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Review: Never Alone

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In 2014, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released Never Alone, a platformer based on the Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.” It is now playable on the PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, as well as iOS and Android devices. I downloaded the game on the PlayStation 4, so that is the version that I will review.

In Never Alone, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna leaves her village to find out why her people have been suffering from terrible blizzards every day. An arctic fox comes to her aid, giving players the option to either switch between the two characters in Single Play or work together with a friend in Co-Op.

During their journey, they face a hungry polar bear, gusts of freezing wind, spirits from the Northern Lights that try to capture them, and a terrible man who’s been destroying villages to find a bola…the same weapon that Nuna’s been using to clear obstacles. Uh-oh.

Never Alone is an important game because it was made in tandem with the Iñupiat people. As you progress through each level, you unlock short videos called “Cultural Insights,” and you can pause the game at any time to view them. They were made to teach players about the Iñupiat people’s culture and way of life. These mini-documentaries allow one to gain a better understanding of the characters and themes found in the game. It’s a fun way to learn more about an underrepresented group of people through their own voices. I hope they have the opportunity to make more games like Never Alone.

In the game itself, Nuna and Fox each have unique skills that make them essential to the adventure. You can’t simply use one and ignore the other. Fox can climb walls and call spirits to help Nuna. She uses her bola to break apart icicles and burning sticks that block their path. I did not try out the multiplayer mode with a friend, but I imagine this allows for fun cooperative play.

As it is, I found single player mode manageable, though it could become frustrating at times. When using friendly spirit helpers to bring Nuna safely from one point to the other, Fox needs to stay close or the spirit will fade away. This wasn’t a reoccurring issue throughout the game, yet there were a few instances where Fox drifted too far away and Nuna fell. If I’d had a friend controlling Fox, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

With that said, the game can get aggravating at times. Initially, I shrugged it off because I didn’t grow up playing the side-scrolling platformers on the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis. I’m only just getting interested in those types of games now.  However, there were moments during my playthrough of Never Alone when I could’ve sworn I’d timed it right, and Nuna seemed to land a jump on to the back of a Spirit, only to hang in midair without catching hold and then falling to her death. I couldn’t tell you how I eventually succeeded and got her to stick the landing. I think it had to do with where Fox moved the Spirit, but there was so much delicate back-and-forth involved that I don’t know exactly.

You will always feel bad when either Nuna or Fox dies, because every time it happens, the camera focuses on the other one crying and falling to the ground in grief. But this also allows you to feel the strong bond between the two of them, given that neither character talks. Instead, narrator James Mumiġan Nageak tells the story in the Iñupiaq language as you play, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Never Alone looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Those are easily the best aspects of the game. I enjoyed the quiet, haunting main theme. With Nuna and Fox often exploring the harsh environment with no one else around to help them, a big, dramatic arrangement with a full orchestra would have felt out of place in this story. The music’s there just enough to enhance the experience without feeling intrusive.

And there’s such a beautiful world to explore, from floating ice on the ocean to the ruins of a village with the eerie spirits from the Northern Lights trying to catch Nuna. I would love it if Upper One Games could make something in the style of Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a wide-open, exploration adventure based on other legends from First Nation cultures, with more characters, side-quests, etc. Based on what I’ve seen in Never Alone, that would be amazing.

Never Alone is currently available to purchase on the PlayStation Network at a discounted price for $4.99 until January 16th.  Although it is a short game, it’s worth checking out to support the work of the Iñupiat people.

Guest Post | The Final Station: A Review

Written by: Sage the Cosplaya

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I am a sucker for a good indie game. A nice game that can have a wonderful impact on you, unlike many mainstream games. I’m looking at you, Call of Duty. 

A few days ago, I stumbled upon The Final Station, an indie game from Tiny Build. This developer has made a good amount of solid games in the past.

So, what is this game about?

I’d love to tell you, but I don’t know myself! The story is actually the biggest issue. You are not given a prologue or any indication of what the world is like before you begin. You wake up and begin your journey to ride the worst Thomas The Tank Engine ever made.

Okay, it’s more that you travel and deliver cargo that is supposed to maybe save the world from another invasion? Along the way, you pick up rescuers, keep them alive, and drop them off. You also fight off mysterious blackened slimy creatures that were once human beings; that, too.

So what is the good in the game?

What story there is seems fascinating. It has a unique premise. One of the best levels is a mansion, which seems empty at first. You see a few hints of the story in this level. Then, once when you go underground, the real story of this house and its owner, begins. The music is beautiful; it adds the necessary ambiance that makes you feel as though this tragic world is at the end of its days.

The scenery in the train sections are great. It is pixelated art, but when you see it in terms of story for locations or events, it really leaves a impact. The mood and how it changes is done very well.

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So what is so bad about it?

As I’ve said before: THE STORY. To me, any game, regardless of graphics, can be great as long as it has a compelling story to tell. So, lets break this down.

In each level, you get scraps of paper and messages about the people in that level. That is nice, but it rarely contributes to the overall story. You do get some story-driven dialogue from the passengers on the train. This story-driven dialogue would be great to hear… but you can’t because you have to rush to feed the passengers and give them first-aid kits to prevent them from dying. Also, you have to rush to keep and maintain this train from hurting the passengers. You can not listen to all of the dialogue, which is frustrating.

Also, when you can speak to people, you don’t say anything. Instead, the game just displays, “….” and they respond to it. But not like Groot and Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, where you do get what they are saying despite them not saying anything.

There is honestly a part to the climax of the game where you have to talk to people about changing plans in order to save everyone. The exchange is bascially:

“Hey, glad you made it!”

“…”

“Really? Well, go to this place.”

“…”

“I agree. I hope this plan works.”

What plan? What was wrong with the original plan? What made you want to come up with this new plan? How can we execute this plan? EXPLAIN, GAME!

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The ending is another huge flaw (spoilers at the end). It feels rushed and, at parts, abandoned. Even after completing the game, I have watched others play and still have the same reaction. I have a lot of questions that do not get answered.

“Its the journey, not the destination,” you might say. NO! FALSE! When you spend hours getting involved in a game or in a series like LOST, you’re dedicated. The story has you. There are mysteries that you want resolved. You get to the ending and it is such a let down that it ruins the journey and you feel like you just wasted so much of your life. That is this game.

One final flaw: the money/craft system. Throughout the game, you raid bodies, lockers and bathrooms for loot and money. The loot allows you to craft ammo and first aid kits on the train, which you have to do when everyone is talking about the story. Also, if you keep the passengers alive, you get some cash or ammo as rewards. After every act, you get to a city where you can you buy food, meds, and ammo. At one point though, you go to a city and you can no longer buy anything. Ok? But afterwords you still need meds, and you still go to loot for money and crafts, which is pointless because you can not use them again, and there is not a New Game+ to use them on. It’s pointless.

Overall, I give The Final Station a 3/5 trains. It has so much potential for a good ride, but it derails and crashes.

Ending Spoilers:

Read the rest of this entry

Convention Impressions: Too Many Games 2016

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Date: June 24 – 26, 2016
Venue: Oaks Convention Center in Oaks, PA

Real Women of Gaming is getting on the convention beat! Our first Press Pass came from Too Many Games and it was a great convention for us to get our feet wet with.

What Kind of Convention is it?
As the name suggests, Too Many Games is a gaming convention. The Convention had 3 panel tracks and an event stage, but the majority of the space was given over to a large gaming room and an even larger marketplace. The arcade/gaming room had arcade machines and consoles running fighting games, racing games, and rhythm games for anyone to test their skills against their fellow con goers. There were also at least 30 machines running various versions of Nintendo’s beloved Super Smash Brothers for both free and tournament play. Rounding things out were a tabletop gaming area and a indie game showcase.

Too Many Games is definitely a small convention. The focus is on the games room and the marketplace. The convention did manage a respectable lineup of guests from the gaming youtube and podcast ‘verse including The Completionist and the Angry Video Game Rolfe, but don’t expect representation from major studios or established indie studios. Sorry, no autographs from Ken Levine or surprise game announcements from Double Fine.

The panel tracks covered a decent range of topics but didn’t offer anything you wouldn’t typically find at a small enthusiast convention. There were Guest FAQs, retrospectives, music and animation appreciation panels, and discussions about current topics. It was a full schedule but I’m guessing that the fairly sparsely attended panels were not the draw for most people at the con.

What was cool?
By far my favorite part was the Indie Games showcase. I got to spend time with at least twenty developers of both video and tabletop games, trying their games and talking to them about their projects. The items on offer ranged from rough prototypes to extremely polished and professional demos. Everyone I met was eager to show off their work and talk about what they wanted to accomplish, what their influences were, and what got them into game design in the first place. There were definitely a few creators there whose projects I will be following closely from now on and some of them may even be featured in future posts on this blog.

The marketplace had a heavy focus on retro video games and I saw a few rare finds on offer. If you’re a collector then you already know that events like these can be a goldmine or a bust depending on what the vendors have on offer. Board games also had decent representation and I was pleased to see a few items that I had been keeping an eye out for. There were also a few booths selling figures and other collectables and, of course, enough funny t-shirts to clothe an army.

I also liked the arcade more than I thought I would. I’ve never been a big fighting game fan, but there was enough variety that I could find plenty to keep me occupied. There were also a few Japanese rhythm game cabinets which were in high demand. Fortunately, I never had to wait too long for a turn at a cabinet and there was always someone ready to jump in and play a round with me. (I lost, a lot).

What was lame?
The venue itself is nothing to write home about. The Oaks Convention Center is essentially a big steel warehouse with concrete floors. Because the convention was divided between two large halls, one for the marketplace and indie showcase and one for the arcade and event stage, it could be awkward getting around. The bathroom lines could get pretty long (it is a con) and the food was overpriced and mediocre (again, con). That said, it’s not the worst place to hold a convention, but it’s not as interesting or cool a venue as some that I have been to.

Who is it for?
If you are all about buying and playing games, this is a great convention. There was a lot on offer to play and over 50 vendors in the marketplace, making the whole thing feel like a big swapmeet. If you are interested in indie games or talking about game making with the people who are doing it right now, then the Indie Showcase alone is worth getting a ticket. There were concerts and cosplay wrestling, so if those kinds of shows are your thing then that’s a decent reason to attend. Just expect to kill some time in the arcade and marketplace between shows you want to see.

If you are more interested in the cosplay scene, community meetups, or people watching, then Too Many Games is hard to recommend. The venue is bad for photography and there wasn’t a lot of cosplay around. Aside from smash tournaments and a pokemon event, there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of organized community meetups either.

Did you like it?
I definitely did. Too Many Games felt kind of like someone had taken the gameroom and dealers hall from a larger convention and turned them into their own thing. I’m used to attending conventions that are a little more scattershot in what they offer and it was cool attending a convention that had a strong focus on gaming. I also liked the fact that I could get to things that looked interesting without fighting through fifteen thousand other people to get to it. Sometimes small conventions can feel empty or like they needed to stretch their content but Too Many Games stayed engaging and entertaining for the whole time.

Indie Developer Spotlight: Liege

Indie Developer Spotlight: Liege

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That’s right, we have TWO Indie Developer Spotlights this month! With all the contacts we made at Too Many Games, we decided to double down this month. Enjoy!

We spoke with John from Coda Games, who we met at Too Many Games, about their upcoming game, Liege. Here’s what he had to say:

Q1. Tell us about your game.
Liege is a story driven RPG with a deep, tactical core. The game has classic JRPG influences, but:
– Modern presentation
– Seamless, fast paced tactical battles
– No random encounters, no grinding, no fetch quests, no fluff

Here’s the trailer:

Q2. What was your inspiration to create the game?
Inspiration for the game came from lots of places: Classic RPGs I loved as a kid (FFVI, FF Tactics and Suikoden) were some of the original inspirations, while more recently games like the new XCOMs and Transistor had a big influence as we developed the mechanics. Inspiration for the story and setting came mostly from outside of games (fantasy books, film and TV- too many to list!).

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Q3. When should we expect to see it?
As of now we’re aiming to release on Steam Q1 next year, with console ports in Q2-Q3 2017.

Indie Developer Spotlight: Hastilude

Indie Developer Spotlight: Hastilude
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We spoke with Dustin from Ghost Crab Games, who we met at Too Many Games, about their upcoming game Hastilude. Here’s that they had to say:
Q1: Tell us about your game.
A1: Hastilude is a competitive & co-op sci-fi fantasy game where you battle rival knights atop flying mounts, attempting to knock them off and swoop in for the score. Each knight has unique movements, attacks, and abilities, working inside a combat system that’s easy to learn but tricky to master. There are several arenas from which to choose (and more on the way), both in classic arcade wrapscreen style and a dynamic camera style. The visuals are bright and colorful, featuring high-resolution artwork and hand-drawn character animation mixed with special effects. We’re still working on all the features (campaign mode, a player tutorial, team battle, etc.), adding new arenas, and creating new characters while getting the game into players’ hands for feedback with the free Alpha version.
View the trailer here:
Q2: What was your inspiration to create the game?
A2: Chris and I were at the Barcade in Philadelphia in 2014 and played a bit of Joust on one of their machines. We realized that among all the retro game updates that had been released, we couldn’t think of anyone who had done a modern take on one of our classic arcade favorites. Hastilude began very similar to Joust, but as we added items, unmounted combat, and more modern features, it started to become something more. Indie local co-op games gained in popularity during 2013, so after getting some good feedback at Dev Night and the Philly Game Forge we had the confidence to move the project forward. We got the idea for game mods and match badges from one of my first local co-op games, Worms, on the PS1. We love the fighting game genre as well, and have worked in a number of things from that branch of gaming like the Super Meter and characters with unique move-sets and storylines.
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Q3: When should we expect to see it?
A3: Hastilude will release in 2017. We’ve gotten great feedback at shows like MAGFest, Too Many Games, South Jersey Geekfest, The Boston FIG, Arcade @ Dilworth (Philly Tech Week), and Gamescape, and we’re aiming to do a lot more! We’re hoping the Alpha version gets us some valuable feedback from people who have chance to play the game outside a show environment. The things most people want to see the most are typically things on which we’re already working — more characters, arenas, and game modes. Our next showing will be at Super Smash Con on August 11–14, 2016 at the Dulles Expo Center in Virginia. Come by and play!
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Indie Developer Spotlight: Rise of the Robotariat

Written by: Julie from Eye4Games

Rise of the Robotariat launched at the end of June on Kickstarter. Its campaign ends July 22.

About the game
Rise of the Robotariat is a board game for 3-5 players that can be played as fully-cooperative or mostly-cooperative. You take on the role of one of eight unique robot revolutionaries and work together with other players to overthrow the humans who have oppressed you for too long.

In order to win, you must raise enough funds to launch a successful revolution — and do it within six rounds, otherwise the humans catch on and stamp it out.

During the game, you move between and activate city locations. At each location, you can do a different thing, for example, draw and play Upgrade and Sabotage cards, place propaganda posters, or influence the movement of Non-Player Characters.

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There are two kinds of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) moving around the board. These are either helpful Civilian Robots, who will donate to the revolution, or dangerous Human Oppressors, who will fine you and tear down your posters. At the end of each player’s turn, they roll dice to determine where the Civilian Robots and Human Oppressors will move next. Their path is mostly predictable but not guaranteed. The game’s intensity ramps up as the game goes on and more NPCs enter the board

A lot of the game’s strategy revolves around setting up turns where the Civilian Robots will give big benefits while mitigating the effectiveness of the Human Oppressors when the NPC dice are rolled.

You have one other thing to manage as well: the revolution’s reputation. You start the game with a certain amount of collective Reputation. You can chose to spend it to take bolder acts of sabotage and you will lose some if humans catch you conspiring too blatantly. But if Reputation ever drops to zero, robots lose all faith in the revolution and you lose the game.

If you decide you want an extra challenge or if someone is telling everyone else how to play, you can add in Secret Objective cards for a mostly-cooperative game. In this version each player is striving to achieve a unique goal. This usually involves making the revolution happen in the way that makes you look the most heroic.

The inspiration
Rise of the Robotariat started with a mechanic that no longer exists in the game. One of our game designers had an idea that sounded to a lot like upgrading robots and that lead to the flavor that players are members of the robot rebellion. After a disappointing playtesting, we scrapped the original gameplay idea, but the story it inspired shaped the development of new mechanics.

This is one of the exciting aspects of Rise of the Robotariat: all of the gameplay is grounded in the flavor and the story is infused throughout. For a small example, we have a character named Alice who looks human, but is certain she’s just a very cleverly disguised robot. Because of her appearance, she has more influence with humans and her character’s ability gives her the greatest control over the movement of Human Oppressor NPCs.

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We’ve made a point to have the flavor color the rulebook, and the art for many of the characters references Soviet-era propaganda posters or revolutionary paintings. The predominant use of red in the games’ color scheme also is to invoke that revolutionary vibe.

As a cool extra, our writer has been writing on-going tales about the characters’ backstories leading up to the start of the game. We’re collecting them into a book and you can read them in blog-post form online here.

When’s it out?
The way to get the game is to back the game on Kickstarter. At the end of June, we launched a campaign for Rise of the Robotariat that runs until July 22nd. If we’re successful, we’ll be able to afford a print run and the game will be out by January 2017.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Crowdfunding

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Crowdfunding

Disclosure:  I bought into the base crowdfunding for Star Citizen, and a couple of other non-gaming projects that are not mentioned in this piece.

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Crowdfunding has become a wildly popular means for artists, designers, writers and film makers to get their projects off the ground in lieu of traditional investment funding.  With the rise in the number of funding projects, there’s also a rise in scams, failed projects, and teams that don’t come through with their promises.  As every year passes the list of failed ideas grows longer and it’s making gamers more and more skeptical of funding new independent projects.

Mighty No. 9,  though it has been released, has been a long chain of concerns and disappointments for the last year or more.  Community management issues, communication problems and finally a delayed and troublesome release have left a bad taste in people’s mouths.  Some backers were able to get refunds before release, but many stuck it out in hopes they would get the spiritual successor to Mega Man, but by all reports Mighty No. 9 isn’t so mighty.  Often the best way for an indie game to get made now is with crowdfunding, but when backers get burned by a bad project it will make them think twice before backing another, which could turn out to be a great game.

Then we have projects that have been funded, have been updating, but have not released yet.  Star Citizen is a huge undertaking, that has grown larger over the years as it has managed to raise more money than any crowdfunded game yet.  Over the course of the funding the developer has expanded the size and scope of the game, but there doesn’t appear to be a release date in sight.  They have updated backers regularly with videos, alpha releases of small portions of the game, and email newsletters.  The delay has left people wondering if they’ll ever see the game, and some have even gotten a refund on their investment.

Worse, in my opinion, are the funded ideas that never deliver, even a bad quality product, and don’t update the backers at all.  A Feminist Deck was funded completely in June of 2015, and, according to comments on the page, went radio silent in February of this year.  By all appearances, the organizer has taken the money and run, which may or may not be true, but in the case of asking people to trust you with their money, appearances are all you have.

That’s essentially what crowdfunding is.  Asking people for money for a product that isn’t yet created, and asking them to trust you to deliver that product as promised.  The bigger issue here is faceless project organizers and anonymous artists are the bulk of the people asking for money, and the more trust that’s broken with consumers, the less they’ll trust the next one.  A few people burned by a couple of failed games tell their friends, who also become more skeptical.  A creator might have a great idea and be able to deliver, but they might not be able to find enough backers to trust them to get it off the ground.  Messes like Double Fine’s Broken Age debacle just make it harder for the next team with a great idea.

Despite the large number of incomplete game projects there have been some great successes with games getting funded.  Pillars of Eternity, for example, got great reviews from both players and critics.  In its time, it was the highest funded Kickstarter game on the site.  Along with Pillars, we’ve seen a couple of Shadowrun games, Superhot, and Darkest Dungeon, just to name a few of the more popular ones.  We’ve gotten some great titles, unique concepts, and quality product out of crowdfunding, and it is a great way for independent developers to get their projects out there, but it’s certainly become a minefield of risk and disappointment.