casual gamers

Why are we playing computer games, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the interactive artist isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the programmer-creator renew our hope for the interactive medium? Why are we playing computer games if not in hope that the creator will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.

(Adapted from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

Exploring Emotion and Aesthetics with A Boy and His Blob and Lucidity screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

A Boy and His Blob

Game released: 2009

Text written: Apr 27, 2010
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: WayForward Technologies

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Wii

Price: $30.00

Get it from: Amazon

Lucidity

Game released: 2009

Text written: Apr 27, 2010
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: LucasArts Workshop

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Windows

Price: $10.00

Get it from: Steam

Most of the games that I’ve ever played—and I’d venture to say most of the games we’ve ever created—are lacking in emotional depth. Many people have made this observation, and it’s coming to border on cliché. You probably don’t want to hear it any more. But if we want to make better games we’ve got to try and address these clichéd complaints that keep hitting us in the face, rather than just point out how clichéd they are. Over the last couple of months I’ve played two games that have impressed me with their emotional landscapes, so I thought I’d take some time to reflect on them. One of the games I think is great, and both, I believe, are important, for what they try to be and do.

The Games in Question

The games in question are A Boy and His Blob, by WayForward Technologies, and Lucidity, by the LucasArts Workshop. Each game offers some variation on puzzle-based, platformesque gameplay, and each presents a luscious, hand-painted graphical style, central to its charm. Just take a look at these screenshots: Read more »

Lucidity

27 Apr 2010
Lucidity screenshot

Lucidity

Game released: 2009

Text written: Apr 27, 2010
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: LucasArts Workshop

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Windows

Price: $10.00

Get it from: Steam
Jordan Magnuson's picture

This game was reviewed in conjunction with A Boy and His Blob. To see the comparative review click here.

A Boy and His Blob

27 Apr 2010
A Boy and His Blob screenshot

A Boy and His Blob

Game released: 2009

Text written: Apr 27, 2010
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: WayForward Technologies

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Wii

Price: $30.00

Get it from: Amazon
Jordan Magnuson's picture

This game was reviewed in conjunction with Lucidity. To see the comparative review click here.

Exit Fate: Why jRPGs Suck and Why You Should Play Them screenshot

Exit Fate

Game released: 2009

Text written: Jan 18, 2010
By: Yan Zhang

Developer: SCF

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Yan Zhang's picture

Daniel, the protagonist of Exit Fate, is a soft-spoken orphan who fights only so that peace would eventually soothe the troubled land. He is separated from his army during a night raid, eventually finding himself at the head of a new army while searching for clues about his cursed fate and how to exit it. He meets over seventy heroes of all shapes and colors such as Meiko, a girl-scout with a mighty pen and a mightier right foot who you can assign to interview the other characters for more backstory, or Klaus, the last of a noble line of talking cats who deigns you worthy of his time after you provide him a room furnished as those of your best generals. You can freely select your adventuring party from among these heroes, although besides fighting, some heroes will help run your magic shop, smith your weapons, or even change your color settings. Occasionally, there will be a wargame-style square-grid mission involving the entire army’s special abilities.

Right, it is just Suikoden II; or as critics would say, any other Japanese RPG. Aren’t those all the same? Read more »

Bunnies and Genocide

10 Dec 2009
Bunnies and Genocide screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I haven’t written any reviews for a while, and that’s partly due to the fact that I’ve been getting back into game creation a bit, after an extended hiatus. Among other things I entered a mini Ludum Dare compo recently with the theme of “Tragedy and/or Comedy,” that ended up lasting five days, rather than the usual 48 hours. Also, unlike most LD compos, this one required collaboration, so I worked with Mitchell Hillman, who created the sprites.

I decided to tackle the tragedy theme head on and create a game about genocide. Bunnies vs. Bunnies is the outcome. I wrote a whole spiel about what I was trying to do with the game, but looking at it now it seems pretentious and lame, so I’ll just let the thing speak for itself (or not). 

You can download the game here (sorry, Windows only).

You can download the source (Game Maker file, sprites, music) here.

The game is short (five levels), and shouldn’t take long to play through. If you find a level too frustrating or difficult, you can use the “N” key to skip to the next one. Any feedback or comments are welcome and appreciated, including but not limited to bug reports, general observations, and whether you think the game is worth continuing to work on. Specifically, I’m interested in possibly pursuing a more developed, multiplayer version of the game (I think it would be great to have a multiplayer game that was purposefully unbalanced, and unfair, where one person played the oppressor, and the other person the oppressed).

Destructivator: Ramblings screenshot

Destructivator

Game released: 2009

Text written: Nov 2, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Pug Fugly Games

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I recently found myself sitting in the Frankfurt airport, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a miniature plane to take me to Slovenia to visit my parents-in-law. My one-year teaching contract in Korea has expired, and my wife and I have a two-week break before next year’s contract kicks in, ergo the trip. I’m typing this from the comfort of my parents-in-law’s home in Ljubljana, having already been here a week, relaxing and taking in the sites, but my story takes place in the Frankfurt airport… twiddling thumbs. So I’m sitting there feeling very sorry for myself—being six-foot-seven, and all, and already having had to endure eleven hours of economy class torture—mind wandering, cold blue lights slowly sucking the life from my bones.

With no direct imperative from my mind, my hand slips into my backpack and finds my laptop; out it comes. Zip zip, open click, the hum of fans, the Windows chime. I am reminded of another mind-numbing airport wait from several months ago—one that felt like death, in my state of depression at the time—and suddenly I know what I must do: the same thing I did then: Destructivate.

Alt-Space for Launchy, and I type the title in; nothing; the launcher must be acting up. Start menu then; searching.

But the place where Destructivator should be is blank, is not there at all. I remember a hard drive formatting… of course. And suddenly I’m almost depressed again, because I realize that Destructivator is not simply the game I played last time I was numb, waiting at a gate. Rather, it is the game that I must play at every airport gate, always. Like the airport, the world of Destructivator is cold blue steel; humanity’s ability to control the elements, inverted; modernism at its peak, above its peak, below its peak; Kurtz; despair. Read more »

Full Throttle: Saved by its Faults? screenshot

Full Throttle

Game released: 1995

Text written: Oct 15, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: LucasArts

Production: Commercial

Platforms: DOS, Mac OS 9, ScummVM, Windows

Price: Out of print

Get it from: Amazon
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I only review games that I have either just played, or replayed, as I want to make sure that they’re fresh in my head. Looking over the games I’ve played and completed in the last few weeks, the one that won’t leave me alone is, perhaps surprisingly, Full Throttle, which I recently played through with my wife. I considered reviewing the more predictable Blueberry Garden (winner of this year’s Seumas McNally at the Independent Games Festival), but with Beacon and Seiklus still so fresh on the front page, I felt like going in a different direction. I like variety, and it’s my goal with this site to review all manner of games, commercial and independent, old and new. Full Throttle beckons me because it’s different from the stuff I’ve been reviewing of late,[1] because it’s not a game that typically receives critical attention, and because it’s full of memorable characters and settings, which continue to meander through my mind.

The question, though, is how to approach a game like Full Throttle: a game so grounded in an established genre that it makes little, if any, attempt to explore new gameplay ideas? What to do with a game that relies on established mechanics so completely that it seems to seek to legitimize itself entirely through aesthetic, character development, and plot? Some might dismiss such a game out of hand as irrelevant: games haven’t done a whole lot for us in the past twenty years, right? So anything good must come from innovation, pushing the boundaries, doing something different, and new. We’ve played adventure games, and that mode can only be so successful at conveying story, at expressing mood or emotion, at highlighting the unique brilliance of the interactive medium. Case closed.

Or is it? What happens if we forget all that? If we come at a game like Full Throttle with new eyes, intent to take away everything that the game has to offer? Let’s approach this thing from the bottom up. Read more »

Jordan Magnuson's picture

Just a quick announcement to let you know that I’ve implemented a new comment system on the site. Avatars are here, and you can now optionally log in to leave comments using your OpenID, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Also, when you get email notifications to threads, you can now reply to the thread directly through email without even visiting the site! Pretty cool huh? All courtesy of Disqus. The old comments will remain up for now, and as soon as the functionality is available (currently in development) I will import them into the new system.

Secondly, I’ve set up a guestbook, for all you people nostalgic for the 1990’s . I know that some people like to read but don’t leave comments, so here’s your chance to let me know who you are, so we can start to develop a little sense of community. No more reviews until you sign. Cheers.

Beacon: Better Than an Art Game screenshot

Beacon

Game released: 2009

Text written: Sep 28, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Chevy Ray Johnston

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Can one person make a game that is qualitatively better than many triple-A titles? How about if that person has forty-eight hours to do it in? How about if we force them to make this game around a certain theme, and we don’t give them that theme until just before they start work? And for good measure, let’s say they can’t use a single premade resource: no bringing in code, or graphics, or sounds of any kind. Sound impossible already?

Many of you may know about LD, and you see where I’m going with this. For the rest of you, there’s a game creation contest out there that has all the restrictions I’ve cited above. It’s called Ludum Dare, and it takes place every three to four months, with the last iteration (#15) having happened a few weeks ago. For Ludum Dare 15 the theme was “caverns,” and one man, Chevy Ray Johnston, won the contest with a game called Beacon, a game so nice it makes me giddy to play. Read more »

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