Favorite Games of 2014... So Far

We're just about at the halfway point of 2014, and the end of June is when I like to think back on my favorite releases of the year up to this point. But instead of writing a list, I decided to create a video!

I've never done any video editing before. Ever. The video makes that obvious, but it was a fun project and a nice change of pace from the usual list. For those of you not interested in watching, this is my top five:

  1. TowerFall Ascension
  2. Dark Souls II
  3. Transistor
  4. South Park: The Stick of Truth
  5. Mario Kart 8

Agree? Disagree? Am I an idiot for leaving a particular game out of the top five? Let me know!


Amateur Endurance Run: Dragon Quest VIII

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Update 3/5: The Amateur Endurance Run has concluded! I had a lot of fun playing through Dragon Quest VIII, it has personality and charm in spades. And there were plenty of memorable moments: Jessica in a bunny costume, Yangus riding a sabrecat, and of course, who can forget the puff-puff club. Thanks to every who watched/will watch, and a big shoutout to Twitch chat for the continued support. It made playing and streaming this game for 66+ hours a lot more fun.

Playlist: YouTube

@epicsteve has made some wonderful videos under the "Amateur Encyclopedia Bombastica/Quick Look" name. After watching his recent look at Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout, I was inspired to follow suit. So starting today, this blog will catalog my Amateur Endurance Run of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.

When I think of Endurance Runs, I think of lengthy games and daily content (among other things obviously). Well, Dragon Quest VIII is pretty damn long, and the plan is to update this blog every weekday with new content. I'll also be streaming my entire playthrough, because as Bill O'Reilly says, we'll do it live! This means I'll interact with chat – if someone wonders who I'm talking to while watching the archived videos, there's your answer. In general, watching the videos later will be a different experience because of that interaction, but hey, I need something to keep me interested for the 70+ hours. Think of it as an amlabella/chat duo, just as we had Jeff/Vinny, Brad/Ryan, and Patrick/Ryan.

As for the whole "new content every weekday" thing, that doesn't mean I'll be streaming every day... let's just say life gets in the way of things. But I do have the added benefit of weekends, unlike the GB staff when they did Endurance Runs. So if I stream on Saturday and Sunday, those videos will be archived here on Monday and Tuesday. This gives me a little bit of wiggle room, and lets live viewers get an early look at each new part of the Endurance Run. It's not an ideal setup, but such is life.

As I mention in the first part of the Endurance Run, I did play Dragon Quest VIII back in 2005 but failed to finish the game. The 2005 release date coupled with my often-terrible memory allows me to go into the game relatively fresh.

I hope you guys enjoy the Endurance Run, and I always welcome any feedback. Thanks duders!


The Metanarrative of Tearaway

I've been taking a video games and literature course over the past few months, which has forced me to look at important themes and messages in games, even when they may appear nonexistent. Such is the case with Tearaway, which I finished over the weekend and enjoyed immensely. While playing I was struck by the way the narrative handles surprisingly complex topics, which then compelled me to write about it. I kind of wrote this for myself as a simple practice exercise, but I figure I might as well share my thoughts here. Feel free to let me know if I'm on to something, or if this reads like the incoherent ramblings of a random internet dude.

SPOILER WARNING: There are some light story spoilers in here, and I do address the ending without actually... spoiling the ending. In any event, read with caution if you have yet to play the game.

The Metanarrative of Tearaway

In many ways, Tearaway is a game about superficial artifice. Its distinctive arts-and-crafts visuals evoke an all-ages warmth that extends to the lighthearted humor and storybook narrative, while the game's status as a portable release provides casual immediacy in the face of big-name console titles. But an extensive focus on these superficial characteristics potentially disregards the larger themes and ideas explored in Tearaway – namely its careful consideration of the player/creator dynamic and how it affects narrative, and the link between virtual and physical worlds.

Tearaway presents players with a simple narrative foundation and then proceeds to turn it on its head. Messengers iota/atoi (appropriately shaped as envelopes in the game), are tasked with delivering a message to an important figure. It's a narrative frame we've encountered numerous times across multiple mediums – the long journey to deliver an important item or message – but developer Media Molecule twists the formula by making that important figure "You."

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Our ideas of the conventional plot would label iota/atoi as the protagonist, but "You" are the central character in Tearaway. Just look at the emphasis on names – iota/atoi are not capitalized, as if they were simply words in a dictionary. But "You" are special; the capitalized 'Y' looms over everyone else in the narrative. In addition, the inhabitants of the magical paper world distinctly address "You" as the key source of turmoil. The player's mysterious appearance brings forth evil Scraps, enemies that pose a danger to everyone, and the characters are constantly reminded of that by the luminous face of the player in the sun (courtesy of the PlayStation Vita's integrated camera).

If the source of evil in Tearaway comes from the player, that makes "You" the villain. But not everyone in the game's world shares this vision – many refer to "You" as a god meant to help iota/atoi on their important journey. This parallels the very nature of the player's relationship with the creator of the video game – in some ways we may pose a threat to the developer's artistic vision. Perhaps I choose to ignore important narrative themes and game mechanics, and thus devalue the overall product. But at the same time, the player remains absolutely vital. A video game cannot be a "game" if no one is there to play it. Media Molecule recognizes the player as essential despite the potential threat, just as the characters of Tearaway recognize the power of "You" in the face of immediate danger.

Tearaway also explores the player/creator relationship as it relates to authorship. Media Molecule signifies this dilemma with the use of two narrators in the game. The male narrator helps guide iota/atoi on their journey, and that journey appears to be at an end until the female narrator interferes and creates new obstacles for iota/atoi and the player. This interference speaks to a need for narrative innovation, but the female narrator does not succeed in her attempt to change the foundation. We still come across familiar settings and challenges; only at the end do we see some kind of meaningful change, as both narrators begin to embrace the communal aspect of storytelling.

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Media Molecule crafts Tearaway as a linear journey, but the game's last few worlds begin to explore creatively adventurous possibilities. In fact, the worlds are presented as figurative canvases, in which the narrators urge the player to create their own internal narrative. The responsibility of storytelling gradually begins to shift from Media Molecule to “You.” This shift only begins with the conclusion of the game's narrative – it continues in the physical realm.

Throughout the game, players can take pictures of white objects in order to give them color, which then adds to a papercraft collection. They can then use the Tearaway community website in order to access the papercrafts and construct them in real life. The physical papercrafts are not part of the virtual experience Tearaway offers, but they do encompass the ability of video games to link physical and virtual worlds in meaningful ways.

The basic narrative in Tearaway ends when the video game ends... but what if I create iota/atoi papercrafts in real life? And create an entire paper world with cute creatures and beautiful landscapes? This speaks to that shift of authoritative responsibility, in which Media Molecule gives players the tools to continue the narrative or create entirely new ones. Just as the developer welcomes us into their world, we can now welcome them into worlds of our own. Thus, a unique feeling of community enters the foundation of storytelling and provides the much-needed innovation.


Cellar Door Games' Teddy Lee Talks Rogue Legacy

Hey everyone! I recently had the opportunity to interview Teddy Lee, one of the designers of Rogue Legacy. He provided some great insight into the game's development (like the fact that roguelike elements were not considered initially), and we also talked about broader topics like Steam Greenlight and the state of independent game development.

I figured some fellow duders might be interested in hearing more about the game, so I'll leave a link to the audio interview here. Hope you guys enjoy it!