Tag Archives: You Should Probably Play

You Should Probably Play Her Story

Her Story

Tomorrow you’re going to say the last time you were moved by a game was today. Her Story is a totally strange, odd little bird of a thing that compels you to move forward through a haze with an unstated promise of clarity on the other side. And that’s the prize of it all: getting lost in the maze is just as fascinating as the truth is shocking.

Her Story is the latest from Sam Barlow, the fellow behind the equally unique and compelling Aisle and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. In it, you attempt to unearth the truth behind a 1994 mystery wherein a woman is interviewed over the course of several conversations with the police regarding her missing husband.

Those interviews are broken up into little 15-second chunks (some are even shorter at three or four seconds) of FMV footage that you’ll have to search for using an exceedingly simple computer interface, one purposefully emulating the experience of using Windows 3.1 and the like. It’s a database search of all the conversations you have with this woman and is kicked off with a simple query: murder.

It’s remarkable how this fragmented memory, distributed amongst over 200 clips, works so well to push the player forward into believing they are being clever. It’s a fascinating design because to find more clips, you have to search for words and phrases into the computer. But only five are returned at a time, though many more may contain the query.

Searching for “you” or “I,” for instance, will land you with too many results. You have to really pay attention to both what this woman is saying and how she says it to find the right thing to ask for. You’ll start off casually tagging videos with things that pique your interest, but eventually you’ll have you nose to the screen and drowning in questions.

It’s a design that amazingly makes you feel like you are discovering things just as well as if you weren’t along a set of likely paths determined by Barlow. Picking up on phrases or themes that this woman seems to obsess over or land particularly heavy on or pauses after gives you such a thrill to chase.

Her Story

I can only imagine it’s what dogs must feel seeing so many cars to chase. Where are they going? What are they? Why are they? I guess I’ll just have to catch one to find out. But in this case it was seeing locations and names whizz by, my tail wagging as I anticipated in running down all of them. It’s tantalizing as it frustrating, knowing I’ll pass by so many curious invitations just to accept another one.

The fact that you’ll be piecing together across several days and stories makes the whole process cerebrally intensive and all the more rewarding when you finally understand how it all fits together. There’s a sense of inevitability across the whole endeavor, as you dip from assumption to conclusion while avoiding the truth.

A lot of that has to do with the woman’s performance. She (Viva Seifert) is endearing and disturbing and grotesque and beautiful and terrifying and warming and everything in between as she recounts her childhood, her marriage, and her husband’s disappearance. There are several clips that even in their short runtimes are some of the most…unnerving things I’ve ever seen.

Her Story

Even if you don’t play games, you should give this a whirl. Hell, watch someone else play it and tag along for the ride; it’s great in co-op, too. Barlow says, “If you can Google, you can play Her Story,” and it’s a worthwhile ride. For six dollars (on sale for five right now), just give Her Story a chance.

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You Should Probably Play Does Not Commute

Does Not Commute

It’s pretty simple getting from point A to point B in Does Not Commute. The fun comes in when you start adding point C and point D and so on. Does Not Commute is a clever and engaging little mobile game that forces you to plan ahead while playing behind. A lot of people have been looking forward to it since seeing it at GDC and now that it’s out, you should probably play it.

Described as a “strategic driving game” by developers Mediocre, the point of Does Not Commute is to continually guide a series of different cars from their starting points to their destinations. The catch is that with each successive car you have to drive, every previous commuter persists on the map, clogging up major thoroughfares and complicating your journey.

While each map can get complex rather quickly, the foundation is quite simple. Presented in a top-down perspective, you simply tap each half of the screen to steer. That, in fact, is the only amount of instructions given outside of how to use certain power-ups as you earn them. The rest is taught through simply playing.

For example, you don’t even start off knowing what the basis of the game is. Your first task is to get one fellow from the bottom of the screen to the top. Easy peasy. But then the second task, if you try to go direct, will cause the two cars to crash. It’s a brilliant and smooth bit of integrated player education.

Vehicles will also handle drastically differently, and it’s sometimes dependent on the drive. Some are in a rush and are real speed demons, which can be a humongous problem if you’re late into a map and you need to do a lot of tight maneuvering. And then sometimes you have a bus or a dump truck, and what are those naturally other than painfully slow.

That, however, is where the power-ups fit in. By using Turbo, you can fit slower drivers into tighter openings where you’ve already (and, regrettably, unknowingly) bombarded with other cars. Or by using Traction, you can rein in the unwieldy folk. It offers a layer of strategy, but also a layer in which you can once more screw yourself, which is the best kind of tool in video games.

Does Not Commute

This especially goes for collecting more time. You see, you have a timer dictating how much time you have to get everyone simultaneously through to their end goals. While it overlaps, you burn a single second every time you reset an attempt, and that really adds up. This forces you go often go out of your way to collect little bundles of time of 10 or 20 seconds. It’s a necessity, but it will also undoubtedly and fantastically bone you so hard.

A nice little touch (other than it sounding and looking great) is that each driver comes with a little blurb of a backstory, and they all tend to weave together. The first rural setting paints a picture of an accident and an identity thief no one’s noticed yet. Then you see in the city in the next map that there’s definitely might be some Cayman Islands-fleeing type money shenanigans.

One thing to note is that while the game in its entirety is absolutely free, it’s pretty much impossible to beat it unless you pay for the premium version. Fronting the cash will unlock checkpoints, so when you inevitably run out of time or simply close the app or your battery dies, you won’t have to start over from the first map. It’s an inoffensive scheme since nothing stops you from beating it for free, but it’s quickly a nuisance if you aren’t a freaking god of gaming.

Does Not Commute

The problems can quickly compound once you have to take advantage of the floaty nature of these cars. Driving off the side of an overpass might be the only way late into the game to get over a troubling intersection of your own creation. Or launching off a ramp could be the only way to save you precious seconds, preventing failure. (Also, notice that I keep saying “vehicles” and not strictly “cars,” wink wink.)

There’s a great deal that makes Does Not Commute a good game, but in this case, the best way to convince someone is to just have them play it. And at the price point of zero dollars, there’s really no reason not to give it a whirl. (That is unless you don’t own a phone, in which case how did you escape the 1800s?) You should, without a doubt, play Does Not Commute.

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You Should Probably Play 80 Days

80 Days

On the route from literature to video games, few seem as poised for the transformation as Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s a classic tale from a classic writer, and all of it points to a classic setup for an interactive interpretation. With a wager setting a hard time limit and an impetus to experience new locations in that timeframe, what better than this for inkle studios to take and turn into 80 Days.

Of course, that bit of inciting action wherein Phileas Fogg takes up a wager to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days with nothing more than his servant Jean Passepartout and a presumably stout mustache in tow isn’t nearly as important as the execution. And 80 Days executes on the premise wonderfully. By putting you in the shoes of Passepartout and removing the inessential or irrelevant parts of the objective, the game opens itself up to a much more interesting system of storytelling mechanics.

For instance, the original challenge was brought about by the trans-Indian railroad, a technological innovation that allowed travel from Bombay to Calcutta in three days. (There’s also the bit about an Indian princess and Thuggee cultists.) Impressive, but it locks the pair into a much more insular experience. Inkle saw fit, instead, to throw in a massively spidering web of possibilities to get from place to place and focuses on a decidedly different and steampunky world seen through Passepartout’s eyes.

At its core, 80 Days is about resource management. With time, money, and health all working against you as you singlehandedly attempt to arrange this worldly trip (like, get off your ass, Fogg, and help me), you have to spin several plates at once while the game actively tries to topple them. And you never know when something you do is going to make your life better or worse.

That is the crux of what makes 80 Days so interesting. At the very opening of the game, you are faced with a decision to either lie or come clean. And that’s where you are shown the fourth resource: your relationship with Fogg. Your decisions on this trip will either enhance or degrade his opinion of you, showing you as an unreliable mess or an uninteresting fool or a wholly self-sufficient and wise companion.

It rouses a similar feeling to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, but with the temporal pressure spread out over an entire journey rather than moment-to-moment, which strangely enough makes every branch that much more anxiety-ridden. With zombies and the always immediate goal of survival, choices often felt like less like a choice and more like a necessity. But with Passepartout, picking how to respond to Fogg and the strangers you meet on your travels feels infinitely more consequential.

80 Days

Instead of knowing your choice will result in someone living or dying, it’s more akin to real life. When you go about the daily world, you never know what decision will come back and bite you in the ass or simply pass off as another flowing, uninterrupted part of your contiguous life. The same goes with this game where the things you choose to say and do may or may not result in anything of note. You decision to hop a turnstile could just get you to your train on time or it may halt you for several days and land you on Fogg’s bad side.

This setup of obfuscated dominos could have easily been ominous or tedious, but 80 Days is rarely either, at least not in a bad way. If anything, the lazy dread that follows your solitary and potentially monumental decisions are exciting. Every situation could land you in a dozen other new places that you hadn’t planned on or could have even foreseen, but it’s never an inescapable fate. It only serves to broaden your adventure across the globe.

Part of it is that the responsibility is placed entirely in your hands. While some notes come up in your inventory and on timetables of where you can be to get somewhere today or how much a candle is worth in Africa, so much of the earned context of your journey is only retained in your head. With the people you encounter, you realize that taking note of names has the potential to payoff later. Or getting your hands on gear in Russia can help with your trek across the Pacific.

80 Days

The laissez-faire approach to information retention in 80 Days makes each journey feel that much more personal, especially as with each replay, you find or are forced into new routes and unknown territories. Or at least that’s one possibility. A huge part of what makes the game work is the writing. It’s consistently impressive and fits entirely well within the milieu of what the art and the characters establish, but it also allows you to dictate Passepartout’s character.

Choices allow you to make him as well-traveled as you’d like, opening up the potential of him to skip intel gathering in the market and instead pursue more meaningful threads like airship procurement and automata security. As your choices actively meld right back into the written words of the story, it feels as much like you writing the story as it does you reading one that already exists. Simultaneous creation and discovery.

Without a doubt, 80 Days is a game you should definitely play. For all the aliens you’ve shot as a space marine or the cities you’ve saved jumping a car off the top of a skyscraper, this tale of two men finagling their way across the world feels more like an adventure than most of those other grandiose stories combined. Genuine fear, anxiety, excitement, eagerness, and desire, and that’s before you even board the train.

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You Should Probably Play Samurai Gunn

Samurai Gunn

It’s all fun and games until you give everyone swords and guns. Some games like GoldenEye 007 and Bomberman 64 and Windjammers have a tendency to infuse an occasion with great momentum. It fills each and every moment with joy and terror and immense amounts of yelling.

And then it slowly drains until you are grinding metal on metal, bone cracking against bone. It’s silent and painful. The joy is gone. But the hunger is still there. You hit the bottom and you keep going because you want to.

You can safely add Samurai Gunn to that list. I played this little gem back during Fantastic Arcade of this year and it’s finally out as a full blown release. And it’s still as good as I remember, though perhaps some of the intervening days have softened the rougher edges. It’s a local multiplayer game from Teknopants that features four samurai fighting against each other, each one armed with a sword and a gun. Each one trying to be the last man standing. Each one a single hit away from death.

It’s a game perhaps most notable for its lessons, of which there are many, and all of them come at your fast and hard like a god damn rhino with a textbook. At first glance, it’s a simple game: slash or shoot your way to victory. But layers reveal themselves over the course of mere moments, and they’re all taught to you through pain of death.

Swords can actually clash and reflect bullets, so mashing away at the attack button is basically throwing away your single most valuable resource. The moment’s pause between swings is just great enough to make you regret a decision or smile at another’s mistake.

Water can temporarily jam your gun; it’s best to and nearly impossible to track everyone’s three shots granted to them per life; swords can redirect bullets; and so much more. There are no instructions, but these are all implicitly taught to you as you play the game, and those are the ones that stick the best. They don’t become words you have to recall but instinct you act upon.

Samurai Gunn

There are so many little touches to the game that will likely go unappreciated. When you begin and select your character, you can just mess about in your little player box until the round starts. It lets you discover how you handle as a singular entity in the game. And then it shows you that it becomes much more when you use those interactions with another player.

And the fact that matches default to kills instead of deaths as the determining factor is key. You cannot win this game by hiding or sitting in a corner. For one thing, it seems like spikes appear wherever players tend to linger. (Or die a lot; I’m not sure yet. Either way, they kind of ruin the feel of the game for me.) For another, you have to work for your win. Instead of someone else’s kill being one taken from you, it’s more like a race against a clock. Speed and precision is crucial.

Something hard to miss, though, is the slow down accompanying each death. Intensely brutal games like Hotline Miami and Dark Souls have an ability to make you realize a mistake as you make it, not after like so many others. Samurai Gunn is like that. When you jump into an open area and feel too safe, that’s two bullets are coming your way. You pull the trigger and even before you see the puff of smoke, you remember you ran out of shots long ago. And that slow down not only makes your mistakes and victories all the more obvious to you but to everyone else as well.

Samurai Gunn

But along with all the good, you do have to deal with some bad. Samurai Gunn is a shoddily hewn game, riddled with bugs and indeterminate inconsistencies. Some games dump you back to character select and some put you back to the title screen. Team select is basically broken. Bullet deflections and sword clashes feel backed by slight randomization, a killing blow to competitive games. One-on-one showdowns sometimes don’t end with a victor but a hard reset.

And the options are anemic to say the least, not even allowing you to set kill or death limits. And some levels seem like they were designed with a completely different game in mind. It all does, however, look and sound great, providing a delicious mix of digital hip hop over slick Japanese themes as the battlegrounds become littered with 8-bit blood and bodies.

Samurai Gunn is very obviously the work of a single man, but it is a great work and he is a man with a good vision. It’s a little lumpy at parts, but so much of it works like a stellar piece of mean-spirited sword-slashing that it’s easy to forgive much of it. Bugs that force you to keep a keyboard on hand to hit Esc are a bit grating, but Samurai Gunn is something you should probably most definitely play.

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You Should Probably Play Killer Instinct

You Should Probably Play Killer Instinct

Admittedly, the original 1994 Killer Instinct wasn’t a great game. It wasn’t terrible, but that may just be because I refuse to properly analyze my formative years for fear of degrading their substance. Either way, basically no one was asking for a reboot of the franchise, and yet here we are with a free-to-play Killer Instinct for the Xbox One’s launch. And it was a good move.

Yes, it’s free to play, hence this not being a review. All you have to do is find it in the Xbox One’s Games store front (not terribly hard considering your choices can be counted on one hand) and download it. Right now, the free character is Jago, the surrogate Ryu or Liu Kang of the game, though others will get rotated into the fold later. If you want more characters now, though, you have to pay five dollars each for them, which would lead you to believe online matches would be nothing but Jago-on-Jago mirror matches, but it turns out a lot of people have been sinking money into this thing.

And time, as it would seem. People have gotten quite good at the game’s core conceit: combos. How you inflict the most damage in a single go is by getting your opponent into a combo, which always begins with an opener and then is mixed with linkers and autos (and shadow moves and manuals) before being capped off with an ender.

Killer Instinct

This is not a terribly demanding game in terms of technical proficiency; after all, autos are multi-hit additions to your combo that are trigger by a single button press. It’s all about understanding the systems. The overall goal is to get from an opener to a closer to cause damage and then prevent it from recovering, which will happen if you don’t perform an ender. Most of it is tied up in basic moves like dragon punches and fireballs, but the simplicity opens it up to neat twists.

Combo Breakers, as you are familiar with by simply being on the Internet, are vital to being a good fighter and finding pleasure in the game. If you can guess the strength of attack used for normal auto or manual attacks, then you break out of being combo’d and get back to trying to start your own. It’s a great mind game of trying to mix up your own play and trying to second guess your opponent. It’s like high level rock-paper-scissors but with more blood.

It really changes up the usual upfront framework of fighting games where you simply block and then execute. It starts to feel like trying to run multiple mental models of several different games at once and can become quite the brainy workout. This is especially true when you start to game your meters. If you fill the combo meter, it’s basically a wash, but if you trigger special moves, you can reset the meter and keep the combo going. There are several fantastic layers to the fighting here.

Killer Instinct

The problem arises when you are the one being combo’d. If you’re not good at reading attack animations or simply unlucky, you’ll find yourself stuck being a ragdoll for four to five seconds at a time. That’s four to five seconds where you are helpless and at the mercy of either an AI or a person. This is when the game really fails to keep me interested, as in just those few seconds, my desire to play something else grows ever stronger.

But at least you’ll generally always know what you’re doing. In most other fighting games, I always felt like I was simply trying to understand how it worked let alone figuring out high-level tactics, but Killer Instinct has an amazing dojo mode that covers truly everything. You can start out learning how to walk and then advance to learning how to cap off combos. It’s thorough enough that you feel competent going into your first online match but hands-off enough to let you learn on your own.

And the game’s general presentation is rather good. The graphics are exceptionally sharp (those fireballs!) and the music is predictably catchy, but the coolest stuff happens at the end of fights, where rain will really start to come down if you pull of an Ultra Combo, or the music will sync up with your brutal hits and create a violent, staccato rhythm of mayhem and particle effects. It is unbelievably satisfying ruining someone in such a delicious, over-the-top fashion.

Killer Instinct

As a free game amongst mediocre sequels and half-assed ports, grabbing the free Killer instinct is an obvious choice. As a quality fighting game with an absolutely intriguing and fun foundation, Killer Instinct is something you should definitely check out. Just don’t kill your childhood by playing the original Killer Instinct included in the download.

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You Should Probably Play Candy Box 2

You Should Play Candy Box 2

To all those people still clicking cookies, I have good news: you can stop. Close that tab, forget about the angry grandmas, don’t even think about the time machines, and put that all behind you. That chapter in your life is closed, just like the one about how you liked to wake up in the middle of the night and eat cold hot dogs without your parents noticing and yelling at you to go back to sleep because you have school in four hours.

Or whatever. The point is that Candy Box 2, the sequel to the progenitor of all other simplified resource-hording games Candy Box, is out now. The first thing to notice is that it is much more self-aware than its predecessor. While you start out the same with slowly collecting candy one piece at a time, the opening options are slightly different. You still can eat all the candies or throw some on the ground, but then you “request a new feature to the developer” for 30 candies.

You keep requesting new features until you have a health bar, can change languages, and finally unlock the map, in which you’ll stumble across your first location in the game: the village. Here you’ll find some houses to explore, a shop to buy stuff, and a forge to buy weapons (and another touch of self-awareness in an in-game RPG arcade game for earning candy). In one of the houses, you’ll find your first quest; the structure of the game appears to be largely unchanged.

Candy Box 2

However, it also seems to be largely improved in other places. It uses your browser’s local storage API for saving (with multiple slots!). You can leave quests before you die so if you know you can’t beat it, you can get out and save yourself the recovery time. The English no longer appears to be as charmingly broken. And there is a better, more visual sense of progression through the quests as you have to cross a bridge and explore a cave and whatnot.

It’s strange, though, that with the increased focus on having you complete quests, the mystery kind of dissolved into the expanded map. Of course, you’re not going to have the same mystery anyways since you probably played the first Candy Box if you’re playing the sequel, but there you had a stranger and then for some reason a lollipop farm (which makes a return), and then slowly you realized there was more to it. In Candy Box 2, it all seems much more upfront. But I guess you can’t fault it the same way you can’t fault Portal 2 for being the sequel to Portal.

But just the same, I’m still playing Candy Box 2. I can’t help it. It owes nothing to logic or reality and I want to see where it goes. I played Tic-tac-toe with a talking squirrel and fought a monkey wizard. You can’t possibly not be curious after that.

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You Should Probably Play Papers, Please

Papers, Please

In a single moment, I’m flooded with guilt. I shouldn’t have let that man through. Then again, what could I do? He was determined to run and I was behind my booth, a lifted metal shutter and wooden frame between us. But it wasn’t about slipping on my duties after “winning” this position in the national labor lottery. It was about would they blame this one me? I need that money. My family needs that money. I can’t have this on my head, not being able to afford medicine and food and the rent.

Papers, Please, the recently finalized and commercialized version of a beta from Lucas Pope I wrote about a while ago, is capable of making you feel a lot of things, most frequently an immense amount of pressure to perform to keep you and your family happy and alive. But you, as a player, can also find strange joys. You work as an immigration inspector for the communist country of Arstotzka. Specifically, you work in a single, solitary booth at the border town of Grestin following a six-year war with the neighboring country of Kolechia.

You didn’t always, however, dream of becoming an immigration inspector. This is just how the national labor lottery shook out and now you live in a “Class-8 dwelling,” which I suspect is pretty crummy. So now your days are filled with following the incredibly mundane minutia of looking at passports, cross-referencing identification numbers, and asking where the hell your entry visa is. Aside from deciding whether to skip out on food or heat with any given paycheck, the entire game takes place on a triptych view of your work environment: an overview of an endless line of people, your square of visual real estate as those folk come up and drop their documents on your desk, and the area in which you do your work.

Papers, Please

It starts out simple enough. All you have to do is check that the person in front of you has a valid passport from Arstotzka (after you open the shutters and click the bullhorn to call for the next person in line), so keep your rule book out to verify cities and stamp them with a denial or an acceptance. Easy. The next day you have to check for entry tickets, a little scrap of government paper that does little else but hold a date to validate against. But tomorrow, tickets are no longer valid, so you have to check entry permits, which complicate things with matching document numbers and various Ministry of Admission crests.

There is a crinkle, though, in the midst of this bureaucratic nightmare. As the number of things you have to verify before allowing someone to cross the border, you are introduced to the ability to interrogate people. You pinpoint discrepancies with what they give you and what you need, like mismatching names, incorrect genders, missing documents, and then ask what gives. Sometimes they’ll give you a legitimate answer (“that is a nickname”) or they’ll try to bullshit you (“what do you mean ‘expired?'”). You then have to make a judgment call on what is true and what isn’t against what might be right and what isn’t. A woman begs for her life, and you can choose to help or be right.

Being right earns you money. Being wrong will cost you, often in the form of disciplinary citations, but it can also manifest in other ways. As the story mode progresses, certain facets to the narrative will unfold. (Mild spoilers head, but these events happen in the first few days of the game. That’s like the first 20 minutes of a four-plus-hour game.) Early on, some guy will come up with no desire to cross the border but simply wants to tell you this immigration thing is a mistake. Another will make a run for it and throw an explosive at some guards. Then you have to keep an eye out for a wanted criminal. The narrative adds layers that keep you mentally and emotionally engaged.

Papers, Please

It’s these external factors that require subjectivity and additional mental fortitude that turn a meditative experience into one that feels overtly looming. Granted, Arstotzka already feels largely Eastern Bloc (the fantastic title sequence shows the logo marching and stepping to a lovingly oppressive Russian-esque hymn) so the foreign veneer is already in place, but when the decisions you have to make are so nebulous and free to be shaped by your boundless ineptitude, it turns every small action into momentous ones. Every physical movement—from maneuvering and stacking documents to pulling out the stamp tray—is actuated from your end, personalizing each deliberation.

These are small stakes made into mountains. Faceless citizens (figuratively; they do have faces you have to make sure to match to passports) become people when they tell you that they just want to visit their son after six years apart or when they tell you to visit them in their salacious workplace. A guy clearly with debilitating delusions tries to get in with Crayon’d documents. When your job and the gameplay loop you engage with are so uniformly flat, these moments of poignancy stand out so much more. Humor is found every time you detain someone. Pride swells in noticing an otherwise flawless fake.

Pain floods the heart when you can’t feed your family.

I still haven’t finished the game, hence this isn’t a full review, but I can tell you from even just the sliver of this full release and the beta that I’ve played, this is something you should jump on. I just couldn’t wait the extra day to tell you to go buy it and play. A gripping story emerges out of the game in a way you wouldn’t really expect, but an endless amount of satisfaction from the ka-thunk, ka-thunk of denying and approving people can be found in a separate mode as well.

It might also reveal your latent psychosis as you realize that you can completely detach consequence from your actions, but the reminders that this is a world with people who have lives outside of standing in this shuffling line are incredibly subtle. Papers, Please dodges the bullet of being on-the-nose and instead lets you invest as much of yourself as you want into its finely crafted web of cold, callous bureaucracy and suffocating, gray-tinged depression. It asks questions that you’d rather not answer and lets you stew in the results. Your humanity is pushed out by soullessness only to be replaced by psychotic machinations, an understanding of being an inhuman machine processing very real (digital) humans. Papers, Please is something you should not probably but definitely go play. Glory to Arstotzka!

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You Should Probably Play Viscera Cleanup Detail

You Should Probably Play Viscera Cleanup Detail

Aren’t you tired of being a space marine? Aren’t you tired of splattering the walls with blood and guts and coming home at the end of the day with hard-won glory? I know I am. I’m tired of the world resting on my shoulders while a trail of the bits and pieces of the dead that I leave in my wake simply fall behind my step. It’s exhausting having everything depend on you for no discernible reason other than you happen to be a particularly important individual. Master whatnow? Uh, maybe later.

Viscera Cleanup Detail takes that sentiment, whether you actually feel it or not, and amplifies it to the degree at which you end up making a game about it. It is, for the most part, exactly what it sounds like. Here is how the developers at RuneStorm set up their game:

Disaster! An alien invasion and subsequent infestation have decimated this facility. Many lives were lost, the facility was ruined and the aliens were unstoppable. All hope was lost until one survivor found the courage to fight back and put the aliens in their place!
It was a long and horrific battle as the survivor dueled with all manner of horrific life-forms and alien mutations, but our hero won out in the end and destroyed the alien menace! Humanity was saved!

So what do you think happens after that? I mean, there’s still a mess of alien innards lying about all over the ship! Obviously, they clean it up. I’m assuming that far into the future where we could have massively inhabitable spacecraft and possess technology to potentially defeat alien invaders, inflation is a nightmare and payments on this ship are craaaaazy, so you best start swabbin’ the deck because no one else is going to do it.

The mechanics of the game are extremely simple. (At least they are in this alpha build. This Steam Greenlight project is the product of 10 intense days of work with the Unreal Development Kit.) You have a mop that you use to clean up blood on the floors and walls; you have a bucket of water you use to clean off that mop; and you can pick up various things and put them in other things.

To wit, you can pick up pieces of the alien gizzard smorgasbord and put them in a hazardous materials bin and then pick up that bin and put it in the incinerator. Or you can pick up said livers of unknown origin and throw them against the wall for hours on end. But then you have to clean up the blood those flung goodies leave behind. And be careful you don’t spill a dirty (read: bloody) bucket of mop water because then you’ll have to clean that up, too. And don’t forget to pick up all of those bullet casings.

Viscera Cleanup Detail

Sweet Jesus there are so many bullet casings.

And that’s it. I entered it expecting some sort of ambient storytelling device unfolding as you walk around the cavernous halls of this spaceship, but nope! You just clean and clean and clean and clean and…oh god, what am I doing?! The entire experience is so incredibly mundane but doesn’t take any sort of learned skill like when you finally get good at driving in Euro Truck Simulator 2. You can only pick up things and push your mop at things. Seems accurate for a space janitor simulator, though.

It’s that simplicity, however, that really gets the point across. About three minutes in, I mishandled a bucket full of guts and spilled everything back onto the floor. It was just three minutes worth of work, but it was about 20 or so of the same repetitive but just different enough movements to get to that point. I wasn’t angry or depressed or anything. I realized my entire being was filled with absolutely nothing. It was so mind-numbingly boring that I forgot to even care that it was wholly pointless to begin with.

Viscera Cleanup Detail

That may be the whole crux of the game. Cleaning up the mess left behind as a hero collects his innumerable tokens of adoration and misplaced worship is, of course, going to be a worthless endeavor. No one thanks you at the end. There is no finish line to cross. After you finish mopping up all of the blood and collecting all the giblets, you are still just a space janitor, not a hero. In the end, it may be just as necessary, but it is so much more thankless. Probably because everyone is too busy admiring the hero, showering him with money and fine wine and, I dunno, otters in tiny hats.

But not like anyone would thank you anyways.

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You Should Probably Play A Dark Room

You Should Probably Play A Dark Room

Happy Fourth of July! To all of those in the United States, anyways. But everyone should have a great Thursday regardless because I’m here to tell you about A Dark Room. So take a break from shooting off your fireworks or watching hockey (that’s what Canada does every day, right?) and get ready to play an ASCII game on the Internet.

Those five words probably sparked something inside of you. If not interest then surely déjà vu. About two months ago, I (and everyone else on the Internet, it seemed) wrote about a game called Candy Box. It was a funny little game from a single Frenchman about candy. It was based entirely in text and featured ASCII art of a farm, a witch, the Devil, and other things. It was really nothing more than a set of buttons made from pipes and hyphens that allowed you to procure more candy so you could go on more quests and get more stuff.

A Dark Room, the first game from the one-man studio Doublespeak Games, is a little bit like that. Okay, it’s a lot like that. It is also entirely based in text and features some choice ASCII art. It primarily uses the same mechanic of waiting while you collect resources so you can spend it on other things, but it definitely goes a lot deeper.

For me, Candy Box was a lot about leaving it be, coming back to a windfall of candies and lollipops, and spending everything in one fell swoop. It was a bite-sized game, for sure, where I would spend five to 10 minutes at a time trying to figure out what would happen next. Then I would realize that it would take a lot more candies or lollipops to do that next thing, so I would just leave the tab open while I did other things. It was the familiar resource collection and spending mechanic stripped bare and laid out before you and it was strangely addicting.

A Dark Room has a lot more going for it besides a seemingly expertly crafted collection and progression mechanic. For one, it turns into not only resource management but personnel management in the vein of an RTS of some sort. As you collect wood, you’ll eventually be able to build a hut (one among many things you can craft) which in turn will evolve into a village which you can populate with families and stragglers looking for somewhere to nest. Each individual person in your village can be assigned to different tasks as they open up, boosting the speed at which they are completed. They start out just collecting wood and then fur and then, well, you’ll see.

There’s actually a lot to see in A Dark Room. Whereas Candy Box was more or less a cobbled together sequence of whimsy and irreverence, A Dark Room manages to imbue mystery where there should be none. Same as its inspiration, it opens with a single line and a single action, but both are infinitely more portentous. It’s laughable to think that someone would yell at you that you have zero candies, but here there are just questions.

the room is cold.

the fire is dead.

Why is the fire dead? Did I let it go out or is this the way I found it? I guess I’d better light it. Now I have to stoke it? Oh, I get it, I’m heating up this apparently frigid room, an enclosure I picture of cobbled floor and poorly assembled rocky walls. A stranger walks in and I’m running out of wood. So I step out into the night.

the sky is grey and the wind blows relentlessly.

dry brush and dead branches litter the forest floor.

As you can see, A Dark Room is much more narratively enigmatic than Candy Box. It plays out a lot like a Dungeons & Dragons session with the DM reading aloud to you what you see and hear. Eventually you’ll open up quests where you gear up with supplies like water and cured meat (different from regular meat) and weapons and armor. You’ll explore and chart the surrounding areas and begin to unravel just what these things are that keep breaking into your store room, killing your villagers, and setting off your traps. Scales? Teeth? This can’t be good.

But do you know what is? A Dark Room. It’s similar to Candy Box but exposes a different mechanical nerve. They serve vastly different purposes with their gameplay even though they’re both about collecting and spending resources, not to mention more fictitiously more cohesive. Aniwey, the man behind Candy Box, even gives his spiritual progeny a healthy Twitter endorsement, and so do I. Now put down those sparklers and get to playing this weird little text game.

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You Should Probably Play Soundodger

Soundodger

Dancing used to be a whole-body sort of thing. All the way from your head to your toes, the entirety of your being was locked in a compulsive engagement to a rhythm. Whether you looked like a corporeal dream floating across the floor or like someone who missed the point of that episode of Seinfeld, all that mattered was that every inch of you is dedicated to the single task of moving to the music.

Jump to a café with a live band and an America where dancing is frowned upon in any place that isn’t a wedding or an ecstasy-fueled nightclub. It feels almost dystopian in that way where something so natural has been reduced to an regal or illicit affair, so now with this real life musical act in your face, your rhythmic, physical expression of vitality is stuck to hand waving and head bobbing as you sit in a chair. And now when the majority of the world is locked in step toward an inevitable end of working office jobs every single waking hour of the day while your weekends are relegated to suppressing every dream and passion you’ve ever had, no one even has time for that much frivolity.

Enter Soundodger. While that may be a depressing lede into a rather good game, it’s appropriate because it is a further distillation of dancing. Not even much hand waving goes on as it’s really just your mousing hand that moves. Soundodger is a free Flash rhythm game developed by Studio Bean (or rather the one man behind Studio Bean, Michael Molinari) for Adult Swim Games, though it originated during GDC’s 2013 Experimental Gaming Workshop. In it, you move your mouse cursor around a little circular arena as you dodge sound.

Beats and melodies in each song (made by folks like Disasterpeace of Fez soundtrack fame and Lifeformed of Dustforce) are represented by triangles that form around the ring of your navigable area before shooting in towards the center and following out once more. They’ll sometimes fly right through the middle and sometimes they’ll flow around in their own dance, undulating in and out and around as you do nothing more than sit idly by and watch the beautiful Doritos go about their symphonic business. And sometimes they won’t even be triangles.

As you do this and successfully avoid these aggressively mobile shapes, you earn points, and you don’t earn points when you either collide with one or if you click down and hold your mouse button to enter a bullet time mode. The view zooms in ever so slightly and pans around with your movements, giving even the slowed down version of the game a sense of kineticism. Some songs even sound better when you begin to futz around with the electro synth chiptune beat.

The points you get (which are really just a cumulative percentage of successful sound dodging) unlock more songs, but they are further representative of the core tenant of the game, which is to not mess up the song. Feel it, enjoy it, whatever, but the important thing is to not hit the triangles because you will cause the song to skip and hitch and generally sound bad. And it’s almost definitely your fault.

Soundodger

I say that because it never felt like the shapes were necessarily attacking me (save for the diamonds that actively sought out conflict, those bastards). Instead, it felt more like I was within the song and it was my duty to let it spin on. And it’s easy enough to do once you get in the right mindset. Soundodger is definitely less about using your visual acuity and finely tuned reaction time to avoid things as they come and more about feeling the song.

If you play the game right, it feels a lot like dancing. There are no wrong moves in dancing. You don’t even have to move to the beat, but it definitely helps, and that’s what Soundodger is like. The best early example is perhaps “Distant Stars” by Sonic. The early section provides a rigidity that gives you something to musically latch onto, moving in staccato bursts along to a very hard beat. Then whirling circles of triangles flow out to you and encircle you, forcing you move among their little auditory corrals. And after that, dual streams of triangles will come at you, one shooting straight and the other curling back again. They will rapidly fire at this point, urging you along a larger arc of graceful circumnavigation. There’s no wrong way to do all of this, but sticking to the beat is almost mandatory (if you want to make it easier on yourself, anyways).

The difficulty also moves along at a relatively pleasant pace (that’s what the little circles next to track names are for). Whenever you think you’ve got a handle on the game, it will take it up a notch and make you miss such simple times. The problem that arises (though it is also present in the rest of the game) is that when you invariably mess up and hit a note, the game does this record scratch thing where your view twirls and blows up and the song hitches, slows down, and spins back up. It is jarring to say the least and often times leads to subsequent mistakes due to the re-engagement. It’s a real downer.

Soundodger

But for that one thing, Soundodger does so many more things right. It’s no wonder this was all anyone talked about last week. You no longer have to embarrass yourself with sit down dancing let alone real dancing. Now all you need are two ears and a hand. And a mouse, I guess, along with a working computer and Internet connection, but whatever. Soundodger is a fun little game, and for best results, just add dubstep.

Seriously, don’t stop playing until you hit a dubstep song.

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