1-9 Epic Game Store: Steaming Mad

I don’t have any skin in the game. I’m not some loyalist when it comes to video games & gaming. PC, console, hand-helds, Steam, GOG, Epic Game Store, Battlenet, uPlay, like it doesn’t really matter. I use all of these launchers and platforms.

I’m not happy about the fact that games as a service is becoming a thing, that soon we’ll be drowning in gaming subscriptions where we no longer own the games we’ve purchased but simply license them out. I hate that this will also allow gaming companies to just remove them from your library at will. Apple does this with media that they have lost the rights to. If you purchase a film and Apple loses the rights to sell that film, they’ll remove it from your iTunes library the next time you sync, a small detail in their TOS.

Getting back to the topic at hand. I don’t particularly hate that Epic Game Store is getting exclusives prior to other platforms. It’s more of an annoyance. And while the EGS is not particularly robust with quality of life features, neither was Steam when it first started out. Which is something people forget.

I will also admit, I am enjoying how the EGS is giving away two free games every few weeks. There have been some wonderful games that are now available to me at no cost. It’s a nice gesture and I don’t mind taking advantage of it.

Competition is good for the market and I’m glad to see someone applying pressure to Steam. That being said, I don’t see EGS are setting themselves up as a straight up alternative. The trend has been for gaming companies to developer their own bespoke launchers and storefronts. We’re not going to see more competition, we’re going to see more fragmentation.

1-6 Walking Simulators: No Guns, No Shooting, Just Chill

Sometimes all you want is a game where you can just chill out. A game without guns, monsters, a game where there is no one to threaten your existence.

There are a number of games that fit this mold: Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, My Time At Portia, Rune Factory, etc. The only issue is that these games are heavy on resource and inventory management. They require farming, harvesting, and the collecting of materials. There’s also some light dungeon exploring (though it’s option, it still exists in the game).

Firewatch, Developed by Campo Santo (2016)

Walking simulators are different though, they satisfy that same itch but do what they say on the box: walking in a simulated environment. I’m thinking about games like Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Many of these games have light puzzle solving elements and/or mysteries to solve. You might have to pull a lever or look at a map. But for the most part you’re alone in a world of nature, the sounds of leaves swaying in the breeze, the sound of rain, footsteps echoing along a pathway.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Developed by The Astronauts (2014)

I’ve craved this type of game so much that I’ve shoehorned it into others. I love the environments and the worlds of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout 4. I love walking around and exploring every nook and cranny. Sadly, unlike the walking simulators I referenced up above, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of demons, monsters, and enemies. It’s a shame there’s not a tourist mode (the most recent Assassin’s Creeds added this option) in other games and worlds.

We need more calm, we need a way to just chill out in nature. Birdspotting is an upcoming game from developers Joram van Loenen and Khalil Arafan that will give gamers just that, a place to wander around in nature and enjoy some birds. Just a bit of calm and chill. In this world of ugly politics and environmental instability, it’s nice to have a place like this to live inside of for a little while.

Birdspotting Reveal Trailer

1-4 Rebirth: Reconsidering Your Games Library

If you are like most gamers, you will have a backlog of games that you are not playing. These are games that you likely picked up on a sale or forgot to install. Maybe it’s a game you did install and you only played an hour or two and something about the game just didn’t click. Based on casual conversations with gamers, this is a common dilemma.

All that being said, this is a friendly reminder to venture back and re-install, or pick that game back up and give it another chance. I often find that a game can hit us at a time we’re not ready for it. Sometimes you’re in a headspace where you’re not receptive to a particular genre of gaming. Maybe you weren’t in a place where playing a MOBA was satisfying that gaming itch. And so you bounced off hard of a game that someone recommended to you because you too deep into a JRPG and wanted something with more narrative/story based game-play.

I recently re-installed No Man’s Sky. A game that is notorious for one of the most rocky releases. The developers have continued to make improvements, release expansions, patches, etc. And the game has followed through on what it originally promised.

No Man’s Sky (2016)

When I originally installed it, I was a bit underwhelmed. It was this beautiful place but it was also very empty and it felt kind of soul-less. There was just this “lack” of things to do. There have been TWO major updates/expansions since the game was originally released and a third one is coming out later this week.

The game has so much more to offer. Multiplayer is a thing and you can game with others in outer-space if that is what you’re interested in. Base-building and resource gathering is the heart of this game but if you want to ignore all of that and search out the mysteries of the universe while conversing with aliens, that is an option too. There’s a bit of something for everybody and the game is always letting you know what you can do next (without making it feel like you have to).

I’m glad I went back and reconsidered this game. It might just be that I’m in this kind of mood where I’m wanting to farm in outer-space. Whatever it is, something about this game feels right and I’m glad I gave it another shot. I suspect that many of the games we have in our library are there for a reason, it’s not that we dislike the game, it’s that we dislike the time with which those games have entered our lives. We’re complex creatures and we cannot be everything at once. We’re fickle and we might like something one day and hate it the next, or vice versa.

Do yourself a favor and look through your games library and click that “install” button and give a game another chance. You might be pleasantly surprised.

1-2 Streaming: Why We Watch Others Game

Whenever I mention to someone who isn’t as invested in gaming/gaming culture as I am, that I will often just throw on a stream of someone playing a video game, they inevitbly make some offhand comment: “How is that entertaining? Isn’t it boring to watch someone else play a video game?”

waste of time

This comic from loadingartist.com makes the point very clear.

For me I’m often in the mood for video games but not in the mood to play, I lack that motivation because I’m mentally fatigued. The nice thing about watching a stream on Twitch or YouTube is that it lets me just sit back and chill with someone else who does all of that hard work for me. Often times this is the best way to determine if a game is worth playing or purchasing. It’s also fun to watch someone else who is skillful at certain genre of game or play-style: speed runs, no-kill runs, setting insane challenges for themselves, etc.

I recognize that the chats in many of these streaming sites is a hot mess of bigotry, sexism, and abuse. But that can be turned off, and/or curated by following gamers who are progressive and interested in keeping the gaming community positive and friendly. It is a mixed bag and the gaming community/culture has a ton of work to do when it comes to diversity and acceptance of voice that are often silenced. But watching a stream at the end of a day of work, sometimes it’s just what I need in order to let my mind melt a bit. It’s gaming adjacent.

1-1 The Binding of Isaac: Coping with Mental Health

The one video game I’ve played the most in the last 4 years is The Binding of Isaac. For those unaware, it’s a rogue-lite game designed by Edmund McMillen inspired by the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac. It’s a bullet-hell game where you use your tears to battle monsters in a procedural generated dungeon, unlocking items and power-ups to defeat various bosses and finally Isaac’s mom.

A sample of the game-play.

Warning: the game is rather juvenile in it’s theme with lots of body/fecal humor. Expect a fair amount of fart noises, literal poo-monsters, & blood. If you can ignore or make peace with this aspect of the game, then you’re in for a treat because the game-play is highly addictive.

BoI is one of those games that clicks with certain individuals, and when it does, it clicks in such a way that you’ll sink hundreds upon hundreds of hours into the game. Each new “run” unlocks something new: a character, a unique item that you might have the chance of picking up during your next run, new bosses, etc.

I bounced hard off of this game a few years ago. Someone had recommended it to me and told me that it was a lot of fun and so I took a chance and picked it up on Steam. It just didn’t “click” with me and I found myself wondering why anyone would play this game. The graphics are not that impressive (game is originally flash based).

But if you look deeper beneath the surface (beyond all the fecal humor) you’ll find a very deep game and one that is very challenging. The game is difficult but also fair. This is the main reason I keep on returning to the game. This difficulty is tied to my own mental health and it’s something I am constantly exploring.

It sounds absurd to write out, but I do believe this game saved my life. I’ve struggled with mental health for a good portion of my adult life and I found this game (or maybe it is more accurate to say that it found me) at a particularly low moment and it fundamentally changed me as a person.

At it’s core, BoI is about a young boy who is haunted by his demons (though mine are not as maternally focused as Isaac). BoI is a game about perseverance. Every new dungeon run presents the player with a new set of challenges and is that not what our lives are? Each day we head out and face a new set of challenges, we’re given various tools to battle our demons and sometimes we are successful and sometimes we are not. It’s how you react to these losses, to the challenges you encounter that truly defines you.

I’ve learned how to push back against those dark thoughts that crowd my brain from time to time. That it’s ok to fail. Some runs are easy and you find all the right items and the bosses seem easy to defeat. Other times you die on the first floor through some foolish error or bad luck. No matter the run, whether it’s a success or a failure, this game has become a safe space for me. It’s like the back of my hand.

I feel like everyone needs a game like this in their lives. Something they can just dive into on a continual basis, a game where you are still challenged but not overwhelmed. A game where you are both thinking but also un-thinking. That kind of zen-like state where you just flow because you’re so familiar with the game and all that it brings.

I hope you find yours.