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.

Gamer Motivation Profile

I recently revisited Quantic Foundry’s Gamer Motivation Profile. I originally took their quiz years ago, but I know my tastes and reasons for gaming have changed quite a bit.

It’s an interesting project – a way to quantify what a person wants to get out of their game time, and I find that I mostly agree with the categorical extremes they present.

So how did I rank on my priorities?

Creativity and Achievement blew everything else out of the water. I’ve always been drawn to games where you make something, or where exploration is a large component, and I will sometimes play a game for a little longer once it starts feeling stale because I’m so close to the end, or because I want to unlock more achievements. This feels pretty dead on to me.

Initially, I was somewhat surprised by my Immersion rating – I don’t feel like I value fantasy (defined here as the feeling of being someone or somewhere else) nearly as much as I like a good story, but I think the numbers read they way they do because I play (and enjoy) a lot of games that are not story-driven. For me, story matters a lot when it is what’s driving the game, but it’s not the only type of game play that appeals to me.

My Mastery value looks low, but that’s because it encompasses both brain and body responses. I will think out a puzzle for days, but I mostly avoid any game that’s lauded for being “brutally difficult” because I understand the limitations of my twitch reflexes, and I know that way lies madness.

Bringing up the rear for me were Social and Action. I primarily game alone (even when playing an MMO), and I have to be in a certain mood – a rare mood, you might say – to be interested in competitive play. I don’t want to get an adrenaline rush from my games, as I primarily game to relax. The only reason my action category was as high as it is, is that I do enjoy the occasional game where it feels like destruction is a primary motivation.

However, I feel like where Quantic Foundry falls very short is in the game recommendation engine. Not because they’re off-base, but rather because everything they’re recommending are games that are already on my radar, or that I’ve already completed. I won’t be discovering any hidden gems tailored to my tastes here.

I love the idea of the Gamer Motivation Profile, and mostly found mine to be pretty accurate. But I also think it’s important to note that we are not the target market – rather, we gamers are the product they’re selling. Quantic Foundry is gathering data for video game companies to use in their decision-making process about what games they want to make.

Still, it gives me hope that somewhere in the data, someone will see a market for a great exploration-focused game that caters to the Nerd Point hounds who just want to find all the things, and that it’ll be fantastic and successful and start a trend of these types of games. I mean, it could happen, right?

A Summary for Sunday

I had intended to use a chunk of my free time yesterday to get a little bit ahead on blogging – thankfully, the ideas are flowing, but I’ve been struggling with the actual sitting-down-to-write aspect of things.

Instead, I ended up splitting up my day into other endeavors. I caught up on some television while sorting and organizing our Magic: The Gathering card collection. I had bought some new, larger storage boxes, and wanted to get everything at least sorted by color in preparation for the much larger project I have in mind.

For years, I’ve been talking about getting all of our cards cataloged. Not only do I want them physically sorted by color and then by card type (creature, sorcery, instant, enchantment, etc.), I’d like to create a database so that we can see what we have without having to drag out all the boxes and look for the individual cards. It’s an enormous undertaking (which is probably why I keep putting it off), and we still have another batch of cards that need to go through the initial sort, but it’s a project I’d love to have completed by the time Nerd Central renovations are finished.

Once we’re fully organized, we plan to drop a little bit of money at our local gaming store and at The Wizard’s Cupboard to fill in any gaps in our collection. Although I’m less interested in a lot of the things my husband wants to use Nerd Central for, I’d love to get back into playing Magic: The Gathering on a regular basis again. To be honest, I’m not a great player; I have no trouble coming up with solid – sometimes even diabolical – decks, but I never can seem to play them as effectively as I should.

As far as video games go, I think I’m going to be shelving Gray Matter unfinished. It’s been over a week since I last launched the game, and the slow-pace was really starting to wear on me. Now, I don’t necessarily think I need tons of action to enjoy a game, but I had forgotten how painfully tedious the walking gets in point and click adventure games, and the older I get, the shorter my attention span seems to be.

I have been logging into ESO faithfully, so that’s a start. I’m making sure to do a Wrothgar Delve daily every day for my event tickets, because although I might claim to not care so much about mounts in ESO, I would really like to get myself an Onyx Indrik. I already missed the majority of the first third quarter event, so I want to make sure I at least get all my berries gathered up in time.

Given the amount of time that passed between my last blogging adventure and this one, I suppose it’s to be expected that I would have at least partially forgotten that writing about games absolutely changes the way I play.

I have ideas for posts I’d like to make, but first, I need to reinstall some games, spend some time with them, and get a screenshot or two. On the one hand, it’s great to get to revisit some old favorites, but on the other, I’m not doing my backlog any favors here.

That said, I feel like this blog is starting to come together for me, and I most definitely have #Blaugust2019 to thank for it. I had forgotten how much I missed not just the writing, but the community of other game bloggers. I find myself checking the Discord multiple times a day, and catching up on the writings of other participants whenever I have a few minutes to spare.

So thank you, readers, who are coming on this silly little journey with me, and who are being patient while I figure out exactly what this is. I hope you all are having a fantastic weekend!

Subscription Gaming Services – Utomik

It was August of 2009 when I bought my first game on Steam, and another year passed before I purchased a second game. I had no idea at the time that it would be my primary method of games acquisition someday, that PC games would be carried less and less in brick & mortar retailers, and that eventually, most games wouldn’t even be able to be purchased physically.

Three years before that, I subscribed to my first gaming service – Shockwave Unlimited. Although it was focused on mostly casual, coffee-break style games, and I have, in the years since, purchased games I played for the first time under that subscription.

In time, I moved towards a different type of gaming experience, and until recently, hadn’t given much thought to subscription gaming services. Of course, I’ve become aware of quite a few over the past couple of years: big names like Origin Access, PSNow, and XBox GamePass. The first one I was interested in enough to click the free trial button on, however, was Utomik.

There’s an interesting mix of games available to play through Utomik, although overall, I would say it is heavily weighted towards casual games, and I would never recommend it to someone who only wants to play the newest AAA hotness. I did find there to be a pretty impressive collection of indie games, including some pricey titles from niche genres, like Little Dragons Cafe.

I honestly thought I’d spend a day or two browsing Utomik’s catalog, play a few hidden object or time management games until I’d had my fill, and wander off. Now, I’m thinking I’ll keep my sub for at least a month, as there’s a handful of games that had flown under my radar that I’d really like to try out while I have the opportunity.

Do I need a game subscription service in my life? No, I most definitely do not. My Steam library is overwhelmingly huge, and it’s well supplemented by games picked up here and there on other launchers. But I’ve also been craving some bite-sized, low-brain gaming, and so I’m going to play Youda Sushi Chef, and a few hidden object games I haven’t seen in bundles yet, and the ridiculous looking (and poorly-reviewed) Sudokuball Detective.

Then I’m going to check out some games I’ve never heard of before: Dry Drowning, My Lovely Daughter, and unWorded. Finally, I’m going to spend some time with games that I’ve had wishlisted, but that I just haven’t been sure I wanted to buy, like Deep Sky Derelicts, Robothorium, and Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. I’ve definitely spend the $7 it’ll cost for a month of Utomik (after the 14 day trial ends) in a lot worse ways.

I’m also probably going to keep playing Little Dragons Cafe, because MY GOODNESS it’s adorable, but nothing I would ever spend $50 on.