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Staring at Screens episode 34: Games that Want to Marry You

Staring at Screens episode 34 is out!

(SAS also released a spoiler episode for The Last of Us last week, which can be found here.)

I was expecting to see some Harvest Moon and Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom in the topic based on the title, but it turns out that I was just being an old fart taking things too literally! No, this week's Staring at Screens episode is actually very interesting:

Discussion topic for this week: Games that require high levels of time commitment to play or even get started playing. Along the way we namedrop Ni No Kuni, The Witcher series, Skyrim, the Dragon Age series, Persona 4, the Arkham games, Far Cry 3, Angry Birds, The Sims, The Last of Us, the Alan Wake games, L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption, the MMO genre, and GTA V.

Head on over to listen to Staring at Screens! We'd also like to congratulate Joel Koh from Staring at Screens on getting married! Bottoms up!

Staring at Screens episode 33: On Being Asian

Staring at Screens episode 33 is out!

This week, in addition to the usual game talk, the SAS crew (with guests Brian Kwek and Cassandra Khaw) discuss how it is to be Asians in the global gaming industry:

In a small departure from our usual gamut of topics, this week the crew and guests explore broadly how being (South-East) Asian has affected their careers are game writers and developers. Naturally, parental expectations are discussed, as well as these careers being "outlier professions" in the eyes of Asian society, issues of creative and technical competency in the region, and the struggles of independent game developers in Asia.

This topic has piqued my interest more than any other so far this year, and if you like games, you should give it some thought, too. Head on over to Staring at Screens to listen to the episode. Don't miss all the interesting links in their show notes!

A Preview of The Beard in the Mirror Everybody likes adventure games, although the definition of the term "adventure game" has changed a bit over the years. Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded is an adventure game, sure, but so is Uncharted. So is the latest Zelda. Right?

The Beard in the Mirror is an adventure game in the late-80s-to-mid-90s Sierra and LucasArts sense, and it certainly looks and feels the part. Paul Franzen, who also developed the indie adventure game Life in the Dorms, gave us the scoop on this new title by the quite-accurately-named "wife-and-husband team of Lizo and Paul".

The Beard in the Mirror is about a kid who doesn't know who he is, where he's going, or how he fits into his world. But not because he's an amnesiac; he's just a typical 22-year-old. As far as he knows, he's never once traveled outside his own universe—but the beautiful girl who wakes him up in the middle of one stormy night seems to think otherwise...

Inside his bedroom is the comfort and stability he's known all his life, but outside, there's an all-new fantasy world filled with magic, danger, romance—and the promise of adventure.

Mirror is a collaborative work by the wife-and-husband team of Lizo and Paul (the latter being the writer/designer of last year's Life in the Dorms). It started off as an interactive text adventure the two created and played over instant messenger, but over the years it's blossomed into a full-on point-and-click adventure game—complete with challenging puzzles with wacky solutions, dialogue trees, dangerous mishaps (and even death!), and a story about how to find oneself once the world's finally figured out you're an adult.

You can follow The Beard in the Mirror's development by liking them on Facebook or following Paul on Twitter (Paul says you can't follow Lizo on Twitter and you shouldn't even ask).

The team will have a table set up in the upcoming Boston FIG, so drop by and say hi if you're in the area!

An interview with 10x10 Room, the developers of Conclave

We have a surprise treat today! We recently conducted an interview with Nick Branstator, who is one half of the team that founded 10x10 Room, developer of online browser-based tactical RPG Conclave. Nick goes over the ideas and guidelines that he and co-founder Derek Bruneau formulated and eventually developed into the game we're playing today. We also grilled him a bit about Conclave's fantasy world (which we'll be exploring in more detail in a future post), and about the team's plans for the future.

James recently covered Conclave for Portable Perks here, and we've also been talking about the game on the OMGeek Podcast. You can visit Conclave's official site to sign up and play -- tell us if you do and we'll get an adventuring party going! You can also visit Conclave's successful Kickstarter page for more background.

Read on for the interview!

Conclave is asynchronous and can be played on pretty much any modern device that has a browser. What inspired you to design the game this way?

Our goal was to deliver all the fun parts of the tabletop RPG experience, but in a form that you can enjoy even if you don't have lots of time, a flexible schedule, or nearby friends who play such games. Basically, Derek and I were talking one day, reminiscing about the time we spent when we were younger on games like D&D, GURPS, and so on, and recognizing all the reasons we couldn't get together with people regularly to play those games any more. We started talking about how you'd make a tabletop-inspired game that we, ourselves, would have the opportunity to play. We quickly realized it should have three key features:

  1. The option to play a session in just a couple of minutes, if that's all that you have available. We made a number of decisions with game mechanics to make this possible.
  2. Playability on as many devices as possible. The shortest route to such flexibility was the browser, plus we ourselves were longtime Web developers and executives, so the browser was familiar ground.
  3. Fluid swapping between asynchronous and synchronous play (and socialization: chat is both synchronous and asynchronous too). That way you don't have to schedule your play to coincide with that of your party mates - but if it happens to, you get a realtime experience.

In what ways did developing a browser-based game (as opposed to a more “traditional” game) affect your development process?

The browser imposes some limits on what you can do graphically and with sound - especially if you eschew browser plugins as we have (a choice we made in order to keep Conclave available on as many devices as possible; Flash would have taken us off iOS devices, for example). Adoption of HTML5 and CSS3 has improved matters, but the browser still lacks the performance and features available if you are programming natively for your computer.

In most cases this has not mattered, because Conclave's roots in the tabletop make it work well with a relatively simple presentation. We don't need fancy 3D graphics, for example, to evoke a turn-based, tactical combat. Still, we have had to put extra work into some areas you might not expect, from creating our hex-inspired battlegrid, to creating animations, to having multitrack sound, to providing realtime updates of activity by other players.

Can you give us some background about the world and setting of Conclave?

Conclave is set in the world of Orn. The five self-proclaimed civilized races, known in aggregate as the Kin, have been forced over a period of centuries to flee their ancestral lands for reasons that vary from race to race; this has been termed the Age of Retreat. They have taken refuge in the ancient lands in and around the old city of Bastion, where they have banded together for protection against the forces that drove them from their homes. The Kin call these lands and themselves the Conclave.

Conclave is a world where magic is very real and present in people's lives. Every Kin understands a couple of basic things about magic: its power comes from a source they call the Concordance, and each of the races has a Tradition they use to tap and utilize it. For example, the forgeborn originated the Tradition of Runecasting, which channels elemental forces outward through the body of the caster, while the mezoar developed the Tradition of True Sight, which is deeply rooted in personal perception. Kin don't really talk in terms of "magic" though, let alone something like "spellcasting"; they would likely refer to "using Runecasting" or "evoking True Sight" or somesuch. And only specialists or lorefinders can have a deeper conversation about how it works, just as your average person in our world is unlikely to be able to have a sophisticated conversation about labor law, esoteric financial instruments, or how solid state memory really works.

Conclave literally means “with Key” in latin for a secret meeting and is also what they call the process by which they select a new pope; can you tell us how you came about naming the game?

Conclave was originally named "Bastion", in keeping with the aforementioned city at the center of the Conclave. We chose the name to reinforce the idea that the Kin had found a last bastion of defense, and that the heroes played by the characters would be fighting to maintain that last stand.

We had been in development for more than a year when we got word of Supergiant Games' own "Bastion". While we had a pretty good legal claim to the name, we felt it was in nobody's interests to get into a fight over it, especially when it would mean one indie tussling with another. We brainstormed names for a long time, finally settling on "Conclave", which came to name the lands around Bastion and the people themselves. Note that this predates the recent papal conclave by a long period! Now I can't imagine the game having any other name.

Any future plans, new features, updates, for Conclave you might want to share with us? Any new games you're working on?

For now, we are focusing on expansion material to the existing game, refining existing features and performance, and adding new features like guilds to the game. Our efforts continue to be wholly focused on evolving Conclave. One of the wonderful things about web development is that you can constantly improve your game or any other web product.

You enter a 10x10 room. A lone orc is guarding a chest. What do you do?

Share some pie with him!

Thanks so much! For the interview. Not the pie. We won't ask the orc to share his piece of pie.

We hope you found this interview enlightening. We're really enjoying the game so far, and it's been a blast progressing through the quests at our own pace. We'll have more on our adventuring experience with Conclave soon!

Staring at Screens episode 32: E3 2013

Staring at Screens episode 32 is out! And we're in it! Yes! As you could imagine, the feeling was not unlike being dragged onstage at a rock concert to sing with your favorite band -- or being asked to guest on your favorite radio show that you've been listening to for months and months!

Wait. That's exactly what it is. My analogy skills need some tweaking.

We are indeed guests on the E3 2013 episode of the Staring at Screens podcast, and we discussed a ton of content.

In the topical segment we discuss the Microsoft and Sony announcements at E3 2013 vis-a-vis the controversies surrounding Microsoft's Xbox One messaging and the absolute smackdown that was delivered by Sony's PS4 announcment. We also talk about some of the upcoming games flogged at E3, namely the deliciously cross-platform Watchdogs, the mystifyingly-numbered Mirror's Edge 2, the pulchritudinous Bayonetta 2 and the wordily-named Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.

We're very grateful to our friends at Staring at Screens for having us on the show. Cheers, guys!

Hey, are you still here? Go on, then. Git!

Staring at Screens episode 31: Underrated Games

Staring at Screens episode 31 is out! And it is brought to you by the word "bra". No, really. Go look. I won't spoil anything.

Underrated games are the topic du jour for the SAS crew in this episode -- something James also touched upon with his experience with Little Inferno.

The topic for the week is games we underestimated and were pleasantly surprised by. Find out which SAS team member has Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to the endless runner genre, which team member is still on dial-up internet, and who has been on the internet since at least 2004. If you have anything to add to our most awkward episode ever — perhaps a game or two that you found unexpectedly enjoyable — we invite you to join the conversation by writing to us at or tweeting us @StaringScreens.

Still here, eh? Go on, then.

Staring at Screens episode 30: Xbox One-ting

Staring at Screens episode 30 is out!

In this episode, the SAS crew talk about the recent Xbox One announcement and everything that comes with it, for good or for ill. It is also the 30th episode of Staring at Screens. In it, they cover the successor to the Xbox 360. If you divide 360 by 30 and then divide the result by the number of regular hosts on SAS, you get:

360 / 30 = 12 12 / 4 = 3

Half-Life 3 confirmed with the help of Staring at Screens.

But wait, there's more!

We played host to Ade Putra from Robots Gone Bad this week! He brought with him an element of sheer hardcore that none of team can hope to match. I mean who plays Metro: Last Light on Hard difficulty?? In other news, Joel puts in way more (commuting) time on Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Vick tries her hand at Puzzle Trooper, Dave builds his dream gun in Guncrafter and also gives Sid Meier's Ace Patrol the respect it truly deserves, and we find out how bad Lisa is at dancing.

Are you still reading this?! Go and listen to Staring at Screens now!

Quintet: 5 brave souls crash and burn in space

khaaan When I first read about Quintet, I immediately told Jed and Mike that we have to try this out. I knew those two were bigger Trek fans than me, honestly I’m more of a Star Wars guy myself, but I was always intrigued with the starship bridge drama that played out on the show. The pilot at the helm would report where the enemy was and begin evasive maneuvers. If the enemy ship is in range, the Captain would instruct the tactical officer to fire lasers and torpedoes, while engineering boosts the shields and repairs the helm to keep the ship together. And of course the science officer is scanning the enemy ship to determine which beam frequency to use for the next volley to finally eliminate it.

Props to Jayvee for the well timed screenshot!

And now you can all do this! Quintet is a spaceship bridge simulator, and to be frank, we need more games like this! This game is free at the moment and is available in all major platforms except Android, which the developer, Carmine Guida, is doing a Kickstarter for. The cross-platform interconnectivity went really well. Mike and I were playing with the downloaded version, Jed was using his browser to play, and our friend Jayvee, from A Bugged Life, was using his iOS device. Everything went without a hitch and the next thing we knew it, we were buzzing around space and killing enemy fighters and ejecting into escape pods with slightest hint of trouble. Of course, as the Captain of the USS Gigger, I forbade the crew to eject so we can all die like men. Strangely, nobody listened.

The game is really still early in its development cycle, but the basic systems and features work well. All the game needs is more content and maybe a few tweaks here and there. But don’t let that stop you from trying this game since it’s also free! If you want to crew up with us, don’t be shy to hit us up on Steam. We will gladly go with you to where no man has gone before and die a lot along the way.

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