My Game Pile is my stack of videogames that I’ve been working my way through over the course of the years, and writing about them. The plan is pretty simple: I talk about the game and I talk about the things that that game inspire. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long – and always, I try to give you an idea of who the game might be fore, or why they might want to buy it.
I have kind of bought Hyrule Warriors twice now, and never played it. It’s a game for Fox, a game that blends together her beloved Legend of Zelda universe – a series normally renowned for kind of tight, expertly designed small-scale adventure problems – and the indulgent, wide-open reckless ridiculousness of a Dynasty Warriors game, known as the genre of Musou. I say it’s a genre because even if nobody else was making Dynasty Warriors-like games, there are enough of them to be a genre.
Content Warning: Will contain spoilers for the plot of Hyrule Warriors.
At some point in the past two years I really did shift my attention as a writer from let’s take videogames seriously to let’s take games seriously, and part of that was an appreciation for tabletop and board games. Videogames were fast on track to become the biggest industry in the world, and the people loudly proclaiming they wanted more, different takes on videogames showed me that even if they did want them, they didn’t want them from me, since they’d much rather renew arguments about ‘are games art?’ and make fun of Ludonarrative Dissonance for being a long term.
Let’s be clear – at no point since this blog existed have I not been playing tabletop games. Mostly, what I’ve been playing have been RPGs and CCGs, but I’ve still been in those game spaces. But it wasn’t until a year or two ago – when I realised the boundary for making board games was so low that I could just jump into it, rather than needing to cultivate a new skillset like code.
And one of the first games I got to watch played, that blew my mind as a maker was this.
Yooka-Laylee is a collect-em-up game, in the vein of Psychonauts or a bunch of other games I haven’t played. It has a particular aesthetic, that singular form of storybook cartoon character, where people you meet are almost always some variety of pun. You travel around the world, you get the powerups, you collect the things, you solve the puzzles, and you win the game, at some point, I assume, concluding with a sort of tedious inevitability.
I’ve started writing this article about twelve times now, but I just stop, like I’m sliding off a waist-high invisible fence.
It’s not even that Yooka-Laylee is a bad game, I wouldn’t call it that. I really liked just randomly hopping around on Yooka with their charming little roll mechanic, bouncing and crashing onto things. I liked scrabbling around buildings and I liked the way you could just find odd things around the place. Then the game did something like hold up the game to give me an explanation for something and I alt-tabbed to check my email.
At what point do you let a story end? I’ve ruminated on being done with games well before their end points – games that fail to keep me entertained and engaged, games that want to be treated with veneration as whole works but don’t even themselves know what in their work counts as part of the text.
I’m going to avoid specific spoilers for Far Cry 4, but for those who are curious, I played up to the ending credits and stopped. There is More after that if you go looking for it, but the game themselves describes such extra information as ‘secret.’ I personally don’t feel they’re necessary or meaningful to the text of the game where you have agency.
You don’t need, really, to hear anything about Watch_Dogs. You can make the case there’s no reason for me to be going over something that’s so well-explored and well-covered as this game. Perhaps another writer who finds the game a deep and personal love may come back to it with an eye towards the games’ inner life and maybe find something to love. I don’t think I’m going to be that guy, though. I’m the guy who inspects the game, experiences the game, and mainly tries to see if I have anything new to complain about.
Odds are good, unless you’ve known me for a while, you don’t really know or can’t chart the history of the Game Pile. Originally, the focus of Game Pile was a review series that’s designed to be entertainingly useful in promoting the sales of games I like and the discouragement of games I don’t, with the notion that seeing me do that would get the attention of gaming editors, and maybe get paid for this work. Then I moved on to trying out a new model of how reviews should be, with my view of a standardised release schedule and form, which sought to tell you reasons you might want to play a game, rather than whether or not a game was, itself, fundamentally good or bad.
Then, in the most recent iteration, Game Pile has taken on a shape I really appreciate, which is to use the game as an avenue to discuss what the game made me think about or care about. It is the treatment of games as art objects. Sure, I try to give you an idea of what the game is like, but I do that by trying to only focus on games I like, and the games I like I tend to like because they make me feel and think something. It’s a nice occlusion.
With that in mind, then, I don’t want to tell you you should buy Planescape Torment. It’s a good game, I like it. If you like slow, talky-ready RPGs, it’s really good. Telling you that is almost the definition of old news and you can probably find someone to wax more rhapsodic about it with a cursory glance around.
Instead, I want to tell you about four stories from this game, and what they mean to me.
There is however, one truth to all these Baldur’s Gate 2 memories. The truth is, I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate 2 as she is coded, for much more than one or two years. What kept me coming back, what kept me playing this game over and over again was the modding community – which saw the vast scale of the game, and still looked at places where it was incomplete, where the sheer scope of the project had failed, and looked into adding to the game what had been begun and not finished, what had been tried and not done, and what was needed but never realised.
Baldur’s Gate 2 is a pretty decent game. But to make it a great game took people who loved it. Continue reading →
You might notice that last week, we barely talked about how Baldur’s Gate 2 played, and we’ll get to that, but all you really need to know for now is that Baldur’s Gate 2 is a meandering, sprawling epic, too large for even its own ambitions.
I love this game. As with Fallout 3 before it, even if I didn’t think of the game fondly in itself, I’d still have to admit anything I spent a hundred hours doing voluntarily couldn’t be something I hated. I can’t talk about Baldur’s Gate 2, a game I marinated in, a game that I played over and over for days at a time, without making it clear, from the outset, that I love this game. It’s just such a basic, absolute background radiation to the conversation about Baldur’s Gate 2 that it seems impossible to describe, seems meaningless to describe. I can’t tell you how air tastes. I can’t describe to you what left is.
What that means is that when I talk about the game, and I tell you oh that’s nonsense, or I complain about the wonky balance or the plot or the voice acting or the bits that drag it’s the complaints of someone who has played every single moment of a game over a dozen times, someone who has played the game in various challenge modes and mods and been part of the conversation about its future.
I need you to understand this because when I talk to you about Baldur’s Gate 2 it’s mostly a festival of complaints about the ways the game is hilariously, completely, incompetently busted.
Videogames exist in a sort of weird plateau in the modern era. Speaking broadly, games these days aren’t that different from games five years ago, and it’s mostly just an evolution of user interface and following different trends. Sure, if you’re really into them you can appreciate the differences between Assassins Creeds 3 and 4, but a casual observer can be forgiven for thinking they’re basically the same game. It’s even easier to look at games in terms of their attempts to cash in on styles of games – the military shooters, the racers, the sporters, etcetera – rather than on their actual gaps in time.
Let’s look back then to a period when a style of game was a thing. We’re not going to look at the leader of a trend, we’re going to look at one of the most blatant followers.
Regarded largely as a modern classic, Beyond Good And Evil is one of those games along with Psychonauts that it launched on the overwhelmingly busy Gamecube and PS2 marketplaces, didn’t stand out in that attention economy because at the time, games journalism was still really difficult, and only a few years later, after its window for impact was past, people picked it up, noticed that it was phenomenal, and we ended up with a modern classic. Still, classic games get to be exulted the same way classic literature and classic medicine does, with an understanding that maybe being good for its time is not the same thing as always going to be good.
There’s a certain risk of rhapsodic enshrinement with games like this, where a game transitions from unknown to classic and we miss a chance to talk about what in the game is interesting or cool. And what with a trailer for Beyond Good And Evil 2 launched last year (again), I figured the time was ripe (several months ago) to replay and talk about Beyond Good And Evil. Continue reading →
There used to be this show called The Simpsons on TV, and while a lot of ink has been spilled about the show – in some cases by Dan Olson, using it as a lens to examine masculinity, and Hari Kondabolu to celebrate the diversity and complexity of his culture, and by Super Eyepatch Wolf to examine the impact of a creative complex on the creative continuity – the institution, the brand of The Simpsons is basically cultural superstructure. You can’t really go wrong writing about the Simpsons, you just need to make sure you both point out the recent series sucks (what would I know) and glorify in its history.
We talk a lot about what the Simpsons is doing based on its creators, a sort of top-down perspective on the work from the narrowest point which coincidentally is a position shared by people who, like, make films and youtube channels, but you know a thing we don’t talk about much?
It’s no secret that I have Opinions about the golden age of adventure game, which is to say about 1985 through to 1995, the period when the genre of moon-logic point-and-click PC games expanded, explored, then catastrophically collapsed. But while having that grounding in the genre is useful for being able to speak authoritively about the way the genre developed, it can sometimes suggest that there are no games out of that period that did it well.
Well, let me tell you about an amazing point-and-clicker from 2008.
More and more these game reviews are as much a chance to use the game as an avenue to talk about any old stuff I want to so let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what I’m gunna do.
So, Duke Nukem 3D. It’s a mediocre first-person shooter modelled on ‘Doom, but-‘ released to compete with Quake, an equally haphazard game that despite being a failure is still one of best videogames of its decade, no qualifications, no exceptions, Quake is, yes, that good, do not @ me. While id and Raven Software games sought to take a technical engine and wed it to solid fundamental play and design choices, 3D Realms strove to instead build their game with theming, making it all about being the coolest goddamn thing you could possibly be in 1996, and with that, carried the brand all the way into the Sonic The Hedgehog Franchise-Dumpster.
But while there’s a certain fondness that can persist for Sonic the Hedgehog, a franchise that picked up a lot of people when they were kids with ideals of environmentalism and friendship, Duke Nukem was…
I’ve recently taken a habit of going back and re-exploring things from that twilight period of my learning that I could be a person, that I was going to have to shape a life in the wake of the not-apocalypse, and that’s been a mixed bag. Some things hold up – like Homestar Runner, and even some of Seanbaby’s stuff. Some stuff, however…
Last year saw the release of Yooka-laylay, a game that launched to thunderous shouts of Okay, a game which some people hated a great deal (because they didn’t like it), and some people hated a great deal (because it’d been edited to kick out a white supremacist, and I’m not linking that disingenuous crap), and some people thought was pretty okay (because they liked it, but didn’t find it that amazing). This conversation put me, particularly, in mind, of the last collect-em-up game that I really liked: The anarchic, quirky and deliberately weird Double Fine excursion Psychonauts. Continue reading →
This year saw the resuscitation of the Game Pile, perhaps directly tied to my efforts to be taken seriously in games journalism again and the sudden cessation of my work on a honours thesis. In that time, I put out an article, meaning that despite starting mid-year, there have been 24 other game articles – 26 if you include this and the Dark Souls 2 diary.
This year I’ve played a lot of games, games from my game pile, marking off things from my extensive underplayed Steam library – which has been great for a feeling of accomplishment. Still, the Christmas sales are still ongoing, and the odds are good games I’ve referenced in the pile have been going on sale – so which do I think now, with months later, of games I liked? Did my opinion change any?
Since a part of my time this year was dedicated to revisiting some of the Lucasarts classics, and complaining at length about the way Sierra hecked everything up in their development of the point-and-click genre, I thought it was important to take a moment to draw attention to a time that Sierra made a better Lucasarts games than Lucasarts made… within some constraints.
Let’s talk about some 1990s Environmentalist Kids’ Culture, in the story of Eco Quest.
I wrote once about the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston ouvre of gamebooks while working on my own designs. When I did it, I was struck momentarily with the thought: I wonder how hard it’d be to convert one of these gamebooks to Twine. It’d be an interesting little project, wouldn’t it? I can even see now the kind of way that you can make the combat system work, Twine can store a handful of variables – it should be okay, right?
Anyway, turns out someone else took one of the best examples in this library of gamebooks and went absolutely hambones on it. Continue reading →
As a gamer who went through the bulk of the period known as the golden era of the FPS and the rise of the console to the impoverishment of the PC in the cultural cachet of gamer culture, I have childhood memories of plumbing my way through the games media of the time that wasn’t focused on control sticks and how great the Playstation or Nintendo were, and that means that when people talk about ‘hey remember when’ I almost always have a bunch of ridiculous examples that nobody else, largely remembers. I’m that annoying guy who bothered to memorise the lineage of film history that leads from Hitchcock to Tarantino and wants to take any opportunity to tell you about it, only for PC shareware videogames, a field that could not matter any less but still has a direct line in it from Marcus Fenix back to furry porn then back further to sticking a fish in a door.
For the majority of you, this isn’t the case, so let’s talk about Rise of the Triad.
As with Snakebird before it, there are some games which you play, you experience, and you set aside. In the case of Olympia Rising my metric is this game cost me as much as a pair of chocolate bars, and I definitely got to have more fun with it than I would have out of a pair of chocolate bars.
There’s your really basic point: Olympia Rising is almost perfectly $5 of videogame.
Sometimes a game gets on the list just because it’s interesting looking! Wanna know more about that? Well, let’s see what we got.
With Shadow Of The Most Generic Name Ever on the horizon, I decided it was time to return to the first game in this franchise, one of the many 2014 Licensed Games That Was Stunningly Good. Continue reading →
Sproggiwood is a turn based roguelike* explorer game, where you play characters from a tiny little forest civilisation of adorable Clogheads, delving into little demense of Finnish mythical creatures. You follow on the behest of – well, at first it’s a condescending sheep, but the story unfolds a little weirdly from there. Really, a little weird is a good little thematic mantra to use for the endlessly smiling, effortlessly charming Sproggiwood.
Now I should feel bad that I don’t really know any of these myths, despite having Finnish relatives, but I’m not fooling anyone if I tell you that my Finnish culture is much more about the baked things that you can stick in your mouth when smeared with butter. Continue reading →