Epic Rabbi Battle: Why We Love The Shivah

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We love The Shivah’s epic rabbi battle.

We spoil the game’s story a bit by talking about the rabbi battle. And that’s okay. Because if you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t get the game. That is, unless you love rabbis or point-and-click adventures.

How would you like your rabbi videogame?

The game opens with Rabbi Russel Stone’s final sermon before he gives up. He’s convinced God is out to get him. Then out of nowhere he finds out one of his former congregants died and left him a lot of money. This sparks our rabbinic detective story.

A couple hours later (or just over an hour if you’re a smart rabbi-detective), Rabbi Stone finds himself in a dangerous battle with the most epic of NYC rabbis. And he’s got a serious rabbi beard.

Play your cards right and the great rabbi battle commences. Let’s just say there’s a gun, somebody else’s live at stake, and a number of dialogue choices. It’s all about strategic rabbi-ness. Pick the right option at the right time that’s the most rabbi-like, and you might get a better ending than the one where you die.

The Shivah’s rabbi battle is a relative evolution of Monkey Island’s insult swordfighting. Of which you can play online for free if you’ve never done so before.

If you learned to effectively think like a rabbi, you can be the last rabbi standing.

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Have you ever wanted to think like a rabbi? 

Have you? Most Christians and non-Jews don’t have “rabbi” in their top-ten career choices. From a Messianic Jewish perspective, we can’t help but feel like Jesus reinvented rabbi-dom and most of his followers missed the train. Seriously. He was one of the only two first-century rabbi to get called a “Great Rabbi” (rabboni). So maybe thinking like a rabbi is a good thing?

Also, have you ever talked to a rabbi? Did you notice that almost everything out of their mouth is a question?  Did it make you wonder why they ask so many questions?

At the beginning of The Shivah, we get a black screen with this text:

A goy came up to Rabbi Moishe to ask, “Why do rabbis always answer with a question?”
To which Rabbi Moishe replied, “Why Not?”

Pay attention. This part is important. Rabbis always answer with a question.

Why do you think that is?

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Do you think rabbinic questioning could help you?

The Shivah turned rabbinic questioning a fun mechanic. Maybe it also reflects a core spiritual value?

Maybe it’s best to get people to think about their own questions more than it is to give answers? Have you ever looked at how Jesus seems to answer questions with questions? Can you think of many times where he answered anybody without offering a question? And for those he answered straight-up, did he seem to have a special relationship with those people?

How do you respond when people ask you things? Do you respond with answers or with questions?

‘Bad Christian Games’ Group Chat, Ken Levine’s Downsizing, and Jazzpunking

In which we list some fun discussions we’re having elsewhere: 

Why are Christian Games Bad? A Dialogue

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A bunch of us games journos had a chat with christian game devs about the suckiness of Christian games or examples to shift that notion. It’s worth checking out. Also, it reminds me that I need to go play Adam’s Venture

Sidenote: If Bible Chronicles was literally about Lot Fleeing Sodom with his daughters, I really wonder if the world would be ready for what happened next in that story. All I’ve got to say is that it would be awkward to play as Lot’s daughters. Just sayin…

Read the discussion on Theology Gaming

 

Discussing Ken Levine’s Downsizing (and more!)

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“Bioshock Mastermind,” Ken Levine shut shrunk his team of over a hundred down to just fifteen. As a lot of big “successful” game developers seem to be downsizing, Zach and I took to the Podcast airwaves to discuss these events and what they mean to the future of games.

Listen on Theology Gaming
or Subscribe on iTunes; episode titled “TG Sessions #3 – Ken Levine Closes Companies (and Other Miscellany)”

 

Jazzpunk: A Playful Response to Heavy Stuff

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Jazzpunk is a crazy game that reminded me that it’s okay to skip religious debates and go laugh at fart jokes instead:

It’s important to contrast the frustrations of life with the things that bring joy. After tragedy, sometimes laughter can provide a welcome respite. And for every high-pressure responsibility of adulthood, it’s important to smile and have fun. Perhaps paint lipstick all over your face and go kiss random strangers.

Read on GameChurch

 

Encore Gamecell

In which, we played GameCell’s greatest hits and wonder why Jesus got angry before he raised his buddy from the dead:

Skullgirls Encore

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We popped open Skullgirls Encore. Alex and Tim ate it right up. They loved the colorful intensity of each match: heads falling off and used for soccer practice while another character shoots bombs out of an umbrella. I liked the wacky new character who has a snake-squid going through her head. Vince took to it quickly. Brian didn’t seem too into it, saying he’s not into button-mashers. I tried to explain how it was much more than that, but what came out of my mouth sounded more like diarrhea.

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Lazarus’ Tomb

Since I need to work on my transitions, the next thing out of my mouth was: “So what comes to mind when you hear the name, Lazarus?”

Alex’s answer may have been my favorite: “The project they used to bring Shepherd back from the dead in Mass Effect 2.”

“So how familiar are you with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead?”

Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Why do you think Jesus got so angry?

In short, Jesus got really angry. Then he cried, got angry some more, and then ordered people to remove the stone that kept the smell in Lazarus’ tomb. Instead of a smell, Lazarus came out.

I asked, “And how do you think people responded to this?” Tim replied, “I’d imagine they were pretty impressed.” “Some were. Others decided it was time to kill Jesus and Lazarus. Weird, right?”

Game Time

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“So what do you guys want to play?” I asked. “We’ve got the new DLC for Last of Us (Left Behind) that we could play through in two hours. Or we could play something multiplayer.”

“MULTIPLAYER!”

Since Brian brought some spare controllers, I was excited to see how we’d do with 4-man Samurai Gunn. Needless to say, I think we did very well. Very well indeed.

Special Guest: Caleb Staner

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Caleb arrived just in time to slash and get slashed to pieces in Samurai Gunn. “Hey, what did you guys talk about?” He asked. Not gonna lie, I was pretty happy that he was curious. Seems like the weekend retreat the week previous left him with a good impression. “Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and crying and stuff.” I said. “Sweet.” He said.

Kaleb’s Kung Fu was strong. Strong enough to beat Brian in a showdown (no easy feat).

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By popular demand, the guys requested that we play Nidhogg.

Nidhogg

There was much dive-kicking, yelling, and stabbing. And belly-laughter.

Brian did not like the giant worm.

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Since it was Caleb’s first GameCell, I opened my Game Library’s trunk and told him to pick whatever called out to him.

“What’s another good multiplayer game?” He asked.

Pixeljunk: Shooter

Alex and Caleb rocked their tiny spaceships in underground caves with clay walls and astronauts that needed saving. Though, I think the “saving” looked more like “Whoops! Didn’t mean to shoot him with a missile!”

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Then I felt bad for kicking everybody out. They all wanted to stay.

Rethinking Christian Videogames – Theology Gaming Podcast

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Zachery and I talked with a couple of our game developer friends on a podcast about what a “good Christian videogame” could look like. Justin Fox talked about his hip-hop RPG, ReElise. Michael Uzdavines shared about his castle-building action-RPG, Heroes of Issachar. And tons of great points were made about art that bears the name “Christian” (and should it?).

We also discussed other notable projects such as That Dragon, Cancer and what you need to know before you start jamming on your game project.

Check out the podcast on iTunes.
Or listen directly at Theology Gaming.

Why We Love Hoplite

The final level (if you want to stop)

Simple Tactics On The Go

Turn-based tactical games often get bogged-down with slow methodical plodding, lots of units to worry about, and over-long animations. But Hoplite has none of that. Instead, it’s just one roman soldier (called a hoplite) against a scaling deluge of hell’s minions.

If you like tactics, this is your jam!

Hoplite takes place on a single-screen hexagonal grid instead of the square grids used in most tactics games. This opens-up the positioning possibilities and forces you to be aware of all of your enemies at all times – which is easy since you can see them all and where they can attack at any time. Most of the time you’re able to find just the right tile to move to. When the levels ramp up (as you descend deeper into hell), you’ll have to use your throwing-javelin, your shield-bash to knock-back foes and bombs, and your jump-to-a-distant-tile ability get out of the line of fire.

“Pray” at Grecian deities’ altars to get upgrades. Or take the hard-line route and skip the Paganness for a higher score. Avoiding the altars comes at a high cost. Benefits tempt with full-health-replenishment, health-capacity-upgrades and skill improvements like increased spear-throw distance or the power to stun enemies when you jump next to them.

For dirty dirty pagans, you can sacrifice a unit of health or two for the occasional super-fancy upgrade like brief invulnerability after a shield-bash (very handy!).

Hoplite falls into the roguelike genre: procedural (semi-random) stage layouts with permadeath (ie. die, and it’s back to level one with you). The lack of robust animations, multi-unit management, and unnecessary padding keep levels fast and focused – perfect for mobile play (on iOS or Android).

Flappy Bird Is Gone. Here’s Five Better Ways To Keep Flapping.

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It’s Gone. But Why Was It Good?

Dong Nguyen (dude who made Flappy Bird) took it down for some reason. Definitely wasn’t because the game wasn’t making money.

Flappy Bird’s success comes from simplicity of controls, high-stakes, and having retries that cost less than quitting the game.

Plus, it didn’t hurt that it was free.

Regardless of why Nguyen pulled the game off the shop, there’s a huge collective of newfound mobile gamers who feel the void.

So we slapped this list together.

1. Badland

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Want a simple reason to keep flapping that won’t make you want to break stuff?

Badland controls just like Flappy Bird, but comes without the risk. The world is prettier, weirder, and offers a depth of reward that goes beyond bragging for making it to “40.”

Get Badland on iTunes or Google Play

2. Super Hexagon

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Super Hexagon is the crown-champ of simple-to-control games with high-stakes. It innovated the scene that made something like Flappy Bird possible.

The big difference is that you can press left or right instead of just the “flap” button (which, trust us, is better).

Get Super Hexagon on iTunes or Google Play

3. Super Splatform

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Instead of pressing a flap button, Super Splatform flaps for you. All you’ve got to do is make sure your Splatformer lands on the next platform (by tilting). Also, it’s got an 8-bit art style that it’s creators didn’t steal from anybody.

Get Super Splatform on iTunes

4. Duet

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This ones’ all high-stakes and rotation, just like Super Hexagon. But you’ve got two lovers to keep intact instead of one.

Failure results in a rewind, showing you where you went wrong. No more being pissed-off at a mis-flap and not learning anything from it.

Get Duet on iOS

5. Boson X

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Physicists can flap a bit, too. In this case, it’s from platform to platform.

Leave your finger on the screen, you’ll stay aerial for a bit. High-stakes and snap decision-making make this one kind of our favorite on my list. Also, the PC/Mac/Linux version is free.

Get Boson X on iTunes or Google Play

Why We Love Shadowrun Returns

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“Today, I run the shadows. Get paid. Get dirty.” – Coyote

Tactics + Exploration + Sage Writing

Tactics and exploration in a dark and nuanced world would be enough to carry a game. Add sage writing to that mix and you’ve got something worth writing mom about.

Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis was easily one of the deepest RPGs of that generation. Diversity of play styles, a fascinating cyberpunk world, and personalized customization held it all together. This series descended from one of the most revered pen-and-paper RPGs of all time. And it shows. The writers have only gotten better over the past three decades.

Clever world-building comes through intelligent slangy dialogue and a gristled tone that affirms the gross nature of being a new-world mercenary (shadowrunner).

The crux of this game lies in the narrative-building grid-based tactical combat. Make your shadowrunner into whatever kind of person you want them to be and then send them with a team into a turn-based isometric battle of cybernetic proportions.

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You feel like you earn each battle you win.

One time, I had a shotgunner, a femme-shaman, and a gunslinger-mage fighting robots and violent psych patients in meatspace while my decker (read: hacker) rifle-mage hacked through cyberspace (also on a tactical turn-based grid) to open doors and get my team through the dilapidated psych hospital. All the while, violent programs impeded my cyber-advanacement. I loved every bit of it. Especially on my iPad.

Critics chided the game’s lack of save-anywhere functionality. And rightfully so. When the second campaign releases at the end of February, the promise of that functionality will make this an instabuy for any tactics-and-story fan-humans.

Samurai Gunn GameCell

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Richie told us how he got Christmas Skunk hair (his brother’s hair dye) and how things seemed to be going well with a certain young lady. Then he, Alex, and I busted out pixelated katanas and started slashing one another.

Jeff made it back to the homeland from his school a hundred miles away. By that time, we let our Smash-Samurais rest for a bit and took-up the more reflective game, Vessel. I picked it for Richie since he’s pretty into steampunk and tinkering with nuanced contraptions. Jeff settled in as Richie worked on a big room-sized puzzle.

I told a story of how I thought we would do a Shepherd Cell where the theme was all around Jesus’ teaching about being the Great Shepherd. And how the Text was still worth talking about even though Shepherd-themed games didn’t quite fit the smaller crowd of seasoned veterans.

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We discussed John 10 where Jesus said he’s the gate for the sheep and the shepherd that was going to let a wolf eat him so the sheep don’t get eaten. “How do you think the crowd responded to this lesson?” I asked. All three guys seemed to get a sense that this might be a bit confusing to Jesus’ original audience. And they were right. Some of the crowd accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. Others explained that demons don’t open the eyes of the blind. I asked them a few more questions about what they thought of this story and briefly mentioned that the next story started with Jesus celebrating Hanukkah.

Then we got back to the slashing.

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Mourning, Forgiveness, and Videogames

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Mourning

While death is a common thing in videogames, mourning isn’t. Tackling finitude may be an insurmountable task for the medium known for giving us unlimited lives. But I think Jason Oda’s Continue?9876543210 does as good of a job as one could of taking us through the confusing nature of losing a loved one.

Death and Mourning in Continue?9876543210 on GameChurch

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Forgiveness

Metro: Last light surprised me by providing a robust illustration of forgiveness. We Christians tend to talk about how amazing it would be if somebody made a “Christian videogame.” I assume that means a game about the central Christian tenets of forgiveness, reconciliation. But that’s just a guess. I grappled with this concept tried to nail-down some thoughts on “games doing redemptive themes.”

The Offense of Forgiveness in Metro: Last Light on GameChurch

PainCell: The Problem of Pain (Or, Just Another Gamecell)

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“Today in my sermon, I’d like to discuss suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people? How could God let this happen?”
-Rabbi Russel Stone, The Shivah

I didn’t expect Shivah: Kosher Edition to turn our GameCell guys into a bunch of whiners. “Aww man! I wanna find out what happens! Please can we keep playing?” Did Rabbi Russel Stone re-find his faith in God? Did he find out why a murder victim left him enough money to keep his synagogue open? Our GameCell attendees may never know. We simply didn’t have enough time to finish the game that examined the problem of pain.

We also looked at another rabbi’s sermon on the matter:

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes.

It’s interesting how this story doesn’t end for another thirty-five verses. The healing was only a catalyst for God’s true power in the story: where the Blind Beggar showed-up the Rich Religious Rulers. Jesus speaks to the Ex-Blind-Beggar after getting kicked-out of the synagogue and explaining that he’s the Son of Man, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”

We all talked about why we thought pain existed and how that related to God. Loved hearing answers from Alex C, Josh Z, Nick M, and Vince.

By the time Jeff showed up, it was time to deal with pixelated pain in Nidhogg.

I asked the guys to identify the problem of pain and honor in the game. But admittedly, the metaphor was loose at best. Far more fun was had when we played a cat-and-mouse game of fencing tug-of-war. With divekicks and sword-tosses!

Shelter’s Mama-Badger simulation fit our theme of pain, suffering, and sacrifice perfect for our theme of the evening. Nick jumped into the mama badger’s paws and we immediately faced the sad situation of a sad and motionless baby badger sitting right in front of us. Fortunately Mama Nick just needed to provide the cub with some nom noms and the badger family was off to brave the wilds. We cheered Nick on as the family hunted mice, apples, and frogs. And we shared his terror as the giant eagle swept down to steal his little ones.

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Josh and Nick snuck out. And as our crowd thinned, it seemed fitting to play a three-man survival run of Risk of Rain. That game’s pretty painful.