Category Archives: The Android’s Horn-Rimmed Glasses (Indie)

SteamWorld Dig

Today I’d like to bring a little game to your attention called SteamWorld Dig. Basically it’s almost what would happen if you mixed an ARPG (Diablo, Torchlight) with a 2D crafting game (Terraria, Starbound).

Keyword being: Almost.

SteamWorld Dig is a little more lightweight than any of those games. The “crafting” is about 99% digging, and the ARPG aspect is mostly present in how you have a hub that you visit between dungeon dives. It’s not exactly the most complex game ever.

And yet it is fun. Really, really fun.

Also you get to play a steampunk robot.

…okay, it’s not quite as cool as that one. But. Still. It’s tough to go wrong with a steampunk robot protagonist.

I would really love to see the devs take this game, well… deeper (sorry) and really delve into the crafting side of things as well as the ARPG side of things. If this game has shown me anything, it’s that a true mashup of those two genres would be amazing. But until then, SteamWorld Dig is available on a variety of platforms (including, but not limited to, Windows, Linux, PS4, and Nintendo 3DS) and it’s well worth a look. Warning: once you start playing you probably won’t stop for a few hours.

Snag it on Steam!

Waking Mars is On Sale and Worth It

Right now you can get a little game called Waking Mars for $1.99 over at GOG (or $2.00 over at Steam). This is a steal. I’ve talked about this game before and I recommend reading that article for a good overview.

Basically it’s sort of a puzzle game and sort of a platformer and sort of Metroidvania but mostly it’s about exploration and being relaxed.

And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn't great.  (Hint: You can't.)
And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn’t great. (Hint: You can’t.)

TLDR: GET IT ON GOG or GET IT ON STEAM or GET IT ON THE ITUNES STORE. Not even kidding you guys: this is a good one.


A few days ago one-man indie outfit Shining Rock Studios published their medieval city builder Banished, a game which I had been looking forward to since coming across it a few months ago. So after spending a few days messing with it and giving a couple of villages a go, I’m here to give you my report on the thing.

I want to begin with by observing that Banished is, for me, a highly polished product. I have encountered no crashes, no slowdown, and no bugs, even of a graphical nature. It’s a small thing really, but it’s both impressive and a little damning that a one-man outfit can produce a game which in this regard is up to snuff where huge mexabux companies sometimes seem to struggle with it. Obviously my experience is an anecdote and in no way representative, but still nice to see.

Now to the game itself. You start with a handful of villagers, some food and tools and clothes and, depending on your difficulty level, a few starting buildings and useful things like seeds and livestock. Your task is very simple: survive. You do this by building houses, making coats, and chopping firewood to keep warm, by hunting, fishing, gathering, and farming to provide food, and by establishing the secondary industries needed to perform those tasks most efficiently, like making sure you have an educated populace using good tools, and making sure they’re healthy by providing a good mix of foodstuffs and having some medicinal herbs on hand. And you have to carefully balance and plan, otherwise you’ll be in some trouble. Expand too fast? People starve. Expand too slow? People don’t have enough kids to create the next generation. Not enough firewood and winter coats? People freeze to death. Plus there are disasters like fires and tornadoes, and they can really do a number on you. It’s a game about survival, and survival can be a brutal struggle.

A pleasant, bustling idyll. Until a tornado arrives.
A pleasant, bustling idyll. Until a tornado arrives.

One of the words I’ve seen in connection with this game is “shallow”. This game has no overarching goal beyond survival, there’s no kings to overthrow or Orcs to fight off (no combat of any kind), there’s no grand monuments to build, your only task is to keep your village going and grow it as much as you can. It’s refreshing in its simplicity and for the most part I like the lack of direction as precisely what a good city builder should provide, but it does go a bit too far in that direction, I think. There needs to be at least some higher-tier content to work towards; a grand cathedral, a big phallic monument, stuff like that. There also needs to be a bit more in the way of random decorative stuff like trees and small statues and whatnot. This sort of thing would be pretty pointless in the early game, but would help prettify your city a lot, and isn’t that what a city builder is ultimately all about?

I’m a little hesitant to just call the game shallow and leave it at that though. It’s a solid, compact title that I’ve already more than got my money’s worth out of, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a game in the genre, especially those burned by SimCity 2013. It’s by no means perfect, there are some balancing issues to work out, and the pathfinding probably needs to be tightened up. There definitely needs to be more content of some sort as well, but the dev has voiced support for modding and hopefully we’ll be seeing modding tools soon to aid in that. All in all I don’t expect this game to overcome SimCity 4 for city builder addictiveness, but it’s a very nice starting point that’s entirely playable right now and will, with some time and affection, almost certainly grow into something really special.

Y’all can get Banished on Steam, or, or from the Shining Rock site directly:

Waking Mars Is How to Make a Good Casual Game

Recently, a game called Waking Mars went on Steam sale for a steal (and it still is on sale, by the way!) Because it had “Mars” in the title, I decided to snap it up. This, my friends, was a very wise decision. This game is more than worth the $2.50 I forked over for it. Basically, this is how you make a casual game.

It’s sort of a platformer, except you have a jetpack. And it’s sort of puzzle game, but none of the “puzzles” ever leave you frustrated. Basically the game is about exploring underground Martian caves, learning about (and growing and breeding) bizarre alien species, talking to your AI bro, and in general being comfy. Yes, this is a comfy game.

We are gonna get comfy.
We are gonna get comfy.

This isn’t a triple-A title by any means and the game is easy to pick up and learn but this by no means makes it shallow. You actually have an neat little story going on that keeps you interested throughout, and between this and the research you can do on various lifeforms (and the subsequent notes you can read), the game has a surprising amount of depth for what it is. Humor is here too, thanks to your AI companion, and so is a certain amount of thoughtfulness thanks to the main character. Speaking of the main character, he’s Chinese, and the only other human character in the game is a black woman. This isn’t made a big deal, it just… is, like any other normal thing, and I like how it’s done like that. It reminds me of Star Trek and it’s nice to see some variety in games.

Overall this is a fun and extremely relaxing romp through a mysterious and alien world and I really cannot stress how much of a steal the current sale price is. The game is also available for Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, Android, and probably an old toaster too, so you really don’t have an excuse not to snag this game. I mean, really, look at this and tell me this doesn’t make you want to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before:


Yeah, I thought so.

Buy it on Steam or at the website!

On Game Development and Rusing

A small game which came out recently hit the headlines for a reason that wasn’t to do with the game itself so much as the game’s response to piracy. It’s pretty hilarious! But let’s have a word about the game itself before we get into that.

Game Dev Tycoon takes its cues from Game Dev Story, an iOS/Android game wherein you control a videogame development house with the intent of making money and great games. I’ve not played GDS but GDT is a very enjoyable little game that’s well worth the few bucks it costs to get – in fact it’s got one of the better money-to-time ratios of games I’ve recently shelled out for. The game starts you out in around 1980, working out of your garage, making games for the C64 era – you decide on the theme and genre, hopefully ones that go well together (Although I did once put out a Fashion RTS that sold surprisingly well) you choose various base options such as whether the game will be text based or 2D or what have you, and then you assign time to various aspects of development, so you can spend loads of time writing backstory at the expense of graphics. Then you watch your little girl or guy beaver away as the game gets made, and it gets sent out for review and release – your choices in development influence how well it does, and high review scores translate into high sales, and that means money – allowing you to invest that much more into your next game!

Where GDT triumphs is that it is constantly tantalizing you with some new aspect you can work with in your games. Your first few games will be very simple affairs but soon you’ll be able to knock together an engine that affords you more choices, better graphics and sound options, and so forth. New consoles will start to come out, loving parodies of real ones such as the Vintendo Super TES, and different systems tend to appreciate different genres and so on. Then you’ll move into a small office, which is where the game really opens up as you can hire new staff, train yourself and them, and start making bigger and better games. Ultimately you can create MMOs, put out your own consoles, invent a Steam-equivalent, and spend tens of millions on Triple-A games that take your team a year to make only to result in 5/10s across the board and imminent bankruptcy.

>mfw upon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.
>mfupon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.

Indeed, the main failing I can point to in this game is that there’s just not enough of it, which is hardly fair to say of something made by a two-man outfit and is faint damnation anyway. But I do hope they think about an expansion pack or at least some more patches, just to increase your choices and options. Anyway as I said it’s an enjoyable little game and if you’ve got a few bucks and want something that doesn’t strain the brain but will keep you engaged for awhile, there’re worse choices than this.

Now, let’s talk about how I heard about the thing – as an indie game it’s obviously going to struggle to get much media attention, but a very clever little play on the devs’ part got it out there like whoa. See, the devs – brothers Patrick and Daniel Klug – were well aware they would suffer from piracy when this game hit the torrents, but rather than making a lot of bluster or seeking out an attackdog lawyer they did something subtler and cleverer. What they did is upload the thing to torrent sites themselves. Crazy, right? Well the thing is the version they uploaded played normally up to a point, but after awhile in-game you would start getting messages about how all your games are being pirated and you’d start losing money due to it no matter how good your games are. You wouldn’t be able to finish the game due to this, instead going into ignominious bankruptcy.

So, this is a pretty neat solution anyway because it’s essentially a fairly decently sized demo that might encourage a few purchases they wouldn’t otherwise get. The real comedy gold started when people on the forums began to complain about the pirates in-game, as apparently self-awareness is something some people utterly, totally lack. Perhaps the greatest line I’ve seen written is the simple, plaintive question, “I mean can I research DRM or something?” Beautiful. You can take a proper look at the whole story on the dev’s blog here if you’re interested, it’s well worth a read if you want a laugh!

Prison Architect or, Jesus Christ How Did You Smuggle A Shotgun In Here

Introversion, makers of widely-acclaimed games such as DEFCON and Darwinia, are currently working on their newest game, called Prison Architect. In another case of games being accurately named, in PA your job is to design and run a penitentiary, somewhat in the vein of Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital. But the comparison isn’t totally accurate because although Prison Architect has a fairly goofy graphical style it plays the prison theme fairly straight, unsettlingly so at times.

The basic premise is as you’d expect from any such management game – you need an array of services (divided into rooms in this case) such as cells, kitchens, canteens, admin offices, etc., and you need to plan these out in a way that is efficient with regards to the space you’ve got to work with, your finances, and to ensure things run smoothly. This last point is where Prison Architect is clever and differs from a lot of similar games. Prisoners, of course, are not there by choice. Many of them are there for violent offences, and the stresses of prison life will mean they’re often close to breaking point and minor provocations can set them off. Prison Architect is rare, perhaps even unique, in that rather than designing a theme park people want to visit or a hospital people want to move through easily, you’re fighting against your inmates insofar as you’re trying to keep them in the prison and out of trouble.

Shape up Hannevig or you're back in Solitary!
Shape up Hennevig or you’re back in Solitary!

This creates a lot of interesting dynamics that work against each other to create tension. You want a prison that keeps your inmates in, but you also want one that minimized time spent moving around and which your staff can navigate easily. You want to keep your prisoners out of trouble, but the same gentle hand that might reduce their propensity for it will also make it more difficult to rein in if trouble does start. Conversely if you’re a brutal sonofabitch that seems fine to begin with, but your inmates will find a way to express their anger and then you’ll have to repair their toilets or replace their beds or even inform some guard’s family that he’s a goner.

Part of the reason PA is a fascinating game is of course the subject matter. Introversion have said they intend to tackle most of the issues which might arise in a prison – violence, gangs, smuggling, and so far that does seem to be borne out. It stands in contrast to games like Theme Hospital, as disease and death are serious issues but can’t be taken terribly seriously when the diseases are things like Bloaty Head Syndrome and Hairyitis. In this game your inmates are there for crimes like armed robbery, murder, and assault, and the tutorial revolves around a repentant man being sent to the chair. It’s rather affecting stuff and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the game tackles these issues at it continues to develop and more mechanics are implemented.

You may also be interested in watching this presentation by the Introversion devs; it’s a fascinating look at where PA came from and what they’re hoping to do with it.

Prison Architect is still in alpha, and it’s rather pricey for an alpha, but it’s already a very enjoyable and playable game and it’s from an eminently talented developer. If management games of this sort are your thing then rejoice, because there’s finally a good new one in the works.

I don’t want to know where Lim was hiding that knife whilst naked.

Drox Operative

Hey gang, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? Very sorry about that, but with Pike and myself both writing books, her getting a new computer, and various Christmas stuff we’ve both been somewhat busy. Still, here is a post now, and it’s an important one because it’s about a damn good game!

Soldak probably isn’t the best-known name in gaming, which is a crying shame. They generally work in the ARPG field and two of their previous games – Depths of Peril and Din’s Curse – have been pretty well received by those who have played them. I do not number among those yet but I will soon because Drox Operative is pretty amazing. See, whilst Soldak’s games are very solid ARPGs in and of themselves, they’re also trying to do some new and interesting things with the genre. Let’s talk about Din’s Curse first of all.

In that game, you play a typical adventurer type off to conquer dungeons, kill bosses, and get great loot. So far so normal, but here’s the twist: The world is doing stuff while you are doing stuff. While you’re in a dungeon looking for something, the Big Bad at the bottom might open a portal to the town and kill everyone so you have to rush back to try and stop this. And you can fail, and your quest progress is for naught. Or you can partly succeed and only some people survive. Move on to another (randomly-generated) town and setting and deal.

Drox Operative is even more ambitious.


You are an eponymous Drox Operative – a secretive and powerful mercenary agent who flies around the galaxy doing stuff. The thing is that the setting isn’t a premade one, nor is it just a regular randomly generated one. The setting is actually a 4X game which is going on all the time no matter what you’re up to, and you’re one part in that. You’re an important, sometimes pivotal part, but you’re not the only one and whilst you can certainly swing things around for a race on the back foot, you may not have the same ability if they’re on the ropes entirely. The various races – and there are an abundance – hire you to do exactly the sort of stuff that tends to not exist in a typical 4X; go clean that pirate nest out. Go deal with this one Space Asshole. Go shuttle some stuff between our worlds. That’s the “early game” stuff, where you’ll do less dangerous and difficult quests to build up relations with a race; then things will likely kick off and they’ll want your help with the big boy fights. Or you can just try to make nice with everyone, or you can go make loads of money instead if you want, as there’s more than one way to win (and lose).

If the game was just a regular randomly generated ARPG it’d be more than worth getting – it’s a damn solid game with a huge amount of things to try and a fuckton of different item types that give you a startling degree of customization options. Putting the player into a dynamic world which can be influenced and played around with and never controlled quite as completely as you’d like elevates it to downright genius territory.

It’s not a perfect game by any means. There are some interface and control issues, a few of the controls aren’t really intuitive, and the graphics, music, and sounds are serviceable rather than particularly good. None of this detracts significantly from the extraordinarily solid game at the core of this thing and if you want a good dose of ARPG after burning out on Torchlight II, this is one of the best options out there right now.

You can buy Drox Operative from the Soldak website for the absurd price of US$20. If you’re like me you’ll feel like you may have committed a crime getting it so cheap.

FTL: Faster Than Light

Recently released was a small indie game named FTL, or Faster Than Light, and after an eight-hour stint of WoW yesterday (WHY) I grabbed it and began to play. Then I went to bed very late. This is some SERIOUSLY addictive stuff right here.

FTL is described as a “spaceship simulation real-time roguelike-like”. This isn’t an inaccurate description. The premise is that you are the captain of a Federation starship carrying vital intelligence to put down a massive rebellion, and you’ve got to make it back to Federation space to deliver it. You do so by travelling across a number of sectors in space, jumping from star to star and investigating or dealing with whatever you find at each one, be it a station in distress, a trader, a pirate, a pirate disguised as a pirate, and so forth. Always trying to stay one step ahead of the rebels, who will sweep across each sector as you cross it and give you a serious incentive to press on.

But of course each consecutive sector is tougher and contains stronger threats, so you also want to explore and see what you can gather in order to upgrade your ship (Or just repair it after the inevitable damage you take), recruit new crewmembers, and so forth. When you’re in combat is when the real fun begins, and it’s the part that they mean when they say “real-time”. You have to juggle a number of things going on at once, directing your crew to the posts you need manned (Most things operate without crew, but they can make it work better and they can gain experience to increase this further) or reacting to various things occurring shipboard such as fires breaking out, systems taking damaged, or boarders teleporting over. Meanwhile you’ve got to decide how to use your various weapons against the enemy, what to target, whether to use or conserve missiles, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t look like much but once you’re in there it gets pretty freaking tense and engaging.

Things get way more frenetic than you might expect

At almost every star you visit you will be presented with a short text event requiring you to make a decision. Do you try and help that civilian ship under attack by pirates, or hope to sneak past? Do you want to investigate that abandoned station or just move on? These events form one of the cores of the game, and the whole thing depends on decisions you make in one way or another. They also tend to consist of the good old standbys of shows like Star Trek, so if you’ve ever wanted to deal with various unpleasant space gribblies, this is the game for you!

As for the “roguelike” appellation, well. This is some random shit right here. Your starting ship is predefined but almost everything after that, from the weapons you might find at a store to the events you encounter to the sectors within the galaxy itself is randomized. Some games will give you an easy time, some will bend you over and make you squeal like a schoolgirl on prom night. This is a game to be played and replayed, not played through once and put aside; each play will probably last under an hour and each time what you largely gain is knowledge and experience (You, the player, that is) although there are some unlocks that mix things up a good deal.

It’s also a game of hubris. Some boarders have teleported over and are attacking your weapons bay? Well we’ll just see how they like it if I vent all the air. Heh. Oh crap, their ship just blew up my O2 room. And now they’ve sabotaged my door controls so I can’t close the airlocks again. Now I’ve got to try and repair the O2 room AND door control with the air supply rapidly depleting and oh everyone is dead. The game explicitly tells you to be prepared to lose, and like any roguelike or Dwarf Fortress, that’s an attitude you’ll need to get very far with this. Losing is Fun. Still, Losing can Hurt as well, though funnily enough total defeat hurts less than losing a single crewmember can. Just between their name and a few experience-based stats you can grow attached to the little guys, and when one gets killed I tend to feel some guilt and sorrow – “Mattz was with us from the start, he saved the ship more than once! And I let him die!”

You can grab it now from Steam or and I highly recommend you do so, it’s only the price of a movie ticket and you’ll get much more fun from this. EDIT: Thanks to commenter neothoron, who pointed out that you can also get FTL from the game’s official website for Windows/OSX/Linux, comes with a Steam key, and is DRM-free.

Orcs Must Die! 2

I’n honestly not sure whether having that “2” after the “!” is sending my sperging into overdrive or is tickling my fancy, but there you have it. Good game though.

Well that was a short review.

Okay okay seriously though! I picked up the original OMD! in the Steam Sale recently and it was something I really fell in love with very rapidly. It’s not a complex game in principle; in fact the title pretty much sums it up. It’s a quasi tower-defense game, setting up traps and guardians like archers to prevent Orcs and their assorted allies from reaching the ‘Rift’. The twist is that you aren’t a detached overseer, you’re a character down in the trenches and you can run around fighting the Orcs yourself as well as having all the traps doing their thing.

It is, in short, the bastard love-child of Kagero: Deception II and Tower Defense. It’s from a small studio, and in a couple of ways this shows in the sequel, but overall they have made some very solid improvements to the game. There is an array of new traps and tools to use, the new Sorceress character has a rather different playstyle from the War Mage due to her charm ability, and there are of course new traps and levels. Perhaps my biggest negative mark against this game is the small number of the latter, but it is redeemed somewhat by both the Endless and Classic modes, the former containing some levels that aren’t in the story and the latter being levels from the first game that can be played now with all your new toys (though only if you own the first one).

It’s a tr… oh you know where this is going, finish the line yourself!

It certainly doesn’t revolutionize the series, but it is a very solid sequel that I’ve already played even more than the original. Endless mode is especially compelling, and the new mix of traps, environmental hazards, and enemies means that although the game isn’t really difficult most of the time, getting 5-skull ratings on some levels requires some calculation and thinking on your part. Another change is that doing levels again nets you more skulls, so you’re not limited like you were in the first game, but it will still take some time to get everything up to where you want it, upgrades wise! (And the upgrades are far more involved this time around, replacing the Weavers entirely). A worthy sequel to a great game? That’s really all we can ask for!

Buy Orcs Must Die! 2 if you enjoy quick, fun blasts of cartoonish violence and one of the better protagonists of the medium in the form of the War Mage.

Oh and there’s co-op too if you’re one of those freakishly disposed people who has friends.

The Damage Thus Far

So lemme put it this way: I smashed through my entire “Steam Sale” budget by Day Five.  Obviously this hasn’t stopped me from buying anything further, but let’s just say that I’ve spent a rather lot of money so far.

It has occurred to me that I need to buy a Spongebob Wallet.

Of all the stuff I’ve gotten so far, here are some of the ones I’ve been enjoying the most:

The Legend of Grimrock: Fun dungeon crawling oldschool RPG that eschews silly things like maps in favor of you bumbling around lost and attacking giant snails.  All of the charm of old dungeon-crawls from back in the day.

Train Simulator 2012: No, I’m not kidding.  This game is great.  Especially if you’re a sim game grognard who gets excited by the thought of playing a travel game in real-time, so if it takes an hour to go from Point A to Point B in real life, you’d better believe it will take you an hour to do so in game.  With “Simple Controls” activated, this game is in the vein of classics such as Desert Bus, except you can pause and do things like start and stop.  This is more endearing than it sounds and this game easily devoured three hours of my time right after buying it.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: A game which I haven’t touched since it launched almost a decade ago and I played it on the Xbox.  I’d really forgotten how much fun this game is and what was originally going to be an “I’ll dink around for an hour and feel some nostalgia feels” game has turned into several hours of a legitimate playthrough.  Let’s just hope Carth stops wanting to talk about his feelings at some point.  (He won’t.)

Orcs Must Die!: I’ve actually yet to play this one (the curse of buying so many games at one time), but my dear associate Mister Adequate swears up and down that this game is amazing and fun.  Considering his raucous laughter over Skype whenever he plays it, I’ll take his word for it.

What sorts of gems have you picked up with the sale?