Marcus Stewart

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Marcus Stewart last won the day on June 18

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About Marcus Stewart

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    Senior Member
  • Birthday 11/09/1987

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    Male
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    Port Saint Lucie, FL
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    Video Games, Writing, Pro Wrestling, Movies, Books, Comics.

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    Lygerdark
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    sundancekid1987
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    SundanceKid1967
  1. “Expect the unexpected” would have been an appropriate tagline for Batman’s first season. By the series’ end the Wayne Family name stands forever tarnished, a perennial ally turns becomes a major foe, and Harvey Dent’s scars may only be mental. The surprises keep coming in The Enemy Within. An eventful premier throws players for a loop right out of the gate with big shocks, difficult choices, and gut-punching consequences. A year removed from the triple threat of the Children of Arkham, Penguin, and Two-Face sees Gotham on the mend. Bruce Wayne’s reputation appears largely repaired. Batman’s publicized partnership with newly appointed police commissioner Jim Gordon resulted in dramatically reduced crime rates. But that delicate peace breaks when a dangerous shadow from Gotham’s past reemerges: The Riddler. I dug Telltale’s menacing take on this classic foe. Armed with a question-mark shaped sickle, this Riddler almost finds as much pleasure in slicing throats as perplexing victims with cruel conundrums–almost. He remains the long-winded, insufferable show-off, but now displays a nice, gritty edge. Riddler’s new character wrinkle as Gotham’s first costumed crook plays perfectly into his trademark narcissism and superiority complex. Believing himself better because he came first (among other reasons), his additional source of arrogance makes punching his teeth out all the more satisfying. Riddler’s penchant for puzzles works well with Telltale’s mechanics and dialogue choices. One neat segment involves unraveling one of his death games. Gameplay in general gets a good showing in The Enigma. Combat now presents slightly more dynamic options, like selecting multiple interactive points during battle. Last season’s worthless finishing move meter has thankfully been dropped. I never put the controller down for too long–always a positive for a Telltale title. Like Season 1, juggling the public perceptions of Bruce Wayne and Batman can create genuine decision-making crises. Choices feel less about right and wrong and more about which path might backfire less painfully. This creates a series of tricky moral tightropes to walk across. Batman’s relationship with the debuting Amanda Waller acts as a great example. Waller plays an exciting role acting as the controversial figurehead behind the Suicide Squad and leader of the shadowy government bureau known simply as The Agency. Her organization takes over Gotham’s authorities in pursuit of Riddler. Despite Waller and Batman sharing mutual goals, The Agency’s dubious history makes her difficult to trust. More importantly, a collaboration with her might chip away at Batman’s fragile relationship with Gordon. Do you jeopardize Gordon’s favor by working with Amanda in the name of the greater good? Or do you keep her at a distance and risk creating a powerful new adversary? Armed with years of comics history, I thought I knew that answer from the outset. As the episode progressed, though, my stance shifted in unexpected ways. Doing the “right” thing feels less obvious than ever, and I burned trusted bridges doing what I felt was necessary. Chalk that up to how Telltale skillfully paints choices with thoughtful coats of morally grey. Additionally, The Enigma reminded me to consider suspending any prior Batman knowledge because things don’t always play out as predicted. Bruce’s uneasy dealings with the pale, green-haired “John Doe” highlighted that point. The first conversation with this enigmatic figure had me biting my lip with nerves the entire time, unsure of how to react. His underlying insanity keeps you on edge, but his apparent need for approval from Bruce generates sympathy as well. Could it be he just needs someone good to lean on and perhaps guide him? Somehow, Telltale turned the no-brainer of “how to deal with The Joker” into a complicated dilemma. His arc thus far seems to signal a potentially different outcome than what I’m expecting. I look forward to seeing this simmering story reach its boiling point. A new on-screen indicator of a character’s shift in feeling gives immediate and helpful feedback during relationship milestones. I liked receiving validation that my current path may be working, as well as knowing exactly when I may have messed up with someone. A new post-game report card explains how big choices resulted in your current standing with someone, offering some good food for thought. I walked away from The Enigma pondering how to best improve certain relationships using the info given. Additionally, this provides a helpful reference to mix things up in future replays. Choosing a path can be a fun roller coaster overall, but I took umbrage with one scenario towards the end. Without spoiling, somehow the choice of saving lives led to Batman seemingly becoming more vilified than if he allowed someone to die on his watch. Other characters failed to see the big picture, and that questionable writing almost made me scream at my TV. Telltale continues to drop bombshells with a couple of shocking developments involving pivotal characters. These surprises do a nice job of keeping your emotions on guard. Exciting narrative threads emerge from these moments. One in particular concerns a potentially awesome new ally. I also love that The Enigma features its own self-contained arc, kind of like an episode of a Batman TV show. A central thread begins and ends here, providing an immediate sense of closure and giving the long-term stories some breathing room. The Enigma attempts to do a lot as a pilot and, impressively, accomplishes much of it with relative ease. Conclusion: The Enigma starts Batman’s second season on the right foot. Boasting several jaw-dropping moments, intense conversation scenes, a great villain, and promising story developments, there’s a lot to love here. Tack on a healthy dose of interactivity, and you’ve got the answer to the riddle “how do you open a new season with a successful bang?” Batman: The Enemy Within - The Enigma was reviewed on PlayStation 4. It’s also available now for Xbox One, PC and will launch later for iOS and Android. View full article
  2. “Expect the unexpected” would have been an appropriate tagline for Batman’s first season. By the series’ end the Wayne Family name stands forever tarnished, a perennial ally turns becomes a major foe, and Harvey Dent’s scars may only be mental. The surprises keep coming in The Enemy Within. An eventful premier throws players for a loop right out of the gate with big shocks, difficult choices, and gut-punching consequences. A year removed from the triple threat of the Children of Arkham, Penguin, and Two-Face sees Gotham on the mend. Bruce Wayne’s reputation appears largely repaired. Batman’s publicized partnership with newly appointed police commissioner Jim Gordon resulted in dramatically reduced crime rates. But that delicate peace breaks when a dangerous shadow from Gotham’s past reemerges: The Riddler. I dug Telltale’s menacing take on this classic foe. Armed with a question-mark shaped sickle, this Riddler almost finds as much pleasure in slicing throats as perplexing victims with cruel conundrums–almost. He remains the long-winded, insufferable show-off, but now displays a nice, gritty edge. Riddler’s new character wrinkle as Gotham’s first costumed crook plays perfectly into his trademark narcissism and superiority complex. Believing himself better because he came first (among other reasons), his additional source of arrogance makes punching his teeth out all the more satisfying. Riddler’s penchant for puzzles works well with Telltale’s mechanics and dialogue choices. One neat segment involves unraveling one of his death games. Gameplay in general gets a good showing in The Enigma. Combat now presents slightly more dynamic options, like selecting multiple interactive points during battle. Last season’s worthless finishing move meter has thankfully been dropped. I never put the controller down for too long–always a positive for a Telltale title. Like Season 1, juggling the public perceptions of Bruce Wayne and Batman can create genuine decision-making crises. Choices feel less about right and wrong and more about which path might backfire less painfully. This creates a series of tricky moral tightropes to walk across. Batman’s relationship with the debuting Amanda Waller acts as a great example. Waller plays an exciting role acting as the controversial figurehead behind the Suicide Squad and leader of the shadowy government bureau known simply as The Agency. Her organization takes over Gotham’s authorities in pursuit of Riddler. Despite Waller and Batman sharing mutual goals, The Agency’s dubious history makes her difficult to trust. More importantly, a collaboration with her might chip away at Batman’s fragile relationship with Gordon. Do you jeopardize Gordon’s favor by working with Amanda in the name of the greater good? Or do you keep her at a distance and risk creating a powerful new adversary? Armed with years of comics history, I thought I knew that answer from the outset. As the episode progressed, though, my stance shifted in unexpected ways. Doing the “right” thing feels less obvious than ever, and I burned trusted bridges doing what I felt was necessary. Chalk that up to how Telltale skillfully paints choices with thoughtful coats of morally grey. Additionally, The Enigma reminded me to consider suspending any prior Batman knowledge because things don’t always play out as predicted. Bruce’s uneasy dealings with the pale, green-haired “John Doe” highlighted that point. The first conversation with this enigmatic figure had me biting my lip with nerves the entire time, unsure of how to react. His underlying insanity keeps you on edge, but his apparent need for approval from Bruce generates sympathy as well. Could it be he just needs someone good to lean on and perhaps guide him? Somehow, Telltale turned the no-brainer of “how to deal with The Joker” into a complicated dilemma. His arc thus far seems to signal a potentially different outcome than what I’m expecting. I look forward to seeing this simmering story reach its boiling point. A new on-screen indicator of a character’s shift in feeling gives immediate and helpful feedback during relationship milestones. I liked receiving validation that my current path may be working, as well as knowing exactly when I may have messed up with someone. A new post-game report card explains how big choices resulted in your current standing with someone, offering some good food for thought. I walked away from The Enigma pondering how to best improve certain relationships using the info given. Additionally, this provides a helpful reference to mix things up in future replays. Choosing a path can be a fun roller coaster overall, but I took umbrage with one scenario towards the end. Without spoiling, somehow the choice of saving lives led to Batman seemingly becoming more vilified than if he allowed someone to die on his watch. Other characters failed to see the big picture, and that questionable writing almost made me scream at my TV. Telltale continues to drop bombshells with a couple of shocking developments involving pivotal characters. These surprises do a nice job of keeping your emotions on guard. Exciting narrative threads emerge from these moments. One in particular concerns a potentially awesome new ally. I also love that The Enigma features its own self-contained arc, kind of like an episode of a Batman TV show. A central thread begins and ends here, providing an immediate sense of closure and giving the long-term stories some breathing room. The Enigma attempts to do a lot as a pilot and, impressively, accomplishes much of it with relative ease. Conclusion: The Enigma starts Batman’s second season on the right foot. Boasting several jaw-dropping moments, intense conversation scenes, a great villain, and promising story developments, there’s a lot to love here. Tack on a healthy dose of interactivity, and you’ve got the answer to the riddle “how do you open a new season with a successful bang?” Batman: The Enemy Within - The Enigma was reviewed on PlayStation 4. It’s also available now for Xbox One, PC and will launch later for iOS and Android.
  3. Feature: Review: Tacoma

    Like Gone Home before it, Tacoma’s intriguing setting and compelling storytelling largely supersede its relatively light gameplay. Fullbright’s sophomore outing trades the nostalgia of the 1990s for a fascinating, mildly unsettling, near-future space setting. As a lone contractor, mega corporation Venturis hires you to visit the deserted space station Tacoma to retrieve the ship's AI, ODIN. But the intrigue in that task pales in comparison to learning the captivating stories of Tacoma’s distressed crew, who disappeared after an accident. Tacoma’s mission doesn’t always fire on all cylinders, but its highpoints in characterization help carry it to the moon and back. Tacoma’s story unfolds by watching decrypted scenes of the team recorded using augmented reality. A simple polygonal model represents each person. Think of it like watching a holographic ghost, with characters distinguished by designated colors and physiques to compensate for a lack of physical details. The age of recordings range from a few days old to several months or even a year. Witnessing past celebrations, emotional turmoils, and intimate moments stirred up emotions ranging from optimism, foreboding, and, at times, even voyeurism. These genuine feelings stemmed from the well-written dialogue and stellar voice performances from the likes of Carl Lumbly (Alias, Justice League) and Greg Chun (Overwatch, Nier: Automata). Tacoma’s crew feel like actual, relatable people trapped in a horrific situation, not just NPC’s spouting lines. Connecting players to each team member are the familiar personal burdens each carry: Tragic personal losses; the pressures of appeasing a high and mighty family; coping with professional failures; long distance parenthood. The ways those stresses influence their responses to the larger situation feels logical and nuanced, as do the emotional interactions between characters. The sympathy and endearment these performances generate act as the driving force behind exploring every inch of Tacoma. You don’t need to see and hear everything to finish the game but I wanted to. I felt compelled to read every email and pick up every object in the hopes it would shed more light on these people. Before long, my motives shifted from a purely objective curiosity to legitimately hoping the crew had survived their predicament. That emotional connection also adds weight to the otherwise predictable and well-worn revelation about the nature of the disaster. Tacoma’s alien setting makes picking up garbage feel more worthwhile than it did in Gone Home. I lived through the 90’s, so I inspected objects in that game primarily for nostalgia. With Tacoma, Fullbright presents an almost eerily plausible future with unique ideas such as corporate loyalty becoming a form of spendable currency. AI’s advanced enough to pen their own autobiographies (seriously) are trusted to oversee major operations like hospitals and residential blocks, guiding and advising the humans within. This future is both exciting and terrifying, but you’ll miss out on much of it by ignoring the random junk around you. I enjoyed having an incentive to rummage through trash bins. From a gameplay standpoint, recordings have a neat investigative quality due to a rewind and fast-forward mechanic. Replaying scenes to catch important details reminded me of combing through videos in the indie hit Her Story, especially using older conversations to add context to more recent ones. I would have liked for recordings to demand a little more deductive skills in gathering info, but I get that Tacoma wants to tell a story and not hang players up on puzzles. On that note, problem-solving in general never comes close complicated; you’re typically just looking for codes to open doors. Even still, Tacoma offers more active involvement than its predecessor, and that’s ultimately a good thing. In a nice touch of realism, several recordings feature multiple conversations occurring simultaneously in different areas. Additionally, characters may enter or exit discussions in progress. Thus, replaying scenes multiple times and following different team members around is a must if you want to experience the full narrative scope. A fun nosiness comes from watching a scene, seeing someone walk away, then replaying the scene again and following that person to see what they’re up to. Overall, this conversation system feels like a cool and smart spin on interactive cutscenes, especially for this genre. Conclusion Tacoma possesses more complicated gameplay than Gone Home, but you still wouldn’t be off-base if you said it only consisted of walking around and eavesdropping on NPC’s. While that might seem shallow, the wonderfully written characters bring value to that experience. Tacoma largely succeeds in presenting a fascinating world worth exploring, backed by novel storytelling mechanics. Your stay is brief, but once you get to know Tacoma’s crew, you’ll be glad you stepped aboard. Tacoma was reviewed on Xbox One and is also available now for PC. View full article
  4. Review: Tacoma

    Like Gone Home before it, Tacoma’s intriguing setting and compelling storytelling largely supersede its relatively light gameplay. Fullbright’s sophomore outing trades the nostalgia of the 1990s for a fascinating, mildly unsettling, near-future space setting. As a lone contractor, mega corporation Venturis hires you to visit the deserted space station Tacoma to retrieve the ship's AI, ODIN. But the intrigue in that task pales in comparison to learning the captivating stories of Tacoma’s distressed crew, who disappeared after an accident. Tacoma’s mission doesn’t always fire on all cylinders, but its highpoints in characterization help carry it to the moon and back. Tacoma’s story unfolds by watching decrypted scenes of the team recorded using augmented reality. A simple polygonal model represents each person. Think of it like watching a holographic ghost, with characters distinguished by designated colors and physiques to compensate for a lack of physical details. The age of recordings range from a few days old to several months or even a year. Witnessing past celebrations, emotional turmoils, and intimate moments stirred up emotions ranging from optimism, foreboding, and, at times, even voyeurism. These genuine feelings stemmed from the well-written dialogue and stellar voice performances from the likes of Carl Lumbly (Alias, Justice League) and Greg Chun (Overwatch, Nier: Automata). Tacoma’s crew feel like actual, relatable people trapped in a horrific situation, not just NPC’s spouting lines. Connecting players to each team member are the familiar personal burdens each carry: Tragic personal losses; the pressures of appeasing a high and mighty family; coping with professional failures; long distance parenthood. The ways those stresses influence their responses to the larger situation feels logical and nuanced, as do the emotional interactions between characters. The sympathy and endearment these performances generate act as the driving force behind exploring every inch of Tacoma. You don’t need to see and hear everything to finish the game but I wanted to. I felt compelled to read every email and pick up every object in the hopes it would shed more light on these people. Before long, my motives shifted from a purely objective curiosity to legitimately hoping the crew had survived their predicament. That emotional connection also adds weight to the otherwise predictable and well-worn revelation about the nature of the disaster. Tacoma’s alien setting makes picking up garbage feel more worthwhile than it did in Gone Home. I lived through the 90’s, so I inspected objects in that game primarily for nostalgia. With Tacoma, Fullbright presents an almost eerily plausible future with unique ideas such as corporate loyalty becoming a form of spendable currency. AI’s advanced enough to pen their own autobiographies (seriously) are trusted to oversee major operations like hospitals and residential blocks, guiding and advising the humans within. This future is both exciting and terrifying, but you’ll miss out on much of it by ignoring the random junk around you. I enjoyed having an incentive to rummage through trash bins. From a gameplay standpoint, recordings have a neat investigative quality due to a rewind and fast-forward mechanic. Replaying scenes to catch important details reminded me of combing through videos in the indie hit Her Story, especially using older conversations to add context to more recent ones. I would have liked for recordings to demand a little more deductive skills in gathering info, but I get that Tacoma wants to tell a story and not hang players up on puzzles. On that note, problem-solving in general never comes close complicated; you’re typically just looking for codes to open doors. Even still, Tacoma offers more active involvement than its predecessor, and that’s ultimately a good thing. In a nice touch of realism, several recordings feature multiple conversations occurring simultaneously in different areas. Additionally, characters may enter or exit discussions in progress. Thus, replaying scenes multiple times and following different team members around is a must if you want to experience the full narrative scope. A fun nosiness comes from watching a scene, seeing someone walk away, then replaying the scene again and following that person to see what they’re up to. Overall, this conversation system feels like a cool and smart spin on interactive cutscenes, especially for this genre. Conclusion Tacoma possesses more complicated gameplay than Gone Home, but you still wouldn’t be off-base if you said it only consisted of walking around and eavesdropping on NPC’s. While that might seem shallow, the wonderfully written characters bring value to that experience. Tacoma largely succeeds in presenting a fascinating world worth exploring, backed by novel storytelling mechanics. Your stay is brief, but once you get to know Tacoma’s crew, you’ll be glad you stepped aboard. Tacoma was reviewed on Xbox One and is also available now for PC.
  5. For years, I’ve curiously eyed Farming Simulator as an intriguing oddity. Unlike more whimsical takes on farming like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this series presents the profession in a realistic light. I used to wonder “Who wants spend hours cutting grass and driving a slow tractor in a boring, real world?” I doubt I’m alone in that thinking, and while outsiders may laugh at Farming Simulator, the series boasts a strong and dedicated following of players more than happy to sow and reap the digital fruits of their labor. What about these games appeals to the fanbase? I had an opportunity to unleash some of my long-burning questions to Martin Ravo, PR representative at developer Giants Software. In turn, I gained some insight about the staff’s cultivating background and the franchise’s unique fansbase of actual farmers. We also touched on how real-world agricultural advances could affect the series’ future. So I've always wondered. How do you guys go about choosing what new crops to add? What separates one crop from another in terms of which is more interesting to grow? Is it the type of location where it needs to be grown or the method that goes into growing it? Martin Ravo: There are various factors, actually. Of course, we get feedback from our community. We also see where people are playing. We usually add new maps to the game with expansions over the new game, and then it might make sense to have the crops in there that fit with the new environment. Of course, it's also the amount of time we need to implement it. Because let's say you put a completely different new crop in there, and we don't have the equipment for it. Then you also need to add the equipment, which makes things a bit more complicated. So let's say for the sunflowers. We put them in and you use similar equipment for what we already had, but you have different headers for the harvesters, so we had to add these too. So it's not just the crops. It's other things that are coming with the crops, so we have to consider this. On the other hand, if you wanted to include new equipment, [then] that could also be one of the factors. Like, "hey, this thing looks cool, let's put it in the game," but then let's say it's a harvester for some other crop that we don't have in the game yet - then we would need to add the crop. So it kind of goes hand in hand. It's location [and] community. We could think that maybe we want to focus on a different community for a different area because the game is, by now, like a worldwide phenomenon. So we have Eastern Europe and Scandinavia [with] Europe our strongest market. United States, South America, Australia; people are playing it everywhere. Also Asia, we're also there. Eventually, we would like to get something in the game for everyone. But one step after another. And speaking about that phenomenon. What do you think it is about Farming Simulator that grabs people? Because I always feel like from the outside looking in you kind of look at it and you're like "Well why would I want to do that?" But I hear so many people say that when you pick it up and you start playing, there's something about it that just grabs you. What do you think that is about the series? Ravo: Again, I think there are various things. You feel rewarded very quickly. You start playing it and then [maybe] you realize how you have to do something, then instantly you're like "oh cool, now I know how to do it so now I'm going to go on and maybe do the whole field." And then you sell your crops; you get money; and then you go, "what am I going to do with this money now?" You spend it or you think about how to spend it. It's kind of a constant flow, and you also don't have a lot of negative emotions. It's not like as in some other games where you feel frustrated because you lost or something like that. There's kind of almost a relaxation factor to a degree of like "Oh, I just got my farm. I can just plant these things..." Ravo: You're going with the flow. Yeah. It’s rewarding but you can just kind of chill out. Ravo: Yeah. There's actually one example that I had here at E3 where some guy said he wouldn't ever really consider himself as a gamer that much. He's here at E3, but still. He said "you know, I don't play that much. I'm not really like the typical gamer." Then he told me he played the game [for] 400 hours. So you don't consider yourself a gamer? And I think there's kind of a group that are not really seen as gamers by other companies or maybe by the media, but they do like to play video games now. It's [a different kind of] video games. Not the games that have been known for years, but they also like to play games. And they enjoy [Farming Simulator]. They don't want to mess with other players, play online, and get defeated or beaten by the computer. Kill things. Ravo: Yeah. They do enjoy video games, but a different style of game. And of course the third group [that loves Farming Simulator] are the farmers. We have a lot of farmers who play, people who grew up on a farm, and they love the tractors and all the other machines. That's also why we work closely with all the manufacturers [of farming equipment]. We have over 80 brands licensed so far, and we try to recreate them as authentically as possible with good graphics and parts that are moving so that everyone who knows these tractors can be proud of them. "oh, this is a tractor I always wanted on my farm and I can now play it in game, I really don't have the money for it," it's like in the racing games when you buy a big sports car, and then you go on the racetrack. You couldn't do that in real life. But here in Farming Simulator, as a farmer, you can also try out different tractors and kind of find your favorite tractor. Are the manufacturers of the equipment super involved? Do you have to always go back to them to make sure the tractor feels the way its supposed to and they go, "okay, that's right," or, "you need to fix this, this isn't quite right?” Ravo: It's more about the visuals. I’m not so much involved with it... but when it comes to how they look like, we're really in a constant dialogue with them. For example, I work for PR marketing, so when we do screenshots in early versions and suddenly someone notices that there's a sticker or a logo missing where it should be on the machine or there's one part that is sticking out a bit or maybe even they've changed the machine. That also happened. We put the machine in the game, and then the manufacturer changed the machine afterwards and we're like, "oh we can't release it like that because it doesn't look like that anymore." So we got feedback from them and then we removed that part and changed it so it looks like the machine when it actually came out. So it's more about the visuals. When it comes to the handling, I would say the only way they could give feedback is when playing the game. Do they ever come in to playtest and see how it feels? Ravo: Yeah because to be honest, we're kind of tuning the machines up to the launch because it's a long process. So if you would play them [a] month before the game comes out, they would feel sluggish anyways. So it's like just right before launch basically when the machines get tuned and we fix them. But in general, I think they are quite happy with how the machines feel in the game. It's more about the visual aspect and we really need to work closely with them. Does anyone on the team get to drive any of the real machines? For research purposes? Ravo: Yeah, of course. And not just for research. I mean, a lot of our employees were actually farmers or they come from a farming background. Some were modders before; farmers that modded their favorite tractor into the game. Sometimes we reach out to them and [get them to] work for us. So we have several people with a farming background. Not just a handful- it's actually probably more than 50% that do know a lot about farming and they've been on a farm or their parents were farmers. So that's where we also get some feedback. That's an interesting little scene that I don't think a lot of people aware about: gaming farmers. I don’t think many people would put those two together even though why not? Why wouldn't a farmer want to play video games? Especially now in this modern generation, younger farmers grow up with video games. That's interesting to me. Ravo: To be honest, I think there are a lot of farmers out there, let's say all of them, generally, [that] love their job. Or I would hope that people love their job, not just farmers but everyone. They love farming, they are farmers because they love it, and that's also how we want to treat them with the game. I think when the game came out, a lot of people were kind of smiling and laughing like “what? A game about farmers?" But farmers do take their jobs seriously, and we also take the game seriously. They know that when they play the game. It's something they can be proud of because the machines are recreated in authentic way. Also, the workflow itself: cultivating, harvesting, all these kinds of things; they treat the genre with respect. It's the same with other games too. I always say football players play football games, soldiers play combat games, soccer players play soccer games. It's their job, why would they [want to] play in the evening? Because the game [is] fun, and they know something about it. It's the same with the farming game. If you put a farmer in front of Farming Simulator, he knows what he has to do. Someone else has to kind of work his way through it first. So they just sit down and they can relax and it doesn't feel like work for them. It's the best case of, "oh, I can actually do this work without actually having to physically go out there and bust my butt trying to get the job done." And it's cool for newcomers, people who have never been on a farm. Do you guys have a big fanbase of people saying, "hey, I don't know what that's like at all and this is my only real window into that world because I don't have a farm or I've never seen one?" Because I feel like farming’s become less and less in the public perception a little bit. And this kind of brings that to the forefront, at least in video games, for younger players. Ravo: I think you mean there's a lot of players who learn a lot about farming who play our game. We do simulate things. Even I learned a lot about the processes and the workflow. Like how to make silage, when to make it, and get told off when I use a plow on the wrong side when I [make] a screenshot. Then I'll ask them, my co-workers, “okay, why would we use it like that?" and then I understand it better. And I think [there's] a lot of things you can learn about, and it's quite an interesting topic, actually: how the farming industry is changing at the moment. There's a lot more technology getting into the machines. Tractors are almost robots by now, to be honest with you. I imagine this robotic alien, we place so much technology in there. But then again, it's not just about pressing a few buttons. You have to know a lot [about] how to optimize your yield or which height you actually have to harvest. Weather, for example, is also something [along with] GPS-controlled tractors. There's so much going on in the genre. It's going to be interesting for the next few years even with our game because of course we also keep track of all these things. Is that something you keep in mind? You're always having to pay attention to the industry as it evolves to try with every new entry to have it as relevant as possible. And with things becoming more mechanized, do you think it's an issue of players not being able to hop into a tractor and drive it around anymore because eventually you just hit a button and just kind of program it to do its thing? If manual labor in general becomes less of a thing? Ravo: It could be. I don't know, I would have to talk to the guys who know more about the industry itself, but that's kind of what I see right now. Technology [is] being used more and more in all these machines and we have to see where it goes. I mean generally, it's assisting a lot, it also increases productivity usually. But what I just saw recently, we also have like farm days where we also get to try out these tractors for example... You go to a farm? Ravo: Yeah. And it's not that easy. It's easy in our game to drive a tractor than it is in real life. And what I'll say is I still have a lot of respect–”still” is the wrong word–I would say I have even more respect for farmers now after playing the game and then reading up on what they actually have to know. And the thing is, to them, it's not a game. It's their life, and their income depends on what they do. If you do something wrong, you get less harvest and you get less income. So it is really vital for them to know all of these kind of things. It's just insane what you have to know as a farmer, to be honest. So what would you say to someone that's never played Farming Simulator and has always been curious? What would you describe as the hook to get them interested? Ravo: I would just say if you want to have a good time and relax, give it a try. Because the one thing I really like about the game is that it doesn't tell you what you have to do. You make the decisions. You decide what you want to do next. You decide the pace you want to go with. Nothing really stresses you out, and that's like something I would say like you would give it a try and then you will feel like instantly getting pulled in. A memory that I always have is when I wanted to catch up with an old friend of mine, an ex-colleague from another company. I said, "hey, let's have a Skype chat!" and he said, "well, you work [on] Farming Simulator now, right?" and I was like, "yeah, I do. We can do Skype but we can also do Farming Simulator at the same time.” Turns out he had already played it like 80 hours and that evening his plan was to mow some grass for the cows and I could help him with that. So we ended up doing a chat on Skype and mowing grass at the same time. He mowed the grass, I picked it up, and we fed his cows and suddenly three hours were gone. So you can have a good time with friends in the evening. You can have 16-player multiplayer and you don't have to beat each other all the time. You just have fun together. If you want to flex your green thumb and till the fields, you can pick up Farming Simulator 18 now for Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, and Android. Farming Simulator 17 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This interview has been edited for clarity. View full article
  6. For years, I’ve curiously eyed Farming Simulator as an intriguing oddity. Unlike more whimsical takes on farming like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this series presents the profession in a realistic light. I used to wonder “Who wants spend hours cutting grass and driving a slow tractor in a boring, real world?” I doubt I’m alone in that thinking, and while outsiders may laugh at Farming Simulator, the series boasts a strong and dedicated following of players more than happy to sow and reap the digital fruits of their labor. What about these games appeals to the fanbase? I had an opportunity to unleash some of my long-burning questions to Martin Ravo, PR representative at developer Giants Software. In turn, I gained some insight about the staff’s cultivating background and the franchise’s unique fansbase of actual farmers. We also touched on how real-world agricultural advances could affect the series’ future. So I've always wondered. How do you guys go about choosing what new crops to add? What separates one crop from another in terms of which is more interesting to grow? Is it the type of location where it needs to be grown or the method that goes into growing it? Martin Ravo: There are various factors, actually. Of course, we get feedback from our community. We also see where people are playing. We usually add new maps to the game with expansions over the new game, and then it might make sense to have the crops in there that fit with the new environment. Of course, it's also the amount of time we need to implement it. Because let's say you put a completely different new crop in there, and we don't have the equipment for it. Then you also need to add the equipment, which makes things a bit more complicated. So let's say for the sunflowers. We put them in and you use similar equipment for what we already had, but you have different headers for the harvesters, so we had to add these too. So it's not just the crops. It's other things that are coming with the crops, so we have to consider this. On the other hand, if you wanted to include new equipment, [then] that could also be one of the factors. Like, "hey, this thing looks cool, let's put it in the game," but then let's say it's a harvester for some other crop that we don't have in the game yet - then we would need to add the crop. So it kind of goes hand in hand. It's location [and] community. We could think that maybe we want to focus on a different community for a different area because the game is, by now, like a worldwide phenomenon. So we have Eastern Europe and Scandinavia [with] Europe our strongest market. United States, South America, Australia; people are playing it everywhere. Also Asia, we're also there. Eventually, we would like to get something in the game for everyone. But one step after another. And speaking about that phenomenon. What do you think it is about Farming Simulator that grabs people? Because I always feel like from the outside looking in you kind of look at it and you're like "Well why would I want to do that?" But I hear so many people say that when you pick it up and you start playing, there's something about it that just grabs you. What do you think that is about the series? Ravo: Again, I think there are various things. You feel rewarded very quickly. You start playing it and then [maybe] you realize how you have to do something, then instantly you're like "oh cool, now I know how to do it so now I'm going to go on and maybe do the whole field." And then you sell your crops; you get money; and then you go, "what am I going to do with this money now?" You spend it or you think about how to spend it. It's kind of a constant flow, and you also don't have a lot of negative emotions. It's not like as in some other games where you feel frustrated because you lost or something like that. There's kind of almost a relaxation factor to a degree of like "Oh, I just got my farm. I can just plant these things..." Ravo: You're going with the flow. Yeah. It’s rewarding but you can just kind of chill out. Ravo: Yeah. There's actually one example that I had here at E3 where some guy said he wouldn't ever really consider himself as a gamer that much. He's here at E3, but still. He said "you know, I don't play that much. I'm not really like the typical gamer." Then he told me he played the game [for] 400 hours. So you don't consider yourself a gamer? And I think there's kind of a group that are not really seen as gamers by other companies or maybe by the media, but they do like to play video games now. It's [a different kind of] video games. Not the games that have been known for years, but they also like to play games. And they enjoy [Farming Simulator]. They don't want to mess with other players, play online, and get defeated or beaten by the computer. Kill things. Ravo: Yeah. They do enjoy video games, but a different style of game. And of course the third group [that loves Farming Simulator] are the farmers. We have a lot of farmers who play, people who grew up on a farm, and they love the tractors and all the other machines. That's also why we work closely with all the manufacturers [of farming equipment]. We have over 80 brands licensed so far, and we try to recreate them as authentically as possible with good graphics and parts that are moving so that everyone who knows these tractors can be proud of them. "oh, this is a tractor I always wanted on my farm and I can now play it in game, I really don't have the money for it," it's like in the racing games when you buy a big sports car, and then you go on the racetrack. You couldn't do that in real life. But here in Farming Simulator, as a farmer, you can also try out different tractors and kind of find your favorite tractor. Are the manufacturers of the equipment super involved? Do you have to always go back to them to make sure the tractor feels the way its supposed to and they go, "okay, that's right," or, "you need to fix this, this isn't quite right?” Ravo: It's more about the visuals. I’m not so much involved with it... but when it comes to how they look like, we're really in a constant dialogue with them. For example, I work for PR marketing, so when we do screenshots in early versions and suddenly someone notices that there's a sticker or a logo missing where it should be on the machine or there's one part that is sticking out a bit or maybe even they've changed the machine. That also happened. We put the machine in the game, and then the manufacturer changed the machine afterwards and we're like, "oh we can't release it like that because it doesn't look like that anymore." So we got feedback from them and then we removed that part and changed it so it looks like the machine when it actually came out. So it's more about the visuals. When it comes to the handling, I would say the only way they could give feedback is when playing the game. Do they ever come in to playtest and see how it feels? Ravo: Yeah because to be honest, we're kind of tuning the machines up to the launch because it's a long process. So if you would play them [a] month before the game comes out, they would feel sluggish anyways. So it's like just right before launch basically when the machines get tuned and we fix them. But in general, I think they are quite happy with how the machines feel in the game. It's more about the visual aspect and we really need to work closely with them. Does anyone on the team get to drive any of the real machines? For research purposes? Ravo: Yeah, of course. And not just for research. I mean, a lot of our employees were actually farmers or they come from a farming background. Some were modders before; farmers that modded their favorite tractor into the game. Sometimes we reach out to them and [get them to] work for us. So we have several people with a farming background. Not just a handful- it's actually probably more than 50% that do know a lot about farming and they've been on a farm or their parents were farmers. So that's where we also get some feedback. That's an interesting little scene that I don't think a lot of people aware about: gaming farmers. I don’t think many people would put those two together even though why not? Why wouldn't a farmer want to play video games? Especially now in this modern generation, younger farmers grow up with video games. That's interesting to me. Ravo: To be honest, I think there are a lot of farmers out there, let's say all of them, generally, [that] love their job. Or I would hope that people love their job, not just farmers but everyone. They love farming, they are farmers because they love it, and that's also how we want to treat them with the game. I think when the game came out, a lot of people were kind of smiling and laughing like “what? A game about farmers?" But farmers do take their jobs seriously, and we also take the game seriously. They know that when they play the game. It's something they can be proud of because the machines are recreated in authentic way. Also, the workflow itself: cultivating, harvesting, all these kinds of things; they treat the genre with respect. It's the same with other games too. I always say football players play football games, soldiers play combat games, soccer players play soccer games. It's their job, why would they [want to] play in the evening? Because the game [is] fun, and they know something about it. It's the same with the farming game. If you put a farmer in front of Farming Simulator, he knows what he has to do. Someone else has to kind of work his way through it first. So they just sit down and they can relax and it doesn't feel like work for them. It's the best case of, "oh, I can actually do this work without actually having to physically go out there and bust my butt trying to get the job done." And it's cool for newcomers, people who have never been on a farm. Do you guys have a big fanbase of people saying, "hey, I don't know what that's like at all and this is my only real window into that world because I don't have a farm or I've never seen one?" Because I feel like farming’s become less and less in the public perception a little bit. And this kind of brings that to the forefront, at least in video games, for younger players. Ravo: I think you mean there's a lot of players who learn a lot about farming who play our game. We do simulate things. Even I learned a lot about the processes and the workflow. Like how to make silage, when to make it, and get told off when I use a plow on the wrong side when I [make] a screenshot. Then I'll ask them, my co-workers, “okay, why would we use it like that?" and then I understand it better. And I think [there's] a lot of things you can learn about, and it's quite an interesting topic, actually: how the farming industry is changing at the moment. There's a lot more technology getting into the machines. Tractors are almost robots by now, to be honest with you. I imagine this robotic alien, we place so much technology in there. But then again, it's not just about pressing a few buttons. You have to know a lot [about] how to optimize your yield or which height you actually have to harvest. Weather, for example, is also something [along with] GPS-controlled tractors. There's so much going on in the genre. It's going to be interesting for the next few years even with our game because of course we also keep track of all these things. Is that something you keep in mind? You're always having to pay attention to the industry as it evolves to try with every new entry to have it as relevant as possible. And with things becoming more mechanized, do you think it's an issue of players not being able to hop into a tractor and drive it around anymore because eventually you just hit a button and just kind of program it to do its thing? If manual labor in general becomes less of a thing? Ravo: It could be. I don't know, I would have to talk to the guys who know more about the industry itself, but that's kind of what I see right now. Technology [is] being used more and more in all these machines and we have to see where it goes. I mean generally, it's assisting a lot, it also increases productivity usually. But what I just saw recently, we also have like farm days where we also get to try out these tractors for example... You go to a farm? Ravo: Yeah. And it's not that easy. It's easy in our game to drive a tractor than it is in real life. And what I'll say is I still have a lot of respect–”still” is the wrong word–I would say I have even more respect for farmers now after playing the game and then reading up on what they actually have to know. And the thing is, to them, it's not a game. It's their life, and their income depends on what they do. If you do something wrong, you get less harvest and you get less income. So it is really vital for them to know all of these kind of things. It's just insane what you have to know as a farmer, to be honest. So what would you say to someone that's never played Farming Simulator and has always been curious? What would you describe as the hook to get them interested? Ravo: I would just say if you want to have a good time and relax, give it a try. Because the one thing I really like about the game is that it doesn't tell you what you have to do. You make the decisions. You decide what you want to do next. You decide the pace you want to go with. Nothing really stresses you out, and that's like something I would say like you would give it a try and then you will feel like instantly getting pulled in. A memory that I always have is when I wanted to catch up with an old friend of mine, an ex-colleague from another company. I said, "hey, let's have a Skype chat!" and he said, "well, you work [on] Farming Simulator now, right?" and I was like, "yeah, I do. We can do Skype but we can also do Farming Simulator at the same time.” Turns out he had already played it like 80 hours and that evening his plan was to mow some grass for the cows and I could help him with that. So we ended up doing a chat on Skype and mowing grass at the same time. He mowed the grass, I picked it up, and we fed his cows and suddenly three hours were gone. So you can have a good time with friends in the evening. You can have 16-player multiplayer and you don't have to beat each other all the time. You just have fun together. If you want to flex your green thumb and till the fields, you can pick up Farming Simulator 18 now for Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, and Android. Farming Simulator 17 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This interview has been edited for clarity.
  7. Feature: Review: Perception

    Perception forces players to confront two of humanity’s greatest fears: the fear of the dark, and the fear of the unknown: As Cassie, you’re blind. Perpetual blackness shrouds the world. Striking objects with her trusty cane paints an echolocation-produced blueprint of her surroundings to explore an eerie haunted mansion. Unfortunately, a malevolent spirit inhabits the house, honing in on Cassie if she makes too much of a racket. A clever and devious horror premise for sure, but Perception only takes full advantage of it a handful of times. Perception sits firmly within the subgenre of “run and hide” horror titles popularized by Amnesia: The Dark Descent. However, Cassie’s lack of sight ratchets up the tension. A doll’s laughter or the strained creak of an door opening becomes exponentially more frightening when you can’t see where it's coming from or its source. I highly recommend playing with a good pair of headphones since the finely-tuned sound design not only helps pinpoint a sound’s location, but it routinely sent shivers up my spine. Perception falters when it relies too much on rote jump scares; it shines brightest when the uneasy atmosphere and subtle frights do the heavy lifting. Cassie explores the mansion in an attempt to piece together disparate elements from her dreams. Along the way, she relives the tragic stories of the house’s former inhabitants over its centuries of existence. My favorite, and perhaps the saddest, tale involved a paranoid wife desperately seeking a means to reunite with her husband, a soldier stationed overseas during one of the world wars. One way or another, the house drove its owners to madness, which effectively sold my surroundings as an omnipresent threat I wanted no part of. Additionally, the house completely morphs its appearance every chapter to reflect the time period of the story being told. Though some of the general layout remains unchanged, you aren’t backtracking through the exact same areas–a neat touch that kept exploration interesting. Interacting with objects unlocks much of Perception’s narrative beats. Seeking these items out, and exploring the house in general, can be both a rewarding and tedious process. Everything is pitch black unless you make noise, so expect to be banging things fairly often. The limited “sight” only lasts a fleeting couple of seconds before the world fades away again. While that does its job of selling the sensation of being blind (or, at least, how it feels to be Marvel’s Daredevil), this occasionally makes it easy to get lost in the large house. One mission tasked me with finding matches located upstairs. However, I routinely passed the inconspicuous staircase entrance because I kept missing sight of it before my sounds faded, not to mention the limited vibration range. Such situations may frustrate less patient players. Having to remember previously visited rooms and mentally mapping out corridors and entryways routinely jumps back and forth between feeling novel and tedious. I repeatedly hit the same areas just to confirm that a kitchen was indeed a kitchen. Perception isn’t a game for everyone as it requires a special kind of patience on top of possessing bravery. Though I generally felt proud of myself for competently navigating an area, other times doing so felt like a pain in the butt. If nothing else, I walked away from Perception with a greater appreciation for my vision, and that’s likely part of the point. Disappointingly, the game doesn’t present enough inventive scenarios that highlight the main premise. Most of the game revolves around the same basic formula: walk around, make noise, listen to memories, fetch an item to solve a light puzzle. Perception had two stand-out sequences. The first was a heart-pounding romp through a bubble-wrapped nursery where Cassie must hide while inevitably making noise. The second was a chapter centered around robotic, evil dolls that roamed the house, some of which even toted guns (I’m terrified of creepy dolls, so I tensed up the whole way through). While moment-to-moment gameplay is solid, nothing else came close to feeling as creative or memorable as those two moments. Considering the concept’s potential, I’m bummed to see the idea be somewhat squandered. Even though the game presented regular warnings to keep as quiet as reasonably possible, I felt I could make quite a bit of commotion before triggering an appearance by the ghost. It only spawned once (outside of scripted sequences) throughout my entire playthrough, despite not being particularly frugal with my noise-making. Though that made exploration less of a pain, it also eliminated some of the desired anxiety when I realized I could get away with more than I maybe should have. It felt like a tricky balancing act that the developer had trouble nailing. Players need to be able to make enough sound to get around somewhat smoothly, but there also needs to be a constant fear of doing so. Conclusion If you’re looking for a novel spin on the helpless horror sub-genre, Perception is worth a look. The game purposely intends to make players feel impaired, so your mileage on fun varies depending on how much you’re willing to put up with bumping around in the (mostly) darkness. But if you’re up to the challenge, Perception can be a genuinely hair-raising experience. Overall, Cassie’s frightening romp through darkness stands as a respectable horror outing that should make for a unique offering for fans of the genre. Perception was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is also available now for Xbox One and PC. It releases on Nintendo Switch later this year. View full article
  8. Review: Perception

    Perception forces players to confront two of humanity’s greatest fears: the fear of the dark, and the fear of the unknown: As Cassie, you’re blind. Perpetual blackness shrouds the world. Striking objects with her trusty cane paints an echolocation-produced blueprint of her surroundings to explore an eerie haunted mansion. Unfortunately, a malevolent spirit inhabits the house, honing in on Cassie if she makes too much of a racket. A clever and devious horror premise for sure, but Perception only takes full advantage of it a handful of times. Perception sits firmly within the subgenre of “run and hide” horror titles popularized by Amnesia: The Dark Descent. However, Cassie’s lack of sight ratchets up the tension. A doll’s laughter or the strained creak of an door opening becomes exponentially more frightening when you can’t see where it's coming from or its source. I highly recommend playing with a good pair of headphones since the finely-tuned sound design not only helps pinpoint a sound’s location, but it routinely sent shivers up my spine. Perception falters when it relies too much on rote jump scares; it shines brightest when the uneasy atmosphere and subtle frights do the heavy lifting. Cassie explores the mansion in an attempt to piece together disparate elements from her dreams. Along the way, she relives the tragic stories of the house’s former inhabitants over its centuries of existence. My favorite, and perhaps the saddest, tale involved a paranoid wife desperately seeking a means to reunite with her husband, a soldier stationed overseas during one of the world wars. One way or another, the house drove its owners to madness, which effectively sold my surroundings as an omnipresent threat I wanted no part of. Additionally, the house completely morphs its appearance every chapter to reflect the time period of the story being told. Though some of the general layout remains unchanged, you aren’t backtracking through the exact same areas–a neat touch that kept exploration interesting. Interacting with objects unlocks much of Perception’s narrative beats. Seeking these items out, and exploring the house in general, can be both a rewarding and tedious process. Everything is pitch black unless you make noise, so expect to be banging things fairly often. The limited “sight” only lasts a fleeting couple of seconds before the world fades away again. While that does its job of selling the sensation of being blind (or, at least, how it feels to be Marvel’s Daredevil), this occasionally makes it easy to get lost in the large house. One mission tasked me with finding matches located upstairs. However, I routinely passed the inconspicuous staircase entrance because I kept missing sight of it before my sounds faded, not to mention the limited vibration range. Such situations may frustrate less patient players. Having to remember previously visited rooms and mentally mapping out corridors and entryways routinely jumps back and forth between feeling novel and tedious. I repeatedly hit the same areas just to confirm that a kitchen was indeed a kitchen. Perception isn’t a game for everyone as it requires a special kind of patience on top of possessing bravery. Though I generally felt proud of myself for competently navigating an area, other times doing so felt like a pain in the butt. If nothing else, I walked away from Perception with a greater appreciation for my vision, and that’s likely part of the point. Disappointingly, the game doesn’t present enough inventive scenarios that highlight the main premise. Most of the game revolves around the same basic formula: walk around, make noise, listen to memories, fetch an item to solve a light puzzle. Perception had two stand-out sequences. The first was a heart-pounding romp through a bubble-wrapped nursery where Cassie must hide while inevitably making noise. The second was a chapter centered around robotic, evil dolls that roamed the house, some of which even toted guns (I’m terrified of creepy dolls, so I tensed up the whole way through). While moment-to-moment gameplay is solid, nothing else came close to feeling as creative or memorable as those two moments. Considering the concept’s potential, I’m bummed to see the idea be somewhat squandered. Even though the game presented regular warnings to keep as quiet as reasonably possible, I felt I could make quite a bit of commotion before triggering an appearance by the ghost. It only spawned once (outside of scripted sequences) throughout my entire playthrough, despite not being particularly frugal with my noise-making. Though that made exploration less of a pain, it also eliminated some of the desired anxiety when I realized I could get away with more than I maybe should have. It felt like a tricky balancing act that the developer had trouble nailing. Players need to be able to make enough sound to get around somewhat smoothly, but there also needs to be a constant fear of doing so. Conclusion If you’re looking for a novel spin on the helpless horror sub-genre, Perception is worth a look. The game purposely intends to make players feel impaired, so your mileage on fun varies depending on how much you’re willing to put up with bumping around in the (mostly) darkness. But if you’re up to the challenge, Perception can be a genuinely hair-raising experience. Overall, Cassie’s frightening romp through darkness stands as a respectable horror outing that should make for a unique offering for fans of the genre. Perception was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is also available now for Xbox One and PC. It releases on Nintendo Switch later this year.
  9. Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat was something of a pioneer for modern tactical shooters when it first arrived as a Half-Life 2 mod a decade ago. Conceived by Canadian Army veteran Andrew Spearin and supported by Red Orchestra mod founder Jeremy Blum, Insurgency: MIC made a name for itself by focusing on hardcore realism and infantry warfare. Elements such as a lack of crosshairs and deadlier gun behavior (players could die in one or two shots) resonated with a segment of the first-person shooter crowd, giving rise to a passionate following. A sequel to the mod, simply titled Insurgency, was one of the earliest Steam Early Access titles when it became available in March 2013. The game exited Early Access and launched in early 2014 going on to sell over three million copies. With strong sales, the opening of a new Amsterdam studio, and a growing staff, developer New World Interactive channeled all of their talent and resources into crafting an ambitious sequel, Insurgency: Sandstorm. Sandstorm aims to improve on the aspects that brought Insurgency to the dance while diversifying the experience to reach new players. I had a chance to speak with Spearin, creative director on the project, about the new features coming to Insurgency: Sandstorm and how it differentiates itself from the original game. Same Hardcore Approach, New Twists Insurgency: Sandstorm retains the realistic gunplay that made the series into, as Spearin jokingly described, the “Dark Souls of shooters.” He went on to elaborate on what he meant, saying, “We're keeping the same recipe that we've established. So it'll be the same weapon handling that Insurgency has, which means that there's no cross-hair. There's a free aim area where you can point your weapon within, so you can't just put a dot on your screen and hit the [trigger] consistently. You have to rely on your weapon sights to aim accurately and control your recoil, that sort of stuff.” A new ballistic system introduces realistic bullet drop, travel time, and ricochet. Sandstorm also adds environmental interactions such as ladder climbing, vaulting, and door breaching. One example is that players can shoot the hinges off doors and kick them down. New World also plans to incorporate features from its other title, Day of Infamy, such as fire support which allows players to call in bombers for artillery support. A progression system that bestows cosmetic items to players as they climb the ranks is also planned. And, of course, mod support will continue to exist in the PC version of Sandstorm. “Restarting our mod roots, it's very important for us, and we want to grow the next generation of indie devs through our platform,” said Spearin. Adjusting To The Console Audience In addition to PC, Insurgency: Sandstorm is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This marks the series’ first appearance on consoles. When I asked about the potential difficulty of translating the franchise’s hardcore controls to a console layout, Spearin told me that the team is mindful of the challenge and aims to adjust the controls without losing Insurgency’s signature realism. “We're looking to auto-aim and the typical shooter console features that are wired to make it a little easier for a controller. “Spearin stated firmly before going on to affirm that the series would not lose its signature style, “But at the same time, Insurgency benefits from minimalism, and in its design that kind of heightens the realism and intensity, not necessarily an overcomplexity. So if you look at a game like ARMA where yeah, every key on the keyboard does something. But when you play Insurgency, it's still very basic controls. So we want to maintain that simplicity in our approach to the design. That's what makes it easier to translate over to the consoles.” A Graphics Overhaul Being a Half-Life 2 mod means both Insurgency and its mod predecessor were developed using the Source Engine, which limited the scope of the maps. For Sandstorm, New World Interactive has switched to Unreal Engine 4, with the team citing the graphical difference as “night and day” compared to the earlier titles. Unreal 4’s tech granted designers the horsepower to craft more visually impressive maps that are also more spacious than Insurgency's compact arenas. Players Won’t Have To Only Get Around On Foot Over the years, a segment of fans have requested that vehicles be added to Insurgency. However, the limitations of Source Engine made it impossible to do so. Sandstorm finally grants this wish, but if you’re a purist concerned about the game going the route of Battlefield, take solace in the fact that players won’t be obliterating buildings with tanks or flying around in helicopters. “We are still focused on that infantry combat, kind of close quarters but it's going to be a little wider. Spearin explained. “It's going to be primarily pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns and transportation trucks, that kind of thing.” Sandstorm is being designed with vehicles in mind, with appropriate game modes such as a convoy ambush. Enriching Competitive Play Spearin assures that multiplayer will maintain the same tweaks and balancing the team has spent years perfecting. Like the current Insurgency, Sandstorm’s online multiplayer supports up to 32 players. The game also features a competitive 5v5 mode and a separate co-op focused mode that will support up to eight players. New World Interactive has taken the popularity of eSports into account, with Spearin stating “Our own community with Insurgency has been very demanding about a lot of features over the years. Like matchmaking, ranks and leaderboards. So we are investing that effort into Sandstorm for that competitive crowd.” Weaving A Thoughtful Narrative A cinematic story campaign is Sandstorm’s most significant addition. Played alone or with up to four players cooperatively, Sandstorm tells the tale of a female paramilitary soldier who, as a child, was enslaved by radical insurgents along with her sister and best friend. When a skirmish erupted during a violent sandstorm, the wall to their prison was blown open by fire, which allowed the girls to escape. However, the protagonist and her sister became separated in the disorienting storm. Fast forward to present day, the protagonist and her best friend now fight against the forces that once oppressed them. One day the women uncover vital information that drives them to break away from their squad and set off on their own journey. Joining them is a former US veteran of the Iraq War who volunteers with the rebel force, and an adventure-seeking French citizen with zero combat experience. Spearin describes their quest as a “road trip across the desert,” where they’ll encounter a variety of people and locations and bond through the hardships the journey brings. Spearin stated the story drew inspiration from several different sources, including current events unfolding in present-day Iraq and the Iraqi war documentary Peshmerga. New World Interactive’s goal is to ditch the mindless nature of shooters and help players to understand who they’re pointing a gun at and why. “We wanted to highlight [the conflict in Iraq] because in the news you hear like oh, U.S. and NATO are supporting the Kurds, and not many people really understand what that means, who these people are and why.” Spearin continued, “In a way, that's what people want: to immerse themselves in a mindless time period with games. But when you come out of it, you can look at the real world and think ‘Oh wow, I have a better understanding of what's going on now’ or ‘I want to start learning more.’” New World Interactive hopes to hold a closed alpha for Insurgency: Sandstorm later this year, with a full release scheduled for sometime in 2018. With the move to consoles and the addition of a cinematic story mode, it’ll be interesting to see if the game can find a new player base in the ultra-saturated shooter market. Spearin feels confident that Sandstorm’s more grounded, thoughtful take on the genre will not only help it stand out, but provide a welcome change from the norm. “In order to stand out you have to do something innovative. You need to catch people's attention in a different way. I think when a saturated market exists, fans are looking for something different. They get tired of the same old franchise regenerating the same old gameplay with a different skin on top, right? They want somebody who is taking the challenge and the risk to come up with something new. Now it's like ‘let's bring that to more people.’” View full article
  10. Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat was something of a pioneer for modern tactical shooters when it first arrived as a Half-Life 2 mod a decade ago. Conceived by Canadian Army veteran Andrew Spearin and supported by Red Orchestra mod founder Jeremy Blum, Insurgency: MIC made a name for itself by focusing on hardcore realism and infantry warfare. Elements such as a lack of crosshairs and deadlier gun behavior (players could die in one or two shots) resonated with a segment of the first-person shooter crowd, giving rise to a passionate following. A sequel to the mod, simply titled Insurgency, was one of the earliest Steam Early Access titles when it became available in March 2013. The game exited Early Access and launched in early 2014 going on to sell over three million copies. With strong sales, the opening of a new Amsterdam studio, and a growing staff, developer New World Interactive channeled all of their talent and resources into crafting an ambitious sequel, Insurgency: Sandstorm. Sandstorm aims to improve on the aspects that brought Insurgency to the dance while diversifying the experience to reach new players. I had a chance to speak with Spearin, creative director on the project, about the new features coming to Insurgency: Sandstorm and how it differentiates itself from the original game. Same Hardcore Approach, New Twists Insurgency: Sandstorm retains the realistic gunplay that made the series into, as Spearin jokingly described, the “Dark Souls of shooters.” He went on to elaborate on what he meant, saying, “We're keeping the same recipe that we've established. So it'll be the same weapon handling that Insurgency has, which means that there's no cross-hair. There's a free aim area where you can point your weapon within, so you can't just put a dot on your screen and hit the [trigger] consistently. You have to rely on your weapon sights to aim accurately and control your recoil, that sort of stuff.” A new ballistic system introduces realistic bullet drop, travel time, and ricochet. Sandstorm also adds environmental interactions such as ladder climbing, vaulting, and door breaching. One example is that players can shoot the hinges off doors and kick them down. New World also plans to incorporate features from its other title, Day of Infamy, such as fire support which allows players to call in bombers for artillery support. A progression system that bestows cosmetic items to players as they climb the ranks is also planned. And, of course, mod support will continue to exist in the PC version of Sandstorm. “Restarting our mod roots, it's very important for us, and we want to grow the next generation of indie devs through our platform,” said Spearin. Adjusting To The Console Audience In addition to PC, Insurgency: Sandstorm is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This marks the series’ first appearance on consoles. When I asked about the potential difficulty of translating the franchise’s hardcore controls to a console layout, Spearin told me that the team is mindful of the challenge and aims to adjust the controls without losing Insurgency’s signature realism. “We're looking to auto-aim and the typical shooter console features that are wired to make it a little easier for a controller. “Spearin stated firmly before going on to affirm that the series would not lose its signature style, “But at the same time, Insurgency benefits from minimalism, and in its design that kind of heightens the realism and intensity, not necessarily an overcomplexity. So if you look at a game like ARMA where yeah, every key on the keyboard does something. But when you play Insurgency, it's still very basic controls. So we want to maintain that simplicity in our approach to the design. That's what makes it easier to translate over to the consoles.” A Graphics Overhaul Being a Half-Life 2 mod means both Insurgency and its mod predecessor were developed using the Source Engine, which limited the scope of the maps. For Sandstorm, New World Interactive has switched to Unreal Engine 4, with the team citing the graphical difference as “night and day” compared to the earlier titles. Unreal 4’s tech granted designers the horsepower to craft more visually impressive maps that are also more spacious than Insurgency's compact arenas. Players Won’t Have To Only Get Around On Foot Over the years, a segment of fans have requested that vehicles be added to Insurgency. However, the limitations of Source Engine made it impossible to do so. Sandstorm finally grants this wish, but if you’re a purist concerned about the game going the route of Battlefield, take solace in the fact that players won’t be obliterating buildings with tanks or flying around in helicopters. “We are still focused on that infantry combat, kind of close quarters but it's going to be a little wider. Spearin explained. “It's going to be primarily pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns and transportation trucks, that kind of thing.” Sandstorm is being designed with vehicles in mind, with appropriate game modes such as a convoy ambush. Enriching Competitive Play Spearin assures that multiplayer will maintain the same tweaks and balancing the team has spent years perfecting. Like the current Insurgency, Sandstorm’s online multiplayer supports up to 32 players. The game also features a competitive 5v5 mode and a separate co-op focused mode that will support up to eight players. New World Interactive has taken the popularity of eSports into account, with Spearin stating “Our own community with Insurgency has been very demanding about a lot of features over the years. Like matchmaking, ranks and leaderboards. So we are investing that effort into Sandstorm for that competitive crowd.” Weaving A Thoughtful Narrative A cinematic story campaign is Sandstorm’s most significant addition. Played alone or with up to four players cooperatively, Sandstorm tells the tale of a female paramilitary soldier who, as a child, was enslaved by radical insurgents along with her sister and best friend. When a skirmish erupted during a violent sandstorm, the wall to their prison was blown open by fire, which allowed the girls to escape. However, the protagonist and her sister became separated in the disorienting storm. Fast forward to present day, the protagonist and her best friend now fight against the forces that once oppressed them. One day the women uncover vital information that drives them to break away from their squad and set off on their own journey. Joining them is a former US veteran of the Iraq War who volunteers with the rebel force, and an adventure-seeking French citizen with zero combat experience. Spearin describes their quest as a “road trip across the desert,” where they’ll encounter a variety of people and locations and bond through the hardships the journey brings. Spearin stated the story drew inspiration from several different sources, including current events unfolding in present-day Iraq and the Iraqi war documentary Peshmerga. New World Interactive’s goal is to ditch the mindless nature of shooters and help players to understand who they’re pointing a gun at and why. “We wanted to highlight [the conflict in Iraq] because in the news you hear like oh, U.S. and NATO are supporting the Kurds, and not many people really understand what that means, who these people are and why.” Spearin continued, “In a way, that's what people want: to immerse themselves in a mindless time period with games. But when you come out of it, you can look at the real world and think ‘Oh wow, I have a better understanding of what's going on now’ or ‘I want to start learning more.’” New World Interactive hopes to hold a closed alpha for Insurgency: Sandstorm later this year, with a full release scheduled for sometime in 2018. With the move to consoles and the addition of a cinematic story mode, it’ll be interesting to see if the game can find a new player base in the ultra-saturated shooter market. Spearin feels confident that Sandstorm’s more grounded, thoughtful take on the genre will not only help it stand out, but provide a welcome change from the norm. “In order to stand out you have to do something innovative. You need to catch people's attention in a different way. I think when a saturated market exists, fans are looking for something different. They get tired of the same old franchise regenerating the same old gameplay with a different skin on top, right? They want somebody who is taking the challenge and the risk to come up with something new. Now it's like ‘let's bring that to more people.’”
  11. Since 2013, Path of Exile has treated fans of action role-playing with a steady stream of content at the entry price of free-ninety-free. Developer Grinding Gear Games is giving its followers even more to love with the free-to-play title’s sixth and largest expansion to date: The Fall of Oriath. In addition to beefing up the PC version, the expansion, along with the entire Path of Exile experience, debuts on Xbox One later this year. After having an opportunity to take a look at the new content, here are some of the things fans can expect. I spent some time with a slice of the Xbox One version of the game, giving me the chance to test drive the remapped gamepad controls. I had previously only dabbled with the PC version of Path of Exile, and my inexperience with mouse and keyboard controls hindered my enjoyment. The reworked console controls were a welcome change for players like myself. Combat, item usage, and navigating the tweaked UI felt like I was coming home to a comfortable bed with that gamepad in hand. The Fall of Oriath’s story centers around the return of the gods of Wraeclast, who seek to reclaim their hold on the world. These gods serve as the adversaries players will face off against. One arduous bout I tackled was against a seemingly human foe who revealed himself to be a towering, radiant deity midway through our battle. Boasting a rapidly regenerating shield, scores of minions, and bullet hell-style projectile wave attacks, it was an overwhelming and challenging encounter. I witnessed another battle against the sea god, the Brine King, who drained the surrounding ocean to unleash pirate ghosts and water elementals against his targets. You read that right: Pirate. Ghosts. The Fall of Oriath features 24 bosses of this caliber with which players must contend. While Path of Exile’s original campaign runs roughly 20 hours, Grinding Gear promises The Fall of Oriath to run 40-50 hours across six new acts. The designer I spoke with stated, “Basically, the idea there is that for a retail game this would probably be a sequel, but for free-to-play you don't really do sequels. So we're just adding a lot of content to the base game.” That content includes a bevy of new skill gems and unique items, the specifics of which Grinding Gears plans to reveal in the near future. Additionally, The Fall of Oriath introduces Pantheon, a system that lets players harness the abilities of the gods they battle. A new league event is also slated to begin roughly around the launch of the new content. Leagues are special events that occur every three months and shake up the game rules, such as increasing the attack speed of all enemies. The Fall of Oriath closed beta features all existing content plus Acts 5 through 7. The expansion arrives in full on PC this month. Xbox One players get their chance to lose countless hours surviving Path of Exile’s dark and compelling world when it hits Microsoft’s console this fall. View full article
  12. Since 2013, Path of Exile has treated fans of action role-playing with a steady stream of content at the entry price of free-ninety-free. Developer Grinding Gear Games is giving its followers even more to love with the free-to-play title’s sixth and largest expansion to date: The Fall of Oriath. In addition to beefing up the PC version, the expansion, along with the entire Path of Exile experience, debuts on Xbox One later this year. After having an opportunity to take a look at the new content, here are some of the things fans can expect. I spent some time with a slice of the Xbox One version of the game, giving me the chance to test drive the remapped gamepad controls. I had previously only dabbled with the PC version of Path of Exile, and my inexperience with mouse and keyboard controls hindered my enjoyment. The reworked console controls were a welcome change for players like myself. Combat, item usage, and navigating the tweaked UI felt like I was coming home to a comfortable bed with that gamepad in hand. The Fall of Oriath’s story centers around the return of the gods of Wraeclast, who seek to reclaim their hold on the world. These gods serve as the adversaries players will face off against. One arduous bout I tackled was against a seemingly human foe who revealed himself to be a towering, radiant deity midway through our battle. Boasting a rapidly regenerating shield, scores of minions, and bullet hell-style projectile wave attacks, it was an overwhelming and challenging encounter. I witnessed another battle against the sea god, the Brine King, who drained the surrounding ocean to unleash pirate ghosts and water elementals against his targets. You read that right: Pirate. Ghosts. The Fall of Oriath features 24 bosses of this caliber with which players must contend. While Path of Exile’s original campaign runs roughly 20 hours, Grinding Gear promises The Fall of Oriath to run 40-50 hours across six new acts. The designer I spoke with stated, “Basically, the idea there is that for a retail game this would probably be a sequel, but for free-to-play you don't really do sequels. So we're just adding a lot of content to the base game.” That content includes a bevy of new skill gems and unique items, the specifics of which Grinding Gears plans to reveal in the near future. Additionally, The Fall of Oriath introduces Pantheon, a system that lets players harness the abilities of the gods they battle. A new league event is also slated to begin roughly around the launch of the new content. Leagues are special events that occur every three months and shake up the game rules, such as increasing the attack speed of all enemies. The Fall of Oriath closed beta features all existing content plus Acts 5 through 7. The expansion arrives in full on PC this month. Xbox One players get their chance to lose countless hours surviving Path of Exile’s dark and compelling world when it hits Microsoft’s console this fall.
  13. I tapped the colored light pads on a MIDI drum pad in a near daze, a melodic, electronic track pulsed through my ears. My avatar, a rotoscope image of a woman, jogged down neon tinted lanes dotted with music notes, inexplicably morphing into a unicorn and then a cosmic squid. Despite trying to maintain focus on hitting the beats in perfect rhythm, my mind couldn’t help but melt into a relaxing state of electronic zen. That sensation defines Roto Color Rhythm: a music game that wants its players to mellow out instead of testing their reflexes. “Part of what we're trying to also do is look at the meditative, relaxation aspect,” explained designer and Blue Volcano CEO Brendan Votano. “So the initial idea for the game came from ‘what do I want to play after I get home?’ After either a stressful day or going to a concert, going to see a music festival, I just want to chill out and relax.” I was able to sit down with Votano and programmer Roger Sodre to give Roto Color Rhythm a whirl. As with most rhythm/music titles, the core mechanic has players hitting notes across lanes. Roto Color Rhythm stands out, not so much because of its gameplay, but for its indie soundtrack, psychedelic presentation, and focus on translating the immersion of attending a live electronic concert into the interactive space. “One of the things we were really seeing when it comes to music games is they might be fun to play but they don't immerse people in that experience like going to a concert,” Sodre stated. “Like, really just kind of being there and enjoying it and just feeling that rhythm, feeling that flow, and just having a good time. It's more about ‘how fast do I hit the pads,’ ‘what's my ultimate score,’ ‘don't screw up,’ and we kind of felt people don't resonate with that. And that's something we really wanted to address with this game is ‘let's all have a good time.” One of the game’s major pillars is the myriad of options players have to engage with it. Roto Color Rhythm can be played using traditional controllers, computer keyboards, tablets, and even Guitar Hero/Rock Band instruments. For those who want to to achieve the full DJ experience, the game impressively supports a plethora of professional equipment such as drum pads and piano keyboards. “We're trying to recreate that experience, so we're using the MIDI controllers, which a lot of musicians use to create music.” Votano explains. “So if it plays, it feels like they're part of that creation process. You're using the same tools as professional musicians.” Me playing Roto Color Rhythm using a finger drum pad I played using an Akai-branded finger drum controller that sported nine pads on a 3x3 grid. Blue Volcano programmed the button’s colored lights to correspond with that of the game’s note lanes (red, blue, and green), making it easy to know which rows to hit. Any button within a row would activate the appropriate lane (a red note could be hit using any of the three pads in red row, for example) though each had a secondary mixing functionally. Votano encouraged me to avoid hitting the same set of pads as well as experiment with the various knobs and sliders, which had their own sound bending effects. Such configuration is possible with any equipment plugged into the game, so players can set up their controllers up to function as they see fit. Since I’d never messed with DJ equipment prior to playing Roto Color Rhythm, it felt legitimately cool to not only play DJ master but to feel like I was competently doing so. Despite its focus on providing a relaxed experience, I found that Roto Color Rhythm still maintains some element of challenge. The shifting camera angles and cosmic-neon art effects occasionally distracted me from following the notes. More uptempo songs featured more complicated patterns that had me rapidly tapping the pads on the MIDI controller. Much of that challenge stemmed from my unfamiliarity with the peripheral – using a gamepad or Rock Band guitar would have created an even more laid-back experienced – but a relaxed groove began to sink in once I started getting used to the control setup. Songs continue largely uninterrupted when you mess up. There are no jarring sound effects or visual cues indicating a mistake, which let me kick back and actually enjoy playing/listening to melodies without the fear of failure. With Roto Color Rhythm’s main hook in place, Blue Volcano is still designing the modes that will keep players returning for more. In addition to unlocking songs through an undetermined single-player/career-type mode, players can access a song’s individuals “stems” after completing it. For non-musicians, stems are the individual elements of a song such as the drum portion, the guitars, etc. A planned Remix mode will allow players to take a stem of music and combine it with other unlocked stems from different songs and mix them to form something original–just as real DJ’s do. Roto Color Rhythm's soundtrack primarily puts a spotlight on the indie electronic scene, though other styles are represented including progressive rock, alternative pop, and even some metal. Why the focus on indie electronic? Simple: It’s the scene that the team enjoys most. Votano and Sodre regularly attend such concerts around their home of Austin, TX. If they hear something they think would be a good fit for the game, they’ll reach out to the artist in hopes of getting them on board, sometimes at the show itself. Additionally, since DJ’s typically rely on heavy visualization elements in their shows, the genre plays perfectly into the game’s trippy presentation. A still-evolving roster of talent lend their tracks to the game, including Zebbler Encanti Experience and Eyelid Kid. Blue Volcano also goes the extra mile to ensure Roto Color Rhythm brings the niche electronic scene to a wider audience in a similar manner that Guitar Hero and Rock Band created countless new fans of rock music. Each artist has a their own information page in the game that includes their touring schedule and links to their social platforms. Players can also access an overlay menu with the performer’s info while playing a track if they ask themselves, “just who is this?” during gameplay. A performer’s music video typically plays in the level’s background. “...All these other elements related to the band are always sort of in your face,” says Votano. “So that's part of our give back to the artist as well. We want this to be win win for both of us.” Collaborating with more obscure acts also eliminates much of the “red tape” that comes with working with a giant label. According to Votano, bigger performers could say “We like the idea, but unfortunately we have to talk to our manager, who has to talk to our label… who could ultimately just say no or that this is the asking fee and that's it. I can't imagine trying to get, like, a Katy Perry track to show right now, you know what I mean?” In addition to enjoying it alone, Blue Volcano wants Roto Color Rhythm to be a social experience that anyone can hop into and have fun with regardless of their experience with video games. Votano and Sodre tested this by stealthily setting the game up in local bars, and then observed people, gamers or otherwise, take turns playing it. The public’s response? Everyone had a good time. “That's another big element to this. In the karaoke kind of style, as soon as someone goes up and does it, their whole table's going ‘woo!’ and then ‘who wants to come up next?’” said Sodre. In addition to playing with music equipment, the game can even be configured to work with lighting and other external equipment for those looking to create the ultimate party experience. Blue Volcano projects Roto Color Rhythm’s release for February 2018. Roughly 30 tracks will be in the initial release, though Blue Volcano has a two-year road map for regular updates post-launch (the team is toying with the idea of regional packs such as “The Sounds of LA,” for example). The team hopes one day the game could even be bundled with MIDI controllers to get potential users out of the gate. Thus far, Roto Color Rhythm feels like one of the most unique and authentic music offerings on the horizon that genre enthusiasts and indie electronica fans alike should definitely keep on their radar. View full article
  14. I tapped the colored light pads on a MIDI drum pad in a near daze, a melodic, electronic track pulsed through my ears. My avatar, a rotoscope image of a woman, jogged down neon tinted lanes dotted with music notes, inexplicably morphing into a unicorn and then a cosmic squid. Despite trying to maintain focus on hitting the beats in perfect rhythm, my mind couldn’t help but melt into a relaxing state of electronic zen. That sensation defines Roto Color Rhythm: a music game that wants its players to mellow out instead of testing their reflexes. “Part of what we're trying to also do is look at the meditative, relaxation aspect,” explained designer and Blue Volcano CEO Brendan Votano. “So the initial idea for the game came from ‘what do I want to play after I get home?’ After either a stressful day or going to a concert, going to see a music festival, I just want to chill out and relax.” I was able to sit down with Votano and programmer Roger Sodre to give Roto Color Rhythm a whirl. As with most rhythm/music titles, the core mechanic has players hitting notes across lanes. Roto Color Rhythm stands out, not so much because of its gameplay, but for its indie soundtrack, psychedelic presentation, and focus on translating the immersion of attending a live electronic concert into the interactive space. “One of the things we were really seeing when it comes to music games is they might be fun to play but they don't immerse people in that experience like going to a concert,” Sodre stated. “Like, really just kind of being there and enjoying it and just feeling that rhythm, feeling that flow, and just having a good time. It's more about ‘how fast do I hit the pads,’ ‘what's my ultimate score,’ ‘don't screw up,’ and we kind of felt people don't resonate with that. And that's something we really wanted to address with this game is ‘let's all have a good time.” One of the game’s major pillars is the myriad of options players have to engage with it. Roto Color Rhythm can be played using traditional controllers, computer keyboards, tablets, and even Guitar Hero/Rock Band instruments. For those who want to to achieve the full DJ experience, the game impressively supports a plethora of professional equipment such as drum pads and piano keyboards. “We're trying to recreate that experience, so we're using the MIDI controllers, which a lot of musicians use to create music.” Votano explains. “So if it plays, it feels like they're part of that creation process. You're using the same tools as professional musicians.” Me playing Roto Color Rhythm using a finger drum pad I played using an Akai-branded finger drum controller that sported nine pads on a 3x3 grid. Blue Volcano programmed the button’s colored lights to correspond with that of the game’s note lanes (red, blue, and green), making it easy to know which rows to hit. Any button within a row would activate the appropriate lane (a red note could be hit using any of the three pads in red row, for example) though each had a secondary mixing functionally. Votano encouraged me to avoid hitting the same set of pads as well as experiment with the various knobs and sliders, which had their own sound bending effects. Such configuration is possible with any equipment plugged into the game, so players can set up their controllers up to function as they see fit. Since I’d never messed with DJ equipment prior to playing Roto Color Rhythm, it felt legitimately cool to not only play DJ master but to feel like I was competently doing so. Despite its focus on providing a relaxed experience, I found that Roto Color Rhythm still maintains some element of challenge. The shifting camera angles and cosmic-neon art effects occasionally distracted me from following the notes. More uptempo songs featured more complicated patterns that had me rapidly tapping the pads on the MIDI controller. Much of that challenge stemmed from my unfamiliarity with the peripheral – using a gamepad or Rock Band guitar would have created an even more laid-back experienced – but a relaxed groove began to sink in once I started getting used to the control setup. Songs continue largely uninterrupted when you mess up. There are no jarring sound effects or visual cues indicating a mistake, which let me kick back and actually enjoy playing/listening to melodies without the fear of failure. With Roto Color Rhythm’s main hook in place, Blue Volcano is still designing the modes that will keep players returning for more. In addition to unlocking songs through an undetermined single-player/career-type mode, players can access a song’s individuals “stems” after completing it. For non-musicians, stems are the individual elements of a song such as the drum portion, the guitars, etc. A planned Remix mode will allow players to take a stem of music and combine it with other unlocked stems from different songs and mix them to form something original–just as real DJ’s do. Roto Color Rhythm's soundtrack primarily puts a spotlight on the indie electronic scene, though other styles are represented including progressive rock, alternative pop, and even some metal. Why the focus on indie electronic? Simple: It’s the scene that the team enjoys most. Votano and Sodre regularly attend such concerts around their home of Austin, TX. If they hear something they think would be a good fit for the game, they’ll reach out to the artist in hopes of getting them on board, sometimes at the show itself. Additionally, since DJ’s typically rely on heavy visualization elements in their shows, the genre plays perfectly into the game’s trippy presentation. A still-evolving roster of talent lend their tracks to the game, including Zebbler Encanti Experience and Eyelid Kid. Blue Volcano also goes the extra mile to ensure Roto Color Rhythm brings the niche electronic scene to a wider audience in a similar manner that Guitar Hero and Rock Band created countless new fans of rock music. Each artist has a their own information page in the game that includes their touring schedule and links to their social platforms. Players can also access an overlay menu with the performer’s info while playing a track if they ask themselves, “just who is this?” during gameplay. A performer’s music video typically plays in the level’s background. “...All these other elements related to the band are always sort of in your face,” says Votano. “So that's part of our give back to the artist as well. We want this to be win win for both of us.” Collaborating with more obscure acts also eliminates much of the “red tape” that comes with working with a giant label. According to Votano, bigger performers could say “We like the idea, but unfortunately we have to talk to our manager, who has to talk to our label… who could ultimately just say no or that this is the asking fee and that's it. I can't imagine trying to get, like, a Katy Perry track to show right now, you know what I mean?” In addition to enjoying it alone, Blue Volcano wants Roto Color Rhythm to be a social experience that anyone can hop into and have fun with regardless of their experience with video games. Votano and Sodre tested this by stealthily setting the game up in local bars, and then observed people, gamers or otherwise, take turns playing it. The public’s response? Everyone had a good time. “That's another big element to this. In the karaoke kind of style, as soon as someone goes up and does it, their whole table's going ‘woo!’ and then ‘who wants to come up next?’” said Sodre. In addition to playing with music equipment, the game can even be configured to work with lighting and other external equipment for those looking to create the ultimate party experience. Blue Volcano projects Roto Color Rhythm’s release for February 2018. Roughly 30 tracks will be in the initial release, though Blue Volcano has a two-year road map for regular updates post-launch (the team is toying with the idea of regional packs such as “The Sounds of LA,” for example). The team hopes one day the game could even be bundled with MIDI controllers to get potential users out of the gate. Thus far, Roto Color Rhythm feels like one of the most unique and authentic music offerings on the horizon that genre enthusiasts and indie electronica fans alike should definitely keep on their radar.
  15. Ever been curious about how the shops in RPG’s obtain their wares? Moonlighter aims to answer that burning question. The game stars Will, a shopkeeper with big dreams of becoming a hero. When he’s not running his business during the day, he “moonlights” as an adventurer, exploring caves, fighting monsters, and collecting treasure. Moonlighter’s design reflects Will’s double-life, dividing its gameplay into two disparate halves: top-down, action-adventure and market simulator. So far, it seems that developer Digital Sun has managed to weave both ideas together in a harmonious and fun way. The dungeon crawling sections sport elements of roguelites, with procedurally generated room arrangements and the loss of your loot upon death. Will wields two weapon types, which can include swords, spears, and bows, to hack and slash his way through monsters in search of treasure. Traps litter certain rooms, and others house special portals that teleport players to different, more challenging levels. While moment-to-moment gameplay features little out of the ordinary for genre enthusiasts, the various systems around it help Moonlighter stand out. Inventory management features a lot more than just shoving stuff into a bag. Multiple rows can hold items, but only stuff stored in the top row (representing Will’s pockets) will stick with him should he fall in battle. Thus, keeping your most valuable stock up top is highly recommended. Warping out of dungeons requires players to sell a certain amount treasures on the spot. You’re giving up some loot, but the hefty cost of death might make a speedy escape worth the cost, especially if you’re sitting on a good haul. Like a good businessperson, you’ve got to spend money to make money. My favorite menu element are special “cursed” items that come with various effects and create a near meta-game out of inventory. Some stipulations are relatively minor, like object that can only be kept in the bag’s bottom row. Others can be very useful, such as a curse that transforms itself into 10 duplicates of a nearby material. Curses can even work in conjunction with each other. One curse masks an item’s identity until you exit the dungeon. Another curse can dispel the ability of another, adjacent cursed object. When I moved a hidden item near a curse-remover, its identity was revealed, saving me from having to make the trip outside. Not since playing inventory Tetris in the Resident Evil series has dinking around my baggage felt this engaging. After getting my feet wet with combat in the brief prologue, Moonlighter began teaching me the ins and outs of running a storefront. Collected loot can be put up for sale at whatever price you deem appropriate. However, a product’s worth won’t be determined until customers scrutinize your inventory, so determining prices creates an initial guessing game. Cute emoticons express whether customers feel something is too cheap, too expensive, or priced reasonably. My personal favorite emote is a sort of pouty face indicating that an item’s expensive but they’ll begrudgingly buy it anyway. If a patron turns their nose up at something, you’ll need to lower the price. If someone bites the bullet on a big ticket item, you can continue charging that fee since you know people will drop the dough on it. I got a real kick out of seeing patrons open their wallets to my sometimes hilariously lofty prices. Once a sale has been made, a helpful ledger records the values for sold merchandise for future reference, eliminating that early guess work. Additionally, the book orders inventory by price, giving you a clear idea of the values of stock compared with each other. My immediate concern with shop gameplay was that it would eventually grow repetitive once the values of most goods were established, but the developers assured me that Will’s business, as well as consumer demands, evolve over time. As profits increase, the store can expand, allowing for a larger stock of merchandise as well as letting more customers visit. You can even decorate to create an atmosphere of fanciness, which might allow you to charge higher prices (the team cited the presentation of Apple stores as a humorous comparison). As customer tastes change, a once-hot commodity may not fetch a passing glance. Conversely, a cheap material could suddenly skyrocket in demand, justifying a price hike. Furthermore, some customers may even ask Will to carry certain goods, creating sidequests. It remains to be seen if these scenarios occur often enough to shopkeeping interesting in the long run, but it’s reassuring to know the same motions won’t be repeated ad nauseam. Will’s business isn’t the only game in town. The town of Rynoka is home to a blacksmith that sells and improves armor/weapons, as well an “overpriced” item store. A witch’s shop is the only business that remains open at night, selling potions, weapon enchantments, and holds nightly sales. Certain materials are better left off the show floor and used to trade at these stores. The devs stated some players even use the inventory of merchants as a point of comparison when determining how to price your own stock. I was definitely amused by the idea of intentionally undercutting the expensive item shop, for example. After business concluded for the day and I dove back into a dungeon. Moonlighter’s primary loop became clear: explore labyrinths, gather treasure, sell said treasure, purchase better equipment/upgrades, visit tougher levels, repeat. More difficult floors open up after several runs with richer rewards. But you’ll need superior gear to survive, but new equipment generally sports high price tags, providing incentive to maximize profits at the store. I realized Moonlighter’s hooks were digging in when I entered a typical combat room in which clearing its enemies would normally cause treasure to appear. However, nothing did, but instead of feeling slighted, the materials left behind by the slain foes was reward enough. I excitedly thought “Oh cool, I can sell these in my shop!” As a Zelda fan, it doesn’t take much to get me on board with similarly designed experiences. Engaging in the doldrums of managing a business, however, was a different story. When I learned Moonlighter was as about selling goods as it was exploring dungeons, my initial enthusiasm dropped a bit. Setting prices, waiting around for customers–it all sounded rather dull. By the end of my hour-long session, my tune changed. Moonlighter has the potential an engrossing and enjoyable spin on the action/RPG. The shop mechanic is a neat angle that’s backed by solid roguelite gameplay, all wrapped in a charming pixel art presentation. I look forward to opening up shop when Moonlighter arrives later this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac. View full article