Joseph Knoop

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About Joseph Knoop

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  1. The era of point-and-click adventure games is, for the most part, remembered fondly by the gaming community. The genre helped establish Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) as a powerhouse game studio (to say nothing of film) during its time. Now, over 20 years later, the point-and-click (PAC) genre has sustained itself almost strictly through fan games or deliberately indie fare looking to tap into nostalgia, but the team behind Thimbleweed Park aims to change that. As point-and-click genre visionaries, game developers like Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Gary Winnick are teaming up once again (along with a small team of younger developers) to give genre fans another grand adventure. We played an early demo with developers Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island, co-creator of Maniac Mansion) and David Fox (Lucasfilm’s third employee and SCUMM scriptor for Maniac Mansion) and spoke about how it feels to come back to an adult point-and-click game after so long, and what they hope to achieve. --- Ron Gilbert: Gary Winnick and I, we did Maniac Mansion together. We kind of wanted to create a game that really captured the charm of those old games. And we really weren't sure what that charm was. It was very ethereal. We didn't really know. It's just like, well if we kind of make a game in the same way that we made a game back then, can we kind of capture what that was? [Thimbleweed Park] is really the story of these two detectives. This is agent Ray, and the other detective is agent Reyes. So it's these two detectives who show up in Thimbleweed Park because this dead body has been discovered out by the bridge. It's really the story of their investigation into the mystery of what killed this person in this really strange, bizarre town. You realize these two agents are really not partners. They don't actually know each other until they show up. They kind of randomly show up and the other one was there. So you're always very suspect of them. Like, why are they here? What are they doing? And it really plays into the bizarre-ness of Thimbleweed. I don't think I remember seeing any of the classic control layout of “interact,” “grab,” “combine,” etc (during gameplay) at the bottom, so it's interesting that you're still going with that. It's the most obvious callback. Ron: Yeah. I think it's also a bit of the charm of those games. You had all your options and you built the sentences and the verbs and stuff. So we really wanted to retain that as much as possible. We've done play testing with people who have not played classic adventure games before. There's probably this maybe 15-20 second period where they're kind of going oh my god there's all these things on the screen, and then they realize, if they want to look at something, you just click look at it. [At this point in the demo, Gilbert reveals that the character Dolores, a young programmer, is attempting to mail a job application to a studio called “Mucus Phlegm.”] Is Mucus Phlegm a play on LucasArts? Ron: It was Lucasfilm. We all used to joke. We called it Mucus Phlegm when we worked there. Anytime we wanted to make fun of who we were working for. Are you guys coming back to “adult” point-and-click games for any particular reason? Did it feel like a good time or were you thinking you should fill gap? Because there are a few other indie point-and-click games out there. Ron: Yeah, there’s other point-and-click stuff. I guess I haven't really designed a pure PAC adventure since those days. I did "The Cave," which is like an adventure game but more a platformer adventure. I haven't really done pure PAC adventure. I think that is interesting. When Gary and I first did the Kickstarter, that really came about because Gary and I were talking about the charm a game like Maniac Mansion had, or Monkey Island, and just talking about what seemed to be missing from modern adventure games. Because while they're fun and interesting, they're kind of missing that charm that old games had. This really became an experiment. What is that charm? Can we capture that charm? If we just go back and make this game just like we would have made a game when we were doing Maniac Mansion, can we recapture the charm of those games or not? It seems interesting. Even in just the short playthrough here, the style, and writing as well, seems to be much closer to that old school Maniac Mansion. It's goofy, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. [laughs] I've played my fair share of PAC games that were inspired by those that came before, but I would grow so frustrated with them because I was never amused. It was either a raw story or it didn't have a carrot on a stick to help push me through. So what would you say are the bigger changes, if any, in making a PAC game in modern times? Like you said, you play-tested with people who never played PAC games before. Are you changing the aesthetic or gameplay loop in any significant way? Ron: We are changing it, but I think what we're doing is changing it in very subtle ways. Because I think if you look at modern gamers who like modern adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero or Firewatch- I think modern gamers in general, they enjoy being challenged, but they don't enjoy being frustrated. I think when we were making games back in the 80's and 90's, being frustrated was almost a badge of honor for players back then. Players today just won't put up with that stuff. But they don't mind being challenged. They don't want to be led around. They don't want to be told "go here and do this," but they want to understand that yes I'm heading in the right direction. They need that comfort, that little bit of security to know that yes, you're doing the right thing. This is the right path for you to be going down. So those are some of the small changes we're making. Playing something like Broken Age, I think that was another game that really hit the nail on the head in certain ways, but there were a few instances where I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I can appreciate that as someone who both appreciates more old school things like Maniac Mansion, but I'm a big Firewatch fan, too. The narrative is obviously very X-Files, Mulder and Scully inspired. Was there any particular reason you guys ran with a mystery, or what appears to be a mystery, with a lot of supernatural stuff? Does that stem from time with Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones? Is it kind of just you had a story idea and wanted to go further with it? Ron: Maniac Mansion really came from the fact that Gary [Winnick] and I were fans of bad B-horror movies, so Maniac Mansion was sort of a send-up of B horror movies. In particular, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. I really like the the stuff he's done. So in some ways it's almost a send-up of Twin Peaks and really not the X-Files. We have this man, this woman, federal agents, and everybody thinks Mulder and Scully, but really that wasn't in our heads at all. David: This is set in 1987 which is before the X-Files [laughs]. Ron: Right, so it's impossible it would be Mulder and Scully [laughs]. Case closed. But I think a lot of it is more Twin Peaks and David Lynch. When Gary and I did the Kickstarter and came up with the story of the characters, we were not thinking of X-Files at all. I was not an X-Files fan. I've seen maybe five episodes. And the second we did the Kickstarter and that image went up, everybody went "oh my god, it's agent Mulder and Scully X-Files." And I kind of went "oh, shit." [laughs]. That was my first reaction, "oh, shit, this is not the X-Files." I hope nobody is disappointed when they play the game expecting an X-Files game. David: Having watched every episode of the X-Files, the story does not do X-Files in any way. It's very Twin Peaks. So aside from the certainly-not-X-Files, certainly-not-Mulder-and-Scully duo, what is the kind of narrative that you're wanting to tell? I remember that you're exploring this old American town. It’s very post-industrial. Was there anything you were trying to communicate there? Ron: Yeah, it is. I think adventure games in general, to me, I've always looked at the main character of an adventure game as the world. The main character in Maniac Mansion is that house. The main character in Monkey Island is that world [Guybrush Threepwood] inhabits. I think if you treat the adventure game world as if it's the main character, it can come alive. We treat the town like that. We built a real town. It connects like a real town would be. We expect you to navigate like a real town. So I think the town is kind of important. In terms of themes, this is 1987, but Uncle Chuck [Delores’ relative], he's this strange inventor. He has all these weird computers all over town, and so there's a little bit of hints of this modern world we live in where we're all connected in some way with computers everywhere. So you see this little thread of that running through the story, but kind of in this 1987 frame of mind. I guess even the humor too? PAC games feel like the first to really approach dry and sardonic humor. Ron: I think that's kind of my humor style in general. I love dry humor. I have a lot of respect for comedians that can deliver really dry lines. I never use smiley faces in my tweets or emails. Sometimes it throws people off, because I say something and "oooh, there's no smiley face. Is he mad at me?" No, no, it's just that I'm sarcastic. I think a lot of the humor in the game is that kind. That's just me. That's what I enjoy. And there's a lot of fourth wall. I love breaking the fourth wall. You've got to tell me about the damn clown. What's the deal there? Ron: The clown? [laughs]. Ransom the Clown. He's been cursed. He's an insult clown. He goes up on stage and he basically insults everybody. But he's really an asshole, so everybody really kind of hates him, but they laugh at him because people laugh in uncomfortable moments. And he insults the wrong person in the audience and he gets cursed. And he can no longer remove his makeup. So he's stuck with this clown makeup and he retires to live in this old run down circus, can't really ever leave because everyone hates him and he's stuck with the makeup. His story is how he got cursed to never lose his makeup. So now he's a has-been, no career, he's broke and living out of a circus.  That was one of the things that struck me most interesting. There's a few clown-based horror films out there. Ron: Some people find clowns terrifying. Not me. They've never bothered me. I've never had a clown phobia. But a lot of people really do hate clowns. It's always the older, washed-up clowns like Ransom. Like something CLEARLY went wrong in this guy's life. Not where they enjoy their career. Ron: If you look at the old advertisements from the 1950s or 60's where they had Ronald McDonald, he just looks creepy as hell. He just looks like a child molester clown. It's amazing that they got away with that, but it's weird. The rest of the team. Have they had any significant input, especially having people come back from Lucasfilm? Ron: Yeah, there's me, Gary, David, and [Lucasfilm background artist] Mark [Ferrari]. Coming back from something like that, 20 years later, has the group collaborated in any interesting ways that you didn't expect? Ron: I think the thing about working together again was how quickly we just fell into working. Dave and I worked on several projects together, plus Gary and I. And just how quickly we got into that mode where we're just anticipating each other's' thoughts about stuff. And that's been nice because we've really been able to work through issues and problems and all this stuff really quickly. David: I think there may also be like an ego-less part to it. Like each of us dealt with it the way we have to be, where one tries to take the lead on something. In this case I feel like Ron is the lead. And he's the one who's arbitrated choices. So if I say how about this, I try to see if he'll say he'll think about it. Ron: There's a respect, right? A respect for each other. David: It's safe for me to throw out ideas. And the same thing with people who aren't directly working with us, like playtesters. A lot of our ideas we get from playtesters. Ron: They'll start calling us on stuff that isn't good enough. I think that's one of the things that struck me the most. A lot of games in the AAA space, they tout that they're bringing back the creator of X, Y, or Z game, and he or she is serving as the project lead, but it's like subscribing to auteur theory. I like that there's a handful of the guys who helped build the genre and then you have younger devs to make those sorts of suggestions. Ron: I think what you need on any project is a vision. There has to be a vision. Sometimes that comes from one person. Sometimes it comes from a small group of people. But I think as long as you have that strong vision then everything is going to be OK. Where projects I see don't really work it's because there were five different visions. All these people had their own vision and it never really meshed together. So at the end you don't produce a cohesive piece of art at the end. Where if everybody has a shared vision, you're going to do that. David: It's broader than just the vision of the game. We worked together for years at this company where there was already a strong culture, even before we started. It kind of took on the culture of Lucasfilm as a film company and then right into our attention to detail and really wanted to make a way to do our own thing. So with the four of us who've worked together before, there was already this established sense of culture. So as we brought in other people who were new to it, they fell into that established culture, so in a way this is really is kind of the continuation of that original Lucasfilm culture. I don't know what happened 25 years later, for how much of that stuck. So you keep saying culture. You mean just the work environment or how you guys communicate or something deeper? Ron: I think it's when you're dealing with a creative medium, right? It's like how you deal with creative issues, input, and ideas. Because it's like anybody on the team should be able to contribute. It's not like "this is my vision, I will think of everything. I don't need you." A game like Monkey Island, everybody was suggesting ideas for that, from the testers to the artists, programmers. The whole vision. My job on Monkey Island wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was just to sift through all the ideas. It was to say "that works, that doesn't." Some project leads understand that, and there are others that do not, where everything they feel has to come from them. And we just try to create this culture that anybody on the team could just throw out an idea. Hey, if they have an idea for a puzzle or an animation, just throw it out there. That's the only criteria is it has to be good and fit the vision for the game. David: The art, our primary character animator Octavi [Navarro], is a really good example of that. We know he's brilliant at doing animation, we'll give him direction. We'll give him intent and what has to happen, and he'll go crazy building something we never would have thought of. This all means you're pulling creativity from all these different talents into the game. Kind of like the, computer animation where [Delores] is printing out the job application, that was a funny animation. You pointed it out, that reminded me that the best point and click adventure games do have those little nuggets of motion to them. David: I agree. With that printer animation, the original puzzle was a good example of something that was kind of tedious because you had to have the letter, put it in the envelope. You had to press the button on the computer, get it to print, had to combine the letter and envelope, and it was all busywork. To Ron's point, this wasn't working. We had the idea for hands on the computer and Octavi made the animation that combined all these steps. It's not really fun to stamp envelopes [laughs]. Ron: And it masks all the really fun animation. Did you guys think you’re taking anything from PAC adventure games that have come between then and now anyway, or do you think the medium/subgenre has reached a zenith. Are these games going to get stagnant again? Have you guys been inspired by anything, or some of the earliest stuff? Ron: I don't think there's anything in the PAC genre that necessarily has. I kind of feel the PAC genre is very stagnant in a lot of ways. There are interesting PAC games being made now, but they really feel like they are just 1990's PAC games, and I don't feel like they're moving anything forward with what they're doing. So more of the inspiration, especially with the narrative, has really come from games like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, and the more modern games and how they deal with narrative, and how they deal with moving players through their worlds, and what modern gamers find compelling about that. I think PAC adventures fell off the face of the earth. I think there's something about them that very modern players don't quite get. How do we make them feel safe and comfortable playing this? If you're a Firewatch fan or Kentucky Route Zero fan, [Thimbleweed Park] isn't going to be this horrible, frustrating experience that you heard your parents talk about [when they mentioned] how much they hate PAC adventures. This is going to be an interesting kind of experience. I think that's our challenge in a way. David: There's a whole lot of stuff we've learned over the years about what you think is funny, what's good. I think back then, part of what was supposed to be fun was having a game that lasted a certain number of hours. You didn't kill people off. We did things that would extend gameplay, but they weren't especially that fun to do. So we want to make sure the gameplay is really fun and in-depth. There's a density, I think, to making progress. You're solving a lot of filler that you have to get through to make something happen. We talk a lot about puzzle design, which I don't think we thought about much back then. If you have a puzzle, it's really good to know what you're trying to solve before you start clicking on random objects and try to combine them randomly. So there's an intent. You're actively solving something. In researching, I reacquainted myself watching old videos of Maniac Mansion, and yeah that makes sense that you see somebody who knows the game saying "we're going to go here and here," click, click, click, picking up 50 items, but you would never have any idea what to use them for. So having that intent I think, especially as a younger gamer who certainly didn't grow up with these, that makes a lot of sense. You're being much more intentional. David: Yeah, we have a bunch of objects which have no use. They're there for atmosphere or backer objects [laughs]. Ron: If you backed at the $1,000 level you got to create an object in the game. There's the Ransom the Clown itch cream that's kind of fun. Octavi did a great animation of Ransom applying his itch cream [laughs]. You’ve said you’re aiming for an early 2017 release. I've noticed a lot of indie developers, old and new, seem to work on a timetable on three years. Have you guys been busting to get this done? Ron: We've been really focused. A lot of Kickstarter projects work off the rails. It's like five years later they haven't built a game. We were very intent to not have that happen. We were supposed to release in July [2016]. So we've kind of slipped by about six months, but we've stayed very focused. We've tried to say hey, we're going to build this game, we're going to scope correctly, we're going to do all of these things that we've learned about games and shipping games on time. David: There's also the work in making sure to do the wireframe art. We wireframed rough versions of every single room or area. Ron: We cut a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff we did with this quick wireframe art, that we had working, and then said, this room isn't needed, and decided to cut it because it was only half the work time. It's easy to cut that stuff. I think that keeps the world kind of lean. Everything is there for a reason. We've gone through this process of essentially storyboarding the game out and cutting the stuff that isn't needed before time is invested. David: There was a point where Ron had us each come up with a list of 10 or 15 rooms we could cut without killing the game. Some of our favorite rooms were in there, but I think one or two of them got back in the game[laughs]. It was a really good exercise to see what we needed, and if each room has a purpose, something happens there, do you need that room there? Ron: There's the bar that's just gone. Aside from the collaboration element, is that wireframe method, making drastic cuts, similar to what you did back when you were in the Maniac Mansion era? Ron: No, actually, not at all. When I was doing Monkey Island, it was like we would have a room, and the artist would draw the whole thing, and it would be done to completion, and we'd do it and move onto the next one. It was this really linear fashion. It really wasn't until - because I started the company Humongous Entertainment after Lucasfilm, and we made adventure games for kids - it was there that we started doing all this very hand-drawn animation. I say hand-drawn, it was literally drawn on paper with pencil. Not in Photoshop. It was a very time consuming and expensive process. The results were amazing, but we couldn't waste doing animation that wasn't needed. So we got in this habit of doing storyboards of the entire game, all this black and white stuff. And within a month or two, we could play our entire game from beginning to end. It was all this black and white art, but that was the point we started going through and cutting a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, because the actual production was so expensive. We needed the production to just happen, to just go. I've really adopted that philosophy ever since. So now I like to build games and get them up and completely playable very, very early, and then go through and cut stuff before it's expensive to actually develop. So obviously the value of budget and money has fluctuated in the decades that have passed. Does it feel like you're operating on a larger or stricter budget since those days? Because with Lucasfilm, I don't know what it was like in those days, especially in the gaming division. Ron: Well, we didn't spend a lot of money. I don't think there was a lot of money to be spent. We had money, obviously. We had billions of dollars from Star Wars flowing in. But I think games were so simple that we couldn't have spent that much. There wasn't any place to pour that kind of money into games. So it was a much easier to keep things scoped a bit more. Games now, there's so many places you can pour money into a game that I think you have to be really careful. Certainly, coming from Kickstarter, we only had a certain bucket full of money. We got $623,000. I think with Kickstarter, the most important thing for a Kickstarter is you need a hook. You can't just have an idea for a game. You need a hook that hooks people. People often ask me, "what's some advice for running a Kickstarter?" I always tell them "sell people your dream. Don't sell them your game." It's not a store. Because if all you're doing is trying to sell people your game and getting them to fund the game, it's like well, go to Steam and find 50 games just like that. Sell them your dream. Sell them your passion for making this thing because that's what people will give you money for- it’s that kind of stuff. So I think Kickstarters need some kind of hook. David: So the [original Kickstarter] art was Gary's and much closer to Maniac Mansion-style. [To Ron] Do you think if we had done the Kickstarter with Mark's art and actual scenes, do you think that would have gotten more or less? Ron: More.  David: Yeah?  Ron: Yeah, I think we would have raised a lot more money.  If it evoked the Maniac Mansion aesthetic? David: I'm stunned by [the game] now because when I go back and look at the Kickstarter art, or I see the Kickstarter art in some articles that still pull from the old stuff, it's like "whoa" because it's so different. Ron: Well we didn't know how much money we were going to raise. We asked for significantly less money than we got and we wanted to make sure that we had an art style that we could do for the money we wanted to raise so we kind of went with this more simplistic art that was more like Maniac Mansion. But then we raised almost twice the money; then we had the money to bring on Mark and Octavi and all these people and kind of raise the bar on the art. David: The characters look different, too. Totally redone. Ron: Which I think is just natural. Any game, you go through this natural process. At least you're not going backwards. Ron: [laughs] That's true. Is there anything else you guys want to add? David: You talk about other graphic adventure games that maybe don't have people doing it with as much experience. It's almost like most art forms where maybe some people think that it's really easy to do it because you consume it. "I can make a movie because I see movies," or "I can write a book because I read books. I can make games because I play games." The best games, I think, are not accidents. They're people who work really hard and have a lot of experience and draw on experience and keep polishing and polishing and polishing, and not take the first ideas that come up. In brainstorming we'd come up with ideas and say "that's not good enough. We can push a little further into it and not just use the first thing that comes up." And so I think that to do a really good one it helps to have that experience of which pitfalls to avoid, and to keep pushing on until it really feels like "yeah, that's a good puzzle." The old saying being innovation rather than emulation, but this time it’s iteration over emulation. Ron: I find with writing humor, I'll kind of write a line of dialogue and I just immediately say "well, how can I make this funnier?" And then I'll rewrite it and I'll go "how can I make this funnier?" Then I'll rewrite it again, and maybe after the third or fourth time I can go "that's a good line." It's like the writer's room on a TV show, right? It's just a group of writers, and somebody comes up with the core thing and then the group writers punch it up. Everybody just adds little things upon it to make it better and better. That's how you get really, really funny things. David: I've seen a few movies lately where I'm just totally caught up in it, and then there's some point where, maybe in the third act, it just kind of goes "wham!" and falls to the ground. Whether you have this great idea -- you polish the first part over and over again, then you get to the end and whoops, you fall back on the easy solutions or cliches. Or it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. David: I shouldn't be talking about this since we haven't done the end of our game yet. [laughs] I'll be looking for that. Ron: We see a lot of that in our game, because we get a lot of time on the beginning of the game. There isn't a lot of playtesting on the end of the game. The beginning of the game is going to be super tight. David: Earlier games at Lucas, there never was a budget that I was aware of. I don't know if that changed for Monkey Island. But basically, it was "here's the game, any idea of how big it's going to be?" You'd have to estimate how many discs it would be. Ron: That was our budget. Our budget wasn't "you can spend $200,000." It was "this game has to fit on five floppy disks. They can accord for the cost of goods for the box. So I just looked at everything as "I have to fit this game on five floppy disks. That constrains the budget right there, because there's only so much art that can fit on five floppy disks. --- As someone who appreciates not just where games are going, but where they’ve come from, Thimbleweed Park feels poised to remind us why the genre charmed a generation of players. With a cast of memorable (if freaky) characters and an accessibility that previous point-and-click games felt little need to include, Thimbleweed Park may reignite that enchantment, if only for another moment in history. Thimbleweed Park releases on March 30th on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One. View full article
  2. The era of point-and-click adventure games is, for the most part, remembered fondly by the gaming community. The genre helped establish Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) as a powerhouse game studio (to say nothing of film) during its time. Now, over 20 years later, the point-and-click (PAC) genre has sustained itself almost strictly through fan games or deliberately indie fare looking to tap into nostalgia, but the team behind Thimbleweed Park aims to change that. As point-and-click genre visionaries, game developers like Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Gary Winnick are teaming up once again (along with a small team of younger developers) to give genre fans another grand adventure. We played an early demo with developers Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island, co-creator of Maniac Mansion) and David Fox (Lucasfilm’s third employee and SCUMM scriptor for Maniac Mansion) and spoke about how it feels to come back to an adult point-and-click game after so long, and what they hope to achieve. --- Ron Gilbert: Gary Winnick and I, we did Maniac Mansion together. We kind of wanted to create a game that really captured the charm of those old games. And we really weren't sure what that charm was. It was very ethereal. We didn't really know. It's just like, well if we kind of make a game in the same way that we made a game back then, can we kind of capture what that was? [Thimbleweed Park] is really the story of these two detectives. This is agent Ray, and the other detective is agent Reyes. So it's these two detectives who show up in Thimbleweed Park because this dead body has been discovered out by the bridge. It's really the story of their investigation into the mystery of what killed this person in this really strange, bizarre town. You realize these two agents are really not partners. They don't actually know each other until they show up. They kind of randomly show up and the other one was there. So you're always very suspect of them. Like, why are they here? What are they doing? And it really plays into the bizarre-ness of Thimbleweed. I don't think I remember seeing any of the classic control layout of “interact,” “grab,” “combine,” etc (during gameplay) at the bottom, so it's interesting that you're still going with that. It's the most obvious callback. Ron: Yeah. I think it's also a bit of the charm of those games. You had all your options and you built the sentences and the verbs and stuff. So we really wanted to retain that as much as possible. We've done play testing with people who have not played classic adventure games before. There's probably this maybe 15-20 second period where they're kind of going oh my god there's all these things on the screen, and then they realize, if they want to look at something, you just click look at it. [At this point in the demo, Gilbert reveals that the character Dolores, a young programmer, is attempting to mail a job application to a studio called “Mucus Phlegm.”] Is Mucus Phlegm a play on LucasArts? Ron: It was Lucasfilm. We all used to joke. We called it Mucus Phlegm when we worked there. Anytime we wanted to make fun of who we were working for. Are you guys coming back to “adult” point-and-click games for any particular reason? Did it feel like a good time or were you thinking you should fill gap? Because there are a few other indie point-and-click games out there. Ron: Yeah, there’s other point-and-click stuff. I guess I haven't really designed a pure PAC adventure since those days. I did "The Cave," which is like an adventure game but more a platformer adventure. I haven't really done pure PAC adventure. I think that is interesting. When Gary and I first did the Kickstarter, that really came about because Gary and I were talking about the charm a game like Maniac Mansion had, or Monkey Island, and just talking about what seemed to be missing from modern adventure games. Because while they're fun and interesting, they're kind of missing that charm that old games had. This really became an experiment. What is that charm? Can we capture that charm? If we just go back and make this game just like we would have made a game when we were doing Maniac Mansion, can we recapture the charm of those games or not? It seems interesting. Even in just the short playthrough here, the style, and writing as well, seems to be much closer to that old school Maniac Mansion. It's goofy, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. [laughs] I've played my fair share of PAC games that were inspired by those that came before, but I would grow so frustrated with them because I was never amused. It was either a raw story or it didn't have a carrot on a stick to help push me through. So what would you say are the bigger changes, if any, in making a PAC game in modern times? Like you said, you play-tested with people who never played PAC games before. Are you changing the aesthetic or gameplay loop in any significant way? Ron: We are changing it, but I think what we're doing is changing it in very subtle ways. Because I think if you look at modern gamers who like modern adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero or Firewatch- I think modern gamers in general, they enjoy being challenged, but they don't enjoy being frustrated. I think when we were making games back in the 80's and 90's, being frustrated was almost a badge of honor for players back then. Players today just won't put up with that stuff. But they don't mind being challenged. They don't want to be led around. They don't want to be told "go here and do this," but they want to understand that yes I'm heading in the right direction. They need that comfort, that little bit of security to know that yes, you're doing the right thing. This is the right path for you to be going down. So those are some of the small changes we're making. Playing something like Broken Age, I think that was another game that really hit the nail on the head in certain ways, but there were a few instances where I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I can appreciate that as someone who both appreciates more old school things like Maniac Mansion, but I'm a big Firewatch fan, too. The narrative is obviously very X-Files, Mulder and Scully inspired. Was there any particular reason you guys ran with a mystery, or what appears to be a mystery, with a lot of supernatural stuff? Does that stem from time with Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones? Is it kind of just you had a story idea and wanted to go further with it? Ron: Maniac Mansion really came from the fact that Gary [Winnick] and I were fans of bad B-horror movies, so Maniac Mansion was sort of a send-up of B horror movies. In particular, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. I really like the the stuff he's done. So in some ways it's almost a send-up of Twin Peaks and really not the X-Files. We have this man, this woman, federal agents, and everybody thinks Mulder and Scully, but really that wasn't in our heads at all. David: This is set in 1987 which is before the X-Files [laughs]. Ron: Right, so it's impossible it would be Mulder and Scully [laughs]. Case closed. But I think a lot of it is more Twin Peaks and David Lynch. When Gary and I did the Kickstarter and came up with the story of the characters, we were not thinking of X-Files at all. I was not an X-Files fan. I've seen maybe five episodes. And the second we did the Kickstarter and that image went up, everybody went "oh my god, it's agent Mulder and Scully X-Files." And I kind of went "oh, shit." [laughs]. That was my first reaction, "oh, shit, this is not the X-Files." I hope nobody is disappointed when they play the game expecting an X-Files game. David: Having watched every episode of the X-Files, the story does not do X-Files in any way. It's very Twin Peaks. So aside from the certainly-not-X-Files, certainly-not-Mulder-and-Scully duo, what is the kind of narrative that you're wanting to tell? I remember that you're exploring this old American town. It’s very post-industrial. Was there anything you were trying to communicate there? Ron: Yeah, it is. I think adventure games in general, to me, I've always looked at the main character of an adventure game as the world. The main character in Maniac Mansion is that house. The main character in Monkey Island is that world [Guybrush Threepwood] inhabits. I think if you treat the adventure game world as if it's the main character, it can come alive. We treat the town like that. We built a real town. It connects like a real town would be. We expect you to navigate like a real town. So I think the town is kind of important. In terms of themes, this is 1987, but Uncle Chuck [Delores’ relative], he's this strange inventor. He has all these weird computers all over town, and so there's a little bit of hints of this modern world we live in where we're all connected in some way with computers everywhere. So you see this little thread of that running through the story, but kind of in this 1987 frame of mind. I guess even the humor too? PAC games feel like the first to really approach dry and sardonic humor. Ron: I think that's kind of my humor style in general. I love dry humor. I have a lot of respect for comedians that can deliver really dry lines. I never use smiley faces in my tweets or emails. Sometimes it throws people off, because I say something and "oooh, there's no smiley face. Is he mad at me?" No, no, it's just that I'm sarcastic. I think a lot of the humor in the game is that kind. That's just me. That's what I enjoy. And there's a lot of fourth wall. I love breaking the fourth wall. You've got to tell me about the damn clown. What's the deal there? Ron: The clown? [laughs]. Ransom the Clown. He's been cursed. He's an insult clown. He goes up on stage and he basically insults everybody. But he's really an asshole, so everybody really kind of hates him, but they laugh at him because people laugh in uncomfortable moments. And he insults the wrong person in the audience and he gets cursed. And he can no longer remove his makeup. So he's stuck with this clown makeup and he retires to live in this old run down circus, can't really ever leave because everyone hates him and he's stuck with the makeup. His story is how he got cursed to never lose his makeup. So now he's a has-been, no career, he's broke and living out of a circus.  That was one of the things that struck me most interesting. There's a few clown-based horror films out there. Ron: Some people find clowns terrifying. Not me. They've never bothered me. I've never had a clown phobia. But a lot of people really do hate clowns. It's always the older, washed-up clowns like Ransom. Like something CLEARLY went wrong in this guy's life. Not where they enjoy their career. Ron: If you look at the old advertisements from the 1950s or 60's where they had Ronald McDonald, he just looks creepy as hell. He just looks like a child molester clown. It's amazing that they got away with that, but it's weird. The rest of the team. Have they had any significant input, especially having people come back from Lucasfilm? Ron: Yeah, there's me, Gary, David, and [Lucasfilm background artist] Mark [Ferrari]. Coming back from something like that, 20 years later, has the group collaborated in any interesting ways that you didn't expect? Ron: I think the thing about working together again was how quickly we just fell into working. Dave and I worked on several projects together, plus Gary and I. And just how quickly we got into that mode where we're just anticipating each other's' thoughts about stuff. And that's been nice because we've really been able to work through issues and problems and all this stuff really quickly. David: I think there may also be like an ego-less part to it. Like each of us dealt with it the way we have to be, where one tries to take the lead on something. In this case I feel like Ron is the lead. And he's the one who's arbitrated choices. So if I say how about this, I try to see if he'll say he'll think about it. Ron: There's a respect, right? A respect for each other. David: It's safe for me to throw out ideas. And the same thing with people who aren't directly working with us, like playtesters. A lot of our ideas we get from playtesters. Ron: They'll start calling us on stuff that isn't good enough. I think that's one of the things that struck me the most. A lot of games in the AAA space, they tout that they're bringing back the creator of X, Y, or Z game, and he or she is serving as the project lead, but it's like subscribing to auteur theory. I like that there's a handful of the guys who helped build the genre and then you have younger devs to make those sorts of suggestions. Ron: I think what you need on any project is a vision. There has to be a vision. Sometimes that comes from one person. Sometimes it comes from a small group of people. But I think as long as you have that strong vision then everything is going to be OK. Where projects I see don't really work it's because there were five different visions. All these people had their own vision and it never really meshed together. So at the end you don't produce a cohesive piece of art at the end. Where if everybody has a shared vision, you're going to do that. David: It's broader than just the vision of the game. We worked together for years at this company where there was already a strong culture, even before we started. It kind of took on the culture of Lucasfilm as a film company and then right into our attention to detail and really wanted to make a way to do our own thing. So with the four of us who've worked together before, there was already this established sense of culture. So as we brought in other people who were new to it, they fell into that established culture, so in a way this is really is kind of the continuation of that original Lucasfilm culture. I don't know what happened 25 years later, for how much of that stuck. So you keep saying culture. You mean just the work environment or how you guys communicate or something deeper? Ron: I think it's when you're dealing with a creative medium, right? It's like how you deal with creative issues, input, and ideas. Because it's like anybody on the team should be able to contribute. It's not like "this is my vision, I will think of everything. I don't need you." A game like Monkey Island, everybody was suggesting ideas for that, from the testers to the artists, programmers. The whole vision. My job on Monkey Island wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was just to sift through all the ideas. It was to say "that works, that doesn't." Some project leads understand that, and there are others that do not, where everything they feel has to come from them. And we just try to create this culture that anybody on the team could just throw out an idea. Hey, if they have an idea for a puzzle or an animation, just throw it out there. That's the only criteria is it has to be good and fit the vision for the game. David: The art, our primary character animator Octavi [Navarro], is a really good example of that. We know he's brilliant at doing animation, we'll give him direction. We'll give him intent and what has to happen, and he'll go crazy building something we never would have thought of. This all means you're pulling creativity from all these different talents into the game. Kind of like the, computer animation where [Delores] is printing out the job application, that was a funny animation. You pointed it out, that reminded me that the best point and click adventure games do have those little nuggets of motion to them. David: I agree. With that printer animation, the original puzzle was a good example of something that was kind of tedious because you had to have the letter, put it in the envelope. You had to press the button on the computer, get it to print, had to combine the letter and envelope, and it was all busywork. To Ron's point, this wasn't working. We had the idea for hands on the computer and Octavi made the animation that combined all these steps. It's not really fun to stamp envelopes [laughs]. Ron: And it masks all the really fun animation. Did you guys think you’re taking anything from PAC adventure games that have come between then and now anyway, or do you think the medium/subgenre has reached a zenith. Are these games going to get stagnant again? Have you guys been inspired by anything, or some of the earliest stuff? Ron: I don't think there's anything in the PAC genre that necessarily has. I kind of feel the PAC genre is very stagnant in a lot of ways. There are interesting PAC games being made now, but they really feel like they are just 1990's PAC games, and I don't feel like they're moving anything forward with what they're doing. So more of the inspiration, especially with the narrative, has really come from games like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, and the more modern games and how they deal with narrative, and how they deal with moving players through their worlds, and what modern gamers find compelling about that. I think PAC adventures fell off the face of the earth. I think there's something about them that very modern players don't quite get. How do we make them feel safe and comfortable playing this? If you're a Firewatch fan or Kentucky Route Zero fan, [Thimbleweed Park] isn't going to be this horrible, frustrating experience that you heard your parents talk about [when they mentioned] how much they hate PAC adventures. This is going to be an interesting kind of experience. I think that's our challenge in a way. David: There's a whole lot of stuff we've learned over the years about what you think is funny, what's good. I think back then, part of what was supposed to be fun was having a game that lasted a certain number of hours. You didn't kill people off. We did things that would extend gameplay, but they weren't especially that fun to do. So we want to make sure the gameplay is really fun and in-depth. There's a density, I think, to making progress. You're solving a lot of filler that you have to get through to make something happen. We talk a lot about puzzle design, which I don't think we thought about much back then. If you have a puzzle, it's really good to know what you're trying to solve before you start clicking on random objects and try to combine them randomly. So there's an intent. You're actively solving something. In researching, I reacquainted myself watching old videos of Maniac Mansion, and yeah that makes sense that you see somebody who knows the game saying "we're going to go here and here," click, click, click, picking up 50 items, but you would never have any idea what to use them for. So having that intent I think, especially as a younger gamer who certainly didn't grow up with these, that makes a lot of sense. You're being much more intentional. David: Yeah, we have a bunch of objects which have no use. They're there for atmosphere or backer objects [laughs]. Ron: If you backed at the $1,000 level you got to create an object in the game. There's the Ransom the Clown itch cream that's kind of fun. Octavi did a great animation of Ransom applying his itch cream [laughs]. You’ve said you’re aiming for an early 2017 release. I've noticed a lot of indie developers, old and new, seem to work on a timetable on three years. Have you guys been busting to get this done? Ron: We've been really focused. A lot of Kickstarter projects work off the rails. It's like five years later they haven't built a game. We were very intent to not have that happen. We were supposed to release in July [2016]. So we've kind of slipped by about six months, but we've stayed very focused. We've tried to say hey, we're going to build this game, we're going to scope correctly, we're going to do all of these things that we've learned about games and shipping games on time. David: There's also the work in making sure to do the wireframe art. We wireframed rough versions of every single room or area. Ron: We cut a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff we did with this quick wireframe art, that we had working, and then said, this room isn't needed, and decided to cut it because it was only half the work time. It's easy to cut that stuff. I think that keeps the world kind of lean. Everything is there for a reason. We've gone through this process of essentially storyboarding the game out and cutting the stuff that isn't needed before time is invested. David: There was a point where Ron had us each come up with a list of 10 or 15 rooms we could cut without killing the game. Some of our favorite rooms were in there, but I think one or two of them got back in the game[laughs]. It was a really good exercise to see what we needed, and if each room has a purpose, something happens there, do you need that room there? Ron: There's the bar that's just gone. Aside from the collaboration element, is that wireframe method, making drastic cuts, similar to what you did back when you were in the Maniac Mansion era? Ron: No, actually, not at all. When I was doing Monkey Island, it was like we would have a room, and the artist would draw the whole thing, and it would be done to completion, and we'd do it and move onto the next one. It was this really linear fashion. It really wasn't until - because I started the company Humongous Entertainment after Lucasfilm, and we made adventure games for kids - it was there that we started doing all this very hand-drawn animation. I say hand-drawn, it was literally drawn on paper with pencil. Not in Photoshop. It was a very time consuming and expensive process. The results were amazing, but we couldn't waste doing animation that wasn't needed. So we got in this habit of doing storyboards of the entire game, all this black and white stuff. And within a month or two, we could play our entire game from beginning to end. It was all this black and white art, but that was the point we started going through and cutting a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, because the actual production was so expensive. We needed the production to just happen, to just go. I've really adopted that philosophy ever since. So now I like to build games and get them up and completely playable very, very early, and then go through and cut stuff before it's expensive to actually develop. So obviously the value of budget and money has fluctuated in the decades that have passed. Does it feel like you're operating on a larger or stricter budget since those days? Because with Lucasfilm, I don't know what it was like in those days, especially in the gaming division. Ron: Well, we didn't spend a lot of money. I don't think there was a lot of money to be spent. We had money, obviously. We had billions of dollars from Star Wars flowing in. But I think games were so simple that we couldn't have spent that much. There wasn't any place to pour that kind of money into games. So it was a much easier to keep things scoped a bit more. Games now, there's so many places you can pour money into a game that I think you have to be really careful. Certainly, coming from Kickstarter, we only had a certain bucket full of money. We got $623,000. I think with Kickstarter, the most important thing for a Kickstarter is you need a hook. You can't just have an idea for a game. You need a hook that hooks people. People often ask me, "what's some advice for running a Kickstarter?" I always tell them "sell people your dream. Don't sell them your game." It's not a store. Because if all you're doing is trying to sell people your game and getting them to fund the game, it's like well, go to Steam and find 50 games just like that. Sell them your dream. Sell them your passion for making this thing because that's what people will give you money for- it’s that kind of stuff. So I think Kickstarters need some kind of hook. David: So the [original Kickstarter] art was Gary's and much closer to Maniac Mansion-style. [To Ron] Do you think if we had done the Kickstarter with Mark's art and actual scenes, do you think that would have gotten more or less? Ron: More.  David: Yeah?  Ron: Yeah, I think we would have raised a lot more money.  If it evoked the Maniac Mansion aesthetic? David: I'm stunned by [the game] now because when I go back and look at the Kickstarter art, or I see the Kickstarter art in some articles that still pull from the old stuff, it's like "whoa" because it's so different. Ron: Well we didn't know how much money we were going to raise. We asked for significantly less money than we got and we wanted to make sure that we had an art style that we could do for the money we wanted to raise so we kind of went with this more simplistic art that was more like Maniac Mansion. But then we raised almost twice the money; then we had the money to bring on Mark and Octavi and all these people and kind of raise the bar on the art. David: The characters look different, too. Totally redone. Ron: Which I think is just natural. Any game, you go through this natural process. At least you're not going backwards. Ron: [laughs] That's true. Is there anything else you guys want to add? David: You talk about other graphic adventure games that maybe don't have people doing it with as much experience. It's almost like most art forms where maybe some people think that it's really easy to do it because you consume it. "I can make a movie because I see movies," or "I can write a book because I read books. I can make games because I play games." The best games, I think, are not accidents. They're people who work really hard and have a lot of experience and draw on experience and keep polishing and polishing and polishing, and not take the first ideas that come up. In brainstorming we'd come up with ideas and say "that's not good enough. We can push a little further into it and not just use the first thing that comes up." And so I think that to do a really good one it helps to have that experience of which pitfalls to avoid, and to keep pushing on until it really feels like "yeah, that's a good puzzle." The old saying being innovation rather than emulation, but this time it’s iteration over emulation. Ron: I find with writing humor, I'll kind of write a line of dialogue and I just immediately say "well, how can I make this funnier?" And then I'll rewrite it and I'll go "how can I make this funnier?" Then I'll rewrite it again, and maybe after the third or fourth time I can go "that's a good line." It's like the writer's room on a TV show, right? It's just a group of writers, and somebody comes up with the core thing and then the group writers punch it up. Everybody just adds little things upon it to make it better and better. That's how you get really, really funny things. David: I've seen a few movies lately where I'm just totally caught up in it, and then there's some point where, maybe in the third act, it just kind of goes "wham!" and falls to the ground. Whether you have this great idea -- you polish the first part over and over again, then you get to the end and whoops, you fall back on the easy solutions or cliches. Or it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. David: I shouldn't be talking about this since we haven't done the end of our game yet. [laughs] I'll be looking for that. Ron: We see a lot of that in our game, because we get a lot of time on the beginning of the game. There isn't a lot of playtesting on the end of the game. The beginning of the game is going to be super tight. David: Earlier games at Lucas, there never was a budget that I was aware of. I don't know if that changed for Monkey Island. But basically, it was "here's the game, any idea of how big it's going to be?" You'd have to estimate how many discs it would be. Ron: That was our budget. Our budget wasn't "you can spend $200,000." It was "this game has to fit on five floppy disks. They can accord for the cost of goods for the box. So I just looked at everything as "I have to fit this game on five floppy disks. That constrains the budget right there, because there's only so much art that can fit on five floppy disks. --- As someone who appreciates not just where games are going, but where they’ve come from, Thimbleweed Park feels poised to remind us why the genre charmed a generation of players. With a cast of memorable (if freaky) characters and an accessibility that previous point-and-click games felt little need to include, Thimbleweed Park may reignite that enchantment, if only for another moment in history. Thimbleweed Park releases on March 30th on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One.
  3. If there’s one lesson that 10 years of singing, instrument-playing, and dancing have taught me, it’s that the show must go on. The number of people I’ve seen take “break a leg” beyond pure metaphor, and still soldier on, genuinely astounds me. No matter the error, no matter the number of botched notes, or missed steps, you power through a performance with all you can, for surely the alternative is always worse. For a game so wrapped up in the power of music, it’s odd to see Klang (developed by the one-man team at Tinimations and composed by EDM guru Jordan Aguirre AKA “bLiNd”) take so much of its ethos to heart, and yet stumble on that one key point. As the cybergoth-inspired rave warrior, you’ll fight and headbang your way towards defeating the evil Soundlord Sonos in a world absolutely soaked with neon and musical minutia. Levels, many of which feel like they’re ripped from the stages of your favorite rock venue, pulse with each distinctive track’s beat. Streetlamps shaped like clef notes hang above your head as you dash on by. Each track helps to define the rhythm of combat or exploration. Enemies gather around you to lob carefully synchronized attacks, while a directional meter lets you know when to strike it back. Giant soundwave attacks demand you either leap or slide your way to safety, and it all comes together in the game’s later stages to create a beautiful maelstrom of action. The music is, as advertised, an amazing and eclectic mix of hard-hitting EDM and more tranquil house music beats. BLiNd’s work might not be for everyone (to say nothing of the genre as a whole), but the marriage between Tinimations’ aesthetic and composer Jordan Aguirre’s infectious rhythms are undeniably beautiful. Rather than a simple backdrop, the soundtrack plays a vital role in determining movement during combat and exploration. The heady thud-thud-thud of a classic EDM beat, coupled with a damaging force field that blinks on and off of a wall, dictates how you must traverse upwards using a classic wall jump maneuver. Much like a music aficionado might use a song’s rhythm to guess what’s coming next (think the “drop” in nearly any EDM song), so must the player, learning to duck and leap away from the next attack, or avoid the deadly searchlights of stationary enemies. The problem begins (and for the most part, ends) with how Klang’s gameplay manages to detract from the success of this marriage. Even for fans of gaming’s most difficult genres and franchises (twitch shooters, Dark Souls), Klang is an astonishingly difficult, often frustrating experience. What issues Klang’s demo had could easily be chalked up to an unfamiliarity with the game’s mechanics, but spread out over the two to four hours of available content, those issues become omnipresent. Even on the game’s lowest difficulty, and employing a “reflex mode” that briefly slows down time when taking significant damage, Klang’s frantic action and occasional one-hit kills proved to be way too much to handle. While the game is great about putting you back in the action almost immediately, you’ll die so often that it won’t feel like it matters, putting you in the position of getting frustrated, and thus unable to concentrate, leading to more deaths. While taking on one of the game’s bosses, I found myself stuck between his constant attacks, a deadly pit of energy behind me, and a continuous gust of wind that threatened to push me into it. I had already gotten used to the mechanics of leaping and ducking to avoid massive soundwave attacks from this boss, but while the game does give you a fair bit of health, all it took was one mismanaged jump (while also deflecting regular attacks) for me to lose my momentum and get swept into the pit. If it’s not the pit, it will be one of the countless, twitchy “security cameras” you must run by without being spotted once for fear of being zapped. If it’s not the cameras, it might be the rapidly dissipating platforms that only solidify once you’ve executed one of 30 precarious jump-deflect combos. If it’s not any one of those things, it will be some combination. You will die. Incredibly often. And as beautiful as bLiNd’s music is, as much as I’m dying to listen to it all over again, you will grow so familiar with the first 10-20 seconds of each track that they begin to lose their luster. Klang almost certainly plays to the kind of gamer that enjoys a ludicrously demanding experience. Unfortunately, the game’s unforgiving nature will likely sour the experience for anyone who doesn’t seek out such a thing. One of the worst things a musician can do is stop their performance after making one, or even many, simple mistakes. Acknowledging and walking back on a commitment always seems less impressive than powering through an understandable, if human, error. You won’t find room for any error, much less human. Beyond the split-second reaction times, its level design is also occasionally flawed. During a boss battle that incorporated cones of vision (and one-hit deaths for being seen), three raised platforms above the boss’ head felt like indicators that aerial attacks wouldn’t work. This turned out to be completely false. Aerial attacks were the only method, but the level design, plus a rapidly shifting enemy cone of vision, plus an unforgiving checkpoint system quickly turned the battle into something as frustrating as it was inventive. Klang’s brilliant soundtrack and unique brand of action platforming would come across as a much more cohesive package if we were able to appreciate it at length and as a whole, rather than gritting our teeth and praying for a checkpoint. For those who do feel up to the challenge, beyond the normal difficulty setting, beating the game unlocks a “Nightcore” mode (maybe don’t Google that) that allows you to play at an even higher difficulty. Conclusion: Klang still carries a sincere sense of recommendation, if only based on its incredibly inventive style and incorporation of music. We don’t often get a game, indie or otherwise, that has the courage to tackle music with such ingenuity. Tinimations’ and bLiNd’s passion shows in every single beat, but their own concept gets too caught up in its own noodling to allow for lesser players to enjoy it to its fullest extent. Klang was reviewed on PC and is now available on Steam. View full article
  4. If there’s one lesson that 10 years of singing, instrument-playing, and dancing have taught me, it’s that the show must go on. The number of people I’ve seen take “break a leg” beyond pure metaphor, and still soldier on, genuinely astounds me. No matter the error, no matter the number of botched notes, or missed steps, you power through a performance with all you can, for surely the alternative is always worse. For a game so wrapped up in the power of music, it’s odd to see Klang (developed by the one-man team at Tinimations and composed by EDM guru Jordan Aguirre AKA “bLiNd”) take so much of its ethos to heart, and yet stumble on that one key point. As the cybergoth-inspired rave warrior, you’ll fight and headbang your way towards defeating the evil Soundlord Sonos in a world absolutely soaked with neon and musical minutia. Levels, many of which feel like they’re ripped from the stages of your favorite rock venue, pulse with each distinctive track’s beat. Streetlamps shaped like clef notes hang above your head as you dash on by. Each track helps to define the rhythm of combat or exploration. Enemies gather around you to lob carefully synchronized attacks, while a directional meter lets you know when to strike it back. Giant soundwave attacks demand you either leap or slide your way to safety, and it all comes together in the game’s later stages to create a beautiful maelstrom of action. The music is, as advertised, an amazing and eclectic mix of hard-hitting EDM and more tranquil house music beats. BLiNd’s work might not be for everyone (to say nothing of the genre as a whole), but the marriage between Tinimations’ aesthetic and composer Jordan Aguirre’s infectious rhythms are undeniably beautiful. Rather than a simple backdrop, the soundtrack plays a vital role in determining movement during combat and exploration. The heady thud-thud-thud of a classic EDM beat, coupled with a damaging force field that blinks on and off of a wall, dictates how you must traverse upwards using a classic wall jump maneuver. Much like a music aficionado might use a song’s rhythm to guess what’s coming next (think the “drop” in nearly any EDM song), so must the player, learning to duck and leap away from the next attack, or avoid the deadly searchlights of stationary enemies. The problem begins (and for the most part, ends) with how Klang’s gameplay manages to detract from the success of this marriage. Even for fans of gaming’s most difficult genres and franchises (twitch shooters, Dark Souls), Klang is an astonishingly difficult, often frustrating experience. What issues Klang’s demo had could easily be chalked up to an unfamiliarity with the game’s mechanics, but spread out over the two to four hours of available content, those issues become omnipresent. Even on the game’s lowest difficulty, and employing a “reflex mode” that briefly slows down time when taking significant damage, Klang’s frantic action and occasional one-hit kills proved to be way too much to handle. While the game is great about putting you back in the action almost immediately, you’ll die so often that it won’t feel like it matters, putting you in the position of getting frustrated, and thus unable to concentrate, leading to more deaths. While taking on one of the game’s bosses, I found myself stuck between his constant attacks, a deadly pit of energy behind me, and a continuous gust of wind that threatened to push me into it. I had already gotten used to the mechanics of leaping and ducking to avoid massive soundwave attacks from this boss, but while the game does give you a fair bit of health, all it took was one mismanaged jump (while also deflecting regular attacks) for me to lose my momentum and get swept into the pit. If it’s not the pit, it will be one of the countless, twitchy “security cameras” you must run by without being spotted once for fear of being zapped. If it’s not the cameras, it might be the rapidly dissipating platforms that only solidify once you’ve executed one of 30 precarious jump-deflect combos. If it’s not any one of those things, it will be some combination. You will die. Incredibly often. And as beautiful as bLiNd’s music is, as much as I’m dying to listen to it all over again, you will grow so familiar with the first 10-20 seconds of each track that they begin to lose their luster. Klang almost certainly plays to the kind of gamer that enjoys a ludicrously demanding experience. Unfortunately, the game’s unforgiving nature will likely sour the experience for anyone who doesn’t seek out such a thing. One of the worst things a musician can do is stop their performance after making one, or even many, simple mistakes. Acknowledging and walking back on a commitment always seems less impressive than powering through an understandable, if human, error. You won’t find room for any error, much less human. Beyond the split-second reaction times, its level design is also occasionally flawed. During a boss battle that incorporated cones of vision (and one-hit deaths for being seen), three raised platforms above the boss’ head felt like indicators that aerial attacks wouldn’t work. This turned out to be completely false. Aerial attacks were the only method, but the level design, plus a rapidly shifting enemy cone of vision, plus an unforgiving checkpoint system quickly turned the battle into something as frustrating as it was inventive. Klang’s brilliant soundtrack and unique brand of action platforming would come across as a much more cohesive package if we were able to appreciate it at length and as a whole, rather than gritting our teeth and praying for a checkpoint. For those who do feel up to the challenge, beyond the normal difficulty setting, beating the game unlocks a “Nightcore” mode (maybe don’t Google that) that allows you to play at an even higher difficulty. Conclusion: Klang still carries a sincere sense of recommendation, if only based on its incredibly inventive style and incorporation of music. We don’t often get a game, indie or otherwise, that has the courage to tackle music with such ingenuity. Tinimations’ and bLiNd’s passion shows in every single beat, but their own concept gets too caught up in its own noodling to allow for lesser players to enjoy it to its fullest extent. Klang was reviewed on PC and is now available on Steam.
  5. Even as gaming culture becomes more and more tied to the world of music (bringing us annual celebrations like MAGfest and touring acts like Video Games Live), a game’s soundtrack is still a very special thing when incorporated as more than a backdrop or blanketing force. Klang, developed by the one-man operation at Tinimations and scored by famed electronic dance music artist bLiNd, capitalizes on this and then some. Every second of frenetic action and inch of its environment is soaked with pulse-pounding music, making it one of the most promising rhythm action games in years. In Klang, players fill the cybergoth-inspired shoes of an elite rave warrior. If that combination of words sounds weird to you, buckle up. After crashing a rave party hosted by the cruel Soundlord Sonus, the rave warrior must fight for his freedom against the malicious titan and his loyal, audio-bending army. Imagine if instead of vengeful rage, God of War’s Kratos fueled himself on infectious rhythm – and maybe some illicit drugs – and you’ve got Klang. What follows is an ever-increasing drive of frantically paced combat and platforming, all dictated by and perfectly synched to bLiNd’s aggressive soundtrack. Meters on all sides of the main character fill up, teaching you when to strike just as a note is sharply punctuated, deflecting enemy attacks with your tuning fork blades (yeah) and emitting a powerful blast back at them. Leaping from wall to wall to clamber up a narrow passage locks you in perfect rhythm with the underlying beat, a heady thud-thud-thud that every electronic music fan knows all too well. It goes a long way in both ramping up the intensity of a particularly confrontational boss or just teaching a player how to deal with a new attack. Every EDM fan lives for the “beat drop,” and Klang works a pure sense of magic into how well this crescendo fits into its demanding combat. Whereas a more retro-inspired game might default to a traditional chiptune soundtrack, the fact that Klang’s identity is so wrapped up in its own musical style (not an exclusive one, but certainly never grasped onto with such strength) makes every moment a thrilling one. It would be enough if Klang’s world were only so infused with such great audio, but developer Tom-Ivar Arntzen also builds an aesthetic that’s as much Tron: Legacy as it is European warehouse rave. Attacks from certain enemies shoot out in the form of an equalizer wave, combat stages look like the mosh pit at a concert, platforming sections look almost like sheet music, with streetlights built to look like clef notes. So far as we know, all of Klang’s narrative is communicated without dialogue, emphasizing the importance of this music-infused world and the craziness that goes on in it. Klang is expected to release before the end of 2016 on Steam for PC, featuring two to four hours of gameplay and music from bLiNd. A “Nightcore” mode (don’t google that) will also be available to challenge players looking for an even tougher challenge. View full article
  6. Even as gaming culture becomes more and more tied to the world of music (bringing us annual celebrations like MAGfest and touring acts like Video Games Live), a game’s soundtrack is still a very special thing when incorporated as more than a backdrop or blanketing force. Klang, developed by the one-man operation at Tinimations and scored by famed electronic dance music artist bLiNd, capitalizes on this and then some. Every second of frenetic action and inch of its environment is soaked with pulse-pounding music, making it one of the most promising rhythm action games in years. In Klang, players fill the cybergoth-inspired shoes of an elite rave warrior. If that combination of words sounds weird to you, buckle up. After crashing a rave party hosted by the cruel Soundlord Sonus, the rave warrior must fight for his freedom against the malicious titan and his loyal, audio-bending army. Imagine if instead of vengeful rage, God of War’s Kratos fueled himself on infectious rhythm – and maybe some illicit drugs – and you’ve got Klang. What follows is an ever-increasing drive of frantically paced combat and platforming, all dictated by and perfectly synched to bLiNd’s aggressive soundtrack. Meters on all sides of the main character fill up, teaching you when to strike just as a note is sharply punctuated, deflecting enemy attacks with your tuning fork blades (yeah) and emitting a powerful blast back at them. Leaping from wall to wall to clamber up a narrow passage locks you in perfect rhythm with the underlying beat, a heady thud-thud-thud that every electronic music fan knows all too well. It goes a long way in both ramping up the intensity of a particularly confrontational boss or just teaching a player how to deal with a new attack. Every EDM fan lives for the “beat drop,” and Klang works a pure sense of magic into how well this crescendo fits into its demanding combat. Whereas a more retro-inspired game might default to a traditional chiptune soundtrack, the fact that Klang’s identity is so wrapped up in its own musical style (not an exclusive one, but certainly never grasped onto with such strength) makes every moment a thrilling one. It would be enough if Klang’s world were only so infused with such great audio, but developer Tom-Ivar Arntzen also builds an aesthetic that’s as much Tron: Legacy as it is European warehouse rave. Attacks from certain enemies shoot out in the form of an equalizer wave, combat stages look like the mosh pit at a concert, platforming sections look almost like sheet music, with streetlights built to look like clef notes. So far as we know, all of Klang’s narrative is communicated without dialogue, emphasizing the importance of this music-infused world and the craziness that goes on in it. Klang is expected to release before the end of 2016 on Steam for PC, featuring two to four hours of gameplay and music from bLiNd. A “Nightcore” mode (don’t google that) will also be available to challenge players looking for an even tougher challenge.
  7. Tower Defense. The very words evoke some deep-seated emotions in countless gamers. For fans of the genre, it’s always a joy taking your time to determine where to lay your chess pieces for optimal damage, cerebral, and calm in the same breath. For many others, it’s a nerve-wracking experience best left to the cluttered battleground of mobile gaming. While the genre is still largely dominated by mobile giants like Kingdom Rush, the occasional console and PC variant (Orcs Must Die! and Defense Grid) have come along to throw new blood into the mix in recent years. Oddly enough, however, the world of board gaming has been suspiciously devoid of standout tower defense experiences. Enter Defense Grid: The Board Game. After a warmly received sequel (the original’s development is a long and sordid tale) and even a virtual reality edition for Oculus Rift and Gear VR, developer Hidden Path was approached by the two-man team at Forged by Geeks with the idea to turn the franchise into a co-op tabletop game. “I’ve been addicted to tower defense [since Defense Grid],” says board game developer and Forged by Geeks co-founder Anthony Hanses. “I cannot get enough of tower defense games. If you name it, I’ve probably played it, whether it’s on mobile, console, Steam, whatever. On top of that, I’m a pretty heavy board game enthusiast. One of the frustrations I’ve had being a tower defense enthusiast has been that there just really isn’t an amazing tower defense board game. There’s been a few attempts. One I’ll give a lot of credit is “Castle Panic.” But to me, that’s not tower defense. It doesn’t have lanes. You’re not constructing the classic towers people are familiar with. I like having that feeling, and that’s why we said this is something we want to do.” (Note: Game assets shown are not final. Prototype materials were used for demo purposes) But adopting a well-known franchise for tabletop isn’t an easy process, from a development or legal standpoint. It makes sense that a huge fan of tower defense like Hanses would channel his own sense of determination to get the product off the ground, and convince Hidden Path to endorse it and provide support. Having grown up on the dangerous streets of south Chicago, worked as a firefighter, and worked at Microsoft, Hanses is no stranger to determination. “[Those careers were] a great growing experience, it was about about saving up money, and then finally being able to say ‘hey, let’s try this out,’” Hanses says. “I was advised by a bunch of people to make a simple card game – but ultimately, giving back to the gaming community is taking what I’ve learned, my passion, and doing something no one else could do. That’s where tower defense came in. Even if I never make another board game again after this, I’ll have possibly given something back to the community I love.” While certainly not the first tower defense board game of its kind (Orcs Must Die’s similarly Kickstarted tabletop edition is also still on its way to a public release), Defense Grid’s incarnation might be the first to really nail the various aspects of the genre that make it so appealing, particularly with its own unique brand of gameplay. I got the chance to experience it firsthand at PAX West 2016 in Seattle. Like most tower defense experiences, Defense Grid: The Board Game is played against ever growing waves of various enemy types. “Walkers” serve as your generic meat shield grunts, while tougher types like “Bulwarks” and “Swarmers” employ shields and armor to detract from your weapons’ attack points. Enemies walk in a single line from one end of the grid (made of flippable tiles for maximum replayability) to the other, where your power core awaits. If the aliens manage to walk back to the end of the map with all your cores, that’s game over. The only thing standing between them is a wealth of towers, like the all-purpose machine gun, area-of-effect Inferno, a concentrated laser beam, or a hard-hitting cannon, among plenty others. Strictly a co-op experience, up to four players must manage individual card decks to determine their available strategies. Cards are divided up into three basic categories. Attack commands for towers that are exhausted for the entire turn once used, support cards like “shrapnel bullets” that boost or alter attacks, and special cards that allow you to upgrade towers, temporarily boost their damage, or activate any tower you don’t already have a card for. Playing with friends, it becomes integral to coordinate and combine your strategies, as each player is only allowed to have four cards in their hand. When a card appears to be useless during the current wave, it can either be saved for the next (meaning you draw only enough cards to get back to four) or it can be scrapped for extra points to build and upgrade additional towers. Make no mistake. Despite the hand-holding a more seasoned friend might give you during gameplay, careful strategy is an omnipresent force in Defense Grid. Enemies move shockingly fast down the path towards their objective, making smart tower placement crucial to exploiting choke points and line of sight. Towers can’t shoot through one another, so spreading them out between various angles quickly became our favored strategy. While Walkers proved to be of little issue, the stouter Bulwarks, with their dense shields and armor, were particularly difficult to dispatch of. In true tower defense fashion, you’re at least guaranteed that your attack will strike its target. Unfortunately, an entire shot will need to be wasted to destroy one layer of the Bulwark’s shielding before any damage can be applied to its bug-like exterior. Thankfully, each player also has one special ability that can only be activated once per game. Did you guess giant laser? Because it was a giant bloody laser, that thankfully wiped an entire hex of aliens from the board. Like most enthusiast board games, the rules can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around at first. You’re managing both the mathematics of an enemy force’s health and your meager resources over a fairly lengthy playtime. For someone who nearly flunked high school math, it’s certainly a daunting idea, but as Hanses led me through the process, the game started to take on that pick-up-and-play nature that some of the best games have. I began to worry less about how many cards were left in my hand and devoted my attention to acquiring resource points. I also worried less about the armored Bulwarks, knowing they had to walk through my gauntlet twice. There’s nothing quite like seeing a bit of your future self in whichever player is currently holding a newbie’s hand through the process, invested and excited all around for more. Thankfully, if you’re the kind of board gamer that really enjoys investing in a particular playstyle or alternate game types, Defense Grid features multiple missions, with increasingly tougher enemies and more varied weaponry, all on differently choreographed grid maps. This means replayability not only comes from a normal game’s element of chance, but also as a built in feature to those who invest more time into the game. On top of that, players can individually level up their player character to increase their stats for the next game. For Hidden Path’s part, the support they’ve provided Hanses and fellow Forged by Geeks co-founder Rico Hall has been invaluable. After successful playtesting sessions with the team, the company provided the actual in-game models so Forged by Geeks could produce incredibly accurate miniatures of weapon tower and aliens. An entirely new alien will also make its debut in the board game. Perhaps most surprisingly, Forged by Geeks is taking their time producing a near-final game before debuting it on Kickstarter. Whereas many board (and video) games often showcase a minor amount of concept art and pre-alpha footage during their campaigns, Forged by Geeks want to leave players with a sense that they’re approaching this as true fans of the genre and franchise, rather than looking to make a quick buck. The funds acquired through Kickstarter will go towards production of the physical product, not the initial design and development costs that most Kickstarters ask for. “Ultimately, we decided that, being a first time Kickstarter studio, there’s a bunch of other risks,” Hanses said. “We haven’t proven our ability to get a game into consumers’ hands. With promising 23 unique miniature designs, 55 to 60 in the box, it’s a high risk to swallow. We’ve seen lots of Kickstarters fail that are now promising minis that just have renders. For us, we needed to get everything sculpted. We’re going to have the game done. When we go to Kickstarter, the rest of the game will just be done.” For Hanses and his colleague, whatever support they receive from genre fans could make or break their careers. Their minimum goal sits at $35,000 to cover production costs, while a stretch goal of $150,000 would cover the previous few years of work put into the game. An even higher stretch goal of $250,000 would allow Hanses and Hall to go into game design full time. Even if they just manage to break even, Hanses will leave happy. The Defense Grid: The Board Game Kickstarter is scheduled to launch on January 17, 2017.
  8. Tower Defense. The very words evoke some deep-seated emotions in countless gamers. For fans of the genre, it’s always a joy taking your time to determine where to lay your chess pieces for optimal damage, cerebral, and calm in the same breath. For many others, it’s a nerve-wracking experience best left to the cluttered battleground of mobile gaming. While the genre is still largely dominated by mobile giants like Kingdom Rush, the occasional console and PC variant (Orcs Must Die! and Defense Grid) have come along to throw new blood into the mix in recent years. Oddly enough, however, the world of board gaming has been suspiciously devoid of standout tower defense experiences. Enter Defense Grid: The Board Game. After a warmly received sequel (the original’s development is a long and sordid tale) and even a virtual reality edition for Oculus Rift and Gear VR, developer Hidden Path was approached by the two-man team at Forged by Geeks with the idea to turn the franchise into a co-op tabletop game. “I’ve been addicted to tower defense [since Defense Grid],” says board game developer and Forged by Geeks co-founder Anthony Hanses. “I cannot get enough of tower defense games. If you name it, I’ve probably played it, whether it’s on mobile, console, Steam, whatever. On top of that, I’m a pretty heavy board game enthusiast. One of the frustrations I’ve had being a tower defense enthusiast has been that there just really isn’t an amazing tower defense board game. There’s been a few attempts. One I’ll give a lot of credit is “Castle Panic.” But to me, that’s not tower defense. It doesn’t have lanes. You’re not constructing the classic towers people are familiar with. I like having that feeling, and that’s why we said this is something we want to do.” (Note: Game assets shown are not final. Prototype materials were used for demo purposes) But adopting a well-known franchise for tabletop isn’t an easy process, from a development or legal standpoint. It makes sense that a huge fan of tower defense like Hanses would channel his own sense of determination to get the product off the ground, and convince Hidden Path to endorse it and provide support. Having grown up on the dangerous streets of south Chicago, worked as a firefighter, and worked at Microsoft, Hanses is no stranger to determination. “[Those careers were] a great growing experience, it was about about saving up money, and then finally being able to say ‘hey, let’s try this out,’” Hanses says. “I was advised by a bunch of people to make a simple card game – but ultimately, giving back to the gaming community is taking what I’ve learned, my passion, and doing something no one else could do. That’s where tower defense came in. Even if I never make another board game again after this, I’ll have possibly given something back to the community I love.” While certainly not the first tower defense board game of its kind (Orcs Must Die’s similarly Kickstarted tabletop edition is also still on its way to a public release), Defense Grid’s incarnation might be the first to really nail the various aspects of the genre that make it so appealing, particularly with its own unique brand of gameplay. I got the chance to experience it firsthand at PAX West 2016 in Seattle. Like most tower defense experiences, Defense Grid: The Board Game is played against ever growing waves of various enemy types. “Walkers” serve as your generic meat shield grunts, while tougher types like “Bulwarks” and “Swarmers” employ shields and armor to detract from your weapons’ attack points. Enemies walk in a single line from one end of the grid (made of flippable tiles for maximum replayability) to the other, where your power core awaits. If the aliens manage to walk back to the end of the map with all your cores, that’s game over. The only thing standing between them is a wealth of towers, like the all-purpose machine gun, area-of-effect Inferno, a concentrated laser beam, or a hard-hitting cannon, among plenty others. Strictly a co-op experience, up to four players must manage individual card decks to determine their available strategies. Cards are divided up into three basic categories. Attack commands for towers that are exhausted for the entire turn once used, support cards like “shrapnel bullets” that boost or alter attacks, and special cards that allow you to upgrade towers, temporarily boost their damage, or activate any tower you don’t already have a card for. Playing with friends, it becomes integral to coordinate and combine your strategies, as each player is only allowed to have four cards in their hand. When a card appears to be useless during the current wave, it can either be saved for the next (meaning you draw only enough cards to get back to four) or it can be scrapped for extra points to build and upgrade additional towers. Make no mistake. Despite the hand-holding a more seasoned friend might give you during gameplay, careful strategy is an omnipresent force in Defense Grid. Enemies move shockingly fast down the path towards their objective, making smart tower placement crucial to exploiting choke points and line of sight. Towers can’t shoot through one another, so spreading them out between various angles quickly became our favored strategy. While Walkers proved to be of little issue, the stouter Bulwarks, with their dense shields and armor, were particularly difficult to dispatch of. In true tower defense fashion, you’re at least guaranteed that your attack will strike its target. Unfortunately, an entire shot will need to be wasted to destroy one layer of the Bulwark’s shielding before any damage can be applied to its bug-like exterior. Thankfully, each player also has one special ability that can only be activated once per game. Did you guess giant laser? Because it was a giant bloody laser, that thankfully wiped an entire hex of aliens from the board. Like most enthusiast board games, the rules can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around at first. You’re managing both the mathematics of an enemy force’s health and your meager resources over a fairly lengthy playtime. For someone who nearly flunked high school math, it’s certainly a daunting idea, but as Hanses led me through the process, the game started to take on that pick-up-and-play nature that some of the best games have. I began to worry less about how many cards were left in my hand and devoted my attention to acquiring resource points. I also worried less about the armored Bulwarks, knowing they had to walk through my gauntlet twice. There’s nothing quite like seeing a bit of your future self in whichever player is currently holding a newbie’s hand through the process, invested and excited all around for more. Thankfully, if you’re the kind of board gamer that really enjoys investing in a particular playstyle or alternate game types, Defense Grid features multiple missions, with increasingly tougher enemies and more varied weaponry, all on differently choreographed grid maps. This means replayability not only comes from a normal game’s element of chance, but also as a built in feature to those who invest more time into the game. On top of that, players can individually level up their player character to increase their stats for the next game. For Hidden Path’s part, the support they’ve provided Hanses and fellow Forged by Geeks co-founder Rico Hall has been invaluable. After successful playtesting sessions with the team, the company provided the actual in-game models so Forged by Geeks could produce incredibly accurate miniatures of weapon tower and aliens. An entirely new alien will also make its debut in the board game. Perhaps most surprisingly, Forged by Geeks is taking their time producing a near-final game before debuting it on Kickstarter. Whereas many board (and video) games often showcase a minor amount of concept art and pre-alpha footage during their campaigns, Forged by Geeks want to leave players with a sense that they’re approaching this as true fans of the genre and franchise, rather than looking to make a quick buck. The funds acquired through Kickstarter will go towards production of the physical product, not the initial design and development costs that most Kickstarters ask for. “Ultimately, we decided that, being a first time Kickstarter studio, there’s a bunch of other risks,” Hanses said. “We haven’t proven our ability to get a game into consumers’ hands. With promising 23 unique miniature designs, 55 to 60 in the box, it’s a high risk to swallow. We’ve seen lots of Kickstarters fail that are now promising minis that just have renders. For us, we needed to get everything sculpted. We’re going to have the game done. When we go to Kickstarter, the rest of the game will just be done.” For Hanses and his colleague, whatever support they receive from genre fans could make or break their careers. Their minimum goal sits at $35,000 to cover production costs, while a stretch goal of $150,000 would cover the previous few years of work put into the game. An even higher stretch goal of $250,000 would allow Hanses and Hall to go into game design full time. Even if they just manage to break even, Hanses will leave happy. The Defense Grid: The Board Game Kickstarter is scheduled to launch on January 17, 2017. View full article
  9. You can scour the land for a century or more, but you’ll never find a better place to get your hands on amazing indie games than at PAX. Between the appropriately titled Indie Megabooth and the PAX 10, there are enough titles to choke a large chocobo. These are the most awesome indie games from PAX West 2016. Echo Platforms: PS4, PC Release Date: Q1 2017 Stare long enough into a void of mystery, and it might start looking back at you. Echo tells the story of En, a woman attempting to revive someone through the mysterious powers of a seemingly sentient palace. All goes well enough until the palace, activating its own defenses, begins to create violent and aggressive clones of En. The kicker? The palace only learns as much as you’re willing to teach it. En’s unwanted copies are ultimately a benign obstacle until she’s forced to adapt, opening doors, launching over barriers, and utilizing weapons. The clones slowly but surely adapt to every new maneuver you employ, dramatically increasing the likelihood of detection and death. Employing a sort of rapid “day and night” cycle to indicate when the clones will begin to employ your own tactics, Echo quickly becomes an exercise in risk versus reward and stealth versus desperation. Knowing that your own mistake is about to make things even worse is powerful, and allows players to choose their own play style. The team at developer Ultra Ultra might be commanding their corner of the Indie Megabooth, but the game stands as a technical and visual marvel in its own right, right alongside anything more highly funded. Old Man’s Journey Platform: Android, iOS Release Date: 2017 Fun fact: Roughly a quarter of all gamers are over the age of 50. So yes, you should keep trying to get your old man to play American Truck Simulator, even if it kills you. But if he’s not jonesed about a trip down spreadsheet lane, then perhaps the more serene Old Man’s Journey will be his cup of tea. Old Man’s Journey, developed by studio Broken Rules, captures the lengthy, meditative travels of an old sailor, on a mission of unknown intent, stopping only occasionally to enjoy Austria-inspired scenery. Gentle rolling hills turn into cobblestone roads. An old woman badgers you from her second floor window. A sly cat leads you along the path, and all the while the aura of a small town whispers through the streets. It’s every bit as peaceful as it is artsy, evoking a painterly style that’s both warm and embracing. Thankfully, gameplay seems to maintain a similar level of approachability. On mobile, players bend and layer the environment to line up with the area they want to reach, gently rearranging the landscape. Each segment is capped off with an impeccably illustrated still frame, capturing a moment in time of the protagonist’s storied life: A chance meeting with a girl, a gentle kiss to his pregnant bride at the summer harbor. At an estimated 90 minutes of playtime, you have no excuse not to find time for this game. Dog Sled Saga Platform: PC, Android, iOS Release Date: September 22, 2016 (full game, early access currently available) The onslaught of overly charming 2D “retro” indie games is inescapable. Many retro-inspired games seem to take the framework of a more recognizable era of gaming, but forget to put their own modernized twist on the end product. I don’t know with what else I’d compare Dog Sled Saga, because while its visual style invokes an entirely retro aesthetic (developer Trichotomy Games even rigged their demo to play on an NES controller), its gameplay comes across as both oddly personal and challenging at all times. After making the drastic decision to start a new life in the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the player finds themselves managing a rotating crew of sled dogs, qualifying for tournaments and maintaining their wellbeing over a season. It reads more like the back of a Football Coach Simulator 2016 box than any personal narrative, but each victory and failure along the way is an intensely intimate and earned one. You’ll need to precisely throw rations to your dogs in order to maintain their energy, while also ensuring they don’t injure themselves in tangled sleigh lines or due to lack of rest. The journey becomes just as much yours as it is theirs, and within a tight ten minute window I was already drawing a connection to my loyal steeds. Dog lovers need not miss this. Thimbleweed Park Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux Release Date: January 2017 LucasFilm’s 1987 hit Maniac Mansion set the bar for all future point-and-click games, establishing more than just a simple control scheme, but also the very nature of a video game narrative. Gone were the ultra-linear paths and obfuscated motivations for saving a block-shaped princess, replaced with a full cast of characters and player choice. Almost 30 years later, Maniac Mansion co-creators Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, David Fox, and their team are returning to the roots of what makes a great point-and-click narrative with Thimbleweed Park. Sardonic wit, whacky yet engaging characters, and inventive puzzles that play out across the entire cast all come together to craft an engaging mystery. Ignore the obvious parallels to The X-Files. Gilbert and Fox say they didn’t even realize it until the first playtesters made a mention of it. It’s just a good old fashioned murder mystery with clashing FBI agents – until it isn’t and the amateur game programmer/factory heiress and depressed clown show up. Battle Chef Brigade Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux Release Date: 2016 If you have even the slightest interest in the indie scene, you've more than likely heard of Battle Chef Brigade, and for excellent reason. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and three years in development, the cooking action puzzler is shaping up like few other games of its kind. Merging side-scrolling platforming and combat with Bejeweled-esque culinary puzzles, Battlechef Brigade challenges players to whip up the best darn dish in a fantasy world inhabited by your unusual assortment of heroes and devilishly handsome orcs. Wrapping it all up is an art style evocative of famed Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, or the more recent Mamoru Hosoda, but with enough of its own unique flair as to be entirely unique. With a wonderfully colorful cast and cooking competitions that would make Top Chef look like Julia Child, Battlechef Brigade is a dish best served on every gamer's plate. If there's one thing all PAX attendees can agree on, it's that the number of games at PAX is far too vast to play all of them. Make sure to check out the rest at both the Indie Megabooth and PAX 10 web pages and beyond, and to let us know what your favorite game from PAX West was. View full article
  10. You can scour the land for a century or more, but you’ll never find a better place to get your hands on amazing indie games than at PAX. Between the appropriately titled Indie Megabooth and the PAX 10, there are enough titles to choke a large chocobo. These are the most awesome indie games from PAX West 2016. Echo Platforms: PS4, PC Release Date: Q1 2017 Stare long enough into a void of mystery, and it might start looking back at you. Echo tells the story of En, a woman attempting to revive someone through the mysterious powers of a seemingly sentient palace. All goes well enough until the palace, activating its own defenses, begins to create violent and aggressive clones of En. The kicker? The palace only learns as much as you’re willing to teach it. En’s unwanted copies are ultimately a benign obstacle until she’s forced to adapt, opening doors, launching over barriers, and utilizing weapons. The clones slowly but surely adapt to every new maneuver you employ, dramatically increasing the likelihood of detection and death. Employing a sort of rapid “day and night” cycle to indicate when the clones will begin to employ your own tactics, Echo quickly becomes an exercise in risk versus reward and stealth versus desperation. Knowing that your own mistake is about to make things even worse is powerful, and allows players to choose their own play style. The team at developer Ultra Ultra might be commanding their corner of the Indie Megabooth, but the game stands as a technical and visual marvel in its own right, right alongside anything more highly funded. Old Man’s Journey Platform: Android, iOS Release Date: 2017 Fun fact: Roughly a quarter of all gamers are over the age of 50. So yes, you should keep trying to get your old man to play American Truck Simulator, even if it kills you. But if he’s not jonesed about a trip down spreadsheet lane, then perhaps the more serene Old Man’s Journey will be his cup of tea. Old Man’s Journey, developed by studio Broken Rules, captures the lengthy, meditative travels of an old sailor, on a mission of unknown intent, stopping only occasionally to enjoy Austria-inspired scenery. Gentle rolling hills turn into cobblestone roads. An old woman badgers you from her second floor window. A sly cat leads you along the path, and all the while the aura of a small town whispers through the streets. It’s every bit as peaceful as it is artsy, evoking a painterly style that’s both warm and embracing. Thankfully, gameplay seems to maintain a similar level of approachability. On mobile, players bend and layer the environment to line up with the area they want to reach, gently rearranging the landscape. Each segment is capped off with an impeccably illustrated still frame, capturing a moment in time of the protagonist’s storied life: A chance meeting with a girl, a gentle kiss to his pregnant bride at the summer harbor. At an estimated 90 minutes of playtime, you have no excuse not to find time for this game. Dog Sled Saga Platform: PC, Android, iOS Release Date: September 22, 2016 (full game, early access currently available) The onslaught of overly charming 2D “retro” indie games is inescapable. Many retro-inspired games seem to take the framework of a more recognizable era of gaming, but forget to put their own modernized twist on the end product. I don’t know with what else I’d compare Dog Sled Saga, because while its visual style invokes an entirely retro aesthetic (developer Trichotomy Games even rigged their demo to play on an NES controller), its gameplay comes across as both oddly personal and challenging at all times. After making the drastic decision to start a new life in the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the player finds themselves managing a rotating crew of sled dogs, qualifying for tournaments and maintaining their wellbeing over a season. It reads more like the back of a Football Coach Simulator 2016 box than any personal narrative, but each victory and failure along the way is an intensely intimate and earned one. You’ll need to precisely throw rations to your dogs in order to maintain their energy, while also ensuring they don’t injure themselves in tangled sleigh lines or due to lack of rest. The journey becomes just as much yours as it is theirs, and within a tight ten minute window I was already drawing a connection to my loyal steeds. Dog lovers need not miss this. Thimbleweed Park Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux Release Date: January 2017 LucasFilm’s 1987 hit Maniac Mansion set the bar for all future point-and-click games, establishing more than just a simple control scheme, but also the very nature of a video game narrative. Gone were the ultra-linear paths and obfuscated motivations for saving a block-shaped princess, replaced with a full cast of characters and player choice. Almost 30 years later, Maniac Mansion co-creators Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, David Fox, and their team are returning to the roots of what makes a great point-and-click narrative with Thimbleweed Park. Sardonic wit, whacky yet engaging characters, and inventive puzzles that play out across the entire cast all come together to craft an engaging mystery. Ignore the obvious parallels to The X-Files. Gilbert and Fox say they didn’t even realize it until the first playtesters made a mention of it. It’s just a good old fashioned murder mystery with clashing FBI agents – until it isn’t and the amateur game programmer/factory heiress and depressed clown show up. Battle Chef Brigade Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux Release Date: 2016 If you have even the slightest interest in the indie scene, you've more than likely heard of Battle Chef Brigade, and for excellent reason. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and three years in development, the cooking action puzzler is shaping up like few other games of its kind. Merging side-scrolling platforming and combat with Bejeweled-esque culinary puzzles, Battlechef Brigade challenges players to whip up the best darn dish in a fantasy world inhabited by your unusual assortment of heroes and devilishly handsome orcs. Wrapping it all up is an art style evocative of famed Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, or the more recent Mamoru Hosoda, but with enough of its own unique flair as to be entirely unique. With a wonderfully colorful cast and cooking competitions that would make Top Chef look like Julia Child, Battlechef Brigade is a dish best served on every gamer's plate. If there's one thing all PAX attendees can agree on, it's that the number of games at PAX is far too vast to play all of them. Make sure to check out the rest at both the Indie Megabooth and PAX 10 web pages and beyond, and to let us know what your favorite game from PAX West was.
  11. Fans of Telltale's The Walking Dead franchise are as ravenous for new details as the titular flesh eaters themselves, and one juicy morsel found the light at Telltale's PAX West panel Friday afternoon. The third season will officially be titled The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series – A New Frontier. Kevin Bruner, co-founder and CEO of Telltale Games described season three "As a harrowing and horrific drama" that delves into the grit and grime of survival in a flesh-eating apocalypse. Players should ready themselves to deal with their beloved Clementine "confronting the new rules of order and justice in a land being brutally reclaimed and rediscovered by what's left of humanity itself." The upcoming season is set roughly four years after the dire events of season two, and features the return of the series' darling Clementine, as well as a mysterious new (and playable) character named Javier. The series' executive producer, Kevin Boyle, explained that the theme of the third season will be fundamentally different than the two season before: When we began this series, we explored what it meant to protect a character like Clementine at all costs. Years later, meeting her for the first time, Javier will begin to unravel the mystery of who Clementine has become, as her story intersects with his - both of them still driven by the things they value most long after society's collapse. A New Frontier will premier this November on PC, console, and mobile platforms. Players can also expect a physical edition that allows access to subsequent episodes as they become available. There's currently no word on what the revealed subtitle might mean for the new season. While "The Walking Dead" has predominantly focused on the southeast regions of the United States, "A New Frontier" might imply a switch of scenery. What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments. View full article
  12. Fans of Telltale's The Walking Dead franchise are as ravenous for new details as the titular flesh eaters themselves, and one juicy morsel found the light at Telltale's PAX West panel Friday afternoon. The third season will officially be titled The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series – A New Frontier. Kevin Bruner, co-founder and CEO of Telltale Games described season three "As a harrowing and horrific drama" that delves into the grit and grime of survival in a flesh-eating apocalypse. Players should ready themselves to deal with their beloved Clementine "confronting the new rules of order and justice in a land being brutally reclaimed and rediscovered by what's left of humanity itself." The upcoming season is set roughly four years after the dire events of season two, and features the return of the series' darling Clementine, as well as a mysterious new (and playable) character named Javier. The series' executive producer, Kevin Boyle, explained that the theme of the third season will be fundamentally different than the two season before: When we began this series, we explored what it meant to protect a character like Clementine at all costs. Years later, meeting her for the first time, Javier will begin to unravel the mystery of who Clementine has become, as her story intersects with his - both of them still driven by the things they value most long after society's collapse. A New Frontier will premier this November on PC, console, and mobile platforms. Players can also expect a physical edition that allows access to subsequent episodes as they become available. There's currently no word on what the revealed subtitle might mean for the new season. While "The Walking Dead" has predominantly focused on the southeast regions of the United States, "A New Frontier" might imply a switch of scenery. What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments.