Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What is This: Sacred Citadel

t's time for another "What is This!?", where Scott and I play a game completely oblivious to what it actually is. Join us this week to discuss Sacred Citadel and what the world would be like if we could all double jump in real life!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Earthbound is for Children

This week on PopMatters, I discuss Earthbound as Children's Literature.

My favorite children's books, for the most part, have some dark or very adult themes. I hated Peter Pan when I was young because I only knew the story depicted in cartoons. Reading it again as an adult, you instead find some depressing stuff about man's fear of death. Some of this you just can't appreciate when young.

Even so, I don't think adult themes removes a work's ability to speak to children. Indeed, it heightens it. I use Maurice Sendak's work as an example, but you find it everywhere in literature, from Alice in Wonderland to The Lorax. There is something different, I would argue, between a work meant to be enjoyed by adults and children alike, and a work meant to be enjoyed by children but nevertheless touches upon adult themes. Earthbound is resoundingly the latter.

Having never played Earthbound as a kid, I keep going wondering how something like this ever got made. It's not just weird, it's at times unsettling. How did anyone play this game and think "Yes. This will do gangbusters!" I have a hard time imagining how a ten year-old me would have understood the contents of Earthbound. Would I have caught all the subtle cultural references? Probably not, but they would have been there regardless.

While playing, I find myself feeling nostalgic for the experience of playing the game as a child, an experience I never had. I find the game fascinating today, but I can't help I missed out on visiting Earthbound when I was still a child.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EXP Podcast #321: Pixels, Snakes, and Nintendo News

Rumor has it Kojima is actually hiding in this picture
Classic arcade characters are on the rampage, Kojima has disappeared, and Nintendo has acknowledged the existence of smart phones: what the heck is happening out there?  This week, Jorge and I do a quick news roundup in an attempt to make sense of the chaos.  If we try to predict the box office, the fate of Kojima productions, and Nintendo's 5-year strategy, we have to get at least one.  I believe that's how statistics works.

- 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 16 secs

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spelunky: El Juego de Muerte

Jorge and Scott brush up on their spelunking and foreign language skills. ¿Cómo se dice "jetpack bros?"


Thursday, March 19, 2015

New Perspectives on 'Journey' and 'Earthbound'

Each year the journey is a little different
This week on PopMatters is all about revisiting some familiar games: Journey and Earthbound.

I don't get the chance to replay that many games.  More accurately, I don't make the time.  There's always something new and shiny.  There's always countless responsible-adult type things to focus on.

It's not like I have a problem playing the same game for what some might say is an excessive amount of time.  Spelunky, Titanfall, Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros.; I've sunk dozens of hours into each.  There's a common theme though: they're all unscripted.  There's no real story, so everything that comes up is either procedural or driven by my interaction with other players.

I seem to forget that even in a story-driven game, there's lots of variety between sessions.  Sometimes it's just picking up on small elements I missed the first time, but mostly it's reinterpreting things based on what has happened to me since the last time I played the game.  I remember reading Invisible Man as a kid and thinking it was fine.  I read it again as an adult was in awe.

The nice thing about Journey is that it remains an incredible game and continues to impress with its attention to detail.  Earthbound is following the trajectory of Invisible Man; what was once cool is now quickly becoming a masterpiece to me.  These games haven't changed on any mechanical level; it's the intervening years that have changed my mindset.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

EXP Podcast #320: Con Artists

The Game Developers Conference, PAX East/Prime/South/West/Arctic, Twitch Con. There are just so many conventions to attend each year, all hoping to grab your attention with a selection of games, from Triple A to indie. This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I discuss the landscape of fan conventions, the presence of virtual reality hardware, and some of the games at the three conventions that just wrapped up over the past couple weeks. If you are a con-regular, let us know in the comments sections which you attend and what makes them interesting in particular?

- 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: 37 mins 45 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Risk of Rain: Stayin' Alive

Scott has honed his "risk of raining", so we go back once more into the breach. Have our skills improved? Are we better than ever!? Probably not.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reviving Magic with Commander

Goblins love it too!
Seriously, I never thought I would write about magic cards again.

This week on PopMatters I praise Wizards of the Coast's willingness to support a casual format that looks to be salvaging the game for me. Of course the real credit goes to Magic players who pioneered the format and experimented with the game. I've always been a fan of home-brew adaptations of games, and apparently so has Wizards of the Coast for quite some time. The number of casual formats is not surprising considering how long the card game has been around.

While I certainly have my own house rules for certain games, I would love to see more casual experimentation with game design in tabletop gaming. Magic's depth certainly lends itself well to manipulation, especially around certain themes. Tribal Wars format, for example, which asks players to create decks around specific creature types, is only possible when you have such a robust catalog of cards to choose from. My Netrunner collection has grown pretty large. Maybe not is the time to experiment with running my own Netrunner variants.

To some extent, designers are doing these thematic tweaks themselves. I recently played Legendary's Aliens tabletop game, which takes its mechanics largely from the Marvel deck building game of the same name. The change in theme is expertly done and adds some neat mechanics (such as scanning rooms) perfectly into its deck building core. In fact, both Aliens and Marvel can be combined into one hilarious mesh between the Marvel and Aliens universe.

I for one welcome our hybrid overlords.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

EXP Podcast #319: Earthbound Debrief, part 2

No rings around Mr. Saturn's eyes
Zombies, fits of uncontrollable crying, and idyllic villages full of aliens: just another day in Earthbound.  We return to our game to talk about parenthood, friendship, and cryptozoology.  We've played up to Ness' arrival in mysterious and (confusing) Saturn Valley.  Hopefully we haven't lost any of you to those vicious new age hippies.  Feel free to share your spirit journey experiences in the comments.

- 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: 42 mins 53 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Jazzpunk: Endless Frogger

Being a spy is hard. You need to think quickly on your feet. You need to be a master martial artist. And of course you need to be willing to ingest large amounts of mysterious pills without a second thought.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Taking Inventory in 'Earthbound'

Ness is so photogenic.
This week on PopMatters I talk about space and Earthbound.  No, it’s not about interstellar phenomena; it’s about the confines of a backpack.

One of the most striking things about replaying Earthbound has been the inventory system.  For one, it’s extremely limited.  Everything takes up precious slots in Ness’ overstuffed backpack.  By the time you factor in weapons, armor, and mandatory quest-specific items, you’re down to about 8 precious spaces in which to stash everything you need to keep yourself in fighting shape.

Eventually you get some friends who can expand the amount of stuff you can carry, but the physical placement of items still matters.  There’s no concept of a party-wide magical bag of infinite holding capacity.  Everyone needs to carry their own weapons and if someone gets taken out, their items disappear with them.  It’s rare that I play a game these days that makes me think so much about the specific number of items and their exact locations.

The fact that these items are rooted in our reality rather than that of some high fantasy or cyberpunk realm.  I’ve known the pain of thinking that I have cold medicine in my bag only to realize that I forgot to buy it when I was at the store.  Mechanically, the difference between having a pack of beef jerky can be the difference between surviving a battle and having to re-crawl your way through a dungeon.  The mundanity of the items makes the game more relatable and it makes the absence of these items more poignant.  I can not only clearly visualize them, but I can also remember the disappointment of finding myself without them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

EXP Podcast #318: In Control

Tenya Wanya Teens' controller features sixteen buttons.
You probably have a box of them in your house. Some of them might be broken or worn down through use. Others you may have broken throwing against a wall. They are video game controllers, and we love to hate them and argue which are better than others. But how do controllers express their own meaning?

This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I are inspired David Shimomura's recent piece on "The semiotics of controllers." With so many buttons, we'll have plenty to discuss. Join us by leaving your comments below and share your personal favorites as well!

- 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: 32 mins 28 secs
- "The semiotics of controllers," by David Shimomura, via Kill Screen.
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Risk of Rain: Not Ready for this Jelly

We heard your demand! We have brought you a desperate attempt to play Risk of Rain. I'm going to be painfully honest here. I'm not sure Scott and I are good at anything, especially video games. I submit the evidence below...