PC Gamer
Cube World

Never fear, because Cube World is still in development. We know, because after a prolonged and eerie silence Picroma has released a new video detailing what the studio has been busy working on. The studio warns that it is still "adding more variations and content to the quests" and that the footage below is not final.

Of course, we've known a little bit about how Cube World will handle questing for a while. Due to the world's procedural generation creating quests is a bit trickier than it is in most RPGs, so co-creator Wolfram von Funck was forced to put "quests in areas that haven't been generated yet", which sounds like black magic to me.

Meanwhile, the game's questing is less like an MMO nowadays and more geared towards exploration. "We made the system more exploration-based," von Funck said. "We removed quest-givers and also removed all markers from the world map. Quests are just there and players can find them by exploring. you might find an old crypt and when you enter it, there is a skeleton boss that you have to defeat. Maybe the boss will drop a key or a treasure which is needed for another quest."

If you're impatient to explore the the beautifully right angled world of Cube World, there's an alpha in progress.

PC Gamer

Sniper Elite studio Rebellion Developments filed a lawsuit against Ironclad Games in 2012 over Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, claiming that the title infringed on Rebellion's trademark. A judge dismissed the case more than a year ago, ruling that the title qualifies as "expressive speech" and is thus protected by the First Amendment, and if you're wondering why you didn't hear anything about it until now, it's because Ironclad opted to not to publicize the victory in an effort to "let bygones be bygones." But now Rebellion has launched new legal action against the game in Canada and the U.K., and that's prompted Ironclad to speak up.

In a blog post that went up last week, Ironclad Games Director Blair Fraser spoke in detail about the studio's First Amendment victory over Rebellion, explaining what led to the legal action, the nature of its defense and the potential impact of the decision on the gaming industry as a whole. What he didn't make clear is why the studio opted not to speak about the dismissal of the suit, which actually happened in May 2013, until now.

"We don't like to talk about the business side of things in public. The focus should be on the games themselves," Fraser told us. "We never brought up the cease and desist. We never talked about being served. We never commented when the story broke in the news. We never spoke when we won the case. We kept silent for over two years. However, last week we decided to break our silence."

Fraser said Ironclad decided to speak out now for two reasons: moral and strategic. "For years now there has been a growing sense in our company that trademark issues in the gaming industry were getting out of hand and that talking about our experience might help," he explained. "Our hope is that other developers will see this and be willing to explore, maintain and defend their freedom of expression without as much worry."

On the strategic side of the coin, he said that exposing this kind of behavior to the public can be a "powerful force" in its own right. "The gaming community is not simply content with buying the next cool widget regardless of who made it or how it was made," he continued. "Negative public response increases the cost of legal action to more than just legal fees - there is a public relations bill to pay on top. When we received confirmation last week that Rebellion Developments was taking this global we decided to direct attention to the facts and publicly available documents. We ll let the public decide how to interpret them."

Despite the decisive win in U.S. courts, differences in trademark law, precedents and various other factors means that a victory in Canada, the U.K. or anywhere else is far from a sure thing. Nonetheless, he has no interest in changing the name of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion in order to suit Rebellion's demands.

"I don t know why Star Wars: Rebellion was renamed to Star Wars: Supremacy in the U.K. but I ll quit my job before I ever let there be a Sins of a Solar Empire: Supremacy or any other bastardization," he said. "Everything in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, including the gameplay, the lore, the cinematic, the logo, the factions, the research subjects, the capital ships, the Titans, and every single asset was designed to fit into the overarching theme of 'rebellion.' No other word in the English language comes even close."

But while he's not willing to give up the title, he is hopeful that something can be worked out. "The disappointing part is that if one of the Kingsley brothers had called us up on the phone from the start and discussed the matter in a polite and reasonable manner I think this would have turned out a lot different. As a means of introduction, having a third party send a letter containing threats, demands, and accusations can set things off on the wrong foot. I can see all the business hawks rolling their eyes at what they see as an overreaction to what I assume is par for the course, 'Lawyers will be lawyers and companies have to act aggressively to defend their trademarks or else risk losing them.' Well, that isn't how we do business," he said. "Surely, there is a better way to defend a trademark. Perhaps it s not too late to get back on the right foot."

PC Gamer
Fallout 3

The sprawling, open world of Fallout 3 is inhabited by all manner of humans, mutants and monsters, and packed with hundreds of things to do. It easily offers dozens of hours of gameplay in the Capital Wasteland, and hundreds for gamers who immerse themselves deeply into its bleak, post-nuclear world. But as speedrunner BubblesDelFuego demonstrated over the weekend, it can also be wrapped up a little more quickly than that.

Beating Fallout 3 in 24 hours is impressive enough in my eyes, but 24 minutes? I took longer than that to decide on my perks. And in all honesty, this world-record speedrun through the game doesn't look like a whole lot of fun. But it is almost unbelievably quick, thanks in part to gameplay tricks that take advantage of oddities in the Gamebryo engine. "Load clipping," for instance, lets players pass through solid objects, while the skillful use of quicksaves and quickloads allows sections of dialog to be skipped. The character build emphasizes endurance and intelligence to maximize survivability while running through enemy fire and irradiated water, and of course the player obviously has a pretty good degree of familiarity with the game as well.

The mark of 23:55 is the first recorded Fallout 3 speedrun under 24 minutes and bests the previous record, which DelFuego set himself earlier this month, by 25 seconds. And while it's never safe to predict such things, I'm going to go ahead and say that I expect it will stand for quite awhile DelFuego wrote on YouTube that he won't try to improve on it "unless something big is found, or if the record is taken by some good competition."
PC Gamer

Deep into my second playthrough of The Long Dark's sandbox alpha, I died in my sleep. I'd scarfed down a can of pork and beans in an ice fishing house on a whim, and moments later I heard voice actor Mark Meer retching over in pain from the food poisoning I'd just contracted. I munched energy bars to no avail. I guzzled my only bottle of grape soda, thinking I could drown it. (Or something.) In the end I gave in to Commander Shepard's protests and collapsed on a bunk in an abandoned camp office under the belief that I should just try to sleep it out. I never woke up. Of the several thousand deaths I've died in virtual worlds since the early '80s, this has to count among the most pitiful.

It's a good time for this type of game. The Long Dark follows on the heels of open-world survival games like DayZ and The Forest, but it distinguishes itself with a minimalist aesthetic that resembles vibrant graphic novels and a wooded, snowy landscape that recalls Hinterland Games' own British Columbia. It's also just different enough to attract some attention of its own. Gone are the zombies and flashlight-helmeted cannibals that define previous efforts in the genre; in its place, Hinterland has delivered a single-player world filled the mundane dangers that await us when we step into any wilderness.

The nods to realism usually work, although (and I'm ashamed to admit it) I sometimes found myself missing gamey jump scares and a touch of action. In an interview with PC Gamer last October on the eve of the game's successful Kickstarter funding, creator Raphael Van Lierop spoke of wary, tense encounters with humans instead of the firefights we've become accustomed to. That may be true of the unreleased story mode that focuses on marooned bush pilot William Mackenzie in the aftermath of a vague worldwide disaster, but in the sandbox, the only humans I found were old, lootable corpses half-buried under the northern snow. If there are folks out there who want to nibble on my calves, I never saw them.

Snowbound corpses aside, The Long Dark's sandbox mode might as well be set in contemporary Alaska in late autumn. Its realistic approach works best when you're hanging on to life, which you'll know by the little DayZ-style messages that pop up letting you know that you're thirsty, infected, or plagued by some other malady of the everyday world. The stakes are high, especially considering that death dumps you back to the start menu. I once chanced upon an overturned railcar surrounded by starving wolves, and knowing I'd likely die if I didn't get a hold of whatever was out on the snow, I realized I could chase them away with a bundle of flares I'd found in the abandoned offices of a dam. By this point I could almost feel the hunger myself, and I wolfed down the peaches I'd found right there in full sight of the wolves. Such small victories yield only fleeting pleasures, though, as survival only prolongs the wait until your next scrape with death.

Performing this little dance grows easier with each restart, although I suspect much of that ease grew out of the constricted design of the alpha. Each new game dumps you in a different part of Hinterland's winter wonderland, but I never found myself so from from the scenes of my last adventure that I couldn't find the same shacks where I'd found supplies in previous lives. At times its current lack of randomness borders on the comical. By the sixth game, I'd identified a "favorite backpack" that always contained bottled water when I needed it most, and I could always rely on a corpse leading up to an overlook to pony up a down coat to keep me warm. If Hinterlands maintains this design, successfully surviving The Long Dark could end up relying as much on memory as Mega Man.

Here's to hoping it doesn't. The Long Dark's sandbox mode works best when you have to decipher its quirks on your own, and it nails this home by providing no explanation of hotkeys, caloric intake, or even the basics of starting a fire out in the open. It's a major testament to Hinterland's work that I never felt too frustrated--aside, perhaps, from my embarrassing repeated deaths from dehydration until I figured out I could make potable water from snow at any stove. And a rare bonus for a contemporary game in its alpha stage? The only bug I encountered as a tin of flame accelerant that resisted my repeated attempts to poke it with my mouse.

Several hours into my time with The Long Dark, my character awoke from a comparatively comfortable slumber to the sight of a blizzard raging outside the cabin he'd found. It was 10 in the morning, but it might as well have been midnight for all I could tell when I looked out the window and was able to peer no more than 12 feet into the snow. I like to think that this moment represents my time with The Long Dark, and that there's a whole sprawling world lying in wait beyond what I could see during my brief sojourn with Hinterland's creation. And after my time here, I'm looking forward to discovering what waits for me in that darkness.
PC Gamer

Rebellion has revoked more than 7000 Steam keys for Sniper Elite 3, many of which were already in the hands of gamers. The studio said the keys were stolen, distributed to resellers and then sold without payments going to either it or Valve. But one such company, whose keys actually weren't revoked, has accused Rebellion of simply trying to force people to pay the full retail price for the game.

In a message posted on Steam, Rebellion explained that one of its retail distributors reported the theft of some of its Steam keys, which it believes were then sold to other sellers. They've since been revoked, and Rebellion recommended that anyone with a canceled key seek a refund from wherever they bought it; it also offered a free copy of the Target Hitler DLC to make up for the hassle.

According to distributor CJS CD Keys, however, the original message suggested that after receiving a refund, impacted gamers should re-buy the game on Steam at full price. That led the site to accuse Rebellion of revoking the keys not because they were stolen, but because it wants to maximize profits by forcing people away from discount resellers.

"While many game developers (and Steam themselves) will legitimately try to encourage users to stay away from re-sellers and buy directly on Steam at the full retail price, what Rebellion has done today is absolutely immoral," it wrote. "They have banned legitimately purchased keys, legally owned by multiple online retailers and gamers worldwide, and covered their tracks by claiming that the keys were 'stolen'."

Rebellion also posted a list of "licensed partners" who have not had any keys revoked, noting that it represents "the full list of companies that get their keys directly from us for digital sale" and are thus safe to buy from. Instead of calming the situation, however, CJS pointed out that Steam key resellers generally don't buy directly from developers. Instead, they buy boxed copies from authorized distributors and then resell the included keys; in fact, it said that the growth in the market has given some Steam key sellers enough clout to have distributors scan the keys on their behalf, saving the cost of unnecessary shipping.

Rebellion didn't directly address the accusations, but it did take pains to state that the vendors involved may well be victims themselves and said it's not trying to force gamers toward any particular seller. "As a developer Rebellion are happy for you to purchase the game anywhere you see fit and support price competition in the PC market - we have in no way targeted any specific vendors (who may have also thought these keys were legitimate), just this one set of keys," it wrote. "All we can suggest if you have been affected is to please contact your vendor and first ask for a replacement key, and then contact us for the free pre-order DLC if you are successful."

The free "Target Hitler" DLC offer is good until July 4.
PC Gamer

Early reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.

Golf is not the sexiest sport in the world. It s not glitzy or glamorous, and it doesn t draw the kind of crowd that the World Cup gets. It does, however, often make for an interesting videogame, especially if you re playing with a group of friends. Like the real sport, videogame golf should be technically interesting, social, and let you wear funny pants. The Golf Club accomplishes some of those necessities, and has the potential to be even better. But a couple of its design decisions might mean it s not the golf game for you.

There are two styles of control for most golf games. Either you use a power meter, clicking at various points to determine the speed of your back and front swing, or you control the swing speed and power in real time. The Golf Club uses the latter option, which means that I pull back on my gamepad s thumbstick to make my golfer raise his club, then push the thumbstick forward to finish the swing. This analog control gives you a more emotional experience, according to the developer. I interpret that to mean that, when you push your thumbstick to the right during your forward swing and end up slicing your shot hard, it s okay to break your controller.

The difference in shot style is not for everyone, but I find that it gives me responsibility for my shot. I have to factor in not just my aim, club selection, and wind speed, but also a certain amount of physical control. If I m not patient and I rarely am I ll hit the deep stuff almost every time. Holding the left trigger lets me adjust the loft of the shot, while giving me a percentage of what i ll lose or gain in distance. It s a control scheme that should be intuitive for beginners, while requiring a decent amount of effort from pros to master.

The downside is that it doesn t translate well to mouse and keyboard controls. To swing, I click and hold the left mouse button, draw the mouse toward me to start my backswing, and then move the mouse forward past my starting point to follow through. In theory, it should give me finer control over the power of the swing. In practice, I slice every drive and overshoot every putt. There is, to my knowledge, no button to throw my club in frustration.

That isn t to say mouse and keyboard won t work for you. The Steam Community forums for The Golf Club are split between people who prefer the mouse and those who use a controller. There is zero chance that developer HB Studios will add a power meter, however.

Once you re used to the sensitivity of the swinging mechanics, playing a round is pretty effortless. Switching clubs shows you the estimated distance you ll send the ball, and you can easily switch from a normal to a punch swing, which keeps the ball closer to the ground. Once on the green, putting works much like normal shots, and gridlines will show you the various dips you ll have to navigate. Putting is hard as it should be but fair, and sinking a 25 foot birdie feels glorious.

One nice touch: there s no loading between holes on a course. Once in a round, my golfing experience is seamless. I ve played a lot of games where I have to sit through a loading screen after each of my bogies, and it s a nice improvement. Also of note: the game s announcer, HB senior audio designer John McCarthy, may be my favorite part of the experience. Initially he sounded too folksy, but I ve laughed out loud numerous times at his reactions to my shots, both good and bad. Kudos for including an announcer with a surprising amount of personality.

The Golf Club s signature feature is its course creator, which is surprisingly easy-to-use. It s that course creator that gives the game the most potential. Courses are generated based on specific criteria difficulty, locale type, hilly or flat and then manually adjusted and tweaked using an easy drag-and-drop interface. HB includes a number of official courses, but it s the focus on community-built content that will keep the game interesting. I d like to see some more variety in the course design EA s next PGA game will include exploding battleships, for fuck s sake but there s a lot to play with here now. Courses are shared in-game, instead of using a system like Steam Workshop. Theoretically, that means courses can be shared between the PC and console versions.

My whole interest in The Golf Club comes down to playing with friends, but unfortunately it s not a great experience yet. The game supports live and turn-based play online, and the game defaults to the live experience. Me and my opponents take our swings at the same time, seeing each other s progress through shot trails, but that means everyone s clipping at their own pace and not interacting much. Toggling the turn-based mode on means you stop to watch everyone s shot, but there s a large amount of delay between a player s turn and what you see, and the two are often not in sync. HB is aware of the issue, according to posts on the game s Steam Community, but says it won t be fixed before launch because turn-based play was not originally a planned feature.

That leaves multiplayer in a strange spot for me. Live rounds feel chaotic, but turn-based rounds take much longer than they should. Neither are what I want from a round with friends, and I worry that the developer s focus on ghost play in solo rounds will trump its desire to refine the multiplayer experience.

The Golf Club is pretty close to a final release, according to posts from the developer. The game is feature complete, and HB is focusing on optimizing the PC version (while continuing work on its planned console editions). The game chugs on moderate system specs: courses look beautiful in the Unity engine, but not enough to justify the framerate dips. I averaged 50fps on a Nvidia GTX 780 Ti, and 25-30fps on an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti, both at high settings. HB has updated the build on a steady, regular basis, so I m hopeful the performance issues will clear up.

What isn t getting better is my scores. My last tour performance was a +16, pretty far off from the top. For every 300 yard drive, I also slice off into the deep stuff. Clearly my game needs to improve. But I find myself coming back to The Golf Club every evening for another round, trying different courses and working to improve my short game. Like my putting game, HB has some work to do on its approach to final release, but I m feeling good that it ll make it under par.

It s rough around the edges for multiplayer, but The Golf Club is still a great golf game. There are plenty of courses to try, and HB gives you the tools to make your own. If you aren t picky about control schemes, this is your best bet for golf on the PC.
Good. HB Studios is updating regularly, and the community s feedback is largely about niche details.
Versions reviewed: Version 0.8 and 0.9
Reviewed on: Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 780 Ti
Recommended: Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM, Nvidia 660 or AMD 7850 w/ 2GB
Price: $35 / 27
Publisher: HB Studios
Developer: HB Studios
Multiplayer: Four-player local or online
Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/269730/
PC Gamer

The official Facebook page of GSC Game World issued a statement over the weekend calling for an end to disparaging comments about Areal, the "definitive spiritual successor" to the Stalker games that's now on Kickstarter. That led the makers of the Misery mod, one of Areal's most prominent critics, to remove all such criticism from its Facebook page; yet now GSC has reversed course, saying its expression of support for Areal was not official at all.

A recap of the situation is available here but in a nutshell, West Games is seeking $50,000 from Kickstarter to fund the development of a new, very Stalker-like open-world game called Areal. The Kickstarter immediately raised suspicions, however, because of the studio's claim to be formed from the "core people" behind Stalker as well as its extensive and uncredited use of Stalker assets in its pitch. The crowdfunding campaign started strongly, earning more than half its goal in short order, but support seemed to wane as negative feedback, including from Survarium studio Vostok Games, began to roll in.

Vostok effectively said its piece and then washed its hands of the matter but Misery Developments continued to make noise about it until this weekend, when the Stalker Facebook page, as noted by OnlySP, issued a wide-ranging appeal for peace.

"As the Official page for GSC Game World, we represent the interests and intellectual property of GSC Game World. Since GSC Game World is not currently producing any games, we have generously and tirelessly supported and promoted all those Games that former GSC Employees have been involved with in the past, currently and in the future. This includes Metro 2033, Survarium, Cradle, Nuclear Union ( no longer in production ) and now Areal. This is nothing new," it said. "We also have promoted the Modding Community with major titles such as Misery, The Seed, Lost Alpha and other works. Our position is that all in the Stalker Community benefit from such a diverse and unique variety of Games. The only thing we are not tolerant about is one part of the Stalker Community disparaging another. Thanks for your understanding and support."

According to screen captures included in an Areal update, the Stalker Facebook page also posted messages confirming that West Games is made up of "real ex-GSC Employees" and telling the Misery developers to remove all negative content about the studio from its Facebook page or risk losing support for its projects, including the Misery mod and the successfully Kickstarted stand-alone game The Seed. Misery Developments quickly complied, telling its followers that it had been "formally asked" to stop commenting on West Games and Areal. "Misery Development Ltd. would like to state that whether or not to pledge on a Kickstarter campaign is for the community to decide, and an individual choice," it wrote.

But GSC Game World has since edited the post, effectively retracting the statements of support for Areal and, presumably, the threat against its critics. "While we do believe the community of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. should remain united and strong, the previously made statement does not represent the official stance of GSC Game World," it now says. "The post has therefore been edited. We apologize for the inconveniences."

The Areal Kickstarter is now at just over $33,500, with 23 days remaining.
PC Gamer
abellebuono art_to the moon-teaser

Written by Angelina Bellebuono. Angelina is a photographer and writer living in rural Georgia. This is a combination personal essay and interview about To the Moon and creator Kan Gao. Because it discusses the story and themes of the game, there will be spoilers.
Act I: How to Connect Stars
The opening graphics in Kan Gao s To the Moon reveal starlight first, then moonbeam, before steadying into a night sky and a lighthouse in the bottom left corner of my laptop screen. The game has been out for almost three years, but it s new to me. And I know only a morsel more about video games than I did a few months ago when I used my goat-farming experience to review Goat Simulator. I expect To the Moon will transport me farther afield, into much more serious terrain.

But I do not anticipate the deeply layered plot or the complex characters. I do not predict that a video game will hold me spellbound for five hours straight, and I certainly don t imagine that I will have an equally riveting, two-hour conversation with Kan Gao. But I do know, from the opening lines of dialogue and the first notes of Gao s mysterious, magical soundtrack, that I will not just be entertained I sense immediately that spending time in Gao s world will be an experience worth my time. This will be a different kind of adventure, I think, traveling to the moon and back.

* * *

I am in the mountains of North Carolina with a group of women writers. We are sitting at a table dripping in sunlight and loose papers, pens nestled in the space between journal pages, bottles of water warming as we lean our bodies forward, listening as one writer reads aloud, tightly gripping her notebook.
I just wish I had known sooner. It would have made everything so much easier, she says to us.
She is talking about her husband. A gifted theologian with a Ph. D. A father. A professor. Also, she tells us, an Aspie.

It is 2004, and Autism has not yet become mainstream news-worthy, and we all lean in closer. No one there knows what an Aspie is, so we need her to tell us about his too-intense focus, his inability to connect emotionally, his seeming lack of social mores and his limited communication skills. What she perceived as shyness in their early relationship shifted into a barrier that has become insurmountable, she confesses.

The diagnosis is recent, she says. Knowing makes it easier to understand, but not easier to accept.
I just wish he would reach out to me and our kids, she says. She wants to write a book so other Aspie wives won t feel so alone. She wants to stay married, but she isn t sure she will, despite the love she feels. She is no longer just reading her work aloud to us; we are all her friends, although we barely know one another, and we meet her eyes with something as close to empathy as we can find. We know we don t know her loneliness, but we sense it in each carefully selected syllable that escapes her lips.

* * *

Now that I ve just spent five hours immersed in Gao s To the Moon world, I am transfixed by the memory of the woman s shared story around that writing table so many years ago. It seems as if I hear Johnny Wyles voice reach out to this woman from my past. I get it. I know how you feel. Really. I do, Johnny would say to her.

He would understand. I have walked with him and the woman he loves in their virtual world. Such sadness and such love; how has the game packed such emotion into these tiny sprites? And so much humor? In my head, I hear one of the game s main characters, Dr. Eva Rosalene, chastising me for my narrow-mindedness: Oh, cucumbers! What s that serious fluff about? Dr. Watts and I share a wicked sense of humor."

I laugh and add cucumbers to my working list of swear words. In the game, Dr. Neil Watts interrupts my thoughts. Please, can we just get on with this already? I ve got work to do, he demands.

I ve really had enough of him. I realize the idiocy of responding to a RPG character, but I do it anyway. I fire back, Watts, for cucumber s sake, shut up. You think you re a badass, but I see your heart despite your cynical words. And watch out for those squirrels, will you?
Act II: Personal|Universal
I have now played the game, but in order to immerse, I have to play it all over again.

I stumble, even the second time through excavating memory links because I bump into them, not because I understand or am in control of my destiny. I make a note to be honest with Gao when I talk with him, which means I will admit that I am fed by the dialogue in each scene, but that I blunder my way into each new setting with little grace: Is that the path? Did I really just need 37 attempts to make a toy platypus whole again and how do I get past Eva zombies and control horseback riders as they careen wildly across my screen?

I will admit to him that far beyond the cascading dance of music, birdsong, wave crash, I resonate with each of his story people characters who seem cleverly articulated into virtual existence from real life the close-knit, working-squabbling-bantering relationship that Eva and Neil share. Lily s dedication to John as his health worsens. Arguing, sugar-craving kids with a fascination for locked rooms. A friend who questions motives. Old books with secrets. And, of course, a dying man with a wish that seems as mysterious as the origami rabbits that fill his life and his memories, and a wife whose physical being is depicted by a pinky-nail-sized presence on the screen, but whose distracted oddness dispassionately fuels an entire, five-hour virtual experience that deftly ventures into themes which are, when played out among breathing humans instead of tiny sprites on my laptop screen, the nuts and bolts of the life I live.

I will tell him that the characters and the unfolding of their stories intertwine with the melody of For River that I find myself humming as I sweep the front porch or collect eggs from my chickens. I will tell him these things because I believe that anyone who creates a virtual world like his would want to know how it makes us feel to experience it.

* * *

Kan Gao s voice travels from his home near Toronto to my home in Rutledge, Georgia via an unreliable cell signal. He is so quiet and serene that at times I am unsure that he s on the line. He is humble, and he chooses his words so carefully. He is unequivocally polite.

When I share my experiences with his game, he is kind. He even laughs with me a few times. It is a gentle sound.

Occasionally, during our conversation his voice sinks so deeply into my phone that I can t extract any words from our conversation at all. When I tell him I m struggling to hear him clearly, his voice shimmers sharp for a moment: a ribbon of subtle warmth across miles.

The irony does not escape me when he explains that the heart of To the Moon is connection.
Everyone has longings, he says. I expect to hear melancholy in his voice, but instead the words whisper something more matter-of-fact.

Gao explains that at age eleven he moved with his immediate family to Canada from China. His extended family did not come with them. For the next several years, he worked to learn English, but when he entered high school, he felt like he didn t fit. Besides the cultural barrier, he says, there was a mental barrier.

Sketches courtesy of Kan Gao, by artist Alisa Christopher (left) and Gabriela Aprile (right).

Maybe I could have done more at school to connect, but I didn t. I wasn t very social. I was withdrawn. I spent my lunch hour in the music room playing piano, he says. He played flute in the band, but mostly, he says he felt a lack of connection during much of his high school years.

I ask him if he can elaborate, but he defers kindly. In my work, I often deal with loneliness, he says.

* * *

During his childhood and as a teenager, Gao enjoyed comic books. He also immersed himself in the worlds of RPGs. But as we discuss my lack of aptitude at the actual game playing needed for To the Moon, Gao cheerfully admits that he also would race through the battle scenes to get to the story and the characters. I wanted to spend my time walking around in their world, he says. That was my takeaway from those games. And when I learned that I could make games, I wanted to make games that I wanted to play.

When I ask him what it is like for him to have enough courage to create games that tread on such quiet but powerful ground, he answered with a measured fervor that I did not anticipate. I do not create out of courage. I create out of necessity. Everyone wants connection. Everyone needs a way to reach out. Making games is my way of reaching out. Making games is my way of communicating, he says.

* * *

Gao says he writes love stories. And he claims that he only learned how to make games so he could tell those stories. I m a terrible programmer, he says, that familiar, soft laughter shimmering behind his voice. Since I don t know much about programming, I mention the final scene between Johnny and River in To the Moon.

The hand-holding, I say, my voice tapering off because I am not exactly sure what I want to ask.
The hand-holding, he repeats, as if he is reading my mind. He says, Exactly. What I want to do is extremely simple. It all comes down to connection. It all comes down to River and Johnny holding hands.

Act III: Development {Disorder}
She said, I m sad, somehow, without any words
I just stood there, searching for an answer
from Everything s Alright by Laura Shigihara

In my first round of To the Moon, as I wander through the rooms of Johnny and River s seaside house, I say aloud to no one at all, River is different.

Soon after the words escape my lips, I realize that by peopling his To the Moon world with characters coping with the very real, very complex developmental disorder known to most of us as Asperger s, Gao has elevated his game to a vehicle for connection that transcends virtual.

Gao says he never dreamed a game he created over a span of two years, in his dorm room and bedroom, would inspire players to reach out to him. But it has. I have received wonderful messages from folks who tell me they have found parts of themselves while playing To the Moon, he says. It is overwhelming in wonderful ways.

Yet he refuses to take credit for those connections. I am surprised it was taken seriously. I just wanted to make it something that players could research if they were interested, he explains.

Because Asperger s affects each person so differently, Gao notes, he chose to have both River and her friend Isabelle diagnosed with the disorder. However, he says, Isabelle is diagnosed young, and learns how to cope. She is the voice of the condition in this game. River shows the variance.

From online forums to game comments, reactions to Gao s treatment of Asperger s in To the Moon are profoundly moving. Players affected in some way by the disorder write that this game has helped them feel understood and validated.

For me, until I stepped into Gao s virtual world, the closest I ve come to Asperger s was in that writing circle a decade ago. If I had the woman s contact information, I d call her right now and invite her to play To the Moon, in honor of Kan Gao, in honor of connection.

According to Gao, his next game will also explores loneliness and companionship.

A Bird Story is the story of a boy who finds a bird with a broken wing. And he nurses the bird to health, with a predictable ending, Gao adds, laughter shimmering again. Ultimately, Gao assures me, A Bird Story has the same heart as To the Moon.

It is a love story, told in a different way, he says. It has no dialogue, and it is focused and simple, but I hope it appeals to those who enjoy To the Moon.

Gao says A Bird Story will be released this year. He s wary about giving an exact date, because he says he s missed release dates already, but he promises definitely sometime this year.

I will set a date when the trailer is released, he writes in a follow up email to me. Gao also says the future will hold a second episode of To the Moon. The patient in the second episode will be the main character in A Bird Story (all grown up by then, of course), he explains.

For fans of Gao s work, any wait at all is too long. But, I m wagering, the wait will be worth it.
PC Gamer

A public service announcement:

Videogame characters; sure, delving headlong into an unexplored cavern might sound heroic, but caves are the first sign of a roguelike. Remember: if you see a cave entrance, think! Walk on by, and find something safer a hidden object game or a point-'n-click adventure. No, not the Sierra ones.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at Vagante. It's a... oh, it's a roguelike. I don't know why I bother.

In Vagante, you follow your protagonist through a monster-filled cave; dying, collecting loot, dying, fighting monsters, rescuing fairies and dying. It's a pretty pixel-based platformer with randomly generated levels filled with monsters, traps and unidentified potions. Sometimes good things happen to you. Mostly they do not.

It's still early in the development process right now, but that does mean it's free for all to try. You can download the public alpha from the game's IndieDB page, and browse through its development updates over at the Vagante blog.
PC Gamer

Orcs Must Die! Unchained designer Jerome K. Jones said last week that "toxic players" aren't just a fact of online gaming life, but are actually a desirable audience not for their bad behavior, but for the "passion" they bring to the games the play. In a follow-up statement, however, developer Robot Entertainment said there's a big difference between passion and toxicity, and insisted that bad behavior will not be tolerated.

In the wake of a powerfully negative response to Jones' statement that there's "probably something good" about the presence of toxic players in online games because it means they're "passionate enough to give a damn," Robot Entertainment clarified that "toxic players that worsen the experience for the Orcs Must Die! Unchained community absolutely will not be tolerated."

"Earlier today a headline suggested that Robot Entertainment welcomes toxic players in Orcs Must Die! Unchained. In the full interview, we acknowledged that toxic players are an unfortunate facet of multiplayer gaming. We made clear that we want to hear from all players no matter how passionate they may be. Passionate but not toxic. We have an active community management team in place that will address toxic players quickly and decisively," the studio wrote.

Robot said its efforts to build an "encouraging and uplifting community" for Orcs Must Die! Unchained will be aided by input from players during the closed beta period, which is now underway. "Community feedback has always been an integral part of the Robot development process, and we want to ensure we hear from all players including our most passionate of players," it continued. "But if a person chooses to restrict or impede upon the gameplay and community experience with inappropriate behavior, then we will ensure they are disciplined and, if needed, banned."

Robot Entertainment's statement can be read in full at OrcsMustDie.com.

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