Waking Mars is On Sale and Worth It

Right now you can get a little game called Waking Mars for $1.99 over at GOG (or $2.00 over at Steam). This is a steal. I’ve talked about this game before and I recommend reading that article for a good overview.

Basically it’s sort of a puzzle game and sort of a platformer and sort of Metroidvania but mostly it’s about exploration and being relaxed.

And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn't great.  (Hint: You can't.)
And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn’t great. (Hint: You can’t.)

TLDR: GET IT ON GOG or GET IT ON STEAM or GET IT ON THE ITUNES STORE. Not even kidding you guys: this is a good one.

Somewhere Only We Know

WoW_Young_Althalor

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand

tawyntribute

I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete

WoW_CleansingTheWell

Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on

WoW_FlightOverDarkshoreRedux

So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

wow_diremaultree

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me

WoW_MoonkinFun1

Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

WoW_RacingTheZeppelin5

Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on

wow_lunapikeagainstnightsky2

So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

WoW_GogglesBearSurveysTheKingdom

And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?

treesarescary

This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?

WoW_KaraKey

Somewhere only we know…

WoW_FamilyKaraRun

Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on

WoW_WhatAmIDoingHere

So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

WoW_TreeSpotlight

And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?

WoW_YoungSonglark

This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
So why don’t we go

WoW_LunapikesNewDragon1

This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go

WoW_DrakesAreNotYourPersonalArmy

Somewhere only we know?

WoW_DireMaul

Somewhere only we know?

12029_600

Somewhere only we know…

WoW_TawynsKarazhanBedroom

Keane – Somewhere Only We Know

Banished

A few days ago one-man indie outfit Shining Rock Studios published their medieval city builder Banished, a game which I had been looking forward to since coming across it a few months ago. So after spending a few days messing with it and giving a couple of villages a go, I’m here to give you my report on the thing.

I want to begin with by observing that Banished is, for me, a highly polished product. I have encountered no crashes, no slowdown, and no bugs, even of a graphical nature. It’s a small thing really, but it’s both impressive and a little damning that a one-man outfit can produce a game which in this regard is up to snuff where huge mexabux companies sometimes seem to struggle with it. Obviously my experience is an anecdote and in no way representative, but still nice to see.

Now to the game itself. You start with a handful of villagers, some food and tools and clothes and, depending on your difficulty level, a few starting buildings and useful things like seeds and livestock. Your task is very simple: survive. You do this by building houses, making coats, and chopping firewood to keep warm, by hunting, fishing, gathering, and farming to provide food, and by establishing the secondary industries needed to perform those tasks most efficiently, like making sure you have an educated populace using good tools, and making sure they’re healthy by providing a good mix of foodstuffs and having some medicinal herbs on hand. And you have to carefully balance and plan, otherwise you’ll be in some trouble. Expand too fast? People starve. Expand too slow? People don’t have enough kids to create the next generation. Not enough firewood and winter coats? People freeze to death. Plus there are disasters like fires and tornadoes, and they can really do a number on you. It’s a game about survival, and survival can be a brutal struggle.

A pleasant, bustling idyll. Until a tornado arrives.
A pleasant, bustling idyll. Until a tornado arrives.

One of the words I’ve seen in connection with this game is “shallow”. This game has no overarching goal beyond survival, there’s no kings to overthrow or Orcs to fight off (no combat of any kind), there’s no grand monuments to build, your only task is to keep your village going and grow it as much as you can. It’s refreshing in its simplicity and for the most part I like the lack of direction as precisely what a good city builder should provide, but it does go a bit too far in that direction, I think. There needs to be at least some higher-tier content to work towards; a grand cathedral, a big phallic monument, stuff like that. There also needs to be a bit more in the way of random decorative stuff like trees and small statues and whatnot. This sort of thing would be pretty pointless in the early game, but would help prettify your city a lot, and isn’t that what a city builder is ultimately all about?

I’m a little hesitant to just call the game shallow and leave it at that though. It’s a solid, compact title that I’ve already more than got my money’s worth out of, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a game in the genre, especially those burned by SimCity 2013. It’s by no means perfect, there are some balancing issues to work out, and the pathfinding probably needs to be tightened up. There definitely needs to be more content of some sort as well, but the dev has voiced support for modding and hopefully we’ll be seeing modding tools soon to aid in that. All in all I don’t expect this game to overcome SimCity 4 for city builder addictiveness, but it’s a very nice starting point that’s entirely playable right now and will, with some time and affection, almost certainly grow into something really special.

Y’all can get Banished on Steam, or GoG.com, or from the Shining Rock site directly: http://www.shiningrocksoftware.com/

Has There Ever Been Something Similar to Twitch Plays Pokémon Before?

Genuine question. I want to know. I can’t think of anything.

Now for all three of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, well, the good old BBC has got you covered (and so does Twitch of course.) Basically for the last week or so tens of thousands of people from around the globe have been trying to collaborate on a romhack of Pokemon Red. It’s about as chaotic as you might expect, although somehow the stream has managed to get about halfway through the game.

Essentially
Essentially

I keep trying to think of something that this can compare to but for the life of me I can’t. We’ve seen multitudes of people get together for a gaming event (like a game launch), even multitudes of people all in the same place in the same game (like Ahn-Qiraj in World of Warcraft), but all controlling one single character and trying to collaborate on a single player game?

I’ve been playing games for three decades and can’t think of something similar. This might be unprecedented.

Go check it out or alternatively help me think of a previous similar event of this scale so I stop beating myself up and racking my brains over it.

RIP Flappy Bird; all hail the absurd Flash successor

I’m sure most everyone has heard by now, but Flappy Bird has been removed from sale, so while those of us who already have it on our phone can continue to play it, for everyone else the titular creature has flapped into the sunset.

Insert Metal Gear Solid theme song here.
Insert Metal Gear Solid theme song here.

Do not fret, however! The guy behind games like Super Hexagon and VVVVVV has us covered with a flash game that makes Flappy Bird look like Fisher Price’s My First Difficulty Level.

Presenting Maverick Bird.

If you score higher than about ten I’m pretty sure you’re a legend.*

Have at it! You’ll probably be playing for a while as this game comes complete with Robot Unicorn Attack Syndrome (aka you won’t stop playing until the catchy song is done).

* EDIT: I have surpassed ten and been informed that some of my friends have done likewise. I’m bumping the new score-to-beat up to 20. Mister Adequate has 31. ARE YOU A BAD ENOUGH DUDE?

The Merits of Experimentation

I was recently seized by the desire to play some Final Fantasies so I went back to the beginning and played through I in a couple of days, and then I started II. Now, like Pike when she started it a couple of years ago, I had never played FF2 before now. And like Pike I had heard a lot of polarizing talk about the game, especially with regards to its somewhat unconventional character growth system.

See, in FF2 you don’t gain experience points to level. Instead, much more in the vein of western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, your characters grow according to what they do in battles. If they take a lot of hits they’ll gain HP and Stamina. If they cast magic, MP and Spirit or Intelligence, depending on whether it’s White or Black magic. Dodge and you gain dodge and agility. You get the idea. This doesn’t just apply to stats though, but also to your weapon proficiencies and magic. Use a particular class of weapon more and you’ll get better with it. Use a particular spell more and it will grow more powerful and more accurate, though also costing more MP.

I’m playing the PSP version which has enjoyed some years of refinement and polish over the original so it’s quite possible that the original’s balance was all out of whack. But I can safely say this system is one of the most engaging I’ve encountered in a JRPG in a long long time. I’m enjoying it tremendously and I cannot even begin to fathom what the complaints are. (I mean, I know what they are because I’ve read them, but if I hadn’t read them I’d never have figured them out by myself.) It’s deeply satisfying to get such feedback and results to how you play and it feels like there’s a lot more freedom here than in typical party-based RPGs.

wow very hate much dissent very opinion
wow
very hate
much dissent
very opinion

But this goes, in my eyes, further than just being a system I am enjoying. What I’m finding is that I’m very naturally finding roles for my party members and that it’s not based on preset things but rather what feels sensible when a role needs to be decided. For instance, at the start of the game Guy, a big dude, seems like the obvious choice for heavy hitter. And he is a pretty heavy hitter. But he’s also loaded with the exact sorts of spells that have moderate, occasional, or intermediate use. I don’t need to stick Teleport on a dedicated mage, and I’d rather have Life on someone with a ton of health. The thing that makes this work is that you can level your spells as well. Guy doesn’t need to spend much time on his magic to still be useful with it. On the other hand Firion is carrying my offensive spells and because the spells grow as you use them, I find myself ensuring I do some casting regularly. I’m still early in the game but it already feels like a much more natural and sensible system than many RPGs manage. It’s a system which influences how I play without dictating it, and a system which rewards investment without being too malleable and having characters end up being very easily swapped because their abilities are tied completely into equippable items. It’s pretty simple to turn Barret into a mage and Aeris into a heavy hitter once you’ve got the materia to do it.

Ultimately what I’m enjoying is that character development fits into this wonderful niche of being freeform and not constricting without simply turning the characters into identikits of each other. By the standards of Final Fantasy this was a highly experimental game and I’m very glad Square made the choices they did with it because it has resulted in a real gem.

What about you guys? Do you have opinions on FF2, or perhaps you’ve come across interesting leveling systems in other games? Feel free to share your opinions, and remember we’re as interested in hearing about games that tried and failed as much as those which succeeded! Not every experiment will succeed, but learning about why one failed is at least as important as why another succeeded.

Why Can’t I Stop Playing The Stupidest Game Ever?

In this post I am actually going to live up to the blog namesake a bit and talk about an Android game. You have probably played it, and if you haven’t played it, you have probably heard of it.

I am, of course, talking about Flappy Bird.

Flappy-Bird-Teaser

It is the dumbest game ever. It involves tapping the screen to guide a bird through some obstacles. You get one point for every obstacle you successfully negotiate and you go until you lose. That’s it.

So why can’t I stop playing it? No, really?

This is my actual face upon realizing that I cannot stop playing this dumb game.
This is my actual face upon realizing that I cannot stop playing this dumb game.

Have any of you fallen prey to this game? What other really stupid games can you not stop playing?

In Which Pike Destroys Her Expensive Mechanical Keyboard

This, my friends, is a sad tale of foolishness and folly, and I share it so that you may, perhaps, learn from my own mistakes.

Three months ago I splurged and got myself one of those super fancy mechanical gaming keyboards. I reasoned that it would be a good investment that would last me forever, and also function as a consolidation prize for having to send Mister Adequate back to England after a nice visit of his.

And oh, it was a lovely keyboard and made the most wonderous clickety-clackety noises when I typed! It was, I was sure, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Until yesterday, when I somehow managed to knock a full glass of chocolate milk right onto the thing.

Basically.
Basically.

As you can imagine, watching chocolate milk seep into all the little nooks and crannies of my prized keyboard was horrifying and put me right into a terrific panic. Unsure of what to do, I unplugged it, dragged it over to the sink, drained out the milk and then gave it a shower. At the time I was fully aware dousing it in water might just have been putting the nail in the coffin but I had no idea how to approach this whole situation and I figured that time was of the essence.

After this I let it sit and dry for a while and then plugged it in and gave it a shot.

The keyboard worked… sort of. Certain keys gave ridiculous results; for example, anything on the numpad gave me “abcdef” and the shift key gave me “333333333”. After a while everything quit working UNLESS I WAS WRITING IN CAPS LOCK. Then nothing would work, and then everything was normal for about three minutes before the keyboard started to press random buttons at random intervals, shutting down various programs against my will.

After several hours of trying to salvage this situation I gave up and bought myself a new keyboard. One which was just as expensive as the first.

Mon visage quand.
Mon visage quand.

Why am I telling you this sad, sad story, dear reader? It is so you can avoid this fate. Eating and drinking at our computer is, for many of us, a fact of life, but I’ve already ordered this keyboard protector because I am clumsy and really should have done that a million years ago. In the meantime, because I am paranoid, I have saranwrapped my super expensive keyboard. Yes, it’s silly. I don’t care. Typing on a saranwrapped keyboard is a lot easier than you’d think and I sure as hell am not going to let this happen again.

Friends. Do not let this happen to you. Get a keyboard protector and/or be careful where you keep your drinks. Just… trust me.

Trust me.

Linux Gaming Has Come a Long Way

Any of you longtime readers who have followed me here from Aspect of the Hare, that blog I started writing some seven years ago or so (any of you guys left? One, maybe two of you there in the back? Hi!) will remember that my operating system of choice was Linux and I was very proud of the fact that I played World of Warcraft exclusively on that system. As a matter of fact I continued to use Linux either exclusively or near-exclusively for a very long time, until probably about a year or two back when I realized that Windows 7 was actually a pretty good OS and I switched to that– largely for the ease of gaming.

Well, on a whim I decided to reinstall Linux today. The first thing I noticed is how easily Steam installs, and the second thing I noticed is that I have over 80 games in my Steam list that I can install on Linux.

Damn.

I remember when Linux gaming involved either playing copious amounts of Frozen Bubble, KSolitaire and SuperTux and then calling it good, or wrangling with Wine for hours on end. And here I am, able to play fantastic games like Europa Universalis IV, Crusader Kings II, and Awesomenauts natively on Linux! And what’s more, they run beautifully too!

Pretty much.
Pretty much.

So if any of you guys out there maybe gave Linux a shot once upon a time and then decided that it wasn’t worth the effort because you wanted to play games, now’s a good time to give it another whirl. And as far as I’m concerned, the future is only bright – now that Steam and the SteamBox are really pushing Linux gaming, things are really starting to get super exciting. Just think where we’ll be in a few more years!

Hail the penguin!

I Will Figure Out Dark Souls If It’s The Last Thing I Do

Quite some time back I tried to figure out the infamous game Dark Souls. I really did. I dumped hours into it, trying to like it. But I didn’t. I found it to be very puzzle-game-esque, which isn’t exactly bad in and of itself, but trying to figure out the puzzle every time you want to beat a sequence just grew tiring to me– especially when you’ve been stuck in the same sequence forever.

However, several months later people are still telling me how wonderful and amazing this game is and so I’ve decided it deserves another shot. I’ve reinstalled it and having put a half hour into it so far I… uh… well my opinion hasn’t changed much from last time. But I refuse to give up for at least another few hours! Eventually I am going to figure out this game!

This is actually occurring in game right now because I'm alt-tabbed out to write this.
This is actually occurring in game right now because I’m alt-tabbed out to write this.

So that is what I am going to do. I am going to play this game, dagnabit, until I like it. Or at least until I remember that I’ve got a great Victoria 2 save going on right now. Probably the latter.

…yeah, let’s face it, the latter is going to happen. Hey, it really is a great Vicky 2 save though. I’ll tell you guys about it later.

[disgusted noise]