Brief Indie Wonderland Update

Heya, readers.

Again, I’d like to apologize for the scheduled delay in Indie Wonderland services. Only one full column in three weeks is… more or less going on my worst-case scenario for these three weeks, honestly. I mean, it’s not as bad as zero columns. But still.

Also, true story: I’d originally planned to do a little half-column for today. Something to celebrate the end of my work spell and herald the return of Indie Wonderland Proper. I even picked out a good game: there was this Early Access game I’d gotten bundle’d and installed a long time ago, with the express purpose of keeping it for poor Indie Wonderland weeks. As an Early Access game, I wouldn’t feel bad only giving it a few days worth of short look, hence. So I just now opened Steam, looked up that game, and checked the store page for it…

…only to find it had exited Early Access in the meantime! The jerks. I only let their game sit for, like, five months, and they had the gall to actually go ahead and release a completed product.

Anyway, all jokes aside: I don’t really have anything in my library I felt comfortable firing off a one-day-short-look article about. Instead, you get this rambly explanation column. That’s like interesting to read, right?

Normal Indie Wonderland service resumes next week. And without wishing to bite off entirely more work than I can chew, the next Jarenth Plays installment shouldn’t be overlong either. March 31st if I’m judging my current workload correctly, April 7th if I’m not, April 14th if I’m really not.

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Space Game Stream Tomorrow!

It’s been awhile since we’ve done a stream, for a number of reasons. So this might be short notice — less than 24 hours’ notice, as a matter of fact — but Jarenth and I are going to hop on the Hitbox channel tomorrow and I’m going to stream Elite: Dangerous. I’ll try to make things exciting. maybe I’ll bounty hunt, or fly into a sun, or sing a merry tune. My fellow pilots Nivek and Vash might also be joining the stream. (I’d link to their sites,

IMPORTANT! Due to working a Saturday evening shift, we’re streaming two hours earlier than we usually do. It’s at 5:00 PM UTC, or 12:00 PM in my own time zone of US Central. Click here to see what time this is for you.

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Talk of the Ninja: Elite Dangerous – Best Space Game

Man. I was going to write about something else this week, something I’ve been planning for a long time. But whenever I opened up the page to write about it, I’d stare at the screen for a few seconds, and then boot up Space Game instead. Elite: Dangerous is a pretty stupid name, so my friends and I have taken to calling it Space Game instead — not just because it’s a game in space, but because it feels like the definitive, quintessential space game. I haven’t played a ton of space sims, but honestly, it feels like it really is that good.

Note that when I say space game, I don’t mean to imply an experience like Gradius or Mass Effect — action games that have you jump into the position of Space Hero immediately — but instead an experience where you’re just one person with a ship and an entire galaxy to fly around in. There are numerous ways to make money, including trading, exploring, mining, pirating and bounty hunting, and you’ll do whatever combination you like.

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You start with a cheap ship and upgrade into whatever suits your style. I’ve been mostly trading and exploring with a little bounty hunting on the side, so I got a jack-of-all-trades ship and kitted it out with an extra-large cargo hold and a fuel scoop. (Fuel scoops let you generate energy by floating near a sun.) My friend and fellow commander is really into the combat, so he got himself a combat-focused ship and sought out the best weapons he could manage.

Whatever career you find yourself in, a very large portion of your playtime will be spent flying from place to place, and maybe looking around for bounties to collect or planets to scan. That might sound boring, but I think what makes it work really well is how amazingly they nailed the game feel. There are a thousand subtle touches that I love, like how you look at computer screens to your left and right to check things like your map, mission objectives and statistics. That feels far more immersing than opening up an obvious Game Menu popup. When you speed up or slow down your field of view pulls back or forward respectively, and the camera shakes a bit — not enough to be jarring, but enough to give you the same sort of virtual kinesthesia you feel when driving a car. The lighting is amazing, so the light from the nearest sun comes into your cockpit view at the appropriate angle and shifts based on your rotation and distance.

And amazingly, the world you’re in feels persistent and ever-changing. There are three major factions called the Federation, Empire and Alliance (basically the Corporate Empire, Caste-Based Empire, and United Nations Defending Themselves From The Two Evil Empires) but there are also a plethora of other factions based in each of the many, many systems. Whenever you complete a mission, even if it’s something small like a delivery, the game tells you the reputation change, influence shift, and statistical gains/drops of each faction involved. You really get the sense that while carving out a story for yourself, you’re also affecting a world much bigger than you in small ways that can lead to big ways.

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They say the game is in beta, but it already feels like a complete product. Hell, it practically feels like the kind of game Peter Molyneux would promise and then fail to deliver. It’s huge, absorbing, persistent and fun. There’s a ton they could add — I’d like to be able to explore places on foot, for one — but I’m telling you that while I almost never spend $60 on a game anymore, I don’t regret this particular choice.

You can buy it for yourself from its website.

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Indie Wonderland: There Came An Echo

Looks like we’re headed for another Kickstarter Bounty Time, eh readers? Between last week’s Hot Tin Roof, this week’s There Came An Echo and the ever-increasing bundle of Kickstarter emails I get that promise near-future release date, I might as well hard-code ‘game source: backed on Kickstarter’ into my standard Indie Wonderland template. I won’t, because doing so would almost guarantee that every single game Kickstarter I’ve backed will be hit with mysterious delays. That’s just the way the world works, innit? And I use my amazing future-altering powers for the good of mankind only, readers.

There Came An Echo is the brain- and code-child of one Iridium Studios, previously known for Sequence, a game whose Indie Wonderland review is lost to the annals of internet history. As with most Kickstarter games, I haven’t really paid much attention to the development process. All I really remember of There Came An Echo is the reason I backed it in the first place: Iridium Studios promised to deliver a fully voice-operated tactical gameplay experience. And aside from one early tech demo I half-remember playing, I… I actually have idea to what degree they managed to pull that off? If at all? But given that There Came An Echo is quietly sitting in my Steam inbox as we speak, I suppose I’m about to find that out.

Computer: open Steam. Games. There Came An Echo. Launch.

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

(Game source: Backed on Kickstarter.)

After the break: There Came An Echo. There Came An Echo. Hey, cut that out! Hey, cut that out! Stop echoing me! Stop echoing…

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Talk of the Ninja: Nuance in Game Criticism

Let me apologize up front for not posting on this column for the past 4+ months, but honestly, game criticism has made me very depressed lately. And that’s not because I think games are all bad or boring or whatever, but because it’s hard to shake the feeling that any criticism I make is useless or worse.

One of my brothers works as a usability analyst, and sometimes it feels kind of strange knowing that while I haphazardly examine my own subjective reactions to entertainment media that I consume, he’s making a career out of compiling hard data regarding a multitude of reactions to software use. But he once shared an observation with me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget:

“Often times what people say they want is very different from what they actually want. It’s more important to note what users do, not what they say.”

Super Bunnyhop recently put out a video about game length. In it he said,

“The reason people continue to argue about game length is the same reason people argue about review scores: it’s easy. It’s just about a number. That number breaks down all the complicated, subjective highs, lows and uncertainties of the experience into just one or two digits.”

That’s been a big sticking point for me, because the oversimplification of complicated aspects of games into something you can easily shout about and feel right and smart about is a pitfall I’m no stranger to.

Continue reading

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Thanatos Plays Dragon Age, Ch. 7

(With a delay of a week and a day, Thanathos triumphantly returns to Dragon Age!)

When we left our heroine last week two weeks ago, she had just been recruited to battle the Blight — an army of nigh-mythical Darkspawn seemingly bent on worldwide destruction — as the newest member of the equally nigh-mythical Grey Wardens. Her recruiter, an orange-named badass with a thick beard and a unique armor texture.

After, of course, we slaughtered our way through the local lord’s castle and killed off his only son in a fit of arrow-fueled vengeance. It’s kind of our thing. Now, saved from one death sentence by another probable death, we said our goodbyes to our friends, family and loved ones and returned to our new Warden to gallivant off the save the world by catching Darkspawn arrows with our face.

After the break: yes, that *is* the opposite way of how we usually do things. Get used to it.

And Some Brief Indie Wonderland News To Boot

Heya, Indie Wonderland readers.

Due to a conflux of reasons — mostly related to work and late-night obligations — my next three weeks are slated to be the busiest couple weeks on Jarenth record. As such, I can’t be entirely sure I’ll be able to get any Indies Wonderland going for ‘em. And yes, this is coming from the guy who regularly sacrifices his sleep schedule to get a few more words out. Depending on how exactly the coming weeks play out, I may just not have enough time to play enough games to the degree where I feel comfortable writing about them. Let alone the actual act of writing three columns.

Not saying there won’t be anything the next three weeks: I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to get a full column up next Monday, and I might have something in the pipeline for the one after that. But simultaneously, things might not pan out that way. Consider this heads-up: delivered.

Assuming disruptions do pan out, regular Indie Wonderland service will resume Monday March 30th. And hopefully, Jarenth Plays should start back up Tuesday March 31st as well!

Stay tuned, as always.

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Indie Wonderland: Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora

Guys, listen up. I know fedoras have something of a bad rap, by way of association with douchebags, which may or may not be in any way deserved. And I wouldn’t hold it against you if you instinctively steered away from any game that holds fedora-wearing as important enough to feature it in the title. But here’s the thing: in Hot Tin Roof, second successful project of Glass Bottom Games, the fedora in question is worn not by any old boring human, but by a cat. And I am indubitably a cat person. I’m not just so much a cat person that the cat part cancels out the fedora part; no, I’m so much a cat person that the cat part actually overpowers the fedora part, making the fedora seem fluffy and adorable by association! Which means that suddenly, through the magic of resolved cognitive dissonance, Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora consists not of one cool element and one meh element, but of two cool elements. And one hot element, ho ho ho. Seen through that lens, it only makes sense that I’d play it eventually.

Oh, and I also backed Hot Tin Roof on Kickstarter. There’s that, too. I had plenty of fun with Glass Bottom Games’ previous project, Jones On Fire: Kitties Are Cute And Should Be Saved. And I occasionally crack wise at Glass Bottom’s founder, ‘Not That’ Megan Fox, on Twitter. Maybe these two facts also made me more predisposed towards playing Hot Tin Roof? Possibly. I still maintain the kitten element is probably the strongest factor here, though.

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

(Game source: Backed on Kickstarter.)

After the break: Hot Tin Roof. How many fedoras are *actually* worn throughout this game? The answer is SEVERAL.

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Jarenth Plays Civilization: Beyond Earth — Final Wrap-Up

Heya, readers. It’s been about a week and a half now since the last Jarenth Plays Beyond Earth episode hit monitors world-wide, which means it’s about on-schedule for me to write about the whole thing. Yes, I’m not very expedient in these things sometimes. To compensate, I’ve also updated the Beyond Earth Let’s Play page to completion. So if you’ve ever wanted to jump to your favourite episode without all that clicking-through-the-archives-hassle, now’s your chance.

After the break: some reflection on Beyond Earth, and some looking forward at my new Let’s Play projects.

Thanatos (Doesn’t) Play Dragon Age: Origins

Hey there, Ninja Blues Fans!

This is Thanatos peeking his head in for just a moment to bring you some, well. News.

My buffer for the Thanatos Plays Dragon Age episodes is currently all run dry, and I probably shouldn’t have let it, but that’s a long sob story you don’t want to hear. Point is, it has run dry.

Additionally, while typing up the Wednesday’s Episode, I noticed a thing: my computer is running really, really slow. Like, even typing this in I have to pause after every sentence and wait for the text to catch up to what I’ve actually written. There might be something seriously wrong with my computer, is what I’m saying.

I’ve tried all the normal fixes, restarting, updating software, manually checking through the installed programs to try and catch any errant ones and deleting them and, as I type this draft, there is a full system scan running in the background on my computer. While I systematically purge my machine of any stray bits of code, I’m not adding any new data to the cache (In the form of, say, documents to write the next chapter of the Let’s Play), and double-definitely not uploading any images to Ninja Blues and/or Jarenth on the off-chance that some little niggling bits of ‘ware stow away in the files.

What does this mean for you, the readers at home?

No Dragon Age Let’s Play this Wednesday whilst I’m locked in mortal combat with this (possible) virus-beast. I’ll make it up to you guys somehow. Probably. A thousand apologies for the inconvenience.