Continuing the theme of 2016’s Greatest Indie Hits, I decided to spend the last week of January 2017 writing the Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. Sundae Month‘s low-fi exploratory clean-’em-up was a Christmas gift from a lovely friend, and one of my 2017 resolutions was to give it a timely playthrough and review. And, er, here we are! Last week of January is pretty good as far as resolutions are concerned.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium, I think.)
Hexecutable LCC’s Beglitched is another 2016 alumnus long on my to-play list. I don’t know if it necessarily met with high critical praise, but I do know that I kept a tab to its Steam page open for something like four months, including one total Chrome loss and manual reboot. It looks neat! Between the bright colour scheme and aesthetic, the hacking theme, and the various cute animals, Beglitched just looks like a game that I would enjoy playing. Plus, the blurb tells me that it’s “a game about insecurity, in our computers and ourselves.” And I am hella insecure, about basically everything. So this should make for a fine companion piece to my day-to-day existence.
Drool‘s Thumper graced or topped a lot of GOTY list at the end of last year. It’s been on my to-play list too, ever since I saw… To be honest, I don’t actually know much about Thumper. All I know for certain is that it’s a rhythm game of sorts, and all I’ve seen is some kind of beetle thing skating on a space rail. I’m given to understand it’s scary? What little I read about it (constant praise) convinced me to play it for review, which means I’ve mostly steered clear of other perspectives. So if you, like me, don’t actually know what the hub-bub is regarding this game, you’re in luck: we’re about to embark on this journey of discovery together.
Pillars of Eternity has a serious problem with backer content. You can see this in pretty much every discussion about it online. The backer NPCs and memorials basically exist as filler that doesn’t fit with the story or often the world. Obsidian clearly knew this was an issue, but were obligated to put in all this content because backers paid for it and were promised it. They never seem to answer questions about this but I feel pretty confident that if they kickstart another game either the will completely cut these kinds of perks, severely limit them, or move them to much more expensive tiers. The sheer number of backer memorials and NPCs they agreed to put in is pretty staggering, based on their kickstarter page I think they had more than 3500 backers entitled to memorials and more than 100 NPCs to include.
It was a serious challenge that Obsidian Entertainment completely failed to live up to and the way it was handled let down both their players and their backers. The player perspective is the one I see most often discussed, for example the NPCs are generally regarded as a delivery vehicle for overwritten vignettes and are otherwise completely useless. The only possible interaction with a backer NPC is to walk up to one and view a soul memory, you can never converse with a backer NPC, you will never be asked to get some information from them or discuss their story, they never have a task for you and you can’t ever discuss the information from one of these memories with anyone else. The conversations with Grieving Mother make it clear that viewing her mind is unusual despite these hundred NPCs whose memories you can’t help but examine. So the NPCs serve no story, lore or mechanical purpose. The only concession is that these NPCs have a different name border so once you learn they are useless they are easy to avoid.
The memorials are even worse, there is an order of magnitude more of them and they are significantly less curated. In fact as far as I can tell Obsidian did the bare minimum with these, I am pretty sure they filtered out memorials with swearing or slurs but they appear to have made no checks on grammar, language or fit with the world. They then implemented them in a way that provided them with no control over the placement of individual monuments, as demonstrated by the incident where they replaced a problematic memorial meaning that even memorials that were intended to fit with the world can end up in completely unsuitable locations.
This trains players to ignore backer content, it teaches you quickly and effectively that this basic backer content is separate from and significantly lesser to the rest of the game and is effectively marked to allow a player to easily ignore all of it. Which is why it fails backers, not all backers to be fair, but certainly the subset of backers who actually cared about their contribution, those to whom the memorial or NPC was important in some way. I am one of those backers.
7 years ago my youngest brother passed away, it was sudden, it was tragic and one of the reasons I backed a number of crowdfunded games at a high level was because they had memorial options in them. It is my way to keep him alive, my vague hope was that maybe one of his friends would serendipitously encounter it playing one of these games, that it would remind them however briefly of their school friend and help them remember him. This won’t happen if the game teaches you not to look at backer content.
I know I am not unique in wanting my memorial seen in the sampling of memorials that I have read I have seen people memorialising past adventures, friends, families, even at least one business slipping in an advertisement. It could have been done, they could have curated the memorials, had someone spellcheck them and correspond with backers whose memorials could use improvement. They could have then matched memorials to vaguely appropriate areas rather than the current purely algorithmic approach. They could have had a task or quest that involved information gleaned from a memorial or two in a given area or vital information from a backer NPC. Heck they could have just randomised the order each run so statistically everyone’s memorial will turn up in the first few people are likely to read.
Remember each memorial represents a minimum of a $500 contribution to the game, each NPC $1,000. How much does it cost per backer to have someone check memorials for spelling and grammar and sort them into lore friendly and unfriendly categories?
Given this treatment there is no way I would ever back an Obsidian game at a similar tier again.
I’ve decided to start my ‘proper’ 2017 review cycle by looking back at some critically acclaimed 2016 games that I missed. Because how many 2017 games are there out yet, realistically? Plus, 2016 was such a busy year for games: even with all the time and weeks that I had, I just couldn’t get to everything. Particularly since I just spent eight weeks limiting myself to visual novels, and all that. It’d be a shame to miss out on some of the actually good 2016 stuff, given how much terrible garbage that year has crammed down our throats.
First on the list is D-Pad Studio‘s strigine adventure, Owlboy, a game that was purportedly nine years in the making. That sounds like a lot of built-up hype to live up to, but luckily, I haven’t paid any attention to it. Far as I know, Owlboy is ‘just’ a pretty pixel-looking that involves boys, and owls, and boys that may or may not be owls. That it was seemingly well-received about almost a decade of waiting speaks in its favor, but just how well will this game do with a guy who for all intents and purposes learned about its existence two months ago? I guess there’s only one way to find out!
Heya, readers. Happy new year! May your 2017 be good where 2016 was bad, and great where 2016 was merely good.
In lieu of the first ‘proper’ review of 2017 (that one comes next week), this week I’m posting the last entry of VNADS 2016. I’d originally planned to throw this one up last week (and then take this week off), but at the last minute I decided to spend Christmas time with my family and loved ones instead of…
…Well, I mean. I promised this at the start, didn’t I? “Tell me which one of these four specific games to review, and I’ll review it”. I have no-one but myself to blame for not even building in a convenient out. But at the very least, I hope you understand why this didn’t have priority. I’ve tallied the votes, and taken all arguments into consideration, and the final game of VNADS 2016, the one Sakura game I will review in that period, is…
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, high. Mechanical, visual novel. NSFW Warning: Sakura Game from the first page.)