Double Fine's Amnesia Fornight 2014

February saw the start of the 2014 installment of Double Fine's kinda-annual game jam, the Amnesia Fortnight. If you want serious detail on what AF actually involves I recommend reading Tim Schafer's explanation on the AF Humble Bundle page where you can also, if you are so inclined, pay for access to the finished versions of the prototypes. If you don't wanna read the big wall of text I recommend you just head over there now for yourself.

This year was the first time I've actually payed any attention to the Amnesia Fortnight as it's been going on. I had previously appreciated the novelty of the process as well as enjoyed some of the full games that started as AF prototypes such as Iron Brigade, Stacking and Costume Quest. Actually watching it all unfold however is a whole other level of fascinating. The proceedings are being documented by 2-Player Productions, the same people who did Indie Game: The Movie among other things, and they have been producing great daily recaps you can watch on Double Fine's YouTube page in addition to livestreams featuring interviews and demonstrations of the latest versions of the prototypes. You don't need to have an interest in game development to find these things enjoyable. The employees at Double Fine are all really fun people who seem really talented at their jobs. Watching the interplay between the various creative roles and the highs and lows as they all try to achieve their goals is cool as heck.

Anyway I thought I'd take this chance as the fortnight begins coming to a close to lay out the general gist's behind all four prototypes and give some of my thoughts on them, in the hopes you get just a little bit intrigued. Bear in mind these are all being developed in 2 weeks and you have to view them as really well refined pitches more than anything else. Ultimately though I really just hope this encourages you to check out the Amnesia Fortnight on your own. It's more than well worth your time.

Dear Leader - Pitched and led by Anna Kipnis

Dear Leader is easily one of the more complex and ambitious sounding ideas that has been pitched at an Amnesia Fortnight. In it you play a despotic ruler guiding the path of an un-named country that is just coming off of the back of a revolution and is understandably rife with all sorts of turmoil. As the target of all this anxiety you must cultivate a positive public image for yourself through the use of propaganda and whatever other political weapons you have at your disposal. In addition to the concerns of the people you must also contend with unrest among your own political party, every choice you make will likely piss off one of the two. Again it's only a prototype so it isn't quite able to explore all of the complex ins and outs of a situation like this but they're trying their best to get as much in there as they can.

A lot of the game is viewed from your desk in your palace in a way that is somewhat visually reminiscent of Papers Please, a game that team lead Anna Kipnis was apparently quite inspired by. From here you'll go through your daily despotic workload, sort of like a more serious Tropico. Actually in it's current state Dear Leader seems on the whole more serious than most previous Double Fine games, which is understandable given the nature of the task you are given and recent real-world events in the same vein. However I think as Tropico has shown with it's own stylized take on a despotic leader this setting also has ample room to fit in some of that recognizable DF charm, or at least I hope it would if this was given the chance to evolve into a full retail product. Visually though, it does capture some of that splendour. It appears to be trying to make the actual game look as much like the concept art as possible and that concept art is downright beautiful. If there's one thing I've learned from watching the videos Double Fine and 2PP produce it's that the studio is stacked from top to bottom with fantastic artists.

Personally speaking, this is the prototype I'm most intrigued about in terms of what it could accomplish in the scope of a full-on development cycle. The whole idea is just bristling with potential and I think if they approached it with their head's in the right place they could accomplish something really cool and maybe provide some good political commentary along the way.

Mnemonic - Pitched and led by Derek Brand

Oh man do I find it hard to remember how to spell the name of this one.

Mnemonic is most easily described as a first-person noir adventure game. You progress through stark black and white environments, solving puzzles and delving further and further into the circumstances behind the murder of your lover. Beyond that, I have no bloody clue what is going on with this one. Suffice to say, they're playing it pretty close to chest with the story of Mnemonic, which is of course understandable. But they've also done a pretty bad job of actually explaining what the gameplay, specifically the puzzle-solving element, involves. I think there's something to do with the perspective from which you view puzzle-related objects in the environment having some effect on how they function or what they are. I think. It seems more complex than Gone Home but less intellectually stimulating than say something more traditional like Monkey Island. The closest analogue I can think of in that regard is... Jazzpunk? I guess? Have to admit my knowledge of the adventure game genre is pretty limited. Maybe the Walking Dead is the more apt comparison.

It also doesn't help that the team themselves didn't seem entirely sure how the game was going to play at first. Although thankfully they seem to have pulled it together in that regard and the game seems to be moving along with some confidence now. It's been neat seeing team lead Derek Brand evolve pretty quickly over the course of the fortnight from an unsure shy dude to a pretty open and competent project ringleader. The early conflict between his very ambient view on how the game should play out and the ideas of the more mechanically focused Brad Muir (:D) was fascinating. Although referring to any of the clashes that take place during AF as 'conflict' is a bit of an exaggeration. Everyone at Double Fine just seems too nice. Visually, they've really nailed the noir styling. The tricks they're pulling with the lighting to ensure it recreates the look of classic films in the genre are really impressive.

I'm taking a pretty wait and see approach with Mnemonic. I find the idea a bit dis-interesting to be honest but I cant tell if that's the fault of the concept itself or just the way it's been presented on camera. Though, I suppose Mnemonic represents what makes the whole Amnesia Fortnight thing so compelling. Watching how these concepts that people have had rattling around in their heads hold up when they come into contact with the realities of game development.

Steed -Pitched and led by John Bernhelm

Now here's where things start getting a lil' more Double Fine-y, yeah? Steed is an action-adventure game set in a fantasy storybook world where you are a HORSE.There's been plenty of games that have provided memorable horse-riding mechanics, Shadow of the Colossus, Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us. Steed is trying to differentiate itself from those games by approximating what a horse is capable of when it is not under the control of a human, when it doesn't have to wait and react to it's master's needs. It also has a pretty goofy looking (I think purposefully) combat system that seems to be emulating the Arkham games or maybe God of War. At some point the horse encounters a sort of unlikely-hero character who from then on rides on the horses back but crucially, again, does not control the horse. This character has the ability to cast spells but is fairly bumbling and isn't always able to do it. The horse can however give the guy a bit of a jolt and he'll freak the dude out to the point where he'll inadvertently fire off a lightning bolt or something else. They seem to be approaching the whole thing from a typically Double Fine tongue-in-cheek perspective.

Steed strikes me as the most traditionally game-y of the four prototypes, the one you can envision easily without having to think too much about it. It's taking on some pretty standard systems and ideas from a slightly off-kilter angle and as a result I kinda don't have much to say about it. It's also had the smoothest time in terms of its development. There's been no real serious snags for the team as far as I can tell from the recap videos. That's not to say that I don't think it has any potential though. If controlling the horse feels right and the world is well developed it could be a really fun experience. Double Fine started off with an incredible talent for creating interesting worlds but struggling with gameplay. Their last few titles however have subverted this association, combining their great writing with really solid systems. Hopefully Steed will end up being a similar success.

Little Pink Best Buds- Pitched and led by Pendleton Ward

Pendleton Ward, for those of you that don't know, is the creator of the hugely popular animated series Adventure Time. He's also good friends with Tim Schafer and actually has a speaking role in Double Fine's recently released Broken Age. In addition to the normal community voting on the various game pitches for AF2014 the community also voted on various pitches submitted by Pendleton, an outsider to game development for the most part, and the game the community eventually decided it wanted to see was Little Pink Best Buds. The idea of having someone who is a very creative person but still not really familiar with how games are made actually come and lead the production of one is a really cool idea and at least here it seems to have resulted in something really, really unique and bizarre.

You play an apparently normal sized dude in a world populated by the titular little pink dudes. They all have distinct personalities, characteristics and voices, some of which are funny, some of which are tragic and some which are both. There's one who has one leg bigger than the other, he's called 'Big Leg'. There's one whose eyes are constantly dripping with water, he's called 'Wet Balls'. You get the idea. The thing all these dudes have in common however (besides their pinkness) is they all wanna be your best bud. Why? They're keeping that one on the down-low. The dev team has even gone as far as to refer to whatever big secret the game is hiding as the "Potato" whenever on camera so as not to spoil it.

You interact with the buds in two ways. You can poke them with your Godgame-esque outstretched finger, provoking them to react in all sorts of silly ways. The other method of interaction is through a fairly ambitious sounding text chat system. It seems reminiscent of a more advanced version of those chatbots you can say all sorts of goofy things to and see what kind of reaction you get. I haven't watched much of Pendleton's other stuff but even from what little I have seen I can tell the writing here is very recognizably his. The way the buds respond is wacky but not in a grating way. It's far more considered than that and even seems to get a little melancholic every now and then. Your mileage may vary of course but I've found it pretty funny so far. The artstyle also resembles a 3D take on the kind of stuff Pendleton is known for, very bright and colourful.

LPPB strikes me as the one prototype that could stay as just that and I wouldn't be too upset. It's a lot of fun to watch but doesn't seem particularly like the elements it currently has could go beyond what they've come up with so far. Like I said though, the point of all the messing about is still under-wraps right now so it's hard to properly get an idea of how far this game's ambitions could possibly stretch. Maybe there's some whole other layer to it that is totally mental and mindblowing and will have me eating my words when I see it.

Start the Conversation

Late Night Music Ramblings to soothe your Soulllll

Yeah so its very late here and I'm having trouble sleeping so naturally I thought "Why not write a blog about music stuffs, because I definitely have the brainpower required to do that and use sarcasm right now." Sarcasm.

So here in no particular order (seriously this is just me looking at my iTunes and thinking "Ah, thats a good un'!) is some stuff I've really liked recently and maybe you should take a listens to, K?

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

Over the course of the last few months I have gone from being someone who's only real knowledge of St. Vincent was some random person's avatar to a pretty large fan of the curly haired one. I got supes into her second album Actor in the lead up to the release of Strange Mercy so when it dropped I was pretty hyped. Bit of a weird position to be in getting hyped like two days before an album comes out but HGNFFFFHHH I really like this thing, the way it flits between a delicate little flower to LOUD GUITARS AND SYNTHS AND AHHH YOU DONT HAVE TO BE A CHEERLEADER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO MS. CLARKE fills me with joy. Saw her live in November. Twas every bit as good as I expected. Go, listen.

Death Grips

Yo, givin' it to you straight up. I feel like all I need to tell you here is that you can pretty much make up your opinion on Death Grips after a couple of minutes of one track. Its violent, its abrasive, I like it. Your experience may vary.

The Black Keys - El Camino

Was a little bit dissapointed by the latest Black Keys album El Camino, its certainly not a bad album but it most definitely is more of the same. If you've been listening to the Black Keys for a few years you'd hope for maybe a bit of evolution but all that said, it does fill a nice White Stripes shaped hole in my heart. Even if it is only momentarily. However if you've never really listened to the Black Keys before consider this an opportunity to go and check them out for the first time. They always have been good fun. Watch out though, it might get raunchy.

SBTRKT - SBTRKT

London based producer putting out some kinda dubstep soundin' stuff sprinkled with real soul and some great guest vocals from the likes of Little Dragon. Love it.

Actually because I can lets just list off some stuff I listened to recently that was crap.

  • Beady Eye - Different Gear Still Speeding. Fuck me it's a boring mess.
  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Actually kind of liked this at first but after a few listens it just sounds so stuck in the 90's. He needs to ditch the fucking capo.
  • Jay Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne. Really, really not liking this. Don't know why but absolutely none of it is clicking with me. Urgh.
  • Leona Lewis - Hurt EP. I shit you not X Factor winner Leona Lewis put out of a covers EP with on it amongst other things a cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails. Like what the fuuuuuck.

Oh and One Last Thing

For some reason a couple of weeks ago I sat down and just started listening to Beach House out of nowhere and I'm hooked. Victoria Legrand's powerful androgynous voice tears me apart every single time.

That's enough insomniac rambling for now. I have no idea if anything I just typed has actually gone through so that's probably a good sign to leave it there. Proof reading, what?

Much Love

x

5 Comments

Loutallica on Jools Holland. Ehhhhhhhhhh

Lou Reed and Metallica popped onto the ye olde Jools Holland show recently for some live shenanigans and it's a bit disheartening. All work on Lulu aside, Lou aint lookin'/soundin' so good. It's a noticable difference over last year even when he was onstage with Gorillaz at Glastonbury. Not a fan of the drumming on this either.

Start the Conversation

Hey, you Should Check Out this Band: Warpaint Edition

Afternoon'.

Yo 'aight so last week I wrote this thing about the Strokes, it was cool and all but I'm new to this shit so experimenting is part of the fun. As a result this little thing here is a little diffo, so naturally it get's a whole new name. This is where I'm gonna be talking about perhaps lesser known bands and artists, long time shit you might not have heard of or newer bands on the scene. Whatever, it's all cool baby. This time? WAAAAAAARRRRPPAAIIIIIINT!

Warpaint, 4 cool ass ladies from sunny L.A., started out in 2004 and since then it's been something of a ride. After 7 years of like 15 different drummer's and synth players you might think a band would give up but no, they soldiered on and as a result came 2008's EP Exquisite Corpse. Something of a proof of concept it's a wonderful little collection of swirling guitar sounds, lovely vocal harmonies and stories of L.A life basking in reverb. I came to it after hearing their 2010 debut and once you put it all together it show's how much a band can perfect their shit over 2 years. My personal Highlight? The faaaaantastically beautiful tribute to Billie Holiday. If this doesn't stir up at least some emotions in you, well...Go away, to put it lightly.

Now, about that full length debut. The Fool came along in October last year and with it like every music journalist jizzing themselves with enthusiasm. Justified enthusiasm but boy was the semen ever flowing (I'm particularly proud of that sentence). Anyway's I was pretty much hooked from the off, I heard Undertow on the way home from school on a Friday and it was so intensely chill that I just had to look this shit up. The band have said in interviews that most songs on the album formed through on stage jam's and just messing about which is very apparent throughout. Specifically in the dark self titled Warpaint and the completely mesmerizing Bees, they build up layer by layer in a way you don't quite notice whilst it's happening but it completely pay's off afterwards. I've listened to the album numerous times now, too many to count but still it catches me off guard every time a song hit's that full bodied point.

Lovely seances isn't all they do though, there are two typically stunning acoustic numbers. Shadows bathes in vocal melodies and dat bass but is really just another wonderful ethereal cover up for every day stories of L.A. life and Baby is as close as the album gets to sounding ordinary but it's no less haunting. Pretty much the only song on the album in which its very clear this is a solo effort, Emily Kokal vocal's are just frighteningly delicate. Blimey is it charming.

Special praise need's to be given to the band's rhythm section. Jenny Lee Lindberg on Bass and Stella Mozgowa on drums are so tight and so, so absorbing, they make the band what they are. Not to mention being bloody hilarious live, what with the shuffling and the dancing. However, it is an album by a band of human people that isn't Elephant so naturally it has to have a couple of weak points. I'm not a huge fan of Composure, it feels a little aimless, the only song on the album that feels a little like it doesn't have a grasp on itself. Maybe something that others's enjoy but it doesn't jive very well with me. Actually watching this video over again maybe I'm overreacting. Who know's.

Ultimately though, I fucking love this band to bits. Luckily they're releasing the Fool Deluxe on the 26th of September which compiles the album, the EP and two bonus tracks. A great way to introduce yourself to the band. Check them out on youtube or something, or just delve straight in with the full album and see if you come out the other end happy. They're certainly unique enough to take a look at, even if what I described isn't something you're that into. Again thanks for reading, no idea how a more review-y style thing from me is going to pan about hey like I said, it's all cool baby. See you next time.

x

16 Comments

Awesome Band's History Lesson (The Strokes Edition)

G'day.

So, naturally when I saw all the cool dudes writing blogs I decided I should probably take a stab at it too, only thing is, I couldn't be less interested in writing about vidja games. However, I do like talking to dudes about music and finding and recommending new music or bands people might have missed, so lets talk about that y'dig? I'll start off safe, with a band that chances are, you might have heard of.

For those of you who somehow completely fucking ignored it at the time, during the early 2000's there was an explosion of amazing bands that came through and like Nirvana before them made the entire last generation seem completely obsolete and like pussy fairground rides. If you missed this era you were probably still listening to the same bands that became pointless, your own fault. The three bands that received the most public attention were The Strokes, The Hives and The White Stripes but I never liked the Hives that much so lets just quietly skip past them. Instead lets look at The Strokes, most importantly this album:

Bloody Yanks, we got some arty bollocks you got an arse

Yo so this is pretty much the coolest album of all time, lets get that out of the way first. The front cover is cool, the music sounds cool, the band are the coolest looking band of all time without having to dress like niche prostitutes. It's pretty much the perfect example of a record being released at the right time with the right sound. If you ever saw the Strokes on TV you knew what you were in for, to me as a British kid they were like the physical embodiment of how cool New York sounded. Julian Casablancas had this weird filter over his voice that made him sound at points like he was gonna shank you. All that said though the album didn't just ride on the wave of public hysteria, it wouldn't be as legendary as it is today if it didn't have some great fucking songs on there. My personal favourite being New York City Cops, probably because of this performance of it that was as close as you could get to summing up all of 2002.

Is This It formed the template that all the big guitar bands of the next few years would follow, particularly British indie bands like The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys which formed their own massive scene here in the UK but if I were to start talking about that I would literally never stop so just know that it was fucking biiiiiiiig and not everyone liked it.

After that The Strokes kept going strong. They released their second album Room On Fire in 2004 and their third effort First Impression's Of Earth in 2006. Both were very well regarded critically but neither had the same effect on the musical landscape. They took a break for a few years and all went off and meddled in various side projects, none of them were terrible but the only ones really worth checking out are bassist Nikolai's side project Nickel Eye (heh) and singer Julian Casablancas' solo album. Mainly because this song is laugh out loud funny.They reunited last year for a few shows and then released their newest album Angles earlier this year. The album itself was kind of good but more importantly it introduced them to a newer generation and in the process somewhat rejuvenated them. Seriously go look up a couple of their concerts from this year, they actually look like they're having fun.

So the future for the Strokes seems bright enough right now, they're apparently working on album five which will if all goes well and they learn from the past year probably actually be quite good, again hopefully. Thank's for reading if you could be arsed to get this far, I'm terrible at judging my own writing so as far as I can tell this might just be incessant rambling. Thanks to Bruce for giving me some inspiration with his musical writingnessness and Sweep for uh...Something.

x

24 Comments