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.
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 second part of a multi-part series looks at Game Dev Tycoon, Starbound, and Turmoil. Take a look at the first part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-1/.
Game Dev Tycoon
Ever wanted to run your own game development studio? Well, that takes work. And you’ll probably face loads of failure. But, if you just wanted to SIMULATE running your own game development studio, Game Dev Tycoon, by Greenheart Games, is here for you. It’s a pretty straightforward indie game from 2013 that has a surprising amount of mechanical depth.
The bulk of the game focuses on developing games. It’s relatively straightforward: you pick a topic (like Virtual Pet, Pirate, or Hacking); pick a genre (like Strategy, Casual, or RPG); and select a system to develop it on (like the Ninvento TES 64, PC, or the Vena Oasis). For each game, you have to decide how to prioritize different elements of the game. Will you choose to emphasize World Design or Graphics? Engine or Story? Every type of game has different priorities, so part of the game is learning what works and what doesn’t.
As your games are successful, your company grows. You move out of the garage and into an office. As you grow, you develop bigger games and build a larger fan base. You eventually get to go to the big trade show, G3. Get big enough and maybe you can even develop your own console. Or maybe a MMO. Eventually, you reach the end of the game (after about 30-35 years) and you get ranked based on your performance. Well, that’s assuming you don’t go bankrupt along the way.
This is a bit of a cheat because I just talked about Game Dev Tycoon in Shortcast 39 – Holidaycast 01, but I was specifically talking about the recently released iOS version. However, as it ends up, the Steam version is currently on sale! Although it hasn’t been updated with the new content from the iOS version as of this writing, the developers say that they’ve moved their timetable for it forward, meaning that the content should be available soon.
Starbound is a good example where I showed up to a type of game pretty late. I never played Minecraft. Or Terraria. I never got caught up in the sandbox building and crafting games when they first hit the scene. But Starbound, by Chucklefish, was my chance to not only get into this kind of thing but also to spend far too much time playing around with it.
Starbound, considered by some a sort of spiritual successor to Terraria, is a 2D sandbox building game with a light overlay of adventure and exploration. When you start your game, an entire procedurally generated universe is created that you will explore. Ostensibly, you are one of the last surviving members of a galactic federation. You escape just as a terrible monster destroys the headquarters of the federation. All you have is a broken down ship and a matter manipulator, a tool that lets you construct and deconstruct matter. From there, you get to explore the wide open universe located on your hard drive.
There’s a story to follow, but there’s also a lot to do on your own. Go mining for resources. Build your own house. Or city. Construct an underground empire. Go searching for fossils. Capture strange creatures. Build a space station. Raid pirate ships. To a certain extent, Starbound is what you make of it. On my home server, I built a small colony on an ocean planet. Shopkeepers and soldiers lived in peace on the surface. Hidden in the main structure was an elevator leading deep down into the ocean below, where I had constructed a giant underwater farming colony, growing exotic plants from across the galaxy. Eventually, I added a museum to showcase all the fossils I had discovered in my adventures. Starbound is what you make of it.
I actually talked about Starbound twice: once, in Episode 122- It’s a Fake, where I first picked up the game but didn’t quite get it, and again in Episode 136 – Make it So, when I set up a Starbound server at home for some friends to play around with. It’s worth mentioning that the game continues to get updated, so there’s seems to always be something new around the corner.
Turmoil, by Gamious, is a lighthearted simulation game set in 19th century North America. It’s about OIL. You play a young entrepreneur that starts into the oil drilling business. Each level focuses on a single plot of land, precious black gold buried somewhere underneath the surface. Through a combination of using sounders and effective drilling, you try your best to pull as much of the oil as you can to the surface, where your oil delivery men then haul it to sell. And you have exactly one year to do it. Of course, there are challenges. Sometimes, the market price for oil dips, so maybe it’s better to stockpile your oil. Or maybe the pocket of oil you found has gone dry and you need to dig deeper. As you continue through the game, things get complicated.
Between levels, you go to town, where you have the opportunity to spend your money on all sorts of things. New technology. Improved sounders. Better drills. All the sorts of upgrades you need as things get more difficult. You also have to compete against three other oil tycoons, each trying to be the best oil tycoon around. And, like any game about rich oil tycoons trying to make it big, you also have the opportunity to buy and sell stock in each other’s oil companies. It may be that the easiest way to beat Ricardo is to buy out his oil company.
I first mentioned this game back in Episode 128 – His Curry Name. There have been a few minor tweaks and patches since then. But, perhaps the most important thing is that they’ve announced new DLC that is coming soon, sometime in the first quarter of 2018. Maybe it’s time you take a chance at being an oil tycoon.
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!). With it being a day of giving/commerce for a lot of people, 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 first part of a multi-part series looks at Punch Club, Steamworld Heist, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.
Role-playing. Boxing. Street fighting. Pizza delivery. Punch Club, by Lazy Bear Games, might be one of the stranger games I played this year. Perhaps the strangeness of the game is best summarized in its description on Steam: “Train hard, fight crocodiles and find love. Earn your place in the Punch Club ranks, and discover who brutally murdered your father, in this choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.” That’s right. Choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.
The game is divided between fights, where you select which moves and abilities your character will use in battle and then watch it play through the fight, and the rest of the game, where you wander around the city performing odd jobs, training to be a better fighter, and signing up for tournaments. The story starts simply enough, but quickly goes into unexpected directions depending on what you do and where you go. After a few days of play, I was going into the sewer fighting ninja crocodiles where a friend of mine had become an enforcer for the local mafia. There’s a lot of strange content in this one.
You can hear my initial thoughts on Punch Club in Shortcast 28 – Linguistic Bravado. Since that recording, I can say that the game only gets more strange. With a skill-tree character upgrade system more complicated than a majority of RPGs out there, this game sits in that weird place that so many indie games do. Part RPG, part management game, part simulation… a little bit of everything.
Steamworld Heist, part of the “Steamworld” family of games by Image & Form, is a turn based strategy platform game. At least I think that’s the best way to describe it. You control a crew of space pirate robots that go from destination to destination, looking for salvage. Each character has a different combination of weapon, abilities, and hats that result in different play styles and uses within any specific level. As you explore the different locations in the game, you typically find yourself engaged in battle with a variety of different bad robots out to stop you. Different missions have different goals (whether it be defeating all the enemies, collecting all the treasures, or just escaping alive). Think of it a bit like a cross between XCOM and Worms.
Between missions, you navigate your steam ship through space to different mission locations. You can also visit shops throughout space that let you buy better equipment and weapons using the scrap that you find. This makes your robot space pirates more capable on missions, from better weapons to improved abilities. It’s a dash of role-playing style character advancement in the middle of a turn-based platform shooting game.
When I talked about Steamworld Heist in Shortcast 31 – The Secret was the Clap, I had actually just downloaded the version on the PS4/PS Vita. What I didn’t realize was that I had picked up the game on Steam some time earlier (and forgotten). Like a lot of these indie games, they find their way to consoles in one form or another.
Anybody that listens to the show knows I’m a big fan of Greater Than Games superhero cooperative card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. The virtual version, created by Handelabra Games, captures the fun of the card game with the convenience of not having to lug around a giant box full of cards. As in the tabletop game, everything begins with the setup: you choose a one of the four villains to battle and one of the four environments to do battle in. In addition, you choose three to five heroes to control from the available ten. This means that the base game has a lot of different possible combinations of play available. Expansions (of which there are many) add additional villains, environments, heroes, and even new ways to play the game.
Once you’ve selected your villain, heroes, and environment, it’s time to start the actual game. Gameplay is identical to the tabletop card game, although the game engine prevents you from making rules mistakes (or, as some people like to call it, cheating). The system correctly plays through the villain and environment turns, making sure you don’t miss anything. On hero turns, you have to determine what cards and powers to use to defeat your opponent. When playing by yourself, you control all of the heroes in the battle. However, the game also allows for cross-platform multiplayer, so you can play with your friends on iOS or Android, each of you controlling your own hero (like the card game).
Between the card version and the computer version, Sentinels of the Multiverse has come up quite a bit on the show. Dan played the Steam version back in Episode 87 – Thunder and Lightning. I mentioned it during our discussion of virtual versions of tabletop games in Episode 94 – The Garbleflangers. Either way, the whole line of Sentinels of the Multiverse products are currently on sale on Steam, but the base game is only $1.99 right now so if you haven’t given it a try, I recommend it.