Open Sorcery

Here’s another deliciously cheap yet good game on Steam sale:

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Open Sorcery is a primarily text-based interactive fiction game written in Twine, with judicious amounts of pauses and scrolling text, sound effects and the rare picture for narrative impact.

You play an elemental firewall (the game title “Open Sorcery” a pun about open source code) on the verge of gaining a kind of sentience.

The world cleverly mixes a dose of technological computerese with a shade of the elemental fantastical – where aetheric firewalls protect against possibly malicious spirits formed by the base elements of water, air, earth, fire, life, death, love and fear.

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Along the way you meet various characters and interact with them, developing relationships and occasionally taking surprising twists and turns, depending on your choices.

One of your first encounters is with a Air-Chaos spirit, an impish poltergeist.

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This is a screenshot of my second playthrough, and you can see I have a new option learned from the first game – where I decided to speak to it and it challenged me to a riddle contest.

Solving its riddles three made it throw a bit of a hissy fit, but also successfully persuaded it to leave peaceably.

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Besting it also taught me a new element, Chaos, that I could utilize alongside my basic Fire.

The lovely thing about Open Sorcery is that nearly all of its choices it offers you are significant choices – story changers in their own right. You can take matters into your own hands, consult with your creators, use what you’ve learned in earlier encounters and some of these might just come back to roost in the following days.

The poltergeist, for example, came back to the place I was guarding and extended an invitation to meet his queen Titania… but which meant I, a firewall, would have to leave the place I was guarding. Something which just might end up flagging me as malfunctioning to my creators.

Talk about awareness emergence, AI sentience and tricky choices.

For a Twine game, it gets non-linearity right. (I’ve played one too many Twine games which are mostly linear exercises in clicking the one-and-only next highlighted word.)

By the end of your first playthrough, you’ll be aware of the paths you didn’t take, especially if you peek at the achievements that hint to the other possible story branches and endings.

I don’t know that I’m raring to go and play through too many more times – the repetition may get to me sooner than later – but it does say something that I’m immensely content with the first ending that I got.

On the whole, it doesn’t try to twist your choices out from under you. What you choose is generally what you will get. The impact comes from the tradeoffs of that choice.

If you spend Fire to solve a problem, you will naturally be weaker for having spent that energy, which might no longer be available to solve a second more pressing problem. If you take matters into your own hands, you should not be surprised if that independence freaks people out. Yet if you fall back on humans to solve your problems for you, you might never discover potential new learning/growth opportunities and relationships of your own. And so on and so forth.

For anyone interested in some choose-your-own-adventure narrative, this is a nifty game. Short, sweet, some replayability, and currently 66% off on Steam.

(Caveat: it’s gone down to 75% before, but we are literally talking about the difference between $0.99 and $1.35. For around a dollar, this is a fun experience.)

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My Steam Award Nominations

It’s been three days since the last GW2 patch dropped and I haven’t even set foot in the story chapter or the new map yet.

Why?

  • Beyond suffering a mild, low-level crisis of the faith in terms of where my life priorities are going;
  • being distracted anticipating the upcoming Breach League in Path of Exile (launching Dec 2-ish);
  • and gleefully indulging in a spur of the moment Steam sale purchase of Hitman;

I took up starting a new Expert Mode world in Terraria last week to try out version 1.3+.

I can quite confidently state that it deserves the following:

As proof, I submit my Hours Played as recorded by Steam:

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Beyond noting that I spent a lot of time on simple but fun grindy mini-MMOs and idle breeding games, nothing even comes -close- to the hours spent in Terraria. Not idling, I assure you.

Next up, an oldie but a goodie:

Honorable mention: Blackwell Epiphany (It’s the last game in the Blackwell series, which I rhapsodized about. When you play five games with a set of characters, it hits you in the feels when it comes to an end.)

I went for something completely different for the next one:

Eh, everybody’s going to vote some version of Civilization anyway, right?

Alpha Centauri wasn’t on the Steam menu. Looking at my played time, the -honest- answer would probably also be Terraria, but apparently you can’t vote a game for multiple categories. So I went for the game of the moment.

Bought three days ago, and already at 11 played hours…

My rationale is to highlight this strange oddity of a stealth sandbox game that -encourages- you to wait globs of time doing nothing (ie. waiting for NPCs to move into position or to the next part of their pattern so that you can act) and get the entire multiple part mission -complete- before you quit for the night… which is easier said than done when something goes wrong and multiple save/reloads come into play.

Well, yes, theoretically one could just save and come back the next night where one left off… but, who does that, really, when there’s an outstanding target to be headshot/garrotted/poisoned/otherwise offed in an entertaining manner.

A really broad interpretation is possible for the next:

I have a strange sensation that proponents of the “hard, painful, masochistic mindblowing challenge” school of thought will set a Dark Souls game on the throne.

But you know, I read “crazy plot twist” and I’m going the “whoaaaaaaa, this started awesome and unique but what did we suddenly just smoke, my mind is expaaaaanding far out, duuudde…”route.

Honorable mention: Her Story is also pretty mind-expanding.

This one took a while to figure out – I apparently don’t play that many games with outstanding villains:

The Batman: Arkham variants were briefly considered, for their rogues’ gallery full of villains, but ultimately… the Joker man just wants to watch the world burn. He doesn’t need a hug. He’s villainous through and through. Sorta like Sephiroth.

Shadow of Mordor, though… ha. Sauron, The Bright Lord, you, the orcs, everybody needs a hug.

Honorable mention: The Masked Kidnapper from Tales from the Borderlands. He needs a hug too. Cos…reasons. (That you will know, if you finish the game.)

I -was- planning on voting Batman: Arkham City in, to reflect all the time I’ve spent chasing one Enigma achievement or side challenge or another. I -was- going to mention Skyrim’s many mods as an honorable mention.

Then out of the blue, while clicking on the voting button, this lil classic came to mind.

Nobody plays Magicka to be wannabe wizards defeating the dark lord of darkity dark. It’s all about the ARSE mines and murdering your friends.

See the date? October 11, 2012.

Released on Steam: October 9, 2013.

I remember when it was being Greenlit, nyah. So yeah, I totally found it first. And don’t you ever forget it.

(Everybody’s just gonna go vote ARK: Survival Evolved, I’m sure.)

If Goat Simulator doesn’t win this category, I’m going to be very very surprised.

Hell, even it was the game that first came to mind for me, though I’ve never bothered to buy it or try it.

But you know me, I can’t do things easy. I was going to think of something completely different. Preferably from a Steam game that I own, and love enough to recommend.

One word. “Pig.”

I couldn’t think of a funny ha-ha category. So I went for something safe that still served the purpose of showcasing some of the most played games on my Steam list.

Sleeping Dogs was an unexpected gem that never quite got its day in the sun. Hell, it took me two posts before it sunk in that I really kinda liked it.

Mind you, it’s also the Best Game That Doesn’t Exist Anymore, because they’ve apparently replaced it with a “Definitive” edition, while I made it a point to vote for the original version.

Aesthetically, the original has a dramatic vividness of color contrast that got obliterated by overzealous reality-recreation of Hong Kong fog. In my opinion, anyway. See for yourself and decide:

So those are my Steam Award nominations for this year.

What are yours?

Holy Jumbo Humble Bundle!

Oh man, I am excite!

So excite I r losing powers of grammar! N speling…

A whole host of games that have been on my Steam wishlist for a long time just came together in one super mega awesome Jumbo Humble Bundle 6.

I practically threw money at the screen when I idly checked out the website this evening.

For $12 USD, I got:

Grey Goo – an RTS I’ve wanted to check out for some time, but was holding back due to mixed reviews

Magicka 2 – a sequel that never seemed as well-received as its predecessor, but that I was also interested in checking out some day

Warmachine Tactics + Mercenaries DLC – another mixed review game that trended towards negative, but which I was keen on checking out due to its miniatures background

Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown – apparently some kind of semi-disappointing multiplayer-esque game ostensibly set in the Shadowrun universe, but what the hey, at this price point, can’t hurt to try it and dump it if it sucks

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas – a relative unknown to me, but is apparently Zelda-like, and might pleasantly surprise

Dreamfall Chapters – some kind of adventure game. I didn’t really like The Longest Journey, never tried Dreamfall, but I’m perfectly open to seeing if the universe clicks with me with their third game

I “lost out” on Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut, in that I already owned the game a long LONG time ago, but this is a stellar standout RPG in the fantasy cyberpunk Shadowrun universe that anyone should give a go if they haven’t yet.

And there’s apparently more unrevealed games coming soon, which would be an utter bonus icing on top of the cake thing, whatever they are.

Dipping a Feathered Toe into Endless Space

I think I may as well make it semi-official, and admit to myself that my subconscious is asking, nay, demanding a break from GW2.

These days, I can only muster the energy to log in for just long enough to snatch three dailies, one of them the easy Wintersday ‘open 3 presents’ gimme, and that’s about it.

Home instance, guild hall instance, ascended crafting mats? Pshaw.

I heartily doubt that I will know what to do when the Wintersday dailies are no more and I end up with a more tedious PvE or PvP or WvW one.

Instead, I’ve found myself lining up a whole list of Steam games and eyeing them greedily and excitedly.

While I’m not aiming for a 12 in 12 challenge (concept as introduced from Soultamer Gaming), because -finishing- or -completing- is off the table for the time being (that achiever-ism is what’s prompting some of the personal burnout in the first place, as I feared once raids got onto the table), I’m fully intending to play a lot more than 12 games this year in a whizz bang whirlwind tour, going as far as I feel like and then stopping when I don’t.

One of the first I found myself diving into is Endless Space, a 4x space exploration strategy game by Amplitude Studios.

It’s mostly kicking my ass.

I’m just persevering a lot longer than I did previously.

The initial hurdle were all the new Endless space-specific concepts and unfamiliar UI. It’s Civ-like enough to start, and then diverges sufficiently to be confusing and frustrating, needing to read every tooltip to figure out what this resource is, what that tech does and so on.

The AI is also pretty unexpectedly aggressive. I play this sort of strategy games mostly for the escapist narrative of slow inexorable global conquest. The darn Endless Space AI puts up much more of a fight than I’m used to, especially since I have no clue regarding optimal path strategies for planetary buildings, tech tree and ship design.

It’s been a very up-and-down journey of being pretty behind, getting ahead, thinking I’m getting ahead (but probably the other factions have caught up or surpassed me) and then getting brutalized out of nowhere and quitting for the night, resolving to reload 10-20 turns into the past and try a different strategy tomorrow. (Why yes, I do ‘cheat’ in this fashion.)

For example, I went to war with one faction on fairly equal tech terms and was invading their planets, when midway out of nowhere, they showed up with a bigger ship class and started blowing apart all my ships. (Cue the future past strategy of figuring out just how they got a bigger ship hull and doing it at the same time as they were. Not to mention, desperately trying to move beyond guessing what was a good ship build to actually effective ship designs.)

Then I run into another faction, who turn around and use yet another strategy of just tactically retreating and refusing to hold still to be killed.

W.T.F. I have never wanted an interdictor card to stop the offensive retreat so badly. It’s not that they could actually do anything to my ships, they just kept slipping off.

That same faction was busy using swarms of weak fleets consisting of one or two ships. Individually, they would get killed in a space battle, but since my two fleets could only be in so many locations at once, they kept putting up blockades on every planet and tying up my two fleets since they were only allowed to attack one fleet at a time (which then ran away). 

Bloody infuriating AI.

The turns seemed to happen simultaneously as well, so AI being AI, they moved all their fleets a lot faster than I could react, and instigating fleet battles interrupting my chain of thought, which I then had to deal with (whereupon brave sir AI bravely ran away.)

Cue the next day’s strategy of establishing my own blockading ships to create a very long border front so the zippy little things couldn’t get past the Great Wall of Tengu.

Oh yes, I’m playing space tengu, did I mention that?

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Avian bipedal creatures. Check.

Asian/Japanese influences. Check.

The only difference is that where GW2’s tengu are isolationist, Endless Space’s Hissho are expansionist and military-minded. They get a Bushido Bonus where their whole empire gets happier when they win space battles or invade another planet.

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It’s a good excuse to admire bird-shaped spacecraft.

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Space battles are quite cinematic to watch and screenshot, though they do get a bit repetitive. The attacking fleet jumps in and both fleets close to range, exchanging broadsides like navy ships of old at three different ranges (long range, medium range and melee range.)

There are different weapons that are effective at different ranges, that have to be preset and designed onto your ships beforehand. It’s not at all obvious which is better than another, unless you sit down to patiently read all the tooltips, calculate numbers, look up guides telling you non-stated numbers like how armor is calculated or how many rounds there are in each phase and so on.

This does put a bit of a initial damper on immediate success and constitute a learning curve. Especially since the numbers have apparently changed over time from one version of the game to the next, so you’re never quite sure if what you’re reading up still applies.

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Missiles. Missiles are scary to watch when they drift towards my fleet. They take about three rounds to hit, so it’s a tense wait to see just how many get past one’s defenses.

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My first game is likely to wind down by this weekend.

After plenty of reloading, I managed an Expansionist Victory by methodically exterminating the Pilgrims faction – hey, they declared war on me first! I had a peace treaty going with them while I was reducing the number of Horatio clones (essentially a whole faction of bald mesmers who think only their likeness should spread across the galaxy) to a more reasonable number.

The Horatio gracefully surrendered with a cease fire, offering me two planets, and I let them live, while the dastardly Pilgrims broke their peace treaty and declared war (on me!) with their ship swarm. Genocide is the only reasonable response to this sort of unwarranted aggression.

I’m still continuing with the game, even after the victory, since I haven’t completely annihilated all of the Pilgrim planets yet.

As usual, the surprisingly feisty AI continues to surprise. Just as I think I’m finishing up with this one faction, the other faction in the tiny spiral galaxy – previously assumed cowed into submission – has launched fleets of the largest ship class at my planets and we’re at war again.

Since I ignored the tedium of ship design several tens of turns back and was just slowly moving my monster fleet from planet to planet swallowing up the pilgrims, this calls for yet another reload the next time I sit down to play, some invested non-fun time making my own largest ship class designs, and more careful guarding of my borders before a repeat incident occurs.

I’m not sure if I like Endless Space that much to play too many more games of it.

On the one hand, it is said that the factions are all pretty distinctive and utilize different strategies for victory. There’s, in fact, multiple viable paths to victory including peacenik options that look more achievable than the older Civ series style of 4x games (I tended to just go for tech victories after military dominating all other factions in the world into submission.)

Endless Space feels crunchier and more strategic. As in, if you like a game where you constantly have to be sure you’re picking the optimal right moves to progress ahead and always stay alert and have a challenge, it can probably do that for quite a while (until you master every single nuance, repeat stuff in the right order and figure out exploits to consistently foil the AI, that is.)

On the other, it’s not exactly what I personally like in a 4x. Having to save and reload or get my butt kicked because I didn’t think 20 moves ahead is not exactly conducive to relaxing fun being an unstoppable conqueror or casual empire-building.

I might see if I can tweak down the difficulty levels and try a larger sized game for my next go, I was crammed in one arm of a tiny spiral map with two other factions for my first learning game and lebensraum was definitely an issue, especially when you have no clue what you’re doing, leading to the computer AI colonizing all the things first.

We’ll see. I might get distracted with Endless Legend next, which was also something I was champing at the bit to play and prompted a Winter Steam sale purchase.

Blaugust Day 2: The (Very Optimistic) To-Do List

It’s past noon on a Sunday and I’m finally feeling somewhat human again after some intensive sleep and a warm lunch in my belly.

I managed to finish a scan-through of all the blogs that posted on Day 1 of Blaugust, and wow, I am not envying Belghast‘s self-inflicted job over the next 30 days to keep it all organized.

Anyhow, there’s gaming I want to get around to, but first, a blog post to satisfy Day 2.

I’m going to use Izlain’s good idea of creating a gamer to-do list to provide some focus for the rest of the month.

My personal rules are going to be a little less strict or structured: I’m likely to shuffle things around, add and remove at will, and my mind has no idea what ‘reasonable size’ even means. 🙂

Mostly, it’s just to have a list of stuff-I-might-want-to-do for me to refer to, when I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next.

So here we go:

  • Watch the Dota 2 International (3- 8 August, so this week.)

My optimistic dreams of learning Dota 2 to a sufficiently decent level didn’t quite materialize, stalling at the limited pool of 20 heroes, but I enjoy watching the spectacle anyway. I’ll just watch at my basic level of understanding and pick up stuff from the commentary. Still enjoyable, even if I can’t appreciate every last nuance.

  • Play the GW2 Beta Weekend (7 – 10 August)

The beta weekend announcement also includes some nice thought-provoking questions asking for specific feedback that might turn out great as prompts for a blog post. Two birds with one stone, hoorah. We’ll see how it goes, though.

It looks like it’ll mostly be the same content as the first two sneak peeks, and I found it very hard to write much about it because it felt then like more of the same. Which wasn’t -bad-, it was comfortable, familiar, a little bit grindy, but neither was it blow-your-socks-off-spectacular either. It felt like, okay, we’ve had Dry Top, we’ve had Silverwastes, and now Verdant Brink is the next continuation of that. Right. It’s (more or less) playable. I get where you’re going with this. I guess… it’s all right, it’s acceptable, no strong reactions either way.

  • Seriously attack the hobby room with a GTD-based cleaning effort (7 – 10 August)

Not quite game-related, but I’ve been on a declutter kick, and that’s something I’ve earmarked for the long extended holiday weekend. It’ll be nice to find a carrot to reward a serious effort at this, but I’ve been feeling quite content and satisfied after finishing the scientific skin collection in GW2. I just kinda want to build up some gold reserve again, is all.

Perhaps I might either think about a dreamthistle skin (not the whole damn collection though, shudders) or maybe allow myself to spend some money in Trove.

GTD (just google it), by the way, is the system that best works for me when decluttering. Collect everything by yanking it all out into a pile. Process it a piece at a time, figuring out what it is and what should be done with it. Organize it into categories for storing in its proper place (decide on a place if it doesn’t have on) or associate a next action/project to be done with it (scan it, donate it, whatever). I’m definitely still working on the Review and Do steps though. Not quite gotten the total hang of those yet.

  • Scan at least a book a day for the month of August.

As mentioned, my declutter project wasn’t quite done, even after three focused weeks of effort.

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This pile is one of those still-to-dos. They’re still in decently good condition, but I have to accept that a) I just don’t have the space to keep so many books any more, b) I’m not likely to pull them out to read or re-read them, now that I’m hooked on an iPad and find reading on a computer screen not stressful at all, and c) that they -will- grow mold and fungus over the next ten years in my climate, making it less and less likely that b) will ever happen.

Solution: Ditch the paper, keep the knowledge digitally.

Depending on just how sentimental and unable to detach from your possessions you are, it might be possible to get by with a camera documenting memories of your stuff, but given the number of books I own (the pile is, like, just one shelf), plus loose papers and business cards, receipts, bills, letters and other assorted junk, I invested in the Fujitsu Scansnap series years ago and swear by them.

I own the S1500 model, now replaced by the newer-and-improved ix500, which is a workhorse of a scanner with an auto-document feeder. Books that I care little about preserving, I slice the pages off the spine and let the faithful scanner nom it up and spit it back out in PDF form. The software is pretty decent, with an AABBY Finereader variant for the Scansnap for OCR, and comes with Adobe Acrobat.

This year, I couldn’t resist the SV600, which fills in for the gaps that the previous scanner can’t handle. Namely, stuff larger than A4 sizes and books that you want to scan non-destructively.

Personally, I find it a little slower, in the sense that the manual flipping of pages becomes the scanning bottleneck because a human can’t turn pages as fast as the scanner can scan, and the resolution and accuracy can be a bit more iffy and take up more human processing time tweaking settings pre- and post-scan (there’s a lot of neat software tricks for straightening booklet scans, removing fingers, etc. but you have to go in as a human and adjust little dots one at a time to tell the computer what to do, so stuff slows down.)

But it really fills in the gaps that the first scanner just couldn’t handle, and between the two of them and a digital camera, it gives me no excuses tools-wise for not being able to digitize anything.

Only my procrastination and easy distractibility stands in the way.

So, taking advantage of Blaugust, that pile is slightly over 30-40 books (some of them pretty small), and I’m aiming to scan at least one a day (preferably more on the weekends just in case I run out of time on the weekdays) to go along with my blog post per day. Probably try to get the small ones first.

  • Goals for Trove
    • Level ringcrafting (I’m at 206, gotta get to 250. It requires mining ridiculous amounts of shapestone ore, 1100, at last count.)
    • Level gardening (Just crossed the 50 mark, I suspect it also requires an absurd amount of shapestone or sunflower whatsits.)
    • Get a better mount (Still using Slow Sebastian with the 70 mountspeed, normal mounts are 90 speed. I’m eyeing the store raptor, which requires the daily earning of cubits – obtainable in-game, and/or something fun from the Treasure Isles traders, which require an insane amount of glim, which I don’t have, but might earn fishing.)
    • Fish (which increases glim, and one needs to fish up 5 rare fish for ancient scales to upgrade one’s fishing pole. There seems to be an approximately 1% chance to catch a rare, which means 1 in 100 lures or so. Bit of a time suck, so do this while watching stuff in the other screen. Good thing there are going to be quite a few Dota 2 matches on the to-do list too.)
    • Get an ally (I’m not entirely sure on all the different ways yet, but I have my eye on the Prowling Shadow, which reputedly makes performance better with a whole lot of lifesteal, and that is apparently a rare drop from buying cat soultraps (aka lockboxes) at 300 glim each. That’s a -lot- of fishing for glim.)
    • Get boat (Finding those Treasure Isles traders is probably going to involve a lot of running around on the seas. One of these would help. No idea how to quite get one yet either. Gotta look it up. I suspect it’s also going to need glim, or some rare fishing resources.)
    • Plus the usual run around, fight stuff, get xp, do dailies, level to max level 20, play alts, the works.
  • Goals for GW2
    • Finish the new LA jumping puzzle (guiltily, I haven’t really bothered with it much. I might just look up a video and follow it, it just doesn’t seem to scratch an explorer itch because I don’t even know where one should be aiming towards and there are a whole lot of things that look like they could be jumped on, but don’t quite turn out that way when you try.)
    • Finish Dry Top badges and the llama hunt (never quite got around to the Challenger Cliffs completion)
    • Finish Silverwastes badges (I’m missing one or two normal ones and many many golden ones)
    • Finish the last undone jumping puzzle in my achievements tab (can’t remember what it is, but I know there’s one more I never got around to doing)
    • Finish the Ebonhawke achievements (the book reading and the poster things)
    • Possibly tidy up alt inventories again
    • Open all the champion bags I’ve been chucking in the bank with the low level alt
    • Maybe sort out my bank
    • Slowly build up gold reserves cleaned out from the crazy scientific skin chase
  • Watch Indie Game: The Movie

This comes in completely from left-field, but I was just scrolling through my Steam games list and realize that it was there. Possibly came bundled with some Humble Bundle or other, or something.

I watched Free 2 Play, the Dota 2 documentary, and didn’t feel like I wasted my time watching it, even if it’s mostly spectacle and fluff. I just kinda liked the idea that games have gotten serious enough, or at least part of the mainstream enough, to have documentaries made about them. So, why not? It’s like watching those “making of” movie clips, not exactly full of substance, but just a brief, polished look at some behind-the-scenes or production aspects.

Anyway, I need some easy goals for the tough days too.

  • Other Games I May or May Not Get Around to Playing, But Have Been Thinking About Trying or Re-Visiting
    • AI War
    • Astebreed
    • Cinemaware: Anthology
    • Dishonoured
    • Don’t Starve
    • Evolve
    • Gone Home
    • Hate: Plus
    • Her Story
    • How to Survive
    • Injustice: Gods Among Us
    • In Verbis Virtus
    • Minecraft (with all those lovely mods)
    • Path of Exile (the Awakening expansion)
    • Poker Night 2
    • Puzzle Pirates
    • Puzzle Quest
    • Realm of the Mad God (it may have deproved, there was some bruhaha around the cash shop around the time I stopped playing)
    • Skyforge
    • Spacechem
    • Spiral Knights (I really liked this game, but geographical latency issues were a killer)
    • Strike Suit Zero
    • Tales of Maj’Eyal
    • Talos Principle
    • The Banner Saga
    • The Blackwell Legacy
    • The Dig
    • The Stanley Parable (I played the free version, got the paid one in a bundle)
    • Terraria
    • Warframe (tried,  not super-impressed, may give it one more go before writing a ‘first impressions’ piece, or just chucking it entirely)

Yeah, well, I’m optimistic. What can I say. Getting the first four done will already make me very happy. We’ll see how far we get on the rest.