Don't pre-order games. Also I pre-ordered a game. Here's why.

It's easy to buy into a game's hype. After all, publishers pay employees quite a bit of money to make you so anxious to play a game you'll line up for hours outside a Game Crazy at your local mall, your bag of Naugles tacos in hand while you talk about whether or not Seal could beat up all the Boyz II Men. Which he totally could, b-dubs.

Fuck, I'm old.

The point is, someone's always trying to sell you something like it's their job, right? Because it is. How impressionable you are to this is really only your concern. Hey, you want to get swept up and buy four hundred cans of Mountain Dew's new squid-flavored hypercaffeinated energy drink, it's your money. But it's no real surprise or news that pre-ordering games these days is kind of a silly thing to do. The reasons for this are numerous and have been done to death on these forums and elsewhere, but here's a quick recap - 1) game reviews are still relevant and can save you money if you're willing to wait, and 2) pre-ordering games will lead to butt cancer. I heard that on Facebook so it has to be true.

I haven't pre-ordered a thing since... oh, hell, Fallout 4, maybe? I'm not immune to pre-order hype, but as I grow older, I've begun detaching myself from a lot of the excitement of games in general and have found myself more and more capable of waiting for stuff to go on a deep discount. Having a limited income has helped with this self-control, but it really just boils down to nothing coming out in a good long while that's really stirred up my soul in the way big franchises like Final Fantasy or the aforementioned Fallout used to do. There are tons of great games that've come out in the last few years, but none of them have really spoken to me personally. And that's okay! Saves me money, at the very least.

So here's an oddity for you, then. At the beginning of this month, I decided to punch the pre-order button on a game you might think is an odd decision, considering I didn't particularly love its predecessor. That game is Far Cry New Dawn. Note that there are no spoilers ahead for Far Cry 5, but I do have to talk around some things.

I know. Of all the games to buy before reviews have come out, why the hell would I pick New Dawn? The answer to that isn't as simple as hype. I played Far Cry 5 to completion and did most every side-quest. I wasn't in love with the game. I thought the cult and the ending were intriguing ideas that unfortunately weren't very well fleshed out in ways believable to that universe, leaving me with questions as to just what the hell the plot leaders might have been thinking or doing or planning towards. I don't mean that in a "I have to know more!" sort of way. It was half-assed writing in an otherwise perfectly vanilla update to the Far Cry 3 formula. The Montana setting was fun, especially as I'm from the area, but it wasn't really a selling point for me.

But.

Curiosity killed the cat, and it slaughtered my wallet. I have to know if Ubisoft is capable of making good on any of the more intriguing aspects of that game. I am intrigued by the idea of games exploring spiritual mysticism that isn't a part of some existentialist or nihilisitic viewpoint, and what Far Cry 5 was going for is fairly unique at least in terms of games in that regard. Although it didn't earn its ending, I wholly respect the sheer magnitude of what it was trying to aim for. Maybe that's because I'm deeply in love with the similar ending to the underrated movie Miracle Mile, but I don't think so. Far Cry 5 was so close to greatness that I kind of have to see where New Dawn goes to, if just as a consumer-historian sort of way. And I realize how bizarre that sounds considering how many people across the globe will be covering New Dawn for themselves and how easy that coverage will be to access, but there's still some part of me that hopes, even in some very tiny way, that New Dawn makes good on at least some of the premises from Far Cry 5. It also really doesn't hurt that I love the open-world gameplay from these games, but that's pretty much secondary to knowing how the second chapter to this story will end.

So there you go. It's not a game I expect to hold close to my heart, and I've read some review recaps. I know what I'm in for. I'm okay with that.

So have you pre-ordered any games for an unusual reason? What are your biggest pre-order regrets?

36 Comments

Assassin's Creed Hotyssey

I'm gonna let you all in on a little secret. That newest Assassin's Creed game? It's great!

That take is hotter than 50 Shades of Sparky, I know, but I'm wildly happy with this game. I should be - I've been playing it off and on for a damn month pretty much exclusively, and with over seventy hours in, I'm barely past the 60% storyline mark. That's partly on me, because I like monkeying around in the universe and because I have a hard time spotting certain objectives or things to destroy. But it's also because I'm just having a great time exploring.

Now part of that is due to the fun I'm making for myself. I've been swapping pretty freely between weapon types, and at level 55 or so, I'm pretty much just ramming through combat encounters for funsies. That aspect was a little frustrating for the first ten or so levels, especially when it came to the mercenaries who breathed on me and I died. Now I'm playing drums with three or four mercenaries' skulls at a time while fire-lovin' ladies are spitting at me with their devil bows and I'm loving it.

Kassandra's a dope character, voiced particularly well by Melissanthi Mahut, who I hope is a name we see featured in a lot more games. Kassandra's alternately full of wonderment and brashful exuberance, and is a fantastic counter to Abubakar Salim's equally likable Bayek from the previous game. The islands aren't quite as fascinating as that setting, but navigating Kassandra's world is still a great deal of fun.

My enjoyment is also aided by books on tape, which if you haven't tried before, grab yourself a good podcast game, get to your library, and bullshit with your librarian about Overdrive on your computer or device. I've been mowing down Craig Johnson's Longmire novels playing Odyssey and the combination of cowboy procedural and old timey hackin', whackin', and stabbin' has been a riot.

And that's it, I suppose. Sometimes I just gotta give a game its due, and this is one of those times. AC Odyssey is a real delight.

7 Comments

A quiet goodbye to 2018 on Giant Bomb

Folks, this has been a year.

Let me just say this first - thank you. From the bottom of my battered and bruised heart, thank you. When I went through diastolic heart failure in June, my brother @upperdecker made a post in the forums to ask for thoughts and prayers. At the time, I was surly and downright angry from days spent in a brutally uncomfortable hospital bed waiting for any sort of person with an MD behind their name to come in and talk to me - at all. I was not the kindest to my family or friends then, which if you know me is unfortunately par for the course. But after a while I finally recovered enough to realize the ocean of kindness and love surrounding me, both personally and online, and I'm reminded of it as being the single greatest highlight of my 2018. "No man is a failure who has friends" is about damn right. I'm in the process of rereading that whole thread, and it's got me tearing up a bit.

The heart problems weren't even the worst part of my 2018. Breaking my pelvis or pissing rocks - the latter at the same time as my heart attack - weren't even the worst parts. The hardest part was losing my last remaining grandparent. Her mind had been going for a while now, and in that regard, I guess it's good she didn't need to suffer anymore, but in my honest opinion? Fuck that. She was my grandma, the woman I turned to when I needed to get away from my house for a night, who I road tripped with, whose mashed potatoes and crock-cooked beans were the freaking best. Yeah, seeing her lose her mind sucked, especially since it fell to my mom to take care of her, but you know what sucks more? The giant gaping hole where she used to be.

Fuck you, Death. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

With all that, I don't know. Games were played, I suppose. Some were great. Some were good. Some were bad. You can get better opinions elsewhere on all of them. I just don't have the energy to write up a big wrap-up on all of it. I'll put up a personal GOTY list and talk about the ups and down of each game, but basically it's been a year of focusing on my personal life and my work. Speaking of, I wrapped up a seven book supernatural thriller series this year, shot way the hell over a million words published, and had a couple other milestones that mean nothing to absolutely anyone but me. Should have a new book out in late January or early February, which is cool. Looking forward to a year of writing (and reading) pulpy genre fiction. It's going well. Reviews have been positive, page counts are up on Kindle Unlimited, and I even occasionally make a sale. As a way to try and get back on my feet financially (I'm legally blind and living on disability, a thing I have decideed I don't want to do anymore and am working getting that sweet, sweet lettuce), it's really a fun job. I need to focus on writing stuff with a wider market appeal and just keep grinding away.

I hesitated even writing this blog because it has so very little to do with games. But despite my sometimes-irritable and blunt, overly critical nature, I love this site. I love the people here, and I don't just mean the personalities (though the crew continues to put out a bunch of fun stuff I've been enjoying). I mean, the community. I've said this before but it bears repeating each and every time - Giant Bomb is one of the best communities on the Internet. I love the bloggers here. I love the regular chatters. I love bullshitting on Infinite. I love cussing out things with people on the forums. Despite me drifting a little ways away this year for a lot of reasons, I'm not going anywhere, and I hope you won't either.

Love and thanks,

Cameron Lowe, the sparkiest of buzzsaws

18 Comments

Win a copy of Dark Souls III by entertaining me!

Hey folks!

I have a copy of Dark Souls III (and some piece of DLC I can't be bothered to go look up) I'm looking to give away to one lucky member of the Giant Bomb community. But I'm not just interested in doing a random drawing. Oh no. You're going to entertain me. Dance for my entertainment! DANCE!

Actually, no, don't dance. Write. Stop with the groaning already, it's simple. Assuming you have 200+ posts, I want you to write me a seven word short story. That's it. You can use any combination of punctuation or sentence structure you like. Just tell me an ORIGINAL story in seven words, and you're entered. Here's the rules in a simple bullet point style, because the Internet hates reading anything longer than a goddamned - you've already nodded off, haven't you? Fuck.

-Have 200+ posts. Don't be a dillweed and go posting a bunch of spam to bump your count up.

-Short story, seven words, be original. I used to hunt down plagiarism as a job, and also IT'S ONLY SEVEN WORDS, YOU LAZY CHEATS. So don't, Chester Cheatoh.

-You are limited to ONE entry. That's (1), minus the parenthetical marks. Do you know the number of fingers you use to flip off that asshole who always starts off every conversation with, "Sure is a hot/cold/mild/smoldering ruin of a day, huh?" Yeah. That's the number of entries you get.

-Spelling, proper punctuation, and an adherence to the English language are nice, but I'll allow for creative punctuation and form given the short nature of the beast. That said, if you misuse any contractons, you're fuckin' out. That's some third-grade bullshit and third-graders shouldn't be hanging around these forums and they damn well better not be reading my curse-filled diatribes.

-Contest will close... I don't know, man, sometime Sunday night. All right, you want an exact time? Fine. I live in GMT time in the States, so we'll call it at 9:00 P.M. on Sunday my time. If you want to know what time that is, use the damn Google machine. Also see my previous comment about middle fingers.

Good luck! Wow me, entertain me! I love you all. Platonically. Don't get your hopes up.

Also, this is Steam-only. Don't whine at me about not winning a copy for your goddamn Game Gear.

58 Comments

A Hack Writer Plays Doki Doki Literature Club

Goddamn it, @zombiepie.

Those were the words I kept muttering to myself throughout the first hour or two of Doki Doki Literature Club, a visual novel developed and published by Team Salvato. There are anime girls. There's a hapless guy (you) who joins a club just to ogle said anime girls and maybe get a little thigh-fiving action with those girls by manipulating one of them into thinking he likes her by creating poetry slanted towards the words and imagery she likes. The girls are inexplicably all drawn to him despite clearly being a douche with no identifiable characteristics besides liking whatever the hell the object of his affection likes.

This should not be a game I played to near completion. I hate all that garbage. It's Japan trope 101 bullshit, and it's the worst.

"Keep going," ZombiePie insisted. "It's worth it. Trust me."

So I did. And guess what? He was absolutely right.

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Cameron Lowe. As your brilliant mind has probably figured out from the title of this blog, I'm a writer of shlock bullshit - mystic cannibal gangs, lesbian shapeshifters, and in a fit of madness, even a romance novel about ugly people who happen to be very fond of each other. Lemme tell you what, if you want to sell jack and shit, try being a guy in your thirties writing romance novel under your real name. It's a delight!

To date, I've written and self-published six books. Fuck, that's crazy to write down, but it's the truth. More importantly than that, I've got an English degree and I've read more than any sane person should ever claim in a lot of genres. Never ask me what you should read. You'll be listening to me long enough for your family and loved ones to send out a search party. I'm that kind of asshole.

The point is, I know stories. They're not just my business, they're my great love affair. I'm in danger of going completely blind and yet I'll piss away whatever vision I have left just so I can get in one last good book. I know the structure of writing (and the importance of mastering that structure so I can get to the business of ignoring it when I please). And most important to this blog on Doki Doki Club, I know tropes.

I thought I knew what I was in for when it came to Doki Doki Club in its first half hour. Through ZombiePie's chatter, I also thought I knew its twists - one of those I was right about (because he basically gave it away), but the other... well, let's dive in and find out, because it somehow manages to both be impressive and somehow squander its potential. More on that in a second..

SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT FIRST...

I can't talk about Doki Doki Club without spoilers. It's a visual novel and the story is pretty much the only point of the game. If you're looking for a quick and dirty recommendation, yes, go "play" it. It's free, and it's well worth your time even if you're not a fan of anime. Maybe especially if you're not a fan of anime. However, there are some dark themes. That's not a joke. Take the game's warnings seriously, and if that shit bothers you, go play something else. It really isn't fucking around.

REALLY, DUDE AND/OR DUDETTE, SPOILERS AHEAD

FOR REAL, THOUGH. SPOILERS.

OKAY. DON'T WHINE AT ME FOR SPOILING THINGS. WHINY BABY. ALWAYS WHINING. INFANTS ARE SUCH BABIES. THANKS MST3K FOR THAT LAST JOKE. YOU FOLKS ROCKED. ROBOT ROLL CALL! NO. NO, WE DON'T HAVE TIME. GOTTA GET TO THE POINT. SO... UHHH... HERE WE GO. SPOILERS, OKAY?

ZombiePie sold me on trying Doki Doki Club by saying this. I'm paraphrasing here.

"Sparky, you utterly devastatingly cool dude, you should put a halt to writing ten billion words of always fascinating things and play Doki Doki Club."

I set down my five-hundred pound bench press dumbbell thingie, wiped the single bead of sweat off my forehead, and laughed my ass off at him, because I sure as hell wasn't going to play a Japanese-ass visual novel that looked about as cookie-cutter as it gets. Nerdy guy lands a harem. Yay.

"Sparks - sorry, I meant sir - just try it. It really goes places you wouldn't expect."

Well, that just made me roll my eyes. Not literally. I didn't use them for craps dice or something. I started to get back in the groove of my workout. You know how it goes. I had to crunch out those flammy jam leg lifts. Gotta keep them glutes tight, know what I mean?

"Look," he wrote, seeming exasperated but probably just in awe of me, "it gets even darker than your books. It's good stuff."

That got my attention.

My books don't have twists for the sake of twists. I hate that. If a writer has a twist that fits in naturally with the progression of the story, that's great. I don't mind. But twists have often become the focus, with the rest of the story fleshed out around them like the world's most backwards human body.

That said, my books are often times dark. No one's really safe when it comes to my writing. That's not to say I drop bodies just for the sake of shock value. Like I say, it's all in service of the story I want to tell, and sometimes that means bad shit happens to good - or at least sympathetic - characters.

So why did it intrigue me in this particular case? Because darkness isn't really a thing I expect from anime-styled games. It's an unfair judgment, to be sure. I'm at least aware of how dark some anime and manga can get, even if I don't partake in them.

Even better, Doki Doki is free. Not F2P, none of that. It's free, with DLC meant to support the developer if you like the game. In this day and age, that's a rad fuckin' business model.

It didn't hurt anything to try it. So I did.

And I was immensely, instantly bored as piss.

Doki Doki LIterature Club starts off as what I imagine is a typical visual novel. Bland, boring preambles about Sayori, the plucky childhood friend, are the focus until the main character - named by you as whatever you like, so I naturally picked GoddamnItZP - agrees to join a club to appease her. Two guesses as to what one he picks, and no, it's not the Fight Club. The literature club is full of cliched anime girls - there's the quiet, studious type, the cantankerous-but-really-sweet-and-creepily-young-looking girl, the aforementioned plucky Sayori, who makes little bones about her just-under-the-surface crush on the main character, and the club leader Monika, who doesn't have much of a personality aside from being the one to keep things on track.

Holy fuck, boys and girls, do I hate this early section of the game. As your character gets to know these girls, you show less and less of a personality and start to make choices that hopefully net you the anime cliche of your dreams. This is largely done through poetry readings each afternoon of the game. For these, you're not actually coming up with poetry, but selecting twenty keywords from a list of choices. Each girl has certain words she likes or associates with, so choosing those gains you favor with that particular girl.

This is pretty much creeper territory, as you don't actually establish any actual personality yourself. You're just creating a persona for whoever it is you want to be with. Then again, I guess that's pretty much my whole young adult life described in a nutshell, so... hey, maybe it's more true-to-life than I give it credit for.

Anyways, this is a largely by-the-numbers hour or so. I do like the occasional writing tips the characters throw out there as they talk about what they like in terms of literature. It's all mostly relevant advice, and useful if you haven't taken a basic high school or college level creative writing course.

Things start to take a turn for the weird when Sayori starts acting a little strange around the main character. She's a bit despondent, her laughs and cheer are forced, and she winds up missing a day of school.

Okay. Here's where stuff gets dark, so turn away if talk about depression or suicide gets to you.

Yeah. Suicide.

After the main character is forced to make a choice between telling Sayori she's his best friend or he loves her, he goes to spend an afternoon with one of the other love interests as they work on preperations for an upcoming MacGuffin-esque school event. By this point, even knowing what was coming basically thanks to ZombiePie's warnings, it's fairly obvious things with Sayori are about to take a turn for the worst. She comes by, sees the player character with another girl, and goes into full manic cheerful mode.

The main character realizes something's wrong, but nothing quite clicks until he goes to visit Sayori at her house and finds her hanging from the ceiling fan.

Okay. That's enough to make Doki Doki interesting. Sayori's depiction of depression is actually well written, given the constraints of the game style. One particular gut-punch comes when she tells the main character, "You think I'm happy because that's the only part of me I allow you to see," or something to that effect. It's a brave, honest moment of writing. The people we love perceive us as the front we present to them, and that's doubly true of those fighting depression or other mental illness.

When I say it's a "terrific" moment, I don't mean that to imply her death is terrific. It isn't. The imagery of her hanging is disturbing and the build-up is immensely sad. But it is a terrific moment of storytelling and I applaud it as such. If I hadn't been warned about it, it would have definitely been a lot more effective, but honestly, if I hadn't known about it even in a roundabout way, I wouldn't have played this game, so I'm glad Zeep warned me. Well played, Doki Doki. You have my attention as a player, a reader, and writer.

And then Doki Doki goes fucking batshit nuts.

REALLY, STOP READING HERE AND JUST GO PLAY IT. UNLESS YOU HAVE, IN WHICH CASE, STICK AROUND. LET'S CUDDLE. FIGURATIVELY. I DON'T WANT YOU HOGGING MY BLANKETS. OKAY, SPOILER WARNING DONE. LET'S GET BACK TO WORK.

That's where ZombiePie's warnings couldn't have told me where the game goes next. The whole thing goes back out to the main title screen, where some pretty sick imagery has replaced the cheery picture of the main girls from the literary club. The game restarts, and Sayori is just... gone. She's not mentioned by anyone and her presence isn't felt. Instead, you're invited to the club by the leader, Monika, and events play out with the object of your affection becoming obsessed with you.

All the while, the game starts to play with the onscreen imagery and text in some great ways. Doki Doki isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse, so the effects are largely simple - red shaders, a demonic-styled font, etc. There are hints that some darker force is at work behind the scenes, displeased with the woman you've chosen. As she slowly slips further and further into madness, the player starts to see the game "break" with images foreshadowing what's to come.

My thought at this point is, "Oh, we're getting a representation of what Sayori's hell would be like, if they're going for that kind of a story. Interesting." It's certainly what the game seems to imply is coming.

What does happen is bizarre and gruesome, but it's not hell. At least not the kind you and I are associating with it right now.

The love interest again kills herself, this time stabbing her stomach repeatedly until you're left looking at a bloody, mangled corpse staring at you adoringly. It's messed up, and the game's writer keeps going - instead of you calling the authorities, you're just sitting there, with the body as time passes. A lot of time. So much time I thought the game was broken or something, but instead, Monika, the literary club's leader, comes back and tells you a whole weekend's passed. She sees the body, and instead of horror, she just seems fascinated by the whole thing.

This section, this whole middle third, is utterly fantastic. It's a great example of a low-budget game using its strengths to create something incredibly powerful and disturbing without having to resort to flashy tricks. The use of the fonts to contradict the cheery bubblegum bullshit with darker portents of what happened and what's to come is awesome. The visual cues create a great sense of atmosphere, and the steadily degrading music gives the whole thing a feel of sliding into some Dante-esque level of hell.

Doki Doki is worth playing for this section alone. It subverted my expectations entirely, and I wholly applaud the developer for taking such a weird, wild route to its ending.

And what an ending it is, even if it doesn't stick the landing quite the way I'd like.

It's revealed after the second suicide that Monika has been behind the whole nightmarish thing, and that she's completely aware this is a game. I should probably put "aware" in quotes because this is all just obviously scripted stuff, but the game does some neat tricks with its concept, including Monika calling the player by his "actual" name - meaning your Steam ID. There are also some files dumped to your desktop to give the whole thing a spookier feel, as though Monika has actually invaded your computer and is slowly taking the thing over. Then she essentially implodes the world, deleting the other characters from a file in your Steam folder - yes, really - leaving her and the gamer - and not the character you've created - as the sole occupants of her dream universe, wherein she admits she's been wildly in love with you.

The game "ends" here in a loop. Monika shares her philosophies on love, and what she thinks the player should do to be happy, and the things she regrets most about having a real game world to play in. It's a fascinating idea, one that unfortunately was marred by ZombiePie shouting at me to go a little bit further, just a little bit further. As it turned out, he was referencing seeing something I'd already witnessed - MOnika using my "real" name, but by that point, it was two in the morning and I couldn't take any more Doki Doki.

I came back to it the next day, sure I'd missed something. The concept is neat, as Monika is still sitting there spouting off philosophy and dreamy odes to the player, but I didn't quite "get" what I was supposed to do next until I looked up a guide. You have to actually delete Monika's file from your computer in order to get the "ending," which actually keeps going.

It's a mind-trip, but it's such an elusive, bizarre way of doing things, it actually ended up irritating me rather than amazing me. It's neat that players had to figure this stuff out, but I'm not sure I like the idea of Monika being an intelligent Ai as much as I would've liked the idea of the story playing itself out as the horror story it implied it was in that middle third.

It's unfortunate. Because that ending is special, and it does work, especially if you're smart enough to pick up what to do next. But I don't like ARG-styled games, particularly when it comes to something where I just kinda want to see the next part of the story. I don't want or need an impediment to that to enjoy myself. It's a neat concept, but imagine reading a book and the writer uses invisible ink during the last thirty pages when you have no idea what the fuck invisible ink even is or that it exists. That's me and Doki Doki. I can appreciate it, but in the end, I'm not sure I like the decisions it made.

All that aside, this and What Remains of Edith Finch make a strong case for storytelling within games making more sense than on the page. This is not an experience I could have had with a regular book. We're slowly approaching the point when storytelling in games isn't just good by the medium's standards, but good by any medium's standards. We still have a ways to go, but Doki Doki gives me hope for more and more inventive storytelling within the confines of a game's structure - or beyond it. Whatever Team Salvato works on next, I'll be paying attention.

22 Comments

Bear with Me - Some Final Thoughts

I can't really talk about the effectiveness of Bear with Me's storytelling (and its problems) without delving deep into spoilers, so up front, I'd say if you have an interest in story-driven point-and-click adventure games of a more traditional nature, give Bear with Me a chance. It's charming, makes the best out of a limited scope, and the storytelling winds up outshining a lot of eyerolling cultural references and strange peripheral choices.

Here's a slightly more spoilery take on it if that doesn't sate your interest, but don't read past this paragraph if you want to play the game.

Bear with Me, as I've stated here elsewhere a few times, is a relatively low-budget adventure game that fully recognizes its own limitations and makes fun of them at various points - for example, at one point, a boom mic drops on screen for no apparent reason. That kind of humor is pretty hit and miss even from the best writers, and here, it's kind of detracting from the real draw of the game, which is the terrific setup of a young girl on the edge of puberty and her talking stuffed bear trying to track down the girl's missing brother while interacting with a delightful bunch of anthropomorphic stuffed animals and toys (correct me if I'm wrong if there's a better term to describe inanimate stuffed animals as opposed to the usual definition of anthropomorphic). It takes place over three episodes of various length, all of which can be beaten fairly rapidly if you've had some experience with the genre before. There are a few token puzzles to pad out the length - an irritation, but a mild one - but mostly you're collecting object A to insert into object B which in turn is used on environmental object C. It's not complex stuff, and that's totally fine - in fact, it's mostly a pleasant throwback. I say mostly, because there are some heinously bad points at which you'll be pixel-hunting for objects in vague backgrounds made hazier by the (smart) choice of a gray and black color palette. Again, deeper spoilers ahead, but if that paragraph enticed you, STOP NOW AND GO PLAY IT.

Whew. This calls for a little mood music. DJ! Chop chop! And bartender, make with the scotch!

There are three episodes to Bear with Me, all of which have a fundamentally different feel to them while still following the basics of a noir-esque detective story... until it turns into something astoundingly, wonderfully different.

Episode One

The first episode is simple - Amber Ashworth and her former PI partner Ted E. Bear (yeah, it's groan-worthy, but he grew on me) have to escape the girl's house in order to find her missing brother, Flint. Of course, your progress through the house is gated by stuffed animal characters who won't let you out until you've done a thing for them or tricked them somehow. The first episode is by far the weakest of the three episodes, as some of the characters hadn't yet found their definition and the others were waylaid by the game's forward progress and forgotten about - or were straight up murdered.

Yeah. Murdered. Despite the game's cutesy look, it's not really a game for kids. Ted drops "goddamn" left and right, and some of the umor has a relatively chaste but definitely adult tinge to it. Its themes also go awfully dark towards the end of the series, which ends up contrasting nicely with the relatively innocent feel of the first half of that first episode. Everything starts to get a little darker when our characters start to get little visions of letters written on the walls in blood. It's nothing grotesque - it's mostly PG scare stuff - but it plays at the idea that things aren't qute what they seem, especially when the game's villain, a red-hooded ghost-like figure simply referred to as Red, begins to cut down the inhabitants of Amber's little world.

It's hinted at heavily in this episode that we're playing this game through the lens of Amber's overactive imagination. It's a fantastic bit of a mislead that's translated well into the second episode as Amber and Ted escape the house through a road in their attic leading to Paper City.

Episode 2

The second episode of Bear with Me takes a turn towards a more classic film feel, as Amber and Ted investigate a mobster/casino owner tied up with Red in some curious ways. In true noir fashion, nobody's as innocent as they seem, and in an interesting twist, that the seemingly villainous King Shark is really just a misguided idiot trying to protect the people of a quickly dying city.

That concept, the idea that Red's onslaught agains Paper City's citizens is really just a precursor to the end of this world Amber and Ted occupy, is the singular most fascinating part of the game as a whole, and it's one that's again dripping with misleading potential. It was my thought at this point that "Red" was a pretty blatant metaphor for a period, signifying the end of youth and the end of childhood fantasies. That's not entirely wrong, but Bear with Me had one more card to play in the overarching storyline, one I didn't anticipate. We'll get to that in a second.

The game's writing isn't always perfect. The humor generally tends to slide between cute and a bit too self-aware and not all the characters are as fully-fleshed as they could be, especially after a shocking event in the third episode that warranted a little bit of extra reaction from some of the game's secondary cast. But where it strikes hard is the allusions to a greater storyline, something happening behind the scenes that we don't quite grasp, not yet - and it's one of those rare games that actually manages a decent payoff.

Almost all of that is set up here in the second episode. King Shark's panic as Red's murder spree continues ends up bleeding well into the third episode. The corrupt elite of Paper City work well as red herring villains for the story as a whole (though more time definitely could have been commmited to fleshing them out). The side characters all feel like they know an inevitable end is coming, and give the story a tinge of anticipatory sadness.

This is a fantastic setup for the end of Bear with Me and its dark reveal.

Episode Three

It was all a dream, Amber's long-dead so-and-so have actually been alive this whole time and monitoring Super Secret Baddie Group X from a distance, and wouldn't you know it? She's not just an ordinary farm girl, but the reborn prince of Magiclandia and the only one who can take on the Dark Badguydude.

No, it's none of that.

Well... it's kind of a dream. It's a fantasy, all right, as the game's been not-so-blatantly teasing, but let's get to that in a second.

Most of the first third of the final episode has Ted chasing down Amber from place to place as she continues the hunt for Shark King and the real story behind what's going on. This leads to the reveal that Shark King's actually had a big change of heart, and dies defending Ash from the corrupt politicians and cops. It's a pretty cliched setup, offset by a trippy moment that kind of defines what works about episode three. If you leave King's body behind and come back to it, it changes shape to a basic stuffed shark. But leave again, and he's gone.

It's a small, weird touch, one I can't decide if I like or not, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna forget it easily. In the moment, it's bizarre and takes the player out of the element of chasing down Amber and the dire trouble she's in both in the clutches of the corrupt elite and the ever-present threat of Red. I don't even know if it's intentionalling alluding to the end of the series, but if it is, it's a really smart, bizarre thing to do.

Further teasing the "it's all just a fantasy in Amber's head" thing, Ted makes a quick trip to a tunnel out of Paper City, leading to a bizarre world full of color and strange realism. He plucks two things from it, a toy sword and a piece of red cloth, both symbolic of Ash's brother.

With help from friends who love and adore Miss Ashworth for unspecified reasons apart from "the city owes her for its existence," Ted manages to track down Amber... and is mortally wounded by a cop, at which point, it's revealed Amber has some crazy powers to destroy things in her world as she frees herself and obliterates the crooked cop out of existence. Ted gives a lengthy farewell to Amber in one of the game's most effective scenes, though better animation could have gone a long ways towards making it seem less stiff.

In his last moments, Ted reveals to her that the world is wrong, that something beyond the black and white world they live in isn't right, and that Amber's missing brother's room in the "color" world is empty and full of boxes.

Here's where Amber's fantasy world begins to come apart in an absolutely fascinating last act.

She travels to the tunnel too, excpet now it's become a forest - and an aggravating puzzle for the player to solve in an old-school Zelda-like maze of finding the right pattern of lefts, rights, and forwards. She finds her way through to a singular apartment building in the distance, reminiscent of somewhere she and her family used to live. With the game's most difficult puzzles out of the way, there's more of a focus on storytelling here. Amber slowly makes her way up the building via an elevator, hearing the disjointed voices of her parents reliving a moment from Amber's past.

It's revealed through a series of hazy, nightmarish scenes that Amber had a banana allergy, and was jealous of her brother for getting cookies she couldn't eat. She snuck one out of spite, driving her parents to send her to the hospital - which leads to one particularly effective scene as Amber sees herself laid out on a hospital table, with grotesqueries of doctors watching over her. As the player solves little puzzles piecing all this together, it's revealed that she lived, and her parents started to drive her home.

The next puzzle starts off as annoying and seemingly a bit of a time-filler as a "customer representative" version of Amber helps her remember an old neighbor of theirs. Little tidbits about the man are revealed - his wife died, he fell into a funk, he drank too much, and there was a fire...

...while Amber's brother was left home alone.

Yeah. Shit gets dark.

By this point, it's abundantly clear that the whole metaphorical "growing up" fantasy was a ruse and that Amber's actually had a severe mental breakdown, using her childhood toys and imaginary friends as a means to try and cope with the loss of her brother. The game's last choice (which I actually didn't realize was a choice at all because of problems with the game's smallish fonts) has her trying to decide between using the toy sword or the red cloth on the killer Red, who has finally caught up to her. Red is her psyche trying to heal itself, which is done by giving him the cloth, or she can use the sword on him, which apparently starts the whole break all over again.

My ending, the "good" one, has Amber giving a cheerful speech about how Ted helped her to realize she needs to move on, how she can't always blame herself, and that she's going to heal... but then the game ends on a darkly poignant note with Amber weeping as she stares down at a picture of her family before her brother died.

It's a brutal ending that shows there isn't just a simple cure. Things don't just get better immediately, but that doesn't mean taht Amber won't eventually figure out a way to move on somewhere down the line. It was a shocking, pretty good ending to what was an otherwise good-but-not-great game.

But.

Despite the strong central narrative, Bear with Me does have problems. The aforementioned pixel-hunting is annoying as hell. The puzzles are largely there to add minutes to the game and give you achievements for solving them faster (or in reality, being smart enough to save at the beginning of every scene and figuring them out without screw-ups). The voice acting is charming in a Wadjet Eye sort of way, but at times, it sounds like voices were recorded over the phone. There's an entire pivotal character from Episode 2 that just up and disappears. Navigation on the main map involved me waving around my mouse until I caught the glint of a place name on accident, not because it was cleverly marked with a big contrasting-colored arrow or anything that could help me actually find it.

It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but these little things add up. Modern adventure games don't have to all be Telltale no-interaction, straight-story types, but when a game chooses to be a traditional point-and-clicker with such a strong focus on narrative, it needs to make sure to bring the little nuances of modern adventure games with it. Taking cues from Pendulo Studio's in-game hints could have helped, or even just having a "highlight the interactives" button would have eased things tremendously.

There are also a bizarre number of moments in the early parts of episode three when the game just feels incomplete, and throughout the whole game, characters and events are often glossed over in such a way as to make me feel like they had more story to tell but just couldn't. I genuinely hope Exordium ends up with another chance to make a bigger, better game than this, because they've clearly got the formula down for wildly inventive, poignant stories with the potential to be classics. They just need a little boost to get them there.

Thanks very much for reading.

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Driving Again (Sorta)

Ever since I went legally blind, I have to be choosy about the games I play. With modern HD televisions and gaming graphics came an unfortunate byproduct – fonts so tiny that they’re completely unreadable by me. While developers are slowly learning how to implement things like color blind modes, there’s still no great solution to the font size problem, even nearly a decade after it first started to crop its ugly head. Even then, the “color blind mode” name is a misnomer, since there are wildly different variations on each individual’s color blindness.

This leaves me having to pick apart videos of games I’d like to play to see if it’s feasible for my eyesight. User interfaces aren’t likely to see marked low-vision improvements until a big advocate gets a foot in the door with game developers – it’s not feasible for the business to stop and adjust their games in development for the sake of low-vision gamers. Sony’s done something fascinating with the PS4 in that they’ve implemented a zoom feature, enabled in the system’s disability settings, but it’s not a perfect solution – you can’t act while the zoom is locked in, and in action-heavy games that require quick reading of text, that’s not ideal. Still, it’s a huge step in the right direction, one I hope is being improved upon by system programmers.

One of the unfortunate casualties of my post-legal blindness was racing games. With the sheer speed of the games and the often sudden corners, I was left unable to play an entire genre. Disappointing, but in the late aughts, this changed.

A Microsoft-owned developer by the name of Turn 10 cranks out a series of racing games called Forza just about every year now. I liked the look of the games from a distance, but figured they weren’t really for me. But one of the big flags they waved for the third Forza was accessibility.

“Sure,” I thought. “And by accessibility, you don’t mean for the legally blind.”

In fact, that wasn’t the case. What they meant by accessibility was ease of use for people new to the racing genre. This included a lot of neat-sounding stuff, like racing lines that showed you where to brake, make your turns, or put the hammer down. Most importantly, though, it had a neat little rewind feature – screw up badly in a race, and you can just reverse time in small chunks to correct your mistake.

A lot of gamers boo-hooed this as a cheat for gaming babies. But I was curious. If I could correct my mistakes driving in a racing game, theoretically I could actually play the game, regardless of how terrible I was. I bought Forza 3, popped it in, and I’m not kidding when I say I had one of the great emotional experiences of my adult life within the first few hours.

I was driving again.

Sure, it wasn’t the real thing. There was no feel of the tires gripping the road. Most of the cars sounded exactly alike and more than a few drove fairly similarly too. And everything around the fringes was definitely not low-vision friendly (especially in Forza 4, which had some of the most awful contrasting color schemes in its main menus that you could imagine – hint, black on white is never a good choice). But in-game, I was behind the wheel again, and not just in a few cars, but hundreds of them.

I knew the differences. Forza wasn’t going to cure all the mild depression that comes with being legally blind in a small town with no mass transportation options whatsoever. The game wasn’t going to whisk me off to a bookstore, or let me drive aimlessly for no good reason other than to see some random site on my bucket list. But what it did do was offer me a taste of what I was missing – feeling the wheel between my hands has never been so close to me as Forza 3 or 4.

Fast forward to 2017. I managed to make enough writing this year to afford a decent computer capable of running many new games on mid-to-high settings, leaving me excited about the prospect of what I could play. It’s been a neat year – with my magnifier turned on and certain games in windowed mode, I can play a lot of PC games that were, before now, inaccessible to me. It’s not a cure-all – loads of games don’t want to work with magnifiers, but you’d be surprised at how well I’ve adapted. And with the ridiculous PC game sales that happen on Steam and elsewhere, I’m not lacking for things to play when I have a few extra bucks.

And best of all? Microsoft’s started putting its Forza games on PC – and Forza 7 is just over the horizon (it’s a clever joke if you’re familiar with the series. Oh, piss off, it is!). I look forward to running off the road, smashing into other cars, whacking walls, and being an absolutely terrible driver – then getting to do it all over again.

Thanks for reading.

Note - this was reposted from elsewhere with permission by the mods.

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IGT - The Hunt

Welcome to Indie Gaming Theater, where I buy a discounted, barely-reviewed indie game from Steam's stacks and take a close, honest look at it. For more details on what this feature aims to do, go here to check out my lengthy preamble. Otherwise, enjoy!

The Hunt

Yeeeeeeeeeehawwwwwww y'all, we got us a ten point big bull this week in The Hunt, developed by Bass Pro Shops (yes, really, and yes, I rolled my eyes too). So crack open a MGD, put on your best pair of boots, and let's kick the mud off this sumbitch, shall we?

Let me preface all this by saying that I realize the tangent I'm about to go on doesn't directly relate to The Hunt. Bear with me. You'll understand in a bit.

Montana is hunting nirvana. If you want to load up a rifle and kill shit, this is the place to do it. I don't like to go hunting personally. Part of that's the vision, part of that's because I'm not much of a killer, and part of it's because I just don't like a lot of the bullshit around hunting. I think the people who treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves are unfortunately outweighed by the people who treat it like sport or a chance to put a bullet in something. Sometimes a lot of things.

I understand and respect wanting to put food on your table. Right now, it's probably slightly questionable as to whether you'd spend more on all the expenses of hunting (assuming you own or are borrowing a gun, that's tags, bullets, gas, butchering, and time off from work if applicable, and it usually is) or just the price of meat you'd buy at a grocery store, which seems to be coming back down, at least in my area. But putting food on the table isn't something I'll mock and a full freezer is something I think everyone should have. In a state where a lot of individuals live in very remote rural areas where access to stores in the winter isn't always possible, it's smart to stock up.

Where I do draw the line and start to mercilessly mock people is when it turns into some kind of fucking parade. I don't like pictures of proud people next to dead animals. I don't like the minority of people who leave their carcasses in their trucks while they go into one of the local bars and drink it up in a celebration of their lordship over the animal kingdom with their high-powered rifles and scopes. I blow my fucking top when I hear people leaving the bodies to rot too long in their garages, strung up and ready to be butchered.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Admittedly, those people are a minority, but it's not an insignificant one. Dozens of cases like these happen every single day during hunting season - and beyond, when you have ranchers pushing for shoulder hunts that extend the regular hunting season well into the early months of the year so that they can reduce the elk, deer, or antelope populations. Even worse than the blithering "look at us, we are all that is man" hoorah bullshit of the hunting season are the psycho fucks who see a herd of elk or deer and just keep on firing, leaving piles of wounded and dead animals in the fields for the sake of their pornographic killing fetishes. There's a special place in hell for these sick assholes, and I sure hope the door slams on their ass on the way down.

I take advantage of my folks hunting. I'll freely admit that. I probably use, on average, maybe forty to fifty pounds of elk burger in a year. It's not that I have a problem with other people hunting. It's that I have a problem with the culture around it. In that regard, making a game based around hunting is a tricky thing. Creating an arcadey hunting game makes the concept of killing animals seem like a silly good time. Go too sim-like, though, and you wind up with something boring and vaguely preachy.

Your selection of hunters. Sadly, no Dudley Boys urban camo was available.
Your selection of hunters. Sadly, no Dudley Boys urban camo was available.

The Hunt tries for a balance of those things. The controls and basics of the gameplay are relatively simplistic and easy to pick up, but the aspects of shooting animals is treated with the seriousness of a sim. It's an approach I can appreciate, and one that might work in a better game, but The Hunt is freaking terrible.

You're given two ways to play - a season of hunting, or a more arcade-like free hunt. Initially, the only place you can hunt is the wilds of Washington, which looks vaguely like... well, every other badly realized forest scene of games from the early 2000s. It's all sort of blobby and badly textured, even for the standards of the time, and given that the coloring of the animals tends to blend right into those bad backgrounds, it does the game no favors.

Then there are the controls. The actual shooting and interaction with the environment is fine. You shoot with the left mouse button, zoom with the right, and move around with AWSD. All standard stuff. But the minute you're tasked with hopping on your four-wheeler, the game slides sideways. So do you. It's a chore to control the ATVs, which take off too fast, slide around like they're on ice, and bounce off hills that look as though you should be able to climb them given just the barest tap of the accelerator.

The second time I stuffed my ATV in the river, I gave up on driving it.
The second time I stuffed my ATV in the river, I gave up on driving it.

Those narrow pathways are also problematic. You're generally given two or three lanes to walk through, keeping an eye out for wildlife. Your walk speed is painfully slow, even for a game that's supposed to be about not spooking the animals. Oh, speaking of that, good freaking luck not walking right up on something and panicking the poor thing, because unless you catch the animals at a distance by spotting their pixelated asses on a ridge, you'll never see them. Kinda like me in real life, I suppose. The one bright part about the controls is that the tracking doesn't require much out of you. You're simply triangulating an animal's position using brightly marked environmental clues. That part's okay.

It doesn't help that you can't skip steps in the tutorial, which feels like it dragged on and on. Telling the player not to shoot animals without the proper tags shouldn't have to involve me wandering the back country on foot for an hour to peer through my scope at various deer and elk to figure out if i can shoot them. That's horrendously boring game design, even if I can appreciate the message behind it.

When you fire, it sometimes goes into a Matrix-type bullet slowdown, if Keanu Reeves was hammered and jiggling all over the place.
When you fire, it sometimes goes into a Matrix-type bullet slowdown, if Keanu Reeves was hammered and jiggling all over the place.

That's kind of the definition of The Hunt as a whole. It tries to be a respectful, proper method of teaching you the ideals of hunting done right, but it largely fails in its gameplay. The free hunt is slightly more arcade-like, but here again, you're wandering the same grounds you just saw in the season modes. There are a fair number of weapons to choose from, including bows, pistols, rifles, and shotguns, but since getting close enough to wildlife to use anything but the rifle is an impossibility, it's the only gun I ever used.

The Hunt is a bad game, then, but I still respect it for the message it tries to teach about hunting the right way. Unfortunately, that lesson isn't one that the audience it needs to reach is likely to hear, especially from such a mediocre regurgitation of a forgotten 00's game.

The Hunt is available on Steam regularly for ten dollars. There are better hunting games out there, or look into the real thing yourself if you're a decent individual who won't act like a murdering assclown.

The Rest

Bear With Me is something I wish fell into the parameters of this blog, but with over two hundred reviews, it doesn't qualify as an under-reviewed game. When I finish it, I might write up a review here on the site because it's a game that deserves your attention if you're a traditional point-and-click adventure fan.

It's not huge in scope. The first episode only takes place over a very small environment of about eight rooms or so, all within a child's house, with larger events hinted at outside. An elusive "red man" (nicknamed because of the red clothing he wears, not as an offensive slur or because he likes to hang with Method Man) has been torching places in Paper City, a town that may or may not be in the mind of the child protagonist. The house's stuffed animal residents (yeah, you read that right) think the girl's in grave danger, and safeguard her while she and her teddy bear pet detective roommate (named - you guessed it - Ted E. Bear) try to escape the house to investigate the red man and find her missing brother.

All of that sounds childlike, but it's more... hmm. I hesitate to call it magical realism, but maybe whimsical is a better term for what I'm searching for. It's also, curiously, relatively adult in its conversations. Ted will swear on occasion and some of the red man's brief moments make this a game that probably shouldn't be played by children.

It's mildly buggy - the game doles out hints by having the character talk to Ted, and at one point, he stopped offering up useful advice and insisted we got to the attic to talk to a stuffed animal whose conversation choices had run out. This was solved relatively easily by hunting down a FAQ and finding an object I'd missed in the environment, but it's still a notable occurrence.

I'm just starting up the second episode, which I like so far. The interpersonal relationships between these characters are surprisingly well written, and the universe has tons of promise. It reminds me in a lot of ways of the beginnings of Blackwell, which might have been short, but no less an outstanding start to an adventure series. I'm really looking forward to whatever else is coming from the developers, Exordium Games.

And that's about it. With E3 next week, I might not get around to doing one of these, but we'll see. Have an awesome E3, and thanks for reading.

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IGT - Cosplay Maker

Welcome to Indie Gaming Theater, where I buy a discounted, barely-reviewed indie game from Steam's stacks and take a close, honest look at it. For more details on what this feature aims to do, go here to check out my lengthy preamble. Otherwise, enjoy!

Cosplay Maker

You're never going to find me in a costume outside of Halloween or Christmas. You're just not. Don't try to convince me otherwise. I'm a wallflower who likes regular clothes and occasionally a Macho Man Christmas shirt in June because that shit's funny. The thought of spiking my hair up like Cloud and running around in latex makes my testicles want to abandon ship - through my throat.

I like Hawaiian shirts. I like slacks. I don't like shorts except when I'm swimming. I like leather loafers or sandals without straps - and definitely not flip-flops. I like my button-ups to look blandly professional, not cowboyish, not yuppyish, just... professional. I like a clean, short haircut and a trimmed beard, though I'm terrible at maintaining both of those things because it's usually the last thing on my mind. I don't mind referential t-shirts, but I generally tend to gravitate towards simple colored shirts without any particular flair. I have a selection of goofy hats and I particularly like my Admiral Nelson fishing cap, but I do not regularly wear them unless it's necessary to keep the sweat out of my eyes.

I am, in short, the most boring dresser in the entire world.

I went to one science fiction/fantasy convention - Miscon, up in Missoula, Montana. It was a fascinating fish-out-of-water experience that left me realizing I like low-key enthusiasm for things, not the big, grandiose hand-waving excited jabbering about the right way to hold a Klandaku Annihilator 2000. I liked the more thought-provoking bits of the convention, like a serious discussion about what kinds of space drives could actually theoretically work and how slow they would actually be, and I loved the author readings (which is kind of a "no shit?" if you know me). But the actual fandom part of things kind of made me feel like I was one step away from watching a Roman-esque orgiastic mass of flesh just rip each other's clothes off and do it right there in Conference Hall C. That's great for those people, but I'll take my loving one-on-one in a bedroom away from prying eyes, fandom-wise.

It's not that I want to make fun of cosplayers. By all means, the enthusiasm was genuinely harmless, apart from a few socially awkward individuals who thought it was okay to continue hitting on women who were clearly uncomfortable in that situation (and the reverse, too, as I saw on at least one occasion). I love that you cosplayers love something so much that you want to get dressed up as a show of support and love, or that you enjoy creating costumes and want to show off your skills. To that latter, I wish we lived in a world that loved stage theater more so you could all find work doing what you love, because even the simplest costume there was impressive. At least to me, anyways.

Then again, I am blind, so maybe take that compliment with a grain of salt.

The intro has styyyle.
The intro has styyyle.

I came into Locked Door Puzzle's Cosplay Maker expecting to come out of my experience with a sneer and a trigger-finger, ready to tear it apart and laugh at the joke that I'd play such a game. Funny thing is, though, I didn't. I don't want to. It's not that Cosplay Maker is a good or a bad game - it falls somewhere definitely in between - but it's an earnest one, and in its loving attitude towards not just cosplay in general but those who like to do it, I lost the attitude.

The game lays on the charm immediately, with a terrifically charming, aesthetically astounding opening cinematic with cheerful, peppy music by Cissie Redgwick and Little Violet (apparently - I'm referring to a Steam discussion thread for that information, so please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that account). Using bright, colorful silhouettes and zippy bits of moving imagery, it creates a perfect little setup for the game to come, and I was already impressed.

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The game itself is a mix of a friendship/dating sim and a time management sim. in an overly wordy introduction, the player is introduced to a professional cosplayer and a photographer, both of whom encourage the player to create their own costume. From there, the player is tasked with divvying up their weeks into three blocks of activity. For example, you can spend your days working a job, nights resting, and weekends working on your costume. There are a variety of ways to flesh this out - blocks of time can be filled with research, social media, or talking with friends. There's no real penalty to doing any of these things save for an energy meter that drains fairly rapidly, leaving you unable to work or work on your costume if you're too exhausted.

For the first hour or so, I played the game expecting to have to pay bills at some point or another, and was pleasantly surprised to learn it's not that kind of time-management game. You don't need to worry about any costs except for your costuming and the small entrance fees to the conventions. In that regard, Cosplay Maker always made me feel like I was moving towards a goal rather than wasting my time trying to stave off a boring penalty mechanic that would have dragged the whole experience down.

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The shopping aspect is the only real bummer of the game so far, simply because there are a fair number of color options for articles that you need to be precisely right or you've wasted your money. While the game shows you the specific article you need along with the color on one half of the screen, the other half doesn't have any identifying text under the colors to help those of us who are color-blind. You might think that's a small issue, but for a game so centered around the idea of costuming, it's a pretty big blunder.

No Caption Provided

I also grew really tired of the peppy songs repeating endlessly, but this was fairly easily solved by just turning down the game volume and putting on a book on tape. Not an ideal solution, but honestly, repeating music in this day and age is so easily solved with DIY solutions that I can't ding the game too badly. The feel-good pop music is also largely enjoyable, though aimed at a different, more feminine audience than me.

I played enough of the game to make two costumes, one inspired by Sailor Moon, the other a Final Fantasy VII Soldier-looking thing. I don't believe you can create your own, but in the short two hours I spent with the game, at least a dozen costume ideas were unlocked through natural progression. Still, some degree of customization with this stuff would have gone a ways towards giving the game longer legs.

As it stands, I think it's a fine game. Not terribly great by any means, but if you like the social aspects of Persona or want a visual novel styled thing with more to do than text conversations, give it a go. It's got heart!

Cosplay Maker is regularly $14.99 on Steam, and while you're still not going to catch my sweaty ass in a Sonic costume, I applaud its enthusiastic, gently approach to its target audience.

The Rest

I played another indie game this week in the fascinating Sundown, a game wherein you help spark a revolution by.... mopping and dusting. The story it tells is entertaining and spirited, but the gameplay grew old within the first hour and the whole thing lacks a sense of forward motion apart from its story. Even in something like Gone Home or Everybody's Gone tot he Rapture, the player was making what felt like forward motion, either by unlocking doors and moving through a house or pushing through a quaint countryside to learn more. Within Sunset, you're just doing laundry over and over and over again. Well, not laundry specifically, but your tasks have no effect on the narrow environment of the apartment you're cleaning. Only the story itself changes those things without help from the player. That's an important difference, though an ostentatious quibble at most on the outside. Though I knew I was supposed to be important to the plot, I rarely felt as if I was taking part in it.

In any case, it's too bad that Tale of Tales shut down because of the game's poor reception, but I can understand players not wanting to jump in and clean a house for two or three hours, no matter how good the story is around it. It's also a shame that while the greater revolutionary plot is satisfactorily concluded that the personal, smaller relationship between the housekeeper and the never-seen employer is resolved with a couple of quick notes and... well, not much else.

I've also been playing through Dead Rising 3 again, which I didn't get a chance to finish. That's still a great game, marred only by a map that's frustratingly hard to read at times. Again, that sounds like a minor quibble, but when you're trying to find psychopaths and side-quests but can't due to a bad color-matching scheme, it's pretty important.

And that about does it! Hope you all have a great week.

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E3 2017 - Crystal Ballin'

Every year, I make it a habit to write a wildly wrong blog about what I hope to see from each E3. Well... usually. Last year, I was a little busy with the writing end of things and didn't cook up one of these. Let's just assume I got everything right and am the greatest mind in gaming predictions. What? You thought that already? Aw, thanks, random Internet person! And I just want to say, you, sir or madam, are looking extra handsome/lovely today!

This year should be a good 'un! Nintendo's hot at the moment with the Switch, Mario Kart, and the 800 lb. gorilla that is Zelda. Microsoft will no doubt be pushing the Scorpio hard, and are (hopefully) going to be bringing the games to prove why consumers should buy their newest bit of tech. Sony's the biggest dark horse this year, but with a solid start to 2017 in Yakuza and Horizon, I fully expect them to be in full Sony swagger mode about their first-party games. Hopefully they have some new ones to show.

Also, surprising me already is just how excited I am for Ubisoft's already-announced lineup. More on that in a second, but they're already looking solid this year in terms of sequels, and they're usually good for one or two surprise announcements at E3, so who knows what else they'll bring? Maybe my most anticipated of the 3rd parties though is Bethesda. Will we see a new IP or is this the year we see another Elder Scrolls? And how much EA Sports will we have to endure?

Let's break things down.

Nintendo

Saying Nintendo won't have much of an E3 presence is a bit silly considering they're bringing the first properly new Mario game in quite some time. That's all they need. That game's still a big question mark, but I like conceptually weird Mario games, and this looks like that. We'll also probably see some Treehouse stuff on Fire Emblem, Monster Hunter, and the eShop. That leads me to the biggest question mark about Nintendo in my mind - do we see the Virtual Console at a Treehouse-style E3 event?

No. I don't think so, anyways. If it was going to be announced, I think they'd do it in the month before E3, and honestly, I feel like that time would be now, not two weeks down the road. My suspicion is they'll wait until after E3, maybe to drive late summer sales when they don't have a lot coming out. Plus, it being Japan, I'm still not entirely sure Nintendo's got that lined up for this year at all.

I do think Nintendo will have some minor - and maybe one or two major - game announcements between now and E3 (let's call it E-Adjacent). These will probably amount to Wii U ports, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of those, I'm thinking we'll probably see a Captain Toad/Super Mario Wii U bundle, Xenoblade, and Tokyo Mirage, all of which were critical darlings and would see a strong foothold on the Switch.

As for the 3DS, I think we're likely just to see coverage of games already announced this year. I anticipate the focus will be primarily on the Switch, as it probably should be.

Microsoft

Fable 4.

Phil Spencer's been teasing it, and if you wanted to build instant karma with your fanbase, end things with a big celebratory return to Fable's roots as an action-RPG. The timing's about right too. It's too soon for another Halo - and I believe it's been said by Microsoft Halo 6 won't make an appearance. We just got a Gears game, and while we might see some expansion to that, I doubt we'll see that one mentioned.

That leaves Microsoft holding the door wide open for a beloved franchise that hasn't been seen in a while. And how better to show off the Scorpio than that two-punch? Here's our new tech, and here's a game you've been dying for since Fable 2. Boom.

Forza is a guarantee too, but that's obvious. I suspect that'll see a solid PC release this time around too, with promises of better functionality right off the bat.

As for what else, I really have no idea. New IPs, hopefully, but that's a "no shit" statement for every company at E3. But Microsoft could stand to benefit from some stronger first-party showings with the Scorpio coming up, so I expect we'll see a bit of a push in that direction. I'm also guessing we'll see a sequel to Sunset Overdrive announced in some fashion, but whether it comes this year or not, I'm not sure.

I also wouldn't be surprised if they don't end up being the premiere machine for whatever Bethesda has cooking. With the mod support nonsense on PS4 taking some of the goodwill out of that relationship, Microsoft and Behtesda should make good on that and push something mutually beneficial.

Sony

Whether I like it or not, this is probably going to be the year of Gran Turismo and God of War for Sony. We'll also see more on Days Gone (that, or it's quietly pushed to a minute-long thing and released sometime next spring to no fanfare), Detroit, and Spider-Man. As for Death Stranding, that's kind of up in the air, but I suspect we'll see at least a cinematic and maybe Mads Mikkelson and Crossbow Boondock Saints guy up on the stage for people to geek out about.

Even if those games, Detroit excluded, don't really interest me, that's a fairly solid backbone to another E3 conference. Along with the push of an announced Square project or two (maybe DLC timed exclusivity for FFXV and a short teaser of FFVII Reboot) as well as continued support for Persona 5, I think you've got the fundamentals of what they'll push for. I don't know if we see Ni no Kuni II at E3 or not. If we do, it's likely to be a short gampelay video with an "we'll announce more later!" thing attached to it, probably for TGS.

Sony's big problem is that it's basically in a holding pattern for PS5 at this point. I think if we were going to see the structural changes to the PS4's operating system necessary to allow for name changes and the little stuff gamers want, we'd have done so by now. The PS4 is starting to strangely feel long in the tooth, and I'm guessing this will be an E3 light with announcements for it.

That's kind of gloomy pessimism for what has been my favorite console to date, but in a funny way, it's also what I want. I don't want to see the announcement of the Playstation 5 for another year, but if they're really winding down in anticipation of its launch, I'd get it. There's plenty that's been announced already, and given the aggravating infrastructure of PSN and the aging tech within the PS4, it makes a lot of business sense.

Oh, right. And Suikoden and Wild Arms will be announced.

Sob.

Ubisoft

Coming from dead-central Montana, I'm looking at that Far Cry 5 announcement and jerking my head up and down. This is precisely the sort of place you could make a great insurgency-styled game and make it not just fun, but well within the realm of possibility too. I expect it to be the usual broadly-stroked Ubisoft nonsense in terms of its characters and story, but damn, doesn't that sound fun?

And while I advise tempered optimism about any game we haven't actually seen before, the idea of the Crew 2 and Assassin's Creed Egypt sound like interesting things. Egypt's rich history and lore could make for a fantastic backdrop for both a present and past AC game, so I greatly look forward to seeing some gameplay from that one. And the Crew, while ultimately flawed and kind of bad, had huge scope and a grandiose vision we just don't see all that often. If it's actually fun to play this time with less gated restrictions on new cars, it'll be fascinating.

Also, gun-totin' Mario, y'all. I want my boy Toad carrying a bazooka that knocks him back half a screen.

What else? Probably some kind of DLC for Wildlands? I think it's too soon for a sequel to the Division, but I wouldn't rule that out in 2018. Siege seems to still be a thing, so maybe we'll see some sort of successor to that. Field's wide open on what their new games will be.

EA

Just bring back EA Big. That's all. And give me a meaty PGA Tour game. That's it. That's all you need to do, EA.

Also, I'm kinda addicted to that turn-based Plants vs. Zombies game on mobile. End me.

Honestly, I don't really know what EA brings this year. FIFA, Need for Speed, and Battlefront 2 will obviously get a huge share of the screen time. I think there's a Sims mobile game coming soon, and that'll probably get some love. Maybe we get some kind of Sim tycoon game for PC and consoles. That'd be a way for them to dip their toes back into that pool. I think it's an hour-long presser, so that might actually be all we see. Oh, expect Battlefront 1 stuff, too.

I don't expect to hear a peep about Mass Effect or Dragon Age, but we might see them try to do some damage control there with some old IP brought back to life in a cheerful way. With EA, who knows what that could be, but my hopes and the realities are probably vastly different. Command and Conquer just probably wouldn't play to a modern audience, and there's no way anyone touches SSX or NBA Street again, sadly. NCAA seems like a fairly solid bet, but would bore the everloving shit out of its Internet crowd... which probably means EA will go ahead and announce it.

Bethesda

As much as I'd love to see Bethesda bring a new Elder Scrolls, we're probably a year out from that being announced with the saturation of Elder Scrolls Online's Morrowind expansion and the ES card game on mobile. My guess would be that we see a new IP getting announced this year, along with a new Wolfenstein. Those seem like solid bets, and given how well DOOM did last year, that should be a no brainer. We're also going to see them push on mobile games. I suspect some sort of big update to Fallout Shelter and a new IP based off Doom and/or Wolfenstein.

As to what the new major non-mobile announcements might be, I wonder. Maybe something more colorful, playful, and less self-serious than Fallout or Elder Scrolls? Maybe an actiony-RPG in the vein of Fable? I don't know, but I'm excited as always to see what they bring. Even if I didn't actually think Fallout 4 was as good as New Vegas, I still put 200+ hours into it, and am looking at doing even more than that with a recent PC purchase.

I think that's it? I'll update this or create a new post if I've missed anything. I think there's another PC-centric advertiser thing that I'm actually sort of excited to watch, since I now own a new PC, but I don't suspect we'll see a lot of major announcements from it. Lots of DLC, lots of indie games, and in a way, that's even cooler. It doesn't all have to be AAA all the time. I want to see what smaller developers are coming up with too.

Whew. That about does it. What are your thoughts? Any big games you want to see announced? Got any plans for that week? E3's always been like my big midyear party week, so I want to think up some fun appetizer recipes for this year. Thinking about doing up some pigs in a blanket and maybe some pinwheels, but we'll see! Have fun, and as always, thanks for reading, you sexy beast, you.

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