Category Archives: 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: Stunts

This game is complicated to discuss. Not because the game is complex or there’s some problem with the provenance or a complicated word in the title, but rather, because most people I know who knew the game knew it only as stunts.exe, but depending on what part of the world your copy came from, it could have been known as 4DS, Stunt Car Racer, Stunt Driver, or Stunts.

We were, however, all well aware that this game was great.

For reasons that are tricky to explain.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: The Learning Company And Super Solvers Explained!

And now, the video that culminates the script you’ve seen formed over the past two weeks! I do hope that this is an interesting way to participate in the Game Pile and not an unsatisfying way for me to parcel out a project that’s too big, eh? Eh?~

A big perk of this process was that taking this much time meant that the video could account for a lot more than normal, and I could focus on some details I often don’t get to do. When I do a video largely unscripted, I don’t have a subtitle script – while this one does have a subtitle script, hooray hooray!

Game Pile: Golden Sky Stories

Even if you’ve no direct interest in helping heal the heart of the grumpy inner-city architect who moved out to your tiny pastoral Japanese town, you should spend some time looking at this game, purely because of what it means to tell a story with such different tools available to you.

If you’d like the thumbnail, it’s after the fold, to hopefully make it pop up in the twitter preview.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Quake

In 2021, Quake got put on Steam in a new, updated version that made the resolution work better with my monitor. I promised myself I would finally put down some of my thoughts about Quake.

It so happens while watching speedruns I realised I hadn’t done that yet.

And I needed to to hit this deadline.

Sooo…

Game Pile: A Buncha Queer Stuff (I Didn’t Finish)

This time last year, I collected a list of the kinds of games I’d try to play by this time next year. to make Game Piles about. They had something about them that appealed to me, and I wanted to use my platform, as much as I could, to direct some atetention to them, or to what they were trying to do, and I already owned them so the plan was nice and simple: These were the games I’d play for Pride Month.

And Iiii didn’t, or I did, or something about them made them unsuitable, or whatever!

Now this isn’t me going ‘I tried these games and they were bad, so now I’m gunna drag them.’ I think all these games have charm and you should check them out if the pitch works for you. They just didn’t make good Game Piles for me, but I still want them visible for Pride Month.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: The Androsynth

Talking about Star Control 2 is a process of pulling apart an encyclopedia of a game and turning all the phrases in it around until they catch the light. A sprawling epic you can fit on a floppy disk, it was one of the most thoroughly crafted games I ever experienced, supported both by its own historical text (Star Control 1), supplementary text (the manuals) and even the first version of The Author’s Twitter (a set of IRC interviews with the developers back in the days before twitter was a thing). Then there’s the implied spaces of that text, where just by dint of being science fiction made by dorks in the 90s, and drawing on a trope space like that with no real shame, there were a host of things in this universe that even one-note gag characters presented to be the point-and-click adventure temporary problems you routed around were still imbued with personality and culture.

It was also that particular characteristic of writing of the time, which I saw as well in other ‘expansive’ universes where every individual character had basically a single hook to get them into your head. In the same way that you can point at each member of the Transformers core cast as a set of speech tics and single personality traits, it’s not hard to look at the cultures of the Star Control 2 universe as kind of two simple ideas mashed together. Xenocidal spiders, capitalist slavers, sweet plants, blue lesbians, miscellaneous shitposters (malicious), miscellaneous shitposters (harmless), lovecraftian fish — they hold together simply, and they do their job.

I talked about the Ur-Quan, the Thraddash and the Dynarri (a culture represented by an individual). I mean ostensibly, I do want to talk about all the interesting cultures of Star Control 2, and probably get to the Supox as well, but there’s one culture, one group, that deserves special attention for being an absentee. It’s not like the Taalo, who you only know of through their absence — an alien culture you encounter in the backstory of the Ur-Quan. Rather, it’s one of the cultures you met in Star Control and then, in Star Control 2

are gone.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: The Castle Of Doctor Brain

In 1992, Sierra On-line was at the top of their game. They had multiple Quest titles, the 3.5 floppy infrastructure let them make a lot of experimental games without incurring the same kind of heavy costs as would eventually bury the company in the CD and internet era. Part of this was because they had, on deck Corey and Lori Ann Cole, the people who made my favourite Sierra games, the Quest For Glory series, with the point-and-click VGA engine. Know what happens when you get cool people who can use interesting tools in a low-cost low-risk environment?

They screw around and make cool shit!

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Kingdom

The original plan for this article was to make it as a series of nesting paragraphs, where the first paragraph is at the start of the page, the second at the bottom, the next paragraph was in the second place, and so on so you had to keep scrolling from the top to the bottom back and forth with the conclusion being the paragraph in the centre of the whole article.

This was a cute idea, represented the gameplay loop of Kingdom, somewhat easy for me to do, clever, and an absolutely terrible idea to do for you. It’s a cute idea, and it invokes the game, but if I did that, every person with a screen reader would want to choke me.

Instead what I decided to do was introduce this game with a completely incomprehensible statement that implied some knowledge you’d have to have of the game going forward.

Don’t worry, I like this game.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Beneath A Steel Sky

I have said, in the past, that the work of Sir Terry Pratchett is ‘funny, witty, satirical and as serious as a heart attack.’ There’s this particular period of oh I dunno, immediately post-Thatcherite Britain which seemed to bring out people who were very good at making you laugh about things like how immensely and completely screwed you all were in a surveillance state with a corrupt media apparatus, I wonder why.

One such work was 1994’s Beneath A Steel Sky, a game that came out in that time when spoken audio and cutscenes were a special feature that would sell the CD-ROM copy of a game. The game fit without those scenes on a few disks, which were comparatively easy to pirate, and it was also relatively easy to play without much in the way of copy protection problems, which meant that the CD-ROM version, with its illustrated comic book pages, backstory on the manual file, and gosh-wow-sugoi cutscenes of 3d rendered helicopters was a thing that you went to someone’s house to watch like it was a special movie event, and the disk version was the one you got swapped in the playground.

Beneath A Steel Sky tells the story of Robert Foster, an outsider from the wilds of the Outback, who is captured and taken to Union City, whose spires and towers hold and contain a worker population that one day dream of earning enough money to be able to get down to ground level. Workers and their work are kept up high, meaning that to travel down towards the ground requires elevator access, and through these spires, large, dense populations are kept under control. The closer you are to the ground, the more wealth you have, until eventually you can get down out of the towers, reach the soil of the actual world, log off, and perhaps finally, touch grass.

Foster gets kidnapped from the Outback at gunpoint, his home is destroyed with a nuke, and then the helicopter he’s arrived in crashes, leaving you to escape into the bowels of this dreadful machinery, seeking answers for how you got here, why they wanted you, why this world is the way it is, and what now now that your life has been destroyed. You have a circuit card that holds your only friend left in the world, an AI named Joey, and that’s… it. There’s a guard down those stairs and he’ll kill you.

Work it out.

Normally I don’t do this when I talk about games old enough to vote then get sick of trying to vote because all the politicians are the same, man, but I’m actually putting up a Spoiler Warning here. Beneath A Steel Sky is free on GoG and Steam, and if you’re at all interested in this kind of game and you’ve never played it before, I do recommend you try it out. Get a guide so you can refer to it when you get frustrated trying to work out the game’s sense of logic, but otherwise, just soak in the mood of one of the great cyberpunk videogames of the 1990s, and come back here after.

I’m not a believer in spoilers ruining a work, but I do think that Beneath A Steel Sky is much, much funnier and cleverer than my explication of it could be. I’d rather you get in the choir so I can preach to you.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: The Dig

The 1990s is a compressed period of time when a lot of very interesting things happened very quickly, often on surprisingly small budgets when we talk about videogames. It can be hard to grapple with but Street Fighter II, Doom, Aladdin , King’s Quest VI and Super Mario Kart all released in the same year (1993), and even though the games are all clearly contemporary, they don’t necessarily feel it. Similarly, if you look at the videogame releases of 1998, you’ll find a deep seam of industry-shaping bangers and first-releases of important developers, a sort of world-shaking year of releases, only to find that the next year, 1999, more and possibly bigger releases happened.

This is just what happened in the 90s: Shareware, CDs, existing distribution software and an exploding marketplace meant a lot of stuff happened. One thing that happened was that Steven Spielburg pitched a videogame to the people who made Star Wars, and they got a Hugo-And-Nebula Award winning science fiction writer to write the game’s script.

It starts with an asteroid on course with earth, which we nuke – of course – and the expedition in a space shuttle to go check it out. They send a scientist, a journalist, and a Protagonist, who find that the asteroid was not just a rock, but an alien artifact that, with the wrong poke-and-probing, suddenly takes the characters away. The story becomes about doing the hypothetical science of xenoarchaeology, of asking the question about what alien life we find would even look like, what their intentions might be, and how we could even deduce that.

By the way, if you’re still looking for ‘gaming’s citizen Kane,’ this is definitely one of the examples. It’s a game that wanted to be taken seriously and to tell a serious story about serious adults and big, philosophical questions. It’s a science fiction narrative about first contact, about life and death in the face of eternity, and whether it’s our place to break the chains of life and death, or if maybe it’s best that we let the world we live in behave the way we’re told it does. You know, classic science fiction stories of What If We Improve Things, But Too Much?

I really like The Dig, even if it always feels to me, in hindsight, the loser in a duel with Beneath A Steel Sky, but Beneath a Steel Sky is about how it’s a good thing to fuck over capitalists, surveillance states, and shoot cops in half, while The Dig is a game that mixes in questions of existential realities with one of the most frustrating turtle-related puzzles in all of narrative adventure.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Total Annihilation

Generally speaking, I am ‘good’ at games I care about. I can play first-person shooters, platformers, exploration games, card games, and in most cases, I am aware of how those games play, and I as an adult, have become better at those games over time. It is, in general, not the case that a game I care about is a game that I know I am terrible at playing.

But real time strategy games?

I am dire.

Which is a bit of a problem when you consider how many hours of my life have been spent playing the various different iterations on the formula that started for me with Dune II and Warcraft: Orcs Vs Humans. It’s a model of gameplay that I felt was perfected in the late 90s not by Starcraft but by the dueling Australian releases of Auran’s Dark Reign and Cave Dog’s Total Annihilation. These two games were months of my childhood afternoons — and I am absolutely abysmal at playing both.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Operation Tango

Operation Tango is an asymmetric two-player cooperative game about a pair of cool spies through minigames. You’re going after an evil wealthy hacker-terrorist, I won’t bother expositing the plot, don’t worry about spoilers. I really did, in that first sentence summarise the entire game. If you want to play about thirty games with a friend, recreating a narrative of again, two cool spies, then that’s what this game is.

There are plenty of articles about Operation Tango out there, no doubt, who want to show you all the ways this game is clever. A number of them also want to encourage you to think of it as good. I’m going to be a bit simpler. I enjoyed Operation Tango.

Up front, here is an obligatory admission: Operation Tango is a game I played with my friend Shelf. I had a blast. I liked it a lot, I heard funny dialogue, there was outrageously well-timed comedic beats, and even the times the game state failed left me determined to push on. I wanted to engage with this game and do a good job and I wanted to hit the targets and deliver on the mission objectives, and that’s because Shelf is great.

This game let me spend time with my friend, and I loved that, and the experience was great. Ten stars. What about you? Well, uh, let’s see what kind of advice I can give for someone who doesn’t have Shelf available.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Unpacking

Chances are good that you already know about Unpacking. If you’re one of my friends who reads this blog, then you have already played it, probably finished it, probably loved it. It’s clever and it’s innovative and it’s sonorous and it’s beautiful and it’s satisfying and all of those good words and that’s why I don’t really need to talk about this game as a game like I’ve finished it or anything.

I haven’t mind you.

Anyway, lovely, zen, meditative, innovative, creative etcetera, you can get a copy here and honestly, you should think about it because I really enjoyed this game (and I really did, even if I didn’t finish the game), but more than that, I enjoyed the way my friends feel about this game, and I especially enjoy a moment when people playing the game hit that bit in the game, and come to twitter to complain about it. It’s great!

I’m not planning on spoiling anything about the game (unless your standard for ‘spoiler’ is galactically sensitive), but if what you really want is the question ‘did Talen enjoy this game?’ Yeah, I did, but not enough to engage with all of it.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Mass Effect’s Romances

When you make things on the internet, for the public consumption of an audience, it affects your brain.

I have not replayed many games since starting this blog. The original purpose of the Game Pile was to get through a very large collection of games (which is now more than half complete, even with new games added to it), which meant there was a measure of tour guide speediness to it. A game got played, and I moved on. Games that took a long time had to be sandwiched between playthroughs of other, much smaller and faster games, because I Had To Make Progress On The Pile. This I think served to make games that were long that I ‘had’ to finish more frustrating, and soured me on those games. Large games didn’t tend to get large articles, and I usually found myself working on overviews or general impressions, or, perhaps, asking the question ‘is this worth it?’

Consider Mass Effect, a trilogy of big beefy games like this. My memory is that the first is a tedious slog, the second a much faster, more tightly focused experience I enjoyed a lot more, and the third is bound up in the question of ‘is the ending any good?’

It’s something of a disservice to these big games, though not one I feel bad about at all, where whole chunks of the game get to carry the conversation (here) while other chunks of the game just skate on by. I don’t think that I dedicated much time at all to talking about the romances in all of Mass Effect, despite those being such an enormously important part of the game, and you know, the centre of a ridiculous firestorm from the equally stupid time of 2008.

So I made a list.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Silver & Gold

If your full time job is ‘cares about board games,’ for the past few years, pretty much since That’s So Clever hit the scene, you’ve probably developed a distaste for the continued and widespread promulgation of the genre of x-and-write. Roll and write, flip and write, draft and write, pass and write. Basically I think that a German developer made a design that meant you could get those cheap marker pens at a price that worked for scale and suddenly the industry was off to the races.

One of these games is Silver & Gold, a 2019 German-made game that was pretty easy to play even if you didn’t speak German. It got popular, then it got translated and exported, then it got even more popular, and I can see why.

I really enjoyed playing it.

Continue Reading →

Game Pile: Zeliard

If you listen to a PC Retro Gamer, and since you’re reading this, you are, then you may be familiar with certain gaming studios that were responsible for the enduring blocks of the media landscape of the 90s videogame scene. More than people may intuitively realise, companies often made an engine then made a host of games off that engine, meaning that Bullfrog Software made Magic Carpet and Gene Wars even though those are two seemingly very different games.

One of these landscape markers was Sierra Software, later Sierra On-Line, over in the PC-dominant format of Narrative Adventure. Now, it was a mistake to think of Sierra games as just the Kings Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Mixed Up Mother Goose genre that they were, since Sierra also published ports from other consoles, like Atari Games’ Oil’s Well, and they imported a number of French games like the Gobliiins games which were also obscure narrative adventures, so you know, that’s not helpful. Point is, Sierra published a lot of games, including real-time strategy games (like Caesar), shooters (like Nova 9: The Return of Gir Draxon), business managers (Jones In The Fast Lane), and even mecha war games (the Earthsiege games).

But people mean ‘narrative adventures’ when they say ‘Sierra games.’

Wanna see when they released a Japanese action-RPG?

Continue Reading →
Back to top