Posts Tagged ‘Early Access’

Premature Evaluation: Hardland

Put on a mask in Hardland and you can pass undetected among the creatures it represents. Since this is clearly not a disguise that should really fool anybody, there’s something simultaneously slapstick and sinister about it, standing silently amid a herd of pigs with your own pig-hat, with its snub nose and inscrutable glassy eyes. Masks are creepy and weird - as pop-culture appears to be rediscovering with the likes of Hotline Miami, horse memes and True Detective. I feel they’re even weirder if you think about their gestation as a cultural artifact. Drawing or painting what we observe in the world, including faces, seems a too natural behaviour to evolve - but to go from that to creating a face that you can put over your own face is to take a big step into an entirely different realm of symbolism: a desire not only to represent the other but to transform yourself into it. Indeed, a large number of mask rituals across cultures hold the tradition that this is literally what occurs: that the wearers of masks aren’t merely performing a role, but have momentarily become the entity the mask represents.

Each week Marsh Davies gambols through the lush pastures of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or feeds some ham to a decapitated skeleton while dressed as a chicken. This week he’s been playing Hardland, an unusually gorgeous and imaginative ARPG set in a part-procedural bucolia of rolling hills and haunted forests.

Having no head, much less a stomach, it’s not wholly clear how the skeleton intends to eat the ham he’s begged me to fetch. But there he is, standing by the river in his oversized pauldrons, optimistically holding a saucepan, issuing dying wishes to passing chicken-headed men. As undying wishes go, though, to taste ham one last time is relatively benign and, the difficulties of his digestion aside, my part in this quest is trivial to fulfill. When I give him some ham, after several minutes of pelting round, waving my sword at pigs, the skeleton rewards me with a mask. A pig mask, in fact, which, much like the chicken mask I am currently wearing, successfully disguises me as the animal in question, allowing me to charm and, supposedly, command them, possibly in great numbers.

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Premature Evaluation: Valhalla Hills

Beer plays an important role in Valhalla Hills and it’s one of the more sophisticated technologies you can develop. Keep your militia well-supplied with booze and they receive a buff to their abilities in combat. This is in keeping with the stereotypical view of vikings as fighty piss-artists - but actually was against Odin’s advice. Among the god’s many sayings, quoted in the Poetic Edda, are a large number of warnings about beer, the pithiest of which is this: “No worse provision can [a man] carry with him than too deep a draught of ale.” Oh, okay, one more quote: “Be wariest of all with ale, with another's wife, and a third thing too, that knaves outwit thee never.” Quite so, Odin. But so many are his proclamations against excessive drunkenness (but not of drinking per se) that we can at least infer that it was a common enough problem. Latin accounts of Germanic tribes, which me might expect to be culturally similar to the vikings, certainly described them as hard drinkers. The Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus recounts with some alarm just how happy these shitfaced barbarians were to resolve disputes with bloodshed during the course of an evening’s revelry.

Each week Marsh Davies attempts to prove his valour beneath the baleful eye of the gods, venturing into the frigid wastes of Early Access and coming back with any sagas he can find. This week he’s been playing Valhalla Hills, a jolly village-building god-game with a Nordic theme.

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Deserted Islands? A Return To Stranded Deep

Returning to Stranded Deep [official site] after eight months of early access, I’m more surprised by what hasn’t been fixed or changed, than by anything that has. The survival sim which drops you out of the sky near a network of islands showed a lot of promise, but an awful lot more bugs, glitches and limitations. I had hoped, coming back after a good while, it would be a far more cohesive thing – it really isn’t. And yet I’ve still ended up having fun pottering around.

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Premature Evaluation: Shoppe Keep

It’s a shame that Shoppe Keep reduces its encapsulation of fantasy commerce to frenetic makework - there’s loads and loads of interesting and eminently gamify-able elements to running a store. I’d like to see a game which used AI to explain/exploit customer psychology. In fairness to Shoppe Keep, there may be some AI-defined preference to what customers buy, but it is certainly hard to perceive and so impossible to manipulate in a meaningful way. There’s much more that could be done, for example, in charting the ways in which IKEA’s layout entraps and corrals its hapless consumer units. As anyone who has ever been swallowed by an IKEA hellmouth knows, it's a consumer experience so nightmarish as to constitute Sweden’s most significant act of international aggression since its war with Norway in 1814. It’s clearly also hugely successful in getting people to buy stuff they may or may not want - an effect that has been studied by academics at UCL.

Each week Marsh Davies peruses the scanty offerings of Early Access, stuffs anything halfway valuable down his trousers and legs it for the exit. This week, however, the tables have turned (or, at least, their percentage durability has decreased) as he plays Shoppe Keep [Steam page], a game about building up a retail enterprise in a medieval fantasy land.

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Space Odyssey: Maia Gets Big Bug Bashing Update

Simon Roth’s sci-fi survival game Maia [official site] has been in deep development for a while now – the last time we mentioned it was 2014 and it had already been in Early Access for the better part of a year. Roth has continued toiling away at his Dungeon Keeper In Space, releasing videos now and again of its status.

For those counting at home, we are now up to Update 0.50. It’s a doozy – among other things it takes a giant whack at critical gameplay issues.

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Premature Evaluation: Layers of Fear

Though you play an artist in Layers of Fear, most of the art hanging on your walls consists of a repeating number of famous paintings - perhaps the paintings that might pop up if you used the search terms “weirdest renaissance art”. But, eyerolls at the emo curation aside, some of the pieces are really very interesting indeed. Take Rembrandt’s Abduction of Ganymede, for instance (which, okay, in art terms is technically Baroque, but it comes at the very end of the larger social Renaissance that spanned the 14th and 17th centuries). It’s a peculiar piece about the politically charged myth in which Zeus falls in love with Ganymede, a dashing young shepherd and most beautiful of all mortals. As is Zeus’s rapey wont, he tansforms himself into an eagle, and carries Ganymede off to Olympus, where he makes him his cup-bearer. Other services may be inferred - indeed, it was commonly used as an emblem for ancient Greek pederasty and its social acceptance. The likes of Xenophon and Socrates may have asserted that Zeus loved Ganymede for his mind, but homoeroticism has nonetheless clung to the myth. And, for much of the Renaissance, this not-entirely-consenting relationship was presented with little apparent criticism: paintings presented Ganymede as unresisting, indeed, he is ascending to godliness. Zeus does make him immortal after all, so what’s to complain about?

Each week Marsh Davies lets fly at the blank canvas of Early Access and either returns with a masterpiece or ends up rocking back and forth in a corner eating Unity Asset Store crayons. This week he’s played Layers of Fear, a linear boo-scare walk-em-up set in the reassembling spooOOooky house of a maaAAaad painter.

I’m not sure a household needs more than one reproduction of The Abduction of Ganymede. It’s a fine work, sure, but I don’t want to be staring at a pissing toddler’s dangling bum while I’m having dinner, let alone every time I turn a corner in my home. But then, I’m not really sure of a lot of the other decorative choices that my character appears to have made here – the cupboard of black phlegm, the infinite library, the hell mirror, the Erik Satie levitation cellar, the room of bad chairs. Not even Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen would go so far as to daub “ABANDON HOPE WHILE YOU STILL CAN” above a doorway. It doesn’t even make sense, Laurence!

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Premature Evaluation: Universe Sandbox 2

Universe Sandbox 2 has some perfectly reasonable restrictions on what it is willing to simulate, but isn’t always clear about why it’s stopping you from doing something. I wanted to recreate the 0.1 fm wide black hole from Larry Niven’s 1973 story The Hole Man, for instance - and found the scale doesn’t descend that low. It’s not especially surprising that the game doesn’t model subatomic sizes, but getting the diameter below a couple of kilometres is also impossible and attempting to do so has this strange effect of deleting what you just typed and replacing it with the lowest number that the program will accept, and yet nonetheless changing a bunch of other stats that would be affected by a further reduction in diameter.

Each week Marsh Davies orbits the supermassive blackhole that is Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find or gets shredded to subatomic spaghetti as he tumbles towards a point of infinite mass. This week he has become death, destroyer of worlds, and really quite a lot of moons as well, in Universe Sandbox 2. Otherwise known as Universe Sandbox², if you’re the kind of terrible prick who insists on using Character Map to enforce your brand. Anyway, the game’s great.

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God Game Crest Wants To Make Monthly Content

The developers at Eat Create Sleep managed to tame that wild horse crowdfunding a little over a year ago. In 2014, using Indiegogo they raised just over $21,000 to create an interactive god game called Crest [official site] – where players take on the role of an unseen force who can express commandments to its island denizens, which can be interpreted and misinterpreted by followers to dire consequence. The game is in Early Access until sometime this December, say its makers, and they’ve already have some ideas on how to fund some regular content before and after release.

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Bounty Train Is Steam-Powered FTL And I’ve Been Rogueing On Its Railroad

“Best elevator pitch ever” was my response to a colleague’s description of Bounty Train as ‘Elite with steam trains’ when we first heard about it. There’s a game I want to play. Now, Daedelic’s train management/trading/roleplaying/ gunfighting game has pulled up at the Early Access station. Keen to know if dreams can come true, I hitched a ride to hands-on impressions town.

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Premature Evaluation: Duskers

Duskers’ premise has the player investigating the disappearance of human life from the known universe. Hulks float through the emptiness of space with only the garbled fragments of old log entries as evidence for the existence of their crew. The game puts forward a few different possibilities for you to look into and eliminate, and these suggest an action that humankind takes which inadvertently precipitates its destruction: a nanotechnological experiment gone wrong, creating a grey goo that atomically disassembles human matter, or simply the use of a super weapon so devastating that the resultant chaos causes the rapid decline and extinction of the entire species. But, assuming that humanity survives to become a space-faring people at all, perhaps the larger existential threat is inaction.

Each week Marsh Davies pulls apart the fritzing hulks he discovers drifting through the lifeless void of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or accidentally flushes himself out of an airlock. This week he’s been tentatively probing Duskers, a space-set roguelike in which you remotely operate a crew of drones as they strip derelicts of resources and attempt to uncover the reason for the dramatic depopulation of the galaxy.

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