Corpse Party

I guess I’ve just been in the mood for this. After I finished up with the Witch’s House, I started up its fellow Japanese RPG Maker developed horror game, which seems really too specific to be a thing but it totally is, Corpse Party. Corpse Party isn’t a freeware game like the Witch’s House, so although it’s got the same basic DNA, it’s got a much more professional presentation. And when you think of professional, of course you think of your main man Aether, so given that totally excellent segue, let’s get down to our review of the game.

Corpse Party is a version of a game that’s a remake of another game from like 1996 or something. There’s a couple different versions of the game, and they all seem to be slightly different in presentation. Basically a horror adventure. Trapped in a school. An evil school. Have to pixel hunt and solve the occasional puzzle to get out. All the while avoiding things that will happen to you. Bad things. Just in case you were thinking you might have to avoid ice cream or something. Wanted to be clear on that. The school is full of traps and also haunted and some of the traps might be haunted to. Maybe you’ll get possessed. Maybe you’ll go crazy. Maybe you’ll make the wrong move and find yourself sliced in half. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And if you die here, there’s no pearly gates waiting for you on the other side. Your soul will linger, feeling the pain you felt at the moment of your death for all eternity.

So it goes without saying that the death scenes are some of the best parts in the game. But let’s get into that later.

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So, like I said, Corpse Party is an RPG Maker Horror game. That should give you at least some idea of what you’re looking at. Sprite art everything, text boxes with occasional options the main means of progressing story, simple chase scenes mixed in sporadically, the works. And let’s get the conclusion out of the way here. Horror games are always going to be a ‘your mileage may vary’ type of thing. It’s so personalized, so built on tapping into just who you are and what makes you tick and twisting that against you, that how you react to it is definitely going to be an individualized deal. And I’m going to say that Corpse Party is going to be even more that than most. The horror is really all it has to it. The gameplay is as white bread as it gets, the puzzles barely require thought, plot is totally ehhhhhhh, so it’s all atmosphere here.

And there’s a lot of ways that horror media. Some go the psychological route. Some fill themselves with jumpscares and play off the fear of that momentary panic. Some will present you with things from your everyday life and twist them into freakish interpretations of themselves. Corpse Party goes the route of just being straight disturbing.

The ghosts aren’t particularly scary, in themselves. Nor are the traps. It’s what they do with you that gets to it. You know how most media, right before it does the horrible gruesome thing, will cut away and leave it up to your imagination? Corpse Party doesn’t do that. Corpse Party shows you the horrible thing the whole way through. And the creators are very creative with their horrible things. You get a few stinkers, sure, but for the most part, the game is full of cruel and unusual ways to die, rendered in disturbing detail. You get spared a bit by the fact that it’s all in pixel art, it’d probably cross the line into being rather disgusting if it was in a more representative form, but the descriptions and audio bits do a really good job of carrying that through. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And if it’s not yours, nothing wrong with that. You’re probably what the professionals call “well-adjusted”. If that is the sort of thing you’re into, well, it’s what really carries the experience for you.

I do really have to give props to the game for its audio design. You don’t get the usual freesounds.com bits here, the audio is used very, very well to match the scenes. They’re unique, and really carry along the activity, and most of all, are the biggest piece carrying along that horror atmosphere that’s so important in this type of thing. The soundtrack is notably strong, as well. The voice acting was all recorded binaurally, meaning that if you’re listening to the game through headphones, you’ll get some pretty sweet 3D sound out of it. I’m too lazy to walk across the room and pick up a pair, but I imagine it’s a pretty interesting experience.

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The Fallout Legend-Killer

Man, it’s been a while, hasn’t it. Let’s go ahead and correct that.

So, last time on Aether and the Falling Outs, Athena killed some people for money. And this was a good things. Let’s see if we can keep that momentum going, shall we?

Also, Butch, master of the Far Go Traders, asked us to investigate why his caravans are going missing. We suspect a completely unproven urban legend that all the sensible people we know think is completely bonkers. That one chatty woman that buys our corpse-lootings suggested we check with a couple of people on the east side of town for more info, so let’s do that.

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The east side of town… not the best. There is a conspicuous lack of police presence in these parts. And the Hub is the biggest population center in this section of the wasteland. Which means it has a lot of crime, and outside of Decker, a lot of them are hanging out here. Case in point, this building. Full of guys. Bad guys. Specifically, bad guys who are both stronger and more numerous than we are right now, and who will immediately attempt to kill us if we indulge out natural player curiosity and attempt to look at everything in the game. This building will be important for us later on, but it’s a little too much for us to handle right now. So lets leave it alone for a bit, shall we?

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Instead, we head south a bit, and talk to this guy. Uh, sorta.

He’s what they used to call ‘touched by the gods’. Has an alternate view of the world. He suggests we go inside. Talk to Harold. This next guy.

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This guy. He is important. You won’t know this now. But you might have seen him if you’ve played later games in the series. He, or at least some person pretending to be him (Fallout Tactics is a weird one) has been in every single Fallout game released between this one and Fallout 3. Continue reading

Switchery

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Looks like Santa brought me a gift early. A peace offering, he called it. I see through his lies, though. I made my way out of his devil’s workshop with the loot in hand. Always careful, always wary, I checked it over for traps a hundred times. I’m still not sure there isn’t any sort of trick to it. But still, it’s hard to turn down a brand new Nintendo Switch.

It’s odd, but there’s a lot about the Switch that doesn’t translate over until you see it in person. I think part of that may be coming from Nintendo’s recent track record with consoles, where, while they didn’t quite overpromise and underdeliver and definitely have some quality experiences on there, still always felt like they should be something more than they were. The Wii didn’t have quite the detailed motion controls everyone hoped for, the Wii U didn’t have the games that took the hardware features to the limits, there was just a small amount of untapped potential with both of them.

It’s still new enough that I might yet be getting a touch of that new car smell off of it, so I may be changing this opinion in the future, but so far, it feels like the Switch is living up to every bit of what I expected of it.

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Let’s start with the base hardware. The thing is tiny. It’s a little bit thicker than your average tablet, but not by much. It doesn’t seem like there’s much room for the actual console in there, it’s all taken up by the screen. And yet it does. It packs quite the powerful machine within that small space. Graphics aren’t quite as good as the PSBone, but the few games I’ve played off it so far are able to to build things a definite step up over last generation, all within full and complex settings that, much like most of the rest of Nintendo’s offerings, are processed with very little stuttering and load times. Resolution on the Switch screen itself isn’t as high as on TV obviously, or even on many tablets, but it’s still high enough to make things look niiiiiice.

So if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a gorgeously huge sexy mangod. And that means I have gorgeously huge sexy mangod hands. A lot of Nintendo’s offerings don’t fit comfortably in my hands. The Wiimote’s sized pretty nicely for me, but I have difficulty positioning myself comfortably on the Wii U’s gamepad and the 3DS will actually cause me pain if I’m playing it for too long. When I first saw how tiny the Switch’s controllers were, I was worried I’d be running into the same thing here. Especially with the placement of the d-pad and buttons, I did not have much hope for good things there. Yet, I don’t know what it is about their design or ergonomics, but I’ve played for hours at a stretch and had absolutely no problems with it. Slotting the controllers into the… uh… controller attachment… the one that holds them like a traditional controller, that gets a little tighter than I’d like, but it’s still about as comfortable as the average Playstation gamepad. Playing with both of the joycons free has been my preference, and that’s about as liberating as it gets. The controllers are surprisingly small and light, but have a decent rumble to them, and they actually have better motion sensors than the Wiimote did. They’re lacking an IR pointer, which was the best part of the Wiimote, but I’ve still been able to finely aim things just using the motion controls.

One downside, the system has the weakest wireless receiver of any machine I’ve encountered lately. I keep my TV a couple of rooms away from my router, and although my laptop, consoles, and phone all have absolutely no problem connecting there, the Switch has a tenuous connection with the internet there at best. It’s a good thing the system’s mobile, because I had to take it all the way across my house just so it had enough reception to properly download anything. I thought it was broken at first. On top of that, I don’t know if this is a problem with the receiver or the controller, but the Switch does not always have the best connection with the right joycon. If I let my hands drop to my lap, or my aforementioned mangod hands cover up part of the bottom of the controller, my body will block the console from getting signal from that joycon. If that happens in the middle of a hot fight or tough platforming section, it pretty quickly spells doom.

Moving it from console to handheld mode is even easier than I dreamed. Thing doesn’t so much plug into the tv mount as it does rest comfortably on the connectors, so taking it out is a process that’s needlessly simple. It does take a bit of doing to mount and disengage the controllers, but nothing much really. And just like with the Wii U, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy having a mobile console, but surprisingly, I do. I never thought my lifestyle required it, but it is really handy being able to take my game into the other room when the orcs across the street get too whiny about how I spoiled their latest pillaging run or when my hordes of amorous suitors won’t stop calling me to the bedroom. Get to take care of those mild meatspace annoyances, while still bringing my all important virtual worlds with me.

Of course, no matter how good the console is, it’s all about the games on it. The console is a tool. It’s the artist’s palette, the playwright’s quill, the videographer’s camera. It’s necessary, yes, and determines a large amount of what the creators are capable of, but it’s really the creators themselves that determine what’s done with it. And there, I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve been a die-hard Nintendo fanboy for most of my life, up until Nintendo had that phase in the middle of the Wii generation where I wasn’t in the target market anymore. Then, Nintendo’s consoles just became one of the myriad array of gaming devices to me. My loyalty dropped, but in so doing, my world broadened. There were a lot of experiences out there, and once I started exploring them, my gaming habits became a lot more diverse. And I’m glad for that. Nintendo still makes some great games. They cultivate some fantastic experiences, and are truly one of the best developers in the industry. Their games are what’s kept them in the console race for so long. But, as the Wii U has shown, if you’re buying a Nintendo console, you have to be prepared to only get Nintendo games for it.

And that does take a lot of faith. And it’s one of the reasons why I was so cautious to pick it up until recently. I did get a Wii U at the very end of its production, but even now, after all the games have come out for it, the only creators that have put out a number of games I care about for it are Nintendo themselves and Platinum Games, who were contracted with Nintendo for those. I wasn’t willing to do so again, dropping a couple hundred on the Switch and only have Nintendo’s properties for it. But I did so, and so far, Nintendo’s the one that’s had any major releases for it.

Why did I do so? Well, for one, the Switch is showing more promise than the Wii U had. A lot of people claim that the Wii wasn’t a ‘real gamer’s’ machine, because they’re dumb. The Wii didn’t have the major releases the consoles of its generation had, but it had a lot more smaller, creative, experimental titles from a wide variety of developers, all of which brought some really nice quality to the console. The Wii U didn’t have that. Its sales numbers meant that niche titles being brought to the system had a long way to go to reach the levels where they could draw a decent profit, whereas PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 had a much more stable install base. I’m trusting in Switch’s surprisingly high sales thus far to take it closer to where the Wii was. It seems to have come out of nowhere for a lot of developers, much like the Wii did, but I’m hoping that once again, they’ll take notice of the Switch’s place in the market, and be bringing a lot more of the types of gaming experiences we saw a couple generations ago to us. It’s a gamble on my part, particularly as Nintendo has always struggled with relationships with other developers, but one that I’m hoping will pay off.

That gamble is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Nintendo seems to have more of a cohesive vision for this console. They’re still marching to the beat of their own drum, like they always do, but they seem to have much more of an idea which way they’re wanting to go. And they’ve been bringing the games to back it.

I’m imagining it’s going to take me a while to build my Switch library. I’m a notorious bargain hunter, and the Switch is still so new that game prices haven’t dropped yet. Moreover, with the biggest releases for the console coming from Nintendo, who are very aggressive in maintaining their games’ prices in a way few other publishers could manage and in the face of conventional economics, I might have to be on the prowl before finding deals I’m satisfied with. I’ve only picked up two games so far; Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. But those games. Some of the best I’ve played recently.

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Nintendo gets a lot of flak for running wild with the franchising, which is ridiculous, because they mix their gameplay models up withing these franchises a lot more than nearly any other developer out there. Breath of the Wild is a great example of that. It is very, very different than most any other Zelda game you’ve played before. So much so, that it feels like it could be its very own game. It’s a 3D Zelda that largely eschews the gameplay model the series has been using since Ocarina of Time, building something completely new out of it. And although the mechanics, storytelling, styling, everything like that are all so new they’ve still got that new car smell, the game still feels a lot like playing the original Zelda 1 way back in the day did.

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And Super Mario Odyssey. I’m not going to go the full review here, you can probably catch what I would say any other place on the internet. But I will state that I get the same feeling playing this as I did from Ocarina of Time back in the day. You can tell this is something very, very special as you’re playing it, a rare piece of excellence that only comes around every so often. This is the best Mario has been since 64, and given how great some of the other games to come out have been, that’s really saying something. I would be surprised if this has as much impact on the medium as Ocarina of Time did, we’re just not in a place where that’s generally going to happen anymore, but I do get a similar feeling that this is a game people are going to be talking about and coming back to for a long, long time.

Beyond that, there’s some fun stuff to look forward to, even outside Nintendo’s standards. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Shin Megami Tensei V, whatever Octopath Traveller ends up being, there’s some real promise with this console. I really, really hope it ends up seeing that through.

Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies, Part 3: The Creative Side

Introduction

Business Perspective

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It’s that time again! Time to talk about how I don’t get to play like a girl as much as I want to, and look into possible means as for why that is.

Today, we’re going to talk about the creative aspect of having women as leading characters in your video games. And it’s purely going to be about the art of making video game women, in a vacuum. We’re not going to discuss the impact audience reception has on creating just yet, that’s going to be a topic for our next post in this series, when we’re talking about the social factors. Most creators do create for their audience, but if we start working that in alongside everything else we’re talking about the lines between this post and the next post will blur and then I’d have to write the two of them together and I am too monumentally lazy right now to do that. So yeah, just focusing on the creative side of things today, looking at things from the perspective of the designer, not considering the marketing or receptive aspects of these.

This didn’t come up so much in the last post we did in this series, but at it’s core, the whole issue behind gender representation and everything else we’ll talk about here stems from the way we as a culture look at gender identity. So let’s talk a bit about that first.

I’m going to say I’m pretty experienced at being a man. I’ve got a lot of experience at that. Enough that I have pretty much mastered the art of physically being a man. On top of that, I’ve known plenty of women throughout the course of my life. Taken in their stories, their personalities, their… eh, let’s keep this G-rated. Never been a women, but I’ve observed them plenty. On top of that, as I continually demonstrate through this blog, I am a genius. My thinking is just of a top-tier quality.

What I’m saying is I have absolutely the highest credentials to talk about matters of gender. Accept no substitutes. My word on this is the best-informed you will ever see. And I’m telling you that men and women just aren’t all that different. Naturally, we barely have anything between us. Personality-wise, we in general have a few different drives, usually related to partnering or evolutionally instilled upon us from a period of life that we’ve outgrown faster than our biology has, but aside from that, we’re basically the same. Yes, we have some biological, hormonal, and brain developmental differences, but the differences account for so little proportion of who we are. Men and women have far more in common than we realize. Stripped of everything else, we all have basically the same capacity for caring, for aggression, for nurturing, and for enjoying video games.

But cultures in general do not recognize that. That’s one of the human absolutes, every single known human culture has developed a distinction between gender roles because people in general have a hard time not getting blinded by obvious distinctions. It’s human nature, in an attempt to understand people we attempt to see them as instant wholes based on the most obvious characteristics, rather than taking the time to figure out their individual features and building our concept of them around that. This creates expectations. Implicit, unstated expectations of how different genders are supposed to act, instilled in us since birth, and the mold by which we’re supposed to grow up into. Which is ridiculous. You cannot define a single personality trait or feature that reasonably applies to a full half of the human population. But cultures try. And in so doing, they create more differences between the genders than actually exists.

And that has negative impacts on both sides of the coin. Those impacts don’t always reach a one-to-one match, but the defined gender roles are hurting both men and women in different ways.

But still, it persists. That’s both the cause of what we’ll be talking about today, and the whole reason I’m writing this post series in general.

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Adventures in Social Gaming

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The first time I ever got into online multiplayer gaming was when I was just a cub. Starcraft. Good old Battle.net. One of the first games to use online multiplayer, if I recall. I think I even linked in over a dial-up connection. You know, back when those were a thing.

In any case, it took me a long time to find a game. Kept joining rooms, then getting booted before the game actually started. Eventually I did find one that kept me around, a game that advertised itself as being just for new players. Sounded perfect to me.

I did get the inkling that the game organizers were a little more experienced than they let on, which was proven right once we started the game and they went with the whole ‘Haha, got you know suckers’ bit, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to play, it didn’t matter to me that it was up against people above my skill level.

It was all well and good until the end. I ended up being the second to last player surviving, not because of any measure of skill, more for just successfully staying unnoticed while everyone else got creamed. Eventually, I was found by one of the more experienced players, my defenses were circumvented, and I was routed. Would have been all well and good, except the whole while I was under attack, the other player wouldn’t stop talking about how bad I was at the game. In rather colorful terms. He organized a trap for new players those who were by nature bad at the game, and then when he had some, just harped on how poorly the new players were.

So yeah, online multiplayer did not make a good first impression on me. What I’ve experienced with it since has not shaken that perspective. Most of the time, I’m lucky enough not to deal with assholes like that, but even so, competing with people I don’t know just doesn’t carry any value for me. If we’re friends, I’ll play with you till the sun blows up and have a blast doing it. If I don’t have any connection, I don’t get anything out of it. It’s just as satisfying to be playing against the CPU, and more productive and less dramatic to boot.

So yeah, never really enjoyed playing competitively with strangers. I’ve been wondering if that extends to cooperative play, though.

There have been games built around online co-op for a while. I just never got into it. Even back when I was big into MUDs (if you don’t know what those are, think an MMORPG run through a text parser), I still largely played independently. And those will often tie you into to a large and active group as part of the character creation process. But I never really felt it. I’d use the social aspects of it all the time, but when it was time for some actual gameplay, I went out into that big, wide open, interactive world all by myself.

Even games balance for multiple players, I’d always play alone. Castle Crashers comes to mind, there. Often took a while, often led to some frustration, but well, almost none of my friends play games, and if I wouldn’t have a connection with the person on the other side of the monitor, I just don’t really enjoy that.

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That’s starting to change with me, though. Playing with strangers. Still have no interest in competitive multiplayer, but cooperative play has been growing on me, though. That started with Left 4 Dead. I began playing that a while after Left 4 Dead 2 came out, and took all the hyperaggressive jerks in the playerbase with it. The big point in that game’s favor is that it just made it easy to play co-op. Just put a game out there, players will come in. Matchmaking was easy. And you didn’t even have to wait for it. Start your game up already, it’ll be filled with CPUs at first, seamlessly replaced with actual players as they drop in. I had bought it intending it as a single-player experience, but having it so easy to play with others convinced me to give it a try. And the other players didn’t disappoint. Honestly helpful, cooperative, and when I was first starting out, instructive, they did make for a good time, and a much deeper one than I was expecting.

Portal 2 continued that trend. I had a bit of a rocky relationship with it’s coop, but the fact that it had a whole second half of its game beyond that social barrier meant that I was going to stick it out. It took me a while, but I did get randomly matched with another player that was at my puzzle-solving level, and that lead to what was honestly one of my favorite experiences in computer gaming.

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More recently, I’ve been noticing a bunch of games picking up on drop-in Co-op. You might remember from the Dark Souls LP that I experimented a bit with it there, although I didn’t get much into it outside of offering the odd bit of help to other players. The message system, though, did save my butt a few times, and I was an active enough participant in that I hope I gave other players the same thing. Dead Rising 3 works with something similar, except I’m not in control of when other players show up to help me out. So I’ll have players just randomly popping up to mow down a few zeds with me with no rhyme or reason, just helping me out as I make my way through a grim and gritty apocalypse dressed only in an afro and a schoolgirl outfit.

And you know, I’ve been finding an odd appreciation for that. They’re not getting anything out of it, that’s just other players, taking time out of their day to join forces with me. Somehow, having no connection there does make that experience more precious. I’d still take a friend like, say, you reading this right now, over an internet weirdo any day, but still, those weirdos aren’t all that bad. Especially you.

Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies- Part 2: The Business Perspective

Overview

So. This series here. As I had mentioned, we’re going to be covering three different categories of factors that make it difficult to have a woman as your lead in a video game; business, creative, and social. Before we get to that, though, first I feel I need to do something I’m very, very, very good at. I need to talk about myself.

Specifically, I need you guys to know where I’m coming from in all this. I spend nearly all of my time being absolutely incredible, but for this one, I need to take it two steps back, and make myself credible to you all. I don’t like putting a lot of real life into this blog, except for a few isolated places, but here’s one where I feel it’s really important to know what my foundation is to contextualize your own take on the theorizing I’m about to do.

Basically, I’m not an expert on any of this. I do have enough of a professional background behind me to make what I consider to be some educated guesses, but I’ve never worked in the video games industry. So, you know, keep that in mind.

My degree’s in Business Administration. I’ve spent most of my career as a small business consultant. I’ve worked on the outskirts of the literary publishing, the fine art, and the film industries. I have and continue to periodically write or work on my graphic novel or do other creative stuff. So the above few sentences are where I get my standing on the business and creative spheres. I currently work as a case manager, which gives me a bit of a lead on the social aspects, but honestly, most of that is just going to be drawing from my years of experience watching people be assholes on the internet. Because really, that’s as much of an expert as pretty much anyone is on that side.

So there, that’s the short and quick of what I’ve got behind me pushing me towards these thoughts. You got it? Good.

One more thing I want to highlight on this little series here. The Shameful Narcissist hit it right on the head in the last post on the subject: This is a very complicated matter. The question of why we don’t see more woman-fronted video games is something that relates to the core of how we look at each other and treat each other as human beings. This is a complex matter. And we cannot apply a simple solution to it. People on both sides of the argument have been doing that as long as the argument has been there, and it hasn’t gotten anybody anywhere. That’s the big takeaway I want you to get. We cannot have a simple solution to a complex problem. There are so many factors involved in keeping men as the primary gender for video game protagonists and trying to address one single thing as the cause for it all is just wasted effort. If you want to see the type of change that leads to more female leads in games, we’ll need to start by understanding just how many branches there are in that rabbit hole.

Moreover, this is not about misogyny or any sort of acute sexism. This is not a man vs. woman thing. If there is anyone out there deliberately making choices to keep women out of games, nobody with any sort of sense is listening to them. Rather, this is more about implicit bias. This is about the assumptions society in general makes about gender and what that means. Every culture, large-scale or small, has their own set of assumptions and acts on them unconsciously in ways that trend towards whatever group is most strongly represented there. It’s not just whatever group men or whites or whatever group in power at the time does. Look at companies and industries dominated by women, or caste- or clan-based societies, and you’ll see the same thing. These unconscious biases are usually negative on both sides, which we won’t so much see here but will become more apparent when we get into the next two sectors we’re looking at. The longer that culture goes on, the more prominent those unconscious trends become, until slowly, shifts start to happen. We’re in the middle of a shift like that now, but it’s not happening quite the way a lot involved in that dumb culture war going on right now would like. We’re going to check out why.

Let’s start giving you the Business.

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Snap Judgements on the Humble Originals

The Humble Bundle is a pretty fantastic thing. Get yourself a curated selection of games, plenty of which are probably completely new, unfamiliar, and surprising to you, and drop some money towards charity while you’re at it. A while back, they started up their Humble Monthly, a sort of book club for games, wherein you get a bunch of mostly mystery games every month as long as you subscribe.

Humble Monthly did well enough that they were able to bring a bit of funding to bear for the purposes of producing games. Doesn’t seem to be all that much, as all the games produced under that banner seem to be very small projects, but it has brought to life plenty of games that might not have seen the light otherwise. They’re all relatively small games, but they trend towards the experimental, the risky, and the unusual experiences.

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And these Humble Originals, as they’re called, are somewhat exclusive. Only a handful of them have seen release outside of the Humble channels. It used to be they were divvied up, granted one per month through the Humble Monthly releases, but now, they’re part of the collection of games offered for free download for any Humble Monthly subscriber. And this month, and this month only, I’ve got access to them.

And as always, my gain is everyone else’s gain too. Given that these games aren’t available for most of the general audience, I thought I’d do my part to let everyone know what’s going on here. Build up that good old public repository of knowledge. Of video games. Important stuff. I’ve played all of them. Some of them, all the way through, some of them until I got bored, and some, I only got a taste of. Here’s my quick impressions of what the Humble Original catalog has in store.

I can’t wait to get started. Can you imagine? Free of the traditional game funding structures, this is where the true High Art of gaming can flourish! I’m looking forward to a lot of incredibly deep experiences with multifaceted plotlines and intensely crafted atmospheres and…

Cat Girl without Salad

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Yesssssssssssss. High. Art. Achieved.

Cat Girl without Salad originally started life as an April Fool’s joke from Wayforward, developers of the Shantae series and a lot of surprisingly good classic game revivals. Way, way back in the prehistoric days of 2013, they had announced this game as a Fool’s Day gag, promising to build a game that combined elements of pretty much every genre out there. Then April Fool’s was over, everybody forgot about it, the end.

Until years later when those Humble guys started throwing money around, and brought this to life. This silly, ridiculous game idea. And you know what? It’s one of my favorites of this collection.

It still brings elements of all sorts of game genres together. Sort of. It’s primarily a side-scrolling shooter, but all your weapon pick ups are from different industries. I didn’t get to play long, but in the course of my time there, I picked up a sports gun, which used classic golf game mechanics to fire, a puzzle gun, where you matched orbs a la bubble bobble to clear the screen, a rhythm gun, where you had to play DDR to fire your weapon, and more.

You may guess it’s pretty silly. You’d guess write. The dialogue backs this up. It feels like playing a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s creative and funny and manic. So yeah.

The art is pretty neat, if a bit simple. Animation is nonexistent, everything is just a static sprite. Sometimes, they’ll switch to a different pose, but no actual movement. The game’s pretty short too, just three levels as far as I can tell. But I had a great time with it. This is already on my list to play more later.

Disc Room

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It’s a challenge game, akin to Super Meat Boy or 10 Second Run. You’re in a room with a bunch of spinning saw blades. They move around and bounce off the walls. Some have special properties. Your goal is to survive 30 seconds. Which all sounds like a typical Tuesday, really. Do so, and you unlock different challenge rooms with new fun ways to murder you with saws. Yay. Fail, and you’re pretty much right back in the action right away. It’s a really snappy game.

I enjoyed it, but this isn’t a type of game I typically spend a whole lot of time plugging into. I can see myself playing it in short spurts when the mood strikes, but not really giving it a dedicated play session.

Copoka

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If you ever wanted to be a bird in a totalitarian country, (I know I’ve dreamed of that every single day), then Copoka is the game for you.

Yeah. You’re a bird. Just a bird. You fly around. Pick up stuff for your nest. Eavesdrop into the dreary, horrible lives of the general populace. That last bit is where the real meat of this game lies. It’s an environmental narrative or art game or walking simulator of whatever the blazes you want to call it. Not much in the way of actual gameplay unless you really, really like flying aimlessly, but you can follow the breadcrumbs to pick up little glimpses into the lives of the citizenry of the oppressive regime.

I kind of like the way things are told through this game. I think it’s interesting being a completely unconcerned observer just casually picking up a bunch of tidbits of life behind the wall as you’re going along. I just wish it was deeper. The totalitarian government is same typical one you find in storytelling, the wrongs being inflicted on it’s people aren’t anything different from what you’ve seen before, and the game doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to actually say on it’s subject matter. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to walk away with. Look at these sad people and be sad too? Totalitarianism is bad? Not much room for insight in this tale.

Elephant in the Room

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Continuing the animal-themed games, in Elephant in the Room, you are an elephant. In the room. This is about as self-explanatory as games get. Your job is to make it out of the house without being acknowledged. There’s a party going on, and you’ve got to stealth your way through. If you’re spotted, you have to trample whoever sees you before they can tell anyone else you’re there. That is exactly how I make my way through parties, so I can relate to this concept.

I’m not convinced the house actually has any doors to the outside. I haven’t found one yet. Although I haven’t tried very hard. This game just doesn’t feel very good to play. The controls aren’t horrible, but for whatever reason, it just feels wrong, tactilely. It’s missing some kind of mechanical cohesiveness that would bring it all together. It doesn’t help that there’s a fair amount your elephant can do, but all you have as far as a guide goes is a quick controls screen when you first start up that you’ll likely forget half of pretty quickly.

So yeah. Not recommended.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero

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This is a giant love letter to the NES era. Oddly enough, rather than aping the most well known titles of the generation that everyone remembers, Gunmetal Arcadia Zero feels a lot more like the average game your grandma would have bought you from the random garage sale going on down the street. Rather than aping the classics from Nintendo, Konami, or Capcom, this game feels like it draws more inspiration from the likes of Sunsoft or Data East. I’m not sure where I’m picking up that distinction, but honestly, it feels very nostalgic to me, and it draws me back to my childhood a lot more than the average Castlevania clone would.

Design, sound, most everything presentation-wise feels very much like an old NES game. The only thing that really seems out of place is the text. The phrasing is not nearly as awkward as those old NES games always were, and it’s pretty clear that the developers were not under a memory limitation in how they plotted things out. It’s not a bad thing, having dialogue and a plot that’s actually parsable, though, so I’ll forgive them this one diversion from the old school.

Otherwise, the game is fun. Lots of equipment and upgrade options that actually impact gameplay, the action-platforming is fun and responsive, and the whole experience feels very well designed. I’m not a fan of the lives system, I feel that’s a gameplay feature the industry outgrew for a reason and it doesn’t really jive well with the more limited time I have to play these days, but at least the checkpoints don’t seem horribly far apart.

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Eh, it’s a puzzle-platformer where you’re a 2d character situated on a 3d cube that you can rotate and navigate according to a fixed perspective. It’s got a lot of character. There’s a very solid visual design going throughout. I gave up on it pretty quickly though, as I lost track of where to go next and I found the navigation and the way the game would completely reset your progress every time you fell off the cube to be rather frustrating. It’s one of the things that’s part of the way I play games now vs. the way I played years ago. I hate having to repeat myself. And it may be coming from my lack of grasp of this games level rotation mechanics, but I just lost patience with having to do things over and over again.

Keyboard Sports

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Do you love your keyboard? I love your keyboard. This is a game that’s a big love letter to your keyboard, before the preponderance of gadgets such as phones and tablets make it obsolete. You play it with the entire keyboard. Forget your WASD, you’ve got to use all your QWERTY here.

It’s a very simple concept. Press a key, and your character moves to that relative position on your screen. It’s applied in so many creative ways, though, and that builds quality into it. Keyboard Sports is creative and varied and always fun and way too short. Luckily, the developers seem to be using this as a proof-of-concept for a full game, so we may be seeing more keyboard goodness some day.

Yojimbrawl

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This is a multiplayer-only game and I am too intense to have friends, so I’ll let you guess what my experience with it was.

Kimmy

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Kimmy is a visual novel with a unique art style where you’re babysitting the titular Kimmy and helping the shy, reserved child make friends by teaching all the neighborhood kids how to play classic schoolyard games lack jacks, kick the can, and bloody knuckles, which is appropriate for young children apparently.

I played it for a couple of in-game days, and its story never got to a hook. There’s obviously something going on with Kimmy and her family, how her mom works two jobs while her father’s at home all day and Kimmy doesn’t want to be alone with her dad, but details on any overarcing plot are very sparsely distributed. Most of the game is just explaining the rules of kids games, which yes, I remember, good for me, but it wasn’t compelling.

To be honest, I’m probably not going to be the best at judging a visual novel at the moment. The same issue I’m dealing with that’s changed the way I’m writing posts has also affected my ability to read, so take this impression with a grain of salt.

Oh Deer!

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So Oh Deer calls back to all those great driving games of the 16 bit era, such as… um… I’ve got this, just give me a moment…. errr….

This is… it is certainly a game. You drive. Sometimes there are lines of deer. You can drive right through them. Or not. It really doesn’t matter. At first I thought there were only two levels, because I always ran out of gas in the middle of the second area. Eventually, I learned to powerslide, which is a more fuel efficient way of moving about, and I ran out of gas sometime later in the second area. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to proceed. I don’t know if there’s any real objective here. I don’t know about this game.

Uurnog

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What, you can’t tell exactly what this game is from the name? It seemed obvious to me.

Uurnog is a very visually stylized puzzle-platformer, mechanically similar to Super Mario Bros 2. I didn’t get the chance to play very much of it, but what I did, I enjoyed. You pick up stuff. You put down stuff. All the stuff you pick up has some sort of special function you can use to alter the surrounding area. I saw some weapons to pick up, so I’m guessing there’s combat which… kind of feels like it might be a pain in the ass, but other than that? It’s charming, the earliest puzzles at least were simple without being brainless and I enjoyed my time with it. Another game I’m looking forward to spending more time with later.

Jawns

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A strategy board game. If you’ve ever played stratego, it’s like that, with all the pieces revealed and the board scaled down. Every piece has a number. Pieces beat other pieces of a lower number. It’s kind of like checkers, simple on the surface, but I could see it getting some real strategy to it. Jawns does have a single-player ‘practice’ mode, but the AI is very simple, so you’d have to pull in a friend to get the full experience. I invite you to check out an earlier description for my position with regards to friends.

A2Be

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All these Humble Originals are obviously small experiences. Didn’t have a huge team or a huge budget, and creativity is valued here over spectacle or in-depth mechanics, for the most part. Apparently, it’s valued over playtesting, too. Apparently, after the intro, something went wrong with the game’s code and it placed me in the very last area of the game, rather than the first. So I saw the intro, and I saw the final scene and the ending, and nothing in between. Kind of color’s one’s perspective on the game.

It’s a sci-fi point and click adventure. Seems very dialogue heavy, from the bits that I saw. From the presentation and the ending, I would imagine it has a lot more emphasis on dialogue and storytelling than on traditional gameplay. Full of purple prose, more emphasis on saying something poetically than saying it clearly, but it did explore some interesting, if not exactly novel, ideas in the bits I played.

I did get it working properly, but between the frustration I had with that weird glitch and my current problems in reading such a dialogue heavy game, eh. Not going to give it a recommendation.

Tiny Echo

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A point and click… environmental narrative, I think? I hesitate to call it an adventure. Nothing I’d really consider puzzles, seems most things are on a course. Which, yeah, it’s environmental as all get out. The experience just oozes somber and surreal. You’re in an odd land, delivering mail to the souls of odd beings, all beautifully arted and sounded. It’s an interesting experience. I wouldn’t imagine you’d enjoy this if you’re not into environmental narratives already, but I found it rather fascinating. I’m calling out a few other art games on this list for their lack of substance, but I don’t think this one fits that denigration. It doesn’t give many details, but it does trigger my imagination in a way that others here have failed at.

2000:1: A Space Felony

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Take a look at that name. I’ll give you one guess as to what movie it takes after. I’ll also give you one guess as to what game it takes after. Ok, maybe that second one is a bit harder.

This is 2001: a Space Odyssey meets Phoenix Wright. And as far as the film influence goes, homage is an understatement. The serial numbers aren’t filed off, there’s just a clear piece of packing tape over them. They changed things from the film the minimum amount required to maybe not get sued. I mean, I only saw the film once. And I was drunk then. And the wholesale borrowing was still very blatant to me.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad experience. I actually quite enjoyed it. Basically, you’re a detective, investigating this spacecraft that has been out of contact for a while. The only thing still active on the craft is it’s AI, Mal. You collect evidence, confront Mal with it, and point out holes in his testimony by presenting conflicting evidence. If you find he’s behind any foul play on board, it’s your job to deactivate him.

The writing is sharp and clever. A lot of dry humor that I really resonated with. The mystery isn’t exactly hard to uncover, and the controls can be very persnickety, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Not exactly a lot of replay value here and it’s over really quickly, but it’s a good experience for as long as it lasts.

Quiet City

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I’m at a real risk of spending more time writing about this game than I did playing it, so I’ll have to be brief.

Quiet City is an art game, almost without a subject. You make stuff happen. Then it stops. There is no substance here. Nothing to say or consider or think about. When you’re pushing riskier games, not all of them are going to work out, and for me, this was a massive swing and a miss.

Volantia: Kingdom in the Sky

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I believe this is the most recent Humble Original. And it’s a really solid one. It’s a city management sim, set in a land floating in the sky. You need to pull in other floating islands to grow your kingdom, take advantage of their resources, and eventually connect your landmass with the ziggurats that keep everything from falling apart again.
This game is deeper than any of the others here except for possibly Uurnog and Gunmetal Arcadia Zero. Resource management is the game of the day, and you’ve got a lot of resources to play with there. The game evolves significantly as you play it, as you exhaust the simple resources and have to move down your tech tree to build up more complicated ways of building and maintaining the necessities you need. It seems all your functions are interrelated, and it takes a lot of balancing in order to keep your city stable. You need fruit to keep your workers going but that same fruit is the easiest way to produce your building material once your dust trees run dry, often leading to choices on whether to devote fruit toward more efficient production or to growing your city in other ways. And that runs completely down the line.

The game is beautiful too. Very well developed and charming visuals, it carries a very interesting appeal. I really liked this one. I did reach the point where my city was no longer in danger of collapsing to the earth below after an hour of play, and wasn’t really compelled to play on after that, but if you’re motivated by something different than I am, you may enjoy yourself even longer than that.

And that’s the Humble Originals. When you’re specifically bringing the more experimental and risky games to fruition, you’re going to land a couple of downers, and there are definitely some disappointments here. But there are also a few real gems. And really, they’re all interesting, in their own way. I’m glad Humble Originals is around to bring these to life, even if they’re not all that accessible most of the time.