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Jack Gardner
Since 2006, there have been reports that a Firefly MMO was in the works based on the much beloved Joss Whedon show. The prospect of Firefly, one of the best television shows to have ever graced the airwaves, being turned into a living game universe left many salivating at the possibilities. However, that was eight years ago and many assumed that the project died out or would simply never be finished. This was practically confirmed in 2012 when Ten Ton Hammer discovered that Firefly Online's developer, Multiverse, had ceased all operations. That same year, it was reported that some of the programmers had obtained the source code from Multiverse and were continuing work on the game. After two years of relative silence, the team working on the Firefly Online released a gameplay trailer yesterday.
 
 
Players take on the role of a ship captain in the universe of Firefly and are tasked with three prime objectives: find a crew, find a job, and keep flying. While the game doesn't follow the story of the show, it is possible to run into familiar faces. The entire crew from Firefly will be lending their voices and likenesses to the game. 
 
Firefly Online is currently in development for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android and will be finished "soon."
 
Personally, I feel compelled to try this game out because any game in development for eight years is sure to have some interesting quirks, especially when it is based on a pre-existing property like Firefly (which came out in 2002, GEEZ I FEEL OLD). What do you all think? Will you be checking out Firefly Online? Or is this too little, too late? 

Jack Gardner
Over the past few days I had the opportunity to take a break from reviewing the incredibly long PC RPG Divinity: Original Sin (68 hours in with the end still not in sight!) by suiting up as one of humanity’s last Guardians. After three focused days with the beta, I can say with confidence that Bungie has put what it learned from years developing Halo and successfully read the gaming landscape to create an FPS title that will stand the test of time.
 
The Destiny beta was previewed on PlayStation 4.
 
How does one describe Destiny? Destiny seems like a hodgepodge of various elements copped from other famous science-fiction games, movies, and books that were then rolled up into one package, streamlined, and then given some of the characteristics of an MMO (I thought about putting in the dictionary definition of destiny here instead, but decided that would be too obvious). The physics of the movement is very Halo-esque, giving the player a sensation of great power and fluidity, while eschewing the frantic pacing of titles like Call of Duty or Titanfall. Meanwhile the gunplay is heavily influenced by Borderlands. The aesthetics and setting have Star Wars influences written all over along them (imagine that the Deathstar was sentient, good, and didn’t blow up planets and you basically have the premise for Destiny). Finally, the story is a mix of Rendezvous with Rama and Childhood’s End both of which were written by Arthur C. Clarke.    
 
And here is the thing: All of those disparate elements come together feeling new and fresh, which is a real achievement! I walked away from my weekend with Destiny having enjoyed myself and feeling optimistic about the game’s future. However, I don’t think it is enough to tell you that I had this positive reaction to Destiny, instead I’m going to attempt to explain why.
 

 
One of the main attractions of Destiny is how it empowers players. It goes about this in a variety of ways, but first and foremost, it conveys power through movement and terrain traversal. As usual for an FPS, players can toggle between normal running and sprinting, the pace of which is not frenetically fast, but instead instils a feeling of accuracy and control. It is a small touch, but it works. Jumping represents a major contributor to the empowerment of movement in Destiny. At first it seems like a more toned-down version of Halo’s high, floaty jumps, but upon reaching level three or four, players unlock the double jump and it changes everything. In my mind, Titanfall was the first FPS that truly embraced the notion of verticality and freedom of movement. I played Titanfall and felt like I was seeing what the new trend in multiplayer would be; Bungie, much like Respawn, realized that it needed to get away from the landlocked mentality of last-gen’s shooters. I won’t say that Bungie looked at Titanfall and tried to emulate it; Destiny has clearly been in development for years, too long to make such a fundamental change to its entire structure and gameplay dynamics. Destiny and Titanfall both happened to hit on the idea that giving players more options in how they move makes the game a great deal more fun and allows for a more flowing feel to the entire affair. Oh, and the speeder bikes that you can summon almost anywhere control very well and lend the maps a sense of scope while finally allowing you to see what it would be like to ride one of the speeders from Return of the Jedi. Those are pretty sweet.
 
Beyond movement, Destiny takes a running leap (har har) right out of the gate in regards to progression. Completing missions and killing enemies grants experience that adds up over time to level characters. Over the course of the first few missions players level up frequently, about a level per story mission, and find new equipment everywhere. Each level rewards players with a new ability, a variation of one of their existing abilities, an upgrade for core power, or a boost to base stats. New equipment comes in the familiar rarity color coding made omnipresent by Diablo (now go ahead and tell me that Diablo wasn’t the first game to start this sort of color scheme, Diablo was the first I could recall), though the best equipment typically drops in the form of schematics that must be decoded. Uncommon or rare weapons also gain experience the more they are used and can be upgraded once they’ve been used enough in battle. All of this comes together to give players a real sense of escalating power. Now, I can’t speak as to how this will continue on in the full version of Destiny, since the beta caps progress at level 8, but I’d imagine that, similar to other MMOs, the pace of power growth will slow dramatically during the mid to late game compared to the early sections.
 
And make no mistake, Destiny is an MMO despite the marketing of it as being a “shared world.”
 

 
Destiny takes many design decisions found in a typical MMO and applies them to a first-person shooter in a remarkably deft manner. The elements are there, from random events, to raids (called Strikes), to sidequests that branch off from the main story missions, to seeing the numbers indicating damage dealt pop up with ever successful shot to an enemy. At any given time I could see three or four other Guardians pursuing side missions or participating in random events, but social interaction never felt forced on me or like it took me out of the experience. The strange part is that this all comes together very well. I have my gripes with the Borderlands series, but being able to team up with friends and shoot your way through a campaign was undeniably fun. Destiny captures the essence of that co-op experience and applies it on a wider scale. In fact, the gameplay really does remind me of Borderlands, albeit with more mobility, except that Destiny manages to both make the gameplay its own and appropriately tone the entire affair.
 
That tone is what will make Destiny such a success. Undoubtedly many kids under the age of 17 got their hands on the M rated Borderlands and Borderlands 2, but think of how many more copies Borderlands would have been able to sell with a T rating from the ESRB. On June 26 the ESRB announced that Destiny will be rated T, which widens the audience quite a bit. Combine that with the Star Wars vibe that the title exudes, the sweeping scope, the gameplay which can be enjoyed with friends, and the lack of a subscription fee (ignoring, for a second, PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live), and to me that seems like something that will be astronomically big. It will be innocuous enough to get by most parents while still appealing to the youth demographic and it will be interesting and edgy enough to pull in the older crowds.
 
Now, from all those glowing statements about what Destiny does right, you might be thinking that this is the most perfect game to have ever existed or that I am a goon paid for by Bungie. Neither of those assumptions are correct for there are a number of areas in Destiny that fell short. Many people have pointed to Peter Dinklage’s voice acting performance as something that detracts significantly from their experience. I would never presume to try and invalidate the feelings that other people have, because gut reactions to things can never be “wrong” in any quantitative sense. However, I do think that this is a case of people signaling out a surface-level, lackluster element and pinning their frustrations on it. While Peter Dinklage at times certainly gives a phoned-in performance* (which could very well detract from some players in-game experience, it just didn’t significantly alter my own), the main problem with Destiny isn’t that the performances aren’t as nuanced and deep as they could be; the main problem is that Destiny’s narrative doesn’t know how to begin its story.
 
I don’t want to be overly critical here because Destiny is still months from release and could very well have some of the beginning story elements locked away. However, the product on display in the beta is clunky. It is never sure of how much or when it should dole out information. My character awakens to the line, “you’ve been dead for a long time,” and immediately, without any questions asked, the game placed me into the action. Now, this is a good way to grab a player’s attention, but it comes with a number of questions that demand answers after that action is concluded. Those answers never came. I was whisked away to the last human city, Tower, where I was given general background information about the state of the world and my character’s place in it, but those don’t satisfactorily answer why or how my character was brought back from the dead. There are lots of logic things that can be overlooked in the name of drama, but it was really irritating to me to hear my character speak and somehow fail to ask how he was brought back from the dead. That’s kind of a big deal. If technology is advanced enough to bring people back from the dead after “a long time” how is humanity in bad shape? This serves as a great example of one of my biggest complaints regarding Destiny, because there are numerous times when important details about the world seemed to go unexplained or ignored. Players are simply told to accept the quirks of the various races and events in Destiny’s story without enough context to make sense of it all.
 

 
The previous paragraph was a minor complaint. That might seem odd, but the story of Destiny is such a secondary (possibly tertiary) concern that it won’t be something that affects most players experience with the game, because the refinement of Destiny’s gameplay trumps most of the minor quibbles it has, story or otherwise. One of those nitpicks goes to the AI, which seem to encounter invisible walls from time to time that can be used to pick off enemies or manipulate them into doing stupid things like running out of cover for no reason. Melee enemies in particular seem to be hit on the head with dumb. Jumping to a high elevation causes them to mill around helplessly like lost puppies. If I had to pick one more smallish complaint, it would be that the sidequests scattered throughout the exploration mode are largely uninteresting and seem to exist mostly out of obligation.
 
Despite the annoyances and the narrative concerns, the heart of the matter is that Destiny is fun. The diversity of inspirations works to make the journey through a devastated Earth and beyond seem new instead of rehashed. It is visually exciting and delivers moments of tense action, comradery, and a sense of adventure. All other concerns aside, the bottom line is that Destiny is such an enjoyable experience that trumps almost any other criticism you could level at it.
 
Destiny releases September 9 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.  
 
* Regarding Peter Dinklage: Here’s the thing, folks, Peter Dinklage is a very talented actor. He has a real flair for the dramatic and is capable of turning an audience to putty in his hands through his tone of voice. While it is true that the end result of his voice acting in Destiny sounds less than stellar, we don’t know why he sounds that way. Making a video game is a highly collaborative process. It could be that he found the lines too ridiculous to say seriously; it could be that he just didn’t care; it could be that Dinklage acts best when physically present on a set (to my knowledge, he has only ever done voice work for one other property and that was for Ice Age: Continental Drift in 2012); but it could also be that the people directing him didn’t know how to get what they wanted or they made the call that what they recorded was an acceptable final product. It is important to remember that Peter Dinklage doesn’t have the final say on what goes into Destiny and that others are making the call that those lines were read appropriately. Finally, in Destiny, Dinklage voices a robot and, to me, he sounds very robot-like and detached in-game, which could contribute to why some of his lines sound so lifeless. He’s undeniably a great actor, capable of compelling work (Here is a brilliant scene from Game of Thrones Season 4, spoiler warning and all that), but for that talent to shine it require people in a number of other capacities to recognize what the game needs and bring it out of Dinklage.

Jack Gardner
I’ve been directed through a labyrinthine maze of small meeting rooms and temporary walls that represent the barrier between Wargaming’s inner workings and the public spectacle they have going on outside. E3 is fully underway and I’ve arrived at the heart of the colossal structure that is Wargaming’s E3 booth; a veritable two-story behemoth that’s larger than most houses. With the hugely successful World of Tanks continuing to rake in new players every day, World of Tanks 360 proving itself to be very popular among American gamers, and World of Warplanes spreading its wings, Wargaming has set its sights on finishing World of Warships. That’s why I am there; they will be showing me live, pre-alpha gameplay from their latest build of World of Warships.
 
Christine Yeo, Wargaming’s PR manager, and Ivan Goldensohn, a marketing specialist for Wargaming, greet me at the door to meeting room #8 (mind you, this is on the show floor and I am in a hallway that has more meeting rooms on both sides). After a minute or two of introductions and chatter, the three of us begin talking business. On one wall of the meeting room hangs a giant television on which Ivan begins showing me World of Warships. He has to talk loudly to avoid being drowned out by the realistic sounding explosions. Later I would find out that the explosions sound authentic because the sound design team finds, fires, and records each specific gun and cannon type used in World of Tanks, Warplanes, and Warships. If they can’t find a working model for the gun they need to record, they recreate it to the best of their ability and record the facsimile’s sound.
 
Ivan talks, almost yelling over the sound of explosions, “So, now my plane has been sent out, I’m switching back to macro-management, as I like to call it, versus micromanagement. My turrets are rotating, I’ll see if I can get one more here… See, but this guy’s in a cruiser, so it’s going to be a lot harder to [an explosion drowns out his words and a siren begins blaring].” In World of Warships, players can send out scout planes to get a view of the battlefield (battle-sea?). These planes are controlled by AI, but players can set waypoints for the planes to follow. As you can imagine, these planes represent a huge combat advantage, so both teams will have to pay attention to who has the most vision in the skies.
 
There are a number of different tactics to consider when facing down enemy ships. Two of the most important factors to keep in mind are your target’s hull integrity and the hit points of the individual gun emplacements on the target. You can focus on either sinking the ship or defanging it and eliminating its total hit points. Depending on the class type of your enemy and what warship you happen to be piloting, one option or the other might be more effective. To that end, there are different methods of attacking. We were shown sniper and torpedo modes. The artillery mode previously shown in 2013 has been removed from the game since it incentivized players to hang back behind islands and shell each other. This just ended up rendering the game not as much fun. The sniper mode works much as you might assume from the name. Players enter a sniper-esque view and aim their cannons at their intended target and then take into account distance and adjust accordingly. Torpedoes are one of the most deadly weapons on the seas and can easily destroy an unprepared ship. They can be aimed quickly and will travel in a straight line until they hit something. Players can adjust the spread and aim of the torpedoes; a narrow spread will equal more damage, but is more likely to miss, while a wider spread will more likely score a hit, but do less damage.
 

 
Ivan continues to show me the various features of World of Warships, “You’ll notice at the top we are seeing some base capture icons. Similar to World of Tanks, we have this Capture the Flag style game. I don’t think they have anyone who’s fast enough to catch up with us, but this looks like torpedo central to me, so I’m going to lock on to him. I’m going to increase my spread to have a greater chance of hitting him. I can then follow these torpedoes and I can actually switch between them. It’s all the little features like this [the explosions of a nearby enemy ship drown out Ivan’s words] help the game come together. Being able to watch your torpedo actually slam into the enemy-[explosions from his torpedo fill the screen as the sound fills the meeting room]”
 
I laugh, “You got him!” Even in pre-alpha, World of Warships looks gorgeous. Wargaming is aware of how great their game looks and has added various ways to get up close with the action and drink in the visuals. A perfect example of this is the ability to have your camera follow torpedoes that you’ve launched. This leads to a few tense seconds of “will it hit?” nail-biting and the opportunity to see a glorious explosion or two or three, depending on how many hit their intended target. Wargaming even added the ability to switch between the torpedoes to capture the action from the best possible angle.
 
Given the presence of scout planes shown in-game and the history of the time period that Wargaming seems to be on a mission to capture, I ask the inevitable question, “Are there any plans to have cross over [between World of Warships] and World of Warplanes?”
 
Christine responds with what seems like a practiced reply, “You know, that is something that people always ask us. We are definitely thinking about different options, but right now I can’t say anything in the near future. It’s just a lot of balancing that we need to take into consideration.”
 
“Well, yeah, it would certainly be a huge undertaking,” I say. It isn’t as simple as just slapping together the code for World of Warplanes and World of Warships together. Balancing how the two games would interact with each other while still maintaining the level of strategy and fairness that have been cornerstones of Wargaming’s titles would be a game designer’s nightmare-level challenge.
 
“Right,” returns Christine, “But [it is understandable] that people ask because the fact that you can send out scouts and meet with aircraft carriers, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
 
“And you know, we are always open to suggestions and what players want is what we usually do,” Ivan pitches in his two cents.
 
As the match ends, Ivan turns to me saying, “It is still in alpha stages. It’s not perfect, but it looks gorgeous. The level of complexity is there, but the ease of use and jumping into it is really cool. And, you know, some of the more complex elements like sending out a scout plane, you’re not going to have to deal with until you get up a couple tiers, so the game is going to dynamically introduce you to those concepts.”
 
“So what elements are not present here that will be in the final version?” I ask out of curiosity.
 
“Well that is a really good question. What’s cool about developing a game like this, is when we are talking about changing it we are not like, ‘we’re going to make this gun slightly bigger’ or ‘this tank, this plane, this ship is going to be slightly faster.’ We are saying fundamentally, from the ground up how do we modify it to be exactly what our players want.” As an example, he mentions the elimination of artillery that was stifling gameplay options for their players.
 
Another thought occurs to me, “What happens when you ram into another ship?”
 
“A lot of damage,” laughs Ivan. “A lot of these models aren’t finalized, so the damage on them isn’t complete. But, I mean, in the final game you are going to be seeing stuff like ships breaking based on where they were hit. So, if you blow off the back of a ship with a killing blow, you will actually see that ship break in that spot, or torpedo damage will cause ships to sink in a different way from overall damage, or bomb damage from airplanes will cause different damage to the top of the ship. So, all that stuff is cool, but then in the fundamental game mode we will be constantly switching it up.” The eventual goal is to have battles flowing and allowing players to join 15v15 warship battles. Even though the game is in pre-alpha, it is hard not to feel a jump of excitement at the prospect of thirty players going at each other on the high seas.  
 
 
Ivan then hands me an iPad to try out World of Tanks: Blitz. As I begin to play (I’m going to fess up, I am absolutely terrible at World of Tanks on PC and I fared little better in World of Tanks: Blitz), I notice and comment about how great the game looks for an iPad app. Ivan launches into an explanation of how they fit Blitz onto an iPad, “This could be a PC game, but this is running from my iPad right now. […] People say, ‘where did you have to make sacrifices to put this on an iPad? What did you have to pull out of a 30GB PC client?’ The answer is nothing. Instead of taking things out, what we did was modify the game to be more app friendly and we used that to our advantage. So, you see we have the module system, all of this is just as complex as the PC. I can switch out the engine, my turret, and my tank. All of this is going to affect my percentages and every detail from your equipment I can put on my tank and there are five different consumables that I can use. What we did instead is we said, ‘where is the game different as a mobile game and how do we change that?’ So, all the maps are a fifth of the size. They are tiny. It is so much more fun. Suddenly you have this little map you can run across the whole thing in a minute and a half and everybody is jumping right into the battle. You have these super focused, super intense battle modes. It is like instead of taking out content, we switched it to make it mobile and it ended up helping everybody.”
 
It turns out that while the PC version takes up around 30GB, the app uses a minuscule 500MB. And it does look remarkably good. The presentation is a bit barebones, but the things that are in-game look great. The maps are just as small as stated, but for a mobile game that’s perfect. I fiddle with the iPad for a few minutes before a Finnish player takes me down like a clumsy, tank-sized bull in a china shop. People who are into fast-paced, military combat games and are looking for a mobile title to fill that particular void couldn’t do much better than World of Tanks: Blitz. It is free and currently available.
 
 
The conversation turns to World of Tanks 360 and the updates that they have been rolling out for it since release. To sum up the changes these updates have had/will have in the near future:
 
Weather variance to will be added to maps that provide different visibility and aesthetics. New autoloaders, new tanks, new maps, new modes are constantly on the way. World of Tanks: Soccer is a game mode released specifically for the 2014 World Cup. Like the title suggests, players battle it out on the soccer field in tanks trying to score goals by any means necessary. Platoon groups can now go up to seven members instead of three.
  The conversation draws to a close and I begin to make my way out the door. I think to myself how glad I’ll be to return to E3 next year and see the next incarnation of Wargaming’s immense booth and have another opportunity to sit down and chat with people who are as passionate and committed to their game as Christine and Ivan. There are a lot of video game developers out there these days, especially in the free-to-play market, but Wargaming is special. Wargaming’s commitment over the years to responding to its massive player base is something from which many developers of online games could learn a thing or two. On top of that, they deserve praise for how well it handles free-to-play, right alongside Riot Games. I might be awful at playing their games, but I respect Wargaming for making those games well.
 
 
As of the writing of this article there is still no official release date for World of Warships, though the beta is speculated to be beginning sometime in the next couple months. 

Jack Gardner
Just a friendly reminder that the Destiny beta hits on July 17 at 10 AM Pacific for PlayStation owners and July 23, also at 10 AM Pacific, for Xbox. Also, there is a new Destiny trailer. Oh, and a couple spiffy, expensive collector's editions. 
 
It is important to remember that people who pre-order Destiny are guaranteed a spot in the beta and that PlayStation Plus will be required for certain features on PlayStation systems and Xbox Live required to function on the 360 and One. 
 
The Beta will be offline for scheduled maintenance on July 21 - July 22 and open back up to pre-order participants across all platforms until 11:59pm PDT on July 27.
 
"Wait," you might be asking yourself, "What about those different versions of the game you mentioned earlier, Mr. Writerperson?" 
 
Activision and Bungie also revealed today three different collector's editions of the game as well as how much they are going to hurt your wallet. 
The Destiny Ghost Edition and the Destiny Limited Edition both include a SteelBook case with physical disc; a Guardian Folio containing Postcards from the Golden Age, Antique Star Chart, and an Arms & Armament Field Guide; a digital content pack consisting of a unique ghost casing, player emblem, and ship variant; and the Destiny Expansion Pass which grants access to two of the post-launch Destiny expansions. The first expansion, titled The Dark Below, will take players beneath the surface of the Moon to battle an alien god that leads an evil army of Hive forces against Earth. The second expansion has no details as of yet beyond its name: House of Wolves (Editor's Note: I originally typed this Hose of Wolves, which I imagine would be a game about wolf fire fighters). 
 
PlayStation platforms will also include additional exclusive content for The Dark Below and House of Wolves that will remain exclusive until at least Fall of 2015.
 
And that is only what the two editions have in common. Continuing on....
 
Destiny Ghost Edition comes with a replica of Ghost, complete with motion-activated lights and sounds voiced by Peter Dinklage; a letter of introduction; Golden Age Relics which include a photo, patch, sticker, and two chrome slides of the Traveler.
 
Digital pre-orderers will be receiving the Digital Guardian Edition of Destiny which includes a digital download copy of the game, the Destiny Expansion Pass, and the Collector's Edition Digital Content Pack.
 
All pre-orders will include access to the Vangaurd Armory that includes early access to weapons, gear and exclusive player emblem.
 
That's a lot of cool stuff. Now for the bad news: Ghost Edition will retail at $149.99; the Limited Edition will cost $99.99; the Digital Guardian Edition will bite at $89.99. Destiny's Expansion Pass alone will be $34.99 and the expansions individually will cost $19.99 apiece. All of these editions are available now. I suppose it is nice that we seem to have ourselves quite a few options.
 
 
Destiny fully releases for all platforms on September 9.

herobyclicking
Browsing the indie games in my Humble Bundle collection; I scroll through 33 games I have the best intentions of playing. Because I should. Because I know they are fantastic games. Because they sit in my queue looking at me sadly. My Steam library holds even more from seasonal sales and my penchant to collect digital wares. Why have I purchased so many indie titles? Aside from their generally affordable price, it’s because I should like indies, right? Why do we play indie games? Perhaps a better question is why are indie games made? I asked Dejobaan Games, Galactic Cafe, Gone North Games, Fire Hose Games, Image & Form, and Housemarque about independent game development.
 
It’s an Indie Thing - What does it mean to be "indie"
 
“It's an intensely personal thing. Maybe that is the heart of indie, the ability to move forward on things that are intensely personal,” shares Fire Hose Games’ Sean Baptiste. That intimacy is really a touchstone for many independent developers. Indie games have a rich recent history of being both provocative and evocative experiences. Indie games like Papers, Please and The Stanley Parable are rousing narratives that tend to get to the point and stay there. Whether with their message or function, most indie games have an opinion, usually rooted in their aforementioned passion.
 
Brjann Sigurgeirsson with Image & Form shares similar thoughts, stating, “It doesn't have to do with how the company is set up. It’s more of a philosophy. We really want to be our own man, so to speak. We develop and publish our games ourselves. We don’t try to second guess what the market will want. But rather we want to make games that the market will embrace because of our games’ own merit.” Image & Form has managed to find a market to embrace Steamworld Dig as the title enters development on its fifth platform, the Wii U. “Nobody will love our games as much as we do. Or put as much love into both the development and publishing of it. That’s the strength that we have,” Sigurgeirsson adds.
 

 
This flexibility to express opinion is of course influenced by relative autonomy from a publisher. Housemarque’s Tommaso De Benetti comments, "We are fortunate to have a management team that cares about money only up to a certain point. There is still passion in what we do. Being able to keep a degree of independence is important." Housemarque has a lineage of being independent. “Sometimes I see people say that Sony should just buy Housemarque, but we don’t want that. We have a great relationship with Sony, though someday there may be something we want to do that they are not interested in doing,” states Housemarque’s De Benetti. They intend to remain independent. The nature of being independent can shift depending on developer.
 
Take the students who formed Gone North Games for example. Nominated for a Swedish Game Award several years ago with their prototype for A Story About My Uncle, the team began to develop a full game. Their inspiration came in the form of a directive from a class assignment. Gone North reached out to independent game developer Coffee Stain Studios, who also were nominated for a Swedish Game Award for Sanctum. The relationship forged allowed for the two independent studios to support one another. The connection between the two was markedly similar. “I think they saw something of themselves in us,” states Gone North Games’ Sebastian Eriksson. Coffee Stain agreed to publish A Story About My Uncle, which was recently released on Steam. Whether or not Gone North will continue to work with Coffee Stain Studios or self-publish is unclear, but perhaps a precedent has been set. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Gone North pay it forward to the next up-and-coming Nordic indie developer.  
 

 
It has been discussed at length; the indie market has changed and continues change. The previously established champions of independent games are on their second and third passes, putting their independent status into question. “Jonathan Blow’s The Witness which looks horribly, annoyingly amazing, but is that an indie game? I don’t think it is,” says William Pugh with Galactic Cafe, creators of The Stanley Parable. “He’s already got a huge pot of money, he’s already got loads of people who played Braid. That’s not the same as the guy who made Ensign-1 on Steam Greenlight."
 
But it seems that it is a fine balance between making games based on an artistic decision and making games that appeal to people. “At the end of the day you have to remember this is a business. We need to make games that can sell. If we don't, we have to fire people,” says Housemarque’s De Benetti. Whether your game is ready or not, you have to face the competition. Indie games are flowing to market at a relatively unchecked pace.
 
Indies, Indies all Around - Visibility and discoverability of indie games
 
Let’s say for a moment that indie games are a lot like baubles in a sea. Floating or bobbing up and down, making landfall and ending up a treasure on the shore. Maybe though, the sea is rife with baubles, and the shores are littered with pixel bits with little end to the tide. Once your shore is strewn with these shinies, how do you know what to take and what to leave behind?
 
Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter have been gateways for a veritable deluge of games, though getting press and the Greenlight community interested in any given game can prove difficult. Merely being available is just a step in a process. Sebastian Eriksson from Gone North notes, “Before, getting onto Steam was like getting a golden ticket. But now there are ten or so games being released every day; it's still a struggle even though you get on Steam.”
 

 
Ichiro Lambe, Founder/President of Dejobaan Games states, “It’'s all about discoverability. There needs to be a way for all the games coming out, or at least the good ones, to find their audience. I don't think that's happening yet, but it'll happen soon.” The developer’s title Drunken Robot Pornography may have found its place on Steam, with hundreds of player-created items in the Workshop. Elegy for a Dead World (currently in development), on the other hand, is an experimental writing game and may prove more difficult to find a niche. Lambe continues, “[the] indies' newfound ability to get onto platforms like iOS and Steam with relatively little pain has meant an influx of games. That's tough for established developers, as there are plenty of quality titles coming out.” With so much available in the indie game market, it can be difficult to maintain visibility.
 
That sentiment is not uncommon among indie developers, especially those who develop primarily for PC. “The problem is that it is so wide open. Discoverability is a huge issue. It’s as wide open as music, anybody can do it, and everybody is,” says Sean Baptiste of Fire Hose Games. Fire Hose recently connected with Chris Chung, developer of Catlateral Damage. Chung's project screamed through the Steam Greenlight process. “[Catlateral Damage] was something extraordinary,” Baptiste states, “he made it through in seven days. Octodad took eight months. [Chris Chung's game] is a bit of an outlier.”  
 
 
 Getting Paid - Making the decision of how to fund and when to crowdsource your project
 
Connecting that game floating alongside so many others to an audience presents a challenge for developers without bulging marketing budgets. “Our marketing plan is basically screaming to avoid obscurity,” Baptiste laughs. The indie developer’s existence is not unlike that of other self-supported art mediums. The money to develop games has to come from somewhere. Independent developers may be hesitant to work with a publisher. They may surrender creative and philosophical tenets in order to have their game sent to market.
 

 
That relationship between developer and publisher is an effective dynamic. “Whenever we have worked with publishers in the past you suspect they are not doing everything in their power to put out your game. There is no way of verifying that suspicion,” Sigurgeirsson with Image & Form states, “I think when you have a developer-publisher relationship there is always the risk that the developer wants to do as little as possible for as much money as possible and the publishers wants as much done as possible for as little as money as possible. In the middle is this poor, little game suffering. I think we can avoid that because we don't have a conflict of interest right from the start. Since we are doing it all ourselves, we only have the game’s best interests in mind.”
 
While most independent games are funded privately or through copacetic publishers, some developers have seen success in crowdfunding. Whether it’s an effort to balance visibility and development support, crowdfunding can be an effective leveraging tool. “Being made aware of [a developer on Kickstarter], that’s a little stepping stone for people to be made aware of their game,” states Galactic Cafe's William Pugh. Kickstarter is used as a publicity platform as often as it is a generator for funding development. Many developers are carefully examining crowdfunding to round out development and bolster marketing.
 
Visibility through crowdfunding combined with aiding development costs is becoming a consideration for indie developers. Though using the crowdfunding monster is not without its own set of challenges. While Kickstarter has proven successful for some indie developers, how it is perceived is varied. “I find it hard to justify the use of Kickstarter. The problem is if you see it as a pre-order. It’s weird kind of contract between the people backing and person who will be delivering. I’m wary about people asking for huge amounts of money they don’t really know how to deal with,” says William Pugh with Galactic Cafe. Being prepared is, of course, paramount. The consumer desires a degree of confidence that their contribution will garner a product.  
 

 
“We are looking into Kickstarting, not because we want it to fund everything, but rather to be able to insure that we get a few extra features into the game or more polish into the game,” states Image & Form’s Sigurgeirsson. Though he was sure to point out that, “it is also dangerous. If you don't get funded, it means your game is not good enough, not attractive enough.” The pitfalls of being unsuccessful are as severe as the laurels of winning are encouraging. “Any indie who is considering Kickstarter needs to take a really hard look at their project and be brutal about it before they even attempt it,” says Sean Baptiste from Firehose Games. Kickstarter also can be used to justify further funding, to prove that there is actual interest in the title being developed. Catlateral Damage has successfully completed its Kickstarter campaign, effectively reaching its niche.
 
Finding Your Audience - Maintaining and growing your fanbase
 
The nature of the indie tends to lend itself to smaller audiences. While this may mean smaller revenues for these titles, it also means audience with which you could actually have a relationship. Tommaso De Benetti advocates for this type of connection with gamers. “What we have been trying to do is build a friendly community. They are supportive. Sometimes people complain and they may be right. You try to have a dialogue. We are, if possible, making friends. It doesn't necessarily relate to direct sales. If you create friendliness around your game you get people playing who are willing to recommend your game. There is no reason not to do it,” De Benetti says. “Of course it helps that the games we make are good,” he continues, “it’s worth having the dialogue.”
 
Being dedicated to your audience in earnest is important. While most companies do not have the marketing muscle, they do have the agility to interact with the individual. The individual can often have direct discussion with developers and their staff, something unlikely to happen with larger studios. ‘We work very hard to be to be likeable in social media and get the community to root for us. Now we know our communities and how to reach them. Wherever we can viewed in a positive way, it is vital, crucial for us,” Sigurgeirsson said, “We try to promote ourselves as human beings. I am talking to you, not just the company.”   
 

 
And this is where many indie developers shine, whether we appreciate their genuine self or not. “We wanted it to be organic,” states Sebastian Eriksson with Gone North Games, “ But its really hard. There really isn't a good channel where you can speak to the community. I've been a lurker [on neoGAF]. I was so happy when I saw thread for A Story About My Uncle.” He then laughs, “but unfortunately it died out after like ten replies or something.” Eriksson continues, “We believe in going grassroots and reaching out to smaller outlets. We will talk to someone who has just ten followers because they can be just as important.” That kind of contact can make difference as how a community grows around a game.
 
Rallying a community around your game is nothing new. If an effective community manager or team can build a foundation for an indie developer (often managed by the indie developer themselves), this can have a significant return on investment. Your smaller fanbase can often connect to a developer on a more personal level.
 
Social media is the most prominent place for these relationships to be formed. Follow any one of the interviewed developers and you begin to get a sense of who they are and what they want you to think about them. “We have to be super dedicated if we are not a real publisher. Meaning if we don’t have specific budgets for ads or events then everything we work through is social media,” says Sigurgeirsson.
 
One of the more engaging means to connect with you audience new or old is, of course, Twitch.tv. If you are an indie developer (or any developer) and you are not using Twitch, you may be missing out on an incredible opportunity for audience engagement. “Twitch has identified our audience. It’s such a powerful tool to communicate directly with the people who play your games,” Baptiste states.  
I would be remiss if I forgot the Let’s Play community. Hundreds of thousands of YouTube views across hundreds of games creates devoted and vocal communities around games every day. Many indies encourage Let’s Plays to promote and create positive reception around their title. A Story About My Uncle utilized this avenue of support. “Let's Plays have been great for us,” Eriksson states, “lots of YouTubers have been supporting us. We decided to not put any restrictions on what people can show in the videos. The game mechanics are so unique that you can't really watch it and get the same satisfaction watching someone else do it and not want to play the game.”
 
 
The Glittering Shore - The consumer reaps the efforts
 
So, I navigate the shore of indie video games and feel overwhelmed by the treasures that beckon. I start slow, but I start. I try them on for size. Some have wooed me, most only summon a smirk, but several have floored me with their simple honesty. I have allowed a new breed of storytellers to share their tale or wrap me deep into their puzzles. The love in their games is evident and I feel personally invested because of it. Invested because they may struggle to remain relevant on a coastline brimming with other hopeful indie games. Invested because they will take the time to answer your question and strike up a real dialogue. These reasons move me to play the vast catalog I am curating. I can only hope to try enough of them in order to make room for the next tide.   
 

Jack Gardner
In the midst of all the E3 craziness, I had an appointment with the digital distribution company Green Man Gaming. Due to scheduling mishaps that appointment never occurred, but we managed to track down Green Man's EVP of marketing Darren Cairns for a pleasant (and very green) post-E3 interview.
 
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How did Green Man Gaming (GMG) begin?
 
Green Man Gaming launched on 10th May 2010 after Paul Sulyok (CEO & Founder) and Lee Packham (EVP Engineering and Co-Founder) wanted to create a digital store loosely based on an eBay and iTunes model, but for gaming - letting people sell the games in their library.
As digital game downloads are becoming the dominant and preferred way for people to get their games, Green Man Gaming began leading millions of gamers through the transition from traditional retail purchases into a new digital era.

What does GMG offer that sets it apart from competitors like Steam or GOG.com?

We know that modern core gamers care about their games, no matter what platform that they play them on. Our service allows gamers to buy games and content across a range of platforms which makes us very different to retailers like Steam and GOG.

Green Man Gaming also collects and uses a level of gameplay data that no other commercial retailer has. Valve has data about Steam, Sony has data about PlayStation, Microsoft has data about Xbox; Green Man Gaming has data about all of them.

We then use this behavioural data (based on tracked in-game activity, rather than just purchasing or browsing history) to accurately target core gamers with offers and tailored messages that they need and want. Our strength that sets us apart from other retailers, is that we sell what gamers want, how they want (allowing game access and activation across a range of platforms including Steam, Uplay, Origin, other first party platforms, or by our own Capsule client).

Combined with our strong Playfire Community, that becomes a larger offer for gamers that is more than just a sale.
 
GMG Acquired Playfire in 2012. Have you seen a boost in users with the inclusion of more social elements into your platform (i.e. achievements, stat tracking)?

Being a member of the Playfire community means gamers can track their gameplay and what their friends are playing, join leaderboards, see what other members are excited about on Playfire Buzz, and create Want lists that we can then make great offers on when those games go on sale.

The strength of our community comes from their engagement and we've seen a huge boost in users as gamers are signing up to our Playfire Rewards BETA. By linking their Steam account (with other platforms coming very soon), Playfire Members are eligible to earn Green Man Gaming Credit by playing games!

Users don’t have to originally buy their games from Green Man Gaming; they simply have to play those games that Playfire attaches rewards to for the chance to earn up to £5 (Edit: About $8.55 US) Green Man Gaming credit (which is converted into local currency depending on a user’s location).

This credit can then be spent towards anything on the Green Man Gaming site.

Have you found that offering store credit for social participation on GMG uniquely benefits your business? How does that work?

We reward people with Green Man Gaming Credit that can only be used on our service, which we know successfully reduces the cost of gaming for those involved. We feel there is a value exchange that benefits both the user and Green Man Gaming. Our users benefits from earning GMG Credit by simply playing the games they love, and we benefit from learning more about their gaming habits and style as they play. We can use this knowledge to target users with more relevant offers based on the way they play games, and help them to discover more games to love. It works!
 
GMG is the number two digital platform in the world. Are there any plans in the work to dethrone Steam to reach number one? I guess this also harkens back to my second question. How do you compete with something like Steam when they seemingly hold such a significant market share?
 
Steam has well over 75 million users, and as we have an official API from Valve, we think of Steam as one of our allies. We understand that many gamers feel comfortable accessing their games through Steam. However, our offering is quite different to Steam, and we are seeing the number of people using Green Man Gaming to access non-Steam games rapidly increasing, as they prefer our range of download options and opportunities to earn Green Man Gaming Credit.
 
We are going to keep focusing on creating something very special here at Green Man Gaming. We are using billions of game data points and user behaviour knowledge to continually improve the user experience for all our customers, and this will never change. We currently sell over 4500 titles across 185 territories, and are working with over 350 official publishing partners to offer even more than just a sale in the future - bringing more great titles, more great deals, and coming soon, very special Playfire Rewards to millions of gamers around the world.
 
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A big thank you to Darren Cairns for taking the time to talk with us and to Tracy McGarrigan for being patient and helping to facilitate this interview!

Jack Gardner
On the second day of E3 I was led into a small, dark theater for a live demonstration of the first half hour of Telltale Games' Borderlands title. Here is what I saw.
Obviously, Spoiler Warning for the first 30 minutes of Tales from the Borderlands and for Borderlands 2.
 
Before beginning the demo, the PR team assured everyone that the game was about 85-90% complete in most places and that any awkward or stilted animations were due to the game being incomplete. With that, Borderlands as told by Telltale began.
 
Tales from the Borderlands begins with a clandestine meeting between main characters Rhys, Fiona, and a mysterious wasteland samurai-type character. Both Rhys and Fiona are surprised to see each other and initially refuse to work together until the samurai forces them to tell their respective stories. Rhys begins with his side of the story. 
 
The Hyperion corporation has descended into a strange corporate bloodbath since the death of Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2. Rhys is an eager corporate climber who has almost made it to the Handsome Jack's office. Unfortunately, his jerky acquaintance Vasquez (voiced by the hilarious Patrick Warburton) beat him to the seat of power. In a threat-filled meeting with Vasquez, Rhys happens to overhear that a deal for a Vault Key will be going down on Pandora in the next couple of hours. Eager to hog the glory a Vault Key would bring, Rhys and two of his friends concoct a scheme to beat Vasquez to the deal and purchase it for themselves. As anyone who has played a Borderlands game could tell you, plans made involving Pandora rarely end well.
 
At this point in the demo, a few things were readily apparent. Telltale has gone to great lengths to emulate the style of the Borderlands franchise; it really does look right at home next to Borderlands 1 and 2. However, while it has the look of a Borderlands game, it maintains the mechanics of traditional Telltale adventures like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. The timed conversation options return, but this time there are also opportunities to examine objects, people, sounds, etc. with technology that Rhys has had embedded into his body. Though similar to more recent Telltale games, Tales from the Borderlands diverges in its tone. Whereas The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us are fairly dark and grim, Tales from the Borderlands embraces the series penchant for humor and I often found myself chuckling and outright laughing. 
 
The plan to beat Vasquez to the Vault Key appears to go smoothly right up until Rhys and company try to interact with one of the Pandora-dwellers whom they affectionately refer to as Grease Face. Understandably, Grease Face doesn't take kindly to Hyperion employees calling him Grease Face. As a fight seems to be imminent, Rhys calls down a combat ready robot from Hyperion headquarters. There are additions to the gameplay that could prove interesting in later episodes. There are loot crates and money that can be picked up and used to bribe characters or buy items, though we never saw how this mechanic would work in-game. The robot Rhys calls upon can be outfitted with different weapons prior to being called down and player's decisions regarding its loadout will affect how the battle progresses.
 
After Rhys escapes the enraged Grease Face and his crew, he makes it to the meeting with the Vault Key dealers. After some tense dialogue and a standoff between the two parties, Rhys straight up rips a guy's heart out. At this point, Fiona interrupts to tell the samurai that Rhys' description of how the standoff ended was a complete lie. She begins to tell her version of the story and how she was there to see what happened and depending on her response three wildly different versions of events can be created.
 
 
With that, the demo ended. I'm still not sure that the five part Tales from the Borderlands will be able to deliver the same dramatic punches that The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have proved capable of pulling, but that might not be an issue if it can sustain its level of comedy. Overall, I found Tales from the Borderlands entertaining. I'm still not completely sold on the concept, but I'm willing to strap myself in for another Telltale adventure when it releases later this summer on PC, XBLA, and PSN.   

Jack Gardner
At this year’s E3, I had the pleasure of using an Oculus Rift to participate in a 2v2 virtual reality space dogfight. I have never felt more like I was in the future.
 
I arrived at my appointment with developer CCP with a small degree of nervous anticipation. I had been told about a month previously that I would be able to demo the latest build of Valkyrie; the build that they had recently updated to Unreal Engine 4. A month is more than enough time to read about and hear about the colorful variations of simulation sickness that have been cropping up since the advent of virtual reality technology. Along with the excitement I was feeling, I hoped that I wouldn’t get nauseated in a professional setting. However, CCP is a big company and I knew that they’d want to talk EVE Online and Dust 514 before we got down to their VR project. Not that I was complaining. I love me some sci-fi MMOs/Shooters.
 
Past a reception desk and through a delightfully cool and dim waiting lounge, I met CCP’s product manager Ryan Geddes along with two other media members who hailed from the United Kingdom. He told us about the player-driven world of EVE Online and about a few of the newsworthy battles that have taken place there over the last year. In particular Geddes focused on the Battle of B-R5RB, which was a galactic kerfuffle of unprecedented proportions. Though not one of the largest battles in EVE history, it was by far the costliest. Over 75 titan-class ships were destroyed; Titans take over two months of real-world time to build. It is estimated that the in-game damages totaled over 11 trillion ISK. 11 TRILLION. This battle was so catastrophic that it has its own sizable Wikipedia page.
 
Geddes wanted to emphasize how much of the EVE Online universe is driven by player interactions. Going forward, CCP wants to be able to respond more fluidly to their shifting game world. To that end, CCP will be releasing around ten smaller expansions every year instead of one or two larger expansions. The first of these micro-expansions released on June 3. It was dubbed Kronos and added new ships for pirate factions. The second will be released on July 22 and will be the first overhaul to how industry works in EVE Online. All items, ships, ammo, etc. are created by more industrial-minded players; the overhaul should make pursuing industry a more enjoyable path to riches and power for those with a shrewd mind for business.
 
We were then given a brief overview of the history behind EVE Valkyrie. How it began as an after-hours project created by a few developers messing around with the Oculus Rift prototype in the office and grew into a popular attraction at CCP’s Fanfest events. It was originally developed on Unreal Engine 3, but has since been moved over to Unreal Engine 4. The single-player experience will center on the story of Round, one of the first Valkyrie pilots. Round will be voiced by Katie Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame.
 
Project Legion was fleetingly mentioned as well. It began as an attempt to port Dust 514 to the PC, but ended up growing in unexpected and divergent ways from the PlayStation 3 title. Currently it is still a prototype and more details will be released later. However, Geddes wanted to reassure fans, subscribers, and players that they are leaving indelible footprints in the EVE universe. Every kill or death that they’ve experienced in EVE Online, Dust 514, and soon EVE Valkyrie, is cataloged and has an impact, no matter how small, on the larger universe. The end goal of CCP, the very long-term goal, is to unite all of their games on one platform where gamers can switch between Valkyrie, EVE Online, and Legion on the fly. However, that dream is still a long way off.
 
 The meeting concluded and I finally heard the long awaited words: “Would you like to try EVE Valkyrie?” Yes. Very much. Inwardly I exploded in eagerness. We were led over to an alcove in their lounge where four large chairs had been set up with Xbox 360 controllers and Oculus Rift headsets. Not quite knowing what to expect, I picked up the Oculus and found it to be surprisingly light. One of the British journalists to my left was about to take off his glasses when Geddes told him that he could keep them on. Newer models of the Rift can be used with glasses, apparently. And with that, I strapped the Oculus Rift onto my face.
 
 
It is a curious sensation, stepping into someone else’s head. As soon as I had placed the Oculus Rift over my eyes, it felt like I had fallen through some sort of dimensional chasm and found myself in the cockpit of a spacecraft. Never mind that a small part of me knew that I was still seated in the cool, dim comfort of the CCP E3 lounge, the rest of my mind was thoroughly convinced that I was elsewhere. Even my brain was unconsciously duped by the Rift’s illusion. I know this because after a couple minutes I had the strange sensation of not knowing spatially where my arms were. I had to look down at the digital in-game arms that grasped the Valkyrie flight controls for the feeling to recede. Just writing that previous sentence was magical. The amount of difference being able to turn your head makes when playing a game is almost absurd, but it tricks your brain into thinking that you are physically present. I was able to turn my head and remain ensconced within this digital cockpit and fly through an asteroid belt as I attempted to gun down one of the enemy space journalists. It takes some getting used to, that looking around with your head business, but Valkyrie provides a great way to acclimate players to this new form of digital space. Targeting missiles is done by moving your head along with your target until you get a lock. After achieving a lock, you can fire your payload.
 
The experience felt alien to me, but in the best possible ways. The Rift is an amazing bit of technology that is equal parts artifice and magic. I found myself unconsciously trying to shift my “camera” by using the right analog stick on the controller. Of course that didn’t actually work, but it speaks to how deeply current gameplay methods are ingrained into our gaming psyches. My time with Valkyrie was short and sweet. If you have the opportunity to sit down and play with it, I highly recommend that you do so. It is like having a small glimpse of the future.
 
Virtual reality is coming and it is going to drastically change the landscape of gaming.

Jack Gardner
During the month of May, Extra Life’s current top fundraiser, Aureylian, worked with Twitch to set up the event Mining for Charity. Four teams totaling forty-eight Twitch broadcasters competed in ten different Mineplex minigames. Each team represented a different charity organization: AbleGamers, Child’s Play, Extra Life, and Stand for the Silent. The team that racked up the most points over the course of the month of Mineplex games won a $5,000 prize for their charity. Unfortunately, Extra Life came in third place, but even third place received a pretty nice chunk of change courtesy of some Twitch auctions.
 
I had the opportunity to ask Aureylian some questions regarding Mining for Charity and her own involvement in Extra Life.
 
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How did you first get involved in Extra Life?
 
I was invited to go along to the Celebration last year in Orlando along with some other gamers and Twitch employees to learn more about Extra Life. After meeting all of the kids, and being a gamer and mom myself, it seems like I was meant to be there. I have become so passionate about Extra Life, because it literally hits every major aspect of my life.
 
What is your goal for this year and what are you going to try differently to achieve it (besides Minecraft charity tournaments)? 
 
My goal for this year is $25k. I've done a few shorter livestreams already this year and am planning at least two more (including the National Game Day). I've started integrating incentives in my game play (like renaming missions in Minecraft to donators of certain levels) and stopping livestreams to sing karaoke when someone donates $25. It's a continued effort throughout the year and a big part of my daily life, not just something I do once a year.
 
You are currently our top fundraiser (which is so flippin' amazing). How have you gone about raising money and what do you think other people do to emulate your success on that particular front? Or, to put it another way, how can other people be as fantastic as yourself?
 
Haha, well, not sure I'm THAT fantastic. Like I said before, Extra Life is something I am so passionate about that I speak about it and involve it on an almost daily basis. I work in my local office to donate my time, as well as raise funds and involve as many people I can. I don't know that anyone [could exactly] emulate my success, but I did help write a pretty cool tips piece on the blog for Extra Life last year that seemed to help a few people.
You work at Twitch, so can you speak to how Twitch has gotten involved with Extra Life on a company-wide level?
 
Twitch supports many charities. As an organization, we donate many resources to help promote and ensure the success of streamers who choose to stream for charity. Specifically for events like Mining For Charity, we leverage our user base to help nonprofits get exposure and involve content creators in the promotion of great causes. 
 
Okay, I pay follow eSports a fair amount and I've played many more hours of Minecraft than I'd care to admit in polite company, but I've never really heard about a Minecraft tournament. Could you explain how that works, where did the idea come from, etc.? 
 
I came up with the idea and Mineplex made it come to life. For Mining for Charity, we had four teams of 12 players (8 full time and 4 alternates). They competed each week in a series of Minecraft minigames for four weeks. Depending on their placement in each round, they received points, and at the end of the day, the place of their points determined the daily points they received. At the end of the tournament, two teams tied for first, so they went into a tiebreaker round. The goal was not only to have our content creators collaborate and help grow their audiences, but to help support charities we are passionate about in the process. Prior to the start of the tournament, each team was allowed to pick their own charity to play on behalf of, and we of course were thrilled when one of our teams chose to play on behalf of Extra Life. Twitch donated a designated amount to first place and funds were also raised by auctioning off a rare White Twitch hoodie and limited edition Twitch Minecraft shirt, both signed by Minecraft content creator. Those proceeds were all divided among 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams.
 
As Mike said in that introductory email, who were the casters that got involved so we can shower them with praise?
 
AnikiDomo - Bashurverse - BlameTheController - ChaosChunk - Fyrflies - RubenDelight - Darkmalmine - Siyliss - tehneyrzomb - TerasHD - thejarren - wyld
 
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A huge thanks to Aureylian, he co-workers at Twitch, and all of the amazing people who participated in Mining for Charity! 

Jack Gardner
During E3 I had the pleasure of meeting with Martin Brouard from Frima Studios to discuss the indie platforming title Chariot. Afterward, I was able to go hands-on for nearly a half-hour. Spoiler: I couldn't stop smiling. 
 
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Martin Brouard: I’m the Executive Producer for Chariot. It’s a platformer, a couch co-op platformer that’s coming out on Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, and PC this fall.
 
Jack Gardner: Awesome! And we can see it right behind you there. From what I understand the general premise is that a king or emperor has died and you're taking him to his final resting place?
 
MB: Right, you play as a princess and you are accompanied by your very trusty fiancé and before going on with your life, you have to, you know, put your dead father to rest in a really nice sepulcher. But the king is actually back as a ghost and the chariot that you are bringing around everywhere; it’s a coffin on wheels. The king is there and he keeps complaining that you are leaving treasure behind or that you cannot possibly think of burying him here because it is not a proper, kingly place. He always wants more treasure and more interesting places, so that’s how you progress through different levels. [There are] five different environments, 25 levels of exploration. And it is couch co-op so you play both characters. You can play solo, but it is really made for having fun with a friend at home.
 

 
JG: What different mechanics can we expect to see out of Chariot?
 
MB: The big difference between Chariot and other platformers that we know and love is that it’s a physics-based platformer with a chariot is at the center of it. You need the chariot because that’s what picks up all the loot; that’s what is at the center of the game. So, you’ll push it; you’ll pull it; you’ll use this rope mechanic to pull the chariot, to give some rope to your friend to dangle over a precipice. To try to jump into hard to reach areas. There is lots of exploration. You use the chariot to jump on it, to roll down slopes. [You will have] one special item that you choose for every level, one per character, you use these items to do special moves. There is an attractor, a repulsor, a peg so you can attach your rope to a little escalation peg. There’s something that slows down time and speed boots. By combining these items, one on each character, you can pull off some really fantastic moves and that’s where the fun is.
 
JG: And there is no online co-op or just couch co-op?
 
MB: It’s too… it just wouldn’t make sense for us. It’s really a game where you want to have fun with the person sitting next to you. And be arguing over, “We should be going over there,” “No! Let’s go over there. There is probably something hidden there,” “Alright, alright.” It just wouldn’t be the same over the internet.  
 
JG: What is your favorite part of Chariot?
 
MB: My favorite part is definitely when you see some hard to reach area and you’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to get over there,” and you need to figure out a way, but there are different ways to achieve that. Sometimes you’ll try to pull out some really crazy move, and you will try and try again. When after fifteen minutes of trying you finally pull off that move, this is just so satisfying. High-fives all over the place and it is a great satisfaction. Also, the humor. Right now this is an alpha-build. It’s not finished.
 
JG: Wow, that looks great for an alpha-build!
 
MB: Thank you! But the voice overs aren’t implemented yet. There is a lot of humor coming from the king who is interacting with you. He is kinda acting as a chaperone, you know, his daughter with this guy. He’s there to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t leave any loot on the table.
 

 
JG: And collecting the loot is how you unlock the gadgets and get the different abilities?
 
MB: You actually get the gadgets by finding the blueprints and special collectibles. Between every level you’ll be meeting with a merchant on the surface. He’s a skeleton dude, I don’t think he even realizes that he’s a skeleton, but he’s improving your stuff in exchange for your loot. For example, if you want to go to the lava levels, you’ll need to make sure that your chariot becomes fireproof. For that you’ll need to find blueprints that are hidden somewhere in the game, but then you also need to give the blueprints to the merchant along with some of your loot, which the king doesn’t like too much. When you part with the blueprint and [pay the merchant], he’ll upgrade the chariot and it will be able to float in lava. Same thing with the ice caverns and other levels. You can also improve your gadgets up to three levels. For example, the repulsor which is basically something that throws the chariot super hard with physics, when you are at level three it really shoots the chariot very far. So, if your friend is standing on it and then you’re shooting it, it’s pretty awesome.
 
JG: Are there enemies in the game? So far I haven’t seen any.
 
MB: Well, it’s not a fighting game, but there are enemies. They're called looters. They will not attack you. They will only attack the chariot, try to grab your loot, and run away with it. So your job is basically to dispatch them as quickly as possible or run away before they steal too much of your loot, because that’s also your score. The princess has a sword, so she’s a close-range character and the fiancé has a little slingshot so he is a ranged character. A lot of times, one player will try to get out while the other will defend, so that leads to some fun little combat scenes, but it’s not at the heart of the game. There are four different enemies. Some of them are even trying to steal the chariot! [laughs]
 

 
JG: Is it an open-world, Metroid-style game?
 
MB: No, no. The way it works is there are 25 different levels scattered over five different environments. These environments are unlocked when you upgrade the chariot, but there are different entrances and exits in certain levels that sometimes unlock speed runs you can complete for special rewards and leaderboards.
 
JG: So how does that work, is there a hub where you access each level?
 
MB: Yes, there is a map that is currently very placeholder, but every time you find an exit it opens up the path to a new level. Sometimes you find different exits in different levels. There is a lot of exploration there.
 
JG: Well it looks incredible. I can’t wait to play it!
 
MB: Thank you very much, you can play it right now! [laughs]
 
---

 
And play it I did.
 
Even in early alpha Chariot is almost overwhelmingly charming. The art design is great and does a great job conveying humor and lightheartedness even without dialogue. Levels are cleverly constructed to interact with the chariot and the players in interesting ways. For example, there are certain surfaces that will be solid for the player, but not the chariot and vice versa. The rope mechanics and physics feel statisfying and it feels really rewarding to overcome obstacles with a co-op partner. 
 
Recently there have been people expressing a desire for non-violent games to play with family or just as an alternative to the omni-present shooter genre. Though Brouard said that there were looters in Chariot, in nearly a half hour, I never saw a single one and still enjoyed myself immensely. I would feel very comfortable sitting down with my young nephews and playing this along with them. Brouard was right, Chariot can be played alone, but it is meant to embody cooperation and going it alone seems miss a bit of the magic that Chariot has to offer. 
 
 
Keep your eye on Chariot. It releases this fall on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC. 

Jack Gardner
While at E3 this year, I had the pleasure of sitting down with French publisher Focus Home Interactive to talk about their upcoming stealth action game that will be released under the name Styx: Master of Shadows.
 
Developed by Cyanide Studios, Styx is a sequel to the 2012 RPG Of Orcs and Men. Other than one of the main characters and the setting, everything has been reworked for this sequel. Master of Shadows’ basic premise is that Styx is a goblin thief who wants to steal the heart of a giant tree. The heart of the tree is made of amber, a substance which is the source of magic and thus incredibly valuable. What could be easier than stealing from a tree? Quite a lot of things if said tree happens to have an entire city and fortress built around it defended by both elves and men.
 

 
I was able to see a gameplay demonstration taken and it is clear that Styx: Master of Shadows takes many of its cues from Thief: The Dark Project and Thief 2: The Metal Age. The demo I was shown saw Styx sneaking through a town to try and free an ally from prison. There are many features that you would expect in a modern stealth game, such as hiding spots and kills that come in the silent or loud variety. However, there are plenty of interesting additions that set Master of Shadows apart. Styx has a diverse array of powers that derive from amber that flows through his veins. The amber in Styx’s blood serves as the players HUD to indicate whether he is concealed or hidden. Using his amber powers, he can see through walls, turn invisible, create smoke screens, and create a clone of himself. The clone was the most interesting ability shown during the demo; it can be used to scout the level, set off environmental traps, or distract guards by hilariously leaping onto their face and causing them to freak out. Each of these powers can be upgraded to be even more effective and powerful.

 
Levels are all designed with the idea of verticality in mind. Traversing the environments requires a bit more effort and offers more control than in titles like Assassin’s Creed. Players should rarely find themselves stuck with only one route to an objective; alternate paths present themselves both above and below. Physically, Styx isn’t as powerful as humans or elves, so he will often need to resort to trickery and making use of the heights to emerge triumphant. Styx can quickly and silently kill enemies by executing a falling stab attack. He will also be able to poison food and water supplies to discreetly take out guards after a short period of time. Players will need to keep an eye out for anything in the environment that could be useful, like giant, suspended crates that could be dropped on top of overly inquisitive guards.
 

 
A new feature touted during the demonstration was the living city. While All NPCs have visual and sound detection capabilities, each one is also connected to two or three others who will come looking for their friend if he or she deviates from their established patterns. Bodies of unconscious or dead guards will need to be moved out of sight to avoid alerting other NPCs. Of course, if moving enemies seems like too much of a hassle, players can also dump some acid on a body and dissolve all evidence of wrongdoing.
 
There are plenty of things to do besides pursuing primary objectives and robbing NPCs blind. Each level has ten collectibles scattered throughout and these items require a bit of exploration to discover. As players sneak through levels, there will be opportunities to spy and eavesdrop on NPCs to learn more background info on the world and fulfill optional sidequest objectives. Completing more objectives nets players more experience points which they can use to upgrade their abilities.
 
I was told that an average playthrough of Styx: Master of Shadows should take around twelve hours. Along with a number of difficulty settings, there will also be a challenge mode that unlocks after beating the game that offers players some replayability. It is worth noting that the abilities on display in the demo are by no means exhaustive of what will be available in the finished title.
 
 
Styx: Master of Shadows will be available sometime this fall for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Jack Gardner
From 2009’s AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity to this year’s Drunken Robot Pornography, Dejobaan Games has really built a name for itself in the industry as a developer that toys with absurd humor. I think that’s partly why I was so taken aback by the sincere and honest attempt at doing something new with Elegy for a Dead World.
 
After I finished a single playthrough of the game, I sat back and chatted with Ichiro Lambe, the founder and president of Dejobaan Games. He asked me what I thought of the game and I told him that I’d have to think about it. It took me a while to answer.
 
Elegy is unlike any game I have ever played. On the most superficial level, it is a side-scroller that tasks the player with moving from left to right in order to progress, but there aren’t any challenges or impediments. Instead, each section of game has a new backdrop of gorgeous alien terrain, depicting crumbling structures and technology. At certain points, the player will receive unobtrusive prompts to write something. The style the player is prompted to write in is determined at the beginning of the game when the player chooses between poetic, story, or blank verse modes. Elegy for a Dead World is all about how people respond to things and construct unique, individual narratives. It demonstrates how creativity moves all people, whether they think they’re creative or not. Each time the game prompts a new written input, it provides context (unless you are playing in blank verse mode) and leaves a number of blanks for the player to fill in with their own words. Of course, all text is editable, not just the blanks, so players never have words forced upon them. With this game, everyone can write a story, a poem, or something else entirely.
 

 
Eventually, I told Ichiro what I thought about this strange game that’s based on the works of British Romance-era poets. I told him that the best way I could describe it would be to call this game an inspiration simulator. In a sense, it allows players to discover their own story as they tell it to themselves. That is a concept with which I could fall in love. However, I think there are several ways that Elegy for a Dead World could be improved. One of the main problems that I had was that the game seems to be fairly linear from left to right. Though my character had a jet pack, I never had a reason to use it other than to break up the monotony of moving from one side of the screen to the other. More exploration, more verticality to the levels, and more prompts would serve to fill out Elegy and make traversing the desolation of its world a bit more interesting. I would also be very curious see another implementation of this same approach to gamified storytelling that was based on different eras of poets and storytellers with different visual cues. I guess what I’m saying here is that I love the core concept of this game that I would like to see more of it in almost every respect.
 
 
If you get an opportunity, check out Elegy for a Dead World. It is different in a way that should be appreciated and applauded.

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