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Recap Review: The American Girls Premiere

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One lovely summer day, my parents were summoned to the basement for the world premiere of my very first play created on the computer.

This one-woman show invoked the minimalist style, in the sense that almost nothing actually happened. Its protagonist, Felicity Merriman from the American Girl franchise, crossed the stage and recited a brief soliloquy in robotic monotone: “Hello. My name is Felicity.” Then she curtseyed and walked off the stage.

…well, I thought it was a work of genius at the time. And it was the start of many more bizarre plays starring the American Girl characters.

For those unfamiliar with it, the American Girl franchise started out as a doll collection. Each doll was based on a fictional nine-year-old girl living in a specific period in American history. Around the time that the franchise caught my interest, there were six of them: Felicity, living in Colonial Williamsburg just before the Revolutionary War, Josefina, living in New Mexico before it became a U.S. territory, Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant, Addy, a slave who escapes to Philadelphia with her mother, Samantha, an orphan who lives with her wealthy, old-fashioned grandmother in 1904, and Molly, whose father is a doctor overseas during World War II.

The dolls each had six books that described their misadventures with family and friends and showed how important historical events had an impact on their lives. I loved reading them as a kid. I also loved staring longingly at the many, many accessories and clothing that you could purchase for the dolls in the American Girl Catalog, most of which I couldn’t get because they were just too expensive.

And then came an odd but kinda amazing addition to the franchise: The American Girls Premiere.

The American Girls Premiere was a computer game for Windows and Mac, where you could create your own plays using the characters from the American Girl stories. It gave you numerous tools to work with: characters, setting, props, music, sound effects, lighting, and actions.

Unfortunately, it did have one big limit, story-wise: you couldn’t create an epic crossover starring Felicity from 1774 and Molly from 1944, or Josefina from 1824 going on adventures with Addy from 1864. Once you picked one of the girls, you became confined to her time period, her settings, and her supporting cast.

I’m guessing that the company didn’t want girls coming up with plays that were too wacky, but in hindsight, they might as well have let us go wild.

The most memorable part of the game was the horrific, computerized voices that you got to use to make the “actors” say their dialogue. Technically, the game also provided a voice recording option if you had a microphone with your computer. I didn’t, so I could never get that feature to work and had to rely on the voices given to me.

The results? Well, you can watch this masterpiece of a play to get an idea of what they sounded like:

I couldn’t find many videos of people’s American Girls Premiere plays anymore (and I suspect some of them were removed for copyright infringement), but “Meet Robot Felicity” is a perfect representation of how these productions often looked and sounded, and then some. You could indeed make characters soar through the air or burrow underground.

Although the game came with a basic tutorial, I ended up uncovering most of the ins and outs myself. It offered me an opportunity to mess around and see how far I could go when putting together a play. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it also offered a learning opportunity in how to create something with limitations. Need to show the character sleeping in a bed instead of lying on the floor? Levitate him or her so that he or she would appear to be lying on top of the bed. The computer can’t pronounce the lines correctly? Well, time to deliberately misspell the words so it would.

The American Girls Premiere wasn’t perfect, but it offered many, many hours of fun.  It served as a nice introduction to the different elements in creating a play: having the right props, the right lighting, etc.  The silly robot voices added some unintentional humor to the whole experience.  I’m glad it existed and I miss playing it.

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Claudia Billie Stræde

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Some women are just powerhouses from a young age. Claudia Billie Stræde is one of those women. She has accomplished so much already and doesn’t seem to have any intention of slowing down.

Claudia is a Danish filmmaker and animator. She was admitted to the Danish Film School. There Claudia was the youngest director in the animation department. However instead of staying there in 2006 she dropped out to attend the Academy of Untamed Creativity instead. Claudia found a better fit for her passions there.

That was when she started to learn about animation. Claudia also found like minded students at the Academy of Untamed Creativity. In 2007 they banded together to create and event called The D.I.Y. Film Club. This event was an opportunity for more obscure films to have a place to be shown. It featured films that ranged from obscure art to homemade documentaries.

Claudia then attended the Copenhagen Film and Photo School. She was able to study live action filmmaking for a whole year. There she got to also experience different aspects of filmmaking. Claudia was able to do everything including; directing, producing, cinematography, editing and sound design. After that Claudia felt the pull to go back to the Danish Film School.

This time Claudia stayed. She got to work on many different projects, including computer games. Here she had access to state of the art equipment. Claudia teamed up with other students to create a horror game called Blackwell’s Asylum.

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Blackwell’s Asylum is a horror themed adventure/roleplay game. The team was inspired by the true life experiences of Nellie Bly, a female journalist who went undercover in an insane asylum to expose the horror in the mental health field at the time. The game has the player wake up, drugged in an asylum in the early 1900s. The goal is to get past wardens and escape. Claudia was the director of the game. Blackwell’s Asylum won the 2011 Game of the Year and winner for the Adventure/Roleplay category in the Intel Level Up 2011 Game Demo Contest.

Claudia is a great example of working toward your passion on your terms. By learning and experimenting your goals will be exceeded.

During this holiday season give Blackwell’s Asylum a try…if you think you can get out with your sanity in tact.

 

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Dungeon Crawling: Bards

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Lords, Ladies, Lads, and Lasses, today I present my take on Bards.

A class I have never played.

You may ask, “How the heck can you have an opinion on Bards if you’ve never played one?!” Easy, I’ve played along side them, and I’ve DM’d for them.

The Bard class is a charisma based spell caster, a jack-of-all-trades, and mainly considered to be a support class. Their sub-classes are broken up into Colleges, with two in the Player’s Handbook, and three more waiting within the pages of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. 

The basic class uses Charisma as their casting stat, can use a musical instrument as their spell focus, and is also a ritual caster. They are performers, and if you have a problem being the “face” of the group, coming up with witty one-liners for your Vicious Mockery cantrip, or can’t parse together a quick ditty to sing inspiration for your fellow party members, then you’re playing the wrong class.

They have access to all skills from the get go, and those they don’t choose they can add half of their proficiency to any way at 2nd level. At 3rd level they can choose two that they are proficient in to gain double proficiency in as well.

And 3rd level is when you choose your Bardic College. This choice will slightly alter how you use your Bardic inspiration. Lore bards can distract with their words, protecting their allies in combat. Their foe’s attacks will strike with less impact, or sometimes even miss altogether.  Valor bards on the other hand can help add to their allies damage, or their AC. Those bards who enter the College of Glamour from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything can grant a group of people temporary hit points, and a free move. Sword college bards are master of the flourish, their bardic inspiration helps them dance around their foes, pushing them about, striking a second enemy, or even simply boosting their own AC. Those bards that join the College of Whispers can literally strike terror into the minds of their foes. Their Bardic Inspiration dice can be used to do psychic damage along with their melee attacks when they so choose.

Each of the five current official colleges only expand upon their themes as you level. Lore bards gain greater expertise with their skills, add spells from other classes to their repertoire. Valor bards gain training in medium armor, shields, martial weapons, and an extra attack. Eventually they can even cast a spell while making an attack with their weapon. Glamour bards gain power over the crowds, charming the masses, enthralling them, and dissuading them wanting to harm the bard in the first place.  Sword college bards gain extra attacks, medium armor training, and proficiency with the scimitar. Eventually they can use a free d6 for their flourishes instead of using up the finite resource of their Bardic Inspiration. Finally the College of Whispers allows it’s bards to steal the visage of the recently deceased, gaining the general knowledge and memories they would share freely with a casual acquaintance, and allowing the bard to pass themselves off as the deceased with greater ease. Eventually they can convince a target that they know a deep secret and charm them for an extended period for fear of revealing said secret.

So if you wish to sing, and cast spells whilst playing at being a Skill Puppy, a Duelist, The Center of Attention, a Dervish, or an Assassin they maybe, just perhaps, the Bard is the class for you.

 

Review: To The Moon

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You may or may not know this, dear reader, but part of the VanriTheRogue persona is the fact that I don’t have emotions. At least, I don’t have strong ones.

In an effort to see my emotions, a long time viewer decided to take matters into his own hands. Randomly one day, I received a gift on steam. One of my friends and our long time viewer, Plottrig, had sent me a story-heavy indie game called To The Moon. He wanted me to play it on stream, so that I could feel the feels.

What’s it about?
To The Moon follows two scientists who work for a company that grants dying wishes to dying patients, for a price. The game begins with the scientists arriving at the house of their patient. We meet his caretaker and her two brat children. We find out that the patient is in a coma upstairs and his final wish is to go to the moon. The scientists set up their equipment and prepare to enter the patient’s mind. Their plan is to rewire his memories so that he thinks he’s gone to the moon.

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What did I think?
The game doesn’t have much gameplay to it. You walk around a bit, find things that are important to the patient as memory points, and solve small puzzles to jump from memory to memory. It’s in the retro, 8-bit style that I love so much. The detail in the artwork is amazing, I wish I could have explored more.

The story itself is powerful and sucks you right in. I completed the whole game in one sitting because I just couldn’t bring myself to exit out of it. There’s no voice acting, but the soundtrack creates the perfect atmosphere for a story as heartbreaking and heartwarming as To The Moon’s.

The only problem with games like these – not just this one, but all of them – is that there’s no replayability. The story is the same every time. The items and the puzzles are the same every time. If you go through it once, you could go through it a hundred times. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do like my choices games and my multiple endings.

Do I recommend it?
Yes. I recommend you go and buy it right now. Play through it and feel the feels that I felt… and showed… on stream. (I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING!) Go and be as scared about the outcome as I was. Go and experience the amazingness that is To The Moon.

Thank you, Plottrig!

Top 10 Steam Games Under $5

I trolled through my house today looking for loose change. All in all I found $4.82. Not bad. As a kid growing up in the 80’s this would have been a spectacular find. That $4.82 is a sweet, sweet candy stash. Today, not so much. In 2018 this kind of couch change doesn’t have the same kind of impact… however, for under $5 there are a plethora of enjoyable games you can find nestled in the deepest depths of Steam store.

(Before I start a quick note on how I choose these games. Every single game I choose are games that I have personally played and can vouch for. I realize that there are many games out there under the $5 mark that could easily make this list. This is MY list. I did not include games that are Free as that’s a whole other list… I also looked for a plethora of games that could be enjoyed by various audiences and appeal to many types of gamers. That’s that. I hope you enjoy the list and please, feel free to let us know what you favorite $5 and under game is, and if there are any suggestions you may have.)

Organ Trail

10. Organ Trail: Directors Cut. When I was in 6th grade I was introduced to PC gaming by a fun little experience called The Oregon Trail, in which you follow the historic trek many took across our country in a time when dysentery and fording a river were more dangerous than we could possibly imagine. There were hunting mini games and indian attacks. You usually didn’t make it… Imagine that set in the zombie apocalypse, and that’s what Organ Trail is.

Town of Salem

9. Town of Salem. This game is fun… with friends. Please bring your friends. With that in mind Town of Salem is a great time and a ton of fun, and if it tickles your fancy you can look into the tabletop version…

Xcom

8. X-Com: UFO Defense. Sure this game is old as dirt. Sure it has a bunch of bugs. Sure it can make you want to throw your controller through your TV… But, you still love it. It’s charming and horrible and well worth a look if not just to see the origins of the rebooted X-Com series.

PLants v Zombies

7. Plants vs. Zombies GOTY. In which you plant plants to fend of a zombie invasion. It’s fun and addictive, and hard to put down… Tons of game time packed into a charming package. Well worth a look.

Sally Face

6. Sally Face. What a great little game. This horror adventure has a uniquely catered art style that reminded me of classic Nick cartoons like Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. This aesthetic combined with a disturbingly unique story line make this a great pickup.

VVVVVV

5. VVVVVV. A 2D platformer where instead of jumping you control gravity. This colorful masterpiece is simultaneously ridiculous and charming. I don’t recommend this for those that are easily frustrated as each level takes a bit of trial and error, and can be quite rage inducing at times. It’s still well worth the price tag.

Reigns

4. Reigns. Yes or No? As the new king you need to decide what sort of entity you will be. You are presented with requests from your citizens and need to decide what is best for you or your kingdom and impose your will. Reigns is simple in concept but hides a layer of strategy well worth looking into.

Overlord

3. Overlord. You are in charge and your decisions matter. Its hard to deny the surprising charm Overlord brings to the table. Every action you take on the battlefield has lasting effects on the world around you. Command your plucky minions to do your bidding in this quirky adventure. Take them on raids in villages or fight monstrous beasts. What kind of Overlord will you be?

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2. The Binding of Isaac. Roguelikes are a dime a dozen anymore and their influence on indie developers are like a blanket on a hot and humid day. I wish they would go away so we can finally move on. That being said, there are a number of great roguelike games available and few have the draw and prestige of the one of the greatest. The Binding of Isaac is one of the originals and is still loved today.

Superflight
1. Superflight. Wow! That was my initial reaction when I first picked up this game. There is something to be said about simplicity and atmosphere. Superflight is a game about adorning a flight suit and traversing beautiful procedurally generated atmospheres. You can feel the speed as you dip and dive your way through colorful landscapes. Even with the intense feel of falling it is a surprisingly relaxing experience. I was initially gleeful with my experience and was overjoyed to find myself willing to go back and play some more. If you haven’t seen this title, do yourself a favor and give it a solid look.

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Christie Golden

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Christie Golden joined Blizzard Entertainment in 2017 where she has become a senior writer for the company. Prior to that Christie made a career of writing. She has written fifty novels and even more short stories.  

A native of Atlanta Georgia Christie was born in 1963.  She spent most of her young life in Arlington, Virginia. There she went to high school with Sandra Bullock. Christie went to the University Virginia. After earning her degree in English she traveled.

Christie used her degree and her experiences to help her start her career. At first it didn’t seem like it would pan out. Seven years after receiving rejection letters for her first manuscript Christie was able to use the connections that she had made to help her get the first break of her career. From there she was able to sell her first book; Vampire of the Mists, a Ravenloft book. Yes Ravenloft, as in supernatural Dungeons and Dragons campaign that kills so many of us Tabletop gamers. Thus began a beautiful relationship between Christie and writing novels that take place in the worlds of games.

Writing what are known as “tie in” fiction has been good for Christie. It has also been good for us. She has given the world a plethora of novels to dive into. From there gamers can get a more in depth knowledge of the worlds of their favorite games. Also for some people a love of books does not come easily. Books based in the settings of their favorite games can be a wonderful invitation to a world of reading that some may never have received otherwise.

Fiction of this subgenre is also inspiring for writers. Learning how to channel your interests, such as gaming, into your own projects is always a good skill to obtain. However the only way to achieve that is just to sit down and write. It is a tough enre to get into but Christie has proven that not only can writers make the cut but that it can lead to bigger things from companies that give us the games we love. If you are willing to put in the work the work will work out.

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What Christie has really taught us is do what you want. Game how you want. Write what you want. Put that passion into a career and you will get there. It may take time but you will get there.

You can also keep track of what Christie Golden is up to though her Twitter.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Dungeon Crawling: My First Hero

…Or Dungeons and Dragons for Beginners.

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So you want to play Dungeons and Dragons, but you don’t know where to begin. There are so many books, so many rules, and so many choices that the options can be a bit overwhelming. Fear not for I shall simplify it for you.

Before you worry about what books to get, and what rules to learn, you need to find a Dungeon Master. They’re the arbitrator of the rules, the referee if you will. They are also in charge of all the monsters and characters not in control by a player. The will have a story in mind (also called a campaign). You need to check with them to see if there are any classes or races they don’t want you to choose from when creating your hero. Most likely, they will also have all the books you’ll need to make your hero.

So now you know what you can’t choose for a race, or a class, if there are any restrictions at all. This means you still have quite a few choices to make, and even though you’ve seen Lord of the Rings, you’re still not sure how to narrow it down. D&D is a game of “let’s pretend…with rules” as such most it is left up to your imagination. There is a mental exercise called The One Room Dungeon.

Before you stands a long corridor. Torches light the way every ten feet, and somewhere in the distance you hear the constant drip of condensation on the flagstones. At the end of the hall stands a solid oak door. It is closed, but flickering lamplight can be seen shining from the crack beneath it. There is a treasure chest behind the door, but also an Orc Warrior guarding it. How do you approach the door? Do you use stealth to sneak up? Do you stride confidently down the hall, clad in your heavy metal armor? Do you cast a spell that silences your footsteps? Once you open the door, do you sneak attack the orc, face him head on with a deadly weapon, or blast him with arcane spells? Which of these choices excite you the most? Are you feeling like a rogue, a warrior, or a spellcaster? Maybe you’re a combination of two or three. When you can imagine how you deal with the orc and gain the treasure, you should begin to have an idea of what class you want to play.

So you’re beginning to have an idea in you head of what your hero is. Great! Borrow the Player’s Handbook from your DM. Flip through the races and see if any jump out at you. There are quite a few to choose from, and you should be familiar with the basic idea of them if you’re into the fantasy genre at all. D&D tries to balance them all out, but if looking over their mechanical benefits helps you decide, then by all means do it.

Next you’ll want to narrow down your class. There’s more than three in the PHB, so the choices you made in The One Room Dungeon are just the tip of the iceberg. Did you choose stealth, using your skills to overcome the orc? There’s a Rogue, a Monk, and a Bard to choose from. Maybe weapons were your go to solution. Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers, and Paladins await you. Or if spell-casting was your thing there are Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, Clerics, and Druids waiting to be called upon. There is no wrong class, race or combination of the two. Sure, you’re choice might not seem optimal mechanically, but if you have fun that is what matters.

The final choice is your Background. What’s your story? Who were you before you took to the life of adventuring? Were you a sailor making a life on the open seas? Did you grow up in the posh life of a Noble house? Were you a criminal thumbing your nose at authority?

Between your race, your class, and your background you have you’re starting equipment and skills. You’re almost ready to play.

You need to generate your ability scores. Ask your DM what method they want you to use. Are you going to roll six-sided dice, spend an allotment of points, or place a static array of numbers? Your class choice will determine what score is important for its features.  Do your weapon skills rely on Strength or Dexterity? Is Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma your spell-casting stat? Perhaps you just want to have a high Constitution and be healthy as an ox.

All those choices made during creation and you’re finally ready to play. “How do I play?” you ask. Improvisation. The Dungeon Master will describe a scene and ask you what your hero wants to do. You can respond descriptively or in character. “My rogue sneaks up to the door and attempts to pick the lock.” or “I’ve seen harder locks in my mom’s cupboard” and I take out my lock-picks. Whether or not you do it is another story.

Anytime there is a chance of success or failure you’re going to roll a twenty-sided die and add a number to it. The higher you roll, the better the outcome. What numbers you add to it depend on the task being attempted. If it was an attack or a spell you’ll need to roll another smaller die to determine how much damage you did. Don’t worry about rolling the wrong one, or forgetting which one is an eight-sider and which is the ten-sider. We all had those same stumbling blocks when we first started.

Mistakes will be made. Heroes will fall. New ones will rise in their place. It is a game. Have fun, and make their tales legendary.