Generation gone: Where Playstation mascot Crash Bandicoot is today

As a reflection on the Playstation 4′s launch, I wrote an article for GamesBeat about the relevance of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy in 2013. In essence, it’s about how what worked for Crash in the late 90′s might also be what the series needs today, should it ever finally return.

GamesBeat has since promoted and republished the article, which I thought I’d forward and share an excerpt from here:


In some ways, Crash Bandicoot 2 shares a philosophy with the puzzle-platforming series Portal. You’re given what moves you absolutely need near the very beginning and nothing more for the rest of the adventure. From there, it’s up to the level design and the game mechanics to play off each other to keep things interesting. Jumping, spinning, belly-flopping, crouching, and sliding are all you have to get from point A to point B. Granted, there are a few exceptions (like transports of some manner), but Crash himself never fundamentally changes.

Instead, the levels subvert your expectations by presenting you with interesting challenges based on what you already know. Suddenly, there are more dangerous crates to break open, so how do you move around them in a 3D space? A few levels flip your sense of direction, either having you running toward the screen and away from an agitated bear or moving along it like a traditional side-scroller. When moving forward starts to feel boring, you find yourself riding atop an untamable polar bear cub at top speeds or following fireflies down dark paths, making the game feel like an endless runner or a relay race at night.

But at no point in any of the above scenarios are the game mechanics altered beyond recognition. At its most abstract and arguably its best, Crash Bandicoot is purely about playing with familiarities in the platforming genre.

Here’s a link to the full article on GamesBeat »

(Thanks to Stephanie Carmichael from GamesBeat for promoting and editing the article.)

Making a website: The Commonwealth

The-Commonwealth--Desktop

A couple months ago, we in The Commonwealth launched our official website, which I personally designed and developed. It felt appropriate to have the website launch in promotion of Urban Soul and our newly found partnership with local label Cellar Door Records, but the real need for it was a practical one.

Since releasing Souvenir in 2011, Bandcamp was our primary connection to our listeners. As our first EP, making it completely on our own was an incredible challenge, and Bandcamp’s ease-of-use really attracted us because it took such a load off our backs when distributing the album digitally. Two LP’s later, and Bandcamp was effectively our main website; it had a good ranking in search engines, our contact info and music was immediately accessible and its tracking tools offered a lot of rich information. With Cellar Door Records, we knew that our distribution channels would be growing, but in some cases splitting on the user-experience side of things. We still wanted a singular site that summed up who we are.

Thankfully, Bandcamp affords the ability to embed any music it hosts into any other website with their player widget, even if they’re managed by different accounts. We had been using this method for sharing our music on social networks (and also this blog, as part of the sidebar), but I realized we could leverage it for our own website, virtually tying together our entire discography and band information into one place.

Months later, I thought I’d share my thought process over the short period of time it took to create The Commonwealth’s website (about two weeks). Continue reading

Album Review: The Commonwealth’s “Urban Soul”

Andrew Kuhar:

The Commonwealth’s latest album review comes from Amplified Magazine, who also featured us in their very first issue earlier this year. Amplified’s Nicola Brown had some kind words about our second LP, Urban Soul, and you can read their full review on their blog.

It’s great to have this be the first published review of the album, especially being on a unique publication like Amplified. If you’re a music lover, be sure to check out their magazine and blog when you can.

-Andrew

Originally posted on AMPLIFIED MAGAZINE:

Album Review: The Commonwealth – Urban Soul

By: Nicola Brown

The Commonwealth’s second full-length album starts off with the relaxed guitar riffs of “Urban Soul,” after which the album is named. It’s a great beginning to a great record, building the energy and the foundation of what the album is about: life and love in a city like Cleveland, where the band is from.

1001129_534498876585788_545773432_nUrban Soul as a collection showcases The Commonwealth’s range of musical styles, mirroring the diversity inherent in an urban environment. There’s the slow waltz of “Mabel,” the alt-rock feel of “With My Old Friends At A Party,” the piano rock of “Summer Noir” and “The Bright Ones,” and of course the strange ethereal sound of “Supermoon.” However, the best (beyond the catchy title song) is “Little Boston.” This song begins with a really cool bowed guitar riff. At first, I actually mistook this for a cello…

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Arimathea

brothers

Have you ever buried someone?

Half a decade ago, my brothers and I, with the help of our father and his brothers, carried our grandmother to her final resting place. She was on my mother’s side.

I remember being much physically weaker then, and although it wasn’t easy holding up my side of the casket, Staramama (Slovenian for “grandmother” — it’s what we all called her) always had a respect for manual labor. She was a bull, and in my final moments with her, so was I.

Almost five years to the date, I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Its visuals, gameplay hooks and restrained yet fantastic environments spoke to many of my enthusiasms for video games. How could I resist? All of the above was to be expected, but to me Brothers also acted as the last of a genre I’ll remember these past couple years of video games for: succinct atmospheric games with heart (others include Flower, Journey, Papo y Yo, Guacamelee, The Walking Dead, The Unfinished Swan, Gone Home and Kentucky Route Zero to name a handful). What I didn’t expect was how timely and deeply Brothers would take me back to saying goodbye to Staramama, and remembering the kind of life she hoped, and lived, for my brothers and I.

Continue reading

AMFPVG Podcast – 4: The Last of Us

last-of-us-crosscountry

All my friends play video games,

and one of them joined me to talk about The Last of Us.

Today’s episode of the podcast centers its attention on The Last of Us, the critically acclaimed survival adventure game from Naughty Dog. With all of its detail and a compelling cast of characters, it’s an experience that needs to be discussed, and I’m happy to have Jim Wiser back on the show to do just that. Our reactions to the core gameplay mechanics, exploring a post-outbreak world, believable performances, art & design sensibilities, and of course the outcome of Joel and Ellie’s journey across the country are all on the bill for conversation here.

Warning: this episode does contain spoilers for The Last of Us throughout.

Listen to the podcast here:


All My Friends Play Video Games – 4: The Last of Us
Hit the above link to stream it within a new tab, or right-click to download it directly.


CAST & CREDITS

Jim Wiser and I have been friends since our first couple years in foundation art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where we continued to collaborate as majors in Game Design. His thesis project focused level design as a means of better understanding way-finding, and since then he’s created artwork for a number of indie game projects and custom levels for Team Fortress 2.

The Last of Us was developed by Naughty Dog.
The music in this episode was from The Last of Us OST.

All My Friends Play Video Games – 3: Kentucky Route Zero, Act II

Kentucky Route Zero, Julian in the forest

All my friends play video games,
and two of them joined me to talk about Kentucky Route Zero, Act II.

We’re filling out the seasonal Kentucky Route Zero panel with Alex Koval joining Hilary Bovay and I for this edition of the podcast. Our hour-long discussion covers our reactions to Act II of Cardboard Computer’s episodic series, recurring themes and character development, secret locations, our favorite/least favorite moments and more. Feel welcome to add to the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Fair warning: this episode does contain spoilers for Act II throughout.
If you’re interested in the game and simply want to learn more about it, I’d highly recommend listening to our previous episode on Act I — the first segment introduces KR0 and is spoiler-free.

Listen to the podcast here:


All My Friends Play Video Games – 3: Kentucky Route Zero, Act II
Hit the above link to stream it within a new tab, or right-click to download it directly.


CAST & CREDITS

Hilary Bovay is a very talented artist & photographer, and super-fan of both David Bowie and Hayao Miyazaki. She’s got a keen eye for visual storytelling, and her love for the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy is all you’ll ever need to know about her taste in video games.

Alex Koval is a student of both philosophy and psychology, a fan of horror and especially H.P. Lovecraft. We’ve been best friends since 2nd grade, and some of his favorite games include the original Resident Evil remake, Final Fantasy Tactics, Eternal Darkness, and the childhood classic Banjo Kazooie.

Kentucky Route Zero was developed by Cardboard Computer.
The music in this episode was produced by Ben Babbitt, from the soundtrack for Act II of Kentucky Route Zero.

Podcast Returning

kentuckyroutezero-act2

I posted two new podcast episodes in January, but have yet to deliver on my plans to do more since. Now that The Commonwealth’s new album, Urban Soul, is done and released (you can listen to it here, or stream it from my sidebar), and with a handful of games under my belt this year, I’m feeling ready to get back into podcasting through the late summer and fall.

Kentucky Route Zero‘s 2nd act came out at the end of May, and it gave Hilary, our very good friend Alex and I a lot to talk about. They’ll be joining me on the third episode of All My Friends Play Video Games to discuss Cardboard Computer’s follow-up act, so check back next week sometime for the podcast.

If you’re interested in catching up with past episodes, including Hilary’s and my discussion on Act I of Kentucky Route Zero, be sure to check out the archive.