VentureBeat Highlights Chicago Indies

The rising glory of Chicago’s indie scene continues to spread. In the recent VentureBeatarticle, “Who needs triple-A? These 10 next-gen indie games look amazing,” Octodad: Dadliest Catch (Young Horses) and Ray’s the Dead (Ragtag) shine for their stunning potential in the next generation of indie releases. After some quick calculations, we can safely extrapolate that Chicago thus represents ~20% of all awesomeness, so keep up the great work everyone!

Read the full article.

Toy Studio releases new word puzzler, Swqords

Chicago developer and long-time supporter of IGDA Chicago, Toy Studio, stretches our minds yet again with the release of their new word puzzle game, Sqwords. With gameplay blending the creative word generation of crosswords and the logical placement tiles in Sudoku, players must arrange letters in a square grid, ensuring that each row and column spells out a word.

Toy Studio, which helped host the first Chicago Game Jam, develops games for mobile and social platforms on iPhone, Android, and Nook. Several of their previous puzzle games, including The Curse, have found success in the last few years. Their commitment to high-quality games and their involvement with the Chicago game development community are just two reasons why Toy Studio rocks!

Learn more about the game and see the trailer on the game’s website: 
You can buy the game on the App StoreGoogle Play, and Amazon 
To play more of Toy Studio’s games, visit their website:

Chicago Indies Featured on PS4 at E3

Chicago’s on fire again, but you’ll want to stay inside for this one. We’ve seen the steady glow of success from indie developers in Chicago recently, but at E3 this year, we saw a pair of trailblazing Chicago indies highlighted in a whole new field—next generation consoles.

During their press conference at E3 earlier this month, Sony showcased a number of indie games with upcoming releases on the PlayStation 4. Out of the eight games demoed, Chicago cheered twice for their own: Young Horses and Ragtag both appeared on stage to share their respective games Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Ray’s the Dead. Both games have been Greenlit on Steam, but they will make their console debuts alongside the other previewed games on the PlayStation 4.

Sony will be releasing the PlayStation 4 at the end of the year, and with it, the ability for small developers to self-publish their titles, allowing them to maintain IP and keep a greater cut of their profits than with traditional publishers. The PS4 will also feature an improved development kit for easier development and porting to the console. As part of Sony’s push to include more indie content on the upcoming generation of consoles, these features will benefit more than indie developers. Players and larger studios can expect to see quality and innovation in indie titles, which have been largely limited to PC’s to this point. How this may change the landscape of console gaming and beyond, we can only wait and see.

To see Young Horses, Ragtag, and the other indie developers at Sony’s E3 press conference, check out this clip: Indie Games at the Sony E3 2013 Press Conference.

Opinion: My Opinion is Worthless

“Time is the thing we have the least of… I don’t want people to waste their time on something they’re not going to enjoy.”

That’s what Arthur Gies, the reviews editor for Polygon says at the outset of the publication’s latest episode of its navel-gazing web series, Press Reset. The episode, the series’ seventh, is titled “FunFactor™,” which I assume is a nod to the jargon and useless lingo game critics have invented to articulate to readers whether a game is good or bad. At the end of the day, that’s all we really care about, right? Traditionally, games are supposed to be fun, and they either are or aren’t.

I doubt anyone will disagree with me there.

But the problem I have as a game critic, a member of the media, and as a regular human being is the implication that Game Critics somehow know more than the people for whom games are made: players. Regular Joes. Whatever you want to call them. There are far more of them than folks who will bemoan shouldering the thankless task of reviewing a video game.

Look, what’s fun for me may not be what’s fun for you. That doesn’t mean that either of us are right or wrong. It’s just a fact that life is subjective. When we look at the same banana, we aren’t registering the same shade of yellow in our eyes. One of us might be color blind. One of us might be allergic to bananas. One of us might not be able to see at all. But just because I have a louder megaphone and have “studied” bananas, does that mean I’m somehow more right than you are?

No. Of course not.

And yet, this mentality remains.

There’s a literal divide that exists, of course, on every article online. My name will be at the very top of this piece. Your name will be at the bottom. That’s just the way these things are laid out. And either my piece (review, preview, whatever) will be used to spark a conversation or you’ll ignore it and move on. That’s fine. It’s just my opinion.

There’s nothing wrong with reviewers. As a consumer, I think they do a thankless task. As a critic myself, I feel we are largely unnecessary and peripheral. I am grateful to get the work and feel I bring a different take to the stuff I write about than some folks out there shaking down money doing the exact same stuff.

But I would never get the audacity to claim that I know best for how you should be spending your time. Games critics are not curing cancer. In a thousand years we will be forgotten and dead. And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be spending the limited time I have on earth living my life and pursuing my goals — not strong-arming others with my opinions on video games. It’s my opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.

Because ultimately, we are just older (and not necessarily more mature) versions of this kid:

David Wolinsky can be followed on Twitter here and he also tweets wildly inaccurate facts about cats here. He likes you and thinks you’re cool.

How Game Devs are Hurting Kickstarter

There was a time when Kickstarter was fresh and new and exciting. It was the Old West: a little bit dangerous and a lot bit uncharted territory. Folks wanted to get their obscure out-of-print camera parts made or a super-powerful bike lock produced. That made sense. They’d more than meet their goals, and with it, a concept known as “super-funded” came about. It’s when people ask for, say, $20,000 and make $20 million.

That’s a hypothetical.

And then, invisibly, that’s when Kickstarter began to mutate from a crowd-funding DIY love-fest to what it’s slowly becoming for some more disingenuous entities: a marketing platform. That is, people (or companies, mainly) started using Kickstarter not really caring whether they met their goal. What they were striving for was attention in the gaming media that they’ve reunited and are interested in making something new — a sequel to a game that was originally released in 1994.

That’s a little less hypothetical.

Earlier this month, Revolution Software announced it wanted to make a new adventure game, Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse. They were asking for $400,000, which it handily exceeded. And that’s when another controversial Kickstarter practice came into play: stretch goals. It’s to help further motivate people to keep investing after the initial goal has been met, with extra carrots being dangled in front of the consumer. In this case, Revolution Software said that if its Kickstarter hit a million bucks, it would help them write Beneath A Steel Sky 2, a sequel to its 1994 hit: “But, to be clear, all money raised through this Stretch Goal will be spent doing even more amazing things in Broken Sword – the Serpent’s Curse.”

Revolution didn’t hit that million-dollar mark, but it announced that it’s working on the sequel anyway.

Would Revolution have gotten the same amount of attention had it just announced it’s working on a sequel anyway without getting some (read: a lot) of its fans money? Maybe. It’s just interesting to watch Kickstarter starting to be used in this way by developers.

And it isn’t just indie developers who are using Kickstarter. Platinum Games, the folks behind the very excellent Vanquish, told The Verge that “it would be great if we could do a Kickstarter and gather enough money for a [PC] game to be released on Steam.”

Something here is broken, and it’s easy to point fingers at the developers. But when you have big-name studios and little guys alike on Kickstarter, it means whoever is holding the purse strings to these companies isn’t letting the money fly where maybe it should. But who’s to say where it should go? Everyone has a different opinion and bias depending on where in the industry they are.

If you’re an indie, you’re likely irritated to see Platinum crying poverty with an up-turned hat for people’s scraps. If you’re a major company, you likely feel a little funny about asking for money from your public when you’re used to a publisher fronting the bill.

But a single post won’t and can’t solve this sort of issue. The short of it is: If you’re on Kickstarter and have plans to make your product regardless of the outcome, it’s skeezy and dishonest. The platform implies that you can’t do something without everyone’s help, and that everyone’s help will benefit the greater good. That’s why it’s called kickstarter and not wedontreallyneedthemoneybutitdbenicestarter. Unless your name is Penny Arcade, in which case, nobody seems to mind for some reason.

Back To Basics Or Bust

This article, by local journalist David Wolinsky, is the first in a series of video game related guest posts by local writers and press.

Somewhere around August 2000, Nintendo solidified its position as the gaming industry’s indisputable pioneer when EarthBound 64 got the axe.

I’ll give you a moment to process this, but it’s true. Look at what came after the N64: tiny little discs, motion controls, and an iPad with handles. None of these are gaming’s future. I won’t speak out of turn or stray too far from the topic at hand, since some of this is due to Nintendo’s highly secretive nature, but last year at E3, I spoke to oodles of developers who were perplexed by Nintendo’s new console thingy. I explained the Wii U to developer after developer in private demos – where they had to be instead of Nintendo’s press conference – and after a translator would state my question in Japanese, in one case, a developer of a triple-A game looked up at me, laughed, and shrugged. In plain English: He couldn’t think of a way to implement it in a game.

There’s a reason why. Well, two reasons. One was that the technology is awful new, but also because we don’t need it. Likely the Wii U’s biggest hit will be Spy Party, and then it will go back to the closet collecting dust next to your Wii. I don’t say this as a Nintendo hater, because I’m not – I’m the 1995 Blockbuster store champion of Donkey Kong Country – but rather because we should’ve all seen this coming in 2000.

The Nintendo 64 was hardly the company’s most popular or even successful system. Sure, Mario 64 blew everyone’s minds — I remember marveling at how you could nudge the joystick slightly to make Mario tip-toe or throttle it to send him huffing and puffing. It was amazing. — But the third dimension doesn’t automatically make all games great: EarthBound 64 is perhaps one of the first glaring examples of this.

The game was canceled, officially, due to bugs and other problems, but also, look at these screenshots of the game. What’s missing? The magic of the SNES version. The whimsy. In all cheesiness but accuracy: its heart. Even if the game came out in its original iteration, who knows how it would have been received. But I think the message here is that the world didn’t need a 3D Earthbound.

The game later came out in 2006 as a Game Boy Advance version that has become a massive hit, and not just because it’s an EarthBound game. That’s surely part of it, but as anyone who downloaded the translated ROM knows, its charm is in its colorful pastel sprites and strong writing. Not bloated 3D graphics.

So what’s my point?

Games don’t need to blindly embrace or buckle themselves into the seat belts of the latest technology’s coattails. Nintendo dipped into the motion-control pool first, and even though both Sony and Microsoft mocked the move, they later quietly skinny-dipped there, too. But I defy you to name five great games for the Move or the Kinect. Can’t do it? How about five essential games for both of them combined? How about five amazing 3DS games?

Now, I realize I’m probably coming across somewhat as an old fuddy-duddy who hates new things. I’ve certainly reviewed enough games in my day harshly enough to support that image, but I think instead it positions me as someone who has played a lot of games and seen a lot of the newest, latest, hottest, buzziest, whatever-iest games and know what’s worth playing and what’s not. And I’ll tell you what I’m playing more of these days: Super Crate Box for the iPhone, notSkyrim.

I don’t really have a “take” on the whole “casual-gaming thing,” but I know both from my own opinion and conversations with my fellow critics that I’m not alone. There’s a reason why people got so fired up about Skyrim and then so bored of it, and it’s the same reason: There’s too damn much to do in the game. Skyrim does many, many great things, like making the story you weave in the game uniquely yours (I joined a super-secret cannibal organization that none of my friends even found), but that’s also it’s greatest downfall. It gets tiring. You can sink hours, weeks, and even months into the game, and even though you’ve racked up a bunch of achievements, what have you really accomplished or done? Have you finished the game? I honestly can’t even remember what level my character is at. I will make my way back to the game sooner or later, but I don’t feel strongly inclined to.

Why? The answer is simple, really: simplicity. That’s what makes games great. Not tacked-on multiplayer modes or half-baked game+ modes. Those are nice to have, but not essential. Look at Apple. This is a company that has clawed its way back from bankruptcy because it has stripped away everything inessential to get at the core of what people want.

Consider Fez. Why do you think it was hyped up so much? Because it was bold enough to do one thing really well. Ignore the 8-bit allure. There were no enemies, just one mechanic explored fully. And the game knew when to call it a day. Game+ mode aside, the game knows exactly what it is and makes no attempts to be anything more than that. Games like this and Proteus – an 8-bit free-roaming island, also with no enemies – signal that some players and developers alike are ready to embrace “retro” gaming not just as a visual aesthetic but also as a design principle. Mario 3 was awesome because it thoroughly explored platforming and managed to keep players guessing all along the way. Super Mario Sunshineshowed what happened when you mess with what’s special and try to chase trends.

So, as a developer, ask yourself: Do you want to do everything and please a handful, or do a few things very well and drop the jaws of your devoted new fans?

Or to put it a little more cheesily: Don’t chase trends, follow your heart.



David Wolinsky writes for NBC Chicago, Adult Swim, and teaches Comedy Writing at Second City.  He can be found on Tumblr at and on Twitter as @davidwolinsky.