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Independent Growth: How, When, and Why Indie Games Have Come to the Forefront of the Gaming Industry

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Braid-screen01

Independently developed games have been around since the dawn of the industry, but over the last 10 years or so they’ve really come to the forefront of the gaming community’s attention. A mere decade ago indie games were seen as being significantly inferior to Triple A titles, but now in 2016 we see many publications listing indie titles amongst their most anticipated games of the year. How did this golden age of indies come about, when exactly did it begin, and why have indies been able to captivate audiences the world over?

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While Sega’s early attempts at integrating online functionality into their consoles was admirable, it wasn’t until Sony and Microsoft stepped in that console gamers really bought into the concept of playing over a network. Both the original Xbox and the PS2 featured dozens of games which provided online multiplayer and/or downloadable add-ons, but network features were limited, and online functionality was in the hands of each individual game’s developer, as there were no over-arching systems in place just yet.

The 6th generation of consoles was filled with highlights for the gaming industry, but perhaps none were brighter than the evolution of the online infrastructures available on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. The introduction of Sony’s PlayStation Network and the massive advancements of Microsoft’s Xbox Live would lead to key changes in how publishers and developers would market and sell their creations.

Chief among the refinements to both online systems was the addition of online marketplaces that weren’t limited to specific games, but were simply available from each of the respective console’s main dashboard. These online stores began to fill up with trailers, demos, and DLC, but there was still something missing, and with the concept of full-on digital distribution still being an intimidating proposition to many big publishers back in the early/mid 2000s, both Microsoft and Sony had to search other avenues in order to find more content to stock the virtual shelves of their online stores.

Meanwhile, on the PC gaming front, famed developer Valve was dealing with an entirely different problem: managing the distribution of patches across their games, and in order to alleviate their issues, Steam was born. After a successful initial launch, Gabe Newell and company sought to expand Steam’s repertoire, and in doing so they began signing their first publisher partnerships in 2005. Thanks to Valve’s ingenuity, independent game developers no longer had to concern themselves with attracting the attention of big publishers in order to distribute their products; the ease of access and affordability of Steam as a publishing platform not only made sharing indie games with a large audience feasible, but relatively easy.

Microsoft was the first big console manufacturer to really take notice of Steam’s advancements as a publishing platform, leading them to create their Xbox Live Indie Games program in 2006. Microsoft made software development kits readily available for download, providing budding developers with all the tools needed to publish their games on the Xbox Live Marketplace. The Xbox Live Indie Games program served as a launching pad for many aspiring developers, and a few indie titles published as part of the program, such as I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, got respectable media attention.

With indie games becoming readily available on both PC and consoles, gamers around the world were beginning to take notice, however the general consensus was that indie games would never be able to match the quality of games with multimillion-dollar budgets. But that misconception was about to change.

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In the August of 2008 Microsoft held an event called the “Summer of Arcade”, in which they released five Xbox Live Arcade games over the span of five weeks. Users who bought all five games would get discounts, and Microsoft made sure to spend a lot of time advertising the event. Three of the five games (Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, Bionic Commando Rearmed, & Galaga Legions) were created by larger established teams, but the other two, Castle Crashers and Braid, were indie games.

It’s extremely hard to pinpoint the exact moment in time when the public perception of indie games suddenly elevated to the level we see them in 2016, but many people seem to agree that moment occurred for them when they first played Braid. Not to short change Castle Crashers, which was a good game in its own right, but Braid was truly something revolutionary. Beautiful visuals, an interesting plot, and fantastic mechanics quickly propelled the game to the top of the Xbox 360’s “must play” list. Critically acclaimed, Braid is tied for the highest Metacritic score for an XBLA game, and its score of 93 puts it ahead of many massive titles in the Xbox 360’s library, including Halo: Reach, Assassin’s Creed II, and Mass Effect. Prior to Braid’s release, indie games were seen as a side dish, but afterwards it was clear that indies were more than capable of being the main course.

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Being backed by a huge publisher certainly has its benefits. High budget, access to the best resources, and lucrative advertising campaigns can do a lot to not only increase the quality of a game, but also boost sales figures. Yet it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. When your game is being funded by a large publisher, you’re expected to work within their boundaries, their timetable, and customize your game around their beliefs of what it should or should not be.

Perhaps the most impressive fact about Braid’s development is that behind the curtain it was mostly a one man show. Jonathan Blow had a vision and he brought it to life through hard work, dedication, and raw skill. Also, over the duration of the game’s development, he invested $200,000 out of his own pocket to make sure the game lived up to his standards. Though the cost was steep, funding his own work and working within his own guidelines enabled him to maintain complete creative control. Before publishing the game Microsoft attempted to force Blow to make changes to the title screen functionality, but he refused, and Microsoft eventually conceded, publishing the game as Blow intended it to be. Obviously that was the correct choice. Braid is a perfect example of a pure passion project being realized. However, the sad reality is that the gaming industry is a business, and when it comes to business, the prospect of profit will often win out over passion.

The reason we see so many sequels instead of new IPs is because new projects scare publishers. They would rather not risk money funding a new project when instead they can print money by paying a team to develop Call of Duty 727 or Assassin’s Creed 899. The problem is that when the publishers control the projects, the developers lose the passion. A perfect example would be the Halo series. Developed by Bungie, Halo: Combat Evolved sent shock waves across the gaming industry, and single-handedly kept the original Xbox above water during its tumultuous launch period. But after producing 4 mainline entries in the series, the passion was all but gone, and the people at Bungie wanted to move on. Unfortunately, the businessmen at Microsoft disagreed; they needed the Halo franchise to continue going, because it sells, and to businessmen sales are all that matter. The end result? Bungie left for greener pastures and Microsoft created a new development team to continue pumping out Halo titles. Developed by 343 Industries, Halo 4 & 5 still managed to sell well, but fan reception has been poor, and the series has been in a decline. What’s the difference between the original Halo trilogy and the more recent games? Bungie’s Halo games were fueled by passion, whereas 343’s are being fueled by Microsoft’s willingness to milk the series dry.

Another prime example would be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. As good as the game is, it’s clearly an unfinished product. Konami forced Hideo Kojima to release the game despite its unfinished state, and promptly after the game’s release, Kojima quit to form his own development studio in order to once again attain creative control over his projects. While there certainly are great publishers out there who focus on high quality above all else (Blizzard and Rockstar Games come to mind), it’s undeniable that there are plenty of publishers who hinder creativity while focusing solely on the potential sales figures. With greed-focused publishers holding all the power over their developers, it’s sad to ponder about how many games have been modified against their creator’s will. Could you imagine if a large publisher like Konami told Toby Fox that he couldn’t have a gender ambiguous main character in Undertale because it would “hurt sales”? Or a company like Activision forcing Team Meat to dumb down Super Meat Boy because its “too hard”? Thankfully, due to the current landscape of the industry, independent teams have multiple avenues they can choose to follow, while still maintaining creative control over their projects.

The reason that indie games have been propelled to the forefront of the gaming industry is because the small teams developing them are fueled by pure, unbridled passion. Games like Shovel Knight, The Banner Saga, and Nidhogg may not have sold millions of units, and these games may not target large demographics, but they’re all excellent at what they attempt to do, and that’s because they were crafted with genuine care, remaining untainted by the corporate greed that flows so freely throughout the industry. Independent developers have the freedom to create the game they want to make, rather than being forced to create games they aren’t passionate about. That freedom promotes creativity, and that creativity spawns truly innovative and memorable experiences. We’re currently in the golden age of the indie game, and thankfully it seems like the indie era will last a long, long time.

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10 Years Later: ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ Is Still The Apex of Comic Book Video Games

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the twenty-first-century masterpiece that revolutionized the video game adaptation genre through its phenomenal voice cast, character diversity, challenging detective work, and gothic setpieces.

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“Ah, it’s always nice to return to my sweet little ha-ha-hacienda.”

When diving through the deep rabbit hole that is comic book video game adaptations, finding something above decent can be quite troublesome. The Batman license has been used to create video games based off of its various forms of entertainment media since the early days of the Amstrad Colour Personal Computer, however, the caped crusader could never exactly crack the case on how to make the perfect video game adaptation- then again, neither could any other superhero. It was not until Eidos Interactive obtained the license to the Batman franchise in 2007, where the pinnacle point of comic book video games would be created under the roof of British developer Rocksteady Studios. 

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the twenty-first-century masterpiece that revolutionized the video game adaptation genre through its phenomenal voice cast, character diversity, challenging detective work, and gothic setpieces that shined as if they were oozing out of the pages of a fresh official DC Comics graphic novel. Although it has been ten years since its original release on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, Arkham Asylum still stands the test of time as not only one of the best comic book video games to date but as one of the best video games ever created.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The story begins as Batman rushes to Gotham’s insane asylum in the batmobile while an uninjured, hand-cuffed, cackling Joker rides shotgun. Shortly after our hero meets up with Commissioner James Gordon and Warden Quincy Sharp, the Joker begins the first phase of his big homecoming trap by escaping custody through the help of Harley Quinn. Throughout the game, players are tasked with re-establishing order over the out of control island by infiltrating its various districts, saving allies, and taking down a top tier rogue that resides inside each building one by one.

While the plot may seem like your ordinary comicbook one-shot, the writing of Arkham Asylum is a storytelling work of art. Characters constantly bicker and banter to each other through words penned by none other than legendary Batman writer Paul Dini; creator of the critically acclaimed Batman The Animated Series and comics such as Dark Night: A True Batman Story and Batman: Harley Quinn. Every character talks and acts as if they were pulled directly from the source material — just as they should due to Dini’s impeccable recurring work on the franchise. 

To further emphasize creating an authentic recreation of Batman’s world, Rocksteady worked tirelessly to bring back fan-favorite recognizable voice actors for the majority of the characters who had been previously featured in Dini’s work such as Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. The combination of both Dini and the outstanding voice cast culminate into what is often viewed today as the definitive interpretation of the world’s greatest detective. 

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The characters are what became the defining aspect of Arkham Asylum and the most notable talking point by critics at the time of its release. As the game consistently jumps from villain to villain through its more than stellar pacing, nothing ever seems to grow stale. While the main heroes such as Batman, Gordon, and Oracle are always a pleasure to listen to, the rogues are the true stars of the show. Characters like the Joker, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy never disappoint. Each villain brings surprising throw downs to the table, leaving players to truly test their skill-sets against Gotham’s finest. It was always — and still is — a thrilling experience to see who you will have to go toe to toe with next, as you experiment with different mechanics to defeat each boss.

Whereas all Batman games before Arkham Asylum had a strong emphasis on fighting, Rocksteady decided to shift its gameplay focus on a variety of playstyles to both accommodate for the detective’s vast set of expertise while also remaining true to the character originally depicted in print. Calculated quick-stealth action combat with added forensic science work used to solve puzzles became the groundwork for Batman: Arkham Asylum and the future of the series on top of its already compact control scheme. 

Every gameplay feature did not come with one singular purpose; the core mechanics were built on a multi-functional philosophy that would constantly test players to improve their skills, while also finding various ways to utilize their arsenal. Combat and puzzle-solving became intertwined, leaving players with more than one route on how they choose to approach any given situation.

For example, the new ‘detective mode’ feature allowed Batman: Arkham Asylum to open a floodgate of strategic play-styles and genre variations through the eyes of Batman. A simple game mechanic that changed the view of your surroundings to a wireframed breakdown would serve three main purposes; planning well thought out infiltrations, solving mysteries, and providing an in-game hinting system that could guide players through the asylum. The same can be said for gadgets — such as the Batarang and explosive gel — as they are given to the player for puzzles, but those who experimented while fighting found these tools had multiple purposes.

For those looking to explore deeper into Batman lore, the Riddler provided hundreds of different easter eggs for players to find through his cryptic enigma challenges. Longtime comic fans may be able to solve these puzzles with ease, but for casual audiences, these challenges can often be teeth grinding without background knowledge of what you may need to look out for. The mere text print bios, patient interview tapes, and art cards awarded through finding Riddler trophies and scanning objects associated with riddles made the game’s world seem enormous, as the majority of the characters referenced in these rewards are never present in the flesh. Batman’s world kept growing the deeper a player investigated into the growing crevasse that was Riddler’s optional story arc.

While the game blew away expectations with its extensive gameplay and faithful characters, the most important piece of any Batman media is the look; that mesmerizing gritty atmosphere only Batman comics can present. The character’s world has always been attached to a stylized look that resembles the art-deco years blended with dark noir and realism. It is a recognizable feature that makes the character’s world design stand apart from anyone else in the business. Arkham Asylum flawlessly recreated the look of the modern Batman comics through its heavily inspired gothic imagery with contrasting colors that instinctively pop leaving characters and environments looking prominent from one another. Typically, games that take a more ‘realistic’ approach do not age well, but the entire Arkham series still holds up due to its timeless art style, one that is incomparable to any other game to this day.

Batman: Arkham Asylum will forever stand as one of the most impactful games of its century for redefining what it meant to be an adaptation. It was thanks to the outstanding work Rocksteady Studios put into a faithful recreation of the dark knight that allowed developers to pave the way for a future of video games featuring comic book characters on par with the quality of major triple-A title releases. Batman has always redefined entertainment media in various aspects, but he may never have had an impact quite as unappreciated as Arkham Asylum on the industry. The caped crusader once again revived the feeling of hope, but this time for a medium of gaming that seemingly was going nowhere at the time. The dark knight led the charge to the era of the golden age of comic book games. “Long Live The Bat.”

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25 Years Later: ‘EarthBound’ Continues to Bring Smiles and Tears

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“I Miss You.”

Nearly unrecognized by a company, almost canceled multiple times, saved by an industry icon, a soundtrack present in children’s textbooks, a passionate fanbase, fan-translations for the unreleased entries in the west, a Super Smash Bros. presence, and a three-sixty of a legacy. EarthBound– or rather the Mother series in Japan- has by far one of the strangest yet most fascinating histories out of all of Nintendo’s most known series.

EarthBound went on to become a cult classic in Nintendo’s history and one of the most renowned games of the fourth console generation for Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Through its troubled history in both production and early reception, it still has withstood the test of time to go on as one of Nintendo’s underdog franchises created by the mastermind Japanese copywriter, director, game designer, and actor Shigesato Itoi.

What better time to look back on the games strikingly different legacies across the globe than on the day of its initial Japanese release 25 years ago today. Despite EarthBound being looked upon as one of the greatest role-playing-games today, you would be surprised over how different the game was viewed back in 1994.

Itoi’s Saving Grace

After the completion of Mother in 1989- known to players as EarthBound Beginnings outside of Japan today- Shigesato Itoi began working on a direct sequel to the surprise phenomenon for the next generation of Nintendo hardware. Rather than working with the same development team, however, Itoi decided to allow Ape Incorporated to solely work on the project; a decision that would later lead to an unforeseeable disaster spanning over the course of five years.

Itoi was under significant pressure from Nintendo in 1993 due to time constraints and funding for Earthbound falling through on multiple occasions over the last four years. EarthBound escaped cancellation by the skin of its teeth several times throughout development. Out of fear of a final cancellation, Itoi knew he needed help from an outside source who can help save the project. In the last resort ditch, he took a trip to HAL Laboratory seeking out the starman of the industry; a close friend, young breakthrough coder, and President of the company, Satoru Iwata.

Shigesato Itoi, Satoru Iwata, and Shigeru Miyamoto- December 2011.

Satoru Iwata meticulously analyzed the coding of the game and gave the team at Ape Inc. two options; take what they had and finish development in two years or start from scratch and finish in six months- the ladder was the only plausible option for Itoi to choose. Iwata and his colleagues at HAL mustered up tools that Ape Inc. could use to finish the game in his predicted time frame; to which they did and less than one year later, EarthBound was ready to hit store shelves and became the first entry in the Mother series to make land outside of its home turf.

A Different Past

During its initial release, EarthBound was met with mixed to favorable reception outside of Japan and did not make sales expectations with the higher-ups at Nintendo. Although certainly not a flop, the game was deemed unsuccessful by the publisher everywhere but Japan. Critics in the west often compared the game to several other RPGs released at the time- specifically Square’s acclaimed Final Fantasy III– citing that the game felt dated compared to what the hardware was capable of. Back on its home turf, the game went on to receive a mostly positive reception. EarthBound and Mother 2 were practically two separate entities in the east and west.

Even in its marketing, EarthBound was a whole different kind of weird depending on territory. Nintendo of America gave the franchise its bizarre and infamously known marketing campaign in the United States, however, in its home territory, the Mother series was advertised as a family-friendly game that was for everyone. The line “this game stinks” was heavily used in Nintendo Power Magazine along with several attached repulsive-smelling scratch and sniff cards. Meanwhile, in Japan, phrases such as “for adults, children, and even young women” were often used in live-action advertisements along with friendlier simplistic informational posters such as the one below.

Going Contemporary

Unlike the majority of other RPGs at the time that focused on the common fantasy and medieval settings, EarthBound took a major curveball and placed itself in a relatable modern American themed country called Eagleland where rather than characters wielding blades or firearms, weapons consist of baseball bats, slingshots, PSI, bottle rockets, and frying pans. Convenience stores and hospitals are used rather than your typical wandering merchants or magic users. Enemies could range to anything from cars, speed limit signs, and clocks, to vomit, tents, and robots. Even a genre staple such as the battle system remains consistently different from any other RPG. The game uses a ‘slot machine’ health and psychic points mechanic where your numbers roll down slowly as you attempt to counterattack, revive, and defend with quick thinking moves before the digits can hit zero.

The contemporary inspired atmosphere blended with fantasy elements is a setting that no other game has tried to exactly replicate. It is still one of EarthBound’s most unique aspects, however, what makes the game so memorable are the characters placed in the deranged setting. Every single entity you come across on your adventure has unique dialogue that can range from poetically charming to outrageously ridiculous. A fan favorite species that has gone on to become what can be considered the series mascots are the iconic Mr. Saturns; notably for being the face of much of the available merchandise through Itoi’s personal company in Japan, having a unique in-game text font, and appearing as an item in Super Smash Bros. series (starting with Melee on the Nintendo GameCube).

A Change In Legacy

Today EarthBound is a Nintendo cult classic. Did it fail to become part of the big leagues at the time of its release because of the puzzling advertisement campaign? Was it to out of the norm for the general public and mainstream media? We may never know the definitive answer, but today EarthBound is regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time and a must-play game for the Super Nintendo. In its 25 years since it first released, it certainly has managed to draw in a captivating legacy that has continually become more loved over time.

The Mother series- whether it will ever receive a new entry or not- lives on through its dedicated fans, spiritual successors, and digital re-releases. No matter where you scatter for EarthBound related content on the internet, you are bound to find some dedicated fans or even entire websites such as the widely known Starmen.net that are packed to the brim with fan content.

If you have never played EarthBound, it is currently available for purchase on the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles and it is also one of the twenty-two pack-in games included on the Super Nintendo Classic Mini console.

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 4 Review – “Faith”: A Journey Through Trump’s America

Life is Strange 2 continues its strong trajectory from the previous episode, weaving a complex and troubling tale of faith gone mad.

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Life is Strange 2 has returned for its penultimate episode, a dense and troubling exploration of faith, prejudice and family in a time and place that has never been more divided: modern America. Following the events of Life is Strange 2‘s stellar third entryEpisode 4: “Faith” sees Sean attempting to pick up the pieces of his shattered life after Daniel’s violent outburst at Merrill’s farm.

Though the story of Faith” begins in a hospital, with Sean working to recover from his injuries, the trajectory of the tale explores more settings and environments than any previous episode of the series. From wandering the highways of Nevada, to exploring a dusty motel, to sneaking into a remote church, Life is Strange 2‘s 4th entry never lacks for something new to see, or someone new to interact with.

Life is Strange 2
However, the cynical bent of the story is the new centerpiece of Episode 4. Though Life is Strange 2 has never sidestepped the controversy and division of Trump’s America, Faith” leans into these ideas with renewed fervor. Violence is committed more than once against our Mexican protagonist, and his skin color often sees him at odds with the more conservative denizens of the highways he journeys down. In a particularly telling exchange, Sean even finds himself beaten and placed on the other side of a closed compound, with a gun-toting guard glaring at him from the other side. Metaphors don’t really get much clearer than that.

This will, no doubt, lead to more calls of keeping politics out of games and other entertainment by the president’s more ardent supporters, but as other writers have pointed out, gaming has never been apolitical. Further, it would be categorically irresponsible to tell a story like this without addressing the elephant in the room. With these elements in mind, the politics of Life is Strange 2 have never been clearer than in Episode 4: “Faith”, and they account for some of the strongest storytelling fuel the series has found yet.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Politics aside, Life is Strange 2 also puts Sean at a variety of other disadvantages. His starting injuries include a lost eye that must be tended to medically throughout the episode, and the various beatings he takes throughout Episode 4 more than leave their mark. This leaves Faith as the typical darkest, and most troubling, episode of this second series, where we find our protagonist at his absolute lowest point, and must continue on with him in hopes of finding a better future. It’s a common enough trope, but one that is used to great effect here.

There are many returns of characters from previous episodes, some through letters and other communications, and others through surprising reveals and revelations. A particularly shocking character joins the story with zero preamble, and emerges as one of Life is Strange 2‘s finest editions yet. To spoil who, or how, would be criminal, but rest assured that Episode 4 is more full of surprises than any of the previous entries.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Though the main conflict that eventually reveals itself, that of Daniel being used as a messianic figure for an isolated Nevada church, feels contrived initially, the layers that are eventually revealed, and Daniel’s reason for joining the church, make a lot of sense in the overall scheme of things. Due to this strength of narrative, it really feels like all bets are off during the climax of Life is Strange 2: Episode 4, and that’s a good thing for a game so centered around the notion of interactive storytelling.

Fresh, prescient, and altogether rewarding, Life is Strange 2: Episode 4 — “Faith”, is a welcome piece of fiction in a society that has become so increasingly fragmented. It illustrates the horrors of the modern American landscape, but always remembers to remind us that there are good people out there, even when hope has never seemed so far away.

Strongly Recommended

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I Still Don’t Understand ‘Death Stranding’ (and That’s a Good Thing)

Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

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It may only be a few months until launch, but Death Stranding remains shrouded in mystery. This first independent project from gaming auteur Hideo Kojima has been an enigma ever since it was first announced. When the world first saw Norman Reedus standing on a foggy shoreline with a weeping fetus in his arms, many questions naturally arose. Why is a celebrity actor cradling an unborn child on a beach? What kind of gameplay could we expect from this? And what does “Death Stranding” even mean, anyway?

Years may have passed since that initial reveal, but in my view at least, these questions still haven’t been fully answered. I simply do not understand Death Stranding. It’s confounded me like few games before it have – and yet, that may be the very best thing about it. There’s something enticing about that mystery. Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

Between trailers, interviews, and a fairly hefty amount of gameplay footage, there’s been an increasingly constant stream of information about Death Stranding for over a year now. This is especially true at Gamescom 2019, where the game has had an extensive presence with two full trailers and a live gameplay demonstration. For most games, this extensive amount of coverage should eliminate all the biggest questions, presenting a relatively clear idea of what the final product should be. But consider the content of Death Stranding’s most recent trailers: one consists entirely of an exposition dump about the power and proper maintenance of jarred fetuses, while another opens with Norman Reedus urinating in a field to create a giant mushroom before dropping off a package for Geoff Keighley. Previous trailers show ruined cities overflowing with tar, gold-masked lion monsters, and levitating shadow creatures. If you can make heads or tails of all that, then you’re certainly cleverer than I.

With every new piece of information, I find it more difficult to wrap my head around the game. Even with the few concrete details known about it, Death Stranding continues to defy simple categorization. Although it features stealth elements, it certainly doesn’t seem like another Metal Gear; while it will have a massive open world, it doesn’t look like it will follow in the footsteps of signature modern open worlds like Horizon Zero Dawn or Breath of the Wild; and though it tells a story about reconnecting the broken cities of a post-apocalyptic United States, its mixture of stealth, politics, and the supernatural make it distinct from most other narrative-focused games out there. Each trailer introduces another wrinkle to the perplexing web of Kojima’s latest vision.

It is this very ambiguity that makes Death Stranding so enticing. With most games, it’s easy to understand them based on a quick glance at their trailer alone. This will reveal their genre, their personality, any unique gimmicks – all the usual culprits. But with Death Stranding, the more we learn about it, the more the mystery grows. At this point, it’s even difficult to pin the game into a single genre. Only the most ambitious games manage to create genres of their own, but from what we’ve seen so far, Death Stranding looks like it could be one of them. It could simply be little more than excellent marketing, but knowing that Kojima’s unbridled imagination is behind it, my hopes are high.

Death Stranding

It would make sense for Death Stranding to be so inventive given the circumstances behind its creation. For years, Kojima’s corporate overlords at Konami had stifled his creativity as they moved the company’s focus away from Kojima’s traditional titles like Metal Gear and Silent Hill towards more immediately lucrative pursuits such as mobile platforms and pachinko machines. Now that Kojima has freed himself from those restrictions and formed an independent studio of his own, his vision can run more freely than ever before. It’s to be expected that, finally presented with the opportunity to fully express his vision, he’d do so by creating something truly daring, something never seen before.

Of course, as attractive as the intrigue around Death Stranding may be, it doesn’t change that it’s difficult to really judge a game without knowing much about it at all. With so many important details remaining unspecified, there’s no telling whether Death Stranding will actually achieve its clear ambitions. If I were to view things pessimistically, I’d posit that the game’s ambiguity could be nothing more than an elaborate marketing scheme meant to mask the lackluster game beneath it. While I’m certainly much more optimistic about the game than that, I can’t deny the very real possibility that it could be the case.

But at the end of the day, I simply cannot resist the romantic allure of a game so surrounded by mystery. The core of Death Stranding may be wrapped in an inscrutable fog, but Kojima uses this layer of secrecy to invite players to experience a game that is truly new, an all-too-rare commodity in games today. Kojima hasn’t been free to express his vision so fully for years now, but at long last he has his chance. I cannot comprehend Death Stranding, and that’s exactly why I’m so excited for it.

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‘Daemon X Machina’ – Spotlighting 2019’s Least-Hyped Switch Game

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

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Daemon x Machina

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

From the very beginning, Daemon X Machina has struggled for attention.  It’s certainly not for lack of trying; after all, Nintendo has worked tirelessly to help promote this Switch-exclusive mech action game from Marvelous, even going so far as to position it as the first announcement of its big E3 Direct last year. Despite these efforts, though, Daemon X Machina has often been lost in the shuffle of other Switch exclusives. When there’s constantly talks of a new Animal Crossing, Zelda, or Smash Bros., an original IP like Daemon X Machina easily gets left out of the conversation. However, there’s no denying that it has some incredible potential, making it a game that’s certainly worth checking out amidst the crowded release schedule for the rest of the year. Now is the time to spotlight that ahead of its launch on September 13.

A good mech game doesn’t need to do much – it must simply provide the player with massive robot suits, near-excessive over-the-top action, and a story to help the game make at least a little sense. Daemon X Machina looks set to deliver in all three of those departments. It will feature a huge amount of flexibility to create the perfect mech, thanks to hundreds of interchangeable weapons and body parts, many of which can be scavenged from fallen enemies. With gargantuan destructible environments and hordes of robotic foes to take down, the combat looks to be as extravagant as some of the best action games of recent years. That’s not to mention the main plot, which focuses on the aftermath of the moon exploding. Yes, it does sound like ridiculous anime-inspired fodder, but a game about giant roots blowing each other out of the sky doesn’t need a plot that adheres to realism. It need only set up a somewhat-reasonable backdrop for intense mechanized combat, and in that regard, it’s looking like a recipe for success.

Daemon X Machina

All these features are great on their own, but what makes them truly exciting is the pedigree behind them. Daemon X Machina is being developed by a dream team of developers who have worked extensively on some of the most iconic mech games ever made. For instance, the team includes Kenichiro Tsukuda and Shoji Kawamori, who respectively produced and designed the mechs for the legendary Armored Core series. This team aims to take the classic formula that made Armored Core and other classics so special and put it back in the spotlight with Daemon X Machina. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be merely derivative. It already displays a distinct personality of its own thanks to its ambitious gameplay concepts (again, exploding moon) and its distinctive cell-shaded visuals. Its striking color palette of bold reds, blacks, and whites shouldn’t be surprising, considering that its art is directed by none other than Yusuke Kozaki, who has worked on such stylish titles as the No More Heroes series.

If it achieves its potential, Daemon X Machina could be a godsend for its genre. While it would be unfair to call the mech action genre “dead,” it is certainly quite niche. This would be the first time in years that a giant robot action game has had the full support of a major company like Nintendo behind it. And while Nintendo has already supported this genre in the past, this will be the first time that it’s done so on a hit console like the Switch, which automatically gives it a wide and passionate audience. Even with its inherent niche status, Daemon X Machina is already in a better position than many similar games before it thanks to its publisher and platform. If it does well, it could inspire Nintendo and other companies to promote similar games, leading to a needed revival of the genre’s popularity.

But this leads to one of the simultaneously best and worst aspects of Daemon x Machina: its demo. Marvelous released an early demo on the Switch eShop back in February with the intention of drumming up interest in the game and getting player feedback. To put it plainly, it wasn’t very good. The action felt unsatisfying with a lack of any feeling of real impact with each blow; it was difficult to aim at enemies due to imprecise targeting systems, poor visibility, and an absence of gyro controls; and worst of all, its performance was horrendous. It was stuck at a mere thirty frames per second, which is already less than ideal for such a fast-paced action game. But it didn’t even manage to hit that target consistently, leading to a choppy and unsatisfying experience. One need only take a quick look through Digital Foundry’s breakdown to understand the demo’s many issues.

Daemon X Machina

“Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans.”

However, the demo has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Shortly after the demo’s release, Marvelous distributed a survey to many players and requested their feedback. A few months later, Nintendo released a new trailer showing how the feedback had been integrated into the game. The full list of changes reads like a wish list of everything that needed to be adjusted following the demo. Highlights include the addition of gyro controls, improved targeting and feedback systems, and most importantly, an improved framerate. In fact, the developers have stated that performance was one of their “top priorities” when adjusting the game.

Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans. The fact that they were so open to feedback and eager to improve bodes incredibly well for the final release. They know that the mech action genre isn’t what it used to be, and they seem truly passionate about creating a quality title in the genre they love. In an industry that is so often focused more on emptying players’ wallets than creating a worthwhile title, this attitude is incredibly refreshing, hinting of a project that’s filled with genuine care and passion.

The unfortunate truth remains that Daemon X Machina is bound to be one of Nintendo’s least-hyped games this year. As long as games like Astral Chain, Dragon Quest XI S, and Link’s Awakening are all releasing within the same month, it will almost inevitably remain that way. But there is incredible promise for it nonetheless. With the quality of the game design, the legacy of its creators, and their clear passion for their project, it looks set to become something very special and deserves every bit of attention it can get. If fans can look past the games that typically hog the spotlight to find this bombastic little secret, they could be in for an enthusiastic, if under-hyped revival of a once-dormant genre.

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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