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.
Oh boy, imagine making a game about the immigrant experience and diaspora designed to increase empathy and cultural respect in 2015. And then have it launch in April 2016.
Four Horseman is a really interesting game to talk about because the main thing I’d want to talk about is how it’s got this really rough and ugly interface, and bad onramping, but all that effort rests upon a truly enormous amount of effort and obviously very smart solutions to processing problems. At the start of the game, you get to pick a culture that’s kinda like a culture you might know, and then play out the experience of being a member of that culture in a society that disconnects you from that culture. You’re a bunch of tearaway kids in the space, hanging out and dicking around with things — in a world that’s given you nothing, you make a space in the garbage. The story escalates and includes things like dealing with the cops or your own parents.
There’s some controversial stuff in here — apparently some Cornish people were upset about being depicted in one way, which the lone remaining developer went back to address. One of the things you can learn about your heritage is that your parents were Bad People on the Wrong Side of the conflict. Personally, I think that’s awesome – but I’m a scion of the British Empire so of course I’m going to recognise the value of a story that points to your place in the machinery of evil and says ‘you are connected to this thing you want to pretend is other.’
It’s a real triumph of systems; I know enough about the game’s engine to know that they’re doing a lot to make the characters translate across cleverly. Every different culture has different swears, for example, and that’s really cool.
I didn’t wind up finishing it, though, and there are two reasons for that: One, it’s massive. There are something like ten possible countries of origin and the story does meaningfully change based on which one you start in. Two, the interface is extremely ropy. Not unreliable, but a little unpredictable. It’s hard for me to feel like I’m making the right decisions or that I’m missing opportunities.
Highway Blossoms is a yuri visual novel with jokes about ska music. That’s all it took to make me pencil it in for Pride Month. I didn’t try it out with the Naughty Bits Included patch, I just played it as it was.
The greatest mark against Highway Blossoms is that it is extraordinarily slow, and that’s not because it’s badly paced, but because it’s fully voice acted (now). It’s also a kinetic novel – there’s no real choices about how you express yourself or game actions you take, just the narrative playing out in front of you. That’s not any kind of mark of quality, but it did make me wonder if the game belonged in my Game Pile as much as it belonged in the Story Pile. I do think that kinetic novels are a completely legitimate form of game, mind you, because you can always choose to stop playing, but in this case, I just wasn’t feeling the narrative clicking for me, and to give it proper accounting as a story would mean a deep focus on the narrative presented…
Which means reading a 90,000 word game and trying to do a meaningful textual analysis.
That’s a lot of work!
I just didn’t play this one in time. Now, that worked out in my favour — had I tried to rush this game and then found the state of completeness the game is in, I’d probably have hit a wall and been disappointed.
Errant Kingdom was a game released in episodic chunks throughout 2020 but then development slowed and stopped. There’s a pledge for the game to be fully released ‘in 2022’, and they updated their kickstarter (for backers only) last month, but the game is as yet, incomplete. That’s a bit of a problem for me if I’m going to look at the story as a whole.
When I realised that the Game Pile for the month might have slots open up as each of these games became non-options, I asked friends for suggestions of games they’d made. The idea was that anything made by queer folk should count as Pride Games, and that’s part of why we have games like Hell Grinders this month. I put out the call, and looked at what I got.
Then Die is a two-player writing game by Dana Lexa, who I figure I should disclose, I consider a friend, and who supports my work and whose work I like. Then Die is so short a game it feels a bit difficult to talk about it without just literally demonstrating how it’s played, which I can’t currently easily do in a meaningful way.
I have seriously considered setting up a camera or using standard game art to make a video of this game in play. Still may do that.
But if you want to check out a really interesting short-form writing game for people with what I’m going to lightly refer to as ‘hyperconnected narrative imagination’ or ‘undiagnosed ADHD’, you can get it on itch. For free!