Tag Archives: Salt

Salt Lake Gaming Con 2016

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A few weeks before the convention opened, the Salt Lake Comic Con (SLCC) (the larger, more powerful convention here in Salt Lake City) purchased 50% of the ownership of the Salt Lake Gaming Con (SLGC). At first I was curious as to what that meant, exactly. The SLCC is a ruthless corporate machine willing to turn the hearts and souls of Nerddom into a quick profit. Arriving at SLGC, I instantly smelled the essence of the Comic Con. They’re well known for their lack of preparedness and Kafkaesque queue lines and entry system. Last year at Gaming Con, the press was invited to arrive a day early. We received information packets detailing the coming events of the weekend. We were shown around the places and told where useful things were. The press room was in a back corner. It was nice and quiet; a decent space to work. The room was filled with water and occasionally snacks.

all hail our new overlords
                                            all hail our new overlords

Comic Con has a clear fuck-the-press attitude, which was made more than clear at their main event last year. Here at Gaming Con 2016 things are not quite as organized as they were last year, and I blame it on the new interference of Comic Con.

(This woman was so nice)
                                                                      Best Cosplay at the con

Starting off, we were shown around the exhibit hall by a coordinator and eventually led to the press area; a small corner right next to a giant TV. At this point, the journalists and I started questioning where our press passes were. The response we got was: “There might not be any.” No fucking Press Passes! This is the one thing that lets me talk to developers and booth operators with a bit more authority than the standard con-goer. Later I learned that before the takeover, press passes were, in fact printed. When Comic Con came in, the passes were all scrapped and a new design was created. We eventually did get press passes a few hours into the con, but the lack of knowledge about it was what really threw me off.FILE0033

Everything has been so spotty. “Right now I’m working without Internet in the press room. Christ Alive! Why is there no usable Internet here? We have to share with the PC open play area. I can’t load a fucking website to save my life.” Yup, this is the stink of the fuck-the-press mentality mentioned earlier. The Press Coordinator was doing his best to try and help us, but he knew about as much of what was going on as we did. The Internet we were promised never came. Other press members resorted to using their phone as a hot spot to connect to something. I sat there in vain, refreshing my webpage again and again. Walking around the con I could definitely tell there were some major changes. Things felt more like Comic Con than a typical gaming con.FILE0041 The vendors were the main attraction this year (in the past the developers and gamer’s were the main focus). The booths set up for them took up a large space and were definitely the centerpieces. Now it was a bit different this time. There was still a space for developers…it was just smaller. Some developers were allocated weird corners and tiny booths, shoved away to make room for the moneymakers. It was like developers were here just to meet some sort of quota.

“Ok, we now have enough video games here to call it a ‘video game convention.’ Now let’s get more people selling pop! figures”.

The infection spreads
                                                                          The infection spreads

To the con’s credit there were huge areas where people could play video games. Rows of PCs were set up for anyone to jump on and play. A lot of people just spent the entire con in this area, having a good time playing Overwatch or League of Legends. There was a large section for board games, and an even bigger one for tabletop RPGs. This was definitely refreshing to see, and one of the few decisions made by the original Gaming Con management.

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Once again the people who truly shined here were the ones who showed off their art, rather than trying to make a quick profit off of the con-goers. The Utah Games Guild (UGG) was back to show off some new projects, as well as some improved from last year. Titles such as Crashnauts and Legacy of the Elder Star have returned, donning shiny new designs.

One such new game was We Must Go Deeper, an illustrated 2D co-operative submarine experience.FILE0151 Each players mans a different part of the sub, such as helm or weapons. They work together to reach the bottom of the sea and fight a deadly giant squid. The game is still in development right now, but I’m very excited to take a look at it once it’s ready. During the demo, I played in the weapons section. I had to manually load each torpedo I fired. I had to run around the sub, wrench in hand, fixing holes that sprang up due to the attacking sea creatures.

Another title was Ethos, a dark AMMORPG rumored to have an entirely player-driven economy, and boasting Dark Souls-like combat mechanics. The demo featured a boss fight against a massive troll. Right now they only have a “proof of concept” ready. But if they take their time and refine what I played, they could have something truly special. I’ll definitely be following the development of this game as it progresses.FILE0159

The people over at UGG are working hard on their games. It was amazing to talk to them about their progress and aspirations. This group is certainly dedicated to their art. I love the UGG’s ideals. Like-minded people are brought together to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another. It’s great to have other creative people around you while you work. It really shows in their games.

One thing that was pretty exciting was the abundance of VR at the con. There are a lot of places who were just using VR as a gimmick to sell their products. One product was a VR Cardboard. Purchasing one of these got you 15 minutes in the HTC Vive. Another booth just had a Vive and an Oculus Rift set up. For the price of $10 you could spend 10 minutes on their systems (except Microsoft for some reason). This is the only free VR experience I’ve found here; although it was only for 5 minutes and the line was huge. This seemed bizarre, since you’d assume Microsoft would be the first to try and lure people into buying something, or even more heinous pre-order a game. However, Microsoft was just sponsoring another group.

Steven Ogg Playing VR
                                                                     Steven Ogg Playing VR

Wil Brown, head of the Utah Virtual Reality (UVR) meetup group, has done a great job of setting up and showing off the wonders of VR. To hear him talk about working in VR space was simply incredible. He has such a passion for it and I couldn’t help but see just how amazing the technology actually was. He should have had his own panel, instead of stupid shit like the dumb PS4 vs. Xbox One debate they gave him. I’ve set up some special deals with Wil and will be covering UVR here in the near future. In my random chats with Wil, we discussed some incredible stuff. We talked about the Vive and the Oculus. But then he showed me something that isn’t on the market yet, and something to which few developers have access: the Microsoft HoloLens. This mixes both reality and virtual reality into the perfect sci-fi experience…or it will once it’s ready for consumers. As of right now it’s just a “developer’s kit”; Microsoft trying to create some programs for it. At most you can create 3D images that sit in the middle of real space. From what I experienced with it though, this is the dawn of the future. Soon enough this thing and things like it will be widely available.FILE0015

On the non-video side of gaming, there was plenty to see…surprisingly so. Piazo, a tabletop RPG company was there to host some Pathfinder Society games. An employee for Piazo held a panel about upcoming releases and general RPG talk. FILE0003The panel was pretty small but the people attending were all interested in RPGs, so it led to some good discussion. Additionally, I decided that it’d be fun to do a bit of role-playing. I sat down for an hour-long session of D&D and played Lockwood, the arrow-slinging animal whisperer. Although I tend to enjoy other systems more, it was really enjoyable to revisit good ol’ Dungeons and Dragons. This is what the con was truly about. This was the best part; a few strangers sitting down and sharing a hobby. Despite all the corporate chicanery, stuff like this was still able to shine through. It’s easy to get caught up in the money-hungry nonsense that conventions draw, but at the heart of it all these are still these brief moments of happiness and excitement.

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-Jordan Kamm-

Haven Review: Salt and Sanctuary

 

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Salt and Sanctuary clearly is crafted from a merging of inspirational sources. It pays great homage to games that have come before it while reinventing them; combining them in ways that both let the genius of those games shine, and create an entirely new experience for the player. The two most important influences on Salt and Sanctuary are Dark Souls and Castlevania. Castlevania is the oldest of the three, and has influenced much of the design of Dark Souls, as well as giving this game its underlying framework and heavy two-dimensional exploration experience. “Salt and Sanc'” is at heart a Metroidvania-style game. I think calling it a “2D Dark Souls” is a bit disingenuous since it clearly belongs to an already well-defined genre of games. However, that’s not to say that the Dark Souls influence isn’t worn on the sleeve.

Salt and Sanctuary‘s RPG elements make up the primary detail of its mechanics. There is a system for stat progression and skill upgrades. There’s a wide variety of weapons and armor you can find in the game, and a huge selection of consumable items at your disposal. These elements are straight out of Dark Souls. You’re given one currency as your main way to level up: salt. This is used at a “sanctuary” to increase your level. When you die, your salt is picked up by the enemy who killed you…much like in Dark Souls (or more specifically Bloodborne).

ss classUnique to this game however, is what happens when you’re killed by environmental hazards. There are myriad ways to fall to your death or be killed by an unseen trap. When this happens, your salt materializes as a bat that you must kill in order to regain the lost points. When killed by a boss, a small indicator appears above the health bar of the boss. If you’re able to get them down past the indicator, you’re given your salt back. I feel this is almost a better way of handling this problem than Dark Souls‘s method. First off, you don’t have to worry about running to your salt’s location and picking it up (causing a small distraction that the boss can exploit, leading to your death again). Second, it forces you to learn how to fight the boss. Each time you die, you need to get the boss down to the indicator again. You need to get to that same spot every time, so it gives you another goal during the fight. Giving you a half-way point in the fight helps break down the bosses’ strategy and learn to deal with their attacks.false jester

Over the course of Salt and Sanctuary, you meet other travelers and gain special powers from them in the form of “brands”. The first and possibly most mysterious character is the Jester. He sits upside down near a big obelisk and talks only in cryptic rhymes. There’s even a boss associated with this character. The boss sits in front of the real Jester’s room, trying to trick passersby into thinking he’s the actual one. Once you’ve acquired the brand from him, you can use it to flip yourself upside down whenever you come across an obelisk. More brands can be collected, each giving you a unique power. This mechanic is taken straight from the Metroidvania genre. It’s almost a staple and wouldn’t truly be classified as such without it. It’s interesting to see this interaction. It gives the game an interesting way to explore the world; especially if you’re coming at it from a Dark Souls perceptive. Ultimately, exploration is what these games are about.

Each sanctuary you find is dedicated to a particular religion. You may choose from three different ones at the beginning, or convert to a new one at an available sanctuary. Occasionally you’ll find an empty sanctuary and have the ability to claim it for your creed. When you’re inside your religion’s sanctuary you can do much more than just level up. You can bring in followers to help you in your journey. These followers can provide you with shops, or smithies. They can guide you back to other sanctuaries or transmute your weapons into new wondrous creations. One of the most interesting of the followers is the Leader. This character can offer you side quests to complete, in addition to your main goal. These side quests are nothing more than collecting some quest-specific loot from enemies that you’ve killed.

 

The game’s rewards are what really intrigue me. For example, when you’ve completed a quest for a Leader, you’re offered one of several items. These include healing potions (which you also get from the massive skill tree), stamina potions and elemental buff items for your weapon. Interestingly, when you rest at a sanctuary these are all replenished…much like your “estus” in Dark Souls. If you choose a lightning stone as your reward, whenever you rest you get your stone back. You’re never in a state where you need to wonder whether or not it’s a good time to use this buff item; you know you can get it back. It’s always be a good time to use it.

Something I’ve been dreading talking about is the skill system. It’s massive; too massive. When you level up you’re given a black pearl (these can also be found around the world). You use these to choose a skill from an enormous web. This thing is so intimidating when first starting out. You have no idea what to take, where you want to end up or how to plot out the best path to get there. I ended up just trying to get as many different weapon skills as I could in order to use the widest variety. There are also skills for other things, including raising your stats, using higher weapon/armor classes and increasing the number of healing potions earned when you rest. Skills are accompanied by “passages”. These are from fables and holy books, and give you a glimpse into the deep lore of the game. It can be overwhelming if you’re set on reading every one of them! Once you choose your first couple of skills, a path starts to become clear. You start to learn what’s important to you and recognize the skills you need. Going for new weapons at the outset gave me great direction, and let me pick up some really good stuff along the way. Although I don’t use every weapon (I tend to stick to swords or axes), it at least gave me a starting direction.salt-and-sanctuary-skill-tree

While the mechanics of Salt and Sanctuary are incredibly deep and precise, the art style is another story. I’ve heard many people say that they were put off by it, calling it cartoony or sloppy. At first I wasn’t that keen on it either. This is especially evident in the character design. However, after sometime playing it I changed my mind. Seeing the beautiful landscapes and backdrops, and the designs of the bosses and the wicked scarecrow, I fell in love with the art. It took me a moment to realize that these drawings weren’t cartoony as such, but rather as though straight out of a story book. There is almost a papery quality to them, like they’ve been lifted off the page of a forgotten ancient fairy tale. I realized that the art wasn’t so much off-putting, but lent itself to a particular design that I didn’t see at first.

Salt and Sanctuary is a beautiful, rich experience filled with tribulations, and victories. It clearly wears its influences on its sleeve, but it wears them so elegantly. This game perfectly captures the essence of older titles, and transforms them into something new. Salt and Sanctuary does an amazing job of creating a deep lore and an interesting world that feels expansive. It at times brings you down into the depths of its nittiest gritty details, and then compares them to its wider overarching universe. The characters are wonderfully written. The levels are meticulously constructed, and each fleeting victory is so satisfying. This is one of the coolest games I’ve played in a long time. It hit every note I wanted it to, and satisfied every itch I’ve had. If you haven’t had your fill of Dark Souls, or want to try an incredibly well developed and interesting Metroidvania game, Salt and Sanctuary is here for you. This game has eaten up way more of my time and attention than I meant it to.SS

Disclaimer: We received this game because we wanted to review it, and as such all views in this article our are own. No money has been exchanged for this review.

-Jordan Kamm-

 

 

Haven Editorial: Conversations with Nicki Rapp

 

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Information was taken from meeting and talking with Nicki Rapp at various instances at the convention, and not just from one main interview. I first met Nicki at her booth on the convention floor, we had a lovely conversation about the basics of her career. I wanted to ask her about her favorite characters, upcoming projects, and general information about working as a voice actress.

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She was being promoted by the convention as the voice of Lily from The Walking Dead. Although, this being her most famous role, it wasn’t her favorite to play. Her favorite was the character of Lili from Psychonauts by Double Fine. Nicki told me that it’s one of the characters that she’s played that she best connects to. I lightheartedly replied by telling her Lili was my favorite character from Psychonauts, and probably out of all the characters I’ve seen her in so far. For the most part Nicki has worked in voicing characters in Adventure games. She’s worked with both Double Fine (Tim Schafer being a close friend of hers) and Tell Tale, whom she has probably worked the most for. Including titles like The Walking Dead, Tales of Monkey Island, and Sam and Max. She also voiced children in both Sims 2 and Sims 3. As she has demonstrated she is still able to easily create Simlish. She said that if she thinks too hard about it the language doesn’t come. She has to completely shut off her brain to do that kind of improv. She also mentioned to me a couple of upcoming projects she’s been involved in. Including Firewatch by developer Campo Santo, who is made up of members of both Double Fine and Tell Tale. She plays a character named Lilly, as kind of an inside joke for those who know her previous work. She also mentioned a Cartoon Network Mini-series coming out called Long Live the Royals. Where she plays a character named Alex. She went into more detail about that in a press interview that was held.

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“I Booked the pilot four years ago. And my agent had told me that if it gets picked up it’s possible that they won’t keep me. Because I’m not a celebrity.” “I got the Email and the call saying this is what’s going on, but they were inviting me to re-audition.” “I literally have $500 in my bank account, I spent it all to get to LA from Oakland, and I did it. And I saved it, and I got it. It felt so good and victorious.”

She was very excited to be getting this project. I asked her if she wants to do more cartoons, and she told me that working for Cartoon Network was on of her career dreams from the very beginning. She said that cartoons were the biggest reason for getting into voice acting in the first place. She would rush home from school everyday to watch Animaniacs. She was ecstatic to get to go into the CN studio and have her name on the audition list. I’m definitely Excited for it myself, and to see where it goes after the mini-series is over.

“I was listening to Tress Macneille, being Dot, and I was like wait, I could do that. I could totally dolilly that.”

She spoke the most about her biggest role, Lilly Caul in The Walking Dead in her panel. She said that Lilly was absolutely the most serious role she’s ever played. Which Nicki actually liked. She said that it was the first time she was really able to show off her acting chops. She said that the way she got her voice to be like Lilly’s was to go to a voice range she calls “LadyTown.” It’s definitely a range she loves to go to, even saying that it feels good to do. Like a massage on the throat. However, most studios hire her for her higher more bubbly voice. Tell Tale was the first to actually want her to use “LadyTown,” and now that she has such a well known character in that range under her belt, she hopes that more studios will let her explore the various ranges of her voice more often.

Nicki is an amazing voice actress and a wonderful person to have had these conventions with. I’m more than excited to closely follow her upcoming work, and interested to see where the future will lead her.

If you are interested following Nicki’s work, please check out Firewatch, , and Long Live the Royals, both scheduled to be released sometime this year.

Thanks again to Nicki Rapp for these wonderful conversations.

-Jordan Kamm-