Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (Second Chance with the Chick)

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was a rarity for me on the XBLIG scene. It was one of a very small group of games that I continued to play after I finished reviewing it. Not a lot of time. Maybe a few extra hours, but I couldn’t focus on any other games until I had satisfied my run with Wagon. It happens to me sometimes. I have a term for this: “getting it out of my system.” It’s a term friends, family, and co-workers have come to dread from me. It means my productivity is ground to a screeching halt. Terraria is currently the standard-bearer for this. I reviewed it, hated it, but still felt the need to get it out of my system. Then I realized that I was addicted to it and I had to do a complete 180 and concede that it was something special. I put about ten hours into it before the review went up. Between the time I posted my original review and the time I had to suck it up and admit I was wrong, I put an extra thirty hours into it. And after the second review, I added another fifty or so.

Currently, I’m migrating all my XBLIGs over to PC, and many of them will get a Second Chance with the Chick. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure has the word “Turbo” added to it on the PC build, so I figured I would start with it. I had a few nits to pick in my previous review of it, and I wanted to see if they were addressed.

Nope.

Under the sea! Under the sea! You'll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Under the sea! Under the sea! You’ll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Of all the games I’ve enjoyed at Indie Gamer Chick, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is the least fair, and it doesn’t give a shit about it. As you make your way through the game, all the events unfold randomly, and many of them revolve around you just plain losing health. Sometimes the game immediately starts with one of your three characters coming down with some hilarious illness and having three of their four hit points get drained. You get them back if you survive a couple of waves, but there’s a chance that if a single enemy makes it past your defense, that character will die. Right off the bat, with almost no chance of survival. What a dick of a game.

If you think that’s bad, try making it all the way to the end of the game with full health (a rarity) only to be forced to sacrifice one team member or starve to death. This can be avoided if you collect 40 animal hides when this scenario comes up. I talked with a lot of players of the game and all of them determined that anything short of perfect shooting with the correct weapon will fail. Many of the weapons in the game completely annihilate the animals you can hunt, leaving no carcass behind for you to chow down on. That happened to me several times. I got so pissed off that I chose to starve once. I figured I would be left with only one heart per person. No, actually, they all died.

You know, Sparsevector, there’s a fine line between making your game challenging and making players want to burn your house down.

As fun as Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is (and make no mistake, it’s really fun), you never feel any sense of accomplishment when you play it. When literally everything comes down to the whims of fate, how can you feel good about it? If you display any skill, the game will bend you over its knee and introduce you to the paddle of “shit happens.”

Wagon 2

Brian FINALLY presents me a flower, which is what initiates a life-restoring ritual known as “fucking each-other’s brains out.” Oddly enough, my original lineup was myself, Brian, and our friend Bryce. Wagon Bryce and Wagon Brian couldn’t stop fucking each-other, much to the real Brian and Bryce’s chagrin, though we all admitted that Nintendo could learn something from their Super Amazing Wagon Adventure’s Brokeback Mountain moments.

Low on life and counting on the fur trader to sell you some health? Fuck you, all he has for sale is the ability to move your wagon faster. Which you will never ever EVER want. All that does is assure you will take more damage, because you have a big moving target and moving faster means moving more recklessly. Having the best run you’ve made in several attempts? Why, here’s syphilis for your characters and also a pack of wolves chasing them. The wolves are the most appallingly overpowered enemies because they move too fast and if you dodge them, they turn around and bite you in the ass. Have the right default weapon to handle them? It might get jammed, or drunk if you’re using the falcon. Shit like this makes me question if I would be brought up on assault charges if the developer was within chair throwing distance of me. It’s the most infuriating good game I’ve played at Indie Gamer Chick.

And it is fucking awesome.

8+ hours into the PC port (with probably around the same amount of time put into the XBLIG version), and I was still discovering new scenarios I had never encountered before. Train robberies. Caves. Aliens.  I had more wagons and even modes to unlock. And the weird thing is, I actually want to press on. I feel like the love-struck school girl trying to catch the attention of the local bully. So, is it a nice game? No. It blows up bullfrogs with firecrackers and pulls the wings off flies. But I’m downright smitten. I also think the guys at Sparsevector are responsible for a 20% hike in my blood pressure. MY PARTY GOT ANOTHER VD? CAN’T YOU GUYS STOP FUCKING FOR TEN SECONDS?

Wagon logoSuper Amazing Wagon Adventure was developed by Sparsevector
Point of Sale: SteamDesuraXbox Live Indie Games
Ports played for this review: Steam and Xbox Live Indie Games.

IGC_Approved$2.99 preferred the wagon that lets you use the falcon in the making of this review. Even though the falcon had a big drinking problem.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Goat Simulator

How does one review a game that isn’t supposed to be good? That started as a joke project inside a studio, a sort of “get a feel for an engine” project that was never intended for release. Then a video of that joke was posted on YouTube, drawing over 1,000,000 (pinky finger to mouth) views, with fans (and even some press) demanding it become a reality. Because that’s where Goat Simulator comes from.

Me? I don’t give a shit about any of that. I just want to buy and play good games. And Goat Simulator is boring. The idea is, you’re a goat. There’s a couple of maps. Go do stuff. What stuff? Whatever you want. There’s no story. There’s no objectives besides a checklist of things like “fall as long as you can” or “get hit by a car.” I’ve never been able to get into games that have no driving force behind them. Some people like to just run amok in a sandbox. In GTA, they’ll load up on guns and see how much shit they can trash before getting busted by the cops or killed. I can’t do that kind of stuff. I need a reason to keep going. Goat Simulator doesn’t do that. It does have a couple of things that are almost missions, like racing from point A to point B or giving the players a minute or so to score as many points as they can. But those get boring too, because there’s no progress.

It’s also unstable as all hell. Without hyperbole, I fell through the world geometry only two minutes into the game. This was nice in the sense that I was able to check off a couple of the tasks, such as falling from as high a distance as possible, but come on. What’s disgusting is people want these glitches. They demanded them, because it somehow makes the game more charming. Great, so we’re now encouraging a generation of highly impressionable young developers to not bother ironing out bugs in their software, because those give their games personality or something along those lines. No, what we’re doing is rewarding laziness and lack of effort. I can’t even make a joke about it because it gives me genuine concern for the future of the indie scene.

I've never actually encountered a real, honest to God goat. Do their tongues work like a frog's, sticking to everything they touch? Because this goat's tongue is like that. A cool feature, or it would have been if there was any fucking point to it.

I’ve never actually encountered a real, honest to God goat. Do their tongues work like a frog’s, sticking to everything they touch? Because this goat’s tongue is like that. A cool feature, or it would have been if there was any fucking point to it.

In a way, Goat Simulator represents a sort of malaise that’s overcome the indie scene. It shows how little we ask of developers. We don’t even care if a game is fundamentally broken, has any point to it, or even if effort was put into it. By doing this, we’re doing a real disservice to the development community. We’re telling them “you don’t have to try. We’ll still be there for you!” Only, we typically aren’t. Maybe Goat Simulator is doing exceptionally well, but that’s a rarity. As someone who has spent that last three years watching a small portion of the scene ruin their lives making their games, I think maybe I have a better feel for the stakes in play. I have seen developers go all-in with their projects. mortgaging their homes, cashing out their children’s college funds, selling their cars, cashing out their 401(k)s, or all of the above, for stuff that any rational person would realize has little chance of success. Why? Because people told them it was a good idea.

Not that I think Goat Simulator is representative of that level of recklessness. I assume, from its origin as a joke and it’s short (four weeks) development cycle, that it cost very little to release. Instead, I’m concerned about the idea that popularity comes easily. That quality is irrelevant to success. That a developer can actively talk about how awful their project is and still rake in cash like an armored truck crashed into a diamond truck right in their driveway. Like Flappy Bird, Goat Simulator’s popularity is purely on a sarcastic level. By buying the game, you’re essentially saying “I totally get the joke” and your purchase is simply a pricey way of saying “LOL!” I don’t even blame Coffee Stain Studios for doing it. What would you do if you had an established fanbase, a large portion of the gaming media, and instant backing from the largest digital distribution house on your side? I know what I would do: laugh all the way to the bank.

But, somewhere out there right now, a moron is looking at Goat Simulator and saying “why not me?” Even though he or she has none of the advantages that Coffee Stain had. They only see the money and the notoriety those guys are getting. They’re unable to grasp that Coffee Stain is only able to have this kind of success without trying because they worked so damn hard on every other project they’ve done. So they proceed to quit their jobs, sell their stuff, and ruin their lives making their games. Nobody buys the game, because they have no following, no marketing skills, no contacts to help them get listings, and the game doesn’t have anywhere near the polish that years of experience brings. As bad as Goat Simulator is (and it’s awful, make no mistake), imagine how bad it would have been if it had been their first game.

I’m all for personal accountability. It’s not up to you or me or Coffee Stain or any other developer to watch out for people and make sure they don’t destroy their lives in pursuit of a quick buck and infamy. At best, we can tell those that would go down that path “maybe you should think harder about this.” But when they do it anyway, it’s not our fault. What I am saying is, as a community, we have to come together and say “we’re capable of better than this!” Maybe Goat Simulator is the foundation of something that is possibly exceptional. The alpha stage of a game that, with a proper narrative, a wacky take on traditional sandbox missions, and a stable engine, could be legendary. But nobody asked that of Coffee Stain. They showed off a joke, and people said “we want that, right now, just the way it is. That’s good enough for us.” We gave them the path of least resistance, and they accepted it, just like anyone would. Just like I would.

All my attempts at suicide failed as my goat is unfortunately immortal.

All my attempts at suicide failed as my goat is unfortunately immortal.

But we can do better. Consumers, I mean. We can say “our money is worth more than this.” We didn’t with Goat Simulator. We don’t with a lot of games. And we should. People bitch and complain about the landslide of Flappy clones that have flooded the marketplace, but it’s only because we as a community embraced its awfulness that such a goldrush to clone Flappy Bird happened in the first place. We created this mess. And if we keep demanding that unfinished novelty games be released right fucking now instead of saying “hey, this could be cool! you should build off it!”, it’s what the indie scene will revolve around. No, quality games won’t disappear. Not now. Not ever. Talent and genius don’t disappear because the flavor of the month requires no effort or hard work. There will always be developers that will kill themselves to get it right. To make something new and groundbreaking that sets our imaginations ablaze. No amount of crap can ever bury them or their desire to entertain us. No, this is about protecting our identity as a community. We want people to associate the indie scene as being a high quality, imaginative and creative community. When we say “we’re there for you, even when you phone it in”, we become hypocrites. If EA or Microsoft put out something like this, we would shit on them. You know it. Why does being indie make something like Goat Simulator acceptable? Especially when we damn well know we can do better? I don’t want that to be our identity, where unfinished crap is acceptable because it’s indie. We deserve better.

 

Behold the funniest gag in the game: it has the same font as Microsoft Flight Simulator. There, I just saved you $6 to $10.

Behold the funniest gag in the game: it has the same font as Microsoft Flight Simulator. There, I just saved you $6 to $10.

Goat Simulator was developed by Coffee Stain Studios
Point of Sale: Steam

$5.99 (normally $9.99) is very worried that “Unfinished, Pointless Sandbox Game” is now a popular genre in the making of this review.

 

Super Comboman

Sigh. Sometimes I walk away not liking a game and I just know it’s going to get me hate mail. So, it’s with a sense of dread that I say that I utterly hated Super Comboman, the latest title published by Adult Swim Games. I’m a big fan of their label. They’ve been on a hot streak lately, with titles like Volgarr the Viking being pretty cool. Super Comboman looked like it was trying to take a page from Viewtiful Joe’s playbook. I was a big Viewtiful Joe fan as a kid, so I was pretty excited for this one. At first, I thought Super Comboman was going to be something special. And it is. In the same way that someone who can’t remember to put their pants on before their shoes is special.

The idea is you’re a guy named Struggles who has to brawl his way through levels for some reason. I couldn’t really follow the story, except that everything is supposed to be made of stickers. That’s why your character and all the enemies have white outlines. You’re also supposed to have a fanny pack that looks like Pikachu, because that’s quirky and indie or something, but really, it looks more like a dog. I’m not a fan of the white-outlines art direction, which is pretty needless. Hell, many people aren’t even grasping the whole sticker-concept to begin with, nor does the game do any sticker-based special moves from what I can tell. There’s nothing wrong with the concept. They just didn’t do anything with it. Gameplay wise, Super Comboman is about brawling enemies and trying to chain together as large a string of combos as you can. It does have personality and cool character designs. And that’s about where the nice things I have to say about Super Comboman end.

I don't know why they bothered with the sticker gimmick at all. Unless it unfolds later in the game, it never comes into play. Unless getting stuck in a jump animation, unable to move, is part of it. In this picture, my character is doing just that. Stuck. For no reason. Yeah, there are some glitches. Well, quite a few actually.

I don’t know why they bothered with the sticker gimmick at all. Unless getting stuck in a jump animation, unable to move (as if you’re stuck there just like a sticker), is part of it. In this picture, my character is doing just that. Stuck. For no reason. Yeah, there are some glitches. Well, quite a few actually.

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp.

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp. The only c-c-c-combobreaker in this game is the numerous glitches.

In the interest of full disclosure, I put seven hours into Super Comboman and couldn’t make it past the first “real” stage. Not for a lack of effort, but I had issues either getting stuck and unable to move (and I mean that literally. More on that later) or would get massacred by the enemies as they sandwiched me between them and pelted me with pick-axes that drained my life what seemed far too quickly. Insult my lack of skills all you wish. I’ll fully agree with you on that front, but I think I can safely blame the game for a lot of it. Having just played three straight games with very good play control, Super Comboman aggravated me to no end. Myself and the small circle of friends that also received pre-release review copies couldn’t pull off a single aerial-based special attack or combo. The timing of it is next to impossible. This is because “popping” the enemies into the air doesn’t throw them high enough, and then there’s a delay in jumping up to catch them. I bought a move called a “piledriver” that only requires you to press down and B midair to execute it. I wasn’t able to pull off the move until five hours after I had unlocked it. That makes me somewhat privileged, since none of my friends could execute it. We all struggled with wall-jumping too. It’s done by holding the jump button and pressing the opposite direction. The timing of it was just so off, we began skipping caches of coins that required you to use it. It just wasn’t worth the frustration.

The controls are just plain not responsive enough for the kind of gameplay the developers wanted. And the fighting itself is boring. Comboman tries to change things up by making unlockable “perks”, of which you can control two at once. There’s a problem though: the first perk you equip doesn’t activate until you’ve hit a THIRTY FUCKING HIT COMBO! Thirty!! And, as soon as the combo’s timer runs out, you lose whatever perk you’ve earned. I don’t know how much it takes for the second perk to activate, because I never got a combo higher than 40 something. One of the reasons for that is, in rooms where multiple enemies spawn, sometimes it takes too long for them to actually do that. You might have to wait for them to blink out of existence before another shows up to keep the combo going, and by time you’re in range of them, your meter has run out. That happened a lot. But, a lot of the time (and I mean a lot), the game glitches out and you get screwed by its busted engine. For example, look at this picture.

Super Comboman 3

See where it says “Workers –> 5″ on the wall? That tells you the number of enemies left to kill in this particular room. The two pipes you see with the down arrows spawn enemies. There are only two enemies at a time, and one is defeated and blinks out of existence, another one gets pooped out as soon as you run under a pipe. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. One time in this same room, I had a fairly large combo going, and I cleared all the baddies. Only, I didn’t. There was one left to spawn. I ran under the right pipe. Nothing. I ran under the left pipe. Nothing. The door was still locked and it said I still had one guy left to go. By this point, my combo was totally gone, but I was still stuck waiting for the douchebag enemy to show up. I ran the full length of the room back and forth, passing under the pipes multiple times. Nothing. I started jumping up and down. Nothing. Finally, after running in place against the locked door for a few seconds, the pipe finally shit out the last guy I had to fight. Over a minute had passed. This happened more than once too.

It’s possible the dude was frozen midair. That happens quite frequently as well. At first, I thought it was only me. Sometimes when you land on platforms, your character gets stuck in the “jump” animation and can’t move (as seen in the pictures above). You can change what direction you face, but you’re stuck. Sometimes you can use a special move to get yourself out of it, but sometimes you can’t and you have to restart the stage. Pro Tip: buy the air dash right away, since that’s the easiest way to get yourself unstuck, though even that doesn’t work every time.

Later, I noticed it was happening to the bad guys too. I took video of it.

It was around this point, seven hours in with even the enemies being screwed over by bugs, that I realized this shit is not finished yet. Yes, I suck at brawling games and I didn’t even finish the first stage. But I think a solid argument could be made that I simply never had an attempt at finishing that damn stage without a glitch happening. Literally the only thing that was consistent was the game doing stuff I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to do. Take this puzzle. I numbered the different sections of it.

Super Comboman 2

You have to take the enemies that spawn at spot #1 and do a “smash” move to them. They should fly into the cement wall at spot #2 and break it. You can’t break it yourself, because the electric fence, which enemy bodies pass through (sometimes at least. A lot of the time they get stuck on it). Then, you have to hit a different enemy at spot #1 and have them bounce off the mattress at spot #3, which is hypothetically supposed to bounce them up into the button next to spot #4. A perfectly fine puzzle, when it works. But the physics just are not consistent enough. The enemy always drops out of the same position in the pipe. Smashing him immediately upon landing almost always lands him on the mattress (when he doesn’t fail to pass through the electric fence), but doesn’t always cause him to hit the button. Trying it in different positions doesn’t make a difference either. It’s really a matter of luck getting the puzzle to work the way its supposed to. I mean, you can’t have a puzzle with that much inconsistency. It’s annoying.

Sometimes it took so long I wondered if I actually had done it right and the button was broken. That actually happened to me twice, where I went to smash a button and it just wouldn’t press in. One time it was with the very first button in the first non-tutorial stage, and I had to immediately restart the level. Now mind you, I wasn’t the only one this kind of shit was happening to. Didn’t anyone play-test this thing? Sprites disappear. Characters get stuck. Buttons don’t always activate. Puzzles don’t always work right. This is the most glitch-filled game I’ve seen since Poker Night 2. I can’t even make a joke about it. It’s so disappointing.

There’s nothing in Super Comboman that can’t be fixed. They can iron the kinks out of the fighting (they really ought to tone down the enemy sponginess while they’re at it) and the glitches can be patched out. But its present release feels like a beta in need of at least six months worth of fine-tuning. The brawling gets repetitive, the enemies are too repetitive, and what the FUCK was the point of the whole sticker thing? Why even have such a novel concept if you’re not going to take advantage of everything being stickers? Why bother to include the perks when activating them and keeping them active is so damn hard? The sluggish controls and frequent glitches push this past the point of being tolerable. I loved the personality of the game, and you can tell real effort and thought was given to the play mechanics. They just didn’t finish it. The foundation for something really good is laid here, but the cement was still wet and now its starting to sink.

Super Comboman LogoSuper Comboman was developed by Interabang Entertainment

Point of Sale: Steam

$11.99 (price raises to $14.99 on July 18, 2014) was prematurely born on July 11 too, but at least I was only a couple of weeks early in the making of this review.

An early review copy of Super Comboman was provided to Indie Gamer Chick by Adult Swim Games. Our policy is that we pay for all of our own games. Upon the release of the game, a copy will be purchased by Cathy. For more on this policy, check our FAQ.

 

Shutshimi

With my last two reviews landing in the top ten on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard, I’m now worried that my readers will think I’m going soft. Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart. Neither is true. As far as you know. But really, I have a reputation to maintain here. So what I need is a game from a genre that is my least favorite. Something that looks like it’s been done a zillion times before. Something I can rake over coals and murder with my malicious words. I need a shmup.

So I picked Shutshimi, and it’s one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played. Well, fuck me.

I should have known better. As many of you are aware, the original Wario Ware on Game Boy Advance is my personal choice for the best game ever made. Probably a sign that I have ADHD or something. But other games based around time crunches have also owned me, such as Pac-Man Championship Edition, Bejeweled Blitz, NES Remix, or XBLIGs Orbitron and Minigame Marathon. I’m wired for shit like this. And Shutshimi is essentially the Wario Ware of shoot-em-ups. Stages last ten seconds. Sometimes less, but never more. Between stages, you enter a store where you have a choice of three different items. The items have overly-long, elaborate descriptions (that are often not very helpful) and you have exactly ten seconds to make your selection. You fight a boss every few rounds, but only ten seconds at a time. And that’s pretty much the entirety of the game. And I call it a game only because it might be slanderous to call it what it really is: a drug.

Hell, it even looks like how you picture being on drugs.

Actually, going off this picture, maybe I’m on to something with the whole drug thing.

And an addictive drug at that. I have no love for this genre. I find the majority of shmups to be boring, samey, typically unambitious, and designed strictly to target those that are nostalgic for shooters. I’m certainly not nostalgic for them, and thus I’m not these games target audience. More over, shmups are the most high-risk genre for my epilepsy triggers, something I honestly haven’t minded up to this point. I don’t want to sound like I’m milking my condition.. even though that’s exactly what I’m doing.. but it’s a genre I do go out of my way to avoid. I skipped this one for weeks. I only gave it consideration to begin with because it came via Anthony Swinnich, a long-time Indie Gamer Chick fan, and because he put “The Switch” in it. In other words, they included an option that made this game more epilepsy friendly.

Ten hours. That’s how long I played Shutshimi the first time I booted it up. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about this. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. And it did it the same way Wario Ware did: simplifying the play mechanics, and then weaponizing them by throwing them at you in fast-paced, bite-sized chunks. Because the game is randomized, you really can’t count on anything. An item that does one thing will do a different thing the next time you see it. No two play-throughs are the same. The lightning-fast approach is only detrimental because the writing is so damn funny, you’ll want to read it all and simply can’t.

Oh, that’s not the only fault here. Shutshumi is one of those games that is so good, the mistakes it makes frustrates me to a greater degree, because they’re so fundamental they shouldn’t exist. The top of the list for me is the lack of variety of enemies. The opening enemies, the sharks and squids, are too easy to dispose of. It takes too long for newer, more challenging baddies to appear. It’s also too easy to get a feel for enemy patterns. I wish the ordering of enemies had been every bit as random as the items. If Shutshumi had gone for full-on random wackiness like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, I think it would have made the game stronger. Despite the awesome randomness of the items (which often determine the effects of the next stage instead of giving you a power-up), because the levels unfold more or less in a linear way, Shutshimi almost becomes too easy.

Not that I know how good I am. There’s no online leaderboards as of yet. When the game gets Greenlit on Steam, they’ll come, but that’s no help as of yet. My top score is in the 9,000 point range. I’m not especially skilled at this, but I don’t have to be good at stuff to enjoy it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t still be golfing. But without those leaderboards, the ceiling of addictiveness for Shutshimi is significantly smaller. I’m also annoyed that only the PC version contains the epilepsy switch, meaning I couldn’t play the XBLIG version. Me, Indie Gamer Chick! If you look up XBLIG in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me urinating on Sententia. I mean, I appreciate the switch’s presence, but why did only one platform get it? Epileptics play consoles too, you know.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that's a good thing.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that’s a good thing.

My other concerns are nit-picky. There’s no variety in the backdrops, except stuff caused by random item pick-ups that result in party effects or for the game to be shrouded in darkness (I’m guessing with epilepsy mode turned off, there’s lightning flashes for that section). And some of the items are just stupid. One of them eliminates enemies altogether for a single stage. Technically that helps you advance an extra wave for free, but it also means you score no points. Just a really bad idea. I also think the shotgun weapon is now my choice for least favorite item in a good game. Fucking thing is worthless.

I’m sure shmup fans will be appalled that this game, which is admittedly overly simplistic, is the only game of its breed to capture my imagination. But it did. For all of its flaws (most of which, oddly enough, seem to be due to lack of ambition), it’s the first game in a long while that I had trouble putting down. It took me an extra couple days to get this review up because I would go back to check something about it and end up putting in an extra hour or two of playtime. Shutshumi is such a breath of fresh air. A great idea, something that will hopefully kickstart a new era of creativity for a genre that often lacks it. It also proves that the best ideas are often the simplest. Shutshumi has not a single mechanic that hasn’t been done before. Every part of it is tired. But it’s how it used its mechanics that makes it special. They should show it off in game design classes. I commend the developers at Neon Deity Games. And I only call them developers because I think it might be slanderous to call them what they really are: a drug cartel.

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

xboxboxartShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie GamesIndie Game StandHumble Store

IGC_Approved$1 noted that “the wacky smoking animal” stuff is getting tired. First the pipe smoking cat from Aqua Kitty and now a cigar-smoking goldfish? Give it a fucking rest, guys in the making of this review.

Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Escape Goat 2

From July 1, 2012 to July 26, 2013, the top ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard was Escape Goat, an incredible platform-puzzler by Ian Stocker. I’ve played dozens upon dozens of puzzlers since starting Indie Gamer Chick, and it stood out. It didn’t have the most difficult puzzles, but the ingenuity of the puzzle design left a big impression on me. It was one of the first games I played that made me realize that indies in many ways have eclipsed big studios in terms of creativity and intelligence of design. But, what impressed me most of all about Escape Goat was how this was a puzzler that anyone could play. Compare it to something like Gateways, which is probably the most brainy puzzler ever created. Less than 1% of all people who purchase that game ever finish it, even on it’s “easy” mode. Which is not a knock on it. As of this writing, it ranks #9 on my Leaderboard. The game is genius. The problem is, the learning curve is so steep that you practically have to be a genius to get the most out of it. Escape Goat was challenging enough to give anyone making their way through it a sense of satisfaction, but not so smart that anyone would be likely to walk away and never return. Sort of like what I’ve been known to do with punishers. Damn you 1001 Spikes, you refried bastard of a game, you.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade on the original by any means. It’s still built around single-screen puzzles that are solved by activating a series of switches that alter the layout of each stage. You still have a mouse helper that you use to squeeze through narrow passageways, transfer places with, or to activate switches. And it still contains equal parts platforming and puzzling, a balance that many of its genre cousins have trouble maintaining. It’s safe to say that Escape Goat 2 is more of an evolutionary step. When this is the case, I typically find the sequel to be satisfactory, but leaving less of an impression on me. Mario Galaxy 2, Kingdom Hearts II, and Arkham City all left me feeling that. That’s what makes Escape Goat 2 such a surprise. It not only feels fresh, but that sense of awe and discovery that hooked me with the original happened to me again and again, as I watched floors and walls shift around to reveal the pathway to victory stage after stage. It reminded me the staircases at Hogwarts, or the some of the elaborate boobytraps from the Indiana Jones franchise. In this sense, Escape Goat and Escape Goat 2 hold a unique distinction for me on the indie scene: they’re the only games that made me totally revert back to my childhood. Not even Journey managed to accomplish this. For this reason, Escape Goat 2 is the first game since Journey that made me debate whether it should go on top of the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I'm a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I’m a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

As an evolutionary version of Escape Goat, the sequel features new styles of puzzles. Sometimes you’ll acquire the ability to manipulate four mouses at once. Other times, you’ll have to turn the mouse into a block, either to act as a shield or to smash platforms below you. Unlike the first game, levels unfold in a slightly more linear way. One of the fatal weaknesses of the original game was that the levels could be tackled in any order. For this reason, the difficulty couldn’t be scaled. The sequel not only fixed this, but it contains one of the finest difficulty curves the indie puzzle scene has ever seen. Even when you later open up new stages that link off the opening levels, those new levels feature the proper scaling of difficulty. Is it perfect scaling? Of course not. Even big budgeted games by some of the biggest names in gaming rarely nail the curve, and indies never do. Having said that, Escape Goat 2 comes the closest. Considering how bad the first one screwed the pooch in this area, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Like the first Escape Goat, I found the controls to be exceptional. I was actually shocked to learn that people are complaining about them. I’ve reviewed 472 indies as of today, with the highest percentage of them being platformers. Proper platforming controls are among the most difficult things to get right. I never once felt the controls failed me. If I died, it’s because I fucked up, not the controls. The jumping is so natural that your limitations become instinctive almost immediately. Maybe I had an easier time because I enjoyed Escape Goat 2 with an Xbox One controller, but really, even some very good indie platformers struggle with controls. I would rank my experience with Escape Goat 2 second only to Super Meat Boy in terms of how instinctive they become. I can think of no higher praise.

I don’t want this to sound like a digital blowjob. Believe me, I have some bones to pick with Escape Goat 2. My biggest gripe: the lighting effects. Many of the stages are lit in a way where you have to explore them to get a proper lay of the land. It sounds great in theory, but I felt it took away from the majesty of discovery, which is where Escape Goat really shines. It’s the same thrills that make movies like National Treasure and Tomb Raider bearable to watch. Unfortunately, those moments in Escape Goat 2 are often shrouded in darkness (even when you turn the image brightness up in the options), and that’s really a shame. I’m also still not a fan of when the stages center less around puzzling and more around simple precision platforming. Although I argue that Escape Goat 2 does platforming very well, it’s not the game’s calling card, and those stages feel almost phoned in.

Escape Goat 2 also does that annoying thing where one of the unlockable super powers can only be achieved by dying X amount of times (in this case, 400 god damned times). I *hate* it when games do that. Thomas Was Alone did it too. Granted, TWA did it in a way that confirmed my fucking awesomeness, but this shit is like rewarding players for incompetence. Picture if we did this in all walks of life. Did you watch the last Superbowl? Remember when the Broncos gave up a fucking safety right off the bat? Imagine if they followed that up by dousing their coach with Gatorade while the players that fucked up gave each other chest bumps and high fives, all while the beleaguered Seahawks watched on in dumbstruck awe. You wouldn’t give them a fucking achievement for that. And yet gaming now does this on a consistent basis.  STOP IT!! The point is to not die!

Unless you’re one of those games where the point actually is to die.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t revolutionary. It won’t change the way you feel about gaming, one way or another. So it surprises me that I actually had to stop and think about whether I enjoyed it more than Journey. It ultimately came down to this: Escape Goat 2 made me do that “revert back to a giggling, wide-eyed child” thing that games like Portal and Super Mario Galaxy did for me. I crave those moments. They’re so very rare. I give the nod to Journey because it’s the only indie I played that took me places emotionally that I never expected any game would do. I hope that doesn’t detract anyone from giving Escape Goat 2 a whirl. After all, I am comparing the best indie I’ve ever played to the second best indie I’ve ever played. Because, as of this writing, that’s exactly what Escape Goat 2 is. A magnificent title from a rare breed of talent. A game that makes me proud of what I do here at Indie Gamer Chick.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to the game and kill myself another 304 times. Because Ian Stocker is that much of an asshole.

Escape Goat 2 logoEscape Goat 2 was developed by Magical Time Bean

IGC_Approved$9.99 is so hungry it could eat a goat burger. I have no clue what that means, but my late partner Kevin used to say that every day in the making of this review. Do goats taste nasty or something?

Escape Goat 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

Magicians & Looters (Second Chance with the Chick)

Imagine any game you played and didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter which game. Just try it.

Now, imagine if you could change one thing about that game. It could be the jumping mechanics. It could be the difficulty level. Are you picturing it? Good.

Is that game now, with that one change, one of the best games you’ve played?

That’s a legitimate question I pose to you. Because I just had such an experience. I played Magicians & Looters back in September, 2013. It’s a game I probably should have liked. It’s a Metroidvania, which is probably my favorite genre. It was highly ambitious, featuring three unique characters that you would alternate between, each with their own skills. It featured a large map with well-executed level design and unique platforming challenges. The humor-based writing was really sharp, with an emphasis on actual comedy as opposed to just quoting old video games and movies. I mean, doesn’t this game sound pretty fucking sweet?

I said sweet, not swine.

I said sweet, not swine.

But then there was the combat. That God damned combat. The guys at Morgopolis Studios wanted a more sophisticated, realistic combat system. Thus, they created an elaborate dodge/counter/block/attack setup that hypothetically should have made their title stand out. Instead, it crippled the game’s pace and made combat such a lethargic chore that it ruined the whole title. At least for me.

Thank God someone was listening. Now, the combat is more in line with traditional 2D games. And that one change alone completely alters how enjoyable Magicians & Looters is. When you’re not worrying about the game grinding to a screeching halt every time you encounter an enemy, you can really enjoy what the developers accomplished here. This is their first game mind you. I’ve long been a proponent of Theurer’s Law, which states that nobody should get their first game published. Well, actually I’m for a variation on it: keep your first project simple. I guess it’s a good thing Morgopolis Studios didn’t subscribe to that theory. What they came up with here is something very special.

Yes, you collect something called a "Red Skull" in this game. Which is actually significantly less half-assed than Hugo Weaving's performance in Captain America.

Yes, you collect something called a “Red Skull” in this game. Which is actually significantly less half-assed than Hugo Weaving’s performance in Captain America.

The map really stands out. You know, when you’re not taken back by how awful the combat is. A lot of indie Metroidvanias either overly simplify the map design, or they bite off more than they can chew and end up with a dull, sprawling mess. Magicians & Looters has a damn near perfect map. The design is so logical, and that’s a rarity in indie gaming. I’m still not sold on the leveling up system, but because the combat mechanics are fixed, it doesn’t feel like I’m underpowered anymore. It helps that the controls are more responsive thanks to the patchwork. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if this is the single-greatest use of a patch in gaming history. Thank God this wasn’t XBLA, or that patch would have been unaffordable and turned the development team into jaded douchebags.

M&L isn’t perfect by any means. Some of the dialog is too smart-assed for its own good. The longer you play, the longer you realize that these characters are damn-near unlikable. If you knew people who talked like this, you would hate them. You would go out of your way to avoid attending parties with them. Or, if stuck at a party with them, you would master the art of choking on appetizers just to avoid conversing with them. By the way, the secret to that is not faking it. Otherwise, you’ll fail to properly turn blue and thus they’ll want to keep talking with you. Nope, just suck it up, literally, and lodge that fucker in your throat. Though I suggest you make sure someone with a ten foot distance knows the Heimlich maneuver before trying this. Actually, don’t try this at all. Or at least don’t tell people you got the idea from me.

Where was I?

Mom?? Oh wait, I made that joke last time. Um, gimmie a second. Um, something about vaginal VDs or something.

Mom?? Oh wait, I made that joke last time. Um, gimmie a second. Um, something about vaginal VDs or something.

Oh, and the boss battles are still a bit tedious. A lot of people complained about the final boss. I actually can’t comment on it. Despite the accolades I’m bestowing upon the game, I had to walk away during the final battle because of epilepsy concerns. But, I tracked down the ending on YouTube and it’s worth a look. Is it disappointing I couldn’t finish it? Sure. But I can’t deny that every single part of the game before it had me shaking my head in disbelief. THIS from a game that originally didn’t even win my seal of approval? Are you kidding me?

I started Indie Gamer Chick three years ago today, and my focus was on Xbox Live Indie Games. It didn’t take me long to realize I had found a treasure trove of underrated, overlooked gems. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that, three years later, I’m still finding games that can blow my mind. There are precious few games out there that have scared me with the potential their developers display. This is one of them. What really amazes me is, even after reviewing over four-hundred games on the platform, I’m still able to say this about a new game: Magicians & Looters is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made. I have no doubt about it. Curly was right: just one thing. Figure that out, and everything else will work itself out.

xboxboxartMagicians & Looters was developed by Morgopolis Studios

IGC_Approved$2.99 has been holding off on this review for over a month now, because Cathy thought announcing a new best XBLIG ever on her site’s birthday would be more festive. Though we’ve heard the guys at Morgopolis have aged horribly waiting for the announcement in the making of this review.

Magicians & Looters is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Please note, she said “best Xbox Live Indie Game of all time.” Not best Indie of all time.

 

Three Years of Indie Gamer Chick

It’s June 30, 2014. Today marks the end of my third year doing Indie Gamer Chick. It wasn’t my most productive year, but I still managed to have a few really awesome moments. I broke one million lifetime views. I hand-selected a successful bundle on Indie Royale. I helped spread the word of epilepsy in gaming. People even recognized me when I went to pick up my PlayStation 4 at Best Buy at their midnight launch and asked for my autograph. What a surreal feeling. What a wonderful year.

But it was a tough year in other ways. I had problems from September onwards. Problems with my memory. Concentration issues. My epilepsy was striking more frequently. We didn’t know what to make of it. Then I went in for a test to see if I qualified for a new epilepsy treatment and the doctors found something off. On December 31, I was told they had discovered a lesion on my brain. It was probably caused by hitting my head during seizures. It has been suggested to me more than once that, when I know I’m due for a seizure, wearing a helmet might be a good idea. I balked at that. Really, what they meant was I should wear one when I’m just walking around, warning or not. The worst head injuries I’ve had are from seizures I can’t tell are coming. The lesion probably was more directly tied to a seizure I had in December 2011. Nobody saw it, but it’s suspected that I hit my head on a table leg.

The doctors told me I was a candidate for dementia, other perception problems, paranoia, and ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease. And I don’t mean like down the road. I mean, like, within the next few years. I’m 24 years old. Do you have any clue how terrifying it is to hear that from a doctor? They said the odds were not in my favor, but they couldn’t tell for sure until late February. So I spent January and February miserable. I had informed Sabriel and former IGC writer Jerry that I would probably have to quit Indie Gamer Chick, and that I would probably be giving the site to them. Even if the scenario wasn’t worse-case, you can’t really have a game critic with perception problems. I didn’t even trust my own judgment. I had already gone from someone who never took notes when I played games for reviews to taking extensive notes and double checking every single thing I played to make sure my opinion was authentic and not some brain-lesion induced delusion. It never was. Not even once. But when something like this is happening, you question everything.

But something good did come out of those two months. I found out how much I was loved by my new friends. The ones I wouldn’t have if I had never started Indie Gamer Chick. Who, for two months straight, sent me daily words of encouragement, trying to keep my spirits up and my hopes alive. They told me they thought I would beat the odds the doctors had laid out. I agreed with them that I would, but I didn’t really believe it. I had always told people that I was the luckiest person I knew, and I was certain I had used all my luck up. Then, on February 27, I got the results from an MRI. It started with probably the most beautiful sentence I’ve ever heard: “Your brain lesion is smaller than we expected.”

I would still need treatment (and I receive it to this day), because brain damage is brain damage. It doesn’t really go away. But I’m a lot less likely to go crazy. I just got the results from my follow-up MRI and it’s looking really good. Modern medicine. You have got to love it. I’m having a lot less issues with memory (in fact, my ability to retain stuff, which legitimately scared my buddy Nate, is nearly back to full power), and I’m even doing well while dealing with clinical depression (common among people with a history of head injuries. Just ask any retired NFL player). I have a long road ahead of me. I have to eat a certain way, do cognitive exercises, and get my head scanned fairly frequently, but my doctors like my odds. Hopefully they’re right about the odds this time.

It’s strange. Facing all these problems, the thing I was worried about the most was losing Indie Gamer Chick. It has been the best thing to happen to me in a long time. It’s where I met some of my dearest friends. It’s where I found a voice that I never knew I had. A sense of pride I didn’t know I was capable of having in myself. I love gaming so much, and I’ve always been really opinionated about what makes some games work and other not. I just never had an outlet for it. Probably because I thought nobody would care what I thought. How wrong I was.

A couple of months ago, someone made fun of me on some message board because I reply to every random tweet I get. It’s not true, because I do occasionally miss some. But seriously, why wouldn’t I want to reply to everyone? I’m proud that people care enough to ask my opinion on anything. I never want to be one of those people that’s too stuck up to reply to fans. Besides, how else am I going to get you guys to challenge me when I’m wrong if I’m not engaging you?

I’m not perfect or even close to it. I’ve made mistakes. My reviews aren’t always the way they should be. Sometimes I’ve been too harsh on games and their developers. There was a guy named Will O’Reagan. Will made a game called Project Gert: Recon. My review of it was absolutely brutal. Now, I stand by every critique I made of the game. But I think I crossed a line, rubbing salt in wounds by adding a snarky song set to the tune of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as the end joke. Look, when someone works hard on a game and it’s not received well, feelings will be hurt. Nothing can be done to prevent that, short of lying about my opinion of a game, and I won’t be doing that. But I did cross a line on that review. Will didn’t handle my review well, but to his credit, I was more harsh on him than he deserved. A lot of people wouldn’t handle it well. I thank Will, actually. I learned from him. I can be a good critic, entertaining to read, snarky, etc, without being mean. Critics shouldn’t be mean. It’s not our jobs. It took me too long to learn that, but I wouldn’t have without him. Thank you, Will.

Will is hardly alone in this. Back in November of 2011, I reviewed a game called Angry Zombie Ninja Cats. Again, I crossed the line, targeting the developer more than the game and hurting feelings that didn’t need to be hurt. Most developers aren’t thin-skinned and are anxious to learn. That was true of Angry Zombie Ninja Cats’ developer. But when you dig in and make things personal, you’re neither servicing the community well, nor helping the developer. The guy in question here, a man by the name of Shahed Chowdhuri, he didn’t need to forgive me for it. Not only did he, but Shahed is on the short list of my very best friends. I don’t deserve him. But I’m happy I have him. He’s an amazing human being, and a wonderful friend. When I was going through the crap with my brain, he was there for me, every single day with a kind word and amazing encouragement to keep fighting. I have much love for him. Most importantly, I learned a lot from him.

That’s the strange thing about this Indie Gamer Chick stuff. I met most of my best friends after I was not so kind to their games (though 90% of the developers got less harsh reviews than Shahed and Will). I met Kris Steele after I ambushed him in an interview and then murdered his game Volchaos. Kris has stood by my side through some very dark times in my life. So has Brian Provinciano. I destroyed his sleeper hit Retro City Rampage. Brian has become my indie guru. Here’s a guy who nearly killed himself making his game. He’s still feeling the ill effects of it to this day. He actually used some of my feedback to improve Retro City Rampage. And it’s actually a really great game now. I keep bugging Brian Provinciano (no relation to my Brian, the man I intend to marry) by telling him he would make a wonderful community leader. So would Mike Bithell, the creator of Thomas Was Alone, another amazing person I’m privileged to call a friend. The community needs guys like this, who are down to Earth, easy to talk to, and passionate about not just their games, but every game by every indie developer as well.

It’s what XBLIG was missing, in my opinion. Someone that became the face of the platform. Most people say that person ultimately was me. And maybe it was, but if  I was the face of XBLIG, I was wrong for the part. It should have been a developer. Although I’m flattered that so many people put so much stock in my ability to promote games and spread the gospel of indies, the truth is, you guys and gals are the ones with the real talent. You’re the ones who make our imaginations run wild. Who take us to worlds we’ve never imagined. I don’t do that stuff. I just talk about my experiences playing your stuff, and spice it up with dick and fart jokes. Maybe I inspire you to make your games better or more refined, but I’m not a creator. I have no talent for that. The talent belongs to all of you. And it’s up to you to step up and challenge us all. To give us inspiration. It’s your community. I’m just a guest.

I do appreciate what the community has done for me. You guys have welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like I’m something special. I’m not so sure I am, but I’m flattered nevertheless. The best part of being Indie Gamer Chick has been meeting so many wonderful friends who challenge me, and inspire me. Not one of them was my instant friend. I had to work to earn these friendships. And now I treasure them. They’re my most precious possessions. I don’t mean to sound sappy, but I have to let the world know how much I love these people.

Bob Reinhard: You make me laugh. You make me think. I hope one day you realize just how talented a writer you are. Way better than me.

Bob also made me this, while playing Terraria. Awesome.

Bob also made me this, while playing Terraria. Awesome.

Cyril Lachel: You’re such a pure person. I learn a lot from you. If I ever need to know anything about gaming before I was a gamer, you’re the guy I can count on. More important than that, you were my first really good friend I made through Indie Gamer Chick, and you’ve stood by me to this day. I love you, Cyril.

Paolo: We just met, but I feel like we’ve known each other for years. I’m so proud to have you at Indie Gamer Chick, and I’m even prouder to have you as a friend.

Dave Voyles: I’m so proud of you. You have your dream job, and you earned it. One day, it will be you and Shahed giving the big Xbox presentation at E3, just you watch.

Shahed: Again, I don’t deserve your friendship, but I’m happy I have it. You’re such a pure soul. You think of others before you think of yourself. Every time I need someone when I’m reaching out to the community, you’ve been there. You’re a natural leader. Your employers are lucky to have you.

Jonathan: Oh Jonathan. My favorite Nintendo fanboy. Another guy who has stuck by me through some dark times. Whose friendship and loyalty has always been unconditional. I love you, Jonathan.

Jesse Chounard: I owe this guy so much. He’s one of the three main people (along with Dave Voyles and George Clingerman) who helped me become a part of the XBLIG community. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s the guy who helps me when I need to know about Kickstarters. Yea, yea, I’ll get to Chickstarter Part 2 sometime soon. Now’s the time to tell Jesse I love him.

George Clingerman: I think I owe my success more than anymore else. It was you that told the community that they had me pegged wrong, that I wasn’t a troll. That was someone who was real and loved gaming, and stood to help them. You had so much respect that it totally changed people’s perception of me. Over half my readers and followers on Twitter are developers, and I think I owe that to you.

Jerry Bonner: I miss your writings at Indie Gamer Chick, but thankfully your friendship has been consistent and full of love. And thankfully, you’re so fossilized that, even with a birthday coming up, you remind me that I’m still young. (Kidding. I love you so much Jerry)

Sabriel: You know, Bri, I’m so happy I met you. When it looked like I would be forced to quit Indie Gamer Chick, I knew the site would be safe in your hands. You’re a talented writer and an amazing friend. I’m proud to have you on board.

Jim Sterling: I just met you, but you’re a reminder to me of how surreal this whole experience is. I was such a big fan of yours, and now we’re buddies. When does it stop being surreal? But you continue to make me think, and strive to be better at what I do.I hope some day to be as big as you. I mean as a writer, obviously :P

Jim Perry: We didn’t always agree about the state of XBLIG, or political stuff, or religious stuff, or most stuff for that matter. But if I didn’t have friends like you who stood their ground and challenged me, I would be very bored. I love you Jim. Also, you’re totally my bitch at Bejeweled Blitz.

Alan, Steven, and Nate: I used to talk to all three of you so much, and now you guys are such strangers. Thankfully, you check in just enough to make me feel loved and missed too. But seriously, I want to hear more from each of you. My birthday is a week from Friday. A chat would make a great present.

Kyle: You’re one of the kindest, most sensitive and caring men I know. When I need someone to lean on, you’ve always been there. I treasure our friendship very much, and I hope we’ll have it when we’re both decrepit.

Benjamin Ryan: I wish you had stuck it out at IGC as well, but I’m happy to have your friendship.

MasterBlud: We had a complex relationship, but these days, it’s 100% friendship. I’m proud of you and I’m proud to have you as a friend.

Michael Hartman: You’re one of the most talented people I know. An incredible friend, with a huge heart. I would say your name if fitting, but “Hartman” actually comes from people who were deer hunters by trade.

Adam Wallyhawk: You have such drive and so much energy, I know someday you’ll be very successful. And when you are, just remember, I still have more money than you :P (Kidding, I love you Adam).

Ian Stocker: You put this in your game. To say I value our friendship is an understatement.

My mascot "Sweetie" making a cameo in Ian's latest game, Escape Goat 2. Just, wow.

My mascot “Sweetie” making a cameo in Ian’s latest game, Escape Goat 2. Just, wow.

Edward: You’ve set me straight on so many development issues. I’ve always said I like to surround myself with people who are smarter than me, and you’re unquestionably that. I have much love for you, my friend.

Patrick Scott Patterson: You’re one of those guys that helps me bridge the gap from the gaming generations before my time to the generations yet to come. I’ve learned a lot from you, and I’m sure I will learn more in the future.

Alex Jordan: One of my first friends, and certainly one of my dearest. I hope you stick it out as a developer. You’re so talented, you have no idea.

Michael Connolly: Another guy who I wish had stuck around longer than he did. But you’re an awesome friend, an incredible talent, and someone who reminds me that variety is the spice of life. Even if I don’t get the whole speedrun thing.

Adam Sawkins: I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished, and I know you’re continue to be a great friend.

There’s so many more people, if I had to list them all like that, I would be here all day. Andy Esser, David Walton, my new writers Bernard and Angel, and Kalle, who just returned to IGC. Malik, Rose, Jason, Michelle, Laura, Graham, Jordan, Scott, Thor, Russ, and so many others that I can’t even keep track of them.

And finally, Brian and Sydne. My best friends in the whole world. Brian is going to be the man I marry. He’s been my rock for four years now. He’s why I’m still standing today. Sydne, you’re such a kind soul. I’m so lucky to have you both in my life. Brian, I love you with all my heart. You’re the best thing to ever happen to me. I’m sure you already know that, but I want the whole world to as well. Without you, I wouldn’t be doing this.

So, three years later, and my love for the indie scene is as strong as ever. Once I wrap up the main part of my treatment cycle for my brain, I plan on getting back into the routine that got me attention in the first place, with many reviews every week that hold nothing back, and from the heart editorials. Thankfully, I’ll have no shortage of material. The indie development community has been so amazing to me. I don’t make games. I probably never will. I’m going to star in one in 2015, but my involvement in creating it will probably be minimal. No, it’s you guys. You’re the ones that make indie gaming work. For many of you, you’ve dreamed of this since you were kids. And now, whether your games are successful or not, you’re making your dreams come true. I envy you guys for that. Just like I envy your talent, your imaginations, and your limitless creativity. It’s what made me honored to do Indie Gamer Chick for the last three years. It’s why I’m excited that I get to be Indie Gamer Chick for thirty years to come.

I love you all!
-Catherine Vice, aka Indie Gamer Chick
June 30, 2014

The 10 Most Costly Games in History – Part One

As a follow-up to my feature on gaming’s ten biggest mistakes, here are the ten single most costly games in history. I’m doing this list a little different, since it’s impossible to quantify the potential damage a game by itself can cause. Thus, I’ll be listing these in the order they were released.

I should note that this isn’t a list of the most expensive games of all time. You can go to Wikipedia for that. These are ten games that came at a different kind of price. They might have bankrupted a studio, or tainted a developer’s image, or made the industry as a whole look bad. As always, I debated the picks with my friends and asked for their suggestions. I dropped one from the list (Daikatana, which will be covered in the next top 10) and added one that was suggested initially by my buddy Jesse. A couple of these were mentioned in the previous feature. I’m not double-dipping to be lazy. But in a list about games that came with a heavy cost, I can’t ignore them just because I already talked about them. However, I’ll try to include new material and anecdotes. I aim to please.

Gran Trak 10

Developed by Atari in 1974
Platform: Arcades

The Game: First, there was Pong. Then, there was a lot more Pong. And then even more Pong. Everybody else was doing Pong too. When Atari tried something different (like a maze game where players groped a pair of pink rubber titties to control the action) it flopped and they went back to Pong. There was Doubles Pong, Pin-Pong, Quadrapong, Pong in a Barrel, Puppy Pong, Doctor Pong, and Do Wah Pongy Diddly Pong Diddly Pong. Okay, I made the last one up, but I bet if they would have done it if they thought of it. Obviously something had to give. So Atari owner Nolan Bushnell hired a consulting firm in Grass Valley, CA to come up with new ideas. After smoking a metric fuck ton of weed (they don’t call it Grass Valley for nothing) someone came up with the bright idea of making a driving game. And behold, there was Gran Trak 10. I’ve never played it, but I’m sure it was revolutionary for its time. It must have been popular. It was Atari’s best-selling game of the year.

It looks, um.. old.

It looks, um.. old.

What Happened: The Grass Valley team Nolan hired were very good at doing computer specs and programming. Industrial engineering, on the other hand, was not exactly their forte. The blueprints they sent for the cabinet were simply not commercially viable. The machine wouldn’t have been capable of withstanding the type of abuse arcade cabinets get. Thus, Atari’s lead engineer Al Alcorn had to redesign the entire thing with more expensive components, some of which had to be built from scratch, which well exceeded Atari’s modest operating budget. And Atari wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine when it came to assembly. They would place an empty cabinet in the middle of the facility and, one by one, people would come in with their components and affix them to the machine. They were starting to get better by time they were working on Gran Trak 10, but the process was still slow. Atari’s assembly workers were poorly trained, usually hired from an unemployment office with little to no vetting, and often were junkies or bikers that did drugs at work and stole equipment they could fleece to support their habits. Thus, a lot of the completed machines didn’t pass inspection and poor Alcorn had to fix them himself before sending them out.

An over-budget game designed by an outside consultant (later purchased by Bushnell, but not by this point) which had to be redesigned, that was manufactured at a slow rate. What else could go wrong?

An accounting error led to Atari selling the game at a loss. It cost $1,095 per unit to make Gran Trak 10. Atari sold it to operators for $995. Yep, I bet that stung. And again, it was their best-selling game of the year. Needless to say, Atari had a lot of communication problems by this point. On the bright side, Gran Trak 10 was a much-needed wake-up call for the company. They paid closer attention to their books, reorganized their assembly process, and stuck to their budgets much better.

For what it's worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived in Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people that lived in it. He wasn't exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a washing machine, he felt to his knees and cried. I'm not even kidding.

For what it’s worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived from Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people who lived in it. He wasn’t exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a hotdog stand, he fell to his knees and cried. I’m not even kidding.

The Cost: We’re going to enter the Marty McFly Zone a bit here. If Atari doesn’t sell Gran Trak 10 at a loss, it doesn’t sell as well as it did, but it probably still becomes their best seller of the year, and maybe their most profitable game ever. Atari accumulates a larger war chest with the profits. When they start the process of manufacturing Home Pong in 1975, they might not need to seek a venture capitalist to acquire the funding needed to build their inventory. Or, at the very least, they would have gotten much better terms that left them with more negotiable equity. Thus, when the time comes to do the more expensive Video Computer System (aka the Atari 2600), they would be able to do a round of venture capital instead of selling the company to Warner Bros. Nolan Bushnell would have never been fired from Atari and the video game world would be totally different today.

I guess an argument could be made that it wouldn’t necessarily be better today, at least for us. Bushnell never intended the Atari 2600 to last more than a couple of years. In fact, one of the disagreements that led to his dismissal from Atari was he thought they should discontinue the 2600 and begin working on a new console. This was almost immediately after it launched. And licensing Space Invaders from Taito, which is what ultimately blew up Atari, wasn’t his idea. It was Warner’s CEO Manny Gerard who thought it up after Nolan was gone. At the time Bushnell got beached, the 2600 was a flop and Warner had actually hired Ray Kassar (who became Atari’s CEO after Nolan was gone) as a consultant under the assumption that he would advise them to dump the company, not run it. I’m sure someone, somewhere would have eventually come up with the idea of licensing third-party arcade hits for home consoles, but still, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Pac-Man

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: Only the most successful arcade game of all-time, at least until its sequel hit. And one that Atari had secured the rights to for pennies on the dollar. In 1978, Atari was having a tiff with Namco, who had manufactured Atari coin-ops for distribution in Japan without paying royalties. Namco’s position was essentially “the check is in the mail.” Atari sent a low-level executive named Joe Robbins to negotiate a settlement with them, with strict orders from Atari lead attorney Skip Paul to not sign anything. Not only did Robbins not listen, but he agreed to pay Namco a million dollars, renew their distributor agreement with Atari (Namco had no hits by this point and made most of their money from Atari-produced games), and wave a right-of-terminator clause, meaning Atari couldn’t opt out of his crummy deal. In exchange, Atari received a small royalty from Namco’s arcades (really small, as in less than a single percentage point) and the exclusive home rights to all of Namco’s arcade games for a ten-year period.

Robbins was almost immediately fired. But, in a story reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, one of the magic beans Robbins brought back from Japan was the rights to Pac-Man, for a royalty so small it might as well have been non-existent.

What Happened: Unfortunately, Atari didn’t pass its incredible savings onto the development or manufacturing of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. Because of the complexity of the game, engineers told Atari CEO Ray Kassar that the game couldn’t be done properly on a 4KB ROM cartridge. They said without 8KB, too many concessions would have to be made, rending it unrecognizable from its arcade heritage. By this point, Atari was the most profitable company in the entire world. Kassar was obsessed with setting records for net profits in a single year, and wanted to maximize Pac-Man’s potential, so they saved a few bucks per unit by going with 4KB instead of the 8KB everyone insisted it would take. People pointed out that Atari could afford to spend a little more, since they were paying Namco around one-tenth the royalty they paid Taito for Space Invaders. But Kassar had spoken, and after seeing the prototype programmer Tod Frye had come up with, he decided it was Pac-Manish enough and ordered it into manufacturing, with an initial order for an insane twelve-million units.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man eating a piece of taffy while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man is eating a communion wafer while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

Unlike the other games I plan to feature in this article, I’m certain that Pac-Man for the 2600 turned a profit for Atari. Seven million units of Pac-Man 2600 were sold, a record at the time. I guarantee you it’s the most profitable licensed game ever made, even when stacked against the hottest movie or sports properties. I’m also sure Namco, who made almost nothing on the deal, spent at least one afternoon looking for a nice ledge to jump off of. The raw materials Atari used were relatively cheap, and even with five million units of dead inventory, Atari didn’t exactly take a bath in the crush they were left with.

The Cost: It was the game that cooled Atari’s jets and shook consumer confidence. It was the first time that consumers went back to stores demanding refunds because the game was so different from the arcade counterpart. Only ten million people actively used Atari 2600s at the time it was released, with the assumption being that people would buy the console just to play it, like they had for Space Invaders and Asteroids before it. I asked a friend of mine who is the main buyer for a big box chain in the San Francisco Bay Area if it was remotely reasonable to expect the type of penetration Kassar expected from Pac-Man 2600. He’s been in retail for thirty years, and he said, for a product that had already been on retail shelves for five years, it would be unfathomable. That no rational person would ever expect that, even if you had the single hottest product on the market and the single most desirable accessory for it. Kassar’s manufacturing of twelve-million units, and as reminder, he expected to call for an additional eight-million over the following twelve months, was basically him betting on a penetration rate that anyone else would deem to be impossible. His superiors at Warner should have fired him for the recklessness he showed. It’s only because of luck with timing (the cost of goods for manufacturing Atari carts had dropped significantly over the previous fiscal quarter) and licensing (thank you Mr. Robbins) that Atari’s dead inventory didn’t cripple them on the spot.

I can't even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I'll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

I can’t even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I’ll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

A quirky side note which you can add to the cost of Pac-Man: in a roundabout sort of way, it’s the reason Atari chose not to license Donkey Kong from Nintendo. Atari paid Taito about $1.50 per unit for Space Invaders. This became the standard price Atari paid for other licensed properties, such as Berzerk or Defender. Because of the deal Joe Robbins got from Namco, the royalty for Pac-Man was a piddly 15 cents per unit. When Nintendo was shopping around Donkey Kong, the second most popular arcade game (behind Pac-Man) at the time, they wanted $2 per unit. Ray Kassar balked, saying they were paying a fraction of that for a more popular game. Coleco, needing a killer app, gladly took Nintendo’s offer (and also gave them an addition $1.50 per unit for a table-top version). When Warner Bros. CEO Manny Gerard found out they didn’t get Donkey Kong, he blew a gasket on Kassar. Without it, they would have used Mouse Trap as its pack-in title, and the Colecovision would never have caught on. Atari would have had a closer relationship with Nintendo and an even better shot at securing the worldwide rights to the Famicom, and history would have played out totally different.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: This is the last entry that was also talked about at length from the previous list, I swear. We all know the story. It’s one of the worst video games ever made.

What Happened: Like I wrote about last time, it was Warner’s top executives (Manny Gerard and CEO Steve Ross) who struck the deal that landed Atari the E.T. license. The deal was more about securing Spielberg to direct movies for Warner, with the E.T. game being little more than a dangled carrot. Which is not to say Spielberg was only looking for a paycheck. He enjoyed gaming (and would later help design Boom Blox, one of the Nintendo Wii’s unsung gems) and looked forward to working with Howard Scott Warshaw, the man who had made Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600. Warshaw, who took the assignment on short notice, had only a few days to come up with a concept to pitch to Spielberg, and came up with a relatively ambitious adventure/collect-a-thon idea. When he showed it to Spielberg, the director didn’t like it. He thought it should be something similar to Pac-Man. Howard was like “meh, it’s been done.” Later, he admitted that in retrospect, it might not have been a bad idea. Anyway, I’ve never played it, but I hear it wasn’t the most well-received game.

It looks more like

It looks more like dinosaur with its head turned to the left.

The Cost: $25,000,000 up front to Steven Spielberg, plus a royalty for him and for Universal Studios (the guys who actually made the movie), all of which negated the game’s earnings from the 1,500,000 units it did sell. Contrary to popular belief, the 2.5 million units of dead inventory wasn’t that costly, since Atari carts were relatively cheap to manufacture, and the costs of making them had dropped in 1982. But you’ve all heard those numbers before. So I’ll give you another number to chew on: zero.

That’s the number of games for Atari platforms (besides pack-ins) released after E.T. that sold one million units. Not one. Nor did any sell 500,000 units, and no games for the 5200, 7800, Lynx, or Jaguar sold 250,000 units. Of course, the crash helped with that, and all of Atari’s horrible policies under Warner and later Jack Tramiel afterwards. So while E.T. (and Pac-Man 2600, for that matter) doesn’t shoulder all the blame, you have to admit, it’s kind of telling that the last game for an Atari platform that anyone could describe as a “best seller” was this, possibly the worst game ever made.

Tetris (Tengen Version)

Developed by Atari Games in 1989
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System

The Game: It’s Tetris. I seriously doubt anyone here needs an explanation on it. However, I will note that most people consider Tengen’s version (developed by Ed Logg of Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet fame) to be superior to Nintendo’s port for the NES.

What Happened: You practically need a flow chart to explain how Nintendo ended up with the exclusive rights to Tetris. It starts in 1986 when Robert Stein, president of a UK-based software company called Andromeda, contacted the Moscow Academy of Science, where Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov. Stein wanted to negotiate with the creator directly, thinking he had the rights to sell his software. However, in the USSR, you didn’t own anything you created, which meant that Pajitnov neither owned Tetris nor could negotiate the rights to it. Stein didn’t know that, secured the rights to Tetris (or claimed he did), and started licensing it before signing any official deal. Then, the people who he was merely licensing the game to started selling the Tetris license themselves. Spectrum Holobyte sold the rights to a man named Henk Rogers, who was a freelance game designer that sometimes acted as a liaison for Nintendo. Meanwhile, a company called Mirrorsoft, sold their rights to Atari Games, which was the former coin-op division of Atari before the company was divided in two and the home division was sold to the Tramiels. Are you confused yet? Just wait.

Henk Rogers, believing he only owned the console rights in Japan, realized nobody apparently had the rights for handheld devices, and Nintendo wanted Tetris to be the showcase game for their new Game Boy system. Rather than deal with any of the other people who claimed to own the rights to Tetris, Henk, with Nintendo’s authorization, was sent to Moscow to secure the handheld rights directly from the Soviets. When he got there, they surprised him by offering the worldwide video game rights to Tetris, which he had been under the impression had already been sold and were owned by Atari. Rogers, realizing he was in over his head, called Nintendo of America heads Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln, who secured the international home video game rights to Tetris on March 22, 1988.

I'm pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

I’m pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

Nine days later, Nintendo, aware that Atari Games (who published unlicensed games for the NES under the name Tengen) was making their own version of Tetris for the NES, sent them a notice that Nintendo had exclusive rights to Tetris. Atari Games rejected this, having already bought what they believed was the home rights to the game, and filed for a copyright on their product weeks later. Nintendo and Atari Games had been going at each-others throats over Atari Games releasing unlicensed games for the NES. The two companies ended up in court, where it was revealed that Atari Games was able to access the security code Nintendo used to lockout unauthorized third parties by forging documents and presenting them to the US patent office. Had Atari Games not done that, it’s likely they would have won their lawsuit and set a new precedent for third parties in gaming (which would later come to pass when a company named Accolade sued Sega and won on an appeal). While they were in the middle of this, the Tetris case came up. Nintendo, with direct authorization from the USSR, had such an airtight claim to the rights that Judge Fern Smith cancelled the trial and declared Nintendo the sole owner of the rights to Tetris.

The Cost: Over 250,000 units of Tengen Tetris were recalled and destroyed, making the surviving copies a treasured rarity for NES collectors. The Tetris fiasco also shook the confidence of stores, most of which dropped Tengen products from their shelves. Initially, they had the support of retailers during their ongoing trial with Nintendo. Instead, Tetris set off a domino effect, at a time when parent company Warner was being merged with Time Inc. Warner slashed Atari’s budget, it took several years for the lawsuit (which was won by Nintendo) to resolve, and in the meantime, Tengen was practically persona non grata in the industry. Eventually, the bottom fell out and they were sold to Midway for a piddly $10,000,000 (they were generating a multiple of that during their heyday as an NES publisher). Tetris isn’t single-handedly responsible for all of that, but it unquestionably got the ball rolling.

Night Trap

Developed by Digital Pictures in 1992
Platform: Sega CD

The Game: Do you want me to describe the actual game or the game the United States Congress seemed to think Night Trap was? In real life, it’s a horrible full-motion-video title where you have to activate boobytraps to capture novice vampires (wearing ski masks for some reason) to save girls at a slumber party, or something like that.

If you’re the United States Congress, it’s a game where you murder girls. SHUT UP IT TOTALLY IS! No, Mr. Zito, we don’t wish to hear from you. We saw the footage. We know what we’re talking about you shameless smut peddler, you.

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

What Happened: Seriously, watch footage of someone playing Night Trap. This shit is positively tame. Your average Disney cartoon has more violence. Yet, Night Trap somehow became the prime exhibit in congressional hearings on video game violence in 1993. When you read the transcripts of the hearings, it’s pretty clear nobody (especially Joseph Lieberman, the pseudo liberal from Connecticut who initiated the whole thing) had ever played Night Trap, or seen footage of it outside of one very specific game-over clip where the vampires use a gizmo to suck the blood out of a girl wearing a (quite frankly, very modest) teddy. During the hearings, it was made out like you were the one controlling the vampires and the object was to murder the girls. Whenever anyone from Digital Pictures or Sega tried to explain that wasn’t what the game was about, they were told to sit down and shut up. Things went really downhill when a nutty feminist precursor to Anita Sarkeesian named Marilyn Droz took the stand. Someone was finally able to point out that the scene everyone kept referencing was actually game over scene. She responded that was actually worse, because if you lose and someone dies, it is bad for self-esteem. And now I have a concussion from banging my head on my desk, repeatedly.

The whole thing was basically a witch-hunt against Sega, who also had an uncensored version of Mortal Kombat (next on this list). Nintendo had made ties with a senator named Slade Gordon, who acted as a liaison for the company to purchase the Seattle Mariners to prevent them from relocating to Miami. When Lieberman discovered Mortal Kombat, Gordon told him that Nintendo were the good guys, the company the kept tight regulations on their games, and that it was Sega who was tarnishing the industry’s image. Mind you, Sega was the first company to actively put ratings on their titles. During the testimony, Nintendo had an air of innocence (and arrogance) about them, with Howard Lincoln in particular going off on Sega, claiming that they were lying about having an older audience than Nintendo. This whole clusterfuck eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.

What a douche.

What a douche.

The Cost: I’m not going to go off on the ESRB, even if they are shady as all fuck. No, I’m going to focus on real costs against Sega. The notoriety of Night Trap helped it sell significantly more copies than it likely would have if everyone just ignored it for being a piece of shit of a game. But, because Sega came across so bad during the congressional hearings, a lot of stores dropped the new and fledgling Sega CD, which Night Trap was exclusively on. Sega, who had been planning to slash the price of it, was now stuck with millions of units of inventory and a smaller network of retailers to distribute them to. Thus they had to delay their price drop, which they had planned to center around the release of the hotly anticipated Sonic CD. Ultimately, the add-on’s dead inventory was too much to overcome and it was phased out, having lost millions for the company.

And then the Japanese offices got pissed off over Sega of America causing them so much trouble with these wacky FMV games that they were never big fans of. Sega’s Japanese leaders demanded that their American branch significantly tone down their marketing and attempt to appeal to a younger audience, with less focus on violence. You can see the ramifications in the Sega Saturn, which lacked many of the more mature Genesis properties like Streets of Rage. Even the Sega Scream was ordered to be removed from advertising. This kinder, gentler Sega (which granted, still was about to base its next system’s launch around a fighting game) lost its older demographic to the PlayStation. They also had almost no chance to claim the younger demographic away from Nintendo. So, in a way, you can lay claim that Sega’s downward spiral actually began with these hearings. And, if Night Trap had never existed, there’s a good chance it never would have come to that.

 To be Continued in Part 2.

Calling All Past and Present Xbox Live Indie Game Developers!

A week from tomorrow marks the third year anniversary of Indie Gamer Chick. I honestly can’t believe three years have already passed. My life has been enriched so much by this whole thing, it just made time fly by. I’ve played some incredible games, and met some of my dearest friends. And I owe it to one segment of the community in particular: the Xbox Live Indie Game development community. I knew nothing about game development when I started this blog on July 1, 2011. I simply wanted to play stuff that would be experimental or unconventional. Okay, so the indie scene isn’t always full of titles that qualify as either of those, but the endless supply of superb old-school homages, or creative new angles on old concepts, more than makes up for it.

Yes, there’s still people working on XBLIGs. But now, what little attention the platform once got is now generally focused on the new generation of game consoles. The once small but proud XBLIG community has grown apart. And that breaks my heart. The drifting away stuff, that’s part of nature. It happens after school, after college, after a job, after moving, after marriage, or after a death. And even though you know it’s coming some day, it always hurts when it happens. I stay in touch with a lot of developers, and some of them I treasure my relationships with. They’re precious to me. But the sense of community? It’s gone, and I suspect it won’t soon come back. At least not the same way. XBLIGs were the smallest of underdogs in a scene where everyone is, by definition, an underdog. But with that came a sense of passion, camaraderie, and kinship? I miss that. I think we all do.

I don’t make games. I’ll likely never make my own game. But, I was part of the scene. The XBLIG development scene. I was accepted, embraced, and even treated with reverence. Did I deserve it? Probably not. But I’ll never forget it. No matter where life takes any of us, I know I’ll always consider myself an XBLIG chick. And I know I’m not the only person who will always look back on my time in the XBLIG community with a sense of pride. So, I want to hear from you.

An Indie Gamer Chick tradition is a community-wide editorial on my site’s anniversary. This year, I want Xbox Live Indie Game developers, past and present, to tell me your best memories of the XBLIG development and the community that supported it. I want this to be all positive. No bitching about the lack of support from Microsoft, or developers you felt were lazy in their efforts, or the time your paycheck was late, or your lack of sales, or any of a hundred other problems. Nobody would ever accuse XBLIG of being a perfect platform. But the community? If not perfect, it was as close to perfect as it could be.

I’m looking for two to three paragraphs from each developer. If you feel the need to go longer, go for it. Just send me your memories and favorite moments in an unformated email by July 1, 2014 with the subject line “XBLIG Memories”. Make sure you include a list of the games you published to XBLIG in the email, and a link to your development site (if you’re still making games for XBLIG or elsewhere).

No, this isn’t me trying to bring the community back. This is me wanting to show the world that we had the best gaming community that ever existed. The memories of which will never fade. I’m an XBLIG chick and proud of it, and I want to show people what I had.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I think I’m the only writer out there that truly “gets” Octodad. A lot of people think it’s a quirky indie adventure game based around unworkable play control and a wacky hijinks story of an octopus trying to blend in undetected in a relatively normal society.

But it’s not.

No, my friends. Octodad is really about the grim realities of living with Parkinson’s disease.

Hear me out on this.

In Octodad, even the most mundane tasks are an exercise in frustration. Let’s say you want to, oh, open a door. In real life, you reach out and turn the door knob. It takes a second, if that. In Octodad, you have to slowly move your jittery tentacle into position, which can take a shocking amount of patience-trying effort. Then you have to click the door knob. Then you have to actually pass through the door without accidentally closing it again, or tying yourself in a knot around the hinges of the door. There were times where it took me several minutes to walk through the threshold of a passage. I wish I could say this only happened once. But it happened again and again. The whole time shaking like I had just slammed twenty pots of coffee.

I trash every wedding at a church I go to as well. Not because I have trouble moving though, just for the lulz.

I trash every wedding at a church I go to as well. Not because I have trouble moving though, just for the lulz.

Whimsical adventure game? No. A dark look into the demoralizing reality those unfortunate among us have to face on a daily basis.

And then there’s the family. The ones that never notice he’s an “octopus.” I’m sure they completely failed to realize that their father trashed the entire kitchen just trying to get a cup of coffee. Or tramples all the flowers trying to pull a couple of weeds out of a garden. Or utterly destroys an entire grocery store trying to grab a soda. No, this isn’t a family in denial. This is a family who doesn’t want Daddy to feel different. Because, if they get him down, it might destroy him emotionally. Not something you want to do when already he’s being destroyed physically.

No?

Okay, how about alcoholism?

Yea, I’ll just move on.

Not a single movement or action in Octodad isn’t a pain in the ass to pull off. Those watching me play on Indie Gamer Chick TV thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile, I went through so many different emotions that I’m sure I created a new, Octodad-based form of bipolar disorder. Sometimes I was swearing like a sailor, so angry that nobody in the room with me would have been surprised if my head suddenly exploded. Other times I came close to burying my head in my hands and crying over how utterly useless I was at moving around or interacting with anything. I’ve never been a fan of any game that’s challenge is based on how God-damn difficult it is to control, but Octodad takes that to a whole new level. Using both sticks, the triggers, and the X button to both walk and interact with objects never felt intuitive for me. Some people are better able to get the hang of it (hell, there are speed-runners that finish the whole fucking thing in twenty minutes, the freaks), but for me, it just always felt broken.

Speaking of broken, I heard from many fans of the game that the PS4 version is noted for being unstable. I noticed this a few times myself. In one section at an aquarium, you have to lead your daughter through a maze of jellyfish exhibits using only a lantern. Once you get past this, the girl is supposed to notice one of the scientists her father is scared of and ask for the lantern back, allowing you to walk up the stairs. Well, when I played, that part never happened. Even though we walked all across that area, she never hit the specific spot on the floor that promoted the next part of the story to continue. I walked around, trying to activate it, but it wouldn’t happen. My viewers who had completed the game were confused. I was angry. I restarted from my previous load and it failed to happen again. The second time had the added bonus of the daughter pinning my character up against the wall where I was unable to wiggle myself free. This did activate a prompt, though not one in the game. The prompt was in me, and it activated “lose my shit” mode. Controller thrown, console turned off, and Octodad could choke on its own suckers and die.

Actual screencap from the spot that glitched out on me. I had to turn off Octodad and turn it back on to get the girl to do what she was supposed to do. Most of my viewers insisted the PC version was nowhere near as frustrating as the PS4 version. But, I paid for the PS4 version, so that didn't really help me all that much. They really need to fix this port.

Actual screencap from the spot that glitched out on me. I had to turn off Octodad and turn it back on to get the girl to do what she was supposed to do. Most of my viewers insisted the PC version was nowhere near as frustrating as the PS4 version. But, I paid for the PS4 version, so that didn’t really help me all that much. They really need to fix this port.

When stuff like this wasn’t happening, it wasn’t rare for me to somehow get an arm tied up in an object, or get stuck between two objects, or wrapped around something and unable to untangle myself. By default, the game sets you to be transparent. I found this to be hugely unsatisfactory. It made figuring out the position of your arms difficult to determine. Without transparency, you’ll have your character obscure the view (especially since the controls necessitate the game being based on fixed-camera angles) and struggle to see stuff you’re reaching for. There’s just no comfortable way to play it, but I feel transparency is the harder way to go. The main “challenge” is actually supposed to be going about the day without making anyone suspect you’re really an octopus in disguise. A lot of this involves not causing any property damage (ha) or doing stealthy stuff (HA!).  I usually play whatever indie I’m reviewing on whatever the default difficulty is, but I gave up on that shit here and set it to easy mode, which disables the ability to get caught. Shameful? Unquestionably. But, as my neighbors who have seen me skinny dipping in my pool will attest to, I have NO shame.

BUT, I did want to see how it ended. I’ll admit, I liked the story and the characters. Especially Octodad. He clearly loves his new wife and children and wants to be a good father. Well, except when I play as him. I tried to murder my family with an axe during the tutorial, but it wouldn’t let me. Anyway, it’s a strange juxtaposition, as the octopus is posing as a human, but he’s also very sincere and sympathetic. I actually think they missed out on having more dramatic, heartfelt moments. The daddy is very expressive and able to jerk a few tears out of you when need be, but Dadliest’s Catch is primarily focused on humor. It does humor very well, and there are multiple laugh-out loud moments. I wish I could say the torturous gameplay was worth playing to see it all, but it’s not. Not even close.

Ironically, this is also what my room looked like after an hour with Octodad.

Ironically, this is also what my room looked like after an hour with Octodad.

Viewers will note that I had to have someone else play a flashback sequence on a ship. Unfortunately, I had a seizure while playing Octodad, which was my fault, and not the fault of developers Young Horses. As someone who lives with epilepsy, I always assume a risk when I play games, and sometimes that risk becomes reality. But it’s a good thing I did. A golfing buddy of mine named Jerrod volunteered to finish the section for me. After handing me back the controller, he said “you’ve really spent a couple of hours with this? Wow,  you’re way more patient than anyone gives you credit for.” I’m not really. There were multiple times where I almost quit. And despite getting a few belly laughs from the dialog or the background humor, I never once, even for a split second, enjoyed any aspect of actually playing Octodad: The Dadliest Catch. It is a game, after all. I can get humor from any source, including other games. I play games to enjoy an interactive experience. Octodad fights the concept of enjoyment every step of the way. I’m pretty surprised that it’s as popular as it is. Well, not really I suppose. It’s an indie game with an absurd concept, self-depreciating humor, funded through Kickstarter, and anyone who complains about the controls is just being a crybaby. It was practically preordained to get glowing reviews before it even released. I tip my hat to the developer for actually making me tear up a bit for the big family hug at the end. But this was one of my least favorite experiences playing a game in 2014. Octodad has one big heart but no legs to stand on. Which is ironic because it really should have three hearts and eight legs to stand on.

Octodad logoOctodad: The Dadliest Catch was developed by Young Horses

$14.99 tried to auto-correct “tentacles” when I misspelled it to “testicles” in the making of this review. I hope like hell that doesn’t give them an idea for the sequel.

 

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