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25Aug/130

Gone Home : Is The Fullbright Company The New Infocom?

I just finished ”Gone Home”, a new, indie, PC game developed by the Fullbright Company. At $19.99 (through Steam) it’s the most expensive PC game I have bought in a long time, and clocking in at just about 3 hours, the shortest.

In “Gone Home” you play a young adult returning home after a year abroad.   During that year, your parents and sister have moved houses and moved on with their lives.  The character you play, just like you, is not familiar with any of the surroundings in the game.  When you start  it appears that no one is home and you have no idea what happened to them.   The main focus of the ensuing 3 hours (or so) of game play is a mature,  emotionally intense story that unfolds as you search this new space, looking for your family.

As a player, you traverse the house, examining everything you find.   Much of the game involves reading the text on ephemera left around the house, and listening to audio clips.  There are a few "locked gates" that help funnel the narrative, but no traditional puzzles.   The focus of this game is for the player to piece together the story by observing found objects in 3D space.   Nearly every object in the house can be picked up and examined.   Sinks, and toilets work, drawers, doors and  cabinets open, TVs and cassette players operate as in the real world.

The realistic nature of everything inside the house is necessary because the house itself is an enigma.  It’s a winding, cavernous space  that feels more like an RPG dungeon than a dwelling.   Areas in the house remain off limits until the time it is necessary to continue the narrative, but don’t make sense if this was indeed, a real-world space where people lived.   Far from detracting from the game however, this simply adds to overall curiously foreboding atmosphere of the game.  Instead of being wholly realistic, Gone Home works on transcendental level. The various rooms and passages represent the ways families relate, separate, come together, and hide from each other.   Exploring those connections and disconnections is the heart of the game.

“Gone Home” feels like an Infocom game from the 80’s.   Infocom made the best interactive fiction of that period,  but by the end of the decade they were out of business. They could not find a way to tell their mature, text-based stories in world of SVGA graphics and first-person shooters     It has taken almost 25 years, but the Fullbright Company may have found the solution with Gone Home.  The way Gone Home weaves a compelling story into an interactive world is nothing short of artistic achievement.    I have not felt this close to a virtual house and its' inhabitants since fumbling my way through Infocom’s The Witness in 1984.

The best part of Gone Home is how you feel when it is over.  Like the best books or movies, the game is hard to shake after the credits roll.  The characters feel like real people, and you want to know how the story turns out for all of them, how all the loose ends fit together.   However, you also get the feelings that not all the answers are in the game.  Just like real life, sometimes things don’t make sense.  Sometimes things are just the way they are.  In the era of Free-To-Play games,  $19.99 for a 3 hour experience might seem like a questionable value.  However, after finishing Gone Home, I certainly don’t feel like I paid too much for too little.    I may have only played Gone Home for a few hours, but I have a feeling it will play within me for many years to come.

-Steve Fulton

14Nov/100

Review: Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 For The Nintendo DS

Playing retro games is much adu about nuance.   If the little things do not feel "right", the overall game is usually failure, no matter how much effort went into recreating the past.  Nuances are much more than graphics: they also come in the form  timing,  sound design, responsiveness to controls, and  other intangible details that make-up a whole product.

Atari retro game collections usually fail on the nuances.  The worst offender of this was Atari Retro Classics for the DS, and updated, "re-imagined" graffiti mess that lost nearly everything in the translation.   Atari has attempted to make amends for this 5 year old mistake with Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 for the DS, a straight ahead emulated retro collection like we have not seen from Atari in many years.

Here is a video that shows this new title:

I've been playing Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 for an entire week now.   I have to admit, my first reaction was "huh?" .  I love Atari and Atari games, but at first glance, this pack appears to have included an entirely random selection of games.    The title includes 9 arcade games, and about 40 VCS games that cross all genres and with dates that stretch from 1972 (Pong - Arcade) through 1988 (Sprintmaster -2600).  Since Atari released 100's of games from 1971-1996, you can see that this is in no way a definitive collection.

When I think of the Atari 2600, I think of games that changed my world when I played my 2600 in my formative years: Combat, Night Driver, Breakout, Circus Atari, Street Racer, Canyon Bomber, Space Invaders,  and Yar's Revenge, just to name a few.   None of these classics are included in this package.   It's obvious that these are saved for a volume 2, but that is a bit presumptuous of Atari, as I'm sure this title needs to sell well before that project is greenlit.

The included arcade games fare much better, as the choices appear to make sone kind of sense.  The pack includes the "big 5" of Asteroids, Battlezone, Missile Command, Centipede and Tempest.   It also includes the aforementioned Pong, Lunar Lander, Gravitar and Space Duel.  However, let's start with the VCS games, as they are probably the reason most people will pick-up this package.

I will start by saying that the Atari 2600 emulation appears to be spot-on.  You are given the chance to configure all of the 2600 console controls (difficulty, select, reset, etc). before each game starts.  You are also give a description of the features of each game variation, which is extremely useful since most original atari 2600 games had dozens of variations, all of which were described only in the instruction manual.  The controls of each game are easily emulated on the DS using the control pad and buttons.  Most two player games have been opened-up for multi-player on the multiple DS machines, which is a great added feature.

The game selection falls into a few categories that I have defined myself:

13Jun/100

Apparenty, 360 "Natal" is Named "Kinect", And Apparenty Someone Jumped The Gun On Talking About It

It's now official (maybe) that the Xbox 360 "Motion Control" device, once named "Natal" will be named "Kinect", and apparently we are not supposed to know this yet.

The USA Today game "blog" (column, whatever) went with a story about it today, that now looks like this:
gamhumters1.png

Oops. Someone jumped the gun and got called on it. The funny things is, they made the story into "xxxxxx", but they left the comments intact:

gamehunters2.png

Anyway, we hope the guys who did this are not in trouble.  C/NET has a full story, so it looks like it's OK to to post now.

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12Jun/100

Review: New Star Games Sensational World Soccer 2010

Wanna play some digital footie?

sensiBoxArt.png

Synopsis:
Sensational World Of Soccer 2010 Review.
Are you a USA fan who wants to replay the England match and try to put more goals by the hapless Robert Green? Are you an England fan who desires the opportunity to massacre a virtual  Tim Howard?  Are you an Argentina supporter who thinks he can take a digital  Messi to the promised land against the likes of Nigeria? Now you can and for only $6.99!  The brilliant single-button control scheme and classic 2D overhead game play will have you enthralled for hours as you guide your favorite country to World Cup glory.
  You even have control to edit tactics and save/load your favorite goal replays.

Unlike what most of our overseas (and over border) friends might assume, Steve and I have been fans of the world's game for our entire lives. I have watched every World Cup since 1978 (when only the matches that interested English fans were cut to 50 minutes and taped delayed to PBS stations in the USA). Living in Los Angeles that entire time (with no less that 5 Spanish language stations) we were also afforded the opportunity to also watch every match that mattered to Mexican, Central, and South American fans (albeit in  a tongue just slightly less difficult to understand for a 8 year old then the British PBS broadcasts).

We also played the youth game from age 8 until 15 and then took it up again at 25, playing  another 10 years with local leagues and teams to prove we still could. During that entire time (and beyond) we have supported the USA national team and all local pro teams even when there were only a hundred of us watching them at El Camino college stadium in Torrance (1984) up until now when the USA team boasts its largest fan base ever and a team of 23 that play in the best leagues in the world (including 3 great players from the local under-rated MLS).

Being such a fan of the game I was always happy to get the latest Anco or Sensible import footy game for  my Atari ST in the late '80s and early 90's. When I was forced to swap the ST for a PC in 1992 I was very disappointed with the state of football (soccer titles). The FIFA titles were always good and looked great but didn't have that classic playability that Anco and Sensible afforded the game player. Also, the sheer number of buttons needed to control play started to become ridiculous when it was 3 (Sega Genesis version in 1995) and that morphed to absolute lunacy with the 20 button version that I attempted to play last week on the 360.

A couple years back I was trolling Bigsoccer.com and found a thread on a PC soccer game called New Star Soccer 3 (NSS3). Created by indie developer, Simon Read, this game was a revelation. It was a combination of Anco Player Manager and Sensible World Of Soccer - two of the best footy games I had on the Atari ST.  Since then I have purchased every footy game Simon has put on the market (all of very reasonable prices from free to $20). Between versions of the full New Star Soccer (version 5 will be released this year), Simon has tested the market with a stripped down (read -  no player, team, and league management functions) match-engine only version. This year is no different as he gloriously takes on the 2010 World cup with his new match engine called:

Sensational World Soccer 2010

Harkening back to the simpler times of computer soccer (footy) games, Sensible World Soccer 2010 comes out swinging with an impressive looking and playing set of "ball skills", "solid fundamentals", and a little extra "magic" in places to make a wonderfully fun game to play especially given the $6.99 price tag.

Something old returns and something new is added

Shedding the solid (if not spectacular) 3D visuals of NSS4, the new
match engine boasts a refreshed version of the NSS3 2D match engine look
and style. While the match perspective returns to 2D, the control system has been upgraded to a "single-button" model. The longer the button is pressed, the harder the shot or pass. On defense, you only need to run into players to strip them of the ball (based on basic team skill attributes and positioning), but pressing the button will initiate a slide tackle.  This helps to greatly simplify the game-play to an extent (for me at least) and helps put emphasis on solid passing combinations to create scoring chances.

The ball sticks to the foot of the player in control (Sensible model, not Anco) and this makes for a relatively easy and fun way to zig-zag down the pitch, passing and dodging the "enemy" ala Messi.

It's the World Cup just without the name 

Simon has modeled the tournament portion of the game after this year's world cup, using the Fifa rankings of each team to create aggregate skill levels for the competition.

sensi10_matchselection.jpg

The Game In Action

After selecting the USA as my team I was treated to the above screen that let me skip through the other matches (seeing the scores) until my match came up on the schedule. Simon has added some wonderful South Africa inspired music (my wife was especially keen on this aspect of the game - the only aspect she appreciated as she has never played a game on a computer other than Tetris).

sensi_10_usaV_england.jpg

My first match against England came up and I was able to choose to change to the preferred white USA kit (they usually win in white and lose in blue, go figure).
Ed Note: or tie as we found out today.

I quickly was able to get the hang of the single-button control by racing down the pitch, passing once (using the nifty radar screen to find my nearest compatriot in white), rounding the keeper and placing a shot to the upper corner - "Fucking Awesome" was my response. 

The game ended USA 3, England 0 (in easy mode).

After this game I was able to take the USA to the finals and beat Brazil 4-1. The point here is that the skill of the player behind the joystick is much more important than the perceived skill levels usually modeled into games such as these.  This makes for some intense arcade footy action the likes of which I have not played since Kick Off 2 in 1990.

Before each match you have the choice of selection pre-created tactics
and formations or you can dive in and create your own. You also have the
ability to modify a host of toggles such as game speed, match length,
radar screen size, difficulty, and more from the options screen any time
(before or during a match).

If you enjoy a good arcade soccer game, especially if you remember classic over-head 2D 16-bit footy games from late '80s and early 90's, you will not be disappointed in Sensible World Soccer 2010.   At $6.99 it is quite a steal and worth 3X that price.

sensi_game_play.jpg


Sensational World Soccer 2010 game gets a 90% Retro-tastic!

Both native Mac and PC versions are available. Up to two players can duke it out footy style at the same machine with a variety of control options. My favorite was to use the Legacy Engineering Atari Retro 2600 stick.

Buy it online now.

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17Apr/100

Ace The Super Villain's Alloy Tengu 2 DX Featured on the Yo Yo Games Site

Ace The Super Villain's Alloy Tengu 2 DX Featured on the Yo Yo Games Site

No, it's not a Flash game, and it isn't even playable in a web browser (yet), but The Yo Yo Games site (the makers of Game Maker Software) have featured the fun cool,  scrolling blaster by 8bitrocket friend in crime, Ace The Super Villain:

alloytengu.jpg

The game is a fun mix of 16-bit action and sampled music that reminds me of so many ST and Amiga gems.

You need to download the game to play it. It only works in Windows, but I have it playing nicely in Parallels on my iMac. It is a good example of the power of  the Game Maker software.

I plan to port a few games over to GM for fun and to test out the power of the software when I get a chance.

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16Jan/100

Today Only: 100% Of Your Purchase At Popcap.com Goes To Haiti Relief

Today only, you can load-up on PopCap.com games (some of the best games ever made) and every penny you spend will go to the Haiti relief effort.

popcaprelief.gif

If you have been waiting around to buy such games as Zuma, Book Worm Adventures, Heavy Weapon, Feeding Frenzy, Peggle or Bejewelled, today is the day to do it.

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14Jan/100

I Play/Read All This Stuff At Once???

I noticed yesterday that I have too many games being played and books being read at exactly the same time.  All of these games/books are being played/read at different times, when I'm doing different things.

-Mac: M.U.L.E. (new version)
-PC (Mac Bootcamp): Dragon Age Origins
-PC Laptop:  (no game) making a video with Sony Vegas
-Wii (virtual console): Excite Bike World Tour
-Wii: (console): NBA Live 2008 (to show my daughter the rules of Basketball)
-XBox Live Arcade: Peggle
-XBox Classics (download): Fable
-Xbox 360 (in the drive) : Namco Live Aracde
-DS: (in my bedroom): Bookworm DS
-PS2: Gottlieb Pinball Collection
-Cell Phone: Bejewelled
-Book (downstairs): The Bloom County Library Vol 1.
-Book: (downstairs): Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games by Matt Barton
-Book: (upstairs): Rapture For The Geeks  by Richard Dooling

What are you playing and reading at the same time right now?

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31May/090

Press Space To Win Is Pretty Awesome

Press Space To Win is pretty awesome

I was trolling message boards and portals this morning because of my inherent need to procrastinate rather than work on the three games I have going at once. On the Mochi boards I found a link to a  YouTube video of this game and decided to check it out on New Grounds.

Press Space To Win is a tongue in cheek retro flash "game" where the objective is to finish the adventure and save the Kingdom from Peril. The 8-bit visuals are well done and the music is incredible throughout the game (Midi and Samples, not chip tunes).

pstw.jpg

Most of the game is played by simply hitting the Space Bar. At its core is a nicely put together Flash animation that makes fun of both the current trend of "dumbifying" Flash games down to a single button press, and the ludicrous nature of most RPG quest games. But thrown into the mix, there are several Dragon's Lair type sequences where you must press the space bar at the right time to move on. 

Honestly though, I can't tell if any of these interactions actually do much in the game, but it was interesting to see where the author wanted to take the player. It certainly is worth a look at least for the creativity, patience and attention to detail that Rhete (New Grounds user) put in.  Game play-wise it is lacking, but that's the point, isn't it? Nice work!

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12Jan/090

Awesome Retro Flash Game, Jump!

I was just trolling around the various portals this morning and I came across an absolutely fantastic retro Flash game called Jump. I have looked around and I can't actually find the real authors name, so I cannot give true credit where it is due. On the game it says 7 Seas Technologies (with no real link) and it is also sponsored by Onlinerealgames and NeoDelight.

In any case, what makes it so awesome is the simplicity coupled with an outright slam dunk, home run, free kick to the corner netting understanding of what made early 8-bit games so great - Playability over visuals. Although this game has visuals in spades, they very simple but pleasing and effective.

I would be adding this to our arcade, but I can't find an author to ask or any share and embed information. Check it out for yourself and see what I mean.  This is EXACTLY the type of games that we plan to build this year.

jump.jpg

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22Dec/080

New Star Soccer 4 Chronicles #3

New Star Soccer 4 Chronicles #3

Note: New Star Soccer 4
is a great combination of sports simulation and role-playing game. I have some
time off from my day job, so instead of actually working on any of my own games,
I am feeding my addiction to Simon Read's indie game masterpiec
e.

When we last checked in on 8bitjeff, he was mired in the lower divisions of
Spanish football, squeaking out playing some off the bench for Codiz CF. He soon
tired of playing on 5-10 minutes at the end of matches and asked for a transfer.
He took a pay cut and a prestige hit to go back to National Conference English
football (basically 4th or 5th  division).

overview
(Overview stats screen)

8bitjeff played 130 matches for Hoston of the Northern Conference where he
supplied them with 42 goals, 3 assists and 2 hat tricks over 4 seasons. He
worked hard, saw his skills improve, but didn't see any offers from bigger clubs
who were willing to invest money in a young, brash American with no caps, no
girl friend and only a trailer filled with gym equipment to his name.

A break came when Yurk City, of the National Conference (division 3), needed a
striker on loan. 8bitjeff was all to happy to oblige as he had fallen out of
favor with the Hoston skipper and was riding the pine for almost an entire
season. His 10 game stint with Yurk did not amount to much more than single
goal, but he caught the eye of Second Division bottom feeders, Denegham and was
offered an immediate pay upgrade and contract to play higher division ball.

8bitjeff spent the summer working on his his physical skills and shooting. He
was disappointed to find that his the Yurk club had no plans to play him at
striker but decided to employ his impressive physical traits as a late game
stopper in defensive midfield and center back. During the depressing Fall in
rain drenched Denegham, 8bitjeff was able to manage to a single goal, and
convince his manager to put him on the blocks for a transfer. Turquay United was
in the hunt for a hit man and all of the extra training 8bitjeff had be able to put in 
while awaiting playing time with Yurk was put to good use in the January to
April Turquay campaign. Turquay began January in 18th place, but with 8bitjeff
becoming a fierce force in the box (to the tune of 20 goals in 18 matches), they
were able to raise all the way to 8th place. Still not enough to advance to the
next division, but a marked improvement nonetheless.

training
(training stats screen)

The summer came and 8bitjeff waited patiently for an offer from a Championship
or Premier league club, but none came. His scoring prowess did not go unnoticed
though, as he was offered $2 Million + Boot contract and and $1.5 Million
Clothing contract. With new found money and confidence through the roof,
8bitjeff found himself a pretty little English girl (to spend his money on) and
resigned to helping Turquay into a promotion spot rather than wait for a big
offer from a rich club.

It is now 6 matches into the 2013 campaign and 8bitjeff is doing well, but not
as well as he would like. He has 4 goals and 2 assists so far. Turquay is in the
6th position in the table (13 points), chasing Mk Duns in 1st with 16 points.
Even though he is scoring goals and making assists, his team mates are not fond
of 8bitjeff. He has been having trouble getting them to pass to him when he is
open, so in turn, he takes the ball up himself and fires a lot of wild shots at
the target. 8bitjeff will need to work on his team relations or he will have no
chance to helping the team to promotion but will have to wait for January
transfer offers instead.

relationships
(relationship screen)

Money-wise, 8bitjeff has a lot of cash in the bank, but has not purchased
anything more permanent than a Beach house in hope that he will move to a new
club soon. He is keeping his fingers crossed that he will have a London address
soon. He will continue  working hard on his game, and on making personal
friendships with his team mates in an attempt to smooth put out tensions with
them.

money
(money screen)

8bitjeff is still waiting for a call-up to play for the the USA Nats, but
will probably not get any looks until he can make it to a much bigger club.

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