Itch.Io Racial Justice & Equality Bundle: Kintsugi

Krikket highlighted a massive 740+ indie gamestuff bundle over at Itch.io, proceeds donated to good causes, in the wake of ongoing events.

This derailed most of my Sunday as I wound up sorting through the massive amount of stuff in the bundle. It’s an indie game dev bundle, so there is a lot of dross (amateur creations, buggy stuff) among some gold, but we’ll take it as all of the game contributors’ hearts as being in the right place.

I jumped at it mostly for the tabletop RPG stuff – I love collecting and reading indie RPG PDFs, even if I never play them. Solo RP also appears to be taking off lately, between the introduction of the concept this past couple of years and recently, the coronavirus stay-home situation.

I hope to highlight more of the gold as I work through the bundle, but for now, this is a quickie that greatly surprised me.

It’s available free on Itch.io, even if you don’t get the bundle, and is a mini 5 minute web browser experience as a Unity game. Kintsugi by purplelilgirl.

At first glance, it seems super-basic.

You click a shape that represents some pottery; it falls and breaks.

You pick up the pieces, one at a time, and attempt to jigsaw them back into place.

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As long as the piece is in the right place, it’ll magically stick there, ignoring gravity and physics for convenience. Once every piece is restored, the areas between the cracks fill in with gold, and you’re done with that shape.

There are only 5 shapes, so it’s not a very long game either.

Kintsugi, as the game description tells you, and a wikipedia search can elaborate on, is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery by repairing the cracks with metallic lacquer, usually gold.

In a 5 minute meditative experience with some calming (if loud) music, the game wordlessly teaches you the themes behind this concept.

It makes you witness the initial accident, the crash, the shattering of a complete shape into broken pieces. Some shapes are easily mended, the later shapes may inspire an initial despair at ever being able to put it back together again.

It asks you to be the kintsugi craftsman, picking up each piece and attempt to put the broken shards back into the place. Like all mending and repair, literal and figurative, some patience and perseverance is required.

It then shows you, visually, the results of that process. The cracks, the flaws, highlighted with gold.

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At some point, it may occur to you that it even looks better and more beautiful than the original.

And with that, the game is done, having said what it had to say.

For real world examples of Kintsugi, I found this article from Colossal to be short yet illuminating.

To The Moon Play-Along – Act 1

To the Moon is a terrible game.

As a soundtrack, it is exceptional. If it is unable to move you, you are either hearing impaired or have a heart of stone.

As a visual novel, it has a story that is probably worth sitting through for most people. As long as you enjoy mundane love stories and themes of aging, memories and death.

As an ambiguous piece of literature that certain viewers would love to tear through for artsy fartsy symbolism and hidden meaning, well, it works for that too.

But as a game, it sucks.

The first hint of it was the awkward windowed resolution, firmly stuck in 640 x 480. Now that’s a resolution size I haven’t seen in a long time…

Needless to say, on an ultrawide screen monitor, it was sad.

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And completely impossible to play in anything other than fullscreen. Options menu? What options menu? Fine.

Then I attempted a screenshot, because hey, we’re blogging about our experience, right? And F12, the standard Steam screenshot key, paused the game instead.

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Wow. Surely you’re joking, Mr. Freebird Games.

Some Googling later, it was confirmed that the only way to screenshot in To The Moon was to PrintScreen and paste it into your own image manipulation program of choice. Forehead, meet table.

The choice of RPG Maker as the construction medium did not do it any favors. The controls are janky and awkward, the hopeless pathfinding making the mouse movement option utterly useless. I wound up using the keyboard. Arrow keys. WASD didn’t even work. Now that’s archaic.

Player input mostly consists of walking a character around, facing items and clicking/pressing space or enter, essentially pixel-hunting in a JRPG manner for items that the game feels is significant, as opposed to all the other pixel art objects which are only background.

There is no player choice, the game follows a set linear story to its eventual conclusion.

Honestly, To The Moon would have made a much better visual novel.

Just drop any pretense of requiring player interaction and let us press enter / fast forward through the dialogue and experience the story. In this way, an audience could better focus on its strengths, instead of fighting against clunky controls and wandering pointlessly in circles hoping to find the one last clue that brings them to the next story segment.

To The Moon’s strengths?

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The piano soundtrack is the true work of art here. It encapsulates the emotional themes that the rest of the ‘game’ muddles towards expressing in longer form.

The pixel art is not bad; the story generally quite sweet, if a little poignant, sappy and oddly humorous in parts.

Note that the pacing is quite sluggish in Act 1 – I struggled to get through each lengthy segment. If not for the commitment to the play-along, I might have dropped it. As it was, I kept plowing away at it in repeated sessions. Fortunately, things picked up in Acts 2-4 (which is all I will say about it in our first post.)

And it certainly is ambiguous enough and touches so lightly on heavy themes that it allows an army of deep readers ample room for discussion. Onward to Naithin’s play-along questions!

1. Let’s start off with the big guns — at the completion of Act 1 — how do you now feel about the very concept of granting someone’s dying wish by overwriting their memories with new ones?

Frankly, I don’t feel anything or have any opinion about it, because my conception of the device is that it mostly implants ‘fake’ memories. It’s not a time travel device, it doesn’t actually alter reality in any fashion. It’s a convenient fiction that the person/patient has consented to being written for him/them, and if they want to have one more fictional experience before they go, then that’s their choice, isn’t it?

It’s not something I would choose for myself personally. I believe that life is the sum total of one’s experiences, regret and otherwise. ‘Rewinding’ time is not for me. It’s why I had such difficulty dealing with Life is Strange (still hate it).

But if someone else wants to experience ‘the road not taken’ and trusts someone else to create that fiction for them (not something I would do either, I trust poorly and meddling with my brain? Egads), who am I to say they can’t do so?

(If it does alter reality, that’s another thing altogether, because now you’re infringing on other people’s boundaries and the general fabric of time itself.)

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2. What did you think of River’s choice to put her treatment behind that of Anya?

I might begin to sound like a broken record shortly, if all the questions run along this vein. It’s -her- choice, innit? All power to her.

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3. In response to Neil commenting that it was like watching a train-wreck unfold, Eva says, “The ending isn’t any more important than the moments leading up to it.” Do you agree?

I did not understand the sentence. It felt like a bad translation. It’s not a dichotomous choice of agree or disagree.

The moments matter. The ending is the sum total of those moments.

It -all- matters, both are important. There is no measurement of “more important” or “less important” that can apply here.

4. What did you make of Johnny’s decision not to read the book offered by Dr. Lee?

Super-awkward (aka not a choice I would personally make, I am all about -knowledge-), but ultimately understandable. Broken record incoming: It’s his choice to make.

Poor decision or not, his future life will reflect it. Perhaps he is able to treat River better, as a person, not defined by an ASD diagnosis, by living in ignorance about it. Perhaps not, and he might make mistakes that might have been avoided with more knowledge and sensitivity. Either way, it is his life to learn (with or without a book, and who’s to say he couldn’t have watched a video or changed his mind later) and muddle his way through.

5. How do you feel about Johnny as a person now, particularly after his revelation of why he (at least initially?) was interested in River?

In a way, I feel almost sorry for him. I don’t think the naming of his character by the devs was an accident. “John” is an everyman name. Getting literarily pretentious here, he represents the ordinary, mundane, “neurotypical” (to use Isabelle’s term) person.

He clearly is seeking a spark of creativity (the history of his painting attempts through his life is a visual theme), a dose of strangeness or weirdness, a visit from a Muse. And he can’t create it for himself. He is completely ordinary. Little wonder why he is so utterly drawn to River’s “oddness” as his opposite number, she is his Muse.

It may not rub off. It probably won’t. It’s kind of misguided. But it’s also the kind of quixotic “To the Moon”-like ambition that encapsulates this whole game’s love story.

Yes, he might have regretted his decision to commit so deeply to her at points in the future, without fully understanding what he might be in for. But he ultimately also stays by her, “in sickness or in health, till death” parts them, to the end.

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6. We saw River’s obsession with origami rabbits very early in the piece — and some of the events that tracked back as a possible origin along the way. After Johnny told her about his initial motivations is when it all kicked off. Neil thought it might’ve been River holding onto a grudge. What do you think?

Well, I’ve binged through the entire story and read the wiki by now, so I know the in-game stated reason by now.

But at the time of Act 1, I mostly accepted it as just part of River being on the autism spectrum, the obsessive fixation with various objects of interest.

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And before that, on first revelation, I entertained myself briefly with thoughts of an origami killer (thanks, Heavy Rain!) I knew it wasn’t going to be that, of course, it was lining itself up to be an extremely mundane story, but when the story is dragging, you -make- your own entertainment.

Boundless: Test of the Gleambow

Boundless continues to consume the majority of my gaming time.

I popped into GW2 for quick moments to check out the latest story chapter and meta map – they’re good, nearly everything seems to be improving lately (except servers and routing lag), but the major take-home for me was the realization on stepping into Drizzlewood Coast and feeling, “Egads, there’s just -too- many players around.”

Far be it for me to try and coerce a game into something it patently is not. GW2 is a game of the zerg and mega-zerg, an ode to the power of spontaneously forming cooperative groups. That is one of its strengths. It should play to it.

If I am no longer in a headspace for it, then that’s on me, and not the game.

Surely, in this era of overflowing Steam libraries and free games thrown at you every week, one can manage to find other games for the experience one is craving.

Desperately fighting off an immense urge to re-play Terrarria (that is one -deep- rabbit hole to fall down, a lot of time is needed for that one), I throw myself back into Boundless to at least close some projects before beginning others.

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The top floor of the farm is about there, sans some ceiling chiseling and the decision of what other crops to install into the two rightmost plots.

I’m having second thoughts about closing up the box, the open cave into the hillside has its own style of attractiveness. Then again, if I can make the entrance look good, with more decorative motifs and/or statues, it may also work. We’ll see.

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Got my first wheat and oat harvest the other day. 180% and 220% crop yields with 100% seed return. Not too shabby. At 54 seeds, that’s about 100ish crops each growth cycle.

My crafter alt still lacks sufficient skill points and skill page distribution to really get into high level foods (I threw the points into high level brews and tools instead, leaving out weapons, foods and grapples), so we’re bottlenecked there for the time being.

The basement floor is still an utter mess. I used it as a prototyping space for figuring out water systems for flooding rice, and I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up the aftermath. No firm decision on a setup yet either. I gave up and went gleambow hunting.

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We’re in the second and final week of this event.

Observing the player interactions from afar brings back A Tale in the Desert sociological experiment memories. A ton of them. It’s like the Test of the Obelisk queue all over again.

The forums are filling with drama. As expected, an organized group figured out a way for a majority of players to ‘win’ in an organized fashion, by creating a voluntary cooperative system to partake in.

In this case, apparently cooperating players gather together on a hunting platform in the center of a region. This triggers meteors to spawn at the highest level (level 6) if the group is large enough. Normally, this can only happen once with a natural spawning meteor, and then the group moves on to the next hunting platform, unsoweiter.

The new spin is that they are now using gleambow augments to summon meteors. Summoned gleambow meteors have the colored blocks, but the gleamtrunk mobs do not drop additional sacs, so there is no reason for extra people to go after the meteor, beyond the shared reward of completed meteor, and the actual colored blocks themselves.

A ‘queue’ system is apparently in place. So people line up on the platform, announce they are summoning a meteor, and then (if one follows the group’s rules), only the summoner gets to go and break the meteor they summoned. The group also made portals in all cardinal directions to help the summoner get there as quickly as possible.

Just like the obelisk queue, there are always going to be more selfish defectors. I gather – without going near the entire thing at all, the planet they’re doing it on is supremely laggy for me – that there have been a couple of ‘enterprising’ players capitalizing on this surfeit of near-guaranteed level 6 meteor spawns to grab even more colored blocks for themselves.

Their defence is that the event is titled as a ‘race,’ the in-game rules and devs do not prevent them from snatching up blocks from any fallen meteors, and that competition is part and parcel of the event. It sounds exactly like the defence of the obelisk queue jumpers – building big and extensively is the point of that event, and those who want it should rise to the challenge and overbuild them/be faster.

Some people call this griefing, others call it self-interest or perfectly innocent behavior or possibly an accident of ignorance or playing within the limits of the in-game rules. Me, I think the motives of various people are made super clear by the behavior they -repeat-.

Extra drama points for those who spring up out of the woodwork, claiming victimization and verbal harrassment from the organized cooperators. Their PR spin on things is that the big group ‘bullied’ everybody in the regions nearby into playing by their new sandbox rules, that their boundaries have been infringed by the group choosing to do their activities near their existing territories (they were there first, and this group just muscled in and decided this space was theirs now), and they certainly will not play by the group’s rules and if they can disrupt the group, they will.

Mind you, the whole reason the group exists is also because of the mutual greed of a level 6 meteor (a HUGE amount of colored blocks) prompting cooperation via enlightened self-interest.

Me, I’m not touching the entire angle, from either side, with a ten foot pole. As tempted as I am by the thought of a level 6 meteor all for myself, it is tempered by the realization that I would have to stand in a line for possibly 15-30 minutes before it comes around to my turn (can there be anything more boring), plus the thought of all these defectors just beelining towards every meteor, ready to spoil the experience and getting a kick out of it.

My solution is the same solution as the obelisk solution. Patience and outlasting the drama and choosing the correct time and space to profit.

The gleambow augments can be used even after the event. Firing one off when nobody’s noticing is the best way to not have a meteor get stolen. Granted, it’ll only be a dinky level 1 meteor, but meh,  it annoys me more to have to ‘share’ a larger meteor with people who invite themselves to the party. I’m fine with my own private party when nobody’s watching.

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So I’ve been sneaking around on the Aussie planet (hoorah for 100ms ping), at timezones when only the Oceanic players are awake, and staring intently at my atlas for any signs of nearby players. If there are any, I scram off to another region for more quiet, uninterrupted personal time with my lil round balls. *coughs*

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With no one else around, I have complete say.

I move to the center of a region to trigger my own meteor. I’ve learned how to look directly up into the sky and identify the one and only comet trail appearing near directly overhead and streaking to a nearby region. I chase it.

I get there, looking all about me to make sure no other red squares indicating other players nearby pop up on the compass. I make my own decision to lose or complete the meteor, based on what materials it’s made of.

Losing the meteor leaves my timer fairly intact (around 2 minutes), and I busy myself shooting the gleamtrunks for those remaining seconds. I pop about 6-10 sacs each dinky meteor I give up. If it’s gleam, then I collect fewer sacs (maybe 2-4) then I smash the meteor and collect a small, dinky amount of gleam.

Then I’m on the move to another region and grabbing at least 4-5 dinky meteors in 30 minutes or so. The return may or may not pall compared to those standing in line for their giant level 6 meteors. But it certainly has more action to keep me engaged and less drama.

If I bump into someone else, I usually give up the meteor. It’s one meteor. I’m not going to be as fast as the established players. I saunter over, pick up whatever sacs and the final completed meteor reward is there, and then I LEAVE. The entire region. Because I’m not going to keep triggering meteors for super fast players to snatch up under my nose. They can trigger their own meteors by themselves.

There is no fight. It is ships momentarily passing in the night, and then we’re gone, never to bother each other again. They get their own meteors over here, I get my own meteors over there. It is hermit poetry.

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I have no standard of comparison with the industrial big boys, but I am not playing at their levels anyway. In my own turtle way, I have collected a decent amount of rare colored gleam. As a satisficer, for now, it is enough.

I don’t plan to build with rare colored gleam, so that’s one demand drain lifted. I’d like to have enough to do the goo mutation thing, but I don’t have the faintest clue how to goo farm yet, so one has no idea how much one really needs. At experimental stages, 3-4 of each gleam doesn’t sound that bad, and that seems to be what is gradually accumulating haphazardly in my dump storage.

In fact, it’s getting full. It’s getting to the point where I stare down into the neck of the container and realize that this is no way to keep a library of rare gleam colors, because I don’t even know wtf I have.

I look at all the storage blocks and shelves of my current base, and with a sinking feeling, realize that a) I don’t have enough empty spaces for this amount of colors, and b) it would be a bad idea to mix rare gleam with gleam obtainable from existing planets, how would I tell them apart?

You know, for only wanting to build functionally, I am doing a LOT of building in Boundless. *half-hearted grumble*

I decide on another sub-basement. I hate ruining the countryside with eyesores.

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First layer of digging. The waterfalls are inadvertent hilarity caused by digging underneath some of my farm plots. (At least it’s not lava.)

I put in another protective yellow gleam ceiling layer.

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Then I sit around and try to work out the colors. I suspect Boundless holds my building attention more strongly than Minecraft simply because of the colors.

In Minecraft, colored blocks are either an afterthought or need a fair amount of dye/industrial processing to get sufficient blocks for building. In Boundless, most everything has inherent colors.

I picked up a ridiculous amount of dark blue rock the other day while hunting for emeralds. I didn’t want to throw it away, so I turned it into marble, thinking I might make a blue color scheme building at some point.

An underground sub-basement for gleam and storage of other things with colors sounded too depressing to make completely blue. (Also, the amount of naturally blue rock was limited, and I didn’t want to delve into paint sprays just yet. Work within one’s limits and all that.)

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One thing led to another, I wound up with high contrast, light-colored floor and ceilings to offset the dark blue walls and the black storage cabinets.

I also did a ridiculous amount of prototyping in-game. There was a lot of construction and deconstruction.

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It eventually iterated into something that looks passable.

255 possible colors, divided into 28 sub-groups, and a cabinet stack for each of those 28 shade/sub-groups. Should hopefully be enough for the moment.

It is interesting to note that I do a lot more planning and prototyping and iteration of builds in Boundless. The effort required to mass produce enough blocks for a build is not insubstantial. This has a carry-over effect where I test and re-test and prototype until I’m fairly happy with the result, before I set the machines in motion.

Anything with more ease, and I would probably get a lot more careless about my builds.

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Final prototype layout in place. Now to replace everything with actual storage blocks, and hope nothing else goes wrong.

It’s not been all meteor chasing and homebody building. I scraped together enough time to pop by the latest exo-world as well. My first T7 exo-world. More milestones reached. More on that another time.

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