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.

Game Over – Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer is one of those games that I liked more and less than I expected at the same time. As a management game, it was … ok, I guess. The pacing was weird and frustrating. However, thematically and as a series of character studies, it was brilliant and heart-wrenching, and so much more powerful than I was anticipating.

You are put into the role of Stella (and her faithful companion, Daffodil), who have just being their tenure as the Spiritfarer – an entity responsible for rounding up spirits, and delivering them to the Everdoor. More importantly (and taking up the bulk of the gameplay), you are also helping them finish up whatever they need to do (or have done) before they can move on to their final rest.

I spent about 24 hours with Spiritfarer over the course of a couple of weeks, and that took me to the credits. There are things you can continue to do after the game ends, but I don’t know if I’ll go back. I only had two character stories left unfinished, and if I’m being completely honest, I actually wish the entire game was about half as long.

The art and music are lovely, the writing is excellent overall, and the characters are artfully depicted. But the mechanics of the game means that character development comes slowly as you muddle your way through fulfilling requests. For me, because some stories felt so drawn out, it lessened the impact.

That’s where the management flaws come in. Gathering resources can be tedious – traversing the map is especially slow early game, and resource nodes are limited and will need to recharge. You will need to get currency (Glims) as well as resources to perform upgrades to your ship which are needed to open up areas of the map, as well as increase the size of your ship and unlock additional blueprints. In case that’s not enough unlockables for you, you also need to collect Obols from the spirits in your care to deposit at shrines for new movement abilities, which allow you to go to previously inaccessible places.

It’s a lot, and it feels gargantuan what to prioritize because you just want to figure out where to get the one thing you need to move a quest along.

If you are comfortable with a some tedious and oh-so-slow gameplay, the emotional payoff is immense. I fully admit there were tears, and twice as many times when there were sniffles. Spiritfarer doesn’t just tug on your heartstrings – it ties them to a truck and steps on the gas.

If you are comfortable with the pervasive death theme, the slow pace of the game, and a story that’s told more through character development than plot, Spiritfarer is probably worth your time, but I hesitate to say that it would be enjoyable. There are a lot of things that this game does well, but – at least for me – fun never really entered into the equation. I was absolutely captivated and invested, but I don’t know that at any point, I was actually enjoying the gameplay.

Nerd Girl Goals – September 2020

SUBSCRIPTION GAMING

I’m planning to re-sub to XBox Game Pass for PC sometime this month, primarily to take a look at Spiritfarer and Hypnospace Outlaw (although there are still plenty of other titles on there I’d play if I found the time). Hypnospace Outlaw is the shorter of the two games, so I’m going to make that the priority this month.

Now that the release date for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has been announced, I am optimistic the 9.0 patch will drop sometime in September, and that’s when I plan to reactivate my sub. I skipped out on a lot of Battle for Azeroth, so there’s very little I’m going to do at this point to prepare for the next expac outside of leveling some alt characters so they’re ready to enter the new content. Plus it will let me see how much I enjoy playing again before I drop a bunch of money on the new expansion.

COMMUNITY GAME ALONG

Since I’m not overly familiar with much from Sonic Team, I didn’t have something prepared for this month. So when I saw the (very well reviewed) Sonic Generations on sale on Steam for a dollar back in June, I snagged a copy to dabble in this month.

I’m going into it with low expectations – I’m notoriously bad at platforming games, and I have no history with the Sonic franchise so I’m missing out on any nostalgia value.

GAMING

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 feel like I’ve put a lot of stuff on my plate before even getting here this month, and I still plan on putting some more time into SMITE (both playing and finally blogging about).

Still, I like to poke through my library a bit, dust off a few titles that look interesting that I will (mostly likely) ignore all month in favor of some other shiny thing that caught my eye.

Automachef is one I’ve been looking at anyway, and I’ve been on a building kick, so I might dabble in that. Endzone: A World Apart showed up on Utomik recently, and I have been wanting to check that out. Pikuniku looks like a charming little puzzle game (and it’s short!) and Death & Taxes recent demo was raved about in a Discord I’m in, so since I have it in my itch.io library from the steal-of-the-century bundle, I might give that a whirl.

One thing I won’t be doing this month is diving into anything too lengthy, because if all goes according to plan, we’re getting new PCs this month, and I’d rather not have to worry overly much about migrating saved games. Of course, setting up a new system is also going to eat somewhat into my gaming time this month, but it’ll all be worth it in the end.