Ziggurat

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zigguratZiggurat is the latest FPS dungeon crawler from Milkstone Studios. Released on Steam and XBox One in March 2015, it combines Rogue-like mechanics with the twitch shooter styling of the old classics Hexen and Heretic.

Rating: Buy it. (3.5/5)

Dixon’s Thoughts: Ziggurat is difficult to explain to people who have never played a Rogue simulator and haven’t experienced ID Software and Raven Software’s Heretic series. To save time, you can check out the Rogue concept here. Briefly, these types of games feature things like a single life, procedurally generated (read: randomized) dungeons, and punishing difficulty curves. The Heretic series, on the other hand, are some of the earliest examples of Golden-era 90’s PC shooters, with the added twist that the entire series took place in a dark fantasy setting, using magic, crossbows, and other weird ritual magic devices. Ziggurat lovingly combines the dark, brutal atmosphere of that series with the unique elements of Roguelike games to form a coherent, tight indie title that only has a few minor flaws. It’s a rewarding experience, full of monsters and frustration and eventual triumph.

You begin after choosing your character. Initially you have only one choice, but there are several unlock-able characters, each with their own specific abilities that will change the way you play through the Ziggurat. The first character is the most balanced, with no specific specialties.

Hello, I'll be your generic starter character today!

Hello, I’ll be your generic starter character today!

To unlock new characters one must complete specific challenges, which are laid out for you in advance when you select a character. This allows you to shoot for specific character unlocks should you want to do so.

"I'll only help you if you shoot this wand a specific number of times. I'll keep track!"

“I’ll only help you if you shoot this wand a specific number of times. I’ll keep track!”

The gameplay itself is relatively simple and easy to grasp. As a first person shooter the interface is fairly basic. Your Right and Left triggers fire your weapons’ primary and secondary attack, respectively. I’m not sure how many weapons there are, however, the game itself has 3 resources aside from health, and they correspond to three different weapon “types”. These types are Spells, Staves, and Alchemy. Staves are typically lower damage but very easy to aim (the projectiles for staff weapons seem to have some homing capabilities), while spells are usually slower moving but cover large areas, as well as carrying some status effect utility like freezing or burning. Alchemical weapons usually manifest in the form of grenades or crossbows that launch odd projectiles such as hell arrows or other grenades. Overall, I found the Staff weapons to be the most useful on boss monsters, while Spells seemed to be the trick to managing the large packs of two-legged pink dildo monsters that the game seems so fucking fond of.

Now just imagine endless rooms of them spitting acid at you and jumping around.

FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFU…

The procedural level generation is nice. While they do tend to recycle room “building blocks” frequently, there is enough variation in the monsters and traps in each level that it only feels stale after playing for several hours. The game’s real depth can be fully explored in it’s leveling and item discovery system. When you die, and occasionally while playing the game, you’ll discover new “items”.

A must have item for any internet debate.

A must have item for any internet debate.

This item does not go to your inventory. Instead, it gets put into a “deck” of items and abilities that are randomly selected and presented to you when you level up.

Choose wisely. No, seriously, this is one of the most important aspects of the game.

Choose wisely. No, seriously, this is one of the most important aspects of the game.

Some choices will be more obvious than others, say, more ammo capacity for a weapon that you don’t have yet versus more maximum health. Others, like the one pictured, are less obvious. Personally, I always chose Bookworm when it comes up. This is a bit of an RNG trick, as this game only really lets you personalize your character through the leveling up system, and this perk gives you 3 options to choose from instead of two. As a whole, the leveling and specialization portion of the game is both simple and engaging, as it encourages you to explore as far as possible but rewards you for both leveling up AND dying a lot. (At the time of this blog, I do not understand the mechanics for item discovery when you die. I’ll update this post should I ever figure it out.)

At the end of every level is a Boss fight. These, too, are randomly selected, though I’ve only ever seen a handful of the same bosses per floor.They are generally giant versions of your least favorite enemies from the floor, and are almost always accompanied by a horde of lesser minions intent on fucking up your day.

ALLRIGHT ALLRIGHT ALLRIGHT!

HEY THERE! I’m just a big old lovable slime!

Just Kidding! Fuck you!

HAHA JUST KIDDING! FUCK YOU, DIXON!

Should you manage to make it through the entire floor, collect the portal key (which unlocks the boss room), clear all the rooms of minions, AND beat the boss, you’ll be presented with a portal to the next floor, as well as all of the loot from the boss and his crappy-shitty-no-good minions. If you’re lucky, some of them will have dropped health potions, and you MIGHT be able to get to the next floor with 50% health. At this time there are only five floors, and I’ve only made it through the first three. While five doesn’t seem like a lot (it’s not), the replay value and difficulty curve of the game has kept me playing on and off for weeks.

Ziggurat is a fun, engaging, indie shooter with a lot more depth than you’d expect. It offers an enjoyable, if not overly unique, reward and leveling system, and it’s difficulty curve and quirky, humorous art style and design have all come together perfectly in this game. I only find a few things lacking, like the number of floors and a sparse approach to explaining game mechanics (there is no tutorial and item discovery isn’t explained anywhere), but overall the game’s strengths outweigh it’s few weaknesses. Pick it up!

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Minecraft: Stables

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Minecraft Stables Front ViewWhen you’re creating an entire sprawling Kingdom in Minecraft one thing to not overlook is an area for your outdoor animals: a stables! We created The Stables project on the back side of a mountain. Specifically the Castle East Mountain, so that it lies nestled between Castle East, the Wizard Towers (Castle West), and is contained within the Sea Wall. The above photo is a mostly finished exterior picture of the stables; keep reading to see how it was created!

Minecraft Stables In ProgressYou can see from the above in-progress photo how the area started to take shape. Dixon did most of the labor intensive beginning build for the mansion exterior and barn areas. Part of the mountain was shaved off to create the stables mansion front, and two barn areas come out from the house. When we started developing the area it was fairly sparse, so trees and decor were added as we went along to create more of a village forest feel.
The barn area is broken into two wings, each with the capacity to hold five horses each. The stables were eventually filled with beautiful horses I found and tamed from thousands of blocks away. There is a small horse staging area built out of fencing you can see in the above photo off to the upper left. The first few horses lived over there while we built out the stables for them.

Minecraft Stables In Progress from WindowAnother in-progress photo, but this time looking directly out the loft window of the stables mansion, toward the Wizard Towers (Castle West). If you look closely you can even see part of the village area that is mostly off screen on the left.
The small hill directly in front of the stables was larger at one point and was whittled down over time to create a small overhang area with trees. Stone was replaced with dirt to allow for tree and plant growth, plus animals don’t want to hang out on rocks all day.

Minecraft Stables and TreesAbove you can see the hill (with trees and a sculpted overhang) from a different angle. You can also see the fence line in the background that went around the entire Stables area. Keep the animals in, keep the monsters out!

Minecraft Stables Interior shot from Bottom FloorThe stables mansion was built on a sheer mountain/cliff face, so the interior was carved out of the mountain to create a multi-level room with a secret passage leading into Castle East.
The above photo is of the stables mansion entrance area from the bottom floor. This was prior to decorating, so it is a little sparse but we had completed the layout design. There are second floor loft rooms with windows that look out over the stables and village areas. On the left side of the above photo you can see stairs leading behind the wall, which led to a second floor area as partially seen in the below photo.

Minecraft Stables Interior shot from Top FloorHere we have the same angle, but from the second floor view. This was further edited to include a library and the secret passage to Castle East. You can see the ‘exposed beam’ finish throughout the mansion better in this photo; I tried to purposefully make the stables feel like a really big, grand log cabin.

That’s it for the Stables walk-through! Next time we’ll take a look at building an entire village, including an awesome darkness sensing light-up clock tower.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

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PVZ Garden WarfarePlants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online multiplayer third-person shooter game, released in March of 2014 by Popcap and EA Games. The game offers multiple modes of play, including co-op (split screen), garden defense (tower defense), and many multiplayer modes where you can choose to be either plants or zombies.

Rating: 5/5

Dixon’s Thoughts: Garden Warfare set out to do something that seemed impossible and almost pointless. The original Plants Vs. Zombies is a basic tower defense game with a very specific art style and sense of humor. With Garden Warfare, Popcap set out to translate this entire experience to a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder shooter, which, why? In my limited experience, the prime demographic of the original Plants vs Zombies was women over 50 and children. Odd pairing aside, PvZ: Garden Warfare is engaging, fun, accessible, and has almost infinite replay value. The game has two different play styles: Garden Ops, a mode where you can only play plant characters and fight off waves of zombies, and Multiplayer PvP, which itself has several different modes and allows the players to play either plants or zombies. Garden Ops is the only mode of the game that supports split-screen co-op play, which we’ll discuss later.

Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay is very simple: shoot the other team. Sometimes you need to do this in specific ways, or while accomplishing team based objectives, but at heart that’s all there is to it. When you first start playing the game, you start with the basic versions of each characters’ abilities. You will eventually also unlock the alternate versions of these abilities as well, allowing for some (albeit minor) character ability customization. As usual, some of the upgrades are must-haves, and others are actually worse than their counterparts.

For instance, if you use this thing, you are an asshole.

For instance, we have never found a situation in which this thing is useful.

In Garden Ops, a single player can search for other groups of players looking to join forces and defend the Garden base from increasingly difficult waves of Zombies. This mode most closely resembles the original PvZ game, as players can only control a Plant character and it involves randomly generated waves of specific zombie types. Every so often, a boss wave event happens, which itself has an element of randomness to it.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

If you successfully complete all waves, you’ll have to rush to a location where Crazy Dave (the game’s only human) picks you up in what can only be described as a “Space RV.” This mode of play also supports split-screen co-op, however, there are significant problems with this aspect of the game. While it does allow you to play split screen, you cannot play online in this mode. The garden-ops games are geared towards groups of 4 players, so you’ll automatically start the game two players short. In addition, the “second” player is unable to use any of the game’s Potted Plants (items that you use as tower-defense like towers to automatically attack zombies). This is a pretty significant aspect of the game, and between that and the lack of online play, split screen garden ops is really not very fun. Not everyone agrees, however, so be sure and give it a try.

Fortunately, the game’s online multiplayer more than makes up for this flawed aspect. Multiplayer mode consists of several sub-modes. All the familiar game modes are here, deathmatch, capture the flag, and node control. The last mode, Gardens and Graveyards, is a bit different. In this mode, plants must defend a series of control points. The Zombie team’s only objective is to have more characters on the “flag” area, which will eventually capture it. Once captured, the garden turns into a graveyard and zombie players respawn from this new location, while plant players fall back to the next graveyard and attempt to defend that. This game mode has by far the largest maps, and it is here that strategy and map knowledge make a lot of difference for your team.

gardensandgraveyards

As does “slowly walking backwards”.

While the gameplay is both fun and engaging, PvZ: GW’s greatest features is arguably it’s extensive character customization. This is also where the game’s micro-transactions come into play. Win or lose, every player participating in a game gets in-game currency (coins) which can then be spent on a variety of “card packs”. These packs contain everything from consumable items such as summonable zombies or potted plants (both of which play off the Tower Defense roots of PvZ) to customizations like clothing and weapon skins, weapon upgrades, and new character pieces. There seem to be a phenomenal number of customized items.  We’ve been playing the game for well over a year and consistently see other players wearing items that we’ve never seen.

pvzgwsunflowerThere are 4 main plant variants and 4 main Zombie characters, each of which have a total of 5 class variants, so there are plenty of new characters on which you can spend your hard earned coins. Each class variant is significantly different, and as usual some are better than others. Almost all of them are more powerful than their original class, though the original All Star is extremely powerful in the hands of someone who isn’t terrible. Some of the variants seem almost broken after using them for a long period of time.

To expand on the game’s currency/reward system, there is a default value that every player will get for winning or losing matches. You are awarded bonus points for actions such as kill streaks, critical kills, repeated kills, killing an enemy while they are fighting someone else, killing an enemy who is on a kill streak, killing your nemesis (someone who has killed you at least 3 times in a game), healing party members, and resurrecting fallen players before they respawn. Additionally, players can earn “boasts” for having the most kills in a session, the longest kill streak, the most heals and resurrections, and the most assists.

endgamescreenIf all of that sounds boring to you, but wasting your money doesn’t, you can chose to simply purchase in-game currency to then spend on card packs. We’ve never done this, however, it hardly seems worth it as the currency you can purchase is exactly what you get in-game, and does not unlock anything you can’t otherwise unlock by just killing a lot of people.

There’s something about this game, a certain charm or irreverence that makes it seem like almost a giant middle finger to the modern gaming industry. It’s managed to both refuse to take itself seriously (there is no single play mode and no plot to speak of) while simultaneously being a challenging shooter with a lot of fun elements. It’s got a dedicated player base, at least on Xbox One, and you will come to recognize and hate certain key players that you run into repeatedly. The core gameplay is so simple that anyone can enjoy it, but complex enough to reward effort and skill, and combined with fresh content and consistent updates, the game always gives you something to come back to.  It’s easily one of our favorite games on the Xbox One, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot. Who knows? We might see you there.

The game actually looks like this on the Xbox One.

Top 5: Movies

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Mindy’s Top 5 Movies

Mindy’s Thoughts: FYMFB has a special post this week; in honor of my birthday (yesterday) I am doing a top 5 list of my favorite movies. This is not a review of those movies, more like an overview of why they are my favsies. Let’s jump in, shall we? In order from oldest to newest (but in no particular personal order) I present to you the five best movies OF ALL TIME.


The ShiningThe Shining (1980)

The Shining is an American psychological thriller film directed and produced by the amazing Stanley Kubrick. It follows the story of Jack Torrance and his family (son Danny and wife Wendy) as they live in a creepy old, possibly haunted or possessed, hotel for the winter. The movie is based on the Stephen King book (released in 1977) but deviates from the book plot enough to piss Stephen King off.

The ShiningLet’s get an obvious statement out of the way: because The Shining is a Stephen King based book/movie, the plot is entirely about a writer struggling with addiction. Jack, played by Jack Nicholson, is a recovering alcoholic that is barely hanging onto the sobriety wagon when they get to The Overlook. Within a week, he’s selling his soul for some bourbon.
On a sidenote, while it absolutely works in this story, I’m sick and tired of Stephen King’s life story being retold every single time he writes a god damn book. We get it, bro! You’re a writer and have struggles with addiction, you don’t need to rehash it for all of eternity. Moving on!
I love this movie for so many reasons, but the biggest one is of course Stanley Kubrick’s directing/producing. The Shining remains timeless, despite being filmed in what could be a very dated time period. The score is perfect and highlights all the right moments. The hotel becomes a living being in this movie, interacting with the family, mirroring Jack’s psyche. While there aren’t many actors in the movie aside from the Torrance family, the acting is top notch; Jack Nicholson always plays a very convincing crazy person and Shelley Duvall was practically born for this role (well, aside from Olive Oyl in the live action Popeye). Shelley Duvall is one of my all time favorites, which makes sense as she now spends her time flashing car headlights into the Texas wilderness to communicate with alien lifeforms.

If you recall, I did a review last year of The Shining Forwards and Backwards which I feel presents all these parts of the original movie in a really beautiful and obvious manner. All of the elements are masterfully laid out and Kubrick’s direction is entirely responsible. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite Kubrick movie, but The Shining might be it.


Die Hard 1988Die Hard (1988)

The original Die Hard starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and Bonnie Bedelia, was adapted from a book titled Nothing Last Forever, released in 1979 by Roderick Thorp. The basic character profiles and some of the character names originated from this story, but this was not meant to be the movie it became. Originally the book was written in hopes that it would turn into a post WWII movie starring Frank Sinatra, then it was going to be adapted into the Commando sequel. After everyone passed on it, they decided to make it into Die Hard and eventually cast Bruce Willis.

Die Hard - Welcome to the Party PalBruce Willis’ character, John McClane, is an every-man; he’s a cop, but he’s not a superhero. He gets hurt constantly and by the end of the movie is barely limping along, covered in blood and dirt. This character is not necessarily a ‘good guy’; his marriage is failing, he’s argumentative and possibly a bit controlling, he’s distant from his kids, he later develops a drinking problem (between Die Hard 2 and 3). Despite that, he saves the day time and time again with nothing more than his handgun, intelligence, and fast reflexes. Why does he do it? Because he has to, because he doesn’t want innocent people (his family included) to get hurt or killed. People can relate to John McClane as played by Bruce Willis because we’re all that person, just trying to make it through each day with our lives, families, and sanity intact.
Please note that this is why Die Hard 5 (and 4 — to an extent) is a failure of a movie, it’s because we stop seeing McClane as ourselves or our brother/father/friend, and start seeing him as a cold and impersonal superhero. In the 5th movie he has machine guns and spends time just killing random people in Russia, because why not? Anyway, this is not a review of why the later Die Hard movies are shit, so we should move along.
Aside from Willis’ character, the other great part of this movie is the supporting cast, specifically Alan Rickman and his crew. They did a great job as the evil henchmen, Alan Rickman even faked a convincing German accent for most of the movie. It seems out of context to watch this movie now, considering it was written in the 70’s and released as a movie in the 80’s, all before the Cold War ended, all while East Germany still existed. We live in a different world now, so while this movie does feel a little dated at times, that doesn’t take away from the fantastic pacing and action that fills Die Hard from start to finish.


The Lion KingThe Lion King (1994)

Compared to the other four movies in my top 5 list, The Lion King may seem like a strange selection but I truly believe there is no better animated film than the 1994 Disney classic. Aside from beautiful and truly artistic animation work, there are so many talented voice actors that starred in the film: Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean!), Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and the list goes on.

The Lion King - Mufasa in the CloudsWhat isn’t to love about this movie? It has been a favorite of mine for over 20 years, but as I get older the reasons why I love it so much have changed. As a child I loved the art, the music (amazing!!! thank you Tim Rice and Elton John!), the story itself. As an adult it gets me right in the feels, thinking about my family, about life, about the world, about the fact that I’ll die one day. It’s even become a common way for me to talk about death, that one day I too will become the grass.
One of my favorite scenes, and in my opinion one of the most impactful scenes, is when Simba is visited by cloud Mufasa. Simba, a young lion man, has been ‘wasting’ his life doing nothing in a forest with his friends. Enjoying the day to day and never thinking about his purpose, his past, or his future. While there may be controversy around the origins of The Lion King‘s story (some say it was inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, other say it is a rip off of Japan’s Kimba the White Lion), I think there is no doubting that this movie conveys a truly human story that almost every person can relate with. We all struggle with our past and future, we all question “why am I here”. Some people find answers in religion, others find answers in their careers, or families, but there is no singular answer for us human beings. For Simba, he realizes after James Earl Jones talks some sense into him, that he wants more out of life than the day to day, that he wants to lead and protect others, that he wants a family, that he is part of the world and can’t hide from it for the rest of his life.

As with all fairy tales and Disney movies, there is a lesson to be learned from this film. The message in The Lion King resonated with me as a 9 year old and has continued to evolve with me 21 years later.


Casino, the movieCasino (1995)

Casino is a 1995 American crime drama, starring a million people (seriously, just a huge cast), but most notably Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese. On a sidenote, Pileggi is most famously known for writing the book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, aka the Henry Hill story, which was later adapted (by he and Scorsese) into Goodfellas.

Casino is about Midwest gangsters and a casino called the Tangiers (the code name for the real life Stardust), but the movie is really about all consuming obsession and how it will ruin you and everything you care about. Obsession with money, power, fame, love, even obsession over the details can eventually drive you crazy and drive everyone away from you. With a run time over over three hours, this movie is an epic tale, spanning a 15-ish year period from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. Everything in the movie is authentic; the costume budget was over one million dollars alone, and each of the leads had 100s of pieces of custom made or vintage clothing, jewels, accessories, etc.Sharon Stone in CasinoI love this movie for so many reasons, for starters it’s a Scorsese film and I will watch anything that man produces. Past that, one of the biggest reasons I love this movie is Sharon Stone. She begins the movie as a hustler, as someone being hustled, as a manipulative woman being manipulated by the man she’s loved since she was 14 who just so happens to be a pimp. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, fiery and explosive, she’s the woman men want to be with and women want to be. Over the course of a decade we see her descent from glory into drug addled insane person, a shell of the person she used to be, before she dies alone in a hallway of a drug overdose. It’s sad, but the movie is a pragmatic cautionary tale; everyone ends up alone in the end.

Sharon Stone won a Golden Globe for her role, and an Oscar nomination — though Susan Sarandon won that year for her role in Dead Man Walking. Scorsese also was nominated for a Golden Globe for best Director but lost to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. I don’t know if there is a better Gangster movie than Casino, despite it not even being on the AFI’s top gangster movies list.


The DepartedThe Departed (2006)

The Departed is a 2006 American crime drama, directed by the brilliant Martin Scorsese. The movie is based on a true American crime story about Whitey Bulger, a crime boss that basically ran Boston from the late 60’s to the mid 80’s. The story of Whitey Bulger mixes with a very popular fictional Hong Kong crime-thriller called Internal Affairs to create the story of The Departed. The movie went on to win a lot of awards, including Scorsese’s first Best Director Oscar, which he had been previously nominated for six times but never won.

When The Departed was released in theaters I was living in (the armpit of) California, and was very excited. I convinced all my dude friends to go see it with me, and roughly three hours after it started it was over and I just sat there disappointed. Later when it was released on DVD I rewatched it several times, feeling that same disappointment. Why? It just didn’t hit me the way other Scorsese movies had, I guess. Whereas Casino and Goodfellas (among many others) were like a punch to my face, The Departed was a slow burn. It follows a parallel story of two men, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, and is essentially a played out thought experiment about the consequences of our choices. Both characters grow up in the same area, both are hand picked by their mentors/father figures to follow a life of crime and justice. The entire movie is a mirror; when there is a Matt Damon scene where he’s happily on a date with a woman, Leo’s character is in a hospital with a female nurse. While Matt Damon pretends to be someone he’s not in front of his family and friends, Leo pretends to be someone he’s not as an undercover cop. The Departed creeps up on you and makes you think about good versus evil, about life and death, about the nature of people, about what we’re all willing to do to get what we want.

Dignam - the DepartedWhile there is not a bad part of the movie, by far the best part is anything involving Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). When he’s not busy kicking ass or calling people cunts, he’s telling everyone to go fuck themselves and busting the real bad guys. While The Departed had an amazing cast (Martin Sheen, Leo DiCap, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon .. excuse me, MATT DA-MON, Alec Baldwin, etc), no one stood out like Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg was the only actor from the film nominated for an Academy Award, but he lost to Alan Arkin for his role in Little Miss Sunshine (boooooooo). There is such a cult following for Detective Dignam that there have been serious considerations of doing a sequel/spin-off with his character. I’ve been a huge supporter of that idea and would be first in line to see that movie, but who knows if it will ever be made.

The Departed is a thoughtful movie, more cerebral than Scorsese’s past flicks, and I believe is the last truly great movie we’ve had released in American cinema.

Child of Light

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Child of LightReleased across multiple platforms in 2014 by Ubisoft, Child of Light is a beautiful combination of a 2-D platformer and RPG rolled into one. It follows the story of Princess Aurora, who is mysteriously kidnapped away from her family in the middle of the night.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mindy’s Thoughts: We begin with Aurora, a girl from 1800’s Austria, who wakes up in Lemuria. Lemuria is a mythical land ruled by the Dark Queen, who has stolen the sun, moon, and stars from the world. Aurora is told if she manages to recapture the celestial bodies, she can go home to her family and most importantly, her beloved father the Duke. We spend the rest of the game exploring Lemuria and all its different areas and inhabitants.

On a high level, Child of Light is a side-scrolling, 2-D platformer with RPG elements. Throughout the game you gain interesting new allies that will join your party, some that specialize in certain things (white/black magic, physical attacks, healing, etc). There is a leveling system for each character, with a talent tree that allows you to personalize everyone to your preferred play style. You gain experience and items by doing battles with monsters, like your average RPG.

High level aside, the most stunning thing about Child of Light is the art style. Playing through this game feels like playing a beautiful, living, watercolor painting. The game is constantly moving, the trees, the air, monsters, even Aurora’s hair and dress are constantly fluttering in the breeze. I wish I could include a hundred more photos of the background landscape for this review, because I feel that it is such a strong selling point on it’s own, but you can just take my word for it. The art director, Thomas Rollus, stated in an interview about the game, “we really put forward the watercolor effect. We wanted to give the impression of being awake in an underwater dream.” It worked, Thomas!
If you upgrade to the deluxe version of the game it comes with a 24-page art book as an accompaniment, because the art is so distinctive and beautiful. The deluxe version also comes with a poster and a keychain; full disclosure, I did not get the deluxe edition.

Child of Light art styleChild of Light’s battle sequences having a learning curve to them, but as you learn, they become easier. This is not a game that will have you grinding levels all day long, your battle interactions are pretty sparse unless you go looking for a fight. The basic idea is that two people within your party fight 1-3 monsters in each battle. Most of the monsters are pretty nasty and have specific ways they prefer to be attacked. Attack a magic monster with their elemental magic type and at best you will only hit them for a few points, at worst they could counterattack and kill you. Most physical monsters have some kind of counterattack as well.
The game also includes an active battle timer, which you can influence with spells and Igniculus. Learning how to properly use this timer system is the most crucial part of battle engagements within Child of Light. While in battles you will need to control Igniculus plus your one or two other characters (that can be switched out mid-battle), all at the same time, so get ready to multi-task!

Child of Light battle sequenceA second local player can co-op play Igniculus while you run around as Aurora. This might seem like a throwaway mechanic at first glance, because why not allow co-op play as a different character instead? However, I think that Ubisoft took a chance with incorporating Igniculus as a fun and important part of the game. Even during solo play, you use him constantly, to slow down monsters, to light up dark pathways, to solve puzzles, etc. I played a short amount of time with another player as my Igniculus and the reaction was mixed. The game pacing seems non-ideal for most kids (or adults with a limited attention span) as it involves some coordination between players.

Like any good platformer/RPG game, Child of Light has puzzles incorporated into the game at certain points. These puzzles are challenging, but not impossible. In my experience, it was fairly easy to figure out what they wanted me to do, but sometimes challenging to get that accomplished. One of my favorites is in the below screenshot, where you are lining up colored gems with Igniculus as the light source. I really enjoyed the puzzles and thought they added a thoughtful touch to the game.

Child of Light PuzzlesDespite being a shorter game, Child of Light really packs in a condensed story, full of very vivid images, characters, and emotions. I don’t want to get too far into the story as it could spoil it for some, but I’ll say that there were a few times where I was genuinely happy/sad/angry/elated by events in the story line. It manages to draw you in, especially if you had/have a close relationship with your father. Child of Light is a fairytale, and as such the story gave me flashes of other fairy tales like The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. Hey, don’t act like I’m the only one that ever cried to The Little Mermaid because Ariel had to leave King Triton at the end!

Overall, Child of Light is a very fun, unique, gorgeous, and heart felt game. I was not happy when I finished the game, not because it wasn’t enjoyable, but because it was over and I wanted to keep playing in the world of Lemuria. My only actual complaint with the game is that it isn’t full length (I clocked about 20 hours of play time), but Ubisoft is aware of that and it is priced to reflect the shorter game time (when I purchased it, it was ~$20 from the Xbox store, versus $60 for a full title release). Unfortunately Child of Light doesn’t have a lot of replay value but it’s possible that we may see a sequel, eventually. However, if you are interested in beautiful imagery and side scrolling RPG type games, you need to play Child of Light. You will not regret it!

Minecraft: Castle East

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Minecraft Castle EastWhile in the finishing stages of Castle West I started scouting locations for my next build, and didn’t need to travel very far before I found the chunk of mountain pictured above. Lava flows, connecting bits between spires, waterfalls, it was perfect.

I went to work on the bridges first and let them shape the building of the castle. The top tier bridge you can see barely changed from the raw to finished versions (above and below), while I added a middle tier bridge and a bridge/entrance to the main floor.

Minecraft Castle EastThe ground level bridge actually extends backwards so you can approach it from either direction (pictured below). Once the bridges were in place I started carving out the insides; a process that included many, many revisions and a lot of time. In the end, I carved three floors out of the western spire of Castle East and two floors carved out of the eastern spire.

Minecraft Wizard tower East on the backBelow is the grand entrance to Castle East; this is on the ground floor and is the only direct entrance to the castle, so I spent a lot of time tweaking it to perfection. In the picture below you can see a doorway (with torches surrounding it), which is a secret passage into the stables and village area. If you go up the stairs (on the right) you will gain access to the bedrooms (see the glass windows in the above few pictures? Those are bedrooms!) and throne room. Behind the central pillar is a ladder to the second and third floors, as well as the rail hub leading to Castle West.

Specifically for the decoration and lighting of Castle East I used a lot of lava; you can see here that it is behind colored glass and acts as my main light source throughout the castle.

Minecraft Castle East Grand EntranceUp the stairs into the throne room, I love this room! I went a little crazy with it, but it’s Minecraft, so why not? The “throne” itself is made of various cuts of quartz, the floor tiles are carpet/wool, and again I have lava lighting throughout — though each room had a different pattern for the stained glass.

Minecraft Castle East Throne RoomFloors two and three were mainly built out into giant storage hubs for my entire world. All materials from previous locations were painstakingly transported through nether rail and regular rail hubs to the central storage here. I also included an indoor food garden, utility blocks, and more lava lighting on the second floor (below).

Minecraft Castle East Storage and Food area

On floor three you can see more storage, utility blocks, the alchemy sets and even a small plot for netherwart to grow. If you look closely at the “back” of the picture (central) you can see additional lava lighting and the doorway to top bridge. The tube of lava lighting went through both floors two and three, very cool.

Minecraft Castle East Storage and Potion areaI unfortunately do not have many pictures of the East spire, but I do have one from before anything was built there, taken by a friend on the server (below). I included different kinds of stained glass, giant lava flows that were used for lighting, and several entirely glass/lava floors. This was also the area I ended up using for a library/enchanting table.

Wizard Tower East - InteriorThat is all for this entry; I hope you enjoyed my walkthrough of Castle East. Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve been building lately!

Evolve Beta

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EVOLVEBETA-620x350Evolve, set to release Feb 10th 2015, is the latest character driven, level-up shooter from Turtle Rock Studios and 2k Games.

Rating: 4/5 Giant Lumbering Monsters

Rawwwwwwwwr!!!!

Rawwwwwwwwr!!!!

Dixon’s Thoughts: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Evolve beta. While Turtle Rock’s bread and butter has been online, class based, level-up shooters such as Countersrike and Left 4 Dead, I didn’t really know how they’d pull off a sci-fi shooter. After dealing with the recent letdown of Destiny, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very accessible, fun-to-play game that was as engaging as it was rewarding. Fans of past Turtle Rock productions won’t be disappointed, but there isn’t a lot of new ground broken with the basics of Evolve. You play a character, leveling it up as you gain experience and unlocking variants of whatever class you are currently sinking time into. The beauty of Evolve lies in it’s inherent, natural feeling teamwork aspect. Evolve is a primarily online-only game, much like Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. There are 4 Hunter Types available to players, Assault, Medic, Trapper, and Support. In any match, all 4 character classes are required.

Evolve-Assault-Trapper-Medic-Support-ClassesThe four of you must work together in what is essentially a giant battle arena to track the fifth player, the Monster. The online matchmaking interface focuses on your preference of Hunter or Monster, and which Hunter class you wanted to be. To find a game, you would list your preferences in a 5 item, first-to-last list. The game then attempts to find 4 other people who’s preferences allow you to play your preferred class choices. In about 50 matches or so, I almost always got my first 2 choices right away.

The dynamic between each class is pretty important to the gameplay of Evolve. Each class has a very unique and diverse set of abilities. The medic, for instance, has a healing “gun”, as well as an oh-shit AOE heal. Additionally, it’s given a long-range sniper rifle that punches holes in the Monster’s armor, giving the rest of the team a huge advantage over an otherwise very difficult enemy.

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His other weaknesses involve invisible pizzas and speaking in public. RAWWWWWWR!!

Despite the cool teamwork aspect, there isn’t really much that’s groundbreaking about the classes that I was able to play. The Assault class…assaults things, meaning you get TWO guns that can dish out damage to the Monster class, as well as an AOE invulnerability ability. Support class is actually my personal favorite, as it’s a hybrid DPS and buff class that can shield other players from damage. The Tracker is the game’s most unique class. It’s primary role is to track down the monster in the huge battle arena, which is done through an amazingly adorable hunting “dog” pet. Each Trapper variant has a different pet, but they all serve the same purpose, which is allowing the team to actually find the Monster.

While every class is different, they all play relatively in the same manner. Each class has a primary attack/function, as well as a secondary attack or utility ability, and a longer cooldown button that either dishes out damage or prevents it from happening. Playing the monster, on the other hand, is completely (and refreshingly) different. When you play as the monster, your primary goal is to stay undetected long enough to eat as much wildlife as possible and to evolve to the highest level possible. Doing so gives you massive upgrades to your health, strength, and abilities, and makes you much harder to kill. The monster class itself had 2 variants in the Beta, the Goliath and Kraken. The Goliath was a land-based, lumbering hulk who grew to fantastic proportions. A sort of King Kong/Godzilla hybrid, his main attacks were jumping on people’s faces, throwing huge rocks, and breathing fire on people.

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Barely edging out “shouting rudely and aggressively pointing”

I didn’t get the chance to play the Kraken, but I did play several matches against it and it was kind of insanely terrifying. It was a lot like being assaulted by a flying, electrically based squid demon, but with more shrieking directly from the seventh level of the underabyss.

"Horrifying sea monster that haunts your waking life" was too long for the Ad campaign, but was considered.

“Horrifying electrical sea nightmare that haunts your dreams” was just one of it’s rejected names.

The Beta allowed us to play 2 kinds of games. The first type was a single-game type campaign in which the 4 hunters fought against a single Monster in a one-shot game. At the end the player’s preferences can be adjusted, and a new arena/match area can be selected along with your own character customization. While players wait in the lobby, a top-down battle map displays a sped-up display of the battle that you just finished, complete with deaths and beast movements. It’s fun to watch, but also allows you to observe your opponent’s strategies as they move across the map. Clever players will note other player’s patterns and adapt.

The other game mode was a 5-game mini-story. Here, the hunters play 5 successive rounds on various map spawns against both the Player Monster and a small horde of mini-monsters, and are aided by several environmental bonuses such as automated turrets, extra NPC hunters, and drones. In this mode, winning or losing changes the next match. For instance if the hunters win a match, they might get a bonus to all of the NPC drone or Turret damage, or a 5th hunter player. If the hunters lose, however, the Monster gets dangerous bonuses to strength and damage, or an even larger horde of NPC monsters, along with other map-based bonuses. It’s a high-stakes game that spans a long period of time and is a lot more engaging than the single shot missions. I found that having 2 very different game modes, on top of the ability to play as the Monster or one of several hunter classes results in a game with a lot of replay value. We put together a short set of class-specific playlists that highlight some of the basics of each class. Unfortunately, the Monster footage was lost, but there are dozens of gameplay videos at this point and if you’re really interested, you’ll find them.

Graphically, the game was very enjoyable, with a large variety of alien environments and arenas. The game definitely has it’s own style and aesthetic, which I would place somewhere between Borderlands and Destiny. In a lot of ways, this game IS what Destiny should have been. It has an easy party system, and while it does have quite a few loading screens, they never feel boring or forced. Instead of looking at space ships fly endlessly into night, you’re presented with instant replay maps, short dialogue cut-scenes, and hint screens that are actually useful.

This game has a lot of promise and I personally enjoyed every second of it. There is a tendency for the cut scenes to be repetitive in the single-game mode, and sometimes there is so much going on in such a small area that playing strategically, otherwise required for success in Evolve, is almost fucking impossible. Aside from those minor setbacks, the game is a lot of fun to play. I’m looking forward to playing the full version, which will probably be reviewed here as well. If you’re looking for a solid, class-based shooter that offers short OR medium-to-long style matches, blended PVE and PVP, and a rewarding skill curve, this might be the game for you. Don’t come looking for a well-written story, or much in-depth character development. This game is clearly about shooting your friends in the face or eating them to death, and in that respect it delivers.