Kurt’s E3 2017 Highlights

Original article courtesy of WarpZoned.

Detroit: Become Human
I remember the first time I spent an entire night playing Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy from start to finish in a single sitting. It was unlike any game experience I had had up to that point. I became invested in whatever video game developer David Cage and his studio, Quantic Dream, would put out.

Detroit: Become Human is the next installment in his signature “interactive drama” genre, and this time, with a bigger more ambitious sci-fi take than previous games. I admit that I’m not enthralled with its setting, nor the main characters based off what I’ve seen. But Cage is only one of few who delivers a truly cinematic feeling and pacing to games that I cherish dearly, an approach I love to see done in an interactive medium like games. I miss the David Fincher-esque noir/thriller style of Heavy Rain, and though Beyond: Two Souls went off the rails at times, I can’t deny that I played it more that once. I respect Cage and will play just about anything he puts his name on.

Super Mario Odyssey
“And the weirdest looking game award goes to…”

No, but really, talk about Nintendo doing whatever the hell they want. Mario can possess any object he wants with his hat? Humanoids in a Mario game? Realistic dinosaurs? I’m curious to know what ideas from the brainstorming sessions for the game won’t make it into the final product. For the first time in a while, it seems that Nintendo is listening to its fans after all. It’s been seven years since we’ve seen a full blown 3D Mario game and I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all been hungry for one. But this is also the first time in while that it appears they’re using the franchise to really push the boundary beyond previous installments, while still maintaining all the things that make it a Mario game. If Nintendo manages to do with Super Mario Odyssey with what it did for Breath of the Wild, 2017 could be shaping up to be one of my favorite years in gaming since 1998. Waiting till October for its release will be torturous, but from the looks of it, hopefully very well worth it.

-Kurt Indovina
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Comic Review: Mother Panic #7

Mother Panic #7

With the “Broken Things” arc finally at an end, there’s a welcome return to an aesthetic more comparable to Mother Panic’s first three issues. Issue #7 introduces a new, bizarre—which at this point is to be expected—villain in town, dressed in a literal Gotham City Coroner body bag, armed with two guns. The issue opens with the two parents being shot down in front of their young daughter—a seemingly common act of violence in Gotham City. But in this case, the shooting wasn’t a senseless robbery, but a planned attack by the new bag-wearing villain.

Connecting back to the first three issues, the little girl seems to be one of the children being held captive that Mother Panic saved, making the murder of her parents seem more deliberate.

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Though Tommy Lee Edwards’ work is still missed (although he is scheduled to return to the series to illustrate and write), I’m very happy to see the absence of artist Shawn Crystal—a style that was horribly unfitting and detached when standing next to the stark boldness of Edwards. For this issue, John Paul Leon helms the art, and though it features a very similar style to Edwards, Leon’s style remains distinguishable on its own merits. The story Mother Panic tells feels more suited with darker and serious art style— something that Crystal could not translate. Colorist Dave Stewart also does a good job of matching the tone and palette that Edwards made so distinctive in the first three issues.

Houser calmly paces the story forward while still revealing snippets of the past, and how Violet Paige came to be Mother Panic. Most importantly, this issue sheds some much needed light on her mysterious super strength; a super strength that is something more than human, but part cyborg. Houser also makes it clear that Panic isn’t necessarily seen as a hero in her own eyes, or by those who help her. But still, her intentions as a crime fighter are vague, not-to-mention why she’s on the streets fighting in the first place. It seems to be spiraling back to the need to protect children, but it’s too early to tell.

There’s still plenty of questions unanswered concerning Panic’s team and why they’re helping her, as well as her mother’s strange ability to apparently communicate with rats. Nonetheless, this is a welcoming start to a new arc, and sets the series into a new gear as we continue to learn more about Panic’s past, and a mysteriously strange and dark new villain on the streets.

Comic Review: Black Hammer #9

Black Hammer #9

Following the emotional masterpiece of issue #8, Black Hammer #9 takes a turn for the weird, focusing on the origins of Talky-Walky and her relationship with Colonel Weird. This issue reveals the least in terms of the overarching mystery that shrouds over the has-been heroes and why they’re trapped in the town of Rockwood, but hints that Colonel Weird knows more than he lets on, and by knowing too much, may be paying the ultimate price.

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It goes without saying that Lemire, as always, is at the top of his game in #9. Continuing to balance the quirkiness of Golden Age style writing, with his emotionally weighted signature touch. This month, Dean Ormston is replaced with David Rubin. David Rubin’s signature art style doesn’t match the emotional impact and pacing of Dean Ormston’s work, but is still a welcoming fit for Colonel Weird’s sci-fi pulp-esque tale. Rubin’s cartoonish worlds and creature sensibilities is a good fit for encompassing the other worldly dimensions Weird explores. And like his art, Rubin’s bubbles and lettering has just as much character and personality as the world and characters he illustrates. It’s a bit much at times and a little too cartoony for my tastes, but again, it compliments the off-kilter aesthetic of Colonel Weird’s character as a whole.

Though Ormston’s presence was missed in this issue, Rubin’s work didn’t take me out of the Black Hammer world; it was a change that made sense.

Black Hammer #9 didn’t quite have the emotional punch that #8 had for me, and I think most of that is owed to Talky-Walky not being a prominent character in this series as much as others. In fact, if I remember correctly, Talky-Walky went a few issues without an appearance. “The Ballad of Talky-Walky” left much more to be desired from the character; this issue gave only the smallest glimpse into Walky in terms of where she came from, but she still remains the most underdeveloped of the crew. Despite that, this issue continued to pull me in, especially with the mystery that surrounds Colonel Weird’s intergalactic abilities to slip in and out of the “para-zone,” where past and future live side by side, revealing that he, more than anyone, knows the most of what’s going on, and knows what may eventually happen to them all.

Black Hammer continues to be the comic I look forward to the most every month. It’s been a slow burn in terms of moving the overarching story along, but that seems to be a second agenda next to fleshing out the emotional worlds of each and every character. If Lemire is a master at anything (which is arguably a lot) it’s his ability to write characters. His ability to give realistic emotional weight to anything is simply unmatched in comics today. To me, this series is a masterclass in character development.

It’s 2017 and Adventure Games Are Mainstream Again [WarpZoned Article]

TL;DR: I was given the opportunity to write an opinion piece on why I think Adventure Games will be mainstream again in 2017 for WarpZoned. Here it is.

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a while now, I’ve just been waiting for the right time. For the past year, I’ve been convinced that the adventure game genre is on the upturn for becoming mainstream again. And I believe most of that is owed to its influence on popular games of recent (Kentucky Route Zero, Night in the Woods, Firewatch). Whether or not the genre ever actually went away is up for debate.  I don’t really think it did, but I think the expectations of game sales became disproportionate as consoles grew in popularity, making adventure games seen as commercial failures in comparison of other huge AAA games sales. Adventure games, after all, were primarily only experienced on PC’s, which really narrowed the market for them.

With the recent release of Thimbleweed Park, Full Throttle Remaster, and titles by not-as-established-developers such as the Paradigm, The Journey Down, and a slew of others, I saw now as a pivotal moment to finally tackle this story. I really believe that 2017 will be the year for adventure games to “come back.”

Serendipitous enough, as I began drafting up the story a month back, John Scalzo of  WarpZoned reached out and asked if I wanted to contribute to their site. WarpZoned is a site that looks at how games of the past reflect forward on the games of the present, making the site a perfect fit for what what I was trying to convey in this article.

Further proving my point, days before my story went up, IGN posted an article on the 29 essential, must-play, adventure gamesIt’s really good, and I’m envious I didn’t do it first.

Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Here’s the article: “It’s 2017 and Adventure Games Are Mainstream Again.”

A massive shout out to John Scalzo for giving me the chance to write this, and also, for being a really cohesive, somewhat hands-off, editor.

What do you think?  Are adventure games finally becoming a norm again? Do you even know what I’m talking about? Let me know in the comments.

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You’re friend,
Kurt

Buffalo Game Space 2017 Showcase Round-up: Bound for growth

Days leading up to the Buffalo Game Space Showcase, my initial plans were to go there, play all the games available, and do a mini-write up on each one. Upon arriving and entering the space, located in the Tri-Main Center off of Main St. in Buffalo, NY, I was immediately overwhelmed with just how many games were crammed into the 3,000 sq. foot space. A space that will most likely have to grow next year in order to accommodate not only the games being showcased, but its attendance.

A few years back, when I was working for Indie Game Magazine, a press release had come through for a Kickstarter launching the Buffalo Game Space. Having roots in Buffalo, I immediately advocated for the story to be covered, but also, I was excited at the very idea of a gaming co-work space. Admittedly, at first, I was quite envious of Buffalo—being that I am now a Rochesterian, and regardless of what we all think, there’s always going to be a little rivalry between the sister cities. I was excited that somewhere in upstate New York, a group of people were beginning to plant the foundation for the game industry’s growth, but also, a little jealous Rochester didn’t get there first. But that’s okay; we’re all in this together.

Petty jealousy aside, I now realize that the Buffalo Game Space is the beginning of something huge, and not just for Buffalo, but for all of upstate New York. The showcase featured games being developed from both Buffalo and Rochester, from students and indies.

Out of the 25 games being showcased, no two were the same. Whether or not that was a conscious choice by BGS to curate the show that way, I don’t know, but regardless, it kept the experience of every game fresh. Also, I owe this event the opportunity for me to experience virtual reality for the first time; an experience I was glad to have had in an intimate environment where I could talk to the developer directly. That communication looked something like this:

Since I unfortunately wasn’t able to take the time to write about all the games displayed, I instead chose to write about a few that stuck out most prominently.

Shotgun Farmers (3rd place winner in the NYS Game Dev Challenge), by one-man developer Waseque Qazi, is a competitive multiplayer FPS where players mow each other down with weapons made of vegetables, which use vegetable seeds as ammunition. When shots are missed, the seeds grow into new guns. Once you’re out of ammo, the player must harvest the crops for other weapons. Its visuals are simple—a color pallette and cartoony style reminiscent of Team Fortress 2—making it distinct and immediately identifiable. Qazi aims to have the game out sometime late-summer.

sniper

Whisper of a Lullaby, by Children Among Giants (a studio formed mostly of Rochester Institute of Technology students), poises on the outer layer as a cute platformer starring a sheep in a world made out of candy, cookies, and other sweets. But under the surface tells a serious and dark story of a young boy wandering the dreams of other children, who must use the powers gained from their dreams in order to overcome his own nightmares. It was the game’s juxtaposition of adorable aesthetic, mixed with an underlying serious tone that really drew me to this title.

Other games off hand that displayed promise were Space Pew Pew, Fist’s Elimination Tower, Hovership Havoc, and more. Unfortunately, there’s a lot games not mentioned here, and I apologize for that. A trailer for most of the games can be viewed below.

Come next year, I’d like to be more prepared for this event— heavily armed in hopes to write as much as I can and possibly do some video work as well. But I also predict that it’ll be even more unmanageable to tackle such an ambitious feat, assuming that the volume of games displayed will increase.

I asked Chris Langford, Vice President on the Board of Directors at BGS, via email if he foresees having to expand the space or move the event for future showcases. Chris expressed an interest in continuing to stay in the Tri-Main Center, but with hopes to expand the event into the hall ways, possibly into the lobby of the building. He was adamant that attendees were invited to see the physical location of BGS, so they can also see where other events are hosted, and get a visual sense of the coworking community.

The range of talent, style, and dedication displayed in that room was inspiring, and left me wanting more. I left wanting more events for local indies to showcase their work; more spaces for creatives to work and collaborate together. The Buffalo Game Space is living and breathing proof of the overwhelmingly fast growing community of developers in NYS. At first I was envious, now, I’m convinced every city needs a space like the Buffalo Game Space.

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– KURT

Rochester, NY continues to cultivate a video game industry all its own.

Three years ago when I first heard that The Strong Museum of Play (located right here in Rochester, NY) initiated the only Video Game Hall of Fame in the United States, my Roc pride was met with triumphant fists to the sky, followed with a “fuck yeah! I love my garbage plate city!”

Seeing The Strong make headlines on major game publications such as Polygon for the game museum, or Game Informer write about the launch of a “Women in Games Initiative” always comes off a bit surreal. But why is it surreal, when it now seems to be a reoccurring theme for Rochester to be making headlines in the game industry? It’s because, at the end of the day, this city is still small. Hang out at enough coffee shops, and get your groceries at Wegmans, in a week’s time,  you’ll practically be the mayor of Rochester. So seeing this small time town make headlines on huge game news outlets gets me giddy.  It’s a different feeling from living in Seattle–a city recently built on the foundation of the gaming industry–where headlines about Nintendo and Microsoft and Valve are to be expected.

That all said: today I was able to attend an event here in Rochester, that journalists at major publications, couldn’t attend so easily. Being a Rochesterian, and a game journalist, I was able to mosey just a few blocks from the CITY Newspaper offices (where I work) to The Strong National Museum of Play, and witness the unveiling of 2017’s Video Game Hall of Fame inductees in person, when otherwise, others watched from a live-stream. It felt good.

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Best part of today was that I finally got the chance to write for my local publication about video games–an opportunity I’ve been patiently waiting for. So a big thank you to CITY Newspaper for allowing me to do that.

Whether or not they intentionally chose May 4 — arguably geek culture’s most favorite day of the year — is up for debate, but The Strong National Museum of Play today presented the 2017 inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Based on a committee formed of international journalists, game developers, and educators, this year’s inductees include “Donkey Kong,” “Street Fight II,” Pokémon “Red” and “Green,” and “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

Please be sure to read the full CITY Newspaper piece here.

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Opinion: Thimbleweed Park relies too heavily on nostalgia

[This is a spoiler free article on Thimbleweed Park. This is not a review.]

Upon its Kickstarter announcement, Thimbleweed Park is a game that I’ve been looking forward to since late 2014. At its heart, it’s a nostalgia project. Like so many other Kickstarters for point-and-click adventure games, it used the nostalgia of the genre’s heyday to sell itself: a self-proclaimed “LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before.” But what separates this adventure game Kickstarter from all the others are its developers: Ron Gilbert—arguably the godfather of the graphic point-and-click adventure game—and Gary Winnick. The duo that brought us the 1987 classic Maniac Mansion.

To say it simply, adventure games are my favorite genre, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit just how excited I was to get this game. But after putting 6.5 hours into Thimbleweed Park, I’m left with a conflicting judgment: Where should the line be drawn between trying to develop a good game, and simultaneously make something that embraces the nostalgic roots that influenced a game’s existence in the first place? Even more importantly, where do I stand with judging the developers who’ve practically created the genre?

Within moments of starting the game, you are immediately reminded that you’re playing a pixelated point-and-click adventure game. Ron Gilbert wastes no time breaking the fourth wall, and has his characters cracking jokes about the tropes of classic adventure games. At first, this got a chuckle out of me. But it didn’t take long until I realized this would be a common theme in most of the conversations I would have in the game. So much to the point that I was being taken out of the experience, and felt completely removed from the narrative of the story: solving a murder in the small town of Thimbleweed Park.

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Being taken out of the game is a frustrating contradiction to what has made this genre so important to me. I love adventure games for their immersion. Because they’re a “play-at-your-own-pace” style of gaming, and rely almost solely on story and atmosphere to drive the player forward, it forces the player to step into the world, rather than speed through it. It influences the player to relax when other games heighten them. I’ve always preferred adventure games over other genres for this reason.

Gilbert’s constant wink at the players almost feels like he has to remind you that he was one of the creators of the genre. Like he’s giving you a proud shoulder nudge, met with an exaggerated smirk, and saying “yeah, that was me. I created that.”  It feels like he’s trying to prove his worth to the audience, as if they forgot about him, which clearly isn’t the case, given that the Kickstarter’s success could be directly owed to his name being attached to it.

It’s strange—the constant reminder of the basic mechanics of the genre feels like it could be intended to tell a new audience the rules of the genre, like saying “this game was expertly designed to have no dead-ends or deaths.” It’s something longtime fans already know, but it equally feels like it could be patronizing to a new audience of the genre. It doesn’t allow them to figure out how the game works on their own. Whether or not that was the developer’s intention? I don’t know. I’m speaking not only as a player, but also a long-time fan of the genre, and I’m annoyed on both ends. It alienates newcomers.

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Give yourself a nice pat on the back, Gilbert.

Contrary to what I’ve said, I’m enjoying the game quite a bit. Actually, it’s really good. Its pacing is like none other I’ve played in its genre. It moves fast, while still giving the player time to experience their environment and discover at their own pace. Its soundtrack sets the mood immediately; the settings are wonderfully varied and well crafted; and the characters are unforgettable. And as the game progresses, the references become much less frequent.

But despite all that I like about it, the experience has left me asking: how much nostalgia is too much? Where is that line drawn between trying to please fans, and making a good game? In this case, Thimbleweed Park is good, but I can’t help wonder if I’d be enjoying it more if it just took a step back from itself.

I also think it’s safe to assume Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick made this purely to satisfy their own need to make a game in the genre that they helped create. And with that respect, I totally get it: artists and creators should make what they want to play. At the end of the day, Gilbert is the artist, and artists can do whatever the they damn want. He did, after all, create the engine Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM) that all Lucasarts point-and-click games were made with in the 90’s. So more power to him.

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Get it?

Thimbleweed Park does, however, represent some of its nostalgic references right. X-Files and Twin Peaks are deliberate influences, but take a back seat in developing mood, atmosphere, and story, opposed to telling the player that they were influences within the game. Also, there’s good references to past adventure games, specifically when a character refers to his cousin Bernard (a lead character in both previous Gilbert projects Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle) is a quick nod to previous installments in Gilbert’s works, but done right.

Gilbert and Winnick set out to make a game that would reward longtime fans, and by doing so, risked alienating a new audience. And whether or not that was their intention, or should have even taken that risk, is debatable. I just didn’t expect that I would be one of those feeling alienated.

I also have to admit that I have an ongoing dilemma with nostalgia, and our reliance on it to make something interesting, like we’re not capable of accepting new ideas unless it refers to something we already know and love. Someday down the road if I have the time, I’d like to elaborate more on our obsession with nostalgia.

So how about you? Do you utterly disagree with me and love a good fan pleaser? Or is there another game of recent times that has made you feel same way?

A list of adventure games of recent years that I love:
The Dream Machine
The Journey Down
Kentucky Route Zero
Machinarium

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-Kurt