200 Games, 200 Words: 2 – Card Hunter

Card Hunter perfectly evokes the feel of old-school, red box Dungeons & Dragons, in a way that manages to be charming even if you never played D&D back in the day. Because it doesn’t just mimic the art style, it also includes staples of the broader experience of old-school D&D: cheesy snacks, big bottles of soft drink, pizza, pimpled teenage awkwardness, and an older brother who looks down on you for not taking it more seriously. And all of this is wrapped around a tactical combat card game that’s intuitive and fun to play. To top it off, it’s also free-to-play in a way that lets you play about as much of the game as you want without paying a cent. I’ve been playing it in beta, but Card Hunter is having a proper release on September 12th.
 
Melvin wears a trenchcoat and has a pony-tail.

Melvin, the DM’s older brother, is outraged that you don’t take Card Hunter more seriously. A good DM spends up to four hours on preparation.

 
I’ve had a blast playing Card Hunter, but I kind of feel the same way about it that I do about Mad Men: I enjoy it while I’m playing/watching it, but when I’m not playing/watching I never really feel any strong desire to play/watch more of it. I suspect that, like Mad Men, it’s the texture of Card Hunter that I love, the milieu it evokes, as well as appreciating how it evokes that milieu. But I only really want that taste once in a while.

Your Game Is Dead: The Inescapable Contingency Of Multiplayer

Gun Monkeys is a recent indie deathmatch game from Size Five Games (creators of two of my favourite modern adventure games), and today the developers announced an interesting attempt to tackle a problem that plagues many multiplayer games: a lack of players.

Monkeys With Guns

Monkeys With Guns

Size Five’s solution is to generate Steam keys for players who sit in an empty lobby for too long, allowing them to gift the game to friends, and presumably then play with those friends in the absence of other players. I’m not sure how well this will solve the problem of a lack of Gun Monkeys players. But what is clear, is that it doesn’t really address the underlying issue: that designing a multiplayer-only game means your game can’t be played without a certain number of players. Because the thing is that making a multiplayer game means that the experience of playing your game is entirely contingent on the people playing it. And that applies whether the multiplayer game in question is a multiplayer-only standalone game, or the multiplayer part of a game with a separate singleplayer component.

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200 Games, 200 Words: 1 – Sir, You Are Being Hunted

Sir is something like a British S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or maybe a DayZ, with a twist of Minecraft’s procedurally-generated landscapes, and a ton of tweedy charm. The environments are beautiful, and the robots are equal parts terrifying and amusing. Sir is everything that’s wonderful about systemic games, and I felt like a goddamn genius when I lured some robots away from a piece of the device by lighting a cooking fire, then snuck around behind them to grab the piece and bugger off.
Bad dreams in the night/They told me I was going to lose the fight

“…the pipe-smoking robot flew down the steep road; then, quitting its windings, shot direct across the moor…”

I really, really like this game, but I’ve only finished it once, and I have two concerns. First, “collect the MacGuffins” is becoming overly familiar as a goal in procedurally-generated games. Second, and more complicated, is that procedurally-generated games always make me feel like I’ve seen pretty much everything I’m likely to see, far earlier than their promise of endless variations might suggest. While the environments are never identical, variations that feel significantly different are fairly rare, and the nature of procedural generation means you’ll mostly see stuff that falls within a certain band of stuff that looks much the same. It’s nice that the monkeys occasionally produce some Shakespeare, but the truth is, mostly they don’t.

200 Games, 200 Words: Introduction

I’m writing more game reviews these days, but with my PhD work taking over more of my attention, I’m not writing about the other games I’m playing very much. I’ll often talk about what I’m playing on Twitter, but it’s the nature of Twitter as a medium that any comment is fleeting, and gone in an instant. The restriction of thinking in 140 characters is also not particularly good for any kind of nuance or specificity, which is a big part of why I started this blog in the first place.

In the hope of correcting this, I’m taking inspiration from a music blogger I know, and aiming to write 200 words about 200 games, as I play them. They won’t be reviews, but thoughts on a game, and these won’t just be new games, or even games I’m playing for the first time. They’ll just be whatever I’ve been playing recently. I’m hoping that a strict, short wordcount, and a strict, frequent timetable will force me to write as I play, rather than feeling like I have to develop these thoughts enough to fill out an 800-1200 word blog post before writing anything at all. I’ll be posting these pieces roughly every five days, so that’s once or twice a week, and I’ve built up a little bit of a backlog in case I get slack.

The first one will go up tomorrow morning.

Why Video Game Cyborgs Suck: Cyberpunk Myth Vs. Video Game Reality

Cyborgs are a fixture of cyberpunk games like Deus Ex and Shadowrun Returns, tragic figures who’ve made a Faustian bargain, trading humanity for machine capabilities. But I think they’re actually sort of ridiculous figures to present in contemporary video games, because they fly in the face of the joining of machine and human that those very games rely on and take for granted. I think what we need instead is games that engage with the machine-humans we already are.

Shadowrun_Returns_57979

The recent release of Shadowrun Returns has made me once again think about cyberpunk as a genre of fiction, and what it means. Cyberpunk began as a reaction against earlier utopian sci-fi that envisaged a Buck Rogers future where technology has eliminated most of the problems a contemporary reader of the 40s or 50s would be familiar with. In contrast, cyberpunk depicts a future in which corporate greed has run rampant, where humans and machines meld together, and where the outcome is decidedly not for the better. It’s often said that cyberpunk is based around the idea that technology will not solve our problems, only create new ones or perpetuate existing ones.

Shadowrun_crop1
But in many ways, the future that cyberpunk envisaged from the early 80s through the early 90s already looks ridiculous. It’s a retrofuture, a paleofuture, a future as imagined by people who, for all their efforts could not move past the assumptions and ideas of their era. And their era is rapidly fading into the past. Neuromancer, William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, is as old to us now as the future of the pulp sci-fi magazines was to him when he wrote the book.

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