You Shall Not Pass: Bloodborne, Dark Souls 2, and Cutting Open the Gameplay Loop

From the lamp, I run straight down the stairs on the left, past a crazed huntsman. He notices me but doesn’t have time to attack. He’ll follow me, so I just keep sprinting. I veer left again down another set of stairs. There I find two monstrous creatures with a hammers where their hands should be. I roll around them, only briefly slowing down if my stamina is drained. Past them I find an elevator which takes me to a bridge full of more bloodthirsty huntsmen. If I just start crossing the bridge and retreat, a giant fireball–a trap meant to wreck me–will clear most of them from my path. Once the fireball has passed, I juke around any enemies who survived the blast of flames. At the end of the bridge stands another hammer monster. I wait to see where he’s going to attack and I roll around him in the other direction. There’s a huntsman with a shield behind me after I dodge so I still can’t slow down to take in the scenery. Instead, I head for the branch to the left, up another set of stairs, and find my destination: a door made of fog.

Over a year later, I still remember the path to Father Gascoigne in Bloodborne. Every turn, dodge, and trap is etched into my mind from the dozen or so times I ran the obstacle course the first time I played the game. Gascoigne is the first major challenge of Bloodborne. He’s a highly mobile boss who transforms midway through the battle into a furiously aggressive monster. For a beginner, he serves as a bottleneck, forcing players to learn how to parry with your offhand weapon, a mechanic that becomes increasingly important as the game goes on. Mastering that mechanic makes Gascoigne relatively simple (and there’s a hidden item that can assist as well) but for a lot of people, including me, he’s the first major roadblock in Bloodborne.

The difficulty of Gascoigne makes the run above all the more important. Learning to beat Gascoigne means studying his attack patterns and practicing how to counter them. And, like many Bloodborne bosses, fighting him often feels like beating your head against a wall until it finally breaks. Anything that gets in the way of trying the boss again is a frustration, so it is a relief to run to the fight without being forced to deal with enemies along the way.

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Echoes of the Fey: Building a Better (More Equal) Fantasy World

Fantasy realms are pretty shitty places for women. Women generally aren’t in recognized positions of power. They are used as chess pieces in political machinations. They are constantly under the threat of violence and that violence is used to motivate male heroes (and inspire hatred towards male villains).

In modern fantasy, there are usually exceptions–women who wield power behind the scenes or who take on traditionally male roles within society as established in the setting–but these are explicitly portrayed as exceptions.  That’s progress of a sort, but it still leaves something to be desired. Daenerys Targaryen is great, but she doesn’t make up for the fact that the majority of female characters in Game of Thrones wield little-to-no power in-universe.  And I don’t just mean major, viewpoint characters but also background characters. (To stave off criticism, I’ll say that the TV show at least puts the occasional male prostitute in the brothels and female warrior among the wildlings, and GoT is hardly the worst offender in this field.)

I don’t think this is a controversial statement, though I know there are plenty of people who don’t think it’s bad. And for those people, there’s plenty of books, movies, and games out there for you. I’d just like to see something different. So when I’m crafting my own fantasy setting for my own game, I want to do something different.

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My Next Game: Echoes of the Fey

Last week, I finally released 26 Gy, a project that has been weirdly hanging over my head for way too long. So, what’s next? Something big, that a few of you might already know about. For my next project, I’m fully teaming up with Woodsy Studio for a multi-project visual novel series called Echoes of the Fey. This isn’t a new partnership by any means–I did court/debate dialog on Serafina’s Crown and she did music/art on The Closer: Game of the Year Edition–but this is the first time we’re going to fully invest on the same project.

Echoes of the Fey takes place in the realm of Oraz, a land split between Humans in the east and Leshin (the politically correct term for Elves in Oraz) in the west, with a great forest separating them. Leshin do not age and can use powerful sorcery called Fey Magic. Humans aren’t so lucky, though they eventually learned to build large machines—Fey Reactors—to harvest the magical energy used by the Leshin.

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Leshin – Art by Jenny Gibbons

The activation of the Fey Reactors sparked a Leshin invasion of the East. Stronger, faster, and capable of magic, the Leshin thought the war would be over quickly. It wasn’t. Humans fought them tooth-and-nail with superior numbers and dragged the conflict out over thirty years. Eventually, Leshin sentiment turned against the war. The people overthrew their religious government and came to terms with the Humans. They restored the original borders and began a new, unstable era of peace. That’s where our story begins.

I know this sounds like a typical Lord of the Rings derivative, something I’ve been hesitant to write for long time. But it’s not. Echoes of the Fey is high fantasy with a twist: it’s not really high fantasy. It is a detective series, inspired as much by Raymond Chandler as J.R.R. Tolkien. The main character is not a king or a prince, and her goal is not a throne or the salvation of her people. She is a private investigator, and all she wants is enough gold to pay her rent and keep her in whiskey for the foreseeable future.

Sofya Rykov- Concept Art by Wendy Gram, Coloring by Jenny Gibbons

Sofya Rykov

Sofya Rykov is a veteran of the Great War and a victim of its final weeks. The daughter of a wealthy noblewoman, she had secured a cushy position guarding a Fey Reactor deep in Human territory. In the last days of the war, the Leshin launched a desperate attack on the reactor and detonated it, killing thousands. Well within the blast radius, Sofya should have died that day. But she barely survived, and in the wake of the disaster found herself with unstable magic powers that no Human before her has ever possessed.

Frightened of what Humans or Leshin might do to her if they discovered her powers, Sofya withdrew from society and now ekes out a living as a mercenary, investigator, and (occasionally) con-woman. She is assisted by her friend and doctor, a Leshin by the name of Heremon ir-Caldy.

Overworld Character Sprites

Character sprites by Jenny Gibbons

Each chapter of Echoes of the Fey will start with a client, a mystery, and an angle that will force Sofya to explore her own magical abilities as well as the evolving relationship between humans and Leshin.

While the realm is nominally at peace, the truth is that new wars are brewing. During the conflict, Humans united under the banner of the powerful House Lapidus, which now asserts a claim to an empire that spans from the Leshin border to the eastern coasts of Oraz. Imperial troops spread across the land attempt to maintain Lapidus rule against other ambitious families and county governments.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, the new Leshin leaders—The Alliance of Free Cities—struggle to unite a people previously only united by their religion. New extremist factions have emerged in the wake of the old clerics disbanding.

Echoes of the Fey is centered on the Human border city of Vodotsk, a scarred city that had been occupied by Leshin forces for decades prior to the peace accord. Humans and Leshin, just months separated from a brutal war, struggle to co-exist peacefully. The ruling houses of the region are defunct and control of the city shifts between an interim county government and newly-arrived Imperial officers and sympathizers who seek to add the lands to the Lapidus tracts.

The Fox’s Trail

The first full episode, The Fox’s Trail, involves a missing Leshin veteran and the youngest son of a wealthy Human house, Eduard Galkin. The Fox’s Trail will be a choice-driven visual novel with multiple endings and character side quests scattered throughout Vodotsk. In preparation, I (hopefully) will be releasing a free short story/novella The Prophet’s Arm, detailing an early case involving a key side character in The Fox’s Trail.

Hopefully all of this is coming in May 2016, but we know how things get delayed so I’m not ready to put a full release date out there for either the VN or the novella. We work fast and a good amount of the game is already finished but, you know, shit happens.

26 Gy is Now Released! And on Steam Greenlight!

January 26th is here, which means 26 Gy is finally ready for release!

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26 Gy is a classic RPG about dying of radiation poisoning. Rather than gain levels like in a typical RPG, you will spend the game losing levels. That’s right–as every minute passes, your character will lose a level and their stats will decrease at a corresponding rate. There’s only one way to mitigate this loss–find weapons, armor, and stat boosts in a procedurally-generated labyrinth.

Of course, this takes time and time is the one thing you don’t have. You have only seventy-two minutes (each minute representing an in-game hour) so you’ll have to choose whether to rush to the exit of each level or search for important stat-restoring items.

The game is purchasable now on itch.io HERE.

Vote on Steam Greenlight HERE.

Final Kroenke: A Game About Stan Kroenke

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Like many folks in St. Louis, I was pissed off by the NFL and Rams owner Stan Kroenke earlier this week. Losing the team, trashing the city, all that stuff. I thought about making a blog post but plenty of people have written rants that are better than anything I’d come up with.

So instead I made a game about it, Final Kroenke. It’s free and playable in your browser. It should even work on your phone but because of a lack of keyboard keys, a couple things can freeze the game: trying to use items on enemies or trying to use the “Money” or “Coaching” skills before you level up and learn them.

Enjoy!

PLAY FINAL KROENKE BY CLICKING THIS LINK
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My Apparently Annual Top 10 Games of the Year List – 2015

Last year, I hopped on the internet end-of-the-year zeitgeist by making a top 10 games of 2014 post. I’m not sure how many people care about my opinion–and probably far fewer do now, seeing that I had a sports game at #1 and a visual novel at #2–but hey, why not do it again? #content

I played a lot of video games this year, which is nothing new, but I also released my first game and contributed significant dialog writing to another. I’ll be releasing my second game in a few weeks, and another visual novel in collaboration with Woodsy Studio in the late spring. I don’t know whether any of this makes my opinion more or less valid, but working on games has certainly informed and changed how I approach them. Which is weird, because this list is probably way less eclectic than last year’s.

The Annual Disclaimer: A shitload of video games came out in 2015. More games that I wanted to play than in any year I can remember. There’s a lot I still haven’t gotten around to playing that I could see making it on this list: SOMA, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Just Cause 3, AC: Syndicate (yes), Axiom Verge, Nuclear Throne, and Pillars of Eternity, just to name a few off the top of my head.

I’m also leaving off MLB: The Show 16 to keep things interesting

And as usual, large gifs ahead.

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26 gy Update – Box Art and Trailer

A few months ago, I’d planned on releasing 26 gy by mid-December. It’s not out yet, so it’s update time.

A few things things kept me from my planned release. Jury duty and a brutal flu hit me at the same time and pushed me back. The closer my intended date got to Christmas, the more I wanted to wait a bit longer. 26 gy is hardly a holiday game and releasing while everyone is on vacation and playing big games sounds like a death sentence.

But here’s the good news! First up, I have official box art.

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Now, granted, there isn’t going to be a boxed version of 26 gy. It will be up on my itch.io page and (with any greenlight luck) Steam at a later date. But, hey, the industry keeps calling it box art so here we are.

Second, I have a trailer featuring a bit of gameplay and some of the original music. No official date yet–testing could take one week or three and I’m not ready to commit–but I can say it will be released in JANUARY. And this time I mean it.

I’m also returning to this damn blog, which I’ve largely neglected over the last month. Not only was I trying to make up for lost time with 26 gy, I was playing a lot of Fallout and I let that take away from blog-time rather than dev-time. So even if you’re more interested in my jokes, baseball, or video games thoughts rather than a low-fi horror game, I’ll have stuff for you here!