Mary P. Traverse

Mary P. Traverse is an artist, designer, loudmouth and nerd.

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TV Mid-Season Lightning Round

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Srs bizness. (l-r) Orphan Black, Legion, American Gods, Supernatural, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Flash.

We’re just popping our heads up from our long hiatus to tell you what nerdy stuff we’re watching on tv! Here is a super-quick round-up of what’s been draining our eyeballs*, in no particular order.

  • The Flash
    Mary: Still great and still fun! AND I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE ARROWVERSE MUSICAL CROSSOVER EPISODES NEXT WEEK!!!
    Rob: I hate to say it, but I may be peeling off from the Arrowverse. (Do I really hate to say it? Do I?) The good stuff is good–gotta love Jesse Quick–but the dialogue is insultingly bad across all four shows. At least one of them (see below) sometimes flips into camp, but Barry and the gang never quite get there. That musical could make it all right again, though.
  • Arrow
    Mary: SO morose, and SO hit-or-miss, but I’m still watching.
    Rob: If it weren’t for Mr. Terrific, I wouldn’t be watching. (Looking forward to Echo Kellum’s next role.) I do kinda like Ragman too, but he’s out until they need him to go bad or remind Oliver he’s a dick or whatever.
    Mary: Agreed about Mr. Terrific. That dude is great.
  • Supergirl
    Mary: I’m glad this show exists, but I’m only watching the crossover episodes now.
    Rob: IGTSE also. That said…meh? Bits and pieces are kinda neat, and there will forever be a Buffy-sized hole that needs filling, but inertia and my sick drive to complete sets is all that’s keeping me watching.
  • Legends of Tomorrow
    Mary: I mostly forget about this show except for watching the crossover episode with the Arrowverse.
    Rob: This is the one show out of the four in the Arrowverse that seems to enjoy being what it is–stupid, campy time-travel adventures. Some of the corn is just unbearable–when Dr. Stein started singing the Banana Boat Song in the control room of Apollo 13, to name a recent example. But it commits to the bit every week and it’s at its best when it’s diving headfirst into idiocy.
  • Supernatural
    Mary: Season 12 is the best in a long time, it’s really fucking good. I could do a whole post on this, and I might just do that.
  • Legion
    Mary: Holy shit this show is AMAZING and I’m obsessed. I love the styling, the music, the acting, the actors… I’ve described it as a dark Wes Anderson superhero show. And it just got picked up for a second season!
    Rob: I could not be happier that this show made it to air and is showing off what’s possible both in genre TV and in TV generally. Few shows step up to this level of extreme psychedelic weirdness. More than anything, I want tv to treat me like an intelligent adult, and Legion delivers. There is just so much to recommend this show, but I suppose the less you know about it the better. Check it out.
  • Lucifer
    Mary: There’s not a new episode until like May or something, but it’s still charming and I’m still on board mostly because of Tom Ellis.
    Rob: Ditto, though I’m a little concerned about the recent move toward Lucifer’s serious side. That could ruin the show for me. (if a show is going to be dumb, it has to know it and revel in it–see Legends of Tomorrow above.)
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    Mary: I gave up. I’ll probably catch up someday. It just got to be homework and my tv schedule is already pretty full.
    Rob: They’re doing something interesting with long story arcs wrapping up in midseason finales, and of course they’ve got overarching plotlines and occasional movie tie-ins. But is it any good? Short answer: I guess? Clark Gregg is a gem, and the other main characters are all good fun, but like most other modern genre shows, everyone’s gotta have a dark side, yawn. The most recent arc touched very lightly on some Westworld-adjacent themes and delivered a few genuine surprises, so I’m staying in.
  • The Magicians
    Mary: I can’t explain why I like this show, and I’m not recommending it but I find myself compulsively watching every episode.
    Rob: I love this show, but they forgot to make Eliot the main character.
  • Colony:
    Mary: I haven’t been watching the second season in real time, but I really liked the first season on Netflix and will probably binge the second. It’s especially scary in light of current events.
  • Grimm
    Mary: I gave up but a friend of mine says I should get back in so I will probably catch up.
  • Sleepy Hollow
    Mary: I honestly didn’t know this was still on. I fizzled out midway through season 3, and really didn’t know they’d gotten a 4th. That being said, I’ve heard it’s delightful still and I might jump back in.
    Rob: Wow, I didn’t realize that season 4 had already started. The finale of season 3 seemed pretty…final, but I’ll give it a shot for old time’s sake.
  • Gotham
    Rob: This one is also taking a quick break, but I’m looking forward to its return next month. The triple-head-fake on the Joker has been marvelous to watch unfold, and Robin Lord Taylor is killing it as the Penguin. But as I’ve said before, Bruce Wayne is the Jar Jar Binks of Gotham.
  • The Expanse
    Mary: I watched a good chunk of the first season and then fell off, but I want to get back in. There’s a lot to love.
    Rob: Now that they’ve more or less unified the storylines, I’m loving season 2 without reservation. Solid dialogue, surprising plotting, amazing effects, and generally high-quality acting make this essential viewing. Of course, if hard sci-fi with deep roots in the Campbell tradition isn’t your thing, you’re excused.

Coming Soon

  • Iron Fist
    Mary: I’m really not looking forward to this. It sounds boring and Finn Jones needs someone to come pick him up because he is drunk and not helping his cause. I’ve taken to referring to Iron Fist as Kickpuncher because it sounds about as good.
    Rob: The initial reviews are scaring me off a little, but I know I’ll watch. Beyond the troubling cultural issues (I don’t think the showrunners could have made it work regardless of their casting, but we’ll never know), IF has the misfortune of having to tie together three very different, very well done shows and set the stage for the big crossover series The Defenders. That’s a big ask under any circumstances.
  • Orphan Black
    Mary: Coming back soon, yes? The third and fourth seasons were definitely not as strong as the first and second, but there’s no way I’d miss the final season.
    Rob: It’s coming out in June, and while it has meandered a fair amount latey, I’d watch Tatiana Maslany shop for USB cables for an hour a week if that was all I could get.
  • iZombie
    Mary: I had forgotten all about it and then I saw a promo on the CW and I’m probably going to watch the next season.
  • Preacher
    Rob: I had mixed but mostly positive feelings about the first season, and I’ll be watching when it drops again in June. The actors are so charming–especailly Ruth Negga as Tulip–that it should be good fun to watch even if it goes off the rails.
    American Gods
    Mary: My anticipation for this show is almost too much to bear. I honestly get chills thinking about it. The first trailer looks and feels perfect (the second is even better) and the casting is brilliantly on-point, I will be shocked if it doesn’t live up to expectations.
    Rob: See above.

* Look for Drained Eyeballs: The Story of Nerdhole, coming one day to herald the final true death of the publishing industry.

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On Re-Watching Supernatural

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I started re-watching Supernatural from the beginning this past Wednesday… it’s familiar, it’s comforting, it’s straightforward and uncomplicated, and it’s been helping me cope with the exceedingly complicated world beyond the TV screen. I’m not going to dwell on that in this post, though. This post is also not about the problematic parts of the show, though I’ll certainly talk about that at some point. What I do want to talk about is that I forgot how charming Supernatural is right from the beginning. I’m fairly certain this isn’t just my affection and familiarity talking… in fact I’m certain this is exactly how that affection began.

I talked about Supernatural at length on an episode of the podcast, but I’ll give you the rundown here as well: it’s about the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean, who hunt supernatural creatures, live on the road in cheap motels, and make money by gambling and committing credit-card fraud. It’s largely of the monster-of-the-week variety with a big bad that ties each season together. But from the very first episode it’s so much more than that: the thing that makes the show such an obsession with fans is that the relationships between the main characters feel real, consistent, and fully realized throughout the series.

The series begins by showing us Sam’s apparently normal life… he’s just graduated college, he’s about to attend law school, he’s got a girlfriend he loves. Then his older brother Dean shows up and tries to convince Sam to come search for their father, John, who Dean meaningfully says is on a “hunting trip” and hasn’t been heard from in three days. It’s immediately clear that Sam’s relationship with his father and brother is strained, and as the show progresses it explores the messy nature of familial love, and later the love found in platonic friendships. (Romantic love exists occasionally throughout the show, but it’s rare, fleeting, and largely unimportant.) The lead characters—who are all male—have conversations about their feelings every episode, and just as often there are scenes where the actors subtly express all the complexities with only facial expressions or tears. Throughout the first season Sam struggles with feeling torn between leaving a normal life behind and the loyalty he feels towards his family. Dean suppresses jealousy that Sam ever had a chance at a normal life, hides the weight of responsibility he feels under jokey bravado, and desperately tries to maintain peace between Sam and their father John, the only two people he has in his life. John can be brusque, unhinged, and hyper-focused on the job, but it’s also clear he thinks he’s doing the right thing to keep his boys safe from all the horror he knows is in the world. And in between they kill monsters.

I suspect that this is one of the main reasons that the fan-base is largely female… the focus on feelings and interpersonal communication is far more interesting to us than the “will they or won’t they” romantic plot of so many shows. This may seem counter-intuitive when you’re scrolling through Tumblrs full of fan-fic and art devoted to placing the male leads in sexy situations with each other, but I think the truth is that most fans (including the fan creators) want those fanciful ‘ships to remain separate and sacred from the show’s canon.

So the show began with the right ingredients to create its current fan-base, but then that fan-base began to influence and cultivate the show into something even better. The show’s creators and cast are very connected with the fan community through conventions and social media. But they also respond within the show with easter eggs and entire meta-episodes, the best example of the latter being the 200th episode, “Fan Fiction,” which can only be described as a love letter to the fans. That relationship between the creators and fans feels unique and collaborative, like friends snickering together over inside jokes. And it’s yet another relationship that forms the backbone of the show—though to be clear it’s not exclusionary… the fan community is warm and you’ll quickly be welcomed into that click.

I’m afraid I’ve made it sound too soapy… is the series still a fun horror/fantasy escapist show? Absolutely, but that’s not what makes it special. I think after 12 seasons I have sometimes lost sight of that… I still heartily recommend it to people, but I’ve occasionally felt like it’s inertia that’s drawn me back season after season. Re-watching from the beginning has reminded me why I fell in love with the show and why it’s not even a guilty pleasure… it’s just a pleasure.

 

 

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Pax Day 4: No, YOU Calm Down

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And so we say goodbye to another PAX. We can’t wait to see how much more VR will be at the next one, and how that will drive non-VR content. For now, we’re going to rest our strained muscles and settle into waiting for all the fun stuff  to come out IRL. Here’s what we saw today:

  • We wanted to like Don’t Starve more than we actually did, but Klei’s new game looks like it’ll keep us happy. It’s called Oxygen Not Included, and it’s a space colony sim that feels like Fallout Shelter with legs. There’s a lot more to do, the art looks just as sweet as Don’t Starve, and the interface seems to have learned a lot from other sims.
  • We liked watching Objects in Space, a “modempunk” stealth space trading game, but were too intimidated to give it a shot ourselves. It’s built by an Australian brother and sister team (he designs, she codes), and it came to PAX with an insane Arduino controller set that looked delightfully scrungy. The garage/DIY aesthetic is lovely,and the gameplay revolves around stealth combat avoidance, with occasional battles using remote sensors. Madness, but seemingly good madness.
  • OMG YOU GUYS. [Mary here.] OMG FALLOUT VR. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever played a demo that I loved as much as this. Paul and I waited two hours in line for an eight minute demo and it was worth EVERY SECOND. We’re easy marks since we’re such huge Fallout fans, but I’ll be as objective as I can be. At E3, Bethesda announced that Fallout 4 will be available in 2017 on the HTC Vive, which is the device we used. The demo takes place at the Red Rocket truck stop. When you phase in, your good buddy Dogmeat is there and I can’t tell you how great it was to see him there. You have a Pip-Boy on your left wrist and a pistol in your right hand. You are able to cycle through the Pip-Boy modes with the Vive controller. It’s relatively intuitive, and I imagine with more time it becomes second-nature. You can then pick up a laser rifle, a shotgun, and a Fat Man from a table and cycle through them with your right controller. That’s when the action begins. The first wave is a few raiders, pretty easy to take down. Sadly they shot the Fat Man off the table before I had a chance to grab it (I might have been distracted by the fact I was IN the Commonwealth) and it glitched and disappeared so I stuck with my pistol and shotgun. (Paul used the Fat Man on everything and made short work of it all.) The next wave is feral ghouls… I screamed SO LOUD. It’s one thing when they’re hurling themselves toward you in 2D, but in a virtual environment it’s absolutely frightening. I got a little disoriented making sure I’d taken them all down and the next thing I knew, a Deathclaw had come up behind me… If the feral ghouls were frightening, the Deathclaw was pants-shittingly terrifying. I finally killed him and spent a few minutes exploring, which was just wonderful… Being fully transported into a world I love so much was entirely satisfying. Pretty much anything you can interact with in the game is also available to interact with in the VR version, including the crafting table, though the demo didn’t have crafting as an option. VATS wasn’t available in the demo either, but presumably it will be in a full version of the game. The only downside for me was not enough time to learn the interface, a problem that will certainly be solved with time on my side. Others have noted that this is more a proof-of-concept tech demo than a game, but if you’re familiar with Fallout it’s impossible not to see the potential. Also, you guys, feral ghouls and Deathclaws in your face! [/Mary]

    Paul checking out the wasteland of the Commonwealth. That's just wall art in the background, they asked that we not share images of the content.
    Paul checking out the wasteland of the Commonwealth. That’s just wall art in the background, they asked that we not share images of the content.
  • The extremely charming roguelike Rogue Wizards drew us in with its vivid graphics and fun interface, but we swooned when we read this on their site: “A narrative with a core message of gender and class equality.” Awwwww! It’s out shortly on Steam.
  • If you, like us, missed out on the PAX screening of the live-action Lookouts short film due to the injustice of our universe’s temporal laws, you’ll be glad to find out you can watch it online. Please, though, try to watch in on a big screen if at all possible. (Speaking of the Lookouts, read about Thornwatch in Saturday’s post and get in on the Thornwatch Kickstarter while the getting is good. It has now tripled its goal, if you’re keeping track!)
  • Let Them Come is a soon-to-be-out mobile and PC game that essentially lets you relive the sentry gun scene from Aliens—but with you on the trigger, prosecuting an endless stream of alien extermination in the strobing light and staccato sound of your trusty mounted space gun. This was one of those games that sucked us in at first with a fun idea and art, and then we were kind of surprised (given the game’s limited scope) to still be playing it 20 minutes later. That addictiveness bodes well for mobile! You fight enemies in waves, with new and more tactically interesting aliens (and bosses) getting thrown into the mix.When you inevitably succumb to the onslaught and get overrun, you get a chance to buy active and passive upgrades to improve your odds next time around. A fun touch: you get to the upgrade screen by clicking on your “BoomBox,” which is sitting behind you blasting out tunes appropriate to the task at hand. You also collect “mixtapes” and choose your soundtrack. Fun! A bonus: Let Them Come is published by Versus Evil, which also publishes two other games we love, Guild of Dungeoneering and Banner Saga 2.
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  • Elder Scrolls: Legends entered beta at the beginning of August and there was a pretty huge booth dedicated to it at PAX. Joining the ranks of Hearthstone and Magic Duels, Legends is an online deck-building game featuring familiar characters from the Elder Scrolls universe. [Editor’s note: Yeah that’s great… Did I mention how awesome Fallout VR is?! I mean, I love Elder Scrolls, but can I fight an enormous virtual dragon?! You guys. Seriously. Fallout VR.] When Legends launches, it will be available on iOS and Windows.

    Elder Scrolls: Legends booth at PAX
    Elder Scrolls: Legends booth at PAX… there was about a 90 minute line to play.
  • How can there still be undiscovered arcade ideas that are this elegant and fun? Inversus is in this year’s PAX 10 and it’s like frantic high-speed murder Othello. The trailer below can modem a description of it into your brain faster than we can describe it:
  • We can’t wait to explore Moon Hunters more. We first saw this helping judge the PAX 10 and it accomplished the unlikely feat of mixing a meditative mood involving world-building with sprinting Robotron-style arcade combat. Read some of the impassioned reviews on Steam if you need convincing, it’s designed for 1–2 hour playthroughs with 1–4 players coop, where you relive the same fateful few days building your individual reputation and legacy. (How can you not love this from the developers: “Moon Hunters could be described as a mythology generator.”)

Check out our long-ago PAX coverage right here.

[Editor’s note: Did I mention how much I love Fallout VR?]

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My Favorite Part of the World of Warcraft: Legion Pre-Patch

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InterfaceThe World of Warcraft: Legion pre-patch came out just over a week ago and the thing I’ve spent the most time doing is playing with the new transmogrification interface. For the uninitiated, WoW allows you to re-skin your armor with the appearance of other items you’ve obtained.

I’m not the only one obsessively playing dress-up… the first few days after the patch the transmog NPCs in every city were mobbed with players. It looked like a Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart. I’ve already built nine outfits for Lucythia, my main character, and at least two for most other characters I have. Which is a lot.

Previous to this patch any item that you might want to use for transmogrification had to be stored in your inventory (in your bags, bank, or Void Storage), which meant that those of us who love to transmog could quickly run out of space. With the new interface every item you’ve ever received as a quest reward or as a drop is now available account-wide in a nice searchable interface, so you can sell all the armor that’s been cluttering up your storage. The interface shows you how your character will look in each item, and you can choose to hide your helmet, shoulders, and/or cloak. It also allows you to save outfits—and name them—so you can easily switch between appearances (for a modest sum of gold, of course).

Below is a gallery of a few of the looks I’ve put together… since each wardrobe change costs a little over 300 gold for me, I’ve just included the dressing room images here, except for the outfit each character is currently wearing. Enjoy!

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The Fabulously Creepy Game We Happy Few Is Currently In Early Access

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WeHappyFew_14 I meant to do a post about this game during E3 because it is seriously up my alley. Developed by Compulsion (who also brought us Contrast), We Happy Few is a first-person survival stealth adventure game, and it’s currently available for play on Xbox One Game Preview, Steam Early Access, and GOG.com Games in Development. I’ve seen it compared to Bioshock, and once you watch the trailer and gameplay below you’ll see why. The retro, dystopian landscape populated with violent masked denizens feels very much like Rapture. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

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SDCC Movie and TV Trailer Round-Up

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As always San Diego Comic Con was filled with trailers: some made me feel better about things I wasn’t sure about, some just whipped my excitement into a frenzy, and still others that… well… Anyway here’s a quick round-up of some of the trailers I watched:


Trailers That Made Me Go SQUEE
These trailers legitimately gave me goosebumps when I watched them.

American Gods

I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS. Of all the trailers this is the one that I lost my mind over, the one I keep watching over and over. The casting is spot-on, with every new announcement building my glee. The trailer looks like how the book feels which is exactly what you hope for in an adaptation. Look for an upcoming episode of Nerdhole where we’ll turn you onto the novel by Neil Gaiman so you can read it (or re-read it) before this show finally drops in 2017.

Luke Cage

HOLY CRAP. Based on what we’ve seen of Cage in Jessica Jones and what this trailer has to show, it’s going to be fantastic. And Mike Coulter… SWOON.

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Nerd HQ at San Diego Comic Con

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Zachary Levi at Nerd HQ 2016
Zachary Levi at Nerd HQ 2016

Some of the best panels at SDCC are always at Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ, and this year is no different. So far this year the panels are some of Zach’s friends and favorites, including Nathan Fillion, John Barrowman, and Felicia Day. Some of the ones I’ll be watching that are still to come: the Orphan Black panel (the 2014 OB panel was OFF THE HOOK) and (SQUEE) an American Gods panel!!!

Here’s a link to the Nerd HQ playlist on YouTube and here’s a list of all the panels. Check em out!!

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J.J. Abrams Rekindles Hopes for Portal and Half-Life Films

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Portal: No Escape short film

In a recent interview with IGN about 10 Cloverfield Lane J.J. Abrams addressed the progress of the Portal and Half-Life films that he and Gabe Newell—head of Valve, the studio that made both games—announced back in 2013. Abrams told IGN, “Not yet, but they’re in development… And we’ve got writers, and we’re working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update.”

It’s interesting to imagine what a Portal movie would be… especially considering that Abram’s collaborator on 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dan Trachtenberg, created a live-action short film called Portal: No Escape back in 2011. In case you missed Trachtenberg’s short, it’s a great proof-of-concept:

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PAX Prime 2015, Day Three

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We’ve made it through Day 3! Here’s some of what caught our eyes today:

  • Lego Dimensions
    The LEGO Toypad, left, and the lengthy list of Doctors, right.
    The LEGO Toypad, left, and the lengthy list of Doctors, right.

    We got to spend some quality time with SkyLEGOs LEGO Infinity LEGO’s entry into the buy-a-bunch-of-things-to-put-on-a-thing console genre. The gameplay should be instantly recognizable to any LEGO console fan, and the execution is world-class. E.g., if you’re playing as the Doctor, you can pick literally any Doctor (see above) and any Tardis–and the First Doctor’s Tardis is even in black and white. Smart, like much LEGO console humor. But all that’s beside the point: If you’re a fan of LEGO’s console games and one or more of the IPs involved, it’s going to be impossible to resist the mashups made possible by Lego Dimensions–like who wouldn’t want to watch Batman save Gandalf from falling at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm so that they can go fight Daleks together? And that’s without even getting into Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic World, et al. This game genre seemingly can’t last forever, but it will for at least one more title.

  • Minecraft: Story Mode

    We were lucky enough to get in quickly on the Minecraft: Story Mode demo this morning, which has turned out to be the longest line at PAX,with a 2+ hour wait–and that’s if you’re lucky enough to catch the line at all when it isn’t capped! You’ll have to measure your own personal Minecraft mania to judge whether it’s worth it (we had a couple of kids with us, so our visit was mandatory), but the demo is pretty great, and definitely as polished as Telltale’s previous PAX outings with The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands.
    The demo stitches together a couple scenes from the final game, involving finding a pig named Reuben and navigating a crisis at “Endercon,” and the gameplay is a nice mix of classic Telltale dialog choices (what kind of person are you? where are your loyalties?) and some light action and circumscribed exploration in a convincingly Minecraft environment. (And, but of course, there’s even some crafting.) As a bonus, if you played the demo as a male character and were like, “Hey, am I Patton Oswalt?” you were right!
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

    This peppy little indie game made the PAX 10 two years ago (and it’s the second beneficiary of The Behemoth’s Gold Egg Project), but somehow it’s escaped us every year. This PAX, we finally logged some time piloting our lovers (two little space bunnies, in this case) and wow, is it fun. A two-person couch co-op game at heart (although you can play solo with an AI), Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime has you and a pal sharing the controls of a slowly floating spacecraft bristling with weapons and gadgetry. You’re being attacked from all sides as you navigate large, obstacle-strewn levels, but the trick is that your bunnies are running around your small craft between all the individual control panels. So, for example, one player might be steering the ship while the other is firing one of the turrets, and you have to constantly swap around as the threats outside keep changing. The game also keeps switching things up, with six ship layouts and four campaigns–each with four randomly generated levels and a boss battle. The best news of all: it is a glorious spacetime for Xbox One owners, with the game arriving there (and on Steam, for Mac and PC) on September 9.
  • Mushroom 11

    Trying to describe the gameplay of Mushroom 11 is difficult: you’re pushing a mass of self-replicating slime through a maze of different obstacles by erasing carefully selected parts of it to force further replication… you can see why this might be hard. But the conceit is so novel and the play is so uncannily satisfying that it’s a game like no other–definitely a must-play if you’re touring the Indie Megabooth. The original concept came from a wife-and-husband team (Julia Keren-Detar and Itay Keren) at Global Game Jam 2012, and this was their take on the jam’s Ouroboros theme. The initial idea came quickly (coded in just 10 hours), but the pair teamed up with another couple (artist Simon Kono and producer Kara Kono) and spent a year and half getting the feel, physics, and camera angle just right. The effort shows. Get it on Steam now, or watch for it next year on iOS and Android when everyone will be talking about it. It’s going to be an amazing fit for touch controls.
  • enfu
    Detail from the cover of enfu's book, Cute Grit.
    Detail from the cover of enfu’s book, Cute Grit.

    We’re always stoked to see Seattle artist enfu at events, and this year he’s signing copies of his book, Cute Grit, and other swag at the Penny Arcade merch booth. He’ll be back again tomorrow, Monday, from noon–2 pm. Ask him about his new pin project!

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