Indie Shortieland: Babbling About Pokémon GO

Hey readers! No full Indie Wonderland this week, due to several reasons: I couldn’t stop myself from playing more Phantom Doctrine, because it’s fun and I wanted to see where the story ends; I had a bunch of nerd shit to do; I wanted to make time to visit a timed Winnie-the-Pooh exhibit at a local museum; and against all hope I found an option to say hi to one of my all-time favorite writers. What even are video games? I don’t even know.

Seriously though: I do have a review lined up next week, but I want to give that game a little more time before I start singing its praises. In the meantime, I’ll use this space to write out some thoughts about that most topical game that’s surely still on everyone’s minds: Pokémon GO. I recently got back into it after a lengthy (2-year-or-so) absence, and there have been some changes. Some good, some bad, and some that have been percolating in my brain after the first time I encountered them. I’m not actually going to review Pokémon GO here, so if you’re not familiar with it, you probably won’t get much out of this article — that’s fair, I hope to see you next week! But if you are familiar with Pokémon GO / play it yourself, there’s a nonzero chance you might enjoy the following piece:

Why the changes to Pokémon GO’s gym system have turned your own team into your worst enemy

Indie Wonderland: Phantom Doctrine

In lieu of hearing about it through professional channels, most of my info on Phantom Doctrine (developed by CreativeForge Games and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment) came from hearing about it from a friend who played — and by ‘hearing about it’, I mean ‘extended chat and tweet sessions about how this game casually encourages you to commit heinous human rights violations’. And I still got it for myself, in case you were ever wondering about the power of word-of-mouth marketing. But then, it’s not like ‘nu-XCOM, except set in the Cold War era’ was ever going to be a particularly difficult sell for me.

And those human rights violations? That’s easy, I just won’t do ’em.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: It’s notoriously easy to stay on the right side of the line when engaging in worldwide shadow warfare, as I’m sure Phantom Doctrine is about to demonstrate.

Indie Something Completely Different Land: BostonFIG 2018

Hey readers. You’ll notice this is not a usual Indie Wonderland title.

A combination of happenstance and stellar alignment saw 2/3rds of Ninja Blues’ authorship coexist in the same space last week, as Ranneko’s work sent him to the greater Boston, Massachusetts area (where I currently live). And while you might hope this would be grounds for unprecedented article/video collaboration opportunities, the truth wasn’t quite that: We elected instead to play games, eat bad American foods, and reenact parts of Fallout 4. I had time to play like, half a video game during the week.

Of course we played Star Realms. This was *specifically requested*.

That said, one tangentially site-related thing we did do was visit the 2018 Boston Festival of Indie Games, a one-day games convention where independent developers come to showcase, sell, and elicit Kickstarter promises about their latest stuff. I didn’t find any one game I’d currently want to write a feature on, and most of our time was spent in the tabletop/board games at any rate. In lieu of deep dives, I’ll try to convey some short impressions of the games I’ve seen and played; most of these games are currently gearing up for Kickstarters, so there’s not a whole lot to link to, but any links I can find are included.

Regular writing resumes next week.

After the break: A small selection of BostonFIG 2018 games, and what I thought about them!

Indie Wonderland: Two Point Hospital

An interesting thing happened in the process of drafting this week’s review: An American friend told me that Bullfrog’s old Theme line of games, of which Theme Park and Theme Hospital are probably the most notable, never got quite as much traction in the States as they did in Europe. This was surprising to me, because I don’t think I knew anyone back then who was into games and didn’t play either of those two. I played both, and while Theme Park was the one I spent more time with, Theme Hospital is the game that stuck with me the most. I still occasionally hum some of its music. It stuck with me partially because it was one of the first business simulation-esque games I ever played, much moreso than Theme Park (which I played mostly as an excuse to build bad rollercoasters), and partially because I don’t remember seeing anything else like it since. Theme Park had sequels, competitors, spinoffs, Planet Coaster a fairly recent entry. What does Theme Hospital have?

Well, thanks to the efforts of Two Point Studios, Theme Hospital now has a proper spiritual sequel: Two Point Hospital, only the second-ever game I’ve ever played about building a hospital and trying not to kill a majority of your patients.

To which I can only say: I’ll try.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, nil. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Can Two Point Hospital stack up to that fondly-remember game of decades past? Probably nothing can, but we’ll see if it makes a good effort!

Indie Shortieland: Donut County

So an interesting thing happened last weekend. I’d gotten my hands on Ben Esposito‘s Donut County, acquired off the strength of a bunch of people talking and sharing screenshots about it. Earmarked as a review game, I figured I’d play it a little to close out my Sunday night, and then plan how much I’d have to play more to get a good enough idea of it and where that would fit in my schedule. You know, the usual stuff.

And then I blinked and it was two hours later and I had completed the whole game. Even got a few of the secret achievements to boot.

I’ve thought about doing a full Donut County review, since obviously I liked it enough to play the whole dang thing in a single sitting. There’s just… not that much to talk about? A full analytic deep-dive would pretty much turn into me describing the whole game blow-by-blow, and I don’t want to inflict that on anyone. Least of all you.

I still want to give Donut County the added publicity it deserves, though. And if that’s not what the Indie Shortieland formula was ad-hoc-created for, I don’t know what is.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, low-ish.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Donut County, or: A whole bunch of mischief.

Ranneko Plays New Format In Production

Okay, so maybe, new isn’t exactly the right term given that the last daily video went out two months ago today.

Since then, as I mentioned back in April, I have stuck to a much lighter release schedule. Each week I release a tip video and a stream archive. The idea behind this lighter schedule was to cut out the content almost no one was watching (i.e. the Let’s Plays I started the channel to do), and consolidate them into a single video once a week. The hope was that reducing the amount of content that people didn’t care about more people would be tempted to hit that subscribe button and then stay subscribed.

How has it worked out?The first third of this graph is the last month of daily videos, the last two thirds are under the new format. What I see in this graph is an initial drop in viewership as my audience adapts to the changes, but not much of a drop because after all, not many people were actually watching the Let’s Plays as they were drawing to their close. More recently there are some peaks, but they are relatively isolated, which means they are probably from external sources, rather than something sustainable.

But what about subscribers? The view count might be mixed, but are subscribers hanging around longer?This is not exactly what I was hoping for, again we see a drop off shortly after the change from daily to less frequent videos, but on the other hand I have seen a burst of subscribers recently. Linked fairly closely to one of the peaks on the watch time graph above. I seem to be getting fewer subs that drop within a day, but I am not sure if that is simply a change in how subscribers are reported to me.

In conclusion, outlook hazy try again later. Changing the release schedule hasn’t provided any sort of clear signalling, it was neither an immediate success or an immediate failure. As things stand I will continue my current approach and reevaluate towards the end of the year.

Indie Wonderland: Molecats

…no, hang on, wait a minute. I could have sworn I’ve seen this game before. And I would be right, in a way: While Vidroid‘s Molecats saw release a week ago, it started life as ‘Molecat Twist‘, way back in 2011. I remember playing the demo a little bit, not backing it on Kickstarter, and subsequently losing sight of it.

Until today! Review coordination newsletter emails are a magical thing. Small world, huh?

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, nearly nothing. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Developer review key.)

After the break: I’m sure that forgetting about Molecats for seven years straight in no way indicates the impression this new and exciting product will leave on me.

Indie Wonderland: Dead Cells

I’ve been waiting for Motion Twin‘s Dead Cells to go gold for months now. It’s been around for what feels like ages, but always with my most hated caveat: Early Access. “You can play our game now, if you want! It’s incomplete and you’ll spoil the full experience for yourself, but if you absolutely can’t wait…”

Okay, that’s an unfair representation of how Early Access was used here. I understand that many developers nowadays employ it as a method of user-involved development, and honestly, I can’t imagine a better way to get actual feedback from actual players under actual play circumstances — the user experience researcher in me appreciates it greatly. And I have played some Early Access games to good effect, most notable of which Sunless Sea; I noted in my review of it that having access to those early-build memories made for an interesting review counterpoint to the current game. That said, I think Early Access just isn’t for me. I’m perfectly fine waiting a game to reach what the development team considers ‘completion’ — I know that’s an odd benchmark in this day and age of constant content upgrades, but listen, I can’t influence how my own brain works.

At any rate, Dead Cells! It’s out now! Let’s see if it’s been worth the wait.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium-high.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Dead Cells, which was absolutely worth the wait.

Indie Shortieland: The Dark Room

Heya readers. I’ve had a bit of a busy week this week, what with me flying clear across the continental United States to meet some Dutch friends in Las Vegas and also chauffeur around a certain famous games messer upper for reasons that can best be described as ‘important’. I knew this was coming, and I’ve done my best to prepare for it, but now that Monday has landed I find my intended ‘full’ review isn’t quite in the place I’d like it to be.

Instead, I’m going to use this space to look at something completely different. I want to do a short flashback to a certain avant-garde game, an experiment in digital storytelling that took place before such experiments were commonplace and an interesting exploration in the affordances and limitations of a certain video medium.

Piqued your interest, has that? I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. No, it’s important, really. Close your eyes, lie down, and take a brief nap. Doesn’t have to be more than a minute.

Then AWAKE.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium-high.)

(Game source: Freely available online.)

After the break: If you actually do all this, remind me to be grateful for your trust in my storytelling.

Indie Wonderland: EXAPUNKS

I got into Zachtronics‘s latest release, EXAPUNKS, the same way I get into all Zachtronics games: Learning about it way after everyone else by seeing emails or Twitter messages about release dates and special editions, buying one of those special editions on the promise of cool manuals and physical goodies, and then promising myself that maybe this time I’ll actually see one of them through to conclusion. Poor return on investment for the third bit so far, but maybe this time! It could happen.

Now, last time I reviewed a Zachtronics game (Opus Magnum, which I reviewed here), the review turned into a sort of distributed reference block about which other Zachtronics games that one pulled from most and least. Which is fine, in a sense, they are all similar. But I realized after the fact that a review like that won’t be very valuable for someone who’s not already way into Zachtronics games: Saying ‘just read these review and play these games if you want to understand this one’ isn’t exactly accessible. So for EXAPUNKS, I’m going back to the normal ‘full’ treatment: Early-game impressions, options menus, the works. If you’ve got no idea what this game is like or what the deal is with this publisher, I should hopefully have you covered.

And if you are already a Zachtronics expert, no worries! I’m sure my subconscious will sneak in more than enough references to other games anyway.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium to high, depending on how well you read the screenshots.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: I try to explain EXAPUNKS in a way that doesn’t require knowledge of Shenzen I/O, and fail as early as this link tex- damnit.