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Indie Wonderland: Hero Generations

And closing out our impromptu three-week Kickstarter Spree is Heart Shaped Games‘s Hero Generations. A game so determined to be on the cutting edge, it only came out while I was writing the previous review.

Hero Generations is the best kind of Kickstarter game, in my opinion: a game I liked from the pitch, backed, and then immediately forgot about. Having it show up now, unannounced, years after actually paying for it, is like receiving presents from Past Jarenth. And I like that! Thanks, Past Jarenth. For all the guff I give you re: occasional incredibly poor life choices, you’re a good dude from time to time.

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

(Game source: Kickstarter backer.)

After the break: Hero Generations. Will this be a game about spontaneously creating heroes? Or a game about long-lasting hero legacies? THE ANSWER WILL PROBABLY NOT SURPRISE YOU.

The Star Realms Diaries: Jarenth Vs. Ranneko 3: Jarenth Vs. Ranneko With A Vengeance

Another day, another Star Realms diaries. Am I right, fellas? The fellas know what I’m talking about.

To celebrate the ‘recent’ release of online Star Realms’ first expansion, Gambits, Ranneko and I once again stuck our heads together to bring you this video. Not only is it more of the Star Realms goodness that you’ve come to know and love, but we also highlight the new elements of the aforementioned expansion. So if you’ve been wondering what Gambits is like, if it’s worth all four bucks of its asking price, this latest Star Realms Diaries may put you on the right path.

The right path is ‘yes’, of course. Gambits is rad. If you like Star Realms at all, you should get it.

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Indie Wonderland: Dyscourse

The second stop on our Recent Indie Game Kickstarters Whirlwind World Tour is Owlchemy LabsDyscourse: Survivors, Choose Wisely. Drawn as I was to Dyscourse’s unique graphical style and promise of meaningful choices in the context of surviving a plane crash on a desert island, I backed it for keeps and then proceeded to forget all about. Yes, that is ‘kind of my thing’, thank you very much. I just like surprises! I like surprises so much that I’ll voluntary forget about incoming games I’ve arranged myself, just so I can be pleasantly surprised when they show up. I like to think of these little occurrences as Past Jarenth’s gifts to Present Jarenth.

Anyway, returning our attention to the present: Dyscourse. It’s a game about crashing a plane on a deserted island, and then surviving on that island, quite probably involving some difficult and life-changing choices among the way. That’s… that’s really all I know about it. Which is fitting, in a way, if you think about it: what better way to experience a game about desperately trying to survive a totally unknown situation than with as little practical and thematic foreknowledge as possible? This way, whenever the character or characters I control express how much they don’t understand what’s going on, I’ll be able to empathize with them on a whole different level! I don’t know what’s going on in this weird and alien place either, video game characters. I don’t know either.

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

(Game source: Kickstarter backer.)

After the break: Dyscourse. Will the survivors choose wisely? If you have to ask that, you must be new to knowing me.

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Indie Wonderland: Ironcast

Merry (belated) Easter, everyone! Happy day of religious significance for those of you that observe it, and happy day of egg-shaped chocolate candy for those of you that don’t.

You know what else kind of goodness this spring of 2015-period is bringing? Completed video game Kickstarters! Depending on your personal predilection in backing, your past and coming several weeks may see the arrival of something in the vicinity of half a dozen Kickstarters finally touching down. The big names, of course, are the recently-completed Pillars of Eternity, the impending release of the second act of Broken Age — only slightly later than initially predicted — and the possibly-soon wrapping-up of Massive Chalice, which is currently on patch ’0.96′. But several Kickstarters on a smaller scale have been hitting completion as well, and those are obviously of a little more direct importance for Indie Wonderland; depending on exact release times, you’ll see two or three of them pass our front page soon.

To wit: developer Dreadbit‘s Ironcast, a game that promised to combine colourful gem matching puzzles with Victorian-era mech-on-mech combat. Yeah, not hard to see which part of that pitch made me back it, no? Ironcast has been Early-Access playable for a few months already, but it finally left that wretched hive of scum and villainy to join the cool kids at the Released Games table not two weeks ago. And as such… here we are!

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

(Game source: Kickstarter backer.)

After the break: Ironcast. Yes, you guessed right: I’m such a sucker for colourful gem-matching puzzles, I was never *not* going to support this game.

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Indie Wonderland: The Deer God

Alright. I know — or at least assume — that you guys don’t come here to repeatedly hear me complain about work worries, so let’s just say our drought of the last two weeks should be over now. Time to get back on schedule.

The most I can really tell you in advance about Crescent Moon GamesThe Deer God is that I’ve ‘known’ about it for a while. I read about its development… somewhere or other, on the internet, once. Beyond that, I know more or less nothing about it. Besides the obvious conceit that you play as a deer. God? Dear god, the pun potential of this game is reaching weaponized levels already, and we haven’t even started yet.

I knew nothing about The Deer God and I wasn’t actively tracking it, but they do say life — and the odd random review code email — happens while you’re desperately scrambling up other plans. And as I assume that other old chestnut about gift horses also translates to deer more or less directly… here we are, I guess.

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

(Game source: Press review code.)

After the break: The Deer God. How many ‘deer’ puns will I make? THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU.

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…

Analysis

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.

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