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 →
Script follows below the foldContinue Reading →
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 →
Notes and partial script after the fold!Continue Reading →
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 →
I looked at a game from itch this month, Prole. You will be able to finish reading all of the rules for Prole before you’re done listening to half of this video about it. I think the game is a launching point for talking about the idea of granularity, and for exploring what would I do differently?Continue Reading →
How little game does your game need to be a game?Continue Reading →
This is a video form version of an article I wrote in January 2020. You can read the full text of that article here.Continue Reading →
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 →
You can get Returns over on Caelyn’s itch page.
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 →
Notes after the fold!Continue Reading →
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 →
This is a fun one: I had to compose this video script without access to the internet. That’s why you may notice a few slips like not remembering the names of the developers who made Cobalt.
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 →
Discusion outline follows below the fold.Continue Reading →
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 →
Script follows!Continue Reading →
Last year I ran through some of the recent changes that have been happening in City of Heroes Homecoming, a free MMORPG I play that lets me make superheroes that kick Nazis in the face. I love this game, I like playing it, and I like using it to make characters. You may have seen me post about that.
What’s happened since last year, then, for this MMORPG with no paid developers?
Well, we’ve had two major releases, known as ‘pages.’ These are sorts of releases that are meant to build up to form what would, back in the day, have been ‘issues.’ These are fan-developed expansions that involve adding new class material, new content, new powersets and even new systems designed to make old content feel ‘right’ while addressing balance problems.What I prioritise for these guides is information about things you can make and do.
Like, there are some really cool systems at work here: There’s been a system for guiding you around for exploration badges, and another system for letting you share thumbtacks in a team, and while those are genuinely interesting and cool systems to see introduced to an old engine that works on what we all know as ‘spaghetti code,’ but while those things improve user experience, and definitely have a chance to encourage less-enfranchised players to explore things they hadn’t, they’re not the same as the bread-and-butter of an alt-reckless game with a lot of ways to play superhero dress up dollies: More stuff for new characters.
The big additions on that front this year have been the Travel Revamp and the Bunch of Rocks update.Continue Reading →
Okay, it’s really near a gift giving day, or a family gathering day, or something like that and you kind of think ‘I should have brought some games with me’ and now you realise you’re out of luck on that front because shipping timing sucks and so does everything else right now. This is also me pretending you’re travelling to visit people this Christmas, because, well, ha ha, but hey, you may be one of the people reading this blog who just… doesn’t Christmas.
That sounds nice. I hope you have a great december.Continue Reading →
I found a Warioware-inspired Die Hard jam game called A Christmas Blast which seemed a great opportunity to talk about social games we play.
Okay, we’re going to talk about bootlegging games.
A Fake Artist Goes To New York is a fantastic game. I do not hesitate to recommend, if you want, to spend the money buying a copy so it can live on your shelf and easily and conveniently bring together all the components you need in your life. I think it’s a great game design and has a great aesthetic and I heartily recommend that you play it ‘properly.’ Buying a copy shows support for the creators and also gets you a nice box which organises everything neatly for you. It’s even quite cheap, considering the price Oink games used to command, and it’s domestically available in Australia too, so you don’t have to wait months for it like you used to, and it’s not being choked by the same international supply problems that are impacting the board game industry in general.
But.Continue Reading →
Hey, you know that interactive fiction thing? Well, a friend of mine, Caelyn, has made a bunch, and I thought I’d spend some time focusing on experiencing it, with the sort of discipline normally needed for recording it.
If you want to play this beautiful little game, you can check it out here.
Oh hey I already have this pic uploaded, sweet.
It’s 2021 November, and I have finally followed up on a promise from a game I bought in January, 2019.Continue Reading →
I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about A Short Hike in and of itself. It’s a lovely charming little game. I don’t know if there’s some clever mystery at the end of it, or some twist in how the game works, because as I post this, I’ve only played a little bit of it. Like, oh, say, forty minutes.
I think it’s a pretty sweet little game. I like its style, I like how it feels. It’s a cosy game, and I’m just not very well-acquainted with cosiness. But while I played this game, I talked a little bit about game design, about courage in choices, and about workloads and my own history with games.
Being as it is No-Effort November and I am already penning this after having brushed my teeth and let my last fuck for the day wend its way off into the yonder, my plan was to talk for roughly five hundred words and with zero meaningful insight about the 1990 narrative adventure game Les Manley in: Search For The King.
A tepid little entry into the ‘maybe I’ll get to see boobs’ genre of adventure games pioneered by such titles as the Leisure Suit Larry and Spellcasting franchises, rather than coming from the duelling giants of Sierra and Lucasarts, or their peripheral competitors, this game was made by Accolade. Now, there’s some novel history here, where the guy who made the game was Steve Cartwright, who you may recognise if you’re a huge Atari 2600 nerd, and also is responsible for making Diner Dash, yes, that Diner Dash, no, it doesn’t mean anything to me either.Continue Reading →
Hey, I don’t just generate videos about postmodernism or solastalgia, I also sometimes make videos where I just partake in a game that you probably don’t know or remember, and spent some time complaining about it. This time, it’s a book, and oh boy, isn’t this going to be a WEIRD book to start with!
This whole setup is the real prize of this video: A dice roller and book reader system means I can do other game books, but also things like roll-and-write physical games or the like. The pngtuber is also neat here, and this can be seen as like, a beta test for them.
You seen this game? It’s a pretty neat one. It made me laugh. So why not use this spooky game about playing a monster in a spooky month to talk about the spookiest of things – Postmoderniiismmmm.
I got this game in the Racial Justice bundle on itch, and I thought I’d give it a shot for Dread Month. Turns out that the plot is obtuse enough that I thought the most interesting thing was the way that the game spends a lot of programming effort and visual aesthetic looking like an old junky game from a long time ago, even on modern hardware.
Neat game, definitely one to try if you like the way it looks. Not the kind of thing where I put much stock in ‘the plot’ as much as that plot is an assemblage of stuff the creator thinks about.
Content Warning: I talk about Death, Cancer, and Grieving in this one.
Hey, do you remember Bloodborne? That critically acclaimed internationally successful videogame made by longstandingly successful company From Soft that I looked at and gave you the useful insight that it wasn’t actually that good and it serves as a symbol of how we are sycophantic towards games for idiotic fears of hurting those games’ feelings? That game that was a solid 7/10 but only the reviews of the people who have sunk all the sunk costs count, meaning it’s elevated to special uncriticisable place in the pantheon of videogames as somehow being ‘near perfect’ despite being incredibly janky and failure-prone? The game that has an aesthetic I love, but which disappointed me immensely?
Yeah, that, it’s back, and in card game form!Continue Reading →