Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath’s Lure, Bind, and Bag – Subversive Mechanics

Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath does subversive and nonlethal action better than almost any game I can think of. It focuses on capturing bounties alive – as they’re worth more than dead bodies. To do this, fire live critters from Stranger’s crossbow.

Chippunks lure the enemy.

Bolamites bind them up.

And then you can bag them up with your bag-teleporter that sends them straight to jail.

Combine these together for devastating non-lethal results.

GameCell: Alternate World Night

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Less of me. More of you guys. That’s one of my goals for GameCell this year.

GameCell needs to exist and function with or without me. That means for the rest of the year, I’ll be trying to hand the night’s responsibilities off to others and see who thrives in what role.

First? God seems to be revealing a supernatural theme for the discussion about life, belief, and how that relates to games. It starts with Alternate Worlds.

Friday night’s theme came from a realization: game-players are open to the Alternate World nature of the Kingdom of God. And they’ve got the eyes (and neural pathways) to see spiritual realities.

The world’s second most popular videogame series (Assassin’s Creed) has a mode called Eagle Vision. Press a button and you know where to go. Where your enemies are. Where important things are. But only if you’re looking. And you can’t stay in Eagle Vision all the time. You have to engage with the world. Other games do this same thing with different names. Wraith Sight. Dimensional Portals. The Fade. Detective Mode.

For this night, we laid the foundation for the notion that maybe these games are speaking to a greater reality that God wants us to be a part of.  First, a question from Alex Carter:

“What game world would you live in?”

There was an Assassin’s Creed mention. Some Mass Effect. Star Wars. Dead Space (a response which got some significant laughter). Pokemon got four votes. In a group of nine, this was the overwhelming majority.

“Why would you live there?”

Around this time, the Reigart brothers showed up (Dan and Josh) and only added to the Pokemon votes. This made it easy for everybody to agree: Pokemon trainers don’t die since all the Pokemon do the fighting for you. Plus, the world is really colorful and happy.

Vince took over the question asking for the next two questions:

“Do you think the worlds we go into make this world better?”

Our group didn’t really understand this question. But the general consensus was noThis world always seems more broken and disorienting in contrast to idealistic worlds in games. Or at least ones where the conflicts are clearly defined and you’re in a position to make things right. This might seem discouraging to non-game-players. “Just goes to show you that games are not good for our world,” one might say. But I think that there’s a holy longing in a better world. So our last question was a bit of a leading one:

“Did you know that God’s world and our world are two different worlds clashing?”

No disagreement here. We got a lot of “Hmm”s with head nods. And I heard a “Yeah, that sounds right.” Tyler looked around and said, “You mean like spiritual realities?”

“Exactly.” I said.

We discussed how Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry, “The Kingdom of God is now at hand.” And how Jesus’ emphasis on God’s spiritual reality is available to us. If we want it. We explored the metaphors of  Eagle Vision. Wraith Sight. Detective Mode. Bioshock Portals. The Fade in Dragon Age. And how all of these things are videogame metaphors that speak to our spiritual reality. Gamer-players are so ready for the Kingdom – because they know alternate worlds are better than this one. And they’ve got the eyes (and neural pathways) to see spiritual realities.

I threw out there a lot of spiritual and supernatural considerations, probably sounding a tad insane to our guys. Talked about bringing the Kingdom here. Being empowered through the Holy Spirit. And how there’s so much more that we’ll have to reserve to talk about in later GameCell get-togethers. Vince led prayer. I tried to encourage anybody else to share if they had anything. But I also realize that none of these guys have any familiarity with sharing prophetic input. So that was still in Vince’s and my court when it came up. That just included a word about forgiveness and love and how that defines all of God’s Supernatural Reality (The Kingdom).

After prayer, I conscripted all the guys’ help in moving doors we have to paint into our upstairs study. Thanks for the help, guys!

Game time.

Josh Reigart was our official new guy. So he got dibs on what we played. He picked from our official Alternate Worlds Playlist that I created in steam. And his pick was The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

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For a group watch-n-play with Josh at the helm, I’d give it a B+. I thought it would be a lot better to watch and experience, but as a first-person game with a controller, it was a little disorienting. Josh didn’t always know where to go. And being a backseat driver with a first-person game is pretty hard.

Still, the visual beauty of the game and the intriguing supernatural crime scenes created a sense of wonder. And when it came time to put the chronology of events in the first crime scene together, our crew got really into it and tried to help him figure it out.

Josh Reigart’s older brother Daniel came once before, so he got our honorary new guy opportunity to pick what’s next. His choice? The fighting game that Alex Carter brought on his 360: BlazBlue Continuum Shift.

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Some say that BlazBlue is too technical for a game of every-man pick-up. But I’d still give it an A+ for how well it worked with our crew. We did an overall bracket of everybody gets to play once. It didn’t give a lot of room for experimentation. But it kept things fast and intense. And we were all amazed at how Jason figured out how to sword-spam his opponents into submission. We saved a final match for him and Alex Carter, who had been practicing for the night. And in the end, even Alex couldn’t get through Jason’s space-samurai spam magic. The final match between the two of them filled the room with electricity. And I don’t think we could all believe it that Jason won. They even went another round to see if it was for real. And Jason won again!

This meant Jason picked who played next and got to pick our final game. His choice? His opponent that he just bested, Alex Carter. Alex chose to pick from my Weird Game category on Steam. And though it may not be the weirdest thing, that game was Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

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The first level of Revengeance may be the most fun thing for people to watch in videogames. A+. Hands down. Unless you hate cyborg ninjas. Then, A-.

Alex fought a Spaniard samurai cyborg, chased a war-mongering American samurai cyborg, slashed cyborg terrorists into chunks, and got in a back-alley beatdown with a Metal Gear Ray (a Godzilla-sized robot). After using the Ray’s own weight against it and chopping off its arm, Alex gave it a good KO. Two minutes later, the thing was back and Alex had to run down the broad face of a building, jump off of the robots firing missiles and slash its face in half. Around this time, I said to our crew, “Just wait until this game gets cool!”

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Before long, we were over our time and had to shut things down. But not before a chorus of defeated, “Oh man!”s. Except for Alex Hively, who had somehow fallen asleep in the midst of loud explosions. Great night.

Recaps, Podcasts, and Best Game Trends of 2014

In the interest of just getting to the content, I’m gonna spend less time detailing what’s posted elsewhere and just get straight to the goods.

I hosted two podcasts over at Theology Gaming. Our TGBS Awards Show may be our best episode of the year. As we gave out a whole bunch of ridiculous awards like, Best/Worst MMORPG Drama On A Yacht. Then, Nelson, Zachery and I discuss what kinds of games we play and what our play preferences say about us.

In Plus 10 Damage Land, I laid in wait – with a doozie-ful series, Best trends of 2014:

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

neveralonereview

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.