Warhammer Vermintide Gives New Life to the Ye Olde Gaming Tradition of Rat Killing

Warhammer Vermintide is the newest 4-player co-op game to consume my free hours of the eve as of late and it may be my favorite yet. I did not think it could happen, but I find myself enjoying this game more than I did many 4 player titles over the past several years. My friends and brother tend to team up to kick ass in 4 player games like we did in Left 4 Dead, Evolve, Payday 2, and Monaco. I had no idea what Vermintide was all about when it came out, but I took a swing at it after it was gifted to me by my benevolent friend and I have been slaying rats since.

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Red Moon Inn

Before you jump into the action, everyone gathers in the Red Moon Inn. It’s important to mention this part because it’s really a minor detail that makes a lot of difference in 4 player co op games. To have a virtual space to “relax” and recoop in feels like the missing element I always wanted. When you’re in a game like Payday 2 or Left 4 Dead, you’re just sitting looking at a menu with UI elements when you aren’t actively fighting your way through a level. It’s so much nicer to have a place to stand around in, swap out your gear, and show off your loot to other players before getting into things. Or, if you just need to take a break and breathe, you can hang out and take a few minutes while still allowing your teammates to forge equipment, upgrade, and use a shrine to “pray for loot”.

I love this touch. It also allows you a chance to get to know the characters a bit better because each of them have their own room made up to decor that suits their personality. You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their stuff.

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There are 13 different missions in the game that are filled with a variety of objectives to accomplish. The variety of events throughout missions really feel like tests to challenge the strength of a team. The number one challenge of the game is teamwork and sticking together to survive the random chaos! I feel like more and more games like this are coming out; games like this seem more fun and appealing if you have a group of people to play it with. If you can find some kind of steam group or online group to team up with if you don’t have enough friends who like to do this kind of thing, I highly recommend doing so.

Another in-game feature I really enjoy is the presence of collectibles in most levels called Tomes and Grimoires. When my friend was first explaining this aspect to me, it was one of the most appealing things. Tomes and Grimoires, when picked up, will replace the players’ inventory space where healing items and potions go. They are hidden in tough to get to places in levels that require solving short jumping puzzles. That is awesome for two reasons. One, it calls for level exploration that isn’t in the pursuit of getting to the end as soon as possible. Two, the players have to be confident enough in the team’s abilities to go out of their way  for them and sacrifice the inventory space!

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Loot phase. 

 

Possibly the best and worst part of the game is the loot phase. You get to press a button to roll dice. Now, I must say, I really really wish this worked like dice in the Witcher 2 in which you released the left mouse button as you moved your mouse to “throw” the dice and roll them. In Vermintide, you just click a button and they roll themselves. This feels a lot less satisfying because then you wind up feeling like it was out of your control. In the Witcher 2, if you accidentally rolled dice off of the table, tough luck! At least it felt like your fault. When you make it through a level in Vermintide with 3 tomes and 2 Grimoires just to roll a 2 or 3, it pretty much calls for an immediate ragequit.

I could just go on and on about this game. It’s pretty cheap at only 29.99 retail. I would gladly have paid a full 60 for this. If you love co-op games or just want to decapitate some rats, get this! Now! GO!

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Among the Sleep: Psychological Thriller Meets Crawling Simulator

This weekend, I took a break from playing The Witcher 3 and finally installed and played Among the Sleep. As usual, I bought it during a Steam sale some time ago and never got around to it. My partner was perusing Steam games on Saturday and I brought it up as a suggestion because we both tend to like first person games that are focused on a narrative. I installed it and we both sat down to play this together with only the knowledge that it was about being a two-year-old who crawls around in fantastic looking environments. Boy, was there more.

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The voice acting makes this bear sound creepy and untrustworthy.

I am going to give a vague synopsis to avoid spoilers and discuss the core mechanics of the game. It begins with a cutscene as you become acclimated to the life of a two-year-old and what your living situation is like. You receive a teddy bear that speaks slowly and with the voice of a middle aged man. But, you are willing to follow the bear (because you have to) as it plays games with you.

After you become familiar with the basic mechanics and what life is like for baby-you, something jarring happens that makes everything shift. The house becomes dark and scary and you are helpless as you crawl through it to open doors and peek around corners. You are a vulnerable observer who wants nothing more than to find their mommy.

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Go ahead. Crawl around. Nothing to be scared of.

Reality then breaks away into fantasy, or perhaps nightmare, as you fall into a sort of dreamworld representation of your psyche. You then proceed to navigate through several levels that may be places you have experienced as a two-year-old with creepy filters changing them that may represent some kind of fear or trauma. The environments seem to be alive in that there are sounds and visual shifts happening as you navigate through them to solve puzzles. If you have played a game like Amnesia, it is similar to that in how you progress.

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I thought this was just a nice park…

You can alternate between walking and crawling and hold shift to run, albeit not very fast. You are a toddler after all. And who wants to run? It’s so noisy. Crawling felt like the most immersive, and scariest, means of traveling. Feeling small and low to the ground enhanced the feeling of vulnerability in the world around me. The feeling of vulnerability is key to making you feel like a victim to trauma as you discover childlike drawing scattered throughout each level which depict your perception of important figures in your life.

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Vision distorts as baby-you cannot handle certain sights.

The game is about uncovering the child’s life and the secrets it holds. What happened to you and why are you here piecing things together? Each level is rich with scattered pieces of the narrative, scares, and memories. When you are scared, the best you can do is hide under or inside of something such as a bed or cupboard. It’s exactly how you think as a child; if I hide, maybe it will all just go away. And it does, but not for long.

Boston Global Game Jam 2014 and Courtship

This past weekend I experienced my first Game Jam in Boston hosted by Northeastern University.  A Game Jam is typically a weekend-long event in which game developers get together, form teams, and make a video game in 24, 48, or 72 hours.  Sometimes there’s judging at the end and winners by categories but this one was just for fun so that everyone could have a good time and, most importantly, not be afraid to fail.

This was the theme we were given this year.  Deeeeep!

This was the theme we were given this year. Deeeeep!

Some friends from my previous job invited me to participate in this Game Jam with them, so we teamed up with some audio & sound engineers from Berkley as well as a Unity developer.

Our team formed and ready to create!

Our team formed and ready to create!

Before we started “jamming”, there were a few keynotes giving us all good advice on how to be unique, stay positive, and challenge ourselves.  And that every meal was going to be pizza.  The first night, we worked from about 7 to 12 brainstorming ideas, talking them out, figuring out what our roles would be, and widdling down a solid idea to start building on the morn.

Brainstorming notes and sketching in the first hour or so.

Brainstorming notes and sketching in the first hour or so.

We wanted to do something a little more experimental.   That is to say, a game without enemies, power-ups, and a lot of platform jumping.  We decided on a concept that would allow the player to judge others based on information and observation.  Our idea was never 100% solidified from the start, but we started to work as soon as we could and let the ideas flow and mold the project organically as we progressed.

Having never been to a jam before, it was exciting yet terrifying to think that we were going to create an entire experience using Unity3D (the engine we were proficient enough with and capable of using) in 48 hours!  But we believed in ourselves and each other… plus there was a lot of Starbucks coffee.

We got up every hour or so to stretch, do yoga, and make sure we were all well-fed and hydrated.

We got up every hour or so to stretch, do yoga, and make sure we were all well-fed and hydrated.

Our development process worked very effectively I thought.  This was our little productivity corner all Saturday and Sunday.  I sat next to our developer, Luke, and worked with him to build the levels, work with Unity3D, and get the animations and models imported properly.  Salil and David did amazing work coming up with themes for every level, foley, and sound effects for anything we needed.  We had so much sound, we didn’t even have time to put it all into the final version of the game we wound up submitting!  Adam, Brandon, and Michael put a lot of thought into the user experience and game design of the project.

The music and art corner, Saturday night.

The music and art corner, Saturday night.

 

More specifically, Adam acted as producer and checked up on all of us to see that we were reaching consistent milestones.  Michael developed the user interface for the in-game app mechanic and did some hilarious profile picture art that the players will (in a later version) be able to choose for their “dating profile” in the game. Brandon wrote the dialogue bits for the game and helped with recording as well as development of our final presentation video.

Sleep deprivation is your worst enemy at a jam, but it's good to try to get SOME shut eye.  I got about 30 minutes.

Sleep deprivation is your worst enemy at a jam, but it’s good to try to get SOME shut eye. I got about 30 minutes.

I forced myself to get up from this mildly comfortable sofa at around 5:15 when I decided I wouldn’t get any real sleep due to some relentlessly obnoxious jammers.  But that’s the name of the game and I had a lot of work to do before our deadline on Sunday at 3pm arrived.  I worked on making four levels in Unity3D and only managed to create and animate 7 NPCs even though we had around 30 or so planned.

Our developer Luke was a trooper, coding late into the night.  When I got up, he took a brief respite.

Our developer Luke was a trooper, coding late into the night. When I got up, he took a brief respite.

Four of us stayed in our little productivity corner through the night and headed into crunch time on Sunday morning to finish up as much as we could in order to create a video.  We thought it was pretty rough that we were required to create and submit a video by 2pm because at this point we were trying to get our levels tied together and the content imported.  It was like we had all of the puzzle pieces made, but very few put together to get footage for a proper trailer.  Yet, Brandon worked his magic and created a trailer for our game that made me sob with laughter.

It seemed like it all came together in the last hour or so but fortunately for us, the servers we were supposed to upload our game to were so busy, that the deadline was extended an extra 24 hours.  That was great news for Luke because he was able to finish up his last minute scripting and get all of the NPCs working the way they should.

Overall, it was a great experience and we all had so much fun working with each other to make a funny, fresh, somewhat politically incorrect game.  We liked it so much, in fact, that we plan to meet up again soon to work on it some more and get it to a point that we are truly proud of.  Right now, it’s in what I would call an “alpha” stage.

In Summary:  On your commute home, you decide to boot up your new app, The Courtship. While you wait for the app to send you your matches, you observe your surroundings with fresh eyes. Aren’t people’s behaviors strange?

You can play our game here: CourtShip Game

Courtship Screenshot: The opening scene at the first station of four.

Courtship Screenshot: The opening scene at the first station of four.

I look forward to my next Game Jam and to working with such amazing developers again soon at the QUILTBAG Jam!

Team Casual Unicorn: David, Luke, Brandon, Adam, Salil, Michael, and Elizabeth

Team Casual Unicorn: David, Luke, Brandon, Adam, Salil, Michael, and Elizabeth