Steam Linux Sale: Two Weird Gems

Steam’s currently having a celebratory sale for Linux-playable games.

Of course, since all the Linux games are also playable on PC, it just means I get to trawl the collection and go bargain-hunting.

I want to highlight two gems that may be less obvious than things like FTL at 50% (still waiting for 75%, yarrr.)

Eversion

Hitting little brick blocks with one's head? Check.
Bright and shiny colors? Jumping on little moving sprites to defeat them. Hitting little brick blocks with one’s head? I’m surprised it’s not Mario!

I’ve owned this for quite a while and rarely see it on sale. It’s going for two bucks, which I think is the perfect price point for the six or so hours you may get out of it (if you chase all the achievements.)

And even if you don’t complete the game, it’s worth two bucks to see the neat genre twist involved. (Assuming you are at least vaguely familiar with the platforming tropes of Super Mario Brothers – else it may possibly be lost on you.)

Suffice to say, things stay only bright and cheerful and kiddy and bright and bouncy for so long.

It’s like The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing for platformers, which by the way, is also a great read if you’re into dark and creepypasta stuff.

Fair warning: You have to be okay with the frustrations of platforming games – rehearsing pixel perfect jumps and getting one’s timing -just- right may be an issue in certain parts. And dying and being sent back to the start or the nearest checkpoint if you miss. Over and over if you’re having an off day.

I know I personally have trouble with getting the hang of the timing when just starting out, but get it down after a while. There is also one notorious spot in particular that causes immense rage and failure for quite a number of people – including me, and led to staring at video guides and trying it 30x and still failing. I got past it eventually and seeing the ending(s) and experiencing the whole game was worth it.

There’s a less graphically attractive free version floating about the web too, but I think for two bucks, it’s worth spoiling yourself with the full-featured version. The 8-bit style music’s pretty fun and fitting too.

Magical Diary

magdiary

No, seriously, WHAT?

I know I’ve mentioned that I have a soft spot for cheesy casual games before, but this didn’t look like anything I’d be remotely interested in at first.

I don’t have a huge allergy to anime style cartoon graphics, but this game’s images are a touch on the amateurish side in places. Some characters look good/okay, and some look really strange to my eye.

Purely on principle alone, I don’t think I’d mind dating sims or visual novels but honestly have had very little experience with either genre.

(The closest to a dating sim I’ve ever gotten is an ADRIFT text/graphic adventure game called The PK Girl, submitted for the 2002 Interactive Fiction competition, which I found I quite enjoyed. It’s received some criticism for portraying things in a sexist light, but I was mostly more intrigued by the branching possibilities, multiple endings and ability to develop relationships with characters in an IF game, using a language that wasn’t Inform/Z-Code.

As for visual novels, Analogue: A Hate Story is about the closest I’ve gotten around to trying so far. Not bad if it’s on sale too, by the way.)

More of a buzzkill is the fact that it’s set in a magical school, and your protagonist is a magical student that has been raised as a Muggle (redacted for copyright reasons), unaware of her destiny until approximately high school age.

Your default character’s name starts out as Mary Sue (until you change it in haste.)

And you’ll even have a cheerful and helpful female professor as your ally, while there’s this sour-faced lanky, evil professor whom you smash into early on, whose life purpose appears to be making yours miserable.

*resists urge to puke at Harry Potter overdose*

sappy

For $25, or even for $15, I’ll never buy such a thing.

But you know, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has reviewed the game and been somewhat positive about it, and it’s now on 75% sale on Steam, making it a much more palatable $3.75…

… and there’s even a free demo.

Welp, the demo did its job really well on me.

I gritted my teeth through the initial overdose of sweet sappy cheesiness, smiled tolerantly at the most obvious tall, dark and arguably handsome stranger who showed up as the most likely potential boyfriend for my character, and to my surprise, found myself getting into the flow of the story, experimenting with various twists and turns and options, suspecting there was significant branching narrative potential here, and most of all, wanting the story to continue when I reached the end of the demo.

That is how you sell a game.

What I’m most impressed by is the multitude of scenes and occurrences that the writer(s) have concocted for the setting. No shortage of writer’s block here. Global school events occur over the course of the term. Vacations come and go. You’ll have the opportunity to develop relationships (not necessarily solely romantic ones) with a plethora of characters. Conflict and drama pop up everywhere, sometimes when you’re least expecting it. Time passes. Things change.

And ultimately, you do feel like you’re living the student life of the protagonist you’ve designed, and that there’s room to try another kind of protagonist for another replay at the very least.

What I would recommend is to at least give this game a chance. Don’t immediately judge it by its appearance. Download the demo to try it out – it will give you a good idea of whether you might like this style of game/visual novel at all.

I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. Next game, I swear I'm making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.
I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. This has earned me numerous detentions and demerits. Next game, I swear I’m making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.

PC: Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Who’s up for round 2 of cheesy casual games celebration?

I have a weakness for cooking games. Call it a fascination with food porn (I love watching the Food Network and browsing random food blogs like Food52, Serious Eats or Chowhound) married with the love of a good meal and the conviction that one should know how to cook good food or be hopelessly stranded at the whims of someone else’s kitchen controlling fancy. I’m always deeply amused by how accurately (or not) various games simulate the cooking process.

(Don’t get me started on GW2’s cooking craft profession. It’s evident someone who knows how to cook had a hand in designing which things went in each recipe, and the food/ingredient nesting has blown my mind and my alt’s inventory. I’ve yet to cross 75 in cooking still. I don’t dare to, until my other alts have eaten away some of the products.)

Toss in a good mix of frenetic arcade fun and multitasking juggling, and cooking games are perfect for bite-sized portions of gaming. (Pun very much intended.)

Cheesy as they are, I’ve played games like Cooking Mama on the Nintendo DS, amused by the use of the stylus and blowing feature to simulate various kitchen activities, as well as Burger Island, a more repetitive arcade game of arranging ingredients as quickly as possible. I’ve played stuff like Restaurant Empire and Diner Dash, which are more games to do with restaurant seating and arrangement of customers than cooking. And countless cooking-based Flash games whose names are now lost to bad memory but have themes like sushi, pizza and so on.

Typically, most cooking games let you click on various ingredients to arrange them according to a recipe or a picture, potentially processing them through some simulated cooking technique involving keypresses or mouse clicks, before serving to a customer. Repeat as fast as possible to make money. Spanners are thrown in the works when different foods require different prep times, various customers have different patience levels and so on.

Well, Cook, Serve, Delicious! from Vertigo Gaming is a cooking game on steroids.

It’s based on two free games from the same developers, Ore no Ryomi 1 & 2, but appears to have a lot better visuals and polish. (Call me picky, but I don’t enjoy my games with stomach-churning ugly images out of the EGA era. Give me stuff that looks decently pretty, or give me plain text and ASCII, not pixelated non-art.)

I especially appreciate the control scheme, which primarily makes use of the keyboard. (There is a mouse control option but honestly, and MMO players should know this, keyboard shortcuts > mouse clicking in general.)

This enables Cook, Serve, Delicious to venture into a deeper complexity than most cooking games dare to go, and have it start emulating typing games, or even, the complex keypress patterns / muscle memory of Starcraft build orders. The developers call this ‘hardcore.’

Me, I’m not sure I’ll go that far, but I’d compare it quite favorably to something on the same level as Plants vs Zombies.

Both  games look cute and casual and have relatively pleasing cartoony art. They’re easy enough to get into and play. But there’s also enough here to keep adults occupied for a decent amount of gameplay time.

For example, here’s one of the simplest foods, a corn dog. The keypress pattern is 1-5 for the customer, then K and/or M for ketchup or mustard, depending on the order below (speed reading is important here). Then Enter to serve.

Not too difficult. Customers stop being interested in it by the time you hit 2 star restaurant level, so you’ll have to graduate from it eventually to something more complicated…

How about the salad? In this case, V, C, O, B and M, before Enter. Customers order an extremely varied amount of toppings for this dish – just greens and carrots, ranch and cheese, thousand island and the works, etc. One is kept on one’s toes.

I’m tickled by lasagna, which simulates building the layers very well. The simplest lasagna involves typing P S C R three times, hearing each layer thud down with a meaty slap with each keypress, before hitting Enter to cook (a wait time) before serving. More tricky lasagna like the above involves incorporating meat into two layers, so it is P S M C R, P S M C R, and finally P S C R for the last layer.

Different foods are prepared in different ways. Steak and chicken involve keeping in mind the number of keypresses you just made as it doesn’t show you how many times you’ve added the seasoning.  Soup is an extreme pain, with two pages of ingredients – with keys not exactly tying too well to the ingredient name – and chopping involved.

There’s a decent selection of food (to be prepared and cooked in various ways) that can be bought and upgraded, and a little strategy section involving ‘restaurant management’ before each arcade game day. One can pick various foods to be used in the active menu for the day. This affects the amount of “Buzz” your restaurant has, and the number of customers visiting per day.

Quite a complex selection of factors affect buzz, from the weather, the time of day and the foods you’ve picked that suit the various times. Liquor creates negative buzz (as you’re ostensibly in an office tower. It’s amusing to see how many pop in for a 10am pint of beer) but is profitable and quick to prepare.

Food can be healthy and create a positive health-food buzz, or conversely be full of fat and create negative fatty food buzz. Ironically, the deep fry foods are among the quickest and easiest items to prepare.

On some days, you may want quick and easy items to prepare, in order to deal with sanitation inspectors who pop in for spot checks and make sure you deal with chores like washing dishes, taking out the trash and yes, flushing/cleaning toilets (for customers evidently too lazy to do it themselves.) Or to make it easy on yourself when you want to win bets from some guy who offers you challenges via email.

If there’s one criticism I have about this game, it’s that progression seems a little slow. Moving up to a one star restaurant involves completing 20 days, among other challenges. I was done with all of the rest by day 13 or 14, and had to plod patiently through seven more days.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game though. Around half of the more complicated food has yet to be unlocked, three quarters are still not upgraded. There seem to be a few more extra events later on, such as catering events and possibly some manner of iron chef tournament.

It’s currently selling for $8.95 on the developers’ website, and is also available on Desura and Gamersgate. It’s sitting in Steam Greenlight at the moment, and is one of the few games I’ve bothered to log in and upvote.

If you ask me, it’s a mite overpriced for 9 bucks – thanks to Steam spoiling me, I’m a firm believer in casual games being priced at $2-$5 – but I was able to convince myself to pick it up as part of Vertigo Gaming’s $15 bundle for six games – including CSD and Oil Blue.

I’m quite happy to pay roughly $3.50 for those two games, and $2 for the other games in that bundle to try them out. At that price, it’s a steal.

Try it yourself, there’s a downloadable demo which sold me on its merits.

Whines and Cheese

aka a post on negative opinions and cheesy casual games

This post has been brewing (or should I say, fermenting, to massacre the metaphor) for a while now. Finally found the time in between RL stuff to write it.

Some time ago, Shintar from Going Commando and Psynister from Psynister’s Notebook mentioned that their enjoyment of a game they liked (SW: TOR in this case) were affected by the current Zeitgeist of negative opinion surrounding it.

Besides feeling like they need to make apologies or justifications for why they actually like something that is seemingly so unpopular, they perhaps get a little worried that this will affect the basic longevity of the MMO, such as the rate of new subscribers to it, the retention rate of existing subscribers, and the amount of developers that can be supported (cue news of Bioware layoffs.)

(I perfectly understand if what I’m going to say next makes you delete the automated linkback in your comments, so no hard feelings, guys.)

You know what? Screw all that.

There are 7 billion people in the world, many of whom don’t even have internet access, but of those who are on the World Wide Web, there is already plenty of diversity. Nobody will ever agree on anything.

Stop worrying about pageviews, stop worrying about perceived popularity or population in the game of your choice. It is okay to be unpopular. It is okay to like and play a game other people don’t like. Hell, SWTOR has a million subs. Most non-WoW MMOs are celebrating if they hit 400k, and most hover around 100-200k.

(Unless maximizing views is your goal, then by all means, find the most popular things to write about. Making gold, easy leveling, cheat codes, the meaning of life, and so on come to mind. And yeah, go for the games with the most mainstream appeal. Write about WoW, Starcraft, Diablo, LOL, DOTA, TF2, Minecraft – I guarantee you’ll get a ton of hits.)

Heck, I play a game with a population of 800 characters and declining, a good half of them probably alts. (No prizes for guessing which MMO that is.) Part of the reason why I write about it is to preserve its uniqueness for posterity.

In the final analysis, nothing lasts, but your memories and your love of game.

If you like something, you like something. You’re a blogger, tell us why.

To me, this feels like WoW newbie to other MMOs syndrome, or can I use WoW tourist to describe this? WoW players have had the luck and fortune to start playing their game at a time when EVERYONE and their mother (except for me!) was singing the praises and playing the living daylights out of their game.

Me, I saw the raid grind and bait-and-switch coming a mile off and chose not to participate. Did anyone listen then? Haha, no. So yeah, I shrugged, having made my distinctly unpopular opinion known, and figured, folks have to undergo the burnout cycle to know it, I’ll give you guys four years and check back in then, and waited…

More people think like me now, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people still deriving fun and enjoyment out of WoW and are happy to blog and share their experiences. That’s the whole point. It is okay to hold an unpopular opinion. It is also possible for something to be paradoxically good and bad at the same time, depending on your perspective and frame of reference.

And that’s what we want when we read your blog, your perspective and your frame of reference. Because only Tobold is Tobold, Zubon is Zubon, and so on. Syncaine, Bhagpuss, Melmoth, Gevlon, Spinks, Tesh, Sente, etc, etc. As I say these names, surely you’ll recognize at least some, and can link basic personalities and styles to their respective blogs.

So go ahead. Say it. My name is _____. I play ______. I like this game. And here’s why: ….

No apologies necessary.

My name is Jeromai. I think SWTOR is a steaming pile of generic WoW clone. I never hit max level in WoW, especially since they keep moving the goalposts. I refuse to put aside days of my life to raid for what is ultimately bytes and pixels. I want to form good memories and take beautiful screenshots with me when I move on from a game, and I believe that need/greed loot grinds and raid progression and the general community of the game would not contribute positive things towards those goals.

I also hate the Star Wars universe ever since I saw the trilogy, and the revamps and new episodes did not help that opinion at all, what with George Lucas’ ego and excessive CGI in every frame. The only guy I liked in the first movie, they killed at the end of it, leaving an oafish bumpkin as the main protagonist. Great.

I also liked the Ewoks, something most people who love the Star Wars universe detest. They made Return of the Jedi watchable, because all the other characters sucked. At least the walking teddy bears were funny and cute. Thankfully, I do not like the Gungans, so you can stop screaming now.

As much as I want to, this dislike of the setting makes it nigh impossible for me to play KOTOR, which is widely regarded as an excellent classic, let alone SWTOR, which is not. I tried and have barely got out of the intro sequence.

I also think light side, dark side choices are a lame prop and mechanic for so-called moral choices and roleplaying decisions. Are you truly doing anything meaningful by having decided beforehand, ok, this character is going to be the angelic Paragon and choosing all the good options by default (because that’s where the best loot and rewards come from, being one extreme or the other) vs the second run through of Ok, now it’s time to play the Evil Asshole and grabbing all the ‘evil’ options?

But you know what? These are all opinions. Mine, not yours. You are free to agree or disagree as you like. You can leave kudos or dissent in the comments, write about it in your blog or not read me at all because we are so diametrically dissimilar.

So go ahead. Tell us why you like or dislike something. Especially if you like something, tell us why.

Who knows, you may convince a few fence-sitters to try out your game, even if you may never sway the extremists.

And now for the cheese.

My name is Jeromai, and I have a very bad habit. When I’m procrastinating on RL deadlines, I stay away from MMOs because I cannot justify the amount of time spent just to log in, let alone play. But I have a not-so-secret-now love of cheesy casual games, that I buy for a buck fifty or so on Steam, which I am happy to fritter away small chunks of time with, in between attempting work.

During this recent Steam summer sale, I finally got around to buying the Popcap bundle after having dicked around with their demos and the full Plants vs Zombies on the iPad.

Yes, I deride SWTOR for being vapid mainstream crap, and I play even more vapid mainstream crap that only kids and housewives and people with no taste are supposed to enjoy.

There is no contradiction here.

Here’s why I like fooling around with cheesy casual games:

  • They (usually) take short amounts of time to play, meaning you can get a lot of gaming in for your time buck.
  • They focus on doing only one or a few things very well, leaving them a certain simplicity and elegance to their mechanics, which are also easily grasped.
  • Some of them are amazingly polished.
  • It’s extremely fun to find a diamond in the rough and go, hey, wow, these devs are on to something here.
  • All can be learned from, the bits I like, the parts I don’t, without much of the innate timesink grind of MMOs… though you have to watch out these days for timesinks put in to be skipped by paying (thanks, F2P model).
  • They don’t even make the excuse of having an endgame. When you’re done, you’re done. If you like it, buy the inevitable sequel, expansion or chapter 2.

My name is Jeromai. I play Bookworm Adventures Deluxe and I really love this game. Head on to the next post to find out why.