I just finished Bastion this morning and might I say, right off the bat, it’s definitely worth whatever they’re charging for it these days. I bought it on the Steam sale a few weeks back and just got around to it recently – totally worth it.

Without ruining anything or giving away spoilers, I just wanted to briefly go over why it’s great:

The world comes up around you, and often has a few side trails that you can follow for extra powerups and such, but in order to coax the pieces to form the path, you have to run towards the emptiness in a sort of leap of faith. It’s an interesting gameplay mechanic because although the path is usually marked in subtle ways using props and decoration, there’s a certain element that draws you into his uncertainty and exploration. It’s engaging.

The narrator is brilliant. His voice makes up 99% of the dialogue in the game – the hero is silent – and somehow manages to talk the entire time without getting annoying. There’s something lulling in his voice and timing that’s really well done. The soundtrack is likewise perfect:

It has that twangy Firefly vibe to it which really works with the sort of lone wanderer cowboy attitude the Kid’s got. Again, the narrator talking over that with his soothing drawl is just so, so perfect.

The gameplay itself is sort of dungeon hack and slash in a way, and the variety of weapons is really well designed: each weapon has a very distinct role and use so you’re constantly playing with combinations (you can carry two at a time) to find the ideal mix for your playing style. In the end I liked the machete, which allows melee swiping and a snipe throwing capacity if you wait + the blunderbuss shotgun thing, which is twitchy and has a wide angle of damage making it perfect for those enemies that only pop up for brief instances. You trade accuracy and power for speed. The pacing for weapon introduction is neat, and they introduce a new weapon up to and including the last level with a mode that allows you to start the game over keeping all your perks. I wouldn’t say it’s really a game made for replay value, but the experience more than makes up for that.

It’s shorter too. I mean, compared to other games coming out these days (cough cough Skyrim). I can’t imagine it took me more than 10 hours, and I spent a lot of time sight seeing and looking in corners for hidden things. I like that, though. I have tons of 50+ hour games that I’ve never finished and therefore feel unresolved. Bastion has an awesome ending and left me deeply satisfied for the journey of it all. Ultimately, at their roots, I think this is what games should strive for. The greatest games that I can think of do this well. Shadow of the Colossus, Limbo, Portal… these are all games with a proper journey regardless of length.

The art and environments are dripping with atmosphere and is complimented by a lot of subtle sound design. I don’t need to say much more, really. I still like entering the shops – the arsenal and the brewery specifically. They just feel inviting, like the roaring fires inside are somehow warm and comforting. There’s just a well design ambiance to the places you go be it jungle or ice palace.

Seriously, just spend the $10 (or less!) and buy it. It’s well worth your investment.

Mirror’s Edge (iPad)

As we know, I’ve been a huge fan of Mirror’s Edge since long before it came out on PC. So it’s interesting that I only just picked up the iPad version – which was one of the first real iOS games back in the day – now, because it just became free.

Overall, I liked it.

I’m not sure it would really stand on it own, but having played through the real version so many times it brings back a sort of nostalgia for me. The textures are identical and the style translated well to the platformer view. The gameplay is more like Canabalt than anything, but with more buttons / more in game choices. I did appreciate that you can play the entire game with one thumb making the various swipe actions, although there are balance beam parts where you have to rotate the device physically which means you can’t play the game laying on your side on the couch or wherever. That’s slightly annoying. The levels are fairly straightforward, and there are side routes (that to say, above / below routes) which can save time or avoid enemies or have runner bags which, like the real game, are just a hidden collectible thing.

It’s pretty repetitive, to be fair, but it has those moments where you time everything perfectly to execute cool maneuvers and, like the real game, those are the moments that really aren’t found in other games. There’s that fluidity found in both which really captures that cool runner feeling, that these superpowers are a natural extension of your control. I’m glad that found a way to achieve that.

And, given that it’s now free, why not pick it up?

Trackmania 2: Canyon

I was excited when I found out there were releasing a new Trackmania and got a chance to play the beta a little bit here. Some thoughts:

It’s more Trackmania, for better or for worse. I’ve loved every game since the very first one and it’s been really cool to watch it grow from an indie game in the $15 rack of Radioshack to a fairly large racing platform with thousands of servers around the world. Canyon doesn’t stray far from the original formula which is both relieving (they didn’t ruin it) and somewhat disappointing (having played every TM before it, I’m sort of bored already).

Because there’s only one environment they’ve spent a lot more time perfecting it and the car’s balance with drifting and twitchy controls seems spot on perfect. Thankfully, the annoyingly top heavy Canyon cars of previous generations is no where to be found here. It’s more comparable to the Coast cars, but with a proper turning radius and lighter on the feet.

The track creation tools are quite a bit smarter in this generation and more contextual, so one part might fulfill a variety of roles depending on how it’s placed – this is awesome because the part list would go on forever if it wasn’t simplified like that. It takes some getting used to, but everything’s there somewhere. It seems a lot smarter at letting you know what you’re doing wrong, instead of TMU’s habit of just saying ‘no’ and leaving you to wonder how you need to change things to make it work.

Overall, I’m liking it so far. It’s pretty much like you’d expect, and once the real servers get up and populated I suspect some awesome, awesome tracks will start coming out of the wood works.

Minecraft on iOS

If there were a graph of national productivity, it’s gonna be takin’ a huge dip tomorrow.

In related news, I’m weaning off my iPad in favor of the spiffy new 13″ Macbook Air I just bought expressedly to play Minecraft, so I guess that was bad timing. (No, but seriously, I’m pretty excited to have Photoshop and such on the go, as much as I love the touchscreen experience)

Review of that to come!

Photo via the Verge which is awesome and also uses a column width identical to mine, which makes them doubly cool.

video games: art form?

I am strongly in the ‘video games are art’ camp, even if it’s occasionally lousy art. I’m not sure any particular medium or genre has consistently good art, so it’s useless to base it on that as we could say the same thing about paintings or music.

I liked their brief overview and how they featured ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Portal and Limbo because those are games that really inspired me personally as I played them and have a style that I still admire today. Of course, there are lots of other fantastic games there, I just mean those are the ones that are special to me.

The comments on the architecture of games was really cool to hear as well because I think it’s important. Not architecture like buildings but the architecture of the game, the gameplay design itself. That is an art unto itself and it rarely gets any recognition. Actually, that would be a fantastic topic for a future article(s) – let me do that instead of finishing this.

Enjoy the short film above, I’ll be back from a different angle.

Forever Drive

I read this preview and was really excited for this game. Like Trackmania, it allows you to build your own tracks and place scenery and such which is something I will gladly spend hours doing. Add a Tron styled world and the promise of gameplay that isn’t about the goal ending as much as the journey itself? Awesome.

Then I watched the video.

Maybe it’s a personal preference, but I was hoping for the Trackmania / Wipeout / F-Zero style gameplay where you are literally hanging half off the edge of the road trying to control your vehicle with twitchy skill that only comes from hundreds of previous failures and ever self-promised “Alright, just one more try!” that keeps you up late into the night. Although, in writing that very sentence I figured out why they aren’t going that route: mass appeal. As we know, iOS isn’t exactly the market for the hardcore gamer (not that I am by any means).

But maybe make multiple difficulty levels?

It seems like a good start, but with some tweaking it could go from a meh game into a really addicting one.

Trackmania 2: Canyon

I grew up on Trackmania. I own each and every single one, excitedly buying them as soon as they were released. They have a special place in my heart as a gamer, they defined a lot about what I like in games. They taught me that realism and graphics aren’t always the defining factor for a “good” game. They played off my love for Lego, and all that it entails: piecing things together for the experiment of it, imagination, the satisfaction of building something cool.

If you haven’t played any of them before, the above may or may not have made sense. The idea of the games is that they come with a level editor and all the tracks are made of interconnecting pieces. Since everybody can make levels, the online games are virtually infinite. There are several (depending on the game) environments, each with unique characteristics (both the car and the track elements) and so the dynamics of gameplay range a lot from one side to the other.

The sequel isn’t really out yet, but there is the pre-order / beta “Canyon” (one of seven previous environments) that’s been completely redone. It looks gorgeous, first off. The graphics engine seems to have been redone and the bricks themselves are less obviously grid elements, which makes it feel a lot more like the traditional racer, with studio hand made tracks. The cool thing, the exciting thing, is that like always I’ll have the ability to make the tracks as well, using the exact same tools they did.

Here’s the trailer for the most recent one that came out a few years back:

It doesn’t keep track of hours played, but it would be in the hundreds.

I am so excited for the next edition.

Portal is Free!

I’ve shared my love for this game before, and now you have no excuse not to play it because for the next three days (until sept. 20) it’s available from Valve for the low, low price of free.

Seriously. If you haven’t already, play this game. It’s fun, mind bending, hilarious, well written and overall just fantastic.

It’s saturday morning, so what are you waiting for? Go Go Go!


Limbo, World of Goo and Indie Gaming

Photo via Northwest Gamer

Limbo is a fantastic game, simply. I’m a picky player – the game has to be really good for me to get excited about it. There have been a few though, over the years that have really shone and I will religiously preach them to whoever asks. Few and far between, here are a few that come to mind:

World of Goo:

Photo via KacperM

The story. I had no idea a game with virtually no talking, no singular protagonist, no real antagonist and no plot except for the linear level progress could be so compelling. I was pulled in. The sign painter was hilarious, helpful and often incredibly clever. I’ll try to be vague to avoid spoilers, but the ending did have that good, satisfying feeling. The journey comes to a close and you’re sort of sad that that’s all there is to the game, but glad that you accomplished it, and relieved they didn’t just ruin it by going on forever. The soundtrack can be found free and sometimes it’ll come on shuffle and I’ll have nostalgic flashbacks. Man, I’m such a sap. But really, that’s what a good game should do to you.

I like the mix of patience building and frantic haphazard construction. The game itself turns and introduces the various goo species in a nice fashion. I’m not sure really what else to say here.


Photo via The Controller Online

I played it a while back on a friend’s xbox and just bought it the other day on Steam so I’m about halfway through it right now. It’s a fairly short game – you could probably beat it in a few hours if you really sat down and hammered through, already knowing the puzzle’s solutions. Still, that’s no way to appreciate a game. Like fine wine, slow sips; allowing it to savour as it flows through your mind. Limbo is in the subtleties. Perhaps it’s just me and my habit of looking behind the scenes and learning how things are done, but the environment was really cleverly made. The very deliberate use of light and shadow, silhouettes and objects, light fog and dark vignettes is perfect. Spot on. Brilliant. Really, it’s art.

The story is vague and there isn’t really any explanation for anything, which is fine by me. I really dislike the patronizing tutorials “Run left with the left key. Try it now. Good! Now you can run left” is just ridiculous. None of that here, not that it’s terribly hard to figure out, there’s only four keys really. Still, the level design teaches you things that would be awkward to explain using text and introduces the elements in a way that shows you how it works without putting you in frustrating danger. Again, subtle. Well designed.

It too has an ending, though it’s slightly more upsetting. Rather, it just sort of stops. It’s over. You sit there, staring at the screen and think “What just happened?” while your brain tries to process everything. It leaves it to you to explain it all which is both good and bad – both enlightening and frustratingly vague. Still, the journey is a good one and highly recommended.

In General:

It’s sad to me that people are less likely to pirate bigger games. The direct effect of that is games like the two mentioned above, which can’t be bigger than a few hundred MBs, are the most likely to be pirated. I’m not sure what the actual stats were, but the rate of piracy of World of Goo was staggering. Shamefully staggering.

The irony is that these are the small studios who need it the most. These are the ones taking risks and making brilliant, brilliant products. These are the studios we should support more than anyone.

So I definitely recommend the games above, and I also recommend that you consider who makes them and how little money they make for doing it. It’s not really about ethics or morals or anything, I just think these are studios who deserve mad props and a little of our pocket change is all. I support awesome products.



Team Fortress 2

I’ve known what Team Fortress was since it come out with the Orange Box (2007) but I was much too addicted to Portal to even think about anything else at the time.

Fast forward to the other week and Valve announced that it’s now free to play! So, I promptly downloaded it from Steam and got to work reading through the wiki to catch up on the years of strategy I’d lost out on (despite my mediocre FPS ability, I hate being the weak link on a team – especially as teamwork is vital here).

The thing that struck me is how utterly gorgeous it is. It’s definitely not photorealistic like CoD tries to be, but instead embraces it’s frenzied, ridiculous nature by giving it a slightly cartoony feel, like something out of the Road Runner cartoons. The rocks are square and gestural, unashamedly flat – just like the deserts where Wile E. Coyote hunts. The buildings look like what I imagine ACME factories look like, with that same sort of chariacture approach. They often have short, catchy names printed on the side of them in old painted script, a nod to the old advertising.

But there’s another genre mixed in there, subtle but strong in places – Ken Adam’s style architecture. A lot of the places are right out of the 60’s – 70’s spy movies, with huge displays of maps and large, clunky computer consoles in the central control rooms and abundant cave-turned-warehouse style constructions that scream secret lair. There are hallways that go from gleaming concrete to untouched rock with the wiring tied right into it, seemingly built by some utilitarian villain, making a home from which to build some death ray or giant rocket.

As for the game itself, I’ve only played a few hours but so far it’s been a blast. It’s definitely a chaotic brawl at some times and a well executed team plan at others. You don’t need to have friends as team mates, but there are those times when you anticipate each other perfectly and it comes out spectacularly for the win. Those moments, for me, are what defines multiplayer games. Those are the moments that no AI, no bot can give you.

The game structure is somewhat rock paper scissors style, with guns. There are nine classes, each with a natural strength and weakness and so team makeup is essential to cover (or at least minimize) those weaknesses. There are natural pair ups, like Heavy + Medics; where the heavy just stands in the middle shooting everything that moves while the medic tries to hide behind him, constantly healing him from the wall of bullets he’s enduring. But! Then there’s snipers at the back trying to peg off the medic so the Heavy will go down (although in my experience as a Sniper, a 100% headshot will take down a Heavy with or without a medic) and there are assault classes to take out the snipers and so on.

So, given that it’s free you should probably get it. Right now.

And, to all my gamer readers out there, throw your Steam ID my way and we can play sometime.


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