battle princess madelyn

How a Young Daughter, a Late Dog, and an 80’s Platformer Inspired Battle Princess Madelyn

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When your child is having a rough time, many fathers would bring home a teddy bear, or take them out for ice cream. But for pixel artist and indie game developer Christopher Obritsch, he decided to make a game.

“[My daughter] Maddi was bullied in daycare and at school,” says Obritsch. “The boys picked on her, telling her she couldn’t do things because she was a girl. I remember being very angry. I wanted to do something to cheer her up. I have scoliosis so I’m not exactly the playful dad I wish I was – so I make up for it in the only ways I know how.”

Battle Princess Madelyn was born, a retro-inspired platformer starring a pixelated version of Obritsch’s young daughter.

“I recently had left my full time job at a game studio near where I’m located. I had the money to do something but not at the scale it ended up being,” says Obritsch. “And since the game was for Maddi, I wanted to do everything I could with it. And so we came to Kickstarter.” The Kickstarter campaign launched on Maddi’s fifth birthday. “I thought, what a great way to prove to Maddi that she really can do whatever she wants to do.”

As many indie game projects inevitably go, Battle Princess Madelyn ended up as a much larger game than what was originally designed. The Kickstarter campaign was a big success, reaching over CA$ 200,000 with over 3,400 backers. It’s openly inspired by Obritsch’s all-time favorite game, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, a challenging 16-bit action-platformer from the 80s.

“I like the dark horror themed stuff. Always have. So seeing Ghouls ‘N Ghosts when I was a kid? Awesome,” says Obritsch. “My favorite movies of all time all sport dead guys or people fighting dead guys – BeetleJuice, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Evil Dead 2, etc. I loved drawing skeletons when I was kid – gross stories that got my parents called in to talk to the teacher.”

Obritsch’s love of the game fueled a passion for pixel art and programming, and eventually a career in multimedia and graphic designer. He got into making games as a hobby, where his new bouncing baby served as his muse. “I ended up doing a very early game for Maddi. One of the levels ended up a 3D shoot ’em up where she is on my back and we’re flying through rainbows and shooting bumble bees and crows while picking up coins. I ended up getting discovered by an ad agency for a musician and almost won the Brit Music Awards that year for Best Interactive Video.”

Obritsch credits his daughter Madelyn as his Creative Director for Battle Princess Madelyn. “She either draws me pictures or sits with me and tells me what to do. She’s my harshest critic!” He recalls a specific instance where five year-old Maddi came home from a friend’s house with a new drawing that she was very proud of.

“She explained a boss fight she had designed. It’s a giant cat you shoot in the bum, but you have to feed it to get it to turn around. I was just shocked – she had come up with a strategy for a boss fight on her own. That was a proud daddy moment,” says Obritsch. “I’m hoping to find that picture for the Kickstarter art book.”

battle princess madelyn

Another member of Obritsch’s family made it into Battle Princess Madelyn, their late dog Fritzy, whose passing partially inspired the story mode. “The story kind of came into play when we knew the real Fritzy was going to be leaving us soon. The intro of the game then started off with Fritzy getting blasted and becoming a ghost dog.”

Young Maddi was very attached to the family dog and took his passing especially hard. “Maddi would talk at night about becoming a vet and making a blue pill to make Fritzy all better. It was heart-breaking to listen to. I decided to put him in the game so she could keep him forever in some form.”

The result was a friendly companion that returns to the titular Battle Princess after his untimely death in the intro. Ghost Fritzy gain new powers over the course of the story, and is capable of resurrecting Madelyn if she falls in battle. “She loves Ghost Fritzy and thinks its very cute,” says Obritsch.

battle princess madelynDesigning Battle Princess Madelyn has been a labor of love, but with Kickstarter came bigger responsibilities and longer hours. “I work now more than I ever have,” says Obritsch. “We averaged out that I work about 126 hours a week for the past three years. It’s taken a toll on me both mentally and physically.”

Obritsch adds that because he works from home, the long hours don’t bother him as much. He sneaks in breaks with his family whenever he can (his wife Lina works as the company CFO, and directed the game’s trailer). “I have the option of going upstairs and seeing my family if I need a 10-minute break,” he says. “And Maddi sits with me a lot while making the game. She has her desk right next to mine where she draws.”

For the future, Causal Bit Games plans on making a sequel to Battle Princess Madelyn. In fact, there’s a hidden ending that teases the sequel that may involve Obritsch’s youngest daughter Sofia. But he notes that he’s also looking at a break from platformers, and possibly even retiring from pixel art altogether and moving on to something bigger.

“As stressful as it’s been making [Battle Princess Madelyn], I have loved every moment of the creative process,” says Obritsch. “It was wonderful to share this kind of a project with Maddi. To show her that we really can do whatever we set our minds to – no matter what people say or think. It’s been a wonderful journey. And now our youngest daughter Sofia will need her own game as well!”

Battle Princess Madelyn is coming later this year to PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS Vita.

skylanders

Ranking All Six Skylanders Games

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Skylanders fans haven’t been feeling confident about the series lately. Activision announced last year that there would be no Skylanders 7 release, the first year a new Skylanders game hadn’t released since the series began in 2011. We’ve been given no new updates on the future of the once stalwart kid-friendly franchise.

Yet the series has not yet been officially canceled (unlike Disney Infinity) and a third season of the solid Netflix Skylanders Academy series is due to air later this year.

For now fans can revel in the sales of older games and figures. Whether you’re a newcomer to the toys-to-life series or a reminiscing veteran, we’ve compared all six primary Skylanders games and ranked them from weakest to strongest.

 

6) Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

skylanders

New Gimmick: Toys to life!

Best Skylanders: Stealth Elf, Drobot, Cynder

Once upon a time, toys-to-life was a relatively brand new concept. Activision and Toys for Bob looked for a recognizable, kid-friendly gaming hero to leverage. Enter Spyro, the sassy but good-natured dragon, who helped pave the way for an all-new action series using physical figures as a unique form of DLC.

Spyro’s Adventure may earn points for being the original, but it just doesn’t hold up when compared to later entries. That’s more a testament to how well the series has steadily improved rather than any glaring weaknesses in the original game.

5) Skylanders: Giants

skylanders

New Gimmick: Extra-large Giant figures

Best New Skylanders: Flashwing, Ninjini, Pop Fizz

A second Skylanders game the very next year raised a few eyebrows, but Skylanders assuaged many fears by seamlessly carrying over all previously leveled figures from the first game, creating an important precedent that cemented the series’ popularity for years. Out of all the games here, Giants is the safest sequel, not rocking the boat too much but still steadily improving on level and figure design.

The new Giants gimmick likewise wasn’t anything fancy. They were big, lumbering brutes who are almost more of a hassle to play than anything else, though the actual designs are fun, like Eye-Brawl who could detach his giant flying eyeball.

4) Skylanders: SuperChargers

skylanders

New Gimmick: Vehicles and racing

Best new Skylanders: Stormblade, Splat, Spitfire

By the fifth entry, Activision was looking at other successful family-friendly series to add a whole new dimension to Skylanders. They settled on Mario Kart-style kart racing. It wasn’t exactly a demanded feature by fans, and the result was a ham-fisted addition that didn’t feel entirely welcome. Vehicle segments were both forced (land) and optional (sea and air) and ranged from traditional racing to vehicular combat, 2D exploration, and shoot ’em up brawls.

The Skylanders themselves played a diminished role during the often annoying vehicle segments, and the controls left a lot to be desired. The on-foot gameplay was still solid, and the figures were decent. While it was fun seeing new remixes of familiar characters, like a gun-wielding Stealth Elf, it meant less new characters overall.

3) Skylanders: Trap Team

skylanders

New Gimmick: Trapping and playing villains

Best new Skylanders: Krypt King, Gearshift, Blackout

Ah, the inevitable Pokémon clone. For the fourth game, Trap Team lets you battle against a roster of fun new villains – and then capture them inside special trap crystals. Sold separately, of course. Playing as the villains was like a special powered-up mode and a lot of fun – particularly the way the captured villains taunted from the speakers on the portal itself.

You needed one of each trap element to play as all the villains, but you could mix and match them within their elemental types. Much speculation was given as to how the traps would be incorporated into future games, and the answer was, unfortunately, not very well if at all. Save for a few standouts the new Trap Master figures were generally disappointing, and requiring them to unlock everything in the game was irksome.

One standout feature that Trap Team added: tower defense survival mode. These were fantastic challenge modes, built for various levels of Skylanders, and a fun way to earn experience and level up outside the main game. They also played perfectly in co-op. For whatever reason, the mode was dropped in future games.

2) Skylanders: Swap Force

skylanders

New Gimmick: Swappable figures that can mix top and bottom halves

Best new Skylanders: Roller Brawl, Free Ranger, Spy Rise

The third game in the Skylanders series was the first developed by Vicarious Visions, instead of series creator Toys for Bob. Like the annualized Call of Duty series, Activision would appoint two studios to keep up with the yearly output of new entries. Vicarious Visions created an excellent entry that provided some of the biggest, best level designs the series has ever offered. Plus you could finally jump, a first for the series that opened up the level designs even more. But the real treat was the incredibly cool swap gimmick.

In one what is unquestionably one of the neatest concepts in a Skylanders game, special Swap Force figures could be taken apart and mixed together to create unique combinations. It was fun to play around with the toys, and also created a lot of really fun and interesting combos in-game, supported by new challenge mini-games and dual elemental gates.

Swap Force also featured Time Attack and Score modes for providing challenging replay value, and was the last Skylanders game to include PVP arenas.

1) Skylanders: Imaginators

Skylanders Imaginators

New Gimmick: Create your own Skylanders

Best new Skylanders: Kaos, Golden Queen, Ambush

It’s not fair to declare that Skylanders Imaginators was the first game to finally get it right, as each game had their strengths. But Imaginators combined a brilliant new gimmick, the best line-up of new figures, a fully realized loot system, and a more free-roaming overland map to create the best Skylanders experience yet.

The ability to create your own Skylanders was made possible by piggy-backing on Trap Team’s trap concept. Separate Crystals were sold that could house a single created Skylander. The Crystal determined its element, while you could select on of 10 different weapon styles. Within those parameters, you had multiple basic attacks, weapon attacks, and elemental moves to choose from as you leveled up.

All in-game rewards were tied to loot chests, which gave out new customization pieces, weapons, and skins for your custom Skylanders. There was an astonishing amount of loot to collect, making your Skylanders journey fun and rewarding, though they may suffer a bit from Frankenstein syndrome.

Imaginators couldn’t gotten by on that concept alone, but Activision also released the best wave of figures Skylanders had ever seen. The Senseis were all new, medium-size figures that had the best designs and gameplay we’ve seen yet, and the Villains let us play as our favorites from Trap Team as proper leveled figures.

Story structure and level design saw vast improvements as well. No longer were we stuck in a hub world, going through each level chapter by chapter. Now we could free roam around a board game-like overworld, exploring hidden secrets, taking side paths, and finding mini-games. It cannot be overstated how much this improved every aspect the game. If you can only play one Skylanders game, make it Skylanders: Imaginators.

horizon zero dawn

Nominees Revealed for the 18th Game Developers Choice Awards

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The 18th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards will take place on March 21 during the Game Developers Conference. The list of nominees for all ten categories have been announced, including Game of the Year, Best Narrative, and the Innovation Award.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn both lead with six nominations each, including Game of the Year. Nier: Automata, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Cuphead follow with three nominations each. Super Mario Odyssey received two nominations.

The nominees are selected by the International Choice Awards Network, which is comprised of game creators.

The other big annual gaming award show, The Game Awards, took place last month. Nominees and winners were selected by both game creators and journalists. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took home Game of the Year, winning three categories total. Horizon Zero Dawn was nominated six times but didn’t win any categories.

Here is the full list of nominees for the 18th Game Developers Choice Awards.

BEST AUDIO
Cuphead (StudioMDHR)
Nier: Automata (PlatinumGames / Square Enix)
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)

BEST DEBUT
Team Cherry (Hollow Knight)
Sidebar Games (Golf Story)
StudioMDHR (Cuphead)
Infinite Fall (Night in the Woods)
Jason Roberts / Buried Signal (Gorogoa)

BEST DESIGN
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG Corporation)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
Nier: Automata (PlatinumGames / Square Enix)

BEST MOBILE GAME
Reigns: Her Majesty (Nerial / Devolver Digital)
Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg)
Monument Valley 2 (ustwo games)
Gorogoa (Jason Roberts / Buried Signal / Annapurna Interactive)
Bury Me, My Love (The Pixel Hunt / Figs / ARTE France / Playdius)

INNOVATION AWARD
Gorogoa (Jason Roberts / Buried Signal / Annapurna Interactive)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow / Annapurna Interactive)
Everything (David OReilly / Double Fine Productions)
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG Corporation)

BEST NARRATIVE
Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall / Finji)
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)
What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow / Annapurna Interactive)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (MachineGames / Bethesda Softworks)

BEST TECHNOLOGY
Destiny 2 (Bungie / Activision)
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)

BEST VISUAL ART
Persona 5 (P-Studio / Atlus)
Cuphead (StudioMDHR)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall / Finji)

BEST VR/AR GAME
Superhot VR (SUPERHOT Team)
Star Trek: Bridge Crew (Red Storm Entertainment / Ubisoft)
Lone Echo (Ready at Dawn / Oculus Studios)
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR (Bethesda Game Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

GAME OF THE YEAR
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG Corporation)
Nier: Automata (PlatinumGames / Square Enix)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)

 

super gamepad

Super Gamepad is a Wireless Controller for the SNES Classic

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My Arcade has revealed a new wireless controller, built specifically for the SNES Classic Edition. It’s called the Super Gamepad, and it’s available now through Amazon and the My Arcade website for $24.99.

“The Super Gamepad is the best of both worlds – it features the nostalgic look and feel of the classic controller retro fans love while also updating it for the modern world with wireless functionality and improved ergonomics,” said Crystal Dugan, My Arcade’s Marketing Manager. “We’ve even added an intuitive TURBO feature that is easy to program during play, and a convenient HOME button feature that allows you to switch games and access the main menu directly from your controller. Now you can enjoy the games you loved without the wires.”

The Super Gamepad seemingly fixes two of the SNES Classic Edition’s biggest problems: wire length on the included controllers, and having to physically hit the reset button on the console to switch games. It’s designed with the look and aesthetic of the original SNES controller, but with a more ergonomic design.

As a bonus, the Super Gamepad is also compatible with the NES Classic Edition, as well as Virtual Console titles on the Nintendo Wii and Wii U. It features 75 hours of battery life on two AAA batteries. The wireless function works up to 25 feet away.

My Arcade is gaming accessories manufacturer that specializes in retro gaming. They previously developed a similar wireless controller for the NES Classic Edition.

game of the year

Pixelkin’s 2017 Game of the Year

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Sometimes our favorite game of the year comes as a complete surprise. Not this year. We proudly declare The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as Pixelkin’s 2017 Game of the Year.

Breath of the Wild was one of the most anticipated games of the year. Not only was it the first 3D Zelda since 2011’s Skyward Sword on the Wii, but it was also a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, which has become a huge success for Nintendo.

The story reinforces themes of failure and redemption. Link wakes up to a bleak Hyrule where he was defeated a century ago, guided by the spirits and voices of the past. Monsters roam free, and a malevolent force, Ganon, swirls ominously around the ruins of Hyrule Castle. You could head there right after acquiring the glider and completing the wonderfully crafted opening hours atop the plateau, or strike off in any direction and explore.

Most open world games feature post-apocalyptic hellscapes, mature writing, and violent action. But this is Nintendo. Breath of the Wild features tropical beaches, staggering cliffs, dense jungles, and dangerous volcanoes. The world still feels like Hyrule, yet it reaches that perfect compromise between expansive and densely packed with hidden secrets and treasures.

Breath of the Wild boldly breaks many of the standard Zelda conventions, most notably the dungeon design. Instead of a steady progression of marquee dungeon crawls, Link can find over 100 shrines scattered around the world. These shrines cleverly employ challenging physics-based puzzles akin to levels in Portal using the several excellent tools you have at your disposal, such as magnetizing blocks and freezing water.

Completing shrines unlocks additional health and stamina, making it an important and fun side activity and a great excuse to explore a world stuffed with things to do. Shield surf down cliffs, hunt gigantic dragons, search for ingredients to upgrade your gear, discover hundreds (!) of Korok seeds to expand your inventory, take selfies in front of shooting stars, and tackle the mini-dungeons within the four Divine Beasts to weaken Ganon’s hold.

Nintendo Switch

Breath of the Wild was the vanguard for one of Nintendo’s best years in recent memory. It’s not every year we get a new Nintendo console, new Mario, and new Zelda, not to mention well-received sequels for Splatoon and Xenoblade Chronicles.

After some very lackluster console cycles in the Wii and Wii U, Nintendo has come roaring back, and that’s good for gaming, and especially gaming families. Breath of the Wild is single-player only, but remains a wonderfully enjoyable game for the family to gather around, between the cartoony art and creature designs, the physical combat system, and the story of courage and perseverance. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is destined to enter the pantheon of all-time greatest games, and easily warrants our Game of the Year for 2017.