April 15th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (1 Comments)

Fez Box Art

If you are unfamiliar with Fez then a little back story wouldn’t hurt. Fez is an indie game developed by Polytron and was first announced in 2007 by its creator, Phil Fish. Featured in Indie Game: The Movie Fez won multiple awards in 2008, 2011 and 2012 before even being released. After going through multiple delays and a lengthy legal battle the game was finally released on April 13th, 2012.

Fez is a puzzle/platform/adventure game with what feels like Escher inspired designs. The concept is that you play as a protagonist named Gomez who lives in a 2D world. One day Gomez receives a fez and is suddenly able to see a third dimension. As the player you only maneuver in a 2D space but you are capable of rotating the perspective. Imagine a cube, and you can only operate on one side of that cube at a time, however you can rotate the perspective to see any side of that cube at any time and then play on that side. After receiving the fez, Gomez is told that he must collect cubes scattered all over the world in order to save his village and ultimately the world from imminent destruction. You earn these cubes by jumping and maneuvering the world and some times by solving puzzles, as a reward for what often will feel like more difficult puzzles you receive an anti-cube. You need all of these cubes and anti-cubes to open doors which have other parts of the world locked away. Each door has a required number of cubes to open. If a door needs 16 cubes to open you can have 16 full cubes, 16 anti-cubes or any combination of the two that total 16.

For fans who have been waiting five years, the wait was worth it. The artwork in Fez is fantastic and truly feels like playing a 2D game at any given time. While the game uses pixel art, the textures feel very detailed. The landscapes are varied and they thematically make sense for their location in the world. In short, the world is beautiful. Complimenting the art style is the music. The soundtrack by Disasterpiece is in the chiptune style and fits the retro aesthetic. I can’t say enough about how important music is to the experience in a game, especially a game like Fez where a lot of time is spent examining and thinking about the puzzle in front of you.

The gameplay is innovative and yet reminds me of playing games when I was younger. The puzzles on the surface appear to be simple and then you realize there is more to the game than just simply finding cubes. One of the most wonderful aspects I have found is the sense of discovery, not just in discovering the solution to a puzzle but discovering that you are even looking at a puzzle. The world is full of cryptic clues and a whole language that uses symbols and can actually be deciphered. You may even walk past a puzzle and not realize that is was a puzzle until hours later in the game. Fez uses the shifting perspective mechanic to great effect. Shifting planes doesn’t get old and quickly becomes an old friend that will help you out of a jam. Death is barely a factor and I am glad for it. There are no enemies and if you fall off of a ledge you are quickly replaced on the ledge you were on previously. This encourages experimentation with the world and multiple attempts at things you wouldn’t try if a punishment were implemented.

Fez isn’t perfect however. The game will often stutter as you shift between zones and a few quick perspective changes will sometimes cause the game to lag slightly. My only other slight problem is the story is a basic “save the world” quest and while that is tried and true it doesn’t reflect the innovative gameplay.

Overall Fez is one of the best games I have played this year and at $10 on Xbox Live Arcade it is a must purchase.

Indie Game: The Movie

March 18th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (2 Comments)

I recently attended a screening of an independent film called Indie Game: The Movie. The film features Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen of Team Meat the creators of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish of Polytron Corportation the creators of Fez and Jonathan Blow the creator of Braid and the upcoming The Witness. I think the creators of the film describe it best:

With the twenty-first century comes a new breed of struggling independent artist: the indie game designer. Refusing to toil for major developers, these innovators independently conceive, design, and program their distinctly personal games in the hope that they, too, may find success.

After two years of painstaking work, designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes await the release of their first major game for Xbox, Super Meat Boy—the adventures of a skinless boy in search of his girlfriend, who is made of bandages. At PAX, a major video-game expo, developer Phil Fish unveils his highly anticipated, four-years-in-the-making FEZ. Jonathan Blow considers beginning a new game after creating Braid, one of the highest-rated games of all time.

First-time filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky capture the emotional journey of these meticulously obsessive artists who devote their lives to their interactive art. Four developers, three games, and one ultimate goal— to express oneself through a video game.

I found the film to be moving, informative and humorous. Quite often as a video game enthusiast I forget the blood, sweat and tears involved in creating the games that I enjoy. While large studios have teams of people dedicated to art, design, sound and all the other aspects of game creation these independent developers are often either alone or on a very small team. The day after the screening I decided to play Super Meat Boy and Braid again and not only did I enjoy the gameplay, story, art and all the things that I loved about them the first time I played them, I found myself with an even deeper appreciation for the personal touches implemented in the games. The movie is only screening in select theaters right now but you can pre-order the DVD/Blu-Ray or digital download here. Ultimately it is definitely a film I recommend watching.