Game of the year 2013 and The Fruits of Kickstarter.

So this post isn’t one of those personal ones, this is a post about Gaming in two parts. Part one is about Kickstarter –specifically Planetary Annihilation and Broken Age- and part two is about my Game of the Year for 2013.

Let’s jump headfirst into Kickstarter, shall we? For those who don’t know (and frankly how can anyone who has any interest in the digital age not know?!) Kickstarter lets you give money to companies to create a product they wish to make. It is not tech-exclusive, however, many tech and gaming companies have certainly taken to it very strongly. The reason? Companies can’t take risks as publishers won’t fund games unless they know that they’ll make much more money back on their investment. Don’t get me wrong, I understand this stance, it is a business after all and the idea of a business is to make money. But some companies just want to make a certain kind of game because there is an audience who has gotten lost…

Enter Double Fine and Uber Entertainment. Let’s start with the latter. Uber Entertainment are made up of the core team of engineers and coders who created two of the greatest RTS (real time strategy) games of all time. The revolutionary Total Annihilation (which I still play 17 years since its release!) and the modern ‘sequel’ Supreme Commander. They were annoyed that no-one had created an Epic RTS since SupCom –especially after the travesty that was SupCom 2- and so went to Kickstarter with the desire to create Planetary Annihilation. They asked for a paltry $900,000 but 44,162 dedicated RTS fans screamed “IT’S THE GAME I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO PLAY!! TAKE MY MONEEEEEEEEY!!!!”. I was one of these fans who threw my wallet at the screen until they blasted (puns!!) through 900k and went on to get $2,229,344 which means the game will be CONSIDERABLY more awesome!

They’ve so far very much delivered on their project as it is THE most Epic RTS ever. I’ll go into much more detail another time, but needless to say it is everything and more than I hoped. It is a masterpiece and only in beta! If you’ve ever thought that having the biggest weapon is the way to win this game laughs at your naivety and crashes a friggin’ ASTEROID into your base! Ka-BOOOOOOOOM!!!!

Moving away from Supreme Destruction on the other end of the spectrum we have Double Fine. For those who don’t know Double Fine is a studio based in San Francisco and is headed by non-other than the Legend that is Tim Schafer –that’s the Tim Schafer of classic Point ‘n Click LucasArts Adventure games!- and if that means nothing to you check out Grim Fandango and the bunny scene from Full Throttle to understand how awesome this guy is! They’ve done some much larger games like Psychonauts (a true classic) and Brutal Legend (best gaming soundtrack ever? Certainly on the shortlist!). However, they wanted to make an old-school point ‘n click adventure game like back in the early 90s. So Tim went to Kickstarter and said they wanted to make this little Adventure game… We heard his plea and we threw our money at him! He asked for $400,000 and we dedicated DF fans scrounged $3,336,371 between the 87,142 of us!

The first Act of Broken Age (the above game!) was recently released and –being a backer!- I got to play said act. It is the exact opposite of Planetary Annihilation in terms of pace. It is a cerebral challenge with a wonderful story and truly beautiful art and music. It is a modern artistic masterpiece of gaming and a pretty good game too. The puzzles aren’t exactly difficult but that means you don’t end up horrifically stuck and get frustrated. Well worth playing regardless of your age or gaming expectations. I would very happily play this game with kids if I had them!

A few more quick words on Kickstarter before I move on, it’s worth checking out War for the Overworld which is a Dungeon Keeper spiritual successor. It’s –like the above games- still in development but it is very enjoyable. I got to have a bit of a chat with the lead dev back at Rezzed when he noticed my City of Villain T-shirt, we spoke for a while –he’s a REALLY cool guy- and he invited to sit with him and his team and chat games… I shouldn’t have missed that opportunity (especially to pimp out my composition services!) but alas I had trains to catch. Regardless worth checking out, and on a City of Heroes/Villains theme The Phoenix Project is worth checking out. It’s being made by fans of City of Heroes which was killed dead by NCSoft because they are… Idiots.

It’s a community made game funded by the community and I cannot wait to see what they come up with (and I certainly plan on sending some composition stuff to them!). These are all games to watch coming this year and beyond. But what about last year?

Singling just one game out from the plethora of games released this year is tough. Especially in a year there anything XCOM related came out. Pretty much anything from Firaxis is an Automatic GOTY for me. However, I can confirm that it is not the XCOM expansion… However, I must admit it was a close run thing!

The game of the year for me is a game that isn’t even fully released…

Ladies and Gents I proudly name Starbound as my game of the year.

Why? ‘Cause it’s freakin’ Awesome!

There is currently no story to really speak of outside of a vague origin story (that is not yet even fully implemented) and a few tutorial missions. Like Terraria –they are similar games however you want to look at it- the beauty is in the sandbox. Unlike Terraria which gives you a single world to explore Starbound gives you a WHOLE DAMN UNIVERSE!! You can go to any star system, pick any planet or asteroid belt, fly there and explore. Build. Mine. There is a super huge crafting system and a procedurally generated weapon and monster system so you never know what you’ll see or meet.

Best of all: This is stage one of the beta. There’s a lot more to come but the game is –generally- solid. The building, crafting, farming, fighting, exploring and multiplayer is fantastic and so far I’ve spend more than 40 hours –half of what I’ve spent in Terraria!- in the game, playing both single and multiplayer.

I am mighty impressed and I look forward to what happens next. Right now we’re awaiting the final “wipe” which will wipe literally everything. Characters, worlds, the universe, everything! They shouldn’t need to do any more wipes once this one is done, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless this game is stunning and it’s my game of 2013. I’ll be writing about Starbound a lot throughout this year I am sure but I am going to leave you with a “mock-trailer” for a character I’ve created to play with in the game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN6j3CVXUo0

Take care all! \../

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Personal Musings: The Core of the matter.

So when I started this blog it was mostly a place for me to offload my tech wafflings that I have. After all I love talking about technology and to a level which bores most human beings to tears thus I could get out all my geekery and if no-one read it that was fine ‘cause I wouldn’t have the urge to grab the nearest person and scream “THE R9 290X HAS 2816 STREAM PROCESSORS AND 6.2 BILLION TRANSISTORS BUT USES A 28nm PROCESS!! WHY DON’T THEY MOVE TO 20nm AND STOP DROP THE TEMPS!! WHHHHHHY?!?!?!” but thankfully I don’t need to because of this blog!

However, I have moved a little away from tech recently (in the few times I’ve actually updated at all) and it’s all become a lot more personal… That isn’t changing today I am afraid. At least I’ve thrown some waffling above so that I don’t feel so bad about it but anyway, I’m doing a PGCE in Secondary Music –which is rather tough- and as part of it there is a lot of reflection and thinking. For anyone that knows me the two things you don’t want me to do is a. Reflect, and b. Think! However, much of this has been done and so I’d like to share some thoughts on my thoughts.

Music. Why music? This is the question I’ve posed to myself a lot. Why do I want to teach music? I feel as comfortable teaching ICT as I do music. Hell, I have a better understanding of ICT even though I don’t have any formal qualifications. Then I realised then reflected a lot on the answer…

Music is at the very core of my being. While I am not an especially open person (surprisingly maybe!) when I play music what comes out is Pure me. Even if everyone else does it better, what I play is mine and it is very much baring my soul. Every so often I listen to my dissertation I wrote for undergrad and I am incredibly proud of what I wrote. Every note is me –even though it is roughly based on Beethoven’s works- and is a snapshot of my life at that moment. I can hear the joys, and sadness, within the piece. I can hear the happiness of the memory of my little sister, and I can feel the pain of the breakup with my ex. I would write it entirely differently now –as I am in a different headspace as well as well as being a much better composer too!- and every so often I look at the score and consider updating it, but then realise that no, doing so would degrade the purity of the emotion I put into the piece.

That phrase ‘the purity of the emotion’ is a phrase I’ve pondered over a lot and concluded that, actually, that is at the very core of my core (after all, we have octo-core and hyper-threaded processor cores and as hyper-threading is kinda like having a core within a core I am allowing myself the technical wizardry to run with this metaphor!) and as I am a very emotional person (again, surprising maybe!) having a way to share my emotion in its most pure and raw state is important. This is where my musical being and my physical/mental/spiritual being combine to create a Meta-Darren. Sure anyone who has seen me play can’t say that I don’t become enthused and love being a part of the music.

However, at the same time as all of the above it means that I am massively exposed when I perform or write music. I am fortunate enough to have a band where I can be 100% relaxed and know that I can be open an vulnerable, and the music that I’ve helped write in the band is super important to me. It’s helped me deal with many things. I remember when the woman I was engaged to left me, the next band practice we played Eyes of the Soul which Pete wrote the music for and I wrote the lyrics about her. It hurt to play it but during the guitar solo there was so much of the emotion that was pent up released, that solo screamed and at the end of it –once wiped away the tears- I felt stronger somehow. When Rach committed suicide and I was just filled with sadness I sat down and wrote a song, that song (Song for Rach) is an incredibly personal song, and now since losing my little Sister we’ve added an extended introduction which is a guitar solo which I play for Louise. Every note is hardwired directly to my heart and my soul –and I admit there are usually a few tears when I play it-, but every note helps me deal with and work through something which I still cannot comprehend even now.

I know that I can show this with the band though as Severed Head are my family ‘cause we share our music together and I am so, so Proud of what we’ve done over the years and I hope we continue for many years –even if it’s been really difficult the last year- as that too is a part of me. Just like teaching. Teaching is a part of who I am. I want other people to understand the joys of creating music, to show their own souls and to share their emotion and I am always proud when people want me to work with them to create music, to collaborate our musical passions to create a piece that can be far greater than the individuals. I am incredibly picky about who I choose to make music with, however, when it comes to my own projects as I need to have a very deep connection to the person/people for it to work.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this too! I believe it is because I am a passionate person who needs to feel that connection. I am going to use the term relationship but only because it is much more personal connection for me and the relationship I have with the few people I want to write music with/for is more powerful than anything as letting other people shape and develop music is really letting them have complete control of my being (scary metaphor!) and if there isn’t a bond of trust and –dare I say it- love then it all falls apart and that is like a very hard punch in the chest.

As I have already broken 1,000 words I think I’ll leave it there, although a very wonderful person said I should talk about things that are weighing me down, but I figured I’d actually talk about some things that lift me up. Even if no-one reads this (and if you are reading this line, well done! Here’s a digital cookie!! *COOOOKIEEEEE!!*) I have at least put it out there and because this is all about my music without any music, here’s a link to four tracks which are direct links to Me!