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: Ai The Somnium Files (Again!)

Last year, I did a video about Ai: The Somnium Files. That video was mostly about the game as a top-down experience, and what you can learn from making that kind of game, and how it was deliberately unsubtle. I didn’t spend much time just talking about how much I love it and the things in it. Because I like it so much, I wanted to spend some time talking about it again and also platforming a beloved friend, Nixie!

In the video, Nixie mentions this video by Dr Cullen PhD, so there’s that link. Nixie has her own Twitter, and her own Patreon you can check out.

If you want a full size version of the thumbnail, here!

Game Pile: Final Fantasy VI

Oh hey, it’s Talen a PC gamer who didn’t have a console through the 90s talking about a classic of the form in a genre he’s normally pretty condescending towards and it’s an iconic masterwork of the genre so there’s a checklist of things you kind of have to talk about on the way through before you get to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about well guess that means we gotta blaze through the outline.

  • Brilliant classic
  • Inventive mechanics
  • Iconic music
  • Lively cast of interesting characters
  • Innovative MODE SEVENING
  • What’s the DEAL with how the first half of the game was a JRPG and the back half, a WESTERN RPG?
  • Did U Kno The American Release Was III?
  • Girl Hot
  • Other Girl Hot
  • Other Other Girl Hot
  • Boy…? Hot? Maybe?
  • Playstation port bad!
  • Steam port bad!
  • GBA port okay, really!
  • Suplexing A Train

With that list of the key and important details that are necessary to cover I have hopefully cut down a chunk of the mandatory word count for this article. After all, where will we be if I treat Final Fantasy 6 as something that you may already know about, or as some subject that you already probably can find other sources to explain?

I intend to spoil things about this game but I don’t imagine I actually will? Like, you may view it as a spoiler to mention ‘there’s a character named Effuzio in the story’ and that’s fine, but I don’t particularly plan on talking about the main thrust of the plot. Besides, if it helps you at all, the story of Final Fantasy 6 isn’t really that important, or even that interesting. Not the single, big, core narrative that runs from instigating incident to attention arrival to conclusion to denoument, no, that isn’t important. What’s important to me is the sequences of smaller stories that make up the whole of experience of this multi-hour JRPG mammoth of a story, the characters that are Final Fantasy VI.

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Game Pile: Gene Wars

Genewars is a 1996 videogame release from games industry innovator and technology boundary pusher Bullfrog, at the height of their heady, genre-establishing, world-shaking PC gaming juggernaut status, overseen by the pandimensional fish-hoarding gamer genius explorer boy and repeated game revolutionary Peter Molyneux. After inventing the God Game genre with Populous, the RTS genre with Powermonger, perfecting the spatial management game with Theme Park, redefining flight simulator games with Magic Carpet and creating the fantastically engaging real-time squad based strategy dystopian cyberpunk offend-em-up Syndicate, but just before all-purpose warm-fuzzy-feelings inspiring Dungeon Keeper, Bullfrog announced a new RTS game called Genewars.

The premise of Genewars up front was that you weren’t going to buy units from a list, like some kind of plebian, Commanding and Crafting. You were going to create your own units, based on stitching together the DNA of species on the planet, and the possibilities were endless.

And from this perfected and extremely shiny forehead of Peter Molyneux, what could spring, but excellence?

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Game Pile: Root

In 2018, the board game Root was released by Leder games, to a sort of confused, but very enthusiastic ‘hooray!’ Based on earlier successes by the same developers (and some weird, contentious ‘hey, you copied my notes’ complaints), Root is an asymmetrical war game, where in the base box, you have four factions competing with one another to try and take control of a nonspecific woodland glade. Each faction, the game promised – and delivered – are different; not the same rules with a few different units, but entirely, meaningfully, complicatedly different in how they relate to one another.

Lauded for its emergent complexity and its charming aesthetic, Root is one of those games that quickly became institutional; multiple expansions, fan merchandise, an RPG in the setting, all that stuff that signalled people are into your game, the base board game Root is probably one of those recent classics.

I never wanted to buy Root, though.

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Game Pile: Leather Goddesses of Phobos

Leather Goddesses of Phobos is a 1986 text adventure videogame, produced by Infocom, written by Steven Meretzky, and it exists entirely because of a whiteboard joke that nobody in the room said ‘hey, maybe let’s just not?’ to enough times. In this 1930s schlock sci-fi inspired ‘sex farce’ game, you get to explore locations like Mars, Venus, and Cleveland.

It was, ostensibly, one of a small number of sexy text adventure games from that period of time, produced by Infocom. It boasted a scratch-and-sniff feely, and a setting for its content ranging from ‘tame’ to ‘lewd.’

It’s also a sex comedy written by a couple of dudes that dates back to 1986.

Soooooo.

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Game Pile: Tinderblox and Kittin

Hey, do you like Jenga?

Jenga’s a pretty solid game. I mean, it’s going on fifty years old, it’s simple, it’s really cheap because every company can make their own version easily. It’s one of those games you’ll see in a dollar store as some company makes their own version of it. Jenga is definitely a success and I think it’s reasonable to say, if you like having a board game collection, it’s a good idea to have a Jenga-like game there.

I don’t own Jenga. And now, I don’t think I’m going to.

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Game Pile: Wingspan

I am not going to be able to tell you anything comprehensive about Wingspan. This game was a phenomenon when it launched, it was so successful it spawned conspiracy theories and it defined the conversation about games, their distribution, kickstarter and things like ‘elasticity’. There is no reason, in particular, to want my opinion of Wingspan, per se.

I liked it a lot.

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Game Pile: Katana Zero

For this game, I thought rather than just put my thoughts out there about the game (I didn’t like it until I suddenly really liked it, it has an interesting vision of the future as experientially procedural, it’s cyberpunk as hell), I should take this opportunity to bring forward Corey, who has thoughts on games where perception, world experience, and communication are important.

And that is, by the way, pretty much all of them.

Anyway, so we talked for twenty minutes or so about Katana Zero and how it metaphorises hyperfocus.

If you’d like a full-sized version of that thumbnail, here:

You should go check out Corey, on Twitter, and encourage him to get a website or blog of his own to talk about stuff in a way that isn’t Heck Birdsite.

Game Pile: What Left In 2020?

Hypothetically, you could run a list of all the Game Pile Articles and know everything I’ve covered, already.

Which I do.

The original purpose of the Game Pile was to serve as a direct accounting of every game I played from my at the time unmanageably large Steam collection. I didn’t look at that collection for years, and now, over the starting on eight years of this blog, I have been using the Game Pile as a category to talk about games, and things, and things about games, and using games to talk about things. Part of getting this pile under control was playing a lot of them, and part of it was building familiarity with Steam’s tools.

I have a category I put games in when I’m done with them: ‘Completed.’ At the moment, on Steam, I have 324 games outside of that category, and 434 games in that category, meaning that in the context of Steam, I have more than half completed my Game Pile. It has obviously grown in this time, and I’m sure it will grow a little by the time the Steam Winter sale ends. This isn’t accounting for my Itch collections, or the physical boardgames that are also sometimes included, or just random flash games or folk games I talk about too.

Still, the Steam list is a large volume of things, and at the end of each year, I do run through some games and look at the stuff I moved to the Completed category that I haven’t written about, and have in fact, committed to not bothering to write about.

I haven’t done any full-blown revisits yet. I used to do ‘Deeper in the Pile,’ back when I was interested in parleying this blog into a journalism job. The idea was that the Game Pile posts would be entertaining reviews, then the Deeper in the Pile posts would examine things in the game in greater depth. Sometimes I use a remastered edition as an excuse to go back on a game, but otherwise, it’s pretty much that if I didn’t talk about a game and moved it into completed, there was a reason.

Well, it’s the end of the year (oh no, writing forward into the future revealed) and I’m tired, so let’s talk about some games that weren’t interesting enough to merit a full article. As with all of these, though, once I put the thoughts out there, I may come around to a new idea and realise that hey, no, here’s an academic concept or a game design idea I can totally use, and they’ll get pulled out of storage. Who knows!

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Game Pile: Best Of Game Pile 2020

Obviously, of all the articles I wrote this year in the Game Pile, they are all good. You should read all of them. Still, there are some that stand out as I think super cuts of the kinds of writing I like to do. Rather than just reiterate the entire category, because I trust you to be able to press navigation buttons, here are some highlights that may make it easier for you to find some stuff to read.

First of all there are some Game Piles that deserved special mention because they were about games I really enjoyed. It’s hard sometimes to write about great games because my typical methods for game analysis is to nag at something the game does that’s interesting, and I feel that lens is best set to give games that didn’t get attention the first time around a shot.

Still, there are a handful of games where I was just flummoxed by how great they were, and so the writing was about writing around them, or about their interface, or about the experiences of watching other people play them. For those, check out my articles on Lanterns, Spaceshipped, and Purrlock Holmes.

Halloween Forever was one of my game videos this year, and the game itself kicks ass and it was a good avenue to talk about something weird from my childhood that is, in a way, super weird. The thing about this one that I love in hindsight is just how charming the game was, and how, when I played it, I just had a simple thread of something weird to talk about. I played it, then recorded the audio, then stitched them together. It was a really great little gem to find in the Black Lives Matter Itch bundle.

I also got to use this year as a chance to talk about the Ur-Quan from Star Control 2. That’s something I want to do more of, with the Game Pile being a platform for some in-depth examinations of game lore of games I really love.

Volume, I learned about this year. I mean I bought it years ago and got around to playing it now and holy crap this game got to be really timely considering. It’s such an excellent stealth game, it deserves special attention. It has such wonderful voice acting, great characters, and also it’s about actual corporate fascism and stagnation of upward mobility.

There was and an expansion to a card game I love, Star Realms Frontiers. This was a really interesting one because I committed to buying all the expansions for the phone game – because hey, I knew I loved Frontiers – and then came to realise that I had hit the wall on how much Star Realms I wanted. Frontiers is great, get it and the base game, it’ll do you fine – but the rest? Just get them on the phone game, and let it handle storing them.

So yeah, there’s a bonus review: Star Realms? Two great box products… the rest probably just a great app.

There are some articles where I think they serve as examples of things that are deeply important to the conversation about games. One example is my article about Overwhelm. That article is about a game that just whips ass, which is great, then it brought in a friend’s advice about how players relate to games, and then it got to show how good its accessibility tools are when you actually use them to make the game more accessible. It was a valuable lesson to me about how I approach games, and how I let my ego waste my time.

I also had a bit of a weird thing with Metroidvania games this year, of open world exploration games that keep you engaged and build on your skillset, where I tried Hollow Knight, but simply didn’t get attached enough to the game to finish what, the third, or fourth boss? Which was a shame, and I thought at first I had just lost something of myself that works for Metroidvanias.

Then I played Carrion.

Carrion was excellent. I at first thought I wasn’t going to even play it, because everyone I knew had already played it, I had limited time and energy, and like, what am I going to say that beats Cass’ oh no now they’re going to eat meeee post over on Polygon?

Then my sister Rachel told me to play it, and I played it and I kept playing it, and I went to bed at 5 am and I woke up and played it and then I put it down and wrote one of my favourite articles about the way this game encourages you to relate your body to the world of it, and the philosophy of meat.

There’s a special mention in all of this of Ai: The Somnium Files, which also followed a pattern for this year where a friend asked me to play it. It was particularly important in this case, though, because she wanted to talk to someone about it, and was stymied by her problem with the extreme level of content warning problems it had. I checked it out, thought ‘oh a visual novel? don’t expect to like that,’ but I could see a chance to play it, so I played it.

And I loved it.

I loved it so much that I redid my schedule to play the game and make a video about it and promote it. I loved it so much that I made fan merchandise of the characters. I loved it so much that there’s someone who uses a character from it as their twitter avatar and it just makes me more inclined to check that they’re doing okay which is patently silly.

It isn’t a game I’m going to replay a lot, because it’s very good about making sure you get most of the content on one thorough play through. But it’s such a good game I’m going to recommend it, and look to games by the same people for the same kind of wonderful experiences.

Game Pile: Destiny 2

Hey, it’s another Game Pile video!

This is another conversation video; sharing with Positronic Woman, Rachel S, about her game of choice, Destiny 2. Due to copyright reasons and not wanting this interrupted with ads, I went with the simpler ‘bunch of wallpapers footage’ than using Destiny 2 ad footage.

If you’d like to check out Rachel on Twitter, she’s @PositronicWoman.

 

Game Pile: Skribbl

Last year when I spoke about games in Da Ween, I talked about games that could be played in a group, or a family environment, in ways that didn’t need you to spend much money, and also could last for a few minutes more before some stupid asshole said ‘let’s play Cards Against Humanity.

Nowadays, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be doing your family gathering over discord or god help you, Zoom (augh). If that’s the case, then you might want to look into some game you can play, in a shared space that doesn’t require people to install games, or manage network settings, or click on ‘join’ and wait a lobby and we all know how long it can be to wait for Grandma to decide what her draft bans are on the way to the Rift.

Still, there’s a game you can play, on the internet, with your family, and if someone disengages or isn’t interested and you have other people still paying attention it won’t hold things up long.

This is a free game you can play in your browser, with your friends. At its core, it is a pictionary-style game, where you can draw with your tablet, your mouse, or your phone or whatever, and draw a picture, or guess at what someone else is drawing.

I’ve talked in the past about drawing games, and how they’re communication games? How the core of what you’re doing is trying to understand someone. With skribbl, the game you’re playting incentivises you to guess correctly quickly, so there’s a reason to want to engage people,  but also, rounds are fast, so that if you’re struggling with guessing, there’s a push to start guessing together. You’ll see other people’s guesses, too, and, Wheel-of-Fortune style, you get some text to fill in so you know the size of the word, or breaks in the word, that you’re gunning for.

It’s a great little game, it’s free, it’s convenient.

 

Game Pile: Homecoming Issue 27

Hey, this December, I’m going to try and make sure that I talk a little bit about games that you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to play. I liked how I did some folk games last year and I thought this year, since social distancing is a thing, that it was worth my while pointing out some ways you can have fun, online, and ideally socially.

This is obviously not the easiest thing in the world, but the good news for me at least is that just in the tail end of November, City of Heroes: Homecoming launched a whole new issue, ‘Issue 27’ and that makes it a great time to talk about that, and how to get involved if you want to.

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Game Pile: Krush Kill n’ Destroy Extreme

Videogames are weird as an art form.

When you dig into the history of most art forms, there’s a very clear point where our records go ‘here b dragons.’ When it comes to film, we’re pretty confident that roughly half of all film from the silent era is just lost, and all the record keeping and attribution is deterioated and badly kept and it sucks. That’s film, a medium that’s reasonably new. When it comes to videogames, though, thanks to a combination of existing privilege structures and the inherently replicable nature of internet data, there are parts of the history of videogames that are preserved remarkably well.

This means that there are some times when the spread of videogames can kind of look like a sort of sequence of little popular explosions. First Person games tended towards RPGs until the little lineage shown in Children of Doom by Campster. You can often point to instigatory events that caused specific sequences of triggered events because games actually document their inspirations or technological licensing of engines and whatnot. That creates an interesting, almost cladistic model of game development. You can point to small windows of time when lots of games happened really quickly, and see the ways they’re related to one another.

It’s often seen that the 90s were the day of the FPS, but there were other genres, other unfolding branches of the tree, and one of them happened in strategy games. There was a tend towards war games being slow, turn based, mathy and strategic affairs, until the creation of Dune 2  (1992) and the (comparatively) slow follow-the-leader from Warcraft: Orcs Vs Humans in 1994 and then Command & Conquer in 1995.

That’s right, folks.

We’re going to talk about a strategy game.

We’re going to talk about a real time strategy game.

We’re going to talk about one of the Australian made real time strategy games from the late 90s.

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Game Pile: World of Warcraft’s Poop Quests

In World of Warcraft, you can reliably expect that your character has reasonably recently been sent out to the task of handling something’s poo.

World of Warcraft is a videogame, a Massive Multipalyer Online Roleplaying Game that, statistically speaking, if you are reading this, you have played and also, statistically, you are not playing right now. It’s a piece of gaming history and landscape and culture all at once – something that most people involved in videogames and game studies knows about, has opinions on. It is a common metaphor, a Game of Thrones event every time an expansion drops, it is the backround radiation of the MMORPG community discourse, even as it has been outmoded and replaced. Last year, an entire fuss was made about World of Warcraft opening up a service that let you play the game as it was ten years ago, and that ‘behold an old game with less worse stuff’ was a news cycle for months.

But it is also a content platform. People log in to World of Warcraft to spend that day reading stories, or engaging in combat against other players, or accruing resources, or managing crafting or manipulating markets, and all that stuff was different types of content.

There’s this enduring line from Marshall Mcluhan’s Understanding Media that The Medium is the Message. It’s a oft repeated phrase because it sounds kind of meaningless outside of the conversation it’s from, and that can be used as a confusing sort of wedge to force the conversation open. It’s a ramp of a phrase, a line that helps introduce the idea that it needs explaining.

The idea it outlines is that medium is the thing that really changes the world. We talk about the idea of works of art transforming the world, but seldom about how the task of displaying that art transformed the world first. The impact of a painting is hard to compare to the impact of the museum made to house it. Television shows and videogames may be fantastic art, but isn’t the deformation presented by everyone having a TV and then everyone having a phone the greater impact on society at large?

It is in this regard that World of Warcraft, a game, is perhaps best viewed as instead a platform for the delivery of content. There’s a host of different voices and different kinds of content being put into it, and you can extrapolate how those things relate to one another and learn all kinds of things based not on the work of any single piece of content, but rather, the trends of content. How often does this story about a conflict between two parties get interrupted with a greater common interest? How often are two sides presented as equals in the conflict despite one being a slave-keeping colonist and the other the victims of mass mind control? And, as is pertinent here, how often does this game present you with a chance to handle poop?

This was going to be a video.

This was going to be a video, but the project outgrew what I could meaningfully and easily do in ten minutes. It went from being a short little idea that I could present as a series of shots, cutting from quest to quest in the narrative in World of Warcraft. Maybe even play through it, arc to arc, a character progressing from level 1 through to level 120, but that is hundreds of hours. When the idea first occurred to me, I went checking, and found that those blessed folks over on Wowpedia have already noticed this trend, and presented a comprehensive list of those quests. This is not a comprehensive list, per se, though; this is just a set of quests which relate to directly clicking on or moving around poop. There are other quests, such as is presented in Cataclysm‘s Mount Hyjal zone, where one of the quest givers is a magician trapped inside an outhouse, for poop related reasons. This is therefore, not a perfect sampling of poop quests per se, but it’s a good overview.

Some questions then: Are the Poop Quests concentrated? Is there a single place in the story that is particularly poopy? Well, the good news is, we can chart this stuff. Over the years of WoW’s lifespan, there have been poop quests in every expansion, and it’s always more than one.

This is particularly strange, because the nature of an expansion in WoW is when your boundaries and limits and the worst monsters you could fight, in the last expansion, are suddenly outmoded; narratively, there’s some side-eye to it, where you kind of ignore that you hit a level cap and then moved on to another zone where the mundane problems compared to the end-of-expansion problems of your past. Yet in each of these new expansions, in a new time and a new place, you’re introduced to some quest that is literally one of the most mundane, least heroic tasks people do. And it’s always contextualised as somehow worth your time – magic or money are the usual excuses.

But World of Warcraft keeps on bringing you back to sifting through something’s poo.