Cue David Attenborough: Final Fantasy XV Shows off its Wildlife in a Surprising New Trailer

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

A new trailer dropped recently for the next game in the Final Fantasy franchise, and it's a bit of a departure, to say the least. While the first teasers we saw for Final Fantasy XV featured handsome men with impractical hair speeding around in an even more handsome and impractical car, this new trailer focuses on the game's wildlife. It's shot in a manner that perfectly evokes nature documentaries, but without any narration it manages to be even more laid-back.

It also does make me wonder more about what Final Fantasy XV will actually be. Sure, it's still a Final Fantasy game and a lot of these animals aren't new within the series, but many are being shown in contexts that the series typically hasn't shown them in before. Just, you know, quietly existing. Unaffected by whatever our heroes are doing, wherever they're doing it. No one's running around attacking them to grind experience points. No one's raising, riding, or even racing that Chocobo.

So what does this trailer say about what the game's world will actually be like? Is it just window-dressing to show off their assets, or is it yet another nod to the influence and success of massive, open worlds like Skyrim. I suppose we'll have to wait and see, but either way this trailer is a wonderful little bit of virtual cinematography.

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Watch Janine Explore the Depths of Sunless Sea in Her First Paste Video Review

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Still on the fence about trying out Sunless Sea, the roguelike-like(like?) from the developers of Fallen London? Then I have just the thing. Over on Paste Games we've just started dipping our toes into video reviews, offering brief impressions and cut-together action demonstrating recent video games that have caught our eye. First there was Life is Strange, then my good friend Austin Walker's video for Darkest Dungeon. As for me, my very first video for the site focuses on (as I'm sure you've already guessed) the seafaring (or zeefaring) strategy game Sunless Sea.

It was certainly tricky to do, because Sunless Sea is a pretty low-key game. It moves slowly and steadily... It's actually very relaxing to play, except for all the surprising little horrors that it likes to quietly unleash on you. It's definitely not the easiest subject for a 3 minute long video.

So did I pull it off? I'm not sure, but I'll let you be the judge.

If you want to read my written impressions of the game, I wrote about it back when it launched in Steam's Early Access program last summer. Although a lot about the game has changed since then, my impressions have remained pretty much unchanged. For a written review of the game in its finished state, however, PCGamer and Eurogamer both have excellent write-ups.

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It's Time to Reassess How We Think About Early Access and Crowdfunded Games

Starbound Beta (75)

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I've been thinking a lot about crowdfunded games, lately. It's been hard not to. Earlier this month Under the Ocean (one of my first forays into the world of buy-in betas) removed itself from sale on Steam Early Access after the loss of its lead programmer. According to the developer progress on the game will continue, but at a much slower pace. Days later, the story of the myriad disappointments surrounding Peter Molyneux's Godus broke. And yet just before these two lows was a pretty satisfying high: Starbound released an utterly phenomenal new patch, complete with the long awaited Novakid race. 

Up until now, I haven't been all that shy about buying into unfinished games. I, like a lot of people probably do, looked at it a lot like buying a game I would eventually be buying anyway. The difference was that I was buying it at a point when that money could still be used to improve the game and ensure its eventual release. Depending on the funding format, I might even get to play it (albeit in an incomplete and unpolished form) immediately. Win-win, right? 

Not necessarily, and that's why I've had to seriously reconsider the way that I think (and talk) about buying unfinished games.

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Upcoming Indie Game Sea of Solitude is Simply Stunning

Sea of Solitude
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There are a few particularly pretty gifs and screenshots making the rounds in the Twitter gaming community following the recent launch of Sea of Solitude's teaser site. Although the game isn't publicly available to play yet, its crumbling ruins and gently lapping canals are clearly already capturing folks' imaginations.

Based on the teasers, Sea of Solitude looks like a blend of exploration, puzzle-solving and platforming. That's a pretty popular mix among indie games, but its simple yet beautiful visuals make it stand out. Its premise (as outlined on their website) does as well.

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Stop and Rewind: The First Episode of Life is Strange is Flawed, but it Still Deserves to Exist

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I went into Life is Strange Episode 1 trying very hard to like it. I knew it wouldn't be perfect; as much as I love Remember Me, developer DONTNOD's previous release, that game still had its problems. Even so, Life is Strange looked different. It promised to take a thread of Remember Me's interesting but underutilized Remixing mechanic and weave it into a more contemporary, more relatable tapestry. Given that the combat was one of the more awkward parts of Remember Me I also wasn't too upset to hear that Life is Strange would be an episodic adventure game, heavily inspired by Gone Home and Telltale Games' recent work. So far, so good.

But after playing episode one, I feel conflicted. While I still admire what DONTNOD is trying to do with this game, its heavy-handed approach risks souring something that could be quite special. Here's why:

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Player Creativity is King in Physics-Based Building Game Besiege, Now in Early Access

Zeroharker compact crossbow wagon
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I've got three words for you: DIY Siege Engines. That's the pitch for Besiege, a physics-based medieval destruction sandbox which launched in Steam's Early Access program late last month. Although the game's current version only offers a slice of what will presumably be included in the final release, players are already sharing their own clever, creative constructs like the one above by Besiege player zeroharker.

"I've been working on trying to make the smallest most concealable weapons so far in this," zeroharker wrote in their original post on the Besiege forums. "This latest invention," they continued, "Combines my collapsible crossbow with the siege wagon into a tiny terror."

So what exactly does this unassuming little contraption do? Well, just take a look:

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Play it This Weekend: Sunless Sea's Full Release Finally Sees the Light of Day

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Lose your mind. Eat your crew. That's the tagline that captured my and many other games writers' imaginations when Failbetter Games' Sunless Sea launched in Early Access on Steam last year. Sunless Sea iterates on the world already thoroughly fleshed out in Fallen London (a popular free-to-play browser game from the same developers) but with a slightly more action-oriented approach to its gameplay. It's a game that tangles you up in its lush descriptions, its unsettling characters, and its stunningly surreal locations, and after several months in beta the full version has just been released. 

I reviewed Sunless Sea when it made its debut, but plenty has changed since then. The timing based combat system it once had has been replaced with a much more active system that will have you carving wide arcs in the Zee to point your cannons at your foes. The Zee itself, static and predefined when I wrote my review, is now a procedurally-generated enigma, dropping carefully designed sections in at random. They've also invited many guest writers including Meg Jayanth of 80 Days fame to fill out the world even more. Sunless Sea wasn't exactly hurting for great writing even in its beta stages, so this only gives me more to look forward to when I replay it.

If you'd like to read a review of the game in its completed state, swing by Eurogamer for Simon Parkin's particularly vivid take. Otherwise you can pick up a copy for yourself on Steam or Humble for both Mac and Windows. Happy sailing!

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The Sims 4's First Expansion Could Be Just What the Sim Doctor Ordered... Or Not

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The first full expansion pack for The Sims 4 was announced yesterday, scheduled for release this April. You could be forgiven for thinking that Get to Work is the game's second expansion after the nature-themed Outdoor Retreat released last month, however that was technically a "Game Pack" and not an expansion -- the equivalent of the neighborhood sets sold in The Sims 3 Store. But that's beside the point.

Opinions on what's been shown from the upcoming expansion seem mixed. On the one hand, it's the first major piece of content for a game that could desperately use more major pieces of content (something I gestured at in my review of the base game for Paste last fall). On the other, it has some uncanny similarities to expansions released for previous Sims titles, serving as an unpleasant reminder of the repetitive, cyclical, money-draining nature of the franchise. 

But The Sims 4 is a bit of a special case, even compared to its predecessors...

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The Circle of Life: F2P Mobile Game Survive! Mola mola! Turns Cartoonish Death into Satisfying Progress

Survive! Mola mola!
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

January's been a rough month. I've died a couple dozen times. I've choked on plastic bags, washed up on the shore, had my stomach all clogged up with squid, and stopped breathing while careening wildly towards a scary-looking sea turtle.

I've been playing Survive! Mola mola!, a free game available on iOS and Android from Select Button Inc. It's become a surprise sensation, and from what I've played I'd say their success is well deserved. Why? Well, it all comes down to Death.

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This Weekend: Find (or Make) Your Perfect Game Thanks to Pixelkin.org and Sortingh.at

Pixelkin Game Picker

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you're looking for the perfect game to play this weekend, but you're not exactly sure what that perfect game is, you'll absolutely want to visit Pixelkin and take their new Game Picker for a spin.

Pixelkin is a website devoted to family gaming, though that doesn't mean it's all kids games and edutainment titles. They cover a pretty broad range of games, with parents, kids, and everyone in between in mind. They also haven't omitted more mature titles (like Amnesia) from the Game Picker's list, so whether you're looking for something to play with family or on your own you should consider giving it a try.

Then again, maybe you're in more of a creative mood. Maybe instead of playing the perfect game, you want to try making it yourself. In that case you'll want to check out Sortingh.at, a tool developed by Zoe Quinn to help aspiring game-makers find the tools and resources best suited for a project they may already have in mind. A large number of those tools and resources are also free, making the barrier to entry for game development a lot lower than you might think--even if you don't know a lick of code.

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