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A Little Bit Of: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

Yellow and Red.

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I think this is the second video I've made that has completely inadvertently been recorded and put up on the same day a Giant Bomb Quick Look has been done on it. Anyway back on topic, I like this game despite being completely awful at it. The way the world changes when you swap between the two sisters is a wonderful effect. Background, enemies, music it all changes dependent on which sister you have active. Some of the changes are just cosmetic like from imps to birds, but somethings don't exist in the one version of the world but exist in the other. Things like spikes and platforms can disappear just by swapping sisters.

From things like trailers it clearly looks like the game can get much more difficult and complicated. Right now in the early parts of the game it's been okay even with my pretty awful platforming skills but even then I've started dying a lot more so I can only expect that this is a sign of things to come. The game has come a long way since it's Commodore 64 roots and also it's another Kickstarter game that's been released that's pretty damn good. So hopefully more of the future Kickstarter games that come out will be just as awesome as this and FTL.

DLC: The Shadow Broker's Moxxi

DLC is a pretty big discussion now days in games and in all its forms really from micro transaction style items like boosts in MMOs, costume packs for fighting games all the way up to large chunks of content like Lair of the Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2. Now some downloadable content has been pretty exploitative of consumers and others have been really good.

Post release content actually isn't anything new. It's new on this generation of consoles because they're actually online systems now but the concept itself has been around on PCs for quite a while. It was certainly not as big a focus for many companies as it is today but it existed mostly in two forms, free bonus content that were more or less bundled into patches. And the other was full on expansion packs that were sold at retail usually cheaper than the base game and offered a pretty large amount of content.

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Expansions were really good for companies because it allowed them to use a game they had already made. It made it a lot cheaper to make than the original and you could typically put it out a year after the game had been made and make a whole bunch more money. Usually it was a year after the base game had been released and they were usually sizeable in scope, Yuri's Revenge for example added a new race, a few new units for the exiting ones, new maps and a whole new campaign filled with it's own cheese filled FMV cutscenes. So consumers never really got burned too badly with this, there were definitely instances where a game got a bad expansion but that would more often than not be because the content was bad rather than people feeling they're getting gouged. I think a lot of this was due to the fact that it was a single big thing that you're getting all at once.

Free updates were somewhat more rare, they were expensive to make for potentially no reward whatsoever. Some games could do it if they had a really strong mod scene where they would roll community favourites into packs that they would just distribute. Unreal Tournament 2004 is probably the most famous example of this being done where the free maps almost doubled the total number of maps that were in it. Note: UT2004 could also be considered a stand alone expansion for the slightly less well received UT2003.

Back to more recent history and starting with the production process and how a lot of DLC is made now days, particularly day one DLC. On large teams you generally have a bunch of your people that don't have any work to do towards the end of a game, concept people and the like. Normally they would be sent to work on whatever the next game was going to be or to do prototyping for pitches in the future. But with the advent of DLC those people can work on new post release content while the main dev team works on doing the last bits of polish on the game. After that you have the wonderfully long and painful certification process which frees up your main dev team before the game comes out to work on that DLC. The cert process for a full game is pretty long but for DLC it happens to be much shorter. I expect that this is to do with slightly more lax requirements for somethings that if it works in the full game it works in the content and just generally having less things to test by virtue of being smaller in scope. So all this combined has led to a situation where you can get a piece of DLC fully finished and certified before your full game has been certified and sent out to be produced and distributed (which for a large run of physical games is also no short process). So some parts of the DLC being on the disk like art assets for example which can be finalised well in advance becomes a lot more understandable. It seems to me that it's more an argument for the certification process to be less lengthy and obtuse but I think I'm going to lose that argument with the console makers.

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I understand the argument of if it's done then why isn't it just in the game you just bought. It's a fine line here, because there has definitely been times where a game would normally be delayed a little bit to get it finished and put in there. Other times it's used as a free content pack to those people that bought the game new to discourage pre owned purchases. I'm generally of the opinion on day one DLC is that it should be free, good will is generally worth more than the sales you can pick up. It puts people in a slightly better mood when it comes to other stuff you release. There have also been times where the content is just done and it's being arbitrarily held back for marketing tie in stuff or whatever and that really isn't okay. The biggest example I can think of is Marvel VS Capcom 3 where they tried to tie in bonus characters to the Vita version of the game. Which was really dumb because it meant that hackers could get into the game and play with those characters. While obviously ridiculous for that reason in competitive games you need the data to play with other people that do have paid for the new characters.

The obvious solution to me would be to be push out a large update to everyone with the new content and you're done. Again the console ecosystem comes into play where there are both maximum caps on the size of patches and also that it costs money to put out a new patch for your game, a story that was made very public by Fez. So while a sound idea not one that developers can actually do. Capcom's alternative of just putting it on the disk is actually one of the only ways you can get it to work right or you have to just have the Mortal Kombat situation of if you didn't have the DLC you just couldn't play with those people that did have it.

I suppose the last thing on the list to talk about is pricing. This is the part that is really rubbing people the wrong way, that and micro transactions. I think the main problem I have with things like weapon packs and costume packs which are glorified pallet swaps, is that they are utterly pointless. I'm sure people get some value out of them but the thing is they A. aren't difficult to make and develop and B. generally don't add too much to the game if it's being added after the fact. Now the counter to that would be they are relatively inexpensive but it feels like it's just being made for the purposes of gouging a little bit more out of people.

One of the other practices that is becoming more common in the industry is that of a Season pass for games. Off the top of my head there are only a couple games where this actually makes any sense what so ever. The Walking Dead. It's an episodic game, you're buying the whole season. Actually a lot of the Telltale stuff works here but that's kind of their thing. LA Noire also kind of fits the bill to a lesser extent because the structure of the game was very much split into distinct episodes or cases. But there have been plenty of times where people have gotten burned on bad season passes where the DLC that came out for the game just ended up bad. Saints Row 3 is a prime example of where it was a fantastic game but everything they released after it was kind of terrible. Uncharted 3 is also another example of people getting seriously burned on just not getting what they paid for.

This is a very much the same problem that pre-orders have of you're paying money for a game that isn't out yet and may in fact turn out to be terrible. The biggest distinction is that with pre-orders you generally know a little bit about the game that you're pre-ordering with wonderful games press doing previews and the like, but usually the season pass is sold when the game is released when no one has really not seen anything of what the DLC is going to be. This is kind of the worst kind of blind purchasing of 'trust us it's going to be great' that companies seem to be doing more often which is kind of not good. But people seem to be buying it which means it works I guess.

Micro transactions are also becoming more prevalent also scarily in more games that aren't free to play. Mass Effect 3 did it recently in it's multiplayer mode, which was actually more fun than most people were expecting, but it had it's booster pack system to unlock new classes and items. Now a lot of free to play games are glorified skinner box machines (if you don't know what it is look it up and operant conditioning, basically compelling people into certain behaviour) and it's that reward loop that keeps people playing and they pay money in order to keep those rewards coming even if it is something abstract like gaining levels. It feels a lot worse when put into what is seemingly a fairly core component of a multiplayer mode that is part of a full priced game. As for free to play games I think it's a little bit more mixed.

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There are definitely games that do it well and there are games that do it badly. Lots more examples of ones that do it badly. But a lot of the ones that do it well happen to be MMOs, Lord of the Rings Online converted very well to the free to play model where they were very easily avoidable and they are really focussed on convenience. Tribes Ascend is an example of it being done alright where you can pay to unlock new classes and weapons but for the most part it's very balanced and paying money only really gives you more choices. The progression gain is a little bit too slow if you're trying to not spend money, but that's almost par for the course with the genre.

I've gone on for quite a bit more than I had intended to and I could probably say a lot more on the subject matter but the short thing is that DLC can be done really well. There have been lots of examples of content packs that are sizeable, well priced add ons to great games. And there are a whole lot that are really awful anti consumer gouging. The practice of making DLC and post release content isn't inherently bad or awful, some companies are trying their hardest to make it seem that way unfortunately.

A Little Bit Of: Mark of the NInja

Sneak 'n Stab.

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I'm not usually into playing a lot of games where stealth is forced upon you, which is slightly odd because if a game like Dishonored comes out I tend to use the stealth route instinctively. Anyway Mark of the Ninja is pretty great. It's really thought out it's stealth mechanics in a really clever way where things like enemy vision is very obvious and if you're in the light or dark is immediately apparent. The action of killing people stealthily where you have to drag the mouse in the right direction isn't great, it works sure, but it's kind of awkward to do on a mouse. I didn't check for gamepad support but given that it came out on 360 first I'm going to guess that it's all in there and works fine.

I haven't played that far but it seems like there are quite a few tools you can use to get back out of sight if you mess up. You take a pretty hefty score penalty if you do so and if you're looking to leaderboard chase it'll probably cause you to restart but the game has really good hooks between the high scores and the seal system to encourage you to do pretty specific things during levels. It also seems like there are challenge rooms which are a bit more puzzly than the normal game which make for a good pace but they're pretty hidden away so it's hard to say how many you would run through if you weren't exploring too much.

A Little Bit Of: Retro City Rampage

Monster kill.

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Okay I don't actually think there's a UT reference in this game, for the most part it references stuff from much earlier than that. As far as I'm concerned this game is completely bonkers. From a gameplay point of view it plays a lot like a top down GTA style open world game, it even makes references to saying that it is an open world game. Outside of that though the game is so much more. It has references to so much old stuff, Punch Out, Back to the Future, Metal Gear, it straight up has a mission which is basically Paper Boy. The player character is also just called Player. If you don't have that nostalgia or appreciation for a lot of those older games a lot of the jokes are probably not going to make a whole lot of sense.

There is some stuff that is newer like the Dark Knight bank robbery at the start of the game but for the most part it's older references than that. So that's really where this game lives or dies. It plays pretty well and some of the writing is pretty funny and random regardless of if you get what it's a reference to, but there have definitely been moments where it's clear that I haven't understood half the joke that the writing it trying to tell. Luckily the game is random enough that you get some other insane weirdness happening like 5 minutes later so overall it's a good time all round.

A Little Bit Of: Colour Bind

Coloured Gravity.

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A physics based puzzle platformer. Really interesting, different colours have different individual falling properties. So being red might cause you to fall in one direction and blue objects might fall in a completely different direction. Also the gravity can change mid level when you push one of the buttons and those are also colour specific. It's pretty clear from the get go that this can get pretty complicated as it goes on. One thing to mention is that the vehicle you control is a bit floatier than is necessarily helpful. It makes doing some actions quickly a bit of a pain, so far it hasn't had moments where it requires dead eye precision with the jumps but it still acts a bit of an annoyance. That said there are different strengths to the gravity so there are moments where pressing a button lowers the force of the gravity so you can do higher jumps and so on, so that might be completely intentional. Regardless it has been the cause of some annoyance but never any real frustration.

Anyway this seems like a pretty cool game, hopefully I didn't sound too horrible and sickly while doing this but with any luck I will feel better tomorrow. I was going to record this yesterday but then I actually felt horrible so I just sat around and did absolutely nothing for a day. So that was awesome I guess, apart from you know the being sick thing.

A Little Bit Of: Spirits

Leaves blowing in the wind.

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The thing I love most about this game is the art and the music, it's just kind of mellow and relaxing and compared with some of the other stuff I've been playing recently. It reminds me a lot of lemmings gameplay wise, you're trying to get your spirits from their starting pile of leaves to the end portal and you do it by morphing some of them into clouds that blow spirits into the sky, plants that act as stairs and a few more as the game goes on. It's also nice that the levels seem to be very easy to complete and progress. The challenge comes from trying to get to the perfect solution, getting all of the plants and getting as many guys as you can to the end.It seems to fit in with the whole vibe the game is going for, you never really feel impeded progress wise but there is some depth into how to get through the levels.

A Little Bit Of: FTL

All power to forward shields.

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This was one of the first Kickstarters I funded and I think it's sort of setting a weird precedent by being as rad as it is. You manage a starship. You manage it's crew, it's power, it's weapons even it's doors. And it all combines to being just a wonderful feeling game which also decides to amp it up by having the tension that is only made by perma death. A full run of the game doesn't take that long so you generally aren't losing that much. But it's still absolutely heart breaking when one of your crew dies and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it but watch as it happens. And losing a crewmate can be a terrible ordeal, you might not find another crewmate for several sectors. Othertimes one will be just in the next system.

Figuring out how to spend your scrap is also a big deal because you don't know when you're going to run into a store. Sometimes you try to wait till you get to a store and hope they have something good, but then while you sit around you could in fact be buying more shields or increasing your power capacity. It makes for something that is actually quite complex and is all about choosing what to do and when, a lot of the time you're going to be forced into a bunch of choices that could all turn out really bad. And that's a part of it, but getting a hard won victory against a tough enemy or when the dice rolls in your favour are moments to celebrate.

Also the end game boss is pretty darn rough.

Beyond the Rhythm

Music games, they've been around for a good long while and while we have gotten lots and lots of new rhythm games, some of them rather good improvements that gave us such wonderful titles as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. And also we now have things like Dance Central and Singstar both of which are good for their own reasons. We've come a pretty long way from the DDR arcade days. But we don't have a huge amount outside this style of game, for a lot of these you still have people plotting out note pathways/tracks and you're mimicking what's there in time with the beat. I suppose you could make like the evil version where you purposely avoid the beats just to mess with people but I suspect that would only be fun for masochists.

While I'm here though I'll just give a shout out to Rocksmith as a teaching tool for learning guitar, while it's kind of an obvious extension from Guitar Hero they deserve props for trying it. Also they should've just leaned into the teaching and education aspect instead of the "authentic guitar game" because that probably didn't do it any favours.

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Sequence was a game that used a lot of the systems of traditional rhythm games and mashed them into an RPG-esque game. It was kind of a flawed game, a lot of that was the RPG trappings and it lacking the amount of music it needed for the game's length, but that core mechanic of tapping out notes to defend, gain mana and cast spells both worked and was great fun. While you still needed to be good at being in time with the rhythm there was also a lot of strategy that you needed to think out, because you needed to find a balance between gaining mana to cast spells to do damage. Unfortunately it only having a handful of actual songs to fight with you got bored of them long before you got to the end (this was also exacerbated by the RPG trappings forcing a fair amount of grinding). This is just kind of an issue for when you do plot out pathways which this game does still do. The damage and mana tracks from the monsters are set out in advance and doing that is actually a fair amount of work.

This leads us to a game where it analyses music that you feed it and generate a level based on that. Audiosurf.

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Audiosurf was one of the first widely known games that allowed for the importing of your own music library to run the game. It generates tracks based on the game mode you picked and it's pretty clear that those levels are based on the music that you gave it. You have blocks that you need to pick up on some of the beats and the track itself twists, turns rises and falls along with the music. With a procedural system like this some music works better than others and there have been times when I've given it something and it just gave me a level that was super boring. But it works far more often than it fails (also I listen to a fair amount of soundtracks which tend to be more ambient) and you get a track that is fun to try to get high scores on and compete on leaderboards.

It's hard to say how much information in the song is used to make a track, things like major beats and volume are really easy to get. But if you're trying to get something like the track for a single instrument or even just the melody line those are significantly more complex to pull out. Not to say that it can't be done but it is no easy task to do and for a lot of games would be a far larger undertaking than would really be worthwhile. Especially considering the music analyser is only one small part of it.

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Beat Hazard is another game that also analysed your music but unlike Audiosurf where what the music was pretty obviously affected the levels that were made and how it played, this wasn't really the case in Beat Hazard. If you look at Beat Hazard for a while you get a feeling for how it affects the things like bullets and the enemy spawns, but the only thing that's really apparent while you're playing is volume. This still remains as a really interesting concept of using music for something that wasn't at all about following the music but still had music at part of the core gameplay even if it didn't particularly succeed at that last bit. We do have games like Rez and Child of Eden but Beat Hazard is the more interesting of those because it does attempt to do it procedurally.

But these are all kind of in the minority, okay music games aren't really the most numerous games out there but still I think there's a huge potential for using music in games. We clearly have the ability to analyse music to the level where we can use it to do interesting things. Why not have a shooter where the terrain rises, falls and moves about with the music? Well probably because it would be real hard to make that game not suck. Point is that there's a lot more scope for what we could be doing with music games, alright it's a pretty difficult to pull off, but we could at least be trying to explore it more than we are doing.

A Little Bit Of: Closure

Lightbringer.

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This was released a while ago on PSN and browsers I think, but it recently came out on Steam and it's still pretty cool. Light governs everything in this game, if something isn't illuminated and visible then it doesn't exist. Which makes for an interesting dynamic as you're trying to get to the exit doorway while also trying to move all the lights you to build that path to get there. Sometimes this means dropping down somewhere to get a key and then you need to find your way back sometimes, it means getting to another place so you can get access to one of the lamps to point it in the right direction. Clearly it's going to get more devious as you get further in but it's had a pretty good ramp up of introducing concepts as it goes.

The main gripe I have is more that I'm a moron that keeps mixing up the jump and action key which on a keyboard is 'A' and 'S' and when putting a light down could mean the difference between surviving and dropping yourself into a bottomless pit of doom that becomes rather irritating. There doesn't seem to be any checkpointing mid-level which is fine for now while the puzzles are relatively simple and short it could get to be incredibly punishing not being able to save mid level and just go 'yeah this is where I need to be, I don't want to have to do all that again just to get back here'. Anyway it's a cool game, clearly a lot of scope for more insane levels in the future as I get to the second and third worlds.

A Little Bit Of: Galaxy On Fire 2 Full HD

The galaxy is burning!

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Dear, oh dear. This was a bit of a bummer to record. I really enjoyed the space sim genre and this game did look cool on iOS but I was never really happy with the way it controlled. It getting a PC release was really cool, but this is really just a game that really got hurt by design decisions that probably made sense for iOS but when you put it on a PC which has different controls it just made for kind of a boring game. It does however have a lot of the component parts for something you would expect out of the genre. You have random missions, deliveries, ferrying people, killing pirates, commodity trading, mining and all of that stuff works and that's all good. But it just comes down to the point that the flying just doesn't feel right, you aren't piloting a zippy fighter, you're flying a lumberous truck. Now obviously this could change later in the game but I just tend to doubt it.

Graphically it looks alright, this I suppose is to the credit of those original versions that on a large monitor it does still look pretty good. They've done some nice up-ressed textures for things, the fact that a lot of it is low poly does stand out a bit more in contrast with the updated textures. The UI isn't fantastic, it all looks just a little bit ugly, I have a feeling that these weren't retooled much for a large screen. The voice acting is also pretty rough, I'm not too sure how the story will turn out but bad voice acting is pretty off putting and it might have benefitted from it just not being there.