IT’S HERE: STEAM GREENLIGHT HAS LANDED

So, you might remember me jabbering on about something called Steam Greenlight last month – well, it’s finally here!

Nicely embedded within Steam’s new ‘Community’ feature, you can now vote for your favourite games and in-development projects to be placed directly into the Store, bypassing those long Valve decisions and bringing the power directly to the consumer.

As of this time, Steam Greenlight is running off a rating system that considers up and down votes on an overall total (for example, Dino Run SE, a personal favourite of mine, has a calculated 1% of ratings so far towards its final goal), meaning that developers are going to be heavily relying on the community for any chance of progress – obviously flaunting the features of Steam’s new ‘Game Hubs’ and sharing system.

With 492 games currently taking part, it’s very exciting to see such a chance for indie developers on a mainstream platform – my only worry being, however, that it is essentially a popularity vote. Flashy graphics, or big online communities do not necessarily make one game better than another, so I sincerely hope that people are going into Greenlight without the intention of knocking out their chosen title’s competition (that down vote button is awfully big).

All in all, it should be interesting to see how smoothly the system runs over the next few weeks, and which games manage to find their way to the top of the pile! I recommend giving Greenlight a browse – a couple of clicks of your mouse could be securing the fate of Steam’s next big hit.

 

Visit Steam Greenlight here, or through your Steam Community section.

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REVIEW – Indie Game: The Movie

I recently had the privilege of seeing Indie Game: The Movie, a Canadian documentary that looks behind the scenes at three well-known indie games: the commercially and critically successful Braid, the soon to be released Super Meat Boy, and the perpetually trapped in development hell FEZ. The movie was funded by two Kickstarter projects and features a soundtrack by Jim Guthrie of Sword and Sworcery fame.

More importantly than the games, Indie Game also looks at the developers behind them: Braid’s lone wolf Jonathan Blow; Super Meat Boy’s fiercely determined Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes; and FEZ’s beleaguered Phil Fish. The film gives an intensely personal perspective of the men behind these games, their backgrounds, their philosophies and the relationships they have with their creations.

Braid is a puzzle platformer that was released to widespread acclaim, making it the second highest selling XBox Live Arcade game in 2008. Critics loved its elaborate puzzles and unique time mechanics including a full rewind feature, but Blow feels that a lot of people who have played and reviewed the game have missed the point of the artistry in the game, particularly its story. Braid was conceived in opposition to the current trends in video gaming, and Blow is certainly not afraid to let people know it. The film documents some of the internet vitriol Blow has received for his views, but it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He has genuine desire for an emotional connection with a player of the game through its story, and he feels disappointed that the majority don’t seem to ‘get’ it.

The film covers Super Meat Boy through its final weeks of production, and counts down to its release on XBLA. McMillen and Refenes are a close-knit team who live on the opposite sides of the US, conducting most of the game development through Skype. They are passionate gamers with true love for the artform and its storytelling abilities. McMillen’s wife Danielle and Refenes’ sister and parents are also featured, which gives a nice view on how important familial relationships are in supporting a developer, but also the toll that the stress and long hours can have on them. Super Meat Boy is finished on a very very tight deadline, and the scenes of both developers pulling all-nighters to finish it might hit a bit close to home for some! For me, the journey of this game was the most powerful emotionally – the stress of meeting the deadline, the shock and disappointment of Super Meat Boy not appearing on XBLA on release day (it was eventually released that afternoon and sold 20,000 copies in 24 hours), and the pure joy and relief as the first positive reviews for the game come out and both of them realise that they are on the cusp of the success that they’ve been working towards for all their lives.

FEZ’s journey started in 2008, when it started to win awards purely based on its trailer. It’s a colourful and whimsical puzzler using a unique mechanic – the world spins on its Y axis, rendering a 2D game into a 3D world. However, after 2008 the game and its developer encountered problems – the game subsequently went through 3 complete redesigns, and Fish’s business partnership dissolved acrimoniously, creating substantial legal problems. Fish admits his perfectionism is a large part of the delays, and the game has swallowed his whole life. The internet is growing very impatient with the delays, and Fish worries that there will be no interest left by the time the game is finally released. There’s a very sweet moment where he plays little games he made as a child with his father, and he seems to regain his joy and passion for gaming and developing.

A crucial moment for FEZ takes place at the 2011 PAX Prime, where Fish is due to debut the first playable demo. Due to his ex-partner’s refusal to sign the last of the paperwork ending the partnership, Fish is not legally allowed to show the demo in public. He goes ahead anyway, and even though the game is full of bugs and crashes constantly, the demo is widely well-received by attendees, and even Penny Arcade’s Tycho. After years of constant stress, towards the end of the film Fish finally gets the signature, and carries on developing FEZ. (FEZ was subsequently completed after the movie was filmed, and released to great success in April 2012.)

Indie Game is a very truthful film, and the emotions of all involved are powerfully raw. It has more highs and lows than Six Flags. It does leave you questioning why the developers do what they do at times, but what really shines through is their desire to tell stories through a medium they all love and respect. Everyone who has ever thought about making games should definitely watch it. Hell, even anyone who has ever bought a video game.

 

Indie Game: The Movie is available for downloading/streaming online, and also on Steam and iTunes

Braid is available on XBLA, PSN, PC, Mac and Linux

Super Meat Boy is available on XBLA, and PC/Steam. A mobile version is currently in development

FEZ is available on XBLA

GAMEPLAY!

What’s up fellow gamers? (Prepare yourselves for shameless self advertisement.) I just bought a new capture device so I will be uploading tons of new game play and reviews on my YouTube account. And as far as my Take It Off the Shelf series, well I have just been busy lately. But I promise one in the next 2-3 weeks. I apologize, but high school sucks.  So if you truly miss me, check out my YouTube.

My YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/ThatsTristan

Game On!

STACKING

Double Fine Productions are very much renowned for making games with a hell of a lot of character – most notably in the form of Psychonauts, which has received almost cult status amongst those who have played it. Stacking is certainly no exception to this rule.

Set within the dawn of the industrial age, you are placed in control of Charlie Blackmore, a small Russian doll setting out to free his family from child labour – orchestrated by the secretive and evil ‘Baron’. Using your ability to stack into dolls of larger sizes than yourself, there are a range of logic puzzles and challenges to overcome in a variety of different ways, with a multitude of different dolls. Each doll, it is also important to note, has its own unique ability which can be used to aid your quest – or even to just have a little bit of fun.

The first thing I really noticed about Stacking was how stylised it is: absolutely everything has been tailored to fit within the time setting, down to the costumes, environment and sounds, and all with a brilliant sense of humour running throughout – especially within each doll’s characteristics. There is a lot of fun to be found (and side challenges, known as ‘Hi-jinks’) in demonstrating a unique doll’s ability upon a selection of others – for example, clearing rooms with flatulence, or shouting out childish insults. However, as much as Stacking can make you laugh, it also makes you think. Set within this Victorian era, there are still very noticeable class divides, and in controlling dolls of higher status it is obvious as to which are more accepted within certain areas, or indeed allowed to pass through them.

As much as I can recommend this game, it is important to note that, being classed as adventure/puzzle, it is essentially a series of Find & Retrieve quests which can (more often than not) leave you feeling a little bit lost within each richly-furnished world. For each challenge you are allowed 3 hints to aid you, but with no setback in doing so. In comparison to another puzzle-based game – say, Machinarium – hints and tips are purposefully hard to access, forcing you into really assessing a situation before attempting a solution. With this in mind, Stacking can become repetitive after some time – mostly so when an area is actually complete, but there are unique doll collections to still be found.

Crossing to PC from its Xbox origins, Stacking is definitely an interesting and humourous title to explore. This game is as much about discovery as it is about the actual puzzle-solving – if you are not inclined to seek out each detail and doll within a level, then there is no real excitement to be found, as the true beauty of Stacking lies in its subtlety and the way the environment reacts to a specific action or doll. If, like myself, you do find yourself drawn into Double Fine’s elaborate windows into the industrial era then, by all means, please go out and experience this game! However, those of you who are looking for a fast-paced, thrilling adventure, I’m afraid that you’re reading the wrong review.

Visit Double Fine’s website here

Visit Stacking‘s website here

Buy it on Steam here

WORLD OF WARCRAFT’S SUCCESS AND ITS KILLER

Legend speaks of a so called “WoW-Killer”, an MMO so good and well built that it drains Blizzard’s subscription number down to a low amount. Games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and RIFT have been called this, wrongly. After a couple of months, they all fall, and Warcraft remains strong.

 Why?

It’s simple: WoW is a game that has years of content within it. Spanning the original and its three expansions, that’s nearly seven years of constant development and work. So when a new player comes in, he/she has a gargantuan amount of quests, arenas, dungeons and raids to go through. Therein lies the problem. Picture this: The Old Republic comes out, and offers players 50 levels plus a mediocre endgame, which BioWare promises to improve later. Gamers go, grind through the 50 levels, defeat all the bosses in raids, get the gear. And all in less than two months. Then what? The developer is having problems fixing the bugs, and isn’t able to release more than a mere dungeon in the next update. The patch releases, and the players chew it and swallow it. Yet they need more, and there isn’t enough in the game to keep them satisfied. That’s why they go back to Warcraft, because in there, they have at least 100+ hours of game time guaranteed.

The new game that BioWare had just released, is basically the same that Blizzard released 7 years ago. But why play that, when you can play an updated and improved version of it: Warcraft?

Also, Warcraft gives both unexperienced players and hardcore gamers an immersive experience. The game is layered, and although it might seem simple, many complex formulas and strategies exist for those who like a challenge. Let me be honest, I’m not a hardcore MMO fan, and sometimes when I start in a new game I’m just overwhelmed by the complex features, even though I’ve played my fair share of them. Yet in Warcraft everything has been simple from the start.

Will Guild Wars 2 kill it? Perhaps. Maybe it will suck 2-4 million users. But remember, Blizzard is cunning. They know what to do in moments like these. Once it launches, thousands will go to play it. And Blizzard will just smile, because a month later, their own fourth expansion releases. Those couple thousand people that went running to play Guild Wars? They’re going to run back around. Sadly, I think that Guild Wars is not a franchise that is popular enough to dethrone Warcraft. To hit it hard, a huge fan base will be needed, and it does not have it. Perhaps the Elder Scrolls will, once it launches its own MMO, or maybe Dungeons and Dragons online, who knows?

Their numbers are strong. Credit goes to MMOData.net

It’s the ugly truth. Unless developers start being innovative, instead of just trying to do what WoW did, their games are all going to fail. We have to hope that one day, a developer’s light bulb will light up and a Killer will be born.

But to be honest, I believe that the real WoW-Killer is none other than Warcraft itself. With a stunning number of 9.1 million (as of August) subscribers, it’s going to be hard to topple it. That’s why I believe that the fall will come from within. Maybe Blizzard will commit a huge mistake with an expansion, causing its own demise. It seems to me that the WoW-Killer is just a myth, after all. Let’s wait and see.

NEXUIZ

If you liked Quake 3, you’ll love Nexuiz. No, seriously – it started off as a mod for it back in 2005. Now, updated on CryEngine 3 with a whole range of new graphics, weapons and mutators (think Unreal, but with a lot more variety), Nexuiz has certainly entered the modern age of arena combat.

Right, before I go all fanboy on this game, I’ll deal out some of the faults that I have encountered so far. Firstly, it can crash. A lot. I had to do 3 installs through Steam before I could even get to the menu screen and that’s not just me. It would appear that those of you boasting a shiny new AMD card will get the smoothest experience – the game having been built in collaboration with them (about 10 minutes of company logos on start-up will reinforce this into you a good number of times). Furthermore, it seems that people have been having trouble finding games to join, but I managed to get everything running perfectly and, my God, does this bring back that intensity of the past. A very big concern that I should bring up especially is that there doesn’t yet seem to be a real system of filling player spots in matches. When someone disconnects, no one takes their place. Simple as that. A couple of times I’ve felt compelled to switch teams manually, just to bring back a fair balance. Obviously, this is really an issue that needs to be addressed – and soon!

Developer Illfonic (having bought the rights from original creators Alientrap) did a really good job at finding the sweet spots that worked so well for Quake 3 originally, especially so in Nexuiz‘s pace. You’ve still got your ridiculous run speed and jump height bundled in, making every corridor a deathtrap and every open space a bouncy castle of pain. This is what really sets arena-based games so far apart from any other genre: there is a high level of skill and reaction involved if you actually want to be doing any serious damage – or indeed avoid constant death. I would certainly say that this form of fast-paced combat has been missing in a lot of recent titles, and it’s definitely been exciting to experience it on such a level again – even now I’m typing at about triple the speed, my brain still rushing from the sheer excitement of ‘Quake 3 Still Lives’.

One aspect of Nexuiz I’m not so geared up on, however, are the mutators. I haven’t noticed any kind of tutorial as of yet, but otherwise it seems to be pretty random in selection – please correct me if I’ve been horribly blind here. You’ll receive positive effects, such as infinite ammo and fast regeneration, and even whole team boosts. In some senses, the mutators are almost comparable to Mario Kart, with a whole range of crazy outcomes – enemies take damage when jumping, for instance. Personally, I’ve had enough of my screen being constantly put into greyscale (I’m so sorry, guys – when you all look the same, I’m going to shoot you regardless).

Nexuiz was really a refreshing change for me, and I urge anyone of similar interest to try it out. Of course, there’s no real storyline or plot behind this (red vs blue in space), but there would never really need to be. This is a lovely package of online, team-based combat, packed full of all the usual gametypes you’d expect – capture the flag being a personal favourite of mine. If you can bring yourself to look past its faults and crashes, I think you’ll definitely come to love Nexuiz and the old-style intensity that it so lovingly has crafted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a hell of a lot of fragging to do.

Visit the website here

Buy it on Steam here

TAKE IT OFF THE SHELF: LEFT 4 DEAD

Left 4 Dead: it’s a well-known franchise that, to be honest, I had never actually played – until last week, that is. I was with a friend playing some Xbox when my eyes happened to glance over at his video game shelf. His collection sucked, but I did notice Left 4 Dead sitting up there, hardly touched. It took me an hour to convince him to play it, but once we’d started, we were hooked.

This was the most fun I have had playing video games in a long time. The game play is extremely fast-paced; that “edge of your seat” feeling as hordes of zombies rush at you from every angle. But, before I go on and on, let me explain the game a little bit. You’re a group of 4 survivors stuck in Pennsylvania with one goal: survive. Actually it’s more like escape but, with all escapes, survival is necessary. Additionally,  there are a large variety of different, special zombies for you to take on.

You have the normal horde, which can really suck in large groups; the Boomer, which vomits its bile on you that attracts the horde; the Hunter, which sneaks up and pounces on you, pinning you to the floor; the Smoker – he can grab you from far away with his tongue; the dreaded Tank, which screws over anything in its path (this takes all 4 of you to kill); and the Witch. Don’t piss her off, she will mess you up.

L4D is split up into 4 separate modes: Single campaign, Co-Op missions, Online mode, and Survival mode. In my opinion it’s all about the Co-op missions and Online, where you can just grab a friend and get killing. Individual campaign missions take about an hour to complete and are split into 4 parts, each with their own settings and difficulty. Online play is basically the same thing, except other players are given the chance to take the role of the special zombies and attempt to end the Survivors’ progress.

I’ll admit, I haven’t really completed the single player campaign – as you can tell from my crappy game description. Because, to be honest this game is not really about single player at all. Left 4 Dead is 95 percent about team work. In my opinion that is the campaign – learning to not be an asshole. If you’re the stubborn, lone wolf type, don’t pick up this game, because it’s all about communication and sticking together as a group: if you rush ahead, you’re gonna get killed. If you hog the med kits, you’re gonna get killed (if I don’t kill you first.) Stick together as a team, kill as a team, share resources and you will love this game.

I am hooked on Left 4 Dead and I’m sure you will be too. You can still find it at any GameStop for cheap (probably less than 20$), and it is available on the Xbox, PC, and Mac.

Thanks for reading the first edition of  “Take It Off The Shelf.” Got an old Xbox game you want me to try? Email me at:

tristan.haight@gmail.com

or tweet me at:

@tristan_haight