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!

My (Not So) Secret Life as an E-sports Fangirl

I think the concept of E-Sports has probably been on my radar for about 15 years or so, but mostly, I didn’t get it. Most of the early popular E-Sports games weren’t titles I knew anything about, or was really even all that interested in.

I vaguely remember watching some World of Warcraft arena play via the Blizzcon 2009 Virtual Ticket, and I was well & truly into playing arenas at the time, and I still felt meh about the whole thing. This was before Twitch was even a thing, and I never really gave it another thought.

Then, in 2016, I cut my MOBA teeth on Blizzards Heroes of the Storm, which I actually enjoyed playing for a bit, This made it a whole lot easier to persuade me to try out Smite when it was the flavor of the month for some of my friends from World of Warcraft.

I don’t think I actually paid much attention to the Smite Pro League, or SPL, until we had mostly lost interest in actually playing the game. But sometime during season 3 (2017), we watched a stream or two. And then we started watching it regularly. And then…

… and then, I started fangirling all over the place. I had favorite teams, and favorite players. I started watching regular player streams on Twitch, and followed players on Twitter. My husband and I even drove over 1000 miles each way to watch the 2019 World Championship last year at Dreamhack in Atlanta.

Honestly, if I had never played Smite, I don’t know how interesting it would be to watch, but even now, after being away from the game for far longer than I played it, I know enough of how it works to enjoy the experience of watching it. I still have my favorite players, and I am forever and always rooting for whatever team Variety plays for.

As someone who was never a fan of regular old sports, it feels weird to dedicate hours of my life to watching other people play games when I could be gaming myself, but I really do look forward to getting caught up on SPL every time the VODs go up on YouTube.

From The Bargain Bin: 5 Under $5

As an introduction to what might be a new column for me – From the Bargain Bin – I thought I’d do a few mini-reviews of games with a regular price on steam of under $5 that I’ve played a not-insignificant amount and that I would absolutely recommend.

Sacra Terra: Angelic Night – MSRP: $2.99 – My playtime: 3.9 hours

I realize that hidden object games aren’t for everyone, and even less so since the better publishers tend to charge $10 or more for a game with less than five hours of playtime. If you’re considering trying out hidden object games, I would highly suggest Sacra Terra: Angelic Night as a good one to start with.

The story is pretty solid for a HoG, but more importantly, the hidden object scenes are straight-forward and fair. Murky backgrounds and lighting tricks can absolutely prove frustrating to even veterans of the genre. There’s some light puzzling, but nothing overwhelmingly difficult (and if you’re into non-hidden-object point and clicks, they’ll probably seem super easy).

Chime – MSRP: $4.99 – My playtime: 8.0 hours

Chime is a fun combination of a packing puzzle and a rhythm game. You’re given Tetris-esque pieces and a flat board, and you will need to make rectangles at least 3 blocks by 3 blocks with them. The goal is to cover as much of the board as possible.

During play, an ambient track plays, and a beatline crosses your board. The shapes you place remix the music. There are a only a handful of tracks, each with three different timed modes (3, 6, and 9 minutes), and an unlockable free play mode. Chime is a nice, chill game when you just need a short break, and it’s pretty much endlessly replayable.

Mosiacs: Game of the Gods – MSRP: $2.99 – My playtime: 8.1 hours

If you like your puzzles a little more straight forward, Mosaic: Game of Gods might be more to your taste. Think jigsaws, but with smooth edges. The game attempts to give you a story, but it’s not the selling point of the game. Putting together 150 mosiac puzzles, however, is a pretty great way to relax.

The beginning puzzles are simple, but they do get more intricate as the game progresses. You have goals to meet (such as no misplaced pieces, or completing the puzzle within a time limit) if you want to chase achievements and challenge yourself, but there’s also a relaxed mode if you don’t want to be bothered with all that. The fact that both game modes are available make this a great pick-up for a wide variety of gamers.

Ghost Master – MSRP: $4.99 – My playtime: 38.3 hours

I feel like I should clarify here – my playtime on Steam is just under 40 hours. This was the very first game I purchased on Steam, to replace an old worn-out disc, and I can’t even begin to guess how many hours I put in then.

This is the only one of my bargain bin titles that’s old enough to be a classic, and the graphics show it. The controls are slightly clunky. It may be less great if you don’t have a pair of nostalgia goggles to wear while playing. Even still, it’s a quirky RTS / haunting sim, and I have yet to find any other game that even comes close to it in terms of pure mischievous joy.

In each level, you control a handful of ghosts, each with their own abilities. You need to scare the people with your ghosts to increase your plasma in order to use stronger abilities. You’re given a main goal, as well as other goals, which usually add more ghosts to your arsenal. Points from each level are available to improve your army of haunters, and some of the challenges are … well, really damn challenging.

I’d recommend it at full price, but if you can grab it during a sale, you might be able to spend less than a dollar.

Mad Bullets – MSRP: $2.99 – My playtime: 54.3 hours

Mad Bullets is an on-rails shooter, deceptively simple, but that gets hard as you progress. There’s no story, the art is simple, and the shooting is satisfying. It’s a game that does one thing, and it does it really really well.

Each round mixes it up just enough to keep it feeling fresh and keep you from playing on autopilot. It’s a rare game that feels like it has way more content than it actually has.

I picked up this game as part of a bundle, and never expected to spend as much time with it as I have. I managed to unlock all but two achievements (have I mentioned I love achievements?), and I feel like I would have gotten my money’s worth at five times the price. How many games can you say that about?

Do you have a favorite game with a bargain bin price? Tell me about it & why you love it!

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Little Dragons Cafe

Well, I was right about Utomik not being great for my backlog. Little Dragons Cafe has sucked me in. I’ve been struggling with motivation for a few days, so allowing myself a day or two of play (which is usually only 15-30 minutes) has been ideal for a mini-reward as I tackle other real life tasks.

You play as one of a pair of siblings running a cafe after their mother has fallen ill. Turns out, whatever is wrong with mom is due to the fact she’s half dragon because obviously. So while you’re making sure to keep the cafe going, you’re also raising a dragon, also because obviously.

And the dragon? Is adorable.

This game is about as far from fast-paced as you can get (although once you reach a certain point, the work of actually serving customers can feel just a little hectic) – you wander around the island, exploring and gathering ingredients and recipe parts. Sometimes you fish, but it’s the easiest fishing “mini-game” I’ve ever seen.

Cooking is a two-step process – first, you need to select appropriate ingredients, then you need to complete a rhythm game. The first part is really just balancing quality versus quantity. Ingredients that you find early on in the game will be plentiful, but ingredients that you find as new areas open up will be of better baseline quality. Ingredients also come in four qualities each, so there’s a lot that can go into each dish.

It feels like higher quality ingredients (as well as adding extra ones past the minimum requirements) make the rhythm game more difficult. However, sometimes a dish you prepared less successfully will still have a higher rating than a dish prepared perfectly depending on what goes into the dish. There is probably some min-maxing that can happen here, but as long as you have some pretty decent dishes on your menu – which can only hold 10 dishes at a time – it doesn’t seem to much matter.

Which brings me to the thing that will make some people hate the game – it really doesn’t seem to matter at all what you do, if you participate in the daily work of the cafe, or even if you go to bed as soon as the story beat for the day has passed. There are no real fail states. Sure, you can stall the story by running out of food and treating customers horribly and only serving the very worst of the worst food. You can also stall the story by ignoring the requirements for satisfying each story customer. But there doesn’t seem to be anything you can’t recover from just by playing.

This is an immensely casual game that someone felt good about sticking a $60 price tag on, and therefore, nothing I ever would have played if it hadn’t be available as part of my subscription. However, since I started it, I find I’m having a good solid relaxing sort of fun with it, and over the past several days, have managed to put in quite a few hours and get about halfway through the story.

Of course, I stumbled across this gem on Reddit, and I felt that it was too perfect not to include it.

Apparently, I’ll see you all in a week with a nearly endless supply of cooking ingredients that never seem to spoil, and, oh yeah, A DRAGON. No strategy required – good on me for playing a game you can’t die in.

Real Neat Blog Award Questions from Rakuno

So, there’s a Q&A making the rounds of #Blaugust2019 folks, and I was tagged by Rakuno over at Shards of Imagination. It’s just seven little questions – how hard can it be?

1. What is your favorite game? (It can be a video-game, tabletop game, card game, etc.)

Ok. This is a hard question. I mean, shouldn’t there be a rule against things like this? No one would ask which kid was your favorite, would they? Would they???

I could make you an all-time top 10, or tell you my favorite game of the moment, but anything I tried to put out there as an all-time, most favoritest game would be a bald-faced lie.

I can tell you that the game that had the most impact on my life was World of Warcraft – it was a social outlet when my life was falling apart, and something my (now) husband I and bonded over while we were dating. I met some of my favorite people via WoW, and although I’m currently on an extended hiatus, my life would be entirely different if I had never played.

2. Do you have or ever had a pet?

There were always pets in my house growing up, but it took me until a few years ago to have animals in my life that were my pets, if that makes sense.

Currently, we have two dogs, Charley (named after the incomparable Charlie Bradbury from Supernatural) and Dakota. Charley is a Lab / Great Pyr / Golden mix – although from looking at her you’d swear she was pure black Lab. Dakota – the best we can figure – is part Lab, part Bull Mastiff, part mystery beast, and 100% love bug.

Dakota is most emphatically my dog, or more precisely, I am her person. Charley also thinks Dakota is her dog. It’s confusing.

3. Your favorite developer/publisher chose you to design their next game. Budget isn’t a problem and you can hire whoever you want to help out. What kind of game would you make?

So, after giving this exactly one hot minute of consideration, I think I want to make a Telltalle-esque Tales of the Elder Scrolls game. There’s so much lore there, I could totally see it being a thing.

4. You suddenly got god-like powers. Limited god-like powers. They are so limited that all you can do is remove one species from this world and bring one back from extinction. Which ones would you choose?

I am REALLY hesitant to mess around with evolution because I know, no matter how much I hate some insects and such, nature is a weirdly delicate balance, and it would have far reaching consequences I would never imagine. However, if we could assume it’d be consequence-free, I think I’d have to take out the lowly mosquito, and bring back the sea mink, since that one is 100% on humans.

5. What fantasy or science fiction race do you identify yourself the most with and why?

Oof. Again, for an off-the-cuff answer, I have to go with Betazoid from Star Trek because I’m way too empathetic for my own good.

And when I say that, I mean more Deanna Troi than Lwaxana Troi. I’ll keep my clothes on, thank you very much.

6. You died in a freaky, embarrassing accident. When you open you eyes you are in front of a goddess who gives you two options:

Option 1) You can either reincarnate in the real world as a newborn baby to a random  family without any memories of your previous life.

Option 2) You can be teleported, as you are, to a fantasy world with your choice of a magical item. However if you choose this option you must defeat the Demon Lord that is plaguing that world.

Which option do you choose? If you choose option 2 what kind of magical item would you pick?

I would absolutely choose Option 1 because I’m boring. I like to play video games. I don’t want to live one.

7. You are trapped in an isolated location with five random strangers with no way to communicate with the outside world. There is also a killer on the loose. How many people die and how do you survive?

The location can be anything you want. (a cabin in the woods, a scientific station in Antarctica, even an extra-dimension) Same for the killer, it can be as mundane or as supernatural as you want. However the killer cannot be destroyed, at best it can only stopped long enough for you to flee.

I want to say I would be all over this. My extensive horror-movie-watching experience, with a concentration in the Ontological Mystery, should enable me to save not only my bacon, but at least most of the people with me.

But the wildcard in this story – as it always is in these types of stories – is the people trapped with me. Are they panicked? Can they be reasoned with? Do they have any actual useful skills (because I really really don’t)?

Assuming a no, yes, yes best case scenario, I would be the measured reasonable person who keeps the others from doing anything stupid, and co-ordinates all the escape efforts. In any other scenario, sadly, I’m probably dead meat (and likely first because I’d think I was too smart to get killed).

Hopefully Rakuno isn’t too disappointed in my answers, and I’ve done all right for myself going off my beaten path!

If you’d like to answer these questions, make sure to comment and I’ll drop a link to your blog entry here for others who might be curious.