Taking a Nostalgia Trip with The PikeCast

Full disclosure: I never got into podcasts. Although I have a weakness for old radio plays, talk radio never appealed to me. However, when information about The PikeCast came across my Twitter timeline a month or so ago, I was 13 again.

As best I can recall, I did most of my reading of Christopher Pike’s books in junior high school, and they really were the start of my passion for all things horror. Sometime in high school, I decided I had outgrown them, and sold them all to my local used bookstore, using the credits to buy more grown-up novels.

Then, sometime in my 20s, I had the urge to reread some of his work, but unfortunately, the heyday of Pike was already pretty much past. I was only able to track down one of my old favorites – See You Later – but I picked up a few that had come out after I had stopped reading, including The Midnight Club and his more adult-focused novel, Sati. I toyed with idea of rebuilding my collection, but I never really pursued it.

Now, I’m in my 40s, and I’m scrounging around in online used bookstores for thirty year old YA horror novels in the middle of a pandemic, and well, if that isn’t peak 2020, I don’t know what is.

Everything past this point is going to contain oodles of spoilers, both for the first two episodes of The PikeCast, and for the books discussed therein (Die Softly and Whisper of Death). If you’d like to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.

The PikeCast Episode 1: Die Softly

In a way, I’m kind of glad that The PikeCast didn’t start at the beginning with Slumber Party, because if they had, I might not have felt like I had to read the book before listening. I have at least vague memories of every book he published prior to 1990, but my recall gets really spotty from there. Die Softly was published in 1991, and I’m fairly certain it’s not a book I had read before.

I don’t remember Christopher Pike books being so blatant with the morals, but I also admit I read a whole lot differently now than I did at 13. Die Softly makes sure you know that cocaine is bad, and that it can turn you into a heartless, violent monster. Several minor characters suffer this fate, although the main antagonist was a complete psychopath before she got involved with drugs.

For the most part, I found myself nodding along as I listened to The PikeCast, but I also felt like there wasn’t a whole lot in this one that was overly open to interpretation. Although I wasn’t overly enthused about the book itself – the protagonist was pretty unlikable so I struggled to get too invested – I felt like this was a really great choice to introduce listeners to the structure of the podcast and the level of detailed analysis of character, plot, and writing each episode will feature.

The PikeCast Episode 2: Whisper of Death

And then there was Whisper of Death. Now, I thought Die Softly was a little heavy-handed on the message, but it was nothing compared to this one. On the one hand, I found it really interesting that a YA horror novel from the nineties would be so upfront in talking about abortion. On the other, this book was nearly incoherent outside of the framing device if you tried to take it at face value.

Which is why I was so surprised that the folks from The PikeCast were so sure that (a) this wasn’t meant to be a blatantly anti-abortion book and (b) the mid-section of the book actually happened, as opposed to being an anesthesia-fueled nightmare in which the protagonist’s feelings of guilt and shame were personified by a recently deceased student with horrifying powers (who, by the way, was never even mentioned before things got weird). Read that way, it does become a bit of a morality play, but for me, no other reading makes any sense at all.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of potent imagery in the maybe-supernatural, maybe-dreamworld portion of the book, and I suspect that is also what would have stuck with me had I read it for the first time in my early teens. But I was also very surprised that none of the folks taking a deep dive into the book in the podcast even seemed willing to entertain the interpretation that felt so obvious to me. I think, perhaps, if this had been the first episode, it might have turned me off from the podcast entirely.

That said, I totally understand how overwhleming nostalgia and memory can be, and I’m still really excited about this project. In fact, I signed up to their Patreon today. I may not have agreed with much of what they said regarding Whisper of Death, but that hasn’t dissuaded me from wanting to revisit these books, and then listen in on folks who are as passionate about them as I once was.

I’m looking forward to doing my first Christopher Pike re-read (The Midnight Club) and then listening to the deep dive by The PikeCast. I am still not sure I’m 100% get the allure of podcasts in general, but this one is so completely up my alley, I expect I’m in it for the long haul. I’m especially looking forward to the episodes that talk about the first dozen or so books, because that’s where my nostalgia lies.

Game Over – Alan Wake (#HorrorGameOct)

I finished the last main story episode of Alan Wake a couple of days ago, but I really felt like I needed to sit with how I felt about the experience as a whole before I could really talk about it.

You see, there were a lot of things about the game I really liked. The sound design was fantastic. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to point to anything in the atmosphere that detracted from the experience rather than added to it. Still, I overall found the whole package somewhat unsatisfying, and for what it’s worth, I don’t think I realized how underwhelmed I was until the very end.

Now, obviously, I don’t want to ruin the game for anyone who hasn’t gotten around to it in the past eight and a half years, but it’s actually a common complaint I have with fright media – the story is captivating, and then it’s over, and the ending either resolves nothing or is so far fetched, it cheapens everything that came before. I’m not going to tell you which type of disappointing ending this one was.

It didn’t help that – for me – I think this game would have been better as more of a walking simulator. Other than being story-focused, it often felt like the game wasn’t sure what it was trying to be. Although I could appreciate the theme of burning away the darkness with the flashlight before being able to take on enemies, I found the process to be rather tedious, and at the same time, more difficult than I expected while playing on the easiest difficulty. By comparison, the “puzzles” almost weren’t worthy of being called puzzles, they were so simple and obvious.

Most of the time is spent collecting ammunition and batteries, wandering around lost in the wilderness, and moving oh-so-slowly to the next story beat. I did like the idea of the special messages you could illuminate (and they helped me through a few map navigation challenges), but I already said that Alan Wake had the window dressing on lock.

My other major issue was with collectibles. I usually love collectibles. I love poking around and seeing what neat things I can discover. But when I’m basically being hunted, and dealing with limited resources and confusing maps, I’m not going exploring. I decided early on that if I spotted collectibles, I’d grab them, but I wasn’t going one step out of my way for them.

My final verdict on Alan Wake is this – it was a great concept, with great atmosphere, that was let down by some odd game design choices and an unsatisfying ending. There are two “bonus chapters” that I decided against playing because I found the last chapter so very frustrating that after the resolution of the main story, I had no desire to continue on. I spent a little over 8 hours playing the six main story episodes on the easiest difficulty.

Steam Game Festival – Autumn 2020 Edition

I’ve really been enjoying the opportunity to sample all kinds of demos during online game conferences, but man, I never knew they happened quite so often! For this one, I decided to choose a day, and power through all the demos I could, to better simulate that con experience, and write up a few thoughts on what I’ve tried out.

I spent most of Saturday playing demos, and managed to play twelve different ones to the point where either (a) the demo ended or (b) I had seen enough to make up my mind. In the end, five of the twelve ended up on my wish list.

Watch Me Stream My Mental Breakdown – Estimated Release Date 2020

Warning: If you’re on Discord while playing this, your friends might contact you to express some … concern.

I know I’ve been complaining about the glut of deck-building card games, but here it works. What I’m less sure of is the tone – the whole concept of making your living as a streamer is heavily ridiculed by, well, everyone in the game except the player’s character. Gameplay is fairly polished, but the balance feels off in the early game (you will go into debt – deep into debt). This one didn’t earn a place on my wish list, but I’ll probably check on it a few months after release to see what people are saying about it.

Milo and the Magpies – Estimated Release Date Q1 2021

Beautiful graphics, lovely music, and unfortunately, I found it really irritating to play. The demo does not explain the controls, and it doesn’t seem to behave quite like a point and click game, although I think that was the design intention. I managed to pass through the first yard, mostly due to randomly trying to make things work, and got stumped (and unable to even move) in the second. I think this game probably belongs on the spectrum between point and click adventure games and puzzle games, and having it marketed as a hidden object game is a bit disingenuous.

Zoo Economy – Estimated Release Date Q2 2021

This one is an adorable little economic simulation focused on the breeding and trading of animals. The demo includes a multi-level tutorial, which is good, and the game play loop seems solid. With both a campaign mode and a sandbox mode, my concern with this one is that the concept is too niche to be successful at a reasonable price point. Unlike a lot of zoo-focused simulations, you’re looking at lists and budgets instead of watching cute animals be cute. This one aligns closely with my tastes, so I’m adding it to my wish list, but price point is going to be the biggest factor in whether or not I pick it up.

Supermarket Shriek – Estimated Release Date October 23, 2020

I think we should just file this one under “What was I thinking?” Now, I’m not saying the game itself is bad – in fact, it looks like it could be a lot of wacky fun when played in co-op. It’s just not at all for me. I’m not a huge fan of racing games and obstacle courses when the controls are tight – this one felt super floaty (which I’m sure is great when the goal is adding to chaos), and the screaming would drive me crazy in no time. I’m just not the intended audience for this game.

Strobophagia: Rave Horror – Estimated Release Date October 28, 2020

This one is creepy and stunning and – at least as someone who doesn’t play a lot of horror – pretty damn unique. I’ve added it to my wish list, but to be honest, this might be the type of game I enjoy watching more than playing. I can see myself getting frustrated by the trial-and-error aspects of the puzzles because the game doesn’t give you any indication of what the items are you’re picking up. I knew the answer to the first riddle, I just couldn’t find the thing I needed (despite believing I had it more than once). As a freshman effort from a small development team, this looks and sounds amazing, but I’m not 100% sold on how it actually plays.

Dealer’s Life 2 – Estimated Release Date Q4 2020

I’m usually into anything that let’s you buy stuff, sell stuff, and negotiate for better deals, but I found Dealer’s Life 2 to just be underwhelming. You get a pitifully small number of transactions a day, and it all plays the same without ever giving you any real feedback on the choices you’re making. I guess it could make for a fine little timewaster, but I would rather replay something like Pickers or Barn Finders with a little bit of variety to break up the monotony.

This is the Zodiac Speaking – Estimated Release Date October 15, 2020

I really wanted to be captivated by this one, but for me, it’s just missing the mark. Everything feels ok; nothing feels great. I do appreciate the devs inclusion of a straight-up story mode for people who don’t want to deal with the stealth/combat part of the game play, but I don’t know that there’s enough left without that to pull you through the story. The demo was very slow paced, with really obvious puzzles and a rather awkward UI, and I didn’t particularly want to keep playing.

Scrapnaut – Estimated Release Date January 2021

This is probably going to be a really cool game, but it won’t be a really cool game that I play. I never realized how much movement controls factor into my first impression of a game, and although WASD & mouse-facing sounds pretty standard, it felt super awkward. I also tend to prefer a slower introductory experience, even in a survival-style game. I got stuck on every landscape feature while trying to run away from an enemy I was unprepared to fight, which didn’t quite manage to kill me before lack of oxygen did. I think I was supposed to be able to reach the quest target safely, but since I missed a directional cue (if there was one), I ended up going the wrong way. I guess I want a little more hand-holding to help me get started, and have the difficulty slowly ramp up, and I don’t want the biggest enemy in the game to be the controls.

The Tenants – Estimated Release Date Q1 2021

Despite being absolutely right up my alley, I might have missed this one if Ctrl Alt Noob hadn’t give it a spin early this weekend. Despite the name, this seems to focus a whole lot more on doing renovation jobs than maintaining your own properties (at least in the early game, which is what you get in a demo). For me, that’s perfect. I really enjoy the chill gameplay loop of clean up / build / design / furnish. The time and budget constraints seem generous, allowing you to put your own touches on the requested renovations. I can see myself losing hours upon hours to this one. It’s absolutely going on my wish list!

Going Medieval – Estimated Release Date Late 2020 for Early Access

Full disclosure: this one was already on my wish list, although I don’t recall how I first discovered it, or honestly, even putting it there. Granted, my time with it was short, but I definitely got Rimworld vibes from it. For me, that’s a good thing, but I also have some concerns about the scope – it’s easy for developers to shoot for the moon, and very often, they miss. What they have so far looks promising, and this might even be an Early Access pick up for me, depending on the launch price.

Palindrome Syndrome Escape Room – Estimated Release Date October 14, 2020

I really like the concept of this one – it’s a sci-fi spin on The Room series style of game. The demo is very short, but I found every puzzle within it both satisfying and logical, and am intrigued by the smallest hints of the story. I’m always interested in a solid puzzler with no time limits and some nice window dressing, so I’ll definitely be checking this one out when it releases in a few days – whether I pick it up or not depends on if I feel the launch price is worth the 3-5 hours of play time the developers anticipate.

Tree House Survivors – Estimated Release Date TBA

I had saved this one for last, because I was probably the most excited about it, but it is – at best – half-baked. I actually think the graphical style is fantastic, but the tutorial is lacking (in fact, the store page tells you more than the tutorial seems to). The sheer number of people you have right off the bat is overwhelming, and no one is happy. It’s a frustrating place to have to start from. It looks like this is a solo dev project, and no where near being ready, so I’ll check back on it at a later date – possibly well after release – to see if they’ve managed to pull it off. Right now, it’s stuffed full of things that just don’t work right yet.

World of Warcraft – Preparing for the Pre-Patch

After what feels like waiting an eternity (or longer, it was probably longer) for the pre-Shadowlands patch, it’s now less than a week away. I have World of Warcraft installed on the new PC, complete with the addon folder I remembered to copy over. I am so ready for this.

I still have yet to pre-order Shadowlands, but I have no intention of spending more on it than the base edition, so I don’t have to think about what to do with a boost, because it doesn’t come with one. Besides which, I still have some manner of boost collecting dust, so I’m not really a huge fan of them in the first place.

I decided to pop onto my loading screen and try to make some sense of characters to prioritize my leveling. Please forgive the Inactive tag on most of my characters – I don’t plan on actually resubbing until patch day.

I only have three characters sitting at 120 – which might be the worst I’ve done with leveling in any expansion since Burning Crusade, when I first started playing and had exactly one max level character.

I have pretty much decided to be 100% done with Battle for Azeroth, which means other than cleaning out bags and banks, and possibly dabbling in the pre-expansion event, these ladies are done until after Shadowlands release.

After that is two pairs of characters, currently stuck in their respective expansions, who will be less than 10 levels from cap once the squish drops. I might work on the priest and paladin (two characters who I have had level capped every expansion between Pandaria and Battle for Azeroth), but I’m likely to let the Demon Hunter and Warrior continue to languish.

My warlock will plummet to level 21 post-squish, but she is probably the character who I will dedicate myself to leveling first. I don’t think I’ve had an end-game warlock since Cataclysm, and I’ve missed it (even though I don’t tend to spend much time with DPS only characters).

As evidenced by the fact that three out of four of my rolled but mostly unplayed characters are pure DPS classes. The hunter has the best chance of getting out of lowbie limbo – I have enjoyed playing hunters in the past, but it’s been a long time and a lot of changes, so I’m not going to commit too heavily.

That’s the full roster of characters (bank alt notwithstanding) I have on my main server, and honestly, I can’t even start to think about cross-faction or alternate server characters at this point.

Depending on how quick leveling goes, I would like to commit to having the warlock, paladin, and priest ready to start Shadowlands content. If it’s all super-fast, and I’m still having fun with it, hunter will be next, and then I can hem and haw over the merits of the remaining lowbies versus the almost theres. It will be weird to be playing just about everything except a shaman for a yet undetermined period of time, but since I have played very little in the last 18 months, playing at all is going to feel pretty weird to start out.

Thrown Into Space – An Evening With Among Us

If you’ve been anywhere on the internet over the past month, you’ve probably seen an Among Us meme. More likely, you’ve seen dozens. You might have been under the impression that it was a newly released game, but it’s actually been available for over two years now.

It blipped across my radar a little bit ago, and I pretty much wrote it off as being not for me. Until a couple of my friends picked it up. And then a couple more. Before I knew it, nearly my entire friend group had clicked add to cart and jumped on the Among Us bandwagon. Last night, I made my first foray into the game with them.

Tip 1: Don’t just dive into a game with friends directly.

Now, I’m not saying you have to play public games – I’m saying you definitely should spent a few minutes with the “How to Play” area, because no matter how well you think it’s being explained? It’s not being explained well enough.

I almost quit after … about a minute and a half. Not having looked to see how the controls worked, I couldn’t actually interact with anything, so I started trying to randomly click to troubleshoot the problem, as you do. Well, the first thing I managed to interact with was the Emergency Meeting button, at which point I had to explain in chat that I was an idiot, there was no emergency, and I would very much like to be ejected from the ship now.

It probably took half a dozen games before I started to feel mostly comfortable with how to be part of the crew, and I was pretty lucky in that I got to play that many without being marked as an Imposter. Another friend joining us for the first time last night wasn’t so lucky. He also skipped the instructions, relying on all of us to explain the game. Which we did. If he was a crew member. Which he wasn’t in his first game.

Although you’d never know it from all the laughing that was happening, I felt pretty awful when he told us in our second meeting that he couldn’t figure out how to do tasks, the only thing he had been able to do so far was go into the vents. Oops.

Tip Two: Don’t be afraid to die, and if you do die, the game isn’t over.

Being dead in Among Us is actually pretty great. First off, you get to be a ghost, and there are perks to being a ghost, not the least of which is ghost chat. Ghost chat is where all the people murdered or ejected can talk about the other people who are still alive and oblivious to what’s actually happening.

As my husband remarked last night, Ghost Chat feels kind of like being one of the princes in Stardust. You know stuff when you’re dead.

You can also continue to complete tasks (as a Crew Member) or sabotage the ship (as an Imposter, assuming your game setup has more than one). Also, once you’re a ghost, you can move through walls, which is great for someone like me who lacks a sense of direction and basic understanding of maps.

Tip Three: The game can be fun regardless of what team you’re on.

From what I understand, it’s not terribly uncommon for someone to bail out on a public game if they aren’t made an Imposter. Sure, that’s the flashy mayhem-causing role, but there’s something ridiculously satisfying about getting your tasks done, and then acting as bodyguard for that one person you’re 99% sure is also just a regular Crew Member. Especially because if they’re not so sure of you, following someone around can really freak them out.

And – in the interest of full disclosure – I expected I would hate being an Imposter and was dreading the first time that came up. All the games we played were two imposter games, which took a little of the pressure off, but I was still nervous.

As it turned out, all the things that made me kind of shady as a crew mate – recklessness in approaching others, a complete and utter disregard for doing things in a logical order, and just being generally bizarre in the way I navigated the map – made me a pretty great imposter. The group had gotten used to my clumsy play style, and I wasn’t doing anything differently – except murdering people. I avoided the vents and couldn’t figure out how to sabotage the ship, so murder it was. Both times I was half of the imposter team, we won.

Among Us is not a game I expect to spend too much time with, outside of playing with friends. I don’t feel terribly competent, and despite what my Imposter wins would seem to indicate, I’m a pretty awful liar. But the rounds are quick, you can still win when you’re dead, and I’m interested to see where the developers take the game after its unexpected rise in popularity.

Nerd Girl Goals – October 2020

Community Game Along – #HorrorGameOct

This one is going to be easy. Well, easy-ish. I love the idea of horror games, but if I’m being honest, I’m a big old wimp when it comes to scary games, even though I can watch scary movies all day long and sleep like a baby.

Before checking the monthly theme, I had already chosen a handful of games all along the spooky spectrum to dabble in throughout October, but the game I’m going to specifically select is one I think I can get through – Alan Wake.

I picked up both Alan Wake games back in 2012 for $9.99, and never even seriously considered booting up either one. I think it’s well past time now. It’s got a fairly short completion time (under 20 hours), and I think it’s going to be more spooky than downright terrifying.

Other horror / horror-adjacent games I have downloaded to poke around in next month include Call of Cthulhu, Darkwood, Little Nightmares, and A Plague Tale: Innocence. Obviously, I don’t expect that I’ll finish all of them, but the first three have been in the library for awhile, and the last one is on XBox Game Pass for PC, which I intend to keep through the month of October.

Subscription Gaming

I really expected the 9.0 patch for World of Warcraft to drop before the end of September, but as of yet, nothing has been confirmed. Still, I am planning to resume my subscription whenever it actually does show up, and will likely pick up Shadowlands as soon as I’m sure I actually want to play again (as opposed to just thinking I wanted to play again).

However, in the interim, I’ve picked up the latest ESO expansion, and re-downloaded the game, so it’s entirely possible I’ll end up doubling up on MMOs during October.

I’ve also decided to keep XBox Game Pass for another month to take advantage of the last gasp of the beta pricing. Drake Hollow is supposed to be available starting today, and since it’s designed for multiplayer, I probably won’t get far on my own, but it is definitely something I wanted to check out. Additionally, Ikenfell is slated to be available on October 8th, and looks like something I might enjoy.


Play to Satisfaction

For me, saying “Play to Satisfaction” gives me explicit permission to drop a game that’s not working for me, but also to grind away for nerd points if I’m really loving something. I’m trying to make it a policy for myself that I will always play to satisfaction – no more, no less.

I’m sure I’m already being overly ambitious this month, especially considering I spend a lot of the later half of October rewatching my favorite horror movies, so I’m going to keep the rest of this simple.

I’m going to keep dabbling in the games that I haven’t quite gotten my fill of yet in between the creepy stuff I have on deck. And since my friends are debating a couple of different multiplayer titles, I might find myself messing around with Among Us or Phasmophobia.

In Review – September 2020

Full disclosure: I am garbage at keeping track of how much time I spend on things (and sometimes, even what things I spend time on!) throughout the month. Nathin pointed me at a program called ManicTime which automatically tracks how much time I spend with various applications, and there is a even a monthly summary, which is 100% perfect for me! However, changing computers mid-month means I don’t have one pretty screenshot that covers everything, and I managed to … not save the data from the before the swap. Oops.

However, starting next month, I will be able to take a quick look and see what I spent the most time on over the month, which should make these “In Review” posts both easier to write, and more accurate.

By a large margin, I spent the most time this month on SMITE, despite still not doing a single post about it. This seems to be the first game that really appeals to the entirety of our friends group, and although we still spend a lot of time playing against bots, it’s been a really nice way to touch base with everyone for a game or two.

The only game I managed to complete this month was Spiritfarer, which validated the $5 I spent on XBox GamePass. I also dabbled briefly in Children of Morta, Forager, and Hypnospace Outlaw (the latter of which gave me a killer headache, I have NOT missed the 90s).

I also didn’t manage to do much of anything for the Community Game Along this month – I had the best of intentions with Sonic Generations, but it gave me incredible motion sickness, so I completed only one level.

I also briefly tried out Pikuniku, but it just didn’t grab me.

Unexpected Pick Ups

After SMITE, the second biggest distraction this month came by way of a few impulse purchases. The Council finally dipped down to 75% off after having been on my wish list for ages, so I played through most of the first (free) chapter, and liked it enough to purchase it, but have yet to go back to it.

I have also put several hours into Hades, a game I really expected to be too difficult for me to really enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m bad at it. But poking around the Supergiant site and the FAQ for the game, I discovered that they had the difficulty issue covered.

The fact that Hades was designed with variable difficulty to appeal to the widest audience cinched the decision for me. I figured if it was too frustrating I could return it. And then proceeded to play for more than three hours in my first sitting. Oops again.

The remainder of my meager gaming time this month was spent on Pax Online 2020 demos, and restarting My Time At Portia, which I really enjoyed last winter, but tended to be super crashy, so I never actually finished it. I expect that I’ll continue on with that one through at least next month as well.

GoodReads Challenge (35/36)

It’s been a crazy month, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time for reading either. However, after spotting The PikeCast on my Twitter feed early in the month, I decided to track down a copy of Die Softly and relive my teen years a little bit. I was a huge Christopher Pike fan back in the day, but I didn’t remember this one at all. I’m looking forward to the introductory podcast where they’ll be talking about this one.

Moving On Up

It seems like everyone is talking about the brand new GPUs that just released (and are apparently very very difficult to get ahold of). I, however, am just giddy that I finally managed to replace the machine I’ve been working with since April of 2014.

Full disclosure: I did not build these PCs myself. I know my limitations, and just bringing it home and connecting all the cables pretty much wiped me out for the day. Instead, we went to our Ye Old Local Computer Shoppe with a budget and asked for the most bang for our bucks.

Although this (long overdue) upgrade comes in the middle of my busiest time of year, I also feel as if the timing couldn’t possibly be better, because we’re getting awfully close to the pre-patch for Shadowlands.

All that’s left for me to do now is a whole bunch of re-downloading – I tend to keep quite a few games at the ready with some pretty large install sizes. I’m trying to make sure to use the solid state drive for games which I expect to suffer from load times, while loading my more compact indie library on the 2TB HDD.

Quick Look – Pax Online 2020

I don’t think I ever realized just how many gaming expos there are until they all went online! PAX Online is just about wrapping up as I write this, but there were quite a few demos available on Steam between September 12 and September 20. Many of them I have already taken a look at during prior expos, but several were new to me.

Unpacking – Planned Release Date 2021

I’ve been following the developers of Unpacking on Twitter for quite awhile now, and this small little idea – of a game where you just take things out of boxes and put them away – has really been catching people’s imaginations. The demo felt good to play (although there were definitely items that I couldn’t immediately identify visually), and it was easy to start to make inferences about the character to whom all these items belonged. I’ll be looking to pick this one up close to release, assuming I’m comfortable with the release price.

Polter Pals – Planned Release Date Fall 2020

It wasn’t that I disliked Polter Pals – in fact, I found the whole aesthetic to be delightful. The actual meat of the game, however, felt weak to me. The idea of puzzling out murder was done far better in Death Coming (although that game is also not without its flaws). It felt too simple for my taste, and although I appreciated the social media humor, it just wasn’t compelling enough to earn a place on my wishlist.

Trash Sailors – Planned Release Date 2020

Trash Sailors was the one demo that I played that I really wished I had been able to play with someone else. As a single player game, it felt like it could be interesting, but that the true joy in the game would be from trying to coordinate with your raft-mates. The game is designed with local co-op in mind, but also takes advantage of Steam’s Remote Play Together functionality, so it might be worth a pick up if I can persuade my friends to give up an evening or two to try it out.

Neon Noodles – Available Now in Early Access ($14.99)

I don’t think I’ve ever realized just how many programming focused games there are (although Neon Noodles is more direct about being a programming game than many others). Playing the demo felt a little abrupt – the introductory levels are short and simplistic in order to introduce the player to the mechanics and the programming style used. If I’m still looking for more automation style games after playing similar titles in my queue, this is one I’d absolutely pick up.

Growbot – Planned Release Date Spring 2021

I’ve looked at this game during previous expos, but was never jazzed enough about it for it to make the cut. Growbot is super pretty, and the music in the very short demo is lovely, but there’s nothing about this puzzle adventure game that particularly excites me. Considering the sheer quantity of puzzle adventure games I already have in my backlog, it’s not anything I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Hell Architect – Planned Release Date 2020

This one was already on my wish list, but it came perilously close to coming off. I absolutely love the game play, but man, do I hate the aesthetic. The problem isn’t that the game wants you to torture people – I was expecting that, even if it is a bit gruesome. No, the thing that turned me off was the food & beverage production track; taking resources from the lavatory to produce water felt like juvenile gross-out humor that just didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t enough to completely put me off the game, and I completed the full demo. More concerning is the planned release date this year, but with a Kickstarter beginning in November. I’m just not sure the devs on this one have it together yet.

Neurodeck: Psychological Deckbuilder – Planned Release Date End 2020

Normally, I would have skipped right over Neurodeck because I’m so not feeling deck builders anymore, but the conceit was so different I had to give it a shot. The idea of fighting phobias with coping mechanisms is very cool, but it plays just like any other deck builder (and not as well as some). For someone who is into this type of game, it might be an interesting twist on the formula, but there isn’t enough here for me to get over that hump.

Innchanted – Planned Release Date “Coming Soon”

Innchanted might be great when played with friends, and it might get more interesting later on, but the demo made me feel like I was playing a Diner Dash knockoff. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – I’ve spent many hours with time management games. But I didn’t love the controls – a casualty of being designed to be played with controllers for local co-op – and nothing really stood out for me, as someone who’d be most likely to play this one on my own.

Industria – Planned Release Date 2021

The Industria demo feels really really early. The opening scene oozes atmosphere, but when the demo jumps you forward in the game (I assume so you can get a feel for the way shooting works), I got myself stuck in a train. I did manage to take a few shots – the shooting feels good, but I have no idea what I was supposed to be shooting at. Also, bullets have no effect on windows. I’m leaving this one on the wish list for now, but I’d definitely want to check in on it again closer to release.

Natural Instincts – Planned Release Date TBA

Natural Insticts wasn’t on my radar prior to PAX Online, but I find the concept intriguing. It’s (mostly) peaceful, with a strong lean towards being educational. The narrator’s voice is soothing, the graphics look pretty good, and I can see this being a game I might just boot up to chill out and take care of some bunnies. However, I think it also might be missing the mark a little bit – this would also be a great game for kids, but some parents might find mating and hunting behaviors to be a little too blatant for their comfort. It’s not necessarily a must have title for me, but I respect the effort at building something different.

On the one hand, I’m a little disappointed not to find a new title to get excited for, but at the same time, my wish list is already so long. I am still enjoying these online conventions, and the access to demos for all sorts of upcoming games, and I hope they continue in a post-COVID world for those of us unable to travel to conventions regularly.

XBox Game Pass for PC Leaves Beta

I’ve been an on-and-off subscriber to XBox Game Pass for PC, and yesterday (September 17th, 2020), I received an email from them that the service is finally exiting Beta.

Currently, the offer for $1 for the first month is still available, but the $4.99 per month cost is no longer unless you’re a current subscriber with a renewal date prior to October 17th. I happen to fall into that category, having re-subbed at the beginning of September to check out Spiritfarer and Hypnospace Outlaw.

Still, even at the increased monthly rate of $9.99, the XBox Game Pass for PC service still seems like a fantastic deal, especially for games you feel like you’re unlikely to revisit. I still expect that my subscription will be sporadic – there usually has to be at least a couple recently added titles that I’d like to play – but I can’t argue with the quality and quantity of games on offer.