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Found 36 results

  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. With the recent release of the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, another game looms large in the background: The original Legend of Zelda, the 1986 title that started it all and taught us all that it's dangerous to go alone. Nintendo's open world adventure forced players to think beyond the limitations of previous console games, forced Nintendo to change how it made games, almost single-handedly created the Nintendo Power magazine, and became both a cultural and game design touchstone. Does The Legend of Zelda, with all of its 1986 technical limitations, still hold up over 30 years later? Outro music: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 'The Imprisoning War' by smartpoetic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03308) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  4. With the recent release of the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, another game looms large in the background: The original Legend of Zelda, the 1986 title that started it all and taught us all that it's dangerous to go alone. Nintendo's open world adventure forced players to think beyond the limitations of previous console games, forced Nintendo to change how it made games, almost single-handedly created the Nintendo Power magazine, and became both a cultural and game design touchstone. Does The Legend of Zelda, with all of its 1986 technical limitations, still hold up over 30 years later? Outro music: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 'The Imprisoning War' by smartpoetic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03308) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  5. If you haven't bought Telltale's fantasy noir saga yet, physical copies of Telltale Games' The Wolf Among Us will be on store shelves at the beginning of November for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita..
  6. What are stories? Conventional wisdom will tell you that stories are something along the lines of people describing a series of events with beginnings, middles, and endings. Usually, they tend to be interesting and sometimes they’re even factual. In fact, if we really want to boil stories down to their basics, they’re just the relation of events, real or imagined, to another person. It is one of the fundamental ways in which we communicate with one another. Though everyone tells stories, some people find it to be a necessity. For those individuals, writing novels, directing movies, developing games, become compulsions. Stephen King probably hasn’t written 85 novels, novellas, non-fiction books, short stories, and assorted other works just for the mountains of money (though I’m sure that didn’t hurt his productivity). I’d hazard a guess that he feels a need to write that can’t be satisfied. Maybe I’m going a bit too far out on a limb to guess at what motivates King’s prolific writing, but I know that I write short stories to clearly articulate ideas I have trouble sharing in casual conversation. That’s part of the reason why I write for a living, too. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was reviewed on PC. Maybe it is that background that helped me latch onto The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In many ways, Ethan Carter is about stories and why we use them to make sense of the world around us. In a much more obvious way, Ethan Carter is a young boy who has gone missing. Before he went missing, Ethan was writing to the detective Paul Prospero who decides to investigate the strange circumstances around the boy’s disappearance. As the game begins, Paul arrives in Red Creek Valley with a mind to solve the mystery of the missing child. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more going on in Red Creek Valley than a simple kidnapping or runaway when players discover the severed legs and body of a murdered man. Things only seem to grow stranger from there, though I won’t go into more detail in an effort to preserve the mystery of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Paul Prospero has a keen eye for crime solving, aided in part by an affinity for the supernatural. Examining evidence and reconstructing crime scenes allows the detective to visualize the events leading up to the murder and provides hints as to where the next piece in the puzzle might be. This element could have been very gimmicky, and in a way it is, but it worked in making me feel like an investigator. It helped me buy into the mystery. I think that’s the most important part of enjoying and understanding Ethan Carter; you need to be able to accept the central mystery and ponder over the bizarre set of clues that are scattered throughout the beautiful scenic landscape of Red Creek Valley. The Vanishing of Ethan carter is a deliberately slow burn. The walking speed is realistically sluggish, though there is a button that allows for sprinting for players that are in a hurry. The pace invites those with more patience to observe the effort that indie studio The Astronauts put in to make the environment come alive. Birds send lonely, mournful cries across the wide waters of Red Creek, ringing out against a backdrop of trees that have shifted colors in preparation for winter. The audio and visuals complement each other perfectly and can change on a dime if the situation calls for it. As players progress, it becomes very clear just how wide of a range The Astronauts have in terms of the kinds of games they could deliver in the future. Beyond superficial qualities like the way everything appears and sounds, the level design on display is also of a very high caliber. Though Ethan Carter is in reality rather constrained and linear, it rarely feel that way. A thick illusion of openness pervades the experience. Environments are cleverly designed to draw players toward their next objective in a number of subtle ways. Sometimes a unique tree will draw you down to the left or an unusual building will compel you to abandon the train tracks that you’ve been following. At several points I found myself thinking that there were entire unexplored areas, until I deliberately backtracked to satisfy my curiosity and found that they contained nothing but more wilderness. The slow pace of Ethan Carter also allows players time to consider the implications of the various situations they come across. Are they real? Is something beyond mortal experience casting a malevolent shadow over Red Creek Valley? What does it all mean, both in the context of the game and as an outsider looking to take meaning from it? While some of these questions are resolved by the time the credits roll, others are not and those are the ones we need to answer for ourselves. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter resembles games like The Stanley Parable or Gone Home that present an environment for players to explore and investigate. The core mechanical difference between the three is that Ethan Carter contains a number of simple puzzles and murders that require some thought and interaction. Some of you might remember that last year I wrote about my experience with Gone Home. While I applauded that it was trying something unique in the gaming space, it ultimately failed to resonate with me, despite the amount of effort that The Fullbright Company put into crafting the experience. It fell short because the solution to Gone Home’s mystery seemed obvious and the story one that, while not common in games, didn’t strike me as particularly compelling. I feel the opposite about The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It is a layered tale full of unexpected twists, wonder, suspense, and horror. When I finished I had to pace around the room thinking about what had happened for a good twenty minutes. For me, the experience rang true and I felt the payoff of having heavily invested myself into a narrative that had decided to end in a bold fashion. Without spoilers, it takes real creative guts to end a video game the way The Astronauts chose to bring Ethan Carter to a conclusion. Will there be people who respond to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter the same way that I felt about Gone Home? Absolutely. Like Gone Home before it, Ethan Carter stands almost entirely upon the strength of its narrative and will illicit different subjective reactions from players. As for me, I thought The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was some of the finest storytelling in video games. Conclusion: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a must play for anyone who fancies themselves interested in video games as an artistic medium for stories. A rich, finely crafted environment awaits, full of surprises and riddles waiting to be solved. Players looking for action or mindless fun should seek out other games. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter could be called many things, but I don’t know that I could label it as a “fun” experience. It is enjoyable, certainly, but not fun in the traditional sense that many associate with video games. I don’t know that I’ll be playing it again in the near future, but I do know that I won’t be forgetting my time in Red Creek Valley anytime soon. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is currently available on PC and will be coming to PlayStation 4 sometime in 2015.
  7. In Toren, a young girl must brave the dangers of a seemingly hostile world all by herself. While the premise might be one that many indie games have used in the past, Toren looks to use more of an adventurous spin. As the venturesome Moonchild, players are tasked with climbing a magical tower, the titular Toren. On the journey to the top, Moonchild will be faced with puzzles, monsters, and the impending enigma that awaits her at the top. The trailer makes me think of Ico crossed with some Legend of Zelda. Color me excited. Swordtales promises that, "players will witness the birth and the growth of a lonely girl named Moonchild, guiding her on a dangerous journey of discovery and transformation as she unlocks the mysteries of the tower." Toren has already received numerous awards and nominations including an Honorable Mention at the Independent Games Festival, a Finalist for Art Design in both InidePub and the Brasil Game Show awards and was the winner of the Best PC at the E-Games awards. Toren and Swordtales have even caught the attention of the Brazilian government; a government that has chosen to back Toren's development. Toren is expected to release early 2015 for PC, Mac, and PlayStation 4.
  8. Great video games aren’t random mishmashes and hodgepodges of disparate visuals, mechanics, and stories. With games that stand the test of time, those elements need to come together to create a cohesive whole. Given that video games are an interactive medium, arguably their most important component is how they allow players to interact with them. The Stanley Parable, Shadow of the Colossus, and Beyond: Two Souls, perfectly capture this concept, albeit in different ways. I’ve made a point of mentioning a game called The Stanley Parable recently. Talking about The Stanley Parable is difficult without spoiling much of what makes it enjoyable and thought provoking. However, I don’t think it is giving away too much to say that the core of the experience is built around player choice and how that relates to game design. Developer Galactic Cafe stripped down the gameplay to the bare minimum required to convey this message to players. The Stanley Parable uses similar mechanics to games like Dear Esther and Gone Home, giving players only the ability to move and interact with certain objects. One of the criticisms leveled against both Gone Home and Dear Esther was that the level of engagement afforded by the limited scope of the gameplay wasn’t interesting or necessarily fun. Where those games fell short, The Stanley Parable excels by using its mechanics to help demonstrate and complement its story through intelligent game design. Essentially, players are presented with a series of branching paths and options with an amusing narration responding to whatever the player happens to be doing. The narration urges players down a predetermined path, while other opportunities are constantly presented for players to derail the experience. This allows The Stanley Parable to not only directly talk about the struggles of developing video games but also demonstrate those difficulties through the player’s experiences. Interactivity and storytelling are difficult to reconcile with one another, as interactivity is necessarily freeing and storytelling is by nature restrictive. Shadow of the Colossus marries the two in an interesting way. Colossus’ story revolves around a young man who brings his deceased love to a forbidden land and makes a pact with a demon or deity to bring her back from the dead. At the end of their interaction, the supernatural entity nebulously states that the price might be higher than the young man could imagine. As players progress through Shadow of the Colossus, killing the sixteen colossi, players begin to notice subtle changes, both in the visuals and in the gameplay. With each defeated colossus comes a flood of dark tendrils that infuse the young man’s body and transport him back to the starting area. Each time that happens, the young man receives increased health and stamina and begins to look more haggard, eventually sprouting small horns, transforming into something inhuman. This is done with little to no dialogue, but as players, we experience the transformation ourselves and recognize that something sinister is taking place; the cost alluded to at the beginning. It is an achievement in subtlety that few games ever manage. While the story in Shadow of the Colossus remains static with no branching paths, it leaves the details hanging for players to interpret and experience differently with each playthrough. That's how you can have many players walking away from Shadow of the Colossus with different takes on what happened in the game. Was it a love story about a man going to the ends of the world for the woman he loves? Was it a dark parable cautioning against hubris? Or perhaps it was a tragedy about someone coping with grief in destructive ways? These vastly different outlooks depend on how people interact with Shadow of the Colossus and the set of life experiences each individual brings with them. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have games like Beyond: Two Souls, which treat gameplay mechanics almost as a hindrance rather than a strength. Playing Beyond: Two Souls feels like watching a bad movie that grudgingly pauses every so often for players to do quick-time events and contextual button presses. The game rarely communicates when players are making important choices that are arbitrarily more important later on in the plot and plot-related decisions are essentially the only meaningful gameplay in which players can partake. Yes, it has branching storylines. Yes, it integrates player choice. Yes, it looks great. But its story doesn’t serve its gameplay and that renders the interactive element of the game inert. When players can't understand how their choices mattered, that represents a fundamental problem with a game supposedly built on player choice. Interactivity should be used to help tell a story rather than having a story draped around unrelated mechanics. When the two don’t sync up right, we get games that might as well be movies or books. If we wanted that, we would go to a library (those are still a thing, right?) or flip on Netflix.
  9. In the midst of the insanity that made up E3 2013, I encountered a game called Pinstripe at the IndieCade booth. What followed was akin to a descent into surreal madness of the sort one might expect from a more malign Alice in Wonderland. With little introduction, I was thrust into the role of James Weaks, an absurdly wealthy man who is aboard a train with his wife. After being asked to retrieve my wife’s scarf, I was able to explore the various compartments of the train using the W, A, S, and D keys to move. As I moved through the train cars, I came into contact with various other passengers who chatted about their goals in life, before I was able to proceed. Once I obtained the scarf from several cars farther forward, I encountered what appeared to be a demonic cat. With some cryptic words, the cat vanished and the train wrecked itself in a snowy land. The haunting melodies of Pinstripe’s soundtrack played as I tried to get my bearings. Donning my wife’s scarf against the cold, I soldiered on through the ice. Soon I began to meet other survivors from the wreck, but all of them seemed different, obsessed with their desires. One of the first people I encountered was an alcoholic from the train, who was now obsessed with drinking the honey from black beehives. After retrieving a hive for him to eat, he allowed me through his shelter and I found a blunderbuss. With this weapon I was able to sever ropes and fight the enemies that had appeared; odd tear drop creatures with propellers that dropped oozing bombs. It became clear that not everything was right in the world. Pressing onward, I solved more problems from people who had been on the train and I met what seemed to be a dog from my childhood. I saw the fleeting image of my wife, running in the distance. Shortly after, I was told by the demonic cat that my wife was waiting at the hotel, a building off in the distance. To reach the hotel, I needed to take a boat across a lake. In a scene that brought to mind the crossing of the river Styx from Greek mythology, I was propelled on the boat by a lanky, oozing, black creature with a singular red eye for a head. Upon reaching the far shore, I disembarked (hoping never to see that monster again) and made my way into the nearby hotel where I was greeted by the demonic feline. At this point, my demonic guide revealed that the world was no longer the mortal world, but “a place where the selfish become more selfish” before vanishing into a puff of smoke. More than a little disturbed, I made my way to the top of the hotel, encountering fantastical creatures, like a strange spore-spider creature the size of an entire room. In the process of solving puzzles, I ran across a newspaper with a headline proclaiming the suicide of a certain Mr. James Weaks and a scrap of paper hinting that the pinstripe man might know of a way out of this world. More and more perplexed, I made my way to the room in which the cat had told me my wife would be, only to find a mannequin and the black cat, taunting me for my foolishness and condemning me to spend eternity within the room. Seemingly doomed to spend the rest of existence trapped and alone with my dog, I explored my prison. After fiddling with a singular mirror, a portal to another world was opened and I stepped though with my trusty dog companion. On the other side of the mirror, a crystalline wall arose and would not open, unless someone stood on a certain spot. Gently, my dog explained that it had been my loyal friend its entire life, and it would not stop being so now. Urging me to go on, it stood on the switch and allowed me to proceed – leaving him behind. It was a poignant moment and one that was followed by the conclusion of my time with Pinstripe. At its heart, Pinstripe is a 2D point-and-click adventure game with some light puzzle, action, and platforming elements. Overall, the impression I walked away from Pinstripe with was good. The surreal insanity of the world really engaged me and kept me wondering where the story would bring me next. The sound design and music are worth noting as well, given how well they blended with the simple and understated visuals. The actual gameplay was frankly a bit bland, but it was serviceable and it didn’t really need to be interesting given the intriguing aesthetic, sounds, music, and story. Pinstripe is being developed by one-man team Thomas Brush and will continue development until it is done, aiming for a release on PC sometime in 2013.
  10. Here is a bit of news you might have missed in the deluge of information and releases: Double Fine, the developers behind Psychonauts, Headlander, and Grim Fandango Remaster, are moving forward with their plans to remake the LucasArts rock'n roll adventure title Full Throttle. Last year the studio announced plans for several games, but Full Throttle Remastered was mentioned as almost an afterthought. However, more details have been released alongside a new trailer. Full Throttle focuses on the story of Ben, the leader of a biker gang known as the Polecats, who gets swept up into an escalating series of events involving treachery, espionage, and even murder. The game was penned by David Grossman and Tim Schafer, the founder and current head of Double Fine. Full Throttle is considered by many to be one of, if not THE, best adventure games to come out of LucasArts during their domination of the adventure game genre. The remaster will feature overhauled art in both 2D and 3D alongside revamped audio. Much like the Grim Fandango remaster, players will be able to switch between the original and the newly polished graphics. Players will also be able to tweak the audio and UI between old and new. Double Fine plans to include a number of extras inside Full Throttle Remastered including a concept art gallery and a commentary track from Tim Schafer and others who worked on the original game (game developers/publishers, include more commentary tracks with your games - they are super interesting!). Full Throttle Remastered is slated for a 2017 release window for PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and PC.
  11. Here is a bit of news you might have missed in the deluge of information and releases: Double Fine, the developers behind Psychonauts, Headlander, and Grim Fandango Remaster, are moving forward with their plans to remake the LucasArts rock'n roll adventure title Full Throttle. Last year the studio announced plans for several games, but Full Throttle Remastered was mentioned as almost an afterthought. However, more details have been released alongside a new trailer. Full Throttle focuses on the story of Ben, the leader of a biker gang known as the Polecats, who gets swept up into an escalating series of events involving treachery, espionage, and even murder. The game was penned by David Grossman and Tim Schafer, the founder and current head of Double Fine. Full Throttle is considered by many to be one of, if not THE, best adventure games to come out of LucasArts during their domination of the adventure game genre. The remaster will feature overhauled art in both 2D and 3D alongside revamped audio. Much like the Grim Fandango remaster, players will be able to switch between the original and the newly polished graphics. Players will also be able to tweak the audio and UI between old and new. Double Fine plans to include a number of extras inside Full Throttle Remastered including a concept art gallery and a commentary track from Tim Schafer and others who worked on the original game (game developers/publishers, include more commentary tracks with your games - they are super interesting!). Full Throttle Remastered is slated for a 2017 release window for PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and PC. View full article
  12. Look, games are weird. We know that. Heck, one of the most recognizable video game characters ever is a plumber who frequently fights a dragon and fraternizes with royalty. Maize, a game about scientists who create sentient corn, might take that weirdness to new, a-maize-ing heights. The team at Finish Line Games has concocted a first-person adventure game that has players exploring a secret government facility that has been overrun by living, breathing, walking, talking corn-people created by two scientists who misread a government memo. Players must figure out the secrets of the facility and its corny residence with the help of Vladdy, a talking stuffed bear with a crabby attitude, a robotic backpack, and a Russian accent. I don't have much to add, but Maize just looks like something everyone should be aware exists. Maize is available now for PC.
  13. Look, games are weird. We know that. Heck, one of the most recognizable video game characters ever is a plumber who frequently fights a dragon and fraternizes with royalty. Maize, a game about scientists who create sentient corn, might take that weirdness to new, a-maize-ing heights. The team at Finish Line Games has concocted a first-person adventure game that has players exploring a secret government facility that has been overrun by living, breathing, walking, talking corn-people created by two scientists who misread a government memo. Players must figure out the secrets of the facility and its corny residence with the help of Vladdy, a talking stuffed bear with a crabby attitude, a robotic backpack, and a Russian accent. I don't have much to add, but Maize just looks like something everyone should be aware exists. Maize is available now for PC. View full article
  14. We are only a day out from the release of The Last Guardian, the game that has taken Team Ico over eleven years to create. Earlier this year we discussed the developer's first game, Ico, and the impact it had on game development going forward. To be a bit topical, we are happy to present a lengthy, in-depth look at Team Ico's second game, Shadow of the Colossus. The 2005 PlayStation 2 title carried the spirit of Ico into a large open-world full of magic, danger, and beautiful stillness. Though not glowingly received by critics at the time, regard for the third-person adventure game seems to have grown over the years. Usually opinions on a game degrade over time, so the case of Shadow of the Colossus might strike some as particularly odd. Has a large segment of the gaming population collectively chosen to wear rose-colored glasses or have people been slowly realizing the merits of the game that pits a man against living mountains? Also, this marks the one year anniversary of The Best Games Period podcast - a huge thank you to everyone who took the time out of their day to listen in each week. We really appreciate those of you who have left comments and reviews. We hope that you'll stick with us as we keep talking about the best games through 2017 and beyond! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: 'The Sunlit Earth' by Kow Otani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POTlM3SyMVo) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  15. We are only a day out from the release of The Last Guardian, the game that has taken Team Ico over eleven years to create. Earlier this year we discussed the developer's first game, Ico, and the impact it had on game development going forward. To be a bit topical, we are happy to present a lengthy, in-depth look at Team Ico's second game, Shadow of the Colossus. The 2005 PlayStation 2 title carried the spirit of Ico into a large open-world full of magic, danger, and beautiful stillness. Though not glowingly received by critics at the time, regard for the third-person adventure game seems to have grown over the years. Usually opinions on a game degrade over time, so the case of Shadow of the Colossus might strike some as particularly odd. Has a large segment of the gaming population collectively chosen to wear rose-colored glasses or have people been slowly realizing the merits of the game that pits a man against living mountains? Also, this marks the one year anniversary of The Best Games Period podcast - a huge thank you to everyone who took the time out of their day to listen in each week. We really appreciate those of you who have left comments and reviews. We hope that you'll stick with us as we keep talking about the best games through 2017 and beyond! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: 'The Sunlit Earth' by Kow Otani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POTlM3SyMVo) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  16. A new season of Telltale's The Walking Dead begins later this month, which has led to a lot of people wondering what exactly it will be about. Last week, Telltale gave just a bit more information via a sequence taken from the first episode of the upcoming series. In it, we get to know one of our main protagonists, Javier, as he and his family go through the initial outbreak of the zombie virus. At the end of the trailer, we see the heart of Telltale's The Walking Dead: Clementine. The scene with Javier's family takes place years before the events of the game itself, with a more grown up and weathered Clementine. She looks like she's seen some more human depravity and now comes wielding a shotgun. It's both heartbreaking and gratifying to see that the world hasn't taken her down yet. Javier and Clementine will be dealing with pockets of civilization that have formed and adapted to the zombie apocalypse. There have been some obvious improvements to the Telltale Engine, the software Telltales uses to run their games. Animations seem smoother, environments present more objects and details, and the lighting effects have improved (though the eye shine seems a bit distracting). The Walking Dead: A New Frontier premiers on December 20 with two episodes titled titled 'Ties That Bind Part 1' and 'Ties That Bind Part 2.' The episodic adventure series is slated to come to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and mobile devices on the 20th, but Telltale says that it will also come to other platforms at an unspecified time in the future, so Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners might still see versions come their way.
  17. A new season of Telltale's The Walking Dead begins later this month, which has led to a lot of people wondering what exactly it will be about. Last week, Telltale gave just a bit more information via a sequence taken from the first episode of the upcoming series. In it, we get to know one of our main protagonists, Javier, as he and his family go through the initial outbreak of the zombie virus. At the end of the trailer, we see the heart of Telltale's The Walking Dead: Clementine. The scene with Javier's family takes place years before the events of the game itself, with a more grown up and weathered Clementine. She looks like she's seen some more human depravity and now comes wielding a shotgun. It's both heartbreaking and gratifying to see that the world hasn't taken her down yet. Javier and Clementine will be dealing with pockets of civilization that have formed and adapted to the zombie apocalypse. There have been some obvious improvements to the Telltale Engine, the software Telltales uses to run their games. Animations seem smoother, environments present more objects and details, and the lighting effects have improved (though the eye shine seems a bit distracting). The Walking Dead: A New Frontier premiers on December 20 with two episodes titled titled 'Ties That Bind Part 1' and 'Ties That Bind Part 2.' The episodic adventure series is slated to come to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and mobile devices on the 20th, but Telltale says that it will also come to other platforms at an unspecified time in the future, so Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners might still see versions come their way. View full article
  18. The dark of space was made for keeping secrets. Murder, conspiracy, sabotage, all manner of things perhaps better left unseen and unknown can be hidden in the vacuum between worlds. But what happens when unlikely events begin to bring those mysteries to light? Event[0] takes place in a fictional version of 2012 where humanity has begun mastering space travel and establishing colonies. On one fateful mission to Europa, an incident occurs that leaves a ship in ruins. Alone in an escape pod with minimal chance of rescue, the mysterious ship Nautilus offers the player a respite from impending death. Unfortunately, the Nautilus seems to have been damaged in various ways and the bridge placed into lockdown. Interacting with the Nautilus’ decades old AI, Kaizen-85, becomes the only way to proceed through the ship, reveal its secrets, and perhaps return to Earth. In many ways, Event[0] fits into the gaming genre of “walking simulator.” I know just mentioning that phrase will unfortunately turn off many people, but many of the in-game objectives boil down to “walk around for a bit until you find a clue” or getting from Point A to Point B, much like genre classics Gone Home or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. However, while those basic goals probably don’t excite the imagination, the core gameplay sets Event[0] apart from anything else available in the indie or even AAA gaming space. Interactions with Kaizen-85 present the only way the player can progress through the Nautilus. The 80s-era AI controls the ship via various terminals, and the player can only talk with Kaizen-85 via typing. Want to open a door? You have to ask Kaizen. Want to use an elevator? You have to ask Kaizen. Want to seal an airlock so you can breathe? You have to ask Kaizen. The entire game maintains a mounting sense of panic as it becomes clear that Kaizen doesn’t process information rationally. It lies. It refuses requests. It might even attempt to kill. Some players might be understandably suspicious of how well the AI can respond to user-generated sentences and phrases. The team at Ocelot Society created over 2,000,000 unique responses for Kaizen and it can respond to a vast array of random inputs. While I certainly encountered a number of repeated phrases when I talked with Kaizen-85, it felt in-character for a malfunctioning artificial intelligence. To Ocelot Society’s credit, I felt like I was able to develop a rudimentary relationship with Kaizen. In that respect, Event[0] feels like a more fully realized version of the 2006 indie title, Façade, which allowed players to interact with a human couple in a room and attempted to account for all possible player inputs. Games have obviously come farther in the decade since Façade. It makes me wonder about the possibility of using a similar approach to modeling human interactions in future games (obviously with the caveat that typing as a replacement for speaking would only work in select instances). Putting all of those details and comparisons aside, the defining mechanic of Event[0] works very well. Event[0] contains a number of qualities that lend themselves toward horror, but the game stops just short of becoming a fully-fledged horror title. It settles for being unsettling and laid back at the same time. The soundtrack does a fantastic job at capturing that feel with a score that highlights the mystery of the Nautilus, thick with anticipation of what might happen next, and tempers that anxiety with a gorgeous, jazzy number performed by Julie Robert and Camille Giraudeau called 'Hey Judy.' All of this is underscored by sound design that both captures the isolation of space and manages to ratchet up the tension when taking risks in a spacesuit. These sounds might be ones with which you're familiar, but they're executed flawlessly. People won't be drawn into Event[0] by its visuals. While certainly serviceable, there just isn't much to see, which relates to the length of the game, too. Almost the entirety of Event[0] takes place aboard the Nautilus, a relatively small ship. The objects are very nicely detailed and each room feels lovingly crafted. However, you can see almost everything in under three hours. For some people, that might be another deal breaker as Event[0] currently sells for around $20 and there are certainly games that offer longer gameplay experiences for a similar price. The story of Event[0] itself feels a bit less exciting than its core mechanic. The struggle to survive armed with only your wit and words against a crazy AI seems like it should be enough on its own, but the situation becomes complicated with an often unnecessary backstory. The ending left me with a feeling a little confused and like I had missed some key piece of exposition. Event[0] rushes to a conclusion that might have been better served with some earlier set up. There are multiple endings to Event[0] that depend on how the player treats Kaizen throughout the game, which is another testament to the power of the core mechanic - the game can determine the player's tone. Conclusion: Play Event[0] if you want something different. It might be short. It might have some narrative problems. It might sometimes have gameplay issues. However, you cannot get a similar experience from anything else released in the last few years. For all of Event[0]'s flaws, trying to communicate with Kaizen-85 and unravel its lies and secrets was a refreshing adventure that I feel grateful exists. Event[0] is available now for PC and Mac
  19. The dark of space was made for keeping secrets. Murder, conspiracy, sabotage, all manner of things perhaps better left unseen and unknown can be hidden in the vacuum between worlds. But what happens when unlikely events begin to bring those mysteries to light? Event[0] takes place in a fictional version of 2012 where humanity has begun mastering space travel and establishing colonies. On one fateful mission to Europa, an incident occurs that leaves a ship in ruins. Alone in an escape pod with minimal chance of rescue, the mysterious ship Nautilus offers the player a respite from impending death. Unfortunately, the Nautilus seems to have been damaged in various ways and the bridge placed into lockdown. Interacting with the Nautilus’ decades old AI, Kaizen-85, becomes the only way to proceed through the ship, reveal its secrets, and perhaps return to Earth. In many ways, Event[0] fits into the gaming genre of “walking simulator.” I know just mentioning that phrase will unfortunately turn off many people, but many of the in-game objectives boil down to “walk around for a bit until you find a clue” or getting from Point A to Point B, much like genre classics Gone Home or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. However, while those basic goals probably don’t excite the imagination, the core gameplay sets Event[0] apart from anything else available in the indie or even AAA gaming space. Interactions with Kaizen-85 present the only way the player can progress through the Nautilus. The 80s-era AI controls the ship via various terminals, and the player can only talk with Kaizen-85 via typing. Want to open a door? You have to ask Kaizen. Want to use an elevator? You have to ask Kaizen. Want to seal an airlock so you can breathe? You have to ask Kaizen. The entire game maintains a mounting sense of panic as it becomes clear that Kaizen doesn’t process information rationally. It lies. It refuses requests. It might even attempt to kill. Some players might be understandably suspicious of how well the AI can respond to user-generated sentences and phrases. The team at Ocelot Society created over 2,000,000 unique responses for Kaizen and it can respond to a vast array of random inputs. While I certainly encountered a number of repeated phrases when I talked with Kaizen-85, it felt in-character for a malfunctioning artificial intelligence. To Ocelot Society’s credit, I felt like I was able to develop a rudimentary relationship with Kaizen. In that respect, Event[0] feels like a more fully realized version of the 2006 indie title, Façade, which allowed players to interact with a human couple in a room and attempted to account for all possible player inputs. Games have obviously come farther in the decade since Façade. It makes me wonder about the possibility of using a similar approach to modeling human interactions in future games (obviously with the caveat that typing as a replacement for speaking would only work in select instances). Putting all of those details and comparisons aside, the defining mechanic of Event[0] works very well. Event[0] contains a number of qualities that lend themselves toward horror, but the game stops just short of becoming a fully-fledged horror title. It settles for being unsettling and laid back at the same time. The soundtrack does a fantastic job at capturing that feel with a score that highlights the mystery of the Nautilus, thick with anticipation of what might happen next, and tempers that anxiety with a gorgeous, jazzy number performed by Julie Robert and Camille Giraudeau called 'Hey Judy.' All of this is underscored by sound design that both captures the isolation of space and manages to ratchet up the tension when taking risks in a spacesuit. These sounds might be ones with which you're familiar, but they're executed flawlessly. People won't be drawn into Event[0] by its visuals. While certainly serviceable, there just isn't much to see, which relates to the length of the game, too. Almost the entirety of Event[0] takes place aboard the Nautilus, a relatively small ship. The objects are very nicely detailed and each room feels lovingly crafted. However, you can see almost everything in under three hours. For some people, that might be another deal breaker as Event[0] currently sells for around $20 and there are certainly games that offer longer gameplay experiences for a similar price. The story of Event[0] itself feels a bit less exciting than its core mechanic. The struggle to survive armed with only your wit and words against a crazy AI seems like it should be enough on its own, but the situation becomes complicated with an often unnecessary backstory. The ending left me with a feeling a little confused and like I had missed some key piece of exposition. Event[0] rushes to a conclusion that might have been better served with some earlier set up. There are multiple endings to Event[0] that depend on how the player treats Kaizen throughout the game, which is another testament to the power of the core mechanic - the game can determine the player's tone. Conclusion: Play Event[0] if you want something different. It might be short. It might have some narrative problems. It might sometimes have gameplay issues. However, you cannot get a similar experience from anything else released in the last few years. For all of Event[0]'s flaws, trying to communicate with Kaizen-85 and unravel its lies and secrets was a refreshing adventure that I feel grateful exists. Event[0] is available now for PC and Mac View full article
  20. The resurgence of point-and-click adventures in mainstream gaming has been one of the more welcome surprises of the last few years. Daedalic Entertainment, a longtime champion of the genre, have released their most recent adventure, a beautifully realized journey that takes players through a dreamworld between life and death. During an air raid on their hometown, 16-year-old Noah and his young sister Renie take refuge within a bunker. However, they quickly find that the bunker isn't what it appears to be. It contains a portal to the world of Silence, a fantastic world full of its own set of dangers. The two siblings learn this the hard way when Noah loses Renie in Silence and embarks on a journey to find her once more. The journey of the Noah and Renie represents only a small fraction of Silence. Separate from the war raging outside the bunker, another war threatens to rip Silence asunder. The brother and sister soon find themselves wrapped up with the various warring factions in events that could doom the newfound world. Silence releases today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac.
  21. The resurgence of point-and-click adventures in mainstream gaming has been one of the more welcome surprises of the last few years. Daedalic Entertainment, a longtime champion of the genre, have released their most recent adventure, a beautifully realized journey that takes players through a dreamworld between life and death. During an air raid on their hometown, 16-year-old Noah and his young sister Renie take refuge within a bunker. However, they quickly find that the bunker isn't what it appears to be. It contains a portal to the world of Silence, a fantastic world full of its own set of dangers. The two siblings learn this the hard way when Noah loses Renie in Silence and embarks on a journey to find her once more. The journey of the Noah and Renie represents only a small fraction of Silence. Separate from the war raging outside the bunker, another war threatens to rip Silence asunder. The brother and sister soon find themselves wrapped up with the various warring factions in events that could doom the newfound world. Silence releases today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. View full article
  22. Telltale has announced that next Friday will be a big day of revelation for fans of both The Walking Dead and Batman. They will be holding a panel in the Hydra Theatre of the Grand Hyatt during PAX West. Those who attend in person will be able to ask the panel questions after the various announcements and might be walking away with a giveaway for sitting through the presentation. We don't know exactly what will be shown regarding The Walking Dead at the panel, but the earlier reveal of the third season during E3 left many tantalizing possibilities. We know that this season will feature two playable protagonists, one of which will be series mainstay, Clem. Many expect at least one of the reveals during PAX West to be the fall release date that was hinted at during the initial announcement. Telltale will also be hosting a Crowd Play event using the new in-game Crowd Play feature that they've developed to make Telltale games a more multiplayer experience. This year, attendees of the Crowd Play event will be able to cooperatively play through Batman Episode 1: Realm of Shadows before receiving an early, exclusive look at the upcoming Episode 2: Children of Arkham. Giveaways will follow this event as well, and the press release included a winky face after that bit of information. Not entirely sure how to take that, but you might want to go to the Crowd Play event if you can.
  23. Telltale has announced that next Friday will be a big day of revelation for fans of both The Walking Dead and Batman. They will be holding a panel in the Hydra Theatre of the Grand Hyatt during PAX West. Those who attend in person will be able to ask the panel questions after the various announcements and might be walking away with a giveaway for sitting through the presentation. We don't know exactly what will be shown regarding The Walking Dead at the panel, but the earlier reveal of the third season during E3 left many tantalizing possibilities. We know that this season will feature two playable protagonists, one of which will be series mainstay, Clem. Many expect at least one of the reveals during PAX West to be the fall release date that was hinted at during the initial announcement. Telltale will also be hosting a Crowd Play event using the new in-game Crowd Play feature that they've developed to make Telltale games a more multiplayer experience. This year, attendees of the Crowd Play event will be able to cooperatively play through Batman Episode 1: Realm of Shadows before receiving an early, exclusive look at the upcoming Episode 2: Children of Arkham. Giveaways will follow this event as well, and the press release included a winky face after that bit of information. Not entirely sure how to take that, but you might want to go to the Crowd Play event if you can. View full article
  24. 2005's God of War set a new standard for the action-adventure genre for the following several years. The PS2 classic rolled in game of the year accolades and catapulted Sony's Santa Monica Studio into the limelight as one of their most important internal studios. With a new God of War on the horizon, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the original Greek tragedy to see if it really was one of the best games period. Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Pokémon Blue Version 'Conundrum' by DjjD and Source X (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02729) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  25. 2005's God of War set a new standard for the action-adventure genre for the following several years. The PS2 classic rolled in game of the year accolades and catapulted Sony's Santa Monica Studio into the limelight as one of their most important internal studios. With a new God of War on the horizon, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the original Greek tragedy to see if it really was one of the best games period. Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Pokémon Blue Version 'Conundrum' by DjjD and Source X (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02729) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article