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Daniel Jones

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  1. Daniel Jones

    Review: Slime-San

    Indie retro platformers are a dime a dozen in 2017. Since the success of Super Meat Boy in 2010, the independent scene has become cluttered with also-ran, ultra-challenging, quirky platformers of the 8-bit variety. As an ultra-challenging, quirky platformer of the 8-bit variety, Slime-San, from developer Fabraz and publisher Headup Games, will likely fall squarely into that also-ran category, to no fault of its own. Slime-San’s titular protagonist finds himself trapped inside a worm. The reasons are unknown, but probably have something to do with the fact that it’s… ya know, a slime. Inside the worm, an entire community of slimes has developed, with NPC’s offering up quirky flavor text and gameplay modifications. Everyone seems to have resigned themselves to their fate, eternally trapped inside this volatile invertebrate, but not Slime-San. He’s going to get out, and he’s going to free everyone else in the process. Slime-San’s amusing story, but silly story made me laugh more than a handful of times. Slime-San is a fine example of what has made the platformer genre so enduring even three decades after Mario first bounced off a goomba’s head. The platforming presents an intense dance of thumbs and reflexes as each level tests your ability to flip back and forth between the numerous pitfalls and traps in each stage. Those obstacles range from enemies that chase you around the level, to lasers that rise and fall in tandem, to an ever-present red slime that acts as a timer lending some more tension to each stage. The environments inside the giant worm in which Slime-San is trapped, mainly consist of green and red surfaces. You can bounce and climb up green surfaces, while red surfaces will kill your gungy, little protagonist. You can slow time to pass through green surfaces or perform a quick forward dash to more easily maneuver through the game’s many obstacles. These abilities are key to Slime-San’s mobility, which feels tight and joyful, always keeping you on your toes without becoming too frustrating. This is greatly aided by the game’s generous checkpoint system. Death in Slime-San serves as a lesson in how to avoid it on the next run through a level, rather than a frustrating penalty. That’s not to say Slime-San avoids frustration altogether. As the game progresses, new concepts and obstacles are introduced at a steady drip. While some effectively enhance the challenge, others detract from what Slime-San does well. There are a number of puzzle levels that, when combined with the game’s already perplexing platforming sequences, serve to slow things down and create a repetitive loop that often tested my patience to its breaking point. In addition, underwater levels show up more often that they should, which is to say they should’ve been nixed completely. The underwater stages simply don’t play to Slime-San’s strengths, slowing Slime-San’s movement speed to a crawl and evoking the feeling of swimming through a bowl of Jell-O rather than zipping around tightly designed corridors. At times like this, Slime-San’s creativity undermines its tight, smooth game design. Slime-San’s best moments are challenges that require unimpeachable control, precise timing, and speed. Slime-San is designed for forward momentum, and each one-screen stage lays out where you need to go right from the beginning, so all you need to do is figure out how to get there and the quickest route to take. Boss fights break up the challenges nicely, allowing you to experiment with different techniques to take down each beast. These fights test your skills to the max, but they’re also a lot of fun. I only wish there were more of them. My biggest issue with Slime-San relates directly to the platform I played it on. The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers were not designed well for someone with large hands, and playing Slime-San exasperates that problem. The game demands precise timing and thumb-work, but the Joy-Cons can’t accommodate that for someone like myself. Whereas I find that minimalist, chill games like Death Squared seem perfectly suited to the Switch, games like Slime-San and, similarly, Super Meat Boy (which also recently released on Switch) are hindered by the console’s standard input controllers. I have never wished I had a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller more than after some of the more harrowing sections of Slime-San. The lack of a real d-pad and the close proximity of the face buttons and the shoulder buttons on the Joy-Cons force my hands into a claw position that aches for about ten minutes afterwards. Listen, I know that not everyone will have this problem. Maybe I’m just old, or maybe I just have big hands, or god forbid, maybe I’m developing carpal tunnel or early stage arthritis, but playing Slime-San on Switch made me feel like my hands were falling apart. It’s a shame, because this is the kind of game that can ensnare you for hours on end as you try “just one more level” over and over until your thumbs go numb. Conclusion: Slime-San isn’t perfect, but it is charming, and provides a challenging good time for any fan of the genre. I’m glad it released on Switch, so that it’s now on all of the major platforms; PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam. It’s the kind of game that fits nicely on Switch (provided you have a pro controller, or the joy-cons fit your hands perfectly), and especially benefits from the new Nintendo system’s less-congested marketplace. It’s a great game, but it doesn’t stand out from the pack of indie platformers on offer. Heck, it’s not even the most recognizable slime-themed game this year. While never quite reaching the heights of some of its predecessors, Slime-San makes for an enjoyable, but imperfect little platforming adventure.
  2. Daniel Jones

    Gaming News:Review: Slime-San

    Indie retro platformers are a dime a dozen in 2017. Since the success of Super Meat Boy in 2010, the independent scene has become cluttered with also-ran, ultra-challenging, quirky platformers of the 8-bit variety. As an ultra-challenging, quirky platformer of the 8-bit variety, Slime-San, from developer Fabraz and publisher Headup Games, will likely fall squarely into that also-ran category, to no fault of its own. Slime-San’s titular protagonist finds himself trapped inside a worm. The reasons are unknown, but probably have something to do with the fact that it’s… ya know, a slime. Inside the worm, an entire community of slimes has developed, with NPC’s offering up quirky flavor text and gameplay modifications. Everyone seems to have resigned themselves to their fate, eternally trapped inside this volatile invertebrate, but not Slime-San. He’s going to get out, and he’s going to free everyone else in the process. Slime-San’s amusing story, but silly story made me laugh more than a handful of times. Slime-San is a fine example of what has made the platformer genre so enduring even three decades after Mario first bounced off a goomba’s head. The platforming presents an intense dance of thumbs and reflexes as each level tests your ability to flip back and forth between the numerous pitfalls and traps in each stage. Those obstacles range from enemies that chase you around the level, to lasers that rise and fall in tandem, to an ever-present red slime that acts as a timer lending some more tension to each stage. The environments inside the giant worm in which Slime-San is trapped, mainly consist of green and red surfaces. You can bounce and climb up green surfaces, while red surfaces will kill your gungy, little protagonist. You can slow time to pass through green surfaces or perform a quick forward dash to more easily maneuver through the game’s many obstacles. These abilities are key to Slime-San’s mobility, which feels tight and joyful, always keeping you on your toes without becoming too frustrating. This is greatly aided by the game’s generous checkpoint system. Death in Slime-San serves as a lesson in how to avoid it on the next run through a level, rather than a frustrating penalty. That’s not to say Slime-San avoids frustration altogether. As the game progresses, new concepts and obstacles are introduced at a steady drip. While some effectively enhance the challenge, others detract from what Slime-San does well. There are a number of puzzle levels that, when combined with the game’s already perplexing platforming sequences, serve to slow things down and create a repetitive loop that often tested my patience to its breaking point. In addition, underwater levels show up more often that they should, which is to say they should’ve been nixed completely. The underwater stages simply don’t play to Slime-San’s strengths, slowing Slime-San’s movement speed to a crawl and evoking the feeling of swimming through a bowl of Jell-O rather than zipping around tightly designed corridors. At times like this, Slime-San’s creativity undermines its tight, smooth game design. Slime-San’s best moments are challenges that require unimpeachable control, precise timing, and speed. Slime-San is designed for forward momentum, and each one-screen stage lays out where you need to go right from the beginning, so all you need to do is figure out how to get there and the quickest route to take. Boss fights break up the challenges nicely, allowing you to experiment with different techniques to take down each beast. These fights test your skills to the max, but they’re also a lot of fun. I only wish there were more of them. My biggest issue with Slime-San relates directly to the platform I played it on. The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers were not designed well for someone with large hands, and playing Slime-San exasperates that problem. The game demands precise timing and thumb-work, but the Joy-Cons can’t accommodate that for someone like myself. Whereas I find that minimalist, chill games like Death Squared seem perfectly suited to the Switch, games like Slime-San and, similarly, Super Meat Boy (which also recently released on Switch) are hindered by the console’s standard input controllers. I have never wished I had a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller more than after some of the more harrowing sections of Slime-San. The lack of a real d-pad and the close proximity of the face buttons and the shoulder buttons on the Joy-Cons force my hands into a claw position that aches for about ten minutes afterwards. Listen, I know that not everyone will have this problem. Maybe I’m just old, or maybe I just have big hands, or god forbid, maybe I’m developing carpal tunnel or early stage arthritis, but playing Slime-San on Switch made me feel like my hands were falling apart. It’s a shame, because this is the kind of game that can ensnare you for hours on end as you try “just one more level” over and over until your thumbs go numb. Conclusion: Slime-San isn’t perfect, but it is charming, and provides a challenging good time for any fan of the genre. I’m glad it released on Switch, so that it’s now on all of the major platforms; PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam. It’s the kind of game that fits nicely on Switch (provided you have a pro controller, or the joy-cons fit your hands perfectly), and especially benefits from the new Nintendo system’s less-congested marketplace. It’s a great game, but it doesn’t stand out from the pack of indie platformers on offer. Heck, it’s not even the most recognizable slime-themed game this year. While never quite reaching the heights of some of its predecessors, Slime-San makes for an enjoyable, but imperfect little platforming adventure. View full article
  3. Nobody at Queasy Games wanted to work with Beck. Well, almost nobody. The alt-rock musician can be a divisive figure, for sure, but that wasn’t really why the team working on 2012’s Sound Shapes had misgivings about his involvement in its game. Prior to this, the game’s development possessed a distinctly “indie” feel, and the publisher, Sony, had kept red tape to a minimum. Throwing a Grammy winning rock star into the mix would surely overcomplicate things, as far as they were concerned. Yet the partnership ended up producing what many fans consider to be the highlight of the Sound Shapes experience. “Cities,” the first of three Beck-soundtracked levels in the game, is all gloom and groove, presenting a strange dichotomy between the song and the visuals on screen. It’s set against the backdrop of a war-torn metropolis and a dance-able beat. Beck sings of a dead city as the refrain “You weren’t made for this place/ It’s not your fault,” billows from smoke stacks, while missiles, bulldozers, and other instruments of destruction strut along to the beat. It’s at once distressing, relaxing, beautiful, and sad. It’s Sound Shapes at its best. Originally, Sound Shapes wasn’t even conceived as a video game, but rather as a music visualizer. Shaw-Han Liem is a Toronto based musician known by the stage name I Am Robot and Proud. After a show in his home town, Liem met Queasy Games founder, and fellow Toronto native, Jonathan Mak. The two began hanging out and playing around with the concept of fusing interactive art with sound. “At first,” says Liem, “our intention wasn’t to create a game, we just wanted to explore, in general, music and visuals.” Though Sound Shapes would grow into a multi-studio production, involving major label musicians, according to Liem, “it literally started out with two people in a basement.” In the beginning, Liem was the only musician on the project and thus, he set the groundwork for how the design teams would work with the other musicians. “I was working with the team every day so I was the closest one,” explains Liem, “so with the levels I did, we tried to have the musical aspect of the game involved at a much earlier stage for the level.” That would require the music itself to be fluid and moldable. If an object needed to make a different sound, Liem could easily make that change in his song. As Liem describes it, “The levels and music were written as one process.” When the alt-folk songwriter Jim Guthrie became involved, the process didn’t need to change too much. “He’s also in Toronto and he’s a friend of ours, so it was easier for him to be more involved and do more iterations and revisions,” says Liem. The team of designers that worked with Guthrie to make four levels based on his songs, was the same team that would go on to work with Beck’s music, though the process would prove to be very different. When it came to Beck, the team simply didn’t enjoy the same collaborative benefits it had experienced with Guthrie and Liem. “With me and Jim,” says Liem, “you could do that, but obviously you can’t call up Beck and be like, ‘can you try this drum beat 10 BPMs slower? Because the level’s too hard.’ It was an experiment for us to see – does this concept scale? Does it allow us to take an already completed song and turn it into visuals or gameplay in a way that feels organic?” Beck’s lack of involvement was a big sticking point for the team at Queasy Games, but Sony’s marketing department saw it as a worthwhile trade-off. Level designer Danny Vader and producer Mathew Kumar – both on loan from Capy Games – were handed what was, at that time, the unenviable task of translating Beck’s songs into the Sound Shapes format. Vader was the only Beck fan on staff and remembers the initial hesitation. “The other artists,” he says, referring to Beck and Deadmau5, “were secured by Sony corporate as like, ‘here, we paid these guys some money to use these songs.’ That’s totally fine, it’s just different from how we did all the other stuff.” As Vader explains, “Beck has singing and lyrics and nothing else in the game had done that. So that was a huge challenge.” Every object in Sound Shapes visually represents a part of the song that accompanies each stage. A kick drum might be represented by a hopping enemy that always lands on the beat, or a dancing blob might represent a song’s buoyant bass line. Lyrics required a completely different approach; they needed a physical, on-screen representation. However, whereas instrumentals left room for interpretation, the lyrics told a story that somewhat dictated what the designers could do. “We can’t just do whatever we want with this “Cities” level because it’s sort of saying something and we had to discern what was being said,” explains Vader, “I remember all of us sitting around listening to this song over and over again, not just trying to figure out what he’s saying, but figuring out what we are going to do with these lyrics in terms of conveying the meaning of the song.” At one point, the team even considered cutting the lyrics altogether. “I think we were pretty beaten down trying to figure it out,” recalls Vader, “it was even floated, ‘F___ it, let’s just cut the lyrics. Let’s cut the singing and just use the instrumentals. I was pretty adamant and maybe even a jerk about keeping them… We have Beck, we gotta have Beck singing. You can’t call it Beck if it’s just some beats and s___. We gotta have his voice.” They devised a few clever solutions to the problem. At one point in the song, the words “move a little/ shake a little/ hurt a little/ break a little” are personified by a platform that does exactly as the words say. When Beck says move, it moves, and when he says hurt, the platform turns red and hurts the player’s little avatar. The lyrics end up providing context and warn the player of coming danger. It’s a clever little solution to the problem, and “Cities” is full of examples just like that. Originally, however, when Queasy received the “Cities” track from Beck, it was only instrumental. Without the lyrics, the song does possess a more uplifting vibe. The original instrumental track that the developers received from Beck’s team was even titled “Happy Africa”, which caused a bit of a mix-up. Vader and Kumar worked with Pyramid Attack, a Toronto based art studio, to develop the level based on the “Happy Africa” theme. Kumar recalls the confusion. “When we got more feedback from Beck’s people, we were like, ‘oh we need to throw all of that away.’ We’d actually gotten it all wrong.” “There was all this sort of African mask stuff. We went heavily in that direction,” adds Vader. “I think the file we got from Beck – he probably just… had made the beat first and just named it Happy Africa as a file name. We got that file, and then [his people said], no no here’s the song. And we hear the lyrics and we’re like, ‘oh f___, this has nothing to do with Africa at all. He’s just using a kalimba and calling it that.” Meanwhile at Pyramid Attack, Steven Wilson, the artist working on the Beck stages, needed to redo all of the artwork he had originally conceived for the “Happy Africa” version of the level. Every time Vader and Kumar had to change an asset – which was often – they asked Wilson for a different take on something he’d already given them. “He was a trooper,” jokes Kumar, “we got back five versions of everything we asked for, until we could drill down exactly how the level looked.” In the final version, none of the African themes made the cut. “It ended up having what I think is an unexpected visual vocabulary,” says Wilson. “The concept of this level doesn’t fit the song at all, but somehow it works. The song has a sense of space and place that I really liked. I pictured an African savannah at sunset with baobab trees, swooping insects looping in the air, friendly-looking animals, huts, campfires, dancing musical instruments, etc.” Though he tends to have a fondness for the Happy Africa version of the level, Wilson appreciates that the final design helped distinguish “Cities” from the pep and color of other levels in the game. Another point of contention between Vader and Kumar and the rest of the design team, was the giant red sun that slowly envelopes the screen several times in the song. Some of the team leads were afraid that the sun wouldn’t be pliable enough for player creators in the user generated content. Player created content was the number one priority for Queasy Games – if something wasn’t useful in the level editor, it wasn’t worth putting in the game. But the designers fought to keep the sun in there. “I remember there being a lot of discussion on that,” says Kumar, “because it was such an overpowering entity in the game. But to me, that’s one of the Beck moments that we wanted. We kinda had to fight about that.” Vader and Kumar had to convince the project leads that the sun was worth keeping in the level. “I think there was a lot of discussion about, ‘ok, that is an important sound in the song,” says Vader, “but how are we going to make an entity out of that? So let’s just make that into notes, or let’s cut that sound.’ But that is such an important sound. For that not to have a gameplay component just seemed like it was going to be such a glaring omission.” The legacy of Sound Shapes is one of collaboration; players are not only listening to a song, but actually engaging with it, contorting it, and taking some ownership of it. “It speaks so much to how music is different things to different people,” says Kumar, reflecting on the game’s legacy. “We were able to create this thing that people could bring themselves to by playing the level and seeing what we have to say about it, or by taking those pieces and making their own stories with it.” Despite the challenges of working with a major artist like Beck, the team found that his involvement was well worth the added complications. “With this, we were sort of changing the idea of what authorship means - what does it mean to have a completed piece of music? So Beck was a great match because just before we had talked to him he had released an album that was just sheet music,” says Liem, referring to Beck’s sheet music album, Song Reader, which encouraged listeners to record their own versions of his songs for YouTube, just as so many Sound Shapes players have remixed the pieces from “Cities” into thousands of creative levels. Liem continues, “so he’s obviously interested in experimenting with ways of releasing music that aren’t an album on CD.” Beck has never released “Cities” or any of his Sound Shapes tracks in any other form. They exist today, only as interactive songs inside the game. “Cities” lives almost exclusively inside that context, and the team is proud of that fact. “We’re the only people to hear those songs the way he recorded them,” recalls Kumar, “We were basically told that as far as he’s concerned, the versions in the game are the versions that should be out there. That’s something I appreciate and I think Beck understood that when he gave it to us.” View full article
  4. Nobody at Queasy Games wanted to work with Beck. Well, almost nobody. The alt-rock musician can be a divisive figure, for sure, but that wasn’t really why the team working on 2012’s Sound Shapes had misgivings about his involvement in its game. Prior to this, the game’s development possessed a distinctly “indie” feel, and the publisher, Sony, had kept red tape to a minimum. Throwing a Grammy winning rock star into the mix would surely overcomplicate things, as far as they were concerned. Yet the partnership ended up producing what many fans consider to be the highlight of the Sound Shapes experience. “Cities,” the first of three Beck-soundtracked levels in the game, is all gloom and groove, presenting a strange dichotomy between the song and the visuals on screen. It’s set against the backdrop of a war-torn metropolis and a dance-able beat. Beck sings of a dead city as the refrain “You weren’t made for this place/ It’s not your fault,” billows from smoke stacks, while missiles, bulldozers, and other instruments of destruction strut along to the beat. It’s at once distressing, relaxing, beautiful, and sad. It’s Sound Shapes at its best. Originally, Sound Shapes wasn’t even conceived as a video game, but rather as a music visualizer. Shaw-Han Liem is a Toronto based musician known by the stage name I Am Robot and Proud. After a show in his home town, Liem met Queasy Games founder, and fellow Toronto native, Jonathan Mak. The two began hanging out and playing around with the concept of fusing interactive art with sound. “At first,” says Liem, “our intention wasn’t to create a game, we just wanted to explore, in general, music and visuals.” Though Sound Shapes would grow into a multi-studio production, involving major label musicians, according to Liem, “it literally started out with two people in a basement.” In the beginning, Liem was the only musician on the project and thus, he set the groundwork for how the design teams would work with the other musicians. “I was working with the team every day so I was the closest one,” explains Liem, “so with the levels I did, we tried to have the musical aspect of the game involved at a much earlier stage for the level.” That would require the music itself to be fluid and moldable. If an object needed to make a different sound, Liem could easily make that change in his song. As Liem describes it, “The levels and music were written as one process.” When the alt-folk songwriter Jim Guthrie became involved, the process didn’t need to change too much. “He’s also in Toronto and he’s a friend of ours, so it was easier for him to be more involved and do more iterations and revisions,” says Liem. The team of designers that worked with Guthrie to make four levels based on his songs, was the same team that would go on to work with Beck’s music, though the process would prove to be very different. When it came to Beck, the team simply didn’t enjoy the same collaborative benefits it had experienced with Guthrie and Liem. “With me and Jim,” says Liem, “you could do that, but obviously you can’t call up Beck and be like, ‘can you try this drum beat 10 BPMs slower? Because the level’s too hard.’ It was an experiment for us to see – does this concept scale? Does it allow us to take an already completed song and turn it into visuals or gameplay in a way that feels organic?” Beck’s lack of involvement was a big sticking point for the team at Queasy Games, but Sony’s marketing department saw it as a worthwhile trade-off. Level designer Danny Vader and producer Mathew Kumar – both on loan from Capy Games – were handed what was, at that time, the unenviable task of translating Beck’s songs into the Sound Shapes format. Vader was the only Beck fan on staff and remembers the initial hesitation. “The other artists,” he says, referring to Beck and Deadmau5, “were secured by Sony corporate as like, ‘here, we paid these guys some money to use these songs.’ That’s totally fine, it’s just different from how we did all the other stuff.” As Vader explains, “Beck has singing and lyrics and nothing else in the game had done that. So that was a huge challenge.” Every object in Sound Shapes visually represents a part of the song that accompanies each stage. A kick drum might be represented by a hopping enemy that always lands on the beat, or a dancing blob might represent a song’s buoyant bass line. Lyrics required a completely different approach; they needed a physical, on-screen representation. However, whereas instrumentals left room for interpretation, the lyrics told a story that somewhat dictated what the designers could do. “We can’t just do whatever we want with this “Cities” level because it’s sort of saying something and we had to discern what was being said,” explains Vader, “I remember all of us sitting around listening to this song over and over again, not just trying to figure out what he’s saying, but figuring out what we are going to do with these lyrics in terms of conveying the meaning of the song.” At one point, the team even considered cutting the lyrics altogether. “I think we were pretty beaten down trying to figure it out,” recalls Vader, “it was even floated, ‘F___ it, let’s just cut the lyrics. Let’s cut the singing and just use the instrumentals. I was pretty adamant and maybe even a jerk about keeping them… We have Beck, we gotta have Beck singing. You can’t call it Beck if it’s just some beats and s___. We gotta have his voice.” They devised a few clever solutions to the problem. At one point in the song, the words “move a little/ shake a little/ hurt a little/ break a little” are personified by a platform that does exactly as the words say. When Beck says move, it moves, and when he says hurt, the platform turns red and hurts the player’s little avatar. The lyrics end up providing context and warn the player of coming danger. It’s a clever little solution to the problem, and “Cities” is full of examples just like that. Originally, however, when Queasy received the “Cities” track from Beck, it was only instrumental. Without the lyrics, the song does possess a more uplifting vibe. The original instrumental track that the developers received from Beck’s team was even titled “Happy Africa”, which caused a bit of a mix-up. Vader and Kumar worked with Pyramid Attack, a Toronto based art studio, to develop the level based on the “Happy Africa” theme. Kumar recalls the confusion. “When we got more feedback from Beck’s people, we were like, ‘oh we need to throw all of that away.’ We’d actually gotten it all wrong.” “There was all this sort of African mask stuff. We went heavily in that direction,” adds Vader. “I think the file we got from Beck – he probably just… had made the beat first and just named it Happy Africa as a file name. We got that file, and then [his people said], no no here’s the song. And we hear the lyrics and we’re like, ‘oh f___, this has nothing to do with Africa at all. He’s just using a kalimba and calling it that.” Meanwhile at Pyramid Attack, Steven Wilson, the artist working on the Beck stages, needed to redo all of the artwork he had originally conceived for the “Happy Africa” version of the level. Every time Vader and Kumar had to change an asset – which was often – they asked Wilson for a different take on something he’d already given them. “He was a trooper,” jokes Kumar, “we got back five versions of everything we asked for, until we could drill down exactly how the level looked.” In the final version, none of the African themes made the cut. “It ended up having what I think is an unexpected visual vocabulary,” says Wilson. “The concept of this level doesn’t fit the song at all, but somehow it works. The song has a sense of space and place that I really liked. I pictured an African savannah at sunset with baobab trees, swooping insects looping in the air, friendly-looking animals, huts, campfires, dancing musical instruments, etc.” Though he tends to have a fondness for the Happy Africa version of the level, Wilson appreciates that the final design helped distinguish “Cities” from the pep and color of other levels in the game. Another point of contention between Vader and Kumar and the rest of the design team, was the giant red sun that slowly envelopes the screen several times in the song. Some of the team leads were afraid that the sun wouldn’t be pliable enough for player creators in the user generated content. Player created content was the number one priority for Queasy Games – if something wasn’t useful in the level editor, it wasn’t worth putting in the game. But the designers fought to keep the sun in there. “I remember there being a lot of discussion on that,” says Kumar, “because it was such an overpowering entity in the game. But to me, that’s one of the Beck moments that we wanted. We kinda had to fight about that.” Vader and Kumar had to convince the project leads that the sun was worth keeping in the level. “I think there was a lot of discussion about, ‘ok, that is an important sound in the song,” says Vader, “but how are we going to make an entity out of that? So let’s just make that into notes, or let’s cut that sound.’ But that is such an important sound. For that not to have a gameplay component just seemed like it was going to be such a glaring omission.” The legacy of Sound Shapes is one of collaboration; players are not only listening to a song, but actually engaging with it, contorting it, and taking some ownership of it. “It speaks so much to how music is different things to different people,” says Kumar, reflecting on the game’s legacy. “We were able to create this thing that people could bring themselves to by playing the level and seeing what we have to say about it, or by taking those pieces and making their own stories with it.” Despite the challenges of working with a major artist like Beck, the team found that his involvement was well worth the added complications. “With this, we were sort of changing the idea of what authorship means - what does it mean to have a completed piece of music? So Beck was a great match because just before we had talked to him he had released an album that was just sheet music,” says Liem, referring to Beck’s sheet music album, Song Reader, which encouraged listeners to record their own versions of his songs for YouTube, just as so many Sound Shapes players have remixed the pieces from “Cities” into thousands of creative levels. Liem continues, “so he’s obviously interested in experimenting with ways of releasing music that aren’t an album on CD.” Beck has never released “Cities” or any of his Sound Shapes tracks in any other form. They exist today, only as interactive songs inside the game. “Cities” lives almost exclusively inside that context, and the team is proud of that fact. “We’re the only people to hear those songs the way he recorded them,” recalls Kumar, “We were basically told that as far as he’s concerned, the versions in the game are the versions that should be out there. That’s something I appreciate and I think Beck understood that when he gave it to us.”
  5. I’ve had my Nintendo Switch for just over a month now, but it’s already my preferred way to play video games. As a father, I have very little time to relax once everyone goes to sleep, so I often have to choose between playing video games and just vegging out and watching Netflix or YouTube. With my Switch, I don’t have to choose, I can do both. I’ve also gotten some use out of the system’s built-in portable co-op, playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with my nephews and, more recently, playing Death Squared with my wife – in bed, nonetheless. Death Squared released earlier this year for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC, but like so many other independent games, it feels most at home on the Switch. The puzzle game tasks players with moving two or four different-colored robot cubes across grid-based levels from point A to point B. In single-player mode, each joystick on the Joy-Cons controls a different robot (two at a time). Things can get a bit tricky when you have to move both robots at the same time. However, in co-op, with the Joy-Cons detached, each player can naturally control a separate robot independently. It’s simple and intuitive to just pick up and play the game – in a way that only really works on the Switch. Death Squared never over complicates things on the gameplay front. The only input you need to know is how to move the joystick. That’s it. The rest is a matter of learning the various traps and mechanics that are layered on top of that simple premise of getting each robot to point B without dying. The game feels right at home among easy-to-learn but difficult to master Nintendo games like Mario Kart 8 and Arms. As the name implies, Death Squared uses death to teach players how the game works – which isn’t always to its benefit. Each new puzzle layers new challenges onto the formula, oftentimes without warning. For example, you only learn about the spikes that pop up from the floor and kill your robot at the very moment they kill your robot. Playing in co-op, dying repeatedly due to your partner’s impatience, incompetence, or mischievousness can be a good time. But in single-player, the trial and error gameplay can feel unfair and quickly becomes maddening as you gingerly try to navigate around each level while the game’s characters – a man named David and his A.I. overseer – mock your poor performance. It’s all much more enjoyable while playing co-op and can become pretty addictive once it sinks its hooks in you. With each level lasting no longer than a few minutes, once my wife and I got into a groove, we didn’t want to stop playing. With each new conundrum, we became better at coordinating and anticipating the game’s dastardly traps. My wife, who rarely plays games, ended up getting sucked into the clever puzzles and every time I suggested we quit, she would plead for just one more level. While a lot of credit goes to SMG Studio for designing the most enjoyable co-op puzzle game I’ve played since Portal 2, I can almost guarantee that my wife would’ve balked at the idea of playing Death Squared on PlayStation 4. The difference comes down to simplicity. Despite the controls being essentially the same across platforms, the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons present a far less intimidating form factor than the sixteen different buttons on the Dual Shock 4. It’s not that my wife is a simpleton (in fact, she’s much smarter than I am), it’s just that she isn’t as fluent in the language of video games. Neither are most people outside of the gaming bubble that we often find ourselves in. My three-year-old daughter never showed an interest in actually playing video games until I brought home my Switch. Now she can actually finish a race in Mario Kart 8. She hasn’t beaten me yet, but I look forward to the day when she does. So, even though the game is relatively friction-less for newcomers, some frustration rears its head through odd design decisions and technical quibbles. Each of the game’s test rooms (read: levels) are designed as floating constructs in some seemingly dark, vast warehouse. None of the test rooms have walls, so you’ll often just fall off the side of the structure and die when all you were trying to do was navigate in a straight line, especially in single-player when you’re often controlling both cubes at the same time, similar to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. So many times, I knew what I needed to do, but actually executing it was not as easy as it should’ve been. This makes simply going through the steps of completing a puzzle more frustrating than it needs to be. This is especially compounded by the fact that the game doesn’t consistently auto-save. Too often, I would load an old save only to find that I had to start a couple of levels back from where I had last stopped. And when simply moving around the environment can be treacherous, that problem isn’t as minor as it would otherwise be. Despite some of its minor issues, I’m still having a blast with Death Squared, and I think my wife is too. We haven’t made it through all of the game’s 80 plus levels (which is why you shouldn’t consider this to be a full review), but we have every intention of going back and seeing what new predicaments we can solve for those adorable little cubes. I can sincerely say, this is a game I’d much rather play on my Switch over any other system - and the list of games I can say that about is rapidly growing in number. A game as simple and accessible as Death Squared just makes more sense on Switch, but the fact that it’s also a smaller indie title that released to very little fanfare on other systems doesn’t hurt either. With less competition, now is the perfect time for games like this to find an audience. Death Squared benefits from being a kid friendly pick-up-and-play game on a kid friendly, mobile console. Though it isn’t a perfect game, it deserves to be seen and played by more people, and I’m glad it might have that chance on Nintendo’s nifty young console.
  6. I’ve had my Nintendo Switch for just over a month now, but it’s already my preferred way to play video games. As a father, I have very little time to relax once everyone goes to sleep, so I often have to choose between playing video games and just vegging out and watching Netflix or YouTube. With my Switch, I don’t have to choose, I can do both. I’ve also gotten some use out of the system’s built-in portable co-op, playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with my nephews and, more recently, playing Death Squared with my wife – in bed, nonetheless. Death Squared released earlier this year for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC, but like so many other independent games, it feels most at home on the Switch. The puzzle game tasks players with moving two or four different-colored robot cubes across grid-based levels from point A to point B. In single-player mode, each joystick on the Joy-Cons controls a different robot (two at a time). Things can get a bit tricky when you have to move both robots at the same time. However, in co-op, with the Joy-Cons detached, each player can naturally control a separate robot independently. It’s simple and intuitive to just pick up and play the game – in a way that only really works on the Switch. Death Squared never over complicates things on the gameplay front. The only input you need to know is how to move the joystick. That’s it. The rest is a matter of learning the various traps and mechanics that are layered on top of that simple premise of getting each robot to point B without dying. The game feels right at home among easy-to-learn but difficult to master Nintendo games like Mario Kart 8 and Arms. As the name implies, Death Squared uses death to teach players how the game works – which isn’t always to its benefit. Each new puzzle layers new challenges onto the formula, oftentimes without warning. For example, you only learn about the spikes that pop up from the floor and kill your robot at the very moment they kill your robot. Playing in co-op, dying repeatedly due to your partner’s impatience, incompetence, or mischievousness can be a good time. But in single-player, the trial and error gameplay can feel unfair and quickly becomes maddening as you gingerly try to navigate around each level while the game’s characters – a man named David and his A.I. overseer – mock your poor performance. It’s all much more enjoyable while playing co-op and can become pretty addictive once it sinks its hooks in you. With each level lasting no longer than a few minutes, once my wife and I got into a groove, we didn’t want to stop playing. With each new conundrum, we became better at coordinating and anticipating the game’s dastardly traps. My wife, who rarely plays games, ended up getting sucked into the clever puzzles and every time I suggested we quit, she would plead for just one more level. While a lot of credit goes to SMG Studio for designing the most enjoyable co-op puzzle game I’ve played since Portal 2, I can almost guarantee that my wife would’ve balked at the idea of playing Death Squared on PlayStation 4. The difference comes down to simplicity. Despite the controls being essentially the same across platforms, the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons present a far less intimidating form factor than the sixteen different buttons on the Dual Shock 4. It’s not that my wife is a simpleton (in fact, she’s much smarter than I am), it’s just that she isn’t as fluent in the language of video games. Neither are most people outside of the gaming bubble that we often find ourselves in. My three-year-old daughter never showed an interest in actually playing video games until I brought home my Switch. Now she can actually finish a race in Mario Kart 8. She hasn’t beaten me yet, but I look forward to the day when she does. So, even though the game is relatively friction-less for newcomers, some frustration rears its head through odd design decisions and technical quibbles. Each of the game’s test rooms (read: levels) are designed as floating constructs in some seemingly dark, vast warehouse. None of the test rooms have walls, so you’ll often just fall off the side of the structure and die when all you were trying to do was navigate in a straight line, especially in single-player when you’re often controlling both cubes at the same time, similar to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. So many times, I knew what I needed to do, but actually executing it was not as easy as it should’ve been. This makes simply going through the steps of completing a puzzle more frustrating than it needs to be. This is especially compounded by the fact that the game doesn’t consistently auto-save. Too often, I would load an old save only to find that I had to start a couple of levels back from where I had last stopped. And when simply moving around the environment can be treacherous, that problem isn’t as minor as it would otherwise be. Despite some of its minor issues, I’m still having a blast with Death Squared, and I think my wife is too. We haven’t made it through all of the game’s 80 plus levels (which is why you shouldn’t consider this to be a full review), but we have every intention of going back and seeing what new predicaments we can solve for those adorable little cubes. I can sincerely say, this is a game I’d much rather play on my Switch over any other system - and the list of games I can say that about is rapidly growing in number. A game as simple and accessible as Death Squared just makes more sense on Switch, but the fact that it’s also a smaller indie title that released to very little fanfare on other systems doesn’t hurt either. With less competition, now is the perfect time for games like this to find an audience. Death Squared benefits from being a kid friendly pick-up-and-play game on a kid friendly, mobile console. Though it isn’t a perfect game, it deserves to be seen and played by more people, and I’m glad it might have that chance on Nintendo’s nifty young console. View full article
  7. Another Friday, another fifty dollars. The first time Ron Carpenter received the generous donation to his PayPal account, he figured it was just a courteous one-time gift from a viewer of his YouTube channel, Cobra TV. Then week after week, the same donation continued to pop up in his account. Another Friday, another fifty dollars. Carpenter – like most YouTube personalities – started his channel on a whim, without much of a plan or very high expectations. Wearing a mask to retain anonymity, he ranted about games in stream of consciousness videos on a crude, but functional, webcam set-up. “I was depressed, and I was making videos,” he tells me over Skype. Those early videos featured Carpenter farting and making crude, offensive jokes about games. He doesn’t harbor much pride for those early days. As he recalls, “I guess you could say I was a troll back then.” Soon after, he discovered No Man’s Sky, a game that at that point remained a mysteriously intriguing space exploration title from an inconspicuous independent developer. Hello Games had made a splash at the 2013 VGX awards when it released a trailer for its procedurally generated space exploration game. Like many people in the games industry, Carpenter took notice right away. The budding influencer’s curiosity piqued further when Hello Games director Sean Murray came onto Sony’s E3 stage in 2014 to show more of No Man’s Sky in a demo that has since become infamous. Carpenter watched as Sean Murray explored a planet full of dinosaurs and other creatures, hopped into his spaceship, launched through the atmosphere, and immediately started dogfighting in outer space. “It blew my mind away,” says Carpenter of the stage demo, which would prove to be a slight exaggeration of what the final product turned out to be. Misrepresentation or not, the demo was enough to hook Carpenter. “After that,” he says, “I searched for anything I could find on the internet about this game. I didn’t even know what Reddit was at the time. I started taking down notes just because I wanted to learn more.” His excitement for the game fueled his content from that point on; a commitment that proved infectious. Carpenter doesn’t look back fondly on his early videos covering the game. “My first No Man’s Sky video, I’m sitting there in a mask and burping and farting through the thing,” he recalls, “when I realized I had such a passion for this game, those videos just seemed really disrespectful.” It might be strange for current followers to hear that Carpenter’s early videos contained such vulgarity, when he’s built a reputation for objectivity and candor. But regardless of quality, he eventually realized he wasn’t alone in his passion for the game. His viewership and subscription numbers began to reflect that fact. “People were taking me seriously finally. So I thought, ‘they deserve respect and I need to be better.’” As his audience grew, he began to accept donations through PayPal, to help improve the overall quality. He earned just enough to buy a new computer, webcam, and microphone. As his channel found an audience, Carpenter’s Cobra TV became a prominent outlet in the burgeoning No Man’s Sky community. He began to see his videos pop up on Reddit and in Facebook fan groups for the game. In hopes of cultivating and providing a voice for that community, he soon began inviting fellow fans onto his shows to pontificate about the seemingly infinite possibilities of Hello Games’ universe. As such, he became the sort of de-facto leader of the word-of-mouth hype surrounding the game prior to launch. Carpenter had become the pope to god, Sean Murray – preaching to the flock for an increasingly capricious deity. Hyping No Man’s Sky had itself become a popular pastime on the internet, and a burgeoning cottage industry for content creators like Carpenter. While the information that Hello Games released to the public was vague at best, Carpenter found himself filling a need. As he explains, his motivation had less to do with exploiting the game as it did with satiating his own desire to learn more about this mysterious universe. He tells me that what captivated him most about No Man’s Sky was the sheer creativity of it all. “It was the overreaching of the entire game as a package. I say overreaching now, not because of what happened, but because that’s what I wanted to find,” says Carpenter, alluding to the underwhelming state of the final product, “I wanted to find a game where the developers did overreach. They went out of the box and pulled out what was normal. They pulled out something special, put it into the limelight and tried to do something that nobody else has done. That’s what drew me in. The fact that somebody for the first time in a long time, was overreaching.” As a kid, growing up in the marshlands of Florida, some of Carpenter’s most vivid memories are of long walks in the woods near his childhood home. As a child, he would join his father on exploratory walks through the swamps, with little intention other than to observe nature. “I would just look and see, and I was so amazed,” recalls Carpenter. These trips consisted of no hunting, no taking pictures, but just being in the moment and seeing what there was to see; an activity that would sound more than a little familiar to any diehard No Man’s Sky devotee. Later in life, he would take his dog Jasper, a mix of pit bull and German shepherd for long walks through those same marshes. Once in awhile, when Jasper began to snarl and sneer at the water, Carpenter says, “a gator would come out and my dog would sit there, run away a little bit and just bark and bark.” He recalls with a nostalgic chuckle, “I would stand on the top of the hill and yell at [the gator] to get back in the water.” For those anticipating the game, the potential in No Man’s Sky wrested on the promise of finding metaphorical gators in that digital universe’s water; the potential of encountering epic space battles, long-necked dinosaurs, and giant sandworms. Even now, months after launch, and with the release of the Foundation update – a long-awaited content dump of new modes and gameplay tweaks – a common refrain can still be heard around the community: But where’s the giant sandworm? For fans and detractors, so much of what makes No Man’s Sky’s story intriguing, even months after a failed launch, is best exemplified by that one question: But where’s the giant sandworm? Promotional materials and early footage showed a giant sandworm. Common sentiment among the community is that it must be in there somewhere. This is a near-infinite universe full of eighteen quintillion planet-sized planets, after all. Due to the sheer size of this world, it’s quite possible that simply nobody has found it yet. Not for lack of trying; Reddit and dedicated Facebook groups are full of fans posting videos and screenshots of worm-like creatures that could be long-removed cousins to something that might vaguely resemble a giant sandworm. However, not one player has recorded an instance of encountering such an animal. It’s much more likely that the beast just doesn’t exist. But it’s also possible (if infinitesimally so) that it does. And that’s all that matters for some fans. No Man’s Sky fandom is a strange place. Prior to release, fans of the game scoured the internet for any information they could find on Sean Murray’s creation, including Cobra TV videos. They created fan art, bought t-shirts, took to reading old science fiction novels (the Asimovs and Clarks that Murray likes to name-check in interviews), and even made fan videos thanking Hello Games for its time and effort in creating this procedural universe that none of them had yet experienced. On August 9th, 2016, the game released and that fandom grew even stranger. When No Man’s Sky failed to live up to expectations, the community split into two camps: those shouting “Sean Murray is a liar,” and those defending the developer even as they acknowledged the product’s imperfections. The angry voices rang the loudest though, and hating on No Man’s Sky soon became just as sporting as anticipating No Man’s Sky had been just weeks earlier. Here’s where this story gets weirder for me, as the author. I’m going to break a cardinal rule and insert myself into it a bit. I was one of those people who hyped No Man’s Sky far more than it may have deserved. I was one of the people playing gameplay trailers for family and friends, evangelizing the gospel of Sean Murray. I was one of the people that considered themselves a fan of a game that I hadn’t even played yet. Heck, I even found myself re-reading Frank Herbert’s Dune in the weeks before the game’s launch, because, well… giant sandworms! Prior to release, many people would say that anticipating No Man’s Sky was already fun enough, that the game itself didn’t even need to be any good. They had already gotten their money’s worth. Oh… if only that were the case. As I began to research this story, I started to suspect that it was far beyond my scope of practice. I reached out to a few prominent individuals in the community, which soon became a depressing exercise in futility. One source, for example, would only speak to me off the record for fear of being ostracized for his criticisms of the game. Some other people who openly disliked the game declined to comment, and just quietly retreated from the imploding community. When the subreddit was abruptly deleted overnight on October 5th, I reached out to the moderator responsible only to find that he had deleted his own account, my only means of contacting him, due to the overwhelming backlash. That same subreddit, with over 150,000 members at the time, would soon be replaced with another dedicated page for the game, before finally being turned into a Mr. Robot subreddit as a sort of joke at the expense of Hello Games. Did I say this story was strange? I began to get the sense that I was working on uncovering some deep government conspiracy, when in reality, I was simply trying to talk to people about a video game. Even the game’s developers seemed to be susceptible to the drama. After having been silent on Twitter for months, the Hello Games official Twitter account tweeted out that “No Man’s Sky was a mistake.” It would turn out to be the work of a hacker, but it only further demonstrated just how divisive this game had become. Having started my research in October, I began to wonder if I should ever write this article at all, for fear that this story – like the game’s universe – was never ending. And it most certainly isn’t over yet. Hello Games recently released the Foundation Update, which adds base building, freighters, survival mode, creative mode, an online message system, and more. The game finally resembles what it probably should have been from the start, save for a few major features including full online support, factions, and, as far as anyone can tell, giant sandworms. Despite selling millions of copies at launch, No Man’s Sky’s player numbers had since dwindled to the hundreds. Those numbers have seen a minor surge with the update, and the game’s most ardent fans have seen their faith rekindled and rewarded, but it’s still not the smash hit that so many people expected it to be. Those same fans never stopped watching Cobra TV and talking about the game, even if they stopped actually playing the game. Carpenter remains a spokesman for that community, despite never really aspiring to that label. With his smooth baritone and casual dialect, he has a voice for radio, something he’s aspired to since his youth. Although he never wanted to just be known as the guy that talks about No Man’s Sky, he appreciates the experience the game has afforded him. He just wanted to talk about fascinating games, but for Carpenter and his followers, the most fascinating game remains the one that earned him all this recognition in the first place. Another Friday, another fifty dollars. During Hello Games’ self-imposed sabbatical, many people wondered how Carpenter could continue making videos about a game while the developers themselves remained silent. But those same people were still watching. Just as 130,000 people re-subscribed to the new No Man’s Sky Reddit during that time, Carpenter’s viewers kept coming back. “Lots of people on my YouTube channel comment saying, ‘I feel sorry for this mother f___er for wasting his life talking about this game. He’ll never get these years back,’” reflects Carpenter. “I get comments like that all the time.” Another Friday, another fifty dollars. Carpenter had no intentions of accepting this money week after week. So he decided to email the donor to inquire, thinking that maybe it was a mistake, or maybe a glitch with PayPal’s system. It wasn’t. The donor wrote him back to explain. “I received back, this email. [The email] said that one night he was sitting on his couch and he had a gun in his mouth, and he said that one of my No Man’s Sky playlists was playing on his computer,” Carpenter’s voice cracks ever so slightly over Skype. “He never told me what I said, but something that I said in one of my sub-casts, made him yank the gun out of his mouth and reevaluate his situation. He said fifty dollars is nothing compared to what I made him feel like his life was worth. He tried paying me that fifty dollars every week. Finally, I told him that if you continue to keep paying me fifty dollars I’m going to refund it to you every single time.” “That,” he says, “That’s made it worth it.” View full article
  8. Another Friday, another fifty dollars. The first time Ron Carpenter received the generous donation to his PayPal account, he figured it was just a courteous one-time gift from a viewer of his YouTube channel, Cobra TV. Then week after week, the same donation continued to pop up in his account. Another Friday, another fifty dollars. Carpenter – like most YouTube personalities – started his channel on a whim, without much of a plan or very high expectations. Wearing a mask to retain anonymity, he ranted about games in stream of consciousness videos on a crude, but functional, webcam set-up. “I was depressed, and I was making videos,” he tells me over Skype. Those early videos featured Carpenter farting and making crude, offensive jokes about games. He doesn’t harbor much pride for those early days. As he recalls, “I guess you could say I was a troll back then.” Soon after, he discovered No Man’s Sky, a game that at that point remained a mysteriously intriguing space exploration title from an inconspicuous independent developer. Hello Games had made a splash at the 2013 VGX awards when it released a trailer for its procedurally generated space exploration game. Like many people in the games industry, Carpenter took notice right away. The budding influencer’s curiosity piqued further when Hello Games director Sean Murray came onto Sony’s E3 stage in 2014 to show more of No Man’s Sky in a demo that has since become infamous. Carpenter watched as Sean Murray explored a planet full of dinosaurs and other creatures, hopped into his spaceship, launched through the atmosphere, and immediately started dogfighting in outer space. “It blew my mind away,” says Carpenter of the stage demo, which would prove to be a slight exaggeration of what the final product turned out to be. Misrepresentation or not, the demo was enough to hook Carpenter. “After that,” he says, “I searched for anything I could find on the internet about this game. I didn’t even know what Reddit was at the time. I started taking down notes just because I wanted to learn more.” His excitement for the game fueled his content from that point on; a commitment that proved infectious. Carpenter doesn’t look back fondly on his early videos covering the game. “My first No Man’s Sky video, I’m sitting there in a mask and burping and farting through the thing,” he recalls, “when I realized I had such a passion for this game, those videos just seemed really disrespectful.” It might be strange for current followers to hear that Carpenter’s early videos contained such vulgarity, when he’s built a reputation for objectivity and candor. But regardless of quality, he eventually realized he wasn’t alone in his passion for the game. His viewership and subscription numbers began to reflect that fact. “People were taking me seriously finally. So I thought, ‘they deserve respect and I need to be better.’” As his audience grew, he began to accept donations through PayPal, to help improve the overall quality. He earned just enough to buy a new computer, webcam, and microphone. As his channel found an audience, Carpenter’s Cobra TV became a prominent outlet in the burgeoning No Man’s Sky community. He began to see his videos pop up on Reddit and in Facebook fan groups for the game. In hopes of cultivating and providing a voice for that community, he soon began inviting fellow fans onto his shows to pontificate about the seemingly infinite possibilities of Hello Games’ universe. As such, he became the sort of de-facto leader of the word-of-mouth hype surrounding the game prior to launch. Carpenter had become the pope to god, Sean Murray – preaching to the flock for an increasingly capricious deity. Hyping No Man’s Sky had itself become a popular pastime on the internet, and a burgeoning cottage industry for content creators like Carpenter. While the information that Hello Games released to the public was vague at best, Carpenter found himself filling a need. As he explains, his motivation had less to do with exploiting the game as it did with satiating his own desire to learn more about this mysterious universe. He tells me that what captivated him most about No Man’s Sky was the sheer creativity of it all. “It was the overreaching of the entire game as a package. I say overreaching now, not because of what happened, but because that’s what I wanted to find,” says Carpenter, alluding to the underwhelming state of the final product, “I wanted to find a game where the developers did overreach. They went out of the box and pulled out what was normal. They pulled out something special, put it into the limelight and tried to do something that nobody else has done. That’s what drew me in. The fact that somebody for the first time in a long time, was overreaching.” As a kid, growing up in the marshlands of Florida, some of Carpenter’s most vivid memories are of long walks in the woods near his childhood home. As a child, he would join his father on exploratory walks through the swamps, with little intention other than to observe nature. “I would just look and see, and I was so amazed,” recalls Carpenter. These trips consisted of no hunting, no taking pictures, but just being in the moment and seeing what there was to see; an activity that would sound more than a little familiar to any diehard No Man’s Sky devotee. Later in life, he would take his dog Jasper, a mix of pit bull and German shepherd for long walks through those same marshes. Once in awhile, when Jasper began to snarl and sneer at the water, Carpenter says, “a gator would come out and my dog would sit there, run away a little bit and just bark and bark.” He recalls with a nostalgic chuckle, “I would stand on the top of the hill and yell at [the gator] to get back in the water.” For those anticipating the game, the potential in No Man’s Sky wrested on the promise of finding metaphorical gators in that digital universe’s water; the potential of encountering epic space battles, long-necked dinosaurs, and giant sandworms. Even now, months after launch, and with the release of the Foundation update – a long-awaited content dump of new modes and gameplay tweaks – a common refrain can still be heard around the community: But where’s the giant sandworm? For fans and detractors, so much of what makes No Man’s Sky’s story intriguing, even months after a failed launch, is best exemplified by that one question: But where’s the giant sandworm? Promotional materials and early footage showed a giant sandworm. Common sentiment among the community is that it must be in there somewhere. This is a near-infinite universe full of eighteen quintillion planet-sized planets, after all. Due to the sheer size of this world, it’s quite possible that simply nobody has found it yet. Not for lack of trying; Reddit and dedicated Facebook groups are full of fans posting videos and screenshots of worm-like creatures that could be long-removed cousins to something that might vaguely resemble a giant sandworm. However, not one player has recorded an instance of encountering such an animal. It’s much more likely that the beast just doesn’t exist. But it’s also possible (if infinitesimally so) that it does. And that’s all that matters for some fans. No Man’s Sky fandom is a strange place. Prior to release, fans of the game scoured the internet for any information they could find on Sean Murray’s creation, including Cobra TV videos. They created fan art, bought t-shirts, took to reading old science fiction novels (the Asimovs and Clarks that Murray likes to name-check in interviews), and even made fan videos thanking Hello Games for its time and effort in creating this procedural universe that none of them had yet experienced. On August 9th, 2016, the game released and that fandom grew even stranger. When No Man’s Sky failed to live up to expectations, the community split into two camps: those shouting “Sean Murray is a liar,” and those defending the developer even as they acknowledged the product’s imperfections. The angry voices rang the loudest though, and hating on No Man’s Sky soon became just as sporting as anticipating No Man’s Sky had been just weeks earlier. Here’s where this story gets weirder for me, as the author. I’m going to break a cardinal rule and insert myself into it a bit. I was one of those people who hyped No Man’s Sky far more than it may have deserved. I was one of the people playing gameplay trailers for family and friends, evangelizing the gospel of Sean Murray. I was one of the people that considered themselves a fan of a game that I hadn’t even played yet. Heck, I even found myself re-reading Frank Herbert’s Dune in the weeks before the game’s launch, because, well… giant sandworms! Prior to release, many people would say that anticipating No Man’s Sky was already fun enough, that the game itself didn’t even need to be any good. They had already gotten their money’s worth. Oh… if only that were the case. As I began to research this story, I started to suspect that it was far beyond my scope of practice. I reached out to a few prominent individuals in the community, which soon became a depressing exercise in futility. One source, for example, would only speak to me off the record for fear of being ostracized for his criticisms of the game. Some other people who openly disliked the game declined to comment, and just quietly retreated from the imploding community. When the subreddit was abruptly deleted overnight on October 5th, I reached out to the moderator responsible only to find that he had deleted his own account, my only means of contacting him, due to the overwhelming backlash. That same subreddit, with over 150,000 members at the time, would soon be replaced with another dedicated page for the game, before finally being turned into a Mr. Robot subreddit as a sort of joke at the expense of Hello Games. Did I say this story was strange? I began to get the sense that I was working on uncovering some deep government conspiracy, when in reality, I was simply trying to talk to people about a video game. Even the game’s developers seemed to be susceptible to the drama. After having been silent on Twitter for months, the Hello Games official Twitter account tweeted out that “No Man’s Sky was a mistake.” It would turn out to be the work of a hacker, but it only further demonstrated just how divisive this game had become. Having started my research in October, I began to wonder if I should ever write this article at all, for fear that this story – like the game’s universe – was never ending. And it most certainly isn’t over yet. Hello Games recently released the Foundation Update, which adds base building, freighters, survival mode, creative mode, an online message system, and more. The game finally resembles what it probably should have been from the start, save for a few major features including full online support, factions, and, as far as anyone can tell, giant sandworms. Despite selling millions of copies at launch, No Man’s Sky’s player numbers had since dwindled to the hundreds. Those numbers have seen a minor surge with the update, and the game’s most ardent fans have seen their faith rekindled and rewarded, but it’s still not the smash hit that so many people expected it to be. Those same fans never stopped watching Cobra TV and talking about the game, even if they stopped actually playing the game. Carpenter remains a spokesman for that community, despite never really aspiring to that label. With his smooth baritone and casual dialect, he has a voice for radio, something he’s aspired to since his youth. Although he never wanted to just be known as the guy that talks about No Man’s Sky, he appreciates the experience the game has afforded him. He just wanted to talk about fascinating games, but for Carpenter and his followers, the most fascinating game remains the one that earned him all this recognition in the first place. Another Friday, another fifty dollars. During Hello Games’ self-imposed sabbatical, many people wondered how Carpenter could continue making videos about a game while the developers themselves remained silent. But those same people were still watching. Just as 130,000 people re-subscribed to the new No Man’s Sky Reddit during that time, Carpenter’s viewers kept coming back. “Lots of people on my YouTube channel comment saying, ‘I feel sorry for this mother f___er for wasting his life talking about this game. He’ll never get these years back,’” reflects Carpenter. “I get comments like that all the time.” Another Friday, another fifty dollars. Carpenter had no intentions of accepting this money week after week. So he decided to email the donor to inquire, thinking that maybe it was a mistake, or maybe a glitch with PayPal’s system. It wasn’t. The donor wrote him back to explain. “I received back, this email. [The email] said that one night he was sitting on his couch and he had a gun in his mouth, and he said that one of my No Man’s Sky playlists was playing on his computer,” Carpenter’s voice cracks ever so slightly over Skype. “He never told me what I said, but something that I said in one of my sub-casts, made him yank the gun out of his mouth and reevaluate his situation. He said fifty dollars is nothing compared to what I made him feel like his life was worth. He tried paying me that fifty dollars every week. Finally, I told him that if you continue to keep paying me fifty dollars I’m going to refund it to you every single time.” “That,” he says, “That’s made it worth it.”
  9. Daniel Jones

    Podcast:The Best Games Period - Episode 47 - Mirror's Edge

    Thanks! I'm glad to hear someone appreciates our little tangents.
  10. Daniel Jones

    Review: Abzû

    With 2012’s Journey, thatgamecompany succeeded in creating a type of interactive tome, replete with all the self-reflective ambiguity of an abstract painting. Debates over video games as art notwithstanding, Journey could hardly be described as anything but. While it wove an astoundingly rich visual tapestry, the surprisingly effusive weight of its anonymous multiplayer carried the brunt of its artistic meaning. So it’s impressive that developer Giant Squid—founded by Journey’s Art Director, Matt Nava—has created a game in Abzû that not only sparkles with aesthetic brilliance, but also finds its own voice as an emotionally driven work of artistic expression. The fact that it occasionally feels slight in the shadow of Journey’s monolithic legacy is something I struggle to hold against it, especially when the overall experience feels so singularly divine. Abzû’s wordless story begins in a serene corner of its ocean setting, as your avatar, a wet-suit-clad scuba diver awakes on the surface. Subtle visual cues and camera tricks help to guide you along your trek through underwater caverns, dense kelp forests, and even some less organic structures that I dare not detail further. Along the way, you’ll interact with all manner of sea life from the smallest clownfish to blue whales the size of a naval submarine. It’s in the interaction with these creatures that Abzû sets itself apart from any game I’ve played before. Each of the game’s environments is its own mini ecosystem, teeming with aquatic inhabitants that interact with each other and the player in fascinating and believable ways. Sharks will chomp on smaller fish, dolphins flip and twirl in their pods, and giant squid spray ink when you come near. These interactions are rarely scripted, often relying on your input to trigger, such as enticing a massive humpback whale to breach the surface or hitching a ride with a turtle. Finding new ways to play around with Abzû’s wildlife proves fun and engaging, while nicely complimenting the game’s naturalistic themes. Just as playful is the game’s soundtrack from Austin Wintory, whose work composing Journey earned him a Grammy nomination. The lively strings, twinkling harps, and celestial choir simply sound exactly like Abzû looks. Wintory’s scores have an exquisite knack for capturing the essence of a game’s visuals and themes, and his work on Abzû is no exception. This inimitable, ever-present music ties into the gameplay and adapts appropriately to your actions, making it as vital a part of the experience as the vibrant visuals and the smooth controls. As you might expect from the art director behind Journey, Abzû’s visuals inspire awe, a true sight to behold. Each area exhibits a distinct color palette with what can almost be described as a bouquet of marine wildlife. Seeing thousands of fish all animated on screen at once is jaw dropping more so for its audacious beauty than its technological achievement. Abzû has much in common with thatgamecompany’s earlier title, Flower, as you spread life through the world, making each new area more vibrant and lively than it was when you first waded into its waters. This is more than just pretty visuals at thirty frames per second; it’s emotion through gameplay and gameplay through art. Abzû’s ocean is not all smooth sailing, however, as a few questionable design decisions muddy the otherwise clear waters. Each area has a few hidden shells that you can collect, much like the scarf pieces from Journey. But whereas those pieces granted your avatar with a longer jump and eventually—if you were able to find them all—a white robe with an infinitely regenerating scarf, Abzû grants the player no such rewards, besides a gold trophy. A sense of progression would have served Abzû well, and would’ve made the already enjoyable movement even more gratifying. Though it may seem unfair to hold Abzû to the standards set by its predecessor, the corollary couldn’t be more apt. Make no mistake about it, this game—though not designed by Journey mastermind Jenova Chen—is a clear successor to that modern classic. Though the visual stylings and game design present a unique twist on the sub-genre, the level structure and pacing are lifted almost wholesale from Journey. As someone who has played through that game more times than I can count, I often found myself predicting what would happen next. Though the beats are familiar, each new area still kept me engaged as the game floated towards its conclusion. It’s just disappointing that Giant Squid chose to stick so vehemently to a previously established formula for a game that otherwise presents wonders I had never experienced before. That statement’s not completely true actually; I do have some experience with the grandeur of our planet’s oceans. I have been snorkeling on a few occasions, off the coast of Maui and Hawaii, and though it was over a decade ago, the adventure has hardly faded from my memory. Never have I been so humbled by nature as when I found myself surrounded by all manner of sea creatures, from turtles to barracudas to massive manta rays that dwarfed my six foot frame. This is the type of feeling Abzû so deftly replicates; that of a stranger in a strange land, discovering wonders your eyes weren’t meant to see. I never expected a game to make me want to don the flippers and goggles again, but that’s exactly what Abzû has accomplished. Despite that, Abzû isn’t a scuba simulator, and it never attempts to be. You don’t need to manage oxygen levels, or worry about depth pressure, or fear any of the predators that lurk in the deep. While the fish are all modeled after real species in both design and behavior, this is a stylized version of underwater ecosystems, not a perfect replication. So in place of realism, Abzû fosters a wondrous sense of respect for the species that exist in our oceans, and it’s all the better for it. Conclusion: After my second playthrough, I still haven’t uncovered all of Abzû’s marvels, and I can’t stop thinking about my next dive in its magical world of color and life. I want to unlock all of the fish species, collect all of the mollusk shells scattered in the hidden corners of the world, and I want to find every last meditation statue. Mainly, though, I look forward to revisiting Abzû anytime I just need a break from the noise and bustle of human life on the surface of this Earth. The flaws that keep Abzû from being an unequivocal masterpiece are of little import when fully submerged in the adventure’s calming beauty and spectral wonder. Abzû was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is now available on PS4 and PC
  11. Daniel Jones

    Feature: Review: Abzû

    With 2012’s Journey, thatgamecompany succeeded in creating a type of interactive tome, replete with all the self-reflective ambiguity of an abstract painting. Debates over video games as art notwithstanding, Journey could hardly be described as anything but. While it wove an astoundingly rich visual tapestry, the surprisingly effusive weight of its anonymous multiplayer carried the brunt of its artistic meaning. So it’s impressive that developer Giant Squid—founded by Journey’s Art Director, Matt Nava—has created a game in Abzû that not only sparkles with aesthetic brilliance, but also finds its own voice as an emotionally driven work of artistic expression. The fact that it occasionally feels slight in the shadow of Journey’s monolithic legacy is something I struggle to hold against it, especially when the overall experience feels so singularly divine. Abzû’s wordless story begins in a serene corner of its ocean setting, as your avatar, a wet-suit-clad scuba diver awakes on the surface. Subtle visual cues and camera tricks help to guide you along your trek through underwater caverns, dense kelp forests, and even some less organic structures that I dare not detail further. Along the way, you’ll interact with all manner of sea life from the smallest clownfish to blue whales the size of a naval submarine. It’s in the interaction with these creatures that Abzû sets itself apart from any game I’ve played before. Each of the game’s environments is its own mini ecosystem, teeming with aquatic inhabitants that interact with each other and the player in fascinating and believable ways. Sharks will chomp on smaller fish, dolphins flip and twirl in their pods, and giant squid spray ink when you come near. These interactions are rarely scripted, often relying on your input to trigger, such as enticing a massive humpback whale to breach the surface or hitching a ride with a turtle. Finding new ways to play around with Abzû’s wildlife proves fun and engaging, while nicely complimenting the game’s naturalistic themes. Just as playful is the game’s soundtrack from Austin Wintory, whose work composing Journey earned him a Grammy nomination. The lively strings, twinkling harps, and celestial choir simply sound exactly like Abzû looks. Wintory’s scores have an exquisite knack for capturing the essence of a game’s visuals and themes, and his work on Abzû is no exception. This inimitable, ever-present music ties into the gameplay and adapts appropriately to your actions, making it as vital a part of the experience as the vibrant visuals and the smooth controls. As you might expect from the art director behind Journey, Abzû’s visuals inspire awe, a true sight to behold. Each area exhibits a distinct color palette with what can almost be described as a bouquet of marine wildlife. Seeing thousands of fish all animated on screen at once is jaw dropping more so for its audacious beauty than its technological achievement. Abzû has much in common with thatgamecompany’s earlier title, Flower, as you spread life through the world, making each new area more vibrant and lively than it was when you first waded into its waters. This is more than just pretty visuals at thirty frames per second; it’s emotion through gameplay and gameplay through art. Abzû’s ocean is not all smooth sailing, however, as a few questionable design decisions muddy the otherwise clear waters. Each area has a few hidden shells that you can collect, much like the scarf pieces from Journey. But whereas those pieces granted your avatar with a longer jump and eventually—if you were able to find them all—a white robe with an infinitely regenerating scarf, Abzû grants the player no such rewards, besides a gold trophy. A sense of progression would have served Abzû well, and would’ve made the already enjoyable movement even more gratifying. Though it may seem unfair to hold Abzû to the standards set by its predecessor, the corollary couldn’t be more apt. Make no mistake about it, this game—though not designed by Journey mastermind Jenova Chen—is a clear successor to that modern classic. Though the visual stylings and game design present a unique twist on the sub-genre, the level structure and pacing are lifted almost wholesale from Journey. As someone who has played through that game more times than I can count, I often found myself predicting what would happen next. Though the beats are familiar, each new area still kept me engaged as the game floated towards its conclusion. It’s just disappointing that Giant Squid chose to stick so vehemently to a previously established formula for a game that otherwise presents wonders I had never experienced before. That statement’s not completely true actually; I do have some experience with the grandeur of our planet’s oceans. I have been snorkeling on a few occasions, off the coast of Maui and Hawaii, and though it was over a decade ago, the adventure has hardly faded from my memory. Never have I been so humbled by nature as when I found myself surrounded by all manner of sea creatures, from turtles to barracudas to massive manta rays that dwarfed my six foot frame. This is the type of feeling Abzû so deftly replicates; that of a stranger in a strange land, discovering wonders your eyes weren’t meant to see. I never expected a game to make me want to don the flippers and goggles again, but that’s exactly what Abzû has accomplished. Despite that, Abzû isn’t a scuba simulator, and it never attempts to be. You don’t need to manage oxygen levels, or worry about depth pressure, or fear any of the predators that lurk in the deep. While the fish are all modeled after real species in both design and behavior, this is a stylized version of underwater ecosystems, not a perfect replication. So in place of realism, Abzû fosters a wondrous sense of respect for the species that exist in our oceans, and it’s all the better for it. Conclusion: After my second playthrough, I still haven’t uncovered all of Abzû’s marvels, and I can’t stop thinking about my next dive in its magical world of color and life. I want to unlock all of the fish species, collect all of the mollusk shells scattered in the hidden corners of the world, and I want to find every last meditation statue. Mainly, though, I look forward to revisiting Abzû anytime I just need a break from the noise and bustle of human life on the surface of this Earth. The flaws that keep Abzû from being an unequivocal masterpiece are of little import when fully submerged in the adventure’s calming beauty and spectral wonder. Abzû was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is now available on PS4 and PC View full article
  12. The term eSports has become very wide-encompassing over the past few years, incorporating all types of gaming genres, from fighting games to first person shooters to strategy titles and MOBAs. Even as the burgeoning competitive pastime has grown to huge heights, I’ve never been able to fully appreciate the appeal. Until now. What changed? Two words: Rocket. League. If you’ve played Rocket League, you might understand how it could convert a former non-believer. If you haven’t played Rocket League, my description of the game won’t really help you understand the appeal at all, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. Rocket League is a game of indoor soccer played with rocket powered cars instead of people. The objective is to get to ball into the other team’s goal and stop them from getting the ball into your goal. You can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4. That’s it. That’s really it. Despite its simplicity (and, as I’ll explain later, perhaps because of its simplicity), Rocket League is a runaway success, with over five million downloads and the servers constantly running at around a hundred thousand players at any given time. It’s also becoming a popular spectator sport with YouTube videos of matches and highlights garnering huge numbers already. So what is it that makes Rocket League so much fun, and such a strong candidate for eSports immortality? It’s deceptively simple Rocket League is the best representation of “Easy to learn, difficult to master” game design that I’ve seen since… well, I honestly can’t think of many games that do it better. Once you understand the basic fundamentals of Rocket League – jumping, boosting, centering, defense and aerials – you can follow and appreciate any match. Even if you can’t pull off an aerial windmill kick into the goal, you can at least appreciate what makes it such an impressive feat. Rocket League makes anyone think they can be a professional, as you’re always improving, and anyone could potentially get lucky bounces and have a great match any time. Rocket League’s approachability allows for everyone to appreciate the time and effort required to excel at the game. It’s skill-based It’s the truly skilled players, though, that are really fun to watch. It can be exhilarating to watch the best players in the world go head to head, as both sides make mesmerizing saves and gravity defying goals. And since everyone is playing on an even playing field, and Rocket League features no upgrades or bonus powers, there’s little for players to rely on besides their own abilities. The developers are hinting that new modes and power-ups might become available at some point, but the main mode is pure and simple – and should remain that way. It’s that mode, specifically 3v3, which is the most eSports worthy. Variety is derived from the unpredictable physics and the various strategies teams can utilize to achieve victory. This ensures that wins are always earned and losses always deserved, which is ultimately what makes for a strong competitive sport. It’s fast! In the most literal sense, Rocket League is fast. After all, the cars are rocket powered. A match can change pace in an instant, which makes each contest a nail biting volley of physics, explosions, and speed. It’s a good thing, then, that each match only lasts for five tension-filled minutes. It’s easy to imagine a tournament with a dozen or so teams lasting for just around an hour or two, which is the perfect amount of time for a sporting event in the digital age. Cars are customizable A sport is nothing without all-star players, and since Rocket League cars don’t have jerseys with numbers on them, we need some way to tell all the players apart. Luckily, taking a cue from Valve, Psyonix has created a robust car customization suite with different paint jobs, hats, antenna ornaments and even exhaust effects. Combined with the easily legible player ID’s above the cars, this customization allows for each car to look unique and possess its own identity. Hopefully Psyonix will expand this feature and even add licensed cars or features. On the other hand… There are some things that the developers need to implement or improve before Rocket League can attain full eSports legitimacy. The recently added spectator mode is a huge boost, as the only two camera options – “standard” and “ball cam” – aren’t great for casual viewing of a match. As mentioned though, the game needs some more content; expanded car customization options, along with more stadiums would go a long way in improving the viewing experience. Foremost though, some strategic planning abilities are an absolute must for Rocket League to compete in the wide world of eSports. Teams should be able to assign positions and choose their starting positions from the pitch, eliminating the randomization that could create an accidental advantage for one of the teams. At the risk of contradicting myself though, the game could become a bit stale after a while, since there are few variables that would differentiate one match from another. Only time will tell if audiences start to lose interest in the standard 3v3 mode. For now though, it’s hard not to be excited about the future of Rocket League as an eSport, especially after the recent Major League Gaming tournament and its absolutely stunning finale. I could go on and on about why Rocket League is a great spectator sport, and what it needs in order to be a legitimate part of the competitive community, but the fact is, there’s no denying it once you’ve played and watched a few rounds yourself. With an ever-improving player base and growing community, Rocket League is already exploding on YouTube and Twitch, and has nowhere to go but up. View full article
  13. The term eSports has become very wide-encompassing over the past few years, incorporating all types of gaming genres, from fighting games to first person shooters to strategy titles and MOBAs. Even as the burgeoning competitive pastime has grown to huge heights, I’ve never been able to fully appreciate the appeal. Until now. What changed? Two words: Rocket. League. If you’ve played Rocket League, you might understand how it could convert a former non-believer. If you haven’t played Rocket League, my description of the game won’t really help you understand the appeal at all, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. Rocket League is a game of indoor soccer played with rocket powered cars instead of people. The objective is to get to ball into the other team’s goal and stop them from getting the ball into your goal. You can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4. That’s it. That’s really it. Despite its simplicity (and, as I’ll explain later, perhaps because of its simplicity), Rocket League is a runaway success, with over five million downloads and the servers constantly running at around a hundred thousand players at any given time. It’s also becoming a popular spectator sport with YouTube videos of matches and highlights garnering huge numbers already. So what is it that makes Rocket League so much fun, and such a strong candidate for eSports immortality? It’s deceptively simple Rocket League is the best representation of “Easy to learn, difficult to master” game design that I’ve seen since… well, I honestly can’t think of many games that do it better. Once you understand the basic fundamentals of Rocket League – jumping, boosting, centering, defense and aerials – you can follow and appreciate any match. Even if you can’t pull off an aerial windmill kick into the goal, you can at least appreciate what makes it such an impressive feat. Rocket League makes anyone think they can be a professional, as you’re always improving, and anyone could potentially get lucky bounces and have a great match any time. Rocket League’s approachability allows for everyone to appreciate the time and effort required to excel at the game. It’s skill-based It’s the truly skilled players, though, that are really fun to watch. It can be exhilarating to watch the best players in the world go head to head, as both sides make mesmerizing saves and gravity defying goals. And since everyone is playing on an even playing field, and Rocket League features no upgrades or bonus powers, there’s little for players to rely on besides their own abilities. The developers are hinting that new modes and power-ups might become available at some point, but the main mode is pure and simple – and should remain that way. It’s that mode, specifically 3v3, which is the most eSports worthy. Variety is derived from the unpredictable physics and the various strategies teams can utilize to achieve victory. This ensures that wins are always earned and losses always deserved, which is ultimately what makes for a strong competitive sport. It’s fast! In the most literal sense, Rocket League is fast. After all, the cars are rocket powered. A match can change pace in an instant, which makes each contest a nail biting volley of physics, explosions, and speed. It’s a good thing, then, that each match only lasts for five tension-filled minutes. It’s easy to imagine a tournament with a dozen or so teams lasting for just around an hour or two, which is the perfect amount of time for a sporting event in the digital age. Cars are customizable A sport is nothing without all-star players, and since Rocket League cars don’t have jerseys with numbers on them, we need some way to tell all the players apart. Luckily, taking a cue from Valve, Psyonix has created a robust car customization suite with different paint jobs, hats, antenna ornaments and even exhaust effects. Combined with the easily legible player ID’s above the cars, this customization allows for each car to look unique and possess its own identity. Hopefully Psyonix will expand this feature and even add licensed cars or features. On the other hand… There are some things that the developers need to implement or improve before Rocket League can attain full eSports legitimacy. The recently added spectator mode is a huge boost, as the only two camera options – “standard” and “ball cam” – aren’t great for casual viewing of a match. As mentioned though, the game needs some more content; expanded car customization options, along with more stadiums would go a long way in improving the viewing experience. Foremost though, some strategic planning abilities are an absolute must for Rocket League to compete in the wide world of eSports. Teams should be able to assign positions and choose their starting positions from the pitch, eliminating the randomization that could create an accidental advantage for one of the teams. At the risk of contradicting myself though, the game could become a bit stale after a while, since there are few variables that would differentiate one match from another. Only time will tell if audiences start to lose interest in the standard 3v3 mode. For now though, it’s hard not to be excited about the future of Rocket League as an eSport, especially after the recent Major League Gaming tournament and its absolutely stunning finale. I could go on and on about why Rocket League is a great spectator sport, and what it needs in order to be a legitimate part of the competitive community, but the fact is, there’s no denying it once you’ve played and watched a few rounds yourself. With an ever-improving player base and growing community, Rocket League is already exploding on YouTube and Twitch, and has nowhere to go but up.
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