Jack Quest: Tale of the Sword Review

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This review was originally published on NovastreamAU on 26/01/19.

The MetroidVania subgenre of 2D action platformers is what you might call a little saturated these days, with numerous indie titles released every month, all trying to recreate that classic feeling of exploration and danger first gifted to us their eponymous Nintendo series’. Though the latest, Jack Quest: Tale of the Sword is less of a straight homage than, for instance, last year’s Axiom Verge (in an aesthetic and thematic sense), the basic framework of what makes these games so recognisable is still here and as compelling as ever. However, much like the diminutive pixels of our titular hero, it’s the little things that make the difference, and Jack Quest falls down in a lot of small ways that add up, despite being a mostly fun distraction and bearer of the MetroidVania torch.

Firstly, the good stuff. The key to any action platformer is game feel. These are not games which are remembered fondly for their epic storytelling and characters but rather the sense of isolation and exploration, as well as smooth fluid platforming and combat. For the most part Jack Quest excels at this. The platforming is challenging but feels very satisfying. The jumping has a nice floaty quality and the prerequisite double jumps and wall jumps are gifted to you within the first 15 minutes of the game. Aesthetically, the game is also great to look at, with a charming, chunky pixel style of graphics that brings to mind its 8-bit forebears, and a setting that manages to be both cheery and appropriately dark and atmospheric. Having said this, the simplicity of the graphics can tend to grind against the design of the game itself sometimes. Some enemies are often obscured behind coins or particle effects. Vital puzzle components are also small and blend into the background. Visual clarity is key in a game where the player is designed to feel lost in the world, and Jack Quest misses the mark a little here. Continuing this unfortunate trend, the characters chunky model and low range of attack also means that it’s difficult to get close enough to enemies to attack them, often leading to frustrating incidental damage.

A hallmark of these kinds of isolationist 2D platformers is the frustration yet eventual triumph of feeling your way around a hostile labyrinth of level design. The map is a vital tool in the players arsenal, but even something this simple could have been done better here.  The map has a kind of fog of war effect where it only shows you a small portion of the world at a time. Moving the focus around obscures the rest of the dungeon, which makes planning a route through the labyrinthine map a chore of rote memorisation, rather than a journey of discovery and progression. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if there were sidequests or other interesting things to discover off the beaten path, but the structure of the progression is also a missed opportunity as well. In games like Metroid there is usually a ‘correct’ way to go to advance the story, but countless side-tracks that reward player exploration with new upgrades. In Jack Quest, though the simplicity of the map means that specific powerups are used as road blocks between locked off sections of the map. Despite the confusing layout, there is really only one option of moving forward. It’s just a matter of sometimes tedious exploration until you find out what is.

Speaking of limited fields of view, the player’s FOV is also too restrictive for vertically oriented platforming. Many hazards are placed below ledges where your character needs to traverse, but with no way to move the camera other than to stand at the edge until the cameras slowly automatically pans down a small amount, you will take accidental damage a lot. In a genre where the mechanics of movement and mastery of enemy timing and attacks are supposed to be the main hurdles for the player to overcome, the last thing the player needs is a game design that obscures what little information the player is given and introduces the element of random chance rather than skill into the equation.

All of the aforementioned points are at most minor annoyances on their own, but coalesce into a game that feels frustrating, mostly because it quite fun to just pick up and play on a base level. There is a lot of promise here that is somewhat squandered by niggling design decisions that make the game more difficult than it needs to be in the wrong places.

Speaking of difficulty, Jack Quest boldly opts for the immediate cliff face style of curves. Though seasoned gamers might bemoan the all ubiquity of the tutorial level in modern games, Jack Quest goes too far the other way, throwing you in the deep end with nothing but a wise talking sword as your only friend against an army of giant spiders, oozes and other monsters. With only a small health bar and very little in the way of invincibility frames, death is more an inevitability than you might be used to. Normally a high level of difficulty is not unwelcome in a genre like this, but how the developer has handled the consequences of player failure here is a little strange. Upon death the player is reset to their last activated checkpoint. These are plentiful but are only activated automatically the first time you pass them, so you must remember to continually check your progress as you explore the maze lest you are sent back to the other side of the map by accident. Health is also not refilled upon respawning, so if you were caught with half a heart as you first pass a checkpoint, you’re out of luck for the next section, unless you go through the tedious process of hunting for rare or expensive health pickups, then backtracking to save and reload again.

This difficulty starts to make sense, for better or worse, when you realise how depressingly short the game is. After the initial tough section, the player may be starting to get used to the game’s jumping mechanics and combat. Unfortunately, then it just kind of ends, without much fanfare or tension resolved. The princess is saved, the land is released from an evil monster’s curse. Yay. Granted, this is a small independent game so expectations should be curbed going in, but the core platforming is compelling enough that there was no harm in padding the run time, even slightly, by simply doing a palette swap of environments and making the enemies slightly beefier and calling it world 2, 3 etc. As it stands, the game explores only one samey looking dungeon and confident platforming fans can expect to unveil all the game has to offer in a couple of hours, probably just as they are getting engaged with it all.

Though the main theme is excellent, its dark and epic driving beat a good incentive for the player to push forward, the audio design is lacking in parts. Simple things, like sound effects for coins being collected for instance are missing, which vastly depreciates their perceived value in the mind of the player. Enemies too, give little indication of their appearance off screen or telegraphing their attacks, either visually or through sound. Small enemy sprites will pop up out of the ground and their projectiles are often indistinguishable from the particle effects on screen. This all contributes to making the incidental damage you incur more common and cheap feeling. Whereas a game like Dark Souls is mechanically hard, the process of dying and replaying is mitigated by the notion that you are constantly learning and getting better at the game, whereas in Jack Quest failure often feels random, pointless and frustrating.

Though the bulk of this review is filled with negative nit-picking, it’s just because I had a lot of fun playing Jack Quest and wanted what was here to be better and more fleshed out. The core elements of platforming and combat feel natural and compelling. The simple goals and checkpoint system, whilst flawed, makes it easy to pick up and play for people of all ages. However, it is short, aggressively difficult in the wrong ways and lacking a lot of the atmosphere and inspiration that made the games it is emulating memorable. I can still give it a tentative recommendation if you are a fan of this genre. Having said that there are certainly better examples to be found elsewhere, such as Hollow Knight or Ori and the Blind Forest. However, if you have played them already, then give Jack Quest: Tale of the Sword a spin. You won’t be telling any tales of it afterwards, but it is a few hours of spelunking fun.

Dusk Review

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Doom is a first-person shooter released by id Software for the MS-DOS platform in 1993. In the game you play as a space marine battling to contain the forces of hell whilst… Wait, I think I’m getting confused here. I might be forgiven for thinking I’d traveled back in time 25 years, because that’s what one-man studio David Szymanski is shooting for with his old school FPS Dusk. The game is at once a homage and progression of the kind of the furious, adrenaline inducing gameplay that caused titles like Doom and Quake to turn the genre on its head in the early 90s. 

Playing Dusk, it becomes clear just how much the first-person shooter genre has evolved in the last 20 years. The advent of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Gears of War in the early 2000s saw a turn towards a style of gameplay that more closely fit their gritty, wartime aesthetic and themes. Suddenly, characters moved in a slow, lumbering fashion and combat was relegated to split second aiming down reticules at enemies across the map. Playing Dusk is nostalgic not just on an aesthetic surface level, but because it is a truly faithful revival of the speed and intensity of gameplay that drew so many people into PC gaming in the 90s. It has an energy that is impossible to not be swept up in. Its focus on oft forgotten mechanics like non-regenerating health, a huge arsenal of weapons and emphasis on speed and movement over cover mechanics are will be comfortably familiar to some and a fresh breath of air for others sick of the iterative cover shooters released today.

Player character movement speed in Dusk relative to the environment is simply immense, almost too much at times. The game is unique in that it has a completely unlocked y-axis, allowing the player to execute exciting front and backflips in the middle of battle. Consequently, the wide open outside levels feel the best to navigate compared to some of the more claustrophobic ones, but the effect is always exciting. The game creates a real sense of power in the player, with this beefy arsenal of shotguns and rocket launchers that cause enemies to explode into chunks of viscera from close up.

Enemy variety itself is a little lacklustre however. Whilst there is a steady drip feed of different baddies over the course of the game, they mostly consist of the same palette swaps of shambling monstrosities that immediately charge you upon site, either employing simple melee or range attacks. But this is beside the point. Like its spiritual forebears, the enemies in Dusk are cannon fodder, mere hunks of meat in the way of your characters aspirations to be a butcher. They fill the screen and swarm around you to provide sustenance for you power fantasy as you blow them away whilst sliding, rocket jumping and all the while thrashing your head to the excellent soundtrack.

The success of a game with a simplistic gameplay loop such as this is making that loop inherently and immediately satisfying on an almost primal level, so that story and graphics become secondary in the players mind in favour of pursuing more of their thirst for blood. A lot of that required atmosphere can be contributed to the excellent soundtrack by composer Andrew Hulshult. If you go back and play any of the games Dusk in riffing off of, they all had excellent music that really sells the high-octane gameplay loop of sprinting around shooting everything in sight. The Lovecraftian inspired aesthetic is reflected well in some of the more eerie tracks, which serve to build tension before the brutal headbanging metal tunes that kick in when your character becomes locked in the larger arena style segments. These will have you in the rhythm of circle strafing and unloading thousands of rounds in enemies, whilst rocket jumping and flipping around like a maniac. It is an extremely fast paced and visceral kind of action game that puts fun and spectacle at the forefront and the music is a core component of this.

The nature of a straightforward 90s shooter revival like Dusk is that some of the more antiquated design elements from games of that time also find their way into this game. The standard coloured keys ‘puzzle’ are the primary form of level interaction in the game and serve to gate off sections of the level and allow the player to be funneled through as the developer intended and get the full impact and explore as much as possible. It works, but the bold-faced simplicity can’t help but stick out and feel a little dated, even in a game that is all about looking and playing dated. The bosses also stand out as disappointing. When compared to the atmospheric claustrophobia of the tighter levels and the frenetic movement in the larger ones, the boss battles in Dusk feel a little flat. They mostly take place in medium size arenas, and the bosses themselves require little strategy. 

The game is still in early access, with 3 campaign chapters polished and a classic multiplayer mode still in beta. If you’re played id’s back catalogue to death and want to see what a real iteration of that formula looks like, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Dusk.

Well Executed – Hitman 2 Review

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This review was first published on NovastreamAU on 20/11/2018.

There’s a secret about the Hitman franchise that those who haven’t played the games extensively might not know. For the sake of simplicity, they’ve historically been marketed in the stealth action genre, but I’ve always felt that this was a misnomer. The player can certainly choose to sneak Agent 47 through the levels, using the standard stealth game toolset of crouching and audible distractions. However, these mechanics have always felt (to me at least) to be concessions to normality and not the primary design language of the franchise. If you strip away the surface layer of horrific executions and bald killer clones, at its core the Hitman franchise boils down to patient observation and environmental puzzle solving. They are the video game equivalent of Rube Goldberg machines. Their lovingly detailed levels are filled with layers of complex AI routines, and the joy of playing them is not so much sleuthing around, but rather standing back and watching the level unfold around you, identifying where the cracks are before setting up a fatal line of dominos and watching them fall over in horrifying glee. It has been this commitment to its unique simulation style level design and gameplay that encourages patience and repetition that makes Hitman incredibly rewarding and memorable to play, but also one of the most niche AAA action series that exists today. Hitman 2 iterates on the success of 2016’s slick series reboot, adding new content and several gameplay refinements without attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Unlike most developers currently that are so eager to shoehorn RPG-lite mechanics into their games, Hitman 2 takes a different approach to progression. As cliché as it is to say, you could describe it as the Dark Souls of AAA stealth action, mostly because the full set of gameplay tools are available to the player from the very first mission. Instead of needing to earn XP to follow a highly curated chain of ability unlocks, players need to pay attention to the levels to discover the optimal ways to interact with their targets. The game’s use of context specific actions rather than unlockable abilities means that difficulty and progression curves aren’t bottlenecked by the game itself but rather by the player’s knowledge of the AI systems and confidence in exploiting them. Despite the introduction of an experience system in this iteration of the franchise, the upgrades it affords are useful only for replaying those levels to further explore the murderous opportunities missed the first time around.  On the negative side of this coin, new players may find the games demands on your patience to be unappealing. Though the AI sometimes displays the derpy traits needed for a stealth game, for the most part they are highly intelligent and will pursue any disturbance, often to a violent conclusion. And since the games auto-save system works in mysterious ways, newcomers may find themselves relying heavily on save states to complete levels at the cost of natural pacing. For the most part though, It is the player that levels up in Hitman 2, rather than Agent 47 himself, and this makes for a much more memorable and repayable experience.

And replay it you will. Much like Agent 47’s obsession with perfecting his grisly craft, the game encourages you to go through its levels multiple times, refining your knowledge of NPC movements, and uncovering all the unique opportunities to eliminate targets and disappear like a shadow.  The game even makes a point of showing the player the ‘mission stories’ that they missed out on the first time around and prompting them to go back and try it again differently until they really are the perfect assassin. These pre-designed breadcrumb trails of opportunities are like mini missions in themselves, and the time sensitive and intricate setup involved in them always results in a satisfying accidental execution that won’t hamper the players final mission ranking. This emphasis on perfect undiscovered kills is the most fun way to play Hitman, but also makes the plethora of guns and explosives available feel a little redundant. The best weapon in this game is legitimately a can of spaghetti sauce. And like other entries in this genre, when there is a tool that can be used silently, repeatedly and non-lethally, the ballistic option becomes a lot less desirable, which can tend to limit the combat diversity for those who want to achieve the best mission ranking.

Of course, the main reason that Hitman’s unique approach to gameplay works is because the consistent difficulty and progression curves allow the level design to take a starring role instead. This time around, players will join Agent 47 in travelling to 6 different locations around the world, from the labyrinthine slums of Mumbai to a quiet Vermont neighbourhood. The game’s crown jewels, the larger levels are marvels of overlapping AI subsystems, with hundreds of NPCs going about their daily routines. Slowly walking around, studying the target’s routine and absorbing ambient pieces of information through conversations, it feels like Agent 47 is just a cog into this living digital machine and it makes it all the more satisfying to throw a wrench into the works. The amount of detail and different approaches to each mission is immense and incentivises replaying them. However, like the 2016 iteration, as the game progresses the levels tend to lose some of their grandiose charm in favour of grimmer and more sparsely populated stages. Without the spectacle of the huge NPC crowds and elaborate death mechanisms of levels like Miami and Mumbai, players are will find themselves leaning on the game’s clunky stealth mechanics more. It made sense to front load the more compelling levels like Paris and Sapienza when IO were releasing these levels episodically in 2016, but here it makes for an experience that starts out bombastic but levels out rather than building over the course of the game.

Though the gameplay philosophy of optimising the players performance through repetition is handled well here, one consequence is that the incredibly fun and darkly humorous gameplay grinds against the bungled narrative. Hitman games have always attempted to shoehorn in their own brand of global espionage and intrigue, however this iteration goes so far into the realm of cliché and genre tropes that it’s even more ridiculous than the game’s wonky ragdoll physics. Those who were fans of the super slick presentation of the prerendered cutscenes from Hitman 2016 will be disappointed with the developer’s choice to go with this narrated storyboard style of presentation in the sequel. It was almost certainly a decision designed to divert money into a designing a better gameplay experience. However, like an anime studio that ran out of money mid-season and had to revert to simply panning across still frames, the effect is jarring when viewed in the context of the excellent voice acting, serviceable writing and impressive visual presentation of the rest of the game. Luckily these cutscenes are merely bookends to each mission, and you will thankfully find more enjoyable characterisation and writing in the novella style sub stories entwined into each level.

Whether or not it is a consequence of IO’s new financial situation with Warner Bros or a stylistic decision, the episodic structure of 2016’s Hitman has also been replaced. The entire game has been released upfront, with an additional bonus for owners of the original game, who will be able to replay all the Hitman 2016 levels with updated control scheme and mechanics. This is a great addition and makes for a more complete and fleshed out experience. However, for those are new to the franchise or do not become invested in replaying the levels, it might feel like there isn’t much new content here. Despite all the community backlash around Hitman 2016’s episodic release, that structure definitely complimented the replayability of the game and basically forced players to squeeze every last drop of content out of each level whilst waiting for the next one to be released. Despite this, when factoring in the bonus sniper mode as well as the free DLC contracts IO is releasing post launch, players can still expect to find tens of hours of enjoyment here.

In addition, multiplayer has come to Hitman for the first time. Normally a solitary experience, IO’s solution was to introduce an asynchronous competitive format called Ghost mode. Here, 2 players tackle the same level simultaneously. Whilst you can see the phantom image of your opponent within the level, you cannot interact with them at all, which makes for a tense race against time to be the best assassin possible and is sure to add even more replayability to those who have already mastered the games levels.

Despite all the positive refinements made for this sequel, the developer’s questionable use of Denuvo DRM strategy remains. Though logging into the servers before playing is relatively quick and painless, the way this has seeped into the content release is a little concerning to say the least. The timed Exclusive Contracts have returned, with Hollywood star Sean Bean lending his voice and likeness to the game for the first target. Though expanding the games depth of content with new targets is an excellent idea, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The idea that someone who buys the game well after release or is simply busy one week can completely miss out on valuable content forever discourages consumers from being cautious with their money and is an industry trend that hopefully does not become more widespread.

Hitman 2 could easily be viewed as just an iterative progression of its 2016 predecessor. However, like in the games themselves, iteration and repetition in the hands of skilled craftsman can lead to perfection. By refining their elegant toolset and excellent level design, Hitman 2 feels like the most fully realised version of what IO Interactive set out to create almost 2 decades ago, and after several bungled entries its validating as a fan to see the series exactly where it needs to be: with an engaging and refined gameplay platform that can be easily and infinitely expanded upon with new levels. The game’s demands on player patience likely won’t entice many new fans to the franchise, but for series veterans it stands among the best and offers endless hours of sadistic enjoyment within.

What’s NEXT for gaming: Inclusiveness takes centre stage at PAX AUS 2018

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This article was originally posted on NovastreamAU on 4/11/2018.

Far removed from the flashing lights and booming announcements inside the main hall of PAX AUS 2018, a different kind of exhibit took place. Attendees jostling past one another down the concourse of the MCEC might have been surprised to see such a large display in the main thoroughfare of the convention. It was here that the inaugural NEXT exhibit took place. In contrast to the immense scale and spectacle of the AAA games inside, NEXT set out to showcase indie titles made by underrepresented developers and tell stories about serious or overlooked subject matter. The brainchild of Ally McLean and Liam Esler, NEXT exhibit brought together six unique titles that might have not have found space on the main show floor. Which is why it’s so important that they were featured here, because these are certainly not ordinary games made by ordinary developers.

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Games that set out to convey a serious subject matter often allow traditional gameplay to take a back seat to the story. However, An Aspie Life, by Brisbane developer Bradley Hennessey, is a bold attempt to take the nuances of living with Asperger’s Syndrome and craft engaging game mechanics around them. The game is an insightful, sometimes confronting but ultimately uplifting look into the everyday life of someone living with autism. Speaking with Bradley at the exhibit it was clear the amount of passion and personal experience he had poured into the project, which is the culmination of years spent teaching himself coding. He also created all the art for the game. An Aspie Life is free to play on Steam.

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Though all the games featured at NEXT were beautiful in their own way, perhaps none were so visually striking as She and the Lightbearer. A collaborative effort between Indonesian studios that might not otherwise receive wide attention for their art, this point and click adventure showcases an amazing hand drawn aesthetic and draws the player through a story inspired by Indonesian folk lore. Creator Brigitta Rena has struggled to achieve her goals in the games industry because of family and cultural pushback in her native country. She and the Lightbearer is an attempt not only to bring knowledge of traditional Indonesian culture to a wider audience, but also create opportunities for fellow women in Indonesian game development.

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Despite recent strides forward in LGBT representation in games, there are still very few stories being told specifically about transgender people. Underneath the charming cartoon art-style of Florescer lies a confronting look at the everyday struggles of a teenage transgender girl named Bia, as she attempts to fit into a new town. It evokes a strong emotional response by highlighting that even simple tasks like shopping or using the bathroom can create conflict when the public is ignorant and afraid about the reality of being transgender. Florescer was developed by Pugcorn with the support of a Brazilian NGO that houses transgender women. The game is available for download via itch.io.

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Anamorphine is an excitingly unique story driven experience from award winning developer Artifact 5. In the game, a young man named Tyler is struggling with PTSD after his wife Elena suffers an accident that inhibits her creative outlet. The player travels through and physically pieces together the fractured memories of their relationship, which have been designed to bleed into one another seamlessly. This, combined with the lack of an action or dialogue button, serves to create a surreal sense of being nowhere and helpless in your journey to understand Tyler’s fragile state of mind. The game is a beautiful attempt to convey the guilt and helplessness that can come with caring for someone with a disability. Anamorphine is available now on Steam for PC and VR devices.

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One title at NEXT 2018 stood out as less of a reflective journey and more of an absurdist parody of both dungeon crawlers and visual novels. Boyfriend Dungeon, from Montreal developer Kitfox Games, is a genre mashup that sees players romance their weapons in open-ended dialogue based cutscenes before descending into “the dunj” with their new squeeze for a rollicking action-RPG adventure. Though dealing with comparatively lighter subject matter than the other titles at NEXT, Boyfriend Dungeon is a showcase of the unique and entertaining titles that can be released when an incredibly diverse group of developers are given the proper funding and support for their games. Boyfriend Dungeon is due for release on Steam in 2019.

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Rounding out the NEXT line-up is Before I Forget, a story driven first person game about living with dementia. Players control Sunita, who upon exploring her house finds objects that trigger memories and bring colour back into her world. Though this process players can help reconstruct her past to better understand her present. Sunita’s condition means that she is often unable to understand or remember the details of what she is remembering or where she is, and the game is an attempt to convey the confusion and loneliness felt by people with early onset dementia. Before I Forget was made by 3-Fold Games, an all-female team of UK developers. It is a worthy title to be showcased at NEXT as not only does it represent an often overlooked and misunderstood mental illness, but also highlights the gender imbalances in the games industry and the need for equal financial support for female developers. Before I Forget is due for release in 2018 on PC and Mac.

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If anyone still doubted the passion and sincerity brought to Melbourne by the team behind NEXT after playing these six amazing games, they need only talk to its co-creator Ally McLean. Since founding the Working Lunch mentorship for women in games, Ally has built up an impressive trophy cabinet and is in a position to lend her voice to any number of worthy causes within the gaming community. I sat down with her and chatted about why campaigning for accessibility and inclusiveness in games development appealed to her specifically.

“Last year I was going around the world with a game that I made with my team, going through the experience of being an indie developer on the other side of the world. There was a showcase at PAX East of Australian games and I thought something that brings games from all over the world was missing from PAX AUS, and it would be worthwhile to feature games that were diverse and from underrepresented creators, but without all the pain and hard work of them having to showcase it themselves.”

With a huge amount of applications to the exhibit, there must have been a heartbreaking process of whittling down to the final six games. However, Ally and her team had some help in this regard. “A jury of diverse game developers looked at all the applications and played the games. I think the North Star of deciding whether a game belonged at NEXT is what does this game have to say and what can it show people that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. Each of the games has a message that we felt was important and that people otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.”

As we spoke in the bustling concourse, people continued to pour out of the main hall and filter into the comparatively small and relaxing atmosphere of the NEXT exhibit. This, it seems, was all part of the plan to ensure as many people as possible saw these unique titles.

“It was a conscious decision to have it out here in people’s faces, for accessibility as well as visibility. You don’t need a PAX pass to come and see these games, and the booth was purposefully designed to be physically accessible to everyone.”

In addition to the message of inclusivity spread by NEXT, accessibility for those with physical disabilities was also front and centre. Exhibit sponsor Microsoft supplied funding for the exhibit and ensured that several of their new Adaptive controllers were available for anyone to use. The controller is designed to be used with any part of the body, as well as having multiple universal ports for support of custom made controllers to suit individual disabilities. Whilst using it, I struck up a conversation with a random PAX goer who had consulted with Microsoft on its development and used it at home to play racing games with his feet.

“The way that people are interacting with the games, people are coming and spending 45 minutes playing, turning to the stranger next to them and talking about it, then getting their phones out and following the developers on Twitter. I’ve been going to conventions for 10 years and I’ve never seen that before,” Ally said of the reaction of the public.

Showcases like this are never without their hiccups, but by all accounts, NEXT 2018 was a roaring success and everyone involved is keen to see it expand and highlight even more deserving developers in the future.

“I’m very happy with how the exhibit turned out. I was worried it would be very loud and crowded. We wanted it to be a chill and comfy environment which is why we designed it the way we did. But people’s reactions have been surprising, coming out of the main hall it’s almost like an oasis for some of them to just come and relax and play some games and I think that’s really helped.”

“We would love to take NEXT further. Highlighting the work of underrepresented developers is something that everyone here strongly believes in and especially removing the stress and other barriers to showcasing their games. We would love for it to get bigger. We learned a lot about the way that people interacted with the space that I think would help us come back and showcase even more games next year.”

Damsel Review

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This article was originally published on Novastream.com on 19 Oct 2018

Unlike the old cliché, Damsel is not a game that needs any assistance to kick ass. This confident debut from Australian developer Screwtape Studios has recently left Steam’s Early Access and manages to distil the essence of what makes the games it is emulating so well loved, wrapped up in a stylish exterior.

With a level design philosophy that will remind older gamers of titles like Bombjack, Damsel is very clear in its intention to be arcade-style fun first and foremost. A 2D action platformer, players control the titular vampire hunter as she jumps, climbs, dashes and slashes across a variety of small self-contained levels, completing tasks that usually involve sending the bloodsucking horde back to their coffins. For what it’s worth, the story is split into three episodes, presented in some stylish graphic novel cutscenes with a cartoon aesthetic and some sassy tongue in cheek humour. However, don’t expect much in the way of characterisation or plot twists here. Fortunately, these scenes merely bookend the actual levels and don’t get in the way of the gameplay, which is rightfully the star of the show.

In games with a classically simple toolset such as this, the nuances of player control come to the forefront. Luckily, Damsel is a joy to play. Players can execute double jumps, wall climbs, dash across gaps, shoot from a distance and melee enemies. The platforming all feels extremely fluid and measured within the context of the levels. At first, this expansive movement toolkit gave the impression that the game would be imbalanced compared to the shambling enemy AI. However, Damsel’s difficulty curve is masterfully executed, with a slow layering of new foes and environmental hazards forcing the player to utilise all their abilities and think strategically about how to navigate the level to maximise their score, with global leaderboards present to keep players coming back.

Whilst the enemy variety and difficulty curve deserves praise, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the level design. The earlier reference to Bombjack is apt, with most stages consisting simply of several vertically oriented levels of flat platforms to jump to, each usually with an objective guarded by an enemy or hazard. Additionally, later tiers of levels tend to recycle the same layouts of platforms, instead opting to add more hazards and harder enemies to form bottlenecks. The fast-paced nature of the game and the ability to improve on how you dispatch enemies means that it never becomes a huge problem, but a little more variety in the layout or size of these levels might have served to prop out the game’s longevity.

Ultimately, the core mechanics of movement and combat are what an arcade action game like Damsel lives and dies by. Here, the developer has excelled. In fact, the shooting and jumping are so simple yet refined that the QTE-style minigames littered throughout the levels, despite existing to introduce variety and replayability in the gameplay, accomplish the opposite. These segments tend to grind up against the fast-paced and flowing nature of the rest of the game. Having to stop every 10 seconds to hack a computer or free a hostage does introduce an element of risk and reward to the scoring system but isn’t immediately as satisfying as the rest of the gameplay. Even so, Damsel is certainly worth the price of entry and a well-made example of what can be achieved when simple fun and concise game design meet.

F1 2018 Review

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This review was published on GameOnAustralia on 1Oth October 2018.

In an industry where high-production value games are marketed to the widest possible audiences, it’s refreshing to play something as focused as F1 2018. Codemasters latest entry into the franchise is a game designed from the ground up to satiate fans of Formula One racing. And while those who err more on the side of arcade racers will come up against a steep learning curve, there’s eventually a good time to be found here for everyone.

There aren’t currently any developers out there that can compete with the pedigree of Codemasters racing game output. Their 30 years of experience in putting out technically impressive racing titles is unmatched in the industry and F1 2018 is no exception. All the minutiae of the world’s biggest motorsport are recreated here in loving detail. Cars, racers and tracks have all been updated to reflect the current year of the F1 circuit. Accurate engine and surface impact sounds and excellent reflections tech really helps to sell that feeling of scenery whizzing by as you reach incredible speeds around the world’s most famous circuits. Though the garage interiors and podium celebrations have been recycled from pervious entries, the side of track detail has been beefed up with more foliage and improved lighting. Overall the presentation is excellent as always.

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Whatever your thoughts are on the racing simulator genre, you can’t argue that Codemasters doesn’t use every part of the animal when putting out their yearly F1 titles. At times it can feel like F1 2018 is as much a micro-management sim with cars as it is a racing title. Whether this is a point for or against the game will depend on how much of a motorsport fan you are. Those eager to dive into the nitty gritty of F1 racing will be thrilled with the Career mode, which completely immerses the player in every detail of the professional racers life. From interacting with engineers and sponsors between racers, giving interviews to further your public image or monitoring the condition of your car in real time during a race, there’s very little of the F1 experience that has been trimmed out. However, more casual racing fans, who are looking to simply fly down the Yas Marina straight and crash into a wall at 300kph could be frustrated with the extra fluff here.

The EA-like iterative nature of the series’ yearly entries may leave those who purchased F1 2017 with some doubts as to whether there is enough new content on the table here. The straightforward nature of the game content means that the developer refined the racing aspect of the series years ago and is restricted to making small tweaks to the formula. The Malaysia circuit has been dropped in favour of Germany’s Hockenheimring and France’s Paul Ricard, and the AI has been tweaked to respond more defensively to you trying to pass them. The classic car selection from F1 2017 has also been expanded with several new cars from the 70s. These have been (accurately) designed to drive much differently than their modern counterparts, with players able to throw them into corners with great abandon compared to the almost sticky handling of the modern roster. For those eager to jump into the multiplayer, the Super Licence system has the right idea with attempting to match players of similar skill and temperament, however many players are reporting that the actual implementation of the matchmaking is poor, and the multiplayer experience overall buggy at this stage. This is a shame for those who will tend to skip through the management sections of career mode, as it mostly just leaves the time trail and grand prix modes as a no fluff way to jump into the action. Another new addition is the ERS mechanic, which deploys a drag reducing spoiler on straight sections of the track to maximise your speed. Balancing the reward of this boost with decreased manoeuvrability coming into the next corner adds some nice variety to each race. Everything else about the F1 formula from 2017 is back and untouched, which is great, but might lead to a slight feeling of fatigue from series veterans.

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If you’re a fan of Formula One, then your purchase of this game is probably a forgone conclusion. There isn’t another developer operating today with the racing pedigree of Codemasters, who can combine the excitement of the world’s most powerful motor vehicles with the minutiae of research and development and contract management. For new fans coming into the series, I would still recommend F1 2018 provided they understand that Mario Kart this is not.

Crossing Souls Review

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Nostalgia for the 1980s is still in full swing it seems. The neon-soaked pop culture era has inspired a litany of recent media across movies, television shows and video games. Crossing Souls not only continues this trend but aims to turn it up to 11. If you can think of a popular piece of media from that decade, there’s a decent chance it’s represented here. From straight up references like a Ghostbusters poster or Donkey Kong arcade cabinet to the themes of popular Spielberg/King childrens adventure flicks like The Goonies. Developer Fourattic thinks that if it happened in the 1980s, it’s awesome and should be in their game.  While this commitment to pop culture nostalgia might certainly scratch the itch of some players, as we’ll see it can come at a price. The game was released on PC earlier this year and has recently come to Nintendo Switch, so I put on my parachute pants and fluro silk shirt and jumped in to see what’s what.

They say that first impressions count for everything and Crossing Souls certainly starts out on the right foot. Immediately, you’ll notice the buttery smooth presentation and comfortable aesthetic of the game, and the first few minutes of interacting with its world pull you in and makes you believe you may be in for something special. The game’s blocky pixel graphics and vivid colours pop and invoke comfortable memories of the original Legend of Zelda and other NES classics. However, the 80s references don’t just stop at the standard supernatural adventure tropes. The game’s orthogonal playing perspective is broken up with animated cutscenes which emulate the feel of breakfast cartoons like He-Man and Ninja Turtles. These cutscenes were frenetic and funny; my only complaint is that there weren’t more of them. Whatever your opinion on the game overall, the presentation is excellent. The developer captured the tone and appearance of the cultural touchstones it was attempting to emulate well.

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Meanwhile, the action is elevated by an excellent score consisting of several certified synthwave bangers. The soundtrack is equal parts mysterious, creepy and adrenaline inducing when the action calls for it and does an excellent job in setting the tone for the gameplay, while also being era appropriate to the story. Exploring the town of Tujunga in early levels, you’ll feel the Danny Elfman inspired title track conjure the spirit of adventure in you, while the tense strings present in another track in a later level feels ripped straight out of a Metal Gear Solid game.

The premise for the story is simple enough. We have our standard group of precocious teenagers in a small Californian town circa 1986. Chris, the defacto leader and MC; Matt, his scientifically gifted best friend and nerd of the bunch; Big Joe, token black character of the game and gentle giant; Charlie, the tomboy girl (that’s it unfortunately) and Kevin, Chris’ mischievous little brother. Together they uncover a horrible secret involving an ancient artefact called the Duat, complete with powers linked to Egyptian mythology. The Duat acts as a link between realities of the living and dead, and predictably sees them swept into a supernatural adventure involving shady government officials who want to use it for their own evil purposes. But cliché does not automatically make a bad story, and Crossing Souls certainly had ample chance to build upon this framework and forge something unique and memorable. Freely exploring the open world town in the first few hours, the initial quality of the writing can lead the player to believe that the characters might grow and change over the course of the game. Sadly, this doesn’t really eventuate, and the characters fall into their respective stock archetypes. Unfortunately, the game’s inability to live up to its promising opening applies to the gameplay as well.

Looking at the big picture, the three main gameplay elements (combat, platforming and puzzles) come together nicely and are broken up in such a way that feel fresh and unexpected. However, despite the initial impression that there might be some depth to its gameplay, each element doesn’t really stand on its own as being particularly engaging or memorable, and after the 8 or so hours it takes to complete Crossing Souls, the gameplay felt more like a vessel to contain the story rather than the two complementing one another. The puzzle sections were quite light on logical gymnastics and mostly require using the Duat to see into the land of the dead, finding the correct path to a hidden key or uncovering a combination of movements to proceed. Despite the diverse move sets of the characters, you are only really required to employ them all together once or twice in the game to solve puzzles. These sections were quite rewarding, and I wish there was more of them. On the other hand, the character swapping mechanic does feel well implemented for the most part and fits the context of the story. Your squad of main characters all have unique abilities and subtle differences in speed and power. Chris swings a baseball bat, can jump and climb walls. Matt the science whiz obviously has jet shoes and a laser gun because science, while Big Joe is the heavy hitter of the group and can move large objects as the expense of speed. The fact that their abilities are on a cooldown means it is necessary to get into a rhythm of quickly switching between them during battle, managing the different ranges and speeds of their attacks, which is good for the variety of the gameplay. However, the combat doesn’t really go deeper than that and often boils down to mashing the attack button with the occasional duck or stun until everything on screen is dead. The initial promise of a party-based combat system with strategic depth or skill-based movement like Hyper Light Drifter is quickly quashed when you realise how similar these characters play.

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A further source of frustration lies with the game’s level design. Despite the excellent graphical presentation of the game, the simplistic pixel graphics combined with the orthogonal perspective can clash at times with the level design and gameplay mechanics. This is not a game with levels designed for precision platforming. Important textures that your character is required to jump to are often obscured by foreground layers or your path is otherwise just made not clear by the colour and textures. It’s not a huge issue by any means but it halted my progress a few times and hurt the pacing of the game, which is otherwise nicely balanced between action, platforming and puzzle elements.

Crossing Souls is a weird game to form a final opinion on. For the first 3 or 4 hours I fell in love with the cheesy 80s nostalgia of this game and was excited about the promise of how its Zelda style action adventure gameplay with multiple characters would build up over the course of the game. However, after about the half way point I started to realise that the developer was content to simply rest on the laurels of its pop culture references. The character switching mechanic, the excellent soundtrack and art style and the supernatural mystery of a storyline all exhibit promise but ultimately fail to deliver a memorable experience. Crossing Souls is a game with a lot of potential, ultimately wasted by a developer mistaking style for substance.

Chiki Chiki Boxy Racers Review

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There aren’t many subgenres in gaming with as pure of a vision as the R.C racer. Forgoing complex mechanics and controls for a style of gameplay that is easy to learn yet hard to master, generations of gamers have fond memories of huddling together on the couch to play R.C. Pro-Am, Super Mario Kart or Micro Machines. This simple re-creation of a kid playing with matchbox cars has again been condensed into a concise yet enjoyable formula in Chiki Chiki Boxy Racers, out now on Nintendo Switch.

Immediately upon starting you’ll be drawn in by the games blocky and colourful aesthetic. The nostalgic graphics and upbeat soundtrack set the tone for a game rooted in the casual fun of the couch co-op era that is increasingly rare today. The isometric perspective, a staple of the subgenre, also accentuates the vivid track design and makes you feel as though you are just a kid playing with R.C cars. There are two modes; Race will see you in a GP style tournament against CPU controlled opponents to unlock more vehicles and tracks, whilst battle contains some Mario Kart 64 inspired minigames from collecting coins to playing miniature soccer. It’s a neat distraction, though you will definitely need some friends to get the full value as this mode doesn’t support CPU opponents.

The games simplistic presentation also extends to the control scheme. Chiki Chiki eschews the traditional control setup where turning direction is relative to the cars orientation with respect to the camera, in favour of a more elegant approach. Players accelerate by simply pushing the analogue stick in the direction they wish to travel, with an additional button required to activate boosts collected throughout the level. It’s barebones, but it works here as it allows the player to focus on executing precision drifting around corners, which is the most viscerally exciting part of these kinds of games. The handling of the cars is suitably excellent, and their responsiveness will force you into a rhythm whereby you need to constantly look ahead, winding up to glide around the next corner at full speed. Though it makes the game a little easy for experienced players, it also means Chiki Chiki is perfect for gamers of all ages. I ran it through its paces with my 6-year-old cousin and we were both having a blast and finding challenge in our own desire to improve. For those with rusted on habits there is also an option to revert to a more traditional control scheme with dedicated buttons for accelerating. While a nice option to have, I found this mode to be a little unwieldy and would constantly spin out. It would have been nice to have a middle ground option or even a fully customisable control scheme that players could tailor to their specific tastes.

Though the game’s concise presentation and controls are a positive, the barebones nature of Chiki Chiki unfortunately carries over to its depth of content as well. There is a grand total of 3 courses in the game, with slight variations on each leading to 15 overall tracks to race on, and about 20 or so cars to unlock, each with varying speed and handling stats. This lack of content is compounded by the straightforward design of the tracks. Though they are certainly functional and designed with plenty of hairpins corners to drift around, there isn’t much variety, verticality or depth of mechanics with which to keep the player on their toes. Players who reminisce on the days of Mario Kart and its unique stage hazards and power ups will be disappointed by the lack of any kind of curveballs here. This level design would be fine if the developer was attempting to provide challenge primarily through the AI, but its disappointingly easy as well. Plenty of rubber banding means any seasoned racer will often shoot to the front of the pack and stay there without incident for the rest of the race. In the hour or so it took me to complete Chiki Chiki’s single player content I didn’t lose a race.

Take this assessment of the game with a grain of salt however, as the salvation of Chiki Chiki may be found in online competitions with real world players. As is expected, local multiplayer breathes extra life into the game, and the developer was no doubt banking on its online component to pad out the length of time that most players would stay engaged. Though this would help to extend the game’s lifespan and alleviate the AI issues, the game’s limited courses and lack of powerups still don’t lend themselves well to replayability.  It’s also worth noting that following Nintendo’s decision to introduce its paid online subscription service this mode will be off limits to many players. But for those with friends, locally or online, who are looking to invest in a few hours of simple and nostalgic fun I can definitely recommend Chiki Chiki Boxy Racers.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

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This article was published on Novastream.com on 27 September 2018.

After two installments in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise, one of gaming’s most prolific and well-known female protagonists is back for another action adventure blockbuster. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have attempted to close out this chapter of Lara Croft’s young life and bring her arc to something resembling the swashbuckling tomb raider that made her so iconic in the PS1 era. In doing so, they’ve created a compelling popcorn game that engages the player without trying to reinvent the wheel.

Picking up with Lara and sidekick Jonah on the trail of the evil organisation Trinity, this latest adventure shifts the focus to ancient South American mythology. Players will spelunk their way through beautifully rendered jungles and tombs inspired by Mayan and Incan culture, on a rollicking adventure that mostly sticks to the tried and true formula of games of this ilk: a magical McGuffin artefact gets stolen by an evil military group who want to use it to take over the world and the heroes need to get it back. If you have watched an Indiana Jones movie or played any of the Uncharted games, you won’t find many plot surprises here. However, the strength of the aforementioned media was in their ability to take cliché and breathe life into it via memorable and relatable characters and dialogue. Unfortunately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider misses the mark in this regard.

If you were a fan of the original two games in this rebooted series, you’ll certainly find more of the same here. The familiar routine of open ended stealth combat, followed by linear platforming and light puzzle solving still makes for engaging gameplay, but is also starting to show its age. This leaves weight on the story to elevate the experience. However, the work hasn’t been put into the dialogue or fleshing out the motivations and arcs of these characters. The voice actors certainly turn in some admirable performances, but the script is exposition laded, overly serious and begging for a dose of self-parodying humour.

Despite the initial game in the reboot trilogy starting strong, with a young and naïve Lara forced to hone her survival instincts, the developer seems to have failed to find a proper place to take the heroine in subsequent games. Speculation that Shadow would be the missing link in the transition between young Lara and the veteran tomb raider of the original games is mostly quashed. In the first act, Lara makes a crucial decision that leads to the deaths of hundreds of people. The player might think that this event is an attempt to reference the uncomfortable colonialist subtext underpinning the character, or that the guilt resulting from this event would remain a key theme throughout the game. Perhaps our heroine would need to learn a valuable lesson about the cloudy nature of morality inherent in her career path, leading her to become the jaded, plundering anti-hero we know and love. But the game mostly discards this arc in favour of a happy ending that leaves Lara as she started, just with less demons and more room for sequels.

It’s a shame, because the game is certainly impressive from a technical standpoint and it’s a pleasure to set its various systems in motion. The Amazon setting is stunning in sections. Excellent facial animations in cutscenes and solid particle effects and random debris everywhere when exploring are technically impressive. The hub world areas have large amounts of NPCs all moving around their various cycles at once with no lapse in performance, even on a non-PS4 Pro machine. However apart from the bright and beautiful hub worlds and a handful of set pieces, the game favours a dark and dirty aesthetic for most of the combat and puzzle sections. This makes sense regarding the narrative, as our hero is exploring centuries old tombs and becoming a stealthy one-woman army. However, it doesn’t change the fact that most of the game is spent in miserable and poorly lit levels, cluttered with barely visible interactable items and enemies. The survival instinct mechanic is back and you’re going to need to spam it to keep track of the plethora of black clad mercenaries and what direction they are facing to remain unseen. When you think of what its blockbuster contemporaries like God of War or Spiderman have accomplished this year with a more vibrant colour palette, you may find yourself wanting to escape from the muck of the jungle.

Perhaps we have been spoiled by the recent surge in quantity and quality of open world games of late, but Shadow’s gameplay, which worked quite well in the first two games of the franchise is starting to feel dated here. The frequency and diversity of the combat sections has been toned down in favour of more climbing and puzzles. Normally this would be a positive change, as the strength of this series has been in its sense of exploration and discovery. However, the combat sections here are the primary source of player agency in the game, offering a varied range of tactics in large open areas. By contrast, the climbing and puzzle sections, while visually impressive to watch, are quite linear and require little lateral thinking. They mostly amount to just pushing the stick in the right direction or pressing a combination of switches in the right order. I would estimate that perhaps 70% of the game is made up of either forced slow walking as a pretence to mask loading or dump exposition, moving around an area spamming the interact button to pick up resources, or the climbing and puzzle sections. When you add that up, that means that only about a third of this 15-hour campaign is spent feeling as though you are actually playing, which isn’t great bang for your buck.

While not a problem exclusive to this franchise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider opts to include the almost obligatory RPG-lite elements so common in action adventure games of late. Some players may enjoy earning XP and sculpting Lara into the warrior of their choosing, but personally I always find these mechanics feel tacked on when out of the context of a dedicated RPG. Despite loving God of War earlier this year this mechanic bothered me there as well. Upgrading a character’s stats can be a very rewarding experience when done right. However, I think it has become a crutch for developers and an easy way to pad out a game’s length with busywork that doesn’t contribute to a refined and enjoyable gameplay experience. When there are enough resources present to simply upgrade your character through all the skill and weapon upgrade trees in a single playthrough, this process feels more like a grudging obligation rather than an interesting tactical adventure. If you spend any amount of time exploring the challenge tombs or completing the optional fetch side quests, Lara will be able to become a jack of all trades, removing the need for much strategy in combat. I would have rather that the developer spent more time tweaking the balance of gameplay and enemy difficulty, because the base set of stealth focused combat mechanics is quite refined, and compelling enough to sustain the gameplay on its own.

If it sounds like this review is relentlessly negative, it wasn’t my intention. This latest Tomb Raider is not a badly made game by any stretch of the imagination. The money and talent put into have assured that it is at least a beautiful and engaging spectacle, in the Michael Bay-esque sense of the word. As a game made for mass market audiences to have some simple, summer blockbuster fun for 10-15 hours it will almost certainly be considered a success. If that is what you are in the market for, you might want to pick it up, especially if you were a fan of the previous two games in the franchise. But it is, at least from my perspective, a rather soulless and at times even tedious game to play. Ultimately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a cautionary tale about how best to present a classic action adventure game to an increasing literate gaming audience. I can’t help but think that if you want to play the best iteration of this kind of game, you should just pop in Uncharted 2 again.

Supernova 2018 – Cosplay Chris Interview

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This article was published on Novastream.com on June 22nd 2018.

Amid the thousands of convention goers at this year’s Supernova Sydney, I spotted some amazing examples of cosplay that showed off the hard work and dedication that goes into this craft. From TV and film characters to anime and games (and even some bizarre genre mashups – Bob Ross Deadpool anyone?), the variety and quality of costumes was impressive. However, one cosplayer in particular seemed to demand a premium in attention from the fans. Decked out in a pitch perfect Captain Nomad costume, I had a chance to speak with Chris Stanley (known to his fans as Cosplay Chris) about fitness, Mickey Rourke and making the jump to becoming an international convention guest.

Chris’ popularity with his fans was plain to see as we stopped to chat in a quiet corner of the convention. A father approached with his young son also dressed as Cap as we were starting to chat and asked, “Can little Captain America have a photo with big Captain America?” Chris’ enthusiasm to drop what he was doing and accommodate the wishes of fans was indicative of his respect for his position as an ambassador within the Australian cosplay community. I asked him how he felt about this impromptu role.

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“You definitely have to have a sense of integrity with what you do, but it’s not something I try to think about too much. It more comes down to respecting people in general and treating others as you would like to be treated. And there are always people who disregard that and want to do things a different way, but you try not to associate too much with those kinds of people.”

One demographic that Chris does associate with extensively is his Youtube subscribers, of which there are almost 300k. He appeared at the Influencers Initiative panel at this year’s convention, discussing social media presence and the balance of quality versus quantity with his content. “One thing I’ve found is that you have to learn to listen as a Youtube content creator. Even though the comment section can get a bit nasty at times, there are alot of people making great suggestions for projects or also just small technical details that make you say, wow I wouldn’t have thought of it that way, so it’s definitely somewhat of a collaborative process,” he said.

“I usually try to put out one video per week, but especially with the custom collectible videos there is a lot of work and planning to be put into them and you definitely put yourself at risk of burnout. I don’t have a camera crew or really much of a production budget either so I need to think hard about how to space out the ideas I have for videos so that is a steady stream of content for fans to enjoy.”

One of his most ambitious new ideas is a project to recreate Mickey Rourke’s villain Whiplash from Iron Man 2. Fans of Chris’ channel have gotten an inside look into the complicated process that is accurately recreating the unique armour associated with the character. “Initially I assumed I’d be doing the whole thing myself, so it has been really good to get Myles (also known as Flux Electronics) to come in with his electrical engineering experience and basically make a render of my chest and 3D print the reactor. We’re also doing all the of the tubing and wiring as accurately as possible so it’s a pretty involved process,” he said.

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“I’m shooting to be finished by September, and obviously I’ll have a lot of other work to do at the same time to get in the right shape by then as well, in addition to the hair, which is growing out slowly, and the eye colour, scars and tattoos. I’d put us at about 20% completion at the moment. I know of two other guys working on the same costume at the moment and they are nowhere near that so that’s encouraging.”

Film goers these days have become used to the impressive physiques of their onscreen heroes, and Chris’ personal fitness journey has become an important aspect of his cosplaying. He recently showcased the fruits of his work in an article with Men’s Health magazine, and I asked him if there was any awkwardness bringing his creative work to an audience outside the regular convention fanbase. “Not so much. I guess the whole superhero genre is so popular now, people are used to seeing Chris Hemsworth and the like and their crazy physiques that they achieve for the movies so it’s pretty expected. The difference is that we don’t have any of the resources that they have, we dont have the chefs or personal trainers. And I’m not in the gym everyday. This week I’ve been on what we call the con diet, so its been mostly pizza and beers.”

“I think they were excited to see someone who was sort of working to inhabit those sorts of characters on a more amateur level, and seeing what results they can get through more unconventional means and whilst trying to juggle the commitments of a normal life. Also some of this gear we wear is really heavy and uncomfortable at times, and you have to wear it all day so you definitely need to be in shape. There’s no one behind the camera yelling cut, and then you get to take a break. But I’ve got until September to reach the place where I’d like to be so that should be enough time hopefully.”

Speaking of superstars, it’s clear that Chris’ dedication to his craft and popularity with his fans is paying off, with a trip to San Diego, Louisiana and New York Comic Cons on the horizon. We chatted about reaching this next tier of professional cosplaying overseas, and if that meant he needed to step back and reevaluate his goals and expectations. “It’s more of a taking out and dusting off of some old goals. I’d been interested for a long time in moving to L.A and doing some work there in special effects. The Youtube channel can be an inconsistent source of income sometimes.”

“I love the fans and really cherish their support, so the ideal would be for me to be able to keep the Youtube channel no matter what happens. The majority of my fanbase is actually from the US and the UK, based on the Youtube demographics that I can see. So realistically I’m really excited to get over there again and spend some time with my fans over there and see what might come out of it.”

You can check out Chris’ TwitterFacebook and Youtube channels here.