THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: As 2019 hurries to a close, our hosts kick up their feet and just chat about the things they’re doing to occupy their time until the new year rolls around. They talk about everything from the winter Steam sale, to finishing Outer Wilds (no spoilers!), to Lovecraftian tabletop games (Fate of Cthulhu), video games (The Sinking City), and novels (Winter Tide), to developing for web browsers, to––of course––Doctor Who and Star Wars.
“Weird World News“––a module for Fate Core by friend-of-the-show, André La Roche.
La Roche, André. “Spotlight: The Joke’s On Us.” A Website [ , ] For All Intents and Purposes, 27 October 2019––André’s critical look at one of the most divisive movies of the year.
WEEK IN GEEK(kind of): It turned out to be an accidental Week in Geek episode as D. Bethel talks about his disappointment with Valve Corporation’s sidelining of Campo Santo’s Firewatch followup, In the Valley of Gods. On the opposite side of breaking news, Andrew finally gets around to watching Star Trek: Discovery and kind of unabashedly loves it.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew dives into the storied No Man’s Sky and kind-of-fights with Dan about games media coverage while D. Bethel relates his experience speaking about comics––and his webcomic, Long John, to a college graphic novels as literature class.
WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew and D. finally return to video games for their Weeks in Geek. Andrew gets lost (in a good way) playing Subnautica by Unknown Worlds Entertainment while D. Bethel explores the mysterious labyrinthine world found in Team Cherry‘s Hollow Knight.
Part 1 of D. Bethel’s playthrough of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon:
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew gets impressed with The Bard’s Tale Trilogy remastered collection on Steam while D. Bethel watches Venom and, even though he enjoyed it, wonders why it’s hitting such a strong chord with viewers.
DOCTOR BOO!: With Spookytober drawing to a close, Andrew and D. couldn’t not talk about Doctor Who, so they dove into the archive to talk about what they argue may be one of the series’ scariest episodes yet, series 4’s “Midnight.”
WEEK IN GEEK: It’s an indie game kind of week as Andrew reports on the Zelda-like shop sim, Moonlighter, by Digital Sun while D. Bethel starts a conversation about everybody’s current favorite rogue-like platformer (kind of a Metroidvania, kind of not; definitely not a “roguevania”), Dead Cells, by Motion Twin.
E3 tends to throw a lot of information––and games––at the public. D. Bethel has thoughts on a few of them.
Having been a console-first gamer my entire gaming life, I tend to pay close attention to the news and videos coming out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). At this point, I don’t get particularly hyped about the games that get announced (I hear people that hit social media after a press conference exclaiming, seemingly in earnest, “I NEED THIS GAME NOW!” Chill, dude) especially since few games shown at E3 anymore are surprises, having been announced months or years earlier. If anything, being a guy who is way into process, I’m excited to see what state these previously announced games are in and what kind of games they actually end up being. It’s like a big public presentation of the middle portion of the transition from idea to final product.
With that in mind, there a few games really stood out to me, with a few that may have slipped under the larger coverage of the show.
The games I discuss in Shortcast 59 are only from the Sony press conference. Though I’ll be broadening my scope for this Spotlight, there was one game from Sony’s exhibition really got its hooks in me.
Sucker Punch is a studio with whom I’m nominally familiar. I never played the Infamous series of games, having been an Xbox 360 owner at the time of their release, but the idea intrigued me enough and the general response to the series was always positive, nor had I touched a Sly Cooper game as 3D platformers never really appealed to me despite the series’ general good regard among the community. With that said, I hold neither Sucker Punch nor their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, to any metric aside from what they show of the game itself.
And what they showed of Ghost is fire.
In fact, it seems like a game made specifically for D. Bethel. According to Sucker Punch creative director, Nate Fox, Ghost is a wholly linear, narrative-focused game that takes the player through 13th century Japan in the midst of a war with the Mongols. With that, teenaged Dan, the Japanese history nerd, perked up. Additionally, it’s a historical samurai action game with no supernatural elements whatsoever as Sucker Punch aimed for “a grounded game.” Comicker D. Bethel, who’s making a western webcomic with no supernatural elements, perked up as well. Combined with the deliberate combat that looked similar (though let’s hope it’s not too similar) to Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai, super gamer nerd Dan became invested.
Like with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption before it, the idea of a AAA grounded historical game that isn’t simply a tactical war game nor an RPG seems like an avenue less explored by big studios; so to see Sucker Punch tackle it (and with Red Dead Redemption 2 out this October!), I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one where, before, it wasn’t in my field of vision at all.
Sable – Shedworks (PC only at the time of this announcement) – Late 2019
Here’s where I walk back my console cred and mention a PC game. E3 held what it called its “PC Gaming Show” that showcased upcoming PC games in the same manner that other press conferences showcased console-focused games. Tucked among those games was Sable, and I can’t believe it’s real.
Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract.
I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I know it’s a game, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of game it is yet. The visuals stunned me. Surely a lot of people are going to be calling this a “hand-drawn” game, which it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s doing some high-level and artistic cell shading that eerily––EERILY––evokes the work of French cartoonist, Jean Giraud (aka Mœbius). Most accurately, it seems to be an homage to his long-running Métal hurlant (a magazine Giraud co-created and was published in the US as Heavy Metal) strip, Arzach.
Created by the two-person UK developer, Shedworks, their main source of inspiration seems to be from the strides in open-world development that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made than directly trying to interpret the work of Giraud into a video game space. Instead, the game apparently focuses more on the exploration and interaction with this breathtaking landscape rather than on RPG-like character growth and battle. Apparently, there’s no combat at all in the game, which is an intriguing proposition (No combat?! How is that even possible?!?!) that brought with it, to an extent, an internal sigh of relief. Finally, something different aside from just the visuals.
My joy doesn’t come from gleefully pointing out that this game seems to ape Mœbius’ style or comic at all––there’s no joy in that––but that this game vivifies his aesthetic perfectly. This must look like what the artist had in his head from which he could only capture still frames and arrange them on a page. Of all the games being written about, Sable genuinely gave me pause.
Sea of Solitude – Jo-Mei (PS4, XBox One, PC) – Early 2019
As an academic English person––albeit one who specialized in Composition and Rhetoric––whenever popular culture reveals a literary depth to it, it draws my attention with laser precision.
I heard on a podcast––sadly, I don’t remember which one, but probably Waypoint Radio––about a game shown during EA’s press conference that caught people off guard because Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of German indie studio, Jo-Mei, got surprisingly emotional and thoughtful when presenting the game, Sea of Solitude.
While “getting emotional” seems to be a highly subjective term––Geppert comes across as more nervous and genuinely excited to show off her game at the largest gaming trade show in the United States––her candor with the game’s themes andwhat they are trying to say with the game surprised me more.
A major argument in the discourse around games is that they are superficial entertainment, escapist power-fantasy exercises and that’s the baseline level of appreciation for them. Some even argue that such an angle should be our only appreciation of them (“Keep politics out of games!” “Keep your X agenda out of games!” “Games should be more like they were before!” etc.).
The problem with that is games are made by people who think very hard about their games. Like with any creative product (or any product), the consumer doesn’t usually see the majority of effort that went into making it. That’s part of why we are so quick to offer hot takes on games, movies, comics, toys, videos, etc. We are reacting to the product put in front of us, not seeing the complex web of thought, ability, and troubleshooting behind the shiny veneer. To an extent, good games look effortlessly made.
Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract. This has become more visible as creators have been more vocal with their process. From Hideo Kojima’s thematic and increasingly abstract approach to his Metal Gear Solid series to the small and decisively personal games like Brothers and Papo y Yo, consumers are seeing the level of critical and artistic effort creators put into their games.
Usually we hear these things after a game’s release. That Jo-Mei presented their literary ambition first, before the trailer, partly illustrates why I liked their segment of the press conference so much. This seems like a huge step forward for the developer whose previous games don’t seem like anything that really broke through to the larger critical discussion.
Luckily, the game looks stylish and fun––like LIMBO or INSIDE crossed with a post-apocalyptic anime––I’m excited because it piqued my academic interests while also being a game that––superficially––looks like it’ll be a fun time.
E3 has been particularly exciting this year. After a year or two of the industry being hit hard by extreme successes (2017 was an outstanding year for games) and existential dilemmas (voice actor strike, labor issues, continuing GamerGate behavior), seeing good games at the show as well as developers tackling some of these issues (both positively and negatively) head on puts this E3 ahead in a lot of ways. At the very least, we get good games out of the static as developers, journalists, and players try to move the medium forward and upward.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew goes back to his undergraduate roots and dives into programming with the Unity engine via the online programming courses taught through Udemy while D. Bethel updates his nostalgia with the Super NES as he plays around with Analogue’s Super Nt system.
The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This fourth part of a multi-part series looks at Chroma Squad, Rogue Legacy, and Steamworld Dig. Take a look at the third part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-3/.
Chroma Squad by Behold Studios is one of those games that I never would have guessed I would have wanted: a tactical RPG themed around the production of a Super Sentai style show. Or, as one reviewer described it, “Power Rangers crossed with XCOM with a dash of Game Dev Story.” Yet, somehow, the theme works really well, resulting in a fun game that scratches that tactical RPG itch with a lighthearted sense of humor.
Perhaps one of the stranger aspects of the game is the meta narrative: the player controls a group of stunt actors who decide to create their own Super Sentai show. The game is divided between turn based battles, in which the cast acts out an episode of the show, and the time between episodes, where you create new costumes and upgrade the production equipment. This creates a unique spin on the RPG aspect of the game, with character improvement being tied to things like upgraded costumes. The battles are important insomuch that success and achieving bonus goals reflects on the show’s popularity with fans. It’s not enough that you win battles; there are goals that you have to meat in order to keep viewers happy and engaged. Do poorly and you may even find your show getting cancelled.
You can hear me discuss Chroma Squad back in Episode 131 – A Magical Failure. Since then, the game has expanded to include a new “Director’s Cut” free update which adds some new game modes and tweaks some of the play experience. The game is also available on other platforms, including iOS and Android, so you can take the excitement of Super Sentai with you wherever you go.
Rogue Legacy was the breakthrough hit Rogue-lite platform action-adventure game by Cellar Door Games, developer of a number of free Flash games like Don’t Shit Your Pants. Basically, it combines the difficulty and random generation of Roguelike games with the platform action-adventure of Metroidvania style games in a unique combination.
The story of Rogue Legacy is relatively straight-forward: you play as a line of royal descendants entering a castle to find a great treasure. Every time your character dies (which is inevitable, given the nature of the game), you choose a new descendant to take his or her place. You have three options, each with their own combination of abilities and disabilities that will make that next play-through unique. You keep the gold and other items that you find through each expedition into the castle. These can be used to make further generations more powerful, either through purchasing new equipment or upgrading your castle (which, in turn, makes your heroes more powerful). Although the game can be frustratingly difficult at times, it still makes for a really fun game that captures the feel of a Roguelike without being too punishing.
Steamworld Dig, by Image & Form Games, is the second entry in the “Steamworld” series of games that includes Steamworld Heist. Part platform mining game, part Metroidvania, the game follows the adventure of a steam powered robot named Rusty who inherits his uncle’s ore mine. Most of the game focuses on carefully digging through the mine, collecting valuable ore while making sure you don’t dig too much and get stuck.
I will admit (again) that I am always a sucker for games that have that Metroidvania feel and Steamworld Dig did a very good job of capturing the essence of what I liked from a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In a way, what it brings together is the best of platform action-adventure games with a reasonable dose of RPG gameplay. The game doesn’t do as much for exploring as some of the classic Metroidvania games, as most of the exploring is going further down the mine, but it manages to be a lot of fun. Perhaps, the only real complaint I had was that I was done with it so quickly; I sat down to play the game on a day off and found myself at the end before I even realized it.
For whatever reason, I never actually talked about playing through Steamworld Dig on the show. It probably has something to do with the fact that I finished it quickly enough that it didn’t make its way into my Week in Geek. However, it’s worth mentioning that since I played it, they’ve actually released a sequel to the game, Steamworld Dig 2.
The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This third part of a multi-part series looks at Stardew Valley, Renowned Explorers: International Society, and Project Highrise. Take a look at part two of the series here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-2/.
Stardew Valley is one of those games where the designer wanted to make the very best version of a classic game. In this case, the game in question was Harvest Moon, first released for the Super Nintendo in the late 1990s. The premise is simple: after getting fed up with your big corporate job, you open a letter left to you by your grandfather and discover that you’ve inherited a farm in a quiet little town called Stardew Valley. From there, you… well, you farm. You plant crops. You water crops. You harvest crops. You make enough money to buy more crops. Go fishing in the local river. Or at the pier. Maybe build a chicken coop. Raise chickens. Harvest eggs. Make mayonnaise. Expand your house. Go adventuring in the local mine. Fight some monsters. Help rebuild the local community center. Make new friends. Maybe meet the man or woman of your dreams.
When I started playing Stardew Valley, I didn’t really have a lot of experience with farming simulation RPGs. I played Harvest Moon for about an hour back in 2007 and didn’t quite figure it out. But Stardew Valley became the game I spent most of my winter holiday playing last year. By the time the calendar hit New Year’s Day 2017, I had put more than 100 hours into the game. All in the course of about two weeks time. Say what you will about farming simulation RPGs, but this one is pretty great.
I mentioned Stardew Valley in Shortcast 21 – Love the Stank. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about new content. The primary focus has been on the fabled multiplayer support, debuting soon (-ish) on the Nintendo Switch and later on other platforms. But, they’ve also mentioned a few new pieces of content that they intend to add to the game.
Renowned Explorers: International Society by Abbey Games is a strategy game with a fair number of RPG elements. You choose a group of explorers from the collection of possible characters and then proceed on adventures. You’re in search of treasures and renown in an effort to be the best explorer in the International Society. Each adventure involves exploring the local area, having encounters with the local residents, and sometimes engaging in battles. You have a fixed number of resources, so you need to decide how to best use them to succeed in the adventure. Many of the encounters involve story prompts where you have to choose what option to go with. Some require greater skill or sacrifice but yield potentially greater reward.
Battles shift to a hex based battle map, where characters take turns making attacks and using abilities. A lot of combat is based on a paper-rock-scissor mechanic of attitudes: devious, friendly, and aggressive. Not only do you choose an overall attitude for every battle but characters have individual abilities that are keyed to the difference attitudes. Learning how to best utilize these different attitudes is the key to succeeding in battle. Because the actions in battle can range from actual violence to talking (whether it be devious or friendly), it ends up being much sillier than one might think at the onset. But silly in a fun way.
You can hear about my experience with Renowned Explorers: International Society in Episode 133 – We’re on a Track. At the time, there was already one small expansion, aptly named More to Explore, available for the game. Since then, they’ve released an additional expansion, The Emperor’s Challenge, which includes four new characters and a variety of new East Asian themed adventures.
Back in the 1990s, Maxis, the company known for SimCity and its rather peculiarprogeny, published a slightly different game created by Japanese developer OpenBook Co., Ltd.: SimTower. It was a sort of weird game where you build and manage a highrise tower. Twenty years later, Kasedo Games decided that the highrise simulation genre needed a new entry. With that, Project Highrise was born.
In Project Highrise, you build and develop a building. This means everything from the structure itself, including elevators, utilities, and services, to the tenants that live or work in it. When you start, you only have a limited number of options for tenants; most of what you’ll be filling your building with will be small legal and accounting offices. But, as you get better and better at managing the building, your prestige will grow and so will your options. The focus of the game is managing your tenants needs while keeping your building profitable.
Project Highrise was one of the first games I got from the Humble Bundle Monthly. I talked about it back in Episode 125 – Hot Sauce Box. There have been a few expansions since then, adding some new types of businesses to your highrise, although the game is still a solid play experience without any new stuff.