Untitled Dating Sim (First Three Dates)

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Pride Month is still going on and I will not let work get in my way! I continue my coverage with Untitled Dating Sim (First Three Dates) by Nilson Carrol (or just “nilson” on itch.io). The game recommends playing this with somebody else, presumably to make choices together, but I have no one to hang out with. So anyway.

You are first confronted with a series of choices. While what you identify as is a cosmetic decision, the other choices build up to who you end up dating (though I don’t understand how the system works). Your three choices of dates are… Nilson, Nilson and Nilson. You date different versions of the game’s creator that mostly acts the same and they instead offer different situations to engage in. The artist Nilson shows off his office and takes you for a walk through an artsy park, the barista Nilson takes you out for drinks and the playful Nilson… dates you at a supermarket.

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The reason why these Nilsons are essentially the same is that the goal isn’t to date a dating sim archetype that you’re into, but to use the dates as a form of reflection. One of the main aims of the dating sim is to sorta act as a tool of self-reflection and it accomplishes this through the game’s choices. There are no branching paths to the game, there’s no secret date night to be found if you pick a certain combination of choices. Nilson generally acts the same no matter what or is written to work around your decisions. The choices you make are the choices you feel. You can express affection toward this weird geeky caricature or act cold. You can express your love for JRPGs and type out your favorite one. You can give your takes on pizza and Nilson will nod along. You are ultimately the only judge of your decisions (unless you’re playing with someone else) and they say more about you than the story.

Whether you find a connection or not is also dependent on you. After a date, you could choose to bail or go on another date. Maybe you didn’t like the first night and wanted to give it another shot, to see if you connect to this version of Nilson. Personally, the playful Nilson kinda reflects my actual relationship in some ways and honestly, I appreciate anyone that loves a good JRPG.

As one can clearly see, the visuals are photographs of Nilson and the environments themselves. I love it because it sorta recontextualizes standard visual novel stuff into a real world setting. Nilson does static poses like a visual novel character and it looks silly, yet endearing. Using photos of real locations also gives this sense of place, like, “hey, I can go out on a date with this person here.” This presentation feels personal, which again ties into the dating sim being a personal experience.

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Going through the dates lasts you an hour. In that hour, I confirmed stuff about myself like that I fucking love JRPGs and anime and that I hate cold days. It’s a simple game, but an interesting approach toward dating sims that acts as a self-portrait for the creator and yourself. It is normally $1.21, but I bought it for a price of $0.68 as part of itch’s summer sale, which is a sale I suggest checking out as an alternative to Steam’s monopoly as Valve continues its spiral into libertarianism.

Coming Out Simulator 2014

And so, we continue this pride month with Coming Out Simulator 2014. The game is by Nicky Chase, who at the time identified as a bisexual guy. It’s a personal, semi-autobiographical story of a guy trying to come out to his conservative Asian parents that you can play in your browser.

The game starts out with a meta narrative of you talking with the creator. It’s a bit silly, but it acts as a lighthearted prologue to the game’s serious subject matter. The narration is told through text message format and while I think it’s neat, I think the writing was generally too formal for the presentation. Then again, I’m writing this four years later where there’s more emojis and textspeak parlance, so what do I know? You are then thrown into the past, after Nicky and his then-boyfriend went on a date, with the boyfriend encouraging Nicky to come out.

Choices have some sway, with dialogue reflecting past choices like the mother character calling you out as a liar if you contradict yourself with your choices. However, the main story is the same. Nicky’s environment is controlling, the mother already having read his texts. The father is an even more controlling piece of shit and the only somewhat good outcome is to pretend that Nicky is as straight as possible, which also manages to be very uncomfortable. No matter what you do, coming out will be a failure.

But of course, the game is semi-autobiographical. You can’t exactly wish a good outcome on something that has already happened. And really, your choices not mattering much in the grand scheme of things is true to life. Coming out isn’t guaranteed to have a good outcome. In an abusive, conservative household, coming out may as well be a losing game, no matter how hard you wish for a different outcome. The game is an uncomfortable contrition with a ticking clock as background noise, keeping the moment as tense as it’d be in real life.

While the game is Nicky’s story, if you’re LGBT, you may end up relating to it. With my own life situation, wow, did this game make me feel awful. I mean that in a good way, but damn.  This was a very tense experience for me and had me thinking about it when I went to sleep. The game can last up to twenty minutes, but it’s an impactful twenty minutes. Just know to expect some homophobia and abusive situations going into the game.

Hustle Cat

I originally planned to write about a smaller game, but that’s when I noticed the post-count. This post right here is the 100th post for Indie Hell Zone! Wow! A real milestone! To commemorate this, I felt that a larger game would be more appropriate for the occasion!

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Hustle Cat is a visual novel by Date Nighto. I’m pretty sure I got the game a year or so ago from a Humble Bundle. I originally got it because I’m a sucker for cat people – turns out the game isn’t about cat people but people that could turn into cats. Close enough.

[All bracketed, gibberish text are spoilers that you can re-translate through ROT13 if you wish.]

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We Met Once, Perhaps in a Dream

It’s June, the month of gaymers for being Pride Month and for E3. Last year I spent half of Pride Month dedicated to covering stuff from Dream Diary Jam because I’m a fucking Yume Nikki nerd. This year, I decided that I should focus on stuff befitting the occasion, so I’m spending this month looking at games by LGBT devs.

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The first game I’m looking at is We Met Once, Perhaps in a Dream, by Metaparadox. It is a visual novel made in Ren’py for Accessajam, a game jam with accessibility as a focus.

Okay, so first off, I dig the setting and the premise of the game. In the game, the characters are immortal, but it isn’t a big deal in itself. The game doesn’t try to look at the big picture of the whole thing like the logistics of resources in a world of immortality nor does the story’s conflict have a big impact where the world or the state of eternal life is at stake. The story instead focuses on characters who are minor in the grand scheme of things and how they’re affected by the whole immortality shtick. I always kinda live for when background things get more focus over bigger picture stuff, it’s relatable and it kinda leaves room for you to wonder about the daily lives of other people in the world.

You are Amberlynn, a girl who is 671-years-old who has long given up keeping track of her own history. However, her interest in the journals she wrote renews when a girl named Gemma moves in next door. While immortality is sweet, it does have an awful side effect in that people that don’t actively record their histories wind up forgetting decades to centuries of stuff since the brain can’t handle holding all those memories. Amberlynn, however, faintly remembers her.

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Amberlynn could hang out with Gemma and ignore the journals, eventually hitting it off naturally. If you want fully happy lesbians, stop right here. You can then choose to ruin this by reading the journals and going through her old memories. Ignorance is bliss, as you’re pretty much doomed to have a gray ending the moment you start reading those books. Eternal life may have the curse of making you forget your past, but sometimes, there are things worth forgetting. Much like the endings, immortality is a gray concept with regards to memory, holding the ability to make you forget those you care about while allowing your sins to be forgotten.

I kinda wish that there was more, because I feel the story moves a bit too fast. However, as something made in a week, it’s pretty neat for something made within that timeframe.

And speaking of that jam, let’s look at the accessibility options. You can change the font to OpenDyslexic, a free font dedicated to mitigating reading problems caused by dyslexia. If you’re generally hard at reading, you can enable a voice over option that reads the text boxes and choices that you hover over. While that’s a good addition, it is flawed if you have “auto” enabled, as the game will often move to the next box before the voice over is done reading.

We Met Once, Perhaps in a Dream is a nice examination on the trope of immortality and how it plays into memory and relationships. Art is serviceable but isn’t a big focus of the visual novel. The game is pretty short and you can probably see all the ending variants within an hour. Metaparadox is working on other games, with three demos up on her itch.io, so check those out if you’re interested in her work and in gay stuff.

Island of Terror

I’ve recently been thinking about playing shorter games for this site. The stuff that I’ve been planning to play on my backlog are kinda longish or have a bunch of replay value that it’ll take a lot of playing to form a solid opinion. And so, I decided to hit up itch.io’s randomizer and see where that’d take me.

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The randomizer took me to Island of Terror, by tripodattack. On the eponymous island, a experiment went horribly wrong and opened a portal unleashing monsters, which seems to be how these kinds of experiments go.

The game bills itself as a survival horror. Your standard environmental storytelling of computer logs speak of dread and keys hidden around the place and the game is presented through a cramped circle, representing the radius of your lantern while you explore a one-bit world. Your lantern is constantly dying, so you’ll have to pick up fuel while you’re poking around to avoid plunging into darkness and getting a game over. There is a lack of music outside of the title screen, with only footsteps and the roar of monsters as common sound effects. It’s a sort of minimalist way of presenting a survival horror, building atmosphere through presentation instead of giving hard scares.

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Which is good, because the monsters themselves are considerably less scary. For me, they look kinda cutesy, like a weird Kirby enemy. Love these guys. What is scary however is that these monsters are invincible. You can collect limited throwing daggers, but that only stuns these fellas so that you can run past them. The only way to beat them is by outrunning them, which doesn’t sound hard (especially since their AI isn’t exactly perfect), but in more closed off spaces they’re more of a nuisance.

The game is spent gathering keys to advance and picking up fuel. You also need to gather dynamite to blow open brick walls, which pretty much serves the same function as keys. I kinda wish that the game had a display showing you which keys you currently have on you, but then again, that’d might mess with the clean look of the game.

My issues in the game lie in the movement and enemy spawns. You do not have diagonal movement, so movement is not as fluid as it could be. Try to do that and you’re stuck moving in a cardinal direction, which can screw you up if you’re being chased. Another thing is that while the game does seem to base when an enemy spawns on proximity, it doesn’t seem to check if you’re too close. As a result, enemies sometimes spawned right on top of me, resulting in unavoidable damage/deaths. While enemies do seem to have set spawn points, it’d be troublesome for people coming into the game. And you know, that’s just lousy anyway.

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Island of Terror is a simple survival horror with a nice minimalist presentation, however, I feel that the issues above keep it from being as smooth of an experience as it could be. If those issues were fixed up though, it’d be a decent short time killer.

LiEat

Now that tests are out of the way, I can finally look forward to clearing through my backlog of stuff. This particular game is outside of my comfort zone of playing RPG Maker games. Because this is made in Wolf RPG Editor, which is technically different.

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LiEat is a a game by Miwashiba, translated by vgperson and published by Playism. The release of LiEat on Steam is actually three games in a launcher, acting as different chapters.

The world of LiEat is a weird modern-fantasy mix where dragons are humanoid with different, specialized powers. In the case of the main protagonist Efina (or Efi), she has the power to eat the manifestations of lies. She is adopted by a swindler named Theo that changes his name and identity wherever he goes, selling information to people. While each chapter has a standalone story, there’s an overarching story about the nature of dragons in the world and what the deal is with Theo.

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The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +

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The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the de facto roguelike twin-stick shooter by Edmund McMillen and Nicalis. Personally, I have a complicated relationship with the game. It is good as a time waster and while I definitely haven’t spent as much time on it as the experts out there, 220+ hours is still nothing to sneeze at. However, some of the things in the game feel more malicious than actually challenging and the Lost and the Keeper just sucks ass, okay?

Back in January of last year, the last expansion, Afterbirth + (stylized as a cross) was released, adding some more content and official mod support. At the start of May, what is presumably the last big update for the expansion was released and I thought that I should get back in the game and write something about the expansion as a whole.

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An article and a bunch of games I did within an hour and a half

So I was sitting in my school’s library, waiting for my next class in a few hours. I was bored, so I went on Twitter to ask for some short games to play. I thought that maybe I should write about the stuff I played real quick to make up for the fact that I didn’t publish an article last week. Professionalism!

Spider’s Hollow

Spider’s Hollow is a game made in Puzzlescript by my friend, Far Away Times. I told them I’d get around to playing one of their games one of these days and I guess now is the day.

Spider’s Hollow is a simple puzzle game where your fairy protagonist goes off to search for her friends that disappeared investigating a small hollow. The first two levels are tutorials that introduce the game’s block pushing and the fact that walking in webs slows you down. Seems simple enough. But then the narration in-between levels turns out to be by the eponymous spider, who will start chasing her down after a few moves are made.

Spider’s Hollow is a block pushing game that’s less about clearing the way to the exit, but more about either blocking off the spider’s path or delaying it from reaching you before you get to the exit. Unless the school’s computers are screwy, there seems to be no audio, which is my only big negative to the experience. I wish that there was more content, but otherwise, it’s something short and sweet with a surprisingly bleak ending.

Winnie the Pooh’s Homerun Derby

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This isn’t a small indie game, but it’s an infamous flash game made on the orders of Disney. My friend Rasen suggested this to me and while I respect and care about him, this is the worst curse ever bestowed upon me.

Winnie the Pooh, this foolish bear, must hit a certain number of home runs as his woodland pals throw balls at him. You position Winnie the Pooh with your mouse and click to swing, with swings at the green circle being more likely to produce a home run.

Something that annoys me about the game is that there isn’t a pause function. There isn’t even a restart or quit function either, so if you’re literally unable to win, you just have to wait for Pooh’s chucklefuck friend to be finished throwing to reach the inevitable conclusion.

Alright, so here’s the thing: my reflexes are absolute shit. I actually can’t pass Piglet because I’m absolute garbage at games of pure reflex. I ended up quitting on Piglet, but I consider that a blessing. I know what’s in the horizon. I know that these motherfuckers start throwing bizarre tosses and doing King Crimson antics. I know that if I keep playing, I’ll be folded into nothing for nothing. I will see nothing but despair if I keep going. So I didn’t.

Music is nice though. It’s nice cheerful stuff, which is rather contrary to what you’ll be feeling playing this.

Anyway, check out Rasen’s podcast, We Are Finally Podcast.

The Inhumanity of Hitpoints

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The Inhumanity of Hitpoints is a text by BabylonTheGreat made for the Manifesto Jam. Like a scholarly text, they rant against the continual usage of hit points in video games, viewing it as a game abstraction that needs to go. I don’t entirely agree with their ramblings, but I also see where they’re coming from. Granted, in the comments below, they admit that this manifesto is rather utopian and that they didn’t have any big alternatives to the hit point system in mind.

Reading this makes me think about how video game lives are sort of dying as a concept in platformer games. Like, a lot of hard indie platformers opt to just give you unlimited lives instead of forcing an arbitrary limit that only makes sense in the realm of arcade games that wants to eat your money. Like god, can you imagine how obnoxious Super Meat Boy would be with a life system? Even Super Mario Odyssey has ditched its lives in favor of a slap on the wrist punishment, which is good, because the series’ continued usage of lives and such has grown to be more arbitrary. Will similar shifts happen for other genres? Who can really say??

Agar.io

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My friend Julien suggested checking out Agar.io, that multiplayer game where you’re an orb and eat other orbs to become the greatest orb ever. With my mighty steed, Future Funk, I went on an orb gathering adventure.

You guide your cell around with the mouse and you can divide and shoot your divided clone forward, which is useful for catching the small fry that’s really good at dodging. There are also spiky orbs that could split yours up if you’re big enough when you touch it. And that’s pretty much it. Just a quest to get bigger and become the biggest fish in the pond.

My honest opinion on Agar.io? It’s one of those games that’s just sort of satisfying to play, even if it’s kinda uneventful. Watching your orb grow in power and gobble other orb carries the same satisfaction as watching the numbers in a clicker game run up for me.

Eventually, my conquest to bring Future Funk to the world was ended when it was chewed up by a mass with a rose in its name, so I guess the Democratic Socialists of America hate future funk.

Slay the Spire

After a week of hell, I’m mostly done with my school projects. Just got one final to worry about and it is a take home, so I’m feeling pretty good about things. I thought that I should buy something as an end-of-semester gift for myself.

My friends have been playing a bunch of Slay the Spire lately, which has had me thinking, “dang, maybe I should hop on this.” However, what finally pushed me into getting it was watching Northernlion play from the beginning and witnessing his amazing misplays. I mean, he’s probably amazing at the game now, but his early Slay the Spire videos was the stuff of madness to me and had me thinking “jeez, I should get this and see if I can actually do better instead of being a backseat gamer.”

I started playing Slay the Spire when I remembered, “oh right, I have a blog for this kind of stuff.” I failed to update last week because of a bunch of school junk and this place was long due for an update, so I decided that I should write something up about Slay the Spire as soon as I finally win a run. And I did – 24 hours later – which is a good enough time to make judgement, if you ask me.

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To those that are not in the know, Slay the Spire is one of those hot roguelikes on Steam Early Access. I know that combination of words is terrifying for gamer reactionaries, but hear me out. Slay the Spire distinguishes itself through being a card game, with combat being played out through cards, your deck slowly getting built up as you ascend toward the Spire. I’m currently at the 36 hour mark of playtime, so I can easily say it is an addictive ascension.

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