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And suddenly it is 2018.
I’m pretty resistant to Grand Plans and Efficiencies - feature, I think, rather than bug - so this is a list rather than a blueprint.
I was on a good lope for much of 2017, as far as wrapping up titles. The June HOG challenge helped there, giving me an excuse to scratch my guilty pleasures with lots of short-spurt, simple games. After the summer I got extremely busy with plays: rehearsing and performing two shows in rep from September through to Thanksgiving left not a lot of spare time for gaming. I hardly even saw any movies, and that says a lot for me.
A few days after the double-header I found myself in a large part on a bill of Tom Stoppard plays, opening fresh in this New Year. Add in unreliable weather, our spirit-sapping repellent national politics, and a few extended special events in my occasional MMOs, and my gaming really suffered.
I’ve got a new computer, as of the waning days of 2017, so I can play most of what I own now without jittering, freezing, and howling in rage. On the flip side, I have to go digging around to find lots of saves on my old disk, so some of the games I was working on already may never get wrapped.
- Port of Call (January 4)
- Crystals of Time (January 7)
- The Room (March 12)
- House of 1,000 Doors: The Palm of Zoroaster Collector’s Edition (March 24)
- House of 1,000 Doors: Serpent Flame Collector’s Edition (March 25)
- Snark Busters: Welcome to the Club (March 27)
- Snark Busters: All Revved Up (March 31)
- Snark Busters: High Society (April 1)
- Fort Defense (April 17)
- Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle (Basic) (May 10)
- Marie’s Room (May 15)
- Secret Files: Tunguska (May 21)
- The Room Two (May 28)
- Endless Fables: The Minotaur’s Curse (June 10)
- Trap (June 10)
- The Emptiness Deluxe Edition (June 29)
- Sisyphus Reborn (September 3)
- Mirrored - Chapter 1 (November 16)
Case #8 (November 20)
- A Raven Monologue (May 25)
Greed: The Mad Scientist (March 6)
Space Incident (March 15)
Plasticity (March 21)
Unavowed (April 1)
A Wolf in Autumn (April 3)
Cyrano Story (April 18)
We Went Back (April 25)
Frankenstein: Master of Death (May 22)
MY NOW-AND-THEN MMO ADVENTURES
- Elder Scrolls Online
- Secret World Legends
- Star Wars: The Old Republic
Postage Due (and it's Been an Age, Too): Catching Up (Part II)
What’s that they say about time slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into the future? Yep, it does that. So anyway, in my last already-ancient post, I covered the games I finished during my Long Silence. Here, then, a couple of words about the ones I didn’t finish. Next time I’ll start catching up to where I am now.
After Life - Story of a Father
Alex Hunter - Lord of the Mind
Galactic Civilizations I: Ultimate Edition
After Life - Story of a Father (2016, ABC Challenge, Steamgifts win) is a one-man indie that hasn’t clicked with me so far, which is why it remains unfinished. We play the disembodied soul of an Irish gent returning to a few pastoral locations to awaken his memories of love, life, marriage, disappointment. It’s a floating simulator, if you will, which is fine - I like walking simulators, though I loathe the name, and I’m patient with games that rebuild narratives from fractured pieces. The voice work here put me off, which is a big problem when the voicing is about all that happens in the game. I found it vague and precious. The first lakeside setting was all right, but the second, which had me floating around a nighttime home and yard, was disorienting and hard to control, and I had trouble finding the story bits so I could move on to the next chapter. Probably I should try again.
Alex Hunter - Lord of the Mind (2013) bugged me as well. Maybe I was just in a dark mood over our long winter. I was derailed playing this one by a new computer - I had six hours sunk in it, which felt like too much time to drop and start over, but I didn’t get around to getting all of my saves off the old disk (still need to get on that). At this point I honestly barely remember what it was about, but I know I thought it was long and too fiddly, with mini-games that made me sigh. That really might be the winter talking. Glancing at some screenshots, though, I am remembering that this one goes back and forth and forth and back and maybe it was all a bit much at the time.
Galactic Civilizations I: Ultimate Edition (2003). Time was people would stick with OS/2 as an operating system just because Galactic Civilzations was only available in that limited forum. (They call that time “The Nineties” - GC came out in 1993.) Eventually, to general relief, Stardock remade it for the Windows PC. It is, more or less, a resetting of the Firaxis Civilization games in galactic space - thus the name. As such, it’s automatically awesome, at least in some degree. I was very late to the Galactic Civilizations party, and it’s hard to jump that far back what with fancy new 4x games tempting me from all sides.
I’ve played this game for a few years, lightly, without success but with frustration. There aren’t a lot of solid tutorials around, and my play inevitably progresses something like this:
- Begin game, with optimism. Chuckle at the early menus. Well done, Stardock! Lots of character!
- Explore and research some stuff. Note that really cool things require ships that I won’t be building for quite some time.
- How am I already surrounded?
- Sudden and inevitable appearance of the Space Shark, which immediately destroys whatever fledgling ship or station I may have built.
- Wreckage and despair.
- Turn on HBO.
It’s pretty much like playing Civ and starting next to a hyperactive barbarian spawning point. Except EVERY. DAMN. TIME.
Suddenly, this winter, I got a game without a space shark. I kind of get where it’s all coming from, so I won’t play much more; at least I’ve got a colony or two built. The starter game is all sandbox - which is how I usually play Civ - but given the creaky old mechanics, I’m ready to move on as soon as I’ve seen a little of the middle-game. Altarian Prophecy, the expansion, has a campaign. If it seems fun, I’ll dip in there for a bit someday, before I eventually move on to Galactic Civilizations II.
Hidden Object Double Feature
^^^ Sung to the familiar Rocky Horror Picture Show tune, of course.
So anyway. I realized I was doing that thing. You know that thing? That thing where you keep on buying the games as if you’re playing the games, but actually you’re just buying the games, and then there are more of them than ever? Yes, that thing. That one. So I pointed the computer at some low-hanging fruit, and plucked.
Because of the Nature of the Universe, neither of these games will get tallied in my Backlog Assassins data. I’m playing them out of the House of Snark 6-in-1 Bundle, so the database only sees me playing the hosting bundle game. These are inviso-titles. I can live with it. /shrugs
House of 1,000 Doors: The Palm of Zoroaster Collector’s Edition (2012) and House of 1000 Doors: Serpent Flame Collector’s Edition (2013) are two of the four tales set in the Alawar House of 1,000 Doors game series. Family Secrets and The Palm of Zoroaster are available on Steam as standalone titles; Serpent Flame and the newest, Evil Inside, aren’t. Family Secrets is the clumsiest of the three I’ve played, but all are pretty much middle of the road by-the-numbers Hidden Object games: they branch in predictable, unremarkable ways - explore these four portals, enter these four magical paintings, that sort of thing - and run on second-tier mechanics. Still, the solid keep-it-moving design and general flexibility of the stories keeps things light and fun, and both of these are solid HOG titles.
Palm of Zoroaster is the lesser of the two. We are Kate Reed - we are always Kate Reed - and we are headed back to the mysterious House, where we had recent adventures. The road we’re on catches fire, we crash into a hapless tree, we hidden-object our way across the river on the nearby hand-winched ferry, and we’re off. Four mysterious paintings in the main gallery of the house will open up and allow us to step through into four mysterious lands. In each spot we’ll collect a crystal skull and ultimately Save Everything From Destruction. Along the way we need to pick up 46 morphing objects to be completionists - and that’s a lot of morphing objects. Each time we resolve a world-branch, alas, the painting-portal into that world shuts permanently, so if we - ahem - forget to pick up say two or three or five of these, we can’t go back and get them. Mentioning this for a friend.
Serpent Flame addresses this morphing object issue directly by introducing an icon for the objects on the game map - so there’s an easy at-a-glance reminder about whether or not you’ve cleared your instance of the oddities. Much appreciated. Says my friend. Ahem.
Otherwise, the games are much the same. In the (impressive, for a HOG) opening to Serpent Flame, much of the world has been left in disastrous shape by a swarming attack of, er, Flame Serpents. In order to Save Everything From Destruction, we must enter four mysterious lands, through portals in the basement, and in each we’ll collect an elemental stone. If this sounds familiar, it is. Both games do that thing where items in the Hidden Object puzzles return to the scene when you go through each location for a second time; I hate that. And both have objects repeated from scene to scene - how many pairs of binoculars are in this house, anyway? - as well as items that make no sense for the locations. It’s common, but that doesn’t make it right. Also, both games have bonus chapters that are overlong, underpolished, and fairly tedious.
In quick: the House of 1,000 Doors games appear to be getting better as they move forward. They’re light on good sense, but that’s routine for the genre. There isn’t much here that’s new, but if you like your HOGs then these are pretty good ones.
Postage Due (and it's Been an Age, Too): Catching Up (Part I)
Once upon a time I used to post monthly or more here, with tales of my toils against the fearsome Backlog Beast. Usually, it went something like this: Wow! I’ve been busy, but look I played these here one or two games. At the end of summer - I haven’t been here since August - things got really busy, and suddenly it’s March. In August I was probably sick of summer, now I’m ready for winter to pack up and leave. But we have more snow starting Tuesday night, if the weatherfolk can be trusted.
So, uh, hi. I’ve been busy. Remember me?
Previously, on LinustheBold:
In late October and most of November, I did two plays in rep, a new devised one called “ReFUSE” (experimental, very sweet, largely ignored) and a debut by comic artist Dean Haspiel called “Harakiri Kane” (a sort of afterlife noir, sold out almost every show in part because it co-starred Stoya, whom some of you may know). Rehearsals, which began in September, were solid and constant and draining, and performances were fantastic. As soon as those two ended I was cast as Inspector Foot in Tom Stoppard’s one-act “After Magritte,” an Absurdist play about Surrealists; from there it was a breathless jolt into “Henry Box Brown: A Musical Journey,” a story of slavery and escape that needed a couple of replacement actors right away for a few big performances (I ended up learning two versions of the piece, the short highlights one and the 90-minute full length, on two weeks of rehearsal). And then our monthly late-night live-theater soap opera, and an amazing festival of one-minute plays, and a short solo spot for Comedy Central … and for real, there was very little gaming going on, and when it was happening - Secret World Legends and Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’m looking at you - it was in distracted chunks, during occasional odd hours.
I’m on a short between-things break right now. Rehearsals for the next play start in 10 days. Oh! And I got a new computer, which can actually run the games I play. Which makes gaming things a little easier.
Finishings: What's Gone By
1,000 Heads Among the Trees
Crystals of Time
The Mammoth: A Cave Painting
Port of Call
Sacra Terra: Angelic Night
Samantha Swift and the Golden Touch
Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena
1000 Heads Among the Trees (2015, ABC Challenge, Steamgifts win) is a scruffy, dark, odd little game. My 3 hours spent in the course of a windy night in e-Cachiche, Peru, left me pleased and baffled - how pleased you might be by this amateur indie probably depends on how much you like baffled. Everything, including graphics and instructions, is minimal here. You manifest on a nighttime street, and go walking through town. You peer through windows at slivers of figures, overhearing snippets of conversation. You take pictures of the people, the scenery, and some mysterious events and visions. There’s a history of witchcraft in Cachiche; do the witches live here still? Show your photos to people you meet along the way, and they’ll tell some stories, offer occasional advice, and - weirdly - give you their opinions about people like you walking around taking pictures of everybody without permission. This is a small, interesting, balky game, more murky than penetrating and full of atmosphere. I wished there were more of it, and more intricately crafted, but what there was left me pleased and, as I say, baffled. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me.
Crystals of Time (2014) is one of those games that’s always always there, patiently waiting to be played - I picked this up in an Indie Gala bundle back in October of 2014. Through no fault of its own, it’s showing the intervening years. Crystals of Time ends up being a pleasant and marginal Hidden Object Game, with a bareworn plot and a couple of good conceits. The best mechanic is the (you guessed it) Time Crystals, which move you occasionally from present-day locations to their once-upon-a-time incarnations. I wish there were more of the time-shifting built into the story. There’s a fair amount of solid good sense in the design, and an updated take on this middle-of-the-road fantasy might be a good worthy project. As it is, it’s a bland-ish pleasant play in familiar fields. Mostly harmless.
The Mammoth: A Cave Painting (2015), by contrast, is a no-frills free game that plays out a foreordained history in a few busy minutes. It’s one of those short free larks - I tend to like these - that doesn’t hold many narrative surprises, but transmits a surprising amount of simple-hearted pathos in execution. We start as a happy mammoth in a mostly-monochrome world, foraging and caring for our little mammoths along the steppes. We can charge, and we can bellow. Then these pesky little guys with pointed sticks start coming out of the bushes, and they’re really annoying. What with the hooting and hollering, and the pointed sticks. We charge, we bellow. Time passes.
Port of Call (2015) is another simple, ambitious free-to-play indie with satisfying but minimal polish. In this one you appear on a dock, and board a - well, a fabulous riverboat, if you will, a twin-engined paddle steamer. The gruff captain sends you around to collect tickets from the other passengers as he steers for a nearby island with a lighthouse. There are dim silent riders and floating books, a peaceful lounge upstairs and an infernal engine room below. A few vanishing NPCs have a few sparse stories to tell, and there’s a discovery and a choice to make at the end (twice, if you want all the achievements). It isn’t earth-shaking, but it is interesting, in an abstract yes-I-guess-I’m-having-fun way. Port of Call won’t linger in the mind, but it’s a pleasant trip.
The Room (2014) is a spectacular game - you probably know this. In essence it’s just a series of puzzle-box puzzles, glazed with a gentle brush of unlikely magic and some ingenious, twisty puzzles. You begin in a room with a large locked contraption, and you have to figure out how to open it. Once you do, in steps and fits and starts, you’ll uncover another chapter, covering the box locked within, and a set of notes from the designer of the box that lead you ever further inward. Lather, rinse, repeat. The music is perfectly weighty, the design is gorgeous and somber, and the clicking and ratcheting each time you set a solution in motion is pure delight. (And yes, if you’re a certain age, you will think of the Hellraiser movies often.) You’ve probably played The Room by now, and if you haven’t, yikes, get in there! As a late bloomer myself, I can tell you there’s no reason to wait. This is a wonderful game, beautifully rendered. Note that there can be bugs - I had to restart the fifth and final chapter when a puzzle got stuck convinced it hadn’t been solved, and it wouldn’t be un-solved either. Apart from that, though, things went, well, like clockwork.
Sacra Terra: Angelic Night (2011) is an above-average Hidden Object Game mired in its time - it’s nutty and flitty and sometimes barely coherent, and as I played (it’s a little too long, I think) I could almost hear the artists chuckling as they kitchen-sinked every possible demonic twist and effect into their lunatic scenes. The excessive over-stuffery actually makes the game a little hard to get hold of, as the scenes tend to be disjointed (every one is a set piece, after all) and it’s ultimately hard to navigate. After playing for a while, I’d come back the next night and be stuck trying to remember if the rune table is on the right up those steps from the plaza, or was it to the left beyond the chamber and across the river? But whatever, everything is bombastic and ostentatious, overwrought and fraught and giggling. And it’s all kind of infectious. Silly, chipper, masquerade-ball fun.
Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena (2008) and Samantha Swift and the Golden Touch (2009, Steamgifts win) are two back-to-back Hidden Object Lite games - they seem clearly intended for children, though there are some oddly difficult moments in the first one, so perhaps they were meant for parent-bonding play. We are young Samantha Swift, a clear-eyed chipper young woman adventuring around the world to collect artifacts for her museum collection. Everyone on her team is, like Sam herself, impossibly young to be doing the work of multiple professors and doctoral workers, but hey. Her team is back at the Museum, doing research and providing breezy facts while Sam makes her way through the tombs and crypts, solving puzzles, collecting objects, and generally romping through a cartoony world at a cartoony pace. The second game has a sonar feature that essentially revealed everything I was looking for, sometimes before I was actually looking for it, with the result that there was nothing to engage the interest and it actually got boring through convenience; the first is better, but both are really not playing to the adults in the room. Kids will either dig it or think it’s silly.
Next up: the ones I didn’t finish!
Moving the 2017 Profile post to here, for safekeeping:
So this is 2017. Let’s get my New List underway.
I’m not really suited to the Standards and Goals and Batches and Groups stuff that some people do. It’s wonderful and I admire it, but I’m not built that way. With my moods, the monthly challenges, and the pressures of my schedule as a framework, I try to play as much as I can without letting it fall into drudgery. One of the funny things about gaming is that if I do it too much or feel too pressured it can start to be a chore. And where’s the fun in that?
- Syberia 2 (January 4)
- Price (January 5)
- Off-Peak (January 13)
- Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan (February 9)
- Alchemy Mysteries: Prague Legends (March 10)
- Emily is Away (March 23)
- 1 Moment of Time: Silentville (March 24)
- Demon Hunter: Chronicles from Beyond (March 31)
- The NADI Project (April 2)
- Always Remember Me (April 7)
- Mind Snares: Alice’s Journey (April 21)
- Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller (April 30)
- Demon Hunter 2: New Chapter (April 30)
- Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure (May 21)
- Space Legends: At the End of the Universe (May 27)
- Resident Evil 7 / Biohazard 7 Teaser: Beginning Hour (May 29)
- Infected: The Twin Vaccine (June 1)
- Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials (June 2)
- Grim Legends 3: Dark City (June 4)
- Theatre Of The Absurd (June 9)
- Dracula’s Legacy (June 10)
- Enigmatis 3: The Shadow of Karkhala (June 16)
- Hero of the Kingdom (June 16)
- The Dreamatorium of Dr. Magnus 2 (June 18)
- Namariel Legends: Iron Lord Premium Edition (June 21)
- Dance of Death (June 22)
- Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt For Truth (June 24)
- Queen’s Quest: Tower of Darkness (June 30)
- The Uncertain: Episode 1 - The Unquiet Day (June 30)
- Blameless (July 13)
- New York Mysteries: Secrets of the Mafia (August 13)
- 1,000 Heads Among the Trees (September 3)
- Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena (October 5)
- Samantha Swift and the Golden Touch (November 1)
- Sacra Terra: Angelic Night (November 12)
- The Mammoth: A Cave Painting (November 26)
ONGOING “TIME-TO-TIME” GAMES
(These games aren’t getting finished anytime soon, but if I put any real time into anything without chalking up a finish I’ll add it here.)
Portal (back in to grab some more achievements)
Pixel Puzzles Ultimate
Wrapping Up: August = Lazy Time
Not much to report, when it comes to August, so I’ll keep it short. I fell into an MMO hole this month - Secret World Legends had a public raid that awarded nifty costume pieces for regular play, so I needed those, and then I checked in on Neverwinter, which had been sleeping there on the hard drive for a mighty long time. You know how it goes. You double-click on one little icon in a moment of restless weakness, and suddenly all your hours are spent slaying monsters, bandits, and demons through the Forgotten Realms.
I had some good movie-going times for a while, and saw a few friends. Now the new season is claiming its territory. I’m in a once-monthly live-theater soap opera that goes dark over the summer, and our new (fourth!) season starts in a little over a week; I’m doing two plays in repertory this October and November, and so the days are all about rehearsals again. Not complaining. It’s just funny how the seasons come and go.
New York Mysteries: Secrets of the Mafia
Secret World Legends
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
Neverwinter (2013) is some kind of digital crack I tell you. I played it a year ago, running my main up near (but not to) the level cap before I got annoyed at the endless “get this in our store” design and let it drop. I think I was irritated by my inventory filling with minute variations of things that don’t stack (somehow these games get on my nerves even when I’m liking them). I picked it up again, and zoom. This is an unabashed pay-to-win game, if you want to pay and win. It’s also largely a solo adventure in a shared world of small instances, apart from groups in dungeons and skirmishes, so the monetization doesn’t really bother me that much - I just don’t participate. The stuff they sell is hella expensive anyway. Want to play the Dragonborn class? The module they sell that includes the class is seventy-five dollars. Yeah, um, no.
I play this one through the ARC client, so Steam doesn’t track my time.
New York Mysteries: Secrets of the Mafia (2014) is a cleverly-tinkery concoction of hidden-object assembly scenes and various puzzles, some of which get rather fiddly. Its fresh style and cool locations go a long way toward making this a strong one. If you like hidden-object games, get in there! There’s a bugged achievement, depending on when you try to click that one morphing object, and I just wasn’t up to playing the whole game over just to try and make it work, so. Marking it 100% because life’s too short. This is the only game I actually finished in August, and I contributed screenshots to my woefully lame participation in the scavenger hunt challenge. Which makes this a challenge game, right?
Secret World Legends (2017) is the new free-to-play reincarnation of Funcom’s dark and unpopulated The Secret World, and I enjoy it immensely. I'm still leveling my character through the rich, dense, it's-all-true monsterings of New England and points abroad. My MMO experience is generally always about the tales they tell - I hardly ever make it to level cap, let alone into the spirit of late-game content. For the story and the great writing and character acting and the detailed settings, this is a winner, completely suited to my "MMO but not really an MMO" tastes.
The Witcher (2008) suffered this month from pressing tasks in my online games, but I really want to get back in there with Geralt and the killing and the wenching. Muahaha.
A B C (abc) 1 2 3 (123) ... dahnah dadahnah dadahnah dadanah ...
Well, everyone’s doing it, so I should pony up too, right? I’m not sure when these games are getting played, but sure, when time allows, I’ll get in there. These are all Steamgifts wins except for three from my main Heap, when I didn’t have the right letters handy. That’d be Q, X, and Z.
Ferragosto in New York
A lifetime ago I spent a couple of years in Italy, and one of the mind-benders for an American kid abroad - there were many - was the ferragosto, or August holiday. They have this elsewhere too, but we don’t believe in proper vacations here in the States unless you’re rich enough not to need them, in which case you can have as many as you like. So the whole notion of it was just weird.
For two or three weeks in August, basically, everything that wasn’t at the beach was mostly closed. To be fair, lots of Italy at the time was spontaneously closed for one excellent reason or another; I was on a train once, and I’m not making this up, that went on a 20-minute sciopero (strike) at a station with a cafe that everyone liked. “Strike!” they announced, and everyone filed off the train and went to the cafe. After some snacks and beverages, they gave the all-clear, and we all trooped back on, happy and satisfied and frankly not any later than we probably would have been anyway.
We don’t do ferragosto here, we get Summerhead instead. July was a great but tiring month for me, so I’ve enjoyed laying back on some of the days, getting little done, going to the movies (I love movies!), exploring the taxonomy of naps. My MMO of the moment, Secret World Legends, had its first public raid event, and though I suck at raids and my computer is too slow to properly render them anyway, I showed up to strobe through the action and die often. There was a special cosmetic outfit that needed to be built, you see. Actually two of them. So I was locked into daily appearances there for a while, to collect all of the bits, and that left the other games idle. Not so much to report, this time out. I’ve got a few screenshots scavenged, but I don’t know how far I’ll get toward completing this month’s hunt.
Hunters of the Dead (2014) is a fun beat-back-the-undead challenge game - fun, though it’s not my usual kind of ride. The devs call it a tower defense game, but it’s tower defense only so far as Plants vs. Zombies is tower defense, which is to say not at all (once upon a time I dropped massive hours into PvZ, for reasons that completely escape me now, so I don’t drop that name lightly). On the cartoony main map, our steampunky undead-slaying team lives in a central Tower in the city, and we clear nearby structures, edging out from the safer center into risky territory on the fringes. Each building gives benefits once it’s ours - speedier healing, more weapons, more members for the team - and monsters get stronger the farther out we go. Combat takes place in a six-lane zone, with the bad chaps walking in from the right. We deploy to stop as many as possible; every enemy that makes it across damages the tower, which falls if it runs out of hit points.
Each team member has name, level, weapon, and stats - health, action points - that need to be kept up with trips to the hospitals and such. The weapons have a different firing ranges and patterns, and our fighters can only equip what they’ve unlocked during the game. It’s tricky to keep everyone alive, as some of the undeads fight from beyond, say, shotgun range. Lose too many and we’re ghoul toast, and it’s time to start again. Hunters is oddly complex; every time I think I’ve figured things out, I get creamed by a new enemy combo. At first our hunters are weak, but after each game there’s a chance to purchase upgrades that apply to all later attempts. Eventually we’ll be able to take on the Dracula boss to finally win - or at least I hope we will. I haven’t come anywhere close yet. This is my office-downtime game, since it’s made for short sprints.
New York Mysteries: Secrets of the Mafia (2014) is a very solid Hidden Object Game. The story is typically ludicrous - Mafia bosses are being engulfed by mysterious green mists and disappearing, and with each occurrence a child vanishes as well, after drawing a colorful butterfly; we will investigate. Some of the plotting is arbitrary and some of the mini-games are fiddly, but overall the gameplay is superior. There are no traditional hidden-object scenes, which is cool - instead we have work-it-through scenes in which we find a couple of things, assemble a few others, unlock this or that, and end up sensibly with an object that will prove useful. I mean, it’s all crazy business, but it’s fresh for the genre, so if you like HOGs then this is a good one, and if you don’t know what they are it’ll be baffling.
The game is over-infested with collectible objects, so we need 35 morphing objects (or is it 36), plus 9 each of neckties, briefcases, poker chips, and images of the Statue of Liberty. I know! Serious overkill. To make things worse, there’s an intermittent achievement bug on one of the morphing objects, which can get impossible to pick up. I’m currently missing only the bugged achievement, so I’m marking the thing Completed. I reported the bug to the devs with a screenshot, so I was there and would have hit the 100% if I could have. Might try a quick speed-through to that point under a new profile, or might not. It’s done in my mind, one way or the other.
Secret World Legends (2017) is the free-to-play reincarnation of Funcom’s The Secret World, which I had just started playing when they announced that the game would be reinvented. Naturally lots of people are furious about this or that. I didn’t play enough of the old game to be incensed about the new one, though I do think it was a mistake to lose the faction quests. It’s got a weird, dense, adult-oriented story, and that sells it for me. This title will probably linger here for a good while. I gather the grind gets daunting later on, but for now I’m having a blast.
I picked The Witcher (2008) as my July-challenge Long Game knowing that it would take me a long time to play it. Since Secret World Legends had temporary public raid running from the 1st to the 15th this month, with outfit pieces as rewards, I mostly put Geralt on hold for a bit - only so many gaming hours in the day, you know. I’m ready to get back in there and start, ahem, draining the swamp. The actual swamp, the one in the game. Of monsters.
The Quiet Breath of a Low-Count July - Wrap-Up
Last month turned out pretty much as I thought it would. I played for an intense, hour-burning set of days at the launch of Secret World Legends early in the month, but those are invisible hours - the game was just released on Steam a couple of days ago, so the prior time was all off-list. Now I’m back on the Steam clock for future reference. I had a heavy performance schedule, and what time there was outside of Kingsmouth didn’t lend itself to a lot of other gaming. I finished a freebie quickie game early on, and then just padded a few hours onto the belly of my backlog without adding any other wins.
I’m a little stuck in Violett (2013, Steamgifts win). I’m in that pre-walkthrough state: I’d like to find my own way out of the puzzles, but I’m not seeing what I don’t see. I think I’m well along in the body of the game, and somewhere there’s something I’m missing, so now it’s a matter of finding my way to the mystery before I lose patience. I like this game very much, though I can see why others might not. It insists on being its own beast. Also, there’s this one green orb in the cukoo-clock room, and it’s hiding behind a menu item so I can’t click on it, and that’s driving me bats.
The Witcher (2008) is my July monthly Long Game pick, and obviously I didn’t finish it. I put my 20+ hours in, though, and it’s a fantastic game. I’m in the middle of Chapter II at the moment, just starting to venture across to the swamps but with plenty of business to attend in town; I suck at boxing and I’m middling at dice, and this game is delightful. I didn’t make the end-of-month deadline, but in my own head this is going to stay as a challenge game. I knew it was long when I started playing - that’s the nature of the challenge. I reckon I’ll be generous with my personal deadlining.
Helter Skelter in Summer Swelter
…The birds flew off to a fallout shelter. Which I mention because I was thinking some of the Fallouts would be candidates for this month’s Long Game theme - I have them all, except for the Fallout 4 Season Pass, and they’ve patiently waited through the years for attention. The only one I played for more than a taste was the first, back when it was still an Interplay property running from a CD. And also because it’s been hotashell here lately, something I feel with force and precision since we’ve been performing our adaptation of The Three Musketeers these last four weeks out in Riverside Park, and this week we’ve been baking. Tonight is closing night, and my feet are looking forward to their vacation.
My other two candidates for Long Game were Deus Ex - I can’t believe I’ve hardly played Deus Ex, I think I’ve got something like two hours in it - and The Witcher, which I also can’t believe I’ve never played, and which is what I chose. Also a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time, went into exploring Secret World Legends, which I’m enjoying. That’s not on Steam yet, and even when it gets there I’ll probably play it on the client rather than through the Steam overlay. I mostly like MMOs when they are mostly single-player experiences, so my last two games were TSW (I started before the re-launch, but I’ve been playing exclusively in the new one) and Neverwinter, though someday I’ll probably get back to Guild Wars 2.
Blameless (2016) is a short free game, and I like those from time to time. You’ll read that it takes under an hour to complete, which is probably true for good gamers. Hey, I never said I was good at gaming, I said I liked gaming. My own run lasted 2.7 hours and involved dying a couple of times at the end - I was actually at the final sequence, I just didn’t realize how to trigger it - and then getting stuck in the scenery on reviving and having to go back to the start. So, my time reflects a not-very-clever experience, in which I also managed to miss the flashlight, forgot that there were two keys on the keyring, and managed to put every item in the first room into the vise except the one that actually belonged there. But! Got all four achievements!
The game is well-made, and as expected for a small-dev free game it’s very limited in scope. We are an architect lured out of the city by a job offer; the anonymous caller thumps us on the head, and we wake up in a dark, locked, and deserted construction site. We’ll need to get a few doors open, get the fuses sorted out, and make our way back out into the world - like ya do. The pretty environs are sensible and put together nicely, though only a few objects are active and the inventory system is a little rudimentary. It’s a good way to drop a couple of hours, and I had fun poking around in there.
Violett Remastered (2013, Steamgifts win) apparently had a tough buggy launch, but it’s fixed now. And it’s really terrific. Violett, a sullen cartoony young teen, moves with her fighty parents to a run-down creepyish country house - which looks like a pretty awesome property actually. She’s not very happy about this. While sulking in her room, she sees a winking glimmer from a cracked hole in the wall. She has apparently never watched Doctor Who, so she reaches in there and pulls out a mysterious amulet, which transports her into our behind-the-mirror game world.
The vibe is Alice in Wonderland, but with toothier monsters - as it should be, since Alice was much darker in tone before Disney made it so cheery. We move through zany stylish chambers, cluttered with wild exaggerated objects or punctuated with crazed architecture, solving puzzles to move through the maze, collecting a variety of objects - three flavors of devilishly-hidden orbs, fragments of the amulet, pages of a tome on the warped animal denizens we’ll meet, a few piping whistles - and doing favors for the weird residents so they will open gates, give us soup, move aside, let us have a hat, and so forth. Some of the hidden stuff is seriously hidden, which is fun and will no doubt turn frustrating when I’m trying to hit the completionist achievement (prediction: either I’ll skip it, or there is a walkthrough video in my future).
Not all of our tasks are clear - Violettland creatures speak Gabble, with minimalist pictograms, to indicate what they want us to do, and that can be a little baffling. I think the game has such mixed reviews in part because it’s very confusing right out of the gate. It doesn’t ease us into the puzzle-play, it flings us right into the middle of it: we collect orbs without knowing why until we’re a couple of hours in, and the second room - well, the third, but we can’t get back to the first one - is an Escher-y labyrinth with several exit branches. This happens while we are figuring out what on earth we’re supposed to be doing here, and it makes the game feel daunting. In fact it eases up quickly once we get a sense of how things work, and from my vantage somewhere fairly well along the story (I think) it’s great fun, and challenging.
The Witcher (2008) is just a spectacular game. My schedule really hasn’t allowed me to jump into my so-loved big RPGs for a long time, and I have no idea how long it will take me to finish this one, but so far - I’m just entering Chapter II - everything has been a joy. People complain about the combat controls in this one, but I find them pretty flexible. Easier than Morrowind, though that may not be saying much.
Action in The Witcher is great, but what really makes this game shine is that everything about it is SMART. It feels like it was stripped down to the basics of What Gamers Want, and then built fresh to make that the center of the title. Why don’t all studios do that? So far only the collect-‘em-all aspect of the sex partners feels out of place: our Witcher, Geralt of Rivia (you probably know this already), can make some nooky time for many of the characters we meet, and after scoring we get a fantasy boudoir sex card to mark each event. The action is all very staid and not inappropriate, though who knows, it may get kinkier later. And the cards are well within the arty conventions of the hard-bitten fantasy setting we’re given, which is a craven medieval place and not any kind of Middle Earth. It’s just the collecting aspect that strikes me as off. Because, frankly, Geralt is a pretty grim and damaged guy, and I don’t doubt he gets laid in his travels. But I don’t think he collects. It’s beneath him.
Geralt’s moral choices are part of the game-play, which is cool. I’m going high road, which is always my instinct. I gather this will actually make some difference later on, but I’m not there yet. I’ll surely have to play the game again at some point, because I lost Vesna Hood, the barmaid, after saving her from a night attack by some of the worst of the villagers. Shaken, she asks to be walked home through the night’s creatures, but I couldn’t get her past an infestation of barghests; I can handle them, but she can’t, and she insists on getting into the fight. I now know how to get that quest finished properly, thanks Internet.
HOGging June Redux
There’s a mosaic tile piece under the desk but you can’t get to it without a tool to clear the spider web? You’d like to make dinner but to finish the sauce you need 3 units of the red sauce mixed with 2 units of ground blue seeds, and all you have are un-graduated cylinders that hold 7 units and 5 units, respectively? The window is stuck closed, so you need to assemble a hacksaw - the blade is conveniently upstairs, the handle and fastening bolt are in the well outside - in order to saw open the spare car battery you found in the woods, collecting the acid in a teacup that was hiding (with three butterflies, a mouse, a packet of chewing gum, a sarcophagus, an apple, and a postage stamp) in the oven, so that you can pour it on the window lock to get it open? Bad news, my friend. You’re stuck in HOG Land.
I finished 13 of them all told for this challenge. I might have done more, but life stayed busy. We’ve opened The Three Musketeers in Riverside Park, where we’ll play until the 23rd of July, and our summer hot has waded in for real. The concentration of games hasn’t put me off of HOGs at all, I don’t think, but I really am ready for a break and it’s a pleasure playing other stuff for a change. Some HOGs are fantastic and satisfying games, but honestly so many of them fall toward the average or below it. My favorite of the lot this month was Grim Legends 3: The Dark City, a beautifully-made Artifex Mundi piece that I really loved.
Dance of Death
Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt For Truth
Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness
The Uncertain: Episode 1 - The Last Quiet Day
Once upon a time, Hidden Object Games were just a series of Hidden Object Scenes tied together by hokey plot devices, and Dance of Death (2012) traces its roots right to Way Back Then. (Steam gives the release date as 2015, but it appears to have been a new Big Fish project three years earlier.) My first-ever HOG was Mystery Case Files: Huntsville back in the day, so I have patience for the Old Skool stuff.
Taken on that yardstick, the game is beautifully illustrated, with creative and wildly-overdone macabre art, a gratuitous bloody atmosphere, a moldering setting in Venice along the canals, and an ambitious plot that doesn’t really pay off but keeps things moving forward. The story - a missing boy, a demonic ritual, a family secret, and so forth - means well, but as in most HOGs the limited range of narrative possibilities keeps things simplistic. Some of the puzzles are explained poorly, but the play is generally brisk and the art is so over the top that I ended up appreciating it for the time (under three hours) it took me to inventory my way into winning. Recommended, for supernatural excess and a Retro feel.
Dark Lore Mysteries: The Hunt For Truth (2013) is less successful. (Once again, the Steam date of 2014 doesn’t match the Big Fish release.) We roll into a strange medieval village to find the Magistrate murdered, and it’s up to us to get to the bottom of things. Oddly, the Magistrate has puncture wounds on his neck, and he’s missing most of his blood. The body count quickly mounts, as does evidence for and against the culprit being an undead vampire. Could it be? Or is there an imposter?
Atmospheric settings and solid art never quite limber up this title, which is enjoyable but unremarkable. Much of the progress is jumbled but straightforward. I found myself using the hint button a lot to direct me to the next action area, as I had no idea where the game thought I should go next. Ultimately the clickiness of it got the better of me. There are a lot of minor locations, and when a puzzle finally arrived that wanted an answer that made no sense to me - I’m looking at you, dancing skeleton - I got quite grumpy about it. Still, these games are like monster movies for me. I’ll watch almost any monster movie unless it’s so clueless in the wrong way that it pisses me off. This HOG wasn’t great, but it never got me riled up. Mediocre: but fine for HOGgers.
Queen’s Quest: Tower of Darkness (2015) is an early game from Brave Giant, a Serbian board game company that shifted into video game development in 2013. They also make the Demon Hunter series. As with those games, this title has a very loose grasp on reality. The first Demon Hunter chapter was loony but not especially satisfying, I thought, and then they buckled in and got really crazy with the second, so it was bizarre, goofy fun. This first Queen’s Quest struck me the same way. It’s nutty and full of WTF, but it’s never so nutty that I could just sit down, say “wha???” and play on to see what on earth they’d come up with next. I’m hoping the next chapter steps up the “wha???” factor, which is pretty winning when a smart dev jumps in with both feet.
Here we are the titular Queen, and Uncle Magnus the Wizard comes to visit and to meet our new daughter with Prince Hendrik. A raging green-fired black-clad mage bursts in and tears out a palace wall with his mechanical dragon, and makes off with the child, after turning our good Prince to stone. This game is simple and a little bland. We’ll collect crowns, apples, swords, and pirate hooks, and they’re hidden openly but there’s no going back to previous collectibles when we’ve moved on so it’s easy to miss one (miraculously, I did not). Hidden object scenes are plagued with morphing objects, but they aren’t that hard.
We have three occasions to help out unusual couples in this game: we’ll reunite Mr. and Mrs. Piggy Bank (not kidding), we’ll feed snacks to Mr. and Mrs. Gerbil (also not kidding), and finally we’ll patch up Mr. and Mrs. Mechanical Owl (once again not kidding). That’s the kind of weird I like to see from Brave Giant, but it’s minimal here. Also, I spent a fretting hour trying to solve one of those damn tile puzzles where the colors have to match in columns and the shapes have to match in rows, and I had just four out of place and went around and around and around and around and finally Googled it but no one else was having any trouble with this puzzle, and I couldn’t figure out what was up until I realized that I could swap tiles diagonally as well, which I had not realized. And which made it super-easy. Grrr. There’s also another puzzle that legitimately requires some careful thought or a good Google. Recommended with reservations, and with hopes that the next one is crazy fun.
The Uncertain: Episode 1 - The Last Quiet Day (2016). I just love this game. It’s not a HOG - there are a couple of spots where you have to find, like, three fuses and four batteries and such. But it really isn’t a HOG at all. It’s a slick point-and-click adventure in a future where robots run the world and humans are extinct, except maybe not totally extinct. We’re RT-217NP, a robot with more independence than usual because, presumably learning dire lessons from Windows 10, we’ve turned off our automatic firmware updates. Which means that when the evil obedience-to-the-corporation update came out, we missed it, and stayed Human. I mean Robot. You know what I mean.
The game looks like a million bucks, though translations and occasional rough edges say maybe it really just looks like a million. It has an indie spirit and owes a lot to some of the Valve design principles that made Portal and Half-Life look so spiffy - there are a couple of excellent Easter Eggs tucked in - and while I wish it were more more more than it is, it’s just the first chapter in what I hope turns into a great longer game. I don’t want to give much away, because I came to it fresh and loved that, but expect something of a future noir with RT as unlikely hero and you won’t be far off. I’ll be going back in to mine for achievements at some point, and I expect it will still be fun the second time through. Highly Recommended, but not a HOG.
The Dreamatorium of Dr. Magnus 2
Enigmatis 3: The Shadow of Karkhala
Grim Legends 3: The Dark City
Hero of the Kingdom
Infected: The Twin Vaccine - Collector's Edition
Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials
Namariel Legends: Iron Lord Premium Edition
Theatre Of The Absurd
Dracula’s Legacy (2015). A solid game that obscures routine gameplay and design with grim monsters and a sleek animated heroine.
The Dreamatorium of Dr. Magnus 2 (2015). Pedestrian and uninspired, with the worst voicing I have ever heard on a main character.
Enigmatis 3: The Shadow of Karkhala (2016). A mix of hit and miss, with high production values and successful mechanics recalled from past Enigmatis chapters.
Grim Legends 3: The Dark City (2016). A real winner from Artifex Mundi, probably my favorite HOG to date - flexible, varied, interesting, and well put together.
Hero of the Kingdom (2012). An overland RPG played from an eye-in-the-sky perspective, and a HOG only by generous inclusion. Solid, with an unusual mix of game elements.
Infected: The Twin Vaccine - Collector’s Edition (2012). A bit daffy around the edges, but the art and setting are interesting and unusual, and it’s a pleasure to play.
Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials (2012). Full of personality and fun, a gleeful game based in historical fact and spiced with historical fiction.
Namariel Legends: Iron Lord Premium Edition (2013). Looks like a HOG, acts like a HOG, quacks like a HOG, but minus the actual hidden objects. Bold in style, with strong art and play that wears out its welcome too quickly.
Theatre of the Absurd (2012). Fun fluid art and a strongly-paced story keep things going well until the unfixed game-breaking bug. You can avoid the bug easily, but if you don’t know about it beforehand, well, there is suckage.