Developer Dialogue: No Place for Bravery Interview @ PAX Online

Developer Dialogue: No Place for Bravery Interview @ PAX Online

There were plenty of unique and exciting games at PAX Online this year. One that stood out to me the most was No Place for Bravery, an action RPG from developer Glitch Factory with gory, fast-paced combat. 

I had the opportunity to interview some of the developers behind No Place for Bravery, as well as a member of the publisher, Ysbryd Games. Joining me for the interview were Jacob Burgess, Director of Operations at Ysbryd Games, Pedro Machado, Game Designer and Producer at Glitch Factory, and Matheus “Matt” Queiroz, Producer and Director of Operations at Glitch Factory. 

 

“I had a chance to sit down with the demo for No Place for Bravery. The brutal combat in the game seems to be the main focus. Can you tell us about the combat system and why you decided to go this route?” 

Pedro: “Since the beginning of the project, we wanted to make a grittier RPG. We’ve been developing this game for several years, now; almost five, actually. Since the start, we wanted to make an RPG that was a little less romanticized. This combat style just fits our core concept for the game. We wanted it to be challenging, to make the player work for his achievements and to complete the game. The demo is a little difficult, but we are looking to make the game more accessible. That’s something we’re still working on. We want the game to reach broader audiences. We think the game has more to offer than just its difficulty.”

Jacob: “But we’re still making sure to keep the challenge for the folks that want it to be brutally difficult. We wanna make sure we accommodate the players that came for that, along with a really good story and incredible art, music, and message.” 

No Place for Bravery Interview

“In No Place for Bravery, you play as a warrior named Thorn. What can you tell us about him and the world he lives in?”

Pedro: “The game deals with some very personal themes for us. The story is very important. The game tells the story of Thorn, who’s a war veteran who goes out on a quest to find his daughter. He goes on a journey in this weird and fantastic but, at the same time, low-fantasy world.”

Jacob: “It’s like a low magic, high-fantasy world.” 

“What makes this game an RPG? Is it a more minimal take on the genre?”

Pedro: “We are actually really inspired by great classic, action, so-called RPG games like Zelda, Dark Souls. It is an RPG, but it’s not very number-focused. The player won’t have to crunch numbers to make more optimal builds. That’s not what we’re going for. The game deals more with mechanical skill; the player will have to know their enemies, learn their patterns, and get good.”

No Place for Bravery Interview

“What can players expect from this game from a narrative standpoint? Is it more traditional and in your face, or is it more subtle and mainly told through the environment?”

Pedro: “You touched on a very important part of the game’s narrative, which is environmental storytelling. We are paying a lot of attention to details. Every space you find yourself in, every level, has a purpose to being there. We’re going for both a mix of traditional storytelling in games and also environmental storytelling.”

Matt: “This opportunity at PAX, it’s a work in progress, the narrative. The feedback that we’re going to receive from the community is going to be a great input in this matter.”

Jacob: “One of the things, as the publishing partner, that I love about Glitch Factory is how much they’re willing to tinker and iterate and adjust to make sure that the game is the best that it can be. And to your point on narrative, everything in the game is married to each other, it’s difficult to look at the narrative without looking at the gameplay, without also looking at the environmental storytelling. They’re all intrinsically linked in this story that Glitch Factory is trying to tell.” 

“What were some of the inspirations that led to the creation of No Place for Bravery?”

Pedro: “One of the first pitches we had for the game was kind of like an RPG created by Coen brothers, you know, the movie directors? Hence the name, No Place for Bravery – the title was inspired by No Country for Old Men. I love the Coen brothers; they are a huge inspiration for me, personally.”

Matt: “There’s also a bit of Shadow of the Colossus. How the game portrays the narrative, it’s a mix of multiple things. Dark Souls and Sekiro were also huge reference points for some of the gameplay.”

“Tell me about the music in this game. The demo had some really amazing tracks in it that are really unique. Who composed the soundtrack, and will it be available at release?”

Pedro: “It was made by our friend, Edward Zohoft. He’s, like, awesome and a great composer. Everyone is really excited; everyone who played the demo or watched the trailer is very excited about the soundtrack. I gotta say, having heard almost all the music for the game, I can say it gets even better. I love his work.”

Jacob: “Yeah, he’s really good at matching environment to tone, and yeah, it’s just great. The soundtrack will be available when the game releases.”

“Is there anything else you think players would like to know about No Place for Bravery?”

Jacob: “We’re looking for a 2021 release. We haven’t given any more specific information than that. Ysbryd games, we want to give our devs the freedom to make the best games that they wanna make because that’s what being a good partner is. So, we’re aiming for 2021, but we have complete faith that Glitch Factory is gonna put out the best damn thing that they possibly can. We’re gonna release on Steam and Switch, which are the only ones we have announced at this point. We hope folks are going to really enjoy it.”

Pedro: “It’s a very personal experience for us, so there is a little bit of every one of us in this game. The story is directly inspired by some of our teammates’ life [stories]. We’re not just trying to make a rad action RPG, this is our life put into a game. So it’s very emotional and very important for us.”

Matt: “I mean, we’re in love with what we’re doing. Expect a lot, but this is our first major release. It’s the first big project from Glitch Factory, and we’re very excited to see how the launch goes. 

Jacob: “Every release feels like a major release.”

Matt and Pedro: “Yeah,” (both laugh). 

 

That’s it for the interview. You can check out the communities for Ysbryd Games here and Glitch Factory here. No Place for Bravery can be wishlisted on its official Steam page

Developer Dialogue: 30XX Interview @ PAX Online

Developer Dialogue: 30XX Interview @ PAX Online

Time after time, indie developers have struck gold modernizing the retro archetypes that AAA studios won’t touch. It’s not just a shrewd way to maximize limited resources; it’s also a way to revitalize your influences. With 2017’s 20XX, Batterystaple Games have already had a fair amount of luck pairing the lively action platforming of Mega Man X with a roguelite focus. Nonetheless, the upcoming 30XX embarks on offering major visual improvements and a more nuanced gameplay experience. After spending some time with the eminently replayable pre-alpha demo, I got to talk to Batterystaple’s founder Chris King about the future of 30XX and what makes the indie game market special.

 

Zach: “Hey Chris! Thank you for scheduling this opportunity with me. How has the PAX Online experience been for you?”

Chris: “Oh, it’s been good for us so far. You know, one thing that seems to be constant between physical PAX and digital PAX is how busy the dang thing has been! It’s been a pretty packed week for us here. We very much miss the physical experience of getting to be on the showfloor, getting to see our fans interact with the game for the first time, and see their reactions to what we’ve been working on. It’s always invigorating and helps keep a high morale amongst the team. That said, the digital show certainly has its perks: we’re able to take appointments like this with a really broad array of folks. We don’t have to all be physically in the same place, so we’re open to meeting with people who aren’t normally in Seattle. It’s going pretty well for us so far, but we certainly miss the physical show.” 

 

Zach: “I see headlines left and right about video games being one of the few industries benefiting from the pandemic, but that is of course a very reductive claim, fixating on the final product. How has the development and marketing of 30XX morphed as a result of recent conditions?”

Chris: “Honestly, our development is relatively untouched for the most part. We’re super fortunate at Batterystaple to be relatively unaffected by COVID from a purely professional standpoint. Obviously, from a personal standpoint, nobody is exactly happy with the way things are going in 2020. It’s a pretty rough year all around, but from a professional standpoint, we were already a fully remote studio, so this sort of change, everybody needing to be home all the time, is really more about grappling with the inability to see our friends and loved ones as much as we’d like to than it is about any sort of individual process disruption at work. So we’re pretty comfortable there overall. 

The biggest change for us this year has really just been the conversion to digital showcases. A lot of our marketing efforts are based around finding the right moments, finding the right time to talk about some of the major stuff that we’re working on with 30XX. We’d normally be timing those kinds of beats around big shows like PAX anyway, so there’s a pretty good chance that those announcements aren’t really all that affected by the change in format.

 

Gameplay image of a boss battle in 30XX, protagonist Ace against two spiked rock formations firing crystals at the player

 

Zach: “It’s great that you’re not a studio who’s prone to setting release dates far in advance. I imagine that takes off the pressure to sacrifice employee health for the final product.”

Chris: “Exactly. Philosophically, as a team, we very much believe in planning for as much flexibility as possible, making sure we have the time we need to make the thing we want to make and make it right, as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s a hard deadline and we’re going to do whatever it takes to hit it.’ We’re much more in the camp of, ‘Let’s wait until we’re really comfortable with release timing. Let’s wait until we’re very confident about what’s going into this stage. And then let’s just go ahead and set a date, a month or six weeks in advance and figure it out from there. So you’re exactly right. For us, you know, crunch is not a concern.”

 

Zach: “Great, so going into that development process, you released 20XX, reception is positive, replay value extensive (and further self sustained by multiplayer); going into 30XX, what part of the player experience do you think needed to evolve?”

Chris: “That is an awesome question, and very timely, given that last week we just introduced a new way to enjoy the game, which we’re calling Mega Mode. Mega Mode is basically the core 30XX experience, except minus permadeath, and the levels will stay the same until you actually finish them. So it’s much more of a classic action platformer campaign playthrough where death will cost you your progress through an individual level but not cost you the entire run. We think that one of the things we can really improve upon from the first game is with regards to two core audiences. 

The first one is the new player experience. We know there are a lot of people who are coming to us from the pure action platform or the Megaman X inspiration side of things, as opposed to ‘Oh, I love action roguelikes, so 20XX is probably my jam.’ And for those players, we know that the whole permadeath experience can certainly be pretty rough. There are a lot of players that are alienated by it. There are people who love the look and feel of the game, but then they realize that they can play for 20 minutes, die, and spend in-game currency on some upgrades for the next run, but they’ve sort of lost their end run progress.

We know that for those players, having Mega Mode is going to make the game much more approachable for them. At the same time, there are people who are very experienced, and love these kinds of games, and enjoy them to death but still don’t really want permadeath in their experience and would still prefer to have slightly lower stakes. Death-to-death gameplay that they can turn the difficulty way up on to be able to grind against a set of very, very difficult levels to push through. So we really just want people to be able to enjoy 30XX however they want to enjoy it, and we’re sort of really focused on giving people the tools they need to do that.”

 

 

Zach: “There’s also a pretty major evolution in character design.”

Chris: “That’s one major spot we’re looking to improve in the sequel. There’s a ton of stuff we’re doing differently. Obviously, the art style is wildly different. We think it fits the game a little bit better. Protagonists Ace and Nina have their own unique power and techniques this time around. So basically the improvement there is that we’re having both of our main characters control very, very differently. They’re much more unique in terms of play style relative to one another than they are in the first game. We’ve got eight full level themes this time around instead of the four 20XX has, so there’s a lot more variety of game mechanics and content that we’ve got going on. I could go on all day about that, but we’re really kind of taking 20XX as a skeleton and then saying, ‘Here are all the ways we want to drive that formula further.’ It’s really almost everything across the board except for basic movement and game field, which we feel we pretty much got right the first time.”

 

Zach: “I also noticed a certain Rogue Legacy tie-in to the game beyond the shared roguelite tendencies which is that Glauber Kotaki is serving as 30XX’s art director. Was integrating the new graphic style into your gameplay engine a challenge?”

Chris: “No, not at all. It was honestly totally effortless. We basically built a new renderer for this sort of heavily sprite-based animation we’ve got now. It was just a matter of developing a new sprite format and then writing a renderer for the format that fit into the way the old engine worked. It was a couple days of work tops. I was actually kind of surprised at how painless it was. 20XX and 30XX are written in a custom C++ engine that I initially designed so I could use it as a portfolio piece for Bethesda Softworks. Instead, we did well enough over time that we decided to make a career out of it, instead of it being a one-and-done thing.”

 

Zach: “The upgrade is immediately visible, it looks on par with Mega Man 8 for PS1.”

Chris: “That’s beautiful to hear!”

 

Image of gameplay from 30XX, features protagonist Nina firing her gun at a floating enemy
Image courtesy of Batterystaple Games

 

Zach: “Referring back to Mega Mode and the difficulty curve in general, in designing a reflex-driven game like 30XX, how do you define the line between too difficult and just challenging enough?”

Chris: “This is a great question, and it’s almost impossible for me to do this objectively. If a level feels of adequate difficulty to me, it is almost certainly multiple orders of magnitude too hard just because I’ve played the inspiring games for thousands of hours, and just in testing, I’ve played 30XX for lord knows how many hours. So for us, you sort of develop an internal barometer for how a level should feel at a certain point of difficulty. From there, this is something we kind of lean on the community for a little bit. As we enter our closed alpha and early access, we take our best stab at where we think each of these level pieces falls, difficulty curve wise, and then we just keep an eye out, and we notice as we playtest which ones seem to be a little bit out of their element in terms of difficulty, you know; pieces that are marked as hard that nobody’s actually taking damage in or that feel too effortless; pieces that are marked as easy that we have an inordinate number of players dying in. So it’s almost like cooking for somebody with slightly different taste buds than you. You can’t just do the thing that feels right to you personally because, while I’m making the game I very much want to make, and I am certainly in part making it because it’s what I want to be playing, I know that most of the audience playing the game has a very different taste for the sort of difficulty involved.”

 

Zach: “And with how welcoming you’ve been to the early access model, it makes sense that improving the game would be a democratic process. How much has the speedrunning and general livestream community helped 20XX gain momentum (and subsequently 30XX)?”

Chris: “That’s a good question. We’d certainly love to see as much speedrun community support as we can for the new game. We know we had a small but dedicated group of folks with 20XX that sort of latched on and would speedrun a couple of different categories, which we’re always really happy to see and support, but we’d love to sort of take that a step further the next time around. We noticed with 20XX, we didn’t have a whole lot of streaming support. We succeeded in getting a whole bunch of folks to give the game a shot, play it for a day, a couple of days tops. We didn’t really see any kind of staying power with the game amongst the streaming community. I have a couple of theories as to why that might be, but we’re going to do whatever we can to make that a bit more appealing this time around. You know, it could be a number of things,and I’m not 100 percent sure which one, but that’s a discussion for another time.”

 

Zach: “I’m sure creating a more accessible product this go around will help.”

Chris: “That’s part of our intent. We think the combination of the more accessible product and the more appealing art style together will help quite a bit. If you happen to be reading this at any point and your stream or other kind of Internet casting personality, please tell us what would make the game streamable for you because we want to know.”

 

Gameplay image from 30XX showing protagonist Nina traversing a lava filled lair
Image courtesy of Batterystaple Games

 

Zach: “I think the visuals will really help out, as otherwise, the game seems very receptive to Let’s-Play content.  You would be the first to say that 30XX (not to mention its predecessor) spawned out of a love for Mega Man X. Have there been any other influences on the game’s design that we perhaps wouldn’t expect?”

Chris: “You know, it’s kind of hard to nail down individual contributing influences, as little pieces of design inspiration come from just absolutely everywhere in the world around me. You know, you never really know. Sometimes it’s games, sometimes it’s books, sometimes you’ll have a piece of inspiration that you’ll get from a movie for some reason, it can really come from just about everywhere. So while it’s probably a bit of a cop out answer, I don’t think there’s sort of any one individual thing to kind of peg as being another source for inspiration.”

 

Zach: “I mean, a big part of the creative process is living life a little bit because otherwise, you just create stuff in a vacuum. When you developed 20XX, we were in the midst of an eight-year gap between substantial Mega Man titles. Did the release of Mega Man 11 influence your creative process at all?”

Chris: “If anything, it was just kind of reassuring that that kind of product was still resonating with players … As far as I can tell, Mega Man 11 did quite well, which continues to show that there is a hunger for that style of game out there. So internally, I say, if we’re able to hit that kind of quality level in gameplay, and then on top of that, we have huge replayability, multiplayer and some of the other features that we’re talking about here, who knows what kind of heights we might be able to reach with 30XX.”

 

Zach: “I’m glad there’s no motive amongst you or Capcom to switch to 3D.”

Chris: “You know, I think there’s room for some of that. I think our style of game in 3D could be really interesting, but it’s not the direction we’re going to go in right now.”

 

Gameplay still from 30XX, shows protagonist Ace leaping across a disappearing platform

 

Zach: “I know you aren’t prone to setting release dates far in advance, as said before, so instead, I’ll just ask: what are the next milestones for 30XX?”

Chris: “So toward the end of this year, we’ll probably be running a closed alpha as we prepare for what we’re hoping is an early access release early next year. We don’t know exactly when ‘early next year’ means right this moment because we tend to make those kinds of promises once we’re very sure we can keep them. The next real milestone there is early access. From that point on, we kind of earmark about a year between launching early access and then finishing up 1.0, but there’s so many lines in the sand there.

For one, we don’t know exactly how much work is going to come our way once we start early access. We know that as soon as our fans get a hold of the game, we’re going to get a ton of new feedback, new ideas, new fantastic stuff that we are really eager to sort of weave into our backlog and into our development roadmap, but we don’t know how extensive that stuff is going to be. We’re in a really solid financial state, so we’re not in any rush to finish 1.0 or anything like that. Once we go into early access, there will be some amount of time while we continue making the game.

Then we’ll come to 1.0, which’ll be on Steam and probably one console platform. We don’t know which one yet. We’re still kind of figuring that out, but even then, 1.0 is really another kind of arbitrary line in the sand for us. You know, once we feel like the initial game promise is fulfilled, we’ll start a 1.0, we’ll have a big release, and stuff like that. But we really intend to continue to develop the game long-term. You know, we really want 30XX to continue to live as a genre standard for the coming years, so we want to continue to sort of push it with new stages, characters, items, features, things like that. So even 1.0 is very far from being an endpoint for us.”

 

Zach: “Stability right now in the game development environment is very enviable.”

Chris: “Yeah, we’re very fortunate!”

 

Zach: “Thank you for your time and for providing me with the 30XX Pre-Alpha Demo. My impressions so far are very positive, and I look forward to seeing the game progress!”

Chris: “Thank you. Have an awesome rest of PAX Online, and we’ll talk to you soon!”

PAX Online – Alien Hominid Invasion First Impressions

PAX Online – Alien Hominid Invasion First Impressions

Even confined to a virtual environment, PAX is always a conduit for hype, and for this year’s PAX Online, there was hardly a studio I was more excited to check in with than The Behemoth. Even as someone whose childhood was partially defined by trying to beat the opening stages of Alien Hominid over and over, I can happily say that The Behemoth have evolved far beyond their Newgrounds origin. The team returning to their foundational IP with eighteen years of additional experience was an enticing offer. Having just played the demo for Alien Hominid Invasion, I am happy to report that the Alien Hominid formula is as insane as ever while promising a more refined experience that could end up being The Behemoth’s most accessible game yet.

 

It certainly feels like a culmination of The Behemoth’s previous titles. The Metal Slug-indebted, run-and-gun gameplay of Alien Hominid, the XP and upgrade system of Castle Crashers, and the nimble movement of BattleBlock Theater shine through complete and utter chaos. In contrast to the original Alien Hominid, where you always progressed left-to-right through the same series of setpieces, Invasion frees you to maneuver all around its procedurally generated mayhem. Your task is to collect intel from the FBI agents that flood the screen by virtue of dodging their fire and returning it tenfold. A few well-timed laser blasts decimate a mob of enemies and bring you closer to the finish line. Alien Hominid Invasion chiefly contrasts its predecessor in its punched-up stage design rather than gameplay.

 

 

With that in mind, Alien Hominid Invasion counteracts the simplicity of combat encounters with sheer enemy quantity. Progressing a bit like a run-and-gun Rampage, enemies spawn from all sides in gradually tougher waves. The more you destroy in quick succession, the better you can avoid the helicopters and agents with jetpacks eventually firing upon you. This encourages a speed-run-like mentality that fits perfectly into the twitch shooting inherent to Alien Hominid. In contrast to the original’s infamously sadistic difficulty, Invasion gives players ample progression opportunities. Enemies are always encroaching but never become overwhelming, despite arriving in much larger waves than the game’s predecessor. Despite my personal affinity for it, I wouldn’t exactly call the original Alien Hominid rewarding. The methodical difficulty curve present here is far superior.

 

With an intricate upgrade and character customization system, players are meant to be playing Alien Hominid Invasion for the long haul. Unlike the arcadey setup of the original game, where a two-hour length was buffered with punishing difficulty, I could see myself logging tens of hours into InvasionWith incredibly agile movement, enticingly vulgar visuals, and a greater emphasis on player progression, the only hangup I have with Invasion is a potential lack of variety. Up until a closing boss battle pitted me against a stronger airborne menace, each stage I played in Invasion revolved around the same core objectives: collecting data, annihilating agents, and destroying technology as fast as I could. A greater objective variety would allow Invasion to transcend its Neo Geo influences, but then again, how many run-and-guns allow you to ride the head of an FBI agent like a bucking bronco.

 

I greatly enjoyed my time with Alien Hominid Invasion, and though its release date is as of now a mystery, the game is already a blast that is merely in need of more content. Long-term fans will be pleased to hear that the game features The Behemoth operating at peak idiosyncrasy (including in-universe crossovers with their other games), and those interested in modernized run-and-gun action ought to keep their eye on the title. Alien Hominid Invasion will eventually be available for PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

 

Undying — Alpha First Impressions

Undying — Alpha First Impressions

Despite their dominating popularity in respective media industries, The Walking Dead and survival games haven’t yet converged into one, all-together satisfying product. You had the Telltale adaptation that is commonly touted as the IP’s magnum opus, but it’s also a game fixated on a linear, narrative-focused path. The freedoms of pillaging and crafting goods are left out of the experience. Less successful tie-in games like The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct loosely resemble a survival experience but come up pitifully short. Independent releases like Project Zomboid have come much farther in terms of crafting a gratifying zombie survival experience, but it’s Vanimals’ Undying that unfolds as if it’s leapt from The Walking Dead’s graphic novel pages. The franchise is a professed influence on the game, and though Undying has a long way to go with balancing and mission variety, its presentation and performance are in solid form given its projected release year of 2021.

 

Like Mother, Like Son

 

Most reassuringly, this incarnation of the game already runs at a locked 60 FPS with no instances of stuttering. For an isometric survival game where combat encounters are distributed sparingly, the framerate is more than sufficient. The cel-shading of the game makes shadows prominent and an otherwise muddy color palette much more vivid. NPC behavior in each environment is static but dictated by the game’s day and night cycles. Many humans will temporarily disappear from 12 AM to 6 AM while the zombies remain active all day. As you meet more characters in a broadening environment, trading becomes imperative to your survival. Amongst whatever errands you are incidentally running, it is a constant goal to acquire enough resources to survive going home for the night.

 

As is inherent to the survival genre, the player must juggle your character’s hunger, thirst, and energy, alongside an ordinary health bar. Letting your hunger and/or thirst bars dwindle to zero means your health starts to deplete next, while your energy bar hitting zero causes you to pass out wherever you are, killing you then and there. Added to the mix is an AI partner with the same constraints, albeit with much less survival experience. As opposed to the character dynamic guiding The Last of Us, Undying focuses on the bond between a mother and son, giving a degree of player control to both of them.

 

You play as Anling for the alpha’s entirety, in search of your missing husband while your son Cody comes of age. Cody is not a playable character, but as an AI partner, he follows you loyally and becomes eminently more useful as the days go by. Interestingly enough, Anling starts the game fully experienced and it is instead Cody who you gradually get to update. His crafting, combat, and survival skills are awarded XP separately as you perform different skills in front of him. Soon enough, he’s able to craft items for you, dodge enemy attacks, and find previously unseen resources. The game simply transfers a protagonist leveling system to your companion, but ideas like this help justify Cody’s presence.

 

Gameplay still of Undying showing the protagonist standing in front of an upgraded crafting bench

Bring Out Your Dead

 

Instead of grinding to upgrade your skills, you spend the opening stages of the game looking for planks and metal to fix your house’s crafting and cooking stations. This requires you to immediately immerse yourself into zombie-occupied territory, sans an intrusive tutorial. With metal pipe in hand, you quickly head into the city and get your first combat experience. The deliberately restrained speed of melee combat in survival games is a challenging balance to strike. Allowing players the speed of hack-n-slash combat negates the feeling of surviving encounters by the skin of your teeth. However, many survival games have succumbed to making melee combat so lumbering that it no longer resembles a stylistic choice as much as it does broken gameplay. Happily, Undying strikes the right balance here. You won’t be stringing together combos with your crowbar, but inputs are responsive, and the zombies are slow enough to suit the combat’s rhythm.

 

So far, the zombie behavior is painted in broad strokes, but their AI is attentive enough to pose a challenge. As you inevitably brush past zombified individuals, they are all eager to pursue you, gradually aggregating into a rampaging horde. Cody is slightly slower than you and will every so often need to be freed from a zombie’s grasp by a swing of your weapon. Weapons deteriorate quickly but have a vast attack radius, allowing you to hit three zombies at once with one swing and do roughly the same damage to each. Encountering hordes with any intention of taking them all out is a fool’s errand, though. It is in your best interest to knock them away and run, perhaps taking out an individual where it is necessary.

 

In the game’s current state, the supermarket errand offered about two-thirds into the alpha ends up being pretty close to impossible, even as stiffly animated shopping carts can be pushed around to distract the undead. Smaller combat encounters beforehand thankfully go off without a hitch. Your moments spent with a handgun are fleeting but another testament to Undying’s solid core mechanics. Aiming is quick in 360° isometric fashion, and every bullet lands like a headshot, even if this means that zombies take two or three headshots before departing. When your melee weapons and handguns break, you are always allowed to disassemble them back at home and recoup some resources. Wood and metal resources are a constant necessity in order to cook, craft weapons, and build ramps.

 

Amidst a map that ranges from urban storefronts to private camping grounds, resource distribution is a bit of a mixed bag. A smart (albeit slightly immersion-breaking) advantage the game gives you is letting you position every new area on the map before traveling to it. You expel more energy and waste more time walking to areas that are further away from you, and as I replayed the Alpha’s campaign, I was able to tactically put areas with wells of water closer to my home and less substantial areas farther away. You start the campaign by choosing an emphasis on combat, survival, or crafting, although the only strong benefit visible between the three was my survival campaign, bringing more food my way.

 

A gameplay still of Undying showing the protagonist farming for goods at a national park

The Daily Routine

 

Regardless of what perk you choose, the crowbar is far-and-away the most useful tool to keep in your arsenal, so much so that it becomes a player crutch overshadowing the virtues of different strategies. Inventory containers that need a crowbar to open them are so ubiquitous that having one in your arsenal is often the difference between life and death. This also means that since Undying currently only has one save slot (which Vanimals intends to fix), your campaign can be undermined by missing the singular means of accessing a substantial portion of resources.

 

With Undying’s closed alpha spanning 15 in-game days (or about 3 hours of gameplay), the first 9 days made for a pretty seamless survival experience. There’s a more consistent logic to how pickups respawn in the alpha’s opening areas compared to the outskirts of the map. Items I picked up around my house seemed to not respawn, naturally adding to the game’s challenge. However, the survivor’s camp towards the end of the map allows you to trade with NPCs for their same items every single time you revisit the camp. A late-game addition involves the protagonist becoming diseased and now needing to take a green herb supplement regularly. This remains an interesting concept but was diluted by my ability to get the same supplement from the same NPC perpetually.

 

The simplicity of side missions throughout the alpha is also a bit of a blind spot, as they are normally just simple fetch quests, and their stability started to deteriorate as I reached the campaign’s end. A side mission during Day 10 that involved bringing 10 mushrooms to a little girl would not resolve despite having the 10 mushrooms on-hand. The secret she promised to tell me for acquiring these mushrooms still remains a mystery as of this article. Undying’s combat, crafting, and overall performance are in sturdy condition, but many of the incidental challenges that will help diversify it haven’t followed suit. 

 

Yet what stands tall above both the strengths and shortcomings of Undying’s conventional but mostly solid survival gameplay is the potential of its story. Obvious themes of post-apocalyptic media, such as the psychological turmoil of constant fear for your life, manifest in a dream sequence that is emotionally resonant and stylistically surprising. There is also some subtext of an immigrant experience implied by Anling’s distance from her family. Your time spent battling zombies in America hardly resembles any idea of an American Dream. If Undying can mine more content out of this disappointment, it can provide a distinct zombie narrative experience. As is, it is hard to say that the Undying alpha reanimates the stagnating survival genre, but the pieces here serve as a strong foundation with some inspired details peeking out of it.

 

Bartlow’s Dread Machine First Impressions

Bartlow’s Dread Machine First Impressions

Bartlow’s Dread Machine released on July 30, 2020 on Steam Early Access. As is the case with Early Access games, it’s far from perfect. Strange design choices and inconsistencies bog down Bartlow’s Dread Machine, tainting an experience that otherwise embraces a unique aesthetic.

 

Bartlow's Dread Machine - Visuals

 

Magnificent Machine

 

The game stays true to the title. Your mission as a secret service agent to save Theodore Roosevelt from a terrifying yet unknown fate contextualizes everything, but the story is told uniquely through a machine’s point of view. Tracks limit the movement of you and your adversaries but provide just the right amount of freedom to allow for fast-paced combat.

 

Small visual details immerse you in this new reality. Upon losing health, your character gradually develops holes, sparks, and other mechanical imperfections. When you die, your body breaks into several pieces, all of which are sent scattering across the ground. As you travel, the world will be built before your very eyes. When you find health, you’re sucked below the machine and spit back out looking brand new. When you open ammo drops, a large metal bullet on a pole ejects from the crate to show you’ve opened it. The environment gets destroyed as if its all artificial. This list goes on. Aesthetically, there was a clear direction, and Bartlow’s Dread Machine nails it on the execution.

 

Bartlow's Dread Machine - Boss Fight

 

Dreadful Design

 

From a design perspective, the teams at Tribetoy and Beep Games dropped the ball in a few key areas, most of which orbit a central issue with checkpoints. The game takes on a contradictory nature in the way that it rewards and punishes you. Checkpoints are sometimes in odd places that don’t fully reward you for progressing. Additionally, punishments for failure weigh much heavier and often render your checkpoints useless.

 

Within each level are several checkpoints – some of them are physical checkpoints that you reach like flags in Super Mario Bros., and others are artificial, such as different phases of a boss fight. However, the checkpoints can feel oddly placed. There could be a checkpoint right before one section of a level, and immediately following the checkpoint is a conversation between two characters. What does that mean? Every time you die and have to return to that checkpoint, you’re forced to rapidly click through the conversation again. These strange choices extend to boss fights. Logically, each phase of a boss could be a checkpoint. However, sometimes boss checkpoints range from one phase to three phases, forcing you to repeat parts of the boss fight that aren’t necessarily the parts that you need to repeat and do better on.

 

In addition to the checkpoints, you’re given three lives per attempt. If you die three times in the same level, all the checkpoints are reset and you have to do the level all over again. While at first glance this seems like a decent way to keep combat tense, it just leaves you repeating the same parts you’ve already beaten. Designing a game in this way results in a large portion of the player’s experience and impression of the game revolving around mindlessly doing the same level several times. Simply put, the lives are just unnecessary. The only valuable thing they do is allow you to fail and use money to buy extra items to help you in your next attempt. The truth, though, is that items are expensive enough that by the time you can afford more, you’ve already played through the level enough times to beat it. If they got rid of lives and just kept restarting players at their checkpoints, that would be more than enough to make combat tense and interesting.

 

Bartlow's Dread Machine - Puzzles

 

Infuriating Inconsistencies

 

Bartlow’s Dread Machine establishes itself as a fast-paced, shoot ‘em up-style game in the first level, so it’s odd to see departures from this as you progress. In the middle of a standard level, you’ll suddenly find yourself in a situation that requires a slower, methodical approach, and it’s extremely jarring and causes you to lose health, which we’ve already established is extremely valuable unless you want to repeat the whole level over again. These slower moments are typically accompanied by some sort of puzzle. Strangely, the identity of Bartlow’s Dread Machine is clear, yet it tries to go a different direction with puzzles. When you look at some of the most popular and successful shmups, that’s often the hill that the game lives and dies on. You don’t run into puzzles in DOOM or Enter the Gungeon. Even some of the first games that could potentially be referred to as shmups stay true to this, including Asteroids and Space Invaders.

 

Unfortunately, the controls are wonky during combat in its current state, so you can’t escape inconsistencies outside of puzzles either. From what I could tell, it feels like there’s a depth issue with the game. It can’t seem to determine how far into the game you’re aiming, so you may be trying to fire straight to your right, but depending on the camera angle it may think you’re trying to fire at a deeper location, so your bullet won’t go where you intend it. Overall, it just doesn’t seem optimized very well for PC. Moving around can sometimes feel much like playing Pac-Man with an original Atari 2600 joystick; sometimes you’ll try to turn but end up continuing forward instead. Sometimes there will be two turns close to each other and you’ll intend to take one and end up taking the other. While the issue is minor in the moment, it’s frustrating in the grand scheme of the game.

 

There’s a lot of work to still be done with Bartlow’s Dread Machine, and it’s tough to say how much of this they’ll even be able to realistically fix within Early Access. However, It’s definitely not a lost cause. There are quite a few minor improvements to be made that could potentially take the game to the next level.

 

This impression is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided by the publisher.

5 Changes I Want in Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2

5 Changes I Want in Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2

Humanity can breathe a sigh of relief; Final Fantasy VII Remake is good.

Now that the dust has settled, we must look to the game’s future. Cautious optimism is tempering fan expectations for future Remake installments, but many continue to hold their breath while they wait to see how the rest of the Remake pans out. Square Enix has already shown a propensity for playing fast and loose with the source material with some mixed results – the ending in particular rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. We aren’t going to open that can of worms here, but I firmly believe that Remake’s potential could shine brighter with just a few changes. Here are five things Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 could implement to keep Remake feeling fresh and respect the original game.

 

I’m also well aware that there’s currently endless speculation about where Part 2’s story will end. For the purposes of this list, the cutoff point will be where disc 1 concludes in the original game. Already, that’s a bold and likely unreasonable assumption, but I gotta draw the line somewhere.

 

1. Please, Don’t Make the World Map a Corridor.

 

 

Doge Meme Final Fantasy VII Remake Open World

 

Right now, online message boards are flooded with opinions on how the remake will handle the world map. Some reckon we’ll see an expansive open world, a few think we’ll see interconnected zones like in Dragon Quest XI, while others believe there won’t be an explorable world map at all.

Please, Square Enix. Do not settle on the last option.

When I think back on the original FFVII, I realised that the game’s world is very much its own character. There’s something inherently ugly about the dark hue of the grass, the twisted ways trees grow, and the frightful monsters that roam there. But underneath all of that, there are slithers of natural beauty to discover. This is how the original game subtly convinced you the world was worth saving. If the remake reduces world traversal to bland hallways, or worse, quick travel menus, that sensibility is at risk of being lost. Part 2 doesn’t even need to go full open world, but players need the freedom to roam around this world to appreciate its place in the narrative.

 

2. Vincent Valentine Can Be So Much More than an Edgelord

 

Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Vincent Valentine Changes

Ah, Vincent Valentine. A character so thin you could get a paper cut off his dimensions. Fact is, underneath all his enigmatic brooding, he really doesn’t have a lot going for him. Even Vincent’s standalone game, Dirge of Cerberus, failed to flesh out his character since it was clearly more interested in channeling Shadow The Hedgehog’s ‘cool factor’ and fetishizing Vincent’s edgelord status.

See, ‘cool’ is a fluid term. In the late ‘90s & early 2000s all you needed to be cool was a flashy Matrix-inspired bullet time sequence and the personality of a My Chemical Romance song. In 2020, though, nothing is cooler than having the confidence to accept yourself – this is what Vincent must do in the Remake. By all means, introduce him as an angsty anime gunslinger, but give him some humility and self awareness and he’ll blossom into a hero fans can really get excited about. Otherwise he’ll stagnate as a caricature of himself.

 

3. Oodles More Stuff to Do at The Golden Saucer

 

Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 New Golden Saucer Changes

 

Though some may have reservations about how Square Enix will remix chunks of the game, I think we can all agree that The Golden Saucer is the perfect place for the developers to go full cray cray.

In all but name, this place needs to be Disneyland – somewhere players could easily lose hours in as they tour the attractions. I’m talking about a bigger and better roller coaster shooting gallery, multiple Chocobo race tracks, and a revamped Wonder Square with minigames and arcade cabinets that aren’t just button mashing exercises. I can also visualize dozens of Yakuza-style side missions here. Like kids who ask you to win toys for them in crane games and cowardly guests who need help finding their partner deep inside the haunted house. Then, when you’ve had your fill of the theme park, you can cash in all your tickets for Moogle plush dolls to decorate your airship cabin with (a feature I’ve now deemed mandatory in Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 3).

Speaking of the Golden Saucer…

 

4. Make Everyone Dateable at The Golden Saucer

 

Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Tifa or Aerith

 

Remember how you sniggered when you first discovered you could date Barret in the original FFVII? Why not multiply the hilarity and let Cloud take everyone on a date! Just picture buying ice cream with Vincent and learning his favourite flavour. Or going on the gondola ride with Cid as Cloud impassionately asks him to stop smoking since he’s legitimately concerned about his health. We then watch as Cid begrudgingly takes one last drag and flicks his final cigarette out the gondola window, sparks mingling with the fireworks as the cigarette vanishes into the starry sky.

Jokes aside, this point is a no-brainer. Fans of Remake cherish the extended script and the new romance scenes characters share. Seriously, whose Twitter feed wasn’t littered with Aerith waifu pics back in April? Relationship mechanics also lend tons of replayablity to JRPGS and if we gotta wait literal years between these remake parts, you better believe I’m gonna be shipping Cloud with every character in the meantime.

 

5. Tone Down the Self-Importance Factor.

 

Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Bad

 

I’ve made peace with the fact that Final Fantasy VII Remake exists to be a giant piece of fan service. However, Remake is self-aggrandizing to a fault because it comes at the expense of the game’s pacing. Every cutscene lasts just a little too long, often overinflated by shots of characters looking artificially pensive. Sure, Cloud’s hair is meticulously detailed, but I don’t need another oddly voyeuristic POV shot to highlight that, especially when I’m itching for more gameplay.

All too often the game leans too heavily into our nostalgia. Every new zone you visit bombards you with an emotional and sensory onslaught as the game shouts ‘Remember this?!’ We get it: the original Final Fantasy VII is a masterpiece. I just wished Remake stopped reminding me every five minutes. Chalk it up to Tetsuya Nomura’s ‘on the nose’ direction, but future installments could afford to move at a brisker pace by sacrificing some of the navel-gazing.

 

Cheeky Bonus Point – Let Us Play as Red XIII

 

Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Playable Red XIII

 

Fair enough we couldn’t control Red XIII in Part 1. In Part 2, though, he can’t continue coasting as a ‘guest character’; we need to play as him. Fans are unanimous on that point. Not only could his feral fighting style add variety to an already sublime combat system, his appearance lends some much needed visual flavour to the otherwise humanoid roster. He’s also a great character in his own right, and it’d detract from the story if he exists in a gameplay bubble.

 

Aside from all that, keep up the good work, Square Enix! You’ve earned a lot of good will from Part 1. Just please, don’t squander it by stumbling at the next hurdle. No pressure, but all eyes are on you now.

 

5 Changes I want to see in Super Mario All Stars 2

5 Changes I want to see in Super Mario All Stars 2

It must be great being Mario. He can pull off the moustache look, he has oodles of friends to go go-karting with, and he’s the star of some of the most cherished platformers to grace mankind… and he’s only 35! It’s been rumoured that Nintendo plans to celebrate his 35th anniversary by launching Super Mario All-Stars 2, a remastered collection featuring Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2.

In all honesty, Nintendo could just slap quick and dirty HD ports for all these games onto the Switch and they’d sell like hot cakes. But that would be such a wasted opportunity to do something truly special with these games. Here are five things I’d like to see Nintendo do to make this collection a ‘must own’ title.

 

1. Make that Eel Scary Again

 

Mario 64 Scary Ell

 

Stay with me on this one. A key design philosophy behind creating remakes and remasters is to give returning players the impression that they’re playing the game for the first time all over again. For many people, myself included, Mario 64’s eel was their first ever piece of gaming nightmare fuel. But looking at him now, he looks like a miserable sock puppet. I want to see Nintendo make that sucker scary again. I’m talking about putting Pennywise the Clown or a Bloodborne-style horror in that dark abyss – something to make me petrified to go in the water! Remasters not only need to reintroduce classics to new generations, but also terrify another wave of first-time players.

While they’re at it, Nintendo should crank up the terror factor for that infamous chomping piano. I can see the ‘Twitch Jumpscare Compilation’ videos already.

 

2. Purple Coin Comets Are a Pain

 

Mario Galaxy Purple Coin Comet

 

Super Mario Galaxy‘s Prankster Comets get a lot of hate, but I actually welcome the challenge and variety they add to the gameplay…with the exception of the Purple Coin Prankster Comets. In Mario 64 and Sunshine, the 100 coin stars gave you the freedom to hunt for coins, rewarding player intuition and thorough investigation. Mario Galaxy‘s ‘collect these 100 coins that we’ve laid out in a breadcrumb trail for you, and don’t you dare miss a single one!’ challenges just feel like thankless busywork that frankly aren’t worth an adult’s time. Please Nintendo, just add five or ten more coins per level to afford us some leeway – having to scrub through an entire level again for that one purple coin you missed isn’t a good time.

 

3. 60fps + 360 Camera in Mario 64, Please

 

Mario 64 60fps 360 camera

 

If the PC modding community has taught us anything, it’s that Super Mario 64 plays like hot butter at 60fps. The only other thing that’d transform 64’s gameplay for the better would be a true 360-degree camera to offer the most precise and pleasurable way to play. Of course, specific scenes will still benefit from the old-school camera. The Resident Evil fixed camera angles in Big Boo’s Haunt are still delightfully unsettling, but for the most part, total camera control would be magical. Undoubtedly, there’ll still be purists out there who think 64’s OG camera system is flawless. All Nintendo has to do to please both sides is give players the option to play with whatever camera style they prefer. Gamers love options, after all…

 

4. Good Lord, Fix Mario Sunshine’s Physics

 

Super mario Sunshine Watermelon

 

After a long internal debate with myself, I came to the conclusion that Mario Sunshine’s jank and difficulty spikes are a large part of its identity. It’s undoubtedly the hardest 3D Mario game, yet collecting all 120 Shine Sprites is a real badge of honour. There is a point, however, when the game ceases to be endearing and instead becomes frustrating, and that arrives whenever Sunshine asks you to engage with its physics-based challenges.

Just the thought of having to roll that damn giant watermelon across a narrow pier again makes me want to go lie down in a dark room until I’ve calmed down. Even simple tasks like spinning a slot machine relies on the game’s God-awful physics. None of these gameplay ideas are fundamentally bad, yet in implementation, they barely function to an acceptable standard and will likely push you to the limits of your patience. Worst of all, the game culminates with the definitive low point of this plumber’s illustrious career: using FLUDD to sheepishly control a rickety boat across a sea of lava through Corona Mountain. This collection is intended to celebrate Mario’s 35th anniversary. I don’t wanna play his blooper reel.

 

5. Make the Game Its Own Game

 

Mario man Cave

 

When I think about this hypothetical Super Mario All Stars 2 collection, I imagine it as its own game, not just as a glorified DVD menu. Since the hub worlds are such celebrated parts of these Mario games, a playable ‘hub menu’ of sorts could really go a long way.

Imagine controlling Mario around a small portion of Peach’s Castle as toads chaperone you between a variety of chambers. One room could function as Mario’s private gaming man cave with a CRT TV hooked up to a N64, Gamecube, and Wii. This is where you’d pick your game, all through the gleeful eyes of Mario as he picks up the relevant controller to relive (and replay) his finest adventures. Another room could house an in-game shop where the stars you collect act as currency for unlocking promotional artwork and archive trailers for these games. There could even be a hidden room that opens into a playable version of the Mario 128 tech demo! Sky’s the limit for this one!

 

Cheeky Bonus Point – Give Us Photo Mode

 

Mario Camera Mode

 

Given Nintendo’s recent love of photo modes in Super Mario Odyssey and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I can speculate, with almost certainty, that this feature will be included. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a harmless addition that allows players to get a bit creative when they’re tired of platforming. Sunshine is even holiday-themed, so making your own postcards would suit the game’s vibe perfectly. Plus, I just really want to get some selfies with Isle Defino’s Piantas.

 

For so many people, these Mario games made up a key part of their formative gaming years. If Nintendo steps up and puts in the effort, this collection would not only be a wonderful celebration of all things Mario, it could become the definitive way to play these classics.

 

Is Co-op the Next Big Video Game Genre?

Is Co-op the Next Big Video Game Genre?

Right now, the gaming industry as a whole values games as a service, and this often pairs perfectly with online multiplayer experiences. Players don’t get a definite end to their fun, companies get to monetize the games in a way that keeps them running, developers have a chance to keep improving a game well after its launch, and the media has a new story to break with each update or patch. It’s a model that’s particularly attractive to all sides of the industry right now. However, just like anything else in life, it won’t last. Something will take its place. This could be story-driven, character-centered experiences or another form of online play… or it could be both.

 

The Power of Online Gaming

 

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the world, and while a lot of people try to focus on what they’ll do when it ends, the reality is that it may never truly be over. Instead, we’ll be living differently. This transition has already begun. Despite the world making steps towards opening back up, people have developed a certain comfort around working from home, ordering food and groceries online, and talking to their friends and family through a Wi-Fi connection. It’s highly likely that the world has been permanently altered, and as a part of the world, the gaming industry is no different.

 

multiplayer vs single player audiences
How much of your time playing video games is spent playing each of the following types of games? (Scale 0-4)

 

With the likely continuation of at-home living, the gaming community will be turning more towards games for their human interaction than ever before. This puts a large emphasis on online multiplayer, but what does this mean for companies like Naughty Dog, Dontnod, and Telltale that specialize in story-rich games? As it is, single-player games that put a high value on narratives like these don’t have a hold on the industry. In fact, it’s been shown that the average “gamer” invests far more of their gaming time into multiplayer experiences than dramatic, cinematic ones. This isn’t to say that single-player games don’t have value, though. On a fairly consistent basis, single-player games receive higher praise than multiplayer ones. Eight of the top sixteen games of all time according to Metacritic were definitively single-player experiences upon release, and arguably, at least five more could be primarily considered single-player games with additional multiplayer modes. However, it’s not simply the single-player nature that sets these games apart; it’s the narrative.

 

YouTube and Twitch Encourage Shared-Narrative Gaming

 

We’ve already seen how a craving for an enticing narrative can combine with a desire to be with our peers. YouTube and Twitch serve as ways for the gaming community to feel like they’re a part of something bigger and social. In modern times, these platforms are often directly responsible for the popularity of video games. YouTube in particular has been a hotbed for people to watch others play single-player games that they may one day purchase. YouTuber JackSepticEye surpassed twenty million subscribers in 2018 and never looked back. A lot of his channel’s success has come from playthroughs of narrative-focused games like Undertale, Life Is Strange, Bendy and the Ink Machine, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Night in the Woods, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and many more. This is the story for many creators on the platform, both for single-player and multiplayer games. Even though people don’t actively participate with them as they play, viewers still feel a connection. It’s reported that of gamers who watch others play games online, over 30% will watch for five hours or more every week (Limelight 14).

 

JackSepticEye Plaing Bendy and the Ink Machine

 

There’s a certain level of mental interaction when someone experiences something with another person, in the same way that people would rather go to a movie with someone than alone. In a study entitled “Why do people watch others play video games? An empirical study on the motivations of Twitch users,” it was concluded that “the only gratification that seems to explain subscribing behavior is that concerning social integrative motivations.” Regardless of what type of game is being played, players are drawn to the concept of being able to interact or feel a part of something with someone else. With the recent self-isolation, people seek this ability to interact.

 

Co-op Narratives Are Already Here

 

This has led to the phenomenon that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The narrative that New Horizons tells is your own, and the appeal is that you can share it with somebody else. Shared experiences powerfully draw players who typically wouldn’t be interested in something to participate in it. It’s the classic peer pressure that grabs hold of you. However, this could very likely translate into games with narratives that are scripted and character-based. A Way Out came out in early 2018, and Hazelight Studios and Electronic Arts marketed it based on the ability to experience a compelling narrative with a friend. One person could be in a cutscene while another is performing some other action. They could be in different places, playing both separate and realized characters, and still experience the same story. The game received pretty decent scores from both users and critics and it sold millions of copies. However, while it did make headlines, it wasn’t seen as particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking.

 

A Way Out Key Art

 

Regardless, this seems like a logical next step for the industry. Playing off of the increased desire for companionship, developers have a chance to bring people new experiences that they can share. Hazelight Studios already has shown themselves capable of this model with A Way Out and their first title, Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons, which follows a similar style of two players following a deep narrative and received praise far and wide. This co-op, story-rich experience is a beacon for the industry. It combines the appeal of camaraderie with the highly praised narratives that bring the industry to its knees. Imagine playing The Last of Us where one person plays as Joel and the other plays as Ellie. Imagine playing a story with someone instead of watching them play it on YouTube or hearing about their playthrough over Discord the next day.

 

While speculative, it would make sense that since the reveal and release of A Way Out, the industry has had years to consider it and potentially begin work on similar experiences. All it takes is the right company to make the right game that perfects the idea, in the same way that Fortnite perfected what games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and H1Z1 had already been experimenting with and creating. Similarly, the functionality has already been experimented with for co-op, story-rich games. In fact, the industry has already shown the value that these experiences would have. A Way Out may not have shifted the tides on its own, but it still made a splash when it sold millions of copies. We’ve already arrived, but which game will be the one to show the industry that we have?

Grounded’s Arachnophobia Mode, Accessibility Options, & Me

Grounded’s Arachnophobia Mode, Accessibility Options, & Me

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been terrified of spiders. Whether they’re maliciously spying on me in a corner of a room or just chilling on my windowsill, the mere sight of spiders causes my palms to sweat and my breathing to accelerate. It’s a phobia that’s also proven to be fairly debilitating when it comes to enjoying my favourite hobby: gaming.

 

The practise of combing through online message boards to read if an upcoming game features spiders is something I’m all too familiar with. My girlfriend had to hold my hand (and frequently act as my eyes) while I gingerly shuffled through Metro Exodus’ arachnid-infested tunnels. To my shame, I’ve also never finished either Bloodborne nor the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil. Both are titles that games media have dubbed as ‘must play’ experiences, yet those games’ giant spiders have always set off my nervous responses, thus preventing me from enjoying those games to their fullest.

 

Minecraft spider

 

Before I start playing my tiny, tiny fiddle anymore though, I must stop and acknowledge that I speak from a hugely privileged position. There are many gamers out there who cannot play several games because a physical or mental disability prevents them from doing so.

 

The Welcome Trend of Accessibility

 

Thankfully, accessibility options are becoming increasingly common in modern games. Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller is a wonderful piece of kit that’s designed to accommodate gamers who suffer from a range of physical disabilities. More recently, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II boasts an unprecedented amount of accessibility options. Steve Saylor, a legally blind gamer due to his nystagmus, even shed tears of joy after discovering the full range of options available to help visually impaired players. “For the first time in my entire life, I was able to sit back on the couch and play the game without any barriers getting in the way,” he later said in an interview with the BBC.

 

https://twitter.com/stevesaylor/status/1271404306697158659

 

One of the more unique instances of accommodating disabled gamers can be seen in Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, which doesn’t have a colour blind mode, but for a surprisingly good reason. Tim Cain, one of the game’s directors, suffers from a form of colour blindness similar to monochromacy, so the entire game’s visuals are designed to accommodate colour blind players by default. But it’s Obsidian’s most recent game, Grounded, that really got my attention, since it features a unique accessibility option called ‘Arachnophobia Mode,’ which supposedly makes the game’s spiders tolerable for arachnophobes.

 

For the unaware, Grounded is a first-person survival game that takes heavy inspiration from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. You play as miniature children navigating your own backyard as you try to repair the machine responsible for making you tiny, all while hiding from aphids, ants, and of course… spiders. Despite the game’s cartoony style, the game’s trailer still made me recoil in horror thanks to the image of a spider chasing our miniature heroes through an underground tunnel that’s caked in webs. If I was browsing to buy the game, this would’ve been more than enough for me to ‘nope’ out of the game for good. But I was intrigued to see how Arachnophobia Mode aimed to quell my fears. The game recently got a demo, so I dove in and checked out its accessibility options for myself.

 

 

Testing Out Grounded’s Arachnophobia Mode

 

Arachnophobia Mode doesn’t outright turn off the game’s spiders, which is good because they’re still a valuable element of the game’s design. Rather, it offers a means of making spiders appear less visually intimidating to folks like me. To my surprise, the feature let me choose from five diminishing levels of ‘spiderness’. It adjusts not just the look of spiders, but also how they sound in game. Level one reduces a spider’s leg count to four, level two removes legs altogether, level three takes away the fangs, level four changes the head shape, and finally, level five removes colouration and some eyes. At this level, in-game spiders quite literally look like two floating metal ovals with red eyes, a far cry from the usual model with its tiger-striped abdomen suspended by a cradle of eight spindly legs.

 

grounded arachnophobia mode comparison

 

More out of curiosity than fear, I set it to the maximum level and booted into the game proper. After bashing a gnat to death with a pebble and scrounging some weeds, I pressed on to hunt for spiders (something I thought I’d never do willingly). Then, I saw it. Wandering near gooey spider webs and weaving through towering blades of grass was a giant hovering fish oil tablet. And it wasn’t happy to see me.

 

Grounded arachnophobia mode gameplay spider screenshot

 

Admittedly, it was a little jarring to see what looked like an unfinished enemy model hanging out with the game’s other meticulously crafted insects. Yet, because I knew I chose that model, the enemy type still mentally registered as a spider. Crucially though, I didn’t fear it because my phobia was triggered. Instead, I perceived them simply as a ‘high-threat’ enemy, like Creepers in Minecraft – I feared the game over screen, not the form of the spider.

 

This corroborates with a 1991 study conducted by Graham Davey examining why arachnophobes detest spiders. For the experiment, Davey interviewed 118 undergraduates about their thoughts on spiders. Around 75% of that group stated they found them mildly or deeply frightening. That group was then asked what characteristics of spiders they find the most off-putting. The two biggest factors were their ‘legginess’ and their erratic movements. These are likely similar results of Obsidian’s own research and playtesting when devising their take on Arachnophobia Mode since, at its core, the feature attempts to rationalise an irrational fear.

 

arachnophobia study
Graph summarizing Graham Davey’s study into anxiety triggers in arachnophobes – Link to the study here, but be warned, the article contains images of spiders.

 

In practise then, this feature is successful. By eliminating many of a spider’s defining characteristics, like their ‘legginess’ and, by extension, their erratic movements, my nervous response to spiders was never engaged. As an arachnophobe, the giant backyard environment was still unsettling to navigate. Some of the bigger types of ants were a bit gross to look at, but it was deeply comforting to know the classic form of a spider would never ambush me. Grounded’s Arachnophobia Mode makes an honest promise to gamers like me, and it gave me an opportunity to actually play this game without fear. A decidedly better substitute to quivering behind a pillow while watching gameplay footage on YouTube.

 

Closing Thoughts

 

Previously, I always saw accessibility options purely as a mildly interesting gaming feature – something that’s useful for a niche selection of gamers and a menu that I’d seldom glance at. After experiencing what it’s like to have my phobia catered for though, I can better empathise with what a revelation it must be for disabled gamers like Steve Saylor to have their requirements acknowledged.

 

Games like The Last of Us Part II and Grounded are frontrunners for 2020’s winning race for accessibility. They’ve successfully opened up the conversation about accessibility in gaming and their suite of options set a high benchmark that future game developers should be encouraged to follow. Accessibility tools like Arachnophobia Mode, colour blind options, and even something as simple as directional closed captions can truly make a world of difference to some gamers. When well implemented, these options can break down otherwise damning barriers that could impede people’s ability to do something as simple as play a video game. More people should be permitted that pleasure because in gaming’s race for accessibility, everyone’s a winner.

 

If you’d like to learn more about accessibility options in games (it really is a fascinating subject), then I can wholeheartedly recommend checking out caniplaythat.com, a superb resource hub for disabled gamers. Additionally, Mark Brown’s (Game Maker’s Toolkit) video series on the subject is a great watch and a good entry point to the topic:

 

Top 5 Upcoming Animated Video Game Adaptations

Top 5 Upcoming Animated Video Game Adaptations

On the first episode of CD Projekt Red’s Night City Wire series, it was unexpectedly announced that  Netflix and Studio Trigger would partner together  to produce Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

This project was green-lit due to the success of Netflix’s Castlevania adaptation. The show achieved widespread critical praise for its animation and faithful adaptation of the games. This success hasn’t gone unnoticed by other publishers who are hoping to follow Konami’s lead. So here are the Top 5 Animated Video Game Adaptations currently in the works.

 

1.The Cuphead Show!

Cuphead received widespread praise for its animation, which paid homage to early Fleischer studios cartoons, like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The studios meticulous attention to top quality animation led to universal praise upon release. The animation was so prominent, Netflix decided to produce and distribute a TV series at StudioMDHR. 

While there are no confirmed story details, the recent Inside Peek trailer has shown familiar characters; Cuphead, Mugman, King Dice and The Devil will all be featured. Expect to see the brothers get into some classic 1930’s hijinks, with The Devil himself trying to take their souls. 

The series is being worked on by a small, relatively inexperienced team. After seeing their beautiful animation in the hands of players, I’m eager to see what they are capable of when creating a show. The Cuphead Show is slated to hit the small screen on January 1st, 2021. 

 

2.Devil May Cry

 

With the well received release of Devil May Cry 5, the franchise has been back in good standings. Easily one of Capcom’s most beloved originals, Devil May Cry’s flourish filled, combo-based fighting system is tailor-made for an anime adaptation. 

Devil May Cry: The Animated Series released in 2007, serving as an in-between for the events of Devil May Cry and Devil May Cry 2. It received mostly positive reviews, but has started to show its age when compared to modern action anime. The new series will be developed by Adi Shankar (this name’s going to come up a lot), the showrunner for Castlevania, who was able to create stunningly violent scenes with only an NES game for reference.

There is no release date set, but an easter egg in Castlevania season 3 implies that an announcement is sooner than later.

 

3.Hyper Light Drifter

 

 

Hyper Light Drifter is one of the rare cases where a Kickstarter project manages to exceed backers’ expectations. The game has a striking art style, with a 16-bit, SNES graphical design. The style works remarkably well in a cinematic fashion; a detail the game flaunts in it’s opening cutscene. These scenes inspired Adi Shankar (I told you), to begin working with Alex Preston, Lead Developer from Heart Machine studios, on an animated mini-series adaptation of the game. It will be interesting to see how they handle the lack of voiced dialogue as hiring voice actors may take away from the SNES atmosphere the game had originally built. 

 

4.Assassin’s Creed

 

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has struggled to find success in film and television adaptations. The film was an absolute disaster both critically and financially but I’m still excited to see this project come to fruition. 

The film didn’t rekindle my love for the franchise, but I respect that the series takes advantage of its premise to tell stories with new protagonists in every entry. The film is considered canon, despite its poor reception. The Netflix produced TV series is likely to tell an original story in an unexplored time period. World War II or feudal Japan, anyone? 

Under the direction of Adi Shankar (It’s the last time… I swear), we hopefully get to see a story set in the AC universe that isn’t plagued with the tedious down time that so many of the games have suffered from.

 

5.Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Vibe

 

Far Cry: Blood Dragon is one of the best Far Cry games ever made, featuring an over the top, 80’s action movie aesthetic. It took everything that made Far Cry 3 fun to play and stripped away the more serious story elements, replacing them with a world that feels like Robocop meets Escape From New York

The ridiculous setting, katana wielding zombies, and giant laser-breathing Komodo dragons work perfectly for a hyper-violent, animated Netflix show. Who better to lead the project, than Adi Shankar? (I lied). 

An animated series in this world could be special if it takes advantage of the precious 80s nostalgia, and embraces the violence that movies of the time were not able to do convincingly. 

There is no tentative release date, but considering the many other projects Adi Shankar has on the go (and the growing controversies surrounding Ubisoft), it’s probably going to be a few years before it hits Netflix. 

 

Most of these shows are going to be quite a way off but they each have so much potential and I can’t wait to see how they turn out. How about you? Which show are you most excited for? What other games would you like to see get an animated TV series? Let us know in the comments below.