PAX AUS 2015 - Sometimes Always Monsters Interview
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One of the best things about the modern gaming landscape is the growing number of developers who are taking steps to explore concepts and ideas not often tackled by games. Vagabond Dog’s Always Sometimes Monsters was one such game that tackled the endless grind of life and struggle to get by in a modern world where the odds are stacked against you. We checked out the developer’s follow-up, Sometimes Always Monsters, looks just as interesting and we caught up with the game’s creative director Justin Amirkhani to talk about the game.

Fergus Halliday chats with Justin Amirkhani | Sometimes Always Monsters Interview

Fergus Halliday chats with Justin Amirkhani | Sometimes Always Monsters Interview

Fergus: So how would you describe Sometimes Always Monsters to people?

Justin: Sometimes Always Monsters is a game about our life choices, our circumstances and the consequences that ensue. This is the core structure of the game. It’s a narrative roleplaying experience that follows this loop from circumstance to choice to consequence over and over again – just like life.

Fergus: Obviously your first game was Always Sometimes Monsters, how, if at all, is Sometimes Always Monsters related? Is it a sequel? Do they take place in the same universe?

Justin: This game is the antithetical follow-up. These games are really two halves of a whole. The first game was about the struggle from living at the bottom of society to achieving something in your life. It’s about the grind of reality. The new game is the opposite in many regards. You start off successful, you’re married, you have money and it’s about trying to hold onto that before you lose it all again. If Always Sometimes Monster is about the climb up the hill, this is about the fall down.

Fergus: What were some of the biggest things you learned from Sometimes Always Monsters and how did the design of Always Sometimes Monsters evolve as a consequence?

Justin: Always Sometimes Monsters was our first game ever so we literally knew nothing going into that. So there’s like the business of how to manage a team and manage a production. As a creative director, I just let our talent do what they want. We have a lot of constraints because of our technologies but letting an artist have the freedom to do whatever they want to do will always yield better results than keeping within artificial restraints like not letting a file get too big.

Fergus: Lots of games play with notions of player choice and branching narrative, what is Sometimes Always Monsters doing that those games aren’t?

Justin: We don’t do good-or-evil or paragon-or-renegade stuff. That stuff’s not there. The big thing we’ve always looked at for choice is that you can always fall into a selfish or selfless category. And those aren’t necessarily good or evil because it depends on how you regard yourself within the choice. More often than not, it’s not about deciding which is the correct path for your character but deciding which is socially acceptable for yourself.

Fergus: What challenges come with designing a game that players want to replay more than once?

Justin: I never really expect people to play through my games more than once – they can be kinda hard to get through – but one of the things we absolutely do is lock off content. We have divisions where you make a choice and you are literally not going to see a bunch of the content no matter what. But the thing is that you play it, I play it, we have different experiences and we talk about it later and learn just how differently things have gone. My favorite way to play these kinds of games is to try and reflect my own personality and morality in the game. They’re really good tools for learning about yourself and your friends. Like, we get tons of people who keep sending save files in because they love playing the game. Lots of people love having a friend, spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend play it and comparing the differences is really what makes the experience all the crazier.

Fergus: It looks like the aesthetic of Sometimes Always Monsters is a little more developed and stylized than your first game, what led to this evolution?

Justin: Visually we looked at using pixel stuff not because it was a style we were going for but because we were working under these constraints [with Sometimes Always Monsters] we’ve managed to increase the resolution in this game and so you get a little more fidelity. In terms of influences, that’s a better question for my artist, he’s got tons of influences. I just said go for it and this is how it turned out.

Fergus: What’s the scope of the final game looking like and when can players expect to get their hands on it?

Justin: We have no idea. The problem is that it’s variable, and especially in a game that’s so driven by choice. Like in the last game, you could literally beat it in a minute or play forever depending on your choices. In the first game, the more selfish you are the quicker you got through it. In the new game, it’s a little different and the more selfish you are – the longer it goes – but the last game was 10-12 hours so probably around there.

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Crawl Review

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Crawl Review

Crawl is a film which comes directed by Alexendre Aja who some may know as the director of The Hills Have Eyes (2006). The film stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper.

Crawl is a film about a young woman named Haley (Kaya Scodelario) who attempts to save her father (Barry Pepper) who is trapped in his house during a category 5 hurricane. Tremendous damage has occurred to the home and the surrounding area during the storm, with the streets slowly flooding But that’s not the only danger to be wary of, the flood waters have paved the way for dozens of alligators to come into town and they’re ready to feast on anyone still around. Will poor Haley and her father survive though?

Going into this film. I was actually quite excited. I do enjoy these action films where there’s some creature out there and it’s preying on whatever character the film is about. This film is a little similar to The Meg, but it most reminded me of Anacondas (2004). All of these films and Crawl included wouldn’t be ones I’d say were legendary films, but gosh, I definitely have fun watching them!

Crawl as a story is about survival. There are themes all throughout it related to man vs nature and also the idea of the apex predator is scattered all throughout it. Both characters in the film are constantly challenged and struggle to survive in the a town getting torn apart by the storm.

The main reason most people would go to see Crawl at the cinema would be for the action and that’s the same reason I wanted to go along and see this one. I wanted to see what the alligators could do and I wanted to see some people get eaten up. Did I get that? I certainly did! Did I need much more out of this? Probably not.

As for Crawl being scary. I’m not too sure, I find it all quite fun. But there are people who this would probably frighten a little. Much of the film is cgi and for what it is and for the type of movie this is I think it was just the right quality. They didn’t try to go too big like in The Meg where the cgi seemed to struggle in certain areas. Although the limitations of the cgi are visible in Crawl, it’s not too bad in the end.

The acting in Crawl isn’t too bad. Kaya Scodelario is who you’ll be watching for basically the entire film and she delivers a pleasant performance. Some may recognise this actress from her appearance in The Maze Runner (2014) where she played Teresa. Hopefully there is more to come from her in future films.

The tone of the film, while at times can be a little intense with all the danger out there did actually feel a little light. Alexandre Aja seemed to keep the tone not too serious and embraced the silliness of it all in certain areas to keep it light and fun. But it was also tense and scary when it needed to be.

Overall I had a good time with Crawl at the cinema last week. This isn’t a film that is going to blow anyone away with how good it is, but it’s something to see for a bit of fun over the weekend. You get to watch two characters try to survive a massive hurricane and not get eaten by alligators. Crawl was 1 hour and 27 minutes of fun!

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Sea Of Solitude Review

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Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude is a game which was developed by Jo-Mei Games and was published by Electronic Arts. It is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC via Origin. It is a single player third person adventure game. The game has the player control a character named Kay who explores an abandoned and flooded city.

This was a game which caught my eye only very recently when I first heard about its release. After watching the trailer, I thought the art style, strong colours and animations looked very interesting. Also as a person who went mad one day and subscribed to EA’s Origin Premiere late last year so that I could play some games I had missed out on over the years, I was pleased to see something new added to the store that wasn’t a typical Electronic Arts style major franchise game. Knowing I could get this one for free was enough to give it a go. But if you’re not part of that program to get it for free, I’d say that the $26.95 asking price for this digital title is certainly worth it.

The game isn’t too long, most hardened gamers will probably be able to finish this one in a single session, which I actually managed to do yesterday morning. I didn’t time myself, but I’d say to expect about 3 or so hours out of it, a bit more if you look around for collectables.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

On the surface, Sea Of Solitude is about a young girl named Kay, who is searching through a city, which is for some reason flooded. You start the game all alone on a tiny boat, way out at sea on the water. You make your way to the city, where you find a monster clad in darkness is blocking your path. Through exploration and activating certain things, Kay brings light to an otherwise dark city.

Underneath the main plot though, is a game with strong messages and themes related to loneliness and relationships. Kay as a character is someone who has become lonely, isolated and quite depressed after issues with her family and her boyfriend. The game sends the player on a journey to free Kay and other characters from suffering from the effects of loneliness and related themes. What I didn’t expect this weekend, was to play a game which seemed to have the objective of tackling these mental health issues in this way and I never expected to play something this weekend from the gaming genre with such deep meaning to it.

In many ways, Sea Of Solitude reminded me of my experience with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which was also a game that focused on mental health issues and is still a game I hold in very high regard. Both of these games were experiences that I could not put down once I started playing as I just had to find out what was going to happen with my character. Games tackling these mental health themes and the issues involved are quite rare in this medium, so when an experience like this does come along, it’s very unique and interesting. The difference between Sea Of Solitude and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is that Sea of Solitude is a little lighter in tone and not the intense gruelling experience that Senua’s was. This makes a player’s time with Sea Of Solitude one that is peaceful to experience.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

The art style in Sea Of Solitude is something I enjoyed looking at. The animations are very rounded, colours stand out on the screen and the use of blacks in contrast with visibly bright blues, whites and orange was what I loved the most. The music and also the voice acting, was soft and did fit in well with the tone of the game’s themes and art style. All together, visuals and audios seemed to be just right.

The gameplay in Sea Of Solitude is something I’d say is probably a little simple. It’s essentially a platforming game where you will jump, swim, drive a boat and shoot flares onto enemies. There aren’t any button combinations to learn or any level up systems. The game is accessible to people of most ages and even to people new to gaming could easily pick this one up and get through it.

Overall coming out of playing Sea Of Solitude, I was filled with positivity and happiness. The story is quite heavy when playing through it, but very warm in the end. The art style and animations are nice to see and the sound and voice acting was just right. I do like to see that the games industry can use the medium to tackle such heavy topics and release games like this which show how well this medium can tell a story and provide its audience with something of great meaning. I’m happy to recommend Sea Of Solitude for your gaming collection.

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Stuber Review

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Stuber Review

Stuber is a film which comes directed by Michael Dowse and stars Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani and Betty Gilpin. The film is an action comedy adventure about an Uber driver and a policeman who go on a wild ride together.

Going in to see Stuber I didn’t really know where to set my expectations. Knowing only that the film was a comedy, meant I went in for the lols and didn’t expect all that much from the story. But coming out of the film, I’m sorry to say, but it’s not really that great.

The film starts off okay and the opening scene features both Vic (Dave Bautista) and Sara (Karen Gillan) engaged in a dangerous shootout with some bad guys. Both are seriously injured and Vic loses his eyesight, which means he gets some urgent surgery. His eyes need time go recover, but as soon he’s able to walk he calls for an Uber and continues on with his police business, which is catching the bad guys who got away in the opening scene. This is where Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) comes in and the journey between this awkward duo begins.

I wish I could say that it was all good once the Uber ride began but it wasn’t. The film is only really mildly funny. Dave Bautista who I do really like in action films really isn’t great at comedy. Kumail Nanjiani basically was just screaming and yelling the whole time and talking about his Uber rating and reviews. I admit I did find some of the bad reviews he got from his previous customers in the film funny when they were shown, but that’s about it. Some of the jokes were also drawn out way too long. Dave Bautista’s character being blind was kind of funny in the first minute when you saw him trying to walk around without being able to see. But it’s only funny once and they did this joke over and over again almost all the way until the end!

In addition to this, for quite a bit of the film, I wondered if this was some sort of product placement or advertisement for Uber. There were so many mentions of Uber, Uber reviews and the difference between Uber products and services. What are we paying to watch here? Who cares about Uber!?

In the end I would suggest avoiding Stuber at the cinema this week and choosing literally any other film currently showing. After leaving this I instantly thought that Stuber needs to be on my list of worst movies of 2019 which I created just after seeing this and that says a lot because I was not compelled to make one after seeing X:Men Dark Phoenix.

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