Game-related ramblings.

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Year One Of Scratching That Itch

The Scratching That Itch series is where 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.

One year ago, I started Scratching That Itch as a way to simultaneously cover games from the massive itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, and keep the conversation about systemic racism and racial justice going. That conversation reached the international stage after the murder of George Floyd by (now former) police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The murder was captured on video for all to see, and spurred an unprecedented discussion of institutionalized racism against Black people and other people of color in America and around the world. A year later, Derek Chauvin has been convicted on all charges, and we’ve seen some progress towards police reform, as well as inevitable backlashes that only highlight how much work is still to be done.

I also randomly picked and wrote about 69 games (and other things) from the huge bundle, just under 4% of all the entries. I’ll be continuing the series for the forseeable future, but I decided to round up some of my favorite entries from year one here. Read on below.

Scratching That Itch: Orison Of Mercury

This is the thirty-ninth 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.

What will the random number generators select this time, from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality? It’s Orison of Mercury, by .. Yes, the developer is, apparently, known as “.”, although the game page says that Orison of Mercury was made jointly with Mint for the Antholojam. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

The lonely work of finding a new home.

I am intrigued. It sounds like it’s aiming for a meditative, affecting experience.

Scratching That Itch: Space Mayhem

This is the twenty-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1704 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,175,279.81 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.

Interesting. This next random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is — like the last one — about space. It’s Space Mayhem, by Chronic Vagrant. And, also like the last selection, it has no tagline in the bundle. I guess when you’re caught in the midst of some space mayhem, a few things slip through the cracks.

Going Inside

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

Inside is Danish developer Playdead’s follow-up to Limbo, which was released way back in 2010. I wrote about Limbo in the early days of this blog. Looking at that now, I see that I honored the stylized all-caps naming for that game, but I cannot bring myself to do so here, for Inside or Limbo. Sorry.

Inside has obvious similarities to Limbo. In both games, players control a small boy in a dangerous and creepy environment, presented through highly stylized art. Inside has evolved that artistic style, translating the visuals into a 3D, flat-shaded style that is predominantly — but unlike Limbo, not entirely — monochrome. The boy is also more realistically proportioned this time around, without the exaggerated large head from Limbo. But the art is similar enough to be recognizable, and in both games the boy begins in dark woods, with no explanation. Players can move left or right, jump, and perform context-sensitive interactions with the environment, and must use these simple controls to explore and survive.

The Future Sound Of Mushroom 11

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

When I first heard about Mushroom 11, I was intrigued by its core concept: players control a strange amoeba-fungus creature by erasing it, using a glorified version of the eraser tool found in most graphics editing software. Erasing the creature causes it to regrow itself from the opposite side, so the creature can be made to move around and change shape. A puzzle platform adventure based on this idea sounded interesting. But what really got my attention was when I watched a trailer and recognized the music. It was The Future Sound of London, one of my favorite electronic music artists. Some quick searching online revealed that The Future Sound of London provide the entire score for the game, mostly in the form of previously released tracks, but also with a few that can’t be found elsewhere.

Well, then.

Perchance To Dream: Proteus

Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus is the kind of game that sparks heated debates about whether or not it is actually a game. Personally, I think such debates are silly. Who cares what we call it? The important questions are whether Proteus is worth playing, and why (or why not). To decry it as not being a game is to name it unworthy without providing any reason. I know that humans are wont to label and categorize everything, but when this leads to argument over the labels of things rather than the things themselves, we’re missing the point. But I digress.

The reason Proteus sparks such debates is that it lacks the standard goal-oriented design that most players expect in games. There are no enemies to kill or challenges to complete. Proteus is, essentially, a surreal island to wander and explore, with a striking visual style and excellent sound design. It has also earned gushing praise from nearly everyone who’s played it, which caught my attention. It has inspired poetry. But the real reason I decided to play it now is a passing comment I saw, describing Proteus as a meditative experience, something to play at the end of a long day to de-stress and relax. Given how busy I’ve been lately, some zen relaxation sounded pretty good.

Going The Distance In FTL

I’ve written about FTL before, and if you’re unfamiliar with the game you should probably read that post first. Here, I’m assuming readers have at least a passing knowledge of the game.

Back when I first wrote about FTL, over a year ago, I didn’t think I’d stick with it that long. In fact, my exact words were:

Still, I don’t think FTL will keep me hooked as long as some more involved roguelikes (and roguelike-likes), but its simplicity is really where it shines. It’s easy to learn, and offers just enough options to make multiple plays interesting and fun. It may become frustrating to have to unlock each ship, depending on what’s required, but even with just the two I have I can easily see myself jumping in for quick games or extended sessions well into the future.

Turns out my fears about FTL’s staying power were completely unfounded. I’ve gone back to FTL regularly in the last year, in my quest to unlock more ships (and alternate layouts for the ones I already have), and I’ve learned that FTL is actually a lot deeper than it seemed at first. With developers Subset Games announcing a free expansion to be released soon, I decided it was high time to write about why I keep going back.

Trenchcoat Time: X-Noir Demo

Diligent readers may remember that I quite liked the massive, free Japanese-style role-playing game Master of the Wind. Since it was completed, developers Solest have been working on two other games, the short puzzle game Labyrinthine Dreams (which recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund an art overhaul), and the detective game X-Noir. X-Noir was announced first, and the news about Solest’s Kickstarter campaign reminded me to catch up on their catalog. So I decided to take X-Noir for a spin.

Very, Very Fast: Race The Sun

Why do humans enjoy moving at high speeds? Apparently it is because the speed triggers a neurological response to danger, and the brain releases a mixture of adrenaline and endorphins to help cope with the perceived threat. This mixture is responsible for the “rush” that many people find so pleasurable. The problem with this is that moving at high speeds is, in fact, dangerous, which is why we’ve developed ways to simulate the same feelings while minimizing risk. Riding a rollercoaster, skiing down a mountain, and more mundane activities like going down a playground slide or swinging on a swing set are all ways to mimic the feeling of moving fast while staying relatively safe. But the only way to be completely safe while feeling like you’re moving at high velocity is to not move at all, and mimic the feeling in some other way. Like in a game, perhaps.

There are many games that involve moving really fast, but few of them are as pure as Race the Sun. It’s a game about steering a solar-powered craft as it chases the sunset, dodging obstacles and trying to keep moving for as long as possible. Because when the sun goes down, your ride is over.

Upgrade Your Gray Matter: Kanye Quest 3030

If you’re like me, you’re a fan of the album Deltron 3030. Because it’s awesome. A hip-hop concept album about the year 3030, with production by Dan the Automator, turntables by Kid Koala, and rapping by Del tha Funkee Homosapien — what’s not to like? If you are even more like me, then you’ve been wondering when the follow-up album, Deltron Event II, is going to come out. Production began on the album way back in 2004, and the album’s been plagued by a series of delays ever since. The latest word is that it will release on October 1 of this year, but the album has missed release dates before. So I guess we’ll see.

In the meantime, why not play Kanye Quest 3030?

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