15 December 2012

[SquareGo] Review: Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers

In Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers, the player takes on the role of Tiny, an odd-looking chap with a wide range of gadgets, who’s hunting down Big, another odd-looking chap, who’s made off with a family heirloom passed down by Tiny’s grandfather – a pair of pants.

Fair enough.

Read the rest of the review over at SquareGo, or click below to read more!

4 November 2012

[SquareGo] Review: Depth Hunter

If you're into the tranquility and mystery of being under the sea – either in real life or the “underwater levels” that are a mainstay of platformers the world over – Biart Company's Depth Hunter is for you.

31 October 2012

[SquareGo] Review: DeadEnd Cerebral Vortex

DeadEnd Cerebral Vortex is a first-person labyrinth exploration game by Membranos that tasks the player with venturing into the illusory world of their subconscious mind in order to recover fragments of their soul.

The player wanders through twenty levels, picking up “Soul Cubes” that represent part of their soul. Gathering enough Soul Cubes in one area and making it to the Exit unlocks the next level, and this is the player’s sole objective; there are no enemies to fight, no sidequests to undertake, just the maze to explore.

Read the rest of the review over at SquareGo! >>

17 October 2012

[SquareGo] Review: SCP-087-B

SCP-087-B follows a recent trend of short indie horror games that are so focused on their primary goal – TERROR – that they easily rival titles from big-name studios trying to elicit the same reaction. SCP-087-B is no exception.

Read the full review over at SquareGo or click below to read more!

13 October 2012

[SquareGo] Review: Slender: the Eight Pages

The unknown and the unexpected are the bread and butter of the horror genre – and an indie PC game quietly released in June 2012 fits the bill, coming as it did from the relatively unknown developer Mark J. Hadley of Parsec Productions, and unexpectedly becoming one of the most terrifying games of the year.

Read the rest of the review over at SquareGo or click below to read more!

8 October 2012

Minecraft Monday #7: New Platform, New County!

Minecraft Monday is a feature on Hyp/Arc that documents playthroughs of the hit indie game Minecraft, as well as discussing news and updates regarding the game and the cult phenomenon surrounding it.

Previously on Minecraft Monday, we left behind the Little Town of Remedy in Alexander County and went on a summer hiatus. Now, Minecraft Monday is back - I'm here to show you guys around Kentigern County, my Minecraft world for the Xbox 360 platform!

Since May this year - when Mojang and 4J Studios released a version of the hit indie game Minecraft onto the Xbox 360 platform - I've been building a new Minecraft world called Kentigern County. Since it's on the console version of Minecraft rather than the PC, Kentigern County is a lot smaller than Alexander County, and it's lacking a lot of features since the Xbox 360 version is a fair few builds behind the PC version. One of the things I've been missing most is villages - as you might expect, given that my previous playthrough of Minecraft focused exclusively on my escapades building and living in a village called Remedy.

I adore the villages in Minecraft - any kind of structure, in fact, such as the abandoned mineshafts, strongholds, Nether Fortresses, Desert Temples and Jungle Temples that have been added into the recent PC updates. I play on single player a lot of the time, so for me, stumbling across a village in the middle of nowhere, or spotting the wooden arches of an abandoned mineshaft from the top of a ravine are little hints of a greater narrative - they suggest that I'm not the first person to have explored, and built, and destroyed, that there were people (if not whole societies, whole civilisations) before I appeared in the now-empty world. It infuses the world with so much more significance and storytelling potential when you're crafting your very first wood-and-earth hut on top of a vast underground network of railways, or when you're traversing a vast desert plateau and spot the silhouette of a temple offering shelter just before nightfall.

Of course, the idea that there were people before us in the Minecraft world isn't true: all of the structures in the game are pre-generated by the game itself. It doesn't need to be true, though: that's the beauty of fiction. We need only act like the stories we're telling are true, and a world of significance opens up to us. Narrative magick.

As I mentioned, villages don't appear in the Xbox version as of yet. However, since the appearance of villages is due in the next Minecraft update, I figured it was high time to show off my alternative before it was rendered obsolete:

Welcome to Western Rise, the first village of Kentigern County.

18 August 2012

Gaymercon Counterarguments

I just wanted to collect together a list of answers (mostly from myself) to the most frequently used counter-arguments to Gaymercon and Gaymer culture in general. Some of these responses are from my blog, some are from my Tumblr, some I've just written up now. For more discussion about why I think Gaymercon is actually a fantastic idea, check my previous Hyp/Arc post, "Gaymers".

"Sexuality has nothing to do with gaming! Stop making it about your identity!"

This seems obvious, provided you don't actually think about it. Why would sex affect how we play games? The fact that some people would choose to have non-heterosexual sex should not negatively impact their experiences when gaming unless they choose to have it be so. However, sex is infused into so much of our culture - and our biology - that in many cases, it DOES affect other parts of our lives - this goes for everybody, heterosexuals and queer individuals alike.

The vast majority of games are created with a straight, white, male audience in mind. Soul Calibur V was not marketed based on the girth of Mitsurugi's package - it was marketed on the size of Ivy's breasts. Bayonetta was not a well-rounded, well-thought-out, highly developed female character - she was Hideki Kamiya's virtual sex fantasy with superpowers added on. The Dead or Alive series is not known for its inclusion of gay scantily clad men whose bulges wiggle in combat - it's known for its Breast Jiggle Engine. A large number of influential companies in the games industry continue to perpetuate the idea that Men Do Macho Stuff, and Women Look Pretty. Heterosexuality is infused into the vast majority of games. A close contender is asexuality - internet memes aside, Tetris and Bejeweled don't really include much in the way of cultural depictions of sex.

For better or worse, sexuality does have a lot to do with gaming - and pretty much everything else in our lives.

Now, queer folk don't exactly have a lot of representation in games. They're never main characters - unless you're allowed to craft your character, like Shepard from Mass Effect, or the Dragonborn from Skyrim. When they are represented, it's often as blatant stereotypes. Straight characters are freely represented doing any number of different things, with vast and varied personalities and quirks - but queer characters are of the order of fey tailors, overcompensating macho dudes, or freaks with mismatching sexes and genders. It continues to perpetuate the idea that queer folk are "weird" or distinctly "non-normal", when really all they are is non-heterosexual.

As for not making homosexuality part of your identity - why, when being a gamer is obviously part of people's identities as well? Why should we not take the more simple, compassionate and reasonable option of not attacking people because they identify as something different and aren't hurting anyone?

"Just be part of a bigger con like PAX! Get a panel, not a con!"

We already have a lot of great cons where lots of gamers come together to talk about games they dig. Sometimes, though, you might want to head to a con where you’re even more likely to bump into folk who share similar experiences to yours, where you can freely discuss topics with people who really care about them and are more informed about them. A lot of the time, you can’t do that with more general cons - and they also happen to include people who are eager to discuss the topic without knowing very much about the experience of under-represented or unprivileged groups right down to folk who are downright abusive. I’m not saying those people wouldn’t exist at Gaymercon, but there’s much less potential for them to show up and even less potential for them to be tolerated once they become abusive. Gaymercon allows folk to discuss how being gay and being a gamer intersect, and makes it likely that issues close to their hearts might be talked about (either at panels or amongst attendees), and means that they’ve got at least two things in common with the majority of people attending, so it makes it that much easier to make friends.

Lastly, getting a con rather than a panel doesn't actually take anything away from anyone. It creates one more meeting space. It's not a mandatory event, it's not going to put everyone out-of-pocket, it's being paid for by donations... I don't know what else I can say to qualify the fact that this is not taking up the time, money or effort of anyone who doesn't want to be part of it.

"Homophobia/Transphobia isn't THAT bad at other cons!"

Homophobia/transphobia isn't always immediately obvious, and isn't limited to violence, threats of violence or slurs based on someone's Queerness - it can be things like making assumptions on one's ability based on their gender, sex, or sexual identity, making jokes at their expense, or simply not giving them a voice at all. It's impossible to gauge how endemic homo/transphobia is at conventions without asking queer folk themselves how they have been treated - and obviously there's enough queer folk interested in having their own con that they've donated over $90,000 to the Gaymercon Kickstarter, which had an initial goal of only $25,000.

But that isn't the point. The point is to give Queer individuals a place where they can talk about their own stuff and how it relates to their identities as gamers. Every convention aside from Gaymercon is made with a heteronormative individual in mind, hence why there often aren’t many talks on polyamory in games, the representation of trans* individuals, how to deal with homophobia etc at major games conventions.

"Gaymercon Promotes Segregating Gays!"

It’s not segregation if people of an underprivileged minority want to create a safe space for themselves in which they can talk about and share stuff that they normally can’t in a space dominated by a majority that is largely apathetic towards, unaware of, or hostile towards that kind of stuff. It absolutely cannot be said that this somehow “reverse segregation” or “heterophobic” - especially considering that a) straight people are welcome and b) this is one con geared towards folk with queer interests out of several dozens of cons that are primarily geared towards folk with straight interests. Queer people want a space where they can meet other people like them: that’s all. If it was an Armenian Gamers convention, it wouldn’t be a convention to exclude everyone who wasn’t Armenian - it’s just that it’s geared specifically towards Armenian people, the issues they might face, and with services that primarily affect them.

"We don't have conventions for black gamers, or girl gamers, so we shouldn't have one for gay gamers!"

For a start, we already have at least one female-centric geek convention. GeekGirlCon lets women interact with people more like them, and lets them discuss things that affect them without having to endure anyone putting forward bullshit like "lol get back in the kitchen", or the more insidious suggestions like, "your gender and gaming should be TOTALLY SEPERATE!" - well, they're not. Because assholes don't treat them like they're seperate either. Female gamers are regularly picked on.

As for gaming cons for people of different groups - why not have these? That would give them a safe place to discuss topics important to them and how the intersect with gaming in a place where there’s less chance a straight white heterosexual man will pop in and claim that there’s no such thing as sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, e.t.c., that they’re actually encouraging people to treat them badly simply for wanting to talk to other people like themselves, and that their meetup is pointless and they should do it in a group where there’s less chance that they’ll even find people they share these traits in common with who also identify with these traits and want to discuss them. However, one of the great things about Gaymercon is that it’s not exclusive: straight people who might be interested are also welcome to come along.

"Gaymercon means you're running away from tackling homophobia!"

This con is also not about avoiding the issue. Just because gay folk want a safe space for themselves does not in any way imply that they’re running away from anything - it’s that they want a space dedicated for them. If I were to run a Scottish gaming convention because an American gaming convention doesn’t cater to my needs, that’s not me running away from the issues I’d have got from being part of an American con. That’s me saying, “Well, I can create a space specifically for Scottish people, geared towards Scottish interests, without taking up part of a more general con where finding more Scottish people in attendance may be more difficult in the first place.” Similarly, the organisers at Gaymercon obviously thought they would be able to do a good job of organising events specifically for their chosen audience rather than trying to bend PAX or E3 to have more Queer culture (or at least elements of the Straight White Male culture that dominates much of Western folk’s lives, i.e., booth babes, games with rampant sexism, folk throwing around rape jokes, predominantly white creators, predominantly male creators, predominantly straight creators, etc etc etc).

Besides, dealing with such pervasive issues as homophobia can be immensely tiring, even if you're not doing it often or in any publicly-visible way. Tackling homophobia often isn't as simple as posting a Facebook status saying how bad it is that gay people run the risk of being stoned to death and then forgetting about it - many gay folk can't forget about it, because it affects them every day of their lives. The response to Gaymercon highlights another big part of the pervasiveness of homophobia - we're still having to write articles and comments defending the decision just to have queer individuals meet up and talk about games.

"Having Gaymercon Means Gays Get Special Privileges!"

Treating people equally doesn’t mean ignoring all the differences between everybody and adopting a one-size-fits-all approach for absolutely everyone (which, conveniently, often seems to be the way that straight white male westerners would choose to deal with everything, not what the underprivileged would choose). It’s about giving equal attention to the issues that folk face.

Regarding treating gay people the same as straight folk - the reason we don’t just lump everyone into the same category as “human beings” is because folk committing hate crime aren’t doing that when they bash your skull in with baseball bats for attending Pride or come into your home and beat up you and your family because you’re trans*. We’re all gamers, sure, but we all have vastly different experiences - not least of which includes folk who often get blown off because straight people don’t understand or care about their problems, or they get beaten up just because they’re not heterosexual. Not everybody receives equal treatment all the time, and if people refuse to acknowledge that by saying “Well, I treat everyone in exactly the same way”, you’re going to run into problems - especially if your treatment of people isn’t equal or helpful for folk, i.e., making rape jokes in front of people triggered by rape; booking group events for able-bodied people but failing to recognise or acknowledge the needs of a disabled friend; shouting homophobic slurs at the TV when you’re playing a game and hurting someone who’s been getting homophobic slurs throughout most of their lives. You’re right that there should be no barriers between folk being treated equally well, but they shouldn’t be treated in exactly the same way, because different folk have different needs.

"Gaymercon isn't the best way to eliminate homophobia!"

Gaymercon cannot be and is not an attempt to end homo/transphobia once and for all - it’s literally a meeting place for people with a vested interest in queer issues. It doesn’t have to be the best way to end homophobia, it doesn’t have to be practically perfect in every way to be considered a good thing - it, like every other convention ever, is just a meeting space, not a radical rights march. Sometimes queer folk don’t want to have another rights campaign, another politically-charged seminar, or a progressive rally that will change they world - sometimes queer folk just want a safe place to hang out and talk shit with other folk like them.

"Gaymercon only exists so that gays can hook up!"

Just because two gay people are in close proximity doesn't mean they're going to be attracted to each other at all - similarly, just because there's a lot of straight men and women going to a convention doesn't mean they're all going to partner up and have sex with each other indiscriminately.

"Gaymercon SHOULD only exist so that gays can hook up!"

Lots of people who want to attend Gaymercon want to meet people who have similar experiences to them, listen to/talk to people who have faced the same issues they face, and can more freely be who they want to be without having to worry about being lynched, being automatically disliked, or how they might "represent gay people" as a whole. A convention is just a meeting place. Those meetings can be anything from a gamer and developer meeting up to play game demos, attendees becoming friends, or, yes, even people becoming lovers. 

"There are no gay issues in gaming - people saying 'faggot' over Xbox Live aren't homophobes, they're just stupid!"

They're both. Just because someone uses the word "faggot" casually now doesn't mean that it's not offensive - it's still used against people who are gay, and it still hurts. The fact that people somehow believe that a word primarily used to discriminate against gay people is somehow no longer offensive to gay people should set alarm bells ringing.

No more perpetuating the myth that people "choose" to be offended, either. True, the world would be a happier place if none of us get offended - however, we do. Ignoring that fact and saying you're "treating everyone equally" - usually meaning that everyone gets treated equally badly - doesn't make for a better place for anyone but the person being offensive.

And enough of the  about reclaiming the word faggot. It's not for heterosexuals to choose when and why homosexuals should feel offended, after homosexuals have been routinely and systematically abused by heterosexuals for centuries. We should let bygones be bygones, yes - and when the vast majority of the world - including homosexuals - decides that this is to be the case, then we can say "faggot". Maybe then we can also ask black people about the n-word too! 

"I don't see the point in Gaymercon {followed by a paragraph about their feelings about Gaymercon}!"

That's cool. You don't have to weigh in on the issue if you're unaware of the issues queer folk face in the world today, how queer culture might intersect with gamer culture, the idea of inclusive vs exclusive spaces, heteronormativity, the W.A.S.P. demographic used in the games industry, the pervasiveness of homo- and transphobia, e.t.c., e.t.c.. Commenting for the sake of commenting when you haven't researched the issue aren't actually interested in it and don't have anything insightful or new to add just makes you (at worst) a bigot, or (at best) completely irrelevant.

As I've mentioned in a previous article, I think Gaymercon is brilliant. It allows for folk with a lot of similar interests to get to meet up and interact in a safe space that's geared towards them - no having to justify themselves to people, no having to hide the things that make up a big part of their identity, no having to deal with homophobia - except, of course, the dogged interference of the Westboro Baptist Church, who are protesting Gaymercon.

Further Reading:

Denis Farr: "Gotta Keep 'em Segregated?"
Jim Sterling: "The Importance of a Gay Gamer Convention"
Kyle Orland: "Gaymercon Wants to Provide a 'Safe Place' for LGBTQ Gamers"
cbrachyrhynchos: "Gaymercon: Another Thought"

2 August 2012


So, today Kotaku posted a pretty good article, providing a signal boost for Gaymercon's Kickstarter page. There was even a video from John Patrick Lowrie, the voice of Team Fortress 2's Sniper, providing his support! (Incidentally, I only just discovered his wife is GLaDOS' voice actor, which is amazing/terrifying). If the post was a stand-alone type deal, everything would have been A-OK.

Unfortunately, it wasn't, because Kotaku allows comments!

A number of commenters appeared asking questions - sometimes sincerely, sometimes facetiously - about the need for a convention that's primarily gay-friendly (Gaymercon doesn't exclude heterosexuals), and, by extension, why "gaymers" should ever be a thing at all. I wanted to answer those questions, but:

  1. My account on Kotaku rarely actually lets me post, and
  2. Commenting on Kotaku makes me feel a little ill because of the sheer amount of vitriol decanting from one comment thread to another.
So I'm doing it here instead. 

Rest of the article is under the cut - and I'm adding a **TRIGGER WARNING** because it also includes mentions of and links to news articles about hate crime.

25 July 2012

myEXP: InFamous

A couple of weeks ago I finished Infamous, a game which had long lingered on the periphery of my awareness. I knew it was kind of like Grand Theft Auto ("in some way") and had something to do with superpowers ("or something"), but I never really clocked exactly what it was.

And, as I found out, it is Grand Theft Auto with superpowers - with all the delirious levels of amazingness that that entails.

Full discussion is under the cut - and there are some gameplay-related spoilers to be found therein!

19 July 2012

[myGameDev] Apartmental: Announcement!

There have been whispers on the wind, murmurings from the rumour-mill, about a top-secret project known only as "Apartmental". The internets are abuzz with theories - some believe it's a state of mind achievable only through intense zazen meditation, a new level of satori that causes the body to erupt into blissful convulsions. Others think it's a viral meme the government is projecting into our collective unconscious by encoding it in the awkward mishaps of TV news anchors. Yet others think it's the first ultraterrestial consciousness we have made contact with, or a new alphabet grown in the American Midwest, or the name of a child in Sri Lanka who controls the movements of Saturn...

Apartmental is all of these things. By which I mean Apartmental is none of these things.

Apartmental is a game I'm developing. Up until now, I've been pretty close-mouthed about it - I've mentioned it to a handful of people at university, but not many other folks. Mostly it was down to fear - a fear that I'd look like just another student developer with a lot of ideas and pipe dreams of a fantastic project that ultimately ends up going nowhere; however, largely due to Brian Baglow's inspiring rant, "Developers: Stop Being Sh*t", I feel comfortable with letting everyone else in on it because I believe I'm at the stage where I've proven my commitment to the project. And so, without further ado, I'd like to tell you guys all about the gorgeous bambino that is Apartmental!

What Is Apartmental?

Apartmental is a 3D puzzle/adventure game where the player controls a character fighting for their sanity - bizarre, hellish entities have hidden themselves in the character's apartment, and the player must find them, then exorcise them, by fetching strange objects from the Disquiet Hallways, a series of shadow labyrinths behind the apartment's walls However, more of the strange entities are lurking in the Disquiet Hallways, and if any of them catch sight of the protagonist, they give chase, causing the protagonist's mental state to deteriorate: if the player character's sanity runs out completely, they succumb to madness, and it's game over. The player has to balance their puzzle-solving ability alongside their stealth skills in order to eliminate all the entities from their apartment and finally reclaim control of their psyche.

How Is Apartmental Being Developed?

Apartmental is a solo project. This was a conscious choice, since a lot of the game is self-expressive - a way for me to exorcise my own demons, in a sense - and I believe that expressive games require a lot of author control. As well as that, I'd like to showcase my own skills in various aspects of game development, including game design, programming, level design, art, audio, production and marketing. Granted, with only one person taking on every role in development, the game may suffer in some of these areas, but I believe that the strength of my focus for Apartmental will help me keep up a high standard.

Apartmental is being developed for PC, and uses the Unity 3D game engine with scripting in Javascript, with 3D art assets created using Autodesk 3DS Max, and Daz Studio 4.

What Stage Of Development Is Apartmental At?

Work on Apartmental is well underway: I completed a large chunk of the initial design back in August 2011, but work and academic commitments meant I had to put the development of the game on the back-burner, at least until April 2012, when my second year at university was completed, and I threw myself back into development. I've been on campus every week working on the game in some form or another, and the beginnings of a release schedule are appearing. At the moment, I'm working on creating a lot of the art assets for the game, and by mid-August I hope to be coding in the core functionality of the game.

In the meantime though, I have some pretty groovy concept art for you guys to check out!


Here we've got four of the "Infestation Entities" that the player encounters in Apartmental: "Lazy Malaise", "Otherworld Window", "Passedtime" and "Withered Warmth". There's a story behind every Infestation Entity which I'll go into in a later post - every entity has its own personality, its own themes and motives,  and each is associated with a Tool that will aid the player in eliminating every alien presence in the apartment - these Tools include the Composure Portrait, a smashed mirror that shows the character's current level of sanity, the Mood Ring, which detects entities that are hiding in the room, and lots, lots more - and some of them are downright weird.

The gameplay of Apartmental is split between the Apartment itself, and the Disquiet Hallways. In the Apartment, the player must uncover the hidden Infestation Entities that are haunting the apartment, which can involve anything from rearranging objects in the room to knocking on the walls in specific patterns. The player will then have to venture into the Disquiet Hallways to find a specific Tool that the Entity is associated with - to find it, they will have to avoid the Infestation Entities that freely roam around in the dark. This usually involves sneaking around corners, hiding behind walls or all-out running from one end of a corridor to the other - because if an Infestation Entity spots the player, they immediately begin to chase them, and the protagonist's sanity begins to crumble. If the protagonist's sanity reaches zero, the game is over.

That's just the core gameplay, though: I've been heavily influenced by things like "The Last Big Secret" from Team ICO's Shadow of the Colossus, and there'll be a lot of little hidden extras as well. ;D

What's Next For Apartmental?

I'm aiming to have a playable demo of Apartmental ready by September 2012. If you'd like a copy of the demo to playtest, send me an email or a message on Twitter and let me know - this goes doubly if you'd like to provide feedback for the game as well! 

Thanks very much for your interest in Apartmental - I'll be uploading some more sneak peeks and discussing other details about the game over the next few weeks, so make sure'n check back for more! In the meantime, please spread the word about Apartmental! :D

15 June 2012

[SquareGo] Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 is the latest and last installment in the Mass Effect series, and Commander Shepard – who has probably enjoyed the most “eventful” term of service in military history – must unite the races of the galaxy against primeval entities that have emerged from dark space after aeons of slumber to exterminate the races that have appeared since the last time they awoke. With the weight of the whole world – the whole galaxy – on their shoulders, the Commander’s task is by no means a small one: and Mass Effect 3 is no small game, either.

Read the rest of the review over at SquareGo! or click below to read more!

Writing For SquareGo!

Howdy folks, just a quick message to let you all know that I'm now a reviewer for Square-Go, a Scottish website focusing on jargon-free videogame journalism! My first review is of Bioware's Mass Effect 3, which I'll also be posting up here.

Make sure you give SquareGo a look-see!

6 June 2012

The Merits Of Heavy Rain

It rains a lot in Scotland. A lot. Especially on the west coast, where I live. So, a game where it rains for several consecutive days is kind of heartwarming and homely, in a bizarre "misery loves company" kind of way. Over the past two weeks, I played said game - Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain - for the very first time.

Incidentally, over the past two weeks, Scotland experienced some of the warmest, brightest weather it's seen in decades. So, while everyone else in Scotland was outside enjoying the only sunshine we're likely to get this year, I was indoors, with the curtains closed, immersing myself in a sombre game of serial killers, heart-wrenching emotional maelstroms, intense moral dilemmas and gloomy weather. But hey - there were a lot of moments in Heavy Rain that made me thankful I wasn't out enjoying the summer!

This review contains SPOILERS under the cut!

23 March 2012

Soul Calibur V

Soul Calibur V is a strange creature. To be more specific, it's something of a chimaera: it appears as though Namco/Project Soul has torn out the best elements from previous games in the Soul series and stitched them together in the vain hope that the result would, by the virtues of its constituent parts, be considered the best game thus far. And while each of these elements may have excelled in the games they were taken from, they just don't seem to have meshed well together - like a body comprised of donor organs that all reject one another, there's no synergy in the system.

7 February 2012

[myGameDev] Scottish Game Jam 2012

Last weekend, I took part in the Global Game Jam for the very first time. 

I've taken part in a couple of jam-style time-constrained creative challenges before - I've finished National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) before (once...), and Script Frenzy (once...), 24 Hour Comics Day (once...) and a Summer Game Jam hosted by my university (once...). Game Jam, though, is totally different animal. It's an animal that stalks you for forty-eight consecutive hours, wearing you down slowly until exhaustion and sleep deprivation make you vulnerable, before it leaps from the bushes, claws out your Achilles' tendons and tears your still-beating heart from your chest in a gory display not seen in nature outside the harsh confines of Govan.

Incidentally, Govan is where I live.

30 January 2012

Minecraft Monday #6: The Remediation of Remedy

Minecraft Monday is a fortnightly feature on Hyp/Arc that documents a playthrough of the hit indie game Minecraft, as well as discussing news and updates regarding the game and the cult phenomenon surrounding it.


Last time on Minecraft Monday, I had to escape the little town of Remedy after burning down the prison, with its only prisoner still inside it - a villager named Virgil who I believed was responsible for the disappearance of Remedy's priest, Father Scowell - I ran to the north-eastern desert village of Medicine in an attempt to begin a new life away from the madness in Remedy. This week, we discover more about Medicine - and a major revelation about Father Scowell's disappearance comes to light at last...

16 January 2012

Minecraft Monday #5: The Fire in Remedy

Minecraft Monday is a fortnightly feature on Hyp/Arc that documents a playthrough of the hit indie game Minecraft, as well as discussing news and updates regarding the game and the cult phenomenon surrounding it.


Last time on Minecraft Monday, we dug deeper into the mystery of Father Scowell's disappearance and the strange villager named Virgil who seemed to know something about it - who was later imprisoned for questioning. This week, we try to get answers from Virgil, and witness unrest amongst other villagers in the Little Town of Remedy.

10 January 2012

D&D Next

Today, Wizards of the Coast announced that the next edition of the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons is being developed, two and a half years after the release of the fanbase-splitting 4th Edition. The New York Times has also ran a piece on the announcement, which mentions the ongoing "Edition Wars" that have been waged throughout the gaming community, musing that this new edition - referred to as "D&D Next" and "5E" - may result in an armistice, if not a total peace treaty, by bringing players together to actively shape the game's development.

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) have mentioned in their announcement that there will be great emphasis placed on player feedback during the production of D&D Next, and that they are "conducting ongoing open playtests with the gaming community" that give the players some measure of determining how the game will eventually be played; however, they haven't said much about what forms of feedback they'll be taking other than (assumedly) the raw data from playtesting sessions, which is at least something. While iterative design and reliance on prototyping will not come as a surprise to veteran game developers, those unfamiliar with the recent history of Dungeons and Dragons may be unaware that 4th Edition (4E) resulted in a gulf opening up between players who favoured certain editions, principally those of 4E and its predecessor, dubbed "3.5E", partly due to what many felt was WotC interpreting what they thought players wanted rather than actually soliciting feedback from them.

4E's changes to the game included the introduction of "Powers", which represent single, discrete actions that your character can take - not unlike Abilities from World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI, or Skills from Guild Wars. Some of these powers had time limits on them, such that certain ones could only be used once a day or once a battle (with another set you could use whenever you wanted), and the vast majority of them would involve dealing a certain amount of damage and applying a status condition like being Dazed or some other restriction like taking additional damage if the target attempted certain actions. Almost all of these Powers were developed with a view towards being used in battle, with only a handful of "Utility Powers" that could be used in different ways, such as teleportation, the ability to sneak better, or healing powers. To me, the principle of "Powers" was one of the main problems with the game - they had been designed to encapsulate certain actions that characters of that class would most likely want to do, but because most of them fell into the camp of "Deal x damage, apply y effect/deal z additional damage if w action is performed", they robbed players of the chance to create, design and describe their character's moves in battle the way they wanted. It was a frequent point of discussion in my groups as to whether players without a "Deal x damage and trip the opponent" Power were actually capable of tripping their opponent - perhaps using the Acrobatics skill? The arbitrary restrictions on when the powers could be used also sometimes led to problems; there didn't seem to be any in-game reason for why their characters could "expertly navigate through difficult terrain" only once a day (the Rogue power "Undaunted Stride") - meaning that if they successfully crossed difficult terrain at some point in the day using the Power, then came back to the same terrain, they would suddenly find it difficult. And for players who tended to favour other forms of conflict resolution over combat (stealth and subterfuge or negotiation, for example), these Powers offered very little roleplaying opportunity whatsoever.

4E was also intended to streamline the rules of 3.5E, which often required players to look up charts and tables of seemingly arbitrary numbers throughout several different rulebooks. However, 4E itself quickly began to suffer the same problem, to the extent that a new even-more-streamlined version of the game - named "D&D Essentials" - was recently released, intended to help new players understand the rules of the game better. Even this was flawed - the material in D&D Essentials books were often incompatible with "mainstream" D&D 4E, and the so-called Rules Compendium - intended to be the definitive source of rules - was missing blocks of rules, some of which were actually referred to and in use by other Essentials products. By now, the sheer amount of books was overwhelming -  at least one new rulebook was being released every month that introduced new options for players - that comparisons were drawn between WotC's business model and the idea of "monthly fees" in MMOs.

In essence, 4E's gameplay bears heavy similarities to that of MMOs - to the extent that it seems as though WotC may have deliberately shaped 4E to model and emulate the strong points of multiplayer online games to capture the interest of that market. Unfortunately, for the reasons listed above, the translation from videogame to tabletop game does not always work.

However, if WotC are recruiting players as playtesters for the next iteration of the game, this could be a step towards a far better gameplay structure - the announcement effectively states that WotC are aware that 4E has caused some degree of strife, that the edition badly needs improvement, and that they have to listen to their core demographic rather than interpreting their desires by what they enjoy in mediums which, while similar, are vastly different from their own game. After all, one of the reasons I enjoy playing D&D is that it allows me to break away from the restrictions on creativity inherent in fantasy worlds entirely designed by the development team, where my actions are described for me, and where I pick from a predetermined set of ways to interact with the world rather than invent my own.

No doubt over the next few months, we'll be hearing more about this new venture - ENWorld has a thread collecting information about the game, and there's a group for D&D Next on the Wizards Community site as well.

3 January 2012

Minecraft Monday #4: The Villager That Knew Too Much

Minecraft Monday is a fortnightly feature on Hyp/Arc that documents a playthrough of the hit indie game Minecraft, as well as discussing news and updates regarding the game and the cult phenomenon surrounding it.


Last time on Minecraft Monday, we discovered that the priest of the Little Town of Remedy had vanished, and that another of Remedy's residents seemed to be communicating that he knew something about his disappearance. This week, we investigate the mystery and try to uncover the secrets held by Virgil, The Villager That Knew Too Much...