Embers of Mirrim

Like its playable character, Embers of Mirrim is a game of two halves. One half is a fun platformer built on a solid and interesting set of mechanics, while the other  is a steaming pile of shit left behind from the dog/bird/thing you play as. (Editor’s Note: And that’s another mark on the swear tally…) This game has some of the worst set pieces I have ever played through. The section leading up to the last boss is one of the most agonizing gaming experiences I’ve ever had. And yet, I still think Embers of Mirrim is well worth your time.

The game starts with two groups of cat/dragons things meeting to find that an asteroid is heading for earth and that the only safe space is one they have to share together. However, the bird brains decide they’d rather die than not be racist, so the two groups leave. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have the happy ending of “all the racists fucks get blown up”, and instead we get the much more videogame-y “one from each group merge into each other”. Now, this may be a stretch, but I think the game is trying to say that mixed race children can end racism.

Like I said, the little ferret/eagle thing you play as is half-white, half-black, with the best qualities of both; and the game ends with the player character bringing both groups together. Then again, the late game set pieces are constantly trying to fuck you too, so maybe what the game is really advocating for bestiality. I say it’s best to not think about it 

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WHAT THE FUCK ARE THESE THINGS?

Snark or social commentary aside (I’m still not sure myself), the Mirrim‘s story isn’t too much to get excited about. The wordless storytelling isn’t bad per-say, and there are a few nice moments, but there isn’t a lot to get invested in either. The big heart wrenching moment is well done, but there’s not a lot leading up to it to give the scene any real weight. Even the Mirrim‘s opening, which easily drew me in, had me wondering why one of the rat/pigeons was able to get both groups together despite their obvious hate for each other, and why it grew magic deer horns that turned on a futuristic hologram system. I’m not joking about that – that actually happens. That’s more or less the game’s story in a nut shell; well constructed moments without anything substantial to invest the player.

Once the two furry snake/parrots merge, the game seems to go out of its way to make full use of its core mechanics. On top of the usual sprint, glide, and ground pound moves, you can also split the squirrel/penguins into balls of light and dark “embers” that you control independently. What’s truly impressive is how much developer Creative Bytes Studios manages to do with those mechanics. Certain objects react differently to each ember, meaning you are constantly splitting and recombining to solve puzzles. Embers of Mirrim is constantly throwing new ideas at the player, so even with it’s short run time it never feels redundant.

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The game has some issues with scale. I can never tell how large these damn things are supposed to be.

That is, until somebody somewhere had to pip in with “You know what this really needs? Boss battles and chase scenes!” It’s here where the game’s indie nature really comes to bite it (and you) in the ass. (Editor’s Note: Find way to convert Will’s swearing into an alternative energy source for eternal life. Also, delete this note.) One boss requires you to attack its front and back as it moves across the screen, but you have no way of knowing which ember will effect either part until it’s on screen. To make matters worse, the boss moves just fast enough to make hitting its front half an utter chore. Still, the worst part is the chase leading up to the final boss.

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The game does a lot with the “embers” mechanic.  If you’ve ever played a game before the screen is always easy to read. This makes the wealth of ideas easy to follow.

For a long stretch of the chase, you’re forced to separate and are kept in confined areas that force you to restart if you try to exit them. Behind you lies a swarm of bugs that force you to restart on contact, demanding you constantly move forward. In front of you, the boss fires projectiles with ridiculously large hit boxes that (you guessed it!) make you restart if they hit you.

Once you’re out of that, you then have to have each ember hit these little nodes that refill your energy. Miss too many, and the embers won’t move any more, forcing you to restart. If that’s not bad enough, these nodes are constantly shifting, which really fucked with my hand-eye coordination. This section throws so much visual information at the player that I often had a hard time following what I was supposed to do. It wasn’t quite as bad as a bullet hell game, but it was too close for my comfort.

But once all of that is done and the game goes back to just being a platformer I really enjoyed it. It might not be a classic, but you could do a whole lot worse. You may want to hold off until it’s on sale, but Embers of Mirrim is well worth burning for a while. (Editor’s Note: I’m gonna need some ice from that pun…)

Oh, and… something something Heavy Metal! here’s a song with Embers in the title.

4Embers of Mirrim was developed by Creative Bytes Studios

Point of Sale: Steam, PS4, Xbox One

the seal

                William Shelton has awarded Embers of Mirrim the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval

$19.99. You may want to wait until those embers burn the price down a little however.

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Viktor a Steampunk Adventure

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is a deceptively emotionally complex adventure game. It introduces itself as a story about a boar named Viktor, who after years of service to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, has grown tired of being a poor nobody. Viktor is a nasty little boar of a person who kicks and screams at everyone who makes him unhappy in his life. Viktor is convinced that with his experience as a peasant, he has the know-how to become Emperor, and sets out to take the throne after the game’s short introductory cutscene.

While the art style mimics the look of a cheap children’s cartoon, the subject matter of the game is tricky to label. After all, having your main character introduce the setting of the game as a world where “all stereotypes are true” is an awfully bold claim. (Editor’s Note: Oh, this is gonna end well…) This is a game attempting to balance racist jokes with insight, something we don’t see in most media these days. While playing the game, it often felt like we weren’t seeing the developer mocking minorities, but instead they were poking fun at their and Viktor’s small world views.

As the game progresses, we meet a wonderfully bizarre cast of caricatures based on real world cultures and famous writers of the early 1900s. Each character is voiced in a Banjo-Kazooie style where real voice actors record imitations of noises or accents with no audible words being said. The amount of work Studio Spektar put into the huge list of ridiculous characters is impressive, especially for such a small studio. Just after the tutorial we’re introduced to the following cast of characters:

  • A kilt wearing “Jewish Scotsman” dog who alternates each sentence between using a Hebrew term or Scottish accent
  • A toga wearing, deeply philosophical, alcoholic Greek frog
  • A turban wearing Indian rhino who knows even more about poverty than Viktor
  • A Japanese rabbit girl riding a mech, who adds overly complicated emoticons to every sentence

These are just a few examples of all the characters you encounter in the game. There is a long list of unique people that will abuse or manipulate Viktor through a number of varied locations. I’m sure a lot of people would call this game ignorant or even hateful in its mockery of cultures. Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is a game that is so thoroughly filled with heart, jokes, and detail that I don’t think it’s fair to make a quick judgement to dismiss it or its creators.

Aside from the details of the writing, Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is quite a strong adventure game. Puzzle rooms are small and brisk to work through, and with most puzzles offering a good challenge. There is even a hint system, where Viktor calls his buddy Martin – an owl smoking a hookah pipe in the bath who claims to be psychic. Viktor will have the choice to ask about specific obstacles in the game, and Martin will respond with a joke or some advice that the player usually can make sense of to solve the immediate puzzles.

That said, I did run into an issue with one ridiculously complex puzzle that had me stuck for quite a while. I definitely recommend keeping a guide handy, but truthfully, I say that about every adventure game. I definitely recommend fans of the adventure genre to give Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure a playthrough. With its unique art style, wide range of characters, and some damn funny writing, this might be one of my favorite adventure games in a long while.

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure was developed by Studio Spektar

Point of Sale: Steam

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is available for $11.99 on Steam.

A review code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this article

Sam has awarded Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure The Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. 

Sam Adonis is passionate about a number of things, least of which include indie games, disability advocacy, and his MMO addictions.

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Optika

I’m just going to get to the point straight away – Optika hurt my brain. I get it. Puzzle games are technically supposed to do that; particularly that through difficulty and mind-bending problems. In Optika‘s case? This game basically killed my brain repeatedly,  and not in the way that a puzzle game is supposed to. (Editor’s Note: Need to recharge my Mercy ult for next time…) I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.

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Optika is a puzzle game that has you bouncing light-particles to hit various goals; the puzzle bit comes from the various different ways to reflect, refract and mess about with the particles in order to get them where you want them. It’s a perfectly normal puzzle mechanic, but issues arise right from the very beginning thanks to the game shoving about twenty different tutorial levels at you, with well over twenty different mechanics all thrown at you one after the other. Different types of mirror, different ways of moving things, different types of beam splitters – it’s just too much to take in all at once.

By the time I had ended the tutorial levels, I felt like I had taken some sort of punishing night school course. Naturally, I managed to forget half of these mechanics as I made my way through the game, and the lack of any easily accessed reference guide in the options menu didn’t help.

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This tutorial mess manages to muck with the rest of the game as the game assumes you remember every little last mechanic, which in turn causes the difficulty to be up and down like a roller-coaster where punishingly difficult puzzles are sandwiched between baby-easy ones. The difficulty also comes in the form of inaccurate, downright bad, controls. Sometimes just dragging basic bits and pieces across the play-field fails completely, with clicks failing to register and hold-clicks stopping seemingly at random. (Editor’s Note: For those of you keeping score – we’ve officially found a game that can’t do clicking and dragging properly. This job never ceases to amaze.)

The biggest control issue though is just how finicky the rotations of some of the mirrors and beam splitters can be. Too many times would I wind up playing through a puzzle, feeling that I had everything in the right order, all failing just because one piece was a pixel or two off-place. This in turn completely negated any feeling of ‘I DID IT’ that a tough puzzle should give me, instead adding further frustration that my hard work was being negated by trial and error.

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And that’s all I really felt – frustration through and through. Sure the graphics are kind of pretty, but I can get the same effect by sticking my head in front of a music visualizer.

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Optika was developed by Vadim Ledyaev

Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99; Your mileage will vary heavily based on your feelings on repetition.

A commercial copy of Optika was purchased by James via an IndieGala games bundle (that has since ended) for this review.

James B has broken the 5k games barrier on steam and is currently looking for the nearest games hoarding recovery group. You know, right after he buys another 3 bundles of games he maybe will play. Someday.

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Stupid Legal Tricks, Chapter 3

(Note: I am an attorney, but I may or may not be licensed in the jurisdiction of any particular reader. Nothing in this post constitutes legal advice. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making legal decisions.)

Hello again!

It’s time for another episode of Stupid Legal Tricks. Once more we take a hard look at a story ripped from today’s headlines! And furthermore, it literally is a discussion about a Stupid Legal Trick. Namely, filing ridiculous DMCA takedown claims. If you’re more of a big-picture person, here’s the scoop on filing ridiculous DMCA takedown claims:

Don’t do that. It is a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad idea.

Okay. Now for people who need a little more context, here’s what that’s all about. The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is a US Federal law that, among many other things, provides a mechanism for people whose copyrighted works are being used online without their permission to do something about it without having to file a lawsuit. Specifically, they can send whoever’s doing it – or their content host or Internet Service Provider – a “takedown notice.” Here’s a nice little article about takedown notices that describes what they’re required to contain: The DMCA Takedown Notice Demystified.

Here’s a takedown notice I happened to find whilst randomly surfing the web:

Takedown Notice, A. Mauer to Turner Broadcasting

A totally random takedown notice.

Okay, I lied. I do that. (I’m just trying to keep you on your toes. *wink*) That is not, in fact a randomly retrieved takedown notice. It’s a notice that was sent to Turner Broadcasting by Ms. Alex Mauer, a composer of music for video games (and other things.) Ms. Mauer is claiming that Turner has posted her copyrighted works without her permission, and demanding that they take them down.

This is a bad takedown notice. (Arguably it’s not a takedown notice at all, but a plain old Cease and Desist letter. I’m going to treat it as if the intent were to present a takedown demand. Most of the same arguments apply.) For one thing, it doesn’t specifically identify the allegedly infringing work. For another, it doesn’t identify the work allegedly being infringed. How the Hell is Turner even supposed to know what they did wrong or how to fix it?

The case number is not something you can easily look up, incidentally: it’s totally inadequate to identify an allegedly registered work. For fun, I searched the Copyright Office’s records and to the best of my knowledge, Alex Mauer has no registered copyrights. (They could be registered under a pseudonym, of course.)

But here’s the thing: It seems quite likely that Ms. Mauer isn’t actually mad at Turner, because if you search the Internet you find that she’s sent quite a few takedown notices in the past several days, and what they have in common is that they are all being sent to people who are posting, well, pretty much anything about a game called Starr Mazer DSP.

StarrMazer DSP Web Page

The Imagos Softworks promo page for Starr Mazer DSP.

It turns out that Ms. Mauer is having a contract dispute with Imagos, who hired her to compose music for Starr Mazer. She believes they owe her a substantial sum of money and that she has been otherwise dealt with in bad faith. Well and good. All she needs is a good contract lawyer and she can sort this out in a jiff, right?

Not so much.

For whatever reason, instead of retaining a contract lawyer, Ms. Turner struck upon the not entirely original idea of involving other people in an attempt to raise awareness of her dispute in the hope, one assumes, of creating public pressure against Imagos. So she has been sending DMCA takedown notices to people who have posted video reviews of the game which include music and sound effects allegedly created by her for which she claims Imagos has no license. And not just to them, but to YouTube, to Steam, and to whoever else she could think of.

This was a spectacularly bad idea.

However, instead of directly commenting on Ms. Mauer – who seems to have had a difficult time and who I hope finds help and understanding – I will tell you why you, the indie game developer, should not do this, and why you-prime, the fan of an indie-game developer, should also not do this thinking you are “supporting” someone. I will also briefly discuss what, in my opinion, was a series of missteps by Imagos in responding to the situation.

Easy one first: If you are not the owner or licensee of a copyrighted work, you should never, ever file a DMCA notice regarding that copyrighted work. Because among other things a DMCA notice includes a statement made under penalty of perjury that the person filing it is or is operating with the explicit authorization of the owner of the work. “I buy all her games and one time she DM’d me to thank me for a Tweet” does not constitute explicit authorization to represent the owner of a work.

By the way, if you use an automated takedown notice generator or ISP/Platform takedown notice, it will automatically add that language to the takedown notice, even if you don’t type it yourself. And if enough spurious takedown notices come in, the ISP might be justified in decreasing the priority on notices regarding that artist’s work. Internet mobs are bad enough: don’t make them worse by actively committing fraud/perjury on behalf of someone you are allegedly trying to help and making their job harder, mmmkay?

Next one: even if you are the developer, or a contractor like Ms. Mauer, don’t ever do this. Just, don’t. For one thing, Streisand Effect. For another, Digital Homicide Death Penalty. For a third, this sort of thing is often interpreted by the game community – as it would be in other communities, I assure you – as saying, “I hate this industry, and I hate everyone who participates in it, and I never, ever want to work in it again.”

That may not be what you meant, but it will be what they hear.

And understandably so. Having an employee or contractor who will harass reviewers – the lifeblood of indie game publishers – if they get mad at you is something devoutly to be avoided. And they will. And Google is forever. So unless you really do want to leave the industry, and all related industries, and maybe the workforce entirely, never ever do that. Remember, any potential employer can Google you: if they see you have a history of legally harassing your employer’s customers, they may be somewhat put off even if their idea of cutting edge video games is that radical new Ms. Pac-Man.

Finally, a word about Imagos’ responses. They appear to be a small developer, almost certainly without a lawyer on staff and maybe *sigh* without a lawyer on regular retainer at all. They are trying to defend their good name after having been accused of copyright infringement and Lord knows what else. I get it. And this isn’t the worst I’ve seen, not by a long shot. Their responses have at least been tasteful and non-confrontational.

But for God’s sake shut up. Shut. Up. Shutupshutupshutupshutup.

They talked about her health status. In a public posting. Are they insane? I don’t care if she posted it first. I don’t care if she wasn’t an employee. You never ever talk about the health status of someone you are having a dispute with, or might have a dispute with. You don’t post contract terms (again, I don’t care if she did it first.) You don’t publicly say that you’re releasing rights. Or at least you don’t do any of this unless and until your intellectual property lawyer tells you that it’s reasonably safe to do so.

If you are going to make public statements about someone you are having or may have a legal dispute with, you have to consult an attorney. If you can’t afford it – and there are lots of us who will help you out a little for free if you’re really down on your luck – then don’t say anything. I know you want to defend yourself. I know they’re telling horrible lies and hurting your business. But you will very possibly make things worse. You may make admissions without even realizing it. You may create some new cause of action where none existed before. At the very least, you may enlarge and extend the controversy when otherwise it would have died out quickly. Just please shut up.

*whew*

Anyway, you may have noticed – Never can slip anything by you, can I? – I didn’t talk much about the substantive content/legal propriety of Ms. Mauer’s DMCA notices. That’s because that’s largely a “question of fact,” so it’s not helpful for me to discuss her particular case because next time it happens there will different facts and anything I say here may or may not apply. Which will not stop people from applying it. So I have been discreet.

I will say, in general, that while you should never ignore a takedown notice, and if at all possible you should consult an experienced copyright attorney about it if you get one, this sort of thing doesn’t work. Despite the fact that in my law panels I tell you It’s Never Fair Use, if you’re writing a bona fide review and you include a little gameplay, and some third party who has a beef with the publisher DMCA’s you, you are probably making a fair use even if they do have some sort of claim against the underlying content. Respond with a counternotice (if you don’t know what that is, ask a lawyer) and be calm. Here are some principles which may help:

Help I Just Got a Legal Thing!

As always, questions or comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!

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