Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Games

For the past month, I've been working on some open source adventure games as part of a Game Jam that took place while the Double Fine Forums were down during an upgrade. I also just completed a new, small, one room adventure game called Dreamcat. It is meant to serve as a template to make your own low resolution games using Wintermute. All of my available games can be played through the links below.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 5 Review

Minecraft: Story Mode has been a breeding ground for new experiments at Telltale Games. The fifth episode is no exception. Rather than an episode to wrap up the season, Telltale has instead created an episode that is all about a new story.

The story of the old Order of the Stone had concluded in episode four, and episode five opens with the new Order of the Stone coming into their own with their new found fame and responsibility. This also has brought them some scorn from some of their peers. This jealousy brings a new danger to the world, and the team is split up in order to confront it head on before it’s too late.

This split up gives the group a much different dynamic than before. The new Order of the Stone has been split in half. Jesse is paired with two people who are seemingly outside of the new Order, but who have worked with Jesse before. These two are the two who were deemed outsiders in the previous adventure. They didn’t fit in, but they tried their hardest to get people to acknowledge them. They managed to do that by the time the Wither Storm was defeated, but after the new Order was formed, they once again found themselves to be outsiders. So, their inclusion in this new group is quite interesting as the two members of the new Order are now much more sure of themselves, and the two who aren’t are still trying to prove themselves. This split in the attitudes of the cast changes the tone of the game, as everyone was more or less on equal footing before. But now with this split, the two outside the Order feel out of place, even more-so than before.

That's the crux of this episode, as it is mostly about the relationships between the characters. While the first arc had a big bad that needed to be vanquished, the enemy in this episode is strictly human. As such, the voice performances are more important than even before. Thankfully, the voice cast delivers. The returning actors are excellent as usual, and the actors for the new characters deliver performances that compliment the regulars quite well. The music and art style once again compliments the story and the performances of the actor beautifully.

As this is a new story, the choices you make primarily matter only within this narrative, for now. However, the long wait between episodes is worth it, as your choices make much more noticeable changes than in previous episodes. There isn't a lot of puzzle solving, compared to previous episodes, but the choices and consequences are handled well. Additionally, now that the three episode Adventure Pass downloadable content has been announced, it is possible that your choices will make a difference in future episodes as well.

Overall, the fifth episode is a worthwhile addition to the main game. The evolution from the old Order of the Stone to the new is explored, albeit briefly. The main crux of the game is the split up group dealing with the relationships between themselves, as well as the relationships of their peers, now that they have become heroes. It's a mostly standalone title, except for a cliff-hanger at the end that sets up the events of the downloadable content. In that way, it might seem like an advertisement for future episodes to some. However, the choices and consequences are handled well, the new locations and characters are fun, and the music and voice acting is handled very well. It doesn't quite live up to the adventure and suspense of the previous episodes, and the puzzle solving is lacking in comparison, but the episode should please fans of the series.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Moebius Is Now Available for Linux

Jane Jensen's crowd funded return to adventure gaming, Moebius, is now available for Linux.  People who purchase it now will get access to the Linux version, and if you purchased it already (including crowdfunding backers), you'll be able to download the Linux version now at no extra cost.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My PAX East 2016 Experience - Day 3

Even though I ended up walking through Boston for the same amount of time on my second day as the first, I started off my final day much earlier.  I woke up at 9AM and headed into Boston.  After missing my turn and getting turned around, I arrived at the convention center at 11AM.  I didn’t have the same luck the second day as I did the first, so I ended up having to find parking elsewhere.  Now that I knew the layout of downtown Boston better, I managed to find a parking garage that advertised convention parking.  Luckily it was near the hotel where the fan meetup was held the previous night, so I didn’t have any problem making my way back to the convention center.

I didn’t get to go in through the exhibitor’s entrance this time, but luckily the crowd was already inside, so the line wasn’t nearly as long as it was when I arrived at the opening of the show on the first day.  I spent the previous days checking out the indie games, so I decided to check out the big name games on display before heading to work.  I stopped by Nintendo’s booth, and tried out the games on display.  I was pleasantly surprised by Starfox Zero.  From what I played, I found it really enjoyable, and didn’t notice the slowdown that many had seen.  My favorite booth was the Shadow Warrior 2 booth, which was adorned with cherry blossom trees.  It was really a sight to behold.  I didn’t get to play the game, due to the long lines, but it looked impressive in motion.  I was hoping to try out the games for the virtual reality headsets, but the waiting lines were so long there was a list that was filled up ahead of time, so that was out.

Since the Shadow Warrior 2 display was so close to the Double Fine booth, I decided to see if anyone wanted me to take over so that they could take a break.  My offer was gladly accepted, so I took the tablet that was being used for credit card transactions and settled in for my last day helping out at the show.  The large T-shirts were mostly sold out by the time I arrived, and the Brutal Legend art books sold out before the show closed.  Gang Beasts continued to be a crowd-attracter, and more Everything also brought in its share of people to marvel in its charming weirdness.

The time seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, it was 5:30 and we began counting down the clock. Of course, the last thirty minutes seemed to crawl.  It always works that way when you are paying attention to the time.  I decided to help the team pack up before they headed out, as they had an early morning the next day, since their flight back to California left at 6AM.  I bid the team farewell, and told Spaff that I was available to help out again if they ever came back to PAX East in the future.

I did get lost on the way back, as to be expected, but thankfully I was close this time. I asked for help on my previous days, but their advice just ended up in me going around in circles.  This time, the parking garage was right down the street, so I was able to easily find my way to it from the directions I was given.  I was going to head directly back to New York, but I was tired so I opted to spend an extra day and a half relaxing before I headed home.   All in all, the experience was fun, despite my knack of getting lost.  I got to check out some games that I was anticipating, got to meet some of my gaming heroes, as well as people that I had only known online through fan websites and in my time as a community manager.  Best of all, I got to help one of my favorite companies, and I have a lot of fond memories and pictures to remember from my experience.  If the opportunity to do something like this came up to do this again in the future, I’d take it in a heart beat.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My PAX East 2016 Experience - Day 2

I ended up sleeping in the second day, probably due to all the walking around Boston I did while I was looking for the parking garage, and ended up waking up at 10:30.  I headed to McDonald's to get myself a cheap breakfast before I headed into Boston, and ended up arriving at the convention center at noon.  This time, I ended up getting lucky in terms of parking.  While the convention center sign usually stated that the parking lot was full, this time I was pleased to see that parking was available.  I headed to the parking lot and paid the attendant fifteen dollars.  However, I still had to circle around a few times before someone pulled out of their parking space.  The bonus of being able to park right next to the building was, with my exhibitor's badge, I could enter the exhibitor's entrance and walk through the staff corridor.  This brought me right to the show floor.

I headed to the Double Fine booth, and went right to work, operating the credit card system for the store.  It seems that Saturday was a good day for sales, as the Psychonauts mini action figures were completely sold out.  While working the booth, two people came up who were cosplaying Double Fine characters - one as Raz and one as Manny Calavera.  Sadly, since I was working, I left the camera in the staff tent area, but it was still enjoyable to see.  The pinny arcade pins again continued to sell quite well, as we continued to restock them in the display area in front of the booth.  I personally enjoyed selling the Raz and Hexipal plushies, as the people who bought them were always so pleased once they were given them.  They are cute, and they are really well made.  I have one of each, which are currently sitting happily in my living room.

This time around, since I arrived late, I continued working at the booth right up until the close of the exhibition hall.  Spaff reminded me that they were holding a meet-up with Media Molecule and friends at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel immediately after the exhibition hall closed.  It was right down the street, so I thought I'd be saved the amount of walking from the day before.  I should have known to not sell my knack for getting lost and confused short though, as I ended up walking for another three hours until I made my way to the hotel.

When I did make it though, I had a great time.  It was great to meet up with the group, talk about games (mostly about Miitomo on my part, as I was a bit addicted to it when it first launched), and enjoy the great seafood New England has to offer.  I'm not much of a drinker, so I ordered a lemonade, tried an oyster, and ordered a fantastic lobster roll.  Since I got there so late, most of the group left shortly after I arrived.  Once I had finished my meal, I decided to head back to the convention center.

As I was at the convention center anyway, I decided that I'd check out what PAX East had to offer after the exhibition hall had closed.  The day before I was talking to Ron Gilbert about the difference between E3 and Pax.  He said that he liked PAX better because it felt more fan-oriented, and wasn't as loud.  I thought that, even though it was as big as E3, it had the some of the vibe of smaller gaming shows like Magfest or the Midwest Gaming Classic.  This feeling was increased tenfold once I got a taste of the show after exhibition hours.  It had rooms dedicated to multiplayer gaming, both on consoles and on PCs.  There were also people playing card based role-playing games, arcade games, and rooms full of games running on classic video game consoles, from the 8-bit era to the original X-Box and PlayStation 2.  I had always enjoyed classic game shows, so I enjoyed checking everything out.  This portion of PAX East closed at midnight, so at 11:45, I headed out to the parking lot (after getting directions from one of the PAX staff).  At this point the parking lot was fairly empty, so my car was only one in about a dozen, making it easy to find.  I then headed out of Boston, which was an easy task at this hour, as traffic was minimal, so I could get some sleep for the last day of the show.

Friday, May 13, 2016

My PAX East 2016 Experience - Day 1

It's quite a bit late, but I'm working on my writeup of PAX East 2016.  Here's the write up of the first day.  The other two days shouldn't be as detailed, but I wanted to post what I've written so far.  I'll post the rest of it shortly.  I'll also go through my hundreds of pictures from PAX to pick out the best ones to use for the article.  Hopefully I'll have it all done by the end of this weekend.

I haven't been to a major gaming show since 2002. That was at Electronic Entertainment Expo, the year of the 20th anniversary of LucasArts. Their 20th Anniversary video was playing on a loop on the big screen in the lobby, and was honestly the highlight of the show

I forgot how crazy these big gaming conventions get. Had I remembered, I still would have volunteered to work at the Double Fine booth, as I loved being able to help people who work at the company that made some of my all-time favorite games. I just would have been more prepared.

The first day, I arrived at nine in the morning, just as the show was opening to the public. The crowd outside the convention was insane. It took me an hour to get through it. I had lost my cellphone, so I brought my iPad and laptop. It was too loud to make a Skype call, and I wasn't sure how to send a text. Luckily, the registration booth was very helpful, and they sent a text to Double Fine's community manager, and half an hour later I was in the convention center with my exhibitor badge in hand. That community manager is James Spafford, who was the founder of The Interneational House of Mojo, and I asked him for permission to write about my experience for the site. It had to be surreal for him to be on the receiving end of requests for Mojo articles.

Double Fine's booth was situated next to Adult Swim's booth, as they will be the publisher of Double Fine's upcoming platformer, Headlander. Spaff told me to look for the Adult Swim banner if I ever couldn't find the booth. I am grateful for that advice, as I ended up using it multiple times throughout the show. Double Fine's space was showing several of their current and upcoming games. They also had a station demonstrating Headlander, as well as one demonstrating Day of the Tentacle Remastered. Three of their published games, under the Double Fine Presents label, were also present, Gnog, Everything, and Gang Beasts. Gang Beasts always had a large group around the game. It was described as "perpetually popular", and, at least for demonstrations at game conventions, it fit that description well. Gang Beasts is up on Steam Early Access now, but the 1.0 release is slated to come out by the end of the year, once the development team finishes online multiplayer support. Once it has reached that stage, Double Fine will publish the game on consoles.

I spent most of the day selling items at the booth from the Double Fine store. The Pinny Arcade Raz and Two Headed Baby pins were quite popular. Quite a few people asked for more Brutal Legend merchandise, and were happy to hear that the Double Fine art team finalized a pin design for a Brutal Legend Pinny Arcade pin, which will be available at the Double Fine booth at next year's PAX.

Towards the end of the first day, I learned that Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick were showing off Thimbleweed Park as part of the Indie Showcase area.  I headed to the booth, and talked to them while I was waiting for my turn to play the PAX demo of the game.  I had a hard time keeping myself composed, as I love Maniac Mansion, and I love all of Ron's games. I even have a soft spot for the Humongous Entertainment games, even though, at 12, I was outside of the demographic when the company was founded (that didn't stop me from playing the games though).  I also purchased and enjoyed Gary Winnick's Bad Dreams graphic novel so much I tracked down most of his other comic work, including the Venture comic magazine and the short-lived two issue Neomen.

After getting my inner fangirl in check, I asked Ron Gilbert if Thimbleweed Park would have multiple endings like Maniac Mansion.  He stated that each character would have their own ending.  However, unlike Maniac Mansion, you won't have to play through the game again to get each ending.  It will be possible to see each ending in a single play-through.  I also asked Gary Winnick if he preferred working on comics or games.  He stated that which he prefers depends on the situation. Right now, he's working on Thimbleweed Park, which he began right after working on his Bad Dreams graphic novel. So at the moment, he prefers working on games.  However, he said that he likes doing both, and once Thimbleweed Park finishes and he goes back to making comics, his answer would probably be different.

I bought a Thimbleweed T-shirt and went over to the play area to watch people playing the Thimbleweed Park demo.  There were four people playing, I was fourth in line, and I could hardly wait to try it for myself.  From what I could spot while looking on, it had all the humor that we've come to expect from the Lucasfilm Games era, and tons of in-jokes to spot for fans of those games.  I took a few pictures of some of the in-jokes in action, and waited patiently for my turn to play the game.  Finally, I was able to play the game, and it was worth the wait - not just waiting in line, but it also was worth the wait since the Kickstarter concluded back in December 2014.

This demo starts at the crime scene that has been shown prominently in features about the game, even while the Kickstarter was still live.  You can alternate between the two police detectives, and like Maniac Mansion or Zak McKracken, some puzzles require you to give objects to the other character, so that character can combine that object with one that they have in their own inventory.  Once the crime scene is cleared, you're taken to a diner where you obtain information about a suspicious clown named Ransome the Clown.  The police officers are told the story about this clown, and you are then given control of Ransome as you play the story out in flashback.  Ransome's story is quite interesting, as it includes dark magic that reminds me, in a way, of the Voodoo Lady from the Monkey Island games. Once Ransome's backstory is revealed, the player characters once again become the detectives, who have placed Ransome on their suspect list.  However, the demo doesn't last much longer, as one of the officers is seemingly ambushed, and the demo ends, leaving the player wanting to experience more of the game.  The suspense of the cliffhanger is supplanted with humor, as the ending text is displayed across the screen, bringing back memories of the "Turn Your Computer Off and Go to Sleep" text at the end of Monkey Island.

I leave the play area, and, like everyone who takes the time to play the game, Gary Winnick gives me a Thimbleweed Park mouse pad for trying out the demo.  I thank him for the excellent gift, and decide I should head back to help out the Double Fine team at their booth.  At this point, there are four people there, and they are in the middle of a change-over in booth staff.  They said that they don't need any help at the moment, so I decided to head out to see what kind of food was available at the convention center.  I'm actually a big fan of festivals, so when I spotted a festival style set up with festival staples like Italian sausage, pizza, and funnel cakes, I knew I found the place I wanted to eat. I ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza, and got a Mountain Dew Kickstart from a vending machine, as it was about a dollar cheaper than getting a drink at any of the food areas.  I then headed back to the Double Fine booth, and went inside the staff tent that was set up beside the booth.  I ate my food, and talked with Spaff until the exhibition hall closed at 6:00PM.

I told Spaff that I'd help the entire weekend, and decided to head back to my car.  The convention itself didn't end until midnight, but I was quite tired, so I decided that I'd check out what PAX East had to offer outside of the exhibition hall some other night.  I had a long walk ahead of me. Since the traffic was intense coming into the convention area, I parked in the middle of downtown Boston. I would not recommend anyone to go this route, as it was several miles away from the convention center and it didn't have a convention discount parking rate.  While I paid $15 to park for the other two nights, I ended up paying the maximum rate of $40 my first night there.  I also recommend driving around to get a feel of the area before parking, if you park a long distance from the event, as I ended up getting lost and walking around for three hours before I got back to parking garage. The good news though, was that with my car picked up, and the parking fee paid, I could head back out of Boston and get a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

More Duke Grabowski Coming In Episodes

Duke Grabowski's Kickstarter updated with news that more Duke Grabowski is coming, as the game is now episodic and will now be published by Alliance Game Studios.

The game that backers will be getting will now be episode one out of five. Backers will get the game exactly as described in the Kickstarter, but the good news is that Duke's adventures will be larger than planned. The other good news is that the backing by a publisher means that the Duke Grabowski team can now work on the game full time. The first episode, the one that backers of the Kickstarter will be getting, is now planned to be finished in July.