Mining my experiences as a cowboy steambot in SteamWorld Dig

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I’ve never gone very far underground in my thirty-one insipid years on this planet we share, and that’s fine. A few family vacation one-offs where we’d explore a cave with a tour group or something like that, but never any personal expeditions. Much like the ocean, the underground is terrifyingly expansive and filled with too much unknown. Also–very dark. There’s a 2006 horror movie called The Descent that seems like the most scariest thing possible, as it follows a group of British spelunkers down into the deep dank depths of some labyrinthine caves in North Carolina; on top of that alone, they get pursued by flesh-eating monsters. No thanks.

If I was to go underground, I’d hope it would look more like SteamWorld Dig, all colorful and bouncy and peppered with kooky characters like Lola, who runs the bar in Tumbleton and acts as a respawn point, and Hank “Cranky” McCrank, a repairbot who helps you upgrade your digging tools. I mean, just look at the game’s hero Rusty; with his cowboy hat and big, green metal hands, he appears more than confident to handle whatever is lurking deep beneath the town, and so I’d go with him, though still not too far down.

The story here is slight, but solid enough to give Rusty a reason to dig deeper into the mineral-infested ground. Rusty the steambot wannabe-cowboy has inherited his uncle Joe’s mine after Joe apparently lost his life plunging into its depths for secrets. Naturally, curiosity screams, and Rusty takes up the call (and pickaxe) to continue his uncle’s journey. That’s it for now, and the characters aboveground in Tumbleton are essentially menu options and quest-givers at this point, but that could all potentially change down the line.

There’s a cycle to Rusty’s cavernous adventuring, and it is thus: dig down into the mine, gather as many minerals as you can hold, return to town, sell your stash, purchase upgrades to help you dig deeper, gather more resources, and survive longer. Much like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, it has that “one more run” vibe to it, because even if you don’t get far or gather too much, every piece of trashium or copper sold is all feeding back into making Rusty better, stronger, more awesome, which promotes sojourning a wee further. You can really only go so far as your tools allow, and eventually you’ll run out of lantern light or hit dirt you can’t dig through yet. Or maybe even some tough critter-crawly enemies. Either way, you have to hightail back to sunlight, and you can either climb back up the hole you dug or find a fast travel point along the way.

On your way down below, you’ll also come across special cavern entrances that basically lead to a platforming section or ability-testing area. You can find some good valuables in these spots, as well as new abilities, like special drill arms, wall-jumping, or boosting upwards from a stationary position, which uses steam, a finite resource to also keep an eye on. These aren’t very tricky so far, and often give you a reason to travel up, left, or right rather than simply down all the time.

Right. I’m one of those crackpots that thinks Super Mario Bros 2 is a more enjoyable time than Super Mario Bros 3, and a favorite section of mine is when you have to travel downwards through layers and layers of sand. You do this by digging, by hitting the “pick up object” button, and the Princess–who else would you even bother playing as, honestly–will lift the sand beneath her feet away, causing her to fall into the next line. Keep doing this, and eventually you’ll get through it. You make your own path, and the enemies will even follow along it just like you. That same idea applies to SteamWorld Dig; how you dig down to the caves or map indicator is customizable, but you also have to be thinking about reverse directions too, about what would make it easier for Rusty with no light to find his way to Tumbleton. Unfortunately, returning to the surface, especially once you really get deep down, is where things become less fun and more of a slog. I thought I read that the underground is randomly generated, so if that’s true, the replayability is at least very strong with this one.

For those with a PlayStation 4 and subscription to PlayStation Plus, SteamWorld Dig is a freebie for the month of November. Even if it wasn’t free, I’d heartily suggest checking it out. So long as you don’t mind a whole lot of digging.

Regrettably, I lost the game in You Have to Win the Game

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A few days before my Extra Life stream was to start, I scanned through the “free-to-play” tag on Steam to see if there was anything worth downloading and trying live on the day of the event. Turns out, no…not much. A bunch of off-putting MMORPGs, a couple of MOBAs, and some frightening swamp monster called Fistful of Frags, but there was one title that certainly stood out from the pack, both on its name and looks.

Enter You Have to Win the Game, a deceptively tough platformer with a retro 1980s PC aesthetic from J. Kyle Pittman, who I believe either works or worked at Gearbox Studios. Can’t quite confirm that at the moment. It now seems like he and his brother founded Minor Key Games last year to create its sequel Super Win the Game, so kudos to them. I will definitely be checking that out once I go back through YHTWTG one more time.

There’s no solid story here, but that’s fine–think back to the good ol’ days of when action platformers needed no story. I mean, yeah…maybe there was one in DuckTales or Mystery Quest, but I can’t recall a single detail; all I know is there was jumping and exploring and jump-exploring to do. Granted, those games had enemies to deal with and ways to dish out damage, but YHTWTG is much more isolated, with you controlling a little sprite person as you explore a map and gain abilities, such as wall climbing and double jumping, that will eventually help you explore even more. Actually, wait. There are enemies, but your only course of action is to avoid them, not get in their face(s). There’s a continuing thread throughout the game’s progression about learning a magic word, but more on that in a moment.

Just like in VVVVVV, each screen feels like its own contained space, especially given that each screen gets its own quirky name at the bottom, like KISS Principle or Hardcore Prawn. This helps drive the desire to see what is up next. Some of these screens are simply there for you to walk through, some contain a save checkpoint or bag of money (which you collect to raise your 100% completion percentage), but many of them center around a deadly pitfall or crazy set of jumps or orb-tossing untouchable boss encounter. This is where this cutesy, retro platformer becomes something else–a challenge. But very rewarding, especially when it comes to rooms requiring precision-based timing to make it through in one piece.

Visually, the game is what you see above, using four-color CGA graphics and a lot of black space, but curved around a fake monitor screen, with monotonic PC speaker sounds to boot. That faux screen curve is a really cool effect that, after a minute or two of playing, you don’t even realize is there. At least I didn’t. Not much changes in terms of graphics overall as you progress, but it is fun entering a new area and seeing the layout change or where new traps are added or spotting a new way to go. The orb-tossing boss enemies–there are a few in total–are much larger sprites, detailed just enough to be threatening. If you can, search for the secret cat room.

At the end of YHTVTG, you are given the chance to enter in a password, which is whatever the magic word ultimately is. Unfortunately, I had only loosely paid attention to the scribbling on the walls, so I was unable to make a good guess and thus “lost” the game. I plan to go back and try again, as well as get the rest of those money bags, though there are a few sections I’m not looking forward to repeating, like that one where you have to jump down to a portal, cling to a wall, and then double-jump over a line of spikes. Yeah, I spent a good while on that part during Extra Life. Granted, I should be able to speedrun the first few parts now that I’m on the up-and-up, and I think there’s even an Achievement for completing the game (any %) in under ten minutes. Good luck there.

And good luck to anyone inspired by this post to win the game. I mean, you have to. You Have to Win the Game.

A summary of my Extra Life 2014 stream

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Well…my first Extra Life came to a close yesterday at 9:00 AM, after nearly 24 hours of playing videogames nonstop. By “nearly” I mean that I ended up taking a half-hour power cat nap around 4:30 AM because I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough, not even to attack monster after monster after monster in Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. Moving over to the couch for a bit might have been a grave mistake because–and I don’t know if you know this or not–couches are way more comfy than kitchen table chairs. That said, I did it, and I’m glad I did it, though I certainly learned some things through the process which I hope to put to use for next year’s go at the charity thang.

A couple of quick thoughts then.

First, promotion is hard, and promoting yourself solo is even harder, especially when you have to also play the role of driver/entertainer. I tried Tweeting/Facebooking every couple of hours during my stream in hopes of increasing viewers and leading to more donations, but I did not earn a single new donation during my entire 24 hours of streaming. I love that I got so much early support before the action went down ($280 for my little goal of $100!), but I was also hoping to see some support come in as everything pushed forward. I can’t downplay what I already earned because money for children’s hospitals is money for children’s hospitals, but I can’t also can’t deny that I had higher hopes to climb over $300.

Second, I need either a better plan of action or have to check first that my plan of action can work as, well…work as planned. By that I mean I had originally thought I’d play a game an hour for 24 hours, but that scheme quickly unfolded after I discovered that some games were crashing when I tried to stream them and others just wouldn’t even capture in OBS. Heck, I wanted to open with Aquaria, but had to instantly switch over to Hack, Slash, Loot when it kept crashing on me, which was a frustrating start to things. I should’ve checked to make sure each game would work properly before putting together my list; that, or come up with some kind of theme, like playing a bunch of platformers for a bit, then some puzzle games, then horror titles, etc. Either way, this all boils down to one element–better preparation.

Third, streaming from my laptop does not make for a quality stream. The recorded videos are fine and I might upload them to YouTube one day, but reviewing the Twitch archives show that the videos stutter every few seconds. Sorry if that made it not great to watch; I’ll hopefully have some better equipment for next time around, which could potentially mean even larger games played.

With that, let me remind y’all that there is still plenty of time to donate, and you can do so by hitting up the following link: http://www.extra-life.org/participant/pabba

And now, some light blurbage of the many games I touched, in the order that I touched them. Don’t report me for that. I can guarantee a few of these will get larger blog posts here on Grinding Down down the line.

Hack, Slash, Loot – For a game that I get nowhere in, I still keep coming back to this one. I don’t know. I like its laidback feel and look, though I did get pretty far with an archer on one of the runs I did.

The Legend of Grimrock – A first-person dungeon-crawling adventure with an old school vibe. It took some time for me to learn how to actually attack monsters, but I really dig the look and feel of the game. Plan to go back to it at some point, though my current party is not long for the underworld.

You Have to Win the Game – I didn’t realize this until after the fact, but this little free-to-play throwback platformer was actually made by a Gearbox employee, which makes me adore it even more. It’s the first game on the stream that I beat entirely even if I got the “bad” ending. I plan to write more on this soon.

The Tiny Bang Story - Meh. I had really high hopes for this, but I couldn’t even get past the first two screens. Not sure where the last ladder rung was hidden, and I grew tired rapidly of clicking bugs to fill up a hint meter, which didn’t even help me too much in the end. A shame.

SteamWorld Dig – A neat game about digging down deep into the earth and taking resources back to the surface. Plus, it stars a robotic cowboy! You really can’t knock that. Though I do worry about how much fun it’ll be having to climb back up once you’re really deep underground.

Proteus – Oh boy. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. I had no idea what this game was all about other than exploring an island, so discovering the little music cues and bouncy animals live on the stream was a pure joy. As it turns out, Proteus is one depressing experience, though beautiful too. I plan to examine this more in the near future.

Super Meat Boy – I did a few levels and even managed to beat a boss in one of the worlds, but this grueling action platformer can get a bit too difficult for me to handle. Especially when the current world I’m in is called…Hell.

Spelunky – I tried to play the original freeware version of Spelunky since my copy is on the PlayStation 3, but the buttons were all wonky and I couldn’t remap them, so this did not last very long.

Rogue Legacy – This game is so much fun, as well as so hard to put down. It has that “one more run!” mentality to it, as every bit of gold helps you expand your castle, which ultimately helps improve your characters. I ended up beating Khidr for the first time and unlocked a few new classes like the lich to try out.

The Bridge – I took another swing at playing puzzles live before people, and this one worked out better than The Tiny Bang Story. I still had to look up a single puzzle solution, but I solved the rest myself. Ended up getting into chapter 4 or so before my friend came to visit me. I dig the drawn look of The Bridge the most though I couldn’t tell you a single story beat behind it.

Civilization V – My friend Pam came over with donuts, chips, and more importantly coffee. Then she schooled me on Civilization V, a game that is very deep and full of menus, but also a lot of fun. Evidently, we played Civ V for like two to three hours. Oops. Nah, it was great, especially having a real-life human being to talk to for a bit.

System Shock 2 – Man, this game is just freaky. The audio still holds up, and when the alarms went off and those space zombie freaks kept coming at me saying whatever it was they said…well, I just couldn’t keep going. It did wake me up a bit though, so there was that.

FTL: Faster Than Light – This is a game of systems, and even though I went through the tutorial, I don’t think I grok all the systems yet. I zoomed about in space for a bit, helped out some stranded ships, and that got destroyed by some larger, much more prepared ship. Really cool soundtrack.

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – I ended up playing this off air, as I can’t stream from my Xbox 360. Plus, my butt hurt from sitting in that chair for so long, and the couch was calling out to me, though that might have just been the delirium taking over. Alas, I did not last long in chapter five for my demon hunter Whisper before my eyes kept closing and my head kept falling backwards.

DLC Quest – A very cute and easy platformer with a single hook. Thankfully, it’s short, so it doesn’t become tiresome, but I needed some easy platforming at like 4:00 AM, and this was it.

Papers, Please – At one point, I said this out loud–“I could do this job.” Reflecting on that, no. No I totally could not. There’s too much to check on passports and entry permits and body scans and so on, but it is a lot of fun and really gives you a sense of power, of control. It’s also kind of dark, considering both of my playthroughs ended with me in debt, going to jail, and my entire family cold and hungry. I did get an Achievement though.

FEZ – You know I’m super sleepy and unable to concentrate when I could even find all the cube bits in the first section of FEZ, a game I’ve already completed before. My bad.

Race the Sun – Here was a great little pick-me-up that forced me to pay attention. It’s a speedy racer with a gimmick that you need to remain in the sun’s rays to move fast. You have to also avoid a ton of obstacles, some of which move, and there’s a really good head-bobbing soundtrack to keep you pumped for more action.

Fallout: New Vegas – I ended it here, on my dearest, dearest New Vegas. I made a really horrible character (stats-wise) called Pumpkin Pete, but he was at least rocking a sick, green-tinted pompadour. Ran around a bit, used the rifle grenade launcher to cause some chaos in Goodsprings, and then called it a show. Not a grand finish, but a finish nonetheless.

…and that was my Extra Life experience in 2014. Not gonna lie, already thinking about what I could do–and do better!–for next October. Until then, may I catch up on sleep.

My Extra Life 2014 begins!

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…and so the 24-hour gaming marathon FOR THE KIDS begins! 9:00 AM Saturday to 9:00 AM Sunday.

Come watch me play here: http://www.twitch.tv/paulwise

Go here to donate: http://www.extra-life.org/participant/pabba

Disney Magical World is now closed for sticker business

disney magical world 100 stickers complete

Last night, which I’ll dub Fantasy Life‘s Eve, I finally got the last 100th sticker in Disney Magical World, the one that asks you to acquire a bajillion different pairs of shoes. Yes, this sticker was more difficult to unlock than crafting a secret wand. Go figs. Anyways, there’s still plenty of items to find, recipes to make, parties to throw, crops to harvest, and so on, but I feel fine putting Disney Magical World aside now, accomplishing all the main tasks the game throws at you. I still have a lot to say about this game, though some of it I can’t speak about just yet, as it is still too raw to peel back and examine.

To be honest, I gave up on trying to dungeon grind for the rarer ingredients to make new kicks and turned to a less-than-traditional method to get three more stinky pairs of shoes for my avatar to wear. Evidently, if you use the Spotpass functionality, you can visit other players’ cafés, giving them a “Nice!” if you dig their design work. Giving out one nice earns you an entire new outfit, with shoes to boot (pun intended). Three nices gets you another outfit, and then, at last, five nices nets you a third. And so, instead of spending over an hour grinding away in dungeons for maybe even just the chance to get a Mystic Thread or rare gemstone, I simply visited a bunch of cafés and got what I needed in under ten minutes. Feel free to also hop over to my café, which is called The Drinkpad, and give me a nice as well.

There–I did it. Just popped the cartridge out of my Nintendo 3DS and returned it to its case on my shelf. Well, no, it’s actually in a shoebox on top of my dresser, but it sounds way more normal to say shelf despite me now revealing my strange organizational skills. Grrr. That said, I hesitated for a moment and considered at least putting the cartridge back in my travel case, but really…I could probably play this game off and on for a good long while, much to the dismay of other bereft 3DS/DS titles I’ve barely scraped the surface on, such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. It’s better if Disney Magical World is out of sight.

And here’s some of my final stats (for now) for the myriad collectibles:

  • 69/148 outfits
  • 17/23 wands
  • 169/303 furniture
  • 82/126 food
  • 20/21 fish
  • 68/70 farming
  • 212/300 cards collected

Oh man, there are SO MANY outfits to create in this game, and I barely saw half of them. Boo to that. Dressing up is one of my favorite things to do in games, whether it is Grand Theft Auto V or Dragon Quest IX, just give me fun clothes to mix and match. I have no idea what single fish I missed pulling out of the pond, but one can only fish for so long, as the fishing minigame is perfunctory, not amazingly engaging. Lastly, those cards…mmm, probably my favorite collectible to gather in Disney Magical World. Some are concept art-style drawings of the expected cast members, but others are old-timey posters, like of Steamboat Willy and such. I don’t know. I could look at them for days.

Lastly, look at the insane amount of hours I’ve logged in this thing since getting it way back in April:

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Clearly, I wouldn’t play a game I didn’t enjoy for such a length, even if it has its dry spell sections, where you are just waiting for crops to grow and people to eat in your café. Again, there’s more to this story than I’m ready to reveal, but this is the only game currently on the 3DS that even comes close to matching logged hours with Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’m looking forward to discovering if Fantasy Life can overtake that coveted spot, but alas I probably won’t get to play until after Extra Life this weekend.

The hero is me, and Dah Castle is open for business

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At last, after a smidge over ten logged hours of playing Suikoden II, I finally have a castle headquarters to call home. And yes, I named it Dah Castle, so that when I recruit new soldiers I can read them say zany things like, “Okay, let’s head over to Dah Castle right away.” It’s a small step up from Suikoden‘s Castle Castle, but I just can’t help getting silly with names when given the chance. I wonder what I’ll end up calling home in Suikoden III (if I ever get there again and if that’s an option).

So yeah, it’s a definitely slower, much more somber start than Suikoden, but it doesn’t take you too long to get a castle in the former game. Here, you have to be patient, and even then, you have to be a bit more patient. Certainly, the fact that the main character–who I named Hodor, in case you forgot–is not as pivotal to the bigger actions unfolding plays a part. I mean, in Suikoden, you are the son of a great Imperial leader, on the run as a rebel, forced to take up arms and build an army. This time around, it feels much more natural, like you are caught in a current, going with the flow until, finally, based on Hodor’s connection to Genkaku, it happens–you are asked to take charge and command the Dunan Unification Army. For a good while there, you simply took on the role as errand boy for Flik, Viktor, Lady Annabelle, and whoever else wanted a dangerous job done. Now you get to tell others what to do.

I don’t know what the next mission is. Right now, I couldn’t care if Luca Blight’s goons were hiding under Hodor’s bedsheets. It matters not. All I know is that the castle is mine, it is huge to begin with, and there are a lot of rooms to fill. The setup is much different than the castle in Suikoden, which was, more or less, a six-story high-rise, with a few offshoots on two or three of the floors to explore. But you’d have trouble getting lost there; Dah Castle is intimidating in size and layout, especially given that it has a separate inn section attached to it from the outside, providing two entrances. There’s also a bunch of portrait-less characters to speak to, whereas before your castle was only filled with your friends. It’s going to take some time to familiarize myself with where everyone is, and then I’m sure much will change once I get more of the 108 Stars of Destiny to join the fight.

Actually, I lied earlier. I do know what the next mission is, and it’s a doozy: find your castle’s docks. Flik said it was right below where Hodor and his friends were chatting. It took me far too long to figure out what he meant. Heck, I even left the HQ and went to a few towns to see if that’s where the boats are being kept, thinking Flik meant below Dah Castle on the world map. Hint: there’s a small staircase that is easily missed, which leads to a graveyard, prison cells, and the docks. Once there, you can get on your boat and sail around or partake in Yam Koo’s less-than-stellar fishing minigame.

Something else I’ve noticed is that Suikoden II is much more challenging when it comes to the turn-based battles. The previous game was a breeze, and I think I only died once (to Neclord), and that was possibly due to little pre-planning going into the fight. I’ve still not scene a Game Over screen yet this time around, but the amount of medicine and healing spells I’ve had to use post-combat has unarguably quadrupled. The Abomination boss that Neclord leaves behind for you to deal with at North Window proved the toughest enemy so far, with only three party members surviving the fight. Also, Nanami has fallen in battle way more than anyone else; DarkBunnies love picking on her, for some reason. At least I’m grinding for a reason now.

Anyways, once again, I’m anxiously looking forward to revisiting known locations and recruiting new friends for…Dah Castle. The quicker it grows, the sooner I’ll get to participate in the cooking minigame.

My tentative schedule for Extra Life 2014

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The weekend draws nearer, and I’m trying to hammer out some kind of firm plans for what I’ll be playing for 24 hours (for the kids!–please donate). I feel like if I don’t at least have a tentative schedule I’ll just flail about aimlessly and spend more time trying to find something to play than actually playing. It’s nice to have things to look forward to, which is why I’m putting Deus Ex: GOTY edition later on in the schedule. Ideally, I’m hoping to play each game for at least an hour, though some games might not demand such devotion, and others might suck me in for longer. We’ll see.

Gaze upon the plan, which could–and most likely will–change as everything goes down:

  • HOUR 1: Aquaria
  • HOUR 2: Hack, Slash, Loot
  • HOUR 3: Legend of Grimrock
  • HOUR 4: You Have To Win the Game
  • HOUR 5: The Tiny Bang Story
  • HOUR 6: Botanicula
  • HOUR 7: DragonSphere
  • HOUR 8: FTL: Faster Than Light
  • HOUR 9: Gunpoint
  • HOUR 10: Krater
  • HOUR 11: To the Moon
  • HOUR 12: Proteus
  • HOUR 13: Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition
  • HOUR 14: SteamWorld Dig
  • HOUR 15: Eschalon: Book II
  • HOUR 16: Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut
  • HOUR 17: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • HOUR 18: Titan Quest
  • HOUR 19: System Shock 2
  • HOUR 20: Papers, Please
  • HOUR 21: Tiny Barbarian
  • HOUR 22: WHATEVER KEEPS ME AWAKE
  • HOUR 23: WHATEVER KEEPS ME AWAKE
  • HOUR 24: WHATEVER KEEPS ME AWAKE

EDIT: I expect to start streaming 9 AM Saturday, October 25, and won’t stop playing games until 9 AM Sunday, October 26.

Other games in my Steam library that I’ll dabble in if not everything above takes an hour to play or keeps me entertained enough, especially during the wee early hours of Sunday morning:

  • Crayon Physics Deluxe
  • Delve Deeper
  • Jolly Rover
  • Maniac Mansion Deluxe
  • Might & Magic: Duel of Champions
  • Offspring Fling!
  • Snapshot
  • Teenagent
  • Tobias and the Dark Scepters
  • …and more!!!

If I get tired of streaming from the laptop, I’ll turn to my consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 2) and a comfy couch, with a few goals in mind:

  • Hit level 70 with Whisper, my demon hunter in Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Xbox 360)
  • Start a “hardcore” run for Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox 360)
  • Um, Dark Souls? (Xbox 360)
  • Maybe I’ll finally do some alchemy in Ni no Kuni (PlayStation 3)
  • Recruit more peeps in Suikoden II now that I got my castle (PlayStation 2)

Alas, none of the above console stuff can be streamed, so I’m hesitant to do it, as I feel like being “on camera” is part of the whole Extra Life experience thing. Regardless, I have plenty of games to keep me entertained through the night. I just hope I have the endurance as well. Please tune in when you can!