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Out Now: ‘Erica – Interactive Thriller’, ‘Neon Beats’, ‘Yankai’s Diamond’, ‘Picnic Penguin’, ‘Onmyoji: The Card Game’, ‘Basketball vs Zombies’, ‘The…

Each and every day new mobile games are hitting the App Store, and so each week we put together a big old list of all the best new releases of the past seven days. Back in the day the App Store would showcase the same games for a week, and then refresh those features each Thursday. Because of that developers got into the habit of releasing their games throughout Wednesday or very early Thursday in order to hopefully get one of those coveted features spots. Nowadays the App Store refreshes constantly, so the need for everyone to release all on the same day has diminished. Still, weve kept our weekly Wednesday night format as for years thats the time people knew to check TouchArcade for the list of new games. And so without further ado please check out the full list of this weeks new games below, and let us know in the comments section which games youll be picking up!

Basketball vs Zombies (Free)

iTunes Description

A peaceful little town? I dont think so! The zombie apocalypse is here and you must defend yourself by shooting hoops with their heads and your trusty baseball bat!

Pack some weapons and have some cruel fun in this apocalyptic basketball game to defend you and your friends!

Forum Thread: Basketball vs Zombies (by Laurent Bakowski)

Choppy Waters (Free)

iTunes Description

Swimming cats! Walrus with jetpacks! Sharks with lasers!

Choppy Waters is a fresh take on an arcade classic. Swim as far as you can while dodging rocks and anchors in this extremely CHALLENGING, free to play, endless runner. How far can you make it?

Forum Thread: Choppy Waters (by Derek Briggs)

Erica Interactive Thriller (Free)

iTunes Description

Become Erica, a young woman plagued with nightmares, driven by grisly new clues to face past traumatic events. Its up to you to unearth the shocking truth.

Guide Erica through the story by using your touch to physically interact with her surroundings.

Forum Thread: Erica Interactive Thriller (by Flavourworks Ltd.)

The Forbidden Arts (Free)

iTunes Description

The Forbidden Arts is an action adventure platformer with a focus on discovery and exploration. When the hero of the game, Phoenix, seeks the counsel of a druid to make sense of his visions, she awakens the latent pyromancy within him. This begins an epic journey from Phoenixs humble beginnings as he seeks to master the element of fire.

Forum Thread: The Forbidden Arts (by Selosoft and Stingbot Games)

Gravity Song (Free)

iTunes Description

You will be able to move a ball to any direction just touching the screen. Using this ability, you need to find and pass a portal to escape from a room.

We dont want to bore you so we have added a lot of lasers, magnets and more interesting things to make a challenging game.

Forum Thread: Gravity Song (by Marc Borras Conte)

Monster-Land ($1.99)

iTunes Description

Forum Thread: Monster-Land (by BSD)

Neon Beats ($2.99)

iTunes Description

Beat your best scores in Neon Beats, a 2D platformer game with rhythm based levels!You just entered an abstract world and embody a cube moving on a white line.A relaxing and catchy music starts to play along with colourful shining neon lights all around.Your first jump, not so difficult, is followed by a swing above sharp spikes and a slide down to the depth.Deeper you progress in the levels, harder the challenges become.

Forum Thread: Neon Beats (by Plug-In Digital)

Onmyoji: The Card Game (Free)

iTunes Description

Onmyoji: The Card Game, a spinoff of Onmyoji, is a duel card mobile game. Hundreds of top painters and voice actors joined forces with the development team to create a paradise of Yokai.

Step into Shinkiro, the mysterious tower ship city, and explore the promised land of Yokai. Here you will have a taste of the Hyakubuna card game that got the Yokai into a frenzy.

Forum Thread: Onmyoji: The Card Game (by NetEase)

Picnic Penguin (Free)

iTunes Description

In Picnic Penguin you can push multiple blocks at a time and rearrange them to open the path and complete the levels. Picnic Penguin is a real treat to enjoy in your spare time! Picnic Penguin features several worlds to unlock with a huge variation of puzzles to solve while finding coins to collect all the skins on the gashapon machine.

Forum Thread: Picnic Penguin (by Neutronized)

The Pillar ($4.99)

iTunes Description

Cleverly mixing mystery an puzzle solving, the Pillar takes you deep into an faraway unknown world where you must pay attention to your surroundings in order to find the way to freedom. Exploration goes hand in hand with an open and clear mind as you try to break free from a mythical birdcage and escape.

Forum Thread: The Pillar (by Paper Bunker)

SchoolX ($4.99)

iTunes Description

*The only action RPG that that touches you!*Full 3D Real Action!*Pads Available!

Forum Thread: SchoolX (by Heehyeok Chae)

Yankais Diamond ($2.99)

iTunes Description

Yankais Diamond is a love letter to diamonds. A puzzle game with a handcrafted infinity of beautiful levels.

Forum Thread: YANKAIS DIAMOND (by Kenny Sun)

Original post:
Out Now: 'Erica - Interactive Thriller', 'Neon Beats', 'Yankai's Diamond', 'Picnic Penguin', 'Onmyoji: The Card Game', 'Basketball vs Zombies', 'The...

Review: The Pillar: Puzzle escape – Movies Games and Tech

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If you have read any of my other reviews, youll be aware that Im a great lover of most genres of games. Like all gamers the world over, I have my favourites, but Im happy to chance my hand at anything that comes my way. With limited gaming time available to me, Im always keen on anything with the tag Casual, so when my latest review title dropped in my in tray, it instantly piqued my interest.

The Pillar: Puzzle escapeby developers,Paper BunkerandEastasiasoft, and published by the latter is a casual exploration adventure puzzle game that takes place in a magical and colourful land. You must control an individual who is lost within this maze of ever growing intricate problems, where your only escape is found by solving every puzzle linked to the mysterious pillars that appear during each stage.

The gameplay takes place over 7 levels and opens with anintroquest that acts as a tutorial. Here you will learn the fundamentals of the 4 different colour-based puzzles that you will face. As you venture onwards, you will encounter more elaborate problems, and though the solutions will stare you in the face, the intricate design will test the logical part of your brain.

Ive played a lot of this genre over my long gaming career, from;RivenandMysttoCall of the Sea, and manyArtifex Mundigames. Though Im not an expert, Im comfortable enough to say that though you will be tested throughout your time with this title, the puzzles arent particularly hard to solve. You must connect a set number of coloured squares together in one continuous path. Whilst doing this you must also fill all the empty blocks. If you cannot connect the right colours, or leave a space empty, then the problem remains unsolved, and you must try again. There are 4 varieties to enjoy and solve, each getting progressively more difficult as you progress.

It wouldnt be part of the puzzle genre, if this wasnt the main concept, however, there is more to this than just the colour trials. Exploration and observing the finer details of the world you currently call home is a must. Clues are etched into the walls, and float above you in the surrounding air. Each level contains jigsaw pieces that make up a picture when completed. They are hidden around each stage, and must be found hidden between rocks and within the vegetation. Failuretocollect all the parts wont prevent you from progressing, youll simply miss out on a high score, and most of the achievements.

This genre is renowned for its beauty, and the other games that I have already mentioned look fantastic, with a great atmosphere that is created from a combination of; beautiful music, deep lore, stunning scenery and excellent audio. DoesThe Pillar: Puzzle escapematch up to its peers? In places, yes, though some elements let it down. Graphically, it is reminiscent of the vivid world ofSeaof Thieves, combined with the mysterious approach taken inMystandRiven. That is a big compliment, and a massive thumbs up for this developer, but when you closely inspect the environment, it doesnt look great, and shows signs of being dated. Now, it would be fair to argue that this genre doesnt need AAA level design, but when the developers want you to immerse yourself in the world they have created, I expect the imagery to be better polished than the final product produced here. It isnt terrible, and the bright and vivid tones match the mystical theme, I just wanted more!

The audio is very good. The sound of echoed footsteps can be heard throughout, which only serves to emphasise the sense of isolation. The piano music adds a sombre and calming atmosphere that then changes dynamic and pace as you edge close to the final obstacle of each stage. IfPaper Bunkerhad captured the brilliance of the audio within their graphics, they would have been onto something special.

There are certain games that consoles do better, and ones that the PC excels in, so would this be better played on a PC? No! The control system is smooth, accurate and works well with a controller. I had no issues with solving theproblemsand selecting objects was asimple task to achieve. The developers have done well to create a straightforward title to master, which helps to create a relaxing andlaid backgaming environment.

When a game has a small variety of puzzles to crack, and 7 levels to explore, it impacts the replay value. An easy achievement list can be unlocked in approximately 6 hours, and a full completion is achieved in around 8 to 10 hours. So, you get a fair bit of game time for your money. At $14.99 it is good value, but its lack of new puzzles once its finished, and no NG+ mode reduces the desire to return and play.

The Pillars: Puzzle escapeis attempting to stand out in a crowded and niche market, where the leaders of the pack are extremely strong titles. A much simpler approach makes this an accessible game compare to the others, but I cant ignore its graphical short comings. Had this element been spot on, it would have scored 7.5 out of 10, but it has to be marked down slightly for these issues. With this being said, do I recommend you try it? Yes. A great entry level title that can be played casually, with an excellent audio and nice graphics (if you dont look closely at the details.)Can you unlock the mysteries of the pillars and escape this magical world?

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Review: The Pillar: Puzzle escape - Movies Games and Tech

Review: Professor Lupo: Ocean – Movies Games and Tech

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Imagine waking up dazed and confused after your spaceship has crumbled around you, but also youre underwater. There are no other people around to provide any sort of reassurance. With only the cynical personality of the AI computer system and the conspicuous voice from your collar, it becomes your mission to regain the memory of who you are.

Professor Lupo: Ocean is a 2D grid-based puzzle adventure from BeautiFun. Featuring 40 challenging levels aided by an engaging story line, this game does not fall short of joyfully frustrating content.

Following the story of Professor Lupo and his horrible pets, it is a great play for any fans of the original. Combining use of the touchscreen and joystick its as if the game mimics the essence of space travel. You are granted an exciting hands on approach to puzzles which allows you to feel completely in control.

Each character you come into contact with is fully voiced and well acted, and dialogue between them is often amusing. The AI computer system (Plato) is set to help you and ensures that you learn to utilize the destruction in order to progress. The interactions between characters is charming and I definitely found myself laughing at the witty exchange from time to time.

As you progress through levels the difficulty steadily increases. Instead of just controlling water flow to avoid fatality, you have to avoid alien lifeforms and eventually complete a variety of puzzles under time constraint. After the simplicity of the first few puzzles, these more challenging tasks provided a refreshing new test. They often left me feeling as if I needed to put my switch down for a second to breathe.

Additionally, there is extensive research available to read about the alien lifeforms you come across. I found this to be one of the most engaging elements since you learn about all their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the time this information came in handy when trying to complete a particularly challenging puzzle. I was constantly going back to these documents to complete puzzles and found it hugely useful to have them on hand.

On several occasions I caught myself holding my breath whilst being chased down by unknown creatures, vigorously tapping my screen trying to unlock the next area.The fear of getting caught and killed was thrilling, yet terrifying. I did appreciate the consistent reference to the protagonist as clone so rather than feeling the guilty when dying, I felt as if another clone was reproduced as soon as one ahem Malfunctioned.

Regarding how the game actually feels whilst playing I cant help but think the controls were a little bit clunky. Since it is a grid based puzzle game, your character can only move in one of four ways. The lagging controls ended up letting the game down to a certain extent. Especially since you move at an extremely slow pace.

Upon receiving the news that your ship is flooding and you must run. The music increases to a heavy, fast beat yet clone still moves so slowly. Rather than enhancing the gameplay it just encourages frustration. You want to get tasks done and you just feel held back. More often than not, youll end up taking an extra step forward or two and end up face to face with an enemy.

As a whole Professor Lupo: Ocean is easy to pick up and can be enjoyed without prior experience with the first game. The game is well designed and the concept is engaging, however the slow movement and heavy controls let it down. I can see myself picking it up and completing a few levels at a time, but Ill admit there wasnt enough to keep me invested in the story to play for hours. Its a short game, so it is definitely one worth playing to pass the time. Id definitely recommend it for that.

Available on Steam https://store.steampowered.com/app/1292980/Professor_Lupo_Ocean/ and Nintendo Switch via eStore.

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Save on big games in the latest Nintendo eShop sale – Thumbsticks

Save up to 30% on top Switch games in the latest Nintendo eShop sale.

Were already a little tired of 2021, but Nintendo isnt done with ringing in the new year. A brand new Nintendo eShop sale in North America celebrates the flip of the calendar with savings on some top Switch titles.

Among the first-party gems are Super Mario Maker 2, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Arms, and Splatoon 2.

Third-party hits to check out include Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Immortals: Fenyx Rising. The enjoyable Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 which just received a free Sonic the Hedgehog update is also recommended for fans of puzzle games and really bright colours.

Deeper cuts include Capcoms overlooked exploratory platformer, Shinsekai Into the Depths, and The Last Campfire, an exquisite puzzle adventure from Hello Games.

The sale also features an excellent selection of indies. Our favourites are Gris, A Short Hike, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

The New Year Sale runs through to midnight on January 21, 2021. Heres the full lineup of discounted games.

Follow Thumbsticks onFlipboard, Facebook, Google News, and YouTubefor more video game sales and freebies.

Recommended for you

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Save on big games in the latest Nintendo eShop sale - Thumbsticks

Ford has been inside player Panthers have needed – Arkansas Online

SILOAM SPRINGS -- Jackson Ford is turning potential into production his senior basketball season at Siloam Springs.

Ford -- a 6-foot-6 senior post for the Panthers -- is among the team leaders on offense, scoring 11.2 points per game, shooting 58 percent from the field, and averaging 5.7 rebounds through 13 games.

It's a much needed production in the paint for Siloam Springs, which has lacked size the last several years after enjoying all-state performers in forwards Payton Henson (2009-2013) and Kyle Snavely (2014-16).

"(Ford) was a guy his sophomore year and his freshman year we knew there was potential," said Siloam Springs assistant coach Chris Cameron. "We told Jackson that quite often. "We don't have many kids your size, with your wingspan that have your touch around the basket,' so there was potential there. "

Cameron -- who's coached the Panthers in their last five games with coach Tim Stewart out because of covid-19 protocols -- said the coaching staff challenged Ford to get his body in better condition and to improve his skill set around the basket.

"To his credit, he's worked to improve in those areas," Cameron said. "He went from a potential project to a pretty good post guy. We're proud of him."

But there have been some obstacles along the way.

After contributing as a junior last season, averaging 3.4 points, Ford figured to be a bigger piece of the Panthers' puzzle in 2020-21.

Then the covid-19 pandemic hit and it wasn't especially kind to Ford, who wasn't able to go to a gym for several months.

He put on some weight during the break and has worked since then to get the extra pounds off.

"I had to put in a lot of work to get where I am now," said Ford. "Coming in I was totally out of shape and just had to keep working and working."

Ford said he weighed as much as 260 but would like to get down to a playing weight of about 240.

"So Jackson came back from the corona break with some challenges," Cameron said. "We talked about those early on. For a big guy those can be a little more challenging than a guard. But to his credit he's worked super hard. He's carried out everything we've asked of him on the court and in the weight room. We challenged Jackson on some dietary stuff and he's done a great job. He's slowly getting his body back. I still think the best is yet to come."

So far, Ford has held up physically, averaging nearly 23 minutes a game.

He's active on both ends of the floor and has even thrown down several dunks, including an alley-oop against Bentonville West on Dec. 30.

"It's a great feeling," Ford said. "Last year I didn't get many opportunities to do that. Now I get opportunities and I try to take them a lot."

Cameron said Ford has all kinds of tools at his disposal on the court.

"Jackson would probably shock a lot of people, he's an outstanding jumper," Cameron said. "So along with having touch and having a big frame, Jackson can jump really well. It's a credit to him and we've talked about this in the past, I think Jackson trap bar dead lifts 600 pounds. So he's a strong kid. He's gotten stronger over the years and that's correlated well. A guy that jumps that good with a big frame -- you don't see that very often."

Stewart, who was scheduled to return to the bench for Tuesday's game against Alma, said Ford's hands, long arms and athleticism enables him to be a dominant player in the 5A-West Conference.

"We look for him to be a vital piece of our success this season," Stewart said. "He has continued to improve and mature on and off the court. His maturity has led to him being able to handle the ups and downs that come with competitive athletics. Jackson is an emotional player, highly competitive and this year he is able to control that emotion, which has led to him being a more consistent player for us. He continues to work hard and improve and we know he is going to finish his senior campaign strong."

Ford hopes to get an opportunity to play in college somewhere. Being labeled as a big guy often feels like he has a target on his back, but he tries to use a simple approach.

"I just think about playing hard all the time," he said. "That's what I think about -- just move on to the next play and try and get a stop."

5A-West Conference basketball standings

Boys^Overall^Conf.

Team^W-L^W-L

Russellville^8-3^2-0

Alma^7-3^1-1

Greenbrier^4-6^1-1

Mountain Home^5-6^1-1

Siloam Springs^6-7^1-1

Van Buren^7-3^1-1

Vilonia^8-3^1-1

Greenwood^3-8^0-2

Jan. 5

Siloam Springs 47, Vilonia 41

Alma 68, Mountain Home 60

Greenbrier 36, Greenwood 29

Russellville 52, Van Buren 45

Jan. 8

Mountain Home 53, Siloam Springs 47 (OT)

Vilonia 70, Alma 41

Russellville 67, Greenwood 55

Van Buren 66, Greenbrier 48

Jan. 12

Alma at Siloam Springs

Greenbrier at Russellville

Greenwood at Van Buren

Mountain Home at Vilonia

Jan. 15

Siloam Springs at Greenbrier

Russellville at Alma

Van Buren at Mountain Home

Vilonia at Greenwood

Graham Thomas may be reached by email at gthomas@nwadg.com.

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Ford has been inside player Panthers have needed - Arkansas Online

Actually Chat To Your Own Digital Assistant In Acolyte, The Narrative/Puzzle Game About AI – TheGamer

Acolyte combines augmented reality and advanced language processing to create an adventure game unlike anything weve ever seen.

You talk to more robots than you probably realize. If youve ever gone to a corporate website and asked for help via text message, the first thing youll talk to is an artificial intelligence that will try to assist you. It wont, but itll try, and thats the important part.

Were still trying to make a better chat robot--one that cant be distinguished from another human being. Were not quite there yet, but we are very close, and you can find out just how disturbingly close we are to conversing with robots by playing a new game from Superstring Studios.

Superstring likes to think outside the box for their games. Headspun, Superstrings first offering, combined full-motion-video with an interesting narrative about a man recovering from a traumatic head injury, and now Acolyte does the same thing by combining advanced language processing AI with an augmented reality adventure.

In Acolyte, you play as a recently hired remote QA tester for Nanomax, a fictional company thats recently produced a new digital assistant called Acolyte. Acolyte uses a very real AI developed by the real-life company Spirit AI to talk to players using conversational language--its like talking to a person rather than a robot.

There are no predefined conversation options. What you write to Acolyte determines what it says back and where you go in the games narrative.

Related: OnlyCans Is An Erotic Indie Game Where You Thirst Over Canned Drinks

Of course, this is a game, so there's going to be a plot twist. Something strange is going on at Nanomax where there have been "unexplained firings, missing employees and a strange, highly-classified bug in the Acolyte code-base," all of which point to a corporate conspiracy that you'll have to uncover.

Or not. You could just play dress-up with Acolyte's many cosmetic options if you prefer.

Acolyte: Prologue is available now on Itch.io and Steam for free. Consider it the demo for a larger game that will release in Q1 2021. It's roughly the first third of the game, according to Superstring, although there's no mention on whether or not you'll be able to transfer over your save file once the full game comes out. Or if there even is a save file.

Currently, Acolyte: Prologue is only available for PC, but an Android and iOS release is planned for later. The game itself seems tailor-made for mobile, which explains the portrait resolutions. Since youll need to use your web browser to play the game, the PC version maintains this resolution to make it easy to alt-tab.

Source: Superstring Studio

Next: Fortnite Streamer Breaks Twitch's All-Time Concurrent Viewer Record

Yes, Razer's New Covid Face Mask Has RGB

Actually a collective of 6 hamsters piloting a human-shaped robot, Sean hails from Toronto, Canada. Passionate about gaming from a young age, those hamsters would probably have taken over the world by now if they didn't vastly prefer playing and writing about video games instead.The hamsters are so far into their long-con that they've managed to acquire a bachelor's degree from the University of Waterloo and used that to convince the fine editors at TheGamer that they can write "gud werds," when in reality they just have a very sophisticated spellchecker program installed in the robot's central processing unit.

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Actually Chat To Your Own Digital Assistant In Acolyte, The Narrative/Puzzle Game About AI - TheGamer

The Best Escape Room Game Is Coming To Steam | TheGamer – TheGamer

The Room 4: Old Sins is finally coming to Steam next month.

The Room 4: Old Sins is finally coming to Steam next month.

Fireproof Games made the announcement today on Twitter. The Steam page for The Room 4 is available here with a link to add the game to your wishlist. When the game launches on February 11, all five The Room games will finally be available.

RELATED:Rust Knocks Cyberpunk 2077 Off Top Spot In Steam's Best Sellers List

The Room is a series of 3D puzzle adventure games made for Android and iOS. Each installment in the series introduced dozens of unique puzzle boxes and logic puzzles to solve as you explore dark fantasy environments. Light on story but packed with mind-bending puzzles,the series has remained one of the most successful paid mobile games since the first The Room released on iOS in 2012.

As each of the four mobile The Room games has made its way to Steam, small adjustments and updates have been made to the game in order to adapt the touch screen controls for mouse and keyboard. For example, some puzzles require you to pinch an object with two fingers, while others require you to engage the gyro sensor on your phone by turning it around in your hands.

The Room 4: Old Sins originally launched on mobile in 2018. Since then, Fireproof games released a VR game titled The Room VR: A Dark Matter. The VR game managed to capture the essence of the mobile games masterfully. Inmy review, I noted that A Dark Matter feels like the game The Room was always meant to be.

Old Sins is a bit different than the original The Room trilogy in the way that it presents its puzzles.Instead of exploring interconnected rooms in a labyrinthine castle or across different dimensions, all of the rooms in Old Sins are located inside of a dollhouse. The player character can shrink down to explore individual rooms of the house and solve puzzles that cause things to change in other parts of the house. Each room is a puzzle, but the entire dollhouse is a puzzle in itself.

Old Sins does not yet have a price listed on Steam, but the other non-VR The Room games are all around $5 USD.

Next:The Room VR: A Dark Matter Review: Feels Like The Way It Was Always Meant To Be

Sony's CES Conference Dates A Bunch Of PS5 Games Including Returnal, Pragmata, Kena, And Ghostwire Tokyo

Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri - Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey...but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokmon is Umbreon.

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The Best Escape Room Game Is Coming To Steam | TheGamer - TheGamer

CES 2021: The Wowcube is a next-gen puzzle gaming console that I need – Critical Hit

My current feelings about the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S is that they are both great consoles, but in reality, there is nothing really special about them. Im not bashing down doors to replace my aging PS4 with a PS5, mainly because they are out of stock, but also because there is no great reason to do so right now.

Its the same thing just better and thats great, but it doesnt excite me. Nintendo has long been the console maker who has truly been groundbreaking with its release of the Wii and Switch (the Wii U was great if a little bit clunky).

All that may be about to change if the team at Wowcube are actually able to implement their idea.

This is the Wowcube, a 44 digital cube that you interact with either via tapping or twisting the cubes. The cube can be used to play games in a new and unique manner or to be used as an information hub on your desk with custom widgets to display the weather, meetings, news, etc.

At the moment there are only 19 games available for the cube in but you can play hit puzzle games like Cut the Rope and 2048

You can pre-order your own cube now for the not so tiny price of $249 with a delivery date of by the end of 2021 currently listed.

Whether the Wowcube does end up wowing us in real life is up for debate but I do love the absolute technical wizardry required to make this a reality. I truly hope that it finds a market of fans looking for a different next-gen console experience.

Last Updated: January 12, 2021

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CES 2021: The Wowcube is a next-gen puzzle gaming console that I need - Critical Hit

Daniel Kleffmann’s Blog – Collaboration games in the aftermath of COVID-19 – Gamasutra

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

Collaboration games in the aftermath of COVID-19

Thedifficult times we are enduring are unprecedented and have given us some time to reflect on the world we have built and how we interact with each other. These circumstances have placed the video game industry in a unique position to drive societal change and the way we interact with one another. In this article we will explore the role that our industry is playing during the pandemic, the opportunity that we have been given and a thought experiment regarding our role as culture agents.

(Image taken from World Health Organisation page on Corona Virus)

The pandemic vs. the game industry

The undertaken measures by governments, such as mandatory curfew and quarantine, have forced the world to stop as the virus spread across the globe. Suddenly, we found ourselves sitting at home, as if punished, thinking about what we have done. But instead of revisiting last years streak of events to ask what we could have done better, let us look into the future and exploring how we can contribute to its improvement.

Lets not underestimate our industry, which in the last decade has grown to become a cultural and economic powerhouse, and remember that we are a force to be reckoned with. Just in the 4th quarter of 2019, the gaming industry had registered a revenue of approximately 30 billion U.S. dollar, according to statista. This is about 70% of the 42.2 billion U.S. dollars box office revenue that the global TV, Video & Film reported in the whole year of 2019, according to statista. Just for reference; 2019 is the year that MARVEL released some of its most massive titles such as Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Online communities

MMOslike Fortnite, Dota2 and pioneers in this field, such as World of Warcraft, among many others, were famous for their vibrant online services and communities, even before the pandemic. But in times of quarantine, online communities have grown in numbers, revenue and become even more meaningful for those who belong. One BBC article from Bryan Lufkin on December 16th suggests, online gaming has become a social lifeline, while an article on Inverse talks about the mental health benefits of online gaming and their communities in the context of this pandemic. Even the World Health Organisation has been supporting the #PlayApartTogether initiative, which encourages gamers to stay at home and connect with others, by playing online. This has placed our online game communities in a unique position to bring us together, because they already had all mechanisms in place before the pandemic. They now have the spotlight and everyones attention. Now what?

It is important not to ignore that games can influence their users behaviour. The recently formed Ethical Games collective, for example, aims to set higher ethical standards for more responsible game design and accountable industry practices. This gamasutra article gives concise overview of their unveiling, while their website and documentation explains how games can impact their users (players). With this in mind, well be distinguishing multiplayer genres by the behaviours they reward to explore how games could help us overcome difficult circumstances.

Multiplayer game genres

Genres help us parse many forms of media into categories based on certain characteristics. The distinction this article intends to make, is not between puzzle, sport or action games. Instead, we will be distinguishing multiplayer games based on their objectives, goals and the intended interactions among players, to understand what behaviours they reward.

(Image taken from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe)

For example, lets take a look at a simple racing game, such as Mario Kart. As a multiplayer racing game, it has a very straight forward set of conditions: The goal is to finish the race track as quickly as possible, ideally leaving everyone behind. Players compete for the first place and are even given items (banana peels, koopa shells, etc.) that hinder others success.

Another type of competitive multiplayer games, are those that place teamsagainst each other, or computer bots, to win the game. Most commonly referred to as cooperative games, these can vary greatly in objectives but the goal is to work as a team to defeat the other parties in a set of tasks. Some good and distinctive examples that fit the proposed criteria of cooperative games are Dota2 (battle), Rocket League (sport) and Overcooked (miscellaneous).

Most multiplayer games thrive on competition and offer both options, such as Rocket League, Overcooked and most FPS with multiplayer mode. They can be played as a duel (one on one) or in teams, where cooperation is encouraged. Cooperative gameplay in story mode is not much different in essence, the same set of conditions apply, but instead of competing against other players, the team is competing against an artificial intelligence, which is virtually the same. However, there is a third genre of multiplayer games that can be easily distinguished from all the previously discussed examples. Well be referring to them as collaboration games.

Collaboration games

These games are also about cooperation, but unlike the two previous examples, there are no opponents that need to be defeated, thereby removing the element of competition. In collaboration games, players do not compete amongst themselves nor against artificial intelligences. Instead, players need to work together to overcome an obstacle, a circumstance or challenge, like environment hazards or puzzles, just to name some examples. If unsuccessful, everyone may lose or just remain stuck until they achieve their shared objective. With this description, we can easily distinguish multiplayer games based on the competition factor.

It is more difficult to think of examples for this category, as these games are considerably less common than competitive games. The vast majority of multiplayer games seem to be based on some sort of sport or combat, which automatically makes them competitive. Let us review some examples to confirm their existence of these elusive collaboration games and understand how they reward their players. For a uniform comparison, we will refer to their Steam pages, since it is the one platform on which they are all available:

(Image take from Biped Steam page)

2020: Biped, developed by NEXT Studios

Biped is a coop action adventure game with a strong focus on moment-to-moment collaboration between 2 players. (Steam page) Published in March of 2020 by NEXT Studios, bilibili and META Publishing, it has accumulated over 2,000 reviews on Steam earned the Very Positive descriptor.

(Image taken from Unravel Two Steam page)

2018: Unravel Two, developed by Coldwood Interactive

When you cut ties to the past, new bonds form. Build relationships with other Yarnys in local co-op or as a single player, fostering friendship and support as you journey together. (Steam page) Published in June of 2018 by Electronic Arts, it has accumulated over 600 reviews on Steam and earned the Very Positive descriptor.

(Image taken from Portal 2 Steam page)

2011: Portal 2, developed by Valve

The 'Perpetual Testing Initiative'has been expanded to allow you to design co-op puzzles for you and your friends! (Steam page) Published in April of 2011 by Valve, it has accumulated over 180 thousand reviews on Steam and earned the Overwhelmingly Positive descriptor.

More come to mind, such as Brothers A Tale of Two Sons or Ibb & Obb. All of these games adhere perfectly to the description we provided to define collaboration games. As the examples show, they can be diverse, story driven, abstract and falling anywhere between action and puzzle games. Their objectives can vary greatly, but they all share one commonality: The challenges and obstacles are designed in a way that they cannot be overcome individually. Players are required to work together in order to achieve their common goal. So we find, that there are two key characteristics that define collaboration games and make this genre of multiplayer games unique:

What collaboration games can do for us

In summary, we have seen that the video games industry has become massive and has the power to shape its communities and influence the behaviour of its users. We found that among the different kinds of multiplayer games, there is a less explored genre that we are calling collaboration games. These games can be diverse in style, but are characterised by being non-competitive and requiring collaboration among its players to make progress in the game.

As game makers we belong to this massive industry and feel the pressure to create unique products that will stand out from the rest. Most multiplayer games already reward competition, and while a certain degree of competition can be healthy, extremes are never good. Additionally,we should also think about the current circumstance of our world and how we wish to contribute. Periodically we find ourselves at the verge of new projects, where we often have the power to choose or influence what kind of games we want to make. As contributors to this influential cultural medium, it is also our responsibility to ask ourselves how we want to impact our communities through the games we make.

With vaccines in production and slowly making their way to the public, we can see the light at the end of this crisis. The time has finally come to rethink our future and the role we want our games to play in it. Now is the time to make the decisions that will shape the games and influence the way we come together, and interact with each other, in the aftermath of COVID-19.

It will be a time for reunion and could be a time for empathy and inclusiveness, instead of the usual competition-based scenario. Let us unite and explore this untapped genre of multiplayer games, intentionally rewarding non-competitive collaboration with wholesome, engaging and meaningful experiences.

Thank you for reading!

Let me know if you thought this was interesting. Especially if you are think it merits further research. I would be happy to jump on that train!

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Daniel Kleffmann's Blog - Collaboration games in the aftermath of COVID-19 - Gamasutra

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