“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of my sanity, that some of Steam’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest Adam’s bizarre taste in games wake to resurgent life, and truly weird games splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” Alastair Starke, with apologies to H.P. Lovecraft (but not many).
We return to the month of Adam, in which Adam donated a significant amount to the Calgary Distress Centre, and has chosen to use his power to choose the games for Full Steam Ahead to make me suffer.
This week’s game is a little-known indie game called The Norwood Suite. Released in October 2017, is the most recently released game yet encountered on Full Steam Ahead.
Awareness of either of these games before the month of Adam: none
Welcome back to the month of Adam. Adam donated money to the Calgary Distress Centre, and has chosen some really weird games for me to play, because he is simultaneously charitable and sadistic.
As odd as it may sound, I take pride in my writing. I won’t pretend that every piece I write for Almost Infinite is particularly novel, or filled with brilliant observations, or even terribly coherent. All the same, games are important to me, and the writing I do about them is important, and as with many things I’m proud of, I share my writing with the people in my life who matter to me.
Having said that, I have some reservations about sharing this particular post with my Grandma.
Welcome back to the month of Adam! For those unaware, Adam donated enough to the Calgary Distress Centre to select games for the entire month of August, and I’m now playing through them. Now, he made an effort to select games of which I had no prior knowledge. He was initially successful, but eventually he had to release the list of games to me. At that point, I was free to do some research.
We will talk about Year Walk the second game in the month of Adam in just a bit, but I would like to talk, for a few brief seconds, about some of the parameters I gave Adam. Adam is, after all, a friend, and he wanted to know if I had any specific requests. I’ll confess, I have no interest in playing any propaganda games, and I don’t particularly enjoy horror games. I said as much. Adam smiled, nodded, and then promised that he wouldn’t make every game a horror game. If you know Adam, you know that’s actually a fairly merciful guarantee.
So, let’s talk about the research I put into Year Walk. According to Wikipedia, “Year Walk is an adventure game developed and published by Swedish mobile game developer Simogo.” That doesn’t tell me a whole lot, but the words “adventure game” and “Swedish” lead me to believe that this is going to be a horror game. Now that I have completed Year Walk (including the secret second ending) I can tell you that initial hunch was right on the money.
So that’s the game Year Walk, but what actually is a year walk?
Dear readers, When I introduced the Steam-Powered Hope initiative during the holiday season last year, I expected to see a game moved here, or a replay there, gaining a few extra dollars for the Calgary Distress Centre along the way. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine someone would donate $100, and pay for five new games for me to play.
In recognition of this donor’s generosity, I humbly ask that you grab a pen, pencil, or sharpie, go to the nearest physical calendar you own, scratch out August, and write Adam in its place. Because my good friend Adam Nordquist has just bought this month, every post in August will see me playing through a list of games carefully chosen by him.
To give you an idea of Adam’s rationale our decision process, he presented a shortlist of a dozen or so games to me back in June. Then, he eliminated any game I had any familiarity or knowledge of. I’m diving into this blind, and I’m bringing all y’all with me. So, without any further ado, let’s get the month of Adam started with Vangers!
Just so that we’re clear beforehand, I love comics, and heroes, and good storytelling. The character of Batman is one the earliest memories I have, and the fact that Batman has always sort of been at the front of many aspects of geek culture has been particularly good to me and my interests. So make no mistake, there will be many other opportunities to talk about what that means to me, and what Batman means to me, and how I feel about the Batman games in my steam library, as well as introductions and more in-depth explanations of various aspects of the Batman mythos. But that’s not what I want to use this post to talk about.
You see, I’ve already played Batman – Arkham Asylum many times. I love this game. I’ve played the story, I’ve played the challenge maps, I’ve completed all the Riddler’s challenges. So I want to try something different with this game. In my mind, without a doubt, the Batman – Arkham series of games by Rocksteady Studios do a better job of capturing the feeling of being Batman. So, if that’s the case, how good a Batman can I be?
The Age of Empires series of games is special to me. These are the games that introduced me to the real-time-strategy genre. Age of Empires got me interested in the classical empires of Persia, Egypt, and Greece. Age of Empires II brought the stories of medieval leaders to life: Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin. Age of Mythology took the well-balanced, carefully crafted gameplay I had come to love, and transported it to the world of Norse, Egyptian, and Greek legend.
So, let’s make no mistake: Age of Empires III is fun game. It is a well-balanced real time strategy game, and part of one of that genre’s most consistently excellent series.
Now watch as I spend most of the rest of this article barely talking about the game.
(My apologies to any email subscribers who received a draft version of this post earlier this week when I forgot to finish it before it automatically posted.)
Sometimes, when playing what I call large and expansive recreational games, I wonder how much potential they actually have to live up to my expectations. A few days ago, I was out ratting (that’s EVE-speak for using an imaginary spaceship to shoot hordes of NPC pirates, equivalent to “farming mobs” in other games). An enemy player appeared in local (a chat window with a list of all pilots in system). I warped my ship to my team’s space station, which is a common move when you see an intruder in your space. Ratting and hunting ratters is a game of cat and mouse: they win by catching me, I win by scurrying away too quickly. I make it back to the station and tether, which essentially means I am invulnerable. He starts talking in local. “Fight me,” he says. I tell him that I will not fight him in my ratting vessel (which are almost always ill-suited for combat with other players) or my salvage vessel (unarmed) so I go fetch something more suitable from the next system over. Now flying a nimble assault frigate, I warped to the same station. I tethered up, approached the enemy cruiser, and then broke tether by opening fire. We fight for a while, then a friend in my alliance stumbles across the fight and opens fire as well. I would have told him to back off if not for the fact that I saw in local that there was another alliance mate of the guy I was fighting somewhere close to us. There was to be no pretence of space-bushido here. So I won, not because I am am especially talented pilot, but through (ab)use of the tethering mechanic and unfair odds that I didn’t bother to make fair out of paranoia that doing so is taking bait for a larger trap. That, my friends, is EVE at its most basic essentials. We both write “gf” in local, which stands for good fight. Some people might find this strange, but not people who play this game.
The next day I attended the weekly session of World of Darkness I play with my friends. We went totally off script, but ended up bringing a split party together onto the same narrative thread, no rails in sight. This is the tabletop gaming that I like to think is so good and interesting, rather than it being a tangle of out-of-character debates about arcane rules that makes me wonder why I think so highly of the game. There have been times, in many different campaigns including some that I have run, that I feel like the esteem I hold for the tabletop RPG is misplaced. Not last week.
So what’s the point? Some games can suck up a lot of time and not produce measurable returns. I don’t think, though, that this means we should eliminate recreational games from a healthy life balance that includes other activities just because there is no instant gratification. While it may be true that Yahtzee (or, as my wife’s off-brand set calls it, 5-dice Game) always produces a winner, it’s never going to be satisfying in the same way as having a great night at the WoD table or a fantastic example of the “gudfight” that capsuleers spend so much time seeking. Not even when I have the disgusting luck of multiple Yathzee rolls (five of a kind) in a single game. It’s there… and then it’s gone. It’s a game, but not a story. I happen to think that making new stories is just as good a way to spend a midsummer night as sitting on the patio enjoying some cold ones, or cycling, or whatever. That’s what I need to remind myself the next time I feel like I spend too much time listening to other people discuss their dice pools or spinning my ships in citadels and not enough time working or writing or designing or…. any of those other things I can maybe stand to do a little more of, but should not pretend like I could be doing it all non-stop.
Site update: in case the unscheduled break wasn’t a clear enough sign, I’m having a bit of a hard time keeping up right now. I have a few more posts in progress, then I am going on a semi-vacation from active blogging for a month. A generous donor has decided to supercharge Alastair’s Steam-Powered Hope initiative which means Almost Infinite will be running 100% Full Steam Ahead, every week in August. I will still be monitoring things behind the scenes and moderating comments, and then be back in September with what I hope will be more of the content I want to be creating rather than falling into the habit of steam-of-consciousness posts about whatever I happen to be playing, just to get something published for the week. There will be more applied game theory and philosophy posts after the break. Thanks for reading.
I’m going to oversimplify things a little here, so please bear with me. No matter what mechanics, genre, themes, or budget a game has, their interaction with the player can be broken down to a cycle of three steps: choice, action, result.
Lots of games pride themselves on the freedom of choice they give to the players,. Similarly, in many games, the mechanics are multi-faceted, intricate machines which are prepared to account for a dizzying array of player actions. Not every game succeeds in showing how player choices matter, but some do an excellent job of showing how a player’s choices and actions affect the world of the game.
This is a drastic oversimplification of things, and I’m sure many of my friends with enthusiasm for game design and theory would say as much, but for today’s episode, oversimplification is appropriate; I’d argue oversimplification is what Divekick is all about.
Social time. Escapism. Fun. When I play recreational games it’s usually in the hope that those aspects of the activity will lead to reduced stress. But this weekend, I had a hard time focusing on the game on our regular tabletop night and had to say no to a bonus game run by this blog’s favourite guest author.
I wasn’t out at work or sleeping in bed or something so obviously excusable like that. I ended up going out on a fleet to help my online space guild stake a claim on more imaginary solar systems. I know I shouldn’t feel bad about it, but it’s hard not to think that there must be something wrong with my priorities when I have time for them and not for my friends.
The reason I say I shouldn’t feel bad about it is because I know better. The Five Geek Social Fallacies were posted in 2003 and remain an important reference for when I might be falling for one or more. I know it’s not necessarily sound scientific psychology, but I have adopted those five fallacies as guidelines for what kind of negative thinking to avoid. Today it’s three and five that I have to read and reread. It’s OK to do something that requires less mental energy than more tabletop RPG adventures with friends. It’s OK not to grab every available tabletop night to the exclusion of space friends. I know these things at an intellectual level, but it’s still a challenge to feel it sometimes.
Every now and then, this list of randomly generated games throws me a bone. A few weeks ago, I got to play one of my absolute favourite games (and listening to the response, a favourite of some of our readers as well).
It may interest you to know that the original Mass Effect was not appealing to me the first time I played it. The first time I played Mass Effect was on a friend’s Xbox 360, and I found the controls to be unintuitive and imprecise, making even the game’s initial sections a bit of a slog for me. It wasn’t until I played the sequel years later (also on my friend’s Xbox 360) that I really got interested in the series. It’s a little backwards, but Mass Effect 2 is that game that got me interested in Mass Effect.