The Way Open-World Games Can Kill The Gaming Experience


Once upon a time, in the near past, gamers cried out against the flood of linear, set-piece heavy games. It wasn’t worth the money to play a game that lasted 7 hours, involved limited choices and a crippling amount of hand holding.

Sandbox gaming brought with it a much-needed reprieve from the boredom of most AAA action games. Players could go anywhere on the map rather than being ushered through narrow corridors, we could ride horses or drive cars, there was a renewed sense of exploration in gaming. NPCs entered the frame and memorable quotes and animations not to mention glitches became the fuel for countless memes. Sandbox gaming rose to become the dominant force in gaming.

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But with all this freedom and choice there is one area that inevitably suffers, the narrative. When developers seek to give us a wealth of experiences they seem to either offer us clichéd stories or stories so vast in their complexity that they are hard to follow and ultimately fall flat. In comparison when developers like Tell-Tale choose to focus our attention on the story but offer a simplified gameplay experience, we find ourselves drawn into these worlds and are unable to tear our eyes away from our screens.

Now I understand that there are many gamers who love the countless fetch quests, hunts, escort excursions and good old start a fight with that guy missions, but I find that many of these side quest detract from the main story and only offer minimal opportunities for advancement and add little to my enjoyment of the game.

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Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a game where all too often side quests and the illusion of a dynamic world detracted so much from my experience that I found everything hard to follow and ultimately uninteresting. I love the chance to jump and run my way through beautifully recreated historic sites and I love random events unfolding in front of me that I can either watch or get involved in. However, following the story in dribs and drabs if I happened to try a detective mission, or do a co-op mission, or jump through to another time period which at best is a disjointed experience and at worst is a confusing jumble of good guys who are bad guys and bad guys who are good guys and a bunch of characters and factions I couldn’t give a fig about.

The Order 1886

Many of us don’t want the interactive movie style of Call of Duty or the clumsy on rails feel of The Order, we want a bit more freedom. But if open-world freedom is constantly presenting a massive list of distractions then inevitably the story is going to suffer.

In my opinion well-structured and interesting narrative should be a major focus in games. We are so impressed by the technology that offer dynamic worlds but all too often these nuances act as nothing more than padding and add nothing to the narrative.

So what is the true gaming utopia we seek?

Balance isn’t easy in games. If you have narrative that is too self-indulgent or convoluted you could end up alienating potential players, the Metal Gear series risks this with their flair for the dramatic. However, the Metal Gear series has got the right idea generally – make story and characters highly important, full of twists and turns and character development, coupled with gameplay that complements the story. Just don’t overdo it with cut scenes.

Game environments are also something to get right. Sound and setting are very important but many open-world games cut and paste locations to accommodate the vast amount of side missions, NPCs and miscellaneous happenings.

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What’s more, they stick to one location with a minor sub-location to make it look different. In Assassin’s Creed: Rogue we had snow, water, forest, towns, forts, but these were repeated throughout the world ad nauseum. One of the best parts in my experience was the adrenaline-pumping run through Lisbon during an earthquake. Guess what? It was linear and the only place away from the wilds of North America, which we largely explored previously in Assassin’s Creed III.

City-focused games like InFamous are the same. Once you’ve explored the Space Needle, had fun catching the monorail, and found the few other buildings that look a bit different, Seattle loses its appeal to explore. Then it depends completely on the gameplay experience and story, because you are stuck in that place. The solution is to have less focus on building a massive cityscape with millions of side-options and gimmicks, and instead focus on a tight narrative that grabs you and carries you along slowly, but with more freedom and choice than a film, through a number of beautifully created environments.

Wolfenstein The New Order

Impossible? I don’t think so. It’s about balance. Assassin’s Creed II had a good degree of that balance and diversity despite being open world. Metal Gear Solid 4 felt more open than it was, despite the great variety of stunning settings and largely linear approach, an illusion that allowed differences of gameplay style (stealth or run and gun) encased in a continually progressing story flow. Wolfenstein: The New Order brought both self-aware kitsch and sentimental depth to the shooter story, and if it had a bit more open environment would have had that balance.

Bigger is not necessarily better here. Allow me to point out the painfully obvious – most of us have to work, study, take care of kids or do other things besides sit down and play games. In this ‘time poor’ life, most of us enjoy games in bits and pieces when we can find the time.

This means the story should be strong and easy to follow, even after weeks spent away, with interesting multi-faceted characters. It should be easy to jump back into, gameplay-wise, without having to strain our memories. Ultimately it’s how engaging the experience is that determines if we come back and finish the game or move on, disappointed.

Close Order Interview: From Games Media to Indie Studio


ED Note: David had the great opportunity to interview Nicholas Laborde from Raconteur Games which is an independent video game studio that is currently working on their first title, Close Order, which is tentatively set for a 2015 release. You can read all the different questions that were asked which gives more insight to Raconteur Games and also Close Order. Let’s have a look at this interesting interview:

David: Nick, firstly let me say that it is fantastic that I finally get to say that I genuinely have a friend who is the Head of a Studio! Oh, yes, and it’s cool your studio Raconteur Games has got a game to Alpha stage and hopefully get greenlit on Steam… But hey, the important thing is I can say I know a Head of Studio! That’s great isn’t it?

Nicholas: It’s certainly exciting! I also get paid a commission each time you say Head of Studio, including that one, so keep the excitement coming!

David: Next, you and I worked diligently at OXCGN.com before we handed the reigns over to the very capable Arthur. In fact, I think I recruited you. But less about me… What did you learn about the gaming industry working with a video gaming website like OXCGN that helped prepare you for getting an indie studio up and running and your first game made?

Nicholas: When I joined OXCGN, I had to make several treks through the Australian wilderness. There were good times, there were bad times, and I was also made aware of the wonderful slang term “tinnie.” You also shouted “SEE YE IN TH’ARVO” at me several times. It was a trial by fire, and I’m impressed that I survived.

On a serious note, writing for OXCGN helped me learn about the industry, make some essential contacts, and learn how the press side of things works. The most important thing I learned is how the press tend to prioritize news and reviews, which was essential in coming up with the marketing plan for Close Order. I also channeled my experiences on that side of the industry to make our emails and press releases as easy as possible for the press to digest and be interested in. It was an extremely valuable experience!

Nicholas Laborde Headshot

David: Raconteur Games is from the French, meaning to tell a story or storyteller (see how cultured I am?). Why did you choose that particular name when you clearly are from the melting pot society – the USA, which only speaks ‘American’? (For those of you thinking I’m being mean, you have no idea of the number of kangaroo jokes I’ve endured over the years!)

Nicholas: We chose Raconteur because of the place where the company really came together – Lafayette, Louisiana! It’s a nice tie to our Louisiana roots, and felt very fitting given our focus on wanting to tell stories. Lafayette is a wonderful city with tons of culture (predominantly French), and Raconteur seemed to be the name that encapsulated both where we’re from and where we’re going.

David: Raconteur Games telling stories seems to be your approach to gaming. Why do you believe storytelling is so important in games, and what games do you think got that part of their video game right?

Nicholas: Video games are the ultimate medium. It’s the only truly active storytelling medium, and that results in a unique experience. Simply put: You’re in control. It’s not the author’s story, it’s YOUR story. At Raconteur, we wish to harness the power of what this medium can convey and capitalize on that. I’m a huge fan of the Metro series because of the way they convey both powerful emotion and subtle nuances.

David: One more question about your studio: it’s an indie studio made up of how many people? What is your major role there?

Nicholas: There are seven people, counting myself, spread out all across America. We have three programmers, two artists, a composer/sound designer, and then myself. A good friend of mine named Zachary has come up with this idea of the “Entrepreneurial Triangle.” It’s a triangle with three points, and I’ll illustrate with my world-renowned Paint skills. You have three points: Deal Maker, Technician, and Administration, with CEO in the middle.

The purpose of the triangle is to point out the essential parts of an entrepreneurial operation. Deal Makers are your people with business acumen who bring the vision to life through their connections, their training, their education, and more. Technicians are the actual people who bring the Deal Maker’s vision to life, and are highly skilled. (Note that they don’t have to be in a “tech” field – this is anyone who is highly skilled like a lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc.). Finally, administration is everything in-between that makes it come to life (office managers, anything to do with paperwork or operations, etc.).

I’m a Deal Maker – I can’t actually do the technical work on the game, so I hire the right people who can and get them everything they need to be successful. I’m responsible for all aspects of production: ensuring deadlines are met, solving production problems and/or bottlenecks as they arise, keeping communication clear and flowing, and overall driving the creative direction of the project(s). Also, I am the de facto “business guy” and thus manage hiring, finances, budgeting, marketing, strategic planning, and maintaining business relationships (attorneys, CPAs, etc.).

David: Let’s talk about Close Order. It looks like a space shootem’up game but there is more depth than that there; explain for those who don’t know. How is the game more than just a space shooter?

Nicholas: Close Order is an arcade shooter with one simple goal: become a badass armada! It’s so much more than just that, though. It’s a mix of shooter, strategy, bullet hell, shoot-em-up, and classic arcade. It’s modern Galaga on steroids. It plays like a shooter, but allows you to strategize and change your approach, while maintaining a fast bullet hell & shoot-em-up pace, and feels like it’s an arcade game you played many years ago – but better!

David: And there is storytelling there?

Nicholas: Absolutely! We have a dedicated story mode, which is set in an alternate space-faring reality where humanity had to flee Earth in the 1980’s. The player is among the first generation of humans born post-Earth, and leaves everything they know in order to find out what happened to the remnants of humanity.

Apart from our story mode, though, behind every armada is a story. Every single time we hear from someone who’s played the game, without a doubt they give us a recap of the minion combination they used and how they felt about it. No two people play the game the same way, meaning it’s a web of stories: We tell ours, and you weave your own.

David: How did Close Order come about? How did you decide that all these elements would make an original fun game?

Nicholas: It originally started out as a prototype brought forward by a programmer on our team. We were working on a really ambitious project that we had to table due to resource constraints, and we were looking for something new. I booted up his project, and man, it was basic… but even as I looked at it in all of its two color, blocky glory, I could see its potential. Within days that was our project! It evolved over time into what it is now, but we kept to that original idea of bullet hell goodness. That original prototype had three key ideas that are still in the game today: 1) it’s a bullet hell game, 2) it revolves around things around you called minions, and 3) you can adjust how the minions are arranged.

CO Greenlight #1 -- Shoot 'em up!

David: You are currently trying to get green-lit on Steam. What are the challenges your studio faced to get the game to this stage, why are you doing it this way, and what further challenges do you think you’ll face if you are greenlit?

Nicholas: It took us a while to get to this point because we were really trying to figure out how to evolve the game creatively. The major design challenge we’ve faced is keeping things moving quickly – after all, it’s a bullet hell game AND a shooter, but also has strategy elements! The fact that we allow you not only to buy ships around you, but to be able to move them around however you please? It’s easy to sink time into that. We have to be very cautious when making decisions, because anything that would slow down the game any more than we already ask from the player is out of the question.

From the beginning, we wanted to make something different that really and truly made you think, “Whoa!” It’s been a challenge, for sure. The formation editor has posed a lot of problems since it’s the core of the game, but I think we’ve finally gotten it right. That, as well as the other elements of the game, have really stayed the same in concept since the prototype – evolving them was the challenge, as I mentioned earlier. We had a stint where we thought about giving the minions AI, but it didn’t really work very well! We’ve thrown thousands of ideas to see what stuck, and what you can see today is what did.

The biggest challenge we’ll face is definitely finishing the game. If we can keep up our current pace and momentum, we’d love to do Early Access. It provides such a great opportunity for feedback and community interaction, and it just clicks with how we make our games. All of our team members work part-time from completely different parts of the country, so there’s a finite ceiling to our pace.

David: People are able to play a free demo of the game on your site. Are you happy that the demo gives enough of an impression of the final product?

Nicholas: Absolutely! It’s a perfect snapshot of what the game is, where it currently is, and how it’ll improve. We showcase some of our minions and gameplay, we allow players to buy them and customize their armadas as they please, we give them some great music… and then laugh maniacally as they try to not get sucked into a black hole! It’s entirely the essence of what Close Order is.

David: Close Order has already got the attention of a couple of prominent people in the industry like Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software and Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox. It must be satisfying to know that the indie gaming scene is important enough to attract even the more mainstream game makers.

Nicholas: It’s been an incredibly humbling experience to see the reception we’ve gotten, both within the industry and here at home. To have industry leaders talk about us like that was incredibly profound! Seeing places in Lafayette come together to promote us has been great, too, with my university even sharing our page. It’s been a very surreal experience and everyone at Raconteur is pleased by the response.

David: You’ve been featured in magazines as an up and coming business person. What business model do you think indie studios have to employ to hopefully be successful?

Nicholas: Business model as a term is a bit vague, and as with everything in life there’s no right answer – but there are definitely ones that can be improved! I think there’s a lack of business-driven indie companies. We see tons of brilliant people making something that may never end up being finished, or immediately pulling back when the audience first sees it because it was never given a market test. It’s a dream of mine to be successful enough to help out indie companies with those things the future – right now reddit posts will have to suffice!

David: Finally, if you had some advice for those wanting to start their own studio and make a game, what would it be?

Nicholas: Be prepared to work hard, to fail, and to learn more than you ever imagined. With your journey, that failure will bring you to success. It’s exhausting, but it’s extremely gratifying. Don’t talk about tomorrow – talk about TODAY!

Thanks for that Nick, and, for the last time, no, we don’t ride kangaroos to work. The kids ride them to school.

E3 2015: The Games We Don’t Want To See At E3 2016


I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little tired of E3 conferences. Maybe its the dubstep-fuelled, seizure-inducing light shows or sport-coat wearing executives, but the last few conferences I’ve watched have bled into one another – probably spurred on by the fact that every E3 is guaranteed to have a trailer for the newest Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or whatever sequel-bait was released the year prior.Although these games are technically ‘new’, I’ve noticed a frustrating trend developing over the last few years which involves companies (in this case, mainly Sony) showing games that are so far from completion that they inadvertently end up appearing at multiple E3’s. This could be a result of a game being shown way too early, or an unfortunate delay, but it’s frustrating none-the-less when you are essentially heading into a conference knowing 50% of what is likely to be shown. So, without further adieu, here are 5 games that I want to make their final E3 appearance this year – so that we may enter 2016 with a renewed sense of anticipation.

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1. The Witness

The brain-child of Braid developer Jonathan Blow, revealed in 2013, The Witness is a puzzle game that has haunted my dreams for far too long. You are tasked with exploring an island, which for some (I’m sure very profound) reason has puzzles laid out across it’s land mass, inviting you to solve them and find the mystery at it’s core. Braid delved into some pretty dark subject matter, though it was presented as a fun, colourful 2D platformer, so if tradition serves it’s likely that the island holds some kind of terrifying secret (considering it’s so bright and cheery in the screenshots we have seen so far).After 2 years, however, I think a lot of people just want to see the game come out. When the game was revealed I was ecstatic, but as the years have worn on, I’ve found it difficult to continue to maintain that level of excitement. I mean, it was meant to be a PS4 launch title…

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2. No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky is one of the most ambitious concepts I have ever seen. The freedom to explore an entire universe has had many salivating since the initial reveal in 2013, but since then we have seen little new footage – perhaps a result of Hello Games’ studio being partially submerged in water, and them losing some progress in making the game. I hope this game is going to be awesome, but I feel like I’ve seen enough of it already – the game seems centred around discovery and exploration, and years of similar looking footage sure seems to take away from the excitement to investigate this foreign universe.With many, far bigger developers having recently released titles that failed to live up to their lofty claims and expectations (I mean… I’m mainly talking about Destiny here), I’m worried that No Man’s Sky will suffer the same fate. Time will tell, of course, but hopefully not too much more time.

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3. Mighty No 9

Maybe it’s because I’m a huge Mega Man fan, but the wait for Mighty No. 9 has been excruciating. First revealed in 2013, the title’s Kickstarter raised an unexpected $4,000,000, far north of the $900,000 the team asked for – though with an expanded budget came more ambitious ideas. As the campaign went on, more and more stretch goals were added that vastly changed the production cycle – such as more stages, new game plus, more platforms, an online-battle-race-mode (whatever that means), and more. What was going to be a pretty minimal return to form for Keji Inafune quickly became a vastly larger project, and so far is simply slated to be released ‘in 2015’.As happy as I am with the Kickstarter’s success, I kind of wish the game could have been made to their initial vision, with the remaining money being put toward their companies ability to make further titles – though i’m not sure of the legality of this. I’d hate to see this game over-promise and under-deliver, as many Kickstarter games have before it, but the allure of a follow up to the Blue Bomber is enough that i’ll play it anyway – I just want the game to come out already.

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4. Final Fantasy XV

This game was first shown 9 years ago.Just let that sink in for a moment. It was first shown in 2006.I don’t know what the hell is going on over at Square-Enix, but after years of disappointing Final Fantasy sales I can imagine them holding this title up as their lord and saviour, and I’m sure they want to get it just right – but, for the love of god. No amount of success could possibly recoup the insane production costs this game has likely amassed over the years (unless literally every gamer buys a copy or two), so it’s hard to imagine a good outcome for Square-Enix once the game does, eventually, release.

However, it is slated for a 2015 release, though feedback on the recent ‘Episode Duscae’ was not as positive as Square-Enix would have liked. The developers have promised to rectify many of the problems brought on by those who played it, though this would likely push the game even further away.

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5. The Last Guardian

The big, awkward bird-dog in the room. The third game from Team Ico, creators of – obviously – Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian vanished from sight in 2011 after being revealed in 2009, though yearly reminders that it is still ‘in development’ do nothing but frustrate those who were once excited by the title. I think there is dignity in letting something die gracefully, and I can’t help but feel that even if The Last Guardian is ever seen again, the backlash against whatever it has become will not be worth the years they have spent reimagining the game.While Trico (as it is internally referred to) hasn’t been at an E3 since 2009, it’s lingering presence has been felt at every show since, with many media outlets wondering – year in, year out – could this be the year? Do we finally get to see what one of the most promising game developers of the 2000’s has been working on?I hope so, if only so the game can be released and we can all move on to our lives, and begin asking more important questions like ‘where the hell is Half Life 3’?

What games are you excited about finally getting releases? Do you think we’ll ever see The Last Guardian again? Hit us up @OXCGN with your thoughts!

Monster Hunter Journal: Things Are Getting Dark and Serious Here


Hello readers, its been a while!

There’s a reason for that, I’ve been busy building my rank in the Guild Hall with other hunters. Meeting other hunters has been great and playing in teams makes the hunting experience so much better.

There’s nothing like knowing you’ve got a Chargeblade and Hunting Horn ready to back you up against an angry Rathian.

And you’ll need them! Guild quests are harder than the usual hunt quests that you’re given. The monsters dished out in Guild quests are strong enough to take on more than one player at a time.

I’ve spent some of the past few weeks fighting some on my own, which is terrifying, frustrating and satisfying if you manage it by yourself. However, having Guild companions makes it go so much smoother and faster. There’s nothing more discouraging than failing a mission 6 times in a row. Its also pretty expensive, each quests costs money and potions.

Oh, and your Palico friends aren’t allowed to join you if you set out with other hunters. Which makes sense, or we’d be causing the biggest ruckus if we had 6 or 8 Palicos hopping alongside us. Speaking of Palicoes, having your two feline companions along on solo quests has great advantages. (Except the cat puns). For one, if you set a group of first stringers in your Palico queue, you can organise them so their skills can complement your active Palicoes and provide them with extra buffs.

Ok, let me get technical. You can set up to 5 or 6 first stringers of Felyne companions on your Palico hiring board, second stringers can be used on resource gathering quests which they can do alone. Each Palico has their own specialty, like stealing, melee, or healing. The top Felyne on the first stringer list goes out with you and your permanent companion (in my case, that’s Fikki (Meow, that’s right!)). If, among your first stringers you have more than one Felyne specialising in the same thing, for example, you have three trapper Felynes on your list, some of their special skills will transfer and apply to Fikki and your second Felyne. This has been enormously beneficial for me as I tend to deploy a cheeky Felyne called Nueve, who specialises in bombs out with Fikki and myself. The trapper skills will still apply and both Fikki and Nueve have the additional skills of detecting dragons on maps or setting up their own traps.

Super technical, super fantastic.

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You know what else is fantastic!!! Special free gift costumes! (downloadable from the DLC and gifts menu online). Call me nostalgic but I love Street Fighter and my Palicoes can now run around dressed as Blanka and Chun Li, how cute is that!!!

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There are other costume sets available to download too, like a special Mario and Luigi and a Megaman set.

“I think, I’m pretty fetching like this. Spinning Meow Kick!”

Uh… yeah.

So, the last time we spoke, things were getting pretty serious. A lot of the monsters in the mountains of Cathar village were displaying signs of frenzy, a zombie-like infection that sent monsters berserk and killing them from the overload of frenzy. As a result I have had to take down several angry and huge monsters. The scary part about the virus is that you don’t realise the monster is infected until it dies.

Here I am congratulating myself for whalloping a Tigrex in under 5 minutes when suddenly, FLASH, the world darkens as the Tigrex reanimates, spewing black and purple smoke, eyes red with the Frenzy virus. And worse than that, he is angrier, faster, stronger and wilder than before! Oh boy, lots of running usually happens at this point.

Its been a real problem and the villagers on Cathar are worried they’ll have to evacuate. Anyway, I went to visit the Cathar Village Sage, some sort of high priest at the top of their highest temple, very fancy stuff. Turns out, he’s the turnip farmer who works near the herb shop! Apparently, they rotate the role among the villagers. Collective holiness, I like it!

Finally, he reveals what they know about the Frenzy virus.

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The theory is that the Gore Magala sheds its skin, releasing the virus everywhere it goes until it evolves into its higher state, a form called the Shagaru Magala. And like its possible Saiyan relative, it turns from black, to gold.

Whooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaa!
Whooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaa!

The Shagaru Magala is the strongest and most dangerous monster in the region and its evolution from one form to the other is quite rare. And while that may well be a beautiful fact of nature, it does send the entire ecosystem into disarray because of the virus it omits.

As such, the villagers call this event ‘the Heavenly Wheel’ and it cannot completely turn and let things return to normal until the Shagaru Magala is vanquished.

The Cathar Village Sage was a bit upset about this. They’re very friendly people and live quite at peace with nature. The idea that the Magala dragon is evil doesn’t even figure into their thinking. Killing the Shagaru Magala is simply a necessary part of the natural cycle, but one that must be performed with care and respect.

I can’t help but agree. I already think the Gore Magala is one of the most amazing creatures I’ve yet encountered, but the Shagaru Magala. Goodness, that creature is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Its scales glitter in gold and its wings look like radiant silk.

Oh, and that weird artefact the Caravaneer has been enquiring about? It’s a rare Shagaru Magala scale.

Well, answer solved. Now I have to gear up. I need good armor for this and I definitely need a stronger hammer.

Sometimes, instead of buying new gear, you can upgrade your current ones. Most armour sets can be upgraded with armour spheres. I’ve received some as gifts but I have also had to mine for them. The harder your quests get, the better your gathering resources become as well. Just yesterday I managed to trap 5 godbugs in the forest. By combining them with ground up wyvern fangs, I can make life crystals, which I can then combine with a hunting horn and then voila! I get a health horn. Every time I play it, I get a health boost for myself and companions. (Note to self, never play your health horn in the middle of a fight!).

Other upgrades are a bit harder to come by, in particular, for weapon upgrades. I have had to hunt several Rathalos in order to obtain enough Rathalos plates to make my hammer stronger.

Rathalos Hammer - Explodes with fire, dealing fire based critical damage
Rathalos Hammer – Explodes with fire, dealing fire based critical damage

I have also gone to visit another Caravan member for help. The Cook is a really funny and possibly Chinese Felyne chef (correct! Ni Hao!). He can offer to cook a meal made of any two ingredients. Each ingredient can provide you with special status upgrades or skill buffs. It is up to you how you want to combine your ingredients to obtain different types of resistances or health upgrades.

He is really, really, enthusiastic about cooking.
He is really, really, enthusiastic about cooking.

Most combinations give you a health and stamina buff, which help you live longer on the field and run faster for longer time without getting tired. Other buffs may include resistances to fire or ice, or more subtle ones like the ability to find more resources when carving off monsters or mining or gathering.

In no time, you probably would have developed a pre-quest prepping habit of upgrading your gear, checking your inventory and eating up for health prior to an important quest.

Hah, deep breath!

“Meow worries boss, We’ve got your back!”

I’m so glad I have my Palico friends, it makes facing the Shagaru Magala easier.

Well, off I go to its sanctuary, wish me luck!

Time to kick some Monster Butt!!!!

‘Till next time! (I hope)

Disclaimer: All images and videos are sourced from the Monster Hunter Wikia

Here’s Why You Should Watch Gameloading: Rise of the Indies


I normally don’t put my hand up for reviews. As most of you know from what I write, I simply attempt to be funny. But I like being analytic and critical on occasions, most especially if I can contribute to debate, or a conversation that inspires higher learning, or just a bit of ‘hmmm-ing or ahh-ing’ at the very least.

Gameloading: Rise of the Indies is a seriously thorough documentary highlighting and introducing us to the world of indie games and the developers behind them. Furthermore, this documentary tries to explore the wider impacts that indie game development have and are having on media and culture.

“Indie game developers are like misfits”

The Documentary opens with an introduction to the developers of the Stanley Parable, who happen to be a two man team (Davey Wreden and William Pugh) who are barely in each others’ presence due to one living in Texas and the other in the UK. They communicate predominantly through Skype and despite all this, they have managed to develop a fantastic puzzle game that received numerous accolades including the IGF Audience Award in 2014.

Amongst other groups, we are also introduced to the immensely fun Train Jam initiative, a collective of game developers who travel together by train from Chicago to San Francisco and collaboratively design new indie games during the 52 hour trip.

We don’t even need that much of an introduction to the now well known Zoe Quinn and her game, Depression Quest, which she describes as an exploration of the idea that choices, or the taking away of such choices can affect game outcomes. As a result, her game is an interesting way for players to understand and relate to serious issues such as depression and how it affects day to day living.

The documentary explores the experiences of various developers, from the creative explorations of Soundself as being developed by Robin Arnott, to the visual ones of Tale of Tales and their obsession with visual story telling.

Soundself
Soundself

These are all people who live and breathe games in ways that your average gamer and maybe your average AAA game developer does not. These are the people Peter Molyneux probably wishes he was, or had in his development team.

These developers see indie game creation as a way to extend their world-view to others. The way many of these indie developers speak about their creations imply a broad emotional affection towards gamers and games in general.  There is a strong sense that they want to share, be it their personal story, a new way of seeing the world or sharing a way to connect with new people you’d normally not meet.

There is a lot of love in the indie game community apparently, and everyone likes to hug each other.

Indie games are a great opportunity to explore new methods to learn. As opposed to the current stereotype that video games isolate the player from their immediate environment (the usual glued to the screen or phone trope), indie games are exploring ways to make games interactive, physical and social experiences that apply the console, computer or handheld as only one part of gameplay.

In short, indie games are made the way they are because the developers behind them aren’t exactly pandering to the stereotype of a screaming multiplayer kid mashing his or her fingers on a console (ie. the horrible way I happen to play Age of Empires).

The one thing I got out of this documentary is that indie games are a deeply personal endeavour, and the developers behind them are literally wearing their hearts on their sleeves in bringing these to the public.

Further, what struck me about the mindset behind indie games was how strong the need to tell a story through games was. Several developers intimated as to how they no longer saw games as quests that needed to be ‘won’, but as journeys that educate and impart wisdom through experience. Soundself could be seen as a new spiritual method to explore meditation and the heartbreaking indie game, That Dragon, Cancer is a deeply personal journey to relate to and understand the devastating real-life effects of cancer. Sometimes, the game doesn’t let you win, but it does help you change.

That Dragon, Cancer
That Dragon, Cancer

It was also a new avenue for people who never even saw themselves as video game creators to become one, such as Christine Love, who used the Japanese game format of the visual novel to tell an innovative alterative history tale about the struggle of women living during the Chosen Dynasty in Korea.

On a technical level, the film is quite polished. And while the documentary segues into different topics, it still feels a tad manic in its exploration of the genre. If it is not conveying the development of one particular game and the personal development of its developer, it is jumping with little to no context on to the next theme or subject. As a result, we are watching the development of the Stanley Parable in the first five minutes, to the background of Soundself’s creation to theories regarding learning and development to the history of indie gaming to exploring games through narrative to Zoe Quinn to visual representations in games to Train Jam to sound editing.

As a result, I never usually get where the story transitions or whether there was a point being made in certain sections.

Nonetheless, the documentary is jam packed with information. The interviews and depictions of certain developers’ journeys are enthralling to watch. These developers are genuine people, with fears and hopes and want nothing but to express themselves through the medium and have their game played.

I tip my hat to the segment charting the journey of Australia’s own Armello. That particular segment was informative in how a small development team pushed to get their game seen at major conventions such as PAX using guerrilla marketing tactics.

It was particularly useful to also have the various challenges of indie game development addressed. From lack of funding (and sleep); to inappropriate marketing skills; to the great scourge of online harassment, we become privy to the tears of stress during game launch, to finding a spare square metre of space at a convention to promote a game.

It is notable that great tact was used to address the spectre of that weird movement that I-shan’t-dignify-with-its-name. It made no reference to the personal reasons for the vitriol between the parties involved.  But rather, painted a picture as to how damaging this kind of harassment is to nurturing an indie community, from discouraging people to create new games to how easily a game developer’s dream can become a personal and deeply intimate nightmare.  None of which is necessary, or particularly helpful to the genre, which takes diversity in storytelling, creative ideas and accessibility seriously.

One thing that the documentary highlighted is how intricately tied a game is to an indie developer’s self esteem. Many developers confessed to feeling ‘impostor syndrome’ on occasion when trying to promote their game, as if being an indie developer somehow made them fake or unworthy to show their talents to the world.

Again, indie game developers just want to hug and get hugs in return, and they really do. The documentary makes the indie gamer scene feel far more collaborative and self supportive than mainstream developing companies do.  Whether because of the lack of general corporate and business support that larger companies can access, or because indie gamers are much more lovable is up to the viewer to decide I suppose.

This documentary has packed a lot of themes and stories into one hour and a half, which, either because of jumpy editing or just through wealth of information, feels a tad longer. But it is hugely informative and you cannot help but feel a strong fondness towards the people featured in it. It is obvious that the documentary’s message is that Indie Games are becoming a genuine cultural movement, filled with a lot of heart and personality and that it is getting bigger. With all these developers also creating easier access to developer tools and creating cultural spaces where these new and diverse ideas can be explored, the rise of the Indie Game is inevitable. And while it doesn’t explore the possible future direction of these games, it certainly shares its hopes for more diverse story telling and exploration of new ways to experience games.

Gameloading: Rise of the Indies
Gameloading: Rise of the Indies

Monster Hunter Journal: Not all Fun and Games with Scary Dragons


Bula readers!

I just spent the best time in tropical paradise Cheeko Sands. We have even got new information on this Cathar place to get us on our way. Unfortunately, it also means more renovations on the Arluq. Cathar is high up in the mountains, how on earth is a boat supposed to get there?

Well, our new apprentice smith came up with an idea. Turn the Arluq into an airship!

How exciting! We’re gonna fly!

How scary, we’re definitely going to be attack fodder for flying monsters…

Well, I suppose there nothing to it. The Caravaneer wants to get info on his Relic desperately, so we’ll go where the info takes us.

And, I’ve made new friends again! (I’m just so popular aren’t I? must be the shine of my armour).

So we’ve turned back to Harth to get the Troverian smiths and craftsmen to modify the ship. The volcano they live near is fully functional and very, very hot to explore.

Thank goodness I’ve been getting up to speed on my combination skills.

In order to survive out there, not only do I need good equipment and good skills, I also need to plan my boosts properly. For this, us hunters use potions.

Naturally, we use health potions for when that nasty tail-swipe takes out nearly all of our health bar. But there are other types of potions that we can rely on to survive the harsh environment as well as mitigate the effects of monster attacks.

We have cool and hot potions, which can keep us warm or fresh depending on the weather. Hot environments, like the desert or the volcano will sap you of your health and cold environments will deplete your stamina, tiring you out more quickly, such as in the tundra.

Staying for too long in this heat will take away your health and every time you stop for air you'll be gasping
Staying for too long in this heat will take away your health and every time you stop for air you’ll be gasping

You can buy most of these basic potions, but sometimes you need to go exploring your maps to forage for seeds, herbs, bugs and crystals which can be used in any combination.

One of the best potions to have are the Demondrug and Armorskin potions which boost your attack and defence stats. But to make them you need to forage for Might seeds and Adamant seeds and combine them with catalyst fluid (which in turn is made from combining Bitterbugs with honey). When you take your potions though, it is good protocol to strike a pose to denote that you have either healed or have been strengthened. (Note: Do not strike a post in the middle of a battle, even though you have to)

Credit: http://www.cad-comic.com/cad/20130318
Credit: http://www.cad-comic.com/cad/20130318

If you’re really lucky and have collected a few pale extracts from hunting Khezus, you can combine those together to make stronger Mega Demondrug and Mega Armorskin potions.

Mind you, apart from knowing what to combine, you also got to do it properly, there are chances that a badly combined set can produce garbage, so you need to increase your luck chances of successful combinations by buying combo books.

Its all so complicated! But the return is worth it.

“Meow, I’ve purrcured some excellent specimens too boss, look at this God bug!”

Fikki also furrows alongside you and gives you his loot, for some reason he really is keen on finding fire herbs.

Speaking of helpful palicoes, I’ve got new palicoes to travel with Fikki and myself! We managed to rescue some from the jungles of Cheeko Sands and they’ve been super keen to be hired by our team.  Some specialise in melee, healing or bombs.  One of our regular team mates, Nueve, specialises in in bomb attacks and it extremely useful in damaging hard armoured dragons. The only problem is that he is so enthusiastic about setting those things off that even I get thrown by the blast.

Palico teammate wearing Tetsucabra armor, his weapon is a little rake!
Palico teammate wearing Tetsucabra armor, his weapon is a little rake!

One of the best things about having two Palicoes though, is their teamed attacks.

This hilarious combo is called the Wrath of Meow, its pretty effective too
This hilarious combo is called the Wrath of Meow, its pretty effective too

Last week, while fighting a Khezu, Fikki and another Palico called Moore teamed up during the fight and produced a mini Felyne Tank! It was hilarious, and seriously useful.

It became especially useful when I finally had to take down the Gore Magala on my own.

Oh my gosh guys, down in 10 minutes! A record!

Not only that, that smug, pretty-faced blonde guy respects me big time for what I’ve done and now the Hunters Guild gets me to do almost all the scary quests!

I’m playing in the big leagues now.

Which is a good thing since we’ve set up the Arluq to fly to Cathar. Thank goodness the flight was non-eventful. The sights up there are beautiful and the town is situated at the peak of a place called Heaven’s Mount, surrounded by the ruins of an ancient civilisation that once inhabited these vast mountains. Cathar itself is a small town hanging on one of the lower mountains. Its so bright and airy and peaceful there.

A village above the clouds
A village above the clouds

Until we landed.

I’m not saying we bring bad luck everywhere we go, or that maybe the Caravaneer’s relic may be connected to something that gives us a tad of bad luck;

But we’ve been having a streak of bad monster luck everywhere we’ve been so far.

And now, the Cathar Elder is all up in a tizzy because the Caravaneer’s relic is apparently tied up with a great catastrophe which caused the last group of people living here to disappear.

Oh, and I had to go out to hunt a Congalala after reports that it was acting up around the mountain. And well, yeah, we are getting some bad luck.

An infected Congalala.  Normally cute, now slightly scary
An infected Congalala. Normally cute, now slightly scary

The poor thing had been infected with what the Catharians are calling a Frenzy. Basically its infected with the same stuff the Gore Magala lets off in a fight.

And its spreading! I had to take down a seriously frenzied Tigrex. Not only are those things angry on a permanent basis, and scarier and noisier than anything, but with this infection of darkness clouding its instincts, it was almost unbeatable, even after I had beat it, it suddenly came back up! like a zombie!

Ok, a Tigrex is always scary, but when its Frenzied like this, there's no judging how scary he'll get.
Ok, a Tigrex is always scary, but when its Frenzied like this, there’s no judging how scary he’ll get.

This is getting serious, we’re wondering if the Gore Magala is the source of this disease or if it was the first to get infected, and is now spreading it everywhere.

The locals are terrified and its taking all my ability to make sure the pathways are safe for them to travel.

I feel bad for the monsters too. We hunt out of necessity, food and clothing, never out of malice or sport. These are magnificent creatures; without them our ecosystems would go out of whack.  Even though they tend to attack us regularly, they’re noble creatures just trying to survive.

A good hunter knows this, so it is sad and scary to see them get so out of control. I even saw a whole herd of Ioprey gang up on their leader, the Iodrome and eat it!

We need to get to the bottom of this. Even the Caravaneer is concerned and reckons the Relic is the key to all of this.

For now, we keep the town safe.

Anyway, I’ve been summoned to see the chief priest of the Cathar. I think he has a special quest for me.  Maybe we will get some answers.

Sorry to end on a serious note, I’m sure things will get fun again as soon as we sort this problem out.

Does Borderlands Work as a Telltale Game?


My initial thoughts before playing Tales from the Borderlands were how could this really work as a story-based game? Borderlands is renowned for its shoot and loot gameplay with the story fading into the background. The other Telltale games adapt comics and television shows where we have pre-developed characters and plots so how does Borderlands fit into the Telltale mould?

The Characters

The inclusion of two very different protagonists, Rhys and Fiona, allows the player to experience the world of Borderlands from two very different perspectives. The contrast between Fiona’s sly nature and Rhys’ perpetual naivety moves the story in different directions but also gives context to the choices you make as the characters. These perspectives are helped along by cameos from familiar characters from previous Borderlands games.

The Comedy 

Tales of Borderlands is damn funny and this is present in almost every aspect of the game. You always know there will be a hilarious dialogue option to choose or a familiar item that once scanned gives you a witty paragraph of writing to mull over. I would even say that this game could be the funniest out of the Borderlands series, which is renowned for being a comedy game. Every joke hits its mark and the plot continues to introduce hilarious characters or absurd situations that can only make you smile. The humour also is written in the same way it would be in a Borderlands game, keeping true to its form.

The Feel

Lastly what makes the game for me is the insane amount of references to the Borderlands games. There are the weapons, characters, places and vehicles that all originate from the previous game as well as that shell-shaded artwork that bursts with colour. By incorporating the visual style and overall feel of the Borderlands games Telltale have created an adaptation that remains faithful to the source material yet shifts the gameplay away from shooting and looting.

It is a thoughtful treatment of the Borderlands universe that allows players to explore the world surrounding the past games in a new way.

So Does it Work?

Most certainly, Tales from the Borderlands proves that the world and characters of Borderlands not just the shoot and loot style are powerful enough to draw players back again and again.

Monster Hunter Journal: The Slightly Good, the Scary Bad, and More Felynes


Hello again readers!

Our ship is finished! The adorably jovial Troverians are extremely good at building things, its so impressive! The Caravaneer has called her the Arluq. She’s going to take us to a place called Cathar.  I’ve never heard of this place before and the Caravaneer is not entirely sure where it is, but we’ll sail off and find some harbor that can give us a better idea of where it is.

Check it out, it even has a Dragonator coming out of its mouth!
Check it out, it even has a Dragonator coming out of its mouth!

But before we left, I made new friends!

“Meow, they’re the purrfect hunting team, meow!”

Uh… well.

Ok, so there’s this other group of hunters that have arrived.  Their leader is this pretty-face blondie with a smug and arrogant attitude. Granted, he’s an excellent Blademaster, and his armor is super good, and his hair is super shiny, and his teeth are super white.  But he’s really snooty and, and, and, yeah.  I don’t like him much, can you tell…?

But the other guys on the team are really nice. They’ve got this Insect Glaive specialist who is a total newbie.  Huh! He even fobbed off a quest he was meant to do and gave it to me! And of course, I passed with flying colours ~

I'm not saying the leader is good looking, I'm saying he's annoying...
I’m not saying the leader is good looking, I’m saying he’s annoying…

They’re a pretty well rounded team, and their advice (except from the leader) has been pretty useful.

We also have a new caravan member, she’s the Chief’s daughter and she’s a mighty fine blacksmith! She’s going to apprentice under our own smith The Man. Excellent, I have someone who can upgrade my armor with accessories!

So, with our new little team, we set off on the Arluq. “Purrward to adventure!”

…Yeah.

Or not.

I don’t want to alarm you guys.  But, holy mother of lynian poop! We got attacked!

I mean, ok, I got attacked on my first day en route to Val Habar, by an Elder Dragon no less, but this is whole other bag of Felynes.

Guys, the Gore Magala is SO SCARY!

So lovely, but SO SCARY
So lovely, but SO SCARY

It came out of nowhere and attacked our ship, its almost as if it didn’t want us to travel or something.

But let me tell you, as terrifying as it is to face a Gore Magala, it is also one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. That is, when I’m not dodging its swipes, dark fireballs, its really high range tail, and that weird status effect aura it has on it… or just running away (which you cannot do much of on a ship).

The Gore Magala is like the Maleficent dragon with a really, really, really, REALLY bad temper, and probably more powerful. Its got this strange ability where it lets off darkness spores, like a shroud or mist. If you touch it, you can quickly get infected by it. The only way to ensure the infection doesn’t reduce your stamina, strength and defence to pathetically weak proportions is to keep fighting!!!

RUUUUN!!!!
RUUUUN!!!!

If you land a critical hit however, the infection actually turns into a temporary boost. Gosh, that’s a difficult incentive.

Oh, and it has prehensile thumbs and can not only swipe at you with its fore-limbs, it can swipe at you (and claw and grab) at you with its wing limbs, which also act as a third set of clawed arms.

Oh, its got small eyes and tiny teeth.  I guess I have that going for me.

Oh wait, it uses the darkness spores to track you to make up for its poor eyesight, like sonar. Oh, and when it’s enraged, it grows large, glowing purple horns. Sometimes, you can almost feel the world getting darker around it, as if the Gore Magala is sucking out the light from the environment.

But we eventually managed to repel it from the boat, using cannons, lances and the Dragonator, a giant lance that shoots out of the bow of the Arluq.

“This puss gave it the boot! mmrow!”

Oh yeah, Fikki helped.

The ship had been damaged though, not just by the Gore Magala, but by the storm it flew in on. But luckily, we’ve found a new place to stay, Cheeko Sands.

This place is great! Tropical, sunny and peaceful. The place is run by a Cat Granny and there’s even some Felynes running underfoot.

Remote Paradise
Remote Paradise – Sunsnug Island, where the Felynes roam

Turns out, there are plenty of Felyne Hunters here looking for work, but a lot of them have gotten lost in the island’s forests which, of course, are lousy with huge monsters.

There’s a little separate island nearby run by the Felyne Manager, I think she has a crush on Fikki. She has offered us the services of the local Felynes that work in the area as Palicoes. The catch, of course, is that I have to go find them in the forests and bring them back safe.

I could do with another Palico assistant on the field and it sure would be nice for Fikki to have a Felyne companion.

If only so he stops telling me cat pun jokes.

But this new place has opened up new areas to hunt, like the frozen seaway. It’s a beautiful tundra with frozen rivers and glacial caves. I have encountered one of the weirdest monsters there called the Zamtrios. He’s like a giant shark-toad, and its special ability is to inflate itself into a giant blubbery bouncy fleshball. Then he starts rolling and bouncing after you, it would be pretty hilarious to watch…if it weren’t so dangerous!

Wat...
Wat…

I’ve also encountered good old Congalalas.  A big, pink ape beast that farts on you in order to disable your ability to heal yourself with potions and the like.

I’m going to take a new recruit Palico along for a quest now. The Palico’s name is Bok Choi and Fikki is keen on showing him the ropes. I hope they get along, I’m sure we’d make a great team.

Well, off I go, time to hunt an electric Khezu. They’re these sightless blubbery dragons that shoot lightning… yikes!

Until the next one!

“See meow later!” (Oh god, stop!)

All images credited to Siliconera.com and the Monster Hunter Wikia