Digital Blend: Kickstarter’s ‘Year of the Game,’ PS Vita homebrew, and Rovio’s Bad Piggies

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Welcome back to Digital Blend, our weekly look at the world of downloadable video gaming that exists at the fringes of the mainstream. That means we look at the hottest new mobile game releases, downloadable content drops on consoles and PCs, indie darlings that deserve your love and attention, and the best gaming values under $20.

Keep your comments and feedback coming. We want to hear from you! Did you try something you read about here and enjoy it? Is there a particular game you think we’ve overlooked or news you want to share? Any questions you are dying to ask? Let us know! Your thoughts, feedback, suggestions and (constructive!) criticism are welcome, either in the comments section below or directed at yours truly on Twitter, @geminibros.

Making headlines…

* Kickstarter knows where its audience is. The crowd-funding website has officially declared 2012 the “Year of the Game,” with seven of the website’s 11 million-plus earners relating in some way to video games. The figure also means that games account for the most money pledged out of any other category on the site, amounting to a total of roughly $50 million in crowd-sourced dollars. Kickstarter launched in 2009; in the time between then and the start of 2012, video game projects ranked as the eighth most funded category on the site. The numbers  this year catapult games up to the second most funded position.  For more on how the numbers break down, including the percentage of successfully funded game projects, check out Francis’ full report.

call of juarez xbla psn* Techland is prepping what appears to be a bit of a series reboot for Call of Juarez, with Ubisoft announcing a return to the original Wild West setting for the next game in the series, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Rather than picking up on earlier stories, Gunslinger blends fact and fiction, putting players in the shoes of an Old West bounty hunter in search of real-life outlaws like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. Gunslinger will be released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC platforms as a downloadable game sometime in early 2013. Check out Anthony’s post to learn more about the game.

* Early adopters of Sony’s PlayStation Vita are getting restless, what with the relatively small launch and post-launch library that’s been coming together since the handheld hit U.S. stores in February 2012. The slow burn has left enterprising programs with plenty of free time to work on circumventing the closed system for the purposes of running homebrew software. Hacker Yifan Lu discovered a Vita exploit that’s allowed him to develop the very first homebrew loader for the handheld, which is itself based on an early loader for Sony’s widely hacked PlayStation Portable. The core mindset behind homebrew development is noble in its aim to open up closed software platforms for homegrown development projects. Unfortunately, homebrew is often synonymous with piracy, which is why Sony is constantly working to shut down the exploits that hackers take advantage of. Lu insists that his goals with the Vita loader are for homebrew development only, but it’s definitely a sticky situation. For more, check out Anthony’s report.

angry birds 2* Rovio struck gold in a huge way with Angry Birds, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that the company’s just-announced new franchise is really more of an outgrowth of its already established universe. Bad Piggies aims to turn to tables on those angry, angry birds, tasking players with building an assortment of vehicles that will carry the future pork products (mmmm… bacon) to the bird eggs that they’d so like to feast upon. Rovio hopes that this dramatic shift away from the “fling birds at structures to knock them down” gameplay of its previous hit will help establish Bad Piggies as a new franchise unto itself, rather than as a sequel.

* Valve definitely has the right idea with Steam Greenlight, a crowd-sourcing initiative that offers Steam users the opportunity to throw their support behind any of the various indie projects that are vying for a highly coveted spot in Valve’s online store. Greenlight is going through some growing pains, however. In the early days of the new service, a number of supposed indie developers posted “projects” that largely amounted to community trolling, offensive stuff like a 9/11 simulator. While a separate dialogue is starting to develop about what is and isn’t okay for Steam in the wake of a planned erotic game’s removal, Valve implemented a $100 posting fee to cut down on the fraudulent projects going up on Greenlight. The company is also looking to streamline how Steam users engage with Greenlight by offering personalized lists based on each person’s interests.

Top buys for the week…

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 - GulchCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 — Collection 4: Final Assault :: Xbox 360 :: 1,200 MS Points

Activision’s inaugural year for “Call of Duty Elite” is officially over with the end of Modern Warfare 3‘s DLC content season this week. The new pack, a timed exclusive for Xbox 360, is all about the multiplayer, offering five new locations for players to frag and be fragged in. You’ll run through an abandoned mining town in Gulch, blow up the Jersey Shore in Boardwalk, rampage through New Orleans’ French Quarter in Parish, negotiate an oil rig’s catwalks in Offshore, and creep your way through a rotting ship’s graveyard in Decommission. As usual, this content will eventually come to PlayStation 3 and PC platforms, likely sometime in October.

Mark of the NinjaMark of the Ninja :: Xbox 360 :: 1,200 MS Points

Klei Entertainment’s Mark of the Ninja is, hands-down, the very best that this week has to offer in downloadable gaming. The 2D side-scrolling stealth game is very nearly perfect, sending players on a series of multi-path missions in full ninja garb. Don’t let the 2D presentation — which is beautiful and hand-drawn, by the way — put you off. You’ll be presented with a wide array of options as you progress through the game, not just in the routes you can follow but also in how your ninja’s skills and gear improve. Wrapping around the whole thing is a well-told story that will have you exploring some thought-provoking themes by the time its final moments play out.

digital blend kickstarters year of the game ps vita homebrew and rovios bad piggies avengers initiativeAvengers Initiative :: iOS :: $6.99

There’s always a temptation to rag on movie-licensed video game given the rocky history that exists between the two mediums, but the currently iOS-excluisve Avengers Initiative (it’s headed to Android as well) is one of the rare exceptions. Marvel Entertainment is planning this one as an episodic series, with the now-released first episode focusing entirely on Bruce Banner’s green-skinned alter-ego, the Hulk. The gameplay is essentially a cruder take on Infinity Blade, but the experience is enhanced by sweet visuals, character customization, and the promise of more Marvel action to come.

Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim – Hearthfire DLC :: Xbox 360 :: 400 MS Points

I’m not gonna lie: Skyrim‘s second piece of downloadable content — the final timed-exclusive for Xbox 360 — pretty much amounts to House Armor. You can build a house. Or more than one house. You can upgrade your house(s). You can send your spouse to live in that house, and you can then take your domestic life a step further by adopting a child. There’s 50GS worth of Achievements to be had here, but don’t expect any kind of questline. And bring gold. Houses ain’t cheap, you know? Hearthfire isn’t for everyone, but it’s a neat addition to Bethesda’s vibrant world for those who really want to leave more of a personal mark in it.

Super HexagonSuper Hexagon :: iOS :: $0.99

Every week there’s some new time-chomping mobile game that threatens to consume your life with its “just one more go”-friendly setup and destroy your phone with its “blink and you fail” gameplay. This week, that game is Super Hexagon, from VVVVVV creator Terry Cavanagh. The new game is much simpler than the gravity-powered platformer that precedes it. Players simply guide their little, triangle-shaped avatar around the perimeter of an inner hexagon as larger shapes shrink inward. The idea is always to have your triangle positioned so it can pass through the lone open area on the shrinking hex. It’s frankly much easier to grok by watching the thing in motion than reading a text description, so why don’t you go ahead and check out the trailer.

digital blend kickstarters year of the game ps vita homebrew and rovios bad piggies zen pinball 2  avengersZen Pinball 2 :: PSN :: FREE

Let’s be clear first: Zen Pinball 2 is technically free to download, but you’ll have to actually buy individual tables or table packs in order to fully enjoy it. Non-pack tables can be played for free, but there’s a time limit dictating how long you can play before you’re kicked back to the main menu. Pricing on tables starts at $2.50, and packs go up as high as $9.99. Any tables you might have owned previously in the original Zen Pinball can be imported, and everything is cross-platform-friendly, meaning you can play on both your PlayStation 3 and your PS Vita.