SGBCC Day 3 – Aquaria

This is day three of my Lent 2013 Steam Game Back Catalogue Challenge.

Aquaria is the first game so far that I have voluntarily and enthusiastically played beyond the hour I promised as part of this challenge. This is particularly impressive I think, as today Scribblenauts Unlimited unlocked, and I have been looking forward to that for what feels like a very long time.

Also, I learned a new word! Metroidvania. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to attempt a definition, but it’s a portmanteau of two game names, now used to describe a kind of explorey actioney adventurey game, where you unlock new areas as you go. I know it’s not the done thing to liken five year old games such as this one to something more recent, but it’s hard not to when you have my habit of playing things in eclectic orders. I was immediately put in mind of Waking Mars, one of my favourite games of 2012. Another Metroidvania type game.

You play as… a sort of singing sea nymph thing. It seems the game is actually very complex once you get into it – the start is a really chilled out swim through the caves you live in, singing to some little planktony jellyfish dudes for no reason, dodging big fish, finding crystals, letting a story slowly unfold. As you learn more, explore more, layer upon layer of gameplay is added.

I don’t really want to say much else. I just want to go back and play more.

You probably can’t give much better praise than that.

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SGBCC Day Two: Anna

This is day two of my Lent 2013 Steam Game Back Catalogue Challenge.

I probably won’t be giving Anna a full hour, as it is already after midnight as I boot it up. I have been unable to play it today, as unfortunately it lacks a windowed mode. This was probably for the best – ‘horror adventure’ may not be the wisest genre to explore with a toddler accompaniment.

As the game starts, you are outside an abandoned looking sawmill. It’s a bright, sunny day. Technically, the graphics aren’t great, but it does have a very painterly feel. They seem to do a lot with not a lot. I wander around collecting the odd thing here and there, doing some doing, admiring the text overlays.

After a while the dizzy mouse movement gets to me so I go to adjust, finding a hint system as I do so. Having been aimlessly wandering for a while now, I submit and ask for a hint.

That notch seems incomplete.

Oh. Does it now. What notch would that be? The help is less than stellar.

As soon as I find this ‘notch’ (I’d already seen it in fact, but the hotspot didn’t activate properly so I hadn’t realised it was a ‘thing’) the rest fell into place and I was soon inside the building, being reminded of Amnesia. Significantly. Amnesia was, of course, the game I had to stop playing while I was pregnant as the fear wasn’t good for my blood pressure.

A spooky thing occurred, and I watched it happen, rooted to the spot, wondering if I should look (run?) away. I didn’t.

I kept pottering around, as you do. Finding, using, doing. Reading the ‘atmospheric’ bits. Wondering if I’m missing much having the volume so low. The inventory, by the way, is awful. So awkward to use.

Then, after a nice little find, I turn around and get a shock. In a flat panic at what I saw (what DID I see?) I hit escape. Helpfully, the menu tells me I can’t save now. Great. I’m pretty sure I’ve played for an hour by now and I want to go to bed without further horror. Why, Anna? Why do this to me?

It’s okay. I look away. I move a little. I look back. My save option returns. Thank fuck.

That’ll do. I save and quit.

Then I notice that this game had a metacritic score of a mere 55.

Will I play again? Well, actually, I think I might. There’s a lot to hate about it – the mouse movement is jerky, the inventory is awful, and it’s not often I really fancy being this kind of scared – but I hope there is also much to see still. I was certainly looking forward to it pre-release. Hopefully that wasn’t entirely misplaced.

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SGBCC – Day One: A.R.E.S. – Extinction Agenda

This is day one of my Lent 2013 Steam Game Back Catalogue Challenge.

A.R.E.S. – Extinction Agenda is a side-scrolling shooter – you play Ares, a robot immune to a weird gas that has troubled at least two expeditions to the….the place the game is set. You are despatched to rescue the survivors, now being held hostage by robots. There are platformy elements, a double jump, different weapons, suits, upgrades, and you can build things out of the scrap you collect as you kill enemies.

There are two difficulty modes – easy and hard. When going through menus before I started, I chose Easy. However, when the game started, it asked me to reconsider, and properly guilted me into choosing Hard.

Ten minutes into the game, I died. I had been struggling with the keyboard & mouse combo, and generally being useless at this kind of game. So I plugged in the XBox controller and tried again.

It was suddenly differently hard. I didn’t get as far, sadly. Tragically. Humiliatingly. I suspect the next 40 days may be one long, awkward embarrassment. It feels like it should be a twin stick friendly kind of game – but I suddenly wanted three thumbs to be able to play it properly. Presumably this just meant that I was missing a trick. I unplugged the controller, resolving to attempt to accustom myself to WASD again. Later.

Meanwhile, Polly had been watching a video of a weird Japanese cake making kit on YouTube. It looked more compelling, somehow, though at this stage I was probably still only three normal person minutes into the game.

I obviously do not make a very good robot. It was at this point that I decided to watch the trailer on Steam. Action! Boss battles! I hadn’t met a boss yet. Just a couple of turrets and maintenance robots – yet somehow even these had bested me. I watched the action on the video and just figured this game is obviously not for me.

It was time for lunch.

Later that night, after Polly was in bed, I figured I’d better give it another go. I started right from the beginning so I could ensure I wasn’t missing anything tutorial-wise.

Suddenly it all clicked. I didn’t suck so bad. I didn’t die so much. I worked out how to do the double jump less cack-handedly. I flew through a couple of boss battles. That was better! I got some new weapons, I discovered the database, and I worked out how the hit combos added up (no, I’m not sure how I managed to misunderstand before). The enemies respawn in each area, so you can walk up and down a corridor, blasting like mad, gaining massive combos and loads of materials for building repair kits and grenades, which feels like a bit of a cheat really. However, having a bit of a cheat is probably quite essential for as terrible a player as me.

Now I’ve spent about an hour in total in-game. Sadly, half of that was my daytime bumble. The second half was MUCH more fun.

Clearly, some games are not ideal for when you have a toddler sat on your knee surfing YouTube.

Would I play it again? Yes, actually! It ended up fun. I suspect there will be a skill ceiling beyond which I will be unable to pass, but it was certainly an enjoyable ride once I worked it out. Had I not made myself go back to it this evening to make up the hour I promised to spend per game, I suspect I’d have never given it another go.

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Lent 2013 – The Steam Game Back Catalogue Challenge

Last year, for Lent, rather than give up something negative (chocolate, alcohol, swearing, cake), I decided to do something positive each day instead. I read, and shared, a poem every day.

This year I wanted to do something similar, so I have decided to use the opportunity to finally get around to playing some of the games languishing in my Steam library. This has become quite extensive for one reason or another – Steam sales, unmissable deals highlighted by Savygamer, Humble Bundles and their ilk.

Thus, I fully intend to play the games listed below, for AT LEAST ONE HOUR, over the next forty days. These are not the only games I haven’t played – I tried to exclude things like sequels, massive budget AAA titles, and too much war.

I also intend to tell you a little about each one as I play it. Lucky you!

Wish me luck.

A.R.E.S. – Extinction Agenda
The Blackwell Legacy
Bob Came in Pieces
Cargo! – The quest for gravity
Dear Esther
Dungeons of Dredmor
Dustforce (not working)
Fate of the World
Fractal: Make Blooms Not War
Gemini Rue
Hotline Miami
Insecticide Part 1
Lone Survivor
Orcs Must Die!
Quantum Conundrum
Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
To the Moon
Trine 2
Zeno Clash

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Why feminism isn’t a dirty word, but it is a stupid question

I saw a Telegraph article today, about Ella Henderson (no I’d not heard of her either) and her PR, who was given the moniker “Rude Bloke” in the article due to his gruff refusal to “let her” answer the question “Are you a feminist?” in an interview.

The journalist decides to use this to argue about whether or not “Feminist” is a label to be avoided by “popstars”, and frame this as a PR person doing the opposite of their job and making someone look stupid.

I think this kind of misses the point.

What is the point of asking “Are you a feminist?” Is there a “right” answer to this question?

Lets pretend, for a second, that she said “Yes! I am a feminist!” What does this say? Does it say “I agree with Julie Bindel and other vocal feminists – men are mean, and I am a Victim by virtue of Birth and Society and Patriarchy and it’s Not Fair. While I’m at it, trans women aren’t really women, they’re blokes in skirts, and if you dare criticise me I’ll strop and bring out my army of straw women to belittle whatever argument you have.”

That would most likely not be what she meant, but someone would be able to read it like that – hence the PR panic.

Now lets pretend she said “No, I don’t call myself a feminist.”

What does she mean now? Does she mean “I don’t believe in equality, I shouldn’t be allowed to do everything men can do, and what’s more, I wouldn’t want to!”

Well, probably not. But that is absolutely what would be interpreted. Again, hence the PR’s reluctance to give an answer.

I’m not going to say anything about the ways and means one could get their point across about not wanting to answer a question without inviting a “Rude Bloke” label. I’m not going to comment on whether it’s a question which should have been predicted and a nice middle ground answer constructed.

I think you can believe in equality of PEOPLE regardless of their gender (or class or race or IQ or geographical location or accent or skin colour or dress sense or occupation or health or whatever) and not call yourself a feminist. I also think you can call yourself a feminist and show limited understanding of or interest in equality or justice.

It’s a meaningless distinction, highlighted by anyone tempted to respond to my reductio ad absurdum argument above with “oh but it’s a broad church”.

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Home: an indie horror game

A few weeks ago, my brother kindly gifted me a game from my Steam wishlist, because he is a love like that.

It was Home by Benjamin Rivers.

It’s a beautifully atmospheric pixelly thing, which creates a really spooky atmosphere through sound, confusion and limited visibility. Who are you? Where are you? What are you doing? What have you done?

I spent about 40 minutes playing this. I will have to play it again. It’s a very simple thing, old school adventure style, you wander from place to place through doors up stairs down ladders through gates – investigating various items along your way, piecing together a story, somehow. You get the feeling you’re adding two and two to make two and a half.

The items you do or don’t collect, the areas you do or don’t investigate, the choices you make, the places you go – they all lead to a final conclusion. Based on what you’ve pieced together your character comes to some conclusion about what has happened and what he needs to do next. You get the feeling he’s kidding himself.

At the end, after the character’s final monologue, you are prompted to tell your story of what happened. At this stage I threw a few words down about what my wife did and what I did about it, then pootled off to see what everyone else had written.

I was surprised to see such variation – this was where I realised how much I hadn’t seen, and how many alternative conclusions there could be. It’s not clear, of course, whether all these conclusions are prompted by the game, or how much has been extrapolated by the players. I’ll have to play again, perhaps several times, to find out.

Will I? I will definitely play again, but I’m not sure if I’ll play again more than once. There’s a fair bit of corridor trekking and basement/dungeon diving – and tap turning. None of this felt annoying the first time round, but I’m conscious that some aspects may not be too conducive to several playthroughs. This may say more about me though – I don’t have huge amounts of time in big chunks, and since the game will not allow you to save, insisting on you completing it in one sitting, I may struggle.

I was surprised to see so much negativity in the discussion board on the Steam game hub – it seems several people found the game boring and plotless. I don’t agree on either count. Several people declared it “not a game”. That seems particularly odd to me. Yes, I have a small penchant for really non-game super-pretentious art-wank games, so perhaps my bar for what constitutes a game is hung in a particularly odd position – but Home contains everything I’d expect in the most harshly defined “game”. Interactivity, outcomes, choice, narrative. What is missing?

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Looking for the holes

Ani DiFranco’s album Not So Soft contains a song called Looking For The Holes.

“I am looking for the holes
the holes in your jeans
because I want to know
are they worn out in the seat
or are they worn out in the knees?”

I remember first hearing it, and wondering what this telltale sign said about me. My jeans always wore out in the bum. Specifically, a massive wide gash in the left bum cheek. This had been true since school, where I used to ‘repair’ the damage with safety pins.

As my life has changed from the sedentary workaday drudgery of my twenties to this new life chasing my toddler around, playing, exploring, the story told by my jeans has changed too. The knees wear through, while the seat remains intact. 

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Skyrim – Halldir’s Cairn quest bug

I’ve not seen this wee buglet in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim mentioned anywhere else, so I thought I’d make a note of it here.

Halldir’s Cairn is the location of a couple of quests, so I’m led to believe. I was there to Find Rjorn’s Drum but you may find yourself directed there to collect something else.

I found a few bugs on this quest mentioned around (I searched as I was having trouble, as I’ll describe) – one where the pillars don’t work and the solution is to reload the area, and one where Halldir spawns invisibly in triplicate. This one however is on trying to kill the last of the Halldir copies. I’d knocked him down inside the light from the cavern below, on top of the trapdoor. I’m not sure whether the location of the collapse is relevant, or if it’s because my weapon is enchanted with paralysis – but a body was there. It wasn’t dead – it was showing about 40% health, but no amount of further bashing with my war hammer would kill it. It also didn’t call itself Halldir any more – it was listed as Draugr Scourge or similar.

I was baffled. I couldn’t kill the last Halldir (or loot him for his staff), and I couldn’t open the trapdoor to escape. The way in was blocked – Lydia was trapped behind iron bars there, along with her summoned Atronach, jeering redundantly at this semi corpse in limbo.

Having no idea what to do, I consulted the internet, but came up with nothing.

In the end, I just shouted at the body with Unrelenting Force. This seemed to get it back into it’s fighting cycle, and stand up so I could kill it. I guess it was the death that released the trapdoor.

So, if you find yourself with a troublingly undead enemy that can’t be shifted, try shouting at it.

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Is piracy dead? On piracy and indie devs.

Today, I spotted this tweet from Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell which caused some thoughts to flicker across my brain:

excitement somewhat dulled by the number of 'omg, thomas was alone looks cool! Torrenting now!' tweets.


I was very excited about the release of Thomas Was Alone – the game looked clever and fun and right up my street, and the soundtrack by David Housden, judging by the trailer (voiced by Danny Wallace, no less), was going to be awesome. However, when it came to the release date, it turned out that due to a temporary cash flow failure, I had no spare money.

I did not purchase the game, because I couldn’t.

However, the interesting part is that I also didn’t pirate it. Why not? I don’t know. For some reason (or intersection of reasons) it didn’t cross my mind to pirate it. Perhaps because I KNEW I would love it, perhaps because I KNEW I would buy it eventually, and perhaps because I also knew that Mike is the kind of guy I’d like to support (aka the kind of guy I don’t want to rip off). Maybe none of these reasons. Maybe because the ease of purchasing games via Steam and their frequent super cheap sales (and the lovely Savy Gamer run by the equally lovely Lewie Procter) mean that game piracy rarely crosses my mind these days.

I’m quite intrigued as to why I didn’t think to pirate it, what it means for me, and what it means for Mike and other game developers.

I have pirated games before. Nine times out of ten, after pirating a game, I then made a purchase of said game. There are a couple of examples that spring to mind that can illustrate this.

1. Pirates vs. Zombies – released 2009

Reason for pirating game:
As it was by the same people who did Bejewelled, I presumed it would be a half-arsed casual affair, not worth more to me than 99p if even that. However I wanted to give it a try at least.

Reason for subsequently purchasing game:
It was awesome! I got hours of fun out of it! My preconceptions were wrong and I felt like a tool because of them.

2. Quake 4 – released 2005

Reason for pirating game:
I wanted to play it RIGHT NOW and it was not available to purchase RIGHT NOW however it was available for illegal downloading RIGHT NOW so that’s what I did RIGHT NOW.

The game was obviously on the slow boat over the Atlantic

Reason for subsequently purchasing game:
Even if it was actually a bit crap, I had always loved the franchise with all my heart. I had played it and finished it and wanted to acknowledge that with a purchase. I never even took the physical disk out of the box.

Back to Thomas Was Alone. It was released earlier this year (2012) and there were no silly regional restrictions to prevent a purchase, and no silly DRM restrictions to suggest that piracy would be a better option.

Having not pirated the game, I then did not subsequently purchase it when I had available cash. Why not? There were then no real barriers. I honestly think that had I pirated the game I would have DEFINITELY purchased it by now. Having played it, it would be fresh in my head. Having enjoyed it, I’d be feeling appreciative of the game and actually wanting to show that support with my wallet. I’d be quite likely to purchase extra copies for my siblings.

So. In this case, had I actually been heartless enough to pirate the game, Mike Bithell would have had more cash.

Long live piracy! Long live indie devs!

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Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

I made a cake. Polly hated it. You may or may not.



180g bourbon biscuits, blitzed. This was half a pack, less one – you know, to check they were ok.

75g butter, melted.

750g mascarpone. I actually used 500g plus 100g own brand soft cheese and a tablespoon of creme fraische.

4 limes – zest and juice.

5 tablespoons icing sugar. Depending on your personal taste you may want to start with four, taste after mixing and add more if you think.

Chocolate to decorate. I melted 2 squares of 70% cocoa in and bag, intending to pipe a pattern on. The “pattern” turned out to be uneven blobs.


Mix the melted butter into the blitzed bourbon biscuits. When it feels sufficiently muddy, spread over the bottom of a 20cm tin of appropriate type to later release the cake. Flatten. Fridge the tin.

Blitz the mascarpone (or substitutes), lime juice, icing sugar and lime zest (you may wish to reserve some for decoration), then smear over the chilled base. Smooth the top, and refrigerate again.

Chill for about 4 hours. At some point before serving, decorate the top. I botched it with melted chocolate and threw on remaining lime zest.

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