Tag Archives: Steam

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.

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!

Participating in Extra Life for the very first time

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Hi, everyone! It’s me, your Grinding Down creator, author, and somewhat steady maintainer–Paul Abbamondi! I made a big decision recently, and that is to participate in Extra Life this upcoming Saturday, October 25. What’s Extra Life, you ask not knowing? Well, in their words, it’s “an online grassroots movement working to save local kids through the power of play.” Basically, people stay up for 24 hours straight playing games and asking for donations. Over the years I’ve watched others put in the time and raise money for children in need, and now, nervous as I am, I’m gonna do it too. First, some important links to click on:

My donations page: http://tinyurl.com/pabbamondiEL2014

My Twitch page, where hopefully you’ll be able to watch me stream: http://www.twitch.tv/paulwise

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s what I’m thinking. My goal is set at $100 (and we’re already halfway there!), but of course I’d love to raise a whole lot more for PennState Hershey’s Children’s Hospital. I plan to make a big dent in my Steam catalog, though I have to be careful in what I play as my laptop can’t really handle anything too strenuous and stream at the same time, thus the above list of indie/older titles. If I somehow run out of things to play there, I can always hit up the consoles or handhelds (I’ll most likely be getting Fantasy Life the day before), though I can’t really stream from them.

Tentatively, I’ll start streaming at 9:00 AM Saturday and won’t stop playing vidya gamez until 9:00 Sunday. I will be maintaining a “live” blog post here on Grinding Down, updating it hopefully once an hour or so, though these’ll be short, quick updates. Truthfully, I’m excited about finally finding the time to eat up some Deus Ex: GOTY more than anything. I am part of Team Giant Bomb, and I appreciate any support you can offer me–this is my first time doing anything like this, and I’ll be running at it solo (well, my cats will be around), so please, give me strength. And donations, too. FOR THE KIDS.

There’s some cold, quiet body interchanging in The Swapper

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Well, back in February of this year, I tossed a few bucks at Humble Indie Bundle 11 and got the following puppy-eyed indie dogs back to play with:

  • Antichamber
  • Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail
  • Fez
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
  • Guacamelee! Gold Edition
  • Monaco
  • Starseed Pilgrim
  • The Swapper

Naturally, I’ve only really played half of these. Granted, I already played and beat Fez back when it debuted on the Xbox 360, so my digital copy will most likely continue to collect e-dust for a good while unless I get a hankering for some world-rotating fun. I also ended up getting free copies of Dust: An Elysian Tail and Monaco for being a Gold member, so I won’t really be getting much use out of these Steam editions. Really, the only game from this list that I played freshly and fully is Guacamelee!, and I do intend to pop back to it eventually, as its Metroidvania map is still littered with secrets to unearth.

Of the remaining names, I’ve been most interested in seeing what The Swapper is all about. While it and Antichamber are both puzzle games, one is more intimidating than the other, and I’ll let you figure out which is which. Psst: it’s the one that deals with colors and walking backwards.

The Swapper‘s got a great, Golden Age sci-fi plot, the kind that makes me want to fish out my many Asimov books and pore through them all over again: having exhausted their natural resources, humanity establishes seven remote outposts in distant space to extract and synthesize useful materials from nearby planets. The crews for these space stations must survive independently of Earth for several decades as they work. Unfortunately, Station 7 loses orbit and disintegrates into its closest sun, and then Station 6 mysteriously goes offline. The crew of Theseus begin to explore an uninhabitable desert planet and find that it is abundant with natural mineral deposits called Chori V. However, they also discover an alien lifeform similar to Earth’s silkworm and highly complex rock formations of unknown origin that seem to possess rudimentary intelligence.

The majority of the story is told visually and through terminal logs, though I have run into another living, speaking crew member, distraught as she may be. Oh, and rocks talk to me telepathically. But really, it’s all about the visuals. Which are, to put it straight, simply stunning. The 2D visuals are created from photographed clay models, which gives everything a diorama-like look, and every room you enter tells a story, whether it is the lush, vibrant plants still thriving in the greenhouse or the somber, abandoned rec rooms. Lighting plays an important part; your character’s Swapper gun is equipped with a flashlight, which is really only a sliver of light, but it adds to the atmosphere wonderfully. The levels themselves are gorgeously lit or sometimes dark on purpose for effect. It’s got the same sobering sadness found early on in Super Metroid or when you later get to the powered down section.

To progress in The Swapper, you have to collect orbs, as some doors or places on the Metroidvania-esque map require you to have X number of them first to get past. You find these orbs as rewards to puzzle rooms, and sometimes you get one orb, another time you get three, and occasionally you’ll rack up a large sum all at once. The puzzles revolve around you using the Swapper, which creates clones; you can make up to four other copies of yourself, and so long as the path is clear, swap places with any of them. At first, the puzzles are fairly elementary, but they quickly ramp up in difficulty, often asking you to balance timing and the specific placement of each clone, as well as dealing with moveable crates or Swapper-nullifying bursts of light. You’ll also end up murdering many, many clones of yourself, all for the sake of progress. I’m proud to say I’ve not had to look up outside help…yet.

If I had The Swapper‘s story spoiled for me during some of Giant Bomb‘s GOTY talks last year, I’ve quickly forgotten whatever they said. Sure, I suspect there’s going to be some kind of twist related to your ability to create disposable duplicates of yourself, and those mind-talking rocks are surely up to no good, but either way–I’m glad I don’t remember what is going to happen. It makes both the future puzzles and story beats all more desirable, rewarding. I don’t know how much further I have to go, but here’s to more orbs, obtuse terminal logs from Sam Cook (not to be confused with Sam Cooke), and watching my body crumble into itself after missing a timely swap as gravity took over and floor quickly met feet.

There’s just no turning back in And Yet It Moves

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And Yet It Moves has been in my Steam library and untouched for a pretty long time. Specifically, since July 2011, which is when I got it and a bunch of other not-known-at-the-time indie games as part of the Humble Indie Bundle 3. Man, I can’t even make an estimated guess as to what bundle we’re coming up to now, seeing as that whole process has evolved from just the occasional bundle to weekly happenings and themed promotions and a store and bundles about books and music and whatever else you can think of. Anyways, And Yet It Moves is not the first name at the top of my list of Steam games, but it’s pretty close, which means I see it all the time when logging in to the client, so I’m glad I finally sat down and played through it.

Besides being a famous quote said by Galileo, And Yet It Moves is a puzzle platformer, one where you turn more than you actually jump. Let me explain. The game’s main nifty shtick focuses on moving the player character, represented as a colorful man made of paper with wavy hair, through an environment full of hazardous obstacles. At any time, one can freely rotate the entire game world with the left and right arrow keys, transforming walls into floors and moving things like boulders and broken branches out of the way. Your goal is to basically navigate the environment and make it to the end safely, and you’ll have to be careful how you turn the world as our little paper hero can’t fall from very high and ends up maintaining momentum even as everything around him shifts.

There’s no real story to follow or even a thin set-up in And Yet It Moves. You’re just this paper man, stuck in a rotatable world. That’s okay, honestly, but it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to come up with some kind of conflict. Maybe the paper man wants to find out who made him, how he is alive, where this rotating power came from. I actually thought we were getting somewhere along those lines during the last few levels, where everything begins getting LSD trippy and unpredictable. Anyways, the game features paper collage-inspired visuals designed by Jan Hackl, which are a treat to behold and watch move behind and in front of other visual planes, and a beatboxing soundtrack performed by Christoph Binder that really becomes its own when the vanishing platforms appear, your jumps nearly timed to the drums.

I only ended up getting seriously stuck in one spot, where there is fire involved. Little ol’ me didn’t notice that the flames change direction as you tilt the world, so you need to position them just right to set other things blocking your path ablaze. Other than that, trial and error and persistence are the key tactics here. There are other game modes to try like time attack levels, but this never felt like the sort of experience one should rush, especially given how slow the main character moves.

Oh, and we can add And Yet It Moves to that list of games with fantastic, interactive end credits. It can stand proudly next to Vanquish, even if it doesn’t last terribly long due to the small staff behind it.

Let’s see, let’s see. So, from the Humble Indie Bundle 3, I’ve now gotten through two entire games–And Yet It Moves and VVVVVV–played Cogs for a wee bit, and have never even launched Crayon Physics Deluxe or Hammerfight. Maybe I’ll try to see what those last two are like sooner than later or maybe they’ll just have to be even more patient and wait a couple more years. I know, I’m so cruel.

That evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca is no more

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A problem of late is that I’m not getting to write about games immediately after finishing them up, and you can blame this on my dream goal of drawing a comic for every game I finish this year. See, in prior years, I’d write a haiku of said finished game and then, if warranted, I’d write some further and final thoughts about the experience, and I’d do both of these things relatively fast, with everything still fresh in my mind. For 2014, I beat a game, add its name to my ever-growing list, and sigh in sadness at just how far behind I am in these comics. Then, instead of writing about it, I either wallow in my own frustration or start sketching a comic for a game I beat months ago.

Now, the last few posts on Grinding Down have shown promise, as I got to cover the Puzzle Agent games quickly, am still currently playing Doki-Doki Universe, and only tapped into Charlie Murder a week ago, meaning I’m relatively caught up, but there’s a bunch of in-progress blogs on my dashboard that are beginning to grow mold. Seriously, green-and-purple fuzzy grass hairdoFor example, I still haven’t talked about my time with Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, Spyro the Dragon, or even Transistor, one of this year’s big AAA releases. Hopefully soon.

All of those two paragraphs are there to say this: I beat Guacamelee! the other night. It’s a game I started playing in April, walked away from due to a difficult boss fight, picked up again in May, walked away due to a difficult platforming puzzle section, skipped playing it entirely in June due to life falling apart, and then returned to it last night to polish off the final chunk of the game in one glorious go that nearly saw me twisting my Xbox 360 controller into plastic bits. Don’t let the cartoony graphics and bouncy tunes fool you…this is one of the toughest platforming games I’ve played since VVVVVV and not getting very far in Super Meat Boy.

If you’ll recall, humble agave farmer Juan Aguacate lives in a small village in Mexico and is in love with El Presidente’s daughter. Alas, an evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. The story never really gets in the way and is only told moments before and after boss fights. This grandiose journey will see Juan jumping between the realms of the living and the dead, jumping between ground and air-borne enemies to punch, kick, and throw, and jumping from platform to platform to reach new areas. Basically, there’s a lot of jumping. Thankfully, the jumping controls are really good, generally leaving any missed landings as your fault, and be prepared to feel the blame constantly, especially the parts where you have to both move and switch between realms in split-second decisions. They are grueling, but then at the same time, really rewarding to complete.

I’m still not 100% completely sold on Guacamelee!‘s combat. And maybe it’s because I was still using the same tactics and combats that I rocked at the beginning of the game at the very end of it, too. After a while, Juan will have some special color-coded attacks, like uppercutting or headbutting, but I found just mashing the punch button until a button prompt appeared over the enemy’s head, which means they can now be thrown, worked well enough. Even in locked-in kill rooms. So long as you can get a good thrown enemy to bounce around and knock down other beasts, you can pretty much keep everything under control. Thankfully, you also restore health at every save point, which are frequently scattered across the Metroidvania map.

Before the final boss fight, you get the option to warp back to previous locations to finish up any side quests or find more health/stamina upgrades. I decided against this as I was cemented in my goal to finish the game, afraid I’d just end up putting it down again for another month. Thankfully, after you take down Carlos Calaca and his second form, which, for me, took at least ten attempts, you can reload into the game right before the boss fight. So I can potentially go back and look for more stuff, if I’m interested. Honestly, I’m kind of interested, and it’s all thanks to a handy-dandy map that is constantly updating where hidden areas are, as well as your completion percentage. Good on you for that, Guacamelee! because really, I can’t be bothered to remember this stuff. However, I don’t think I’ll be attempting every jumping/warp portal puzzle left because…um, my hands just can’t take it, but it is fun finding the secret areas.

I played Guacamelee! on Steam with a Xbox 360 controller, and I really can’t imagine someone using mouse and keyboard here. I mean, maybe. Um, maybe. But my tiny, one-sided controller-loving brain just can’t picture it. There are so many moments where you have to respond in less than an eye blink, and I’d say the controller is the way to go. Just my two cents. One day, it’d be fun to experience it co-op, but then that would mean co-op jumping puzzles, and my heart is all adiós a mis amigos.