Game of the Week: Super Adventure Pals

*dusts off the old manuscript*

Oh gosh, how long have you folks been sitting here without a good game to get your hands on? Well, for the record, I just want to apologize for that. It’s summer, and despite popular belief, I am not a vampire who writes game blogs every day. I like to feel the warmth of the sun on my pixelated skin tone. Well now I’m back, and I’m rolling up my sleeve to deliver a pretty awesome game from developers, Jay Armstrong and Julian Wilton, called Super Adventure Pals.

Now close your eyes and picture this:

You are a young boy. You have a pet giraffe and a pet rock. You’re having a peaceful picnic in the forest, when out of nowhere an evil villain STEALS your PET ROCK! Now it is up to you to save your pet rock [ and vicariously your village ] from the likes of evil genius mastermind: Mr. B. You’re an action hero. A superhero – oh, and did I mention he has a giraffe?! YES. He does. Save the rock, get the girl, and save the town in this adorably addictive Action/Platform/RPG.

‘This picnic ROCKS Giraffe!” “Murrrruuu!”

If the concept is hilarious to you, well then all that’s holding you back from seeing this gem is playing it. In light of this though, I suppose we should be talking about accessibility. OK! Armstrong and Wilton did a lot of small tweaks to the game’s overall design which I feel really make this game enjoyable and I hope you do too – so here goes nothing folks! Hoo!

Pros:

  • Optional control scheme at the start of the game. Left and Right handed schemes.
  • All text/dialogue is written out or symbolic. No audio is necessary to complete levels.
  • Color scheme and art animations are clear and sharp enough to be distinguishable.
  • Simple gameplay makes the platforming enjoyable and the quests engaging.
  • A humorous storyline combined with a plethora of levels to play through makes S.A.P. a joyful and unique platforming experience.
  • Health kits are automatically used making traveling and healing simple.
  • 75 levels, 4 bosses, and 3 towns full of content gives this game quality time.

This level feels so slow – oh. It must be the sloths!

Cons:

  • The text is only available in English, so international gamers may have issues if they’re not proficient in reading English.
  • The control schemes may be simplistic, but they often times require both hands.
  • Motion-impaired gamers may have difficulty with the platforming in further levels.
  • The game doesn’t have a mouse-only option for movement, so one-handed gamers will have extreme difficulty in accomplishing levels.

“Muhahahaha! ALL YOUR ROCKS ARE MINE!”

Overall, while the game has challenging platforming that may make some gamers frustrated, the appeal of the quirky artwork, humorous storyline and engaging levels makes Super Adventure Pals a definite ‘must see‘. Save your pet rock, ride your giraffe, save the world from evil masterminds! Armstrong and Wilton have done an impressive job with this game and I tip my hat to their genius Flash designs. You can play Super Adventure Pals NOW on Kongregate. It’s an accessible little blast of challenging fun and one of the best I’ve seen Armstrong release!

Way to go gentlemen! Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have a giraffe waiting to fight aggressive sloth monsters. He gets cranky when I don’t feed him.

Tech Talk: An Eye on the Ouya

Well, I took a vacation from posting – as some of you may have noticed. It’s the summer though, so you can’t blame me for getting out there in the ‘world‘ and living a little. Among the things I missed out on covering, one of the most thrilling pieces of news to come out of this was:

The Ouya

With a plethora of gaming consoles already on the market, and mobile gaming making nearly every phone in the world into a mobile gaming mecha, the prospect of new technology always intrigues me. Last week the Ouya was announced via a Kickstarter campaign, and it practically made my ears pop off with intrigue. If you’ve not heard of what the Ouya is I’ll detail it for you in brief, and I’ll include the nice shiny trailer video too:

Now what does this mean for the future of gaming? Well, in my opinion, it just means to make the gaming world more impressive. I don’t think the intention is to wipe out Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo. Those companies are megaliths of the industry, so I highly doubt it’ll put a dent in their revenue streams. The idea that the system is going to be using a ‘free-to-play’ and mobile business practice model is entirely up my alley!

I think I had a dream like this once… so glad it’s coming true!

I love hearing the word ‘developers’ used when discussing consoles. I think often times there’s so many hurdles to jump through to get a game onto a modern console these days. Developers feel intimidated by the high cost of publishing rights and the loss of artistic freedoms vs. company control.It’s no wonder that, in this day and age, mobile game development and the Android market system look so appealing.

The Ouya business model looks promising too:

The company will take a 30/70 percent split for any game you produce and want to port to console. This, to me, is fantastic. Here’s why. You get to craft and develop  a game for Android software, which is a highly accessible marketplace. As a developer, you’ll be pulling 70% back in revenue towards any sales of your game. This blows my mind folks!

Considering that there’s no manufacturing fees, no hardware fees, etc. because all of the games will be digital download/free to play streamed it makes so much more logical business sense from a development stance. If you cut out certain expenses, you can reduce the size of fees, and increase the productivity and quality of development. The specs don’t look remarkably fantastic, which is a bummer.

Sleek, refined, and shiny – seriously what else do I need?

If you’re a developer hoping for some Sony PS3 style next-gen graphics engine, then you’ll probably want to stand in line waiting for a publishing house to clear you. If you’re like me though, and a newbie developer, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’ll give me a chance to bring designs into folks homes, rather than porting them to flash computer sites.

Here’s the Ouya’s specs:

  • Tegra 3 quad-core processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB Flash Storage
  • HDMI input that supports up to 1080p HD
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth LE 4.0
  • USB 2.0
  • Wireless Controller w/ standard controls + touchpad
  • Android 4.0 

Now while I’m infatuated with the idea, of course I’m still skeptical. Any new technology is going to make a person nervous before they can actually see it in action. I’ve been hearing rumors that Valve may be releasing their own Steam Box console for homes as well and, if that’s the case, we many have a battle on our hands. The Steam market is already highly prolific and loved by many gamers and devs alike – so Ouya is going to have to claw to prove that their product is superior early on. My biggest suggestion to the development team would be this:

Includification.

Mark Bartlet, President/Founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, coined this term two days ago in an article he wrote for their site. I couldn’t be more in agreement with his statements, and if you want to read the full article you can. Essentially, Barlet discusses the term of ‘accessibility’ and sometimes how that term can make development seem difficult, frustrating, and down right hard. He decided at a recent conference that he’d try and devise a different approach to how developers look at games and coined this term.

Includification means:

1. Making sure content includes everyone, regardless of ability. 

2. Design so that everyone can enjoy and appreciate the fruits of creative labor.

In the case of the Ouya, I see tons of potential here to be played with. The idea that the entire system is open to tweaking and hardware reconfiguration, peripherals can be toyed with, etc. It’s like a game developer’s LEGO set! I think if the Ouya staff, and future developers for the console, focus on the idea of includification the console will succeed. The games, and hardware, need to be versatile – flow with the accessible punches so that it doesn’t become an ‘exclusives’ war like the major console brands.

If I were designing for the Ouya, I’d be design for kids like him. Inspiring!

Gaming should be for everyone, and if developers and hardware designers can work together I don’t see why games can’t include ALL types of players. I can’t wait to see what comes of this system, and you’ll bet I’ll probably own one at some point. The price point is set at around $99.00 at the moment, and that’s a wonderful price for the plethora of games they wish to display near launch time. There seem to be tons of major developers in support of the project, and so I can only say I’m one of the indies waiting to get my hands dirty with this new IP.

Developer Profiles? Well that just makes it all the more impressive!

Here’s to you Ouya! You’re shaking up the status-quo and I hope that it brings game development to new levels! You’ve already raised up past $5 MILLION dollars with 3 WEEKS to go – so RUN with these funds and MAKE it happen! THIS DEVELOPER would love to see it in his living room – that’s for certain. If you believe that the Ouya is the future of in-home gaming – feel free to stop by their Kickstarter and dump a little love to their console dreams!

Sincerely,

Chad K. aka Gastrogamer

Game of the Week: Run

I’ve been catching a lot of interest in interactive narrative games lately, and so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a wonderful example of interactive fiction recommended to me by Nick Yonge of Krang Games. The game is called Run by developer Christopher Whitman. I was intrigued by the concept and so, of course, I had to at least take a look – and what I found was a marvelous little indie experience. Whitman manages to grasp players with his words and the nostalgic look of the gameplay sequences will not only give older gamers a sense of memorabilia, but will give new gamers a chance to see how simple gameplay can make something fantastic.

Run is a story about a village that becomes purged into the pit of darkness but, as an intrepid settler, you dream about a day with sunshine. The narrative carries you through the inner thoughts and developments of this settler. It’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve played through in months. Your goal as a player is to platform through the narrative, and then play the mini-game sections of the dream to acquire sunlight for the rest of the village.

The more sunlight you can obtain, the more time your village gets to harvest crops and prosper. The sunlight becomes your timer, so strategy in how you divide your time is vitally important. Whitman challenges gamers with deceptive retro games that will truly test players on every set. Each mini game is divided up into 2 – 3 mini games – so strategy is definitely a must when attempting to collect sunlight properly. If you fail, you can move on, but note that it will drastically limit your sunlight field for feeding and harvesting food later.

I fell in love with this game from the moment I finished the first level. Though it’ll take me a while to get the strategy of how to be successful in the game down, Run has quite a lot of accessibility attached to it. Here’s how it breaks down if you’re at all curious:

Pros:

  • Run has simple platforming and movement controls via keyboard
  • WASD & Arrow Keys utilized for both left and right hand gamer access.
  • No audio cues required, so the game is perfect for deaf gamers.
  • The movement functions are easy making Run accessible for mobility impaired.
  • Precision isn’t a priority as the game has a relatively relaxed pace to it.
  • If you fail sections you have opportunities to replay sections to try again.
  • Gameplay is easy to understand and words are easy/large enough to read.

Cons:

  • Color scheme may be a bit off-putting in some areas for colorblind gamers.
  • Some segments, during the sunshine segments, can be difficult to read.
  • Strategy is key for this game, otherwise, it can make the mini games difficult.

Run is a highly accessible game with tons of retro feel. Any game or literature enthusiast will definitely enjoy this game. You can check out Run now on Whitman’s personal site and though it says it’s a demo it’s actually the full game. You can also purchase a downloadable copy for $3.99 if you want to play it elsewhere. It’s a vast, unique experience that is worth your time and a read. Whitman’s Run inspires me so much, and I hope that more and more of these interactive experiences will come to fruition in the future. Here’s to you Chris! Thanks for inspiring and providing a brilliant story and an road map for others on how to provide educational interactive fiction for all sorts of audiences!

Run

E3 Impressions: The Unfinished Swan

Imagine this:

You’re a young boy tossed into a world that’s devoid of color. You’ve found yourself chasing after this white swan in this white devoid environment. You find yourself having to navigate your way and feel your way around by creating silhouettes via splashing black paint on the blank canvas environments. You’re thrown into a kingdom you don’t know anything about, with puzzles and a journey ahead of you that you can’t possibly predict.

If just on this premise alone you’ve become intrigued by this concept, then you’re probably going to be a huge fan of Giant Sparrow’s IP:

The Unfinished Swan.

I would love to finish this storybook!

Developed originally by Creative Director, Ian Dallas, the game started off as merely a grad student experiment. Four years later Giant Sparrow has come together via Sony Santa Monica to produce this marvelous, ethereal looking journey for gamers. I can’t even express how excited I am for this game, but what you should know is that it is a PSN Exclusive at this time. The game will also be compatible for Playstation Move and basic Dual-shock controller functionality. Now why is this game so amazing to me? Well I’ve thought about it for a while and I think I’ve come up with a solution.

The Unfinished Swan is a tale all it’s own, and it gives gamers a brand new experience I’ve never witnessed in games. I’ve seen other games before that have experimented with paint physics [ Epic Mickey comes to mind ] but never have I seen such a lush and innovative take on the genre. The first person perspective gives players a sensation that I don’t think any game in recent years has given to players. There’s a sense of adventure, mystery, and intrigue for players as they blindly have to feel and craft their way around the vast blank canvas. I truly believe that this game will not only captivate people with it’s simple narrative, but also the gameplay seems extremely accessible.

Sure a game where you play as a boy splashing paint around trying to apprehend a swan doesn’t sound like much at first glance, but when you factor in the puzzle mechanics and story driven gameplay you truly see something far greater. Dallas and his team have managed to take a monochromatic color scheme and make it into something fantastic. I loved watching as the paint splatters coated each new object, and how it felt to discover if an object moved, or if a door would open. The Unfinished Swan has so much potential for greatness, that it’s definitely one I’m going to put on my Must Play for 2012.

This is gorgeous. Simple, but one of the most gorgeous ascetics I’ve seen!

Here’s what I’m seeing so far:

  • The Unfinished Swan seems to have very little dialog, and when it does there’s text associated with it.
  • The monochromatic/soft color scheme seems perfectly suited to fit any gamer.
  • Colored markers have been placed throughout to provide gamers with long term goals.
  • Control mechanics seem simplistic and easy to use [ would love to try this first hand. ]
  • There seem to be multiple chapters within the game, some with color and some devoid.
  • Dallas mentioned something about enemies within the game. I would love to see some form of combat or puzzle solving involving enemies.
  • There also seems to be environmental puzzles which seem to make a player feel like a part of the creation of the world as they navigate through it. I think this is a fantastic idea.
  • Audio cues seem to pop up when a player completely coats a silhouette. Could this actually allow blind players to play the game? A thought perhaps.

Overall The Unfinished Swan seems to be a vast transition and stray from the norm of the market right now. It’s for this reason alone that it’s grasped me so veraciously. Giant Sparrow seems to be onto something that may very well change the way I look at Move technology entirely. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full experience some time soon, and you can bet when I do I’ll let you all know how my quest for The Unfinished Swan goes!

Till then, I’ll just have to keep exploring visible kingdoms I suppose…

E3 Impressions: ZombiU

Well, if you haven’t noticed I’ve kind of taken a break from the blog. It’s summer, and thus, life happens. Life also ends, and sometimes horribly – like in the case of zombie attacks. There was one game this year at E3 that, while I’m not so sold on it yet, definitely intrigued me with the new hardware and interactivity. Ubisoft and Nintendo have teamed up to bring a zombie survival game that tests the boundaries of interactivity and brings a whole new perspective to the experience. The game will infect you and keep you on your toes as you try your best to survive in the upcoming: ZombiU.

The London Olympics – just prep for this?!

I’ve looked over countless interviews, stories, and information trying to compile something wonderful for you all. Consider it your survival inventory as you get ready to tackle the newest adventure from Ubisoft. I’ve looked over previews and interviews and here’s what I’ve learned so far about ZombiU, and what I think about it’s accessibility so far:

  • ZombiU seems to be a survival-horror game set in London in late 2012. I have to admit that I like the new environment vibe for this game.
  • ZombiU seems to require the use of both hands to do many of the actions required for the game. A difficulty for motion-impaired gamers.
  • ZombiU seems to have everything you’ll need to use incorporated within the Wii U controller: inventory, body scanners, etc.
  • The one touch controls of these functions definitely gives the game a plus in this regard. It seems easy, and provides accessible movements.
  • The touch screen seems like it may cause some struggles with colorblind gamers. The scanner is very bright with monotone blue tones.
  • There are moments within the game that the scanner gets disrupted. This will be extremely frustrating for deaf gamers due to loss of radar.
  • Gamers with heart conditions or other medical conditions that may be triggered by unexpected moments of fear may want to avoid this game.
  • The game is very dark and unpredicatable, which may make the game difficult for visually impaired gamers.

The game starts you off playing as a random citizen thrust headlong into surviving in this apocalyptic London environment. You’ll have to keep on your toes, keep your inventory up to date, and prepare for anything! The most innovative function I find that ZombiU carries is that Ubisoft incorporated a twist to gameplay I haven’t seen in past zombie games. If you die within the game there are NO save points. This means that the game is meant to be played through seamlessly, as though you are truly a survivor of the apocalypse. If you die, don’t worry though, you’ll be brought back as a brand new survivor. You WILL lose any inventory or upgrades you earned as your first survivor, but hold on – there’s a catch.
Don’t think that all is lost – [ even if that zombie is eating your brains like a bowl of oatmeal… ]

God Save The Queen – and EVERYONE ELSE!

You may come back as a new survivor, but if you FIND your old survivor body and kill the now-zombified former you, you’ll acquire ALL of the inventory, upgrades, etc. that the former survivor had. The bonus here is that things like doors, or impassable areas you may not have been able to access as a new survivor will already be opened and accessible. This means that each new playthrough will be different and more dynamic than the next. Ubisoft designed the game with surprise of the survival horror genre in mind. These aspects of the game may make the game more difficult for some gamers, but I’m actually excited for this title because of the unexpected design of it.
I want to feel frightened as I play through the London expanse. I want to feel like, no matter what, the gameplay won’t provide a linear similar experience each time. I want to feel that sense of tension around every corner, even if I’ve been around that corner before. I feel like, while the Wii U controller may be cumbersome and challenging, it’s going to aid in providing a brand new sort of survival experience that no one’s ever had before. I may have my concerns in terms of accessibility, but overall this game looks as though it’ll be one of the more adult successes for the Nintendo franchise. I can’t wait to get my hands on this for real and test out my survival skills – but this is shaping up to be a scary good time!
ZombiU is set to release right around the holiday release time of Wii U. So here’s to all of the disembodied fun and hoping we survive our royal induction into the infected world of ZombiU coming late 2012! Thanks Nintendo for giving me a reason to fear your console with an M rated passion!

Tech Talk: Customizable Game Controls

I know I talk about this a lot, but I love when I find that companies are focusing their efforts in developing customizable controls/controllers. Giving folks the option to customize their hand layouts/button inputs and other aspects are what so many console players have been asking for and what so many PC gamers have been accustomed to for quite some time.

I’ve discussed a couple of customizable controllers in the past: Adroit Switchblade, custom controllers via Evil Controllers, etc.; well now I’ve found another wonderful company searching to make customizable controllers. I have a slight sadness that, for some reason, customizing controllers are mostly for 360 at the moment, but there are some for PS3. This week I’m presenting to you guys a new company to come out and bring forth a new game controller for customizing controls: The HJC Design FPS Game Controller!

The HJC FPS controller is a fully customizable controller that’s available for XBox and PC and, while it may not be the best for all players [ I personally still feel the Switchblade is about the most accessible custom game controller I’ve found ] it’s still fantastic to see more companies caring about the accessibility of games. This game was designed for FPS comfort and simplicity, but does that mean it can’t make other games simple for players?

I’m not sure, because I haven’t had hands-on experience with it – but it’s got a large amount  of customization options available, a ergonomic design, and it just looks amazing [ so jealous – please bring out a PS3 version! ] You can find out more about this lovely controller at their website:

HJC Design – XBox/PC FPS Controller

– and for those of you who haven’t seen the Adroit Switchblade that I keep harping on I recommend you take a look at this video:

Currently I don’t have a lot of price points for some of these prototype control schemes, but if they ever drop via a retail market I’ll keep my ears and eyes open for when they’re here and available. Enjoy folks and happy gaming! I’m so pleased to see more and more people/companies working towards providing further accessibility to video games. Everyone who’s been following me and everyone who’s been sharing my opinions/reviews –  thank you.

Thank you so much. It means the world to me to spread the love and admiration I have for accessible and meaningful gameplay and games as an industry!

Game of the Week: Awesomenauts

How to premise this next game in as few words as possible, while still delivering what it’s all about?

Well how about this – take the over-the-top quirkiness of classic late-80’s and 90’s cartoons, toss in some violence, some online gameplay and throw it all together into one of the most odd, unique, and action-packed tower defense games I’ve ever laid eyes on – and you’d roll yourself a spacecraft full of Awesomenauts designed by Ronimo Games. [ – even the name sounds like it was pulled from an ’80’s cartoon! ]

The game is played online with others [so it’s unfortunate for those lacking constant internet access] and you get [ currently 6 ] characters to choose from as your character. Essentially the premise is that with every level you have an array of turrets assigned to your team [ usually 3 + ] They are color coded Red or Blue accordingly. Your goal, if you choose to accept it: Destroy all of your opposing teams turrets and power base before they destroy yours – while simultaneously defending your own base from opposing online players, grabbing upgrades for yourself, etc. Sound ‘Awesome’ enough yet to give this game a look?

I pity the fool who messes with the Awesomenauts!

The game is a 2D side-scroller and it’s so action packed and fast-paced that I swear it becomes addictive after the first few matches. Mix all of this with interesting and quirky characters, a dynamite soundtrack, and memorable one-liner quips as you thwart off enemies and you’re in for a blast with Awesomenauts. Picture the A Team – but in space.

Well, now that I’ve gushed over the gameplay enough let’s talk about the accessibility of the game hmm?

Pros:

  • All cutscenes between matches have subtitled dialogue, perfect for deaf players.
  • Controls require a lot of buttons, but they are simple to navigate – so that’s a plus.
  • Fast-paced action and gameplay makes for an intriguing memorable experience.
  • Mini-map in corner to visually show off where turrets are being attacked.
  • Simple, well defined upgrade system for characters during gameplay.
  • Large print text during gameplay perfect for vision-impaired gamers.
  • Game is available in multiple languages:
    •  English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch 
  • 3 player local co-op vs. online opponents makes game much more fun.

We’re like the Three Musketeers, or the Three Amigos – of AWESOME!

Cons:

  • Game requires use of two-hands. One-handed gameplay possible, but much harder.
  • Game requires precision and quick reflexes. The fast-paced gameplay lends to speed.
  • Color scheme may be very harsh for colorblind gamers at some points in the game.
  • No customizable settings on control scheme. It’s a set scheme, no option for change.
  • Game requires an internet connection to play – you can play offline practice via bots – but the fun is truly in online opponents.
  • Flashy animations may be harsh on epileptic patients.

Live to WIN! Take it ALL! Keep on FIGHTING TILL YOU FALL!

Overall the game was an addictive experience from the first turret kill. I’ve only had the privilege of playing as Leon or Lonestar, but the other characters seem to be really unique and interesting as well, and it seems as though Ronimo Games is going to be making more available soon… more Awesome? Yes please!

So thank you Ronimo Games – you’ve provided me with yet another tower-defense game that will probably consume a vast majority of my time again! Awesome game deserves some awesome praise! Congrats guys on a great game and I hope to see more from this studio. Please consider a possible patch to add customizable control schemes to the board – overall that’s the one thing that I felt hindered this game the most for me.

So go forth my minions! – be Awesome, and you too can save the galaxy from your friends in Awesomenauts which is available for XBox 360 and PS3 via the XBLA or PSN for 800 Microsoft points – which I believe equates to like $8 via PSN.

Now GO! FIGHT! WIN!