This week I’ve had the pleasure of playing three very fun. All three of these titles were independently developed by small teams, featured 8-bit/16-bit “retro” graphics, and had a very meta, or self-conscious, take on their story-telling. For the video version of this article be sure to head on over to our YouTube channel.
McPixel is a title by “Sos” that found its way onto Reddit and The Pirate Bay not too long ago. The game was being passed around by internet Pirates, “yaaargh!”, and the developer immediately began endorsing the “theft” of his game. McPixel ended up becoming the first game to be officially endorsed by The Pirate Bay shortly after.
McPixel is a game reminiscent of “30 Second Hero” where the player must make quick decisions in twenty second intervals in order to prevent a bomb from exploding in different scenarios. It’s a bit tough the first time you begin playing, mainly due to wrapping your head around the odd logic in the game’s world, but once you get a feel for McPixel and the world he lives in the game becomes very quick and tense. The game also features a lot of pop culture references and some pretty low-brow humor.
McPixel, overal, is a fun little romp through indie territory. In my opinion the game doesn’t have very much staying power and once you’ve trucked through all of the trial and error puzzles I don’t see much of a reason to come back to McPixel, besides user generated content. The game is available on Steam for PC and Mac platforms for $4.99.
2. Retro City Rampage
Brian Provinciano’s Retro City Rampage has been in development for a very long time, starting as a personal project in 2002, but has it been worth the wait? Not exactly.
The game is essentially a pop culture infused, Grand Theft Auto “clone”, with an NES aesthetic. It’s a funny adventure and it starts out being a ton of fun, but the lack of any real story missions that aren’t fetch quests, and the feeling of redundancy and tired tropes keep this title from really excelling. I loved all of the little easter eggs, unlockables, arcade missions, campy dialogue, and original chiptune music, but the game didn’t stick with me for very long.
Retro City Rampage is available on the PC through Steam, as well as the Playstation Store on PS3 and Playstation Vita, for $14.99, with the Playstation version netting you both the PS3 and Vita releases when you buy either, as well as enabling cross saving for play between the two systems, which is definitely a nice plus.
3. Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is one of the single greatest releases of the year, in my opinion. I picked the title up simply based on the words of a few friends and an early review of the title and I never looked back. Imagine the themes of the film Drive, the visual aesthetic of an 80’s overdose in pastel, loud and thumping electronic music mixed with chill wave interludes, and a level of violence unprecedented in video games to date. Stir all of these ingredients up with a big helping of gaming culture commentary, questions about violence and our culture as a whole, and a massive amount of self-awareness and you have a very intriguing plot presented very unconventionally and an ultra addicting gameplay system that revolves around slaughtering a massive amount of faceless hitmen, for the most part.
I simply cannot say enough great things about Hotline Miami. The plot is minimal, but delivered in such a way that it couldn’t be presented in any other medium besides a video game, the music is some of the greatest I’ve heard in a game since FTL: Faster Than Light, and the gameplay simultaneously makes you feel like a god and like a disgusting excuse for a human being.
You can, should, and eventually will pick-up Hotline Miami on Steam for $8.99 right now. The title is PC only, with a possible future release on OS X and Playstation Vita.
As an adult who enjoys video games, I’ve had to deal with the age old question “But aren’t games for kids?”, and the equally annoying, “What value is there in video games? Isn’t it still just about getting the most points?”, but I’m writing this article today to dig deep and address those questions, as well as why I am still playing video games well out of my childhood.
For those that don’t know me personally, it’s always a bit of a shock for acquaintances, or even complete strangers, to hear me say that I don’t watch much TV or go out to the movies anymore and that I’d rather spend that time playing a video game. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there are definite reasons as to why I’ve been making this conscious decision the older that I get. It all started when I was in grade school.
I’ve been playing video games for quite some time. I started with the Atari 2600, moved onto the NES and Sega Genesis. I, eventually, got a Sega Game Gear for my birthday, all the while tearing through simple platforming games and children’s titles such as Tom and Jerry, Sonic the Hedgehog, Vectorman, Mega Man, and the like. My first love affair with a video game was with id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D on my parents’ Packard-Bell desktop computer that was running Windows 3.1 at the time. I also had a very vivid imagination for my age, and it didn’t take long before I was imagining scenarios for a game that had relatively little substance as far as plot or objective progression. Shortly thereafter, I dove head first into more varying genres of games. I found something that seemed to speak to my soul: interactive, and specifically, cinematic story-telling. It started with Final Fantasy VI, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, then Deus Ex. Eventually I’d be wrapped around Rockstar Games’s finger with theGrand Theft Auto and Max Payne series. The list would go on.
Of course, as I got older I’d get enthralled with other hobbies and pastimes such as collecting music, reading comic books, and most significant in my life, film making. Upon discovering more like minded individuals in the film making “scene”, I’d pry them for their reasons for devoting themselves to the medium, and many would utter the names of famous directors or famous films (for their specific social circles). I was always looked at a bit oddly for admitting that video games were what initially peaked my interest in visual story telling. Even if my film projects didn’t share aesthetics found in video games they were still my inspiration for delivering a story to an audience and feeling good for doing just that. However, this isn’t an argument for the importance of video games simply because they drove me towards my current passion in life. This is an argument for the importance of video games because they helped me develop a drive to achieve in general.
Video games, for me, presented windows into a reality portrayed by a team of writers and directors in a way that a film, book, or album never would. They allowed me to take on the role (to some degree) of a specific character and they, when done well, pushed me into moral gray areas and really forced me to utilize my critical thinking skills. I wasn’t just a petty criminal out for a revenge or a space soldier looking to bring justice to the galaxy. I was different versions of myself pushed to make quick decisions to provide an outcome to a sensitive situation. For instance, when my father was a child, there weren’t scenes in Star Wars that would pause for a few seconds and say “Quick, your decision will either kill dozens of innocent people or save them all, you’ve got three seconds to choose before the film can continue”, but as a young video game player I was constantly put in these stressful situations that I took fairly seriously, sometimes well before I was ever asked questions of a serious nature by actual people in my life. So, needless to say, I developed very strong personal opinions at an early age, and along with that I developed a sense of personal drive and determination. After you’ve been put in enough stressful scenarios, virtual or otherwise, you start to realize what your priorities are in life rather quickly. I also had quite a cast of role models to think back to.
If it wasn’t for Gordon Freeman (the silent protagonist from Half-Life that forced the player to develop his own internal dialogue), the angst filled Cloud Strife (the mostly silent protagonist from Final Fantasy VII on his quest to find himself amid a sea of half truths and mystery), or countless others, I would have grown up to be a very different child. My heroes came from within the mythos of these virtual “choose your own adventure novels” and a little piece of myself was found within each and every protagonist, antagonist, or bit player. And it was the fact that the character that I, the player, controlled always was a part of this larger than life plot to do something major either in his/her own life, or for the lives of everyone around him or her, that would drive me to want to have such an impact in reality. I know that it sounds very tongue-in-cheek, but in all sincerity, it would be these plots of self sacrifice, saving the world, and finding love that would stay with me for years to come and drive me to do things. From working on finishing school, to pursuing a career, and even finding and maintaining a healthy relationship with friends and loved ones, video games helped me become my own everyday hero.
Alas, I know that not all children that grow up playing video games will grow up to have the same enthusiasm, or even have the same experience from the same exact games, but I do know that video games made a very large impact on me during my developmental years. It was video games that taught me to question and think critically about all the information presented to me. It was video games that showed me the importance of well written dialogue and well presented stories. It was video games that would take me to places that I could only dream of. It was that sense of achievement that came with progressing in a well made video game that would make me thrive on the same feeling of accomplishment in reality and push me to be a productive member of the world around me.
Now if the media could just look past all of the violence and accusations for video games causing delinquent behavior and focus on some positive stories to come from the interactive medium, video games might become an accepted form of expression. Until then, they will be the 21st century’s comic books and rock ‘n roll.
If this topic interests you, be sure to check out the TED Talks video on Jane McGonigal or Gonzalo Frasca’s thesis entitled: “Videogames of the Oppressed: Videogames as a Means for Critical Thinking and Debate“.