Steam Sale Snatches!

It’s hard to escape the rush of the Steam Summer Sale. Every year thousands of gamers spend their hard earned cash on digital downloads in the hopes that they’ll find some diamonds in Steam’s mountains of rough. With only $8.00 in my hands, I may have found some hidden gems, but these games are only what you make of them. Enjoy!

Best of Show – FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Sale Price: $2.49
  • Current Price: $9.99

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not just borderline criminal that I’ve slept on this game for five years, it’s an intergalactically recorded hate crime that warrants an entire rebel fleet on my tail in the most faithfully science fiction and brilliantly realized Rogue-ish game on the market. In Faster Than Light, you’re the captain and crew of the Kestrel, or the Torus, or whatever spacecraft you desire as you flee the Rebel fleet with valuable information for the Federation. It’s like playing as the Tantive IV, if Darth Vader was a series of drones, invaders, and hull fires, and Leia Organa was a Starfleet captain. Filled with classic sci-fi set pieces like derelict spaceships brimming with fungus, distress signals from failing space stations, many other lifeforms including mantis and robotic peoples, and more, FTL is a science fiction experience unrivaled even by the likes of No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous. Although minimal on the graphics side of the things, Faster Than Light delivers on great space adventures in a way no other game I’ve played has. If you haven’t heard of this game already, you must be living in the Outer Rim, and at $2.49 it was well worth the purchase price.

Underexposed Nostalgia Trip – Powernaut VANGARDT

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  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $1.99

I managed to find Alex Hall’s little ode to the Gameboy era of punishing platformers while scrolling through the lowest priced games in the Steam Summer Sale. Powernaut VANGARDT takes design, narrative, and visual elements from games as successful as Metroid, Mega Man, and Dark Souls and repackages them into an inconspicuous bundle of raw nostalgia. Spiky enemies, doors to each room, and spaceship bases should immediately remind players of Metroid, but the “lemon” and charged attacks coupled with the difficulty scream Mega Man to me. That’s not to mention the Dark Souls cloned DNA system (with DNA instead of Souls and home ships instead of bonfires) that allows the player to customize their abilities a bit for the road ahead and also helps them make sense of the open world the game is set in. From inputting game save passwords without the help of the keyboard, to nail biting but entirely fair platforming segments that made me die time and again, Powernaut VANGARDT took me many years back to playing Gameboy in my grandmother’s basement. The excited drive that leads to thumbing through cheat booklets for password codes and failing despite their aid rushed back, and I played Powernaut VANGARDT for hours until I beat it’s first boss: a big ol’ spider. P. S. Bring a can of Raid to Skaridurk Woods; you’ll need it.

Arcade Diversion – Handsome Mr. Frog
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(Image credit to Cowboy Color, retrieved by Birb Friends via nVidia GeForce Experience capture)

 

  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $0.99

Handsome Mr. Frog was another bargain bin catch. It’s a Mario Bros. style arcade platformer with a Yoshi/Kirby gulp and spit mechanic that plays quite well with the jumping. To defeat the enemies you can pick up crates or other enemies and spit them towards each other, but the level design is underwhelming and at some points seems downright lazy. Regardless, there’s something undeniably charming about that handsome frog. You can collect hats along the way and there are little items that boost your score (there is a competitive leaderboard) but that’s about all. Handsome Mr. Frog was a cute and enjoyable diversion worth the $0.49 I paid for it, but I don’t think its revolutionary. In fact, most of the games on this list are derivative instead of inventive…

Platforming Meets Lateral Thinking – Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers
  • Sale Price: $0.99
  • Current Price: $9.99

Now this is inventive! Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers has a ridiculous Adventure Time-esque premise with a post-apocalyptic setting and a young inventor searching for his grandfather’s pants. The fun cartoon style doesn’t help the resemblance to Adventure Time and even the handheld gaming simulations felt a little too Beemo to me. Beyond that, the addition of a laser cutting tool to help you make platforms, a rope to pull them, and a rocket to push them means incredible physics/platforming challenges can await! I haven’t played much of the game just yet, but from what I’ve seen it’s at least worth the money I paid and maybe even the standard price! If you love 3D platformers, Adventure Time humor, and you’re looking for a new IP, this might be your game.

Walking Simulators, Now In 2D! – Beeswing
  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $4.99

Beeswing is a walking simulator set in the game designer’s rural home town in Scotland. The whole game is drawn on paper with what appears to be marker that, set against an often foreboding soundtrack, gives the game an uneasy atmosphere. I’ve played about 30 minutes of Beeswing and I still don’t know what to make of it. The conversations that take place in game are more revealing and psychologically angled than most other games which gives them a sort of depth uncommon, or perhaps more often unnoticed, in everyday talk. Walk around the place, read some flavor text, and solve some of the townspeople’s problems. There doesn’t seem to be much else to do! It’s a coming home story not too unlike Night in the Woods, and there’s definitely something to enjoy here for the right people.

What did you think of my finds? What did you buy this Steam Summer Sale? Let me know in the comments below! See you next time, Birbies!

Down The Donut Hole

Arcane Kids Banner
Garbled, interesting, and glitchy in aesthetic, the Arcane Kids’ site has quite the background image. (Image credit to Arcane Kids, retrieved from their official site)

Arcane Kids is an award winning internet gang based in LA… or at least that’s what it says on their website. I’ve been following the gang ever since I stumbled upon a little known and wildly eccentric musical artist who goes by the name bo en. Bo en, known by birth and in the video game composition world as Calum Bowen, released an album entitled Pale Machine through Maltine Records in September of 2013. With an awkward and laughable style that mixed elements of classical composition, trap beats, MIDI sound bytes, sampled video game effects, and heartfelt albeit inexperienced vocals, Pale Machine made me smile and come back to its oddball tracklist time and time again. When I discovered that bo en had commissioned the creation of music video games for his album, I was elated, not the least bit surprised, and ready to play!

You can visit bo en’s official site and play through all of the games expertly crafted for his debut album by clicking on the following links: (intro , miss you , be okay , every day , friend , winter valentine , pale machine , my time). [Sadly, I can’t seem to find “winter valentine’s” game, so if you click its link you’ll be taken right to the music.] Although the whale riding excitement of “my time’s” little game was my favorite experience of the bunch, I mean it is a rather enjoyable song, “pale machine’s” surreal, fully fledged, and painstakingly polished entry drew my attention the most. The creator of that game and the current developer of a new game entitled Donut County is the talented and humbled Ben Esposito (otherwise known for his hilariously absurd Tweets as @torahhorse).

Ben Esposito has been involved in the production of many indie games. Currently, he is working as part of the Giant Sparrow game development company. These folks were responsible for the mechanically intriguing The Unfinished Swan, on which Esposito contributed level design, and are now working on an narrative game filled with deadly vignettes of remembrance entitled What Remains of Edith Finch (set to release in spring of 2017) on which Esposito contributed prototyping and game design consultation. Individually, Esposito is a part of Arcane Kids and helped bring to life many of their most renowned titles. Without the Torah Horse, Room of 1000 Snakes, Bubsy 3D Revisited, Sonic Dreams Collection, CRAP! No One Loves Me, and Perfect Stride (when they finish it) wouldn’t have ever existed! Ben isn’t the only Arcane Kid though.

Tom Astle - my children are beautiful
my children are beautiful pic.twitter.com/mSmkcBemIV – Tom Astle (@thomasastle) January 19, 2017

My introduction to Arcane Kid Tom Astle was a bunch of glitchy, cartoonish, floppy doggos, and I think that’s how it was meant to be. Tattletail, the survival horror escapade about Furby-esque monstrosities and flashlight batteries, was Tom Astle’s introduction for the majority of the internet. A collaboration between Tom Astle, Ben Esposito, and Geneva Hodgson, Tattletail’s cute-turned-uncanny-valley style captivated YouTube audiences and thrust it into a reigning position in public likability on Steam. Comparisons to Five Nights at Freddy’s, however tenuous, bolstered Tattletail’s reputation and fan art is pouring in. Despite all this, I’m far more interested in Tom’s other pet project, Wobbledogs: a virtual pet game of dog breeding, vacuum tubes, and quirky animal behavior.

According to Astle, and thoroughly detailed on his Twitter and YouTube development logs, the dogs of Wobbledogs will be incredibly varied. Inbreeding to achieve drastic results, such as dogs as tall as giraffes, could have unexpected consequences. A dog that’s too tall might not be able to reach its food forcing the player to personally care for the animal. That being said, Astle encourages players to create the dogs of their dreams and chase interesting aesthetics like a dog would chase its tail. This is exactly what creators like bo en, Ben Esposito, Tom Astle, and all the Arcane Kids are doing for games! From music video games and walking simulators to virtual pet simulations, independent development is taking off with or without the consumer. What will you find down the donut hole?

Hey There, Delilah: When Paths Diverge In Yellow Woods

*SPOILERS FOR FIREWATCH AHEAD*

Video games are ultimately defined by their interactivity. If you can’t interact and make choices in a video game, it loses the sense of personal responsibility and power that agency brings to the medium. The impact of those choices isn’t truly of consequence as long as you are allowed to make them. In fact, the deliberate crushing of choice impact is a literary design decision that can relate futility and unimportance to the character’s, and by extension the player’s, struggle. Of all the video games I have played that converge and minimize the impact of choice, Firewatch does so to the fullest extent.

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Welcome to Two Forks Lookout, Henry’s home base for the story of Firewatch. (Image credit to IGN from their review of Firewatch)

Firewatch begins with a startling, humorous, endearing, and empathetic display of immense design skill. Text based responses to candidly written glimpses of life give you all the information you need to decide what you think of the game, and of its central character, Henry. Henry’s actions are controlled by the player, but only to a limited extent. Everything you do, no matter how you do it, is something Henry would have done. This is made abundantly clear by Henry’s specifically fine-tuned and natural response to any given situation. In other games that place emphasis on player choice you might receive a quantitative reward for choosing a certain path, and the rewards and purpose of that path are clearly outlined by broad and generalized moralities. In those games the delivery of dialogue related to the choice made will normally seem out of character or stiff unless you fly by the rules of the developers and pick an extreme. In Firewatch, you receive nothing of that kind; the creators of the experience make it clear that, despite restricting your actions, each choice will mean something in a way that can’t in ordinary games. That being said, gameplay is not drastically improved or changed by your choices, Henry does not develop into a different character based on the purpose of your actions, and in total, the only thing that is changed by your choice is the sound byte you hear and the visual you see. For me, that was far more than enough.

All of my actions as Henry, despite their mundanity and lack of consequence, struck an emotional and intellectual chord within me. Every situation is a question to the player, and the answers you give tell you more about yourself than they ever could about Henry and his boss Delilah. Think of Firewatch as a philosophical work tailored to your personal character, and it will bloom into the glorious flower it truly is. The choice to respond sarcastically to one of Delilah’s comments, to lock your deteriorating wife in her bedroom as you go out drinking, to comment on the wildlife you see in front of you, or to throw some troublemakers’ stereo in the lake, have negligible impact on the narrative and characters in general. Instead, they impact the player themselves on a much more revealing and personal level.

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A look inside Henry’s homey, personalized lookout. (Image credit to Campo Santo from the official Firewatch website)

As for Firewatch’s central gameplay loop; it will seem pretty familiar to anyone who’s played a “walking simulator” style game before. Walk around, press a button assigned to a random task, learn more about a story (normally one you didn’t actually participate in), add flour to thicken plot, lather with shampoo to increase surface tension, then pop bubble. Firewatch goes a step further than this by adding a walkie talkie with a time based restriction that allows you to respond to Delilah’s orders and questions. The timing is relaxed enough that you get to think about your response, but quick enough to make dialogue smooth and realistic. If there is any tool in Firewatch built specifically to increase immersion, the walkie talkie is that tool.

When two paths diverged in a yellow woods, Robert Frost chose, and that’s the most important thing he did. Agency and storytelling are two things I find incredibly interesting and important in the growing video game corpus. If you find them singularly interesting as well, Campo Santo’s Firewatch is definitely worth the price of admission. On a similar note, those who enjoyed Fulbright’s Gone Home or any other “walking simulator” are in for a treat in the Wyoming wilderness. Get lost for awhile… Henry needs it as much as you do.