RE:BIND

Browsing posts from: Catherine Brinegar

Fighting games are one-in-a-million. Let me save both our time and, instead of listing a bunch of them, just say there’s a lot. There’s a million flavours, ranging from your stock-standard 2D one-on-one fare, those featuring depth with which to circle your opponent, brawlers, party-friendly group fighters, and so on. But, how many of them allow you to pilot massive crustaceans in a brutal fight to the death?

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I sit on the side of I-5, the main highway running between Seattle and Portland. It’s nearly 19:00, the sun is quickly setting, and the wind has taken a sinister chill. My car sits, hazards flashing, on the shoulder in front of me. I’m flipping between tabs on my phone: my bank account, nearby mechanics, and quotes for towing companies to get me and the car back to my friend’s place. The bank account is thinner than I’d like, the mechanics are all closed, and the tow is going to drain me of the rest of my funds regardless of who does it. With a stiff gust breaking on my back, my hair flung into my face, I realize that this whole ordeal has a striking resemblance to my time spent with Jalopy.

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Genre fusion is something of a mainstay in the indie scene as of late, after all, what better way to revitalize a now-defunct style of game than injecting it with some vigor from another genre? Most prominent is the trend of rogue-ifying something; platformers, FPS, RPGs, and so on. But before this was ever cool, there was the 1990 now-cult-classic ActRaiser. Featuring a blend between action platforming stages a la Castlevania as well as god-game style simulation like that of Populous, players were treated to a unique SNES title that threaded a line between frenetic, fast-paced gameplay and much slower, thoughtful creation and town planning.

Enter SolSeraph, ACE Team’s (@theACETeam) 2019 ActRaiser inspired action-platforming tower defense god-game. It’s important to note the addition of “tower defense” to that concoction; while SolSeraph follows in the footsteps of its sister game, offering a balance between 2.5D side scrolling segments and isometric/top-down city creation, it also lavishes the player with waves of enemies attacking your city. This new mechanic drastically changes the game as a whole and makes it stand out from its predecessor, offering more than a simple retreading of the ground ActRaiser has already well covered.

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After Ragnarok, with all the Gods dead, Yggdrasil slowly bleeds dry. In a last-ditch effort, it calls forth the souls of the strongest women from history to undergo the challenge of the Neverinth, an ever-shifting labyrinth that, when conquered, will grant the champion who survives its halls the title of Valkyrie. Here, you enter as one of these women and must face down the hordes of evil lurking within its twisted halls.

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Harken back, to the era of floppy disks and shareware, when a gallon of gas only cost you a $1! Hear me, and yearn again for the days of billboard sprites, the fidelity of 16-bit graphics! Be whisked to the golden year of 1996, and imagine (if you can) a game built on id Tech 1; the original Doom engine, hacked and slashed to serve the needs of a FPS/RPG hybrid. In this fantasy, picture it being… I don’t know, perhaps, high fantasy meets low tech? And behold! You are picturing Strife!

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Over the last few years, we’ve been seeing a surge of interest in the rendering styles of late-90’s consoles: the PlayStation, Saturn, Nintendo 64. It provides a framework that allows for lo-fi titles to come across as more polished rather than seeming lazy, doing wonders for plenty of solo developers out there. Low poly counts, tiny textures meant to stretch and blur to accomodate CRTs, leading to smaller, self-contained games that allow for a greater breadth of artistic expression to reach fruition. From this, dozens of microindies have emerged making a name for themselves as trailblazers of this new frontier of visual nostalgia.

Enter James Wragg (@LovelyHellplace) and their latest release, Penitent Dead, made for the Haunted PSX Gamejam. Unlike a lot of the other entries, this title is not so much an out-right horror game or thriller, but more so an exploration of space and time.

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Amongst the loping slopes of the valley resides a message. Scrolling over it reveals microprose, a small story wrapped up in atmosphere and emotion lasting maybe 120 characters. It’s the kind of fragmented storytelling native to Twitter, jumping into an interaction or story far removed from most of its context. Things are quiet, a lull between songs. You ruminate a bit and begin scrolling on to another place, another mood.

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In the far-flung future of 2XXX, humanity uncovers the Spheres, objects that grant them massive technological advancement. From there, they discover alien lifeforms throughout the galaxy, forging interstellar alliances. Certain races that interact with the Spheres gain abilities and powers, which come in handy as a new alien race invades Earth, prompting these superpowered Guardians to leap into action and protect us all.

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Your AR overlay provides the next lines, “I have a recommendation for you.” The AI counseling partner, Eliza, tells you to suggest that the client try performing some breathing exercises and to ask their doctor about some conspicuously name brand medication. “Have a wonderful day,” the script prompts, “Goodbye.” Another successful session, granting you a boon of experience points and a few medals to add to your AR profile. Your rating isn’t great, but you snagged a $5 tip, so at least there’s that.

In this near-future snapshot of Seattle from Zachtronics’ new game, Eliza, you play as Evelyn, a worker in the ever expanding rhizomatic gig economy. Recently contracted to serve as a human proxy for the AI-power therapy system of the future (the titular Eliza), Evelyn ventures adrift into a world she helped build but that she feels deeply and troublingly disconnected from. Previously one of the leading engineers on the project, Evelyn left the company creating Eliza, Skadha, behind her, only to return to see what her project has become in her absence. What follows is a harrowing tale about the value of human connection, the troubling state of what the mental health system has become, and how we can try to better the world for one another. Writer Matthew Seiji Burns paints a picture of a world not quite dystopic, but more reflective of our own current societal state and the path that those at the top of the tech industry are leading us towards at a worrying pace.

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