In Review – August 2020

Community Events and Projects

Yet another month where I’ve struggled with focus, and more specifically, with sitting my ass in the chair to write. Thank goodness for Blaugust Promptapalooza 2020! Although I didn’t do nearly as many prompts as some people, I posted four entries from the available prompts.

I also managed to complete (and write about) the single player story mode of Injustice: Gods Among Us for the Community Game Along. Although it didn’t get me jazzed about the fighting game genre, it was a fun way to spend a couple of evenings.

I took another set of turns for Long Live the Queen this month, and hoo boy, am I way in over my head at this point. Collectively, we’ve passed the 300 turn milestone, and I don’t expect it’ll go around too many more times, but at least we’re on track for victory. I think.

I actually put a lot of hours into SMITE this month (both on my own and with friends), but I found myself struggling to figure out how I wanted to write about the game. I started a couple of posts, but didn’t get very far. Hopefully, I’ll start to get all of that figured out in September.


I did lose most of a week this month to an expected (but suddenly rather urgent) home improvement project, so I didn’t do even a fraction of the other stuff I had planned on this month.

Other Gaming

I started out the month with Little Big Workshop, a game I had owned for awhile but hadn’t thought much about until it showed up in the August Humble Monthly. I played through the majority of the game twice, losing interest only after unlocking the final set of goals (but before completing them as they felt very anti-climatic).

shapez.io is another game I had picked up on a whim awhile back – I like the idea of logistics management games, but I usually don’t find them very compelling. shapez.io is slow – you actually need to produce a ridiculous quantity of items for each level after the first couple, but it kept me well engaged through most of its available levels, giving me a little more than 10 hours of playtime before I felt like it was starting to play more like an idle game than an active one.

I had been excited about Ruinarch since playing the demo back in June, and I picked it up as soon as it was available. It’s still in very Early Access – at this time, you cannot even save the game – but I’m enjoying it nonetheless, and look forward to seeing how it all comes together in time. I probably won’t even play through all the available scenarios before shelving it for a few months, but I have no regrets being an early supporter.

There were a couple of games I dabbled in this month that just didn’t do it for me. Book of Demons just felt dull – maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance, but nothing about it drew me back after a single short play session. Krystopia is a perfectly serviceable puzzle game with a mostly forgettable story frame, however, it relies heavily on the “connect up the circuit” type puzzles, which I don’t particularly enjoy.

Lastly, I played an embarrassingly large amount of the mobile game Match 3D on my phone. I tend to gravitate towards very repetitive, mechanically simple game experiences when I’m stressed out (or otherwise all caught up in my own head), and this absolutely fit the bill. I spent $3 to get rid of the ads in between each level, but otherwise, haven’t felt that the optional in-app purchases were even the slightest bit necessary to enjoy the game.


Indie Arena Booth 2020

I cannot resist a virtual game conference, although I tried to use some restraint this time around since the Indie Arena Booth at Gamescon was around for only a few short days.

I definitely spent the most time with To the Rescue!, but I also really liked the whole vibe of Lucifer Within Us. I also made sure to check out Gamedec since I had backed it on Kickstarter, but I spent just enough time with it to confirm that I’m far more interested in the complete experience than a short demo.

The rest of the demos I tried out didn’t really grab me, but I really am loving the resurgence of demos, even if they are only available for tiny windows of time.


All in all, August was a pretty intense month, even if I didn’t do much of … well, anything … that aligned with the goals I set at the beginning of the month. Still, I think I’d rather have a plan I don’t follow than no plan at all!

Game Over – Injustice: Gods Among Us

I’m going to start out by admitting that I’m feeling just a little bit guilty on this one. For #FightingGameMonth, I may have adhered to the letter of the law by choosing Injustice: Gods Among Us as my game for the month, but ooh boy, did I tweak it to the point that I skipped out entirely on the spirit of the thing.

First off, although as far as I’m concerned, I completed the game (there were credits!), I only played the story mode content. I’m not overly experienced with fighting games in general, but I don’t even know that most of them have story modes. Then, I did this to the difficulty settings:

Yep, not just easy. Very easy. Do you know what happens when you play on very easy? You can finish the entire game without successfully executing a combo as long as you mash enough buttons. I was pretty attached to this plan already, but then I attempted the tutorial.

Attempted.

That’s right – I finished the game, but couldn’t get through the tutorial. Playing with the keyboard wasn’t too bad, except that it didn’t always register all my key presses – I assume I could have futzed around in Windows settings to make it so pressing three keys at the same time wouldn’t cause a problem, but I figured I’d try to play the game with a controller instead.

My oh-so-cost-effective controller that I bought despite not liking controllers, generally speaking.

Real talk: I was no more successful with the controller than I was with the keyboard, but at the difficult level I selected, it didn’t matter. Leaving the tutorial and entering the story mode proper was like rolling back down to the absolute bottom of a the difficulty curve. I turned a fighting game into a really basic hack-n-slasher.

And I enjoyed it.

I would say that story mode was probably 60% cut scenes, 30% fight sequences, and 10% weird little Quicktime-style events. The story was passable, even as someone whose knowledge of DC Comics is almost entirely based on a cross-media enjoyment of all things Batman. It really didn’t matter that I didn’t know much about the majority of the characters, especially since the story was focused on a parallel universe concept.

All told, reaching full completion of story mode took me just under four hours over two play sessions. Even on very easy, the last few fights were a little rough (and I had to retry a single fight after switching back to keyboard and putting my hands on the WRONG DAMN KEYS).

I’ve definitely played games I enjoyed less, but nothing about the story wowed me enough to want to figure out the game play, instead of just faking my way through it.

Quick Look – Little Big Workshop

I was gifted a copy of Little Big Workshop during the Steam Winter Sale last year, and like most things I acquire during sales, it completely slipped my mind to actually play it until I spotted it in the August Humble Choice. Oops.

I went in with fairly low expectations – although there have been a lot of really great management / tycoon games, there have also been a lot of really really bad ones. This one is absolutely charming, but although I’ve played it pretty compulsively over the last couple of days, truth is – it’s not really anything special.

Little Big Workshop is different from a lot of management games in that it’s not scenario based. Although you have ample opportunities to upgrade your factory, the game never asks you to open a second factory, or take over a dilapidated building in another town. Where you start is, pretty precisely, where you’ll end the game. For some people that might be a point in its favor – for me, it’s a little disappointing.

If you include the tutorial, there are five sets of “milestones” for you to work towards. I have not actually finished the game yet (I ran out of money while working towards my fourth set of milestones, and decided to restart), but I’d hazard a guess that the whole thing could be finished in about 10-12 hours.

This might, in fact, be the most mediocre game I’ve ever played obsessively. There’s very little I can point to and say “This is bad.” I found a way to disable the things that annoyed me most – fixed camera angles, and ridiculous “events” that I found more frustrating than fun. The tutorial is 100% skippable and unless you’ve been away from the game a long time, there’s no compelling reason to do it more than once.

There are some really neat things here – I love setting up blueprints step by step to make the product fit the factory I’ve built. In fact, there are a lot of cool little details in the building of things. You can link identical workstations together with a billboard, and it automatically splits up tasks (mostly) efficiently. Storage areas can be pretty freely resized, you can add shelving for more space, and once unlocked, you can even attach storage areas to different machines to keep the things they need handy, or set one up near your loading bays for finished items only.

When I’m playing the game, I am completely engaged. When I step back from it, I’m not sure what kept me playing for hours. The aesthetic is fantastic. Everything else is just a little bit off what you expect from a good production management game, but not off enough to make it a full-on chore to play. Sure, your workers might be passing out because the break room is out of coffee or snacks, but someone else will just start doing their job sooner or later. They’ll be better after a nap.

I realize this is not exactly a rave review, and I don’t think the small bit of the game I have left to unlock is going to do anything to change my mind. It’s not bad for what it is – a first game from small team with a neat idea. It’s not meaty enough to be a truly great management game, and it’s nowhere near easy enough to be a good casual game. It occupies some weird in between space that I found strangely compelling, but once I’m done with it, I doubt I’ll recall it fondly. In fact, likely as not, I won’t really ever think about it again.

Spacebase Startopia – Cashing in on Nostalgia or Honest Homage?

Every now and then, I check up on games that sparked my interest but that I hadn’t thought of for a bit to see how things are progressing. When I first heard of Spacebase Startopia back in August of last year, it inspired me to revisit the original, but I really didn’t do a whole lot of research. I guess I just assumed that it was being remade by someone like Nightdive Studios that likes to update classic games for modern audiences.

My first clue that maybe my intuition was way the hell off was checking Spacebase Startopia’s Steam page today and seeing this:

Now, I get that I am cheap, but that’s quite a price hike for a rework of a game that wasn’t particularly commercially successful 20 years ago. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

That’s when I fell into the rabbit hole.

Apparently, Spacebase Startopia is only “inspired by” the 2001 space station simulator of a remarkably similar name, but they’re definitely pushing it hard in the marketing materials. Sure, the AI that guides you is still called VAL, but that’s an acronym anyway, and the voice in the new game is female, so obviously that’s totally different. The aliens who visit you have slightly altered models, and a little bit different names, but even a recent RPS preview article seems to imply that if you’re a fan of the original, this feels in some ways like you grabbed the store brand by mistake.

I’ll be honest – for me the whole thing feels kind of icky. Moreso when I realized the publisher is Kalypso Media. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked plenty of games that they’ve published, but the last one I bought at anything approaching full price was Tropico 3 back in 2009, and I was already starting to find their DLC models tedious back then.

Obviously, the game isn’t done yet – although you can pre-order for immediate beta access, the official release date is still a few months off. However, even without the … shall we call them questionable … marketing decisions, there’s nothing there that would inspire me to drop $50 on a 10-mission campaign.


However, for die hard fans of the cult classic original, there is a slim hope yet. Recently, the trademark for plain old Startopia was transferred over to My Little Planet, LTD, which is owned by one of the original developers of Startopia. There’s a shiny new Startopia website, with resources for the original game as well as some silly merch you can pick up if you’re so inclined. There’s also a recently started Twitter (although as of the time I’m writing this, there have been no Tweets).

Sure, my detective skills are mediocre at best, but I wouldn’t rule out something else happening with the IP – maybe something that might capitalize on the failure of an overpriced game trying to pretend it’s something it’s not, where the graphics are pretty, but the concepts are blatantly ripped off? Either way, my little investigation has led me to the conclusion that Spacebase Startopia doesn’t even belong on my “maybe when it hits 75% off” list.

Backed It! Beasts of Maravilla Island

I am forever looking for the next deeply chill game to add to my library for days when I just want to relax and not think too hard. I’m also kind of a sucker for games where taking pictures is the main way of interacting with the world, despite the fact that my IRL cameras mostly collect dust these days. So when I stumbled across Beasts of Maravilla Island on Kickstarter, I didn’t even hesitate.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a meager $5 pledge gets a digital copy for either PC or Switch, and that the game is anticipated to release before the end of the year. Sure, Kickstarter is always kind of a risk, but I’ve pledged quite a bit more for projects that I was less excited about.

There is a demo of Beasts of Maravilla Island currently available over on Itch.io, so even though I’d already backed the project, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s a little glitchy at the moment, but it’s also adorable and delightful, and it just made me more excited for the full game.

There’s some light puzzle-solving, but mostly, you are expected to wander around and take photos of all the creatures of Maravilla Island. You have your grandfather’s journal, full of his observations and drawings of the local wildlife, and you have a photo album to fill (as well as a checklist to help you fill it).

Ideally, the developers would like to release Beasts of Maravilla Island for free, but they haven’t made a final determination of the release price – it may end up being more than the $5 you’d get it for by supporting the campaign. They have already reached their Kickstarter goal, but they’re just over a week in, so there’s plenty of time to back this one if you’re so inclined. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together!

No Man’s Sky – Screenshot Sunday

In the past week, I’ve spent 40 hours with No Man’s Sky, and yet, I still don’t even feel like I’ve scratched the surface. I’ve managed a small base that doesn’t look like it was assembled with Lincoln Logs, and have poked my way through the multiple quest lines.

But really, what I’ve been spending a lot of time on (other that just general exploration to see what the heck is over that next ridge) is doing missions from the space stations – specifically the ones that want me to scan things (because I’m going to do that anyway), and those that request photos.

I freaking love photo missions – not least of all because it reminds me to take pictures of all the really cool places I’m finding.

I think that, once I get myself situated with a nice spaceship, and all the convenience upgrades, I’m going to load myself up with all the things I need to survive in space, and just do exploration-type missions. That will be my end game.

Steam Summer Sale Splurges

I realize there’s still a few more days until the end of the Steam Summer Sale, but since I’ve wrapped up my shopping, I figured now was as good a time as any to chat a little bit about what I picked up this go around.


Most of the time, during the major sales, I fill a cart with seriously deep discounts, and a small game or two I don’t want to forget about. My deep discount choices this time were Treasure Adventure World and Bloons TD 6, both of which were going for 90% off, which is about as good as it gets in the Steam Sale world.

Koral is a game that, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t even consider spending $12 on. I actually like short games, and I’m all for something that’s more experimental, and I’ve been looking for more water themed games lately. For three dollars, I absolutely wanted to make sure I grabbed this – a pretty, relaxing game with some light puzzling sounds lovely right about now.

My last early pick up was a game that wasn’t even on my radar until this sale; I discovered Nexomon in a list of hidden gems over on Reddit. Not being a console person, I’ve missed out on a lot of the Pokemon hype (and also, a lot of the Pokemon gripes), but pet battles is one thing that keeps drawing me back towards WoW. Sure, it’s a port of a mobile game, but the art looks good, and reviews were pretty decent. Knock-off Pokemon, here I come!


I spent most of a week planning my next cart. Once I decided that I was not going to make the larger purchase of Disco Elysium I originally intended, it got a little bit more complicated, but when I finally pulled the trigger today after the Humble Choice reveal, this is what I ended up with.

If you read my goals post, I was heavily debating between Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Megaquarium for mybig” purchases. Well, they both ended up shelved because I decided to make a bigger purchase – just not on Steam.

Using my Humble Choice subscriber discount netted me another $6 off the already discounted price of No Man’s Sky, which I finally got around to trying out on GamePass and fell in love with. Of course, I still wanted to take advantage of my $5 Steam coupon, so I bought a little more than I actually planned on overall.


I probably spent the longest time debating which of three different Early Access base builders I wanted to pick up. Mercury Fallen ended up being the one I chose, but I was definitely back and forth for a few days.

The other two games I considered were After the Collapse and Keplerth. They all have regular prices under $20, and each of them had less than a 50% discount, so I didn’t really feel like I could make the decision based on price alone. In the end, I think Mercury Fallen won out by being the least combat-focused since micromanaging combat tends to be my least favorite part of base building games.

I’m not quite willing to admit that Keplerth is a “not for me” game, because it’s full of things that I really enjoy, but there is also a considerable portion of the game devoted to underground dungeon crawling and boss fights, which I expect I’d find very frustrating.


Next up, I plan to ruthlessly whittle down my wish list. After the Steam Games Festival, I topped out over 350 wish listed titles, and it has just gotten unwieldy for me. There’s a lot of things on there that I don’t even know what the original appeal was, and a lot more that I’ve since lost interest in the genre or concept. There’s probably a handful of abandoned Early Access titles, and way too many free games I just haven’t gotten around to downloading.

… right after I add the 7 games I’m interested in from the July Humble Choice to my Steam account. Although I seem to be in the minority, I thought this was a fantastic reveal.

Anyone want to take a guess at which games I’ll be keeping this month?

Steam Summer Sale Shopping List

The Steam Summer Sale is expected to start on Thursday, June 25 and run through July 9.

I really should have sat down with my wish list prior to playing a whole mess of games during the Steam Games Festival because now, most of the games I’m really jazzed about aren’t coming out for months and months!

Still, I’m eager to pick up a handful of new titles, and I’m really going to try to convince myself to go for quality over quantity during this sale.

So what am I planning to buy?

The Splurge

Disco Elysium

Purchasing Price Point $29.99 or less

I really regretted not picking this one up the last time it was on sale. However, I have no idea if I’m actually going to enjoy it, so considering it’s likely to be my big splurge title of the sale, it’s critical that I try it out inside the return window. I almost never spend over $20 on a game, but more and more, I really feel the need to make my purchases count because it’s not like I don’t have huge library to fall back on.

There’s actually not too many games on my wish list that have a regular price much over $20, but other games in contention for being my splurge title this time around were Heavenworld, Dawn of Man, Megaquarium, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy. With a good enough discount, I still may pick up any of these, but historically, none of them have reached my desired price point during sales.

Smaller Purchases

Normally, I’d be spending the days leading up to one of the big Steam sales picking through my wish list, debating the likelihood of future Humble Choice or other bundle inclusion, and figuring out what I’m most likely to play right away. This time, I’m finding myself pretty stumped.

I expect I’ll pick up an Early Access title or two which drop in price enough during the sale that I feel I’ll get my money’s worth, even if a completed product never manifests. I’ll grab a title or two with an insane discount and mixed to bad reviews (or even more telling, nearly no reviews at all). I’ll likely round out my purchases with an inexpensive puzzle game, something small and super casual, something I’ve played in the past but no longer have access to, and an insanely cheap “completely your collection” that might hold my interest for an hour or so.

This was not the shopping list I planned to talk about, but probably far more realistic.

Gifting

Although there are a lot of genres I rarely if ever play, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on what is good, what is not so good, and what one might like based on other games they’ve enjoyed. One of my favorite parts of these big sales is running around, finding the perfect game for friends.

Sometimes, I buy something from their wish list, but mostly? I send gifts that I really think the recipient will enjoy. I won’t say I’ve always been 100% successful. Most years, someone gets a copy of Psychonauts, and someone else gets a copy of Ghost Master, because those are two games that have made me really happy in the past, and I like the idea of sharing a bit of that with someone else.


It seems like every major Steam sale, there are more and more folks lamenting the glory days gone by, and sure, the cessation of things like flash sales mean the prices don’t dip quite as low for the AA and AAA games. However, more and more, I am feeling as if the future of games isn’t in those titles, but the deep back catalogs and independent developers. Where I find myself conflicted is in my desire to get the best bargain and also to give not just lip service, but actual support to the little guys in game development.

I plan to enjoy this semi-annual event, but I am also looking towards the future of actually ponying up full price for the upcoming games I’m most excited about.

Two Game Expos Going Digital with Utomik

I don’t think I ever realized how many gaming expos existed until they all had to go digital due to Covid-19. Today, I received an email from Utomik to let me know about two more upcoming expos that they’re collaborating with.

Indigo (Dutch Game Garden) – June 22 through July 3

For the duration of Indigo 2020, 26 games will be available to play on Utomik, including Dreamscaper, Welcome to Beacon Pines, and Eloquence.

It’s not clear whether these will just be demos, or full games (although I fully expect they will be alpha / beta releases if so), but the games will be available to play for the duration of the event.

If you already have an active Utomik subscription, you don’t need to do anything. If you have never used Utomik, a seven day trial is available. If you’ve used Utomik in the past, but have a currently inactive account, you can use the code INDIGO20 to get 7 free days, during which you can play the Indigo 2020 games, as well as anything else in Utomik’s library.

BitSummit Gaiden – June 26 through July 11

Most of the BitSummit Gaiden 2020 content will be taking place on Twitch and Discord on June 27th and 28th, but they are also making a whole bunch of games available to play on Utomik for a two week period, including Mystic Pillars, Neversong, and Nanotale: Typing Chronicles.

Just like with Indigo, it’s not clear if these are full games or demos, but there’s a lot of things available to check out. Again, this is included with an active sub, and your can reactivate with code Gaiden20 for 7 days of playtime.


I personally think a lot of folks are sleeping on Utomik in general, so their willingness to work with these gaming expos seem like a win-win situation. The expos get to use the already built infrastructure to spotlight some new independent games, and Utomik may attract some folks who might not have otherwise checked them out.

Long Live the Queen! Turns 201-210

The Project Explained

Long Live the Queen is a collaborative Civilization VI base game play through and blogging project conceived of by Naithin at Time to Loot. We have 8 players, and each player is responsible for taking 10 turns and writing about our progress. I drew fifth in the randomly generated line-up.

The Story So Far…

If you need to know how we got to where we are, just pop on over to Time to Loot, where Naithan has kept track of all of our shenanigans in a really nifty list of links.

Turns 201-210

I’ve been given England in a fairly solid state – we seem to have a strong military, a good friend in Cleopatra, for a change, no one is at war with us, and our cities seem to be mostly growing at a good clip.

Let’s see what kind of mess I can make of this, eh?


The first thing of note that happens is that I get my hands on a couple of new envoys. I decide to send them both to Toronto – this bumps our production in all of our cities, and makes us their Suzerain. We have nothing more to gain from Stockholm, and this seems to be the best choice for immediate rewards.

I find a bored builder loitering about, and set him to work building a farm in Sheffield, and start an amphitheater in Leeds. Then Pedro pops up with a rather odd demand for money, which I am disinclined to give into.

We finish researching Astronomy, and I get us started on Scientific Theory. Our heavy chariot takes out some lingering barbarians to the east of Stoke-Upon-Trent and earns itself a promotion. After much debate, I start construction of an aqueduct in Birmingham, hoping to encourage growth with additional housing (and hoping I don’t short them on food in the meantime).

We finish up guilds and start working on Reform Church

Charles Darwin decides to come hang out with us, and I speedily send him off to Sheffield to take advantage of that Natural Wonder Tessa picked up during her turns. An extra 500 science finishes up Scientific Theory (thanks Chuck!), and let’s us start researching Military Science.

And then Pedro and his now-legendary shade-throwing makes another appearance. He’s so grumpy.

At least Cleopatra still likes us – even though we wouldn’t help with her war – and she asks to renew our declaration of friendship. I oblige. I’d much rather have her as a friend than an enemy, at least for the time being.

We’ve been really focused on military might and scientific advancement, and now, our city leaders are starting to complain. Leeds needs housing. Stoke-on-Trent needs food. Everybody wants something. I queue up some builders in a couple of cities with high production – I won’t get to do much with them, but they’ll be available for UnwiseOwl to start whittling away at our citizens’ issues during the next 10 turns.

I do send a crossbowman to the southwest just to make sure we won’t have any uninvited guests creeping up on our newest city of Sheffield – the barbarian scout I encounter down there, I take out with ease. I start building a Caravel in Bristol, which turns out to not only be very on brand (I like boats, ok?), but somewhat prescient, because we earn ourselves a Great Admiral on the very next turn.

I decide he can hang out in Bristol until our boat is ready there, since all of our other naval vessels are pretty much landlocked.

The last thing I managed to do during my reign is unlock a new form of government (Theocracy), but I decide to stick with Monarchy for the time being, but the option is available. I turned our attention to researching Exploration, which will unlock yet another form of government and allow us a couple additional trade routes to boot.


Next up, UnwiseOwl! Save file is here.