Checking in with JC for Christmas

Not that JC! Johnathan Coulton, silly. It is yet another winter holiday thing here at GUO and we have a tradition to keep up. You all should know the words by now, so sing along!




I Made This for You for Christmas: Play Kringle Krunch


Well, I actually made two Christmas games this year, but the other one was a whole lot more ambitious than I was able to get done in the two weeks I had left. Maybe next year. Still, I managed to burn some midnight oil and craft you this fine little arcade sugar plum I call Kringle Krunch!

Dodge the local air traffic and drop presents down chimneys in this high-skill arcade adventure staring Santa Claus!

Play in your browser or download this .zip file containing stand-alone build for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.

Judging a Politician by Its Wallet - Let's Look Up US Prediential Campaign Contributors

Unless you're a fan of staged reality TV shows, the latest US presidential race has been anything but interesting. None the less, wouldn't it be fun to look up our family, friends, and coworkers to see exactly who's been dumb enough to dump money into this sideshow? Thanks to Campaign Finance Reform and a global system of data tubes, you can!

Federal Election Commission



Welcome to the Federal Election Commission's Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal! Wanna search for a potential contributor up by name? Looking for a pretty infographic map? Just curious to see how folks in your zip code lean? Need to know which party is leading the cash race? This is your one stop shop for political campaign contribution data! Heck, spreadsheet nuts can even download a copy of all the data for themselves and make their own reports. Won't Uncle "I ain't got nothin' ta hide" Tony be surprised when you post a link to the ten grand he gave Bernie Sanders on his Facebook wall?

Sadly, this data is a good deal less interesting than back when GUO first showcased this site. See, following the sudden rush of transparency ushered in by McCain-Feingold back in 2002, political power players have sought to find new ways of obfuscating the money trail. Once we could look at this data and see the political leanings of your favorite companies as well as comrades. Sadly, those days are gone. The latest trend in political money laundering started in 2010 and today most major campaign contributions are paid not to the campaign, but an 'outside' committee such as a "Super PAC". Political campaigns then take out a loan from said committee so they need not disclose contributors AND the money does not count towards the maximum amount of cash a political campaign is allowed to raise. Just like how Uncle Tony funnels the profits from his heroin running totally legit cargo hauling service through his laundromat that the pizzeria borrows money from when he needs a new car or three. Pretty clever, eh?

Looking for a little more information on Super PACs and the recent "dark money" fad among today's political movers-n-shakers? I urge you to check out OpenSecrets.org run by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, non-profit research group dedicated to studying the flow and effects of political monies.


Celebrate Star Trek's 50th Birthday with these Great Fan Productions

Star Trek turns 50 years old today and, while there certainly has been plenty of official stuff to buzz about (The new movie is pretty darn good and a new VOD show has tongues wagging), it is perhaps even more interesting to see what the sci-fi legend's fanatical fan-base has done with their own blood, sweat, and tears than what Trek's corporate overlords turn out.

There's another reason to check out this latest batch of homegrown movies and shows: This may be your last chance. The year-long legal kerfuffle between Axanar Productions and CBS/Paramount has led the the TV and film powerhouses to begin crafting a set of formal guidelines for fan productions. These new rules are a little... tighter than folks have been used to.  There is a very real possibility that every single entry in out little list could come under fire at any moment. In short, get 'em while they're still here!

You can read more of the Axanar case and ongoing fan film drama on AxaMonitor or any other Star Trek news site.

On with the shows!

Star Trek Continues


Much like its elder sibling, Star Trek New Voyages (Formerly Star Trek Phase II, as covered here on GUO four years ago), Star Trek Continues attempts to fill in the missing fifth year of the adventures of the NCC 1701 "No bloody A, B, C, or D". Obsessively detailed recreations of the 1960s sets go without saying, but it is the immaculate recreation of Kirk's Shatnerisms (once you get past Vic Mignogna's squeaky voice (or, if you're an anime fan, Full Metal Alchemist flashbacks)) and the genuinely thought provoking plot lines that will keep you hypnotized throughout. As a special treat, Continues even includes a direct sequel to the (in)famous episode " Mirror, Mirror" that fans of the ISS Enterprise won't want to miss!

Star Trek Horizon


A passion project three years in the making, Star Trek Horizon is a full length movie that takes us back to the Enterprise NX prequel times for a wonderful new adventure with foes both new and old.

Star Trek Renegades


If you ever wanted something truely new from the Star Trek franchise, Renegades is exactly what you've been waiting for. Forget the squeaky-clean UFP and Star Fleet, this feature follows a brutal batch of interstellar pirates drafted by a secret Federation intelligence agency to save the galaxy. In short, it's Star Trek's version of The Dirty Dozen (sans Lee Mavin but adding a Breen (I bet he wouldn't mind shaving with cold water ;) )).

NOTE: Renegades' web site seems to be in a bit more disarray than most fan features following the Axanar fallout. Here's a direct link to the feature on YouTube.

Star Trek Hidden Frontier, Odyssey, and Helena Chronicles


Fan films gained new life and new frontiers with the advent of free, online video hosting sites. Back in the early 2000s, Hidden Frontier was certainly one of the most ambitious projects leading the way. Lacking the crowd sourced cash flow of its contemporaries listed above, the original Hidden Frontier series is a little... cringe inducing to watch. Pushing past those earliest of productions, there is no arguing about the ambitious later parallel series, Odyssey and Helena Chronicles, both of which are linked by a separated homosexual male couple and share a single, epic finale.

In terms of viewing order, I'd suggest jumping into Odyssey, but save the last episode. Next, watch all of Helena Chronicles. Finally, Watch the last Odyssey episode (3.01 Tossed Upon The Shore). YouTube Playlists.

And Many, Many More


Obviously, this is quite far from an exhaustive list, just a few of my recent favorites. Hopefully this feature will inspire you to look beyond the usual sources. Star Trek has come to mean something very personal and important to many people's lives. Some of those people have the talent to share that love and take their beloved universe full of hope and imagination to new and daring places. Places where no one has gone before.


I Survived Ludum Dare and All I Got Was This Crappy Game I Made in 48 Hours

After a great deal of hemming and hawing, I elected to throw my hat into the ring for the Ludum Dare Compo Game Jam this time.

For the uninitiated, Ludum Dare is perhaps one of the most grueling events known to game-making kind (Well, the "Compo" division is anyway. There is a much more relaxed "Jam" division, but those guys are wussies ;) ). Supplied with a Mystery Theme, contestants have 48 hours to create a complete game from scratch by themselves. All of it. Concept, code, art, audio, UI, control, gameflow, and, of course, working, standalone binaries (An extra "Submission Hour" is allowed to complete publication tasks such as compilation, screenshots, and descriptions). That's it. One person; Two days; Mystery theme; Go!

So, how did it go? I achieved my goal: I finished! Honestly, I didn't actually expect to. I've fussed over particle systems for more than two days, lol. Moreover, I elected to try a ton of stuff I've never even tried before. This was my first purely 2D game, my first vector drawn character, my first runner, my first go at hand-animating sprites, my first look at Unity 5.4, etc. I stacked the deck pretty heavily against myself (That way I had plenty of excuses ;) ), but, somehow, Runty Raptor's Rock Roller happened.



It is charitable to say the game came out... all right. The physics are pretty busted, balance a little too generous (Yes, I made an 'easy' game for once :p), options are non-existent, and all the sound effects are voiced by yours-truly, and I'd die of embarrassment if anyone looked at the source code (Ludum Dare requires the game's source to be submitted alongside the finished product). But, ya know what, it ain't half bad either. Moreover, it's done!

There were some rather unfortunate stumbles along the way, such as having to throw out the entire first draft of the game because it completely broken in every way, or the revelation that dinosaurs ride skateboard, not unicycles (Duh! I'm such a moron. But at least the unicycle physics actually WORKED).

There were some great achievements as well. For someone who's spent their life making a mockery of the term Art, I'm rather pleased with Runty and his Rock Roller. The animation and implementation of skateboarding tricks all got done in the last two hours, with time to spare!

...and I just noticed the typo on the title screen. Sigh... And the fact that the front leg z-sorting in wrong. Now I KNOW I fixed that at some point. What I didn't fix was that the leg is made up of two "lower leg" sprites because I grabbed the wrong one and missed the actual "upper leg" part.

Er, what was my point?

Anyway, I made a game. While I'm more proud of the circumstances and constraints it was made under, you can play it here (Zip download for Win/Mac/Linux). I also managed to plop down a few, quick blog entries on Ludum Dare. You can read those over there.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta get away from this damn keyboard for a while.

Chasing GOTY 2015: Soma, Dying Light

Man, in a year like 2015 even picking the runners-up to Game of the Year is tough! Still, a blog's gotta do what a blog's gotta do. After pouring over the release list and replaying a whole bunch of stuff from throughout the year, I've chosen two of the best of the rest. One's a spectacular title that probably flew under everyone's radar, and one from aaaaaall the way back in January you might have forgotten to check out.

First and foremost, we absolutely need to discuss Soma. Well, we're actually gonna talk around Soma. The less you know going in, the better the experience. This game tops our Chasing GOTY feature almost exclusively due to its story. Soma begins with a quote from famed cyberpunk author Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (ie. Blade Runner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (ie. Total Recall), A Scanner Darkly, The Minority Report, etc). That should speak volumes about the developer's intent right there. And, while I admit the whole 'What does it mean to be human' cyberpunk theme is my favorite fictional foil of all time, Soma's author has constructed what I feel to be one of the greatest stories ever told in the science fiction genre. In any medium, not just video games. From the setting, to the characters, to the very pacing of the narrative, Soma's story nails nearly everything it tries to accomplish (and, man, does it try to accomplish a lot!). Although a linear experience, there are a few choices to be made. While none of these alter the game's outcome, they will drastically favor your own personal experience The Mrs. & I argued about what's 'right' in this game for weeks!

Growing Up Otaku Game of the Year 2015: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Naming Game of the Year in a year filled with no less than six top-notch releases, each of which is an easy GOTY nod in any normal time frame, is no easy task. Sure, we can go down the list and check off a bunch for boxes such as Best Graphics, Best Art Style, Best Writing, Best Voice Acting, Best Digital Actor (The Bloody Baron is the closest thing we've had to a Charles Foster Kane in Gaming!), and Best Music and still have ended up at The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but your title needs to do more than just check off boxes to be awarded the Golden, Giant, Fire-Breathing, Robot Baby for a year. The Witcher 3 certainly goes above and beyond on a number of fronts.

Most obviously, Witcher 3 redefines the level of quality possible in a video game, let alone an open-world RPG. Every corner of this 200+ hour monster's three world maps is crammed full of interesting characters, creatures, and situations painted with lavishly choreographed sequences on a quality level you only expect to find in linear titles that run a fraction of the length. Even many of the more mundane "Go kill this monster in my cellar" side-quests are showered with scads wonderfully composed conversations, investigative opportunities, and, quite often. an unexpected plot twist. Couple this with strong writing and moral dilemmas, some of which my have consequences a dozen gameplay hours down the road, and recent offerings from powerhouses like Bioware and Bethesda appear positively 1998 by comparison. At one point I found myself listening to a double-crossing scumbag's stereotypical 'bad guy' speech and thought to myself, "Ya know... This guy is totally right!" I then walked away and left two of my companions be executed. It wasn't until the post-game wrap-up that I felt justified in my decision. It wasn't that things turned out right or wrong, but they did turn out for what I felt was the better. It almost made up for that Ancient Evil that duped me and went on to each a bunch of villages.

Witcher 3 also does its best to make defacto RPG chores a little less cumbersome. Crafting components are sorted separately in the inventory and do not add to your carry weight, potions are automatically refilled using standard alcohol after being mixed for the first time, and subsequent patches have added a number of helper functions to trying to minimize the menu management tedium inherent in this genre. It doesn't entirely succeed, but it sure as heck tried hard.

Then there's the game's outstanding encyclopedia of the world's friends and fiends, delightfully written by your character's bard buddy. And, boy, are you going to need that encyclopedia! Firstly, combat in The Witcher rewards research and preparation just as much as well timed button presses. Discovering a wyvern is susceptible to applying a draconid poison to your sword and can be knocked out of the air with a well timed 'force push' is going to get you a just as far a being skilled with Geralt's ballet-like combat maneuvers. It's also a great source for keeping up with the dozens of main characters as this game positively wallows in its source material. Witcher 3 doesn't just return to characters and events of the two previous games, but is even so bold as to tackle questionable events from the very first Witcher short story penned by Andrzej Sapkowski. While the game can be enjoyed on its own merits, lore hounds will find an endless well from which to drink. Witcher 3 brings more dramatic baggage to the table than all of your exes put together. And, unlike a gathering of how your former loves would end, it all pays off spectacularly!