99 players enter an arena and only one may leave a winner. That is the standard formula of the battle royale genre that’s gripped the esports world in the past few years. Am I talking about Fortnite in this instance? Or maybe I’m talking about recent esports up-and-comer Apex Legends? Fools. I’m not talking about shooters. Battle royales don’t necessarily have to be shooters and recent newcomer Tetris 99 proves that.
Tetris 99 is a recently introduced Tetris spin-off available for free exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. In that game, you play a game of Tetris alongside 98 other people in hopes of being the last one standing. As you play, you can target other players so that when you clear a line, you can drop debris on their playing field and prevent people targeting you from building debris against you. As more people drop out, the game becomes faster and people are more likely to target you (especially if you’ve got kills under your belt), turning it into the game of fast reflexes and thinking that competitive Tetris players can appreciate.
Tetris 99 has been well-received on release. On Twitch, the game enjoys a healthy viewership in the thousands. However, can Tetris 99 spin-off into something bigger?
Tetris on its own already enjoys a moderate competitive scene, being one of the oldest games there is. Small local tournaments can be found for the various versions of Tetris, from score competitions for the original Nintendo Entertainment System to head-to-head matches of Puyo Puyo Tetris.
In 2010, a bigger, more formal tournament popped up. The first Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) was held, with professional players competing in the original version of Tetris. The tournament’s foundations is interesting, as the tournament was originally devised alongside a documentary called Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, which focused on the history of Tetris, its pro-players and the tournament to see who was the best out of all of them.
Since then however, CTWC has stuck around with yearly tournaments. More than 10,000 people watched the 2018 finals live, its YouTube video sitting at a healthy 3.6 million views. With the interest generated by Tetris 99 and the 2018 release of Tetris Effect, viewership for the next CTWC will likely top those numbers.
So, Tetris 99 has a base as a spectator sport. However, while it has the base, what it currently lacks is the means.
What Tetris 99 needs is a lobby system. As it currently stands, people that play Tetris 99 are sent into random lobbies. A method of creating private lobbies would greatly benefit the game. Not only would it make organizing tournament play possible, but it can help casual play in that it can let friends play together; datamining of the game revealed that a mode with computer players will be added, so computer players could take up the blank spaces if need be.
If tournaments only want the cream of the crop to participate, tournament organizers could limit participation based on player level. Players of Tetris 99 can level up, but as it currently stands, it’s there as bragging rights, acting as an indicator to show off who has spent a lot of time playing the game. Player level can be put to practical use to filter in top players (or at least, ones with a lot of experience) to participate in tournaments.
An improved way of spectating would also make the game more suitable for watching. On the sides of the playing field, players can see miniaturized versions of other players’ games and the shots crossing between them from successful line clears. Upon death, a player gets a live feed which players are forced out, allowing spectators to see who lives on and ultimately wins the game. However, spectators don’t know who’s who until they’re out, which makes it difficult to gauge how a match progresses. A way to switch between the views of different players could fix this.
Tetris continues to be a competitive darling decades on. As the 35th anniversary of the original Tetris approaches, Tetris 99 presents new possibilities for people to engage in the series’ competitive scene and could potentially be something more serious.
I’m going to talk about something different today. Recently, I finished reading Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier. It was something I’ve been wanting to read since it came out and it turned out my university actually had a copy of it. Considering that the writer is an editor at Kotaku, I expect the Typical Gamer to roll their eyes and snark about that “Shin Megami Tensei IV is the Dark Souls of Persona” article, but they should set that stupid bullshit aside and check out one of the most interesting books about games I’ve read.
Blood, Sweat and Pixels is a brutally honest look at the video game industry. There are triumphs in this book, but it isn’t 100% unwavering praise and cheer like a lot of video game related books I picked up from bundles on Storybundle. Every success story comes with human costs – and some of the stories in the book aren’t even success stories.
Each chapter of Blood, Sweat and Pixels focuses on the development of a single game, showcasing the many different experiences and setbacks of the industry, at times contrasting with each other. Many stories have studios struggling to meet the demands of publishers, while the story of Witcher 3 has a publisher trying to make it big as a developer. You read the story of Pillars of Eternity and how Obsidian easily found the Kickstarter funding to make their game, which is soon contrasted with Shovel Knight‘s story of how its developers struggled to get the word out to get enough funding for their game.
And “enough” is used loosely in this situation. Looking at the big success Shovel Knight is today, you never would have thought that the developers had to force themselves into working long hours to make the most of their funds, sometimes toeing the line of poverty. This is one of the stories of the book, stories of the human creators behind the games we love being screwed over because of financial reasons or because of decisions by bigwigs and publishers. Read on as the ambitious studio behind Halo Wars gets unceremoniously shut down, with its workers continuing to develop the game knowing that they won’t have jobs in the future; this is partly because of an office schism that led to wasted resources on projects that tried to escape Ensemble Studio’s hole of being the “RTS company.” Feel that the first Destiny’s story elements is a mess? Behold the miscommunications and mismanagement that led to that happening. And it all ends on the downer that is Star Wars 1313, Disney’s cruel ever-consuming noose tightening around LucasArts.
The one thing that connects all these stories together (besides being about games) is crunch, the dreaded practice of working long hours at the expense of health and personal life. Frequent stories about crunch have employees working their ass off to get games out on time or so they can have a big fancy demo ready for E3. Crunch not only exists to meet deadlines, but obligations, such is the case of Stardew Valley‘s creator, who forced himself to work long and hard to achieve perfectionism for the sake of satisfying his audience, leading to severe burnout. He, thankfully, had a loving family to fall back on during his time, but reading his chapter reminds me that not many developers have that same luxury.
Looking at recent big game industry news, nothing much has changed. Studios still crunch. Big wigs still screw people over. Passionate developers continue to be taken advantage of. A tidbit in the Halo Wars chapter mentions that Ensemble Studios crunched to get the first Age of Empires out, which leads one to wonder how long this has been going on for and if it’ll continue. It certainly has for Red Dead Redemption 2.
Speaking of which, fucking Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s just a walking plague of many of the problems described in this book. But what gets my blood boiling the most is a quote by Dan Houser, a founder of Rockstar, in a recent interview:
Sam and I talk about this a lot and it’s that games are still magical. It’s like they’re made by elves. You turn on the screen and it’s just this world that exists on TV. I think you gain something by not knowing how they’re made. As much as we might lose something in terms of people’s respect for what we do, their enjoyment of what we do is enhanced. Which is probably more important.
Dan Houser, bastard man
Which is bullshit, but of course, it’s easy to dismiss the value of your employees when you’re the boss.
Reading Blood, Sweat and Pixels feels defiant in light of Dan Houser’s nonsense. It’s a book that reminds you that, no, elves don’t make this shit, people do and they often suffer to do so. I personally believe that this book should be an important cornerstone in gaming culture. It’s a reality check that people need, showing the side of games that the average consumer doesn’t typically see. It’s not perfect by any means, as the book isn’t representative of all experiences in making games, but compared to the general consumer knowledge about what goes on, it’s still valuable.
Video game preservation has been a hot topic, with the takedown of emulation sites such as Emuparadise, but the conversation goes beyond emulation. Digital only games are particularly vulnerable to being lost forever for a variety of reasons. Music licensing issues led to games like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Alan Wake being removed from stores. Sometimes, games are simply lost, with servers going down and download links disappearing and RPG Maker games happen to suffer from the latter.
Early RPG Maker culture was centered on forums, users sharing games with each other through temporary download sites. More centralized hubs were set up for these downloads, like rpgmaker.net, but many of the early games were never set up on that site, just floating around out there – if they haven’t been lost entirely.
It’s that time of the year again, it’s Ludum Dare baby!! The latest Ludum Dare, which ran from August 10 to 13, had the theme of “running out of space,” which I thought left a lot of room for interpretation. So, I checked out a bunch of games and here are a few that stuck with me!
Edgy Fantasy Battle Deluxe
You know how Sephiroth had that really cool Supernova move that blasted through the entire solar system, only to do negligible damage? Edgy Fantasy Battle Deluxe, by Yanrishatum, Zeusdex, Theodote, and Shess, is what happens when moves like that actually had consequences!
The entire game has endgame JRPG protagonists facing off a “villain,” using devastating limit break like magic to fuck her shit up. To do this, you have to sacrifice land tiles to perform your feats of destruction. The game is sort of half puzzle game, with you choosing batches of land to sacrifice and you have to make efficient decisions, lest you’re unable to get a patch to sacrifice and have to make do with your (comparatively far weaker) normal attacks.
The game is an interesting idea and I like the models, they’re very reminiscent of an early PS1 RPG. I think that if the team ever returned to this idea, they could use more varied battlefields or maybe even randomized battlefields for your party to draw magic from.
TrackBlasters, by Noojsan, Kokonaught and My Sweet Whomp, has you driving around a racetrack for the best time. The catch is that for some reason your car likes to leave bombs behind as it goes, blowing Bomberman patterns into the track that you could fall into on the next lap. The game thus becomes about careful driving, trying to go as fast as you can while navigating to ensure that you still have space to drive through on your next go-around.
I mean, you could always drive off-road so that bombs could explode harmlessly away from the main track, but where’s the fun in that?
It’s a simple and neat idea, though it’s a bit frustrating that the game sets your respawn point far from where you fall. Though, given that you’re destroying the land as you play, I understand how it’d be hard to account for spawn points.
The Flesh Pit
The Flesh Pit is a game brought to us by FrankieSmileShow. I previously looked at A Growing Adventure, his entry for Ludum Dare 39 that I really liked and after missing his last few Ludum Dare stuff, I was excited to hop into this one.
You are fighting for the glory of the Flesh God and it demands meat! This is a score-attack game where you fight waves of enemies to accumulate their meat. However, the meat isn’t just shoved into some hyperspace inventory, but it manifests physically, enemies exploding into chunks of flesh, propelling you around and making the arena claustrophobic. It’s kinda nauseating if you think about it. Given the backing sound, this would probably be a horror game if it weren’t for the grotesque silliness/cuteness of the enemy designs.
I think the game needs some polish, because I feel that knockback is too small (to the point that using knives feels like a liability) and jumping feels iffy, but what’s there is pretty cool and I appreciate that there’s different weapon types and I like the enemy designs, even if they’re not fully detailed.
TINY TOWNS is a city building puzzle game by Bearish. You are given limited space, urging you to make the most of the room given to you to build a town that fulfills all of the objectives.
Like all puzzle games, it starts out easy. Sure, just gotta plop the garbage dump and electric plant over here and put all these houses and trees there, easy. But then the objectives just get more demanding. Put down all these houses? Got it. Oh, they’re too close to the power plant? Okay, let’s plant some trees and – oh jeez, there’s no more room for road. It’s all simple, but the game tries to run with the most it can with its rules.
Out of the Ludum Dare 42 games I looked at, this one might be my favorite. It’s polished, aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t really have major flaws and it keeps throwing puzzles at you. Definitely a must play.
You May Live
You May Live is by AnlaXix, Draigius, and SachaY, mixing management game with moral dilemmas. You are the chief doctor of a field hospital low on supplies during the midst of a war and you have limited space for patients, either because of lack of beds or because lack of funds to accept more.
Patient requests come in, with a brief description on how long they’re going to stay and whatever funds they bring. You can expect the moral dilemma of “person is heavily injured but has nothing to offer,” but you can also expect getting random assholes that you probably wouldn’t want to serve but hey, they have money on them.
I feel that the game being so quick to play through kinda mitigates whatever emotional impact it has. Like, some comments compare this to Papers Please, but the game lacks those long stretches of time for the impact of your decisions to set in or the hoops that you have to go through to make a confirmation or denial that makes your decision feel more important. For me it’s one of those things that couldn’t reach its full potential on account of a time limit, but you know what, I still appreciate what it was trying to go for.
There is Never Enough Space
There Is Never Enough Space is by Jamie Rollo, who decided to tackle the subject of the jam through multiple minigames. Navigate through this space! Fit things into this confined space!
If your microgame busting are excellent, the game will be very brief, but it’s a sweet time, and as a WarioWare appreciator, it’s always good to see games like this. Cute art, fun times, no complaints from me.
Owned By is a visual game poem by etrohar and arctic_allosaurus. You roam around a metaphorical mindscape while a voice demands that you accept your role in life. Aside from the close shave chases from manifestations of judgement, the jam’s theme is embodied by the idea of being restricted by society into fitting a certain role, which is an interesting narrative take on the theme.
The sketchy art style lends an interesting atmosphere. Getting caught by the mindscape’s manifestations gives you a lovely scene of a horrible eye opening up and staring at you, with more eyes staring you down for every time you’re caught, which is, well, actually kinda creepy. Sure, the gameplay is simple, but, it’s one of those games where the game part is a vehicle for everything else, if that makes sense.
That is only a mere handful of games made for the jam. In fact, there were 3066 submissions for this jam between the main game jam and the compo, which is just wild to me. Of course, there’s plenty of time to check out games beyond the mere handful I’m presenting to you, as the rating period ends September 4, so check those out and remember to give some votes to the games you enjoyed!
Typocryphais an experimental typing JRPG visual novel about social and cultural alienation. Armed with the Typocrypha spellcasting device, a young member of the EVE-IRIS Counter-Demon Force confronts the demonic forces of the Evil Eye, an unknown enemy whose gaze is felt everywhere – including in themself.
I would have liked to write about it, but also, Hughe, the game’s lead developer, is also my friend, which would really cloud my judgement. I even made him fanart for his birthday, dangit. But I thought, hey, since I know him, I should hit him up to answer some questions on the game.
And so here we are today with an interview that’s also effectively a postmortem on the game and the experiences making it. Hughe’s responses are joined by James (producer, programmer, writer), Valentino/Tino (designer, programmer, writer), Herman (artist, animator) and Paige (artist). Many of these responses are pretty long, though I found them insightful and hopefully, you will too.
On the questions regarding the future of the game, please note that as the game is still in development, things may not be set in stone.
Hey record keepers, it’s your pal, Dari Scitydreamer, and welcome back to another weekly Final Fantasy Record Keeper Report, or, FFRKR! What? This is off-brand for the site? This has always been an Record Keeper fansite, what are you talking about? So anyway, quick recap! Last week, we had a discussion on the Final Fantasy V event dungeon and whether or not some of the new characters introduced are important enough to warrant being made characters in FFRK. Again, I argue that if they made Jihl Nabaat a playable character, that minor FF XIII villain that got unceremoniously dropped out of the narrative, why the hell not? We also discussed our pulls from the 33x Relic Draw and hollered about trying to get Tyro’s new Ultra Soul Break.
This week’s report will just focus on upcoming events, so it’ll be a bit light. Easter Sunday is tomorrow and as we all know, the Easter Bunny detests video games, so in honor of him, I’ll avoid going into the usual 5000+ word sermons these reports go into.
The past weekend, Degica, the company that publishes the RPG Maker engine line, had a free period where you could try RPG Maker MV and their recent in-house release, Visual Novel Maker. I’ve been curious about Visual Novel Maker ever since I heard of it. I don’t have much experience in visual novels. I played around with Ren’py for a bit and made something, but I’m no expert in it. However, Visual Novel Maker, like the RPG Maker line, promises an accessible game making experience, so, I thought that I should check it out.
The Hotline Miami series may be over, but, like many game franchises, fans try to keep its spirit alive with their own efforts. The games have had mods and the second game ended up getting an official level editor more than a year after release, bringing more content into this realm of ultraviolence. However, the one mod that garnered the most attention – and the most controversy – is Midnight Animal.
In late 2015, Midnight Animal was announced by Spencer Yan, promising a follow up to the Hotline Miami series. It aimed to be a total conversion mod of the first game, with the blessings of Dennation to proceed.
The original premise of Midnight Animal took place after the events of the second game, where the American nationalist group, Fifty Blessings, now rules. You were to play as an operator named John, taking up contract killings in the name of Fifty Blessings before choosing to betray them.
Midnight Animal ended up going on Steam and was successfully greenlit March 2016. Initially, the game was promised to be released on August 18th. However, in June, Midnight Animal was announced to go on indefinite delay. While the announcement post is gone, reactions to it indicated that Yan was having some life problems. The most vocal reactions to this were compassionate and understanding, which is a contrast to later reactions down the road.
Yan announced that development started back up in August of that year. The game took a bit of a shift at this point, with Midnight Animal getting disconnected from the Fifty Blessings bad future. However, further changes were down the road.
Now, what happens from this point is a bit fuzzy. The game’s official wordpress blog has been privatized, the Steam page for the game has been deleted and pretty much most of the promotional material outside of the Mod DB page is gone. All further information on the game’s history is picked from second hand accounts.
On Feb. 13 2017, Midnight Animal‘s Steam Store page updated, presenting a new vision that nobody expected. The game was now rebranded as Midnight Animal: A Story of Love and Forgetting. Instead of being advertised as a top-down action game, it was then referred to as a “top-down roleplaying game with life simulation and visual novel elements, heavily influenced by the Persona series.” The original gameplay is still there, but it’s second fiddle to all the new stuff.
Needless to say, plenty of people got really upset. The negative reactions, at best, were stuff along the lines of “I hate this, but it’s his decision.” At worst, there was just flat-out anger. Probably my favorite response that I saw was a guy complaining that he wanted to play as a hypermasculine guy and not androgynous anime boys while having a moe anime girl avatar. But yeah, the general response to Midnight Animal‘s shift was mainly negative.
There’s two big problems with the Midnight Animal debacle. One of them was that it was hoisted up on a high pedestal, by Yan and Hotline Miami fans. The initial trailer and follow up information created a whole lot of expectations, so deviations from those expectations were pretty much doomed to have negative reaction. Another lesson in getting hyped about games.
The other problem, though, was communication, which is a genuine problem on Yan’s end. From what I can tell, Midnight Animal‘s shift was completely unexpected. I mean, I’m sure that people would have been mad anyway, but the blowback might have been lessened if it it wasn’t so sudden. Also, consider that Spencer Yan has a Patreon and that a lot of people likely became Patrons because of the original Midnight Animal vision. If anyone had a right to know about this shift beforehand, it’d definitely be the Patrons, and as far as I know, that wasn’t the case.
What ended up taking Midnight Animal’s place? In the cancellation announcement, Spencer also announced a new project. To carry on the narrative themes that he was hoping to convey with his vision of Midnight Animal, he announced the Exegesis of John the Martyr. “In many ways, it’s more of a literary event than a ludic one” – just call it a visual novel, man.
Nov. 5, 2017, Yan published the prologue episode of The Exegesis of John the Martyr, Home Sweet Hole. The Fifty Blessings agent, John, is now a former agent of a vague Empire in a cyberpunk-ish setting. He was apparently one of the best at whatever the hell he did, but after committing some crime that isn’t elaborated on, he spent years in a drugged-up isolation. Suddenly, the Empress wants him back and he finds himself heading back home.
The presentation of Exegesis is unique in that it’s essentially a visual novel, but Hotline Miami‘s top-down style is used to move around and interact with the world. This presentation allows the game to put detail in the surrounding setting for the player to engage with. There isn’t a lot of interaction, as John will just give exposition over stuff you mouse over, but it’s still an interesting way to present this stuff.
The story is initially kinda slow, with John getting picked up from the airport by an imperial agent named Thomas. They have a car ride full of ramblings with the most eventful takeaway being John’s sort-of-exile. I feel that the story starts picking up when they reach a service station, where you see the results of a failed robbery turned massacre. There’s a sense of mystery here and it kinda encourages trying to understand Exegesis‘ setting to get a sense of what’s going on. I’ll also say that this sequence is my favorite part of the game. Thomas parks outside and you hear faint music in the background and this slow music gets louder as you enter the station. The music undercuts the massacre that happened there, giving an eerily calm mood to the scene as the robot worker cheerfully addresses John’s concerns. It gives off this feeling of, “yep, just another day on this bitch of an Earth.”
My main issue with Exegesis is that its writing feels really jargony. It feels like characters say more words than necessary to get their point across and sometimes it just felt like a cyberpunk version of those stuffy 19th century fiction stories that love to ramble a lot to feel smart. A lot of story and setting concepts are thrown at you, but a lot of it still feels vague, enough to the point that it’s hard to really care. Even after the station sequence, when I feel that the game eases up a bit, my reaction to some of the stuff is just “okay, yeah, sure.”
I’ll be honest, I’m not really feeling Exegesis. I’m not saying this as a Hotline Miami fan, but I’m saying this as somebody that likes visual novels and doesn’t get all reactionary about anime. The presentation is interesting, but I wish that there was a clearer focus to the story. I’m hoping that the second episode for this improves in this regard and, also, hopefully gives a better idea on what the deal is with John, because I’m at least willing to give it another go.
The Exegesis uses Hotline Miami’s presentation, but it clearly isn’t Hotline. On Nov. 27, however, something that was more the speed of a normal Hotline Miami fan was published on itch.io: The Document of Midnight Animal.
The Document of Midnight Animal is a postmortem of what could have been. Its gameplay is pretty much what was seen in the above video but touched up a bit, minus the cutscenes. Document contains four levels as well as a room where you can test a bunch of weapons, including some stuff that doesn’t show up in the game proper.
The action of the game feels very punchy. Screenshakes and light effects accentuate gunshots to an extent that it feels flashier than the original games, while visual effects accompany melee strikes. As your combo builds up, the screen gets fuzzier, culminating in a television snow effect. While I like the effects, I feel that it needs to be toned down a bit because it could get to the point of being distracting; at the very least, there should be an option to lower screenshake. Scores count up in the corner along with text declaring your method of violence, but instead of being in flashy colors and the like, it’s blocky white text. The aesthetics feel very different from the original games. Whereas Hotline Miami‘s violence comes off as flashy and campy, Document‘s brand of violence is grittier yet more professional. If I had to make comparisons, it feels like Hitman‘s tone crossed into Hotline Miami‘s brand of stuff.
Document is also like. Strangely anime. Your character gets a flash step – not a combat roll, he’s just straight up teleporting a few feet ahead. Rack up 20 kills and your character just suddenly gains a sword, which the warehouse refers to as a “psychic weapons,” so I guess he just materializes it. It does wild, over-exaggerated , shadowy swings. The art in the pause, game over and victory screens is also animesque instead of being something along the lines of the crude facial portraits in the original games. I’m kinda mixed on it, because while I think it clashes with the game’s other aesthetics a bit, it doesn’t ruin the tone for me. I’m not too mad about the anime sword, but also, I don’t want the anime sword to replace my perfectly good gun.
Now, what does ruin the game’s tone for me is the music. Instead of the typical synthwave stuff or high energy music, it’s a whole bunch of stuff that… isn’t that. A fellow on the Hotline Miami subreddit, FreedomFallout, compiled the music in a playlist and boy, is it a weird assortment. One song is a cheerful Billy Ocean song while you also got some anime themes mixed in (and honestly, ones that aren’t very good). The music is also randomized when you enter a level, so the music is effectively just background music instead of music to set the scene, if that makes sense.
I liked the gameplay of Document, but I found it to be somewhat buggy. I don’t know whether the flash step move is intended to go through walls or not, but either way, it works really inconsistently. Enemies can also kill each other by accident and while realistic, I also doubt that this was intended.
…And those are the successors of the original Midnight Animal project. I liked the style Exegesis is going for, but it didn’t quite hook me in yet. Document is also a very solid foundation for a Hotline Miami mod and while there isn’t a lot of content to play around with, I still think it’s enjoyable.
So, I finally finished Persona 5 after 160+ hours. Beat new game plus, beat the bonus boss, got that shiny platinum trophy, etc. I thought that to celebrate, I should write about it.
I know that this is probably off-brand for this blog and is probably the most mainstream thing I’ve written about on here. However, with the absurd amount of time I’ve spent on it, I feel that it’s something I should blog about and, sometimes, just hollering on Twitter isn’t enough.
This is pretty much a spoiler article. If you’re concerned about spoilers, please head on and do something else with your time. Maybe finish Persona 5 yourself and form your own thoughts on it.
All pictures in this article are assorted camera photos I took while playing the game. Pretty cool that Atlus still isn’t letting anyone take direct PS4 screenshots even though this game’s been out for a year.
“What is a game?” “What should be counted as a game?” Questions such as this have been seen all over games discourse for the past several years, especially with the emergence of “walking simulator” games.
But today, I pose a related question: “what makes up a game?” Is a game, no matter how you define it, made in a studio of hundreds with state of the art technology? Does each individual aspect of a game need to have meaning, does it have to be fun, does it all have to have hours of effort?