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Jack Gardner
One thing that people should know about me by now is that I freaking love BioWare. Every game they release is an attempt to craft something better than what they’ve created before. Even their less well received titles like Dragon Age 2 innovate in bold directions. What other collective of creative people could successfully make the leap from the real time/turn-based combat system (fun fact: that style of gameplay is called a round-based system) from Knights of the Old Republic to a third-person shooter-RPG hybrid? That an RPG-oriented developer eventually refined their third-person shooting to a point where they could build a successful multiplayer mode around it is incredible. I believe that this skill also extends to the way they’ve learned to expand their adventures through DLC.

BioWare’s first foray into downloadable content, Mass Effect’s Bring Down the Sky, went relatively well and since that decent start they’ve slowly improved from there. A few duds like Pinnacle Station or Firewalker come to mind, but for the most part BioWare delivers some pretty satisfying additions to their games that really build out their worlds in significant ways. Whether it is character building, setting up sequels, or elaborating on murkier aspects of their game worlds, they’ve learned to deliver entertaining content while eliminating a lot of fluff from their DLC offerings.

This brings me to The Descent, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s latest bit of DLC. To my mind, The Descent represents a great use of DLC. It delivers more of Inquisition’s streamlined gameplay, visits an interesting part of the larger setting, and offers some development of the game world that hasn’t ever been directly hinted at before. Some have complained that The Descent is a rather linear adventure, and it certainly is, though I don’t see that as a negative. Instead, I see it as the developers taking an opportunity to deliver a focused experience. It’s a design choice that tells us, “Hey, the stuff that’s happening is important.” It may even hint at where the Dragon Age series might be going in the future, which is a really exciting prospect. Plus, I’ll take a finely crafted linear portion of gameplay over an open area most of the time, especially when it comes to DLC. Running back and forth over the same ground for an hour or two begins to smack a little too much of padding in some downloadable add-ons.

For Dragon Age fans, there is a lot to love in The Descent. David Hayter voices one of the prominent supporting characters players encounter early in the DLC. He might not be the voice of Snake in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V, but it is always nice to hear his grizzled growl in action. A somewhat hidden portion of the DLC includes an amazing tribute to the humble nug, the benign, rabbit-like creatures that permeate Thedas. Beyond that, The Descent tickles the lore-hound in me that has wanted to know more about the Dwarven Deep Roads since they were briefly visited in Dragon Age: Origins. There is a lot of mystery in the fallen empire of the Dwarves and a lot that remains to be discovered if BioWare decides to pursue the elements of the world introduced in The Descent.

The one complaint I have regarding the DLC is the enemy scaling. In an attempt to make the fights more difficult, BioWare decided to give all the enemies ridiculous amounts of health. Even with a team tricked out in the best possible weapons available from the previous expansion, Jaws of Hakkon it took a long time to hack down grunt enemies. It renders some of the larger encounters more tedious instead of interesting or challenging. While returning to Inquisition is enjoyable, it really becomes a slog despite the exciting highlights of the narrative.

All of this to say that I enjoyed my time with The Descent. I think it is exactly what downloadable content should be: An addition that presents unique opportunities for elaboration when it comes to world building and narrative without overstaying its welcome. It isn’t perfect, but it provides an enjoyable and informative ride for Dragon Age fans. At $15, the price might be a bit steep, but if you're interested in the turnings of Thedas and can't get enough of Inquisition's combat, it is worth the cost of admission. If you don't fall into either of those categories, wait for a sale. 


Jack Gardner
Ever wanted to take direct control of the Pokémon in one of the numerous turn-based RPGs of varying colors? Did Pokémon Stadium not quite scratch that itch? If that's the case, Pokkén Tournament will be everything you ever wanted. Originally designed as an arcade game that only released in Japan, Pokkén Tournament is heading to the Wii U worldwide spring 2016. 

Developed as part of a partnership between Nintendo and Bandai Namco, Pokkén Tournament was designed with some of the ideas from more traditional fighting games like Tekken in mind. While it is intended to be accessible for all ages, it seems that Nintendo might even be angling for a depth of play that could bring the fighter to eSports events like Evo or DreamHack. What is clear, however, is that Pokkén Tournament allows players the incredible opportunity to play as Pikachu in a luchador outfit, possibly making it the greatest game to ever exist. 

I believe that this will undoubtedly move some Wii U units, but what do you think? Is this enough to make you interested in a Wii U or to get a copy day one?

Jack Gardner
Founded in 2013 by former executives from the Machinima network along with YouTube personalities, 3BLACKDOT made waves recently by publishing its first PC title to a large swell of public support. That game, Dead Realm, is a multiplayer horror title currently available on Steam Greenlight. With video contributions by partners and co-founders of 3BLACKDOT like Evan Fong (VanossGaming), Tom Cassell (TheSyndicateProject), and Adam Montoya (SeaNanners), Dead Realm has inspired over 25,000 videos from fans and personalities. What exactly makes this game so engaging?
Simply put, Dead Realm is a game of hide and seek set within a spooky mansion. That might not seem like a terribly exciting or novel premise, until you add player-controlled specters and up to eight humans all trying to stay alive and escape the mansion. Dead Realm contains two game modes, three maps, two ghosts, and eight human characters. While the Early Access version of Dead Realm stands a bit bare bones in its alpha state, much more content is being planned for the final release sometime in 2016. One of 3BLACKDOT's co-founders, Evan Fong, echoed this commitment to future support in his statement, "Our intention is to work with the community to constantly develop new content, including ghosts, humans and maps. This early access release is just the beginning of what will be an ever evolving project.” 

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Adam Montoya attributes this to the mission statement for Dead Realm, "The original concept for Dead Realm was to create a new game that was simple in nature, but also addictively fun to play with friends." Judging by the community feedback on their Early Access page, it seems like Dead Realm has achieved that goal, even without the features that have been promised looming on the horizon. “When Dead Realm first hit the STEAM early access store, we really didn’t know what to expect,” said Tom Cassell, partner and creative director at 3BLACKDOT, “Then the community began to react and the response was overwhelming. Our twitter account hit twenty-thousand followers within the first two days and Twitch created a designated channel on day one --- this all happened without any dedicated marketing dollars.” 

Perhaps it is no surprise that a publisher with so much social media acumen could manage to organize such a groundswell of public support with one of their first projects. Angelo Pullen, one of the ex-Machinima executives who left to become the CEO and a co-founder of 3BLACKDOT, mentions that tapping into influential YouTubers and streamers is one of their priorities as a company, "This is the first time that a game has been developed in partnership with online influencers with a primary goal of creating content that’s not only fun to play, but also fun to watch, share and stream. Our company’s mission is to produce innovative, high-quality experiences for and with Influencers and their communities."

Jack Gardner
One of the break out moments of gaming last year was Twitch Plays Pokémon, a livestream of Pokémon Red that was controlled entirely via commands input by viewers into Twitch chat. It was... definitely a thing that happened. Below you'll find a brief overview of the weeks it took to beat Pokémon.

But what happens when Twitch takes on a game that is a bit more complex? What if the game they chose to take on next took place in a 3D world and was heavily reliant on timing? It turns out there is a lot of running into walls and flailing. Twitch has decided to take on Dark Souls and after four days of continuous play they are still stuck in the game's opening level, the Undead Asylum. It has become a slow process of building a coordinated community that can handle a three dimensional game without succumbing to the trolling that so frequently plagues the Twitch Plays streams. To date, the greatest enemy hasn't been Dark Souls' first boss, but rather a pool that in the beginning area that players keep falling into. Some have despaired of ever getting past the pool:

While others have begun to worship the pool as a deity, searching to eek out some meaning to the senseless cycle of two steps forward, one dodge roll back into a pool pit:

Still others have tried to put a lighthearted spin on the situation while maintaining hope for the future:

However, the collective hive mind that is Twitch Plays has accomplished some goals. They've made it through character creation, used their entire inventory of items (breaking some and destroying others), and actually made it to bonfire checkpoints. It remains to be seen if this is one game that Twitch can actually complete.

Do you think that Twitch Plays can prevail? Or will this community-powered Let's Play go the way of Abby?

Jack Gardner

Review: Rocket League

By Jack Gardner, in Features,

There are fundamental principles to video game development as real and constant as the speed of light. Perhaps the most important of these rules is what has become known as Bushnell’s Law. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell was fond of saying, “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.” While the quote has come under fire for perhaps encouraging developers toward game design that fosters compulsive rather than rewarding experiences, I believe it simply means that developers should respect the time invested into their work by players.

Video games are unique as an art form in that they fight us more so than any other medium. Each game requires a learning process, usually encapsulated within a tutorial, to teach us how to play. For veteran gamers, it can be easy to forget how difficult initially navigating in-game spaces once was, let alone actually accomplishing basic tasks. This is where Bushnell’s Law comes in. The more a developer can make a game easy to comprehend while still retaining depth, the better and more accessible it will be. It is a simple rule and one that can be seen at work in many of our most enduring games. Tetris remains one of the most played, most emulated games of all time because it exemplifies Bushnell’s Law. Almost anyone can grasp how to play Tetris within one minute, but learning to cope with the increased speed of falling bricks takes time and reflexes to master. In an age where technology moves ever forward at a breakneck pace, Tetris, a 31-year-old game, maintains its relevance to this day.

This might seem like a very round-about way to begin talking about Rocket League, but it’s critical to understanding why I think Rocket League is so brilliant. The elevator pitch of Rocket League is irresistible: What if you combined soccer with high-speed car chases and explosions? Throughout its execution, Rocket League stays close to that core premise. Teams of up to four players can face off against each other while attempting to bounce a giant ball into the opposing team’s goal. That’s really all there is to the basic concept. However, spending more and more time playing reveals the depth introduced by the various supporting systems.


Rocket League appears to be one of the few modern games that truly understands and embraces Bushnell’s Law. The controls boil down to steering the car, accelerating/reversing, boosting, a small explosion to flip your vehicle, and a handbrake. These are the kind of controls most people are able to grasp with relatively little effort. A training mode is available, but isn’t really necessary to enjoy the simple, frenetic gameplay that will absorb players into the moment-to-moment action.

While the controls always remain simple, the true highlight of Rocket League is its physics system. The ball and cars all operate under a fun, bouncy gravity that results in an ever shifting field of play that can send anyone flying in different directions at a moment's notice. Hitting an opponent’s car with enough force temporarily takes them out of the game for a second or two before they respawn near their goal. Players can also learn to control their flights through the air, flipping to make the most efficient landing or to hit the ball in just the right way. Flipping through the air to hit the ball at the correct angle to make a shot or deflect an imminent goal is incredibly satisfying. The controls might be intuitive and easy to learn, the physics system lends Rocket League the depth to make it a fascinating and fun experience.

If there is one drawback to Rocket League it is that it loses a bit of its luster when played alone. Communicating with teammates and coordinating strategies enhance the experience above and beyond the solo modes. This makes Rocket League an engaging party game, but not the most exciting option if you’re by yourself. Luckily, Rocket League makes finding and communicating with friends painless and easy, whether it is via a Steam friends list or through PSN.

While some people might complain regarding a lack of diverse gameplay modes, I find it hard to fault the game for presenting such a perfect base experience. On top of that, developer Psyonix has promised more game modes and maps will be added in the future as free DLC. More variety is coming in the future, but for now players can settle for playing an amazingly fun and solid core experience with their friends and family. While playing, players can unlock various pieces of gear and accessories for their cars. The equipment is all cosmetic, but seeing a car in a top hat while it explodes across a soccer field to perform a wheelie to make a game winning shot is definitely an amazing sight.

Conclusion:

Rocket League “rewards the first quarter and the hundredth.” It respects player time enough to deliver a faultless base game that will certainly deliver dozens of hours of entertainment. For $20 (or free if you had PS Plus last month), I discovered it to be a ridiculous bargain for the amount of fun I found myself having. Grab a few friends, hit the arena, and lose your minds over the sweet, joyous thrill of Rocket League. 



Jack Gardner
The Solus Project, one of a number of indie titles that made a splash when it was revealed at Gamescom, takes place on a strange alien world to which you have come in order to save the human race from destruction. Unfortunately, while traveling to the planet, something goes wrong and scatters equipment, supplies, and people across the planet's surface. As one of the scientists who embarked on the stellar journey, players must learn to survive in the harsh environment while looking for a way to reestablish contact with Earth and somehow salvage this last ditch mission and save our planet. However, as the gameplay preview shows, the planet holds its own secrets and not all of them are friendly. 

Rendered in Unreal Engine 4, The Solus Project is a single-player, atmospheric survival game. You won't be working with other players to survive, just your own wits and whatever you happen to find handy. The game is the result of a unique development partnership between the Prague-based GRIP Games and Swedish developer Teotl Studios. The Solus Project will be coming to Xbox One and PC early in 2016.

Jack Gardner
I just.... I give up. Bossa Studios wins. I Am Bread is the best game of all time. The latest free update to the game brings the beloved slice of bread into the world of Team Fortress 2 on a quest to become the cherished sandvich. That journey will require stealth, subtlety, the use of heavy machine guns, and even teleportation.
“We’ve been big fans of Team Fortress for a long time, and are excited to bring our second piece of Team Fortress 2 content to one of our games,” said Bossa’s gamer-in-chief Henrique Olifiers. “After what we did with Surgeon Simulator and Team Fortress 2, it only seemed natural to continue the craziness with I am Bread.”
Along with the new level, the update includes a new grading system that explains how to reach A++ rankings. 

In honor of the new update, I Am Bread is receiving a 50% discount. For those who don't want to or can't play I Am Bread on PC, it will be making it's way to the PlayStation 4 on August 25 as well as iOS devices in the near future.

Jack Gardner
Taking cues from Super Meat Boy, Shorebound Studios aims to deliver intense, precise platforming in a friendly package with Bob Was Hungry. The PC title focuses on an alien species called bobs that search the universe for food to sate their ravenous appetites. Instead of being the cataclysm most sci-fi authors would imagine, bobs are hard pressed to find food. They've devoured most of the cheese planets, which are a thing in Bob Was Hungry, and now scour the planets that remain for what scraps they can find.
Players will have to deal with insidious traps and deadly environments in their quest for nourishment. Each level contains a collectible condiment which records the player's time and unlocks a harder version of the level.
While Bob Was Hungry can be enjoyed alone, up to eight players can join in the platforming across a variety of modes. These include: Co-op, shared death co-op, competitive race, and competitive survival race. Co-op modes have players splitting a baked potato, while leaving your partners behind in a race nets you the last ham bone in the universe. With over 150 levels, it looks to be a platformer that can keep even the most skilled players busy for quite some time.

Bob Was Hungry releases for PC (Windows only, sorry Mac users) on August 19.  

Jack Gardner
Players can revisit Dying Light's fictional city-state of Harran in the upcoming story-based expansion, this time gaining access to the countryside that surrounds the zombie-infested city. Protagonist Kyle Crane also returns, this time tasked with infiltrating a deranged cult that has set up shop in the zombified outback and appears to have a mysterious connection to the outbreak. Players will need to befriend the locals, acquiring missions and tasks to help the beleaguered residents. There isn't an established route to infiltrating the cult, leaving players to decide how they want to approach the group. The biggest addition to the parkour-focused zombie action title is dune buggies, customizable and upgradable vehicles that can quickly navigate the new map, which is bigger than the all the core game's areas combined.  
 
The trailer was announced by developer Techland along with a statement from producer Tymon Smektala:
No release date has been announced, though Techland has said that the expansion will be free for season pass holders and sell for $14.99 to those who haven't picked up the pass.
Are you ready to dive back into the world of Dying Light? Are you happy to see Kyle Crane return? 

Jack Gardner
Larian Studios today announced that they would indeed be making a sequel to the critically acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin as well as returning to Kickstarter. This might raise some eyebrows from the community, after all Divinity: Original Sin was a pretty successful release. Larian Studios' founder Swen Vincke took to the company's blog to address those concerns and lay out his hopes and dreams for the development of Divinity: Original Sin II:
He goes on to say much more and you can read Vincke's full statement on the Larian website. People who might be interested in backing the Kickstarter when it launches on August 26 can vote now on what they would like to see in the backer reward tiers. Personally, I am a bit on the fence about Kickstarter being the route to take on the heels of a successful game if all they're really after is more player feedback.
 A prototype of the game will be available for hands-on time at PAX Prime, along with some chances to win some cool swag if you stop by the booth. 
More information on Divinity: Original Sin II will be available when the Kickstarter launches later this month on the 26th.

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