dunceCast Episode 71 – Too Dunce to Cast

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , on September 12, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

I decided to dig into the archives to salvage this short but forgotten episode of the dunceCast. It was recorded several months ago, but was deemed unpublishable at the time without severe editing. We were all very VERY drunk, and the audio quality is pretty sub-par, even for us, so I apologize for any tin sounding voices or the meandering nature of our conversation. Still, we do talk a bit about Matthew’s current game, Taiji, we also pontificate on pornography, and opine wildly about a Zelda game we haven’t played (and which had just come out at the time of this recording).

Direct Download (mp3 14.8MB 32:24))

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Out of Tune Piano” by MisterWives
“Shatner on the Mount” by Fall on Your Sword

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dunceCast Presents: Dissin’ on Dark Souls

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

In this special podcast, Matthew talks with Kknewkles (from the internet) about how much he (Kknewkles) is enraged by Dark Souls (a game). Is it the most overrated game ever? Is it the most oversold podcast ever? Find out here on this click-baity edition of “dunceCast Presents”

If you haven’t played Dark Souls, we do spoil some things in the game, but to be honest, you probably won’t understand half of what we’re talking about anyway.

Direct Download (mp3 38.0MB 1:23:03))

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No Music this week.

dunceCast Episode 70 – Dreamception

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on March 1, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

After taking a month-long nap, the dunces are not sure if they’re awake or dreaming. But they still convene to record a new episode of the dunceCast. And Matthew, despite being too drunk to pronounce his own name, leads Jamie through the plot of a Christopher Nolan film called INCEPTION as they discuss the details of her first viewing of the film.

Obviously there are spoilers for INCEPTION in the podcast.

Direct Download (mp3 34.2MB 1:14:37))

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“These Dreams” by Heart
“Time” from the Inception Soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer

What Have I Been Working On?

Posted in General News, My Life on February 21, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

The Past Year

About a year ago I started working on an adventure puzzle-solving game. Progress was going good on that for four or five months until I hit a major stumbling block with the design. Because of that, I decided to take a break and work on some video essays.

Sadly, because of my high standards, I had not released much in the prior year as far as videos had gone, so I decided to lower the bar in order to perhaps release more frequently. The results of this decision, a rambling loosely-edited monologue about Dark Souls’ world design, were quite disappointing to me and so I set out to do much better on the next video.

Unfortunately, for my next topic, I chose non-verbal communication in The Witness. This proved to be a challenging topic to pin down, and progress was very slow. Although I had hoped to finish the essay in one month, as of now, it is nearly 9 months later and it remains incomplete.

Around December of 2016, I went on a layoff from my day job and managed to get back to seriously working on the Witness essay. I was making some good progress, the video grew from 2 to nearly 6 minutes in about a month of work. I felt like I was getting close to being able to finally release something of quality.

But when I sat down and watched through all of what I had put together, something became very apparent: I had gotten completely lost in the weeds. I had hoped that by talking about some very low-level design aspects of the game, I could build upon that to speak about how the game’s design works at a high level. But much like quantum physics fails to explain general relativity, what I had was two different types of analysis videos that were cut together, and it felt very disjointed.

This left me with a couple options. I could either move ahead, knowing that the final video was going to be disappointing to me and spotty in its quality. Or I could cut what I had done over the last month.

I opted for the latter. (It may perhaps appear as some deleted scene extra, but it is not a proper part of the full essay anymore.)

This was, needless to say, a huge setback for me. Furthermore, I didn’t have any really great ideas on where I should be going with the essay instead. This meant I was in a major creative quandary, much like I was on the game that I had taken a break from nearly 6 months earlier…

So, I’ve decided to set aside the video essay for the time being, and instead have been working quite well on that other project, which is a game called Taiji.

So, What is Taiji?

Taiji is a puzzle-solving exploration game, focused on player freedom and discovery. As a player, you are free to explore and solve puzzles.

All of the puzzles in the game are solved using a consistent interface: a grid of tiles which may be either on or off. Inputting a solution to a puzzle in the game requires the player to put the tiles in the right configuration.

taiji_basic_gameplay.gif

An early puzzle

newsnakepuzzledesign1.gif

Another early puzzle

Although having all the puzzles be this way might seem like it would be dull, this is really just the interface to solving the puzzles. The puzzles themselves might be about all kinds of different things. The puzzles are free to increase in subtlety and complexity, but unlike a traditional adventure game, where the rules change on a whim, in Taiji the player knows from very early on that in order to solve puzzles, they need to interact with these panels.

If you want to keep up with Taiji, you can follow the development blog here.

dunceCast Episode 69 – Get it?

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

Once upon a time, in a land where chaos and insanity reigned supreme above all other human values, three dunces set out across a deserted plain following the star which signified the birth of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. When they arrived at the town of Cleveland, they were dismayed to find that it was not a star at all, but was, in fact, the flickering sign of the downtown Denny’s breakfast all-day restaurant, and the dunces saw it, and said, “aw, what the heck!” And the hash browns were “pretty good.”

In this epistle, the dunces recount their journey from awkward childhood, through awkward adolescence, and onward into awkward adulthood. Please enjoy, and like comment subscribe to my channel, and back the patreon.

Direct Download (mp3 32.8MB 1:11:49)

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Back in Time” by MattyBRaps
“Bustin'” by Neil Cicierega

dunceCast Episode 68 – Alternative dunceFacts

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

We’re back, and we’re here to berate you about those current events in the world that you’ve so desperately tried to ignore. But perhaps we bring lightheartedness to the doom and gloom of your everyday existence!

Direct Download (mp3 24.4MB 53:28)

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“American Idiot” (Green Day) by Robyn Adele Anderson
“Imperial March Theme” by John Williams

dunceCast Episode 67 – Inside or Outside, Underwater or Above?

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

This week, we discuss some more video games, INSIDE, ABZÜ

Direct Download (mp3 26.9MB 58:58)

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Shockwave” from the INSIDE Soundtrack, by Martin Stig Andersen and SØS Gunver Ryberg

“And the Earth Did Not Yet Bear a Name” from the ABZU Soundtrack, by Austin Wintory

Witness Essay Status Update

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

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(Cross-posted from Patreon)

Since I’ve been working on this Witness video essay for so long, I figured I should probably give a bit of a status update to all my backers. At the very least so nobody worries that I’m not actually working on this thing.

Thus far, the hardest and most time consuming thing has been writing and finalizing a script. I initially thought this whole video was going to be a short month-long project, and that one month has turned into 6. There have been a lot of factors leading to this essay taking so long to get done, but certainly one of them is just that it’s difficult try to properly communicate in words what The Witness does so effectively without them. Much as Richard Feynman said of attempting to lecture about physics to the layman: I more or less have to accept failure before I even begin, but proceed anyway.

Still, the video is coming along pretty well. I have 4 and a half minutes of more-or-less final video cut together already, 5 and a half minutes of finished and recorded VO that needs to have video edited to go alongside it, and also there are around 10 minutes left of words (2108 words) that are sitting in a text file that need to be polished up before they can become the rest of the VO for the video.

I have been working on the video in sections: writing the script for each section, recording the VO, and polishing the video before moving on to the next. I have around 3 of 6 sections done.

So, the progress is pretty good, and although it may seem from the numbers like I’m at the halfway mark, I feel like I’m a bit further along than that, as most of the core ideas that I want to cover are already in the script. That means rather than wracking my brain for days, it really is just a matter of polishing up what I have.

Anyway, thanks for backing, and I hope everyone enjoys the final video when it is done.

dunceCast Episode 66 -Bringing The Witness in for Questioning

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , on January 10, 2017 by Matthew VanDevander

This week, in our most devilish episode yet (haha, numerical puns), the VanDevander brothers have a few questions for Jamie after she has spent some time immersed in The Witness.

I would suggest not listening to this podcast until you have played a significant portion of The Witness, however there is a spoiler warning before we really dive in.

Direct Download (mp3 28.3MB 1:01:54)

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Tetrishead” by Zoë Keating

Why not Undertale?

Posted in Game Criticism, Game Design, Game Design Essays, Games, Rants with tags , , on December 29, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

Undertale screenshot
I’m not sure what to do about Undertale. I have gotten multiple requests to write some kind of piece or video about it. I obviously want to do things that my backers want and request sometimes, but I also am a bit torn about doing in-depth work about games that I don’t particularly like. (Way to not bury the lede.)

I suppose I should preface all of this by saying that I have not actually played Undertale and am perhaps still open to the possibility that there is some great aspect of the game that I am just not getting. I did play the demo version of the game that was released way back in 2013 ( a full two years before the final release), which consists of a somewhat less developed version of the start of the final game, and I have watched a decent chunk (the first 4-5 hours) of the release version being played by my brother.

So, I don’t offer my opinion as coming from some place of authority about the game. This is really just more of a rant. I would obviously make a further effort to play the game if I were doing a real in-depth analysis piece.

But…thoughts

I feel like, generally speaking, it isn’t my thing. The core value proposition of the game is its humor. Not really the story per-se, as the plot itself is pretty threadbare, mostly proceeding from one non-sequitur anecdote to another. And although it’s a genuinely funny and charming game, there have been lots of other genuinely funny and charming games over the years, including the game that Undertale so clearly borrows its aesthetics from: Earthbound.

Earthbound is a game I heard people raving about for so long that I decided to check it out a few years back. My conclusion there is much the same as it is with Undertale: It’s a clever game, with some genuinely effective humor and quirky characters. Earthbound in particular had some quite innovative design decisions in the genre for its time, but my overall experience with Earthbound was that once I put it down, I didn’t feel very compelled to pick it back up. The game seemed overly long, as most JRPGs are, and the humor felt stretched a bit thin.

On the plus side, Undertale appears to be a much shorter and digestible game than Earthbound, but mine and my brother’s continued thought when watching him play through it (which he says persisted through the rest of the game that he has played), was “this is fine, but is it ever going to blow my mind?”

And yes, I know about the replayability factor of the game, and how the choices that you make in combat or even by reloading earlier saves affect how characters react to you, but there’s really nothing about what’s already there that’s making me starve for more of it.

Frankly, it’s hard for me to see why anybody is that crazy about the game.

Hype

So, let’s talk about the hype for a second, because I feel like Undertale may be one of the most unfortunately over-hyped games ever. That’s a bold statement, but we’re talking about a game which was literally voted “Best. Game. Ever.” by a community of enthusiasts at GameFAQs, in the year it came out. Perhaps I shouldn’t take that award’s merit too seriously, but it’s fair to say that a lot of people really were crazy about this game.

The other question about hype in general: is hype the fault of the game? I think this question is particularly salient if, as in the case of Undertale, it’s word-of-mouth that lead to such astronomical popularity. It’s not as though Toby Fox was out promoting the game left and right. He certainly wasn’t on stage at Sony press conferences at multiple E3 like some other unfortunately over-hyped game that was released this year. I have never even seen Toby Fox’s face, and the most promotion I saw for the game pre-release was the demo, which I don’t even remember where I found.

So I think in this particular case at least, the answer is no. It’s not Undertale’s fault that it was over-hyped. Perhaps it would be much easier for me to appreciate it for what it is if it weren’t being heralded from the heavens. It is certainly a cute and funny game with clever twists on classic Dragon Quest style combat. It also makes a solid effort to offer the player a sense of freedom about how they approach situations in the story, even if many of your choices are seemingly as binary as “murder” or “not murder.”

Aesthetic

I’d like to go back and talk about the aesthetics of the game. Simply put, I find Undertale to be an ugly looking game. Apart from a few scenes which were not illustrated by the game’s sole author Toby Fox, most of the time the game looks like an early NES game. It’s a similar style to Earthbound, but it honestly looks much worse than that. Thankfully the music is catchy and usually appropriate alongside the story scenes of the game. But overall, the game is not selling itself to me on aesthetic.

Aesthetics perhaps are overvalued by myself and our culture at large, what with plastic surgery and celebrities and all, but it definitely makes an impact on how much I want to play a game.

Conclusions?

I’m not sure that I’ve really done much of use here other than rag on a game that I haven’t even played, but it’s been rolling around in my mind for a bit and there’s certainly a couple thoughts that I think are interesting to think about, in terms of what it is that one person likes about a game versus what another person dislikes. People have wildly differing tastes in the media that they consume, and that’s great. I would never want to tell someone that they are wrong if they really do think that Undertale is the best game ever. It’s just hard for me to see why they feel that way, and I hope that they can appreciate that.