Heartbound: A Demo Worth Downloading

I’ve been noticing more and more indie games (especially those in Early Access) have been adding demos. To be fair, I have no idea if this is a new trend or if I’m just now becoming aware of it.

I’d like to tell you that I’m not sure what about Heartbound caught my eye, but I would be lying. It’s the dog. If there’s a dog, well, then that’s probably going to be the thing that snags my interest.

I played the demo for about half an hour – through what I believe to be the first chapter. There is real darkness here, both implied and explicit, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. I will say the story is effective. I want to find my dog. I desperately want to find my dog.

Once I figured out what I was doing, I liked the combat mini-games. I really liked the puzzles, which feel like they’re going to be an integral part of the experience. Honestly, there wasn’t much I didn’t like, and the only thing preventing me from just dropping a tenner on the game right now is this: it’s not done.

And I don’t mean it’s not done in that it still needs a spit & polish. It’s not that there are still bugs and other niggling problems. It’s that whole chapters of the game aren’t yet available, and I don’t do well with waiting. When I dive into a game, I want the whole package, because when I spend too much time away, I lose track of the story, of the mechanics, and really, anything more than a couple weeks, and I just start over. I don’t want Heartbound to leave me hanging, so I’m going to wait.

This is the bit I find really intriguing, and that confirms I’m going to have to keep an eye out for the full release. From the developer’s website:

Every time you interact with an object, talk to an NPC, forget to turn off a light-switch, take out the trash, or disregard a sparkly bush the game remembers this and will change subtly for all further interactions. The greatest part about this design is that it already works and is in the current builds of the game. Both minor and major differences are going to pop up throughout the game and give the community something to share with one another. Everything you do matters no matter what kind of player you are or choose to be

Jason (Thor) Hall – https://www.gopiratesoftware.com/games/Heartbound/

I love small dev teams with determination to make the game they want to make. I probably should pick this up now to support the process, but I am also leery enough of Early Access to worry that I’ll end up with a half-finished game. The latest information about expectations for full release says mid-to-late-2019, so it might not be far off now.

In Which Redditors Are Oddly Supportive

I spend far more time than I should on gaming related subreddits, and overwhelmingly, what I notice more than anything else is that people do like to complain. Obviously, there are some places I find less savage than others, but on the GameDeals subreddit, I usually find people don’t hesitate to call out games for being complete garbage.

Well, today, Wormhole City went free to download & keep on Steam, and once I wandered my way over to the Steam page to see Overwhelmingly Negative reviews, I was expecting the nearly 100 comments on the deal post to be a toxic wasteland.

I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Instead of vitriol, I saw a surprising amount of support for the lone developer whose first commercial endeavor had so obviously missed many many marks with players.

In spite of having a library I know well and truly I may never complete, and it being well outside of my genre preferences, I went and added Wormhole City to my Steam library. More importantly, I will keep an eye out for future projects from Zenrok Studios because ambitious ideas and the desire to make good games is already there – the skills to do so can be learned.

The first game wasn’t successful, but I have an immense amount of respect for someone who can say “Hey, I handled this poorly, but I love what I do, and I want to try again. In the meantime, you might like what my first game has become, but I don’t feel right charging for it.” That’s exactly the kind of attitude that tends to lead to great things.

Literature, History, and Rap Battles?

I feel like I need to start here: I’m not the biggest fan of YouTube in general. I mean, I’m glad there’s a place to go when you absolutely, positively must watch cute animal videos, and I can see the usefulness for gamers in general (although, seriously, I will take a text-based walkthrough any day of the week over a video).

But one bit of YouTube ridiculousness that will always suck me in are the Epic Rap Battles of History.

This is nerd comedy gold, guys. Obviously, some pair ups will appeal more than others, depending on personal interests. For example as someone who actively seeks out any representation of Tesla in modern fiction*, I am enamored with the Edison vs. Tesla battle, myself.

Well, today, I went down the YouTube rap battle rabbit hole and discovered a literary spin-off – Princess Rap Battle. Despite the fact that neither Hermione Granger or Katniss Everdeen are actual fictional princesses, they went at each other, rap battle style.

I know, I know, this is probably REALLY old news to anyone who isn’t me. But now I’m going to show you something you probably haven’t seen, after a short tangent, so bear with me.

When I was in my early 20s, I was very much involved with National Poetry Slam. I was never a superstar on the stage, but I’m friends with folks who have been part of winning teams, who have taken home individual titles, and who appear in the movie SlamNation. After coordinating a 90-hour long open mic at NPS2001 in Seattle, I was awarded the first Spirit of the Slam award. From 1999 to 2006, this was a huge part of my life.

Which is why, when watching these YouTube rap battles, I thought of a poem I hadn’t in a very very long time.

On finals stage in Minneapolis in 2002, Jeremy Richards of the Seattle slam team, did a poem called “T.S. Eliot’s Lost Hip Hop Poem”, and I remember thinking that it was so well crafted, such an intelligent mashup of genres. I may have been just a smidgen envious of his craft & performance here.

Is this the earliest blending of a historical figure and the relatively modern stylings of hip-hop ? I don’t know. I just feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this sliver of history when talking about the immensely popular YouTube rap battles videos.

(*) If you haven’t watched “Sanctuary”, you should. It features my absolutely favorite fictional Nikola Tesla, and is just all kinds of brilliant.

Developer Appreciation Week – Adventurepro Games LLC (Dungeonmans)

I want to get this out of the way. I do not own Dungeonmans, I’ve never played it, and I’ve never even watch streams or game play videos. All I know about it is what it on the Steam store page, and as far as I know Adventurepro Games LLC has not put out any other games.

So if you’re wondering why I’m giving this developer a shout out, well, that’s only natural. Although I appreciate a well-made game as much as any gamer, there’s something I appreciate more, and that’s bringing gamers together to do good.

The reason I appreciate Adveturepro Games LLC is their work on Hunger Clock.

For the past three Novembers, Adventurepro Games LLC has facilitated a charity drive in which gamers can do a real life quest to donate a bag of food (around a $10 donation) to a family in need via a local grocery store, and be rewarded with a key for one of several rogue-like games donated by their respective developers.

Other than on the page itself, and on a few Reddit threads posted while it was going on, the event didn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention. In spite of that, they keep going every year, sending rogue-like lovers on a quest to make the world a better place, one brown bag at a time.

Developer Appreciation Week – Soldak Entertainment (Din’s Curse)

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of respect for people that don’t seem to care what anyone thinks of them. They are proudly and unabashedly who they are, and you can just tell they’re absolutely satisfied with living their life.

I feel like Soldak Entertainment is the developer version of those people.

Although Soldak Entertainment wasn’t formed until 2004, their website reminds me of late 80s RPG games. In a time where there are a lot of titles released with more attention given to how the game looks and sounds than to how it plays, it’s rather refreshing to see a developer not give a hoot about graphics or sound design and just focus on making a damn good game. In fact, they are so confident that they’re putting out good games, they release demos of every single one of their titles.

Zombasite is the most recent game released by Soldak Entertainment, and if it weren’t for the date in small text on the bottom, you’d probably never come close to guessing this was a 2016 release.

Although I own four of their games and associated expansions (some I’ve even purchased twice!), I’ve spent the most time with Din’s Curse – a very simple ARPG as far as story is concerned. Where it isn’t simple is in the breadth of game play options, class systems, and a procedurally generated living world. There is always something important to do – and if you wait too long, you may find someone else has taken out that big bad before you bothered to show up.

Although the actual core game play is textbook ARPG, there is so much going on, and so much depth to the class systems that it really feels like an endlessly replayable game. Multiple difficulty levels and a plethora of options that can be applied to make things even more challenging means that players of any skill or experience can find a combination that works for them. There’s so much here to enjoy, even if it’s dressed in virtual rags.

With five games under their belt, and their newest title Din’s Legacy releasing out of Early Access later this month, it doesn’t look like they’ll be changing their style anytime soon, and for that, I salute them.

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 – Howling Moon Software (Verdant Skies)

I’ll be really surprised if someone doesn’t take this opportunity to give some love to Concerned Ape, developer of Stardew Valley. That game may very well be solely responsible for the PC revival of agriculturally focused life sims. It’s a game I personally enjoyed very much, not having had any experience with the genre previously, and inspired me to seek out other titles in the same vein.

I purchased Verdant Skies during the 2018 Steam winter sale pretty much on a whim, and it was one of the rare games that I installed and started playing right away. I loved the idea of a futuristic, science-focused take on the genre, and I was intrigued to see where it would take me.

Now, I read the description, but let’s be honest, diverse is a buzzword that very often means very little. However, when Howling Moon Software says that Verdant Skies features a diverse cast of characters, they mean it.

While someone more cynical than I could claim they built the characters by checking off diversity boxes one after another, I was impressed not only by the racial diversity, but the diversity in gender and sexuality, and the backstories which dealt with issues of self rarely seen in gaming.

It may not seem like much, but I feel that making a game like Verdant Skies in the post-#GamerGate culture is an act of bravery, and a commitment to the team staying true to their inclusionistic ideals. It makes me a little sad that I have heard so very little about this game – that it hasn’t seemed to attract a strong and vocal fan base, because although the game itself isn’t perfect, there is so much about it that is absolutely vital in today’s gaming landscape.

Whatever Howling Moon Software comes up with next, as long as they are staying true to themselves, it’ll be a day one, full price purchase for me. I want to support them in their vision, and I want all gamers to feel represented in what they’re playing.

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.

I Won’t Call It a Backlog

If you’ve spent any time around gamers (and if you haven’t, how the heck did you end up here?) sooner or later, someone’s going to mention their backlog. Hell, I used to talk about my backlog all the time; all those games I picked up here and there for pennies on the dollar that I might – or might not – get around to playing.

But the more I thought about it, the more the negative connotations of the word backlog started to get to me.

backlog (noun) - an accumulation of something, especially uncompleted work or matters that need to be dealt with.

Here’s where my issue comes in – “uncompleted work or matters that need to be dealt with“. Doesn’t it make you a little bit sad to think of all of those glorious games yet to be played as nothing more than matters that need to be dealt with – or worse, work???

While I totally understand – and agree – that language evolves past classic definitions, I prefer to look at my collection of games as a library. I can take out any volume and spend time with it as I please. I feel like it’s ok to have things on my shelves that interested me at one time, but no longer do.

I’m sure there was a time when I actually believed I would play every single game I ever acquired. Now, I’ve almost given up on knowing what I already have. I started building my Steam library ten years ago, and started purchasing on GoG the next year. I have games on Origin, Uplay, Twitch, the Bethesda launcher, Battlenet, and yes, even Epic.

My Steam Profile (from SteamDB)

Worth: $23490 ($5973 with sales)

Games owned: 2470

I have yet to find a simple way to track it all (although I have high hopes for GoG Galaxy 2.0). Even if you take my old collection of physical PC games, mobile games, and the few XBox 360 titles we still have lying around out of the equation, my library still contains around 3000 individual pieces of digital gaming history.

I think I’m happier with both the time I spend gaming and the time I don’t spend gaming now that I’ve made a conscious decision to look at my unplayed games in a new way. Do you get bogged down by your backlog? Are you comfortable with how many games you own that you just haven’t gotten around to? Do you feel like it makes gaming more or less enjoyable when you’re spoiled for choice?

Weekend Rewatch – Mindhunter Season 1

The second season of Mindhunter just came out on Netflix yesterday, and instead of diving right in, we decided to rewatch the first season beforehand.

While I hadn’t forgotten how fantastic this show was, I am definitely finding more to appreciate on a second viewing. Although not what would be considered a period drama, it is so perfectly late-70s, and as someone who adores shows like Criminal Minds, seeing a semi-fictionalized portrayal of the early years of the Behavioral Science Unit is fascinating.

Mindhunter kind of bridges a gap for me; it lifts the veil in a way, and I get to see not just how the machine works, but how it was built. It’s research, polished up for a wider audience, and it makes me want to learn more.

And that’s where I think the interest turns nerd-worthy – I don’t just want to enjoy it in the moment (although I absolutely do), but I want to find more, learn more, and consume & digest more on the subject.

Sometimes it’s hard having such diverse interests, but it definitely keeps me from getting bored!