Agents of SHIELDcast

Monochroma Review [PC]

Kickstarter is certainly becoming a hotbed for video game developers to bring their gaming visions to life without the yoke of a big publisher interfering. One of the latest video games to get fully funded and developed is Monochroma. It was developed by Nowhere Studios, a small studio in Istanbul, Turkey,who wants to take the spirit and fun of classic video games and create next-gen games for all types of systems. Monochroma is their first game towards that goal.

Monochroma tells a bittersweet tale of two brothers. Set in alternative dystopian 1950 it starts with the boys near their ramshackle home doing typical young boy things; climbing, jumping, swinging, and flying a kite. While the youngest brother is flying the kite a strong breeze comes up and takes the kite away from him. The boys chase the kite to a railway barn where it gets caught on the roof. They climb up onto the roof and just as they get close to it the roof caves in. The older brother comes through fine, but his younger brother injures his leg in the fall. With a little determination the big brother carries his little brother out of the railway barn into the connected robot factory only to learn it holds a dark secret. Their journey now becomes one of, not only looking for help, but survival.

It's a well told story especially given the fact that there is no dialog. The animation and "acting" of its characters are combined with a well-crafted soundtrack to convey all the story and emotion. The soundtrack was created by Gevende, a Turkish psychedelic rock band. Gevende manage to capture wonder, adventure, and yet a slight sad dystopian feel that gives Monochroma an emotional boost.

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The animation art is made up of stark grayscale that outlines positive and negative space, highlighted only by the splashes of red that point out items of importance. It's hauntingly beautiful. Little details certainly speak well. For example, the first time you try to set your brother down in the game in a place that's not brightly lit. The way he shakes his head and sort of hides his face at the same time perfectly conveys that childhood fear of the dark.

While the art and music of Monochroma present so much, it's a disappointment that the controls are not up quite up to snuff. For a 2D puzzle platforming game they are loose enough that you will experience more than a few untimely deaths. Part of the core controls is the fact that your movement speed and jumping height are affected by whether or not you are carrying your brother. You can move faster and jump higher without him, but you cannot go very far without him either. The game doesn't always seem to realize you are not carrying him. This issue comes into focus mostly while jumping. In later sections of the game this really matters because you are racing against a clock.The controls aren't completely horrible and if you remember to take the looseness into account, they are playable.

The only other problem I had with Monochroma has more to do with my own muscle memory than any problem with the game. Jump is the up arrow or "W" if you use "WASD" controls and the Space Bar is used to pick up and put down your brother. Years of playing other PC games that use the Space Bar as jump has led to a few “oops” moments. Again this really isn’t a problem with game; it's more a problem if you're so ingrained in one way of playing.

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Overall Monochroma is a very good story. The game rises above its problems and tells the sweet and sad tale of childhood, growing up, and family bonds. It stands out as one of the better Kickstarter games and Nowhere Studios should be very proud of it. I would like to see what they do next; in the meantime though I have some hidden flowers to find in Monochroma so I can finish an achievement.

  • Published in PC

Review - Divinity: Original Sin [PC]

Growing up, I always felt western role-playing games on the PC were underrated. Maybe it's due to the fact that I was only two years old when Wasteland was released. Ten years later when I was enthusing about Baldur's Gate, most of my twelve-year-old buddies were busy anticipating the release of the next Final Fantasy game on console. I mean, yes, I love Japanese RPGs as much as the next gamer, but the communities for the computer games I grew up loving always seemed scarce or closed in by comparison.

Fast-forward to the current era of gaming where we have the introduction of Steam and crowd-funding websites, and a different picture is emerging. In an arena where consumers can have direct involvement and influence on the types of games they want to play, there has been a reemergence of these very games. And while the Divinity series of games may not span as far back as some others, they certainly have harkened to this earlier era of RPGs in their latest release Divinity: Original Sin.

The game was completed and enhanced through Kickstarter funding. Different aspects of gameplay were unlocked as levels of the funding were reached, and thanks to all of those who contributed, the game is intricate and vast. The self-published title from Larian Studios also runs on their own engine, complete with a tool kit for designing customized levels. While the game is available on Mac and coming soon for Linux, mods for the PC version are available and can be published through the Steam Workshop.

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The first thing you'll want to do with the game is decide whether to play the campaign in single-player or drop in multi-player mode. Both modes require you to create two characters. You will choose the name, sex, appearance, portrait photo, and class for each character. Advanced players can mostly disregard the pre-built classes, as the Divinity gameplay allows fluid and complex class building. Don't feel like you must limit yourself to be strictly caster, ranged, or melee. Various items found in the game, along with perks, traits, and skills, allow you to reach outside of basic class structures. Customization is more involved than the RPGs the game emulates, but it's still more simplistic than a lot of modern RPGs. The game offers a variety of skin tones and hair styles, but sadly falls short in offering any variation in body type. Once you have your character looking stunning, it's time to give them a voice (three options per gender) and most interestingly, an AI personality. AI personalities, such as Loyal, Knight, or Rascal, are more than just clever fun for dialogue- they offer unique insight and development for your playable characters.

You start the game with only two characters, but you can add certain people you encounter to your party. You have the ability to change their gear and assign skill points, as well as control them in battle. However, they are still separate from your main characters, as you cannot speak for them. If you choose to play multi-player, LAN or internet connection are available for drop in/drop out gameplay. The person hosting the game can assign characters to those who join and also determine whether they can change certain aspects such as gear or skill points. I absolutely loved the simplicity of playing in multi-player. However, it would be great to have the option of more than two original characters for a team. Events in the game don't just happen to your characters, your characters also take time to reflect upon events and even their own actions. This is where the exciting addition of the AI personality really shines, allowing the player to create exchanges between their characters. The options chosen in many dialogue exchanges not only shape the character in the player's mind, but they also contribute to certain traits gained through gameplay. For example, if a player chooses kind options, they can receive the Compassionate trait, which gives them a bonus to critical hits. If a player chooses to be cruel, they can receive the Heartless trait, which increases their chances to hit while backstabbing.

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Another unique aspect of the game is the bartering system. The game still offers vendors for particular items, but player purchases are not limited among them. Every person in the game offers not only a chance for better information and possible quests, but a selection of items they are also willing to trade. This is one of the ways that the game really emphasizes thorough exploration. And if talking to every person in the game isn't enough, there is also the option to take on the Pet Pal perk, which allows your character to speak with the various critters found throughout the game. Aside from humorous banter and the realization that the animals are more pleasant company than most of the humans, this perk can also help provide solid clues to solving quests and puzzles.

Talking to every creature great and small isn't the only thing that will take some time. Turn-based battles set the pace at self-determined and much slower than an action RPG, especially if you're playing multi-player. This, along with the ability to see rolls for each action, really give the game an old school tabletop feel. The battle system is quite easy to learn, which allows the player to focus on customization and tactics. With every move and attack costing action points, it's important for players to understand what each spell and skill can do. It's also vital to pay attention to the hit percentage that will pop up, along with the area of damage, since friendly fire is very possible and likely with certain magical and elemental attacks. The battle system here allows the player's inner strategist to really shine as they discover attack and elemental combinations. There are many barrels filled with water, oil, etc, but spell casters can also create elemental changes, such as rain. Use these abilities together to create poision gas clouds or electrically charged steam. The creative battle techniques are really what set this RPG apart not only from action RPGs, but also from other turn-based RPGs that place far less emphasis on atmosphere and status effect combinations.

The basic gameplay is straight-forward and great fun to explore, and once you've felt your way around most of the game (which will take many hours depending on how thorough you are) you might get the itch to take your creativity to the next level. Divinity: Original Sin does a fantastic job of merging the organic feel of tabletop with the best offerings of contemporary gaming technology. The next step in staying true to these roots is to allow players the ability to build levels within the game's engine. The engine is solid and provides for smooth gameplay even on less advanced set-ups, though my one small complaint is load times, which of course vary by computer. The Divinity Engine Toolkit is far more advanced than many level editors in other games of its ilk. As a player who loved to create levels in games like the original Warcraft games and Lode Runner, I had all the creative will, but very little of the modding and world editing advanced knowledge. Larian has provided many videos to help those who are newer to level editing on this scale. The step by step guidance was extremely helpful for me, and while building levels this way is definitely more complex and time consuming than in other games, it also creates a more detailed and personalized product.

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Divinity: Original Sin is a sampling of some of the best offerings from both old and new schools. A fitting homage to the games I grew up playing, it also establishes an identity of its own and can be grouped in among the best of the genre. It's a fine example of what can be achieved when a good balance between a development/publishing team and players is created. Between all of the creative ways to construct in the game and the sprawling world to explore, the game brings apt innovation to an already solid genre.

SCORE: 9/10

  • Published in PC

Video Games: How Shenmue 3 Was Guaranteed to be Funded

 SMH - Shaking my head about the "third" party funding of the Shenmue 3 kickstarter which successfully ended on July 17, 2015.  If you haven't heard, Sony is the "third" party.  Yes -- I get that Shenmue 3 was a long awaited video game, and yes, I understand  the ultimate goal is to get full funding of a video game to make sure  the video game actually comes to fruition.  What I do not get is a video game that garnered over $6 million dollars while at the same time having the financial backing of a major company like Sony.  

Call me naive, but I thought the purpose of a kickstarter was to be the primary funding vehicle to ensure there is enough money to follow through on making a video game or whatever project the funding was being asked for.  I was unaware, until I did some research, that Shenmue 3 was guaranteed to be made regardless -- mainly because of the backing of a giant software/hardware company like Sony.  It's news to me that a kickstarter can be used to subsidize the funds a company already has earmarked for the game.  Since that company is Sony, I'm sure the amount funded for Shenmue 3 is in the millions.

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Let's talk numbers.  The requested amount for the Shemue 3 kickstarter was $2 million.   The kickstarter's goal was reached when over $6 million was raised at its conclusion. It was indicated the game would be produced if only $2 million was raised;  however, if $10 million dollars were raised, there would be more of an "open world" for the Shenmue 3 video game. It's my understanding some gamers and backers of the kickstarter wanted to know more specifics about what the funds would be used for; however, this information was not provided. This nondisclosure did not seem to negatively impact the funds raised for Shenmue 3 during the kickstarter.  In fact, Shenmue 3 broke records by being the first video game to raise the largest amount of money within 8 1/2 hours of the kickstarter being announced.

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So just what was Sony's part in the funding, other than guaranteeing the game would be produced?  Well, when the Shenmue 3 video game is completed, it will be playable on its gaming system -- the PlayStation 4 as well as the PC. Sony is also the publisher of the video game.  Given its deep pockets, Sony has stated that additional funds will be provided to market the video game for its PlayStation 4 video game system.

Even though it was not specifically stated in the kickstarter that Sony is involved in the funding, the partnership of Ys Net  (developer) and Sony was mentioned during an interview with Sony's Adam Boyles.  It was also inferred the kickstarter was used as a means to guage the level or range of interest for a Shenmule 3 video game to be produced.

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A question that begs to be asked and answered is how much money did Sony provide to ensure Shenmue 3 was made.  For now, mum's the word since, to date, Sony has not divulged the amount.  I'm sure this amount is and will be sizeable.

My thoughts are with all of the other hardworking developers who may have dreamed of having a kickstarter, or who may have even had one; however,  were not given the extra boost of being backed and funded from a multi-billion dollar  company like Sony.  My advice to these developers is that even if a strong backing from a large  company for your video game is not forthcoming, continue making exciting games that  will be of interest to gamers on a large scale.   In other words, build a better mousetrap, I mean -- build a better video game, and the gamers will fund your project, maybe even to  level of success  experienced by the developers of the Shenmue 3 video game.

Shenmue 3 is scheduled to be released December 2017.

Mom's Minute Interviews Pinball Arcade's Bobby King on 9/22

Monday 9/22, Bobby King from Farsight Studios will join Ms. H on Mom’s Minute at 4pm PST/7pm EST for an indepth talk about Pinball Arcade and the new Kickstarter to bring the legendary pinball table, The Addams Family to life. For years Pinball Arcade has been dedicated to bringing the most realistic simulations of classic pinball tables to as many platforms as possible. Now they’ve set their sights on one of the most coveted tables of all time and are crowd funding the licenses needed to make it happen.

Ms. H will get all the details about the project from Mr. King and also find out what’s in the future for Pinball Arcade. And you can get your questions answered, too. You can interact with the live show by hopping into the chat room during the interview at allgames.com/live and submitting your question. If you can’t be here live on Monday 9/22 at 4pm PST/7pm EST, then you can still ask your questions for Bobby King right here by using the comment section below.

Fire with Fire Interview : R9Cast

firewithfire

 

R9Cast sits down with Theory Georgiou, creator of the online tower attack and defence game, Fire with Fire. He discusses the kickstarter project that he's using to fund development and what makes Fire with Fire the last tower defense game you'll ever need. 

Listen as Esgee and Brigitte dive deep into the mind of a game developer and find out how he copes with the pitfalls and freedoms that come with being an independent game developer.

 


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