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EverQuest
Erollisi Day is almost upon us!

From the EQ Forums:

 

Happy Erollisi Day! Let’s celebrate!

“Good tidings and blessings of love to you! The days of Erollisi are upon us!” – Emissary of Erollisi

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You can’t avoid it. Love is in the air, and Norrathians near and far are honoring and celebrating Erollisi Marr. Join in the festivities with favorite returning holiday-themed items, events, and achievements!

From Wednesday, February 3rd through 11:00PM PST on Wednesday, February 17th, seek out the Emissary of Erollisi and Grimble Grumblemaker in the Plane of Knowledge to embark on these special, time-limited adventures. If you haven’t completed the Erollisi Day Achievement, you can check under the “Special” tab in your in-game Achievement window to see what is needed!

Want more details on the Erollisi Day events? Read up on the holiday on Fanra’s EverQuest Wiki!

Looking to do some lovely holiday shopping? The Erollisi Day-themed Marketplace items will arrive on Friday, February 5th and will be available through Sunday, February 28th.

Go forth with heart, fair citizens of Norrath, and spend some time adventuring with those you love!

General News
What the heck is Agario?

"Have you heard of Agar.io?"

I look up from my dinner menu to see my friend Chez watching me, expectant. Chez (not his real name) is a PhD student working on his dissertation, a film historian, and a freaking College Jeopardy champion, for crying out loud. If a name like "Agar.io" comes across his dash, it's probably because it came up while he was researching stumpers for a pub quiz.

"You are the third person to mention that game to me this month," I sigh, setting my menu down.

General News
Gravity Rush Remastered Review Impressions

I really like Gravity Rush. I only dabbled lightly in its original release on the Vita in 2012, but I played enough to know it was something special - a stylish action-platformer set in a strange open world. This HD Remaster makes all the sense in the world, allowing the Playstation 4 user base to experience one of the Vita's best games.

General News
Opinion: Why Prototypes Can Be Good for the Player

Game development, for practical and personal reasons, is often shrouded behind the same veil as a magician’s parlor tricks. Whether it’s trying to protect contracts, maintaining secret drop rates to keep subscribers repeatedly running through MMO dungeons, or just plain trying to keep the magic of a game alive, the state of game development in 2016 is often one shrouded in secrecy and NDAs, from small indie development all the way up to AAA. 

Because of this, most of the people who play video games generally have no idea how games are made. And to be fair, there’s a lot that game developers may want never to see the light of day. Keeping players in the dark lets them focus on playing the game, and lowers the risk of a rough development cycle financially impacting a game’s sales. If players never learn how broken and buggy a game is during development, they’re more likely to assume it can be a flawless gem when they pick up their pre-order from Gamestop. 

But maybe it’s time to begin correcting that notion. As Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, and early access programs become more and more common in creating sustainable games, what players “know” about game development begins to collide with the realities of shipping games. Double Fine’s Kickstarter legacy has been just as much about players deciding if money is being spent “properly” as it has been creating unique and off-beat games, and Uber Entertainment wrote that any alterations from their core Kickstarter video, however important for creating a good game, were frequently met with negative responses from their backers. 

One answer to solving these problems? Letting players see and play more game prototypes.

One of the biggest misconceptions the public currently has about game development is that any given game is “planned” then executed, like the way one might script and shoot a film. This isn’t the case. As designer Liz England has explained in multiple talks, games like 2015’s Sunset Overdrive find the core nugget of fun after experimentation and prototyping, not just by sticking to its original blueprints. Games more frequently are built on the foundation of an idea, usually bolstered by piece of tech or a particular skillset a group of developers possess, before iterating their way to completion and solving challenge after challenge of having the whole dang thing make sense. 

Showcasing more prototypes is therefore a great way to teach core game communities about where games come from. During the last few PAX sessions, Supergiant Games has spent their time at the show not just showcasing Transistor and new ports of Bastion, but also showing a playable prototype of Bastion from before any of the game’s most striking elements---its art style, its voiceover, or its varied combat---were even created. 


View on YouTube

It’s just a 3D mockup with D&D creatures standing in for monsters, and the hero character only has a few key animations But it does show off some of the core technical and design theories behind Supergiant Games’ work, and separates it from the gameplay elements they discovered through the development process. 

If you’re able to dig up any prototype footage of the first Assassin’s Creed, you’re able to get a glimpse of what its developers were grappling with before it became a blockbuster science fiction saga. According to IGN, Patrice Desilets began working on the series after it was conceived as a sequel to the Prince of Persia games, but the most important DNA in its lineage was their experiments with the Anvil engine, which let them generate tall cities and large crowds. 

 


View on YouTube

Though Desilets and his team would go on to research the Hassassin and decide a more realistic approach to medieval history would be a better fit for the game then the fantasy of Prince of Persia, the game’s origins as an experiment of tech and design help us chart the path for the series’ development, and understand the technical emphasis on fluid, navigable architecture that drives how each subsequent game targets its different thematic goals. Because of this, it’s frequently useful to analyze Assassin’s Creed through the platforming through cities and crowds instead of its narrative pillars because that’s where the tech allegedly originated from.

Most recently, the team behind the Indiegogo-backed RPG Indivisible launched a free prototype for their game on PSN as a marketing tool for their crowdfunding campaign, and showed off what may be one of the most up-front transparent discussions about game development costs.. While their prototype is a little more holistic than what you’ll find from Assassin’s Creed, Bastion, or any other games out there, it’s a stepping stone for the kind of game its creators want to create. It’s a reveal that might prevent Lab Zero from making radical design shifts the way they might through a traditional development cycle, but it’s a strong showing of the notion that at the right time, a showing of your game’s prototype can be a powerful tool for your audience.

Obviously, as with all things in game design, showing off prototypes is not going to be a universal, works-for-every-game scenario. But if the industry wants to participate in game preservation and educate the customers who may decide whether games get funded or die on the vine, it’s a powerful first step. Whether they wind up preserved in a Smithsonian archive, showcased at conventions, or simply displayed at GDC talks, prototypes can be how the game industry lowers some of its walls, and helps build transparent relationships between players and developers. 

General News
5 Games with Amazing Level Editors

If you’re a gamer, it’s likely that you’ve played custom levels. But have you ever tried making one yourself? Making custom content is a challenge, especially for the uninitiated. For puzzle games, levels should be tricky but not too convoluted. For RPGs, you need to spawn enough enemy waves to get the player’s pulse up, but not make them endure endless grinds. It’s all about balance. Most games give players the option to thumbs-up or thumbs-down custom levels, so it’s a little scary to put yourself out there, only to see your ratings plummet. You knew shouldn’t have placed so many spike traps, dangit!


Though you may risk sleepless nights and self-esteem, making your own maps can be very rewarding. And if you’re harboring a secret dream to work as a game designer someday, it’s a good way to expand your portfolio. So we’ve compiled a list of games that have cool editing software for customization. Hopefully this will provide some inspiration for those of you who have wanted to create a new map or level, but haven’t been able to take the plunge. Who knows? Maybe the next Defense of the Ancients is inside you right now, yearning to be free.

General News
January Game Soundtrack Round-Up

Greetings, readers! Nate Ewert-Krocker here, to round up the best game soundtracks from the past thirty days. January’s typically a quiet month for game releases, a lull after the flood of holiday titles, but it seems as though there may no longer be a slow season for games. There have been plenty of games released this month with great jams--here’s a sampling!

At the beginning of the month, the enigmatic Pony Island appeared on our collective radar without any forewarning. Our Raphael Bennett seemed to think it was an artifact worth considering, and the soundtrack, by Jonah Senzel, is worth a listen as well. It’s got a lo-fi chiptune sound that fits the game’s glitchy aesthetic; for my money, it seems like Senzel’s taking some cues from Danny Baranowsky’s soundtrack to Super Meat Boy. Here’s one of the game’s early tracks, “The Machine."

The whole album is up on Senzel’s Bandcamp, and it’s generously pay-what-you-want!

Weirdly, the new Amplitude doesn’t yet have a publicly available OST, despite it being one of the (relatively pricey) rewards for its Kickstarter! According to this Reddit AMA that the devs at Harmonix held, it’s… just not a thing that’s happening yet? Maybe it will be in the future? This seems like something of a missed opportunity, as the central conceit of this new Amplitude is a “campaign” that plays like a concept album. Having played through that campaign and enjoyed it, I’m rather disappointed that I can’t buy the album in order to better learn the songs! Watch this space, I guess. 

Probably the most exciting soundtrack released this month is scntfc’s ominous score for Oxenfree, which I reviewed a couple weeks back. Oxenfree’s soundtrack is low-key, ambient electronica with malevolent undercurrents. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the game’s ghost story. This track, “Beacon Beach,” is a good example of scntfc’s chill sound.

If you’re looking for something a little more sinister, head on over to scntfc’s Bandcamp page and listen to the rest of the album. (I’m a big fan of “Against the Waves” and “Argonaut Atalanta.”) The album’s up on Spotify as well! 

I hadn’t heard anything about Punch Club until someone on Twitter pointed me to its bizarre PR strategy: the devs only launched the game on Steam once a collective of Twitch viewers had beaten it (in the manner of “Twitch plays Pokemon”). I guess their unorthodox word-of-mouth promotion worked, given how I heard about it! The game’s soundtrack is only a few tracks long, but it’s worth a listen nonetheless: it channels the NES sound pretty effectively, which works well with the game’s pixelated aesthetic.

Here’s the menu theme:


View on YouTube

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak came out on the 20th, and its score, by Homeworld series composer Paul Ruskay, is available on Steam! Unfortunately, it’s only available as DLC for the game, so… hooray for Homeworld fans! A little quick Googling will find you rips of the whole soundtrack on YouTube to see if it’s your jam, but again, you won’t be able to purchase it above-board unless you already own the game, in which case you’ve probably sampled it plenty. It’s good! A nice, cinematic score that appropriately conjures the game’s desert environs.  

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear the soundtrack to Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, because it’s composed by none other than Yoko Shimomura, one of the true greats (she’s responsible for the scores to Kingdom Hearts, Legend of Mana, and bloody Street Fighter II, just to name a handful). Shimomura’s music can be pulse-pounding and epic (see her scores for Parasite Eve or the aforementioned Legend of Mana), but she has a special talent for bouncy, festive tunes that are unapologetically joyful, and she’s always brought that skill to the table when composing for the Mushroom Kingdom. Here, take a listen to “Papercraft Battle” from the new Mario & Luigi and you’ll see what I mean:


View on YouTube

This sort of sound has always fit Mario to a T, especially with the springy, kinetic battle systems of the Mario & Luigi games. Frustratingly, there’s no official release for this soundtrack, and the other games in the series haven’t had official releases either (there was a compilation CD offered a couple years ago as a Club Nintendo prize… in Japan, of course). Here’s a YouTube playlist, at least, so you can sample the other excellent battle tunes and grow your appreciation of Shimomura’s work in anticipation of Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV, which she’s composing.

Speaking of Square Enix, Final Fantasy Explorers hit just a few days ago, and I wrote up my early impressions here--though I didn’t mention anything about the music, which is pretty neat! It’s arranged (and mostly composed) by Tsuyoshi Sekito, who’s best known to me as the composer for the most excellent Brave Fencer Musashi. The best thing about the FFEX soundtrack is the preponderance of boss themes--this one, “Magical Beast of the Wind,” might be my favorite of the bunch:


View on YouTube

Unfortunately, there’s no Western release for the OST yet. You can import it, if you’re dedicated, but it might be worth it to wait a while--Square Enix is better than most at releasing their soundtracks Stateside, and the FFEX OST is out on the Japanese iTunes store. While you’re waiting, you could hit up this YouTube playlist to sample some tracks!

Lastly, and probably leastly, I see that 3D Realms’ Bombshell is slated for release at the end of this month. Everything about the game screams “Duke Nukem: But With Girl,” and so I’m inclined not to pay it any further attention, but 3D Realms put this “Official Soundtrack Theme” on YouTube, and every time I watch it, it gets better:


View on YouTube

Yes, that’s a note popping up over the video exhorting you to give it a “Thumbs-Up for Epic Guitar Solo!” If this video and those shredding guitars are any indication, then Bombshell is certainly--100%--going to be a videogame. “Thumbs-Up” indeed.

And that’s it for this month! There have been a handful of other games released in January whose soundtracks either haven’t manifested yet or aren’t going to (That Dragon, Cancer; Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India; The Deadly Tower of Monsters), so I’ll keep an eye out for those in the months to come and keep you updated. There’s plenty to look forward to in February (Firewatch! Street Fighter V! Fire Emblem Fates!), so gear up--it’s going to be a great year for game music. Happy listening!

EverQuest
Another Double Experience Weekend!

In a move to make up for the on again, off again double experience weekend at  the beginning of the year, DBGs announced this morning that they'll end the month with a Double Experience Weekend. 

From the Everquest Forums:

"Well, Norrathians, it has been quite a month, both in and out of game, and we honor your steadfast commitment to your adventures. To end the month strong, this weekend will be a Double Experience Weekend for all players!

From 12:00PM PST (Noon) on Friday, January 29, 2016 through 12:00PM PST (Noon) on Monday, February 1, 2016, all servers (yes, including Ragefire, Lockjaw, and Phinigel) will have double experience!

Take some time and end January stronger than ever! We’ll see you in Norrath."