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    Oct 1st, 2012 at 20:59:33     -    Seiken Densetsu 3 (SNES)

    So my review for this week is Seiken Dentetsu 3. But not because I've played it. (Although I've got serious plans to reinstall that old ZSNES emulator and give all the classics a go). No, I'm writing on Dentetsu this week because I have been studying its landscapes religiously all weekend. The game I'm currently designing is in 2D, 3/4 perspective pixel art, and the creative team behind Seiken Dentetsu is, like, Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo all in one... The ninja turtles of pixel art, basically. Most famous for its epic tree--glorious, shining, beautifully highlighted and hue-shifted tree--Seiken Dentetsu is like a bible of how to eliminate the grid through clever use of tilesets, and creating stunningly eye-popping textures out of limited palettes. I spent all of yesterday (when I might've should've been writing papers and studying for exams) trying to figure out how Dententsu's sand managed to look so organically textured. My attempt at imitation produced blocky sand dunes that looked like giant worms made of dark, gunky brownish sand color. The character sprites pale in comparison to the landscapes--Breath of Fire 4, for instance, has much more beautiful characters--but each piece of the terrain in Seiken Dentetsu offers lessons for the beginning pixel artist, and I've attempted to soak them all in. Creating an ecosystem of grasses and dirts, varied enough to look interesting but all retaining extremely similar palettes, has been my first lesson. But soon I hope to graduate to more advanced stuff, and begin, yknow, actually playing the thing.

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    Sep 24th, 2012 at 21:41:51     -    Faster Than Light (PC)

    So I've been playing FTL and oh my god it is so hard. I managed to make it to the final boss the other day, completely unprepared, and was annihilated. Still, it felt great. I'm still in awe of a game that can make me feel SO connected to my ship and the events that befall it while still having such lo-fi programmer art. I think part of it is, for lack of a better word, realism--that the oxygen needs to be maintained, for instance. Or that drones are used to attack things (paralleling a real-life shift in military technology). But mostly it's just such a tight little game with 'nothing left to subtract,' totally simple and containing only what is contributes positively to the appreciation of the game. I like that I'm only just getting started, and I've logged multiple hours. I'm playing on easy--which is still crazily hard--and then there are 7,8,9 ships I can unlock and I can't wait to give myself new challenges with these more difficult ships. Once again, I find playing FTL to be a very inspiring experience, because with so little the designers were able to accomplish what big-budget AAA games so often can't--they make you feel immersed in a new world, just as effectively as literature or film. And all of this with the tiniest of pixel art and VERY few animations other than a rather static combat screen. Makes me want to work on my own projects more.

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    Sep 18th, 2012 at 07:47:44     -    Faster Than Light (PC)

    Just started playing this new indie game that's all the rage on Steam, Faster Than Light. It's a space-exploration roguelike that is absolutely incredible. There is very little art to speak of--just your ship, and teeny-tiny little sprites moving around, as well as the ships of others, neither of which moves on screen. Not much plot either: you are a Federation ship carrying valuable information, and the rebels are chasing you. But an elegant design, combined with genius mechanics, makes this one of the best indie games I've ever played. Your ship has shields, oxygen, missiles, engines, etc. and it is your crew's job to keep them all working. When you fight an enemy, you can deploy drones as well as attack with standard missiles and beam weapons. But be careful! If you run out of missiles, you're screwed. And if one of the enemy's missiles pierces your hull and you spring an oxygen leak, you're screwed. And if any part of your ship catches fire, you're pretty close to screwed. And if you run out of fuel, well... I'm sure you can guess what happens. This feature is a commonality to roguelikes, which often have permadeath and are pretty difficult. With FTL you develop such an attachment to your randomized crew and their destinations that it's stunning that everything was generated randomly, by a computer. That almost adds to your attachment. A very excellent game.

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    Sep 10th, 2012 at 11:02:16     -    Botanicula (PC)

    I was pleased to find out last semester that Amanitas Studios, creators of the charming and intelligent 'Machinarium,' had come out with a new adventure. It's called Botanicula, and it is a splendorous, playful, ultra-creative offering that takes itself seriously enough to be considered art, but nowhere near serious enough to ever be boring, pretentious, or anything other than delightful.
    The first twist it does on the standard adventure game format is that you're a team of characters, all huddled up and following along with one another, instead of a single person. Your team is made up of little tree creatures who are looking to save their giant tree from an attack by evil, light-stealing spiders. As in Machinarium, there is no actual dialogue--the narrative works through characters mumbling certain sounds, and thought bubbles appearing over their heads that have pictures conveying the plot. It's charming. There's an old wise man character (several of them, I think) that mumble what sounds like archaic Japanese noises and tell the story of how the great trees have been attacked by the spiders. The sound effects seem to all have been done in house, with squeals and shrieks coming from what sound like designers and programmers having way too much fun. None of the puzzles are very hard, but all of them are cute and have their own ingenuity. And that's really what's most striking about Botanicula--at every turn, the designers seem to have been engaged in a creative improvisation, coming up with whatever fun looking creatures and events they felt like, and enjoying themselves along the way. This really taught me something about game design, and had me thinking on creativity in general. It seems much more fun to just wing something--not having too much of it planned out in advance--and then just trusting yourself to be free to make whatever you want. How else can you come up with spoiled little acorn-looking children playing tennis with your characters, or 23 chickens running wild, that you must find in order to power a blimp that can take you off a tree branch? After playing Botanicula I was inspired to work on my own games similarly, inventing as I go along and not worrying about results so much as just having fun.

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