Episode 178: The Tsum Tsum Veil

This week, the Wardcast is beginning to reach full strength, with Dylan, Alex, and Nelson discussing childhood pranks, getting to the bottom of the 3D2D genre, and the history of the Keyblade Wars.

We’re all still fully in the grips of ApeLeg addiction, but we pull ourselves out of the miasma long enough to talk about the latest Nintendo Direct, which leaves Animal Crossing fans out in the cold in favor of the Mario Maker faithful while also showcasing Goku-lookin’ RPGs, the morality of anime cops, and something called a tsum tsum?

Games include Brawl Stars, Apex Legends, Tetris 99, Yoshi’s Crafted World, and Daemon X Machina.

Episode 177: Apexsutawney Phil

Dylan and new Wardcast regular Nelson Johnson convene to talk about, among other things, the stealth-released Apex Legends and what it signals for the ever-evolving battle royale genre.

We then trip over a possible Eminem Anime MMO, movie trailers and movie budgets, and the escalating war for PC game store dominance.

Games include Apex Legends, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Devil May Cry 5, and Killer Queen.

Episode 176: Sorry, Kyle

This week, we return to a semi-regular Wardcast. Joining Alex and Dylan is RVA Game Jams newbie Jeff Stager, here to talk about the many tales of illicit flash drives, failing Swedish studios, and noble charity streams.

There’s also a topic that we’ve yet to discuss in depth: Smash Bros.! We revisit the ultimate entry two months later to showcase the talents of Xander Mobius, discover the secrets of the World of Light, and run down the Competitive Gentleman’s Rules.

Games include Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Onimusha, Doom II, Crusader Kings II, Hollow Knight, Minecraft, Brawl Stars, Anthem, Rainbow Six: Siege, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and Deltarune: Chapter 1.

Episode 175: Wolverines!

Back in Richmond, Dylan is joined by RVA Game Jams’ guest speaker for Global Game Jam, Clint “Halfcoordinated” Lexa, here in town to talk about streaming, speedrunning, and gaming accessibility.

We cover some stuff we missed from AGDQ, how developers can work with speedrunners to improve their games and support better accessibility, Clint’s next speedrunning game, and controller preferences.

Episode 174: Hidden Gems of PAX South II

For the second year running, Hidden Gems is back to showcase games and more from PAX South! Dylan is joined by Harris Foster, Anya Combs, and Rami Ismail to talk about hidden MAME ROMs, secret bathrooms, and finding out what color the sky truly is. You can follow along with the panel slides here.

From the panel description:

“Do you wish there was a one stop source for everything you needed to see, hear, and play at PAX? If so, then you’re in luck! The Hidden Gems panel is here to show you the way to the biggest surprises on the show floor. With our collective knowledge of the games industry, we’ll showcase handpicked games and experiences that you won’t want to miss.”

Games include Multibowl, Nelo, A Fold Apart, Ape Out, KungFu Kickball, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, King of the Hat, Dicey Dungeons, Bombfest, Hypnospace Outlaw, Young Souls, and RocketBoots Mania.

Best Games Played 2018: Freshest Storytelling

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Florence is the debut project from dev studio Mountains, headed by former Monument Valley developer Ken Wong. Wrapped in a graphic novel aesthetic, you follow the eponymous 25 year-old Florence Yeoh as she goes about her young adult life. Scenes transition by having you swipe from comic panel to comic panel, sometimes left to right, sometimes up and down. Sometimes, a scene will play out in a single splash screen, with you poking and prodding everything in view to further the story.

Florence takes pleasure in the mundane. You’ll follow her through her day-to-day: tapping and swiping on the screen to shut off her alarm clock, brush her teeth, get ready for work, prepare spreadsheets at her boring office job, and chat on the phone with her mother, who expects so much more from Florence.

If these interactions seem boring to you – that’s the point. Just like in games like Papers, Please, Florence uses the gameplay’s monotony to communicate the inescapable societal systems the protagonists find themselves in. In Papers, Please, it’s about reconciling the fact that your job keeps an authoritarian state in power with the truth that, at the end of the day, you still need to provide for your family. In Florence, the game is about the titular character drifting aimlessly through life, waiting for something to happen.

That something comes in the form of an fatefully-timed dead smartphone battery and a street cellist, Krish. Florence discovers him performing in a park, drawn to his music, but doesn’t try to speak with him. It isn’t until later when crashes her bike and literally flips head over heels that they get a chance to speak. He makes sure she’s okay, they get to chatting, and they exchange numbers to go out later.

Unique gameplay methods are used to convey Florence and Krish’s growing relationship. When you first start getting to know each other, Florence’s speech balloons appear as a dozen puzzle pieces scattered across the screen – her seemingly fractured thoughts that need to be carefully constructed to talk to her new acquaintance.

But as Florence feels more comfortable around Krish, the numerous speech balloon pieces shrink in number and grow in size, clicking together effortlessly. Eventually, you’ll simply be sliding whole dialog bubbles in place, with Florence smiling and laughing as she and Krish grow closer.

They go out together; they meet each other’s families; they eventually move in together, with you tapping on shelves and drawers to make room for Krish’s possessions. But, unfortunately, the same comfort that made talking so easy makes arguing easy too. Stress from life and work boil over, and they lash out at each other. Now you’re swiping dialog as quick as you can, trying to get more words in to win the fight.

They reconcile, but grow distant. There’s a rift between them that never closed, a spark that never reignited.

The game could’ve ended with a picturesque happy ever after, but that’s not how life works. Every one of us finds happiness in something different. Some find it in being with the right partner. Some find it in creating passionate and meaningful work. Some find it being respected amongst their peers. Sometimes, we know exactly what makes us happy; other times, we don’t. Sometimes, as Florence teaches us, what used to make us happy may no longer do so.

Florence shows us that we’re not static beings, born to love and hate the same things through our entire lives. We grow; we change; we rediscover ourselves over and over again. We may not be the same people five, ten, or fifteen years from now, but as long as we chose to live meaningful, kind, and happy lives, we can never go astray.

Best Games Played 2018: Most Majestic

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

I’m probably one of the last people on the planet to play Shadow of the Colossus. Originally released on PlayStation 2 and lauded as one of the greatest games of all time, Shadow of the Colossus is a cultural touchstone that permeated the membrane of all of gaming. For the PS2, the game was an amazing technical and visual accomplishment, with a level of grandeur that still inspires awe in its dedicated PS4 remaster.

I’d watch as hero Wander challenged epic colossi that soared through white clouds, stomped across gray marshes, and dove into pristine waters. A favorite moment of mine was finding the fifth colossus, Avion – a large bird that circled a foggy lake. As I scrambled between stony ruins jutting out of the water, they swooped down to attack me. I leapt onto their wing and grasped at tufts of fur to hold on as Avion ascended back into the sky. As they climbed, I could practically feel the air rush past me as I played, and the orchestral music built to a swell. I raced across the creature’s stony spine to deliver a fatal blow to the head, causing Avion to shriek and crash back into the water.

It was a breathtaking spectacle of grit, passion, and sorrow as I watched the life snake out of Avion in trails of black mist. It was as amazing as people said it was back in 2005.

But just as awe-inspiring – if not moreso – were the quiet moments between these encounters. As Wander tracks his prey, he treks across the forbidden lands – an abandoned place, cold and tranquil. The sky is a persistent pallid gray, casting a spectral glow over everything it touches: ancient groves, crumbling towers, and desolate plains. There’s a natural bridge that connects the northern part of the continent, overlooking a barren cove where one of the colossi resides. It’s a lonely little inlet that reminds you of chilled, blustery days at the beach as the seasons change from summer to autumn.

You cross this bridge several times, as every colossus hunt starts you back at the temple in the middle of the map. It becomes another landmark to guide you on your travels as you and your trusty horse, Agro, thunder across the landscape. The land becomes a character in and of itself, an innocent bystander that can do nothing to stop you from killing its native colossi and stomping through its natural beauty.

Contemporary games are jam-packed full of so many art assets that it’s truly a crime that we as players don’t take more time to sit and observe the creations of countless man hours. I believe this is partially an issue of overstimulation, that we can’t decide which high-poly object to focus on, so we focus on none of them. We instead choose to consume the content that the designers have set in front of us and treat the rest like so much needless fluff. Shadow of the Colossus, however, is vast and empty, likely a creative constraint of the hardware at the time, but it forces you to absorb the nature around you on your way to your final destination.

Shadow of the Colossus is a game about being transported to a faraway land with mystical creatures that challenge you to comprehend their otherworldly beauty and size. Everything, from the long treks across the world to the puzzling climbing and combat with colossi, force you to slow down to take it all in, and I will never be more thankful for a game doing that.

Best Games Played 2018: Most Charming

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

In the mid 2000s, I was in a weird spot. I was working a crappy job at a crappy company for crappy pay. I’d given up on school, given up on making art, and given up on making games. I tried to be realistic about my life: it was enough to eke out a living and never pursue my dreams, because my dreams were silly.

Then I played Cave Story.

It would still be years before I would sit down and force myself to learn game development, but seeing a game that well-crafted made by one lone developer – the great Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya – spoke to me. The fire was lit again.

Over a decade later, I sat down to play through another one of Pixel’s games, Kero Blaster. The art looked more rough than Cave Story’s, the game was strictly linear compared to Cave Story‘s expansive semi-open world, and the story had far less depth, but despite all this, the game captivated me.

For a while, I tried to identify why this was the case, what deeper feeling was pulling me along. The longer I played, more of the game’s brilliance shone through – things like the tension in a well-designed level leading up to an engaging boss fight or the joy of unlocking a new weapon that redefines your playstyle.

Above all else, I found the simple pixel art and chiptune soundtrack wonderfully delightful and funny. I found myself cackling as my boss slowly transformed into a goofy monster. I found myself humming along to the music while blasting refrigerators into oblivion. I found myself intensely gripping the controller while fighting a bird perched on an alarm clock.

Kero Blaster, like Cave Story before it, brings me back to the childlike joy of making and playing games. It’s the kind of game I imagine me and my friends making – it’s kind of silly, you might even consider it a little ugly, but it’s got some deep refinement in ways that make it a priceless treasure and one of my favorite games this year.

Episode 173: Are We Dabster? Or Are We Dancer?

We’re here in Rockville, Maryland for AGDQ – Awesome Games Done Quick – watching games be played real fast. Dylan is joined by Finji community manager Harris Foster along with streamer and fellow hotel roommate Devon Snethen.

We’ve spent the whole week watching runners run their games, so we take some time to talk about our favorite runs, the Bad Games Block, some contentious Splatoon running, and oooooooooorbs.

Games include Pringles Game, The★BishiBashi, and BishiBashi Channel.

Best Games Played 2018: Best Remix

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

In my own work, I’m a big fan of the Haxe coding language, pixel art, limited palettes, and trying to nail an aesthetic. Ruari O’Sullivan utilized all of this in making his action-horror platformer OVERWHELM.

OVERWHELM has been described by many people as a sort of inverted Metroidvania. The player traverses a world, shooting off alien bugs in their hive to reach five different bosses. Upon defeating a boss, many games may reward the player with a power up – something to aid them in traversing to their next goal, something to aid them in battle, or something to help the player from getting overwhelmed by the dangers surrounding them. As the name implies, that is not the intent in OVERWHELM.

After defeating a boss, instead of granting the player a power up, the game grants enemies power ups. Enemies will get faster, stronger, more relentless in their efforts to destroy the invading player. This clever remix of a simple idea produces the dread that makes OVERWHELM feel unique. Beyond that, the world truly feels overwhelming. Oppressive soundscapes, unforgiving one hit deaths, a pittance of three lives to accomplish your goals, the encroaching darkness, all of it is masterfully crafted to bring the tension of the game to a piercing level of unease.

And if that’s not your speed, O’Sullivan has graciously coded in various accessibility options so that players can dial in a level of difficulty that matches their own comfort level. I personally adjusted the auto-aim to be extremely forgiving, and even then, I still get goosebumps every time I delved into the hive.