Some games I’ve recently enjoyed

Lichdom: Battlemage

2014-08-28_00001

When I first saw this game on the web over a year ago, I laughed. I laughed my butt off because “Lichdom” is right up there with “Revengeance” in the dumb-sounding-names category. (Get it? Dumb? DOM?? HA!) I also assumed it would kind of suck. I don’t even know why. Judged a book by its cover, I guess.

Turns out that the game is great, in a wacky kind of way. The spell and loot system– which allows you to craft your own spells out of spell effects that drop from enemies– is fantastic. I created a spell which allows me to throw exploding ice grenades. Then I created a GRAVITY BEAM that drops black holes on dudes. Nice! 

On the other hand, the writing sucks. Troy Baker and Femshep patter on emptily at one another, and my male main character kept shouting “Bitch!!!” for practically no reason whatsoever. He used the word the way people use “shit!”. At one point I think he literally died and came back to life shouting “BITCH!!!!” There was no woman present.

I also appreciate that I had the option to play as a lady, which I am sad to report that I did not accept. I am stupid. If I’d picked the busty female character I could have had Jennifer Hale’s voice!

Eidolon

2014-08-01_00016

Some people have criticized this game for being too easy or boring. They are wrong. This game is CHILL. It is beautiful, well-written, and EXTREMELY CHILL. You will wander around a not-particularly-dangerous environment reading fascinating little scraps of paper and munching on blackberries. I like that a lot.

The story behind the game is an apocalyptic sci-fi tale examining the implications of eternal life. What happens when rich dudes are able to make themselves live forever? Will society collapse? (YES.) If it does collapse (YES IT’S COLLAPSING) what will happen? Specifically, what will happen to Seattle and Victoria? Play this game to find out!

I visited Seattle and Victoria precisely two weeks before playing the game for the first time, so that was a fun little coincidence for me. The Pacific Northwest is IRL a very pretty place, but I’m not sure it’s as consistently pretty as this game. I have screenshotted the shit out of it and uploaded precisely thirty of those screenshots to Steam. I am also responsible for the only Steam Guide on how to play this game. Wow! What fame!

The Nightmare Cooperative

2014-08-28_00002

I keep telling people that this game is called “Nightmare Collective.” It’s not. It’s a Cooperative. It’s basically “868-Hack but if you controlled up to four dudes at once and they all had a special power.” Like 868-Hack, I am both obsessed with and terrible at it. I haven’t even yet reached the fourth zone.

When I was in college my friends and I were obsessed with Nethack. We had long conversations about the role that hubris and temptation play in permadeath games and I still think that temptation and hubris are the most important parts of any roguelike/roguelikelike/whatever shitty name people are commanding we use this week. Roguelikes. Nightmare Cooperative is a roguelike and it tempts me to awful acts of hubris. This is why I keep coming back to it.

It’s on iOS now, which is cool.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

2014-08-28_00003

I have been playing about an hour of Necrodancer every night since it came out on Steam. Do not be misled by the dead-in-zone-two screenshot above: I am a very cool person who has accessed up to zone three of the game. However, I am not yet cool enough to access zone four. I am very sad about this. I am stuck on Zone Three of both this game and Nightmare Cooperative, so I’m probably cursed.

Crypt of the Necrodancer is full-release levels of great but it’s in Early Access. It does that hubris/temptation thing beautifully. It is the only rhythm game I have ever unreservedly loved. I don’t love it enough to marry it, but I’m coldhearted and wouldn’t marry anything anyway.

Critics

There is a certain type of person who really can’t handle non-traditional games. That’s all fine; nobody is under any obligation to like anything in this world.

When they get vocal, defensive, and prescriptivist, though, these people can be extremely annoying. I’ve written down my opinions about this before. Every time I’ve seen it used, “XYZ is not a game” has added nothing to any conversation. It’s a regressive argument born out of incomprehension (and possibly fear).

One of Proteus’s creators recently wrote a wonderful article about the issue. He covers a number of the problems I also have with this “debate,” ranging from its use as a tool for exclusion…

The stricter the definition of an inherently nebulous concept, the more absurd the implications. Should Dear Esther and Proteus be excluded from stores that sell games? Not covered in the games press? Since Sim City is either a toy or a simulation, that should be excluded too, along with flight simulators.

…to the disingenuous, uncourteous crusading that often characterizes the not-a-game side of this argument:

Outside of academic discussions, encouraging a strict definition of “game” does nothing but foster conservatism and defensiveness in a culture already notorious for both. Witness the raging threads on the Proteus Steam forum, most of which are posted (and re-posted and re-posted) by people who don’t own the game. There’s a huge difference between this kind of “activism” or claiming something is the Emperor’s New Clothes and individual people trying something and deciding it’s not for them.
Proteus was certainly made by a game developer (and a musician), working in the context of videogames, using game design and development techniques to express a particular set of things. None of that is really important, because the proof is in the playing.

When I was in school, I was exposed to works by strict ludologists who spent all their time haughtily dismissing games with narrative experiences. These people, too, loved to loudly decide what a game was and what a game wasn’t. In the worst cases, these writers would sit around arguing that the more games we made with stories in them, the more we risked “subjugating” games as an art form “under” traditional storytelling media like books and movies. Which is bullshit, of course. I always told myself, “It’s okay. Ordinary people like games with stories. Games with stories will always exist.”

Later, when I started reading a lot of games writers and fans and exploring what “ordinary people,” whoever they are, actually think about games definitions, I was equally bothered by their resistance to games which push traditional boundaries. They treated games like Passage as personal affronts, as threats to their “culture.” They argued– and this is a conservative paraphrase, people actually said this shit– that if we “let” people treat these things as games, then somehow “pretentious” “art games” would “take over” and the definition of “game” would be ruined (presumably because it would be more open, and invite the perspectives of a more diverse range of human beings). So I told myself, “It’s okay. Academics and indie games fans like games which push boundaries. Games which push boundaries will always exist.”

Of course, both of my conclusions were true. Creators will always take games to interesting places, and critics have practically no influence on what games can be. Which makes it doubly or triply ironic that I am now posting about an argument between critics and creators about a game that has no trouble being exactly what it wants to be. (And there is of course the problem that I once even considered myself a critic.) These days, I have a hard time agreeing with myself about whether critics are important at all, to anything:

  1. Of course they are: if they weren’t around, who would I have read and loved in college, when I was learning about games and writing and literary theory and all that other wonderful stuff? Who would hold up a mirror to society?
  2. Of course they aren’t: they don’t actually affect real games. I have my own tools to analyze stories now. I don’t need critics to explain anything to me. Nobody looks at that mirror anyway.

And then there’s the problem of what they do for me, if anything:

  1. These debates make me unhappy.
  2. These debates keep me thinking.

Sometimes I guess we have to put up with frivolous bullshit to keep our brains limber.