Archive for January, 2016

Dear friend, please play The Witness

Posted in Game Design, Games, General News with tags on January 27, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

So, some of you may have heard me talk about this game, The Witness, over the past several years. I have not finished playing it, but I have played enough to say with certainty that it is both better than even I expected (and I considered my expectations unreasonable) and it is the single best puzzle game ever designed. It is a triumph, and as a designer myself I am so far behind I don’t know that I could ever reach it.

In a word, it is astounding. If you enjoy puzzle games, pick it up on PC or PS4. Don’t read any more about it. Don’t watch videos about it. If you get stuck (and you will get stuck) don’t look up a solution online. Just sit down, get comfortable, play it alone, and prepare yourself for a revelation.

Pick it up on Steam here.

Or get it DRM-free (and support charity in the process) here!


dunceCast Episode 34 – Stop Listening and Buy The Witness

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

After a brief hiatus, the brothers Dunce return to jabber your ears off about being more thankful and positive. Oh, and The Witness is out now (seriously go buy it), so we talk a bit about that. Enjoy! 🙂

Direct Download (mp3 32.2MB 1:10:21)

Subscribe via: FeedBurner, iTunes

The music for this week, in order of appearance:


Escape Artist by Zoe Keating

Star Trek: The Next Generation Watchlist

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

(Posted here for archival purposes)

Well, everyone and their mother has done one of these, but considering I’ve just made it through my first run through the whole series of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I felt it was probably useful to some people to know my opinions on the show. It’s definitely one of my favorite shows ever, but as we all know: not all of the episodes should be on your bucket-list. So here’s my list of the episodes to watch if you’re short on time but not TOO short on time to watch Star Trek.

Season 1

(You really can skip all of these, as Season 1 has no real good episodes at all, but here’s some picks)

Encounter at Farpoint
Skin of Evil
The Neutral Zone

Honorable Mentions

Where No One Has Gone Before
Hide And Q
The Big Goodbye

Season 2

A Matter of Honor
The Measure of a Man
Q Who

Honorable Mentions

Elementary, Dear Data
The Royale

Season 3

Deja Q
Yesterday’s Enterprise
The Offspring
Sins of The Father
Hollow Pursuits
The Best of Both Worlds (Part 1)

Honorable Mentions

Booby Trap
The Defector
A Matter of Perspective
Captain’s Holiday
The Most Toys

Season 4

The Best of Both Worlds (Part 2)
Remember Me
Data’s Day
The Drumhead
Redemption (Part 1)

Honorable Mentions

Future Imperfect
Final Mission
The Wounded
Galaxy’s Child
In Theory
I, Borg

Season 5

Redemption (Part 2)
Ensign Ro
Cause and Effect
The Next Phase
The Inner Light
Time’s Arrow (Part 1)

Honorable Mentions

The Game
The First Duty

Season 6

Time’s Arrow (Part 2)
Chain of Command (Part 1) <- My personal favorite episode
Chain of Command (Part 2)
Ship in a Bottle
Starship Mine
Frame of Mind
Second Chances

Honorable Mentions

True Q
A Fistful of Datas
The Quality of Life
Descent (Part 1)

Season 7

Lower Decks
Preemptive Strike
All Good Things…

Honorable Mentions

Descent (Part 2)
Thine Own Self


Since I’m apparently in the business of saving you some time, I feel as though it would be remiss on me not to tell you the episodes that you should outright avoid at all costs. And since when Trek gets bad, it gets REAL bad, I thought it might be fun to rank the worst stinkers in the show’s history. Starting from least bad to the worst TNG episode of all time.

10 S7E7 Dark Page

It’s got two things going for it to make it one of the worst episodes ever. One is always bad and always impossible-to-remember-how-to-spell Lwaxana Troi. And the other, is a wierd freaky-deaky delve into the telepathic consciousness. This is definitely one of the more out-there episodes, but not the worst on the list, for sure.

9 S6E20 The Chase

What’s strange is that I’ve seen this episode show up on some people’s favorite lists, but I think it’s terrible. It essentially follows a It’s a Mad Mad Mad World race-to-the-mystical-macguffin type plot, similar to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and with similarly terrible results. What’s found doesn’t live up to the hype, and ultimately feels like a forced kumbaya message. The laughably bad acting along the way, a rarity for Season 7, doesn’t help.

8 S2E22 Shades of Gray

A clip show. Think about it, an episode has to be pretty bad for a clip show to rate above it in terms of watchability. I think this episode gains some brownie points for borrowing good clips from the first two (admittedly rough) seasons. Not a great way to end Season 2 though.

7 S2E10 The Dauphin

Wesley Crusher. Love Story. Two things that almost never work on this show, combined. Nuff said.

6 S1E15 Too Short a Season

Bad bad bad acting in bad bad bad old guy makeup. Abort! Abort!

5 S7E14 Sub Rosa

About as fucking wierd as this series ever gets. Spoilers! Beverly Crusher’s family has been secretly controlled by a rape ghost for a thousand years. Yep. That’s totally canon now. And this is Season 7, so this is coming out of nowhere.

4 S1E3 Code of Honor

Too much like the original series. Racist stereotypes. Battle to the death. It’s all here but the ears, baby.

3 S1E7 Justice

Wesley Crusher finds himself in a pickle when he stumbles onto some flowers in this perfect society with a deadly secret! Yeah no, Wesley is in prime form here, by which I mean he is sucking. I wish they really would’ve let him be put to the death here. We would’ve missed out on Final Mission, but it might’ve been worth it.

2 S1E13 Angel One

Probably as offensively bad as the show ever gets. An attempt a message about transcending gender norms falls worse than flat and actually trips into sexist garbage, and besides, it’s just not a very good episode.

1 S2E1 The Child

Speaking of not a very good episode, and sexist trash. The worst episode, the crowing achievement of badness that this series has ever offered. The Child can probably be shown in feminist classes because of it’s flawless execution of the Mystical Pregnancy trope. It’s lazy, shallow writing that disrespects Deanna’s character, and more importantly–my limited time on this Earth. Although she doesn’t often shine when she’s in the starring role, this is the worst of Deanna’s run, and my pick for worst of the series.

The Schwartz Awakens

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , on January 15, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander


This article contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I would never want to be saddled with the task of writing the next Star Wars movie after Return of the Jedi. The odds are stacked against you. The movie has to remain familiar enough to be recognizably “Star Wars”, while simultaneously justifying an entire superfluous three-film sequel story arc. It needs to be reverent to the past and also build new drama and characters that audiences find worth following. It’s an insurmountable task, and no matter what you do, someone will be disappointed.

For a task such as this, you tend to want to go with safe bets, and it doesn’t get much safer than having both Lawrence Kasdan (the writer of what many consider to be the best Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back), as well as J. J. Abrams (a director who recently oversaw the successful revival of another popular star-related franchise) on board.

Unfortunately, what came out the other end often feels like just that, a safe bet. The film does very little to enrich the universe or expand on it. In my cynicism, I had sort of expected that the movie would be roughly a beat-for-beat retelling of the storyline of A New Hope. So although it was perhaps somewhat disappointing to be right, it was not surprising to see a new (and bigger) Death Star, a force gifted hero from a desert planet, and an ever-more-wretched hive of scum and villainy. It feels like a film bereft of its own ideas. Too often it seems to draw inspiration primarily from itself and not much else. It never quite devolves to the level of fan-fiction (see The Hobbit films), but it does often feel like familiar territory.

I think perhaps that familiarity is what most of the fans want. After the disaster of the prequels, getting fans back on board requires a certain amount of tiptoeing around the things they consider “sacred” about the series. The movie makes obvious attempts to distance itself from the prequels, Neither midichlorians nor complex politicking make an appearance. The Force is as mysterious as always, but unfortunately, the politics are a bit too mysterious to really track. The film tones down on both J.J. Abrams signature lens flares and George Lucas’ buzzing-whirring-chirping background CG elements (although both are still present at times). Overall, it’s a mixture between the things people enjoyed about the original and a modern sensibility. It feels like immersing yourself in a warm bubble bath: you’ve been here before, but it’s still comforting. Arguably, the movie would have been better with fewer nods to the past, but this is not the film I watched.

Ones perception of a movie is hugely shaped by their expectations going in. Because I expected the return to familiar territory, I think I was probably put in a position to appreciate the new things in the film. The cast has a strong core of three new characters: Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. The rapport and drama between them is enough on its own to sustain a new major story arc. The supporting cast is mostly good, with Po Dameron and BB-8 as standouts, even if BB-8 mostly fills in the role of R2-D2.

(I also expected to see deaths among the original cast, if at least because the actors are getting up in years enough that it’s unsure that they will even be around for the next five years while this third trilogy is completed.)

Not all of the new characters are great, of course, with “General Hitler” giving his speech to the troops with all the subtlety of a derailing train. And Snoke, a bland Palpatine stand-in who seems only to be CG because apparently Andy Serkis can’t act unless he’s covered in ping-pong balls. (As a side note, the CG characters don’t look too great either. We live in a post-Avatar world, so audiences are probably fair to expect a bit more believability from CG characters. Surprising, considering the bottomless pockets of Disney.)

Star Wars has always been a bit campy and typically sweeping in its generalization of good and evil (the series is practically Flash Gordon), so I think when The Force Awakens hits those notes, it’s not out of character. I don’t necessarily think that the movie gets a pass for “being Star Wars”, but I do have a feeling that expectations for me (and probably most people) are very different for certain types of movies. I don’t expect Star Wars to be a movie that makes me think very deeply or is encouraging of complex analysis. It’s not Mulholland Drive or Birdman, but it’s just a lot of damn fun.

I don’t see it as a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. It’s easy to pick apart, but I also find it very easy to see why people like the movie. Hell, I liked the movie. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a Star Wars fan, so I didn’t have strong feelings about how a new Star Wars movie SHOULD be. But several moments in the movie excited me about Star Wars in a way that I have not been excited in a long time. That was a refreshing feeling.

People desperately want to love Star Wars again. So much of the past 20 years or so has been righteous anger from fans towards George Lucas as he made unnecessary and distracting changes to the original films, as well as a prequel trilogy that fails to capitalize on the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker while also filling in the mysteries of the originals in the most asinine ways imaginable. People are ready, they want to believe in the Force again. They want to be excited again. They are looking for a shred of a reason to care about a new Star Wars trilogy. And I think, despite the problems that it has, people mostly got what they wanted out of The Force Awakens.

It wouldn’t have hurt to have had more of the new stuff though.

Variety MegaJam 2016

Posted in Game Design, Games, Released Games with tags , on January 12, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

This past week I participated in a game jam called the Variety MegaJam. The goal of the jam was to create 10 games in 10 days in 10 different genres. I only completed 4 games within the time limit, but I still had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I think the primary thing I learned was that I have a hard time putting down an idea before I feel like I have adequately expressed the core of the concept. And one day is not really enough time to do that most of the time.

Anyway, if you want to download the games, they are available here.

dunceCast Episode 33 – Goats of the Year 2015

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , on January 5, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

So we are perhaps a bit late to the party for holiday and end of the year (or Game of the Year) discussions, but that happens today on this very podcast! We talk about the Christmas holiday happenings. A bit of Bloodborne first impressions, as well as musing about Zelda games and their progression through the years and relation to the Souls series.

Direct Download (mp3 36.6MB 55:29)

Subscribe via: FeedBurner, iTunes

The music for this week, in order of appearance:


Hitchin’ a Ride by Green Day
Supermassive Black Hole by Muse