Where Is My Mind?

Again with the vanishing act, I know, I know…

1. Just a short while ago I’d mentioned that I was feeling pressure to complete my self-imposed Goodreads challenge.  I’d go through my backlog and purposely pick shorter books, and read them a bit quicker than I’d prefer, just to stay ahead of the pace.  As it currently stands, though, I’ve finished 29 of 35, and so I think I’m in pretty good shape.  The last 5 books I’ve read since the last time I wrote this down:

  • A Doubter’s Almanac, Ethan Canin.  Some phenomenally good writing here tracing the generational lines of a tortured mathematical genius, though I must admit that this Goodreads comment is spot on:  “Deliver me from art about troubled men whose genius is used as an excuse for them to be assholes.”
  • The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith.  Very good prose, but the plot ran out of steam for me and I had trouble staying engaged with it.
  • The Fisherman, John Langan.  Picked this up (among several others) on the advice of Unwinnable’s EIC Stu Horvath, and I’m very glad I did; this is a really well-written bit of cosmic horror that I couldn’t put down.
  • The Fugitives, Christopher Sorrentino.  This is, according to my GoogleDoc, the second-least-enjoyable book I’ve finished this year.  (The least-enjoyable book that I finished would be China Mieville’s This Census Taker, which was short enough for me to finish but long enough for me to swear off his books for the rest of my life.  I also attempted to read Girl On The Train but gave up about a third of the way into it.)  Anyway, there’s some marvelous writing here, but there’s also a ton of bullshit, and the final third is so confusing and messy and aggravating that I found myself incredibly relieved when I finished it.
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this.  This ought to be essential reading for literally every person on the planet.

I’m currently reading Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, also from that Unwinnable list, and it’s certainly doing the same sorts of things to my brain that Stranger Things did, though I suspect this is going to not have as happy an ending.

2. I am very close to finishing Double Fine’s VHS homage to Metroidvania, Headlander, and I’m torn between really loving the hell out of it and also wanting to break my controller in half during some of the boss battles.  Double Fine games are a tough thing for me to objectively critique; my love for Tim Schafer’s early work blinds me a bit, and so I’m willing to overlook a lot of issues.  A lot of recent DF games are marvelously clever and beautiful and charming and whimsical, but they don’t necessarily play all that well?  Headlander, on the other hand, is possibly the most game-y game they’ve made since Psychonauts, where the emphasis is very much on the actual gameplay and less on the writing.  Of course, the writing remains very good, and the game’s audio/visual aesthetic is top-notch, as always; it’s just that this is (for the most part) actually, legitimately fun to play.  (Except for some of the boss battles, which… aaaaaaaaaaaaa)

3. So, yeah; I’m still in somewhat of a cocooning phase, though I’m starting to feel better.  It’s going to remain somewhat quiet around here, though, as the day job has installed some rather heavy-duty internet firewall stuff, and so I don’t really know how much I can get away with (and it’s a line that I’m not particularly willing to cross at this point in time).  I’ll do my best to keep a somewhat regular presence here, of course.


Broken Age, Part 1: the reconsideration

In my last post, I’d said that I’d been struggling to stay engaged with Broken Age, the long-awaited, Kickstarter’d 2D point-and-click adventure game by Tim Schafer and Double Fine.  And I went off into some tangents about my personal feelings towards the Kickstarter process, and whether or not I was still interested in adventure games in general.  (That discussion, unfortunately, did not quite get to the point where I could find a way to include a link to Old Man Murray’s immortal classic “Death of Adventure Games”, so I’m including it here simply because I can’t not include a link to it if I’m talking about adventure games.)

I’d mentioned that I’d reached a point in both stories where the path was no longer linear – I’ll try to avoid spoilers here the best I can, but basically in Vella’s story I’d reached the 2nd (“cloud”) town and wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, and in Shay’s story I had been given a set of three urgent tasks but no real idea how I should tackle them.  I found myself feeling a little intimidated, I suppose, and when I get intimidated I sometimes tend to shut down, as opposed to persevering.

Well, it turns out that all I really needed was 24 hours to clear my head and come at these things with fresh eyes, and I ended up finishing both stories (Shay first, then Vella – which, now that I think about it, is probably the best way to do it) shortly thereafter.

Broken Age’s puzzles (such as they are) aren’t necessarily difficult or obtuse; your inventory is relatively small, and most of the time your objects interact with other objects in ways that make sense.  (As much as I dearly love Grim Fandango, there were a number of puzzles that simply broke my brain in half – I’m remembering a puzzle in the first act involving bread crumbs and an inflatable balloon.)  I suppose I was intimidated simply because when it comes to classic adventure games, I like to get things right, and I keep forgetting that there’s no real way to achieve a fail state.  At the end of the day, there was really only one puzzle that I couldn’t figure out without the help of the internet (i.e., using the crochet needle to trick the Weaver into going to a forbidden destination – I knew the crochet needle was involved, but I couldn’t figure out the solution – and in fact I still can’t, because the walkthrough I used didn’t actually explain why it worked).  Everything else was, for the most part, relatively straightforward.

What I really want to talk about, of course, is the cliffhanger at the end.  I won’t, of course, unless we take this into the comment section below.  Suffice it to say, I think it’s a pretty neat trick – and when I think back on certain elements of Shay’s story, there’s quite a lot of telegraphing – and now I absolutely cannot wait for Part 2.

Beyond that, the game is an absolute joy.  Marvelous voice acting with a very charming and witty script, outstanding art direction, a beautiful and evocative orchestral score.  This is, in fact, what I was hoping for when I backed this thing in the first place; I’m glad I finally came around to appreciate it.

Weekend Recap: Nintendo, Broken Age, a lack of fantastic newness

1.  The big news story on Friday was Nintendo’s horrible, no-good, very bad earnings report, and the subsequent discussion, hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth on the big sites and Twitter was more or less focused on how Nintendo can turn things around.  I sometimes feel like I’m the wrong person to comment about anything Nintendo related, being that I never had a Nintendo system as a kid and so I don’t feel any particular pull towards the company; and yet, now that I think about it, I think I might very well be the perfect person to comment about what Nintendo needs to do.

*  This sounds insane, I know, but the first Nintendo-built hardware I ever owned was not an NES, SNES, Gameboy, Super Gameboy, N64 or Gamecube – it was, in fact, a DS.  And I mainly bought it for Nintendogs, thinking that my wife might get a kick out of it – we were dog-less at the time, and I thought it might help scratch that itch.  The DS was a great system by the time I got my hands on it – it had a really diverse lineup of games, and those games seemed to take full advantage of the DS’s strange setup (which, ironically, made the system feel less strange the more you played with it; in fact, the DS probably helped pave the way for the acceptance of the “second screen”).

I bought (and then regretted buying) a Wii; I bought (and enjoy, sorta) a 3DS; I have absolutely no desire to buy a WiiU.  I have no desire to buy a WiiU because: (1) there hasn’t been any significant new first-party IP in years, which means that if you buy a new Nintendo console you know exactly what you’re going to get, which is a bunch of Mario-themed games, a Zelda, maybe a Metroid, a Super Smash Brothers, and that’s more or less it, and so if you don’t really care about those franchises, there’s nothing to look forward to; and (2) there is no third-party support at all, which makes the prospect of owning just a Nintendo console incredibly limiting.

New IP is a risky business, of course, and considering that there are still rabid fans for their existing franchises, it seems like the best thing for Nintendo to do is stay the course, continue iterating and reiterating on what the fans already know and love, and hope that one of them does really well.

The lack of third-party support, though… that’s the killer.  (That’s what ultimately led to the death of the Dreamcast – once EA stopped putting out Madden and the rest of its sports titles, that pretty much ended other third-party prospects.)  Because if you (like me) don’t particularly care about Mario or Zelda, there’s literally no reason to own a Nintendo console – nobody’s porting their games over, and the ones that do don’t really know how to take advantage of the WiiU’s peculiar hardware.  (With the notable exception of ZombiiU, of course, which is a game I haven’t played.)

I won’t pretend to know anything about game development, but even I can see that Nintendo seems to be operating in some sort of tech bubble, wholly unaware of the innovations made by its competitors.  One only needs to look at Nintendo’s online services to figure out just how behind the times they are.  This Eurogamer feature written by an anonymous third-party developer goes into some pretty jaw-dropping detail about how difficult it is to develop a WiiU title, from a wide variety of angles – there’s one quote in particular, though, that’s been attracting a great deal of attention:

The discussion started off well enough and covered off our experiences with the hardware and (slow) toolchain and then we steered them towards discussing when the online features might be available. We were told that the features, and the OS updates to support them, would be available before the hardware launch, but only just. There were apparently issues with setting up a large networking infrastructure to rival Sony and Microsoft that they hadn’t envisaged.

This was surprising to hear, as we would have thought that they had plenty of time to work on these features as it had been announced months before, so we probed a little deeper and asked how certain scenarios might work with the Mii friends and networking, all the time referencing how Xbox Live and PSN achieve the same thing. At some point in this conversation we were informed that it was no good referencing Live and PSN as nobody in their development teams used those systems (!) so could we provide more detailed explanations for them?

That’s bad enough.  The developer’s conclusions about the WiiU’s failure, though, seem to mirror my own:

[…]I’d like to highlight some interesting points that have been on my mind recently. Firstly, third-party support. Do you remember all the hype surrounding the Wii U launch? All those third parties showing videos of existing games that they were going to bring to the Wii U? Whatever happened to a lot of those games?

After the initial flurry of game titles a lot of the studios quietly backed away from their initial statements and announced, with minimal press, that they were in fact not going to make a Wii U version. The reasons behind a particular title not appearing on the Wii U are all pure speculation, but I personally think that a combination of:

  • Previous development experience using the toolchain and hardware put off development teams from making another title on Wii U.
  • The technical and feature support from Nintendo were lacking for third-party studios. There was a feeling internally that if you weren’t a first-party development studio, you were largely ignored by Nintendo, as we were superficial to their profits. Internally developed titles would save Nintendo and we were just there to add depth to the games catalogue.
  • The sales figures for the Wii U console were not looking that good soon after launch. There was a lot of confusion in the general population around the launch as most people thought that the Wii U was some kind of add-on to the Wii, they didn’t know that it was a new console. This lack of awareness probably contributed to the console not getting off to the start that Nintendo would have hoped and put off studio from developing on the hardware.
  • Nintendo also fell victim to bad timing. A few months after the console launched the next-gen hype train stepped up a gear as Sony announced the PlayStation 4, with Microsoft joining the fray a few months later. Don’t forget that many of the larger studios would have known about the hardware months before it was announced, well before the Wii U hardware actually launched.

So, these larger studios had a choice. Would they develop a port of an existing game to a console with limited capabilities and limited market penetration? Or put their teams to work on developing new features and concepts for the “real” next-gen consoles that were going to be launched that year? When you look at it this way, the choice isn’t that hard.


Doubtless, the first-party developers at Nintendo will make the hardware sing – they always do – but the situation looks grim for those of us in third-party development, with the opportunity to progress on the hardware held back by both the quality of the tools and the lack of financial reward for tailoring our code to the strengths of the hardware. So where does that leave the Wii U?

I didn’t mean to quote so much!  The whole article is worth a good read and does a great job of articulating the myriad of problems the WiiU faces, if reading about such things is something you’re interested in.

2.  As for me:  not a lot of gaming for a 3-day weekend.  I basically inched along in Broken Age and sped through a bunch more AC4 on the PS4.

I am… having trouble staying engaged in Broken Age, sorry to say.  It’s beautiful and charming and witty and very sweet, of course, and so that’s all wonderful, but… I don’t know if it’s the game, or if it’s me, or what, but I’m just not feeling all that inclined towards staying with it.  I’ve reached a point in both stories where the path for each story has become somewhat non-linear, and I suppose not knowing what to do next is a little intimidating.  (I felt the same way at various points in Grim Fandango, for what it’s worth, and I love the hell out of that game.)

I’ve only supported 3 things on Kickstarter; a friend’s film project, a second sequel to one of my favorite films of all time (Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool), and Broken Age.  There’s been lots written about Kickstarter and the psychology of donations and the service’s various up- and down-sides (this Kotaku feature is but the latest), and that’s all well and good; I supported the things I supported because I’m fans of the creators and wanted to see their work succeed.  I don’t necessarily feel “ownership” over these projects; in the specific case of Broken Age, I didn’t want to watch the making-of stuff, or see anything about the game’s development, because I wanted the experience to be unspoiled.  All I did was to give them the money I’d have given them anyway, except that in this case I was helping the game actually get made.

So I don’t necessarily come to the game with unusual expectations, is what I’m trying to say.  That being said, I have high expectations for anything that has Tim Schafer’s name on it, because I’m a huge fan of his and most of everything he’s ever made has been something I’ve enjoyed greatly; funding the game on Kickstarter wouldn’t have changed that.  Getting a chance to play a new game in Tim’s old creative wheelhouse should be something special and celebrated.

Perhaps it’s simply that I don’t enjoy old school point-and-click adventure games the way I used to, no matter how lovingly crafted they appear to be.  Even with Telltale’s recent resurgence in games like The Walking Dead and the Fables game, I’m not drawn to them the way I might’ve been a few years ago; I can’t explain why, other than that I start to get fidgety and anxious after a while.  I suppose I should explore this in depth at some point.

In any event, yeah – I’m a little over an hour into Broken Age.  The girl is in the cloud town; the boy has escaped his room and is making further plans with the wolf guy.  Normally I’d feel OK in writing a “First Few Hours” post at this point in a game, but where Broken Age is concerned I feel like I should play through this first half before making any formal declarations.  And like I said above, right now I’m having trouble staying involved in the game, and I don’t know if that’s my fault or the game’s.

As for AC4… well, I’m playing it primarily because I want to feel like I didn’t waste my money buying a PS4.  I kept almost downloading Battlefield 4 and Need For Speed Rivals and then chickening out at the last minute, mostly because I don’t want to spend $120 on games that I’m playing simply to have something to play.  Fortunately, AC4 looks and feels so much better on the PS4 than it did on my PC that the experience is largely positive; and if it feels repetitive, well, I am finding that I’m going through it a lot faster (because I know what I’m doing).

My rental copy of Battlefield 4 shipped today; that should arrive by Thursday, and so I’ve saved $60.  I’m not sure if I’m going to wait for Need for Speed, or keep my rental queue clear for Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.  I’m maybe inclined towards waiting for Tomb Raider, because (as with AC4), it’s a game I like a lot, but more prettier.

revisiting Brutal Legend

I was home sick today, and so I decided to spend some of my convalescence by downloading the Steam version of Brutal Legend, a game that I still own (and never finished) on the 360.

Brutal Legend - The Wall

This is what I wrote about Brutal Legend back when I was first playing it in October 2009:

I don’t quite know how to express how bummed out I am about Brutal Legend. The art direction is stupendous, and the world itself is just fantastic. I love driving around and exploring the world and seeing all the incredible stuff there is to see, and my compulsive need to seek out hidden collectibles is very well satisfied. The dialogue and cut-scenes are fantastic, and even though the side missions are incredibly repetitive, they almost never last more than a few minutes, and the rewards generally result in neat stuff in Ozzy’s Garage.

But goddamn, the stage battles completely suck all my enthusiasm out of the game. It eventually got to the point where I had completed every side mission and found every hidden thing I could possibly find, just because I wanted to play the game as much as possible without having to go through the stage battles. And, of course, the story can’t progress unless you do those stage battles, and therein lay the tragedy.

I don’t necessarily hate real time strategy games, I’m just not very good at them, and Brutal Legend’s brief tutorials don’t really help me in terms of figuring out what the hell is going on, and the game does such a terrible job of providing adequate feedback, especially when I’m on the ground trying to kill people because my army refuses to move. Once you start getting wounded, and the screen starts turning red and the heartbeat starts pounding louder, you’re almost always dead, and I’ve yet to figure out why. Even when I try to fly away, I die. And even though I’ve eventually won every stage battle I’ve participated in, I really don’t understand why, and the whole thing just feels shoddy and poorly implemented.

I have all the respect in the world for Tim Schafer; I’ll play anything the man works on. But I’m starting to feel that there’s more to a game than art direction and funny dialogue; ultimately, a game either succeeds or fails based on how much fun it is to play, and Brutal Legend is not very much fun at all.

This is Tim Schafer speaking about the game with Rock Paper Shotgun today:

“When Brutal Legend was done, a lot of people wanted the wrapper to it – the heavy metal world – to be [the only unique thing about it],” he said. “They basically wanted the heavy metal funny version of God of War. A very simple hack and slash game. That’s a real tough call for me. It’s hard to say, ‘There’s this other thing that’s not the thing you’re trying to do. The thing you care about and that you love. There’s this other version of it that’s totally different and it would be more successful. Why don’t you make that version?’”

“Maybe it would have been more successful. It would have been more accessible and simpler and easier for people to grasp. But it wasn’t the thing that got me up in the morning and made me want to make the game.”

I am sad to report that my opinions of the game have not changed one bit.  The world is still wondrous, the art direction is still mesmerizing, the characters are still memorable and marvelously performed and animated, the dialogue is still witty and smart, and the story is still engaging… but the gameplay is still shitty.   I understand where Tim is coming from in that RPS quote – making a simplistic hack-n-slash game is probably not as inspiring as coming up with this RTS-esque system – but if you’re going to commit to a complicated system over the more obvious route, then you’ve got to make sure that your audience can follow along with you.  I’m sure some people understood how the game worked, but I never could.  And after my time with it tonight, I’m not sure I’ll ever get there.

It’s also worth bringing up that this PC port is not without some noticeable problems.  Lots of weird graphical glitches and bugs pop up all the time – the mouse cursor will appear in the middle of the screen at random even though I’m playing with a controller, some of the upgrade options in Ozzy’s Garage are totally glitched out, and the audio has a tendency to come and go during the pre-rendered cut-scenes.  (As I type this, I see that Steam just downloaded a 50MB patch; maybe that will help smooth out these rough edges.)

Despite my pessimism, I really would like to see a sequel – this world is too amazing to be lost to time.  I just hope that if they get the chance to make one, that they’ll be able to take as much time as is necessary to make sure the game part works.  Double Fine’s games have never come up short in the story department, or the art department, or any of the other technical/creative departments – they’ve only ever shown their weaknesses during the parts where you actually have to play them.  As I said above, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Tim and his company, and I’ve played pretty much everything they’ve put out, and will continue to do so – I’m certainly waiting with bated breath for the Kickstarter Adventure (whose progress I’ve been trying to not follow, actually).  I wish nothing but success for Double Fine.  I just can’t help but feel that success will only truly arrive once their games are as much fun to play as they are to experience.

weekend recap: well, that wasn’t so bad

Firstly, some necessary meta-news to report:  the aforementioned apartment drama might very well be resolved, which is, as you might imagine,  a HUGE weight off of my shoulders.  I’m reluctant to say anything further, as we haven’t actually signed any leases or anything, and I don’t want to jinx it.  But the point is that I’m pretty sure we’re OK, and that the logistics of the move itself would be the easiest and least costly move we could possibly undergo, short of actually not having to move at all.

And so, in the midst of continued purging of apartment stuff, and the various frantic callings and emailings and textings of assorted realtors and landlords and such, I found that I needed to blow off some steam.  And so I dabbled in a bunch of games.

First off:  I finished 1 playthrough of The Cave, Ron Gilbert’s long-awaited new adventure joint with DoubleFine.  (My playthrough was with the Knight, the Time Traveler, and the Adventurer.)  Considering the pedigree of those involved in its creation, I feel a little cheap reducing my opinion of it to a 7-word sentence, but what follows sums up the experience pretty accurately:  it is equal parts charming and tedious.  The writing is certainly humorous but very rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious; the puzzles are, for the most part, straightforward and free of old-school obtuseness, but they can be exceedingly tedious to execute, requiring you to move three characters independently, all of whom move just slowly enough for it to become annoying after a while, especially when a puzzle requires frequent backtracking.  I still found the experience worthwhile, and I’m sure I’ll get around to seeing the other characters’ individual stories, but it’s a hard package to heartily recommend.

On the console front, I played a few levels of Devil May Cry.  I don’t really know how to talk about it; I’ve never been much of a DmC fan, and I don’t really know anything about the franchise or the character or the legacy or how radically different this particular reboot is.  I’m not necessarily all that good at these kinds of games, either; I rented it purely based on the review scores, which have been, more or less, exceedingly positive.  But what I can say is that, if nothing else, it features some rather astonishing visual design – some of the levels seems straight out of a Terry Gilliam fever dream, and I mean that as one of the highest compliments I can bestow.   So while I don’t particularly give a shit about what’s going to happen next, I do very much want to see what happens next, if you know what I mean.

I also reconnected my PS3 to my living room TV* so that I could get some time in with Ni No Kuni and The Unfinished Swan, the latter of which is currently only $3 or $4 on PSN for Plus subscribers.

Ni No Kuni is very charming, very beautiful, and very much a JRPG, with all the good/bad that goes along with it – the bad, in this case, specifically referring to a certain pet peeve of mine.  Lots of Japanese games do this particular thing, by the way, not just JRPGs, but JRPGs do it the most – where every single movement of a character, no matter how arduous, is vocalized.  You can be climbing up a mountain, or simply running along a shady lane, but every step of the way is grunted and oomphed and aahed and it’s very distracting and weird.  That aside, the game is as lovely and charming as you might expect a Level 5 / Studio Ghibli collaboration to be.   I can’t yet tell if the battle system is overly complicated or not; there appear to be a lot of mechanics that you need to be paying attention to at any one time, but the game does a rather wonderful job of showing you how it works.  I’m only an hour or two into it, but I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with it, especially during this pre-baby, slow-release-calendar window we’re currently in.

As for The Unfinished Swan, I’m not sure what to make of it.   It’s an astonishingly well executed visual trick, and I certainly appreciate the attempt at an engaging narrative.   That being said, I’m currently in the blueprint level, and I’m a bit stuck; the controls are kind of terrible, all of a sudden.  I wonder if it’s because I’m not using a Move controller; I certainly hope not, because up until this point the game was controlling just fine.

I’m also sort-of still dabbling in Hitman Absolution; I’ve started to figure out how the game is supposed to work, even though I still find myself getting impatient.  I also find the game rather distasteful; all the characters are horrible (on purpose), and the world is really seedy and disgusting, and it’s a hard world to want to stay engaged in.  I can really only play for, like, 10 or 20 minutes at a time before I need to turn it off and cleanse my palate.  It makes me feel unclean.


* Because my wife was a recent Fringe fan and needed to binge very quickly on the first 4 seasons to get caught up for the current (and last) season, we’d had to move the PS3 into the bedroom and our other Blu-Ray player over to the living room, as the other Blu-Ray player didn’t have a wi-fi connection.   Suffice it to say, I hadn’t really missed the PS3 in the interim until this week.

kickstart the jams

I’ve got things I want to say about Final Fantasy XIII-2, and also Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning, and a few more words on Skyrim and the 1.4 patch.

But first I’ve gotta talk about Double Fine’s Kickstarter campaign, wherein Tim Schafer & Co. asked the community to help fund an old-school point-and-click adventure game.  That it’s raised its initial ask amount of $400,000 in 8 hours is amazing.  That it’s now almost a million dollars over its initial ask amount – in less than 3 days – is nothing short of extraordinary (indeed, it might break $1,400,000 by the time I finish this post – it’s a little over $50,000 away as of 12:34pm EST, 2/10/12).   I contributed $40, and I will play it on every platform it arrives on (especially since, with all this extra money, it appears likely that it’ll head to iOS devices), and I will devour the accompanying documentary.

I’d like to think that this experiment would radically change the current development system, which every small developer has repeatedly described as “fundamentally broken.”  Double Fine owns this project outright, and since they’re distributing it over Steam (and presumably other download services), they don’t have to pay retail costs – and consequently, they don’t really need a publisher, either.  It’s pure profit after they recoup their expenses, they retain complete creative control, and they’ll deliver a product that lots and lots of people apparently want.  Why can’t this work for other game developers?

Well, the answer to that question is very complicated, and I’m not going to pretend that I can answer it.  From my limited vantage point, the only real thing I can compare it to is Radiohead’s “pay-what-you-want” release of “In Rainbows”, which they released without a label behind them.  (Similarly, one could also bring up Louis CK’s recent “pay-what-you-want” release of a filmed comedy special.)

The worlds of game development, music and stand-up comedy are so different that to compare them is almost meaningless, but in this particular case these three entities (Double Fine, Radiohead, Louis CK) do share one rather important thing in common – they are adored by their fans, and they have many, many fans, and those fans very much want what these artists are providing.

This is important, I think.  These three entities are in unique positions within their respective industries – i.e., they are near-universally loved from both without and within – and they have a certain amount of clout that allows them to pull stuff like this off.  Tim Schafer’s past work has made him an adored cult figure, and yet none of his games have really sold in huge numbers.  They’ve sold well enough to make back their costs, and he’s retained an adoring fanbase, but he’s not pushing GTA or Call of Duty off the bestseller charts.  That he’s going back to his roots to make the sort of game that made him famous is, for many people (myself included), a dream come true.  That he knew that no publisher was ever going to give him the money to make this sort of game is, sadly, a reality of today’s marketplace.  New IP is very, very risky, and new IP in the shape of a point-and-click adventure title is basically asking to set your money on fire.

I’m not sure Tim Schafer expected this kind of success this quickly, though; I’m not sure anybody did.  And let’s also be clear here – at this point, he’s only raised the money; we haven’t actually seen the game yet.  The game could very well be terrible.  (Unlikely, but hey – Brutal Legend wasn’t nearly as good as I wanted it to be, either.)

Are there any other developers that could pull something like this off?  I’m not sure.  Rock Paper Shotgun is reporting that Obsidian is considering it.   You could see Jonathan Blow (of Braid) working in this way in the future, perhaps.  (My personal dream would be for Erik Wolpaw to break off from Valve to develop his own game.)  You’d need a developer with vision, is the thing.

The great irony to this whole thing is that not 48 hours before Double Fine’s Kickstarter kicked off, Minecraft’s “Notch” was offering to fund Psychonauts 2.   Tim Schafer’s said, though, that such a project would cost between $20-40M, and that kind of money isn’t going to come through Kickstarter, and I can’t imagine that Notch has that much money to kick around.

Anyway, this is a very exciting time, and it will be very interesting to see what happens next.  If Radiohead is any example, though, this sort of thing might not end up catching on beyond artists who are big enough to support such an endeavor in the first place; considering the prohibitive costs of game development, I have my doubts that lightning can strike twice.  Still, we can always hope.

Weekend Recap: the plunge

When the wife is out of town, there’s lots of gaming to be done – this is a given.  This only really becomes a problem when there’s nothing in the rotation that’s really grabbing me.  I spent a great deal of time on my MacBook, almost downloading Season 1 of Back To the Future just for the sake of having something new to play, conveniently ignoring that I also own – and have not played, or even installed – Seasons 2 and 3 of Sam & Max, Season 1 of Strong Bad, and Season 1 of Tales of Monkey Island (or is it “Tales From Monkey Island”?).  I did end up playing a few levels of Puzzle Agent, now that I think of it…

Anyway – the time I spent not being a Steam whore was spent playing lots and lots of DoubleFine’s new XBLA title Trenched, both singleplayer and co-op (in both 2-, 3- and 4-player sessions), and then, for some strange reason, lots and lots of XBLA’s Full House Poker, and then, when I was utterly grasping at straws, I filled in some backlog, most notably finally finishing Torchlight‘s main quest.  I also made a few half-hearted attempts at trying to get into Dungeon Siege 3, which didn’t go so well.

I am a bigger fan of DoubleFine and their creativity than I am of their games.  It’s entirely possible that my undying love for the characters, setting, art design, dialogue, and general concept of Psychonauts obscured some of that game’s problems; not that it had many, but the Meat Circus occupies a special place in my cold, dead heart devoted to rage-quitting and controller-throwing.  That being said, no amount of favorable pre-release bias could help me get into Brutal Legend – specifically, the RTS bits.  The world was incredible, the driving-around stuff was great fun, the melee combat was satisfying, the characters were memorable and well-acted – but those stage battles drove me fucking crazy, and I never ended up finishing it, to my great regret.  Costume Quest was adorable, but the RPG combat was bland; Stacking was conceptually incredible, but eventually grew tedious.  The sad truth is that for all the great qualities that every DoubleFine title has, the actual game parts are usually the weakest.

Not so with Trenched, and I say that as a gamer with a generally weak tolerance for the tower defense genre.  Trenched might actually be the most fun I’ve ever had with a DoubleFine game.  Now, it’s entirely possible that my recent addiction to Plants v. Zombies might have helped pave the way for me in terms of understanding the tower defense concept, but the game does a swell job of telling you what you need and how to get it done, and when push comes to shove, there’s an awful lot of shooting that you end up doing – you can’t just sit back and be passive.  (Well, I suppose you can, if you have enough of the right emplacements – and if you have teammates that do all the shooting for you.)  The game is great fun in singleplayer but it absolutely shines in co-op – I spent a lot of time in both 2, 3 and 4-player configurations and the madness that ensued was incredibly satisfying.

I can’t explain why I got sucked into Full House Poker, though.  My days of Texas Hold’em obsession were long-gone, or so I thought.  FHP does a fantastic job keeping you at the tables, though, with a perk system very reminiscent of the COD titles.  You earn XP on almost every hand, and your rewards for leveling are substantial enough that they’re not a total waste of time.  It’s also a great use of the 360’s Avatars – the game’s got a surprising amount of personality to it, and it’s fun to see my little guy doing chip tricks and such.  I could see myself sinking a lot of time in this one over the summer.

There’s not much to say about Torchlight, other than to say that if the sequel doesn’t have some sort of online co-op option, I’m probably not going to bother.  I love hack-and-slashes, don’t get me wrong, but I’d much rather play it with friends.  That being said, I finished the main story – that final boss was a BITCH.  I may do some of the infinite dungeon, but then again, probably not.

There’s not much to say about Dungeon Siege 3, either, which is a shame.  I didn’t even get any Achievements out of it.  At least Torchlight had some personality and verve; DS3 was bland, bland, bland.  My affection towards the franchise is really only for the first title, which (if I remember correctly) was notable for being gorgeous in its day.  Nothing about DS3 stood out for me, which is why it’s going right back to Gamefly.

In other, STFC-related news, I’m hoping to start up a regular column devoted to iPhone games – look for that soon.

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