Friday, 30 December 2011

A Stratagy That Works: The Ocean Marketting Saga or How adding the suffix -Gate to any scandal is stupid

Being a writer for a video game website, sometimes things do not come easy. I often spend an hour, sometimes two looking for a good story to write but in the past 72 hours, things have been easy, to say the least. For those of you who have been living under a digital rock, a recent email exchange sent a man's life hurtling into a void of what people will use as textbook for how not to respond to people or react in a professional situation.
Yes, the stock image equivalent of this.

Friday, 23 December 2011

What I've been up to this week - December 23rd

Been a while since I did one of these.

Well I just got a new smartphone and loving the fuck out of it.
Ohhhh yeaaaah.
If you're wondering why I'm so white-ly excited about it, this is my first smartphone ever. I've been without one, like an orphan looking into the shop window of an Apple store whilst everyone is lit up by candlelight and enjoying their "apps" and "iOs'" and smuggly regarding this as the pinnacle of technology while they speak and a cat imitates them in a high pitched voice.
I suddenly don't want a smartphone

I started a new Tumblr about clouds

And I did an interview with the lead designer of the game Skydrift. It was good discussing the future of games with them and what they're doing. They're doing something with Suda 51's company Grasshopper interactive in 2012 and that just makes me all kinds of excited.

Most of the conversation as VRWWWWWWWWWWOWWWWMMM

Also I discuss the finer points of the current glut of what Ben Croshaw called 'Shooter Season 2011." It all started when I was playing Goldeneye Reloaded and began to notice I wasn't having fun.
Check it out here on

Oh and I also made an entire post almost rhyme...was pretty proud of myself for that one.

Also Arcadia has nearly moved in completely. Her friends dropped off a few pieces for a bookcase that she can put together and they arrived just after I slipped on some oil in the driveway so I was half naked with an ice pack on my back and cursy and annoying and not exactly helpful. I'm quite poor at making first impressions and hope they still kinda like me...
Yeah, a bit like that. Sorry, Scott and Rach.
and finally,

I don't even like the Lord of the Rings films that much, but this! THIS is now on my list with The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and Cabin in the Woods.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dirty Wallflower - Digital December Mix 15/12/11

I'm an amateur DJ, just doing stuff in my room and around town when I can, bopping my head and rocking out. Always draftin', always craftin'...or whatever. Anyway, here's the stream of my most recent mix. With tracklisting at request. Also click after the jump to download the album as a separated track list.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Louis CK Live at the Beacon Theatre and Torrenting

I have my own personal opinion and preference for torrenting and "illegal downloading" and to say the least, as someone who wants to work in creative mediums, torrenting is one of the greatest forms of distribution in the universe. Whilst some things I torrent out of spite and/or a lack of patience, I genuinely believe that downloading something illegally is wrong for this or that reason, as I'm sure you do too, but let me give you a tale of woe and stupidity.
I said Woe!

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Great UnAustralian Songbook - Disc 1: Last Century

I tend to not watch TV, unless the ABC is running something worthwhile. But without an iPod and needing some background noise while I write, I happened to hear a few ads for something called The Great Australian Songbook, more than once in the past hour. The concept of a CD, let alone a compilation CD is something which I thought the music industry had given up on, let alone advertising it on TV, so let's look at both of those things first.

Pictured: Old Media

First thing's first, they're two types of old media that I don't particularly get behind but strive constantly to keep abreast on. I want to be apart of TV because I love the medium of television. I think that it's strong and powerful as a storytelling narrative and that I've been watching Buffy for the past six months and I don't think anyone could tell me otherwise...who has psychic powers?

Although I didn't particularly enjoy Dollho- ERRRGH

For music, companies dropped the ball on that by not respecting it's consumers and fanbase, which film seems to be following suit with. Meanwhile, some video game companies continue to thrive based on subscription services and some respect to it's users. Also I'm a bedroom DJ who respects artists and finding new ways to mix music, so I'm not sure where I fit in regards to the spectrum of music.
Depending on your age, he is on either side of that spectrum
But back to the Great Australian Songbook. Now being twenty,  being from Australia and knowing too much about popular culture, I like to think that we have a diverse and interesting series of artists, musicians and just generally talented people working in the music industry. I like to think that, but that's like a pig thinking one day he mighten end up as bacon. It's just not there sometimes. When I think of great Australian songs, Great Southern Land and Beds are Burning come straight to mind. So let's look at the tracklisting on this "Great" Australian Song Book and analyse it to see if it's truly Australian or just a bit of joke.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

What I've been up to this week - December 10th

Well other than my girlfriend moving in with me, things have been pretty crazy this week online.
I got some  bad news but not completely depressing but I can easily bounce back from it. Only financial stuff...but anyway the good stuff.

My official post of the IGDA Sydney event Bits and Pieces went live only this morning and I've been getting great feedback from those who attended.

You can read all about the event right here.

Look there's a picture of me talking with Molniya Games Catherine McAdam, being all journalism-y.
Yes, this is a game. Yes, you should buy it.

Also I talked to the developer Bill Stiernberg, co-creator of Cthulu Saves the World and Breath of Death at Zeboyd Games. You can read the interview here
You can buy their games right here on Steam and it's less than $3. It's awesome.

Coming up next week is my review for Digital Reality's Skydrift, which has been a hell of a lot of fun and also talk to the creators of Orc's Must Die, which is also a fantastic game which I cannot suggest you play more than a PR marketer who just finished doing a line of coke off a hundred thousand dollar check.

Hey, Bruce Campbell called, wants his chins back.

The game is great for fans of Tower Defense Strategy games but likes to get up close and personal with the action. It's less than $20 on Steam too :)

Will keep you updated when I get some more interviews and reviews, remember it's all on

Decisions, Decisions

I'll try and keep this blog to a few personal speculations about popular culture but life has been quite crazy right now.
Absolute insanity.

I think I've decided to become a video game journalist, like really definitely decided that I want to go this path in my life and stick to it. It's been fairly profitable so far. Enough to keep me in a good financial mindset and even to the point where I've saved for half of my trip with Arcadia to Europe next year. I mean, I know that eventually I'll probably be fired or the site will go down or this that and the other, but for now, I know it's profitable for me and what I do, not enough to move out and be independent, but getting there.

Thinking of getting a bank account

I've also recently decided that Arcadia is living with me after a series of - to put it frankly - fucktards slowly began to degrade the foundations of a domestic relationship. We were somewhere and now we're not and I feel better for it. No passive aggressive bullshit, no more living in fear. Just us and the kitten. We're slowly moving her stuff in my room.

Not Pictured: Fuck-tards

My parents love her and Anya and it's really not a problem and Arcadia really wants to support me with what I do and I'm young and I'm 20 and I've got my life ahead of me and it's my first real job in over two years and she loves that I help out and that I'm nice and attractive and humble.
You all got a look up to someone...

But I want Arcadia in my life regardless of where we live and I want to be a games journalist. There's always that feeling of fear or doubt but it goes away in a matter of minutes by just thinking of what other skills I have and how I still have a year and a half left at Uni and after Monday night, I have people who I would love to meet to and talk to again and would love to work with on games, either as a writer, consultant or even marketing (if my Uni course dictates what I can do after I graduate), but whatever I do, whether it's tending this blog or working for a video game company, I'll do it with pride and speeling mistakes.
I mean look who's writing this junk

But for now, analysing popular culture for me.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter and read my Tumblr.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Bits and Pieces - Meeting the Sydney Gaming Industry

The following is an unedited entry to a story that was posted on Several things have been changed between versions, including a lack of images, but was written in it's entirety by me.

Less than half a year ago, I embarked on a journey as a freelancer. I started off with a few projects - being paid ten bucks here or there but eventually I became bored with the idea of shilling myself out on something I wasn’t applying myself to or even cared about. I knew I had the skills for it but what were they really going towards?  I realised one afternoon after writing a script for an app company in Serbia, you know what I do care about?

Video Games. Everything about the medium has this unbridled potential just waiting with every single game I hear about. So I started to write more about them - analysing them, reading about them and eventually I got this gig. But I want to make something clear no matter what anyone tells you when you’re writing about video games or anything you love for that matter. A job is a job is a job.

No matter what anyone tells you, when you work hard at something and have an affinity for it - it’s a job. If you’re not getting paid and you’re creating something, it’s still a job. It’s still work and on Monday night I saw some of the most hardest working people in my life, doing what they love for no money whatsoever. No fame. No glitz or glory. Just a bunch of guys and girls and dev teams who were in a quaint little bar on the top floor of the Arthouse, coming together to show what they’d been making.

I was informed via Twitter after watching a show here in Australia called Good Game. It was an upcoming event in Sydney. Even though I live a good hour away from the place (2 hours via train), I knew I had to go. I’d never really met any game designers in real life. Just people who play games, crap on about games or who genuinely like games. Her name was Rebecca Fernandez - a local game developer with a group called Convict Interactive.

The fact I’d never heard of them in my life depressed me. They were at the same University I’d been going to for 3 years and had developed a game for the XBox Live Arcade and I had never heard of them. It was frustrating to say the least, but we’ll get to Rebecca and the gang at Convict later. So, the event in Sydney was called Bits and Pixels. First and foremost, I’m a fan of puns, so I knew I had to be in attendance, secondly the woman who started it all up was named Epona. Not a big Legend of Zelda fan, but ‘twas a sign, some would say.

On Monday night, I grabbed my girl, she grabbed her camera, we grabbed a train and took it to the city. We discussed on the way about how nervous I was, that I personally thought that this was my make or break time. Was I going to be a real person and say what I am in the video game world or am I just gonna be an observer, just on the outskirts, enjoying what video games are as a passive medium, even more passively? We got there just a few minutes after the event started, climbing a large set of stairs to get to the Attic Bar. Epona was waiting at a big table with a smile, we all introduced ourselves and we were both more than ecstatic to meet one another. From the get go it was fantastic.

There were already twenty or so people already there, but my girlfriend and I were hungry so we went and got dinner an hour out of our way. (Un)Fortunately we returned an hour later to find the place packed. The room had blossomed from the “twenty or so” to at least a hundred. Drinks in hands, laptops out, controllers in - the room was a buzz with talking and sharing alike and it was truly magical.

I always say that I cannot mentally fathom what a group of people looked like. If you stood me in front of a crowd, I could not tell you how many people were there or even give a “good guess,” but there were at least a hundred people in that room. All interested in talking about games, about making games, about being in the games industry.

I decided to go to the closest person to ask my series of stock questions and then dive into more. I felt like introducing myself formally, I’m Harrison Engstrom, I write for this site, I do this, I say that, I want to interview you and I did. I talked to a lot of people who I will outline the eight different games I played, talked about and loved at Bits and Pixels. I took notes and business cards and I just could not believe my luck that all these people were so passionate about video games and they were all here.

Title: Speed Assassin’s
Platform: (currently) PC
Genre:  Action/“Dodge’em”/Toy
Developer: Michael Chu

The first person I talked to was Michael Chu. Michael was nervous about his game - to say the least, and I say that in the most objective way possible. He was nervous because I think he didn’t know if he had a game or not. The Facebook Invite talked about how you didn’t need a finished game to show off - just something that was a game, whether it was just pen and paper or even just a demo. If you had a game or wanted to make a game, show it off, talk about it. Michael had a small flash demo of something entitled Speed Assassins. The game had an incredibly detailed knight with a sword against an unending batch of horsemen and soldiers constantly coming towards you in three lanes.

Michael said that it was less of a game and more of “a toy” at the moment. He said that he wanted to make a progression in the game and make more levels and include a boss at the end that he was talking about to different people who would play it. You would move the knight between the three lanes and press spacebar to take out any soldiers in your midst, but you could not take down any horsemen. Michael had hoped to put in an upgrade system to eventually have a weapon to take them out, but also more enemies.

We talked briefly about the progression of the game and to make a difficulty curve that wasn’t “twitch-based”, but also in that progression, it would not just be oh upgrade this guy, get this weapon, getting and killing a certain amount or type of enemies “would effect how the end would play out.” I wish I asked Michael about whether he meant the game’s ending with assassinating the captain or he meant the next level of the game. I had made a few suggestive remarks about how the game was one score board and some epic music away from being addictive.

I’m not sure what it was about Michael’s game but it just screamed being one of those classic unending iPhone game. I gave examples of Frogger, Pac-Man and Tetris and Donkey Kong being games that have no final Speed Assassin could be the next killer app where you go through wave of wave of wave of soldiers and horsemen and keep upgrading, or even like using a microtransaction system to take out men...anyway I got way too ahead of myself and not being journalistic, I thanked Mr. Chu for his time and moved onto the next game.

Title: Zombie Team Defence
Platform: (currently) PC
Genre: Co-Op Action Game
Developer: Tim Gurto

Moving just a few metres up from Michael was a game I had noticed when I first came in on the night. There were zombies, there were guns, there were mines, I was in, but one thing made it a bit different. There was just a boy and a girl playing the game, one on the left side, another on the right, one using the Mouse, directional and the other, wrapped up in pressing WASD and spacebar.

One player would be dropping mines and the other would be taking on the zombie horde head on, shotgun in hand. I absolutely loved the style of the game. All the action and animation was fluid and the sound effects were solid. The art design was actully done by Michael Chu and Gurto coded it in 5 days as a Valentine’s Day present for him and his girlfriend.

It is one of the best stories I’ve heard about game making. The co-op zombie game begins and you’re on a heart-shaped land mass and have to take on constant waves of the undead and the game begins. A score counter keeps racking up with each kill and once one of you are dead...that’s’re on your own...You’re either dropping mines or you’re blowing up heads and you really feel the pressure come along without the mines or the shotgun - it’s devestating, in it’s own little animated way.

Tim talked about how the game was originally made with an RTS in mind and then it was coded in C++ with an SDL library of graphics. But the timing and the heart of a strong man turned it into a really fun and enjoyable zombie game which would be great with a timer, separating waves and a leaderboard, possibility separate control system, but again, I will probably make criticisms as I go along, but these games are so good an there’s so much potential and anyway, I’ll get to how passionate I am about these games as I go along.

Actually, after I spoke with Tim, Epona took the floor to address everyone about a recent gaming conference and a prize was given away, which my girlfriend actually won and was shocked as much as I was. Epona and a few other speakers, including myself, talked about what they heard from the conference and what they really felt about the industry and having everyone in the room. It was stunningly beautiful and then and there, I knew what I wanted to write about and for, possibly the rest of my life.

After the discussing and prize giving and heartfelt speeches, I returned to look at more and more games.

Title: Night’s Quarter.
Platform: (currently) PC
Genre: Third-Person Action Puzzler
Developers: Mileu Games

I saw this game from a far, somewhat fittingly in a dark corner of the bar on a laptop. Leaves fell as a black ghostly figure stalked across a farm, looking and skulking about till finally bursts of light flooded the screen and a checkpoint was restarted. I glimpsed it later on during the night and saw someone knock over a silo and without playing the game I slowly understood what this spectral figure was doing...he was keeping to the shadows.

An entire puzzle game about using the shadows in a level to make your way across the world. The character in the game is a shadow who has been trapped by the sun for several years and has finally worked out a way to escape it’s darkened world. The Sun and light is your enemy and you have to do everything in your power to make it through the dusk. The game looks so beautiful, as I was playing, I was noticing the importance of certain shading elements and how the character would move to avoid any contact with light.

Whilst there was only a farm level, one of the developers, Tim O’Brien talked about a factory level where your protagonist would work with the pistons and spinning fans to get through the area just as the sun was rising. The game runs on the Unreal Engine and was just jaw dropping. It takes pieces of the stealth games, puzzle games and puts it together with a beautifully conceptual story.

Title: Garbage Monster
Platform: iOS
Genre: Puzzle/Arcade
Developer: Edible Games

This game was beyond cute. Like Angry Birds, Cut The Rope kind of cute. It was like a rectangular prism had come to life and the first thing he had learnt to do was eat everything in the world. The guys at Edible Games, Patrick Norman and Jiyong Park have clearly got their head in the right place when I drop a Katamari reference, there are nods and smiles all around as I mention the visual style is similar.

The Garbage Monster himself is just walking around picking up rubbish in it’s mouth until it practically explodes and releases a rainbow gas behind him, of course, this isn’t the object of the game. You fill your little monster up till he’s slow and almost incapable of moving and then you head to the nearest trash can to drop a load and some points. Rinse and repeat for two minutes as a score is racked up. I noticed through the night people were competing for high scores as we were playing through the night.

Patrick showed another level where a dog will attack the garbage monster and you have to trap it in. Whilst the dog isn’t any real threat, he sure is a nuisance. Also Patrick told me of the fact the game was also running on the Unreal Engine, but was node-based in it’s design - hardly any coding was done on it. Patrick also discussed how the game could be appropriated as something just fun, sit down and play or people could see it as an environmental game or even something else. It was actually brought up during the night by the guys at Convict Interactive, about randomness and appropriation, but we’ll get to them later.

Patrick told me the guys at Edible Games were really animators and hoping to really make a game people can pick up and play for a mobile phone platform, either iPhone or Android. Patrick’s game looks and plays like a Katamari game but with a different style. I didn’t really enjoy the Katamari Games on the iPhone (or 360 for that matter) but Garbage Monster could be an indie hit with the right marketing and videos behind it.

Title: Questy
Platform: PC
Genre: Rogue/Dungeon Crawler
Developers: Luke Mac/Adam Myatt

Moving around the room, I saw a guy packing up and slightly disappointed I asked for his card and will give him a plug, right about here, I hope to see him at the next meeting, but anyway, I then turned in a 90 degree direction towards a guy ready and waiting with a Game Over screen. I’d recently gotten into Dungeons of Dredmore and Binding of Isaac and dungeon crawlers had kinda become my thing in the past few days, this is what Questy was like.

Randomly generated dungeons, starting off in a cool retro style, the green lettering of GAME OVER stuck in my mind all night. Big block letters in an 16 bit style that just kept me thinking about that aesthetic of really defining retro. The game is fantastic and is turn based in it’s strategy. Going from room to room to room defeating “Devils in pants” as you go through each level, reminded me of an old game I coded back in high school, based around memes.

They didn’t have a company name yet, but jokes were spry with the name “We Were Wizards” Initially just one of them was showing the game and then the other returned with a beer and once Adam joined Luke, they were off talking about how they wanted to add more and more monsters and end bosses and really go for a retro feel, but also add in some strategy as they went along. The game was in an early Turn-Based stage but still strong with each random level providing a new strategy here or a new discovery there, I can’t wait to see what they add.

Title: Toska
Platform: PC
Genre: First Person Puzzler
Developer: Molniya Studios

Like I said before, invitation-wise, not everyone there has a finished game or a game to show off. I was interested in pretty much what everyone had to say about video games - theories, development or even games they were working on, that’s when I talked to Catherine McAdam, from Molniya. A lovely girl who really wanted to talk about her game, even though her team was still working on it at the moment.

We discussed the storyline of their game in development, Toska. A reclusive girl by the name of Laura begins to escape through mirrors in her bedroom to different memories and parts of her life. Using the world around her, she can manipulate objects to create new paths and ways to get out of the worlds she inhabits and into new ones. Catherine discussed the surrealistic and atmospheric style of the game would be similar to the Silent Hill series, specifically the third one.

The game started off as a survival horror idea, but morphed into a more surreal and dream-like, Alice in Wonderland affair. The game has been in development for six months on the Unreal Engine with the three person team. I cannot wait to see how it turns out, you can visit the game’s official page and see some of the early screenshots and designs. It sounds stunning and I hope to see it at the next meeting.

Title: SpaceRacer
Platform: PC/iPhone/SmartTV
Genre: Multiplayer Arcade
Developer: Lime Rocket Apps with Mike Gardner

Going through the night, I kept seeing things on and off and the bar had become crowded with people moving between games with almost ten people crowding one game. One game that always had people on it was Space Racer. It was a projecter set up in the north corner of the bar with an Asteroid-looking ship taking flight and having multiple missiles take off and head straight for the light green ship with haste.

The game is a classic arcade style that Mike helped make after playing Asteroids and saying he felt “claustrophobic”  about the game. It originally started off as “Drawn to Life” or Scribblenauts system where you could create your little ship by drawing things that would dynamically effect the game’s actions. Mike gave a great example of a player who put larger wings on the ship to give it a bit more of a chance when turning to avoid the missiles.

The game uses the gyroscopic signals which are then transmitted to whatever is running the app, whilst other players would be the missiles trying to chase down your little Space Racer. Mike originally had a track for the game but found it too constrictive. He changed it to be free form and to create an infinite space to fight friends in.
He hopes the game reaches a casual market, like playing something with yourself or a few mates or even online before you head out. He made a pretty open statement about how SmartTV’s or internet TV’s don’t really have a game platform and it’d be really helpful if they did. An early prototype for the game included the little green rocket being controlled via Infra-red. The low latency was perfect for such a small app, it was eventually ported to an iPhone, which is what I was playing it on, and it really works with it’s twists and turns as you avoid the missiles.

Whilst the game was merely a prototype, new additions plan on adding in flags and goals for your little Space Racer to get to as you fight off your friends. Whilst some of the functions were disabled, a thrust and defence button were present on the app to give me an idea what other gameplay there would be. The rounds in the game would last from 3-5 minutes with four lives. Other weapons and enemies could come in and be controlled by other players with a score system or a deathmatch scenario.

During the night someone suggested it would be great on Nintendo’s next platform, the Wii U, and I could not agree more. Even having it on the Kinect would be a blast, having someone control the ship whilst the others try and take it out with voice recognized pew-pew or making different hand gestures for different enemies...anyway, I’m getting off course again. The simplest of games can have the biggest of potential and I can’t wait to see what SpaceRacer does in the future.

Finally and definitely not least:
Title: Triangle Man
Platform: PC/Xbox 360
Genre: Punishing Platforming Puzzler
Developer: Convict Interactive

I felt so shitty that I talked to these guys last. These were guys from my home city. These were guys who were there with a 360 controller and two laptops set up and were rarring to go but they were sadly the last people who’s game I played. Now don’t be fooled by the title or the cutesy little man who looks like a Triangle...this game is a mean bitch.

You play the great Triangle Man who’s diamond encrusted soccer ball has been stolen and it’s up to you to get The Triangle Man through the hellish mazes of evil red eyes and switch possibilities that made Triangle Man, difficult as well as it was designed. The game is pretty good with over ten levels that could have been played there, but by the time I got up to it, I was too tired and short-tempered to let the pointy man get the best of me.

I think I’ve mentioned Dungeons of Dredmore like five times in this article, but I really like it and it’s approach to being user-friendly. Triangle Man has a similar kind of action as your score is your death as it continues to count up. Whilst the point of the game is not to get the highest amount of deaths, but the least, it’s still a lovely game mechanic, that more games should employ. You die, you restart, no big deal, and a possible leaderboard in the future for the least amount of deaths was discussed during a playtest.

Originally developed as apart of the XBLA title Convict Mini-Games, they found that they got most of their feedback and plays from people who played Triangle Man. Whilst he had a brief appearance in the original mini-game set, the guys (and girl) at Convict Interactive decided to expand it out to a full game.

The level design is frustratingly fun, with spikes, pitfalls and enemies try and take you out MegaMan or I Wanna Be The Guy style, with switches that you have to hit to get to the end of the level.

I also talked to writer and developer Dan McMahon who worked on LA Noire over the past few years. He’s currently working at KMM Studios with Brendan McNamara on Whore of the Orient, he was quite hush-hush about what was going and what had happened, which I completely respect, but I was absolutely star-struck about the situation that I just had to write it in here and gloat excessively.

So yeah, that was four hours on Monday night. Four crazy hours of game testing, game breaking, talking about games, gaming and just being fairly gamer-friendly. No one was drunk, no one was a dick, no one was bashing games, it was friendly, it was fun and it is the future of gaming, all in that one room and I can’t wait to be in there again.

Special Thanks to Epona Schweer and Rebecca Fernandez for telling me about the event and also a big thanks to all the developers who provided screenshots, let my girlfriend take shots of them and were genuinely cool and nice people who let me play their game, even when I sucked at it.

Photos by: Arcadia Lyons