Serious question to all y’all: How do you folks keep track of interesting games? With 2017 being some sort of Good Games Singularity, it feels like a necessary luxury to keep track of games you want to at some point, but just not right now. I used to have a Steam Wishlist for that sort of thing, but the combination of a terrible user interface and my own ever-expanding interests means that that option has been on a slow Akira reenactment ever since 2014. I sometimes keep Steam store tabs open in Google Chrome, but that’s sort of crumbling under the same problem: I currently have 125 tabs open over six different windows, and none of them are tabs I feel I can ever close. So, that leaves me… what? Calendar reminders? Post-its? Writing on my whiteboard?
I’ll tell you what apparently does work. I have two monitors, with the right one serving as my ‘main desktop’; as you’d probably imagine, that place is a sprawling wasteland of a hundred icons. But the left desktop is still relatively pristine. So I’ve taken to a measure so stupid that I can’t believe I ever thought it would work: Writing down game names as file names for empty text files, and then dropping those onto the desktop.
Right now I’m getting ready to play Fishing Cactus‘ Epistory – Typing Chronicles, which I just bought and downloaded after seeing my desktop reminder. I hate that this goddamn system apparently works (for now), but I’ll take what I can get.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, medium-high.)
(Game source: Bought it myself.)
I don’t fully remember why I thought this game merited a Desktop System Reminder, but the title page is showing a hint or two.
I fiddle around in the menu a little. Apparently I already have a profile in this game? I’m sure I never played it before, on account of whole ‘bought it an hour ago’ thing. I check the profile out, but this just raises more questions than it answers.
I’m contractually bound to look around in the options as well, but Epistory doesn’t show grand offerings here. Sound sliders, options for lens blur and frame syncing — I thought that’s what VSync was? — ‘Adaptive Difficulty’, and broad options for keyboard layout. As in, I have to tell Epistory whether or not I have a QWERTY keyboard. I… wonder why this is relevant. For changing default keybindings, maybe?
Suppose there’s only one way to find out.
Epistory opens on a white void. Accompanied by gothic-font purple letters, a female voice calmly narrates “Once upon a time…”
The vague sound of scratching pencils is heard.
“There was a girl. And she rode upon the back of a great fox. But they were lost.” With that, the white voids — clouds, apparently, a layer of fog — dissipate, and I find myself looking at the lady and fox from before. They appear to be standing on a stack of papers in the middle of an endless ocean.
Suddenly, the voice tells me that a path appeared. And as she does, a path appears: More papers unfold from beyond the void, forming a line of Lorems Ipsum for me to walk over.
In the least convenient way possible.
As I (haltingly) follow the branches of the path, the narrator keeps talking. Her words are actually etched into the world, permanent fixtures that I can revisit, making them an interestingly spatial alternative to traditional subtitles. It’s definitely handy for me, because now I don’t even have to rely on screenshots to remember what was said at what point: I can just steer my fox back over and take a look.
New path appears as I follow the old one. Most of it is still stacks of paper, but I start seeing more complex shapes. Trees, flowers. Rocks. A life-saving message telling me that I can just use WASD to move if I want to.
“And all of a sudden,” the narrator goes, “she knew where she was. She was home.” And the grey paper world unfolds into colour and paper-craft life.
See, now this is what I signed up for.
A little ways into the now-green, my path is blocked. Fallen tree, don’t you know, nothing I can do. Sure would be helpful if some more of those pages could pop up and let me around… But then, where would the conflict be? Any good story requires conflict. So maybe instead of going around it, our heroine can deal with this tree problem somehow?
Epistory instructs me to hit Spacebar/Enter, which enters Typing Mode. A word appears over the log, CHOP. The white letters turn black as I type them in sequence. And when I hit the final P, my character fires a burst of magical energy at the obstacle, vaporizing it instantly.
The traversable areas get larger as I move forward. In the center of a forest clearing, I find… Some sort of folded compass rose. It looks rad, but also kinda out of place. I’m not sure what… Epistory pops in to suggest that ‘each word types gives inspiration points’, which doesn’t help as much as you’d think.
The secondary hint does remind me about the Space-driven Typing Mode. When I hit the button, flower names appear over the conspicuous patches of brown dirt. Flowers spring from each of them as I type them in sequence. More importantly, though, typing words starts a small combo meter on the bottom of the screen. Every time I complete an effective word, the quickly-diminishing bar resets and increases in value. When I complete all flowers and run out of things to type, the meter completes, and I’m awarded a stack of ‘Inspiration Points’. These do two things: One, they fill up a larger blue bar fully at the bottom of the screen. The bar is eventually filled when I hit 200 points, at which point it rolls over — new goal: 2500 points — and gifts me ‘upgrade points’. Possibly making this the most gamey paragraph I’ve written in a while. In Epistory, you gather Inspiration Points to gain Upgrade Points, and tell me that’s not true for a lot of videogames.
And two, once my point total crosses 100, the compass rose unfolds and starts shining. When I walk into it, it responds by unfolding a great deal of new world before my eyes.
I wander around the gorgeous paper-craft world some more, enjoying the visuals and the soothing music and planting flowers and smashing rocks as they appear. There’s even a few treasure chests that I can open, by typing words such as LUXURY and OPULENCE. It’s actually really neat how all words I type seem related to their subject matter in some way: A log asks for CHOP, a plant asks for ROSE or DOGWOOD, I found a few rocks that shatter on FLINT or SEISMIC, and these red thorny branches…
…Huh. That’s odd. I don’t think… I don’t think I know which language this is?
The branches aren’t the only confusing thing. As I move through the world, most of it is narrated by the familiar narrator, in her calm, blocky gothic-font style. But in one small corner, another voice scribbles down another message: In simple chicken-scratch, it only reads “I am not a writer, this is not my muse”.
But the ratio of secondary narrators to weird unreadable brambles definitely skews towards the latter as I move further down the path. I’ve seen one or two places where I could conceivably trigger another compass rose, but all of them so far are sealed off by these indestructible branches. The narrator even calls this out, saying that “She would have to burn the brambles before she could pass through them”. But where am I going to get some fire?
I find a second unguarded compass rose and activate it, and a paper-craft meteor plummets from the sky.
The meteor heralds the arrival of danger: As a cross an altar-looking threshold, strange insectile creatures start burrowing from the ground and slithering towards me. I’m paralyzed by fear, and also I’m paralyzed by the game taking my movement controls away. Out of fear. My only recourse is to type the sequences of words above the creatures, blasting them with magic repeatedly until they disintegrate.
This is weird, right? The story and narrator acknowledge that this is, in fact, weird. There were no weird insect monsters here before, and ideally there shouldn’t be any, ever. It seems like the meteor is the cause, so I follow the one path available to me until I find its impact point.
I follow the meteor into the cave, and emerge in a place of darkness and fire.
This place is gloomy, dark, and oppressive. And yet, interesting: Ancient paintings litter the cave walls, and the secondary voice returns, talking in a childlike tone about chance and kindness. But I don’t have a lot of time to take it all in, as new monsters appear — marked with the same illegible red letters as the brambles. I can’t touch these creatures, so I run through the twisting caves. Lava often blooms behind me, sealing off passageways and stopping the monsters from approaching, but also sealing me in further. I don’t know what I’ll do if the space runs out.
And then the space suddenly runs out.
There’s a glowing prize at the heart of the fallen star, and with no other recourse, I take it. Magic swirls around and within me. And when the bright light clears, I find I’ve gained some new understanding. I speak a new language now, if you will: The language of fire.
With fire magic in tow, the burning meteor caves open up. I can clear the brambles now, allowing me access to passages previously locked off. It’s useful for combat too. In the sense that I can now hurt the monsters with orange names, but also in the sense that the fire adds an extra effect: Typing off a monster word sets the next word on fire, naturally burning it away over the next few seconds — and saving my poor exhausted hands some effort.
Yeah, I think… I’m pretty on-board with Epistory so far. The opening’s been a little linear so far, but I didn’t mind running around this gorgeous world and typing some monsters to death. But now that I have this fire, the place suddenly promises to open up. Plus, if fire magic specifically has to be described… I wonder if any other kinds of magic are waiting to be discovered?
And if the application of those magics also ties as viscerally into the whole book-writing theme as ‘attacking a thing made of paper with fire literally causes it to burn into soot and ash’?