2013 Seven Day Roguelike Roundup

Intro

As the name implies, the Seven Day Roguelike Challenge (7DRL) is a game jam that challenges developers to craft a game in the roguelike genre within 168 hours. 7DRL has been around officially since 2005 and unofficially for a decade which makes it essentially a game jam institution in comparison to all of the newcomers that have come and gone in recent years.

The 2013 7DRL Challenge just wrapped up this weekend, and after digging through the entries, I've assembled a list of 10 games that are my favorite of the bunch. I'm not following the official 7DRL evaluation metrics here. I'm also not penalizing games for not strictly sticking with an established definition of a roguelike, a subject of much heated debate amongst some, because I'd rather not muddy the waters here with mention of Berlin Interpretation or other competing definitions. These are simply 10 games that came out of the 2013 7DRL challenge that stuck out from the bunch as being fun, polished, and/or interesting when I was browsing through the completed entries.

The Highlights

Quadropus Rampage

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Quadropus Rampage boasts a crazy amount of polish for something produced within the span of seven days. Its slick visuals and fun action RPG style gameplay just seem like they shouldn't be achievable by mere mortals within such a short time frame, and yet somehow the guys at Butterscotch Shenanigans managed to pull it off. Also, a note to Gearbox, it might not be a bad idea to get these guys working on the random weapon name generator for Borderlands 3.

EliteRL

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As soon as I hit EliteRL's 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired title screen, I was interested. Then, I hit its space sim gameplay inspired by the C64 classic Elite, and I was totally in. The game also manages to paint some pretty good-looking space vistas in ASCII, which in my opinion is deserving of bonus points in a roguelike challenge.

Dungeon-Themed Starvation Simulator

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In a lot of ways, this is the most traditional roguelike in this lineup that I've selected, but the slick presentation and adept handling of turn-based traps really made it stand out. There's just something about slipping between pistons without getting crushed that feels extremely satisfying.

Sunk Coast

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Sunk Coast is a game from Jonathan Whiting, a member of the Sportsfriends crew of developers, which challenges the player to take on the role of a dirt poor undersea diver that has decided that the only way to put food on his family's table is to take his last cylinder of air and retrieve some gold doubloons 200 fathoms under the ocean. The game's visuals do a lot with a little, thanks mainly to a well selected color scheme, and the gameplay seems balanced and surprisingly fun. I haven't managed to make it to 200 fathoms yet, but I can definitely see myself loading this game up occasionally to give it a shot.

So Many Jagged Shards

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The tweets from the creator of So Many Jagged Shards make it sound like he considers this a depressing failure, but I have news for him, this game is one of the the best of this year's 7DRL pack. The graphical filters and effects, distinct visual style, and free-flowing gameplay make this game really stand out in a field mostly comprised of rigid pixel-art and ASCII grid-based games.

Double Rogue

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Double Rogue does something that I haven't seen many other places by combining puzzle games with the roguelike genre. It's a free game you can play in your browser, so I'll spare you what would probably be a poor description of the gameplay and just recommend that you go play it.

24killers

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24killers is an attempt at merging roguelikes and muder-mystery theatre, where you ask questions of a crowd of 24 creatures in an attempt to identify the one that wants to murder you before you get close enough to let him stick a knife in your back. If you've ever played the classic kid's board game "Guess Who?", then you've got a pretty good sense of what the gameplay is like.

Kali's Ladder

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Kali's Ladder is a game that I give a lot of credit to just for feeling very feature complete and polished. It also has some good looking and well animated pixel art, along with relaxed low-stakes roguelike gameplay that makes it a really good way to burn a little time.

Inside Out

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A lot of the tropes of the survival-horror and roguelike genres seem so parallel that I'm always surprised that there aren't far more games that attempt to do both. Inside Out is an entry that does a pretty good job of merging the two and also brings along some "non-Euclidean" geometry that seems to be all the rage with a lot of indie developers these days.

Forest Story

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This game comes by way of Proteus developer Ed Key, and in a lot of ways, it totally makes sense that this is the sort of game he would make. Both this game and Proteus are largely about being dropped into an unknown world and exploring. The chief distinction is that in the case of this game, if you make a poor decision, you die.

Other Games Worth a Mention

If you get through the 10 games mentioned above, here are some more that you might enjoy taking a look at. If you want to dive into the full list of entries, you can find that at this link.

  • BRS-081 - This is a game from the creator of McPixel that requires a printer to play. Nothing else I really need to say about it. That first sentence communicates the proper level of crazy.
  • Khu-Phu-Ka - A roguelike platformer for up to four players. Castle Crashers-esque art style.
  • 86856527 - It looks cool, and if I understood how to play this game, it probably would've been on the list above.
  • Borstal - High concept game about surviving as a 13 year old kid alone on island trying to find your father.
  • Chicken and Thyme - Essentially the roguelike equivalent of the movie Primer, but somehow the time travel in this game actually makes less sense.
  • Untitled Terry Cavanagh Game - He unfortunately hasn't released a build to the public, but he has posted a few videos.
  • segfault - A game that I made that I'm slipping into the middle of this list so I'm not accused of doing this entire post just to self-promote.
  • Versus Time - An interesting attempt at a multiplayer roguelike.
  • Dungeon X: Flesh Wounds - Fairly polished game about running booze as red-riding hood and her pet wolf.
  • Han YOLO and the Mysterious Planet - Second best title among this year's entries.
  • SkullDorado - The BEST title among this year's entries.
  • Attack the Geth - A roguelike set in the Mass Effect universe.
  • Caverns of Shrug - Maybe a bit more dual-stick shooter than roguelike, but still quite solid.
  • Rogue's Eye - A pretty good first person dungeon crawl.
  • STARSHIP REX - Apparently there are some GB staff members in some of these stasis pods.
10 Comments

Chaser324's 2012 Game of the Year Awards

2012's Game of 2011

Skyrim

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Solid DLC kept bringing me back to the dragon infested realm of Skyrim this year, and if I let myself, I could easily dump another few hundred hours into playing it. A full year later, this is still an incredible game.

Runner Up: The Witcher 2

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I feel bad for ignoring this game prior to its console release, but once I played it, I was really thrilled with the beautiful graphics, varied combat, and the incredible storytelling and world building.

Most Disappointing Game of 2011

NFS: Most Wanted

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Perhaps its biggest mistake was claiming that Most Wanted would be the successor to the classic Burnout Paradise, but Criterion really messed up here. As someone that spent 100+ hours in Paradise City getting 100% in single player and doing barrel rolls and flatspins in multiplayer, I was barely able to motivate myself to work my way to the top of the Most Wanted list. There are a lot things you can point to as reasons why this game is a failure, the baffling design of the single-player and uninteresting city being chief in my mind, but the bottom line is that I just couldn't manage to have any fun.

Runner Up: Street Fighter X Tekken

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I actually like the core fighting (though maybe it does end in a draw a bit too often) and the cast of characters quite a bit, but the experience is really diminished by the gem system, DLC debacle, and bumpy online play.

Soundtrack of the Year

Persona 4 Arena

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A veritable greatest hits of tracks from Persona 3 and 4. This being Giant Bomb, I think those games are already lauded enough that I don't need to say anything else.

Favorite Tracks: Heartbeat Heartbreak, Now I Know, Burn My Dread

Runner Up: Hotline Miami

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An expertly crafted collection of tracks that pair perfectly with the 80's acid trip visuals and plot.

Favorite Tracks: Daisuke, Crystals, Hotline

Games that Missed the Top 10 but Deserve a Mention

  • CoD: Black Ops II - A surprisingly well crafted single-player experience (except for the "Strike Force" missions). Same great multiplayer as always.
  • Halo 4 - Congrats to 343 for crafting a game that makes me care about Halo again. I can't wait to see more from them.
  • Far Cry 3 - The first Far Cry game that feels to me like more than just a tech demo.
  • Borderlands 2 - The humor is very hit or miss, but the co-op is still consistently great and the increased variety of terrain is appreciated.
  • Spelunky - Great HD update to an indie classic, and its finally a way for me to give Derek Yu some money for all of the time I spent playing this game for free.
  • Max Payne 3 - Rockstar's brand of storytelling is in full effect here and delivers an excellent gritty tale of Max Payne's alcohol and painkiller fueled trip through Brazil.
  • NBA 2K13 - MyCareer continues to be the best experience available in sports games.

The List

10. Fez

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On its face, this game is an excellent puzzle-platformer with beautiful retro-inspired visuals. However, once you really dig deeper (cue the Inception sound), this is a game unlike any other. I also feel a bit obligated to put this on my list because I fear Phil Fish considers hurting himself every time he sees a 2012 GotY list without Fez on it.

9. Rhythm Heaven Fever

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The reason I love Rhythm Heaven Fever is because it's exactly what I've come to expect from the previous two entries in the franchise: simple yet demanding rhythm gameplay with cute visuals and a dash of Japanese weirdness. Thank you Nintendo for keeping it simple and not ruining this with horrible waggle controls.

8. Diablo III

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It's more Diablo...so yeah, it's pretty great. The only real surprise here is that it isn't higher on this list.

7. Mass Effect 3

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While it might not have closed out Shepard's story in the best way possible, Mass Effect 3 still provided an excellent action-packed romp around the galaxy. The third-person shooter action is the best in the series and made for a surprisingly satisfying multiplayer experience, but it lacks the little intimate character moments that made Mass Effect 2 feel so special.

6. Forza Horizon

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Coming out of E3 2012, I thought this game would pale in comparison to Criterion's latest effort, but I couldn't have been more wrong. NFS: Most Wanted turned out to be one of my biggest disappointments of the year, and Forza Horizon delivered an absolutely incredible experience with its drift-tuned Forza driving in a jaw-droppingly beautiful open world. Considering the pedigree of the guys at Playground Games, I'm not sure why I ever doubted them.

5. SSX

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I spent more time playing the demo for this game than I did with some games I paid $60 for. I wasn't a huge fan of some of the survival aspects (especially the caves), but the basic feel of tricking and boosting down a mountain is still extremely satisfying. The excellent collection of indie and electronic tracks on the soundtrack were also a real bonus.

4. Sleeping Dogs

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A game with a development history as tumultuous as this one had no business being more than mediocre GTA-clone shovelware, but against all odds, Sleeping Dogs is fantastic. A charming lead character, unique setting, and satisfying beat 'em up mechanics earn this game a spot alongside GTA IV and Saints Row 3 as one of the best open world crime games of this console generation.

3. Journey

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Similar to The Walking Dead, Journey is a game where you could easily criticize its lack of gameplay, and in the case of Journey specifically, you could even criticize it for the lack of any real exposition. As pretentious as it sounds, Journey is a game that uses the video game medium to communicate tone and emotion in ways that have never really been done before. A truly unique and special experience.

2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

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This is the revival that XCOM has deserved for a long time. Firaxis managed to capture all of the magic of the classic tough-as-nails turn-based gameplay with a whole host of improvements, refinements, and streamlining to make it accessible for a new audience.

1. The Walking Dead

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There's really no praise I can heap on this game that dozens upon dozens of video game critics haven't already. This is the game of the year, go ahead and crown them. In terms of actual gameplay, The Walking Dead is little more than a shallow point-and-click adventure with occasional quick time events, but what it lacks in interactivity, it more than makes up for with a great cast of characters and some of the most emotionally affecting storytelling ever seen in a game. The Walking Dead is simply the best experience I've had with a video game this year, and it's a pretty good bet that it will be a touchstone for video game storytelling that critics will refer back to for years to come.

6 Comments

Escape to Alpha Centauri - Progress Update #1

So...I certainly doubt any of you recall when I switched gears off of the old Ice Cube Game project for something that I intended to be a bit smaller and simpler. Well it seems that I still don't have sufficient time to dedicate to even something "smaller in scope", nor do I seem to be able to grasp the concept of a game that's "smaller in scope". I've only in recent weeks managed to carve out the time to start turning any of those concept images from so many months ago into something playable, and the game has slowly grown in that short time to be something very different from what I originally intended.

As you have no doubt have forgotten, Escape to Alpha Centauri was to be a hybrid of an old-school vertical-shooter and Oregon Trail style resource management. Well, as I have discovered, all those fond memories you have of Oregon Trail probably have less to do with its thrilling gameplay and more to do with the fact that it got you out of doing actual schoolwork because your teacher thought it was "educational". I'm here to tell you once and for all, Oregon Trail was never actually fun (except for maybe those hunting parts).

After extracting all the resource management, what remains of EtAC is a fairly traditional vertical-shooter. I hope to still be able to spice it up here and there. A simple upgrade mechanic, fairly refined gameplay (for a flash-game), and a few curveballs from the norm here and there will hopefully be able to hold interest throughout the full length of the thing.

The demo here today is most of what I have so far that's actually playable. No enemies, no obstacles, no sounds, and no levels. Just the basic flying and shooting mechanics are in there, but I'm just here to prove that there is still a flicker of life in this project.

Demo Notes:

  • Only "Escape Mode" is available. Clicking any other option on the title screen will probably take you to a blank screen.
  • Don't adjust your volume. There really are no sounds in there.
  • Not sure what's going on with the BG color during the initial load. Something with the way GB embeds work seems to be ignoring that parameter.
  • Arrow Keys - Move. X - Shoot.
18 Comments

Tiger Woods '12: Lessons in How to Not Handle DLC

Tiger Woods '12: Lessons in How to Not Handle DLC


Don't hate the digital player, hate the digital download game.
Don't hate the digital player, hate the digital download game.
Recent years have seen a huge boom in the volume of DLC and microtransactions on the market, and by far one of the most active participants in this trend has been EA. Whether it’s through “limited” editions, online passes, pre-order kitsch, or any number of digital downloads, EA has been determined to get consumers to pay $60 and then some for every game purchased.

In general, I haven’t found myself really bothered by the trend because typically none of these digital add-ons and knick-knacks feel like a required component for my enjoyment of the game. In almost all cases, DLC and microstransactions are an “added value” proposition. Maybe they accelerate my pace through the game, make things easier, look cool aesthetically, round out the plot, or just simply increase the amount of gameplay, but as long as they don’t feel like a required missing component, I don’t really care. If I like the game enough, I more than likely will buy this stuff so that I can prolong or increase my enjoyment, but I never want to feel like I’m being penalized for not making the purchase.  

 Meh...I can live without your control rod.   [That's what she said]
 Meh...I can live without your control rod. [That's what she said]
EA has continually blurred the line between DLC and main game content by weaving in offers of digital purchases into gameplay, but again, while it does sometimes feel a bit intrusive and a little too much like aggressive marketing, I’ve been largely unbothered by it. As long as the DLC mission this guy in my camp is trying to sell me is clearly optional and those spiffy plaid golfing slacks or shiny car rims can be obtained through in game means and not just through my wallet, I don’t really care. Hell, I’ve even been able to for the most part overlook the sleaziness of on-disc “downloadable” content.

However, in spite of my relative apathy about the issue, I feel like EA has sort of crossed my line in the digital sand with Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘12: The Masters. All of the equipment can be purchased with MS points, but I don’t really care about that because it can also be unlocked through just playing the game. I also in principle don’t mind the fact that there are 19 downloadable courses available from day one because I feel like the 16 courses on the disc are more than enough content to justify Tiger Woods ‘12 as a $60 purchase.

Where I begin to take issue is in the pricing of these additional courses and the way they have been integrated into the main career progression. In “Road to the Masters”, the main career mode in this year’s game, once you’ve made your way through the amateur ranks and onto the PGA tour (which only takes about 3-4 rounds of golf), you’re presented with a calendar of events for the upcoming PGA tour season. Among these events are some that take place at DLC courses that you are unable to participate in unless you purchase and download that course.

The problem with not being able to participate in these events is that your AI competitors on the tour don’t have the same restriction. So while you might have to skip a week because you don’t have a particular DLC course, your computer-controlled counterparts will be out on the links potentially earning points towards the season’s Fed-Ex Cup and climbing up the world rankings. This is a situation where you are clearly being penalized for not purchasing DLC, and this is definitely not something that I can abide. Now, the majority of events do take place on the 16 courses included in the game, so you probably do have enough of an opportunity to take number one on the world rankings and win the Fed-Ex Cup, but it can’t be denied that it would certainly be easier to do both if you weren’t handicapped by being forced to skip tour events. My ultimate fear is what happens if I’m going for the 281 consecutive weeks at number one achievement, and I end up getting to 280 weeks, have to sit out of an event that I don’t own the DLC for, and drop down to second place. It’s an edge case that probably wouldn’t happen, but it certainly could happen and that alone is enough to make it a major problem in my opinion. 

  K THX BAI! NOW GIMME ALL UR MONIEZ!
  K THX BAI! NOW GIMME ALL UR MONIEZ!
What really makes this issue even worse is that the 19 available DLC courses are quite overpriced in my opinion. If they were in the neighborhood of one dollar a piece, I might be tempted to buy them. Unfortunately, most of them are priced at $4.00 with a few costing as much as $7.00. You can buy them packaged into a $15.00 five course pack and a $35.00 pack with the remaining fourteen, but together that’s nearly as much as I just paid for the full game. So, what the hell EA? I feel like I’m being cheated a bit by not having this DLC, but you’ve made it so overpriced that I can’t really justify buying it. Even if it were bit more reasonably priced, I probably still wouldn’t buy it just based on principle and the fact that I feel like you’re trying a bit too hard to force me to make the purchase.

So, as it stands now, playing Tiger Woods ‘12 makes me feel like I’ve just signed the papers on a new car and the sleazy car salesman across from me has immediately gone into a pitch where he’s trying to make me pay extra for the muffler. Sure, I might be able to get by without it, but it’s going to be a constant nagging concern every time I go for a drive. 

 What's it going to take for me to get you into some new DLC missions today? How about if I throw in the protective clear-coat for free?
 What's it going to take for me to get you into some new DLC missions today? How about if I throw in the protective clear-coat for free?
27 Comments

Free Stuff Get! #2


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The Intro

This is Free Stuff Get! #2. This month I'm giving away an old copy of the You Don't Know Jack spin-off Head Rush, and all you have to do is tell me your favorite You Don't Know Jack style pop-culture infused trivia question. You're free to pull the question from any of the classic JellyVision titles, or if you're clever enough, you can make one up on your own.
 

The Contest

The You Don't Know Jack series is well known for it's own special brand of trivia filtered through the lens of pop culture. All you have to do to enter this month is tell me what your favorite You Don't Know Jack question is. If you're especially creative, you can even come up with your own YDKJ style trivia question and use it. I'll randomly select a winner from among my favorite posts.
 

The Prize

The prize this time is my very own copy of the 1998 JellyVision release Head Rush. It's essentially just You Don't Know Jack, but everything has just been skewed to appeal more to the 90's teenager. I'll ship the original disc, case, and manual straight to you. For that reason, I'm going to have to limit entries this month to US residents only. If you're in the UK, feel free to still share your love of trivia with us, but just know that I'm not going to pony up the shipping costs to send you a copy of the game.  

 Scanned from my very own copy of the game. Isn't it just so perfectly 90's?
 Scanned from my very own copy of the game. Isn't it just so perfectly 90's?

The Rules

  • Post your entry here by Midnight EST on February 20.
  • One entry per user.
  • Winner will be contacted on February 21 to arrange for shipping the prize.
  • Only US residents are eligible to win. I'm not paying to ship a CD overseas.
11 Comments

Free Stuff Get! Monthly Contest #1


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The Intro

Here's the deal, since I guess I have more money than sense, I've decided that I'm going to try giving away one game a month by way of some simple contest. The contest could be just about anything from guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar to winning a small StarCraft 2 tournament. Prizes will vary in quality from month to month, but I don't think you can really complain when it's free.
 

The Contest

For this month's contest, your challenge is to tell me the amount of money in the jar pictured below. It's filled with 100% US currency. Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and maybe even a half-dollar or two. Honestly, I can't even fathom a good guess. That's why I'm leaving it up to you to do the guessing, and I'll do the counting. Is it $1.89, $54.21, $212.10, or some other random number I can make up by pounding on the numpad? I have no clue!
 

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The Prize

This month, your money counting skills will net you a Steam code for Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. Capitalism, Ho!! 

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The Rules

  • Get your guess and Steam username to me by Midnight EST January 28, 2011. You can post it here or private message me if you want to keep it just between us.
  • Please post your guess in US dollars and cents. I'm not converting your crazy space bucks. (Yes, I'm looking at you Sweep)
  • The winner is whoever gets closest to the actual value. I'm not Bob Barker, so I don't care if you go over.
  • In the case of a tie, the winner will be randomly selected from those tied entries.
  • Only one guess allowed per user. If you try to sneak multiple guesses in, I'll only count your first one.
  • Winner will be announced on January 31, 2011.
 

The Results

Congratulations to Dalai for his incredibly close guess of $30.48, only one cent away from the actual value of $30.49. Below is the break down of the top ten entries. Thanks to everyone who entered! I'll see you all again in Free Stuff Get! 2 which I'll create at some point in the next week or so.
 
UserGuessDifference
 Dalai
 30.48 0.01
 nywt 29.86 0.63
 Vao 29.75 0.74
 fazzle 32.14 1.65
 tobygw 28.50 1.99
 Shademonger 28.32 2.17
 KillyDarko 28.28 2.21
 Conker 28.02 2.47
 wwfundertaker 27.86 2.63
 CoheedFavorHouse 27.74 2.75
 baconbringer 27.28 3.21
114 Comments

Ice Cube on Hold. Working on Something A Bit Smaller in Scope...

First, let me just say that while I still very much want to finish my Ice Cube game at some point, I just simply don't have the amount of spare time that I think would be necessary for me to fully realize it at the moment. Additionally, I'm still a bit of a newbie when it comes to generating 8/16-bit pixel art and Flash/AS 3.0 programming. I'll definitely go back to Ice Cube at some point, but I think I would be better served by just knocking out a few smaller games right now that I can take from start to finish in just a few weeks or months.
 
So, I've just recently started work on something a bit smaller in scope that I think I will be able to complete in only a month or two worth of free time...

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The game is tentatively titled Escape to Alpha Centauri. The plot is fairly simple. The solar system is under attack from a hostile alien race, and the only chance you have of saving your own life and the lives of your friends and family is to take a small ship and attempt to make your way to an isolated human colony in the Alpha Centauri system.
 
The basic concept for the gameplay is Alpha Mission + Oregon Trail. Essentially it will combine the resource and time management aspects of games like Oregon Trail, but all of the travel from Earth to Alpha Centauri will be in the form of a vertical shooter. You'll have to weigh decisions like improving weapons and engines against purchasing additional food, oxygen, or environmental control units that are essential for maintaining the health and morale of the people on board your ship. Traveling at a faster pace means you'll reach your destination sooner, but it will increase the difficulty of the vertical shooter portions and could negatively impact health and morale by tiring out your party.   

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If the enemies manage to penetrate your ship's armor plating, rather than just blowing up, essential ship components may become damaged and require repair or people on board may become injured. Along the way, you'll encounter random events and choices that will increase the challenge. For instance, you might reach an FTL relay where you could pay a toll to bypass a portion of the trip, or you might encounter a wormhole that you can decide whether or not to risk travel through (in Oregon Trail terms, it's like deciding whether or not to ford a river).
 
So, what do you guys think? I'm just getting started, but I already feel like I've made more progress towards a full game than I did with Ice Cube. Expect a short playable demo at some point in the next few weeks.
26 Comments

Best Buy's @Gamer Magazine: Shameless Marketing or Legit Game Mag

 

Does an epic beard make for an epic magazine? Unfortunately, it would appear that it does not.
Does an epic beard make for an epic magazine? Unfortunately, it would appear that it does not.

WARNING: Long-Winded Gamer Rant

A few months ago when it was announced that Best Buy would be launching their very own gaming magazine, I was just as skeptical as anyone else. Would this be a legitimate venture into the realm of video game media and criticism or would it just be a shameless marketing device used to increase sales on select pieces of hardware and software? Well, a few days ago a complementary copy of the first issue of @Gamer: The Official Games Magazine of Best Buy showed up in my mailbox, and I proceeded to sit down and pick it apart piece by piece to determine its true intentions. My conclusion? People were right to be skeptical.
 

Best Buy Branding

 You're definitely going to see this, but it's not really as distracting as you would think.
 You're definitely going to see this, but it's not really as distracting as you would think.

The first thing you'll probably make note of when looking at the cover is the appearance of Best Buy branding in several places. However, once you get into the magazine, there is some decent restraint shown. There's an ad promoting Best Buy's "Reward Zone" program and then a two page spread that contains discount coupons for about a dozen games. In addition to those two full on ads, there's a release calendar that calls out midnight releases at Best Buy for Starcraft II and Madden 11. There's also a small box next to the Mafia 2 preview that makes mention of an exclusive pre-order bonus which is surprisingly the only place where they seem to be really pushing the reader to buy a game at Best Buy. Sure, it isn't devoid of Best Buy branding, but I wouldn't really expect it to be. In general, I feel that while the connection to Best Buy is evident in the branding, it would be entirely possible to overlook it and just take in the content if you really wanted to. 
 

The Writers and Editors

One of the first things I was curious about to find out about @Gamer was who was involved. Surprisingly, there are quite a few gaming press veterans on the staff. The magazine boasts "a staff with more than sixty years in the field of video game journalism". At the top of this list is Andy Eddy, a former editor at Video Games and Computer Entertainment, GamePro, IGN, and TeamXbox. He also famously wrote a somewhat controversial article criticizing the questionable circulation data of Game Informer. This would lead me to believe that he would be less likely to get involved with a similar situation here with Best Buy. 
 
 Andy Eddy: A trusted source for all of your Game Boy and Genesis news. Also, is it just me or does he look a bit like Dave Snider in this photo?
 Andy Eddy: A trusted source for all of your Game Boy and Genesis news. Also, is it just me or does he look a bit like Dave Snider in this photo?
Rounding out the top of the list are several other people with a decent amount of experience such as Wil O'Neal (G4, CNET), Chuck Osborn (PC Gamer), and Matt Cabral (Entertainment Weekly, Official Xbox, Kotaku). Joining them are some newcomers and people with lesser experience, but overall, it's definitely a staff that inspires at least some confidence that the magazine could provide quality content. However, in the end I feel like these are just names that Best Buy can use to lull people into trusting the magazine's editorial content.
 

Preview and News Coverage

Since the advent of the internet, it has been hard for print media to really compete in terms of timely coverage on game news and reveals. @Gamer does about as well as can be expected. They hit a lot of major upcoming releases like Starcraft II and Metroid: Other M while also throwing some attention to lesser known games like DeathSpank. Having said that though, a lot of the content in the writing in these previews is pretty vapid and doesn't amount to much more than what you would get from a press release or some 90 second sizzle reel. It's nowhere near the level of insight that your average EGM or GiantBomb preview provides. That same lack of depth and relevant information also carries over into the review content, but the reviews also have some other issues that I feel warrant a closer look. There area also a few factual errors (I'm pretty sure Bungie didn't develop Naughty Bear), but some of those can be excused as things that just weren't caught before going to the printer. Overall, most of the writing sounds much more like marketing drivel than actual editorializing.
 

Minor Grievance: The Magazine's Name

This is a pretty minor thing and just my opinion, but I'm not a huge fan of the name @Gamer. First, it isn't clear from the cover that the name of the magazine is @Gamer and not just Gamer. If it weren't for seeing it written out in the letter from the editor section, I may have never even figured it out.

See that odd little
See that odd little "@" thing on the left. It's not just for show, it's part of the title.

In the age of the internet, e-mail, and Twitter, having an "@" in the name of your business sort of confuses things. I've already seen several people tweeting @Gamer (which appears to just be a dead account) rather then the magazine's official Twitter account which is @ATGAMER. I assume if you were reading that you would say "At At Gamer", which sounds pretty odd rolling off of the tongue. In addition, you've also got the e-mail addresses which become something like "reviews@atgamermagazine.com".
 
Again, it's just the name, and it's just my opinion. It's certainly not what's going to make or break the magazine.
 

Another Minor Grievance: A Lack of Quality Editorial Content

In the heyday of print video game and tech magazine, many years before blogs like Kotaku and Engadget were breaking stories on things before they were even officially announced, gamers and technophiles would clamor for the latest issue just for the chance to get a glimpse at what was new and hot. As a result, most of these magazines would focus primarily on previews since this is primarily what the reader wanted.
 
From my point of view, sticking with this focus on previews is largely responsible for the decline and death of many video game magazines. They just can't be expected to compete with online sources that don't have to contend with print deadlines. Even in the occasion where a magazine could get an exclusive reveal or extended preview of a game, the details of these generally ended up on the internet within moments of the first subscriber receiving their copy of the issue.
 
It's because of this issue with providing timely and unique content that I was happy to see EGM shift their focus away from previews over to more editorial fare. Sure, it still has extended preview content, which I'm happy to read due to the quality of the writing and the insight into the gameplay from people who are clearly experienced gamers, but they've also thrown in far more articles which don't necessarily focus specifically on the review/preview of a single game. Instead many of these articles focus on hot button topics of discussion in gaming such as the rise in popularity of casual gaming, the psychology behind gamers' obsession with numbers, and the viability of the iPad as a gaming platform. In addition, they've also got extended interviews with important gaming figures such as David Jaffe and Warren Spector along with looks into the history of franchises such as Street Fighter. This is the sort of content that I'm going to be interested in reading and discussing no matter when it shows up in my mailbox. 
 
These guys have earned respect by treating their readers with respect. @Gamer, you would do well to follow their example.
These guys have earned respect by treating their readers with respect. @Gamer, you would do well to follow their example.

That's why I'm sort of disappointed by the fact that @Gamer has decided to stick with just a bunch of previews and a handful of reviews. If that content is interesting and insightful, then it can still make for a good magazine. I would just rather see them try to branch out and try to appeal more to my intelligence rather than just my adrenal glands and my wallet.
 

A Big Problem: Discussions of Price and Interesting Coverage Choices

One of the things I've noticed, is that there is far more discussion of price in this magazine than in most other gaming magazines. In addition, there seem to be some articles that have been included that seem to serve no real purpose aside from getting people to purchase a specific product.
 
First off, there's the fact that @Gamer seems to embrace the fact that the Best Buy coupons within are one of the primary selling points. It's on the cover, their website, and the letter from the editor section. They've tweeted about it and there's a full three page spread in the magazine highlighting the games that have applicable coupons included. In all honesty, these coupons in this first issue are actually pretty decent. It's $15-20 off some pretty solid games such as Halo 3: ODST, Skate 3, Bioshock 2, and Assassin's Creed 2. However, I do have some doubt about whether or not the deals will stay this good. The subscription materials only promise "at least $20 in Best Buy coupons" in each issue. That makes me think the $145 coupon bounty in the first issue won't be something seen very often. The way it's phrased means future issues may have four $5 off coupons for four less than stellar games or a $20 off coupon for gaming accessories. I'm not saying that's what is going to happen, I'm just presenting the possibility that this first issue may be luring subscribers with a promise of something too good to be true.

 Is this really newsworthy in June 2010?
 Is this really newsworthy in June 2010?

Case in point, there is an article on the Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles DVD set in the news section. For those unfamiliar with the Red vs. Blue series, it's a machinima by Rooster Teeth Productions that takes place in the world of Halo. It's certainly relevant to the people that would be reading this magazine, but I'm a little unclear on why it would be in the news section. This box set was released over a year and half ago in January 2009. That's not exactly breaking news. 
 
The article also specifically takes time to justify the price point:

While the $59.95 price tag may sound a little steep, if you're a Halo fan (or a fan of game culture) you'll find yourself laughing at lines such as, "Women are like Voltron. The more you can hook up, the better it gets."

Finally, this article strangely has no byline. This inevitably leads me to question if this was actually written by someone on the magazine staff or if it was instead written by a marketing person trying to sell some DVDs. Similarly, there's a short article which makes mention on the current "Buy Singularity, Get Prototype for free" deal (which also has no byline). I'm not saying this isn't stuff some gamers would be interested in knowing, I'm just not sure that I approve of where or how the information is being presented.
 
There's also an article on EA Sports Online Pass (again, with no byline) that I have a sneaking suspicion was included solely to encourage people to buy new copies of EA Sports games rather than used copies from GameStop. The Online Pass is also specifically mentioned in both the Madden 11 preview and the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. In the Tiger Woods 11 review, it's actually listed as one of the cons of the game. While EA Sports Online Pass is definitely something worth discussing that could potentially impact a large number of gamers, I think it's mostly the way it's presented that I don't like.  
 
 It's a relevant topic of discussion, but I just can't help but feel like you guys have an agenda.
 It's a relevant topic of discussion, but I just can't help but feel like you guys have an agenda.

For what it's worth, there are times when the magazine discourages purchasing something because of the price being too high. In Andy Eddy's review of Green Day: Rock Band, he states that:

Full retail price seems steep for what you're getting.

There's also a review of an Nvidia video card where there is mention of it being a bit "pricey". So, this would appear to be evidence that it can go either way, but I don't think discouraging people from buying a $500 video card really excuses presenting articles that seem to just be advertisements masquerading as a news story, preview, or review. No matter how you spin it, that just isn't honest.
 

A Bigger Problem: Lack of Objective Criticism

The biggest problem I see facing this magazine is a lack of objective criticism. Most of the reviews tend to boil down to just a list of features in the game. The sort of thing you might see in a press release. I would be OK with that sort of thing in a preview (however, even there it might be nice to inject a little opinion on the promise of the game), a review should largely be reserved for a critique of the good and bad aspects of a game. 
 
The reviews certainly aren't devoid of criticism, but it just tends to feel like an after thought. Like the focus of the review is to just tell you what's in the game and not what's good or bad. Some reviews are certainly better than others, but even in some of the good ones such as Mitch Dyer's review of Alpha Protocol, it often seems like the writers are afraid to say anything too negative about a game. A lot of the language used tends to be very forgiving, often saying that some feature of the game compensates for a deficiency elsewhere. A lot of times, the real criticism seems to be relegated to the short pros and cons above the game scores. However, sometimes the pros and cons section can be saddled by things in the cons section that aren't really cons. The LEGO Harry Potter review for instance lists "Having to wait for the next installment" as one of the cons.
 
Additionally, the scores seem to also be a bit generous. Nothing reviewed in the entire magazine received below a 3/5, but maybe it's just a case of everything in this issue being at least decent. I'm not saying the scoring is broken, but it's something that people may want to keep an eye on in future issues.
 

The Biggest Problem: The Crackdown 2 "Review"

By far my biggest point of contention with the inaugural issue of @Gamer is the Crackdown 2 "Review" (note the use of quotation marks). This is almost certainly the worst so-called review I've ever read. The article is written by Andy Eddy (specifically it says "Words: Andy Eddy" which seems like an odd way to phrase it), someone that has been in video game media for long enough that he should be more than capable of writing a competent review. That's part of what makes it so odd just how puzzlingly terrible this article is.

Don't just tell me this is fun, tell me why it's fun.
Don't just tell me this is fun, tell me why it's fun.
The "review" essentially starts out by pointing out that most people went to the original game for the Halo 3 beta key and somewhat accidentally discovered that Crackdown was actually a fun open-world action game. A pretty good opening and a nice observation. Unfortunately, things pretty much go downhill from there. The article basically devolves into a feature list for the game. Orbs, freaks, four-player co-op, 16-player competitive multiplayer. Those are all things that I want to know about, but this being a review, I also expect some sort of qualitative analysis of these features. Some criticism. Some editorializing.
 
What's good about the game and what's bad? How are the graphics? What about the sound and music? Are the controls fun or frustrating? How's the mission structure? Is the competitive multiplayer any good? How's the co-op with the increased player count? These and basically every other question you could possibly have about the quality of Crackdown 2 are not answered in this review. You're pretty much just expected to take Andy's word for it that this game is "another winner" and will "be a big killer of personal productivity and spare time during the summer".
 
I've read through the "review" in its entirety several times, each time hoping that maybe I'll uncover some morsel that will help validate it as a review, but each time I've come up empty handed. The review consumes four full pages, but the word count is surprisingly low. Worst of all, the words that are there don't reveal any real insight into the quality of the game. There are two sizable paragraphs where Ruffian Games director Billy Thomson discusses things the dev team wanted to put in the game but had to leave out. Interesting but I'm not sure if it's suitable content for a review. Then there's a pull quote from editor-in-chief Wil O'Neal that reads:

One thing I'm curious about is how Crackdown 2 handles co-op...Crackdown 2 reportedly has more and better defined collaboration between the partners, which I would think increases co-op mode's entertainment value.

Keep in mind that this is in fact labeled a review and not a preview. Yet, here we have a worthless pull quote where Wil thinks aloud about whether or not the co-op will be good in Crackdown 2. This is a review! You should be answering this question, not just stating the question. 
 
Then we come to the pros, cons, and the score. The pros are both actually pretty reasonable. One pretty much says if you enjoyed the first game that you'll enjoy the sequel and the other says that player progression is a "satisfying thrill". Those sound pretty good and likely pretty accurate. The cons however might as well also be labeled as pros since they don't actually say anything negative about the game. The first con listed basically says that you'll be disappointed that "the game will end". The other con says,

In September, Halo: Reach will come out, which is great on its own, but not for those who want to keep playing Crackdown 2.

Is Andy trying to upsell me on a Halo: Reach pre-order in the Crackdown 2 review? That's pretty much what it sounds like, and again, this is supposed to be part of "what's not so great" about Crackdown 2. Below the pros and cons there are three little phrases listed that seem to be intended to sum up the game:
  • Leaping Party
  • Orb-tacular
  • BOOOOOOM!
I'm not joking. The review actually says that right next to the score, a 4.5/5. A score that honestly I don't think this review justifies in the least. There isn't a single bad thing said about the game, so how do they justify not giving it a five. However, there also isn't really much discussion about what's good in the game either. There's not really any good reason given for why this game isn't a 4 or a 3.5 or anything other than the score that they gave it. The "review" just has a lot of glowingly positive phrasing to make the game sound like it could be fun so I guess they think most people will just accept the high score. Maybe some people will, but I'm not one of those people.

 Damn it, Andy! Did you just try to sell me a Halo: Reach pre-order in your Crackdown 2 review?
 Damn it, Andy! Did you just try to sell me a Halo: Reach pre-order in your Crackdown 2 review?

This really doesn't feel at all like a review. It feels much more like a preview, with some portions feeling like they were ripped straight out of a Microsoft press release. It's bad enough that I have to wonder if Andy even played through a full version of Crackdown 2 prior to writing this. I'm even tempted to question if Mr. Eddy even wrote this at all. It could just as easily have been someone in the Microsoft or Best Buy marketing departments.
 
Bottom line, this isn't video game criticism or editorializing! This is straight-up marketing. I've been reading video game magazines for a very long time, and I've never seen such glaringly obvious bias and marketing make its way into a review. I personally feel insulted that Andy Eddy and the people at @Gamer think so little of gamers and consumers in general that they assume we're dumb enough to fall for such a clear marketing ploy. Reading this review basically feels like Andy Eddy slapping me in the face and telling me to buy Crackdown 2.
 
Telling me to buy a game doesn't constitute a review. You need to tell me why I should want to buy a game and leave the decision up to me.
 

@Gamer: Because We Think You're Too Stupid to Catch onto Our Bullshit.

I feel like @Gamer is just extremely condescending to gamers and anyone in general that might be in the market for video game paraphernalia. They seem to be under the impression that throwing around a lot of big flashy images and hyperbole is enough to sell whatever they want. Well, here's a newsflash Best Buy, gamers aren't all the low IQ neanderthals that you seem to think they are. Many of them are quite capable of rational thought and they don't take kindly to attempts to manipulate them. 

 My initial impression of @Gamer? Sort of like this, but brown-ish and steaming.
 My initial impression of @Gamer? Sort of like this, but brown-ish and steaming.

Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, and looking back at how much I just wrote, it's pretty evident that I'm overreacting. I just can't help but feel like @Gamer magazine is a personal affront against me, gamers, and video game media and criticism. I'm willing to sit back and watch it develop for a while, but at the moment I'm filled with the overwhelming hope that the magazine is a miserable failure.
 

Epilogue: My Twitter Discussions

After my initial look into @Gamer, I took my issues to the same place everyone goes to shoot their mouth off with opinions, Twitter. What follows is a recounting of my tweets and the reactions from some of the people involved with the magazine in question. I'll attempt to keep this updated if I receive any more responses.
 
For reference:
@chasepettit - That's me.
@ATGAMER - The official Twitter account for @Gamer magazine.
@Vidgames - Andy Eddy, executive editor for @Gamer.
@MitchyD - Mitch Dyer, freelance writer working for @Gamer.
@woneal - Wil O'Neal, editor-in-chief for @Gamer.
@YouTim - Timothy Young, marketing manager of video games for Best Buy.
 
My initial tweets:

BestBuy's Gamer mag is pretty bad. I'm pretty sure the guy that wrote this Crackdown 2 review in here hasn't actually played the game.

@ ATGAMER You accidentally took a press release for Crackdown 2 and put it in the Review section. Did this Andy guy even play the full game?

@Gamer's response:

@ chasepettit What about the Crackdown 2 review do you disagree with?

My response:

@ ATGAMER I don't see any qualitative analysis or criticism. It's basically a feature list. Why did it get a 4.5 rather than a 4 or a 5?

@ ATGAMER It feels like it was written by a marketing person trying to sell copies rather than a game critic evaluating the product. 

 
 
 
My tweet to Andy Eddy, executive editor and writer of the Crackdown 2 review:

@ Vidgames Did you play Crackdown 2 before writing this review in @ ATGAMER. It reads a lot more like a press release or a preview

 Response:

@ chasepettit Yes, I played it first. What made it like a "press release or a preview" to you?

My response:

@ Vidgames You list a lot of features and say that it's fun, but you don't really address WHY any single aspect of the game is "fun".

@ Vidgames None of the content on the last page even felt like it had any place in a review. Also, http://bit.ly/9rYhu2

 
 
 
My tweet to Timothy Young, Best Buy marketing manager for video games:

@ YouTim Do you consider AtGamer a legit gaming mag like EGM or is it purely the marketing tool used to generate sales it appears to be?

His response and an associated tweet:

@ chasepettit legit based on the editors having free reign to write what they want..give it a couple issues before you jump to conclusion 

Best Buy’s new game magazine “@ GAMER” is it journalism or a monthly ad for a subscription. http://amplify.com/u/7feh

My response:

@ YouTim There are glimmers of hope in there, but it's hard for me to not jump to conclusions based on that Crackdown 2 "review".

Response:

@ chasepettit ok so the crackdown 2 review could have had more meat..what about the other ones?

 Me:

@ YouTim @ Vidgames @ woneal I thought you might be interested in this gamer's take on @ ATGAMER: http://bit.ly/9rYhu2

Him:

@ chasepettit @ Vidgames @ woneal @ ATGAMER thanks for the real time feedback, don't give up just yet 

@ chasepettit thanks, and I would request that if you want, submit a review and maybe we will publish. We want our readers involved

 
 

Misc tweets from random people about @Gamer:

SignedInPodcast   
I know @ ATGamer is just getting started, but at least 3 of the games featured "cons" that were the game ending or competition. Objectivity?    

SignedInPodcast   
For the life of me I can't make sense of this @ ATGamer "review" of Crackdown 2. It details no gameplay and only talks about features. 

Spiderduff   
@ ATGAMER Just got the first issue. Not bad. If you provide discounts like this in every magazine then count me in! 

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I Might Enter This into an Art Exhibit.

So, I'm considering entering this into a small employee art exhibit in the depressingly underrepresented "Computer Graphics" category. What do you guys think of it? I'm hoping I'll get a little bit of credit just for it being pixel art, since I don't there have been any pixel art in any entries in previous years.
 

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Ice Cube Dev Blog #9 - Return to the [Cut]Scene of the Crime


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Ice Cube Dev Blog #9 - Return to the [Cut]Scene of the Crime

I was going to wait until I was further along with this stuff to show it to you guys, but I figured that there's no good reason not to provide a new update if I have the ability to do it. What follows are two images from cut scenes in the game.
 
The first image is an updated version of the image I posted in the last blog entry. It should take place somewhere near the beginning of the first level of the game.
 
The other is something that I've just started working on. It's still incomplete, but you can use your imagination to see where I'm going with it. It will probably be somewhere near the middle or two-thirds of the way through the game when Ice Cube is getting very close to his first confrontation with the forces of evil that are attempting to take over the world.

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