Category: Game Pile

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.

Let’s use Games to talk about Everything!

Game Pile: Bloodborne

 What is there to say about this, the longest night?

Bloodborne, for those unfamiliar with it, is a 2015 PS4 exclusive videogame by From software, the makers of Demon and Dark Souls, and joins those games as part of the genre we hamfistedly call ‘Soulsborne’ games, because videogames are a space where it’s very important to constantly reinforce brand loyalty, I guess.

The game starts with you as a hapless person dropped context-free into some space or other whereupon a game kills you repeatedly and gives you infinite chances to avoid dying again. It is largely considered to be one of the greatest videogames ever made, which doesn’t seem to be wrong per se but as I played it, seemed more and more to be an insult to videogames in general as a medium.

I took notes as I played the game, which is a transformative thing with a From software game. The experience of these games often melts away so you don’t really know – you don’t know – how many times you try things, how difficult a game experience is until you really look at it in a numerical context. I did, so I have a very reasonable measure of how much of my life I was spending on this game, and whether or not the progress I was making made me feel good enough to merit that exchange. It’s very easy when you don’t quantify these experiences to think a game is ‘hard’ and just let that one word cover all your sins, as opposed to having clear information about how many days of effort it took you to deal with boss monsters that, amongst other things, do behave semi-randomly.

I also haven’t finished this game at this point. I got the game in January of 2017, and haven’t finished it as of October 2019. I don’t think this colours my opinion of the game at all, and I think it’s actually very important to look at the game from this position, rather than from the perspective of someone who having finished the game, is able to dismiss all the time spent as being ‘worth it’ in the end.

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Game Pile: Tides of Madness

Tides of Madness is a drafting game for two players by Portal Games that retails around $15. In the interest of not just being mean to this game, it’s made of very pretty parts. Each card is fully illustrated in postcard orientation with a full-art depiction of some generic Lovecraftian thing. Additionally, each card has a set it’s from, and a mechanic that says what set it rewards. This is a basic kind of set collection mechanic, where you get X, but it rewards Y. This divides your incentives, and you’re limited you to five choices each round, presenting the game’s tension.

I am personally pretty pleased by the challenge of making a game with such deliberately narrow constraints. I’ve made other games with eighteen cards, including drafting games, and conceptually, it’s an exciting design challenge. It’s not like ‘X feeds Y’ is a bad game mechanic, asking you to track the pieces. The puzzle then is what to pick, to force your opponent’s hand and deny them potential points. Of course, a problem that follows there is how obviously separated or clearly presented those pieces are. The set symbols are ambiguous and small, making it hard to keep tracking them during the game.

The first time I played this game, my opponent and I immediately complained about its generic feeling. Not just the Lovecraftian monsters theme – though you can bet I’ve got views on how that’s handled. We felt that all but three cards were very obviously just permutations of cards in other sets. When the art is so indulgent and the cards so large, this lack of depth stands out. This game retails for very little so it can seem reasonable to be charitable about its failings. I’m not feeling charitable, though, and you should buy my cheap drafting games instead, like Winston’s Archive.

Game Pile: Time Fcuk

You’re walking down the street, when a cardboard box opens, and you step out. You immediately impress upon yourself that you are, yes, you, and they need you to get into the box because that’s how the time travel that brought them here works, that you will appreciate it, that you will enjoy it, that you will understand such amazing things when you get in the box.

Get in the box.

GET IN THE GODDAMN BOX.

Time Fcuk is a game about time travel and being in a box.

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Game Pile: Pokemon Go

Pokemon is a rich vein of hashtag content for hashtag content hashtag creators, who are trying to hashtag drive hashtag engagement. For that reason I’ve largely left the subject alone except when the tumult has grown so tempestuous I find myself driven to shout about it. I think most of my reviews of Pokemon main games would be a little tedious – I’ve talked about the difficulty of talking about them in the past, where these games are largely just really good, and critically engaging with them in any way is a matter of picking over a game that’s 99% positive finding the 1% that’s got something interesting enough to talk about.

Not so Pokemon Go, though, which is probably the most successful and widespread alternate reality game that exists in the world right now, at least as far as I, someone who speaks only English, am aware. Remember, there are more mobile phones in China than there are people in America – if it turns out there’s some amazing thing happening on the other side of the Great Firewall, I wouldn’t know about it. Anyway, point is, Pokemon Go is a big deal, and it’s not a sequel in a meaningful way and it’s not a refinement of a nearly perfected formula.

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Game Pile: WitchWay

There’s a model for how the Game Pile works. When it started, it was almost a sort of penitence diary, a way for me to talk about the games in my Steam Library as I committed to play through them, with the idea that it would be a long process where I could eventually ‘finish’ my Steam Library. It was almost done as a sort of deliberate demonstration of engagement – hey, people who bought me these gifts, here I am, playing them, please have your money and time and belief in me respected.

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Game Pile: Wonder Girl!

Years ago now, I, on a whim, wrote an article talking about a little-known Master System exploration platformer (what you may call a metroidvania), called Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. I wrote about it because it was a rare gem, it connected to my childhood and in all my time of watching a SNES-dominated game landscape, I never saw anyone bring it up, even in conversations about the entire genre of exploration platformer. It was a curiosity, and I tied it into a conversation about transformation and becoming, and how the different dragons, perhaps coincidentally, mapped to interesting themes of the world we live in and the way dragons represent power.

Then, about a week? A month? It feels like almost no time at all, but very much after I released that, a teaser dropped from Lizardcube showing that not only were they remaking this game, but they were doing so with a level of aesthetic devotion and purity that seemed too good to be true.

And then it came out, and it wasn’t too good to be true.

This was purely a coincidence, a completely unintentional and unexpected alignment between my random whims and the intentions of a group of other people who very clearly had not forgotten this delightful gem of a game. I wish it’d come from some place of insider knowledge, that I’d been able to guide this along or build hype, but it really was nothing but a coincidence.

It launched in 2017 and I haven’t goten around to talking about the remake.

First, I just waited; it didn’t launch on the PC at first, starting on the Switch. I was waiting to buy it on the PC, but it turns out Fox had gotten it on the Switch, in the hopes of luring me to play it (a thing I don’t really do much). Then as I got my life in order to get around ot playing games on the Switch, I finally got into playing it, and then something interrupted me. Then I went back. Then I hit a wall. Then I went back. It has been nearly two years of stop-and-start work getting to the finish of this game that was, once, a lofty ambition for me, a game I so wanted to say I had finished that its incompleteness haunted me for decades.

I still haven’t finished it.

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Game Pile: Enclosure

Enclosure is an indie adventure game, made by the stunningly under-documented Femo Duo entertainment, who based on their website’s domain I think are from the Netherlands. Thanks to their website being the way it is, I’m not sure when Enclosure came out, but one source said 2004, so we’ll go with that.

Enclosure is an AGI game – the engine Sierra used for their first wave of narrative adventure games, games like Space Quest 1 and 2, Kings Quests 1, 2, and 3, and the first Leisure Suit Larry game. It’s the one with the weird wide pixels, and the text parser that doesn’t pause when you type. The last AGI game released by Sierra proper was in 1989, which means this game came out fifteen years after the AGI was done with.

And it’s a corker.

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Game Pile: Apollo Justice

Is it boring now to hear that I love the Ace Attorney games? Is it? I don’t know, I don’t know if you tune in for everything here. I don’t know if it’s getting tedious to hear that I find these visual novels extremely charming or like tracking their evolution through interface technology or their constant desire to try new and interesting things or their charming characters, or their laugh-out-loud out-of-context comedy. I hope it’s not boring because I’m about to bang on about it for god-knows-how-long.

Apollo Justice is the fourth game (kinda??) in the Ace Attorney series, which are made in Japan with Japanese sensibilities, about a stylised version of the Japanese justice system, and localised in one of the more comically ham-fisted ways. These games are great and inventive and funny and charming and all that good stuff, and this one is, well, it’s one of them.

There’s going to be some mild spoilers, because some characters are surprises introduced after, like, the first case.

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Game Pile: Simon The Sorcerer

Simon the Sorcerer is a Narrative Adventure game made by Adventure Soft in 1993, and it’s weird. It’s weird in the way that a lot of British-made games were weird, weird in the way that British pop of the era was weird, weird because it was simultaneously very much its own thing made by people who were very confident you knew what they were talking about like a swaggering cultural coloniser but at the same time strangely desperate to follow a leader it definitely didn’t quite get.

Now, I’ve talked about Simon the Sorcerer in the past, and I want to set aside the sequels (there were five of these things?!) because they became their own thing as well, their own slightly worse thing. Instead, I want to focus on the first game, when Simon is something of a generically quippy British arse, maybe as young as twelve years old voiced by Chris Barrie, as opposed to the character who was desperately trying to crawl into Chris Barrie’s voice and take on some of his power.

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Game Pile: Handsome

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to talk about this game, because I feel that it’s almost like a big tweet.

Handsome is a Button Shy wallet game. Sometimes we get these game terms where you might be a bit lost by what we mean, like a hidden identity or bluffing or secret identity or whatever, but this one’s about how big the game is. A wallet game is a game you can stick in your wallet. It’s tiny, it’s so small you can carry it around with you everywhere. This is something Button Shy do really well, with regular kickstarters for very small games.

I keep a copy of Sprawlopolis in my bag all the time now – it just lives in the little section of things I never have to check because odds are I’ll always want one, and it’s proven to be a wonderful tool for introducing people to my particular genre of game.

Anyway, Handsome is the next game by them and it’s almost a kind of roll-and write, a game that scales up deftly to any number of players.

Handsome is a card game where there are community cards, your own cards, and you’re trying to build words out of them. It’s elegant in its scoring and its system – you get as many vowels as you want, but then you have to make as long a words as you can, involving as many of the different suits of letter on the table, and that’s it. That’s the whole cycle. You see who gets the most points, then you can play to more letters or not.

There’s no intense tension about the word play here. You don’t need to do a lot of interconnected play, there’s no board, it’s this tiny little thing, and there’s not a lot of rules to learn. It’s very pure little game, and that’s why I feel like praising it is almost just… y’know. A tweet.

Hey, it’s another Button Shy game. I bought it, because I thought it looked good, and I played it, and it’s great. There, tweet sized greatness.

I think a real measure of a game’s quality is how quickly after playing with you, someone goes and gets their own copy. I don’t know about you but I’ve always had a tense relationship with games, with my friends, because even when I’m having fun and enjoying the experience, there’s a part of my brain that’s still the damaged little church kid knowing that they’re putting up with my weird little interest as an act of kindness and the second I’m out of sight, they’ll breathe a long sigh of relief.

I showed this game to my sister on a Saturday.

That monday, she bought the Print-And-Play and was playing it with her class.

Game Pile: Yoshi’s Crafted World

Yoshi’s Crafted World is, well, it’s a Yoshi game. It’s a Yoshi game, made by Nintendo, and that means that there’s a part of my brain with a groove worn into it where this game locks a strange mechanism that means that I’m constantly in mind Yoshi’s Island, one of the best console games I’ve ever played. As I write this, I’m hearing the music from the game – but not Crafted World, the music from Yoshi’s Island. It’s part of me.

I’ve talked in the past about how much impact Yoshi’s Island had on me as a player, but I also know that being A Yoshi’s Island isn’t enough to pollute my common sense and leave me unable to rationally examine a game, because the game Yoshi’s Island DS annoyed me a great deal for Not Being As Good as Yoshi’s Island.

Any given Yoshi’s Island game is going to be judged then in terms of how well it delivers on the platonic ideal of the first Yoshi’s Island game that I love the most. Yoshi’s Story gave more visual depth and less fluid flow. Yoshi’s Island DS offered larger levels but they weren’t as good.

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Game Pile: Century Golem

First up, if you like light economic euro-style games, where nobody is actually trying to attack one another, and where the goal you’re building towards is just something nice and wholesome, I wholeheartedly recommend Century: Golem Edition.

It’s a great game, particularly because it doesn’t have tons of mastery depth to it; you’re not going to have an advantage over the player who plays it three times when you’ve played it twenty times. Everything you can do in this game, you learn how to do in the first turn, and after that, it’s just a matter of reacting well to what’s happening in front of you.

Players getting ahead put themselves behind, and even the last card flipped can change the fate of the game without feeling unearned. It is a game so quick that you’re rarely left waiting for your turn, but it’s still a game where it’s worth having a think about what you want to do.

Century: Golem Edition is an excellent economic trading game, and if you want this kind of game, this is a fantastic example of it. It is a fantastic example of the kinds of things this hobby can do.

It is also beautiful for its mechanics, and its base assumptions.

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Game Pile: Diary of a Spaceport Janitor

I picked up this game on the recommendation of my friend Caelyn, and the game’s own descriptor refers to it as an anti-adventure game. The game advertises itself with about as much story as you’re going to get: You play as the Janitor, an Alaensee girlbeast with a municipally-subsidized trash incineration job, who dreams of leaving Xabran’s Rock far behind her. In case you were wondering about whether or not she does, she does not, and the game instead focuses on the narrative of that being.

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Game Pile: Billionaire Banshee

Videogames do a lot of work automatically, which means that there’s a lot of ways that two very similar games can be meaningfully different, and so exploring them is challenging. What’s more, communicating that difference can be challenging, too; I could tell you that Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2 are both followups to successful games with alternative movement schemes and a buddy that becomes part of your mission flow, with a setpiece level including alternate timelines, but if you know videogames, you know those points of similarity are way less obvious than the points of difference. After all, in one of those games, you’re running around with a gigantic mecha and the other is a steampunk stealth game.

This is because there are layers of systems and hardware that sit between you, the player, and the game you’re playing, layers that are not only not under your control but are very specifically developed and defined by someone who isn’t in the room with you. This means that videogames get to be very complex in a way tabletop games aren’t when it comes to the immutable, consistant set rules of the game. Tabletop games get to be way more sophisticated on all the levels of players playing them, though, because the rules are dynamic, and under the control of the players all agreeing to play the game the right way, together.

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Game Pile: Dixit

Been a while since I just straight-up gushed about a good game I liked, hasn’t it?

Dixit is a 2008 card game where players take turns trying to connect a chosen word by the active player (the storyteller) to one of a number of cards with dreamlike images on them. Complicating things is that the storyteller starts by picking their card in secret, then announces the word, then each player contributes a card of their own in secret. The cards are shuffled, then revealed, and the players have to choose which of these cards they think is the storyteller’s chosen card to represent the chosen word. If you’re the storyteller and everyone picks your card, they all get points and you don’t; if you’re the storyteller and some but not all the players pick your card, you get points and they do too.

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Game Pile: A Swindle Apology!

Hey friends! I’m really sorry about this! There was going to be a video here, but thanks to Audacity being Audacity, I lost two and a half hours of audio that was going to be the foundation of our video. That’s a super bummer, and maybe we’ll get it next month.

For now, here’s a video. It’s not much, but it is an apology, an explanation, and a game!

(The game is the Swindle)

Game Pile: Steamworld Heist

I talk about games a lot. Sometimes, I use games to talk about books. Sometimes, I use books to talk about games. Sometimes I use games to talk about culture and about art and about poetry and about history. Games, in essence, get to be a lens through which I can talk about all sorts of other things, even as I talk about the games.

Make no mistake, though. Just because I find games interesting as lenses for other ideas doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes play games because they rock socks. And you know what rocks socks? Steamworld Heist rocks socks.

Steamworld Heist is a squad-based turn-based tactical shooter game. You know your high-profile X-Com style games? Well, take that basic idea, and make it in a 2d platformer game. You’re commanding a rag-tag group of thieves – though ‘thieves’ is kind of the wrong term. You’re more like bandits and rebels, opposing an oppressive state but also your heists are less about stealth and avoidance and much more about boarding an enemy vessel and shooting them in the hat.

I think Steamworld Heist is a really good game, and it’s definitely a videogame videogame – this isn’t something that could be implemented better in some other way. It’s available on Steam (haha), the Switch, iOS, and PS4, and it’s priced very reasonably for the amount of game you get for it.

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Game Pile: Majora’s Mask

Released in the year 2000, on April 27, Majora’s Mask is a Legend of Zelda game. Preceeded by Link’s Awakening DX, it’s generally seen as a followup, or maybe-sequel or sort-of-related game to The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. This is already a sentence that other types of games writers would navigate a lot faster but here I am, being deliberately picky to avoid saying something that’s generally accepted as true, but I don’t want to be part of reinforcing.

One reason to be careful about the wording is to just try and avoid someone nitpicking. After all, I don’t know anyone who’s likely to point out well actually, the DX release of the gameboy Zelda game came out between Ocarina and Majora’s, but somehow, going that extra mile keeps me extra safe, right?

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Game Pile: Yoshi’s Island

Released in 1995, Yoshi’s Island is a classic Nintendo platform game on the SNES and subsequently released on almost every online platform they made. It’s really good and I like it, so here’s half an hour of me playing it, and talking about games, empathy, and fluttering.

Game Pile: Ace Attorney Investigations

Ace Attorney Investigations is a 2011 Nintendo DS game, best described as a Narrative Adventure game. See? I told you I needed it. Building on the success of previous Ace Attorney games, Investigations gives you space to wander around, all floppy-cravat style, and Investigate, as an Attorney would, or as you might imagine one would, if you had a very active and extremely silly imagination.

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Game Pile: Exalted: The Infernals

First things first, before we go anywhere.

Content Warning

The gamebook I’m going to discuss here is shot through it with a bunch of stuff that’s just going to fall under the category of what I call ‘content-warningy.’ The Infernals is a book marinated in a needless ‘edgy’ nastiness that means a perfectly normal seeming paragraph about negotiating for barley can break out with a random reference to sexual assault.

It’s not even a single enclosed space – no singular concept, no page section. This isn’t like there’s one super horrible character, or one terrible scene. It’s worse than that, it’s that throughout this entire guidebook, there is a non-stop constant and oppressive threat that the book will bring up something unnecessary and gross, mistaking mentioning taboo things as wielding them well.

I have beeves about this book and yet also loves, but I want to warn you against reading it at random, because in its attempts to be horrifying and edgy with its ‘villainous’ content, there’s a lot of this book you kind of have to ignore. Normally, I’ll warn you about a thing, or a type of thing in a work, but in this case, I just want you to know up front I don’t think you should read this book. As a general rule.

I will not be talking about that stuff, except in a broad sense to criticise the thoughtless way this book uses these subject matters. I’m not going to trot out specific examples of things just to criticise them, but I am going to mention:

  • Abuse and Abusers
  • Self-Harm
  • Sexual Assault spoken about callously
  • Mental health and identity issues
  • Anger and revenge
  • Public executions

If you want to go elsewhere today, I am okay with that. Here, go somewhere else, look at something nice.

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Game Pile: Exalted

Exalted is a tabletop roleplaying game of mythic fantasy that positioned itself as the counterpoint to Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, made first by White Wolf and later by Onyx Path. Onyx Path have faithfully carried on the legacy of White Wolf’s work, and by that, I mean, Exalted started out bad and has maintained being bad.

Bad is a hollow word for media criticism, I know, but it’s good to set a tone. I want you to  bear that in mind, because there’s going to be a lot of things that make this game sound awesome. This game has a faction of communist revolutionary furries who are gay for the moon. See? Right there, that’s something that’s either awful (kinda) or amazing (also, kinda).

This presents part of the problem of discussing Exalted: A list of things in Exalted sounds like praise for it! In a way, that’s amazing! It’s got a sentient stealth bomber that lives in a volcano! See? Just like that, you react with what and want to know more!

Plus, there will be pretty pictures, because Exalted has always employed some excellent artists who sometimes do amazing work, and if Bioshock Infinite has taught us anything, it’s that really excellent aesthetics can make it very easy for people to take you seriously even if your game is actually really bad.

Hold to that truth. No matter what it sounds like I’m saying, I’m also saying that Exalted is bad.

Exalted is amazing.

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Game Pile: Keen Dreams

Oh hey, a Game Pile about a Commander Keen game! We’ve done that before! Twice!

And right now, it’s amazingly actually timely, kind of, because unlike how I wrote about Wonder Boy 3 just in time for the announcement of the remake, I had this plan lined up just as Keen Dreams dropped on the Switch.

On the Switch.

What the hell?

Who was seeing that coming!?

Released in 1991 under the Softdisk label, Keen Dreams marked a turning point in Commander Keen design. The first Keens were made as an exercise in smooth scrolling video on a PC – an attempt to replicate the movement of Mario Bros kind of games, and which wound up being – you know what, just go read Masters of Doom by David Kushner (no relation to that one) and learn about the arc that takes from Commander Keen and Softdisk to literally the entire modern landscape dominated by team-based multiplayer shooter games. Suffice to say this is legitimately one of the stepping stones on that path.

If I was a fairer writer, I’d tak about Commander Keen 3: Keen Must Die!, and I guess, here, bonus Game Pile: Keen Must Die is an afterthought of a game and makes the moral weirdness I mentioned about Commander Keen 2 both front-and-centre and obvious. Like it’s pretty much impossible to finish Commander Keen 3 without shooting someone’s mum, which is pretty bleak as a story beat to put in a videogame.

Keen Dreams is a… decent game. It’s fine. It’s alright. It’s definitely weaker than Keen 4 and a little bit better than Keen 3. There’s less game here than you’d think, less spectacle, less fun exploration, and there was a point where this game was entirely available for free, but it’s certainly worth more than nothing.

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