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Games Created by Women: Centipede

250px-Atari0028For many gamers, there are fantastic memories associated with games from the 1980s. Between the accessibility of arcades and finally being able to play at home these games became a foundation for so many of us who like to game.

One such game was released in 1981. Centipede was sent out into the world by Atari and it has been a favorite ever since. Many quarters have been lined up on Centipede machines in arcades through the years. One of the creators of this game is Dona Bailey. Dona has truly been a pioneer for women in the field of programming.

 

If you choose to play this game you should know that you are our only hope. Using a gun at the bottom of the screen you must target and shoot down threats. These threats come down the screen in waves. The player must try to shoot them down with a gun at the bottom of the screen. You can only go so far and so fast so this game so it requires patience and skill. It is a lot of fun though!

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The game isn’t very complicated looking by today’s standards. However that is not to take away from the graphic design of it’s time. Centipede has a classic look and feel when being played. The concept is great. The music is timeless. So if you are looking for an old school game to play this is the one to get.

 

I would like totally recommend this game. It is a great game to start off with. It is also a great game for nostalgia feels. 

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

Kingdom Hearts III: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Like many people, I’d waited almost thirteen years to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

Technically, you could say that I’ve been waiting since 2012, when I beat Dream Drop Distance. But thirteen sounds more impressive, and it’s been that long since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in Japan. And ever since then, we’ve all hoped to hear Square-Enix announce development on Part 3. Instead, we got hit with a number of smaller titles on different consoles. All have proven to be important to the story to varying degrees and I enjoyed playing all of them. (Well, except Coded. Sorry, Coded.)

But now, here we are. I can say that I beat Kingdom Hearts 3 at long last. Many have asked, and many more have their own opinions regarding this one question: was it worth the wait?

My answer: yes and no.

Kingdom Hearts 3 was an emotional rollercoaster for me, a lot of ups and downs. When it’s good, it’s phenomenal. It surpassed some of my wildest hopes and dreams. But when it’s bad…yikes. It’s worse than I could have imagined. I’m not even really trying to be dramatic here. That’s really how I felt as I played this game.

Let’s start with the high points.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy are back! These characters are the best that they’ve ever been. Their friendship is so strong in every scene, whether they’re teasing each other, reminiscing about past adventures, or having each other’s backs in battle. Donald and Goofy love Sora and they’re prepared to go anywhere with him to the bitter end. And while Sora is the hero of the story, his two companions got to have plenty of “awesome” moments all on their own. That was a pleasant surprise. 

The Disney worlds look, sound, and feel fantastic. They’re enormous in size compared to previous games and they’re all beautiful. Each location presents a unique environment to explore, from the lush forests in Tangled to the wide, open ocean from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The attention to detail is just wonderful and I keep finding new things to appreciate.

And best of all: the game has NPCs! Sora no longer runs through empty streets! You can actually see people in the cities and towns!

Unfortunately, while I adore all of Yoko Shimomura’s work in the Kingdom Hearts series, I have to admit that I came away with mixed feelings about the soundtrack this time. Kingdom Hearts 3 recycles and remixes a lot of music from the previous games, when I would have liked to have heard more new tracks.

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But I can’t complain too much because both the new and old music sound just as good as they always have. And I was extremely impressed by the new field and battle arrangements for each world. They each reflect the style of the scores from the original Disney films. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that Alan Menken composed the music for Corona.

Now, you’ve probably heard that Kingdom Hearts 3 is too easy. Speaking as someone who’s not a very skilled gamer, I can confirm that these fans are correct. Most of the game is a breeze, even on the hardest difficulty level. Usually, I need to put in some level grinding at various points in a Kingdom Hearts game. Not this time.

Why is it so easy this time around? I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the number of options at your disposal when you’re fighting. As you attack with your Keyblade, you fill up a gauge that allows your Keyblade to change form and unleash more powerful attacks. Then, after a certain period of time spent fighting, you can trigger a joint attack with one of your party members, i.e. throwing Mike Wazowski at the enemy like a bowling ball. You also acquire Links, which are characters you can summon into battle using magic, i.e. Ariel and Wreck-It Ralph.

But wait- there’s more! On top of everything else, attacking certain enemies will trigger a type of attack called Attraction Flow. These attacks are designed to mimic popular rides at the Disney theme parks: a swinging pirate ship, the spinning tea cups, Prince Charming’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, etc. They are a lot of fun to unleash…the first couple of times. And they can be great for crowd control. But after a while, I got tired of using them.

And wait- there’s more! If you’re low on health, you might trigger an attack called Rage Form. Similar to Anti-Form, this turns Sora into a humanoid Heartless with faster, powerful attacks. His Rage attacks do significant damage at the cost of his own health.

Add it all up, and you can see why it’s not so easy to die in this game. I’d come close, only to trigger a slew of special attacks that allowed Sora to stay alive until the fight ended. Although you do not have to use any of these commands, you can’t disable them either, so they will keep popping up as you play.

Last of all, Kingdom Hearts 3 adds a very welcome option when you do fail at a battle or similar objective: “Prepare and Retry.” This allows you to access the menu before restarting a boss fight, so you can restock items you might’ve forgotten to equip, change your abilities or customize your spells differently. I hope that’s an option that’s here to stay for future Kingdom Hearts games.

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So, what didn’t I like about this game, besides the difficulty?  On paper, it doesn’t look like much.  However, the story has some problems and some of them bothered me so much that they almost tainted my feelings about the whole experience.

Granted, there’s actually a lot to like about the story of Kingdom Hearts III. The Disney characters get so many opportunities to shine. There’s a nice balance between worlds that strictly follow the plot of the movie and worlds that follow an original story that ties into the central conflict between Sora and Organization XIII. The Organization members have actual conversations with one another about their personal goals, their motivations, and their opinions of one another. One member gets a whole subplot that I won’t spoil, but it’s fantastic.

But, I reiterate: when this game goes bad, it goes bad. The biggest problem lies in the treatment of the female characters. It’s not a new problem for Kingdom Hearts, given that the games introduced us to dozens of engaging male characters and a handful of ladies. Yet many fans hoped that this would get rectified, especially for poor Kairi- the girl who is supposed to be one of Sora’s two best friends, but constantly gets pushed aside in favor of giving Riku more character development.

Kairi gets a couple of good moments in this game, but by and large, what Tetsuya Nomura decided to do with her was abysmal. I won’t spoil anything, but something important happens to her that left me feeling shocked, disgusted, and angry.  It’s not so much that I want Kairi to become a Strong Female Character who fights with a sword and doesn’t need a man in her life.  I just want Nomura to write her the way that he writes the male cast: as a person with her own goals and character growth, not an accessory to Sora.

To a lesser extent, there are twists in the game that seem to exist just for the sake of confusing/shocking us and getting the fans talking, not because they contribute to the story or characters. I know that some of this comes down to personal preference, and that if I want to continue with this series, I need to accept that this is how Tetsuya Nomura likes to tell stories. Still, I wish he’d stop pulling things like, “THIS character is secretly connected to THIS thing or person ALL ALONG!” When he just lets the characters play off of each other, Kingdom Hearts III shines. When he starts to go into the Lore, that’s when I begin to tune out.

I recommend Kingdom Hearts III to people who have stuck with this series for all of its installments. I would even recommend it to people who have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before. If you are willing to embrace the odd story and you think running around beautifully recreated Disney worlds sounds appealing, you should have a great time.

However, I do not recommend this game to anyone who has only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Weird as it sounds, I think you’ll have a harder time enjoying it than people who have never picked up a Kingdom Hearts game in their lives.

Why? Because you know just enough about the world and its characters to find certain ret-cons and new characters/information all the more confusing. The game doesn’t offer a clear, concise explanation for why some characters have returned from the dead, like Axel. Whereas, if you’ve never played one of the games before, you don’t know that they’re supposed to be dead.

Overall, I rate Kingdom Hearts 3 a 7/10. It’s not a perfect experience. The treatment of Kairi and certain parts of the ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet the game also provided a lot of joy and I don’t want to throw that away. Sora, Donald, and Goofy: thanks for the ride. I look forward to playing future installments.

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: Final Fantasy VI

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Hey, everyone!

This year, I’d like to try something different with my monthly video game reviews.  I was fortunate enough to get a Super Nintendo Classic as a present, and most of the titles are games that I’ve never played before.  So each month, I’m going to play a different game on the list and give my thoughts on it.  If there’s any titles that you would especially like me to cover, please let me know in the comments below.

Without further ado, I’m going to cheat and review the one game on the SNES Classic that I’ve already played and beaten: Final Fantasy VI.

(Note: This game was originally released in the United States as Final Fantasy III and it is listed as such in the Super Nintendo Classic’s library.  It is actually the sixth installment of the Final Fantasy series.  However, Square opted not to internationally release FFII, FFIII, and FFV until much later, hence the mix-up in titles.  I’ve decided to go ahead and refer to the game as Final Fantasy VI throughout this review.)

So yeah. Wow. I can see why this game has such a devoted fanbase!

In Final Fantasy VI, an evil emperor wants to gain power by hunting down magical creatures called Espers and absorbing their powers. As the game starts, a human/Esper hybrid named Terra escapes from his control and finds herself among a resistance group called the Returners. She befriends a dozen interesting characters (because there’s actually twelve characters in the party, not including the two secret characters you can find) all with their own reasons for fighting Emperor Gestahl and bringing peace to the world.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character when there’s so many of them and they’re all interesting or entertaining in some way.   They are the strongest aspect of the game. You’re required to have each one in your party at least once at some point in the story (not including the secret characters), which I found impressive. The previous installment that I’d played, Final Fantasy VII, had a couple of moments like that when you had someone different leading the party. But VI does it constantly. You start out as Terra, and then she falls unconscious at the beginning of the story and the perspective switches to Locke, the treasure hunter who rescues her. Later on, the party splits up, and you are required to play through each group’s scenario: Terra and Edgar, Locke and Celes, and Sabin, Cyan, and Gau. And then even further along, you have to play as Celes alone. So it’s in your best interest to keep everybody leveled up.

I also like how this game includes side-quests and cutscenes that flesh out different characters, just because they can. In the second half of the game, you can travel to Cyan’s abandoned home and help him battle his inner demons. You get an Esper out of it and unlock the full power of his special attack, but otherwise, you don’t really earn anything except a deeper appreciation of his character. Or you can have the party attempt to reunite Gau with his long-lost father. You don’t get any special items or Espers out of it; the cutscene is just there if you want to see it.

Now, I probably shouldn’t do this, because I’ve heard that there’s a strong rivalry between fans of Final Fantasy VI and VII. But I’m going to say it anyway: I think Kefka’s a better-written villain than Sephiroth.  Fight me.

Kefka starts out as a wacky henchman to Emperor Gestahl and then evolves into a bigger threat. He’s out to destroy everyone and everything, and if they manage to pick up the pieces of their lives after he does so, he’ll destroy it all again. I like how he constantly appears throughout the first half of the game, causing trouble for everybody. Kefka has more of a presence than Sephiroth ever did. Although he does look and act similar to the Joker, that’s not a bad thing. It makes him stand out from other Final Fantasy villains that tend to lean towards serious and intimidating.

Final Fantasy VI uses the turn-based battle system, as most of the main installments do. Many of the characters have a unique ability: Locke can steal items, Edgar has tools that wreak havoc, Sabin uses blitzes, Relm can sketch monsters and mimic their abilities, etc. Some characters start out with the ability to cast magic, while others have to learn how to use it over time. They do so by acquiring the powers of Espers, which you can collect throughout the course of the game. When you assign an Esper to a character, the character begins to learn a set of spells.

I had fun with this customization because it allowed me to make weaker characters more useful in battle. For example, Cyan’s got a special sword attack that would come in handy if it didn’t take him eons to charge it. So towards the end of the game, I gave him the powerful Ultima spell to learn, and suddenly he became an MVP.

Nobuo Uematsu created another amazing soundtrack with this game. I love “Terra’s Theme.” Most of the musical themes that I’ve heard for a female character fall into two categories: light and sweet or sad and melancholy. Sometimes they’re in both categories. In comparison, Terra’s theme sounds full of determination. It creates the impression of a woman who’s encountered lots of hardships in her life and she just keeps on moving.

There’s also an opera in the game. Yes, that’s right: the party gets involved in an opera and it’s wonderful. Sure, why not?

I’ve had a blast playing Final Fantasy VI. It’s a wonderful RPG with an interesting story and characters. If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a Super Nintendo Classic, you can play it on iOS and Android devices now. Or if you still have a GameBoy Advance, PS1, or Super Nintendo, you can play it on any of those systems.

Games Created by Women: Portal

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Hello readers and welcome to Aperture Science, where absolutely nothing is wrong. In this article, everything will be perfectly safe. Maybe there will even be cake for you at the end!

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Portal is a single player game. The player finds themselves in Aperture Science Laboratories. At Aperture, scientists have been working to create a special kind of gun that creates portals. Players must listen to the announcements for updates and information throughout the game. The story of what happened to the labs, and why you are now running around with a gun that creates portals will also be revealed throughout the game.

Portal was designed by Kim Swift. Kim is one of the creative directors at Airtight Games. She is also a speaker. Kim is looking to expand her repertoire with her website. It features doodles and her opinions. Her creativity is a gift to the gaming community.   

Portal was released on October 10, 2007. Players are able to take advantage of the innovative nature of gameplay that Portal provides. Puzzles are the keys to winning the game. This style of gameplay has been one of the things that players enjoy most about the Portal games. They are able to find creative ways to win while they try to make it through the labs.

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Portal is a multi-award winning game. This is not surprising with the success of the franchise. The game forces players to look for different solutions to reach the end of the game. It was a refreshing form of gameplay when it came out. The game is also highly entertaining.

If you are looking for a fun game that will challenge you then you should give Portal a try. It has interesting graphics. The style of the game also helps to immerse the player in the story.

Portal is a fun and challenging game that fans have been wild about since it first came out.

 

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Games Created by Women: Blackwell’s Asylum

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Would you think you would be able to survive in a nineteenth century mental institution? What if, once admitted, you were sent to an asylum known as a place where no one ever left? What if the doctors were not only there to keep you from escaping but also to perform whatever atrocities on you that they wished?

Blackwell’s Asylum is a game that tests the abilities of the player to not only survive but also  to escape a terrifying asylum for the insane. Claudia Billie Stræde was the director of this game which started out as a project for the University she was attending. Blackwell’s Asylum was a multiple nominee. It also won Game of the Year and the Adventure/Roleplay category in the Intel Level Up 2011 Game Demo Contest. The game is also interesting becuase it was inspired by true events.

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Claudia was inspired by the written chronicle from Nellie Bly. Bly was a writer who had started her career as a young woman writing; “women’s columns.”  Bly wanted to write about more than cleaning and traveled to New York seeking opportunities. There she pitched the idea of going undercover at a mental hospital to expose what was really happening behind the closed doors of such institutions. For ten days she gained information and stories from other patients. Upon her release Bly wrote down everything in her six-part series called; Ten Days in a Mad-House. This work helped not only expose the crimes of the asylum but also gained more funding for public institutions to try to improve them.

The design of the game is interesting and unsettling. The player starts off, as Nellie, restrained as a doctor drugs them. The player then tries to escape. The coloring of the game is dark and it can make it difficult to determine where in the game the player is.  The effects of the drugs only aid in making the surroundings distorted and confusing.

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There are random shouts and other noises to make it difficult to focus. Blackwell’s Asylum does have a neat effect in which large circles like sonar when footsteps get closer to the player as they sneaking in the darkness. It is the only effect that helps the player with all the distortion. The character design is very well done. The sound effects also aid in the gameplay. 

Blackwell’s Asylum is an interesting first person game of escape.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Review: Ghost of Thornton Hall

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Fire so red, night so black. Dear sweet Charlotte, please come back…

If you like point-and-click adventure games and/or enjoyed reading the Nancy Drew books growing up, you owe it to yourself to check out Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series. All of the games are playable on Windows, and everything from Trail of the Twister onwards can be played on Macs as well. There are even step-by-step guides on Her Interactive’s website about how to play the older games on updated Windows systems and how to play them on your Mac with the Wineskin emulator- a nice gesture on their part.

Each game follows more or less the same route: Nancy arrives at a new location, gets the initial scoop on the mystery, and starts questioning the suspects (usually 3-5 people). Sometimes everything starts out calm, and then after completing a task or two, the theft/murder/kidnapping/whatever takes place. After that, you follow the trail of clues, continue questioning suspects, and solve lots and lots of puzzles to crack the case.

The game that I recently finished, Ghost of Thornton Hall, begins with Nancy receiving a phone call from a paranormal investigator in the middle of the night. A woman named Jessalyn Thornton disappeared during her bachelorette party. It appears to be a kidnapping, but some believe that the culprit is a family ghost, Charlotte.

Charlotte died in a fire under mysterious circumstances, so Nancy finds herself solving two cases: who kidnapped Jessalyn, and what’s the story behind Charlotte? Was her death truly an accident? Is her ghost really haunting the family mansion? And what does this past tragedy have to do with Jessalyn?

Growing up, I loved playing the Nancy Drew series, but as I got older, I began to lose interest. I’m not sure if there was an actual drop in quality or a change in tastes, but Ghost of Thornton Hall felt like a return to form. In fact, it was even better than some of the classics that I’d loved to play.

Other games in the series would have a great premise, but then wouldn’t completely follow through with it. For example, as much as I loved Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, you only encounter the ghost dogs once at the beginning of the game. When you venture out into the woods at night and hear the howling, it’s terrifying- at first. But after a while, you realize that the ghost dogs aren’t going to pop up, and that takes out a chunk of the tension.

In Thornton Hall, Charlotte’s ghost does pop up throughout the game, and you never know when she’ll show herself. Other times, you’ll hear eerie singing, or something will scuttle across the floor, or a statue will turn its head. The whole game takes place at night and the music is beautiful, but grim. Combine all of these elements, and you get a genuinely creepy game.

The suspects all have intriguing backstories and memorable personalities. I was constantly guessing who might be the culprit. Sometimes it felt like all of them could have done it, and other times it didn’t feel like any of them could have done it. I found the reveal satisfying. And while the culprit is always the same, this Nancy Drew is unique in that it has three possible endings.

It’s hard to gauge the fun and difficulty of the puzzles, as that’s going to depend on the person playing. The longer I game, the more I’ve come to realize that everyone’s brain works differently, and what seems so easy for one person is next to impossible to solve for another. I did find the final puzzle very frustrating, due to the fact that it was just a more challenging version of one that I’d already completed. But if you need help figuring out what to do, you can consult the Task List that Nancy keeps with her. In Amateur Detective mode, you can also select hints that tell you how to complete the puzzles.

I’m so glad that I played Ghost of Thornton Hall. It had the same magic as the classic Nancy Drew titles and then some. Now I want to check out some of the other recent titles that I missed!

Influential Women in the Gaming Industry: The Black Girl Gamers

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The most effective change comes when people band together and make it happen. The Black Girl Gamers are one such group. They work to make sure that the world of gaming is more inclusive for everyone.

In 2015 The Black Girl Gamers formed. They began as a safe space against sexism and racism in the gaming world. BGG has grown from their original purpose to become a tour de force in the gaming world. Which really isn’t surprising due to their dedication. The BGG have become the people to go to for the black perspective of gaming.

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The community that is BGG continues to grow. They have 2400 multifaceted gamers, streamers and game developers in their ranks of members. That alone would be insanely impressive for BGG. However they do even more. BGG are also on panels and do press!

The members who make up BGG are a huge part of their success. They have a dedicated group of main streamers. The BGG also have an amazing troop of writers who help keep the gaming community informed and entertained. There are also a few members who should be referred to as nothing less then Elite. These dedicated folks have been with BGG since it’s start and who continue to aid in it’s progress as a community.

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One of the best things about this group is that they also allow their community to merge into other public streams and discords. This gives the BGG the ability to spread safe spaces throughout the gaming community. The BGG is a family that works hard to make sure that the gaming community a better place. Not only do they make gaming spaces more diverse but they also give others a place to use their voices. That makes this awesome group of gamers pretty phenomenal.

You can unite with them on their Facebook.

If you never want to miss an update you can follow them on their Twitter.

They could also use your support. A great way to that is their Patreon.

The BGG are an amazing force in the gaming community. They are using their skills and passion to make real change in the world. The members of BGG prove that you can be the change you want to see. So fight to make gaming spaces what they should be.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!