What I’m Playing Wednesday – Startopia

The cinematic trailer for Spacebase Startopia dropped this week (you can watch it below), and instead of getting me all excited for this reimagining, it just made me want to replay the classic.

I have, for as long as I can remember, loved all manner of city builders, colony builders, space station builders. Heck, if you can give me the right toolkit, I’ll happily just build stuff for hours. Give me a resource or two to manage, and I could easily lose a whole evening. I spent a lot of time with Startopia when it was new, but unlike some other games of its generation, I don’t revisit it regularly – honestly, I just like knowing that I can.

This is one of those games I own on both Steam and GoG. I started with the Steam version, futzed around with it, trying to make windowed mode work. Then I tried the GoG version, the unofficial 1.02 patch, and got into a super-extra-bonus-fun crash loop for a little bit. Then I decided I didn’t really need windowed mode and got on with it. I think the fact that I still wanted to play after all that boded well.

Let’s be real – I expect a game that’s old enough to vote to feel a little weird. The controls are actually a little too simple – everything you can do has multiple buttons assigned to it. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can actually do all the things you want to – there doesn’t appear to be any way to rotate furniture, which I found exceptionally offensive to my sense of symmetry.

I did skip the tutorial missions, diving right into the start of the campaign, and it was as wonderful as I remembered. The sound & the voice acting were particularly enjoyable, and obviously, the graphics were showing their age, but not as badly as I might have expected.

I had a good time rolling through the first couple of missions – I feel like I remember it getting harder later on, but I didn’t struggle at all, and was frequently energy-capped during the second. Honestly, the biggest struggle was waiting for the grey aliens – who are the only ones who can work in a sick bay – with any modicum of skill to show up.

Since I’m still playing my way through Little Dragon’s Cafe, and still trying to remember to log into ESO everyday (hey, I might even go back to leveling characters eventually), I don’t know how much more of Startopia I will play, but it’s been a delightful romp down memory lane. I love revisiting games I played obsessively in my younger days, when I had to put a lot more thought into my gaming purchases – and let’s be honest – there were a lot less choices out there.

Developer Appreciation Week – Tiny Speck (Glitch)

I have been blatantly ignoring all the #Blaugust2019 content suggestions thusfar, but I am so here for developer appreciation week.

Developer Appreciation Week – August 18th – August 24th: This one is specifically targeted at the gamers among us, but could be re-purposed to talk about any industry. The idea is to give appreciation for some of the folks who have created the things that you love. In the past we specifically talked about publishers and game studios that create the games that we are enthralled by, but it could be authors or artists or anyone who creates something that you love. It is a good time to give some thanks.

Belghast – Tales of the Aggronaut

I probably could have done a full month of entries appreciating all the great quirky developers who have come and gone, but I really feel like I need to start with a game, and a developer, that is no more.

Although the folks at Tiny Speck have gone on to do pretty great things (like creating Slack), I firmly believe that Glitch was probably the very best thing they ever did.

Glitch was a browser-based MMO with a focus on cooperation that ran (mostly in alpha and beta) from 2009 – 2012. Sadly, I didn’t discover it until April of 2011, but for a year and a half, Glitch was absolutely and completely a home for me.

Just a few months later, I was invited to be a player-representative, known as a Greeter, for Glitch, and I jumped at the chance. Rather than a traditional tutorial, Glitch had an experienced player pop into an instanced starter world to show new players the basics.

I spent countless hours happily gathering, growing crops, and petting pigs (which I may or may not have frequently named with porcine puns on rap names, like Piggy Smalls and Ham Master J). I worked on so many projects with huge groups of other folks, trading resources, and working towards common goals. I studied skills, and worked towards achievements, and made so many friends.

My Glitch Profile still exists after all this time.

Sadly, Glitch closed in December of 2012. Normally, that would be the end of the story – online games have a habit of just vanishing. But what Tiny Speck did after the closure of Glitch is what really impressed me.

Glitch is Dead, Long Live Glitch
Art & Code from the Game Released into the Public Domain

Instead of just tossing all the work they put into the game, they released a huge portion of it into the public domain. It encouraged fan projects like Children of Ur, Eleven, and Odd Giants. Although none are playable at the moment, I choose to believe that Ur, the world of Glitch, is not gone, but just sleeping, and I am hopeful that the generosity of Tiny Speck will allow me to someday visit the fantastic world they created again.

Games I Wish I Could Play Again

A GoG.com Appreciation Post & Wishlist

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to take a moment to gush about how amazing GoG.com is for us nostalgic gamers of a certain age. Games I never thought I’d play again, like Shivers, Phantasmagoria, and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom are all available on GoG.com, are DRM free, and most importantly, they just WORK.

My GoG library doesn’t even come close to my Steam library, but I love what they do, and I always check there first when older games make their digital debut.

While I certainly have no shortage of things to play, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about games I played in my teens and twenties that I wish I could spend an evening or two with again.

I’ll start with the ones that you’ve probably heard of – all of these games were either very popular in their day, or have a cult following or both.

Black & White was overly ambitious, and clunky, and is still the best god game I’ve ever played. I certainly never even came close to finishing it, but I spent way too many hours teaching my tiger how to be NICE to people, and not do awful things when I have my back turned – like eating the peasants.

The original Zoo Tycoon was everything a dedicated micro-manager could want in a game. Unlike many people, I didn’t release the lions on my unsuspecting zoo guests – I was too busy trying to figure out exactly how many trees I needed to put into each critter’s habitat to make them blissfully happy. I even took notes. Lots of notes.

The Sims – the original game – was like nothing we’d ever seen before. I mean, sure, it also was one of the first games to suffer from the now all-too-common expac bloat, but at least it pre-dated stuff packs, and I would love to buy it and load it up one more time.

Silent Hill 2 was creepy and terrifying and I just kept playing it because the story wouldn’t let me stop. Now, to be clear, I’d love to play the whole series on PC (despite never having played any of the others to completion), but if I had to pick, it’d be SH2 every time.

American McGee’s Alice maybe should be in the “games you’ve heard of” category instead of the “games you never knew about” one, but I’m continually surprised how many people don’t know that there was a game before Madness Returns, which last I checked, was also pretty hard to get nowadays. I’d love to play both of these back to back – by the time I picked up the sequel, my discs for the original were nowhere to be found.

I never got into Myst, and similar games, but the maddeningly difficult puzzles in Jewels of the Oracle were right up my alley. Sure, some weren’t that hard, but the ones that were? There was no better feeling than finally figuring it out, and collecting that shiny gem for your trouble. While I would be thrilled just to get the original game working on a modern system, I also wouldn’t complain about a graphical remaster, provided they left the puzzles alone.

Virtual Resort: Spring Break – otherwise known as Beach Life – was a fantastic little tycoon game with a rather twisted sense of humor. Changing the type of beer you served led to completely different effects in your patrons, and more than once, success hinged on not letting too many tourists get eaten by sharks.

Finally, I’d love to be able to play Survival: The Ultimate Challenge again. I suspect that it wasn’t a terribly good game, but I really liked the idea of helping a group of … well, idiots for the most part … survive after a shipwreck. This game pops up in my memory every now and then, but I was recently reminded of it while playing Seeds of Resilience, and I’d love to get the chance to see how closely the two really play.

Sometimes, I just browse through GoG.com’s Community Wishlist to see what games others are remember fondly, and I’d love to hear about the games you’d love to see make their digital debut.