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Resonance In Review

resonance adventure gameI can’t recall a game that has achieved better harmony between nostalgia and more modern game design. Resonance takes a decidedly old-school aesthetic and genre (the classic, pixellated point and click adventure), innovates on the interface and the gameplay and it ties it all into a well-written, well-acted, simply well-crafted story. It’s a fantastic game, and worth playing whether you even liked adventure games back in the mid 90s or not.

You play as four different characters, all of which have their secrets and motivations. Each person is involved at some level with an accident that occurs at a high-tech lab, and throughout the game, you’ll switch off amongst the group, interact with one another, and generally muddle through using their various skills.

In terms of gameplay, you have your usual inventory system (and interestingly, some items can only be carried by a specific characters), as well as a “long term memory” and “short term memory” lists, which can be used in conversations with other characters. Long-term memories offer story clues and important background details, while the short-term memory system works much like a conversation inventory – you can add almost any selectable object to the list and use it in conversations. It’s handy (and necessary), since many of the puzzles make heavy use of the conversation system in order to gain inventory items.

There’s also a very welcome “rewind” feature that mitigates the annoyance of death in the game. If your character(s) happens to perish, the game simply rewinds to the point where you made a serious mistake, and allows you to start from there.

The writing and voice acting are standout features, especially for a genre known for being on the lower end of the old production budget scale. The characters are exceptionally well written with rich back stories and compelling motivations. The overall plot is interesting and exciting, with plenty of nice little sci-fi/action nods. The voice work is outstanding, with Bastion’s Logan Cunningham starring as hardboiled detective Bennett. He sounds as if he’s in a noir film from the 40s, and loving every moment of it.

It’s also a beautiful game. In much the same way that Fez came along and made me a believer in the 8-bit palette’s ability to make a gorgeous, evocative world, Resonance takes the 16-bit mid 90s PC adventure game look and feel and does marvelous things with it. It looks a quite a bit like the grungy, lived-in Beneath a Steel Sky (a true classic in the genre, and often overlooked next to its more cartoonish LucasArts brethren), and each animation, object and even background image has been lovingly rendered. I adored the pixilated art style and sweet, fluid animation.

One detail that impressed me especially was the inclusion of a main character that is not only a woman of color – but also a doctor. There’s been a lot of noise lately about the representation of women in games – much of it negative. I can practically count the number of non-white women (who are actually written as such, I’m not talking about characters created in an editor) in prominent roles in narrative-based games on one hand. Anna is a fantastic character – as are all four of our leads – and Sarah Elmaleh expertly voices her. It’s a small touch, certainly, but Resonance deserves a nod for going against the grain in this way.

That’s not to say Resonance is flawless. A couple of throwaway characters that were clearly intended to be comic relief fall flat – especially compared to our rich, interesting (and non-stereotyped) leads. And yes, there is a bit of pixel-hunting and an obscure puzzle or three (though nothing that comes truly out of left-field), and I will admit to checking a walkthrough when I thought I had encountered a bug (I hadn’t), but nothing that spoiled my enjoyment of the game.

The adventure genre has been evolving as of late – games like Machinarium and Botanicula seem to be carrying the torch for the more “classic” style with a heavy emphasis on art style, where LA Noire showed just how adventure can be brought about on the AAA scale (and merged with GTA, but that’s a story for another day). TellTale is doing its own thing as well with the awesome (so far) Walking Dead games. Resonance is a throwback to an earlier era, but it’s a smart, elegantly polished one, full of excellent writing and a few modern niceties that keep the genre’s less pleasant quirks to a minimum. Here’s to XII studios and their achievement – I hope to hear more – much more – from them in the future.

Adventures in Playing PC Adventures

Resonance indie adventure

Everyone who knows me here knows I’m a Mac girl. While I do use a pc for work at my new job, I have my trusty OSX machine by my side, with an interface that I know and love.

The funny thing is, half of the games I’ve been playing lately are PC games. Not explicitly “PC” until very recently – I’ve been gorging on Mac versions of the latest Humble Bundle (mostly Limbo, though I’ve tried my hand at Super meat Boy as well). Yes, 2009 is calling and, it wants it’s indie explosion back. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m kinda, sorta becoming a PC gamer – and I’m running without a PC.

Finally, I got my grubby little hands on a copy of Resonance, the Beneath a Steel Sky-looking indie adventure game that I wrote about a couple of weeks back. Its PC only, and I needed to play it. So I jumped down the rabbit hole of Wine and here I am, still alive to tell the tale.

It’s not the only hoop I’ve jumped through to play something lately. I recently had a rather unsuccessful run in with a wired xbox controller (I have one that works now, thanks), and a truly epic, 3 week saga involving a scratched disc from LA Noire that took no fewer than 3 separate trips to different Gamestops across the city of San Francisco to remedy. But I’m finally on to Arson now, and hoping to actually finish this thing before the end of the summer.

But I digress. Wine is a neat little application that lets you run PC apps on your Mac without having to spring for Parallels or get into the dirty business of partitioning your drive, so it’s awesome. It takes quite a bit of setup, and it’s not perfect, but well, whatever.

I’ve finally spent some time with it, and the game is wonderful so far. I’m really loving the aesthetic – this is pure mid 90s-level point-and-click goodness. The writing is particularly strong – and the central caveat – that you play as four different characters with intertwining storylines – makes for a fun blend.

I’ll have more thoughts – and a proper review – shortly. Until then, I’ll be enjoying my excursion to 1995 and Wine-land.

Resonance Shall be My New Obsession

resonance adventure game

First Fez, now Resonance – it seems that the theme for 2012’s indie retro-styled games is in taking the aesthetic so many gamers are now tired of (oh, hey, this looks like it’s 8-bit/16-bit! My childhood!), and making it relevant all over again. With Fez, it was the magic of the utterly obscure secret world behind the puzzle-platformer veneer. With Resonance, it looks to be a genuinely interesting, well-written story.

I should preface this with saying that Fez and Resonance are very different games, similar only in their embrace of all things retro. This time around, it’s early to mid-90s point-and-click adventure games, complete with lovingly animated characters and slightly fuzzy backgrounds. It looks just like beneath a Steel Sky, if you squint a bit.

However, the demo (which is out now) belies an involved storyline with four playable characters, and a seemingly-awesome storyline. From Rock Paper Shotgun:

“The plot immediately reminded me of NBC’s ill-fated Flash Forward. There was a reason that show was ill-fated – it was rubbish. But the premise was not, and it seems not to be here too. At a certain point, explosions go off all around the world, caused by some mysterious device. You play as four different characters, whose stories run simultaneously in the build up to that moment (and maybe after it – I’ve only played the demo so far), in a combination of near-future sci-fi and just general everyday life stuff. Which is a splendid combination.”

I’ve been following this one since GDC, and I’m excited to finally get my hands on it next week (with a little help from my good friend, Parallells). It launches on Tuesday.

Bioware and Bullying

I know that getting up in arms about disrespect on the internet is like getting mad at the weather. However, I’ve been following the story about Jennifer Hepler, the Bioware writer who has endured some nasty abuse at the hands of “fans” for comments she allegedly made in an interview about the interplay between combat and story scenes. Something about it struck a chord.

If you’re new to this party, The Border House has a nice write-up of the events:

“How the whole thing appears to have started is someone posted a combination of quotes from an interview from 2006 that doesn’t exist any more, as well as quotes that were entirely made up, on the gaming sub-Reddit in order to have a rant about how Hepler is “a cancer that is poisoning BioWare.” The thread was eventually deleted because of the attacks and the false attributions. But that wasn’t enough: angry gamers took to Twitter instead, harassing both Hepler and the people who offered support, and apparently even going so far as to make harassing phone calls to her home.”

First, to the content of that interview (the actual, existing comments, not the made-up fantasy BS): apparently, Hepler admitted that “playing the games” was her least favorite part of working in the industry, and that adding a “fast-forward” option for combat portions of a game for gamers interested in story more than gameplay. She said that last comment in regards to a question about making the industry more inclusive and friendly to women.

First, I’d like to say that I respectfully disagree with her opinions, as I’m sure many gamers do. I don’t like that she basically correlates being female with not liking gameplay, and like to think that, here in 2012, men have familial responsibilities that pose a block to gaming time (as almost all of my NoHS colleagues here can tell you).

However, it takes something akin to a kindergarten education to understand that the proper course of action to reading comments you don’t agree with is to viciously attack the person who made them. I also can’t help but feel that misogyny and homophobia reared their ugly heads in this particular instance. You can read the Border House post for more on that, but it’s ugly all around.

Thankfully, Bioware has stepped up to support their employee, in a classy statement by Dr. Ray Muzyka, one of the founding Doctors of the company.

It reads:

“Jennifer is a valued, talented employee who has been with BioWare for many years and we hope will be with us for many more. It is awful that a few people have decided to make her a target for hate and threats, going so far as fabricating forum posts and attributing them to her, and singling her out for projects to which she has not contributed (i.e., Jennifer is not even a part of the Mass Effect writing team). All of us at BioWare support and will continue to support Jennifer fully, and are happy to see so many people out there are also supporting her during this difficult time.”

The company is also donating to Bullying Canada in her name.

Say what you will about Bioware (and their “sex puppet buffet”). Say what you will about the direction of the company, or about how mass Effect 3 will be the best/worst game ever. At the very least, we know they will do the right thing when one of their own is under attack.

Best of luck to Hepler.

Adventures in co-op

Long distance relationships are a difficult business. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually liked being in one (unless, of course, they weren’t all that excited by the prospect of living with their partner, which is a whole other story), but for a whole lot of people – myself included – they’re a necessary evil.

My girlfriend Teresa lives in San Francisco, and I’m here in snowy Boston. For work reasons, neither of us can up and leave to join the other on the opposite coast, so our life is full of video chat, monthly cross-country visits, and a slew of online co-op gaming.

I’ve talked about Teresa’s transition from gaming agnostic to full-on gamer on the podcast, but it never fails to fascinate me. Watching her play games – especially when she’s introduced to a new genre – sometimes feels like a behavioral science experiment. All the learned habits that you and I take for granted are absent, instead replaced by T’s unique set of logic and spatial reasoning skills (she’s a legit genius – a full medical doctor by the time she was 20, and one hell of a musician), and the everyday reasoning of a budding gamer. When she started, the controller was foreign to her. The mechanics of an FPS were alien. She started playing Bioshock and was hiding in the walls before even the first enemy encounter, unsure of what to do next.

She’s since become quite skilled – much more than me, in certain ways, as our truly epic year long run through Saints Row 2 in co-op proved. She has way better aim, and I’m a better driver. She’s a more precise player, with a better grasp of what the game wants, while I have a better sense of direction in these fake 3D spaces. In short, we complement each other well, and I swear, I think co-op gaming is good for our relationship. That is, until we start screwing up missions and getting mad at one another. Cest la vie.

We’re currently playing through Trine 2 – her very first 2D platformer (aside from one failed experiment with Mario that was completely my fault). The game is fantastic – a gorgeous, light-hearted medieval send-up with strong puzzle elements. It’s particularly well suited for co-op, since you are constantly switching among three characters, each with their own skills and powers. T is loving the puzzles and even enjoying the combat, but she’s not sold on the platforming. In fact, I don’t think she’s sold on 2D platforming at all. She finds the physics weird, the camera incomprehensible, and the bizarre need to jump around on platforms kind of dumb.

She’s only really played 3D games, so it makes perfect sense. This new, forced perspective is totally weird and limiting to her (though she doesn’t mind during her many “aha” moments when she figures out the puzzles). She didn’t grow up with Mario, so the idea that you need to jump and run and hop and bop to get around (something I’ve internalized since my budding platform queen days in 1989 or so), which is fascinating unto itself.

In any event, Trine 2 rocks for co-op, Saints Row 3 and Portal 2 are on the docket, and co-op gaming is a godsend for couples who happen to be stranded far away from one another. You’ve not quite lived until you’ve heard your significant other scream “kill the pimp, baby, KILL THE PIMP” during a particularly heated session.