Celeste Looks Beautiful

Originally a game for the PICO-8 fantasy computer (that I wrote about here), Celeste is a hardcore platformer from the developers of TowerFall that has now become a complete thing and is universally loved for its beautiful aesthetic and challenge.

Polygon’s Russ Frustick reviewed it:

Celeste feels like a very capably made platformer, easily on par with other masocore greats. But where it really sets itself apart is in its incredible presentation values. The game is home to some of the best 2D pixel art I’ve seen. Inspired by the SNES era, the characters and environments in Celeste are vibrant and memorable, adding way more visual charm than the genre usually provides. The aforementioned resort level is filled with peeling wallpaper, rusted elevator cages and moonlit mountain views, while a later level set in a temple features spooky totems and spinning torches. These visuals are backed by a stellar score from Lena Raine, whose synthy chiptune beats harken back to the days of Donkey Kong Country. And the adventure is held together by a gorgeous low-poly 3D model of Celeste Mountain that helps to convey the scale and trajectory of the climb.

Celeste is on so many platforms, and it’s $20. Steam for Windows, macOS, Linux. itch for Windows, macOS, LinuxThe Nintendo Switch eShopThe PlayStation 4’s store. The Xbox One’s garbage web store that made me log-in just to browse to this game.

The Crunch Article on Polygon

Polygon has published an excerpt from a book by Walt Williams, their headline: “Why I worship crunch”:

When I worship at the unholy altar of Crunch, everything outside of the work fades away. By design, my world is reduced to where I sleep and where I work. Every day must be fast, focused, and above all else, homogenized. Give myself too much downtime, too much room to think, and I start asking questions, like “Why am I doing this to myself?” So, I lose myself in the routine. When every day is a rehash of what has been, and a preview of what will be, they blend into one another. This creates an out-of-body effect, not unlike highway hypnosis. Soon, who I am becomes an abstract concept—a loose collection of character flaws and neurotic tendencies. Only then can my body become the vessel through which an impossible amount of work will be accomplished in a short amount of time.

I love it, except for when I hate it, but I can’t hate it if I never stop. Even when I’m not crunching, I work too much. I’ve edited scripts in ICU rooms, responded to emails while begging lovers not to walk out the door, sent brainstorming lists during the birth of my child. I held my grandfather’s hand while he passed away, then went into his office and wrote text for mission descriptions. None of this was expected of me, and no one would have dared to ask. I did all these things for me. Work brings order to my world. When things get tough, I slide down into my job and disappear. I let my health, relationships, and responsibilities fall to the wayside. When I finally come up for air, there’s a smoking crater where my life used to be. Instead of picking up the pieces to start again, I slip back down into the thick of it. This is how I cope.

That isn’t how anyone should live. Although the author says that it wasn’t expected of them, many of the situations they have described here are the terrible reality of what people working on games do in response to a spoken or unspoken expectation from management.

There are solutions for the majority of people who work (in games, or elsewhere) and are exploited. Unionization would let employees collectively bargain and achieve better work schedules or better compensation when they must work overtime.

Many of these businesses would almost instantly start managing games projects more efficiently with less overtime if employees were compensated properly for this kind of work and had collective bargaining instead of attempting to individually negotiate their contracts.

Walt Williams might love crunch, but any company that forces it on their employees as a regular matter should be punished for destroying the lives of the workers and their families.

Here’s a great take from Cameron Kunzelman at Waypoint:

At the end of the day, no matter how much an individual loves it, crunch is not about individuals themselves. Crunch is a systemic, top-down solution to the problem of extracting the most labor from game developers; it is a strategy that is implemented on workers, and it is performed widely in most sectors of the industry. One developer’s complicated relationship with crunch is a blip on the constantly-screaming radar of worker exploitation that the practice enables as part of the normal operation of the game industry. It is not an exception in one person’s life, it is the norm.

Indie Video Game Stores in 2017

Matt Leone of Polygon has this incredibly in-depth feature on the stories of video game stores that are still operating in 2017:

…we recently dug into the specific costs of running an independent game store in the U.S., and talked to more than 15 store owners and managers about the process. From telling stories of Amazon selling games for less than wholesale distributors, to opening their books and showing the costs of everything from insurance to paper towels, they paint a picture of an industry doing its best to keep its head above water.

It’s one of those things that I imagine a lot of people have thought about doing, and then dismissed. The photography in this article, by Jonathan Castillo, is just as good as the writing. This is probably the best game-related article I’ve read all year, strong contender for SOTY.

Valve’s SteamVR and Steam Controller Hands On

Ben Kuchera got a chance to try Valve’s Steam VR headset system using the just announced Vive hardware from HTC as well as an updated version of the controller for Steam Machines.

On the VR System:

The hardware is clearly a work in progress, and the fit and finish needs to be improved substantially before launch. The two controllers, one held in each hand, feature buttons on the grips; they feature triggers too, and a touchpad on the front that also works as a button. It’s an intense amount of hardware. We were told that to run the demos we were playing, you’d need a high-end video card and a very competitive gaming PC. Nothing about this sounds like a mass media product.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that the hardware is incredibly fucking cool.

Read the rest of his article, his experience there sounds fantastic. Mark “Gaming Jesus” MacDonald also described the Steam VR experience Valve was demonstrating last year on this week’s Giant Bombcast.

On the controller:

The Steam controller is a big part of what makes a Steam Machine a Steam Machine; we were told that running SteamOS and being packaged with the controller were two of the main things that need to be included to use that branding. The controller itself has gone through a number of revisions, but we were able to use what Valve is calling the final version during GDC.

The old Steam Controller given out at dev days was obviously a stepping stone to get somewhere else, I haven’t used it in months, and I can’t wait to try this new one. It’s particularly interesting how this newer iteration has the exact same X/Y/A/B button layout down to the color as the Xbox One controller. It’ll be $50 when it’s released this November. No price on theVive yet.

The Movie Theater Cyberpocalypse Has Begun

Ben Kuchera writing about turning the Samsung and Oculus’ Gear VR into a portable movie theater:

The rewards are great, even if the resolution is slightly lower than you may be used to on your standard HDTV. With a good set of headphones I’m completely isolated from my real environment. I look around and all I see is the theater and the movie. There is no Twitter, no Facebook and no background noise. No usher will ever come in and start cleaning. The floor is never sticky. There are no distractions.

This is the power of portable virtual reality; the ability to find yourself alone in a huge space using a device that fits into your backpack. The illusion of watching a film on a giant screen is complete, and being alone for two hours is amazing. Isolation on demand feels almost luxurious, as having your own personal movie theater isn’t something possible for most people, and the fact this virtual version requires no physical upkeep is even better.

Gear VR isn’t very exciting as a product because of the limited hardware capabilities and how unlikely it would be for Samsung to continue in VR. Altogether it seems like a complete waste of time for developers to target that platform and a derailment for Oculus. Maybe there is some advantage to it that I’m not seeing yet, but it just feels like another feature on the endless list of things that Samsung attaches to their mobile products in order to pretend to be innovative. I hope that Oculus got something really good out of the deal.

However, I am super excited for the ability to replace your environment at-will. Also please join me for an “Activation” We’re all doing it. Please remain seated while the VR matrix takes hold. You will experience a tingling sensation as the VR spike gently pierces your cranium and then we’ll be watching Sneakers in a theater like oldsters used to  do back before the sharing economy destroyed the world.

You’ll be a little groggy after the movie ends and you return to realspace, but we’ll worship the Divine Bomb afterwards and take off our masks to reveal that we’re really irradiated monsters to the camera. It’ll be fun!