Tagged: Video game

Like I mentioned earlier, Pankapu will be released on the 21st of September.

Which is today. Yay.


I have played the game for about 3 hours up until I came to a roadblock that I will explain later. Don’t know if said block was poor design or a flaw that is unique to the pre-build. In either case, expect a timely review now and a thorough review later this week. Once I beat episode one, I will have even more info and insight as to what I think of the “ending”. Yes. There will be spoilers. Not in this review but in the next one. You have been warned.


Before I get into the Good, Bad, and Summary of my gameplay experience thus far, let me recap briefly on how I got this game so early. Like many of the indie reviews I do, the source comes to me rather then the other way around. And as is becoming fairly common for me, the messaging system of choice tends to be through my profile  on LinkedIn.com. I was approached by a representative of Too Kind Games and was asked to review it. Upon accepting, I was given a press kit with the pretty pictures you are about to see and a steam code. Perks of being a game reviewer, I suppose.

If you haven’t read my previous post yet, let me recap what this game is about. Real quick; boy has PTSD, his dad cheers him up with a bedtime story, story is about dreamland being taken over by nightmares until dream god creates a hero to save that world RPG platformer style. There. Your all caught up now.

Pankapu is a kickstarter project of a very small indie studio called Too Kind Games, is the dream product of two talented frenchmen, and has been released for the PC as well as pretty much any next gen console you can afford. There is even hints about it being for NX, so you’ll be able to download it if and when you get it for Christmas.

Okay, as always we start nice and positive. Here’s what went right.

The Good

The game in question can be as smooth and polished as you’d expect. It’s an indie game for sure, but one with low-maintenance graphics that feature beautiful artwork, flowing animations, and responsive control schemes that are intuitive to master. So intuitive in fact that the game manages to keep handholding tutorials down to a bare minimum; a godsend in the age of annoying information blips every time you try something new. All in all, maneuvering between enemies and platform is easy enough, and the challenges can require great precision without being unfair. That in and of itself is a staple of good design.

The narrative seems a little too simple at first, right up until you remember that the game itself is actually a child listening to a bedtime story. The game reminds you of this subtly with characters that resemble people who for the sake of this game’s meta story exist “in the real world”. Even when you level up your hero with new magical abilities, you get sparse flashbacks that tell the story of what exactly happened that made the child listening to the adventures of Pankapu wind up with real nightmares. This promises to come together at the end to provide a real sense of closure to what is bound to be a tragic tale of trauma and rehabilitation.

I wasn’t able to play all three character classes yet, but got a good feel for the one called “Bravery”. Its basically when your hero dressed up like a crimson knight complete with shining armor (beautifully drawn shining armor, I might add) a sword you can throw, and a shield that absorbs attacks to restore your magic. It’s annoying to see places where your hero can’t reach because it lacks the ability to “double jump” as promised by the green archer class, but you can always work with what you are given up to a certain point.

The lighting effects of this game contrast sharply and add subtle effects when needed and dramatic effects when appropriate and impressive. The music is soft and peaceful enough to be engaing without being annoying. The levels are well designed, and while it is sometimes tough to play, the game is always fair in a way that tests your skills rather then your patience.

That’s it for the good. Now for the other stuff.

 

The Bad

Just like I called it, the gameplay narrative is EXTREMELY reliant on cutscenes that aren’t so much cutscenes but slightly animated graphic novels with moving text. The only human voice you can understand is the narration of the father telling the story. Everything else is either mute, or speaks in sound effect gibberish, while you rush through a non-rewindable wall of text that you can easily skip over without meaning too. What’s worse is the annoying habit of the narrator to deviate from the storybook text printed on the page. It’s a minor complaint, especially given the developer’s lean resources, but I can’t help but feel a little confused and snapped out of the moment when I see the game spell one line of text and hear the narrator say something else that is the same but completely different. You never lose the gist of what is happening, but I still would like to hear the father read the story in front of my eyes and not in the designer’s head.

 

Like I said earlier, the story of the actual game is a little bland. If you ever played a video game since the 80s, you know the basic narrative pretty well, and the plot doesn’t get interesting without the flashbacks or the meta underneath. What’s worse is that some of the characters can be annoying. The spider sidekick you get stuck with seems to quote the obvious a lot, and is the kind of annoying guide that hasn’t bugged gamers since Navii. See Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for details on that infamous character.

While the spider has some moments here and there, even the good parts of the game fail to make up for what appears to be a very severe design flaw. I can honestly say I would not be able to complete the game even if I tried. Unless they update this one major flaw or I find a way around it (will let you know if that’s the case), I find that while exploring a deep cave, one with ledges and platforms jutting out of the walls, there is literally one space that is JUST OUT OF REACH. I cannot jump high enough with my current abilities, and the game will not let me progress without making the impossible jump. Literally an impossible jump is blocking me from completing a single level in the game. To call it a game breaking bug is an understatement, and it needs addressing ASAP if its worth even a dollar to play, let alone 5. Hopefully, by the time you read this article, they will have addressed it in time for you to buy the game.

That’s the Bad. Time to wrap things up.

 

The Summary

All things aside, if they can fix that one game-breaking bug this game is worth much more then the five dollars advertised. Even if this is episode one, it promises to be worthy your money and your time. It takes real guts to start an indie project like this, and these guys bang out an awesome product that would make and humble bundle an awesome holiday gift by virtue of gracing it with its presence. By itself, I would pay three times this amount for the experience it offers, and despite having some dark undertones, this game is bound to be a family favorite for the budget conscious. 

The only thing holding this game back from being an instant classic besides that one bug (which they can fix with a 5 minute update) is the fact that the bedtime story narrative is a little weak and some of the narration doesn’t sink up. Both can be fixed easily by tweaking some of the text elements in the game in a way that perfects the already glorious design.

That’ll end this review. Next up on my list is a game from Telltale, about another kind of knight…

Image result for telltale games Batman Logo

See you then!

 

 

This is going to be a special kind of article. The first of many, as the game industry has a VERY high turnout rate. As the title implies, this is going to be our first look at a video game that has yet to be released. If you are new to gaming, understand that is the norm, as development for video games is very time consuming and costly, even for smaller and simpler indie titles. As such, developments teams and game publishers alike need to make sure that the time spent building the game is time spent guaranteeing return value for their thousands, if not millions of dollars in investment. If you’ve played video games even for a short while, the title “First Look” might not even make sense to you, only because so much of game journalism in general is about covering big title games and their PR campaigns.

A first look does a little more then this; I basically do my homework, look into what this game has to offer and compare it to my experience both making and designing games. In other words, give you a good idea as what to expect rather then just reporting what was officially announced. Given the relative limited information on this game, and the way features and deadlines are always in flux during the development of games, I might have also a second, third, and maybe even a Release Report, where I detail the results of the release. Today we’ll be taking a first look at

 

Darkest Dungeon-Terror and Madness

 

Pretty cool trailer, huh? As the name, video, and concept suggests, this game is your basic dungeon crawling turn-based RPG; with a twist. Judging from their trailer, mechanics mentioned on their website, it seemed that the whole idea might have actually come from a pretty profound question asked by someone on the Dev team. That question is;

“What would fighting monsters in dark dungeons during the medieval age really be like?”Wallpaper_LosingItBigTime

At least that’s my first impression. The game is made by a small team of very experienced professionals from Vancouver called Red Hook Studios. There are only five of them working on the game and its production, so not surprisingly they addressed themselves much like the adventuring parties within their game. Complete with what looks like a pretty good glimse at how one of the game’s main features would be like; mainly, what they have dubbed the Affliction system. To be blunt, this system seems to be a more detailed and RPG adventure version of the “Sanity” system that has become of many lovecraftian horror games like Amnesia:the Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness. Huh. Come to think of it, a lot of games that have the word “Darkness” in it have a loss to the player character’s sanitkeep-calm-and-play-dark-souls-on-hardy. Except for Alone in the Dark; only the player itself was horrified. Not because it was scary, either. Anyway, the affliction system seems to work like a statistical version of Post Trauma, in which the more unpleasantness a party member experiences, the more emotional and psychological problems they develop in the game. This of course ranges from things like “It stinks in here” to more extreme events like “Holy S#!* that thing just ate our cleric!” kind of deal. If it becomes too much, you get problems like alcoholism, nihilistic rants, and phobias of whatever it was that distresses them. So yeah; this isn’t Final Fantasy.

If I had to compare the game to anything, it would be a low budget and turn based version of the game Dark Souls. Another game titled “Dark”. Go figure. I say that because the game looks like it intends to clamor to an adult audience and challenge them by raising the stakes of combat with things like permanent death of party members, increasing complications to combat, and the added threats of things like plague and discord between characters. If the team can do it just right, it will be the kind of game that is difficult but rewarding to master, not unlike Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls as mentioned above. If they screw it up, people will spend more time breaking their keyboards then experiencing its depth

Scarfed

The Highway Man

I’m still not sure if this is part of the game yet, but apparently your party members speak out their fears with dialogue bubbles that float over their head along with whatever affliction penalty they receive based on circumstances. This runs the risk of become rather repetitive, as it can seem like more of a gimmicky push notice then a feature you would want. Nobody wants another Navii. But at the same time, this shows the promise of providing character development, as not all dialogues are directed as complaints; they seem to communicate to one another as well. Its way too early to make any assumptions, but if they can make these kinds of dialogues infrequent and dynamic enough, this can actually become the cornerstone of the game. Because its one thing to hear someone shout “The Darkness is overwhelming” 15 times every minute you play the game, but a whole different ball game to hear your party members engage in conversation. The results can be real interesting, so long as they exist in moderation.

Another thing that caught my eye was the fact that they weren’t conforming to the standard fighter/wizard/cleric/rouge formula to party classes. They didn’t post all of their classes yet, but the websites hints and points to classes that include:

The Highwayman, who brandishes a Dagger and Flintlock Pistol

The Plague Doctor; which suggests a class for curing diseases.

The Vestal, which I’m guessing is some kind of nun.

And the Barber-Surgeon, which can stitch up wounds while the party camps.

Which brings me to another feature that is both fascinating and somewhat familiar; the game lets you make tactical decisions while camping. This is a pretty innovative feature, as it promises both clever and non-combat ways to deal with challenges, and makes it possible to experience very engaging non-combat encounters. Especially since they are constantly pointing to choices you can make outside of combat to deal with their “Afflictions”. What really strikes a chord is the idea that some of these quirks bring bonuses as well as drawbacks, which promises profound decision making moments for the player.

The art is basically 2D marionettes, albeit very atmospheric and well drawn ones. I have no idea what the complete interface is going to look like, but from the trailer it seems like it will be split between what the party is doing, where on the map you are, and a meter measuring how much torchlight you got. Apparently making sure your torchlight is lit and burning is just one more issue your party needs to deal with besides murderous horrors and PTSD. Sometimes I’m glad I’m not a video game character.

The music is certainly atmospheric, and the sounds are superb. But unfortunately, I am only basing this analysis off of the trailer they made, so there is no guarantee that any of those sounds, music files, or effects will even carry over. If it does, it will make for both an epic and chilling time.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, again, check out their website and be sure to sign up for their mailing list. Apparently they are getting ready for a big debut on Kickstarter, and the trailer and site is just to get us excited. It must be working, because I’m not the only gaming journalist who is watching their moves.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter has come and gone, but you can still buy the game at their website. Game is scheduled to come out in October, and you can expect a full review when it comes out.

 

 

I don’t think I could have made a more controversial title if I tried.

I am almost certain that I pissed off half the world’s population with that statement alone.And, since I am on a roll, I will go ahead and engage you all in a thought experiment that will gleefully piss of the other half of those who will read this article.

But before I begin this experiment, let me make it clear on how utterly clear my stance on video game violence and censorship is; if I wasn’t against it, I wouldn’t even be writing here. The fact that I am making an article like this on a WordPress site like Tech Circuit almost makes my stance against the idea of censoring and/or banning violent video games intrinsic in and of itself.Also understand that the question I will pose next is not me changing and/or going back on this opinion. I know for a fact that even undeniable proof to the contrary of my beliefs would never truly undermine them. I doubt that your beliefs would be so easily persuaded either. This is not surrender; this is the temporary laying down of arms to a war often fought all too viciously and for the wrong reasons. This is a chance to reflect on a possibility that too many are trying to desperately deny and even more are trying to prove right. For those of you who agree with the censoring of video games, I will allow myself to take your point of view seriously for the sake of reason, respect, rationality, and the benefit of a fair argument to those I would otherwise disagree with. For those of you on my side, this is your chance to prove once and for all that you are not merely a bunch of cowardly geeks with no life who are only whining about their favorite toy being taken away. This is your chance to show how valid our opinion is, why we feel the way we do, and give the rest of the world a reason to shut the hell up about it. Video games are an art, and the only half-way rational thing that even makes the banning of art considerable at all is the fact that psycho killers who take innocent lives say that they were inspired by this art. That’s the only reason this is even an issue. If you troll this post because I even suggest the opposing side has a point, you help make this an issue.

This is the most painful article I will ever write.

Allow me to show you why.

So here it is. Here’s the possibility that I have withheld up until now for no other reason then to make my stance clear and provide a counterpoint to the title of this article;

What if video games do make people violent?

What if Grand Theft Auto really did convince the shooters of Columbine high school to go on a murdering spree? The kids who perpetrated it did like the video game Doom, and GTA was a popular game at the time. What if they really were inspired by both to become serial killers? What if the Sandy Hook shooting was a result from Adam Lanza killing his mother, and then murdering elementary school kids, due to becoming a learned sociopath through exposure to interactive violence? What if it became a proven, scientific fact that someone who plays violent video games experiences a catharsis effect that makes him or her associate violent behaviors like ripping a man’s spine out from his neck (Mortal Kombat), car jacking (GTA) or shooting somebody in the head (pick a game) with the pleasure you feel from beating a game and/or getting a high score?

It’s more likely then you might think; psychologists already proved that. Ever hear of the Skinner box? It’s basically a pigeon in a box with a button inside. The pigeon pressed the button, and it dispensed food. Experiments done with this machine proved that animals could change their decision based behavior based off of offering rewards for an action.

And what’s worse, it was proven that human beings are susceptible to this. Especially if the reward is delayed. In fact, the big reason why games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are so addictive is due to the Skinner box effect. Call of Duty could condition someone to choose to shoot someone. It’s still considered a possibility!

What would happen if all of this was indisputably proven right?

First, the obvious would take place; the cases against censorship would become null, and all violent media (especially video games)

would become banned under federal law. The franchises of Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Halo,Gears of War, and the like would cease to exist. After a constant series of lawsuits, hearings, and criminal charges to studios and publishers of violent media, Rockstar would be among the first game studios on the chopping block, followed closely by Bungie, 2k games, Blizzard, Ubisoft, and even indie teams like Ska Studios. For those of you reading who don’t play video games, all except the last name are HUGE figures in the game industry; think Google to the internet or Microsoft to computers. The lone survivors would be studios like Nintendo, and Sucker Punch, who own successful franchises that aren’t rated Mature . EA would probably survive too, although it would become a shell of its former glory. The only thing EA publishes that isn’t your typical violent shoot ’em up are their many sports games and simulators. Thus EA games would become more of a small studio who publishes sports games, Sims style games, and historic RTS titles-non of which could feature combat. The ESRB would become the modern day equivalent of the Comics Code Authority back in the 1950s, except they would target violence in video games exclusively; maybe even as a branch of the Federal Government or NSA. Indie game developers who make violent content would be hunted down by law enforcement, and creating such games would become the legal equivalent of growing pot or manufacturing weapons. Game designers who break the new laws will become information terrorists, and propaganda will vilify them though the internet, television, radio, and through advertising. Violent images themselves would become criminal, as would violent sounds, music, and other sensory information.The world would change in a way no one thought possible. And become somewhat duller for it. But once the dust settles, and the witch hunt days are either dry routine or long gone, the same kind of marketing geniuses that made Nintendo possible in the first place would realize something amazing. It would probably be either clever entrepreneurs looking ahead on a new future or dissatisfied remnants of the game industry trying to move on, but someone would eventually realize the obvious.

They will realize that video games had the power to change a human being.

It can make them think differently, grow differently, learn new things, become something new, and even override the highest morals that would guide him or her through an otherwise ordinary life. It could cause mental diseases or promote happiness untold. It could corrupt a soul or shape it to its highest ideals. It could shape the life of a child, fix or break the life of a criminal, or even change the process of culture itself better then any medicine, therapy, propaganda, or education could. Video games, in the right hands with the right goals, could change humanity for the better.

The first studio to discover this would re-brand themselves, setting themselves up more like a new age healing center then a game studio or GameStop, and sell their products alongside things like skin creme or self help books. Much like Nintendo advertised their NES alongside the ill-fated Robot Rob to associate their console with the booming toy market of the 1980s. That’s how Nintendo started in the U.S.; Japanses marketers sold toy robots when toys like that were popular along with their first system. And like the boys and girls who tried the NES and fell in love with it, people would buy the new “good” games along with other products and see for themselves the benefits.

They would play games with the same competitive button combination mechanics as Street Fighter that are made to condition healthy relationship habits in couples who play them. They would play games with the same perspective and targeting interface as a Call of Duty game to train photo journalists and observational zoologists. Criminals would buy games that would rehabilitate their bad habits that include shooting up heroin and shooting up enemy gang members. With enough time, the positive effects of media would outrank the education capabilities of education as a whole, and parent would only need to ask their children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and pick an appropriate game based on that answer.

The same games that made shootings possible and so many perish at the hands of war would carve humanity in a way that was ultimately peaceful, productive, compatible, and capable of building a Utopian society.

That would actually be pretty awesome.

But the sad truth is, such games already exist. They are called serious games, and as I write this students in med school are probably playing one right now practicing their skills for their exam. I am not kidding.

Many games are made with positive messages, are designed to reinforce the learning of useful skills and even centered around social responsibility. a good sum of games with this in mind can be found here. I just Googled “serious games” just now to find that.

And yet we fail to see the kind of results you would expect from this kind of advancement. Sure, these games aren’t publicized half as much as the standard high-budget blood fest is. I will admit this. And we can all relent to the fact that it wouldn’t have to be extremely popular just to have an impact. The sheer number of games being developed without a PR campaign and publishing license are higher then they ever were before in history-and are still climbing.

Still, even on the Iphone with its limitless free puzzle games, most of us would rather play angry birds which depicts shooting projectiles to dismember army pigs and their homes. And yes, the promise of making non-violent games using the systems that made violent games popular has not been realized yet. I look forward to the days when that change.

But your missing the byline; the real question here is, “Why aren’t there stories in the media of people becoming Superheroes, or super doctors, or criminals reforming due to these games?” I don’t know. If I was forced to guess however, it would probably be for the same reason that no other form of information sharing has the same effect. Textbooks and documentaries alike are commonplace in the classroom, and they don’t prevent people from flunking. If they did, the requirement of owning a text book or DVD (which many classes do) would make the academic achievement in those classes spike. They don’t. Thus the conclusion for these things is the same as the conclusion for games made with the same purpose in mind; Their affect is minimal, at best.

No one can force you to view a source of information as interesting; even Skinner box effects do nothing expect make a player play longer then he wants to, then look back at how much time they wasted on a bad game. People quit World of Warcraft every day, and they usually do it for the same reason anyone quits anything; they become bored with it. Textbooks and Documentaries simply make you realize it faster because they force your to process information slower. It’s like hitting the breaks at full speed; your car stops for the same reasons, you just need more time due to the momentum. Video games have that kind of psychic momentum, and it stops once you are done with the game. That’s all most media is today; just a faster and more powerful version of same old, same old.

Now to point out something that all video game players know almost intrinsically, but something most newcomers to games seem baffled by. “Why defend video games that you know are so violent and vulgar with passion?”

I have a rather simple perspective on this that will hopefully illustrate everything I, and the rest of my community, have been trying to say for years. Lets go bad to that tragic yet hopeful melodrama that I just made up to explore the possibility of video games affecting violence. I admit I painted it a bit grim, as this is the way I viewed it initially. But the grimmest part of the story isn’t what happens to the industry. Nor is it what happens to the designers. No, the true horror exists behind the moral this story ends up telling without it’s tellers ever meaning to. The true horror is what the happy ending of this fable implies.

Think about it for a second; the people who became ostracized for controlling the minds and hearts of human beings in a negative way use the proven principles to affect human beings in a positive way. What does that say about humans, and their ability to be controlled? What does that imply about how free we really are, when the key to ending violence in culture is simply altering what it is we perceive? If all it takes to make a human being a madman or a hero a click of a button and color change, what does that say about their mind? Their body?

Their soul?

For those of you who don’t get what I’m getting at, either by being too much of a flagrant idiot or because of the true horror that this perspective implies, understand that the abject horror behind this twisted Utopian story is the reason why even violent media, interactive or otherwise, cannot and should not be to blame for our actions, and if they are why that is even more horrible then death.

This is why violent video games are a good thing. This is what I mean.

For to prove that violent media makes violent people, and ban it as such, is to deny the possibility of free will.