Category Archives: Indie

The Steam Wishlist, Part 1: Unreleased Games

My Steam wishlist is a beast of many attractions. There are titles that at one time or other piqued a fleeting interest and for lack of a better tracking method, were added to the list. There are those games that I intend to buy at a later time when there’s a Steam sale going on. Games that sound like fun for maybe a few hours but don’t warrant the current price to me.

Then there are games that I absolutely intend to play because they tick all my preferred boxes, yet are too vast and time consuming at present for me to tackle. I see you, Horizon Zero Dawn and Ghost of Tsushima. And lastly there are those games yet to be released, early access titles I won’t yet risk because been there done that, once burnt twice shy.

The unreleased Wish List

Bhagpuss recently shared a list of his wishlisted games that have not yet been released, which inspired me to start with the same category. It’s always fun to read what other bloggers are looking out for. Also, I’ve been wanting to purge my wishlist for a good while now, so a blog series on my Steam hopefuls is the perfect excuse to do so. What follows is my final list of unreleased games that have survived the cutting block for now. As you can see, indies are heavily dominating.

Steam Wishlist 01

Outbound is a typical cosy indie adventure. The Wholesome Games curator on Steam has proven a personal goldmine for cute and casual indie titles in the past. Outbound looks interesting because it’s a spin on games like Raft but with an old Volkswagen camper. All will depend on how well executed and varied the features of this game will be; either it’s going to be a boring snoozefest or a small gem among adventure-with-crafting titles.

Everdeep Aurora looks nothing ingame like its cover thumbnail. It’s pushing an oldschool Atari Castlevania aesthetic, only with a cat. Every now and then I enjoy a puzzle platformer or metroidvania, so unless this turns out to be too difficult for me, it could end up in the library after checking reviews first.

Light No Fire looks immediately appealing to anyone who enjoys games like Valheim or Enshrouded. It’s your classic open world survival crafter with co-op. While Steam is loaded with games of said persuasion, I’m particularly interested in the ones that manage to overcome the voxel look and are set in a fantasy world. Light no Fire ticks off both boxes and adds dragon riding on top, so there’s a lot of potential here!

I Need Space looks like a potentially very fun and quirky puzzle adventure that’s doing its own thing. Surface impressions suggest Oxygen Not Included meets Starbound but it’s hard to say at this point, just watch the trailer.

Steam Wishlist 02

Tiny Glade is one of the very few pre-release games that is an almost foregone conclusion for me. It looks fantastic and fits perfectly in my “zen builders” Steam collection together with Townscaper, Dorf Romantik or Cloud Gardens. I really look forward to trying it.

Mika and The Witch’s Mountain is essentially a game about delivering mail to some island townsfolk while riding a broomstick. I mean, how could I not be excited for something like this? It’s Kiki’s Delivery Service and recent titles I have enjoyed, such as Mail Time or A Short Hike, all in one. Pretty sure I will end up playing it!

Europa is a Zelda-esque looking exploration adventure that can go either way. If you enjoy games à la AER or Abzu, exploring old ruins and unearthing civilizations, Europa could be interesting. That is, if it manages to avoid boreout, as sometimes plagues this subgenre.

Silksong, the much awaited Hollow Knight sequel is put here for posterity if nothing else. The truth is, I have all but given up on this title and I doubt it will ever see the light of day. Announced five years ago, the devs went radio silent soon after and nobody really knows anything for sure anymore. It’s too bad, because Hollownight was a fantastic metroidvania in every aspect, a true indie rockstar and personal top 10 title.

Tales of the Shire

I’ve been ruminating on Twitter some time ago on how we’ve never seen that many successful videogames based on Tolkien’s works. There’s obviously LOTRO and the “Shadow of…” titles which have done reasonably well. I also personally really enjoyed the LEGO version of the movie trilogy. That aside, there’s the old EA games, an RTS and awful recent failures like the Hunt for Gollum. That is precious little over the past 20 years and I’ve always wondered why we’ve not seen a beautiful adventure game across Middle-Earth, an open-world RPG or casual title. For the most part LOTR based games seem to revolve around war despite the fact that there’s such a wealth of whimsy in Tolkien’s world.

Fortunately, it looks like the folks at Wētā Workshop might change this soon. Thus far, there hasn’t been an awful lot of information on Tales of the Shire other than the website and a more recent gameplay trailer from three weeks ago. But it’s the below update from inside their New Zealand games division that really has me excited:

I would personally love to play a more relaxed and fun LOTR game that focuses on casual play, questing and maybe also farming and building around locations like the Shire, Bree-Land or the South Farthing. I get the impression that there’s a very passionate, talented team of Tolkien fans over at Wētā really looking to create a unique and beautiful experience that could be exactly what many of us explorers and tinkerers have been waiting for. If anyone can do it, it’s probably them. Fingers crossed!

Blaugust Kickoff: Happy Street Gang

So Belghast initiated another round of #Blaugust for this August 2015 and in one last-minute act of madness, which was totally not instigated by other bloggers on twitter, I decided to join the crazy company (you can still do so btw!). I always said blogging on a daily basis is not for me and since I usually end up doing the things I say I won’t do (like never joining twitter or playing Tera), I might as well lose whatever credibility I got left. Twitter is where your resolutions go to die.

I figured this is a good opportunity for me to get back to a more frequent posting schedule and also get over that raging post-vacation malady. Also, I hear there’s a tattoo involved for all those that beat the Blaugust challenge.

Join the Happy Street Gang!

A while ago I was looking for more mobile games to play on tablet. I have since tried out and un-installed a long list of titles, most of which have proven to be disappointing one way or another to no one’s surprise. My search did however yield one unexpected gem I’ve been playing since and that you should look into if you’re up for some solid casual fun on your phone or tablet: Happy Street.

Happy Street was developed by french team Godzilab which is really two guys living in Europe and the United States. It’s been around for a few years and is totally not inspired by a certain popular community simulator by Nintendo. Think 2D-Animal Crossing with different maps, very straightforward town building and some quest-based crafting and you’re almost there, cool outfits and hats included! What sold it for me were mainly the following points:

  • It is incredibly kawaii. The buildings and sites are a pleasure to behold and the characters are adorable, or as this article said it best: “So what makes Happy Street so awesome? It’s super-cute.”
  • Level 17 and going, the game is still completely casual without any increased pressure from timesinks or IAP gates. There is a virtual currency that’s very optional and easily acquired through other means, if you really wanted to. There’s no obligation to spend real money and plenty to do otherwise.
  • The game is addictive in its simplicity; as more and more options unlock, you’ll be hard pressed to choose from a plethora of decoration themes and combo options to make your town and villagers look hot and keep tourists spending cash in your shops. From puke-monster balloons to gameboys and rock guitars, everything is on offer!
  • Certain mushroom concoctions will launch a “Fiesta” in your village, putting everyone in a mental state of spending frenzy accompanied by this track. Need I say more?


Also optionally, making an account and adding friends in Happy Street will allow you to save progress, earn some free currency daily and help each other out with resources (or send rude mail). By now, there’s a small group of MMO bloggers who have found their way into my Happy Street neighbourhood, so if you’re curious about the game drop me an email or tweet sometime and I’ll provide you with all the info.

Join the Happy Street Gang today – we have mushroom grog!

Mobile Gaming 4 U (and me)

After much consideration (I am cheap), I finally became the owner of a shiny Samsung T800 Galaxy Tab (10.5) this last Tuesday. Aside of being able to watch clips and movies as well as read and chat with more ease thanks to a much larger screen, owning a tablet means mobile games! I partly got this tablet so I could return to the frantic fun that is Cook Serve Delicious (which you should totally own) but I am also set on discovering more casual games to take to Italy with me next month. Yes, that’s what I do while sunbathing at the Adriatic coast (don’t judge).


In my head, mobile gaming has so much potential and yet, discovering games that are worth a dime feels like pearl diving at the bottom of a vast sea of humbug. That’s why I’ve spent this week sourcing my social media platforms for solid mobile titles inside the RPG/adventure/sim and casual silliness corner. So far, I ‘ve been able to secure the following games, along with the awesome CSD:

  • You must build a boat
  • Crossyroad
  • Monument Valley
  • Blek
  • Plague Inc.

As you can see, I don’t really care if the games cost me a dollar or not, as long as it’s worth the investment. In fact, paywalled content or a lot of ads and popups are a big no-go in my book. This is where I’m shouting out for more tips from y’all – it would be especially nice if there was a JRPG or two that I could sink my teeth into. I do know about mobile Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy & Co., what I’m looking for is something potentially new and fun that lands somewhere between Zelda and FF (no tactical RPGs plx!). I also really like games that look good or have nice music, so this is where I’m recommending Buddy&Me and TA: Red Riding Hood to those of you who are into that kind of thing.

So yeah, I need some help with this. More mobile tips & recommendations this way please! And happy weekend everybody!

(P.S. I am waiting on Fallout Shelter to come out on Android, in case that was your first thought!)

With a Crying and a Laughing Eye: A Look at GOTYs of 2013 and MMOs for 2014

It’s that time of the year and we are all horribly stressed. Everyone demands things from us at work and they only just remembered, there are trips to plan and if you are very unlucky, a ton of last minute Christmas presents to buy for your more-or-less loved ones. I am looking at my Steam wish list and wonder what to gift myself. It’s quiet right now, outside the world of consoles.

Looking back on a year of gaming, 2013 was as MMO-starved as initially expected. Even Wildstar took a pass at a well-timed launch, eager to make Q2 of 2014 even more unmanageable. Only TESO has finally come forth and snatched the magic date of 04.04.2014, fingers crossed! We shall see – such are the words of wise (and burnt) MMO veterans. I gave up on Guild Wars 2 this summer after the Bazaar of the Four(thousand) Achievements event and I am still stuck at the gates of Moria in LOTRO (edro, edro!). Other than that, I’ve had a look at TERA and found it to be very beautiful and just as flawed. I played some FFXIV:ARR too, only to forget about it. Such was my year of MMORPGs.


In lieu of many new MMO stories to tell, I am excited for a new year packed with MMO launches and Wildstar isn’t even among them. Here go my most-anticipated MMOs of 2014:

1) The Elder Scrolls Online
While the game looks far from perfect depending on what gameplay video you watch on youtube, it shows all the flaws (ugly character models, clunky UI) of Skyrim – game of games. All things considered, I choose to trust those (as I have no choice here in the EU where no beta keys have been released) who have named it a true Skyrim experience and put my money on TESO for 2014. You can laugh and point fingers when the time comes as I’m sure you will. (I would).

2) Everquest Next & Landmark
Still unsure about how Landmark is going to work and play into EQN, I look forward to some of the design progress SOE intends to take up from GW2. Rallying Calls sound hot and the Adventurer Class finds me mildly excited. Not exactly boundless euphoria (the cartoony graphics are still a major turn-off) but I think we can expect a polished package from SOE, with some unique twists as usual. And if not, well it’s all free to play, right?

3) Archage
Another game to be published by Trion, Archage piqued my curiosity although I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because the entire character customization and backgrounds look like ArenaNet had some weekends to spare, or because the game is supposedly this awesome sandbox with 120 classes and non-instanced housing. I don’t care for naval combat but I admit sending other players to prison sounds appealing.

4) Skyforge
Nobody knows much about Skyforge, the fact aside that Team Allods and Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2) have decided to join forces in developing a new MMO. While they didn’t bother releasing any information in English so far and the only existing “trailer” is a lot of repetitive blah in vibrant colors, I have lots of Allods love to give to this project. All that said, that 2014 launch is highly dubious.

MMOs aside, I look forward to The Witcher 3 (SO MUCH!), Dragon Age Inquisition, Child of Light and Tom Clancy’s: The Division. That last one looks like there might be some splendid coop play to be had and I need to compensate for Destiny not launching on PC.


This better be good!

As for my GOTYs of 2013

Outside the world of MMOs, 2013 has been a fantastic year for indie gaming. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve had the greatest fun with smaller titles this year, taking me completely aback and delivering the sort of experiences many AAA-games can only dream of. I’ve also been late to some parties in 2013 which is why not all of my personal GOTYs were actually released this year. Sue me.

1) Don’t Starve
This quirky, dark-humored and deeply complex rogue-like, with its Burton-esque flair and stellar soundtrack, is undoubtedly one of the craziest bangs for the buck of 2013. DS is a polished gem of hilarious proportions and everyone should get it! Nuff said.

2) Dust: An Elysian Tail
My great love of 2013, Dust is every bit the work of love of its tireless creator. It’s a beautiful game packed with retro and indie homage, intuitive and fun combat, deep story and loveable characters, secrets to hunt down (spoiler!) and a stunning soundtrack, making for an easy 12+ hours of gameplay at a ridiculous price. Not enough good things can be said about Dust: AET, indeed.

3) Bioshock Infinite
While much can be debated on behalf of BI’s story, there can be no doubt that it ranks among the greatest AAA-experiences of 2013. Stunning visuals, complex narrative and intriguing characters have made this rail shooter a must-play in my books (and I don’t shoot that often).

4) The Witcher 2
Rather late than never, I am currently still playing the Witcher 2 and have completely fallen in love with its characters and immersive way of story-telling. People have complained about the frequent cut scenes but you’ll hear no complaints from me. The Witcher 2 features some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen in an RPG, a carefree way of making choices and beautiful, atmospheric settings (that to be fair, could be more completely accessible). Oh, and dragons!

5) LOTRO (my MMO saving grace!)
Impossibly late to this one, I started playing LOTRO between December 2012 and January 2013 and have been paying subscriptions ever since. Even if I’m complaining about the experience grind before Moria, LOTRO is probably among the Top 3 MMORPGs I have ever played, with hands down the most immersive MMO world I ever had the privilege to travel. Much of this is thanks to things like perfect scale and sound effects which we have yet to see in other games. Also: player music!

Looking back, I almost feel a little sad parting with 2013 now but nothing that a great new MMO can’t fix. Beware 2014, such weight already lieth on thy shoulders! Do we dare to unleash our expectations – or should we play it safe, for now?

P.S. I’ve played ‘Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons’ few days after writing this article and it is officially added to my GOTYs of 2013!

Off the Chest – Rant Edition: Ballroom MMOs, The Emperor’s new Indie and Fantasy Games


Am I gonna rant. I can’t say I’ve been particularly amused where some recent developments in the game industry are concerned. In fact, I detect a backward trend – of faux values or faulty conclusions, especially where game journalism is concerned, a celebration of pretentiousness and a hype of the trivial that makes me wonder when we stopped asking games for everything in order to receive something, preferably better.

Ever, Jane – Bringing Women’s Fantasies to Video Games

If there’s one thing I personally like to do less than having to read one more Jane Austen novel in my life, it’s playing a Jane Austen MMO. To be perfectly clear here: I’ve no issue with players excited for new, non-combative MMO concepts nor the developers of EJ for that matter. I am incredulous that kickstarter was funded but whatever floats your boat. If ballroom dances replace “epic raids” for you and gossip is a preferable form of combat, why not knock yourself out in a romanticized historical period setting where women were worth less than silver cutlery – yes why not? That prospect is about as exciting and empowering to me as root canal treatment but what has really kicked off this whole EJ-rant is the subtle assumption that this particular game is somehow for women. Or as was stated so wonderfully in a recent interview title on Ever, Jane – Bringing Women’s Fantasies to Video Games!


Whoever is responsible for that wording on one of the most popular MMO gaming sites today, needs to seriously check themselves. I gotta say, it’s a depressing time for female gamers when the MMO worlds we are seeking out ignore us completely or make us a mere afterthought – and the ones we don’t wish to be part of are supposedly MADE for us! Oh the lofty art of gossip, such a womanly skill indeed!

Indiemania – Because nostalgia fills in all the gaps! NOT.

In April 2012 Jim Sterling of Gamefront asked the provocative but very reasonable question of whether we are being too generous to indie games. One year and a half later, after having had some of the best times with stellar titles such as Don’t Starve and Dust: AET this 2013, as well as some of the most incredulous laughs since Atari multigame packs (ou…ya), I echo his sentiment. The unabashed praise that some indie games have received of late by game journos for doing one thing right (thank god for commenters) as opposed to the top level criticism received by full-package, all-around polished titles such as Bioshock Infinite or Assassin’s Creed IV BF, is nothing short of a baffling double standard – not to mention unjust towards anyone involved in creating latter games. For some reason it’s become a very personal, almost unacceptable matter to sternly criticize indie developers. Yet, with big labels it’s still “anything goes” because no real people and livelihoods are involved there.

As Rampant Coyote recently pointed out, what makes the indie “revolution” so great is the liberation, the literal independence from investors, publishers and distributors due to the chance for smaller venues to get noticed in a sea of big fish –

The whole “revolution” and term “indie” was really about a back-door way to set ourselves apart from the guys spending millions of dollars on TV ads, so that gamers *might* take look off the beaten path once in a while and see what we were doing. To the people (especially the press) who weren’t really paying attention, sure – it’s a revolution. Or maybe just a revelation. They turn the corner from their thoroughfare and say, “Holy crap, when did all THIS stuff get built?” and don’t realize it’s all been there forever. [Rampant Coyote]

What indie absolutely isn’t, is a commendation of any kind; an assurance of quality or innovation or worse, an excuse for laziness and mediocrity. Naturally, the successes of titles such as Braid have created a bubble, encouraged an unmanageable flood of cheap copies and lazy attempts at retro homage to a point where ugly pixel graphics and 8bit bleeps are associated with being subversive, deviant or new wave. As someone who actually doesn’t consider retro new wave because I‘ve been to original retro, I’ve endured original retro, let me say this: there is no inherent virtue in pixel graphics. None.


Superbrothers Sword & Sorcery

Now, some games make the retro look their own; they take it a step further, creating something beautiful or unique. These games are rare. They stand out from the crowd and justify simplicity. They don’t look retro because they “were rushed” or “didn’t have the manpower” or “funds”. They still deliver a package. One of my favorite games this year was created by one guy – it features the most polished 12-hours gameplay experience, retro and contemporary indie homages alike, a deep story with loveable characters, secrets to discover and an off-the-charts soundtrack. You’ll hear no one-man indie excuses from Dean Dodrill.

I have no indie love for indie’s sake. I’ve no love for games that get slack for reason XY when others don’t – that’s not how I perceive my role as a gamer. I’ve no love for game journalists celebrating the emperor’s new clothes in a rush of undifferentiated or artsy hype, at no one’s service but their own. I’ve no love for developers trying to get a free pass for pushing my nostalgia buttons –

We should all strive to look past the smoke and mirrors of modern indie developers, to see which ones are passing off shitty games as indie darlings by pulling on our nostalgic heartstrings. We ought to tell an emotionally engaging art game from one that’s just making indirect references to the “human condition” in order to look smarter than it is. [source]

I am not interested in asking less of games. I still want games to get better in every way possible. And I hope this has something outrageously good going for it, because it sure as hell doesn’t look that way. We can have the morals and the story, as well as the package? Sorry I even asked! (GOTY of 2014: PONG!)

Seriously, there’s no such thing as enough (good) fantasy MMOs

This last argument isn’t so much a rant as a disagreement really and an evergreen at that. The lovely Mike Foster over at Massively recently ventured forth to state that we have had enough fantasy MMOs already – to which I had to respectfully disagree on twitter:


Now I do get the genre fatigue, I really do but let’s remember correlation. If players are tired of dead horses such as ever being the hero, the holy trinity, traditional questing and foreseeable ends, then that’s an issue of gameplay first and foremost: of mechanics, of writing, of balance and overall lack of imagination. Which is rather ironic given the setting. We should absolutely ask for more.

However, kill ten rats is still kill ten rats in a zombie or space shooter MMO. Personally, I can’t wait to play more fantasy MMOs in the future with dragons and shameless magic of which there can’t ever be enough. I also hope they’ll do new things, show us new twists while playing differently, daring to use their unique fantasy on the fantasy. If you got the setting down, surely you can start focusing elsewhere?

And if everything fails, I can still go ballroom dancing in Ever, Jane. I wonder if I can bring my retro flamethrower.

Three Indie games, three ways of handling story

Last week I wrote on storytelling in MMORPGs and why I think there should be less telling going on in this genre in particular. Judging from the passionate discussions this topic sparked in my comment section as much as on other blogs (such as over at Nils, Bhagpuss, Rowan, Tesh,  Soresu or Eri), it’s  become apparent that many of us feel strongly about this subject and how MMOs should deal with it. It’s probably a fair guess too that most of us actually want stories, so the games we play need to allow and in some cases (such as lore) prepare for them. Interestingly enough, the debates also showed a wide consensus insofar as that many of today’s MMORPGs (which feature heavy exposition) fail in this regard and don’t sufficiently challenge player imagination. I find this rather noteworthy.

On the weekend I’ve played through another indie game, called Proteus. I hadn’t heard about this title previously and went into the whole experience, a term which certainly applies here, unbiased and without expectations. It so happens that Proteus is another antithesis to how story is delivered in many of today’s games, making a perfect addition to a follow-up I’ve been meaning to write on indie games which handle story a little differently. If you find yourself generally curious about different narrative approaches in videogames and are looking to delve further into this subject, I can highly recommend playing these and I will attempt to summarize for you in which way each game tackles story and includes the player in the narrative process (if at all).

Before I get to this though, it’s important to briefly cover my bases as far as definitions go. There is always some wiggling room for interpretation in terminology, but generally when I refer to lore, story or story-telling, my meaning is this:

  • Lore: lore is the unspoken framework of the world. It’s its past and history and is (or should be ) all around you. In the real world lore shows itself via culture, language, architecture, art etc. The same applies to plausible virtual worlds. There is much more to lore than reading books or hearing a story told by elders.
  • Story/Narrative: while a story can be “told” (or narrated), the most engaging stories are the ones that are not explained but developed, discovered, unearthed and experienced step by step. Story happens inside the recipient’s mind and can be achieved in many different ways, to different effect. In games, the player should be part of an experience rather than just a reader.
  • Story-telling: the most direct way to communicate story is via spelling it out for someone, in written or spoken text. This applies to random stories as much as lore and is rarely the best way (and certainly the least engaging or immersive way) to include the player (=/ players are not “audience”).

With that out of the way, let’s continue with the way each of the games below handles story. I vow to keep this on a conceptual level and to steer clear of big, bad spoilers as much as possible.

A) “Journey”


Journey is a game of no words, featuring incidental but non-verbal player interaction. While the player is set on an unknown (but essentially linear) path through a visually stunning, limited open world of soft pastels, the only rough guidance comes in the form of paintings on ancient ruin walls, occasional riddles/triggers or NPC presence. Gameplay mechanics are limited to few commands. The player is an errant wanderer, the goal is unclear.

How story is created in Journey: Journey is all about lore. While linear in essence, the game offers more or less opportunities to marvel at details found in the environment and speculate on what appear to be remnants of ancient civilization. Between “zones”, the player’s journey is recapped in form of animated mural artwork. There is a beautiful conclusion (or interpretation) to Journey although it is as much a beginning as an end.

Do I feel like a part of Journey’s story? – Yes. Do I feel as if I am driving the narrative? – Yes.

B) “Dear Esther”


Without intending to make a quality statement, Dear Esther is a title I would call more book than game. It’s visualized story-telling in which the player gets to travel strange landscapes of the mind or memory, with narrated monologues by someone else (or maybe not). The player’s path is therefore limited and gameplay in the traditional sense is virtually non-existent. The vistas you travel are tied to the information given as the story moves along.

How story is created in Dear Esther: despite being narrated, Dear Esther presents the player with more questions than answers. The story is hard to follow, text consists of non-expository, ambiguous and often unclear snippets which need to be puzzled together and leave much room for interpretation. While Dear Esther is all about the narration, it leaves much guesswork to the player. The conclusion is a riddle in itself, leaving the player wondering how much of a part he truly had in what’s been told.

Do I feel like a part of Dear Esther’s story? – I’m still figuring this one out. Do I feel as if I am driving the narrative? – Not really.

C) “Proteus”


Proteus is both a game of very limited gameplay as well as minimalistic graphics, putting emphasis on music and sound effects. Cast away on a strange small island, the player gets to move around freely in an attempt to map and explore the natural habitat, including few mysterious ruins scattered across the place. Acknowledgement of player existence is given through sound effects and some NPC reactions. Other than that, there is nothing to be “learned”, no particular path to be taken nor any other action possible in order to “move things forward”. Proteus is literally about (patiently) experiencing the flow of time and its impact on the environment.

How story is created in Proteus: as there’s neither narration nor lore worth mentioning, Proteus is an extreme example of leaving gaps in story. The experience is literally about being there and biding one’s time. While player action or presence seems insignificant, there is still change happening in the world which can be detected and interpreted. Ultimately, Proteus delivers a conclusion similar to Journey’s although much more timidly so. Story in this game is whatever you choose to tell yourself.

Do I feel like a part of Proteus’ story? – No. Do I feel as if I am driving the narrative? – No.

My personal conclusion

Of the three games, Proteus proved to be my greatest challenge. It’s bewildering to “play” a game which hardly acknowledges your presence and generally offers no way of participation. The same could be said for Dear Esther, yet there purpose gets clear from the beginning and the game still offers the player a weak sense of driving chapters forward, if not the actual story. Proteus on the other hand comes with a sense of open world and seems to follow its own timer; while the world changes around you, there’s a feeling of helplessness or lack of understanding that I personally found unnerving. To me it felt like shouting into a well with no echo. I had a very hard time engaging myself where there was so little to engage yourself with (and the island is too small to explore for a long time). I cannot say that I found any story worth telling despite there being a final “conclusion”.

No doubt there are players who would disagree with me on Proteus and whose experiences differs greatly. Maybe players who also dig the musical aspect of the game which I found annoying after a while. This is the interesting part though: the way we experience games tells much about ourselves. Proteus strained my patience and frustrated my impulses for activity. It showed that just wandering a world influenced by time is not enough for me and won’t satisfy my wish for story in games. To be fair, the game is stripped of almost everything. At the very least it could do with some more lore but that’s my opinion.

That experience also confirmed I need some traditional gameplay and means of interaction to enjoy myself; in Proteus, the concept of the “player” is reduced to a point where I found it difficult to feel emotion or attachment (can there be such a thing if the “self” is removed?). This is not just due to the lack of visible avatar (which is the case in Dear Esther too); the game makes a point of how unimportant you are as an entity. You might as well be a hovering, maneuverable camera taking wildlife shots. No thanks – but it sure was an experience.

Journey remains my favorite for overall accomplishment and story – although I would pay for more games coming forward and expanding on Dear Esther’s concept. Journey achieves a stunning balance between player inclusion and leaving gaps, showing story rather than telling it. It features enough gameplay to retain a sense of driving things forward while the player remains a wonderer, wanderer and puzzler within a much greater tale. It’s the game I therefore also found the most immersive and the only one I have replayed. Unfortunately Journey remains PS3-only (worth borrowing the console if you don’t own it!). Both Dear Esther and Proteus can be acquired on Steam.

I recommend all of them if you’re looking to blow your narrative mind sometime and also to test the limits of your very personal notions of what constitutes game. You never know what you may discover.

Tunes of Magic IV – Indie Edition

This is the fourth chapter of an ongoing series on amazing video-game soundtrack and tunes. 
Previous posts featured on MMO Gypsy:

Delving deeper into the world of indie games over the past couple of months, it struck me how much love and creative spirit can go into games that may never reach a wider audience. Granted, many indie games are worth forgetting (just like games in general) – but those we like to remember are rare and precious gems sticking out of the grey mass of average shelf-huggers and annual top titles from big labels.

In many ways, playing indie games reminds me of my early console days; sessions were as immersive as they were short. What games lacked in technical polish or scope, they made up for with heart, care for detail and memorable stories and characters. And then, the tunes….who could ever forget the tunes?

The multi-platform era, with digital stores and community portals such as Steam, presents video-gamers with an unprecedented opportunity to discover smaller projects doomed to lurk in the shadows before. Several have left a notable mark in my recent memory, boldly reaching across genre frontiers or celebrating the past in brilliant colors. They’ve also made it into my personal soundtrack lists, adding elaborate and amazing tunes to a unique experience. I highly encourage anyone to give such titles a shot sometime and to not miss out on their music of which you can find my six personal picks for today below.

Dear Esther – Twenty One
Fans of Journey might enjoy Dear Esther for its similar narrative focus while wandering a map with no sense of direction. After playing it multiple times I’d call it a visualized ghost story, as aerial as its brilliant soundtrack and dream vistas, but also eerie and oppressive while the player tries puzzling together snippets of memories told by mysterious narrators. This title is “more book than game” and will attract fans of unorthodox design concepts.
Bastion – Faith of Jevel
The entire soundtrack of Bastion reflects the diversity of this highly artistic action RPG, with its unforgettable narrator’s voice. The tracks go from more pensive and epic tunes to electric guitars and western/country inspired pieces. A definite must-have for all collectors!
Braid – Downstream
Whether you call it colorful 2D-platform game or puzzle adventure similar to Limbo, Braid’s soundtrack adds much to an in places confusing journey. The tracks are mostly on the quiet and dreamy side, with a folk guitar or violin/cello tuning in ever so often.
Trine 2 – Forlorn Wilderness
Both Trine titles feature the genuine, oldschool RPG music experience – from light fairy flutes to dark caves and spooky forest tunes. Lovers of the classic fantasy genre cannot go wrong here. Having only recently stumbled on Trine 2, I was blown away by its beautiful 2D/3D graphics style and backgrounds. Whether you like jumpy action and puzzles or not, I highly recommend playing the demo!
Super Meat Boy – The Battle of ‘Lil Slugger
Although not personally into excruciatingly difficult platformers and dark humor  with chainsaws, Super Meat Boy features one of the most accomplished, up-tempo soundtracks out there. A thrilling firework of industrial music meets classic meets retro, there are tracks aplenty to shake or headbang along.
To the Moon – Main Theme
A game of limited gameplay and visual attraction, To the Moon is all about profound storytelling, the minds and hearts of its characters and the struggle of life. The entire soundtrack is a stunning, achieved work of beauty while merry and up-lifting tracks are few and far between. However, anyone with a soft spot for slow piano tunes should absolutely love this soundtrack!

I hope you enjoy these picks and it’s definitely worth browsing on from there! As usual, further recommendations are much appreciated!

"Journey" – When online players have no words

As video gamers we are living in wonderful times. I guess few decades from now some child of the future will smirk at this as he waves away a hovering NPC hologram with a sweep of his hand. Still, we are privileged in this time, too – to witness the speed of progress, the giant leaps technology has taken since our first 8bit steps until today. Video games are beautiful and there are more and more special and weird gems surfacing as developers get bolder and the audiences grow.

Nonetheless, games or rather experiences such as Shadow of the Colossus, Limbo or Bastion are preciously rare. You really need to be on the lookout and it appears that we are actually in for another treat.

“Journey”, out this March 2012 on PS3 network, promises to be everything that can be expected of a true video game delicacy. Set in a strange desert world of soft pastels, its unique graphics and smooth effects are a sight for sore eyes. Like for Limbo, there is no music in Journey and the player is cast into a strange setting without preamble, without map, unaware of what the actual “goal” of his adventure might be. And so he starts traveling, ever forward, exploring and solving curious riddles on the way by aid of visual hints alone.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about Journey however, is that it’s actually played online – and there’s a real chance to meet other players in the middle of the desert. Strangers you will never know, strangers you cannot speak to and yet –

While traveling the player can encounter other players, one at a time, if they are playing online. Players cannot speak to each other, but can help each other in their journey or not as they wish. Players met online will not be identified with a username and voice or text communication will not be possible with the other player. According to designer Jenova Chen, “it’s about two strangers who meet online. They don’t know who they are or how old they are. All they know is, that is another human being. “The only way players can communicate audibly with each other is with a wordless shout. Players will have symbols on the front of their robes for identification, so that the player can tell whether they have met that traveler before or not”[..]

[…]The game is intended to make the player feel “small” and to give them a sense of awe about their surroundings. The co-op aspect of the game is intended to allow the players to feel a connection to other people through exploring with them, rather than talking to them or fighting them. [source]

With that bit of information, Journey has reached maximum appeal with me. It appears that for a while the folk at IGN struggled for words too trying to define what this game actually is, y’know definitions (the final IGN review is actually much better). No matter what you like to call it, an “acid trip” as suggested, a poetic experience, a mad ride – maybe the point about Journey is that there’s no “point”, other than that:

The journey is the point.

A title worthy of some attention, methinks. Now all I need is to borrow a PS3!

Videogames are beautiful

My old friend Cyrille is quite possibly the most dedicated, passionate retro-gamer I will ever know. Before he made his ultimate dream come true – moving to Japan, that mother of artsy videogames, manga and anime, and falling desperately in love with a girl there who is now mother of his son – we grew up together for a time. Cy was a PC Engine (aka Turbo Duo) worshipper down to the bone, with presently 688 out of a total of 735 games owned, and I don’t think he ever eyed any game past the 32bit era with anything but disdain, which made for both entertaining and infuriating discussions sometime. “Video games are works of art” he used to tell me, anything less was not worth his time. He wanted to see love and great care put into them by developers, love for a synthesis between story, graphics, soundtrack and theme, care for the little details that stick in our minds forever. We would watch game intros in solemn awe together or listen to wacky game midis as if they were Beethoven’s Fifth. Truth be told, my cellphone’s ringtone and sounds are still SNES midis – there’s a lot of nostalgia involved.

Why do people play video games? Plenty of reasons there: entertainment, challenge, competition, winding down, the social / cooperative factor, escapism, yadda yadda. Most of these things can also be found while having drinks in a bar or playing poker with friends though. Being into video games goes a bit deeper in my mind, although I am aware not everyone shares the same interest as me. But it’s always annoyed me how anyone into literature, painting or music is automatically a fine “art and culture” lover, while being a gamer gets little to no such credit. Video games are two steps away from movies and TV, with a big fat label saying “passive and unproductive” on the package. Being into teh arts however, is enough to make you seem distinguished and productive. You might not play any instrument yourself or ever have held a brush in your life, still: you = creative!

Well, I have some news: video games are works of art. Video games are beautiful. They’re not just moving pictures stirring behavioural principles to enslave people into passivity forever; they’re the joint product of a hundred art departments come together. Years of meticulous planning and execution, a delightful composition of graphic, music, story, coding and heart. The work of outstanding artists, visionaries and dreamers, appealing to several of our senses simultaneously. If you have a good look at some MMO and general game sites, forums and blog discussions these days, you get the impression that many gamers have forgotten what  they are dealing with. Debates on subscription models and numbers, launch dates, developer vs. publisher wars, playtime, class balances, server and credit card crashes, bargains on collector’s editions. Very little on the art that is games. Very little delight about the concept art, story or music involved.

Has the audience gone numb, deaf and blind or are today’s games simply such cheap creations off the same careless, fast-producing clay, that no appreciation for more artistic aspects is possible? Or is there an ongoing trend in the videogame industry to get closer and closer to movie making, as this author states in his lenghty but interesting article?

When games are works of art

On my recent search for more old-school adventure games, I’ve stumbled into a world that I had not visited for a long time. I’ve asked around for recommendations quite a bit, not just on my blog, but some game forums where I have been resident for many years and people know my tastes quite well. I knew Monkey Island and Siberia were a good starting point – point&click and puzzle adventures in general, as long as they emphasize story and setting over tedious, endless riddle guessing (which I hate) and jumpy acrobatics. I excluded MUDs because I am still looking for the video in game (still, thanks to Jaedia for this recommendation!).

What do you know, I got a lot more feedback than expected. And not just that: I got my finer senses back for what I truly appreciate in games – the scary, the hilarious, the atmosphere. It’s true, a lot of today’s videogames have dropped off the same bandwagon and they are not meant to last; but there are the daring and different still.

One such game that I need to highlight is Limbo (XBOX live arcade, 2010) which has been the biggest surprise to me of the suggested lot – being completely without music (there are sounds though) and text. It is the most unsettling, creepy yet beautiful game I have encountered in years. A boy lost in an deep forest where death is as imminent as the sky and yet as quiet as the wind whispering among the trees. If you hold any love for dark fairy tales and a fascination for the subtly macabre (hello Neil Gaiman readers), Limbo is an absolute delicacy on grounds of imagery and atmosphere alone. It is such a breath of fresh air to find such indie projects still being produced, but judge for yourself.

Videogames are an art form made up of visuals, sound, and a mysterious little something we call gameplay. Limbo is the perfect example of these three crafts working together in harmony to create something astounding. With no text, no dialogue, and no explanation, it manages to communicate circumstance and causality to the player more simply than most games. This 2D puzzle platformer in a film noir style is one of the best games you’ll play this year on any platform. (

Often compared to Braid, I’ve not found the second, very jumpy puzzle game nearly as compelling in terms of atmosphere or gameplay (also, I find the protagonist Tim annoying). Braid has won awards for beautiful artwork and innovative design though and is clearly another pearl in that corner of the genre.

Parallel to Limbo, I have engaged in Monkey Island, re-mastered. After only the first chapters (and some awkward sparring rounds at the weapon master), I noticed my saved gamedata at 40%. I had to smile at this: yes, games used to be this short. Of a great adventure like Monkey Island, you could expect a run of 5 hours max. Today, you can hear people complain if a videogame “only offers 30 hours of gameplay”. But on to some more pearls…

As I hadn’t specified platform, only excluding handhelds (mostly because I have played all the good ones on DS already), I was surprised to get some flash-/browser games on my list. They’re full of love for detail, featuring beautiful tunes and engaging gameplay:

If Samorost’s style rings any bells for you, the games are in fact by Amanita Design, the studio behind the delightful Machinarium for PC, PS3 and Wii. A demo for the game can be found here.

Realizing I am now completely leaving the world of adventures, I still like to mention an old, secret fandom of mine, the Orisinal mini-games by Ferry Halim. The page has been there forever and is not being updated very often, but each game is a little wonder of its own (I particularly like the star girl and dragon flies).

Further Reading

Shinies and oddballs aside, my list of more classic text adventures has grown too. To name a few that I intend to look into: Indiana Jones, Broken Sword (1-3), Discworld, the King’s Quest series, Lost Horizon, Zak McKracken and Gray Matter. For some reason I couldn’t help but feel reminded of the upcoming MMO, the Secret World, when checking out that last title.

I have also been informed that there’s a rather in-depth guide to classic adventure games available on Amazon; I’m sure that to sworn genre cracks such an encyclopaedia provides a great read. Also, unrelated to the topic of adventures, I found this article on artful videogames well worth reading. I can only second the sentiment on Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

I shall be entertained by this list of adventure games for some time to come, methinks – enjoying their stories, music and world. I dare say, it’s quite the rest and relaxation compared to what’s going on in other corners of the world of games right now.