ArbitraryWater

Dragon Age Retrospective Soon. It's going to be slightly too long for its own good, just like the game itself!

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The Tower of Dubious Horror Games 01-03: Boats, Bears, Biohazards

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Welcome to the new age of dubious. The new age of terror. The new age of streaming gimmick formats because I was tired of being subject to a randomizer wheel and wanted to mix things up. It’s time for THE TOWER OF DUBIOUS HORROR GAMES. More structure, less chaos! More democracy, less transparency! More full playthroughs, less two hour introductions to RPGs! That’s right, it’s up to me to climb, traverse, or otherwise navigate this categorical calamity using my wits, cunning, and audience voting. The current categories (which may or may not be switched out upon my leisure) are:

  • Horror(bitrary)Water: A surprising number of horror games feature aquatic themes! If it’s on a boat, if there’s a significant amount of wet, or if fish are involved, it probably goes here?
  • The Real Terror Was Dubious All Along: What defines a horror game? What makes something “scary?” If you said “actually a video game of dubious quality is scary in and of itself” then this category is a catch-all for that, I guess! Sometimes I want variety.
  • Actual Good Video Games: Because not all horror games are dubious, I swear.
  • The Curse of Beloved Franchises: There are several video game franchises that spring to mind when one envisions “horror.” Not all of the games released under those names are great.
  • Visual Novels Can Be Scary Too: Read along with your friend ArbitraryWater as you learn just exactly how many visual novels and spooky RPGmaker VNs one can go through before pants are shat (in fear. Not for other reasons)
  • Licenses… of DEATH: sometimes horror games are based on horror films. A novel concept!
  • Sega NightmareCast: The scariest console of them all, the Sega Dreamcast. A surprising number of weird-ass horror games only exist on this console! YOU BET I'M GONNA LOOK AT EM ALL, JESSIFER.
  • Clonk Tower: an entire category devoted to justifying the $50 I spent on a secondhand CIB copy of Clock Tower 3. Anyway, um, I guess you hide from a scissor man or something.
  • Respect the Classics… or else!: Only the creakiest, oldest, most crustiest of spooky video games in here! Haunted House for the Atari 2600, is that you? (probably not)
  • Actual Garbage: Fox Only, Final Destination, No Items. Just dubious.

Watching my streams LIVE gives you the opportunity to determine the course of my horror streams. When I finish (or tap out of) a game, you will determine my route through this terrifying tower of torment! Depending on how hard I wanna go down the hustle hole (ew), there might also be follower and/or subscriber incentives. Should be fun, yeah?

Cold Fear

I literally could not tell you the name of redvest mc coast guard, but I assume it's something very american and cool and definitely not something thought up by a french development studio
I literally could not tell you the name of redvest mc coast guard, but I assume it's something very american and cool and definitely not something thought up by a french development studio

Category: Horror(bitrary)Water

Developer: Darkworks

Release Date: March 15, 2005

Time Played: Somewhere under five hours

Troubleshooting: Fan Widescreen Fix. I had to disable my second monitor so the ad-hoc controller setup I made worked.

Dubiosity: 2 out of 5

Number of times I sang the Lonely Island song “I’m on a boat” on stream: Twice

Would I play again? naw

I don’t have a ton to say about Cold Fear. It’s maybe the most “We have a Resident Evil 4 at home” game imaginable, given its release proximity in early 2005 and presence on Xbox, PS2, and PC. See, this game is from the same team responsible for Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare a game I played to completion last year and would just like to briefly touch on since it's basically half the inspiration for this feature existing at all. AITD: The New Nightmare is a weird, recursive mess of a video game. In the same way Wasteland 2 and 3 are inspired by Fallout 1 and 2, which were inspired by the original Wasteland, so too is The New Nightmare a weird riff on Resident Evil, which itself was inspired by... the original Alone in the Dark trilogy. Shit's weird. It's also an attempt to launch the series into franchise potential, with a bunch of ominous, poorly-delivered plot threads which are vaguely followed up in the 2008 Alone in the Dark revival (which, don't worry, we'll get to.) The most notable thing about it might just be the part where I literally had to do no troubleshooting whatsoever to get the GOG version to play nicely with OBS, but otherwise it's a mediocre trifle best avoided.

As Darkworks' follow-up game, Cold Fear dares to ask “What if Resident Evil had boat physics?” and goes from there. It's also a significantly better game than New Nightmare. As AmericanMcCoastGuard it’s your job to run back and forth between a handful of rooms on a spooky Russian oil tanker in an entirely linear fashion. In a feature I HAVE to imagine was riffed from pre-release versions of Resident Evil 4, it’s got mostly fixed camera angles but switches to over-the-shoulder when you’re aiming, but the actual layout and progression never becomes trickier than running around, grabbing one key item, and then going back to another room to use said key item. It doesn’t even have save rooms, it just has set places in the story where it asks if you’d like to save.

It’s a surprisingly playable, competent affair, which is more than I can say for a lot of other stuff I’ve touched. Don't confuse that for something you should run out and play, but as an introductory experience to this feature I'm happy it started basic. It’s also a game with exactly two ideas, both of which it uses throughout the entirety of its run. The first is aforementioned boat physics, and the fact that to kill the not-plagas infecting the crew, you need to go for the head. Always. The lack of a map is probably the game’s way of trying to feel longer than it is, but it also means at no point did it ever overstay its welcome. That's probably also why the whole thing fails to stick out in my brain, being DEEPLY UNMEMORABLE, but it's some extreme B-tier, 6/10 energy exuding from this entire product.

A bunch of random licensed games my roommate had in a binder

Help I've invested hundreds of dollar into the ability to play retro games on an HDTV without them looking like garbage and I'm using that power to play the worst bullshit
Help I've invested hundreds of dollar into the ability to play retro games on an HDTV without them looking like garbage and I'm using that power to play the worst bullshit

Category: The Real Terror Was Dubious All Along

Developer: Various

Release Date: Somewhere between 2003 and 2007

Time Played: anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour for each of them

Dubiosity: Golden Compass: 4, Eragon: 4, Revenge of the Sith: 3, Return of the King: 2

DMCA claims to date: none, surprisingly

Would I play more? Maybe one day we’ll give Return of the King another look. Otherwise, nah.

Licensed movie tie-in video games! They used to exist, now they don’t, at least not in the same way! This is not a tragedy. This is not something we need to mourn or be nostalgic about. If my podcast episode on Lord of the Rings: The Third Age wasn’t proof enough, there’s no better example of this than the quick survey of four movie tie-in games I borrowed from my roommate. In this accursed CD Binder, I found video games based on two commercially unsuccessful, critically panned fantasy book adaptations and two of the highest grossing films of the 2000s? Sure, that’s a decent mix. At least, a decent enough mix for me to get threeish hours of quality entertainment out of the lot.

Eragon and Gold Compass are both late enough to also be for PS3 and 360, but I bet they still look like muddy garbage on those too!
Eragon and Gold Compass are both late enough to also be for PS3 and 360, but I bet they still look like muddy garbage on those too!

The thing that struck out to me is how much these game tie-ins all have in common. There’s the scuffed realistic art direction which just looks like mud, the soundalike voice actors (except Return of the King, which managed to get most of the cast in a recording booth for a day or two), the pained attempts to turn 5 minute movie scenes and set-pieces into 30 minute video game levels. Somehow, all four of these games are just brawlers. Pre-God of War character action titles, I guess I’d say. Complexity, mobility, or really any sort of combo potential are far beyond their reach, but by golly can you press a short string of face buttons together and stuff will happen. Sure, there are force powers and brisingrs and maybe a jump, but for the most part you’re doing the prehistoric equivalent of a square square triangle, but without the part where you can hold the triangle to do a launcher afterward.

Even The Golden Compass, the odd one out in this quartet, still opens with the most awkwardly animated armored polar bear fighting you’ve ever seen in your damn life. I don’t remember a thing about those books other than vaguely thinking they were the YA novel equivalent to r/atheism, but I’m going to guess they didn’t involve quite as many polar bear fights. Thankfully, after the action packed introduction, including fighting some sort of Inuit-looking shaman and his ghost wolves(?) the bad platforming and stealth elements became more apparent when you *aren’t* playing as the polar bear. Which is about where I tapped out.

alas, I don't have friends willing to play Return of the King with me, but you can assume we'd have an alright time if I did.
alas, I don't have friends willing to play Return of the King with me, but you can assume we'd have an alright time if I did.

I don’t really have much to say about the other three games, other than thinking Return of the King probably seems like the most playable of them. Alas, going back to it now, it’s not quite the banger I remember from 2003. Don’t get me wrong, It’s resoundingly good compared to the other three games I played for this feature, but between the surprisingly difficult insta-kill segments, groups of enemies swarming the player from off-camera, and less-than-generous checkpointing, it’s also “of its era” in a way I’m increasingly lukewarm of. At least it has FMV interviews with the cast, in case you’d like to know that Sean Astin is apparently the worst at video games. Please enjoy me narrating the cutscenes to avoid showing movie footage on screen when I get to that part of the stream

This is also the stealth launch of my sunday show, currently called “Sunday Scan Converter Supertime” which is my ill-intended method of justifying owning this RetroTink 5x Pro. I have a bunch of Gamecube, PS2, and Wii games here, ready to go and show themselves in beautiful (?) 1080p dark magic upscale. Wait, if I plug the PS3 in and use it to play PS1 and PS2 games does this also count? I guess we’ll see.

Resident Evil Dead Aim (AKA Gun Survivor 4: Biohazard - Heroes Never Die)

This cover art and the save room theme are all this game has going for it.
This cover art and the save room theme are all this game has going for it.

Category: Horror(bitrary)Water and Curse of Beloved Franchises

Developer: Cavia

Release Date: June 17, 2003 (happy 19th anniversary, bad video game!)

Time Played: Around three hours

Dubiosity: 4 out of 5

Light Gun? No

Would I play again? Lolno. I’ll likely end up playing Resident Evil Survivor at some point but fuck if I'm gonna play the Dino Crisis or Code Veronica ones.

The light gun game is one of those lost relics of the arcade age, something that never really translated when home consoles became the dominant form of interactive entertainment. Outside of a brief resurgence of Wii originals and the current proliferation of VR shooting galleries, it’s one of those dead end genres that loses relevancy the second you aren’t pumping quarters in constantly. I guess there’s that House of the Dead remake on switch? That’s weird, right?

Your perspective will zoom to first person when you aim, but aiming and moving at the same time is... an ordeal. It's clonk.
Your perspective will zoom to first person when you aim, but aiming and moving at the same time is... an ordeal. It's clonk.

This is why I find Capcom’s weird dalliances with trying to translate the light gun experience to home consoles so… interesting? They made four of these. Resident Evil Dead Aim is the LAST one, and the year prior there was a Dino Crisis themed one? Sure. The general idea behind this series was to combine the sensibilities of a light gun shooter with a traditional Resident Evil game, complete with the GunCON light gun controller. That last part is important, actually, because I don’t know if these games work removed from the context of a bespoke light gun doohickey. Of course, given that I don’t have a CRT television readily on hand, I also wouldn’t be able to play these games as intended even if I did have one.

Someone had some preferences they needed to express
Someone had some preferences they needed to express

With a regular-ass DualShock 2 (and definitely not a DualShock 4 hooked up to a computer, officer) what I’m left with is maybe the most bland simulacrum of a Resident Evil game awkwardly foisted upon a fake light gun shooter imaginable. Someone in my chat put it best when they said “This looks more like a Resident Evil knockoff than the actual knockoff [Cold Fear]” The ongoing trend of Biohazard spinoffs being almost universally terrible starts from the beginning, and Dead Aim is a perfect example of that. As action man Bruce McIrvin, it’s your job to shoot zombies in the head with guns and clonkily navigate through the blandest boat ever made. Sometimes discount Ada Wong is there. A plot is vaguely gestured towards, but the most memorable thing the game has going for it is some truly, truly, astoundingly bad voice acting made extra good because the VA doesn’t match the subtitles. Oh also the main villain turns himself into a sexy lady version of the usual Resident Evil Tyrant monster, complete with boobs and organic stripper heels, so clearly someone in the art department had some preferences they needed to get out. Don’t worry, like all final bosses in Resident Evil, it eventually mutates into an amorphous blob with tentacles and weird orifices that look like buttholes, so they got that part right.

Removed from the novelty of a light gun controller, it’s just a really fucking boring, sedate simulacrum of a Resident Evil game without any of the puzzles, environmental navigation, or resource scarcity which makes the series good. Inventory management is reduced to only being able to carry eight stacks of ammo, which is still PLENTY of ammo (there is a never-ending supply of handgun bullets in save rooms, which means you’ll never be dry) However, the dark and horrible secret about this game is… you can kinda just run past a lot of the zombies. Likely due to the game’s nature as a light gun thing, the environments themselves all tend to be quite wide, which also means the classic art of juking zombos is surprisingly easy. It’s not much harder once you get to dealing with faster enemies either. I can easily see speedruns of this game lasting less than an hour.

But yeah, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised a forgotten installment of a forgotten sub-series made by the people who would go on to make Bullet Witch is kinda fucking terrible. What surprised me was finding out some elements of this game actually made their way into future Resident Evil light gun spinoffs, Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles (uncoincidentally also made by Cavia, uncoincidentally also not great.) Oh well. At least the save room theme will continue to be part of my regular pre-stream music rotation.

I've made sure to keep a running youtube playlist of all my stream archives, in case you'd like to follow along at home. I'll try and keep up on the blogs from here.

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N/ASome really good, high quality games for the Sega Dreamcast
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The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games 07-10: Series Finale

Hi, I don’t have much to say about the *current state of things* on this website, at least beyond what others have already said. I’m going to miss Jeff Gerstmann’s presence on Giant Bomb, but I'm excited to see what this new team can cobble together (Dan and/or Bakalar, my DMs are open if you'd like to listen to my pitch for turning Dubious Wheels/Towers/etc into a GB Feature.) I’ll leave it at that. For the time being, yours truly will keep posting his blogs on Giant Bomb, but should I need an alternate place to put these, I will make it known.

Hello and welcome to the concluding installment of The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games, my randomizer wheel feature to remind you that, despite all the shit happening elsewhere in the world, there is still an ongoing war in Ukraine and some of the people there have made some video games. I know! Weird to think about.

Heroes of Annihilated Empires

This write up took as long as it did not only because I am a mess, but also because I had trouble thinking of what to say about this one.
This write up took as long as it did not only because I am a mess, but also because I had trouble thinking of what to say about this one.

Developer: GSC Game World

Release Date: May 9, 2007

Time Played: A little over two hours

Troubleshooting: None, surprisingly

Would I play more? Nah, but please look forward to the inevitable, eventual, possible, probable(?) Wheel/Tower/Geometric Shape of Dubious Strategy Games

Before they were “The STALKER people,” GSC GameWorld were “The Cossacks People.” Cossacks is, to my basic understanding, a historically-inclined RTS series whose greatest claim to fame was its ability to support massive numbers of units on screen at once, very mucha game about cranking out hordes of units to counter your enemy’s hordes of units. However, for this feature I decided to instead check out Heroes of Annihilated Empires, their fantasy follow up to the Cossacks games. It’s, um. Fine?

Now, my RTS chops begin somewhere around C&C Red Alert 2, Age of Empires II, or Warcraft III, and end at around Battle for Middle-Earth 1. I’ve said before when I was talking about Dawn of War: I’m not great at the genre and my ability to enjoy it broke around the time I started to understand things like “Micromanagement” and “build orders” and thus things that weren’t just building a bunch of dudes and destroying the enemy base after 90 minutes. In some sense, this is that, and if I was still 12 I’d absolutely be on board with any sort of game that has a “make infinite amounts of units” tab as a basic feature.

However much the basic gameplay appeals to the lizard brain end of RTS, the transition from historical to fantasy lacks a certain je ne sais quois, a certain sizzle, that I want out of this stuff. For a fantasy strategy game, there isn’t quite enough fantasy weird involved. Spearmen and archers are spearmen and archers, regardless of faction, and it never quite goes as hard as I’d like it to. It’s no Lords of Magic, no Warlords Battlecry, no Spellforce or any other number of extremely mid-range fantasy RTSes I can think of. I think the baseline appeal of a fantasy series is the concept of the fantastical, as blase as that sounds. This? Not nearly bonkers fuckin crazy enough, even if having a lot of skellingtons on screen at once is an impressive achievement.

Of course, I spent most of my time in the game with the campaign, which feels like an attempt to incorporate Warcraft III style hero mechanics on top of Cossacks’ “pump out lots and lots of dudes” mechanics. Unfortunately for me and everyone involved, the first few missions of the campaign are… lethargic. Alas, the adventures of good voice acting Elfman and his amazing voice acting are mostly contained in a series of back-and-forth wars of attrition, at least as far as the first handful of campaign missions were concerned. Not everything for this feature is gonna be a winner, I guess.

Chasm: The Rift

Jester Dinosaurs with Buzzsaw Arms. Do you have any questions.
Jester Dinosaurs with Buzzsaw Arms. Do you have any questions.

Developer: Action Forms Ltd.

Release Date: September 23, 1997

Time Played: Around 90 minutes

Troubleshooting: None. There’s a pre-packaged DOSbox config made by the DUSK guy, of all people, which runs and remaps the game’s controls to about what you’d expect from a shooter.

Would I play more? Eh, possibly?

Chasm is a game which caught my attention thanks to Civvie11’s video on the subject. As what may be one of the first (if not *the* first?) Slavjank FPSes on the market, it’s mostly remarkable for its technical dark wizardry and various tricks, which would become a running trend going forward. In a world where Quake II was only a handful of months away from blowing the lid on exciting new technological developments such as “colored lighting”, there’s something undoubtedly insane about Chasm looking and moving the way it does *in software* and *in DOS.* There’s location specific damage on enemies! In 1997!

It’s an eclectic mix of those technological achievements, combined with off-kilter level design and attempts(?) at storytelling which really give it that coveted Eurojank energy. It’s fast but not quite Quake Fast, counteracted by how labyrinthine, puzzle-y, and flat the levels are. Weirdly enough, those two things together are a bit contradictory. This level design is also one of those things which started to frustrate after a while, and is probably why I’d relegate Chasm in the “curiosity” category, rather than an out and out banger. Only a little bit dubious, but definitely an interesting part of history.

Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason

With sincere apologies to Dave Snyder
With sincere apologies to Dave Snyder

Developer: Action Forms Ltd

Release Date: April 15, 2009

Time Played: a little under two hours

Troubleshooting: Yes, several

Would I play more? Zzzzzzz

Cryostasis is a game that sticks out to me mostly because it was championed by one Dave Snider, former site engineer for Giant Bomb and noted advocate for eastern bloc weird shit. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was made by the same developer as aforementioned Chasm, being Action Forms’ last video game before they descended into mobile dev hell. They also made the Carnivores games, which… seem like shooters where you shoot dinosaurs? Future research may be required; they seem, um… dubious.

Regardless, I came into Cryostasis expecting a kind of weird eastern bloc cult hit. What I found was, to my own misfortune, kind of a slow and plodding affair. Maybe it’s playing a chain of these things back-to-back-to-back, but it wasn’t nearly as weird as I was expecting. Cryostasis is a game where you wander around an old Soviet icebreaker for reasons initially unknown, fighting weird snow ghouls and venturing into the memories of the crew before their deaths. Initially, you just have your fists and a set of very awkward melee weapons, but eventually you get the world’s most awkward bolt action rifle (and I assume, other guns at some point.) I hope my effusive praise for games like Metro is proof I’m not against slow-burn atmosphere, but in my two hours with the game I never felt like I encountered anything which quite justified my time.

Sure, maybe in 2009, the era of peak brown shooter, this was revelatory, but I’m left indirectly comparing Cryostasis to Zeno Clash, which literally came out a week later, and Return of the Obra Dinn, which does the “venture into the memories of the dead'' thing far better. Moreover, I don’t think I found a game that crashed quite as consistently as Cryostasis did. Having been delisted from both Steam and GOG for what I have to imagine are publisher reasons, the technical problems people were having 13 years ago are… moreso on modern operating systems. I won’t get into the process, but even after I went into .ini files and did window capture shenanigans (which didn’t work, so I just had to resort to the nuclear option of display capture) it still crashed multiple times on and off stream. This one was a real disappointment, especially given its cult status. Maybe it gets better after the first two hours (of a 6-8 hour game) but I’m gonna invoke Wolpaw’s Law here and say my time is better spent playing more viscerally terrible good interactive entertainment.

STALKER: Call of Pripyat

Developer: GSC Game World

Release Date: February 2, 2010

Time Played: A little over two hours, on and off stream

Troubleshooting: see below

Would I play more? Yes

It's a pity I've probably exhausted my quotient of sad slavic man wearing a gas mask games for now, but this will get revisited.
It's a pity I've probably exhausted my quotient of sad slavic man wearing a gas mask games for now, but this will get revisited.

Oh hey, what a convenient endcap for this feature. Of all the games surveyed in this feature, I think it’s probably fair to call STALKER the most popular? Influential? Important, even? Definitely the most distinctly “Ukrainian” of these games, at least as far as cultural identity and influences are concerned.

I’m not going to restate what I said about STALKER from my Shadow of Chernobyl write-up. The fundamentals of the series still holds true, and if you like yourself some desolate surreal irradiated wastelands, do I have the video game for you. Instead, Call of Pripyat is a significantly more approachable game and far more of a traditional open world affair than its predecessor. Even in vanilla form, it seems like if you’re going to play one of these games, one should play this one, straight up. Don’t play Clear Sky, apparently. No one likes Clear Sky.

But I didn’t play this one vanilla. See, in contrast to SoC, in which I used a “vanilla plus” modpack focused mostly on audiovisual and quality of life stuff, the mods I installed for Pripyat more directly affect the gameplay. Instead of going nuts, I opted for just two well-received, popular mods, both of which seem rad as shit. Gunslinger significantly changes a lot of the ballistics modeling present in the game, adds a bunch of bespoke animations (including for stuff like first aid and bandages), new weapons in that very Tarkov-esque gun porn way, and generally enhances the basic feel of the shooting. AtmosFEAR 3, on the other hand, significantly alters the in-game weather systems, including dense-ass fog, dark-ass nights, and new forms of anomaly storms. It’s impressive as hell, and significantly improves the mood and tone of what is already a moody game. (also one of these mods, I don’t remember which but I assume Gunslinger, also includes a pretty impressive HD texture pack which makes all the foliage and dilapidated concrete look extra depressing.)

See, the real reason I want to talk about Call of Pripyat isn’t the game itself which, to reiterate, seems like the best game I’ve covered for this feature, perhaps barring Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments. Instead I want to talk about what it’s like to poke one’s head into a long-running modding scene for a cult classic series of games. I’ve certainly dipped my toe into “fan mods” and “fan patches” before. I’ve said before that one shouldn’t play any of Troika’s games without fan mods, just as I’ve installed a bunch of shit for Morrowind and then played exactly two hours of Morrowind multiple times. Looking into the STALKER modding scene is its own beast. While other games may limit themselves to “curvy bodies” and “clean faces” and “remove encumbrance,” the mad lads modding this game go further. Are the mods compatible with one another? Are they supported in English? How many forum posts do I have to read between various people talking shit about each other’s mods? It’s a mystery!

I had to follow a youtube tutorial step-by-step to get just the two mods mentioned above to play nice with each other, and it turned out *that* video gave me different steps than the ModDB page *or* the Steam community guide where I initially found out about them! Friends, I’m here to say… we’ve been spoiled by Steam Workshop. We’ve become soft with easy streamlined mod managers, like the one I used for System Shock 2. Entering the world of the STALKER modding scene is to be reminded of a different age. Not just for the breadth, depth, and quality of offerings on display, but also because it’s a game in and of itself to figure out how to get everything installed correctly. It was a refreshing experience and also I never want to do it again if I can avoid it. (I won’t be able to avoid it)

The corollary to this is STALKER Anomaly; a fan project comprising numerous mods and mod ideas that I find more impressive than a lot of retail products. It has a lot of the stuff I mentioned about Gunslinger and AtmosFEAR, but like, eight more mods on top of those. It combines all three games (Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky, Call of Pripyat) into a single massive sandbox with a bunch of tweakable mechanics for whatever experience you’re looking for. Wanna turn on fast travel, or make it so you can sell broken weapons to merchants? You can do that! While it’s perhaps a tad too open and a tad too “make your own progression” survivalist hell for my liking, I say with absolute sincerity that people should give this one a look. Oh, did I mention it’s a stand-alone thing? You don’t even need any of the games in question! It’s nuts! Check it out!

Alright, that’s it for me and this feature. I hope I’ve given these games and their developers the spotlight they deserve, because I’ve found some goooood shit here. I mean, hell, I’ll probably end up playing Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter at some point this year to follow up Crimes and Punishments, but until then I have great news: my next project is currently ongoing. Perhaps there will be write-ups about it. Maybe one write-up is already in process. Maybe you should check out my twitch channel and/or youtube archives to see what else I've been up to? Who can say? Well, I guess there's one thing I can say...

Slava Ukraini!

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Atom RPG and Metro 2033 ReduxAt some point I'll play some more games from these developers, maybe even write about them!
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Trespassing on Dinosaur Island

Trespasser

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should - Dr. Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park (1993, dir: Steven Spielberg)

HEYYY I HEARD THERE WERE BOOBS HERE
HEYYY I HEARD THERE WERE BOOBS HERE

At this point, I imagine most folks reading this have a general idea of my predilections regarding the playing of video games most ancient and obscure, especially when it comes to my stream output. My brain is a special kind of broken which considers “I’ve never really finished Link to the Past, have I?” a far less interesting and exciting endeavor than “lololol what if I played the Visceral Games Dante’s Inferno to completion?” You’ll have to forgive me for this, but my contrarian desire to unearth as much obscure nonsense as possible is all I have left in regards to #content. I will always go for something which is more “interesting” than good, and for that I dearly apologize to everyone who follows my streamblog shenanigans.

My most recent example of this is, surprisingly enough, not any of the Ukraineous titles of note, but rather a licensed vehicle whose greatest contribution to video game memery is the idea of looking down at your character’s breasts to see their health. That’s right motherfuckers, we’re talking about Jurassic Park Trespasser, the hit* physics hell nightmare game put out by Dreamworks Interactive as a tie-in with the second film. On one hand, Trespasser is a blatantly unfinished, deeply clonky experimental title where you play as a floppy right arm and diegetic cleavage in your quest to get velociraptors and everything else to ragdoll as hilariously as possible. On the other hand, it’s wildly, staggeringly, far far too ambitious for its own good and as a result is far more interesting than something that wasn’t trying so hard. Should you play it? No, probably not. Did I regret playing it? No, no I didn’t.

Led by a team of former Looking Glass employees who worked on both Ultima Underworld games (including future Xbox exec Seamus Blackley,) the problems of Trespasser’s development are well documented. Mismanagement, failing to test different systems in tandem, making the entire game focused around software acceleration just as 3D cards were becoming ubiquitous, etc. Give that post-mortem a read if you aren’t familiar. It’s frankly insane how many things they had planned, and how many of those things needed to be cut because they didn’t work correctly. The amount of cut content still on the disk is significant. It’s almost impressive they shipped a product at all.

The greatest challenge of all: successfully getting the arm to press the correct keys on the keypad
The greatest challenge of all: successfully getting the arm to press the correct keys on the keypad

What’s left is a series of ideas and features (constantly buckling under their own weight) in search of a coherent video game. There’s a physics engine in this game, pre-Half Life 2, pre-Havok, pre-any sort of physics middleware, which I need to stress is fucking absurdly impressive for 1998. It’s busted and janky, sure, but when combined with your primary method of interaction (a right arm which can grip and manipulate a ton of items in the environment) hilarious chaos immediately ensues. I saw raptors accidentally kill themselves on random pieces of geometry multiple times! Sometimes the arm gets stuck and stretches out like you're Mr. Fantastic! Trespasser’s control scheme is… unique. Hold the left mouse button to move Anna’s arm, and then press the right mouse button to grip or drop objects. It’s the kind of uncompromisingly anti-player control scheme I can get behind, especially when any sort of aiming or combat is involved. It’s Immersive Sim QWOP. It reminds me of a lot of modern VR games, especially ones with a lot of tactile object interaction… except without the fidelity and technology granted by modern motion controls. Basic actions, like stacking boxes or aiming a gun, are a constant struggle. The attempts at a diagetic UI are extra funny. Aside from the aforementioned boob tattoo health meter on a pair of impressively large becleavaged behonkers, which will never not be funny, Anne will call out exactly how many shots she has in a gun while she’s firing it in the most robotic fashion possible. This game tripped so Dead Space could walk, I guess. I kind of love it. In a different world this game would’ve been stupidly influential and important, but since it’s all terrible and busted it’s a curiosity falling directly into my wheelhouse.

This screenshot may resemble a first person shooter from the late 90s, but friend, it's far far more (and less) than that.
This screenshot may resemble a first person shooter from the late 90s, but friend, it's far far more (and less) than that.

Since Trespasser is less a video game with explicit objectives or mechanics, and more a box filled with broken tools, there are moments where it’s accidentally just kind of a walking sim. The late Sir Richard Attenborogh reprises his role as John Hammond, acting as the ghostly audio log narrator describing the creation of Jurassic Park, while Anne (voiced by Minnie Driver) will occasionally quip… something, sometimes as if she’s hearing Hammond speak. The attempt at creating coherent, realistic spaces is one of those things the game actually does well. Especially so when you get to the overgrown, abandoned InGen facilities and just… poke around like it was Gone Home. The fidelity isn’t quite there, but it's ahead of its time in a lot of ways. The game still manages to evoke the kind of beautiful desolation the devs were going for. But a lot of it just involves very slowly walking through jungles and occasionally shooting velociraptors poorly, which is its own kind of meditative. Well, as meditative as my weird deranged tangents during the latter half of the second stream became.

I’ve been trying very, very, very hard to avoid just vomiting out as many parallels as possible between a failed dinosaur theme park foiled by hubris and systemic chaos, and a failed dinosaur theme park video game foiled by hubris and systemic chaos, but they write themselves. I mean, the game itself has an unused voice line where Hammond recites part of Shelly’s Ozymandias. It’s right there! Clever Girl! That’s a lot of shit! Etc etc. Jurassic Park Trespasser is an admirable failure; far too broken and unfinished to be anything other than a curiosity, a shadow of what could've been. I imagine it’ll never get any sort of modern re-release, but god bless the weirdos still making fan patches to make it run surprisingly smoothly on modern OSes. Video games… find a way. Okay I’ll stop. I’ll stop. Gonna try and finish my write-ups for the Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games in the next week or two, so look forward to those.

Also… maybe look forward to what comes afterwards? It’s gonna be spoooooky. and maybe not even a wheel?

Actual Video Game Playing starts at about 15 minutes in if you want to skip watching me ineffectually flail with config files until I figure out how to get the game in a window

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The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games 05-06: ATOM RPG and Metro 2033 Redux

Welcome back to The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games, a cavalcade of high quality (and sometimes not-high quality) interactive software entertainment mostly developed in the sovereign nation of Ukraine! If you'd like to donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross, I'll include the link here, as always.

ATOM RPG

I can't think of a more obvious signifier for this game than an item description where it's briefly mentioned bottlecaps were considered for currency before everyone just stuck to Roubles.
I can't think of a more obvious signifier for this game than an item description where it's briefly mentioned bottlecaps were considered for currency before everyone just stuck to Roubles.

Developer: ATOM Team

Release Date: December 19, 2018 (1.0 release date. It was in early access for something like a year prior)

Time Played: Around 90 minutes

Troubleshooting: None

Would I play more? Nah, nope. Underrail and Encased are right there.

One of the things I’ve tried to be fairly consistent about with my various wheehicular rampages is a loose policy of “no indies.” This was partially due to me wanting to avoid the layer of garbage that sits at the bottom of Steam; be they Unity asset flips or RPG Maker porn games (with or without the 18+ patch.) However, it’s also because I think it’s less fun to dunk on smaller games made by smaller teams with smaller budgets than their published retail counterparts. The idea that something like Dungeon Lords or Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi was a boxed product on store shelves is more interesting to me than going after a $15 indie game made by like a dozen people. I might eventually budge on this a little more, but for now the likes of Inquisitor are safe from the Dubious RPG treatment.

There are some interesting traits you can pick at character creation
There are some interesting traits you can pick at character creation

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that ATOM RPG is the most immediate turn-off I’ve had for this feature and I feel bad because it was made by like nineteen people total, including art contractors. Black Isle’s Fallout duology is only slightly less relevant than Heroes of Might and Magic III in the annals of post-Soviet computer mythology. If you wanted evidence, take literally one look at ATOM RPG’s UI, which is less an “homage” and more of a “direct translation” of Fallout 1 and 2; a feeling that extends to the rest of the game. I guess a less charitable way of saying it would be: ATOM RPG feels like a video game designed by No Mutants Allowed trying to recreate the lost Van Buren version of Fallout 3 through the lens of a post-nuclear Soviet Union, rather than a United States, but slavjank. If that sentence appeals to you, you’re probably the audience for this game. Apparently I’m not that audience.

I assume it's a translation thing, but why does every single dialogue option for your character come off like you're an alien pretending to be human
I assume it's a translation thing, but why does every single dialogue option for your character come off like you're an alien pretending to be human

Now, to be clear, sometimes I’m down for some comfort food blatant homage. I wouldn’t be a fan of the King’s Bounty games otherwise. But ATOM RPG’s tone is immediately weird and mean-spirited, its translation immediately scuffed, and mechanics immediately weird and janky all in a way that I nope’d out of far faster than I was expecting. I’ve liked A Fallout in my time, I loved Wasteland 3, and I’ve liked the little I’ve played of other indie Eastern Bloc Fallout-likes such as Underrail. But when the gameplay feels like a lesser reflection of a game from 1997 and the writing an awkwardly translated mish-mash of quirk, grime, and just a sprinkle of casual bigotry I don’t think it’s my jam. I could see someone putting in more time than I did and coming out with a better impression, but this is one of those cases where I’d rather just replay Fallout 1, finish Fallout 2, or delve into a more immediately promising indie RPG. I mean, heck, they released a new campaign for Solasta! You know I’ve gotta get in on that action, see what all of my weird meat puppets wanna say.

Metro 2033 Redux

If you ain't wiping that gas mask are you even GAMING
If you ain't wiping that gas mask are you even GAMING

Developer: 4A Games

Release Date: August 25, 2014 (Redux) March 10, 2010 (Original)

Time Played: Around 2 hours

Troubleshooting: I'm honestly surprised it's taken this long for a game to start randomly crashing on me

Would I play more? Yes

It’s almost quaint to go back and read some of the things people were saying about the Metro games back in the early 2010s. “It’s a shooter where there are long periods of not-shooting things!” “There are attempts at creating atmosphere and building a world???” and “you have to wipe your mask sometimes?” Like, I know this was the peak of Call of Duty and Call of Duty-poisoned shooter design, but folks, it’s not hard to understand. 4A Games (which was founded by devs who worked on STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl) attempted to adapt the Russian sci-fi novel Metro 2033 into a video game. It’s weird, slow, and doesn’t always quite nail what it’s trying to do, but as a premium vibez delivery service and entry into the surprisingly large “Slavic dudes wearing gas masks trying to avoid giving into despair while opining about life and the universe” genre of video games I had a very good time.

Now, funnily enough, Metro 2033 is just as linear, scripted, and directed as most shooters from 2010, it’s just slow and weird and contemplative when shit isn’t hitting the fan, a tone enhanced if you switch the voice language to Russian instead of hearing like… Yuri Lowenthal doing a Russian accent. Atryom’s journey to defeat The Dark Ones is the exact level of grim I expect from a game like this, with just enough Eastern Bloc mysticism and oh god horrible spiders jesus christ why are the spiders so gross to keep me involved. As I mentioned, it's a game whose greatest strength is less about the shooty shoot or the looty loot and more about the peak vibez of hanging out in dark tunnels with a bunch of sad Russians (and sometimes murdering Nazis.)

The Redux variant (which is the one I played) just seems to look better and smooth out some of the edges, if you so desire. I don’t wanna be the asshole telling anyone how to play the video game, but this definitely seems like it benefits from playing in “Ranger” mode, which turns off the UI and gives you less ammo to mess with. I know this because I didn’t do that; I was drowning in AK bullets only two hours in, had fully upgraded my revolver into a mid-range carbine, and rarely had to use healing items. I like it when I’m forced to engage in the video game systems (unless those systems are bad tbh,) and in that sense I don’t think the “normal” difficulty really facilitates any of the scrounging, sneaking, or ammo preserving Metro is designed around.

I’m honestly half-tempted to restart the game that way, but between this, STALKER, and Chernobylite (which was made in Poland and thus doesn’t qualify for this wheel, but in spirit ABSOLUTELY qualifies for this wheel) I’ve already apparently hit the triple jackpot of weird atmospheric shooters heavily inspired by Roadside Picnic and Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Might need to mix it up a bit before STALKER 2 comes out at the end of this year. Anyway it’s cool. You might have it on the EGS if you got it during their giveaway. Give it a look.

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Magrunner and STALKER SoCAnd the Rest!
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The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games 03-04: Magrunner Dark Pulse and STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl

Welcome back to The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games, a celebration of video games developed mostly in the sovereign nation of Ukraine and also an accidental vector for me to play through the entirety of some of them, apparently. Man, I watched a friend play some of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter and that seems pretty fucking wild in a way I’d like to see firsthand. As always, I’ll be including a link to donate to the Ukraine Red Cross so that this feature actually is meant for good instead of my own dumb indulgence.

Magrunner: Dark Pulse

The Distant Future: The Year 2000
The Distant Future: The Year 2000

Developer: Frogwares

Release Date: June 20, 2013

Time Played: A little over 90 minutes

Troubleshooting: None

Would I play more? Yeah

If there’s an accidental outcome from this feature, it’s that I suddenly have a lot more respect for the handful of recurring game devs featured here. As a champion of Eurojank (and its cousin, Slavjank) I’m always going to root for a developer or a game that tries to punch above its weight, outcome be damned. Frogwares has quickly shot up my list of favorites in that category, joining such hallowed champions as Dubious favorite Spiders… except, you know, they make games that I genuinely like instead of the RPG equivalents of successively less-lethal car crashes.

Take Magrunner: Dark Pulse, an XBLA and PSN game from late in the 360 and PS3’s life cycle that is very much capitalizing on the “Post-Portal” trend of puzzle games. It’s clearly not a big budget title, definitely a side project between all the Sherlock Holmes-ing, but it knows where to put the money where it counts. Instead of thinking with portals, however, this game asks the always prescient question of “Magnets, How Do They Work?” and goes from there.

As Jax, the most 2013 Shaved-Head Video Game Protagonist, it’s up to you to understand that sometimes you want things to attract, and sometimes you want things to repel, and you also want to solve some puzzles along the way. Having multiple items charged with the same polarity will increase the effect, and sometimes you’ll want to quickly switch polarities to give stuff momentum. A lot of the puzzles, at least during the parts I was going through, build upon those ideas mostly elegantly, and I’m proud to say I only spent *some* on stream time missing something really obvious to solve something. I never felt like the rules presented were especially obtuse or fiddly, and that’s a great benefit for puzzle-y stuff like this. Is it as tight and elegant as Portal? No. No, it’s not. But also very few games are Portal. I mean, heck, Portal 2 is pretty fucking good, but even that probably isn’t Portal. Um, magnets? Where were we?

Oh, right also Cthulhu is there. Somehow, I cannot escape the specter of Lovecraftian-ass Lovecraft shit showing up in my video games, even when I’m not actively seeking it out. See, the thing that separates this from the Quantum Conundrums of the world is that, a few puzzle rooms in, you overhear some ominous chanting on your radio. A few more puzzle rooms and you come in on a guy getting ripped apart by a Deep One. There’s something about this all being training to go to space, but the profoundly goofy premise of cyberfuture not-Facebook being fueled by the power of Elder Gods is extremely, extremely funny. I ended my stream having delved into the bowels of the testing facility, where profane statues and even more fish men lurked, and I just wanna say I’m way more into this than I would be if they just tried to be funny.

Now, I cannot speak for how Magrunner holds up as a full game, but for something I’m pretty sure I got for free on GOG at one point, I think it’s a fun puzzle thing and worth a look if you also at some point got it for free on GOG. At this point I’m here pulling for my homies at Frogwares regardless, so please look forward to more Sherlockholmesin and probably that Lovecraft game. No, the other one. The less-bad one whose Steam release is unsanctioned by the developers. Guess I need to get it on PS5.

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl

BAH GAWD, THAT'S CHEEKI BREEKI'S THEME
BAH GAWD, THAT'S CHEEKI BREEKI'S THEME

Developer: GSC Game World

Release Date: March 20, 2007

Time Played: Um, probably somewhere around 15-20 hours?

Troubleshooting: I ran into an unavoidable crash literally during the ending sequence of the game, but other than that surprisingly fine

Would I play more? I played it to completion and I’ll be honest: probably gonna play more STALKER games

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl is one of those oft-whispered cult classics; the kind of game people will ascribe GOAT status to before following it up with a massive laundry list of caveats. I certainly remember not making any headway whatsoever when I tried it in like… 2011 or something. Who else but an eastern bloc developer would make a punishing, survivalist semi-open semi-RPG based on a short story and a Tarkovsky film? This is absolutely the most unapologetically slavjank game I’ve played for this feature thus far, not cloaked in a license like Sherlock Holmes or smart budgetary limitations like the aforementioned Magrunner. If you like systems, subsystems, modeled systems and stuff that doesn't work quite right, do I have a video game for you. I dunno if anything will top Konung, but to be fair Konung also doesn’t have an absurdly active modding scene behind it to fix some of the cracks.

with mods you can make the game look pretty good, still.
with mods you can make the game look pretty good, still.

Now, I’m gonna save the conversation about mods for the *other* STALKER game on this wheel, but let it be known that I used a “Vanilla Plus” modpack called “Memories of the Zone” for my adventure through this video game. As far as I can tell, it’s built on mostly visual and bugfix updates without really touching the core gameplay all that much. I was initially tempted to play this game entirely vanilla, but the motion sickness brought on by the base 55 FOV and aggressive head-bob quickly banished that inclination. Just know that, as far as my experience went, it’s mostly comparable to whatever the final retail product which reflects “The Developer’s Original Intent” but the game sounds and looks better and is (somewhat) less broken. Cool? Cool.

While the audio-visual improvements absolutely helped, I certainly was not expecting to get as sucked into this game as I was. Part of this was initially borne out of the idea that I wanted to showcase some part of the game other than its infamously rough beginning. If you’re unaware, the opening hours of SoC pit your hilariously under-equipped protagonist against groups of similarly under-equipped bandits, semi-invisible anomalies that’ll kill you if you accidentally stumble into them, and lots and lots and lots of wild dogs. The makarov you start with is maybe one of the most peashooter-y handguns I’ve ever seen in a video game, and the sawed-off shotgun the bandits carry has the effective range of “point-blank, maybe.” It’s an astoundingly poor first impression, and while it emphasizes the uphill climb and gear curve you’re dealing with, it’s not until a few hours in that STALKER became something I actively started enjoying.

not since Elden Ring has there been as much cause for me to say
not since Elden Ring has there been as much cause for me to say "I found a fucked-up place with fucked up dudes in it" every few hours

See, once you get past that point and start getting your hands on “actual body armor” and “assault rifles capable of hitting targets more than 10 feet in front of you” things start to swing in your favor drastically. It’s still a high-lethality game which more-or-less demands you quicksave obsessively, but what other shooter slash pseudo-open world RPG makes the acquisition of a scope for an AK the equivalent of being able to cast Fireball in D&D? At that point, the more sandboxy, systematic chaos, semi-open structure starts to come forth. In some ways, it’s closer to the video game people claim Far Cry 2 is than Far Cry 2, complete with almost psychic enemies capable of seeing you halfway across the map, but unlike Far Cry 2 I’m not constantly fiddling with a hidden malaria timer.

I’d hesitate to call SoC a true open world game in the traditional sense, though you can certainly embark on the sad Ukrainian scavenger equivalent of killing rats in a sewer if you so desire. It’s a series of interconnected maps with reasons to explore, but rarely obligations. The survival elements are present but rarely onerous, especially once you become over-encumbered from hoarding far, far more ammo than you reasonably need. There are mods for that, if you want it, but that’s something I’ll talk about when we get to Call of Pripyat.

Now, the middle part of this game is one of the best video games I’ve played this year. I cannot emphasize how good STALKER is as a tone piece. There’s an ethereal, alien quality to The Zone, both in its natural and urban environs, which I think is still fantastic even fifteen years later. It’s a good contrast to the small pockets of population you encounter, full of a bunch of sad grimy Slavic dudes playing guitar, sitting around fires, or listening to Russian pop music on the radio too loudly. The shooty-shoot is fine, and I probably should’ve put it onto Master difficulty after hearing how it apparently affects bullet damage for everyone, but it turns out most guys will go down in a headshot regardless. It’s just a shame the last few hours are where you can see time and budget running out, as the last few maps narrow to a series of linear literal, dimly-lit corridor crawls. It wouldn’t be Eurojank without it, and even with that caveat it’s something I highly recommend. Just… don’t ask me what mods to use. I have no fucking idea.

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Sherlock Holmes C&P and Darkened SkyeATOM RPG and Metro 2033 Redux
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ArbitraryWater's Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run 2022: Greatest Hitstravaganza EX PLUS ALPHA

https://fundraise.pencilsofpromise.org/ArbitraryWater2022

Hi hello it’s once again time for me to put my body on the line to help Pencils of Promise raise money to build schools in the developing world. As always, my brand has become a garbage hell nightmare where I can only approach things in terms of randomized wheels of weird, questionable, and obscure video games. I will not apologize for this; it’s done pretty well for my charity endeavors and I’m glad folks seem to enjoy it. So, in “celebration” of two years of wheel-based idiocy from me, this year’s GBCER theme is:

THE WHEEL OF DUBIOUS WHEELS GREATEST HITSTRAVAGANZA EX PLUS ALPHA

help me my brand is now tied entirely to playing weird old games via the medium of randomizer wheels
help me my brand is now tied entirely to playing weird old games via the medium of randomizer wheels
 I literally kept King's Quest VIII installed in case I wanted to play more
I literally kept King's Quest VIII installed in case I wanted to play more

That’s right lads, lasses, and non-binary masses, this high quality celebration of dubious games past, present, and yet to come, all on ONE wheel! You’ve got familiar favorites, greatest hits, other installments in dubious franchises. We’ve got old classics, future dubious hits, and most likely some garbage you’ve never heard of! You wanna see me play more Daikatana without the benefit of a co-op partner? How about the Lands of Lore game that stars Kane from C&C? What if I ruined my happiness by playing the most recent Heroes of Might and Magic game? ALL OF THIS IS UP TO YOU.

Like last year, my plan is to stream for a few hours each day, with a new spin of the wheel roughly every hour or so. However, any enterprising individuals who wish to offer me mercy (or extend my pain, I guess) can also pay a minimum of $20 to duplicate any one game’s entry on the wheel, doubling my chance of landing on that. If you really wanted to be a piece of shit, you could probably do that up to five times to quintuple my chances of landing on any one specific game. That’s right. $100 donated to help send kids to school could be used to drastically increase the chances I play Amulets and Armor for multiple hours, perhaps even consecutively. Just put it in your donation comment! I mean heck, if you really wanted to I’d probably let you pay $50 to remove a game from the list entirely… although someone could certainly pay $20 to put it back on. This is what donation comments are for.

Oh, before I forget, here are the games up for contention:

GAMES OF DUBIOUS PAST:

King's Quest: Mask of Eternity

Daikatana

Daggerfall Unity

Might and Magic IX

Hitman Absolution

GAMES OF DUBIOUS PRESENT

Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness

Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

GAMES OF DUBIOUS YET TO COME

Darkstone

Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Star Ocean: The Last Hope

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Of Orcs and Men

Gothic 3

Amulets and Armor

Outlaws

That’s right 16 games, more than half of which have never been streamed by yours truly. With your donations, you can tip the probability in your favor! Ruin my life! Or don’t!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

NEXT GENERATION GRAPHICS will be featured, only on my stream!
NEXT GENERATION GRAPHICS will be featured, only on my stream!

On SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY I will be taking a break from chaos to revisit one of my least favorite games of the previous wheel! That’s right, on Sunday I will be playing the hit Xbox 360 launch title Perfect Dark Zero with my friend and fellow charitable miserymonger Joeku. You may recall that we played most of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge for Extra Life last year, and I’m very excited to continue finding the absolute center point of playable and deeply mediocre cooperative games.

There are also milestones!

$200 - Overtime: another hour on the clock, for whatever day this is reached, conditions permitting.

$300 - Positive Round Redux: For the next hour I am only allowed to say positive things about whatever game I am playing. Note that Mighty Number 9 is not on this new wheel for a reason

$400 - I do some pushups? Not as many as however much Jatzu is going to do, but I’ll do them. You won’t see me do them, but assume I’ll be sweaty afterward.

$500 - in complete opposition to whatever ZombiePie is going to do to his body with that Little Ceasar’s pizza, I will eat something relatively healthy in a reasonable portion size. Maybe I’ll get a salad.

$600 - Democracy: In this next round, nobody wins! I’ll spin the wheel a couple of times and have either my twitch chat (or the GB chat, if I’m currently being featured there) vote on the next game!

Donation Goal: $650

At $650 American Dollars I will stream through ALL of Perfect Dark Zero to completion with Joeku, perhaps in multiple sittings, beyond whatever we play on Sunday. I’ll even re-up my Game Pass sub if I have to.

BONUS GOALS:

I said I wouldn't dip into the well of self-punishment as hard this year, but if I raise $1000 on my PoP page, I'll play this garbage turd on stream.
I said I wouldn't dip into the well of self-punishment as hard this year, but if I raise $1000 on my PoP page, I'll play this garbage turd on stream.

$750 - Dubious Revisitations! If we reach here, I will once again offer myself up to play one of the games I’ve covered prior to completion, put up to a vote! I sure did play all of The Evil Within last year! I don’t recommend it!

$1000 - fuck it man, Duke Nukem Forever. I’ll play the entire thing on stream. At this point you’ve earned it.

$1250 - at this point I will actively bully my friends into playing at least some amount of Dungeon Lords with me on stream. Why is this so high? True Dubiousheads will know

Schedule (not including overtime and any potential other extensions):

Friday, April 8: 6PM - 11 PM PDT

Saturday, April 9: 9AM - 1PM PDT

Sunday, April 10 (PDZ with Joeku!): 8AM - 12PM PDT

So, what are you waiting for? The earlier you donate, the higher your chances of tipping the scales of fate in your favor! Check out https://fundraise.pencilsofpromise.org/ArbitraryWater2022 now, and you’ll see the fruits of your labor come this next weekend!

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The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games 01-02: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments and Darkened Skye

Hello, and welcome to The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games, a celebration of video games made in the sovereign nation of Ukraine, partially borne out of frustration at my own powerlessness and partially borne by my personal brand being the hell garbage nightmare I've let it become. If you’d like to help the people affected by the ongoing war, I’ll be including a link to the Ukraine Red Cross in every blog and video for this series. Or honestly you could check out this Humble Bundle. There's some good stuff in there.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

If you see a crime, there's only one freelance detective with the gumption to accuse random bystanders of murder
If you see a crime, there's only one freelance detective with the gumption to accuse random bystanders of murder

Developer: Frogwares

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Time Played: A little over 11 hours

Troubleshooting: The game crashed a handful of times

Would I play more (Sherlock Holmes games?): Yeah so I bought both Devil’s Daughter and Chapter One because I liked this one so much.

If your only exposure to Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes games was Justin McElroy’s legendary E3 saga you’d be forgiven for dismissing them as quirky Eurojank adventure titles. While I cannot speak for the earlier games in the series, (most of which *do* seem very Eurojank) what if I were to tell you Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is legitimately one of my favorite games I’ve played this year? That’s not a goof, not an ironic bit, not me being a sicko for sicko games (at least, I don’t think) this one actually slaps. Nothing dubious about it.

Now, here’s where I pull the curtain away and reveal that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories were a formative part of my childhood growing up. I would read through a large omnibus of stories and watch episodes of the Granada TV series with my mom as a nighttime ritual. While I doubt all of those original stories are bangers, I still treasure these memories and think fondly upon them. More importantly, I wanna bring this up because in a lot of ways Crimes and Punishments reminded me of the best part of those stories and the appeal of Sherlock Holmes as a character. While drawing from numerous interpretations over the years (esp Jeremy Brett’s portrayal from the Granada TV series,) this game feels authentic to my memories of Conan Doyle’s original material. Holmes in this game is arrogant, cold, a tad eccentric, and never not assured of his own correctness, which makes it even better when you can solve crimes horrifically, drastically, utterly wrong. (Watson, on the other hand, is also faithfully portrayed as an audience surrogate and absolute dunce.)

PERIOD ACCURATE OPIUM USAGE
PERIOD ACCURATE OPIUM USAGE

See, the big thing about Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is that you very much can miss (or misinterpret) clues, accuse the wrong person, and send them to the gallows if you fuck up in your reasoning. You don’t even have to check if you were correct if you don’t want to! While not all of them are winners, the game's best cases are ambiguous enough and give enough leads that you can reasonably accuse multiple people. Between all the vestiges of adventure game-y elements, there’s a surprising amount of actual deduction required for the player, and I kinda love that. Holmes will justify it either way. Allowing the player to be wrong and subject innocent people to Victorian-era justice is both deeply morbid and inspired, and I don’t think there are many other games that rely on that kind of thinking. It also helps that some of these cases go in fucking wild-ass directions. It’s important to remember that even Conan Doyle’s original stories tended toward pulp and camp, but one of this game’s cases in particular is on some next-level Ace Attorney (hell, maybe even Danganronpa) level shit with how wacky it gets. That’s not a slight, by the way.

There are even vague continuity nods to previous Frogwares SH games!
There are even vague continuity nods to previous Frogwares SH games!

But, as I mentioned, there’s still a bit of adventure game here and there, mostly in the form of finding items, talking to people, and random-ass one-off puzzles or minigames. If you’ve ever wanted to arm wrestle a sailor, you can do that here (or skip it.) Outside of a particularly lengthy sequence involving secret Roman ruins that might as well be An Actual Point-And-Click Adventure Game I found most of that stuff pretty light and enjoyable. Walking around, snooping for clues and bugging people is what you’re here for, rather than being a chore. Sure, you can see the budgetary limitations here and there, especially with some of the character modeling and facial animations, but it doesn’t feel nearly as much like a B-tier eurojank game as I was expecting.

It’s perhaps a little unfortunate that this’ll probably be the best game I play for this feature, but allow me to say without any sort of irony that Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a banger. If my recommendation isn’t enough, I guess you could watch the archive of my playthrough, though I think I’ll also get around to the two more recent games (one of which features Himbo Sherlock, one of which features Twink Sherlock) soon enough. And by that I mean “oh god the video games keep coming out, please help.”

Darkened Skye

No Caption Provided

Developer: Boston Animation

Release Date: January 27, 2002

Time Played: a little less than two hours

Troubleshooting: none whatsoever definitely played this on a real gamecube anyway

Would I play more? You donate to the kids during the Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run next month and maybe I’ll see what I can do

One of the last games out of Simon and Schuster’s short-lived video game publishing arm, Darkened Skye, also known as “The Skittles Game,” would’ve likely come up on my radar at some point even before I found out it was made in Ukraine. That’s right, the developer known as “Boston Animation” was not, in fact, based out of Boston but mostly in Kyiv. This works for my purposes, given that the arc of the universe would’ve bent in such a way that I would’ve ended up playing Darkened Skye at some point regardless of its country of origin. I mean, how could I not, with this PC and Gamecube-only game coming out in the early 2000s, based on Skittles, put out by a book publisher and given carte blanche to do whatever? The story of how Darkened Skye was made is almost more interesting than the game itself, but I’ll leave that to the video I saw on the subject if you’d like to know more.

Now, let’s be fair here, a third-person action/adventure platformer based on a sugary candy featuring the voice of Princess Jasmine delivering a non-stop torrent of extremely 90s self-aware snark sounds like an absolute nightmare, and it's to the game’s credit that it isn’t. Oh, the platforming is ass, the navigation is clumsy, and the audio mixing is occasionally a nightmare, but like… effort was made here. The writing is surprisingly not-terrible, helped significantly by the delivery of the VAs and the almost prescient level of fourth wall goofs (like straight up there are stills of the live-action skittles commercials from the early 2000s in this video game.) I did not hate it. Well, okay, I hated parts of it. Mostly it’s a shocker that as much effort was put into Darkened Skye as there was. It’s clearly not a high-budget endeavor even by 2002 standards; the size of the environments and the draw distance should make that readily apparent.

Basically, if there ever was a definition for what constitutes a memorable “B game” this would probably be it. This is some peak “7 out of 10 by old games press standards” material right here, and for that I salute it. Is it in any way a video game I would willingly play more of (unless, let’s say, charitable donations were made to help build schools in the developing world, including Guatemala, Ghana, and Laos?) Probably not! I was raised with a N64 and Gamecube, I have an abnormally high tolerance for 3D Character Platformery and Zeldery (I think that’s what they call it) and even by that metric this is probably on the lower end. But, if nothing else, I cannot accuse The Skittles Game of being a cheap cash-in.

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N/AMagrunner: Dark Pulse and STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl
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The Wheel of Dubious FPSes Episode 21-22: Killing Time and Witchaven (SEASON FINALE)

Killing Time

Kudos to whoever picked up the rights to this game for a nickel to resell it on digital platforms to absolute rubes like me
Kudos to whoever picked up the rights to this game for a nickel to resell it on digital platforms to absolute rubes like me

Developer: Studio 3DO

Release Date: August 15, 1995

Time Played: Around 90 minutes

Troubleshooting: One surprisingly comprehensive fan patch. Who is the person weird enough to make this game not only playable, but surprisingly troubleshooting free on Windows 10? I do not know, but god bless them.

Dubiosity: 4 out of 5

CD-ROM Energy: Maximal

Would I play more? Would consider it for charity purposes. Otherwise? Nope. Noooo. Nope.

The dying gasp of the 3DO is something most people probably aren’t spending time thinking about, but I’m not most people. By 1995, Trip Hawkins’ experiment in a multi-format, multimedia, multi-hundred (six, to be exact) dollar CD console had failed to overtake the Genesis and SNES, not to mention the oncoming Saturn and PSX. Despite this, it had surprising amounts of support from Japanese developers (see: the best console versions of Super Street Fighter II Turbo and SamSho at the time, a bunch of “classics” like D and Doctor Hauzer, and perhaps unsurprisingly a bunch of weird eroges) and perhaps most relevantly to my sicko tastes, two very bad looking Dungeons and Dragons licensed RPGs. It’s not a platform without effort, I guess is what I’m trying to say, but a lot of that effort was in service to chasing the worst possible trends the industry was experiencing at the time and also it was $600 in 1993 money.

you ever think about how the 3DO company bought New World Computing and tried to turn Might and Magic into a yearly RPG franchise. anyway this is a video game.
you ever think about how the 3DO company bought New World Computing and tried to turn Might and Magic into a yearly RPG franchise. anyway this is a video game.

With that in mind, Killing Time came out a month before the PSX’s launch in North America and was ported to Windows the following year. It’s the last game from Studio 3DO, the company’s in-house FMV-focused development team, and was initially very promising for me and my particular darkness. Its intro is Peak FMV, with the idea of a bunch of 1920s flappers, bootleggers, and socialites trapped in some sort of occultish time bubble on a remote island off the coast of New England. Are you a bad enough dude to, um, wander the island’s grounds, discover the shards of an ancient artifact, and shoot a bunch of the most pre-rendered sprite enemies you can handle? Because I was fucking SOLD. Hot damn, this was gonna be the ideal replacement after Fire Warrior suffered the curse of “not working” and I was very, very excited to show it off to my audience.

To my great disappointment, Killing Time is simply not a very interesting First Person Shooter. The soundtrack is actually pretty good, the FMV snippets you find are suitably hammy as shit, but a lot of my time on stream was spent wandering around this island, slogging my way against hordes of easily-dispatched enemies, dealing with the game’s awful movement (your acceleration grinds to a halt the second you collide with any object, which makes running around more stuttery than it should) looking for a handful of key items to actually progress. There’s an interesting threat of non-linearity here, especially for a shooter from 1995, but without the competence (or guidance, for that matter) to actually pull it off it’s mostly just Bad Hexen (and if you know anything about how I feel about Hexen, this is not a compliment.) Oh, did I mention that finding walkthroughs for this game is a nightmare, because no one played this? Well, now you know. I do think this might be worth watching an LP for, I don’t think you need to experience the magic for yourself.

Witchaven

Your quarterly reminder to play Arthurian Legends kthx
Your quarterly reminder to play Arthurian Legends kthx

Developer: Capstone Software

Release Date: September 30, 1995

Time Played: A little under an hour and 20 minutes.

Troubleshooting: Build GDX support

Dubiosity: 5 out of 5

Duke Nukemosity: 0 out of 5

Would I play more? maybe

It’s probably fitting that we end this season with another high quality product using Ken Silverman’s Build Engine. The first game using that engine, released the same day as William Shatner’s Tekwar (also a Build Engine), by the same developer (Capstone Software), and somehow the better of the two. If you’ve watched any of Civvie 11’s videos (many of them being an inspiration for this wheel) you’ll know the particular brand of irony that comes from games made by a company whose tagline was “The Pinnacle of Entertainment Software.” I don’t hate myself enough to play Tekwar, despite its BuildGDX implementation, so the first person hack-n-slasher RPGish will have to suffice.

Witchaven has digitized claymation AND FMV spritework, so it’s already dubious in that sense, but being an early Build Engine game made by a team of noted incompetents makes it extra jank. So of course I had a pretty good time playing it. Random, frequent death traps, poorly-implemented level design, weapon durability, questionable hitboxes? Friend, this is a Capital D Dubious video game. Once again, I’ll trot out the Bad Hexen comparison, but while that was mostly a slight against Killing Time’s structure, for Witchaven I mostly mean in the sense that it’s a melee-focused FPS. You also level up, sometimes. It doesn’t seem to do much other than slightly increase your health and let you use different scrolls, but there was a point where I was considering throwing it onto The Wheel of Dubious RPGs instead.

The true secret to success in Witchaven is… you can kinda just run past everyone? Given how many hits from a dagger (which might randomly break) it takes to kill a slow-ass goblin, what if you just summoned your inner quake speedrun and zoomed past him? You need to find some sort of pentagram before you’re allowed to leave the level, which can be tedious, but also you can straight up bypass locked doors with the “open” spell instead of needing to find the key. Does that break one of the fundamentals of good FPS level design? Yes. Do I care? No. This game is busted enough without the advent of intentional sequence breaking, but it’s busted in a “fun” rather than a “fucked” way. It’s not good, you shouldn’t buy it, but as far as functional incompetence goes this is probably up there. At least, as far as what I saw. I would not put it past Capstone to fill the later levels with even more illusionary insta-death pit traps, but maybe Witchaven II is better? Who’s to say? Maybe a season 2? In any case, if you want a game with a similar aesthetic and energy which is actually worth your time, I’ll just remind you that Arthurian Legends exists.

But for now, that’s the end of The Wheel of Dubious FPSes. We learned a lot, and by “we” I mean me. I learned that Daikatana is somehow an acceptable barometer to judge if a game is “bad bad” or “good bad” or “interesting bad” just as I learned a lot of console shooters before the 360 era are rough to go back to. Except, surprisingly enough, the console version of PowerSlave, which is vastly superior to its PC counterpart. (no, seriously, PowerSlave Exhumed is very good and worth a look.) Maybe I’ll play Duke Nukem Forever for charity, because it’s terrible and I hate it! Heck, I spent time in my life that I’ll never get back to make Turok 3’s control scheme resemble a modern FPS, and it sort of worked! Turok 3 is weird! Night Dive remaster plz.

Moreso than the RPG wheel, I also think I learned a thing or two about “tech” and “engines'' and “getting shit to run properly.” Part of that is just reading Masters of Doom, to be fair, but the story of the First Person Shooter genre is as much about the tech as the games themselves. Unreal Engine 3’s entire beefchunk shiny lighting aesthetic is readily apparent no matter where you look, and it has aged more than you’d think! Unreal Engine 1 though? Still clean as hell, with the kind of stuff that will melt your Voodoo-Accelerated 3D Graphics Card. I learned that, despite loving several of their games, Monolith’s LithTech engine is a fucking nightmare to get running well on a modern 64 bit OS. Also, I dunno, Quake is fast and that’s very good.

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Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi and Perfect Dark ZeroTBA????
No Caption Provided

As mentioned in my last blog, my next wheel is already in progress. The Wheel of Ukraineous Video Games is my attempt at celebrating the efforts of Ukrainian video game developers in the only way I know how: by putting them on a randomizer wheel and streaming 2-4 hours of them. Well, not this first game. I’m playing through all of Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments on my internet twitch because it turns out that game actually rules? I’ll also be including a donation link to the Ukrainian Red Cross in all of my streams and write-ups because fuck man I dunno what else I can do without being a weird war voyeur (Waryeur?) Please give if you can. I’m not gonna do a fundraiser or anything (given that I’m already on the hook for a certain community endurance run next month) but it’s the least I can do.

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The Wheel of Dubious FPSes Episode 19-20: Nosferatu Wrath of Malachi and Perfect Dark Zero

Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi

Boogity boogity, I'll Scare Your Dad!
Boogity boogity, I'll Scare Your Dad!

Developer: Idol FX

Release Date: October 21, 2003

Time Played: A little under two hours

Troubleshooting: Fan-made widescreen patch

Dubiosity: 5 out of 5

Questions I have for the people who made this: Several

Would I play more? ... maybe.

From the developers of noted Xbox disasterpiece Drake of the 99 Dragons (no, seriously) comes what might well be the most obscure game on this wheel? Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi is, um. It’s… uh. It’s “interesting?” Vaguely based on the silent movie of the same name? Apparently made in something like six months? It’s definitely unique. In what can generously be termed a “run-based game,” Nosferatu tasks you with exploring a haunted castle, rescuing your extended family, and murdering the vampires therein all in exactly two hours of real time. Oh did I mention the castle layout is randomized? Is it a roguelite? No, because you can make hard saves. Then… does it really have enough stuff to warrant replays? I wouldn’t say so.

With that in mind, this game is a weird platypus that reflects the ways procedural generation is, on its own merits, not an inherent good. The various wings of Castle Malachi may have randomized layouts of rooms, items, and enemies, but it sure does all look the same. You can generally assume that some sort of ghoul or hell hound is going to ambush you before you even open a door, thanks in part to the game’s “special” sense of audio design, in which a very loud public domain horror stinger will play right before you’re ambushed by a creature of the night, giving one enough time to react, point their flintlock pistol (eventually you get good guns too) at it, and pull the trigger. Did I mention that, for some ungodly reason, all of the animations are like 15 FPS, which makes the whole thing feel more unstable than it is?

Anyway, some of the family members are guarded by bosses, some of them are just hanging out in random rooms, at some point they’ll eventually die so you’ve gotta hustle (or save scum) your way to victory and escort them back to the main courtyard. While you technically don’t *need* to do this, saving everyone is required for the true ending (which I sure didn’t reach) and you also get some powerful items for doing so. Like a machine gun. Or, um, a chalice you can fill up with holy water and sprinkle upon the denizens of Satan? The shooting is odd, made odder by the chance that you’ll find a ton of ammo for the more useful guns (the musket, the revolver) in some runs and will be dry in others. When in doubt, stakes out. That’s not a goof, the stake is a pretty good melee weapon.

That said, Wrath of Malachi has that all important je ne se quois that defines that of a truly quality dubious video game: there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s a memorably weird construct of the purest uncut jank, combining a real-time clock like it was a Majora’s Mask with escort missions, bad animations, and just the most dubious sound design. It’s a hall of fame candidate for sure, and for whatever it’s worth it’s still somehow not the worst thing I’ve played. A ringing endorsement!

Perfect Dark Zero

This was a bonus game that I played because I was stuck at my parents' house and couldn't stream Tormented Souls from my laptop. It's fine. Now there's an even number of games on this list.
This was a bonus game that I played because I was stuck at my parents' house and couldn't stream Tormented Souls from my laptop. It's fine. Now there's an even number of games on this list.

Developer: Rare

Release Date: November 18, 2005

Time Played: A little under two hours

Troubleshooting: I mean, I had trouble shooting, but that has more to do with how weird the aim sensitivity and assist is than anything else. It’s in Rare Replay. It didn’t require any troubleshooting.

Dubiosity: 3 out of 5

Chances my friend and I play through this entire game cooperatively on stream: High

Would I play more? See above.

Despite knowing its reputation, I don’t think I was prepared for how much of a mess Perfect Dark Zero is. I mean, I probably should’ve guessed, given the troubled development cycle that only comes from being shifted between three consoles (Gamecube -> Xbox -> 360), being shoved out as a launch title, and being a prequel to a N64 game I already don’t particularly care for. Unsurprisingly, it feels more like a bridge between the SD and HD era of console shooters than just about anything else I’ve played; somehow trying to split the difference between the original Perfect Dark and like… Halo 2, or something. It does not succeed.

It’s a weird misshapen mass of a single player first person shooter campaign, with limited loadout slots and regenerating health like a post-halo (although in a move I think more games should consider, guns take up a different amount of slots depending on how big they are) but a mission structure that is far closer to the objective-based stuff of the first game. There’s also perfunctory stealth (like the first game), but also a dodge roll and a cover system (not in the first game,) both of which pull the camera out to third person, inexplicably. In a better game that’d probably mash together better. Unfortunately, given that this is, in fact, a 360 launch game before the standardization of FPS controls on console, it’s not that.

Instead it’s mostly just clunky, weird and just absolutely wretched with eye-searing light bloom. In my two hours with the game, I did an escort mission, struggled against surprisingly bad visual readability (see: Light Bloom), and did some bad lockpicking and hacking minigames. The shooting feels… off? There’s a weird thing where the horizontal aim sensitivity is significantly more than the vertical, which gives the whole thing an almost Killzone-esque swimmy momentum. The weapons themselves are neat, I guess, with numerous alternate fires and alternate modes. I imagine you’ll see more of it soon enough…

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The Hits of 1998Killing Time and Witchaven (Season Finale)
Game Lineup Subject to Change, but know that GSC Game World and Frogwares are going to get their due.
Game Lineup Subject to Change, but know that GSC Game World and Frogwares are going to get their due.

And that’s it for me for today, though there’s still ONE MORE write-up I have to throw out before I’m entirely done with the Wheel of Dubious FPSes. On a more serious note, it’s been a bit rough the last few days with the whole “watching a country get invaded in real-time, over the internet” thing. So, in a slight against the powerlessness I currently feel and a reflection of my own personal brand, I’ve decided this next wheel is going to celebrate video games from Ukrainian developers. Did you know that most of the work for Darkened Skye, "The Skittles Game" was outsourced to a Ukrainian team? I do now! I’m also going to include a donation link to the Ukrainian Red Cross in every stream and blog for this reason, because at some point I’d like to say I did something, anything, to help.

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The Wheel of Dubious RPGs 49-50: Off-Season Spiders

Mars: War Logs

That's right: To celebrate a full 50 dubious RPGs for this featureblog, I'm covering one of the most consistent purveyors of dubiosity in the industry today. Also I streamed these games and need to further justify the time I played with them as to avoid feeling like I've totally wasted my life.
That's right: To celebrate a full 50 dubious RPGs for this featureblog, I'm covering one of the most consistent purveyors of dubiosity in the industry today. Also I streamed these games and need to further justify the time I played with them as to avoid feeling like I've totally wasted my life.

Developer: Spiders

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Time Played: A little over 6 hours

Troubleshooting: none

Dubiosity: 5 out of 5

Best Character Name: Innocence Smith

Would I play more? No. No. No. I beat it. You can’t put this on me.

Mars War Logs is a wretched thing. I say that without my usual dose of irony, sarcasm, or genuine affection for weird garbage; it’s one of the worst video games I’ve played to completion in my history of writing internet blogs. That’s impressive, given some of the other things I’ve looked at, but it’s a special combination of dull, mean spirited, and baffling that really brings it all together. What other game starts with attempted prison rape (no, really) before offering the cliff notes version of a prison escape sequence, rebellion, and extremely rushed third act. I know I’ve sometimes asked for shorter RPGs, but this is probably the most cursed monkey paw manifestation of that wish.

To be clear, there’s still plenty of goof-able material here, between the quality of the English voice acting, the quality of the writing, or the quality of my anger as my streams progressed. As extremely “cool dude” Roy Temperance (it’s a whole thing, basically Abundance colonists all have virtue names but because your protagonist is a “cool dude” he calls himself Roy) you navigate your way through a series of ugly-ass brown corridors, driven by something resembling a plot where things happen, engaging in fights with the same handful of enemy types using the same handful of abilities from hour 1 to hour 6. You pick up companions who have personalities, sort of, including a romantic subplot that is straight up gross (especially when you consider that the female character involved is portrayed as both very young and emotionally unstable.) The writing is equal parts teen angst edgy and workmanlike dullness, filtered through the additional lens of clearly not being natively written in English. And apparently I played the “fixed” version.

There’s no dancing around it; this was a $15 XBLA game when it came out; I bought it for less than a dollar when I played it in November. It shows. This is maybe the hardest example of “reach exceeding grasp” I’ve seen in a published Eurojank RPG, because it tries and fails to hit every single beat you’d expect to see in a game like this. There’s a bad crafting system, perfunctory stealth, three different ways to spec (none of which actually change how you fight or play the game in any way other than “lightning magic”) There’s a spirit of madness here that cannot be understated. Where other developers would’ve cut these features entirely, Mars War Logs has the temerity to half-assedly implement all of them. In that sense, in a "how did this get made, why were these the choices you chose?" perspective, it's a fascinating piece of garbage. Probably a little too functional to be in full Ride to Hell: Retribution territory, but not far off. Do not play this video game.

CW: Like I said above, there's some gross shit in this game

The Technomancer

Clearly these games must sell, given that Spiders continues to make them.
Clearly these games must sell, given that Spiders continues to make them.

Developer: Spiders

Release Date: June 28, 2016

Time Played: A little under 7 hours

Troubleshooting: none

Dubiosity: 2 out of 5

Budget: Significantly more than Mars War Logs, that’s for sure.

Would I play more? No. I’ve decided to treat myself better this year, and if I’m going to play garbage, it’s going to be more meaningful garbage. Mediocrity will not cut it.

Okay so here’s why I wanted to do this write-up, because I need to talk about Spiders. Not the animal, at least I don’t think. I speak of the French studio who’ve somehow eclipsed the likes of Cyanide, Piranha Bytes (heck, maybe even Dontnod) as the preeminent purveyors of busted-ass European-developed RPGs. The Technomancer is the follow-up to Mars: War Logs, set in the same world during roughly the same period of time. Yet, despite only being three years apart, it’s a massive improvement. There is budget! There is visual design! The worldbuilding is something resembling coherent! They could afford Matt Mercer for a few hours! It’s like, a full-length video game! Instead of being one of the worst games I’ve played (definitely one of the worst I’ve streamed) it’s just kinda mediocre! And I want to talk about this, because it breaks me inside.

I’m saying there’s a notable progression to Spiders’ work as a studio. You may recall my write-up on Bound By Flame (released one year after Mars: War Logs) from roughly a bajillion years ago, in which I called it an accidental comedy masterpiece (and also a terrible piece of garbage.) You may also recall my write up on Greedfall, in which, after about four or five hours I said “wow this is borderline competent.” Greedfall also seemed kind of boring, but like a horrific Boston Dynamics robot learning how to open a door, it’s abundantly clear Spiders is learning. Slowly but surely they’re crawling ever closer to making a mediocre approximation of a mid-2000s Bioware game. At this rate, Steel Rising will be on par with Jade Empire. Tremble in fear.

The funny thing though, is that for as much as I think they’ve gotten better (and also gotten significantly more budget) as time has gone on, I’m still not convinced they know how to design a good role-playing game. The Technomancer exemplifies this. Why does it have a “well rested” bonus like a MMO? Why does the introduction sequence (which sees your protagonist, one Zachariah Rogue Mancer, paired with two generic chumps who clearly don’t give off “long-term party member” material) take as long as the entirety of Mars: War Logs? Why are there so many pointless, incremental upgrade systems in all of Spiders’ games? Why would I ever want to spec into traps? Can you think of an RPG where you’ve ever wanted to spec into putting down traps? If you’re that person, please comment below and explain yourself. There are a lot of systems in all of their games (and in the Technomancer and Greedfall, they’re at least better implemented than they are in previous titles) but it’s one of those things where I’m not sure the developers could tell you *why* those systems are in there outside of other games having similar ideas.

Mostly though, I think The Technomancer’s biggest crime is that it’s just really, really boring. Removed from the Roger Corman-esque zero budget charm (audacity?) of War Logs and Bound by Flame it’s just another janky, poorly-written, lethargically paced Eurojank RPG without anything else to hang its hat on. The peak moment of my time with the game wasn’t anything involving the characters, or the plot, or the combat (which mostly involved me spamming lighting as much as possible.) It was the moment in a side quest when, with zero context, you give a rock to a woman who eats it and immediately dies. The *why* is explained later, but in the moment it was the funniest shit imaginable and reminded me far more of the high points present in Bound by Flame.

There’s an unabashed earnestness and clear ambition present in all of these games, which is why I can’t help but root for Spiders even though they never hit what they’re aiming for. I mean what I say when I compare their output to the worst of Bioware’s oeuvre, but in a world where Bioware isn’t pumping out hits like they used to it’s nice to know that someone, somewhere is trying to fill that gap. And who knows? In the last 10 years, Larian Studios went from making noted dubious game Divinity II: Ego Draconis to making motherfucking Baldur’s Gate III. CD Projekt went from making a weird eurojank RPG using a heavily modified Neverwinter Nights 1 engine, based on Polish fantasy novels no one had read in English, to turning The Witcher into a series popular enough to be a goddamn Netflix staple. Hell, maybe I’ll go back and play more Greedfall some day. Never count them before they’re out.

It sure is good that I've learned my lesson by... oh wait, no, I'm gonna play that 2018 Cyanide Call of Cthulhu RPG soon. Nevermind. Haven't learned my lesson at all.

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Legend of Dragoon and Code VeinComing Soon(?)
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