The PC version will release on October 24.
  24. Destiny 2 has launched into the wild (review coming soon). People have been long awaiting the next installment of the sci-fi FPS. Now that it is finally available, what better way to feel excited than by busting a move? Or, if you aren't the dancing type, maybe watch this trailer with dozens of dancers outfitted in full Destiny gear going wild on the dance floor? Destiny 2 is now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The PC version will release on October 24. View full article
  25. Many thought that the Call of Juarez series had run its course following the disastrous release of Call of Juarez: The Cartel. The backlash it received from its critics and audience seemed like it was the death knell for the western series. Then a little downloadable game released in 2013 as a final send off to the series called Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Gunslinger taps into the schlocky fun of Borderlands, the blistering action of a light-gun arcade shooter, some narrative mechanics from Bastion, and the story of a pulp western. It balances all of these elements astonishingly well, with a handful of flaws. 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: Dark Souls III 'All for One' by RoeTaKa (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03598) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article