No Man’s Sky: Far from Hyperdrive

There, before the grace of man, go the infinitesimal cosmos that stretch out before us. We yearn to step out into the great beyond, and as the cockpit opens up with a hiss from the airlock, we step out into the great unknown. This was the anticipated mood that No Man’s Sky built up. In the past few years I’ve been eagerly anticipating this game, like a kid waiting with his parents to watch the first moon landing. I was on the edge of my seat, and now that I finally have it – it’s far from the hyperdrive I was expecting.

NoMansSky_1

Hello Games promised a massive undertaking of a open world system that was seemingly endless. In every trailer I ever saw the set pieces were sprawling and beautiful, lush with foliage and fauna that would make any biology lab blush. They achieved a technological feat that has not been seen in games before, an algorithm to procedurally generate planets. Now, while that may sound amazing, it’s the implementation that matters. All the hyperdrives in the world don’t get you anywhere if you can’t deliver that sense of scale you promise.

Hello Games manages to deliver that sense of scale, but in doing so they faltered in delivering the other aspects of gameplay. The games control system is very limiting, and so players who may have mobility issues can’t adjust the control scheme to fit their needs. Each task is assigned to a specific button, which makes it difficult to achieve certain tasks. There is no tutorial in this game either, which essentially throws the player out into the wilderness and expects them to survive. Now, for able bodied players this may take some time to learn, but it’s still achievable to meander around aimlessly, learn a few buttons and play the game. The thrill of experiencing that first few hours of the game is at least worth something.

No Man’s Sky would certainly benefit from some sort of guided tutorial, especially when it comes to crafting and inventory systems. The game provides you with objectives, but doesn’t really give you any means of understanding how to accomplish them. It’s like throwing an astronaut out into the vastness of space without a spacesuit. The lack of explanation to some of the gameplay mechanics, especially crafting and advancing weaponry and upgrades, is a real downfall for the game as a whole. Players aren’t one to ask for you to hold their hand, but at least having a furthered tutorial would give players a better sense of how the world functions.

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In regards to functioning, let us break down the main core gameplay of No Man’s Sky. In the hours I spent playing the game, I found that there was a distinct pattern to every quest line which, within a few planets, became monotonous. You gather materials, you craft new supplies, you travel to a new planet, you repeat the process. It seems like fun, in theory, but the end result becomes this massive quest of scavenger hunt that has no real payoff. In addition to this, the game was riddled with functionality bugs which made what gameplay there was, difficult to cleanly experience. Crashes, crafting menu issues, freezes, and in a game that has no autosave functionality – that’s heartbreaking.

I enjoyed what time I did manage to spend in the world, but once I felt I had experienced all that No Man’s Sky had to offer me, I felt lost. What do you do when a game offers you no real end goal? A countless, endless sandbox with almost Pokemon Snap picture archiving of new world items, with only the reward of monetary units to draw merit? No Man’s Sky does have an end goal – to arrive at the center of the universe, but it’s so vaguely depicted that I just felt like I was running my own game. The visuals weren’t enough to keep me entertained, and what I did manage to see was not user friendly.

The color schemes are vastly jarring and often similar from planet to planet. I’m not colorblind, but I have friends who are, and this color pallet is composed of a lot of reds and greens. It doesn’t help that the actual HUD that is present is fairly small and fairly transparent, making vision impaired users lives much harder. FOV sliders apparently were provided in the coding for the PC version, but with the PS4 version had no such functionality. It would be more optimized for users if players could have change the color of the HUD to make it more visible from a distance.

There was fun hidden in this gem amongst the stars, but the spaceship wasn’t entirely accessible. I had fun when I didn’t do what the game directed me to do, when I went off into the vast frontiers and just explored. I got caught up in dogfights with space pirates, and got to see vast galaxies. In truth, while they may have been similar, I did have fun during moments. The soundtrack is phenomenal and there are hours and hours of visuals to explore. It’s hard to have fun though, when you’re so bogged down by programming issues, crafting requirements, and a combat system that seems like it favors the AI over the user. A universe that seems endless, yet contains only a handful of similar alien NPC’s for me to briefly interact with.

Wrap Up:

No Man’s Sky feels like a game that got released while it was still being built. They launched it without the full mission in mind, and thus, the passengers began to dial S.O.S. back to Huston and request a do-over. I know the struggles of being a designer and wanting to provide a polished, finished product on a time table, and so I want to commend Hello Games for what they did with No Man’s Sky. They accomplished a beautiful set of tools that they can be proud of. They delivered a set piece that would make most movie studios drool. The next step is to allow a gameplay system that functions with accessibility in mind.

The team is already hard at work cleaning up patches to fix the glitches, but they also need to be aware of everyone in their audience. A few settings changes are desperately needed: An Accessibility menu, a colorblind filter that crafts colors to fit vision concerns, and an optimized lock-on system for enemies that isn’t linked to an upgrade that’s hours invested into the game.

I desperately want to love No Man’s Sky, because I feel like it’s the game I’ve always wanted as a child. I can’t though because, in the words of Robin Williams, No Man’s Sky has given me:

“Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty-bitty living space!”

All the tools in the world can’t magically craft gameplay to be a fun experience. I hope they get all of these aspects sorted out and No Man’s Sky becomes fantastic in the coming months, but for now, I think I’ll just stay grounded until those tools are more refined.

Game of the Week: Halloween Edition

Well the pumpkins are carved, the little ghouls have been fed, and the costume stores are closing up shop and selling costumes for a DOLLAR! [ Thanks Wal-Mart! 🙂 ] – and thus marks the end of Halloween. It was good while it lasted, but now November’s here and I’ve got to look forward towards a mouth full of turkey and a wallet that will soon be emptied by holiday shopping.

         Games don’t care about holidays though. They’re like superheroes. They work 24/7.

This is why this week I’m devoting an entire Game of the Week to Halloween!

Here are two games that will certainly have you addicted to bumps in the night!

1. Monster Park – Kiwi

Now folks who follow this blog probably know my taste in games by now. I’m pretty much opposed to any game that has me farming/collecting anything besides Pokemon. It is my deepest regret [ and overwhelming joy ] to tell you all that I was introduced to Monster Park by Kiwi. Things have never been the same since. Now, what is Monster Park?

Here’s a brief overview for your viewing pleasure:

It’s designed for mobile devices and I have to say it’s a joyful, easy, light-hearted experience. The game breaks down your Monster Park into tasks which are fairly simple to accomplish. The game mechanics are simple with one touch interface via touch screens. This game is so unassumingly addictive because of how easy it is to get started, but once you’re a few monsters in – it’s hard to stop. The biggest downside to this game is wait time, but that’s a bonus with mobile titles. You may have to wait 24 – 48 hrs for a project to finish, but – hey, at least you can play any time.

I’m a Monster! Rawr!

Pros:

  • Art is comical, enjoyable, and child friendly for all ages to enjoy.
  • Color scheme seems to be colorblind friendly, though some monsters are harder to distinguish, due to pallets and housing backgrounds.
  • Simple touch screen mechanics make the game limited mobility friendly.
  • Special mythical creatures, and holiday events add specialized achievements
  • Audio isn’t important, or required, to play this game. Plus for deaf players.

Cons:

  • Wait times can be horrendous for certain tasks [ Game Room/Some Hatching
  • Music track can tend to get repetitive after a time, if playing continuously.
  • Breeding based on randomized algorithm. No guarantees that you’ll breed X over Y. [ i.e.: Expect to be disappointed sometimes if you don’t get what you’re after.]
  • Purchasing Mythic creatures seems to be too expensive for players to achieve

Monster Park uses a Free-to-Play method of game design – so, if you’re into collection games, and want something fun to do this fall besides eat the rest of your kids Halloween stash pick this game up! It’s available on all Android mobile devices! You’ll be dying to play it more and more as you gain levels!

2. They Took Our Candy – Level 1 Wizards

I love the retro gaming era. I know I wasn’t born till the later of it, but I can’t help but find myself falling in love with pixel art and any game associated with it. That’s why when I saw this game,  I just knew I had to write about it. They Took Our Candy by Level 1 Wizards is a heartwarming, nostalgic montage to the days of our youth.

Zombies take our brains… but Aliens want our SUGAR!

 

Oh, and did I mention that you play as a group of trick-or-treaters bent on saving the universe from alien invaders who want to take your candy? It must have slipped my mind! If you like this concept though, then you’ll love They Took Our Candy this Halloween season! Grab up your goodie bags and set your fazers to KILL – in this retro-modern alien blaster!

For Reese! For Hershey’s! FOR SUGAR HIGHS EVERYWHERE!

Here’s a brief look at the game and it’s content:

Pros:

  • Game is set to auto-fire. Excellent for limited mobility gamers
  • Game increases slowly in difficulty and allows time for upgrades
  • Games color scheme is vibrant and varied enough for colorblind.
  • Game doesn’t require audio to play. Visual cues easy for deaf to use.
  • Game adds additional challenges via Survival Mode

Cons:

  • Game doesn’t have an WASD function. Left-handed gamers will have trouble.
  • Game enemies can become increasingly overwhelming in certain levels.
  • Game only allows access to new characters/new strategies after certain XP is hit.
  • Games soundtrack, while awesome, can become repetitive after a few sessions.

Overall the game focuses on being quite an accessible game, and makes for a joyous Halloween treat this year. You can stop in and play this wonderful creation over at Kongregate.com today. I would love to see a mobile version of this produced, because I think nothing would be better than blasting aliens for candy while I’m filling up with my morning coffee.

Thanks Level 1 Wizards for an exceptional Halloween treat that everyone can enjoy!

So there you have it folks! Now pig out on candy, while it’s still around. Grab your mobile or computer devices and enjoy these little indie chunks of heaven. Share them with your friends and make the sugar high monstrous addiction come to LIFE! Muhahaha – I mean…

Happy Halloween and enjoy your Fall season!

Gastrogamer – Insert Coin to Replay

I’m… BACK!

[ Insert Coin NOW! ]

Gastrogamer took a bit of a fall hibernation due to increased schoolwork, but Full Sail has been good to me lately and I’ve quite enjoyed the course work over the last few months. Now, with Fall in my sights, and a slew of holiday gaming sales on the rise – I’m sort of amped up on an endorphin high with the excitement of getting my hands on some of the newest games hitting the market.

I’ve got everything from web-based indie games, to AAA blockbusters to cover, but I plan on doing it in a timely fashion. Here’s what I’ve got on my schedule in the next coming month:

  • Indie Game Coverage Galore
  • Assassin’s Creed III Review
  • Amazing Spiderman Review
  • Holiday Gaming List
  • More Inspirational Gamers
  • Wreck It Ralph! Review
  • A Tabletop Discussion: DnD and Pathfinder
  • Personal Game Development News

So, stick with me folks, and I assure you I’ll continue to provide you with continuous game info, accessibility, and discussion as we head towards the holiday seasons!

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…