Star-Fired Beef

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Steam Challenge Miscellaneous Bits and Bobs

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

So along with the games that I have been documenting in this series, there have been a number of games I have passed over due to not getting into them, and have effectively finished with them. So, since I’ll be moving house next week and internet is not guaranteed to be available, I thought I’d do a bit of a summary now.


This Visual Novel is pretty much what I imagine is a “vanilla” dating sim. Not really all that interesting, but I stubbornly saw it through to the end to see what happened. No crazy premise like Hatoful Boyfriend, no cool gimmicks like Magical Diary, and no harrowing narrative like Analogue: A Hate Story. Bland and boring.


This horror game has a very dark graphic novel aesthetic, but I couldn’t make it past the intro without scrambling for the quit button. A stupid premise, really bad writing – both grammatically and stylistically (I am pretty sure the writers are not as fluent in English as they think) – and overly dramatic voicework just shut down any interest I might have had.


I liked the look of this one, but the tutorial was very unhelpful and frustrating and ultimately I didn’t think it was worth the effort to do research simply to play the game.

Hero Academy

I love these tactical turn-based PvP games, but unfortunately I had to give up because the game simply did not work for me. Every time I went to take my turn it wouldn’t show me what my opponent had done until after I’d submitted my moves, which made it all somewhat pointless. I would have liked to get into Hero Academy, but alas it was not to be.


I am led to believe that this was the original endless runner? Not very exciting, fiendishly difficult and no personality to it. Played long enough to get the trading cards.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip To Japan~

Another Visual Novel with hints of dating sim. This one actually made me angry. First, while it admittedly does have some interesting factoids, it is little more than a glorified tour of Tokyo and some Japanese customs. Second, the “romance” attempts were clumsy, out of place, and usually with more than a hint of creepiness. Third, the whole premise – that you have been studying Japanese and been chatting online with these friends (who you thought were guys but oh ho ho no they turned out to be gals) – is massively undercut by a) the protagonist’s lack of knowledge of some basic facts that anyone interested enough in the culture to learn the language would have discovered by now, and b) his total amazement at such facts (OMG! Convenience stores are open 24/7! What a strange culture!).

Just, no. Grrr.


This 3D adventure game hinges on the humourous antics of the main character, who is – to put it bluntly – a horrible git. Unfortunately it is only okay at this, and the puzzles are unusually obtuse, so I quickly became frustrated with it. Since I have a bajillion other adventure games still to play (seriously, at least 30 at last count), many of which I KNOW are better than this, I have shelved Ceville indefinitely.

Eh, I am sure there are a half-dozen more that I have forgotten about, but that gives an idea of the kind of thing I’ve been sorting through in the last few months.

331Erock – Rains of Castamere Meets Metal

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Steam Challenge – Back To The Future

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

What better time to spin up a Back To The Future game than the Day itself? So on the 21st of October, 2015, I embarked on Telltale Games’ 5-episode adventure.

This is the most fun I’ve had with a Telltale adventure game for a long time. There was a generous hint system, the puzzles were all fairly logical, and the story was engaging and well written. The actor voicing Marty McFly did a really good job of imitating Michael J. Fox, and Doc Brown was everything you’d hope for – not surprising, since Christopher Lloyd himself did the voicework.

The main problem I had with it was the movement. Such terrible, terrible controls and camera angles in open spaces. It didn’t have too great an impact on gameplay, fortunately, but it was a recurring irritation.

Each episode was about 2 hours long, and it felt perfectly paced. If you liked the movies, and nostalgia is a weakness of yours, then I highly recommend this game. I now consider the events of the game to be canon.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You



Steam Challenge – Mirror’s Edge

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Mirror’s Edge was a bit of a rollercoaster for me. I have had this game for years, and kept eyeing it longingly every time I saw it mentioned somewhere. Eventually I got to the stage where I was actually a little nervous about playing it because it’d been hyped up in my mind for so long. So, I went into it with both very high expectations, and also expecting to be disappointed.

The tutorial was very good, easily the most useful and engaging one I have played through in years. It did, however, bear out my concerns that the game might be too finicky and unforgiving. I went through the tutorial obstacle course a couple of times and was still not entirely confident in my abilities when I started the first chapter.

There I was, with a sinking feeling that I was playing another overhyped dud…for about the first half of the chapter. Then it clicked. I suspect it was just my own playstyle inhibitions holding me back, but once I relaxed and fell into the flow, it really worked. It was magical. The immersion was almost total. And it was a joy.

I don’t often get this feeling with a game, but Mirror’s Edge left me exhilarated. There were two levels to this. The first is in those areas where you are simply navigating the world, and it is just pure joy to move around, solve the puzzle of how do I get up there?, and just experiment with your moves and capabilities. The real exhilaration, though, where you are left feeling pumped, is when you are being chased by security forces and you have very little time to look around and think.

I am not sure why, but of all the parkour moves and tricks that you pull off during the game, nothing is as satisfying and as successful in bringing home the urgency of your situation than busting through closed doors at full speed. I loved it.

I have to say that the combat was a near miss. It is technically optional, but at the time it doesn’t exactly feel optional. I loved the disarm mechanic, although it was really unreliable to execute, and I liked how choosing to keep and use firearms slowed you down and prevented most of your climbing moves. I think it could have been better, and as it is it might have been wiser to leave it out entirely. Perhaps just leave in the disarms? I don’t know. Sliding in and kicking some cops in the balls was immensely enjoyable though, I will say that.

The story was quite predictable, but serviceable. I don’t think it’s as bad as many people seem to think. The voice acting is nice, and the writing is not at all cringeworthy, which is better than a lot of games out there.

The only other game I’ve played with parkour-like movement was the Prince of Persia trilogy – well, the first two, anyway, I haven’t played the Two Thrones yet. That had some wall running and a bit of gymnastics, but Mirror’s Edge just feels so much better. I guess that’s what happens when you make the movement system the main mechanic of the game rather than a side feature. It feels like I’ve discovered a whole new genre. And I love it.

Mirror’s Edge is awesome.

Muse – Time Is Running Out

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Steam Challenge – SBCG4AP Episodes 3, 4 & 5

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Argh, this has been a long time coming. I actually finished these episodes months ago, just haven’t gotten around to posting about them. I’ll just go through my impressions of each episode of Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People in turn.

Baddest of the Bands

I loved the premise of this episode, with the not-so-subtle digs at indie, folk, electronica and hip hop music, and the over-the-top treatment of 80’s rock/hair metal. The main guest characters (Limozeen) became annoying really quickly, though. I also didn’t appreciate the obtuseness of some of the puzzles mid-game. Luckily, the episode ended with an amazing finale, so I was left feeling pretty good about it.

Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective

I wanted to love this episode. I loved the idea of a Strong Bad remake of classic 70’s/80’s cop or spy movies. But I just could not get into it. It bored me too much to care about the plot, and wading through two layers of hints – one layer being the clue to the actual puzzle, the other layer being the task of deciphering the “movie script” to figure out what the real clue is talking about – was just too infuriating. So I only got about a quarter of the way through this episode before giving up.

8-Bit Is Enough

I am so glad that the series ended with this episode, because it is easily the strongest of the five. Being flung into a reality where videogames have come to life, there were plentiful gags, tropes and traditions to poke fun at. I loved the progression through various early gaming moments, and it helped that this was the only episode (I think) where you didn’t need to go searching random areas with the metal detector in order to solve the puzzles.


As an adventure game, this series is…okay. Nothing special going on, especially if you’re a veteran of the Monkey Island series, or Sam & Max, etc. That said, each episode did its job in bringing the experience of being in a Strong Bad Email to life. There was no bugginess, and I don’t think the episodes tried to do too much. There was a great variety of mechanics and mini-games/puzzles, each episode really had its own character, and – for those who care about such things – there is no problem in playing them in a different order.

Basically, the main draw of SBCG4AP is that it is a Homestar Runner game. If you love that world, those characters, that humour, then you will love this. If you come at it from a purely “I love adventure games” position, then you might still like it, but there are better games out there.

Scissor Sisters – Take Your Mama

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Steam Challenge – Dust: An Elysian Tail

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Dust is a super impressive game from one developer, who apparently did everything but the sound himself. I am continually amazed at how talented people like this can keep the bar so high – think Braid, Super Meat Boy, Knytt Underground, Gunpoint, to name a few. Dust certainly holds that standard very high, and frankly makes some games, from bigger teams and studios, look nearly amateurish in comparison.

The first thing that hits you about Dust is the visuals. This game is seriously beautiful. The animations are smooth, controls are pretty tight, and it just makes wandering around a visual treat. The sound is extremely well done, too, and kudos for choosing HyperDuck soundworks for this project. They nailed pretty much everything (except the accents).

Gameplay is standard platform-y combat, and there is nothing really outstanding here to be honest, it is just all solidly competent. There is an element of RPG advancement in the game, with shops, equipment, a little crafting, and level-ups that allow you to increase one of four stats. I’m still not sold on the necessity of it, though. It wasn’t annoying or anything, it didn’t interfere with the flow of the game or become an excuse for grinding, but I don’t think it really added much to the experience either.

I found the anthropomorphic animals thing a little weird at first, but I think that is mainly to do with the fact that the NPCs were given random accents and cultural backgrounds, including an atrocious Australian accent. It kind of jarred a bit. Also, the voice acting and dialogue can be a little forced, corny, cliché, overdone, and could get annoying for some people. The writing will win no awards for originality or spark. From reviews, most people seem to find Fidget (the flying catbat) really irritating, but I actually loved her.

I have only two major grumbles. One is the auto-respawn: when you leave a screen, all the monsters you destroyed respawn, and there are a few times where you have to traverse the same few screens back and forth for missions. It becomes annoying, even though you are usually capable of smashing through them easily, because the game won’t let you leave the screen until you are “out of combat”. It’s just a time sink, and the closest thing to a grind that Dust offers.

By far the biggest gripe I have, though, is special areas that require special abilities to access. DON’T put an inaccessible area in my path early on, make me complete another 10-20% of the game to unlock the requisite ability, and then expect me to go back and find that area again. Just, Don’t Do It. If you are introducing new mechanics, put everything that requires those mechanics AFTER the unlock, not before. This would be one of my Pet Peeves if I were to do a list (like Pam did).

But, let’s end on a high note. I’ve long thought skill-based mini-games were a good idea for MMO activities like professions, or co-op multiplayer stuff (a la Puzzle Pirates). A Tale In The Desert seems to experiment with this, too, if I read the brewing skill correctly. And, I notice that some smaller games can offer ideas for fun mini-games that would be cool to see in said MMOs. Dust has a “lockpick” system for opening treasure chests that, when you think about it, doesn’t really make sense, because you are using a key…but ANYWAY, there is a simple unlock game that I absolutely adore and would love to see done in an MMO sometime.

Do try it.

Faith No More – Ashes to Ashes

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The Secret Lore – Samhain 2014

See all the Secret Lore here.

I am not sure how I missed the third Halloween lore from last year, but this is the time for it! I didn’t want to spoil this year’s one so I think I’ll be always a year behind. The 2014 event revolves around Golden Age old-timey radio, and it is very fun.

Samhain 2014

Our wisdom flows so sweet. Taste and see.

TRANSMIT – initiate the broadcast day – RECEIVE – initiate bands 3 to 30 MHz – WHO KNOWS WHAT EVIL LURKS IN THE HEARTS OF MEN? – initiate that oldtime radio – I AM THE WHISTLER, AND I KNOW MANY THINGS, FOR I WALK BY NIGHT – our buzz is your signal for the Signal Oil program – WITNESS – the Number Station.

Listen, sweetling. Listen.

Listen for the first two bars of “The Lincolnshire Poacher.” Listen for the music of Jean Michel Jarre. Listen for “¡Attención!”

We call upon their names: Nancy Adam Susan, The Swedish Rhapsody, The Gong Station, the English Woman, Magnetic Fields, Tyrolean Music Station, 3 Note Oddity, The Counting Station, Papa November, and The Lonely Patriot.

Entities made out of signals. Beings made of message. It tickles our empathy! We flirt with those heady strings of numbers, those cosmic sonnets – we blush – we burn – a strange melody – a beep – a child’s voice – a woman’s voice – synthetic – distant – valentines in slinky static. We’ll cop your cipher.

People noticed the numbers sometime after World War II. Rumours breed like beetles under the floor. No government has acknowledged the existence of these phantom stations, and still they play. The numbers live and breathe and move without paying much care to the speculation of the ears.

Two numbers station enthusiasts meet at a diner. They guzzle damn good coffee. They shiver at electronic feedback. “Once you listen…it changes you,” one says. They show each other forearms filled with tattooed digits.

They trade theories: it’s spy games on the air waves – it’s extraterrestrial commandments – it’s behavioural programming from the queens, and every city is a hive – it’s a century-long, global prank – we are in a divergent universe, and it’s the mother reality trying to guide us home. They go back to tend their shortwave radios, listening and dreaming conspiratorial dreams.

Somewhere, Dave Screed listens in on his shortwave radio. Hissing, numbers, laughter. He hears something that voids his bowels. No amount of thumping dryers or Q-tips can remove it from his ears.

RECEIVE: 623665877307462356034308570682039057

Listen for the voice.

“Jingle sung and patter said – radio’s more fun when you’re dead.”

Somewhere, a scientist sits in his lab. He listens to Golden Age radio dramas to relax. It’s how he learnt English. He practises parroting the radio voices, the dramatic intonations, the sinister laughs. His presenter voice. Radio waves! If he could just find the right resonance, life and death could communicate. In despair, he ends his life. As he dies, he realises how he could make it all work.


Steam Challenge – Atom Zombie Smasher

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I was going to play through another campaign before I wrote this post, but Atom Zombie Smasher seems to have been another casualty of my move to a new computer, and I can’t get it to work again. So, here are my much older impressions.

It took a while to get its claws into me, but I am definitely hooked. I think it will take several playthroughs to really get into the swing of things, much like in a grand 4X game like Civ. But from my experience, there is a lot of potential here.

The weird 50’s comic-book interludes and music are strangely intriguing, and the humour is well done if you like pure silliness.

Gameplay is simple: you place various mercenary units on a city map, and use them to either destroy the zombie hordes before sunset, or buy enough time for your helicopter to rescue X number of civilians before the zombies get to them and turn them. Then you go to a strategic map, where you choose the next region to try to liberate. Your mercenary units can change, and there are various levels of danger in each region, so planning is crucial.

After each operation, the zombies spread, strengthening existing areas and occupying new ones. If you cleared out the zombies from your operation, you get a base that remains zombie-free and gives you lots more points. You are basically racing the zombies for points: at certain milestones, stuff happens. Either you get new weapons, or scientists, or extra mercs, or the zombies get mega-Zombies or occasional faster zombies or suchlike.

Each operation takes about 5 minutes to play, so AZS is perfect for second-screen or sitting-in-queues or pick-up-put-down.

It’s weird, but endearing, and it somehow just works. Check it out if you can.

The Cranberries – Zombie


On Biomes, Suffering, and Death

(CN: Morbid musings on death)

I mentioned in my post on Borderlands that the setting really bummed me out and made it tough to look forward to continuing the game. Despite the high-tech galactic society, Pandora is a rocky desert wasteland and looks more like a post-apocalyptic stage than anything – crude structures, corrugated iron everywhere, open piles of trash, putrid standing water, chemical barrels, and so on, all in a place that nobody would choose to live. A huge dump that people somehow scrape a living from.

That made me realise why I prefer certain biomes in games – especially MMOs – and hate others. It is all to do with the question of: in which ways would I prefer to suffer? How would I prefer to die?

The zones that I dislike the most, the zones that make me uneasy or freak me out or just avoid when I can – those are the zones where I would be legitimately afraid to suffer through in reality. The zones that feel alien to me. There are three main varieties of those.


I loathe desert zones in games. This is because I cannot imagine ever living – or spending a significant amount of time – in a place without an abundance of fresh water. Dying of thirst is a real fear for me, and I don’t handle the heat very well either. The main problem for me in Borderlands was that it was almost exclusively this kind of biome. I had to limit the length of my play sessions in Fallout 1 and 2 because of this effect, too. The Egypt zones in TSW were a nightmare to complete for me.

I am putting most of the blame on the extremes here, the sandy, rocky, barren wasteland where nothing grows beyond the occasional oasis. I am a little more comfortable with the savannah-type biomes, the endless prairies. They might offer similar dangers as the desert zones regarding water scarcity and heat, but the presence of all that scrub and grass just offsets some of my fears.


Although there is a lot more water in these zones, it is almost always still, fetid water. I think there are two main fears for me in these biomes. One is the heat and humidity combining with the perpetual dampness to promote fungal rot and disease, or infections via insects and leeches and whatnot. This was my main reaction to Zangarmarsh in WoW’s Outland. The huge fungi – in fact the fungal theme throughout the zone – just horrified me and made me want to get through it as quickly as possible. I know a fair few people who think Zangarmarsh is one of the most beautiful zones in Outland, if not WoW altogether, and I just shiver. I can’t see it.

The other main fear for me in swamps and marshes is a slight crossover with the next biome: underwater threats. Mostly crocs and snakes. Also stuff like sinkholes and quicksand. Basically not being able to trust the ground you walk on, or not being able to see the ground you walk on because of the water. The water in these biomes is always opaque, meaning you can’t just be diligent about watching where you step – you have to have faith. I don’t have that kind of faith.


I hate hate hate underwater zones. I am of the firm belief that deep water is an alien environment for us – we are intruders at best, hopelessly unprepared and unequipped at worst. Note that this is under the sea, since I can’t remember any game where I have been in a freshwater zone like a lake. I think the reason I would hate being in this environment so much is that you are basically reduced to relying on your sight for everything. Hearing and touch and smell are pretty much useless in detecting threats when you are submersed. Yet, literally everything else in the environment is adapted to it and thus has an advantage over you. For some reason, that extra dimension of threat vectors – down – freaks me out a little too.

Although I held this fear before I started playing TSW, the familiarity with the Cthulhu mythos that it has begun has done nothing but cement my position on this.

The “Good” Stuff

To show that this is not all just a list of me being afraid of danger, let me go through a couple of harsh biomes that I actually quite like.

The Frozen North

I love these zones. Snow, mountains, glaciers, ice caves, you name it. Whether it be an alpine zone like Iron Pine Peak in Rift, a winter wonderland like Whitevale in Wildstar, or a mountain fastness like Dun Morogh in WoW, it all appeals to me. Even the harshness of Icecrown or the eternal winter of a game like Little Inferno make me comfortable, in a way. The reason? I wouldn’t mind dying in such a climate. I would much rather freeze to death than succumb in any of the ways detailed above. Being cold isn’t the torture that thirst and heat is, to me.

The Dark Woods

I suspect that a lot of people like forest zones, and I would bet that nobody is surprised to find that they are my favourite biome. But I wonder how many feel that way when the forest turns dark and spooky, haunted even? I’m thinking Duskwood in WoW, and the Shadowy Forest in TSW. To me, even when they are corrupted or harbour darkness, forest zones still feel like home. I might not want to die, but unlike the zones above, I wouldn’t be regretting ever coming here if I did.


Does all this make sense? Does anyone else base their reactions to biomes on stuff like this, or am I alone?

Lindsey Stirling – Crystallize




The Secret Lore – The Breaks in Time

See all the Secret Lore here.

Issue 6 was the first DLC not bundled with the base game when I first started playing The Secret World. It is an Indiana-Jones-inspired romp through the Scorched Desert in Egypt, and I found it to be a pretty good homage to the genre. This is the lore that was introduced for that Issue.

The Breaks in Time

TRANSMIT – initiate the quantum foam – RECEIVE – initiate the wrinkles in time – THIS WAY – see how you are drawn to it – WHAT’S PAST IS PAST – nostalgia for the absolute – WARNING – may cause melancholy – WITNESS – the mechanised longing of the THIRD AGE.

Lower the water levels, see them cast their ships; memory blown across the sea, back to the old continents, the broken ziggurats and cathedrals, shhhhhhh…

LISTEN – the echoes of iron prayers.

They sought the Second Age like you seek the Third, clawing back to the magic of primal places, the wellsprings of anima, raw and powerful.

Scratching through the surface of Agartha they stripped what they needed to construct engines of time. A and B connected by C – WARNING – please keep your extremities inside the tomb. We are now approaching the limit.

The Third Age built machines for every purpose. Their minds strained forward as their hearts clawed back. In the desert, among the remnants of the old cities, they charted where the black holes rotate. They focused their energies, energised their focus.

Harness the machines, reclaim the hocus-pocus!

Countdown to blast back: zero, zero, zero. Cue the cosmological nightmare.

WITNESS – the speed of memory. The boundaries blur.

The time, they are a-changing.

TRANSMIT – Kakudmi and Urashima – RECEIVE – the zero point module – EASY DOES IT – slink past the suns of Caligula – WITNESS – the shifting tides.

The universe is a warped water park. A series of slippery tubes. You’re not the first sweetling to slip back in search of…what? The Primordial Pool? The Big Splash?

Roman sticks and supplies?

Cue the Casimir effect.

Your current curviture breaks the mind but feeds the heart. Oh, sour sweetlings, how you long to change the past. We know the things you did tomorrow. We know the fear, the ache, the sorrow.

You shifted what you’ll go to shift, recall what others will occasion. You saved some then so others die when. It just doesn’t seem fair, will it?

Cue the cause.

Their time tombs were functional, but imperfect. They couldn’t transport them to the pre-break moments they sought. Limited by their construction, limited by cosmic continuities, limited by the need for anima, limited by their conceptions of time.


Cue the system of singularities. Peepshows of the past; fuels of the present; bombs of the future. Look long enough and see the void in all things. Every age a snowflake, responding in its own way: the age of paradise; the age of awe, worship and sacrifice; the age of the engine; the age of fear.

Initiate the FNF frequency. Don’t fear it. Fear Nothing. Fear the Foundation. It’s no wonder; they say once you hit four, it’s all downhill from here.

You, of all ages, have so much reason to claw back. So much has been lost.

So feel free to punch your ticket to the past. Go ahead, glance back. Don’t sweat it, sweetling. You won’t turn to salt and you can’t make yourself impossible. History will conserve itself. The continuities will hold.

You’ll slip back as into a dream, sift through the sands of your collective mind map. The best you can hope for is to wake up, suddenly remember where something was buried.

Such sweet scrabbling in the dark. This. The age of what? Fear. Nothing. Stopping the second can’t undo the first. Nothing would have and nothing will. The one break in time. The greatest event of all. Nothing. It has ripped through all possible past and unmoored the future.

There are no clocks in Tokyo. This is the end, o honeyed friend.

This is the end.


Steam Challenge – Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).


This is a tough one.

First off, let’s just get that whole pixel-trash art style out of the way. I keep saying I don’t like it, and I keep trying these games in the hope of finding a gem anyway, but the graphics choices mean the rest of the game has to be all that much more perfect to compensate.

Superbrothers doesn’t have that. It starts off pretty well, the first 15 minutes or so of the game are quite intriguing actually. But then it just…loses its way. Veers off into some psychedelic wonderland that only the creator understands. 

One description I saw in the Steam reviews summed it up as “mythopoetical hipster”, which I think describes the project quite well. I can’t remember where I saw this, but I remember reading that the soundtrack was an original album, created before the game. It makes a lot of sense to me that someone took this album and tried to make an art project out of it, to adapt it to a visual medium. And to a certain extent they succeeded – although I found it rather boring and pretentious, I appreciate the effort.

I can’t really make a recommendation for this. It is pretty simplistic in game mechanics, so you’d be playing it for the story and experience. But this is one of those cases where it is impossible to judge how you’ll react to it until you actually play it yourself (or watch a Let’s Play).

All I can say is that I didn’t enjoy it after the first 15-20 minutes.

Regurgitator – ! (Song Formerly Known As)



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