Holiday Content!

As we mentioned at the end of Episode 002, we’re all over the place for Christmas this week, so there is no podcast.

Instead, we thought we’d take advantage of the annual Holiday Steam Sale and to make some recommendations for games that we feel are under-played, and perhaps under-appreciated.

You can view these recommendations on our newly established Steam Curator page, or directly from our website via the Steam Curator category.

Get some great deals while the sale is still running, and we’ll be back next week with Episode 003!

Orcs Must Die – Steam Curator

Many games try to blend tower defense and shooter combat. Orcs Must Die succeeds in a way that many others do not. It manages to make tower type and placement, and your ability to land headshots and manage special abilities feel important, powerful, and necessary to your success or failure. It’s a game that understands tension curves; there will be waves that are sure things and waves that you swear you wouldn’t have survived if you’d been prioritizing targets with your special abilities.

Everyday Shooter – Steam Curator

A dual stick shooter plus rhythm game. As with games such as Rez, your actions in the world (shooting, killing enemies, etc.) are reflected in the music the game is producing. Each level is a different song, with different sound effects, different enemy behaviours and different multiplier/chaining mechanisms. There’s a lot to explore and learn in a very familiar space. It’s also a good example of a game recognising and embracing the player as the author of the experience.

 

Tropico 4 – Steam Curator

Tropico is a mix of Civilization, Dungeon Keeper, and Sim City. You are the dictator of an island nation and you control pretty much everything. Like Civ, its strength is a large collection of interconnected systems and mechanics with various, valid methods of achieving the goals it puts before you. You will balance world politics – for example, do we support the nuclear research in Iran? It will lose points with the USA/EU, but it will get us favour with Russia and Asia. Your gut may say condemn it but your thriving pineapple export business with China and Japan says you REALLY want them to continue buying pineapples from you. It’s a game that offers many short term, long term choices, and dilemmas are plentiful.

 

It makes everything about politics and business feel slimy, sleazy, and corrupt. It’s a game that will make the most green, environmentally conscious person scream “Ugh, stupid environmentalists, what now?” It makes gameplay out of breaking election promises.

 

And finally, it’s one of the few games where you can look up in the middle of a session and be startled that hours have passed, its dark now and you haven’t had lunch yet, let alone dinner.

 

Bully – Steam Curator

Arguably Rockstar’s best game, with a stellar (original) soundtrack. It’s GTA if all the characters were children, and it was set in a private boarding school. The gangs are the different cliques: nerds, jocks, preps, greasers, staff. In a weird way, it has more social and political intrigue than GTA because everyone understands highschool. Despite everything being a caricature, the lowered stakes make it much easier to fall completely into this world.

 

Determining the location of a rival’s date, hiding in a nearby tree top, ruining the romantic mood with surprise water balloon attack and slinking away without them knowing it was you.

On the way home outrunning a truancy officer on your bike via dirt road and sneaking back into your dorm.

It’s the high school/college life you probably never had but secretly wish you did.

 

It’s not without it’s flaws; the controls, checkpoints, saving, and some of its minigames may make you never want to go to that class or get detention again. But that in itself is another amazing thing, creating the same emotions and thought processes in the player as the main character; “I don’t want to go to class, it takes forever and it’s boring.”

 

Receiver – Steam Curator

Most FPS’s make the act of using a gun very simple: point and shoot. They don’t implement the physical mechanics that would be required for a gun to work, because why would they? Their focus is positioning, timing and tactics against AI or human foes. Receiver flips this – the AI is very simple, and what you need to do is very simple, but using your weapon is complicated and that makes it special.

You will have to learn how to use the gun, and what steps are required to make it work. This will take time and experimentation. You will learn though and you will feel accomplished. You will no longer have to look at the help text for what actions are available to you. You will be able to tell if the gun is ready to use or not by inspecting it, not by UI elements. Once you have learned these things, you will walk calmly and confidently into rooms with robot enemies and soon you will hear a click, instead of a bang, and run away. It’s an amazing feeling, one you won’t find in many games, where you’re not skilled enough to reload your weapon under pressure. It evokes a feeling similar to Rock Band or Guitar Hero, in that you reach a point where you are no longer thinking about how to hit red, you just are. You will be physically exerting effort for each step of the complex process but you will not be mindful of your actions. You will be in flow.

Uplink – Steam Curator

This game is a game about hacking, that makes you genuinely feel like you are hacking, even though the mechanisms involved are almost certainly nothing like actual hacking.

 

Thanks to tight scoping, focussed design, and very cleverly constructed UI, you will work your way through this game in a state of near-constant tension.  It is essentially a roguelike, so one false move and you’ll probably have to start over again.  You learn many things along the way, but you still have to execute your plans well in order to succeed.

 

Introversion have gone on to make other similarly great games, like Darwinia, DEFCON, and the (currently in Early Access) Prison Architect.  This is one of their earliest titles, and it still holds up very well.