Now Playing

A while back, I mentioned my quest to beat all the games by console generation, and how close I was to filling out the PlayCubeBox 2 generation that I’ve been working on for so long I really don’t want to admit it. Just as a means of keeping myself honest, I thought I’d run an update on that, as well as what else I’ve been up to gaming-wise. This might end up being like a regular thing. I don’t know. We’ll find out how much it amuses me.

The Recently Conquered

Tales of the Abyss

150839-Tales_of_the_Abyss_(USA)-2.jpg

Tales of the Abyss is fantastic. I mentioned that last time, so no surprises there. I used a guide this time, and nearly 100%’ed the game. Beat the super tough bonus boss, got nearly all the extra costumes and what not, still fantastic.

Story-wise, it’ll be the subject of an upcoming post. Just need some time to sort through my thoughts on it. Tales games always have unique and interesting twists on typical storytelling tropes, and Tales of the Abyss did not disappoint. So yes. We will have words on this.

Summoner 2: A Goddess Reborn

91405-summoner-2-gamecube-screenshot-one-of-the-many-cutscenes-in.png

I mentioned that I was pretty surprised at actually having a good time with Summoner 2. That kept up most of the game. The beginning is a giant dreg. When you start building up in power, though, and start getting a lot more options in combat, it starts getting pretty fun, and it stays that way right up until the end game starts through a bunch of bullhonky at you. It actually gets more fun as you get more and more overpowered compared to your enemies, as you get to do more than what the horribly clumsy battle system is equipped to allow.

Of course, the final battle did lose a lot of impact by the fact that both the boss and your character were too big for the dumb camera to actually show what you or it was doing. Playtest your games, people.

The Bouncer

150212-Bouncer,_The_(USA)_(En,Ja)-1494852408.jpg

This came out in an era in which Square just was no good at making games that weren’t turn-based. And it shows. The Bouncer is clumsy and feels slower than its game-type should be. But I still love it. I’m pretty sure that all just comes from good memories. I was introduced to this game over the course of a rather long night co-oping with a good friend of mine, and it’s always been very charming to me since.

I think it also helps that the game is really not long, unless you play it through three times in a row like they want you to. If you had to spend more than a couple hours on it, the games problems would get to be a lot more irritating, but as is, you’re in and out before it starts to wear on you. Kind of like my love life, in that.

Half-Life

150696-Half-Life_(USA)-4.png

I really tried with this. I wanted to finally beat it. And I did everything I could. Took it as long as I could naturally, then worked in the invincibility cheat, and continued on from there. Finished up the dumb rotating teleporter mazes and all. Then, just as we were about to hit a climax, I started running into a persistent bug that continually reloaded a corrupted save. Impossible to continue, I had to end it. They did really try with the PS2 port of it, but the controls weren’t really working for me, and the glitches ended up killing it. A shame.
Although in good news, the internet says I was forced out before the worst part of the game. So it’s not all bad, right?

Now Playing

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

PREVIEW_SCREENSHOT1_147758.jpg

I’d played this before, but apparently I never gave it a real chance. Didn’t realize it, but I got farther in this game than I ever had before in only two playsessions.

It’s a decent setting. A really heavy mix of soft political sci-fi with pretty classic fantasy. I’m really digging it. It’s getting my imagination going in a way that only happens occasionally in these games, mentally exploring the world beyond just what I’m shown.

That said, I mentioned last time I wasn’t too enthused for this game, and that’s held up. It’s the battle system, mostly. Reminds me a lot of the Tales series, except it’s really not as good. A lot more 3D, but your moves are more limited, and that Fury system they have governing your combat is just a pain. In short, attacking costs you Fury, standing still builds it back up. If your Fury is full, you’re immune to light attacks, but you get a heavy Fury penalty if hit with a hard one. Thus far, it’s a system that seems to be entirely in the CPU’s favor, when it impacts the battle at all

I’m hoping that this is a game that’s going to be like Summoner 2 was, in that it gets demonstrably better as I get more powerful and more options open up. It’s showing the initial signs of that, at least. It better. I’ve got another 30-40 hours to go on it.

Simpsons: Hit and Run

66881-The_Simpsons_Hit_And_Run_USA_NGC-MOONCUBE-1.jpg

I don’t really have much to say here that I didn’t last time. It’s better than you’d expect, but I think I might have had the old whatever-colored glasses on when I implied it was a particularly good game. It’s sound, but has it’s problems. Particularly with adding an arbitrary timer on everything. I didn’t notice it at the time, but that was a really common feature of its era. All sorts of games this console generation drop a timer on something with absolutely no justification other than gameplay. Not everything needs a failure state, folks.

Bonus Round- Planescape: Torment

unnamed.png

Not one of the console generation, specifically, but I picked up a number of classic games since I started this quest. I’m not requiring that I beat them before moving onto my next set of consoles like I am with all the rest, but I can’t say I’ve beat all my games without finishing these up, too, right?

In any case, Planescape and I had a rough start together. It plays a lot like Fallout, which I love like I would my own child, so that surprises me, but yeah, not a fun beginning. The opening area got to be a bit confusing as I was giving conflicting instructions on how to exit, and my opening class was chosen for me, and was the exact opposite of the one I specced myself for. You don’t have to fight very often, but when you do, it’s quite tense. Especially because it runs off of the Baldur’s Gate engine, and I really hated the combat there.

Getting a party started to turn it around for me. I’m still handling most of the situations diplomatically, but now that I can hold my own in a fight and don’t have to worry about being reset with every bad speech check, even though I’m still not fighting all that often, I’m relaxing a bit more and just enjoying the world and its quests quite a bit. I appreciate that its a game that seems built around dialogue and plot and creatively approaching problems, rather than just smashing your way through them. I really enjoy the nuanced approach.

Advertisements

Adventures in Social Gaming

battle-net-old.jpg

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.

52049.jpg

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.

Nick_and_Dick_(DR3).png

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.

Fallout Chapter 10: The Wheels of Justice

So, last time on Balls Out Fallout, we let you folks make a few choices. We’re hear to see the results of them today.

Screenshot (254).png

First up, comes good old Iguana Bob. Hub street food vendor.  Runs a ‘family’ eating place in the most literal sense. As you may recall, we ran into one of his suppliers in Doc Morbid’s morgue back in Junktown, and found that not all of his ingredients are entirely kosher, and you guys decided that we need to shut his operation down. But there’s a bit of a problem here. The city is very well patrolled, and we’re in a rather public area. If we were to start anything with him, the guards would be on us in a flash. It’s pretty simple to piss Bob off to the point where he starts the fight himself, so we can just proactively defend ourselves against him which wouldn’t draw any of the po-pos here, but I promised to show you guys a neat trick involving a sack today.

Before we get into that, though, I want to make sure that Bob knows why he has this coming. Athena walks over and starts chatting him up.

Screenshot (256).png

We start on what would be a really cool Soylent Green bit, but Bob shuts us up. Then he tries to justify it. He’s not the one killing people! They’re already dead! It’s environmentally friendly! Doesn’t Athena like the environment?

Athena does not in fact like the environment. This environment never stops trying to kill her and has not had the good graces to invent Dragon Age yet to make up for it. She tells him so. He stoops to threats, but does not draw his weapon yet. Athena ends the conversation.

I told you before that the burlap sack is the ultimate assassination tool. I was a little hyperbolic in that. The sack is not the ultimate assassination tool. It is half of the ultimate assassination tool. When we get the other half assembled, we are going to kill Iguana Bob in broad daylight, right in front of the police, with nobody having any idea of what happened. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

e18648f423a4aff812c3eb005da9dccced772b56

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

Screenshot (237).png

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

disc.jpg

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

Screenshot (244).png

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

Screenshot (220).png

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

Screenshot (226).png

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.

SpoolsideScreenshot (235).png

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

airplane.png

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

Screenshot (225).png

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

Screenshot (251).png

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!

screenshot-05.png

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

Screenshot (227).png

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

Screenshot (246).png

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

Screenshot (231).png

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

Screenshot (253).png

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

Screenshot (219).png

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

Screenshot (223).png

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

Screenshot (224).png

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.

Getting Better Isn’t Good Enough

I mentioned earlier that I’ve been playing through Summoner: A Goddess Reborn. At the time, I called it the worst game of all the ones I have left to play of its generation as part of my little gaming quest.

451591-ps2summoner_004.jpg

I don’t think I can stand by that anymore. I’ve got farther into it, and you know what? Even though it’s still jank as all hell, it actually got good! I didn’t see that coming. But yeah, as you get some levels on your characters, build up better equipment, and start to leave the see of worthless side quests, the game really picks up. I’m like 2/3rds of the way through, I believe, and a lot of the things that were frustrating me about the game fell by the wayside. I’ve got more options in combat, so it’s a lot less one-note. Skills that originally seemed worthless start becoming viable, giving the mechanics more depth. And the strong world-building starts being woven a lot more competently into the plot.

I have owned this game for over a decade. I’ve never particularly enjoyed it. Until now. I’ve always ran out of patience until I got to the good stuff. I had a solid experience, right there on my shelf, and never even knew it because it was buried under all that guff.

Crystallized_Coccon_at_night.png

It’s a similar story with Final Fantasy XIII. Well, sort of. Most of the people who like the game swears that it gets better when you get a significant part of the way in. That there’s actually a great game buried under the first ten-twenty hours. I wouldn’t know. I took them at their word, once. I tried to power through it, to find the fun that’s hidden within. But it was too much of an investment for me. I spent a good week’s worth of playtime, trying to enjoy it, never did, so it’s been sitting on my shelf for years.

That’s a pretty significant flaw with both of these games, one that has cost me what’s apparently a pretty good game. But why is it different for these games, though? Plenty of other games still take plenty of time to get themselves up to speed. Persona 4 took two hours before it handed you the reins for the first time, and that’s one of my favorite games. Giving you a very limited experience until you were several hours in, and that’s still a great game.

It shouldn’t be a bad thing, to build up in the middle. It’s pretty well-known that with most games, most of the budget is put into the opening moments of it, because that’s where the review scores and word of mouth largely comes from. The middle sections of it those that end up forming most of your playtime, often end up a bit lacking, afterward. Reversing that, giving more focus to the middle sections, would give you more time with the quality, and should give a better experience in all.

And you know, plenty of games do that. It’s pretty often, you’ll see the intro get taken up by a tutorial, or by tone-setting, or something like that, leading to less fun at first only for a more quality experience later on. Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, Undertale, Ninja Gaiden, etc. all take their time with the beginning of the game, not hitting you with the real meat of what it’s all about until you’ve passed at least the first threshold. It’s definitely a design decision that carries some risks, but countless games do take it up, and there are plenty of very well-regarded ones in there.

The problem with Summoner 2 and Final Fantasy XIII is just that they’re that concept taken to extreme. I’m a patient man. I’m willing to spend a couple of sessions with a game as it’s putting all the blocks together. But apparently, I have a limit as to how long I’ll wait for that, and both of those games require more from me than I have to give. Which is a shame. I’d have loved to get the fun Summoner 2 experience without having to force myself though the overpowering sea of jank for it, and I’d love to get the Final Fantasy XIII experience all its fans swear is in there without having to commit a few weeks of play sessions in first. I’m sure that practice does have its benefits, even if it’s not for the mainstream, but I’m only going to embark on a multi-year quest to beat every single one of my games so many times in my life, and it’s probably not a good fit for me to have a game that I can only enjoy when I’m doing that.  Summoner 2 is becoming a good game for me.  Final Fantasy XIII will apparently do so when I get around to playing that as part of this quest.  They do themselves a disservice by having such a barrier to entry on the way there.

Going Downtown in Fallout Chapter 9

Last time, on Aether cruises through Fallout, we… I don’t even remember. Something about going home again. You can read it. We’re not concerned about past. We only look towards the future. And the future, for us, is the Hub.

We embark from Vault 13 and make the long trip south. A long way. It takes a couple of days to reach it. We only know where the Hub is because of Ian; he told us where to find it, a while ago. It’s about half a day south of Junktown, and since we went back to the beginning to visit the Vault, we have to travel everything we’ve done all over again.

Screenshot (172).png

The only real obstacle we run into on the way there is a single Radscorpion. Which by this point is not an obstacle at all. I only include it to commemorate the fact that it manages to poison Athena. It’s true! It manages to get the drop on us, and the only attack it makes before Athena and crew blow it away manages to both get past Athena’s defenses and actually poison her! This is exciting! I rarely ever see this happen! Entire games will go by, and I don’t have to think about poison. Of course, we’re carrying around 10 antidotes because I haven’t bothered selling them off yet, so it’s no matter for us to cure it, but still! It’s like winning the lottery. Of discomfort. Yeah. We don’t even loot the scorpion’s corpse, we just leave it there as a monument to this unique moment.

Screenshot (174).png

Oh, and also, it’s been 50 days since we left the Vault, I think. Our Pipboy gives us a helpful reminder that everyone we’ve ever known and loved will soon die unless we find some way to rescue them by tracking down a lonely little water chip in this awful, awful wasteland. You know, in case we forgot.

Which we didn’t, for your information.

And then, we’re at the Hub! The thriving metropolis, largest city in the Pacific Wasteland, headquarters of nearly all organized traders in the wastes. They control the economy of the region, most commerce flows through here at some point, and this is the closest thing the wasteland has to a pre-war style city.

We walk in there, and it’s surrounded by farms. Two headed cows and weird mutated corn as far as the eye can see. I gotta say, I really love that Fallout thought about agriculture. Most games only give it a passing sidequest where you have to save the odd bumpkin from some ghost of his daughter’s uncle or some thing, but you see agriculture all over the place here.

Screenshot (176).png

We also bump into a caravan that’s in the process of leaving town, hitching their wagons made from the scavenged flatbeds of pre-war vehicles up to their brahmin, the two-headed cows that serve as the livestock out here. We chat up the security guard, and get some deets on the place. Apparently, we can buy pretty much anything here. Including water. You know, if they can get fresh water here, mayhaps they’d have an idea of where we can pick up a water chip.

Screenshot (179).png

After that we break into some random guy’s house in the middle of the night and start quizzing him about the layout of town. He’s a surprisingly good sport about it. He tells us were to find all the necessities in town, such as the police station, the general store, and most important of all, the local bar. He also tells us that we passed by someone from the sheriff’s office who would have filled us in on all that, but we didn’t because it’s 10:00 p.m. And all the sensible people are in bed and not breaking and entering in order to ask for directions.

Athena’s a night person, remember. You guys all picked it and everything. This is what she do.

Continue reading