Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pleasant Surprises at E3

The new Wii Bowling game looks cool.
This week, inspired by Jorge’s optimism, I take a few minutes to recap some of the nice surprises from E3.

As bloated and gross as it is, I still enjoy watching the E3 drama.  There’s a circus-like appeal to the event.  For the past few years, it’s been one of those “It’s horrible but I can’t look away” type of things.  What tired franchise will be paraded around this year?  How Microsoft try to convince me that the Kinect was a good idea?  How many cringe-inducing sexist jokes will be in the press conferences?

2015 turned out to be a nice change of pace.  The unexpected announcements were actually about games.  There was a mixture of fan service and new material.  While there were still plenty of faux-military shoot-fests, lots of genres got the spotlight and a variety of developers had some stage time to lend some personality to marketing-heavy presentations.

PelĂ© talked about soccer.  Martin Sahlin talked about yarn.  Media Molecule talked about dreams.  I hadn't realized how eager I was for variety, but all the quirkiness was much appreciated.  On the more franchise-oriented side of things, even my icy heart was warmed by some of the fan service (it's still incredible to imagine The Last Guardian as an real, playable thing).

Maybe this is more sad than anything, but the focus on actual games rather than motion control junk or transmedia noise was an immensely welcome surprise.  After a rough start, it seems like this console cycle is finally hitting its stride.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

EXP Podcast #334: E3 2015 Debrief

Crowd reaction at Sony press conference.
Shenmue, The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII remake, and Xbox backwards compatibility: These are the four horsemen of the apocalypse that herald the end times...

Welcome to the E3 extravaganza! This week on the lengthy podcast, we discuss some of the show's biggest reveals and all its E3-weirdness. Did you check out the press conferences this year? Anything you're thrilled to see? Still crying because they canceled Phantom Dust? Let us know in the comments or by shooting us an email!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 40 mins 15 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Spelunky: Ceci N'est Pas Une Grotte

I don't know when we became professional Spelunky players, but I can safely say this was the moment we retired. Also, neanderthal conversations.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Some E3 Optimism

It's so easy to be cynical about E3, so this year I tried to show a little optimism.

I really was stunned when Sony revealed The Last Guardian. It is hard for me to overstate how important Ico was when I first played it. The game released during a tumultuous period for me and I found it quiet mystery immensely enthralling. It was a safe space to escape, but more than that it filled me with a wonder. Many of the games I enjoy today remind me of that first experience when I felt games could create such a dramatic sense of awe.

One of my favorite experiences at E3 this year was Beyond Eyes. Created by Sherida Halatoe and a team of developers from Team 17, Beyond Eyes follows a young blind girl who's past experiences define how she interprets the world with her new limited senses. It's an absolutely gorgeous watercolor world, and the way it colors itself into being is reminiscent of The Unfinished Swan. The way Rae, the young protagonist, colors in her surroundings based on earlier encounters makes for some interesting moments where sound triggers emotion. Thinking she hears, say, a flock of crows, Rae can move on, avoiding the creatures, or confront her fears and reveal, say, a harmless group of chickens. I could see a compelling coming-of-age story in this charming indie game.

A larger title than Beyond Eyes for sure; Gigantic also makes my list for most interesting games from E3. I mention it briefly in the PopMatters article, but I find the diversity of the characters fantastic. From old women to weird monsters, the game sets itself apart from many of the other third-person competitive action games coming out as well as other MOBAs on the scene. While it might not be enough to draw me away from League of Legends, it certainly has my attention. When so many games can start bleeding into each other at a huge trade show like E3, it's rejuvenating to see something stand out with its own aesthetic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

EXP Podcast #333: Splatoon Debrief

I don't think you're ready for this jelly...fish.
Jorge haven't had too much luck with eSports, but maybe we'll have a shot at seaSports?  Anyone?  Whatever.  You'll all come around when we win the Splatoon world championships.  We've had some time to get our tentacles around Splatoon and have surfaced from the briny deep just long enough for a debrief.

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 40 mins 15 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spelunky: E3 Predictions and Dinosaur Discussion

We ask the tough questions about Jurassic World. Also: since when did when did Batman get into screamo-metal?


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Signs of Maturity in 'Splatoon'

Stay inky, squid squad six.
This week on PopMatters, I get all grown up with Splatoon.

For someone who claims to not be that enthusiastic about shooters, I sure do play a lot of them.  I even played a bunch of the Uncharted 3 multiplayer (hey, I still think it's pretty good).  Despite how much I enjoy them, I usually end up feeling a bit embarrassed by them.

Their devotion to military drama and combat jargon gets to be too much for me to truly take them seriously.  They're trying too hard: the sights, sounds, and slang feel a bit like the games doth protest too much.  I feel like the games are constantly and somewhat desperately reminding me of how badass I should feel doing all this combat shit.  "Bro, check out the red dot on this AR.  Also, I'm going to call you ice man and tell you stay frosty in a totally unironic way."

In its own weird way, Splatoon feels more mature even though it looks like it was based on 1990s Saturday morning cartoons.  It's wacky, but it's earnest.  There aren't any pretentious operatic music tracks or spectacular explosions; just cute, punk-rock squid kids who take paintball really seriously.

Because it's not trying to sell a power fantasy, it makes me feel less self conscious for playing it.  It's less of a power fantasy and more of a straight up fantasy.  I'm here for a wacky time, not to play fake-military.  It also helps that the game has some clever ways of cutting through the online garbage and equipment progression stuff that caters to people with lots of time on their hands (get off my lawn youngsters).

I'll return to Splatoon again for some deeper mechanical analysis, but in the meantime I'll go back to playing it proudly.  It seems very comfortable in its aesthetic.  In it's neon-colored way, Splatoon feels more mature than games that carry the equivalent ESRB rating.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

EXP Podcast #332: Game of Thrones Episode 4 Debrief

Would you say this game is at its...Highpoint?
The Game of Thrones television show is coming to and end, but the battle for House Forrestor is still well underway! This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I head north to battle some children, do some barrel rolls in King's Landing, and toss some axes about like professional jugglers. This is a hefty episode, so thanks ahead of time for listening. As always, let us know what decisions you've made along the way and why!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 53 mins 10 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Making Time for Fun

This week on PopMatters, I remind myself to step away and play games frivolously.

I never mention it in the article, but the subject of this post, and some of the fatigue that explains my admittedly hasty rejection of The Witcher, also explains why I so very much want to play Splatoon. I have been hearing from a few people that while Splatoon is fun and unique and an exciting project from Nintendo, that it just doesn't have longevity. I think we have started to measure multiplayer games in particular by weather or not they can unseat the forever-games of League of Legends or Destiny and the like. "Yes," you might say, "Splatoon is enjoyable. But will I play it for more than six hours?"

This strikes me, like single-player length time, as a useless question. Actually, strike that. What this sentiment does tell you regarding multiplayer games is that you should play the game now. Strike while the iron is hot. Jump in with all the new people before everyone abandons the game and you're stuck playing against experts, or worse, no one at all. That I see as an invitation to embrace the ephemeral moment of play. If I pick up Splatoon and abandon it again after ten hours or so, who cares. I've played shorter games in my life, created imaginary moments of play as a child that were far more ephemeral. Jovial, frivolous, battery-recharging play doesn't come with an "best-by" date.

The other game unmentioned in the article, but in the back of my mind while writing, is Life is Strange. The adventure game is far from perfect, but I've been struck smitten with every episode so far. Like Splatoon, maybe Life is Strange is just coming at a good time for me. While it features the science fiction maelstrom that is time travel, it still feels small in  scale and scope. Dontnod is not trying to compete with Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. In fact, they want you to think about time not just by traveling through it, but by savoring it. During the last episode, I saw on a bed and listened to the entire, sappy, high-school-memory-inducing "Lua" by Bright Eyes. I was never rushed. Max had nowhere important to be, and neither did I.

To make time in games for, well, nothing? It's refreshing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

EXP Podcast #331: The Witcher 3 First Impressions

The world's most serious pest exterminator.
Slaying ghouls, drowners, and nightwraiths: a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.  However, are Jorge and I truly cut out for a life of witching?  Only time will tell.  This week we talk about the early hours of The Witcher 3 and end up wandering down a path full of type faces, open world game design, and griffin heads.

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 36 mins 46 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Spelunky: Death and Deutsch

In which we realize that Spelunky is deadly in any language. Also included: E3 predictions, movie reviews, and queso analysis.