Game-related ramblings.

Author: Waltorious Page 2 of 19

Return Of The Obra Dinn As An Introduction To Games

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There’s not much I can say about Lucas Pope’s 2018 game Return of the Obra Dinn that hasn’t already been said. It’s a fantastic game, tasking players with solving the mystery of the titular ship when it drifts into harbor in 1807, with all 60 crew and passengers unaccounted for. Fortunately, our protagonist possesses a magical pocketwatch that allows them to see (and also, separately, to hear) someone’s moment of death. Examining these frozen moments in time, players must determine what transpired, figure out who else was there, and eventually assign faces to the ship’s roster and deduce what happened to all of them. The game is one big intertwined puzzle, absolutely fascinating to play and striking to look at with its retro-styled, two color dithered art. But you probably already knew all of that already, since Return of the Obra Dinn has received rave reviews everywhere.

But, I plucked it from my backlog under unusual circumstances: I was looking for a game to play together with my partner, who is much less well versed in games than I am. Return of the Obra Dinn turned out to be an excellent choice.

History Lessons: Cosmo Police Galivan

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. If you’re looking specifically for console games, those are here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

For those just tuning in, I’ve been playing through early console role-playing games, action role-playing hybrids, and Metroidvanias, but since I keep adding more games to my list the timeline has gotten a bit muddled. The farthest I’ve reached is September 1988 with Spellcaster, but since then I’ve gone back to fill in some games I missed. Most recently that was The Battle of Olympus. If I’d done things in order, The Battle of Olympus would have been followed by Ys II and Lord of the Sword, before bringing us to this post about Cosmo Police Galivan, by Nihon Bussan.

Inspired by Japanese tokusatsu television series Space Sheriff Gavan and Space Sheriff Sharivan, Cosmo Police Galivan was originally a 1985 arcade action platformer game. On June 3, 1988, a Famicom port appeared with drastically different gameplay. While still focused on platforming action, it added role-playing mechanics and nonlinear environments reminiscent of Metroid, that require protagonist Galivan to seek out new weapons and abilities in order to open up new paths. It was never released outside of Japan, but fortunately there’s a fan-made translation patch allowing English speakers to play it via emulation (I used the Retroarch frontend and Mesen emulation core, as usual for Famicom/NES games). It sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a go.

Rainbow In The Dark: Knockout City

This is Rainbow In The Dark, a series about games that actually contain colors. This particular entry is also an honorary member of the Keeping Score series, about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

This Rainbow In The Dark entry honors a game that, sadly, no longer exists. Well, sort of. Official servers for Knockout City went offline on June 6, 2023, rendering the game unplayable. But developers Velan Studios released a separate version (PC only, sadly) of the game compatible with private servers, for free. Setting up a server isn’t easy, but fortunately fans came to the rescue. A core group of players created the Knockout City Launcher, which automates installing the game and connecting to an existing fan server (or starting your own). This is great, because the team-based dodgeball antics of Knockout City are a blast, easy to understand for new players but with a lot of nuance to learn and master. I never ended up playing the smash hit Rocket League, but I got the sense that Knockout City is a similar beast: accessible, but with a high skill ceiling. During the COVID-19 lockdown times, I turned to Knockout City often when I needed a break, and it’s the first competitive multiplayer game I ever put a lot of time into.

Oh, and it’s also beautiful, with a bright and optimistic retrofuturistic style full of flying cars, holograms, and 1950s American fashion.

History Lessons: The Battle Of Olympus

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. If you’re looking specifically for console games, those are here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I’m still rectifying the timeline for this series. After reaching September 1988 with Spellcaster, I realized I’d skipped over some games that should really be included, and went back to cover them. Most recently, that was Sorcerian, released in late December 1987. Thus we now enter 1988 once again. Following Sorcerian in the timeline should be Dragon Quest III, which I’ve already written about, and now The Battle of Olympus, which released in Japan on March 31, 1988, and was later brought to the US by Broderbund in January 1990.

I’d originally skipped over The Battle of Olympus because I’d seen it referred to as a clone of Zelda II, suggesting it had little of its own to offer. After reading more about it, I decided to include it anyway, and I’m glad I did. It does have a lot of similarities with Zelda II, but it manages to feel like its own game despite them.

Scratching That Itch: Simply The Best

This is the one hundred seventy-fourth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred seventy-fourth random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is talking to us about games, design, and the art in and around them. It’s Simply The Best, by Moon Books Publishing (and authored by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi), and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Interviews with Video Game Designers, Composers and Scofflaws

It’s time for some discourse.

History Lessons: Sorcerian

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. If you’re looking specifically for console games, those are here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I’ve been playing early console role-playing games (and action role-playing hybrids, and Metroidvanias), nominally trying to go in chronological order. But I haven’t been very successful at that. The farthest I’ve reached in terms of the timeline is September 1989, with SpellCaster, but I’ve since gone back in time again to fill in some games I missed. Several of those are entries in Nihon Falcom’s Dragon Slayer series, including Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (AKA Legacy of the Wizard), and my most recent entry about Faxanadu, a spinoff game based on Xanadu, the second Dragon Slayer game. If I had my timeline in order, the next game after Faxanadu would have been Hydlide 3: The Space Memories, followed by the original Final Fantasy (which was actually the first post I wrote for this series, heh) and Phantasy Star. After that, we reach the fifth Dragon Slayer game, Sorcerian, originally released in late December, 1987.

Sorcerian is notable as an early example of a game designed to support expansion packs. The development team was tired of having to write the code for a game’s engine and systems every time they made a new game, so they tried a new approach with Sorcerian: it shipped with one disk for the game systems, and another disk with a collection of playable scenarios. Then Nihon Falcom — or others! — could release more scenario disks, which players could collect to continue their adventures. This formula proved successful, and Sorcerian was ported from the PC-88 to other home computer systems as well as consoles like the Mega Drive and PC Engine CD. Later, Sorcerian saw enhanced re-releases for Windows, and the wide range of scenarios to play mean that there are fans still playing it today (interested readers may enjoy this comprehensive feature about Sorcerian for more details). Unfortunately for me, all of those releases are Japan-only, without even any complete fan-made translations. The only time Sorcerian appeared in English was a version for MS-DOS, brought to US markets by Sierra On-Line in 1990. Which means I’ve found myself in the strange position of using comparatively fiddly DOSBox emulation to play it, rather than the console emulation I’ve used for everything else in this series so far.

Scratching That Itch: EGO

This is the one hundred seventy-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred seventy-third random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is here with a message of encouragement and support. It’s EGO, by Sandy Pug Games, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

A game about learning to love yourself

It’s time to spread the love… to ourselves.

I Finally Played Dark Souls

As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I bought Dark Souls when it first came to PC in the form of the Prepare To Die Edition in 2012. I fully intended to play it, but I never did. I suspect this was because I found it intimidating. The press about it made it sound like a fascinating and compelling game, but also a game that is very difficult and obtuse, not to mention huge and all-consuming. There were heaps of praise, sure, but also those who claimed its difficulty was punishing rather than fun. And the horrid behavior of hardcore fans who respond to any criticism of the game (or, indeed, requests for advice from struggling players) with derisive shouts of “git gud”, positioning themselves as gatekeepers who insist their way is the only way to play. A particularly awful example of toxic game culture. Worse, I read about Dark Souls’ online components, which let players “invade” other players’ games, implying I might be minding my own business only to have one of these “git gud” assholes show up and kill my character, like the worst possible griefer.

And yet… Dark Souls sounded fascinating. It launched its own sub-genre of “soulslikes“, not just from original developers FromSoftware but from numerous imitators. None received as much acclaim as FromSoftware’s own successors, of course, be they Dark Souls’ direct sequels, the gothic flavored Bloodborne, samurai tale Sekiro, or last year’s smash hit Elden Ring. There’s no denying that Dark Souls had a huge impact on games as a whole, and I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. So, at long last, I have played Dark Souls, in the form of Dark Souls Remastered since it’s easier to run these days. I now know that all the praise Dark Souls has received is well-earned: it is indeed compelling and fascinating. It’s also not quite what I expected.

Backlog Roulette: XTHRUST

This is Backlog Roulette, a series in which I randomly pick an unplayed game from my backlog and play it. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

On the last Backlog Roulette, about She Remembered Caterpillars, I was wrestling with how to handle random games picked from my terrifying spreadsheet of games I own, versus those acquired more recently in gigantic bundles from itch.io. I decided to weight the spreadsheet games more heavily, because I’d owned them longer, and playing them was the original intention of this series. I’ve thought about it more since, and decided not to bother including the giant itch.io bundles at all. The spreadsheet games are the ones I want, why pretend otherwise?

And so, the digital dice selected XTHRUST, by eipaw ltd, martinez, and njb design llc. I have no memory of acquiring it. It’s just in my Steam library. I suspect it was a giveaway at some point.

Scratching That Itch: Down.

This is the one hundred seventy-second entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred seventy-second random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has just awoken, lying on the grass. It’s down., by Pixelbark, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

A short, somber, narrative experience about depression and anxiety

This isn’t a cheerful one, folks. [EDIT: and it really should have a trigger warning for suicide, as discussed below.]

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