5 Reasons We're Excited to Play Pokemon Red & Blue

It’s been 20 years since a little electric mouse named Pikachu won over the globe and created a worldwide phenomenon.  

Let that sink in for a bit. 20 years. Since then Pokemon has gone on to become one of gaming’s largest franchises, and has spawned nine generations of sequels, numerous movies, a television show, a collectible card game… the list goes on and on. Pokémon has been there and done that. 

Different Perspectives: On Autism & The Witness

Long before my autism was diagnosed, I refused to sit still – much to the annoyance of my parents. It was too loud, too bright, too crowded, there was always something about the world that didn’t agree with me. When we drove, the road never made sense, full of painted symbols passing out of my sight in a rhythmic fashion, teasing me with their incompleteness. So I kept squirming in my chair, changing my perspective constantly, sliding the windscreen wiper into the gaps to, in some small way, solve the world around me.

The Witness turns that familiar childhood memory into an 80 hour puzzle game. It has ambitions of being a lot more, espousing the virtues of epiphany, science and how we could save the world if only we just took the time to look at it differently. The game failed to stir any such thematic resonance within me, yet I couldn’t help but find something worthwhile from my time on the Island beyond mostly enjoyable puzzles. Rather than an enriching intellectual experience, The Witness is an escapist fantasy, in the same way that a Bayonetta isThe fantasy it offers me as someone struggling with sensory over-stimulation and environmental processing scratches a similar itch that Bayonetta does for someone struggling with not being Bayonetta.

Birth of the Flight Simulator: Genius and Scandal

This column is the first in a two-part series about the Link Trainer, the world’s first flight simulator.

Edwin Link had a passion for flying. He took his first flight in 1920 at the age of 16, and by 1927 he was a convert, borrowing money from his parents to buy a Cessna Model AA. He planned to make a living barnstorming, training, and flying charter flights, but money kept him grounded. Being a private pilot meant constant fuel and maintenance expenditures, and flight instructors were tough to find in Link’s hometown of Binghampton, New York. But Link was a tinkerer and problem-solver by nature, and he had one major advantage in his corner — the family organ factory.

XCOM 2 Review

Jenny died today. She held against hordes of grotesque alien monsters, and she was one of my best. But it wasn't enough.

I named Jenny after one of my best friends. She was married last summer, and now here she was, on the battlefield. Surrounded by greys and the tortured husks of her comrades, she gave her last breath to bide time for the others to escape. It was her or them.

Bonfire of the Anxieties

There’s a touch of magic in the bonfires of Lordran.

I don’t mean the sort of magic that conjures fireballs or heals wounds – such things are commonplace there – but an altogether more primal strain, the kind that turns men to flowers and flowers to men, that comes without warning or not at all. No matter how many of them you stumble across, the emotional arc still lingers: a hint of surprise, a flood of relief, and the nagging fear that whatever comes next might somehow surpass what you just vanquished.

I’m almost done with my third playthrough of Dark Souls, the sophomore entry in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s acclaimed Souls series. Before that, I conquered its sequel, Dark Souls 2, and Bloodborne, a Lovecraft-tinged spin-off that owes such a heavy debt to the core franchise it still gets invited to the family reunions, tentacles and all. This was all in the span of a year. Some of my friends call me obsessed; but to the fans of Miyazaki’s work, I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are still character builds to test, covenants to join, loot to plunder – and, as is the series’ signature, lore to analyze.

The Truth Behind Tomb Raider's Fake Religions

Video games don’t have the best track record portraying religion. Nervous about controversy, most titles avoid the topic altogether -- even in historical settings when it should play a large role. When games are forced to address the topic, they tend to tiptoe around spirituality, paying it lip service as best, misunderstanding it at worst.

Which is what makes Rise of the Tomb Raider so fascinating. Rather than fleeing from religious subject matter, it makes Byzantine heresies an essential part of the conflict, and injects its invented religions with personal meaning, historical basis, and an evolving structure. In doing so, Rise of the Tomb Raider creates a religious landscape that’s far more credible -- and realistic -- than most video games.

A Community Awakens: Star Wars RP on Second Life

I’ve frolicked about in some of the coolest Star Wars landscapes: Taris, Manaan, Coruscant, Nar Shadda, Korriban, and Mos Espa. I’ve been to a volcanic planet which resembles Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi had their final showdown. I’ve been a Queen, an Empress, a criminal, an assassin, and an Ithorian soothsayer. I led a rebellion against the Galactic Empire and got it all on video.

Firewatch Review

Firewatch is the story of Henry, a middle-aged man from Boulder, Colorado who takes up the job of a "Lookout": a government wildlife official who watches for fires in large forests and national parks, and works to prevent them. We learn early on that he finds the job posting in a local paper, not as an introduction to the game, but as a conclusion to a long and grueling realization of his wife's deteriorating medical condition. Henry isn't applying as a lookout in the empty wilderness to get easy money. He's doing so because he needs to escape from a life that is crumbling around him.

Opinion: PlayStation VR is VR's Big Chance

It’s an exciting time in games, as we await the arrival of VR with bated breath. Some VR headsets have been available for trial at conventions and expos over the years, but soon three of the most highly anticipated VR products-- the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR-- will make their debut on the consumer market. It’s yet to be seen if virtual and augmented reality will have any real impact on the video game industry, or if it will go the way of other peripherals that were warmly received when first announced, before quickly fading into irrelevancy. It’s likely VR will fall into one of two extremes: either it will be entirely revolutionary or ahead of its time, or the world will not be quite ready to embrace it.

Opinion: Why Prototypes Can Be Good for the Player

Game development, for practical and personal reasons, is often shrouded behind the same veil as a magician’s parlor tricks. Whether it’s trying to protect contracts, maintaining secret drop rates to keep subscribers repeatedly running through MMO dungeons, or just plain trying to keep the magic of a game alive, the state of game development in 2016 is often one shrouded in secrecy and NDAs, from small indie development all the way up to AAA. 

Because of this, most of the people who play video games generally have no idea how games are made. And to be fair, there’s a lot that game developers may want never to see the light of day. Keeping players in the dark lets them focus on playing the game, and lowers the risk of a rough development cycle financially impacting a game’s sales. If players never learn how broken and buggy a game is during development, they’re more likely to assume it can be a flawless gem when they pick up their pre-order from Gamestop. 

But maybe it’s time to begin correcting that notion. As Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, and early access programs become more and more common in creating sustainable games, what players “know” about game development begins to collide with the realities of shipping games. Double Fine’s Kickstarter legacy has been just as much about players deciding if money is being spent “properly” as it has been creating unique and off-beat games, and Uber Entertainment wrote that any alterations from their core Kickstarter video, however important for creating a good game, were frequently met with negative responses from their backers. 

One answer to solving these problems? Letting players see and play more game prototypes.

One of the biggest misconceptions the public currently has about game development is that any given game is “planned” then executed, like the way one might script and shoot a film. This isn’t the case. As designer Liz England has explained in multiple talks, games like 2015’s Sunset Overdrive find the core nugget of fun after experimentation and prototyping, not just by sticking to its original blueprints. Games more frequently are built on the foundation of an idea, usually bolstered by piece of tech or a particular skillset a group of developers possess, before iterating their way to completion and solving challenge after challenge of having the whole dang thing make sense. 

Showcasing more prototypes is therefore a great way to teach core game communities about where games come from. During the last few PAX sessions, Supergiant Games has spent their time at the show not just showcasing Transistor and new ports of Bastion, but also showing a playable prototype of Bastion from before any of the game’s most striking elements---its art style, its voiceover, or its varied combat---were even created. 

View on YouTube

It’s just a 3D mockup with D&D creatures standing in for monsters, and the hero character only has a few key animations But it does show off some of the core technical and design theories behind Supergiant Games’ work, and separates it from the gameplay elements they discovered through the development process. 

If you’re able to dig up any prototype footage of the first Assassin’s Creed, you’re able to get a glimpse of what its developers were grappling with before it became a blockbuster science fiction saga. According to IGN, Patrice Desilets began working on the series after it was conceived as a sequel to the Prince of Persia games, but the most important DNA in its lineage was their experiments with the Anvil engine, which let them generate tall cities and large crowds. 


View on YouTube

Though Desilets and his team would go on to research the Hassassin and decide a more realistic approach to medieval history would be a better fit for the game then the fantasy of Prince of Persia, the game’s origins as an experiment of tech and design help us chart the path for the series’ development, and understand the technical emphasis on fluid, navigable architecture that drives how each subsequent game targets its different thematic goals. Because of this, it’s frequently useful to analyze Assassin’s Creed through the platforming through cities and crowds instead of its narrative pillars because that’s where the tech allegedly originated from.

Most recently, the team behind the Indiegogo-backed RPG Indivisible launched a free prototype for their game on PSN as a marketing tool for their crowdfunding campaign, and showed off what may be one of the most up-front transparent discussions about game development costs.. While their prototype is a little more holistic than what you’ll find from Assassin’s Creed, Bastion, or any other games out there, it’s a stepping stone for the kind of game its creators want to create. It’s a reveal that might prevent Lab Zero from making radical design shifts the way they might through a traditional development cycle, but it’s a strong showing of the notion that at the right time, a showing of your game’s prototype can be a powerful tool for your audience.

Obviously, as with all things in game design, showing off prototypes is not going to be a universal, works-for-every-game scenario. But if the industry wants to participate in game preservation and educate the customers who may decide whether games get funded or die on the vine, it’s a powerful first step. Whether they wind up preserved in a Smithsonian archive, showcased at conventions, or simply displayed at GDC talks, prototypes can be how the game industry lowers some of its walls, and helps build transparent relationships between players and developers.