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.

Indie Wonderland: Mothergunship

Mothergunship. The word is evocative. What is it? Is it a mothership that’s also a gunship? That seems like the obvious choice, but what if it isn’t? What if it’s a mothership in the shape of a gun? Or a gunship that holds smaller gunships inside itself, like a sort of mother-gunship? Or maybe it’s a… I can’t think of a joke for ‘mothergun’. Or rather, I can, but I don’t want to tell it and you don’t want to read it.

At any rate, Mothergunship is also a new shooty bang game by Terrible Posture Games and Grip Digital. Maybe… maybe the only way to find out what a ‘mothergunship’ is is to play that game? Wouldn’t that be a strange world we lived in?

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: I envy you, all of you, as you got a chance to find out what a mothergunship is without actually having to fight one.

Indie Wonderland: Heaven Will Be Mine

I reviewed We Know The Devil (by Worst Girls Games) way back in the winter of 2016, when I lived halfway across the world and the world was only somewhat smoldering instead of outright on fire. I thought it was an excellent game, one that I thought about all the time and talked about a whole lot — significantly strengthening at least one friendship over it. So when the creators (one of whom I follow on Twitter) announced their next game, Heaven Will Be Mine, I reacted the exact same way I did to We Know The Devil: Studiously avoiding any and all mentions of it, but keeping a sharp eye for the eventual release date.

Turns out: That date is now.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Between knowing the Devil (presumably in Hell) and claiming Heaven, what more is there for these developers to claim? I figure that Limbo

Indie Wonderland: Hollow Knight

There’s a fun thing that happens to me sometimes when I think about using this column for games that have been out for relatively long, and to good acclaim: I get anxious about reviewing them. Like, I get anxious about… doing it wrong, I guess? I’m not 100% on it myself. Am I anxious about not contributing to a closed discussion, if I just say ‘yeah, it’s as good as everyone else says’? Am I anxious about having a bad experience and becoming the one dissenting voice? Am I just anxious that nobody will care anymore? I’m legitimately asking because I can’t parse how my own mind works.

This is what happened with Team Cherry‘s Hollow Knight, a game that everyone and their parent of preference has been telling me to play since forever. I bought it a little over a month ago, when on sale, in case you were wondering how strong my commitment to this has been. Again: No idea why. But I finally managed to finagle a week in which I had relatively little other commitments: If I’m going to take a look at a game that this many people seem to love, I might as well do it right.

And hey: Turns out the ‘final content pack’ for Hollow Knight, ‘Gods & Glory’, is releasing a few weeks from now. How’s that for accidental timeliness.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Yeah, maybe it would have been better to pretend that was my angle all along. But, listen, I don’t do lies.

Indie Wonderland: Diluvion

Open question: What’s your dream superpower? For me, it’s being able to breathe under water. I don’t mean that in the sense of really wanting that power over any others, or even thinking it’s particularly cool; I just have semi-regular dreams about being able to breathe underwater like it’s no big thing. Maybe it’s because I’m Dutch, and as such used to living ‘under water’; maybe it has to do with my agoraphobia; maybe I just like the idea of living in weird desolate places. Maybe I’m just tired of dry heat, who knows.

It’s probably no coincidence that I have a particular fondness for games that are set underwater in some way. I have never once minded water levels, including that one Zelda temple everyone always brings up, and that one World of Warcraft zone where you ride seahorses — it rules, fight me. I reviewed Abzû, I spent eleven hours on Aquaria, I built more underwater dwellings in Anno 2070 than I care to remember — before the update that made that a viable strategy! — and resisting the pull to disappear into Subnautica forever is a daily struggle.

So when I ran into Arachnid GamesDiluvion, a “Jules Verne-inspired undersea adventure”, I… Well, I mean, here we are.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low with one exception, I guess. Mechanical, high-ish, but you’ll thank me for it..)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Dive into the wonderful world of Diluvion, which is neither – wonderful nor world.