Review: Hidden Through Time

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Hidden Through Time, developed by Crazy Monkey Studios, is a game about finding things. The levels progress through different periods of time such as:

  • The Stone Age
  • Ancient Egypt
  • The Middle Ages
  • The Wild West

Players hunt down objects, with the help of subtle clues, in order to move forward in history.

The Good

We recently had grandma and grandpa over to visit. While they were over, we decided to play Hidden Through Time together. Sitting around the television, we hunted objects through not just one but eleven levels. Grandma was super good at finding things. Who knew?!? By the time we were done, she said that she really liked the game.

Wyatt also enjoyed using the level editor (see video below). He says:

“Just say that I liked it… that it was good… that it was awesome!”

He notes that the object placement could be better when duplicating the same object. For example: A player goes to place a tree. Hidden Through Time allows you to place one tree and then forces you to go back to the object toolbar to select another tree before placing.

Wyatt and I also liked:

  • The hand-drawn design aesthetic.
  • The levels being in color, unlike Hidden Folks (which we’ve played on iOS).
  • How the controls feel dialed in, making movement around the map and the ability to zoom in and out a breeze.
  • The gibberish language the characters speak when poked.
  • How well Hidden Through Time plays in a group.

The Bad

  • Object hints, at times, do not make sense.
  • Size of objects often makes them harder to find than they should be—I hate eggs!—.
  • Load times between the main menu screen, level selection screen, and individual levels can take a few moments.

The Ugly

  • Hidden Through Time needs an overall hint system for those times when you are super stuck. This is more of a suggestion than a game destroying experience. We, as a family, haven’t gotten stuck in-game yet.

Conclusion

Wyatt and I have enjoyed our time with Hidden Through Time. This is a perfect game to play individually and as a family. The music is relaxing and does not annoy—as a parent, this is important—. We recommend this game to others looking for a digital Where’s Waldo experience.

5/5 – A great game to play as a family or while hidden away in the bathroom. Seriously, just go hide in there, the kids don’t have to know!

Title: Hidden Through Time
Developer: Crazy Monkey Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, Xbox One, Windows, and iOS
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $7.99

Review by Bryan and Wyatt Hall

*Hidden Through Time was reviewed using a code provided by EvolvePR.

Adoption Update – Level One A

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I was telling Tabitha last night that if adoption were a video game, we have finally reached the first level. The tutorial and character creation process were the initial first steps:

  • PRIDE Training (40 hours of state-mandated classes)
  • FBI Database Fingerprinting
  • Fire Inspection
  • Health Inspection
  • Home Study

With our home study approved, we are now certified by the State of Texas to adopt. We can now put in interest requests through the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE); we can also now go to meet up events (where you can interact with kids available for adoption) as well as have our caseworker alert us to children available for adoption who are not listed online.

The adoption process is weird. A mixture of buying a home and speed dating. Level One A, of the adoption game, looks like:

  • Looking through pictures of children in an online database
  • Going to a meet up event
  • Our caseworker notifying us of a potential match

After initial inquiries are made, which includes our caseworker “selling” another caseworker on our family via telephone conference (home buying), we then enter the speed dating phase. Level One B includes:

  • Our family driving to whichever region the potential child is located in and then going on a day outing with the child.
  • The following weekend, a follow up over night visit (probably in a hotel room, especially if the child lives out of town) with the child.
  • The following weekend after that, a day trip/overnight visit again?
  • Eventually these visits shift from being on neutral ground to the child coming to our house.

The biggest hurdle of Level One A is going to be finding a match. We have to agree on the match; our caseworker has to agree on the match. Already, we are learning that:

  • It’s good to have a caseworker who says no and is looking out for our family (versus just trying to place a child and move on).
  • That descriptions of children, on TARE, do not include all the details. Sometimes even surprising our caseworker…
  • That there are not a lot of younger kids (ages 7 and younger) up for adoption online.

Bottom Line: We know that God has a child in mind for us. We just have to wait, trust, and talk, as a family, through the adoption process.

I’ll keep y’all updated. Maybe not so much in this Level One A stage… but more IF we make it to Level One B. Prayers are appreciated.

Bryan

Florence

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Out of Melbourne, Australia, developer Mountains has crafted an interactive story about love and life titled Florence. Florence features an exquisite mixture of stylized graphics, music, and creative gameplay mechanics. The end result is what I’d best call a Pixar Short Film experience in video game form.

My most favorite part of Florence were the way emotions were conveyed through gameplay. When Florence first meets her boyfriend, her conversations with him are presented as puzzles. A complete the puzzle to continue the conversation sort of thing. In the beginning of her relationship, the puzzles have more pieces/are more complex. As the relationship matures, there are not as many puzzle pieces to put together as communication has become easier.

I enjoyed my time with Florence. Even though I’d say that the story is slightly predictable, the execution is flawless. Check this out if you get a chance. Florence is short (30 minutes) and sweet.

5/5 – Florence is one of those video game experiences you need not miss.

Title: Florence
Developer: Mountains
Platforms: iOS and Android
Reviews on: iOS/iPad
MSRP: $2.99

INSIDE

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I could never quite figure out what was happening in Playdead’s INSIDE. Even as the end credits rolled, I wasn’t sure what I had just experienced (thank you, Wikipedia, for clearing things up for me). The world of INSIDE comes across as harsh and hostile. A world in which life doesn’t have much meaning. Yet by the end of the game, INSIDE flips the typical video game narrative. For once, I wasn’t the hero.

4/5 – INSIDE is worth the trip due to it’s fantastic ending. Just wait for it. Don’t spoil it.

Title: INSIDE
Developer: Playdead
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and iOS
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $15

The Final Station

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The Final Station embraces the storytelling confidence of The Last of Us. The world has gone to hell with hope riding on a single train of salvation.

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This train just keeps a rollin’

It’s rolling down the track

I am the silent conductor

And I can’t look back

Because I am outrunnin’

Death

Biological warfare waged by an alien race. The first invasion, which released gas-filled pods, has already occurred. Humanity invaded from within. Survival gone genetically awry.

The bomb lives

Notes of clarity rise above the government conspiracy-laden setting. The Oregon Trail-like train simulator portions allow you, the player, to make a difference. People you find, while out scavenging, become your passengers. You can feed them; you can provide medicine to help keep them alive. Life is your choice. But the train must keep rolling. No matter who dies.

The Final Station falls into a rhythm that sings on repeat:

  • Explore buildings
  • Scavenge for supplies
  • Rescue those you come across
  • Find the slip of paper with the keypad code (this unlocks the Blocker that keeps the train from moving)
  • Survive and eliminate those who have succumbed to the gas
  • Maintain individual train systems
  • Monitor the passengers

Gameplay loop excellence soon overstays its welcome like Steve Urkel. Enemy types and encounters become rote. Individual station stops become less about survival-filled exploration and more of a slog. Even the constant “what’s in the next room” tension eventually gives way by the fourth hour of gameplay. Text size issues further complicate the matter and make reading anything story related hard.

But the train just keeps a movin’. And by then you’ll want to stick it out to the end of the track.

Perhaps there is hope?

Are we there yet?

I loved The Final Station. The level design reminded me of the army bases I used to draw as a kid. Tunnels, secret bunkers, pathways into the darkness. Imagination allowed to run wild.

The Final Station is a fantastic effort with just enough neat ideas to keep me onboard. Good job, ya’ll!

wavesplinter5/5 – The Final Station fails to complete the warm The Last of Us hug it is trying to give. Despite that huggable failure, I love the game. Just keep this nightmare generator away from your kids, okay?

Wave SplinterTitle: The Final Station
Developer: Do My Best, Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $14.99

*The Final Station was reviewed using a code provided by Tinybuild.

The Aetherlight Bible NLT

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The Aetherlight Bible is tool, a companion piece meant to help players navigate through the fog. Presented in the New Living Translation, this Bible is easy to read for both children and adults. Built with the desire to connect players of The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance with Biblical truth, The Aetherlight Bible features:

  • A soft cover and overall size that feels sturdy and fantastic to hold
  • Inserted pages that tie in-game characters with their Biblical counterparts
  • A Dictionary/Concordance
  • A 365-Day Reading Plan
  • Words of Christ in scarlet
  • Footnotes, in the Old Testament, that point players towards Christ
  • And my favorite part, at the bottom of some pages, Aethasian sayings such as:

Build for others what you would want them to build for you.

AetherlightBible

From the outside cover to the smallest details found inside, The Aetherlight Bible is a video game tie-in done right. Each page, from the watermarks to the quotes, show that much time and love went into the creation of this Bible.

However, I dislike how the page numbers are situated near the spine of the book. But, I realize that this formatting choice could force readers to actually learn the Books of the Bible. Clever.

I recommend this Bible to the hardcore players of The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance and to those not familiar with the game.

Parents, grandparents, this is the Bible you want to buy your kids/grandkids.

The Aetherlight Bible’s cover is inviting. Almost begging the reader to pick it up, read it, and embrace the adventure.

I was given a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

Inside: A relationship built on trust

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I really enjoyed this piece by my friend Josh, via Gamechurch. Can’t wait to play this on my PS4, August 23rd.

They’re looking for you, little boy. The masked men just released their hounds. You run. The bloodthirsty dogs close the distance between you and a cliff. Just as the dog’s teeth lunge for your foot, you jump off the cliff. Let me pause right here. You have no idea what’s at the bottom of this cliff. You’re completely at the whim of the game designer. Knowing there’s no other option, you simply trust the creator.

Read more here

Inside

 

Song of the Deep – Lost in the current with my son

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The search begins.

As Song of the Deep’s protagonist Merryn built a submarine to search for her lost father, Wyatt looked at me:

“If anything were to ever happen to you, I’d build a submarine and come find you too.”

Preparing to dive.

Into the oceanic abyss we dove, deeper and deeper. The couch, our submarine. Wyatt deftly piloted the helm. Until controller dexterity issues arose when we encountered electrified jellyfish. Fighting with the sub’s mechanical arm while steering was just too complicated for him. So I took over. He watched.

In the abyss.

We journeyed through a sunken city, wondering what had happened to this lost civilization. Wyatt grew bored. He didn’t ask to pilot the sub again. Song of the Deep frustrated him. This coming from the kid who can hold his own in Guacamelee and PixelJunk Shooter.

End of Watch.

Insomniac’s Song of the Deep is a “passion project” influenced by Brian Hastings, chief creative officer at Insomniac Games. Brian said that he wanted to create a heroic character to share with his 10-year-old daughter. I applaud him for that.

This game is pretty.

I had hoped that the underwater beauty and awe inspiring moments were something I could actually share with Wyatt. The movement of the submarine proved to be too much of a barrier. Dated puzzle mechanics, such as adjusting light mirrors (ugh), further threatened to sink our voyage.

I wanted Song of the Deep to be more confident in itself to be different and new. Game mechanics resurrected from the era of Ecco the Dolphin come across as hazardous underwater currents. Currents I want to avoid.

Ecco lives!

Ecco lives!

Bottom Line: Song of the Deep is challenging and entrancing in it’s beauty. I like that I can play the game in front of Wyatt. I just wish co-piloting was a tiny bit easier. But skills will improve. Difficulty will be overcome. 

wavesplinter3/5 – Great game to play with your kids. Co-piloting may prove challenging depending on your child’s skill level. 

Wave SplinterTitle: Song of the Deep
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $14.99

*Song of the Deep was reviewed using codes provided by Insomniac Games.

Two Dots

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Two Dots strings the player along in free to play fashion. Connect the dots, combo color pairings, advance to the next level. Clean aesthetics and simple controls act as delightful seat warmers.

Somewhere in the mid-20’s, level advancement slows down. Power ups needed for progression. The puzzle game’s presentation revealed as a mask for something far darker. They want your money.

There is a cycle I know well,

Free to play games formula from hell,

First they hook you with easy levels,

And gifts to help advance,

Then they increase the difficulty,

And watch you squirm and dance.

I’m not sure at what point I’ll quit falling for the free to play model. Two Dots reminded me of moments of Candy Crush weakness. I admit, I have spent real money for an extra attempt at a puzzle. Shame. Video game shame.

Two Dots has great presentation built on the free to play model. How fair that model is, in regards to this specific game, remains unseen. I may play a level or two more, but I find that hard having glimpsed at the monster behind the mask.

DEFCON 2

wavesplinter2/5 – Proceed with caution.

Wave SplinterTitle: Two Dots
Developer: Playdots Inc.
Platforms: Android, iOS
Reviews on: Android
MSRP: Free

Bloodborne: Caution To The Wind

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I played the same run for over an hour. Don’t laugh.

At first I was cautious, taking on one enemy at a time. Many deaths later, I embraced speed. Plunging into mob groups, swinging in true wild style. Yeah…

In the above video, I had a solid nine minute run. I applied the MMO concept of pulling, of drawing away a few enemies from a larger group. My MMO roots served me well until I became reckless. One moment of complete surprise by the enemy at the end, death. Logic dictates that large things should not move quickly, especially troll-like creatures.

Logic: Amended

Mental Database: Upgraded

My friend Zach pointed out that:

  • The stamina meter is my friend. Not to attack to the point where I lose the ability to dodge.
  • I need to walk, rather than run. (I’m not sure I 100% agree with this piece of advice. From a mechanical perspective, Bloodborne seems to beg for speed in movement. Wondering if this is like having a gun in Metal Gear Solid V. Just because the gunplay feels amazing doesn’t mean one should go Rambo with it. Stealth and all that.)
  • Use ranged attacks to pull enemies. (I’m going to have to experiment with this. The gunplay seems built for close range combat. Used to stagger an enemy, open a single moment of weakness, in order to attack.

For those hunting in Yharnam, any other crumbs of advice? I promise to eat them up! As long as advice crumbs taste good.

Bloodborne: Death As A Teacher

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I am not a fan of the horror genre. Life has enough real horrors already.

bloodborne-yharnam

Ah, beauty of a different sort.

The City of Yharnam has become my new prison. My attempt to break out of my gaming comfort zone and explore the Souls genre. Bloodborne demands mechanical mastery. The ability to read individual animation frames, seeking vulnerability. Discovering that sweet spot at which to sidestep evade and attack. One cannot get too cocky. Spamming attacks with Diablo-like gusto. Some attacks take a moment or two longer. Leaving your character open to damage. Death brings about a refinement of skill. Death the great teaching tool.

I think I died at least 20 times trying to take on the first monster in Bloodborne. No, no, make that 30. No weapon in hand, no help, I struggled through Death Education 101. And yet, I felt compelled to continue.

“Tab, I think this is the meanest game I’ve ever played.”

In a moment of triumph, I beat the first shadow monster and made my way outside. Only to face a man with an axe. He died. Rounding the corner, I ran into two more guys with axes. I let my guard down, just for a moment. The game tells me in a simple manner, “You Died”. Yes, yes, I did.

Bloodborne is definitely not one of those games that I will be playing in front of Wyatt. The Gothic atmosphere, showers of blood, and creepy monsters all have the makings of a fantastic nightmare.

For me, the Gothic aesthetic is just there. I had thought it would bug me with my aversion to the horror genre. Like Neo from The Matrix, I don’t really see the in-game world. All I see are moments to evade, attack, and not get killed. Bloodborne appeals to that mechanical side of me that loves pure gameplay. Gameplay that demands your absolute best.

Yharnam is my home now. A digital mosquito bite that I want to itch.

LEGO Marvel’s Avengers Open World Trailer – Official

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Hey kids, you may be too young to see the actual Avengers movies. Blah, blah, blah, age appropriate content, right? How about a sanitized LEGO version? We’ll add humor, Stan Lee, and plenty of time to smash things as the Hulk. What do you say? Is that a yes? Then cool. January 26, 2016 can’t come soon enough.

Better start saving that allowance money.

For The Win: An Interview With Zachery Oliver

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Zachery Oliver is the Agent Paulson/Nick Fury of the video game world. Which is to say that he recruited me for the Avengers Initiative…I mean to TheologyGaming.com. In an effort to pick his brain and figure out exactly where he comes from, I thought it best to interview the recruiter himself. 

Zachery Oliver

Mickey looks angry. Watch out, Zachery!

Q: Tell us more about yourself and the site.

Zachery: I owned and created the site. I’ve got a Master’s of Theological Studies from Boston University’s School of Theology, as well as a BA from Merrimack College in Theological Studies and Philosophy. Did any of this help me in forming the blog? In a way, I suppose.

I’ve been playing video games since I was 3-4 years old, and can’t remember I time I wasn’t playing them. Probably a more formative experience was playing Secret of Mana with my brother and my father over a Christmas break, as the Sprite, without a guide or anything. The game clock on the cartridge (which I still have) is somewhere in the hundreds of hours. There’s just something about video games that works for me, entertains me, and really helped me out in life to sort ideas out (weirdly enough). And there’s so many of them!

But what I really love is that there’s so much theological exploration. I’ve got a wealth of knowledge of Christianity and video games…a weird combo, to say the least. There’s a dearth of substantive content regarding both, and thus we have Theology Gaming. I just started writing stuff that I wanted to read, and so far it’s been going well! Also, I didn’t get into any Ph.D. programs for theology, so probably that too! I needed a change from the rigors of academic study, all said, and I guess it just wasn’t for me (or God’s will).

Bryan: Hold up, your Dad plays/played video games? I’m trying to think if my Dad ever picked up a controller…

Sounds like you were a man of the Super Nintendo. I see now where your loyalties lied…with the Dark Side. While you were playing Secret of Mana, I was over on the USS SEGA Genesis cruising with Sonic, Ecco, and Vectorman. I had no clue of all the awesome RPG’s I was missing out on by not owning a SNES.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with Theology Gaming? How can you differentiate the site from the thousands of other enthusiast blogs?

Zachery: These are difficult questions to answer for a few reasons.

First, I hadn’t had the intention to compete with anyone; I honestly (and naively) figured that I discovered some untapped area of theological discussion. To my surprise, sites like GameChurch, JohnnyBGamer, and others already existed. Silly me, apparently, for not checking the demographics!

In all seriousness, though, my real goal was simply to express a long-held conviction that Christians can use anything they do for the glory of God. Combining my primary hobby with my God-given talents and developed skills, I decided to start a blog about my sometimes cogent, sometimes rambling thoughts about all things theology and video games.

As you may notice from reading, I focus greatly on the mechanical elements of games and that is where I find the theological exposition in most areas. There’s a reason for this: I don’t think video games differentiate themselves from other forms of entertainment through their story-telling quality. Also, that would be rather droll and place them into undesirable categories. Rather, I see them as a uniquely engaging entertainment form that, in my experience, creates human connections across all kinds of divisions simply through our common experience of playing video games. The same goes for regular games played throughout human history, but video games make it possible to communicate with lots and lots of different people with the power of the Internet – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but that’s human nature I suppose.

It’s in making human connections that I find validity, and it gives a common ground for discussion that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Would you and I be talking right now if not for video games? Probably not; we live in disparate places, and find ourselves in completely different age demographics, yet here we are talking about video games and theology. God’s will is a whirlwind sometimes, let me tell you.

For more from Zachery Oliver, head on over to TheologyGaming.com and check out the site.

Thinking Aloud: Growing Closer to Christ

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Note: I could write an entire series on what it means to grow closer to Christ. I realize that I barely scratch the surface of this subject and wanted to recognize that. You are now free to read.

Last year, I read an article on a Christian video game site that extolled the virtues of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. The article talked about how the game’s protagonist, Lee, was a Christ-like figure due to his sacrificial death at the end of the game. Spoiler. All I could think was that Lee was a murderer, Christ wasn’t.

As a Christian, I should be constantly growing closer to Christ. What does growing closer to Christ look like? Is it a combo of:

  • Giving up/walking away from things that are shrouded in helpless darkness? Perhaps coming to the realization that The Walking Dead, with its unimaginative curse-filled vocabulary, just isn’t for me?

OR

  • Embracing the darkness and trying to find Christ’s redemptive story/ God’s redemptive plan in everything? An effort of trying to find the good, the light, that exists within the darkness we often consume?

Phillippians 4:8 comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I want to be willing to give anything up for Christ. Even if this means walking away from a gaming series that I really enjoyed, like The Walking Dead or even God of War. I want to be careful with the games that I endorse because my endorsement, as a Christian, is like saying Jesus approves of this. I do not want to lead anyone away from Christ. A difficult road to trot down.

Invite Christ Into Your Hobby

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This morning, as I was reading through Bill Farrel’s The 10 Best Decisions a Man Can Make, I came across a passage that talked about inviting Christ into your hobbies. The beginning of Chapter 8 asked a question:

“What do you like to do to relax or have fun?”

The book followed up by asking you to:

“Brainstorm ways to invite Jesus to be part of this activity in your life.”

Bill gave a few personal examples of him inviting Christ into his hobbies: 1)as he is out in the garage tinkering around on his car, he prays and just generally communicates with God just as he would a friend; 2)as he is out exercising, Bill listens to worship music and sermons. Both examples show how easy it is to invite Christ into our down time activities.

Now my own personal ways of winding down do not include physical exercise nor picking up the odd tool and “tinkering”. I know that I need to be more active but I prefer reading a good book or enjoying a video game. I honestly cannot remember a time where I have ever invited God to take up the second controller (figuratively). I don’t think I have ever asked God for the amazing dexterity to accomplish a specific Mario jump either. No, I just mindlessly play and let the digital world envelope me as I would a movie. What does this mean?

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

As a Christian, everything I do is to be done to the glory of God. I need to be keeping God at the forefront of my mind. Even as I play a video game, I need to not be mindlessly consuming but actively engaging the media. This means filtering the game through what I know is truth in scripture; this also means asking God for the endurance to take on that last boss fight. Video games can easily be all about the glory of the player, I want that glory to instead be directed at my Creator.

2011 Pokémon Video Game Championship

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Kotaku reported earlier today that the 2011 Pokémon Video Game Championship is but a month away.

For those in the United States, prepare your Pokémon to battle on:

  • May 14th, Seattle, WA- Washington State Convention Center, Hall 4B
  • May 21st, San Jose, CA – San Jose Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 2
  • May 28th, Dallas, TX- Arlington Convention Center, Grand Hall
  • June 4th, Atlanta, GA- Gwinnett Center, Hall A and B
  • June 11th, Washington, D.C.- Dulles Expo Center, South Hall
  • June 18th, Newark, NJ- Meadowlands Exposition Center

For those over the pond:

  • June 4th, Birmingham, United Kingdom- National Exhibition Centre, Hall 8
  • June 11th, Rome, Italy- Fiera Roma, Hall 12, Ingresso Nord
  • June 18th, Madrid, Spain- IFEMA, Hall 1, Feria de Madrid
  • June 25th, Paris, France- Espace Grande Arche, Parvis de La Défense
  • July 2nd , Cologne, Germany- EXPO XXI Köln GmbH, Gladbacher Wall 5

Those that prove that they’ve got what it takes will continue on to the  2011 Pokémon World Championships (August 12-14th) hosted at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront in San Diego, California.

I may or may not be getting Pokémon Black for Easter. 🙂 Wonder if I have enough time to catch and train a group worthy of defeating the very best…