The Final GameCell of 2014

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On Friday, our GameCell got together for the last time of the year. It was a smaller core crew. We talked about what was working, what wasn’t and what we want next year to look like. Then we played some of the best games of the year.

What’s your favorite game we’ve played in GameCell this Year?

Tim said his was Screencheat. Tyler said his was Speedrunners. Alex Carter and Vince said Lethal League. Greg and Seth agreed. Everybody was excited when they discovered Lethal League was on the playlist for the evening.

What’s your greatest highlight of GameCell this year besides Games?

One guy after another emphasized how much he loved the value of connecting with one another and the fun of learning about one another. It was like a resounding chorus of appreciation and reflecting on laughter-induced memories.

GameCell is ultimately about maturity – what’s maturity to you?

First instincts went straight for comparisons to immaturity and how so many things that say they’re mature are actually anything but (look at “M” ratings on games). Then we redirected: “What’s a positive definition of maturity?” Answers ranged from “being able to filter the world around you” to “seeing others as more important than yourself. Then we looked at a few scriptures.

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  John 15:5

In this one, maturity is bearing fruit. Vince pointed out that “mature” in Spanish is maduro, which describes when you can pull fruit from a tree.

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. - Colossians 4:12

Here, Epaphras exemplifies maturity by “wrestling in prayer” for others.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. - 2 Tim 2:22 

Paul tells Timothy to run away from immature lusts and run hard after love, faithfulness, and peace. (Pursue maturity)

May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. -Romans 15:5

In short, God will help to mature you as you walk with him.

Then we discussed: which one of these do you relate to the most?

What do you want to improve with GameCell in 2015?

Alex Carter said he wanted more time. One hour of talking and two hour of games just makes him want more. We discussed other activities for relationship building like our house church on Saturday nights. We made sure everybody was invited to that.

Tim said food. He wanted more snacks and a consistency of sustenance. We emphasized how we’ve recently dedicated a focused budget on snacks and how we had lots of stuff for tonight. And we also talked about how our house church on Saturdays starts with dinner. After our time together, we had plenty of chips left over even though the cookies were all gone. So we might be doing better at this.

Tyler said focus. He and the rest of us struggle to keep conversations and time together super focused especially since a larger crew means that we don’t have as much of a locked-in focus on what we’re talking about. We discussed how having our new-found core group emphasizes that our veterans can be a huge agent for focus in conversations and play. Still, it leaves room for a greater emphasis on themes and clarifying our itinerary each night.

Game time started like a game show – with lots of choices and teamwork:

We turned to a game of “What Does Everybody Want To Play?” It started with our first question: PS3 or Steam? Four for Steam, none for PS3. Next question: Pick from a small curated selection (like normal) or “GameCell Tonight”, or the unfettered “GameCell Basement List.” Again it was unanimous: GameCell Tonight. The list was as follows:

  • Fotonica
  • Lethal League
  • Mercenary Kings
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • Never Alone
  • Transistor

After describing a few of the games and having everybody pick what we played, the first choice was Never Alone. Then the moment that mattered: who plays? You could only pick somebody besides yourself. Whoever got the most votes played. Vince was selected.  Since Never Alone is a co-op game, he got to pick who played with him. He chose Greg. Vince became Nuna. Greg became the Fox.

Never Alone – B+ (Two Player Co-op)

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Vince ran from a hungry polar bear as a little girl. Before long, he was cornered. Greg to the rescue! Greg jumped in as a little fox and tried to fight the polar bear. He died. Then he tried again but ran from the bear. Success! The two worked together as we watched and solved a number of simple puzzles and platforming challenges. We watched three of the cultural insight videos since Never Alone invites players into the world and culture of the Inupiat people. It was a very pleasant experience for the most part, but some of the segments were frustrating as they required that both players figured out how to not-die.

We switched games. The group picked Shadow of Mordor. And it was close between Tim, Alex, and Seth. Alex got the extra vote.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – B+ (Single Player Watch)

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This is Lord of the Rings. The game starts like one of the movies. We watched as we learned about our hero, Tyrion, and the demise of his family. The game trained us how to play in the midst of that back-story. Alex took to it like a champ. He was slaying orcs in no time. Just as he was learning about his Wraith powers, the open world laid itself before him. We got our first glimpse of the nemesis system and how each orc captain had his own hierarchy and personality. Right around the time that Alex unlocked his first new ability, we were at our half-hour mark. It’s a good thing because when the story stopped, it became less interesting as non-players. It’s a great game for the first half hour in a group, but beyond that, it becomes more of a private affair.

Time to switch. The group picked Fotonica. I got picked first. Then we passed the controller after two runs each.

Fotonica – A+ (Single Player Pass-N-Play)

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Hold any button to run. Let go to jump. Sounds easy, right? The game gets really really fast and then it turns psychedelic. Difficult gaps become logistics challenges to keep your speed up and press the button at just the right times. Almost all of of us failed the first level before Alex got the controller and blew the level out of the park. Then we saw the game’s artwork really come alive in the second level. All of this was a little too intense for Vince. And it definitely turned-up the adrenaline level for the rest of us even when we were just watching. The closest thing you can compare it to is the first-person speed and momentum of A Story About My Uncle mixed with the auto-running nature of Temple Run.

10:00pm loomed on the horizon. Tim, Tyler, and Vince had to head out. But we had to end the year on what has become our favorite game of the year: Lethal League.

Lethal League – A+ (Four Player Multiplayer)

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Alex, Greg, Seth, and I discovered a new character unlocked in a recent update, Dice. We figured out his new special attack and started to really understand the nuances of some of the other characters’ harder-to-understand special attacks. We only had time for three rounds. But they were glorious. Alex Carter came in first at the end as his favorite character, Sonata. But things were close. And I think they’ll continue to be close as we return to this amazing four-player arena game of smashing a deathball into one another.

It’s been a great year, GameCell. Love you guys.

Review Roundup: Borderland Tales in Wasteland 2 feel like This War of Mine

In this episode of Love Subverts, we abstractly pick out pieces from two videogame reviews and an article about simulating war as Jesus.

This War of Mine: WWJD in the Midst of Hell on Earth?

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I set out to discover if we could survive a wartime siege as Jesus might.

Winter rages on. I assigned Arica to collect snow outside while I considered burning our books for fuel. We need to burn something to melt the snow into drinking water. The value of lumber is increasing. Food is getting harder to come by. And one of our traps stopped working. To top everything else off, snow and military action are closing down certain parts of town, making scavenging even more difficult.

Read This War of Mine: WWJD in the Midst of Hell on Earth? on Gamechurch.

Handsome, Grizzled Old Bastard – Wasteland 2 Review

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This game made me love it for seventy six hours. It made me want to grow a beard and think about stockpiling ammunition.

Fifty-two hours in, I arrived at the second half of the game. I felt by that point like I started to get how the game worked. It was still hard and full of social manipulations. And it made me into even more of a shrewd bastard. In the end, I came out on top and logged-off at seventy-six hours feeling like I earned it.

Read Handsome, Grizzled Old Bastard – Wasteland 2 Review on Plus10Damage.

Tales From The Borderlands: Zer0 Sum Review

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My wife, Jess, sorta liked Tales from the Borderlands’ first episode. That “sorta” is a big deal for her. The GameCell dudes loved it.

“I can confidently tell Greg that he at least gets a gun in the game. And one bullet. There you go, Greg! A gun. Yes, I know. This probably still won’t make you happy. But, think about this: a single bullet creates an enormous tension.

Read the Tales From The Borderlands: Zer0 Sum Review on plus10damage.com.

GameCell Log #35 – Terrifying Looks from the Borderland SpeedRunners

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Greg, Jason, Josh, and Tyler crammed into the living room just as Vince showed up with snacks. Soon, Richie, Michael, and Alex Hively filled up our living room to almost full size. When Alex Carter showed up later, we were one person away from having to pull out more chairs. Seems like ten of us is a solid number.

What’s your warmest Christmas Memory?

We all shared stories of getting some awesome presents or those around us getting awesome presents that we were captivated by. But unfortunately, most of us didn’t think too much about our families, despite them being there. We explored how holidays are about how we relate to our families. And it’s often our families where we get our identity. I was trying to lead the conversation to a point about families, but the next question seemed (at first glance) like a detour:

Where do you see yourself in relationship to God?

God invites us to see ourselves as his heirs and family through Jesus. It’s not a biological thing. It’s a related thing. Like how you relate to your family during Christmas. God wants to be somebody you want to hang out with around Christmas. And he likes giving us presents. It’s what this verse in John’s intro is talking about:

He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten.
-John 1:11-12 (MSG)

It’s that child-of-God selves that we focused. Where do you get your identity from? God wants us to see ourselves as his children. But we’ve got to actually take his invitation. It’s somewhere around here that I talked about being an heir and how the original greek was the word “huios” which was about how God wants to give us all of himself. But I was wrong. The word for “child” here is “teknon,” which just means “the kids.” And I think this actually takes a lot of the pressure off in this application.

What do you think about being “God’s kids?”

Does that make Christmas seem more interesting?

God likes to give his kids good gifts.

~ ~ ~

Game time.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 (A-)

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Alex Carter may have been late, but that didn’t stop our crew from voting him to be the first to play. He went straight to the Borderlands where we got to watch, listen, and learn about how this world worked when somebody wasn’t constantly pulling a trigger. Since this is a Telltale game, the movie-like quality made it perfect for our large crew. The setup and the decisions throughout the game didn’t always make it easy to talk about mature engagement. But I think it’s the most approachable Telltale game to come out in the past three or four years. Our crew could have probably sat through the whole game together if we had the time.

Whoa Dave (D-)

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Our crew gave Alex Hively the second selection vote, and he said he wanted an action game, so we went with the arcade-action game Whoa Dave. Unfortunately the over-too-soon old-school-arcade gameplay pushed Mr. Hively over the top and made him want to play anything else. And I don’t think anybody in our crew minded him changing games. They didn’t find it anymore fun to watch than Alex found it trying to play. Disappointing.

Speedrunners (A+)

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Speedrunners always goes over well in a crowd. It just doesn’t always run well. The game crashed at least five times while we were trying to play. And I understand since it’s still in beta (Steam Early Access). But none of that stopped our crew from loving the same-screen racing and trying to jump over each other’s head. This was our second time playing the game. And I’m sure it’s going to be a classic staple.

The Swapper (B+)

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A lot of our crew filtered out for various reasons and responsibilities. Greg stayed and picked The Swapper because I told him that it would be a more cerebral game with some crazy mechanics. Soon he found the swapper gun, which let him create up to four copies of himself. Then he found the battery that let him swap into his copies. Greg, Vince, and the Alexes found it as unsettling as I did. But I think everybody took to the challenging puzzles. Before we left, Greg discovered how to “fly” by making copies of himself in the air and swapping into them while previous copies crunched hard on the floor.

~ ~ ~

Then we closed up shop and said goodnight just before we pondered what it might be like if we talked after we played games next time. Something to consider!

Recap: Never Alone Review – Inupiaq Study Bible

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Never Alone impressed my dad. We dove into this people group’s history, and endured the frustrating gameplay to find something beautiful underneath.

I think Never Alone functions so well because even if it preaches at you, it does so through your own lens of self-guided curiosity about actual, real people. And that’s what I want you to walk away with: a deeper curiosity for a spiritual tradition different from your own.

Read the Never Alone Review on plus10damage.com.

GameChurch Space Monsters

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On the GameChurch podcast this week, hosts Rich and Drew shared an Audio Documentary about six of us friends, Neptune’s Pride, and utter betrayal. If you think you might like a radio episode of conquistador Star Trek, this is for you.

This is a collection of captain’s logs from six friends trying to dominate the universe at the expense of relationships, both in and out of game. It’s all fun and games, until someone loses their friend, their faith in humanity, or their grip on real life.

Listen on GameChurch.com or find the GameChurch Podcast on your Podcast app.

WHY WE LOVE Deus Ex – Nonlethal Solutions to Violent Worlds

Deus Ex is commonly revered as the best PC game that came out in the year 2000. But many forget how powerful the game’s innovations really were. Most famously, the game provided at least than three ways to solve any problem. In this episode, we looked at how the game empowered players to preserve the lives of their enemies.

WHY WE LOVE Screencheat – Subverted Rulesets

Screencheat might not be at the top of my “loves” as you’ll see in my latest review. But I still felt that it was worth recording some gameplay and showing what makes it unique. Enjoy.

GameCell – Curiosity Night

In which, we assemble the gamecell and explore the value of spiritual curiosity. And play curious games.

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Prepping for Curiosity

I finished prepping the playlist just before Tim and Tyler showed up early to help me make everything would run well on Steam Big Screen. Mostly, this meant trying out Michael Brough’s Kompendium for the first time and finding out if it’s playable, makes people throw-up, and has a significant amount of 2-player competitive fun as they both try to figure out how to play each competitive minigame. Think Mario Party on a glitched-out Commodore 64. There. You got it! Unfortunately nobody picked Kompendium to play. But that didn’t stop our evening from being delightfully weird.

Jason sat on the porch for 20 minutes in the cold because he forgot to try the doorbell. When we came back up stairs, he realized it was safe to come in. Greg, and Seth were with him by this point. Then a wild Pat Gann appeared! With doughnuts! And Brian came with hot cheese curls. And Vince came with Strawberries and chocolate-covered almonds! Snacks! Our new guy (and special guest for the evening), Austin, joined us. Richie came in around the time Alex Hively did. And then Dakota Williams made it in just before I started handing out late slips. Alex Carter was over an hour late. So we all made him wear the “late hat.” (No, not really. But he did miss out on the good doughnuts.)

We got everybody acquainted and then launched into the first question:

Who’s your favorite musical artist (or band)?

I was impressed by how everybody seemed to give their whole attention as each dude shared their answer. Unsurprisingly, a lot of answers were for game soundtrack composers. Austin and Seth didn’t have answers of their own so we gave them Tori Amos and Pearl Jam respectively. I was proud of how many questions each guys asked when somebody shared about their favorite. Then I asked a semi-obvious question, “Whats your reaction to others’ musical tastes? Does it make you curious?” Then I explained that one’s curiosity for others might be linked to their curiosity for spiritual things.

Second question:

From 1 to 5, what’s your current curiosity for God and spiritual things?

I told them they didn’t have to answer out loud. But a number of them wanted to. I got a lot of 4/5s and only one 1/5. Still not sure I understood why he said that number because he also said he was really interested in Jesus and believed in him. Anyway, then we recapped about the last two GameCell get-togethers: how we talked about how God is Father who Loves Us. And How Forgiveness is Central to life.

Then I busted out one of my all-time fave bible verse (Matthew 6:33), where Jesus says:

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

A lot of guys seemed to think I was talking about floating in the “heavens.” So I tried to bring it back down to earth.

What I should have said was this: “The Kingdom of God is Jesus’ desired movement on the earth in the here and now. It’s the desires of God in the world around us. It’s God’s dreams for us and what he desires.”

Instead, I stumbled over controlling the attention of fourteen young men and talking about the worlds Eternal Life and “Aeon Zoe,” which didn’t appear to make any sense to them. So I tried to bring it back around with question number three:

How curious are you about games?

“Does that curiosity translate to your curiosity for other things?” I was a little surprised to find that a lot of our guys don’t actively pursue news about games. But I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that most of our dudes preferred to find out about games from YouTube folks like PewDiePie and Markiplier. Then I resolved on a final invitation: “How curious are you about videogames? Maybe you need to be more curious? Get curious. More curious than a cat. It won’t kill you.”

Then Pat Gann prayed us out. And we transitioned from my livingroom to the basement. Where the games were.

The GameCell playlist for the evening:

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Talos Principle: Public Test (B+)

Austin got curious about the Talos Principle because its cover shows a humanoid robot petting a kitten. The actual game, however, was much more like Portal set in a place that looks more like Skyrim. It involved Austin figuring out how to use advanced technology to solve traversal puzzles. Then, suddenly, a voice started talking to him. It said, “I made you from dust,” and “My name is ELOHIM.” Further exploration made it even more odd. But it was very clear that this game rewarded curiosity.

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It was great for a group. But no game would be perfectly easy to keep the attention of fourteen guys. So I decided to change the pace a bit before getting to another game.

Wanna go on a GameChurch Mission Trip to PAX East?

Without explanation, we watched this video.

Then I asked, “How much does this interest you?” In short, this is an opportunity to go to Boston to tell a bunch of people “Jesus loves you,” and then give them free stuff. This was all news to my dudes. And I really wanted to gauge interest. Two guys said they were into it. So for them? Here’s more information: http://gamechurch.com/missions. And here’s more about PAX East.

Next, we were about to feed Pat Gann’s curiosity about A Bird Story. But he had to go. And he relinquished his game-choosing-power to Seth. Seth picked Towerfall Ascension.

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Towerfall Ascension (A+)

I’m pretty sure Towerfall is the crown champion of single-screen multiplayer indie games. It might be a fierce competition between it, Samurai Gunn, and Lethal League.

We went for a good five rounds of Headhunters. I felt a little bad for beating everybody in the end. A little bit.

Most of our guys headed out for the night. Because of life, work, responsibility and such. But those who stuck around really wanted to try FARG.

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FARG (A-)

FARG is a same-screen multiplayer arena game very similar to Towerfall, but with a lot more chaotic color and guns. It’s early. But oh man was it wild and fun! Looking forward to seeing the final game when all the edges and balancing is in place.

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Bearzerkers (A-)

We finished the night with Bearzerkers.

Jason and Seth really wanted to play Bearzerkers. So we went over our 10pm closing time a bit and tried out the free alpha. In short, everybody’s an armadillo running from a raging panda. Your goal is to screw over other players by getting ahead of them and walling-them-off into a dead end so the bear eats them and not you. Alex Hively didn’t like getting trapped by the other armadillos.

Great night. Much curiosity!

WHY WE LOVE A Bird Story – A Videogame About Love and Joy

Welcome to a world where beauty goes beyond pixel-deep. You’re in for a treat. Enjoy.

WHY WE LOVE Roguelight – Light The Darkness

We dive into the chunky abyss with nothing but a bow and illuminating arrows as Samus Everdeen (not her real name).