Going Digital: The lament of a comic collector

I’m quitting comics. Physically at least. Or, well, I’m attempting to.

I’ve had a tough time letting go of reading comics physically. No tablet, phone, or computer screen has come close to replicating what it actually feels like to flip through the pages of a comic. To look at the panel layout; the color and the line work up close; and then organize it with all its corresponding issues. It’s a ritual.

It was different letting go of the physicality of video games, though that wasn’t easy either. After getting one too many plastic cases that had nothing but a disc inside, the idea of of buying games digitally got easier and easier. Yes, I can’t trade them in, but buying digitally makes me think twice about the game I’m buying.

I’m still coming to terms with owning most of my entertainment digitally, but the decision to transition boils down to one thing: space. My girlfriend Juliana and I use to move often, sometimes once a year (once even to another coast of the US and then back again). With every move we are faced with the either taking all our books, records, and games with us, or leaving them behind. In most cases, we go through a purge. Every move we narrow our collection down more and more. The collection that gets it the most severe, every time, are books.

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Our lifestyle is a frustrating contradiction to our interests. We like to travel. To make impulsive choices. However, we love pop culture, and with that, often comes the urge to collect and surround ourselves with the worlds we love. We own a lot of crap, and that gets in the way of our somewhat impulsive nature.

It is undeniably trendy to be minimal right now, but trends tend to reflect the movement of our culture. As we shift towards streaming platforms, owning physical things has become less enticing.

 

Every Wednesday when I come home with a few more comics, I face a feeling of dread when I  drag my comic box out from the closet, and add to the increasing weight of what I consider a very small collection of comics. With a lingering possibility that we’ll be moving sometime in the next year, owning these comics is becoming a burden rather than something I value.

 

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One of the hardest things I think I’ve done in my maturing nerdom is part ways with most of the cases to my DVD’s and Blu-rays. I even moved on to do the same with some old games. Now it’s time to move on from owning comics, and start reading digitally.

This is the week that I officially declare my full blown attempt to read comics from a screen. I’m cringing just writing it. But, I won’t know how I truly feel about it until I at least give it a shot. For the next few weeks I’m going to give updates on my pros and cons on the endeavor.

Kurt Indovina
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P.S. I’d be lying, however, if I said I’ll be quitting all comics physically. Some series’ I’m going to continue to buy issue by issue, mostly with the intent of someday lending them out to someone who I think would also cherish it. Right now, that series is Black Hammer. Holy hot shit I can’t stop freaking out over how fucking good it is. It makes me sick I love it so much.

Splatoon 2 Review in Progress

When Splatoon first came out two years ago on the WiiU, I had a feeling of hesitation. A feeling that is actually quite similar to what I’m feeling with ARMS right now. I was interested, but equally a little off-put for a number of reasons. First, I’m not a competitive online gamer. Second, it didn’t look like anything else to come before it; there was nothing to compare it with, which made it exciting but also wary to approach. It’s hard for me to justify $60 for any game, especially one that resembled 90’s era Nickelodeon and a tentacle fetish. So I left Splatoon to the early adopters.

I noticed from afar that Splatoon had managed to sustain a community of players. So now as a Switch owner (desperate to play something new), and with Splatoon on its second rodeo, I decided to give it a shot. Or, in this case, a squirt — er, actually, I take that back.

I’m equally glad and ashamed that I waited till the second game to join in, but ultimately enlightened to find that Splatoon is making me something I thought I would never become: a competitive online gamer.

You take the role of these tween humanoid squid kids known as inklings. The spine of the game is focused on competitive 4v4 matches, the most prominent mode being “Turf War.” Armed with a super soaker filled with ink, the objective is to splat as much territory as possible. Covering the map with ink also increases you and your team’s mobility. The inklings can change form into small squids that can move faster, cover, and refill their ink gun when emerged in your team’s ink.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

Every two hours the maps rotate, allowing only two maps to be played during that window of time. Though at first I thought it was a bizarre approach, I eventually found it to be a very clever. It gave variety to how I played, and never allowed me to get too comfortable. It also stopped the majority of players from weighing on one map specifically. Made me think back to my brief and short lived time playing Black Ops, and how Nuketown was always obsessively voted on as the next map. It became predictable and boring.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a competitive gamer. I’d much rather be fighting alongside someone against NPC’s than actual players. I just have more fun that way. Splatoon 2 is warping my perception of that, however. It has a very approachable leveling system that actually makes me feel like I’m progressing. Between levels 1-10, you’re only allowed to play “Turf War” (which is all I’ve been able to play). After level 10 I can progress to other modes such as Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Tower Control. All of which can be accessed in either Ranked Battle, and then once you level up high enough, League Battle.

And though it may sound like I’m just grinding match after match to slowly level up to more competitive modes, there’s a satisfying reward system along the way that’s keeping me engaged and wanting more. Also, the matches are short, which is a huge plus for keeping me on my toes, and constantly wanting to play just one more round.

As you level, you gradually unlock different weapons and gear to purchase. Different gear has different attributes, like walking through enemy ink faster, or decreasing damage taken. As you play wearing that gear, it’ll level and unlock new buffs. Also, gear gives you the opportunity to customize and dress your inkling like a J-pop star. A dream I’ve wanted to fulfill in reality (I’m too tall to fit most Japanese clothing brands).

There’s a much broader variety of weapons which is a contrast to the first game if I understand correctly. From normal squirt guns, to paint rollers, or even umbrellas, each weapon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and favor a very specific playing style.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

There’s also a campaign mode which I’ve only played for an hour or so. It follows a pretty old-school liner approach which is reminiscent of games circa 1996-2000: play a series of levels; fight boss; move onto next world. The campaign thus far feels like a very extensive bootcamp for crafting players’ skills to play online. It teaches a variety of mechanics, while giving the player an opportunity to test out different weapons in varying scenarios. Also, this is probably the first time where I’m more inclined to play online than I am the campaign.

Salmon Run is Splatoon’s attempt at a horde mode. You play cooperatively with three other players, as you try to survive wave after wave of mutated salmon creatures. The variety of enemies is staggering, each one having devastating a attack, with a specific weakness to take it down. This mode, more than anything, could desperately benefit from voice chat. Which the game has… sorta.

I haven’t been able to try out the voice chat feature of Nintendo’s corresponding smartphone app that enables voice chat yet, and frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. Also, its use is limited to only working with players you know. So until I have three other friends who have the game and a willingness to play it together, I can’t even use it if I wanted to.

Salmon Run is only available to play in 12 hour intervals a day, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around as to why. Is it to build that sense of exclusivity, thus building hype and anticipation to play it? I don’t entirely hate it, because it gives me something to look forward to (which is maybe its intentions, and in that case, it’s working). But not everyone is as patient, so I can see it being annoying.

It’s hard to admit now, but when looking back on my hesitation of games like Splatoon and ARMS, I didn’t try them because they were different. Nintendo time and time again challenges its consumers by attempting new things. But this time around, they took something as familiar as the competitive shooter, and instead of completely trying to redefine it, they skewed it just a bit, and added their own new weird-ass mechanics. It works. And I love it. Though I haven’t invested a ton of time into it, I’m already well invested, maybe even addicted.

For money sake, however, I’m still gonna hold off on ARMS.

Now, only if Nintendo could implement this style of online gaming for Pikmin. A girl can dream, can’t he?

Kurt Indovina
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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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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.

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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