Games Feed

Weirdness Rodeo

image from Andreas FeiningerSay hi to our newest contributor - Becky Chambers! Becky's Extended Memory column involves her reviewing all those wonderful (we hope) classic PC games, and she's kicked off by returning to her very first game - Beyond Dark Castle.

New short stories are coming from William Curnow, Jennifer Moore, David W Pomerico, Marie Vibbert, Michal Wojcik, Olivia Wood and JY Yang.

Meanwhile, on the rest of the internet...

A study out of the University of Colorado reports on an interesting trend:

The study examined in detail the yearly top 30 Billboard songs from 1960 to 2013 – a total of 1,583 – and found a steep increase in `advertainment’ or the use of product placement, branding and name dropping among the most popular music in the nation.

[The study] found a total of 1,544 product references in the five decades of songs he analyzed with more than half occurring between 2000 and 2010. The study also showed a direct link between product placement and brand awareness. For example, after the 2002 Busta Rhymes hit single `Pass the Courvoisier,’ sales of the cognac jumped 10 to 20 percent that year. 

Movies have already 'sold out' to product placement, music doesn't seem to be far behind... how long until some far-sighted marketer starts flogging products through literature? 

Continue reading "Weirdness Rodeo" »


Extended Memory: Beyond Dark Castle

Thanks to the Internet Archive, all the classic computer games are now available online - a blast of easily-emulated nostalgia that reminds us of after school computer lab and the era where you couldn't save games, find internet walk-throughs or even distinguish between the faces of the characters. Extended Memory is a second chance at classic games.

Intro

Game: Beyond Dark Castle (1987)
Developer: Silicon Beach Software
Original platform: Apple Macintosh

This is the first game I ever played.

I’m four years old, or maybe five — old enough to have developed some decent motor skills, young enough to still be sitting on my dad’s lap. We’re in front of his boxy beige Mac, and he’s teaching me how to use the keyboard, how to click the mouse. These are skills I’ll take for granted one day, things I’ll do while eating sandwiches or looking away from my screen. But in this moment, everything is new.

Continue reading "Extended Memory: Beyond Dark Castle" »


Tell Me About... Tékumel

TekumelThanks to a sale at DriveThruRPG, I finally picked up Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) and read my first Tékumel sourcebook. I've heard about Tekumel for years, including reading some tantilising details in Gary Alan Fine's study of gaming, Shared Fantasy.

Upon opening Empire of the Petal Throne, the first thing to strikes the reader is this lavish opening praise from Gary Gygax, who, as far as I can understand, wasn't often all that glowing in his adoration of stuff:

It is a great privilege to be given the task of writing the prefatory remarks to Professor Barker's tremendous creation Empire of the Petal Throne. It is also something which I approach with considerable reservation, for what can I tell you about this incredible labor that its author and the game components haven't already said far better than I possible [sic] can? So I simply state that it is the most beautifully done fantasy game ever created. It is difficult for me to envision the possibility of any rival being created in the future. Comparisons are often misleading, but carefully drawn ones can be helpful and informative. Therefore, I must the reader to view the world of Tékumel in comparison with J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. A study of the background detail and society of each will force the reader to the conclusion that the former work is, if anything, at least as painstakingly and lovingly detailed as that of the acknowledged master of the fantasy world in toto. J.R.R. Tolkien did not, of course, ever imagine his Middle Earth as a vehicle for the play of fantasy games - much to the loss of his myriads of devotees. But Professor Barker has neither had the opportunity to introduce and familiarise his Tékumel by means of popular works of fiction.

Emphasis mine.

I am, within the confines of 1975 rules (and layout) design, rather impressed by the world - it is Weirder than I expected, especially in the monster design, but also simultaneously more Burroughsian (Barsoomian?) than I would've thought. 

Has anyone read more of the sourcebooks? Or, even better, have any of you played in this world? Please share!


Pygmalia: Galatea

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz

Many people suggested the subject of this month’s column, either in the comments here at Pornokitsch, or on Facebook/Twitter, so here we go with this column’s first video game! Or at least, text-based adventure. 

GalateaGalatea (2000)

Galatea, by Emily Short, is an award-winning text-based adventure, or interactive fiction game. Praised for its NPC, the eponymous Galatea, it apparently revolutionized the genre of interactive fiction games due to of the depth and complexity of Galatea’s responses to the player. Not only that, but the game is multilinear, meaning you can take multiple paths to the same endings, having a different experience each time, creating your own story within the framework of the game.  

On its surface, Galatea seems simple enough: you are a famous art critic at a gallery opening, and you discover the statue of Galatea on a pedestal. But Galatea is more than a statue; she is an “animate,” which you may or may not get explained in more detail, while you play the game. The game is then to talk to her, to solicit responses, and respond in turn to have a conversation with this strange creature. Once you start, however, you may find it's more challenging than it might sound...

The first thing Galatea says to you is, “They told me you were coming.” From there, you can speak to her by “asking” about topics. You can “look,” you can “touch” and do other physical actions like “embrace” or “smell” Galatea; you can “tell” her things, and apologize if you annoy her. 

The game is… unsettling. Galatea is wise but naïve, direct but oblique, as confusing to speak to as you might imagine a living, sentient statue would be. She has what appears to be a rich inner life. It is very strange.

Continue reading "Pygmalia: Galatea" »


Friday Five: 5 Brilliant Board Games Based on SF/F Books

This week's Friday Five is courtesy of Mark Gerrits. Mark is avid (not to say obsessed) boardgamer. Each October, he undertakes a pilgrimage to Essen for Spiel, the world's largest boardgaming fair. When not rolling dice or shuffling cards, he can be found with his nose pressed against an ebook. He has a small blog hidden away on Boardgamegeek and can be found on twitter as @MarkGerrits.


Who doesn’t like books? Nobody! Who doesn’t like board games? Okay, I guess there’s one or two of you. But for the rest of you, here are some great board games based on famous works of speculative fiction. And even if you don’t consider yourself a boardgamer, you might want to check these out anyway - they're far more than crappy Monopoly rethemes.

DuneDune

The Dune board game is as old as I am and I think it went out of print around the time I left kindergarten. So if you want to try this one out, be prepared to scour a lot of flea markets or to pay a hefty sum on the internet. Or you could settle for the recent rethemed version, Rex: Last Days of an Empire. But then you’d miss out on one of the game’s greatest strengths: the masterful way it blends its game mechanisms with Frank Herbert’s world. 

On a large map of Arrakis, you will order your troops around to collect the precious Spice and take control of strongholds, all the while avoiding sandstorms and sandworms. Inevitably, fights ensue. The rules are simple but its your unique faction powers that add spice (see what I did there?) to the game. The Harkonnens are extra treacherous, the Fremen know all the ins and outs of the planet, the Bene Gesserit can use The Voice on you, and so on. 

In the end, it’s the player who made the most opportune alliances and manipulated his fellow gamers best, who wins. Plans within plans within plans…

Continue reading "Friday Five: 5 Brilliant Board Games Based on SF/F Books" »


Friday Five: 5 Awesome Avengers Alliance Allies

LatestWe're a teeny bit obsessed with Avengers Alliance - the super-popular Facebook-based fightin' game based around Marvel Comics. (It is now on iOS and Android as well, and therefore inescapable.) It is half-tactics, half-click-farming, as the player takes on the role of a SHIELD agent and, with the help of various Marvel characters, beats the crap out of villainy. 

The game is now 3 years old and has a mythos as elaborate as the Cinematic Universe - indeed, it has its own SDCC panels, with thousands of people eagerly awaiting clues over which C-list character or alternate costume will be revealed next. The game actually links in to the MCU, with special updates and missions that are clearly hand-wavey homages to the latest movie releases - including those from Sony and Fox, as well as Disney. Plus there's PVP and time sensitive special missions and bonuses and side-games and and limited edition weaponry and and and... Basically, the game is a crafty, evil technology that is sucking in time and dollars from millions of people around the world. If the whole thing goes meta and turns out to be a plot by Doctor Doom, we wouldn't be that surprised. In fact, we'd probably send him a thank you note.

Anyway, one of the reasons we love the game is that the game is clearly developed by GEEKS LIKE US(tm) who also love the Marvel Universe - including incorporating hundreds of silly backlist heroes and minor villains into the roster of playable allies.

We've each selected five of our favourite evil-punching sidekicks. Maybe not the best ones, but certainly the ones we're enjoying the most.

Continue reading "Friday Five: 5 Awesome Avengers Alliance Allies" »


Review Round-up: Science Fiction Video Games and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Science Fiction Video GamesSadly eclipsed by the self-devouring #gamergate monster is a simple truth: computer games are fun. Like, really, really fun. And, as fortunate as we are to live in a Golden Age of processing power, it was almost more fun for us to have shared gaming's gangly teenage years. By 'us', I mean the first generation of folks that got to grow up with fairly easily accessible computer games - an era where there was visible, palpable improvement with every new release.

I personally grew up with (at? on?) my Apple IIe. I remember when we finally swapped to a (now) 286 - even though the new computer was functionally better in every way, I still made us cling to the poor IIe for another year, simply so I didn't lose my Ultima character. Poor computer. It didn't even get the dignity of breaking before being replaced: it was just obsolete. Given how hearty the IIe was as a machine, it probably still runs now.

All that means, of course, is that even as an amateurish (more 'sporadically obsessive') gamer, I have spent my entire life raising and destroying virtual civilisations. It reminds me a bit of the famous Denis Leary sketch about masturbation - "I have wiped entire empires off my chest with a gym sock". I'm afraid the metaphor, however distasteful, is apt. The vintage days of computer gaming were purely about self-actualisation: building, razing, winning, losing, all on one's own.

Enter Neal Tringham's Science Fiction Video Games (2014): a towering monument to our futility. I don't mean that to sound dismissive of this excellent (and absorbing) book - instead, it looms triumphantly, an exhaustive catalog of the tens of thousands of hours that have been spent in the company of that virtual gym sock. For those looking for a 1000 Games To Play B4 U Die printed Buzzfeed list, keep looking. Rather than merely remind the reader of games gone by, Mr Tringham tries to answer why? What is it about these games that makes them so damn good? He approaches the task with rigour: breaking down each game into its components and examining what makes them special, from 1995's  I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream ("presented with a great deal of angry passion, but offers no true moral choices") to 2012's Angry Birds Space ("the eponymous missiles remain endearingly cheerful despite the inescapable knowledge that every assignment is a suicide mission").

Continue reading "Review Round-up: Science Fiction Video Games and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" »


Friday Five: 5 Awesome Android Adventures

Banana

I’m old enough to have played River Raid on an Atari 800XL, with a tape deck that slowly rolled as it loaded the game. But with the late acquisition of a smartphone and a tablet (an old phone died and needed replacing; the tablet was my present to myself when I sold The Violent Century), I’ve gone back to playing games. Though as it turned out, the particular type of game I like (no strategy, no sims, no puzzles, no cards – in fact, what do you like, Lavie!) isn’t that easy to come by.

I’m drawn still to the old school type of game: an endless scroller/runner where, ideally, you get to shoot everything that moves. What more can you ask for!

Here are five recent-ish free android games. Sadly, they don’t all involve shooting – in fact, one of them involves bananas.

Continue reading "Friday Five: 5 Awesome Android Adventures" »


Underground Reading: Dicing with Dragons and Shared Fantasy

Spurred, I suppose, by my middling opinion of Of Dice and Men, I've picked up a pair of books about gaming: Gary Alan Fine's Shared Fantasy and Ian Livingstone's Dicing with Dragons. Although both have the same broad topic - an introduction into tabletop RPGs and the people that play them - the two books are, unsurprisingly, very different.

DicingWithDragonsMr. Livingstone's book is about the games themselves. Dicing with Dragons (1982) is more of an overtly commercial volume: an introduction to the ways and means of games for a reader that is presumably interested in having a go themselves. 

Dicing with Dragons is a exhaustive survey of the 1982 gaming scene, and includes all the options available for the interested gamer (there are hundreds! It takes a whole chapter!). For the 'big' games of the era - D&D, Runequest, Tunnels and Trolls and Traveller - he even provides more in-depth comparisons. Dungeons and Dragons, he finds slightly unrealistic, but grants that as the first of them all, is prone to the most criticism. Tunnels and Trolls is interesting primarily for its accessibility to the solo gamer. And Traveller, he concludes, requires a good grounding in scientific topics (which, Livingstone believes, all science fiction readers will have). It is essentially a catalogue... but one written by a great of the genre. And Livingstone's criticism is genuinely interesting - above all, this is one of the most influential game designers ever, busily reviewing contemporary (and now arguably 'primordial') games.

That said, collectors are mostly interested in Dicing with Dragons because of the solo adventure it contains (apparently a must for Fighting Fantasy completists!), which is also nice (I got squished to death).

Charmingly, there's also a long section about how computers (oooooh!) and their impact on the RPG world, although, at the time of writing, their immediate benefit was in rapidly calculating 'play by mail' results. Independent play is actually a theme throughout the book. RPGs weren't quite as ubiquitous in 1982 and, presumably, the reader buying this book didn't have friends to explain the games to them. As someone that grew up and played D&D during its era of wildest popularity, solo play was very rarely mentioned in game materials, magazines or references. And now any chapter on one-person RPGs would presumably be two words: "Buy X-Box".

Continue reading "Underground Reading: Dicing with Dragons and Shared Fantasy" »


Call of Cthulhu at Nine Worlds: The Vanishing Man

Cthulhu_by_Alexander_LiptakTonight, four intrepid authors will be playing a game of Call of Cthulhu for the entertainment of the masses.

Our Heroes

The player characters are all affiliated with a group called The Rational Society, based out of Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. Not an official University organization, the society developed partly as a reaction to the increasing acceptance of parapsychology as an academic subject, starting with Stanford’s experiments in 1911.  The Rational Society, which includes faculty and staff as well as outsiders who share its views, operates on the basis that everything is explicable, even if the explanation is bizarre or outré.
 
The Rationalists Involved

Professor Dora Eaton (Rebecca Levene - @BexLevene), middle-aged Professor of Child Psychology at Miskatonic is an expat Englishwoman with some challenging views on childhood development.

Nelly Blythe (Kim Curran - @KimeCurran) is a local journalist known for going to extreme lengths in pursuit of a story.  She recently had herself committed to an asylum to expose the unnecessary institutionalization of women, a rouse that she was very nearly unable to extract herself from.

“Reggie” Fermier (Scott Lynch - @ScottLynch78) in his guise as “The Great Roderick Royal” is a moderately well-known stage illusionist and slightly better-known debunker of mystics, psychics and other charlatans, which is what brought him to the Society.

Dr Bernard Chambers (Jonathan L Howard - @JonathanLHoward) of the University’s Chemistry department.  A leader in his field, and aware of the peculiarities allowed by quantum theory; of them all, Bernard is probably the most likely to allow that explanations may come from outside that which is currently known.

Continue reading "Call of Cthulhu at Nine Worlds: The Vanishing Man" »