RRC Digest 10/4/16 – #GameOn and Virginia

This week I have some overdue words for a new Long Island game shop that has won my heart, and impressions on a new indie game experience called Virginia. Next week is New York Comic Con, so I’ll either have a lot to say, or I’ll be too busy to write anything at all! Stay tuned.

#GameOn – This Miller Place, Long Island game shop has been open for a year but I just discovered it a few weeks ago. It’s about 40 minutes away from me, but compared to the other independent game shops on the island it’s around the corner. I’d like to tell you about the store itself but I think it’s important to give you some context.

This area has been a barren wasteland of GameStops for years now. When I was a kid my town had a store called Microplay, where the owners knew me by name, hooked me up with import games months before they came out in the US, and did all kinds of favors for me. Their kindness turned me onto a side of gaming I may have never experienced otherwise. My taste for weird, rare, off-kilter game experiences remains strong to this day.

Had I grown up in the sea of identical GameStops I live in now, I probably wouldn’t have been drawn to oddities like Deadly Premonition and Earth Defense Force. It’s hard to stand in a GameStop for more than five minutes, let alone seek out the weird games lost in a haze of pre-order bonuses and collector’s editions. I still habitually walk into GameStop every time I go to our local mall and the experience is the same every time. “Why am I here?” I ask myself, before turning around and walking out. There will never be a new discovery at GameStop. The only revelation is realizing that the games are quickly being pushed aside for Funko Pops and ThinkGeek tchotchkes.

That’s what makes #GameOn so special. I’ve only been there a few times, yet I’ve had nothing but friendly, personal service every time. I brought bags full of old games to trade in, and the staff there have been more than happy to work with me and make sure I walk out the door with something I’m happy with.

I had purchased a Dreamcast from them, and, like so many Dreamcasts I’ve seen, it didn’t read some of my games. I don’t blame them at all for it, that’s just how Dreamcasts are, but I still wanted one that worked with all of my games because I already had a flaky one at home. When I told the owner Tristan about the issue I was having, he gave me one of their test units from the back. So far it’s been playing my copy of Shenmue flawlessly.

During that same visit I brought in my scratched up copy of Panzer Dragoon Zwei for Sega Saturn. This is a game I adore, but I bought used from a Blockbuster back when Blockbuster would have had used copies of Panzer Dragoon Zwei. The disc had been “resurfaced” at a GameStop years ago and their hack job made it so the game didn’t play at all anymore. I brought it into #GameOn and they handed me back what looked like a pristine copy, properly resurfaced with their professional tools. I played the game from beginning to end once again, without any issues, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Every time I’ve gone into #GameOn there are a lot of kids hanging out, surrounded by the same games I grew up with. That, more than anything, makes me happy — knowing that there’s a place like that locally, where kids can be exposed to more than the typical GameStop selection, take a chance on a game they’ve never heard of, and meet other gamers in a safe space.

Here’s a link to their website: http://gameonmp.com/

Virginia – This new indie game is a 2-3 hour interactive story told over a week. You play as an FBI agent tasked with investigating your partner as you both head to a small town and try to solve the case of a missing child. Take two parts Twin Peaks, one part X-Files, and mix it into a 30 Flights of Loving-shaped bowl and you have a good idea of what to expect. Virginia keeps company with the likes of Gone Home, Firewatch, and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, so if you’re turned off by minimalist gameplay and linear storytelling you may want to steer clear.

Personally I loved it, and I’m looking forward to replaying it with the ending in mind. Much like 30 Flights of Loving, the storytelling is vague, non-verbal, and full of jump cuts. It’s the kind of game where you’re likely to get more and more out of it with each replay.

All that said, I probably won’t be replaying Virginia anytime soon. For as much as I love it, the PS4 version of the game runs — if I had to guess — somewhere in the range of 10-20 frames per second most of the time. For a game that has so much care and craft in every moment, with a cinematic flair and impression soundtrack, the lack of performance polish is distracting.

This keeps happening with indie games, and frankly, it’s unacceptable. I know the PS4 and Unity game engine don’t play nice, but that’s no excuse for developers to sign off on a final product in this state. To separate the final performance optimization from the rest of the work that went into the game is to ignore the beauty of a polished final piece.

There are priorities and compromises with every game release. Certainly, there are developers who aren’t sensitive to performance issues, and would prefer to focus on the content of the game above all else. To them I say this — I get it, but for myself and many others, a choppy frame rate is a distraction that strips away our ability to fully appreciate your creation. Fixing it has to be a priority.

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