User-Defined Tags

an age an content warning screen for the game Disneyland Adventures on Steam
How much do I really need to explain about what is going on here? There is not a Disneyland game with adult content, or at least not this one. How about a second image that explains much?
a list of user-defined game tags for Disneyland Adventures on Steam including family-friendly, horror, and gore

In the long run, this sorts itself out. In the short run, letting people influence the system lets people troll the system.

: Zubon


Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You is more of a visual novel than a game. Longtime readers know that I do not like visual novels. This at least has some game elements and an interesting interface. It is a crime investigation story themed around government surveillance. On the whole, not bad. Your decision can affect the NPCs’ fates, but the story on a whole is on rails apart from the point where you pick which ending you want.

Orwell makes good use of having a game interface in that it makes you do some things rather than watching them happen completely passively. To take an example from a different genre, there is a difference between throwing open the gates of Hell and having the player open the gates. Even if the player does not have a choice (and you can hide that fact in the first playthrough), there is an impact to requiring the player’s complicity. This is difficult to do in other media; the movie Funny Games has a moment where it creates a viewer choice, as do occasional books that say something like, “stop reading here for this ending,” although it seems clear to everyone that quitting at that point is not the “real” ending. Orwell has several moments when you are the one to click events into motion.

There are only a few meaningful forks in the story, and you cannot derail the main plotline even if you actively try to fail. You can decide what happens to the NPCs as you manipulate information, but the main narrative is what it is.

In a story about trading privacy and freedom for safety and security, a game named “Orwell” is clearly going to come down on the side of freedom. The story is grayer than might be expected, with the “bad guys” pretty clearly in black hats but the “good guys” in ambiguous shades of light gray, where you expect that at least some of them are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Unusually, the freedom-security trade off is actually somewhat of a trade off here, in that you can save NPC lives. This is kinder than many real life trade offs, where one gives up freedom and convenience for the appearance of safety but without significant benefits. This is more nuanced than you would expect from “Orwell.”

Occasionally made explicit in the story but not its main focus is how much extraneous and sometimes incorrect information gets swept up in the process of finding actionable data. Some of that is innocuous, like noting someone’s favorite color on her profile. Some of that is putting in personal information that has no relation to the case (but might, so hoover up everything!). The incorrect information is notable, for example taking a joke out of context and noting that someone engage in torture, or saving baseless speculation alongside true information. Less noted is the number of others brought into the web. While you are gathering information about targets of interest, you note their family members, romantic interests, co-workers, etc. The game keeps you focused instead of letting you create dossiers on every former college classmate of the suspects, but you notice a web of secondary names floating around the people you are following, and any of them could become subjects of investigation after a call.

I cannot quite recommend it because it is about as interactive as a good walking simulator (it uses the terms “episode” and “season” appropriately, like a TV show), but for the type of game it is, this is a good one. People who like this sort of thing will like this. It runs about four hours, about double that if you want to go back and re-do decisions to see how the story can play out differently.

: Zubon

Puzzle Agent 2

I finally got back around to Puzzle Agent, completing the sequel that tells the other half of the story. Or most of it. The ending kind of happens without denouement.

As before, it is basically a cartoon that you watch, punctuated by puzzles you solve to unlock the next bit of story. There are things you click to get dialogue and such, but it is basically a visual novel with a series of puzzle subgames. It is pretty OK? I don’t regret the time playing, but it is not good enough that I would recommend it. It is short enough, a few hours.

The puzzles are a mixed bag, as happens. Some of them are pretty good. Some are trivial. Some are esoteric, completely incoherent unless you spot the connection to something in the real world, generally a numbering system. You look for an internal pattern, and it does not exist; it is an external reference. Either you spot it and know or you scratch your head.

The story starts odd, dodges silly, and does not end particularly coherent. The main storyline gets resolution, but nothing else, and plot holes are left unfilled. It’s fun enough, but it does not add up to much. The puzzle interface is usually better than the first game, although still appalling in a few points.

I am basically ending on a shrug. I have not enjoyed the other Telltale games, given my lack of interest in visual novels. So I think I’m done with Telltale games, unless I feel like watching a story with some quicktime events.

: Zubon

Conventions and Adaptations

I was playing the video game version of Sentinels of the Multiverse (in the current Humble Digital Tabletop Bundle), and it reminds me of the intro to Harlan Ellison’s script for I, Robot. Specifically, the intro notes that adapting a story to a different medium often calls for changes in the story or its presentation, because what works well on the page may not work well on the screen. Whether an adaptation is good, whether it is faithful to the source material, and whether it is faithful to the spirit of the source material can all be separate questions.

Sentinels of the Multiverse opens on the villain’s turn, which is when all the setup happens. In most tabletop games, you spend a while sorting out stacks of cards, putting together a board, something like that. In Sentinels, that is the villain’s first turn. The villain deploys robots, minions, powers, whatever. Other than that, setup is pretty much just putting the decks on the table.

In a tabletop game, setting up can be part of the game. Laying out your Settlers of Catan tiles is an important ritual. Building your board is building you world, with all the opportunities and threats it brings.

In a video game, that is just a long cut scene standing between you and the game. If the computer-controlled villain is the only one acting for the first minute or two of the game, you the player are just sitting there, watching it happen. You take damage, lose cards, whatever, without any chance for input. It is not the opening ritual that it is with physical cards; it is exactly the sort of thing you expect the computer to take care of and streamline when playing on a computer.

And an additional problem is that I do not know that you can streamline it away given the other mechanics. The “one at a time” nature of how the cards stack up can matter, and just throwing it all at the player in one pre-computed lump could get incoherent. Some of the villains are straightforward, but others have multiple, interacting effects, and it would be confusing just to start the game down 15% of your health and need to figure out what happened from the message log. A Settlers of Catan board could spring forth fully formed, and that is in fact what you want from a computer version.

The beauty of board and card games that start on computers, never having a physical version, is that they take advantage of what the computer has to offer. And I imagine some of those are now making physical versions that face similar problems in reverse.

And now we are getting recursive versions, where Gloomhaven and 7th Continent are physical versions of what would otherwise be computer games, and Gloomhaven at least is getting a digital adaptation. Yomi is another of those circuits: take the feel of an arcade fighting game, adapt it to a card game version of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock, and then an online version was made. I cannot speak to how well any of those re-adaptations have gone.

: Zubon

Bundled Quick Reviews

Infested Planet was surprisingly enjoyable. It is a short RTS, kind of like the StarCraft Terran campaign minus the economy. Your human exploration of an alien world goes awry when you come upon an endless stream of angry, hungry bugs, guided by an adaptive overmind that wants to incorporate your human DNA. You stomp huge streams of bugs, blow up their hives, and defend your bases. There is nothing especially special here, just a straightforward game of sending your squads out to fight. You get to customize and level them in each map. The game is not very difficult at normal difficulty, and you can 100% it in about 10 hours. It is a little repetitive within that, in that the basic gameplay does not change much over the course of the game. You get access to new upgrades, and so do the aliens. The basic unit of gameplay is fun for as long as it needs to be.

Caravan is pretty bad, as far as I played. Steam reviews suggest that the first several hours are slow, repetitive, and boring, after which it becomes slow, repetitive, and interesting. This trading game is marred by long transition animations after every action, whether those are 10-second walking animations at the start and end of every journey and random encounter or a shorter dice animation six times every round of every trade or fight. Add to that random events that have a larger impact than your decisions (someone joins your party! your donkey dies! someone ambushes you and stabs you to death, so you get to redo all those transition animations since the last checkpoint!). I gave it more time and benefit of the doubt than it deserved.

: Zubon

Played Recently

Nothing I have been playing is conducive to stories.

I am still playing Slay the Spire and Disney Magic Kingdoms. I could discuss the mechanics and design decisions of DMK, but it is a social media-style game where you send characters on activities and collect the rewards. Its main appeal is the theming, rather than the mechanics.

Rather than analyze the mechanics of Slay the Spire, I should just point you towards JoINrbs.

There are idle games. After getting back into Realm Grinder for a little while, I am currently poking at NGU Idle, which is a variation on Idling to Rule the Gods. It has many subsystems to play with, although I seem to be getting bored faster than I am breaking into new subsystems. The appeal really is just throwing in as many pages and subsystems as possible and seeing what happens, including the recent “IDK Let’s Just Add More Crap” update (actual name). It reminds me a bit of Anti-Idle in that way: many many subpages.

I was playing Town of Salem again, but I just uninstalled. It is frustrating to play and not know who really is that bad and who is just playing dumb while in an evil role. The Coven expansion has some advantages over the original Mafia play, but the “classic” mode that is designed for balance seems vastly less popular than the “chaos” mode that is, as the name implies, chaotic and balanced only in the sense that randomness balances out over time. It is also frustrating that the game has so little lag tolerance, and my wifi is not being the best.

I have some other game prospects, but I’m also thinking that cleaning out closets is sounding surprisingly good against gaming, which is perhaps a bad sign for either me or the games. It’s probably me. There are millions happily gaming.

: Zubon

Kingdom Builder Kickstarter

Long ago I mentioned Kingdom Builder, which we have consistently enjoyed. It is a good board game for both hardcore gamers and casual players, with two players or a full table. I also mentioned that we bought the “Big Box” but only ever use the base game and first expansion, because to my mind the second added more complexity than its additional gameplay were worth; I have not tried later expansions.

Currently on Kickstarter is a Kingdom Builder Family Box, which is the base game plus first expansion for slightly more than the cost of the base game on Amazon. That seems like a pretty good deal. They also have a new edition of the Big Box with everything and some bundles with other games. I cannot speak to how great of deals those are, except for the intrinsic lust for More Board Games. Which I should resist.

This is one of those Kickstarters that is more of a pre-order than a project that would not get off the ground without your help. Queen Games is established and can meet a timeline, which seems like a rarity on Kickstarter. If you back, you will almost certainly get your games before Christmas. I do not have any connection to these people, I just like Kingdom Builder and saw it at Kick the Table.


The goblin you killed will respawn in 30 seconds. The dragon you killed for those boots takes two days to respawn, and you killed it 32 times to get the boots; if you go back, it is still there, still giving out boots (rarely).

You beat the game and immediately start it over. It is a song that never ends, and you sang a verse once.

You log out of the game and never log back in. Maybe you said goodbye. Maybe some players remember you for a while. Maybe someone notices in the guild log that you have not logged in for 574 days and wonders whether to /gkick you. Maybe you will be back. The guild roster is gradually becoming a graveyard. Have we forgotten the players who left, or is it the ones left behind who are forgotten?

There are memories in your head and entries in a database somewhere. You were a great hero (+500 XP). You destroyed the enemy nexus (+2 ELO). You saved the kingdom (quest available again in 19:59:59… 19:59:58…).

Your parents tell you to be careful what you post online, because the internet is forever. Maybe some of your data is archived forever, but much of it is as lasting as a fallen leaf. It grew. It changed colors. It feel beautifully and perhaps unseen. In the spring it was dust, new mulch for new growth.

: Zubon

Slay the Spire: Endless Mode

Custom mode now has one of the long-demanded options: endless mode. I think you’ll find that any deck capable of beating three bosses is capable of going quite a bit further, especially when you can pick modifiers to fuel that even further. You really should turn on blights, however, or else it really does become “endless” mode.

Blights are harsh negatives that replace boss relics. Without them, you can keep increasing your strength faster than the game itself ramps up. That gets boring. Blights make things a little spicier.

In endless mode, the importance of everything shifts: only scaling matters. Anything that is good but works by addition rather than multiplication is crap. The Defect’s Buffer card is normally pretty weak: prevent one attack. In endless mode, when enemies might do hundreds of points of damage, you might Echo-Amplify-Buffer+ to stop six attacks, which will give you enough time to win. But if you’re playing like I do, you go for the turn one win every time so damage doesn’t matter; Mind Blast or Perfected Strike with absurd numbers of cards is fun. And then you eventually hit numbers that are too big or just a really bad roll of the dice.

It can have that Civilization feel: one… more… floor…

: Zubon

Slay the Spire: Custom Mode

Congrats to Mega Crit Games and Slay the Spire: now with 3 characters, 3 modes, and 1 million copies sold. On sale for the Steam summer sale!

The 3rd mode is Custom, and it seems to subsume the daily challenge. I mean, you can still do the daily challenge, but custom mode gives you all those daily options, and more, and lets you pick from them. If you are not playing for the leaderboard, custom mode does everything you want and more.

Custom mode is what it sounds like: you can pick custom modifiers. That includes all the daily challenges, plus some that StS had recently added as special seeds, plus more to come. You can still set a seed. You can pick what character and ascension level you want. The original mode is still The Real Game, but this lets you play the game however you want.

So that’s pretty cool, even if it lets you completely upend the balance of the game (in several directions). There are a few kinks to work out, as you can select mutually exclusive modifiers. And achievements are also turned off, if that matters to you.

: Zubon