🎮 Recently played Cultist Simulator.

Cultist Simulator, by Alexis Kennedy/Weather Factory. A roguelike game where you build and lead a occult organization while maintaining a semblance of normal life, and uncover the mysteries lurking behind the world.

I backed this on Kickstarter. The game developer, Alexis Kennedy, is the creator of Fallen London; I’m a fan of his world-building and game writing (IMHO he’s one of the best game writers around). Kennedy/Weather Factory is also an advocate for open game development, posting developmental roadmaps and constant progress/accountability updates on the blog. It was a privilege to play the beta builds, and watch the active development of a game over time.

The game itself is a tidy, visually beautiful, story-rich little piece. Kennedy has created an original world/story of horror and occult mystery that is slowly unveiled in snippets as one plays the game. The roguelike mechanics of cards and timers wasn’t too hard to master and maintain (though I did get “eased into” it through the beta builds), and after a while, I was able to achieve end-game states without too much difficulty.

I enjoyed Cultist Simulator — not just the game, but also watching its development from pre-Kickstarter to post-release plans. Weather Factory has a great deal more updates and DLC planned for Cultist Simulator, which look to add more variety and complexity to the existing gameplay. I can’t wait to find out more.

🎮 Recently played Voyageur, an indie game.

Voyageur, by Bruno Diaz. A text-based, procedural exploration/adventure game with roguelike elements, where you play a space traveller on a one-way voyage, visiting worlds and gaining resources.

Easily played in a few hours; there are several end-game states with interesting storylines, but since the text is procedurally generated, you can play it indefinitely and keep visiting worlds forever. (I wonder if there is a “long distance” achievement or something?) The game mechanics and resource management weren’t too hard to figure out — mostly because there were only two major variables to manage — so reaching end-game was straightforward.

What interested me most about Voyageur was the procedural generation. There’s a lot of hype nowadays in the games world about how to use it to add variety and randomness into games, so I finally got to observe it at work through in Voyageur’s descriptions of worlds, and the appearance of in-game events and choices. Indeed, it’s impressive how much variety, and thus atmosphere and sense of scale, can be achieved by the procedural generation. On the other hand, I started recognizing the patterns after a while (possibly because there weren’t that many choices), and that broke a bit of the atmosphere. It was interesting to observe a game mechanic at work — its outcomes, and what kind of limits it may have — and I think that the hype around procedural generation is well-deserved and it has potential to be used effectively in games.

Voyageur was made by a single developer. It shows: it’s a small game in spite of the procedural generation, and I quickly ran up against its limits. Nevertheless, I’m impressed by what he’s achieved, an evocative little game with delightful writing, that simultaneously feels intimate because of its small scope, and expansive because of the procedural generation.

🎮 Now playing: Sunless Sea.

Now playing Sunless Sea. By Failbetter Games, the same folks who created Fallen London.

I’ve always loved the setting of Fallen London and the storytelling by Failbetter Games, so I’m enjoying Sunless Sea thoroughly. Its half-roguelike, half-adventure/RPG nature has been a point of criticism, but I like its slow pace and straightforward resource management aspects. Yes, there is frequent threat of death/game over, as is normal for roguelikes, but I’ve been able to manage survival quite well — much to my surprise. (My previous experience of roguelikes was FTL: Faster Than Light and the frequent, frequent game-overs frustrated me a little bit. I should try FTL again.) The early game experience is a bit slow with getting my characters off the blocks, but after doing a couple of voyages and returns to base and acquiring more money and resources, the pace picks up as my characters could travel to more locations and experience more stories.

As for the story… I play games for their stories, and Sunless Sea delivers in spades, which I’ve come to expect from the developers. Lots of storylines and lore that build on the Fallen London world. Absolutely delicious and delightful. I’m still playing this, and I think I’ve well and truly gotten past the “early game” section and am into the thick of things. I’ve yet to finish any major quests or achieve endgame states, so there’s much to look forward to!

In fact, this game has gotten me back into playing Fallen London… alas, there goes my productivity for the rest of the month!

Game review: Dreamfall Chapters and the Longest Journey series.

A review of Dreamfall Chapters, a game I just finished this weekend, while also touching on The Longest Journey (played ~4-5 years ago) and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (played right before DFC).

As with most of my book and game reviews, I prefer to call it a contemplation on my experience of story and character, gameplay and interactivity, how all of them mesh together in the medium of interactive game.  As always, there are spoilers everywhere.  Don’t read if you haven’t played the game before.


I.  The Longest Journey: a story that came too late.

Naturally, my experience of the Dreamfall games (particularly the storyline) was greatly influenced by my playthrough of The Longest Journey, and I came to TLJ a decade too late.

Continue reading Game review: Dreamfall Chapters and the Longest Journey series.

Game Review: KOTOR2, and How story and choice influence gameplay.

Note: I analyze KOTOR2 to some depth.  This review may be spoilerish.

The two Knights of the Old Republic RPGs are my favourite parts of the Star Wars universe.  (Admittedly, I haven’t experienced much of SW beyond the movies and some of the video games.  Haven’t even watched The Force Awakens yet — hopefully soon!)  So when KOTOR2 received its graphics upgrade in the middle of this year, I decided to play through both games back-to-back. I was especially eager to revisit KOTOR2 with the TSLRCM mod installed.  My first playthrough was on the vanilla game — boy was the endgame substantially broken with so many storylines left on cliffhangers without resolution, leaving me rather confused about everything.  So TSLRCM is absolutely necessary for fully experiencing KOTOR2.

It’s amazing how different the two games are.  Here’s a review of my experience, and how the different philosophies of the games influence their respective gameplays in profound ways.

Continue reading Game Review: KOTOR2, and How story and choice influence gameplay.

Game Review: Homeworld, and epic storytelling.

Homeworld, the video game series I loved long before I ever played or even finished it.

I first saw a friend play Homeworld 2 soon after its release. I was smitten — piloting a spaceship and flying through space is my fantasy dream — and shortly after bought both HW1 and HW2. I much prefer to do things in chronological order, so of course I had to play through HW1 completely before getting to HW2.

So I tried… for 10 years. I don’t play a lot of RTS and prefer turn-based tactics, so there was the RTS learning curve as well as the HW1 learning curve. Suffice to say that playing HW1 was an exercise in frustration, something to grit my teeth through, and not at all fun. So I’d try a little bit, get stressed and vexed, ragequit, then come back again in a year or so to try again. While the gameplay was my bane, the rest of it was fabulous. A SF lover’s dream. That’s what kept me coming back, but without much success.  Until 2015.

Continue reading Game Review: Homeworld, and epic storytelling.

A review of Assassin’s Creed: an immersive, groundbreaking experience.

I don’t think there are spoilers, because I talk mostly about the gameplay instead of story. But this review would make more sense if you’ve played them even a little.

I’ve been playing quite a few video games lately, and pretty good ones too. Mass Effect 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Long Live the Queen have been the standouts in the last few months. But none of them have really been worth blogging about: there’s not much to say about them except “That was fun to play and the story was great!”, you know? And my desire to blog is just about non-existent these days, so it takes something truly unique, distinctive or impressive to rouse my mind to analyze why that’s the case.

Assassin’s Creed is the game that’s worth talking about. True to my style (if I have to start something, might as well do so from the beginning), it’s my first, fresh introduction to the series. As of writing, I’ve just finished it and launched right into Assassin’s Creed II, but I think I’ve seen enough of both games to say that the first AC is the far superior experience, and probably will remain the best out of the series, and the most memorable to me.

Continue reading A review of Assassin’s Creed: an immersive, groundbreaking experience.

Of Mass Effect and eschatology.

The rest of the world was deep into Mass Effect 3 (and ranting about the apparently horrible ending) when I finally played and finished Mass Effect 2 sometime last October. Lately I’ve been playing through it again as a different class, making alternate choices, and picking up the expansions.

A few thoughts (ah, more like praises) on the game, and more on the world. NOTE: I have played ME1 and ME2 (so this post assumes their knowledge), but I have not played ME3. If you’re planning to comment, do not spoil ME3 or I’ll sic a drell assassin on you.
Continue reading Of Mass Effect and eschatology.