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Mobile game of the week: You Must Build a Boat

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You Must Build a Boat is a game about matching tiles as fast as you can so that monsters won't kill you, and tricking out your adventure boat.

Despite the title, most of the game is spent not boat-building, but fighting your way puzzles—or puzzling your way through fighters. In order to gain gold, brains, brawns, and other resources, your tiny character must descend into dungeons and battle his way out by shifting tiles into matching lines while jaunty chiptunes play in the background.

Your little pixelated man automatically sprints across the top of the screen until he encounters an obstacle like treasure chest or monster, and then in order to continue running you'll have match up three or more of the right tiles: keys, swords, magic staffs. But there's no time to dawdle. If you're too slow, as you often will be, you'll slowly get edged off the left side screen until you lose.

The game, however, has different take on this; every time your turn ends, it announces:

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As silly as it sounds, it's kind of nice to be told that you're constantly winning, and thanks to the constant powerups and tiny successes sprinkled throughout You Must Build a Boat, you always feel like you're getting better even when you're constantly dying. This forgiving attitude is a nice antidote to the relentless pace of the game, which can feel pretty frantic when you find yourself boxed in by an encroaching monster and all you seem to have are goddamn keys. It also makes me feel more inclined to open the game while I'm waiting for the bus and just run through a dungeon or two. After all, what's the worst thing that's going to happen: I'll win?

If you've ever played the RPG puzzle game 10,000,000 by the same developer, this is all going to look very familiar; in that game, you were an adventurer trying to battle your way out of a dungeon; here, you're sailing free on the sea in the titular boat, possibly after you have escaped from that dungeon.

Over time, you make your way to new locations, face new challenges, and recruit monsters who assist you on your quest to build the sickest boat. Although the game available on Mac or PC, it's much better as a mobile game on iOS or Android. It's $2.99, so go build a boat, already.

Play it now: Operations Calibration Droid (OCD)

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You're a cute little droid being told by a beautiful computer to perform increasingly difficult, strangely-specific tasks. Each of them requires attention to detail, and you'll be deactivated if you can't manage it.

Read the rest

Sonic the Hedgehog is pretty slow in real life

I'm kind of surprised at myself for being drawn to this video of a real-life hedgehog lumbering cutely through a little handmade Green Hill Zone. But I guess I like hedgehogs.

I used to really like Sonic, too—he was the perfect avatar for the 16-bit 1990s, full of "attitude" and inherent absurdity, like all the cartoons I wasn't yet allowed to watch on MTV, or Ecto Cooler. But Sonic fans are incredibly intense. Even though I have been a "controversial video games feminist" for years now, I am not kidding when I say that the most I have ever been assailed for an opinion was when I wrote this Guardian piece on how fragmented and surreal Sonic now felt as a brand, and how unusual its fandom was. Re-reading it now, I can't imagine what's so offensive about any of the assertions.

Sonic fans are weird. Still, if I got a pet hedgehog, it might be hard not to name it Sonic (the one shown here belongs to the San Diego Zoo and is apparently called Elvis).

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Use emoji to make your own playful worlds

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Emotica is a free online level editor where you can assign movements and behaviors to emoji and then drag them anywhere you want on a screen. The result is even more delightful than you might think—the simple interface and clusters of familiar objects give your creations a distinctly-textured 1990s web feel, and it's the perfect tool to build little inside jokes and playful areas to send your friends (I made a level called "Pool Boss", a tribute to a fictional boar who makes frequent appearances in my text messages with my partner and has developed his own mythology).

Emoji and stickers on services like LINE or Facebook are part of a modern visual language whose charm and appeal is obvious when you get to play with them in contexts like these. Emotica is very easy to learn and experiment with in-browser (you don't need any pre-existing skills), and loads with several screens of rooms that are not only funny and cleverly-thought, but act as examples of the kinds of things you can implement in the game.

The game also features sounds by Liz Ryerson and co-design and programming by Leon Arnott. Anna Anthropy designed and prototyped the game, which makes sense when you look at her body of work focused on making game creation fun, accessible and nontraditional. Emotica premiered at Anthropy's recent show at New York gallery Babycastles, where she showed work that challenged participants on the topic of empathy in games—"empathy games" is a widely-used genre term that Anthropy believes acts for some as a "shortcut to allyship".

Right after returning home from the gallery premiere, Anthropy was hit by a car and broke her arm. You can support her ongoing work via Patreon, and definitely try Emotica for yourself here.

Nintendo's new Fire Emblem game will have same-sex marriage

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When the Nintendo 3DS game Tomodachi Life came out last year, many players noted critically that the life simulation title only allowed opposite-sex relationships, but not same-sex ones. The response from Nintendo was simply that it "never intended to make any form of social commentary"—ignoring, of course, that the exclusion of same-sex relationships is hardly a neutral act.

But the times, they are a-changing. Nintendo recently announced that when the 3DS game Fire Emblem Fates is released in 2016, your character will finally be able to join others in both same-sex and opposite-sex matrimony. The company offered more details at Polygon, adding:

"We believe that our gameplay experiences should reflect the diversity of the communities in which we operate and, at the same time, we will always design the game specifications of each title by considering a variety of factors, such as the game's scenario and the nature of the game play. In the end of course, the game should be fun to play. We feel that Fire Emblem Fates is indeed enjoyable to play and we hope fans like the game.

While it remains to be seen how or whether this sort of inclusiveness will extend to other Nintendo games, much like the recent decision to allow varied skin tones in an upcoming Animal Crossing title, it's still a laudable step forward.

When the landmark Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage arrived today, hot on the heels of the Nintendo announcement, the jokes almost seemed to make themselves:

Boo at the Confederate flag til it burns. It'll probably make you feel better

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In BooFlag, just switch on your computer mic and boo at the Confederate flag. As you do, it will slowly be lowered, and eventually it will catch on fire and burn to a little pile of ash. Is it all happening too slowly? Boo harder.

It's satisfying, of course, but as the game reminds you, chiding an emblem doesn't solve structural problems. It's an "unofficial sequel" to BulchyC's Americlap, a game where you earn money by clapping your hands at the American flag til you feel embarrassed. Sometimes very simple mechanics can create such fertile territory, and they make often complicated ideas and thought spaces simple to experience and share.

The game is by Carnegie Mellon professor Paolo Pedercini, whose imprint Molleindustria has done some of the most provocative critiques of systems and issues in the game space for years, on topics from church sex abuse cover-ups, the human cost of smartphone manufacturing, and drones, among many others.

BooFlag comes just after news that Apple would remove a swath of Civil War-themed games from the App Store because they feature the Confederate flag. Attention has been renewed on the fraught Southern emblem since the tragic Charleston church massacre earlier this month—many on social media abroad were surprised to learn the basically racist flag still flies on government buildings in certain parts of America, and remains well-beloved by people who don't like to think about racism.

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BooFlag calls attention to how anger at the symbol, however righteous, might be for some people a much easier method of taking action against structural inequity in America than, you know, actual action. Confederate flag sales have since soared on Amazon.

Video games without people of color are not 'neutral'

The myth of white neutrality persists in the world of gaming, where black characters in fantasy games can be deemed less "realistic" than dragons.Read the rest

Typoman: a platform game where one letter changes everything

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What's the difference between RUSHING past a dangerous trap and it CRUSHING you to a pulp? In Typoman, it's only one letter.

A clever hybrid of both platform games and puzzle games, Typoman asks you to overcome obstacles by manipulating words, in a black and white world of shifting ledges and shifting meanings. Do you need to find a way past a pool of water being filled by the word RAIN? Just swing the letter D towards it and watch the water DRAIN away.

Rather than flipping switches or finding keys, your hero—who is literally composed of the word HERO—uses letters as both tools and powerups on their quest to recover their missing arm (there's only one R in "hero," after all). To get a better sense of the game, take a look at the TRAP puzzle, where an ominous series of letters lie in wait to flatten you:

Typoman is ultimately headed for the Wii U, at a date to be determined.

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Katamari Damacy creator's new game is about blowing up your friends

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A lot of video games are about explosions. Wattam, the latest game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, has a very different take on blowing things up, one that focuses on joy, discovery and surprise.

The game takes place on the last cube-shaped chunk of an exploded Earth, where the only living creature is a green, cube-like person known as The Mayor. He soon discovers that the world around him isn't as lonely as he thought, but full of sentient clouds, lawnmowers and trees that can do all sorts of things: hold hands, poop, and have dance parties. The game is about making friends, making those friends interact in unexpected ways, and then blowing them up.

Developed by Funomena, Wattam is full of the distinctive whimsy you remember from Katamari Damacy, although it's a far more free-form game rather than one with specific goals. After you stack your vertical party of pals, who can be everything from coffee cups to turntables to sushi, you make them explode, sending your characters soaring into the sky like colorful flares. That attracts more characters—whom you can name after your real-life friends—and can expand the level.

"One of the things Keita says about the game is that the world is full of different kinds of people," said Funomena CEO Robin Hunicke at the recent E3 event. "If we were all the same shape, if we were all just blocks, it would be pretty boring. On this planet, what causes the most explosions between people are the differences between people... our religions, our color, even our favorite games. But if we were able to see past our differences and work together to create awesome things, wouldn't the world be a better place?"

The idea of Wattam was originally inspired by Takahashi playing blocks with his then two-year-old son, who wondered what it would be like if the blocks came alive, and how they would connect to each other. The original prototype for the game was created by Takahashi and his friend Vikram Subramanian, and the word "wattam" is a portmanteau of the words for "making a loop" in the languages they speak, Japanese and Tamil.

Since the release of Katamari Damacy in 2004, Takahashi has designed innovative playground equipment (canceled for budgetary reasons), new games like Noby Noby Boy and Tenya Wanya Teens, and a 3D version of Pac-Man at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City.

Wattam is slated to come out on the PS4 in 2016.

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This racing game forces you to text while driving

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Texting while driving is super dangerous. It requires you to take both your eyes and hands off the wheel, so it's basically like occasionally blindfolding yourself while steering a massive hunk of metal that weighs several tons at high speeds, often through populated areas. Everybody knows they shouldn't do it, but when they hear that familiar "ping," some people just can't seem to wait.

Since racing games are often about navigating roads in the most dangerous way possible, that's exactly what SMS Racing asks you to do: text your friends while speeding towards the finish line. You spend the entire game driving with a smartphone in your hand, which I sincerely hope real people do not, and when you hear the chime of a text message, you have to read it and respond to it within 10 seconds. After all, you wouldn't want to be rude.

Originally released as a browser game, the tongue-in-cheek SMS Racing is headed to virtual reality platforms later this year, where it promises to "unleash the power of head-tracking technology and your musculoskeletal system to look at your phone or the road. But mostly the phone. There's nothing stopping you, except for anything you happen to drive into."

And boy, do you drive into a lot of things. I hope that the message people internalize from this game is not that texting while driving is fun, but rather that it is roughly as intelligent and safe as most of the things you do in racing games, like shooting motorists with missiles or driving off ramps at a hundred miles an hour.

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The 10 coolest things from E3 that weren't video game sequels

A lot of exciting things happened at E3 that weren't big-budget sequels. Like yarn, robot dinosaurs, and a giant, awesome dog.Read the rest

The new Animal Crossing game will let you choose your skin tone

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With the upcoming Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, fans of Nintendo's anthropomorphic town games will finally get the option to choose different skin tones for their characters.

Up until this point, the only way to change your default pale skin tone was to tan it in the sun, although this was only a temporary effect—and not terribly inclusive of the many very permanent skin tones of Animal Crossing's international audience.

Last year, during an interview with Katsuya Eguchi and Aya Kyogoku, the producer and director of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I asked whether future versions of the series might offer skin tone options. At the time, their answer was vague, noting that they wanted international players "to represent and express their individuality, so there are a variety of things we are planning on doing to facilitate that in the future."

It's great to see Nintendo finally taking steps in this direction, particularly for a game where expressing your individuality and choosing the way your character looks is so key to its appeal. Although Happy Home Designer is only a spin-off game focusing on interior decorating, here's hoping these options continue in the next full Animal Crossing release as well.

You sure do die a lot in this princess simulator game

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The big surprise of the visual novel Long Live the Queen is that contrary to its name, you probably won't live very long at all. Sure, it has all the frilly dresses and handsome princes you might expect, but it's got a lot of other things too: poisonings, stabbings, drowning and shootings awaiting you at nearly every turn.

As developer Hanako Games describes it: "Being a princess is not an easy job, especially when everyone else wants to kill you and take your stuff. Rule the world or die trying!"

Intrigue and assassination attempts abound in this game for PC, Mac and Linux, where you play as the pink-haired fourteen-year-old princess Elodie. You've just inherited the throne of a kingdom called Nova after the tragic death of your mother. Your kingly father is still alive, however, which leads me to believe that this is a fantasy world ruled through matrilineal primogeniture—where succession passes through women instead of men. Obviously, I approve.

Most of the game involves taking classes, and learning to be the very best queen you can be. You're told that your coronation is 40 weeks away, giving you plenty of time to brush up on the skills you need to rule—and to stay alive long enough to get your crown. While it's a wise idea to study traditional courtly virtues like composure and elegance, if you don't spend some time brushing up on history, naval strategy, or combat magic, all the manners in the world won't save you from the threats inside and outside your kingdom.

This is very much a number games, where you must anticipate which attributes are most important and assign Elodie's daily studies accordingly. Chances are that no matter what you do, you'll find yourself in situations where Elodie isn't up to snuff in one area or another. During an important ball, the game suddenly informed me that I didn't have enough skill to detect magic, meaning there was likely someone with supernatural powers around me. Who was it? Were they friend or foe? I'd missed my chance to figure it out, because I was too busy studying accounting and battlefield medicine.

Although there are opportunities for romance, this isn't really a dating sim; if anything, you're better off keeping your suitors at arm's length, especially since you can never quite tell whether they really want to marry you or murder you. But if you're interested in games that live at the intersection of magical girls and Game of Thrones, then Long Live the Queen is worth a play—or ten. Read more about Long Live the Queen and other princess games in this Offworld feature.

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Superhypercube for Project Morpheus brings the puzzle game into virtual reality

As the launch of Project Morpheus grows closer, we're finally getting a better look at some of the launch games for Sony's VR headset. The latest announcement is Superhypercube, a puzzle game where you "fly through endless waves of abstract geometry in the warm analog glow of virtual neon."

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Although the trailer is as vague as it is trippy, the gameplay will involve rotating stacks of cubes so that they can fit through the shape cut out in a rapidly approaching wall. Sounds a little bit like the Japanese game show Hole in the Wall, crossed with the last ten minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The video game collective Kokoromi has been developing Superhypercube in one form or another since 2008, including an earlier version that used stereoscopic effects. While it will surely look very different in the gleaming colors of Project Morpheus, this video of that greyscale version of the game offers a better look at the block-rotating experience:

On the Playstation blog, Kokoromi explains that the game was inspired partly by their love of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Xanadu, among other things:

Aesthetically, this VR version of SUPERHYPERCUBE is influenced by our love for all things glowing, epitomized by neon light, 80s motion graphics, early computer art and the minimalist art movement known as 'light and space.' Artists grouped in this genre worked with surfaces of different materials, and using neon, LEDs, and sunlight, to create abstract work and spaces which might change over time or when viewed from different angles. We want to give players an experience something like flying or floating through one of these works.

Superhypercube will launch as an exclusive title for the Project Morpheus headset when it comes out in 2016.

SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.


SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.

SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.


SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.

SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.


SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.

SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.


SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.

SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.


SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.

SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.


SUPERHYPERCUBE for Project Morpheus.

Read Chris Ware's perfect description of Minecraft's appeal

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At the New Yorker, the artist Chris Ware has a graceful reflection on his daughter's relationship with Minecraft, and how he has occasionally been enjoined to visit her world inside:

Clara has spent hours, days, weeks of the past two years building and making navigable block worlds fuelled from the spun-off fizz of her accreting consciousness: giant ice-cream-layered auditoriums linked to narrow fifty-foot-high hallways over glass-covered lava streams, stairs that descend to underground classrooms, frozen floating wingless airplanes, and my favorite, the tasteful redwood-and-glass “writer’s retreat.” (It has a small pool.) She made a meadow of beds for my wife—a high-school teacher who craves unconsciousness—and a roller coaster to take her there. Though Clara mostly “plays” Minecraft by herself, the game allows her friends to drop into these worlds, too, and I’ve even spent some strange virtual afternoons as a floating block-self, guided by my angelic block-hammer-wielding block-daughter, zipping around a dreamscape that feels, really, less like life and maybe more like death, but in a sweet sort of way. If architecture somehow mirrors the spaces we carve in our memories and make in our minds, then something pretty interesting is going on here.

Ware's daughter Clara also mods the game, and her thoughts on what is possible (and not) in Minecraft create a touching lens on life for an athletic girl who, at ten, is starting to think about how to make her characters hold hands (when asked about how she "knows" she has a crush on a fellow "hand hockey" player, she replies "Because sometimes I imagine him getting shot and me jumping in front of the bullets to save him").

It's a lovely piece and you should read it, and of course his illustration is also excellent: The bright geometric portals to the Minecraft world on children's screens, vivid and inviting among the natural order of childhood, home and nature.

Nintendo used to design Super Mario levels on graph paper

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As a child, I was obsessed with video game maps. I would pore over them in old issues of Nintendo Power magazine, and even try to recreate the levels of my favorite games block by block on pieces of graph paper. I wasn't alone. In the early days of the Super Mario franchise, that's exactly how the folks at Nintendo were designing them.

"Back in the day, we had to create everything by hand," says Takashi Tezuka in a video promoting the upcoming level design game Super Mario Maker. "To design courses, we would actually draw them one at a time on to these sheets of graph paper. We'd then hand our drawings to the programmers, who would code them into a build."

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If they wanted to make changes to the level, however, things got messy on the original document very quickly, so they started sketching out the changes on semi-transparent tracing paper placed over the maps.

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"As the years went on and we made more and more sidescrolling games, we had to create a more advanced tool to design them with," says Tezuka. "This became the basis of Super Mario Maker."

The upcoming Wii game will give players the same sort of level-editing creative powers that once belonged only to designers like Tezuka, and allow them to design in the graphical styles of numerous 2D Mario games. It'll also include all-new bells and whistles like a "Luigi mushroom" that will give Mario the characteristics of his taller, thinner brother.

Super Mario Maker is slated for release on September 11, and you can watch the trailer below, or see some expert players get wrecked by some of its customized levels at the recent Nintendo World Championships.

[via Kotaku]

The only things you really need to know about Sony's E3 press event

Let's have a deep chat about the practical feasibility of getting our childhoods back. Read the rest