Jan. 24, 2015 | 7:30 a.m.

Game designer Tim Schafer’s ‘Grim’ path tracks adventure genre’s growth

Tim Schafer has been a pioneer when it comes to narrative-driven games. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
THE PLAYER Before an interview via video conference even starts, game designer Tim Schafer jots down a message, then holds the note up to the computer screen. “I killed a guy,” it reads. Schafer’s games are laced with humor, and so are his interviews. The independent designer hasn’t of course killed anyone, but he has been accused of killing an entire genre. When Schafer released “Grim Fandango,” a Day of the Dead-style noir, in 1998, its disappointing sales were blamed for dooming the adventure game, a plot-driven field that once had believers thinking games were the new cinema. Yet “Grim Fandango” was so ahead of its time that its time may be now. Today it’s celebrated as one of gaming’s greatest moments, and the title is on the verge of being re-released Tuesday in high-definition for home computers and Sony’s […]
Jan. 24, 2015 | 5:30 a.m.

‘Gravity Ghost': The spirits moved game designer Erin Robinson

The solar system is your playground in "Gravity Ghost." (Ivy Games)
THE PLAYER The hero at the core of the independent game “Gravity Ghost” is in fact an adolescent: 12-year-old Iona. Even more unusual, she’s dead — an apparition who haunts the solar system, looking for lost souls to save. Far from a ghost story, this title created by Erin Robinson takes a fanciful eye to the afterlife, turning the high-flying spirit into something of an outer space superhero. She treats the cosmos as a giant intergalactic plaything, toying with planets as if they were bouncy balls and turning globes into gelatinous, fish-tank-like orbs. Underlying it all is the sadness that comes with knowing a young life was lost. How Iona died and why she’s on an intergalactic quest becomes the title’s central mystery, lending an air of emotional complexity to a game that explores the wonders of a girl in […]
Jan. 17, 2015 | 5:30 a.m.

‘Elegy for a Dead World’ prompts gamers to write life into the story

The deep space worlds of "Elegy for a Dead World" can be used as a cure for writer's bloc.(Dejobaan Games)
THE PLAYER You can battle an Orc king. You can steal a car or maybe a boat. You can even rescue the princess in your plumber overalls. Actions and story arcs are plentiful in most games, but the underlying narrative, malleable it may be, is almost always pre-written. “Elegy for a Dead World” puts forth a different theory. Maybe you, the player, can write the story. Maybe a blank page can be turned into a game. Part writing exercise, part teaching tool and part sci-fi story generator, “Elegy for a Dead World” aims to turn players into budding Arthur C. Clarkes — or at least amateur poets. It’s a high-minded goal, one reflective of the game’s haughty title, and meeting it can be more daunting than facing off against a barrel-throwing ape. Here, the only enemy is a blinking cursor, […]
Jan. 10, 2015 | 5:30 a.m.

‘Bloodborne’ designer wants to challenge, not coddle, players

"Bloodborne" designer Hidetaka Miyazaki wants his games to be imposing. (From Software / SCEA)
THE PLAYER Broadly speaking, games today are becoming easier to play. New formats, such as mobile and downloadable titles, are making games more affordable and more accessible. But at least one veteran Japanese game designer doesn’t care to follow the trend. Hidetaka Miyazaki wants his games to be imposing. He wants players to struggle. He counts on it — relishes it, even. Sure, he wants players to win, but not before they curse him out. “That’s not to say I don’t want to create a product for the masses, but I want something that will be appreciated by the core,” he says, referring to the most die-hard of gamers. His approach is elegantly old school but modernly (some may say maddeningly) unconventional. During a recent interview, the dapper and bespectacled game director arrived in a suit and discussed the joy […]
Jan. 05, 2015 | 8:00 a.m.

‘Mortal Kombat X': Writer Shawn Kittelsen teases DC prequel comic book

'Mortal Kombat X' (featured image)
For those who enjoy the spine-breaking, disemboweling fun of the “Mortal Kombat” franchise, the new “MKX” game from NetherRealm Studios can’t come fast enough (March 15 — 69 days, give or take a few hours). To help mitigate the wait, the first chapter of a new weekly digital comic “Mortal Kombat X” arrives Tuesday from DC Comics, introducing new characters and more fatalities. Shawn Kittelsen will write the series, which will feature Cassie Cage, Kotal Kahn and a cast of other characters; after Tuesday’s premiere installment, subsequent chapters will be released on Sundays and be available for download on the DC Comics App,,, Google Play, Kindle Store, Nook Store, iBooks and iVerse ComicsPLUS. ———— FOR THE RECORD The Mortal Kombat X video game release date of March 15 is incorrect. The game is set to debut worldwide April 15. […]
Jan. 03, 2015 | 4:58 a.m.

‘Lost Constellation’ lets players wander a cat’s world

"Lost Constellation" tackles big subjects with humor. (Infinite Fall / Finji)
THE PLAYER Confession: I like cats more than I like video games. The upcoming “Night in the Woods” combines these two passions, and a recently released mini-game from its developers asks the unanswerable questions every cat herder has pondered at some point: What do cats think of when they daydream? Answer: It’s certainly not mice or canned tuna. Infinite Fall and Finji’s “Lost Constellation” doesn’t shy away from big topics; it tackles religion, the loss of a loved one and tricks of the mind with deft touches of humor and light flourishes of mysticism. Here, domesticated animals grapple with the same existential issues that keep us up at night. These themes just happen to be delivered by wacky characters such as a mouse who serves as a high priest and likes to dance. So, yes, it’s bizarre — there’s a […]
Dec. 27, 2014 | 5:00 a.m.

‘Shovel Knight’ keeps it all old school

'Shovel Knight'
THE PLAYER David D’Angelo and the six-person team at Yacht Club Games are sometimes accused of living in the past. The past, after all, has been very good to Yacht Club Games. “There are people who think we’re using nostalgia as a weapon to make you buy this,” says D’Angelo of “Shovel Knight,” the company’s breakout independent video game. It’s true the game is inspired by the 8-bit titles released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with an absurdist story and easy-to-grasp controls. And at first glance, “Shovel Knight” does look and play like a product of the late 1980s. The titular hero, armed with a shovel, of course, swings, digs and pounces his way through ghostly kingdoms with the occasional exploding rat. “We were playing all these modern games that were so unbelievably complicated,” says D’Angelo, 29. “We just […]
Dec. 26, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.

L.A. studio to restore venerable ‘King’s Quest’ to its gaming throne

King Graham in The Odd Gentlemen's reboot of "King's Quest." (The Odd Gentlemen / Sierra)
THE PLAYER There are sword and sorcery games, and then there are those set in Daventry. Daventry, the fantastical homeland of the “King’s Quest” series, is to the video game universe what Middle Earth is to the world of fantasy literature. But if Daventry isn’t a household name, there is no questioning the landmark status of Sierra’s “King’s Quest.” Home to one King Graham, Queen Valanice, Princess Rosella and more, “King’s Quest” was pioneering for the way it emphasized characters and story in a medium where play has been given precedence. In the mid- to late ’80s, “King’s Quest” and the games of Sierra made the case that the video game medium would evolve into a form of interactive cinema. It wasn’t to be. Action, arcade and gunplay would soon dominate, rendering “King’s Quest” and other so-called adventure games to […]
Dec. 19, 2014 | 4:36 p.m.

New video game ‘Hatred’ takes ugly aim at the industry’s progression

There's nothing to love about the early looks at "Hatred." (Destructive Creations)
THE PLAYER Congratulations, video game community. You have graduated. Like film and television before you, you are now mainstream. In the same way there are those who see lots of films and those who only see a few films, there are those who play lots of games and those who only play a handful. Some play more, some play less, but the video game community now belongs to us — all of us. Resistance is futile, but that isn’t stopping purists from trying, desperately, to fight back. They long for a time when video games were underground and playing itself was an act of rebellion, and no doubt the past year in games has been a tough one for them. LIST: Todd Martens’ best video games of 2014 Changes are not just afoot, but are in fact galloping over long-held […]
Dec. 19, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.

2014 Games: There was ugliness, but diversity won

Snow White keeps players in check in the game "The Wolf Among Us." (Telltale Games)
THE PLAYER One of the most unforgettable video game characters of 2014 was a princess and one whose name most Americans would recognize: Snow White. Only this version of Snow White isn’t exactly similar to the royal in fairy tales of yore. A star of Telltale Games’ “The Wolf Among Us,” this Snow White is a tough, no-nonsense New Yorker. The Snow of “The Wolf Among Us” is a rarity in video games, in part because she’s a woman and in part because Telltale has crafted a game in which Snow’s every word can send the player into a second-guessing headache. LIST: Todd Martens’ best video games of 2014 Snow also couldn’t have come at a better time. Much of the past year in gaming was marred by a quasi-Internet-driven movement known as “gamergate.” The phrase was almost immediately associated […]
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