Two thousand and twelve has been a phenomenal year for a lot of things: Getting a politics, doing the stock market on a thing, punching people on your way to best buy. It’s all great and varied and disgusting and human. But one thing this year has thrived in a big way for me, the Rogue-like. That mysterious sub-genre of strategy/action rpg quick fire heroin that has skirted in and out of the mainstream since the early nineties.
Having begun years ago with games like DnD, and the game from which the genre name spawns, “Rogue” itself, we’ve seen leaps and bounds graphically, and in terms of content and style of gameplay. I personally would rank this SUB-genre above many other genres over all… like MoBAs and… Rhythm Games. Displaying a level of audacity as to throw death in the players face across many generations and platforms is a fun and exciting process to watch, but only in the last year have I really been able to sate my thirst for the magnificence of randomized levels and slowly unlocking player classes to die as.
As it stands though, within the realms of the infamous rogue-like genre, death is not wall in your journey. Death, is a doorway. It takes you by the hand through a dungeon or deserted Tokyo fairway and says “Come. I am but only the beginning.” Also while it’s saying this it’s doing an impression of famed jewish comedian, Gilbert Gottfried, so it’s well funny and all that. Anyways, so Gilbert takes your hand and you die, be it by way of goblin, or walking totem pole, or devil goat. Then you get up, only you can get up as an assassin this time, because you killed forty elves. Killed them right on their stupid face. It is for this reason that to me, death is put right on its head in a rogue-like, and it becomes difficult in those genres to ever feel like you really failed in any significant way.
So let me introduce to you, my top five Rogue-likes of the past few years. I have wasted many a life throughout the denizens of these dungeons, cities, and plains. I hope you get to as well.
Desktop Dungeons (PC)
First up is a lil number called Desktop Dungeons. I can tell you right off that this is actually the very first rogue-like that I was exposed to. I was at the 2011 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I happened to be touring the IGF booths where each of the shining stars for that year’s indie line ups are all greasily throwing xbox controllers at people and swapping slips of paper with their name and phone numbers on. I stumbled up through the crowd to a game where an avatar of a bright-eyed baby-faced monk was staring off the screen into my vacant eyes.
It was a turned based tile-control scheme and I moved him forward one space right next to what looked like a super intense meatboy knockoff (which the game constantly brings up). And I died. That was my first death, and I’ll never forget it. I was really disappointed at first, and wanted to just walk over to Bastion who was stationed right next to it at the time, but instead I determinedly ignored the person behind me who wanted to play (much sooner than they deserved to have a turn) and I chose the warrior. I got a lot farther that time, and by the end of the night, I had downloaded the freeware version at the hotel and wound up playing it three hours straight. Needless to say I’d had my first lick of the mouse-button-grease lollipop and I wanted more.
Realm of the Mad Gods (PC)
Next up we have a game that got it’s start from the meager flash-based universe: A platform widely known to have propelled some of todays most talented and prestigious indie devs to the forefront. A pretty straight forward take on the rogue like, OH EXCEPT IT’S A GODDAMN (topdown) MMO. So while you’re playing as your stupid tiny lil wizard guy, hundreds of other badass Templar knights and warrior monks are rushing past you with their pixely weapons of godlike justice. It’s an interesting take on the formula for sure, especially when you consider the mechanics it adds in regards to teaming up with other players and taking on the larger more challenging bosses towards the end game.
One thing as well that I love is that the leveling system is so indepth throughout the classes. Each one is given a set of tasks that you can perform throughout the game and while most RL’s would have you try and tackle a specific enemy to make your keep, the world of Realm of the Mad God is so expansive and varied that trying to target any one creature would take hours. So reaching level caps, gaining certain abilities, or knocking out different goals on the list can be an original and exciting experience every time. The only thing I’m not super fond of is the free-to-play model, but I know that’s a WHOLE nother beast for a WHOLE nother beast hunt.
Spelunky (PC and then later on XBOX 360)
So I’ll start off by saying that I didn’t like the original Spelunky. Before it had controller support it was near impossible to play for more than a few minutes without wanting to punch my monitor through the wall. Once it got some elbow grease, shoe shine, and other things that you polish stuff with (bat guano) applied to it, it shone like the brightest star. Rewarding careful gameplay and tentative controls, this was my first real brush with a live-action combat RL. Varied and exciting characters and graphics coupled with enemies as deadly as they were cute concocted some hilarious and enticing experiences. It could be said that the hand painted style of the game is what drew me in from the beginning. Especially that big ass nose.
Really though, the game play throughout Spelunky diverged from the Rogue-like formula so much that you sometimes found yourself feeling frustrated. Never TOO frustrated, and never for a bad reason. If you died, you knew it was on you and your lazy ass for getting impatient and jumping over that ledge you didn’t bother to see what was at the bottom of. I’ll never forget obtaining all the stupid effed up stuff the tunnel man makes you get to unlock a path to the temple stages, only to die literally on the level right before I get to the door simply because I didn’t take the time to check where I was going and ran straight off the edge of the level. Gutted.
Also I didn’t do a fantastic job of explaining what you do in this game so I’ll just sum it up by saying you’re a side scrolling Indiana jones making your way down into the depths of an ancient temple collecting treasure and killing bats.
Tokyo Jungle (PS3)
An instant classic, this game drew me in simply from the ad marketing I saw online. You run through the streets of an abandoned Tokyo downtown as any number of wild animals. And when I say ANY… I mean it. We’re talking Giraffes on down to mother-licking Velociraptors. Though it was fairly limited in exposure, and now only probably has a rather tiny cult following, the concept couldn’t be farther from mundane. The idea that as a Pomeranian puppy you can attack a wild adult lion in the streets of post-apocalyptic Tokyo is something I want more of. I want more if it like I want more Oreo O’s cereal.
In a world inundated with zombies and themes of Armageddon that have been played out since practically the dawn of time now, the fresh coat of paint on this concept made it shine to me like a super shiny diamond made of reflective mirror sauce. It’s a shame I didn’t get that much time with it before I had to sell my PS3. If you have fifteen bucks or so laying around, check it out, because I want those developers to release something like that again, but this time, in space or something.
Don’t Starve (PC)
This game isn’t even out yet and I’m already in love with it. I’ve been playing through the beta content as it gets patched in. Hailing a style similar to that of Tim Burton’s classic illustrations, or Edward Gorey’s Victorian style gothica, you play as characters that are basically commanded to survive in the wild by a figure who could only be SATAN. At least… I hope that’s what Satan looks like. If you don’t create a source of light by night time, you die. It’s as simple as that. In between fighting off spiders and chopping down trees, you spend your time chopping off your beard hair. It’s a pretty cutesy game despite the grim nature of its graphics and I can’t wait to see it as more features become available.
What makes this Rogue-like a little bit different is that every time you die, you rank up an experience meter which eventually unlocks a new character for you to play as. Each of these characters have different abilities and specializations, such as being a pyromaniac, or a science wiz. I’m excited to see this through to its eventual final product and needless to say, though it has a thick layer of mascara over its eye lashes, the future looks bright.
And that is my list of top 5 Rogue-likes as the genre stands today. There are plenty of other honorable mentions to hand out for games like Dungeons of Dredmore, and FTL. Some things I’d love to see in the future from these games hitting the mainstream is more of an emphasis on futuristic themes and less dungeony-swords-n-sorcery going on.
I’d also love to see more live action stuff. Personally, these are my favorite style the game takes on (points at the fact that only one on his list is a turn based iteration) The game feels ten times more engaging when the characters are in control through your hands and mechanically differ every time you die.
Over all, I can’t wait to see what happens in this genre no matter what it is. It’s a sort of sleeper-hit after sleeper-hit catalogue that I hope gets more exposure the further we progress into the future. Before you know it, who knows, maybe we’ll have a “Call of Duty: Dying over and over again Ops” or a “Gears of War: Active Reload or Die Edition”!
So, are there any games under this genre that you felt were done the utmost in travesty towards having not been put on this list? If so, let me know in the comments and we can go round-n-round about it. Either way I’d love to hear about new and different RL’s which I’m unfamiliar with.
Also here's a little sketch I did of my newest favorite game I made up in my head.
Strap yourselves in boys and fake gamer girls, it’s time for a history lesson. Allow for me to imbue you with the knowledge and origins of the infamous top ten list!
At the beginning of time, there were no numbers. People huddled around fires, desperate for a way to count themselves, and other stuff like piles of meat and clumps of fur. Then BOOM! God invented the TOP TEN: A glorious way to list out your top ten favorite things regarding a subject for all to see. These number would eventually give way to a few other numbers like eight, or the occasional three. The top ten was used original by Neanderthals to display to other cave-folk stuff like their top ten ways to give themselves a concussion with a rock, their top ten animals to do horrible sex things to, and their favorite places around the college campus to get hot wings. This served its purpose for like three hundred years up until the American Revolution when Samuel Adams would write the declaration of independence, which was essentially a top ten list of how to be cooler than British people. (It’s not that hard folks)
Just kidding. (Lived in England foureen years and they’re actually a lot cooler than they look.)
But anyways, so back to what I was saying. Samuel Adams, the founder of Microsoft, eventually took the idea of the Top Ten list and copyrighted it, knowing how much money it would make him in the future. He installed a software basis for DRM and other cool features that people would love, and began marketing the concept to nerds and gamers, who also, due to their natural predilection towards anally listing things (See: Serial murder victims, favorite corn syrup flavors, and pureed carbonated vegetable beverages) would grow to love it. Nerds took to the shit like a white person to a group of other white people when there are a lot of “ethnics” everywhere. Now you can find top ten lists littering every street corner, asking for your money, trying to sell you magazines you’ll never need, and basically making you generally uncomfortable most of the time… OH… oh whoops that’s actually homeless people in San Francisco. My bad.
Same thing really.
So here we go, this is my first contribution to the floating pile of internet garbage that is the lost continent of top ten lists. To be honest, I’ve always loved top tens. Stupid (fake and probably racist) history lesson aside, they’re a fantastic way to display your thoughts on a subject across a diverse and varied array of criteria. One of my favorites of all time has to be one Jim Sterling wrote about which Batman villains he’d like to see in the next Arkham Asylum series installment. Things like that are the top tens that we need more of. Those that look at stuff from a different perspective where there’s an untapped wealth of interesting and fun information awaiting it’s chance to shine. So in the same villainous vein, I decided to compile a list of my own. And without further ado, I give you:
THE ARTISTICLE TOP TEN VILLAINS WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR!
10. Sheogorath (The Elder Scrolls IV and V)
Otherwise known as the Deadric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath rules over the shivering isles with a strange and bewildering fist. You encounter him throughout the elder scrolls series in both in Obilivion, and Skyrim. This mad hatter of Tamriel introduces a strange variety of villainy to your experience, not necessarily through foiling your plans directly, but in that weird detached way that only an ancient demon god can understand. Confounding as an ice nut up a squirrel’s butt, he speaks mainly in riddles and rarely EVER gets to the point. Delightful conversation throughout my adventures landed this guy a spot on this list, though his lack of true despicable nature makes it hard for me to place him further down.
There’s plenty of fascinating back story on the guy you can find through the previous games. Morrowind references him along with several of the other gods as “The Four Corners of the House of Troubles,” due to his natural predilection towards jealousy and malevolence. As well as that, the Khajiit refer to him as the “Skooma Cat” which in our tongue would probably just be something like “The Patron Saint of Crack Heads.”
9. Dr. Frank N. Furter (No video games. I just fucking love this guy.)
So. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Where do you even fucking begin? I guess I could start by saying that even though he’s never been in a video game (except the one time I made him as a character in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and then again in City of Heroes) he still is one of the fucking craziest, most flamboyantly charming antagonists in pop culture history. I use the term antagonist because he’s not so much an evil villain, as just bat shit insane. After taking in a couple from the pouring rain, he proceeds to sing at them, subject them to bizarre seduction attempts, and then feed them a dead delivery boy. Things only get crazier from there.
I loved this movie as a kid growing up. (Probably explains a lot about… things) So I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had to put Frank on the list. He was actually the second villain I came up with. I’ve never actually been to a live showing of the movie, but I’ve always wanted to go and dress up as him myself. Seems like an amazing time.
8. Hades (A phuk-ton of Kingdom Hearts Games)
James Woods, who doesn’t love him right? The man has illustrious film past, crowned by what every actor eventually hopes to attain, a guest role on the popular animated sitcom, Family Guy. Well before all that, when I was a mere… ten years old or something, my uncle took me to see the animated Disney film sensation that was “Hercules”. It immediately became my second favorite Disney flick of all time. (We’ll learn about the #1 spot later) Danny Devito, Bobcat Goldthwait, and RIP TORN. RIP. MOTHER. FUCKING. TORN. All of them lined the screen to form what would later be the B-team of my favorite aging, Caucasian male actors of the mid-to-late-nineties. An illustrious position I know.
ANYWAYS. On to why Hades has a spot on this list in the first place. Charmingly slimy, Hades has that swagger that you know comes with the title of “Greek God” alone. I mean the guy had all the power to light a cigarette with his fingertips, the ultimate bar pick up (I’d assume), yet confined to the underworld to rot. His nefarious roles throughout the Kingdom Hearts series were extremely amusing and never once during my childhood dreams think I would see a pairing of super stars on the screen such as Cloud and him, but jesus when it happened, I nearly cried adolescent tears of man-joy. Witty, loud mouthed, and sinister to a tee, I love every second the dude's flapping his flaming lips.
Major to props to J. Woods as well for voicing every game appearance of the character up to Re:Coded as well!
7. HIM (The PowerPuff Girls Battle HIM)
A lobster. A ballerina. A fucking nightmare sandwich. "Him" was my first brush with sexual androgyny as a child and I loved every second of it. The fact that I couldn't tell if he was a dude or a lady trying to sound like a dude made him terrifyingly confusing and completely hilarious. He’s only really appeared in one game, but his ability to crack joke after corny joke in the direction of the power-borne trio made me crave every episode of the show he wound up in, and landed him a pretty lofty spot amongst my list. I did a little background research on the guy before writing the article and found out he was actually based off of the Blue Meanie from the Yellow Submarine film.
I remember one episode in particular, probably my favorite episode of all time, when the Gangreen Gang get a hold of the Mayor’s hotline and they keep prank calling everyone in Townsville. Eventually the Villains get fed up, and led by HIM himself, break into the mayor’s office. I recall during the episode seeing HIM dressed in a jazzersizing outfit and losing my shit as a kid. It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life. To this day my sister and I will still yell “Well HELLOOOOOOO girls!” At each during family get togethers.
6. Team Rocket (All that Pokemon Junk)
The sexually charged duo, dressed in latex coats, and touting the only speaking Pokémon throughout the entire first season of the show had a fond spot in my heart. I remember at one point as a small child taking the time to memorize the entire intro they chanted because I thought the kids on my school bus would think I was cool for it. That… didn’t work out as well as I thought it would. But anyways, the perilous pair always had the WORST jokes up their sleeve and didn’t flinch for a second when unleashing them all over Ash’s face and chest. To make things worse, they rode around in a giant balloon shaped like a Meowth head, as if that wasn’t the most conspicuous way to travel ever.
I think that these guys are some of my favorite villains because they are these ill-motivated jerks at the beginning who allude at several points throughout the show that they want to EAT Pikachu. This eventually deteriorates by what would become a surprisingly existential side-plot where they question their very allegiance to Giovanni and eventually go their own way, helping Ash and the team whenever they can. I’m not sure if they’re still a staple of the games or the tv show, but I know their appearances throughout the Movies 1 and 2 were more than welcome to my 12 year old eyes, and sense of humor.
BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU. He turns a whole city's population into chocolate. Then eats them. Shut up.
4. Oogie Boogie (Kingdom Hearts… again)
The burlap menace from my childhood returned to haunt my dreams once again when he appeared in the Kingdom Hearts series. Now let me tell you something. A lot of people will say they loved the Nightmare Before Christmas movie when they were a kid, and though I cannot say that I ever bought any of the hot topic merchandise, or went to the 3D re-release… I can sing just about every candy-forsaken song in that movie from start to finish (except Sally’s songs because she’s hella lame). I was frightened as all get-out of this guy when I’d watch the movies back-to-back-to-back when I was younger, but eventually grew to find his overzealous nature hilariously amazing.
The fact that he’s a lecherous cheater and a horrible sportsman make me find him pretty identifiable. We all want to slam the table when we come up with “snake eyes” on life, and Oogie just does it. He doesn’t care, that fucker is MADE OF BUGS. He used to have his own holiday called “Bug Day” but for obvious reasons people hated that… so he became evil. Can you blame him? When you’re made of bugs, that’s basically all you can do. Either way, I’d play a whole game consisting of only The Boogie Man, where Oogie is the only character, and you just run around stomping on things going “EEEEEEEEEHHHUUULLEVUN!!!”
3. Every Villain from Resident Evil 4
Good god. Remember that one time in Resident Evil, where Leon is talking to Saddler and he says: “Having a senior moment?” Because I do, and it was probably my favorite line in a video game up until I played the portal series. The villains in Resident Evil 4 are really where it shines because let’s face it, Leon isn’t any kind of hot shit. Saddler, Salazar, and Krauser make up for a shining crew of menacingly magnificent straight-off-their-rocker bad dudes. The comm-link conversations they have with Leon border on late 80’s action movie dialogue, but the fact that it’s completely self-knowing makes it all the better.
The various corny bits of conversation here and there are really something that you have to take in over the course of the whole game. I love the fact that half the time it doesn’t seem like any body’s really taking themselves too seriously, and Leon absolutely rolls right along with it. Salazar was probably my favorite simply due to his super bizarre back story. A twenty year old midget from the 1600’s infected by an ancient demon parasite pitching a hissy-fit because you didn’t just LET him kill you.
2. The Joker (All the batman games, you jerk.)
DEAR GOD. How do I even sum up a character of this magnitude. Probably the most illustrious fictional villain of all time! I say this in large part due to the fact that he has the massive sense of humor thing going for him. I began writing this article BECAUSE of my love for this guy, and everything else fell into place. I was thinking one day about why I loved him so much, or why anyone loves this character at all, he’s just a pasty dude in a suit with no real discernible powers or advantages except one, his ability to joke. This puts him at a pedigree above those like Lex Luthor, or Doc Oc. His ability to crack a joke, makes him a bit more relatable, yet somehow more sub-human as well. His maniacal laughter echoes through your head, and is in large part probably responsible for many people’s fear of clowns to this day I suspect. (Along with movies like IT!)
He’s been in too many games to list really. His appearance in the DC vs. MK series was priceless as that finishing movie was as brutal as it was darkly humorous. His most recent role throughout the Arkham games, helmed by voice actor and famous Jedi, Mark Hamill, gave even the late great Ledger a run for his money. (And in a lot of ways trumps the pants off of him) Apples and oranges though I guess. The J-man will forever be engraved in each and every one of our hearts as a pivotal piece in the puzzle that makes up the thick tapestry of nerd culture, following one motto that has inspired me and many others to take to the entertainment business:
“Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em laugh.”
1. GladOS (Portal 1 and 2)
Frequently I lay in bed at night looking up at my ceiling thinking to myself “What would I sound like if I was a 40 year old computer woman trapped for eternity in a science testing chamber?” Well I can tell you right off that it would probably be less like GladOS, and more like Rosie the robot. Really though, I cannot convey the amount of love and admiration I have for the giant upside down sadistic robo-lady. In highschool I played through portal about four times. This is probably (barring Jet Set Radio Future) the most amount of times I’ve ever played through a game. These play-throughs were back-to-back mind you. I played for hours on end trying to beat my high scores. I never did this in games as I really hated time limits and battling them for success, the one excuse I had, GladOS.
The writing for her… well… it’s hard to call it dialogue. More… the writing for her pointed monologues were always witty, sharp, and biting, yet you couldn’t help but come away grinning every time. I would laugh until I was blue in the face at the jokes she’d make throughout that game, and I still consider myself generally a horrible person that I’ve only made my fiancé play through JUST the first half of 2 with me. It was the first game since I bought that “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” game boy color game, that I couldn’t stop myself from beating in one day. It was too glorious. Everything she has said has influenced the standard to which I hold up all comedy writing in video games, or ANY form of entertainment, to this day. I hope to god that we see her in games past 2 as I can’t go the rest of my days re-listening to Ellen McLain speak at conventions and use my imagination to overlay a synthesized voice in my head forever. I’ll go mad… but then… I guess that’s what she wanted all along… huh.
/Turns away from 1980’s tv-big screen back across a desk with placard on it which reads “Bungus Master”
Gee. Hasn’t it been a journey and a half? We’ve really learned a bit about ourselves, some whacky villains, the number ten, and all the numbers that come before it. I hope you’ve enjoyed our lengthy foray into my psyche. I know you didn’t ask for it. But I gave it to you anyways, so suck it up.
ANYWAYS. You know I like to go out on a question, and this one’s probably pretty obvious.
If you had to have any villain moles- Woah whoops. Stupid cue cards. Again.
If you had to choose any villain who had a flare for the comedic from your past gaming experiences to be the best man/maid of honor at your wedding, who would it be and why?
Remember in middle school? When the teacher would leave the class for all of about fifteen seconds, right after telling every child in the classroom individually by name to behave themselves while they were gone? I do. I also remember the student who would inevitably remove a lighter EVERY time and just start flicking it, like they were Spike Fucking Spiegel. Another person (in my head it’s a very annoying girl wearing an Aaron Carter T-shirt) would then proceed to gasp.
“Oh my god! I’m such a pyromaniac! I love to light things on fire!”
I would then roll my eyes, and scoff so loud that every person in the room would turn around as I was tucking my esophagus back into my throat. I was so cool guys. Cool enough to know that the girl proclaiming her love towards the Soup De Jour lighter that happened to enrapture her for just a single moment, had no more love of setting things on fire in her free time, than I did of having well-aged spider monkeys shoved down the front of my jock strap.
Well… Probably not actually.
Because for all of my skepticism. For all of my over-jaded naivety. For all of the times I heard someone proclaim false lighter-love and thought I was going to spin my head 'round exorcist style spewing shards of glass and cigarette smoke everywhere… This game makes me say out loud in the dark of my room wearing my goose-bumps underwear…
“Oh my god! I’m such a pyromaniac! I love to light things on fire!”
Throughout the course of this “game,” you are given a toy fireplace and commanded to set things on fire for leisure purposes by what looks like an obese inflatable sex doll. You might be wondering why I put the word game up in quotes. It’s because I’m having a hard times admitting to myself that this is a game at all. I would almost be more inclined to call it something closer to a “toy chest”. One where you get to do what you really always wanted to as a child… which is see what each and every one of your G.I. Joes looked like, when you melted their dumb plastic faces off.
Helmed by previous crewmembers of teams responsible for such classics as Henry Hatsworth, and World of Goo, Little Inferno does a pretty spectacular job at sucking up about two hours of your life. With little to no narrative, you progress through the “toy chest” as I’m going to incessantly call it, buying things, and then proceeding to watch as they catch on fire. There are combos and stuff, as well as some kind of kitchy timer mechanics, but I’ll let other reviews cover that stuff. I’m here to talk about how this crap looks, and why it looks that way!
So, there are a few characters in the game that you’ll more or less “meet” through letters you receive down your chimney. You can light these on fire after reading them which is most delightful. Looking at the different characters, you can see that they’ve chosen to stay in keeping with the very “Burton-esque” art style from previous games. Lots of grey-tones and Gaussian blur keeping you in that fuzzy mood that artist, Allan Blomquist, loves to do. The items you remove from the chest such as broken space heaters, spontaneously combusting children, muscle man ice sculptures and locust egg sacs each drip (literally) with the same enthusiasm and charisma of previous titles.
Blomquist’s signature style comes through in the animation as well. Though most of it is either tweened or stitched together joints, the response from picking up a squidgy little critter and watching him flail around is intensely reminiscent of WoG’s distinct reactions when dots of goo would react to your cursor. This carries into the sound design as well, as Kyle Gabler, the previous composer for 2D Boy, has made the soundtrack for this game. The series of distinct melodies and symphonic chimes lay the ground work for your mischievous romp through an arsonist dream-scape. Everything from ominous tones to Sim’s-like shopping bells ring you along towards a single goal, to burn it all, and get paid. This makes for a delightful contrast as you set a cute cuddly kitty on fire only to watch him poop his way off of the screen and back again, condense down to ash, then pop into the unblemished shopping wonderland to pick out a new terror-palette.
The backdrop throughout the entire game remains essentially the same. A happy snoozing mechanical face is plopped as a sentry in the background. Different effects can take place and I have to admit some of the more visually enticing moments of the game happened when I lit certain bugs, or barrels on fire. I won’t spoil it. I’ll let you see what happens!
All in all, I’m not sure that Little Inferno justifies its fifteen dollar price point. It’s pretty, and it’s novel, but it’s brief, and fairly shallow (especially when put up against the games developed previously by these creators). It’s a lot of visual candy, which is exactly what I enjoy, but as someone who likes a bit more challenge, or replay value, I would say your money is better spent else-where until we hit at-least the high single digits.
For those of you who HAVE played it though, I’d like to know what your favorite thing to light on fire was. Mine was the Terms of Agreement contract at the very beginning of the game.
I knew I was on to something special when I could choose any picture in my library to set on fire as well. Oh the effigies I did burn on that day.
I’m gonna kick this little number off by saying the same as what a lot of other people are saying about this game. It’s awesome. I’m going to use other words or phrases to describe it in this discussion like… glitz-jizz, guttural, and a literal neon enema.
When I found out that plastic animal masks were how you gained certain attributes throughout this terrific turquoise tilt-a-whirl, I knew I had to play. I've had a deep love of masks ever since the end of high school when I started messing around during my down time with liquid latex. I’m sure there were many in my senior art classes which thought I was going to be seen on some kind of Hallmark movie involving a victimized house wife and several cans of spray paint before heading down death-row.
Here are a few small pieces I've worn or created in the past which more or less exemplify my love of covering your face with badass.
As you can see, I've had a lot of time on my hands in the last decade. The top left example is something I created while messing around with arduino functionality and a plastic astronaut helmet that barely fit on my head, while the iron man masks were stumbled upon while experimenting with spray paint (as a medium, not a drug) and boredom.
The bottom picture is the one I really wanted to point out though. That is my high school best friend and I dressed up before a Halloween party back in 2011. I’m not trying to say at ALL that we were the first people to put on animal masks and pretend we were cooler than we actually are, but it’s kind of neat to look at the coincidental parallels here. I had thought at one point of sending the pic in to Dennaton games as a token of my appreciation for them contributing such an interesting artistic design choice to the pantheons of indie-dom.
All of that nonsense aside, I’d like to Segway into WHY I appreciate this game so very much.
Game Maker Studio. So at my previous denizen of knowledge ingestion, there were plenty of would-be game developers looking for ways to make themselves great in the eyes of their peers. One of many methods employed would be to rag on other people (the exact thing I’m doing right now!) A frequent comment would be something to the effect of…
“Oh yeah? That project that’s being developed in Game Maker? Hah. Okay.”
“I heard he only knows how to develop stuff in GAME MAKER” (read in high pitched nasally autotuned robot voice set to the melody of “closing time”)
Dismissive and condescending tones towards the 2D game development engine were a recurring theme. People would shove it aside for flashier engines which boasted a wider depth and breadth of graphical capability. Well to all of those jerks and jerk-ettes out there, I hope they choke on their security confirmation emails to the next great MMO they try to sign up for because Hotline Miami blows all speculation that Game Maker is a sub-par tool set out of the water. Having been developed (primarily) by only two men, Jonatan “Cactus” Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin, I bow in pure commendation to the pair of them.
Relatively small in scope? Yes.
Aliased to oblivion? Definitely.
But don’t let a single one of those things scare you. It only adds to the charm of the beguiling blood stained hallways this game will undoubtedly throw your way.
Anyways. Let’s get down to some good ol’ fashion gritty-ass, slurpy-burpy, vinyl striped, chrome plated, beef injected art talk.
ROUGH! That’s the word I was looking for. Okay. So the game’s art is rough. Not in a terrible unfinished sense, more in that kind of way whenever you watch a cartoon, where the lines on the characters wibble and wobble a bit when they move or do anything involving frame-by-frame animation. Not literally, that’s just what it makes me think of. At first I had to admit, the character illustration disgusted me. I couldn't stand to look at the grotty old terrible hobo faces and cashiers at the various convenience stores. I would play through the game, running from mission to mission, reading the text with my face very close to the screen so I didn't have to look at their empty maws flapping up and down.
This was until I made a strange (and somewhat far-fetched) connection to the graphical style…
For whatever reason, and I might be completely wrong here, it seems far too plausible to me that the characters in the game (from a portrait perspective) are somewhat based off of the anatomical style from the late nineties nickelodeon TV Show, Rocket Power. Artistically, they have the facial features such as wobbly eyes and mouths, over emphasized wide-lipped scraggle-bottoms, and general themes of tussled hair. These are accompanied by the fact that many parallel tones and beach-life assets are included throughout the environments in both franchises. It all really leads me to believe that the developers of this game may possible have done just as the “ancient Hawaiians say”… whatever that was.
Though I’m not such a fan of the faces and portraiture throughout the game, I am in intense passionate grease-love with the masks. Each animal is varied and colorful, alluding the cheap latex from which they were most likely manufactured. And lord what a variety to choose from. If there is one thing I love throughout my virtual entertainment experience, it’s the ability to unlock an item, equip said item, then have that item show up equipped to my character in-game. It’s probably some primitive investment-gratification-reflex from our caveman days which is too prominently embedded in my psyche to shake at this point. Whatever the case may be, I love the masks, hate the faces. End of story.
I also wish there was a little more variety in the different enemy sprites, but I can see why from a game-design stand point that may have been a little bit on the confusing side. Each of the different sprites seem to have a definite role, with big black suited bouncers taking a load of bullets before going down, juxtaposed against your cannon-fodder white suited all-purpose goon receiving the brunt of your punishment for most of the game. This was one of the few areas of the actual game play I felt could have used with some polishing, but that’s not what you’re here to hear me review. ON TO THE ENVIRONMENTS!
Have you ever looked at something and thought “God, this is terrible, and it actively assaults my corneas, but I can’t stop looking.”
Not in a Jerry Springer train wreck sort of way… from a graphical stand point.
Well that’s how I feel about this game. Every room is layered with what I could only assume adorns the inside of Cyndi Lauper’s rectum. Hot pinks, bright tangerine, turquoise and neon green are never far from your line of sight throughout the varied realms of apartment complex, disco floor, or corporate headquarters. If you can get past the acid re-flux dream-state that is this game’s complete lack of interior design sense, you might find a level of discordant harmony here.
As someone who was not alive during the eighties. (They only managed to find my sarcophagus and resurrect me by the early nineties) I am not aware what it was like to be unable to escape anything with a saturation value over 70%. I find it an interesting way of life to only see this titanic movement in color scheme throughout that saved-by-the-bell-intro-graphic-of-a-decade through video games and movies. It is for this reason that games like Hotline Miami, GTA Vice City, and ALF: The First Adventure make me such a happy camper. I love to see how broken people’s eyes were before the world discovered how to appropriately use pastels and other off-tones in conjunction with more exciting palettes. It really just makes me thankful that I don’t have to walk everywhere with sunglasses over my eyes a’la Corey Hart. No wonder he didn't even take them off after bed time.
God-awful as the chosen color scheme may be, it’s accurate (from what I can tell) and it’s full of zest. And sometimes, zest adds that extra bit of “Umph” you need to keep you from throwing up everywhere. It can also adversely push you over the edge, but Hotline Miami knows what it is doing (or so one could assume).
Menus mixed with chanting ghost-like billy-goat mind masters and a melted toxic pixel font massage your mental mountains as you select the stages. Swaying back and forth the aliased layouts of menus and in-game levels trip your mind and tickle your telepathic tax torchers (those are “eyeballs” for those of you who don’t speak alliteration-bound-moron. I’m fluent in it.) All that aside, let’s take a moment to speak on the music though.
First off, it’s a compilation album. Something which makes me feel a little weird. When I think of compilations in video games, I think Tony Hawk, NFL, and/or Guitar Hero. These game’s often times don’t choose to create their own entirely unique sound from scratch, but blend an emulsion of character which eventually stands for their musical personality. It would never occur to me that an independent title would do anything other than generate their own set of “blips” and “boops” to enpleasiate your ear lobes. My first impression is that this might step on the game’s sense of character or originality, and that maybe I wouldn't walk away with a tune in my heart which I solely associate with that game alone. This was the most untrue thing I had thought for probably about the last twenty minutes. As I booted up the game, my brain was soothed by harmonious trip-lab slow jams, and quickly stressed into over drive while exacerbation-bound techno pounded through more intense portions of combat. A varied audial mixture paints a gorgeously god-awful picture of 1980’s Florida beach life much in the same vein as the visual endeavors.
Cute, Cuddly and anything but mea-
Whoa sorry. Started writing some other review’s recap paragraph there for a second… hgrhm.
A manic rollercoaster through the seedy neon butthole of 1980’s coast-life, you’ll sweat your palms off, blink your eyes out, and twitch your mind in half as you punch your way through the halls of this instant classic. Artistically, it’s just as much of a glitter-lubed slip'n'slide, giving you exactly what you DIDN’T ask for in spades, but knowing you love every second of it. I would recommend heading out to your nearest steam browser and picking this sucker up immediately, while supplies last!
And just because I like to end on a question: What was everyone’s favorite/most used mask?
Mine wound up being Brandon, the purple jaguar. I made up this mode called “Punch Time” where you just run through levels seeing how many points you can rack up only knocking guys over before you get killed. It is probably similar in experience to doing heroin, while riding on the back of a sled made out of ak-47’s being pulled by completely naked sumo wrestlers.
So there you go.
Also, here’s a lil’ illustration I whipped up due a rush of inspiration towards the end of my gaming experience.
So I’d just like to start off by saying I’m not writing this to piss anyone off, step on anyone’s toes, or to point any fingers at embarrassing third-nipple-like appendages that readers may or may not have. I’m simply stating a different way of looking at the universe. I try to remain as objective as possible when I think about writing and reading editorial material from myself and others. I believe this makes a harmonious and intellectual basis for discussion once the subject matter has been analyzed. Sometimes I check objectiveness at the door though for the sake of a passionate article. I’m going to share some personal stuff in this about how I came to where I stand on gaming, and hopefully it’ll help you guys understand where I’m coming from in future articles.
I am an avid video game enthusiast. But I cannot stand Mario or Zelda, or any of the games associated with them from the nineties, and I believe sometimes that this disconnects me greatly from a vast number of the gaming populous.
As a child I grew up on a lot of things like oven baked chips, re-runs of Sabrina the teenage witch, and my Gameboy advance. A couple things I did NOT have, were a Nintendo sixty four, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or any other real console to speak of. Actually, that’s a lie, I had a N64 for a bit, but only rogue squadron and turok and it broke very quickly after coming across it. Because of this, I was not exposed to games like Mario 64, Super Mario, The early final fantasies, Crash Bandicoot, or any of the goddamn console based Zelda games. I took what I could get my grubby little hands on for the GBA and went about my business.
I was always relatively disinterested in Nintendo from the start. I found the premise of the games boring, and anytime I went over to a relative or friend’s house to play Mario Tennis, or Link to the Past, I found myself inundated with meaningless color and sound I simply wasn’t excited by. Why this was, I don’t know. Possibly my future self-had called back to my mind at one point to alert me of the near future in gaming. I probably told myself to save my christmas wishes, because even though my parents were too absorbed in other financial responsibilities to purchase a console for me, I would never really move beyond the games I played on my Gameboy until my early teens (but more about that later).
Now I have a theory. As a youngun' playing only on a game boy kind of stinted my realization of the gaming multiverse growing up. This is some fringe science here, so bear with me, but I’m almost positive, that even though I played almost all of the Zelda, Metroid, and Mario games that were available for handheld, my mind never made that solid connection with those icons and franchises. I believe that kids who saw that giant stupid plumber face on their colorful screen were more stimulated by their experiences in regards to that, then my dumb ass was seeing the sprite based green hat walk around the screen.
The way I see it, is that our consoles when we are growing up are like our parents. From a young age, we latch on to a system we’re comfortable with, and the franchises associated with that console. Things were a lot more bound to the system they were made for back then. You had your fighting and “X-TREME” games on sega, your super solid platforming and otherwise 1rst party Nintendo games on the NES systems, and everything else was relegated to the small PC gaming population or handhelds. This is a slight generalization but you get my point. The idea is that as children we begin to take hold of the values here-in. Some children’s mom and dad are Nintendo, some are sega, some are the PS1… mine…? Mine was the single mother that is the game boy color and advanced systems. I realized this and I felt a distinct pang of jealousy towards any child who had two healthy loving Nintendo home-console parents.
After coming into my early teens I began to lose touch with my portable-game-bound-maternal-unit. I drifted slightly away from gaming for a spell, but rushed right back as when for my thirteenth birthday I received a brand spanking new PS2. Boy was I thrilled. My aunt and uncle of all people bought it for me along with a Dance Mat, (back before the boom when they were still pretty pricey) DDR 2, Baldurs Gate 2, and a couple other titles I wouldn’t really latch on to. It was ecstasy, it was bliss, it was… fleeting. I played my PS2 all throughout my high school years. Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, and Kingdom Hearts were all close to my soul, but nothing seemed to get as close, to me, as the people who were on Mario’s jock 24/7. I didn’t understand, what was so great about Mario? I had played a few of his games more extensively by that point and I wasn’t enraptured the same way so many of my peers seemed to be. I began to feel adopted.
Like, maybe there was something I was doing wrong. I began once again to drift from games as a whole and lose interest. During early college it was difficult for a game to keep my attention for more than fifteen minutes. I had become convinced that if I didn’t have a strong back-log of passion and information about a character or a franchise that I was doomed to feel lost and cold in the embrace of what so many others saw as a familiar guardian. It was at this point when I learned about a concept called “nostalgia”. The feeling brought on from fond memories and past events. I pondered this idea for a long time, the notion that someone would love a feeling brought on by simply remembering a past event. More than just looking back and remembering something fondly. No, this was on a different level, past a cognitive reflex. This was like something of chemical nature, something in our brains.
And I was right. Funnily enough, strong sensory emotions pass through something in the brain known as the Amygdala, which processes not just MEMORY, but our emotional REACTIONS as well. So when you feel that strong pang of sensation from a smell or familiar visual image, just blame good ol’ Princess Amygdala.
But anyways, after I found this out, I realized something. These people who have these connections to these games didn’t just experience pure bliss when they witness news or information about their icons. The emotions ranged from anger, to sadness, remorse, and everything in between. I began to think of how unfortunate it must be to have been so mercilessly tied to the back of the carriage like that and dragged through the dusty streets of unrequited love so many times just from seeing one simple Nintendo press conference.
And so I began to see my position in regards to nostalgia not so much as a wound, but a boon. Something I could use to my advantage. Those who become flustered when seeing someone from a video game they grew up with maintain a level of what seems like near-unbearable expectation they cannot overcome in most cases. My limited exposure to a range of characters, genres, and series growing up heavily accelerated my comprehension of similar tones, rough patches, and glimmering moments of bliss between games without having my Amygdala get in the way. I could draw the similarities between games that others would only scoff at, and embrace icons from a range of time periods.
I could play a sequel to a best seller that was nothing like its predecessor and judge it on its own terms. I could obtain an unbiased love for all the mascots and parental-console figures I had no taste for during my childhood.
After letting go of my fear of not belonging anywhere, I immediately belonged everywhere.
I wasn’t adopted anymore. Or what’s more, I was, but by over a hundred thousand different faces and feelings. I began to see this industry for what it was, and not what it WASN’T. I began to judge games on the terms they deserved to be judged on, and I stopped being afraid: Afraid of being left out of the “bigger picture.” By that point, I felt like my finger was on the pulse of this “bigger picture” and every single game I picked up I fell in love with. My "console family tree" is now as big as you could imagine, and I'm loving every second of it.
So, next time you’re angry at the color of Dante’s hair, the fact that “they’re” rehashing your favorite game for the 10th time, or that you simply just “want them to make games the way they used to.” Consider how far we’ve come, and how society makes progress in the first place.
And if you’re like I was, and you’re still waiting to find your nostalgic “console-parents.” Stop looking. You’ve already won the battle by surviving this long. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery.
I’m curious though, did any of you ever feel the same? Or the opposite? I’m interested to hear about your stories of love and betrayal throughout your lives in regards to your favorite video game mascots!
(Also, my apologies for the terrible photo quality.)
I gave myself my favorite red hoodie FROM REAL LIFE LIKE I WORE ONE TIME IN REAL LIFE GUYS. And I'm doing a spray paint all over your computer screens all whacky like! And get a load of THIS, that's my face in there because this is a self portrait!
... ahghh hrrmm...
Sorry about that. Anyways.
Figured I'd share a bit o' art work with you chaps and chapettes.
It's based off of my favorite game of all time, Jet set radio future! I used to create drawings like this in the margins of my history notes during highschool all the time. Eventually I learned about 3D modeling and moved away from that sort of thing, but occasionally I get an excuse to let the doodle beast out to roam, so thanks for that!
Hope you all didn't feel TOO inclined to gouge out your eye balls!
Also, sorry if you guys thought the title meant there was going to be poo in this picture somewhere. I was just really inclined to insert an extremely stupid pun somewhere in the name.
It demands prowess, it demands precision, but it demands your attention even more. Sine Mora just came to PC. You’ll know that because I’m finally getting around to talking about it. Created by Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality, this “shmup” as they have slurringly been labeled, is a shining example of how art can still be the focus in such a technical game. But that’s not why we’re here, we’re here to discuss the art of discussion. Especially the variety which no one understands.
I must point out that though the language of the game, Hungarian, is a completely legitimate language, my previous research led me to believe that the developers were moving forward with a sort of made up dialect. As it has been pointed out to me after playing, this is not true. I traversed this entire game thinking of the language as made up as my ears picked up on absolutely no familiar verbal cues. I do not mean to insult those in the audience who are, or speak Hungarian, it's an awesome language. There has been much that I've had to omit from the original draft due to this fact, but the thoughts invoked here-in are still legitimate to myself.
Though it takes place in a completely fictional world, with completely fictional characters, speaking a language, that seemed to the untrained ear as fictional as peter pan’s scrotum (a fact I would later learn is simply not the case), I feel that they are trying to draw you into a someone emotional experience. I had basically zero connection to any of the characters or their trials and tribulations. Maybe I’m just a cold hearted and callous jerk, but I’ll tell you, it was easier to pay attention to how loud my computer was while running the game, than any emotional strife they may have impressed upon me.
The main story beats struggle for a number of reasons in my opinion; this is mainly due to a good portion of the campaign being read to you by text. I’m not going to say that I hate text in games. I think it’s an affordable and effective way to convey a narrative. Except when you’re trying to read and someone’s speaking a foreign language at you at an incredibly high volume. The developers decided to use Hungarian as the language of choice, and then proceed to voice it over the mission briefings before some missions. This was fine DURING the mission scenes when it almost seemed to add a bit of incomprehensible charm to the between-pilot-communications banter, but when faced with a black screen full of white text at about a 14 point font, things become difficult.
And so it was that it became harder and harder for me to concentrate on these mission briefings. And harder and harder to care about what was happening in the story. Then eventually harder and harder to even understand what was happening, to the point where it was tempting for me to simply skip every portion of the game when I wasn’t unloading bullets into something
I began to contemplate this idea very heavily. This concept of games and fictional languages. Even though Hungarian is no where NEAR made up, I was struck with many thoughts revolving around why developers choose to give a universe its own made up gibberish language?
- It’s cheap -
I believe first and foremost in a lot of publisher’s minds, the idea that they will not have to spend exorbitant amounts of money to translate a game (at least in audio form) across multiple platforms is paramount.
- It’s unifying -
Think about a universe where everyone speaks the same language and automatically understands each other. Games in which people speak made-up nonsense talk give us a small window into that. The characters in the game seem to understand each other across ethnicity, age group, and social class. A game which comes from a different country, where the characters all speak English, or Japanese, whether their words have been translated through text or NOT, is bound to leave someone out. A game where everyone says crazy whacked out phrases that do not make any sense is unifying on a global scale because to everyone across the globe, it’s un-interpretable nonsense.
- It’s interesting -
It’s undeniably full of character. We’re probably twice as likely to have our ears pick up some speech in a game our friend is playing across the room if it’s something we don’t understand, then regular boring old people-talk. As well, it can be humorous, something EA development houses understand implicitly. Hearing and discovering the made up dialects throughout the pc game, Spore, was very interesting to me on its face. I know plenty of people hated that design choice, but I know that Maxis have had plenty of legitimate reasons for doing this over the years.
After considering all of these facts, I began consider why it would and wouldn’t work in a game. I think it all comes down to placement and priority. Though I know now that the dialect chosen is infact Hungarian, my prior knowledge of Suda 51 and his team's predilection for the bizarre pointed me in the direction of thinking the language was made up. This fact is especially hammered home when you consider the fact that the characters were originally intended to be human, but that idea was nixed when the creative director for the game, Theodore Reiker, who has officially gone on record as saying they didn’t think that was “crazy enough”. And while unique and special character in a game is something which should always be cherished and accepted, I don’t think the words “weird”, “bizarre”, or “strange” should have to come out of anyone’s mouth on the cutting room floor. I think unique genius is an immaculate conception, not an artificial one. But we’ll discuss that more at length another time.
All in all, Sine Mora is worth checking out. From an artistic stand point, it is gorgeous in more ways than one. I will spare you the textual details and just give you a few pick-a-chures to hammer my point home.
Sine Mora has just been released on steam for 10 dollah. Get it while it’s smokin. Those diesel-punk dishes are best served piping hot!
Thanks user Grethiwha for pointing out my major mistake. I figured I'd make some mistakes on my first steps into video game writing and journalism, just hope I didn't come off as too ignorant. :D
XCom: Enemy Unknown – G.I. Joes without the ridiculous PSAs, or cheesy names up for artistic Review.
I’m going to start off by saying I’m not much for strategic games. Alright, I said it, now on to more pertinent things like why I decided to play this game. I’ll be quite honest with you, it was the hype. It was every person on the internet whose opinion is worth two nickels in a dog’s bungus telling me that that I needed to play this game no matter what my race, creed, or crime. It really wasn’t that simple though unfortunately; let’s just say it wasn’t feasible from a financial stand point to make such an acquisition at that particular juncture when that game’s “zeit gheist” was taking place. So yes, I’m a little late to the party, and no, I don’t have the super in depth backing on every aspect of the story beats late in the game, but I was extremely excited to write a piece and have accumulated just about…
(checks steam library)
… six hours on the main campaign. I’d say that’s just about enough to look a game up and down, fun or not, and give you more or less the gist of what the artists possibly had in mind under development. As well as that I hope to give you some insight into what I appreciate about its plastic goodness as well. Let’s get started shall we?
So my first impressions of the game overall were definitely good. Hell, I had impressions of the game before I even started playing, not that I was immediately predisposed towards saying I was going to love it or not, I just had faith. Tentative, caring, tender, faith.
Fortunately, my trust was rewarded. XCOM is amazing, from its head down to its toes, it is everything you want from strategy. It is engaging, has a balanced risk/reward system, and some would say most importantly of all, it’s true to its roots (I only played the original for all of about 30 minutes, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it pays homage in multitudes) I booted the game on up, watched through some civilian massacre at the hands of tools they have no comprehending the true power of, and then with bated and shallow breath, I began the tutorial. Six hours later, I’ve created twelve of my closest friends, and fiancé, as characters in the game. Watched her, and three others die. Found that too much to bear, then wiped everyone’s identity. (Knowing full and well I couldn’t stand to let another person so near and dear to my heart die at my hands even in a fictional sense)
After sufficiently moving through the simulated grieving process and paying homage at their shrine, I have picked myself up by the boot straps, captured me some mutons, and developed myself as quite the alien tukus-mashing machine. I love this game, but I know full-well that it’s the sort of thing which when spread out over the course of a week in 3 hour periods, is not going to turn out well. No. This is the sort of game for dimming lights, putting on your over-sized head set, lowering the mic and talking into it at your fictional characters as you give them words of command and encouragement they have no way of hearing. I would be spitting in the face of every single father in my blood line for the last seventy generations if I lied and told you I haven’t said the phrase “Alright boys, lets do this one by the numbers.” At the beginning of the last four missions, feeling an exponential sense of coolness each time it is said.
And overall, I feel like that is a good way to sum that game up. “Let’s do this by the numbers. That way we don’t get dead. That way we buy sat-um-uh-lahts. That way we get more money to do things by the numbers with.” The only thing is, instead of it becoming some routine, the game throws you so many curveballs you’d be a fool to make any mistake close to settling into any patterns or schedules in the game other than the magical key word every scared-shitless “commander” knows and loves. “Over watch” Use it. Know it. Look at it from across the battle field and shoot at it without any fear of penalty save for a slight accuracy hit.
Now for the fun(ner) part, the part where I babble on and on about this stuff I claim to know a delicately perched saltine cracker box full of. Art. I’ll let you in a secret. I so dearly wanted to be a character artist when I was in college. So much so that it was all I ate, slept, and did when I wasn’t on Facebook or playing flash games. Hours a day spent in front of programs like Zbrush, xNormal, Autodesk Maya, and 3DS max, and not a single one I regret. Training myself and honing my abilities as a 3D artist, over time, I began to analyze and see games, specifically character art differently. Things like poly budget, texture resolution, shader usage, and other trickaroonies employed by the passionate and talented development teams became like a second language for me. For this reason, my appreciation for the art that goes into characters, and the work I know those people are fervently pushed to put out is heightened to a degree. (only a slight one though really) So you’ll know when I say that the character art is possibly the weakest creative link in this game, you’ll know I mean it out of love. I say that though, then immediately turn around and contradict myself. Let’s watch.
Really though, when I say that, what I mean is that it is weakest only in the sense that the assets really weren’t meant to be seen up close. I game on PC (cats out of the bag now I guess) so when I play a game, I play it seeing it at its highest resolution. Because of this, I can determine that the artists who developed for this game obviously meant for most assets to be viewed primarily from a distance. This is a common and fairly vanilla tactic in budgeting data flow for your game. If someone is going to see something so far away that it will be hardly viewable at any other resolution than 500980X3288472, then it is hardly worth the time and effort to place work into refining that texture or poly count to a higher number. It goes without saying that Civilization and most other Sid Meier-based games are meant to be played from a near-top-down perspective. After considering this however, you begin to realize how they almost work it into their favor. Not even almost, I’d say they completely pull it off.
In showing close up views during cut scenes and briefings in conjunction with a softer, less detailed environment and model, you begin to see something come together. Action figures. I’m not sure about how many of you players out there got three hours into the game, unlocked your first laser weapon then thought. Jesus Christ, didn’t Cobra something have something exactly LIKE that, but in red?
Apparently I’m not alone in this thought pattern. The art director, Greg Foertsch, proudly admitted to a direct influence from 80’s miniatures and G.I. Joes as this was an integral piece of the aesthetic for the first game. Browsing through the concept art book, you begin to piece together a modernized militia of hokey yet endearingly sincere members of an elite team of alien killers.
“XCOM! SATURDAY MORNINGS. ONLY ON FOX KIDS!” (Not sure if fox kids is even a thing anymore. But they’re who would play it I assume.)
I think back to that terrible nineties era as well. Back when things like Godzilla got an entire 26 episodes or so of animated cartoon time alongside other movie spin offs such as EVOLUTION. YEAH. WHO REMEMBERS EVOLUTION? I do. As a moronic preteen corn syrup based life form, I watched the crap out of that show. I remember they had over sized guns with very vague details and “widgets” on them, and they fought a villain that sounded remarkably similar in tone to Tim Curry… I think. I could just be making up a cartoon show for children based off of the classic 2001 hit movie from Columbia Pictures Corporation AND the DreamWorks special effect team, that’s right, you guessed it, Evolution.
(You actually guessed it because I just said the name of the movie three sentences ago in all caps so don’t go getting a big head.)
(Also Julianne Moore was in that movie. What the hell? You see her ass I’m pretty sure.)
But I digress. (Get used to that) The idea that half of this game’s art direction was taken directly from Saturday morning cartoons makes me want to boot up and log a good 30 hour session tomorrow playing every character by name and roll from M.A.S.K. While I’ve not known anyone to speak about the game who was an adult when the original was released back in the early nineties, I do know plenty of people who have gone back to play it currently who were kids when the shows it’s based on were popular. I have to say, subconsciously planting that artistic seed in the gamer’s head from the beginning is a master stroke on behalf of Firaxis.
After all has been said and done though, the character design as it stands by itself is incredible in my opinion. The form and silhouette of each class and role impeccable. Manly characters stand tall and proud ready to defend the nation and be plastered onto what could have been hundreds of sensationalist propaganda posters promoting the game I’m sure. And the Women, appropriately proportioned curvaceous battle bitches ready to kick ass and tell that alien scum to “Get your hands off her, You Bitch!” only to be followed shortly afterwards by gratuitous amounts of rocket fire. Many people applauded Firaxis for their strong-stand-on-feminine-realism in their game. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. Really though, people should look at their design overall and take a few tips. I haven’t even started talking about the aliens.
AND THE ALIENS. Dear god. Such nostalgic pop-culture beauty has never been attained in such a tremendous fashion before to my knowledge. Sectoids, who will come to be known as “fodder”, basically are inspired directly by the “little grey men” of urban folk lore. Every character has something interesting about them, and even the most basic troop in this game is no exception. Complete with enormous glowing eyes and chest patterns, these guys stand a mere three-to-four feet tall in your wake, but their feral stance and lope gives them something strangely more menacing to their demeanor. You realize very quickly when they don’t hesitate to blow a few of your dudes away in the tutorial that they’re not messing around.
I won’t spoil too many other enemies for those who haven’t played, but it is evident that internet culture as well as grind house sci fi and past classics have influenced many of the way these villains’ look and feel. Fighting them on the battle field, you never obtain more of a heart stopping moment than when you realize you are up against something COMPLETELY different. It is in my opinion that the silhouettes and color swatches employed during development really hammer that home. Your Sectoid looks different than a Thin Man, looks different than a Muton, looks different from a Chrysalid, which SURE as hell looks different from a goddamn Cyberdisc. Goddamn Cyberdiscs. Basically the developers made sure you never THINK you’re shooting at something you can kill, when you actually can’t. Profile and silhouette are shotgun blasting you in the face even when you don’t realize it.
Seriously, next time you’re playing the game, stop for a moment and look at how each Alien has near completely different posture, emotional animation range, and color pattern. Firaxis pull a design choice like this off with such grace and ease that it would make your head spin. That is if it weren’t already due to some consarned floater making what must’ve been a twenty percent shot from across the field.
This extra layer of attention pays off in spades even from the first moment you see a unit on the field. Friend of Foe? Infiltration, support class, or big ol bruiser? (Sounds… cough… familiar TF2… cough cough…) This is something I will probably harp on consistently throughout this blog: The importance of profile and what a characters looks like from fifty yards away. Chances are if you can’t tell what their general purpose or roll is, then the artists weren’t trying hard enough.
Finally from the artistic roster, I would like to gather a great round of applause for the environments. Civilization did an amazing job of combining elegance and concise accuracy in the objects on their maps. XCOM replicates and displays this ability to near perfection as well with some slight caveats. On the battle field, cover is almost always clear and obvious, but that is not always the case. There are times when I was not sure if something was cover or not and wound up just placing my badass sniper, who’s nick-name ALONE was cooler than 1960’s-Neil-Armstrong holding a Ruger Blackhawk in one hand and a beef Chimichanga in the other, out in the middle of the field next to what turned out to just be a pile of dumb trash. I’m probably just a moron. Either way, we honor the death of Major Lazer Eagle, may he forever Overwatch us all, taking reaction shots on all who trespass against us. Honestly though, the vagueness of certain foliage and other battlefield elements were the only artistic problems I really had with the game’s environmental assets. Colored lights and tense placement of set pieces such as collapsed bodies and pre-decimated buildings initiate you into setting unlike any other. I often sat and just stared for a good thirty seconds or so before moving a unit just to get a lay of the environment. Whether starting outside of a coffee shop, a half destroyed bridge, or German forest, you knew each scenario would bring something new and dangerous.
The second and final environmental point I wanted to draw attention to was the base. Now before I had played the game at all, I had plenty of mental images from what people had told me, but no WAY did I imagine such a place of wonderment and joy would so quickly (read as slowly) unfold before my eyes. AGAIN, the theme of Saturday morning cartoons and action figures breathes a heavy moist breath on the back of your neck the entire time you’re managing troops from your Thunderbirds Era underground Hive Base. I’ll admit as well, my fiancé I sat in amazement watching the little characters move around, running on treadmills, observing captured aliens, and generally doing the best they could to look busy when all the while they were probably thinking to themselves “Holy Crap! Holy CRAP! Aliens are actually going to lick our buttholes with razor tongues if we don’t launch a satellite over Russia by the end of this month.” Really the whole thing felt like some amazing human-ant-farm full of interesting actions and lighting, as well as that same plastic-coated low-LOD that gives it such a unique feel. Closing in on any one room revealed that there was rarely more hard surface detail in place than there needed to be, again, focusing as much on form in the environment as well as the characters, and leaving the rest up to our childhood experiences.
The soundtrack to the game was helmed by Roland Rizzo, who had been with the series from the beginning. An ominous tone, and plenty of heavy synthesized notes are undeniably traced back to Michael McCann. The man responsible for Deus Ex’s cutting edge audial line up. Browsing through the base and picking out whether to research plasma rifles or cut open some asteroid-bound-butt-smacker has never felt cooler than when you’re doing it to this song. I’ll let the music speak for itself.
Obviously the moody and brooding tones match the feeling of the situation you face in that game for more than one reason. There are those who would argue that the music is drab and boring. I can tell you my pulse only QUICKENED when I ran across my third set of Floaters in one match only to have the battle drums bound through my system once again. There are definitely OSTs which are nearer and dearer to my heart, but Rizzo and McCann have made the noise that stands for dimming the lights, made the noise that sounds like flicking on the blue neon, and audibly transported me to a world where I am needed more than ever.
I believe to many people, XCOM is more than a game, it’s a calling. It’s a call that asks the question, is better to be feared? Or Respected? Then shoves an alien rifle in your mouth and blows your head off before you can mutter “bo-..”. XCOM demands that you play by its rules, and I can do nothing but respect it for that. It is a game that, in the wake of a newer generation of unforgivingly “hardcore” experiences, makes no mistake of letting you know, to “Remember, We, will be watching.”
Over and out.
Wait… no actually I have a joke.
And a question. Joke first though.
Okay. What do you call an extra-terrestrial who loves alcoholic beverages?
But I'm curious. What was your favorite enemy unit from the game? And which room of the base do you think it'd be easiest to hide a stash of 40 year old porno mags in? Your answers I salivate for!
Also, are you interested in reading a bit more. Here's an article complete with rather awesome video interview featuring Greg Foertsch himself! Ch-ch-ch-checkit!
So. Where do I start? This is my first post obviously, and any man/Jay leno/sentient-brocolli worth his/her salt ALWAYS has the notion to point that out. Isn't that kind of strange? How everyone draws attention to that? People who write novels don't say "Well this is my first novel everyone, hope you like it... One day Jennifer got a call from..." And so on and so forth.
Anyways. Blogging is weird. Bloggers are weird. This is my first foray into the trenches, so be gentle with me (if you must).
SO. Art direction, what is it? Who is it? I suppose the hyper-generalist would point out the fact that he's pointing out the fact that normal people who start blogs or write things about a subject always begin with a definition of what they're writing. I'm not going to do that I guess. I'm pretty much going to display what I define as art direction in the best sense that I can.
As you can see in the images above, that art direction can go any number of ways.
There is color, there is texture, there is an innumerable amount of factors to consider when it comes to determining how a game will look, sound, and feel. I plan to apply my limited experience driving art direction in the games I've worked on to help glean this information in a more scriptually digestible way. Google is now telling me I just made up the word scriptually... whatever.
No but really, I plan on covering wider sweeping genres, as well as specific games themselves. Games which are considered "art games," and those which some may consider "artless".
What you can expect to see in any given game-art review:
Overall game experience: I will give my over view of why I decided to pick the game up. If it appealed to me because it sounded interesting from a story perspective, or if the game play mechanics caught my attention. I won't go too in depth here as I don't intend to rate games based on their mechanics or game play, merely their artistic merit and if they are nice to look at. Which isn't to say I'm going to slap a sticker on it and say "GOOD GRAPHICS A+". Any art student worth his/her salt knows that just because some one is capable of adding scads of detail to a picture does not denote godlike artistic ability.
Character and Environment Art: These sections somewhat speak for themselves and will be judged on a separate basis. They stand as two of the major production branches of the artistic pipeline and I think they each deserve analysis in their own right as they are both unique and contribute in a very special way to the feel of a game.
Sound: I'm not a musician, but I think anyone with a cd collection can be a music critic. I love music ALMOST as much as I love art, and I intend to pick apart the nuances of most soundtracks for the games I play. I'm extremely fond of the quality audio material we see coming out in both triple A and indie titles today so I'm super excited to report on this artistic branch of games as well.
Final words: This will be a recap of the style and impression the game left on me. I will cover important themes and things to keep in mind while playing, as well as any quirks or tidbits I caught during play which I will suggest you keep an eye out for.
As well as this, I will possibly post my thoughts on any concept work, or art direction news which emerges as we go. I'm not sure, this is just as much an adventure for you as it is for me!
Whatever I'm covering, I hope you guys enjoy my articles and give me plenty of feedback on what you think.
I will tell you a few things, I love video games. More importantly than that. I love video game ART.
(I'm actually still not sure if it's more important. I need to get some fact checkers in here on that.)
I've studied game art for a long time now. During my secondary education I considered working in the industry under that field as a career path. While I've determined that might not necessarily be for me, I will do something which I've developed sort of a knack for along the way, talk. I love talking to people, also I love talking to people about stuff. And what is more fun than to write and discuss the STUFF you love most?
So, long story short. I'm an art-nerd-man-thing.
If reading about the art direction for various video games and game industry trends interests you, then you're in the right place!
A little about me!
Top 3 games:
- Jet Set Radio Future
- The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
- BatMan: Arkham City
Current Location: Tempe, AZ
Place of origin: Lakenheath, UK
Currently Playing: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Feature in progress: Conventional Art: Trade Shows and colored spot lights - a study