Ben Pope

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Ben Pope last won the day on September 3 2015

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  1. The screenshot above is from Wizards: 1984 – a game from studio Terrasect Mobile founded at The University of Advancing Technology in 2014. The company, created by John Wisniewski and Jeff Rosenberg, has produced several mobile games that fit into different genres. Wizards is a Retro FPS, made for Google Cardboard, that's available for .99 from Google Play. To start, there are multiple elements of this Android title that offer a truly fun experience. The first is the retro gaming nostalgia that comes from jumping into a game that offers a throwback to the vector-based graphical days of Atari and Commodore. Played on newer technology like smartphones might encourage others to put a higher look to the graphics, but this game stays true to the classic feel of the early days through wireframe graphics and an 8-bit pastel color palette. The second element builds on the first by adding gameplay that fits well within the retro framework. The game puts players in control of “the last remaining Techno-Wizard” as they fight the “evil Techno-Viking horde” in a space tower to prevent loot from disappearing from the tower. This straight-forward premise for the game narrative leads to innovative gameplay on top of a rather simple plotline. This is done through a gameplay mechanic that has players control the tower on a swivel with left and right rotations of the phone to control the camera and look for targets. Once targets are found simply vanquish the horde by pressing the right side of the tower to fire a slew of bullets or the left side of the tower to fire missiles, being careful to not overheat the weapons. Also, players need to avoid destruction by keeping a careful eye on the shield meter. For a rather desolate landscape grid with only simple trees on it and enemies, it's not too difficult to spot them and fire on them from afar to survive. There is even the option to make use of Google Cardboard for an immersive experience that's reminiscent of old school VR games. I simply loved the game and recommend it to any who want retro gaming with innovative gameplay, just make sure you are in a safe place when you start spinning around and taking out the evil horde lest you run into something. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  2. The Unfinished Swan is a new game from developers Giant Sparrow, along with assistance from Armature Studio and SCE Santa Monica Studio. The Playstation exclusive, initially released in 2012, won awards for innovation and has been re-introduced for the Sony PS4 and PS Vita. Original narrative, gameplay, and art style are all found through the use of an inviting, fairytale landscape. In The Unfinished Swan, players take the role of Monroe, a boy who unfortunately lost his mother in death. The story is narrated throughout by a kind and grandmotherly voice. Monroe begins the tale left with an unfinished painting of a swan from his mother who was once a great painter. The painting springs to life and Monroe and the player find themselves following the bird into the white blank of the painting. The game sets players on a task to find their way throughout the landscape in an effort to discover the mystery of a world deprived of color. Narrative directs gameplay when it is soon becomes apparent that ink globs must be thrown around to reveal the world and secrets it contains. When first entering the white canvas, I felt as if I was lost, but then I let the ink fly with reckless abandon. The story is also told through the finding of nursery rhyme pages that open level transitions, as if an otherworldly force is beckoning the player to finish the fairytale in full. You can feel like a kid by not holding back when it comes to decorating the world, as messy as you like, and get rewarded for it. The added bonuses are the collectible and colorful balloons you find on your quest. Colors also bring an innovative and artistic appeal to the game. Contrast is used nicely with shades of black and white to distinguish pathways, with hints of color providing subtle directional clues for players to find important areas, puzzles, and objects. Simple mechanics and subtle direction shine in this title. The only fault in the game may be in the mechanics that are almost too simple; the player only has a jump and ink throw command. This may throw off some players who want to do more with their characters without feeling limited. I say look past this, if possible, to find an inviting and easy-to-play adventure game from Giant Sparrow. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  3. Stacker comes from Titanomachy Studios, a new company founded by a group at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, AZ. This is their first published game available on the Android store. So how does it stack up? (Pun intended.) The overall concept of Stacker is straightforward and simple, making it an easy game to pick up and play. The game brings concepts found in classic games that build themselves around the physics of stacking objects while trying to avoid letting them topple. The goal is to create the most unsafe tower in existence; a feat not so easily done as the different shaped blocks do not always fit together so nicely. And, one wrong swipe of the finger or bad block placement can cause the whole thing to come crashing down. If that isn't difficult enough, bombs are thrown into the mix to wreck all your hard work. But with the help of certain blocks that join together automatically, the player is aided in their quest for stacking mastery. Simple as it is, Stacker is worth a shot. It's one of those mobile games that's fun in short stints. The initial goal of constructing the tower to its highest level to get the highest score is fun in the different modes, one in which players have limited lives and the other unlimited lives. The variety of blocks and challenges of the bombs are a nice touch that make the game more exciting, and go nicely with the game's catchy soundtrack. Stacker's art style stands out. The design comes off as cartoonish and retro, but I haven't seen a another game with the same look Stacker. In the game, colors are muted and subtle, making the whole process of stacking less nerve-racking, especially when set against a peaceful sky background. Amidst the game's good qualities, I found some areas where I would suggest future improvements. First, I would like to see more variety in music offered since the tune continuously loops . Second, I would suggest two gameplay features: leaderboards and challenge modes - like head-to-head combat against other stackers and maybe even a mode where one player throws in the blocks that another has to stack. As it stands now, I think adding elements like these would give it longer lasting gameplay and make the score seem more meaningful. Lastly, the camera sometimes moves too far above the top of the tower where the stacking is taking place so it is hard to see what I am stacking on. This makes it difficult to plan upcoming moves, especially when the stacked pile becomes too tall. For a first title release from a new studio, Stacker is not a bad offering to the mobile market. Additional features would make the game even better and push longevity. I anticipate playing it again when I can pick it up and challenge friends to be the best stacker out there. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  4. Game of Thrones – A Telltale Games Series: The Sword in the Darkness from Telltale Games is the third installment in the video game adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy masterpiece, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Returning to the series after having previously reviewed the first episode and finishing the second, I can confidently say this episode continues to reinforce my love for the game and show. It must be that feeling I get from the beginning intro sequence that bellows out the main theme while panning across the Seven Kingdoms and harking to a tale I have yet to experience. Episode three continues to unfold the dramatic tale of the members of House Forrester from the first two episodes. The noble children and players have endured a continuous onslaught of difficult choices that challenge character. Through a divergent narrative, players are guided back and forth among the stories of Rodrik at Ironrath, Gared at the Wall, Mira in King’s Landing, and finally Asher in the lands of Essos. Players help shape the fates of each member to an ultimate goal of survival and regaining the House and domain of Ironrath. Remember the call, Iron from Ice. Telltale continues to push dramatic storytelling and tough, story-altering decisions, and the vision of “Game of Thrones” shines. Some of these truly made me stop and pause. For example, in one scenario, Rodrik Forrester (the player) is convinced to promise to let an opposing family trample on their house in order to lock in long-term peace; a measure that forces him and players to lay aside their ego despite being pushed around multiple times and having to purposefully remain on the ground after being kicked to look weak in front of others. Situations like this one are a trademark style from Telltale that push my emotional boundaries. My approach is simple – play the nice pushover initially and then mete out my vengeance next time through the game. With the original cast ever present through their contributions of voice talents and acting, Telltale puts players in situations where they may find themselves at odds with Margaery or making the choice to kiss Cersei’s feet to get by, while at the same time being told not to hang out with Tyrion. What a difficult choice. Who doesn't want to hang out with Tyrion and drink wine with one of the better choices for an ally in Kings Landing? These are not easy choices. The great story and gameplay are once again pushed through by Quicktime and video sequences. I mentioned before there is the debate regarding whether there is too little gameplay in Telltale’s games. The focus should be on how Telltale employs their talents of simplified interactions to provide a hybrid of intensely beautiful and linear game stories. Telltale’s rendition of “Game of Thrones” provides players the ability to control their fate as a member of this wonderful universe. This is what I look for and wonder if you are willing to see what fate has in store for you in Westeros and Essos? Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  5. “Just a city girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere. Just a city boy born and raised in a lonely world, he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.” Unlike in the song from Journey, these two travelers are not going just anywhere, they are going to Augur Island in The Charnel House Trilogy, an indie game released during April 2015 on Steam and developed by Owl Cave and published by Mastertronic. As a game that spans three episodes in its initial offering, the trilogy leaves room to grow and by the time the end arrives you will most assuredly want more from this interesting tale that will come in the next series of stories to be released from Owl Cave to follow these. From the very beginning, the mysterious nature of the game is evident in the title screen. There are three tomes for the chapters titled Inhale, Sepulchre, and Exhale, which are surrounded by the eerie burning of an oil lamp and a musical selection to set the mood. This entrance leads to more intrigue as the story unfolds. The first chapter follows a seemingly normal everyday woman named Alex Davenport who finds herself crossing paths with a man named Harold Lang, both on their way to the aforementioned Augur Island. Departing on the mystery antique train, they are led through the next two episodes of unsettling encounters and revealing truths that lead to a powerful ending. These truths left me uncomfortable at the thought of the reality behind what was actually occurring, like it was something out of an episode of The Twilight Zone or a Stephen King film featuring a creepy porter manning the train and oddities everywhere. Players unveil the story by using traditional point-and-click play mechanics to operate environments and pick up items to use them later. Gameplay is standard when it comes to this mechanic, however, the game uses this base style to build on an overall genuine gameplay encounter that is made possible through an excellent narrative and pacing. The narrative and gameplay are not only creepy, but also touch on the topics of insanity, isolation, despair, and foreboding loss to name a few. The use of symbolism for depth is done well in the episodes, as it is evident that the designers placed everything with intent to provide players with a better experience. The flow of the game is also done well between low and high points of intensity to keep interest peaked. Playing the game was a fun experience because I grew up on many point-and-click adventures and thoroughly enjoy the mix of this along with horror and thriller themes. I also love pixel art in its many forms, and this game offers up a more realistic pixel art style that boosts immersion and connection to the story and world. In order to not give too much away, I will just say go buy the game for the low ticket price of $6 on Steam and enjoy a ride on the midnight train to the island of Augur. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working in his studio, Live in the Game, LLC, toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is a link to his blog.
  6. Tales From The Borderlands: A Telltale Game Series is the much anticipated Telltale Games translation of the previous videogame series from Gearbox Software and 2K Games that was released in 2009. Even though I have not played the original titles much, I can at least say that this version, at $5 an episode, has moved me to go pick up the other original games. Protagonists Rhys and Fiona share the limelight in these new tales, and despite coming from two seemingly different backgrounds, both characters merge to more connected fates as the stories progress. Each character’s story overlaps at key points with the other that uncovers hidden truths in each plot line. Through character dialogue options and branching choice paths, Telltale offers high replay value to gamers. My opinion about Telltale’s ability to construct a strong narrative through a sprawling story tree has not changed since my review of Telltale’s vision of Game of Thrones. While players can never branch out too far from the linear progression of the storyline, at least Telltale excels in making the journey varied, emotional, and satisfying. This story somehow goes from the Imperion Corporation in orbit above a planet of miners and other nasty folk, to droid summoning, and finishes off in the slums of this mined planet complete with clandestine meetings, swindling, and even a death race. In the end, both Rhys and Fiona will wind up in a much different place, whether mentally or physically, than when their crazy journey began. Telltale offers up a story made even better through their trademark art style, spot-on voice acting, and amazing soundtrack. Over-the-top characters voiced by greats such as Nolan North and Troy Baker, feel completely appropriate to the zany atmosphere the Borderlands franchise has embraced. As a player with only minimal gameplay experience, but familiar with the story and other titles in this series, I found the episode to be an entertaining adventure anyway. As it does well to stand out on its own as a side adventure from the original series, I found no real need to know the complete other story from previous titles in order to enjoy it. Others feel similarly in this regard and one suggestion is that the change of pace in this episode from chaotic to less chaotic in design is a nice and welcome element. Telltale also has another key area of good game design – episodic releases that allow designers to focus on each episode as a whole, allowing for more refinement and polishing and better gaming in smaller chunks. Players are hooked as cliffhangers whet the appetite for future episodes. Luckily, gratification is not put off too long as these episodes have short wait times of a month or two until release. Telltale Games have managed to create a recognizable system and pattern that allows for excellent storytelling regardless of the source material, and Tales From The Borderlands is certainly no exception. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  7. A new title released by Switchblade Entertainment, Secret Ponchos was released this month as a free download for Playstation 4 PSN members, with Steam Early Access members required to purchase it but receiving an extra copy free so they do not play alone. Although a first work from this new and independent studio, it adds flavor to the genre of isometric multiplayer games with a fast-paced western theme. The first decision one must ask when starting this title is regarding which outlaw they will become. These are: The Killer, Kid Red, Phantom Poncho, The Deserter and The Matador. My favorite of the starting characters is Kid Red, because he runs like the wind and dodge rolls like a tumbleweed, and all the while can toss up a not-so-friendly batch of TNT to wake up his foes with a bang. Like other shooters and action titles, Secret Ponchos also includes RPG elements that allow the customization and improvement of core statistics. While not truly an innovative leap over other leveling systems, it does the job well enough, but could include more weapon choices than one for each attack type. Aside from the unique outlaws, players will find four starting battle arenas that range from small to large, set in a variety of western-style venues. Even with fast-paced run-and-gun gameplay, players will find altering strategies provided by the western-themed level designs in power-up placements and hiding areas. There is still much to be seen from Secret Ponchos given there are still levels being produced, and multiplayer connection issues will have to be addressed. Connecting to others for online play is a somewhat slow process and does not always work. With more time and word spread of Secret Ponchos this problem should be remedied. Secret Ponchos looked to other games in this genre and asked what they could bring to the table – their answer was a new system of notoriety and outlaw status that allows players to level their characters based on accumulated bounty. It is well known that a more notorious bounty must equal a more dangerous outlaw, and this is true when players can deal out more damage and death tolls to other players with their preferred method of execution. As a fan of isometric gaming and action shooters, I see this as a title holding a place for me in multiplayer gaming that I look forward to delving into as I take my outlaw to new heights of notoriety. Hopefully, with new skins and new weapon choices, strategies will evolve even further for those wishing to become the most sinister outlaw in the west. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  8. Initially released in May 2014 by developer and publisher Puppy Games, Titan Attacks was recently ported to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and the Vita this month. Puppy Games specializes in what they describe as, “neo-retro arcade games,” and Titan Attacks certainly seems to deliver on that. Offering classic arcade fun with modern twists it is worth the download, especially since it is free this month for PSN members. From the very beginning, this title exudes a retro flair reminiscent of Atari games of old. Players with classical arcade experience will surely pick up immediately on Titan Attacks’ similarities to titles like Galaga or Space Invaders. They will also notice new offerings in gameplay and beautifully done art alluding to a past generation of games. Simple mechanics are enhanced as well to make it stand out as a classic in its own right. Regarding gameplay, players take on the role of “the last surviving tank commander on Earth” to fight off aliens invasions from Titan. Through heated battle, players must fight through waves of levels with interim boss battles; a battle that spans from Earth to the final showdown on the alien planet Titan. Titan Attacks does not try to be something it is not and instead focuses players in taking on the role of a nameless tank commander as they defend Earth and stick it to the alien hoards. The game touts typical upgrade capabilities allowing for additional barrels, higher damaging bullets, and more. Upgrade capabilities seem to scale well with the overall difficulty curve of the game while still keeping certain boss battles challenging. I will, however, always enjoy the feeling of launching a mega-bomb and watching a screen full of enemies burst into flame. The art style is quite vivid and draws ones attention. Even when players find themselves in dark areas, detail and tone in level art stand out given the use of layered background environments that make each area come to life despite a two dimensional flat appearance. Backgrounds have so much life that I sometimes find myself distracted when attempting to focus on so many moving enemies and bullets in the battleground. I was certainly able to draw upon my experience with similar titles to power through the game in just a few hours which, for a free game, was not so bad. A true mix of moder and retro design, Titan Attacks, evokes nostalgic feelings of classic games, while offering enough modern design choices to interest gamers with more current tastes. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  9. Game of Thrones – A Telltale Games Series is the much anticipated videogame adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy masterpiece series of novels, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Having watched the hit HBO show I can say confidently that this game is an excellent experience in the world of Westeros, especially given that it costs only $5 an episode. This game is the first of 6 from Telltale Games. For those not familiar with this epic story, I recommend becoming familiar with the series prior to playing. After all, this series is amazingly well done and deserves your attention. Episode one starts with a branching tale to the main plot of “The War of the Five Kings” over the throne and control of the Kingdoms. This tale follows House Forrester from the Northern area of Westeros (one of the lands in the stories), and each of the noble children play their part in the story. Staying alive and securing the House and the domain of Ironrath are the focal points. In Telltale fashion, interaction and tough, story altering decisions are to be expected. Their vision of “Game of Thrones,” stands as another excellent example of a series that shines through its’ graphical and artistic style. The implementation of Telltales signature use of cell-shading allows the world and characters to appear as a hybrid of realism with a cartoon-like flair – a style found in comic books and graphic novels. Famous characters met by players from the television show are closely made to resemble the actors who play them. So far, these include Dany Targaryen, Margaery Tyrell, and the ever conflicting siblings Cersei and Tyrion Lannister. Telltale stays true to their focus on character-driven stories and maintain their reputation as they deliver a powerful story that holds weighty choices for players. In playing these games I find myself pausing and pouring over choices with great care because of the impact they can truly have. Without revealing spoilers, I’ll say that the writers certainly seem to play around with the moral ambiguity that Westeros seems to foster. The great story leads to great gameplay. This is an area of some debate whether there is a lot of actual gameplay due to the quicktime button presses and video sequences. Telltale games are linear in ways but this is done to drive player focus on narrative and story elements without much diversion. Moving freely about in some areas is possible but getting to the next scene and seeing story development is the true emphasis of play. Musical scores and voice acting are both areas that deserve mention given that many of their titles are those based off existing IPs. They can draw on and use famous scores and musical pieces to compliment the works and hook players and fans alike give the game a true edge. Top quality voice actors lend their talents to breathe life into characters. With a voice cast that includes Peter Dinklage, Natalie Dormer, Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke, among others, will also be joining in to represent their characters in future episodes. As a fan of adventure games, I may be biased, but I find it nice to enjoy a story as I used to when reading choose your own adventure books as a kid. Taking control of my fate is what I’m looking for, and if Telltales version of “Game of Thrones,” plays out anything like the television show and books, there will be plenty of bodies to walk over along my journey. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  10. Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna in Inupiaq language) is a game released in November 2014 on Xbox One and Playstation 4 from Upper One Games. Founded in 2012 by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage, Alaska, they partnered with E-Line Media of New York to reach a wide audience. A member of the puzzle-platformer genre, this is a title not to be missed for those seeking depth and deeper meaning in games. Every now and then a game comes along that pushes far beyond the surface and Never Alone is one of these. A new gaming genre termed “World Games” has been formed this year (games that bring stories from indigenous cultures to a global audience) and its flagship title is Never Alone. Games like this are hoped to drive sustainability and empower native youth, and this feat can be accomplished by a deep connection among developers and the native people in every area of their culture to maintain authenticity. Nuna is the protagonist in this title, an Alaskan girl who meets up with a mysterious spirit-fox as she tries to save her village from a terrible storm threatening to bury their way of life under piles of snow and ice. Along the way players face physical challenges and dangers that range from bears, drowning, to an evil brute with a face only a mother could love. Unique gameplay elements, from a puzzle-platformer stance, were the graphics, story, cutscenes and coop puzzle mechanics. Game graphics are beautiful and cut scenes come alive through simple 2D animations. Wind and snow that blow throughout the world present it as alive and mystical. This wind plays into movement as it forces players to wait at times or they will be thrust backwards while jumping forward. With the powerful next-gen engines, I felt as if I was in a snowy Alaskan landscape being blown here and there by the freezing winds. This game makes use of puzzle platforming in a way that allows single player or local cooperative gameplay. Normal challenges found in similar game types are found here, but what Never Alone does differently is multi-character control. As I played it by myself, I had to control both characters and doing so required using the fox to quickly distract or pull objects while I switched to Nuna to pass a puzzle. Doing so presented a nice challenge to the levels that complimented the story setting, since the connection of man and nature through accomplishment of tasks and survival by a spirit of teamwork is stressed. There are no real negatives to be found in this title as I can see. It offers a fun 3-4 hour experience with all the positives mentioned above. Hidden bonuses include cultural interviews that provide more on the heritage of the tribal people involved in production. This really broadens the impact of this World Game. I hope the Inupiaq people of Northern Alaska benefit from having this exposure and hope to see more Global games from them and other indigenous people in the future. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  11. The Last Door is a game developed by The Game Kitchen and published by Phoenix Online Studios. It was released episodically beginning in 2013 from a Kickstarter project with four episodes to the first season. The game is continuing on into its second season now which will be available in 2015 to the public, or it can be played now by donating to the Kickstarter at this page here, The Last Door. The basic version is free on their site, but I recommend the collector version on Steam. To start off this review, I want to simply state that this game series is one of the best I have played yet in my time doing reviews. It is a retro pixel masterpiece in multiple ways. The game’s story is one of intrigue and depth, following the adventures of Jeremiah Devitt. He must investigate the mystery behind his friend’s curious letter inviting him to his home - a friend he had not seen since their school days. What unfolds will take players through thrilling and mysterious scenarios, as well as controversial game content, as they solve the game’s mysteries and puzzles. The Last Door shines in multiple areas with the simplistic art style as the first. One of the first elements I noticed was that, although the art appears simple at first glance, it is a throwback to an older style seen in 80s adventure games. This game uses this simple pixel style to keep the focus on the story and other areas without too much distraction from graphics. It also fits the more rudimentary and rough style that meshes with the game’s time period. The retro style art is valuable for me since I am used to it and grew up on it. However, for those used to today’s advances in graphics and next-gen art, it could be something less appealing to view for an entire game as it may come off overly simple. The second strong point is sound design, which involves a truly superb musical score and high quality sound effects. The musical score jumps out immediately in the introduction movie, that I absolutely love listening too after a new episode starts. I immediately jumped on how phenomenal the sound effects were as my player walked across a wooden floor. It seemed as if I was actually walking across real wood. The great sound effects do not end as the jump scares and other horror elements are emphasized through their use. The last strong point of note comes in the story design. I have always believed in entertainment that grabs me right from the intro, and this game delivers with an amazingly confusing and dramatic introductory sequence to the story that draws in the player and sinks the hook. As the story progresses, it only grows in depth and complexity as the player is taken on a journey through the protagonist’s past and present by the use of flashback scenes and gameplay that involves playing other characters at points. There are so many positives to be found in this title. I have to say that I may be biased, though, as this pixel art style is what I played growing up. Negatives found in The Last Door? There is only one I see. The pace of the game. As players walk around the levels using point-and-click mechanics, a game of this genre can be a bit slow at times. These old mechanics of play that lack the fast-paced nature of many of today’s titles may be a turnoff. I cannot wait to play the new episodes, and I recommend supporting the Kickstarter as it will allow gamers to play each new episode as it is released. I am going to buy it when the next season is released. After all, I love to binge play and not having the whole season at once would drive me crazy. Check out this title for a lovely and artistic gaming adventure. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  12. Escape Plan on the PS4 is a ported version of the original title on PS Vita from 2012 by developer Fun Bits Interactive and producer Chris Millar-both of whom are connected to the successful game Fat Princess. Published by Sony, this title is one that marks the second from this Seattle-based studio founded in 2012. This game is an interesting one in multiple ways. In this title players take control of Lil, a creature who is locked in an unknown prison. They find they must wake him up and navigate him through different rooms while overcoming challenges and solving puzzles. The mission is to find Lil’s counterpart Laarg, a total opposite of Lil with a big stature and slow movement speed. Once this occurs they work together using their unique abilities to escape. Sometimes separating from each other, they both hope to eventually find the exits and beat their captor. This captor is known as Bakuki, a mysterious figure with a tribal mask. It is not clear yet why he is imprisoning these two; along the way he randomly appears in cut scenes, through in-game taunting or to express anger over their successes. Foiling his plan and surviving in creative ways, as well as pushing for higher personal challenges,accompanying trophies and 3-star wins drives the gameplay. The strong points of this game are numerous to say the least. Escape Plan is a beautiful game in an art style seen immediately from the black & white palette used in the game, providing it a retro style and noir appearance. The player characters themselves are black with white masks and have odd names to provide interest as to who they could be-real or spirits or some other fantastical entity. The captor is another interesting element due to the mystery he holds in his designs. Levels, although they are not always entirely challenging, provide a continual focus on player challenge to continue to get the win in each room by having a time limit and point value for rush play. Difficulty is nicely scaled as the developers slowly introduce new types of challenges and mechanics to use in new puzzle scenarios. One of these involved inhaling helium and navigating him through the level by expelling gas while an audience reacts to your humorous plight. This sequence of rooms shows the creative approach that can be taken in puzzle areas. The controls are gesture-based, meaning the movement relies on the player tapping areas in the level for directing the character and using the touchpad to point to areas to go as well as manipulation of some objects. This makes good use of the PS4 touchpad controller. Escape Plan has many good qualities, but what about the areas that are not as appealing? There are only two of these I have yet found-the difficulty in directing the player on a chosen path at times and the control of two players by one person. The first occurred in the helium level as I kept running into the wall despite efforts to maneuver around the corners. The second happened in conjunction with having two players to move across a level. Many times this resulted in death because my attention was so closely tied to one that I lost the other. With each having different abilities this can be annoying to keep track of. My decision is that Escape Plan is a well-done game worthy of play and appreciation for its art, story, mechanics, and characters, but one that is meant to annoy in puzzles and I will find myself unable to play this for continuous periods. For those who like puzzler titles and noir-style game appeal, download this game now. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  13. Battle Islands is an indie title developed by DR Studios of Europe and published by 505 Games U. S. branch. Released Oct 2014, it is available to download on the PS4 and mobile currently. The studio involved is known for their understanding of social game development and a collection of critically acclaimed game titles over the last 16 years in business-these include: Risk and Monopoly Tycoon and various other titles. 505 has developed a list of titles that include Terraria, Sniper Elite III and Payday 2. With this reputation, we will look at this new offering and see how it stacks up. Starting off this title, it is noticeable that this is a similar strategy game to those found in titles such as Boom Beach on mobile devices. Like any RTS, players will upgrade soldiers, buildings, and vehicles to defend their base and take down their computer-based opponent. Also, like other titles, this includes the use of gold to speed upgrading works on a micro-transaction system. Making the base cool and having all the right assets to do the job is the important element in these games, and players that value having the best base have the option to buy their way or use the slow route. The art is done well enough for a PS4 title brought over from Mobile. The environment art is very appealing. I was also surprised by the quality of the cutscenes and character art. The music is catchy and a good addition to the game. While Battle Islands shares many traits of similar games in its genre, it adds a few unique characteristics. First, being able to play it on the PS4 is a huge boost to the game in my book. Being able to play on my big screen TV and destroy opponents in HD made the experience a lot more gratifying. Second, with a separation of building and structure fortification from simple upgrading, players are allowed more in-depth protection of assets. Third, the most unique feature, provides players the ability to purchase additional islands and tack them on at beach fronts. Owning an island is made even better when it can be made larger, and war strategy becomes easier at that point with more defenses to protect the primary island. Negatives found in Battle Islands are those shared by other titles like it. First, there is the nature of the micro-transaction and gold purchases for speeding gameplay and building times. This is a quick solution to cater to the impatient, but involves spending money or waiting long times for upgrades-both of which detract from full immersion as players have to leave and return again days later. Second, there is the A.I. system, the most serious problem area. The pathfinding and decisions of the A. I. in these titles lead to cases like these: While sending a group of soldiers to a point in a level, random ones shot off alone to fight a gunner or my mortar team with low health would shoot off to attack a gun tower without the others and die easily. Please, developers, give me smarter soldiers on the battlefield, thank you. I find these genres fun despite the horrible A.I. at times, so I look forward to playing more. I just love being in the position of the God of the battlefield-all knowing and all seeing. Check out the game if you want to build an Island Empire and take over the war. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  14. Pixsplosion is an indie title developed by Tyler Curran-a student and game developer at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, AZ. The game was released on November 21 this year to indiedb.com after about a month of production time, so if you wish you can download the game build there. This title offers simple and engaging gameplay. This game hails back to the simpler days of Atari 2600 game mechanics, graphics, gameplay, music, and features. This is what truly makes this title fun to play despite its simple nature, as were the games found on the older systems. Pixsplosion grabs the player by use of those elements listed above. There is no story, no characters, no plot, and no need for these. The game plays on PC, Mac, and Linux systems. So, the controls are simply W, A, S, D to go left, right, up, and down. Players control a white triangle manipulating itself around a 2D surface that changes colors throughout the game. The background is like a neon-lit sign in style that adds to the colorful art of the title. The goal is to pick up white squares while dodging black squares. On the screen is a score counter for the current go and a personal high score. Simple as can be for a game. The levels are scaled to become more difficult as the screen becomes increasingly cluttered with black squares left behind as players pick up white ones. Each set of levels has a clear stage where the tiles are cleared. I loved these little breaks because it was a reprieve from the stress. With higher levels the speed of movement is much faster and the start-over period is not as soon. The higher movement speed is what kills the player as they can only move in four directions-and a lot of this is made difficult due to the screen wrap. I found myself moving across the screen and then thought I hit left and ended up looping around and colliding with a block. With similar elements to retro games, Pixsplosion stands out in its use of color scheme and music. The use of contrasting white and black colors placed on an ever-changing colored background almost makes it more challenging to maintain visual focus on the screen for a long period. This seems negative but is actually more fun as the levels and speed increase and personal challenge comes into play to beat the high score. The soundtrack is also done well due to its techno flair that fits the retro Atari gameplay nicely. The soundtrack loops in-game and almost has a hypnotic effect. I experienced myself zoning at points because I knew the music so well and this helps playing the game in a comfortable zone. Negatives in Pixsplosion are found in the soundtrack and nature of the game. For a soundtrack that does loop this has the effect of enabling zoned gameplay but can also become annoying if there is not variety-especially for me since I am a huge game music enthusiast. For the game, it is simple in nature so I would not find myself playing this title for very long at a stretch. Replay seems well enough though. For a student title, I enjoyed this game as a title to pick up play every now and then. For a fun challenge check out the game at the site above. Retro gamers should dig it. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.
  15. Let’s go over Frozen Synapse Prime on PS3. The game was developed and designed by independent game developer Mode 7 Games. The game is a rebuild of the original title Frozen Synapse, released in Sep/Oct 2011. Prime released at the end of Sep 2014 and it was then ported over to Playstation by British developer Double 11. The title on the PS3 came out in Oct 2014 and is free for PSN members and only $10 for those who must buy it. I recommend going on to the Mode 7 website above and sampling their free demo of the game to get a better idea of what it involves. Strategy and sci-fi mix quite well in this 3D action game described below. According to Steam and Mode 7, new features have been added to this version that include 40+ more missions to tackle, as well as renovated artwork, new attack tactics and mechanics, death replay abilities, social media sharing, and other improvements. What have I experienced so far? In the first five levels the game has treated me to a taste of sci-fi storytelling with a mix of strategy gameplay and action, which are done quite well. The art and animation look great for a PS3 title that was ported from the PS Vita. It is quite steampunk in nature and the décor and music choice are futuristic. The main character is appropriately named Tactics and works alongside resistance groups to combat the Blue Sunlight Group in the city of Markov Geist. Each side uses AI soldiers called Shapeforms. This saves them from actually killing innocents-no real computer personalities were harmed in the making of this game. What better way to clear the player’s conscience? There are also key non-player characters that aid the player. I love feeling as though I am part of a group, especially when the NPCs have endearing personalities. The mechanics of this game are its truest strongpoint when it comes to battles and strategy. The ability to meticulously set up a staggering array of possible tactics by placing your soldiers in many possible arrangements and patterns leads to a lot of fun and challenge to be had. This strategy and learning are truly a push from the developers as they provide players the gratifying moments when they test run the strategy before committing and hit the button and commit a strategy to see if it worked well or not. These tense moments are when it is evident if strategic skills are there or lacking as the process cannot be reversed. It is in these moments where I curse my naivete and swear to do better. Prime caters to different approaches in a fair manner. It does this by providing different types of soldiers and relying on command factors so that the A. I. Shapeforms follow all waypoints. From gunners to snipers, each soldier has different types of abilities which allow the player to attempt alternate strategies in the different levels. The placement of waypoints and trying to account for every factor that could be can lead to a high level of complexity for some but I found it refreshing to have many options in a fight. The more the merrier, I say, when it comes to soldier options. I always want the best choices in a fight. With the complexity found in this title, this has a positive effect in the boost provided to the tactical nature of this strategy game. Through thoughtful and engaging mechanics and gameplay, Prime offers a full story-driven single-player campaign. The game provides new and unpredictable scenarios to test player skills with semi-random battlefields. Negatives found in Prime? There are only two so far. The update patch found in the title makes it impossible to play the game while signed in to the Playstation Network (PSN) since it freezes before getting to the start menu. This unfortunately made reviewing multiplayer functionality not a viable option at this time. The second negative is in the AI found in the Shapeforms. In one instance I sent a rocket launcher soldier to line up in an angled view of an enemy through a window. When the enemy moved closer the soldier shot and blew up the wall and itself. AI can be glitchy sometimes and this cost me a soldier. I would say fixing this could really change the game for the better. For this turn-based strategy game, I have only seen one other game that tried this mechanic and I loved it. It really empowers players and gives them the control over a situation; not altogether an easy task with AI involved. They must be the brains and “Tactics” behind these battles-so if you feel up to it and like to control your game battles, try this title. Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is my blog.