Hinterland – Now Available for Download

I’ve posted about my RPG Maker game Hinterland before, but today I’m excited to announce it’s now available as a free download here: http://gamejolt.com/games/hinterland/94720

Special thanks to everyone in the RPG Maker community and at rpgmaker.net, rpgmakerweb, guelstie, freesound, pixabay, /r/rpgmaker, and wikimedia commons.

And, of course, anyone who plays it.

Find any glitches? Report them in the comments here or on the game’s Gamejolt page, and I’ll be sure to fix them as soon as I can.

Free resource pack coming soon. Thanks again, and have a happy October!

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Split Infinitive Games

I think it’s safe to say I’m in the final stretch of work on my RPG Maker horror game, Hinterland. After that I’ll probably switch gears back to Let the Moonlight Give You Wings, as far as games are concerned. And I’m always working on other things behind the scenes, with ideas for one or two smaller RPG games already brewing. I’m also super excited about the recently announced RPG Maker MV.

That said, I decided to put a studio name behind my games. Here’s what I came up with:

Split Infinitive Games

Call it Split Infinitive Games, Split Infinitive, Split Infin8tive, it’s what I settled on. I thought for a long time about a “studio” name, and nothing stuck like Split Infinitive. It gives a subtle nod to my writing career, but I also like the imagery it invokes: splitting infinity.

On that note, the awesome team at Guelstie.com interviewed me regarding Hinterland, and you can read that here: http://www.guelstie.com/Guelstie_Projects/rpg-maker-interview-david-j-lovato/

I’d also like to give credit to one Klein Smith for the font used in the logo I made. The font is morbidly titled Child Serial Killer, and while I can’t find anything on its creator, I appreciate the fun, imaginative font.

Hinterland

I’ve spoken a lot about my RPG Maker project Let the Moonlight Give You Wings. It’s a big project and it’s going to take a while to finish, so I’ve also been working on other projects on the side. Some of these exist only to learn new things about the program, others exist to be their own games.

Hinterland is one of these.

Last October I set out to make a creepy exploration game, in the same vein as games like P.T., Dear Esther, and Amnesia. I was having a lot of fun seeing what tricks I could pull with RPG Maker, but it was pretty obvious the game wasn’t going to be done before Halloween, so I set it aside for a few months.

Now, Hinterland is almost finished. I’m hoping to release it sometime in September or October, before Halloween, just so people have another unsettling little adventure to go through to get them in the mood for the month of horror. The build-up to Halloween is one of my favorite times of year, and I’m glad to be contributing, for once.

The plan right now is that the game will be free. It’s not going to be a long or complicated project, and so far there hasn’t been anything in it to warrant a price tag.

Without further babbling, here’s the gameplay teaser for Hinterland:

So there’s a little teaser of it. Hinterland puts you in a mysterious castle full of architecture that makes no sense, scarecrows that can talk, and a whole lot of darkness. There are things coming to get you, but there’s no dying here; if you get caught, you appear where you started, and the world around you will subtly change depending on how well you’re doing. Your job is to solve the mystery of this place and escape it.

The video mentions a demo, which is available now. You can find the download folder, complete with ReadMe and walkthrough, here:

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BzO8YJWnSng8fktzMjIzOEl4N0c5WjVLdW5KV3Nyejh4ajdhcWtKYVlCNTRyQmJTVDhKdkU&usp=sharing

Or simply click this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzO8YJWnSng8Zi1pckx1MDBaQlE/view?usp=sharing

There are a few lighting and sound systems in place that might cause lag on older hardware. If you’re experiencing any lag, try this version, which has the footstep sounds removed: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzO8YJWnSng8M2Mzd0Y1UzdZN28/view?usp=sharing

And keep in mind that this is a work-in-progress. Some of the graphics and sounds aren’t final; I’d like to make everything custom, either DLC or created from scratch or tweaked from the RTP (I think only the snow itself, some clutter, the outside graphics, and some of the sound effects are untouched in that regard). That said, if you find any bugs or have any general feedback, I’d love to hear it! You can drop me a comment on this post, or on the trailer’s YouTube page, or shoot me an email at justonesp00lturn (at) hotmail (dot) com. Any help is greatly appreciated, and if you find a bug or even just play the demo for fun and let me know, I’ll put whatever name you choose to go by in the credits as thanks.

Hinterland has a story to it. It’s one I could only tell through interactive experience, or else I probably wouldn’t make the game at all. But I like it, and I can’t wait to share it, and I hope you like it too.

What’s in a Name?

Big changes incoming!

Perhaps you’ve noticed this very site (as well as Twitter) list me as “David J. Lovato” while the name on all my covers and storefronts simply reads “David Lovato”. That’s going to change.

Big changes this far along can get messy, and I spent the better part of two days updating all of my book covers and websites to add one little “J”, but the end result will be worth it. Why the change? Well, “davidlovato” wasn’t available for use as a WordPress site, so I added the J way back when, and it’s always good to keep things streamlined. Another reason is that I’m not the only David Lovato in town, and I think it’s best to keep any potential confusion to a minimum. So, starting in the coming weeks, you should see “David J. Lovato” on all of my books and store fronts. Also, it turns out I really like the way it looks. It’s like a little hook cementing my name in place. At the risk of sounding full of myself, I think I’ve realized you can tell a great font by its J.

Anyway, It’s a lengthy process to change all of my links and descriptions and profiles, but I’m almost done, and hopefully I did it without breaking anything too badly.

So, while I’m busy writing a post about my writing, I guess I should give a general update.

I’m way behind on Camp NaNoWriMo, thanks in part to burnout and in part to a household emergency. I may or may not get caught up, but I do plan to finish this project someday, and hopefully not too far away.

I have another project, a big one, that I’m hoping to release by Halloween. More details on that when it’s a little more ready for the spotlight.

I’m kicking around ideas for another poetry book. Possibly two of them. I enjoyed writing and publishing Permanent Ink on Temporary Pages, but for these two, I’m thinking bigger. Maybe louder.

I’m sitting on some novellas! One is finished and polished and I’m working to get it published traditionally. Another one is finished but not edited, and the last is unfinished, but I hope to put the final touches on those two this summer. Not sure whether I’ll self-publish or try the traditional route with them; that will depend on how I feel about the finished products. I also have an almost-finished short story collection that will most likely be self-published; the stories are all set in the same world and follow a specific theme.

And, as always, I have plenty of projects always moving, some slower than others, but they’ll be revealed when the time is right.

In short, I promise I’m working on things, and I’m pretty sure at least one of them will see a release this year.

Speaking of Halloween (I know that was a few paragraphs ago but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want), last year I started a second RPG Maker project in the spirit of Halloween. With any luck I’ll finish it and release it before Halloween this year. It’s just a short little adventure where I challenged myself to see how odd I could make things go in that game engine, but I don’t see the harm in getting it out there, supposing I finish it. My main project is still Let the Moonlight Give You Wings, but that one is a lot larger and less predictable, so I can’t give an ETA on it. If I do pick up my Halloween-ish game again, expect to see some previews around these parts.

That about does it as far as talking about what I’m working on. One last thing though:

My favorite band is back! I can hardly express how excited I am to see Brand New recording and putting out new material. My history with this band is a long one. I’ll probably write a whole post on it pretty soon. But for now let’s just say they have a new song called “Mene” and you should buy it because it’s awesome.

And that’s it for now. Until next time!

Let the Moonlight Give You Wings Progress Report #2

The following information and screenshots come from a work in progress. Anything in them is subject to change.

Some of the assets used were created by others. While they may not appear in the final game, said assets will be listed with their creators at the bottom of this post.

Quick recap: Let the Moonlight Give You Wings is an RPG Maker game and accompanying novel I’ve been working on. The initial announcement can be found here, and the first progress report can be found here. Progress can be viewed and followed here on my blog from now on, under the “Works in Progress” section in the header bar.

It’s been a few months since I touched on this progress, so I have a more substantial post than last time.

The Game

I’ve been putting together maps and characters while still trying to hammer out the overall style. I’m using a few non-default tilesets, and making changes to the default ones I’ll be using. I’m still not sure what all I’ll settle on, but at the moment I’m customizing the graphics to make the game look less and less vanilla.

The main quest line is almost complete. I have a handful of cinemas left and a smaller handful of locations in which they take place, and once those are finished, I can set to work packing in side quests and tweaking existing places to make the world come to life. The main cast is pretty much finished; I had to completely re-design one of the major characters because she looked too much like another character I saw elsewhere, but I’m super happy with the result. It ended up yielding an entire plot line, side quest, and history for this fictional world. I’m also making more faces for each character; I’ll be using the default face creator, but tweaking it to include facial expressions not possible in the RPG Maker face creator.

All in all, everything is going smoothly. My last major hurdle game-wise is that I haven’t figured out one of the later dungeons; I want to do something special with it, but I haven’t decided what.

Another big thing I’ve been working on are the game’s music and sound effects. I have a few cool things in place and a lot of rough sketches, but it’s coming together. I’m thinking about making the game’s soundtrack available for download, depending on how complex it gets, and as time goes on I’ll probably share a track or two here on my blog.

The Book

This brings me to the main point of a second progress report: Wednesday, April 1st, is the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo 2015, and I’ll be using this session to get started on the novel. I’m stoked to get to work on it, and I think writing the book and making the game concurrently will help me write both of them better, maybe help me work out some of the finer details of the story and world involved. You can follow my progress on the book here: http://campnanowrimo.org/campers/crackedthesky

Timeframe

It’s still not possible for me to even guess when this will be finished, but I’d like to think the game and book will release around the same time, and I’d love for both to be out by this winter. That said, I just can’t say for sure about either.

In the meantime, here are a few screenshots of some of the more complete graphics, ideas, or places, along with a description of them. Something I definitely don’t want to do is make promises that are mysteriously missing in the final product, so know that if I show something here, it’s something I’m almost positive will be in the final game, and if it isn’t, I’ll probably post about it the moment I have to cut it from the game. So expect minor changes, but if I say a feature is going to be in, it’s most likely going to be in.

Also, I apologize for the image compression. It’s not terrible, but the screenshots are slightly blurrier than the actual game will be.

Moonlight Test Bedroom

This picture is from a scene early on. The player character, Emery, can change outfits at a dresser in her room. In this scenario, she has to put on her school uniform, and can’t leave for school until she does. In both worlds (our world and fantasy), she’ll be able to change clothes and the character graphic will reflect this. I haven’t decided yet whether her party members’ graphics will also change depending on what they’re wearing; it’s time-consuming to make different graphics for each outfit, and even more so considering another feature I’d really like to implement into the game (which I’ll probably show next time).

As a bonus, you can see my custom text background in this picture, as well as the screen tint to reflect what time it is (I should note that while this scene is supposed to be in the morning, the screen is actually tinted to be evening because I was in debug mode at the time I took the screenshot).

Moonlight Alpha City

Here’s a shot of the city Emery lives in. I need to animate the flies on the dumpster, and the double-door needs a custom door graphic, but otherwise, this is more or less complete. Also note Emery’s school uniform.

Moonlight Alpha School

The lobby of Emery’s school. I’ll populate it with NPCs later. Also, it won’t be so orange in the final game; the lighting is currently set to sunset.

The next two pictures will highlight a major difference from the first time I showed images from my game. Last September I posted an image from an example battle, seen here:

Let the Moonlight Give You Wings

As you’ll see in the next screenshot, I’ve added a different battle engine:

Moonlight Alpha Battle

The characters now appear to the side of the screen, and characters and enemies move when they attack, like in classic RPGs, thanks to Yanfly’s visual battler system. I still have to tweak it so characters aren’t floating like they are here and enemies aren’t oversized, but it’s more imaginative than the default battle engine.

Moonlight Alpha Lake

Here’s a lake and some cliffs. I’m hoping to include a lot of nooks and crannies to explore, and a fishing system is currently way on the backburner and might not be included at all, but these are the kinds of things I’d like players to be able to do in Let the Moonlight Give You Wings.

You’ll notice a few more characters in this screenshot. These are more or less final designs; there are currently 9 characters players can add to their party. I might introduce a few of them later, but on the whole I’d like them to remain a mystery, part of the story that unfolds as players play the game. I haven’t decided how many can battle at a time yet.

Moonlight Alpha Port Town

Here’s an early version of a port town with docks. Driftwood and other wood can be chopped for firewood, and will eventually re-appear. Note the clock in the lower-right corner; this can be toggled on and off.

Moonlight Alpha Snow

Here’s a snowy environment. It’s currently snowing (hard to tell, but there’s a snowflake over the black cave entry in the upper-left). Weather is something I’m trying to make dynamic; it won’t always snow in snowy areas, it’ll sometimes rain in other places, or be windy. I’m hoping to have some cool weather-based features in the final game.

So that’s it for this progress report. My main focus will probably be on the book for most of April, and hopefully I can get a rough draft down, then go back and work on the game for a while before I get to editing the novel.

Next progress report I’ll hopefully be able to show off some of the cooler features I’m putting together, possibly some music, possibly a video, maybe something even cooler than that.

This game wouldn’t be very good without the use of several assets made by other people. Here are the ones seen in these screenshots:

SES Dynamic Time and Clock by Solistra
Ace Battle Engine and Animated Battlers by Yanfly
Shigekichi’s Resource Pack by Shigekichi
Modern Day Tileset by Enterbrain / Lunarea
Sprite base by Mack

If I missed any, I sincerely apologize, will edit this post if I’m made aware of any mistakes, and the final game should include all appropriate credits.

Let the Moonlight Give You Wings Progress Report #1

A while back I announced a project called Let the Moonlight Give You Wings. It’s an RPG Maker game I’m making, along with a tie-in novel. This post is a quick update on my progress, and I hope to post one of these from time to time.

I had the whole project on the backburner while I finished other things, but now I’d say Moonlight is on my middleburner.

The Game

My major focus right now is on the main locations of the game. I’m putting together the barebones dungeons, mostly geography, a few key events. Later I’ll go in and spice up all of the locations with clutter, things to do, events, more intimate designs, etc. For now, I’m mostly making the hallways and floors, so to speak.

I’m also working on some of the more complicated main storyline events. These are time-consuming; having a system that randomizes conversations means there’s a lot going on in the background. Playing the game, you might press the action button on a signpost and see a character say something, but what’s really going on is the game is determining which characters are in your party, randomly picking one to speak, and then often randomly picking someone to reply or add onto what they’ve said, and often times there’s a third or fourth nest of the same. The more party members you have, the more complex the conversations can get. Since all of the playable characters are required at some point, this means scripting conversations for all of them, even though in one playthrough the player will likely only see one of the responses I’ve written.

It’s complicated and it takes a lot of time writing and testing, but it’s worth it. I want this world and this story to be dynamic, not a static replication on each playthrough or button press. I want the characters to banter, antagonize, agree, argue, and play with each other, so I’m trying to work in as many in-character, believable outcomes as I can.

I’ve been bouncing back and forth on whether to implement a dynamic time system. Originally, I wanted time to progress automatically and kick the player out of the “dream world” after an in-game day. This idea didn’t last long. Besides requiring a lot of always-running processes that might cause lag, it put a huge restriction on me from a writing standpoint. It’s no good if a character says “We have X amount of time to do this!” and then the player can take an in-game year to get it done. I also don’t have much for players to do in the waking world, and I decided it would be boring if half of the game is spent waiting for the clock to strike midnight again.

What I have in place now is a dynamic clock, but kicking the player back into the waking world isn’t based on time. Instead it’s based on progression through the main story. I didn’t like this at first, but the idea grew on me, and so far it’s working best with what I have.

Weather likely also be dynamic. It might snow in cold areas, it might rain in others. I have a basic system in place for this, but it’s a little too random at the moment (it’s odd to walk through a rainstorm, go inside a house for two seconds, then come back out to a bright and cheery day). It’s another thing I’ll probably tweak to my liking later in development.

I’ve opted for mostly custom graphics when it comes to characters and their equipment, but currently I’m also heavily relying on the built-in stuff (RTP). I’d like to rely less on this. I’m not a good artist, however, and I reach my limits pretty quickly. That said, what I hope to eventually do is go through and tweak everything. All of the existing tilesets can receive minor overhauls, little things to keep development simple for me, but make the game look and feel less vanilla to players. I want this world to be mine, so I’m going to tweak tilesets and build my own graphics along the way to get it further and further from the default graphics.

I originally wanted this post to include screenshots, but I decided against it for now.  I’ve already made quite a few battlers, character faces (tons of these), in-game outfits, custom tiles etc. but at the moment I’d say the game is about 75% vanilla assets, and I don’t want to present the game in that light. I’ve posted a few screenshots already, mostly to prove I’ve actually done anything, and I’ll probably post some in my next progress report, regardless of how custom the graphics are, but for now, I’m leaving them out.

My biggest hurdle right now is that the game has three major story arcs to it, and while I have two of them mostly planned out, the third eludes me. I know the ending I’m working toward, and right now I can get from point A to point M, but I haven’t figured out how it gets to point Z from there. I have a few ideas I’m kicking around, and I don’t need that problem solved until I’m finished with this first round of locations, so I have plenty of time to get this sorted out.

The Book

I haven’t started yet, for a number of reasons. I want this experience to unfold as a video game, so the book automatically comes second, for me. That said, it’s not like I’ve done nothing, story-wise. All of the writing I’m putting into this project so far is going into the game, but much of it can also be used in-book, especially in regards to dialogue. I imagine this’ll be one of the fastest books for me to write, maybe a NaNoWriMo project, if I happen to be working on it next November or, more hopefully, in the summer.

Timeframe

I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m making decent progress. As I said, I’m working on the major locations and their major events. Everything after that is like seasoning the main course, and it’ll likely be small, easy things, but a lot of them. I’m able to devote more of my free time to the project, and when I do sit down and get to it, I tend to knock out a large chunk of what’s left. I don’t even want to attempt guessing at how much time I have left to spend or when the game might be finished. Some days it feels like I’m just getting started, others it feels like I’m in the final stretch. I think it’ll sneak up on me, one afternoon I’ll just realize I’m finished. But that’s a while from now, and hopefully my future updates will be a lot more exciting than this one.

nowPlaying: Destiny (Alpha)

The following screenshots and impressions were created during the Destiny Alpha phase, and may not reflect final game decisions. The game enters its beta phase on July 17th, 2014.

I won’t go into detail about the way the Halo franchise changed video games. I’m assuming anyone reading this who has even a passing knowledge of video game history probably noticed it. Keeping it to a minimum, Halo redefined online multiplayer, paving the way for first-person-shooters for years to come. On the campaign front, it didn’t have the most original story (which isn’t to say it had the most unoriginal story either; the game was perfectly average in that department).

Behind the first three Halo games was a studio called Bungie. Bungie wasn’t new to the video game world, and while they saw moderate success in games like Marathon and Oni, it was Halo that established the studio as one of the most prominent developers in the industry. Bungie’s work on Halo would end with a game called Halo: Reach, a prequel to the series.

Some fans of the series found the changes to Halo: Reach’s multiplayer unwelcome. I don’t hate it, but it’s a different experience from Halo 3. With that said, Reach is my favorite game in the series for its campaign. Creating my own Spartan made the story a lot more personal, and the emotional impact of the game is present from the beginning: The first Halo game begins with the human race becoming nearly extinct. Halo: Reach takes place before that. You know from the gate it isn’t going to end well, yet every comrade who falls along the way takes its toll on you as a player, until that final moment when you provide cover fire so the humans, along with one Master Chief, can escape Reach. A post-credits scene puts you in control of your Spartan one last time, and ends only when your health is depleted and you’re overcome by enemy forces.

I found Halo: Reach impressive in terms of graphics and story, with a solid multiplayer component as its backbone. After Reach, Bungie could’ve done a lot of things. For a long time, fans of the studio waited to see what they would come up with next. After a few years of little to go on besides industry leaks, Bungie’s next game was revealed in 2013: Destiny.

For a lot of us, having Bungie behind the game is the only hype we need. Others aren’t so easily convinced, and early screenshots and videos showed what almost looks like a Halo skin for Borderlands. That in itself isn’t a terrible premise for a game, but compared to Halo, it was hard to see Destiny as an industry-changing juggernaut.

That changed during E3 2014, when Bungie unveiled a pre-release Alpha phase, inviting PS4 owners to play a small part of the game before the upcoming Beta phase. Anyone with a PS4 could sign up, and I made sure I was among them.

“It’s just a game,” I thought over and over again in the days before I received my invite via email. On the one hand, what if it sucked? If the game were terrible, it would easily become the biggest flop in video game history.

But what if Bungie really could pull another Halo?

Sometimes a work of art is more than its medium. Some movies are more than movies, some paintings are more than paintings, some songs are more than songs. The same can be said for video games: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Shadow of the Colossus, and Half-Life 2 come to mind. Halo was close; if not for the lackluster story that seemed tacked-on in comparison to the multiplayer element, it would be there. (Halo: Reach had the opposite problem: A fantastic campaign with a multiplayer element that wasn’t quite up to snuff compared to its predecessors.)

The pre-release information on Destiny sure made this seem possible. Bungie promised a world in which single-player and multi-player aren’t two incompatible selections on a main menu, but a perfectly blended media through which an epic work of science fiction would be told. But promises are wind; I was told I could step on a flower in Fable and it would butterfly-effect my entire game, I was told I could approach anyone in Skyrim and ask them to go on a quest with me. Neither ended up being true, and those things seem easy compared to what Bungie had promised with Destiny.

I signed in. I created a character. I wished there were more customization options; it seemed like I had a choice between five or six faces and maybe ten hairstyles I was willing to use. The only customizable part of your Guardian is their head. You can pick a gender and one of three species, and change those parts of the head I mentioned, but it’s all but in vain: Your character will almost always be wearing a helmet. Some customization in terms of body size and proportions would’ve added to the immersion. But this is all superficial, a tiny part of the game.

The Destiny Alpha threw me right into the story, on what I surmise is chapter 3. Out of how many, who knows. I was dropped into a map many times larger than the largest Halo map, my Ghost (a robotic companion voiced by Peter Dinklage) gave me a few clues on what to do, and then I was on my own.

The game's layout and style will be immediately familiar to fans of Halo.
The game’s layout and style will be immediately familiar to fans of Halo.

Well, not quite. Two other people were dropped into the world right next to me. The three of us set off, unfortunately in different directions. This is likely to become one of the biggest criticisms of the game, I think. Much of the game revolves around the idea of forming teams of three players, but unless you’re playing with friends or get matched with people willing to cooperate, you might as well be playing alone.

Not that playing alone detracts from the game. It certainly didn’t for me. It was always interesting to be exploring on my own and run across another person (or several) who were engaged in a fierce battle, drop what I was doing and help out, and then go on my way. It’s also nice when you’re in a pinch, expecting to be taken out any second, and then three or four Guardians show up out of nowhere and turn the tide of battle.

Exploration was fun. There are always things to do, whether it’s fight enemies, collect items from the environment (there was only one type of collectible I noticed, I’m hoping there are more in the final build of the game), or just summon your vehicle (which could use a more specific name, in my opinion) and ride around the terrain.

This story mission offers only a peek into what’s going on: There are two factions of aliens fighting each other and you. As a Guardian, your job is to defend the last living humans.

The story has a lot of potential, and Bungie appears to have circumvented one of the biggest problems you’ll find in gaming. When a game mixes single-player and multi-player elements, it’s difficult for any player to feel special. There are games like those from Bethesda, where your character is special and no other human-controlled player ever enters your game. There are others like Pokemon, where your character is special and you can play with others only in a select mode in which they’re little more than passing strangers, a step above NPCs. Then there are games where you play with as many people as you want and nobody is special, or NPCs refer to you as though you are when you’re really not; there are a thousand other “chosen ones” running around next to you.

In Destiny, there isn’t just one Guardian. There are many of them, so the presence of other players makes sense. When you enter an area that would make your character unique, the game un-loads other players. They see cinemas and events on their screen, but they don’t see you, and vice versa. This makes you feel like you’re not alone in the world, but that your character is actually a person experiencing things other people aren’t. It’s very interesting, and I’m excited to see just how crazy the story gets.

The game itself is immediately familiar to anyone who has played Halo. That “Borderlands with a Halo skin” analogy works to an extent, but only insomuch as the game’s controls. I never felt like I was playing Halo or Borderlands; it was clear I was playing something new.

Something else stood out from the beginning, this one negative. It’s almost hard for me to type this, but Peter Dinklage’s voice acting is… sub-par. It’s actually shocking. I love the guy on Game of Thrones, and I know he can voice act, so I don’t know what’s going on. I keep hoping there’s some logical reason behind how bored he sounds (he is, after all, playing a robot; but there’s monotone robotic voice, and then there’s actor-is-half-asleep voice, and Destiny very abrasively has the latter). There are a few possibilities. I was dropped into the game on chapter three, so maybe the beginning offers some kind of explanation for the droning, unexcited tones Ghost speaks in. It’s also the Alpha build, and the playable part of the game was shown over a year ago, so it could also be a sort of rough draft. There is also the possibility that Dinklage, his voice director, or some combination of people involved just plain dropped the ball. In the end it’s no dealbreaker, but I was very excited to play through an entire game with Dinklage’s inimitable voice accompanying me, and the Alpha defeated much of that excitement.

UPDATE: After playing the Beta, it’s clear that the Alpha included a very rough version of Ghost’s voice. The Beta includes re-recorded and enhanced vocal effects to give ghost a more mechanical sound. The flat audio from the Alpha appears to have been a deliberate choice after all, and the end result is much better. I’ve left my original complaints in the article to reflect my reaction to the Alpha, but the Beta has very much cleared all of my doubts about this part of the game. Props to Bungie and Peter Dinklage; I love the character already.

Once the story mission was finished, I was taken to an overworld menu. Here it’s clear what Bungie is doing in terms of gameplay. You select a planet, then a part of a planet, and then you’re given three choices in missions: Story, Explore, and Strike. Story missions progress the main story behind the game. Exploration drops you into the area and lets you roam, but it’s also full of little blinking boxes that, when found and activated, give you sub-missions, such as defeating a certain type of enemy, scouting an area, or finding supplies. Strike missions are sort of a mix between the two, and require teams of three to complete a more linear series of goals.

Aside from those three modes is The Crucible, which is the player-vs-player mode. This will again be familiar to fans of Halo: Two teams compete in deathmatch, capture-the-flag, or various other modes.

The Crucible loading screen. Each ship represents a different player on the same team, and while they all appear the same in this screenshot, your ship is customizable and will appear so on such screens.
The Crucible loading screen. Each ship represents a different player on the same team, and while they all appear the same in this screenshot, your ship is customizable and will appear so on such screens.

Where it differs from Halo (and just about every other FPS) is that it doesn’t take your things away. You aren’t given a carbon-copied mannequin to play as; you get your Guardian, complete with their armor, weapons, special abilities, everything.

This is a concept I’m sure every FPS player has thought about, and one that usually looks better on paper. After all, when you have a game as customizable as Destiny, where each player has different weapons, armor, and abilities, how do you create a fair fight?

I can’t answer that, but somehow, Bungie pulled it off. I never felt like I was being overpowered or that I was dominating; almost every match came down to the wire. Neither team was ever far ahead of the other, victory was never squarely in my grasp. The matches were fast-paced and fun. Since I was never sure I was going to win or lose, I found myself not even caring, and just playing the game. I don’t know of any other game that does that for me. And this is just one PVP mode; there are a handful, but only one was available during the Alpha.

A standard PVP results screen.
A standard PVP results screen.

There’s also the Tower, which is the hub of humanity. To my surprise, when you enter the Tower, the game switches to third-person mode. This is the only area (in the Alpha, at least) in which your character doesn’t wear their helmet.

The tower, with my character sans helmet in the foreground.
The tower, with my character sans helmet in the foreground.

The Tower is full of NPCs that run shops, give missions, manage items, and deliver mail. It’s an interesting area, though the third-person controls are a little rusty (think Fallout 3 as compared to Skyrim), and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Tower is, essentially, a main menu that makes you walk to each selection.

On the flip side of that, other players popped in and out of the Tower, and a few emotions were available, such as waving and dancing. This led to a lot of humorous shenanigans between players, and makes the Tower a worthy addition to the game. At one point I found a guy sitting on the edge of a skyscraper looking out at the Traveler, that iconic gigantic white orb at the core of Destiny’s story. I sat my character next to him, and a third guy joined us. After a little sightseeing, the three of us stood and danced for a while, after which the two of them jumped to their in-game deaths. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at something in a video game.

Enjoying a night at the Tower.
Enjoying a night at the Tower.

 

Also, dancing.
Also, dancing.

It’s that inter-personal connectivity that makes Destiny what it is. You’re playing alone and with others at the same time. It’s easy to see why the game took so long to complete; everything just works. Playing the Alpha was everything I thought it would be: It’s like when you’re younger and you have all of these awesome ideas for a video game, and as you get older you realize how impossible it all was, how so many different nuances and elements couldn’t possibly work together. Destiny has the potential to be that game you always wanted to make, and Bungie made it work together. I don’t know how, I don’t want to know. I’ve never played a game like this, and I can’t wait to see the finished product, and what the projected sequels have to offer.

The Destiny beta begins on July 17th for Sony consoles. I play on PS4, where my username is crackedthesky. Feel free to add me and play along in the beta.

nowPlaying: Xenoblade Chronicles

You might remember how, for a few months, I was a staff writer for a Nintendo fan site. The site is gone now and the admin vanished, but my love for writing, video games, and writing about video games is stronger than ever, so I’m happy to continue doing it on my blog. I’ve also decided to extend my reviews/analyses outside of the gaming world (with music and films in mind), but for now, here’s the first in my nowPlaying series: Xenoblade Chronicles, developed by Monolith Soft, for the Nintendo Wii.

All images taken from the official site, not owned by me.

When you ask people about the greatest video games ever made, there are a few titles that’ll come up on almost every list: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Half-Life 2. Resident Evil 4. In a perfect world, Xenoblade Chronicles would be one of them. It’s near the top of mine.

Released for the Wii in 2010, this one took a while to leave Japan. It didn’t reach America for nearly two years, coming out shortly before the Wii’s successor, the Wii U. The game received a limited printing, so a copy is going to cost you anywhere between $60 and $80, but it’s worth it.

The word “epic” is overused these days, but it fits this game perfectly. The story opens with two titans fighting each other in an otherwise empty ocean. They strike fatal blows at the same time, but their lifeless bodies remain standing, and from these spring forth all living things.

You play as Shulk, a young boy who grew up on one of the titan’s knees. Did I mention the game is epic? The whole world consists of the bodies of the titans. At any point you can look into the sky and see their arms, their heads, you can look across the ocean and see most of the other titan—all but the part that extends beyond the clouds.

An example of the view from one of the legs, complete with the torso of the titan in the distance.
An example of the view from one of the legs, complete with the torso of the titan in the distance, and its extended sword hovering above.

This game is huge. Everything about it is massive: Open-world areas in the same vein as Bethesda’s latest games, seamless combat (nearly all of the game’s loading screens are just there to load cinemas, only a few places require a loading screen transition), character customization; everything you’d expect from an action RPG, but bigger. My final play time, for example, was 75 hours. There were still dozens of side quests I hadn’t done, and I could have sunk another few hours in to level up and have an easier time with the final bosses (because a game this big can’t have just one).

The graphics are good, for the Wii. You can find screenshots, but they don’t do it much justice. The wind blowing through the grass, the people and creatures going about their lives, the ever-looming titans, you have to see it for yourself. It’s a Wii game, so by today’s standards it’s dated, but even as such it looks good.

Colony 6, where the main characters grew up. From this viewpoint, you can travel all the way into the town and along its streets without loading screens.
Colony 6, where the main characters grew up. From this viewpoint, you can travel all the way into the town and along its streets without loading screens.

 

The characters you face are, for the most part, lovable. Off the top of my head, only one enemy character comes to mind who I could describe as one-dimensional, and she’s not a major character. Everyone else is a well-acted, well-designed being, complete with their own motives and reasons, and this adds to one of the game’s running themes: Existentialism.

Your run-of-the-mill game can be pared down to “Find the bad guy and kill him”. You’ll be doing a lot of finding in this game, and you’ll be doing your fair share of killing, but you won’t want to. Instead of faceless “baddies” that only stand in your path, the game presents your adversaries as people who happen to be on the other side of the coin. Shulk, the main character, begins as a naive kid with a desire for vengeance, but transforms into a strong, noble man, one who tries to reason before ever lifting his sword, and who understands his enemies. I have a feeling the game’s director, Tetsuya Takahashi, might have been influenced by the works of Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin: Before Shulk defeats his enemies, he has to know and love them, and he feels every loss along his path.

The game’s story goes on to tackle the idea of what it means to be part of a Universe in which you aren’t the only inhabitant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game do this before. There are often moments of depth, often strong characters that you feel for, but Xenoblade takes it to a new level. As big as the game is, it must also be described as “deep”.

The tree in the background is just a texture from this distance, but you will eventually reach the top of it in-game.
The tree in the background is just a texture from this distance, but you will eventually reach the top of it in-game.

Some of the plot points are trite, but most are unpredictable. The game threw a lot of curveballs. In most cases I had no idea what was coming until the second it happened. It does suffer from some overly-descriptive and repetitive dialogue (sometimes the characters just plain talk too much), but it’s nothing you won’t find in the average video game.

The gameplay itself is fun, but a lot of people seem to have trouble with the battle system. Unlike most games, you won’t be mashing the A button to obliterate everything in your path. Characters (there are several in your party, and you get 3 on-screen at a time and may play as any of them) auto-attack. Your job as the player is to choose where they go. Some attacks are more powerful from behind, some from the side, etc. You also have special attacks called “Arts” that you choose from, giving combat a layer of strategy comparable to that of a turn-based RPG, but the battles won’t wait for you, and timing is everything.

Another word I might use to describe the game is “exhausting”. The last ten hours or so started to wear me down. I did get a little tired of running around fighting random creatures and fetching items for NPCs. The game’s design is relentless, every new place you find is as large and as full of things to explore and do as the last, but by the time I reached the last handful of areas, I just wanted to skip them and go straight into the main quests. I never really wanted to stop playing, but if there had been another ten hours of main story, I might have.

The upsides far outweigh the downsides, and in the end I’m so glad to have played through this game. It’s one of the most original and unique stories I’ve ever encountered, especially in the world of video games.

In January 2013, Nintendo revealed a trailer for a game by the same company, Monolith Soft, that is very heavily implied to be a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles. I can’t wait to see what’s in store this time around. The possibilities are limitless, and I’m looking forward to what will surely be one of the richest gaming experiences offered this generation.