Thimbleweed Park is the game I’ve been waiting years for

Two years ago, I backed Ron Gilbert & Gary Winick’s Kickstarter fund the princely sum of $US20 for the point-and-click adventure game they wanted to make.

It was a no brainer for me, to be honest. I loved played the classic Lucasarts point-and-click games like Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. Games that both Gilbert and Winnick were involved it. Those readers that have been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve already waxed lyrically about Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, games that I still own today on disc.

I paid the money, the game got funded and I sort of forgot about it and let Winick and Gilbert get on with it. There were updates during the two years from the duo about how things were going and late last week, an email arrived that lifted my heart: Thimbleweed Park was finished and ready to play. My heart jumped for joy.

“Thimbleweed Park has been set free. Thimbleweed Park has been released into the wild. Thimbleweed Park has been kicked out of the house, told to get a job,” the email opened. It was the news I’d been waiting for. It was time to be transported back to my gaming heydays …

My teenage son, who is 17, can’t understand why I like games like Thimbleweed Park and the whole point-and-click adventure series. I told him it’s because I just love games that make me think rather than just move from point A to B shooting everything that moves. He doesn’t get it but it’s not his fault: He’s a gamer of the 2000s, a decade when point-and-click adventure games are all but forgotten by most gamers apart from those my age probably.

Thimbleweed Park follows the conventions of the classic games that went before it: Solve  mysteries using the items you find in the game world, combining objects to complete tasks. In the game you eventually get to control five actors (FBI agents Reyes and Ray, wannabe video game programmer Delores, Ransome the Insult Clown, and Franklin Edmund, Delores’ father), swapping between them at the click of a button. It looks like a game from 1987, which it’s pixellated graphics and cheesy music, but I love it.

I’m about six and a half hours in so far and playing it on PC with mouse and keyboard (point-and-click adventure games don’t feel right to me using a controller) and none of the puzzles have stumped me greatly, although some will really make you think about what you have to combine to create the end product. I haven’t come across as anything as mind-bendingly hard as some of those in Monkey Island but there’s still time and some items that you’ll need are hard to find (particularly a chainsaw that I needed later in the game …)

With games like this, if you pay attention to what characters say and think logically, you’ll solve most puzzles easily enough. The story is engaging and the dialogue is snappy, and I haven’t come across any game-breaking bugs yet. If I had any criticism, it’s that I think at times the game mentions past adventure games a little too much. It kind of breaks the fourth wall a little too much for my liking at times.

I’ve got other games to play at the moment – Zelda Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch) and Mass Effect Andromeda (PlayStation 4) – but I’m gravitating to Thimbleweed Park right now. It’s the game I want to play until the end (unlike the other point-and-click adventure game I Kickstarted, Tim Schafer’s Broken Age: I gave up on that one after playing just the first part. I just didn’t like it that much, plus the development process was disjointed).

I’m enjoying the hell out of Thimbleweed Park and I’m glad I backed it. It’s taken me back to an age when games were clever and made you think and gameplay was more important that realistic graphics.

Thank you Ron Gilbert and Gary Winick. Thank you for making Thimbleweed Park. It’s been the best $US20 I’ve even spent.

 

 

Nightdive’s System Shock remake is teasing me to back it

I never played the original System Shock which came out in 1994.

I did, however, play System Shock 2, a 1999 game that scared the bejezus out of me. I don’t think I finished it. I was too scared to finish it.

Actually, I still have the CD Rom of it in a cupboard somewhere but I’m still too scared to play it. Besides, I’m not sure the disc-based version would work on Windows 10 and if there was a hack, I’m guessing it would involve mind-boggling hard things.

System Shock was something of a watershed moment in gaming and it put the players on Citadel Station where they had to fight against cyborgs and mutated crew members created by the diabolical AI Shodan.

56731be5492e09401420454944899d53_originalNightdive Studios, an American game developer probably known most for a remaster of Turok,  has a fondness for System Shock so a few weeks ago started its Kickstarter to fund a remake of the classic game. With 15 days still to go, Nightdive has reached its target of $US900,000.

I’ve been following the Kickstarter closely, each days “Umming” and “Ahhing” on whether I should back it (mainly whether I’d play it due to its scaryness) but as each day goes by, I’m seriously contemplating plonking down $US30  which will secure me a copy of the game on either PC or Xbox One (no PS4 as of yet) when it’s released (supposedly) in December, 2017. I also think I was a little hesitant to back it yet because I wanted to wait and see whether it actually reached its target first.

As part of a sweetener for potential backers to see how much work Nightdive had already done on the remake (it’s not a remaster: A remaster has already been done), the developer released a pre-Alpha demo through GOG.com, Humble Bundle and Steam  – a proof of concept, I suppose – of System Shock on PC which offered a short, vertical slice of what sort of things to expect. I was impressed, if I’m being honest, despite it only being about 10 minutes long and me realising that my now much-outdated nVidia GTX660Ti  wouldn’t handle the finished PC version.

Sure, the demo wasn’t perfect but it showed that Nightdive were serious about making a success with this campaign and indicated what direction the developer was likely to take. Honestly, I wish more Kickstarter campaigns for video games would offer a demo of what to expect with their campaigns.

WrenchSystemshockNightdive has a few more stretch goals if the campaign reaches certain milestones before the campaign period is up (ie $1.7m will bring enemy limb dismemberment, more puzzles, ammo types/weapon settings, vending machines, basic components/research, RPG progression, weapon upgrading, hardcore mode (No respawning), ironman mode (Only 1 savegame. If you die, the save is deleted). I highly doubt it’ll reach $1.7 million – now that it’s reached its goal funding seems to have slowed down quite a bit – but the core game has been funded. That’s an important milestone.

Although the core game has been funded, it’ll be interesting to see how much Nightdive gathers in the remaining 15 days of the campaign but it’s 15 days for me to convince myself I need to back it.

If I do, I’ve then got until December, 2017 to muster up the courage to play it.

 

 

Fly 6 review: Eyes at the back of your head

Fly6 integrated rear bicycle tail light with built-in HD camera

I guess you could think of Cycliq’s Fly6 integrated tail light and HD camera as eyes at the back of your head as you ride your bike. Or an insurance policy that you’ll hopefully never need.

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by Australian cyclists and tinkerers Andrew Hagan and Kingsley Fiegert, the Fly6 is one of those gadgets that you hope you’ll never need to rely on but are rest assured that it’s there just in case something goes wrong.

In fact, Fiegert came up with the original idea of the Fly6 after he was hit in the arse by a slingshot projectile while he was out riding his bike. Ouch!!

I was lucky enough to win my Fly6 through a Tour de France competition that Cycliq was running during the three-weeks of the cycle event. I’m not usually a winner when it comes to competitions so I was chuffed that I’d won this.

Eyes open: The Fly6 is bulker than a standard rear flashing bike light but that's because it has an HD camera inside [and a rechargeable lithium ion battery]

Eyes open: The Fly6 is bulkier than a standard rear flashing bike light but that’s because it has an HD camera inside [and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery]

Compared to most rear bicycle tail lights, the Fly6 is bulky, but that’s because this one incorporates an HD camera into the mix [it’s the large round lens underneath the Fly6 logo]. Outputting at up to 30 lumens, the tail light is bright enough to be seen by motorists [it has two flashing modes and one solid mode thanks to the three lights] and the camera records video at 720p [1380 x 720 resolution]. Cycliq says the internal 2600mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery will give up to six hours recording and lighting time, depending on use.

Filming you: The large lens is the HD camera. The flashing strobe unit is visible underneath.

Filming you: The large lens is the HD camera. The flashing strobe unit, which illuminates to indicate that the camera is recording, is visible underneath.

The gadget comes with an 8Gb microSD class 10 memory card already installed so everything you need is in the box to get started. The unit is charged via a supplied microUSB cable and will emit a variety of beeps when  you turn it on to indicate the battery charge status. Cycliq says if the battery drops under 5% capacity while you’re using it, three long beeps will sound, the audio and video capture function will switch off but the light will continue to work for about 1 1/2 hours.

Installation

Good to go: The Fly6 fitted to my road bike's seat post.

Good to go: The Fly6 fitted to my road bike’s seat post.

Fitting the Fly6 to my road bike was incredibly simple: I slid the camera/light unit onto the right sized seat post mount [the box comes with two] then secured it to the seat post using two of the supplied rubber straps. It took maybe a couple of minutes to get it fitted. The box also comes with some spacers to ensure a more snug fit on your bike’s seat post, an SD card adapter and a microUSB cable to attach the unit to your computer to upload captured video, which can then be viewed using program VLC Media Player.

Testing

I’ve probably had the Fly6 for about three weeks and have used it extensively when I’ve gone for bike rides, generally during the day so I can’t say how bright it is during darkness hours. The video below shows how bright it is.

It’s a funny but as a bike rider,  you never really think about what is happening behind you when you’re riding your bike, unless you look behind to see whether it’s safe to make a turn or whether there’s room for you to avoid a parked car. If the Fly6 has done one thing, it’s made me more aware of what’s actually happening behind me and shown me just how close vehicles sometimes get to cyclists.

I like to think I’m a considerate cyclist: I stay to the inside of the white line as much as practicable and where applicable [sometimes, of course, you have to move across the line for parked cars, road works, potholes in the road] but I’m still amazed at how close some motorists get to me as they drive past.

Watching captured video when I get home is generally uneventful – and that’s how I’d like it to stay. That’s why I said at the beginning that the Fly6 is like an insurance policy that you never want to use: It’s there, covering your back, just in case you need it, but for most of the time [hopefully] the footage it captures is uneventful [apart from seeing the odd motorist behind me talking on a mobile phone, which is illegal in this country].

 

Verdict

While a rear facing HD camera isn’t a necessity for a cyclist, the Fly6 is a nice thing to have in this age where motorists seem to be a more and more aggressive to cyclists, especially lycra-clad cyclists.

The capture quality is good enough to pick out number plates if you need to, and the device records in 10 minute blocks, so if you go for, say,  an hour bike ride, you’ll have six recorded segments. I tended to watch through the footage, see whether anything was worth keeping,  then delete it from the camera.

As I said in the beginning, the Fly6 is a set of eyes watching your back as you cycle and is essentially an insurance policy just in case an incident happens, and you need evidence to back you up – and that’s reassuring. It could be seen by some as pricey for a light, though: With postage, the Fly6 will set you back $214, but for serious cyclists who don’t bat an eyelid at $1000 wheels & bikes that cost thousands of dollars, it’s a small price for peace of mind.

*Cycliq is also in the prototype stages of a front-facing camera/light called the Fly12 which will have a 400 lumens front-facing light, a 1080p camera, Wifi capabilities and a smartphone. I’m following its progress with interest.

 

 

Indie games & Broken Age

I’ve become a little disillusioned with the current state of the games industry.

Well, perhaps disillusioned is the wrong word: I’m getting less and less joy out of so-called blockbuster games that involve teams of hundreds of people and budgets of many millions of dollars, and finding more and more enjoyment out of games that are innovative, try something different and are made by much smaller teams with much smaller budgets than the Call of Duties, the Assassin’s Creeds, the Mass Effects.

The Stanley Parable: a game that will mess with your mind.

The Stanley Parable: a game that will mess with your mind.

That’s not to say that I dislike AAA games. I enjoyed Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and most of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was fun, but the games that give me the most gaming pleasure last year and I got the most fulfillment out of were games like The Stanley Parable, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Thomas Was  Alone and Gunpoint,  as well as a whole host of games that I bought through the thoroughly wallet-unfriendly Humble Indie Bundle.  (After days of internal debate, I caved and bought the latest Humble Indie Bundle. I didn’t need it, and should be saving money, but I couldn’t help myself. I got nine games for $US5.40!)

My teenage son doesn’t get indie games. He’s a AAA gamer all the way. I had a discussion (it was probably more an argument) with him the other day and he can’t understand why I like indie games so much. He seemed to think that indie games showed little imagination and weren’t hard to make at all. I disagreed, saying that indie games actually who a lot more imagination that many games around and they’re actually harder to make than he thought. We ended on a stalemate, but I’d still play an indie game at the moment than a triple A one, and big-name development studios and partners could learn a lot from independent developers.

And, despite naysayers saying PC/computer gaming is dead, most of the games I’m playing lately have been done on my desktop computer or my Macbook Pro.  In comparison, I think I’ve turned on my Xbox just once in the past week – to finish ACIV and enter a points code that my daughter gave me for Christmas – then turned it off once I was done.  I can’t remember the last time I actually played anything on my Xbox One. The new generation of consoles just aren’t grabbing me at the moment, so I’d rather download games onto my PC (and, happily, some of the games I own on Steam actually have Mac versions which I can download onto my Macbook) and play them on that.

Somewhere over the past few years – I don’t know exactly when –  the games industry seems to have dumbed down games. I don’t mean that developers are treating gamers as if they’re stupid but it seems to me that lazy publishers have got wise to the fact that they can milk a franchise for all it’s worth – Call of Duty is a case in point  –  generally regurgitating the same game play mechanics time and time again, year after year, and know that fans will still buy the game.

Assassin’s Creed is falling into the same trap and there will be countless others. I’ve had enough of games that should have been put to pasture two games ago and am gravitating more towards games that try something different and give me something compelling and different. I’m tired of being a well-armed super commando who kicks alien but in his quest to save the galaxy/damsel.

I guess it was my move towards more independent games that made me so intrigued by Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter pitch a couple of years ago for a game that seemed to return to the traditions of the old-school point-and-click adventure that he was famed for. Games like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series. Games that somehow have lost favour with today’s new generation of gamer who prefers high-tech weapons and Quick Time Events than puzzles that will test them and laugh-out-loud dialogue.

I’m a gamer that grew up on point-and-click adventures – Grim Fandango and Full Throttle are two of my most treasured and I still have copies of them sitting on my hallway bookcase –  so when he announced that he wanted to try something similar with his Kickstarter, my heart heaved and I was excited.

Broken Age: Tim Schafer's first point-and-click adventure game in quite a few years.

Broken Age: Tim Schafer’s first point-and-click adventure game in quite a few years.

So, I backed it. And now it’s  here. Well, part 1 of the game that was Codenamed Reds but is now called Broken Age is here. And it’s a lot of fun, although I’m not sure it’s going to become a classic point-and-click game like some of Schafer’s other games.

The whole process of the development of Broken Age, from its Kickstarter funding to where we are now, is an interesting one and the documentary series available to backers showed just how tough a process it was. Schafer’s Kickstarter raised something like $4 million (he was asking for much, much less) but it seems that even that figure wasn’t enough to fund the vision that Schafer had, hence the decision to break up Broken Age into two parts. Sales of Act 1 from non-backers will go towards finishing Act 2 and the full game.

Visually, Broken Age is gorgeous to look at. I know the term “hand-painted” is bandied around a lot in video games, but this game really does have a story book-like quality to it. Almost painterly in its look. I like it. Central to the game are two characters, Shay and Vella, two very different people but with very similar lives ( You can swap between the two at any time by clicking an icon in the game’s inventory bar that sits at the bottom of the screen, but I didn’t: I played through each story separately. It just seemed to me to be the best way to play it).

Shay (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a young boy turning into a man who lives on a space ship controlled by a motherly computer (voiced by Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale) who does everything it can to keep him from harm. His days become monotonous routines of which cereal to have for breakfast or whether to rescue cute knitted things from an ice cream avalanche or a runaway train, or investigate a strange anomaly on the exterior of his ship.

Vella, on the other hand, is a young girl who lives in a seemingly nice place called Sugar Bunting. Things aren’t as they seem, though, and she’d probably quite like Shay’s mundane routine: She’s due to be sacrificed to a giant monster, as is the tradition in her village.

I have to say that I found the first 20 minutes or so of Shay’s story incredibly boring and was close to quitting, but I’m glad I didn’t. I realise why the first moments were so mundane and repetitive: It was to emphasise how the motherly computer determined Shay’s every move but stick with it, as once you break the routing (it’s pretty clearly signposted on how to do it) the game opens up and is much better for it.

The Space Weaver: Perhaps the most interesting character in Broken Age.

The Space Weaver: Perhaps the most interesting character in Broken Age.

Unlike a lot of Schafer’s previous works, the puzzles in Broken Age (at least in Shay’s story: I haven’t played Vella’s yet) are pretty simple and signposted so that you shouldn’t have trouble solving them (although the Space Weaver one had me scratching my head for a few moments until the Space Weaver – the ship’s navigator – pretty much indicated what to do).

That disappointed me a little.

I guess I was hoping for some of the mind-bendingly hard puzzles from Schafer’s earlier work, which I’m sure a lot of other backers were hoping for, too, but they aren’t here. I guess this is a game for a new breed of gamer.

Some of the puzzles are quite inventive, though, but they just won’t have you pulling your hair out.

Perhaps my biggest criticism of Act 1 of Broken Age is that it’s not as memorable as, say, Grim Fandango or Full Throttle. As gorgeous as each screen looks, most of them are filler, with only a few things you can actually click on – and many of those clickable items just provide a commentary from Shay or Vella (the so-called Junk Room on Shay’s ship is a case in point).

There also aren’t a huge numbers of characters to interact with, and Shay’s ending feels really disjointed – it ended abruptly – and feels like Double Fine just sliced it off. Obviously, this is because of how Double Fine is handling the funding for the next Act but Shay’s ending left me confused.

Can I recommend you buy Act 1 of Broken Age? It’s a hard one.

It’s a nice adventure from what I’ve played but without know how Act 2 pans out, it’s a hard one to say you simply must buy it. It’s not as memorable as Grim Fandango or Full Throttle, that’s for sure. I still remember playing those games all those years ago: I’m not sure Broken Age will have that impact on me – but I think that’s because of the Act 1 and Act 2 thing.

One thing I do know, though, is that Broken Age is a game that has Tim Schafer’s DNA scattered all through it and the gamer part of me likes that. Whether that’s enough to ensure funding for the next act, I’m not sure, but I hope enough people buy Act 1 so we can all find out.