E.16 – Games of the Decade (Bonus Episode)

Ten years ago, neither Alex or I were playing video games all that much – at least not like we used to. On the threshold of a new decade, we celebrate the ones that compelled us to return.

In our first episode of the year, we look back on 10 games of the past decade that surprised and delighted us. Be it for their technical accomplishments, creative world building, stellar writing, innovative mechanics or genre-defying structure, these games left us wondering, “How was this even made?” We argue for their place on our lists, and why each uniquely impacted us.

Tune in, and peer into the rear view mirror with us. We hope you’ll walk away with some fresh perspectives and a list of games worth revisiting.

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval – my co-host – is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Music opening today’s episode is courtesy of Mono Memory – an 80’s inspired synthwave producer based in Edinburgh. The song is called “Crystal Beach” and can be found here on Bandcamp. Additional music came from the OST’s to each game as they were referenced.

E.14 – Iconic Spooky Worlds: Halloween Special Edition

Good evening ghosts and ghouls. This is your co-host and fellow delver into the depths of madness: Alex Koval.

In the spirit of Halloween, Andrew and I have fortified ourselves in an old abandoned castle for our annual mailbag episode. Broadcasting from some antique radio equipment, and supplied with a cache of letters and tapes, we relive the video game moments that sent our friends & listeners screaming from their consoles & computers.

Yet, what is it that can make a video game so frightening? Is it the foreboding environments? The haunting soundscapes? Or the harrowing tales of lost souls? Whatever it is, barricade your doors, cast an incantation, and grab the nearest impromptu melee weapon. We have quite a few treats (and some tricks) in store for you in this very special edition of… SCREEEAAAAAAM LOOOOKING!

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, lifelong fan of the horror genre, and (usually) the co-host of Screen Looking. In celebration of the season, Alex took over hosting duties for this episode (as well as writing, producing, and assistance w/ editing).
  • Andrew Kuhar is the host of Screen Looking. However, he was too scared to take the reins this time. You can find him on the slightly safer grounds of editing & mixing today’s episode.
  • Guest Appearances include Eric Mathews, Joe Jasek, and Bill Lyon – special thanks to each of them for contributing their time and talents to our Halloween special.
  • Music closing today’s episode is “RE1: Save Room Remix” by Mono Memory, previous guest, friend of the show, and synthwave producer. Additional music includes a piano cover by Lucas King, as well as excerpts from the OST’s of their respective games.
  • Special Thanks to you, our listeners, for all of your incredible submissions! Alex and I were elated by the volume, range, and quality of spooky entries we received, from friends both old & new.

E.13 – Sony PlayStation (Console Retrospective)

Before Sony’s name ever appeared in front of the word “PlayStation,” it was nearly Nintendo’s that did. But if the Console Wars meant anything to you growing up, then you already know how that story ends. What proves harder to recall is how it all began, and its significance to the gaming industry today.

In celebration of its forthcoming 25th anniversary, Alex Koval & I revisit the serendipity that propelled the Sony PlayStation to becoming a household name. Combined with some of the most iconic branding in entertainment, an innovative design, subversive marketing and a critically-acclaimed games library, the gaming console would prove to have a quarter-century-long ripple effect.

Without the Sony PlayStation, our most cherished gaming memories may have never occurred. Tune in as we retrace its path to our childhood living rooms – and stumble upon the hidden gems that decorate its enduring legacy.

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Alex Koval – my co-host – is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Music bookending today’s episode was courtesy of their respective producers: Mikel, Orchard HiClips, and Lzls. Additional music was sourced from each video game’s respective OST.
  • References throughout our discussion include the Nintendo “Play Station” prototype, designs of the logo, controller, and the console itself.

E.12 – Kentucky Route Zero: Acts I & II (From the Archives)

In 2012, an independent video game inspired me to start a now-defunct podcast, All My Friends Play Video Games. The show didn’t last long – but the game, Kentucky Route Zero, has kept us waiting. With its fifth & final act seemingly on the horizon, we’re taking a special trip down memory lane by re-airing our 7-year-old impressions of the game’s first two acts.

In this previously lost episode, Hilary Bovay joined Alex and I to discuss Cardboard Computer’s indie darling, appreciate its visual sleights of hand, and predict which direction its mysterious characters are all heading. What we discovered was a story about a vanishing America, the hidden lives of artists at work, and what debt does to the less fortunate.

The wait between Acts III, IV, and V is somewhat unavoidable when discussing Kentucky Route Zero as whole. And in reflection, this episode behaves as a time capsule for the game’s fledgling days. The show very literally grew up to become Screen Looking, and we’ve changed as people, too. In that spirit, we invite you to tune in and enjoy our first ride through Mammoth Cave.

Additional Notes & Credits

  • New! Read Andrew’s feature story for Polygon, “How the creators of Kentucky Route Zero ended their seven-year saga
  • Follow along on our Instagram account, @screenlooking.
  • Alex Koval, my co-host, is a full-stack developer, aspiring radio theater producer, and lifelong fan of the horror genre. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Some of his favorite games include Resident EvilFinal Fantasy TacticsBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of AmnBloodborne, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Hilary Bovay is an incredibly talented photographer from Aquidneck Island, RI, now based out of Cleveland, OH. She has a keen eye for aesthetics & visual storytelling, and her love for the original Crash Bandicoot is all you’ll ever need to know about her taste in video games.
  • Music in this episode is from the OST to Kentucky Route Zero, which was composed and produced by Ben Babbitt.
  • SFX foley (radio tuning) courtesy of freesound.org user RutgerMuller.

E.10 – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice & From Software

“Hesitation is defeat.”

Is From Software’s latest, notoriously difficult video game worth enduring? One does not simply play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but the payoff is unlike what most of its peers have to offer. In today’s episode, Alex and I take as much of a look at Sekiro as we do the mystique, philosophies, and history of its creators.

Here to refill our Healing Gourds is none other than Mono Memory – From Software devotee, resident synthwavist, and our first international guest. Mono Memory is responsible for much of the music book-ending our episodes this year, and we’re thrilled to have him join us.

By revisiting the studio’s other critical darlings, Dark Souls and Bloodbourne, we discover how they’ve grown as artists, what distinguishes each franchise, and how a game over screen can be a narrative vehicle.

Additional Notes & Credits

E.9 – Gaming Tastes & Looking Ahead (Bonus Episode)

It’s time for a bonus round.

If you’re new to the show, this is an excellent place to start tuning in to the Screen Looking podcast. In our first bonus episode, Alex Koval and I take a respite from the deep dives for a chill, candid conversation about our tastes in video games – and how our personalities inform them.

In addition, we have a special announcement at the top of the episode, followed by some fun ideas for future installments.

We’ll be returning soon with more deep and varied explorations of why video games are such an interesting medium, discovering new stories and rediscovering old favorites. For now, we simply couldn’t wait to keep the conversation rolling.

Additional Notes & Credits

E.8 – Resident Evil 2 (Pt. 2: Story & Campaigns)

Sometimes, you look forward to something for so long. And then it’s suddenly over. It’s a little bittersweet, but our late nights with Resident Evil 2 had to end somewhere.

Having thoroughly discussed its stylistic departures in Pt. 1, Alex, Nick and I push forward through the remake’s more familiar narrative beats. From the survivors inhabiting its world to Leon and Claire’s alternate paths, to the means of survival and a handful of our own ideas, we lay it all on the table with our final words on the RE2 remake.

Tune in as we take our victory lap through the streets of Raccoon City — and live to tell the tale.

Additional Notes & Credits:

  • Spoiler Warning! This applies to the entire episode
  • Alex Koval is a full-stack web developer, an independent short-filmmaker, and a fan of the horror genre. We’ve been best friends since 2nd grade, and some of his favorite games include Resident Evil, Final Fantasy Tactics, Eternal Darkness, and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Nicholas Kuhar is my brother, bandmate, and frequent donor of graphic novels. He is also the Director of Innovation at St. Edward High School in Cleveland, OH, helping young students unlock their creativity through new-media. Some of his favorite video games include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Final Fantasy VII.
  • Music at the top of today’s episode is from Resident Evil 2‘s remade OST, produced by the Capcom Sound Team. Our closing theme is a fantastic cover of the game’s “Save Room Theme,” courtesy of Mono Memory – an 80’s inspired synthwave producer based in Edinburgh.
  • References include Chris Saglimbene’s interview w/ writer Brent Friedman, an archived interview with the original RE2 team (from the June 1998 issue of Japanese gaming magazine, “The Playstation“), and an old commercial for the game’s original release.
  • Special cocktail REcipes coming soon…

Engadget Feature – Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy

Key artists from Vicarious Visions walked me through their approach to remastering Naughty Dog’s iconic PlayStation trilogy, and how they handled inheriting a legacy with millions of nostalgic fans. You can read the full-length feature on Engadget.

As a lifelong fan of Crash Bandicoot, and I am incredibly grateful to have told this story. Within it are in-depth interviews with art & design leads who oversaw the remasters, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes looks at their process and even some of Naughty Dog’s original concept art. What stood out to me as I worked on this were the philosophical aspects of VV’s approach, and the pressure they placed on themselves in striking a balance between their vision and Naughty Dog’s (circa 1996).

Special thanks to Aaron Soupporis at Engadget for his mentorship, collaborative spirit and going the extra mile on the layout, as well as Jessica Conditt for connecting us. Nicholas Ruepp, Kara Massie, Cory Turner, Curtis Orr, Leo Zuniga and Wiebke Vallentin at VV & Activision were all extremely helpful in coordinating the interviews and art assets we needed, even on the eve of the game’s release date.

Continue reading Engadget Feature – Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy

Polygon Opinion Piece – The Last Guardian

Polygon graciously allowed me to write this intimate opinion piece for them, which explores my experience playing the long-awaited The Last Guardian and the parallels I drew between it and our bond with animals. It serves as an analysis of the game’s design, as much as it is a personal essay and investigation into the ways we all encounter animals in need.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The Last Guardian doubles as an interactive metaphor for the discovery and rehabilitation of animals in situations of abuse or neglect. For being such a fantastical setting, it plays host to a cautionary tale that is grounded in reality. By offering us an extended glimpse into an abused animal’s perspective, The Last Guardian asks us to empathize: What does it mean to spend time in their environment? How are they a product of it, and how much can they change?

The full article can be found here, and I invite you to share your own story and/or takeaway from The Last Guardian.