saveroomminibar:

Bioshock Infinite. Alternate Covers.

A Message from Ken Levine.

I’m happy to announce that the game will come with a reversible cover.

But that’s not all. We want to hear your voice on what that cover should be. To that end, we’ve arranged a poll below that lets you choose from several potential reversible covers. I’ve got my favorite, but I’m not telling which.  We’ve got to do this quickly to meet our print deadlines, so vote soon. Like, NOW!

But what’s that you say? You want even more choice in covers? We’re also going to be arranging a whole mess of MORE alternate covers which will be available to download and print yourself. Of course, these are free and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the forums as to what you’d like to see.

Vote now! Voting Ends 19th December.

Making Games is Hard.

I guess I already knew that, but I’m reminded of it now that I’m helping to make another one for my Media Studies final project. It makes me think about all the hard work that goes into games made by small teams, like Dear EstherBraid, The Path, Super Meat Boy…the list goes on. After watching the documentary Indie Game: The Movie (watch the trailer here) I better understood the pain and struggle of completing a game. You put your sweat, blood, tears, soul, everything into it for a few years and let it out into the wild to be judged. You spent all your money on this game–if it flops, you’re broke. That’s part of the reason I buy indie games, and that’s part of the reason why I try not to make snap judgments about them. It takes so much time and money and must be the worst feeling in the world for it not to be received well. In Indie Game: The Movie they asked the creator of Fez what he would do if the game didn’t sell well, and he said, “Probably kill myself.”

But all that effort usually pays off. Independent games are often some of the most unique experiences you can find, pushing the boundaries of gaming and asking important questions. Often they engage the player on a much more emotional and intellectual level. In essence, they treat you with respect. Indie games are notoriously hard. They don’t coddle you. They don’t tell you everything you have to do. The developers understand that you are an intelligent human being and you can figure it out yourself.

Every game we played in my class was indie, which I think is saying something. The games we played had stories to tell. They were more than just your average shooter–they stuck in my mind for weeks to come, making me ponder their hidden meanings. I mean, Dear Esther is an extremely simple game gameplay-wise, and takes only two hours to complete, but it takes much, much longer to begin to understand the story and meaning in your head. When I came back to play it for the second time, I was surprised by the different text, and came to more revelations about the story. (I recommend everyone play it more than once)

image

I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make here…but I guess I think more people should play indie games. A lot of my friends dismiss them as simple and stupid, but I think if more people gave them a chance they would not be disappointed. (Side-note: you can buy bundles of indie games here–you set your own price)

…I think I need this game.

Braid Review

This is the second time I’ve played Braid. I wasn’t able to solve all the puzzles without a guide either time. Braid is not a game I would call “accessible.” However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Braid’s gameplay forces you to think in ways you don’t normally, in ways you thought you never would. Jonathan Blow, the creator, said he hoped it would be “mind-expanding,” and it certainly was for me. It simultaneously pays homage to and deconstructs platform games and how we approach them as gamers.

The classic platform games of the NES and SNES eras are often celebrated for how difficult they were. They required pinpoint accuracy and razor-sharp reflexes. Braid is difficult for very different reasons. Wrapping your brain around each new mechanic is incredibly hard, and once you feel you’ve mastered the concept, putting it into practice is an entirely different story. This translates to the narrative as well—it is very deep and whenever I thought I had a piece of the puzzle, something else comes up and I don’t know what to make of it. An interesting thing to note is that you can actually blow through the game without collecting all the puzzle pieces, but you won’t see the ending, which is really the crux of the narrative, unless you do. Blow rewards players for engaging with the game and understanding its systems.

In many ways, Braid is a critique of modern gaming trends. Its references to Super Mario Bros. and its very different take on the “save the princess” motif are particularly striking, but something else I noticed is that you really aren’t given very much choice. Each puzzle has exactly one way to solve it. It is very deliberate, almost scientific puzzle design. A trend in modern games is giving the player more choice, and making those choices have impacts on the game world. “Open-world” is the name of the game; “linear” is almost a bad word. Since you can’t really die in Braid, it’s kind of like a sandbox for the player to experiment in, which could have lent well to having more player choice, but Blow’s decision to make the game without choice provides a very different experience. Since the gameplay is so scientific and exact, it makes me think that the narrative is similar, in that there may be only one way you are supposed to interpret it. In his interview with the AV Club, Blow seems to suggest that some people get it and others just don’t. I think he intended for there really to be only one interpretation of the work. “Braid isn’t a subjective work of creativity: it’s a system, meticulously designed to convey a meaning that really isn’t up to broad interpretation. If you think the puzzles are too rigid, or you hate the text – maybe it’s because you don’t understand the point. If you pull an interpretation out of thin air, it’s probably wrong.”

Aside from gameplay and narrative, Braid features beautiful, painstakingly crafted graphics. The backgrounds look as if they are alive, using particles and other effects to give the illusion that they are moving. But they don’t distract from the gameplay, because everything in the foreground is sharper and more focused. The music is also very beautiful, and works well with the time-rewinding mechanic, playing backwards when you reverse time. A particularly cool instance of this is in one world where time is mapped to left and right movement—that is, moving left rewinds time, and moving right moves time forward—and a lullaby is played, forwards and backwards in time with your character.

Everything in Braid is there for a reason. There are no random platforms, no random enemies. Everything is very deliberate, everything has a purpose. The same goes for the narrative. It is clear that a ton of work went into making the game as polished as possible. The puzzle and platform design is very tight. My only complaints are that the game is unnecessarily frustrating at times, and I don’t see how anyone could solve some of the puzzles without using a guide. There is no mistaking it—Braid is a hard game. But it is so worth playing. If the ending doesn’t blow your mind, I’d be very surprised.

9/10

World’s largest game of Pong—does it get more epic?

The Path Review

I just recently played The Path by indie developer Tale of Tales. I had to play it for my media studies class. I don’t think a video game has ever evoked as many emotions in me as this game. 

Let me start this by saying that I don’t even know if The Path should be considered a game. In fact, the developers often call it an “anti-game.” It is more of an interactive art piece, which is why I won’t be attaching a score to this review. However, it does have a few game-y elements, like collectibles and a map and goals. Nevertheless, this game is not for everyone. But if you open your mind, and let this game take you away, you will likely find it very rewarding.

The Path has you playing as six different girls, each representing a different stage of a girl’s life between 9-19. (The developers talked about this and other aspects of the game in a post-mortem essay here) It is basically a retelling of the old fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. You start on the path, and text appearing on screen tells you to go to your grandmother’s house, and stay on the path. So, that’s what I did the first time. However, staying on the path actually results in a failure, and you are forced to start over. I was so confused. Years of playing video games has taught me to always obey instructions. Am I supposed to deliberately disobey? So during my second attempt, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a girl in a white dress running in the woods. I went off the path and followed her. The colors began fading and everything turned greyscale. The atmosphere is incredibly dim and foreboding.

I followed the girl into a graveyard, where my character made some morbid remarks. You can interact with certain objects to add memories to your basket (inventory), such as the skull that my character buried in the ground.

With no onscreen instructions and no map, I was left to wander aimlessly through the forest. I tried to get back to the path, but to my horror, I discovered that once you leave the path, it is impossible to get back. If you just keep walking, you will eventually loop around again, which I could see from the map of your trail which flashes on screen every 100 meters. 

Every girl has her “wolf,” which apparently is supposed to be like each of one of the developer’s ex-boyfriends. They are archetypes for men. One is a lumberjack who spends all day chopping at trees and drinking beer. Another is the “cool guy” who is smooth and wears a leather jacket. These aren’t your typical “wolves” and took me by surprise. I didn’t know they were the wolves until I completed the first chapter and it said “Wolf encountered: yes!” Wolf? I don’t remember seeing a wolf…was the wolf…WATCHING ME?

These wolves are pretty much ordinary people on the surface (except for the werewolf) but your character often talks about the romance or fascination with giving in and submitting. A sort of perverse enjoyment out of not being in control. 

And to relate this to the actual mechanics of the game, you don’t have much control as a player. You can walk, run, or interact with objects, but you don’t decide how your character interacts with the objects—she does. And maybe you wanted to be a good girl and just stay on the path, but you’re penalized for it. You are essentially forced to get yourself lost. Never before have I played a video game where I was actually encouraged to get lost—and never have I been more enticed by it.

After you meet your wolf, you black out, and wake up lying in front of your grandmother’s house in the rain. You walk very slowly, almost in a trance, into the house, where you go on an on-rails, first-person journey through it. This is definitely the weirdest part of the game, and I can barely begin to interpret it. And it is up to you to interpret what happened during the blackout. I have heard people say that you were raped, but I don’t think that’s what the designers intended. I think it is your character coming to a sudden realization, perhaps the loss of her innocence, snatched away by her wolf. When she goes into grandmother’s house, everything is chaos, and not the way it used to be. I have heard that you are murdered in the house, but really it’s open to interpretation.

That’s what I love about games like this. You are completely free to interpret them in the way you want to. That’s what makes this game art—it evokes different responses, and means something different, to each individual. The soundtrack, the art design, all contribute to making The Path a truly beautiful game. 

My only complaint might be that this game is far too slow. I understand that it is a stop-and-smell-the-flowers kind of game, where you are supposed to take in all the sights and explore everything, but the walking speed is much slower than it needs to be, and frustrated me. You can run, but I stopped running early on because I realized that it actually makes things worse. The camera lifts up and gives an overhead view, with your character at the top of the screen, making it impossible to see what’s in front of you, and it gets much darker on top of that. Also, the coin flowers that you are supposed to collect (there are 144 of them, for symbolic reasons that won’t really make sense unless you read the developer’s blog) disappear when you begin running. So the game basically encourages you to walk the whole time. I’d rather you be able to run, without the negative side-effects.

This game divided people into two camps: the more hardcore gamers who criticized it for not even really being a game, and the more casual ones who loved everything about it. But what’s important is that more games like this need to be made, or the video game industry will never evolve. We have enough Call of Duty’s; we need more games like this that push intellectual boundaries and actually stimulate us, the way literature and cinema have for decades. This is as “art game” as it gets, and I loved it. If you open your mind and give it a chance, I think you will too.

The Lost Scrolls

This game has you playing as the lone survivor in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it takes place almost entirely inside your head as you slowly go mad. Play it here. It’s a platformer inspired by games like Limbo and Braid (but not as good).

Castle Crisis

This is a tower defense game in which you defend your castle against hordes of enemies. Pretty fun I guess. So play it.

Click hurr.

The Survivor

You can read it here on RedBubble, or here in this post:

Michael Marks slowly opened his eyes. His vision was blurred for several moments. All he could feel was a constant panging in his head, like a blacksmith was hammering it into a blade sharp enough to cut steel. He could not move his body without every part of him hurting, so he just lay there for a while. In the distance he could see the wreckage that was the explanation for the situation he was in—a huge jet plane, with towering flames and plumes of smoke that went up too far to see.

                Michael felt the ground around him, but it wasn’t really ground at all, as he soon found out. He felt hot sand between his fingers, and the sensation oddly felt good. Finally he shifted himself to get a better view of the wreck. He wondered how he had survived—and more importantly, why. Now he was doomed to die in this godforsaken desert, of heat stroke or starvation or some unnamed horror.

                Michael found himself wondering many things at once. How had this happened? And why did only he survive? Why didn’t he die with everybody else? Why was he forced to die a much slower death in the sun-bleached sand? There was certainly no way for him to escape the inevitable—the nearest civilization was probably miles away. He had no food and no water, and was hurting all over.

                It’s not like anybody would really miss him. Everyone he’d cared about had been on that plane. His wife, his kids—all dead now. What remained of them was out there in the burning hereafter. He didn’t have any close friends, and his only extended family was an aging father, who probably didn’t remember who he was anyway.

                Michael Marks was forty-seven, five foot six. He’d always been insecure about his height, but here, in the barren wasteland, that didn’t much matter. Besides, in tomorrow’s headline they wouldn’t say anything about him in particular, they’d just say “X Die in Plane Crash,” and he’d just be one of the X. That was fine by him.

                But just when he started becoming settled to his fate, a voice ruined it—“Hey there!”

                Michael looked up. A man climbed out of the smoldering wreck. He had light brown hair, looked to be in his forties, and was about Michael’s height. Michael just stared at him in astonishment. “I thought I was the only survivor,” the man said.

                “So did I,” said Michael.

                The man looked around him. “So here we are,” he said.

                “Here we are.”

                The man sighed. “I can’t believe this happened.”

                “What did happen, exactly?”

                “Are you telling me you don’t know how we crashed? Seriously?”

                “I must have blacked out when it happened.”

                “One of the engines failed. The pilot was preparing for an emergency landing here in this desert, but then all of a sudden the controls locked up. He couldn’t do anything about it, and we crashed. As far as I knew everybody had died—until I found you, that is.”

                “Jeez.”

                The man stepped over to him. He offered his hand. “Come on,” he said. “We should get moving.”

                Michael looked at him, puzzled. “Why?”

                “Well, we might survive this thing. There’s gotta be somebody around here.”

                “Are you kidding? We’re in the middle of a desert. We’ve got no food and no water. There’s no way we’ll survive.”

                The man looked out at the sands, not saying anything for a moment. “Alright, I guess we won’t survive.”

                Michael was more confused than ever. “I don’t get you,” he said. “Just a minute ago you were convinced we could survive. Now all of a sudden you change your mind?”

                The man sighed again. “Someone I respected a great deal once said something to me. He said, ‘Some people just don’t find living worth the trouble.’ When he told me, I said he was crazy. Now I’m not so sure.”

                “Yeah,” Michael said, “I think I heard that somewhere too.”

                Michael looked up at the mess again. It wasn’t blazing anymore—its flames had been reduced to much tamer embers. “I’m going back in,” said the man. “Maybe there is something in there after all.”

                Michael merely offered a grunt in response. He watched the man cautiously step into the ruins, avoiding any still-burning parts. The sun’s rays seemed to be melting his brain—the sand seemed so soft beneath him, like a giant mattress. He quickly dozed off.

                When Michael came to, the man was sitting a few feet away. He was fumbling with a first-aid kit that was still intact, though charred. Around him were some packets of food and cans of soda, the few that had miraculously survived the crash. Michael’s eyes gleamed; it was almost too good to be true. “I guess we’ll be able to survive a bit longer than you thought,” chided the man.

                Michael smiled. There was no other reaction to give.

                “Wanna pass me one of those?” he asked, pointing to a Coke.

                The man handed him one of the shining red cans. Michael opened it, took a tentative sip, and then began to chug it down greedily.

                “Don’t drink it too fast,” the man reminded him. “We need to ration them out. Maybe one can per day, how about that?”

                Michael didn’t hear him, or if he did, his words didn’t have any meaning in that moment—he was too busy drowning himself in relief. “Why don’t we just stay here?” he asked him. “We’ve got food and drink to last a few weeks. I’m sure somebody will find us in that time.”

                “That won’t work. We’ll just burn up. Look, you’re already sunburned.”

                Michael stopped gorging himself and looked at his arms. They were red raw.

                “Come on, you’ve had enough,” the man said. “Let’s go see what we can find.”

                Michael tested his legs, but they couldn’t support his weight for very long standing. “Here, I’ll help you,” the man said, grunting as he took him under his arm, supporting him as they walked together.

                The sand was never ending. It was all they saw for miles and miles. It was the dunes that towered over them like waves, and it was the flat valleys whose endlessness drove them insane. Sweat dripped down Michael’s brow, leaving small wet imprints in the sand beneath his feet. Before the pain had kept him from feeling the heat, but now he felt it in full force. The man, meanwhile, seemed to be perfectly fine. He wasn’t even burned. How does he do it? Michael thought.

                It had been late when they began their trek, and now it was really getting dark. The chill was setting in. “We should travel at night, when it’s cool,” the man said. Michael grunted in agreement. The sun was setting in the distant horizon, leaving a pink and purple sky, with little white sparks in its wake.

                All Michael could think about now was how tired he was. His head hurt, his legs ached, his skin burned. He just wanted to stop moving, lie down and die. But the man wouldn’t let him. “We’ll never get out of here with that attitude. Let’s keep moving.” Reluctantly, Michael followed him.

                When the sun crept over the horizon like a child peeking through a door crack, Michael could move no longer. His legs buckled under him and he collapsed in the sand. He felt immediate relief. The sand swallowed him up, and he soon was lost in his subconscious.

                His wife stood facing him. “Do you remember?” she asked him. Michael said nothing. He murmured her name. “Emily…”

                She was as gorgeous as when he had first met her. Her auburn hair waved in the wind, her eyes as green as the sea. She held out her hand. Michael looked closer. There was something white in her palm. It was a seashell. Michael took it from her, examining it closely.

                Emily suddenly yelled, “You didn’t even say goodbye.”

                Michael looked up again, but she was gone. In her place was a bonfire. Soon his entire world was burning, burning, burning into the netherworld and beyond. He cowered in fear, clutching the shell and curling up into a ball. And the words kept ringing in his ears: “You didn’t even say goodbye.”

                He woke up with a start. Looking around, he noticed that the survivor was nowhere to be seen. But something caught his eye: the shell he’d seen in his dream. It was also part of his waking world. He grabbed it and put it to his ear. The sounds of waves crashing on a distant shore filled his ears with comfort. It was like the remnants of something that once was and had been drained away.

                Michael had no idea which direction to go, or if he should go anywhere at all. He noticed that the man had left all the food and drinks a few yards away. Michael ambled over to them and began to eat and drink hungrily. His strength began to return again.

                He shuffled through the sand, not knowing where he was going and if he wasn’t going in the direction he’d already come from. The sun was directly overhead, its rays beating down upon him. And still he kept going. He didn’t know why, or if it was right, but he kept going.

                And finally, after hours and hours of this, what seemed like an eternity, he heard something miraculous. A loud humming sound, growing louder and louder, beating with regularity. It was a helicopter. Seeing it, Michael stopped moving and waited. He noticed he was still clutching the shell Emily had given him. He put it up to his ear again. The sounds of the waves were still there. Sand blew everywhere, and Michael shielded his eyes as the helicopter got lower and lower.

                When it landed, he was helped into the helicopter by several men in uniforms. A journalist was aboard. “You’re a survivor of that plane crash, right?” he asked eagerly. Michael nodded his head. “It’s truly a miracle that you survived. You must be the luckiest man on earth.”

                Michael turned and looked out the window. The helicopter was lifting high into the air now. He saw a figure in the sand, staring up at him. It was the man. “Wait!” Michael yelled. “He’s another survivor! We’ve got to help him.”

                The other men looked in the direction he indicated. They looked at each other. “He must be delirious,” one said. “The desert’ll do that to ya. Come on, let’s go.”

                Michael stared at them in shock. “How can you say that? We have to save him!” He looked out the window again. But he could not find the mysterious man. He had vanished completely.

                Michael stared out over the sand. “He didn’t even say goodbye.”

Food for Thought

You can read it here on RedBubble or here in this post:

            Marshal Wright stared through the glass pane at the delicious-looking baked goods. He could smell the wafting scent of the cinnamon-sugar coating of each individual cinnamon roll; he could hear the whipped cream spurting out of its container onto its mutual partner hot chocolate; he could taste the milky frosting of the vanilla cupcakes on the tip of his tongue. He ordered a frappuccino, not for the temporary energy boost that would wear off later anyway, but for the utter bliss of the mint topping and chocolate flavor. If one were to describe him, one could say Marshal Wright’s jaw was filled with nothing but sweet teeth.

            He came to this place often. “The Right Time Bakery” it was called.

            The bakery was always filled with warmth. The best time to go to it was during the winter, when it was so cold outside, so close to the extreme end of the spectrum, that people would be more than obliging to get as close as possible to the other extreme. This, of course, was their busiest season, as their delicious hot chocolate with a healthy dose of whipped cream on the top was a local—and soon to be more widespread—favorite.

            After taking his drink to a small round table, he sat down at a chair and looked around him. The bakery had a warm, inviting atmosphere; discussions were interrupted not by rude words, but laughter. The pictures on the walls were a nice touch, too: they were all either of the bakery’s delicious foods, happy, smiling people eating their delicious foods, or some other related charming topic. However, one in particular caught his eye, one much different from the others. It was a painting of a clock, the bakery’s symbol. This clock was no ordinary clock, however; it was beautiful, with a sugar crystal face and cinnamon stick hands. He stared at it for a lengthy amount of time.

            Reality sunk in soon, though, and he went back to sipping his frappucino and reading the completely uninspiring newspaper. He peered at a few headlines—“Man Dies Alone in Tragic Car Crash” and “Thirty-Six Year-Old Dies of Heart Attack” were a couple. He had no interest in reading these, and instead, since Christmas was nearing, he turned to an article titled “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. It was describing an organization that sent food and gifts to the poor ofAmericaso they could have a happy Christmas. A nice gesture, he thought, but to virtually no avail; no matter how many gifts you send a poor person, their life will still be pretty miserable.

            Finishing his frappe, he put on his coat and walked outside into the cold, uninviting world he lived in. The snow fell rapidly, and the wind picked up the lazy snow off the rooftops so they could partake in the assault. Wright hurried along, his face buried in the collar of his now soaking jacket.

            His home was small and humble, a simple apartment, sparsely ornamented with furniture and necessities. Did he really need anything else? He hung up his coat on a hook on the wall and checked his messages. The light was blinking. He pressed the button, the doorway to his social life, the final chance. “Hello, this is Poland Spring reminding you that tomorrow is your delivery day!” announced the automated voice. “Remember to leave out your empty bottles.”

            Don’t you worry, I will,he thought.

            He fell asleep quickly. He didn’t usually dream, but today was unusual. It started out wonderfully: his wife and kids were there, and they were all sitting down to a delicious brunch on Christmas day. They feasted on chocolate croissants, muffins, and orange juice. The kids were off in five minutes, playing with their new toys. But then—why did he do it?—he glanced at the clock. It was the same clock that was in the painting hanging on the wall of the Right Time Bakery. The seconds ticked by loudly, each tick a loud bang, like the slamming of a metal door. Then, oh-so-eerily, the clock melted away, like candle wax, into the dark void of oblivion.

            He woke with a start. Just a dream. He looked at his own clock, to make sure it was the same he’d had since the divorce: yes, it was.

            At9:00 A.M.precisely he walked into his office, carrying his usual brown paper bag with a cinnamon roll, chocolate muffin, and bagel (to balance the others out). Sitting at his desk, he worked in solitude, biting a chunk out of a baked good here and there. He did not need all this food, and he knew it wasn’t good for him, but he ate it for the enjoyment, not for the sustenance, as, I am sure, anyone does.

            But, perhaps, Marshal Wright wasn’t receiving pleasure from eating anymore. He still sat anxiously at his computer, still moped around his apartment. Perhaps there was another reason he continued to eat these foods, one which he will find out at the right time.

            It was Christmas Eve. He imagined his family eating Christmas cookies together, drinking hot cocoa, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life by the fire. The tree was all lit up beautifully with multi-colored lights, and decorated with the dozens of ornaments saved up over the years. Tomorrow, tomorrow was to be a glorious, bright day, looking forward to tomorrow…

            The snow was falling ever fiercer. It would not surrender the fight. Its power was unmatched by any other, and thus had no need to give up.

            In this way, Marshal Wright fought his impending heart attack. His strength was so much that before the ambulance even got there, he had fought it off and was slowly recovering.

            On Christmas morning, his family gathered around his hospital bed. His wife and two children stood over him, the ones he cared for most in the world. They were all there, enjoying the best food there is—the food of life.

He knew now what was really important to him. Food is not meant to harm you or punish you or drown your sorrows. Food is meant to bring people together, to create a happy and harmonious moment for the people you love.

The doctor came up to him. “Well Mr. Wright, you are a very lucky man. This is certainly the right time for you.”

“Yes, it is,” he replied. “It is the right time.”

And from then on, Marshal Wright’s occupation was helping those in need, those less fortunate, those who couldn’t enjoy the “Wonderful Times”. Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.