Tag Archives: gaming

The Horror in Brevity

Many moons ago, reddit users were asked to come up with horror stories that are only two sentences long.  Many of the tales spawned from this request are quite creepy and leave a lingering unease, in spite of their length.  The most effective of these stories play on universal human fears and utilize the reader’s ability to extrapolate the narrative even further.  Due to their nature, these two-sentence musings provide few details as to the setting or the characters involved.  There is no time to explain or to build the surmounting terror; the reader is thrust into a story in motion at the climax of a bad situation.  As I read through these very short stories, I wondered: could a video game scare players under similar constraints?

When gamers make a list of the best survival horror titles, the featured games often have one trait in common: an atmosphere of dread.  From small towns infested with monsters to remote space stations that may not be as empty as they seem, these settings are crafted to put the player on edge.  So much work goes into the ambient sound and visuals of each area, so the player does not need a bulky narrative to explain why he/she should be frightened.

Despite this effort, the developers of such titles take the time to build a complex story.  The best of these games make use of both setting and story to create an engaging game, while the worst of them clutter a potentially chilling experience with unnecessary areas and exposition.  Across the board, these games follow the traditional three-part mold of a feature-length film.  It’s almost as if a horror game has to contain certain story elements and have a lengthy playtime to be a success.

Sepulchre

Enter Sepulchre; a point-and-click PC game from Owl Cave.  From the developers’ website: “It’s a game featuring horror, trains, and huge bags.  It should take most people around half an hour to play through.”  A perfect example of truth in advertising, Sepulchre took roughly forty minutes to complete, during which time I took control of a passenger on a train, eager for a bite to eat.  Like the two-sentence short stories, this game does not require much set-up to cause a sense of dread.  The lack of information, along with striking visuals and sound, created a foreboding atmosphere that lingered long after completion.  It seems a video game can incite fear under heavy constraints.

If you are looking for a short jaunt into an ominous world not so unlike your own, please check out Sepulchre.  Your time together may be brief, but the horror will last a lifetime.

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Undertale – Spider Dance

There are certain songs and sounds that call to mind terrifying experiences.  Classic horror movie themes rely on specific melodies to conjure uncomfortable and haunting memories to the mind of the viewer.  In the case of video games, a repeated theme or visceral noise can be used to emphasize the power of a specific scene.

Very early in Undertale, the player may find a pair of spider webs surrounding a sign that reads, “Spider Bake Sale. All proceeds go to real spiders.”  The player is presented with an option to purchase a Spider Donut or a Spider Cider, payment made by leaving money stuck to one of the webs.

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As a devout arachnophobe, this little scene made my skin crawl.  I pictured the spindly legs of spiders stirring donut batter and pouring cups of cider for horrifying local bake sales. With limited funds (and a fear of eight-legged bakers), I decided not to leave any sort of monetary gains for these little monsters.  Little did I know that by supporting the efforts of the spider-kin of Undertale, I would avoid battling their leader, Muffet.

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Later in the game, as I made my way through a room filled with cobwebs, I was ensnared by the leader of the Spider Bake Sale.  For not supporting her efforts to liberate her arachnid comrades from the cold of the Ruins, Muffet lashes out at the player; attacking with unique spider-themed strikes.

The music for Muffet’s battle (appropriately called Spider Dance) calls to mind the spindly movements of a spider.  A frantic melody launches from the start of the song; calling to mind the feeling of first laying eyes on a spider that has invaded your space.  This gives way to a minimalist string sample, which simulates the actions of a spider spinning a web to capture their prey.  The whole song is intense, engaging, and appropriate for the frantic battle with Muffet.

As with so many of the themes in Undertale, composer Toby Fox uses leit motifs across tracks to emphasize a certain theme.  In the case of Spider Dance, this song shares its melody with equally haunting tracks like Ghost Fight, Pathetic House, and Dummy!  Each of these songs centers around otherworldly encounters; where the player is faced with haunting moments that could scare them into submission.

Of course, any frightening situation can be overcome with enough… DETERMINATION.

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Ghost Pokémon

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Nearly 18 years ago today, my brother and I set out to be the very best, like no one ever was.  Catching Pocket Monsters was our first real test, but to train them, aye, that was our cause.  Pokémon had hit the shelves not a week prior, and our parents graciously gifted both versions of the Game Boy classic to us.  My brother received Pokémon Blue, and became a great trainer of water-types, with a stately Blastoise at the helm of his troop.  I was given Pokémon Red, but I did not find my true calling in this game until I ventured into the tower at Lavender Town.  It was at this resting place for fallen Pokémon that I would catch my first Gastly, which cemented my destiny as a ghost-type trainer.

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With each new journey into the world of Pokémon, Nintendo would increase the number of ghost-types to catch and raise.  As a young trainer, I delighted with each new phantom that became available; marveling over the new designs and attacks.  But once I grew older, I started to notice that my beloved ghost-types harbored a much darker nature.  With just a quick glance through my trusty Pokédex, I found stories of hauntings and torment; tales of restless spirits that prey on the souls of the living.  Just take a look at some of these examples below!

GhostHaunter

Haunter: Its tongue is made of gas. If licked, its victim starts shaking constantly until death eventually comes. In total darkness, where nothing is visible, Haunter lurks, silently stalking its next victim.

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Gengar: To steal the life of its target, it slips into the prey’s shadow and silently waits for an opportunity. The leer that floats in darkness belongs to a Gengar delighting in casting curses on people.

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Misdreavus: A Misdreavus frightens people with a creepy, sobbing cry. It apparently uses its red spheres to absorb the fear of foes as its nutrition. It likes playing mischievous tricks such as screaming and wailing to startle people at night.

GhostLitwick

Litwick: Litwick shines a light that absorbs the life energy of people and Pokémon, which becomes the fuel that it burns. While shining a light and pretending to be a guide, it leeches off the life force of any who follow it.

GhostBanette

Banette: A doll that became a Pokémon over its grudge from being junked. It seeks the child that disowned it. Banette generates energy for laying strong curses by sticking pins into its own body. This Pokémon was originally a pitiful plush doll that was thrown away.

GhostDuskull

Duskull: Duskull wanders lost among the deep darkness of midnight. There is an oft-told admonishment given to misbehaving children that this Pokémon will spirit away bad children who earn scoldings from their mothers. It loves the crying of children. It startles bad kids by passing through walls and making them cry. Once this Pokémon chooses a target, it will pursue the intended victim until the break of dawn.

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Mimikyu: This Pokémon lives its life completely covered by its cloth and is always hidden. People believe that anybody who sees its true form beneath the cloth will be stricken with a mysterious illness. This Pokémon is dreadfully lonely, and it thought it would be able to make friends with humans, if only it looked like Pikachu.

GhostCubone

*Brrrr* That is some creepy stuff!  Little did I know that the most tragic and gruesome tale of all would lie with a normal-type Pokémon.  I am speaking of none other than Cubone, the sad little creature who wears the skull of its dead mother.  When it thinks of its mother, it cries, making the skull it wears rattle with a hollow sound.  Now, when you first look at this little monster, you may feel sorry for it and want to take it home to be your friend.  But put that situation in human terms, and the mood completely changes.  After all, would you be friends with someone who wears their mom’s skull as a hat?  I didn’t think so.

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The Night Warriors

There was a time when I regularly wrote about comic book adaptations of video games over at the Geek Force Network.  While that time has come and gone, you can still enjoy the numerous articles I penned about such media crossovers at the archives.  Here is one such post from those halcyon days, just in time for the spooky October season.


It’s that time of year once more; when the barrier between the natural and supernatural is at its weakest and little ghouls haunt the streets in search of sugary treats.  For this week’s video game comic column, it only makes sense to venture into the darker side of the printed page.  There is a rather massive subgenre of horror comics, and its tentacles stretch far into the video game world.  So let’s dive into a realm where monsters do battle in rounds of two, until only the strongest survives.

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It was back in November of 2004 that Udon Entertainment debuted their Darkstalkers comic series.  At this time, Udon was releasing their work through Devil’s Due Publishing, which included a Street Fighter comic series that launched in 2003.  The Darkstalkers comic ran for six issues, until it abruptly stopped in April of 2005.  In October of the same year, the chief of operations Eric Ko, announced that Udon had become a full-fledged publisher and its lengthy hiatus was due to producing material for the video game Capcom Fighting Evolution.  Since that time, Udon has grown into a massive comic book and video game powerhouse, producing several comic series, art books, and work for video games such as Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and New International Track and Field.

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For the Darkstalkers comic, Udon had plenty of interesting characters and settings from which to source fresh story material.  This is especially true, since most fighting games have very few details outside of “some people got together to fight in an arbitrary battle tournament held by a mysterious benefactor.”  For example, this story comes straight from the Darkstalkers instruction manual:

“When the sun sets and humanity retreats to the imagined safety of their beds, a mysterious entity appears in the sky to assemble the wicked and the evil. The unimaginable secret power of the dark is unleashed! Ten supernatural beings of destruction have materialized to wage their eternal war for the domination of the night. The Vampire, the Mummy, Frankenstein, Bigfoot. . . their very names conjure fear. But who or what has summoned them? These creatures of myth and legend, the Darkstalkers, have gathered for what is destined to be the greatest battle ever. And the fate of all humanity rests on who wins the epic struggle. The Darkstalkers are coming. . .tonight!”

From this rather bare bones plot, Udon crafted a solid story about the various machinations of the Darkstalkers who hide in the dark corners of the Earth.  In this six issue series, the conflicts between certain characters take center stage, while the sideline characters are left as mere window dressing.  So while Dimitri and Morrigan prepare for an eventual battle of the ages, Rikuo and Lord Raptor only show up briefly in side stories and single panel shots.  Every issue features plenty of great fighting scenes, complete with signature moves and plenty of nods to the fans of the video games.  There is also loads of background on many of the major characters, including several side stories that flesh out their motivations even further.

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As with most of the comics from Udon Entertainment, the artwork really shines.  The horror themes of the video games allowed the artists to include plenty of heavy contrast and shadows, which really lend to the atmosphere of the comics.  The characters remain in the anime-inspired style of the fighting games, but with more vibrant colors and further detail for better expressions.  In spite of the show-stealing appeal of the characters, the backgrounds have not been overlooked.  There is plenty of detail in the settings of each scene, with some panels exclusively dedicated to moody environmental shots.

Besides the solid story work and gorgeous art, my favorite part of Darkstalkers comes at the end of each issue.  A single page is always dedicated to a gag comic called Darkstalkers Mini.  The fun work of Corey Lewis (pseudonym, Rey), these quick strips feature super-deformed versions of the fighters in silly situations, most of which end with goofy punch-lines.  Unfortunately, when Udon collected the comics into a trade paperback, all of these side stories got the boot.  On the plus side, that has made the individual issues of the comic unique to the trade version, so be sure to track these gems down!

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At the end of the first issue of Darkstalkers (right before the Mini comic), there is a writers’ commentary aptly titled, “From the Darkside.”  On this page, some of the staff from Udon spill their guts about the joy they felt in creating the Darkstalkers comic books.  There is talk of the great chance to write a darker story than the usual Street Fighter comics, along with their mutual love of horror films and fighting games.  At the very end, the colorist, Gary Yeung, says that the goal at Udon was to “make a faithful interpretation of Darkstalkers from a game/animation into a book.”  Through action-packed stories and striking artwork, all wrapped up in a spooky atmosphere, it seems like Udon met their goal quite nicely.

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Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/Dracula X – Opposing Bloodlines

In the past, we used the Prelude track from Castlevania III to highlight the differences in audio and sound chips between the Famicom and the Nintendo Entertainment System. This year, we will take a look at another song from the Castlevania series that made its debut in two very different versions of a particular title.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released on the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System in Japan in October of 1993.  This game was a massive upgrade from previous entries in the series; featuring anime-style cutscenes, hidden and branching level pathways, multiple endings, and an unlockable second character.  In addition to the changes in gameplay, Rondo of Blood was the first Castlevania title to make use of Red Book Audio.  This meant that the game’s soundtrack could feature CD-level sampling along with the PC Engine’s onboard soundchip, leading to higher musical quality in songs like Opposing Bloodlines:

Two years later, Konami would release an alternate version of Rondo of Blood to the Super Nintendo.  Titled Castlevania: Dracula X, this game featured similar graphics and level design to Rondo, but technological differences between the PC Engine and the Super Nintendo led to some drastic changes between the games.  Levels were redesigned, certain pathways were altered, cutscenes were removed, and the unlockable second character became a non-playable character to be rescued.

In addition to the gameplay and design changes in Dracula X, the audio had to be configured to make use of the Super Nintendo’s sound hardware.  Without Red Book Audio for sampling purposes, many songs had to be reworked to exclusively utilize the inherent samples and instrumentation of the Super Nintendo.  This led to new versions of every song on the soundtrack, including the aforementioned Opposing Bloodlines:

While I ultimately enjoy the experience of playing Rondo of Blood over Dracula X, I can still appreciate the music from the Super Nintendo version.  The sharper guitar sounds from Dracula X call to mind countless afternoons spent playing the game as a rental from our local video store; desperately trying to make my way through this particularly difficult game.

Rondo of Blood was re-released once more in 2007 as the Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable.  This version of the game featured a 2.5D remake of Rondo, along with the original PC Engine version, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on a single disc. Despite porting nearly every other PSP game to a major home console, Konami has let this penultimate version of a Castlevania classic languish on the now defunct handheld.

So as we imagine a world where all versions of Rondo of Blood are freely available for us to enjoy, please have a listen to a final version of Opposing Bloodlines from Dracula X Chronicles:

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Reviving the Living Dead: Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without A Pulse

It’s a rare video game that will let you take control of a zombie.  Most of the time, players are limited to competitive shooters where it’s humans versus the undead (Go Team Zombie!) or in action games via a sort of temporary “extra life” as a shambling corpse(read: SO SLOW).  There have been a few games with undead protagonists like the mummy Chuck D. Head in DecapAttack or the ghoulish Polterguy in Haunting, but these examples are not really “zombie” games, strictly speaking.  You don’t exactly lead Polterguy to devour brains or guide Chuck to create a legion of creeping creatures.  That’s the sort of thing you leave to Stubbs the Zombie.

StubbstheZombieCover

Rebel Without a Pulse hit store shelves in 2005, during the appropriate month of October.  The titular Stubbs the Zombie was once Edward Stubblefield, a traveling salesman who met his untimely demise from a gunshot, courtesy of his gal Maggie’s father.  After collapsing in the woods in 1933, Stubbs is reanimated in 1959, at the grand opening of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania.  Angered at the venture capitalist who disturbed his eternal rest, Stubbs decides to hunt the wealthy playboy and cause quite a bit of carnage along the way.  What follows is a comedic and creepy quest through a sort of retro-future metropolis; the “city of tomorrow” that might have been seen in 1950s science fiction.

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Most of the game is spent trailing industrialist Andrew Monday through the city of Punchbowl.  As Stubbs, players can attack the citizens of Punchbowl, eating their brains and creating a group of zombie comrades that devour right alongside you.  Stubbs has some additional actions, most of which involve tearing off his own arm to beat enemies, activate switches, and take control of better-armed adversaries for some shooter options.  There were also plenty of vehicles to commandeer and drive recklessly through the perfectly polished pathways of Punchbowl.

stubbsthezombieprotip

For my college self, the gameplay and visuals in Stubbs the Zombie felt like second nature, since the game was developed using the Halo engine.  As an avid Halo 2 junkie, the co-op campaign and Xbox controls made the transition from space marine to dopey zombie salesman rather seamless.  My friends and I would switch off between stages, playing as a pair of zombies on a mission of revenge (and eating tasty, tasty brains).  As we shambled through Punchbowl, a fantastic soundtrack of 50s and 60s era hits covered by modern alternative rock artists kept us bouncing in our seats.  The whole game was a delightful tribute to the goofy-spooky horror movies of the past.

Just like the previous title in our zombie game round-up, Stubbs the Zombie is a tough title to track down.  Our zombie friend was briefly ported to the Xbox 360 as an “Xbox Original” download, but the game was removed from the Marketplace in 2012.  There are still original Xbox, PC, and Mac hard copies floating around the internet, but an appropriately retro system is required to play any of these versions.  Since the developer, Wideload Games, was purchased and closed by Disney Interactive, it is unlikely that Stubbs will rise again on any modern offerings.

Even for the heady price that most of the original Xbox copies are calling for, Stubbs the Zombie is worth checking out.  It is a hilarious and gory co-op romp through a quirky science fiction setting.  There is a lot of fun to be had and brains to be eaten, so shamble forth with a friend and help Stubbs find his fate!

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GIMMGP Spooky Games Month VI: Big Bag of Treats

Good evening, faithful readers!  We are moments away from the midnight hour that rings in our favorite month of the year.  Over the last several autumns, Laura and I have filled the scary season of October with piles of posts on horror games and their ilk.  This year, we’ve got a grab bag full of tricks and treats for your reading pleasure!

Each week in October, a wide variety of spooky posts will shamble forth from GIMMGP Headquarters to your computers and mobile devices. Mondays will highlight new grisly game music articles, continuing the fiendish experiment from last year. Wednesdays will feature articles from the past; resurrected from the grave and updated for a proper haunting. And on the menu for Saturdays: fresh pairings of ghoulish games and batty brews, cross-posted from my new blog, Digital Draughts!

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As we prepare for the sixth spooky season here at GIMMGP, I am reminded of a tradition from my childhood.  Around this time of year, my family would watch a recorded copy of Disney’s DTV Monster Hits.  This little special combined haunting hit tracks with spooky vintage Disney animation.  Outside of the vignettes of Mickey Mouse hunting ghosts and various evil queens plotting destruction, I have vivid memories of skeletons dancing in the moonlight to rock music.

Despite their creepy cavorting, I found these bony brutes absolutely delightful.  In celebration of these musical monsters, I’ve crafted a list of my favorite video game skeletons for your enjoyment!

Yorick – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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I can’t help but smirk at this poor soul’s predicament.  After fighting all sorts of threatening monsters on my way to vanquish Dracula, it caught me off guard to find a skeleton kicking his own skull along the ground.  Honestly, I wish I could help Yorick reattach his head, but any attempt I made resulted in the immediate destruction of his fragile skull.  Alas.

Papyrus – Undertale

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As my favorite game of 2015, Undertale featured a wealth of lovable characters.  However, there was a certain skeleton that stood bony head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Papyrus is such a lovable goof. Despite his attempts to be a ruthless member of the Royal Guard, Papyrus simply cannot bring himself to subdue and capture the main character. His dopey enthusiasm is infectious throughout Undertale, and his battle theme is super catchy to boot.  Also, Papyrus is the first skeleton to ever take me out on a date, which makes him an extra special boy.

The Sanbone Trio – Gitaroo Man

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Speaking of catchy music, the somewhat obscure rhythm game Gitaroo Man features a fantastic group of skeletons known as the Sanbone Trio.  Armed with devilish maracas made from their own bones, this group of intergalactic warriors challenges the player to a Latin-flavored music battle (appropriately titled, Born to be Bone).  In spite of the challenge presented by these skeletal brothers, I managed to find my rhythm and take them down with relative ease (but not on Master Play, that’s just absurd).

Skeleton Biker – Castlevania 64

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Let’s be frank at the commencement: I did not enjoy Castlevania 64.  It paled in comparison to the two-dimensional versions of the beloved series; featuring poor camera work, frustrating platforming, and half-finished ideas.  However, this bemoaned sequel did feature skeletons riding motorcycles.  So I guess it did contribute a small piece of awesome to the Castlevania series as a whole.

Manuel Calavera – Grim Fandango

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I have written plenty in the past about my love for Grim Fandango and its protagonist, Manny Calavera.  This down-on-his-luck grim reaper sits not only at the top of my favorite video game skeletons list, but also in my favorite game characters of all time.  His bone-dry wit, clever quips, and earnest demeanor make him such an engaging character.  If you haven’t enjoyed Grim Fandango Remastered yet, please take the time to do so.

Dry Bowser – New Super Mario Bros.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of Laura’s preferred skeletal characters on this list.  As Dry Bowser is truly Laura’s favorite video game skeleton, I will let her words speak for this adorable monster:

I inadvertently picked Dry Bowser the first time we played the DLC for Mario Kart 8. What started out as an accident turned out to be a beautiful moment of serendipity. Do you know the feeling of finding a character in a game that truly understands you? Sure, he isn’t particularly fast, but this goes deeper than that. We are soul mates. The way he bullies the other players on the track. The way he breathes fire when excited or angry. How ridiculous he looks riding tiny motorcycles. Truly, we were made for each other.

With October imminent, I ask you faithful readers: who are your favorite video game skeletons? Let us know in the comments!

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Inevitable Spinoff Blog Incoming! Digital Draughts is Live

Earlier this year, we debuted a new column here at Games I Made My Girlfriend Play called Digital Draughts.  As the resident beer geek of GIMMGP, Chip was eager for the chance to combine two of his passions into a single series: craft beer and video games (together at last!).  With the success of these articles, we have decided to dedicate a new blog for Chip’s video game and beer pairings!

Written on a semi-monthly basis, Digital Draughts highlights the pairing of specific brews with certain titles. Typically, the beers and games will be novel experiences, with certain exceptions made for time-tested combinations.  Some of these pairs will be a match made in heaven, while others may be the couple from hell.

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Along with regular pairings and reviews, Digital Draughts will feature other tidbits on beer and video games for your reading pleasure.  To kick off this momentous occasion, the latest article features a field trip to the fantastic Adroit Theory Brewing Company; where esoteric and barrel aged beers thrive!

So please be sure to follow Chip’s new blog (which features Laura’s fantastic photography) and share the good news with your friends as well: Digital Draughts is live!

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Exciting Things Are Happening

There are several new developments going on around GIMMGP Headquarters, fair readers. Some fresh content on older blogs, a beautiful new art project, a tactical rebranding, and the debut of an Instagram account.  Let’s get to it!

PokemonPower1.1Longtime readers of GIMMGP may recall the creation of a Tumblr blog back in 2012 called Please Take One.  This site serves as a digital archive for Chip’s collection of rare and odd video game brochures.  After an extended hiatus, Please Take One is back to regular updates, and with Pokemon content, no less!  For the next several months on Please Take One, you will see multiple posts from the six “issue” run of Pokemon Power!  These mini-magazines were included as inserts in Nintendo Power back in 1998.  Pokemon Power features excerpts from the Official Pokemon Strategy Guide, fan art, a comic adaptation of the anime, and other neat goodies.  Be sure to follow Please Take One for all sorts of rare and nostalgic gaming brochures!

Meanwhile, over on Laura’s professional website, a new art project has appeared!  Titled the, “Tarot Deco Project,” this new series will feature gorgeous and gilded versions of the classic cards.  Laura plans to produce a piece for every card in the traditional tarot, starting with the Major Arcana.  Be sure to keep an eye on her website for regular updates, and check out her Instagram account for insight into the creative process for each piece!

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Finally, things are chugging along for Chip’s video game and beer pairings.  The next several combinations are planned and in the works, with many tasty brews being paired to games both relatively new and delightfully old.  He has also launched an Instagram account to share images of beers and games outside of the full length pairing posts.  With so much going on, this project has been rebranded Digital Draughts, to celebrate the delicious taste of a draught beer combined with the joy of our preferred digital pastime.  Please be sure to keep your eyes and palates here for future Digital Draughts posts, and follow the related Instagram account for all of the pours and plays between the main posts.

As always, thank you to all of our followers and regular readers over the last five years.  We look forward to sharing all sorts of creative collaborations and gaming goodness with you!

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Digital Draughts: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft with Brewery Ommegang’s Gnomegang

There was a time during my childhood that one night out of every week was deemed, “Poker Night.”  My father would invite his friends over for an evening of high-class booze, middle-tier snacks, and low-stakes poker.  It was a means to unwind, forget about work, and catch up with your buddies in a comfortable environment.

Now as an adult, I regularly try to emulate this tradition in my own home (albeit with much nerdier tabletop games).  But the world has changed drastically in the decades since my youth.  The idea of a “regular 9-to-5” has been replaced with shifting schedules and off-hour projects.  Many of us deal with hour-long commutes between our homes and jobs, thanks to the high cost of living around major city centers.  Plus, with the increased availability and quality of online gaming, many of my peers are turning to digital versions of classic games to engage with their friends.

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So as my own gaming gatherings are becoming more irregular, I thought I would (finally) take my friends’ advice and try out their preferred virtual tavern game.  And what better drink to have at a fantasy-themed bar than a Belgian-style blonde ale with “gnome” in its name?

Gnomegang was originally brewed in 2010 as a collaboration between the fantastic Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York and the rather magical Brasserie d’Achouffe in Belgium.  The story goes that an ingenious gnome revealed himself to humans in Belgium in 1982 and helped Brasserie d’Achouffe brew its first beer.  Many years later, one such gnome visited Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown and the resulting beverage was the aptly named Gnomegang.

Gnomegang

No matter what the real story behind this whimsical brew may be, what makes Gnomegang stand out is the use of a yeast strain directly from Brasserie d’Achouffe.  This special ingredient imparts a very fruity and spicy character to this rich blonde ale. Gnomegang pours with a cloudy golden color, a yellow-orange hue, and a fluffy white head.  The beer has a strong, sweet odor of clove and banana, with a hint of wintergreen hiding among the fruit and spice.  The first taste on the palate is of lemon candy, that gives way to a rich and sweet body, similar to overripe fruit.  The beer finishes smooth, with the lingering sweetness of yellow cake, whipped cream, and a hint of clove.

Gnomegang is a delicious addition to Brewery Ommegang’s catalog of Belgian-style beers. The strong fruit and spice flavors from the Chouffe yeast mingle with the creamy mouthfeel of this drink.  Fans of European-style wheat beers and sweeter blonde ales will be right at home with Gnomegang, although one should take care to avoid quaffing this beverage.  The high alcohol content of 10% ABV is well-hidden by the rich sweetness and hearty spice taste.  Without even paying attention, a novice could slug back one-too-many Gnomegangs while playing cards at the virtual table, leaving themselves wide open to attack in Hearthstone.

HearthstoneAle

Since its release in 2014, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has been ever-so-stealthily making its way onto my friends’ handheld devices.  It started with a small comment from my long-time friend, Jeremy, who had downloaded the game onto his smart phone as a means to enjoy a collectible card game with his far-away friends.  “You should totally download it,” read his text.  “We can finally play cards again!”  This was certainly a true statement: Hearthstone provided the means to play a fantasy-based card game with my best friend who was several hours away.  Despite this convenience, I was satisfied to wait and play tabletop games with my friends during my next visit to my parents’ homestead.

The next suggestion came from my local buddy, Rob.  He lauded the metagame of deck-building and talked about how his own community of players found it easier to play Hearthstone over their phones, rather than try to schedule a night of in-person gaming. He explained that the variety of cards and strategies available were top notch, allowing players to craft complex strategies and play styles according to their own gaming proclivities.  I was certainly impressed by the various expansions and play types, but I stayed the course of my tabletop roots and avoided Hearthstone once more.

HearthstoneWhispers

What finally broke my resolve was the same thing that originally drew me to Magic: The Gathering- totally awesome horror lore.  The latest expansion of Hearthstone hit the market earlier this year, and it was a loving tribute to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.  With the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, there was no hope left for me.  The chasm of collectible card gaming and horror flavor yawned before me, and I fell headfirst into its maw (read: I downloaded Hearthstone onto my iPad).

At first, I was rather impressed by Hearthstone.  The game provides a great single-player training ground for newcomers to learn the rules and experience the thrill of victory. The artwork on the cards is gorgeous, and the user interface is very well-designed.  The little animations on the playing grounds keep things interesting, while the action of tearing open a new pack of digital cards is very satisfying.  Plus, there are all sorts of little nods to the history of the Warcraft series, with my favorite being the exclamation of, “Job’s Done!” anytime I finished a turn.  However, after playing through the initial single-player offerings and trying my hand at battling online, my enthusiasm for the game started to wane.

HearthstoneScreenshot

At first, I thought it might be the lack to physical cards that contributed to my lack of interest.  Or it could be the fact that I wasn’t invested enough in the game to pay for additional single-player content.  But I think the real reason why I was not enthralled by Hearthstone is because despite its best efforts, this game does not emulate the joy of getting a gaggle of friends together to play cards.  I certainly appreciate the tavern-influenced interface of the game.  The soundtrack to Hearthstone features some of the best game music I have heard in years (no surprise, since it comes from LucasArts veteran Peter McConnell).  Even with these fun flourishes, I simply prefer gathering a group of friends around a large table, pouring a few rounds of beer, and playing cards until the wee hours of the morning.

So while I certainly recommend the combination of Gnomegang and Hearthstone, this duo isn’t for me.  I fully admit that the rich fruit and spice flavors of Brewery Ommegang’s beer is an ideal companion to the tavern games atmosphere of Hearthstone.  I would just prefer to enjoy this Belgian-style blonde ale in the direct company of friends, holding a hand of cards, and planning my next epic play.

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