Diecast #348: E3 Hangover

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 21, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 90 comments

We spend most of the show talking about game demos and trailers. Which means the show notes are going to be a big wall of embedded videos. I realize this isn’t super-useful to those of you who read in an environment where you can’t watch videos, but this is what happens when you do an entire show about three-minute video game commercials.



Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.
Diecast348


Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:00 E3 Wrap-up
E3 is over, but Steam NEXT Fest is still going on. And EA is doing some sort of non-E3 showcase in the next couple of weeks.

This is good. We’re spreading things out. In my ideal setup, the overwhelming and expensive germ-spreading convention would be retired. Instead, each major publisher would just pick a week during the summer to show off their stuff. We’re not quite there yet, but this is a step in the right direction.

02:44 Outer Worlds 2 trailer


Link (YouTube)

03:45 Steam NEXT Fest: Game Demos?
It’s amazing. Finally computers are powerful enough that we can try software before we buy it. If only we could have developed this technology sooner.

05:17 They Always Run


Link (YouTube)

The main character looks like a badass in the trailer, but you’re going to need to practice if you want to pull off those moves.

09:48 Road 96


Link (YouTube)

14:03 Lifeslide


Link (YouTube)

14:32 Nuke Zone


Link (YouTube)

15:24 Industria


Link (YouTube)

The developer makes it clear that the game is inspired by Half-Life 2. In terms of art style, I think they nailed it. The art is incredibly strong.

In terms of gameplay… well, you can tell this is the work of a small team. I played the demo, which is both far too short and yet still managed to show off a lot of general awkwardness. It’s a shame – the art and level design are so good they create unfortunate expectations of AAA quality, which you can’t hope to meet with a small team.

Still, there’s no denying that this is really amazing work.

18:42 Minecraft Dungeons


Link (YouTube)

I can’t say for sure that this game will be a flop, but nobody asked for this. “Hey what if we made a Minecraft-branded game that contains none of the elements that made Minecraft so popular?”

I guess Microsoft wants to justify the billions they paid for Minecraft?

21:58 Minecraft Update
Man, I need to get back into the game. As soon as I’m done with this E3 stuff. And when Steam NEXT Fest is over. And I’m done with my Prey retrospective.

23:12 Dorf Romantik is amazing!
I love this game.

25:52 Hardspace: Shipbreaker
I don’t have anything to add to what we said on the show. I liked this thing in concept, but it’s very difficult to capture the dull grind of a hopeless job without the experience becoming a dull grind in a hopeless job.

37:47 Mailbag: Culture Blind

Dear Diecast,

An interesting reason that some people have unique perspectives on games may be that they were hidden behind a “culture blind”. They were unaware and thus unaffected by the reaction by peers, media, and marketers to the product. They have a self-formed opinion.

In 2011 I was immersed into World of Warcraft so completely that I had no awareness of the wider gaming community. I didn’t know that Mass Effect 2 existed, the Wii U was a touch screen peripheral for the Wii (though this misconception was wider spread), Skyrim brushed against my awareness, and I didn’t know about Dragon Age 2.

When I got around to playing Dragon Age 2 in 2014 I adored it. My two complaints were the consolized combat system which removed the companion tactics queue and the cave aesthetic which got a bit old.

My perspective formed without preconceptions due to my WoW culture blind. When I now read reviews of 2011-2013 games I more often than usual strongly disagree with points made. It makes me think that there is an immense effect exerted upon us by culture and that this effect informs our opinions more than we realize.

Do you have games that you played with minimal preconceptions? How do you think marketing, peers, and reviews alter our opinions?

-Chris P.

49:36 Mailbag: Bethesda Quest Mods

Dear Diecast

Speaking of Bethesda games, have you guys ever tried out Skyrim and Fallout quest mods? If so, which have you played and which was your favorite?

From Donkey

54:15 Mailbag: Virtual Consoles

Hi guys,

While it was no fun for 13Window, erm I mean Shamus to be in the hospital, special shoutout to Paul for the Shamusless diecast ; it was fun & refreshing hearing all your memories about gaming with your SO, made me reminisce about mine :)

– in the last diecast someone mentioned programming for dead consoles ; it made me think, have you tried virtual consoles such as Pico8, and what’s your thoughts on that? I plan on trying it out, because the “philosophy” of having a set of hard limitations… seems kinda… I’d say creatively interesting.

Here is the site for the Pico8. So charming.

1:02:37 Mailbag: Sticking with Bad Games
(Question continued from previous email.)

– Why do you think, a few years ago (I’d say mid-90’s cause i was young and naive), there’s this impression that we (at least, I) bought less games, but played them to death, even not very good games ? and I remember having a good time even if I knew it wasn’t great. I propose a few theories : less games availables, or media was still evolving (we didn’t knew better), or we were less spoiled so less demanding, or is it rose-tinted nostalgia blurring our vision ?

Take care everyone !

Cheers

Earlack

 


From The Archives:
 

90 thoughts on “Diecast #348: E3 Hangover

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    Mojang only the released the first part of the “Caves and Cliffs” update of Minecraft, specifically the “cliffs”.

    1. bobbert says:

      So, there is hope that they will fix the bug, that you can eat sheep but not goats?

    2. You can play the second half of the update (at least as it is so far) with a datapack they released. I’m running it on my server. It’s by far the most important update to Minecraft in years, increasing not just the build height but the depth of the world (it now goes down to -64) and gives us much bigger caves.

      I’ve been really disappointed in most of the new updates (Bees? Really?), but making the world deeper was worth restarting my server for. It does annoy me that they delayed the full update so that we could get… goats. *sigh*

  2. Henson says:

    Nothing to put a smile on my face like an unexpected Star Trek reference! I admire your gall.

  3. ydant says:

    Minecraft Dungeons was a surprisingly fun couch co-op game for the family. Dungeons nailed just the right of complexity to have four people comfortable waiting turns while one manages inventory and decide on upgrades or shopping. The controls are just complicated enough to work on a single joycon. The crawls are just the right amount of exploration and challenge. It worked pretty well overall.

    It inspired us to play Diablo III after, and that… was not fun. Hours of inventory management, and spell/skill decisions. And way too many controls for the single joycon.

    So there’s a place for Minecraft Dungeons, if only on the switch in 4 player couch co-op.

    But it has NOTHING to do with Minecraft other than some art and mild “story” connections. Definitely a cash-grab tie-in that was surprisingly decent.

    1. Fizban says:

      I saw this game come up enough times on LRR that I thought it had been out for ages, but I guess that was all early access?

      The part that bugged me is being an rpg with no character, from what I could tell. All the skills and abilities are parts of items, which are random loot. There is no constant character behind the items, and thus the items are not items: it’s a game where your character is made by picking abilities from a randomly generated list that refreshes one line at a time as you go.

      I was kinda interested at first, but once I realized that, I checked out completely. The narrowed scope is probably perfect for group play, but since I wouldn’t be playing in a group, there’s no way it would hold my interest. And even in a group, having to luck into a set of items that work together or keep on or more underleveled for synergy is not how I want to progress (it held me back in Wizard of Legend for quite a while until I got the hang of how to work its systems).

      1. ydant says:

        I have no idea the context for why this video is linked in the diecast notes – haven’t listened yet. But we played through this on Switch during the pandemic lockdown, so it’s not new by any means.

        Sounds like you assessed it correctly.

        Minecraft Dungeons is ultimately (at least the way my family experienced it) all fluff. It’s just a couch-co-op party game that pretends to be RPG, but only barely.

        It’s not really a Diablo clone, because the loot cycle is much less enticing. The number of items to choose from is very minimal. After a few rounds we all had pretty much picked out our builds and didn’t get excited by new equipment. After not much longer we’d seen every single equipment item there was.

        Fun for the family, but would be pretty boring for me playing solo.

  4. Philadelphus says:

    Paul, were you talking about Trigon Space Story? It looks like 3D FTL with prettier graphics and has a demo out for Steam Next Fest. I tried it out and was rather disappointed, sadly. I’m all for additional FTL-likes coming out given how much I adore the original, but in this case the “improved” graphics serve only to muddy the presentation and makes things harder to see and differentiate—it made me appreciate FTL’s minimalism and clear graphics a lot more.

  5. tmtvl says:

    Man, I need to get back into the game.

    Well with Tinkers’ having been ported to 1.16, you can finally enjoy your favourite mod with the benefits of modern MC. And if you want with the Create mod (or as I like to call it, Conveyors & Cogwheels).

  6. Joshua says:

    I certainly found it true that we stuck with games MUCH, MUCH longer in the 80s and 90s than we would deal with today. One might only have a few games for their system because they were more expensive in relative dollars than games today, and I was much younger with less discretionary money. I remember as soon as I started playing some of the games available on the original Nintendo and SNES via my Switch Nintendo Online, my tolerance was about 5 minutes before I decided whether I continued playing or gave up completely on games. Compared to back in the day where you might sink hours and hours into a game you didn’t particularly enjoy that much because it was what you had and it cost so much of your funds.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      In the 90s, I stuck with games so long because the internet was still pretty new, and there were so few demos to try out. Once I got a game I enjoyed, it’d be what I was playing for months, even replaying it if I managed to beat it. Now as an adult, I just replay the same indie games over and over, which sort of averages out with all the games I play through once, or which never actually hook me. :)

      1. John says:

        As of the late 90s, and likely earlier, there were plenty of demos. The trick was that they came from demo discs rather than the nascent internet. Demo discs in turn came from magazines, shareware distributors, or semi-sketchy CD vendors at computer shows. If you were sufficiently young or otherwise unacquainted with what passed for computing or gaming culture at the time, however, you could easily have missed it.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Yeah I was a kid in the 90s, so I had to get magazines at birthdays or the rare times we went shopping and my dad stopped in at the Radio shack or other place that had electronics / computer stuff. 2000s is when I started having disposable income.

          1. John says:

            I got my demos from sketchy CD vendors. Or, strictly speaking, my father did. Some time around 1996 or 1997, he went through a brief goes-to-computer-shows phase. To the best of my recollection, the only thing he ever bought at one was a big ol’ disc of demos, which included demos for Tie Fighter, Warcraft, Hardball, Lucas Arts’ Outlaws and I don’t even know what else. I shudder to think what viruses may have been on that disc, but the demos were a blast.

    2. Geebs says:

      I saved up for weeks to get a copy of Super SWIV, and I’m pretty certain I finished it on either the second or the third try.

    3. Shufflecat says:

      For me it was the PS2-era (late 90s to early 00s), but my experience was similar. I’d usually try games by renting them first, but would occasionally also go rummaging for random interesting stuff in the 10$ range at the local used game places. I’d be hard pressed to name more than maybe 2 games I payed more than 15$ for in that time period, and IIRC only 1 I purchased new at full price (Silent Hill 3).

      Despite the PS2 being famous for its library, finding new good games in my price range was not as convenient as it is today on PC, so ones that were good enough to buy I replayed A LOT. I could not even tell you how many times I replayed the Silent Hill 2-4, the Ratchet and Clank games, Killzone 1, MGS 2&3, Shadow of the Colossus, RE 4, Tenchu 3-4, etc. Even some rare odd-but-interesting stuff like “Echo Night: Beyond”.

      But these days it’s super rare for me to play a game more than once. Maybe twice at most. Not because I don’t like them as much, but because it’s always immediately easy to move on to a new game (as in “new to me”, not “new to market”), whereas back then finding a new game was a once-in-a-few-months treat I had to dig for. The list of PC games I’ve replayed as much as my old PS2 games is very, very small.

      I still buy my games primarily in the 10-15$ range. Never new releases: always wait a year or more for prices to come down and/or a good sale. And I don’t even buy more frequently, I think. And though I do tend to buy more than one at once during sales, I only buy 2-3 rather than loading up like others seem to. But even with that, there’s just so much to choose from when I want to play. Even if there’s nothing interesting on Steam ATM, It’s always easy to find a new handful of jank-but-facinating somethings for free on Itch.

    4. Zekiel says:

      I remember reading an article in the psychology of games that said that the more you pay for a game, the more likely you are to stick with it longer and enjoy it!

      And this fits – 20 years ago I had a less disposable income and game sale prices were nowhere near what they can be today, since digital distribution didn’t exist. I remember putting hundreds of hours into Starcraft, Red Alert and Doom 2 because I couldn’t afford to buy anything new.

  7. Moridin says:

    Fallout New Vegas (and Fallout 3) has a number of quest mods that I would consider to be pretty good, like Someguy-series (if you don’t mind all the swearing, at least) and Autumn Leaves. On the other hand there are also a lot that I don’t like, and those include some of the most popular ones like Fallout New California and For the Enclave (FNC is visually very impressive – considering that it’s on the same engine as New Vegas – but otherwise I found it lacking, and a lot of For the Enclave just feels half-assed – there are some cool ideas, but on the other hand you can just waltz into a heavily fortified bunker without anyone lifting a finger, and as soon as you say that you’re willing to sign up, you’re handed an extremely valuable suit of power armor – I mean, if the enclave can afford to do that, they should be dominating Mojave already – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

    Fallout 4 quest mods seem much less attractive to me (although I have to admit that I haven’t actually tried any of them except Fourville) for some reason – probably because the kind of person who would write a quest mod I’d enjoy is unlikely to spend a lot of effort on Fallout 4. I don’t have first hand knowledge, but from what I gather Skyrim has some pretty good quest mods as well.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      I think the reason why there are significantly less Fallout 4 quest mods than Skyrim is because of the dialogue system and voiced protagonist.
      Skyrim has a fuck ton of quest mods that could easily sustain infinite replayability and its great how Bethesda is striding to make them playable on consoles (or specifically just Xbox because Sony doesn’t like modding or crossplay) and even VR. I would specifically recommend The Forgotten City, which has a really novel mechanic.

  8. Dreadjaws says:

    I’ve been trying a bunch of demos from the Steam Fest thing, and I’ve already put a lot of those game on my wishlist, including They Always Run, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Only a few of these demos have disappointed me (disclaimer: I’ve only downloaded games that called my attention, I’m not trying them all). One game had a very misleading description, which bummed me, because had it been what it said it would have been fantastic. Another one was good, but incredibly buggy. Yet another one was pretty and with interesting gameplay, but the dialogue and storytelling were just awful, which was a problem because it was a very dialogue heavy game.

    Now, I know for a fact that a couple of these games I’m getting on launch day. Others will likely end up waiting for a discount (unless they all launch very cheap, but I doubt it) or until they eventually show up on the Switch, where I’m far more likely to buy them. The major positive thing about having demos is that they won’t end up rotting in my wishlist like many others do, where I resist to buy them even at high discounts because interesting as they might seem I’m still doubtful of games I didn’t get to try.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yet another one was pretty and with interesting gameplay, but the dialogue and storytelling were just awful, which was a problem because it was a very dialogue heavy game.

      Are you talking about Lake? Because this was exactly my experience with Lake.

  9. Lino says:

    I haven’t had the time to check out Steam Fest, but these new “demo” things sound wild! And you know what crazy idea I just had? What if gaming sites incorporated them as part of their value offering? Maybe each month they could do some kind of premium physical edition of their website – maybe made out of paper? – where they have all the important industry news from the month, along with some reviews. A paper-website-exceprt, if you will.

    And to entice people to buy it, they could include some game demos! Now, I know what you’re thinking – “You can’t include game demos in a paper website excerpt!”, but maybe they could put the demos in some kind of physical data carrier. But what kind of data carrier could they use? Well, I once read that in the early 20th century the music industry used to put music on circular, discus-shaped objects. If we could make them small enough, maybe we could include them with the premium paper-website-exceprts?

    1. pseudonym says:

      I know just the thing! A magnetical flimsy disk encased in soft plastic. That won’t degrade inside a paper-website-excerpt! We can call them “flimsies” as a short-hand.

  10. RamblePak64 says:

    I can’t say for sure that this game will be a flop, but nobody asked for this. “Hey what if we made a Minecraft-branded game that contains none of the elements that made Minecraft so popular?”

    I guess Microsoft wants to justify the billions they paid for Minecraft?

    I don’t think it’s so much what people “asked for” so much as Microsoft spreading Minecraft out into a brand rather than a specific game type. You already saw this with the Telltale game, and honestly, it’s a move that makes sense if you look at how little kids absorb Minecraft content. My niece regularly looks up videos not just of people streaming their antics in Minecraft, but people creating their own fictional stories in Minecraft with set characters and everything. I’ve watched Steve play both the Telltale Minecraft game with his three sons as well as Minecraft Dungeons, as well as watching his three sons play Dungeons together.

    If you’re an adult, or perhaps were a child when Minecraft first released but were a teenager or adult by time all the additional materials and YouTube content emerged, then it makes sense to look at this and ask “What does this have to do with building things?” But – and perhaps Telltale started it, or perhaps Telltale’s games were a response to what fans were already doing – there are a lot of kids that view Minecraft as a place where story and lore can happen. So, even though Microsoft could probably try to get Rare to make a family friendly property in that vein, well… I mean, look at Sea of Thieves, right? It’s got an audience, but it’s not the recognizable IP that Minecraft is.

    To that end they’re taking a bit of a Nintendo approach. See all the genres they shove Mario in? Or how Kirby is sort of a “baby’s first character-action platformer”? That’s what Microsoft is doing with Minecraft Dungeons, a family-friendly hack-and-slash looter that takes place in a universe that a lot of kids are familiar and comfortable with. Does it have anything to do with the mechanics of the original Minecraft? No, but since when does something like that bother a kid?

    Regarding replaying bad games, this is an odd one because several years ago I began to reflect on how often I’d replay games as a kid and teenager due to limited funds, and how that allowed me to better appreciate and understand a game’s mechanics as I got older and wanted to get into game design. In our family, you usually only got new games on Christmas and birthdays, and maybe got something used or from the bargain bin when they were cheap enough (so when the local rental shop was trying to clear out used NES games, for example). That, or we borrowed from friends.

    Perhaps it’s because I was gaming on SNES? I dunno, I feel like PC gaming was …experimental, maybe? There’s a refinement that Nintendo had on the NES that’s basically “pre-Valve”. I wish I could find the interview, but I recall some developers from Rare talking about how Nintendo demanded that the developer themselves must be able to beat a game without using cheat codes, which is something a lot of developers didn’t bother with at the time. Combine that sort of approach to usability/playability with the restrictions of a controller and its limited inputs, and your approach to game design is different than PC developers fine with making spreadsheets and mapping distinct actions to every key on the keyboard (see: why I hard passed on playing System Shock 2 maybe five or so years ago). So when you talk about “bad games”, I feel like the Super Nintendo, where most of my formative gaming years were spent, was shielded from a lot of bad games by nature of playing a lot of the great titles by Nintendo, Capcom, and Squaresoft (and maybe now it makes sense why those are certainly the companies I’d be paying attention to at E3).

    Perhaps the worst games I can recall us playing were on the NES, with titles like Golgo 13 (though that was more my brother) and the NES version of Jeopardy and Monopoly. Neither were bad in a traditional sense, but they weren’t good either. Otherwise, the only thing that comes to mind is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, which I don’t know if my friend and I played because we liked it or thought it was good. I think we both recognized it as being kind of bad, but there was entertainment to be found in torturing this thing they called Pac-Man in name only.

    I ended up playing more “bad games” as I got older, both as a result of wanting to be a game designer and a games writer/critic. Sometimes these were for reviews or previews for websites I had taken a part-time gig with, sometimes it was just stubbornness. Now, though, I just don’t have that kind of time. I just wish I had better judgment. Maneater? Not a bad game, but not enjoyable enough for me to have been worth the cash. The recently released Necromunda: Hired Gun? Eh, already uninstalled it. The one thing I want to go back to is picking something up I loved and playing through it again because I was in love with it.

    Perhaps that’s the real advantage of youth. No matter how many games you had, the analysis paralysis couldn’t compare to today’s Steam or console libraries. During those summer vacations I’d just pop in SNES cart after SNES cart, playing the first 20-30 minutes of a game until one of ’em stuck. Sure, I had beaten all of them before, but sometimes you just needed to figure out what you were in the mood for and go from there.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I get expanding an existing character or world into new genres, but…what percentage of games like this are actually any good? The Minecraft RPG from last year was apparently pretty bad, and I’m reminded here of Lemmings: Paintball. Yes, that existed, and was absolutely terrible in both single-player and multi-player modes. ^^;

      1. Geebs says:

        I’ve never played it, but I can imagine what Lemmings paintball must have been like. You’d have lots of players in one level full of environmental hazards, splitting their time between building structures and shooting at each other until there was only one player left….

        Nah, it’d never catch on.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          You joke, but the difference between Lemmings and Fortnite is that you controlled an entire team of little guys, instead of having one character that you controlled with any precision. They made a top-down shooty game that was more like an RTS-lite, than a simplified FPS. (Plus, no building mechanics; Just environmental hazards.)

      2. RamblePak64 says:

        When you say “The Minecraft RPG last year”, are you talking about Dungeons? Because it did release last year, and its quality is largely going to depend on who you speak to. There’s a reason I never sat down to play it with my buddy Steve, and he and I play games like Destiny or Gears when we do co-op. We’re adults that have been playing games for a very long time and therefore Minecraft is not for the two of us to play. But as a father, he finds it an enjoyable experience to play with his children, who have enough fun playing it to enjoy it themselves.

        And while one can beg the question of whether a child has good taste or not, they have rejected games that are genuinely bad.

        So if your impressions on the game are from adults without children comparing it to Diablo, well, no duh, of course it’s going to sound bad. But they’re also not the target demographic. Again, you have to consider the zeitgeist and playerbase of this thing.

        Your example with Lemmings: Paintball doesn’t really map over because Lemmings was never a big household name. It was one game that had an audience, certainly, but it wasn’t something pop cultural like Mario has been and Minecraft is now. That’s why I made the Mario comparison. “Who would make a racing game with Mario?!” Nintendo would, and it is regularly one of their best, if not their best, selling games for every platform because it’s really good. “What? A fighting game with all of Nintendo’s characters? That would never work! How are you going to pit a plumber against a space bounty hunter and a fantasy swordsman?” Oh, friend, they made it work and then some.

        The problem with most genre blends is that they’re either developed in a very trend-chasing manner or aren’t developed by an appropriate team, or so on and so forth. It doesn’t mean it can’t work, and it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t work more often. At the same time, you need the right property to make it work well, and while to Shamus it seems like Minecraft is a game about building and creative expression, to a huge population of its audience, it’s a lot more vague than that. It turns out that huge population is very profitable.

        So expect to see Minecraft swapped out to different genres and game types more regularly.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Yeah, my impressions of Minecraft Dungeons was from Jim Sterling, which is definitely part of the non-target audience, as you point out. (Adults who care about high-quality gameplay, and/or who associate Minecraft with…crafting gameplay.) As for the perceived quality or lack thereof, I’d note that a low-quality game is much more easily replaced than one which has compelling gameplay, story, etc. If Minecraft games only aim for mediocre gameplay, and the actual identity of the game is only a vague “I can make my own stories with this game”, what’s actually keeping these kids loyal to this franchise?

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            You’d have to ask them. I’ve only dabbled in Minecraft, and while there’s something tranquil about it, I’m also not quite certain what made it the phenomenon it is.

    2. MerryWeathers says:

      I remember Microsoft saying they wanted Minecraft to be a one hundred year brand.

  11. Paul Spooner says:

    Just wanted to correct my statement that there was no procgen in Minecraft Dungeons. Turns out there is SOME, but a lot of it is still hand-made static content.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Is it like Torchlight, where you have lots of little hand-made setpieces that get procedurally generated into levels? (So the level overall is random, but you’ll start to recognize combinations of features in small areas over time…)

      1. ydant says:

        That does seem to be the case. It’s definitely got a lot of repeated features. But you can re-play a given level and it’s arranged differently and with different amounts of secrets, hidden areas, underground areas, etc.

  12. DeadlyDark says:

    Not a bethesda game, but fan-missions / campaigns for Thief games. From the ones I played, I actually found them pretty decent, on the story and voice acting departments

  13. kikito says:

    Pico-8 is deliciously limited. It has:

    * A 128×128 screen
    * 16 colors
    * 128 8×8 sprites
    * A 128×128 2d tilemap (some of its memory shared with the sprites!)
    * 8 sound instruments
    * 4 sound channels
    * 64 sound patterns for making melodies and sfx (a sfx is a very fast melody)

    In addition to that, it has a built-in editor, which allows you to code the games, in Lua (a dialect of Lua, with some extra functions and some missing ones).

    Because of the screen limits, this means that the main editor has a line width of 32 characters per line. If you thought 80 chars per line was hard, you are in for a surprise! The console also limits the length of your programs. They are limited to 8k “tokens”. Tokens are not bytes, but “Lua entities”, like comments.

    An unexpected consequence of all these limits: the trigonometric functions are different. Sin and Cos return a number in the 0..1 range instead of in the 0..2Pi range. I found this weird, at first. But I must admit it saves tokens when actually using them. You can do a lot of trigonometry without having to multiply by Pi.

    If you are curious, I encourage you to give it a try.

    1. Boobah says:

      I’d really like to know how you build a right triangle with a hypotenuse that is more than six times smaller than either of the other sides. Because in cartesian space, sine and cosine always return a number from -1 to 1. The input is, effectively, 0 to 2pi (if you’re measuring in radians.)

      Maybe lua’s cos and sin functions are really weird and start with the ratio and return an angle? I don’t know, but it certainly isn’t the standard terminology.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        This is PICO-8 specific. Lua doesn’t do anything weird here. From the PICO-8 manual, the input is 0-1, with 1 being 360 degrees or 2pi radians.

        1. tmtvl says:

          So the input is in tau? That is a pretty nice unit to work with.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            Thanks for the reminder, I just realized Tau Day is coming up in 5 days!

  14. Lino says:

    Regarding Steam Fest, I haven’t really had time to check out any of the demos. However, based on what Shamus said, I’m definitely buying They Always Run. Also, yay for Industria! Finally, the boomer shooter trend has hit Half-Life! I repeat, it has hit Half-Life! Don’t get me wrong, I loved Amid Evil, Dusk, et all. But there was always something missing. For a while, I thought it was just my nostalgia for Half-Life and Half-Life 2. After all, I have immensely fond memories of those games.

    But what I discovered while I was playing Project Warlock and Ion Fury was that I really, really want some more story in my shooters. And in a way that the likes of Ubisoft and Call of Duty simply can’t provide. But Industria definitely seems to fit the bill. My only real problem with it is the enemies. Don’t get me wrong, I hate evil robots as much as the next guy, but I like shooting at things that actually bleed.*

    Regarding cultural blinds, man is that an interesting topic! I’ve got quite a few games (and movies!) that definitely fit the bill. Gaming-wise, my most notable example is Sonic Adventure, on PC. By far one of the most reviled games in the entire franchise, yet it’s one of my all-time favourite games. Why? Well, most people’s experience with Sonic are the quaint 2D platformers from the ’90s. To them, Sonic Adventure was an awkward, buggy 3D platformer that shoehorned in Sonic’s annoying and unneded sidekicks.

    But that was never my experience with the franchise. My first exposure was a TV show. It’s one of the animated incarnations of the character that no one on the Internet seems to talk about (it’s the one where one of the human characters is a racer in something like Formula 1, and he’s sore that Sonic’s faster than him). And I never really liked Sonic. My favourite character was Knuckles. And why wouldn’t he be?! Not only was Sonic blue (the LAMEST colour), but he had a boring superpower. All he could do was run really fast. Whereas Knuckles was red (not a great colour, I’ll admit, but certainly cooler than blue!), and HIS superpower was that he could punch things really hard! Which seemed infinitely more useful when it came to destroying evil robots. And on top of that, HE HAD SPIKES ON HIS KNUCKLES! How cool was that?

    So I was extremely excited that I got to play as Knuckles (even though I had to unlock him by playing as Sonic and Tails first). And the game had another thing that blew me away, and that I had never seen before.

    And that was the story. I loved how every character had their own special story, and view of the overarching narrative. You got to play through the same boss fight, but viewed from a different point of view. And I thought that was incredible! I even liked the much-hated fishing portion of the game, because I played that right after the section with the robot (which was AWESOME – you got to shoot up the sections you previously had to cautuously navigate with the other characters), so I gladly welcomed the change of pace.

    Yes, there was the occasional bug, but that was to be expected with PC ports at the time. Same thing with keyboard controls – I was used to having the Options menu display the only the controls for the controller, and having to find out for myself what that mapped to for the keyboard.

    There are a couple of other games like that, but I don’t think they are as unconventional (most of those games are kind of obscure, anyway). And this post is long enough as it is :D

    *My God, that sounds horrible! Am I a bad person? Maybe games really do cause violence….

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      As someone that was never big on Sonic and finds the fandom both fascinating and baffling from the outside looking in, I can say that Sonic Adventure does have fans that unironically love it. The problem is that it’s also where you get a sort of divide of the fandom. There are 2D purists that don’t care for or absolutely loathe the 3D, then there are those that didn’t play Sonic games until they were 3D and therefore that defined the games for them. They usually do not care for or loathe the 2D games, but they certainly take umbrage with the 2D puritans. Then there’s the blend, that like anything just because it says “Sonic” (notable exception: Sonic ’06, which has very, very few apologists, though there are that do try and argue for its potential).

      As for me, I never really found the games all that great in either 2D or 3D, so it’s the most bizarre passionate fandom I can possibly think of. But God bless ’em, you can’t help but admire the constant optimism that maybe, just maybe, the next one will be truly great (at least as great as whatever their favorite entry was).

      1. Rho says:

        That reminds me of the divide in Fallout. Fans that first encountered the game in 2D form have very different expectations from the 3D-fans. What I find odd is how many people have created analyses that begin by say something like “I never played the original two games and won’t try them now…”

        You’d think people who frequently make cash money by making in-depth videos about games might try them. Its like watching people analyze West Side Story while handwaving the idea of reading Shakespeare. The older work just might have some bearing on the new.

        Edit: To clarify, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy something that hit you at the right time in life, justthat thinking about or appreciating as an adult can benefit from some perspective over raw nostalgia.

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          You kind of hit on why I don’t really trust the modern crop of YouTube’s “deep dive” analyses. I’ve watched enough videos where, five minutes in, I’ve racked up a ton of questions regarding the thought process behind the guy’s complaints or compliments. I know I should watch to the end of the video, but I should at least be able to follow along enough that I’m not actively punching holes in the arguments 1/4th to 1/10th of the way through.

          Or if they’re Joseph Anderson, I stop watching ten minutes in when it’s clear the guy needs to read a bunch of books on how to edit your work down to just the essentials (and I’d feel hypocritical making that statement if I ever made videos as long as him as frequently as he did).

          It’s a shame because I could really use some new channels filled with deep dive analysis to watch, but every Reddit that claims to be about this very thing feels like a bunch of folks that watched Game Maker’s Toolkit or something and thought “hey, I can do that to” without ever having that inkling to dig deep into a game and ask themselves “Why do I like this” before they saw others doing it on YouTube.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          I sort of liken this type of stuff to comic books – there’s so many works in many franchises, that arguing over the goals of earlier or later works is somewhat fruitless. There’s no way to contain the fiction to some narrow genres, levels of grittiness or angst, etc. What’d really help, is better tools to search specifically for the games in a franchise that meet the specific requirements any one person is looking for. Which is what big, annotated lists on Wikipedia is for, I suppose. :)

        3. Syal says:

          Its like watching people analyze West Side Story while handwaving the idea of reading Shakespeare.

          You mean Matteo Bandello.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        I think the 2D Sonic games had some of the same problems as the 3D ones, but they were less severe because of the simplified environment. Namely, moving really fast with a limited view – that doesn’t work too well. Our family didn’t have the disposable income to buy a brand new game console back in the day, so I first played the Sonic games about 5-10 years after their initial release. Moving around in those games always felt like a game of pinball[1], even on the non-pinball levels – all speed and blinking lights, with little control over where I was going. :)

        [1] Critically, without the (usually) global view of the environment, which makes actual pinball a manageable game.

  15. Echo Tango says:

    So like, I don’t really get fantasy consoles. Like, if you want to make games which look like a Commodore 64, but have more text than could have ever fit onto a casette tape, or if you want something that has tonnes of lighting effects but fits onto an 8-inch floppy – why not just make that game? I mean, that’s effectively what Fez and Devil Daggers are, respectively. Maybe it’s because I’ve always played indie games, which aren’t following the pack, or the specific hardware requirements of the day? I can understand wanting to get away from the extra complexity of modern development – trying to stitch together different libraries or frameworks can be a headache sometimes, let alone when you need something from different languages. Even with that, modern tools are still pretty usable, IMO. :)

    1. kikito says:

      The picture editor from Pico-8 distills it very well for me.

      16 colors. 8×8 sprites. Create something. Bam! It is done.

      Now try the same with a more modern approach. Open Photoshop, or Blender, and try to create a game asset. It is daunting!

      Adding limits makes the process … liberating. You don’t have to think about a lot of meaningless decisions.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        You can already set image size and palette limits in most image editors. (Plus there’s dedicated editors just for sprites and sprite-sheets.)

  16. The Rocketeer says:

    At long last, my plan to tacitly lure Paul into having a disappointing time with a sketchy Early Access game has come to its fruition. That’ll learn him. I actually have complicated thoughts about Hardship: Spacebreaker, but it will have to wait till I’m off work.

    As to playing or writing from a “cultural blind,” I feel like this is almost always the case for me, whether I intend it or not— and it is intentional in at least some cases. My brother helpfully describes my taste in games as “eclectic and fucking picky.” I don’t have a strong expectation that other people’s takes on games will be useful to me as consumer advice, and I’m really more in the market for reasons to not spend more time and money on games. In a truly breathtaking display of hypocrisy, I have little interest in reading more abstract criticism or analysis of games and I rarely give anything longer than a couple paragraphs a brief skim. Along with my long-collapsed interest in the professional gaming commentariat, I don’t get a lot of value from skimming a crowd of comments. Instead, I love talking or chatting in real time about games with people I know to at least some degree or while playing together with someone. But I don’t use Discord, Twitch, or basically any social media, rarely play multi-player games, and my real-life friends don’t play video games, so this basically never happens.

    For these and whatever other reasons (probably more for other reasons, tbh), it often seems that even when I like or dislike the same games that everyone else seems to, it’s often for reasons that seem very different from what others express about them. It’s not really possible to express awareness of this phenomenon without sounding like I am the most special-est of snowflakes, philosopher-hegemon of a creedal minority of one, and the sole wanderer beyond the whistling mouth of Plato’s cave, so in the interest of not making myself throw up with embarrassment I’ll just stop. Instead, I’d like to say that if Narratorway/Neil Polenske doesn’t read or post here anymore it’s a shame, because I did enjoy his perspective and because I never got to express my deep contrition for, at least twice, basically cornering him and endlessly venting my frustrations not only with two or three different games but of the deep disconnect I’ve felt with what seems to have settled as those games’ popular/critical legacies. One of which happened to be one of his very favorite games. Uh, sorry about that!

    On the other hand, in the exceedingly rare case that I intuit I’ll want to get deeper into a game or, Heaven forbid, write about it at all, I do tend to actively avoid other opinions about it, rather than passively avoiding them. This isn’t so much for some general reverence for a pure, unspoiled opinion or anything, but more just a general personal wariness that playing or writing with other reception or opinions on my mind tends to channel my thinking along unproductive lines. I could flesh that out a little more, but… I’m actually in this mode right now, so… later. Maybe.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I don’t think you’re really any kind of ‘special snowflake’, it’s just that many games only target the broadest, least discerning demographics. Like, it sort of puts you into the same sort of area as a “film snob” or similar, but you don’t seem to display any arrogance which would make that term appropriate. In a world that seems to be ambling towards real-life Idiocracy, I don’t think “person who wants actual quality in their entertainment” is really anything to be ashamed of! :)

  17. John says:

    The older I get, the narrower my taste in games becomes. I’ve reached the point now where my preferred genre is best summarized as “Linux-native games that will run on my inexpensive notebook PC”. Fortunately, there are more of those than you might expect. Here are brief descriptions of the Steam Next Fest demos I’ve been playing.

    Death Trash

    I’m not quite sure whether this is an action RPG or not. It seems a little slow for that. And there’s enough talking that I think it might just be a regular RPG. But whatever it is, Death Trash is not for me. The pixel art is impressive, but the content of the pixel art–meat, viscera, vomit, etc.–does not bring me joy. I made it through the tutorial, talked to the Flesh Kraken, and got killed by zombies. Then I uninstalled it.

    Fantasy Town Regional Manager

    I wanted to like this one, but I don’t. The graphics are cute. The newspaper that pops up between turns is humorous. The gameplay, alas, is dry as dust. In Fantasy Town Regional Manager you play as . . . I’ll just let you guess. Your job is to build buildings. Some buildings attract adventurers to your town. Other buildings keep them happy. Still others generate income so that you can plop down more buildings on subsequent turns. You want the right combination of buildings in order to keep some sort of “threat” meter full (or possibly empty) lest you lose the game. Unfortunately, none of the adventurers that live in your town ever actually appear on screen. I don’t think that they’re individually modeled or simulated. They’re not so much characters as they are resource stockpiles. The whole design is thoroughly boardgame-y and if the developers are going to stick with these mechanics then they should probably change the UI to reflect that.

    Farlanders

    It’s yet another colonizing Mars game! Farlanders looks and plays like a city builder, but I think it’s not-so-secretly a puzzle game. You’ve got to build housing, factories, farms, power stations, water-pumping stations, and so forth, and connect them all with power cables, water pipes, and transportation tunnels. The puzzle elements come in to play in the form of the heavily randomized maps and terraforming abilities. Every so many turns you’ll get to choose from one of three or so randomly selected terraforming options. I’m not sure how to describe them. You might for example get the option to add an ice source to the map, with the restriction that the ice source has to lie between a mountain and a canyon. You might also get the option to dynamite a terrain feature provided that you also “smooth” certain adjacent and semi-adjacent tiles. Farlanders scenarios are hard, but they’re also small and short–at least the two that I’ve played so far are–and I like that a lot. I’m going to hang on to the demo for a whle and the game proper is going on my wishlist.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Colonizing/terraforming Mars games seems to be an upcoming popular genre; I’ve already played three other demos from Steam Next Fest on the subject! The only one I really liked was Terraformers, which is like a turn-based card-based city-builder with puzzle and exploration aspects too. Each turn you get a choice of “projects” (buildings), only one of which you can choose, and which can be built in cities on pre-made layouts of nodes which can force interesting choices about where to put things for adjacency bonuses. On the planet level you’ll also be exploring the planet, uncovering resource deposits, and slowly growing your population and expanding control over areas to harness their resources. The demo ends after 30 turns, but I’d barely gotten to the terraforming aspect (beyond seeing a few related buildings appear in my choices), so I expect it’ll go a lot longer in the full game. It’s also got pretty nice art and UI. (Pro tip, if you try it out, make sure to get a titanium mine up and running ASAP, as you need titanium for building all resource mines and it gets expensive trading to Earth for it.)

      1. John says:

        I had every intention of playing Terraformers but it unfortunately doesn’t have a Linux demo.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          For what it’s worth I ran it using Proton and had no problems with it. Unless you mean you won’t play it if it’s not on Linux, in which case I can respect that.

          1. John says:

            Nah. Proton’s fine. I use it for a couple of games on my desktop PC. There’s just something weird about Terraformers. Normally, Steam gives me a warning before I try to download a Windows game. I didn’t get that warning when I downloaded the Terraformers demo. When I tried to play the demo, however, Steam told me that it couldn’t find the .exe file. Linux executables don’t typically have extensions, so I’m not sure what that was about. I decided to try the demo with Proton, at which point Steam told me it would need to download an additional 2GB, presumably because I haven’t used Proton on my notebook before. That 2GB is a bigger commitment of time, hard drive space, and bandwidth than I care to make for the sake of some demo, so I decided to give Terraformers a miss.

            1. Philadelphus says:

              Ah yeah, fair enough. I’m trying to remember—since I tried like 5 or 6 mostly-Windows-only demos out around the same time—but I might have gotten that same announcement and had to set the Proton version manually rather than it automatically detecting it was a Windows game and firing it up like is usually does, so there might be something with the way it’s packaged or whatever.

              I will say that I’m pretty confident recommending the full game (whenever it releases), as long as they don’t take any hard turns with it; I actually went back to play the demo a few more times after my initial playthrough and am getting the urge to do so again, which is pretty promising. Most of the other demos I fired up felt like limited alphas (some of them I played 5 minutes and went, “Yup, I’ll come back and check on this in ~6 months”) but Terraformers felt like I was playing a polished, basically finished game (bar the 30-turn limit, I’m assuming the full game will be a lot longer than that as I’d only just begun terraforming the planet around that time in most runs). Obviously it may or may not be anyone else’s particular cup of tea, but from an “overall quality” standpoint it’s stellar.

  18. Lasius says:

    Although you profess to love this game, you keep misspelling its name.

    There is no space in Dorfromantik. (stress on “Dorf” btw)

    1. Syal says:

      Dor, from Anti-K.

  19. Steve C says:

    Re: Chris P’s and Earlack’s questions. I consider them linked. Marketing hype does not work on me. The cultural zeitgeist also does not work on me. If I don’t like a game, I don’t like a game. The prevailing opinion on something doesn’t effect me. Except to make me disheartened.

    My first exposure to a bad game was the infamous ET Atari game. A friend owned an Atari and was showing me and telling me how awesome it was. I didn’t get it. Not the game or his hype. It still looked terrible. All the Atari games looked bad to me. I was 5 so I figured it was some ‘big kids thing’ that I did not understand. That’s how I interpreted games I bounced off of that other people said were good.

    I had plenty of exposure to bad games. I did not play them to death. Very much the opposite. I would rent Nintendo games on a Sat morning with the intention of playing them for the full day I had them for. Some were bad. I remember quite a few times when I’d be in a mad rush to bike back to the store before they closed to rent something different. Imagining the game I was carrying as a bag with a dog turd in it.

    The first real exposure to a cultural disconnect was the original Starfox. That game got a major marketing push and everyone was praising it. I thought that game looked ugly. I did not (and still don’t) understand the love it got. It was simply a bad game to me. Which was fine. I just did not get the popular opinion. It was praising the elements I thought were so bad that they were unacceptable.

    That ended up happening more and more as time went on. The games on the N64, Gamecube and PS1 all looked terrible to me. Still do. The disconnect between what I liked and what others liked pushed me out of the hobby for a good 10 years.

    It’s the same thing with movies etc. The hype peaks my interest but never impacts my own opinions. Like the Phantom Menace. That movie was loved when it first came out. Everyone gushed over it. I thought it was fine. Not a particularly good movie but had some cool parts. Fine. I was incredulously yelled at for having that opinion.
    Time passed and people soured on it. I stopped being yelled at and people agreed. Then popular opinion soured more. That movie was awful and it destroyed Star Wars. My opinion had not changed. I still thought it was not a particularly good movie but had some cool parts. I was incredulously yelled at for having that opinion.

    I have never been in tune with hype, marketing or popular culture. If I don’t like something, other people liking it does not influence me. It just makes no sense to me. I figure they have different tastes and move on.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      TLDR: people enjoy trash. :P

      I’ve had to learn a similar lesson several times in my life, starting with high school. Every time I’m less surprised. ^^;

    2. tmtvl says:

      While I like more than a few SNES and PSX games (though the Metal Gear Solid cutscenes with the terrible graphics never fail to amuse me), I kind of get where you’re coming from. I feel that way about NES games.

    3. Chris P says:

      Those are fun examples, Steve. I’m guessing that you were deep into (or through) your teens by the time N64 was released, with a better opportunity to assess quality. I agree about Starfox 64 and feel like that is a game that benefitted more from hype than inherent quality, in sales numbers. The other way I wanted to ask the question was along the route that you went with that game: “Were there products that were hyped that you couldn’t get into?” but because my biggest disagreement with gaming consensus is Dragon Age 2, I realized that cultural momentum can go in either direction. Which is why the Phantom Menace example also rings very true. I remember cajoling my high school buddies to come watch the new Star Wars film at the theater, sure that it would be incredible. It was just middling. A little bit embarrassing to have compelled them to come with me for that film…but it wasn’t Battlefiled Earth, as many peoples’ tone began implying in the ensuing years.

      It gets me wondering about the mechanisms behind how we feel. The marketing factor comes into play, creating a false consensus that “everybody” is excited about “thing”. Games media plays a similar role but they are more prone to a third thing: an overreaction mechanism born within peoples expectations: high expectations being unmet = disappointment = them being very hard on something. OR low expectations being drastically superseded = overrating things. That puts sequels in the crosshairs of over or underrating. For sequels most people will have expectations and so, perhaps, the cultural consensus is more about how well a product succeeded or failed to meet expectations than it is objective subjectivity. That’s where I think you can see confusing reactions from people, like a Tool fan saying that the latest album was unlistenable shit (it did not meet their expectations), Dragon Age 2 was an awful slog (it did not meet their expectations), or critics rating Bioshock Infinite as one of the best games ever made (check the metacritic score…something about it superseded their expectations).

      Back on the topic of the cultural blind: Mass Effect 3. I knew the ending wasn’t well received, but had no idea about why and so experienced the extended cut mostly uninfluenced. That was interesting because, though I felt confused and bewildered (emotionally wrecked AND THEN they give an entire new game’s worth of plot and galaxy shaping decisions out of nowhere), it was subsequent reading on the topic that shaped my opinion toward calling it bad. I think without Shamus’ articles and the various Youtube videos that I’d have just considered it interesting but kind of anticlimactic. I’d not have thought as much about it as I did. So in that regard, the cultural blind caused me to take a fairly significant shift in how I felt about it as I joined the hater club after delving into the culture.

      It’s interesting to wonder where the line between personal taste and influenced tastes intersect and diverge. How much do other people shape what we think, and also how much joy do we allow other people to take from us when we get swept up in hate storms (warranted or not)?

    4. RamblePak64 says:

      The first real exposure to a cultural disconnect was the original Starfox. That game got a major marketing push and everyone was praising it. I thought that game looked ugly. I did not (and still don’t) understand the love it got. It was simply a bad game to me. Which was fine. I just did not get the popular opinion. It was praising the elements I thought were so bad that they were unacceptable.

      I do not recall my feelings on the game’s actual aesthetic – I mostly kept reimagining the Arwing fighters as they were modeled or drawn in promotional materials in Nintendo power – but I do know that original game has stuck with me due to its arcade style gameplay. Imagine a top-down shooter like Ikaruga, but from behind. Add to that a pretty rocking soundtrack that often gave this big, bombastic Hollywood atmosphere that matched the tone of the Death Star trench battle without being the Death Star trench battle, and it was honestly 50% tone, 50% gameplay.

      But, I can also see from a modern perspective why it might have pushed people away. It was a pretty poor framerate considering some of the action it was attempting to pull off, and if you were used to what the PC was already pushing, then Star Fox looked madly primitive. Also also: if you wanted something more simulationist and less arcade, then Star Fox wouldn’t impress.

      Of course, if I were a kid I wouldn’t say “Ah, I understand why you might feel that way” because I was a kid. I would have probably shouted “ARE YOU KIDDING?!” I just think there’s a lot of people that likely latched onto the “power of the FX chip” because that’s what marketing said (see: SEGA blast processing), when chances are there was more going on under the hood.

      Now Star Fox 64? I liked it, but felt like it went the wrong direction with the series, and have always felt that way. I also get what you mean about 3D on the PlayStation. I found it ugly as well, and preferred games that blended 2D sprite art with 3D backgrounds or pre-rendered. Those games looked gorgeous to me, while 3D looked ugly, period. To this day I still prefer the more simplistic models of Final Fantasy VII because they’re simple and not a blurry mess of low-res textures. People seem to think FFVIII looks “better”, but to me it was just …pixels. Pixels everywhere.

      Like the Phantom Menace. That movie was loved when it first came out. Everyone gushed over it. I thought it was fine. Not a particularly good movie but had some cool parts. Fine. I was incredulously yelled at for having that opinion.
      Time passed and people soured on it. I stopped being yelled at and people agreed. Then popular opinion soured more. That movie was awful and it destroyed Star Wars. My opinion had not changed. I still thought it was not a particularly good movie but had some cool parts. I was incredulously yelled at for having that opinion.

      It’s interesting because I was never in a social circle that liked or loved Phantom Menace, so my impression was that the film was universally hated. Then I got the impression that it was loved by people that were children at the time. But then my older brother talked about walking out of the theater with some of his friends, half of them talking about how great and amazing it was. His closest friend said “I’ma ride with (Ramble’s Brother’s Name Here)”. They got in the car, were silent a moment, and then one of them said “That movie SUCKED!” and the other felt relieved. Granted, that’s still more harsh than your “I thought it was fine”, but it was an experience I didn’t have.

      I think what brought the whole thing back into conversation was the RedLetterMedia Phantom Menace review, which kind of put into words what a lot of folks felt but couldn’t piece together. My friend and podcast co-host is a big Star Wars apologist, always trying to find the good in everything (except Rise of Skywalker, that one finally broke him), so I finally went back to watch the movie for the first time in years so he and I could discuss it.

      At this stage, and in hindsight to everything learned from The Secret History of Star Wars, I find it a fascinating example of all of George Lucas’ ambitions and failings fused into one whole, but I don’t really think of it as an entertaining film. There could have been a good movie in there, but it needed some heavy script doctoring for the characters and logic of the plot.

      Maybe part of it is youth, or maybe part of it is people unable to grow out of their opinions from youth. I dunno.

  20. Fred Starks says:

    I can’t be the only person who thinks that Cooking Doomguy would be hilarious. I’m not even much of a Doom or Cooking Mama kind of person, but I’d play it.

  21. Steve C says:

    I know for certain I don’t play not very good games to death because of one Christmas in particular.

    I bought two games from EB back when stores sold PC games. I was seriously hyped for these games. Not due to marketing or word of mouth etc. But because these were sequels. I adored the previous games. I was eagerly awaiting their release dates for over a year. There was no way I was not going to buy them. I did and they were terrible. One was a buggy mess that my computer could not handle and the other just wasn’t fun.

    I do not remember the name of those games. But I do remember the disbelief and disappointment. I remember coming to the conclusion that I did not want to play either these games. Slowly turning the computer off. Putting my face into my hands and just weeping at the larger realization. See, I had pinned my entire Christmas on these games. I had literally access to no other entertainment for a week. Yet I still did not want to play these physical manifestations of disappointment. Instead I worked on two puzzles that Christmas. I don’t like puzzles. It was still the best of my limited options.

    I vowed to never buy another game I had never played or seen a review of. That ended up being easier than I expected. It was shortly after that physical stories stopped carrying PC games all together. I was very picky after that. I played games I liked to death and avoided all others. Which effectively forced me out of the hobby. This would have been the same time period that Shamus was out of the hobby too.

  22. Steve C says:

    I played Dorf Romantik last week after the Diecast. I enjoyed it. I played two games that lasted many hours over two or three days. It was pleasant. I got a high score of 35k and that will have to remain my all time best. I have no desire to play it again. Most games that I enjoy have a lot of staying power. Dorf Romantik was fun but didn’t have the staying power for me.

  23. The Rocketeer says:

    For what it’s worth, Spacebreak: Hardshipper wasn’t quite as grindy before the 0.4.0 update, although it was always a grind. But I think there’s a bit of a problem with the vocab here. “Grind” is generally what we call repetitive, slow progression in a game that we’re obliged to complete for the sake of getting to some sort of other content that we find more rewarding, such as to see the story, to unlock some new ability, to unlock a new hat, whatever. Or some part of a game that is less enjoyable or slower-paced than the rest of the experience, e.g., “I liked CodBlaster but the Deep Channels were a real grind.” I don’t think it’s quite accurate to call the shipbreaking in Hardbreak: Spaceshipper a grind because that is literally the entire thing that you play the game to do.

    It’s like this: sled dogs want to pull the sled. They live for it. It’s grueling work, and it takes a lot of training. Most dogs would probably rather chew their own guts out instead. But a sled dog sprints to the sled for the opportunity to pull it when they know it’s time to go.

    This can be true of most any game, but it especially comes into focus for certain games like this, or Euro Truck Simulator, or House Flipper, or Spintires, or even something like Stardew Valley. If you don’t automatically enjoy the core gameplay on some ineffable, visceral level, you might wonder why anyone would bother playing games like these unless they’re just totally addicted to any sort of mild progression mechanics regardless of their context. But I do like shipbreaking. I don’t see it as a grind to get through on the way to the next upgrade, or to make some progress paying down the debt, or God forbid to see the next story beat. All of that stuff is just there to mildly enhance that core gameplay, which, in itself, for its own sake, I find enjoyable and really quite relaxing. When I’ve come home from work in the evening and I just want to rest my legs and do something to occupy the rest of my mind while I listen to a couple podcasts or a few albums, shipbreaking is great for that. Then again, I said the same thing about Dark Souls III so maybe take that with a grain of salt.

    THAT. BEING. SAID.

    Shiphard: Breakspacer has some problems. The game is rife with questionable design choices and technical issues and it’s not clear which of them are a result of still being in Early Access and which are long-term problems with Blackbird Interactive’s incapacity to realize some theoretical Platonic ideal of what Shipbreak: Hardspacer could be. Paul mentioned how odd it is that items slow to a stop in vacuum; I can at least see this as a design choice. It isn’t realistic that large sections of hull don’t eventually float away into the void after a light tap, but I can totally see them saying “we tried this in alpha and it was just frustrating and not fun.” But the game has much stranger physics quirks than that. Any shipbreaker knows that objects become extremely difficult to move somewhere around 12 metric tons, even with lots of tethers. On the other hand, you can grab a much lighter object and just nudge it against that much larger, heavier object and this will magically push the larger object along when the actual force being applied is much less than other forces that fail to budge it. There are too many pressurization/decompression woes to list, both in the cantankerous way the physics of it functions (or doesn’t) and the way the devs have chosen to implement it into the game as a mechanic. Most notably, the direction that a sudden decompression moves the ship has seemingly no relation to the direction you’d expect the air to be venting from the interior and often give the exact opposite result; it’s a fairly reliable trick to float right in front of a ship, pop the glass off the pressurized cockpit… and then get smashed to fucking pieces as the ~35 ton ship rockets forward from the release of a few cubic meters of oxygen.

    I don’t really care that the game isn’t some kind of proc-gen smorgasbord because I’m not turned on by algorithms the way Paul and Shamus seem to be. Rather, I’d like to see the randomness present in ships contribute more significantly to not salvaging a given configuration of ship the same way every time and contributing to the necessity to make meaningful decisions about your process and its tradeoffs. They’ve experimented only mildly with this in the time I’ve had the game, first with “cut guards” which were received so negatively that their effect on the game was nerfed to basically nothing before being removed completely in 0.4.0. In the present state of the game, compartments will be randomly pressurized when the ship is spawned, with more of the ship being pressurized as hazard level increases. Likewise, atmosphere regulators that safely depressurize compartments are randomly found broken and are more likely to be broken with increasing hazard levels. By the time your rank reaches the mid-upper teens (of 30), ships nearly always spawn fully pressurized and are likely to have few or no working regulators, so the first thing you do in each shift is to safely depressurize what you can, secure loose items, and melt an airlock door, hoping that nothing gets too clobbered. There are also AI nodes on some later ships that will screw with doors and hatches and randomly pressurize or depressurize compartments until they are removed or destroyed. This is a neat idea, and one that demands situational awareness from the player, except that in practice you just end up burning off the AI nodes and then moving on as normal.

    Which is the real problem of most of the ways the randomness seeks to add variety between ships of the same configuration: to the extent that they affect your workflow at all, they mostly add some mild hazard that you dispense with at the top of your first shift and then the rest of the breakdown is back on the same rails as usual. And losing any salvage at all to a bum depressurization because the atmo regulators were broken feels like an arbitrary lien on the player’s max salvage for that ship, not the result of any real decision-making on the player’s part.

    And this is all beside the myriad of truly inexplicable physics bugs(?) or design oversights, like the way object seem to “store” inertia that acts on them only once they’re pulled free from a larger structure, or the way (possibly related to the previous oddity) gently pulling a small item free of a surface results in it launching at high speeds, or how two tiny load-bearing emergency lights can hold the entire stern of a Gecko in one too-heavy-to-move-by-any-means piece, or how items can be mounted to the opposite side of a wall they’re apparently hanging from, or how physics oversimulation is liable to turn any object you pull free from between two other objects or surfaces into a high-speed projectile, and how the demo charges seem to slice through multiple layers of material or not depending on what you don’t want them to do, and on and on.

    It’s also not clear how content-complete the game is at present, and this makes a big difference to how I’d view the game. How many more ship types are they planning, and how many configurations of each ship type? Will there be more tools? In the past, the demo charge was introduced with the Javelin, the only ship type with cut points requiring demo charges. This is still true. Are higher-level cutpoints planned to be dispersed throughout other ship types? Same question for the new wiring harnesses, which only appear on the also-new Exo-Lab Mackerels at present.

    And this is all talking around the elephant in the room. I’m not sure there’s actually any delicate way to talk about this, but… 0.4.0 introduced the first leg of the game’s story, and it is just fucking terrible, and disastrously implemented. Now, the writing was never great, but it was also emergent and unintrusive before. The setting and the mechanics were the story; the little automated voice messages, your role, the debt, the implications about the world and the company you work for… it worked to provide context for the mechanics in a way that reckoned with the reality of the game mechanics: you have a faceless, voiceless player character with a gravity gun and a laser saw that takes ships apart and sorts their contents. That’s your gameplay. There were text and audio logs, and you were incentivized to pick them up because you earned a bit of upgrade currency for doing so. The contents were all unengaging clichés future dystopia dross, but whatever, it’s there for people to engage with it if they feel like it.

    The real story was just your shipbreaker’s career, your learning the game, making mistakes, things clicking into place. That time you flung a monitor towards the Barge, clipped the coolant line to the reactor, and had to scramble to clear hull plating out of the way so you could fling the melting-down reactor into the Barge with seconds to spare? That’s your story! That moment you realize this big, complex structure you always have to half-dissassemble, half-melt to salvage actually has one key structure that lets you cleanly separate the entire thing? That’s your story! That moment you turn and, in horror, see that valuable hull plating being sucked into the hellacious maw of the Furnace God, only to scramble and barely manage to save it before inadvertently catapult yourself into the other Furnace in your celebratory exuberations? That’s your story! All just emergent, personal steps down the long, lonely, dangerous road of getting free and clear.

    Now? Now we’ve got a voice-acted cast, a narrative, and cutscenes. The gameplay hasn’t changed, but now as you play you get to contemplate flinging yourself into the Furnace over and over again as the world’s worst script is performed as a radio drama by the game’s real main character and her pointless toadies. Desperate for some hook beyond the done-to-death “akshually did you know corporations are bad” angle, they’ve spiced that up with a strong pro-union angle. Which is an interesting tack to take, but the characters don’t seem to know what a union is, and I’m not convinced the writer knows what a union is, either. The real main character speaks about unions in quasi-mythic terms. They seem to talk about unions the way characters talk about the Jedi in Star Wars; they used to exist and they had fantastical powers that benefited everyone but then they tragically vanished when the Empire rose, and if only they returned all the dark forces of the galaxy would be set right as dictated by prophecy/the moral arc of history.

    Now, the Internet being what it is, it’s basically impossible to delicately broach the subject of the game’s writing and how unbearably awful it is without a serious education about how you hate women and brown people and how you love guzzling corporate jizz, but honestly, I’m not an anti (private sector) union guy. I just… know what a union is, unlike the writer, and I don’t really have a romanticized, mythic conception of them. A union creates a monopoly on skilled labor to bargain with the consumers of that labor from a position of relative strength. That’s it. Unions can be a mighty thing indeed, but… can I just describe LYNX Corp, the corporation from the game? We’re told again and again that they are the de facto government of Earth, and by extension the solar system. They can literally do anything and what little competition they have exists only at their sufferance. They control all information and communication. They literally control shipbreakers’ lives; when you are hired, they literally kill you in some nonspecific but excruciatingly painful fashion to obtain your DNA, so they can make clone replacements from it. (I guess cotton swabs are lost technology in this setting). I wasn’t exaggerating when I likened them to the Galactic Empire; they go beyond the realm of standard dystopian megacorp into the realm of the cartoonish. And hero of organized labor/actual main character of the story Lou thinks they’re gonna… get LYNX on the other side of a card table… in a smoke-filled VFW hall… cross her arms… and say, “We’re not grappling one more kilo of aluminum until there are some BIG changes around here, folks!”

    Really, it’s funny you mention Papers, Please in comparison to Shipbreaker, because it’s a game I’ve compared this to for reasons other than its tone. Specifically, Papers, Please is a marvel of how very simple mechanics and sparse writing can create an incredibly meaningful gameplay experience, an all-time touchstone example of writing quality towering over writing quantity. Breakspace: Hardshipper needs to examine their ratio.

    The current leg of the in-development story ends when the company discovers the labor movement newsletter being circulated on their computers on their network by their employees. The one that Lou started sending to you, unasked, you know, to implicate you when the Space Pinkertons bust in. Again, I want to stress that you are a BLANK CHARACTER. You can’t take part in these events at all or even begin to express any opinion or take any action whatsoever in regards to this plotline. It exists completely outside of your entire ludic possibility space. Your moment-to-moment heartbreaks and triumphs in the salvage yard aren’t relevant to this narrative, because it’s not your story anymore and you don’t have a role in it. It’s convenient that the story presently ends here, because this would be the logical ending point of the story as they’ve established it: the organization movement is discovered in its infancy, and every single person conceivably involved with it just disappears. “D’you hear what happened to Lou and Balki?” “No.” “That’s right, you DIDN’T. They never existed.” The world’s oldest, most hot-blooded, dyed-in-the-wool doctrinaire Marxist, conceiving of organized labor not through a tawdry economical lens but as the manifest activation of the awakened proletarian class consciousness that will unite all the workers of the world in solidarity against the ownership class, would nudge Lou with an elbow and whisper, “We usually need a rifle or two for this, Comrade Curazon.”

    This is one situation where watching a game develop through Early Access becomes profoundly unpleasant; the developers haven’t just made a colossal blunder, they are in the process of carrying out a very long, slow, ongoing blunder through its several stages of metamorphosis. It’s not so different from a driver in a tall truck slowly, warily wedging the vehicle under a bridge that’s juuuuuust too low for the vehicle to fit, and continuing to inch forward to the other side as shearing metal shrieks in protest. I’m of the opinion that BBI (or publisher Focus Home, really) has basically been conned. The assets used for the storytelling— the voices, art such as character portraits, cutscenes consisting mostly of text on black and very lightly-animated 2D images— probably aren’t bank-breaking but they cost something. That money is in the process of being wasted on garbage, and they are now stuck on a one-way road of continuing to spend it on more garbage until they are left with an end-product of piled garbage… I assume. I mean, it’s still being made, so I guess I can’t just assume the rest will be an embarrassing polemic by a writer too convinced of their work’s importance to examine it critically. But I think if you read the first book of the Twilight series and think, “she could turn it around,” then, well, bless your heart.

    Idly, I do wonder if Blackbird Interactive’s workforce is unionized.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Oh, I almost forgot! I’m currently unable to play Hardbreak: Shipspacer due to a 100% crash-to-desktop whenever I try to load a ship. Completely removing, redownloading, and reinstalling the game doesn’t fix this bug and I suspect it’s the result of a corrupt savefile. If the next big patch doesn’t make the game function again I may not play it again until the game leaves Early Access, if ever.

      I’ve got some complicated feelings about the game, is what I’m trying to say.

    2. Nothing says:

      Well said, particularly in regard to the narrative. I may just be burned out with corporate dystopias (also not pro-megacorp, just find them unoriginal in most media), but i was fine with it when it was just flavor text for a relatively fun ship deconstruction puzzle game. But now the bog-standard evil megacorp is front and center.

      It also kinda ruined the atmosphere (no pun intended). Pre-story update, i got the sense that working as a Shipbreaker was very lonely work. You’d live in a hab, and also work, while totally alone. The only voices you’d hear were the corporate issued AI assistant, and very rarely your supervisor’s (Weaver). It gave the whole thing a distinct tone that meshed well with the music, and let you focus on the salvage. Now it seems way more crowded, but significantly less interesting.

      I completely agree it seems like they have dedicated a great deal of time and effort to making the game worse.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      I’m prepared to be impressed if the Order of the Union Knights cut the tracking beacon off your hardsuit, allowing you to spacewalk over to all those other ships and stations that you can see in the background. Then you proceed to cut your way in, around, and through the various systems of increasingly hardened facilities. You finally take down the railgate, and return to your daughter on the planet below to watch the fireworks as incoming railsleds collide with the wreakage.
      In Breakbreak: Spacespacer 2 you are sorting through the mountains of the resulting twisted debris which accumulate around the planetary equator. There’s a spinoff Hardhard: Shipshipper which takes things in a surprising new direction.
      Doesn’t seem very likely though.

  24. Liessa says:

    Talking of the ‘dull grind of a hopeless job’, what is it with the current craze for ‘Mundane Everyday Household Task’ simulators? Lawn Mowing Simulator, Power Wash Simulator, Paint Drying Simulator (OK I may have made that one up…) I thought the point of simulation games was to allow people to experience things they’d never get to do in real life, like flying a plane or running a city. If you’re THAT desperate to mow a lawn and don’t happen to have your own, surely you could just volunteer to do it for other people? Yet somebody must be buying all these games, because there are so many of them, and some are even getting good reviews…

    1. Syal says:

      Quarantine results in strange fantasies.

    2. pseudonym says:

      “In the quest for more realistic games, the industry has recently given us ray tracing and VR. Now Liessa has stepped up and has created the ultimate experience: RR … dramatic pause … REAL REALITY.
      Experience a realistic world at infinite resolution. The environment is fully interactive. You can smell, you can taste, you can FEEL. The only thing you can’t do is respawn. So carefully inspect your lawn mower manual before proceeding to THE ULTIMATE REALITY EXPERIENCE (*music intensifies*):
      LAWN MOWER II: The Purge of the Regrowing Monocots
      Coming this summer.”

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Now Liessa has stepped up and has created the ultimate experience: RR … dramatic pause … REAL REALITY

        Oh, that game? That one SUCKS. Definite balance problems. I don’t think the devs even care anymore…

        The only time I’ve really enjoyed doing mundane tasks in games was when I was (not quite) controlling Octodad. Which, hey, that’s the whole point of the game.
        Accidentally smacking your child with the lawn mower as Octodad is funny*, whereas in real life I imagine it would be…less so. But, just mowing your lawn in game? Why? At least make my dull chores SEEM epic and fun, like mining stone for a fantasy mansion or feeding colorful, bouncing slimes.

        *Also, those kids. *Shudder*. Maybe it wasn’t always done by accident…

      2. Syal says:

        Bah, Real Reality is just the discount version of Actual Reality.

        1. pseudonym says:

          Wow! Great! A children TV channel urging kids to play outside. A little ironic, but the effort is appreciated. The commercial is quite well done.

    3. Fizban says:

      I thought the point of simulation games was to allow people to experience things they’d never get to do in real life, like flying a plane or running a city. If you’re THAT desperate to mow a lawn and don’t happen to have your own, surely you could just volunteer to do it for other people?

      It is likely if you don’t and never will own a house, that most of your friends, coworkers, or even family won’t either, because those people are usually at the same economic level as you are. And that job well done satisfaction goes away mighty fast when you know its not yours, and you immediately go back to your own place where you don’t have that thing that you just spent a bunch of effort making all nice.

      And as always, there’s a hell of a difference between actually dragging out a heavy piece of expensive equipment, possibly burning expensive fuel, in the sun, with your actual muscles, to do a job that nature will muss up again in as little as a few days- or playing a video game where you relax at your desired comfort level and once done the job likely stays done, with the next job not being the same exact place and equipment, but instead a new, bigger and more interesting place with new equipment.

      A person who likes doing something enough that they want to make it their actual job, might go and make an actual job to do it for other people. A person who just wants to do something occasionally for fun, is probably not going to do the equivalent of starting a part-time business. But a video game might be fun.

      1. Lino says:

        I think this craze started about a year – year-and-a-half ago with a kinda janky simulator about house flipping (for the life of me, I can’t remember the name). You’d buy a house which was all dinged up, and you could then clean it up, do some repairs, repaint it, and sell it at a profit. The game was quite popular on Twitch and YouTube for a while.

        To me, all of the aforementioned simulator games are just reverberations of the success of that one game. I think a tremendous part of the appeal comes from the very first sentence in your comment. And even though those games aren’t my cup of tea, I can definitely empathise with the… I really don’t want to call it a “fantasy”, because I’m trying to be less cynical and more optimistic in my life, and I also don’t want to break the “No Politics” rule. So I think I’ll just leave it at that :)

        1. Shamus says:

          As someone who is subscribed to the /powerwashingporn subreddit, I can attest to the idea that there’s a lot of appeal in simply pushing back against entropy. It feels good to have dirty chaos transformed into cleanly order.

          I don’t know if it’s enough to keep me playing a game for hours, but it’s certainly enough to grab my attention.

          1. bobbert says:

            Also, power-washers are no joke. You need to wear steel-toed-boots with the good ones so you don’t accidently cut your toes off.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              I read somewhere about a pressure washer hydro jet burrowing into a guy’s chest. That would be quite the DLC!

    4. Mr. Wolf says:

      Some people find a strange comfort in mundanity. Many asked the same when Euro Truck Simulator 2 was at the height of it’s popularity, and the the only explanation is that people found it relaxing.

  25. Ektenia says:

    [Re: Voltron] “I’ll form the head”

    Sounds like something MC Frontalot might say.

    [Re: Nukezone]

    You’re probably thinking of Battlezone

    [Re: culture blinds and old media]

    If it’s the 80s, maybe you’d read about video games in non-video-game-specific computer magazines like BYTE. Or, a book I still have, “The Book of Apple Software 1984”, which tries to review every significant software program available for Apple computers. Reading it now, I’d forgotten how it spent the first 338 of its 525 pages on boring grown up nonsense like spreadsheets and mail merge programs (if you want a comparison of the 13 most prominent word processors, including a multi-page intro on what to look for in a word processor, this is your book. Best overall rating: Wordstar).

    In video games, Ultima I and II rated well, while Telengard was exceptional in getting an “F” rating. Some reasonably iconic reviewers and website—-was it Old Man Murray?—-would dismissively refer to games where the core is just hitting things and seeing your XP go up as “Telengard clones”, so the game was at least influential in that way. The Apple version was particularly bad because, unlike for the C64 version, there were no sprites (you were a “#”) and no nifty opening music. That might be okay for Rogue or Nethack or whatever, but those can at least procgen rooms and represent monsters at a distance. The other big complaint is that they also decided not to let you pause the game.

    [Re: back in the old days, being stuck with whatever mediocre game you bought, and also how Mindcraft would have been impossible]

    Yes, my friends and I didn’t realize at the time that the aforementioned Telengard game for C64 and E.T. for Atari, and Raiders of the Lost Ark for Atari, were maybe not great games, or at least a lot of difficulty was just jank (for example, a tip for RotLA: when going to a new screen up or down, do not be vertically lined up with the snake on the current screen, since then you’ll be immediately on top of it on the new screen).

    However, there were some games that were broadly “Mindcraft-like” in the sense that you could be creative, such as:

    Pinball Construction Set. This was absolutely phenomenal. They didn’t have to support putting scores of pinballs and flippers on screen at once, but they did (if there was a limit I don’t recall hitting it). They didn’t have to have pixel painting magnifying glass mode portray the Apple 2’s ideosyncratic graphics (including that palette changes make some pixels narrower or wider), but they did.

    Adventure Construction Set (I messed with the maker a bit, but I mostly just let it generate a random world and playing through that. Hey, I found you a new game to investigate for its procgen! :) )

    The Arcade Machine. (I couldn’t make a compelling game, but could at least mess with the ones they had).

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      You’re probably thinking of Battlezone

      No, it’s really called Nuke Zone but I can see where the confusion might come in.

      1. Ektenia says:

        Sorry, I meant: you mentioned in the podcast that Nuke Zone had a Tron-like aesthetic that reminded you of some old game that had black sky, grid-like floor, and vector graphics, and was thinking that old game may have been Battlezone.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Oh, the game it reminded me of was Spectre, though it has a similar presentation.

    2. John says:

      I spent a lot of time designing sprites in Adventure Construction Set and had a lot of fun doing it before I ultimately realized that I didn’t have any really compelling ideas for adventures to use those sprites in. It was something of a letdown. I ran into a similar problem years later with Neverwinter Nights. I put a lot of effort into scripts that would make darkness work properly–i.e., apply actual to-hit penalties to characters without light sources or some kind of low-light vision instead of just making the screen darker–only to realize that I still had no compelling adventure ideas.

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