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Teacups & 1UPs: The Banner Saga

Welcome to the first installment of Teacups & 1UPs, a (hopefully) fortnightly column in which I will talk about games both indie, AAA, and in-between! These may not entirely be reviews, and they won’t always be the same format, but one thing’s for sure: I’m going to pair a tea with each and every game.

Why tea? Because I love tea. Next question.

The first game I’m going to be tackling is The Banner Saga, which a Steam review accurately renamed “Tactical Starvation: The Game“. It’s not a new game, so warning for potential minor spoilers as I pick apart the good, the bad, and the fantasy misogyny. Buckle up, I definitely have Some Thoughts about this game.

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You wouldn’t think such a pretty game could be so cruel.

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Finding (Virtual) Love: Queerly Represent Me

The world is filled with amazing and diverse people and relationships. Why should video games, a medium that often reflects the real world, be any different?

Short answer: they shouldn’t be, and as time goes on they’re increasingly not. With the Sims 4’s recent update removing gender restrictions from sim creation, and companies like Bioware making it a standard across their games to include same-sex romance options, it’s clear that considerations of gender and sexuality have moved very much into the mainstream.

Still, a gamer searching for queer representation in the games they play might often find themselves disappointed by what can seem to be a barren wasteland. How amazing would it be to have a database of games including diverse sexualities and genders? A place to find games that represent who you are?

That’s where Queerly Represent Me comes in.

Founded by Alayna M Cole primarily as a place where the work of academics researching queer representation could be collected and shared, Queerly is described as a “database for games that represent sexuality, gender, and relationships.” Queerly Represent Me contains not only an exhaustive and ever-expanding list of games that explore these areas, but also resources for those interested in these topics, including the results of the Queer Representation (2016) survey.

This ain’t no top-ten list, this is some serious business. Looking for games with romanceable non-binary characters? Queerly’s got you covered. What about games that explore the formulae of typical dating sims with regards to relationships? Yup. What about a dating sim based off of that one time-travel game that you wish was gayer? Absolutely.

Basically, there are a lot of games there, from big AAAs to tiny little indies. This site is a valuable resource not just for research, but also for gamers looking for representation and game developers who have worked to put that representation into their games in some way.

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A Normal Lost Phone, a point-and-click game jam game exploring gender.

There are pages of examples within Queerly’s categories (sexuality, gender, and relationships) showing that diversity exists within games, which is perhaps encouraging to those looking to find themselves in what they play, or include queer characters and relationships in their own games.

Whether a researcher, a gamer, or a developer, Queerly Represent Me is a valuable resource for anyone even slightly interested in representation within video games. Why not check it out today?

Lieve Oma: an Ode to Grandmothers

Almost everyone has someone they can point to that has helped positively shape them into the person they are today. A sibling, a parent, a close friend; for Florian Veltman, game developer, that person is his grandmother, someone who means so much to him that he made a game as an ode to her.

Short and endlessly sweet, Lieve Oma is a character-driven game that is, at its core, a loveletter to Florian’s grandmother. This is a game you play less for the gameplay, and more for the characters and the feeling. From the Lieve Oma description:

Lieve Oma is a top-down 3D game where you go for a stroll with your grandmother through a forest. You can pick mushrooms when you find them, but the real reason you’re here is to have a discussion with your grandmother about the issues you encounter, coping with going to a new school, among other things.

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The character designs are very cute and simple, and the child is especially cute when running.

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Global Game Jam: A Newbie’s POV

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Making a game in 48 hours seems a massive task, yet it’s something tens of thousands of people do every year at Global Game Jam, an international game jam for developers of any type and skill level to come together and create something new.

Though game jams—gatherings of game devs to create games in short spans of time—can vary in size and the given amount of time, Global Game Jam is the world’s largest physical jam event, this year taking place in 78 countries.

This was my first year doing GGJ, and my first year doing a game jam in general (I have since done one more, where I co-created a card game!), and I was honestly hesitant about the whole thing, because what am I, but a writer? I thought there was nothing I could possibly contribute to such a short game. Turns out narrative can be pretty important to even a game made in 48 hours, who knew?

Okay, yeah. Everyone knew.
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Our 2015 Superlatives – Games Edition

It’s the end of 2015, which means it’s time for Best of Lists! Here at Tosche Station, we thought we’d break up our lists into categories, and post a different topic per day.

In this installment, we discuss our favorite games of 2015!

Nanci: It’s no secret I don’t play a lot of games, but the one Xbox game I consistently enjoy is Just Dance. I received Just Dance 2016 for Christmas and can’t wait to get back into it after too long being a lazy bum.

I also discovered a card game called Slash this year, which is basically a game in which you ship different fictional (and some real!) characters with each other. It’s fantastic for fanficcers!

Saf: I didn’t really get the chance to play many AAA games this year because of not having a new console (haha), but I did get the chance to play a lot of little indie games, and one I absolutely can’t get over is Blake Wood’s Dolly. It’s a short game, but the art and the music both combine to deliver an emotional punch. Bonus: it’s made by a Kiwi!

Brian: Star Wars category, it’s Battlefront. Super immersive. Flying an X-wing never gets old. Non Star Wars video game front, it’s Fallout 4 because no one does open world like Bethesda. On the tabletop gaming side, another vote for Slash. Play that game with the right company and it’s a blast.

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Drinking Quest: Interview with Jason Anarchy

There’s not much I enjoy more than a round of Dungeons & Dragons (or, no doubt, Of Dice and Droids) with a bottle of cider at my side, but there’s probably not much my DM and co-players hate more than a tipsy Saf making critical decisions. When I first heard about Jason Anarchy’s Drinking Quest, I near leapt from my seat with excitement. A role-playing game that is also a drinking game is right up my friends’ and my collective alley.

With an emphasis on responsible drinking and an easy system that can be picked up in the first couple minutes, Anarchy has built both a humorous and smart card-based tabletop RPG perfect for a Friday evening with the gang.

Though Anarchy is Canadian, PAX Aus gave me the opportunity to interview him and talk to him about both Drinking Quest and other tabletop games.


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On Bugs and Bouncing: Hollow Knight’s William Pellen Interview

There was one game that completely caught my attention in the lead-up to Melbourne’s massive gaming convention, PAX Australia: Hollow Knight, a gorgeously atmospheric action-adventure platformer with a healthy dose of challenge.

Hollow Knight is being developed by Team Cherry, an indie company based in Adelaide made up of Ari Gibson, William Pellen, and David Kazi, with a release planned for the first half of 2016.

Set in a bug-infested cavern system below an eerily silent village, Hollow Knight is filled with all kinds of strange creatures and wonderful sights. I’ve always been a sucker for platformers with fascinating worldbuilding that you can explore for hours, and from what I’ve played of the Hollow Knight beta, it seems to be shaping up to be exactly that. Though the gameplay can be difficult, it never feels punishing. 

I had the opportunity at PAX Aus to interview Willaim Pellen and ask him a few questions about Hollow Knight, influences, Kickstarter, and taking the leap to full time game dev.

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There Has Been… An Uprising.

UprisingStar Wars Uprising was officially released on September 10th. I refrained from downloading it until September 12th. I maxed out my XP and the storyline 11 days later.  This is weird.

Unless it says KOTOR on the box, I’m not much of a gamer. I enjoy playing video games when I have the opportunity but I rarely lose an entire weekend to a new game and I don’t even have a system besides my laptop. So you can see why I was so surprised that I was able to go through the game so fast even with my obsessive and competitive personality.

Uprising is addicting and not what I expected. On the game play front, it’s fairly simple once you get the hang of it and doesn’t require much skill. Essentially, you select which opponent you want to attack and then your character does so. Things get a little more interesting once you can train in skills that take your attacks up a notch. I’m a fan of the dodge and roll and the spray of blaster fire for efficiency. The only planet that keeps giving me trouble is Anoat thanks to the poison and the never-ending onslaught of nek dogs.

At a certain point, the game does tell you in a not so subtle way to chill the hell out and take a break. The main story missions are locked depending on your character level; something that comes into play once you’re closer around level 18 and it’s harder to level up. Every day, you’re offered a Daily Opportunity mission, 5 Assault Missions (that eventually trigger a Sector Battle which is basically a day long free for all that makes you gape at the Victory Points totals some people rack up), and a Daily Credits mission for each planet that you’ve completed the story for. While you can play repeatable missions as often as possible, they don’t offer nearly as much in terms of gear and nothing for XP. Granted, the XP part doesn’t really matter once you hit Level 40 and don’t get XP anymore… (No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?)

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Three Video Games and a TV Show

KOTOR logoKnights of the Old Republic: The best Star Wars game that was ever released and that ever will be released.  Yes, I know.  You’re all tired of hearing me talk about how much I love KOTOR but that doesn’t stop it from being a great story and taking another look at it would give Lucasfilm a chance to help fix a few of the problems currently facing them.  I won’t repeat myself and go into how very Star Wars the story is and how great the characters are.  Instead, I’m here to pitch you an idea for the new canon.  Ready?  Here’s the pitch: Revamp both Knights of the Old Republic games for modern consoles and take advantage of the chance to update the graphics and to properly finish the second one, finally make that third KOTOR game, tell the lead up story as a television series on a major network (or even cable), and canonize both Revan and the Exile as women.

Let’s start from the top.  Knights of the Old Republic was fun.  Regardless of what you think of the second game, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Star Wars fan who didn’t enjoy playing the first game.  It’s a well-liked and familiar property set in an era that’s almost definitely unaffected by the Story Group’s new overarching canon.  Bringing the games out of Legend and into official canon could quite possibly go a long way towards making some of those still upset about the canon change happier.  Also, imagine getting to play the games except created with modern technology.  The original games continue to have their charm but modern graphics paired with an awesome story?  (Just think about it, we’ll wait.)  This is also a great opportunity for Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords to be properly finished so we can finally play the droid factory planet without having to mod beyond belief.  A third game to round out the trilogy is a no brainer really.  It’s been ten years and portion of the fan base is still clamoring for KOTOR3.  It’s a license to print money.

A prequel (don’t look at me like that’s a dirty word) would be the best plot line for a tie-in show that would let the games stand alone and it would give the writers plenty to work with.  To tell the story, I’d imagine that perhaps three to four seasons of 10-13 episodes each would be ideal.  They could chronicle the attack of the Mandalorians, the refusal of the Jedi to answer, Revan and Malak going off and becoming heroes as they lead the fight back, their descent into darkness, and then rise of their Sith army.  It would ultimately culminate in Bastila’s mission that results in Revan’s capture and amnesia.  Is it ambitious for a television show?  Sure but we now live in a world where Game of Thrones is wildly successful and has a huge budget.  I could see Disney green-lighting it.

One of KOTOR’s greatest strengths was its characters and Lucasfilm would be wise to take advantage of them.  The supporting crew were all well-rounded with their own backgrounds and motivations and the protagonist was, well, entirely dependent on you.  The best thing though was how diverse the cast was in terms of race, gender, and species.  It’s something more properties should take a note of.  That said, it wasn’t perfect and this is where the game should take a hint from Saints Row IV.  Yes, that Saints Row IV.  In Saints Row, you play as the Boss who is a character you customize completely and your crew treats you the same way regardless of gender including romancing.  During a recent replay of KOTOR, I got frustrated that the game prevented me from being able to romance Bastila as female Revan.  I’d love to see a version of the game that isn’t quite so tied to turn of the century social rules especially since we’ve now seen what Bioware can do.

darth revanI don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Star Wars continues to have a gender problem though.  We’ve discussed it ad nauseum here at Tosche Station from the lack of representation in merchandise to the painfully unequal casting announcements.  While I will always adore that KOTOR lets YOU decide what gender Revan is and even what they look like, I do thinking officially canonizing it would be a good thing but this time as a woman.  Same goes for the Exile.  John Jackson Miller’s Knights of the Old Republic comics did a pretty good job of skirting the issue of Revan’s gender but if Disney wanted to capitalize on this property and make a live action television show, they’d have to make a definitive call.  By making Revan and the Exile female in what would undoubtedly be a very popular storyline in the franchise, Disney would essentially be forced into giving them the respect that they (and the other female characters) deserve when it comes to merchandizing.  Even in this unfortunate Natasha-less, Gamora-less, and Hera-less world that we live in, I have a hard time seeing them be able to justify NOT making toys of the two main characters.  (Just imagine if they even canonized Revan as a woman of color…)

Three video games (revamped and finished for the modern world) and a TV show are really just the bare bones of the KOTOR initiative.  There’s an opportunity for tie-in novels and comics and toys galore but most importantly, it’s an opportunity to please Star Wars fans both new and existing, make strides towards putting more women in the leading roles, and play around in a part of the timeline that won’t interfere with the films at all.

Also I just really want more KOTOR.  And a TV show about Revan-the-Jedi-Master-Strategist as she defeats the Mandalorians.

Say it with me now: three video games and a TV show!

Three more LucasArts games added to the GOG library

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GOG.com wasn’t finished with the six games they added yesterday.

Joining the growing LucasArts library are three more titles. Empire at War and Rebellion are a pair of popular strategy game titles. Meanwhile, Rogue Squadron 3D was the arcade combat flight simulator enjoyed by gamers in the 90s with access to a PC or a Nintendo 64.

Head over to GOG to see the complete collection from LucasArts